Tag: 1 Kings

Knock knock!

John 20:19-31
Acts 2:14a, 22-32

Knock knock!
who’s there?
Luke
Luke who?
Luke through the peephole and find out!

Tsk! But Jesus never knocked! Not even in the book of Luke. Instead – he just jumped right into the scene – but that means we get ever more hilarity as the disciples start screaming ghost! And Jesus stands in the middle of the chaos saying Peace! Peace!

And when the disciples see it really is Jesus, and see he still has the wounds in his side and isn’t a ghost – but really is there – they rejoice! Jesus then gifts them the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes in joy of the Risen Lord!

Far too often, we forget to laugh – forget to take ourselves lightly – forget that the Bible tells us that just as there is time for sorrow, there is also a time to laugh.

Now is the time for laughter!

Rev. Lois Harder said, “God delights in our laughter and receives it as an act of worship. [We continue] the Easter story. We’re celebrating the greatest practical joke of all time: God overturned death. God, in fact, had the last laugh over death.”

Is it any wonder why Peter stands and proclaims his heart is glad, and his tongue rejoices, and his flesh lives in hope? “God will not abandon my soul to Hell! God has made me filled me with the Joy of the Spirit!”

The joy that Jesus is raised up, love is stronger than all powers, and we are now an Easter people!

Hallelujah!

Think about the upside down world Jesus introduced us to….

Jesus told us of workers who were given full day pays for minutes of work, stewards who were successful cheats, wasteful sons welcomed like kings, camels going through needles, people not noticing whole planks of wood in their eyes, and wedding banquets at all hours.

Then — Jesus showed us a few loaves becoming many, water turning into wine, calming the seas, walking on water, healing the sick, curing blindness and lameness, and literally raising people from the dead.

And Jesus showed us what the world could be – welcoming in the strangers, the sinners, the outcasts, the misunderstood, the feared. The woman at the well. The Good Samaritan. The woman who the town wanted to stone. The boy with schizophrenia. The countless multitudes who Jesus taught us to stop labeling by their conditions and start labeling Beloved Children of God. Jesus showed us to love and converse with all people as equals.

The reality of God’s reign is chaos compared to what we know! It is a world all turned around so that the least are lifted up and the greatest are pushed down. A world where those who don’t labor are still fed; and those who ‘fit in’ with the world are actually the ones who need to change.

Rev. H.A. Williams’ in his book Tensions writes, “[It is] No wonder the Pharisees, who seem to have been always wholly serious, had to have Jesus put down. He couldn’t be allowed to go on indefinitely standing everything on its head and making their piety look ridiculous. Why, in the end, they might even laugh themselves, and that would be the ultimate catastrophe.

“…but Eternity had the last laugh after all. Here are Caiaphas and all his crowd, Pilate and Herod and all theirs, sitting complacently in a state of grave and dignified self-congratulation. They have done their duty and justified the authority vested in them by efficiently disposing once and for all of a dangerous fool. He is safely dead. And with solemn calm again restored, they can concentrate once more on the really serious matters to which their lives are dedicated.

“But behind their backs, without them having the slightest inkling of what is going on, the fool has popped up again like a Jack-in-the-box and is dancing about even more vigorously than before and even more compellingly. People here, there and everywhere are falling under his spell…

“If that isn’t funny, nothing is. It (the resurrection) is the supreme, the final, the ultimate joke. And since laughter, although not irresistible is none the less highly contagious, perhaps the brass hats themselves will in time catch the disease, turn around, see the joke, and then laugh with the rest of creation because the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

What a beautiful, beautiful reign it is!

Alright! Time for a joke break! Got one to share? If not… there should be one in your bulletin…

[jokes]

Ready for a few from our Bible? Listen to 2 Chronicles 21:20 NIV: It reads: “Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.”

Guess we know what people thought of Jehoram’s leadership skills!

In … Elijah and the priests of Baal are in a competition to see whose God will light up their own altar. They wait and wait and wait on Baal. Elijah gets tired of the waiting and in 1 Kings 18:27 we have this line, “About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Your god might be sitting on the porcelain throne. You best shout louder! Yes, we have a potty joke in the Bible. This is the cleanest of several.

There’s a ton of sex jokes too – but you’ll have to ask me about those after the sermon!

And we have funny stories… which are meant to be funny!

When God comes to Abram and Sarai to say they – at 99 and 100 – are going to have a son, Abram – whose name means ‘Father’ – doesn’t understand and Sarai laughs. And their son’s name? Isaac – which means, He Laughs.

The entire book of Jonah is rolling in puns and humor! For example: Go to Nineveh, Jonah, and warn them. Jonah refuses. Runs away. And so a storm hits his boat. And his boat mates ask ‘Who made their god mad?!’ So Jonah is tossed overboard. He’s happy! He’ll escape God’s mission to Nineveh in death! But a big fish swallows him and spits him out back on the route to Nineveh. The story goes on and on like this with Jonah attempting to escape his mission to save a city with just his words and God refusing to let Jonah kill himself!

So!

Knock knock?
Who’s there?
Babylon.
Babylon who?
Babble on, I’ve stopped listening.

Means it’s time for our take home message: Psalm 17:22 “A joyful heart is good medicine.”

Let us laugh with holy humor! Let us rejoice in our Risen King!

Like Father’s Voice

orlando1 Kings 19:1-15a
Galatians 3:23-29

All over the world, in all religions, people seek messages from the Divine to humanity. Where birds fly, how many times a cat licks her paw, meteors and shooting stars; the birth of a boy or girl; the outcome of a war or a sports game. We want to find evidence of God acting in our world and lives.

