Tag: Forgiveness

Something to Eat

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Jesus-touched-woman-touching-Jesus-Divine-Healing
Mark 5:21-43

What lengths would you go for healing?

For yourself?

For your child?

For today’s unnamed woman, she was willing to risk everything. She’d already paid all her money. She’d lost all her dignity as doctor after doctor and healer after healer failed to help her. Twelve years ago – maybe from childbirth – she began to bleed from below the waist and for twelve years the life has leeched out of her. This has meant for 12 years she has been dead, cut off, unable to attend religious functions or be among the community because any woman who is bleeding is supposed to stay home until she stops. It was customary – a way to keep the community clean. Much like today day cares say you should you’re your kid home for 24 hours if they have a fever, or hospitals ask if you’ve traveled out of country recently, and if so, isolated. These are preventative measures to keep the community clean.

But imagine if that temporary cleansing time wasn’t a few hours or days… but lasted months… years… over a decade of isolation. Over a decade of people avoiding you so they wouldn’t be contaminated and need to be in isolation too.

And here this woman is. In the crowd. Contaminating all these people, per se. She doesn’t tell them. She sneaks. Who would let her through to embarrass the rabbi with lady problems? Who would let her make him ritually unclean?

If caught, what will happen? Will they stone her, kill her, for violating the social rules? Will they cast her out of the city and make her a beggar, or made to wander the desert until she died of thirst? Will they arrest her, take her from her family, and deport her?

She risks it all just for a chance at a better life.

Just for a chance of healing.

Chance of grace — unearned favor.

She touches just the hem, the barest edge, of Jesus’ clothes and feels — FEELS — the change in her. Just that smallest touch has brought her back to life and among the living!

Jesus FEELS the change, too.

“WHO HAS TOUCHED ME?”

“Everyone is touching you, what do you mean ‘who has touched you’? It’s a crowd! It’s crowded!”

And Jesus glared at the crowd.

So much for not embarrassing the rabbi. So much for keeping his honor intact. So much for sneaking in the crowd and not letting them know of the unclean, unwelcomed one among them. So much for getting away with her newly given life. What will the crowd do to this woman – now that she’s stolen from the rabbi AND contaminated him? Death will be merciful.

She so easily could have ran away then. Saved her life. But she chooses to give in, and in giving her life away, saves it.

She falls down before Jesus and tells him the whole truth – every gory detail – every failed doctor, every penny spent, every place she’s been not welcomed. She tells him way, way too much until the people around him are uncomfortable. She confesses her theft, and guilt, wholly to the one she offended, the one she is indebted to.

And he forgives her debts. Forgives her sins. Her trespasses. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Faith – trust – confession – reconciliation –has cleansed her of her sins. It is well with her soul. “Go in peace and be healed.”

With a full confession, this woman is given more mercy than she ever dreamed was possible. She is not just physically healed, but spiritually, too. And directly forgiven by the one she did wrong to. She is wholly returned to life after 12 years of dying.

But that’s not the whole story today.

Jesus in this crowd had been heading to Jarius’ house where his 12 year old daughter is deathly ill.

How far is Jarius willing to go for healing for his child? What will he risk?

Everything.

He comes to the folk healer Jesus, whom Jarius’ own peers are ridiculing, to save not his first son or any son — but a daughter, a child that is considered not to have much worth in society. And not any daughter who has given him grandsons… but his 12 year old daughter, who is just ready to begin her menses, not even a full woman. See the ties to the previous woman, here? Jarius will risk his job, his reputation, and therefore his livelihood and life to save the life of his little girl.

But it is too late.

Jesus paused, helped an outsider, a stranger, a thief… and now the little innocent girl is dead.

Can you feel the crowd’s anger? Don’t bother the rabbi.

Over at the house, the crowd is crying. Hope is lost. The miracle was stolen by that dirty woman.

Jesus, however, tells them there is no need to weep – the girl is only asleep. He tells Jarius “Do not fear, only believe!”

But the crowd laughs him out.

To the sound of their jeers, Jesus takes the little girls’ mom and dad, and his closest friends, into the house. Over the sound of the crowd mocking, maybe getting angry with that woman, or angry with Jesus for being too late, over all that chaos Jesus goes into the quiet room with the dead child. And he touches her — breaking the social taboo of not touching the dead. Making himself unclean. An outsider. And he whispers to her not in some strange language, but in their native tongue – their own dialect – little girl, get up!

And she does. Back from the dead. Healed. Alive.

Oh death, where is your sting?

Oh God, who truly has endless grace — no one can steal another’s place with you!

God is so generous, so full of life, so extravagant that there is healing enough for all. There is love enough for all. There is life enough for all.

Don’t fear. Only believe.

Don’t be stingy, don’t doubt, don’t jeer. Be generous. Be optimistic. Be encouraging.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is telling them that the reason they are so affluent, so well off, so that they can help others. Gifts are meant to be shared! Talents are meant to be shared! Miracles are meant to be shared! Food is meant to be shared.

Around this table Jesus sets for us, we share. We share our joys. We share our woes. We share our hopes. We share our shames. We share a body – that is old and young, healthy and unhealthy, saintly and fallen. We share extravagantly and proclaim it is open for one, and all, and everyone who wishes to begin anew their life with Christ and with one another in the name of Christ. We proclaim every sin confessed is wholly forgiven for God’s mercy’s are endless. God’s welcome is endless. God’s love is endless.

How far are you willing to go for healing?

For a clear conscious and a well soul?

Are you willing to apologize to the ones you have wronged?

It’s something to chew on, to eat.

Amen.

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House & Family

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 good-or-shit_jesus_did-i-stutter
Mark 3:20-35

Who has authority? Today, I’d say it is religious leaders, the government, and social media.

