PROPER 28a

 

I could not have asked for a better Gospel reading as the starting place for my last sermon with you. It’s all about gifts – how to use them and what happens when we don’t.

 

I’ve always had a lot of sympathy for the servant who got only one talent. Think about how that must have felt. He must have felt at least a little cheated. Here were these others getting more than he had. So he may have been resentful. And he says he was scared of what the master’s reaction would be if he lost the one talent he’d been given. That makes some sense. It’s scary to think of losing all you have when that amount is small to begin with. So he may have thought he was being fiscally prudent. After all, investment can be risky.

 

But the master’s reaction is clear. He doesn’t care what the servant was thinking or feeling. He told the servants to invest the money, and this guy didn’t. .The master takes away even what he had. And then there is this very odd final verse. Jesus says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

 

And that’s the bit of this Gospel that I want to leave you to ponder. There are two major ways of living in the world. We can live in a spirit of scarcity or in a spirit of abundance.

 

A spirit of scarcity says, “There isn’t enough to go around. If I’m not careful, I’m going to lose out. I have to guard my wealth and my safety and my security, or someone will take them away.” The spirit of scarcity is a fearful spirit. It is fear of being in want or need. It is fear of anything or anyone who might be a threat to what we have. The spirit of scarcity sees anything or anyone new as a potential threat. The spirit of scarcity says no before it says yes. It sometimes disguises itself as prudence or good planning, but it is fearful of change or risk. The spirit of scarcity lives in a dangerous, hostile world in which it has no weapons except its own skill and effort. It is, in the end, a lonely place.

 

The other approach to the world is in a spirit of abundance. This spirit says, “The world is full of riches, and my life is filled with them as well. I have all I need, and if a new need arises, I will be able to meet it.” The spirit of abundance is a spirit of courage and joy. The spirit of abundance sees new people and new experiences as inviting new adventures. The spirit of abundance shares easily, because it knows there is always enough to go around. The spirit of abundance takes risks, always believing that taking risks brings its own rewards. The spirit of abundance lives in a welcoming joy-filled world, and that vision of the world creates the reality.

 

The servant with one talent is the perfect example of a spirit of scarcity. The master is angry with him because he lived in his fear. It doesn’t seem that the amount of return was the Master’s concern. What he wanted was for his servants to use the gifts they had been given.

 

And that’s what God wants of the Indian Hill Church. God has given us hundreds of talents, many, many gifts, and all the abundance we can ever need. We have more than we need. And God wants us to use what we have been given. We live in this world, not by the effort of our own wills, but by the grace and power of God. We can take all that we have been given and use it for wonderful things. But if we are going to do that, we must let go of fear. And we can only let go of fear when we realize that we live surrounded by Grace. As long as we remember that God’s love surrounds us and fills us, then we are free to live out of abundance.

 

Let me tell you a story. When I was first ordained, I went out one day to make pastoral calls. My first stop was at the home of an elderly woman. She lived alone, but she had a son who lived close by and who always made sure her house and yard were taken care of and that she got to the grocery store. She was a widow, but she had been married for many years to a man who seems to have been very kind.

 

But to hear her talk, she was the most miserable of people. She was angry that she was alone, she didn’t feel as though her son did enough for her, she was even angry at her husband for dying. I remember thinking that so many people would have given a lot to have a safe home to live in and a family to take care of them. But she only saw what she didn’t have.

 

My second visit was to see Joe in the hospital. He had just had both knees replaced. He had stitches up and down his legs and must have been in a good deal of pain. He was telling me the story of his family. It turns out that he and his wife had had a child who died in infancy. Each of them had struggled with a lot of issues. And as the story went on, I wondered how he could seem so peaceful. Life had handed both of them a lot of troubles. But just at the moment when I was getting ready to say how sorry I was for all the things they had gone through, he said, “You know, Doris and I have been so blessed. We have been given so much. And when life has been hard, we have had our friends and our family and our faith to support us. And we have stayed in love over all these years. I couldn’t be a luckier person.”

 

I spent a lot of time thinking about those two very different visits. And I think this is just what Jesus is saying in that last part of the Gospel. Joe and his wife had been through some terrible things, but they lived out of the abundance of their love for each other and God’s love for them, so everything good in their lives became even more valuable. The elderly woman, on the other hand, lost even the good things she had because she refused to see them or use them for good. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

 

Now, of course, most of us aren’t at one end of the spectrum or the other. Mostly, we live with a mixture of faith and fear. And each of us has to struggle with how we will respond to the challenges life throws at us. That’s what learning to be a Christian is all about. We just keep working at it!

 

So I want to leave you with a challenge and a charge. It is this: When you make decisions, for yourselves as individuals, for your families, and most of all, for this community of faith, stop and think. Remember God’s goodness; remind yourselves that you are children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember that God has promised to give us everything we need. Remind each other of how good God has been to us. Encourage each other to take loving risks, to dare to do something new and different for God and for each other. Let go of fear. Dare to trust. Live out of the abundance that is ours.

I can tell you with absolute assurance that as you do that, you will find riches and miracles that you can’t even imagine. That is God’s promise and it can be trusted.

 

Let us pray:

O God, you have filled our lives with gifts and blessings. Help us now and always to accept those riches, and to trust your goodness and faithfulness in giving them. Then help us to share them with a world that so badly needs to hear your voice and feel your touch. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

PROPER 22a

 

Arthur bought a new parrot. It was a beautiful African Grey, and he was told that this parrot was a great talker. So Arthur brought the parrot home. And the parrot was a great talker. Unfortunately, every other word that came out of his mouth was an obscenity. Arthur was shocked, but he was determined to change the parrot’s language. He tried rewarding the parrot for using clean language, but that didn’t make any difference. He tried scolding it, he even tried yelling at it. The parrot bit him when he did that, but his language got even worse. Arthur was at his wits’ end, so one day, in complete frustration, he threw the parrot into the freezer and shut the door. There was lots of screaming and terrible language from the bird for a couple of minutes, and then silence. Arthur was a little afraid that he had hurt the parrot, so he opened the freezer door. The parrot quietly walked out onto Arthur’s arm and said, “I am so sorry for using such bad language. I realize that I have been very difficult, and I promise to change my ways.” Arthur was surprised and very relieved. Then the parrot said, “I just have one question. What, exactly, did the chicken do?”

