Tag: life

The Fragrance of Life

greenhousePaul writes from a Roman prison where he expects to be killed for preaching faith in Jesus as Messiah, Christ, and Lord. His letter is to the church in Philippe. Philippians 3:4b-14

John begins his story of the final two weeks of Jesus’ life by telling us of Jesus returning to Bethany, where Lazarus has been raised from the dead. John 12:1-8

Are some people more heaven bound than others?

Consider the child whose parents are both pastors, she went to a private Christian school. Her grandfather help found the Christian university she attends. She has all the best Bible apps on her phone and has never missed a mission trip.

On the other hand, consider the child whose parents are both in prison. She went to public school until she dropped out at 16. She sells drugs on a university campus. She has all the best dating apps on her phone and has never missed a good party.

Paul is like the first child. He lists out all the ways he is perfect. And then calls them rubbish. These are appearance things. Things of the flesh. And a lot of them are not due to any personal morals… but just luck and happenstance. Paul didn’t choose his parents any more than either of these children. And the situations we’re born into affect our whole lives: the social groups we’re in, the opportunities we have, and the ways we learn to get food, shelter, and love.

Press on, he says. Press on, toward the goal, for the prize of the heavenly call of God, known to us in the Christ, Jesus. The first girl may be doing that… or she may not. The second girl may be doing that… or she may not. We don’t know. We don’t know because people’s life situations, and births, and jobs, and families are parts of people… but not the whole of who they are.

Consider our second reading…

Judas is heaven bound, right? He is one of the 12 men following Jesus. One of the few who actually was verbally called by Jesus to be part of this new world from the very beginning. But we know, in his heart, he is a torn man who wavers between faith in Jesus and faith in money.

Mary does not look heaven bound. She takes a years’ wages and buys a pound of perfume. She puts that entire bottle on Jesus’ dirty feet and then uses her own hair to wipe the mud and camel poop from Jesus’ toes. Even today, a woman using her hair to clean someone’s feet makes us uncomfortable. Imagine how much more uncomfortable everyone at that table is, when custom was that a woman ought never touch a rabbi… let alone take her ‘crowning glory’ of hair – expose it from her head covering – and use it as a sponge on FEET. Sensual, taboo, wasteful.

But Jesus praises Mary and chastises Judas.

Jesus is concerned about WHY we do things. He’s concerned about what is in our hearts. If any of these people have good intentions and compassionate hearts – Jesus is happy. If any have bad intentions and callused hearts, Jesus is sad.

The saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” bothers me. Yes, often, “no good deed goes unpunished” but… our faith is about our hearts. So much in our life we can’t control. We can control trying to do good, love God and our neighbor and ourselves, and help one another. We can try in whatever situations we find ourselves in – great life set ups or poor life set ups. Great histories or ignoble histories.

Jesus is about hearts…. Because God is about hearts and writes God’s own love on them.

Mary’s heart is in the right place. Paul’s heart has moved to the right place. Judas’s heart wavers.

Mary’s heart came to this shelter of Jesus through her brother. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – sisters and brother – live together. We know this story from the chapter before the part we read today. In the story, Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, dies. But Jesus raises him from the dead.

People were upset to see Lazarus return to life, and that resurrection is what began the plots to kill Jesus. They refused to celebrate.

People are upset to see Mary anoint Jesus, and Judas, who will betray Jesus for money, is introduced regarding money for the first time. The disciples refuse to celebrate.

Their hearts are not with Jesus and life and the moment. Judas claims he is only thinking of the poor.

Jesus replies, Judas, “you always have the poor with you.” For Judas is poor. Not financially, but spiritually. His heart has not moved from the death tomb to the lively feasting table.

“But you do not always have me.” Judas does not always have Jesus with him. Does not always have the heart of Christ. Sometimes Judas is a good disciple of Jesus. And sometimes he is not. Judas is… mixed.

Mary is shown as such a good disciple that Jesus follows HER example, and after this scene, anoints and washes the feet of his disciples, after Mary has done the same to him. Mary, we’re told, does not flee from the crucifixion. Mary is the first to see Jesus’ empty tomb, and first to know Jesus has come back to life. Mary always has Jesus with her.

And that heart of Jesus is what moves her to love extravagantly wherever she is, now.

In our reading we’re told they share dinner six days before Passover. Six days before the death of Jesus, Jesus shares life with these siblings. Perhaps this is the first time Jesus has spent time with them since bringing Lazarus back to life. In that meantime, Martha has worked to get the very best meal she can make to serve Jesus and her back-to-life brother. Martha intends a celebration feast. And Mary has taken a years’ wages and bought an anointing perfume for Jesus. Mary, like Martha, wants to show her love and gratitude.

