Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snow Day Sermon - Luke 1:1-10 - Give More

John 1:1-10
          Consumerism.  This is the time of year for hyped up Consumerism.  Christmas, culturally divorced from its origins as a Holy celebration of the incarnation, of God Emmanuel, God with us, sharing with us, giving Gods very self to us to be with us, to live with us, walk with us, and give to us the most valuable gift ever given; this celebration of giving which our culture has not embraced, complete separated from its sacred roots is nothing more than a great give-fest, a gift fest, a purchasing frenzy.  It is a celebration of heightened consumerism wrapped in a pretty the wrapping, we call gifting, and tied with the bow of altruism. It is a bent twisted, through the looking glass imitation of what we, as adherents Christ’s faith.
 In an attempt to make our celebration of the incarnation, we are bucking the system, we are pulling away from bent twisted version of what we feel is the heart of this season.  This is a season of giving, a celebration of giving but a giving which reflects the greatest giver and the greatest gift and not that which seems to be the consumeristic giving which is the waters in which we must swim at this time of year.
          Now don’t get me wrong.  Christianity is not about NOT giving.  We are challenging each other this year to spend less, to think about what we are spending, and why we are spending it.   We are in out attempt to break out of the consumerism which surrounds us to free ourselves from the need to spend so much at this time of the year, to stop purchasing gifs simple to purchase gifts, to not feel that the heart of the season is grounded in our ability to spend. 
But we are not calling for us all to stop giving.  Giving is at the heart of we are as Christians.  We believe in giving and calling for our people to be giving people. Give, give, give, after all, that is what our world believes is all Churches care about.  And in many ways that IS all we care about.  Christianity is a religion which calls for its adherents to live  lives of giving, giving of all they are, over to God; giving to one another to help and support, to encourage and love, to give back to the world around us, give to the world out of the love which God has given to us.  We are a religion of giving.  In fact giving is one of the many ways in which we express what it means to love God and love neighbor as we are called to. 
This month we have been exploring the different themes of the Advent conspiracy.  Thus far we have explored what it means to Worship Fully, and Spend Less.  This week we are exploring what it means to Give More.  God IS as giving God, a God who gives Big, gives Personally and gives Valuably.
This is a short passage, it says a lot without saying much at all.
What does this passage tell us about God?
In what ways is God giving in this passage?
What is God giving?  How is God giving?
What or who is the light?  What does it mean for a light to shine in the darkness?
What does it mean for the darkness to overcome light?  What does it mean for light to not be overcome by darkness?
What does this passage tell us about Christ?

Give Big – God gave of Godself, God gave the Son, God gave Christ. Emmanuel!!!  God with us
This is not about not giving, or just giving a little bit.  God gave big, if we truly believe that the giving we give at this time of the year is a reflection of the giving God who gave us Christ
Give Personally – God gave of Godself!  This is not impersonal giving, this is not purchasing a gift and then figuring out who to give it to, come on we have all done it.  This is thinking giving of ones’ very self.  God gave that which was most personal.  Our giving should reflect that.  Our gifts should be personal, they should cost US something, and often times, money is easily giving, easily spent but giving a gift which costs US something of ourselves, of our time, is often more valuable than anything on which we could spend money.
Give Valuably – Although Christ cost God much to give to us.  The giving of the Son changed the God head forever it changed he nature of God in ways that we will perhaps never know or truly understand.  But what God gave to us is valuable. Christ is worth much.   God thought about the gift given to humanity, God did not just give us something, but God gave us exactly what we needed, exactly that which would be most valuable to us.  The gift of Christ holds value in the very nature of what is given.
Our gifts, if they are truly a celebration and reflection of the gift given to us should likewise be valuable.  What we give should be valuable.  They can cost us much without really costing us anything.  The very act of giving should be thought out.  What are we giving? Is it valuable to me?  Is it valuable to the one receiving it?  Where does it come from?  How did it get from where it began to me?  Do I care about who or how it was made?   Does that change its value?  Think about your gifts, where they come from, their value to you, their value to the receiver.  A valuable gift takes all these things into account and are given accordingly.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thinking About Lent Again

I did not mean to do it.  I did not make a Lenten  promise or anything, it just kind of happened.  It all began with snow.  The snow on Transfiguration Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Lent.  So I did a little blog entry and posted on the church Facebook page a brief devotional that sort combined the snow addled brain of one who had spent nearly 10 hour shoveling over the course of two days and the sermon I had prepared for that week. And then there was my family's annual pancake dinner on Shrove Tuesday and our Church's Ash Wednesday service that cause me to think more, so I posted some thoughts about Ash Wednesday that had been spinning around in my head.  I guess all that snow gave me a lot of time to think. So there it was it was the beginning Lent and I had posted twice, kind of like I had made a Lenten promise (as so many of my colleagues seem to have done) but it was coincidence.  I went on vacation, which ruined my trend, but hey, I can fix that by coming back strong and posting here at the beginning of my week.

