Category: Sermon

Come to the Water

Isaiah 55:1-51d126d3b6847e371ad47b1ce001f1437
Matt. 14:13-21

There was a farmer with a problem. A problem you may have too – his barn was full. It wasn’t rubbish and trash, it was things he needed. Like… there was the tall ladder. He needed it five or six times a year to clean out the house gutters, replace some light bulbs, and do minor repairs. And there was the post hole digger. Every time the septic got funky, he needed that to dig down to the cap. And what if he ever needed to replace one of the fence posts? The leaf rake. Needed every fall. And another leaf rake – it was a good deal on clearance last spring. The first rake might break. And a good lot of other little things you and I both know are just needed to keep a farm going. But all together, it filled up his barn.

And he had a neighbor who had a problem. His neighbor’s barn was full. And it, too, wasn’t rubbish! No, there was a tall ladder, a post hole digger, two leaf rakes, and lots of useful little things.

And the neighbor’s neighbor had a problem… you guessed it! Their barn was full…. with a ladder, and a post hole digger and…

I have a problem. My barn is full.

You know, if any one of us lived all alone, on a homestead, in the middle of no where… with no neighbors… I’d suggest building a second barn. Useful things should be kept!

But… that farmer had neighbors… I have neighbors… you have neighbors… and there’s really little reason for four houses side-by-side to have eight leaf rakes unless someone is starting a lawn care business; or four large ladders that are only used a few hours each year.

It makes a lot more sense for them to share. Maybe they only need one ladder, or two. It’s thinking in terms of scarcity, rather than generosity, that has made their barns full.

See, I super empathize with the man in the Bible Jesus speaks about who finds his bumper crops fully fill up his barn, and so he has to build a second. I mean, that’s what I think when I look at my full barn and know each thing is useful. I know I am going to need that ladder and that rake. I think in terms of rarity, scarcity, not having enough. I think like I am on a homestead where my nearest neighbor is a ten hour drive away.

I empathize with the disciples today who see they have five loaves and two fish among the twelve of them, and are looking at a crowd of 5000 hungry men, and their wives, and all their kids.

I empathize with people who say it is hopeless to start conserving water or resources now, when they look at how little they use versus a McMansion or heavy industry.

I empathize with people who ask ‘what will my two dollars do if donated to world hunger?’ when two bucks barely covers a loaf of bread, and it sure isn’t getting you milk and bread.

Scarcity is real. Needing things is real.

But it is also in our heads. How scarce, how needed, is all up here in our minds.

The Isaiah prophet and messiah prophet Jesus challenge us to change our minds.

Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters! Everyone thirsts. That is a real need!
Jesus saw the crowd and had compassion on them. He cured their sick. They have real needs!

But everyone is invited. To both of these events.
You who have no money, come.
You who are weary, come.
You who are rich, come.
You who are healthy, come.

Not just the basics Jesus offers – but RICH food. And SOUL food. And extravagant abundance. Thinking in terms of abundance, rather than scarcity, the Isaiah writer proclaims money is useless. Worthless. God has so much to give to people and money can’t buy any of it. Thinking in terms of abundance, rather than scarcity, Jesus says and then demonstrates God’s way of working miracles in the world: where the smallest things become the largest, and enough for everyone.

Like the mustard seed.
Like the least of these.
Like the widow’s two pennies.
Like five loaves and two fishes.

Thinking in abundance means there is enough for everyone.

The four neighbors, if they think in abundance, they will realize they can share their tools and everyone will have the tools they need, and have space in their barns.

If I and my neighbors thought in abundance rather than scarcity, could we even reach the point where we share gardens? Homes? Lives?

What a challenge God sets before us. God demonstrates it again and again. But it is against our culture. Against our survival instincts. We are greedy because greed tends to get us ahead in life… but we don’t live on bread alone. We need more than food and water, shelter and space. We need these things, yes… but they alone do not satisfy.

Satisfaction comes from meeting our basic needs for health, security, nourishment… and then meeting our spiritual needs of steadfast love, rich soul food, mercy, hope, forgiveness, COMMUNITY.

When I think in scarcity, I think ‘I only have enough canned up for a month or two,’ ‘I only have a single paycheck in the bank’ ‘I only have 24 hours in a day.’

When I think in abundance, I think, ‘I have more food than I can eat in a meal. Join me.’ ‘I have more money than I need. I can share.’ ‘I have 24 hours in a day. I have plenty of time for you.’

The first places me in worry and fret, fear and anger. The second places me in joy and gratefulness, generosity and love.

The first is seeing the cup half empty, and fearing God will not provide.

The second is seeing the cup half full, and knowing God will provide. Overflow the cup, even.

Come. Buy. Eat. Listen. Delight. See. This is Life.

Thinking in scarcity isn’t living. Isn’t satisfying. It is existing, but it isn’t living.

Living is delighting in God. Seeing God in action. Listening to God. Coming to God, buying without money all that God offers, and eating the Bread of Life. Taking God’s wisdom and ways and forgiveness and love into our bodies, and living The Way of Jesus.

Extravagant welcome, outrageous abundance, ever-renewing life — these are the signs of the New Creation. These are the signs Heaven is near.

Come this morning, taste and see, listen and live!

