Sunday, September 27, 2009

the dividing line - or real salt

Mark 9:38–50

Salt has not always been cheap. In the ancient world salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. It was used as currency in some countries even into modern times. Historically it was the basis of great empires, making many people rich, because it was not cheap at all. To get salt from the sea was a difficult enterprise, involving multiple ponds, each one more concentrated in salt than then next, then the final harvest, sifting, packing and transport. Lots of time, lots of labor, lots of places for traders to make money.

We might call it common salt, and use if prodigiously – too much for the sake of our health, but has been recognized at the ultimate necessity and luxury for ages.
During an invasion of Ethiopia, in the late 19th century, Italian soldiers found blocks of salt stored in bank vaults along with other familiar forms of currency

(I Love You More than Salt)An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him. One daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. One said she loved him more than all the silver in the world. The youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt. The king was not pleased with this answer. But the cook overheard the conversation, so the next day he prepared a good meal for the king, but left out the salt. The food was so bland that the king couldn't eat it. Then he understood what his daughter meant. The cook understood the value of salt. (King Duncan, Collected Sermons, )

So, Jesus was paying his disciples a compliment when he called them salt. He was doing it in the context of teaching on discipleship – The disciples were pointing out the healing actions of someone who wasn’t in their crowd – who hadn’t been following Jesus, who hadn’t made the kind of sacrifices they had made. And that person, that magician – he was using Jesus’ name! Yikes! Jesus’ name and reputation are such that others are cashing in on him! Stop him!

Jesus is calm in the middle of the disciples’ anxiety. (do you even notice that – Jesus does not get excited about those irritations that the disciples do? He gets excited about deeper, more profound issues – we’ll see that in this passage too.) Don’t get your knickers in a twist, he says – look – if that magician is using my name, and something good happens – he’ll be thinking about it for the rest of his life.

You guys – you disciples – you want to draw a dividing line between the inside and the outside. Some people are inside – us – and others are outside – them. For Jesus the line isn’t so clear – even those outside can do acts of mercy and grace and good. They can give a cup of water to the needy – they can recognize the name of Christ – and they will find their reward.

This is quite radical stuff, then and now. We want to be sure that we’re in the right part of heaven (the old story – why are there walls in heaven? Well, it’s so – fill in the blank about whichever exclusive religious tradition you want to poke fun at – Missouri Synod, Southern Baptists, who ever – doesn’t know that anyone else is there.) Radical stuff from Jesus – the dividing line isn’t were you want to put it, disciples.

The dividing line isn’t out there, between us and them – it’s right here. It’s right here in the heart. It’s right here in the life and actions of those inside the community of faith. It’s right at the point where your actions may cause someone else to stumble.

And for many of us, it’s not that foreign. The desire of the eye for a pretty thing – and we covet. The desire of the mouth for that which tastes good – and we are gluttons who don’t know when to stop. The desire of the foot to get out of this situation, and we’ve hurt those we love. The desire of the mind for a thrill, for a risk, for a gamble- and we’ve spent too much money at the casino, or in the store, or on the drink. The desire to get everything under control, and we’ve said one too many critical things to our spouse, our children, our co-workers, and created rifts that may never be overcome.

That’s the dividing line. That’s where we need to remember the gracious forgiveness of our God. That realization – that honest self-assessment – that’s the fire. For everyone will be salted with fire. I really struggled with understanding that one line – but I think it means this: Each one of us will struggle with what it means to be Jesus’ disciple. That will be our fire. That will be our spiritual work – to be corrected and modified and ‘salted.’ It is through fire we become the good, the pure, the useful and necessary – salt.

Jesus knows that salt that is too contaminated is useless – it is only good to be thrown away. The salt that is good – is the disciple who is working at his or her self – the salt that is salty is the salt that has come through the fire of self-examination, of returning to the baptismal grace and finding that growth is still possible.

There is another experiment to that can be done with salt – take a plain piece of grapefruit and eat it. It will be sour and maybe even bitter. Add one grain – one grain of salt – and eat another piece. It will be sweet.

Salt turns the sour sweet. Have salt in yourself – the word of the Lord, showing the right path – and peace be unto you.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

acedia and me

I just can't get enthused about reading Acedia and Me.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

learning vs lecturing

I've been struggling with this for a while in various arenas. In the church, we have stuff we want to share - but in order to do that, we lecture. I was taught to lecture. When I go looking for curriculum to introduce families to baptism, for instance, I find books, videos, etc., that consist of telling others what the church wants to tell them. Martin Marty's book on Baptism - a User's guide was recommended. I read it. I returned it. I will never recommend it except for the exceptionally thoughtful person who already knows all the 'in' words and arguments of Christian history about Baptism.

