Live righteously, do justice, and be obedient.

I got promoted last night. It was  well worth the two hours I spent standing in front of the big box store front doors ringing bells, wishing people “Merry Christmas” and saying “Thanks” when they made a contribution to the Blytheville Union Mission’s ministry to the homeless in Mississippi County and surrounding area. My benefactor was blond, maybe three. We exchanged Merry Christmas as she and her mom went in the store. Her mom contributed to the effort on their way out to a “Merry Christmas and thank you.” That’s when I got promoted, Dad arrived in their car, then as mom put her in her car seat, she said “Bye Santa” What a great ending to a long day.

I suspect it was my 60 year old gray beard and red pointy hat and not the exchange of “Merry Christmas” that lead to my promotion. But the truth is, it happened because I was where I was, doing my part to support the mission. In that respect the experience is a little bit like our relationship with Joseph. Scott Hoezee notes that Joseph never speaks a word in the Bible. (1) We know Joseph through his actions. He is righteous; he lives his life by the law (i.e. he intends to divorce Mary) he exercises justice (i.e. he chose to divorce her quietly, not exposing her to public humiliation and possible death) and he is obedient (he does what the angel of God tells him to do, and completes the marriage contract with Mary). At least according to Matthew, Joseph saves the day for the infant Messiah when, once again, he listens to God’s angel messenger and flees with his family (as unorthodox as it is) to Egypt to escape Herod’s fearful violent effort to keep what he has.

One could easily spend all their time reading the books and articles on how a church can make itself known through Face-book, Twitter, Web sites, Instagram, email news letters, and a bunch I don’t even know about. Jospeh’s story leads us to another conclusion. His model is to live righteously, do justice, and be obedient. I believe such a life will draw more attention than all the social media ever could.

(1) Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, Matthew 1:18-25,

What’s going on?

A sermon for Advent 3

Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Canticle 15

 

It’s been a week, and we tend to forget readings from previous weeks, especially since we didn’t hear them ‘cause ice caused us to cancel corporate worship. We would have heard Matthew’s account of John down by the river side; he was calling the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent. Actually he calls for them to prepare the way of the Lord; either way, the people need to change their behavior. We also hear John talks about the ax at the root of the tree, a reference of divine judgment against Israel. He also goes on about the chaff being burned with unquenchable fire, a likely reference to Israel’s corrupt leadership. So we have a pretty good idea of Matthew’s vision of John the Baptist.

Skip forward some time, not sure how much, though it is eight chapters, and this morning we hear John asking Jesus a question, through his disciples, because he is in jail. He wants to know if Jesus is the messiah. It’s a queer question, he did baptize him. However, only Jesus hears God’s voice, so we cannot know for sure that John knows Jesus is God beloved son. In fact we have a previous hint that there are questions; in chapter 11 John’s disciples ask Jesus’ disciples why they (John’s disciples) fast and they (Jesus’ disciples) don’t. There is no way of knowing if John’s disciples ask of their own or if John asks them to, because he is already in jail, having been arrested in chapter 4.

What we have is John down by the river side at his prophetic best; Jesus’ baptism, John’s arrest a question about fasting that may be from John, a question if Jesus is the messiah that is from John. 

John has put everything he has into this prophet thing, and now he is in jail; not what is expected. And to top it all off, Jesus isn’t exactly acting like a messiah, he isn’t wielding the ax, he isn’t burning chaff, and when he confront sinners, he eats with them. This is not what is expected. What is going on?

What is going on? Recently we’ve heard news of: Adam’s brain tumor, Mary Gay’s brother’s death, Bill’s arrest, Sally’s death, Brandon’s ATV accident, Jenny’s health concern’s, Joey’s heath concern’s, Mrs. Gladden’s death, Jerry’s cancer, Laura’s accident, and Gladys’ death. What’s going on? None of this is expected, at least not now!

I mean look around town, everything is decorated there are bright lights, brilliant vivid colors, the radio if a constant stream of holiday music. Our mail boxes are collecting more and more cards wishing us Happy Holidays! This is a happy, joyful time of year. We are looking forward to celebrating Jesus birth, we are looking forward to the return of the King, Jesus in full divine regalia! Yesterday the Ignite Christmas Box ministry gave 800 families a box of food, a box of hygiene products, a box of Avon products, a ham and a loaf of bread. That ~ is what is expected this time of year. So, what’s going on?

