Sunday, September 15, 2013

I Am Waiting

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American
and I am waiting
to see God on television
piped onto church altars
if only they can find
the right channel
to tune in on
and I am waiting
for the Last Supper to be served again
with a strange new appetizer
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting
for the Salvation Army to take over
and I am waiting
for the meek to be blessed
and inherit the earth
without taxes
and I am waiting
for forests and animals
to reclaim the earth as theirs
and I am waiting
for a way to be devised
to destroy all nationalisms
without killing anybody
and I am waiting
for linnets and planets to fall like rain
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers
to lie down together again
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed
and I am anxiously waiting
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered
by an obscure general practitioner
and I am waiting
for the storms of life
to be over
and I am waiting
to set sail for happiness
and I am waiting
for a reconstructed Mayflower
to reach America
with its picture story and tv rights
sold in advance to the natives
and I am waiting
for the lost music to sound again
in the Lost Continent
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting for the day
that maketh all things clear
and I am awaiting retribution
for what America did
to Tom Sawyer
and I am waiting
for Alice in Wonderland
to retransmit to me
her total dream of innocence
and I am waiting
for Childe Roland to come
to the final darkest tower
and I am waiting
for Aphrodite
to grow live arms
at a final disarmament conference
in a new rebirth of wonder
I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” from A Coney Island of the Mind. Copyright © 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

I used to know something about Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and hi

Good Shepherd/ Determined Woman

Sermon Start
Luke 15:1-10
Lost and Found

Scripture this morning invites us to  ponder one - perhaps THE - central theme of our faith:  The surprising grace and mercy of God, who is pictured in the first mini story as the Good and Brave Shepherd, who seeks out each lost lamb -
Who in the second story is the Patient and Persistent Woman who will not give up until she has found her treasure.  This is the God who throws a party when any one who has been away flies or is carried or even crawls back home to the One who loves us all.

The story would be so easy to tell if we just could be sure where we are located in it.  Which part of the story belongs to us.  

Which are we?

What are we supposed to be doing?
Searching for something that is lost?
or Celebrating what God has found?

In the set up to the story, do we identify with the tax collectors and sinners?  Or the righteous folks who worried that Jesus spent too much time with those ne’er do wells? Let’s start there:

Suppose you were to walk into Steak and Shake after church and find Jesus already there, with a motley assortment of losers.  Let’s people that table with . . . somebody just out of jail, a woman whose third or fourth marriage is on the skids,  a kid who is always in trouble at school, someone whose always sick, I don’t know --- think of the people whose lives make you think, “Thank God I’m not them.”  So Jesus is sitting in the corner booth with these guys, and some really nice folks who live down the street, who always keep their yard so nice and have really polite teenagers are sitting at a table there, and they sort of roll their eyes at the rabble in the corner, and wave you over.  But you notice that there’s an empty chair at Jesus’ table, too.  Where do you think you’d sit?  Where would you feel most comfortable and at home? At which of the tables do you belong? 

Maybe, like me, you’d see if there wasn’t a stool at the counter? 

And while you are perched on that stool, suppose you hear Jesus’ voice and he’s telling about the shepherd who, because of one little lost lamb, leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to fend for themselves while he climbs hills and searches in ravines and wades through underbrush with bambles and thistles until the stupid little sheep who has wandered off is found, exhausted and panicked and vulnerable to predators, and freed from whatever has snared his wooly coat and kept him from following the flock.  And the shepherd picks up the sheep and doesn’t drive him, but carries him back to be reunited with the rest. 

You didn’t THINK you were lost, but you know you feel a bit like that lamb sometimes - you are alone, and you don’t know exactly where you are, and you seem to have wandered off the path you thought you knew so well.  You know the world seems dangerous and you feel as though you lack any protection from those who would do you harm.   And when Jesus describes the Shepherd’s strong hands lifting the lamb and placing him on his shoulders, you long to be carried in those strong arms to a place of safety and rest.

Maybe then you reconsider, and pick up your milkshake and start to join the table with Jesus.

But he’s still talking, and you don’t want to be rude, so you settle in to listen as he tells another story - a story of a woman who has lost an important coin.   It is a tenth of her bridal headress, the only real money she will ever own for herself.  And when realizes it is missing, she is frantic.  She begins looking for it immediately, not waiting until the morning light might aid her in her search.  She lights a lamp, and in that meager light she moves the furniture, she gets out her broom and sweeps every corner, inspects every crevice in the flooring until she finds it. 

