Saturday, January 23, 2016

Of Snowstorms and Communion and Being the Body

There’s a funny thing that happens during the lead up to snow storms and the hours of flakes falling. And it’s a split-brained experience. Part of it looks like frenzied “milk and bread” crazies.

And part of it looks like this post from the Bangor Maine Police Facebook:
“Dear Mid-Atlantic of these United States of America.

I think we all knew it could happen. Every year when you pack up your well tanned family and head back home from our tiny piece of paradise, you look back and see us raking up our leaves and putting our snow shovels by the door. You always sigh, knowing that we will be dealing with winter in a far different way than you will.
Listen, this storm is going to miss us. This is not typical and we want to share a little advice of how to make it through an epic "snow event" unscathed. We want you to come back next year. Here are a few tips.

1. Don't panic. It's just frozen rain. It does go away so don't try to move too much at one time.
2. Don't shovel too early and don't wait too long. Pace yourself. Go out every few hours and move a little at a time. It can hurt your back, arms and legs. You always wonder why we all walk funny. It is not because of the clam chowder.
3. Heart attacks in big snow storms are rather common. Help out your neighbor who is older, out of shape or that has known health problems. Helping them move some snow (better yet, let your offspring do it) is better than calling EMS while you are doing CPR. Seriously.

7. Toilets flush without electricity. If you fill your tub with water, you can use it for all kinds of things, including flushing the toilet. Also, to wash cereal bowls.
8. Fill your car up with gas. If you get stuck somewhere and have to run the car, make sure you clean out around the tail pipe and do not fall asleep with the car running. We need you to come back next summer.

Most of all, take care of each other. Be nice and invite neighbors to hole up at one location. Hide expensive things, but help them. (that's the cop talking).

You will be fine. We drink lots of coffee and complain when we get hit like this storm. It works ok. It makes us grouchy but that's why you come here in the summer. To hear stories from grumpy Mainers who sell lobster traps. Now, you will have some of your own to share with us when you get back.

Be safe and well... The men and women of the Bangor Police Department are rooting for you. You got this.”
Behind all the snarky tone though is one part of what our reading from 1 Corinthians is about.

Here’s the reading:
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.

In weather storms we seem to get the body.  But in life storms not as much.
When I was growing up, I had a Sunday School teacher who had an accident while mowing the lawn. She had lost her footing and ended up losing two toes. And as it turns out the toe you need most is the smallest one- it’s the one that brings balance. While she lived on without the two smallest toes on one foot, her body didn't move as easily, or pain free as it would otherwise. And so it is with is.
We all need each other and are in fact created for being a body. Which means that the frenzied fear, or the hierarchy of need and want we can create is in fact, not the better way.
We belong together. Eating together, drinking together, laboring together and rejoicing together.

While much of the news magnifies self sufficiency, and building walls and divisions. While much of our rhetoric speaks of who we don’t need or want, there is a deeper and far more magnificent movement at work.
It is seen in the rejoicing of a group of Finnish Lutherans who were offered Holy Communion by priests at a mass held in St. Peter's Basilica following a meeting with Pope Francis on January 15. After the personal audience with the pope, the delegation was present at a celebration of the Catholic mass. According to Bishop Salmi, at the time of communion the non-Catholics placed their right hands on their left shoulders, a traditional way of indicating that they were ineligible to receive the Eucharist. However, the celebrating priests insisted on giving them communion.
Despite the body language, the body of the church experienced something different than walking awkwardly and in pain. The body experienced the celebration of wholeness.
As news of this has manifested itself, the ripples of joy I have seen make my heart glad. The stories of people who long to commune with their family, who long to be accepted in the body.
No more fighting over bread. At the table or in the world.
It sounds so simple, and yet just as challenging to sustain as being willing to listen to the local boy made good in Nazareth. Jesus finds the crowds think the fulfillment of scripture in him is impossible, and are ready to fight.
How much harder for us, then?
Frederick Buechner  wrote in Peculiar Treasures:
When you came right down to it, what was God up to, for God's sweet sake, sending them all out-prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, the whole tattered bunch - to beat their gums and work themselves into an early grave?
God was making a body for Christ, Paul said. Christ didn't have a regular body any more so God was making him one out of anybody he could find who looked as if he might just possibly do. He was using other people's hands to be Christ's hands and other people's feet to be Christ's feet, and when there was some place where Christ was needed in a hurry and needed bad, he put the finger on some maybe-not-all-that-innocent bystander and got him to go and be Christ in that place himself for lack of anybody better.
And how long was the whole great circus to last? Paul said…until we all make it to where we're like him, he said-"to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13). Christs to each other, Christs to God. All of us. Finally. It was just as easy, and just as hard, as that.

And so it is still. The good news is that we will always be invited into being a whole body centered in that greater way.

Here's a bread and milk snow frenzy meme:

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Wow, Jesus Was Here

One of my favorite pictures circulating is a photograph of a supermarket clearly not in PA because there is alcohol being sold. But it shows a shelf where the sign above it says “Water” but on the shelf are endless bottles of wine. And the caption of the picture is “Jesus was here.”

