Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sermon: The Fourth Letter to the Holy Ones

The Fourth and final Letter to the Holy Ones

I write this letter to you as an ambassador on a chain.
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

          In my first three letters I have written many things:
-I have continually thanked God for you Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.
-I have insisted that God is reconciling and uniting all people through Jesus Christ.
-I have proclaimed that the goal of God’s action in Christ is a new creation.

          And you all need to know
because God’s goal is a new creation,
because unity in Christ is how that is happening,
because you are folk who continue in the faith of Jesus
Therefore your life will be forever changed!
          Therefore all the rules in this world, from the 10 commandments to common courtesy—they have changed for us, haven’t they?
          Getting angry or tearing someone down… when you can be thankful instead… is downright diabolic.
If Christ is uniting us, one to another… then lying to your neighbor is the same as knowingly lying to yourself.
           Theft is just downright illogical… instead it is our holy logic that we share with those in need, recreating the world for Christ’s sake.

          Oh my family, do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not become unfeeling, do not lose the compassion that is yours from Christ, such a loss would be a win for the devil.
Lose all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice
Gain a tender, kind, forgiving heart—for God in Christ has forgiven you all.
          Be little Christs, children of God, imitating God.
Walk in love, for he walked the path of ultimate love for you.

          It is all worship, delightful to God, salt that flavors, and light that illuminates—that’s what we are, what right worship is.
          It is all worship, giving thanks and praise, being astonished by all that is good, all that is from God—notice it and give thanks!
          It is all worship, every role we have in the world, every relationship we have—-----—in everything you are, be mindful of Christ.
-As a crossing guard, be mindful of Christ,
as a student, be mindful of Christ,
-as a parent or grandparent, as a child, as a spouse—be mindful of Christ
-as a tax collector or rabble rouser, carpenter or fisherman
-as a teacher as a tinkerer as a truck driver,
-as a nurse as a night watchman as an anesthesiologist
-Ditch digger and a dime store clerk… every vocation
…in everything you are, be mindful of Christ.
Be empowered by God whoever you are,
and know that there are no second-class citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven!

          I write all that like it is easy or something…
it is not…
it is hard, it’s impossible even
…this journey we are on together, the way of Jesus, following after our savior…
it’s hard, it got him killed didn’t it?
So, bring with you enough bread for the journey… God’s justice
So, be swaddled with all that is from God…. Salvation and Spirit
Be bound tight by our loving Lord so that we can follow… enfolded in faith
Be clothed and protected in God… that peace that passes all understanding.
Be empowered by the Lord, after all there are plenty of powers that push against you,
powers that shall be overcome by the Lordship of Christ
—the diabolic kingdoms of this world shall come under the reign of the Kindom of God!
I write all of this to you in utter confidence and without fear, for I wear the very garments I offer up to you—Justice, Peace, Salvation, Faith, and Spirit… I have faced the worst of the world and yet been reconciled and redeemed, and so shall all that is be reconciled and redeemed through Christ Jesus.

Peace to the whole community, and love with faith from God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be with all those who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sermon: The Third Letter to the Holy Ones

I write this letter to you as the Lord’s prisoner
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

          In case you’ve not heard me yet, I am imprisoned for your sake, and for your sake I plead that you walk in a way worthy of your calling—walk the way of Jesus.
My siblings, see that our Savior’s path encompasses our whole life. The Way is a gift that has been so good to me and the Church, and all of the Cosmos. Walking the way of Jesus is to be like a surfer, propelled by the wave of God’s grace and goodness.
          It is a journey we take after Jesus, but one we do not take alone—we go together, us Christians, we people of the Way.

