Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, November 19, 2017

Many of the parables of Jesus are about what the Kingdom of God is like,
            especially in the Gospel of Matthew.

“The Kingdom of Heaven,” said Jesus, “is like…”
            like seed scattered willy nilly and then producing way more abundantly
                        than can reasonably be expected,
            like a tiny mustard seed growing and expanding
                        until it is a tree big enough to house the birds of the air,
            like leaven kneaded into THREE measures of flour
                        and the dough expands and expands and expands.

The economy of the Kingdom of Heaven is exemplified by absurd abundance.

So today’s parable, is it about the expansive abundance of the Kingdom of God?
            Well, not really. 
Many instead have viewed it as a parable about stewardship.

But, if we were to stop looking at this parable of Jesus
            as a story about being good stewards of what is given us,
and if, instead, we were to read the parable literally,
            we might be shocked,
            we might come to some very different ideas about the parable,
            and we might find ourselves confronted by a strange paradox –
                        strange, because this parable comes from the lips of Jesus.

We know the story, but do we really know it.

This is one of the kingdom of heaven parables,
            and it follows immediately after the parable we heard last week
                                    about the ten bridesmaids and the tardy groom.

This time Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is as if
            a man leaving home delivers his goods over to his slaves.
He gives varying amounts to each of the three.
Two of them go out and do just what he apparently would want them to do:
            they make that capital grow,
            they double the man’s fortune,
            they are significantly successful commercially.
They know the art of the deal, how to do business.
The whole world admires that sort of entrepreneurial acumen.
But the third slave won’t engage in that game.
And he has the audacity to tell the master to his face
            that he is a harsh man, taking what others worked on,
sort of like what I saw in the Yakima Valley where I served congregations:
            owners letting the ICE agents come into their fruit packing plant
            and sweep up undocumented workers
                        right before payday.
So the third slave hands back to the master what he had been given,
            what he hadn’t engaged with, what he refused to be complicit with.

So the master takes back the single talent
            and hands it over
            to the one who made the biggest gains with his investment.
Smart move.  Use that servant to make even bigger profits.

“For to all those who have, more will be given, …
but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
            Isn’t that true!             It’s the way of the world.
And then the slave that was worthless to him and his investment enterprises
            he has him tossed out  --  into outer darkness.

You know, sometimes Jesus told not so nice stories to get his point across.

Cast into outer darkness, total darkness, oppressive and hellish darkness.

It is not by accident
that the next verses that follow in this 25th chapter of Matthew
            is the Kingdom of Heaven parable in which Jesus says,
“Inasmuch as you did this unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
                                                And you will hear that parable in full next Sunday.

Slave #3 in today’s parable doesn’t just get fired;
            he gets disposed of.
Now he is homeless, hungry, jobless and without resources,
                        outside the protection of the economy of his culture.

Just the sort of person that Jesus identifies with.
            Just the sort of person Jesus ministers to.
                        Just the sort of person that fits the description of the Beatitudes.

Slave as he was, he would not copy his master’s economic strategies,
            right down to usury, collecting interest
                                     – which the Torah technically forbids.
This slave, fearful as he was about his owner,
            stood up to him and would not play his game –
                        and suffered for it.

On the night before he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread,
            and when he had given thanks,
            he took it and gave it to his disciples,
            and said,
                        “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Likewise after supper he took the cup
            and gave it to his disciples, and said,
                        “This is my blood of the new covenant.
                        [Drink this.]
                        I will not drink again of this cup until I drink it at the banquet
                                    in my Father’s kingdom.”

And then they went out into the darkness -- to Gethsemane
            where they couldn’t even keep watch, couldn’t stay awake,
                        while Jesus had his last few minutes left
                                    in which he could pray and prepare himself
for being cast out into outer darkness –
for betrayal
            for arrest and contrived trial and physical torture and execution.

Because he had so infuriated the civil leadership and religious leadership,
            that they feared a loss of control that would bring to an end
                        the stability, such as it was,
            of their economic, political and religious establishments.

But the love that is behind the blood, behind this fullest of self offering,
            is inescapably embracing.

This parable about the talents
            is a story designed to provoke awareness of our spiritual dereliction. 

The way this world works,
            the world in which we live and have jobs
            and make investments for retirement,
places value on the bottom line of the budget report.

When does Jesus get to be recognized as the bottom line?
                                    the bottom line in our lives?

