Tag: Elijah

Shocking Scandal

Jeremiah 1 4:-20
Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany 4C


Jesus is… so confrontational today. I’m tempted to paint his village as unkind, but they ARE kind. They welcome Jesus in and speak well of him. They speak with amazement. They’ve heard he’s been doing miracles, and welcome him home.

Oh sure, some point out this is just Joseph’s boy. Maybe they elbow each other about silly antics Jesus did as a baby. They don’t think of him as a prophet. They especially don’t think of him as the son of God; or as God incarnate.

But they’re not intentionally cruel. Just a little… belittling.

While they’re still in amazement at how Jesus has grown, Jesus puts words in their mouths. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, cure thyself!’ and you’re going to ask me to do the miracles here I did in the past. But I’m not going to, because you won’t accept me.”

I bet the town is confused at first. Accept you? Of course we accept you little sugarplum! But yet, if you want us to think you’re more than the kid we babysat, you’ll have to show us a miracle.

Jesus continues to their shocked and scandalized faces, “Do you remember the prophet Elijah? There was a severe famine. It didn’t rain for 3 years and 6 months. There were widows everywhere and everywhere were people suffering. But God sent Elijah to none of these widows but one – a foreign widow in a foreign town.

When Elijah arrives, God tells him the widow is going to provide food and shelter for him. But the widow tells Elijah she is gathering sticks to make the very last of her flour and oil for herself and her son… and then they are going to die from the famine. Elijah tells her, “Give me this last bit of bread, and my god will be sure your jar of flour and jar of oil don’t run out until it rains again.”

The woman face a choice. She could believe this stranger and give her last meal to him… or she could give the last bit of food to herself and her son. She could have faith in this strange god, or she could keep to her local gods.

She chooses to give Elijah the bread.

And God makes sure they have oil and flour for herself, the boy, and Elijah during the whole famine.

Elijah was sent to the marginalized, the powerless, those starving, and those in need of hearing about God. Elijah was sent to those who would accept him.

Picture it, anger is appearing on the faces of Jesus’ neighbors and cousins and brothers and uncles. His aunts and sisters and nieces getting the second hand account outside of the synagogue. Our Jesus, OUR Jesus, isn’t going to do any miracles here?! We raised him! And he won’t even do a single awesome thing here?

He should show preferential treatment to his own family and town! THAT is US!

He thinks WE won’t accept him? We raise this kid! He OWES us!

Jesus implies his hometown doesn’t need miracles: they already have them and live with God. And, that although they are suffering, there are worse off people that Jesus is being sent to by God.

Do you feel the anger growing? Why don’t we who faithfully serve get rewarded miracles? We, who are born into the faith, we should be the special ones.

Jesus continues by bringing up the next beloved prophet of our shared history: Elisha. In Elisha’s time, many, many people had leprosy. But Elisha miraculously cured only one: Naaman.

Naaman isn’t Jewish. He is haughty. He doesn’t trust God or the prophet Elisha. But finally he bathes in the river as directed, and miraculously is cured of his leprosy. From there, he changes faith and honors God and the prophet, and shares his faith at home.

But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.

This is NOT fair.

Jesus’ relatives and neighbors get up to their feet furious. You’re saying God is showing preferential treatment to those who don’t honor God?

You’re saying WE won’t accept YOU? Physician, heal yourself!

And they run Jesus out of his hometown and try to kill him.

… And they were right. Jesus is not about what’s fair. He tells parables of a master giving his servants all the same amount of money whether they worked an hour or eight hours. That’s not fair.

He talks about sons who run away, spend all their father’s wealth, and come home broke being honored while sons who stay and obey their father get their normal lot. Really not fair to that older son.

Jesus is not about fair.

Jesus is about just.

Justice says those in Jesus’ hometown knew God loved them and knew how to live according to God’s word. Jesus’ ministry is to show the world of God’s love… not just those who already know.

Justice says everyone should have enough money to eat, even if they can only find work for an hour.