We are given in abundance.

Amen.

Bring Out the Treasure

Romans 8:26-39lk19_11
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

In today’s readings, I hear people asking, “What is the Kingdom like, Jesus? Tell us!”

And he thinks about this… and decides to take the old treasure of their daily lives, and the old treasure of their sacred scripture, and polish it up to be the new treasure for their present and futures.

Jesus says: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field. It is like a weed someone purposefully planted. It is the smallest of seeds, but nothing can kill that weed off. You’ve heard in the Torah of the cedars of Lebanon and how the birds make their nests in the temple? I tell you birds bless weeds with their nests.

All you who have considered yourself a weed? God blesses you. All you who feel excluded from fine places and fine company? God seeks you out. The kingdom belongs not to the elite, but to everyone.

And the kingdom of heaven is like yeast. You’ve heard in the Torah how it is morally impure, morally questionable. Like mold. Like sinners. The kingdom is like yeast a woman takes and mixes it all through her flour. And the flour is leavened. It rises.

All you who the world says are sinners, outcasts, and impure – God needs you. You are what is going to bring life, bring growth, to all the world. The kingdom of God is made of sinners.

And the kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field. Which someone accidentally finds. They never were looking at all! With joy, that someone goes and sells everything they have – their house, their home, their wealth, their ties – to buy that field where the treasure is hidden.

All you who accidentally find God, in a time of trial or in a time of peace, at home or at war, a relationship with God is worth changing all your plans over. You never meant to become Christian, never meant to be one of those faith types… but now that you’ve had a taste, it’s okay to risk more. With joy, God won’t let you down.

And the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. An educated business person, who knows just what they are seeking. They have a system, they have a plan, and they work diligently. Upon finding a pearl of great value, that merchant sells everything and buys the pearl.

All you who purposefully find God, studying texts and attending church – a relationship with God is worth all your work and troubles. You, too, can risk all you have built up to build a relationship with God and will not be let down.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that is thrown into the sea and catches up fish of every kind. Good fish. Bad fish. Fish who just need a little tender loving care and fish who refuse to be gathered in by Love even when every chance is given. And only at the end of the age are they separated. Until then, they’re all welcomed in and gathered.

Indeed, the kingdom of heaven is thrown wide to everyone and anyone. Those who have led good lives and those who have led bad lives. Those who repent and those who refuse. Only after all are gathered in will the righteous -those who wish to live in love with each other and with God- and the evil -those who wish to live at odds with God and hate each other- be separated. Then there will be peace.

So do you understand?

If so, then you are commissioned to bring out the new treasure out of these old words.

Do you get what the kingdom of God is like?

If so, you should be able to take your own old treasure, polish it up, and bring it out anew.

If so, you should be able to think of your own parables to explain what the kingdom of heaven is like for you.

A parable doesn’t perfectly fit. It is LIKE something. So an orange is not an apple, but it is LIKE an apple. It is a fruit, it is round, it grows on a tree. But they are not the same.

The kingdom of heaven isn’t a net or merchant or weed. But it is LIKE these things in some way. Or like how these things relate to other things.

So, how would you explain what heaven is like to others now-a-days?

Maybe…

The kingdom of heaven is like a line with no order. This is how Meredith (Vosburg) Bazzoli of Chicago explains what the kingdom is like for her. She witnessed a line all out of order, with this family mingling into that one, and people just milling about with no line. They were all Hispanic, and standing near a church with a sign that said, “los pasaportes.” Passport help was being given out here. No one grumbled as people moved in and out of the group; no police kept the line carefully in a row. There was no rope, no tickets, no different reward for those who came early or those who came late. Everyone got the same help. And they waited with joy. She writes, “The kingdom of God is like this, a line with no rules, a line that offends the righteous, those who’ve been in line for a while doing the right thing.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/09/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-line-with-no-order/))

Or maybe the kingdom is like a squeaky hamster wheel. Author Addie Zierman thinks so. Before you get upset – she doesn’t mean futile – as in going no where. That is the limits of parables! They’re not literal, and not perfect. They’re examples to try to get at something unspoken.

So go with Zierman and me with a moment… Have you, or any of your kids or grandkids had a hamster? The wheel squeaks, and squeaks, and squeaks as they run on it all the time. Dinner time the squeak begins. Bed time it continues. Midnight potty and guess what you hear — two in the morning and you roll over and you hear… squeak! Squeak! Squeak! She writes, “The hamster wheel squeak, squeak, squeaks, and it occurs to me that the Kingdom of God has been at work all this time — that when I am asleep, when I am distracted, when I am unaware, it is still turning, turning, turning — God at work, always, in the world he created… That we wake into a Kingdom that is always already happening.” God, and God’s in breaking into our world, never stops. Whether waking or sleeping, God is aware and present. ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/15/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-squeaky-hamster-wheel/))

Organists Gayl Wright says the kingdom of God, for her, is like an unexpected polka. One Sunday while she was playing the new church organ, her finger slipped on the buttons during the prayers. She thought she had the organ set back to a proper classical piano… but instead, when she pressed the first chord, the piano began to play a polka beat and rattle off drums with each press of a key. She writes, “In our church services we pray the same prayers and sing the same responses every week. If we are not careful in that routine, we might just go through the motions not even thinking about what we are saying. Sometimes we need a wake up call, like a blast of the unfamiliar.” ((https://abbynorman.net/2015/10/29/the-kingdom-of-god-is-like-a-surprise-during-church/))

And, sometimes, we need the unexpected polka to remind us God’s love is not based on perfection. If only perfect people make it to heaven, heaven is an empty place.

