Monday, November 28, 2016

Giving Thanks for Interruptions

Luke 1: 26-44
November 27, 2016
Advent 4

When we think of interruptions,
they usually aren’t good.
Our sleep was interrupted,
The class was interrupted
An outburst interrupted the courtroom.
Our life was interrupted.
It’s usually meant as a negative word.

As a pastor, people often tell me,
“I’m sorry I interrupted you.”

It’s usually from someone with some a theological question,
which is what I actually went to school for,
And what you interrupted me from
was probably not very exciting anyway,
so I appreciate being interrupted mostly.

Interruptions can be inconvenient,
But they’re not all bad.

Take this story today for instance,
Mary is doing whatever she’s doing that day,
making bread or sewing or washing something.
Doing whatever she was doing with her life.
Preparing for her marriage,
thinking her future would be very similar to her mother’s life,
and the life of most other women.
And just then Gabriel comes to her
and tells her that she would have a child,
and not just any child but God’s child
and he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.
She was told that she would give birth to the savior,
the Messiah, the one that everyone was waiting for.

That is quite an interruption.

Imagine standing there, brushing your teeth,
in whatever  state of life you are in right now
and having an angel of God come and tell
you that you were going to be a parent to the Messiah,
right now, if that was okay with you.

Even if you were pregnant already,
that would be a pretty big interruption.

Now, like with all life interruptions,
Some people would  refuse, run away, to go into hiding.

But some people, like Mary, decide to accept whatever
God has in mind and see where this interruption leads them.
Here I am, the servant of the Lord.

And if you decided to do that,
you might join together with other people
who have gotten the same kind of interruptions
which is what Mary does.

As soon as Mary accepts this news, she goes out to see
her sister Elizabeth, the one other person
who truly understands  this gigantic interruption.
Because she was interrupted several months earlier,
with news that she would finally be a mother,
to John the Baptist, the one that would
gather the people and prepare them for Jesus arrival.

Mary meets with her, and talks with her,
and compares notes with her and
 I’m sure they also share their fears and apprehensions,
they make plans and they rejoice together.

This was kind of the first meeting of the
Christian church when you think about it.
The church is made up of people whose lives have been
interrupted by Jesus coming together to share our
joy and pain, to make plans together, and to wait together,
for the wonderful things that God has in store
for us and for all the world.

God has interrupted us.--
Maybe not with parenting the savior of the world--  
but with other callings and convictions
we weren’t planning on.

Maybe we didn’t believe in God at one time
or we were uncommitted to Jesus.
Maybe we had one career in mind
and God called us to another,
maybe we thought our family would look
one way, but it looks another way,
maybe we didn’t want to be dragged in to a project
but then we found ourselves deep in the middle of it.

That is God’s job, to make all things new,
To shake things up, to interrupt.

And considering the state of the world today,
With war and violence, poverty,  hunger,
blatant racism and hate, and little hope for the future,
don’t we want some interruptions?
Don’t we want God to come in and do something new and unexpected?

Each week in Advent, we light these candles.
Each week shows us God’s interruption of light
into our world getting stronger and stronger.
The darkness may seem strong and ominous at times,
 but we know God’s hope, love, peace, and joy
keeps getting  stronger and brighter.

So we gather together
And we rejoice at the fact that everything has not gone
as we had planned or expected.
We rejoice that God interrupted Mary’s life and the savior was born.
And we rejoice that God has interrupted our lives
and asked us to be part of God’s plan for salvation too.

And we wait together for the savior of the world
to come into our lives and interrupt us again.

We long for those days when God comes so close that we
can taste, see, hear, smell and feel God’s presence with us.

We wait together for the wonderful things
that God has in store
for us and for all the world.

We wait for the light to interrupt the darkness.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Christians, We Have a Problem

Luke 21:5-19
November 13, 2016

This kind of readings,
these destruction of the temple
and persecution and famine and war
readings of Jesus, always seem to come
right after an election. Well often anyway.

They’re called the “little apocalypse”
and they always are the last one before
Christ the King and so it usually happens
in the middle of November
Which is when our elections are scheduled.
Coincidence? I’m not sure.

So when this happens the message is,
“yes, maybe your candidate didn’t win,
but it’s not the end of the world.”
I looked back and checked on my own and it’s true.
All of us have been either elated or disappointed
on and given election night and
we end up getting through it.
Our country has been through 45 elections,
and if we lived through Warren G. Harding as president,
we can live with whoever was elected this time.
And that certainly is part of the message today.

But that’s not the whole message today,
because today there’s a large portion of people
in this country are legitimately in fear:
People of color, immigrants, Jewish people,
Latinos, gay lesbian bisexual transgender people
Muslim Americans, just to name a few.
And a lot of us are afraid for them.
This election has brought out a lot of overt
hostility on a lot of people.
It was won by scapegoatting  our most vulnerable.
Even if you are pleased or unconcerned about the
results of this election, know that there are
many people who aren’t just disappointed, they are afraid.
It’s not necessarily about the person elected,
or even about most of the people who voted for him.
Rather, it’s about a portion of our country’s population
whose racism and anger has been emboldened by
his message and by the results of this election.

