Sacred Soil

Future Story
November 4, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

All Saints Day

November 4, 2012

Isaiah 25:6–9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1–6
John 11:32–44

It’s been a devastating week, in the truest sense of the word devastation. From the Caribbean to Maine, life has been completely upended, tossed about in mighty waves, blown from its very foundations. Our hearts break, as Hurricane Sandy has claimed so much.

There are too many who still long for clean water, for food, for electricity.

Today we will take a special collection as a way to support those affected. As a small way of sharing our desire, our hope, that things will get better, that people will know that we care, that relief will come.

Yet, hope is a strange word for those whose lives have been flooded with the waves of the Atlantic, the grief of losing a loved one, the utter despair and frustrations that haunt us. It is a strange word when the evidence of life and picture presented is as muddy and dim as a town ransacked by Sandy. It is a strange word, when there seems no way forward, when it seems everything is struggle.

But on examination, it seems that hope itself is actually a function of struggle. It is a function of the belief that we have a “future story,” that there must be something better than this. Even if we cannot imagine it. Even if it is buried under mud and debris, pain, and grief. Shadowed by the whispers of improbability.

In our Gospel text this morning, Martha had lost hope. Her brother had died, despite their desperate pleas that Jesus come with all due haste. Laid in the tomb, bound in grave clothes, and sealed behind stone, Martha was sure that every ounce of hope lay locked behind an impossible door, shrouded in stench. The only glimmer she had lay in a far off dream that she barely understood.

Seeing Martha in grief, Jesus responded with his own tears. Some have proposed that Jesus’ tears reflected frustration, as much as grief. Grief that this beloved one had died and frustration that we so easily lose our hope.

With a great crowd around him, a swarm of frustration and confusion, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus calls into the tomb: Lazarus, come out. I imagine his words fell silently on the crowd, as they burrowed into the people, sinking into a sickening sense of embarrassment for Jesus, for themselves. And then, despite themselves, they heard a stirring, a shuffle, movement. And suddenly, the knot of despair was loosened, and hope was born again as Lazarus stumbled out. While the gathered still held their breath, Jesus leaned into them, pleading that they unbind him, and let him go. I’m certain that in so doing, they unbound their own capacity to hope.

The challenge though, is that we, who have yet to see a man rise from the dead, well we tend to get pretty cynical about hope. This is the stuff of fairy tales and day dreams.

Indeed, our culture honors the realistic and precise. Measuring our hope in poll numbers, well measured predictions. We want to be sure what we can expect, preparing ourselves for the worst case scenario with survival kits, retirement savings, and insurance policies.

And while there is a place for being realistic. But if we were always realistic:

  • Our ancestors would not have ventured to this swampy land to build churches that inspired the faith of so many generations.
  • No one would have ever thought a bunch of Swedes and Bohemians could make a church that would risk itself to be open to all people.
  • We wouldn’t be here today, encouraging a new generation of faith.

Our ancestors, the Saints of old, gave us the faith, a faith rooted in a certain hope for the future. They gifted us with an understanding that God’s church matters in the lives of those gathered here now, and into the future. They gave us the certain hope that God would work through us now, and for generations to come.

Here’s what this looks like:

  • It looks like Sunday School teachers, who invest in children and teach these sacred stories.
  • It looks like the people of this community who work to make the world a better place, through volunteering with the food pantry, Hepzibah, CROP walk, the library, giving blood.
  • It looks like people who treat their coworkers and employees with dignity and respect—even though there are days this is a challenge.
  • It looks like people who love their community, helping with PADS, our schools, encouraging meaningful civic involvement.

These are all things born of hope, born of faith, granted to us by the faith and hope of those who have gone before us. They are small hopes that rest in our great hope, the promise God has given each of us.

And the thing is we are invited into bigger hopes yet: hopes that fundamentally change those things that break our hearts. Hopes that are larger than a single generation. Perhaps even larger than our imagination.

The hope that all children will have a warm and safe place to be at night. The hope that our education systems would honor the potential and possibility in each child. The hope that all of our elders would be regarded with dignity and respect. These are hopes that seem impossible—and yet I believe God invites us to long for them regardless of our capacity to achieve them. Regardless of whether or not they are realistic, because it turns out, our God’s hopes have always been beyond us. Always.

God’s are the type of hopes that raise the dead.

It is true and real, there are days of tears. Days that seem impossible. And yet even our grief points to our longing, our hope that one day all our tears will be wiped dry, and we will all, with Lazarus, gather at that great feast upon the mountain. A feast with good food, and great wine.

So, for now, we make do with a glimmer, with a foretaste of that feast to come. Gathering here, at this table, sent out into the world as signs of God’s great promise, signs of real hope. We rise up as God’s great Saints, resting God’s hope for all creation. God’s hope, which is most definitely a sure promise.


At Wisdom’s Table
August 15, 2012, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The truth is, I was never a very good student. Sure, I got adequate grades and I have pretty good skills in the art of filling in bubbles with my number 2 pencil. But, I was never a “good” student. Ms. Bujanski, in 10th grade can attest to that. I used to sit in the back row with my geometry text book, seeking out all the little triangles in the book—because one of our lessons had declared that such an activity would be helpful to my learning. Everyday I’d announce the new total. Ms. Bujanski told me I wasn’t cute.

She was right. I was annoying. Bored might be more accurate, but in a 10th grader, bored and annoying might as well be the same thing.

