Sacred Soil

March 31, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Acts 10:34–43
Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24
1 Corinthians 15:19–26
Luke 24:1–12

This is the story of yes. God’s yes. God’s yes in a world that seems hell bent on no.

Though, to be honest with you, sometimes “no” is easier. Easier to understand, easier to take, easier to settle in to. Easier to believe.

Here’s that story, the story of No:

The tomb is empty because his body was stolen.
The tomb is empty because he was eaten by wild dogs.
The tomb is empty because they’d come to the wrong place.

The specifics may vary, but it’s pretty easy to do. Easy to rest into. To say “no.” Saying No requires nothing of us. We simply push the offending thought from our mind. Solve the cognitive dissonance. These women were mistaken. Because, Resurrection, well, that doesn’t make any sense.

And it doesn’t.

We like to make sense. It is simpler that way. We like things to move logically, from cause to affect. We believe the statistics. The math. The finality of death.

You’ve heard this no. Indeed, for many of us the sound of no reverberates across our hearts.

  • Heard in the sounds of rejection,
  • in the balance of our bank accounts.
  • in bad news from doctors.
  • as the statisticians tell us about the grim future for the church.

This no is heard in every moment that tries to narrow our future, hem us in. Strip away our identity, the very center of our being, with claims its claims of inevitability. The assurance there is no escape.

Over and over again, the world says “no.” This cannot be done. It will not be. And so often it seems it is better to merely take our lumps and rest into the narrow reality of no. Of impossibility.

But I know that I am standing now in a room full of folks who aren’t all that concerned with this resounding chorus of “No.” I am in a room of folks who resist that catchy tune, the siren song of, “that’s never gonna happen.”

Now, we’re not always that good at it. We here get lulled in, just like anyone else, the tune of “no” sounding strong in our ears, catching us like an earworm. The “no” so subtle and familiar, it fades and becomes as background music in our lives, slowly sucking our hope away.

But, we do know something different here. We know what it is to hear “yes.” We know what it is to believe that the impossible can happen, and that indeed it does. Over and over again. Because we’ve seen it.

On that day, when the women went to the tomb with their spices and burial perfumes, they had expectations. They knew what they were looking for—the great big “no” from Rome. The “no” that declared their beloved teacher dead. But. instead, they encountered a “yes”. An unexpected, loud, incomprehensible “yes.” Spoken in resounding words—reverberating against their memories, against this man they had known. And they knew, they knew in their hearts, that against all possibility, it was true.

God said, “yes.”

God said “yes” because our God will not take “no” for an answer. Not yours, not mine, not Rome’s, nor any political machine, or anything that thrives on the narrowness of human depravity. God says “yes,” over and over again. Indeed, our God keeps on ushering in the kingdom, despite all odds.

This is what we learned again in our Easter Vigil last night. God’s salvation history is a tune played throughout time. The melody that carries us through. This Easter morning is not a strange new creation, but rather an echo of Noah, and Jonah, of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. It is an echo of the promise that we will each be given a new heart. It is a resounding chorus of God’s yes, magnified by all the other yeses we know in history. The yes given to us in our own baptism. This is the joy our trumpets sound.

God will keep on ushering in the kingdom, over and over again.

Even if it kills God.

And it did.

Do you see it? Do you see this yes?

  • It is in this community that celebrates the spirit of each one gathered here.
  • It is in the triumphs of those who declare: I will live fully, embracing the wounds I’ve born.
  • It is in the people who are so passionate about the education of our children in this community—the people who believe, who know, justice is possible.
  • It is in the hard work of those who painted, who cleaned, who cooked, to help revitalize the fellowship hall. Echoing a “yes” that declares something amazing can happen here.
  • It is in our youth and their parents who worked so hard to make Easter breakfast happen.

This “yes” becomes a resounding chorus, drowning out the slow din and dirge of “no.” This “yes” names the kingdom of God breaking in around us—surprising us far beyond our capacity to anticipate, to measure, to predict with simple statistics.

And here’s the yet more beautiful thing about this “yes,” about this resurrection… it is growing up everywhere. In the places you know, but most assuredly in places unexpected—like a tomb just outside Jerusalem.

There are “yeses” yet to be discovered, like the softening warmth of spring, creeping into places unexpected. And now, it is our joy, our great privilege, to discover this yes anew, seeking the green blade that rises from the buried grain. Seeking this new life, this yes in the outcast, in the one we have judged. The one we have despised. The one we have shunned.