Justice says God welcomes home the sinners and the sinless, because all are God’s children.

But it’s not fair.

Not fair in the least.

But it is justice.

Picture three boys trying to watch a baseball game, but there’s a wooden fence in the way. Each boy is a different height: tall, average, and short. The tall boy can see over the fence. The other two cannot. We have three box they can stand on to help them see. How shall we distribute the boxes?

First, lets be fair. We give each boy one box to stand on. Now the tall boy is even taller and can still see. The average boy can now see. But the short boy is still too short.

We can’t give preferential treatment to the last, right? That wouldn’t be fair. But all three boys cannot see the game.

So let’s be just. Justice says the tall boy doesn’t need help to see. Justice says the second average sized boy needs just one box to see. And the third boy needs two boxes to see. Now, all three can see the game. But we had to distribute the boxes according to need instead of all getting some.

If you’ve seen or heard this illustration, then you know what comes next: the best world is where we don’t need boxes at all because we take away the barrier of the wooden fence. All three boys can watch the game through a chain-link fence without help.

That is shalom. That is wholeness. That is curing the world of systemic sin and barriers and woes. That is the heaven on earth we are called to create.

But in the meantime… there is sin… and there are boxes to help people cope with it… How are we going to use our resources to help people?

Jesus tells us to lower the high and lift up the low, so all are equitable. That means for his hometown, and for us, there’s not preferential treatment JUST because we’re faithful.

The reward for being Christian is being among the people of God, and living aware of God’s love of us.

Miracles, an easy life, favoritism from God? Those are not a given. Very faithful people are denied miracles and very faithless people get them. And the reverse happens, too.

The reward for being Christian is the life lived. The life reborn. The foretaste of the life God is bringing.

And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.

But it is good news to those who need it the most.



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.


I Will Follow

P1020212.JPG2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Luke 9:51-62

How far will you travel with someone? How rough until you call it quits? I don’t think we really know until we begin to go.

Growing up, I had a neighbor who was like my grandmother a woman who I would talk with whenever I needed advice or companionship. She could do everything: kept a two acre garden by hand — and that was the vegetable one alone. She had more for flowers. Mowed, managed acres and acres of property, did all her own laundry, canning, cooking, selling at the farmer’s market, shopping, housework and bills… Her husband had died, and her kids grown – but this elderly woman kept an active life that put my own family of kids and 30-something year olds to shame. She honestly had far better lawns, gardens, and home-made meals than us. And you never, ever, saw her without her hair done perfectly and her makeup on.

In high school, I remember standing in my bedroom looking out across the corn fields and I saw an outline in the crop. I realized it was the old edge of my neighbor’s garden. Over the years, the farm land had crept into her garden, and her garden had shrunk to about an acre. It was so slow, I hadn’t noticed.

In college, the little creep had really begun to become noticeable in other areas of my neighbor’s life. Weeds – formerly an unheard of event – sometimes showed up in her flowerbeds. She stopped driving, and had her son drive her instead. More meals came from the freezer. Less tomatoes were boiled and canned each summer. Sometimes, her lipstick was crooked.

How far will you go with someone? How rough?

In graduate school, I no longer lived at home, but I still went to visit home and my adopted grandmother. She now had a ramp, and had a yardstick she used as a cane, and more often than not sat the day away. When once she told me with stunning clarity about riding the train to go meet her husband home from Army, or how as a child her parents used a team of horses to move her house on logs to its current place… now she struggled to remember what she ate for breakfast, and who the dashing young man with a bride was in the photos on the wall.

Some of her friends stopped visiting. It was too hard, too rough, to see their loved one… going away, moment by moment, erased and leaving a shell of the woman they loved behind. She would hate to know she’s out in public without makeup. Do we tell her? Cause her that pain? If we don’t, are we treating her like a child, babying her? She’d hate that too!

How do you love someone who has always been perfect, always been in charge, always been your leader and role model and guide… and now they need help remembering how to use a spoon? How do you stick by someone who goes from being parent to child? How far can you stick by a loved one’s side?

