Friday, December 29, 2017

Luthermatrix 2017

So, as I try to do, I thought I’d reflect a bit on what I’ve blogged about this year.

First off, it is worth looking at what stuck a chord with people… most prominently my post about the Tax Bill and Charity which 1,340 people looked at. Then trailing by about 1,000 readers was A Unified Theory of Lutheranism Today where I reflected upon my Learning, Lawn chairs, and Lemonade events I ran this summer, where we thought about the future of the Lutheran Church. Then some folk read Jesus’ Unfinished Parable and Resolution 4: On Difficult Conversations about the resolution I introduced to Synod Assembly.

Secondly, it is worth considering a few posts I think more people should have read.

I re-wrote large portions of Paul’s letter to the Romans to be more understandable to my congregation, check them out if you have a chance. Maybe more exciting for me than anyone else, but last February I finally paid off my seminary debt! I also wrote a few good poems Dance and Metaphors are Everywhere. Then there are all my posts about the Indonesians who worship in our building who ICE deported. Finally, my response to Charlottesville felt inspired at the time.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sermon: Christmas 2017

Look here carefully into the candles of Advent, 
what do you see within those four flames? 
Look closer still, at the center, the Christ Candle.
Do you perhaps see what they represent, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love? Some of us have been meditating on those themes to get ready for Christmas; do you see such things within? Do you see Christ surrounded with our preparation, Christ flanked by those presents which he brings, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love—which he kindles in our hearts?
For that matter, what do you see in the altar candles? Can you see God in common earthly elements, bread and wine? Can you see and taste the point of Christmas ate and drank, God with us.
And what of those candles in your hands?
You anticipate the wax slipping through the little cardboard shield solidifying on your knuckles, the flame dancing there with you—calling you as well to the dance of Christmas, calling you to bear witness to the Christ Child in the manger.
          Just a few days after solstice, the shortest of short days, when the sun seemed to almost never appear, we gather together with these lights, reminding us that the night will not last always
—and that the literal comfort of that reality, also speaks to a metaphoric truth
—the truth that Christ’s birth illuminates the world even in the most stinging of shadows
—in a world overshadowed with big and meddlesome world powers and personalities such as Emperor Augustus, 
-a world where there is no room in the inn for weary travelers, 
-a world in which God seems to be an oppressive force, or silent, or even absent.
 In such a world as that, in such a world as our own, a child is born, a small holy spark hallows the whole world!

          From the first candle of hope, I can peer through the long darkness of space and time and see people doing the very same thing—peering, peering through time and waiting…
          Waiting for the one for whom angels sing, the Hope of the world heralded by heaven!
And look there, how He kindled the shepherd’s curiosity. His existence moves the shepherds from field to manger.
They wonder, could he be the one? Maybe, and they dream bigger still, and say Yes!
The one who lights up the night sky—the one whose story stuns and amazes everyone the shepherds tell.
Yes, I peer into the first candle and see signs of hope!

          Look at this second candle, Peace… elusive… isn’t it?
          Did you know that anyone under 17 has never known an America at peace?
Well, Isaiah’s generation felt a similar pressure, and was put in a similar place—and called out from that war weary place for an end to oppression, that violence would be burnt up, they called for the “Prince of Peace.”
And hundreds of years after Isaiah the angels sing back and blows our mind—God showing up in a trough!
Such a strange thing God does—it should shake us, as it did those shepherds, and later the whole world.
Christmas shakes the world’s foundation even as it calls to our terrified souls and says, “Be No Afraid.” It calms us even as it transforms the values of the whole world in a spiritual maelstrom—God with us!

          Look again—Joy, joy jolting the heavens, an angel descending with promise of a newborn child—God with us. Tidings of great joy, our hearts heaped to overflow with good news!
          Sung, this song of angels, praise to the highest heavens, the highest heavens now here, hallowing our earth, making holy human habitation.
          See too this truth, proclaimed not only by angels, but also from the rough lips of these shepherds, spoken in the midst of the stink of wool and animal waste, roughly spoken for a rough world in need of such speech.

          Look as well at the tallest of our blue candles—Love—Perhaps it hasn’t burnt long enough—only lit this morning, late and almost crowded out—Mary holding all these things in her heart, cherishing, loving what God is doing.
          Loving that God is lighting a fire of love through her—loving the precious gift God is giving us. Love incarnate in Jesus Christ, born to us.

          Then look to the central flame, marking that we have finally arrived
Hope, Peace, Joy, Love
Angels, Shepherds, Holy Family
—all of us gathered to hear the Good News.
          All of it, all of us, peering in from different sides, that we might more clearly focus on him, on Christ Jesus, born of Mary, found by Shepherds, Announced by Angels.
          Our Hope, Peace, Joy, Love.

