Monday, May 20, 2019

Prayers for Invisibility

My sermon this morning needs some disclaimers.
The first is that I am going to be sharing a story about a family of undocumented people living in the United States.
I know that no matter what I say it will be seen by some as political.
However, I am asking you this morning to put politics aside.
Whatever your view on immigration to leave that at the door, and open your heart to hear this story.
Also, this story was shared with me as one Christian person to another.
I am sharing it with you in that same manner.
It is a sacred story, because it belongs to a child of God.
I am asking you to receive it in that manner this morning.
My sermon this morning is a bit different than most of my other ones, because it will revolve around this families story.
But I want you to know that this is what God put in my heart to preach to you this morning.
My hope is that you be touched as I was when I heard it.
I am aware however that it might not be possible because you are hearing it second hand from me.
I had the pleasure of hearing it firsthand.
So keeping all those things in mind I would like here is the story.

It started on Monday morning.
I woke up in the church that we stayed at for our border immersion experience.
It is a small church in the heart of El Paso Texas.
A good majority of the church makes only $10,000-$15,000 a year, most of the congregation is undocumented.
I was sleeping in the small sacristy area off the stage where the altar is.
I woke up and decided to look at the Gospel reading for this Sunday.
I read, "My sheep hear my voice and no one can snatch them out of my hand."
I realized later in the week that I had read the wrong Gospel, because this was last week's Gospel.
Our group was taken to what are Colonias.
It is a community where people bought some cheap land 20 or 30 years ago and then built small make shift houses on them.
We went to the house of Maria and Javier.
Maria makes Tamales and sells them to neighbors and others to provide some money for the family.
She provided lunch for us this day.
They live in a house meager house that they just moved into.
So Maria came to this country when she was 16.
She told us that after coming to the US was the first time that she heard about God.
And ever since then God has been her constant companion.
It has been God that she has trusted in to keep her and her family safe.
One thing we have to remember that there was a time when people moved freely between the border.
El Paso and Juarez were two cities that grew together and depended on one another.
It was during this time that Maria first came to the United States.
She met her husband Javier in Mexico.
The first time she saw him he thought he was the most handsome man in the world.
(I always thought I was...)
They fell in love and have three wonderful kids.
They wanted the best for their kids.
Mexico was becoming more and more dangerous and they settled in the US.
Then one day Javier went back to Mexico to see his dying mother and on the way back into the US was taken into custody and sent back to Mexico.
They didn't know what to do.
So Maria hired what is called a coyote.
Someone who helps people get across the border.
This is a dangerous thing to do.
It cost a good deal of money, and you don't know if the person you hire is honest or not.
And if you get caught you lose your money.
Maria would have never thought that she would hire a coyote.
But she did.
And Javier tried to get back into the United States to be with his wife and three kids.
He was captured and deported.
This happened two other times.
Maria would have other Christian groups come to her home, and they would all pray that the family would someday be together again.
But over time her prayer with these groups changed.
She began to pray that Javier would become invisible.
That the border patrol would not be able to see him.

One Sunday when she was in church doing the readings.
In through the door in the back appeared Javier.
He was dripping wet and smelled real bad.
He had to crawl through three sewers to get across.

He had found a Coyote who would help him for only $50.00.
The person told him when the guards changed so he could run from one sewer to the next without being seen.
As Javier waited in the last sewer a border patrol agent came to the sewer and looked in.
He looked right at Javier, but did not see him!
Maria's prayers had been answered.
She told us that it was only through God that her family was saved.

While she was telling us this story I kept thinking about the Bible verse I had heard that morning.
"My Sheep heard my voice and no one can snatch them out of my hands."
We belong to God.
All of us.
Maria and Javier are God's sheep and God was there to protect them.

I was really touched when hearing Maria and Javier story, more so than some of the other stories that we heard.
I was trying to think of why.
What was it about this story?
Later in the week while in prayer I realized what it was.

