Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Ash Wednesday Sermon: The Motherly Love of God

The 51st Psalm can get kinda intense: 
“Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” 
“Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” 
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

          That’s why it is important to hear clearly its opening verse:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.”
-Your steadfast love… more literally your “womb-love” or if that kind of language makes you feel some way, your “motherly love.” That’s the foundation upon which we can come together and be truthful about who we are, God’s motherly love—does this.

          I had a strange coincidence happen to me around my birthday this last year. A friend and I were in Target, and he pointed to this soap, “Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap.” He asked, “You’re parents are hippies, I bet you use that right?” I said “no,” and was going to go about my day, but he had me smell it, and it was bizarre… I was transported to my grandma’s house. 
It turned out, this soap was the funny soap my grandma always used when I was a kid…
Smell is a powerful thing
—now each time I wash my hands with this soap, it’s like I’m a kid up in Thief River Falls, Minnesota in the summer: 
-long days of watching cartoons,
-walks in the park with Grandma’s poodle, Woofer,
-fighting ticks and mosquitoes and soothing the bites with Aloevera,
-putting together machines and robots with stuff from the junk drawer, 
-being tucked into bed safe and sound as she sang me to sleep, singing: “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
…All that from smelling soap… an experience of Grandmotherly love.
Dear God, according to your motherly love, make me clean!
The Motherly love of God—that’s how we can do Ash Wednesday at all.

          Held fast by the Motherly love of God, we can confess
—yes, I’ve made mistakes, 
yes, I’ve hurt people I care about, 
yes I have sinned by what I do and by what I don’t do.
          For that matter, we can better face the reality of our mortality,
 that our bodies will fail us, 
that our minds will, as well, 
that we are creature, not Creator, no matter how much we’d like it to be otherwise.

          We do this, not to feel bad about things
—but because it’s true
and we can be real about things…
I know people don’t like to talk about it, but most folk walk around day to day with a lot of humiliation held inside… or on their shoulders… or wherever it is we keep those kinds of feelings. 
And, when we admit where we’re at in the scheme of things, we can be humble, and let me tell you, “humility can not be humiliated.”

          For that matter, when we look around the room this evening, 
seeing ash crosses on one another’s heads
ashes to ashes, dust to dust
we can see that we’re not alone in this.
          I think of an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” in which the main character, Ted, continually drags around his “baggage” –that he’d been left at the Altar—it made him isolated and alone.
Then, by the end of the episode, he realizes everyone has baggage
—the final scene of this episode is of the metaphorical baggage everyone has popping into reality as pieces of luggage
—what was invisible and shameful, becomes visible and an acknowledged part of life.
          So too, when you look around in a few minutes, look at those crosses
—recognize you are not alone in any of this
—we’re all dragging our luggage, we all have our own baggage. 
It’s not as if everyone else has it figured out and you’re just trying to get through
everyone is adlibbing.

          This Lent, let us thank God for the Motherly Love God shows us, which allows us to
embrace humility and find a certain defense against humiliation.
          Motherly Love which hones our honesty about our failings and fallibility, and we find ourselves in good company, and not alone.

          This Ash Wednesday I am so thankful for the Motherly Love of God. Amen.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Transfiguration 2017 Sermon

Follow the Hills

              At this point a lot of you know that your Pastor is… geographically challenged… and some of that is a consequence of owning a GPS
…. But there is another factor—I grew up in Cheyenne Wyoming—if you ever got turned around there all you needed to do was look for the Rocky Mountains. If they were to your left you were heading North, if they were to your right you were heading South.
              The Rockies were a guide, a good way to know where I was.
              And, I think, the mountains in Matthew’s Gospel are a good guide for us as well, especially as we consider the transformation of the Transfiguration. Let’s let the mountains be our guide. The Mountains are our guide.
              The Mountains are our guide.
              The first such mountain in Matthew’s Gospel, is the mount upon which Jesus was tempted. The Devil took him up a high mountain and he is offered an exchange
—all Authority on earth—power over every Kingdom, the ability to rule in a way that would make Caesar Augustus himself blush
—all that would be given for him, if he would worship the Devil.
Jesus rejects this form of authority—he’s not that kind of king, the consent of the world is not a gift to be given
—it isn’t a favor to be bestowed.
Despite what our sign says out front this week, ours is not a God who forces us to do things, forces himself on us, ours is a God who woos us, who is infinitely patient, no short cuts or dirty deals.
Jesus will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven and show us his authority as Son of God, in a way that reflects what the true meaning of Kingdom of Heaven and Son of God
–the ends and the means will be the same.

