Sunday, February 26, 2017

Year A Last Sunday of Epiphany 2017 "Lamp for a Dark Road"

Year A Last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration, 26 February 2017
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA
“A Lamp for a Dark Road”

One of the interesting things about growing up and having kids is that I have learned where I stand in the world. When my mom comes to visit, she hugs and kisses my girls first, and somewhere along the way she says hi to me.

It may sound like a complaint, but yet, it’s not. There are my precious ones, my beloveds, and when my mom showers them with love, and affection, and too often presents, it warms my heart. I love them more than myself. It makes me glad when those I love adore the same ones I adore.

And today we look at our beloved Jesus. The Beloved. Ho Agapetos. The word used here in the Transfiguration is the same word we hear from God at Jesus’ baptism. The Beloved.

And we know from where the story goes that we are the Beloved of Jesus, so much so that he gladly gave his life for any of us, for all of us.

This story is told in three of the four Gospels. The synoptic Gospels, the three from the “same view.” Matthew, Mark and Luke. They follow the similar structure. Jesus asks his apostles, “Who do they say that I am?” And Peter, the loudmouth that speaks first and acts later declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Soon after this event, we reach the pinnacle of Jesus’ adoration, when he is recognized by God as being his Son, the Messiah, THE Beloved.

Jesus took his intimates, Peter, James and John with him up the mountain to pray.  And notice, when he prays, God shows up. (Side note: I believe when any of us pray, God shows up. We just may not be attuned to what that looks like.) The Transfiguration is one of my favorite stories. It is a favorite for many reasons. It lifts up Jesus. He is more than a prophet; he is more than a Rabbi (teacher); he is more than a commentator on the Law (someone who does Midrash). He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One, the Beloved. In all of time and history it is abundantly clear that this is the pinnacle of what being a human can be. The title “the Son of Man” is exactly that, the Quintessential Human, the capital-H capital-O Human One as the Contemporary English Bible translates that title “Son of Man.” And as we prayed today, it was on this mount that we have his glory revealed.

Now I am going to get a little science-y here for a minute, so stay with me if you would like. Or if you don’t want to get a little cross-eyed, check out for about thirty seconds, well to be honest,  two minutes. One thing that I hold onto, is that as we learn more and more about the nature of time in Physics, the Transfiguration makes more and more sense. Time is not a string, going from the beginning to the end, pulled taut and we are trapped in this tube that only travels in one direction. More and more in advanced physics we see that time is just another dimension just like height, width and depth, our normal 3. Time is the fourth dimension, and if we could see it, it is less like a taut string than it is bowl of spaghetti consisting of one REALLY LONG noodle.

When I read this story, I like to think that Jesus went up to pray, and God shows up. And Moses shows up. And Elijah shows up. Now if we read it in a traditional sense, Moses and Elijah come back from heaven to celebrate and uphold the Son. Symbolically this works well. Moses is the embodiment of the LAW, the Law Incarnate. And Elijah is the quintessential prophet, boldly declaring God’s word no matter the cost. And Jesus came to fulfill both the LAW and the PROPHETS, he even said as much. (Matthew 5:17) And from all of my sermons, especially last week, you know how I see Jesus, the embodiment of GRACE. Only Grace can fulfill both the Law and the Prophets. That is our traditional view. And I am fine with that view, too!

But what if we filter the Transfiguration through a different view. What if Jesus is praying and Moses and Elijah show up? And what if Moses was praying and Elijah and Jesus showed up? And what if Elijah was praying and Moses and Jesus showed up? In fact, we are given details about profound times of prayer of Moses on Sinai and Elijah on Horeb. But they did not have witnesses to give the details. What if in these intense moments of prayer they were given a vision, Moses of the future of his people he helped deliver, how they would rebel, but that through them the whole world would be redeemed. Or Elijah, while fleeing Ahab and Jezebel, while hiding in the cave the still small voice pointed to where they came from, and though the times seem dark at the moment, where they will go. And Jesus, he gets to see the path of God from Law through Prophets to Grace, and was comforted and affirmed especially before he turns his face to Jerusalem and his imminent persecution, death, and resurrection. In fact, in the synoptics Gospels, it is after this that he begins the predictions of his passion.

If that was too science-fiction-y, I apologize, but I have always been fascinated by this story and its implications. But maybe I watched too much Star Trek growing up.

