Saturday, November 27, 2010

sunday's sermon--Matthew 24:36-44

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Reminds me of the prayer in Compline that lots of people love:
Keep watch, dear lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night…
Keep watch—remember, don’t forget about
or stay awake, don’t fall asleep, wake up!
You may have heard something else in today’s gospel reading
“Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding meal together;
one will be taken and one will be left.”
What does that mean?
That isn’t what I think it is, is it?
Is it like those bumper stickers you see:
“Warning: in case of Rapture, this car will be unmanned.”
Meaning what?
That the driver (and presumably the other riders)
are saved/forgiven/righteous
And therefore will be taken up to heaven in The End
Leaving the rest of us behind?
There’s a little problem here
How do you know your car will be unmanned?
I work at the Edge Campus Ministry House at UC
Our housekeeper says she grew up in a church where
only the 144,000 mentioned in Revelation
could take communion—and she wasn’t one of them
How do you know when it’ll happen when Jesus explicitly says you can’t?
How do you know YOU are righteous and others aren’t?
And if you DO know that your righteousness is so great,
Isn’t that the sin of pride,
landing you smack back in the driver’s seat?
I’m not joking here
A substantial portion of Christians believe that
one day, all the believers will be caught up into the sky,
leaving their families and lives behind to fend for themselves
in the coming Tribulation.
Is it real?
Can we pin it down to a date or plan of action? Not really
There isn’t much in the Bible and the concept
and term Rapture came into being in 1800s
what’s Jesus talking about?
Since the story of Noah and his family being saved from the flood
Comes right before
Maybe the ones who are spared are the ones left behind
“taken” might mean punished rather than spared
I’m not going to tell you what it means—surprise, surprise…
The point ≠ knowing the time or who or what is happening
The point is to focus on the here and now
Keep awake, keep watch, pay attention, wake up!
God is on the move
Like Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
God is working and will surprise you
“you do not know on what day your Lord is coming”
You don’t even know what God will look like!
When you see God, it will not be as you expect
It will not be to exclude the unrighteous like the Rapture
And it won’t be all love and peace and harmony like we want either
God moves when you least expect it
A lot of folks were upset about The Golden Compass, a movie based on the book by Philip Pullman
Some are concerned that it has themes of atheism
and downright hostility towards the church
They’re right
But I met God in reading the books nonetheless
We don’t expect to see God in atheists or in movies
and then God shows up saying, “pay attention—wake up!”
maybe you’ve heard someone say
“Christians don’t want to see murderers and rapists in prison
being entertained, using fancy gyms or libraries,
or being given comfort and compassion.”
In the words of St. Johnny Cash,
“then maybe they ain’t Christian”
The experiences these men and women have behind bars
Are beyond our knowing
And God lives there with them
Looking at us through the bars saying,
“pay attention—wake up”
most of us really don’t expect to see peace in the Middle East
we pray and hope but deep in our hearts,
we don’t see Jerusalem ever being at unity with itself
as the Psalm says
yet we keep trying, multi-laterally, for a solution
no matter what boats get fired upon
or who moves into the West Bank
what do you see in that as you keep watch this Advent?
My youth group used to volunteer at the Comm. Land Co-op in the West End
We spent hours hours loading a dumpsters with broken bricks and concrete
Demolishing a wall in a dark, scary basement
And removing a water-damaged ceiling
All to help prepare a house as affordable housing for a low-income Cincinnatian
if you’ve ever spent much time doing demolition on an old, dirty house
you know it’s hard, filthy work
We all ended up with black soot streaking our faces and clothing
face masks keep it out of your lungs
but also make the air you breathe hot and moist
Fogging up your glasses
The basement is moist and smelly and not a little creepy
And then you take a break—go outside for a moment
Emerging from the dust and muck and darkness and closeness
the cold air is crisp and focuses your mind immediately
wake up!
What Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s gospel is waking up
Waking up to the world around you
The relationships, the arguments, the beauty
How aware are you of your contribution to a problem?
How aware are you of another person’s feelings in a given moment?
How aware are you of the presence of God, of the movement of God?
God is on the move
Nudging us towards what is right, sometimes shoving us
Think about when you’re driving
And you drift a little into the next lane, not really paying attention
And something pulls you back
Your skin prickles unpleasantly
You sort of “come to”
You pull over into your own lane
And a car whizzes by within inches
Or seeing into the hearts of those you consider your enemies
School adversaries, your boss or co-workers, even political radicals
Have you had a moment when you suddenly saw them
In their vulnerability
Doing or saying something that you yourself have done?
Suddenly understanding their motives
No matter how much you disagree?
This is awareness—this is being awake, keeping watch
This is what Advent is for
We are waiting for the birth of our savior
And even though we know the end of the story
—Christmas and stars and sheep and the baby—
We can’t forget the process of getting there
Advent is about waiting and keeping watch
Mary’s still pregnant, remember
As are we—pregnant with possibility
Expecting the unexpected
Observing for a moment what we’ve done so far
and letting the things we might do next unfold gestate
this Advent season,
I invite you to keep watch each day
Take 10 minutes every day just to sit and watch
And be aware of who you are
And whose you are
Take 10 minutes every day
to ask yourself what you’re waiting for
take a step back
breathe in that crisp, cold air outside of your busy, close, dark life
look for patterns
look for God moving in your life and in the life of the world
Keep awake therefore Pay attention Wake up!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