It made me think of my parents, and made me think of being a parent.
My parents sacrificed a great deal for me.
They have given me immeasurable gifts in my life.
Some of them financial, but mostly spiritual and psychological.
They gave of themselves so I could have a better life.
Isn't that what any parent would want?
Maria has told her children, "You keep dreaming and I will keep making Tamales."

I also thought about what I would do if I was Javier?
Would I break the law for my family?
And the answer is yes.
I would chop off my own arm for my wife and kids.
All those risks he took where for one purpose they were to get back to his family.
And they needed him.
Maria told us she didn't feel safe at night without Javier there for her and the kids, so she stayed up all night.

This is a story about a family.
It is about their faith in God's ability to do the impossible, make someone invisible.
If God can do that for me and you, and I hope that you believe that God does miracles for you, then God can do it for Maria and Javier.

Our Gospel this morning takes place right after Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper.
Jesus reminds us that to be his followers means to love each other, by washing people's feet.
To be humble towards a world in pain, to see in each other a glimpse of the divine.
Rachel Held Evans is a Christian writer who died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 37.
In one of her books she wrote,  "I am tired of fighting, I am ready to start washing feet."

I tell you this story this morning in that hope.
That God will open your heart.
So you will start washing feet.
So that we will start washing feet.
That Jesus' example of love will rule your heart.
That you will see in another a connection to your own humanity.

Because after all the votes are counted, after all the rhetoric is over, after all the anger is spilled, what do we have?
We have Jesus voice telling us to wash each other's feet.
We have the good shepherd who doesn't let his flock be taken.
We have a God bigger than our prejudices and fears.
We have stories of our pain, and our miracles.

We have Jesus Christ the poor man from Nazareth who died on a cross for Maria and Javier.
They taught me on my trip that this is all we really need to survive and thrive in this world.
They taught me that we all belong to one can snatch us out of his hand, and that is time to start washing feet.

Monday, April 1, 2019


In our house there are more than four seasons.
There is of course Winter, spring, summer, and fall.
But we also include the times of year when the season is changing from one to another but it isn't quite there yet.
For example, right now is Spwinter.
That time of year where it is technically spring, but there is still some snow on the ground and there is still a chill in the air.
The flowers haven't popped up yet.
These extra seasons are a way to talk about the transitions times.
The in between times.
We live most of our lives in transition.
We are like these times.
Rarely are we all one thing or another.

When we read this familiar and wonderful parable from Luke's Gospel we often think about which son we are.
Are we the son who is irresponsible.
The son looking for adventure and riotous living.
Are we the liberal son, playing fast and loose with the rules.
Off doing things that are parents would not approve of.
Or are we the good son.
The one who works hard, does what they are told.
The one lives to please their parents and make them happy.
Are we the son who likes to color in the lines and wants everyone else to do the same.
Are we the conservative son who measures the good and bad, and sees the world in black in white.
Are we the son who is resentful because we have done everything right and yet we get no reward.

Let me suggest to you this morning that none of us are only one of those things.
We are often both, sometimes within the same day.
In Luke's telling of the Prodigal son there is no good son and bad son.
Just two sons who make different life choices.
There is the father hoping that both sons will get along and love each other.
Which son are you?
We are usually a complicated mixture of both.

I am willing to bet that we have all made poor choices in our lives.
Or at least there are things we wish we had done differently.
I am willing to bet that at some point in our lives we have resented someone because they got something we thought they hadn't earned.
The truth is that we are never as good as we think we are.
Nor are we as bad as we think.
The older son thinks he has done everything right, but he has failed to love like his father does.
The younger son thinks that he is no longer worthy to be called a son, but he has failed to see the love has for him.
Both sons fail to see the love of the father as the key to who they really are.

For a long time I was known in my family as the prodigal son.
My sisters would make jokes about it.
When I would come home from college my older sister would joke,  "Kill the fatted calf the prodigal son has returned."
And one could look at my life and for a time that was true about me.
I did have that time in my life when I was rebellious, I liked to push the boundaries.
But I am not only that person.
I also wanted to please my parents.
I also wanted to be respectable person and make something of my life.
And the truth be told there are lots of time when I resent the world because I didn't get something I thought I deserved.
What my sisters and I share is that we know that our parents loved us no matter what.
We know that God loves us no matter what because our parents taught us that by how they loved us.