          Look too over here to my right—where we will eat together
2 more candles.
In their flames we can see blood and body given, bread and wine provided—both bringing us close to him, both allowing us to believe that it is true
—God with us, in this, the common everyday—a child, a manger, a family on the move.
          We don’t need to look to a galaxy far far away, or embellish the facts of our lives—the stuff of life itself is holy and held by God and holds God. God is vulnerable—God is present in a baby boy—in bread and wine—in the fullness of our lives.

          And in a few minutes, you’ll be holding candles, holding a flame—look there too, how it started with a single flame, just a spark—yet it spread.
          What started on Christmas morning—what was witnessed first by shepherds—spread—the holiness of Jesus, spread to all the earth.
          Good news for All people.

Advent 4:Where do you find love?

Here we are at the tail end of Advent,
The last vapors of this season of emergence, arrival, revelation.
          A time like waiting for a letter, the contents of which will reveal everything—making everything plane.
          But this season is also like driving your car to a new place for the first time.
          The drive back always feels quicker—because you are no longer looking so carefully, you don’t pay as close attention.
          In fact, by the 100th drive there, it feels like the car drives itself.
          So too Advent—we’ve driven this road a long time—Christians have observed and practiced Advent in some form for at least 1,650 years--and by now we often see our destination as Christmas, so we don’t notice the budding blessing of Advent
--we don’t revel in the moving and empowering radiance of Love
--we don’t rest in the strengthening power of Peace,
--We don’t lean into the bracing and crisp wind of Hope,
--we aren’t buoyed up by the enduring buoyancy of Joy,
We skip over the precious gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
We don’t let Advent interrogate our lives to help us find its treasures.
But this morning, at least, let’s ask, “Where can you find love?”

Where can you find love?
          The short answer—God.
          Have you not heard, God is love! 
          Our ability to love, it comes from God
—God fortifies us and strengthens us to love others. Throughout God’s good creation, through the power of God’s redemption of us, 
and God’s ongoing sustenance of us
—we find God’s love in all those things
—in our relationship with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
          Yes—God loves us and fortifies us to act in loving and good ways!

Where can you find love?
          I can’t wait to tell you!
          There’s a love letter from God, one etched in flesh and proclaimed in a person!
          I can’t wait to tell you,
 you, yes you, 
particularly and individually
—all your peculiarities and personality
—YOU are loved.
          I can’t wait to tell you, all of you, how deeply God loves the whole of you—y’all if you will…all of us connected together and bound in a great harmony
—heck, even the disharmony, the off notes, the unpleasant singing
—even that God makes into ruckus improvisational Jazz! Even that is found to be lovely, beloved! 
Yes, even when we hold but faint fleeting wisps of Hope, Peace, and Joy—the Love of God is still there!

Where can you find love?
          That letter, written to humanity, penned as with invisible ink, told the story of God’s love—God’s continuous relationship—with particular people, through thick and thin, from slavery to tribal times, kingship to exile, escape to the enfeeblement of their nation, and an ongoing promise to always be with them—and then, that beautiful story, enfleshed, and expanded.
          That beautiful story, seen in full in Jesus
—that story continually expanding, even today, expanding God’s love for all of us
—God’s love found in Jesus, God fully with us, 
with God’s creation
—the love story of God gifted to all of us!
          How do I even describe it?
          This mystery, revealed. You may know what it is like to fall in love—if so, it’s like that. 
You’ve fallen even before you realize you’re in love
—the relationship overtakes you
—there is a reason it is called falling in love—it isn’t like you try to fall, it just happens to you, and then there you are on the ground a patch of ice under you!
          So too the revelation of God’s mystery—that God’s love through Jesus is for all!
          You’re going along reading the love story, and then you’ve fallen in love
—it was always there, God’s love for us, it’s always been there!
          A mystery, like the one in Mary’s womb, tiny yet tangible, 
sign and story stirring within her, in the face of all that which would obstruct the mercy of God
—all the stories of the world that weave away from God’s promise and greatest gift found in Mary’s womb
—God’s love for us incarnate, that’s the great mystery of God!

Where can you find love?
          Anywhere—everywhere! That’s just it, that’s the revelation, that’s what is revealed in the invisible ink of scripture—God’s love for all.
          That’s what’s revealed in God’s Word made Flesh, Jesus—that God’s love is not meant to rest in some heavenly home, never to touch our secular soil, but instead that the sacred is here with us—that God’s love, is with us. Jesus present to each of us!

Where can you find love?
          We find love in you, dearest God. Love revealed in your strange wisdom. Love revealed in your glory, transformed into humility here on earth. God’s love in Jesus Christ revealed forever anew. Praise to you o’ God of Love. Amen.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sermon: Where Do You Find Peace?

