Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mentor and the Mantle

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-15
You know the value of mentors if you have ever had a mentor in your life.  Whether that person was an intentional mentor or a person took up that role simply naturally that person played a significant role in your life.

My mentor was Mary.  We meet occasionally for Mexican food and to catch up on life.  Years ago, in 1992, Mary interviewed me for an educator’s job at the former YWCA of Eastern Fairfield County now the Center for Women & Families.  I had no experience but a heart for the work so on a wing and a prayer Mary hired me.  As she was wrapping the interview up she said, “Oh, how do you feel about training police officers?” 

I must have had a dazed look on my face because she followed that question with another, “How difficult can that be?”  That was not the last time that I was asked that question by Mary.  In fact, even today, it is one of the hallmarks of our relationship. 

Mary taught me many things: how to listen and educate; how to meet people where they are in life; how to use my creativity in unusual ways.  She also helped me to find my own unique voice since I had never spoken in front of a group.  Oh yes, she also showed me how to keep my cool in front of 40 police officers, with guns, who didn’t want to be at a mandated training for domestic violence.  Mary and I laughed mostly as I watched her lead and direct the YW. 

A mentor teaches by word and example and acts as a sounding board for those deeper issues that inevitably arise.  A mentor gives guidance and encouragement.  A mentor can be a friend.  A mentor is someone who will not give up on you because he or she sees the divine spark within you.

Elijah was a mentor to Elisha.  In the story of Elijah, he bests the prophets of Baal and then runs for his life and hides in a cave.  But in a still small voice God tells Elijah to get back to work.  That’s when he runs across Elisha plowing his field.  Elijah puts his mantle on Elisha indicating that now Elisha has been called to duty.  Elisha says goodbye to his family and becomes Elijah’s assistant.  This is about nine centuries before Jesus.  Elisha’s got a lot to learn.

Syria attacks Israel then Israel defeats the Syrians.  An unnamed prophet tells King Ahab that they’ll be attacked again.  Sure enough that happens and finally there is peace between Israel and Syria.  Ahab dies because he is hit with an arrow.  His son rises to power and for a brief time the kings of Judah and Israel get along.  So we pick up the scripture…

Not long before the LORD took Elijah up into heaven in a strong wind, Elijah and Elisha were leaving Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "The LORD wants me to go to Bethel, but you must stay here."  Elisha replied, "I swear by the living LORD and by your own life that I will stay with you no matter what!" And he went with Elijah to Bethel.  Elijah then said to Elisha, "Now the LORD wants me to go to the Jordan River, but you must stay here.” Elisha replied, "I swear by the living LORD and by your own life that I will never leave you!" So the two of them walked on together.

Fifty prophets followed Elijah and Elisha from Jericho, then stood at a distance and watched as the two men walked toward the river. When they got there, Elijah took off his mantle, then he rolled it up and struck the water with it. At once a path opened up through the river, and the two of them walked across on dry ground.

    After they had reached the other side, Elijah said, "Elisha, the LORD will soon take me away. What can I do for you before that happens?"

   Elisha answered, "Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets, so I can be the one who takes your place as their leader."

    "It won't be easy," Elijah answered. "It can happen only if you see me as I am being taken away."

Well so we see that Elijah tries his best to shake off Elisha but his devoted follower just wouldn’t take the hint.  Both Elijah and Elisha were active during a time when there were hundreds of other active prophets, ‘guilds’ you might call them.  And as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago if you were to align prophet activity with the geo-political world and the lifespan of Israel you would see high prophetic activity when the Ancient Near East was not at peace.  And, overall, this was not a time of peace so Elisha didn’t want to leave Elijah. 

Moreover, Elisha was not being greedy.  He was asking for the inheritance of a first born who always got a little more.  He wanted to be Elijah’s principle heir for prophetic power. But the request is difficult for a human to meet, this Elijah acknowledges.  He knows there is more at stake here than what he alone can provide.  Elijah, the wise prophet understands God’s almighty hand is involved in his abilities.

Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. Elisha saw this and shouted, "Israel's cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!" After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow. Elijah's mantle had fallen off, so Elisha picked it up and walked back to the Jordan River. He struck the water with the coat and wondered, "Will the LORD perform miracles for me as he did for Elijah?" As soon as Elisha did this, a dry path opened up through the water, and he walked across.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, comin’ for to carry me home”.  Up, up and away in a flaming chariot and Elijah was taken to heaven.  The prophetic legacy of Elijah has been passed now to Elisha in this miraculous succession.  The mantle, which had become the symbol of authority and power was no longer Elijah’s but was in the hands of Elisha.  The proverbial torch had been passed, the baton handed off. 