The gospels continually tell us of how Jesus offers us another way of being,
            the way of self offering.
Jesus looked at all the suffering of our human condition
            and addressed that in the offering of himself fully,
                        in the healing – physical healings, and liberation of the soul,
                        in feeding multitudes,
                        in his teachings,
            but most of all in giving his life blood in a voluntary death
                        so that his Presence as Holy Spirit
                                                            could live in as many as would receive him.

So that we too could become living offerings.

Do you not realize that in baptismal union in Jesus,
            we can be a human offering which becomes a God offering?!

I want to get down to the core dynamics of our Christian faith.

Jesus offered and continues to offer anyone who has ears to hear
            a path of spiritual revolution about our orientation of self.

This is so contrary to the world culture that we are very familiar with.
This culture that we live in is a culture of desperation.
                        Think about it.            Isn’t that true.            A culture of desperation.
We are trying to solve our problems by maintaining and protecting
            some sort of sustainability, like sustaining free market capitalism;
            We try to solve our problems by protecting our own self interests.
In general that is the culture we live in.
            And I might say that sustainability will eventually fail.

Jesus is outside of that agenda.
            Any who refer to themselves as Christians need to acknowledge that.
So what do we do?            Isn’t that the usual question?            What do I do now?

Find out who Jesus is, who Jesus is in your own experience of him.
Love him more than all these things in their lure from the world culture.

It’s not in figuring out what to do, but in discovering who he is.
If you find that out, and express that in your living and in your dying,
            then you will act out of love and compassion
                                                                                    without self interest.
That’s how one becomes a useful disciple.

I will end with on verse from the epistle reading for today: the Apostle Paul wrote,
“God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us,

so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sermon at Emmanuel, Mercer Island, September 3, 2017

In the last couple of weeks we barely got to revel
            in the wonderful natural display of the total solar eclipse
            before we were on to the next crisis – Hurricane Harvey.
And we have been so absorbed in the flooding
                        beyond anything we have seen before,
            that we might have missed the even greater flood devastation
                                                happening simultaneously
                        in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
In those three countries the human death toll is over 1,200,
            and half the country of Bangladesh has been underwater.

Aside from the natural disasters, we have also been witnessing political upheavals
            that also are crises on various different issues,
                        such as racism, terrorism and threat of thermal nuclear war.
I’m not going into all that right now;
                        I’m just noting how we are personally affected by these stresses.

How do we live in the midst of it all?
How do we live our faith as Christians when that name Christian gets politicized?
What is an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus?
            These are the questions we can ask ourselves and reflect on
                        in the light of the scripture readings for today,
three very good and significant passages we really should to pay attention to.

The passage from Exodus 3 is one of the most important in the Old Testament,
                        the Jewish scriptures,
            and relates directly to the Gospel reading for today,
                        and I’ll tell you how.
This is the story of Moses and the bush that was burning, but not burning up.
That bush was an angel, a messenger from God, to get Moses’ attention,
            so that he could learn something incredibly important about
                        who God is:
not a name, but simply put, “I AM,” Life, being, consciousness.

Moses is given a significant prophetic action to carry out –
            deliver the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt,
but that deliverance is for the sake of God who is their Life.

In the Gospel reading, verse 25 Jesus says,
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Let’s look for a moment at our opening hymn for today,
in particular verse three.  We sang:
            To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
            In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
            We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree,
            Then wither and perish, but not changeth thee.

God lives in all life, - that verse says – or rather all life lives in God.

When we sing these words, we may be focusing on the eternal nature of God,
            but what the words are also saying is that all life is lived in God’s life.

You and I are expressions of the One Life,
            unique and individual yet also only a part of that One Life.
Those who engage in the spiritual practice of meditation get a sense of that.

And this One Life, God’s Life, is the true life of all of us.
What we identify as ourselves is what we see
            blossoming and flourishing and withering and dying, as the hymn says.
But what does not change is the true life,
            what we can find when we lose the life we have been identifying with.

Matthew 16:25
            For those who want to save their life will lose it,
            and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

And then verse 27:
            For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father,             and then he will reward each one according to their praxis.

That is the literal translation.  The Greek word is praxis
            which means practice, action, deeds, behavior, the model of action.

The reward is going to those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus,
            in other words, his disciples.
Praxis is fundamental to discipleship.
We are baptized into Jesus and what we then do flows out of New Life.
It requires that we leave all behind, right down to our own self identification,
            how we define ourselves.
Because when we lose that,
            then we can find our true self, who we really are.