For Paul, the kingdom of heaven is a deep sigh. A holy, sacred sigh – the kind that we do when we don’t even know how to begin to pray. The kind we do when our dearest loves have deep pains and we wish we could alleviate them. The deep sigh we have, internally, when we ache head to toe and there is not enough time. Or too much time. That deep sigh when we know we need God, but have no idea in what way. The Spirit prays.

And when we are sleeping, the Spirit prays. And when we are distracted, the Spirit prays. And when we are spoken against, charged with crimes we did or didn’t commit, condemned, know hardship, peril, distress, persecution, poverty, war, sickness – when anything and when everything tries to break our faith in God…

That deep sigh and whisper inside of us keeps praying. The Spirit keeps us tightly. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The kingdom is an internal and eternal sigh, breath, whisper, connecting us with God forever.

So bring out the treasure of your hearts, of your sacred stories, of your experiences – polish it up – and present it anew to one another! Tell each other – where do you see the kingdom of heaven? What is it like for you?

Amen.

Jacob’s Ladder

Genesis 28:10-19ahandful-of-dust
Romans 8:12-25

Jacob is running from Esau. Remember? We read last week that he tricked Esau out of Esau’s blessing and portion of the family’s inheritance for a bowl of soup, and then by preying on their blind father. Now the twin brother intends to get the blessing and inheritance back… via murder.

It’s honestly a rare funeral where there is no argument over inheritance. A rare funeral where this sibling or that cousin hasn’t swindled their relatives, lied to the deceased, or outright stolen. Jacob and Esau, and their parents Isaac and Rebecca, have a family just like ours.

And like our own, the peacekeeper just wants everyone to get along. With Isaac passed away from old age, Rebecca wants her two sons to just love each other… even though she helped their bitter rivalry along by favoring and aiding one boy in his tricks. Now in her old age, she doesn’t want to lose all her family. So she warns Jacob about Esau, and tells Jacob to go to her brother’s house and live there until Esau calms down.

I mean, he can’t keep a grudge forever, right? She figures her sons will feud a few months, and then it will all be over and the family will be reunited.

Sadly, it takes years and years… and Rebecca passes away before she ever sees Jacob come home again.

Our reading today finds Jacob on the run from his home to his uncle’s house. He’s in the middle of no where, no man’s land, and stops to sleep out under the stars. He has nothing but the clothes on his back and his walking stick. So he uses a rock as a pillow.

And as we read, he has a vivid dream.

In his dream, Jacob sees a ziggurat, a steeped pyramid, a ladder, or a staircase connecting heaven and earth. Angels go up and down it from heaven and to earth and back again. But God stands BESIDE Jacob. This is the first time Jacob has had any sort of religious experience. And God tells him I am the Lord of your father, and your grandfather. And I am the Lord of you. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Blessings, scattered all over the earth like how dust gets everywhere. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go… I will not leave you until I have done what I promise.”

And Jacob wakes up – and proclaims – surely the Lord is in this place! This is Bethel, which means, House of God. And he puts a stone there, and consecrates it, and it becomes a place of worship.

The silly young man. Jacob thinks the PLACE is important. God says the person is. Jacob only focused on the ladder. But God was BESIDE Jacob. And God said, I will go with you wherever you go. Surely God was in that place, just as God is here, but God is with us everywhere too. Still, we like to think of God in one place. Back then, in Jacob’s time, this idea that gods are tied to the land was so ingrained it was believed that if you left your city… your god didn’t go with you. Your god was stuck in the city. So God proclaiming to Jacob that God isn’t limited by boundary lines is pretty radical. But we still, today, have a hard time remembering God isn’t just in the House of God, isn’t just in church… but everywhere.

There are no godless places.

I’ve heard people say they don’t need to go to church because they can feel God in beautiful sunrises and in the peaceful croak of bullfrogs. They see God in the smile of strangers and the laughter of children.

I don’t think any church-go-er doesn’t know God in these situations, also. We all know and remember God in such beauty.

It’s those places we like to call godless where we need help. It’s in those internal woes and deep sorrows where its hard to find God. If God is everywhere, then where is God when things aren’t great?

Our second reading tells us the world is in pain. This we know. Paul says you and I are called to address that pain and be blessings. Creation awaits for God’s Children to show, to reveal, God. Creation has been told God is everywhere — in the beautiful and in the ugly — but it’s our job to help creation see how God doesn’t abandon us.

Like dust, we are blown everywhere. Like dust, sticking to everything. Like dust, covering all people without preference. Like dust, a scattering of blessings and reminder of God’s love for us in all situations.

God will not leave us, no matter where we wander. No matter where we’re forced to go. God is with us. Even homeless, even on the run because we’ve cheated family, and using a rock for a pillow…. God still seeks us out.

It’s… just so hard to remember.

