Author: whitneybruno

Fire and Water

Luke 3:1-22

blessings_watercolor_by_texas_artist_laurie_pace
“Blessings” watercolor by Laurie Pace

Once upon a specific time, writes Luke, the Word of God came to John in the wilderness. When the Word is upon you, you prophesize! And it was no different for John. He went into all the regions around the Jordan river, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John fulfilled the prophecies of the Prophet Isaiah, who heard the Word of God saying to prepare the way for God for ALL FLESH to see salvation.

“But we don’t need salvation,” said some. We were born from Abraham, we are the Chosen People. Today, it would be like saying – I don’t need to go to church to be Christian, or live a Christian life to be Christian – because I was born Christian in a Christian nation. I was baptized as a baby. Once baptized, forever saved. I never need to step into a church again. Courthouses can marry me and funeral homes bury me.

John replied, “God is able from stones to raise up children” – from the numerous stones all over the wilderness about them, from the field stones and river pebbles: God could make more humans. From dust like God did Adam or ribs like Eve. God can make more people.

John then foretells that God will destroy everyone — Christian or Jewish or not — who doesn’t produce good fruit. And those John speaks with panic – what should we do? How do we produce good fruit?

Should we go run away into the wilderness like John, away from society, and try to live pure? Should we go off and attempt to establish a faithful community by sword and war? Should we be the fire of God that burns the faithless?

What should we do?

“The first step of the redeemed community is for those who have to share with those who have not.” And John gives them concrete examples. If you have more than you need to survive – give your extras to those who don’t. Who needs two winter coats? Give one away to someone who needs a coat. Who needs two thanksgiving turkeys? Give one away to your food pantry. Whomever is using tax loops to avoid their fair share of taxes should stop. White collar crime is not victimless — the victims are everyone who suffers from the collapsed housing market or banks or economy. Whomever is in authority should use it for good, and justice – not use it to threaten people and make false accusations. Cops should be our security – not the force that oppresses people of color. Judges should be our law upholders – not the people breaking the laws. Presidents, Senators, House Representatives, and politicians of all sorts should be role models.

John focuses on individuals. The reign of God begins with individuals. With one person choosing to do good. Then another. Then another. Soon there are whole communities producing good fruit. But it begins with individuals choosing to confirm their faith by living lives that produce food fruit… good deeds, good relationships, good on heaven and Earth.

The people hear this, and get hopeful. Is John the messiah? The promised one who will change our society for the good? Who will right wrongs, bring about God’s reign, and bring wholeness to us all? Is John our savior?

No. John says. I am not. “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I is coming;” he is so much more powerful I am not worthy to untie his shoes. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Again! Destruction! John likes to focus on it. John knows fire is coming, and he thinks of it as something that will destroy and remove the rot from his faith. He does not yet know of Pentecost and the holy fire God sends as the Spirit! Luke knows, we know – the Pentecostal fire alights us inside, burns in our hearts, drives out the rot, and sets us to living the lives God envisions for us. That unquenchable fire within us arrives with our baptisms and it flares up and down our whole lives – but cannot be extinguished for it is the Holy Spirit of God. The destruction is our old selves. Our old sins are cut away. New growth is welcomed in.

This new life calls us to good fruit. To integrity. Integrity is matching what one says is also lived and also believed. It is wholeness. A whole integer. It is the life of repentance John speaks of; the life of love of God and neighbor and repentance for the sins we do and that over take us.

It is a life that is congruent, not hypocritical, unified in the way we live our life, our priorities, our commitments, our personal relationships, our passion for peace and justice and our unplanned acts of compassion. ((cite: from the New Interpreter’s Bible’s Commentary))

It is the life that says ‘I am Christian’ and preaches love of neighbors, then does love for neighbors, out of belief God tells us to love one another. And when we fail to love, it is a life that is truly sorry and tries to make amends and love again.

It is a life that begins at any age, and continues our whole life through.