What’s going on is life. All of life, including those parts that are: grievous, frustrating, frightening, and emotionally and spiritually debilitating. The raw edges of life didn’t stop on the occasion of Jesus birth. We glamorized Luke’s version, but there is nothing glamorous about a day long (or more) donkey ride, to pay taxes to a foreign King. Matthew’s version is far less glamorous; he takes a scant six verses to tell the tale of Jesus birth. That is followed by the terrorizing tale, of Joseph, Mary and Jesus escaping Herod’s rage, and the slaughter of thousands of innocent infant boys.

Life goes on. The dark side of life continues. Whether we expect it or not, whether it is fair or not, whether we are prepared or not, whether it causes us to question Jesus or not, life goes on.

 And now we come to Jesus answer. Well actually he doesn’t answer the question. He tells John’s disciples to tell John what they see. I wonder if he gets a blank stare, you know the kind teachers sometimes get, because then he tells them what they see: the blind receiving their sight, the lame walking, the lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised, the poor having good news brought to them, and anyone who takes no offense at me is being blessed. ..

Each scene, relates to a portion of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy. Each scene, is evidence that the Kingdom of God is already on earth, is already transforming all creation.

The transformation of all creation is a facet of Jesus’ birth I fear we ignore. The incarnation is God’s fully divine presence being birthed in the fully human Jesus. The incarnation is also an infusion of the divine presence in every human, in every micro-corner of creation. That transformation of all creation is a facet of our messiah’s return I fear we tend to miss, ‘cause we get all caught up in judgment etc. Nonetheless our messiah’s return is the end of a transformation already in the making. In short, even as life goes on, God is in our midst. God is present in every corner of our lives, the resplendently bright bits, the surprisingly righteous one, the ones where justice reigns; even the scary, dark and lonely corners. But that presence is not static, far from it.

When we accept it, listen for it, listen to it, respond in faith and trust, God’s presence will enable ~ well some call it miracles, we know it to be the power of God in everyday life.

So, what’s going on? Life in the presence of God is going on, and there is no waiting because it’s right here right now. Amen!

___________________________

David Lose Working Preacher, Craft of Preaching, Disappointed with God at Christmastime, Sunday, December 08, 2013 12:43 PM

Arland J. Hultgren, Working Preacher, Commentary on Matthew 11:2-11, 12/15/2013

Brett Younge, Ministry Matters, KeepHerod in Christmas, November 30th, 2013

Change how we smell

Last week a colleague of mine tells the story of a food pantry. The weather was terrible, wet and cold, many of the patrons were severely under dressed.  As is their custom after the distribution was over they reviewed the process for improvements. Someone commented on the patrons being in the cold. Another said we could let them in, but where? Someone else suggested the sanctuary. After a time of silence the minister said no. After the review broke up in a select group of people, the minister noted his decision was primarily based on the fact that the public is … well dirty.

So that evening I am reading the lections for Sunday.  N.T Wright notes that Isaiah 11:3  His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. ‘delight’ actually means smell.  Wright goes on to note the custom of having people posted at the doors of churches and mosques who refuse entry to people who carry a scent of evil. [i]

This has got to connect.

This morning I got to thinking about walking into my mother’s kitchen and always taking delight in the wonderful delicate aromas swirling about when she was cooking. That reminded me that an origin of burnt offering is the smoke carrying the delicate delightful aromas to God.

As I finished my sermon, which includes John’s call to repent, his call to change, the idea of our need to change how we smell popped into my head.  To Change how we smell. has both a verb and adjective implication. In following John we change how we smell by turning from our sinful, evil ways. On the other hand would change how we smell by changing the odors we are searching for, to those that delight God.

 

[i] Tom Wright, Twelve Months of Sunday, Morehouse, 2012

The gathering storm

The prophetic voice that has our attention at the moment is the Weather Channel (sic) as we prepare and await the coming winter storm with up to ¾” of ice.  The milk and bread run is already visible. Many scheduled events, Christmas Tree lightings, Christmas Parade, Concerts etc are being rescheduled.  Conversation at lunch today was about generators, some are natural gas powered, and just turn on, others have been in storage for years and there are questions about their status, some are new out of the box – though at least one of those did not work. There are even the forward looking folks pondering Monday when the second wave of winter weather sweeps across the land.

