Tag: death

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

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

Sermon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slaves do not.

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

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

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

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

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

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

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

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

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

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

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

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

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 armor.jpg
John 6:56-69

I have an issue. I have a fatal disease called life. Someday, it will kill me. Every day, it takes its toll on me and ages me more. Breaks my body down more. And leads me closer to my grave. Whether from TMB, too many birthdays, or another cause, some day, I’m going to die to this fatal disease.

And that issue, my mortality, weighs heavily on me. I do a lot of things to try to ignore it, cheat it, or prevent it.

I prevent it by wearing my seat belt, brushing my teeth, eating healthily.

I cheat my death by ‘fake’ dying… riding rollarcoasters, or watching scary movies, or getting into other situations where I can consider death… but I don’t actually die.

And I ignore my mortality. I get on with my life, enjoy the moment, and don’t think about if I’m wisely spending every tiny little second.

But this fatal condition influences most aspects of my life. It makes me eat, makes me drink, makes me sleep, makes me look both ways when crossing the road… it also makes me fear, and hate and be depressed.

Consider, the EPA is rolling back regulations on coal power plants. This means that about 1000 extra people will die a year due to the carbon particulates in the area. Just 1000, but a whole lot of financial savings. It sounds measly, right?

But that fatal condition tells me that those 1000 people could be, and statistically will be, me. Ohio produces a lot of coal power. We usually have pretty poor breathing air. And an asthmatic like me is really sensitive to what I’m breathing. Is my life worth those dollars saved? It is for most of the USA. But, personally, I’d rather be living. I’m kinda invested in my life and living… more than I am invested in two cents or so cheaper electric.

This makes me depressed. Sad. It makes me anxious because I feel there is little I can do. It makes me fearful of tomorrow, of the very air I breathe. It makes me hate policy makers and cooperations and even my fellow Americans who think this is okay.

My fatal condition leads me to view the world as threatening and scary, and I get full of negative emotions.

The same process of mortality leading to fear and hate and depression is occurring to the Ephesians that Paul writes. They are very mortal. In fact, I am 100% sure every single Ephesian Paul was addressing (and even Paul himself) are now dead. They saw their faith siblings being put on trial, and killed, for being Christian.

And the same is occurring to the disciples Jesus addresses in our reading. They see war and starvation and oppression from Rome and the local powers, everywhere they turn.

All of us are facing our own mortality. Each of us are going to die.

This disease called life has only been put in remission three or four times, and only beaten once, that I’m aware of.

Jesus tells his disciples that if they eat his flesh and drink his blood, this mortality is cured. They are given life eternal. As we spoke about over the last few weeks, Jesus is saying something completely scandalous. First the educated complained about this teaching. And today, we hear Jesus’ own disciples complaining.

“This teaching is difficult! Who can accept it?” It is offensive that Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It sounds sacrilegious. It sounds scandalous. It clearly is not the words of a military king. Now not just the people, or the educated, but Jesus’ own disciples are beginning to second-doubt following this rabbi.

And how can anyone cure mortality? Besides a few, like Elijah, everyone else has died, is buried, and their bones eventually turn to dust. After a few thousand years, that person not only is wholly physically gone… but even the memory of them is gone. How can eating flesh and blood cure death?

Jesus tells them, “You think this is offensive – what if you see me taken up to Heaven? How offended will you be then? What kind of a challenge to your faith will happen then? Think about this: The Spirit gives life. Not flesh.”

In other words, our bodies may be alive, but they don’t have the divine spark of a soul. That soul, that Spirit, is from God. So literally eating Jesus will not give you life. Literally drinking Jesus’ blood won’t give you life. The Holy Spirit gives you life. That Holy Spirit is in the words and teachings of Jesus. There is life and Spirit in the words he speaks.

Without the Spirit, our bread and our grape juice are just that — bread and grape juice. They become a sign of God, a remembrance of Christ, and a uniting sacrament because of the Spirit. In that Spirit, we gather. In that Spirit, we pray. In that Spirit, we respond to God’s invite to the table. In that Spirit, we receive eternal life.

So is communion, the literal bread and drink, necessary and essential for eternal life?

Consider this… as the fatal disease of life progresses, it makes some of us unable to eat and drink. What happens to someone if they cannot take communion any more? If they have a feeding tube, or are allergic to wheat and wheat bread if offered, or are a recovery alcoholic and only wine is offered? What happens if you’re in a service where communion is denied to you?

In all of these cases… are you cut from the vine that is Christ? Are you now denied eternal life?