And you think of things that you have lost --- and given up on finding.  Maybe it is the joy of living, which somehow slipped away awhile ago and you have been too busy to go back to try to regain it.  Maybe it is a commitment to someone or something, even your best self, that just isn’t there anymore.  Maybe it is a spiritual practice - - - prayer, or generosity, or hospitality that used to shape your life, but which lies forgotten . . . where?  You aren’t quite sure.  Maybe it is your faith.  People lose their faith all the time, and not everyone bothers looking for it. 

But whatever it is, the woman who sweeps and searches through the night reminds you of how much you miss it.  You want it.  And you think that maybe, if Jesus helps you, you might be willing to light the lamp, burn the midnight oil, upend your room and pick through the dust and spiderwebs in the corners of your life until you find it again.

The crowd at Jesus’ table is laughing and cheering again, as Jesus describes what happens at the end of the story -  BOTH stories end the same way:  There is a party, a celebration with rejoicing and music and food and good company.  Jesus says, there is  a party that reflects the party that angels have in heaven whenever the lost is found, when the wanderer returns, when a life is reunited with the God who loves us so.  That’s the kind of happy ending you want for your story.  You spin on your stool and head for the chair that’s been waiting for you this whole time.

One who has lost a treasure?
or one who is actively searching?
Where are you in the story? 
Maybe you still aren’t quite sure. 
But at least you know where you want to sit at Steak and Shake.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Little Church Poem with little letters, too

“i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
--i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
--i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)”
― E.E. Cummings

Monday, June 10, 2013

Dirge Without Music - Edna St. Vincent Millay

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I need to learn this one "by heart"

David Lose's blog, again.
A week or so ago I listened to John Lithgow's Poetry for the Whole Family audio book.  It was great.  I should go find some of those poems and put them here.
But today   - - -
The Land of Beginning Again
I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
and the ones whom we grudged
their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain…
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.
By Louisa Fletcher, in The Land of Beginning Again.

David Lose says the Land of Beginning Again is heaven.  And the church should be a foretaste.
I really need to learn this poem by heart.
( Confession:  I am in danger (I think we all are?) of becoming one of what Moses and God, talking over a beer, called "these stiff necked people".)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

David Lose's blog is the source for another poem I don't want to forget.

Reply to the Question: “How can You Become a Poet?”
take the leaf of a tree
trace its exact shape
the outside edges
and inner lines
memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
(and how the twig arches from the branch)
how it springs forth in April
how it is panoplied in July
by late August
crumple it in your hand
so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness
chew its woody stem
listen to its autumn rattle
watch it as it atomizes in the November air
then in winter
when there is no leaf left
invent one
Eve Mirriam

Monday, April 29, 2013

No Good Deed . . .

The gospel passage for this week is John 5 . . . something.
It's about the man waiting by the pool for healing, and J. asks the $64,000 question:   Do you want to be healed?  The guy doesn't say yes or no or please or thanks for asking.  He says, "It's not my fault.  Whenever the water is troubled (by an angel) and it's time for me to go in, somebody always butts ahead of me in line and I get left behind."  Wah, wah, wah. 
But Jesus - in spite of the whining, heals the guy anyway.  And he gets up and leaves.  But when he does, he runs afoul of the authorities, who don't give a rip that he's healed.  They are ticked off because he's carrying his mat on the Sabbath.   Does the guy explain that he just received grace beyond measure and is the living proof of a miracle?  No.  He says, "I'm just doing what I was told.  Some guy told me to take up my mat and walk, so I did.  It's not my fault." 
In a little while he meets up with Jesus again and gets his name.  And promptly goes back to the authorities and tells them exactly who it is who got him in trouble.  And the authorities are outraged and decide to figure out some way to get rid of Jesus.  And Jesus' response is "My Father is still working and I am still working." 

Wow.  I just love that.  In spite of the unworthy man, the ungrateful response, the inflexible and judgmental authorities . . . in spite of being "turned in" and turned on by the rat whose life he had transformed, Jesus affirms that God is working.  Wow. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

New commandment

 This week's sermon text is the new commandment from Jesus - Love one another.  
And I'm thinking I'll just tell the story about him washing the disciple's feet, sending Judas out and then telling them that this is what he expects of them in the glorious future.  