          And I know, when we start talking about doing things together, being united in the great goal of our God found in his Son, it is easy to hop from unity to uniformity…
and if we were Pagans, surely that would be our goal—conforming and forcing everyone to fit in one mold and model,
but it is not so among us, we do not conform,
but confirm our relationship with Christ and with one another!
Our unity is the unity of a reconciled people, a people who can see difference and not jump to division… I hear there is a church in your denomination that has as its mission statement “Created in Diversity, one in Christ” that’s getting there, getting to my point!
          Our unity is not of blood or border, country or race
—and that means we have to hang in there with each other in moments of awkwardness and doubt
—we have to be humble and gentle and magnanimous
—I guess what I’m saying is that we have to love one another, and I’m talking about more than feeling, we have to love one another in an active, aware, intentional, forgiving and merciful way—that’s the kind of love that can bridge any barrier—that’s the kind of love and kind of community that finds its unity in Christ.
          Yes, there are many things that make us different one from another in Christian community (at least the kind I’m talking about) but we are all centered on the Christ, whom we follow…

          We are one body bound together by one Spirit,
just as we are called to the one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
 one God and Father of all;
He is over all, through all and in all.
          I swear this will be the last time I talk about captivity, about being a prisoner… we’ve all been given gifts by Christ—in a sense we’re captured by those gifts—I imagine that is why I can’t help but evangelize—tell people about God’s love found in Christ Jesus—I was captured by the gift of the Evangelist.
          And we were given these gifts for a reason—so that the love of God found in Jesus might fill all things,
that all of creation might be what it is, good,
that the church might be what it is, the body of Christ,
that each of us might be who we are in Christ.

          Some will find they are apostles, some prophets, some evangelist, some pastors and teachers (poor saps). All of these gifts are meant to restore us to the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
so that there will be a unity of the faith,
so that we shall know the Son of God,
so that we will be little Christs and together fill the world with his Love!
          Let me make it plain, your wacky pastor does his thing with Glasses, Map, Hammer
—let’s just look at the map part of things for a moment…the goal, the “Map”—the destination! is a New Creation!
We have a variety of gifts, but one goal, all the world resurrected, renewed, built up in love!

          And as you live in this old world, even as you strive toward the goal of the world as it truly is in Christ, do not be misled…
the way of Jesus Christ is truly a unique way of life, and there are many other ways that seem easier or more in vogue or more successful…
          There are many pagan virtues practiced by your society that can knock you off balance, that will try to pry you from Christ—let it not be so… be on the watch and look out:
-you shall be tempted to slouch toward unfeeling acquisitiveness
-you will be tempted to hate instead of love, or even cease to care at all
-you will be tempted to see acquiring things as the greatest goal of life
-you will be tempted to be so stultified that only greed will move you
-you will be tempted to give up sensitivity for stimulation.

          But hold fast to that compass you have, Christ Jesus is your north star, navigate knowing that the center of compassion is Christ, that feeling for another person, and even more importantly acting in love for the sake of another person—is Christ working through you.
          Truly, be renewed—shed those temptations, let go of the old creature that you might be part of the new creation—put on the new person, the one created by God, the one being made right and holy by Christ Jesus.
Be the people this letter is addressed to, the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Second Letter to the Holy Ones

I write this letter to you as one as a prisoner of Jesus Christ, on your behalf.
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

          I am caught, locked up, imprisoned, by a vision I had.
I peered into God’s throne room and was thrown down by what I saw
… I saw the truth of it, the ultimate mystery of the universe found in Christ
—I had spent so much time fighting it, following that feeling that God created a nice clear line between who is in, and who is out,
but I came face to face with the resolution, the answer to, a great mystery—a mystery that had spun out for generations, was hinted at, but only now has been weaved into a coherent whole
—I know I’m building this up too much for you
—building up your anticipation and excitement…
after all this truth may even seem rather mundane to you today,
after all it is has been preached by the apostles since the beginning… it is baked into what it means to be the church…
 yet it is the very center of the meaning of life…
It is this, when I peered into the throne room of God, I saw all of humanity knit together into one body.
Because of Jesus we are co-heirs, co-members, co-partners in the Gospel
We are fellow-inheritors, fellows in a single body, and fellow participants in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
          That’s what I’m captured by, always stirred forward to preach to those who seem to be left out of God’s good news. They too are given the Kingdom, they too are inheritors of the overflowing riches of Christ.
          And don’t you know, this great heavenly truth—that we are one. It is our possession, but only if we give it away. Give it away to everyone…
everyone, even to the powers and principalities—all those things in this world that are bigger than any one person.
          At your baptism you renounce Sin, Death, and the Devil, you renounce all the powers that defy God
—those are who I’m talking about—the hosts of hell, fate and addictions, guardian angels and grief-inducing evils
—all of it shakes and repents when you are one… unity in Christ calls the whole world to be what it ought to be
—makes it good
…a Church that makes no distinction between peoples, that affirms all are one with both our lips and our deeds
—it transforms the demonic into the angelic, the evil into the enlightened, it allows us all to become who we are called to be in Christ.
All that is, seen and unseen, find redemption in that truth!