Today, we welcome Luke into our church family and have witnessed his baptism of water. Unseen, but felt, is the presence of the Holy Fire that now resides with him. Today we promised to be that community of integrity for Luke. Today we promised to be that orchard that produces many different types of good fruits. Fruits of love, of compassion, of peace. Fruits of wisdom and encouragement. Fruits of supporting his family and his walk in faith. Whether he is called by God to the wilderness or led to put down roots here… we are his family.

And family has a very important role to play in every child’s life. Every person NEEDS to hear from the adults around them, “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” We NEED to hear these words. NEED to hear it to grow into our best selves.

God the Father spoke them to Jesus the son – and Jesus was called into his ministry, his messiah-ship, his mission to bring salvation to everyone of every race and creed and gender and age and social standing.

We speak them to Luke – he is our beloved child, with whom we are well pleased. What great things God has already gifted him and will continue to gift him, and we will walk along side.

God speak these words to you – “You are my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.” You strive to produce good fruits and God encourages you to keep on keeping on. The fruits begin with individuals choosing to do good, to share, to welcome, to love.

The baptismal waters of life and the unquenchable fire of the Holy Spirit anoint you to do the good work of Heaven here on earth.

Go and be the church! Amen.

Advertisements

The Home of God is Among Mortals

communion_of_saints-ira-thomas-catholic-world-art-690-609x388
Original artwork, “The Communion of the Saints, for All Saints” by Ira Thomas / http://www.catholicworldart.com. Courtesy Ira Thomas.

John 11:32-44
Revelation 21:1-6a

All Saints Year B

John of Patmos is given a revelation, a showing, from God – and it is so hard to describe. He grasps at ways to explain the wonder and love God shows him. He sees in the vision we read today beyond our now, our linear time, and into what was and is and will be. He steps out of time. He steps into God’s realm and way of viewing things.

Outside of time – this is how Jesus was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how the earth was and is and will be. Outside of time – this is how John sees God has come to Earth and made God’s home among mortals – in Christ – and God dwells with us now – and God will continue to live with us into the remaking of all things.

It’s like… one of those old Magic Eye books. You look at it. Its chaos. It makes no sense. And then, all of a sudden, the veil is lifted and there is a 3D image. An image that has length and depth and height. Or an optical illusion of an old woman and a young maid.

For us, we experience a past, present, and future… but they are all the same to God who is working at all time to remake the world and bring about beauty and good. And John is gifted a little glimpse of this amazing goodness.

But if God is at all times, the Alpha and the Omega and everything between the beginning and the end… why didn’t God stop the evils we see around us? Murders. Abuse. Neglect. “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother would not have died.” If there is a God, and God is present, why is there death? If Jesus can open the eyes of the blind, would it be easier to keep a man from getting so ill he died? If God’s eye is on the Sparrow, why isn’t it on my loved ones? If God can make all of the world with its infinite beauty… why can’t God inspire a bit more goodness into our hearts?

I don’t know. John of Patmos doesn’t know. The disciples do not know. It is a mystery.

A mystery of our faith.

What was, is, and will be.

WHO was, is, and will be.

Those we have lost, are still with us, and will be with us again in the future.

Jesus resurrects Lazarus, which leads those around him to plan to kill both Lazarus and Jesus. And Jesus says this is the Glory of God. The Glory of God is outside of time and able to accomplish all things. The Glory of God brings new life into the most stinking, stagnant graves and into the most dead — literally or not — people. The Glory of God is not in a heaven light years away, in the future — but was on Earth, is on Earth, and will be on Earth.

I don’t know how God is making all things new, wiping away every tear, removing death, and pain, and bringing about the Reign of God to all times and all peoples… but I know God is. And I know in the midst of it, God weeps with us, holds us, and love us – for God in Christ wept over Lazarus. God in Christ wept over Jerusalem. God in Christ feels and knows what it is to be us – and stuck in time.

John of Patmos had a vision of this companionship in Revelation.

Julian of Norwich saw this as God tenderly holding us like a mother, and cherishing us in the palm of her hand.