I don’t think we know until we try.

It was so hard visiting my neighbor in a nursing home the final days of her life. I felt like neither she nor I belonged there. But this is where the journey was taking us – to the river’s edge, or where the sweet chariots would swing low, the final fight with pain, or whatever analogy you want from scripture and songs: it’s the same. We were coming to when we would be separated by death.

She didn’t know me anymore. She only knew her daughter (usually). I could easily have stopped visiting and she wouldn’t have known the difference. But I kept going. This woman had mentored and tutored me from diapers to grad school. And we talked of birds and flowers and nothing consequential. We shared presence.

I wasn’t there for her final hours. God granted she spent those in the loving arms of her children, in one of their homes. I’m so glad for that; and I look forward to our conversations again.

Friends can so often be as close or closer than family.

Elisha is not Elijah’s biological son. Elisha was a teenager or so, working his dad’s lands with oxen, when Elijah the prophet walked by. Elijah dropped his mantel, the cloth, he’d used to hide his face from God on the mountain, over Elisha. Elisha was so excited – so thrilled – to be chosen as a prophet he nearly ran away from Elijah to go tell his parents and family. Elijah had to remind him to pray first – and THEN celebrate. Elisha burned his wooden plow, butchered his oxen, prayed a lot, had a big goodbye party, and joined the prophet.

Elijah became an adopted dad, a mentor, a guiding friend for Elisha.

And when Elijah felt his time on earth was done, he began to remove himself from the world. A little bit at a time, a city here, a city there — saying goodbye — telling the prophets he had helped raise up around Israel to stay behind. But Elisha would not stay. He vowed to stick by his friend through thick and thin, though the good times and bad times, through sickness and health, life and death.

We hear today how at last Elijah comes to the Jordan river. On the other side is where the great prophet Moses died, and it’s there that Elijah feels called for his ending. He again tells his followers — stay here. And again, Elisha vows he will follow.

Like Moses, Elijah splits the water in two, and the mixed family of Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan. Alone, just the two, Elisha asks Elijah to give him a double portion of his spirit. Maybe he means make me your son; or maybe he means let me do twice as many miracles. What’s certain is Elijah tells him this is a big, big wish… and only possible if Elisha can stick through this to the very, very end. As they walk and talk in the desert on the other side, abruptly there is a whirlwind and fiery chariots from God. In the chaos, Elijah is whisked up to heaven and Elisha cries out after his adopted dad, and when he can no longer see him, he sinks to the ground tearing his clothes as he cries.

Eventually, the sorrow passes, and Elisha picks up the mantle Elijah dropped, and continues the prophetic work of Elijah for God.

Elisha had stayed to the very end – through the loneliness and sorrow. Through the unknown. Through the reversal of roles. He stuck by Elijah.

How far will you travel with someone? How rough until you call it quits? I don’t think we really know until we begin to go.

In our second reading, Jesus knows his end is coming too. And like Elijah, he begins to walk towards where he knows he will be “lifted up.” However, as he goes, the going gets rough. How far will those who love Jesus go with him?

Through Samaria, where Jesus bans them from returning violence for insult?

Through homelessness and a lack of a safe place to lay your head?

Though inconvenience and misunderstanding?

Will those who would follow Jesus know to stick by Jesus’ ways even when their family obligations call them elsewhere?

I will follow you wherever you go is a very, very big promise. Jesus points this out right up front. Tells all those who would follow that the Way of Christ demands much. Even Elisha had time to go back and say goodbye to his family before following Elijah… but Jesus says to be Christian, there is a bigger cost – a cost where we may be at odds with our families. A furrow gets all crooked when we try to plow and look behind us. It’s like trying to drive a car on the interstate while watching the rear view mirror the whole time.

Jesus says to these would-be followers… Are you sure you mean you’re ready to commit all of yourself? To burn the plow and eat the oxen — no going back — as Elisha did? Are you sure you mean you’re willing to follow me all the way to end? Do you know what a hard thing you’re asking?