From our Epistle, we have the words of an eye witness to Christ’s glory, Peter.
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
You see, even Peter, holds this time close, especially when the days are dark. He has seen and heard and knows deep down the rest of the story. When we know the rest of the story we can be brave in the scary parts. When we know the rest of the story, we can be a comfort to those overwhelmed in the moment.

Sometimes I will show my daughters a movie that would be too much for them to watch on their own. I will say to them, there are some parts of this story that will be scary for you, but trust me. I would not show you anything that is not worth watching, and I would not show you more than you can handle. And they do. They may snuggle close on the sofa, or hold my hand, or ask me if I am sure it is okay. That is normal and healthy to question, when their senses and what they know to be true is being threatened. But they also know they can trust me. Jesus, the Beloved, was given this affirmation before he had to face what was to come. Peter, James and John were as well.  They were sworn to secrecy until the fulfillment of the resurrection came to pass, but in that way they could affirm that what was said was true. As Peter put it,
“You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
Remember this as we, like Christ, turn our faces to Jerusalem. The road before us, this Holy Lent, is not an easy one.

Lent begins this Wednesday, and we use it as a time of reflection and repentance in preparation of Easter. It is not accidental that the lectionary has Transfiguration as the final Sunday before Lent begins. We have this reminder, this “lamp” as Peter called it. I have spoken before about going caving in my younger days, and when you go into those dark places, we do so always looking back to remember where the light is, and so we know we are on the right path, and our way home when the time comes.

I started today talking about how I know where I stand when my mom comes over to visit. After Peter’s Confession that Jesus is the Messiah, what if that was the trigger? “Okay, they have this. They are ready.” So Jesus took his leaders away to retreat, as we would call it. And they prayed. And Jesus got a reminder of where he stood in the world. Jesus got a reminder of who he was. He was the God’s own, “the Son, the Beloved.” And that is when he turned his face to die. Let us not mince words, for that is what Jerusalem was. Death. He repeatedly told his disciples along the way. The Son of Man, the quintessential Human, had one purpose. To love us all so much, even to the point of death.

When my mom comes over she loves me by loving my kids. When Christ came, he showed God how much he loved him by loving us so much and God shows how much love God has by sending the Beloved. John puts it this way:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You see, this event, the Transfiguration, was the turning point where the Teacher becomes the Martyr, the Son becomes the Savior. We are given this “lamp” so that we can see where Jesus stands in the world, where we stand in this dark, dark world. Let this light shine. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Year A Epiphany 7 2017 "Be Ye Therefore GROWN UP"

Year A 7th Sunday of Epiphany 19 Feb 2017
“Be Ye Therefore Grown-Up”
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

Lectionary Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23, Matthew 5:38-48

I am going to start at the end, so that it makes sense. The job of a preacher is to teach and explain the faith in such a way that it is do-able by the people of God. And the last verse I read today is impossible, and Bishop Ted said as much in his wonderful explanation of the Baptismal Covenant last week.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters will argue me on this, but perfection is unattainable. I can be honest before you that I am not perfect. I never will be, not on this side of heaven anyway. And it is a hard thing even consider. It is not that I want my faults, nor do I flaunt them. But almost weekly we pray in the Confession of Sin (which I want you to notice we include almost weekly for a reason),
“we confess that we have sinned against you [God]
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

That is a lot of ways of missing the mark, and that is what sin is, when we miss the mark that God set for us. Then why does Jesus call us to perfection? I am not playing word games here, or looking for an out clause, but I painting a picture that what Jesus calls us toward is not only do-able, but also desired by Christ. And here the translation gets in the way. While this word may be acceptable translation, I think the baggage that comes with “perfect” outweighs the benefits of using it.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word perfect here is τέλειοι (teleioi). And while you may not know Greek, you do know the prefix tele-. We use it all the time. Tele-phone. Tele-graph. Tele-kinesis. Tele-pathy. Tele- is the Greek word for distance, or far. We are called by Christ to have gone the distance, to go the full measure. We are called to be complete, whole, finished. In other words, we are called to be mature, or in colloquial, GROWN UP.

We are all under enough pressure to be perfect as it is. So, for today, let’s translate that verse, “Be GROWN UP, like your heavenly Father is GROWN UP.” Can we agree on that?