In ancient Israel, people are anointed when they die, when they are healed, and if they become a king. The word for anointed one is ‘Christ.’ Jesus the Christ means Jesus the Anointed One. Mary anoints Jesus. Mary declares him her king. She also prepares him for death. Mary has been listening – she knows. She knows Jesus the Anointed Christ is also Jesus the Messiah, the Savior from God. And he has said he will suffer and die.

Mary knows this because Jesus is who healed her brother – her only beloved brother – and brought Lazarus back from the dead. He taught and she sat at his feet learning. Mary knows this because Jesus sees her not as a dangerous woman, lose even, and only as valuable as her womb for children… but Jesus sees her as MARY – beloved child of God.

Do you remember one of my favorite lines from the King James Version? “He stinkith, my lord!” Lazarus stunk in his tomb. The sisters warned Jesus not to open the tomb because it stunk so much. Their brother had been dead for days.

Now the house of Lazarus stinks. But instead of the sickly sweet smell of rotting corpses… it is the heady sweet smell of the perfume nard. Nard is heavy, sweet, spicy and woody all at once. Like crushed moss, wet dirt, or a wet woods.

Like… growing things.

Our brains are wired for scents. Scents stick in our heads and even though it can be hard to recall a certain smell, as soon as we smell it, we suddenly remember all kinds of things related to that scent.

I asked the children… what does Jesus smell like? And I ask you too: What DOES Jesus smell like?

I’m not asking about the historical man, who likely smelled like most people who live in hot places and bathe once a week.

I’m asking about the Jesus you know.

What smells invoke in your mind the memories and moments of when you have known God is with you as close as your own shadow? The very shade of your heart?

Jesus smells of Easter Sunday to me. Dizzying hyacinths and lilies. Jesus also smells of my mother’s hands after they’ve been in bleach – salty. Clean. Callused against my face tenderly. Jesus smells of Fast Orange garage soap on my Papa. And the lingering tinge of house fire smoke on my father. Jesus smells like the greenhouse in March, when the kerosene heater is struck and tinging, the planted tomato flats are filling the air with the smell of plants and humid soil, and life.

To me, Jesus smells of the fragrance of life.

A loving, hopeful, life that still grows even after the stink of callused hearts and cold graves.

An extravagant life that is found in every place – from the depths of the sea to the great cosmos – to the smallest bacteria of our own bodies to the great oak trees – life that, against all odds, comes back from the grave again and again.

That’s worth a year’s wages! Worth a victory feast. Life after death is worth extravagant celebration!

Praise God!

Jesus smells.

Praise God!

Amen.

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New Year Resolutions

Luke 2:41-52
Colossians 3:12-17love

We have yearly traditions. Things we do, year after year, to mark the passage of time. Christmas with Christmas trees, and stockings, and cookies and milk set out to Santa. New Years with a ball drop in Times Square where many have pilgrimaged to see it. Valentine’s Day cards. Independence Day fireworks. Trick or Treating for Halloween and carved pumpkins. These are all religious, secular, traditional and commercialized at the same time. This is because rituals have so much meaning! And mean something a little different to each person.

Ancient Israel had these yearly traditions too. One was going to the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover. Everyone who could would ban together, load up the donkeys and camels, and walk to the big city for the celebration. Back at home would be just those too old or sick to make it, too young, or those watching over the flocks this year. (Someone has to feed the sheep!) Everyone else, all the extended family, headed into the city for the party.

At big family reunions, you know how kids get lost. They run around from table to table, place to place, and you’re generally sure they’re okay because this is all family and no one has yelled out ‘MOMMY OF SUSIE! SUSIE NEEDS YOU!’ or something similar.

This is the big family tradition Luke describes to us. Pre-teen Jesus and all his extended family show up for the party at the temple. When its time to go home, Mary assumes Jesus is with Joseph. Joseph assumes Jesus is with Mary. Both then assume he’s off with family somewhere in this mess of people. And when they get home… and everyone is sorted out to their own houses… they realize there’s no Jesus. So back to the city they rush to look for their missing teen.

They find him in the Temple, after the party has ended, debating with the Rabbis and impressing them with his knowledge. The story transitions here from describing customs in ancient Israel, to… making a statement about Jesus.

Remember Luke is writing under Roman rule, and explaining to Roman-Jews and Gentile converts who Jesus is. They all know how Caesar came to power. Some remember it from personally lived history.

It began like this: At age of 12, the boy Augustus gave the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, the sister of Julius Caesar. Emperor Julius Caesar adopted his grand-nephew Augustus as his son. When Julius Caesar died, his adopted son Augustus named Julius a god, himself the Son of God, and took control of Rome through the Senate to rule over the known world. Now Augustus Caesar rules as Emperor with as much, if not more, power than his uncle / adopted-father.

