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December 28, 2016, 10:56 AM

Light of the World


Let us pray:
Light of the World, may the words of our mouths,
and the meditations of our hearts, together,
be found pleasing and acceptable in thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock, our Redeemer, our Salvation. Amen.
 
A show of hands, how many of you gathered here tonight have seen, or are somewhat familiar with, A Charlie Brown Christmas? That’s a lot of hands. A Charlie Brown Christmas has become a beloved part of many people’s Christmas traditions. I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t know this lovely story. As a child, I would watch for it to be broadcast on television, another sign that Christmas was coming. Along with Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown and the gang were familiar parts of my holidays. I think I even have a copy on VHS or DVD. So imagine my surprise when I was half-listening to a YouTube trivia video with Aidan, that I discovered something I had never noticed about A Charlie Brown Christmas! We will get to that in a moment.
 
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a touching and deeply religious story. Charlie Brown is seeking the meaning of Christmas in the midst of the glaring commercialism of the culture. Creator, Charles Shultz, shines a light on all the glitz and glamor sold to us by our capitalistic society—shiny aluminum trees, tons of colored lights, house decorating contests (Snoopy wins), and even Easter decorations being sold at Christmas time. Many of the characters in the story pressure good ole Chuck to ‘get the celebrations right.’ These ‘right celebrations’ include a Christmas pageant that Charlie Brown is supposed to direct, and everything is expected to be perfect. But if you know Charlie Brown, things just never seem to go his way and he never quite gets things right. And so, after mistake after mistake, Charlie Brown is a bit lost. He feels that somehow everyone is missing the point, that the meaning of Christmas has been lost even in the preparations for the telling of the nativity story. The high point of the show is the moment when Linus, probably Charlie Brown’s best friend, takes the stage, alone, no props, no pomp and circumstance, and recites from memory the nativity story from Luke, ending by walking over to Charlie Brown and saying, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”
 
I was struck this year by how very Luke-like A Charlie Brown Christmas is. Charles Shultz captured the essence of Luke’s gospel, and the nativity story in particular, in the telling of Charlie Brown’s Christmas celebrations.  Luke’s nativity story unfolds like a television drama. The opening of the story is shot with a wide angle lens—a broad shot of the cultural scene. Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome; the lens focuses in a bit-Quirinius, Governor of Judea; the lens moves in a bit more-a royal census, a command to travel. The lens then suddenly zooms in on the single figure of Joseph, born in David’s city of Bethlehem in Judea, but living in Galilee, in the little town of Nazareth. Joseph must travel, with his pregnant fiancé, for this census, because of this command. The stage is set, but what a contrast. “In a world of empires and power and might, hear the story of poor day-laborer and his pregnant girlfriend, as they travel from a Podunk town in the backwaters of Galilee.” Luke declares in 5 short verses that the world was focused on the majesty and power of Emperor Augustus and his rule, but the true meaning of the universe was somewhere else, somewhere that nearly everybody missed.
 
In fact, in contrast to this broad-angled view of the glitz and glamor of Rome, the true Light of the World enters the story in 2 short verses with no pomp and circumstance, the couple alone, center stage, with no witnesses outside of the divine. From the Common English Bible—“While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby.  She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.” This is the meaning of everything, Luke declares. This simple birth, in the place where the animals are kept in a peasant house, to two nobodies from nowhere; this is the meaning of salvation, the meaning of redemption. Here is the Light of the World, wrapped up and sleeping in a feeding trough.  That is the meaning of Christmas Charlie Brown. And then, to make sure we were getting the contrast between the world’s way and God’s way, God sends the heavenly forces in all their glory to proclaim the wondrous birth of God made flesh…to poor, dirty, animal herders literally in the middle of nowhere.
 
Why? Why does God operate so opposite to the world’s way? Why does God shirk the power and influence of Augustus in Rome, or Quirinius in Judea, or even the authorities of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Why does God choose to come among us in such poverty and vulnerability, such powerlessness? Because God needs to be sure we understand that God is for everyone. God is not the exclusive property of those who control the government. God is not the exclusive property of those who control the religious establishments. No, God is no one’s property. God is for everyone, but especially for those cast aside by the powers that be. God comes among us in an animal shelter to two peasants and declares God’s arrival to a group of shepherds out in the wilderness to be sure we understand how precious all people are in God’s eyes. There are no nobodies. Day laboring carpenters—precious. Unwed, pregnant teen—favored beyond imagining. Sheep herders in the fields—beloved. “Don’t be afraid!” the angel proclaims. “God is with you.” God is for us! No one is outside of God’s embrace, God’s love, God’s care. No one!
 