To put it more baldy
            when we come to know who we are in Jesus, in relationship with him,
                        then we can be equipped to be real disciples in action.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has spoken of the need for the Church
            to express itself as a Jesus Movement,
and the response has been to be enthusiastic about Matthew 25 ministry.
            You remember that: 
                        “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the lease of these,
                        you have done it unto me.”

But in the “Jesus Movement” the key word is Jesus.
If you don’t begin with relationship with Jesus,
            then you are just running a social justice program
not a real Jesus Movement.

It is so easy to push by Jesus and just get down to work.

And Romans 12 is a great action plan for addressing this crisis
            or any crisis, and all the needs we see around us.

Let love be genuine;
            hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
            love one another with mutual affection; …
            be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
            Contribute to the needs of the saints;
            extend hospitality to strangers.
            Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. …
            Live in harmony with one another; …
            Do not repay anyone evil for evil,
            but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. …
            Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There it all is – a whole plan of action, a moral standard, a Christian life style.

You should tear out this page from the liturgy booklet
            and take it home and put it on the refrigerator door
            or tape it to the bathroom mirror
            or on the inside of the front door so that every time you go out
                        you can see these words and remember to take them with you
                        in your behavior, your action, your praxis.

But we have got to understand that this is not just a morality
            for us to try to live out from our own effort.

Romans 12 is a prescription for life in the Christian community,
            the life style of a Christian community,
and the first verse in this reading sets the parameters for all that follows:
            Love must be genuine, authentic.
                        The Greek word here for genuine means literally not hypocritical.
And the word for love here is agaph,
            the love which is beyond all other forms of love,
                        love which surpasses family love,
                        godly love, as in “God is love.”
Love that makes no distinction, does not objectify, but unites with the other.
It is like the true life one finds when the imagined self is no longer clung to,
                                                                                                            but let go of, lost.
Let love be genuine,
and then everything else that follows in Romans 12 will be possible.
Because love that is genuine comes as a gift from Jesus
            to enable us for effective discipleship.
“We love, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Now back to the Gospel reading: Verse 28, Jesus said,
            Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death
            before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

 …To see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,
            and that kingdom is expressed as resurrection.
The reward for those disciples is in seeing the resurrected Jesus,
            and resurrection then leads to the empowerment of the disciples
                                                on the day of Pentecost
to become apostles, to be witnesses of Jesus – that’s the original Jesus Movement.

If we are to be a witness in the world of a Jesus Movement,
            it must be by our seeing kingdom come in Jesus
                        through the power of the resurrection,
by which we then are empowered in God’s love and life.

In a short while I will be issuing an altar call for all of you to come forward
            in order to be empowered for action/for praxis in the world.
You will recognize the altar call when you hear the words,
                        The Gifts of God for the People of God,
            for those gifts are gifts of God’s Life in you.
Discern the Body and Blood of Jesus being placed in your hands,
            and what that reality can do in you.

Then you can pray,
“Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Did you ever stop to wonder why today is called “Good Friday?”
                        Not Bad Friday?                        It’s Good Friday.

And did you know that this liturgy today
            is not meant to be gloomy, sad and depressing?
No, it’s meant to be solemn for sure, but not mournful.

The liturgy is designed to be reflective,
            giving a time to ponder,
            to ponder how such a death brings life and hope,
                                    how such a death opens the way
                                                for healing and reconciliation in human lives,
                                    how such a death is glory.

Yet this is the hardest part of the week we call holy:
            staying present at the cross, with the crucifixion, with death itself.

But this staying present is part of our devotion and response in gratitude
            for God’s gracious love expressed so incredibly for us.

At the time, there on that Friday, for the disciples
            this horrendous crucifixion was devastating beyond belief.
For those who had been traveling with Jesus,
            listening and taking in and pondering what he had been saying,
            watching how he interacted
                        with all the various sorts and conditions of humanity that came to him,
            seeing the healings, the transformations taking place in people’s lives,
for these witnesses,
            how could it be that it was all now destroyed in this cruel injustice and death?

For the disciples the political forces that ruled the world had smashed
            what was the most beautiful, generous and loving gift of a person
                                                                                                            that had ever been.
Their world was shattered.

They could not yet see how Jesus was putting on the image of the Forsaken One,
            how he put on every dimension of suffering of mind and body,
            how intentional Jesus was about walking straight into his death with all that.