sunday's sermon--Luke 21:5-19

As usual, please pardon the bizarre formatting. I can't be bothered to fix it.
* * *
“Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
[lift sign: “THE END IS NIGH”]
did you hear that?
Earthquakes, famines, plagues, signs, portents?!
How is this apocalypse not now?
[begin pacing]
Haiti wasn’t that long ago, you know
And Chile, and HIV in Africa, and the Gulf Coast
And suicide rates for teens are going up
And our food is more chemicals and murky ethics than food…
And I’ve read the political blogs
Our kids are going to grow up to be
debt-saddled, sex-crazed, sheltered,
free-thinking, bigoted hoodlums
because of big government.
Or small government.
I can’t remember which.
“do not be terrified” he says—must be easy if you’re the Son of God
this apocalypse is clearly now, clearly now is the end, or soon!...
Dear God in heaven [stop pacing]
I don’t want to worry y’all but I am Freaking. Out.
[calming breath] Ok. Moment of clarity.
Earthquakes, famines, wars, signs—when is this not the case?
Right. Maybe St. Douglas Adams was right [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
So, what’s the point of this, if it’s not to scare us?
Jesus actually says, “Do not be terrified.”
Maybe, like the scriptural appearances of angels
We’re told “don’t panic” because we already are panicking
We’ve already freaked ourselves out
assuming we know what’s gonna happen
[reverse slide: black]
this story Jesus tells
about disaster and war and politics and doom and gloom
this story has been told before.
many times.
Daniel of Daniel and the Lion’s Den told it
Malachi and Isaiah and other prophets told it
Jesus told it
Mark wrote it down and Luke borrowed it from him…
And it has pretty much the same words every time
This story is called Apocalyptic
Or, if you like $5 words, Eschatology
Eschatology is the study of the eschaton—the end—
and it’s not what you think [advance slide: “Don’t Panic”]
Apocalyptic is not what you think
It’s not telling the future in a Nostradamus kind of way
And it’s not a puzzle for us to try to figure out
Partly because that’s never worked
Partly because it cannot work
People for centuries have confidently claimed
the last days were upon us
people for centuries have pulled numbers and notations
from the text
and figured out the code that tells us the date of the end
but that’s not the point [reverse slide: black]
Jesus himself in the text says
“the end will not follow immediately”
Violent events “do not signal that the end is near”
“all attempts to figure out the texts…
make us master of the word rather than vice versa”
plus, Jesus says we’ll never know the hour or the day
And apocalyptic is not meant to scare you.
Well, it’s meant to scare you a little, but we’ll get to that.
Apocalyptic means “a drawing back of the curtain”
It’s a revealing of another truth
Apocalyptic literature is, at its base, a literature of hope
To the Jewish people who are ground under the heel of Rome
To a people who,
have been waiting for God to fulfill
the Great Promise for centuries
To a people who feel completely helpless
Apocalyptic is a story of deliverance, of justice, of hope
What this story of earthquakes and famines
—and the rest of it that we didn’t read—
is about is the oppressed being freed
and the oppressors being brought to justice
and, more importantly, about who’s really in charge
apocalyptic literature said to the Jews [advance slide “Don’t panic”]
“hang in there, don’t freak out
it stinks right now and it’ll probably continue to stink for awhile
but they’re not in charge
Be faithful” [reverse slide: black]
But what does it say to us now?
Here in America, most of us in this room are not the oppressed
We are the middle class,
the mostly educated, civic-minded,
and yes, upstanding Lutheran folk
Certainly we have our struggles—
the wealthy are not exempt from misery and sin
by any means
but we are not the garbage-pickers of Brazil
we are not the despairing gay kids who commit suicide
we are not the mothers trying
to nurse their cholera-ridden children to health in Haiti
we are not the housekeeper
struggling to survive on $140/week
or are we? [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
this apocalyptic literature has been misinterpreted for so long,
it’s hard to say what it means to us now [reverse slide: black]
but I wonder if it’s saying that it’s not about Us and Them?
It is not about We, the righteous of Good Shepherd,
being embraced and redeemed
while They—the sinful, oppressive
…Episcopalians? Athiests? Muslims? Whatever…
are judged and burned, much to our satisfaction
Lutherans know better than that
We are, in Luther’s words, simul Justus et peccator,
both saint and sinner
We are all both us and them.
We are all oppressed. And we are all oppressors.
We are all beloved. And we will all be judged.
But we don’t know when and we don’t know how
Roberta Bondi, one of my favorite devotional authors, says
“…if you think you know when it’s coming,
the very fact you think so is proof that you don’t.”
so, what are we supposed to do with this lesson?
[advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
it seems to be saying both, “don’t panic” and “the end is nigh”
and so it is
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are beaten down
where we are self-hating or bruised by the world
we need a revealing of God’s love
we need an apocalypse of hope
we need an apocalypse
for the parts of our lives where we are complacent
in our current good works,
in our easy political fixes for complex problems,
in our justification of what we have
we need an apocalypse of justice
we need an apocalypse
we need a pulling back of the curtain to reveal Truth
because it means a chance to remain faithful [reverse slide: black]
because here’s where it’s supposed to be a little scary
God is not saying “time to panic” but “time to participate”
This is what we promise in our baptism
That we will commit to the Word of God
That we will work for the revealing
of God’s peace, hope, justice, and love
That we will be faithful to our brothers and sisters
no matter what it costs us
One commentator on this passage writes:
“Those who wish to find a more vibrant religious experience, should look not for signs of the future but for signals that it is time to live by Jesus’ call for obedience here and now.”
So _____ and _____ who are baptized today, this is my prayer for you:
“… let your responses to the hype and horror of accumulating disasters not be determined by the one-liners of media editors or religious demagogues, but by the same Spirit who is now the centre of your life.”
babies cry when they’re being baptized
and, once, when my friend Bonnie was being baptized
she cried, too
because this Christian life is hard and scary
every baptism is an apocalypse
every baptism is revealing of a deeper truth
every baptism reminds us of God’s call to faithfulness
and of God’s infinite faithfulness to us
you should cry
and you should shout with laughter [advance slide: “Don’t panic”]
because God is moving,
doing a new thing, says the prophet Isaiah,
“God is doing a new thing, now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?”
Do you not want to be a part of it?
It’s big and scary and exciting and it’s change and it’s nigh.
Don’t panic, be faithful instead.
Don’t panic, God’s in charge.
Don’t panic, participate.
[advance slide: black]
[end of sermon slides]

Saturday, August 07, 2010

the fear factor

I am freaking out.

My list of administrative and planning tasks for the campus ministry at the Edge House is about half-done and, though there's a bunch left, I was feeling pretty good about it. Pretty accomplished. Then I started catching up on Benson Hines' web log on campus ministry and I'm freaking out.

First there's a post about cool and formative ideas for a retreat, then one about how important the first month of classes is, especially for freshmen. It's really great information--ideas that I can use to deepen my presence on campus and relationships with my returning students. There are 23 more posts to read and I just can't.

It doesn't seem to matter that my Campus Ministry Team and I have decided to target specific populations on campus rather than the whole place. It doesn't seem to matter that I've been reading the book of Ecclesiastes which has inspired me to be more relaxed. It doesn't seem to matter that last year was more wildly successful than I'd hoped and that I've got some fabulous plans for this year. It doesn't seem to matter that my returning students are brilliant, amazing people who all want to get more involved in the ministry and bring more people into the fold.

All I can think right now is that there is just too much possible. Too many students to reach, too many issues to address, too many competitors to the Word we're offering, too many ways it could all go wrong.

This is the place in the web blog post where I should share how I've turned away from this fear. This is the place where I offer hope to the rest of you who feel the same about campus ministry or whatever it is you're passionate about. Right now, I can't. Oh, I know it's there, but I can't really see it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

this week's sermon--Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14;2:18-23

There is nothing new under the sun. Can I get an “amen”? [sigh] There is nothing new under the sun.

I’m going to be honest with you all, I don’t know what to do about B. B’s a homeless guy who hangs out on the porch at the Edge campus ministry house where I work. He sits on a chair, watches folks pass by, tells us the same story ten times in as many minutes, eats a sandwich when we offer it—he’s clearly unbalanced, but he always seemed harmless. But he’s been sleeping on the porch, too, sleeping off a drunk. And he’s been leaving garbage. And peeing on the porch. And just two days ago, he kicked one of my ministry partners when she told him he needed to leave. According to the public defender’s office, he’s the current record-holder for arrests in Hamilton County with more than 470 and has more than three warrants out right now. And he’s a violent, mean drunk who has walked away from or been kicked out of every social service agency in town.

So, what to do, eh? As a person of faith, what do I do? He can’t sleep and pee on the porch, that much is clear. And I can’t have someone who could turn violent in a moment around my students—that’s not fair to anyone. So, we have set up a no trespassing order and, after the kicking incident, have filled out an arrest warrant—so we’re one of the three. The behavior cannot go on—and I think Jesus would be with us on that, at least. Jesus was no doormat and offered challenges to those he met both in word and action. But what’s the hospitality side of this? How can we actually help B in any meaningful way? Can we, even? I don’t know. I don’t know.

