Sunday, October 9, 2016

Lepers and Thin Places

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him…”       — Luke 17 
 Farnoosh Brock, a blogger, writes about standing right at the edge of the ocean:
"My schedule and agenda fell by the way side and my whole body and mind fell into a reverie.  This is why I don’t live near the ocean, I told myself, because I would get nothing done… The ocean wins every time and like every other soul on the planet, I dream of a day that I can commune daily with the ocean."
I've lived in Nevada most of my life, and when I think of going on vacation, I think just like this writer.  All I can think about is going somewhere near the ocean.  People I've known who live by the ocean, when they think of going on vacation, they often think of going up to the mountains, to Tahoe.  As human beings we seem to be drawn to places where earth meets water or earth meets sky... borderlands, edges, doorways, what the ancient Celtic Christians called "thin" places.  Places where heaven and earth meet, where this world and the next are touching. 

The Gaelic name for these thin places was Caol Áit (pronounced “keel awtch".) In Celtic folklore, a thin place was always about being in that boundary between the two elements. Riverbanks, lakeshores, bogs, ocean and the shore, turning points of the seasons, all were considered thin places.  The Celts believed amazing things happened when you set foot in a thin place.

If you look sharp, you can see that today's Gospel is filled with thin places, borders, edges between our world and the next.  It is filled with both true thin places where earth and heaven meet — true doorways — and also false boundaries; those edges and borders and walls that only humans seem to love to create.

In the very first verse of the passage, Luke sets this entire story in a thin place, on a border.  In verse 11 it says: "On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee."  Jesus is on the border, the first Caol Áit, the first thin place. 

And then immediately in the next verse, we come to the second thin place.  Jesus is halfway between the countryside and the city. It states:  "As he entered a village…" — Not even in the village, partway in, at the threshold.  In that strange in-between place, Jesus encounters ten people who have been forced to live their lives in a thin place: They were Lepers.  They were trapped in that place between life and death because of their disease. 

And they physically lived in an in-between place, on the border: They could neither enter the city nor go too far from it.  Biblical law required these “unclean” souls to live near the town dump (Lev 13:46).   Yet, they had to live close enough to cities to receive charity.  What torture!  To be rejected and yet have to stay close to the people who reject you so you could survive!  The passage goes on: "… ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!'”  Biblical law demanded that they announce their sickness to all passersby (Lev 13:45).  Their skin disease was potentially contagious and was considered to be God’s judgment; lepers were shunned and treated as invisible people.

That was the amazing thing in this passage:  Not that they had this dread disease, not that they had the courage to beg healing from Jesus, but that Jesus “saw” them.  While the rest of the world treated them as invisible, Jesus in a great act of compassion stood in the thin place with those ten human beings whose skin was being eaten away by leprosy, and he actually saw them.

And Jesus does an amazing thing: In other healing miracles he touches a person, or speaks words of healing, here, he simply tells them to move into another thin place, "Go show yourselves to the priest…"  That was the only way, according to Levitical Law you could go from being a leper, outcast, and reenter society, you showed yourself as healed to the priest.  And so they moved off into that new thin place, and as they went, their lives as lepers and outcasts came to an end, and healing began.

I have to be honest, if I were a leper, my instinct would be to keep running into that thin place away from Jesus, because as I ran, the skin sores and huge, disfiguring lumps under my skin would begin to soften and heal and disappear.  And the nerve damage of leprosy in my feet would slowly vanish, and I could actually feel the dust of the road between my toes once again.  As I kept running away from Jesus, the almost total blindness of leprosy's attack on the nerves in my eyes would withdraw, and all of a sudden, the colors of the leaves on the trees and the searing blue of the sky would be so beautiful it would break my heart.  But most of all, as the constant muscle fatigue of leprosy left me, and I could run like I was sixteen again, every step, every stride, every yard, every mile, would bring me closer to a home I had not seen in many years, and loved ones who would welcome me.  I do not know that I would have the willpower to stop, and turn, go back, and fall to my knees to thank Jesus, like the Samaritan did.

The guy who stopped his race toward life, turned and fell in gratitude before Jesus' feet was a person who lived on the margins his whole life, he was one of the quasi-Jews that true Jews hated; he was a Samaritan.  It was more than a trivial act of gratitude; it was an act of supreme self-denial.   In essence, he was saying, "Health can wait, the green leaves and the sky can wait, my beloved family can wait, those children I never got to see growing up can wait, my life can wait, right now, nothing is as important as giving thanks to God." 

People like me who probably would've kept running, were apparently the good Jews.