          I promise you this is no cake walk, it is nothing except a long hard slog, but it is faithful.
It is why I continue on in the face of afflictions—someone took a pair of hand cuffs and cuffed me to the gracious truth that through Christ all are one—I’ve been drug across the whole Roman Empire, always attached to this truth, and you might think my hand would chafe where those fetters have been attached, but it continues to be grace—grace all the way through—this transformative truth that I can’t help but follow after—I pray and thank God for it!

          I bow down in thanks, praying before God, the parent of every tribe and nation and people and family everywhere, from the heights of heaven on down to the depts of earth… We are all God’s Children!
          I pray that you all draw strength from the storehouse of God’s glory through the Spirit—by that I mean, I hope you always find your grounding in love, that you trust Christ in such a way that you know he always dwells with you.
          I pray that you know, that all holy-folk know, the immeasurable love of God
—it is the Temple in which God dwells,
our love of one another grounded in the unity we find in Christ, is God’s temple….
It is immeasurably wide and long and high and low
—this love is beyond my comprehension, and beyond yours as well (isn’t it funny I pray you will know the unknowable?) And yet I pray,
I pray that you all might be filled with it, with the Love of God, for surely it will overflow!
          Now, to the one who, by the power at work in us, is able to accomplish more than we could ever dream, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Feast of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdelene… 

         Did you ever notice there are so many Mary’s in the bible—in the same way there are so many Kathy’s here at St. Stephen? 

         Just as our Kathys likely can trace the origins of their names back to the famed Greek Martyr Kathrine of Alexandria and Kathrine the Great of Russia

…so too these Biblical Marys are named after Moses’ sister, Miriam. (name changed in the greek)

         Eventually Miriam is best known for singing about her people’s triumph over the Egyptians, singing about freedom once her people had arrived on the other side of the Jordon River… but before that

         Miriam was, born during a transition of power in Egypt

—when the old Pharaoh, who had an agreement with her people passed away

—and a new Pharaoh, who saw them as objects instead of subjects
—means instead of ends
—born into a world souring and curdling and coming apart
—she was born free and became a slave.

         And apparently slavery wasn’t debasing enough—Pharaoh and his people saw Miriam and her family as undesirables, as a different species even
—they worried that they would reproduce faster than native born Egyptians, so they had Hebrew babies killed.

         Eventually they came for Miriam’s little brother, so they sent him down the river, he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam finagled a way to be close to him, and keep an eye on him, and keep his identity hidden.

         (Think about it, the courts have required that the 102 immigrant children under the age of 5 we’ve detained and separated from their families be returned to their families by the 10thof this month. The administration replied they would return 59 of them, and only 4 were returned on time, and as of today only 16 have been returned at all… the deadline is way passed and no one cares and no one is doing anything about it…

         I imagine a modern day Miriam would get a job at one of those Tender Age Facilities and watch her little baby brother to make sure he didn’t get lost in the system.)

         So, Miriam, by hook and crook, ensures her brother survives… and in so doing she is ensuring that the song of freedom she sings on the other side will happen….

         Think of who she is at this time, 
-She is the only person who knows Moses is alive, 
-the only one who can still hold out hope, in such a hopeless time.

—within her heart she holds the hope of her people, 

she herselfis the whole liberated people of God

—in that hope she has already made it to the promised land… 
to sing on the other side with tambourine and all.

Who wouldn’t name their little girls after such a heroine!

         And so was named Mary Magdalene—Mary of Magdala, a town identified as being two towns away from Jesus’ home base, Capernaum… 

         Now, when I was over in Israel we passed by Magdala, it was hardly a town, there was a gas station there, and that was it. Our tour guide suggested to us that Magdala had always been that way,

a backwater on the sea of Galilee. 

But when you read Josephus you know it was a prosperous port town
—when archeologists dug up Capernaumthey found huts, when they dug up Magdalathey found a Jewish Synagogue and a Greek horse track 
… and according to historical records there was a rebellion against the Romans there in the 50’s.