 

In Jesus’ day, it was the government of Rome, the scribes or religious leaders, and family.

 

The crowd comes together, loud and noisy. Stinking and ill. They press in on Jesus so tightly that Jesus and his disciples cannot even get a bite to eat. Everywhere they look there’s people crying out for help and pressing in to see this marvelous healer and preacher and prophet.

 

Two thirds of the moral authority have had enough.

 

Jesus’ family has had enough. They’ve decided to restrain, arrest, Jesus and put him under lock and key. He’s an embarrassment. He’s bringing shame to the family name. And he’s challenging the authorities. What if they come after his family to get to him? It’s time to take control of their wayward son. So in come Mary and Jesus’ brothers shoving through the crowd trying to get to Jesus.

 

Meanwhile, the religious authorities have had enough. The scribe are above reproach. Their word is trusted without question. And they begin to say Jesus’ miraculous healings are due to the power of Beelzebul, Satan, demonic sources. Anyone who trusts the scribes and authorities believes Jesus is bad news. And the scribes stand in the crowd trying to get people to go away.

 

So the two controlling moral authorities in Jesus’ ancient world: the religious leaders and the family — have both declared Jesus should be ignored. He is either insane, or demonic, or both.

 

Jesus preaches: If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan is casting out demons, then you’ve won, right? Because if the demons are in a civil war, they will fall.

 

If I’m not demonic, then I’m a thief. I’ve come into the strong man’s house to tie him up. That strong man Satan doesn’t stand a chance. Once he’s bound, I’m taking all the treasure.

 

Once the powers of this earth are tied up; I’m releasing all the prisoners, giving sight to the blind, letting the crippled walk, making justice and mercy flow like a raging river and water the parched land; I’m taking this big crowd of desperate people, and all the lambs of every flock who cry out to me, and giving them new life.

 

Jesus looked at the big crowd – full of hurts inside and out. And he declared, “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” There’s no sin so heinous God cannot forgive it. The only eternal sin is what the scribes have done: seen the mercy and love and forgiveness of God, and call it Satanic, refuse it for themselves, and try to get others to refuse it.

 

The only sin that cannot be forgiven are the sins we refuse to admit, refuse to apologize for, refuse to accept forgiveness for.

 

Perhaps this is why later Jesus prays, ‘Forgive them for they know not what they do.’ We may not understand all our sins, but if we’re willing to accept forgiveness and have a humble heart… they ARE all forgiven.

 

With the scribes dealt with and dismissed, Jesus next turns to his mother and brothers. They are outside of the house, unable or unwilling to enter into the crowd of messy, dirty, sinful people. They call – wanting Jesus to get up and leave those sheep and come to them. Come back to your mind. Come back to your family. Come and leave this messiah nonsense alone. Leave these sinners and be socially acceptable again.

 

And Jesus looks at the crowd, and asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Here they are! Whoever does the will of God are my mother and brothers and sisters.” Jesus rewrites the definition of family. He won’t let his house be divided. His house isn’t who we are biologically born to – it is whoever does the will of God. And what is the will of God? To love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Jesus’ family are everyone who does God’s will.

 

Jesus doesn’t say his family is all Christians. Indeed, there are those who will cry Lord, Lord but are not part of his flock. He doesn’t say his family are all Jews, all Muslims, all people — but rather, WHOEVER does the will of God.

 

Buddhists. Atheists. Hindus. Whoever does the will of God to love God and love the neighbor as yourself.

 

All sins, all blasphemies or false teachings, are forgivable but the calcified heart that refuses God.

 

What does this mean for us?

 

It means a challenge to our own authorities. When our own religious leaders, government leaders, or family members try to label some people as animals, sinners without a hope, or exile them. We’ve got to be the voices saying no. We are to welcome the outcast, the stranger, the exile. Our family is all who love God and love the neighbor. And those who do not love neighbors, do not love God, and are excluding themselves.

 

Some people don’t put much weight into demons and the effect of evil.

 

But evil is very much alive… with or without demonic help.

 

In our own hearts, and out of our mouths and hands, great evil occurs.

 

This earthly tent we live in is a tent. Weak and flimsy. And so very fallible. But we love to judge others based on that tent.

 

Based on that tent, access to basic sanitation is given or denied. The United Nations has a special division to work with the greatest poverty places in the world. This investigator goes to these counties, sees what is happening, and makes a report to the world. The goal is to bring awareness to the poverty, and hopefully shame the government into helping the least of their citizens.

 

That investigator, Philip Alston,  was sent to the USA this last December. (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/15/america-extreme-poverty-un-special-rapporteur; http://undocs.org/A/HRC/38/33/ADD.1)

 

He went to Skid Row in California, where 1,800 people are permanently homeless and share 9 toilets. California passes more and more rules against homelessness – and closes parks and public restrooms at dusk to discourage homelessness.

 

But homeless is generally not a choice. Just like needing to go to the restroom is not really a choice. So these people have to relieve themselves in the streets. Mass infections are passing wildfire through California now because people are leaving body fluid where they can since they have no restrooms, or homes. And why? The cost of housing is so high. Even here, in Ohio, you need to have a full time job paying $10.50 an hour to have a way to your job, an apartment, and food. But minimum wage is $8.30. Start adding in kids… and by the time you’re an average family with two adults and two children… both adults need $14.75 an hour working full time to support themselves and their two kids. (http://livingwage.mit.edu/states/39)

 

This is Ohio.

 

It is way, way more expensive in California.

 

“Why don’t they live with their families?”