Luke knows these facts. And he knows his audience does, too. He writes a new version of the Son of God.

Jesus was an exceptional child by the age of 12. He impressed adults with his speech qualities. Since Jesus is the son not of Joseph, but of ‘his father’ who lives in the Temple… Jesus is the Son of God. The Son of God grows into an exceptional leader who is appointed not by humans, but by God, to reign over the whole universe.

Luke is asserting Jesus is better than Augustus.

We don’t know if the story we read today did happened or not. The message is true, one way or the other, however – Jesus, not Caesar Augustus – reigns. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is divine. Jesus, not Caesar Augustus, is our savior.

Luke is so full of sedition! He writes and encourages his fellows to see not their God-King in Caesar… but in this Jesus fellow.

This Jesus… who is shown in story after story as better than Caesar… but opposite him in leadership style and qualities.

“Pax Romana” was the Peace of Rome. This peace was maintained with fear, and violence, and was the absence of conflict between nation states. Absence of conflict is not peace. Peace is an end of fear. Fear was how Rome ruled. People had to fear non-Romans to justify having authoritarian leaders. People had to fear Roman soldiers to keep from rebelling. People had to fear falling to the station of non-Romans to stay in line and not empathize with slaves, or foreigners. People had to fear for Rome to rule.

“Pax Christi” is the Peace of Christ. This is peace maintained through an end of fear. Conflict may still arise, but we will work through it together without resulting to violence. We may disagree, but we continue to love one another. We don’t fear. We don’t fear soldiers because we know our bodies are not our forever homes. We don’t fear falling in station because we voluntarily call ourselves slaves and the least. We don’t fear foreigners because we remember we are foreigners ourselves right now. We don’t fear mortal leaders because we have a heavenly leader. We reject the leadership of fear, for the leadership of Peace.

Which means we, like Luke, are pretty seditious and radical. We’re rebellious. We’re living in the world, but are not of it.

The letter to Collossians reminds us we are called to be the “people who embody compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, and thanksgiving.” ((Frank L. Crouch.))

That’s quite the list! I think Mary would have just been happy if Jesus just told her where he was going instead of worrying her and Joseph sick for days.

But this awesome list is my New Years Resolution.

See, much like everyone going to the Temple for Passover or later, Hanukkah, we have the tradition of making goals for the new year. People set out New Year Resolutions. Big ones – this year I’ll win the lottery and lose 100 lbs! Small ones – this year I’ll remember my brother’s birthday and eat more carrots. And every year, whether big or small, most of us forget our resolutions by February.

Why?

Because change is hard! It really is. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying a big change or a little change, we habitually resist it.

A change that lasts must be practiced not just one month in twelve… but daily, until it becomes part of our nature instead of something we are purposefully reminding ourselves to do.

Colossians gives us some new year resolutions to work on, and says this habit is for us in “whatever we do, in word or in deed,” Habits for daily living.

Paul writes to have Compassion. This is not sympathy and thinking ‘thank God I’m not like them,’ but rather, ‘there I go but for the Grace of God.’ Compassion is seeing every person as someone in whom Christ dwells. Would you cut Jesus off in traffic? Would you deny Jesus asylum from drug cartels? Would you tell Jesus its his own fault he’s poor? Compassion is looking at each person and seeing them as God sees them. Beloved.

And clothe yourselves with kindness. I think we understand this one. Kindness is being kind to others. Kindness is to walk about with gentle feet. You may have heard the Boy Scout’s saying of leaving a place better than you found it… so if you stay in a cabin, you leave it cleaner than when you arrived. This is kindness. Caring for others, walking lightly upon the earth, and having a warmth about you.

Our author ties kindness with humility. This is not humiliation! Don’t think scripture is ever asking you to be humiliated, ashamed, belittled. That is not kindness and compassion. Humility is not taking yourself too seriously. It is knowing you’re not the final authority on every subject, knowing you make mistakes, and knowing you’re not perfect. Humility is humbleness. Its the opposite not of pride, but of vanity.  No one is sinning when they’re proud of their grandkids! Someone may  be sinning if they shove those grandkids out of the way to be the center of attention. A vain person talks about themselves, praises themselves, and encourages other to talk about how great the vain person is. A humble person talks about themselves and others. Praises where praise is due. Encourages all people’s voices to be heard.