Absolutely not!

Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

In our denomination, we understand that a person can partake of communion without physically drinking or eating. Sometimes, for any of the reasons mentioned or another, people cannot physically eat the bread and take the cup. But, Spiritually, they partake. Spiritually, they take inside themselves the life, the eternal words, the life-giving bread and ever renewing drink. This is because the flesh, the physical food and physical drink, isn’t what is important about communion. What is important is the Spirit of God uniting everyone, the Holy One of God, our Christ, remembered and presiding over the Table, and our Creating God recreating the world anew through the unity we find in the sacrament.

Jesus is saying that eternal life is not living in heaven in the future… but it is also living fully now. It isn’t waiting for the world to be destroyed, or hastening that destruction so that Christ will come again and save us… eternal life is living the words of God through Christ. It is making Earth the place in which God’s kindom is fully experienced, and the rule of God wholly known – that rule of love and grace and mercy – just like it is in heaven.

Every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray that Earth becomes like Heaven. That the eternal life of Heaven, the rich and fulfilled, the loving and peaceful, the understanding and merciful, the harmonious and whole life of heaven is also lived here. “Let thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Here, Jesus offers the balm of Gilead, the solution to our fatal disease: a well lived life. A Spiritual life. A life that doesn’t end when we die – die to greed, die to fear, die to hate, die from TMB or any other cause – but a life that continues on abundantly now and into heaven. And that complete, healthy, whole life is available for those who eat and drink Christ.

For we are what we eat! When we eat and drink Christ, we become like Christ, we do his words, and we live our lives in the eternal manner.

But death still happens. Fear still happens. Our bodies still break down, and still die. Bread still molds, drink still sours, and the physical passes away. So what are we to do when the fatal dis-ease, fatal – not- at – ease comes and makes us fear the future, hate our siblings, get depressed over the present, or defensive of our self, wealth, and lives?

That is what Paul is writing about.

When we feel threatened, war will not defend us. Swords will not be a comfort. Armor will always have weak spots and gaps. Walls will be circumvented. Every security measure misses something. Home-grown terrorism is a thing that banning people from nations with terrorist active will not prevent. Random acts of violence, random deaths by freak accidents, and even meaningless cruelty happen no matter who you are, where you are, or how Godly and Christian you are.

Evil is real.

Evil happens.

Evil always slips in, somehow.

So Paul reminds us that we’re not fighting enemies of flesh and blood. He reminds us that immigrants and refugees, transients and transsexuals, Muslims, Jews, skin-heads and Anti-fa, Republicans or Democrats and Capitalists or Socialists are not the enemies of Christians. These are people. Humans. Children made in the image of God. Somebody’s little daughter; someone’s beloved son. People with souls.

And people are mixed bags with good qualities and bad qualities all tossed into one body.

No; pointing out a group and labeling every member “My enemy” or “God’s enemy” is not Biblical. We’re not fighting physical people!

Instead, we are fighting systems. Fighting the status quo. Fighting the way things are. Our enemy is the world system that has policies which turn a beloved child into a terrorist. Our enemy is every government order this is cruel and inhumane. Our enemy is poverty. Power inequality. Greed.

Our enemy is the cosmic powers of this present darkness – the spiritual forces of evil. You don’t have to believe in Satan or the devil for there to be evil. Evil – intentional harm – is a cosmic power. A power outside of ourselves that is infused into our current world. A spiritual darkness bred out of our fatal disease of mortality makes us fear, and hate, and do harm to one another. Why are we greedy? Because the more we have, the more secure we are, and the further death feels from us. Why are we cruel? For the same reason. It makes us feel powerful. Like we can cause death on others but no one can cause death on us.

Our enemy is death, and all of the negative and hurtful things we do out of fear of death.

So Paul reminds us that death is defeated. Death has no sting. Death has no victory. Christ has saved us, redeemed us, made us no longer prisoners to all that the fear of death inflicts on us.

When we feel we need more protection, we’re not to pick up more arms and weapons. We’re not to build stronger borders and stronger alarm systems. We’re not to point to specific people and say ‘He is the Anti-Christ!’ or ‘She is pure evil!’ We Christians are to focus on boosting our Spiritual armor… for we are in a spiritual war. A war over the negative, life-stealing emotions that the fear of death inflicts in us.

So Paul writes: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day,” when fear and hate and insecurity invoke the devils and temptations in you to sin. “And having done everything” to be spiritually strong, “to stand firm” in your commitment to love and peace. “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

This is the armor and arms we’re to have – truth, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, righteousness, and the words of God. All of these to be living in peace rather than living in fear.

“ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

Pray for one another! Pray peace for yourselves. Pray peace for your enemies. Pray peace for the world. Pray peace and the only arms and armor we will ever need is the whole armor of God.

Amen.

Nothing is Lost

broken-bread-crumbs2 Kings 4:42-44
John 6:1-21

Lives get shattered. Broken.

And when they’re broken, they are like hard barley bread and crumbs, pieces and flecks go absolutely everywhere.

Tragedies break us. Unexpected, awful, unfathomable things. I remember the feeling of when I was ripped in two. How the world slowed to nothing. How the realization of what had happened – the unspeakable – curled in my stomach. It felt like I was falling. I did fall. It felt like I was unable to breath. I wailed. I kept trying to think and yet my brain was free spinning and unable to pick up any thought for more than a second or two.

Broken.

When Jesus took the bread at the Passover supper with his closest friends, he held it up and broke it. “This is my body, broken for you.”

Shattered. Scattered. Broken.

At a previous Passover, according to John, Jesus sat in the wildness. On a mountain or high hill. As he looked up from praying and resting, he saw the valley becoming full of people. A crowd had followed him. They’d followed the signs and seen all that Jesus was doing for the sick. Rather than staying home and celebrating, or going to the city to visit the Temple and sights, for the holiday these people have utterly left all they know and followed Jesus into the wilderness.

Jesus sees this, and turns to Philip to ask, “Where are WE to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Not – where are they going to eat? Where are they going to sleep? What will shelter them in the heat of the noon sun? How could they be so stupid to come this far unprepared? How did they let themselves get into this mess?

No. Jesus takes responsibility of his flock. WE are going to feed them. But how? WE are going to care for them. But how?

This is not asking them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Jesus sees they don’t even have those. These are the desperate. The forsaken. The leftovers of society.

The “undesirables.”

But WE are going to welcome, and care, for them.

Philip looks at the mass of crowd and is bewildered, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” We don’t have money to even properly feed ourselves – we’ve been living on charity. How are we going to feed everyone?

Philip realizes how broken the crowd is. Each of their lives are shattered in different ways.

Some are besot by the demon of mental illness. This is long before antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and psychologists. And then, just as now, people’s brains could be born with or develop illnesses. Then, as now, a stroke could steal your loved one’s memories, or even personality. It could break the family up one chunk at a time. Then, as now, Alzheimer’s Disease worked the same way. Then, as now, PTSD brought flash backs and hallucinations and panic attacks. The crowd is asking to be whole again.

Others in the crowd have been broken spiritually. Inside. In their souls. Women were told only men can work in the official religion. Men ought to be the leaders. Were told if they got unwanted attention from men, it was because they were dressing wrong. Or speaking wrong. It was never the man’s fault. Children were told to be seen but not heard. That they were too young to participate but must act like adults and sit still. They were considered the most easily replaceable. Men were told they could not cry, or show ‘woman-emotions.’ They couldn’t spend too much time with their children and it was their responsibility to protect the family. How do you protect the family from tragedy? From car accidents? From senseless accidents? The crowd came seeking to be recognized as who they are. Valuable just as they are. Loved, without needing to prove their worth. Spiritually seeking to be whole again.

The Bible tells us many sought physical wholeness. Being able to see again, or walk again, or even be alive again. How many elderly came seeking relief from arthritis? How many brought worn out hips, cavity-filled teeth, sugar issues, and suspicious growths? How many brought children born with deformities, teens suffering broken bones, and workers missing fingers or hands? Our bodies break. Shatter. We glue them back together, but with each gluing, the fragile clay pot gets weaker and weaker. People came to Jesus seeking their physical bodies to be whole again.

And instead of telling all these people to heal themselves, care for themselves, put their lives back together… Jesus says WE are going to help facilitate their healing. WE won’t send them packing. WE will feed them.

But how?

Philip is at a lost. There is so much need and so little ability to help. Who am I to take on an issue like AIDS, or homeless, or domestic abuse? How can I do anything? If I gave up 1/2 of my year’s income, these problems would STILL not be cured.

A little boy approaches and offers his basket. Andrew brings the group’s attention to the child, “This boy has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

There is a kid I know of selling lemonade and giving the money raised to Children’s Hospital for coloring supplies for the kids. But what are five dollars and two cents among so many hurting kids? Will they each get a postage stamp piece of paper and a little snippet of broken crayon smaller than their pinkie nail?