Because this very same yes, is poured on us. The yes that brought us to new life in our own baptism. The yes that poured over our heads, we too, who once were dead, have now been raised to God’s resounding and overpowering yes.


A Day of Awe
March 29, 2013, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Good Friday

Isaiah 52:13—53:12
Psalm 22
Hebrews 10:16–25
John 18:1—19:42

I want to propose to you that this day is a day far more about awe than judgment.


Not the cute kind of awe that we save for sentimental moments, but the heart wrenching, gut clenching awe of mystery and honor.

I propose this, because I believe it is difficult to bear this story, to really hear this story, without a profound sense of awe. That the one who is God, became so fully and utterly human. That on this day, the one who is God, was so profoundly wounded, wounded to the point of death—

I propose that this is a day of awe because of the stories of men like Jose. Jose is a former gang member. It’s a story told by Father Greg Boyle, who runs Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Jose is a part of their substance abuse team. A man in recovery. He’s been a heroine addict, a gang member, and is heavily tattooed. But in his work now, he regularly finds himself standing in front of a room of 600 social workers and…

On one occasion, he says very offhandedly: “You know, I guess you could say that my mom and me, we didn’t get along so good. I guess I was six when she looked at me and she said, ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself? You’re such a burden to me.'” Well, the whole audience gasped, and then he said, “It sounds way worser in Spanish.”

Then he tells the audience “My mom beat me every single day. In fact, I had to wear three T-shirts to school every day.” And then he kind of loses the battle with his own tears a little bit and he says: “I wore three T-shirts well into my adult years, because I was ashamed of my wounds. I didn’t want anybody to see them. But now my wounds are my friends. I welcome my wounds. I run my fingers over my wounds.”

Then he looks at this crowd and he says, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?” And awe came upon everyone because we’re so inclined to kind of judge this kid who, you know, went to prison, is tattooed and is a gang member and homeless and heroine addict and the list goes on.

But in its telling, Jose’s story becomes intimate. In a sense, it become our own, as our own woundedness joins his, and we sit in awe of all that this young man has born. Wondering, how we could possibly do the same? Most of us would likely say, we could not bear it. And so we sit in awe.

Often we think of this day, Good Friday, as a day of judgment. A day of judgment on ourselves and others, as we sit in the stew of our sinfulness and the pain we cause ourselves and others. And perhaps there is a moment for this. Indeed, I think there probably is. There are those moments that we must get angry, that we must name what is wrong, what is hurtful, what is painful, and destructive. Those moments where we must attempt to name what is right—so that good news may be heard, that a different way may be made known.

But first, first, I think we must sit in awe. In awe of the wounds we bear. In awe of the wounds others bear. In awe of the wounds our very human Christ bore. To touch them, to know them, to make friends with them. To run our fingers over these wounds.

This is not so that we can feel guilty. Not so that we feel the stifling weight of shame. But so that, perhaps we might be see the fullness and humanity of the wounded. Of ourselves. So that we might see the fullness and humanity this Christ, this Christ who bore our wounds, bore the wound of Jose, the wounds of all those we might judge.

In this moment, on this Good Friday, we are invited to stand in awe of burdens we have all carried, rather than to judge how they have been carried. Because this, this is precisely, what our own God did.

We begin in awe, because in so doing we join in the mystery. The honor. And perhaps the healing. In awe we do not set ourselves apart, dividing the good from the bad. In awe, we behold the enormity of the mutual burden we bear, beholding our own wounds, as we embrace the wounds of the other. The woundedness of our very own God.

Washing Judas’ Feet
March 28, 2013, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1–4,11–14
Psalm 116:1–2, 12–19
1 Corinthians 11:23–26
John 13:1–17, 31b–35

I imagine that it was a cool evening, the spring air settling down around them. They’ve gathered for the Passover meal, which is, as it has always been, a pretty big deal for the Jewish folks–this tradition handed on from the time of Moses. This is the night that they remember the night they escaped tyranny and slavery. The night they remembered how grandmother made the lamb, how father would tell the story, how the rituals of the night were etched into their being.

And now these, who have been following Jesus, find themselves in Jerusalem, eating this ancient meal. Far from family, these disciples, must have been overwhelmed by all that was happening. The great crowds following them, the celebration as they entered the city. Things were getting strange—nothing was as they expected. Anxiety floated high in the air. They simply do not know what to expect, as sacred expectations met growing anxiety.