So, what did I discover about A Charlie Brown Christmas that I had never noticed before? It involves Linus. Linus, Lucy’s little brother, is easily identified by one item that he always has with him, is always clutching. Do you know what it is? Yes, it is his blue security blanket. Linus carries his security blanket with him everywhere, always, and is known, at times, to clutch it to his face and suck his thumb. And as he takes center stage for that famous and beautiful reciting of Luke 2, his security blanket is clutched firmly in his left hand. That is, until he gets to the angels… “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: (drop blanket) for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  When Linus speaks the message of the angel, the command to not fear, he lets go of his security blanket. When he encounters the good news that God is for him, for everyone, he doesn’t need that blanket. He will pick it back up again. He is still on his faith journey and living into the gospel is life-long work. But in that moment, as he encounters the Light of the World, Linus releases his earthly securities to embrace the message of good tidings and great joy.
 
Tonight we are here to worship and celebrate the Light of the World come among us. In just a few moments, after we have tasted of the appetizer to the heavenly feast, we will take these tiny candles and ignite them by passing the light of Christ to each other. We will hold for a moment in our hands the Light of the World—(light’s candle from the altar and holds it high)—so small, so vulnerable, so seemingly powerless in the scheme of things, and yet, this is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. It cannot understand it. Tonight we will hold the Light of the World in our hands, and in our hearts, and lay down for a moment our earthly securities. Behold, the Light of the World for all people! Thanks be to God! Amen!



November 29, 2016, 9:34 AM

Light: Waking in the Darkness


Romans 13:11-14  CEB
11 As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. 12 The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. 13 Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. 14 Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires. 
 
Matthew 24:36-44 CEB
36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One.[a] 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One[b] will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming.43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One[c] will come at a time you don’t know.
 
Waking in the Darkness
 
Remember those summer and early fall mornings, just a few short months ago? The alarm goes off and as you open your eyes light is streaming in the windows—light tinged with the green of the beautiful leaves, or tinged with gold or red from the fall colors. It is easier to get up on those sunny mornings, with warm light gracing our windows, happy birds chirping just outside. It is so much harder to get out of bed in the cold days of late fall and early winter. It is hard to wake up in darkness and find the motivation to get out of bed. The bed is warm and soft. You are nestled down in this comfort; couldn’t we just pull the covers over our head and roll over deeper into the warmth? Climbing out is an act of will some mornings, perhaps most mornings. When we finally manage to pull ourselves out of bed, for many of us, one of the first things we do is reach for the light.
 
It seems that this act of waking up in the dark is pretty universal, for Paul invokes this metaphor in his letter to the Romans in today’s reading. I always find the lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent something of an alarm clock going off. We 21st century, American Christians are all snuggled in, wrapped in holiday bliss. Our tummies are full of Thanksgiving feast. Houses begin to light up with Christmas decorations. The 25 days of Christmas is on television with all those beloved holiday favorites. We have our shopping lists, our holiday celebrations, our calendars filled out with concerts and parties. Christmas carols are playing everywhere we go. We are ready to dream of sugar plums, Silent Night, and the Babe in the manger. Ah, comfort. And then the alarm goes off—“Know the time! The hour has come for you to wake up!” shouts Paul. “You don’t know the day the Lord is coming! Be prepared! The Human One will come at a time you don’t know!” yells Jesus.
 
As this twin alarm sounds, it may seem that we are awakening abruptly in the dark. Jesus and Paul seem to be sounding a doom and gloom—the day is near, but you don’t know the hour. Can’t we just pull the holiday lights around us and roll over? However, if we listen more closely to these sounding alarms, what we hear is not a call to wake in the darkness, what we hear is a call to reawaken to our discipleship. Throughout our reading from Romans, Paul invokes the image of morning ritual. “Do you see what time it is? It is time to wake up!” Paul calls to the Romans, and to Christians everywhere. The dark is passing, the new light is dawning. We are living in the season of the dawning light. It is time to get up, get dressed. So what are we to wear? What are we to put on? Paul says, “dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you are dressed in Jesus, then you are prepared to encounter him, wherever and whenever he might arrive.
 