All that to get a sense of where Mary came from
—a place where Pagan and Jewish culture stood by each other and where there were people zealous enough to rebel against Roman rule.

         I could certainly imagine a woman of that background in the company of Jesus’ crew

-she’d get Judas and Simon the Zealot and their anti-Roman attitudes,

-she’d understand the awkward position Levi, sometimes called Matthew, who was a tax collector for Rome found himself in caught between empire and neighbor, just tryin’ to do his job,

-the various fisher men were all just two harbors away from her…

         Mary was oppressed by 7 demons, and was healed by Jesus
—so she knew what it meant for Jesus to heal you, to remove those things that oppress you so that you might be whole.

         Out of gratitude she responded by following after Jesus and using her money to support the ministry of Jesus, bankrolling his
healing of the sick, 
preaching good news to the poor, 
being the Kingdom of God in the midst of people desperately in need of such a Gospel! 
That was done on her dime.

         Then, when he was arrested, when he was taken up to Golgotha and tortured and executed on a cross—everyone fled…
except Mary and a few other women like her. They looked on, and saw their savior, our savior, die.

         In the same way, they followed after the body, and found where he was buried.

         Then, when it was proper to do so, they didwhat needed to be done, they went to prepare the body.

         And that was when she witnessed the most amazing thing in human history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

         She is the first witness to the resurrection

—she seesthat he is raised, but more than that, she tellsother people

—for that she becomes known as the Apostle to the Apostles, she’s sent outto tell them the good news! 

He is risen!

         (Now, at Learning, Lawn Chairs and Lemonade we’ve been looking at the question “What is Church” in a variety of ways, and this last week we looked at some ideas from a book What Christianity is Not
—it concluded that Christianity is “When Jesus is proclaimed and experienced as Crucified, yet Lord and Prophet”that is Christianity)… and by that definition Mary is the first Christian, she’s experiencing and preaching that Gospel!

         That moment when she hears Jesus 
say “Miriam” 
say “Mary” 
-she is the totality of Christianity. 

         That moment when she tells people 
“I have seen the Lord” she is Christianity

—the Gospel spreading

—the first preacher of the faith!

         For those first few minutes she, like Miriam before her, is the whole liberated people of God

-that hope is hers, 

-the resurrection hers

… and thank God, ours as well, 

that message passed on, 

we too can experience Jesus as Crucified, yet Lord and Prophet, 

we too may preach that truth to others, 

ponder it in our hearts and hold onto that hope at all times!

He calls us by name!

Like her, we too may say “I have seen the Lord.”


Sunday, July 15, 2018

The First Letter to the Holy Ones

I write this letter to you as a follower and witness of Jesus Christ.
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Christ.
          I have heard there is a practice among you of reflecting on what you are thankful for before you receive the Holy Meal. It is in that same vein that I write this letter to you—surely the letter to the Holy Ones in Ephesus was a letter of thanksgiving, so is this.

I thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us beyond measure.
I thank God, that in the beginning, before the beginning, Christ was with God, holy and perfect, beloved from the start, and we are found in that love too!
I thank God, that we are the Savior’s siblings—that gives God pleasure—to be Parent of an uncountable plethora of children!
I thank God, that we who were caged up by Sin with a big S, have been bought out and brought out of captivity by God’s Beloved Boy, forgiven for everything, every last fault, failure, and foible—because God is gracious, God is generous with all his gifts.
I thank God, that the unthinkable has been thought, the great mystery revealed, that not only are we found in Christ, all of creation, from the tiniest quark and string of matter out beyond the reach of the universe in all its iterations—all of it is being gathered in God’s loving arms.
I thank God, that through Christ, who is always our hope, you have been weaved into God’s will, and live to praise him!
I thank God, that you’ve heard the good news and that you trust Jesus.
I thank God, that you’ve been marked with the promised Holy Spirit, she is your adoption papers, pointing to your redemption, that you are God’s own people—such a thing glorifies God!