Now it’s up to Elisha.  As much as he wanted it he had a choice you know, to pick up the mantle or leave it.  But he did not shrink from his new calling. Elisha learned well and he used the mantle in the same way Elijah did and a miracle occurred.  The LORD was present and prepared Elisha to reach down and pick up the mantle off of that muddy riverbed at the Jordan.  He was equipped with what he needed to continue the work of YHWH (God) for the kings of Israel and Judah.

Isn’t that the way though?  God always prepares us for what is coming next in our life.  We may not see it at the time.  But when we reach a plateau as we always do, and we don’t know quite exactly what is coming next, we can take that opportunity to stop and look around.  Here we can look below to see where we have been, and who has helped us along the way. How God has been present-bidden or not.  The plateau is a breather.  So take a big exhalation!  And then take a big inhalation because here on the plateau our present is at hand to view and even perhaps our future is revealed.  And we don’t think that God pays attention! 

An acquaintance recently was telling me about her 30 year career at IBM before she retired.  She outlined every step along her career path telling me how God called her to one place in the organization so she could learn a new skill set for the next position she took at IBM.  Sometimes she had a mentor, other times not.  But after thirty years, which she says, flew by, she was satisfied with her work, the relationships that had been formed along the way and she was ever so thankful for the guidance and steadfast love of God who got her from one place to the next.  She had a choice you know and every time the mantle had been handed to her she took it.

We have a choice too. The courage to take that mantle is formed in relationship with God and our eagerness to embrace the unknown. People teach, help and encourage us along the way, these are the mentors of our lives. And the good ones know when to launch us into our future.  Elisha had no clue what was to evolve but he did take up that mantle and he was ready thanks to Elijah. He also, more importantly trusted that the Lord would do for him what the Lord did for Elijah.  And it was so.     

After the mentoring do not doubt that God isn’t there helping, preparing and guiding you along the way.  God is.  God gives us gifts and sends people to us from whom we can learn. 

What mantle do you yearn to pick up?  The mantle of justice?  The mantle of compassion?  The mantle of health and well being?  The mantle of Christian living?  The mantle of rest?  The mantle of love?  GO FOR IT!

Bidden or not, God is present (anon)
Bidden or not, the mantle lies before you.  The choice is up to you.

Amen and Amen.

Jesus Heals

Luke 8: 26-39
I don’t know why, but much of the spam that I receive is addressed to Sharon.  Sharon, we’ve got Russian brides ready to ship off to you.  Sharon, we’ve got a sale on ink and toner.  Sharon, have you considered ‘anatomy’ augmentation?  Sharon, I am stuck in West Ghana and I need your financial assistance. Please send me $10,000 USD and upon my release my vast wealth will all be yours. (Well that ones tempting especially because it lines out a real hardship case that plays upon my compassionate heart).

While I never click into the span email for fear of infecting my computer, I have to say it is rather humorous to read the headlines.  Sharon has one active life, much more exciting than mine!  But I am not Sharon. And how the scammers got my email address to send me all of these enticing emails, I dunno, I think it’s called hacking or some such thing. 

Suffice this all to say, they’ve got the wrong person. They are barking up the wrong tree.  I do not identify with Sharon in any way, or anything that she subscribes too.  It’s a case of potential stolen identity, and if completely stolen it would be in need of restoration.

Let’s now have a look at the Gerasene Demoniac from the Gospel of Luke the 8th chapter. I think there are some similarities that we might see as well as other valuable insight.

Then they arrived at the country of the Geresenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?

 I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

This. (period) ….as they say on Facebook when people want you to read what they’ve shared and reposted and has touched them in such a way.  This.  Well, this passage speaks to our inner anxieties, the cacophony of voices that we hear in our head, faith in the midst of crisis, restoration of identity and healing of the mind, body and spirit. So, this!!!  But it’s complex, so lets unpack it.

Just steps out of his little wooden boat that had been sailing on the Sea of Galilee on a sunny day; Jesus arrives on the other side of the sea in the country of the Gerasenes.  What the text doesn’t explicitly say is that this is Gentile territory, not necessarily a place that he, a Jew, would be seen.  But before all this happens we know that he has been out with his disciples sailing when he fell asleep and a huge storm blows up as they are want to do on that Sea.  The disciples were afraid and ask who is this person?  Come on, they’ve been with him for a while, they have been his chosen disciples, did they really have to ask who Jesus was?

