Monday, November 26, 2018

The Truth is Out There


John 18: 33-37  
November 25, 2018 
Christ the King

What is truth?
I think that’s a legitimate question that Pilate asks.
Jesus says he came to testify to the truth
and Pilate wants to know what is truth?

I think, in the recent past, we have liked to think that
truth was absolute, that there were unchanging facts
that we could always rely on and depend on,
But more and more I think we’re finding that
truth is on a sliding scale, that it’s subjective.
Now opinions count as much as facts,
perception is truth, and lies can become
truth if they’re just repeated enough.
And if the right person says it,
scads of people will believe them, no matter what they say.

What is truth?
Two thousand years ago it seems like
truth had the same subjective feel to it,
For Pilate, who was stuck between
Ecco Home (Behold the Man)
Antonio Ciseri
religious factions and his own ambition,
who had long ago compromised his own
integrity to maintain his 
power and feed his ego,
Truth may have been whatever lie he told himself that moment.

We know from the historical 
record that Pilate
was a brutal man.
He was insensitive to Jewish customs.
He would antagonize the Jews 
with idols then kill them
when they would protest.
He would also kill for no reason at all.

Philo, the historian and philosopher wrote
about Pilate that he had
"vindictiveness and furious temper", and was
"naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness".

Pilate killed without much thought,
and yet Pilate spends the rest of this story
trying to release Jesus, 
offering him up to the crowds to ask for his release,
beating him then and sending him out,
thinking that might be enough for them,
asking Jesus to defend himself
so he could find a reason to release him.

The truth was that Pilate was governor,
the highest ranking person, with the most power,
and he had Jesus in custody in his palace,
and had every legal right and ability to do what he wished
to this nobody in front of him,
who was shackled, beaten and worn down.

And yet, somehow Jesus seemed to have
power over this powerful man.
That was the truth.

The famous preacher Barbara Brown Taylor
tells about being at a retreat once where the leader asked
them to think of someone who represented Christ in their lives.
When it came time to share their answer,
one woman stood up and said,
"I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking,
‘Who is it who told me the truth about myself
so clearly that I wanted to kill them for it?"’

Jesus power is that he reflects Pilate back to himself.
Jesus innocence, his lack of defense,
shows Pilate the injustice of the system he leads
and his own cruelty at the head of it.
And Pilate tries to run away from his truth
by getting rid of Jesus, but Jesus won’t let him.

Jesus just doesn’t speak truth.
Jesus is truth.
Truth for ourselves, truth for our world.
Jesus life and death is testament to us.
It’s a mirror to the world.

Jesus own arrest, his questioning, and crucifixion
reveals the truth about us and our world,
The cruelty of the systems we’ve created,
the ruthlessness we accept in the name of law and order,
our willingness to condone violence,
our comfort with others misfortune,
Our ability to look the other when others are suffering.

The Gospel truth comforts the afflicted
and afflicts the comfortable.

Just the presence of Jesus has put a mirror up
to this powerful, powerful person,
who holds life and death in his own hands every day.
By the end of their interaction with each other,
it is evident that it’s not Jesus who is on trial here.
Pilate is on trial.
  
The power of Jesus is not in having armies
or weapons or muscles or the authority to kill at will.
Jesus power is in showing us the truth about ourselves.

Jesus is king of the truth.
The truth that has more power than lies.
The truth that is told in love, in hope of new life.
The truth that sets people free.

Even beaten, in shackles, humiliated, with a crown of thorns
on his head, Jesus is the most powerful one in that room,
because Jesus is truth.

Today, in our world it may seem like truth is losing out.
Politicians, advertisers, corporations, can make up
whatever lies they can come up with and sell it to us
as truth, anyone with a computer or phone can write
whatever they think and turn it into truth.
But we know that Christ is King.

When we say Christ is King
we are not saying that Christianity should be
the national religion,
Or that biblical laws should rule the courts,
or that the 10 commandment should be
put in every courthouse.

When we say that Christ is King,
we’re saying that God’s justice and truth
will not be bought, it will not be sold,
and it will not be compromised
for earthly power or money.

When we say that Christ is King,
we are saying that the truth -- God’s truth,
has power that cannot be taken away,
even if it is put in shackles,
even if the powerful try to hold it captive and beat it and
taunt it, and humiliate it and even eventually kill it,
it will not stay dead, God’s truth will rise again.

When we say that Christ is King,
we’re saying that God’s truth:
the truth of God’s compassion, forgiveness,
justice, grace, mercy, and love for all people,
which lies at the foundation of this world,
will win in the end.
And if it hasn’t won, then it is not the end.

In a world of lies, the truth will live.
That is what we mean, when we say
Christ is King.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Do Not Worry About Food


Matthew 6:25-33
November 18, 2018
Thanksgiving

Do not worry about what you’re going to eat.
What an appropriate thought to hear
just five days before Thanksgiving.
Because I think in most people’s lives
Horn of Plenty
Walter Curlee
right now is about the future of food.