People – living and dead – have had visions and reassure us: God loves us. All is well. Somehow, outside of this 4D world that has length and width and height and time – and in the 5th Dimension… or whatever a lack of being controlled by time is. Somehow, God lives among us. Dwells with us. God is with us. God is wiping our tears. God is encouraging us. God loves us.

Mary and Martha have so many questions. I have so many questions! And God welcomes the questions, but says… we won’t know for certain until we can ask them to God face to face.

Until then, know…

All was well. All is well. And all will be well. Mysteriously.

Amen.

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?

Sermon:

Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.

We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.

But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.

We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.

But that’s the story of  a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.

We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.

Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.

This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.

It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.

Slave.

The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.

Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.

“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”

Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.

“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”

Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.

Slaves do not.

James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.

The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.

Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.

“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.

The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”

But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”

Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.

When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.

So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.

If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.

And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.

Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.

Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.

Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.

“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”

We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.

We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.

We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.

Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!

Made Free

44898913_347591266047355_59580177172135936_nRomans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Freedom is never wholly free. There’s conditions. Limits.

We say we are the Land of the Free in America because we are free FROM things our ancestors were not. Free from kings and queens; free from religious persecution; free to congregate, and so forth. But we’re not wholly free because full freedom is an illusion.

You’re not free to murder someone in America. There are consequences for breaking laws like that.

You’re not free from gravity no matter where you live on Earth.

You’re not free from the need to eat, to sleep, to breathe.

You’re not free in many ways.

I wish we were free-er in some areas. I wish we had the freedom of health care like Canada does. I wish we had freedom from racism, and sexism, and agism.

But I also wish we weren’t as free in other areas. The freedom businesses have to move companies here and there wherever labor is cheapest hurts us. The level of freedom given to pollution is a great peeve of mine. I’d like us all to care for our earth much better. And the freedom we give to cruelty, to indifference, and to apathy deeply hurts me.

Jesus’ phrase today, “The truth will set you free,” is not about whole freedom from everything and to do anything. It’s not about how freedom is the end and goal and holy purpose we Americans like to hold it up. Freedom has to be FROM or TO DO something. What does Jesus mean here?

That’s exactly what his fellows ask him, “What do you mean, ‘Be made free?'”

Freedom changes depending on who is hearing or viewing these words- and the text given to us has several lenses we can use.

First – “In this text Jesus is engaging the “Jews who believed in him.” Doesn’t that strike us as a bit odd? Were there many non-Jews who believed in him? Certainly, by the time of the gospel writer, there were Gentile Christians.” (( Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan)) No one sat down and wrote the Gospels as they were happening. They were wrote decades – even a century – after Jesus died and were based on oral traditions. So by the time we get this story in John there are Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and Roman Christians and so forth. Our first lens, therefore, is the author of the scripture – a Jewish Christian – writing about the past where Jesus the Jew spoke to other Jews about Jewish conflicts on Jesus’ identity.

John, the author, and his community “believed in Jesus, believed that he spoke the truth, and believed that their freedom lay in walking the way of Jesus. But for that they had been cast out of the synagogue. They no longer had their “place in the household.” Their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.” ((Hogan)). They lost their identity as Jews – for the synagogue and Jewish community kicked them out. They lost family. Friends. Property. Status. They were confused – how could our fellows not believe? How could they be slaves to the old way of thinking and not welcome in the Messiah?

So John wrote this story about when Jesus felt that same rejection. This is the second lens  – the one of when Jesus still physically walked the earth, this story is about the idea that the prophesied messiah had to come from a certain lineage. The Messiah had to be a descendant of King David – and Jesus is just some nobody from Galilee. This is why so many of our gospels have long lineage charts – trying to PROVE Jesus is related to David. And Romans makes a contorted argument that the high priest can be from this lineage instead of that. To us, today, we don’t really care. Then, at that time, this was a huge deal. John frames Jesus’ rejection in this issue.

But the message is the same whether Jesus says it to his disciples in the scene, or his disciples living decades later rejected from their communities, or the third lens which is us, today.

If you continue to abide in me, you have a place in God’s household.