How far will you travel with someone? How rough until you call it quits? Jesus warns us up front it isn’t always easy to be Christian, and to be a follower of Christ… we will have hard tasks and hard days.

Will you travel with Christ and the Christians knowing it isn’t an easy path?

Knowing it leads to a cross long before it leads to any heavenly ascension?

As Christians, we’re supposed to stick by each other through to the end and beyond. This journey, this walk, is a hard one that demands following it through to the end when memories fade, bodies fail, there is no more that medicine can do, and prayers don’t seem to work.

It’s a walk that takes us through times when Christianity is healthy and young and full of life – a thriving new church, full pews, prophets full of fire and dreams… And through times when our faith is sick, feels weighed down, and feels hollow and dead. When we’re not certain what tomorrow will bring.

Walking with other Christians means walking when the weather is fantastic; and walking in snow and sleet. Walking when we all agree, and walking when we bitterly disagree.

Walking with each other means sticking together when roles get reversed due to illness, age, and changes. It means loving our adopted family from cradle to grave, and beyond.

Other commitments, other priorities, will always come up and demand our time. But may you keep your eye on the goal of Christ – your eyes ahead and focused on where you are going – so that in all things, at all times, whatever you’re doing, you live your life as a faithful disciple following the leadership of Christ. Amen.

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.

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.

Face to Face

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36

Encountering God seems dangerous. Unexpected things happen. Rules no longer apply. Math, physics, common understandings: all go out the window. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Encounter God is risky business for encountering God is transformative.

Moses went up the mountain to encounter God, and left everyone else safely at the foot. There was thunder and lightening. A sound like a gigantic horn blowing. An earthquake. Smoke and fire. A volcano.

Up there, Moses encountered a fog, and light, and the very presence and glory of God. God handed Moses the commandments on stones God wrote with God’s own finger. You remember that this first set Moses broke in anger when he came down the mountain and found his people had already turned to worshiping the gods they had left in Egypt rather than The One God who they were camping near!

God was angry too. And told the people to go away. They said, “No, come with us! Make us special!” But God was worried God might be too much for them. They couldn’t handle camping near God’s presence – how could they handle the presence of God traveling WITH them all the time? Could they handle that much change, that much power in their lives?

But Moses was adamant. He said he could handle the presence of God. And through him, the people could handle the presence of God. Moses asked to see God’s glory and goodness, God’s love and shining greatness. God agreed, for the sake of Moses, but said no one can see God Face-to-Face and live. So God covered Moses with a hand, and then walked past him. Moses was allowed to see the back of God.

And just that glimpse of God’s shining glory, from the backside, was enough to radically change Moses. He didn’t even know how much he had change. When at last, after 40 days, Moses came down the mountain to the people, he glowed like a light bulb.

Quite naturally, the people were terrified of Moses.

But Moses called to them, “Hey! It’s me! Moses! Come back! You all know who I am!”

“But, Moses, you’re glowing! And it’s scaring us.” So Moses hid his glowing face with a veil; and the people knew God through Moses.

Encountering God is transformative. We get changed. Turned into something new. Moses was never the same again. He glowed. The Israelites were never the same again. Now they were God’s Chosen.

Over a thousand years later, Jesus goes up a mountain just like Moses and later Elijah did. Like them, he begins to pray to God. It must be pretty boring – all this prayer. Once again, Peter, John and James are getting sleepy. Their minds are beginning to wander and they’re beginning to get distracted. However- they rub the sand out of their eyes and keep to their task.

Because they are dedicated to staying awake, staying alert, they witness something very strange: they see Jesus’ face begin to change. His clothes become whiter. His face takes on a glow. And suddenly Moses and Elijah themselves appear. All three great prophets, all three great leaders, all three who have spoke with God on mountaintops and done miracles, are there in one place speaking. And they talk about Jesus’ exodus. Jesus’ departure, which is to occur at Jerusalem. They talk about how death leads to life.

