Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Eve Meditation

The light of lights has come, on this silent and holy night.

The light shines in the darkness, and not just any 'ole darkness, but our darkness, the darkness of our souls, the darkness of our homes, the darkness of our church, our town, our nation, our world. The light of light has us tonight.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Yet the darkness is still there, enfolding us, blinding our sight, confusing our movements, darkening our very beings. It is good, that on a night as silent and holy as this one that we acknowledge the darkness. Do not sit content in the darkness tonight, but name the darkness which enfolds, and blinds and confuses.

Because if we do not know the will we ever see the light?  

The light of lights has come, on this silent and holy night. This light shines in the darkness, and not just any 'ole darkness, but the light of lights is shining here and now in our darkness...

shining powerfully to cast out the darkness, shining clearing to heal our blindness, shining with healing and loving light to guide our movements and illuminate our very beings.

The light you hold tonight is the light of the Christ child, born in our world to heal the darkness of our world. This is the good news of great, great joy.

May the light shine within you.
May the joy of the good news be born in your hearts.
May the peace of Christ be yours tonight and always.

For, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This is the birth of Christmas, this is the birth of us all. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Although its been said many times, many ways...

Merry Christmas to you!
With Love & Peace, Micaela and Elizabeth

“You say good-bye and I say hello!”

2011 has been a year of good-byes and hellos and so many transitions. Although never easy, these transitions make me aware and deeply thankful for the faithfulness of God present in every step. Studying, reading and hearing the Christmas story this Advent has reminded me how scary and life-altering this following God can be! Just like Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and others we are all called out of our comfort places to step forward, trusting that God will be there to guide our shaking foot. This is very much what this past year has felt like for both Micaela and me, stepping forward with trembling limbs and then feeling the security and reassurance of landing on solid ground.

The angel said to her,
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Then Mary said,
            ‘Here am I,
             the servant of the Lord;
                   let it be with me according to your word.
Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:36,38

Good-bye 20's! I entered a new decade, but did it with my dear friend, Scanders and a great party!
Good-bye Luther Seminary! I finished up my academic work and Micaela graduated from WeeCare!
Good-bye Minnesota! We miss the people back home every single day, it really is hard to be so far away. Yet, the Minnesota humidity and deep freezes we're doing just fine with out!

Hello Holden! Two amazing weeks working and playing at Holden Village. Making music, playing with friends, hiking and relaxing. We also said hello to our dear Chaplain (John) here, in the Cascade Mountains, and that hello continues to be so sweet and fun.

Hello West Coast! Learning, learning, learning. Every day of ministry is full of new opportunities to learn and grow, which can be exhausting! Preaching, pastoral care and confirmation are very life-giving and exciting! The call to ordained ministry has been affirmed during our time here and I'm looking forward to the second half!

Hello Kindergarten! Learning, learning, learning. Micaela really is thriving and growing in her little Catholic school. She has lots of fun playing “horses” and spying on the boys during recess (uh-oh!). She is also taking ballet classes this year and is loving Sunday School at church. We still spend lots of time reading and baking together (its nice to know some things aren't changing!)

You may be wondering what “hellos” we'll be saying next? We are too! I will be entering the approval/assignment process to receive a first call. However, nothing will happen very quickly so we're being patient and hoping to find a place to work and attend 1st grade for next year. So, wherever we go there will plenty of hellos and good-byes and many terrified steps will be taken.

May we all be called out of our comfortable places and may we be given the faith of Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds to answer the call. Christmas blessings to you all! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Isaiah 61: Then, here and now.

Is there anything more important, more compelling, more profound that we are called to do? More than bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release and healing, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim God's work and favor here and now. Is there anything more important, more compelling, more profound?

This incredible piece of Scripture was first spoken by Isaiah – he spoke these words to a people in exile, cast out of their very land and homes, their identity ripped from them, their holy place – the Temple, destroyed. The people, Israel, tried to recover, but found themselves only standing in ruins, in devastation, trying to pull themselves up from their bootstraps they found themselves lost and alone and no where closer to wherever it was they were trying to get. This incredible piece of Scripture was made important and compelling and profound because of who was making the promises – God and because of who was hearing them – people hurting and lost and alone. So, with the promises of this God and the hurt of this people...Isaiah spoke from his anointing,

He has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 

Is there anything more important, more compelling, more profound that we are called to do? Then to speak these promises of God to the hurt of people... to the hurt of the world.