But in this Gentile territory, where people are not his own, we are given the answer to their question from a demonic no less.  This person is ‘Jesus, Son of the Most High God’ when Legion addresses Jesus. 

So the dynamic of inclusion is already set.  Jesus is not recognized by his own but is recognized by the ‘other’.  When he steps foot on Gerasene soil he is stepping outside of the comfort zones of all who surround him, and he ministers to someone who is way beyond the norm of first century Judaism.  He crosses boundaries because it is important to his ministry of love and inclusion.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation, healing and love is for all people.

And that brings us to Legion.  This poor man.  Possessed with so many demons that he self identifies as ‘Legion’ because there are thousands of demons within him.  These thousands have taken away his identity.  A legion is approximately 5 thousand soldiers in the Roman army.  Legion was troubled and in need of serious healing, he had lost himself to the demons, hence he was very alone in his world.

He was homeless, living amongst the tombstones in a very dark place and when he saw Jesus he fell down before him.  And Jesus heals him, Jesus commands the demons to come out of Legion and to enter a herd of swine.  At this point Jesus is in conversation with the demons directly and the demons obey Jesus.  They come out of Legion and enter the swine that take their own lives.  That’s dramatic but necessary for Legion to regain his senses, his family, his place in society and ultimately his true self.

Then Legion asked to follow Jesus but instead Jesus tells him to go home and tell people what had happened to him.  And from that moment on the word about Jesus and his miraculous power of healing began to spread throughout the land.

Did you ever feel as if you had demons inside of you?  Have you ever felt, or have been overwhelmed by voices raging inside your head or around you? They are the things within you that you cannot seem to overcome, things that keep you stuck in one very shadowy, threatening place.  Things that keep you up at night, things that perhaps keep you from living a “normal” life.

 “I’m too fat, I’m too thin, I’m not smart enough, I don’t think the way others think, I’ve got a questionable past and no one will accept me, I know something is not right but I’m afraid to say something, I know something is wrong and I need the strength to talk about it.”  These voices can drive you to despair and ultimately denigrate your identity because they take away from the God given person that you are and chip away at your self-confidence.  These ‘demons’ are very real because they can take over your life and your thinking.  In fact you begin to identify more with the demons than who you are as a person.  When that happens it is easy to give up hope and lose sight of the restorative power of God through Jesus Christ.  But you have to stand firm.

With Legion these demons had a life of their own.  BUT when they encountered Jesus they knew they had to get out of Legion and they beg Jesus to send them to the swine. When Jesus orders them to leave Legion, they do!  Can you imagine the chaos of the demons leaving Legion and entering the pigs and the awful squealing and snorting they must have made.  But then the silence.   The silence of healing, the silence of God’s peace that passes all human understanding. 

It is said that Martin Luther, who although a great reformer struggled with many demons, when oppressed by the devil would take courage by shouting out, “I am baptized!”  He grounded himself in the saving power of Jesus Christ and in the power and confidence of his salvation.

We too have the power of the cross; we have, through this story, through Legion,
been shown that there is nothing too demonic, to evil, which can keep us down.  Those voices in your head do not have the last word!  You can declare that you are beloved and loved, saved and accepted for whom you are.  And you can get help; you do not have to do it alone.  May God’s healing love surround you this day and every day.  Amen.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

My Plans? What Plans?

Jeremiah 29:11
When I went off to college, I had no clue.  No clue what to take with me that would make me feel at home, no decorations, no posters or records (that’s what we had back in ancient days).  I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, no clue what I wanted to study, I just did the program and went off to college.  Going into this whole ordeal I wasn’t a scholar and didn’t have any aspirations to have a career.  I vaguely remember applying to the college along with one other and got into this one, so that’s where I went.

Now I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, a very large city.  I went to college in Fulton, a small town in the middle of ‘nowheresville’, Missouri.  I thought perhaps I had made a mistake when on one of the very first days I turned on the radio and all I could get were hog reports.  For those of you who don’t know, hog reports let you know how much hogs and pigs are selling for at market.   Let’s say my learning started from almost day one.  Yet even though I had no plans and no clue somehow I knew that everything would be ok - that I would somehow get through these years and figure it out.  And, well, I did.