I wonder, maybe when you've lived your life on the margins, in the thin places, maybe it's easier to show gratitude, maybe it comes more naturally.  I know over the years, I've seen many people come to Trinity who would not be welcomed elsewhere, me included, who were overwhelmed with gratitude at the acceptance and welcome they found here.  We don't always do it perfectly, unlike Jesus, we don't always see everyone we should see, those hurting folks on the margins who feel invisible.  But we're still pretty good at it, radical welcome is part of our DNA here in this thin place.

There are real thin places, Caol Áit, and they appear in different locations, and moments, in relationships, and in different seasons of our lives.  Holy moments and places where you suddenly realize you're in a place where heaven and earth are touching.  Something is going on, something wonderful and mysterious and tingling with the healing power of God.

But there are other in-between places that are artificial, human made, and they don't cause wonder and joy, they cause fear and despair.  We don't call them Caol Áit, we call them fences, and borders, and walls… and we call them "those" people.  It's where we keep our lepers, the people we don't want to see, but over and over in Scripture God refuses to recognize the boundaries we draw between each other.  It is running rampant in America todayAnd, it saddens me to admit that it is even the tendency in the church to confine the boundaries of God’s kingdom to the church.

I can imagine those twelve disciples thinking, “We’re special. Jesus has called us to follow him. We are his first friends, his best friends, his only friends, judging by some of the resistance Jesus has received. We’ve left everything and followed him on his way. Surely Jesus ought to be pleased with what he’s achieved with us.”  But then Jesus leads them outside their comfort zone, out into foreign territory, out to the borderland of Samaria.  There he doesn’t even go into the safe confines of town; he stops because he recognizes a thin place at the edge of town, and engages ten poor souls who, because of their sickness, have been thrown out.

And Jesus is going to lead us there too.

I don't get down to the ocean very often, but that first moment I stand on the shore and look out, the seagulls crying overhead, I know I am in a thin place.  Maybe that's why we touch the holy water in the font and cross ourselves, it reminds us when we stood on that vast shore of the ocean of our baptism, and we are drawn back again and again to that thin place where we hear the words again, “You are my beloved child;” that place where miracles happen.

“Heaven and earth,” the Celtic saying goes, “are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.”

When we trust, and step into that thin place of faith, the longer we keep walking with Jesus, the more we will see the function of faith as crossing human made boundaries and breaking down human walls.  Not just the ones we construct to keep other people out, but also those terrible walls we build inside ourselves.  Those ugly walls that convince us we aren't worth much, walls that separate us from others, walls that keep us from giving to others, walls that make us afraid be the people we can be.

The amazing thing about what Jesus did in this Gospel today is right from the start, he saw those lepers as they truly were: already healed, the walls had already been broken down, and they were free to go on their way and live their lives in joy as Children of God.

And you know what?  If you step into this thin place of faith, you'll realize Jesus has seen you that same way all along.  Amen.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Gospel of Fred the Fig

“Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none…’”    — Luke 13

Once upon a time… a time not so long ago, in a small valley in Nevada not too far from here, there was a beautiful vineyard.   And it did well in Nevada’s sandy soil.  It was not just a vineyard that produced wine, but one that produced champagne.  You have to grow three kinds of grapes to make champagne.  Two of them are black with white juice, the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier.  The other one is a white grape with white juice, the Chardonnay.  But this is not a story about the grapes.

There was a fig tree planted in one corner, and his name was Fred.  He wasn’t beautiful and delicate like the vines.  He had flat, broad leaves, and stalks going everywhere.  Sometimes he was jealous of the grapes that people gathered with such care and praised.  You see, Fred had no fruit.  He also knew he wasn’t as important because he was stuck in the corner.  Secretly, he wished he could be a grapevine.

Fred had two friends: God and the Gardener.  God sent the sunshine, and water, and gentle breezes.  And the Gardener?  Well, Fred loved him.  He would come out some days and sit in Fred’s shade and have lunch.  Sometimes they would talk . . . well, mostly the Gardner would talk, or he would read to Fred after lunch.  You may already know that fig trees are very good listeners because they rarely interrupt you.  Just every now and then, Fred would say, “Is that so,” or “How interesting,” or “Tell me more.”  All those nice things friends say when they’re really listening to you and want to help you tell your stories.  The Gardener never seemed to tire of Fred’s company, and never said a mean thing to him about not growing any fruit.  Still, Fred never confided his sense of failure or secret wish to his friend, the Gardener.

No, Fred tried to go it alone . . . grow it alone.  He had curious roots.   His soil in the corner was not as carefully tilled as the floor of the vineyard, but there was some chalky subsoil added, and he tried to break up the tough Nevada soil beneath, but it was hard.  Any of you who’ve tried to dig in your own back yard here know that mostly of what we grow in Nevada are rocks.  He knew he had to spread his roots if he was ever going to produce fruit, so he didn’t give up… but it wasn’t much good.  He actually grew quite large, although fig trees tend to spread out sideways, not get tall.  But still, there was no fruit.