David Lose's blog link to the happiness project challenges me to think if the worship experience is "useful" to folks.  If it helps them in their daily lives.  If it helps them grow spiritually.  And I think if anything could help us grow spiritually, it would be intentionally pushing ourselves to love.  To do and say the loving thing.  To increase the well being of our family and friends and neighbors and enemies.  To serve.  

So I don't know where I'll go with that.  But I also think this quote from Simone Weil fits.  I think she was the mystic that Diogenes Allen had us read, to my chagrin.  I see this fitting in that Jesus says "Glory" five times before he commands them to love.  And this quote seems to tie love (goodness) with glorious things.

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Simone Weil

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forgiveness Poem

Last night at our last "Cross" study, we talked about how offensive forgiveness is.  Reminded me of this: 

Prayer for the Lady Who Forgave Us
by John Shea
There is a long-suffering lady with thin hands
who stands on the corner of Delphia and Lawrence
and forgives you.
“You are forgiven,” she smiles.
The neighborhood is embarrassed.
It is sure it has done nothing wrong
yet, every day, in a small voice
it is forgiven.
On the  way to the Jewel Food Store
housewives pass her with hard looks
then whisper in the cereal section.
Stan Dumke asked her right out
what she was up to
and she forgave him.
A group who care about the neighborhood
agree that if she was old it would be harmless
or if she were religious it would be understandable
but as it is…they asked her to move on.
Like all things with eternal purposes
she stayed.
And she was informed upon.
On a most  unforgiving day of snow and  slush
while she was reconciling a reluctant passerby
the State people
whose business is sanity,
persuaded her into a car.
She is gone.
We are reduced to forgetting.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A poem about living "in between times"

David Lose - his blog is called In The Meantime, and is definitely worth bookmarking - posted this poem and I want to keep track of it, so I'm posting it here.  It's encouragement for those times in life when you've come too far to turn back, can't yet see the way forward and yet know that where you are isn't going to work for long, either.  Which is pretty much everyday. 

“Interim Time”
When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems to believe the relief of darkness.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here in your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, 2008.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Looking to the Cross. Sermon #2 Atonement as Ransom

OK.  When you read this one, you have to sing two songs when prompted - "Please Release Me"  (try to sound like Patsy Cline when you do this.  She was so good!)  and "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail"  ( you may have to look at youtube if you didn't grow up with Buck Owens and the Buckaroos  We heard the sounds through the sound system.  So hard to duplicate the full PhiloPres experience.

This Lent we are looking to the cross, the central symbol of our faith.  Christians have, from the very first, struggled to make sense of the cross. We’ve agreed that the cross is essential to Christ’s work of “atonement” - of saving us, or reconciling us, or making a new life with God possible for us. 

But we have not always agreed on how God accomplished that, or what it means for us to be part of a community built around this treasured but puzzling symbol.  There are different ways to conceptualize the cross’s meaning. 

Today I invite you to think about one of the oldest ways to explain it:  the ransom theory of the atonement.

scripture:  Matthew 20: 13-20,  I Peter 1:18-20

Remember how scared we were as children of being kidnapped?  I think this is a common and universal fear.  Adults used to calm it, rather than stoke it, as we seem to do these days.   My parents, and many others, dispelled the childish fear by telling the story of The Ransom of Red Chief.   It is a short story by O. Henry about a little boy who is kidnapped, but who is such a terror that, rather than collect ransom,  the kidnappers eventually pay his father to take him back.  It’s a funny story. 

Well, there is a sort of funny theory of the cross that also involves ransom and in it God turns the tables on a kidnapper.  I’ll try to explain. 

In this understanding, humanity has fallen prey to kidnapping by Satan.  I know.  That’s the first problem.  Satan.  But just put that to the side for a minute, OK?  The idea is less like snatching someone than like the much more common practice of warfare in that time, where members of an army or population would be captured and enslaved by an enemy.  The captured people could be taken and their labor and expertise used by the ones who captured them.  This is far from modern warfare.  This is skirimishes between tribes, who often knew each other.  And if the person who was captured was important enough, or had relatives who were rich enough, sometimes an exchange of either money or goods or other prisoners could be arranged.  This was called redeeming - or buy back - the person.  With me so far?

This is the background to Old Testament verses like the ones we heard in our call to worship.   And it is the background to verses like our scripture texts. 