You know of the Orlando tragedies – of death after death. Because the terrorist attack was at a gay night club, there are Christian pastors saying this was God’s will, God’s punishment, on the men and women for being gay.

We have heard this rhetoric before. Why was New Orleans swamped and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina? Because of Mardi Gras. God chose to punish the sinful city.

Why did 9-11 happen? Because God chose to punish the sinful city of New York.

Name any catastrophe, any murder, any horror and somebody somewhere will be saying this terror was the will of God.

Our scripture, however, reads: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him,”

God wasn’t the hurricane and tornado; God wasn’t the earthquake and wildfire. God isn’t violence and harm and hate and hurt. God didn’t murder the priests in Elijah’s day. Didn’t scheme to raise Elijah as a prophet by destroying all the others. No. God, we must insist, is love. God is good. God is the sheer silence, the still small voice, the God who comes to Elijah and gives him food and drink. The God who hears Elijah’s prayers and responds powerfully. It’s God who is present.

Evils happen. Evils – where life is lost senselessly, where heartache and pain seem endless. God isn’t the evil.

God is in the voices and in the silences responding to evil. God is the voices saying, Let me help you. Let me bring you food. Let me bring you water. Let me pray with you. God is in the silences – the family and friends and strangers going to vigils, writing sympathy cards, and being shoulders to cry on.

When Elijah comes to the mountain top, God asks Elijah again and again – why are you HERE. Why HERE? And Elijah tells God – God! Your people have forgotten your ways. They’ve destroyed your places of worship. They’re murdered your priests! Doesn’t God already know this? Wouldn’t God already be wholly aware? Elijah isn’t there telling God some news. God isn’t remote. God is present.

No, Elijah is really saying: God. I’m scared. They want me dead. I’m alone.

And God’s answer is — no, you’re not alone. A peace beyond understanding, a supernatural silence, goes with you wherever you go. This peace is me, God. Yes, you’re scared. But I am with you. Yes, your enemies want you dead. But I prepare a feast before them and anoint you with oil – for the valley filled with the shadows, the threats, of death don’t scare me. I am God. I am with you.

Then God tells Elijah to go right back into the valley. Tells him to go right back to the Israelites who have forsaken, forgotten, God. Go back. And why?!

Because God isn’t a wildfire, earthquake, or tornado. God is a Word, a voice, a silence, a verb, a deed – God is a presense. And God sends Elijah back so that those who don’t know God will come to know God through Elijah.

God isn’t a terrorist, isn’t out to send hurricanes, or level cities. God didn’t murder the men and women of the Pulse Night Club. Because, God isn’t some disciplinarian, writes John. God isn’t a temperamental father waiting to strike you down if you mess up. No – God is our LOVING parent. God is like a LOVING dad; or LOVING mother, grandma, grandma — a caretaker who wants to wipe away tears and be present with us.

If God was a disciplinarian who sent out disasters, terrorists, and death to every person who sinned… who among us would be here today?

Jesus asked the same: who among you is without sin? You may be the first to judge.

Yes, there will be a judgment, a time, when God directs us to face our hearts and minds and deeds. But that is in God’s hands and on God’s time schedule. As Jesus said, not even the angels know when.

What we do know is to call ourselves Christian, we cannot be casting stones. To call ourselves Christian, we cannot be claiming God is punishing this sinner but not that sinner. To call ourselves Christian, we have to obey the Greatest Commandment: to LOVE God, and to LOVE each other.

LOVE, we have been commanded. Not JUDGE. Love.

Because, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” There is no sinner or non-sinner. There are simply children of God, robed in Christ.

Elijah is sent back – to people who want him dead – to spread the message of God.

We are sent from our churches, our homes, our comfort places – to people of all walks of life – to spread the message of God.

The message of acceptance and love.

This Father’s Day there are at least 49 fathers missing children who were murdered last week. There is a father missing a toddler. There is a father missing a daughter. Since Pulse happened, a 125 more shootings in the US have occurred — most 1 on 1 — but 125 dead by guns. All around the world fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandparents, lovers, siblings, friends, and children are weeping.

We are sent.

We are sent to carry God’s presence into the world. We are sent to love.

We pray to God as Father, as Jesus did. So we often think of God as Father. But if our earthly role model of father has a raging voice as loud as a hurricane, and a temper as hot as wildfire, if he split rocks and threw things and was violent… we should be very careful not to confuse our Heavenly Father with our Earthly one. For our Heavenly Father wasn’t any of these things… but was the tender voice, the guide, the caretaker.

Your earthly caretaker – whomever he or she is – they speak with a voice like God.

You – child of God, heirs to the promise of God’s abiding care and presence – you are an earthly caretaker. It’s your job to be the voice and be the presence of God – for many won’t make the trip to the mountain, or church, or Bible. So it’s your job to live the Christian message. Your job to be the Christian message. Your job to be love when there is so much hate.

May your presence, love, and voice be a counter to the hate the world likes to think Christians spew. Amen.

Grace of God

divine-chocolates-300x3001 Kings 21:1-21a
Luke 7:36-8:3
We know this story: someone rich goes on vacation to the countryside and they see something they just HAVE to HAVE. A handmade quilt, an antique tractor, a piece of land. So they offer money. “My dog loves that quilt, give it to me! How much?” “My house will look perfect in that soy field! How much?” When their money is turned down, because of values other than money, the rich person is incensed. Angry. Is my money not good enough?!

