Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Year B All Hallow's Eve WED 2018 Truly Scary

Year B All Hallow’s Eve WEDNESDAY, 31 October 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Truly Scary” 

Luke 11:37-52 
37 While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. 38 The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.” 45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” 46 And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. 48 So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” 

Happy All Hallow’s Eve. My daughter said she googled “Truly Scary Pumpkins” and one of the top hits was a pumpkin with the words, “Student Loans.” She did not get it. Luckily I have a few years to set her straight on that one before she takes any out. 
But Pharisees are a lot like Student Loans, seriously. They may look good from the outside, but the price they demand is far too steep. That was what Jesus was saying in his condemnation of the Pharisees and the Lawyers here in Luke. 

They were fixated on the Letter of the Law, and not the Spirit. Right now my oldest has come down with a raging case of puberty. She argues and fusses to argue and fuss. God bless her (and God help her if she keeps it up. Thankfully it has eased off in the last few weeks.) But she is so zeroed in on whatever it is that she is focused on that she cannot get out of her way. One time she argued with me because I agreed with her. 

As we are here together on this Hallow’s Eve when our forebears felt that the worlds were close, things tended toward the spooky. It is getting dark so early. It is getting so chilly in the night. Crops are in and the fields and the leaves go from green to brown, and we are reminded very clearly that like the sun, and the leaves, we too will go down and be no more. 

The Pharisees and Lawyers thought they could control and nit-pick their way into the Love of God, but their eyes were so fixed on heaven that they were no earthly good. If I have a repeated theme it is this. Grace. Grace. Grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us any less. (Thanks, Brennan Manning!)  

“Jesus, you did not wash your hands!” Can you just hear them whine? We all know of the needlers and busybodies who are so busy on the infraction we just had, that they missed the felonies of their own hearts. Washing your hands, or not, does not keep you from the love of God. As Jesus says elsewhere, it is not what goes into us that defiles us, it is what comes out.  

This week we have seen people at their worst. Saying that God’s love for one is greater, or more real, than God’s love for another. Hating fellow lovers of God, that is what is truly scary. When the prophet Samuel came to anoint one of the sons of Jesse, and he was as surprised as anyone when it turned about to be the runt David we are reminded how God sees things. “Man looks at the outward appearances, but God looks on the heart.” I Samuel 16:7 That is still true. 

There is nothing scarier than what can come out of the heart of humans, especially one who has justified their cruelty in the name of the Almighty. When we point a finger at anyone, it might be better when we notice all the ones on our own hand pointing back at us. Ghandi was accused because of his non-violent approach that he was not fighting injustice. He supposedly said, “Where there's injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is, do you fight to change things or to punish? For myself, I've found we're all such sinners, we should leave punishment to God.” As we continue to grow into our callings, spreading Grace and not judgment, may we remember that. Fight your own demons, even on Halloween, and leave the rest to God. Amen  

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Year B Proper 25 2018 Springing Up

Year B Proper 25, 28 October 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Springing Up” 
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Mark 10:46-52 
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 

You heard the scene. A man, a beggar, easily ignored and forgotten. But he had heard about this Jesus who was coming down the way. He began to call out, to beg and plead. Like with so many who are impoverished, it is easier to quiet them than it is to help. He was “sternly ordered.” But he was not going to ignore this. He was not throwing away his shot. [Thanks, Lin Manuel Miranda] When your boat comes in, do not go to the airport. 

He cried out even more loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! JESUS! JESUS! SON OF DAVID!” Can you hear the desperation? Can you feel it deep down? This man was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And someone arrived who could change his life, someone who could change his world. 

Between the cries for mercy and the shushing that was happening from the respectable set desperate for decorum, Jesus heard him. “Call him here.” Grace happens in the moment. The Kingdom of God arrives in the now. It is not Pie in the Sky “by-and-by.” It is about God breaking through in our present. And the same who shushed him were now telling the blind beggar, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 

And then comes for me the words that fascinated me when I was preparing for today. The man was shameless. He had no shame when he cried out for Jesus. He had no shame when he was being sternly ordered to be quiet. He had no shame now. It says very clearly, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” 
He SPRANG UP. Now the story goes on with Jesus asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” And without any hesitation he says, “My teacher, let me see again.” 

You see, the man knew what he wanted. He knew what he was missing. He knew this was his shot to get back what he had lost. Like Job in our reading today, he wanted the riches to be returned. He wanted to be whole. 

I sat this week and tried to think what it is in my life that makes me Spring Up for Jesus. What in my life is blocking me from being where I want to be? Where Jesus wants me to be? If I were given my shot, my ONE SHOT, what would that ONE THING be? 

Close your eyes, not hypothetically. Go ahead. Close them up. What in your life is begging for your attention? What in your life needs Jesus? Where is that gaping hole, or that festering wound? It could be physical, emotional, spiritual. Where do you need God to break through? 