This wakeup call is of vital importance for all who profess Jesus Christ, and for the world we are called to be in ministry with. It would be easy to slumber on, wrapped in the holiday celebrations the world seeks to sell us, and to lose sight of the true Light of the World. It is a strong temptation to put on holiday blinders, and only see our own family, our own community, our own wants, and our own festivities. The world seeks to seduce us into gazing only at the lights it turns on, all twinkly and sparkly, and not to see what Christ is shining the true light on. But that is not why we celebrate this season. It is not why this is called Christmas; Christ-mass; Christ-worship. Jesus came to be the Light of the World, and to empower those who follow him to shine with the light of Christ as well. Jesus came to be the light that shines in the darkness, the light that the darkness could not overcome or even comprehend.
 
Despite the holiday glitz, or in some cases, because of it, people right now are waking in the darkness. They reach out for light but cannot find it. People are waking to the darkness of grief, loneliness, and brokenness. People are waking to the darkness of hunger, thirst, illness, nakedness, homelessness and imprisonment. People are waking in the darkness of war, violence, oppression and discrimination. People are waking in the darkness of fear, hatred, and division. They are lost in that darkness, unable to find the light that will bring them some hope, some healing, some comfort; a comfort the world’s holiday celebrations can never provide. Jesus and Paul sound the alarm as a call to action. God’s people need the Light of the World, go disciples! Find those who are lost! Shine!
 
Jesus speaks of his return in our Matthew reading. He cautions his followers about being ready to receive him whenever and wherever he pops up. As followers, we do yearn for that time when Jesus’ community, God’s kingdom, is fully realized among us and we dwell in that ultimate peace and light. But in just the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus warns about another way that he comes again, comes among us, in the everyday. “I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison and you visited me. I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your home.” In this season of preparation, this season of Advent, which means coming, Jesus is coming among us again and again and again. Will we see him? Will we respond? Are we prepared?
 
We know what time it is! It is time to reawaken to our calling as followers of Jesus. It is time to carry the dawning light within us to a world lost in darkness. It is time to go where Christ will lead. This Advent we will put on the Lord Jesus and dispel the darkness. Thanks be to God. We are awake! Amen.



November 22, 2016, 2:23 PM

Christ our King?


Colossians 1:11-20 CEB, revised
11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Parent. God made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 God rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son God loves. 14 God set us free through the Son and forgave our sins.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,
16 Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through the Son and for the Son.
17 He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.
18 The Son is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.
19 Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in the Son,
20         and he reconciled all things to himself through him—
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            The Son brought peace through the blood of his cross.
 
Luke 21:5-19          CEB, revised
33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Jesus, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left.34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.
35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”
36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
 
Christ Our King?
 
Rev. David Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, entitled his blog for Christ the King Sunday, “What do you want in a king?” My immediate thought was, “Americans don’t want a king!” I mean, after all, we took care of that problem over 250 years ago with a property damaging protest in the Boston harbor and a revolutionary war. No kings for us! And yet, here we are—Christ the King Sunday. Some churches, including us, soften this Sunday a bit and call it “The Reign of Christ Sunday;” as if the word reign is less bossy than king, less threatening. Whatever you want to call it, this Sunday is about Jesus as the ruler of the heavens and the earth, of the cosmos. Today proclaims Jesus as Lord of ALL. Just look again at our reading from Colossians:
            The Son is the image of the invisible God,
                        the one who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by him:
                        both in the heavens and on the earth,
            the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
                                    Whether they are thrones or powers,
                                    or rulers or authorities,
            all things were created through the Son and for the Son.
On this last Sunday of the church calendar year, we American, freedom-loving, democracy-proclaiming Christians must come face-to-face with a major point of scripture—Jesus Christ is Lord, Jesus Christ is King.
 
The question that Rev. Lose lifts up is a question that is asked throughout much of scripture. “What kind of king do the people of God want?” In the beginning, God was their king, their authority, their Lord. God set the rules, spoke to them through chosen voices and leaders, and guided them in their life journeys. However, after a while, the people demanded that God give them a human king, just like everybody else. The people were persistent and God finally relented, sending Samuel to anoint Saul as king, and when Saul couldn’t live up to the type of king God called him to be, Samuel anointed David. The king-thing didn’t work out too well. David had some good qualities and he got some things right. Overall he was a good king. But he got a lot wrong, including an affair with a married woman and the murder of her husband when she became pregnant. After David, the king-thing went downhill rather drastically until the divided kingdoms of God’s people —Israel and Judah—were overthrown by invading empires, and the kings of Israel and Judah became puppets. They pretty much stayed puppets from that point on.
 
