Friday, July 19, 2013

Does Your Sabbath Feel Like Work?

Some of you have heard me tell of my time on silent retreat recently, where my commitment to God was to try to sit and listen for five days. And about half way through the time there was a severe thunderstorm which whipped up and rain began pounding and blowing in all of the open windows of the retreat center and dripping everywhere, and then the power went out, and smoke detectors went haywire and the elevator got stuck, and we all left our silence and began scurrying around, closing windows, wiping up water, looking for towels, checking on people-talking. And we could hear the sirens of an accident at the bottom of the hill. And sometimes we need to attend to important things. But after awhile, everything that could be done was done. But it was challenging not to keep looking for things to do or rehashing what had happened as we waited for power. But really there was nothing I could do. And I heard God saying in the midst of the busy-ness around- there is only one thing. And I felt drawn to enter the chapel. Even at a religious retreat center it was empty. And there I sat alone because there was one important thing. To sit and to listen to God and to pray for those who really did have things to be doing. Be here with me, sit. And it was hard because surely I should be doing something, or even could wonder or feel guilty that I was not doing something. But there I was in this holy moment with God doing what was most important.  And wishing others were sitting there too.

And I wonder if that’s how Mary felt.

And the other day we had more time than we expected before Table Church and it was relaxed as we set up and could then instead of racing and saying, “Go ahead and start without me…” we could sit and welcome others as they came and become centered and show real hospitality. And I wonder if that’s how Mary felt.

And what Martha longed for. Because in that more Christ centered time on Wednesday it reminded some of us of that longing.

And I was struck again by a question that has been on my mind since that retreat as someone remarked how relaxing Wednesday night is because it is not like Sunday worship- here is the question.

Does Sunday morning feel like a Sabbath or like work? Do we come here and sit at the feet of Jesus together or are we, all of us, individually distracted by many things?

I’d like to invite you into a space by starting with our eyes closed. And I want to ask a series of questions. If what I ask sounds true for you raise your hand, and when what I say does not sound true, you may put your hand down.

Do you make a point of coming to Sunday worship when you have something to do?

But find you’d rather not when you don’t?

Does it feel like coming on Sunday is running the gauntlet of people looking to give you something to do?

Do you find rest here?

Has someone ever said- “Sorry to bother you but… and then finished by talking
“Church business?”

Or told you that the reason they are doing this now is because they are not sure when they will talk to you other than Sunday morning?

Do you feel distracted from spending time with Jesus here?

Do you feel that way today?

Hello, fellow Marthas- fellow distracted ones pulled in lots of directions.

All of our distractions that we brought with us and the ones we met here challenge our ability to be really present with God and with each other.

So now I want to invite you to enter a little deeper into a space where we are all here together but where I encourage you to stop and be still with God. For a minute. …….

Was it easy to be present in this moment with God?

Martha is busy and distracted- in many directions. She actually wants community ( why I am doing this alone?) and wants to be valued and loved. But she looks to her own actions as the center. Jesus is not mocking her, or belittling her, but he is trying to break the cycle to invite her to step out of herself. Because he loves her.

And he loves her and values her just as much as Mary, and he loves and values her for her own sake. And he longs to meet her and draw her to both himself and her sister.

It’s not that what she is doing is not worthwhile or even important, it’s just not critical- it does not define her or her worth, and it does not give love or life. And Jesus knows the time with him is short. What Jesus knows is that he is headed to Jerusalem and he will not be with them soon. There is only awhile. And his clarity is like that of a person who has learned there is not much time to live who can see that all the titles, or achievements by themselves are not a life. Real relationships matter.  I once met with a person who was always a doer, always giving and sending cards and striving to fill everyone’s needs. But when that was no longer possible, there was a sadness- all those years “I thought if I did, that people would do in return. I sent hundreds of cards every year, I only ever got a couple.” All those deeds did not make anyone love deeper. And all the time away from family had not created a life. And over and over there was a refrain- look what I did- why didn’t others? Why don’t people do for me? I never got to rest.” Our time here can feel like that too.

Whether you are distracted by many things here or many things elsewhere or both, Jesus says- you don’t need to do that for me to love you. And you do not need to feel alone. Come, sit, share, listen, learn. Celebrate! The most important thing is to be in my presence. To know the love, the peace, the forgiveness and the healing Jesus brings into our midst and to share it with each other.  

I invite you into a new way that I think will help us live together into the life God intends. Where our Sabbath doesn't feel like too much work. Fellow distracted ones, our time with Jesus on Sunday morning is limited. So let’s not transact business here in God’s house on the Sabbath. Let’s not track down greeters, lectors, ushers and others, or exchange papers or hand notes. There are 6 other days, and 166 other hours, each week, and many ways to communicate. When this is our focus, we miss those holy moments.

Jesus is inviting us to see our time here is precious, to listen to God, to share life with each other. To step away from distractions and into a holy moment. To rest in the word and celebrate at the table together. What give us real life and love is such a Christ centered presence. Come enter this moment- we need it and God’s deepest desire is to give this to us.