It’s also true, though, that I loved geometry. Proofs were my favorite. Indeed, I think I fell in love for the first time when my love of proofs was echoed by a young woman sitting across the circle from me in youth group. But that is a story for another time…  Geometry was cool in all its predictive glory, its symmetry and well-reasoned rules. I liked it, and it made sense—and so when homework assignments insulted my intelligence, well… I got a bit surly. Geometry, you are beautiful and wise; textbook, show some respect.

Now, I have learned how to behave myself (mostly), so as to I avoid the ire of the Ms. Bujanksi’s of the world.  But, I’m still not a “good” student. At least not at my core. Most of the time, I’m sitting in the back wishing for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of thoughts and ideas; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change. A moment for the expert to sit down, and stop talking.

When I dove into the world of theology and God talk, things didn’t get any better. Though ostensibly, they should have. It made sense that I should listen to Ms. Bujanski regarding geometry, because she was an expert (as far as that goes). I was not. But, when it comes to the ways of God, well, I’m not so sure any of us can claim expert status. Indeed, I’m more and more convinced that we don’t really have much of a clue about God; we’re all fumbling in the Light, seeking to understand. None of us can claim to really “get” God. Though, there seems to be no shortage of folks claiming expert status.

I think that I shall call this idolatry. I know, it’s a harsh word—idolatry being one of those used in the 10 commandments. You know the list: those things you shouldn’t do. But, if I’m honest, I feel that strongly about it. Perhaps more, if that were possible. I get pretty blisteringly mad at the arrogance of experts who claim they’ve got a handle on God, and that they’d like to teach me. On my good days, this brings out the 10th grader in me all over again. On my bad days, I don the rigid flame-throwing eyes my mother passed on to me—and I feel a certain kinship with John the baptizer hollering: you brood of vipers!

Though, I am now a polite person, so I merely mutter these things under my breath, or write them down on my notepad.

Here’s why I think it’s idolatry. There’s this lovely, and long, and complicated passage in John about how Jesus is the bread of Life. He says in numerous ways: I am the bread of Life. Over and over again—and despite all his attempts, the folks just don’t get it.  I’m reminded of my attempts to explain rain to my 3 year-old. This passage comes just after Jesus has fed 5,000 people in an extraordinary way. And their curiosity is piqued. Imagine, if you could get a handle on that kind of power. You’d never have to buy bread again. It’d be like winning the lottery. No more worries about how you’ll eat—you’ll just snap your fingers and poof: tuna fish sandwiches.

I’d follow him too.

But Jesus says no, you don’t get it. At all. This isn’t some technical solution to get food in your belly every day. Follow me, and you’ll have the Life of God within you. Living in you. And that’ll give you the capacity to adapt to all sorts of things, especially when a group of you get together and share that Life (that Light) together.

And it’s beautiful. Though, admittedly at times weird. That whole “eating my flesh and blood” part of John can be gruesome if taken the wrong way. But, even that’s beautiful because it’s so incarnational, so loving once you work it through. I am constantly amazed at how extraordinary it is that our God would choose to dwell in each of us.

So extraordinary, indeed, that we choose not to believe it. So extraordinary that we doubt it, mistrust it. And so, we look to experts to explain it, give us a handle on it.

And unfortunately, there are just enough folks out there who really love being the expert (sadly, I’m guilty of this too). It’s a nice ego boost. It’s payback for filling in those scantrons well, for those late nights with Augustine. It’s a fun opportunity to expound on the meaning of scripture and the will of God, while people listen with rapt attention for that word that will explain everything, searching for that winning lottery ticket.

And it’s idolatry. Idolatry to think you’re an expert, and idolatry to look to an expert and deny the Little Christ that is within you already.

It’s idolatry because God’s the expert. God’s the only one who really gets it, and when we look to ourselves or others as if they were God… well that’s the best definition of idolatry I know.

Indeed, Wisdom has set her table, lavishly adorning it with bread and wine, and she has invited us all, especially the simple (Proverbs 9:1-6). We are all invited to eat at this table of Wisdom, that we might live and walk in the way of insight. All of us.

Now, I think it’s pretty important to notice what’s not in this image. Most notably: Ms. Bujanski is not standing at the head of the table—lest she was the incarnation of Wisdom herself. And I doubt that. A lot. No, Wisdom is the expert here, that is, God. And we’re all invited together, to sit around together and feast at her table. Again, all of us.

And since we know that Christ lives within us, it seems to me the best way to invite Wisdom to the expert chair in our day is to share that Christ together, respecting that we all are Little Christs. Truth is, I’m pretty certain that the wisdom of God will only come through when we’re all sharing together—challenging each other, asking hard questions, seeking together. Together, at the table. Wisdom’s table.

Now, lest I sound like an anti-intellectual, let me be clear, I’m not. Remember, I love geometry. I’m a bit of a nerd. Intellectual inquiry is important, and has its place at this table—but there are other ways of knowing, other ways of experiencing God. As many different ways as there are people at this table, as there have ever been people at this table. That God of ours is awfully creative.

My frustration is really about those intellectuals that presume they are experts, that somehow they know more about God than the rest of us. Because I think the truth is that none of us know. We’re all trying to figure it out together. All of us fumbling in the light, as little Christs, seeking God in our midst.

And so selfishly, I’m wishing that all those experts would sit down. Stop talking. And give us a little time a moment for a real conversation. A moment to explore the intricacies of our thoughts and ideas together; a moment to hear the wisdom that sits around the table. A moment to ask hard questions of each other. A moment to get to the heart of things that matter and make real change.

More on that real change later…