Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's a Train! Advent 1 B

I got a joke for you:  (I will use Germans, since I am of German descent.)  There were two old Germans out arguing one day.  The one German said, “Those are deer tracks!”   The other said, “No, those are moose tracks!”  They stood there and argued and argued over who was right.  The question is, “Who WAS right?”  Well, we’ll never know, because they got ran over by a train.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is talking all about signs.  Jesus is talking about looking for signs of the coming of the end.  It may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world at the beginning of the new church year.  And it may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world when we are starting Advent, the time when we are anticipating the coming of Christ to the world.  But weird or not, that is our reading for this Sunday. 
Jesus tells us to look for signs in our world.  He uses the things that the people would have known, things like the fig tree.  Jesus uses the natural progression of the tree to help people realize that the coming of the messiah will occur within the workings of daily life.  He tells the people to look to things and try to read the signs.  But the thing that we miss in the reading for today is the part that happens just before today’s reading.  You see, the disciples were looking at the wonderful buildings and temples in the city, and although they looked big and beautiful, Jesus was saying that these buildings would tumble.  The signs that the disciples were to be looking for would not be found in the temples where the people would expect to find the signs, they would be found in the wilds, where they would be least expected.
Jesus would not be found in the temples.  The messiah was not to be held in the glorious buildings.  And looking for the savior in the established places would be futile.  The places where the savior is SUPPOSED to be will end up in an empty search.  The buildings will fall, and the people will still be searching.
The poor old Germans in joke were searching.  But they were searching in the wrong place.  They were searching moose and deer, but they were not looking in the right place.  They were looking at the tracks that were obvious to them, but the obvious tracks were not going to lead to the end the old Germans desired.  Looking for deer and moose by following train tracks led to a disastrous end.  And Jesus would point out that the most obvious ways of searching are not necessarily the best ways.
Anyone who has gone hunting knows that looking for the trails of deer or other game requires some knowledge of the animal.  The person who is tracking has to be aware of the subtle changes that surround them.  They have to be aware of the broken branches and the leaves that have been eaten.  It is by following the subtle signs, not the big glaring tracks of steel that will lead hunters to they quarry.  All that following the large, man-made tracks will do is scare the animals away and lead to dissapointment.
Granted, Jesus does talk about some big signs; “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light;” but these are still the natural signs.  These are the signs out in the world.  We have to be out of the building to be able to see the signs Jesus speaks of.  We have to be out in the wilderness to see the subtlety of the changing of the fig tree.  The buildings will fall apart, but the signs of Jesus coming are not found in the buildings!
For the people of biblical times, this would be a surprise.  You may remember I have said that the Messiah was supposed to be a warrior king.  The Messiah was supposed to come in and clear away all of the peoples’ enemies by a show of force.  To the people of biblical times, kings, leaders, rulers would all have palaces and great monuments; and it would be in these monuments that the king would be found.  So for Jesus to be telling the people that the great temples will fall and that the Messiah will not be found there is quite shocking.
But for us, this should not be too surprising.  We, the ones who know the story from our vantage point two-thousand year in the future should comfortable with this.  We should know not to look for Christ in the “usual” spots.  We should be used to finding the tomb empty.  We should be used to finding the King eating with the tax collectors, beggars, and prostitutes.  We should be comfortable with the idea of the Son of God being born in a stable.  We should know – as a part of our being – that we need to look of our Savior “outside” of the expected places.  But so often, we find ourselves in the place of the old Germans, we are looking for moose and deer but end up following the train tracks.  Now granted, the train tracks are easier to follow, but those old Germans are never going to find what they are looking for.
So often we are surrounded by people who think they have found the right signs, and they are very willing to do all kinds of things to follow those tracks.  They are willing to spend two weeks sleeping in a tent to be the first to purchase their savior.  They are willing to spray pepper-spray on others in order to grab their savior out of the hands of another.  They are willing to put those around them in jeopardy just so they can get what they feel they deserve.  But I have trouble believing that our Savior is going to be found on an X-Box 360 or appear on a waffle made with the $2 waffle iron, the acquisition of which sent three people to the hospital.  I have trouble believing the Savior will appear in the Summer House in the Alps or the Winter House in Cancun.  I have trouble believing our Savior will appear in any monument we build to ourselves, even if we say we are building it to the glory of God.
The problem with the “expected” tracks is they WILL always lead to SOMETHING.  Who knows, maybe the old Germans will convince themselves that trains are actually moose and deer.  But just because they call the train a moose, doesn’t make it a moose.  Just because we have been told that church is a place we are to find comfort, doesn’t mean that our search for Christ should end when we are comfortable.  We can try to convince ourselves of this, but then we are left trying to chew on a train instead of having venison.
Christ calls us to look for signs.  Christ calls us to search.  But Christ calls us to look for the signs in the wilderness.  Christ calls us to look beyond what our world would tell us.  Christ is not found on the cross.  Christ is not found in the tomb.  Christ is not found in the palace.  Christ is not even found in the comfort of the maternity ward.  We find Christ in the wilderness.  We find Christ on the fringes.  We find Christ in those places that most of society would choose to avoid.
In searching for Christ this Advent, where will you search?  What wilderness are you being drawn to?  The tracks you are following; will they lead to Christ or to a train wreck?  Christ is calling us to him.  Christ wants us to find him!  Christ will give us the opportunities we need if we will only search.  The search will probably be difficult, but I am sure the results will be worth it!  And if our search ends up sending us headlong into an on-coming train, then I am also sure Christ will be there to help us back on our way.