And this might lead some folk to despair. Some of ya’ll might be thinking “all is vanity and a chasing after wind”. Maybe. “There is nothing new under the sun” you might be thinking, and you’d be right. We’re not the only ones to deal with friends or relatives who have mental illness or alcoholism or even poor table manners. We’re not the first people to feel overwhelmed by poverty or to struggle with evangelism. On the deeply spiritual TV show Battlestar Galactica, a line which gets repeated often is “All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again.” No seriously, it’s a great show.

Y’all might know Ecclesiastes better by another passage: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…” That’s chapter three, almost directly after this reading we heard from ______________.

Ecclesiastes might have been a crotchety old man or maybe he was just a realist. Either way, his book is filled with a kind of heaviness. He seeks after and finds wisdom, yet it does not last and only shows him the futility of human endeavors. He seeks after pleasure, yet it does not last and dies with the person. He builds and plants and creates and, though he enjoys the building and planting and creating themselves, the results do not last but crumble and cannot be taken past the grave. “All is vanity and a chasing after wind.” And who among us has not had a similar experience? At the very least, many of us have watched toddlers play. Or, rather, destroy. Typical of preachers, I’m talking about my own family—my daughter Abby is a year and a half and she loves building towers. Or my building towers for her. She loves admiring them for a moment, then destroying them like Godzilla. And I could take the depressing route and say, “Why should I toil in vain and build towers that my daughter knocks down? It is vanity and a chasing after wind” No, I build it again, because I see her delight. Maybe you know more viscerally that experience of “chasing after wind”—maybe you have built a business only to see it fail or to succeed better for another owner, maybe you poured your heart and soul into someone beloved who was suffering only to see her die.

Many folks think Ecclesiastes is depressing, but some of us find it comforting. Perhaps it’s the Lutherans I work with rubbing off on me, but it suggests to me that it’s not our works—good or evil—that save us. God does that. What we do or create is important, but that ultimately, it’s all in God’s hands. That I don’t have responsibility for making everything turn out okay. Phew.

I wonder if we have a hard time with evangelism because maybe we think the story ends with “this is vanity” rather than how it actually ends. The assigned lesson for today ends with “all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” Did you find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to do with that? A bit like my quandary about B, you had something complicated and heavy dropped on you and now what? I’m not sure why this is, but the compilers of the lectionary often cut off the reading before it is ripe. Remember that more famous bit of Ecclesiastes that I mentioned comes almost directly after our reading? Yeah, Here’s part of what we missed:
“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” This changes everything.

I think we sometimes dislike Ecclesiastes because he is us. He writes what we all think—that we have a hope, but it’s pretty tissue thin and what does what we do amount to anyway? Particularly when it comes to spirituality? We think, if we shared our stories with friends, neighbors, strangers, no one would listen to us, and even if they did, what would we say in the first place? It’s pointless and a chasing after wind. We think we have to have all the answers—about how salvation works, about who’s in and who’s out, about the church’s problematic history, about the Trinity or the two natures of Christ or whatever—but we don’t. That’s not the story! That’s not the good news that God offered in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We only need to be honest with one another about our lives and our experiences of God. This, brothers and sisters, is evangelism. It’s sharing part of your story with someone else, it’s building relationships with folks you meet, from friends to aggressive homeless guys who pee on your porch. It’s certainly not easy, and I don’t yet know how to build relationship with B. It’s not easy, but it is freeing.

The good news is that we don’t have to shoulder the responsibility of fixing everything. The good news is that eating, drinking, and enjoying our toil—whether it’s our paying job, whether it’s putting storm windows on someone’s house, whether it’s writing a song or running a marathon, or being rejected in our attempts to connect—the good news is there is nothing better for us than to try and all of it comes from God.

The good news is “there is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in their toil” because as brother Paul of Tarsus wrote, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” Hallelujah.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

last week's sermon--Luke 11:1-13

Once upon a time a young man went on a retreat. As a kid he’d been a bully, but he gave that up quickly because his priest had told him it was wrong. On the retreat however he remembered that he had teased a skinny little girl about her buck teeth and her glasses. She cried every time he teased her and then whenever she saw him. He really liked to see her cry. Then she and her family moved away and he grew out of his teasing phase, and quickly forgot it altogether. But at this retreat, a nun gave a talk about bullies. That conveniently repressed phase of his life came back and horrified him. He felt terrible. How could he have been such a jerk. The poor little kid. He might have ruined her life. He talked to the nun about it. “Typical boy behavior,” she observed. “But I stopped doing it. I grew up. I haven’t been a bully for a long time. Will God forgive me?” “Yeah, probably,” said the nun, “but I’m not sure about the little girl.” He went home from the retreat really upset. He had done a terrible thing. He had to find the little girl and apologize.

For a couple of weeks he couldn’t sleep he felt so guilty. So he began to search for the girl. He discovered where she had moved to and then that she was a lawyer and worked for a firm near him. It took him another two weeks to work up the nerve to seek her out. Then by accident he encountered her in the grocery store. She had grown up to be gorgeous. He stumbled and bumbled and muttered and apologized. “You were a bully all right,” she said. “But you were kind of cute too. Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”—That’s the way God is.

Another once upon a time, in cold November, my husband and I were leaving Christ Hospital in Clifton…with our brand-new, delightful, much-beloved baby. We’d been there three days and, though we were terrified by our new responsibility, we were excited to get home, eat some dinner with my folks, and introduce little Abby to her new home. We packed up, checked out, took off. I was more waddling in pain, but whatever. Leighton started driving out of the carpark, but we heard a kind of lub-lub noise. I suddenly remembered that one of my tires had had a slow leak. And it’d had three days to slowly leak and was now flat. Ok, we pulled over and Loving Husband Leighton got out to change the tire. Only he couldn’t. Not that he didn’t know how but that he actually couldn’t. One of the lug-nuts was stripped. Ok, so we call AAA. Meanwhile, little Abby has woken up hungry and with a dirty diaper. Of course. So, while Leighton’s waiting for the guy from AAA, I painfully waddle myself and my new baby through the biting cold into the hospital in search of a bathroom in which to change my first diaper ever. When I returned, I found that the AAA guy had arrived and he, too, couldn’t budge the lug-nut. So another guy had been called to tow the car. By now it was 9pm. We were tired and hungry and just wanted to get home. But how? We racked our brains for people who (a) we had phone numbers for, (b) who had a car seat, and (c) would be willing to come get us. We called friend Mark who dropped everything to help us. He showed up with an almost empty gas tank, but that’s another story. With just a phone call, Mark came and helped us out—That’s the way God is.

Another once upon a time, one of my students at the University of Cincinnati—Edward his name is—was hanging out at our campus ministry house. He was there alone, holding the fort as it were so other students could stop by if they liked. And, while he was in the kitchen fixing a cup of tea, someone came in. But not one of our students. When Edward came back into the living room, Elijah was sitting on the couch, his cell phone plugged in and charging. Edward was a little astonished but took it in stride. They talked about this and that and it became obvious to Edward that Elijah was not on the up-and-up. He said that his brother had forgotten to pick him up from campus, that his car had broken down, that his girlfriend was waiting for him to come home with diapers, and other things. They shared some tea and a soda and when Elijah asked for money, Edward wisely said, “no.” And, while Edward didn’t have the wherewithal to call Elijah on his dishonesty, he offered what hospitality he could, even knowing he was being lied to—That’s the way God is.

