Sunday, March 29, 2009

the opening is:

Lent 5B, March 29 & 30, 2009 PLC
John 12:20-33 – “If it dies, it bears much fruit”

I once wrote a poem – stay with me here, because it was a bad poem –
Jesus is not a tulip bulb, and he is not a flower,
But cosmic king and Savior come in the bitter hour.

This poem was in response to a sermon that used the tulip bulb as an image of what happened at the cross and tomb. The bulb looks dead, but – wow – something happens and beauty comes out. I love tulips as much as the next person – but that’s not what happened at Easter. The bulb analogy is false. The tulip bulb is natural – the plump bulb has stored the energy for the future growth, and gives it back – then regains plumpness through the season, and will grow again. There is no surprise here – a tulip bulb will always grow a tulip, a daffodil more daffodils.

Now seeds – one can look at a seed and not see the final result. It you are a gardener at all – you know that seeds can hold surprises. Who has planted seeds from your pumpkin or squash the second year, just to see what odd fruit you’ll have? Anyone here work in plant breeding? Since most of our seeds and plants are hybridized, we might truly be surprised by the result when we breed backwards. That squash seed may not produce what you think.

In the time of Jesus, what happened inside a seed was truly mysterious – it was a gift of the good God that the seed came up each year, that the multiplication of seed into harvest was a sign of the God’s blessing. What happened to the original seed was unclear – how that little thing had the power to break open and push up and flower and bear – it was in God’s hands.

Jesus is not a tulip bulb. He is a seed – a different process all together. It’s a more dramatic process. A mysterious process. It’s not about conserving and saving and then some growth – it’s about giving it all up – trusting that losing all – shape, direction, boundaries - will gain all.

In our story Jesus is in Jerusalem at Passover. It’s a wild scene – there are people there from all over the world. There are always rumblings of revolution, of revolt, in an occupied city like Jerusalem, and that year was no different. Jesus had been active – and in John’s Gospel this is only a few weeks after the greatest miracle of all – the raising of Lazarus.

Jesus has signaled that the world would never be the same. Water has been turned into wine. The blind man sees. The lame man walks. The dead have been given back life.

“Can we see Jesus?” ask the Greek travelers. They have found the disciple with the Greek name – Philip – from the Greek city, and press him for an audience with the great healer, teacher, miracle worker. “We wish to see Jesus,” they say. Philip checks in with his fellow disciple from Bethsaida and together they check in with Jesus.

And his answer is not direct at all. In fact Jesus doesn’t answer the question if those Greeks can be admitted to the circle. Jesus sees in that question – the opening of another chapter in God’s story – another step closer to the climax of God’s plan – it’s very near now. The hour has come for Glorification. The world itself is watching – it’s time.

What is the world watching for – this – a grain will fall to the ground.

He uses a very visual metaphor – unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies – there is no harvest. Unless something dies, there is no fruit. He means himself – this is the Father’s plan for him – it is clear now – he must die, so that many can live. Going the way of the cross may seem like humiliation to the world – but to in the mysterious plan of God – it is true exaltation.

It is being lifted up – to be the emblem of God’s mercy and love, to the sign of to the whole world –
not just to Jews, but to Greeks as well,
not just to believers, but to those who scoff,
not just to people of his own time, but to those of all time and place
– that God has acted in love and mercy to save.

Can we see Jesus? Look at the Cross. Can we see Jesus? Look for the seed that falls to the ground, and dies. For there is the glorification, the exaltation, the victory.

The victory is the seed dying so that fruit may grow. Out of something small and insignificant – a messy unjust execution of a minor rebellious leader of a long ago pacifist movement – fruit will come. In that seed, by that seed, fruit will come.

The challenge to us is to understand we are the fruit of that dying seed – the future of the glorification of our Savior. Those who cling to their life may keep it for a while, but they will lose it eventually. Those who hold it loosely, who ‘hate’ it, will keep it for eternal life.

This victory of the cross is about meaning of life - Somehow, Jesus is saying, it's in the spending of our lives that we find them. And it's in our excessive guarding and holding of those lives that we lose them. No investment, no return. No risk, no gain.

Then, ultimately, may it not be the truth of this teaching that our fading can become the avenue of God's coming? Isn't that what worship is all about -- our stepping aside so that God can step forward? Isn’t that what Christian life is all about – our stepping aside so that God can step forward – in us?

So how do we see fruitfulness in our time, in our lives?

