Tag: Paul

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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Offertory Prayer: Lent 2 C

Promise-Keeping God, you are faithful and generous. In Abram’s childlessness, you brought him children to begin a nation. In Paul’s imprisonment, you inspired him to write letters that encourage us to this day. In Jesus’ life and death, you bring us resurrection and citizenship in Heaven with Christ. Generously, we offer these gifts because of your faith and generosity to your mission to fulfill all the good you have planned for the world. 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.

Angry Christians

angerEphesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

I get irrationally angry sometimes over the most silly, trivial things. I was parking the other day. There were only 2 spots left in the little lot. One in front of the other. A car went down the first lane, I went down the second. Now we’d both have the last two spots.

The lady decided to pull through – and take both spots.

I was more angry with her than the situation called for. I broke into tears. I usually cry when I’m angry. And my body tenses up. Sometimes my body shakes as my blood pressure rises. My heart beats fast and I get a sweat. I feel it all over me – do I fight, or do I flee?

It’s like I’m threatened.

I feel threatened and angry. Threatened not by the other person – they bothered me – but threatened by my own body.

My own body is betraying my emotions. It is threatening to make me yell. Threatening to make me cuss. Threatening to — I don’t know. Explode? Roar?

Lose my smile, I think. And lose my calm exterior. And lose my control.

That’s it.

I can’t control my feelings.

I get angry! And then my body reacts, and I can’t control my body. My body betrays my emotion of anger! With one unthinking park job, this woman ripped all this control from me.

I can’t be Christian and be angry, can I? For Jesus in Matthew says, (5:21-22) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I’m liable to judgment for being angry. And it would have been better to give her a one-finger salute than to have called her a name like You Fool, You Pea-Brain, or You… [ fill in your favorite insulting title that I’m not going to say from the pulpit.]

Even today Paul tells us in scripture to put away our wrath and anger, wrangling and slander, and malice. That these things grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-31).

So what sin have I done in my anger by sitting in my car staring at that woman, angry, crying, and asking, “What in the world is wrong with you? Learn to drive, you fool!” Am I going to hell?

Maybe I should have picked up my cross, kept my mouth shut, not gotten emotional, been serene, and kept it all inside. It would be torture. It would be somehow mastering feeling only the emotions I want to feel. I think it would be dying to myself.

I know plenty of Christians who try to live this way, and teach others to live this way.

Bottle that anger up. Better – don’t even feel it in the first place.

That’s real fine and dandy until someone takes your parking spot and you roar in your car.

WHY did I explode inside? Why did I feel so much anger? It happened so fast!

I think because “never be angry” is not possible for ANY human at all.

God gave us anger. God gets angry, a lot, in the Bible. Jesus got angry. Prophets and people got angry. Our church mothers and fathers got angry. Anger is an emotion all complex creatures feel — from the anger of a rat having their food stolen to the anger of God – and everyone and every creature in between – we get angry.

Often, the Bible talks about righteous anger. So maybe Christians ought to only have righteous anger and not selfish anger. I’ve heard this argued, lived, and preached too.

The woman taking my spot wasn’t an affront, an insult, a sin against God. So my anger wasn’t justified. Had she done something truly heinous (like purposefully harm someone, steal money out of greed, blasphemy against God )I should be righteously furious. But since this was just taking my spot, I didn’t have a right to be angry. It wasn’t right – righteous – anger.

I should be righteously angry at injustice – just like God. I should be righteously angry at evil – because that is the opposite of our good, loving God. I should be righteously angry at everything that perverts, blasphemies, harms the relationship of any with the Holy. Scripture, especially the First Testament’s stories, speaks often of God’s anger getting provoked and God taking action. But it also speaks of God being “slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm). And James has the popular phrase “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).

Righteous anger is an anger that is educated, controlled, slowly comes to be, but quickly passes as soon as forgiveness is petitioned. An anger based out of love.

I didn’t have righteous anger over where I wanted to park my car. Was my anger the sin Paul tells us today to not have? The sin that Jesus says makes us liable, prone to, hell?

Although many Christians would say yes, I think otherwise. And I didn’t always think this way. It’s been a process of change.

