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Ascension Day 2016 05/07/2016

Posted 1:47 PM by

Home.  I want to think with you about what home means. I’m thinking that’s what Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is all about:  Going home. 

I grew up in Nebraska, for the most part, and I came to love the spare emptiness of the landscape, and the unaffected warmth of people there. I was always fascinated by the pioneer folk who left relative comfort and stability in the East to venture west and start a new life – homesteading, they called it – the making of a new home. 

Nebraska was my home, but in some sense I didn’t feel at home.  Something else called me, though I wasn’t clear what that was.  Eventually I came east to seminary, and then after a few more years back in Lincoln, I decided to leave again.  A voice inside me was saying, “Go east, young man!” Of course I was full of doubts.  I am at times painfully risk-averse.  I seek security where I can get it.  Why would I strike out to make a new home in a place I’d never been?

Somehow, this connects to today, the feast of our Lord’ Jesus’ final ascension into heaven.

What if home is not where we came from, but where we are going…where we are headed, our destiny with God?  What if we really, truly believed in a God who loves us and won’t let us go?  And we lived that way?

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated by Jesus: his laser focus on God, his trust in God.  His ability to be honest in relationships, to love deeply without trying to own or control other people.  His fearlessness when he risked loss. 

Today we are contemplating Jesus’ ascension – his final departure from his earthly life among us, and his return to his home with God.  Somehow, he always seemed to know this was his destiny.  He was able to sit lightly with the seductions of this world, because his roots were already planted in God’s world, the kingdom.  How did he do it?

I don’t know how he managed it.  (That’s one of many reasons I am not Jesus!)  He had a lot more trust in God than I do.  My ability to rest in that trust is terribly uneven.  It wasn’t as if Jesus had a charmed life, either.  He had a hard life: he was always poor, and often without a home, a fixed address, without visible means of support.  But somehow he seemed to be able to create a home wherever he was at the time.  He did not need to build a protective shield around himself.  He was not defensive, even though he often disagreed with people.  He was not always worried about his future, the way I am…the way we Americans are taught to be, with our constant striving for self-improvement, our career plans and our 401k’s, our real estate and investment portfolios, and anxieties that eat us up.  In all of this, I think we are trying to create a safe, secure home…and yet we still live in fear of losing it. 

Jesus had some freedoms that many of us do not have, in that he did not have an immediate family of people he was responsible for. That’s a serious concern for most of us.  On the other hand, at some level he knew he was living for the whole human family...he was God’s messiah – he came to save us all! 

But what amazes me is Jesus’ apparent sense of personal freedom, his freedom from fear.  And the only place I can figure that Jesus could get that freedom is from knowing his destiny, knowing that no matter what happened, he would go home with God in the end.  That’s what the ascension means.  Back home with God in the end. 

(It’s easy to get caught up in questions about what “actually happened” – the vision of a literal ascension into the clouds his pretty hard to believe!  But the real meaning of this event is the reunion of Jesus with his Father God.) 

So what would it mean for us if we could really believe that we can trust in God’s love, that our destiny is with God in the end?  How does that free us up to live more boldly, more exuberantly, more generously?  Can we lessen our fears of the unknown, if we really believe we’re going home in the end?

We are still living in the world as we know it, with all its joys and all its struggles.  Jobs are tenuous these days.  Children have troubles growing up.  Health problems rear their ugly heads. We see the anxieties in our political debates and campaigns. It can get to be a bit much; it can get us down.  But the pattern for our lives is set out in Jesus’ life.  The journey does not stop at the foot of the cross; it moves right through that, on to a place of fulfillment, joy, celebration. We came forth from God, and we are going home to God.  That’s our true destiny. We’re going home. 

T.S. Eliot said,

We shall not cease from exploration.  And the end of all our exploring will be tso arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  


 

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Easter Sermon April 10, 2016

Posted 1:44 PM by

[We get a lot of joy and insight from our animals.  Recently our cat was heard to opine, “I think sleeping dogs should have to tell the truth, just like everyone else!”]

Jesus said to Simon Peter,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

The other night I had a bad dream – an anxious, fearful dream…

My big black dog Paddington – Paddy – could not get up.    He’d lost use of his legs and hind end.  We’ve been through this with other dogs, it’s horrible, and leads to a painful and difficult death.  I was in tears to see my boy suffering. 

Now, Paddy and I are very close.  He’s way too young to be failing physically…  Paddy is only three, although he’s about to have his fourth anniversary of being three…  (He and I agreed early on that Paddy would never age beyond the three year mark.  J  Too much risk in growing old….)

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

The next morning, I got up, stumbled downstairs in my early-morning stupor, and let the dogs out as usual.  Paddy took off at a gallop, his black locks flying, and ran a few loops around the yard, his domain.  What a beautiful sight that was!  Paddy was not dying, he was alive and well and beautiful!  It was resurrection.  

That experience tells me a lot about love, what it means to love someone completely….My love for Paddy (and the pain of imagining him suffering), and Paddy’s love for me – as unconditional and joyful as I can imagine.

