Monday, November 5, 2018

Living In Between


John 11:1-45
All Saints
November 4, 2018

Right before Jesus gets to the tomb,
Jesus talks to Martha.
She is crying.
She sounds a little angry.
She tells Jesus, “If you were here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.”

And Jesus says to her: “I am the resurrection and the life.”
And then he asks Martha: ”Do you believe this?”

Martha says she does believe.
Of course she believes.
She believes, but her belief is not
changing the situation here and now
where Lazarus is most definitely dead.

Most of us here would say the same thing if we were asked, I think.
We do believe in the hope of Jesus.
We believe in the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
We believe that good has the power to conquer evil.
We believe that the arm of the universe bends toward justice.
We believe that God can overcome the power of death.
We believe. Of course, we believe.
But what does that have to do with right now?

We believe all those things, but we also know death.
We know what it tastes like, what it sounds like and feels like.
We know from experience that every life will end at some point.
And we know the sadness and horror of life cut short,
by illness, by tragedy, by accidents, by hate,
and all too often lately, by a person with a gun.
We believe in miracles, but we know death.
  
And we know that for every one miracle of life
for every one story of Lazarus,
there are hundreds of stories of miracles that haven’t happened.
We believe Lord, but that doesn’t change reality
that doesn’t change that people we love die.

Sometimes religion pits belief against reality.
Sometimes religion pits belief against sorrow.
Some people act as if people of faith,
are supposed to turn off our minds, live in denial,
like we are supposed to look at tragedy and sadness
in the face and smile serenely and say “we’re blessed.”
As if people of faith should never be sad.

But when Jesus finally gets to Mary and the rest of the mourners
waiting in front of Lazarus tomb, they are all crying
Jesus doesn’t look at them and say,
“If you really believed, you wouldn’t be sad”
He doesn’t say, “Don’t cry, he’s in a better place.”
Or “God just called another angel home”
or any of the other platitudes people give at a time of grief.

In the face of the very real death that surrounded them,
Jesus wept.
The shortest, most succinct sentence in the bible.
In the face of death, Jesus cried.

Jesus understands our pain,
All life on this earth is a precious thing.
Not disposable, not dismissible, not insignificant.
It counts. It hurts when it ends.
Now I read one commentary who said that Jesus wept
out of frustration and anger at the lack of faith
of those around him.
But that’s just silly, isn’t it?

Jesus was sad.
His friend Lazarus died. 
Martha and Mary were in sorrow.
Jesus was human. Fully human.
And Jesus knows what we go through
when someone we love dies.
Jesus knows the smell of death.

And Jesus knows first-hand that as human beings of faith,
we live in a place that is “in between”.

We believe in the life to come,
but here life has not yet won out over death
hope has not fully won out over despair

We still face the realities of this world.
What a difficult place to be
We are in between with one foot in the world
of overwhelming losses, and grief, and pain,
we have one foot in a world of injustice,
violence, illness, sadness.
And we have another foot in the hope of life to come.
We live constantly straddled in the middle of reality and hope.
And Jesus, is there with us - in this in between place.
Crying at the loss of his friend.

Jesus wept and God suffers with us.
If this was the whole story, it would be good news enough,
But it is not the end of the story.

The whole story is that at the door of that tomb
in that in-between time when reality
was slapping them all in the face,
Jesus yelled, “Lazarus come out of that tomb
and the dead man did.

When each of them were full of doubt, and anger and sorrow,
Jesus brought a bit of the Kingdom of God into that place.
Communion of the Saints
Ira Thomas
Jesus brought the smell of hope into the
stench that was in the tomb for four days.
Jesus brought some of that 
life to come right into
the hard world of reality,
in-between time they were in.

On All Saints Day,
we remember those people that we have lost
in this year and in years past.
We grapple with the reality of this world,
the fragility of it, the finality of it.

This year, this congregation 
has suffered many losses.
Beloved ones, who were part of our community to the end.
The pictures we put on the table represent just some of the
people we have lost over our lives.
Their absence never quite goes away from us.
We know the smell of death,
the inevitable consequence of all life.
We weep along with Jesus.