There is one verse from the prophet Jeremiah that I have always loved and this simple verse is for our reflection today because I think it is apropos for graduates and anyone else along the journey of life who is in doubt or facing something entirely brand new in their lives.  Jeremiah 29:11:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

It’s comforting, right?  Simply said, God’s got your back, watching out for you because God knows, God cares and Gods plan for you is only goodness.

So let’s put this verse in context. If you were to take a look at a Biblical timeline that aligns the external and internal political movements of the Ancient Near East alongside of the prophetic collections of such as Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi and the rest in Judah (Israel) at the time, you will be quite surprised to see that prophets, or those called to speak on behalf of God, were the busiest during times of geopolitical unrest, makes sense right?  Such is the case with the prophet Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah was from the Southern kingdom of Judah (Ancient Palestine was divided into two kingdoms: to the North was Israel which had fallen 100 years earlier to the Assyrians and to the South was Judah).  After that Judah became a vassal state of Assyria.  But King Ashurbanipal, Assyria’s last powerful king, dies.  The Assyrian empire falls as does Judah and mighty Babylonia conquers most of the Ancient Near East. 

In 597 BCE Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the people were taken into exile.  So this is the political milieu that Jeremiah faced. Not great if you’re the prophet and your peeps are taken into exile even though you may have warned them.

Before the exile Jeremiah preached repentance because the people had wandered away from their ancestral faith.  He strongly encouraged them to return to it and to comply with the Babylonians – to avoid national destruction.  So, Jeremiah was not very well liked as you can imagine….telling them to just acquiesce to the oppressor!? 

Then, “the Lord saith” to Jeremiah once again (prophets never get a break) – sit down Jeremiah…write a letter….send it to the elders and priests who are in exile.  In this letter tell them now to settle in…build houses…have children…carry on with your lives….plant gardens and trees, it’s going to be a while before you can go home.   Not very encouraging. 

But then comes this verse, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”.   This passage gives comfort to a forlorn people, a people who really needed some hope.

God has plans for you.  That would comfort me if I were in exile, it would have comforted me in the cornfields of Missouri.  70 years is a long time to wait for restoration, it’s a long time to be in exile.  But that’s what happened to the people.

And during that time Jeremiah’s oracles changed; rather repentance he prophesied hope for the people.  He prophesied with expectation and anticipation that the people would once again faithfully follow God’s covenant because God has plans for them, big ones, ones that will be of great benefit to them, to bring them safety and contentment.

And God has plans for you too as you head off into the future, your future.  For all of us really.  Now don’t think that I’m preaching predestination…I am not.  I believe that we are co-creators in our lives that is, God gave us these beautiful and complex minds that can conquer and comprehend many wonders and things, if we put our mind to it, as they say.  That’s the beauty of God’s promise and plan – not to constrict us and bind us into a pre-determined route but to guide and release us to experience fully and express ourselves faithfully in our lifetime. 

It is kind of like God’s divine purpose of love dancing with human self-determination acknowledging our freedom of conscience and the good intentions of God.  They cannot be separated.  God’s plan for us is to live life as it happens to us, confidently trusting that God is for us, not against us and will prosper your future.

But… it doesn’t always happen that way.  We make mistakes.  We fritter away our time or get involved in other distracting things.  The part of my college journey that I didn’t tell you about was that after a year in Fulton at my tiny college I decided to go to the big University in Columbia, Missouri.  And, how can I say this?  I went to a few parties too many and a few classes too few.  I was not invited back the following year.

However by the graces of God keeping me on the path, the forgiveness of my mother, and a full semester at community college foregoing any summer plans that I may have had, I was able to return to my little college in Fulton, and my friends and of course resume listening to the hog reports.   

Oh that we all had the wisdom of Solomon to make the best choices possible for our lives at all times.  Oh that we could foresee into the future so that our lives and those around us would be lifted up to the highest and greatest potential.  Oh, if only we knew when to speak and when to keep silent there would be a whole lot less broken hearts and hatred in this world.

Well believe it, God’s got your back even when you mess up.  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Mistakes happen but so does redemption.

Graduates, this church loves you, remember that.  Although reluctantly, it’s time to let you go, to release you into this world to further your education.  And this you will certainly do, some of it will even come from books! Your future is before you and God is behind you charting your course for a future of hope and prosperity.