Unfortunately, the kindhearted gardener wasn’t the only visitor.  There was a road on the other side of the vineyard.  Sometimes people would pass by after champagne tasting trips and stop for a rest.  Sometimes they would talk with each other of strange things: terrible accidents that had happened in the town, and even acts of violence in the news.  Sometimes they would attribute these terrible things to God.  Fred couldn’t understand that kind of thinking: God was his friend who sent the sun and the rain and the warm breezes.  The Good Gardener would shake his head sadly when Fred told him about these conversations.  He explained that good happens to the good and the bad; bad happens to the good and the bad.  God didn’t cause the accidents or violence, people did.  What God did was send help:  bystanders who stepped in; police and Firefighters to protect; doctors and nurses to heal; Friends and neighbors to pray and listen.  That made a lot more sense to Fred. 

Some of these strangers were looking for maybe a ripe fig or two for lunch.  When they found no fruit, they would get angry and say rude things to him, and that would discourage him more than ever.  A few people had gotten so upset with Fred they snapped a couple branches, and just to be even meaner, they didn’t break them cleanly off, and the broken branches dangled there, and it hurt.

One man in particular had stopped by only once a year during the three years of Fred’s young life.  Fred always trembled when he came close.  He knew he was important.  He had heard he was the owner of the vineyard.  The owner would look at him disapprovingly for a few moments, and then walk away to look at his prize-winning champagne grapes.  This year, however, after looking at him disapprovingly for a while, he muttered three words: “What a waste!”  Those three words were the final blow to Fred’s gentle figgy soul, and he wept.  It’s one thing to have others disapprove of you, but when someone who’s really important to you is disappointed it’s almost too painful to bear. 

The kind Gardener, passing by, heard Fred weeping, and asked, “Why are you weeping?”  Fred told him about what the owner had said.  The Gardener quietly said, “Yes, there are impatient people like that in the world.  Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.”  The Gardener went and talked to the owner.  Fred couldn’t quite hear what was said.  Finally, the owner walked away, and the Gardener returned to Fred and reassured him it was all handled.

While the Gardener sat down in Fred’s shade, took out his lunch and began to eat, Fred, for once, began to talk.  He told him of all the sadness in his heart because he had not grown any fruit.  He told him about people who had hurt him and broken off branches.  He even told him his darkest secret: that he was sometimes jealous of the grapes and wished he too could be a grapevine.

The only time the Gardener interrupted was when Fred mentioned he also knew he wasn’t important because he was planted in a corner.  The Gardener looked surprised, “Don’t you remember?  I planted you here.”  Fred didn’t… you must remember he was only a little twig at the time.
“Why?”  Fred asked
The Gardner said, “For a vine, the corner is wasted.  Only you could grow and produce fruit here.  Vines wouldn’t have even made it a season.  You’ve been here three years.  You’re right where I want you.”

They were quiet for a while, and then the Gardener asked, “Do you really want to produce fruit?” 
Fred whispered, “Yes!”
The Gardner continued, “I can help, but you have to let me do the work.”
“Oh, thank you!”  Fred exclaimed.
The Gardner added, “Your fruit won’t be like the grapes.” 
“That’s OK,” Fred said.
The Gardener warned, “Sometimes it’ll hurt.  I’ll have to do some deep digging, and some pruning.” 
Fred was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “I’m ready.”

So, the next day, the kind Gardener got to work.  It took a long time.  Sometimes it was
painful, and it smelled bad when the Gardener spread manure around him.  But Fred trusted the Good Gardner and time passed.  One day in early spring, Fred woke to a warm sun and a gentle breeze.  He yawned and looked down, and he gasped — he was covered in delicate yellow fig blossoms!  It had begun.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a champagne grape.  I’m more of a fig tree… I suspect most of us are.  Although I work to grow and bear fruit, it’s a great comfort to know that the Good Gardener is willing to take on most of the hard labor in my life: breaking up the hard, rocky soil of my heart to let the fresh air of the Spirit and the Water of Life get to my very roots.  He will give me everything I need to grow and bear fruit.  My fruits may not be champagne grapes, but figs are good too … yes, they’re good.