King Ahab today sees the vineyard – a sign of God – that Naboth owns. It is growing near Ahab’s vacation house. Ahab tells Naboth to sell it to him so Ahab can tear up the vineyard – the sign of God – and plant a vegetable garden – which in the bible tends to symbolize Egypt. Naboth hears Ahab say: “Naboth! Sell me the land God gave you, and told you not to sell, so I can uproot God and plant Egypt.”

No amount of money is worth this to Naboth. He sticks to his values – and he values God more than money.

Ahab can’t understand. He rules the Jews. He used to BE Jewish before he married Jezebel and began to follow Baal. But he’s forgotten there are things in life more important than money, land, wealth.

He sulks at home and obsesses over what he’s been denied. Jezebel sees her husband acting like this, and she tells him to king-up! He is the king! Act like it! By act like it, she means… use your wealth and power to do what you want anyways. So we read how she arranged to bring false charges against Naboth, and got Naboth killed on a lie. She then gave the vineyard to her husband.

Ahab doesn’t ask questions! He doesn’t ask how Jezebel got the land. He doesn’t WANT to know. He just wants the land, and now he has it. The dirty little behind the scenes stuff, done in his own name, he doesn’t want to face.

I don’t want to face the deeds done in my name to get me chocolate.

Its so tasty, right? And right nearby – a part of holidays. I’m aware there are things called “free trade chocolate” but I really don’t want to know the dirty behind the scenes stuff. I’d rather eat my Hershey’s bar and be happy. Just like Ahab would rather enjoy his vegetable garden and be happy.

But, Ahab is accused of his crime by the prophet of God. Accused of doing evil; and angering God… because Ahab turned a blind eye for his own self-comfort and security.

I am doing evil, and angering God, when I turn a blind eye to where my food comes from. When I accept there might be bad things in the making of it, but I don’t look – because I don’t want to know. I am abusing my wealth, my position, my status to ignore the plight of those who make my food.

See, chocolate is grown in tropical areas like West Africa.

“In Western Africa, cocoa is a commodity crop grown primarily for export; 60% of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from its cocoa. As the chocolate industry has grown over the years, so has the demand for cheap cocoa. On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 per day, an income below the poverty line. As a result, they often resort to the use of child labor to keep their prices competitive.

The children of Western Africa are surrounded by intense poverty, and most begin working at a young age to help support their families. Some children end up on the cocoa farms because they need work and traffickers tell them that the job pays well. Other children are “sold” to traffickers or farm owners by their own relatives… Often, traffickers abduct the young children from small villages in neighboring African countries… Once they have been taken to the cocoa farms, the children may not see their families for years, if ever.

Most of the children laboring on cocoa farms are between the ages of 12 and 16, but reporters have found children as young as 5. In addition, 40% of these children are girls, and some stay for a few months, while others end up working on the cocoa farms through adulthood.

A child’s workday typically begins at six in the morning and ends in the evening. Some of the children use chainsaws to clear the forests. Other children climb the cocoa trees to cut bean pods using a machete. Once they cut the bean pods from the trees, the children pack the pods into sacks that weigh more than 100 pounds when full and drag them through the forest. Aly Diabate, a former cocoa slave, said, “Some of the bags were taller than me. It took two people to put the bag on my head. And when you didn’t hurry, you were beaten.”

Holding a single large pod in one hand, each child has to strike the pod with a machete and pry it open with the tip of the blade to expose the cocoa beans. Every strike of the machete has the potential to slice a child’s flesh. The majority of children have scars on their hands, arms, legs or shoulders from the machetes.

In addition to the hazards of using machetes, children are also exposed to agricultural chemicals on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Tropical regions such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast consistently deal with prolific insect populations and choose to spray the pods with large amounts of industrial chemicals. In Ghana, children as young as 10 spray the pods with these toxins without wearing protective clothing.

The farm owners using child labor usually provide the children with the cheapest food available, such as corn paste and bananas. In some cases, the children sleep on wooden planks in small windowless buildings with no access to clean water or sanitary bathrooms. Forget about school. Depriving these children of an education has many short-term and long-term effects. Without an education, the children of the cocoa farms have little hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty.” (source: http://www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/)

Big name companies: Hershey’s, Mars, and Nestlé, refuse to look into this issue. The cheap cocoa, the cheap chocolate, the wealth is more important. They work as Jezebel — handling the dirty work, the childhood slavery — so that people like me can act like Ahab, and reap the benefit without the guilt.

But just as God still found Ahab guilty for stealing from Naboth… I know God finds me guilty for stealing from these children.

What is there to do? For awhile, I honestly didn’t know about this Sin. And now that I do know – what now?

Our second reading gives us the answer: fall on the mercy, the grace, of God. Confess the sins, plead for forgiveness, and stop the sinning to the best of our ability.

I confess I have supported childhood slavery in the form of cheap chocolate. I pray God forgives me. I will educate myself, learn more, and purchase from companies that use Fair Trade policies, or policies against childhood labor. Chocolate like Divine, Honest, Newman’s Own, even Kroger brand have these policies. ALDI’s, Starbucks, and the makers of Girl Scout cookies are beginning to take steps. We speak with our money: what we purchase. We can choose to encourage these companies, these steps, towards chocolate that comes without the slavery of children.

It means more expensive chocolate.

But, it means a living wage for the workers.

And it means valuing God more than cash.

And I’m still going to end up eating some chocolate that was made with children slaves. This is because I’m stuck in a world full of Sin – Sin, harms against each other and God – are embedded into our systems. We just don’t know all the wrongs occurring, and so participate in them unknowingly.

