Tag: Luke

Hen’s Teeth

chicks.jpg

Abram has gotten rich in livestock, and silver, and gold. He has a wife. He recently has successfully won a major battle.

But God’s promise to give him children hasn’t been fulfilled all these years.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, teaching, healing, and prophesying as he goes. It is the “hour” or time for these things and not yet the hour, or time, for his death, which is how he may refer to as his glorification.

Luke 13:31-35

Ambiguity is a big word for meaning something is unclear. Not as a simple as black and white. For example we all agree there is a left and right to this church, yeah? But is that Terrie’s left and right, my left and right, your left and right, the kids’ left and right… All of these directions are different compass points, even through we all agreed there IS such a thing as left and right to the church!

We’re pretty ambiguous about chickens. It is an insult to call someone a chicken, but a complement to call them a chick (if they’re a woman.) We complain chicken is the cheapest meat, but complement food by saying it tastes like chicken. We praise someone for being an egg head, or a smart egg… but insult them by calling them a bird brain. Ambiguity. It’s not really clear how we actually feel about chickens.

Religion is an ambiguous thing to me. Religion has inspired some of the greatest people on Earth to do the greatest acts of love. For religious reasons, Mother Theresa served the poorest of India. Religion inspired the foundation of most hospitals – which began as charities. And many universities, schools, food pantries and material assistance around the world.

Religion has also inspired some of the most horrific acts. The Spanish Inquisition murdering Jews and Rroma; the Crusades murdering Muslims; the drowning of Anabaptist by other Christians for their belief in adult baptism and the giving of small pox laced blankets to First Peoples who refused to convert to Christianity.

Religion is pretty ambiguous. Not a simple thing of all good or all bad.

Simplifying our conversation to just Christianity, to just the scriptures we all have today in our hands… things are still muddled.

How many angels were in Jesus’ tomb? Zero? Two? Three? The gospels don’t agree.

Does God have a wife? In Genesis, God speaks in the plural. In Kings, there is the comment that the ancient Israelites set up places to worship YHWH and “His Asheroth.” Asheroth is the name that other ancient religions used to describe the lives of various gods… such as El… which is a name sometimes given to YHWH in the Bible.

It is ambiguous. Not clear. Thousands of thousands of years and writings and rewriting and new encounters with the ever living God have occluded, muddled, the story. But it looks like once, all our ancestors were not monotheists. And our scripture, handed down generation after countless generation, from ancient Abram to now, has little hints of this time still in it.

Luke’s gospel isn’t as old as the stories of Genesis and Kings… but its still not clear. Consider – Are the Pharisees good guys or bad guys of the Bible? Sometimes they are plotting to kill Jesus… and yet, today, we hear they WARN Jesus not to come to Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill Jesus. They are the people Jesus preaches against as hypocrites for being outwardly pious but inwardly not… and yet they join Jesus’ disciples and invite Jesus into their homes for dinner.

The Pharisees are… rather ambiguous. Grey. Neither good nor bad.

Jesus seems to embrace ambiguity.

He faces Jerusalem today and just calls out what a mixed place it is. It’s the place where God had chosen to make God’s home on earth – a holy city on several hills. It was also the place where the tetrarch Herod (the junior Herod) ruled and kept the land in subservience to Rome. Jerusalem was full of holy sites and holy people… and a city complete with all the things a city normally has: crime and cesspools and the valley known as Gehenna – where the Romans cremated their dead.

Jerusalem kills the prophets and stones the people God sends to it… and yet, God wants to gather the city together protectively and lovingly like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Jerusalem is ambiguous. The city isn’t clearly sinful nor godly.

Jesus loves to speak in “parables” and parables are anything but clear. They’re like a kaleidoscope that let us see things in new ways. As soon as we solve a parable, we think of a new something that makes us review it again.

Just like Jesus tells the Pharisees to return to Tetriarch Herod and tell him that Jesus is going to keep doing the work of healing and casting out demons today, tomorrow, and then finish on the third day.

What?

Like – seriously – Jesus does not work for two days, then sleep on the third. He continues going around for some time healing and preaching and casting out demons. When he enters Jerusalem, it takes more than 3 days for him to “finish” the work.

If this refers to the three days for the resurrection… where was Jesus healing and casting out demons while dead?

If this refers to the fullness of God here on Earth… why hasn’t it happened, yet? Why did Jesus say none of us would perish before he returned?

Ambiguities! Riddles! No easy answers.

I’m… kinda glad scripture doesn’t hand us easy answers. Because life sure doesn’t.

I try to be ethical when grocery shopping. Right now, a dozen white generic eggs are 88 cents. Cage free brown eggs are 3.50. Cage free organic eggs are 4.50 And cage free, organic, vegetarian eggs are 5.50. Which is the most ethical choice?