 

The Ten Commandments often seem as if they were God’s way of trying to get obstreperous people to behave. We have the image of an angry God shaking a finger at us, “Do this. Don’t do that.” And that is how they have been interpreted all too often by the Church – a way of trying to control people and make them behave. Threats of hellfire and damnation are usually attached.

 

But I want to invite you to see them differently. I want to suggest that the Ten Commandments are actually a love song. They are God’s invitation to us to live happy and meaningful lives. Rather than rules that have to be kept, they are promises about the joy that life with God can bring

 

The people of Israel had been wandering for years in the desert. They had been freed from slavery, but they hadn’t yet come together as a people. But when we get to this part of the story, the people of Israel were ready to come together as a nation and ready to come into the Promised Land. God had led them and made sure that they had food and water, and it seems that they had started to know that this was the God they wanted to follow. But they didn’t really know who God was, or what was expected of them. Like any love relationship, both partners need to get to know one another and to trust one another. So the Ten Commandments are God’s way of inviting the people deeper into the relationship. They describe the conditions that will result in a happy and fruitful life.

 

The first four commandments are about how to live happily with God. The last six are about how to live happy lives with one another.

 

God is that Love which makes us most truly human, most truly ourselves. And anything that makes us less than that, anything that limits our love and our joy, is not God. We cannot ever fully know God, and so, too often, we settle for less. We settle for the image of an old man in the sky, or an angry parent, or a warm, fuzzy buddy. We settle for what we can define and control. But God will not be defined or controlled.

 

We are not worshipping God when we settle for less than the fullness of God’s infinite grace, and that’s what those first four commandments are about. God is saying, don’t settle for something that is superficial or easy. God is beyond all that we can imagine, and we will be happy if we keep reaching for that unknowable. Other gods and graven images are cheap substitutes. Taking God’s name in vain, misusing it, means that we are pretending to know God in a way we don’t, pretending that we understand who God really is. When I was learning Hebrew, I learned that when you see the name of God in the text, you never pronounce that name, but substitute another word that means “Lord” in its place. The meaning behind that is that if you can name something, you have some measure of control over it. God is beyond all our control, so we never use that name.

 

When we understand our place in the scheme of things and realize the infinite vastness of God’s love, we can relax, stop trying to control the universe, and let ourselves trust in a God that creates the fabric of all that is.

 

The final six commandments are about how to live happily with one another. And again, we have too often interpreted them as restrictive rules that limit our freedom to do what we want. But the reality is that learning not to be jealous or greedy, learning to live truthfully, learning to honor other people – these are all things that make human life worth living. If we are going to live as a community, we have to be able to trust one another and we have to be responsible for our place in the community. We have to be trustworthy. God is inviting the people of Israel – and us – into a relationship with one another that will help us grow and thrive and have real security. The temptation is always to believe that security comes from taking care of ourselves first and guarding against what other people might do. But that’s not security – that’s defense. And when we live like that, we are tearing apart the fabric that makes society healthy. A healthy society is one in which people take responsibility for themselves, where they honor every other person in the society, and where they make sure that every person is safe and respected. That is the clear intention of the Ten Commandments. They are a recipe for a happy, healthy community.

 

God wants us to be happy, to be fruitful, to have healthy and happy lives.
And the gift of the Ten Commandments is that they are the support for that happiness. And we don’t need threats of hellfire and damnation.
Our failure to live by the commandments becomes its own punishment. When we put other gods – like wealth, or success or popularity – before God, we lose the richness and depth of life that we could have. Our lives become as shallow as our values, and we live in a spiritual atmosphere that is as thin as the top of Mt Everest. And when we fail to live in love with one another – when we lie and cheat and steal, even in small ways, we destroy the happy community that God intends for us. We end up living out of a need to protect ourselves so much that we forget that God’s idea for a community is so much freer. If we live out the commandments, we can live in security with one another rather than out of defense against one another.

 

We don’t have to live like Arthur’s parrot – angry and defensive and brought into decent behavior only by the threat of force. God’s invitation is to a life with joy and fun and delight. The Ten Commandments are the invitation to that life.

 

Amen .

PROPER 19(A)


 

Whenever I’m preaching, I listen to a wonderful podcast from Luther Seminary called “Sermon Brainwave.” Three biblical scholars talk about the week’s lessons and about the sorts of things a preacher might want to focus on or mention. And they often have great ideas and insights. This week, they were talking about the theme of forgiveness that is so clear in both the Old Testament and Gospel, and as they were talking along, one of them burst out, “It’s just so hard! Forgiveness is the hardest thing in the world to do!” Everyone laughed, mostly because we all know how true that is.

 

Jesus gave us a lot of challenges – feeding the hungry, making sure that the poor are treated justly, giving to those in need. But this one is different.

“Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

 

I don’t know about you, but even getting to seven times seems impossible to me! We are instinctual creatures, and our first instinct is to defend ourselves. If someone hurts us once, we are not about to let them hurt us again! And we have diagnostic labels for those people who do allow themselves to be hurt over and over.  So is Jesus telling us to do something which surely can’t be good for us?  I don’t think so. Let me talk a little about what forgiveness is and is not.

 

First of all, forgiveness is not permission. We have an obligation to make sure that we are safe and not in physical or emotional danger. And we have that obligation for those we love as well. If we are hurt by someone, in whatever way, we have to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent that happening again. Sometimes people who are in abusive situations think that forgiveness means allowing the abuser to continue. That is not true. In some situations, the person who hurt us may not have intended harm – they may have said something which they thought was harmless, only to discover later that it hurt us. But if we allow them to continue saying hurtful things, we don’t help anyone. It may be that all we need to do is to tell the person that they hurt our feelings. In more serious situations, we may need to make physical distance between ourselves and the person who has hurt us. But the important thing is that we do not allow ourselves or someone else to be hurt when we forgive.

 

Second, to forgive is not to forget. That doesn’t mean carrying a grudge or refusing to forgive. But it does mean not being naïve or childish. If we know that a friend is likely to say something tactless when we ask their opinion, it’s probably wise to avoid asking their opinion! People do and say all kinds of thoughtless, dumb things. Sometimes they are aware of it and sometimes not, but if we know someone well enough to know that they are likely to be hurtful in a situation, we need to find a way to keep that from happening.