Actually, Jesus does know what to expect. At least, as gospel writer of John tells the story. He knows that the soldiers are gathering, even as they sit at this table. He knows that Judas is prepared to hand him over. He knows that Peter will deny him. He knows that soon he will die.

Now, you or I, knowing these things, well, it seems to me that this might heighten the anxiety. That our brains would be loud with the sound of fear. That the questions and worry might pour over us such that we’d not even be able to eat. We’d not be able to sit, or even to listen.

But Jesus, knowing that this meal will be his last, wraps a towel around his waist, and sits down on the floor, gently and tenderly washing their weary and dirty feet.

It’s a jarring moment. This is not the Jesus the crowds were celebrating, not the king they imagined. All glory is washed away, as the dirt of their feet becomes mud on his hands.

And this is stunning to me. That our God would sit at our feet, our calloused and smelly feet, and pour warm water on them, wrapping them in a towel to dry.

But even more stunning, more surprising to me, is that he washes Judas’ feet. The man who betrays him. And he knows this—he knows that Judas will betray him. And he does it anyway.

I wonder what that was like—holding Judas’ feet in his hands? I wonder how it felt to wash away the grime of Jerusalem’s streets from his feet? This moment of tenderness stuns me—as Jesus loves this one who cannot love him back.

I think I can safely say that for us, for we in the room, we are far more like the disciples when we encounter such moments. We are far more likely to respond with anxiety. With fear. On those days when dread lingers at every corner– we do not tend to respond with a towel and warm water.

Indeed, when confronted with anxiety, our choices are limited. We know how to fight, how to flee, or how to freeze. Our reptilian brains take over, plotting the best course to safety and security, narrowing our vision to filter out everything that might get in the way of our most important need: survival.

It becomes all about me. Everything is filtered through he need for survival, individual survival. Personal protection. We are unable to see anyone else.

And this might be fine and expected if this were a rare occurrence. For most of us, the days are few when soldiers are gathering to bring us to trial. But, this anxiety is not unusual. It is not rare. Indeed, it is as if our society breeds on this anxiety—merely turning on the news, makes our hearts race. As debt loads rise, as health care gets more costly, the weather get too warm, too cold. Indeed I do not need to give you this list, you have one of your own I am sure. These are the things that keep us up at night, the things that linger in our thoughts, impossible to remove.

In the wake of this anxiety, we become more and more narrowed in on ourselves. Fearing one another, wondering who will be Judas? And so we protect and hide ourselves—keeping our feet, our worn out, dirty feet, safely in our shoes, for fear that someone may see our weakness.

But that night, Jesus got down on his knees, and knelt at those dirty, aching feet. Feet worn down with the weight of fear and anxiety. And he washed them, pouring precious water over each foot—your feet, my feet, Peter’s feet, and Judas’ feet.

In preparation for the night to come, as the solders gather, as Judas plots, Jesus does not withdraw, he does not up draw arms, he does not stay still. Rather, he loves. He loves even the one who cannot love him back. He loves, because this is our God. Our God is the one that responds to all of our fear and anxiety, all of our narrowness and greed, by loving us. Loving us with a love greater than our capacity to understand, greater than our capacity to return in kind.

But then he gives us this command: go and do the same.

Because there are days of anxiety. Days when the world seems to revolve around our fears and our judgments. Days when we cannot get beyond ourselves—days when it seems the armies are gathering for us.

And it is in precisely this moment that Jesus shows us that the best thing we can do is to get down on our knees, wrap a towel around our waists, and love one another. Regardless of their capacity to love us back.

Because that’s the kind of God we’ve got.

What’s my line?
March 10, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , , ,

Sermon Lent 4C

Joshua 5:9–12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16–21
Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

I think this is a dangerous parable. Difficult. And beautiful.

Jesus precedes the telling of this parable with the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. He explains how far God is willing to go to find that sheep, that coin. Explains how God rejoices when it is found.

And when these lost items are simply animals and change, I find the parables a delightful metaphor for God’s overwhelming love. A great answer to the charge the Pharisees lay on him, an answer to this frustrating accusation that somehow eating with tax collectors and sinners is a problem.

But, when we get to this parable, where the one lost is a son, where the one finding is a father—then things get complicated. Dangerous. No longer is it a simple story of finding the lost, but it’s a whole mess of a tale about how we go astray; how we long for our family members to come to themselves; how we long, some days, to come to our own selves. It’s a story of an impossibly generous father, a story of a predictable brother.