I thank God unceasingly for all of you holy ones, and I pray incessantly for you all. I pray that you might more completely know the Lord, that the eyes of your heart might be wide open and you will be awake to the fullness of faith, which is Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and rule.
I thank God that all who claim power: be they earthly rulers, -isms and ideologies of all sorts, fates, follies, habits, addictions, and even demons—that their kingdoms are done
—the Kingdom of God, the Rule of Heaven, is everywhere and always! We holy ones who gather together, who are Christ’s body, do we not pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”? I thank God that it is and shall be so!
I thank God, for the life you now live, for at one time you were under the deadly powers of all those vicious things that defy God, but through God’s rich mercy and great love, even the death of Christ, you now live—raised with him, even seated with him, so all of creation might fully understand the extravagant kindness found in Christ.
I thank God, you are saved by grace through faith, not on account of your own gifts, but by the gift of God—our salvation is nothing less than the good work of Jesus Christ.

I thank God, that all dividing walls between peoples, all those doors slammed and locked, the clothe of our common humanity ripped in two—are bridged, unlocked, sewn back up—all those on the outside are brought in. We hopeless, godless strangers, all of us, are brought near by the blood of Christ.
I thank God that he is our peace!
I thank God that Christ has made two into one, and shattered all the walls that create hostility, all the laws that leave people out, he has fashioned a single new humanity out of our evil clangor and mess, making peace, reconciling irreconcilable people through the cross, putting to death hatred, animosity, and bitterness in his very body.
I thank God that we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. I thank God for that household,
build upon the foundation of the earliest followers and witnesses to Jesus… Christ himself is the cornerstone and together we are growing and becoming a holy Temple in the Lord and a Holy Temple in which the Spirit of God dwells!
I thank God.

Friday, July 13, 2018

We’re Flattening Immigrants

The current immigration policy in the United States flattens immigrants. It does not make a distinction between different types of immigrants, lumping them all together “flattening” the complex ways people come to this country and the nuanced policies we had in place to deal with different types of people. It also flattens them in the sense of it squishes them, destroying their lives.
              I think of the Indonesian folk I’m connected to. It used to be their names were on a list of people whose presence in the US was, I’m going to use that word again, nuanced. As ethnically Chinese Christians they were in danger of persecution back home, so we invited them in to this country, gave them travel visas, then winked and nodded, asking them to come back every year to check in, but promised they’d be okay. For two decades they were on a list of people who overstayed their travel visa, but there was a footnote next to their name indicating that if they returned to their home country they would be in danger, so when ICE interacted with them they would not arrest them. Then the President’s executive order changed policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and soon all the footnotes on ICE’s list were gone—and so were these Indonesian fathers who left behind American kids here between the ages of 1 and 16. The list had been flattened, everyone was the same, flattened too were three families who now are without breadwinners and a church without some of their leaders.
              I think of these children being held in cages. They are forced to represent themselves in court. Yes, three and four year-olds representing themselves in court. Again, American immigration policy is flattening immigrants, squishing 3-year-olds and thirty-year-olds into the same category. Flattening, as well, these poor kids who are playing with elevator buttons and sitting on tables chewing on their toes, instead of answering questions that might protect them.
              I think of those soldiers serving in the US military in order to earn their citizenship, being deported. To be clear, there are US soldiers who have served two tours in Afghanistan who are being deported. Again, a flattening in which folk who served in uniform are seen as no different than civilians who have not; previous policies and promises are squished out and leak out as people who fought for our country are flattened by that same country.
              Current immigration policy in the US is ignoring the particular stories and situations of folk who come to this country.
It doesn’t matter if we promised you citizenship if you were a citizen soldier,
it doesn’t matter if you are three, you still need to be treated like an adult,
it doesn’t matter that you will be discriminated against and in grave danger if you return home you are out of here.
We’re ruining people’s lives. I can’t help but wonder, is it because the current administration is not capable of handling the complexity of actually governing and are simply governing on slogans or if they don’t understand American values and prefer blunt authoritarianism, or if they are simply cruel.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Sermon: A Declaration of Interdependence

A Declaration of Interdependence

This Wednesday we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago. And I sometimes wonder if that founding document of our country is a little like the book of Genesis—most people don’t read past the first few lines, or in the case of the Declaration, the 2nd paragraph…
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--
          And then it goes on, outlining 27 grievances against Great Britain and King George (as Lutherans anything that doesn’t break 95 is child’s play, but Jefferson tried)… still, 27 reasons to insist upon independence…
the founders knew, as we seem not to today, that there was innately an obligation to explain ourselves to the rest of the world…
separation is a last resort,
splitting up an unwelcome action…
          We don’t always get that—it is easy to hear Independence, and assume it is innately good, that freedom from any obligation, responsibility, or relationship
is the natural order,
is the highest good,
is, I would even say, holy.
Yes, it is easy, as an American Christian, to idolize Independence even as our scriptures
Declare Inter-dependence.