 

Third, forgiveness is not once-and-for-all, at least not usually. If we have been hurt in some significant way, we will find the anger and resentment coming back from time to time. We are reminded of the hurt, and all of a sudden, we are feeling it all over again and wanting revenge and retribution, just as we did at the time. So we sometimes have to forgive seven times, or seventy-seven, or seven thousand!

 

Forgiveness is not permission to be hurt, it’s not forgetting, and it’s not something we only have to do once. So what is forgiveness? Perhaps the most striking feature of forgiveness is that it is a letting go.

 

Forgiveness is letting go of the need for revenge or retribution. The world does not need to operate on an endless eye-for-an-eye system. Surely, if the ongoing horrors in the Middle East have taught us anything, it should be that that system of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, doesn’t work. When we seek vengeance, we only cause more hurt, and the hurt may be to the other person, but it is most profoundly to ourselves. The damage that we do to our own hearts (and sometimes to our own physical health) by carrying that rage is deep and lasting. As the writer Anne Lamott says, “Refusing to forgive is like eating rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” And it creates an endless loop of hurt and destruction that never makes anything better.

 

And forgiveness is letting go of our need to control the universe. When we refuse to forgive, we are living out the delusion that the past can be changed. We say, “If only he had done such and such.” Or “I never should have said that.” But the past. The things that happened are over and done. There is no going back in time to fix them or demand they be different. And so forgiveness is letting that go and realizing the truth that the past is past. Forgiveness allows what happened to be what it was instead of pretending that it somehow could have been different.

 

And finally, and perhaps most important, forgiveness is letting go of other peoples’ power over us. In forgiving, we are claiming ourselves. As long as we hold onto the hurts of the past, we are not our own. We belong, at least in part, to the person who hurt us. But when we forgive, we let go of the power of that person over us. We no longer allow them to take up space in our hearts. We are free to live fully as ourselves and to let go of the role of victim which diminishes us. And, in the end, that means that forgiveness is really for us. We forgive, not just for the sake of the one who hurt us, but for our own sake. We forgive so that we can live in the freedom and happiness that God intends for us.

 

Listen to the Psalm for this morning again: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul/And all that is within me, bless His Holy name./ Bless the Lord, oh my soul/ and forget not all his benefits./He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities;/ He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with loving kindness./ As far as the east is from the west, so farhas he removed our sins from us./  As a father cares for his children, so does the Lord care for those who fear him. “

 

Nelson Mandela spent 10,000 days in prison simply because he worked for justice in South Africa. When he was finally freed, he could have carried rage or resentment or hatred. But he came out with love and a commitment to make his country a better place. When asked about it, he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Nelson Mandela was able to forgive, and we are able to forgive, because we are first loved and forgiven by God. God’s love lifts the burden from us and frees us to love – both ourselves and others. May God give us also the grace and courage to leave our bitterness behind, to let go of the past and to walk with joy and freedom and courage, into the future.

 

 

Amen.

PROPER 17(A)

 

I have a friend who has a catchphrase that he often uses when I ask him how he is. He says, “I’m living the dream.” Now I know that he’s being ironic (or maybe just sarcastic), but that phrase sticks with me, and I thought about it as I was preparing to write this sermon.

 

We all want to “live the dream,” but we may have very different dreams. When I was a little girl, living the dream meant getting married, having a couple of kids and living in the suburbs. It’s a common enough dream, but one that has changed a lot for me over time. I imagine each of us had an idea of what living the dream meant when we were younger – for some of us it has changed, for some not, perhaps. But I would guess that there are some common elements to the dream for each of us. I imagine that living the dream includes some happiness. What brings happiness to each of us is different, but I think we all think that a life well-lived would be one with happiness in it. And I think each of us dreams of being successful. Again, our measures of success are different, but we want to feel as if we have accomplished something with our lives. We want to leave something behind us that people will remember.

 

But in today’s lessons, we hear about a different kind of dream, a radically different definition of what a well-lived life looks like. We start with Moses, quietly tending the flock of his father-in-law, a priest of Midian – probably, by the way, NOT a priest of the God that Moses is about to deal with. But Moses is living the dream in his own way and is not prepared for the voice of God to interrupt it with a flaming bush that doesn’t burn up and with a command that Moses can’t even imagine following. Moses objects: Who am I to go to Pharaoh? I’m just country shepherd. And if I go, what god am I supposed to say sent me?  But God has heard the voice of suffering people, and that is enough to send this uncultured, inarticulate man off to confront Pharaoh and bring justice to his people.  Moses has been called from living his own dream into living God’s dream.

 

And then we have this alarming conversation between Peter and Jesus. Remember, Peter has just recently been the one to name Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one of God. But then Jesus starts talking about suffering and dying. This is not what Peter had in mind. His idea of living the dream is living in the glory of a conquering hero. He wants to be part of the army that drives the Romans out and brings a glorious new political reign. But Jesus slaps him down hard. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Living the dream in Peter’s mind is very different from what Jesus is calling him to. Jesus is calling him out of the life where the glory of this world is all there is and into a life where living the dream has to do with letting go of the world’s glory. Living the dream in Jesus’ terms is living in love for others, letting go of everything, even life itself, so that others might live.

 

So how do we make sense of this? We are so completely immersed in our human values that it seems impossible to make any sense of what God might be calling us to. It would be nice to believe that what God said to Moses and what Jesus said to Peter have nothing to do with us. We can live the dream however we want to. We don’t have to imagine that God might be calling us to something different. Unfortunately, we call ourselves people of faith, and we have showed up here because we are Christians. And the minute we do that, we open ourselves to the possibility that God is calling us to live a very different dream from the one we would like to follow.

So what might that dream look like? What is the well-lived life according to God?  Well , it starts with the fact that God hears the cries of suffering people. “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…” And God still hears the cry – of suffering people in the Middle East, of children who fear the police shooting them in Ferguson, Missouri or on the streets of any city in the United States, of those who are vulnerable to hunger and disease anywhere. And God still dreams of bringing those who suffer out of their captivity and into a place where they can be safe and free from fear.

 

We are called by God, as much as Moses, as much as Peter, to give up our own security, our own dream in order to be part of God’s dream and to help God’s dream come true. It may mean letting go of things – starting with our ideas about what the well-lived life looks like. And it may mean sacrificing things we thought we could not live without. And there are people doing this all the time. It isn’t just the superheroes of the faith, like Mother Theresa, who give up their own dreams to become part of Gods’.