I got my haircut this week.
I was talking to the barber about raising kids.
We both agreed on two things.
One, it was a real joy and honor to be a father and watch our kids grow up.
And two that neither of us had any idea what we were doing.
We were both just making things up as we went along.
Our kids were challenging us to think about how best to raise kids.
I find this as a parent that I am learning about things through my kids all the time.
I am not saying they are smarter than me, or that they know more than me.
I am saying that I am learning about the complexities of what it means to be human through them.
Because they are complex people.
Sometimes they are really awesome and I am blown away by their awesomeness.
But other times they drive me crazy.
My job is to love them through all of it.
Isn't that a great way to describe God?!
Isn't that what this parable really about?

A father had two sons.
And he loved them both.
He loved them when they were good and bad.
He loved them when they worked and when the lazily spent all of their inheritance.
He loved them when they moved away and when they stayed home.
He loved them when they sinned against him, and when they did what they were told.
He loved them so much that he threw a party for them.

This is why this parable is so well known and so beloved, because it speaks to our lives.
We have all been both those brothers at some point.
We have had someone try and tell us how much they love us.
And for some reason we have been unable to see it.
Maybe if you are a parent you have had that experience of trying to get across how much you love your kids and they can't see it.
Or maybe you have been someone's kid and tried to explain why you feel misunderstood and couldn't get your parent to understand.
Maybe you were rebellious at some point.
Maybe you were looking for someone to tell you that you are loved this much.

The beauty of God is that God loves us that much.
That is how we survive being a parent, or a child.
That  is how we survive as adults who are a complicated mixture of things all the time.
We survive because God is having a party.
God is inviting us in.
God has killed the fatted calf, and brought us a robe, and a ring from our finger.
God has embraced us, and God is going out into the field to find us in our sulking state.
Are we ready to join?
Are we ready to be forgiven?
Do we know we are loved?
Are we going to the party?

It isn't quite spring yet, and it isn't winter anymore.
It is sprwinter.
We are not merely sinners and we are not saints.
We are God's beloved children.

I hope you know today how much God loves you.
The you that is a complicated mixture of both sons.
The you that is here today in this pew.
The you that is out there in the world.
That is who God loves and invites to the party.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Your Hour Has Come!

So much of our lives is about timing.
It is about being in the right place at the right time.
Who we fall in love with, what we do for work, where we work, where we live, what friends we have.
Of course there are choices within those circumstances, but we have to be in the right place at the right time.
Many times in my life things just seemed to come together.

I had not worked at Camp Calumet for a couple of years.
I actually thought that part of my life was over.
However, in the summer of 1998 I found myself living in Freedom with my parents.
I didn't have a job.
And I always wanted to be the CIT trainer.
I had applied to be the CIT trainer for the summer of 1994.
I had been offered the job of program director instead.
I hated that job, and really wanted to be the CIT trainer.
My life was a little adrift at this point.
I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
Anyway, I was at the right place and right time to be the CIT trainer.
It was during that summer that I Vicki and I started dating.
It was during that summer that I put myself on the path to going to seminary and becoming a pastor.

Jesus this morning isn't sure if this is the right time for him.
He is at a wedding, and has an opportunity to show who he is, but isn't sure if this is moment.
Luckily his mom is there to push him along.
This is his hour.
It is the right time and place for him.
He just doesn't know it for sure.

In our lives this is so important to be able to discern when it is our hour.
When it is our time to act, to make a move.
And this morning I want us to think about what makes it the right time.
What makes it our hour?

First off, we have to have other people in our lives who help us discern these things.
We need people who know us so well.
Who know our gifts and passions, who know what we are capable of to push us, otherwise we might not to do it.
We might not think that we have what it takes.
We might not see the opportunity in front of us.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we don't use the people in our lives around us to help us know if this is our hour.

