Monday, January 14, 2019

You Are Enough

Baptism of our Lord
Mark 1:4-11
January 8, 2019

When I lived in New York, I did some acting,
and I had a lot of friends who did acting as well. 
One of my good friends auditioned
for a commercial for a pain reliever or something innocuous like that.
She had done a couple of commercials before, lots of acting.
They seemed really interested in her,
her agent told her it was almost a sure thing. 
Until she showed up for the audition.

After she read her lines,
the panel of people that she was auditioning
had her stay on the set to look at her in the lights which was normal.
They kept asking her to tilt her head up.  Tilt her head left. 
Tilt her head down.  So she did. 
They seemed to be having a long discussion amongst themselves.
They thanked her and let her go
and it was obvious that she didn’t get the job.
Later, she went back and asked her agent
if they told him what the problem was. 
He told her that they said that space between
her top lip and her nose was too long. 
She wasn’t good enough because her lips were too far from her nose.

Now acting and auditioning is very judgmental,
(my friend is thankfully a teacher now)
But if we’ve spent enough time in this world,
we will certainly get the feeling that we are not
good enough, whether it’s from watching TV,
or reading magazines, or it’s from the other kids in school,
or just from our own brains telling us this.

There seems to be this constant feed in our ears,
a constant voice telling us that we are inferior.
We need to be better.

From our birth and childhood to our adulthood and in our old age,
People telling us that we are not enough.
·               We are not smart enough,
·               not pleasant enough,
·               not small enough,
·               not big enough,
·               not rich enough,
·               not old enough,
·               not young enough,
·               not generous enough.
You don’t spend enough time with your children,
you don’t have enough friends,
you don’t go out enough,
you don’t stay in enough,
Your house isn’t neat enough,
you don’t work hard enough,
you don’t relax enough,
you don’t eat the right foods,
you don’t exercise enough,
You are not holy enough, not spiritual enough,
·               not prayerful enough.

You are not enough.
We hear it so much, that it doesn’t need to be repeated really.
We say it to ourselves when we lie awake
at night and when we are alone.
I need to be better,
Baptism of the ChristDaniel Bonnell
I need to lose weight,
I need to make more money,
I need to find my passion,
I am not enough.

This voice in us is not completely bad,
it is the voice that motivates us to change and make improvements,
and even make our lives better.

But somewhere its gone haywire.
This voice seems to dominate our conversations and thoughts,
and this voice leads us to judge other people,
and try to make them feel inferior too.

It is a voice which never stops and never takes a vacation.
Somewhere along the line,
It became fashionable to always berate ourselves and others,
to never be satisfied.
We keep trying to climb to the top of a mountain
that can never be reached.

But there is another voice in the world.
This voice sometimes gets drowned out
by all the noise of the other voices, but it’s there.
We might have to strain to hear it, but it is very clear.
It is the same voice that Jesus heard
when he came out of the Jordan after being baptized.

It is the voice that says,
“You are my child.  With you I am well pleased.”

Now when John baptized in the Jordan,
his purpose was for forgiveness and repentance and
to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
But when Jesus was baptized everything stopped,
the Spirit came down like a dove and said those words:
You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased
And now we are baptized in Jesus name,
And through our baptism, Jesus shares that gift with us
that was shared with him.

It’s the voice of God that says
I love you just as you are.
I Created you as a wonderful creature and I will hold you forever.
You belong to me and you are safe with me.
I can work with you and through you.
Trust that you are okay,
that despite all the voices to the contrary, you are loved.
You are enough.

This is the voice that doesn’t make the morning programs,
that we don’t hear at the many auditions we go through in life.
It is not something fashionable to say to one another.
But it is the voice of God.

It is a gift from God.
And this gift also comes with a call.

A call to look at others and see the same thing.
To see that everyone is a child of God,
everyone deserves life and love and
honor and respect and joy,
no matter who they are or where they find themselves.

We are called to do hard work in this world,
We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.
to be compassionate, to turn the other cheek,
to love our enemies, give to God what is God’s.
to follow Jesus and Jesus ways.