And I know there will be those who do not listen. I’m sort of one as I don’t see the radar projections indicating our town in the way of rain, sleet or ice.  And so I wonder why some people ignore a prophetic voice; why some listen but, at least as judged by their actions, do not hear; and why others really hear the prophet’s voice and change what they are doing? I especially wonder about folks who know better, like me, I’ve been through one of these ice debacles before, don’t pay closer attention. I wonder about the Sadducees and Pharisees, they should know what John is up to, because they are educated to know, because it is a part of their vision to know; nonetheless some, at least those approaching John, don’t get it. I’d love to know why.

But what I’d really love to know, is what prophetic voice I’m not getting and why, so that I can follow John’s advice and change my ways, not so such for my benefit, but in order to honor God, in Jesus the Christ.

Change is coming

It is Advent; we are preparing the greatest change since creation, God becoming incarnate in humanity; we are preparing for the greatest change since Jesus’ ascension, Christ’s return. Change is coming. Isaiah prophesizes about change, John calls the people of Jerusalem and Judah to change, and Paul calls the Gentiles in Rome to change. I believe those who observe Advent, as best we can in a Christmas obsessed land, realize Advent is about change. However, I am concerned we’re focusing on the wrong sorts of change.

For those who are drawn to the feast of the incarnation, I suspect our efforts are to more or less be the misplaced Kings bearing gifts, and through some sort of gift giving, to family and friends, those in need in our community, or perhaps through a charity like Episcopal Relief and Development or Heifer Project, or one of the many good charitable organizations around the world.  For those draw to the return of Christ, it’s a bit more Lent like, and the focus is attaining a status of purity, of which similar generosity would be considered a sign. But it’s a phrase from Paul and a chance story that catches my attention.

Paul writes a prayerful petition to live in harmony with one another. [i] It is Paul’s belief God wants us, indeed empowers us to live in harmony with each other, and gives us the gifts to do so.

Thanksgiving is thought of as a family time; though some families do not gather because they are divided. There is a family that has been divided for some nine or ten years. Members have not even spoken to one another. Facebook cracked the shell of separation. But this thanksgiving, disparate family members, of differing faith traditions, took a common teaching of their faith, God wants to reconcile broken relationships, seriously, and their division was healed. Thanks be to God.

At the heart of the family’s healing is a change of behavior, on everyone’s part. That change is what repentance is all about. The healing such change brings about is what repentance is all about. Healing of broken human relationship is the greatest gift one can offer God. There can be no purity if there are any broken relationships.

 

[i] Romans 15:5

Does anyone know what time it is?

A sermon for Advent 1

Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

play Chicago 1968  Does Anybody Know What Time It Is [i]

Does anybody know what time it is? Isaiah believes it is the time for redemption. His prophecy is that: God will redeem God’s people, that they will be released from captivity, that they will return home to Jerusalem, to Zion, the highest and oldest part of the city, and to the Temple. His prophecy tells us that all the world will learn about justice, about righteousness from God’s teachings. 800 or so years later, Paul also believes it is a time of redemption. He is writing to the Christian community in Rome that Jesus’ return is soon, it is closer now than when they first believed. He is urging them:  to be ready, to live honorably, and be satisfied with what they have, to put aside quarreling and jealousy, to give up drunkenness, dishonesty and extravagance, to live as if Jesus  ~  where in their midst.

Do you know what time it is? My tablet says its 9:15. I asked and gave you an answer in what Greeks would call ‘chronos’ time, the logical, methodical, liner marking of the passage of events that allows us to refer to them and place them in order. There is also ‘kairos’ time. You have heard it in phrases like: It was her time. or It is the right time. You intuitively know which time people are referring to by the context of its usage. And all is well; until the two times get mixed up. 

Last week we heard Jesus talk about the walls of the Temple being torn down from Luke’s Gospel account. This week we are hearing from Matthew’s Gospel account. At the beginning of this chapter the disciples make the same observation about the Temple. Jesus says beware, then he speaks about persecutions, about desolating sacrilege, about the coming of the Son of Man, about fig trees, and that no one knows the time … and the need for watchfulness. The disciples ask a chronos question, and Jesus gives a kairos answer. I do not think it was his intention to confuse things; but he did. The disciples are confused at least until Easter morning, and may be later. It seems that Paul and the early Christian community are confused. I know people today are confused, it’s apparent in all the end of time hubbub; they even have their own Cable show.