 

Let me tell you the story of a man I knew when I first started out in the ministry. His name was Pete. He was an engineer and worked for a defense contractor in Connecticut. He was very successful by most standards – he was good at his job, had a very nice wife and three kids, one of whom was in high school and getting ready for college. Pete had been going to church for a number of years, but, as he tells the story, one day, he suddenly found himself thinking about what he did for a living. He realized that his company manufactured weapons, and as he thought about it, he became more and more uncomfortable with that. He realized that, as a person of faith, he believed that killing was wrong, that war was wrong. He started a conversation with this wife and children about that, and over time, they decided together that Pete had to change what he did for a living. And so, without another job to go to, Pete resigned. Now it would be great if I could tell you that they all lived happily ever after, but that would not be true. Pete’s family struggled financially for several years, and there were times when they second-guessed the decision. But in the midst of that time, I had a conversation with Pete’s wife. She said something like this, “We are so grateful that Pete made the choice he did. Thinking about making the decision and following through has completely changed us as a family.  Our life together is richer and happier than any of us could have dreamed was possible. It has been really hard from time to time, but we know that we are being faithful to what we believe, and that means everything to us.”

 

Pete was called from living the dream that he had always known and into living God’s dream. And in doing that, he found real life, for him and for his family. He discovered that the life well-lived is the life that is lived in tune with God’s dream. And Jesus gives us the promise of following God’s dream: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? “

 

And so God continues to call. Each of us is invited to live God’s dream.

Amen

PROPER 11(A)

JULY 20, 2014

The anti-immigration forces line up on one side. Armed with an absolute conviction of their moral righteousness, they protest and force immigrants away, driving children out of their towns. The pro-immigration forces line up on the other side. While they may be less violent, they are no less convinced of their moral justification. And they are just as rigid, just as inflexible, just as self-righteous.

And while each side tries to out-shout the other, things are going on that neither side really understands. Parents who love their children and afraid for their lives do what would be unthinkable for us – they send their children away, hoping against hope that this will give them a decent life and something to hope for. Children, terrified and alone, take a journey that they don’t understand, hoping for safety and peace. Officers of the law try to cope with situations which are overwhelming, trying to be both upholders of the law and compassionate guardians.

And while the pro- and anti- immigration forces shout at each other, neither really sees the terrible suffering that is all around them. They get so wrapped up in fighting for their cause that the people involved, the individual lives, are completely forgotten.

We see this with every moral and social issue, sexuality, abortion, the Middle East. Armed with the weapons of moral superiority and self-righteousness, people argue about the right and the wrong of things, completely overlooking the ambiguous and often difficult choices people have to make.

But, you ask, isn’t it the Christian’s job to decide what’s right and wrong? Aren’t we supposed to make moral judgments? And the answer is, of course, yes, but I think Jesus’ story about the weeds and the wheat gives us a different perspective.

It is clear that there are weeds in the garden. There is evil in this world. People do things that are ugly and selfish and hurtful. Jesus doesn’t pretend that things are just fine. But when the servants come to the master, wanting to rip the weeds out, he says no. And his reason is interesting. What has happened is that the weeds and the wheat have grown so closely together that to rip out the weeds would mean also ripping out good wheat.

The evil that we see in the world is so interwoven with good that to try and eradicate it will cause more destruction than we could have imagined. The anti-immigration believers see a risk to the stability of our society, and that’s a good thing. The pro-immigration believers see children in distress and danger and want to do everything to help them. And that is good as well. Each side is coming from a strong moral commitment, and that’s good. But mixed in with their goodness is evil. Not only are they unwilling to tolerate anyone who disagrees with them, but they tend to run roughshod over the real people involved – the children, their parents, all of whom are ignored. And that is a much greater evil.

But this intermixing of good and evil isn’t just in the world out there. It is also in our own hearts. Each of us makes choices and decisions every day. And we can always give a good, righteous reason why we’ve done something. In our own minds, we’ve done it for all the right reasons. And if someone is hurt by what we’ve done or if someone suggests that maybe our motives weren’t absolutely pure, we are shocked. But when we think about it later, we sometimes have to admit that our motives were mixed. None of us is as noble or pure as we present ourselves. Good and evil are all intertwined in us, so closely that we can’t always tell the difference.

And this is where Jesus’ parable comes in again. He says it clearly – God will sort out the good and the evil in the end. God will allow both good and evil to grow together – NOT because God doesn’t care, but because the good is too important to risk hurting in an effort to get rid of the evil.

It is not our job to rid the world of evil, not that we could if we wanted to, but to live a life that is as loving and faithful as possible. That means loving the people on the other side of the issue and having compassion for the innocent lives that are caught up in the terrible events of this world. And it means letting go of our own judgmentalism and self-righteousness. We are never as right about things as we think we are and others are never as wrong as we want to believe they are.

And further, living a life of love and compassion means having compassion for ourselves. We need to be honest about the mix of good and evil in our own hearts, and we need to be able to admit that we all have mixed motives. We also need to allow God to sort out all those motives, to forgive us our evil and help us in our good. The good of the world and of our hearts is mixed in with the evil and we need to honor that.

One of the telltale signs that we have forgotten to let God sort things out is when we start believing that there is only one solution to any moral problem. Human life and human choice are always multi-faceted and complex. To trust God means allowing ourselves to enter into that complexity, to feel the anguish of those who suffer in the midst of moral dilemmas and to feel compassion for all those involved, even for those with whom we disagree most violently, even for ourselves.

And, most of all, we have to trust that God knows more than we know, understands more than we can grasp, and loves infinitely more than we can imagine. In the fullness of time – God’s time – the evil and the good will be sorted out, and God will do with it what needs to be done. And the promise is that God will do that in our own hearts as well – our goodness will shine and our sin will be burned away.

God’s love is deep and full enough for both the weeds and the wheat, for the good and the bad. The world is not nearly so simple as we would wish, and we cannot take refuge in easy answers or moral superiority. But if we open ourselves to compassion, we will bring the love of the infinitely loving God with us. May God give us the courage to open ourselves to that love, which is the only hope for this world.

Amen

Proper 7(A)

If you’ve ever read a popular magazine or watched any daytime television show

like Dr. Phil or The Doctors, you will know that they are built on the premise that

we want to be successful. We want to be successful with our diets, we want to

looks healthy and fit, we want to be successful in our marriages and in our jobs.