When we all renew our baptism in a few minutes
here in worship, we will renew that call.
And we also will renew the voice of God that came
to us at our baptism. “You are my child. I’m pleased with you.”
No matter where we are,
what we are, where we live,
what our status is,
what we look like,
whatever we give,
whatever we do with our life,
what we have or have not accomplished --
We are enough for God.

The world says we are never enough.
We will never be all that we could be or should be,
we will always be pursuing the horizon and never reaching it.

But the waters of our baptism constantly wash that word away.
We were reborn as God’s children, God’s chosen, God’s beloved.

Today, we remember Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan,
that day when the heavens opened up and God spoke.

And Jesus shares that voice with us.
Let’s let that voice – the voice of God –
be the voice that we hear tonight in bed.
And let us share that voice with someone else.
The voice that says:
You are my child, my beloved.
With you I am well pleased.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Follow That Star

Matthew 2:1-12
January 6. 2019

Christ has been born,
the savior has come into the world
the light has shattered the darkness
And now everyone is happy,
the good news spreads, everyone believes
and follows Jesus way and the world is perfect.

Maybe we could believe that
if we only hear the story read on Christmas eve.
We could enjoy the sights of shepherds,
angels, heavenly hosts,
quiet mangers, and holy families.

But Matthew’s gospel doesn’t
let us get away that easily.
In Matthew’s story, the birth of Jesus isn’t just a family affair,
it’s not just a miraculous birth of a baby.

In Matthew, the birth of Jesus almost immediately
sends ripples through the world,
not all of them good ripples either.

Of course we know about
the wise men who see the star in the sky and understand
that this indicates that the messiah has been born.
And even though they are not of the Jewish faith
they see the sign and they want to pay their respects to him.
So the wise men, some say kings,
people who are important enough in their own right,
follow the star and find Jesus and his family.
They bring gifts to the baby and they kneel
and pay him homage, placing the little baby,
born to a poor family, in a status above themselves.

This scene is familiar enough:
the three kings bowing to a baby,
it’s pleasant enough to show up in our nativity scenes,
and to garner festive celebrations all over the world.
But the story in Matthew isn’t pleasant at all.

To help the wise men find where this baby is,
they go to the person that they assume
will be in the know about the event --King Herod --
the man who has been appointed the king of the Jews.
They assume that Herod would know about
this important thing happening to his own people.
But he doesn’t know.

And when he finds out, it turns out Herod
is not excited that the hopes and prophecies
of his ancestors are coming true.
He’s not overjoyed that the messiah has come -
about the light scattering the darkness.

Janet McKensie
It says that at this news that Herod was frightened
and not just him, but all of Jerusalem with him.

To think that Herod just didn’t understand
the importance of this birth would be naive I think.
Herod understood, he understood all too well
maybe more than some others.
The birth of the Messiah didn’t just mean
light and fulfillment of everyone’s hopes.
the birth of the Messiah meant a different reality,
God coming into the world.
It meant justice, change.
It meant that the lowly would be raised
and the powerful would be tumbled down.
And Herod was one of the powerful.

Herod’s desire to cling to his power
had already driven him to 
kill several close family members.
And his fear of the Messiah 
led him to do the unspeakable.
Which is the second part of the world’s 
reaction to Jesus birth
in Matthew’s story.

Herod had his people kill all the children
in and around Bethlehem
who were two years and younger
in an attempt to kill Jesus.
Which is what made Mary, Joseph, and Jesus
run from their country and escape to Egypt
and live there for several years.

Now some say there were 20 children killed
in Bethlehem, some say it was 10,000,
Some say it never happened at all.
But it doesn’t matter, we have seen enough leaders react
out of fear and paranoia and a need for control.
We have seen enough killing in our lifetime
and enough innocents slaughtered
to know that even if Matthew
isn’t talking about a historical event,
Matthew is telling us a Truth.
Matthew knows, the good news of Jesus the Christ,
is not always good news to everyone.

Two reactions to the birth of the Messiah:
The wise men – three kings of some unspecific
religion and country who followed stars rejoiced at the news.
They sought out Jesus, they embraced the mystery,
knelt down to worship, offered their gifts,
The three kings who make themselves servants of the
power of God found in Jesus Christ.