As a child I saw when my parents got angry. We all do. My mother believed the Christian thing to do when angry is to not say a thing if you have nothing nice to say. Or, in Paul’s words today, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” So she kept her anger inside. An icy, steely silence would fill her when she was angry. She still smiled. She still nodded along. Usually the person she was speaking to had no idea they were crossing a line. I knew! I saw it in the way her smile was tight and thin. I saw it in the stiff way she walked. This internal anger simmered and brewed inside of my mother never expressed.

I learned to bottle my anger like she did. This or that person would minorly insult me, and I’d bottle it up. I’d not say anything. Then they would do it again. And still I would smile and say to myself I was forgiving their trespass by not speaking a word. But over time, angry drop by angry drop filled up my internal bottle. And the person I was growing more and more angry with never had a clue. Because I kept smiling. I kept it to myself. My silence was my anger. My tension in my body my anger.

I began to say little things to OTHERS about being angry with So-And-So. Over coffee. In the parking lot. Over Facebook. But not to So-And-So’s face. Oh no – I couldn’t. This wasn’t righteous anger, so it had to be sinful anger that I – as Christian – am not allowed to have.

And then one day, something happens… like my parking spot is taken… and all that anger that’s been pushed and shoved into a bottle inside me goes off like the cap on a shook bottle of New Year’s campaign. And I get irrationally angry over something stupid and silly. I get way more angry than I ought to be for the situation. I lose control of my emotions, my body, and after roaring — then sit in grief and self-hate at my sinful anger.

Sinful anger, I used to tell myself. What do you do with that? Shove the anger into that now empty bottle… and repeat the process.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Are you a bottler of anger? Are you carrying about a lump in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders, that is all your pent up anger you won’t let yourself feel, or express, or even acknowledge?

I had a pastor once hand me a phone book. A big, thick one. She said, “I get angry. I get alone. I sit on the floor and I rip out big chucks of this and shred it. I yell. I do this until it all passes.”

I thought about yelling. I had a friend whose family yelled when they were angry. Loud, abusive language would flow from their lips. Insults and curses. These often were followed with belts, or hands, or sticks. While my house shoved everything into little hard diamonds of bitterness and grudges… my friend’s house spread anger to the four winds and over every relationship. Alcohol made it even more explosive there. It was a constant walk on eggshells.

Was this pastor telling me to just wallow in anger – to welcome it and throw it around like that household did? Telling me to be the pastor of a congregation ran this way?

No. Not at all. She told me a Buddhist teaching is to accept emotions as they come, feel them, and then let them pass. So when she got angry she recognized she was angry. She identified why she was angry. She felt the anger – ripping out some phone book pages – and when the anger was exhausted, she let it go.

No longer angry.

Nothing bottled.

Now she could address WHY she was angry. She could go ask the person who insulted her to not say such a thing again. She could try calling customer service again. She could look forward to her next sermon or meeting or visitation even if that was with the person who made her angry. She could re-enter a hospital situation where she has no control, cannot fix it, and is feeling nearly hopeless… and go into it being centered.

She told me today’s passage. “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Be angry.
We all get angry. Over righteous things and over unrighteous things.
We all get angry.

But do not sin.
Don’t harm your relationship with God. Don’t harm your relationship with others. Don’t isolate yourself and remove yourself from the community; and don’t scream profanities at others or name call or slap them or harm them.

Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t bottle it up, day after day, week after week, until you become a pressurized bottle ready to crack open over something silly. That bottled anger turns to bitterness, and grudges, and hate. The devil, writes Paul, settles into that pent up anger and encourages us to sin, to separate ourselves and others, more. That unspoken anger breaks relationships. The person you’re upset with may not even know what she or he is doing is bothering you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Speak about it. Speak the truth. Address the issue. And do something to express the anger.

And then let it go.

Paul doesn’t write anger is evil, or sinful. Anger just IS. It’s an emotion, an emotion God has given us. And we are full of many emotions.

Emotions cannot be controlled.

We do control what we do with those emotions.

Psalms tells us that to control our anger — not by never being angry, but by being able to feel it, express it, and let it pass — is more impressive than conquering a city. A huge feat. It takes time and practice.

Paul advises we practice doing no evil with our emotions.