But the good news today is that
But we also believe in God. Not just any God.
We believe in the God who has power over time and space,
We believe in the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.
  
We believe that God has the power to make life out of death.
Here and now, God has the power to make changes in this world
to make justice and peace and to rebuild lives
broken by violence and tragedies and pain and illness.
We have seen it and witnessed it, like those
people standing at Lazarus’ tomb have seen it.
so even though we have one foot in reality, we still live with hope.

We know that God is always making life out of death
here on earth. We know that God is still bringing hope
to hopeless situations, bringing help to the helpless,
and joy out of sadness.

We believe that even after death,
God’s power is even stronger.
We believe that a time will come when the saints
of all time will be joined with God.
When we will know fully of God’s love,
when we will all eat at God’s banquet table
united into one big family.

And when we share communion at this table each week
we know are sharing with all our brothers and sisters in Christ
past and present and future of every time and place,
When we eat at this table,
we are making a testament about God’s power.

Right now, we are people living with the reality of death
 But we are also people living with hope of the resurrection,
the expectation of new life.
We have one foot in the kingdom of this world,
and one foot in God’s Kingdom.
And that has the power to change everything.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Reformation


John 8: 31-36
10-26-14
Reformation Sunday

This is the day in the Lutheran Church
where we remember that on October 31, 1517,
Martin Luther took his 95 Theses,
basically 95 bullet-point arguments
against the church’s practice of selling indulgences,
or forgiveness of sins, for a price.

Martin Luther said he did this in order to start a conversation,
and indeed at the top, he invited anyone who couldn’t
debate him in person to do it by the mail.

Now, the Christian church at the time was not used to being
argued with publically and Martin Luther eventually found 
himself in quite a lot of trouble and the reluctant leader of a new denomination

We hold Luther dear to our hearts but history agrees,
with this act, and subsequent ones, that Luther changed
all of Christianity and that in turn changed the entire world.

Luther did this because he was a priest.
He saw the people of God being held in bondage.
They were putting more faith in money and in
religious leaders than they were in God and Jesus
He saw people who were in fear,
in constant fear for their eternal souls
and actually afraid of God.
They were not free.
  
Martin Luther discovered by reading the scriptures
that the gift of Jesus gospel was not rules, threats
special rituals, and judgment, but love.
Jesus came to tell us that God was love and God loved us.

The people were repeatedly held captive by
centuries of threats and scare tactics and spiritual blackmail,
and Martin Luther taught us that Jesus came to set us free.

Jesus has set us free.
Free from our pasts,
free from the constraints that others put on us.
Free from the dread of God’s wrath
Free from our fear of the unknown.

Luther taught us that the death and resurrection of Jesus
has once and for all freed us. Given us new life.

And with every event in our lives, with every new person
we talk to and meet, with everyone that we get
to talk about Jesus with, we learn this lesson anew.
And every generation hears it and understands it differently.
Every decade the church and it’s people adjust to a new reality
that the gospel is speaking to.

We are always being Reformed, always being transformed,
always being changed.
Even though we may think we’re old and we’ve heard it all before,
there is still always the opportunity for new life.

That is why we celebrate our New Members today.
Because they will come in with new ideas, new ways
of looking at things, new life.
And that is why we celebrate our confirmand.
It’s not just a good day for Isaac, and a good day for Gethsemane. 
It’s a good day for the whole church, and for the whole world,
because we are sending another person out into the world
to share the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

Luther and his revelation of Jesus gospel of God’s love
to the church, ended up changing the whole world.
We, of course, live in a different time 500 years later,
but I believe that this message of God’s love
can still change the world.

After weeks like this, we might feel like the devil is winning.
We live in a world that is in bondage to violence,
and hate, and division, and hateful words that inspire division
and violence. And we will never free ourselves.
But I believe that Jesus word of love
for all people can free us.

Like Luther’s hymn says,
“Though hordes of devils fill the land
all threatening to devour us,
we tremble not unmoved we stand
they cannot overpower us.
This world’s prince may range,
in fierce war engaged.
He is doomed to fail.
God’s judgment must prevail.
One little word subdues him.”