So what is it all about? Why does anybody care what time it is? Jesus makes a remarkable prediction about the Temple, the center of Jewish life. The disciples want to know when it’s going to happen. That’s perfectly natural, wouldn’t you want to know? I know I would. But Jesus tells them, no one knows, not even he knows. And then he talks about the times of Noah before the flood and about women working in the field and in the grist mill. Note, although judgment is a part of the story, Jesus makes no judgment. In other words, the people of Noah’s day are going about daily life, the women are going about daily life. That is followed by a parable about being watchful to keep the night thief out of your house. Again it’s a normal thing to do, you lock your doors, perhaps set alarms. In that way you are being watchful for the night thief.

But what Jesus wants the disciples, wants us, wants you to be watchful for is him. And it’s not about guessing when he will come. You can’t do that. Scott Hoezee tells the story of a couple that learns they are expecting. They make all the preparations to be ready: a nursery is created; there are baby showers, all the needed items:  strollers, toys, clothing, baby monitors, and car seats are gathered. It’s no secret they know when the baby is due. They are ready! And then, nearly 3 weeks from their due date, stuck in traffic during a terrific thunderstorm out of nowhere momma goes into labor! She ends up having the baby in the backseat of the car with two police officers assisting while her husband is about to go berserk!!  They never expected anything like that!” [ii]

It is no secrete God is coming, that Jesus is coming. We’ve been waiting for 2000 years for Jesus, and another 1000 or more for God, so it’s no secret. So … what’s the problem? Well, the problem is, we keep trying to guess when. Sometimes, so we can continue doing what we are doing, till the last minute. Sometimes, because we are afraid we will miss it; there is some thought the Christians in Rome are afraid they had. And some folks just don’t get it.

A week or so ago I read an article in Bloomberg about the historically skewed distribution of earnings and wealth in the US. My Dad connected that story to one I told him, some years ago, about Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame. After his was released from prison he began sharing his religious conversion and talking about faith and ethics in everyday life, including business life. It turns out he spoke to a Harvard business school class. What bothered Colson was that no one in the class even got the basic premise of faith and ethics; never mind that it relates to everyday life. Jeffery Skilling, CEO of Enron in 2001, when it filed for bankruptcy, the largest in history at the time, was in that class.  He is currently in Federal Prison for conspiracy, securities fraud, making a false statement and insider trading. [iii] Colson was right. Dad is right. We have wandered so far from God, so far from divine values that we are getting into deep trouble. And too many of us who are churched are obsessed: with righteousness as following the jot and tittle of Leviticus, but not building daily life around relationship with God; so many are so concerned with justice as sexual purity but not about radical equality with all our neighbors, in business in access to health care or education.

 Does anybody know what time it is? It’s Advent, a time when we look back and prepare to celebrate the wonders of God becoming incarnate in humanity; a time when we look to the future, the unknowable time when Jesus will return, and we will stand before God. It’s time, to begin to living every moment of every day expecting to bump into Jesus with every decision we make. It’s time for unabashed honesty with ourselves. It’s time for hope, for our Lord is nigh.

 

[i] Robert Lamm, Chicago, Does anybody really know what time it is                http://www.lyricsfreak.com/c/chicago/life+is+what+it+is_20029958.html

[ii] Scott Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next Sunday is December 01, 2013 (Ordinary Time), The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 24:36-44

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Skilling
   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron_scandal

Time, two times and half a time

There is a lot about time in this week’s Lectionary readings. Isaiah is speaking about a time to come. Paul writes you know what time it is. And Jesus says no one knows what time it will be!  We might as well include Chicago’s Does anybody really know what time it is, just for good measure. (And no its meter isn’t half time; least wise I don’t think so.)

With all this talk about time, it’s a good time to remember there are two times in scripture: chronos, the time our watches, phones, tablets and time-cards keep,  the time by which we order our days, our lives. There is also kairos; likely best described by example: It was their time. or It was the right time.  We know the difference by the context of ‘time’ use.  