What is God like in these stories? In bringing together the people God does, what is God saying? How is God acting in them?

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. So I say to you, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.’ For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”—That’s the way God is.

What is God like here?

Some folk would say that, at the beginning of this passage, when the disciples saw Jesus praying and finally work up the courage to ask him to teach them to pray, Jesus looked at them, and loved them. And didn’t answer their question. They said, “teach us to pray” and Jesus said, “this is what God who you’re praying to is like.”

I’m going to be honest here, folks—I don’t know what to do about Elijah. Or about Bennie, another homeless guy I know. Or any other of the down-and-out folks I run into on campus. Or folks who’ve been abused or are abusers. Or about folks who have it comparatively easy and don’t know what to do about it themselves. And I don’t know how to pray. I mean, of course, I know how to pray, right? The Lord’s Prayer, at least, is an easy one. But you know what I mean—what to say? What words to use to get my point across clearly and convincingly and, of course, beautifully? How do we convince God to do what we think needs doing? What do I do with my hands? We want to do this RIGHT, right? The disciples didn’t know how to do this either and they asked—“teach us to pray.” And we ask that same thing—“Lord God of our fathers and mothers, we hallow and bless your name and we want to talk to you. Teach us how. Teach us to pray.” And then Jesus looks at us and loves us and says, “this is what God is like.”

On my way back, from the Edge House yesterday, I had a little set-to with God. In my car. Out loud. I told God everything I knew about Bennie, this homeless guy who sleeps on the porch of the Edge House, though he’s not supposed to. I told God about how Bennie’s life was surely complicated and about how he drives me crazy. I raised my voice in anger that despite my conversations with him and even regular police sweeps, he stays on the porch, leaving his trash and sometimes peeing in the corner. I cried in frustration that I had to clean up his trash. And then I cried in repentance, knowing that cleaning up other people’s messes, serving our brothers and sisters, is exactly what we’re called to as Christians. What am I supposed to do for Bennie, when he’s been kicked out of every helping agency in Cincinnati, when Jesus tells me to serve him, when I don’t know how? And I asked in desperation, what do you want me to do?—And this was prayer. It wasn’t beautiful and it wasn’t the “right” words, but it was prayer.

All this because the God I know is one who listens. Who perhaps metaphorically rubs my back and murmurs understanding sounds. Who sometimes offers advice and sometimes keeps silent.

God is like many things: like the surprise visitor who may or may not be wanted, like the host falling over himself to offer food and drink no matter the hour, like the sleeping neighbor who first questions the request but ultimately responds. God is like a parent—loving and tearful or even angry but not abusive. God is like a homeless guy sleeping on your porch or asking for change on the corner. God is like a king or queen ruling the realm for the common wealth. God is like a farmer sowing the seed—sending us out to grow in Claremont County or Cincinnati or the Dominican Republic, sending us out as guests in others lives at school, at work, in our neighborhood organizations or sports leagues. And at the heart of this being sent out, God is our creator, is our Father and Mother, is the abba we cling to in the infancy of our faith.

That night Leighton and I struggled to get home from the hospital, that was three days after little Abby had come into our lives. Three days after the night we met her, when, in a delirium of medication and exhaustion, I saw Leighton hold our daughter for the first time, watched him fall in love with her, watched him tell her he’d always protect her and never leave her. I saw him pledge with his eyes and his arms that he would watch and care and challenge and listen no matter what. That’s the way God is. Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

sunday's sermon--Luke 10

Once up on a time, there was a Certain Man. “A Certain Man,” right? What was he like? No one knows. The story is vague on this point. So vague, it reminds me of Bella in Twilight whose character is so empty that any girl or grown woman can easily put herself into the story. So vague you can imagine anyone in this Certain Man’s place—your toddler grown up, an alcoholic friend, your pastor, someone like you, someone different from you, someone who wears glasses so she can see, someone blind, someone so holy you can’t bear to look at them.

This Certain Man was walking down the road from Clifton to Avondale—maybe he came from church, maybe he was going to a party, maybe he was going to make mischief—and he was set upon by robbers—by people who couldn’t see farther than their own greed or by people who couldn’t see farther than their own destitution. They beat him with a tire iron, they kicked him and took his clothes, they took his wallet and his dignity, leaving him naked and dying in a deep ditch on the side of the asphalt in a stagnant puddle.

This Certain Man opened his eyes, focused them on a Starbucks coffee cup sitting in a moldy mess near his nose, groaned mightily with the little breath he had left, and began to cry. He cried with the pain we’ve all felt—when it hurts to cry but it’s all you’ve got left, when the injustice and randomness of the pain overwhelms and the tears are mingled with rage and helplessness.

And, lo and behold, someone heard his cry. Would you believe it? A priest was walking by! Episcopal, Catholic, Jewish, or Buddhist—who knows—but a priest! And this Certain Man cried out, “Brother can you help me? They beat me and took from me and I’ve fallen into a hole. Will you help me get out?” And the priest, he looked in the ditch, he looked at the man, and he looked right through him. He couldn’t see past his own sense of urgency, past assuming this Certain Man was drunk or a serial fall-in-a-ditch kind of person. So he wrote down a prayer on a slip of paper and tossed it into the ditch with the man.

And the Certain Man opened his eyes, focused them on the slip of paper now absorbing the scum on the surface of the water, saw the words dissolving in front of him, and began to cry. He cried for every prisoner of war or conscience and every wallflower at the junior high dance, he cried for every collapsed building in Haiti and every small, struggling church, he cried for every addict and every sinner.

And, lo and behold, someone heard his cry. Would you believe it? A business woman was walking by! Procter & Gamble, Kroger, small-business owner, government employee—who knows—but an upright citizen! And this Certain Man cried out, “Sister, can you help me? They beat me and took from me and I’ve fallen into a hole. Will you help me get out?” And the business woman, she looked in the ditch, she looked at the man, and she looked right through him. She couldn’t see past getting her suit dirty before a meeting, past getting more involved in a stranger’s life than she was comfortable with, past what else he might ask of her. So she wrote down a couple self-help book titles on a slip of paper and tossed it into the ditch with the man.

And the Certain Man opened his eyes, focused them on the second slip of paper lodged against his bruised and bleeding arm, and began to cry. He cried for his pain, for his loneliness, for the world’s cruelty and and the world’s vulnerability.

And, lo and behold, someone heard his cry. You won’t believe it. ‘Cause this woman was walking by. And not just any woman, but a woman like the American West’s Calamity Jane. Calamity Jane in her rough men’s clothing, with her bull-whip, with her abrasive, foul-mouth and non-existent manners. They say that when she walked into a bar in Deadwood, South Dakota, the long-time, inveterate drunks, the men who virtually lived in the bar—would leave, disgusted by her obscene language and attitude. She drank and fought and swore with the best of them. This is the woman who passed by and heard a Certain Man crying out.

And she stopped.

She looked in the ditch, she looked at the man, and she saw him. And seeing him, not just looking at him but truly seeing him, meant that she was responsible. The others tried not to see, we try not to see this Certain Man’s pain. We know that if we really look at him, if we see him, then we see him with God’s eyes. Abraham’s concubine Hagar—another person we might have crossed the street to avoid—named God “el-roi”—“the God who sees” because God heard her cries of misery and saw her as she was and had mercy.