Crafts for the Gay Man!

I know that I should come up with something of my own, but this is too good not to share!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King

Well, we have made it to the end of the church year.  Today is Christ the King Sunday.   This is the day that we celebrate the reign of Christ over the world.
Since we so often hear how America is such a Christian country, I figured I should be able to just look around and see all kinds of signs that Christ truly is the King.  But for how much I looked, I had some difficulty finding any sign that anyone truly believed that Christ was the king.  People were crabby.  Drivers were mean.  No one seemed to care about anyone except themselves.  For being such a Christian country, we seem to be so far from living our Christian heritage.
Why do we, and I am not just talking about us gathered here this morning, but all of us in this “so called” Christian country, have difficulty showing to the world just how Christian we are?  If Christ really is the King of our lives, why is it so hard to see? 
One of the big arguments our Jewish friends have is exactly that question:  If Jesus was the Son of God; then why isn’t it more obvious in the world?  And I really think they have a point.  As a friend of mine always asked, “If being a Christian were illegal, could people find enough evidence to convict you?
I think one of the problems is with the whole “King” thing.  We don’t have a whole lot of experience with kings, and often the experience we do have has more to do with Elvis as the King of Rock ‘n Roll or Michael Jackson as the King of Pop.  Quite often, when we think of King, we think of someone who is out in front, out seeking popularity.  We may think of some of the tyrants from third world countries, but we probably have the most experience dealing with the King as showman.
When it comes to Christ the King, Christ OUR King, we don’t have a showman.  We don’t have someone who is out seeking fame; we don’t have someone who is out there trying to dominate all the things, quite the contrary.  We have a King who is a servant.  We have a King who is not seeking the limelight.  We have a King who is not out seeking popularity; and to us, this can feel odd.  In our world, the things that we are TOLD are important are those things that are constantly seeking our attention and seeking our adoration.  We are told our politicians are important because they are always on TV.  We are told celebrities are important because they are always seeking our adoration.  We are informed by the media that these people are important, and that we are supposed to follow their leads. 
But our King, Christ the King, is different.  I think if Jesus were in the world right now, we probably wouldn’t hear much about it on TV.  He wouldn’t be making the headlines.  He wouldn’t be on the 11 o’clock news.  I don’t know if he would even make it to the morning talk shows.  Jesus didn’t make it onto the radar of the leadership of Biblical times until the end of his ministry.  And then, when he did make it into their consciousness, it wasn’t in a positive manner.  No, I think Jesus would more likely be one of the Occupy Wall Street people than one of the politicians.
Now, you may wonder why I would say that.  Well, look at what Jesus says to the sheep and the goats in today’s parable.  Jesus does not separate the sheep from the goats by how much they have acquired.  Jesus does not separate the sheep from the goats by the size of the house the creature has.  Jesus does not use the usual, or worldly, methods of separating the sheep from the goats; Jesus’ method of judgment is a challenge to us.  Jesus’ method of judgment is a challenge for us to move beyond the expectations of the world and move on to something quite incredible.  Jesus’ method of judgment asks us to look beyond caring for our own needs and reaching out to care for the needs of others.
Our world tells us to look out for ourselves.  Our society holds the “lifting yourself up by your bootstraps” in high regard.  Our world seems to think that if you are poor, unemployed, or have some kind of disease, then this is your own fault and you are getting what you disserve.  Our world keeps telling us that the people who are industrious are the ones whom God helps.  You know, “God helps those who help themselves!”  (Actually, this is not in the Bible at all.  It is most often attributed to Ben Franklin, but more accurately came from Algernon Sydney in 1698.)
But this is so opposite of what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.  When Jesus lifts up the sheep, he doesn’t praise them for being frugal; he doesn’t praise them for not creating dependent deadbeats.  He does not praise them for helping those who help themselves.  What he does do is praise the sheep for helping those who were in need.  He praises them for feeding the hungry, for bringing drink to the thirsty, for visiting those in prison.  (What we need to remember about visiting those in prison, this wasn’t just a social visit, prison did not supply for those in prison.  It was up to visitors to bring supplies for the in prison.)  He tells the sheep that when they helped the least in society, that they were, in fact, helping Jesus.  This is no, “God helps those who help themselves,” this is God looking with gladness upon those who reach out the hand of love to those around them.
On Christ the King Sunday, we are once again reminded that the way of the world is not the way of Christ.  We are reminded that our King is not a showman or someone seeking fame.  We are reminded that we are to be followers of Christ and that we are to reach out to others in Christian love.  We are reminded that when Christ looks to us, Christ is not interested in what we have acquired for ourselves, but what we have given to others.
What ways can we reach out?  How can we feed the hungry?  How can we clothe the poor?  How can we become the people of God out, in the world?  How do we trust in our King more than we trust in our own bootstraps?  We claim Christ as our kind, but do we really believe this?  This is the tough part.  Do we trust that we can give?  Do we trust that God will care for us when we step out in faith?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have been thinking about all the hoopla surrounding Occupy Wall Street.  I was thinking about the 1% carpeting the protesters in McDonald's applications.  I have seen postings about how #OWS is just a bunch of whining babies.  And I keep getting more and more offended.