Monday, July 15, 2013

Draw Near

I have been the Good Samaritan, Sam actually. When I was in junior high school, our church youth choir put on a musical about the Good Samaritan entitled “Sam.” And I knew there was only one part for me, I HAD to be Sam. Especially because it was the title role and there was a solo and then I would get my name in the newspaper article and my friends would come to see me and it would be great! Well, when I got the part, I of course needed the right outfit and since we were going for a modern urban look, I went out a got a really great hoodie the first time they were in in the ‘70s. And I made sure my makeup was just right so when I walked out on that stage I would look good. And I would appear caring and then sing my solo in the spotlight. And I WAS good. And thinking how great it was to look good singing about doing good. I thought a lot about that word “Good.” I didn’t think at all about that word “Samaritan.” Or what that meant. And I suspect most of us don’t either. I mean, we don’t have any Samaritans walking down the street here, has anyone seen a Samaritan lately? But by not remembering that word in Jesus’ story we miss out on the depth of the story.

There are lots of ways people interpret this parable. Parables are the stories Jesus uses to demonstrate some greater truth. And many people focus on that word “good” in the Parable of “The Good Samaritan.” But the main thing Jesus is telling us this day is not “do good.” He’s not. The Bible does tell us to do good and to share good- that is very Scriptural and good, but Jesus is not telling the man who asks the question to just do a little good.

Because the story is told in response to a man who thinks he IS good, who knows all the rules. He asks Jesus what God really expects- what do I really have to do. Jesus responds by asking him what Scripture says- and he knows it- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. It practically rolls off his tongue. Echoing those words God gives in Deuteronomy to the people that will lead to long life for the people and their ancestors. And apparently the man does not have a question about loving God. His question is about that neighbor part. Who is my neighbor? Loving a God we cannot see might seem easy.

Loving people right in front of us that we can see is something else.

What do I have to do? Who do I really have to love? What will it take? Mind, soul, heart and strength means “all in.” There has to be a limit. This is when Jesus tells the parable. That story of a road that is known to be dangerous, and people known to be sketchy, and the poor so desperate they will rob to survive, and enemies we cannot imagine we have to see, much less think they have anything to give us that we would want. It’s not a pretty picture- but it’s the way that leads to the man in the ditch, and people acting like that’s just the way it is. We want to hear- do a little good , show a little mercy and it’s OK.

Not so. In the larger narrative of the gospel of Luke we keep hearing that the kingdom of God has drawn near. Draw near.
And Jesus challenges all those limits- in that word Samaritan. Drawing near includes enemies. In some parts of the world and in our country, it may be easy to identify large groups of people who would fit our modern day “Samaritan” but I suspect for us here in Reading this day, I could probably ask each of you who that is and get a variety of answers. But we all have a person or group of people who we cannot trust, or don’t understand, those we cannot forgive. Jesus stands all that on its head and says your view of “neighbor” and your heart must be moved. How we see the poor, the unclean, the desperate, the dangerous, the enemy must be moved. This includes how we respond to them and how we see God in them- we have much to learn. And here in our own neighbor-hood the truth is we are not seeing everyone. And we miss out when we don’t see and embrace others truly.

Even our own mission statement, well intentioned, misses the mark. How many of you know it? For those who don’t the key part I want us to hear is that we say we “meet our neighbors at their greatest point of need.” But then what? Are we doing good, showing a little mercy, but then parting still strangers? Are we changed by God in this? And what about our greatest point of need? Do we imagine our neighbors meet us there and have things to offer to us, other places where we will both encounter God?

I have another Good Samaritan story. A man went to a city to do business, and while he was there he was ambushed, beaten, robbed and thrown from a moving car onto a sidewalk and left for dead. Dumped on a bust street, still in his business clothes, though they were now bloodied and tattered because the way we rob someone is to slit all their pockets. But on a street where it is not uncommon to see people in a heap on the sidewalk, he could just be another drunk, or a bum. There he is, a victim of people desperate enough to rob to survive. And other people dressed like him, walk on by as he lays there half dead. But an itinerant street vendor, sees him and crosses over to where he is. The street vendor may or may not have been an immigrant, who may or may not be illegal, he may or may not have been serving questionable food, making money under the table. He may or may not have warrants out for his arrest, and he may or may not have even been religious, much less Christian.  And he had many things to risk. He left his cart- which meant he was missing all those lunch sales that feed him and a family. And his cart could have been robbed. And it could turn out that when the police come they say- this guy is a drunk, but we have your name on a list. Or the people that robbed the man, might have seen the street vendor start to help and come back for him.  And he had no reason to get involved, much less help the man, call authorities and convince them to help.

But changed lives. Because the man laying there half dead was my father. Who is alive today because of that street vendor. And my greatest sadness is that we never learned his name and we could never thank him. Because in the world of important law abiding people, he was too insignificant to be remembered. It’s like he was unseen. Yet it was THIS man who went beyond all the limits to show compassion. And my father is alive because of it. When we keep those we assume have nothing to offer at a distance, we miss out on the life and love God intends for all of us. The story of the Unknown Street Vendor changed my life view.  He lived out love your neighbor as yourself.

When we allow ourselves to be taught anew and open our eyes to the world, Christ teaches us real love and reminds of our real story. We are all helpless, in need in some way, and unable to save ourselves. But we are all given life and a future in Christ, and a place in the kingdom drawn near.

But that life will always feel incomplete when we don’t see our neighbors as we see ourselves, when we don’t draw near. “They” are “us” and we are ALL the ones God saves, and loves, and uses to give and to receive. And this is the neighborhood here- where people we feed share to feed others, where juvenile sex offenders crochet caps for babies in a NICU, where addicts watch this church and where everyday random people tell me they pray for us even though we do not see them here today. It is nothing short of life giving and miraculous and happening in places we’re not looking.

God is calling us to open our eyes to see God at work, and to share compassion and love with all our neighbors in the kingdom. Draw near.