We can ask if those words are written on our hearts, as Jeremiah says. Do we understand and ask – what has to die for love to grow? What has to be given up, for sake of the fruit of the spirit?

St Francis offered a prayer of opposites: (A video?)
Pray with me:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. (213)

We can ask if we are helping those who are drawn, like magnets to the cross of Christ in our midst – are we offering the peace, hope, love and joy that the despairing world needs?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ways to start the sermon?

John 12:23-33 - Title "If it dies, it bears much fruit"

I worked for a narcissist once.

Did you see the finale of Battlestar Galatica?

You are seeds. Die.

The genetics of seed corn requires strict control on the pollination.

Although I've never been in Africa, I can tell you a story about African farmers.

Ouch, that hurts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

a little

A little rejoicing.
Today I made dinner on a Monday for the first time in I don't know how long. 5 weeks? more? I'm actually home for two nights Monday-Thursday this week. (by the way, we had baked lemon chicken and veggie risotto. And I may make cookies after the Eagle finishes dishes.) Several things to be grateful for - a husband who does dishes, a home to cook in, a job that takes too many hours, but does keep us in the home and pays the bills.

A little complaining.
You know, I've been leading worship for over 12 years. I don't need to be told how to do it. Especially when it's minor things - matters of no importance. Every time that happens the thought runs through my mind - is this the place I really need to be? But there is no perfect church.

A little self-realization.
I'm a nerd. An artistic nerd, but a nerd non-the-less. I like looking for artwork to create powerpoint and slide shows and wish I had a movie editing program. Mostly, I find myself content to work by myself. That is not a good thing - it's a kick-back to the introversion, too shy thing of long ago. Maybe it's a response to stress.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hope in three days

Lent 3B, John 2;13-22 – FELC ‘Hope in three days’

Mr. Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty this week. By pleading to all 11 counts of fraud, he avoided having to name any one else who knew, worked with or benefited from the up to 50 billion dollars he swindled from investors. The Ponzi scheme wiped out people’s fortunes, ruined charities and foundations – many drawn through Jewish charitable connections - , and apparently pushed at least two investors to suicide. One investor said: “Prison’s too good for him. I’d stone him to death.” That’s biblical.

There is plenty to be angry about in this story. There is plenty to be angry about in our economy all over. All sorts of high-end economic issues – runaway profits, horrendously large bonus paid to executives of failing companies, the mortgage crisis – based on wanting more house than one can afford – end up with local and personal ramifications – lost jobs, declining housing values, rising prices, shrinking credit.

There is plenty to be angry about. But we usually don’t see these economic issues as spiritual issues. We may not see a connection between our money – personally or nationally – and our relationship to God. But Jesus did. He saw a fundamental connection between the world of commerce and the world of spirit.

We have this extraordinary story of Jesus entering the Temple courts and using a whip, forcing the sellers of cattle and other animals out, turning over the tables of money changers and scattering the doves. Quite a scene – very different from the serene Jesus, the gracious teacher, the wise man. This is Jesus with zeal upon him – passion is eating him up.

Observers, including his followers, are watching in amazement – this is not only an attack on the sellers and money changers present on that day, but this is an attack at the heart of what faith was thought to be about. In particular, they hear Jesus saying – You have made my Father’s house into a House of Commerce. (not a den of thieves) – a house of selling. And he is angry.

Now the commerce he sees is well accepted. It’s Passover – lots of people have come to do their religious duties – and have to purchase unblemished animals to do that duty. Or they want to give money and have to exchange their foreign currency (with idolatrous images on it) for Temple silver. It would be like violently attacking our Christmas commerce.

This on-going, accepted trading enrages Jesus. It drives him to his most public act – the one that gets him noticed and talked about – and not in a good way. Like the prophet it is said of him “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Is it Zeal for the temple – or for his Father? Zeal for his Father’s House is more than just that building in Jerusalem – it is passionate love for the people of God. It is for the sake of the people of God and their relationship to the Father that Jesus is angry.

Jesus is angry for the sake of his children – for our sake. The transactions that stand between the people and God – the rules that hinder or confuse or discourage the human approach to God – those properties of merchandise that attach to faith – that is what drove Jesus to this fury.

Jesus’ anger over economic processes was anger about what kept people from encountering God directly and in life-changing ways. Could we find that same concern for ourselves and our loved ones? How does being consumers keep us from knowing and loving and serving God? Can we name the problem for what it is – Greed.

