Monday, January 28, 2019

Old Wedding, New Wine


John 2: 1-11
Epiphany 2 
January 27, 2019

I do not mean to brag, but my wedding was fun.
Soupy Sales was there (if you don’t know who he is, look him up,
he had a children’s show in the 50’s and 60’s)
We had raffles and prizes and a talent show,
we were encased in a giant bubble, and my father in law yodeled.
People still talk about it 17 years later.
If we had any problem, it was that we
overestimated the amount of beer people would drink
and we had to return an almost full keg of it.
But our wedding only lasted a few hours.

I bet that never happened at a wedding in Jesus time.
The weddings in Jesus time were supposed to last days.
And apparently there was a lot of drinking,
you were expected to drink at a wedding.
That’s what held the guests there, not yodeling.
They would put out the good wine at the beginning,
like the vintage California wine, then
when people got good and drunk they would
bring out the boxed wine.

Wedding at Cana,    George Fenech
But at this wedding in Cana
that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples
have been invited to, 
they have run out of wine all together.
Apparently, this would be a social 
disaster for the couple and it would have started their marriage in shame.
But don’t worry, because Jesus is there.
Or more specifically Jesus’s mother is there.

Jesus is not too keen on 
helping out in this situation.
He says it’s not his time yet. 
But apparently,
his mother thinks it is his time 
and he’s gonna
start flexing that divine muscle right now.
  
After Jesus’ mother coaxes her son to start doing something –
I’m guessing with the kind of icy stare that mothers use --
he asks the waiters to fill the giant jars that were there with water.
The jars weren’t drinking jars, they were jars that were used
for water for the purity ritual – John specifically tells us this.

So Jesus has the servants fill those jars up with water.
And from that water, he makes this fine wine.
Wine so good that the chief wine steward was amazed with it.
And wondered why the host had held it back
and didn’t serve it at the beginning of the wedding.

So  in John’s gospel, this is Jesus first miracle of his ministry.
Helping keep a wedding going is not necessarily
high on the list of what people asking the savior to do,
but for John, the only place that this story appears, everything is a sign.
Not just the miracle but a sign of who Jesus was
and what he came here to do.

Jesus hasn’t just saved the reputation of a newly married couple,
and allowed a wedding to go on.
This miracle was a sign of his ministry and purpose.

So more about those jars.
John tells us specifically that these jars are for the purity ritual.
He doesn’t tell them to use the wineskins, or bowls, or buckets,
but specifically these jars for ritual purity.
Meaning, they were meant to be filled so that if
anyone was in a state of uncleanliness,
they could wash themselves so that they could be clean again
and approach God for meals or worship.

Now you would find yourself in a state of uncleanliness
when you engaged in a certain activities or you touched
a person who was seen as unclean.
Unclean people included sick people, like lepers,
women who were menstruating, people who had died,
people who had bad jobs like tax collectors and prostitutes,
and non-Jewish people.

If you came into contact with any of these people
or situations, you needed to be made clean again.

Society didn’t just see that germs or viruses were a cause
of disease, and they didn’t understand that people
could find themselves in situations they didn’t deserve or want.
The people who had these issues were unclean in themselves.
and therefore bad or separated from God
and this separation was contagious.

It may have started out as a protection against illness,
but it turned into a casting of people into categories
and levels of holiness and unholiness.

And the cleansing ritual also put people
into different categories too.

The wedding that Jesus was at had six 20 gallon jars for this ritual.
And you can imagine that a person that
had those sized jars and a house to keep them in
and servants to handle them and fill them up,
would have to be pretty well off.

People without these resources would
have to pay someone to have a ritual bath,
and very poor people would often never
be able to get ritually clean.

So only the richest people can be the very cleanest and the closest to God.
Those who are poor or just eeking by would not have the resources
or the time to do the ritual, and if you were one of those
sick people, or a woman, or a funeral worker,
or a tax collector or sinner or prostitute,
there was no way you could be seen as clean ever.
  
So this ritual was divisive.
It blatantly created a division of people.
And many cultures and religions have had ritual cleaning practices,
lest anyone think that this was just a repudiation of Judaism.
We could say it’s a human tendency that we wrap up in religion:
Clean and unclean, holy and unholy,
Worthy of God and unworthy of God.
them and us.

So this is what Jesus does for his first sign.
He takes that religious divider,
and turns it into the finest wine, more wine than anyone can drink.
Jesus participates in a celebration of God’s abundance.
He turns religion into an endless party for everyone.

Now as modern day Christians, we might not be
practice with ritual cleansing or jars.
Be we are familiar with the division that religion can cause.

We’ve been told that if we didn’t believe in the right way
that we can’t share communion or prayer with some people.

People who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender
have been told that they are an abomination and worse
for no other reason than their sexuality
And have been told that they could not possibly
be faithful people worthy of God’s love.

I’ve even been told by some Christians that I
– and all of you, by the way, --
 are doomed because I’m a female pastor.

And even outside of religious contexts,
we still like our humanity divided into camps.
We still like to blame the poor and idolize the rich.
Sometimes it’s the other way around.
We draw lines between people because of race, culture,
economics, demographics, neighborhoods, habits and
  
More than ever, we define people by
the labels of Republican, Democrat, liberal and conservative,
We want absolute purity in every belief and action,
and crossing those lines is a betrayal.
Them and us.

Even after Jesus, we still like to do our religion and our society,
by counting beans and rating sins and
dividing people into groups.
It was a major problem in Jesus time,
and I think it’s still our main problem now.

This week we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
who would have been 90 years old last week.
At a commencement speech at Oberlin College in 1965,
he said this. And I think after more than 50 years,
it still very relevant today:

“What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific
and technological genius we’ve made this world a neighborhood.
But now through our moral and ethical commitment,
we must make it a brotherhood.
We must all learn to live together as brothers –
or we will all perish together as fools.
This is the great issue facing us today.
No individual can live alone;
no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”

It’s still a huge lesson that we need to learn.
And Martin Luther King was only echoing
what he learned from Jesus,
what Jesus was doing with his whole ministry:

We are tied together to one another.
Every life is tied to our own,
The more we try to separate ourselves from one another,
the more mess we’re in.

It may seems like a good solution
to weed those “bad” people out in whatever way we want,
to stay with our own, to avoid certain neighborhoods,
only send our kids to the right schools,
to lock our doors, put on our alarms,
put more people in jail, to build more walls.

But that has never kept anyone safe for long.
Jesus wants to teach us to learn how to live together
as brothers and sisters. No them and us. only Us.
We are all invited to this party together.
And there is more than enough for everyone.

And this is hard news, because it’s not always easy to see
 ourselves linked with some people in this world.
But it is good news because this is, and always has been,
the way out of so many of our messes.
We’ve tried war, dominance, segregation, tough love,
genocide, apathy, and disinterest.
Why not try Jesus way?
Jesus way is The Way.
The great wedding feast will save us.

In John’s gospel, the word grace shows up four times
and only in the prologue, the introduction.
Some say that John took a hymn text and put
it at the beginning of the gospel.
But some say that this is because it’s the point of the story.
The Word becomes flesh and the rest of the gospel is there
to show you what grace looks like and acts like.

Grace is when God takes the divisive rules of human
institutions and transforms them into the finest wine of love.
Grace is when God takes “Them and Us”
and turns it into a party for everyone.
Grace is how we will learn to live together as one.

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
Epiphany
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.

Epiphany
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.

Magificat
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.