And Jesus replied – have everyone sit down. And Jesus took what was offered in the little basket, and he gave thanks. Thanks to the boy for his generosity. Thanks to God for lovingly providing for us. And then Jesus handed out the bread and fish. Miraculously the five little barley dinner rolls and the two fish not only provided a feast for 5,000 people… as much fish and bread as they could handle, until they were fully satisfied, but there was bread and fish left over, too.

How?

Some have argued the generosity of the boy inspired everyone else to share their food.

Some have argued this is a story people began to tell about Jesus later, and it didn’t happen exactly this way. As we heard in our first reading, a sign of a prophet – a man of God – is they can multiply food and feed many. Elisha does that in our first reading. He even has leftovers, just as Jesus does.

And most Christians argue Jesus fed the 5,000 with a miracle – with the power of God. If you heard, when the disciples see Jesus walking ON water – rather than parting it like Moses – they ask “Who are you?” And Jesus answers “It is I.” Or, translated another way, “I am.” I Am is the name God identifies God’s self to Moses in the burning bush. I am. I be. I was. I will be. The Great I Am. The miracle is possible because all things are possible for God.

And God is known through Jesus to us; God is known as the one who won’t turn away any who seek God; God is known as the one who will break God’s own body, God’s own heart, to feed us… much like how a loving parent or grandparent will make sacrifices to provide for their child… or how a earnest hearted little boy will give up everything in his basket for a crowd of strangers.

God is generosity. And God is wholeness.

12 baskets of leftovers are picked up after the feast. 12 is a number of wholeness, plenty, the number of Israel’s tribes in the Bible. 12 is how many disciples there are. After the miracle, each disciple has in his own hands a basket of provisions when before they had nothing to eat. When one gave his bread, his body, his life, for others… everyone had more than enough.

Whatever is in our baskets… if we share, God multiplies that goodness, so that all our needs and others’ needs are met. Call it inspiring generosity. Call it a guiding myth. Call it a miracle. Call it whatever you will, but when we live our lives serving others, we gain our lives. We gain wholeness. We gain just what we came out to the wilderness seeking from Jesus: healing. Completeness. And we come away with our baskets heaped with more goodness and wholeness to share with others.

Broken lives find Jesus. Broken people. And Jesus gathers us up. He is concerned that not a single thing is wasted. No experience. No thought. No life. Nothing is lost to God. Everything is gathered up, every little bit, and put to good use.

The little crumbs and fragments of when our lives shattered Jesus tenderly gathers and says, “Let’s put meaning to this.” “Let’s bring good out of this.” Not that being broken is good. Not that bad things happen for good reasons. No… but rather… let’s take this awful thing, and through the miracle of God, choose to bring something good out of it. Choose to take it, just as it is, broken and fragmented and leftover, and work with God to bring about wholeness, healing, and hope in the midst of the chaos.

The child giving a coloring book and box of crayons to Children’s Hospital isn’t going to give one to every child there through their lemonade sales. But to a single child – they have given the world. Our community is not going to cure world-hunger by supporting Heifer International. But to another community, we have ended hunger. Nothing but Christ’s return shall ever bring back my daughter, but I offer my brokenness, my leftovers, to Christ and beg they be gathered up and used for good. Even if that helps just one other life.

And they are. Miraculously, God brings forth goodness out of evil. Healing out of brokenness. Connectedness and community out of isolation.

We’re asked to offer what we have now in our baskets, even if we know it isn’t enough to help EVERYONE. It will help SOMEone. Offer it to the person before us now… and trust God will work miracles.

And God does.

And then nothing is ever truly lost.

Amen.

Dancing in the Spirit

Genesis 1:1-5water
Mark 1:4-11

Water throughout the Bible –

In the beginning – our translation today says a wind from God sweeps over the face of the waters. But this could also be translated as the spirit of God hovered, the breath of God danced, the soul of God fluttered.

Much like a dove’s flight.

A dove’s flight tells Noah when the waters are receding.

The Spirit, like a descending dove, alight upon Jesus at his baptism in waters bringing God’s personal words of love.

Water in the Bible is the source of life. Out of water, God brings forth peoples and animals, plants and insects, birds and fish. Out of water, to this day, we are born from our mothers. Water is life.

Water is cleansing! Water is used as a holy bath before approaching the temple of God. Water is used to cleanse hands before prayer, and feet upon entering houses, and, of course, our baptisms.

Yet, water is also death. The Red Sea parts for escaping Moses, but it comes back together to kill the Egyptians. Noah and his family survive the flood, but that flood kills all other humans and animals and life.