I happen to be a bird person. I love birds and chickens of all kinds. I’ve been to LaRue and seen the factory egg farms. I know those 88 cent eggs come from birds that have their beaks clipped too short, never see sunlight, can barely turn around in pens, and will be killed for bone meal in 2 years. It’s incredibly inhumane.

But if I get those cheap eggs, then I have more money to get fruits and vegetables for my daughter – and help out her life.

But then I support the cruelty in LaRue and Croton.

So I look at the far end. Organic. Cool. No chemicals. Free range. Well, factory free range means they’re not in cages… but they’re not running around all over the yard like their picture shows. Still better. Maybe. Vegetarian-fed.

Now, if you’ve ever been around chickens, you know… they LOVE meat. I’ve seen them catch mice and eat them. Maybe the good is that these chickens didn’t eat any other chickens who were turned into bone meal… but, speaking for all the birds I’ve ever raised, chickens LOVE to eat chicken, too.

There’s a reason baby birds are given red brooder lights. Its so they don’t eat each other.

The ethics on just selecting my eggs are hard. Ambiguous. Now, that is just getting eggs. All of life is this complicated and ambiguous.

Thank God that God has come to us and shared our common lot. Thank God that God knows how confusing it is to be human. Thank God that God doesn’t relate to us in all or nothing, black and white, simple ways.

God is complex.
Scripture is complex.
And we are complex.

During Lent, we deal with one of the most complex and ambiguous stories of the Bible: the scandal of the crucifixion of Jesus. We’ve been struggling to understand the death of Jesus for 2000 years, and we’re going to keep struggling until Jesus returns. Even then, I think Jesus will likely explain it in more parables and ambiguities… because simple answers just aren’t satisfying.

As soon as we say Jesus died to forgive our sins… then who is God that God couldn’t forgive sins without murder?

As soon as we say we killed Jesus with our desire for violence and earthly power… then why does Jesus predict his death and say this is God’s will?

As soon as we say the cross was destined… why did Jesus pray for the cup to pass?

As soon as we say the cross was not destined… what more could Jesus have done if he still lived bodily to a ripe old age?

There’s no easy answers. There’s no single answer. There’s ambiguities and confusion. There’s complexity. Because we need a faith that is full of depth. Full of different meanings for different times of our lives. We need a God who is like a mother hen.

Mother hens are both the image of sweetness and terror on two legs. On one hand, I picture the sweet image of little baby chicks with their fluff peering out from under their mother’s feathers. But on the other hand, a mother hen is an insane little berserkers. I’ve watched a silkie mother tear into a squirrel who deigned to step into HER chicken run like she was a hawk. All claws and pecks and calls of “BWAAAAAA!”

No animal has had the nerve to go back into my chicken run. They’re terrified of that 4 pound silkie. People say hen’s teeth are rare… I think if they had teeth we’d never let these little monsters into our barnyards.

Anyways, I think of God like that – loving and mild and frightfully, ferociously protective of us.

But ambiguously, scripture also presents God as jealous, as one who orders Moses to have the Israelites kill all who worshiped the Golden Calf. As a god who turned a woman into a salt pillar.

God is… complex.
And we are complex.

Sometimes we need God to be a warrior and sometimes to be a comforter.

Some of us need God to be fire and brimstone. Some of us need God to be shepherds and rainbows.

And who we need in our parent God changes over our lives.

Much as who we needed our earthly parents changed over our lives. Sometimes we needed them to change our diapers and keep us from killing ourselves. Sometimes we needed a mom. Or a dad. Or a friend. Or a counselor. Or a prayer leader. And others of us needed space! Our relationships on earth change.

Our relationships with God change.

Lent gives us time to reflect on ourselves and our relationship with God. Who is God to you right now? Who did God used to be? Who might God be to you in the future?

Lent gives us time to embrace the ambiguities in life, and ourselves, and be okay with our journey and sitting with our questions.

Amen.

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Shining Faces: Transfiguration Sunday

strangersOur Exodus reading is about the SECOND time Moses came down the mountain. The first time he came down after receiving the 10 commandments from God and found the people of God worshiping a golden bull. In anger, Moses broke the tablets and God declared God wouldn’t stick by these people any more. But Moses and God come to an agreement of sticking by the “stiff necked” people, and a second copy of the 10 commandments are made, and God says God will now travel WITH the people.

Exodus 34:29-35

Our second reading occurs 8 days after Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah; and Jesus has told him and his disciples that if any wish to follow him they must take up their cross… not the worlds’ glory. For the Son of Man must suffer before being raised.

Luke 9:28-43

Have you ever had a God Moment? A moment when you experienced the presence of God? They’re really hard to describe. Often the people around us don’t even realize the moment is occurring. But we’re in a sleep, a trance, as the miracle unfolds around us.

