Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ash Wednesday Message

         Look at the person nearest to you—at their brow in particular.
No smudge, no black spot, no dust and ash cross on their forehead?
         Well, the wild thing is that it is already there
—that ash
—that ash is already there on their forehead and upon your own as well.
         You are dust and to dust shall you return—that’s an obvious truth, we are mortal, we’re confined to a particular time and place. Our bodies break down and things fall apart,
to quote both William Falkner and the Buddha,
“All things impermanent.”
         That’s already the case.
“All things impermanent,” is a reality whether I put ash upon your brow or not…
but when I do, this hidden truth is made plain,
it becomes obvious,
it comes to the forefront of our lives. What was hidden is revealed. The invisible is made visible.
         And, very briefly, because the ritual actions we do this night speak more powerfully than any words I can come up with,
I would like to talk to you about the power of hidden, invisible, things.

         In today’s Gospel we read of hidden things—Hidden Alms, Hidden Prayers, and Hidden Fasting.
         These are of course things we, as people of faith, do.
Things we as children of our Heavenly Father do, not to be seen, not to be honored,
 but because of the wondrous grace we’ve received and continue to receive from God.
         These hidden things—

-giving of our possessions to those in need,
-praying to God that the reality of Heaven might break into our lives and into the lives of both friends and enemies,
-and consuming less, so that others might have enough
are all practices of the Christian Church
—I could, I believe, name times when each one of you have done things that fit within these broad categories,
Alms, Prayer, and Fasting.
         And it is during the season of Lent—these 40 days leading up to Easter—when we make obvious these actions, when we afford ourselves extra opportunities for these practices.
         These things we as God’s people do in secret, are made more obvious in Lent.
Like that hidden dust that is already on your brow, yet will be revealed shortly
—the hidden piety of the people of God is revealed in Lent.

         Jesus speaks of hidden deeds, and Paul speaks of a hidden triumph, a hidden kingdom, and a hidden citizenship.

         Not to get too deep into the geopolitical mud, but look at what the country of Russia is claiming and doing. They’re claiming a right to defend Ethnic Russians, no matter what country they live in, and they’re giving Russian passports to Ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine.
         It is as if these Ukrainians are secret Russians, they have a secondary, invisible, citizenship.

         And that is what Paul is pointing to today, an invisible citizenship that motivates the Christian life.
         Through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we can say:
 -now is the acceptable time,
-now is the day of salvation. We know his death, and our own, is ultimately a triumph, taking the dark no of mortality/ and redeeming it with the overshadowing mercy of God’s Yes for us.
         We’ve found a second citizenship—an invisible one, the Kingdom of Heaven.
         And we are ambassadors for that Kingdom, for that Good News.
         We’re freed to live out that calling, which may bring about hardships of all sorts…
yet we struggle to respond with goodness in all things,
finding ourselves held taut by that tension
 “treated as imposters, yet in truth, true/ dying, and yet see! we are alive.”

         Yes, look to your sister or your brother,
at their forehead,
their brow,
their mortality is there,
“All things impermanent.”
--but so too is Alms, Prayer, and Fasting
—so too is Christ’s triumph and their citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Peter on the Transfiguration

         I guess I can tell you now, after all he’s risen from the dead and the Spirit has sent us to proclaim that message from Jerusalem to Rome and on to the ends of the earth.
         I’m not quite sure where to start though—at his Baptism maybe—after all my story today echoes that Baptism by John…
         Or maybe that’s where it starts—I think so…
John was killed by Herod, so we went off to a quiet place to rest and mourn that great man’s death—but people showed up
—we tried to escape and reflect, but everyone was draw to Jesus, and we needed to feed them…
sure Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes, but we disciples still had to distribute the food
—imagine it, bachelors and fisher men, and tax collectors—12 men—feeding thousands of people
—it was hardly in our skill-set
—it was exhausting to provide for all those people.
         Then Jesus tried to escape off to quietly pray
—and by the end of that I walked on water
—though first I nearly sank
—a scary exhausting experience.
         Then we fed another crowd.
         Then I confessed who he was… who he is.
Jesus is “The Messiah, the Son of God.”
         I felt like I was finally on solid ground with that
—but then he talked about suffering and death
—he kept talking about suffering and death
—following him by taking up a cross
—a God-forsaken-cross.
         The cost of following Jesus,
the constant threat of death, affliction, and doubt,
feeding people constantly,
the low level wear-and-tear of all of it,
the constant grind,
it was too much.
         But then, after six days, he took the three of us up the Mountain.

         Up the mountain like Moses and Elijah
—Moses receiving the commandments and Elijah instructed by God to find the people in Israel who remained faithful.
         Jesus was changed before me, before us, becoming radiant, bright—like an angel a Son of God.
         And then those Holy Men of Old were there—Elijah and Moses—the Law and the Prophets, both there with Jesus.

         And all that… that fear and sorrow and worry and hurt that came from following Jesus, evaporated.
“Let’s stay here.  I’ll build booths!”
         I know, it might sound stupid, or na├»ve, or silly
—written down in our holy books now
—my weakness recorded forever, and even preached about in churches,
but that moment on the mountain, I felt safe.
It was a solid rock,
 something that wasn’t demanding of me,
taking from me.
It was something other than suffering and death and service.
That’s why I wanted to build a booth there.

         But all that was overshadowed by what came next
—that voice—the Bet Col, the voice of God
—just like at Jesus’ Baptism. It said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
         My confession
—that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God
—was confirmed by a voice from heaven!
Confirmed just as it was at Baptism
—but more than that, there was a command too, “listen to him.” Listen to suffering, death… and resurrection.
         In that sublime moment of rest and confirmation there was also a calling, a calling to what comes next
—it literally bowled me over. Knocked down into a little ball by the holy terror of what this calling was
—who this Son of God is.
         It might sound odd, but Jesus telling us about suffering and death is one thing… but the blinding divine confirmation of that calling, is a whole different thing—it was so frightening… hell, it IS so frightening.

         And to my fright came a gentle touch and the words, “Get up and be not afraid.”
         Those words, “Be not afraid,” are the words of angels and prophets,
as well as words from God Godself
—words He spoke to Moses when the Egyptians breathed down his neck
—words spoken to Elijah when he confronted the king
—words spoken by Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Joel
—words to me and to all of us from my Lord Jesus.
         Jesus, there, now alone, no ancient prophets or sparkling Messiah,
but Jesus, leading us down the mountain,
back to the hard work of service,
down the mountain to Jerusalem with its suffering and death.
         Down the mountain in silence, telling no one of this experience
—Jesus revealed to us fully, in glory, in completion
—revealed to us as our comfort and God’s Beloved Son
—revealed to us in commands about following him even to the most disastrous of ends, and following even then
—so that we can tell of his Resurrection
—tell of him being raised from the Dead.
—Tell of how suffering and death,
service and discipleship
are matched with being a Child of God, comforted by the Christ.
The Valley and the Mountain are both there.
         As we head down the mountain into the valley,
the darkness of that,
we have seen the light,
and it changes this journey to Jerusalem with Jesus.