From there, we find Jesus up a mountain preaching perfection
… preaching blessings upon those who hunger and thirst,
the peacemakers, persecuted, poor, and pure,
the mourning, merciful and meek.
Jesus making his rejection of the Devil a reality for all those seated at the base of the mountain, hearing his words and experiencing their truth.
The beatitudes and sermon on the mount is a consequence of the kind of king Jesus is.

Then on two separate mountains, Jesus feeds 5,000 and 4,000—bread for all, just as Caesar would promise,
but for free!
—in fact, in one account of this feeding the people try to crown Jesus and he flees
—no authoritarian manipulating people with their bellies, this Jesus…
no, simply a man pointing to the abundance that is found in God.

            Then we get to today’s mountain—the mount of Transfiguration—where Jesus is transformed, changed, before his disciples eyes.
            And let me tell you a little something about transformation
—I had the privilege last week of peering out into the assembly and seeing all of you, all of you along with all of the Cross of Life-folk, and I don’t know quite what to say about it, other than that the first thing I thought was, “This is an image of the Kingdom of Heaven, right here!”
We were filled!
And there were people of all shapes, sizes, and shades.
People from Plainfield, South Plainfield, outside New Jersey, outside America
—and we were all gathered together in worship of Jesus Christ!
On Sunday we looked a little like the Kingdom of Heaven! We were together transformed, I got to peek for a moment at something
—maybe it is what St. Stephen will look like in our best possible future
—maybe it was our present as presented to the eyes of God
—I don’t know exactly what I saw here—but I saw it.
Maybe ol’ Peter felt that way too, wanting to bottle and capture the moment, to let these end of the world figures, Moses and Elijah, who joined Jesus have a spot to stay…
I don’t know what he saw, but I do know what he heard! He heard the voice of God defining who Jesus is, insisting that we listen to him
—there, in Jesus’ relationship to the Father
—that’s where Jesus authority comes from
—not from any gold plated gimmick given by the devil, but by his faithful connection to our Creator.
And this amazing revelation is to be held in those three disciple’s hearts as they hike in parallel to these holy hills in Matthew’s Gospel—being guided by the mountains of Matthew.

From the terrifying heights of Transfiguration the disciples are empowered by Jesus. They are told, again, on two different mountains, that by their faith they might move mountains, in fact, they could toss mount Zion itself into the sea with their faith.

Then, from yet another mountain, they are warned, a great cataclysm is coming—fear the end of the age, flee to the mountains, they are told that there shall be trials and temptations
—and then they sing songs together as they head toward the mount of olives where their world, their age, comes to an end with Jesus’ arrest there and crucifixion.

But, there is a mountain on the other end as well
—they meet Jesus again on a mountain in Galilee.
They meet their risen Lord at the end and beyond the end, and he gives them there the great commission
—All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus, and so the disciples are called to make disciples of All people and baptize and teach them, trusting that Jesus is with us until the end of the age.

         Follow the mountains brothers and sisters, they’ll show us what the transfiguration is all about. It is telling us what kind of King rules the Kingdom of Heaven… it is telling us by what authority Jesus does what he does, and in so doing it shows us our own authority as his disciples.
         Jesus’ rule comes from his father in heaven, not any deal, or trick, or blustering show of force or power.
         It comes from right preaching and open generous hands.
         It is powerful, it can move mountains.
         Yes, holding onto this faith revealed in Jesus will come with many trial, but Jesus promises he will be with us until the end of the Age.
-Relationship with God
-truthful words and generosity
-a growing faith even in the face of opposition
-Jesus’ promised presence with us.
These are the mountain peaks we can follow if it feels like we’re getting lost. They are what is revealed on the mount of transfiguration.