These words are spoken a second time, by Jesus. A now grown man he returns to his childhood synagogue and is handed a scroll to read. These words of Isaiah are now spoken by our Savior and he speaks from his anointing and he speaks the promises of God. And the people are stunned and they turn and stare at this man who seems to be doing more than just repeating after Isaiah, he is doing more than just taking his turn reading Scripture in worship...and Jesus fills in the blank and he says,...Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

The people who lost their homes, their identity, their holy place of worship have finally heard the good news, that their hope, their longing, their very souls will be fulfilled and have been fulfilled. Not the way they were expecting, not Israel becoming more Israel, not safety and security of a peaceful land, not a new Temple...but their hope, their longing, their very souls are fulfilled in this Savior, in Jesus.

Is there anything more important, more compelling, more profound that we are called to do? Then to speak the fulfillment of what God has promised?

Again and again and again this Scripture has been read, in worship spaces and places all around the world and in all kinds of settings and worship styles and languages these words first spoken by Isaiah and then spoken and fulfilled in Jesus are heard by people of faith, or people of not so much faith, or people wandering, or people homeless, or people lonely, or people trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps...people all around the world who are not so different than the people who heard these words for the very first time.

So the promises of God, the coming of Jesus and the hurt of the world, the hurt of our homes, the hurt of our souls is what makes these promises so important, so compelling and so profound.

Is there anything more important, more compelling, more profound that we are called to do? More than bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release and healing, to let the oppressed go free to proclaim God's work and favor here and now. The coming of Jesus to our world, the grace, truth and glory of our Savior...there is nothing more important, more compelling, more profound then this message, and this moment and our hearing of these words...

He has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ 
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
   to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
   the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   the planting of the 
Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins,
   they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
   the devastations of many generations. 
Isaiah 61:1-4

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cry out!

Our reading from Isaiah is a classic Advent text. It begins with surprisingly sweet, intimate words of “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem” and then we hear the original “Prepare ye the way!” The battle cry of advent! “Prepare ye the way!” This time leading up to Christmas, this Advent we prepare, prepare, prepare. Now, we are used to preparing for family gatherings, travel plans, menu planing, shopping, Christmas recitals and programs. But Isaiah gives us a different way to prepare during advent, when Isaiah says “Prepare ye the way!” we promptly asked, “How? How do we prepare for Christ?” This seems an impossible battle cry to answer with any enthusiasm.
And then the reading continues, and we hear this dialogue...

A voice says, “Cry out!”
and I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fades...but the Word of our God will stand forever.

                           (this video was not in the sermon, just a bonus!)

Cry out!” another battle cry of advent! And what should we cry? 50% off? Wrap faster? Get on the plane? Fix the Christmas tree? Sing louder? Is that what we should be crying? This seems to be the cry of my advent! And Isaiah responds to our, “what shall I cry?” Isaiah responds with a reality check, a response that puts our earthly preparations and our self-centered battle cries to shame.

All people are grass, the grass withers, the flowers fades...

This Advent the preparation and battle cries turn to our mortality. Isaiah reminds us of our place in the cosmos lest all the distractions of Christmas preparations and the weight of this season drown out what our cry should be.

As Isaiah says,...The Word of our God will stand forever.

There it is, the hope, the assurance, the authority of Advent. The Word of our God will stand forever. So, church...what shall we cry? We shall cry out, speak out, act out of the Word of God alone. During Advent we speak so much about waiting and hopeful expectation, but as we wait and as we hope we must also name who it is we are waiting and hoping for! Otherwise our actions, our words, our message as a church is lost, empty, a lot of busywork.

So, for what do you wait? For what do you hope? Can you articulate it? Could you share with your family this Christmas your hope? What shall we cry? Is an honest, authentic, advent question...what shall we cry as we prepare for the coming Messiah?