Problems should be solved by those who see them, someone once said. So we try not to see—because it hurts too much to really see the problems. Because there’s not much we can do to solve the problem anyway. It’s too expensive or too time-consuming or too complicated or requires too many people to work together. Or because we don’t know what to do.

The historical Calamity Jane didn’t think so. When smallpox came to Deadwood, Calamity Jane stayed and nursed people back to health. Or held their hands as they died. This rough, unexpected woman laid cool cloths on their heads and gave them comfort. Our Calamity Jane, or whoever she is, jumps down into the ditch with this Certain Man, getting mud and muck all over her clothes, bruising her leg as she does so. And the man says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” And Calamity Jane says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

And she gently lifts the man out of the ditch, cleans his wounds with alcohol and binds them with strips from her clothing. This foul-mouthed woman who no one would have anything to do with, who no one would even look at twice, cradles the man in her strong arms and carries him to the Days Inn on the corner. She pays the desk clerk two-days’ wages and says, “You treat him right, ya BLEEEEEP, and if you need more BLEEPIN money, I’ll be back and pay you whatever the BLEEP you need.” She wipes this Certain Man’s forehead one last time, and leaves, not asking for repayment, not leaving a forwarding address.

* * *

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, Jesus said to his disciples, just moments before he told them this story. Who was the Certain Man’s neighbor? The one who had mercy on him—the one who saw him.
The one who had been there before—whether or not she’d been robbed and beaten and left for dead, our Calamity Jane had been rejected, had been despised, had been hopeless. She saw herself in the man and felt his pain. His cry had been her cry at some point. And she saw in the man the face of God.

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see—we are all recovering from something, whether it’s substance abuse or sin—and we have all been there before. Blessed are we when we don’t ignore another’s pain or joy but see it, recognize it, name it. Even when we don’t know what to do, even when we don’t know the way out of the ditch, blessed are the eyes that see what you see—because what we see is God. And the God who sees, see us.

We don’t have to be beaten on the side of the road to cry out and we don’t have to feel the extreme misery of that Certain Man for someone to see us. You know it as well as I do—sometimes we’re the man in the ditch, sometimes we’re the priest or the business women (maybe more often than we’d like), sometimes we’re the Days Inn desk clerk—the next person to see the problem and respond, and sometimes we’re the Good Samaritan, the Calamity Jane, seeing in the other person a need we can fill, seeing in the other person a big or small part of our own lives. And seeing means responding. “Eternal life is found not just in knowing the commandments but in doing them.” And in that response, we all live happily ever after.

Friday, July 02, 2010

sunday's sermon--Galations 6

The Apostle Paul is not known for his clarity of writing. Certainly there are times when he seems crystal clear, like in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He has his moments. But I’d hate to have been in a restaurant with him back in the day, “And what will you have, sir?” “Greetings, dear one in Christ. I thank God for you and for all you’ve done for the saints. I would like most especially to order and procure a flank steak yet of the hamburger variety. Do not be deceived, dear one, for the flank steak is of the better part yet is also of the hamburger…”

Well, maybe not, but today’s lesson leaves me with some confusion: “If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness…bear one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” he writes, but then he turns right around and says “all must carry their own loads.” What to make of that? Everyone should help everyone else with their troubles and each person should carry his or her own burdens. Within a sentence-distance of one another. It’s not entirely obvious what he’s meaning here, except maybe for the sentence before, “you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one”—restore—it’s about restoration. It’s about putting one another back together, for we are all broken in one way or another. And because so much of both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are about group salvation rather than individual, it’s about returning as a community to our original state of one-ness with God. It’s about radical forgiveness and hospitality. And about a peculiar kind of freedom. We are not so much called into an individual freedom wherein we are not taxed for tea without representation but one in which we have obligations. Peculiar, indeed. We are supposed to help carry one another’s burdens in addition to our own and in turn, let others bear ours. It’s a kind of a dance, or a musical round with the weight and the parts shifting from one person to another, never being dropped.

In fact, let me teach you a round and you’ll see what I mean.
Teach: Peace, perfect peace, perfect peace. [key: G]
Canted part:Peace, perfect peace—with Jesus by our side—
That wasn’t so bad was it? You relied on your friends
Peace, perfect peace—with Spirit hovering over—
You hold your own part, then pass it off to your neighbor…
Peace perfect peace—I cue you in to sing—
And you bear one another’s burdens…musically.

Could you feel that give and take? Where one group begins, the others wait, listening, feeling out where the group is. Then a second group responds, taking up their own part, which is also part of another group’s burden, following, making harmony, holding responsibility for the music. The musical line is handed back and forth among us and no single person has to control it—if you forgot the notes or when to come in, someone else had it and you could follow her. Perhaps this is what it is to bear one another’s burdens and our own at the same time.

For many of you, music is a powerful reminder of joy, that there is order in the chaos of our lives, that in a moment of misery or frustration or triumph, there is beauty and therefore truth and hope.

For some of you, this experience of singing is not a helpful image. For folks like my loving husband, an occasion of public song is an occasion of discomfort and exclusion. He doesn’t sing. Doesn’t like singing. Maybe there are more of you out there—and you know as well as I do that there are other things you do that show you that mutual reliance—playing on a soccer team or a baseball team, working on a construction project with a group, or for that matter, raising children—if that’s not a communal dance, I don’t know what is.

And this is freedom in Christ—not as the world sees it, but as we Christians see it.
Freedom that we celebrate today as a country is wonderful—I love that I can vote and assemble with people of like minds and that we all have the right of due process under the law—great stuff. But remember what Pastor Jess spoke about last week, about not making our families into idols. That idols are anything that stands between us and God. Perhaps our nation can become an idol at times. When we equate good citizenship with Christianity or assume Jesus would vote the same way we do, we all commit the sin of idolatry. Perhaps we all need the restoration Paul talks about in Galatians—that freedom looks different when we become Christians.

Freedom in Christ involves obligations—and do not be deceived, brothers and sisters, sometimes we dislike what we’re asked to do. Sometimes we have to choose what is right over what is easy, but we can grow to love them in the practicing of them. And we certainly grow from the practicing. We take care of our ailing parents or spouses because we have to, of course, and because our love and our God tell us this is what we do. We come to worship each week because we are set free, given a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th chance to try again. We call up a friend or relative and listen or forgive or invite them to church—whatever it is we’ve been avoiding—because we are a sacrificial people. We give away our time and money because God tells us to, and because in giving away, we become whole. We are restored. Our Jewish brothers and sisters, at least theologically, delight in these obligations, these good works. Like the music we sang earlier, there’s an obligation there to sing a harmonious note but also a freedom. Listening to and participating in congregational singing is freeing—we can lose ourselves in the melody, we can make up new parts, we can let go of the idols we hold in our regular lives. And all because we are tied to the music—we bear one another’s burdens and others bear ours.

This song is what we’re called to this Independence Day. We are witnesses that there is a better way, that we don’t have to buy into political spin or the God of Consumerism or the sacredness of national security. And we don’t have to buy into the Lutheran Way or the Non-Denominational Way either. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and the way we celebrate freedom is in helping others carry their burdens. Friends, enemies, the person sitting next to you in the pew who you don’t really know what to think about, complete strangers—all are one body, one Spirit in Christ and we have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.