Now various early theologians had different versions of how human beings got captured by Satan and ended up belonging to and traveling with the Evil One’s tribe.  Most thought it had something to do with people’s bent for disobedience, which was sort of a bad inheritance from Adam and Eve.  It’s not so important how we got into this predicament.  The problem, according to this view, is that Satan has the rights to us.  He’s a kidnapper.  Or a slave owner.  And while he may find it advantageous to use us for awhile, he does not have our best interest at heart, and in the end we are going to end up dead.

Humanity, in this version, is enslaved.  Our theme song is  . . . (Please Release Me, let me go.  For I don’t love you, anymore.  To waste our lives would be a sin.  Release me and let me love)

God wants us back.  Not because we are cute and cuddly.  But because he created us to belong to him and he’s not happy at the loss of what was His.
So he decides to get us back.  But in order to redeem us, He has to pay a ransom to Satan.  And Satan sets the price very high.  He wants something more valuable than human kind.  So God shows him . . . a perfect human.  Jesus comes to earth and Satan sees that Jesus is perfect, and can do miracles.  He can heal people.  He’s a good story teller.  He’s brave and has powers that Satan thinks he could really use. 

Satan plots to capture Jesus, but of course he can’t.  But God offers him a deal - Jesus in exchange for the entire human race.  Humanity is freed from Satan’s camp and gets to come home to God, and in return, Satan can have Jesus for his own. 

This seems like a good deal to Satan. He says, Yes, and suggests that the exchange take place on the cross.  He’s making sure that God is serious about this deal, because if God is going to give him up - the cross is the most God-forsaken place on earth. 

God says Yes.  Jesus says Yes.  He goes to the cross in surrender and Satan has to let us all go free.   He loses all claim to us when Jesus cried out from his pain, and dies that we might live.

But wait!  It gets better!  God doesn’t really surrender Jesus to Satan.  Satan could not capture Jesus, because Jesus is God. It was a trick.  Gregory of Nyssa likens the Devil to a hungry fish who is caught on the hook of Christ's deity when he is enticed to swallow it by the bait of Christ's flesh. Augustine of Hippo says that Jesus used His body as a bait by which Satan was caught like a mouse in a trap.  Satan thought he was getting something good for him, but . . . .(Buck Owens and the Buckaroos - I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see I won't be much when you get through with me Well, I'm a losing weight and a turnin' mighty pale Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail
Well, I thought the day I met you, you were meek as a lamb Just the kind to fit my dreams and plans But now the pace we're livin' takes the wind from my sails And it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail
I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see I won't be much when you get through with me Well, I'm a losing weight and a turnin' mighty pale Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail)  Ol' Satan found out: 
He got a tiger by the tail.  And he had to let go. 

And so the gruesome spectacle of the cross is actually a reminder that, because of Jesus Christ, we belong to God. 

And even though this theory has obvious flaws, it may even seem a little silly, I think it still has power because when we come into relationship to Christ and the community of Christ that we know in the church, there is a powerful sense of having been rescued and brought home where we belong.  We go from feeling that we are in the grip of someone or something that we cannot trust, that we are basically doomed to being safe in a loving parent’s arms.  :  Here we are claimed and protected and valuable and beloved.  And we feel that - that we are part of God’s household here.

Baptism is a sign and symbol of that belonging.  When we say the baby’s name and pour the water of baptism on his head, and sign him with the cross, we are saying “You have been ransomed, rescued from the power of evil and death and brought back home to God through Jesus Christ.  This promise is to you and to your children and for all those far away from God who want to come home.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Looking to the Cross. Sermon One. Atonement as Victory

This was preached on Feb 24, 2013.  I'm planning on preaching during Lent about the various ways to understand the atonement.  This is is the Classic or Victory theory. 
This sermon is, I heard, almost entirely theological and not very entertaining.   If you are into that sort of thing - here it is:   
Text:   I Cor. 1:18 ff

Purpose of Lent:  To ready our hearts and minds to enter into the events of Holy Week and Easter - so that we might experience the power of the death and resurrection of Christ to change lives and indeed, to change the world.

The cross is the central symbol of Christianity.  Look around the sanctuary.  Think about all the places we see crosses:  On steeples, signs for churches, around Christian’s necks, as body art, on T-shirts.   We make the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday and every time we baptize, or anoint someone to remind them of baptism.  Many Christians, even Protestants, make the sign of the cross as a part of prayer. 