          The siren song of independence disfigures our story as people of God…
          Imagine an independent minded Ezekiel—he is told to go to a rebellious nation,
 impudent and stubborn…
his response would simply be:
… “nope.”
He’d walk away from his calling from God, because it didn’t suit his fancy.
He’d say, “I’m out!” and be done with it and them and God.
          Or think of those people Paul is mocking in 2nd Corinthians chapters 11-13, sometimes called “Paul’s Fool Speech.”
He’s seen these Christians preaching:
-a message of power and self-promotion,
-a message that they alone have ascended to the highest heavens
-and they alone have touched the face of God and have come home to brag about it.
-They brag about their independence,
that they have cultivated their own virtue and it has grown into an armor impervious against any assault,
or any connection to their fellow Christians, or perhaps even to God!

          Or think of the rap Jesus has in his home town… everyone is disappointed because…
they know him
they know who he is connected to…
they know his relatives…
he didn’t show up out of no where, no past and no future like some Gun Slinger in a Western.
          Or take the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, the self-made man with no past who showed up in West Egg was exciting and intriguing,
his previous identity, James Gatz, the college drop out janitor from North Dakota—not so much…
 the only real difference between the two was that strange something
-radical independence,
-being sui generis
-completely unique…
that’s what they wanted of Jesus.
          Or think of the debunked science of Spontaneous Generation—believed to be hard proven fact from the time of Aristotle until the 1860’s…
it was assumed creatures like Eels and maggots, and even mice,
simply came into existence
—no parents
—independent of any predecessor…
          That’s what these folk in Jesus’ home town were looking for—a spontaneously generated savior… not the town’s favorite son.

          But at some point, they have to admit the truth… we all do,
it’s common ol’ Jesus
—it’s Jesus from the Block,
he’s the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon and his gaggle of sisters…
          There is a connection—Ezekiel connected with those stiff necked and stubborn people he preached to… and he is part of… he is one of!
          We have to examine that truth embedded in all of Paul’s talk of strength and weakness
—to be strong is to be self-contained, to be knit together when everything else is coming undone.
 But to be weak… to be weak is to be unraveling, to be coming undone along with everyone else…
to be interdependent with others, to not boast that everything is fine as everyone else suffers, because
in their suffering they find a savior,
in their unraveling there is then room for Jesus…
that’s worth boasting about
We are empty, yet in Christ we are full.

          Let us declare, along with Ezekiel and Jesus and the Disciples and Paul, our interdependence:
          There comes a time when dissolving band after band of connection no longer cuts it. The laws of nature and of God require that we affirm our union, one to another, we must point to the places is sacred scripture where common love, the promises of sisterhood and the bonds of brotherhood, are solidly spoken.
          We hold these truths close to our heart, that we are not separate one from another, that God our Creator has connected us and created us for relationship, vulnerability, and love.

          For only then, may we say with Ezekiel’s generation, “surely a prophet has come among us.”
          For only then, may our eyes stop looking passed our saviors siblings and see that “God Among Us” means among them as well.
          For only then, bereft of bag and bread, and billfold will we trod where our savior trod, serving our neighbor as our savior served, in the name of God.
          For only then, like Paul, may we unravel our self and allow vulnerability—isn’t vulnerability the pre-curser to love?
          For only then, can we call a thorn something more—isn’t there pain in love? Doesn’t wooing and being wooed do something to you?
          Only then, unraveling and being held together through Christ,
loving one another in the midst of it all,
that love I experience through the power of Christ made real in heartfelt feeling for those who also suffer.
          Only then, may we declare what God has already declared,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Complete Book of Job (Abridged)

The Complete Book of Job (Abridged)
Act 1: Wisdom in the Balance
The wise, those who trust the book of Proverbs completely, and all that it affirms, say:
              Don’t you know, creation is set up to reward the good and the wise, and to punish the wicked and the fools…
Go either “the high way”—trust and obey the LORD, seek his path and you will find his favor!
Or “My Way”—Uphold only self, ignore God, be filled with pride, praising perversity and spreading lies—if you do so you will find only punishment!