But the actual king of the Jews,
the one who holds the actual title,
the leader Yahweh’s people,
the man who is sitting in David’s position, King Herod.
But he is not delighted to hear the news of the Messiah’s birth,
he reacts to the messiah in fear and dread
He lashes out in violence in an attempt’
kill God’s plan for the salvation of the world and
maintain his own power and control.

In these first chapters, Matthew is getting us ready
for the end of the story of Jesus
where religion and power do eventually
come together again and attempt to carry out that plan again.

Now we might come to a conclusion,
like a lot of people do,
that the world is just divided into two kinds of people:
that the good people just choose the wise men’s route
And those evil people choose Herod’s way.

But isn’t it closer to the truth that both exist in each of us?
Don’t we all have the propensity for worship
with our whole selves to embrace the unknown,
to risk going wherever God leads us?

But don’t we also sometimes respond
in fear to the change that God has in store?
Don’t we also back away from God’s plans
And as citizens, haven’t we even supported or ignored
violence at times if it means maintaining our
comfort, our status quo?

We all embrace God’s justice and rule and will
and we all turn it away, ignore it, and rebel against it.
We are making those choices every day.

Matthew’s story is about the world’s journey of faith.
It’s about the many ways that we can react to
the good news of Jesus Christ.
It’s also about finding those wise people
in the most unexpected places.

We are called to be people who are
not slaves to our fears,  who don’t cling
to power and violence and control.
We are called to be wise people
who take risks and leave the old behind.
We are called to follow stars that look
like all the other stars to everyone else,
but that we’re sure in our hearts means something.
We are called to follow uncertain things with certainty.

The messiah has come to us.
Christ has been born.
The savior has come into the world.
The light has shattered the darkness.
Let us be like those wise people.
Let us leave our fear behind and follow another road.
Let us embrace that star, risk the unknown, and follow Jesus.

The World is About to Turn

Luke 1:39-56
Advent 4
December 23, 2018

Micah follows the same pattern we’ve heard from the other prophets:
The people have messed up, there’s destruction and sadness,
and after that, a great restoration, of life, joy, peace, justice,
and a renewed relationship with God.

But Micah does something which some of the others didn’t:
his hope is found in a specific person, born in a specific place:
Bethlehem, or as the region around it was called, Ephrath.

Bethlehem was not a big or important city.
But it was the birthplace of Saul and of David.
Israel’s first two kings.
And there is hope that another king would come
from there who would bring about this new reign.

The hope was that a new King would rule
like David ruled, (except, of course, for the bad things David did)
and that leadership would deliver the people from their present
suffering and chaos, and return them to the right path.

This is the hope of the Messiah,
which at the time just meant a leader who would deliver the people.
The hope of many was that the leader would bring
back the good old days – Make Israel great again.
And Bethlehem was where we should look for the birth of this leader.

But as we’ve heard from the other prophets,
Micah tells us we will not be going back to the good old days.
These will be new days, and different days,
the Messiah will not make things great again,
this Messiah will make things great for the first time.

Jen Norton
Which brings us to Mary and her song.
Mary is from Nazareth and not Bethlehem.
After she hears about her pregnancy,
but she is told that she will give birth to this Messiah.

After she hears, she visits her cousin Elizabeth,
who also happens to be pregnant 
with John the Baptist.
When they meet, Mary sings 
the song we heard today,
which has come to be called the Magnificat.
which is Latin for “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

In this song, she rejoices that she has the
privilege of giving birth to the 
one promised Messiah.
She glorifies God for his power, 
holiness, and mercy.
And she looks forward to 
God transforming the world
through the Messiah that she is carrying.

And this won’t be a trip back to the past,
and the good old days of yesterday.
God is doing a new thing here like the prophets foretold:
He is scattering the proud,
filling the hungry, and sending the rich away empty,
Pulling the powerful down  from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly.

This may not be good news for those who are proud, rich, and powerful.
But this is very good news for the lowly, the hungry, and the weak.