This is the Gospel of the Kind Gardener,
and the Gospel of Fred the Fig Tree,
and… the Gospel of the loving God who always gives you and me another chance.  Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Silence Between the Wings of the Cherubim

“Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”   — John 2

The people of Minnesota have given us some great things. Scotch tape was invented there,
lutefisk (if you don't know what that is, you can check it out on your Google machine here ), Garrison Keillor, and the Mall of America.  I once had a conference in Minneapolis and we got some free time and went to the Mall of America.  We went there three days in a row and walked, and walked, and walked.  At the end of our last day, I looked at the map of the mall and realized that in three days, we had only covered one tiny portion.  If you haven't seen it, you can't imagine how big it is.  258 Statues of Liberty could lie inside the Mall.  If Mount Rushmore was divided into individual monuments, a president could reside in each of the Mall’s four courts. Annually, it is estimated the Mall of America generates two billion dollars for Minnesota’s economy.  Yeah. it's big.

In Jesus' time, the Temple in Jerusalem was one of the greatest malls of its day.  What began as a temple of worship — a place of prayer — had become something quite different.  It had become a shopping mall, bank, government building, and revolutionary symbol all wrapped into one.  And all of these were in the outer courtyard of the temple.  

What is it that caused Jesus to become so angry? It can only be one thing: injustice.  Have you ever bought popcorn at the movies?  Have you ever filled your tank at a gas station right off the freeway?  You know because of their location they're going to charge you more.  The merchants in the temple had that all figured out, and they were the only game in town.  The sacrificial system in the temple had evolved, over the centuries, into an efficient machine for fleecing rich and poor alike.  
 If you went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, your goal was to sacrifice an animal, according to the Law of Moses. You could bring your own sacrificial animal, of course, but if you came from far away, it was easier to purchase a beast locally, at a steep markup.  The law said you had to present a perfect animal, without mark or blemish. Unless you purchased a pre-approved animal within the temple precincts, you had to bring your offering before an inspector, who would tell you whether or not it met the grade. And guess what? The inspectors were in cahoots with the animal-sellers, who knew how to grease their palms with silver. Rarely did they grant approval for a sacrificial animal brought in from the outside.

There was something else. If you had journeyed from one of the lands of the Jewish diaspora —
Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, even distant Rome — the coins jingling in your purse would have been imperial coins, engraved with the Emperor's likeness. Such graven images violated the Second Commandment, and so were forbidden within the temple precincts. In order to buy yourself a sacrificial animal, you had to first exchange your Roman money for image-free Judean coins. The money changers, who had a monopoly, charged exorbitant commissions, but the poor pilgrims had no recourse. They got them coming and going, those temple merchants.

You can see why when Jesus walked into that chaos of the free market, he didn't see a house of prayer. he saw a den of thieves.  It was not enough that Rome was oppressing Israel. The leaders of Israel were oppressing their own people.

For the longest time I read this passage as Jesus losing his temper and flying into a rage. But there is a detail in verse 15 that suggests this was a more deliberate action that Jesus took time to prepare for.  "Making a whip of cords" would take some time and gathering of materials, wouldn't it?  If Jesus had merely lost his temper, he would have grabbed the nearest blunt object and started flailing away.  But this detail suggests that there was a time lapse between noticing the money changing going on and reacting to it.  His followers and the people of Jerusalem were all watching him. And he was going to teach a lesson.

And do you notice, that not a word was said, nor a hand raised against him, as He poured out the
changers’ money, overthrew their tables, and drove out the livestock.  His Presence awed his opponents, and the people who had been ripped off all their lives were on his side.  The only challenge his opponents could come up was to ask him for a sign. A symbol of authority that gave him the right to do all this. And Jesus replied, "Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up."

Let’s just pause for a wonderful quote by Garrett Keizer: "I am unable to commit to any messiah who doesn’t knock over tables."  Don't you love that? [Garret Keizer in The Enigma of Anger (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004)]

Then came the calm aftermath spoken of in the Gospel of Matthew 21 — Jesus began to teach every day in the temple and it says there were "children who were crying in the temple, "Hosanna to the son of David!" And since the temple officials couldn't win the argument, they decided to become indignant about the kids, and in Matthew 21:16 said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?"  And a very calm Jesus replies, "Yes. Did you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise?'"  Oh, don't you know that ticked them off!

Former Presiding Bishop John E. Hines said it's so well: “They did not crucify Jesus for saying ‘Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow.’ They crucified him for saying, ‘Consider the thieves of the temple, and how they steal.’”