The Word of God has come to you and to me, not just in the reading today. But the Word also comes in the form of our neighbor, in the form of love and kindness embodied in another person. The Word comes to us as we hear and practice forgiveness, as we pray and listen to the Word speaking to us in our silence. You will receive the Word incarnate as you come to this table and hear the words “The body and blood of Christ...for you.” For you, the Word made flesh, is here for you to receive, to encounter, to save you and set you free.

The Word of God has come to you and to me, as an active, moving, messy, life-changing, healing, saving Word. Yet, if you leave it at the door of the church when you leave, no worse, if you leave it in your pew, then you have not heard the Word, you have not received the message. You have received Christ, but you have not heard what Christ has to say.

If you take this Word into your heart, if you take this Word into your marriage, into your relationship with your children, into your spending habits, into your work place, into your time management, into your struggles, into your mental-emotional and physical illness, if you take this Word of God into your lives...there is encounter, there is life-giving freedom, here and now...for you.

How do we answer the battle cry of Advent? Open your Bibles this week and read Isaiah 40, consider how God will have you crying out. Spend time praying or writing...and sit silently with God. Begin talking, begin by articulating to at least yourself what it is you are hoping for.

If you are anything like me, you may need a visual, an example of what it would look like to answer the battle cry of Advent.

Many of your are probably familiar with Handel's Messiah. An oratorio written by Handel in 1741, a musician commentary on the person of Jesus. We often hear performances of the Messiah around this time of year (performance in the Dalles) and around Easter. The most famous piece of the Messiah is, of course, the Hallelujah chorus. I have sung in a few performances of the Messiah and most often think of it as done in holy and beautiful places, black ties, choir robes and anything else formal and hoity-toity that goes along with it. Yet, that is hardly the story of the Messiah, is it?

If we are serious and engaging the Word made flesh, the Messiah and taking it into all places and people of our lives, there is nothing formal and hoity-toity about it! And what we know of Jesus' life; being born in a barn to an unwed teenager, coming as King in the form of a human, an infant even, spending his ministry with uneducated handymen for disciples, the man who spent time with the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and you and me. The man, the Messiah, who died in the most crude and cruel way on the cross and came back to new life, and came back to new life so that we all would have new life. This is the story of the Messiah, this is the Word made flesh, this is the King of the Kingdom that will have no end.

I would like to show you a video that may seem a little absurd, much like the story of our Messiah. It is perhaps a most profound performance of Handel's Messiah that I have seen. Strangers, coming together around a mission and a vision, then going out, into the world, into a common, crowded place to raise their voices. This is perhaps a better picture of what the church could and should be, this is the Word made flesh. This is the cry of Advent, talking the Word wherever we go, and speaking it in all places and spaces of our lives.

And we will now hear sung, in a most unusual way the hope of Advent. “The Kingdom of this world, is the Kingdom of our Lord. And He shall reign forever and ever.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Half & Half

I am entering the six month of my internship. This means internship is nearly half over...this is unbelievable to me! Many days I feel positive and humbled by how well this year has been going. Each Sunday is life-giving (and exhausting) and full of meaningful connections with the saints of God. We are having important conversations about the future of the church, discerning where the vision and identity of the church might go, digging into the Word and praying together.

And then there are those days when I think, “I only have six months and the church has not been completely revitalized! There is so much to do! I need to do more! I, I, I, I....” and I get overwhelmed and go running to find a project I can conquer easily (like cleaning out satisfying!). The conflicts, the confusion, the lack of resources, the illness, the begins to weigh on my shoulders and feels very heavy.

And then I remember that I am not God. God will be with this church long after I am gone, just as God has been here long before I arrived.

4For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.”
Psalm 90

And with the turn from the first-half to the second-half of internship, my thoughts and energy begins to shift to what will happen after internship. I cannot get too far into this train of thought without feeling very nervous, and the anxiety of what will be begins to pile up. I dread the question from parishioners, pastors, family and friends, “What's next?” and I fret, fret, fret.

Packing & Panic

And then I remember that I am not God. God will be with us in this transition, just as God has been with us with every single transition (there have been A LOT) that has already happened.

So, for right now, I will try to be present. Present to the current ministry opportunities before me, present to my current relationships, present to all that God has laid out before me and trust that what will be will be. And what will be will be with God.