Can we realize – in a positive and not nasty way – that we are greedy in this country – we’ve built our lives on wanting more and we assume can have it without much penalty. (Think about the marketing of large screen tvs.) Can we see that the growth of the consumer mentality – this explosion of the sense of entitlement to the biggest, the best and the expensive– that the growth of that mentality has exactly paralleled the decline in offerings to churches and charitable organizations? We believe we should have the best, we spend our money on ourselves first and we leave God and our neighbor out of the equation.

Can we find constructive ways to be angry about greed:
– the kind of greed that drove Mr. Madoff, that afflicts our economy,
– that reaches down and infects you and me
– greed that encourages us to buy what we do not need, to go into debt and risk our deeper values of stewardship and care for others.

Back to Jesus – as a result of his tantrum Jesus is asked for ‘a sign’, some argument that his anger is right, that his criticism is justified. He answers with a riddle, but it that is not a riddle for us. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” We know the answer to that riddle – Jesus was not speaking about the Temple Building – but about his own Temple – his body, which will be the New Temple – the New HOPE.

This New HOPE will be the magnet for all people It will be the sign of God’s deep love and compassion and gracious forgiving for all people. It will be the promised sanctuary, the mountain of praise and singing and joy promised in the scriptures.

And it’s not a building – not that building, the Temple in Jerusalem, destroyed so many years before, and not this building – which will fall apart someday, despite our best efforts (thank you, property committee, for working on the roof). It is the hope that Greed and Things will not distract from the Real God, the Rea1 Christ, the Real Hope.

The New Temple is Jesus Christ – he is the Hope in Three Days – he is the cornerstone and the building, he is the wisdom and the stumbling block, the alpha and the omega, the A and the Z, the beginning and the end.

We must start with Him and his Holy Spirit, because when we do that – we discover that together we carry the Body of Christ in our midst. In John the Holy Spirit is breathed upon the church on the evening of Easter, and that gift is intended for the use of forgiving sins – as the temple worship system was – it is a replacement for that system!

Right there is the reason and the end of Jesus’ anger: He will rise again in three days.

His death and his resurrection, will be the act that brings the people of God
– all those who will believe God, who believe Jesus
to the NEW TEMPLE of HOPE – the NEW BODY
– the community of faith
– the community of continuing life through Baptism and Eucharist
– the community that struggles with putting an end to greed and other sins
– the community that understands, teaches and relearns forgiveness,
– the community that welcomes sinners like you and me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mid-Lent Check in


Our Crosses

Our crosses are many
We may not know
The salty taste of tears until they come without bidding
And sign a growing shadow
Cross-shaped, on our hearts

Our crosses are solitary
I will not speak
Not of my guilt, or of my shame, or of my pain
But know this is my cross – all mine
No one shares

Our crosses are ancient
My mother’s and my father’s burden
Taken up with all the panic of country, pride and riches
And clung to because it is my legacy
Even as I long for freedom

Our crosses are random
Attack comes here, now
We ask why here, why now, why us
And the truth is always the cross we bear
For the answer is empty of comfort

Our crosses are His cross
Only one, all for us, ever new and reborn
His the first, His the birth, His the pain
His the grief, His the burden
His the life in the cross
His the end of all our crosses.
(NAK, Lent 2009)

Sophia on RevGal writes:
The pastor of my grad school parish once gave a fascinating reflection, at about this mid-point in the season, called "How to Survive the Mid-Lent Crisis"! As I recall, his main point was that by halfway through the season we have often found it very challenging to live up to our original plans....But, he suggested--on the analogy of the healing and reframing of our life plans that can happen during a mid-*life* crisis--that that can be even more fruitful. So here's an invitation to check in on the state of your spirit midway through "this joyful season where we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed" (Roman Missal). Hopefully there's a good deal of grace, and not too much crisis, in your mid-Lenten experience!

1. Did you give up, or take on, anything special for Lent this year?
I have not taken up anything different, or given anything up in renunciation this year. But I have given up some negative attitudes and habits - I have resolved not to worry about my weight, while eating healthly. I have resolved to drink less alcohol, while not berating myself for an occasional glass of wine. I have detached from some concerns at work, knowing that others have things in hand. I have tried to honor my days off and my nights off. I am feeling more at peace this season.