Do you think what happened to the Jewish Temple could ever happen to us?  How would we know if we've stopped being the Church and become a mall?  I've sometimes heard people say, "The Church needs to be run more like a business."  It isn't that we can’t take some lessons from business, but when we make business our model I think we're in trouble.  When we judge our success as a church the same way Apple does, we've got a problem.  John's first readers would have known that the temple was already a smoking crater by the time they read his gospel, since it was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.  Jesus' words and actions were thus not only prophetic, but a stark reminder that any institution that claims to be of God is doomed to failure if it refuses to pay attention to God's own core purpose and values.  Jesus' action in the Temple this morning challenges us to look at Trinity to determine whether we're being faithful to his call, or whether like the Temple in Jerusalem, we’re due for some table flipping. some spring cleaning. For example:

·      Do we measure the church's success like a business? Are we so focused on our attendance figures, buildings, budget, programs, that we fail to question whether we're doing what Jesus wants?
·      Do we talk in our meetings more about property and budgets or about people and what we are doing and can do for people within our walls and outside our walls?
·      Do we avoid the risk of being prophetic and challenging people with the Gospel of the Kingdom, and instead play it safe and not talk about controversial subjects? About justice for the poor and a living wage and fairness for workers; equality in our nation for women, people of color, immigrants, gays and lesbians; and safety for all our children from pollution, global warming, and gun violence?
·      Have we started to look to human beings to take care of all of our problems and make this church what we want it to be. Instead of we ourselves truly becoming disciples of the Christ the way Jesus intended to change the world, do we sit back and look to the Vestry. or the priests. or our new rector to solve everything?

We don't need to be able to answer each one of those questions, but I think we do need to keep asking them.  As long as we keep our eyes focused on the one who said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations." and keep asking those questions, I think we're on the right track.

The noise in the outer courtyard must have been deafening: Moneychangers and merchants haggling, sheep baa'aing, cattle mooing, doves cooing, people talking, laughing, getting upset with each other.  Jesus stopped all that in today's Gospel, and what was left was a silence so profound that the people there could hear the voices of the children crying in the temple, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

In the very deepest room of the temple. The Holy of Holies. was the Ark of the Covenant.  The High Priest only went in there once a year.  Arching over the mercy seat were two cherubim, their golden wings reaching toward each other at the top. But the mercy seat itself was empty. Yet it was that space that was considered the very presence of the Almighty.  Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury talks about this emptiness: "The cherubim did not reside on the mercy seat. God's presence was nowhere portrayed within this "Holy of Holies" — or anywhere else within the temple. All that greeted the high priest was a blank slab of open space, a void, "the great speaking absence between the images".

Lent is a time of stripping away of all the noise — letting go of things that are holding us back from life, real life.  Before we can be ready for the joy of Easter, we take this time to examine ourselves, to examine our church, and to seek the silence between the wings of the cherubim.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

I Am Not Crazy!

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.”   — Mark 1:21-28

I am not crazy… and I have papers to prove it.  One of the things you may not know about becoming an Episcopal priest is the Church requires you to take a full battery of psychological tests before you're allowed to even begin the process.  Yes, call us old-fashioned, but we try not to ordain crazy priests.  It costs you five hundred dollars, and you have to pay it yourself.  So, ten years ago, before I began my process, I sat down for a half day of written exams in a psychologist's office.  After you answer sheets and sheets of questions on two different instruments, you go away and the psychologist analyzes it and then meets with you.  Just a little hint about being interviewed by a psychologist who's trying to determine whether you're crazy or not: That's probably not the best time for humor.  She went through my test, and said things like, "You have a good self-concept. You score highly in compassion and empathy for others."  But then she said, "There is some slight indication of defensiveness." And I couldn't help myself and replied, "What do you mean I'm defensive?"  I thought it was pretty funny.  The psychologist said nothing.  She just stared at me for a long moment, sighed, and then looked down and made a note in my file.  For those of you who are wondering, I passed my psychological with flying colors.  As I said before, I am not crazy… of course, that was ten years ago.

In Jesus' day, calling someone "crazy" or saying they had a "demon" was shorthand for anything that couldn't be explained.  Everything from epilepsy to mental illness to measles was explained by saying someone had a "demon".  (Hmm… speaking of measles. Sidebar here: Get your kids vaccinated. I think it comes under "Love your neighbor as yourself."  OK, back to the sermon.) 

At one point, people even accused Jesus of having a demon. In other words, "He's crazy!"  In our modern day, I think there are people who would describe Jesus as being crazy.  Those who think everyone should just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps think Jesus is pretty crazy for caring for the poor and the discouraged.  Those who think they are somehow superior or God's favorite because they are rich — who make the mistake of thinking they hit a home run, but actually they were just born on third base — think Jesus is crazy for talking about how hard it is for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven.  Those who think it's all about them think Jesus is crazy when he called us to have compassion for others.

But, Jesus wasn't crazy. He was authentic.  The people in that synagogue knew what the scribes had written. To them, no one was as important, as authoritative a prophet, as Moses.  Maybe, hearing the young man from Nazareth on this day, they were remembering the words of Moses concerning true prophets we read in Deuteronomy this morning: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people: you shall heed such a prophet.”  The people were used to preachers who simply talked on and on about Moses and what different rabbis had said, about what Moses said: “Moses said to tithe. To explain in more detail, Rabbi Akiva said one must tithe only his major crops; but Rabbi Hillel said one must include even the spices of the garden”— that’s how some of their preaching likely went.