And these shows and articles are all about how to be successful. And whether

they are selling snake oil or giving good advice, they count on our hunger for

success to sell their products and themselves. And they usually package it as “Ten

Easy steps to a Tighter Tummy” or “Three Rules that Will Fix Your Marriage.”

 

Well, it has always been that way, and in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is telling

the disciples how to be successful as his followers. But listen to what Jesus counts

as success:

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they

malign those of his household!

 

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who

can destroy both soul and body in hell.

 

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to

bring peace, but a sword.

 

And the final clincher:

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever

loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not

take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will

lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

 

Following Jesus is going to be more than wearing a I Jesus t-shirt. There is no

way that being Jesus’ disciple is going to fit neatly into an otherwise stable life.

Jesus is saying that if they want to measure their success, the yardstick against

which they should measure it is the Cross. If they are true to him, then they will

suffer as he did. People will hate them and persecute them and the only promise

is that God will be with them, and the promise that they will find real life by giving

up the false life of accommodation with the world.

 

It is hard for us, who have never known real persecution, to really understand

what making the choice to follow Jesus meant for the disciples. And it is equally

hard to understand what life is like for people in other cultures, who do still make

the choice to follow Jesus, even when they risk their freedom and their lives to do

so. We may risk being ignored or laughed at if we take our faith seriously. But we

probably won’t get fired or go to jail or be killed for it.

 

In 21st century America, those of us who are Christian, white, and educated,

are the dominant group. We have the privilege of having the most wealth and

education, the best housing and the hundred other signs of privilege that we

are accorded in this society. So rather than focus on how we are persecuted for

our faith, I want to risk thinking with you about how we persecute others. There

is a little book by Allan G. Johnson, called Privilege, Power and Difference. It is

the best description of the barriers that divide people from one another that I

have read. He doesn’t lay blame, but points out how having privilege and power

make us unaware of what others without power struggle with. Being of another

race, another religion, another ethnicity, being female or physically impaired or

homosexual, all of those things lower our privilege and our access to power. And,

of course, it is in the interests of those of us in power to stay unaware that others

lack what we have. So we easily judge the poor person who is black or Latino, who

never got a good education and whose chance at getting a job is small, and who

has to struggle every day to survive in ways that we cannot imagine. And while

we have gotten better as a society about our prejudice against Jews, we are still

often afraid of people who are Muslim or Hindu or other Eastern religions. And

consciously or not, we find ways to keep them out of power.

 

And this starts early. We hear our children make fun of another child and we let

it go, or perhaps we silently cheer them on. Our children learn very early on that

some people are, to use the quote from “Animal Farm,” ‘more equal than others.’

And because children learn so quickly and thoroughly, they soon figure out which

people or groups they can ignore or tease or bully. And so the pattern continues.

 

So I want to suggest that we hear this Gospel lesson in a different way. To follow

Jesus in 21sr century America means first, becoming aware of how we persecute

others, even unintentionally. It means hearing their stories, and beginning to

understand the ways in which they have been denied the privileges we take for

granted. And second, following Jesus for us means finding ways to change the

“rules” we take so much for granted about who gets power and who doesn’t.

There was a wonderful story about this in the news lately. A white woman was in

the grocery store with her friend, who was African American. The white woman

went through the line first and paid with a check. The cashier looked briefly at

her driver’s license and then signed off on the check. Her friend followed, and

also paid with a check. But this time, the cashier didn’t accept her driver’s license.

She wanted another form of identification. With obvious suspicion, she then

went to the book with the list of customers who have bounced checks. When the

white woman saw this, she went to the service counter and asked for a manager

to come to the checkout. When the manager got there, he said, “Is there a

problem?” The white woman said, “Yes, there is. I went through the line and paid

with a check and had no trouble. But my friend, who is black, has been treated

with disrespect and suspicion. I want to know why.” The manager, of course, fell

all over himself apologizing and immediately okayed the black woman’s check.

It was the willingness of a person in power to step in and defend the rights of

someone with less power that made the difference.

 

We take a risk when we champion those who lack privilege and power. We may

be scorned or ridiculed. We may risk losing friendships. People may be angry that

we are questioning the unwritten rules that we live by. But if we are going to be

true followers of Jesus, we have no other choice. Jesus spent his life reaching out

to those that society scorned. He called the rules of power and privilege of his

society into question. For those of us in power today, that is what we are called to

as well. We don’t have to do any great heroic act. We might start by simply sitting

down with someone, for example, who is black, uneducated and poor and just

asking them to tell us what their struggles are. If we can truly listen – not telling

them what they should do or why they’re wrong – we will learn things we never

knew or imagined. We must hear the voices of those who experience the world

very differently than we do, we must trust their experience and we must find

ways – even small ways – to make our society one where all people have access

to the privilege and power that we enjoy.

 

The promise that we are given is that it is in doing that that we will find true and

abundant life. If we cling to the privilege of this world, we risk losing the real

power, which is the power of God’s love. If we risk giving away the power of this

world, we will gain more than we could ever have imagined or hoped for.

 

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever

loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not

take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will

lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Amen.

Trinity Sunday (A)

In all the years that I have been ordained, I have struggled with preaching on

Trinity Sunday. The natural urge is to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, but

the usual result of that is a boring lecture. So I have tried to use metaphors to

describe what the Trinity tells us about God. Also boring and superficial as well.

And the fact is that the concept of the Trinity is something that most people really

don’t think a lot about anyway.

 

The fact is that there is no way to explain the Trinity, and to try is to answer a

question that very few people are even asking. To experience God is the only

way to get even a hint of it, and that experience is usually beyond words. So I

have come to a conclusion, which is to skip preaching on it altogether. If you are

disappointed with that and really do want to explore the doctrine of the Trinity,

please give me a call. I would love to sit down and discuss it with you. But I think I

will do something else from the pulpit this morning.

 

And we have wonderful things to explore in the Old Testament lesson and the

Psalm. This story of Creation is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in all of

Scripture. It may very well have been done as part of a worship service – a kind

of litany. Imagine it with trumpets and drums as the reader says, “And God saw

that it was good.” Imagine bells and cymbals as the light is divided from the day

and the land from the ocean. And imagine flutes and piccolos and clarinets and

harps all rushing around as the reader talks about the swarms of living things all

swarming around. It really is written that way. And I think there is a reason for

that. Creation is not just fact, but art.