There’s a silly Clintonville page on Facebook,
and there’s a woman who was on there often,
she’s black and she was talking about
an incident on Wednesday the morning after the election.
She was in line at a gas station in Clintonville,
and telling the attendant how despondent she was
at the election and a man behind her who wasn’t involved
in the conversation,  called her “Aunt Jemima” and said,
“If you voted for the right person you wouldn’t feel ‘spondant”
She said she posted it on the page because she
wanted people to make silly comments to keep her from crying.

Since Wednesday there have been lots of personal
reports of incidents like this and worse.
People have legitimate fear about what the future will hold.

This is a problem.
So, what’s the Christian response to this problem?
And I don’t care who you voted for or didn’t vote for,
or if you’re happy with the results,
you still have a problem here.
There are no winners or losers in Christianity.
If your brother or sister is in pain,
then you have a problem.

Now, to put things in perspective,
in Jesus time, fear for your life and your
well-being was kind of a constant worry.
There was no voting, no democracy,
no Constitutional republic
that reflected the will of the people.
Changes of power didn’t happen peacefully
with a phone call and a speech,
it usually happened with cataclysmic wars or violent insurrections.
The lives of average people were filled with insecurity and injustice
on a daily basis, killing was a method of crowd control
and arrests were arbitrary and without recourse.
Little apocalypses were a way of life then.

And yet, Jesus said the same thing to them
as he is saying to us right now.
“Do not be afraid.”

Now Jesus wasn’t telling people
that they were making all this up,
or that it was just media hype and they should chill.
He didn’t tell them to just be quiet and stop bothering him.
He wasn’t telling them to just get over it,
honor the emperor, and move on.
He didn’t say, we all just need to get along.
Or that they had nothing to be afraid of
and they were just being babies.
Like some Christians have said to some people.

On the contrary, in this gospel, Jesus is saying,
“yeah, you have a lot to fear”,
Jesus even articulates all the terrible fearful things,
and even he says,
“I think it might even get worse for you,
if you want to know the truth.”

But still he says, “Do not be afraid.”
In other words, do not let fear rule you.
Do not let it overtake you, do not let it guide your actions,
Do not let it drive you to bitterness or lead you to do violence.
Do not become like the monster that scares you.
Do not become your fears.
You might have fear,
But do not be afraid.

Like we heard Jesus say last week,
The response of the Christians in every age is to
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;
(Which is really quite a very bold move if you’ve tried it)
Stand strong in the face of fear and don’t get sucked in.

Do not get sucked into the hate and violence.
Do not make a new “us and them” out of this,
Hold true to what you’ve been taught by Jesus --
It’s easy to do when things are going good,
but the test of our characters come when
we’re going through little apocalypses.
Through our endurance we will gain our souls.
Do not be afraid.

No matter what is going on, we do what
Jesus has always taught us to do:
We love, we forgive, we welcome the stranger,
we feed the hungry and clothe the naked,
We comfort the fearful and defend them,
we work for justice and what is right,
we empower the poor and the oppressed.
This is the Christian response.

Some people are wearing safety pins.
After the Brexit vote, there was a rise in violence against Muslims
and people started to 
wear safety pins on their shirts to
signify that they are “safe” people to
talk to and rely on in 
situations of intimidation.
People have adopted that here in response
to the rise in racist, homophobic,
and sexist intimidation here.
This is a wonderful start and practice to show our solidarity.

But we can’t just stop there.
We can’t be afraid to do the hard stuff too,
Now that this has happened,
and this Pandora’s box of racism has been opened again,
We can’t just sing Kumbaya around the campfire
and shake hands and hope it will be all better.
We have to do the hard stuff that Jesus has been calling us to all along,
Take the hard look at ourselves and our country,
examine our own racism and prejudices,
and then call it out when we see it,
try to stop it when we hear it,
befriend and defend those who experience it,
and if it becomes a national policy, stand up against it.
I don’t care what party you belong to,
this is the Christian response.
Do not be afraid.

Regardless of who wins any election,
this is what we would need to do
We had to do it with the last president
and we’ll have to do it with the next.
There has never been a government so perfect
that Christians didn’t have a lot of work to do.
But now we do it with more reason,
a more drive and more purpose.
Do not be afraid.

And lastly, “Do not be afraid” also means
No matter where our world ends up,
no matter what happens to us,
with this election or the next, or the one after that,
If we come to a time when there are wars and uprisings,
earthquakes, famine, and pestilences, and worse.
Whatever the worst thing we can imagine,
we always know, “God has got this.”
Do not be afraid, God has got this.

We preach Christ crucified and risen.
Good Friday is never the end of the story.
Division is never the end of the story,
Apocalypse is never the end of the story.
God will have the last word.

God will work on healing the divide,
mending the wounds, justice will prevail,
and God will use all things to his glory in due time.
God will write the end of the story.
That we can have faith in.
As someone said:
It will all be okay in the end,
And if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.

Our faith does not rest in
any government, or country, or political party, or president.
It only rests in God.
It rests in the power of the one
who raised Jesus from the dead
and who is always giving us new life.
It rests in the one who will not leave us
and will not let us go.

Do not be afraid.