My first thought:  If these people had jobs, good jobs,  would they be out protesting?  Obviously the "Job Creators" are not creating jobs.  If they were creating jobs, the people would not be out protesting.  And not just any jobs, but jobs people can take pride in.

Secondly:  Are McDonald's applications being used because the only jobs that are available are at McDonald's?  If minimum wage jobs are the only thing that economy can produce, then we are really in some trouble.  If our economy can only produce low-pay, no insurance jobs, we are definitely on the downward slide.  When I hear people say, "I work two jobs I hate because I don't want to whine," it saddens me.  Is this all we have to look to?

Thirdly:  If this is what the 1% think we desire, they are sorely mistaken.  We want fulfillment from our jobs just like they want fulfillment from theirs.  I know I would be willing to work at a lower paying job if I could feel that I am DOING something.  Handing overpriced lattes to affluent soccer moms is not my idea of fulfillment.

Fourthly:  If the 1% think we can afford medical insurance on part-time pay, they are WAY out of touch with the world.  Or that we want to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet.  We like to have healthcare just like they want healthcare.  And working part-time for McDonald's isn't going to do it.

Fifthly:  We like to have vacations too.  We are even happy just to have some time at the lake, we don't need to go to Rio or the Riviera.  We are happy to have a tent or a hotel, we don't need a luxury spa resort.  We just want to have a good time at our working class vacation spots with our family and not have to worry that the vacation will push the budget over the edge.  Who can enjoy a vacation when every expense must be fretted over.

Sixthly:  I have ten years of college!  What a waste to be putting that education to work making sure the "upside-down caramel macciato" is exactly 170 degrees.  I can, and have, worked minimum wage jobs, but I would hope that in the greatest country on earth I could find a job that allowed some of the "American Dream."

Showering the #OWS people with McDonald's applications may have seemed like a funny idea to some people, but it just goes to show how out of touch some people are.  People want jobs with dignity and that have worth; give these jobs to people and they will work them.  People would not care that the richest people have their toys if we knew we had the basics and a little extra to make life pleasant.  Yes, I could work at McDonald's, but I would get very tired of it very soon and I would probably end up throwing a McHeart Attack into someones face out of frustration.

Is this all we have to offer as "The Greatest Country?"  If so, how pathetic.

Friday, November 04, 2011

New Place

Well, we are in the new house.  And it is starting to look more like a home.  The bulk of the boxes are now in storage.  The glass room is getting set up.  Pretty soon I will be able to start making CHRISTMAS STUFF!!  (Well, I have been making some Christmas stuff for a while, but now I can get back at it!)

Now I can start looking for work around here.  I would like to find a church, but I am not so sure that will happen.  But that also means that I can start looking for calls across our great country.  Actually, I would prefer to find a call in the southern part of the US, but we will see.