16 Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. 17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!” Psalm 90

Sunday, November 13, 2011

 “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” I Cor. 12  

We are the gifted by the Holy Spirit and today we named that! It was powerful and relieving for us all to remember that the call of God comes with help, guidance and empowerment!

If you are a child, one who has faith so pure that the rest of us are to be just like you, will you please stand in body or in spirit.

If you attend a committee meeting of any kind in regards to the life of this church, will you please stand in body or in spirit.

If you have come to this building and offered time, your physical resources, your skills and handiwork in or around the building, will you please stand in body or in spirit.

If you gather in this place on many Sundays to worship, to be fed, to feed and nourish others, will you please stand in body or in spirit.

There is an old saying that says, “God does not call the equipped. God equips those who God calls.” God has called you, therefore God has send the Holy Spirit to empower you.

People of God, I ask you:
Will you support one another, honor the gifts God gives,
and will you share in the mutual ministry that Christ has given?
We will, and we ask God to help us. Pastor, will you support us honor the gifts God gives, and will you share in the mutual ministry that Christ has given?
I will, and I ask God to help me.

Let us pray...Almighty God, your Holy Spirit equips the church with a rich variety of gifts. Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ in lives that are built on faith and love. Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will, so that we may share with all your church in the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Right here waiting for you.

[sermon from Sunday, this gets a little long...but maybe the end is worth the wait!] :)

When I was growing up, I became very good at waiting. From the time I was nine, my father raised my brothers and I by himself and so was always running here to there, and rarely on time. So, after school, after ballet class, after piano lessons, after confirmation...I waited. I could almost guarantee that I would be the last kid to be picked up after whatever activity I was, I waited. I never got terribly nervous, we lived in a small size town and if it really came down to it, I could probably have walked home from wherever I was. Thankfully, it never came to that.

I have a brother, Matthew, who is five years younger than I am, and for whatever reason, his demeanor as child was very sensitive and quite on edge. He never trusted that his adults would be there, he always expected the worst, if Dad was five minutes late that meant he was never going to show up and my poor brother would be left wherever he was at. Even if I was with him, Matthew would usually end up in tears as we waiting for our Dad, I'm sure I was the compassionate, patient older sister who told him to “knock it off!”, and yet, he would be in hysterics by the time our car finally pulled up.

We wait. We wait for a friend to meet us for coffee. We wait for test results. We wait in lines to renew this or that. We wait for a season to pass, or a difficult day to finally come to an end. We wait for war to end. We wait for hunger to be eradicated. We wait for God to move. We wait for Christ to come.

There is very little that is certain in life, but the chance to do some waiting is inevitable. We wait.

Our Gospel lesson today tells us a story about a master, some employees and what separates the good employees from the bad. This could be a story about just land keeping, it could be a story about how to be a good employee and follow direction. If we are not careful we cast this story quickly – God is the master, we are the employees...some are good, some are bad. However, I think we should be careful, because this story is unique. This story is even scary. We need to be mindful of where this story is found – Jesus goes on for a good long about the end of the world, this is often referred to as the eschatological discourse. A long sermon about the end of the age. So, that changes the story about the master and the employees and it changes how we hear is not so much about just land keeping or masters and good employees. This is a story about waiting. The master said he was leaving, and the master promises to return. This story is about what we do in the mean time.

[READ Matthew 25:14-30]

We have the good employees...they did just what their master told them and brought in the money! In the absence of the master they were obedient, hard working and reaped a great reward. In they end, they were invited into joy! This is perhaps the most beautiful detail of the story...that at the end of the wait, after all the hard work was over, after their good work and obedience had been acknowledged...the good employees were invited into joy!

And then we have the bad employee...who, in the absence of the master he panicked, terrified left running to bury his treasure and wait with idle hands. He even spoke back to the master, pointing out that the master isn't exactly all honest and good either! In the end, this employee was not invited into, this employee was cast out into the outter darkness.

Waiting, employees, land, end does it all fit together?