Okay, open your eyes back up. If you were given that SHOT, what would your ask be? Jesus said it to the man, and Jesus says it to each of us. “What would you have me do for you?” 

Are you ready to Spring Up and take it to Jesus? Too often we speak of our faith as “there & then,” not “HERE & NOW.” This week I got to be a part of being God’s middle man. Until yesterday I had not even told the parties who are complicit in the handiwork of God that they are as guilty as I am. On Thursday I got an email asking about donating a car, and did I know of someone in need. While for many this would be nice, but I reached out to Anna Julia Cooper School where I used to teach to see if there was anybody in need. Friday morning I got a text saying that a parent had totalled their car on Thursday night, and did not know what they are going to do. But God did. 

You see, God pulled on the heartstrings of someone I had not met, who reached out to a member here, who reached out to me, who reached out to old friends. And in God’s timing a car and a donor were ready for this family. Now I believe that this is a God thing. It has to be. I am not that smart. But when the time comes, are we ready to Spring Up? 

Last week, I asked for counters, teachers, and ushers. Last week we got the counters we needed, and we got a Sunday School teacher. Praise God. We have not because we ask not. (Still looking for some ushers and a couple more Sunday School teachers, by the way.)  

Jesus asked it of the man, “What is it you want me to do for you?” Jesus does not stop there. There is the old quote from George Burns’ wife, Gracie Allen. While she was dying, she told George not to quit on life or on God. The United Church of Christ has used it as their slogan for years. “Never place a period where God has put a comma. God is still speaking.” I believe it to be true. “What is it you ask of me?”  

This year we are “Called to Peace. And be Thankful.” A big part of that, as we talked about at Shrine Mont for those who were there, is being at peace with God. It is hard to make peace with others in God’s name if you are not at peace with God and with yourself first. When we Spring Up, we do it for the same reason the man did. First we want what holds us back to be removed/healed/disappeared from our lives. But notice again, the ask that he had. “My teacher, let me see again.” We make the ask of Jesus to draw us further in our discipleship, further into his shaping of who we are because of whose we are. 

Teacher. As you Spring Up, who is your Teacher?  

Teacher. As you bring that thing that holds you back, what is it you need to learn?  

Teacher. How can you go further on the Way with your Teacher? 

It says that, “Immediately [the man] regained his sight and followed him on the way.” There is a point to our ask. There is a point to our healing. It enables us. It empowers us. It is not to enrich us by this world’s standards, but by the Teacher’s Kingdom. 
Jesus is calling us to him. He always was, but sometimes we do not hear that call. When we Spring Up, never forget, we go to Jesus. Jesus is already there, meeting our needs. Wanting to meet our needs. He calls each and every one of us. What are we desperate to remove? 

I know I use a lot from movies, but when an example fits it just does. In the comedy-drama When Harry Met Sally… Harry finally realizes he loves Sally. Men take longer to clue in, often, I admit. But when he clues in, he says this line that speaks such truth. “When you know what you want for the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to start RIGHT NOW.” He ran across Manhattan to tell her that. Like the blind man in the story today, he Sprang Up. When we know what we want, without the shadow of a doubt, we get up, we spring up to get it. 

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus is asking. Do not wait. Amen 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Year B Proper 24 2018 Showing Up

Year B Proper 24, 21 October 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Showing Up” 
Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Mark 10:35-45 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

Hebrews 5:1-10 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, 
“You are my Son,  today I have begotten you”; 
as he says also in another place, 
“You are a priest forever,  according to the order of Melchizedek.” 
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 
I have always heard the phrase, “The devil is in the details.” That has a truth, when the work is ours to do. When I am frustrated and in the weeds, I often feel that I have been bedeviled. 

But when I take a step back and view the vast expanse of Creation, and all that this this life has to offer, if anything, God is in the details. God gets down in the nitty-gritty, gets those eternal hands dirty, and invites us into the weeds, too. God invites us to be about the work that is before us to do. 

James and John were more worried about the outcome than the steps before them. They wanted the prestige without the sweat. They asked for a promise of position, and also notice they asked Jesus for the promise before they say the what it is they are asking to receive. Jesus says they are clueless as to what they are asking. 

Most likely they are still caught up in the earthly understanding of Christ’s kingdom, that it would be on this earth and not a heavenly realm. 

As you have heard me say before, the more I read the Bible the more it rings true. Human nature has not changed in the slightest. We want as much as we can get with the least amount of effort. 

An old joke states that 90% of success is showing up. We can quibble over the breakdown of percentages, but for the most part you have to be there to matter.  