It’s tempting today to focus upon the mechanics of how the water becomes wine. Or even just that this story reveals Jesus’ power to perform this miracle, which it does. But here, in the gospel of John, it’s helpful to remember that after the opening of telling us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we hear that Jesus has come to show us “grace upon grace.” One gracious gift after another. That beyond the gift of the law, Jesus has come to make the fullness of God known. And  after calling disciples, the first place we see Jesus is at a wedding.

Most of you know that I am planning our daughter’s wedding. Weddings can be a  huge social event that calls everyone to be there. And I for one would like to return to Jesus’ day where it was the GROOM’S family that hosts the party.
The tradition was not that you invited your closest. You invited everyone. Imagine having to host this whole Valley. According to tradition in Jesus’ day the family is to provide enough food and beverage for everyone, EVERYone- for a week. Imagine hosting this whole Valley for a week.

But here we are the disaster strikes as the wine is running out. So what happens? Has the family planned poorly? Tradition says the guests were supposed to send wine ahead for the feast. Have the guests been stingy? We hear that many alre already drunk from the steward. Have some been overindulging without thinking of others? Then again, maybe Jesus has something to do with the problem.
Jesus has only a couple days before called Nathanael and Andrew and Simon Peter and Phillip. And yes, they were invited but you know how sometimes you hear of last minute people you have to invite even if you didn’t want to? Maybe Jesus was supposed to be a solo guest or maybe a “plus one” but then he met Andrew and Simon and Phillip and Nathanael and they ALL went to the wedding. He clearly exceeded his “plus one?” Maybe Mary is telling Jesus, “Now LOOK!” Well, we don’t know.

What we DO know is that when the glasses are empty, the party’s over.
Imagine the groom’s family announcing that it is unexpectedly “last call.” They will be ashamed, perhaps even angry. They have the taste of bitterness in their mouths. And the servants are flustered and scared. They know the taste of fear. And the taste that will stay in everyone’s mouth will be disappointment and shame.

Then imagine the commotion of filling those jars, each the size of this trash can, but stone. Not with a water faucet but filling buckets at the well and hauling them up and hauling those jars back and trying to do it quickly- how exhausting! And what if this is all just a mess? How many times on the way to the well, and with each bucket and hauling these ridiculously heavy jars back do you think the servants thought, “are you out of your ever lovin’ mind?!” Can’t we just do a couple jars?

Kind of like how we might feel sometimes somewhere between listening to God and the end result. A couple jars ought to be enough, you know? I mean, really. And in the midst of those thoughts of shame and anger, bitterness, fear- is division.

What happens next demonstrates certainly Jesus’ power, but even more I think it shows a deeper glimpse again of God’s heart. Extravagant, abundant, joyous.
In the face of the prospect of no more shouts of “here’s to the bride and groom!” Just when it looks like devastation- celebration! Unifying joy!
Did you notice that after the water becomes wine there are no divisions?
Grace- Exceeding all hopes- not just some average cheap wine, the best! Not just enough for this day or even this wedding, but for weeks! Imagine the reputation of the family who goes from the brink of shame to the family that blessed the whole Valley this way! The bitter taste of humiliation and anger and shame and fear becomes the sweetness of celebration and blessing beyond compare.The exhaustion of the effort melts away.
Grace upon grace.

Each gospel begins with some moment of Jesus’ ministry- the gospel of John opens with this wedding. The gospel has begun by proclaiming that from God’s fullness we ALL receive “one gracious gift after another.” Grace upon grace. Abundant, extravagant, joyous grace.
And here is the first sign of this God- Jesus at the wedding. With grace flowing freely for everyone, EVERYONE! No portion control, no guest list. EVERYONE.
The best feast EVER!
Grace- a sign so we might come to believe.

Interestingly enough the last sign Jesus shared with his disciples comes after the resurrection is the same. The disciples have seen Jesus and received the Holy Spirit, yet they have gone their ways, and the guys are back to fishing. And they are there and all night they caught nothing. Jesus, in the midst of their frustration, and perhaps fear and humiliation- no fish in sight- tells them to put the net in again. And they do what he says. Perhaps thinking- Are you out of your ever lovin’mind?! But they listen and before they know it they can barely haul it in. Grace upon grace. And they remember how he makes them one.
And there will all that fish,  then  he tells them to feed and care for others like that.
To bring grace into the world so that others might know Christ and know our extravagant, abundant and joyous God.
Jesus’ shows us that this grace transforms the world as we think we see it .
Changes people as we think we know them.
That just when you think it is too big of an “ask” or that we’re not up to the task, grace intervenes.
Just when you feel overwhelmed, grace intervenes
Just when you think You are not enough or there is nothing more, grace intervenes.
And each time, God uses people like ordinary people those servants at the wedding, like the disciples, like you and I.  And when we listen, extraordinary life changing happens.
How might God be calling you and me, each of us to “grace” the world around us?
What signs might God show through us?
May the Spirit guide us so that when we have been somewhere on God’s command,  people might see grace and say, “Wow, Jesus was here!”