Believe it or not, this could be the very picture of our life of faith! Christ came to earth, took on human flesh, and while he was on earth he preached the gospel, healed the sick, fed the poor, comforted the weary, rebuked the wicked, and spoke of the kingdom of God on earth and in heaven. And then, Christ died, three days later Christ rose again, and then made promises. The resurrected Christ spoke to his disciples saying things like, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The resurrected Christ also said, I will come again...though,It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Christ will come again, and until he does, he has promised to remain with us, in a non-physical way. Every time we celebrate communion we proclaim what we call the mystery of faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” So, here we are in that space between “Christ is risen” and “Christ will come again”...we are waiting.

Are we waiting like the good employees? Often we think of waiting as sitting still and quiet, like waiting at the doctor's office. Yet the waiting that the good employees model for us is active! They jump right to work, follow the orders given by the master and carry the technique that the master has shown them. What does that mean for us? How does that translate into a person of faith, waiting for the master's return? Our waiting is active too. First, Jesus give us are jobs to do – Go! Make disciples, baptize them, teach them. And we know to do as Jesus did while he was on earth – we are to feed the hungry, cure the sick, comfort the grieving. Our waiting is active because Jesus' whole life was active! No sitting in the waiting room here.

But Jesus does not just give us jobs to do. So often we stop there, and think ok...I got my laundry list of good deeds from the preacher this week, better get after it. Jesus does not just give us jobs to do, Jesus also gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives us tools, skills, understanding, hearts that are tuned in such a way that we can work for the Kingdom of God in our own, beautiful, unique and holy way. Do not leave here thinking you just got a laundry list..leave here remembering that you have been given the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit we have faith we can say, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Christ will come again.

Are we waiting like the bad employee? Of course we have to stop and reflect on that question, because that person is in the story, and that person is a part of our story too. No one is great at waiting all the time, and the Church throughout the ages has been waiting for over 2000 years! Not only that, but when horrible things happen all over our world I find myself want to shout, NOW JESUS, THIS WOULD BE THE TIME TO GET BACK HERE! I am not always a great waiter. Our faith gets shaken, we despair and waiting seems like a cruel joke. Proclaiming the truth of “Christ has died. Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” could end with a question mark, instead of a period. Of course, these are matters of faith and dynamics that exists between us and God. God can handle our question marks, are shaky faith and our despair.

Where it really turns ugly, is when our actions resemble the actions of the bad employee. We panic and we run around with clenched fists, so scared and so unable to see the vision at the end of all this waiting that we bury our heads and clench our fists, just hoping the waiting is over soon.

When we lose the vision, we become cranky and cruel.
When we forget who gave us this job we become territorial and possessive of all the wrong things.
When the fear takes over, when our hope is lost..this is when we hurt one another, we clench our fists, close our doors and harden our hearts.

Even in these, our ugliest moments of faith, even then...the mystery of our faith is even more important and powerfully true. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” And good employee, bad employee, patient and faithful or panicked and are disciples of Christ. You have been given a job to do for the Kingdom of God is at hand. You have been given the Holy Spirit to guide, give you faith and empower you for this active and busy waiting. And over all, Christ has gives us the promise that he will come again. Waiting is certain and so is Christ's glorious return.

Wait with faith, wait with courage, wait with kindness, wait with busy hands and feet. You do not wait in vain, your Savior will return. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thankful Tree!

In preparation for my favorite holiday, the Princess and I got busy making this Thankful tree! She was home sick (again!) from school today, so we tried to make the best of it and do this low-key activity.  
I found a branch from our backyard, we made a ton of leaves and started thinking of what we are thankful for.  Our list came quickly as there are so many blessings to count! We still have lots of leaves to write on, so I hope in the coming two weeks we will fill the tree and count the blessings of God!  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Princess and the Church

Last Sunday we had a marathon-ministry day. I attended one hour of Bible Study, Lutheran Worship and Methodist worship while the Princess attended one hour of Lutheran Sunday school, Methodist Sunday school and Methodist worship. Our Methodist musician was in the hospital, so on a moment's notice I became preside-preacher-musician for our communion-All Saints Sunday. That's a lot of church lingo, and church business and we were tired by noon! But the day wore on and we also did a service at a nursing home and attended youth group. Somewhere in the middle of all this I HAD to squeeze in some grocery shopping. About half way through the trip the Princess was getting antsy and crabby (to be honest, so was I) so she said, “I wanna call the Chaplain!”