You see you need education, trust in God, and hope to get along in this world and to accomplish the wonderful things and attain the ideals that you hold today.  And you need the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent, when to act and when to listen, because there is a whole lot that can be gained by listening.  In the listening comes discernment and discernment sets your course for future.

Barbara Brown Taylor says in her book, ‘An Altar in the World’, “Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right.  Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails.”  That is wise discernment, it’s knowledge, and reflection peppered with all intentionality so that understanding will come.

God won’t ‘make’ everything go right, but if God is present in your mind you can discern the right path ahead of you.  With God in your heart you have everything you need as you start this new chapter in your life.

So how did my education turn out?  Just fine.  I graduated from William Woods College with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in Art.  And then, 19 years later God revealed a new path for me to take and I entered seminary at Andover Newton TheologicalSchool and did just fine earning a Master of Divinity degree.  So there.  Who knew?  God had plans for me after all.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Amen and Godspeed.

When Endings Happen

Luke 7: 11-17
It is inevitable that things, all manner and sorts of things will come to an end.  Birthday parties conclude.  Parades cease.  The music from your very first dance with the love of your life ends.  You scrape the bottom of a mayonnaise jar only to find that there is none left, not one trace. You’ve reached the end of that jar and you must chose another condiment for your sandwich because there are all sorts of possibilities when you’re out of mayo.

Endings come in all shapes and sizes, some with happy or relieved emotion and there are some very sad endings.  Such is the case or it would seem today as we reflect upon the story of the widow of Nain in the Gospel of Luke in our lectionary reading.

Jesus has called his first disciples and his Galilean ministry has begun.  People gather from faraway places to hear him, places like Judea and Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon.  They had all come to hear this Jesus fellow and maybe even to witness - or better yet to be a part of - one of his miraculous healings that they’ve heard about through the ancient pipeline. But then he comes to a grassy plain and begins to talk with them.  Like the Sermon on the Mount it is filled with blessings, woes and good council on how to live a life that is pleasing to God rather than Caesar.

And after he had finished all of this he began to walk on to Capernaum. He was making his way south when he happens upon a funeral procession.

Let us now hear the story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke the 7th chapter.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Imagine if you can, being with Jesus that day.  You’re walking in the sun of Galilee and the skies are a virgin Mary blue without a cloud.  It’s not too hot but it is a tad humid and the sunflowers are in full bloom.  The almond and fig trees are bearing their fruit.  He is talking and in the distance you see a funeral procession walking slowly from the home of the deceased to the burial cave.  His body had been lovingly prepared with spice and ointments, they are in no hurry and in fact the procession stops to make lamentation after all he was so young.

And Jesus is distracted from his discussion and he begins to focus in on a woman in the crowd of mourners and he had great compassion for her.  He singles her out from the crowd and walks up to her and speaks gently to her, don’t cry, do not weep.  You see she was a widow already and now, her only son had died.  She was now alone and she had everything to lose.  After that day she would be dispatched to the margins of their society and forgotten about. 
But Jesus we know has a kind heart, a heart filled with love and concern and compassion particularly for those on the fringes.  So he touches the bier of her son as the bearers stood watching.  I think the muted silence, except for a few weeping sounds, must have filled with wonder, fear, or maybe expectation.  What was he going to do going against all the purity ordinances of first century Judaism?  Well we know what he is doing.  He is performing a miracle.  He raises the son, he gives him another chance to live out his days taking care of his mother.

This is nothing short of a beautiful resurrection story - in fact a couple of resurrection stories - the way in which God intervenes when life seems to be at a very low point. In this story the widow of Nain and her son both received new life that day.  He from his premature death, and she from the stigma of being a social outcast.  We can assume that they both lived until a good ripe age when resurrection to eternal life becomes their reward.

I think that we, as a congregation, are at the crossroads of resurrection.  We have seen and lived together through many endings since I’ve been here.  And yet again we will need to awaken and stretch out our arms to embrace the new life, new energy, and new ideas that will come before us.  Sure we’ve been in the redevelopment mode and will continue to be until the work of redevelopment is finished whenever and however long that will take. 

But with Beth’s retirement we need to acknowledge that another significant ending is happening for us. And while this is a sad and bittersweet time, it also a time to pull out our Easter glasses and look through the lenses as a time of resurrection where new life will arise.  The relationship between Beth as the Youth Director for the congregation and youth is now transitioning into Beth our fellow congregant. And I know that will be hard. 