 

Take fractals, for example. Fractals are patterns that repeat endlessly, from larger

to smaller. Broccoli is my favorite example of a fractal. If you take a big broccoli

stalk, you will see that it is one large stalk that branches out. If you break off one

of those branches, you will see the same pattern in the piece you break off. Now

break off one of the branches of that smaller stalk, and again, you get the same

pattern. Fractals occur in snowflakes and crystals, in blood vessels and DNA. If you

are a mathematician, you can describe the formulas that make up fractals. But

you don’t need to be to see the absolute beauty and symmetry of them. And if

you have ever seen computer generated fractals, they are just stunning. It seems

obvious that there is an artistic hand at work here.

 

And if you haven’t watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s show, “Cosmos,” you have

missed a breathtaking view of the ongoing creation that is our universe. He

explores everything from the smallest levels of atoms to the edges of the universe

we know. Tyson is avowedly non-religious, but his awe and excitement as he tells

the stories of the universe is clear. It is impossible to delve deeply into creation

without feeling that awe.

 

And it is good for us to experience that awe. It helps us remember that we

are not the universe, that there is a larger reality that we cannot even begin

to comprehend, that our planet is a tiny speck of all that is. And it helps to

remember that the universe does not revolve around us. We tend to dismiss what

we don’t understand, but an honest look at our place in the universe helps us

remember that what we don’t understand is most of it!

 

The psalmist understood this:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is man that you should be mindful of him? *

the son of man that you should seek him out?

 

And yet, what do we see in both Genesis and the Psalm? God has given human

beings a unique place in this infinite creation. We are given stewardship over this

creation, we are made “little lower than the angels.” It is our job to use all of this

abundance for the service of God, we are responsible for this work of art that is given to us.

 

Sadly, what we have done too often is to exploit, waste and squander the beauty

that we are given. To meet our immediate desires, to feed our greed, we destroy

and ruin the work of God’s fingers. And our greed and waste are now having

consequences that have already changed the earth permanently. Climate change

is now irreversible. In the next several hundred years, human beings will have to

deal with the consequence of the choices we have made in the last few hundred.

 

So what are we to do with all this? Perhaps what is needed is a new perspective

on what it means to be human. We need, on the one hand, to remember how

small we are in the infinite scheme of things, to realize that we know very little,

can control very little, and are not nearly as important as we would like to think

we are. On the other hand, we also need to remember that God has created us

with unique abilities (at least, unique to this world – there may be other creatures

like us on distant planets!). We are able to make choices that no other creature

can make and we can do things that no other creature can do. But with those

abilities comes great responsibility, and so that’s the other shift we need to make

in our perspective. The choices that each of us makes – sometimes tiny choices –

have an effect on the whole creation. We are inextricably interwoven with all of

life on earth. We cannot continue to act as if our behavior did not matter.

 

Creation is about balance – light and dark, water and earth, sun and stars.

It is also about our balance – knowing that we are not God and that we are

responsible for what God has given us. And when we have that balance, we can

sing with the psalmist, whose words I have changed slightly so that know that we

are all included in them:

 

O LORD our Governor, *

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Out of the mouths of infants and children *

your majesty is praised above the heavens.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

What is humankind that you should be mindful of us? *

the children of earth that you should seek us out?

You have made us but little lower than the angels; *

you adorn us with glory and honor;

You give us mastery over the works of your hands; *

you put all things under our feet:

O LORD our Governor, *

how exalted is your Name in all the world!

AMEN

PENTECOST, 2014

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, `Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

 

In Jesus’ time, the Festival of Booths, or Sukkot, was one of the three big annual festivals. It was all about God living in the midst of people and on the last day of the festival, the theme was water. A priest would go to the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher and then carry it back to the temple. There he would pour it into a silver bowl next to the altar and pray for rain. But it was more than just a prayer for rain, it was a prayer for God’s abundant, life-giving spirit to be poured out on the people.

 

We need to remember that Israel is a dry desert place. If you get caught in the Judean desert without water, you will be dead in a day. Water is scarce and precious. We take water for granted, but the people of Jesus’ time could not. Water is life, so this was a profound symbol of God’s graciousness. And it was on this day that Jesus said these words: `…let the one who believes in me drink…Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

 

Do you hear how subversive what he said sounded? He was taking on himself power that only the priests could wield. And, more, he was saying that any person could become the source of life-giving water. In essence, he was saying that ordinary people could be agents of the Holy Spirit. Ordinary people could transform the world.

 

And then we have the story from Acts about the day of Pentecost. For those of us who like a well-ordered liturgy, this event is a nightmare. Imagine trying to get through a worship service here at the Indian Hill Church with wind and fire tearing around and with people speaking all kinds of different languages. And imagine what it would be like if every person here thought that he or she was an agent of the Holy Spirit? Oh, wait a minute. That is just what Jesus was saying. Jesus wasn’t just talking about the people of his place and time. Jesus was talking about ordinary people in 21st century Cincinnati. He was talking about you and me.

 

We like living in a tame and ordered world. But if we do believe in Jesus, if we are serious about letting him be our Lord, then we need to open ourselves to wind and fire. We need to be ready to have our safe, quiet lives upended and turned around. Because the Holy Spirit doesn’t believe in tame and quiet. The Holy Spirit is always pulling us out of our safety zone into the future. The Holy Spirit is pouring living water out on us and calling us to slake the thirst of this thirsty world. This call isn’t for someone else. This call isn’t long ago and far away. This call is now, and it is for us.

 

Now, personally, it makes me nervous to say the things to you that I have just said. I like my life calm and orderly. I like a certain amount of nostalgia. As I have said many times, if I liked change I wouldn’t be an Episcopalian! But I have learned too often that living the Christian life is filled with twists and turns and new directions, and that God is always, always, moving to transform the world – through me, through you, by anyone and anything. And I have learned that nostalgia is the enemy of that transformation. It’s a way of avoiding the Holy Spirit. As someone once said, “Nostalgia is the belief that God’s best work is behind him.” So wishing that things would stay the way they are, or God forbid, the way they used to be, is not the way to live the Christian life.