 

In Jesus’ time and in our time, our families kick us out, restrain us, or disown us if we’re abnormal. If we have drug histories, or are gay or lesbian, or even too liberal, whatever our families think are the ‘unforgivable sins’… we get kicked out. Often families don’t have the resources and community support to stick by their odd sheep.

 

It’s why Jesus asserts again and again in God’s family, you don’t get kicked out. Everyone is welcome. We have the resources of the world – millions and billions of Christians – to address all needs.

 

But that’s not how our country is running. This UN reporter went to Alabama next. There, sewage is also a problem. Most of the poor are black, and live in trailer homes. These have straight PVC pipes from their toilets away from the house to dump the sewage away. But the ground is rich black soil and doesn’t soak up the sewage. Add two or three trailer homes, or more, like a usual trailer park, and now there are open cesspits. Almost everyone tested positive in these areas for hookworms. The UN investigator said it was as bad as any developing country – any third world country – with barefoot children infested with worms playing in sewage.

 

Why?!

 

The investigator found that it costs $5,000 or more dollars to make a septic tank, and these people cannot afford that. When they go to the government for help, the locally ran white government gives them fines for having straight-pipe systems. A few years ago a sewer system began, but it only was given to white businesses and skipped over black houses. People wouldn’t even give the investigator their name because they were scared the local government would learn, and come turn off their tap water.

 

Due to the color of their tent, their skin, and their poverty, these people are kicked out.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

The investigator traveled to Puerto Rico, where months and months ago the hurricane hit but STILL there are hospitals on generators, STILL there are people dying because they lack again, fresh water and sewage treatment. The government aid has pulled out and charities alone try to help. Over 5,000 people have died now because of that storm. And the number is growing. The new EPA rules revoke most of our clean water and air act. What’s left it is cheaper to pay the fine if you’re caught than to properly treat waste. So the locals, who are starving, now watch their fish die out due to pollution. And they still don’t have clean water to drink.

 

There’s still no clean water to drink in Flint Michigan.

 

Puerto Ricans are dark skinned. Speak Spanish. Some say they aren’t American citizens although they are. They’re kicked out. Different.

 

But Jesus won’t kick them out.

 

Lastly the investigator went to rural West Virginia. As white skinned of tents as can be. And there he found the orphans of the heroin epidemic. He found the men and women and children trying to drink well water contaminated with fracking run off and coal mud — toxic, cancerous, actually a bit radioactive water. He found people who cannot find work because all the mines have closed, and the jobs long gone away. He found them surviving on government food stamps, SNAP, and fretting… the proposed rules that you have to work to get government assistance for work means starvation. Literal starvation in these rural villages where there is no work to be had. No money to move away. The investigator found massive malnutrition that is permanently harming the brain development of the children in rural Appalachia.

 

And these people are kicked out. Called in-bred, we make red-neck and hillbilly jokes, and say they’re stupid.

 

Jesus says no. The homeless of Skidrow, the blacks of Alabama, the Latinos of Puerto Rico, the whites of West Virginia — this is our family.

 

Who are my mother and my brothers and my sisters?

 

Whomever does the will of God.

 

Whomever loves God and loves their neighbors.

 

… There’s an internet meme, an internet image, I think summarizes the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is speaking to the disciples and says, “Love your neighbor.”

 

The disciples raise their hands and say, “But what if…?” and they begin to list things. What if they’re gay? What if they’re black? Latino? Lesbian? Sinning? Not American? Not Christian?

 

And Jesus gets upset, “Did I ****ing stutter?”

 

That is Mark’s Jesus. Love God and your neighbor. No what ifs, no dividing the house of Christ, no conditionals. Love God and love your neighbors as you love yourself.

Good Friday Reflection on Nails

Scripture  Luke 23:32—35 metalholes

Like sharp nails through sheet metal, through hard wood, through tender flesh – the damage pierces my soul. A word. A phrase. A look.

Some gossip.
A deed
Several deeds.
It snowballed. One thing led to another. One mistrust to another hurt. One nail to the next nail.

I hate.

I hate her.

I hate him.

I hate what was done, and what I have become. I hate my powerlessness. I hate being a victim. I hate. I hurt.

I can’t save myself.

How could I ever forgive?

How could Jesus forgive?

How do I pull these rusting nails out of my soul and offer a prayer of forgiveness?

How did Jesus do it?


And a part of me knew what I was doing. A part of me did not.

I drove those nails in.
I spoke those words that won’t come back.
I did those things that cannot be undone.
Time will not reverse for me. Although I keep praying it will.

I wonder – when others see me – do they see the criminal or the penitent?

Do they see what I did, or what I want to do?

Who do they see?

I hate.

I hate me.

I hate the situation.

I hate that God forgives but I sure can’t forgive myself.

And my victims…

Would they ever forgive me? Dare I even ask?

I don’t deserve it. Forgiveness is grace.

Unearned. Unmerited. Grace.


Oh holy God – the nails get removed, but the damage is done.

Teach us to forgive as you forgive.

The damage may or may not heal – but the forgiveness removes the nails to let the hope of healing begin.

And we are a people of hope.

Amen.

Silent Reflection
– Who do you need to forgive?
– Who’s forgiveness do you crave?

 

Spoken at to the Thuston-Baltimore Ministerial Association Good Friday Service, 2018.

A Rainbow of Hope

169c6430c0941b6d00f7885d2bb1d7f0--noah-ark-art-partyGenesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22

Noah’s story is a strange one. I usually hear it in one of two ways. The first way is the cute animal ark story. In this, a zoo of animals ride a boat with little smiling Noah under a rainbow. You see it on nursery walls and stitched on baby blankets. Aww – giraffes and lions and zebras! It’s the story we sung for our children’s chat today.