To this the book of Ecclesiastes questions: “What if rewards aren’t as fulfilling as expected? What if our mortality makes the rewards of morality moot? (Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch)
To this, today, the book of Job questions: “What if there is no discernable connection between reward and punishment?”

Act 2: The Test
Once upon a time, there was a man named Job, the best of men—Wise and Good, and blessed for it. (Exit pulpit)

Inspector: Let me test this theory, let me question this system of rewards and punishments—after all, are folk good on account of goodness, or good because they know they’ll be rewarded?
-Let us strike down Job’s children and wealth—does he fold?
Hmmm, lets go further still, let us take his health and make his spouse forsake him…
-Look he holds on even without any reward…

-Oh look, his wise friends, they sit with him, and say nothing… \
…thank God, sometimes people hurting, as Job hurts, need silence, just being with them and nothing more, the wisest thing possible, a ministry of presence.

Act 3: The Worst Friends Ever

Scene 1: Eliphaz
Job: Truly, in a million different ways, in the midst of all the suffering I’ve experienced, I wish I had never been born.
Eliphaz: Hold up? You’re Job, aren’t you? You teach Wisdom’s ways to people, you have been telling folk that if they are innocent they will not suffer, haven’t you? Now that you are suffering, you’re going to renege on that proposition?
Job: Dude! You are about to make it worse, just shut up. You’re not helping!
Eliphaz: No, Job, let me finish. You are a wise teacher, you know that the foolish are a danger to themselves and to their kids. Haven’t you taught that a fool’s children will be crushed, just as your children were crushed? This is your teaching, now you are experiencing it firsthand.
Job: Eliphaz, do you know why you aren’t helping? Because I didn’t ask for your help, let alone ask for your explanation of human suffering wrapped up in a bow.
Eliphaz: Job, chill! This suffering you are experiencing is just correction.
Job: I don’t think you get how painful God’s “correction” is, how horrible it is to have your children crushed!
Suffering is so strange, you experience the pain and the horror, but also the long boring bland moments, time elongating before you forever.
At this point I just want God to finish the job he started on ol’ Job here—kill me!
Eliphaz: Be of good cheer, my man. God will strengthen you! Surely you will recover!
Job: Why would I want to recover? To be strengthened by God? What would I have to look forward to?
Eliphaz: Like you said before this pity party of yours started, isn’t it right that we receive both good and bad from God? Good when you are good, and bad when you are bad.
Job: How does blaming the victim help the victim? Huh? I bet you’d kick an orphan while he’s down and think you’re doing the kid a favor!

Scene 2: Zophar
Job: At this point, it feels like you all are just harassing me. So, let me say it plainly. God has wronged me and won’t answer for the wrong.
Heck, to me, God is an oppressive force, an army besieging me.
Everyone sees me as a stranger.
I’m sick! Why won’t you pity me?
God has struck me, shouldn’t that make you sad… or even afraid… you might be next!
Yet, perhaps… even in all this pain, someone will redeem me, someone will write down all these wrongs and represent me against all my accusers!
Don’t act like dispassionate scientists watching a frog getting cut up in a lab, you are next to be pithed! You will be unjustly punished just as I have been!

Zophar: You’re words shake me, friend, and I feel insulted.
It is my duty to respond as best I know how.
The wicked have a short life!
They will be ignored and forgotten!
This is because they followed the wrong path, they should have lived righteously instead of wickedly, but they didn’t, and are suffering for it!
God is sucking up all their unjust gains!
All that was taken wrongly is being taken back.
Heaven has exposed their guilt, and by extension, your own!