Robert Lamm’s lyrical dance, while phrased with questions of time, actually ponders human relationship subsumed by everything else; we are driven by what time it is, we’ve all got time enough to cry, we are pushed and shoved trying to beat the clock, we’ve all got time enough to die, everybody’s working, does anybody know what time it is, does anybody really care? [i] It seems Lamm explores the danger of valuing humanity by measured time rather than experience of time; of valuing humanity as commodity rather than relationship. In the vocabulary of this week’s readings, Lamm explores the danger of confusing chronos and kairos.

Sunday is the first day of Advent when we prepare to look at the time that was, and to experience the time that will be; Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ return. I wonder what Advent would be like if we prepared to explore our relationship with our incarnate Lord as it has been, and how it can be.

 

Unexpected thanksgiving

Quite unexpectedly yesterday ended up being dedicated to plumbers, well almost half the day. It seems tree roots really like the water in the waste water line. Why on a day it is half raining and half sleeting I haven’t a clue; what’s new? In any case, I am thankful for plumbers, and thankful for the ability to call for and receive help in times of need. (There was a news story last night that told the story of some people whose genuine need for electricity and heat is being lost in a legal battle between land lord and the utility.)

The second influence for this blog is from a colleague’s blog announcing his family’s trip to homelands for Thanksgiving.

The third influence is our own plans for Thanksgiving, which includes starting the day serving meals at a local Thanksgiving Feast providing sit-down, to-go and delivery meals to anyone who asks. I had the privilege of serving there a couple of years ago and missed it so much we scheduled this year family gathering around it.

Matthew’s Gospel story for Sunday is Jesus teaching that the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Moving from the specific to the general, Life is unexpected. Jesus’ teaching is to be prepared for life. And since we cannot know what life will bring, [i] we cannot be prepared for an endless list of specifics (like power, plumbing, family, others) we must then prepare by having developed and continuing to develop, resources for all eventualities. The only one I know of are the teaching of the Lord. [ii]  We may know them as light, or unity or peace, but they are all the results of an awareness of the Divine Presence.

I am thankful for the gift of being able to back and see the presence of the Divine, and to look forward to Divine presence, not in the hereafter, or even the morrow, but today, in ways yet revealed. 


[i] Matthew 24:36 ff
[ii] Isaiah 2:3 

Look to speak

This afternoon at the rehearsal for tomorrow’s baptism I was surprised when two families members are deaf. More than twenty years ago, before seminary, our neighbor’s two sons were deaf, so I had some experience. What little sign language I had picked up was gone. But I did remember to always look directly toward them.

I am used to making eye contact when preaching, teaching, leading a discussion, making a presentation. But this is both different and not. It is different in that I am making eye contact with someone for them; else where I make eye contact at least in part for me.

And here we come across a key element of Baptism. We gather for the person being baptized. Not for the Church. Not for ourselves. Actually it’s a key element of all Christ based relationships, for all Jesus actions are for God, or are for us, all humanity, all creation, never for himself. (Even his drawing aside to pray and recharge is eventually for God and us.) What would the world look like if everything we did was for the other person?

More than one percent

Sometime ago my thinking about this Sunday’s lectionary centered on Christ the King and how we have no idea what that means. I do no think we can, because we have no idea what King means. O yes, we have an intellectual understanding, some may even have a sophisticated understanding of the varieties of monarchy, kingship. But none of us, citizens of the US, have any real life experience of living under absolute monarchy, all sovereigns in one person. We have always lived under a democratically elected republic sovereign. We have no frame of reference about the power dynamics.

Well may be we do.  Mariam Kamell uses the phrase one percent in her commentary. (1)  even with the multi billion dollar fines some companies have agreed to as a results of decisions that lead to the 2008 economic collapse not a single corporate officer has faced charges, and less than a handful of employees have, or likely will. The one percent are individuals who because of their great wealth and indulgence can and do act with impunity.

I do not believe the one percent are by definition evil. However we are all aware of the power they have. Kamell wonders when Christians will realize we are the one percent, that we have power that exceeds anything Wall Street, or any billionaire can wield. As heirs of Jesus ministry we have the power of God to led people out of any darkness that captures them and show them the light of life eternal that exceeds anything we can imagine, even the extraordinary images of Revelation. I wonder, as does Kamell what the world, what our home towns could look like, if we dared to act with the power of our resurrected King? As did the power of Rome, the power of one percent fades in the presence of the first born of all creation.

Mariam Kimell, Working Preacher, Commentary on Colossians 1:11-20, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1849