Second, we have to know ourselves.
We have to know our own skills.
Our own wants and desires.
Our own passions.
We have to know what we are good at, and practiced those things.
We don't know much about Jesus between when he is born, and when he is 30 years old.
But here is what we have to assume.
Jesus was taught things.
Jesus learned the word of God.
Jesus learned what it was God wanted from him.
Jesus learned what it meant to follow God.
Jesus learned what he was capable of.
By the time Jesus shows up to the wedding at Cana, he knows his mission, he knows it will not end well.
Because in John Jesus hour is when he is lifted on the cross.
"My hour has come"
Jesus says later in John.
Even though he wasn't sure this was the hour, Jesus knew what he could and couldn't do.
Jesus knew that he could do this sign.

Third, we have to trust in God.
This is important.
Every time we make a decision about something we have to trust that God is with us.
We have to believe that God will walk with us.
Because if this is our hour, then it is something that God has put in our path.
I believe that God put me in that place in the summer of 1998.
I believe that was where I was supposed to be at that time.
It wasn't exactly what I would have chosen for myself.
I mean I had wished at the time that I would have been more accomplished, I wish my life would have had more direction and certainty.
I wish that out of college I would have known exactly what I wanted to do and would have had a great job doing that thing.
But this is the way my life had gone, and this is where God wanted me to be.
I don't know if I thought this at the time, but in hindsight it worked out.
And I did trust God was in the midst of all of those really complicated life decisions.

I could repeat this story more times in my life.
I could tell you about how God lead me here to be your pastor.
What about you?
What is the story that you tell about how your hour had come?
When were you in the right place at the right time?
Who pushed you into seeing that it was your hour?
What skills did you learn to make it the right time?
How did God make the circumstances right?

This weekend we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He was a man that was in the right place at the right time.
He was a pastor in Montgomery when the bus boycott started.
Yes he had been to college, and then to seminary.
He had been trained in leading the people of God.
And when the time came for him to act, he was ready.
But if you read about him you know that he wasn't sure.
He needed a push too.
He came to believe that this was the right time and place for our country to change the unjust laws of segregation.
In his famous "I have a dream" speech in front of the Lincoln memorial, he talked about this being the time.
He said, "We have also come to this hallowed spot  to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. 
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time  to make real the promises of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time, to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children."
We too must know when the right time is to act, to speak up, to be bold.

For Jesus this moment, at the wedding in Galilee, was the right moment.
It was the right moment to start his public ministry.
It was the right moment to give others the first sign of what grace looks like.

I hope this morning for all of us in those times in of transition in our lives for the right place and the right time.
I hope that you have  people in your life to give you a push when you need it.
I hope you have people that you can turn to for advice.
I hope that you know yourself, know your gifts and passions.
I hope that you have spent time learning skills that will serve you well.
Most importantly I hope you know that God is with you.
The Holy Spirit is guiding you.
God is putting things in your life at the right time and place so you can know when your hour has come.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Machine!

The truth is that we are all part of the machine.
We all are caught up in the systems of the world.
The economic system consumes us.
The social system defines us.
The political system overwhelms us.
We like to think of ourselves as individuals as people who make their own destiny.
But the truth is that we are all part of the machine.

I realized this on Christmas eve day.
I was at Rite Aid buying some last minute stocking stuffers.
I had picked out all I wanted.
I had a very full basket.
I was standing in line waiting to pay when the clerk announced that the computer system was down and they would only take a check or cash.
Just so you know I don't carry cash, and I almost never write a check.
All of my financial transactions are done with a bank card, or on the computer.
I stood in line thinking about what was I going to do.
I was running out of time for the day.
I needed to get home and get ready for my family to show up.
I didn't have time to abandon my shopping cart and go to another store.
It made me realize how caught up I am in the machine.
How much of my life is dictated by other things.
If for some reason all the machines went down in the world, I would have nothing.
I would be lost.