Job: Oh Lord! Just listen to me Zophar, please! Just close your damn mouth for a moment, tape it shut if you have to!
Look around at the world as it is, the wicked prosper! I don’t think you get what I’m saying.
You think I’m proscribing things, but I’m describing them, pointing out the way the world really is.
Don’t you get it, I’m with you, let the wicked burn! Punish the children of the wicked. May God never be late in punishing the wicked, make them suffer now! Because…
Because… have you noticed the existential truth of it all? The wicked die and so do the righteous, and guess what, they are both dead!
I truly understand your position, good people ought to be rewarded for their goodness, and bad people ought to be punished for their badness… but open a newspaper man! The wicked prosper, no one can stop them. Making dogmatic, declarative statements to the contrary does nothing… it certainly does not comfort the suffering!

Scene 3: Bildad
Job: There is injustice everywhere, but God does not act.
Bildad: Surely that is not because God is weak… for God is, ultimately, all-powerful.
No one is pure before God.
Compared to God, humans are so small.
Job: Well! Aren’t you helping the hurting with such answers.
Bildad: Well, yeah, I am! Don’t you know that God’s power subdues even chaos and death!
God’s mighty acts are so loud we can barely hear a complete word about His wonder!
Job: If God is so powerful, why won’t he give me my day in court?
I really can’t in good conscience ask for anything else. I can’t claim to be wicked, that itself would be wicked. The only right thing would be for every horror I’ve experienced to be visited upon my enemies. God will only be just if he throws all that powerful weight you talk about against those who are against me… including you three.

Act 4: Wisdom and an Absent God
Scene 1: Wisdom’s Soliloquy
Where is Wisdom found?
You can find fruits in trees,
You can dig and find gold and silver and fossils
Heck, you can find anything on Google!
But where is Wisdom found?

You can cheat death or on your taxes,
You can get through a war zone or escape a prison,
You can sell high and buy low,
But where can Wisdom be found?

Look at Job there, he has lost everything,
Any earthly wisdom gained by experience,
He’s earned… and more…
But Wisdom, it is only found in God
—only found when we are struck by awe,
By the Fear of the Lord.
When we come face to face with the living God, and live anew afterwards!

Scene 2: Enter Elihu
I may be young, but I’m going to tell it like it is…
Look at all of you—wise friends, you need to press home your attack, make Job pay! Anything short of that, you’re just as bad as him!
Look at all of you—Job, you need to shove it and shut up before you make things worse for yourself.
Do you really think God will show up for you? Who are you, royalty? A princess or president? No, you’re just some guy!
You don’t want God to speak to you—God’s only voice this side of the void is nightmares and misfortunes.
What does God have to do with humans? Its like an ant negotiating with a magnifying glass on a hot day—it ain’t gonna end wel for the ant.
Just surrender Job, I’ll fix your problems for you—don’t take it up with the guy up stairs and all your problems will go away….
No, really, just take it all back, you know God only hurts the guilty… you know that your guilt is hurting everyone, not just you… think of that wife of yours! Your kids!
Okay, I’m only going to say it one more time, Job… God is awesome, righteous, and inaccessible, there is no way you will get an audience, the LORD will not answer you, so buzz off.

Act 4: God’s Response
And after Elihu affirmed that the LORD would not answer Job, the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind (and you can read along here):
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
"Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?--when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?”

              I suppose you know how to keep gravity constant? I suppose you can ensure that the conditions needed to support life here on earth will continue? You’re going to make sure the ozone doesn’t catch on fire, right?
              Or look up into the vast expanse. What do you know about the Winds of Venus or the atmosphere of Pluto? Can you squish together a million earths and create the sun? Have you heard the silence of space?
              Oh, Job, what do you really know about the world around you? Did you know that a shirmp’s heart is located in its head? That koala’s have fingerprints indistinguishable from humans? That Elephants are the only animal that can’t jump?
              Job, come on then, take over for me…
hold back entropy, continue to energize all of things the that wish to break down
help humans choose peace in the face of war
help them care for each other, when it is so much easier for them to be indifferent.

Job:      I repent! I repent…  But also, I repent of repenting, I throw dust upon dust and ash upon ash

Act 6: It is a Wonderful Life
              With that God turned to Job’s three friends, “As for you! Your Reward/Punishment style of Wisdom, is wrong, look to your friend Job, in his suffering he spoke rightly. Sacrifice, and ask Job, who was right, to pray for you.”

              And with that the three friends repented of their sins and Job interceded for them.
              And Job received back all those things that he had lost, double in fact,
double wealth, double health, and double family.
              And they lived happily ever after.