2. Have you been able to stay with your original plans, or has life gotten in the way?
Things have slowed down in terms of the 'have to do think NOW' items, and that is a relief. Because my expectations were low, I am finding all sorts of things pleasant surprises - sunny days, my hours with the cat, a slow morning.

3. Has God had any surprising blessings for you during this Lent? A big surprise and an ironic one. I discovered a name for what afflicts my son - although he hasn't been diagnosed - and may never be, due to the nature of the problem - all at once his difficult behavior makes sense. We are re-affirmed in our limit-setting and current treatment of him. It's been an eye-opener and a relief to discover an on-line support group for parents with similar stories.

4. What is on your inner and/or outer agenda for the remainder of Lent and Holy Week?
Stay calm and focused. Draw nearer into the biblical story. Love the people. Offer creative and thoughtful worship. Spend time at home.

5. Where do you most long to see resurrection, in your life and/or in the world, this Easter? I long for my son to speak to us, for his insight. I long for our churches to feel the Spirit. I long for our staff to recognize and embrace their ministry and their boundaries as mutual calls. (To know yes - this is my vocation, and no - this isn't something I have to do!) For the world, my thoughts are like so many others - ending to the stupid wars all over the world, freedom and justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry.

p.s. the picture was taken by a parishioner and friend and we're using it as the key image for our Lenten series on Our Crosses, His Victory. The poem is mine.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

convincing myself

During this time of year - Lent, we add stuff at church. Worship services especially. And food. Lots of food. We have a tradition of a soup supper. We already have a Wednesday lunch. It's Wednesday p.m. and I'm trying to convince myself that I want soup.

I do not want soup.

Some of my feelings come from the fact that this is another fund-raiser. It's a free-will offering, but it's still to raise money. And I heard last night how disappointing it was that all the soup was eaten, and none could be sold as extra, because it's in selling the extra soup that the money is made, and the good-will is developed. People want to buy extra soup to take home.

There was no extra soup because we asked the kids from the after-school program to eat at the soup supper.

So. We say the soup is 'free' - just pay what you can or what you want to. But don't free-load with our soup. We want to make sure there is soup for our friends, and especially to sell to those friends.

One of my colleagues is wonderful. He is just tone-deaf to complaints - he just doesn't hear them. It's that wonderful, he says, all those people got fed. That there wasn't anything left over. Just like Jesus.

Now I may go for soup. I will pretend I do not see the grumpies. I will slide an extra 20 into the basket. No, I will give the 20 to the leader of the afterschool program.

Maybe I'll just free-load myself.

Are free-will offerings really our modern guilt offering?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

like a horoscope, only spiritual

Open the nearest book to page 56.
Use the first sentence as today's spiritual tidbit.

The Night Journal - Elizabeth Crook

"It certainly is not. He was lost when I met him. I became a mother to him."

For unbloggable reasons, this is very funny,

carry the cross

I'm ashamed to say this text and it's fellows in the other cycles is one of my least favorites. It is so hard for me to communicate anew.

This week I won't post the sermon - it's adapted from an older one, and I'm not sure where I found the older one.

I start with the name question - God gives a name. Jesus has called us 'cross-bearers' Christians.

So how do we do that? That is the theme of the sermon.
I adapted the story of Clarence Jordan's Koinonia Farm. I wanted a story about sacrifice that was not about martyrdom. I find martyrdom stories very moving myself, but I don't know how many people really identify themselves that way.

I have been working many hours just doing the things I do - liturgy, putting together our Lenten worship, following up on my pastoral calls and hospital visits, going to too many meetings. I haven't been doing a lot of thinking. I watch. I observe. I comment.

And that may be why I don't have a good grasp on what 'cross-bearing' means in this time and place - it is still to be revealed to me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

how the day went

5:00 a.m. alarm - hit snooze button
5:09 a.m. alarm - find glasses, get up.
5:10 a.m. 1-minute coffee warm up
5:11-5:30 stare groggily into space with cat
5:30-6:05 shower, start singing to self, dry hair, contacts, makeup, etc.
6:05-6:10 dress in dark
6:15-6:45 look at sermon, decide it's crap, turn on computer, REWRITE sermon
6:50 fly out door, driveway and down highway 41
7:20 at church -
8:00 ready for worship

The re-written sermon (the original idea about monsters from e.sermons James Kegel)
Lent 1B, March 1&2, 2009,
Mark 1:9-17

When you were a child, were there Monsters and other things lurking under your bed? Did the expression ‘don’t let the bed bugs bite’ keep you up at night? Were you, like me, traumatized by a scary movie – I saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers at an impressionable age – and I couldn’t sleep for days.