Yet our understanding of the cross is not always very deep.  Imagine trying to explain to an alien, or to a very persistent and intelligent child why the cross is so central to us.  It is a symbol of a torture device, used to humiliate, inflict pain, execute and terrorize.  Why is that a central symbol of our faith?

If we get past our familiarity with it, the cross is a jarring, stark reminder of the shocking way God in Jesus Christ entered and left our world.  And I’m convinced that as we grow in our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, eventually we have to face the cross and try to understand two things:
what God was doing, letting his precious Son our Savior die that way? 
What does it mean to belong to a community built around the cross? 

Now, you’d think that after 2000 years, these questions would be all figured out.  That there would be an answer and I could stand up here and preach it, or give you a book to read it, or even a youtube video we could all watch together.  But God is a funny guy.  He seems to have arranged it so that knowing him has more to do with struggling with profound questions than with having a firm grip on pat answers.

Christians have, from the very first, struggled to make sense of the cross. We’ve agreed that the cross is essential to Christ’s work of “atonement” - of saving us, or reconciling us, or making a new life with God possible for us. 

At-one-ment is an interesting word.  One of the few theological words that actually has an English root - it means “At-One-Ment”  or bringing what was broken apart back together.   We affirm that Jesus’ death on the cross was crucial to fixing whatever was broken between us and God.

One way to understand that is that in his death, Christ won a giant victory over the power of death.

The reading from 1 Corinthians focuses attention on the cross as the power of Christ: "For the word, of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (RSV).
Seeing atonement as victory is rooted in the Gospel of John’s imagery of darkness and light. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. There is a struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light.
There are a couple of things that give us pause about this way to understand the cross:  One is that it seems like it’s based on a dualistic view of the world, in which two roughly equal powers vie for supremacy.  If God is good, and God created the world, then where did all that evil come from?  The answer to that gets a little messy and hard to swallow. 
And the second drawback to this view is that it is about good and evil, light and dark, black and white.  And the world just isn’t that way.  It’s mostly shades of grey.  There is so much good in the worst of people and so much bad in the best . . . Even situations where it seems obvious who is right and who is wrong . . . people are doing things they THINK are right and good.  They may be mistaken, but nobody sets out to do the wrong thing. 
Much of being a grown up is understanding that.  And surely God understands it better than any of us.  What evil could be defeated without also stamping out the good that grows entwined around it?   Didn’t Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do?” 
Nonetheless - there is a lot about this view that commends it.  This view takes seriously the darkness and evil of sin and death.  It recognizes that much of what goes on in this world is the product of forces which would crush beauty, creativity, love and life.  And we cannot take a long unblinking look at the world around us without seeing the darkness that often corrupts the human heart.  Mass killings.  War.  Child abuse and neglect.  Violence against those who are different.  It’s a dark world out there. 
And we know how prone we are to participating in the darkness:  How satisfying a cruel comment can be.  How easy it is to ignore a pain that we could fix.  How “worth it” it seems to inflict damage on someone else’s property, or to damage creation itself, for a little extra profit or to save some time. 
This is what sin is - the darkness that wraps it’s stinking hands around our hearts and squeezes the life out of our ability to love and care for one another.  
But Christ, by dying on the Cross, confronts that power of sin and hatred and death head on.  Only Christ - because he is God - is strong enough to enter into the cosmic battle against evil.  And only Christ is strong and good enough to defeat evil.  By going to evil’s home court - the cross is a torture device that kills its victims - there’s nothing MORE evil than the cross - Jesus gives death every opportunity to win.  But the power he displays on the cross is the power to enter into death and then come out victorious on the other side.
Peter’s first sermon: "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:23-24).
 The cross’ meaning is only made clear in the resurrection.  But once it is clear that Jesus who died lives again, we can see the cross as the final battle that proves once and for all which is stronger.
God overcomes the power of darkness.
Love wins over hate.
Life is more powerful than death.
The most ringing statement of this view of the atonement is Paul’s.  (Which I love and use at every funeral I do.) "‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘0 death, where is thy victory? 0 death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
To live as Christians is to live in the midst of a world where darkness and sin still vie for control over lives and hearts - but live knowing that we need not be defeated by those evil powers.  That we share in the victory over these things.  So even when we see their  awful force, we have courage to stand against them, knowing that God will not let them extinguish us utterly. 
This understanding of the cross invites us say with St. Paul in the face of every trial and difficulty, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us . . . Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37, 39).