Along with humility, we’re told to wear gentleness. Gentleness is meekness, being mild. Don’t think of this one as “be a mat for people to walk upon” but as the difference among how you make your needs known. A gentle person says, “Jesus, why have you worried us?” A hard person says, “Jesus The Christ! I’m going to paddle you into next week!” A gentle person has the strength to control themselves. It used to be gentle was also attributed to people who are born of nobility. A gentle person is courteous, chivalrous, benevolent – the type of leader you want. We’re called to be nobility – the very children of God.

Gentleness is tied with Patience. Patience – we’re urged in Collosians. Patience I usually hear as being able to count to three when angry before responding. But patience is more than just that. It is being able to not have instant gratification. It’s great to eat all our Christmas chocolate. Patience says space that chocolate out so you don’t eat it in one sitting. Patience says teenagers and preteens are going to cause us fear and worry – regardless if it is 12 CE or 2018… 2019… CE. Patience knows we grow up, mature, and wisen. Patience is forbearance. Waiting. Tolerating. Not necessarily accepting… but willing to postpone our judgement and reaction.

Next, we’re told to forgive. We literally pray this every Sunday, and some of us pray it daily: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” God, forgive us, because we are forgiving others. God, we forgive others, because you forgave us.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, but its not expecting that person or persons to do more towards making things right. Forgiveness is needed. Sorely needed. We need others to forgive us when we try our best and still fail. We need to forgive others, when they mess up and repent, but can’t turn back the clock. We need forgiveness from God for all the sins we do and that over take us. We need to give forgiveness to all the people who harm us, and moved on oblivious or not caring we were hurt. Forgiveness is necessary to any relationship that lasts.

Over all these garments of Christianity, place on the cloak of Love. Clothe yourselves in love! Everyone knows a police officer because they see the woman or man in a uniform. Everyone knows who is a doctor because of wearing scrubs and a lab coat. Love is the clothes of Christians. Meeting someone who is very loving should immediately clue others that this person is a Christian. They will know us by our love!

Christians today are often NOT known by their love. They’re known for their hate of Gays, hate of women who have abortions, and intolerance or complete disregard for the concerns of the dreaded ‘Millennial’ and ‘Nones’ generation.

Love alone will fix this. Radical acts of love that counter the messages of hate. Radical acts of love that say each person is valued. Radical acts of love that welcome in the budding Rabbis, sit them in the middle of the temple, and really HEAR what they have to say. Acts of love that is impressed with the concerns and Christianity emerging from our next generation.

Acts of love, words of love, deeds of love, thoughts of love – that defy the way the world does things but herald the way God does things – that is our main clothing. Our outer garment. Our uniform over all these other clothes we’ve put on.

All of of this together leads to Peace. The real peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding. The peace that is the absence of fear, the tolerance of differences, the forgiveness of wrongs, the humility to admits wrongs, the compassion to see all sides of an argument, the kindness to stand with the gentle and the patience to try, try, and try again to live this Christian life. Peace is living with one another as we grow and change. Peace is not fearing tomorrow or today. Peace is knowing we rest securely in the love of God.

Peace is what I wish for you this New Years. As you go and do your yearly traditions – whatever they may be – may you go clothed in your uniform of Christian Love and be the messenger of peace. May your yearly, monthly, daily, hourly tradition be embodying Christ’s peace.

Amen!

Live Like You Are Dying

Mark 10:35-4571o-YNZUNNL._SY355_

Hebrews 5:1-10

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

Sermon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slaves do not.

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

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

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

The brothers assert, “We are able!”

Do they know what they have asked?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without love, a leader is a tyrant.

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

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

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

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

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

Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.

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

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

That is the life Jesus invites us into now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Children’s Chat: Super Why! jesus

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

As a child, I learned the secret answer in Sunday School… I bet you did, too. It goes like this:

“Who walked on water?”
JESUS!
“Who cured the blind?”
JESUS!
“Who loves us?”
JESUS!

The answer to everything was either Jesus, God, love, or Jesus’ love for God. You get the idea. Our faith is simple, and boils down to love. But there’s an issue with this Jesus answer for everything… Sometimes, Jesus doesn’t fit the question.

“Who broke the vase?”
JESUS!
“Who gave you detention?”
JESUS! No – it was God?

As we experience more of life, the questions get harder, and the answer “Jesus!” or God or love fits even less.

“Why do I have cancer?”
Jesus. … Or God…
“Why is there evil in the world?”
… Jesus. God… love?

Our lives get more complex as we experience more, and satisfying answers get more complex. The simple answers don’t just cut it in the face of years of depression, years of feeling isolated, years of chronic illness. “Because Jesus loves you” is a terrible answer to why children die of starvation. Because Jesus loves you, he sent a drunk driver to kill your family. Because God loves children, God sends shooters into schools to kill children and make new angels for heaven. Because of love, our Sunday School theology applied to experienced life does so much harm.