The other way I hear Noah’s tale is as an awful story about God’s wrath and how terrible the Old Testament is. In this version, one day, God lost God’s temper, and so in a fit of rage, drowned every man, woman, child and even all the animals. Then God felt bad, and so like any successful abuser, lured God’s victims back with gifts and apologies until God lost God’s anger again in a generation or two.

Both of these versions of the Noah story the Bible doesn’t contain. The one handed to us to much more nuanced, and can’t be summarized neatly into either a story of wrath or of cuteness.

The story begins with how the world has gotten worse and worse. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banned from the perfect garden. Then their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Cain’s son murdered another man. And chaos and violence and rape spread across the face of the earth as humans did.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Humans had become evil, all the time. The following verse reads, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

It doesn’t read that God was wrathful and angry. Not that God wanted to punish humanity. But rather, God regretted. God was sorry. God’s heart was heavy and troubled. God was sad. Not angry.

Genesis 6:13-14a – “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark.” God sought out the man who still honored God, who was not 100% evil, and before the evil could overcome him and his family, God told this guy God’s plan to save the world from absolute evil. God will make a new creation… but will save humanity, imperfect as it is, and give it a fresh slate to try again.

Genesis 6:17b-19: “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Everything will die, and the evil will be washed away. But the seed of life that is still good – Noah’s family, these animals – will be released back into the world to cover it with goodness instead of evil. And a covenant — a promise — will be made. God says God will make the covenant, but does not tell Noah at this time what it will be.

So Noah builds the ark. And God God’s self seals him and the animals and Noah’s family into the ark (Genesis 7:16b). And we’re told that for 40 days it rained; and for 150 days the world was flooded. And still longer it took until the waters were down enough that Noah was able to leave the ark. Remember he send out a dove, and it comes back without anything. Noah knows there is no where to land, nothing growing. Later the dove is sent out and it comes with an olive branch – a sign today of peace! – and lastly the dove is released and it doesn’t come back. It has gone on to live in the recreated world.

And God tells Noah to leave the ark then, Genesis 8:17 “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Does that sound familiar? In the Creation stories, God tells the world to do the same: be fruitful and multiply. Here, in this new creation, God tells them the same.

Then Noah makes an altar, and thanks God. God smells the cooking meat on the altar and says, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

In other words – God knows we’re sinful. From childhood we start lying, harming ourselves and harming each other. God knows this – but accepts it. God will not destroy the world because of the sin of humanity. Whenever God intervenes again, it will be in a different way. God will recreate and redeem us from evil — the evils of our own hearts even — in a different way.

God tells Noah that we may eat all plants and all animals now – but that God will demand an accounting of our lives. And will demand an accounting of our animals’ lives. How have we treated one another? How have we been stewards of the earth and siblings to each other?

Noah’s ark story ends with God’s rainbow and God saying, Genesis 9:12-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I’ve heard it said before that the rain bow is like a bow — what you use with an arrow. And when a bow is hung up, like a rain bow, it is a sign of peace. God’s bow – God’s violence – is hung up. A new way of dealing with evil on earth will have to be used, now.

I’ve also heard of rainbows being like a bridge, connecting heaven and earth. It symbolizes how we affect one another. What happens in heaven changes things on earth, and what happens on earth changes things in heaven. God promises to keep that in mind, and to be with us working together.

In our communion, we ask God to make God’s church — which is all of us — a rainbow of hope in an uncertain world. When there are clouds, and doubts, and flooding rains… we are the rainbow that says this will not last forever. There is still hope. Even in the most violent, most awful, most terrifying situations… what is will not always be. We can keep hope.

We know humanity needed saved again. And again and again. And God intercedes in and finds new ways to address the evil.

Consider Moses. Just like Noah, water is used to save Moses from evil, but the water doesn’t cover the earth. But just like Noah, Moses is saved by an ark. (That’s the word used for his little basket!) And like Noah, Moses is given a new covenant… this one not sealed with a rainbow but written on stone tablets and seal with blood of an animal and put in — here’s that word again! — an ark. This ark is to carry the tablets and be the movable house for God.

And consider Jesus. Like Noah, and like Moses, water plays a major part in Jesus’ life. The water of baptism. The water turned into wine. The water Jesus stills and walks upon. There is no ark in Jesus’ story, and Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as an ark… but he is, in a way. He is protecting, carrying, humanity from evil and into the newest creation of God. Jesus does tell us the newest covenant is sealed not with stones or animals or rainbows – but with Jesus’ own blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

When God saves us from evil the next time around, we are saved through the covenant in Jesus, and sealed with the water of baptism and Holy Spirit.

The first letter of Peter writes to the struggling persecuted church to remember their baptisms. It’s not a bath for dirt. It does not make you stop sinning. It is an appeal to God to remember our covenant, and an appeal to us to remember our covenant. We are one people, many persons, but one people – belonging to one God. And it is together we’re all going to make it. Even those people who died in Noah’s days, says Peter, after disobeying God all their lives, even they – although dead – are offered to repent, apologize, and return to God through Christ.

In other words, says Peter, there’s hope. Even for the dead, there is hope of new life, new creation, new reconciliation and relationship with each other and with God. This is the covenant of Christ. A covenant of hope.

You don’t hope for things you have. You hope for what you don’t have. You don’t hope for sun on a day that is sunny. You hope for sun on rainy days. Rainbows of hope are visible only with storm clouds. Christ’s resurrection hope is only possible if Christ has died, and if we, too, physically die.

The hope is that the story of Noah doesn’t end with an ark. It continues. It ends with a rainbow, a promise, a new covenant.