Jesus wanted to restore his relationship with Simon Peter, who had messed up pretty badly, denying knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  That relationship needed a resurrection.  I have no doubt that Jesus has already forgiven Peter; but now he creates a channel for reconciliation so that Peter can truly receive that forgiveness, and their love for each other can be restored.  And so it is with each of us….

It can be hard to tell the truth, especially about ourselves.  If we’re honest, we know that we betray Jesus all the time.  We don’t stand up for Jesus’ values; we don’t always respect the dignity of every human being we meet.  We can be short-tempered and insist on getting our own way.  When situations get difficult, when relationships are strained, we may feel like running away.  I have felt that at times. 

But Jesus doesn’t run away.  Jesus comes back, showing all his scars, limping no doubt…but he comes back.  And therein lies all the difference. 

Reconciliation means not giving up; not walking away.  God’s love has reached across every barrier to embrace us.  Our love for each other must do the same.  Reconciliation is a close cousin of resurrection.

Jesus asked,

Simon, son of John, do you love me?

Jesus asks us today,

Good people of St. Dunstan’s, do you love me?

  • Do we love Jesus? 
  • Do we love Jesus and his new law of love more than we love our own views and opinions? 
  • Do we love Jesus more than we love the sacred cows and golden calves and other livestock we have set up in our lives to worship? 
  • Will we truly walk in love – together – as Christ loved us? 

What does that love of Jesus look like in a congregation?  In my experience this love is both strong, and fragile.  It doesn’t mean we’ll never disagree or fight; but it does mean we will go the extra mile to seek reconciliation, as Jesus did with Simon Peter.  It means we’ll work together for the common good, in spite of disagreements.  It means we’ll tackle our problems together, without insisting on our own preconceived solution. 

St. Dunstan’s is hugely blessed as a Christian community with many resources – we have beautiful facilities, a loyal congregation, and a desire to serve in our neighborhoods.  We also have our challenges, as all churches do these days.  As society changes at warp speed, we and other churches are trying to adapt, to envision what a local church needs to be and do in this age of speed and technology and hectic lives.  This is hard work.  It requires some new thinking, and lots of experimenting.  There will be some successes and some failures. 

Here’s some of what we are learning about loving Jesus and each other in the church in 2016:

·       It’s all about relationships.  Without building one-to-one relationships and small groups, people aren’t fed – even by a glorious liturgy.  We won’t all agree on priorities, social justice issues, or even which hymns to sing.  We just need to agree to love Jesus and seek his kingdom.   

·       It’s all about food – sharing food is the oldest form of human community.  We do a lot with food, and we probably need to do even more! Today’s “Spring Social” is a great example of how food brings us together.  We’re thinking of doing more with breakfast on Sundays next year….

·       It’s all about welcoming and invitation: INVITE, INVITE, INVITE is some good advice we’ve received.  Have you invited anybody to the Cabaret on April 23? 

·       Above all, it’s all about God – the God we meet in Jesus, the God who loves lavishly, forgives easily, challenges us wisely, and always seeks to reconcile broken relationships.  This isn’t easy in a human community; I have often failed to love as Christ loves us; many of us have.  Sometimes it may seem easier to “let sleeping dogs lie.”  But it’s never too late to try, and try again.  We’re on the trail, on a journey together.  That’s what God’s people have done since Abraham left his home, since Moses and the Hebrews left Egypt, since Jesus set out with his disciples to change the world…one precious person at a time. 

One of our newer parishioners in the last few years said to me, “I have attended Episcopal churches all my long life, and I have never felt the warmth of friendship that I feel at St. Dunstan’s.  I am so grateful to be here….” 

Simon, son of John, do you love me? 

We have something precious here – the capacity to love God, and love each other, and share that love openly when new people cross our threshold.  Jesus has shown us the trail of forgiveness and reconciliation, just as he did with Peter. We are people of many nations, with many needs and many gifts to share.  We are people of various social and political views.  But when we come together here, we focus on one thing: Love…the love of God we see and know in Jesus.  If we always strive to do that, God will bless this congregation.  AMEN.  

 

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Easter Sermon 2016 "Stones" 03/27/2016

Posted 1:16 PM by

“Jesus is not in there!  Oh, wait…he’s just changed his Facebook status to ‘risen.’”

So how about you?  What’s your status today?  Buried? Trapped?  Sleepy? Happy?  Fearful?  Worried? Distracted?  Stoned?  Weighed down by some heavy stone that keeps us from the light?  How many of us today claim the status, risen[JM1]  to new life?

This Easter my thoughts have turned to stones: the stone that sealed Jesus tomb, the stone wall I sometimes feel that I have hit in life, the stone that can harden my heart against vulnerability and hurt….  (Sometimes I feel like the characters in fairy tales who have been turned to stone by the wicked witch….)   Stones can be stumbling blocks.  Stones can be barriers that trap us and divide us…from each other, and from God. 

