Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve, Born to Liberate

The scripture appointed for this service can be found here


Who here has ever played hide and seek? The classic children’s game, in which one person hides their eyes while everyone else hides from sight. Then, after an agreed upon interval, the seeker calls out, “Ready or Not, here I come!”.  And, while some are well hidden, others call out, “wait, no, not yet!” or “You counted too fast.”
There are times when Christmas feels like this, a frantic scurry of activity in the days preceding and, then, “ready or not, here I come!” and despite any protestations that the house is still a mess, or the presents aren’t wrapped, or the music not rehearsed enough, or the baby didn’t nap, or the sermon not “perfect”, Christmas comes.
Christmas comes in its own time, not ours. And, when it comes, ready or not, we will be found. And, we will be found in part, because we won’t be ready, and God will look upon our imperfections and judge them with the standard of an all-encompassing love. We won’t be able to hide from the beauty and the grace. We won’t be able to hide from the light that illuminates even the darkest corners…for “the grace of God has appeared.”
And, thus, by grace we are found. And, by grace we are transformed.
Because it is precisely when we are not ready, that we are most in need of transformation.
It is precisely when we are most broken, that we are most in need of healing.
It is precisely when we are most lost, that we will be found.
And this is the defiant and hope filled gift, of a son born into a world that is not ready.
Madeleine L’Engle’s poem, “He did not wait” speaks to this

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
God did not wait. And God’s son the Christ was born. Born, in a time of great political insecurity. Born on the eve of impending genocide. Born to refugee parents, in a stable. Born, during a forced registration.
And, the heaven’s cried out, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!”
And, the empire quaked in fear. And, the people rejoiced.
They rejoiced.  They rejoiced. And, their joy became ours. Their hope, our hope.
This birth served as a reminder that the Roman empire would not determine the future of God’s beloved people. That the end of God’s beloved people’s story would not be writ by oppression, but by liberation.
Contemporary theologians and religious leaders, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu put this hope into writing for our own time and place,  
“No dark fate determines the future - we do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and recreate our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.” (Book of Joy)
Our rejoicing gives us power, and we are liberated so that our birth, through baptism into the Body of Christ, will itself be liberative for others. If you will recall, the words spoken in our baptismal covenant, that with God’s help we will “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We were born for this.
Born for liberation, born to liberate! “Each day and each moment, creating and recreating our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet”. Each day and each moment, a moment of new birth, new life, and a new hope—a reaffirmation that the story of God’s beloved people is the story of liberation.
This night serves as a powerful reminder that we ourselves enact the story of God’s salvation. We, zealous for good deeds, and empowered for the work of transformation. We, who are the story, who are the Body of Christ, in this story about God, which is a story about us. A story set in a world where the need is great, but God’s love is greater. A world in which God shows up, not because of our perfection but because of our very imperfection.
So no, the world is not ready, but we will show up anyway. We will show up, because God shows up, and in our new life and new birth, we promise to show up to this unready and unsteady world. And, in our showing up, to act with the power and might of the liberating God who has promised that the tools of the oppressor will be broken “as on the day of Midian”.  (Isaiah 9:3) Defiance and hope intermingle and, in their union, become our joy…
So, ready or not, here we come!
"May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas; and the blessing of God, Creator, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you this day and always.  Amen." (Seasonal Material, Common Worship)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4A-Grace to You, and Peace

Advent 4A, the scripture appointed can be found here 


“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

I have a mentor and friend who begins each of her sermons with these words, taken from the letter of Paul to the Romans.  And, when I say these words today, I think of her and I think of the love she has had for every congregation in which she has served.  And, I also think of how this opening prayer, sets the tone for the remainder of the sermon.

Because this is a greeting, yes, but much more than a simple “hello”. First of all, it is a declaration that the preacher stands in the pulpit not for herself, but for God.  Secondly, it is an affirmation, that we ourselves are all children of God. And, finally, that the grace and peace that are conveyed by the preacher did not originate with the preacher, but are a gift from God, and God’s son Jesus.

And, in this, the preacher is the means and not the end. And, each of us, is the means and not the end. The grace and peace do not originate with us, nor do they end with us. We are the body by which grace and peace are conveyed, but they are not ours to own.  They are ours to convey. We are the means for God’s grace and peace in this world. And, in this I find the hope that all too often seems hard to come by.

We are to be the ones the world needs. We are to be as God intends us to be. We. The small become large when we are united in our acceptance of God’s calling.

And, just in case you didn’t notice. You did, in fact, accept this calling.