Hand in hand, life and death, water is given to us.

Baptisms are the same water. The water God first made, and the water that Jesus walked upon… but also the water that makes up blood, spilled on battle field after battle field, city after city, and upon the cross.

Water changes, is renewed, but remains the very same water, same molecules, through all time. Through rain and snow, through rivers and underground creeks, through oceans and through the organs of animals and leaves of plants. I’m sure you’ve heard the joke that we’re drinking dinosaur pee. We are. But we’re also drinking the water that Abraham gave to visiting strangers – angels! – and the water God gave to Hagar and the water that anointed Jesus.

Water is death and life. Water is full of billions of previous creature’s lives and it enables the current life of billions of creatures.

The spirit of God dances throughout it.

When we are baptized, we are baptized not just in the name of God, Christ, and Spirit… but we are baptized into the DEATH of Jesus.

Symbolically, we drown. We go down. We die. We return to water, or rather, return the waters God gifted us.

Symbolically, we cease.

Spiritually, the old us DOES die.

And in the baptism, with coming up, with drying off the water, we are baptized into the LIFE of Jesus. A new life. Reborn. Reborn of not just water, but also the Spirit of God.

Symbolically, we have over come death.

Symbolically, we have emerged back into the world anew.

Spiritually, we are a new creation.

In baptism, we die and conquered death. We follow Christ to the grave and beyond. We see and affirm that nothing can separate us from the Love of God. We see and affirm the Spirit that dances all through creation also dances within us. We see and affirm the way of Christ is one of life and death, joys and sorrows, mixed blessings, muddy waters that are hard to discern and crystal clear waters that refresh us again and again. We see and affirm we are followers of Christ.

We see and affirm we are the children of God, loved, beloved, and with whom God is well pleased.

Rejoice in your baptisms! Remembered or not. Rejoice in other’s baptisms! Seen, or not. Rejoice in the baptisms that have happened, are happening, and will happen – for the Spirit unites us all as one in holy rites such as these.

Amen.

Why Have You Cast Me Off?

Psalm 43: All Saints Sunday sorrow.jpg

You are the God in whom I take refuge – why have you cast me off?

Why must I walk about mournfully? Oppressed?

The Psalmist demands an answer from God. He or she cries out – God – my God – why have you forsaken me? Why is this happening?

The Psalmist tries a plea, show me any light, any hope, God, and I will follow it to you.

The Psalmist tries to bribe God. I will come to your altar, God, your church, and praise you with exceeding joy…. if you give me any hope.

And the Psalmist chastises themselves, “Why are you cast down, o my soul, why are you disquieted?” Why are you sad? Soul, you should take hope. For I shall praise the one who is my help, my God, again some day.

And the psalm ends.

Does hope come? Does the psalmist ever get out of their sorrow? Does God ever send enough light that the singer can see where to find God?

We don’t know the ending.

Psalms are songs gifting us prayers and words to express how we’re feeling right now.

And right now, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Who sits here feeling forsaken, abandoned, cut off from God’s light? You don’t sit alone. 3000 some years ago, this writer felt the same.

Who sits here trying to cling to hope for a brighter tomorrow, who tells themselves good phrases like ‘Take heart,’ ‘This too shall pass’? This psalmist did, too.

Who sits here longing for the mountain of God where every tear is wiped away and death is no more? This ancient person, did, too.

Jesus told the people around him: listen to these teachings in scripture. Listen to the hope offered and the promises.

But Jesus said don’t tie up the problem with a pretty bow and hand it back as a burden. Don’t go using scripture to harm people. Preach the good news, preach the hope, but do no religious violence.

This often means sitting with the psalmist in that uncomfortable zone of not knowing why there is sorrow. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Not knowing if there is a happy ending.

It often means realizing our best intentions to say something nice, or scriptural, are actually harmful… for what the psalmists and the person mourning needs is presence and abiding love… they need an invitation and permission to bounce between hope and hopelessness just like the psalmists… and don’t need a judge telling them how to feel and think.

Do you know someone who is hurting?

Words like, “God must have needed another angel” sound nice… but are actually a burden implying God in God’s selfishness killed your loved one. Try instead, “One of my favorite memories of our loved one is…” or “Tell me one of your favorite memories of them.” Either of these open the dialogue up to be a conversation instead of a burden.

Instead of, “Be strong,” which implies it is wrong to feel sad, and is a weakness, say “We all need help in times like this. I am here for you.”