 

So why do it? If the Christian life can be so upsetting, why not just say “No, thank you?” Plenty of people live happy lives without ever changing much. And, of course, that’s always a choice for us as well. But here’s the thing: what Jesus is offering us is the water of life. Imagine living all your life drinking flat, lukewarm tap water, and then, at the thirstiest moment of your life, being given a big glass of ice water from a spring. That’s the difference. Imagine how grateful you would be to the person who gave you that water. And then imagine that this person gave you the keys to the place where the spring water and ice cubes are kept! That is what Jesus offers us – a life filled with joy and refreshment and satisfaction, a life that is a delight to us and to the people around us. The life that Jesus offers is deep and rich and filled with joy. And that is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

In a 2007 edition of Newsweek magazine, author and radio personality Garrison Keillor was asked to choose what he considered to be the five most important books. Some readers were probably surprised to find that he ranked the Book of Acts at the top of his list. When describing the Book of Acts, Keillor offered this concise but potent summation: “The flames lit on their little heads and bravely and dangerously went they onward.” The gift is life-giving and life-changing, all at the same time.

 

You and I – ordinary people – are offered that gift. May God give us grace to drink of God’s living water and to become fountains of that water for the world.

 

Amen

5 Easter (A)

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,

in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of

darkness into his marvelous light.

 

A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. The writer

of I Peter is writing to people in the early Church, people who were trying to live

the Christian life in a hostile world. They were trying to be faithful in a world that

either scorned or punished them for it.That must have been terribly hard. And

yet, I find myself wondering if keeping the faith in the face of persecution might

be a little easier than keeping it in the face of a culture that finds it irrelevant and

not worth taking seriously. That is the world we live in today. We live in a world

where soccer games and marathons and all kinds of other activities take the place

of Christians gathering to worship, and perhaps even more difficult, where trying

to live a life of holiness sounds like some crazy cult behavior.

 

But like it or not, we are the people to whom this letter is written. We here in the

Indian Hill Church have been called by God, chosen by God, to be a holy people.

Now before we get all pious and sentimental, let’s think about what that means.

It’s not nearly as romantic as it sounds!

 

The Gospel for today has a very familiar quotation, one that is misused way too

often. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one

comes to the Father except through me.” Christians just love to use this sentence

to exclude people who believe differently than we do. But Jesus was not our

Savior because he was Jesus, he was our Savior because he loved us with infinite

love and sacrificed himself for our sake and for the sake of the world. That love is

the way and the truth and the life, because that love is the love of God. In other

words, we come to God when we give ourselves in love for others.

 

Now again, the temptation is to get all misty-eyed about loving others. But

remember that loving others the way Jesus did it was to give all of himself, even

to death. And the other lesson that is appointed for this Sunday is the story of the

martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen’s love for God led to his being stoned to death.

Being the holy people of God carries real risk. And to be the royal priesthood and

chosen nation that we are called to be will set us apart from our culture and our

society, just as Stephen was set apart from his. What would happen if we put

God first – above every other commitment? Just imagine your typical week. How

would it look different if God came first? It might look quite strange, at least to

people who didn’t understand. People might be critical if you made choices for

love ahead of choices for pleasure. They might say you were too religious, they

might tell you that you were taking this church thing way too seriously. And for

most of us, being dismissed as a fool is harder than being thought wrong.

 

So following Jesus – which means putting God first, putting love first – is what

makes us holy. But it’s hard, involves risk, and leaves us open to criticism and

shaming.

5 EASTER (A)

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,

in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of

darkness into his marvelous light.

A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. The writer

of I Peter is writing to people in the early Church, people who were trying to live

the Christian life in a hostile world. They were trying to be faithful in a world that

either scorned or punished them for it.That must have been terribly hard. And

yet, I find myself wondering if keeping the faith in the face of persecution might

be a little easier than keeping it in the face of a culture that finds it irrelevant and

not worth taking seriously. That is the world we live in today. We live in a world

where soccer games and marathons and all kinds of other activities take the place

of Christians gathering to worship, and perhaps even more difficult, where trying

to live a life of holiness sounds like some crazy cult behavior.

But like it or not, we are the people to whom this letter is written. We here in the

Indian Hill Church have been called by God, chosen by God, to be a holy people.

Now before we get all pious and sentimental, let’s think about what that means.

It’s not nearly as romantic as it sounds!

The Gospel for today has a very familiar quotation, one that is misused way too

often. Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one

comes to the Father except through me.” Christians just love to use this sentence

to exclude people who believe differently than we do. But Jesus was not our

Savior because he was Jesus, he was our Savior because he loved us with infinite

love and sacrificed himself for our sake and for the sake of the world. That love is

the way and the truth and the life, because that love is the love of God. In other

words, we come to God when we give ourselves in love for others.

Now again, the temptation is to get all misty-eyed about loving others. But

remember that loving others the way Jesus did it was to give all of himself, even

to death. And the other lesson that is appointed for this Sunday is the story of the

martyrdom of Stephen. Stephen’s love for God led to his being stoned to death.

Being the holy people of God carries real risk. And to be the royal priesthood and

chosen nation that we are called to be will set us apart from our culture and our

society, just as Stephen was set apart from his. What would happen if we put

God first – above every other commitment? Just imagine your typical week. How

would it look different if God came first? It might look quite strange, at least to

people who didn’t understand. People might be critical if you made choices for

love ahead of choices for pleasure. They might say you were too religious, they

might tell you that you were taking this church thing way too seriously. And for

most of us, being dismissed as a fool is harder than being thought wrong.

So following Jesus – which means putting God first, putting love first – is what

makes us holy. But it’s hard, involves risk, and leaves us open to criticism and shaming.

3 Easter (A)

I invite you to remember with me today. I invite you to remember a person or

people who were especially precious to you who have died. It doesn’t matter

who they were, just that they were a vital part of your life. As you remember,

remember what they looked like, how they talked, remember their funny quirks,

how they used their hands or a unique expression on their faces. And remember

special moments – moments when what they said or did was so important to you

that you will never forget it. Remembering those precious people in our own lives

can give us some sense of what the disciples felt as they walked on the road to

Emmaus on that first Easter evening.