John and James have nothing to say. They are silent. They can’t understand what their eyes are telling them. They can’t even begin to understand what they’re ears are saying.

Peter realizes this is just like the old stories — just like when everyone left Egypt and Moses led them. In celebration of the Exodus, of the departure, from Egypt, people celebrate the Festival of Booths. They set up tents and camp out to praise God for staying with them all that time in the wilderness and leading them to the Promised Land. Peter says, “Ah! Let’s build tents! Let’s celebrate! Let’s chat!” We’re told he has no idea what he is saying. He is just thinking aloud, trying to put the pieces together, trying to get a plan and to capture the moment.

He’s like those people who miss an entire party because they’re so busy trying to get the perfect photo.

As Peter is speaking, a cloud comes over the mountain. Just like it did for Moses and Elijah. And all three disciples are now terrified.

Don’t you remember God is risky and transformative? Being in the cloud with God changed Moses so much he forever glowed. Elijah received the words of the Still Small Voice and prophecies. And here — Jesus was also praying and he glowed. Now what? What is going to happen to these three men standing near Jesus? What’s going to happen to the poor guy who’s so nervous he just keeps blathering on?

The cloud settles over them as they break into cold sweats, and then there – in the mist, in the mysterious cloud, a voice rings out saying: “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

And then they were left alone with Jesus.

No Moses, no Elijah, no cloud.

Just Jesus.

And everyone has realized they have had a close encounter with God.

They stay the night, then, on the mountain. I wonder – did Peter, John or James sleep a single wink that night? Did they keep waking up at every little sound, and looking around, expecting some other ghostly visitor to be speaking with their Rabbi?

Did they realize that their close encounter didn’t begin on that mountain or end on the mountain? Their close encounter is Jesus. They just haven’t seen the glory in Jesus until now.

They can’t even ask him why he was glowing. Why the greatest religious leaders in history spoke with him. Why the presence of God came about them. And what it means to be the Chosen, the Son of God. No, the disciples are in over their heads.

That’s how I feel this Sunday. In over my head.

You and I, we’re standing here right before Lent begins. Lent — those forty days, plus Sundays, before Easter. We’re on a mountain top looking out over a valley. I know there is Easter, there is joy and glory, on the other side of the valley. But between here and there is a period of wandering in the desert. A period of self reflection, of self assessment, a period of ashes and mourning.

A period of saying those words I really, really don’t like: “I’m wrong.” “I’m sorry.” “I’m at fault.”

Like Peter, it might be nice to pitch a tent here and just enjoy the view. Why do we need to go to Jerusalem? Why do we have to travel towards death and the cross and betrayal? Why not just sit here where it is comfortable and not move.

Like the Israelites, it might be nice to say ‘Later, God! This being responsible stuff stinks. Let me go back to my golden calf and slavery.’

Following God is risky because encountering God changes us. In God, we are asked to die to sin – to give it up. In God, we are no longer the same person. God is light, energy, growth – change. Change is uncomfortable. The unknown is very scary. How very true is the saying ‘better the devil we know than the devil we don’t!’

Most people would rather stay where they’re comfortably uncomfortable than to risk moving, changing, and facing challenges. Most people would rather camp in the tent and call it a permanent home.

But the tents were made for moving. For following the presence of God, the Spirit of God.
And Jesus is ever moving. Ever calling us along his way of going up to mountains for prayer, reflection, and rejuvenating encounters with God… and then down into valleys for work, ministry, and proclaiming God’s love.

Are we willing to come Face to Face with Jesus, with our Christ, our Messiah – and face the changes that happen in us from this encounter? Are we willing to come off this mountain and go into the valley of shadows, of death, of ashes, of Lent? Do we trust our Good Shepherd will lead us though this valley and into the Resurrection on the other side?
I believe in God’s promises. I believe in God’s grace and forgiveness. I believe in the baptizer’s call to repent and the Messiah’s call to preach the kindom of God.

Let us Commune with our savior. Amen.