The hope of Christ is that the tomb is empty. This symbol – a cross – is not just a reminder of our mortality, and of Christ’s death – but it is an EMPTY cross. Nobody hangs here. This is a cross of hope. There is more. The story continues. There is a resurrection.

And we need this hope, now. Our country is deeply divided. We’re told by our Federal Agents that this division, which has always been there, was exacerbated by another country.

The evil inclinations of our hearts were always there. The inclinations to distrust one another, to fear one another, to HATE one another. Those inclinations were incited, and we fell for it with glee. With glee, people passed on hate messages. With glee, we heard only the news we wanted to hear. With glee, we believed only what we wanted to believe. And with glee, we turned our own neighbors, our own brothers and sisters, into our enemies.

Lent is a time of making amends. A time of reflecting on our own sins, and building bridges – rainbows of hope – connecting ourselves to each other.

Lent is a time to reflect – what messages are we sharing? Are we seeking common ground and seeking the common good, or are we focusing on our differences, and focusing on just assisting ourselves?

Lent is a time to pray for forgiveness. A time to remember who we have issue with, and seek them out, to offer the olive branch of peace.

Jesus told us that a house divided soon falls in on itself.

Rebuild your house.

Rebuild your burned bridges.

The storm is happening, but we can be the rainbow of hope in this uncertain world.

Amen.

Fish Tales

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Pieter_Lastman_-_Jonah_and_the_Whale_-_Google_Art_Project
Jonah and the Whale (1621) by Pieter Lastman

Mark 1:14-20

 

I like fish tales. Great big stories with excitement and adventure, great big stories with humor and a bit of uncertainty. Great big stories with questionable details but big truths.

 

I fell for them as a kid all the time. Even after I learned to watch for the hand that shows the little minnow with finger and thumb, versus the giant fish the two hands show together, I still fell for them because I wanted the story.

 

And often, they weren’t about fish at all.

 

My dad is a master of fish tales. One day my brother and I asked him how he came to have a scar and he replied, “Didn’t you know? I was abducted by aliens as a kid.” He proceeded to tell us about how the aliens took him into their special ship, to their mother ship. How they all had a third eye right up here on their foreheads. They all wore uniforms that matched and made it hard to tell one from the other. They spoke in a strange language, and poked and prodded my dad. They made him do weird experiments and asked him hard questions. In the end, they shot him with a strange syrup and dropped him off back at his home.

 

My brother and I were so shocked and impressed, we told all our friends. Soon all the kids were talking about how my dad had been abducted by aliens.

 

It took a few years before I realized he’d gotten hurt as a kid, been taken in an ambulance to the hospital, got a tetanus shot, and was sent home by the doctors and nurses. That’s how he got the scar.

 

… The alien story is way cooler, isn’t it?

 

It’s the same story. Just we picture different things in our heads when we hear ‘alien’ versus ‘doctor.’ Or ‘third eye’ versus head mirror. Special ship instead of ambulance.

 

But for a little kid? This totally felt like an alien abduction! My dad told us a fish tale, but it had roots of truth. And it communicated what this experience felt like to him when he was a child.

 

The Bible has stories that seem like fish tales too. Consider the book of Jonah. No Biblical scholar really knows what to do with this story. Is it true? But whales don’t eat people. They can’t swallow anything that big and eat plankton. Was it a large fish? What fish could swallow a person whole and alive? Not a shark.

 

No Biblical scholar really knows what to do with this story. No one really knows if we’re supposed to read it as a parable, or a historic truth, or a retelling of a classic tale with a Jewish spin, or a parody. Since no one knows, let’s consider it as a fish tale today.

 

Let’s look at the story: God calls to Jonah – a no body – and tells him to get to Nineveh and convert the people there. The story humorously explains all the ways Jonah tries to escape, but God keeps bringing Jonah back to the path God wants. Each run away is more drastic and over the top than the last. Each pull and yank on the fishing rod in this fish tale is told to keep you entertained and on the edge of your seat.

 

And in the end, Jonah is THE most successful prophet in the Bible and converts an entire city with just a few words. The city converts so strongly that they order even the animals to wear sack cloth and ashes and pray. The gigantic fish is pulled in!

 

And instead of rejoicing, Jonah complains, “God, I knew you were going to forgive them in the first place. You’re too kind!”

 

I hear here the cue for the drum snare for the punch line joke! God… is too kind.

 

We want God to love the people we love and hate the people we hate.

 

If the book of Jonah started out this way, telling us the punch line first, it likely wouldn’t strike home. It wouldn’t make us feel. Wouldn’t make us think. Just as if my dad had answered my brother and I ‘Oh, I fell on a nail,’ neither of us would have considered what it felt like, how scary it was, to be injured as a little kid.

 

The story – the wind up, the way it invites us in to view the world through Jonah’s eyes – the way things are exaggerated and blow up large – gives us just enough humor to deal with the not funny part of this story. Just enough humor to look at ourselves… and laugh.

 

We’re Jonah.

 

You and I are Jonah.

 

And when God calls, we try running away.

 

When God tells us to be loving to enemies, we’d rather see them crash and burn.

 

And when God forgives and loves people we hate… we get angry with God.

 

We want God to love those we love, and hate those we hate… we want to tell God what to do. We want to be God.

 

But… God is uncontrollable. And God chooses to offer love and forgiveness to all.

 

I think the fish tale of the book of Jonah brings that message home.

 

The story is not about whether or not you believe in giant fish, bushes that grow up over night, or donkeys and goats wearing sack cloth. The story is about how wide is God’s mercy… and facing our own mercy shortcomings.

