Sunday, March 25, 2012

9 Moths and Counting!

Ok, it is not Christmas related, but a Zombie bunny?  It don't get much better than that!

Bully Jesus?

Lent 5 B
I think it is kind of cool.  I was looking over my friends from Facebook and realized that my friends cover all sorts of faiths, all sorts of beliefs.  I have friends who are Jewish, friends who are pagan, and friends who are atheists.  What is especially interesting is that no matter what, so often the conversation comes to Jesus.  Even the atheists know about Jesus!  And many of the atheists are, quite embarrassingly, more knowledgeable about Jesus than many of the Christians I know.  No matter what you may say about Jesus, it is almost impossible to live in America and not have some kind of knowledge of Jesus.
But even after all these years, and with all these people talking about Jesus, I still think we don’t really understand Jesus.  I really think we have a concept of Jesus in our head and then we do what we can to make Jesus fit inot our concept.  And actually, that is nothing odd; we do that to just about everything.  But the unfortunate thing is that so often we forget to look at our assumptions of Jesus, and when we fail to look at our assumptions, we begin to do all kinds of things and attribute those actions to Jesus.
A while ago, there was the whole WWJD phenomenon going around.  It sounds like a simple question to ask and a simple question to answer.  What would Jesus do?  But just a look at our gospel reading of two weeks ago should jar us.  Jesus was running through the temple with a whip!  Would we think that Jesus would be doing that?  Or how ‘bout tax collectors and prostitutes?  Jesus was eating with them.  Would we be wanting to do that?  I know, as a priest, if I am seen out regularly with prostitutes, most people are not going to be thinking, “Wow, he is doing what Jesus did!”  No, so often WWJD becomes, “What Would I Do and obviously that is what Jesus would do.”  We tend to want to turn Jesus into our follower instead of trying to follow the way of Jesus.
Now in Biblical times, they probably wouldn’t have had WWJD t-shirts, but they may have had WWTMD tunics and caftans.  WWTMD?  Well, of course, that stands for “What Would the Messiah Do?”  And during those days, there were some pretty strong opinions about what the Messiah would do once he showed up.  The Messiah, the anointed one of God, would be a strong warrior.  The Messiah would come in and fight the battle and lift the people up.  The Messiah would take out the evil king of the time and establish himself as the true ruler.  This is what the people were looking for, and this is not what they found in Jesus.
In Jesus, the people were getting something that was totally unknown to them.  Biblical people didn’t have Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. to help them understand the concept of the servant leader.  All they would have had were the warrior gods; the whole “might makes right” concept.  In their experience, the one who would save them was the one who would conquer those who were evil through a show of force.  But Jesus was not a “go out and attack” kind of Messiah.  And so, for the people of Biblical times, Jesus was an unknown quantity.
I would like to think that with time, we have become more able to understand Christ’s way of “being” in the world.  That over the past 2000 years, we have become more and more learned in the way Jesus has been leading.  I would like to say that, but, unfortunately, I don’t think we have.  I think we have continued to look for the bully Jesus.  We keep looking for the Savior who is going to “take care of” all those other people in the world.  And this searching for the big, violent, Jesus, keeps getting us in trouble.
How do we regain an understanding of what Jesus stood for?  How do we move beyond the tales that the world tells us and see the truth which is before us?  How do we do this?  Well, it is not easy.  Just about everything in the world tells us that those who have the most strength, prestige, or wealth have the most power.  In our society, those with the biggest guns, or the biggest fists, or the biggest bank accounts can hold others hostage.  And when we see these people seemingly succeed through these types of bullying techniques, we have to wonder if it is really worth it to follow Jesus in the way of servant leadership.
It is worth it, I will tell you that, but following the way of servant leadership requires we view the world from a totally different perspective.  Servant leadership means that we must bury our ego, our pride, our need to stand out, and look for ways to help others mend their bruised egos, build up others’ sense of self-worth, and help others to feel they are special and loved. 
So often, what I find is that when I go out looking for ways to make me feel better, make me feel more important, all I end up doing is feeling more alone and more down.  In trying to life myself up, I end up doing just the opposite of what I intend.  But when I allow myself to be a servant, when I move beyond myself and help to build up others, I find that I end up feeling better.
Now, of course, when Jesus speaks of the seed dying and coming back producing more fruit, we are correct to assume that Jesus is speaking of himself.  But also, we need to ask ourselves what might Jesus be asking of us?  I think Jesus is asking us to say “No” to ourselves.  I think Jesus is asking us to look for ways that we can be of service to those around us.  How we can stop asking, “What will happen to me if I help,” and start asking, “What will happen to them if I don’t help?”
This is a quite different way of looking at the world. The Messiah as a Powerful Warrior is the way the world believed Jesus would show up, and is still the way the world believes.  The world tells us that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and that “God helps those that help themselves.”  But Jesus models for us a different way.  Jesus models for us the way of reaching out and loving a hurting world.  As Christ laid down his life for us, he asks us to lay down our lives for others.
I think the hardest part of this whole thing is Jesus’ call for the seed to die.  This is so against the world’s call to be strong and tough.  Jesus asks us to be caring servants.  The world tells us to be self-sufficient Lone Rangers.  Christ calls us to act contrary to ways of society and beckons us to follow.
Lent is coming to a close.  I hope you have been able to use this time as a time of growth, a time of clearing those things that were preventing you from experiencing God in your life.  I hope these last weeks continue to be a time of growth and a time of discovery.  I hope that Christ’s love is a tangible presence in your life.  And I pray that as we approach Passion and Resurrection of Christ, you may be a instrument of Christ’s love in the world.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Clear the Way!