Last winter I was in my car and I saw a man standing near the edge of the road with a sign asking for money. The driver of the truck in front of me rolled down his window and called to the man. “Hey! I’ve got a dollar and a cigarette. Want ’em?” And for a moment, while the light was red, the two shared a God moment. Smoking. Laughing. Being human.

Then the light changed, and we drove on.

I don’t know the name of either men. It wasn’t anything transcendent to either of them. But it was a glimpse of God for me.

Two strangers. Welcoming each other. Sharing a communion of sorts. Different races. Different ages. Different lives. But both made in the image of God. And their faces were shining with the joy of… companionship. Fellowship. The joy of relationships. The joy that is God.

That encounter sticks with me. So too, do thousands and thousands of others like it.

A xeno is “the smallest measurable unit of human connection, typically exchanged between passing strangers—a flirtatious glance, a sympathetic nod, a shared laugh about some odd coincidence—moments that are fleeting and random but still contain powerful emotional nutrients that can alleviate the symptoms of feeling alone.” (http://xeno.urbanup.com/6996693#.XHrUodud9B4.gmail)

Xeno comes from xenos, meaning stranger. Meaning Not Me.

It also means guest. Friend. Host.

Its the acknowledgement of the Image of God in the face of another.

And that is a God moment.

When Moses spoke with God, he was transfigured. The skin of his face shone. It glowed so much from his encounter that when he went about his daily life, he covered his face with a veil. But he unveiled himself when preaching, or praying, or worshiping. Then everyone could see how changed he was. Everyone could see him glow.

We GLOW at times.

Those two men I saw, xenos, strangers to each other, but sharing at least a xeno between them, glowed. Happy. No longer alone. Connected.

I glowed from seeing them. My face lit up. I smiled. I still smile remembering this.

A marvelous study of luminosity has found humans really DO glow. Our bodies produce energy and we have a faint glow about us from that. If we’re excited, or happy, we glow more than if we’re sad or lonely. People usually notice this in pregnant woman who have a “healthy glow.” Yes, they do! A lot more energy is going through their bodies and sensitive equipment, or eyes, can see this extra light.

Prayer, connections, relationships make us glow. Connecting with the divine make us glow.

Jesus, the Messiah, stands with Moses who represents the Laws and Elijah who represents the Prophets. Three traditions come together, connect, and Jesus begins to glow. Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of Peter, James, and John and the men see a glimpse of Jesus’ glory.

A glory, a glow, a wonder that is God’s love revealed.

From a cloud speaks God’s voice – much as it did to Moses – and the single spoken commandment is: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him!”

Listen to him when he says love one another.

Listen to him when he says cure one another.

Listen to him when he says one must keep awake for the presence of God.

Listen to him when he says I must suffer, but I will rise. You must bear a cross, but you will rise.

Listen to him say we are not orphans. We are not abandoned.

Listen to him say we are his brothers and sisters, the beloved, the chosen, the redeemed Children of God.

It seems odd to me that our reading ends with a healing story. But the words Jesus says paraphrase one of the last songs of Moses when he asks how long he’ll be with the stiff necked, faithless, perverse generation he’s traveled with. For Moses doesn’t go on with them into the new land. When they reach it, he stays behind and God is said to have buried him or taken him up to heaven without dying.

And here, here is Jesus who is with our own struggling generation. And he, too, will leave us – died, or carried up into heaven.

But the people were not abandoned. God walked with them. And we are not abandoned. The Spirit of God lives within us.

Even in the worst situations, of convulsions, of cancer, of war… God is there. God is there in the connections we share, the people in the moment helping one another when even they least expect it to happen.

Our scripture says to watch for God.

We can see that light of God in all times, good and bad, on mountains and in valleys.

God doesn’t stay on the mountain away from the Israelites. Jesus doesn’t stay on the mountain away from us. And when we listen to him, we go out into the hard places to bring the light too.

Amen.

Forgiveness is not Reconciliation

Genesis 45:3-11,15 download
Luke 6:27-38

We’re back in that time of year again… we’re entering Lent. There’s going to be lots of talking of forgiveness and reconciliation. Lots of focus on guilt, shame, and unearned mercy. A lot of time of talking about being… a Christian doormat.

Does anyone want to wipe their feet on a mat? Here I am! Choose me!

For literal centuries if not millennia Jesus’ phrases to “forgive seven times seventy times” and “pray for those who abuse you” have been used to keep the abused in prisons of faith. They’ve been used to keep victims silent, compliant, and going along with whatever horrible things their abuser does.

Don’t complain about the harm done to you. Grin and bear it. Pray for your abuser.

Forgive your abuser, or else God won’t forgive your own sins.

If you’re ever striked on the cheek, offer your other cheek.

And the one I hate the most? Be like a silent lamb led to slaughter, just as was Christ.