You don't have to tell me twice, we dialed his number and she chatted away while I tried to power-shop and get us out of there pronto. The funny thing is as she tried to be heard over the noise of the store the Princess was chatting away AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS! She was going on and on about Lutheran Sunday school, Methodist church, lighting candles, All Saints Day, inviting others to Sunday School and the children's game Cootie (no, that doesn't have anything to do with church). Our fellow shoppers and the lady at the check out got an ear full about all this churchy lingo and business...and I realized how much this Princess is taking in. She really is getting a full dose of “church” the good, the bad and the gospel.

The funny thing is, five days a week she is at the Catholic school for kindergarten! So, we're crossing ourselves before prayer and she is tolerating (I say that because it really is hard for her) Monday mass (which I play for).

I figure I'm either preparing her for a life of protestant ministry, OR a real serious rebellion during her teen-age years. Either way, for now, I love that she sees the church for what it is – a glorious, holy, messy, diverse place. The senior citizens, the wiggling children, the gracious women, the old and confused, the sick and dying, the sinner and saint all gathering around the table to receive Jesus.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

For all the saints...

a cutting from an All Saints Sermon...
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

These words also are for the living, because we are not only commemorating the saints of heaven, but we celebrate, honor and name the saints here on earth. The meek, those who feel actual hunger pangs for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart...these are the saints on earth. We do not often claim and name our sainthood, that sounds awfully haughty and self-righteous, doesn't it? We are holy, because our God is holy and because of the power of the Holy Spirit and because of the love and grace of Christ on the cross, we are made holy—we are made saints of God.

Yet, while we remain on earth we are not just saints – we are sinners and we are saints all the same glorious time. Most often we trudge with the weight of sin around our legs, we work to forget and let go of the sins of our lives and our poor attitudes – yes, our sinfulness can certainly be the more predominant state of our existence. But today, we gather with the whole church – the church on earth and the church in heaven and say WE HAVE BEEN MADE HOLY by the Holy Spirit. WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN by the cross of Christ, and, so, WE ARE SAINTS OF GOD! This is not for our own promotion or glory, our declaration is a declaration on the who God is. We believe in a God who so desires to be in relationship with us that God has chosen us to be God's children, we believe in a God who so protects life that he sent us a Savior to lift the weight of our sin so that we could live freely and love boldly. We believe in a God who is holy and who is love, and so through Christ, we are made holy and we are made for love too.

Today, when we remember the saints, we do not only remember those who have died, but we remember and honor and claim the sainthood of the living. Because God has made it so.

Fredrich Buechner is one of the saints of our time, a Presbyterian minister, celebrated theologian and incredible writer...I would like to share with you these words he give us for All Saints Day.

At the Altar Table the awkward pastor is doing something or other with the bread and with the wine. In the pews, the congregation sits more or less patiently waiting to get into the act. The church is quiet. Outside, a bird starts singing. It’s nothing special, only a handful of notes angling out in different directions. Then a pause. Then a trill or two. A chirp. It is just warming up for the business of the day, but it is enough.
The pastor and the usual scattering of senior citizens, parents, teenagers are not alone in whatever they think they’re doing. Maybe that is what the bird is there to remind them. In its own slapdash way the bird has a part in it too. Not to mention “Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven” if the prayer book is to be believed. Maybe we should believe it. Angels and Archangels. Cherubim and seraphim. They are all in the act together. It must look a little like the great jeu de son et lumière at Versailles when all the fountains are turned on at once and the night is ablaze with fireworks. It must sound a little like the last movement of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony or the Atlantic in a gale.  
And “all the company of heaven” means everybody we ever loved and lost, including the ones we didn’t know we loved until we lost them or didn’t love at all. It means people we never heard of. It means everybody who ever did – or at some unimaginable time in the future ever will – come together at something like this table in search of something like what is offered at it.
Whatever other reasons we have for coming to such a place, if we come also to give each other our love and to give God our love, then together with Gabriel and Michael, and the awkward pastor, and Sebastian pierced with arrows, and the old lady whose teeth don’t fit, and Teresa in her ecstasy, we are the communion of saints’. – Frederick Buechner
Jesus' words of blessing and promise are for the living, and around this table we come to remember life and death, saints on earth and saints in heaven...and more than anything we come to participate in this dying in Christ and rising again to new life. Saints and sinners now, saints then, forever, with God. Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

a beautiful promise...from Leviticus?