 

No one likes critiqued. No one likes being told they’re in the wrong. So Jonah holds the mirror up to us gently, with humor, to let us see the flaws and laugh. Let us see how ridiculous Jonah and we are being. Lets us be glad God is that loving and forgiving. That loving forgiveness that we rely on, so too does the whole world.

 

A big message… delivered in a way to make us think.

 

Mark plays with words to make us think, too. Mark’s word is IMMEDIATELY. If you ever want to read a gospel out loud, try reading Mark. It is breathless. It is fast. It sprints a marathon and when you read it or hear it in one setting, you end up at the end befuddled and breathless and left with all the messy pieces and unanswered questions that the first disciples had tossed on their laps.

 

When you come to the end, and the final bit is — the women ran away from the empty tomb and told no one because they were frightened — you have to wonder, what then? What then?!

 

Others have wondered this too. And various manuscripts of Mark have a note at the end that adds Jesus appearing to Mary, and giving the great commission, and rising to heaven…

 

But in the oldest copies we have of Mark?

 

The story ends as frightfully and short and as immediately as it began.

 

The urgent telling of Mark conveys the urgency of his message. He doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t even name Joseph as Jesus’ dad — just the barest minimum of details are told because Mark wants us to know the time is NOW.

 

Urgently NOW.

 

The Gospel of Mark begins like whistle at the beginning of a race and runs from scene to scene in sentence to sentence. What Matthew spends fourteen verses on – Mark spends 2. (Jesus’ temptation.) And while the other Gospels talk about the predictions of Jesus and how he was born… a whole birth narrative… Mark just starts off saying, ‘Jesus came to John.’

 

Mark is rushing. Running.

 

And Jesus in Mark isn’t saying, ‘The time is soon,’ but the time is NOW. NOW is the kindom of God. NOW is the time to repent. NOW is the time to believe in the Good News.

 

Not the future. Not yet to be. NOW.

 

People need God NOW.

 

People need forgiveness now.

 

People need love, now.

 

 

Like a fish tale, Mark has us focus on the experience of Jesus’ story, not the details. We don’t know if the first disciples had heard about Jesus before they were called, and that is why they are ready to leave their nets. We don’t know if they had heard sermons before hand. Or had visions and dreams. Or asked Jesus questions when they were called. We know nothing about what leads up to their calling — only that Jesus calls, and they come ‘immediately’.

 

They respond as quickly as Jesus arrives.

 

The experience of Christian discipleship, for Mark, is the experience of immediacy. Whenever you hear or feel that call, immediately things are changing.

 

Immediately you’re swept up into the story of God.

 

Immediately, not in the future, not after you die, you are in the reign of God.

 

Mark isn’t concerned with details.  He doesn’t want us concerned with details. He wants us concerned with the message and the feeling.

 

The Good News — as he calls it — and the feeling of the Spirit. The Good News that our waiting is over and Christ is among us. The feeling of a way to God for all peoples, all nations, all ages, all genders, and all sinners and saints. The experience of living as God’s children NOW.

 

This focus on message rather than details is how we as the United Church of Christ function. You and I can wholly disagree about how many angels were in Jesus’ tomb. We know — Christianity is not founded on how many angels. Christianity is founded on the love of God as known through Christ and is maintained with the Holy Spirit.

 

You and I can have different ideas on what is, or isn’t, the right way to pray or worship, or baptize. We know these things are important, but even still, are details.

 

And we’re not caught up in the details. We’re caught up in the story of God.

 

In the experience of God.

 

And the experiential story of God is urgently happening now, urgently calling us to unity with one another and with God, and gifting us the good humor to laugh at ourselves, admit our faults, ask forgiveness, and begin again.

 

And again and again and again.

 

No one is keeping a detailed record of how often we are Jonahs. Instead, God is remember we’re God’s beloved children, and God wants to share the experience of being that beloved child urgently right now.

 

So get thee to Ninevah! Or Lancaster. Or wherever God is calling you to go make amends and preach the good news of love and forgiveness. Get thee from the details and thoughts about God — to the experience of God’s love, mercy, and acceptance. Get to the reality of God felt and lived urgently now!

 

Amen.

High on the Hog

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25:14-30myklove-thanksgiving-devo1

How is gratitude related to these two passages? It seems like a stretch.

In Jesus’ parable, it is helpful to remember Jesus is talking about when the reign of God will come, and what it will be like. This is shortly before he, himself, is arrested and murdered, resurrected, and on a journey that is now 2000 years delayed. Perhaps Jesus is the man in the parable who goes away. We usually interpret this parable this way – but Jesus could easily be one of the slaves, too. There is no ‘right’ way to understand a parable.

So let’s imagine Jesus is the man leaving. He brings forward those who serve him — people like you and me — and gives us ‘talents.’ Normally, we understand this to be talents like singing, dancing, ministry, financial intelligence, hopefulness and helpfulness…. English literally takes the word ‘talent’ for these things from this Bible verse. In the old Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek, however, a talent was an obscene amount of money. So the man gives hundreds of millions of dollars to his servants. More money than any of them have ever imagined.

But since we’re trying to understand this parable with the man as Jesus, we know Jesus doesn’t give us money. In fact, if we’re getting rich because we’re Christian – we’re doing Christianity wrong. So what DOES Jesus give?

Forgiveness.

Jesus gets in trouble because he is forgiving sins, and reconciling people with God. He gets in trouble because he is saying, through him, we all can have second and third and one-hundred-million chances to turn back to God. What is the insane amount of wealth Jesus is offering and leaving with us? God’s forgiveness. God’s love. God’s reign.

So Jesus leaves on his trip, leaving us variously with different amounts of sins forgiven, and grace, and love, and experiences of the reign of God.