Try not to say, “Don’t cry, they’re in a better place,” which implies not only that it is wrong to cry, but also that being with the mourners was hellish. Say instead, “I wish I had the right words. Just know I care.”

Words like, “It’ll get better,” may be true… but are a burden, because that is not where a person mourning is sitting at right now. Silence, companionship, a hug, a dropped off meal, a check up calling or writing months or years later saying, ‘I know you’re still hurting, and you’re still in my prayers and thoughts’ does much more good than reassuring the person now that tomorrow is brighter.

Because when we’re mourning, tomorrow may not be brighter.

It may take years. Or decades. Or it may not be better until we’re in heaven and God wipes those tears away.

The one who know is hurting?

Just cry. Just sit. Let the mourner lead you.

The greatest among us is a servant.

The blessed among us are those who weep.

The psalmists leads us in his or her mourning from despair into hope and back and forth again. And God goes with them the whole way. We ought to too.

Today we remember all of us who are in mourning. We remember all who have died and leave behind beautiful, complex, lives and stories and memories for us to carry on.

And we remember all who have died and leave behind words unsaid, mysteries, and pains never addressed. We remember we are a community.

A community of saints, living and dead, born and not yet born, and never born, who all make up the body of Christ.

And we practice what we teach – to truly rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. To hold both the promise of new life with the pain of mortality. To embrace each other as who we are, where we are, and to love one another with the deep, abiding love God gives us.

Amen.

Clean Water is Life

Exodus 17:1-7

maria_pr_valentin_47-edit1_custom-316168977226453a3a91d20085eb3365e2901f07-s1300-c85
Puerto Ricans getting water from drainage pipes. Photo by Maria Valentin for NPR

Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. Anathea Portier Young quotes the Israelites, ““Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). What proof and signs can persuade a thirsting, frightened people that God is with them and leads them in the wilderness?

If God is the God who saves, who gives and sustains life, then God in their midst and in their inmost parts must provide, at the very least, that which is necessary for survival.

One hundred hours. That’s the oft-cited statistic for how long a human body can typically survive at “average” temperatures without access to water. Today’s Sinai Peninsula,” where the Israelites are wandering, “averages 82° Fahrenheit in May and 91°F in June. For those same months, average high temperatures are 95°F and 104°F respectively. In such extreme heat and with exposure to sun, the timeline for survival shortens” by half.

“Now we’re down to fifty hours. Exertion — such as walking long distances in the day time, carrying one’s belongings, tents, and small children, and wrangling livestock along the way (compare Exodus 17:3) — shortens the timeline further…”sustained high sweat rates can reduce estimated survival time without drinking water to as little as seven hours, or approximately the time it takes to walk twenty miles.” One long, day’s march on an unusually, but not impossibly, hot, June day was all it would take to finish God’s people. Because they had no water.

So if God is with them, in the midst of their inmost parts, the very organs, blood stream, and cells that require water for nutrition, metabolism, temperature regulation, waste removal, shock absorption and more — why is there no water?” ((https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3432))

It’s 90°F in Puerto Rico right now. And raining. It feels like it is 102° with the humidity.

There is no public power. And there won’t be any for months.

Some people have generators.

Their generators are out of gas.

The gas stations are out of gas.

No AC. No ice. Not even fans… and sweating in 102 degrees.

Water is life.

The Israelites plead with Moses – they are going to die without water.

The Puerto Ricans are pleading with the world – they are going to die without water.

Lucky Puerto Ricans have access to springs or well water, like we have here at the church. But how much water are we going to get without electricity? We don’t have many hand pumps many more. They don’t have many hand pumps either.

And what happens to our bathrooms? A week with no shower, no flushing the toilet, no washing hands, no washing clothes, no brushing teeth, no… watering the animals?

Puerto Ricans are living out of bottles of water or small springs or open rivers. Last month they were people just like you and I – American Citizens living normal lives. Today they are fighting for every second of life.

No gasoline for generators means stores close. No place to buy water. Not like there is any left, anyways.

You may have heard on the news there are 9000 shipping containers in the ports of the island. That is correct – but they were there before Hurricane Irma and Maria hit. They have shoes, TVs, computers, and things businesses and people ordered before the hurricanes. Not a single container of food,  medicine, or diapers is left.

Let alone water. What is in the stores does not satisfy.

No gasoline means no way to travel but by foot to get to a spring. And wait in a long line. And carry that water back jug by jug.

Nothing but spring water by foot means every elderly person is at the pure mercy of neighbors and friends and family and strangers to help them survive.