That Word of love frees us,
and it will free the world one day.
And when Christ makes us free, we are free indeed.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Great in God's Kingdom: Saint Oscar Romero


Mark 10:35-45
October 21, 2018

The disciples seem to be learning a lot
of the same lessons here lately.
Lessons about exclusion, division, and power.

If you read chapters eight through ten
all together, it’s basically lessons about exclusion,
division, and power punctuated
by Jesus telling his disciples that he will be
rejected by the elders chief priests and scribes
arrested, killed, and then rise again.

Jesus does tells them this for the last time
right before the verses we read today
and this prompts James and John to  ask Jesus if he would
give them a couple of sweet cabinet appointments
once he gets his place in glory.

The disciples don’t seem to really grasp
what Jesus has been telling them about exclusion, division,
and obviously power and he takes
this last opportunity to explain to them
that power in this world is not the same
as power in God’s kingdom.

This is the last bit of advice like this
that  Jesus gives his friends, because
right after this they’re on their way
to Jerusalem where Jesus will be crucified.

Jesus tells them, in the world, the rulers rule it over them
and the great ones are tyrants over the people.
“But it is not so among you; whoever
wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
  
Greatness in this world comes from ruling
from being the strongest, over-powering,
having the strongest and best military
and having the most money.

But greatness in God’s kingdom comes through
serving, giving your life and power away for others.
That can bring Kingdom people in direct conflict
with the world sometimes,
and it can be uncomfortable, even deadly.

Like the war protesting priest, Daniel Berrigan once said,
“If you want to follow Jesus, You better look good on wood.“

The Roman Catholic Church has not been
without it’s own dependency on
this world’s power over the years,
but last Sunday it did something wonderful:
it made Arch Bishop Oscar Romero a saint.

Luther rejected the idea of honoring specific saints,
but the Catholic church sets aside people who
they feel are exceptional in their life and work
for the church and call them saints.
The process of choosing saints is  itself often shaded
by politics and corruption, but this was a good choice
in a lot of people’s estimation.

And after contemplating the scripture for this week,
I feel compelled to tell you about Bishop Romero.
October 14th, crowds in San Salvador
celebrate Oscar Romero's Sainthood

In the 70’s, Oscar Romero 
was  bishop of the
smallest rural diocese is El Salvador and
then he was appointed arch bishop
of all of El Salvador in 1977.

For many decades, 
El Salvador had been an oligarchy,
run by the rich elites. 
If you a wealthy land owner,
things in El Salvador were great, but if you
were one of the many regular people 
in El Salvador,
the situation was terrible.
Poverty and hunger was rampant,
schools and health care for people were abysmal
or non-existent, rents for farms were outrageous,
and poor people were taxed at a much higher rate
than rich people. And to keep all this in place,
corruption and voter suppression was rampant.

When Romero was appointed arch bishop
the ruling class were very happy.
Romero was known as a friend of the wealthy
land owners, and they assumed that the church
would do what it had always done,
support the status quo of the rich and powerful.
The church probably appointed him so he could do just that.

In January 1977, Carlos Romero (no relation)
was elected president through blatant fraud
and voter intimidation
and massive protests started in the country.

Security forces in San Salvador arrived on
the scene and opened fire on the crowd,
killing hundreds of people.
The president blamed communist forces
for the violence, declared a state of emergency
and suspended civil liberties in the countries.

The rich land owners always had organized
and funded paramilitary groups who
would keep the agrarian communities in control.

These groups were soon taken over control
by the Salvadoran Government and they were used
to put an end to any protest or anyone who organized together,
they killed many of union leaders, activists, teachers, students and priests
anyone suspected of sympathizing with the peasants.

Newly elected Arch Bishop Romero  still wanted to
stay out of the whole political fracas thinking
that the church should stay out of the politics.

But in March of 1977, Oscar Romero’s friend
Father Rutillo Grande was assassinated by
security forces in the village of peasants that he served.
The church requested that Bishop Romero to have the
funeral quietly in the small  province where
Rutillo Grande served, as to not bring attention to it.