But it is a transition that is essential to Beth’s future and to ours.  The vows that we made before are an intentional way of releasing her fully into the future that God is calling her.  God is ‘doing a new thing’ with Beth (Isaiah 43:19) as the prophet Isaiah says.  Who are we to stand in their way?

For fifteen years Beth has guided our youth, many who are now adults.  She has led them into the bowels of this church playing games of Sardines and led some serious scavenger hunts unearthing history and quirks of the sanctuary.  She has baked many a cookie and pie and has sung many a carol with them shepherding them from one place to another.  She has instilled a thirst for justice and hope by taking them to Overlook Farm for Heifer Project and building homes at Habitat for Humanity.  She has accomplished much with our youth and has built a strong foundation for their future and strong foundations never crumble.   

It is this strong foundation from which she can move forward answering God’s new call upon her life and it is our strong foundation and her legacy from which we will also build a future for our youth.  It’s a win-win situation as far as I see it. 

And so we release Beth into her future, as the rabbi’s quote Psalm 84, she will go from ‘strength to strength’.  And we turn toward our future with anticipation and excitement because God is doing a new thing with us too.  We too will go from strength to strength.  As Jesus intervened at the funeral procession and brought forth life to the widow at Nain and her son, God will intervene for us when we think all is lost and God will help us to envision something brand spanking new.

When endings happen it’s not a bad thing.  In fact it’s a good thing!  So there’s no more mayo!!@#@$  There’s spinach, there’s cheese, there’s a fried egg, there’s Chilouli sauce, there's ketchup, there's mustard… why there’s even strawberry jam with Jalapeno. 

And let all the people say, Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

No Greater Love

John 15: 9-17

Fishing rod, baby photo, photos of a helicopter, “Proud Vet’s Wife” T-shirt, votive candle,
Two shot glasses, a Hank Williams Jr. tape…….
These are some of the items that have been brought and left at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC as noted by Kristin Ann Hass in her book, Carried To the Wall: American Memory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[i]

There are some who perish, and some who survive. This is inevitable when a society engages in war.  Whether there is victory or defeat in the war, suffering from the loss of life is great and there is an overwhelming need for a people to remember and pay tribute.  And the commemoration of fallen soldiers is the juncture at which the surviving must come, to reconcile the vestiges of political action and loved ones who perished.  It is a crossroad between public acknowledgment and personal intimate loss.

Therefore Memorial Day is a transcendent moment in time where our past, our present, and our future converge. And you thought it was just about parades and hot dogs.  Oh no!   It is a time when we mend together the pieces of our societal fabric that have been torn apart and frayed, into a quilt of hope that gathers us together as a union built upon freedom and liberty.  It is a time when, even if for only a few hours, patriotic and faithful men and women, buried for centuries are given a chance to live again.[ii]  So how we spend part of this day matters.

And we call upon God to consecrate this moment for it is sacred.  We honor and remember America’s war dead, those who have died in service to the United States of America within the collective memory of those who live.  History endows the present.

Cups and saucers, false teeth, flashlight, piggy bank, bottles, cigar boxes, toys, salt and pepper shakers, Pop Tarts, a Bible….
It is out of our Christian story that we can understand that cost and begin to make sense of it all. 
Let us hear now the words of Scripture from the Gospel of John the 15th chapter.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.

And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

No greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends and fellow travelers in the journey of life.  No greater love, not sacrifice – love – than to lay down your life.  To love in this way, for one’s fellow humans, and for God is a transformative act towards wholeness and healing in this God’s world that seems to have taken a turn for the worse.  To lay down one’s life is the ultimate expression of God’s commandment to love one another. 

No greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life.  What would laying down our lives look like in an absence of war context?  If we think together I’m sure that we can come up with some alternative ways in which we can lay down our lives for others while we are still living. In fact, I think it is the least that we can do for those whose lives have perished. But it takes getting outside of your comfort zone and offering, at the very least, a hand of friendship to those who are in need of relationship and God’s love.  And then beyond that it takes hard work and a willingness to go to unimaginable places where God is calling you to do justice and love kindness.

Christ didn’t come into this world to serve himself, far from it, he came into this world to serve others. And he did so by healing the bleeding woman, by curing blind Bartemeaus, by feeding 5,000 people on a moments notice, by being a friend, a confidant and a mentor to his disciples.  Ultimately he did give of his life so that others, you and me could enjoy life.  So that we may see each day anew with all of the promises that his resurrection offers and then to help others.  