This is why we pray God forgive us for the sins we commit without knowing. And forgive us for the sins we commit we know we’ve done.

This is why we can’t afford to be Simon, and consider ourselves above the need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. May we be the unnamed woman, at the feet of Jesus, praying for forgiveness, hearing the sweet words: Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.

Amen.

Gorgeous Compassion

elijah1 Kings 17:8-24
Luke 7:11-17

Two men, separated by hundreds of years, are walking into a city where they come across a widow. She is destitute because men are the breadwinners in that day and age. We don’t know why her brothers or father haven’t taken her in – perhaps they are dead too. We know her husband is dead. And now, her son – her only child, maybe her only living relative – and her only hope of a future – is dead. She has loss something more precious to her than her life: she has lost her child.

Both men, although separated by hundreds of years, are homeless wanderers who the local government is NOT happy with. Both men have been proclaiming God’s word, God’s Good message for the poor and sorrowful. God’s hard message for those who are comfortable because of resting on the labor of the poor and sorrowful. Both men are in trouble for rocking the boat and challenging the world and the way it is.

Elijah, the first man, we know as one of the greatest prophets and men of God. The Bible says he was sent to proclaim the coming of the Lord. Elijah was the only priest faithful to God left in Israel under King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. His great works, and great words he heard from God, echo through the centuries to our second man: Jesus.

People keep comparing Jesus to Elijah, and wondering: has Elijah returned? For both men are doing the great work of God and speaking the great wisdom of God.

Today, we hear that echo most strongly: Elijah to Jesus. Almost word for word, instance for instance, the stories are the same. Elijah takes up the poor widow’s only son. He is full of compassion and feels the woman’s sorrow. He cries. He prays for God to heal the boy. God answers Elijah’s prayer and the boy comes back to life. At this miraculous sign, the foreign woman proclaims Elijah is truly a man of God.

Jesus touches the poor widow’s only son. He is full of compassion, and sorrow. He encourages her not to weep. Then he commands the dead man to get up. The power of God IN Jesus causes the man to come back to life. At this miraculous sign, the Jews and the foreigners around Jesus proclaim a great prophet is here and God is looking out for us.

In both cases, God works a miracle for someone in the margins, in the outcast group. In both cases, the sign of God’s love is given to people who don’t follow God. Nain is a Gentile town. Sidion is the home area of Jezebel and the god Baal. In both cases, the generous compassion of God and God’s people knows no limits.

The limits we set up: citizen or non-citizen; Christian or non-Christian; sinner or non-sinner…. these limits, God ignores. God’s gracious love again and again pours out on all of God’s people: and God’s people are all of us — every single soul. We’re told God’s Spirit is like the wind: it comes from no where we can point and it goes wherever it will. The Spirit of God blows across the world bringing generous compassion to all people. Moving our hearts to empathize, to sympathize, to react with emotion to other’s plights. God’s Spirit urges us to weep with the sorrowful and rejoice with the joyful. Urges us to pour our generous compassion on all we meet — ignoring whatever categories or limits are set up — because that generous compassion is from God.

God so loves us that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love.

God so loves us – why not we love one another?

It’s a Miracle?!

1 Kings 18:20-39
Luke 7:1-10miracles

It’s a miracle, right? As in something we cannot explain – something that goes against our understanding of natural or scientific laws – something that defies our mind.

YHWH lights the altar on fire, while Baal does not.

The sick man is cured without Jesus even seeing him.

What other great miracles can you think of happening in the Bible or throughout time?

… parting of the red sea; the plagues on Egypt; Jesus’ resurrection; feeding of the thousands; walking on water…

Now a days, there are holy places where people go to pray for curing. Chimayo is full of crutches where people have touched the dirt on the chapel floor and been cured. There are miracle workers – priests and pastors who lay on hands and bring healing to the desperate.

And then there are people, some in this very room, who have had a prayer answered, witnessed a miracle, and they don’t know how to explain it. The experience lies cherished on their hearts like Mary kept her’s, or whispered to just a few, like the disciples kept their’s.

Miracles, right? Unexplainable.

Not everyone agrees. Not in the least.

Professor John Littlewood said a miracle — something so rare we can’t process it with our minds — is actually super common. It has to due with very large numbers. So let’s say the odds of any particular rare thing happening to you is 1 in a million. Say you witness one thing a second for the 16 hours you are up a day. Sometime, in the next 35 days, the 1 in a million chance will happen.

How rare is 1 in a million?

About the odds of being crushed by a meteor, or hit by lightening. That is 1:700,000. We tend to know someone hit by lightening, but a meteor? Same odds. Just shy of 1 in a million chances.

Littlewood uses math to predict that once among any 35 days we happen to experience something that is one in a million. So that, everyone, about every month and a half, has a weird coincidence, event, or oddity. It just is because of rare odds and big, big numbers. The most outrageous things are actually common!

So, if four million people visit Chimayo a year, at least four are going to be spontaneous cured there just because there’s a 1 in a million chance for them to be cured there, or anywhere, that year. Strange, strange things happen all the time. We just get to see 1:1millionith of it. So we often don’t notice.

For people like Thomas Jefferson and John Littlewood, there are no miracles. Jefferson added, if there ever was a miracle, we couldn’t ‘prove’ it anyways, because miracles, as he understood them, go against nature. So they can’t be measured or proven or recorded.