Lent 3 Year B 

John 2:13-22

     Wow! We are almost half way to Easter! Can you believe it? I love this time of year when we can actually start to feel things warm up.  Last week was wonderful!  Being able to get out of the house and be out in the sun was wonderful!  And I find that with the warmth in the air, there is that rush of energy.
 And as we begin to approach Easter, at least I know I start thinking of Easter Morning worship.   I love Easter Morning worship!  I love all the flowers. I love sounds and the smells. And I love seeing families gathered together to come to worship.
I know for many families, Easter morning worship is especially important. It is a time for families to gather together and a time to put on one’s best. We tend to dress better for Easter than for other worship services, and that is great! I especially love when the little children show-off they new Easter outfits. I have a picture of me with my little suit on and my little fedora hat.  It just brings back such wonderful memories! 
Usually, there are extra people in worship, and with all the extra people in worship, the Easter offering tends to be bigger than usual. More people in worship usually equals more people putting money into the collection plate. And I am pretty sure the vestry is NOT opposed to more money coming into the church!
But what would you think if, in the midst of all this normal activity on Easter Sunday, a madman from the street came running into the church? He comes running through the fellowship hall, throwing coffee cakes everywhere. Grabbing the collection plates, he tears up all the checks and money. Smashing all the flowers and throwing the dirt on everyone’s new clothes. AND GET THIS! After doing all this destruction, this nut expects us to believe that he was sent by GOD -- to destroy all of this -- and now this guy wants us to follow him!
Why would this madman come into our sanctuary and create all kinds of disturbances when nothing particularly unusual was happening? Why would he ruin our Easter celebration, the celebration where we were honoring and worshipping God and Jesus? What would provoke this madman to destroy so much?
So often, I think we hear the story of the cleansing of the temple and don’t give it much thought. We think that, because Jesus was doing it, it was a good thing to doing. He was getting all those evil people out of the temple. They were being offensive, so then needed to get out of the temple. But we fail to consider what actually happened on that day back in Biblical times.
John, in the gospel, tells us that the Passover was near. Now all good Jews would go to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover. With all these people around, the temple would be quite busy. (We could think of this as the family coming home for Easter.) And the moneychangers? They served a vital function in the temple; the people could not use the coins of the Romans in the temple because the coins had the face of the emperor on them and that was considered a graven image. So for coins to be given in the temple, the Roman coins had to be exchanged for other coins. So the moneychangers were providing a service vital to the temple. Without the moneychangers, there would be no donations to the temple. We may not realize that with Jesus disrupting the moneychangers, there would be no offerings given at the temple on that day.
The same would go for the people selling animals. The pilgrims that traveled to the temple would have difficulty in bringing livestock to the temple. So the sellers were providing a valuable service for the pilgrims, they provided animals for the required sacrifices. With the disruption of the people selling the animals, no sacrificial animals would not be available and the people would not be able to make their Passover sacrifices.  Passover sacrifices were an important part of Jewish worship life.  The sacrifice was an important gift given in thanksgiving to God.  So the animals were there for the sacrifice.
Now, imagine the anger, dismay, offense you would feel if someone came into our midst and began to trash the church here at St. Swithin’s. You would probably not be too happy with the person, would you? Actually you would probably be trying to prevent the guy from leaving while someone was busy calling the cops.
Now, transfer this feeling onto the people of Jesus’ day. Imagine that you have traveled a long distance, across the desert, to get to the temple. You packed up your family and a good chunk of money so you could worship properly at the temple. Now also imagine that after going through all of this, the whole worship service was disrupted by some madman brandishing a whip. I think you can get a feel for what it was like to be one of the people in the temple when Jesus came running in with his whip.