So too, we, the church must follow his example.  The church is not about itself, it’s not about preserving the white steeples of the establishment but about rolling up our sleeves and serving others.  We don’t exist to make the green in Orange a prettier place (although we do) to have parades but we exist, through the grace of God, so that people might come and recognize that they may be free from that which keeps them from fulfilling their highest potential.

Free from prejudice, from hunger, or societal restraints.  Free from hatred and discrimination.  The church exists to show kindness in a world fraught with pain.  The Church begins with us fulfilling Christ’s mission.  Through my conversations with Pauline, and by reading her personal writings, I know that she was a faithful and strong believer and that she felt deeply about freedom and our country.  She was a woman of integrity and brutal honesty and we are the recipients of everything that she worked hard for and stood for.  And so we remember her today with love and with grateful hearts.  Why can’t we be more like Pauline in unselfish endeavors?

Texas A & M Class of ’64 button, cross, patch, medal with hate, crude metal peace sign, newspaper collage, Northwest Airlines ticket……
The war dead and the veteran’s who have died have shown their love, their compassion for life, their determination towards justice; they have understood and obeyed the commandment to love.  Just as God has loved us, they have taken to heart, through their commitment to and actions for our nation, and for the lives of many, that there is absolutely no greater love than to lay down their very life so that others may live.

And so we remember them today, Memorial Day.

And we stand in reverence at their memorials today not because they are beautiful piece of art but because it is a moving and transformative experience. We don’t go to the Vietnam memorial just to look, we go to be transformed.  Memorials bring death and life together, full circle, and invokes the respect for life and love of God.

War memorials, monuments, markers mean nothing unless we, the living, tend to their meaning.  Unless we clean off, and cut down the weeds that might grow around them, unless we decorate and remember those graves as the original intention of Decoration Day or Memorial Day calls for, then their death was meaningless.  These men and women have challenged us; and we must respond.

By naming the beloved items that people have brought to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Hass notes that it is a way for the mourners to articulate what life and death of their loved one meant for them.[iii]  “In some way, she says they are gifts.”  They hold communities and cultures together and are given to make, affirm, and uphold social bonds.  It creates mutual responsibility.[iv]  This is the challenge.

There is mutual responsibility and that is at all times we must remain vigilant in serving and helping one another in the name of others who have died even if it means losing and relinquishing personal interest.  And I know that is hard.    

No greater love than this, is to lay down one’s life for another.  Let us practice the love that Christ came into this world to show us. His life was not laid down in vain.  Let us thank those who have already laid down their life as we pick up the mantle of peace and walk forward confidently because of Christ’s ultimate love for us.

Bud can at 3W, bottle of Old English aftershave lotion, cigarette, dog tags, walnuts, funeral card for Airborne Ranger John Bradman, card Smile Jesus Loves you……

[i] Hass, Kristin Ann.  Carried to the Wall, University of California Press, Berkely, CA 1998.
[ii] Soloveichik, Meir Y. ‘The Jews of the American Revolution’ in the NY Times.  May 27, 2016.
[iii] Hass, Kristin Ann.  Carried to the Wall, University of California Press, Berkely, CA 1998. P. 2.
[iv] Ibid. p. 91.

Oh God of holy sacrifice and love we come before you today in great thanksgiving and hope.  As we pause to remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers and remember their service with gratitude, we remember our nation and the freedoms that we enjoy today.  Bless our efforts at peacemaking as we endeavor to make this a land of justice and hope. We also recall and remember when Christ intervenes for us with his sacrificial love when we can no longer bear the burdens of our lives.  Thanks be to you O God for remembering us and granting to us your healing balm of love. 

 Our hearts are full and so we bring our cares and concerns, our joys in life to you.  Hear us, bend your ear toward us now…

We pray for healing, for a balm to be upon those who are ill in body, mind or spirit we pray (mental illness, addiction)

We pray for consolation and the strength to believe in new life as we pray for those who mourn or grieve, we pray this day for the Jaensch family in the passing of Waltraud, may her memory be blessed with goodness.
We pray for our country and the men and women who currently serve in the armed forces.  For

And we pray in thanksgiving for the men and women veteran’s in this congregation and in this community, those whose service was an act of love for our country.

For the joy of new life in this world, newfound joy and energy renewed in the sound of a baby’s cry and coo we thank you. 

God in community, Holy in One       Amen.