Leviticus is a book of the Bible that is all about law and "do-nots"...not exactly warm and fuzzy.  So, imagine my surprise when this sermon materialized from Levitcus 19.  Yes, I wrote it, but I was amazed at the promise, beauty and hope that comes from this text.  The sermon was surprisingly difficult for me to get through, which usually means it was written from a fragile place...that was certainly true for me this past Sunday. 


Leviticus is the book of focus for today. Our Old Testament reading comes from Leviticus, which can be a somewhat intimidating book, boring, stern, a divisive book painting pictures of black and white morality. Leviticus is often quoted when one wants to throw down the moral gauntlet of what God said is right and what God says is certainly wrong. Leviticus is a book about holiness, or certainly our reading today centers on that very idea of “being holy”. Now, that is a church-y kind of word – an off-putting word, I think, often we think of holy as in “holier than thou”. We say God is Holy, or if we do not say it Scripture certainly does, all over we hear of that God is Holy, the name of the Lord is Holy, Bless God's Holy name. But, what does that even mean?

In our Old Testament, God's holiness is depicted as something completely and utterly “OTHER”. Moses is commanded to take of his shoes for he is on “holy ground”, many hid their face in the presence of holiness in order to spare their lives, and those who did not, certainly died for merely catching a glimpse of the holiness of God. Sound inviting? Probably not. God is holy, because God is perfect and we know that God's ways our not our ways, God's thoughts are not our thoughts. This Almighty Creator of the Universe is Holy and awe-inspiring and worthy of our fear and our worship and our bowing of heads, because God is Holy. As we hear in Leviticus 19 God is inviting us in to these different ways of living – ways that revere our relationships, ways of living that care of those that live on the margins of society, ways of living that do not stand for hatred, but rather love others as we love self. God is holy because these are the very nature of God, God's holiness is defined by relationship, liberation, mercy and love. This is the holiness of God, this is the nature of God.

There is another invitation extended in Leviticus 19. In verse 2 God says, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” To me this sounds like an old parenting technique – “You will sit quietly during church today” “You will clean your room this afternoon” I have used this technique from time to time and I know these statements are not really meant to be prophecies are much as they are threats lest the hoped for behavior does not happen! God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This, however is no threat, this is a promise. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This is no threat, this is a promise.

There is a beautiful, and holy litany found in Leviticus 19. The rhythm invites us with every refrain into the Holiness of God, how could we possible be invited? How could we, mere mortals, be drawn into this God whose very presence can cause death, this God whose very nature liberates and loves without measure? Who are we to be invited into this holiness?

Because this Holy God is your Lord and your God, you will be holy. This is no threat, this is a promise.

You will revere your family – I am the Lord your God.
You will care and provide for the poor and the alien – I am the Lord your God.
You will not steal or profane God's holy name – I am the Lord your God.
You will promote justice and speak well of your neighbor – I am the Lord you God.
You will not hate in your heart, you will not take vengeance on anyone, you will love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.
This is not a laundry list of things to be before being considered “holy”. This is a divine gift, a holy glimpse into the ways and nature of God. When our heart and will conforms to the ways and nature of God, we experience holiness...sometimes slight and passing droplets of holiness, sometimes long and satisfying drinks of the holy, beautiful majesty of our Lord and God.

This is the law of God, and the law of God is a way into holiness. Of course, we know this is not something to achieve, rather something to embrace, a life and way of being that is different. We are still mere mortals, we still will turn our faces in the presence of this Holy God because we know how often we have turned down this invitation.