The worst sinners among us take that 5 talents of grace — unearned forgiveness — and wholly live into it. Full living high on the hog. And those worse sinners, now forgiven, go out and forgive twice as many people, bring twice as many the good news of abundant life with God, and by the time Jesus returns, the 5 talents of grace have turned into 10 talents of grace. All kinds of lives touched and forever changed for the better by inclusion, welcome, acceptance, and love.

The middling sinners are forgiven a middling amount. But still, their faith brings double the amount of goodness to the world!

Lastly, there are some people who live with just a little bit of sin in their lives, but God offers them forgiveness too. These servants of God also hear the good news, also know how much God offers, and also receive forgiveness. They, also, could double the grace.

The difference in this parable is not about how much forgiveness we need – but what we do with it. The difference isn’t whether we live deeply or lightly sinful lives, but what we do with the grace and new lives God offers us.

In this story, the man who receives the single talent is terrified of losing that single iota of grace from God. He thinks God’s generosity is limited. He hides the forgiveness God has given him. Is he ashamed? One way or another, he doesn’t live life fully. He doesn’t permit himself to invest in others, or spread the wealth he’s been gifted around. He doesn’t even use it for himself. He just buries it. He doesn’t lose this forgiveness, but what good does it do?

When the man comes back, when Jesus returns, he finds the deeply forgiven person has doubled the grace given to him. So too, has the middling. But the person who was scared of God, who felt God took things that didn’t belong to God and was cruel, did nothing. They lived in terror of the return of the man. And Jesus, if he is the man in the story, chastises the scared servant. “Oh! You just KNEW I was cruel, huh? You could have at least given the talent to the bank!” You could have at least given the new life I gave you, the grace, the forgiveness, the time and money and skills, to another who could invest it and do good. Instead, you just lived isolated. You could have lived richly, but chose to live in poverty. You could have lived high on the hog and feasted on shoulder cuts, but instead, chose to barely get by with spam and hog feet.

We’re supposed to be like our master – supposed to be extravagantly generous. Supposed to take whatever talents we’re entrusted with, and invest them! In the words of Paul, we’re to always be encouraging one another! Praying for one another! Loving one another! Investing into one another. That is the holy life. That is the life living into the reign of God. That is the life that isn’t hiding the gift of Christ.

Thanksgiving is a time of generosity and extravagance. A time of feasting. WE are called to FEAST. Called to eat our fill, eat until our bellies are round and our pants too tight, on the bread of heaven. Our cups are literally overflowing – so full of the wine of life, the fruits of God, that they spill out all over us and splash onto those we encounter. God’s thanksgiving feast is such that hundred-million-dollars is a token amount. A tiny amount. This feast is spilling from our Bibles and Communions, our pews and hymnals, our deaths and our lives – like seed scattered, bread crumbs on the floor, coins tipped off a table and sheep let loose after a winter in the barn — this grace gets everywhere!

Unless we dig a hole and hide it.

Fear not, says Jesus. Do not be afraid, say the Angels. If you are scared, says Paul, you’ll want armor… but don’t take up arms and Kevlar. Don’t buy guns and glower at strangers. Instead, faith and love are your flak vest. Salvation is your helmet. And that is all you need to be secure. Whatever darkness comes, whatever makes you want to dig a hole and hide, you don’t need to be afraid. Extreme love has been shown to you and will continue to be shown to you. Hiding in the hole will not help. God knows us whether we are sleeping or awake, attentive or distracted. God seeks us wherever we wander. And God finds us to offer us forgiveness and love.

So do not fear.

Come on out of the hole you’ve dug. Bring out your talent, and let’s live high on the hog. Let’s celebrate. Let’s rejoice. Let’s give thanks that we are the beloved children of light, children of the day, children of God.

Let us celebrate! Let us give thanks!

What do these two passages have to do with gratitude? I believe they suggest that lives who have received forgiveness – and that is every person! – are best lived investing that forgiveness into others gratefully.

We are to double the love we’re given.

Amen.

Forgive – don’t forget

Matthew 18:21-35

Margaret Adams Parker Reconciliation
“Reconciliation” by Margaret Adams Parker

Romans 14:1-12

“The Bible says you should forgive and forget.”

How often I have been told that!

I wonder, was Jesus ever told that? What about Paul? Or Moses? Or God? Because none of them preach forgive and forget! Actually, they taught the exact opposite… to forgive, and don’t forget.

I get told to forgive and forget when someone does me a wrong. As a teen, it was me saying “I’m so angry SoAndSo stole from my purse! I should confront them!”

And I was told, “Now, now, it’s better to forgive and forget. Let it be.”

As an adult, I’ve had people tell me of their spouse beating them, and then the victim says, “But if I hold my love’s violence against them, then I’m not forgiving them. So I choose to forgive and forget. I know in their heart they didn’t mean it.”

Good Christians – don’t forgive and forget. You are NOT floor mats, to be stomped on, ripped and torn, and hurt. You don’t have to be a victim to be Christian. You don’t have to forget who and how others hurt you. You are not called to abuse.

“However, if by “forgive and forget” one means, “I will act as if the sin had never occurred and live as if I don’t remember it,” then we can run into trouble. For example, a rape victim can choose to forgive the rapist, but that does not mean she should act as if that sin had never happened. To spend time alone with the rapist, especially if he is unrepentant, is not what Scripture teaches. Forgiveness involves not holding a sin against a person any longer, but forgiveness is different from trust. It is wise to take precautions, and sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven.” ((https://www.gotquestions.org/forgive-forget.html))

Listen to our scripture today:

Peter asks Jesus “how many times should I forgive a brother?” and offers the generous 7 times. Then, just as now, we say something like fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Or, 3 strikes you’re out. Seven times is an awful lot of “second” chances.