It depends on where you are in the scheme of things.
And we, who are privileged enough in our lives,
can choose who do we want to ally ourselves with
and relate to, and now is the time to consider it.

Because in Mary’s song, these things have already happened.
Even though this Messiah hasn’t even been born yet,
Mary knows that God will fulfill his plans and promises.
Even though it hasn’t happened ,
and the evidence around us points to the contrary,
Faith says it’s as good as done.
Already and not yet.

I love this story about Bishop Desmond Tutu.
I’ve probably told it before, but it’s worth repeating.
Bishop Tutu was an Episcopal bishop
in South Africa during apartheid.

He was very outspoken against apartheid
and received many threats from the government.

In the darkest days of that era on an Easter Sunday morning,
hundreds of worshipers gathered
for service at St. George Cathedral in Capetown,
where Bishop Tutu was presiding.

In the middle of the service a group of the
notorious South African Security Police
came into the service and gathered in the aisles of the church
around the walls some with machine guns
and some with writing pads and tape recorders,
Waiting to record what Bishop Tutu would say.
Tutu had already been arrested a few weeks earlier.

The parishioners were nervous and tense, there was a pall over them.
If Bishop Tutu said something radical,
he might be arrested or even shot on sight.
But if he didn’t say anything then the apartheid regime
would have won by intimidation.

Bishop Tutu came out to the pulpit
and he started bouncing up on his heels and laughing.
And everyone started laughing with him.
Which lifted the crowd.

And then he addressed the police directly.
He said to them in the warmest, but firmest and clearest tone,
“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods.
And I serve a God who cannot be mocked.
So, since you have already lost,
I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
And at that, the worried crowd, leapt to their feet
and praised God and started dancing in the cathedral,
and danced into the streets
and danced right up to the armed security forces
that were surrounding the cathedral,
who just backed up and let the people dance.

Bishop Tutu was right. Justice would prevail.
God would help them see the end
of that terrible system of government.
The side to be on was God’s side.
There was no physical sign that it would happen on that Easter,
but he knew it would.
Already and not yet.

And even during times when it seems that chaos is winning,
when the bad seems to be overpowering the good,
all we need to know is that we serve a God who cannot be mocked.
We know how it will end.

We trust in Mary’s faith.
We trust the promise of the coming Messiah,
who is coming in the future, but is already here.

Although it may not seem like it today,
we know that God will prevail.
justice will prevail, forgiveness,
and love, and peace will prevail

We are invited to answer Mary’s call and
let our souls, words, thoughts, and actions magnify our Lord.

Because we know with the arrival of Christ
into our hearts and lives,
that the world is about to turn.

Monday, December 17, 2018

You Brood of Vipers

Luke 3:7-18
December 16, 2018

I think Prophets were kind of like the news analysts of the time,
the op-ed writers of their era, or the political bloggers
They never addressed personal, individual problems
they always looked at the whole country or world
and told everyone where they went wrong
from the top down, and what the possible
consequences and sad fates were: They knew
doom and destruction would fall on everyone.

Although the prophets used ancient terms,
the analysis of their times sounds a lot like that of ours:
corrupt and greedy leaders, religious leaders who’ve lost their way,
the apathy and hopelessness of the people,
and a lack of compassion for the poor and outcast.

And then, like now, the prophets knew that the country
and the world  were not on a good path,
but everyone felt unable or unwilling to
do anything about the situation.

Zephaniah is not a big player in the prophet hit parade.
He’s called a minor prophet.
This book or letter is only three chapters long.
the first two chapters are the same kind of analysis
that we’re used to hearing from the prophets,
God is not happy with Israel who refuses to get their
act together, destruction will be coming in one form or another.
And then they will want God, but they’d grown so distant
from God, they won’t know how to find God.
The word Zephaniah means “ Yahweh hides.”

They say Zephaniah was written pre-exile period
meaning before the Jews were conquered
by Babylon and other countries.
In other words, it was a time when things were still hanging together,
but there was a sense that things  could fall apart at any time,
the fabric of the society they knew was crumbling.