Evil is what harms, what intentionally causes hurt for the sake of hurt. Evil is what tears down the body of Christ…

Anger can be good, or bad. Holy or evil.
Anger can build us up.
Anger may be the words of grace we need to hear.

That woman who took my spot saw my expressed anger. I was more angry than I ought to have been… as I said, it is a process to learn to healthily express ourselves. But she saw my anger and backed up to give me room to park.

She saw my tears and asked me if I were okay.

I could have bottled it up. I could have continued to lie to myself about how I feel and lied to her. But I said the truth, “No. I’m not.”

That blessed stranger invited me to talk. So I did. I told her how I was there to euthanize my cat, and this was the final two spots, and the whole week had been full of stress and anger, and I’ve been trying not to express any of it, and…

In the end, I was given tissues, and volunteers like the woman in the lot helped me through my day. I was given grace and hospitality. Kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving… building one another up.

We’re instructed to do these things. Instructed to embrace one another just as we are, with all our emotions, all our feelings, and then help one another towards shalom.

Shalom is being healthy, inside and out, body and mind and soul, being whole. Shalom is peace. True peace. Not the peace of steely silence. Not the peace that is so thick you suffocate. Not the peace of a house walking on eggshells.

But true peace.

The peace where we understand and support one another. The peace where we are free to express our emotions – without judgment. The peace where we can speak truthfully to one another and, because we are in covenant, not fear one another will gossip, slander, or react with malice. Peace where we are authentic with ourselves, with one another, and know we are forgiven and loved and welcome.

Peace, Jesus tells us. Peace. Take time to savor the Bread of Life, to release the shaken up, and return to peace, to shalom.

Be angry, but do not sin – and don’t bottle it up and let the sun go down on your anger.

Amen.

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

Ephesians 2:11-22 ArizonaBorder.jpg
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Let me tell you what’s in the news –

– Ah. I see winces. You don’t want to hear it. It isn’t the news you want to hear.

It’s news about how our nation is being made great again. It’s news about non-Citizens suffering wanton abuse from government officials. It’s news of traitors, protests, uprisings, capital punishment, corruption and refugees and job woes and trade wars and unfair taxes and …

These are the headlines… from 62 AD.

Into this mess, Paul writes the Ephesians a letter that makes them wince and look over their shoulders with fear.

He writes, “Remember, at one time you were immigrants by birth, called illegal immigrants by the citizens – a status given to you by humans and not God – remember that you were at one time without Christ, being an alien to the land of God’s people, strangers to its laws, and without hope, and without God. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For Christ makes our nation great again. He is our peace. In his flesh, he made both immigrant and citizens into one group and broke down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments of who is or isn’t a citizen based on birth, that Christ might make in himself one new nation in place of two, thus making the nation great again, thus the peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off in other lands and peace to those who were near in this land; for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the same God.

So you are no longer strangers and aliens to one another. You are no longer countrymen and women of this human nation or that. But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the house, the nation, of God, built upon the foundation of the non-citizen apostles and the citizen prophets, with Jesus Christ as your cornerstone. As your president. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple, a holy place, in God. You, listening to this letter, are also built together spiritually as one into a dwelling place, a home, for God.”

Does it make you as uncomfortable in 2018 AD as it made the Ephesians in 62 AD? It should. Paul is challenging Caesar and his claims of making a great nation built on peace. That peace is built on the back of murdering people, such as Jesus. It is built on having citizens who can do as they want to non-citizens. It is built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

The Spirit is challenging our nation and its claims of making itself great again and a land of liberty. This liberty is being built on the back of murdering people who are like Jesus: who are our fellow Christians. It is built on having citizens living safely in homes while non-citizens lie on concrete floors, with aluminum foil for blankets, in rooms kept at 62 degrees or lower. It is liberty built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

I am uncomfortable. Like the Ephesians, I am looking over my shoulder and wondering who else just heard what Paul wrote. Who else heard Paul claim my citizenship — which lets me tuck my daughter into bed at night — and my skin color — which lets me drive without being at risk of a cop shooting me — and my flesh — all this who I was born as — Paul is claiming my flesh is nothing. God has taken it away. I’m wearing the flesh of Christ.

I’m wearing the flesh of a Middle Eastern man who is challenging my government.

A man tortured and killed by my own government.