So, what would the differences in the teachings sound like?  Was it just, "Moses said..." vs. "But I say to you..." as he did in the Beatitudes, or was it something more... something about how Jesus spoke and carried himself?  I like to think it was something more. Jesus not only taught differently, he lived in such an authentic life walking with God that he could speak on it authoritatively. And it astonished people!  Isn’t it sad that often when we see and hear truth, transparency, integrity — we are astonished?

And he was so authentic, he didn't want his miracles to be the focal point so he tried to get people to keep them secret.  Jesus asked his followers not to speak about his miracles — he did not want his miracles to attract people to him. He wanted the Word of God to be the central Good News he was proclaiming.

And in today’s Gospel, we see him healing a man by casting out a demon.  And Jesus knew a lot about casting out demons, because he had wrestled with his own.  Earlier in Mark 1 we read the temptation stories of Jesus in the desert right after his baptism, and everything there points to the image, as Henry Nouen described him, of a “wounded healer.”  Jesus, the wounded healer, knew the kind of demons and weaknesses and brokenness that people wrestle with every day. because he had done battle with them himself.

Today, we still have to wrestle with all sorts of demons. Those things inside us that make us feel crazy: addiction, loneliness, fear.  I like to refer to mine as the Greek Chorus.  If you don't know about them, they were really big in Greek plays, especially the tragedies.  The chorus consisted of between twelve and fifty players, who variously danced, sang or spoke their lines in unison and sometimes wore masks, as our fears often do.  In many of these plays, the chorus expressed to the audience what the main characters couldn’t say, such as their hidden fears or secrets.  I guess it was a kind of early form of rap music.  The chorus entered from the two ramps known as paradoi on either side of the orchestra. Once there, they sang the choral dialogue.  Cheerful things, like in the play Antigone: “Oh, you unlucky daughter of an unlucky father,” or in the tragedy Oedipus: "Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last."

So, have you heard from the members of your Greek chorus lately? Sure you have.  Every time you put yourself down. Every time you say to yourself cruel things you would never say to anyone else like, "You're a loser!" "What's wrong with you?!" "You're so stupid!" "You're always going to mess it up!"  — That's your Greek chorus chiming in.  I try to handle my Greek Chorus with a sense of humor.  After my chorus comes in rapping, "You're going to fail miserably." I always thank them. rather formally.  "Ladies and Gentleman of the chorus. I thank you. Off you go now, back into the wings."

Naming the demons means knowing the demons. The Gospels imply that anyone who exorcises cannot be a stranger to demons. To have faced our demons is never to forget their power to hurt… and never to forget the power to heal that lies in touching broken heartedness.  Jesus hears, below the demon noises, an anguished cry for deliverance. And we can tune our hearts to hear that same cry in others.  John Watson once said, "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  People you know may appear to have it all together. to be successful and happy and loved. But make no mistake. everyone's fighting a battle.  Everyone gets entertained by their own Greek Chorus.

Henri J. M. Nouwen once wrote, 
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

You are the beloved.  Believing that… allowing Jesus to help us make peace with our inner Greek Chorus. We in turn can become wounded healers for others. 

Perhaps, what you need most is the touch of the wounded healer on your heart.  Or maybe this morning you already are one of those wounded healers bringing healing and love and comfort to others, but you don't even realize it.  Paulo Coelho, bestselling author of the parable The Alchemist, tells this story: 
Many years ago, there lived a man who was capable of loving and forgiving everyone he came across. Because of this, God sent an angel to talk to him. “God asked me to come and visit you and tell you that he wishes to reward you for your goodness,” said the angel. “You may have any gift you wish for. Would you like the gift of healing?” “Certainly not,” said the man. “I would prefer God to choose those who should be healed.” “And what about leading sinners back to the path of Truth?” “That’s a job for angels like you.  I don’t want to be venerated by anyone or to serve as a permanent example.” “Look, I can’t go back to Heaven without having given you a miracle. If you don’t choose, I’ll have to choose one for you,” the angel explained. The man thought for a moment and then said: “All right, I would like good to be done through me, but without anyone noticing, not even me, in case I should commit the sin of vanity.” So the angel arranged for the man’s shadow to have the power of healing, but only when the sun was shining on the man’s face. In this way, wherever he went, the sick were healed, the earth grew fertile again, and sad people rediscovered happiness. The man traveled the Earth for many years, oblivious of the miracles he was working because when he was facing the sun, his shadow was always behind him. In this way, he was able to live and die unaware of his own holiness.