Monday, February 11, 2013

A poem by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
–Jacques Crickillon
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.
Billy Collins, from Nine Horses: Poems

Monday, February 4, 2013

Throwing out the trash

Yesterday, at 7 am, I quit trying to make the sermon work, threw it out and wrote a new one.  Which was better.  So today I wanted to put the new one on the blog, and found it is gone.  That is, I threw out the old one, but my computer threw out the new one.  Hmmmmm.

On FB:  To Ray Lewis (football player who said of the SuperBowl, "When God is for you, who can be against you?")  - Leave theology to the professionals.  (Paul Rack)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Five Tibetans. Day Three.

Sermon Jan. 27

A Tale of Two Sermons
Jan 27, 2013
Luke 4:14-21
Nehemiah 8:1-10

One of my favorite all time songs is “Church” by Lyle Lovett.  Do you remember it?  I think I’ve shared it with you.  It’s about everyone’s worst fear about a church service.
play video from 17 sec. to 127

What if the preacher decided to preach all day? 

Well, our scripture lessons today, the old testament from Nehemiah and the New testament from Luke, are about a long sermon.  And a very very short one.  And I invite you to consider which congregation you feel called to join. 

Would you like to be part of the crowd, gathered across from the Water Gate, when Ezra read the scriptures from early in the morning until mid day?  Before you say “no” consider this:

The people gathered that day had never heard these stories.  They had been exiled.  Generations had been born, lived and died in a foreign land.  Their sacred writings had been lost, left behind, and largely forgotten.  They were a people without the collective memory of who God was to them.  Who they were to God.  What God had done for them and what their relationship with God was supposed to look like.  Now they were back in Jerusalem, trying to put their lives together again.  But without the stories from their past . . . it was sort of hard.  They had no agreement on what was most important, most urgent.  They weren’t sure what they were making together would be meaningful and good. 
Then, in the ruins of the old king’s palace, they found the scrolls that contained the Books of Moses - the Torah.  And in it the collective memory that would serve as the basis for a renewed relationship with their God.
So they were all there, assembled before Ezra, who had a wooden pulpit and six liturgists on either side.  When Ezra opened the first scroll, they stood up.  When he said a little blessing, they answered “Amen. Amen”   And they listened.  They were attentive. They heard, many of them for the first time, the beautiful poetry of the Creation Story.  They heard how humans did evil and violence and how God’s attempt to wash evil out of the world with the Great Flood.  They heard about God’s promise to their ancestor Abraham, and how his wife Sarah laughed to think she’d be part of God’s history.  They heard about Jacob, the trickster, and Joseph and his dreams.  The stories of Egyptian captivity and then Moses and the Ten Commandments, wandering in the wilderness and then entering the Land.  And these stories were their stories.   That’s what the interpreters helped them understand.

That’s what it’s my job to help us understand when I stand up here and preach each Sunday.  That the stories in this book are our collective memories - our ways of making sense of the deepest questions human beings can ask:  Who am I?  Why are we here?  What makes life worth living?
The Bible is not a rule book.  It has rules in it.  But its not the rules that make the people weep.
The Bible is not a history book.  Some things in it “really happened”.  But there’s not a single book that was written so that we could have an accurate account of the PAST.
And the Bible is not a science book OR an anti-science book.  The authors lived long before “science” had been invented.  It’s up to something quite different. 

It is up to  incorporating us into God’s story,
    in forming us, (forming our inward parts?)
    involving us,
    including us,
    inspiring us to put our hope and trust in the one that won’t let us down. 

It is the Bible that points us to the ONE whom we believe lived the hand’s down best story that has ever been told.    The one that wraps up all the stories of the past and opens up the possibility of a beautiful future. 

And when he comes - he gives a very short sermon. 

According to Luke, Jesus public ministry was inaugurated with a sermon in the synagogue where he grew up, in Nazareth.  And he chose his text carefully.  They handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, who had written as the people underwent dislocation and loss, grief and exile.  Living as refugees in a foreign land, they wondered if God was through with them.  But Isaiah assured them that God had plans for their future. 
Jesus seized on that good news of God’s amazing future and read it out loud:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me and the Lord has chosen me -
To bring glad news to the poor
To announce freedom for those held captive
To make the blind see and the prisoner free
and to usher in the Jubilee.