Paul’s news is uncomfortable. To we readers in 62 AD and in 2018 AD.

He tells me that the wall of hostility I was born into is false, wrong, and ungodly. In Christ there is only one flesh. If I am truly born again in Christ, then my body is Christ.

My citizenship is Christianity.

My brothers and my sisters are all who are Christian.

My cousins are all who follow God.

My neighbors are all of humanity.

For all who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Or, there is neither Hispanic nor American, impoverished nor affluent, male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is a wall of hostility we are called to oppose.

We are called to break down walls that divide us. Physical walls – barrier walls – border walls. And social walls – walls preventing access to medical aide, equal rights, security. We’re called to break down spiritual walls – the kind that make us hate seeing a hijab or star of David, or making room for other faiths in our schools, and jobs, our homes, and even our churches. We’re called to be citizens of a new nation that abolishes all the old laws with a new law of love. We’re called to be citizens that give up our nationalities, our own flesh, our own births, for a new nation in Christ’s body through being born again in the Spirit.

We’re called to love our neighbor.

Love our selves.

And even love our enemies.

For we are known as Christian by our love.

What does this citizenship of God look like? All we have to do is look to Jesus as our role-model to see.

Jesus today makes more political commentary. Shepherd is the image of the leader of the land. The person who keeps the sheep, the people, safe. He or she is who provides peace, provides good food and clean water, scares off the wolves, and lets the people multiply. In the reading before today, we met ancient Israel’s shepherd, Herod. He foolishly takes his sister-in-law as his wife, and promises their daughter anything she wants. To fufill this promise, he has to murder the prophet of God, John. He fed his heads of state but served his sheep John’s head on a platter.

Out among the people, Jesus sees they are desperate. They have run from all the towns and villages around the sea of Galilee dragging and carrying their sick loved ones on mats and rugs, and on their backs and in their carts, laying them out in the center of the town begging Jesus to let them just touch the fringe of his cloak so they can be healed. The center of the town is the marketplace. The place of affluence. The sick are the outcasts, the homeless, the foreigners and supposed to stay away from the rich. But they overwhelm the shops, choke up the streets, and fill the air with their petitions.

Picture if the stock market had to be closed because the trading floor was filled with the family, friends, and neighbors of people targeted by ICE all begging for their children to be reunited, their loved ones having access to food, water, and a lawyer, and asylum. There would be anger from the elite who don’t want to be bothered by this. Chaos. Government officials calling for the ring leader of this ‘protest’ to be arrested, or shot. That ringleader is Jesus, and the Spirit.

Picture the highways now in Chicago – filled with black women begging the government to stop persecuting their sons as guilty criminals until proven innocent.

Picture the 99% protests.

These are people whose mortal shepherd has failed them. And Jesus has compassion. Jesus goes among them bringing healing. Tangible healing – such as attending a protest, or paying for a sitter or sitting kids so another can go to a protest, or donating money to organizations like HOLA Ohio to bail out mothers who have sat in prison for TWO MONTHS after being picked up here in Ohio…

And Jesus brings intangible healing along with the tangible, touchable, healing. Jesus we’re, told, begins to teach the crowds. He gives education.

Education such as… did you know that HOLA Ohio has found the rules to bail someone out is different every day? Currently: “Bond can’t be posted on the same day as court for the Michigan women; bond can’t be paid after 3 p.m. in the Cleveland office; bond must be paid with one cashier’s check, not two–even if both are addressed to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security for the same individual on the same case, and were accepted that way last week, and so on and so forth.” (HOLA Ohio July 2018 Facebook Update)

Education such as… RAICES “staff and volunteer pro bono attorneys arrived at the Karnes detention center to meet with clients and were told they couldn’t meet with anyone as Karnes was empty. Around 3:45pm two of our pro bono attorneys watched as a bus was loaded at Karnes with mothers and children. Having been lied to all day, they decided to follow the bus from Karnes to see where they were being transferred to. An hour in to the drive they call our Comms Director to let her know they had been pulled over by 3 state troopers in SUV’s for “illegally” following the bus and demanded to see their client lists. They were held for 15 minutes by police, and now continue to follow the bus which looks to be headed to Dilley detention center.” (RAICES July 2018 Facebook Update)