By facing the sun. by wrestling with our own inner critical voice. by believing that we are indeed beloved of God. by the healing of the wounded healer, Jesus.  We can turn and heal others... don't underestimate the power of love or your own importance in spreading Jesus' love to others.  You may never know all the good you do, but have no doubt, you have a unique and critical role to play in the healing of this broken world.  And you are the only one who can do it.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

OK, seriously now... Great Ways to Celebrate Lent with Your Kids!

     After my post about dreadful ways to celebrate Lent with your kids, here are some serious suggestions I found on the web that would be fun and meaningful for kids!
  • Make a paper chain countdown: Anticipate Jesus’ resurrection! Remove a link from the chain each day to illustrate the passage of time until Easter. 
  • Create a Lenten calendar: Make a calendar that indicates Ash Wednesday, each Sunday of Lent, and Holy Week, and let your child mark one spot each day (or print this one!) You can also use the ones supplied by Trinity.
  • Revitalize your prayer/devotional routine:
    • Learn a new prayer. Selecting a new bedtime or mealtime prayer can be a great way to get kids to really think about the meaning behind their prayers, rather than just reciting words without thought. Stuck? Prayers for mealtime can be found in the Book of
      Common Prayer on p. 835. There are also some simple and cute prayer kids on the Internet if you Google “Prayers for Kids”. They’re simple and easily memorized.
    • Learn a new method of prayer, such as a walking prayer (Focus on seeing God everywhere), centering prayer (Pick a word like kindness. Sit in quietness with this word for 5 minutes. Share your feelings.), or color prayer (Think of what you want to pray about, and then color it.)
    • Learn a new hymn together!
  • Fasting (but not like you think):

    • The practice of fasting is an attempt to focus on life’s blessings, by pausing — to be mindful of our gratitude for family, time, and food. Here are some ideas…
    • Fast from fast food — Replace it with a dinner your kids help cook and eat together as a family.
    • Have a Fish Friday! Ever wonder where that came from? When fish was the cheapest
      meal a person could have, it was suggested on Fridays that people eat fish, and donate the difference between this cheap meal and what they would have regularly eaten to the poor. Not a bad idea, but nowadays, we might have Mac & Cheese Fridays.
    • Fast from TV one day a week — Replace it with family reading and outings.
    • Fast from electronic games one day a week — Replace them with family games.
    • Fast from using the computer — Spend that time with your family.
  • Read the Bible daily: Read a different Bible story from your child’s favorite Children’s Bible each day. Or add some Easter or “God books” to your home library.
  • Start a prayer/devotional/gratitude jar: This can take many forms. Fill a jar with either prayer
    starters or short prayers and read one together each day. Or leave slips of paper out for family members to write down people and things they are grateful for. Collect the slips and read them together during dinner or keep them for Sunday dinners, or wait for your Easter Sunday celebration.
  • Donate:
    • Food: Have your children help you pick one non-perishable food item to put in a box each day to be delivered to a local food pantry at the end of Lent.
    • Money: Collect a daily offering to be given to your church or favorite charity.
    • Toys/Clothes: Have your children sort through their things for toys that they no longer play with and clothes that no longer get worn. Donate the unused items to those who need them more.
    • Time: As a family, find ways you can volunteer your time to help others. Depending on the age of your children, it may be appropriate to volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. Other ideas include picking up trash at the neighborhood park, making cards to give to nursing home residents, helping elderly neighbors with yard work, or preparing a meal for someone who is sick or injured. Write a letter, send a card, or call someone who is lonely or shut-in. The possibilities are endless!
  • Become a better steward of God’s creation:
    • Make a bird feeder: Then hang it outside to help the birds in this late winter/early spring season. 
    • Reduce/reuse/recycle: Brainstorm together ways you can take better care of the
      environment. Can you take reusable bags to the store or use them in lunch containers? Can you start composting? Can your kids create something new out of those food containers you would normally toss?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Teach your child to hate Lent!

     For the 2nd Sunday in March, I was searching for ideas to get kids involved in Lent (prayer, fasting, and alms).  Think of positive things like Coloring Prayer, Recycling, Visiting the Elderly, and Donating old Toys.  But here are the absolute worst ideas I came across on the web  (Yes, these are real... and sick!  I'll be back in a week with some great ideas!):

  • Take your child to Stations of the Cross at Church, and then when you get home, say the Sorrowful Mysteries on the rosary (Oh, mommy, no, don't make us go outside and play!  We'd rather do the Sorrowful Mysteries.)
  • Bake braided bread in a circle and stick pretzels (or more lethally, toothpicks) in it to create a tasty crown of thorns (Governmentally sanctioned torture never tasted so good!)
  • Visit a Cemetery: Find a family member in a cemetery and explain how Jesus died so this person could go to heaven. ("So... you better watch out, you better not cry..." sing on!)
  • Temptation Cookies: While baking cookies, tell your children about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. When the cookies are done, leave them on the table, but they cannot eat them. (Remember Aunt Mabel in the cemetery? Well, if you eat these cookies...)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blessed are the Doubters

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. John 20

Poor doubting Thomas.  There ought to be a beatitude for the guy.