I spent my first full week of Lent on vacation at my parents house, which is an odd way to begin Lent.  It was neither reflective or contemplative.  It was full of cousins (there are 6 of them that live there close so there are 8 when I bring my two) playing, squealing, running, and of course arguing;  sisterly laughter, hugs from my parents and good talks too.  There was way too much food (my mother is an amazing cook -I know everyone's mother is but mine is especially so) and time spent around the table together.  It was wonderful and rejuvenating.

But now I am back and Lent is in full swing. And my thoughts are much more serious.  Lent is not a "fun" season.  Not like the childlike anticipation like Lent (although Lent and Advent share the same liturgical color), the celebratory nature of the Christmas Season that follows or even the nice down time that we find during weeks that follow Epiphany.  Lent is solemn, it is somber.  It is a time to think about what it means to be fallen and human; a time to contemplate who we are, whose we are and where we stand in relationship to the Creator and Savior.It is a time of spiritual awareness; a time of spiritual awakening; a time during which we draw closer to God and allow God to draw closer to us.

It is a time of sacrifice.  We give things up, we deprive our human selves of comforts and pleasures to remind ourselves of the import it is to say, "No," sometimes to the things we want.  And in a strange way this "No," we learn, or at least remember during this season reminds us also how important it is to say, "Yes," to God, and to Godly things. We practice this by giving up, sacrificing things in our lives, chocolate, Tv, our favorite video game, lunch, meat, what ever we feel lead or our tradition suggests we should sacrifice. But it is more than just leaving things out of out lives, allowing that void to be filled with other mundane, different mundane things, in stead we  fill the void made by these mundane things with Godly things, Godly practices. If we give up things which cost money we give the money to further the Kingdom of God, or to help those less fortunate than our selves. If we give up something that takes time,we give that time over to God, we spend more time in prayer,reading the Bible or doing acts of charity.

Theses sacrifices which we make during this season also serve as icons pointing us toward Christ.  Much as the icons on your desktop are but crude representations showing you where you need to click to open a certain program, theses sacrifices serve as icons which show us Christ, which when clicked so to speak open us up to Christ in new and different ways allowing God to be opened up in our lives.  
Lenten sacrifices are icons that take us to the cross, point us to Christ and the sacrifice he made for us there.all sacrifices, no matter how small are reflections of  the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf on the cross.
Our sacrifice points us to the passion of Christ.  Each time we feel the "pain," the "sting," the "desire" for these things we have given up during this time turn our minds to the cross, to Christ's passion, to Christ's death. We are reminded that the small amount of discomfort or displeasure we experience on God's behalf for this short time in our lives could never measure up to that which Christ endured on ours. Our sacrifices none-the-less point us to his sacrifice, our pain to his pain, our discomfort to his. He suffered that someday all suffering might be put to an end. He died that we might live abundantly. But also he rose that we might one day we might all rise as well.

I shared this a couple years ago and still remains true.  I have a secret love a secret anticipation, tiny sense of hidden thrill that rises up within me as Lent begins.  Thinking about it makes me nearly giddy inside.  I am not thrilled or excited about fasting or praying or even the spiritual journey which we as the Church embark on together as we move through this season. I am fill with anticipation am becoming giddy because Lent, for me the 7 Sundays of Lent not only are a count down toward the Resurrection, the thought of which should fill any good Christian with excitement and giddy anticipation but sadly that is not it. (So my liturgically minded friends and colleagues, be not afraid, I am not jumping to the Resurrection before Lent has barely begun.  I do know the proper order of things) These 7 Sundays are a count down toward the possibility of it being warm enough for us all to be wearing a bright flowered dresses. A 7 Sunday count down toward daffodils and hyacinths. 7 Sundays from lightweight jackets and long walks in refreshing air.  7 weeks perhaps even a little from Spring!