NO! No! Before we step into this Lenten season, let’s stop right now. Right now and put away this damaging language and theology. This kind of bad theology literally kills people. It kills women who stay with their abusers. It kills children who are scared to speak up. It kills men ashamed of what they’ve experienced.

If ever scripture is used as a weapon against victims… then someone is using scripture in a wrong way.

We must pause here and take the concept of forgiveness away from the toolbox of abusers… and place it back into context. Back into the toolbox of grace, and love, and healing where God intends it to be.

Jesus today speaks his words while still on the level place. While still standing right here, with us, in the middle of our messy lives. He uses hyperbole, extreme language, to point out truths of how we are to live in the way of blessings.

He says: pay attention. Most of your relationships are business transactions. You expect to be treated a certain way, and you react as how you are treated. This is just what every human does – sinners or not.

If your spouse is loving towards you, you are loving towards your spouse.

If your waiter is rude to you, you are rude to your waiter.

And you expect the same back. If you treat people poorly, expect them to treat you poorly back.

This is the Silver? Rule. We relate to one another based on how we assume the other will treat us, or is treating us.

It’s a logical, human, rule. A fair rule.

I hear it utilized most often with taxes. Consider… I pay taxes for my roads. Therefore, I expect my roads to be maintained. However, I don’t use the public school – so why should I pay taxes for it? I pay taxes for my government representatives. I expect them to represent me. When they don’t, why should I keep paying?

When we apply the Silver Rule to forgiveness, it sounds like this: I will forgive you when you apologize. If you don’t apologize, I won’t forgive you. I will forgive myself when I correct the wrong I did. If I can’t fix it, then I shouldn’t forgive myself. It is dangerous to forgive an abuser, because then you’ll become a victim all over again. And just be the door mat. So do not forgive those who will keep hurting you.

But reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. These are two different things.

Forgiving someone is not the same as permitting them to be in your life.

Forgiveness doesn’t belong to the Silver Rule of reciprocal relationships.

Whether or not taxes belong to the Silver Rule tends to determine your political leanings and whether one likes big or small government. That’s out of my specialization.

Forgiveness, however? Don’t make it a business transaction.

When Jesus is speaking about “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you” Jesus is speaking about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule of “To Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” The Golden rule which is not about fairness, but about the virtue of compassion.

The Golden Rule supersedes the Silver Rule. The Golden Rule says I can forgive someone without reconciling, without entering a relationship again, with them.

To forgive is to stop expecting that person to get what they deserve. It is to let them off the hook and stop seeking repayment from them. It never means forgetting. It never means re-entering that relationship. It never means the person you forgive even needs to apologize.

All of these things CAN happen, but are not NECESSARY. All of these things CAN be steps towards reconciliation… but are not prerequisites for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is about giving up the desire for revenge.

God has forgiven us. Every single one of us. While we were still sinners. God chose to stop looking for a way for humanity to make up for all the wrongs we’ve done. God chose to stop seeking a way for us to pay. This is mercy. Unearned grace. This is forgiveness. We cannot do a thing about this because it is God’s choice.

We have the same power. We can forgive someone and they cannot do a thing about it.

God hopes to be reconciled with us. To re-enter relationship with us. But that means that we have to respond and want this. We have to seek out God as God seeks us out. We have to begin again anew.

We also have this power with one another. We can choose to seek out those who have forgiven us, or those we have forgiven and begin anew our relationship… or we can choose not to. We can choose who we are in relationship with.

For forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things.

In our first reading we heard a historic account of how these things are different. Remember Joseph is the youngest of the many, many sons of Jacob. When Joseph was little he was the baby and the favorite of his dad. His dad gave him a coat of many colors. Well, Joseph began to have dreams of the future. And in one of these dreams, he dreamed all his brothers AND his dad would bow down to him one day.

This went over pretty poorly with the whole family. They thought their little boy was getting very full of himself and spoiled. So the brothers schemed to kill Joseph. But one bargained to just throw him in a well. Meanwhile, another brother sold the kid into slavery.

So Joseph grew up a slave. And changed hands. Ended up in Egypt. And eventually became an adviser to the pharaoh himself because of Joseph’s prophetic dreams and dream interpretation skill.

A famine comes to the land and everyone is desperate for food. Joseph had assisted pharaoh with dream interpretation for this, and Egypt was fine. But Joseph’s brothers outside of Egypt are not. They appear in Egypt to beg for food.

It’s been… decades. But Joseph hasn’t forgiven his brothers who tried to kill him and sold him into slavery. Before today’s reading, he does deeds to make them pay. He makes insane demands. He sends them on errands. He keeps their littlest brother a hostage. He is making them pay.

Joseph is following the Silver Rule. His brothers hurt him, so he’s going to hurt them back.

But Joseph’s heart changes. He ends up forgiving them. They are hungry. They are scared. They cannot do anything to ever make right what they did all those years ago. Joseph forgives his brothers.