And that’s where Bethel comes into play. When so many need churches. When communities are needed most. We seek these places out where others have felt God to try to feel God’s presence ourselves. We need these holy places not because God isn’t everywhere, but because we need to feel God, need a sanctuary, a place of rest, a place where the dusting of blessing is apparent.

Chapels in hospitals. Churches in cities and rural roads. Places where we have set a stone and invited people to remember… God is beside us.

Paul writes that as we groan and seek relief, we can rest in these places and with each other in hope. We are people of hope. People who live into God’s promises. And one of those promises is to turn our first fruits into huge harvests of goodness.

First fruits – the first part of a harvest – is not always the best veggies. I know the first tomato of the year I really look forward to… but it usually is a tiny little thing. The second or third tomato is proper for a sandwich. And the first egg my pullet lays is a tiny little misshapen thing. And our first attempts to go out of our comfort zones and be kind to others might be horribly awkward.

But God is taking these. Taking every little offering of kindness, and turning that kindness into miracles.

I think of it a bit like Jacob’s ladder. No one climbs a ladder in one leap. It is rather one little step at a time. So, too, none of us can change the world over night. We take little steps. But those little steps build and build and build.

Then when we gather back in after a week of little steps, we take pause here at church and look at how far we’ve come. We take hope. What looked like drops of goodness in to an impossibly thirsty and hopeless world has actually been a shower of blessings. When we felt like we were just a single mote of dust, we have actually been a part of God’s lavish garden.

When we felt all alone, we actually walked with God and with other people the whole time. you might think you can only affect your own little life, but what you do spreads everywhere. Every little deed counts.

Surely God is in this place. Surely God is everywhere. Surely God is in heaven and on earth and everywhere in between and right beside us. Surely God will not leave us and shall fulfill all of God’s promises. Surely we are beloved children of God, called to bring blessings to all the Earth.

Amen.

Working Smart, Working Hard

Genesis 25:19-34fac_wycliffe_open
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Picture a church lit by beautiful stained glass windows and decorated with statues and glittering images. The pastor preaches from the pulpit, but you cannot understand a word he says. You’re told he is telling the stories in the windows and alcoves. But what he’s actually saying you have no idea. They are magical, holy words. The words of Latin, which only educated people know, and in which Holy Scripture is writ.

But the words are so powerful that if the pastor misspeaks them, it is said God will send lightening down and strike him dead. And the words are so powerful all by themselves that people take them and use them for their own magic. Hocus Pocus – you know this is a holy word. The Father says it often.

The Father finishes the Latin and moves into your own language for the sermon… presumably, it is based on what you just heard. But you don’t know.

… Its this phenomenon John Wycliffe had issue with back in 1376. Wycliffe, like Jesus, and like the prophets, communicated that physically hearing the words of scripture and faith is not enough. You also have to understand them.

If you can’t hear them spiritually, understand them deeply, struggle and debate, love and use them… then the words are just noise. Seed that never bears fruit. Wycliffe wanted the Bible translated into people’s common tongues. He wanted them to know hocus pocus isn’t a magical word, but how people heard the poorly pronounced Latin words for ‘Hoc est potus [meum]’ “This is my body,” He preached all people needed to have access to the scripture.

Hundreds of years before, others had argued for this too. We need to not just know other’s understandings of scripture, but struggle with it ourselves, too. So long before Wycliffe, scripture was translated into common languages for people – but over the centuries, scripture became solidified as the Latin version only, and no one but the educated spoke Latin anymore. Many people had forgotten it’s all our jobs to listen deeply to scripture, and to come to the message. It is the meaning, rather than the particular words, that is important.

But anything not Latin, back in the 1300s, was considered not true scripture.

People who followed Wycliffe’s way of thinking got called Lollards. A word for mutterers. And were called heretics. And burned at the stake.

In our reading today, Jesus translates the message of the prophets and God’s words into people’s common lives. He was called a heretic. And hung on a cross.

Today – people still fight over what translation of prayers, and scripture, to use. One of the biggest fights is over the King James Version. Is it the only authoritative, only true, version?

 

What version of scripture you consider authoritative matters. If only the KJV will do, then you’ll have to accept that unicorns walked the earth with Jesus. If you’re okay using more than one translation, to try to get at the various meanings of ancient words… then you’ll have hard work, but you’ll also have smarter work. Then you’ll know the word some Bibles have as unicorns others have has aurochs and we know as… really big cows.

On the flip side, if only our NRSV is authoritative, who is his ‘Holy Ghost’ we sing to in our doxology? That word is Holy Spirit in the NRSV.

So which Bible is authoritative to you? Which one do you trust?

Red letter Bible?
King James?
New Revised Standard Version?
Common English Bible?
The Message?
Does it have to be a printed version, or is online okay? On a phone okay?

They all have pros and cons to their translation and transliteration. All of them make choices in translating old, hard words that may only appear once and have no context for us to know what it means. Is it debts or trespasses? Holy ghost or holy spirit? All of them also make assumptions about what their words mean to you or me.

For instance… my grandpa might ask you for a poke. What does that mean to you? Click a button on Facebook? Stick your finger into his belly? Or hand him a grocery sack? If you had to translate Grandpa’s request to someone… which one of those would you pick?