One of my favorite movies is a little known, little watched sleeper of a film about golf. I am not a golfer, but it is as philosophical as movie as could be, even though a comedy. The movie is called Tin Cup. It is a Greek myth wrapped up as a quirky sports flick with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo in the leads. Like I said, it is one of my all time favorites. At the very beginning Costner’s character is a golf pro giving Rene Russo a golf lesson, her first, and he is trying to teach her how to swing the golf club. The first part of his stroke, as he teaches, is to “Give a nod to the gods, that perfection is unattainable.” This sounds to be the exact opposite of the instructions of Christ, and if both are taken literally they would be.

But Tin Cup in the movie and Jesus here in the Sermon on the Mount, are both stopping to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.The verse “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” is aspirational, and “Give a nod to the gods, that perfection is unattainable.” is an acknowledgement. But both the aspirational and the acknowledgement are calling us to be our best, the best that we can be. Nothing less, with the understanding also that we can be nothing more.

Sometimes, at “bad-dad” moments, I tell my daughters to grow up. I am calling them to behave better, and even though they cannot literally grow up, I am setting before them the goal of living up to the best of their ability to the fullness of maturity. I do this in the full recognition that they are 10 and 11, and sometimes I call them to do their best to be a little bit more.

So does God. And we are always wondering what is enough.

In our lectionary readings, we look at list or rules in Leviticus 19, several of them echoed in the 10 Commandments. It even starts much the way Jesus in today’s Gospel finishes. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” God is calling us to our best selves. Holy here meaning set apart.

And if you look at the rules given here, it is calling God’s people to go the extra mile. And even that phrase, extra mile, that rolled off my tongue so quickly is from today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus tells us to go the extra mile when we are forced to go one, we are to go two. In Roman times a Roman soldier could force anyone to carry his sack one mile. It was a common practice among the occupied territories, and was in no way metaphorical to Jesus’ listeners. Jesus is calling us to be better than our enemies, or those who may be more powerful or influential than us. He is calling us to be the bigger person in any and every situation. He is calling us to be the Ethical Adult in the room, especially when those around us are behaving like Immature Children.

I was having coffee with a young woman who was upset over a situation last week. As she described it, I could hear where it was going. An older person at work was acting in a way that she found immoral or unethical, and against her deepest feelings and beliefs. This person with whom she was in conflict was old enough to be her parent, and I think this is what was burning her up even more. After hearing her for a while she said, “Why is it I have to change? Why do I have to be the bigger person?” She did not say it, but it was almost like she was complaining, “She is old enough to be my mom! Why do I have to be the Grown Up?!?!” She did not go there, but I almost expected her to say, “It’s NOT FAIR!” And no, it's not fair, but it is what it is. I was encouraging her to see herself in a bigger role, a bigger sense of self which is always hard. C.S. Lewis reminds us in Mere Christianity, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…” And yet, that is where God is calling us. Forgiveness. And God is calling us to be bigger, and behave better, than those around us, even when, especially when, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We are the Non-Anxious Presence when everything else is falling apart.

And Jesus systematically calls us to that better self, and he does it in such a way that is simple and clear.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.

Now this is hard to hear, especially in a country that celebrates the idea and mythos of the self-made person. Jesus is quoting here the law from Moses. And the law was meant to be a just and respectable law. It was made to make things FAIR and JUST.

It is human nature, pinch me, I slap you. I slap you, you hit me. You hit me, I punch you. And so it goes. We escalate and escalate thinking it will end, but like we learned in the movie WarGames, “The only way to win is not to play.” Moses said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth to prevent escalation. Like for like. No more, no less. MAKE IT FAIR AND JUST. But as Gandhi taught, if we obey an eye for an eye it leaves the whole world blind. Jesus calls us to stop it; he calls us not to escalation but to forgiveness. He is calling us to a new law, a law not of Justice and Fairness, but a law of GRACE.

Jesus said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

These instructions are the how-to of Grace. Get slapped, show forgiveness and love. Someone takes your cloak, give him more. If a Roman soldier, following “fair and just” Roman laws, then obey the law and return the unjustness with Love. That second mile he instructs here is what Grace looks like.

So that we are on the same page, Grace is an undeserved, unexpected gift that is beyond what one deserves. It is beyond being nice or polite. It is always a surprise. It is always amazing. It is the type of love we receive from God, most manifest in Jesus the Christ, God’s only Son. It is what Jesus is calling us to here. That is the only way that things like the following are possible.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven...”