I have young parents who are willing to give me an hour or so of their time to learn about Baptism. And so far, all I've been able to do is lecture. It's not working. I'm searching for another option.

I know Faith Inkubators has worked up a family support curriculum. Whenever I look at their stuff, I'm exhausted.

Now I'm working on my lesson for our students who will be confirmed in a few weeks. How do I open up conversation about worship & sabbath & communion? The Lutheran materials are so disappointing.

This is what I'm staring into space thinking about today.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

making faith real.

This was a difficult sermon to preach. I am not usually so personal. But my intention that it was not about me - but about 'us' and making faith real.

Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, – Lect. 25, Proper 20, 16th after Pent.
James 3:13-4:3, 4:7-8a – what is wisdom? Mark 9:30-37 – first & last, welcome the child, prediction of the passion

Last week I did something stupid. I did not listen to the lessons – to all the good words of the epistle and Gospel and the good news that Pastor preached about the firey tongue and the right way to use it – and I was rude to T. in public. And I want to make my public apology. It was wrong.

I was convicted by the voice of James. Do you ever read the scriptures, and you start to hear the voice, the authentic word being spoken to you? For that is what we believe – these scriptures, these lessons, these books of wisdom, are here in our hands for our - teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, - that’s from the letter to Timothy. We can use scripture to give us a basis for looking at our lives and the world – (and as a side note, if we wish to use it to comment on things outside ourselves, such as the actions of our larger church body, we must also apply it to our own actions as well.) And the voice of James, stern and wise, spoke to me.

I made my apology to T. – but there is still lasting damage – and that continues my struggle with repentance these days. There is a story about St. Francis – it is about gossip, but it could be about any of the sins of the tongue – mean words, put-downs, shut-downs.

A woman went to St. Francis of Assisi and asked what she had to do to be forgiven for her gossiping. St. Francis told her to take feathers and place one at the doorstep of everyone she had spoken ill of in the town. She did so and returned to the wise saint. Francis told her to then go and retrieve all the feathers. When she attempted to do so, they were all gone. By that time the feathers were scattered all around town. Once again, she returned to St. Francis and told him about the feathers. He said to her: You wish to repent and be forgiven of your sin. Good. But the damage of your words is done and can not be taken back.

Oh, those feathers cannot be taken back. How many of us have had that sinking feeling – haven’t said something that can’t be taken back – that will ripple out, and not in a good way. That’s me – that’s me that James is talking about. You see, right after my ‘tongue fire’ – I immediately started to defend myself, even to myself. I did not want to listen to the scriptures, right there in front of me. I wanted to be right. I was in denial of my sin – I wanted to be right. “But, but, but, I was right, I had reasons.”

James says that our disputes begin because we covet what we don’t have. That doesn’t just mean physical objects – things are not at the heart of many of our disputes. What we covet, too often, is control, power, getting everything just right, having it my way.

And a lot of times, we have very good reasons for wanting things just so. But we let our desire to do things right take over, and we sin. We are not just control freaks, we are sinners. We hurt others. We impede the word of God. And it affects not just us, but many others – remember the feathers.
Look again at Jesus’ interactions with his disciples in today’s lesson. The disciples are arguing among themselves.

They were arguing about who was greatest! Who was the best – what, disciple? follower? I’m more humble than you? Ironic isn’t it. Really, I suspect they were arguing about who was right. Not really about righteousness in God’s eyes - but about which one of them was going to be in control. Who was right? That was just the problem I had.

And Jesus looks at them with sorrow. With sighing. With clarity that no, they don’t get it yet. And Jesus wants them to understand what the kingdom looks like,
that the kingdom, this process of living in God’s grace,
under God’s forgiveness, with God’s approval
– that the kingdom does not look like the human desire to be right.
To be the greatest, to be in control, remember what James says – is to covet what you don’t have. And that’s the core of this sin.

And Jesus, to make his point – takes the most wayward creature he can find – and says: This is what the kingdom looks like. At this point I realize that Jesus takes a little child – not because children are innocent, not because they are sweet, not because they are fragile – he points to the little child and says “Welcome him” because that child knows nothing about being the greatest, and nothing about being in control.