When I see the long week's of lent stretching out before me that are a path down which we trod together. When we embark on it is covered in snow, many times quite literally.  It is a path which is flanked on both sides by dark brown bare trees looking cold and stark in the crisp clear winter air, reaching up their barren branches toward a good New England grey-white winter sky. But if you  look down the path you can see that if we journey along it, it will take us away from the snow. A little ways down, the snow will melt. The path itself will become wet and muddy, filled with sloppy brown puddles. The clouds in the sky will part and the suns rays will begin to come through, cold at first but slowly warming. Soon as you walk down the path, you will begin to see buds on the bare trees, and the first of the new grass poking through. Somewhere along the path I will get to kneel down and put my hand in the dark rich earth which has finally been released from its frozen prison, I will lift my hand to my face and breath deeply of the ripe freshness of the earth, breathe in the smell of all the life that it holds and promises to bring. As the path approaches its culmination the crocuses are beginning to appear and the journey ends with an empty tomb surrounded by daffodils and hyacinths, willows with long green shoots and trees of all kinds bursting to bud. The is sun and grass and beginning of Spring and the earth exploding with light and life and love.

The date chosen to celebrate the Resurrection may fall on different calendar days each year, but I know that the Sunday chosen will always fall on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox. So No matter when we celebrate the Resurrection it will be Spring.  So Lent is always a journey toward Spring, from the cold dark starkness if Winter to the new fresh, flourish of Spring

Yes, the journey of Lent, for me,  is just as much a journey toward the Sun, flowers and warmth of Spring as it is a spiritual journey. It is a secret little joy that begins with the Ashen cross being drawn on my forehead, just as much as Lent begins with the same.  Lent, the very idea of it makes me smile, hope and long for its somber beginning, because Lent will take me on my yearly journey toward Spring. But I have decided that my anticipation for Lent can't be all that bad, it can't be all that much out of character and out of place in this particular season in the Christian Calendar.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere the seasons of the Christian calendar coincide with the seasons of our year. The Season Easter is Spring and all things new, chicks in the nest, flowers in the beds, and spring rain on new green grass.  The long season of Pentecost is the long hot Summer with watermelon, lemonade, kids running free like wild animals free to roam and explore and grow, fall is moving toward All Saints Sunday and Christ the King. Winter begins with Advent and Christmas and stretches long and cold between Epiphany and Transfiguration Sunday.  And Lent is the season which not only brings us toward the Resurrection which all so for the Christian marks new life, new growth and a restoration of things, and it is also that latter part of the winter where world begins to thaw and we all move toward the promise of Spring and the new life it brings.  Lent holds this place in our cycle is coincides with this time in our lives

I have lived most of my life marking church time with the Christian calendar, making my way through year, marking Sundays with the events of the life of Christ and the life of the Church. Following the Lectionary and the Christian calendar has resulted in me not just merely marking church life with the Christian Calendar, it has resulting me me not merely marking spiritual life or even just Church life with the Christian Calendar, but it has resulted in me marking all of life in this way. The life of my local congregation, the liturgical life of the Church, as well as physical seasons are marked by season of the Christian Calendar.

When I became a pastor and choose to move my church through the year using the Christian calendar, my reason was that in this way the Church is marking time using the life of Christ instead of secular celebrations and observances. The Church should mark time using Holy days and Godly celebrations. The Church is not the world, we do not need to mark time the way the world does.

It is a glorious thing to walk with a Body of believers through weeks, seasons, and years marking time in this manner. It shapes us forms us and defines us. But what is more glorious than that shaping, forming and definition extending outside the walls of the church reaching its holy arms into every part of our life. So Lent not only being a spiritual journey but Lent being a journey from winters' cold darkness into Spring's warm glow is just one of the many ways that  truth God has found its way into every segment, every cranny and every crevice of my life, sanctifying all it and making all of it Holy.

The Christian calendar is not simply about the Holy Days and seasons of the church. It is not about changing the colors of the altar cloth on the right Sundays. It is about marking time, our years, our lives with the life of Christ. When we get to the point where the seasons of the Church define our whole lives and not just our spiritual lives, it is a way of allowing God to sanctify all of us, every part of us, every part of our lives making all of who we are, all of what we do and every moment of our life Holy.