Those who provide us even the Latin Bibles have to make those choices… Let’s say you’re translating the Bible and come to the word describing Mary… should you say virgin, silly, child-like, naive, young, unwed, girl…? All of them are legitimate translations.

Even those listening to Jesus today had to decide what he meant with his words.

And this is why Jesus so often doesn’t just say something, but then demonstrates it too. And today he tells others to do the same: listen to understand, and then act on what you hear.

Wycliffe listened to scripture with an ear for action. Scripture said to spread the Good News to all. It said God’s Word is a lamp to our feet. And he took action to be sure all had access to this news and a lamp. His followers made secret and illegal copies of the Bible written in English. And this, along with the same happening in Germany for the Germans, led us to the Protestant Revolution. Led the church into multiple reforms where you can hear God’s Word in your own tongue in almost every church regardless of denomination. Led us to remember… the words themselves aren’t magic. The message is.

Before today’s reading, Jesus has given the Sermon on the Mount… and this is its conclusion. He says: I have told you all these things. I have said them. Now… who has really heard me and will go and produce fruit? And who will start… but for this reason or that, not finish?

Who heard the words, and got lost in nitpicking just who is my neighbor and just who gets to be called the meek…

And who heard the words, and said: care for others, and be humble and kind.

And who heard the words… and went and cared for others in humble and kind ways?

It is those who took what was understood, and did more kindness, that produced 30, 60, or 100 times more good in the world.

Did you hear about the care chain in Indiana on Father’s day? A woman looked in her rearview mirror at McDonalds and saw a man who had four kids in his van. She decided to pay for herself and him at the window, and told the cashier to wish the man a happy father’s day. The father was so impressed and happy that he paid for the people behind him, too. This went on all day! The only reason this chain stopped was because the place closed! One good deed produced the fruit of an entire days’ worth of good deeds. And each one of those people’s moods were lifted, encouraged, and they left telling others of the goodness that surprised them. And everyone’s days were better and more loving because of it.

The words I say and the words we read and hear today are important, but are seed on rocky soil if they don’t land in your fertile hearts and lead to more good words and more good deeds.

The Genesis story of the twins Esau and Jacob touches a little on this.

Both boys have grown up hearing from their mom and dad about the promises of God. Both have heard how God is making a nation out of their family and how God’s blessing is passing down generation to generation. And both have been told how the older boy, Esau, is the one Isaac is passing down the bulk of his land and the blessing of God to.

The words are just words. Neither boy has seen God in action yet. The words fall on Esau and he doesn’t do anything with them. They are just stories. The words fall on Jacob and he does something – he envisions the future and he works for it. He believes in God’s promises.

And so, Esau gives up future promises for the immediate gratification of soup now. And Jacob believes in future promises, takes Esau’s birth right, and waits decades to see these promises come through.

Do you believe in God’s promises? Do you believe enough to take action on them? To risk your immediate benefits for long-term benefits?

Do you work hard – toil – at life or do you work smart – trust – God ?

The words we use are often forgotten. But the deeds we do are remembered. Carl Bueher and Maya Angelo said: “They may forget what you say – but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

So… embody your scripture. And know your scripture enough to embody it. If it’s in a language too complex, get a different version.

So that, the words of God are more than just words, but a way of living and acting you can count on for your whole life.

Amen.

Wisdom is Known by Her Deeds

nadia-bolz-weber---civil-unions-2
Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I recently read a sermon by Rev. Darrel Lakey called “Christian, you are upset about the wrong things.” To make his point, he uses a cuss word: ‘last night, 30,000 children died of starvation and most of you don’t give a …” And if your first response is: a pastor shouldn’t say such words…

… and here I am, not saying it…

… then his point is made: you and I are upset about the wrong things. Upset a pastor is cussing instead of how many children died.

He goes on to show, powerfully, how what we get upset about and argue about so often is the wrong thing – the wrong part of the problem. He doesn’t say cussing is good- but rather, we are spending our energy in inefficient, wasteful ways.

Correcting a person for a cuss word isn’t going to make much of a difference in the world.

Giving someone a meal is going to make some difference.

Changing the world so that food is more fairly distributed will make a world of difference.

Why get in a ruffle over the word, and instead, focus on the message? And then do something!

In our reading, Jesus, too, points out how people are upset with the wrong things and wasting their energy on appearances rather than on real issues.

He recalls to us John.

John ate honey and bugs. People were upset with him – anyone who eats such things must be demon possessed! They were upset with his appearances. When they should have been upset with the fact John had to preach his message in the desert and it couldn’t be received in the city. In fact, when he came to the city, he was murdered for his message.

So Jesus now points to himself, and says – after John, people became upset with me and my appearance. Not because I’m eating honey and bugs, but regular bread and wine like everyone else. But they say say I’m a drunkard and a glutton. And they’re upset I spend time with sinners.

People, then and now, are upset about the wrong things. People should have been upset that their religious institutions didn’t have space for sinners and thought sinners shouldn’t have access to a rabbi. They should have been upset that there isn’t enough food and drink for all to have in abundance. They should have been paying attention not to the inside of the vessels, as Jesus later says, instead of the outside. They should, and we should, know wisdom – know people – not by how they look, but by their deeds.

Wisdom is known by her deeds.

Not her appearance.