This calling is NOT FAIR, as my friend the young woman tried to express when I was speaking with her. Grace is not fair, by definition. If it was FAIR, it would be JUSTICE, not GRACE. Going further, Jesus gives us an image of GRACE as drawn by God in ways that we all can see.

“...for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect τέλειοι (teleioi), therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Be GROWN UP, mature, whole, complete in your faith, just like Jesus, just like God is GROWN UP, mature, whole, complete. Jesus went the distance and asks that of us as well. We are called to a high calling, to love this world, even to the point of death. And in loving the world like that, people say and give glory to our Father in Heaven because love like that does not come from here. Even a blind man can see that.

If you look at the whole of the Sermon on Mount, one of my favorite authors looks to it as “a Curriculum for Christlikeness.” [Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy] And I would argue that we have to get past the point of where we have to think about it.

In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi had young Daniel paint the fence, up, down, up, down, up down. He had him wax the car, wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off. Over and over again. He had to get the motions and moves down so completely that it was ingrained and intuitive. Coaches have students do drills where the athletes can, and do, do them in their sleep. Have you ever wondered how a receiver can stop running, catch a pass, dodge the defense, and get both feet in bounds all within milliseconds of each other? I do. And then I remind myself that he has done it 10,000 times. It has to move from head knowledge, to heart knowledge, to muscle memory. It ceases to be a thing we do, and becomes WHO WE ARE.

There is a phrase from the Asaro Tribe of Indonesia, "Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle." And that is the call of Christ, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It has to move from head knowledge, to heart knowledge, to muscle memory. It ceases to be a thing we do, and becomes WHO WE ARE. Until GRACE becomes us, it is just a rumor.

Be ye therefore GROWN UP. Love and live in such a way that GRACE is more than the rule. GRACE is WHO WE ARE. And when we do, we just might be perfect, perfectly what this world needs. Amen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Third Year's The Charm

On the third anniversary of my priesting, I decided to put some words to my thoughts.

I am more affirmed in my faith and in my calling when I took my vows. The closest thing I can liken it to is marriage. When I got married, oh my we were so young, I thought I knew what I was doing and what I was promising. I said the words in good faith, and meant them then and now. My priestly vows were/are much the same. It is in the walking that the path is revealed, says a wise friend, and this could not be more true in my ministry as an Episcopal priest. Looking back, this long meandering route has been the point of this life for me. I love Jesus more today than three years ago when I was priested, and I love Jesus more than when I was baptized 37 years ago. Little did I realize where the path would lead. I have often said that the flashlight of faith only shines backward, and I think it is for our sanity's sake. If you had told me 10 years ago where I would be, or 20, or 30 years ago I could not have imagined it, and may have worked to derail it. But when I look with the eyes of faith of where I have been, I could only squint into the murkiness of the days ahead seeing how clear the path behind me has been. It did not seem so at the time(s) of worry, but quoting another wise one, "Wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now." 

But, as I get more and more these days, what are you going to do? I was ordained by Bishop Shannon at St. Thomas' in Richmond, and had a good ministry there until they lay me off at the end of July. It was not a response to my work or ethic. It was a financial reality that has taken a real toll on my family. My commitment to and care for them could not be returned, at least not employment-wise. And that is worrisome. The shape of ministry and employment of "professional Christians" is changing drastically. More and more congregations and ministers will have to be creative and make hard choices about who they hire for what. I have applied for many jobs, both rectors and assistants. And for a variety of reasons I have not been the right fit. That is always hard to hear. But once again, as I look back, the same God who called us down this path and was there before will be with us ahead in the future wherever the path may lead. 

I have preached more regularly and celebrated more often in my "intermission" than when I was full-time with a parish. I have been influential in dreams and visioning with leaders and bishops when I maintain no official "status" by a paid role, but I am still fortunate and blessed that my insights and ideas still being considered. Two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a prominent bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the next morning to have breakfast with the CEO of a national faith-oriented non-profit, and still wonder where I could get a cheap lunch. Laughable, humbling, and real, oh so real. 