They never even know it is him. They never apologize. He gives up his need for revenge and takes on the need for compassion. He feels compassion for the brothers. This is the Golden Rule. They have given him harm, but he chooses to stop the cycle of violence. He gives compassion where he was given hate.

And then Joseph chooses to move from forgiveness – move from trying to make them pay for their sins – to reconciliation. He reveals himself to them as Joseph.

“Come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Come closer to me. Come, rejoin a relationship with me. Let us be brothers again… not lord and servants. Not enemies.

Yes, you sold me into Egypt. It is important in any reconciliation to not ignore the past. To not sweep it under the rug. Otherwise, it will become a cyst. A sore that remains toxic and lying there, waiting for someone to touch it and make it weep again.

“Do not be distressed or angry with yourself because you sold me.” I have forgiven you. I’m not going to seek to make you pay. I’m not going to throw you in the dungeon or kill you. It is okay for you to forgive yourselves, too. We can’t change what happened. We can seek to move forward.

“God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph interprets his time in Egypt as God’s plan to save the family. Joseph recognizes he has the power here of life or death over his brothers …. Much as they had the power of life and death over him. And he chooses to preserve life. He chooses to stand with God. He chooses to forgive, and then, if his brothers are willing, to reconcile with him.

We read that Joseph kissed his brothers, wept upon them, and after that – his brothers talked with him.

They chose to re-enter the relationship with their brother Joseph, too.

The group moved from enmity, anger and shame, to forgiveness… to Joseph giving up the desire to harm his brothers. To reconciliation. The brothers all choosing together to begin anew their life together.

In my own life I am struggling with my old obstetrician. After my daughter died, I desperately wanted justice. I wanted her to pay for the death of my daughter. I wanted her license stripped. I wanted her to know my own pain. I wanted everyone to know what a horrid doctor she is to ignore me and my concerns and how I would be dead had not my husband intervened and saved me after our daughter died. I could not do good to her. I hated her. Maybe I still hate her.

I hired lawyers and I had violent dreams and I said many horrible things.

And I feel justice was denied to me.

Now what?

She will never apologize to me. It would cost her her license and livelihood. She will never admit she did wrong. No lawyer could guarantee a jury would side with me over a licensed doctor, so although they said there was wrong… the laws are not in my favor.

The OB’s life goes on. Unchanged. My life stopped. Hung up. Forever radically changed.

I don’t even cross her mind. She is on mine almost daily.

I continue to suffer. How long?

Jesus’ words on the level plain today are for people like me. People who will never get the justice they believe they deserve, and the person who wronged them will never pay, and who know we are never able to turn back time and fix things we, or another, did. People who cannot ever change the fact they metaphorically were sold into slavery… or sold a brother into slavery.

That doesn’t mean we have to keep the burdens on our shoulders. We can choose to lay them down. Choose to give up our right to revenge … and choose not fair, unearned, mercy. Unearned grace. We can be merciful just as God is merciful.

Through a process of acknowledging the hurt, acknowledging the pain, and taking all of this to God… we can begin to awaken compassion again. Awaken forgiveness. Awaken ourselves to the life going on now… and have new growth out of the ashes of our woes.

Jesus’ sermon on the level is about taking the power back from those who hurt us. It is about how forgiveness is our own to give, or not give. But giving it – choosing to wish good on others, even those that hurt us – is good for our own souls. Grudges are heavy. They harm our current relationships. They assist in keeping us in depression.

It is like… when the harm first happens, we invest 100% of our energy into revenge. Over time, that drops to 80%, to 60%, to 40 to 20 to 0…

Forgiveness is like grieving. It takes time. It takes work. It isn’t clear cut. I might feel very forgiving today, and much less next week.

But forgiveness IS freeing. It releases us from the burden of seeking recompense. Payment. It gives us that energy back to invest into other relationships.

Now, as I’ve said, I must reiterate… Forgiveness is not reconciliation. I will not go back to that OB. I don’t want that relationship. I don’t want her in my life. I do want to forgive her… but God knows I’m not there yet.

So as we go into Lent, know we’re on a journey together. A journey where we are in the process of forgiving ourselves and each other. A journey where there is opportunity for reconciliation, but it is not a commandment. And this journey doesn’t begin and end over 40 days. It is our entire lives. Perhaps into the next life. But it is a journey we each are on together.

Amen.

Blessed?

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 6:17-26 jesus-refugee-1

God stands with the outcasts, the hungry, the poor, the sorrowful. God is sobbing because her child is stolen from her, taken away, lost. God is crying because his only son was murdered by the authorities for peacefully seeking a better life.

At our southern border today these stories are in the thousands. People that came to our country in desperation have arrived to only be cursed, imprisoned, have their children taken in many cases to never be returned. When I see this news, the same news we all get, I think of how far away it is, how little I can do…

But the truth is it’s happening in our own state.