But after this inevitable destruction and collapse,
Zephaniah goes on, there is hope, God doesn’t stay hidden forever.
The collapse will be followed will be followed by 
rebirth and resurrection, God will be there and the relationship with
God and God’s people will be restored
and things will be back on the right track.

As we heard in the part we read today,
Zion is God’s daughter, and God will renew her,
her fortunes will be restored and everything will be
better than it was before.

And the evidence that the time has come will be this:
All the oppressors will be dealt with,
the lame will be saved and the outcast will be brought home.

Things will come back together,
but they won’t come back together in the same way.
Things will be reassembled in God’s image
things will be done in God’s way.

This seems to be a theme in all the prophets, major and minor.
Falling apart, coming together,
and the new way will be closer to God’s way.
They always end with a hopeful analysis of the future.
And our second reading is hopeful to, Rejoice!
Paul writes to the Philippians.
And then we get to John the Baptist.

In case we wanted to get prematurely Christmassy,
and sentimental, we’ve got John the Baptist to keep us in line.
John the Baptist is saying basically the same thing
as Zephaniah and the prophets have been saying,
but in a much more colorful and engaging way.

“You brood of vipers, who told you
you could escape the wrath to come?”
He made a spectacle of himself and people paid attention.
No one will be able to escape the consequences.
Everyone was in the same boat. Rich and poor,
faithful and not faithful, we’re all children of snakes.

But even with John’s doom and gloom predictions,
like the op-ed analyst and prophets before him,
there is still hope at the end.

The people there asked him “What exactly should we do?”
Now, I’m not sure what they were expecting from John the Baptist,
but he was living like a wild man,
alone in the wilderness, eating bugs and
just whatever he could find on the ground.

Maybe they thought he would tell everyone
to drop out of normal life, wear a camel’s hair coat and
and eat locusts and twigs with him in the wilderness.

But no. John tells them:
“If you have two coats, share one with someone who has none.
If you have any extra food, share that too.”

He’s not telling them leave their lives and hide in the woods,
but to go back to their cities and villages and just behave differently,
to not use their position or job to take advantage of other people,
To treat others with kindness, and fairness and justice,
in other words, to be the change in the world.

Like Zephaniah, John is saying that after the wrath to come,
God will be reordering the world in this new way,
but in a little shift from Zephaniah and the prophets of old,
John is clarifying and saying that we have an 
opportunity to be part  of the reconstruction, 
part of the rebirth, part of the resurrection.
We are participants in the change that God has in store for the world.
We don’t even have to wait for the destruction and the wrath to come
we can start the reconstruction and rebirth now.

We aren’t merely recipients of God’s good will,
God will work through our hands and feet and mouths.
And we will be signs that the resurrection is happening.

We will have an active role in dealing with the oppressors,
saving the lame, and bringing the outcasts home again.
We are the agents and the sign of God’s new order in the world.
When we treat someone with kindness who doesn’t deserve it,
when we forgive, even when someone isn’t sorry,
when we treat all people with respect,
when we welcome the stranger,
when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
When we do those things that we can do right now,
We become part of the God’s restoration.

And all the stuff we do together,
Faith Mission, Play and Learn, the Food Pantry,
Habitat for Humanity, working with BREAD,
going to protests, writing our senators,
making quilts, making prayer shawls, making food for funerals,
when we pray for others, and share hope for the world,
whatever it is that we do to help build,
 and help share justice and peace and hope is
part of God’s plan to change this world,
and is a sign that God is already working.

Even when everything around us seems dark and evil,
the light of Christ in our own hearts can be our hope.

John Baptized with water, but there is another coming
who will baptize with fire. A fire to light us up and move us.
And that is why the word John had in the end was good news
for all us here and across the world.

You, Brood of Vipers!
You are part of the change coming to the world.

Our small, individual acts of kindness in the midst of hate,
of fairness and justice in the midst of corruption
of generosity in the midst of greed and the myth of scarcity
are all part of remaking our world in God’s image.

And those acts are a sign for us that God is with us and working.
You are signs that the world is about to turn.