This Holy God is our Lord, our God and we can say this and claim this Holy God and know that we are claimed by God. God claimed us as beloved, redeemed and yes, even Holy, in Christ. Scripture continues to proclaim what was first made true in our creation in God's image, what is proclaimed today in Leviticus 19, Scripture continues the proclamation when Jesus prays these words, in the Gospel of John “17Sanctify them [Jesus' disciples] in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” In the Word we are sanctified, meaning we are made holy. In Jesus, we are sanctified, meaning we are made holy, too. This is not a threat, this is a promise.

We do not make ourselves holy, we will not be offering a holiness-now seminar at church anytime soon. This is the work of the Spirit, and the Spirit is at work in me and in you because Jesus came into this unholy world with a holy promise and a holy invitation. The holy invitation is that our hearts and our very natures will be conformed to God's so that our lives may be love-filled, caring, reverent and holy. This is the work of Christ, in us, you and me. Sometime we catch droplets, sometimes long and satisfying drinks of the holiness of God in our midst.

Three years ago I traveled to Mexico with other seminarians to fulfill a cross-cultural requirement. This was not a mission trip, or a chance to sit on the beach, instead it was a listening experience. Each day for two weeks we stepped into different communities and heard stories—we heard the stories of community organizers working to bring fair profit to local farmers, indigenous people fighting to remain on their land, church leaders working to make the church in Mexico a place for all people and we heard the stories of many, many, many women who work tirelessly for their families, their land and their home. I met one woman whose story will stay with me forever. I met her during our visit to a community called La Estacion. This squatter settlement lays on the outskirts of Cuernava, Mexico and stretches for literally miles. The types of homes one will find while walking the neighborhood range from areas of land, simply marked with string and people sitting around, cardboard boxes, or some more developed homes that have metal walls and some cement foundation or outline. Stray dogs were everywhere and the smells that we walked through made it very difficult to breath. I was prepared to see neighborhoods like this, what I was NOT prepared for was to sit inside a home and have a conversation with a life-long resident. Our trip leader broke us into small groups so that only two or three entered a home at a time, there was not really room for any more. And we were armed with questions to ask so that when we regrouped we would have all asked the same questions and could have a cohesive reflection time. I was tasked with speaking for my group and was ok with most of the questions, what does a typical day look like for you? What is your relationship with your neighbors? Are you hungry? But my final question I was so embarrassed by I prayed we would run out of time so that I wouldn't have to ask it. “What are your dreams?” this is what I was to ask our host, whoever they may be. Standing in La Estacion I thought the word dream couldn't be anywhere in the vocabulary! Who am I to ask about dreams and hopes and aspirations of any kind? What do I know of what the residents could want?

holiness in Mexico
With a pounding heart I went with my group further into the neighborhood. Our hostess was Brenda invited us into her home, we ducked out heads and made our way through a small maze of wires, copper-fencing, boxes stacked until we entered the home. The floor was cement and the walls were made of metal…this was one of them most stable structures we had seen. The home consisted of two rooms, the kitchen which we sat in, and sleeping room—the two areas were divided by hanging blankets. Over the entrance hung a cross, and near the only window was Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was the home for Brenda, her husband and their seven children.
She served us a snack and politely entertained our questions. The answers were all the ones we did not want to hear — her day was endless finding and preparing food — some days successful, many not. The community very dangerous — you cannot trust your neighbor even though these homesteads were literally collapsing on top of one another. Then I asked with broken spanish, do you have dreams? Hope? ..she answered that all of her children remain healthy and that their future might be safe, good and better than she could hope. Then I asked if she had fears…that her children would be hurt, ill or stumble onto paths that would lead them to bad places. So many things between Brenda and I are different, at first glace, maybe everything is different. But our heart and our nature is one – we were simply mother to mother and though all earthly measurements put us on different ends of the scale, we were the same, living out the dreams, hopes and fears of all mothers and fathers and care givers anywhere.
In La Estacion I sat while drops fell from Brendas' eyes and drank a long and satisfying drink of holiness. The heart and nature of God manifest in this woman, she is holy because her Lord and her God is holy, she is holy because her heart and nature are of, caring, reverent and holy.

We are invited into holiness, but not just invited, we are transformed and made holy by Christ alone and because this Holy God has made it so. Holiness is not a status to be reached, it is an encounter, it is a gift, it is relationship with God and with one another...this is where we become holy.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” This is not a threat, this is a promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.