Take this Baal case for example. On the surface, it looks like the impossible has happened: Elijah has told the priests of Baal to call upon their god to make the offering for Baal ignite. Nothing happened all day long. Elijah even teased them and mocked Baal — but nothing happened. Then Elijah made an altar for YHWH, he even drenched it, and when YHWH was called upon, the entire thing went up in an inferno so that even the liquid in the ditch around the altar caught fire. A miracle, right?

… Or an accelerant. Kerosene and gasoline sure look like water. But boy oh boy do they catch fire way better than water. Oil wouldn’t have fooled anyone back then, but kerosene sure would have.

Maybe God lit the altar on fire. Or maybe Elijah pulled a fast one.

Now, Jesus’ story today sounds like a miracle too, right? There is a man so, so sick he is near death. His non-Jewish master goes to Jewish elders and asked them to talk to Jesus on his behalf for the servant. As Jesus goes, the master sent friends this time to tell Jesus — please don’t bother coming in. I’m not worthy. Just speak and my servant will be healed.” Jesus is amazed at the faith. People go back to the house and find the servant is just fine. It’s a miracle!

Or is it?

… What if they guy was just faking being deadly ill?

Or, what if the master wanted to prove Jesus wouldn’t help non-Jews like himself: a centurion. A commander of a hundred men who occupy the Jewish country. So he told his Jewish friends a sob story about his slave being ill. His friends went and told Jesus. Then the master hears THE Messiah is coming to HIS house where HIS lie is written all over the slave who is perfectly fine — and that Jesus really WILL help all, Jews and non-Jews alike — the master backs out of his lie. People go and check on the slave and find that sure enough — he’s perfectly fine! It’s a miracle!

Many of the miracles of the Bible can be explained. The Israelites followed smoke by day and fire by night? They were walking towards a volcano. Jesus was resurrected? His body was stolen and people worked in his name. Mary was a virgin? Virgin at the time was the same word for any girl who wasn’t married. Jericho’s walls fell with the sound of a trumpet? Yes. And we use sound today to crush rocks still.

And, many things we do today would seem miraculous back then, but we don’t call them miracles. Cell phones – little rocks we can use to speak with each other all over the world. Electricity – harnessing the power of God’s storms to keep our meat cold year around. Penicillin – making what is rotten – mold – cure what is rotting, our bodies. But we can explain how these things work. Or if we can’t, we know someone can. Since we can explain them, we often exclude God from them.

If we can explain the miracles happening today and that makes them common… does that mean if we can explain the miracles of the Bible, they no longer are worth anything?

As soon as some event is explainable… does it lose all value? Is God no longer present in it?

Jesus warns us that others—fake prophets— can do miracles. John warns us that these miracles can lead us astray.

The miracles themselves are worthless, useless, no good if they simply are the end of the event.

Hear me out: it was the end of the event for those who saw the slave alive and fine, and they went back home with a shrug. It was the end of the event for the people at the altars who said, “That was interesting. Let’s find some more entertainment.” and they sought a new prophet or new gathering.

Miracles, in the Bible, are signs. And usually are even called signs and not miracles! Signs tell you something. Signs give you information. Signs point you somewhere, tell you to do something, change your actions.

Jesus said his miracles were signs of God’s in breaking reign of the Earth.

Elijah said the altar miracle was sign Baal is a false god and YHWH the true god.

It doesn’t matter if we can explain them or not: what matters is if we stop to read the sign rather than just observing and/or dismissing the event.

Knowing how something works doesn’t make it stop being a miracle.

Something being common doesn’t make it stop being a miracle.

A miracle is ONLY no longer a miracle when it doesn’t work as a sign: when it doesn’t pass on information, point, direct us towards God.

We frequently say the birth of children is a miracle. This isn’t because we can’t explain where children come from; nor is it because children are rare. Instead, seeing a little baby is a sign: it points us towards the promise of rebirth, of life, of love, of family, of God. It is a miracle because children are signs of God’s presence with us.

What about miraculous, beautiful sunsets? The sun sets EVERY night! It isn’t a common event at ALL. Nor is it hard to understand how it happens — the world turns, and we are now in the shadow of the round world at nighttime while the sun shines on the other side of the world. But when that sunset is a sign: a sign of God’s creativity, of God’s love, of God’s majesty, of God’s created world… then that sunset is a miracle.

In hospitals, I’ve heard doctors and nurses whisper about miracles. Miracles are that which they cannot explain — why? Because it makes them look outside of text books, outside of knowledge. The healing they witnessed worked like a sign, pointing them beyond.

But it doesn’t have to be only that which can’t be explained. Any and every thing that points us towards God is a miracle.

We are blessed, drenched, with small signs and big signs, rare signs and commons signs, personal signs and public signs of God — each and every one of them is a miracle each time they make us pause and focus, believe, and testify in God.

Watch this week! Watch this month! The signs of God are all about you! Let them be miracles! Amen.

Do we have enough to share?

1 Kings 17:8-16

Mark 12:38-44

Ask and ye shall receive!
Give and it will be given back to you!
Plant a seed and watch your blessings grow!
There are laws of faith called a blessing pact, where God returns your donations to you sevenfold!
Positively confess what you want and God will give it to his faithful!
Speak the word of faith and turn your one-dollar bills into twenty-dollar bills!
Let us raise our seeds over our heads as we pray aloud what God will give us in return for our payment.

Such things have been spoken by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, and Bruce Wilkinson. You may also know the names Joyce Meyer, Paula White, Benny Hinn, or Eddie Long.