Detention centers where children are ordered to stand, “No sitting on the floor, no hugging your siblings, and it’s best not to cry.” Or face bleach in your water, and guards kicking you if you sit during the 16 hours a day you must be awake. Where over 1,000 reports sexual abuse have been filed against ICE agents. ((https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/14/us/migrant-children-shelters.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes; https://theintercept.com/2018/04/11/immigration-detention-sexual-abuse-ice-dhs/))

Education such as even though the government is purposefully trying to prevent lawyers and help to the refugees, groups like HOLA Ohio have volunteers who have “been spending up to 6 hours a day in the ICE office to post bonds, [paid] eight bonds to date, six bonds of $2,000 each and two bonds of $1,500 each, and arranged transportation through a network of volunteers for nine women to be reunited with their families.” A dozen more hearings are happening this week.

The Spirit of God is in us, because of our anointments in baptism in Christ, “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 18-19.

The Spirit of God is in us to tear down these dividing walls and be the good news to the poor. Be the ones paying bail. Be the ones teaching our family and friends and neighbors to open their blind eyes to see the hurt happening to the body of Christ — their own bodies. We are to use our privilege as citizens to the benefit of those oppressed. We are to proclaim the year of God’s favor — that God’s reign is now — the kin-dom is now — the nation of God is now — and no Mexican, Canadian, American, Russian, British or any other human government is going to stop us from loving one another.

Because we are citizens of heaven. Our leader is God. Our God is love.

Amen.

Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 81vRnmnrlBL
Mark 6:1-13

Have you been Saved? Call out the day and the hour and the minute you felt Jesus in your heart!
Have you seen angels? When and where and what did they do?
Have you been touched? What miracle did you witness?
What about out of body experiences?
What about dreams of heaven and visitations from the dead?
Can you feel the Spirit!?

In some churches, the space between this world and the unseen is very thin. They feel these great revelations and know the flow of the Spirit as strong a presence as someone right here. Sometimes it is so strong they get possessed, speak in tongues, fall into seizures, or even faint.

And for some churches, and for some people, faith and grace keeps them going. Not supernatural experiences. Not out of body moments. Not miracles.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they keep on going to church, keep on praying, keep to their religion in their emptiness.

And in emptiness, we are still strong.

Mother Theresa wrote the following confessing prayer to Jesus:

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

Over her life, she felt in her soul so alone, so empty, so without the Spirit in her…

… and yet, she came to see this as a gift.

She knew this is the feeling Jesus had on the cross. This is the pain that made him cry out “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is the emptiness that Jesus poured himself to for us.

And that is the loneliness that the forsaken and poor of our world feel from society.

She drew strength from the Emptiness

The weakness forced her to become Strong in ways she wouldn’t have known otherwise

Jesus’ weakness of being human is the strength that unites us with God.

Jesus’ emptiness of his divinity on the cross to feel death is how no matter whether we live or die, our God is with us, our Christ experiencing and having had experienced this with us, and pulling us towards the final victory over death, over sin, over separation.

There is strength in not being self contained.

There IS strength in relying on Christ.

Whether we do so with the gift of tongues and visions, or we do so with the gift of a long, dark, night of the soul where we feel spiritually dry and alone.

There is still strength in relying on Christ versus solely ourselves.

And that is what Paul is arguing today.

Paul knows of churches where the Spirit manifests boldly.

Paul knows of people who have had great visions – himself included.

But he also knows there’s people who practice their faith for minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months and years and never sense anything supernatural. But that does not mean they have less faith than those who can manifest Pentecostal tongues or those who have visions. No – he knows God has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ’s presence is all we need.

When we are weak, we are strong – because then we are relying on Christ and not ourselves.

When we have times when we really feel our faith we should delight in that. And delight in others who do. And when we have times we are just doing the motions out of faith, not out of feeling it, we should delight in that too. Those are times Jesus is carrying us. And we should delight in others who are being carried by Jesus too.

Remember this is Paul who will argue that the body of Christ is made of all kinds of parts and people. Not everyone can be an eye, for we need ears. Not everyone can be an ear, for we need eyes. Not everyone will be a mystic, and spiritual; we need thinkers and doubters and questioners. Not everyone needs to be a thinker and doubter and questioner either — we need our people sensing the divine.