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is called a king. In fact, Jesus’ main title—Messiah or Christ—is another way of saying king, for the kings of Israel and Judah were the anointed ones. Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek means ‘the anointed one.’ Jesus has been talking about a kingdom from day one of his ministry, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had been teaching that God’s kingdom is near, is breaking into this world. Jesus’ life, teaching, preaching, and healing have been examples of God’s kingdom, which was turning the region upside down and upsetting the order of power and authority. All of this has brought Jesus to the point we find in our reading today, hanging on a cross on the Skull between two criminals. Above Jesus’ head is his title, “This is King of the Jews.” Jesus essentially asked the people, and the powers that be, that essential question: What kind of king do you want? Those in power looked at Jesus and said, “Not you.” They didn’t want some peasant carpenter turned traveling teacher from the backwaters of Galilee who empowered tax collectors, sinners, poor people, women, and the marginalized. Oh, and broke Sabbath Law and some other points of Torah on more than one occasion. They didn’t want some revolutionary rabbi upsetting the established order, the status quo. “No peasant king for us!” they exclaimed. For those powers, this crucifixion was a mockery of Jesus being called the king, the messiah, the anointed one. They stripped him, beat him, crowned him with thorns, and enthroned him on a Roman torture device for all to see, and then they mockingly called him “King of the Jews.”
 
What they didn’t understand is they were in fact proclaiming God’s Good News in Jesus, the kingdom of God is near, breaking in among everyone and everything. That Good News kingdom is in fact the very opposite of what you want, but it is everything that you need. Salvation comes through humbling oneself, emptying oneself as Jesus did. Redemption comes through peace with justice, reconciliation and restoration, through forgiveness and mercy. The desire for power and authority, for security and retribution leads to a system of those who have plenty and those who have nothing. Israel had proven throughout its history with human kings that power corrupts, not all are cared for, and society crumbles. Jesus, enthroned on the cross, proclaims a kingdom of the opposite. Not war, reconciliation. Not retribution, restoration. Not a grab for power, a sharing of peace. Not ruling by might, living together in love.
 
Jesus goes to the cross to save us, save us from the cycle of the king-thing that Israel and the rest of the world have been trapped in for so long. Jesus demonstrates in the cross another community, another kingdom, that offers true life. And in the resurrection shows it to be eternal, everlasting, glorious life. Jesus asks from the cross and from the empty tomb, what kind of king do you want? The disciples and followers of Jesus proclaimed boldly, “You, Jesus. We want you! Jesus is Lord! Jesus is King!” In a world where “Caesar is Lord” was a required proclamation, these new members of God’s kingdom, with Jesus as their king, dared sedition and refused Caesar. It is no wonder they were persecuted. Proclaiming Jesus as your Lord is a dangerous thing, because it means nothing else is Lord in your life…nothing. It means you are going to live contrary to the world’s way, that you are going to live upside-down; where the least and last are given top priority and love and mercy prevail.
 
The world will not ask us, in 2016, to choose between kings, not in the same way. We did throw off the monarchy many years ago and we have been struggling with democracy ever since. That is the way the world operates today. Are we of the world? Or are we of something else? The Church is to be the embodiment of God’s kingdom here in the world, not of the world. Are we in the world as a witness to God’s kingdom but we are not of the world? What does that look like, to proclaim Jesus as the sole authority in our lives, and to live accordingly? It makes us look different to our neighbors, to our friends, maybe even to our family. It causes us to prioritize everything differently, if Jesus is to be the ultimate truth in our day-to-day lives. Proclaiming Jesus is Lord is political. It is economic. It is social, as well as spiritual and religious. It means Jesus reigns over our public and private lives.
 