This is the world that the wise men find themselves.
It is a world where most people are caught up in the machine.
Herod rules, Rome dictates what is to happen.
And as long as nobody ever disturbs anything Rome is happy.
This new thing that the wise people say is about to happen is disturbing to people.
It is disturbing to Herod who doesn't want anyone to take what little perceived power he has away.
Historically speaking this was Herod's biggest fear.
There was  saying about Herod.
"It was better to be Herod's pig than one of his relatives."
People said this because Herod kept having his relatives killed in fear that they were after his thrown.
So Herod is caught up in the machine.
The system benefits him, it suits his needs.
But it also benefits the people around him.
Because at least there is peace.
Herod might be a tyrant, but at least Rome leaves us alone while he is in charge.
Herod might not be a Jew but he is refurbishing the temple in Jerusalem.
The status quo works for us.

I think it works for most of us here this morning.
We would rather not make too many waves.
And yet we all still have this sense that something is not right.
It is why this time of year we make resolutions.
We make them maybe because we perceive that our lives are out of whack.
We have over consumed for the past month, and now we need a course correction.
We have bought too much, ate too much, and drank too much.
So we make resolutions to make us feel in control of things.
I see resolutions as a way for us to try and get out of the system.
We will try to make different choices this year.
I don't know if it is possible.
I speak for myself when I say that.
Because I find myself repeating the patterns all the time.
The same patterns that lead me back into the machine.

Today I think about the wise men.
I think about the visitors from another country, making a dangerous journey, following a star.
Coming upon a different system that maybe they didn't fully understand.
Not knowing who Herod was, or why he was important.
Not knowing the prophecies of old, told in ancient days, when others dreamed of a different time.
Wise men who came to bring gifts to an infant king.
They knew something that others didn't.
And then they left to return home.
They realizing the dangers of this system went home a different road.
That story gives me hope today.
It gives me hope in this new year.
A new year filled with promise and possibility.
A new year where we just might be able to get out of the system.
A new year where we just might go a different way.

I read one commentary this week about us being like the wise ones.
Being able to discern better the systems that we think are working for us but are really hurting us.
I want to say this morning that I have no hope in that.
I know that I am not wise enough to break free of those systems.
I will remain dominated by them.
In this story we see the hand of God.
It is God who puts in the star in the sky.
It is God who warns the wise ones to go home a different way.
It is God who has come to be with us in Jesus Christ that is the hope of the wise ones.
That is our hope this new year.
It is that God has set out on the horizon a star for us to follow.
And when we get to the end what we will find is Jesus Christ shining for us.
We will find Jesus who is our king.
Jesus who is worthy of all of our riches.
Jesus who is worthy of all of our time and energy.
Jesus who is worthy of our journey.
Jesus who is worthy of our faith.

Herod is only a mirage of a king.
It is Herod who wants you to spend too much.
It is Herod who wants to keep making false promises to yourself you can't keep.
It is Herod who wants you to be afraid of the future.
It is Herod who wants you to remain part of the machine.

God on the other hand is calling us forth.
God is asking us to move ahead.
God is calling us to Jesus Christ.
And there we find the opposite.
We find a God who gives instead of takes, a God who keeps promise, a God calling us into the future, and a God who frees us from bondage.

I don't know if we can ever escape the system in the world that we depend on.
I will need this year to use my bank card to pay for things.
I may not keep any of those new year's resolutions.
Next year we will show up again and be ourselves still.

What I am holding out for is a sign from above.
A star in the distance that calls us forth.
I am still looking for another way.
A way that that is filled with grace and light.
A way that is filled with love and joy.

I hope for you this year that way.
And that God may shine his grace on you all your days.
That your faith may lead you to follow the star so you too may come and worship Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Past, Present, Future

This week at bible study we were talking about how we would have love to have been there.
We would have loved to hear Zachariah give his prophecy.
We would have love to been moved by the Holy Spirit to realize this new thing God was doing.
We all feel this way at certain times in our faith journey.
If I was there it would have been so great.
This morning I want to say that we are there.
Everything that was available to the characters in the Gospel is available to us.
We know everything that Zachariah, Elizabeth, and Mary know.
To some extent we know even more.
We know that Jesus will be the promised one.
We know that Jesus will save us.
The only question we have is the same one they had is do we believe it?
Are we open to the Holy Spirit working in our lives?