Jesus the Mother Hen

Journeying with Jesus
Luke 13:31-35 
Jesus The Mother Hen

 As we move through Lent this year we will continue to follow Luke as he traces the steps of Jesus toward Jerusalem. In the book of Luke Jesus is continually moving toward Jerusalem always walking, always moving toward the cross. As we journey together through Lent; together we will journey with Jesus as he moves toward Jerusalem and the cross. In the gospel of Luke Jesus is constantly turning the world on end. Jesus is always drawing illustrations from unexpected places and he is continually raising up the despised, the rejected and revealing to us that our stereotypes are often incorrect. We make assumptions and Jesus reverses them. We think things should be one way and he shows us that the opposite way is true. The last are first, and the first are last. The children are gathered in instead of turned away, we are told to be more like them instead of less like them, the unclean woman is praised, the gentile is welcomed in, the Samaritan is the hero. Here in this passage things are no different. It almost seems like this passage was engineered to be contrary, to shock and dismay the average gospel reader. Nothing in this passage is the way it should be. And since this passage is only four verses long I am sure a fair few of you are looking at them, skimming them real quick and thinking to yourselves, what in the world is she talking about? Nothing in this passage seems out of the ordinary. There is nothing here that shocks me or even causes me to raise an eyebrow. Well, then perhaps you are not reading it close enough. Nothing in this passage is what is should be. Nobody is playing the roles we would have laid out for them. Our passage this morning begins with Jesus being confronted by Pharisees. Well, that is not out of the ordinary. The Pharisees are always confronting Jesus, in most of the gospels that is almost their vocation. They are there to try to trap Jesus, to challenge him and call him out when he is eating with sinners or picking wheat on the Sabbath. I mean, that’s what Pharisees do right? But what are they doing here? Are they challenging him? Are they attempting to trap him? Are they telling him that he is doing or saying things that are contrary to the law as they see it? No, they are doing none of these things. They do come to him and try to chase him away, “Go, get away from here! (CEB)” But their motivation is what is unexpected. Herod wants to kill Jesus and apparently these Pharisees, unlike the ones we are so used to encountering in the gospels, don’t want Jesus dead. They want to protect him. And Jesus then responds kindly by thanking them for their concern. And tells them he will take their advice into consideration as he books for his future speaking engagements. Jesus responds to these warranted concerns from these unlikely candidates exactly how we think Jesus would respond, with polite, thankful thoughtfulness. No Jesus responds rather strangely. He calls Herod a name and tells them to go tell Herod for him, that he will here casting out demons and healing people for the next couple days and then he will be on his way. Herod wants to kill him and he gives Herod his traveling agenda. He will move on in a few days. But he is not running away, he knows that Herod can’t kill him while he is here, he knows that the prophets like himself die in Jerusalem, so he is on his way there. He is not going to bother running and hiding, he knows where he is going and he knows the end he will meet there, not need to worry that it will happen before then. Thinking about Jerusalem, seems to distract Jesus (I have never imagined Jesus easily distracted but hey, nobody is doing or saying what I would expect them to, in this passage, so why stop now?) and he begins to talk about Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the place where he will die; Jerusalem is the place that kills prophets and stones the people God sends to her. And this upsets Jesus? Bothers him? Angers him? No, it causes him to want to gather all of Jerusalem up like a mother hen. Now let us stop and think about this for a moment. I want you to bring before your minds’ eye the images of Jesus you might have. Think about it, catalogue them for me. Bring them up. There is the ever popular, Lamb of God. And then there is the Lion of Judah (that’s Aslan but the imagery is the same) and then there is the ever popular, Mother Hen. Come on that was the first one that came to your mind wasn’t it? I know whenever I go into one of those Christian bookstores, the place is covered with images of Jesus the Hen. It is such a good strong, image. I know if I have the choice between being protected by something it is going to be a Mother Hen. No, not at all. Even I, who am fond of pointing out all the feminine imagery of God in the Old Testament, had completely forgotten that Jesus had ever said this. Jesus is the mother Hen who wants to gather her own close and protect them, nurture them and care for them. So in the upside down, backwards world of our passage this morning, the Pharisees come wanting to protect Jesus, wanting him to flee for his life, but Jesus is not concerned, hands out his travel plans and says that will die when and where is will die, in Jerusalem. In fact he is concerned for Jerusalem (and by extension all Israel), Jesus wants to protect and care for them, like a mighty eagle, like a great big mama bear, no like a hen. The whole passage brings us to Jesus the Mother Hen, gathering and protecting her chicks, but not being able to. It is almost heart breaking. Jesus wants to, has wanted to many times, but is unable. The chicks won’t come. They will not be gathered, they will not be protected. In fact in some ways in this passage they have come to him wanting to protect him, but they can’t and in turn he is unable to protect them. But he tells them he will come to them, he is coming to them. And they will know that he has come when “Blessed is the name of the Lord,” is sung. But we are still left with this unexpected image of Jesus; Jesus the Mother Hen; gathering and protecting; caring and nurturing, longing for her own. But not only that, Jesus the Hen is apparently denied what she longs for. She does not get her chicks. She does not get to gather or