It’s a great passage.  Isaiah 62: 1-2, though Jesus had a different translation. 

Then.  He sat down.  That was the sermonizing posture.  The preacher sat.  If I stay here long enough, we may revive that old custom. 

Everybody in the congregation fixed their attention on the young man.  And he gave the shortest, sweetest sermon ever:

Today.  I just love that the first word of Jesus’ first recorded sermon is “today”.  Not yesterday.  Not tomorrow.  Now then.  Not soon.  Not back in the day, or someday in the future.   Now.  Jesus claims today.  Today is Jesus’ day.  Now is Jesus’ time.  Put him on your calendar, not tomorrow, not next week, not after the next Presidential election.  Now is Jesus’ time, cause now is OUR time.  I love that.  Today.

Today this scripture promise has been fulfilled in your hearing. 

I’m the one who will do these things.  God’s got a hold of me, and He won’t let go until joy and freedom and clear vision are the marks of the people of God.  Audacious of him, really!  To say, “I’m the one who keeps the promise God makes to the world.  I’m the way he keeps it.  I’m the one.”

That is the central tenet of the Christian way:  That Jesus is the one who shows us the way to live and die and live eternally.   God’s way. 

Eugene Peterson says, “Jesus is the way means he doesn’t just point out the way and then step aside and let us get there on our own as best we can.  Jesus points out the say, then then takes the initiative, inviting us to go with him, taking us with him across land and sea, through all kinds of weather, avoiding dead ends and seductive byways, watching out for danger and alerting us to enemies.” (The Jesus Way, p. 36) 

Jesus is the way God comes to us. And Jesus is the way we come to God. 

That’s the essence of Jesus’ first and shortest sermon.   No need for the preacher to keep on preaching. 

To the Lord, let praises be!  It’s time for dinner now let’s go eat. 

New Leaves

This morning, at In the Meantime - Where Faith Meets Everyday Life ( there was an interesting comment from a woman who was complaining that her pastor resisted using having a blog and using the internet to connect to her congregation.   The complaining about the pastor part just sorta made me sigh.  Relationships between pastors and congregations have a large component of complaining, it seems to me.  But the part about wanting to have more dialogue . . . and thinking that it might happen on line seemed plausible to me. 
I am old.  I remember the day, long ago, when face to face friendly relationships were sort of  . . . normal.  I actually had coffee with neighbors on a pretty regular basis.  My kids and I were welcome in the home of the woman down the street.  We talked about current events and exchanged household hints.  We encouraged each other to go back to school, or take a vacation or get marriage counseling.  You know.  I sound like something out of Mayberry RFD. 

Now I keep up with people on line.  I hear their plans there.  I congratulate them on accomplishments there.  I "like" their New Year's resolutions there.  (Leonard Pitts article in the News-Gazette is about this, too.)

And maybe I need to do ministry there.  Not all of it, for heaven's sake.   Not for everybody, by a long shot.  But maybe I should give it a sustained try during Lent, and see if it seems to be a relationship building, discipleship sharing venue.  Just see. 

What form could it take?  I think I'd need a rhythm, a weekly rhythm that would fit with the rest of my routine.  Monday.  Reflection on worship.  Tuesday.  Prayer prompts.  Wednesday.  Children and God.  Thursday.  Larger church.  Friday.  Cross talk.  Saturday.  Share something good from the internet.  Sunday - Nothing.

I'll think on that.  I'm reluctant to commit until I've looked at a calendar.  If you have thoughts . . . 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day - Another Trip Around the Sun

Thinking of Al Anderson's song:

Here I’m singin’ happy birthday (or happy new year!)
Better think about the about the wish I make
This year gone by ain’t been a piece of cake
Everyday’s a revolution
Pull it together and it comes undone
Just one more candle and a trip around the sun

I’m just hangin’ on while this old world keeps spinning
And it’s good to know it’s out of my control
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all this livin’
Is that it wouldn’t change a thing if I let go

No you never see it comin’
Always wind up wonderin’ where it went
Only time will tell if it was time well spent
It’s another revelation
Celebrating what I should have done
With these souvenirs of my trip around the sun

I’m just hangin’ on while this old world keeps spinning
And it’s good to know it’s out of my control
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all this livin’
Is that it wouldn’t change a thing if I let go

Yes I’ll make a resolution
That I’ll never make another one
Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun
Just enjoy this ride ..... until it's done