In the words of Dr. Linda Mercadante – bad theology kills.

Bad theology kills our faith. Once we get to the notion everything is caused by God, and everything happens because God or Jesus loves us, we may come to the conclusion God is pretty evil. Or we don’t want Jesus’ love if this love looks like starvation. If God’s love is torture, who needs God? If Jesus’ love is hate, who wants to be a Jesus follower? The simple theology of Jesus is the answer to everything works when life is simple. And it kills faith when life is complex.

Bad theology kills.

It kills faith, but it also kills people. If the reason everything happens is because of God’s love, then any bad fortune is because someone has lost God’s love.

A woman on welfare must be lazy, sexual promiscuous, a thief, and not a good Christian woman. She is poor because she isn’t living virtuously. Her sins are why she is poor.

A man addicted to narcotics must be weak willed, violent, a thief, and not a good Christian man. He is addicted because he isn’t living sinfree. If he just confessed, he’d be clean and back in God’s love.

This theology kills. It denies food and shelter, love and education. It makes a class system when the least are treated as second class citizens – as left-overs – or as unwanted ‘undesirables’ of society. It also directs our public policy and research.

((Many are ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous even through there is no evidence it actually helps people. Oh yes – people leave alcohol there. But just as many do not. The only successful intervention scientifically proven is medication to help rewire the mind after the alcohol has wired it for addiction. AA is a great support network… but it doesn’t touch the physical addiction side of alcoholism. But our bad theology says the flesh is nothing, and the spirit everything. It says just confessing the sin of alcoholism will put you right with God again, and then, you ought to have no more issues.

But that’s not how our bodies work.))

This is bad theology.

Simplistic, early-learning theology.

And bad theology kills.

Jesus’ disciples began with simplistic theology. He told them do not fear, just have faith. And they got this. And it works while their mission is simple. They are simply curing the sick, helping the poor, and speaking of God’s love for people. When life is simple we need simple theology.

But then the disciples get more complex experiences, and Jesus begins to tell them the Messiah will be denied by organized religion, and killed by the government, and be resurrected by God. “But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”

Because the answers are terrifying.

Based on simple theology applied to a complex question – ie, bad theology – the reason Jesus will be murdered terribly is because of God’s love. I bet you’ve heard this.

How different is this reasoning than “divinely ordained child abuse?”

How different is this than adults telling little children they are abused out of love?

These are terrifying answers. These are answers that kill my faith and kill people.

If you think these are going to be the answers to “Why did Jesus die?” why would you ever ask the question?

And if you did ask… who would you ask? And when? Where?

Once we know Jesus is the answer to everything, and God is love, then it’s like… we’re scared to be seen as foolish by questioning these simple answers. So we bottle up the questions instead of asking them. Bottle them up because we don’t want judged by our fellow family, friends, and congregation members…. Bottle them up because we don’t really want to know the answers…. And bottle them up because we think we’re Christians and this is our faith and we ought to get it.

The disciples literally walked with God Incarnate and didn’t get it.

They were scared to ask the questions, too.

But the questions are… liberating. They let our faith grow more complex to answer our complex lives.

I am guilty of hiding my questions like the disciples. Before I found the United Church of Christ, I sat with a Buddhist who didn’t know anything about Christianity. I could tell her all my questions around Christianity and she wouldn’t try to give me the simple answers because she didn’t know them. She wouldn’t say my soul was in danger for questioning the goodness of God, or the divinity of Jesus, or the reality of the Holy Spirit because soul isn’t really a concept in Buddhism.

She didn’t feed me answers at all. She sat with me in the questions.

She didn’t FEAR the questions.

And so I asked.

Of course, she had no answers. Christianity wasn’t her faith! But the answers weren’t as important as vocalizing the questions, looking at the questions, and considering the various answers. The journey into the questions was more important. And we journeyed in them together.

Jesus offers his disciples to ask him the hard questions. He doesn’t promise answers – he tends to answer in parables anyways – but he promises to stick with them through exploring the answers.

That is what living faith is about.

Exploring. Moving. Changing.

Our lives are not static. Our lives are dynamic. We gather more and more experiences. Our faith should be the same. Dynamic, growing, changing as we change.

The simplistic theology is important, and good, for when we are drinking the infant milk of our faith. But as infants age, they need solid food. They need carrots to crunch and meat to tear. As we grow into mature lives, we need a mature faith that is crunchy and has substance we can bite into. We need a faith that is satisfying to our more complex needs.