It is our weakness – not being able to be everything for ourselves- that makes us strong. For then we rely on one another; and rely on Christ.

Jesus’ message is the same as Paul’s. Or rather, Paul was preaching similar lessons as Jesus.

We read today that Jesus came to his hometown after having been out and about preaching and doing miracles. He goes to the synagogue and begins to preach.

Just like at the other places, people are amazed at what he is saying. But instead of celebrating the good news of God’s forgiveness and the in breaking of the reign of God… they are amazed at his audacity. They’ve always heard of great preachers and prophets as larger than life characters. Amazing people. Astonishing in person.

But this is just Mary’s son.

There’s his sisters.

And his brothers.

He’s not some super trained doctorate of religion… he’s a carpenter. Look, I’m using the chair he made last year. And Bobby over there used to make mud pies with little Jesus and Tammy there changed his diapers.

This is no miracle worker. This is Just Jesus.

Our church is no church in Corinth. No Saint Paul’s Cathedral or none-denominational mega church. This is Just Saint Michael’s.

What can we do?

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought he was nothing and so saw him do nothing. They were limited by how much they would permit him to be. They knew the human Jesus who had faults and flaws and was so mortal. And they demanded miracle workers to be fully perfect and have everything in order.

But that’s not the message of God. God loved us while we were still sinners. While not perfect, we’re called. While full of the Spirit or full of spiritual emptiness, we are included into the Body of Christ and told there is a spot for us. Those full of visions and those questioning the existence of God both are called to be saints, and to “Come be [Christ’s] light” to the world. (Jesus to Mother Theresa)

So Jesus sends us out. Sends the disciples out. Sends us out. Not loaded with everything figured out and perfect, but carrying just Jesus. He tells them to go with the bare minimum and to rely on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to go with nothing spare. No backups. No money. Not even an extra cloak or pair of shoes. Just themselves. “Eugene Peterson offers Jesus’ instructions this way: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment” (The Message).

God never calls the equipped. God equips the called.

God never picks perfect people, perfect churches, perfect situations. God makes perfect the strength in those called.

And we, all who are Christian, are called to be Christ’s light to the world.

In your weakness, strength is made perfect.

In your need of Christ, you are filled with Christ whether you feel it or not.

In your brokenness, you are the perfect person to help another who is broken.

In your pain, you understand the pain of another.

Rev. Sally Brown applies these thoughts to our world today. She writes, “…culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.”

In other words… our culture is looking to us, looking to church communities, to see how to get through our trying times.

America is fractured and fighting. As we fight ourselves, we affect our world. The effects are helping raise tensions everywhere. Are we heading towards another world war?

I don’t know.

I do know, that we, in our imperfection, are called to this hurting country and hurting world. Not because we have it all together, but because we’re authentic in our tries to live together in our diversity. We are the equipment. We are the witnesses. We are the people called to say, “I wholly disagree with you, but I can still love you.” “I will not ever vote like you do, but I will share bread with you.” “I am not you, but I am glad you are my neighbor.”

Who you are now, without everything figured out, is needed now to be Christ’s light.

Amen.

Whose Baptism?

Acts 8:26-40

thekla2
This fresco represents the calling of Thekla, which led her to renounce her engagement and her life as a married woman. Thekla appears at a window (far left), listening to Paul as he preaches with his raised right hand on an open codex. Behind Paul, stands Theokleia, Thekla’s mother, with her right hand raised in admonition (her eyes and right hand have been scratched out, an indication that someone considered her a heretic). Thekla was not permitted to appear in public, but she heard Paul’s sermon from the window of a neighbor’s house and was spellbound by his words. In spite of her mother’s admonition, she renounced her engagement, followed Paul, and spread the word of God. “Stylistic comparisons suggest a date for these paintings in the late 5th or early 6th century A.D., in particular in the Justinianic period” [Austrian Archaeological Institute (www.oeai.at/index.php/st-pauls-grotto.html)].
 “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian treasurer asks Philip this as they ride along in the treasurer’s royal cart and carriage. “Look, here is water!”

And Philip responds by leaping off the wagon, and baptizing the new believer.

No special water.

No special time.