So, sing with me again, a different tune now:
Teach: Open my heart... [key: F]

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

sunday's sermon--Acts 2

Please forgive the formatting--I am too tired to fix it.

Happy Pentecost!
Two baptisms on Saturday/tonight, a passel of confirmations this morning—God is good! All the time! All the time, God is good!
but it wasn’t always easy
for a long time, people weren’t together like this
we Christians didn’t used to be able to gather without bloodshed
for a long time, peoples across the world didn’t understand each other
there’s people walking around all over the world who don’t understand each other’s languages now
do you know Russian? Gaelic? Chinese?
Me neither–I wouldn’t understand if someone came up to me right now
people walking around all over the world don’t understand English–hard to believe, I know...
and it was the same 2000 years ago
when that story from Acts took place
the people who were there didn’t speak Russian or Gaelic or Chinese
but they also didn’t necessarily speak the same language as each other
–they could get by on a little Greek or Latin
but these weren’t their native tongues
so they went about their business
going to school, running businesses, raising children
having no idea what another person was saying
having no idea how that other person thought
see, language isn’t just about words
we communicate with our bodies, with our actions, with our beliefs
language is about culture, about what we value
and it is so difficult to understand what someone else means
even if you do speak the same language

Sister let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

When I was a youth minister, we held a semi-regular Parents and Teens event
if there were ever two groups who didn’t understand what the other was saying, it’s these
the idea was to talk about the same questions but in separate groups
adults in one room, teens in another
and then come back together to share their thoughts
we asked
what are you afraid of that’s coming up soon? What do you wish your parent or teen knew about your life? How do you talk to your parent/teen?
what did we hear?
They don’t get it, why don’t you just ask us, how can I trust you?
From both groups
I’ve seen teens at their worst
I’ve seen them angry and sulking, I’ve seen them broken
I’ve been them, not so long ago
in the middle of a fight, in the middle of heart-wrenching sorrow
where is the Holy Spirit? Who can understand this pain?
We went into those parents and teens events not understanding the other
not hearing what she had to say, not speaking the same language
and if there are ever groups of people who feel alone and isolated
because no one understands, it’s teens and parents
but this is almost a small problem in our world now
our history is one of violence and misunderstanding
The writer of Acts says
the Spirit is like the sound of a “rush of violent wind”
Our God is like a violent wind
and we have taken that violence to heart
few of us in this room speak Arabic or even fluent Mexican Spanish
How can we peacefully resolve the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan
or the controversy over Mexican immigration
when we can’t communicate with one other?
we don’t understand, we don’t speak the same language
few of us in this room would look on
while a young woman was beaten in front of us
or would we?
Three years ago, a young Iraqi woman named Dua Khalil
was beaten to death by members of her family
and members of a crowd of onlookers
several men looked on
and captured the moment on their phones
the police in the area just watched
this was an “honor killing”
the men in Dua’s family thought
she had brought dishonor on them
and so they killed her brutally
and this kind of thing happens all the time, around the world
even here in the US
women are beaten and abused the world over
because they are seen as
as artist and critic Joss Whedon writes
“weak, manipulative, morally unfinished, and expendable”
how alone was Dua? Who could give her help?
Whose hand was stretched out to offer her life?
Who was speaking to her in a language she could understand?
Where was the Holy Spirit in that moment?
In the middle of this beating,
in the middle of heart-wrenching sorrow,
where was the Holy Spirit?
Who can understand the language of this pain?
We can.
Who among us has never felt alone?
Who among us has never felt rejected?
Who among us has never inflicted pain?
WE can understand this language, WE can reach out and understand the other
This is what (you/our students) are confirming today:

I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear,
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

the Apostles, the book of Acts says, were “all together in one place”
All together–
not moping or sulking in their own houses
or refusing to have anything to do with each other
out of pride for their homeland or tradition
no, the apostles were “all together in one place”
celebrating? Worshiping?
Mourning the loss of Jesus who’d ascended? Hanging out?
They were together when the Holy Spirit came to them
and they heard the word of God in their own languages...
They were alone no longer–there was another person who understood
There was another person who knew where they were coming from
There was another person who knew their sorrow and their pain
and who had a word of comfort
and after the mountain-top experience of the tongues of fire and all
Peter told them the Good News of Christ
in their own languages, they heard of the Apostles’ passion and connectedness
and they say 3,000 people were baptized that day
3,000 people heard the Word of God
and were moved to commit themselves to God
and each other in baptism
who can understand the language of our pain? God can
God’s Holy Spirit was there that day
the Spirit moved in those Apostles and in that crowd
the Spirit touched each person in the midst of their pain
in that moment of heart-wrenching sorrow or of overwhelming joy
or of apathy or of exhaustion or of disconnectedness or of doubt or of love
the Spirit touched each person and drew them together
“they were all together in one place”
that connection is what we’re about
that commitment, that understanding, that belonging
we are not alone
there is a moment of clarity, a moment of connection
when you understand another person’s point
another’s frustration or joy
there are people in the world who are refusing to be weak, manipulated, or expendable
There are women who will stand up when Dua Khalil could not
They are about connection, understanding, persistence, the surprise of the Spirit
Where the Dua’s of the world are asking “why?”
Other women are saying, “take my hand”
And those conversations between parents and teens yielded fruit
Those folk were having some great conversations together
half of the parents in those conversations we started
called or emailed the church office to say
they’d had some of their best conversations ever
with their teens
They’re listening to one another
recognizing that they do speak different languages
and that they’re in this together
I wonder if (you/our confirmands) have had the same experience?
Of speaking different languages than your folks
and of trying to learn that other language?
If not, give it a try
—it’s hard to believe, but your parents aren’t that dumb
—nor are your teenagers, parents
“we’re all together in one place”
you are not alone, someone understands, someone hurts with you
and we are not meant to be alone
we are meant to share this love, this connection we have with the world
when Jesus said “Go make disciples” it was not a suggestion
but a commission
and it was not for the sake of numbers but for the sake of relationship
we will not survive without each other
here is your challenge: find someone this week who you don’t understand
someone you don’t think you could ever understand
or someone you don’t think could ever understand you
find someone who speaks a different language
verbal, physical, cultural
and get to know them
learn their language, learn how to talk to them, learn why they
speak/act/exist the way they do
show this person that they are not alone simply by knowing them
show this person the Holy Spirit
written in every word you speak and in every line of your face
and (last night I told) little _________ and _________, you are not alone–
today you join the great cloud of witnesses, the Body of Christ
when you feel that water on your skin, remember that you have been reborn
remember that you have a higher purpose
remember that you are loved

I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

Monday, May 03, 2010

book thoughts

I suspect I will not make it to my goal of reading 50 books in 2010. However, I've read several recently:

3 and 4 The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through by Stephen R. Donaldson

Handsome one-volume edition given to me by Loving Husband, these books were my favorites in high school. I pored over them in multiple readings, certain that they held the spiritual truths that would help me understand God, Christianity, my faith, and why the world was so bizarrely crappy and beautiful. They did help. And upon an adult reading, they're still good. Not as life-changing as before, but well worth the read.

5 Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook

Interesting look inside not just Dr Who but a writer's process. Collected emails from a year of writing the TV show.

6 The Hunger Games and 7 Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Amazing. Absolutely fantastic. If you like things that are awesome, why haven't you read them yet?