Can you tell that newborn to sleep through the night? Can you stop that toddler from putting that rock in his mouth? Can you stop that three year old from having the huge, shrieking, drop to the floor meltdown? Uh-un. A child is the loose cannon in our lives, the ultimate destroyer of our plans. A child can make all of us look ridiculous.

That is what the kingdom looks like. And we’ve missed it over and over again. One of our greatest sins, as I demonstrated through my stupid words last week, is that we think the kingdom is about adults being right, about our own desire to set everything up and make it go perfectly.

Jesus will have no ‘buts, I was right’ to excuse our rudeness, our disputes, our uncharitable treatment of our neighbor. The kingdom is not about being greatest, or about being righteous because of what we do, or about being right.

My newest friend is named Paulina and she is 4. I met her when I taught the pre-schoolers during Vacation Bible School this summer. Paulina sees me as her teacher, and she delights in me. She hugs me when she sees me and she wants to sit with me and talk to me and insisted I explore the church picnic with her. She thinks the world of me.

Jesus said, “Welcome the children”. It is not for her that he said that. She is full of light with me or without me. It is for me that Jesus said “Welcome the children.”

She is already bestows the grace of God when she accepts me. I am challenged by her eyes to be the person she thinks I am.
I am challenged by her affection to be a person who is motivated by love, not by the need to be right. I ask for the the grace to be the good person she thinks I am. That grace is in Jesus alone.

May we all learn to drop need to be right, the need to be the greatest so that Christ can work in us.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday at last

Saturday at last, because it's been a full week. Some good things on the horizon - a lovely afternoon, the hard sermon is done. Hard for me personally, because I'm being vulnerable, but I don't want my message to be about me, but about how scripture works to convict and free all of us.

But still beautiful fall weather, so this p.m. I'll make a pear pie and trim the garden. Grill out. Tomorrow we've made a date to see the Harry Potter movie in the theater.

I have a strong desire to play with colors, so I'll organize all the drawing and painting things together today, and take some time to play. It's my newest form of personal expression and spirituality, I've decided.

The son has been in contact, after 2 1/2 weeks without answering my phone calls. I guess I'm forgiven. He's had bad eye inflammation and needed some home remedies. We will need to see how well Badger Care Plus works - I'm just grateful for that 'public option.'

Monday, September 14, 2009

beautiful day, internal not so

We had a beautiful day for our church/neighborhood picnic. From what I saw and heard, the picnic was smooth, lots and lots of people got fed and lots and lots of kids played hard.

I did some stupid stuff in church, and since the lessons - about the tongue, and wisdom, from James, and being like a child, from Mark, convict me, will deal with that this week.

Sometimes I wonder -
Just exactly what does it take to retire at 55?


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

too quiet

It's quiet. Too quiet. It's Tuesday morning and other people are working hard on their program starting. I see that I have about 4 different lesson preps, but none of them need to be done until next week. I'm not preaching this weekend.

The phone is quiet. It's beautiful outside and I'm considering going off to the library and hiding there. This is just too weird. I usually have more to do than I can put on a to-do list.

Goodness, maybe I'm supposed to study!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

a heart for mercy - Proper 18

A heart for mercy - Proper 18B, Sept. 6, 2009

(It’s the end of summer. It’s time to relax – that’s exactly what we find Jesus trying to do). After arguing with the Jewish intelligentsia about what constituted true religion - we find that Jesus has been traveling, and he’s hiding out in a non-Jewish city. Maybe he has friends there, and just wants to have a quiet afternoon on the terrace with a glass of wine and some olives and good conversation. Then, he’s interrupted. Again. This time it’s not a good Jewish person – not the leader of the synagogue, or a worthy grieving widow, or a faithful follower of the law.

This woman might have been an outsider, but somehow she had heard of Jesus – and for whatever reason – knowledge of what he had said and done, rumor, belief in magic - she sought him out. She saw God's power at work in Jesus, and so she asked him to help her daughter. But Jesus answered her in a shocking way. He said, "You must let the children have all they want first. It is not right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." (Phillips)

But the woman challenges Jesus. Like the persistent neighbor, she will not leave "no" alone. She said, "Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat what the children leave." I suspect there was silence then. A long pause. Then something changed - something clicked because Jesus said, "For saying that, you may go the demon has left your daughter." And the woman returned home and discovered that her daughter was well. Jesus had heeded her request.