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Let's Not Contain This

Today's lessons: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Children’s message: today I handed out “Hello My Name Is” stick on nametags and next to the space for the name I had drawn a cross. We talked about having worn a name tag like this for class or maybe somewhere we have been. And I sort of joked with the whole congregation about how those name tags don’t always stay where they belong- they end up on shoulders or pants, but then I talked about how in Isaiah, God tells the people “I call you my name, you are mine.” The name tag can remind us as we put our name on it, that God calls us, knows us by name. And is with us. Then we talked about what day it is- Baptism of our Lord. And I asked why I put that cross on the nametag. When else do hear our name and there is a cross. And we came to baptism – where God says, I call you by name and you are mine. When Jesus was baptized God called him “Beloved.” God say- “I love you!”  The cross reminds us how God tells us- “ I know you by name, you are mine and I love you.”

The Sermon-“Let’s Not Contain This”

Today I am right here in the midst of you because it seems a little odd to me that I would preach about God in the midst of the people while standing way over there. Our lessons today lift up that God is with us in our lives. The people who heard Isaiah were in exile. They were not at home, not comfortable in their own skin, longing for a different world. And they hear- “ You are mine and I will be with you and rescue you.” And yet, in this strange place, and in a troubling world, it was pretty hard to believe when it seems like God is at a distance. Maybe sometimes we have felt that way, that God is at a distance. And so it seems that to God is was time to make God’s presence more visible and known, and into our midst Jesus is born. Today we hear that Jesus is baptized. And in Luke, we don’t get all the debate between John the Baptist and Jesus about whether John could baptize Jesus or should. For once, Luke is not so wordy. Instead, Jesus just shows up at the river Jordan. Yes, John has been preaching of one who is to come, but there is no special fanfare, Jesus just slips on in with the people being baptized. Right there in the middle of it.
If you’ve ever played in a stream or at the river’s edge, you know what happens when lots of people are splashing around- it stirs up all the mud and the stuff on the bottom we don’t really want to know about. But there Jesus is, right in the middle of our real lives in all the muck and mud. Showing us that God chooses to immerse God’s self where we really are.
And as if that’s not enough, the heavens open and God speaks. It’s one of the moments in Scripture I most wish I had seen as it happened. The heavens opened. And while I don’t know what that really looked like, I know that people hearing that who believed that God was somehow contained in the heavens would see that the final barrier that seems to separate us is gone and we hear God not only say this is God’s Son, but “I am REALLY PLEASED” by what is happening here. And then, as if THAT is not enough, as Jesus is praying, the Spirit descends and I imagine it’s not just a fluttering down, but the Spirit dives- right into Jesus, right in our midst, right in the middle of God’s world.
God’s initiative, and choice is to echo what we hear in Isaiah, that God will go to the four corners of the world and in all things to bring us together. And that is the baptism of Jesus. God immersed, holding nothing back. It’s powerful and it's the gospel for us.
And it’s different than our ways of being immersed. When I think of being immersed I am reminded of this ad from many years ago where a woman has finally gotten the kids out of her hair and away from her work and she closes the bathroom door and there is a bathtub and she sinks in and says,” Calgon, take me away!” In real life I have tried that but by the time I get to that tub, the water is cold, and it never quite worked like TV says it should. That’s one way of being immersed- take me away.
The other is what I see as we look around at our world. And it’s a pretty frightening place. Lots of things to make us afraid, or angry, or bitter. Lots of things we wish someone would save us from. And these days there is a lot of speech and a lot of promises people try to make about how they will save us. And most of them involve containing or restricting. As we are immersed in all of the rhetoric, what we really say to others is “go away.” One way or another we want to restrain what distresses us. Take me away, or go away.
That’s not God’s way.
God shows us that God is all in, holding nothing back in the birth, and the baptism and ultimately the cross of Jesus. Because Jesus knows that there in all our muddy water we will begin the way to the cross. That’s what God’s love will do to save us, to rescue us and to show us God’s love.
And just like that water, it can’t really be completely contained. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to contain water? There’s always drips here and there. God’s work in that water can’t be fully contained. In fact it’s expansive. Much bigger than we imagine. Immersed to save and rescue all of us. Even those who we find it the hardest to imagine.
God in Christ’s baptism shows us what it means to be fully immersed in our real world.
We who listen as Jesus says,” Follow me” and live the life of the baptized share in God’s initiative.
We are called to live a life of being immersed in the world. Not cut off, immersed.
Not caught up looking for other saviors, but confident that it is only our God who saves.
And who gives us the power to stay immersed in the world-
No matter that it may seem like the water is up to our nose, no matter how chaotic, God is immersed with us in it all.
And gives us the power to share what has been shared with us- “You are mine. I Love you. I have saved you.”
We are called to live among the world where all need to hear this word, trusting in faith that God is with us all.
Saying, “You are mine. I Love you. It pleases me that we are together-let’s not contain this.”