But, against the wishes of the church,
Oscar Romero held the funeral at the
cathedral in San Salvador, the capital city.

People flooded into the mass from all over the country
and Romero spent the time afterwards
hearing stories of suffering from peasant farmers.
It was then that Oscar Romero was converted,
and changed his life and the role of the church in El Salvador.

He left his comfortable Bishop’s palace,
and lived in relative poverty with the people.
And he started to speak out against the
war, violence, and injustice happening
during his regular Sunday sermon which
was broadcast to all of El Salvador on the radio.

In 1979, things got complicated and
President Romero was deposed by
the Revolutionary Government Junta
a civilian military organization.
Fearing a communist take over,
the US backed the Junta’s forces with funds and weapons.
At its height, the US was giving them
over 1 million dollars every day.

This escalated the violence in the country
which was still aimed at peasants, farmers,
and any one who supported them.

In February 1980, against the wishes of the pope,
Arch Bishop Romero published an open letter to
President Jimmy Carter pleading with the US to stop
the military aid to the Salvadorian regime which was
bombing, raping, and massacring its citizens.
The letter was not responded to.

On March 23rd, in his regular Sunday sermon broadcast,
Romero called on Salvadoran soldiers
to defy the orders of the government and
obey God’s higher calling to stop carrying out
the government’s repression
and stop killing their brothers and sisters.

The next day, on March 24th,
he was presiding at a mass at a hospital for terminal cancer patients.
After he finished his sermon and stepped away
from the pulpit, Bishop Romero was shot and killed.
In 2009, the state of El Salvador finally
admitted their responsibility in his murder.

Less than a year later, a full civil war erupted
Possibly without Bishop Romero’s leadership
and repeated calls for non-violent resistance,

This war lasted for 12 years and
would end up kill in an estimated 75,000 El Salvadorans
most of them civilians,and leave many others missing, and tortured.
In a country the size of Connecticut with a population
of only 4 million, this was an enormous loss.

And while information given to the US media
was that most of the violence was caused by the
peasants and the supposed “Communist forces”
An impartial research team approved by
the UN estimated that 5% of the deaths and abuses were
caused by the guerrilla force, or the peasants
and 95% of the deaths and abuses were caused
by the US backed Salvadoran government forces.

Those of us who have been to El Salvador
can see that even though the war ended 20 years ago,
it’s still very present with the people there.
And even though he only worked three year with and
for the people, Oscar Romero‘s presence with the
country continues. His picture is everywhere.
  
During the war and after, he is seen as 
a source of strength and empowerment for the people,
the poor, the struggling and suffering.
Proof that God and the church did not
abandon them or forget about them.

Romero wrote:
A church that does not provoke any crisis, that preaches a gospel
that does not unsettle, that proclaims a work of God that does not
get under anyone’s skin, or a word of God that does not
touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed:
What kind of gospel is that?

Maybe we can see why it’s taken almost 40 years
for the Catholic Church to officially recognize
Oscar Romero for the extraordinary leader and martyr that he was.
He defied all his superiors in the church, and
he was seen by past popes as a “Marxist“.

It’s a controversial and complicated story and,
like every situation in real life,
sometimes the answers aren’t always clear.

But Romero did not advocate for one side or another.
He advocated for a stop to the violence and repression.
He advocated for justice and peace
which often feels disruptive to those who were
causing the oppression in the name of defense.

Romero called it the Violence of Love“
which feels like violence because it upsets
the status quo and the social order of things.
It is this love, he said, which left Jesus nailed to a cross.

Like Jesus says, in God’s kingdom
whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Oscar Romero, among others, was a living
lesson of the leadership of God’s kingdom.
He stepped into the fray and advocated for the poor,
the oppressed, and he gave a voice to those who didn’t have a voice.
He showed the world what the church could be.
When given his power, he used it for the people
And for that, he drank the cup that Jesus drank.

Christ came to serve the world and paid for it on the cross.
it is in this cross, this suffering for others,
that we find our salvation.
It is in this gift that we find the Kingdom of God.