There are layers and layers of complexity and possibility in this story, and they quickly get wrapped in our own stories of wandering, of forgiveness, and our longing for forgiveness. I believe this is such a well known story because for so many of us, it is our own story. Or we wish it were.

But the dangerous thing, the problem for us, is that this parable, when played in our own lives is never so simple. Who gets the part of the son? The father? The brother? How do we divvy up the roles? Because, in our own lived experience, the lines are rarely so clear and bold. We have this way of being multiple people at once—and at times we screw up discerning who we are.

Here’s an example of that:

In the early 1990’s, a high school friend of mine, we’ll call her Stephanie, came out to her parents. She mustered up all the courage she could find, and told them about her girlfriend. She knew it would be dangerous—they weren’t especially accepting of such things. But she wasn’t prepared for the argument and yelling that followed. And then the silence. Her parents sent her to her room, so that they could talk. And as she sat on her bed, she could hear them argue in hushed tones. And then more silence.

Soon, her mother’s footsteps fell on the stairs, and she heard the soft monotone. “We need you to leave. We cannot have this in our house.”

Stephanie spent the next several weeks living with friends, crashing on couches while she and her parents tried to work things out.

They all longed to have this prodigal story be their own. Stephanie longed for the welcome and warmth of her father’s arms, of her mother’s arms. And her parents longed to welcome her home. But they had different conditions on this.

Stephanie needed them to accept her as she was. Her parents needed her to “come to herself,” as the had perceived it. They needed her to not be gay.

It turns out that this is a major cause of homelessness among youth. Her’s isn’t an isolated story. Daily children are kicked out of their home because they are gay or lesbian. And the story is so often the same—the parents believe that the child has been as the prodigal son, asking for their inheritance so that they can go off and squander it. And so they send the child on their way. The days that follow are filled with longing for that triumphant scene, when the father’s arms open wide to receive the one who had wandered. The scene where the fatted calf is cooked up for a joyful celebration.

But, it may just as well be that the parents have become the prodigal son in this story, choosing to walk away from their child. Losing themselves in the fear of difference and worry for this future they had not imagined.

It turns out that the nature of our broken selves means that it is so often difficult, if not impossible, to divide ourselves into the neat categories of prodigal and father. We don’t always recognize the forces at work in ourselves, the way fear gets in the way of understanding each other. The way our preconceptions block our capacity to fully receive, to know when we should open our arms wide for embrace, or to long for the other to repent. (because it’s just as true that we too often believe that one has repented, when all they have done is wished for repentance).

It was several years later, when Stephanie was in college, that I ran into her and her parents again. There was a new formality to their relationship. An awkwardness that spoke of real tension. But they were clearly trying, trying to find their way toward embrace. Taking on the multiplicity of their roles—walking toward each other. Not so swiftly, as in the parable—I suppose it’s hard to move very fast when you run as both the prodigal son and the father wrapped into one.

I think that his is what makes the parable so extraordinary. That our God is the father in this story. Our God is the one, who without question or ambiguity, without requirement or hesitation, our God is the one who gives up all propriety, and runs. Hits a full sprint, wrapping loving arms around us, and says welcome home. Just as we are. Coin, sheep, daughter, son.

It’s extraordinary because it’s something we can’t really do. Our egos, our fears, our pride, our confusion, they all get in the way. We don’t know our role. We can’t have that purity. The mess of human relationships, our own need to be self-righteous, and our own sinfulness get in the way.

The open arms of welcome are here. For all of us. Without cost, without price. It does not matter what pig slop you have rolled in. It does not matter how you have squandered your gifts. It does not matter how far you have wandered. God’s arms are wide. Welcoming us as no other can. Wholly, and holy. Just as we are. It truly is extraordinary.

And it isn’t just a one time thing. A single moment. It’s a daily reality. Over and over, God is ready to receive. And look here, at this table is the feast. The bread of life, the cup of hope, given for each of us. This feast is our own prodigal feast, welcoming everyone into God’s wide open arms of mercy and love. Today. In this hour.

Which is good for us, as we mere mortals figure out how to deal with the mess of our own lives. The need to forgive, the need to be forgiven. To understand how we have hurt each other, to understand what is good. We will mess up on these accounts. We just do. But God’s arms are there, ready to receive always. Every single time.


I Like to Win
March 3, 2013, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Sermon, March 3, 2013
Lent 3c

Isaiah 55:1–9
Psalm 63:1–8
1 Corinthians 10:1–13
Luke 13:1–9

I love a good game of Scrabble… so long as I am winning. As long as my score is sufficiently high, my goal is build a beautiful board with strange and elegant words. If I think I’m winning, I’ll whisper good places to play, and offer higher scoring words. (If you put the j on that triple word score, you’ll get more points). I like to think I’m being altruistic.