What’s the stone that blocks your way right now?  That you need to ask God to roll back, to move aside? 

·       The smooth, hard stone of not enough, not enough: not being good enough, smart enough, successful enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, dazzling enough

·       The heavy stone of guilt over past words and deeds, that sits in the pit of the stomach

·       The corrosive stone of bitterness, of being unable to forgive, of holding a grudge

·       The deadly, sharp-pointed stone of irritability and anger

·       And then there is the dark stone of sorrow, of sadness over losses we cannot control and cannot reverse.  That sadness can become an abyss….

I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried for years – decades – to cure myself of these afflictions, to fix myself into the person I think I ought to be (or others think I ought to be).  The other day, I was thinking I really had a handle on this thing called living; then, I said the wrong thing to someone I love, and realized I had caused hurt and damage.  Ugh.   It’s sort of like lugging heavy rocks up a hillside, only to have the rain come and bring them back down in a rockslide…and I’m back where I started.  I just can’t fix this on my own. 

So what’s the solution to this human condition of being trapped under the stone of “not enough”?  It’s a human problem, but there is no human solution.  We cannot heal ourselves.  But Easter tells us there is a divine solution; that God has declared that we are enough, we are sufficient, we are acceptable in God’s eyes,  even in our fickle affections, our gross imperfection, our sin.  How can God do this?  Through forgiveness, through love.  God’s love makes us enough, acceptable…delightful, even!  We are a joy to God, and maybe even a joy to ourselves.  That stone that God moved from Jesus’ tomb frees not just Jesus from his bondage, but frees us all from our bondage – whatever that may be in this moment.  Let yourself enter into the story

After Jesus took his final breath, around three on that Friday afternoon, the scene begins to change…there is transformation, from the horror of torture and death, the worst that we humans could do, to a quiet, gentle wind of love and caring.  A kind Jewish man named Joseph of Arimathea went and asked if he could care for Jesus’ body.  He gently wrapped it in a linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, a cave carved out of the soft rock outside Jerusalem.  He rolled a large, disk-like stone across the entrance to seal it. 

The women who traveled with Jesus and supported him – Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and another Mary the mother of James – saw his hasty burial before the Sabbath began, and they went to gather the spices and ointments required to prepare Jesus’ body for a proper burial on Sunday morning, the first day. 

Then, interestingly, the action stops.  There is a long pause.  A “grand pause,” it is called in music.  “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”  It’s as if all creation needed a moment to rest, to absorb what just happened, to regroup. 

Then, on the first day of the week – of course it is the first day: a new beginning of a new creation! – these brave women went to the tomb, carrying the heavy spices for burial.  And you know what they found.  The stone was rolled back, and the tomb was empty.  There was no body to anoint and prepare for burial.  This morning marks a new creation, where death no longer rules; where fear no longer holds us hostage.  God has acted. 

The Good News is that God has transformed us in Christ, forgiven us, and declared that we are beloved – it’s done, complete!  We don’t have to try to fix ourselves.  We have only to live into our God-given identity as children of the one loving God who made us.  It’s as if God is saying to us:

“You are a new creation in Christ.  You are mystery.  Let the mystery unfold.  Let the secret be told.  Be bold, be daring!  Be reconciled.  Be glad. Be thankful.  Be compassionate.  Be forgiving.  Be who you are.  Be that new creation in Christ!”

Without being transformed by God, I have no chance of rising above our lower, baser natures – our selfishness, irritability, narrow-mindedness, rigidity.  I’m stuck in an endless loop-tape of screwing up, of not-enough.

It is because God has first loved us, and called us, and transformed us…raised us to the new life of Christ…that it is even possible to live a new way.    We are able to love – truly, deeply love and forgive – because God first loved us.  The huge stone that stands in our way has been rolled back.  We were not meant to live in dark caves.  We are meant for the light, the air.  Jesus created the path; he blazed the trail from the dark land of sin and selfishness, to the sunny warm land where love, joy, mercy, and forgiveness prevail.  We have only to take a step into the light, to walk in love as Christ loves us. 

So what is your status today? Peaceful?  Energized?  Or weary and regretful?  If it’s not what you’d like, are you willing to let God reset it for you?  Can you accept the free gift of Jesus’ love, and let God reset your status as “forgiven, loved, and free”?

Step aside and let God work in your life.  Stop clinging to the stone that traps you, and let God roll it away.  Let the light of God’s love – unconditional love – shine into the darkness, shine upon you on this Easter morning.  In the words of a song by our own Bob Tupper:

(Give Eb chord)

   Eb                  Ab              Eb             Bb

Roll back the stone in my heart, dear Lord Jesus.

Eb                  Ab                      Eb                   Bb

Roll back the stone that keeps love trapped inside.

Eb                  Ab                  Eb                 Bb

Roll back the stone. Let me walk as your servant

          Cm                     Fm                  Bb7sus4     Eb

In the world, knowing always you’re here by my side.

 

(Refrain of song by Bob Tupper, 2003)

 


 


 

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