 

They had given up everything to follow Jesus and had bet their lives on his being

the Messiah. They had seen him teach and heal people, but most of all, they

had known his love. Jesus knew each of them deeply and loved each of them

without limit. And Jesus taught them that God’s love for them was like that –

infinitely deep and unchangeable. So they were sure that when they came to

Jerusalem and Jesus let people know who he was that he would be welcomed and

celebrated as the Promised One. But after that triumphant entry into Jerusalem,

it all fell apart. The people who had hailed him turned against him quickly, and by

Friday, he had been captured and tortured and killed. Not only had they lost their

best friend in the world, but they had lost the hope they had for the Kingdom

of God coming into the world. The shock and horror and grief must have been

almost unbearable.

 

But if all that weren’t enough, some of the women disciples had come back from

the tomb that morning and told them that Jesus was alive. This must have been

just one thing too many, and some of them decided to take a walk to Emmaus,

where one of them had a home. They probably just needed to get away, to go

somewhere other than Jerusalem. And as they walked, talking about everything

that had happened, they were joined by a stranger, who asked them what they

were talking about. Amazed that there was anyone who didn’t know, they told

this person about Jesus and what had happened to him.

 

And then, things started to get strange. Instead of being sympathetic, the stranger

scolded them for their lack of faith, and then proceeded to explain the scriptures

to them. He taught them the way Jesus had taught them, and they felt all the joy

and excitement they had felt when Jesus was alive. When they got to Emmaus,

the disciples weren’t ready to say good-bye, but urged the stranger to stay with

them for supper and the night. And when they sat down to supper, it happened.

In a way only Jesus could have known, with words Jesus had used at the Last

Supper, the stranger took the bread and blessed it and broke it and shared it with

them. This was unmistakable. This WAS Jesus. Jesus was alive. And they rushed

back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.

 

We recognize people we love by those things they do that no one else does, or no

one does the same way. And what we remember is what those things symbolized

for us. I remember a favorite teacher who would almost giggle with delight when

he heard a really fascinating idea. I remember that giggle as a symbol of how

deeply he loved learning and teaching. What was it that Jesus did and what did

it mean? It wasn’t just the breaking of bread, it was the blessing and sharing that

made them recognize him. And, of course, it wasn’t just the physical act, but all

that it symbolized to them – they knew that, like the bread, Jesus had allowed

himself to be broken for them. They knew that Jesus had poured out his life in

love for them. Jesus had loved them in a way that no one else had or could.

As Christians, we believe that Christ is alive and is still among us. Like the

disciples, we forget that, or don’t really believe it. But the signs of the Risen Christ

are all around us. How do we recognize them? What can we look for? Well, let’s

look at what Jesus did while he was on earth in a human body. He taught people

to love. He taught people to forgive. He healed people who were sick or in any

kind of human pain. And, most of all, he gave of himself. He came as a servant,

and gave all he had – even his own life – for every human being.

 

So that’s what we need to look for. Christ lives in those who love and who teach

others to love. That’s not just teachers, but parents and friends. Christ lives in

those who forgive – in those who forgive us and, in us, when we forgive. Christ

is the healer and lives in those who bring physical and emotional and spiritual

wellness to others. And, most of all, Christ lives where people pour out their lives

in service to others. We have extraordinary examples of that in the saints – both

in times past and now. But Christ does not just live in the superheroes of the faith.

Christ lives in us when we pour ourselves out in love. We may not do it very well,

we may not do it very often. But whenever we deny our own desires for the sake

of another, we are embodying Christ.

 

Today, we are doing two things that are related to this. The first is our offering of

our time and talent for the life of this community. It is a chance to learn a little

more of what it means to love, not just in word or sentiment, but in real, practical

terms. We are reminded that love, justice and peace are all verbs, that we are the

hands and feet and heart of Christ in this world.

 

The second is the baptism of Colin Daniel Strauss.[which we will do at the 10:30

service]. What his parents and godparents and we, his congregation, promise to

do today is to teach him how to recognize Christ – in himself and in others. He will

learn as each of us learns, by being loved and forgiven and supported by others,

learning to see the face of Christ in every person, and learning how to serve

others as Christ served us. We do this because we want Colin to share the gift that

we have been given, being brought into the family of Christ and made children of

God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

Let us pray:

Be present with us, Lord Jesus, in scripture and the breaking of bread, as you were

present with your disciples. Help us to recognize you here, in the world, in every

other human being and, most importantly, in our own hearts.

 

Amen

Easter, Year A

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

This poem by ee cummings has been a favorite of mine for years. Better than any

other piece of writing I know, it captures the absolute joy and miracle of Easter.

 

“ lifted from the no of all nothing…”

Grief, sadness, loss – these are all human experiences, but what is worse is the

loss of hope. We can only imagine the absolute loss of hope that Jesus’ followers

felt on that Good Friday. They had pinned their hopes and their lives on Jesus.

They had thought that the world would see Jesus as the great liberator, the great

deliverer. But then, their dream of a new world had vanished. Jesus was dead and

buried. This really was the “no of all nothing.” But now, something has happened.

Jesus is alive. Death did not have the last word. Where there was no hope, now

there is hope. Jesus has been lifted from the no of all nothing. And so were the

disciples – and so are we.

 

Each of us comes to this day with the joys and sorrows of our lives. For those

of you who come with hope and joy, the Resurrection is an affirmation of your

experience. But this day has as much to say to those of you who have come with

sadness, fear, despair or without hope. Jesus has the power to lift you from the “no

of all nothing.” Where there is no hope, Jesus has real hope. Where there is death,

Jesus comes with the promise of life. This may seem too good to be true. Surely,

it must have seemed so to those people who loved Jesus most dearly. “i who have

died am alive again today.” And if Jesus is alive again today, then we can be as

well. Easter invites us to let Jesus raise us from whatever tomb holds us. We can

say that we who have been dead are alive again.

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

Easter opens a new world for us. We don’t have to hear or see only the surfaces of

things anymore. We can see deeply into the heart of the world. Jesus’ Resurrection

tells us that there is a universe of song and color waiting for us, a universe we

might never have dreamed of. People who have had near-death experiences

often talk about how the world appears different when they come back – colors

are brighter, sounds are clearer. The same can happen to us when we allow the

Resurrection in our own hearts. The sounds of worry and anger and resentment

fade away when we listen for the voice of Jesus. The dullness and narrowness of

our vision can be transformed when the light of infinite love shines on it. And all

we have to do is give our consent. If we want the ears of our ears to awake and

the eyes of our eyes to open, all we have to do is say yes to the infinite yes that is

God’s love.

 

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any–lifted from the no

of all nothing–human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

Amen.