Christ the King Sunday should make us uncomfortable. To David’s question, ‘what kind of king do you want,’ we really do want to say, None! We don’t want an ultimate authority over our lives. But that is the way Jesus works. Jesus wants all of who we are. Jesus wants a complete partnership. God in Jesus wants to show us an upside-down way to live; where power is realized in vulnerability, where love rules the day, where restoration is always the goal. So Christ the King Sunday will pop up each year, just before Advent, just before Christmas, as the new Christian year begins. Christ the King Sunday will pop up every year and ask us, is Christ your King? Is Christ my King? Is Christ our King? How does the world know? Does Christ’s kingdom shine through in how we live our lives every day? Can we commit to a journey that leads us deeper and deeper into the commonwealth, the community, of Christ.
 
Thanks be to God! Amen!



October 18, 2016, 11:11 AM

To Not Lose Heart


Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.34 They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.
 
Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
 
To Not Lose Heart
 
“To not lose heart.” “To not lose heart.” That phrase in our gospel reading grabbed my attention this week. It grabbed my heart. “To not lose heart.” That is an easy thing to do right now, to lose heart. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit exhausted with all the ‘battles’ raging right now. My heart is weary. My soul is weary. My head hurts. Friends, family, community members are battling each other about the election, about what lives matter, about gun violence, about economic policies…the list goes on and on. Sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church are battling about inclusivity, about biblical interpretation, about doctrine, about polity, and about schism. People are dying: in cities and towns across our nation, in Aleppo, in the areas of the Middle East controlled by ISIS, in the Sudan, in more places than I can name. Here at home, in our community, there has been too much bad news. Any bad news is too much, but it seems like it is raining illness and brokenness and heartbreak and loss. I don’t think I’m the only one losing heart, growing weary, bending under ‘battle fatigue.’ In our gospel reading Jesus says he is gifting to us a parable about prayer and not losing heart. Yes, please Lord. How can we not lose heart?
 
But what follows this promise of a parable is a strange story about a widow and a judge. At first glance this story seems to be another exhausting tale of injustice. The story appears to be about a poor, vulnerable, widow pleading and pleading for justice from an uncaring and unsympathetic judge. Much of the artwork online for this passage depicts an elderly, bent woman often kneeling in front of this wealthy aloof judge, hands pleading for help. Just looking at the images made me tired. Another injustice in the world. This poor woman wearing herself out to wear out the judge so she might get just a little relief. But then I looked a bit more closely.
 
The New Revised Standard Translation, and all other translations are very, very similar. “Grant me justice,” pleads the widow. And the judge finally does before the widow ‘wears him out’ by continually coming and bothering him. But this is not what the Greek says. Our translators are trying to be more polite and gracious in their translating, but the Greek is a bit blunt. First, this widow is not pleading for the judge to grant her justice. She is demanding that the judge make things right. That is the verb in Greek, ekdikeo, to set things right, to make things right. The judge finally relents because he doesn’t want the widow to give him a black eye. He isn’t worried that she will wear him out, the Greek text uses a boxing term that refers to being hit in the eye. Whether the black eye is figurative or real, the judge perceives this widow as dangerous, a threat, and he gives her what she wants. This widow is not the weak and pleading woman of the popular internet art. This is the widow Ruth standing before Naomi shouting “NO! I will not leave you! Where you go, I will go…” This is Anna in the Temple of Jerusalem who recognizes the infant Jesus and proclaims him before all. This is a strong, tenacious woman, with a vision for what she believes is right. She is not losing heart. She is standing strong. “Set things right!” “Bring me justice!” “Now!” Here is Jesus’ promised parable—don’t lose heart. Stand up. Make things right. Keep your eye on the goal. Don’t lose heart.
 
Our reading today from Jeremiah deepens Jesus’ urging to not lose heart. Jeremiah shows us just how precious our hearts are. He tells us how important they are for God’s work in the world, for realizing God’s Beloved Community, God’s Commonwealth, God’s Kingdom. Jeremiah promises the exiled Israelites, that once they are liberated, once they return home, a new covenant will be established between them and God. This time the covenant won’t be carved onto stone tablets, it will be etched on their own hearts. God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. They will carry the knowledge of the Lord within them. The Israelites did indeed return from exile. We now live in the ‘after that time’ that Jeremiah spoke of. We carry all we need right here (touch heart). God’s way of living is carved into the fabric of our being. It is etched onto our hearts. We cannot afford to lose them. Our hearts carry the promise of God’s Beloved Community—your heart, my heart, our hearts together.
 