St. Anselm had written about that, saying
            you can’t do that unless you are God;
            you can’t take that on unless you are God.
That’s the mystery and the beauty and the goodness of the Cross.

Jesus had told his disciples,
            “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
That is the image of God – God on the Cross –
            and not many get this,
                        even though there is the mercy and love that draws us in.
How is it that this is resisted?
            Our persistent resistance to this good, beautiful truth!

Just a few hours before the crucifixion Jesus had said to his disciples,
            “If you knew where I was going you would rejoice.”

Let’s just look for a couple of minutes at what is happening
            in the Passion story according to John.
In this account in particular you can see
                                                            that Jesus is the only one in control.
He is a calm center in the midst of power struggles, mockery, and cruelty.

Everyone else exhibits that they really have no control over what is going on,
that there is great failure on their part
to achieve what they want to do.

The disciples have no apparent control over their drowsiness;
                        they fail to stay awake.
And then they all run away, fleeing for their lives.
Judas is doomed to play his role as betrayer
            despite whatever his motivation and intentions were.

In that strange scene in the garden, as John’s Gospel tells it,
            the band that comes to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane
                        is knocked to the ground by the force of the word
spoken by Jesus, his simple statement: “I AM.”
Only when Jesus purposely gives them a second chance
            can they lay hands on him and take him away.

Peter, in spite of his earlier protestations,
            fails in his ability to keep from denying his Lord.

The high priests and Sanhedrin
can’t make a credible case against Jesus.
So they have to revert to political pressure
to get Pilate to cooperate.

Pilate being backed into a corner, discovers he is not so powerful
            and he can’t engage with Jesus regarding Truth.
Then Pilate tries but fails to set Jesus free.

It is Jesus who acts, who is in control,
who accomplishes all that needed to be done,
right down to the last detail described in the ancient texts
about the Servant, the Lamb of God.

And then the still point – that moment when he breathed out the last breath.
It is he who chooses when his last moment is, when he dies.
He completes all,
and breathes out his breath
and gives up his spirit.

The scene at the cross now becomes somewhat surreal.
His side is pierced.
Blood and water gush out
            spraying those standing there.
The witness giving the account of this tells the truth.
This is baptism in his death.

Death provides release of his presence
            empowered to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit
                        without the limits of the mortal body. 

All that afflicts, that contracts, that inspires a sense of poverty,
            that leads to violence, deception of self and others,
            that promotes false, self-serving interest,
                                                                        abuse, exploitation, war, addiction                                                 – destroyed in death. 
Jesus dies the death of all that. 

And in his dying all in us that is identified
            with such a world of spiritual confusion, suffering and self-destructiveness,
                        is drawn into his body on the cross. 
All that tragic evil dies there with the death of his body. 

He is on the cross in our condition of world-identified humanity.
He is on the cross performing a creative act.

For the death of Jesus is the absorption of the sacrificial gift of suffering            
            into the heart of God.
Jesus takes our humanity in its fragmented, self-destructive state
            into the divine presence always whole, eternally unbounded and creative. 

This is what we need to recognize:
            by the crucifixion and death of Jesus,
            as we, and all the world are drawn into and unite with his death,            
the way opens to embrace the eternal radiance of divine love,
                        which is God. 

So today – Good Friday –
is not just about a morbid reminder of a particularly gruesome death,
for which we ought to grieve
and feel deep remorse and penance,
but an occasion for deep devotion, gratitude, thanksgiving even
            for the blessed wood of the Cross.

Hymn 166 Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle
            a hymn by Fortunatus, one of the very earliest hymns of the Church,
Verse 4:
Faithful cross! above all other,
one and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peer may be:
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
sweetest weight is hung on thee.

This is the glory of the cross,
            the precious weight that hangs upon it,
                                                            precious beyond all counting,
            the grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying
                        producing the fruit of salvation and resurrection
                        and new life for us all.

            In the limitations of our own personal life perspective
                        focused on our immediate issues
we miss the hugeness – it is beyond anything we know how to ask.

Would that we could see more clearly
            how what we here suffer in the routine of daily life
                        often has more to do with our attitudes and presumptions
                        than with the actual reality of our situations.

Would that our eyes were opened
            so that we could see how much we are spared, how blessed we are.

Then we would sink on our knees before the cross,
                        the rude representation of the suffering of God,
and express from the heart our love and devotion,
            our thanks and our acceptance of God’s love.
At the foot of the cross let it all drop away

and worship the glory with grateful hearts in wonder, love and praise.