They preach a gospel known as Prosperity Theology. They preach the key to wealth is God. With enough faith, with enough gifts to the church to demonstrate this faith, God will gift in return for your financial contribution cures from cancer, give you economic wealth, send true love, or give you anything else the heart desires.

And yes, there are scriptures that support this thinking.

In Jesus’ time, this same thinking was taught in the synagogues and temple. Why is John Doe rich? Because God favors him. God gave him that money. Why is Bob So-and-So poor? Because he displeased God, and God cursed him.

In the book of Job, Job’s friends tell him the same thing. Clearly you lost God’s favor, clearly you are cursed, because you must have cursed God. If you were a good person, if you worked harder, if you had better morals, you wouldn’t be so poor.

Yet Job is adamant he never did a thing wrong against God and yet Job lost everything… We, the readers, know Job is telling the truth.

… and the book of Ecclesiastes… “The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.” Ecclesiastes says where wealth and poverty land is due to time and chance… it is meaningless, senseless, and not based on the moral worth of a person.

Against the prosperity gospel’s message that wealth is a sigh of God’s favor is the entire New Testament about Jesus, the very incarnation of God, who is born poor, lives poor, and dies poor. And his disciples, who he told to become poor. And Paul, who suffered and suffered and died… imprisoned and poor.

That sweet easy life Prosperity Gospel preachers teach us is not the life Jesus demonstrates. The bible never says an easy life can be earned, and in fact says being Christian is choosing a narrow way — a way not wide and comfortable. But a tight, hard, ragged path. The Bible says Jesus died to make us one, atone us, with God. Died to have a victory over death… it never says he died to take away poverty and make us rich.

In fact, Jesus said the poor will always be.

Today, we are given two readings… similar readings… both about widows who believe, who have faith in God, and who give up all they own. One from the old testament, and one from the new…

In 1 Kings, there is a great drought going on. Years without rain. Israel says it is because Kind Ahab has turned to worship Baal with his wife Jezebel. Their Canaanite neighbors say it is because Baal has died, but will be resurrected eventually. The prophet Elijah has said the rain will return when the Israelites return to the God of Abraham.

But that’s a very unpopular message. It’s against the king.

So Elijah is hiding out in a wadi, a wet ravine. Here, God has been sending him food from ravens. Ravens are considered really unclean to the Israelites. But these unclean birds are doing God’s will and sustaining Elijah. However, eventually, even the wadi goes dry. So Elijah travels on when he hears the word of God.

God tells him to ask an unclean, destitute widow from the neighboring capital city for food. It’s like the ravens weren’t bad enough — now Elijah has to go stoop to the level of asking unclean women, a poor woman, who worships Baal, to share her food.

Are you ready to ask for the only piece of moldy bread from the unwashed hand of a homeless drug dealer who worships Satan?

This is kind of what God asks of Elijah. Asks him to identify with this level of humbleness with other humans.

And Elijah is this faithful.

The widow, when she hears the stranger’s request, says she doesn’t have enough food to bake bread. In fact, she and her son are starving. When they finish this last cake of corn meal, she says there is no more food and they will die. The famine from the drought will be the end of her and her child.

Elijah hears the word of God again, who promises the corn meal and the oil the widow has will not run out until God — not Baal — makes it rain. And God — not Baal — will be feeding Elijah, the widow, and her son.

The woman strangely agrees. Perhaps she thought she has nothing left to lose. She and her son are going to die, what does it matter if she risks sharing their last tiny meal with a stranger? This foreign man and his foreign god at least offer a little hope that this meal will not be their last.

When Elijah takes a risk, and the woman takes a risk, the miracle God promises occurs, and the two adults and little boy survive the famine. Surely this is evidence supporting the Prosperity Gospel, right? Enough risk, enough faith, and things will always turn out alright.

… but the woman never confesses she believes in God. She never converts. She actually curses Elijah and our god later, and still! Still God blesses her by resurrecting her son when Elijah prays for such. This woman begins as a worshipper of Baal and ends as a worshipper of Baal… yet God’s blessing comes to her.

God’s love doesn’t seem to be limited to only the faithful.

Our second widow story comes from Mark. In this reading, Jesus warns his disciples against rich people who make huge donations to charity, even as they make their riches and profit off of the very people the charity helps. It’s a bit like cigarette companies donating money to a hospital for a new lung cancer wing (complete with their logo and complementary cigarettes in each patient take-home bag.) Or like Wal-Mart offering free “how to apply for food stamps” programs to its employees rather than offering a living wage or full-time hours with benefits. Or a big Prosperity Gospel church educating how to become financially stable while saying one can only be financially wealthy if a person buys their expensive holy oil or makes big donations to the church.

The good deed — donating to a hospital, offering education, ministering — is over shadowed by the fact the good deed wouldn’t be as desperately needed if the deed doer wasn’t MAKING or making worse the bad situation these charity cases are in!

In the story, Jesus is watching people come and leave coins in a donation box at the temple. People he has chastised, the wealthy, come and leave a large sum of coins… but what they leave is only some of what they own. They give a percentage of the money they have gained.

Then a widow, a person with no income, and dependent on charity to survive, comes and leaves all she has. She trusts God, trusts the temple, and now is completely broke.

Jesus points her out to his disciples. She has given more than everyone else. We understand she has given 100% while the others gave .05% or at max, 10%…. even though the rich gave more money, what they gave is a less percentage of what they own compared to the widow.

But what is Jesus meant even more in his comment than simple percentage math?

What if he meant this woman has given all her hopes and dreams to the temple? She is all in. She feels compelled to give the last money to feed herself and her children to the church.