That’s the first story – the second also takes place in a non-Jewish area, in the region of the Ten Cities founded by the Greeks and populated with all the diversity of the empire. Here Jesus is presented with a man who cannot hear, and cannot speak. With great compassion, he gives him hearing and speech. The news of this goes far and wide – it cannot be stopped.

We may be uncomfortable about how Jesus treats that woman – refusing help at first. If we think about what Jesus had just gone through – we can open up the story for ourselves at this point. Jesus had just had a conversation with the Pharisees in which he declared that is wasn’t what someone ate that made them ‘unclean’ – unwelcome in God’s sight, but it was what came from a person’s heart – the violations of the basic law of God: “fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

So on one day Jesus is claiming that it will not be slavish adherence to the traditions of old that will draw God’s approval – and by extension – the opposite must hold true – that a faithful, confessing heart will draw God’s mercy.

And now, before him stands one who has no claim of true and correct religious observance – but who is in need.

That’s the kicker. She’s in need. She has sought out Jesus, and kneels in front of him – without any claim to being part of the right religion, the right ethnic group, the right party, the right gender, social class, or even the friend of a friend. Her only claim is this – that the one she loves is in need. At this moment – even Jesus sees that the argument goes both ways – God’s gift flows to where it is needed.

God’s gift flows to where it is needed. Healing comes to the broken places, to the wounds, the scars. It is in those places – where our own efforts just don’t cut it – that the balm in Gilead works.
It is in, and for, the broken marriages,
in and for, the painful distance between a parent and child who is in the far country,
it is in, and for, the terrible news that cancer has a foothold,
it is in, and for, the failing eyes and body.

And whether we’ve kept the rules or not, whether we’ve been a pew warmer or council president, or a Christmas and Easter Christian – the healing flows to our need. Whether we’ve followed the laws to the letter or had much we are ashamed of - the heart of mercy – of Jesus’ mercy – is there for our need.

The healing is there – for those who are in need. It may not look like the healing from Isaiah – it may not look like the Lame leaping like deer, the Deaf Hearing symphonies, songs of joy from the voiceless – not always. But it will look like the actions that happened once Jesus healed. The man who received his hearing and his friends could not stop speaking about Jesus. He does all things well.

The healing may look a lot more like living with the brokenness in your life with a new attitude. The healing may look like working with your doctor to manage your condition. The healing may look a lot like drawing boundaries with that difficult person in your life – and knowing you are strong enough keep those promises.

The healing may look a lot like our brokenness, but with this difference – God knows. God loves. God supports. God works in us. In the broken places, we become strong. We find ways to sing for joy even when scarred, even if we aren’t perfectly robustly restored.

I love Jason Gray and his music – he’s that young man from Minnesota who had the concert here last year – and he now has a new album out. He talks – quite openly – about how God works through his weaknesses, through his brokenness, through his defects. Show video.

Like the man in our second story – Jason cannot stop speaking about the powerful love of God – and how that loving grace works through the broken places, through the weaknesses, through exactly that thing we struggle the most with.

Be opened, Jesus told the deaf man – and he was. And despite Jesus’ request not to speak about it – he had to, and his friends had to – and they told all around that ‘Jesus does all things well.” I suspect the Syrophoenician woman did too. He does all things well – his heart is full for grace and mercy – his love open to all who come in need. Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Glorious Blueberry Shawl

I started a new craft - dying yarn. And my first yarn was multicolored mohair. (Mohair was a mistake). But the colors were so pretty - very dark midnight blue, sapphire blue, sky blue, light sky blue, pale rose & rose.

Now I'm knitting it up in a simple pattern with BEADS!

Pictures forthcoming.

blogging or not

I haven't kept up with the gratitude posts - mostly because I couldn't think of things when the page was blank.

The news from the Church-wide assembly bothered me a lot. I will be one of those conscience-bound pastors - not necessarily for the same reasons as others - and yes, it is affecting the local ministry in churches like mine.

I am still dealing with ego issues with staff at work. Crazy making conversations, being caught in the hall before worship for decisions, and then being told I was not helpful - in other words things are just about as difficult as they were at the beginning of the summer.

I have spent time in reflection about my ministry, and don't have clear resolution yet. The third-party colleague group I hoped to sign up for hasn't materialized. I'm still not gettting out of my shell and away from my desk enough.

And the fall/winter/spring schedule starts. The only clarity is that I have decided to take a class with NAMI on Thursday evenings and have cleared my calendar from anything but wedding rehearsals.

At least I can do that for myself.