Yes, it is a dark time in our community, our nation, and the world. Battle lines crisscross each other over different issues, beliefs, practices, ideologies, and theologies. It is easy to lose heart and to lose our way. However, we follow Jesus. We answer Jesus’ call to build God’s kingdom here, now. We march across the battle lines waving the banner of Beloved Community. We enter the world with a new conversation, one focused on building the Beloved Community. This message flows from our lips, colors our emails, and fills our tweets, postings, and memes. We keep our eyes on the promise of God’s commonwealth, God’s kingdom. We must not lose heart. The world is depending on us. The light of God’s promise shines through us. We are called to be kingdom builders!
 
What is the kingdom of God like?
  • It is the seed that is scattered everywhere, regardless of soil types.
  • It is like the mustard seed that grows to provide shelter for all birds.
  • It is like the tiny amount of yeast that gives rise to the whole loaf.
  • It is a treasure, a pearl of great value that we would give anything to have.
 
The Kingdom of God is the Beloved Community, a table set for all, overflowing with abundance. It is Mary’s song from the beginning of Luke—God’s mercy for all, the proud and arrogant scattered, the powerful pulled down from their thrones, the lowly lifted, the hungry filled. In Luke, God’s commonwealth is the great leveling, where all stand side by side. We are called to bear this to the world, to live as an example to the world. Jesus told a parable that we might pray unceasingly and not lose heart. Thanks be to God! Amen.



September 28, 2016, 8:50 AM

Mind the Gap


Luke 16:19-31, CEB
19 “There was a certain rich man who clothed himself in purple and fine linen, and who feasted luxuriously every day. 20 At his gate lay a certain poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Instead, dogs would come and lick his sores.
22 “The poor man died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 While being tormented in the place of the dead, he looked up and saw Abraham at a distance with Lazarus at his side. 24 He shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I’m suffering in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received good things, whereas Lazarus received terrible things. Now Lazarus is being comforted and you are in great pain. 26 Moreover, a great crevasse has been fixed between us and you. Those who wish to cross over from here to you cannot. Neither can anyone cross from there to us.’
27 “The rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, send Lazarus to my father’s house. 28  I have five brothers. He needs to warn them so that they don’t come to this place of agony.’ 29  Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. They must listen to them.’ 30  The rich man said, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change their hearts and lives.’ 31  Abraham said, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”
 
“Mind the Gap”
 
In April of this year, Londoners lost a significant voice in their city. His voice was heard by millions of residents of London daily, for many multiple times a day. On April 15th Phil Sayers died at the young age of 62 years. Phil was the voice of the London Underground, the Tube. He was the “mind the gap” voice. Every time the subways of London pull into a station and the doors start to open, the recording sounds over the speakers—“Mind the gap.” “Stand clear of the doors.” Thousands of times a day, all over the city of London—“Mind the gap.” “Stand clear of the doors.”
 
Phil’s voice is a reminder to pay attention to that gap between the train car and the station platform, that small space they need to step over to walk safely on their way. If commuters become forgetful, if they drag their feet, they could trip and fall, or even turn an ankle causing a sprain or a break. And so, Phil’s message rings out at every stop on every train as the doors open to expel passengers—“Mind the gap.” It is a simple statement and a simple concept. Be aware that there is a gap, a crevasse between the two spaces. See the gap, navigate forward so as not to be caught by the gap, but don’t let the gap stop you. Don’t stand frozen on the train car, or frozen on the station platform, afraid of the gap, unable to move forward. Step over the gap. Don’t let it stop you.
 
The gap or crevasse in today’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus is not one to be stepped over. It is impassable, according to Abraham. A great chasm separates the rich man in his torment from Lazarus reclining on Abraham’s bosom, a crevasse that is fixed and impassable. This parable is quite unique in the collection of Jesus’ teaching stories. It takes on an element of folklore or myth. Instead of being about the everyday things of life—seeds, sheep, farms, and business—this story is about exaggerated characters and the afterlife. The story is full of exaggerated contrasts and reversals, drawing a vivid picture. The rich man wears the richest of clothing—the purple of royalty—and he feasts daily. Lazarus wears weeping sores and doesn’t even eat table scraps. Instead, scavenging dogs lick at his wounds. It is quite the contrast. The story then flips the situation upon the death of the two characters. Suddenly the rich man is in torment, outside the gates of heaven, and Lazarus is held in the luxury of Father Abraham’s arms. It is designed to be a mirror image with the plight of the characters reversed.
 