The deeds of John. The deeds of Jesus. The deeds that speak of God’s radical acceptance, generous hospitality, and abiding forgiveness. The deeds that speak Love.

Giving John a bath wasn’t the fix. Fixing the institutions driving him into the desert was. Telling Jesus to avoid sinners wasn’t the fix. Offering acceptance and welcome and forgiveness to sinners is.

Are you upset about tattoos, piercings, or cussing? I know very faithful pastors with so many tattoos, their arms are covered in as if in a sleeve. Others have multiple piercings. Some, like the one I opened with, cuss in their sermons. Should we be upset about their looks, or upset that LOOKS can deny you a job? Or housing? Or even healthcare? Does a person immediately become a better or worse worker because of a tattoo? If so – sign me up for the tattoo to make me more organized!

… Ageism is a huge appearance struggle in our country. Rather than being welcomed as a person with experience, those who are aged are seen as incompetent. And a younger person is chosen for a job… even though both applicants are qualified.

There’s a reason hair dye for men and women sell and turn a profit.

So what do we get upset about? Tell people who look older to go away and leave us alone?

Some churches concerned about this have started day cares that primarily employ elderly  so that the very young and the very old share a day together. Yes, it’s chaotic. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s hard work! But… the wizened are valued for their knowledge… and the next generation are taught that aging is a good thing.

This is how to change our world: through taking action. Changing relationships. Changing minds. Being upset about the same things that upset Jesus, and then, like Jesus, taking action.

I went to Washington DC once as a child, like many of us go. I was told to avoid the subway because it was full of “undesirables.” My mother and another mother were so offended by this word, they cut out of the official tour to take their daughters on the subway. And we saw workers, and peddlers. We saw people without homes and people in business suits. We saw Washington DC without the spit and shine of the tour company guiding us. And it was beautiful. A city of diversity.

It was also stunning and horrifying. A city with twice the average homelessness rate – 124 people – men, women, and their children – per 10,000 citizens. Homelessness so high that people can register cross roads as their mailing addresses. A city with four of the richest counties in the nation – averaging incomes of $70,000 a home. And a city where the rich live elsewhere and drive in, while the locals who are poor or middle income ride the subs. And the policy makers, the rich, never see them.

Indeed, if the tourist papers warning us of “undesirables” is any evidence, then this is very purposeful. Purposefully avoiding the “lowers.”

This was a community service trip. If anything, we should have been right there on the streets learning from the common people the wrongs the people in charge are doing to them. Learning what would really make their lives better – like access to free showers, and safe places to sleep. We should have been upset that we live in the richest country in the world and there are plenty who still starve… because those with money and food CHOOSE to ignore their need and CHOOSE instead to focus on their looks.

Are we angry, upset, with what we ought to be? Are we identifying the root of problems and rooting them out?

This is about taking responsibility for our action, and our INACTION. Our action in choosing to fight silly battles and our inaction to act with God’s grace, hospitality, witness and love.

Our Old Testament reading is a strange one to pair with today’s gospel, isn’t it? Except for the AGENCY, the action, the people in this love story have.

The first is the servant of Abraham. He could easily have chosen the first girl he came across as Isaac’s wife. However, he goes and prepares. He stands near a well which is where, in the old world, all true love stories begin. It is a trope. A theme. Then, he begins to pray. He prays for a woman to come who is so generous, she not only pulls up one jug of water for himself, but water for each of his camels. That is – twenty gallons of water for each of the twenty camels. ((Remember, the story of Isaac is one of laughter and humor. So of course this girl is a super strong woman with unheard of generosity!)) And he doesn’t care about her looks, or the clothes she wears, or if she speaks perfectly. Instead – he cares about her wise deeds. Her generosity.

And back in her father’s home? Her father does the unheard of – he ASKS his daughter if she wants to go marry the man. He gives her agency. He sees his daughter as a PERSON instead of just property.

It doesn’t matter to him that the man has told him Abraham is rich, and seen the jewelry given. He still wants this to be his daughter’s choice. And she chooses to go. And the Bible calls the relationship between Isaac and Rebecka as one of ‘love.’  One of the few relationships of the Bible called such.

Agency. Seeing others as PEOPLE instead of numbers, or undesirables, or enemies.

It’s seeing our aching world, and instead of saying ‘but what can I do?’ doing your own small part – whatever it is. Giving to the food pantries. Supporting world wide organizations like the UCC Great Hour of Sharing or the ANERA refugee fund. Doing small parts – like reading and hearing the stories of those displaced by war. Not ignoring. Even when reading and hearing is hard.

And it is practicing love. If people cannot feel welcome and accepted, loved and encouraged, forgiven and wanted here – in our church – where, then, can they find respite?

Jesus says his YOKE is light. Remember, he is on a mission saying the religious folk are heaping on burdens on the poor instead of lightening the burdens. And it’s our jobs to lighten burdens.

But a yoke isn’t freedom – not act however you will – it is a guide. Yoke yourself to me, Jesus says, and know a lighter burden. Know that with me, you can lay down your heavy burdens of getting upset over the wrong things.

You can take up the yoke, the work, of assisting the in breaking of God’s kindom.