God is with Rachel who is here, in central Ohio, because her husband attempted to kill her with acid and burned off most of her face.

God is with Daniel who is here, in central Ohio, because he witnessed a crime gang murder his older brother. And now they want all the witnesses dead.

God is with Joshua who is here, in central Ohio, because he wants his little children to grow up where they don’t have to dodge landmines.

These are different names, but these are real people living only minutes away from us, not just some distant story on the news.

These are the people we are putting into concentration camps. And we have work camps.
What’s going on at our borders is controversial; some people focus on protecting our wealth, our jobs, our safety from strangers.

Others focus on what is being done to protect those borders. Children taken from their parents with reports of them being beaten, raped, and even killed through sheer neglect. Children whose only crime was to have parents think Americans were honest in our desire to help the helpless.

Many people that feel ‘We’d like to help, but we have problems of our own’.

I think most of us see these stories, and meet these people, and KNOW bad things are happening this very moment…

But what are we to do?

No one in this room is personally harming a refugee or immigrant.

Yet the politicians we’ve chosen have decided our taxes will pay the salaries of the people doing this, pay for those prisons, and now will likely pay for an eight billion dollar wall.

As a country we stopped reading our Bible and instead have chosen bits and pieces of it that tell us prosperity is the right of Christians.

We stopped living our faith. Our faith that says in all ways we are to be salt for the earth – a flavoring, a blessing. Not a curse hateful of others.

When God sent Jesus, God sent our savior born of a refugee. An immigrant. A woman and man who traveled seeking a better life for the child.

God sent Jesus born into a family like yours or mine. A normal family. With brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. A messy family.

God sent Jesus born to share our common lot. To know what it is to be human. To know blessings – honor – and woe – shameful times.

God sent Jesus to stand not in Rome among the honorable, nor the honorable of occupied ancient Israel — but to stand level with the poor, the deported, the huddling masses considered shameful, embarrassing, undesirable, and sinful.

Luke wrote his gospel to people like us. It is addressed to Theophilus who is a citizen of the ruling people. Much like we are citizens of the ruling people. And Theophilus was part of the popular religion. Much like we are. And Theophilus generally always knew where he would get his next meal, where to rest his head, and whether or not his relatives were alive, and safe. Much the same with us.

Luke writes to Theophilus to tell him why this impoverished foreigner Jesus came to Theophilus, too; and why Theophilus needs Jesus.

Why we NEED Jesus.

We NEED Jesus because of the torture of innocents. We NEED Jesus because of our faith being corrupted, turned into a weapon, and used against our own Christian body. We NEED Jesus to open our eyes, forgive our sins, and let us begin again our life with all people in the name of Christ.

“Our salvation depends on the poor.” ((Dorothy Day))

Jesus came down and stood on a level place.

No mountain top. No pulpit. No temple on the hill. Jesus came DOWN from heaven and stood right in the middle of earth – in the muck, with the common people, with the throng, with those in the cheap seats.

And around him came a great multitude a people. A huddling, starving mass. Jesus came and was with those no one else wanted.

Our Statue of Liberty speaks of us as the promised land, as a heaven on earth, where all are welcomed. All are equals. All are honorable. At the foot of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque with words we’ve aspired to live:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Are we hypocrites? We place Lady Liberty on a pedestal and forget her. We forget we are the children and descendants of wretched refuse, refugees and immigrants, who yearned to breathe free.

We place God on our money and forget God sees the love of money as the root of all evil.

Forget God does not care for lip service but cares for justice.

God does not care how we treat the honorable but God deeply cares how we treat the least of these, the least among the world.

We say we’re Christian as we live in a manner only Satan would love – a manner that loves ourselves before all others.

As a country, we are forgetting who and who’s we are.

Jesus said… “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” You have traded heaven for money.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” You are physically comfortable now, but starving your soul.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” For when Jesus returns, and we feel the full weight of our sins and separations, we will tear our clothes in anguish and cry out inconsolable.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” When you’re called such a good Christian, such a good citizen, such an upstanding member of society… woe to you because you’ve sold yourself to the false prophets of the world and not to the True Prophets who stand with the shameful of society.

Luke is pleading with Theophilus and with us through his stories of Jesus that we give up the path of woes, and turn to the path of blessings! Of honor!

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” God lives among those who are poor! Poor of spirit. Poor of health. Poor of money. Poor in all ways. For those who know want know their need of God. Know their need of mercy and assurance. Know they NEED God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Those who are not satisfied are seeking. Seeking better worlds. Better ways of living. Deeper religion. Is your soul hungry? Do you hunger for justice, for a reversal that brings the low high and the high low? Do you hunger for God? You WILL be filled!