In the future, North America has been destroyed and rebuilt as the Capitol and the Districts. The Districts (only twelve, now that District 13 was annihilated for insurrection)live hardscrabble, unstable lives under the thumb of the Capitol, constantly on the verge of complete starvation. Every year, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games for which each District must supply two Tributes--a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18--and in which they must kill one another. The winner and last one standing will live a life of luxury.

Very well written from page one on. Engaging, complex, and a propos for our world of greed and environmental challenge.

8 The Teaching of the 12 by Tony Jones

A new translation and commentary on the Didache, a very early church "how to" document from one of the earliest Christian house-churches. The commentary is not particularly inspired, though it constantly points me back to the included text which is itself fascinating.

The Didache is probably contemporaneous with Paul's writings but seems to have no knowledge of him. It includes a brief order for the Eucharist which includes no references to the Last Supper or Jesus' death and resurrection.

What to make of this little document? Ought we take it's insights to heart because of its age? Or is it just a small off-shoot of Christianity which was left behind for a better way?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

last Sunday's sermon--John 10:22-30

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
So what?
I mean, for us now, more than 2000 years later, if we’re really honest with ourselves, a lot of the time it’s just a story. A really great story—fun and challenging—but ancient history all the same. We long for the stories to be as real as the person sitting next to us and at the same time are glad they’re not, because what would we do if faced with the real Jesus or the real resurrection?

We’ve been talking about this on campus—I’m a new campus minister at UC, I meet with students for meals and pastoral conversations, and I’ve started a small discipleship group where we talk over one another’s stories and theologies. Recently, we considered the question of what difference Jesus death and resurrection really makes. The conversation went something like this:
ONE, incarnation is so important—Matthew and Luke focus a lot of energy on Jesus’ birth stories, particularly that it’s miraculous; John’s prologue includes, “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God…” “…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us;” and even the name that we give the Messiah from our Jewish brothers and sisters is emmanuel, God is with us. Clearly the simple fact of God becoming human is of exceeding importance—it implies a weight and power to this physical existence, that what we do matters.
TWO, next, Jesus as teacher is so important—and I don’t mean “just” a teacher, I mean as the son of God, as The Teacher, as the teacher whose teaching came directly from God, as the teacher who lived everything he taught.
THREE If these are true, if Jesus’ life and teachings are so overwhelmingly powerful and memorable, then is his death necessary to validate his ministry? Is his death, as we tell the story, necessary for our salvation? And is his rising to life again necessary to make us pay attention? To show us the grace we receive freely? Hasn’t that all already been done in the mere presence of Jesus among us? So, Jesus has risen—so what?
My students have been pondering this question in all seriousness. Not in a sarcastic, “what difference does it make?” kind of way but “no, really, how does this make a difference?” One student described the struggle he was having as a cherry on top of a milkshake: is the cherry integral to the experience of the milkshake, or is it a lovely garnish but unnecessary to a well-made shake?

And it’s the pivotal question for Christianity—what difference does Jesus make? Not just the death and resurrection, but his whole person. Are we different now than before as a group of people? Are we different now as individuals than before we knew Jesus? Theologian Shane Claiborne puts it this way in his book Irresistible Revolution:
“If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you, ‘Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son and that Jesus rose from the dead.’ But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle in a little Jesus along the way.” (117)

So here’s your million-dollar question. Or maybe your milkshake question. In your life, what difference has Jesus made? If I walked down into the congregation and picked you out to share, what story would you tell us about how you treated someone differently, about how you took the right path not the easy one, about how you chose love over appearances? What is your story of resurrection?

Do you remember a few years ago, a man walked into an Amish school room and shot several of the girls before shooting himself? And how the families of those girls reacted? Grief, yes, but also with grace. They contacted the man’s wife and took care of her. They forgave the man and took care of his wife. That, that is not normal. That is because of Jesus.

Nearer to home, the other day, I was meeting a friend in Clifton and parked on the street near the IGA. There are often two or three folks on the street near that IGA with signs saying they’re homeless, asking for change. I don’t know about you, but I often tense up when I see them. I was faced with a decision—to give or not to give, right? And to acknowledge or not to acknowledge their presence. And as I approached them, I decided to create a third option. I approached them, asked how each was, shook their hands, wondered aloud if there was anything I could do for them, listened. Each exchange took only a little longer than it might have. And it became about people rather than an ethical dilemma. They’re still in poverty and I still don’t know what to do about that, but we parted with a smile of recognition. That…was not normal. That was because of Jesus.

Now, I share this story not to pat myself on the back but to tell you that these resurrection moments happen all the time. At any moment, we can make a decision to react differently than expected, to live for that moment as though everything Jesus said and did and was is 100% true. In that moment, when you share part of your life, part of your story with someone else, you become an evangelist. And it is a beautiful and thing. When you allow Jesus to change what you do, the question changes from “so what?” to “so that…?” Do you get it? Think about that story of resurrection in your life—fills you with, what? Joy? Excitement? Gratitude? And doesn’t it kind of push you a little—“tell someone,” it says, “find out if someone else has the same story,” it says, “go try something else,” it says. I should note that, in addition to being a campus missioner, I am also on the Evangelism Commission for the Diocese, and this is precisely what we’re encouraging folk to do. Share your story.

Notice that it’s all about the story. That story of Jesus back in the day, the story woven in our Scriptures, the stories we tell one another about our lives and fears and hopes. These stories aren’t just pretty and they aren’t just history—they matter, they are everything. And the resurrection is the only real ending, because without it, the story just stops and we have no motivation to follow in Jesus’ steps. Without the resurrection, we aren’t even a milkshake.

So the “Jesus is alive, so what?” question is really replaced with “Jesus is alive so that…what?” Jesus is alive so that we no longer live in fear of the end. Jesus is alive so that death is not the end. Jesus is alive so that the story continues. Jesus’ story is a gift—life, death, and resurrection—Jesus said and did and was so that we would love him and show that love. That story is THE STORY. What difference does Jesus death and resurrection make? It means that death is not the end of the story.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

last Sunday's sermon--John 21:1-19

Scripture is a little odd. It’s got these great, pretty bits like “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” and “Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin…” But just as often it’s confusing—I sometimes read passages and think “What?”
And I think I’m not the only one.

After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene sees the empty tomb and she tells the other disciples: she’s saying, “woah, what?” and maybe they’re saying, “sorry, what?” So she goes back and she sees the resurrected Jesus but doesn’t recognize him, she thinks he’s the gardener: what? And then Jesus appears dramatically to the disciples in a locked room…Twice! What? And of course, Thomas the Doubter famously says: what?

You just heard another one of these stories. Some of the disciples are fishing and Jesus shows up and they don’t recognize him: what? Wait, after seeing him once already, after longing for his return, they don’t recognize him? And Peter figures it out and jumps naked into the lake: what? And then Jesus makes them breakfast on the beach, very Martha Stewart of him: wait, what?

They just didn’t get it, couldn’t get it before. No matter how many times Jesus said it, now they don’t believe their eyes with evidence right in front of them. For us now, more than 2000 years later it’s often just a story—if we’re really honest with ourselves, we want these stories and people to be real, we long for them to be as real as the person sitting next to us,…but we don’t really think they are. They’re ancient history, they’re fun and challenging stories, like LOST.