That faith can only come from permitting our faith to be exposed to life. The moment you feel you need to defend your faith from life is the moment you’ve outgrown your faith. Let her out! Let her stretch and grow and yes, pick up some bruises, but grow into the faith you need for your adult life!

The disciples have stopped growing in our reading today. They’ve begun to protect their concepts of Messiah from life. Jesus has been telling them of the bad fate for himself when he returns to Jerusalem, but they are scared to ask what this means. Instead, they focus on their simple faith in the messiah. The simple faith says the messiah will be a military warrior, go to Jerusalem, be crowned king, and toss out the Romans.

The simple faith says your lot in life is based on how much of God’s fortune you have earned. The simple faith says Jesus is a pretty amazing guy, so God’s going to reward Jesus with everything.

So they look at themselves who are also healing the sick and walking with THE Jesus, and they say – hey! We’re pretty amazing guys ourselves. Who is going to be the second most awesome person in the land and the second in charge for Jesus? Who has the most miraculous power, who’s cured the most ill, who’s preached the most good news? Let’s rank up!

And Jesus looks at them, hears their concerns, and realizes they have not grown into the new experience of a servant messiah at all. He realizes their faith is not ready. And we know Jesus is right. They all will desert him in the end.

And “It’s not just that they don’t understand some piece of information. It’s that they don’t understand this specific teaching, at the very heart of the Incarnation. How is it possible for the Son of God to suffer and die? And why should it happen?

The question that the disciples are afraid to ask is the question that propels so many early Christian attempts to construct an intelligible, if misguided, Christology. Maybe Jesus didn’t really suffer and die (Docetism) or maybe only the human part of Jesus suffered but the divine part was untouched (Gnosticism). Early Christians struggle with what sort of deity lets her/himself get into a corner like that? They needed an almighty God who conquers enemies, not one who suffers and dies. Underneath verses 31-32 are the basic questions of who Jesus is, and of the nature of God. Such a self-demoting God could hardly be trustworthy.” ((Amy Oden https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1356))

Faced with the terror of a suffering God, arguing over a victorious god’s right hand man is much easier. Faced with the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the world is much easier. But it leads to infighting, and all the other woes James writes about. When we avoid the hard questions, our faith doesn’t grow, and the small answers don’t satisfy and cause more issues. Remember, bad theology kills.

Jesus won’t abandon these disciples in their fear. He calls over a child. A child – who has not done a single miracle. Who cannot read or write. Who didn’t see the bread broke and the fish shared. A child – likely not baptized. Maybe not even Jewish. A child – someone wholly dependent on others for protection, food, and clothing. A young child who has no wealth, no status, nothing but themselves.

And Jesus says, “This is the greatest here.” Not any of the disciples, but this unnamed child. “Whoever welcomes the least, such as a child, in my name, welcomes me.”

Jesus is found in the lowest.

“Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

God is found in the lowest.

“The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Not kings. Not princes. Not the best Christians. Not politicians. Not the rich. Not the sinless. And especially not in the person who says they have all the answers. But in children and those like them.

The greatest are the servants… the ones who are humble, low, don’t know better, and not scared of appearances. The ones with curiosity, who are growing, who are changing, who are embracing life as it comes.

The disciples are scared to ask Jesus questions. They want to look like they know it all to each other. And they don’t want their simple theology challenged.

The woman at the well asks Jesus lots and lots of questions. She doesn’t care what others think of her. And she hasn’t a simple theology to be challenged.

We, ourselves – are we scared to ask our hard questions? Do we fear what one another will think of us? Are we scared of how our faith may be changed, or challenged?

I’m guilty of this at times. At times it hurts to grow and the unknown is scary. It is painful to be vulnerable and suffer your friends, family, and congregation’s judgments (perceived or real.) It is terrifying to consider whether or not God is all good, all powerful, or all knowing.

But we’re a denomination of godly wisdom, not worldly wisdom. We’re a denomination of questions. Some of our mottos include

Don’t leave your brain at the door.
Never put a period where God has put a comma, God is still speaking.
Our faith is 2000 years old, our thinking is not.

Our roots are the Puritans who dreamed of free public education for every child, so that every person could read the Bible for themselves. Our roots are the Protestant Reformers who dreamed of a Bible translated into local languages and a physical copy there for each person to read. Our roots are roots of asking the questions and exploring answers.

How would our story of Christianity be different if the disciples had asked their hard and scary questions?

How will our faith be different?

How will our congregation be different?

This is a safe spot. We are on a journey together. We are asking the questions together. It is a journey, where sometimes we will find an answer to our questions that satisfies awhile, or satisfies one or two people but not all people. It is a journey where sometimes we won’t find answers at all… but we can live into the questions.