As we look ahead, I am still applying and praying about our next call. I am intricately intertwined with the Diocese of Virginia having many leadership roles that I long to continue and live out the commitments I have made. Leaving the area and state would make these commitments impossible. I have been reached out to by many friends and our bishops with affirming words and shared frustration about the processes as they have gone. Steph is soon able to share some great news that we have had to keep quiet about that explains a lot of why we have been working so hard to stay in greater RVA. All that being said, please keep our next steps in your prayers. The last 13 months have been anxious since we learned that I was soon to be un(der)employed.

Would I still do it all over again? Yes. No question. Maybe next year we can look back and say, "Ah, I see why now." We will see. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Year A 5th Epiphany 2017 "God Flavors & God Colors"

Year A 5th Sunday of Epiphany, 5 February 2017
“Bringing Out the God-Flavors & God-Colors”
St. David’s Episcopal, Aylett, VA

Collect for 5th Sunday of Epiphany: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There is a delicate balance between being Good, and being a Goody-Goody. And there is an assumption if one is open to any and everybody, that “anything goes.” This is where we get those really hard, and almost impossible verses, like “Love your enemy.” Or, “Be angry, but sin not.” And, “Do good to those that hate you.” Much easier said than done.

And here is the rub. It is hard to be loving and open to any and all, while maintaining a personal ethic that is at the highest of standards. Often we are seen as guilty by association. Or judgmental prudes that are too rigid to be trusted. Jesus even got accused of being too impious hanging out with tax collectors and known sinners. (e.g. Mark 2:15-17)

The problem lies with assumptions. People make assumptions. We all do. We do it for safety. We do it for sanity. The world is big and can be scary. Whenever we encounter the other, we have been conditioned through millennia to be cautious as a species. That’s why the joke is funny, the one that goes, “Too many men’s last words are, ‘Hey, watch this!’” We have been conditioned to be cautious.

And while our cautiousness had led to hesitancy, it has also led us to laziness in dealing with difference. We assume we know things, and can make mental short cuts.

Remember, I was a Baptist pastor for a very long time. That has a certain set of assumptions that went with it. It was funny to hear of many who thought I was automatically with them, and sad to see many who assumed that I was against them. It has not changed when I go out in my collar most days. There are people who jump to many conclusions, for good or bad.

One time Steph and I were in going through a McDonald’s drive-thru because the kids were about an hour past hungry. So we thought we would grab some cheeseburgers for their sake (and our sanity). While trapped in the lane to pay and get our food, the people in the car in front of us suddenly get into quite a commotion looking back, pointing and laughing. That day all of my Anglican collared shirts, the ones that go all the way around were dirty, so I grabbed a Roman collar, the little tab ones I usually save for the summer because they are so much cooler. So it looked like, to the young people in the car in front of us that I was a Catholic priest, breaking my vows and out with my “girlfriend.” They got quite worked up about it. Hypocrisy is either infuriating or hilarious, it seems. They made assumptions. Like I said we all do.

In the Sermon on the Mount, I really feel like Jesus is giving us an instruction manual on his way of connecting with God, and living the best life we can on this earth. And it is a balancing act.

Last week we looked at the Beatitudes, as a bold statement declaring that anyone can get in on the Kingdom of God, even if you are shy, grieving, hurting, or a “loser” by this world’s standards.

This week, after he declared what it took to get in on the goodness, Jesus declares what this Kingdom will look like.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
What wonderful analogies! Salt of the earth, light of the world. And how are we these things? By being of service to others! The salt is used to flavor the very essence of life, food, what we consume to survive. Another way of putting it, we make this life worth living, or should. Our influence makes all the difference, and it makes the parts of life that are unpalatable bearable. We are the light that fills the house, the common oikos. The word for house here, oikos, is the Greek word that is the foundation for Economy, our common life and interaction. We are to be the part of life that helps make everything function, the grease for the gears, the light of the world. We are to be beneficial and functional, life-giving, needed and wanted.

Think, though, of the assumptions of those who would see themselves outside the church, and what assumptions do they make of us? What good do they see that we have brought to this life? So often they assume we are irrelevant snarky critics on the sidelines, who have their eyes so fixed on heaven that we are no earthly good.

Too often when I hear people who are outside the church, the nicest things they can say about us is that we are like Statler and Waldorf on the Muppets. Remember those two? The two old guys who were up in the balcony, lobbing insults and pointless one-liners to heckle the action. They are not needed, and while often laughable, what they say does not help or hurt, and often gets in the way. We are the Salt of the Earth, we are the Light of the World, not the Statler and Waldorf snarking on those that are getting things done.