Why should Jesus do this? Why would Jesus want to disrupt the excitement and the worship that was part of the Passover festival? If you think about it, tearing up the temple is not a very good way to win friends and attract followers. If I were to come running in here on Easter brandishing a whip and tearing things apart, you would be looking to send me to a mental hospital -- or jail -- rather than cheering me on for doing God’s work.
To use such shock tactics, Jesus had to be quite sure of himself. He HAD to know what he was doing was going to cause some big problems with some people. But he also would know that his actions were sending the message that a different way of interacting with God was in the works.
At the temple, people would present their sacrifices to the priests and the priests would make the sacrifice for the people. It was through the priest that the people would have access to God. Through his actions, Jesus was telling the people that there was a new authority. The temple and the priests and the Pharisees were not the authority any longer. The institutionalized practices in the temple were no longer to be looked upon as the only way to God. A new way was literally crashing through, right into their midst.
The practice of ritual sacrifice was turning the temple into something that it was never meant to be. In order to fulfill the requirements of the law, the temple was becoming a place of commerce. In order to gain God’s favor, money needed to be changed and animals needed to be bought.
But Christ was redefining the temple. No longer would animal sacrifice need to occur, Christ himself would become the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. No longer would an animal be sacrificed on the hope that the sacrifice would be pleasing to God. Christ was the ultimate “Lamb without blemish,” the truly pleasing sacrifice to God. Jesus, in a way that was pretty hard to ignore, was ushering in a new age.
As you continue on your Lenten journey, have you stumbled over some of those things that are getting in your way of finding God? Have you discovered the merchants and moneychangers that prevent you from being in the presence of God? Have you found those things that seem necessary but, in actuality, only preserve your distance from the one thing that is truly important?
Finding these things in your life is one thing, clearing them is another! We can understand the resistance the people had in the temple, we can understand how we would feel if the madman were to rush through the congregation. But we need to realize that the madman is Jesus, the one we claim to follow! The madman is presented as an example for us to follow! The madman gives us an example of how we can start anew.
Now this can be scary, Jesus is running through the temple doing a fair amount of damage. We may not really want to have this kind of damage done to us! How can this be helpful? The one thing that we need to remember that Jesus is NOT destroying the temple, he is clearing the things that are getting in the way; he is clearing the things that are preventing the temple from functioning properly. When Jesus comes to help us clear the temples of our lives, it may feel like our lives are being destroyed. While thinking about this, we need to realize that Jesus did not hate the temple, and Jesus does not hate us. In trying to clear the temple, Jesus was returning it to its true purpose. In clearing our lives, Jesus is once again trying to return us to our true purpose. Just like we may not understand and fear the madman in the temple, we may be confused by the actions of Jesus in our lives. But considering this seeming madman is our loving lord and savior, this clearing is only for the best.
This clearing is not something that we must do on our own, though. In the temple, we can assume that the people didn’t even realize that the merchants and the moneychangers were getting in their way of experiencing God. It was when Jesus came whipping through, that change began to happen.
Jesus will help us! If we ask, Jesus will help us to find the places where the things of life are coming between us and our experience of God. But I have to warn you! When Jesus starts to clear your temple, you may not like it! When Jesus starts to clear the way for a true relationship with him, we may rebel at the things that are disrupted. We may feel we want to go back to the way things were before. Yet, if we remember, as with the temple, the discomfort of the disruption is only temporary. After the disruption comes the transformation of our lives. After Jesus clears our lives, we will find that the sacrifice has already been made in Christ and that it is a truly pleasing sacrifice to our God.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tunnels and Death

I was in an antique store yesterday and saw an old train tunnel.  You know, those things that you would put over the track and the train runs through it.  As I looked at it, I began to wonder:  Why do we have things like this?  Not "why do we have model trains," but "why do we put silly little 6" long arches of styrofoam over the trains?"