Now, as adults we realized that monsters and aliens are, if not real, pretty unlikely candidates for night-time encounters. But still, the fears are there - our monsters may be real people and our aliens the inexplicable letters we receive from insurance companies.

As adults we find ourselves at times in a place where support seems to disappear, the experience seems overwhelming, and the only way out – not so good. That can be our wilderness.

It’s a frightening place. In the Judean desert – dehydration and death are real possibilities. In our wildernesses – the death of the spirit, the death of good intentions, the death of hopes and dreams – ah, we do understand that.

Jesus is driven into the wilderness immediately after his baptism. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit – that dove-like figure, that batters at him so that he goes into the most hostile of regions for 40 days – 40 long days – long enough to suffer, long enough to realize a little of what the people of Israel suffered over 40 years. It is there he meets the adversary – the Satan.

Their encounter is described as temptation – although Mark, unlike the other Gospel writers – doesn’t describe what the temptation consisted of. I think the lack of description makes this even more terrifying. It’s not just three conversations – it’s 40 days worth. The Adversary may not be speaking only about misusing power and compassion – he may be driving home a sense of doubt, hopelessness and frustration.

It is the exact opposite of the blessing at the baptism. It is the opening skirmish of a battle that will continue for the rest of Jesus’ life. What begins here in the desert continues with the casting-out of demons – with the healing of the sick – with the preaching of the gospel – with the acceptance of the poor, the outcast and even the wealthy into a community of hope.

As I read this again, I realized that this pattern – baptism – into the wilderness and temptation, then ministry, represents the story of all of us. Our spiritual life comes to this pattern – we are baptized (and return daily to the water) – we have our mountain-top experiences - but then we return to life, into the places where things may be harsh, where troubles await – where temptation lurks – but also – there is mission.

There are lots of funny comments about temptation – ‘don’t do anything you don’t want to explain to the paramedics.’ – ‘I can resist anything except temptation.’
The temptations that are closest to us, I think, are the ones that are related to our fears – our monsters or alien seed pods under the bed. What are our fears – that is where the adversary will come after us.

My mother was widowed with 7 dependent children. Everything was uprooted, we moved, older children were separated from younger. My experience was of insecurity – so where does the adversary speak to me? In the issues of security, trust, stability, change.

The adversary comes to our deepest fears –
Am I safe? Am I worth anything? Is the world around me trustworthy?
Am I lovable? Am I going to stay healthy – am I dying? How will I pay this bill? How will my old age look?

And those fears are the prime vehicle for our temptations – the one who fears being unloved – will seek for love in the wrong places, break vows, break hearts.

The one who fears being poor – will find theft – major or petty.
The one who fears insecurity - will fit change, will try to make the world manageable.

We all have fears. We all know the wilderness. We must also recognize the power of the enemy in the face of what would draw us away from the trust and joy of our Maker. Jesus was in the wilderness and engaged in battle – and he was victorious.

And with Jesus – we emerge from the wilderness. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is tempted by Satan – he is with the wild beasts (and we don’t know what that means) AND he is ministered by the angels. He is not alone. His heavenly father – the same one who blessed him with the title of Son – and the same one who assured him of his delight – did not desert him in the wilderness. Maybe this was a boxing match – with the wild beasts are witnesses - despite the fears – the battle being raged – there were angels in his corner.

Angels in his corner. There may be monsters under the bed, but there are angels in our corner.

Remember this pattern – we are baptized, we are blessed
There will be the wilderness, in which our very human fears become the stuff of the enemies temptation
But we will be victorious, because we are not fighting alone.
The battle has already been won. Jesus won it for us on the cross. That is where the end of the story really lies. It was there Jesus beat the devil at his own game. Facing his – and our greatest fear – that of a horrible, painful and shameful death – Jesus triumphed. We, too can triumph – we can return to the Lord,
With our fears, With our doubts, With our failures,
And return to the waters of baptism – and be called his beloved children.
He ends our fears. He assures our hearts, He recognizes our worth.
Thanks be to God.

It was fun to hear folks talking a little about the monsters under the bed. We had a casket wheeled in next to coffee hour (we're a busy church building), and we had an interesting conversation about death, planning and life.

The rest of the day: Worship, coffee, worship, baby shower, funeral visitation, home, nap, and now!