Baby formula made with river water – unfiltered, and can’t be boiled because the wood is all soaked for fires and there is no gas for electricity or a stove.

Dysentery. Dehydration. Death is settling into the cities and villages and rural houses of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Clean drinking water is life. The Bible was written in a time and place where people understood that so innately and KNEW what it meant to face times of water shortage.

We are blessed here in Ohio with an abundance of fresh water.

But if we were hit with a 50 mile wide tornado — which is what the hurricane was like — many, many of us would have issues getting drinking water after a week or two of no power, no gas, no aid.

Moses pleads with God, “What shall I do?!” And God answers – step out and act.

Jesus sits today and tells the people it’s not our words God wants, but our actions.

Pray for the world and ACT for the world.

See the need and donate funds.

See the injustice and cry out for those who are silenced.

See the hurt and offer your help.

Come to the table this morning thinking of Christ’s words: come for what satisfies – not 9000 boxes of shoes and TVs and books – but food, and drink, community and Christ. Think of those who sit with us taking communion sweating in churches, thirsty, on hot islands. We are all one body. They are the Body of Christ just as you are the Body of Christ.

Come, let us recommit ourselves as rainbows of hope after storms for our hurting world.

Amen.

To be or not to be?

Jonah 3:10-4:11 Tennant_and_Tchaikowsky_as_Hamlet_and_Yorick
Philippians 1:21-30

“To be or not to be; that is the question” is a famous phrase from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and is spoken by Hamlet. He asks – what is better? To live; or to die? Back and forth Hamlet goes, considering the pros and cons of living or dying.

In our scripture readings today, both Jonah and Paul are considering living or dying, too. Considering if life is worth the effort to keep fighting for every second.

The word of God has come to Jonah and told him to go to the home of his enemies, to warn them if they don’t repent, God will destroy them. Instead, Jonah runs the exact opposite way. And runs and runs. And each encounter he has with death – storm, whale, desert – he doesn’t die. Finally he delivers the message half-heartedly to the city of Ninevah. Instead of killing him, as what happens to most prophets, the city immediately changes their way.

He’s the most successful prophet.

And yet, Jonah gets very mad, for now God won’t destroy the town. Jonah complains to God – “This is why I didn’t want to come! You, God, are too merciful and loving! You should kill me now! It’s better I die than I live.”

I wonder, what is too much for Jonah, so much that he wants to die. Is God’s mercy too much?

God’s care for the righteous and the unrighteous too much?

God’s love for all people too much?

I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he’s saved his enemies. When he goes home, what will his neighbors and friends say when they hear that the Assyrians are doing just fine, even after all the murder they did to the Israelites, because Jonah went and preached to them.

I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he feels his life has no meaning whatsoever. He knew from the very beginning that God wouldn’t kill all these people. So what was the point of even going?

God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be so angry?”

Jonah doesn’t answer, but goes out of the city, makes a little tent, and sits to watch and hope that the city doesn’t keep up their changed ways… or God changes God’s mind again. Jonah wants God to destroy Jonah’s enemies.

As Jonah sulks, God causes a bush to grow and give Jonah shade. Jonah goes from very angry to very happy. The next day, a worm eats the bush, there is no more shade, and now it is hot and windy.

Jonah tells God, again, to kill him. This time because he is suffering from the heat and dust.

God asks Jonah – is it right for you to be angry about the bush?

Jonah replies: “Yes! Angry enough to die!”

God replies back, “You didn’t plant the bush or cause it to grow. It just appeared and disappeared. I made people, and cause them to grow, and they’ve been here a long time. Shouldn’t I be concerned about Ninevah, with its 120,000 people who don’t know right from wrong, and all their animals?”

The book doesn’t record Jonah’s reply.

Maybe Jonah replied once again, “Yes, angry enough to die!” This would mean Jonah thinks God should be so angry when someone hurts people that God would be willing to die.

Or maybe Jonah’s answer is again, “I knew you wouldn’t harm them. Just let me die.” Jonah continues to sulk and miss God’s point and message of universal love.

I read, that for Jonah, life is cheap. He’s willing to give his life up out of anger over a bush; and he’s willing for innocent people and animals to die because he doesn’t like their leaders.

God, however, says life is not cheap. God tries to show Jonah again and again that even a bush has worth. People have much, much more worth.

Not a sparrow falls without God knowing. And we are worth many, many sparrows.

There are no lives that are truly meaningless. Somewhere, somehow, every person is called to bring good into the world. Some do this like Paul, with eagerness. Some do this like Jonah, begrudgingly. But we all have the call, the invite, to deep meaning and purpose to our lives.