And yet, nearby, stands the affluent church and community leaders, who give a little portion of their income, and reap lots of praise. You know — get their name on the wall for their contribution and get on TV where they say ‘I am wealthy because I am faithful to God!’

Is their .05% faithful more faithful than the widow’s 100%?

Why is she still poor if wealth is a matter of God’s faithfulness?

Where did the wealth of the scribes and religious leaders come from? Work, yes… but also inheritance, and rich relatives, luck of birth and chance good deals, but also donations and gifts. The money given to the temple. And the assets they ‘devoured’ from the widows, the congregation members, who trusted them to guide their lives.

Widows needed a man to manage their legal affairs. Many of us need someone to help us with finances. And just as it was in Jesus’ time, so it is today – some people get rich by ripping off, stealing from, the elderly. Tricking the average person. Some claim to be good hearted and helpful even as they help themselves to eating up all the savings of an duped man or woman.

I see this happening today! Some Prosperity Gospel churches preach that if a person simply gives enough to God through the church, ANYTHING that person prays for will happen. It just takes faith! If your cancer doesn’t go away, if your debt doesn’t go away, if true love doesn’t appear… it isn’t because God or the church have failed you, it is because you haven’t demonstrated enough faith. Give more. Believe more. Pray more. Buy more.

Recently, I read about a woman who was dying of cancer. She trusted so much in the messages of Prosperity Gospel that she gave all her income, went into great debt, praying and trying to demonstrate her faith that God would cure her. She even began to skip chemo treatments to maintain her big donations. Her daughter said, “Right up to the end, mom was writing in her diary how she knew God would cure her if she could just give a few more dollars and believe a bit more.”

… No.

No.

God’s favor cannot be bought!

Richness and poverty are not from blessings and curses.

We follow the god who was born in a barn to an unwed mother, raised by a day laborer step-dad, lived in a tiny no-horse town in an impoverished occupied Middle Eastern country. We follow a god who had no place to rest his head, who was cursed, spat on, betrayed. A god who went through a kangaroo court and was dealt injustice, and then killed through capital punishment in a public and brutal way.

Our God never promised us a rose garden. Our God promises us companionship in the awfulness of life and in the beauty of life. Our God promises us that one day, God God’s self will dry our tears and feast with us. Our God promises us that we and God together can make this world a better place.

We Christians are given an incredible responsibility – we don’t just have to donate to the poor, and to our churches, and to one another… for there will always be need. No — we have to destroy the systems that cause poverty, destroy the churches that harm people, and sit in the dirt with each other when the storms hit. We have to speak truth to power, even when that makes us unpopular. We have to protest injustices even when that means we have to give up the power those injustices give us. We have to be like Christ, be like Jesus… and not take the easy route, the easy explanation, for wealth inequality.

Do we have enough to give? It depends on who you ask and why they are giving. If you’re giving to earn God’s blessing — stop. You already have the blessing of God’s love. If you’re giving to help others with no expectation of return — continue. Such is how to live Christian. If you are giving out of your wealth to be seen — stop. You are harming God’s work. If you are giving out of your heart for the mission of God — continue. Whatever you give large or small God will use. — and money is just one type of gift. The most important gift you can give at all if the gift of a loving life.

In the words of Amy Pectol, the wealthy in the past and those of today “actually give less than those who have middle or lower incomes… those with the least continue to give more, by percentage of their resources, than the wealthy! Jesus is NOT endorsing this behavior, but blatantly naming it for what it is… and challenging US to see the structures that allows this to continue. [So!] What can WE DO to make society and… our faith communities more equitable? Why do we let this continue to happen such that the poor give until it hurts and the wealthy seem to so often benefit from this self-defeat of the impoverished?”

Go out. Be bold. Speak truth. Live like Christ. Throw some money changers and other hypocrites out. Let’s make a world where no one is down to their last two pennies while others sit on mounds of gold. Let’s make the kindom of God now and no one has too much or too little! Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio, 11-8-15

House Sparrows

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11

Psalm 84

Great big monuments – monuments like the Statue of Liberty, like the Eiffel Tower, like Stonehenge and the Sydney Opera House- all share one big woe…

Birds.

Sparrows.

Like the little house sparrows who like to live in each and every little crevasse they can fit into within our own homes. I’ve got one family in a nest in a little nook between my chimney and my house; and another in between the beam and the siding of my shed. I can see a nest in the eaves of my neighbor’s porch, and I think there is one in each of the bird houses he’s put up all about his drive.

And still they want more nesting space. One keeps trying to turn a ledge against my window into a nest. There just isn’t enough of a ledge for her.

Today’s scripture is about the magnificence of the first temple. It is a sampling of pages of description. When it was wrote, the people were in exile and so wrote these remembering a fond building that was no longer around. It is a verbal tour of a remembered sacred spot. They wanted to record what an amazing building the temple was, and to keep its memory around.

The psalms about the temple, however, include humorous little insights about temple life. For instance — birds liked to nest in the temple eaves. Nations rise and fall, sacred buildings are built and destroyed – but sparrows continue to nest in eaves.

It doesn’t matter if that eave belongs to the first temple to God… or to a desolate ruin in a war-torn land… respectful or shameful, the birds nest there.

Although it is just a little insight, a small part of our reading, the lines about the sparrows nesting in the temple speak to me about God. Speak to me about who God is and God’s relationship to us.

Sometimes, I think I am a sparrow. In more ways than one.