I love how today’s readings almost seem to contradict each other. Job has the confrontation scene with God. After demanding an audience God shows up, and invites Job to a bigger perspective. In Hebrews, we are invited to see how Jesus showed up before in his life and ministry, but continues to be there for us at the right hand of God the Father encouraging on our behalf. In the Gospel, though, we do not have James and John showing up, at least not yet anyway, but they do want the benefits without necessarily putting in the work. Jesus says, show up, do the work, and let the reward take care of itself. 

Showing up is so important. Rethink the Job passage. God comes across as heavy handed and a little mean. God not only puts Job in his place, it looks more like a body slam in pro wrestling. But think about it from this perspective. Nothing God says is untrue.  God did all that is listed there. AND GOD STILL LOVES JOB ENOUGH TO SHOW UP. Sometimes showing up is what is needed. It is like when I wanted my kids to just go to sleep. Some nights I needed to go back in there, show up and give restless kids a firm, but loving, final GOOD NIGHT. When I showed up they clued in. Jesus wants us to show up, and in the stories, we can begin to see Jesus showing up (or someone a lot like Jesus). 

Now we are going to look at an obscure scripture, that is probably only remembered because it is referenced and the images it represents. 

Abram has been hunting down the folks who have kidnapped his nephew Lot, and he catches up to them and slaughters them. I will not mince words. That is what happened. Those kings that fought with him took their share, but Abram refused not wanting anyone to say he engaged in this for profit, though it was his right by common practice. In the aftermath a local king of a town, Salem (later Jerusalem), comes out. The king’s name was Melchizedek. 

Genesis 14:18-20 18 And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said,       ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,          maker of heaven and earth;       20 and blessed be God Most High,          who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. 
Now we cannot imagine this image, the priestly king of God Most High coming out with bread and wine and not see a parallel or an archetype. And when you add Abram then gives him a tithe, a tenth, of the spoils, we cannot help but hear church going on. We have bread and wine, a priest, and then there is an offering. It must be church. :) 
Melchizedek can mean My King is Righteousness, and the layers of meaning keep adding. The preacher of Hebrews likens Jesus to this obscure figure, saying Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. And now Christ eternally plays that role in heaven itself. The High Priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement where he would plead and pray on the people’s behalf. Jesus does that, is doing that, for us now. 

Like Melchizedek shows up for Abram, Jesus does that and continues showing up for us. Jesus encourages his disciples to show up and serve. That is what he asks, expects, and wants from them. It is what he asks, expects, and wants from us. 

I am constantly blown away by the outpouring of service from so many in our parish. Are we perfect? Far from it, but we do so much. It is an active, vibrant, amazing place day in and day out. We are currently hosting CARITAS, a travelling homeless shelter. This week we have families with kids. I am so glad we can do this. I am so glad we are doing this. 

I do have an ask today, though. I have mentioned some of these in my announcements, but there are some looming holes that just have to be filled and I would ask you to pray if God is leading you to show up and serve in these areas. I will be honest, these are some deep needs today or very soon.  

There are three holes which have to be filled. We need Sunday School teachers for our kids. Period. We just do. We have at least three spots we need to fill. Also, we need counters for our weekly offering. These are done with rotating teams, and we have lost a few of our trusted leaders by their moving out of town. This is an often unseen role that is required for us to have. Out of sight, out of mind, so I bring it to your attention. Lastly, we need more ushers, the opposite of the tellers. Not hidden, they are entirely out front, they are our first line of welcome and hospitality. Again, through no fault of our own we are down a few and need to bolster our teams. I bring these up not to guilt or fault anyone, but I trust that there are some who will prayerfully consider and show up. If God is calling you, talk to me. Jesus said you have not because you ask not. I am asking, and I trust God will provide. 

Showing up and serving is how we say I love you. In one of my all time favorite movies this is expressed so well. In The Princess Bride there is a spoiled rich girl named Buttercup. Even her name is pretentious. And there is a farm boy who she calls Farm Boy. She does not even bother with his name. Whenever she asks something of him he only responds to her, “As you wish.”  

Bring in the hay, Farm Boy. “As you wish.”  
Fetch the water, Farm Boy. “As you wish.” 
Take down the pitcher, Farm Boy. “As you wish.” 

After years of this she starts to hear the meaning beneath the words he is saying. When he is saying, “As you wish,” what he is really saying is “I love you.” And eventually when she makes requests, she begins to add please and thank you. She feels the love, and it transforms her to being polite and respectful to him. And then one day as he is saying, “As you wish,” she figures out that she loves him, too. And then she finds out his name, Wesley, and thus begins the movie. Love through the visible and tangible acts of service transformed them both. 

Since I watched that in the late Eighties I have never heard that phrase as face value ever again. When I hear “As you wish,” I will always hear, “I love you.” When we show up to serve one another, it is really clear. What we are really saying is “I love you.” Amen