You can spend your life doing more than correcting someone’s cussing for five minutes… or criticizing their clothes. You can tackle the real work of loving others and changing the world one relationship, one deed, one olive branch at a time.

It’s still work – but it is light work. Joyous work. Because it sets judgment and hypocrisy aside, and welcomes and rejoices with others. If one is starving, one is homeless, one is not welcome – our beloved Jesus is starting, homeless, and not welcomed. It is also foolish work – the work that the wise and intelligent often miss, but which children often see and do immediately.

It is the foolish work of dancing with those who dance. And mourning with those who cry. And being a friend.

Come, says Christ, and share this yoke. Share your burdens. In the sharing, all becomes lighter.

And that is wisdom.

Amen.

Source: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2017/06/christian-upset-wrong-things/

The Sacrifice of…

Genesis 22:1-14 us-healthcare-urrepublic
Matthew 10:40-42

Three bucks a day. Do I really want to pay three bucks to save a life? You know, that three bucks could also get me a serving of French fries and pop. Those three bucks could also be used towards group health care, or my own health care. Or I could just pocket it. You see, what if I give that money to save a life and that person doesn’t live their life like I live mine? What if I save a life that isn’t worth it?

Jesus doesn’t ask us to consider three bucks. He asks a single cup of cold water. Starts even smaller and asks : Do you really want to give a stranger a cup of cold water? We could use it to water plants. Or use the time it takes to pour it for something better. It could be risky. What if they sue us for the water being too cold?

Maybe, we don’t want to make either of these concessions. What is mine is mine and what is your’s is your’s. Work harder if you want that 3 bucks and cup of water. Be born into a richer family. Be born without physical or mental conditions. Be lucky. Be luckier.

I am not your savior.

Yet, Christ tells us whomever welcomes another, welcomes Christ. And whomever derides, blames, ignores the needs of others… derides, disowns, and ignores Jesus.

Christ lives through us. Through Christ, we are each other’s earthly saviors. Through us, Christ loves and acts upon the world.

3 bucks. A cup of cold water. Jesus tells us even the smallest acts don’t lose their reward. God notices all mercy and hospitality.

3 dollars. A cup of cold water. A child, deeply loved.

God in Genesis gives Abraham a choice: take the child you have prayed and prayed and worked for, your beloved son, and give me that that little boy.

What will Abraham choose? God leaves it up to this human.

And Abraham doesn’t deny 3 dollars. Or a glass of water. Or even his own son. For the betterment of the world, so that God can work and enter more fully into human history, Abraham is willing to give up the person he loves the most.

God stays Abraham’s hand, and says God knows God has chosen the right person to be the father of God’s people now. Abraham is willing to sacrifice even what and who he loves the most for the salvation of the world. Abraham and God share a similar heart- a heart bent on mercy and hospitality.

When Jesus comes, he reminds us again and again that mercy and hospitality are core ways God loves us. And that we, those who profess we follow Christ and Christ’s ways, should also show much mercy and hospitality.

So why do so many balk at giving up $3 for health care?

Why do so many Christians balk at this?

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, raised taxes .9% on people who made $200,000 a year individually. If you made less than this, your taxes didn’t go up. Your healthcare costs likely did, because premiums tend to increase 3 to 5% every year normally.

It also made health insurance mandatory if you make more than $16,000 as an individual – not talking families or couples here. If you make less than this, nothing changed for you. You’re still considered too poor for health care. If you make more than $16,000, then you have been required to either pay between $695 to $2,085 as a yearly tax to have no coverage, or purchase a coverage plan for $4,500 to $12,000 yearly.

Why?

Because when we all give a little, there is enough for everyone to have care. Those who chose to have no coverage contribute money towards the group funds just like those who choose to have discounted coverage and those who make enough to be taxed. All of this is to attempt to provide coverage to people like a little boy I met this week. Let’s call him Adam.

Adam was born with cystic fibrosis. This is called a ‘childhood disease’ because people who are born with this genetic condition tend to die in childhood. It is where a defective gene causes mucus and thick sticky gunk to build up in the organs. Ever had bronchitis? Think of life-long bronchitis that just keeps getting worse. Our Children’s Hospital in Columbus is one of the leaders in treating and researching CF.

If you were born with CF in 1960, your parents would rejoice you reached your tenth birthday.

Today, most people with CF reach 37. This is because of new drugs and treatments. There is still no cure, but doctors are working on it.

Doctors are working with Adam. He is on an experimental drug. So far, it has literally stopped the gene from making mucus. As long as he has his medication, it is like he doesn’t have CF. He is a healthy, happy, normally developing boy. If this drug continues to work the way it is now, he will live a full life – live as long as any of us here.

But the drug is $3,000 a month.

Right now, he is a child. His parent’s insurance covers him.

When he is older… what is going to happen to Adam?

You see, insurance companies are not non-profits. They are not out to help you and I. They are out to make money. It is a gamble. You and I and they gamble on who is going to cost the other money. Each month, your premium is actually a bet. You are betting you will need health care. They are betting you will not.

However, just like at a casino, the house always makes money. The house, the insurance company, sets the odds. If you are someone they think will need health care, they’re going to make you pay more in premiums because it is more likely you WILL need care… which means they pay money out.

If you are more likely healthy, then they charge less, because it is less likely you’ll charge them money.