         Here we are in Advent—the season of emergence, arrival, revelation.
         A time like the shout of a messenger arriving at an execution at the last moment carrying papers signed by a judge and shouting “innocent, innocent!”
         But this season is also like driving your car to a new place for the first time.
         The drive back always feels quicker—because you are no longer looking so carefully, you don’t pay as close attention.
         In fact, by the 100th drive there, it feels like the car drives itself.
         So too Advent—we’ve driven this road a long time—Christians have observed and practiced Advent in some form for at least 1,650 years--and by now we often see our destination as Christmas, so we don’t notice the budding blessings of Advent
--we don’t rest in the strengthening power of Peace,
--We don’t lean into the bracing and crisp wind of Hope,
--we aren’t buoyed up by the enduring buoyancy of Joy,
--we don’t revel in the moving and empowering radiance of Love
We skip over the precious gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
We don’t let Advent interrogate our lives to help us find its treasures.
But this morning at least, let’s ask, “Where can you find peace?”

Where can you find peace?
         Isaiah reminds us that one of the places to find peace is in The astonishing
The unexpected
The startling.
Find peace in 39 chapters of condemnation / cut clean through by the prophet’s clarion call:
“Comfort O Comfort.”
In scripture answering scripture—this response to the Book of Lamentation’s description of the city Jerusalem, “How lonely sits the city, for there was no one to comfort her… no one to comfort Jerusalem.”
To this Isaiah answers, “Comfort, O comfort”
Peace cast over the walls of Babylon, catching the ears of God’s people kidnapped for 40 years, echoing, “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”
For a generation God’s people punished—cast out and exiled…
they were judged for not loving their neighbors but instead
-living off of them,
-selling the poor for a pair of sandals,
-following false prophets and false gods…
Prophets who shouted PEACE PEACE where there was no peace, and leaders who put trust in earthly things, when their help was to come from above.
For a generation—and now a commuted sentence,
an acknowledgement that this estrangement from their God has gone on too long, punishment replaced by peace condemnation with comfort.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”

Where can you find peace?
         There is wandering wasteland and an impossible desert journey between Babylon and home—it shall be bridged with an expansive road, safe and easy to follow.
         Valleys are places of ambush and hills can be an obstacle too far
—all that leveled out, smoothed so that you may make the journey, that we can meet
—God and the people.
         God and ALL the people—God’s glory revealed!

Where can you find peace?
         There can be a strangeness to peace—when we recognize our faults it is worth stepping back in order to take stock.
When we recognize the faults of our society, it is worth stepping back, assess where we are and where we ought to be
—It is better to get lost in the desert, than to be lost in the safety of the city, and not even notice.
John out there with the sinners who know they are lost—in need of repentance, that is much safer than those hypocrites who confess that they are all right
—that there is nothing to see here, John.
They won’t meet him when he comes—when the one for whom we wait arrives, when the Prince of Peace arrives, they’ll not be in the desert with him.

Where can you find peace?
         “Cry out to my people.”
         “What should I say? We’re dyin’ out here, man.  Didn’t you see it, a whole generation wiped out—what words could I say to them to give them peace?
         I mean, just look at them
—look at them, God! What can you do with a people like this? They’re like grass, if the Word of God showed up, they’d blow away.”
         “Yes, grass withers, flowers fade—but it isn’t about them, it isn’t about you—it is about the Word of God, within there is a peace that surpasses all understanding—my word will stand forever.”

Where can you find peace?
          Jerusalem—City of Peace, pulled apart by every nation and religion and faction
Jerusalem, where the Christian keepers of Christ’s tomb fight with each other so often that the only person trusted with the key to the front door is a Muslim.
Jerusalem where any ill spoken word can cause carnage,
a thoughtless act echoes on and multiplies.
         Jerusalem you lonely city
—in some strange reality beyond my petty imagination—you lift up your voice and fill the world with good news
—in some Godly reality which I can not see—there is no fear.
         God, a mighty warrior comes—warriors and war always seems to come to you, don’t they dear Jerusalem.
         The great soldier steps in to slay enemies—or so we hope, each faction confident they are in the right and that God are ours, and ours alone
—God you step in, fearsome to behold—and feed Your flock…
God gathers the lambs, carries them, leads us on as a mother sheep.

Where can you find peace?
         This week, embrace the unexpected, God might be doing something liberating with it.
         Ask yourself what obstacles are being removed from your path?
         Where are you in the wrong, and in need to make amends, or at least need to step back?
         Look to scripture to that solid foundation in which much peace is found.
         Pray for peace in Jerusalem, that God’s will
—scooping his lambs up and carrying them in his bosom
—might come closer to reality.