It doesn’t matter if the synagogue or community or church have kicked you out. You’ve gained freedom – a lack of ties – but you’re not groundless. You’re grounded in me. One of mine. Still one of the Chosen People of God.

Think what this meant to Martin Luther! “Freedom was crucial for Luther. Where was the truth, freedom, new life to be found? Luther argued that it was not to be found in the medieval pietistic accretions, the indulgences, that marked the Christians life at that time. Rather it was found only in belief in Jesus Christ. (Hogan)

It didn’t matter that the church, the community, the country called for Luthers’ death, and excommunicated him. Said he was Satan or at least hell-bound. Said he was evil. He was free from the sins he saw gathered into the church at that time. He’d seen the truth of how money and power was being abused. And seen the truth that Christ, alone, is who saves. No church can say whether you are going to heaven or hell. Only Jesus can judge.

It was pricey freedom, again, but it reformed our faith – both those who remained orthodox to the church and those who formed the Protestant denominations. All sides experienced new life, and transformation, and a fresh breath from the Holy Spirit.

Our forebearers who came here were seeking freedom to worship and believe in God as they felt called. They, too, lost family and friends and land but remain in God’s household. They, like Luther, like the early Christians, like Jesus, heard the Spirit of God speaking a new truth – reinterpreting our old traditions in new ways for the context of now, today – and that truth set them free to follow the law of their faith.

We’re at just such a crossroads now. What has been for the last 501 years of the Reformation is not what will be. The truth of church as we know it – meeting on Sundays, in a designated building, passing on the music and songs and traditions of the last centuries – is not the truth of our youth.

And this is good.

Good!

The Holy Spirit is breathing upon our faith again. It is awakening us to a new revolution, a new way of being. It is taking our faith which has grown stagnant and blowing the doors open to set hearts on fire in a brand new way.

The comic “The Naked Pastor” drew a comic with Jesus standing with other Jewish rabbis of his time. And Jesus says to them, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

Yes! This is true in Jesus’ time, and in John’s, and in Luther’s, and in the formation of America, and now.

Scripture tells us how to love… but love is contextual and changes. No two people are alike. No two people love the same things. No two times are alike. And what was once very important – lineages, who is or isn’t related to a priest – later is no longer important. What once was not important –officials using marriage and sexuality to establish dominance – later becomes very important.

Those who are orthodox use scripture to determine what love means. Love means, according to scripture, marrying your dead brother’s wife.

Those who live into orthopraxis use love to determine what scripture means. Love is caring for one another. Marrying your dead brother’s wife was loving her by providing for her. Today, it is more loving to not marry her but to provide for her with finances, hugs, and a listening ear.

Each time our faith explodes into new life it is because orthopraxis – living love – challenges orthodoxy – traditional love. Each time we come to new truths for our faith it is because we realize how our needs have changed, and we see the truth, and Christ releases us to be free to love as Christ loves.

But it’s not freedom from everything or freedom to do anything.

It is freedom from stagnation and sin. It is freedom to love God, your neighbor, and yourself.

Can you feel the Spirit active in our faith? Can you feel the tension between those who cling to old ways of understanding scripture and those who welcome in new ways of interpreting scripture through love?

Can you feel the tension among Christians? That same tension Luther felt. The same tension Jesus awoke among Jews.

Something beautiful is being brought forth out of us. A new church. The next reformation. Out of these growing pains will rise new life to classical churches like our own – with pews and hymns and a building – and the new churches just beginning – on streets, and in coffee shops, and online. Maybe our own Saint Michael’s won’t be a place we go to – but a place that comes to us. A bus, that picks us up in our post-driving years. And we sing hymns on the way to get our weekly groceries together. And are a congregation the whole way there and back. I don’t know!

I do know it is a beautiful time to live! It is a marvelous time to be Christian! It is an interesting time – a painful time – a changing time – and a time where we have been placed to discern, to live, and to walk together into the liberating truths Jesus provides.

Go and be the church known for its love!

Amen.