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Laughter! The reign of God is here more every day. And it brings joy to those who weep now. Those who weep to see what we are doing at the border and weep. Those who weep to see our leaders corrupted, self-centered, warmongering and ignoring the plight of everyday people. We who weep now will find joy in God and God’s great reversal.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” If you’re in hot trouble with your family because of your beliefs – good job! You’re doing Christianity right. If society tells you to be less radical, to be more practical, and to stop caring… GOOD. You’re doing your faith right. On account of the son of man, we should always be pressing the envelope and challenging people to live more into the reign of God.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

We’re not living for rewards on Earth.

What do we do? How do we – who are not politicians, whose letters go ignored when we write, who are not at the border, who are not affluent – what do we DO to live this narrow, outsider way our Savior leads us?

We don’t turn a blind eye. We look. We watch. We pray. We donate money to charities helping refugees and immigrants such as CRIS – the Community Refugee and Immigrant Services.

We speak. We speak on social media, to family, to friends. We refuse to continue to let the hate spread. We act as antibodies, a cure, where we are, healing the body of Christ here. Preventing the cancer from spreading.

We are here for a reason and a purpose. We are born for a time just as this. We are in the drought with too much heat but we have deep roots. Dig into your faith. Delve deep for the ever-living waters. Bring forth that new life, those green leafs, that hope. BE the church. BE the body of Christ. BE the people who have seen the goodness of God and live like it.

Blessed, honorable, are you when you are unpopular on account of your lived out faith.

Blessed are we when we let go of possessions
for the kingdom of God unfolds in open places.

Blessed are we who know the ache of hunger,
for the empty places in body and soul are the fertile soil for new growth.

Blessed are we who know sorrow,
for the ache of love lost is witness to the seed planted.

Blessed are we who know scorn,
for the rejection of humans keeps us mindful of that beyond.

Blessed are we who live in the harmony of life in the Spirit, for we will recognize abundance.

((Katherine Hawker (2004) and posted on Liturgy Outside. http://liturgyoutside.net/beatitudes.pdf))

Blessed are we who answer God’s call to love ALL.

Amen.

Shocking Scandal

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

Epiphany 4C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She chooses to give Elijah the bread.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.

This is NOT fair.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus is not about fair.

Jesus is about just.

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

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

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

But it’s not fair.

Not fair in the least.

But it is justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.

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

Amen.

I Have Called You By Name

Isaiah 43:1-7 cb1453_grande
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

I once had a job I was so unhappy with. I really disliked going in. I took as much sick time and vacation time as I could, and loathed Mondays.

I remember my friends asking me, why not get a new job? Why continue here? Was it the benefits? No. Lack of other jobs? No. The people? Oh no, absolutely not. So why? Why did I keep going in to THAT work?

I couldn’t come up with a good reason. I just kept going. When I thought about seeking a new job, I got anxious and worried. What if the new one is even worse? I mean, it was hard to get a worse job than the one I had, but they’re out there.

What if … what if…

Eventually, I realized that some people suffer from thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…

… and other people suffer from thinking the brown grass they got is still grass and try to convince themselves the green grass they see on the other side of the fence isn’t worth climbing over.

In other words: we prefer the hell we know to the hell we don’t know.

We fear the unknown. It’s better to be in an awful position than take a risk into… that great unknown. We don’t know what we’ll face if we change. We do know what we’ll face if we stay the same.

I knew what every day would involve. It would be trying to sell ‘insurance’ which really wasn’t insurance and feeling like a scammer… because I was…

But if I applied to work elsewhere, would it be any better? I didn’t know. And I feared that unknown. So back to door-to-door sales I went.

The ancient Israelites were in the hell they knew. They were in exile in Babylon. They, or their parents, had gotten settled in the new land. For awhile, everyone was miserable. But now they’re comfortably miserable. Some are even starting to like this exile.

But now the prophets are calling them back to their ancestral land in Israel, and the king of Babylon was saying they could go back too. So who will go? Who will leave the known for the unknown?

The people were comfortable in their known exilic shame, and scared of the unknown of traveling back to Israel. Fearful.

“O Israel, do not fear,” says God through the Prophet Isaiah. “For I have redeemed you.” I have bought you. I have taken you from debt, from shame, and released you. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God is calling your name. Your own personal name.

You, listening, are called to risk the unknown.

I, back then in that awful job, was called to risk the unknown.

Today, we’re all called to still walk with God into the wilderness and unknowns where the Spirit moves us, like it does to Jesus after his baptism.

God promises to stick by us through that wilderness journey into the unknown. Stick through us through whatever we can image.

God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
I will be with you through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you.
“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
And the flame shall not consume you.”

What other horrible things can you picture happening?
I pictured leaving my job and not finding another. Then I’d be back on food stamps. Then maybe I’d lose my apartment and have to move home to my mother’s couch. Then I’d be a failure and ashamed.