If you clearly are ill… something called a ‘pre-existing condition’… then insurance companies used to just deny coverage.

Have you ever tried to pay for any medical things without insurance coverage?

Now, Adam, he has a pre-existing condition, and an expensive one. Had he been born fifteen years ago… would his parents’ insurance still cover him? Or would that company have denied him? In fifteen years from now… will our public insurance cover him? Will companies with private insurance be allowed to deny him?

Should we revoke the limitations on lifetime maximum payments and pre-existing conditions, does that mean that when Adam becomes an adult… it will be his death sentence as no insurance company helps pay for his life-saving medication?

But some insurance companies are even more insidious than denying coverage to people like Adam. A ‘pre-existing condition’ is ANYTHING that a person has before they are insured with the insurance company.

You know a pre-existing condition?

Life.

Stinks to be alive, you know, because you’re going to get older and get sick and injured and… well, we just don’t cover people who are alive. There’s evidence that the disease of being alive is 100% fatal.

Every woman here? I’m sorry. You were born a female. Pregnancy is expensive. Since you are a woman, your coverage will not only cost more… but may be denied if some of the Senate and House coverage changes occur. It doesn’t matter if you’re past the age of getting pregnant.

A major part of the new plans being debated now are on how much to cost women… and the disabled… and specifically elderly people.

If you are young, healthy, and male… the changes being debated help you out.

If you are older, need medication, and female… the changes mean you, like Adam, may be looking at the end of your health care… and the beginning of your rapid decline to death.

Did you know those without health care insurance have a mortality rate 25 to 40% higher than those with health care?

That means, you catch pneumonia and you have insurance. You recover just fine with some antibiotics. Or, you catch pneumonia, and you have no insurance. You can’t afford antibiotics. You have a higher chance of dying compared to the person who has the antibiotics.

Harvard estimated before the national health care, the USA lost someone every 12 minutes due to lack of health care.

Who is this the sacrifice of?

Why are we sacrificing our elderly, our disabled, and our women? Why are we sacrificing our poor, our at-risk, our fellow Americans?

Why, when Jesus tells us to give cups of cold water to strangers, do we argue about denying life-saving medication?

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son for the benefit of the world.

Are we willing to sacrifice far, far less to keep beloved sons like Adam alive?

I pray so.

Amen.

(Sources https://cysticfibrosisnewstoday.com/cystic-fibrosis-life-expectancy/ and http://www.thebalance.com )

 

Dead to Sin, Alive to God

Genesis 21:8-21diseased-or-dead-tree-1
Romans 6:1b-11

In our first reading, Sarah sins and is cruel to Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham weeps, but complies with his wife and sends Hagar and her baby into the wilderness desert with a bit of water. When their water runs out in the desert, Hagar places her baby under a bush and goes away – she can’t bear to watch her son die of thirst. A bow shot away, she cries out to God.

And God hears.

Ishmael, the name of the child, literally means: God Hears. God hears Ishmael’s weeping, and Hagar’s weeping, and gives them a whole well of water. The boy grows up to be a great bowman of the wilderness.

The sins inflicted on Hagar and Ishmael hurt, but God won’t abandon them. God gives them new life. Where the world gave them just a single skin, a thermos, of water – God gives them an entire well. The world hoped they would die, forsaken, in the desert. God made them the start of a great nation.

God brings us to waters in deserts. God brings us to peace where the world thought we’d know only woe. God grants us new life when death surrounds us.

Paul writes about this death and life in our second reading. I hear it sort of like… I have two apple trees at my house. I can cut a branch off of either. Now if I cut a branch off of the East one, the tree keeps a wound where the branch was, but it heals over. A year or two, and you’d never know. It will fill in the hole and produce lots of good fruit. The tree keeps flourishing and growing. It is full of life.

However, if I cut a branch off the West one, the tree not only keeps the wound… it never recovers. It cannot grow a new branch in the place of the old. A year or two, and that absent branch will still be apparent. And there will still be no fruit. This second tree is dead.

This is how I understand what Paul is writing about when he tells us that through baptism we die with Christ and are risen with Christ; we remain dead to sin and alive to God. You see, he is arguing about the worth of baptism. If baptism saves us from sin, or reunites us with God, and we can only be baptized once… what good is baptism? Should we save it until the very end of our lives hoping to reduce the amount of time we have to potentially sin? Or should we be baptized, and then keep on living a life of sin because we’re confident our sins don’t count? Neither, says Paul. Rather – live for Christ.

Whether or not we’re baptized, we’re going to sin. Both of my apple trees are going to lose a branch. Sin – things that separate us, do damage, to ourselves, those around us, or God – just happens whether we intend it or not.

The difference, argues Paul, is whether we are dead or alive.

The dead don’t recover from their sins. They spurn God’s assistance and sit in bitterness, not producing any good fruit. Each sin separates, destroys, more of themselves.

The living recover from their sins. God is there, encouraging new life, new growth, and good fruit. Each sin hurts, but they recover, regrow, and flourish with God.

The baptism we all share is our death to sins’ permanent effect and our birth into the eternal, rejuvenating, life God offers through Christ.

It is our sign and seal, our promise from God, that the strength of sin is broken.

We are always alive in God!

Amen.