Like I shared last week, especially when I teach and preach from the Sermon on the Mount, I love to look at Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation. Hear is how he translates this passage:

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

And this is where we get back to the rub, where I started. Because we are putting ourselves out there, making a difference in the world, we are a target. We don’t go to the right, keeping things from happening, or to the left running ahead and not caring about what we leave in the tracks. We plant ourselves firmly in the middle, remembering all the time that those in the middle of the road can get struck both ways. But that is exactly where I think Christ wants us, and that is why he gives us this warning, once again from The Message:

“Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete. I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama. God’s Law is more real and lasting than the stars in the sky and the ground at your feet. Long after stars burn out and earth wears out, God’s Law will be alive and working.
“Trivialize even the smallest item in God’s Law and you will only have trivialized yourself. But take it seriously, show the way for others, and you will find honor in the kingdom. Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won’t know the first thing about entering the kingdom.

[Note: normally would not put up a copyrighted image, but Boynton said on her Facebook feed, "Thank you for asking, and yes: Anyone here wanting to share this digitally, or use this as a profile picture, that's fine with me." Thank you, Sandra Boyton!]

There is a word I am hearing a lot these days. Hypocrisy. I hear it too often. The ironic part is that Jesus was the one that introduced it into our intellectual or philosophical vocabulary. The most common use of that word, is when someone is “acting” like someone or somethings they are truly not. Hypocrisy was a Greek word for “acting,” literally “Under” (hypo-) “Critique” (-crite). When someone does something on a stage they are “under criticism” or “under judgment” from all those viewing. An actor is one who steps out and declares, “Look at me!”  When we are hypocrites, we are “acting” like something we are not, and the whole world can see our “hypocrisy,” our acting.

This is where Jesus is getting to the point, we are saying that his way is The Way. And like we talked about last week, his way is Upside-Down to the rest of the World. And because of this, this is why it is so easy for Jesus and his followers to get slapped with the label of Hypocrite. Because we are a city on hill, when we let our light dim people see it, and they who notice are the first to let the Hypocrite label fly. The hard part is that it often can be true.

There is a rub there, we have to live with the Laws of God, without being legalistic. We have to live lives of purity, while wading through the muck. We have to leave the safety of the shore to reach those drowning in the undertow. This both/and is so much harder than the either/or. There is a prominent church here in Virginia, and one time the pastor got up and bragged that one could be born in a hospital sponsored by the church, go to schools founded from the church, live in neighborhood developments affiliated with the church, go to a college where the pastor is the president, spend one’s last days in a nursing home of the church, and then be buried in the church’s cemetery. When I heard this described, I had to ask, so when did you stop being the Church and become an exclusive Club? We are sent out, not called in. We are to make a difference, not fence ourselves in and stay safe. A boat may be safe in the harbor, but that is not what boats made to do. Neither are Christ’s followers. We are called to be in this Both/And existence, salt for what this world makes us swallow, light in darkened times. We are Upside-Down, and are called to remain so.

A friend of mine was protesting on Capitol Hill this week, arguing for her perspective. I won’t get into the politics, but what one of her fellow protesters struck me. One of the fellow protesters stopped her, because she (the fellow protester) was not part of the Church. She thanked my friend profusely for being a leader in the church and showing up. "The church needs to show up more!" she said. And when we are the Salt of the Earth, and the Light of the World we will show up more. We will show up, and we will be called out. We will be called Hypocrites and slandered and persecuted, and remember what Jesus said in the Beatitudes last week.
“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

The heavens rejoice when we master this life, getting our lives in order on the inside so we can make this world a bit more like heaven. We pray it every week, and we will in a few minutes. “On earth as it is in heaven.” Too often we put that work back on God instead of making it a call to arms. We are to be the Light of the World, the Salt of the Earth. We, like Christ, are to be about our Father’s business.
Two quotes to leave on this week. Bother were so good I could not pick.
"The Church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are not members."-Archbishop William Temple. We are blessed to be a blessing.

"In order for the light to be seen, we must be willing to go where the darkness exists, to engage and walk through it, so that, in time, the light can overcome it."-Charles James Cook, "Daily Feast, Year A." Let us not grow weary in doing good. God bless you on your mission this week! Amen.