Think back, you agreed didn’t you?  Because this greeting, when used as a prayer, begs the response “Amen”. So be it! Your amen becomes an assent to the truth that has preceded.  Amen. So be it. So be the grace and the peace and so be the God who calls us children.

So, again let me say, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

So, yes, we are children of God…and as children of God, Paul reminds us that our heritage and our calling is that of the saint.

 Yes, each of you is called to be a Saint. And, while we may not use the language of sainthood to describe our day to day actions…consider that put most simply, a saint is one who serves God.

And as Martin Luther writes,

"to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend....What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our own neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not."

Called, to sainthood, called to service, called to live. in love and in truth, as beloved.

And, this sets the stage for the Gospel we hear today. 

Do good to her, in love. The Gospel for today, begins with the assertion that Joseph had decided to set Mary, his betrothed, aside quietly and without fuss—so as not to shame her or, worse, subject her to the possibility of death by stoning.

I like to imagine, that his heart was good and that he himself looked upon the need of his betrothed, Mary, and upon seeing her was able to act with benevolence. 

I like to imagine, that even this, seemed to him insufficient and that there was love there already. And, thus when God offered a way, a way that wasn’t easier, that was, in fact, a harder way—that Joseph seized upon this possibility and said yes.

Said yes in no less of a dramatic way, to the harder, yet kinder, yet better, way that was set before him.  Said yes, even in the face of fear—because the awe was greater than the fear, and the hope more powerful than the doubt, and the light brighter than the dark.

Grace to you, and peace.

And, in saying yes, Joseph puts an end to the shame that would have shadowed Mary, her child, and her own family. Because, his yes, is one which accepts the shame as his and his alone. Yes, she is with child, but it is his child and he accepts the responsibility of raising this child who in the custom of the time would be the presumed heir to Joseph’s honor as well as his property.

Joseph’s love isn’t a fair weather kind of love, but a love that takes on the burden of another’s shame and diffuses that shame into something better and life giving.  “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”

He confronts rumor with a better truth. And that better truth is the grace and hope of the world. 

You may say…but here is love.

The law says…but love has a different answer.

And, isn’t that the way of Christ?

To look beyond the law and what is said, and into the heart of what is both needful and good. To break the cycle of shame and humiliation, and assert the humanity and dignity of every person.   

Grace to you, and peace.

Joseph sets his heart and his life on the way, and in so doing, assists in opening the way for Christ’s way in the world.

And, as I consider Joseph and what lies ahead for this little family—the slaughter of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, I cannot help but see, in my mind’s eye, every image I’ve ever seen of men fleeing danger. Of men, holding tightly the bodies of children, as the world crumbles around them.

I imagine you have seen those images too. 

One such image, was on the cover of the New York Times this week. In the photo a man, woman, and child flee in the city of Aleppo. The man is holding the swaddled infant in one arm and holds an iv bag of fluid in the other.  Men and women fleeing danger, the refugee and the undocumented—called to be saints. 

“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt ...”

Grace to you, and peace.

I wonder what we would do, if we would be brave enough. And, I think we would. We would be brave.

Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic and theologian (c 1260-1328) wrote, “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”

Sit with this for a moment.  “If I were alone in the desert and feeling afraid, I would want a child to be with me. For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.”

Because, isn’t that the truth, we will be strong because someone else needs our strength?

And in this, I see that it wasn’t the angel’s enjoinder “be not afraid”, that emboldened Joseph to walk the path set before him, but rather his own child’s need.

And, in this, we won’t be afraid.  We won’t be afraid because the children will need us. And when we are not cowering in fear we will find ourselves standing up to the terror that threatens and preparing the place of love and hope that God intends.  That God intends for all of God’s beloved children. 

Grace to you and peace…


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Not as the World Gives

Advent 2A, 2016, scripture readings assigned for this day can be found here


Peace, But Not as the World Gives

Every year at this time, I start looking for our family’s Christmas Card.  Or, to be more accurate, I start wondering if we’ll manage to get a card out this year. 

And, as I wonder, I find myself perusing the offerings at the local stores and on the internet.  Glittered, snowy scenes. Sweet nativities with babe and child.  And, one by one, I reject them.

First I eliminate any card that features my name prominently.  Then, I consider the traditional Mary, Joseph, Jesus iconography. Then, I cross those off the list--not all of the people on our list celebrate Christmas. 

Then, there are Angel cards…I rather like those. But, trumpet blowing angels and haloed figures don’t quite make the cut either. The angel iconography seeming so very tame, all things considered.

Because, truthfully, I’m not quite sure how to reconcile these images with the many winged seraphim or the flaming swords described in scripture.