protect. He nest is empty, it is barren. But that does not mean she stops longing. It does not mean that she stops hoping, that does not mean that if one day her chicks do hear her and do come running that she will refuse them, that she will close her wings and turn her back. If they come, when they come, even as she is continually coming toward them, she will open her wings wide, gather them in and then hold them close, safe and warm. Jesus has his face set toward Jerusalem. He is journeying toward her every day. He does not care that he will die there; he does not care that he will be rejected there. He will still go and he will go with wings wide open, a mother hen calling to her chicks, desiring to gather them in, to protect and care for them. He will continually walk toward Jerusalem longing, desiring, and wishing to gather his own to himself. Jesus is always longing; desiring for his own; not just Jerusalem; not just Israel, but all the world. We don’t always need a loving, caring, nurturing, protecting Jesus, but it is nice to know that Jesus is all these things, as well as a sacrificial lamb or strong lion. Jesus the sacrificial Lamb of God is a humbling image. Jesus the Lion of Judah is powerful and awe inspiring, and sometimes those are the right image. They are the image we need. Sometimes we need a rawring Lion, or a gentle Lamb. Good images that show us the power and the sacrifice of our Savior. But sometimes, sometimes we need Jesus the Mother Hen; the Hen who gathers and protects, the Hen who is patient and waits for us. Sometimes we need to know that Jesus longs for us, longs to gather us up in his arms, to protect us, but also to nurture us, to care for us. And he wants do to this even when we turn away, even when we choose to do things differently, even if we want nothing to do with him. He still wants, he still longs, and continues to long, even when we don’t come home, or say we don’t need him, or turn around and think that we can try to protect him. Jesus the Mother Hen, is always calling to us, always has her wings open wind, her face turned toward us, journeying toward us, calling our name, longing to gather us, longing to protect us, longing, to care for us. No matter how we, as wee little chicks, wander off, and think that we can handle the world on our own, she is still there, waiting, empty nest, warm and inviting, just waiting for us, with no shame, no guilt trips, no retribution for our wandering, just loving acceptance. And sometimes we chicks do wander. Sometimes we do things we know we should not do, sometimes we go down paths we know we should not go down. Sometimes we begin to think we can handle life on our own, we are too grown up, too mature to need to come home, be protected, nurtured, cared for, we are too big for that. We don’t need to turn to Jesus in prayer; we don’t need to read the Bible every day (after all we live it what need is there to read it EVERY day?) We don’t need to seek Godly counsel on the decisions we are making. We can handle this; surely Jesus will come to us if he does not like our decision. We come to believe that we know what we are doing, where we are going and we wander away from the nest, on purpose, by accident, the result is the same. Jesus is still there calling to us, waiting for us, longing for us to return, and desiring to gather us in, to protect us, care for us, and nurture us. No matter how far we have wandered, not matter where we are, Jesus is waiting.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the one day a year in which we attempt, as Christians, to remember who we are. We remember from whence we have come. We remember exactly where it is we stand in the great cosmic scheme of all universal things. We remember. We remember, although we like to believe that God does not get dirty, that God can not be with that which is dirty, it was out of the stuff of the created universe that we were created, specifically the dirt. God reached down out of Holy Heaven and created a human or two. Two humans created out of the dirt, made of dirt, called from the beginning dirt, because after all that is what “adam” means. Although it may not be true that to sin is human (no that is what it means to be fallen) but it is true to be dirt is to be human. We remember that we are dirt. But not only are we dirt, but we are dirty due to sin and sin’s contamination, we are dirty. We are so full of sin. We fall from what it truly means to be human and fail to be clear reflections of the divine nature. We do not always love God with our whole hearts. We do not always love each other. We do not always do the things we should do and we all too often do things that we should not. We are dirty because we fail all too often at being images and reflections of God we were created to be. We remember that God-Jesus came to live in the dirt, among us, surround by these dirty humans. God lived alongside of the dirty humans, and showed us how to not be dirty. Showed us that, although we are dirt, we do not need to be dirty. And he died so that through the cleansing of his death we might, even as dirt, live clean lives, holy lives. That we can reflect the love of God, the truth of God, the nature of God, here on this earth. We remember that through Christ we are raised up out of all that is dirty. We remember that through Jesus Christ we are made clean. That there is hope for us dirt beings. We can be simply dirt, and not dirty dirt. We can be clean, holy, loving dirt. We remember that Christ died. And through the cleansing of his death we might live as clean dirt, holy dirt, holy ground. But also that we can, not only be holy ground, but that we might live holy ground, that our very lives, in the very act of living them, might be holy ground. We remember that this does not simply happen that this happens by living, by living as Christ lived. Following his example; living as he lived, speaking as he spoke, loving as he loved. So that we might as he was, be holy dirt. So we begin Lent remembering that we are dirt, that we are dirty dirt and, we through Christ, have hope of being clean dirt, holy dirt. We remember that being holy dirt is a journey. So today we remember that journey and we remember that that journey always has a beginning and we mark that beginning today, in Ash.