For instance, some evenings I feel like I’ve felt the whole day flying here and there, to and fro. Like a sparrow, I’ve been busy all day but I don’t have anything to show for it. No stores of food gathered, nothing checked off my to do list, but yet I was busy all day it seems.

I know I landed on a few branches to take a breather just because it was so hectic!

But what did all this rush accomplish?

Other days, I feel like a sparrow seeking a dry spot from a storm. I huddle into this little eave but the wind buffets me here. I shoot over to that little branch and hope it is dryer, but it’s just as wet when I get there. I hide under a bush and cats startle me. I hide in places I thought were safe – like under a car – but it turns out they’re not. I go to people I thought were safe, friends or family – and it turns out they’re not. I’m weary to my bones and I feel like I’m dragging myself place to place but there is no rest.

Where is there safe shelter when it rains?

And some days, I am a sparrow below notice or care. The blue birds get special boxes made for them, the hummingbirds get special feeders made for them. I get chased out of my nests with brooms and angry curses. I get chased away from feeding on grain and feed by barn cats and yappy dogs. The green heron is protected and I am shot for sport. The cedar waxwing is photographed, the oriole praised for his song, and I am called a dull, drab nuisance bird.

Even the pigeon, called by some people a rat with wings, is said to sing prettily with those wings when it flies.

When everyone seems to get preferential treatment but me, I don’t feel special or wanted. Who cares about me? I’m not one in a million, but one OF a billion mes? As common as common can be.

Some days, we are sparrows. Pests. Getting into places we ought not. Rushing. To and fro without getting anything done. Common. Not flashy, not note-worthy, not on TV or YouTube. When we are sparrows – and we are sparrows more often than peaceful doves or proud cardinals I think – When we are sparrows, how does God feel about us? Where do we turn for comfort?

Usually we turn to the Bible for comfort. But it speaks of doves. Praises those rats with wings. It speaks of the dove of the Holy Spirit descending, the dove of peace with the olive branch in her mouth returning to Noah, the doves offered in the temple. But sparrows?

Because some days, I know I’m not a pure white dove. I’m a sparrow – common. I don’t stand out in the least. But I sing nevertheless. I raise my family. I sunbathe and splash in shallow pools. I gather thistle seed and millet. But this makes me common. A pest to some. A welcome song to others. And below the notice of most.

And yet, Jesus notices us.

The word for ‘sparrow,’ or a small bird, in the Bible is used by Jesus to represent the smallest of things. According to some scholars, sparrows were the meat of the poor. Hotdogs. Spam.

Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?” and in Luke, “Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies?” So sparrows are a buy four get one deal! … we have buy one get one on hotdogs all the time. They’re not valuable. Other parts of the bible talk about snaring sparrows, and making them flee – catching and eating the little birds. But no one brags “I caught a sparrow for dinner!” Just like no one brags, “Come over for a Thanksgiving dinner of hotdogs!”

Cheap meat.

In Matthew Jesus continues, “Yet not one of these sparrows fall to the ground outside of your Father’s notice. Even the very hairs on your head are all numbered.” In Luke, Jesus continues, “Yet not one of these sparrows is forgotten by God. Indeed, even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”

You are worth more than many hotdogs, and yet God even notices and cares for that cheap meat, too. God knows how many sparrows there are, and how many hairs are on your head. God knows. God notices. God cares.

Our Psalmist writes how in the temple are sparrows making their nests up in the porch, and in the eaves. The very least of meat, the very least of birds, the most common and not noteworthy are right there, with God. Living right under God’s protection, nesting in a place of honor.

No one and nothing is beneath the notice and care of God.

And the least are the most important to our loving parent.

The least – the ones who are without honor. The ones who keep messing up. The ones who need assistance to get by. The ones who need God’s forgiveness and mercy. God gives them love, welcomes them in, and provides for them the honor and security they don’t have in the normal world.

The normal world is cruel. The person who tries to do good is often burned, hurt, because they chose to follow their morals. The people who lie, cheat, steal, and speak badly about others seem to get ahead.

In the normal world, those who forgive are call weak. Those who do kind deeds are said to be self-righteous, or out to get something. Those who call themselves Christian and go to church are mocked in the public eye. Those who call themselves Christian and go to church and disagree with some of the things other Christians do and say are alienated, isolated, and told they are not true Christians for not being so radical. In the cruel normal world, no good deed goes unpunished… right? And the nice guy finishes last.

But we – we who know the temple of God – we who see the sparrows in the eaves – we know God envisions a new world. God is making, is speaking, is dreaming a new reality. In this to-come world, there is harmony. There is peace. There is justice. Even the lowly sparrow, the cheap meat, the pest, has a place and purpose. Has honor. Is wanted and welcomed. Even the lowly sinner, the one who keeps falling short, the one who society scorns has a place and a purpose. Has honor.

We, here today, are invited to live in this new world NOW. We who call ourselves Christians are standing with the sparrows and the outcasts. We are standing with one foot in the new world. We are dreaming with God and working with God to make the kindom – the land of mutual kinship – NOW. Heaven is not distant, the kingdom of God, the kindom of creation, is not far off in the future: it is now. And the more we live into it, the more we welcome it, the more visible and accessible it is to all people.

We have eternal life – we have life always new, always abundant – we have the promise of rebirth, of life after death and defeats – we have the promise of God’s abiding presence and love. There is no need to be afraid, to be silent, or to hang our heads in shame. Let us praise our God like a sparrow tweets over seed – let us praise God with sheer delight – for our God is love! And in this love, all have a place!

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore Ohio, 8-23-15