But the truth is the score matters. And at the mere whiff of losing my lead, I become much less helpful. There’s a part of me that feels that since I’ve memorized the two letter word list, I deserve to win.

I don’t think I am alone. We are a score keeping people. We like to measure up all the risk in our lives and find a way to avoid it—for fear that too many negative points will result in horrible things. Like losing. Nope, it’s much preferable to win.

And this is no game. It’s serious business. We are compelled, often, too often, to ask, “God, what did I do to deserve this?” I thought my score was pretty high… I thought I had some room…

This is the question that folks bring to Jesus in our text today—what did these Galileans do to deserve such a terrible death at Pilate’s hands?

Indeed—we’d like to know this answer, wouldn’t we? What did this other person do to meet such a terrible fate? We want to know all the details, so that we can also avoid this. So we can understand it. So we can blame, pointing the finger away from ourselves.

Perhaps they’d been mean? Ungrateful? Perhaps they had failed to pay their taxes? Not loved God enough? Or the right way…

These questions are intoxicating. The explorations for how we might blame another for their own misfortune, eager to find some measure by which they deserved it… If only they’d eaten better, kept a cleaner house, went to a better school, chose a better spouse, had memorized the two letter word list… then, then they’d get a better score. Then they’d have gotten better—gotten what they deserved.

Thing is: our God doesn’t keep score. Despite all our desires to the contrary, our God doesn’t sit and tally all our good choices and our bad choices, handing us a report card at the end. That’s what grace is about. And I’m grateful—for I’m pretty sure I’d lose. And we already established—I don’t like to lose.

And while this makes me feel a lot better—loads better—it turns out, while Jesus is clear that God’s not keeping score, it’s also true that God doesn’t want us to get too comfortable.

After considering this story—this question about whether the folks killed by Pilate’s hand had deserved such a fate—Jesus turns to them and says: unless you change your heart, you will also be ruined.

Change your heart.

This is what is meant by the word repent. Change your heart and turn toward God.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that keeping a careful accounting of my good choices and my bad choices will never actually lead to a change of heart. No matter how many Scrabble games I win, or lose, my heart will not be changed. No matter how good or bad my luck is. There no list of good deeds or accomplishments, no amount of careful planning, can, on its own, lead to a change of heart.

That’s just not how the human heart works.

In our text today, Jesus tells a simple story about a fig tree—the landowner, seeing this barren tree, plans to chop it down. It has failed to bear fruit in three years. In the world of keeping score—it’s got a big old goose egg on its side. Zero. Nothing. And so it must pay the consequences.

But the Gardener begs, instead, that he might aerate the soil, that he might lay down manure. That he might nurture growth, that he might fertilize and foster new life.

I think this gardener points to Jesus—the one who desires for us fruit and life. The one that begs us to repent, to turn our hearts toward God. The one that knows, chopping down the tree will not cause it to bear fruit. The one who is willing to whisper over the really good word—so that we too might win.

Perhaps Jesus is the one that begs for another year, that the roots may flourish, that the fertilizer may have time. That the tree may turn it’s heart toward good fruit, not as a desire to win prized figs, but as a response to the love and nurturing of the gardener.

And the thing is, bearing fruit matters. There isn’t any escaping this as we look at this text. The question is how it matters. I don’t think God is the foreboding landowner, keeping tally as one would in bingo, making a blot for every deed we do right, for every fig we bear. No, rather, I think God is heart broken, longing for us to bear good fruit so that we might turn toward God and change our hearts. And we are broken too—we who refuse to bear fruit become brittle with stubbornness, shriveled by our cold hearts.

But what’s fascinating, and lovely to me, is that God doesn’t urge this by chopping us down. God does this by tilling the soil, and spreading the manure. God does this by loving us. Loving us into wholeness. And this is good news indeed—because no one wins at playing games with God.

It seems to me also, that this becomes an invitation for us. An invitation to stop keeping score ourselves. To end the tally of good and bad that we make for others. To end the list of wrongs and rights, and instead seek to spread some manure. To till the soil of our relationships, to nurture each other, as the gardener did. For it seems to me, that we could use a little nurturing. A little encouragement, so that together we might bear fruit worthy of our God. So that together, we might turn our whole hearts toward God, bearing good fruit together.