We can live into the faith.

We can live into the mystery.

There are no stupid questions. Carl Sagan once wrote, “There are naive questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question”

A question asked might risk you looking foolish for 5 minutes.

A question not asked may leave you foolish for 55 years.

Do not be afraid – ask!

Amen.

The Whole Armor of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely not!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is what Paul is writing about.

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

Evil is real.

Evil happens.

Evil always slips in, somehow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

If you want a friend, tame me

petit-prince-630

YOUNGER SAINTS AND YOUNG AT HEART….

There is a classic book, and now a movie, called The Little Prince. In it, a Little boy travels the cosmos to visit planets and learns life treasures, life lessons, along the way.

In the beginning, The Little Prince loves a rose and believes her that she is the only rose in all the universe. But when The Little Prince visits Earth, he finds a whole garden of roses. He falls into despair, for his rose is not unique in the least.

Although it is marketed towards children, it is actually a book of parables for adults. Listen to this one about the Little Prince and the Fox.


“”Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” the fox said.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

And so the little prince begins to tame the fox by spending time with him. The fox tells him not to speak, because “words are the source of misunderstandings. They just sit near one another, closer and closer, over a great period of time.

“After the fox is tamed, it is time for the prince to leave, and the fox is about to cry. Because of this, the prince worries that the taming has hardly done any good. But the fox says it has done him good “because of the color of the wheat fields” The golden wheat will remind the fox of the prince’s golden hair, which will make the wheat fields a source of happiness to the fox – until he was tamed, the wheat fields meant nothing to him. Thus, according to the fox, it is our relationships that make the world around us significant and meaningful.” (https://www.shmoop.com/little-prince/fox.html)

The fox then shares three secrets, or treasures, with the boy:

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.


SCRIPTURE

Mark 8:27-38
James 3:1-12

In our kid’s chat, I read a portion from the Little Prince. Remember the three secrets to the fox’s life…

1. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

2. It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.

3. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

After hearing and understanding these, the Little Prince is able to return and love his rose not because she is the only rose in the universe, but because she is HIS rose. What is essential isn’t that she’s a rose… it’s what’s invisible about her. Their time together has tamed one another – established ties with one another – and that is what makes them unique and important to one another. And once you have ties with someone, you’re in covenant with them. You’re responsible for that relationship.

Pretty heady stuff for kids, right? It’s why I advise reading this book as an adult, too. In many ways, it’s a retelling of the stories from our Bible. The fox could almost be a retelling of our section of James today.

James writes about teachers and words, horses and boats… but what he really is drilling down to is taming – is establishing ties.

James explains that a boat is tamed with a rudder. The little thing allows the boat and its riders to then tame the wind, and glide across the water safely.

A horse is tamed with a bit in its mouth. And this tiny thing takes control of its hold body and tells the horse where to go.

These little things have big effects.

Now, a little spark is what starts a wild forest fire that burns everyone and everything in its path.

Your tongue, writes James, is a little thing. Does it spark fires that harm, or does it work like a horse bit or a ship rudder and make something tamed?

James argues that our tongues are wild, untamed, and don’t have those established ties with us or others. Tongues speak curses and blessings both. If we get used to speaking bad about people, we’re like brackish water and unable to speak blessings of living water. Or we’re plants trying to produce fruit that isn’t native to us… because we’re used to producing the fruit of curses. So we should practice giving forth sweet, fresh waters and good fruits – then those things come more naturally.

What we spent time on is what is important to us. Think of that horse James describes… it wasn’t actually the BIT that tamed it. Someone established ties with that horse over time, teaching it to respond to the bit, building up a relationship. Little things, over time, built up between a trainer and that horse until the horse and the trainer were trained to one another. Knew one another.

And think of that boat – that rudder was learned by the captain over time. Over time, the captain learned how to watch the sails and wind. This wasn’t simply a matter of putting a rudder on the boat and suddenly it is tame… time, energy, thought, and patience had to be invested.

And think of the fox. He says he is same as 100,000 other foxes… but with established ties, he will be unique and special to the little prince… who, until the little boy is tamed, is just the same as 100,000 little boys to the fox.

Time invested, words spoken, meals shared, prayers over one another – these are little things that tame us to one another. That establish ties with one another.

Our tongues, our words, spoken or typed on Facebook, or instant message, or signed, or communicated in any way – are us investing time into someone or something.

They are little things with big effects.

Is that effect a blessing, bringing forth the uniqueness of each person, bringing forth positive ties, taming one another into a meaningful relationship?