What will we eat, where will we eat it?
What’s the best recipe for stuffing?
Should we get red potatoes or Yukon Gold?
Green bean casserole or no green bean casserole?
Do we have enough room in the oven?
Are you getting the good napkins?
How many pies will we need?
And whatever you do,
do not make that cranberry stuff you made last year.
Do not worry about what you will eat.

Now I used to think that Jesus meant
don’t worry about having enough food,
but I think he means this kind of thanksgiving worry
about how good our food is and how to make
things impressive for guests, because it’s linked
to worrying about what you wear or being fashionable.

There are many parts to this sermon on the mount
which goes on for three chapters in Matthew.
The part before this one talks about materialism,
an obvious kind, hoarding treasure on earth,
keeping too much wealth for yourself,
greed, we usually can easily identify this in other people.

But here Jesus talks about this other kind
of sneaky materialism. Worry.
It’s this materialism that doesn’t focus on
luxuries, but on necessities.
Do not worry about food,
what  you will eat or drink
or what you will wear.
Isn’t life more than food? More than clothing.

He’s not talking to people who are starving
and don’t have enough food.
That’s not the food worry he’s referring to.

He says the gentiles (or the privileged class at that time)
are the ones who spend time worrying about that stuff.
How nice their outfit is, or how impressive their
tables are going to be.

The obsessive focus on necessities.
If you look at the most popular cable channels
on TV, they’re all worried with necessities.
Food, clothing, shelter.

I mean humans have taken the basic needs of life
and made them into a contest.
Once we are fortunate enough
to have sufficient amounts of food to eat,
clothes to wear and places to live, then we start to
worry about it, we want more and better,
We want to protect what we have,
strategize for the future.
Enough just isn’t enough.

Worry is the beginning of a slew of bad outcomes,
it’s makes us keep more than we need,
it closes us off from others,
worry turns us in ourselves.
Worry tells us that enough is not enough.
And it will never be enough.

So it’s ironic that Thanksgiving makes us worry about
food so much, because Thanksgiving is about having gratitude
giving thanks (it’s right there in the name).
And gratitude is almost the opposite of worry.
Gratitude tells us that enough is enough.
There’s a Buddhist proverb that says
“enough is a feast.”

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a celebration of enough.
The story goes that the first caravan of European immigrants
who came to America and settled in Virginia had a relatively
good harvest. This was after a year of tragedy though.
Lots of the people who came with them had
died on the trip over,
and more died after they got there from disease and starvation.
But in the fall of 1621, things were turning around, just a little.

The Native Americans in the area
had given them food when they first came and then
they had shown them how to grow corn and catch eel.
So they planted the corn and their first crop came out pretty good,
so they had enough to store for winter.
They were so thankful for this one successful harvest,
that they had a party.
And they invited their Native friends who helped them get there.
  
And the Native Americans liked the vibe of thanks and welcome
they were giving out, so they came over and celebrated with them,
joined their celebration and brought some deer.
The celebration lasted three days,

By some accounts they ate some kind of
fowl, venison, corn, eel, and shellfish.
Basically random stuff, whatever was around.
No special recipes, no fancy napkins.
Enough was a feast.

In the written account of this event,
one of the European immigrants wrote:
“And although it be not always so plentiful,
as it was at this time with us,
yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want,
that we wish them (the Native Americans) partakers of our plenty.”

They were so thankful for what they had at the
moment, that they wanted to share with their new friends.
For three days everyone was happy and got along,
but of course that camaraderie and sharing didn’t last.

When they could still taste their desperation and need,
The European immigrants were delightful.
But then once they had enough and were satisfied,
That materialism kicked in and then they started to worry.
They started obsessing over necessities.
Then they needed more.
They weren’t satisfied with gifts and sharing.
Enough was not enough.
  
They needed more than just today’s life sustaining meal.
They worried about that next meal and that next winter.
They wanted all the food, and then they wanted the land it grew on.
And then their friends became a threat
to tomorrow’s food and shelter.
The pilgrims who left Europe to shelter themselves from the
temptations of extravagances, had fallen victim to the
more sneaky kind of materialism.
Enough wasn’t enough.

And that’s kind of been the story of
our lives here in the new land.
Enough is never enough.

But Thanksgiving is still a worthy thing to celebrate.
A reminder of that time that enough was a feast
and they gave thanks to God for what was in front of them.

Gratitude, giving thanks, interrupts our worry.
You almost can’t do both at the same time.
It puts the focus on God and the gifts that
we have been given today, right now.
We cannot serve God and this worry of ours.
We will end up loving one and hating the other.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Let enough be enough.
Give thanks for the things you have today.
Don’t worry about tomorrow.
That kind of materialism leads to all kinds
of dangerous things.

Let’s be like the birds,
Let’s be like those pilgrims that first Thanksgiving
(not the second one)
Don’t worry about tomorrow.
Enjoy what you have been given today.
Tomorrow will have its own worries.
Let enough be enough.
Give God thanks for today.

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.