Because when was the last time that you denied Jesus—intentionally, several times in a row—and then were given a second chance by the man Jesus? When was the last time you said to Jesus as Peter does “Lord you know I love you” and when was the last time Jesus said to you, “feed my sheep”—and you did it? Because what else could be your reaction when the man you left everything to follow, the man whose words kindled a fire in your heart, the man who made everything more focused and also more confusing, the man who you saw beaten and killed in front of you—what else could be your reaction when he’s standing right in front of you? I think a gawping, “what?” would make complete sense. Followed immediately by, “Lord you know I love you.” Right?

But he’s not here, is he? Is he? Because the disciples didn’t recognize him—here or other times—when he walked on the sea, they didn’t quite know it was him, Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener, the disciples don’t seem to know it’s him until he shows his wounds, and the fishermen—who knows who they thought he was? They didn’t recognize him after his resurrection—not because they were stupid, and not because they didn’t want to or had given up. They didn’t see him because they didn’t expect to see him.

They didn’t expect to see him…and there he was, telling them to fish on the other side of the boat—of all the things to say when you’ve come back from the dead—so, since they’ve had no luck at all, even though this is a silly suggestion—as though the other side of the boat is going to be so very different—they give it a try and have the single greatest haul in the history of fishing. So many fish it takes all of them to haul it in, so many fish that the net really should break, but it doesn’t.

It’s amazing and wonderful and a little scary and miraculous. And suddenly they looked up and saw Jesus…I had a professor in seminary who said that whenever we say “Come Lord Jesus” in worship—often at communion—he looks up and tenses a little, because he fully expects Jesus to respond to the call, he expects Jesus to show up.

Do you expect to see Jesus?

He could be anywhere, anywhen, anywho even…Paul had a vision of him on the road to Damascus years after the resurrection. Julian of Norwich saw him in a vision in the 1400s. People see his image in grilled-cheese sandwiches all the time—what? And that seems ridiculous sometimes. We don’t expect to see Jesus out and about in Cincinnati…

We think we’re so rational, so right not to give into these emotional moments. Jesus is resurrected, but that’s the end of that—our moral and spiritual existence is now based on a memory, a story, not the real deal. Because we don’t expect to see him. But in our communion service, in the Eucharistic Prayer, we often say “we remember” and it’s not this rational kind of memory. It’s a Greek word, Anamnesis—sense memory—we were there and we are there. Like pitching a baseball 10,000 times so that your body can do it without your brain. The Meal we offer, the lives we live—they aren’t divorced from those stories—we practice them over and over so that we can do them in our sleep because practice is how we learn to see Jesus present with us.
Mystic Julian of Norwich had a vision of God. She saw in her hand something like a hazelnut: she writes, “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that he loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.” You might well ask, “What?” along with the folks on Lost—this little thing represents all of Creation, it is a reflection of God. In this one tiny thing, Dame Julian saw the overwhelming love of God, and the sustaining power of God—it wasn’t just made and then let go, but cradled and cherished by God. So, too, are all of us, and all that we encounter. Dare I say it, even disease and hardship are encompassed by that love and reflect back to us the face of Jesus.

He is here all the time in the guise of other people offering something surprising, in the guise of a new shoot coming up in the garden (continually resurrecting), in the guise of tv programs pushing you to consider things differently, in the guise of a flamingo balancing impossibly on that one skinny leg and in your toddler daughter’s delight in seeing that same flamingo
We don’t see Jesus in our lives, not because we’re stupid or because he’s not there, but because we don’t expect to see him. Because we don’t practice seeing him. But what if we did? What if we approached meetings and conference calls expecting to see Jesus there? What if we went to classes expecting that Jesus would reveal himself somehow? What if we did our grocery shopping expecting to see Jesus on the skin of an orange or the face of our checkout clerk?

All it takes is practice—and maybe asking “What?” deliberately and often.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

heresy is necessary

[We] must move from the idea that there is an Orthodox Christian stance and a heretical positioning that transgresses it, to the point in which we see Orthodoxy itself as heretical...[T]here is no absolute foundation to orthodoxy, that it was formed contingently over time through debate, discussion and argument and that its necessity was then retroactively constructed and maintained by the victor. A point that almost any non-partisan historian of religion will attest to.
--Pete Rollins

god on the small screen

One of the most popular sitcoms on television is Two and a Half Men. It's a show about two brothers and one's son who live together in a fabulous house, make poor life choices, and hijinks ensue. My husband notes, "they're horrible empty people living horrible empty lives with no glimmer of hope and nothing ever changes." Certainly it's fiction, but fiction tells us a lot about ourselves. The show fills me with despair because the emptiness never changes--it's the definition of nihilism.

A lot of folks wouldn't watch the reboot of the show Battlestar Galactica because it was too dark. Dark it is, but never empty. The decisions people face are difficult, ethically and emotionally. People learn and change. And they care about their learning and changing--they are real people living complex, full lives whose choices, while often ridiculously impossible offer hope. These people make the best choices they can given the situation, not the choice that garners the most canned laughter.

Maybe Battlestar Galactica isn't your cup of tea, but I challenge you to consider what you watch with an eye for God's presence in it. We are given both comfort (escapism?) and challenge in the gospel--how does what you watch embody those gifts?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

good stuff

Any college ministry that quickly settles on its target audience, mission statement, core group of students, major goals, or other fundamentals should question whether it has done sufficient work to learn the campus tribe, build meaningful relationships, and develop the ministry strategy.
--Reaching the Campus Tribes by Benson Hines

Friday, January 15, 2010

disaster relief

You may all be wondering what you can do in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. Here are some options:
  • give blood, either today on UC's campus or next week--blood banks are ALWAYS in need of blood. Plus, if you give on campus today, the Red Cross gets $5 per person which will go towards earthquake relief.
  • give money. Places like Episcopal Relief and Development, Lutheran Disaster Relief, LCMS World Relief, and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries send funds and personnel to disaster areas with very little overhead, meaning your money has more bang.
  • give time. Sites of natural and man-made disaster across the world still need help rebuilding years later. Consider going with us on Spring Break to New Orleans to help with rebuilding there. Call or email me if you would like to go.
  • pray, that those suffering might find hope, healing, or an easy death. Pray for the relief workers and military personnel who are clearing the rubble and caring for the wounded. Pray that we may find it in our hearts to love our neighbors of all stripes.
  • keep your eyes open. The UC Campus Ministries Association is hoping to offer some sort of prayer rally/action in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

book thoughts

You may have heard about the Fifty Books Project--it's a viral, communal challenge to read fifty books in one year, approximately one book per week. I've done it in years past and was surprised to find I broke fifty each year. Last year, pregnant and then a new mom, I failed completely. Unless you count multiple, nuanced readings of Pajama Time and Mama, Do You Love Me?

This year, I'm determined to beat fifty books with a mix of theology and fiction. Follow along, won't you?

1 Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne
Challenging book suggesting that we take Jesus' words seriously rather than neutering them--what if he meant for us to make peace and sell our belongings? At times abrasive and often deeply moving, it convicted me and the complacence I've fallen into.

2 Kidnapped Santa Claus by Alex Robinson
Fun, graphic novel take on the L Frank Baum short story--pretty, pretty art and elves with schoolgirl crushes. Plus, bad-ass Repentance--fun for the whole family!