My wife this season was talking to some of her colleagues at work and they were talking about traditions.
What Christmas tradition do you have?
To her surprise her colleagues had almost none.
It is surprising in our house because we have like 50 million.
(OK not that many...but a lot)
For example, we eat certain ethnic food to remind us of our ancestors.
Every year I go with my mom to Worcester to get Swedish food that we eat on Christmas eve.
Every year as we drive down Greenwod St. to Helen's Bakery my mom points out the landmarks.
"Here is the house that Aunt Austry lived in."
"Here is the house that Aunt Marie lived in."
"Here is the Church that your great Grandfather was the pastor of."
The women at Helen's Bakery knows us because we come every year and get 13 loaves of Swedish Rye Bread.
Every Christmas we open gifts one at a time the youngest going first the oldest going last.
Every Christmas day we have an Italian feast with Vicki's family.
We eat the gravy from the recipe that Vicki's grandmother taught her, the one brought over on the boat from Italy.
For us these traditions are important to root us in our past.
In that way every Christmas is the same.

But we are aware that Christmas also changes.
Kids grow up.
You celebrate in a different house.
We used always go to Winthrop Mass on Christmas day to spend time with Vicki's grandparents.
They have died, and so now we celebrate at her parent's house.
I am sure some of you have gone through this.
You used to host Christmas, have all the family to your house, and now you go to your kids houses.
You get married and you start eating Italian food on Christmas day, or start opening your presents on Christmas morning instead of Christmas eve.
Or maybe you used to have big celebrations, but now it is just you and a couple of friends.
Christmas changes.

The year that we have had often times dictates our Christmas.
Are we employed?
How is our health?
Did someone we love die?
How do we feel about the world we live in, and where it is going?

Christmas also points us towards the future, it reminds us that next year will be different.
It reminds us that things are moving and changing all the time.
Sometimes that is good, and sometimes not so good.

Our Gospel for this morning is rooted in that same thing.
The prophesy that Zachariah says is rooted in the words of Isaiah, Malachi, and the psalms.
It is rooted in the traditions of his ancestors.
It is not new.
But it points to the changes happening in the present moment.
It is the fulfillment of God's promises.
And it point us towards the future of what God will do through John's life.

You see you and I we are in the time of prophecy.
We are in the time of great awakening.
We are in the time of God.
Because we are always in that time.
God is always rooted in our past, speaking in our present, and making promises for our future.

The only questions are we open to it?
Can we hear it?
Can we see it?
Can we believe it?

Because the truth is this that many people missed the birth of Jesus.
Not many were there.
Not many were looking for it.
They were doing what we do.
Going about their lives, working, complaining about the government, loving, dying.
The people in our Gospel this morning they too probably didn't fully understand the significance of all that was happening in their midst.

Because while we walk in the darkness, God provides for us a great light.
God provides for us a light that shows us a way to be in the world.
It is a way of good news, joy, and promise.
It is the way of God.

I know that I some point I have said in a sermon that the reason we have faith is because we were not there that first Christmas.
We didn't hear Zachariah tell us that John would lead the way for Jesus to come and save us.
We were not there when Mary and Elizabeth sang songs of joy.
We were not there when Zachariah first heard the good news of his son being born.
We were not there when the promise was given to Mary.
We are here now, together today.
And the truth is that God stills shows up.
God is here today with you and me.
Here in the worship service that we share.
God is speaking right to you.
God is acting to bring light into your darkness.
"Because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of Peace."

For me God shows up in traditions that root me to my past.
God shows up this Christmas to help me find joy now matter my circumstances.
God shows up at Helen's bakery, here this morning, and in words spoken through others.
God will show up for you too.
Other things will change this Christmas.
Our circumstances, and how we feel about life will change.
We can always be assured of this God will show up, just as he did for Zachariah, Elizabeth, and Mary.

This Christmas be open to what God is doing.
It is rooted in the past, speaking to you today right now, and giving you hope for your future.