Tag: tradition

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!

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Made Free

44898913_347591266047355_59580177172135936_nRomans 3:19-28
John 8:31-36

Freedom is never wholly free. There’s conditions. Limits.

We say we are the Land of the Free in America because we are free FROM things our ancestors were not. Free from kings and queens; free from religious persecution; free to congregate, and so forth. But we’re not wholly free because full freedom is an illusion.

You’re not free to murder someone in America. There are consequences for breaking laws like that.

You’re not free from gravity no matter where you live on Earth.

You’re not free from the need to eat, to sleep, to breathe.

You’re not free in many ways.

I wish we were free-er in some areas. I wish we had the freedom of health care like Canada does. I wish we had freedom from racism, and sexism, and agism.

But I also wish we weren’t as free in other areas. The freedom businesses have to move companies here and there wherever labor is cheapest hurts us. The level of freedom given to pollution is a great peeve of mine. I’d like us all to care for our earth much better. And the freedom we give to cruelty, to indifference, and to apathy deeply hurts me.

Jesus’ phrase today, “The truth will set you free,” is not about whole freedom from everything and to do anything. It’s not about how freedom is the end and goal and holy purpose we Americans like to hold it up. Freedom has to be FROM or TO DO something. What does Jesus mean here?

That’s exactly what his fellows ask him, “What do you mean, ‘Be made free?'”

Freedom changes depending on who is hearing or viewing these words- and the text given to us has several lenses we can use.

First – “In this text Jesus is engaging the “Jews who believed in him.” Doesn’t that strike us as a bit odd? Were there many non-Jews who believed in him? Certainly, by the time of the gospel writer, there were Gentile Christians.” (( Rev. Dr. Lucy Lind Hogan)) No one sat down and wrote the Gospels as they were happening. They were wrote decades – even a century – after Jesus died and were based on oral traditions. So by the time we get this story in John there are Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and Roman Christians and so forth. Our first lens, therefore, is the author of the scripture – a Jewish Christian – writing about the past where Jesus the Jew spoke to other Jews about Jewish conflicts on Jesus’ identity.

John, the author, and his community “believed in Jesus, believed that he spoke the truth, and believed that their freedom lay in walking the way of Jesus. But for that they had been cast out of the synagogue. They no longer had their “place in the household.” Their freedom, their new life was to be found in “the Son,” even if that meant disagreeing with the Scribes and Pharisees. They were experiencing freedom, but it came at a cost, a profound loss for many.” ((Hogan)). They lost their identity as Jews – for the synagogue and Jewish community kicked them out. They lost family. Friends. Property. Status. They were confused – how could our fellows not believe? How could they be slaves to the old way of thinking and not welcome in the Messiah?

So John wrote this story about when Jesus felt that same rejection. This is the second lens  – the one of when Jesus still physically walked the earth, this story is about the idea that the prophesied messiah had to come from a certain lineage. The Messiah had to be a descendant of King David – and Jesus is just some nobody from Galilee. This is why so many of our gospels have long lineage charts – trying to PROVE Jesus is related to David. And Romans makes a contorted argument that the high priest can be from this lineage instead of that. To us, today, we don’t really care. Then, at that time, this was a huge deal. John frames Jesus’ rejection in this issue.

But the message is the same whether Jesus says it to his disciples in the scene, or his disciples living decades later rejected from their communities, or the third lens which is us, today.

If you continue to abide in me, you have a place in God’s household.

It doesn’t matter if the synagogue or community or church have kicked you out. You’ve gained freedom – a lack of ties – but you’re not groundless. You’re grounded in me. One of mine. Still one of the Chosen People of God.

Think what this meant to Martin Luther! “Freedom was crucial for Luther. Where was the truth, freedom, new life to be found? Luther argued that it was not to be found in the medieval pietistic accretions, the indulgences, that marked the Christians life at that time. Rather it was found only in belief in Jesus Christ. (Hogan)

It didn’t matter that the church, the community, the country called for Luthers’ death, and excommunicated him. Said he was Satan or at least hell-bound. Said he was evil. He was free from the sins he saw gathered into the church at that time. He’d seen the truth of how money and power was being abused. And seen the truth that Christ, alone, is who saves. No church can say whether you are going to heaven or hell. Only Jesus can judge.

It was pricey freedom, again, but it reformed our faith – both those who remained orthodox to the church and those who formed the Protestant denominations. All sides experienced new life, and transformation, and a fresh breath from the Holy Spirit.

Our forebearers who came here were seeking freedom to worship and believe in God as they felt called. They, too, lost family and friends and land but remain in God’s household. They, like Luther, like the early Christians, like Jesus, heard the Spirit of God speaking a new truth – reinterpreting our old traditions in new ways for the context of now, today – and that truth set them free to follow the law of their faith.

We’re at just such a crossroads now. What has been for the last 501 years of the Reformation is not what will be. The truth of church as we know it – meeting on Sundays, in a designated building, passing on the music and songs and traditions of the last centuries – is not the truth of our youth.

And this is good.

Good!

The Holy Spirit is breathing upon our faith again. It is awakening us to a new revolution, a new way of being. It is taking our faith which has grown stagnant and blowing the doors open to set hearts on fire in a brand new way.

The comic “The Naked Pastor” drew a comic with Jesus standing with other Jewish rabbis of his time. And Jesus says to them, “The difference between me and you is you use scripture to determine what love means and I use love to determine what scripture means.”

Yes! This is true in Jesus’ time, and in John’s, and in Luther’s, and in the formation of America, and now.

Scripture tells us how to love… but love is contextual and changes. No two people are alike. No two people love the same things. No two times are alike. And what was once very important – lineages, who is or isn’t related to a priest – later is no longer important. What once was not important –officials using marriage and sexuality to establish dominance – later becomes very important.

Those who are orthodox use scripture to determine what love means. Love means, according to scripture, marrying your dead brother’s wife.

Those who live into orthopraxis use love to determine what scripture means. Love is caring for one another. Marrying your dead brother’s wife was loving her by providing for her. Today, it is more loving to not marry her but to provide for her with finances, hugs, and a listening ear.

Each time our faith explodes into new life it is because orthopraxis – living love – challenges orthodoxy – traditional love. Each time we come to new truths for our faith it is because we realize how our needs have changed, and we see the truth, and Christ releases us to be free to love as Christ loves.

But it’s not freedom from everything or freedom to do anything.

It is freedom from stagnation and sin. It is freedom to love God, your neighbor, and yourself.

Can you feel the Spirit active in our faith? Can you feel the tension between those who cling to old ways of understanding scripture and those who welcome in new ways of interpreting scripture through love?

Can you feel the tension among Christians? That same tension Luther felt. The same tension Jesus awoke among Jews.

Something beautiful is being brought forth out of us. A new church. The next reformation. Out of these growing pains will rise new life to classical churches like our own – with pews and hymns and a building – and the new churches just beginning – on streets, and in coffee shops, and online. Maybe our own Saint Michael’s won’t be a place we go to – but a place that comes to us. A bus, that picks us up in our post-driving years. And we sing hymns on the way to get our weekly groceries together. And are a congregation the whole way there and back. I don’t know!

I do know it is a beautiful time to live! It is a marvelous time to be Christian! It is an interesting time – a painful time – a changing time – and a time where we have been placed to discern, to live, and to walk together into the liberating truths Jesus provides.

Go and be the church known for its love!

Amen.