As the conversation between the rich man and Abraham unfolds, Abraham reveals the great chasm, as if the rich man were unaware of it until Abraham pointed it out. It was certainly invisible to us, with the story limited to what is heard, no visuals. It appears out of nowhere, grabs our attention, this fixed and impassible crevasse. Where did it come from? If it exists on this side of the mirror image, did it exist on the other side, the side where both characters were alive? Lazarus would certainly have answered yes. Lazarus experienced a gap between his life and the life of the rich man, before whose gates he suffered. And in life, for Lazarus, the gap was impassible. He could not reach across, even to gather the table scraps. But was it impossible to cross for the rich man?
 
Notice what the rich man requests of Abraham once Abraham shines the spotlight on that chasm, that gap. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his siblings, so that they will change their ways and not end up in the same plight as this rich man. It is a Scrooge and Jacob Marley moment from the Christmas Story novel by Charles Dickens. Marley comes to Scrooge to urge him to change his ways, to not forge the chains that Marley is now forced to carry for all eternity—the chains of suffering, each link representing a time Marley failed to alleviate the suffering of others. The rich man believes that his siblings can live differently, can cross that gap and alleviate the suffering of the poor and marginalized outside their gates. He believes they can change their hearts and lives, even if Abraham is skeptical.
 
The last line of the story seems to hang in the air. “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” That line is for us, those who are reading the gospel and know what is coming. Abraham may not believe sending someone to rise from the dead will make a difference, but God does. God will not give up on those who are ignorant of the gap and are not stepping across to those in need. God will indeed send One to rise from the dead breathing love and abundance and compassion. God will indeed send One to remind us to “mind the gap.”
 
And, Oh are there gaps! We are not ignorant. We can see them. Crevasses. Chasms. Pits between groups that can seem insurmountable.  We can name those gaps—
the gap between those who have enough food and those who do not.
the gap between those who have shelter and those who do not.
the gap between those who are safe right now and those who are not
These gaps between those who have and those who don’t.
 
And then there are the gaps in justice—as we have seen time and again across our nation. There is a gap in treatment in our criminal justice system. There is a gap in treatment in our health care system. There is a gap in treatment in our education system. These gaps between those who hold the majority and those considered to be minority.
 
And there are gaps in how we group ourselves, creating a great divide in our nation. There is a gap between Democrats and Republicans. There is a gap between conservatives and liberals. There is a gap between Christians and Muslims and Jews and the other religions in our country, and those who have rejected religion. These gaps between those who have chosen a side.
 
God as not left us with only Moses and the prophets, though these voices from God were pretty clear about bridging gaps. God has also sent One to rise from the dead, calling to us on our life travels, “Mind the gap!” “Mind the gap!” It isn’t enough to simply see the gap. It isn’t enough to just acknowledge it exists. Jesus calls us to step over the gap, and even to step into the gap. We cannot let that gap stop us. It is not impassible. It is not larger than the One who rose from the dead.
 
We can step into the gap, offering our time, our resources to feed the hungry and find shelter for the homeless, AND to advocate for changes that alleviate hunger and homelessness—work with Opportunities for Otsego, Catholic Charities, Family Services Association, and even Department of Social Services to affect change. We can step into the gaps in justice—fighting for equal treatment of all people regardless of color, religion, gender, language, sexual orientation.  We can step into the gap and make sure our law enforcement, health care works, teachers and educators have the tools and resources they need to be justice workers with us. We can step into the gap between divided parties and create spaces for true listening and sharing instead of joining a side. We can mind the gap. There is time to change our hearts and lives.
 
The gap may try to convince us that it is impassible, that it is too deep and too wide for us to navigate. Standing on the edge, it is easy to become frozen, unable to step forward for fear of a fall. It is easy to convince ourselves that the gap is just too much to be crossed. But I remind myself in those moments of the great gap-crossers among us—the Parkour athletes who leap across the roof tops of cities, the daredevils who jump across great chasms like Evel Kneivel. I remind myself of the great bridges of the world that span divides that once seemed impassible. I remind myself that I do not go into that gap alone, but with a community called by the Risen One to mind the gap, and with that Risen One leading the way. The gap is not fixed. It is not impassible. But the gap is creating pain and brokenness and suffering for too, too many. May Jesus’ voice become one that echoes in our lives daily, multiple times a day—“Mind the gap.”

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