And then, I was thinking about more advanced train lay-outs.  Most of them have at least one tunnel of some sort on them.  Why?

I think it goes back to something primal about things disappearing and then reappearing.  Possibly a fear that the object will disappear or something.will happen while in the tunnel.  Now, of course we know that the train will come out of the tunnel (barring any derailment) but we still like to make things go through them.

This may seem like silly speculation to some, but I think there is something more to it.  It might be playing with our fear of death.  It is thrilling to us on some level that the train goes into the tunnel and disappears and then somehow the train reappears.  The train comes back from the dead.

I also was thinking about the rituals of "Good Night" and "Good Morning."  Are they more than just social niceties?  When I say "good night" or "good morning" to the cat, I am indulging in an unnecessary social nicety.  Or am I trying to reassure myself or the other that we will make it through the "death" of sleep and arise the next morning?

Were our ancestral beings unable to have object permanence and so things disappearing frighten us?  Did our ancestral beings have difficulty in understanding sleep so we have rituals to inform people we are not dead?

I don't know.  Just a little peek into what happen in my brain.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Whole Rush Limbaugh Thing

I have been thinking about this whole thing with Rush Limbaugh.  Mr. Limbaugh is notorious for saying all kinds of outlandish things, why should this one suddenly make the headlines?  He obviously hit a nerve on this one.  He has moved beyond just being rude to being totally offensive.  I think the word he used to describe Ms Fluke is right up there with calling someone of African-American the "N" word or calling a gay person the "F" word.  He has moved beyond some kind of social line.

And his lame apology.  Of course, when you preface the apology with a joke about calling yourself to cancel your advertising, how are we supposed to take this seriously."  I am not sure Rush knows what it means to be apologetic.

I hope this is a sign that the American society is starting to see that the right considers them a bunch of non-thinking followers who will nod slack-slack jawed to anything the Tea Party has to say.  There finally comes a point where things just get too absurd; and I think Rush crossed it.

Do I hope Rush gets fired?  I don't know...  I don't choose to listen to him, usually.  I do listen to him when I am on a long drive so I have something to keep me angry, I mean "awake," after lunch.  But other than that, I don't choose to listen to him.  I am upset that people take his words as gospel truth, but that seems to be ending.  I think he gets way too much money for what he does, and that he has way too much power.  I think people need to question what is coming out of his mouth.  But I don't think he should be fired.

I see someone who has built a huge wall of grandiosity around himself to protect anyone from seeing the scared boy hiding below.

I have said it on FB, and I will say it now:  Maybe Rush should take his earnings and invest in some therapy.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Great Lie (Lent 2)