Those angels were the sort that inspired fear…and hence, their repeated injunction, “be not afraid”!

Be not afraid, they had to say that, because they WERE scary, they were wild creatures, not tame ones and that is the tension I want to draw our attention to today...when we “tame” and subdue scripture it becomes a bit too easy to turn our faith into the stuff of Hallmark cards and neglect the awful and awesome realities in which these stories took place and in which we live.   

Our scripture on this second Sunday in Advent offers very striking and different visions of the reign of God--and only one of those visions has made it onto a Christmas card.  And, that glittered landscape with the lion and lamb nuzzled up in a heap and the text “Peace on Earth” leaves out most of the story...this is not an easily won peace, this is not cheap grace.  It is a peace and grace that have come at great cost and followed fearful times.  

The book of the prophet Isaiah arose out of the 8th century and a very specific crisis--Judah’s war with Syria and Israel.  Weak governance and a lack of trust in God in public life was deemed by the prophet to be the source of the struggles for the people of Israel.  Throughout the book those in power, those who would exploit the poor and oppress the needy are castigated and called to remember that the justice of God will ultimately prevail.  Then, once human abuses are rectified, the earth will return to the state that God intends--a place of peaceful coexistance.  This is the hope that carries the people, the hope that ills be set aright and that God WILL intervene.  Now, this intervention is both a hope AND a threat in Isaiah--for those who are suffering at the hands of oppressors it is a hope, for those who oppress, well, for them it is a threat. 

Now, that would be quite the Christmas card--”he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”.  That’s a far cry from the romantic notion we have of the halo’d boy child lying in slumber.  And, it is far more akin to the message that John the Baptist carried for his listeners.  And, once again, that is NOT a Christmas card I’ve ever seen--John, hair matted, with camel skins gird about him warning those who have come for his baptism that “one is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”.  Merry Christmas, you brood of vipers! “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” comes across fairly ominously given that message! 

Our faith is FAR more complicated than a Christmas card--and Advent is a time when we live in the midst of those complications.  The tension between our hopes and dreams for peace and the often painful realities in which we live.  The tension between our joy at the fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus and our fear of having to change and work in order to bring that promise into the world.  It becomes clear in Advent that transformation, that birth itself, will be a harrowing thing.  Yes, the baby is sweet and the scene bucolic--but there are soldiers in the hillsides hunting and Herod willing to kill the innocent in order to preserve his throne. 

We don’t often think of the political backdrop of the nativity story.  Of the Roman rulers and imperial powers that were abusing, enslaving and indeed, slaughtering those who dared to rise up against them.  We don’t often think about the terror that caused Jesus’ family to flee with him into Egypt.  But, that’s the world in which these texts emerged...that was the reality. 

And, yet, and yet...the other reality was that these authors, these people VERY much believed in the power of God to transform the world--the God Paul describes as being “of steadfastness and encouragement” the God “of hope who may fill you with all joy and peace in believing”.  

And, there’s the rub, the point in which I find myself challenged to see God in the mist of hard realities--of the war, violence and oppression that seem rife.   Because, war and oppression are real, intrigue and political abuses are real...yet I also hold that something else is real.  And, that something is witnessed to in the Christmas cards that I seem to have so strongly maligned. 

Merry Christmas, God Bless, Peace on Earth—these seem but meager efforts at whistling in the dark. But, with these words comes a reminder of God’s persistent promise that there is something more...that God’s hope and love will ring clear and that indeed, a little child will lead us all into a new way of being.  That there is a greater power, a power that casts out fear and raises up the lowly, a power that upholds the meek and contains more promise than any newscast can contain.   

And THIS is the true reality of the Gospel, THIS is the true hope of the prophet, THIS is the power of the Holy Spirit--to bring us hope in true believing. 

We are called as Christians, in this Advent season, to live like John the Baptist.  And, by this I do not mean that we should take up camel skins and feast on locusts and wild honey.  I mean that we are called to live like our hopes and dreams are real, obtainable and most of all TRUE.  We are called to embrace the image of the lion lying down with the lamb, we are called to follow a helpless infant who held no power by the rules of the world but all power by the rules of the creator, we are called to listen up and be transformed by the purifying Spirit and we are called to do so even when it seems hopeless and naive. 

We are called, to preach, teach, tell and live in a way that reflects the hope that seems so far off—and in doing so, draw us ever closer to

Oh and in case you’re wondering about our own family’s Christmas cards—when we DO manage to get those out they are usually some form of family photo with a message of Peace…

A message of peace that for me echoes the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)