The Israelites may have thought about robbery and being stolen and taken into slavery.
God told them, “I give Egypt as your ransom, and Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

Talk about a kick to the butt for me. God would give an entire nation – or the richest nations – for me. I’m worth that much. How could God want me to stay in a sleazy job? How could being fired from a sleazy job for telling the truth “No, this insurance ISN’T going to help you” make me a failure? I am precious in the sight of God. My honor is from God, not my boss. I am loved… by God.

God promises to give whole “nations in exchange” not just for my life, but “for your life” too. You are worth whole nations to God. You are precious. You are honored. You are LOVED by the very creator who moved the waters of creation and spoke through the flaming bush. You – you who are terrified of what might be on the other side of the fence – you who are scared of the unknown – are loved by the unknowable itself who reassures you – I AM WITH YOU DO NOT FEAR!

God says that from the east and west we’re called. From the north and south. Everyone is called, called by their own name, and lovingly created as the sons and daughters of God.

God is calling the Israelites to their ancestral home, and to not fear the land and troubles in between.

But God is still calling today. Calling all of us to God’s self, and to not fear the reputation and troubles we’ll get for being faithful to God.

I listened back then to the call. And when this little old lady answered the door to me one afternoon with a big, brilliant smile on her lips and the fogginess in her eyes saying she couldn’t see… I couldn’t lie to her. She directly asked me, “Will what you’re selling actually help me?”

“No.” No, it would not.

At that moment, I stepped into the unknown. Time to buckle up! Now we’re off the script my boss had my memorize!

God never promises there will be no fire and there won’t be water. Instead, God said God will be with us in these things.

And yeah, I got fired real quick. But it felt… good. It felt good to be without a job. That time without a job, and that time of choosing to not lie to the elderly lady helped lead me towards seminary. I know it. Joblessness pushed me back into school… and although it took some time, eventually I began to say yes to God more and more often until I ended up in seminary, and chaplaincy, and that to here.

The grass was greener on the other side. But man, getting over that fence was rough. I’m so glad God the Good Shepherd was there to help me get from one pasture to the next.

If God were as John describes God, I’m not certain any of us would dare to call God a shepherd… let alone, ‘Good.’ John the Baptist preaches about the forthcoming “ax-wielding arsonist.” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)) That guy terrifies me. And he is some people’s God. Some people do picture God as wrathful and angry and hacking the world to bits and burning it.

But that’s not who Jesus reveals God to be. Jesus reveals God’s personality as the “gentle carpenter whom the Holy Spirit chose for a roost” ((Barbara Brown Taylor)). Since we know who God is through Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection… I’m inclined to think the gentle carpenter is more accurate of who God is – THE God of love – than the ax-wielding arsonist.

That’s not to say John was wrong and not the messenger preparing the way for God. I’m just pointing out it is Jesus who is more powerful than John, and Jesus who John feels unworthy beside. So it’s Jesus’ depictions and examples of God I feel more confident relying upon.

Still, Jesus does come with fire and water.

Jesus came to John to be baptized. And he stepped into the waters, the heavens opened – but instead of raining down fire, from heaven came the Holy Spirit, which was like a dove, to alight upon Jesus and infuse in his soul an unquenchable fiery spirit.

“When you pass through the water I will be with you”
In the waters of baptism – there is God!
In the waters of birth – there is God!
In the water of rain, and flood, and snows, and ice – there is God!
In the water of tears of sorrow and the tears of joy – there is God.
When we pass through the waters of life, God is with us.
And the waters will not overwhelm us because we have God, and we have one another.

Troubles will be there, but we shall overcome.

And,

“When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.”
The fire of the Holy Spirit alighting upon us will not burn, but refine.
The fires that consume houses, and lands, and bodies cannot consume souls.
The fire that rages in anger and in war will and do surround us – but God sticks with us offering always the hope of peace of soul and mind and world.

Through this all, God declares: “You are my child, and loved, with you I am well pleased.”

You are my daughter.
You are my son.
You are my love.

We are NAMED by God. NAMED beloved child. NAMED and CLAIMED. Given a family. Given a protector. Given a companion. A brother. A redeemer. A savior.

If that’s not enough to encourage us to step out in faith and take a risk to do good; what would be?
If you’re in a bad situation and scared to change… Do not fear.
When you’re comfortable in the earthly hell you’re in… trust God will be with you through the transition towards living into the reign of God now.

Changing jobs. Starting relationships. Ending relationships. Telling the truth. Moving. Downsizing. These are scary waters! God promises to stick by us and not let us drown in them.

Confronting our sins. Confronting complacency. Confronting family racism. Addressing gay or lesbian intolerance. Welcoming strangers… These are fires God promises will not consume our souls.

In the waters of baptism we were given unquenchable holy fire for we are created for the glory of God and personally, PERSONALLY called by our names to relationship with God.

You can do this.

You’re not alone!

Amen.

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!