Even so, death can be a sweet thought.

It is for Paul.

Paul is pretty much sitting on death row. He is accused of sedition, of encouraging others to be more loyal to someone other than Caesar… and he is very guilty. So guilty, he is STILL preaching against Rome through his letters to the young Christian churches. This letter today is addressed to the church in Philippi and full of messages such as “don’t be intimidated by your opponents” and they may destroy your body, but not your soul.

Paul also writes about considering death. How can you not contemplate death when you can feel it coming closer and closer?

Paul writes, “I don’t know which I prefer” living, or dying. To paraphrase, he says: If I die, I know I’ll be with Christ – and that is far better than any day here on earth. But if I live, I can help you all and encourage you. I guess, living or dying, I am with Christ. And living or dying, I gain.

Since I don’t know if I’m going to die and see Christ, or be released and see you, give me this comfort: live your lives in a manner worthy of the Good News of Christ. So whenever I hear about you here in Rome or there in heaven, I’ll hear you are standing firm together and striving together in the faith of the Gospel.

Paul is considering his death because it literally may be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or in years. But he can feel its presence. And he has decided – he is ready to die. Death no longer scares him. He welcomes death, even.

Have you ever met someone who is ready to die? It is unnerving. Every creature has a survival instinct that makes us fight tooth and nail to survive, to live. We abhor death, and avoid it, or try to make it pretty and sanitized. We say euphemisms – she passed away. He is in eternal sleep. They went to heaven.

Death is taboo.

But Paul is welcoming it. And sometimes, people we love welcome death too.

Someone I love recently told me she is ready to die. I wanted to protest and tell her I want her to see my daughter grow up. I want her to always be around in my life because she’s always been in my life. I want to know so much more about her childhood and have a million conversations I’ve put off or not yet even considered. I want…

And I realized, all my protests against my loved one dying are because of things –I wanted–.

I paused in our conversation, and I considered her life, and what she wanted.

She wants her parents, and siblings, and even some children, who are all long dead. She wants to converse with friends about times no one else alive remembers. She wants to be less lonely.

She wants to be in less pain and misery. Every day there is more of both as her body slowly dies and she knows there will be no more better days… only worse and worse days trapped in this fragile flesh body.

She wants to pass with dignity and grace.

If she gets her druthers – at home and in her sleep. Who wouldn’t want to go that way?

And if that’s not possible, then in a nursing home where there are people to care for her without being a strain on her family.

And she is ready. Ready to die.

I am not ready for her to die.

When I worked at Children’s Hospital, sometimes doctors or nurses or chaplains asked parents, “Who are you doing this treatment for? For your child, or for yourselves?”

Is it in the child’s best interest to do another round of chemo that likely will not work but which will make them very, very sick. There is a slim chance it will save their life… but the evidence in this case shows it is much more likely the child will spend their last month in misery. Is it better to go for this tiny slim chance, or is it better to have the child go home and die with grace and dignity?

What does the child want?

Dylan Thomas wrote a poem called “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The refrain is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He tells wise men, good men, wild men and grave men to fight for every single second of their lives and not to die gently, peacefully. The last line is addressed to his own father who he pleads for any blessing, any word — just don’t die and rage instead against death.

Who did Dylan write the poem for, and who was he considering?

His line to his father is: “Curse me, bless me… I pray.”

Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to accept the person we love, that we are going to miss more than our own lives, is ready to die. Accept their choice, and help them go gently into the good night. Help them die in the manner they choose. Love them, as they let go bit by bit, of this world and step into the next.

Love them, and support them, when their wishes for their lives, and deaths, are counter to our own.

Love them, and support them, and know that death is hard work and as they go about the hard work of dying, we are called to be Christ for them. To walk along side them. To be their advocates, to give them agency, to give them dignity, and to help them depart to Christ.

It is actually a blessing when our loved ones jar us with mentioning their preparations for death. That panic we feel tells us how much we have left undone. Moves us to have those conversations we have put off and do those things we always said we’d do someday.

It is a blessing, because we can work on ourselves accepting our loved one’s desires… and when they ask for the permission to let go, to stop fighting, and go home… we can take their hands and say, “Well done, Good and Faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”

“It’s okay to die.”

We know it is okay to die because it is not the end of God’s story. It is not the end of ourselves. Death is not the final word – there is a resurrection and a victory.

So… Is it better to be or not to be? That is not the question. The question is: In who’s interest am I acting? Whom am I considering? How can we face this transition together?

Amen.