Or is that effect a curse, spreading negativity and sin like a wild fire, burning bridges and scorching hearts and refusing to spend time to know someone or something?
That is the tension with the word tame… tame can mean control, to be docile… but it can also mean to establish ties, to invest time in, to be friends… in what sense of the word is your tongue tamed or are you tamed by your tongue?

Jesus and Peter get into an argument with their tongues today. Jesus has spent SO MUCH time with his disciples. Like the Little Prince, he invests time in his disciples and they invest time into him. He guides them from knowing Jesus is just one of 100,000 men to knowing he is something so much more… and he asks them today: just who do people say I am?

We, the listeners, hear the disciples call back to all the other motifs, themes, Jesus has fulfilled. He has been like Elijah, and like John… But Jesus presses them for their own secret, their own life truth. Who do YOU think I am?

We listeners hear Peter proclaim the truth: You are the messiah! But then Peter rebukes Jesus for saying the messiah will suffer, be rejected and murdered.

Peter wants to tame Jesus in the control sense of the word. Taming as control is not the same as taming to establish ties. Taming to control is trying to dominate the other. It would be like coming to the fox with a tranquilizer dart; or the horse with an electric prod. Yes, you’ll establish ties… but they won’t be good ones. The other will obey, but not be tame.

Taming, in the sense of establishing ties, is to approach one another with respect. Giving room for the other. Learning who the other is, and appreciating that. It is coming a little closer to the fox every day and starting the horse on bridle or a training snaffle. This lets us know the horse, and the horse know us, and trust to be built. Not fear or control.

Peter wants to control Jesus. He argues the messiah should be the one who doesn’t suffer but relieves suffering. He isn’t rejected, but welcomed as the new king and throws off Rome. He also isn’t murdered – he rules!

Jesus wants to tame Peter in the establish ties sense of the word. He wants Peter to realize that the divine will isn’t set on killing Romans and military conquest. “What is essential is invisible to the eye” – the essentials are divine things. Essentials – love, forgiveness, reconciliation, time ‘wasted’ on others. Essentials – spending your life not focused on how to get ahead, or how to preserve what you have… for it is not living to be in fear of loss. Instead, you gain your life by giving your life away and ‘wasting’ it on invisible, but so essential, things like love.

Like being tamed.

Like spending enough time with your messiah to know why he is different than all others. Like spending enough time with your brothers and sisters to know what makes them unique. Like ‘wasting’ enough time sitting in prayer, and meditation, and scripture reading to know that your invested time makes these things all the more precious.

What profit is there to gain the whole world…?

To have everything? To never waste a moment? To never pause to smell the rose or tame the fox or pray with the stranger or speak with the messiah?

… But forfeit your life? Give up the opportunity to establish ties, make things important, and care for one another?

No one can tame the tongue. We will make mistakes. We will say the wrong things. Sometimes things just slip out! We will have moments when Jesus ought to yell at us “Get behind me, Satan!”

“Words cause misunderstandings…”

But we are more than our words. We are more than our thoughts and prayers. We are also actions. Jesus doesn’t toss Peter out. Jesus invests more time into him. Jesus has a tie with Peter, they are tamed to one another, and therefore, in covenant… responsible…to one another.

When you disagree, it’s okay if you’re in covenant with one another, if you’re in committed friendships and relationships, congregations and families. It means the harsh tongue can be forgiven with time invested back into the relationship. It means the wildfire can be snuffed out. It may mean much time of silence, and getting to know one another again. It may be for the best that, after reflecting, you part ways much as the fox and the little prince did…

But their relationship was worth it “because of the color of the wheat”, now wheat is a constant reminder of the good times with the prince for the fox.

I’ve had friends and family come and go over the years. But they were all worth it – because of how we tamed, established ties, with one another and changed each other’s worlds. I see symbols that remind me of these good times and memories, much like the wheat reminds the fox of this time with the boy.

The things that remind me are as varied as a song, a scent, a particular restaurant, a food.

Some of these people passed away. Some of them passed to new cities. Some them passed on to new phases of their lives.

But they were worth it because of 4th of July cake, lavender pillows, LiveJournal, glow in the dark markers, and spiders… just some of the many things that make me remember fond times with other who tamed me, and I hope I tamed them – established ties with them – and they think of our time together fondly.

So if you want a friend… tame one another. Waste time on one another. It is the language of love – a language without words. God is investing God’s whole life, and more, into you.

Amen

Dancing in the Spirit

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

Water throughout the Bible –

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

Much like a dove’s flight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The spirit of God dances throughout it.

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

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

Symbolically, we cease.

Spiritually, the old us DOES die.

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

Symbolically, we have over come death.

Symbolically, we have emerged back into the world anew.

Spiritually, we are a new creation.

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

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

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

Amen.