No special place.

An ancient story, not in our Bible but still from 180 AD, is the story of “Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Thekla, like the Treasurer in our Gospel today, is a noble. She listens to Paul’s preaching, and she decides to become a follower of Christ. She breaks off her engagement with another nobleman and says: ‘I’m staying a virgin and following Paul about and the Christ!’ This goes over just as well as you think it will. The town flogs and tosses Paul out, but decide to burn her at the stake if she won’t give up Christ.

And she won’t.

What begins is a series of miracles — rain saves her from the fire, smoke covers her like clothing so she doesn’t have to be naked, and Thekla walks boldly back to Paul. She now says – Don’t just let me come with you, listening, but let me cut my hair and pass myself off as a man, so I can preach this good news too! Just give me a baptism!

And Paul says no. She’s a woman, and women clearly don’t preach. So he won’t baptize her.

But Thekla doesn’t go home.

In the very next town, Thekla again is told to give up Christianity and marry a guy. And again she refuses. And again the town takes her clothes away to shame her and tries to kill her. Again miracles occur. When it looks like things are over and Thekla is in the middle of the city arena where the pond is full of hungry seals and the land with every angry beast, Thekla knees and prays.

“In the name of Jesus Christ do I baptize MYSELF” and she throws herself into the pond of hungry creatures.

No special time.

No special place.

No special water.

Then there are more miracles. Lightening strikes and fire and lots of chaos. Every animal and every human that tries to harm Thekla finds they cannot. In the end, the town is scared of her and asks, “Who are you?!”

She answers, “I am the handmaid of the living God; and what I have about me-it is that I have believed on that his Son in whom God is well pleased; for whose sake not one of the beasts hath touched me. For he alone is the goal (or way) of salvation and the substance of life immortal; for unto them that are tossed about he is a refuge, unto the oppressed relief, unto the despairing shelter, and in a word, whosoever believeth not on him, shall not live, but die everlastingly.”

The governor orders clothes given to the woman and her permitted to leave.

But Thekla says no. She’s put on the garments of salvation, and those are what she’ll leave with.

A whole lot of the town converted to Christianity that day.

Thekla then traveled, preaching, testifying, healing, and teaching the Word of God.

When she ran into Paul, he was amazed to see what a following she had, and he asked what was going on – and did she still want baptized? She answered, “He that hath worked together with thee in the Gospel, hath worked with me also unto my baptizing.”

In other words… The same person who converted you, Paul, to Christianity and brought you to understand the scriptures is who baptized me.

That same person is who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer. Philip just was there, enabling the receiving of the gift.

That same person baptized each of us.

The water doesn’t matter.

The time doesn’t matter.

The place doesn’t matter.

Baptism is a gift from God to us, and we respond back to God. And as a community, we welcome our new sibling and begin to walk with them through all of their lives.

It is why little ones can be and are baptized.

Baptisms are from God.

No human can prevent them because we humans, we’re participating in and witnessing a sacred moment between an individual and the Holy Divine.

No one here heard the conversation Rebecca and God had today. But it happened. It is in her soul. There in the desert near Ethiopia, or in the crowded coliseum arena of a city, no one HEARD the conversation that man or woman had.

But Philip and a whole ancient city witnessed the holy moments.

Today you are Rebecca’s witnesses. You need to tell her the story of her baptism. Just like you need to tell the story to Alden, and every one of our children — age 0 to 100.

And we need to remember our own baptisms, and the stories we’ve been told about them.

At that moment, you and God connected in a brand new way. At that moment, you joined in Christ’s birth, and life, death, and resurrection. At that moment, you gained a family that will never, ever fit in one place for a family reunion. (Well… no reunion here on Earth.) At that moment, some human baptized you in the name of Christ – but it was God who reached out, touched you, washed you, sealed you with the Spirit, and gave you a new life in Christ.

So who’s baptism is it? In our scriptures, we hear of people arguing about whether someone has received the baptism of Paul’s, or the baptism of John’s. You may today hear today people refer to the Methodist baptism, or the Catholic baptism, or the United Church of Christ baptism…

But there is only one baptism. One God. One Creator, sustainer, and redeemer in who gifts us this sacred ritual.

We all share the baptism of Christ.

Amen.