Blessed are the doubters... for they shall not be suckered in... and though their phones ringeth off the hook during the dinner hour they shall not fall for telemarketing fraud.  Nor shall they be caught up in Wall Street Ponzie schemes.  Yea verily, though they be compassed about on every side by friends and television commercials who plead earnestly with them to do this or that, blessed are they, for they shall check their facts and make up their own minds.

Blessed are the doubters, for once they have been given the chance to live into their doubts, like Thomas, their faith shall be all the deeper for it.

Some Christians are afraid that doubt is a sin, but its not.  Only humans are offended if you doubt them  God doesnt think like we do.  Jesus doesn't criticize Thomas for his doubts — he knew Thomas.  Thomas was brave and utterly dedicated to Jesus.  In John 11, when Jesus decided to go into terrible danger by returning to Bethany because Lazarus had died, it says, "Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. Thomas spoke his mind.  In John 14, Jesus said, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’"  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"

Jesus isnt offended.  Jesus reacts as God does.  He just opens himself up, allows himself to be questioned, explored, examined.  He doesnt argue with Thomas.  He has more of an attitude of, Come and see.  In First John it says, "God is light and in him there is no darkness."  He's not going to get angry or impatient.  God can take your doubt.  God can take your anger.

Doubt can be a tremendous gift from God, an invitation to draw closer and touch the wounds.  Doubt can be a call to examine the Body beneath the skin, an invitation to touch what I don't know and haven't seen, what I don't quite believe.

Thomas became a great believer in short order.  But, some of us have created a Jesus we're afraid to touch.  We've made him into a porcelain doll.  Were afraid to doubt as if Jesus is so fragile, he might wobble off the shelf and break.  Baby Jesus is fine at Christmas, but I'll tell you, in my life I need a grown up Jesus.  Thank you, God for giving us a real Jesus!  One that we can doubt and touch and hold onto in lifes storms and have faith in.  After all the doubt, Jesus gives an even greater gift: He breathes on them and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.
The real Jesus meets us in our doubts.  Theology is a fancy word priests and academics use to describe sitting around, drinking tea, and chatting about what we think God is like.  Todays Gospel is about God meeting us where we live... in the flesh.  This is called Incarnation theology.  It is an understanding that the physical matters to God and that God is present in the physical. Again in First John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
God runs out and meets us in our doubts and our unbelief and lets us touch and handle and see and try things.  In my life, it always has seemed I recognized God when I was most in doubt and most broken.  Has it been that way for you too?  When everything is going just fine, we skim along paying little attention, but when everything falls apart, we cry, "Where is God?"  God has left heaven and pitched a tent among us. God reigns here. God is not someplace else.   The only way to know God is in the incarnation, the real stuff of life: The rejoicing of springtime, the resurrection of the earth, in our jobs, in our relationships and fellowship with each other. 

For so many Christians, fellowship with one another is based on a long list of requirements: Do you believe exactly like I do on all the major controversies of the day?  But in John 1, their fellowship was based,  not a list of requirements, but on walking together and a sense of being forgiven: "But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us."  Even forgiveness of sins was changed in todays Gospel: “If you forgive sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’"  Forgiveness is no longer passive waiting for God to act, but somehow embedded in our relationship with one another.  We have an active role in the reconciliation of the world and each other. 

We dont have a porcelain, fragile Jesus who goes all wobbly if we have human doubts and fears.  We have a tough Jesus, a grown-up Jesus, a real Jesus, a Jesus who comes to live among us.  Scripture points to the real Jesus, but it's not the real Jesus - lets not confuse the two.  John says everything has been "Written so that you may come to believe... and believing ... have life."  Many other signs were done, but this is enough so you can have life.  All of this is just to point us to real life with our Lord.  All the scriptural proof-texting and theology done by all the theologians and priests and scribes and rabbis did not lead to the revelation of the risen Christ.  That revelation only came when the risen living Christ walked alongside the disciples grieving his death on the road to Emmaus, and he went in with them and broke the bread.  That revelation only came through allowing Thomas to doubt.  That revelation only comes through the sharing of bread and wine.  It is in the bread and wine where Jesus comes so close he breathes on you, as he did the early disciples, and says, Receive the Holy Spirit.