But Jesus says no – forgive your brother an unlimited amount… and then he tells a parable to explain what he means.

In this parable, a king has loaned an absurd amount of money to his servant. The king called this guy in and said it is time to pay back what you borrowed — but the man didn’t have an absurd amount of money to return. So the king said – well, then, we’ll sell you and your wife and kids and home and all you own into slavery.

The guy in insane debt fell on his knees and begged for forgiveness. He promised to make all things right if given time. He begged for mercy.

The king had pity. Instead of saying – okay, I’ll give you another year. Or, okay, I’ll sell only you and not your family into slavery. Instead, the king said — I forgive you of this 300 million dollars. You don’t have to pay me back. The indebted man got so much more than what he asked for.

Note – the king did this when the servant asked for forgiveness from his heart. Additionally, the king did it out of pity — you can only have pity on someone or something from a position of power. Otherwise, you commiserate. The king looks down on this guy, and out of his power over the man, chooses to forgive everything when the weak one asks.

This isn’t a situation of an abused person forgiving their abuser. That would be the weak forgiving the powerful. This is a case like your bank choosing to forgive your house mortgage entirely because you wrote to them about how you can’t pay the mortgage right now and you’d like more time before they foreclose.

So the deeply forgiven man heads out. He passes someone else who owes him some cash and he says – hey! Pay up!

Just like the forgiven man had done, this guy also falls on his knees and pleas – give me some more time! I’ll pay you everything back!

But the forgiven man doesn’t forgive this guy or give this guy more time. Instead, he throws the man in prison.

Sorta like your bank forgives your whole mortgage, but then you sue your cousin because he missed a payment on the car you cosigned for him.

So word gets back to the king about what the forgiven man has done. The king summons the man back, and says – hey! What’s the deal? You pleaded with me for more time, and I gave you way, way more than more time. Your coworker pleaded for more time from you, and you didn’t forgive his debt like I did yours, or even give him the time. Instead, you chose to throw him in jail. I guess that’s the way you want to be treated too. So, into jail with you until you pay the absurd amount you borrowed from me — just like you did to your brother.

Jesus then concludes his story by saying God treats us the same way – if we forgive, we are forgiven. If we demand payment, God will demand payment.

Now… did anyone FORGET in this story?

Absolutely not. Actually, remembering is a major part of the forgiveness. The forgiven guy is supposed to remember how much mercy — unwarranted gifts — he has been given. He is supposed to remember the kindness he has been shown. And then he is supposed to give that mercy and kindness to others when they are in the same situation he was in.

The king remembers too. He remembered the forgiven guy wronged him, but that the guy had asked for more time to make it right. The king remembers he gave the slave great generosity. And he remembers that the slave chose to respond to this generosity not with love and gratitude, but with greediness.

If someone you forgive uses your mercy as a blank check to do more and more wrong… don’t forget. Take that mercy back.

Forgiveness is never supposed to be power to do harm. It is supposed to be a balm to bring people back together into right relationships.

Forgiveness is not something to do and forget.

And the Bible says no where that it is easy.

We’re told about forgiveness in the Bible from the perspective of the person who forgives, the person who asks for mercy, and the people who witness it. Everywhere, scripture notes… forgiveness is hard.

The prodigal son must reach utter rock bottom before he is willing to admit he has done wrong. He is so stubborn! When he comes back, he comes back about crawling on his belly. He is deeply ashamed. He intends to beg his father to take him in as a slave – not as a son. This year, scientists looked at our brains and our bodies when we are proven wrong. They found that it PHYSICALLY hurts — hurts like being slapped — when we know we’re in the wrong. People avoid admitting their wrongs not just out of pride, but out of fear of the pain, and fear of rejection, and the dual punishment the wronged person and their own bodies will do. When someone actually admits their wrong to you, and asks for forgiveness, they have already suffered and are suffering.

Now you have the power. The upper hand. This person has admitted they are in the wrong. You are in the right. What will you do? The law and common sense says you can take all the revenge and should take all that you’re owed. Sue them for every penny. Burn the relationship to the ground. Tell everyone what a mess up they are. It is your right.

And the Bible says that we are permitted to loosen and bind what we will. You can choose punishment in this situation for the wronged person. You can also choose mercy. You can choose love. You can choose to walk away even without an answer.

The power and right is in your hands. What will you do with it?

Giving it away, forgive- forgo- to give away – means giving up your right to extract vengeance for the wrong committed to you. This is just as hard as asking for forgiveness. This is acting against our nature, and acting against our culture. It is purposefully stepping out of the patterns of the world around us and forging a new way.

Who wants to give up power? Who wants to lower themselves and say – we are equals? Who wants to admit someone did them a horrible wrong, and then say ‘but I am choosing not to get my pound of flesh from them.’

Forgiving, and asking forgiveness, is very hard.

So, too, is witnessing it. Remember that brother of the prodigal son is furious. And often people who watch Jesus forgive sins are incensed. How can he do this? It isn’t just! It is against the balance books! It isn’t fair.

Forgiving isn’t fair. It is mercy. It is unearned favor.

Forgiving is not how the world works.

Forgiving is choosing to live into God’s realm.

Remember, part two of Jesus’ story says rules we apply to others, God will apply to us. What we do on Earth is reflected in heaven. If we demand every penny be paid back to us, God will demand we pay back every penny we owe others – and owe God.

Jesus suggests our debt to others and God is so absurdly large, that we can never pay it back. Instead, we need forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, we should practice forgiveness and mercy.

Because forgiveness is not an easy task, not easily given.

Remembering is what makes forgiveness worth so much.

No where does Jesus say forget – just forgive.