 Are you familiar with the concept of “The Great Lie?”  This is the concept that if you tell someone something enough times, eventually the person will believe it.  Often, when we discuss the Great Lie, we are talking about such things as Jews are genetically inferior, as are blacks and women.  Or we are talking about things such as all unemployed people are lazy or all Muslims are violent and make bombs. 
But it doesn’t have to be that big of a lie; it can be lies on a smaller scale.  When I was a kid, we had the Great Lie that all the kids that lived in a small town called Sheryl were stupid hicks and all the girls chewed tobacco.  In college, it was the concept that if the nursing students could pass a class, then anyone could.  And I am sure if we think about it, we can all think of Great Lies that we heard about each one of us.  My sister continually told me that I could not sing.  Even after being in musicals and having solos, I doubted my abilities.  I also heard that I was a “scatter-brain” and would never amount to much because I could never keep on track.  These Great Lies hurt!  And when we are constantly bombarded by them, we begin to question our own reality.  If all these people are telling us something that seems counter to our own experience, then maybe it is OUR perception that is wrong.  That is often what we begin to believe.
Advertisers LOVE the Great Lie.  The way advertisers sell stuff is by making us believe that we are not good people if we do not have their product.  Advertisers tell us that we are not good enough unless we have a specific car, or wear a specific style of clothing.  We are not good house keepers if our counters are dusty.  We should be ashamed to walk out of the house if we have “ring around the collar” or “dingy whites.”  We keep getting told that we need specific things to make us acceptable or happy and as these messages sink farther and farther into our subconscious, we begin to believe them.
Now, advertisers are not the only ones who do this; religions do this too.  I have been told that if I did not speak in tongues that God really didn’t love me.  We keep getting told that we have to have a Mega-Church to be taken seriously as a worshipping community.  And so often we are told that unless we have children running up and down the aisles then we might as well pack it up and head home.  And when we hear this enough, especially coming from people whom we consider authorities, we begin to believe it.  The Great Lie takes hold of our minds and begins to beat us down.
But I’m here to tell ya!  The thing that we forget about the Great Lie is that it is, in fact, A LIE!  Just because it is repeated over and over and over does not make it true!  For every Great Lie we hear, we can most assuredly find exceptions to these lies.  And in many cases, we can find multiple exceptions.  Unfortunately, since we are bombarded with the Great Lie, we need to continue to search for those exceptions and remind ourselves that the lie is just that, a lie.
Abraham could have just given into the common thought that he and Sarah we just too old to do anything.  I am sure this had crossed their minds.  And it would have been the commonly held “wisdom” that these old people couldn’t possible contribute to their community anymore. And I am guessing that Abraham and Sarah had bought into the prevailing belief.  But God was not going to give into the Great Lie.  God was going to make a promise to Abraham that would blow the Great Lie right out of the water!  God promised Abraham that he would become the Father of Nations.  Now, frankly, that just sounds silly.  He was old, Sarah was old.  How was this supposed to happen?  God had plans for Abraham and Sarah, and God wasn’t about to let something like biology get in the way!
What are the Great Lies we have been told and continue to tell ourselves?  What are the things we want to do but either society tells us we can’t do or we tell ourselves that we can’t do?  What could we do if we stopped telling ourselves that we just can’t do it?
I am constantly shocked by the miracles that surround me everyday.  I got here in a car; people said we could never go that fast.  I have my cell phone; something that was purely science-fiction when I was born.  I typed this sermon on a laptop computer; I don’t even know if science-fiction writers even considered these things!  We are constantly surrounded by things that take the myth of the Great Lie and break it wide open.
But still, those Great Lies that we have been surrounded by hold tight.  I still question every time I open my mouth to sing.  I still wonder if I am just kidding myself and that I sound horrible.  I still question every time I stand up to preach.  I worry that people are right and that I have nothing of value to say.  I think we get sucked into the Great Lies because we do not want to be seen as being foolish.  We are afraid of failing and having people think we are silly.
Abraham must have felt pretty silly listening to God’s schpiel.  Abraham must have felt odd to go ahead and believe, to act “as if.”  Abraham must have felt silly.  But Abraham trusted.  And in trusting, God’s will was brought forth.  And those of us sitting here are the living proof that God can smash the Great Lie.  Abraham did not believe everything that society was telling hem and was putting his trust in God.
Are we willing to risk looking silly?  Are we willing to put aside the Great Lies we have been told by the world and trust in God?  Are we willing to step out in faith and believe that God can do more that we could ever consider? 
Are we willing to believe that the God who could use Abraham and Sarah at an advanced age could use us?  Are we willing to trust that a God who could use all kinds of people could use us?  So often we keep believing the lies we are told.  We believe we are too old, too small, too whatever to matter.  But here we have God telling two people, two OLD people, two OLD CHILDLESS people that they were going to be the parents of nations.  Would we believe?
That is the tough thing, but that is a challenge we must face.  We must see that with our God, we are able to so much more than we could ever conceive.  But we need to be willing to step out, to take the risk, to be possibly look silly.  We need to look to Abraham as a role model in trust and belief.  We need to see that because he believed, we now are here today.  God is willing to do a lot through us, but we need to have the faith to move into those areas that seem beyond us.