Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What Happens When A Pastor Walks Into a Hospital?

This week one of our members was having surgery.
I went to the hospital to pray with her before her surgery.
I was told by the front desk to go to this certain waiting room.
I was there on official business so I was wearing my collar and a black suit.
When I walked into the waiting room a woman said to her daughter.
“Is that a priest? That freaks me out.”
She said it loud enough for me to hear it, so I said, “Don’t worry I am not here for you.”
We all laughed.

I wonder if this will be our reaction when Jesus comes again.
I know that all of you would have a much different reaction when I come to see you in the hospital.
People find it comforting.
They want me to come and see them, to pray with them.
In fact, if I didn’t come you might be upset.
But people that don’t know me or that don’t go to Church, or that don’t understand religion their reaction is one of horror.
Maybe she reacted that way because she only sees a priest when it is time to die.

I know that when I did my hospital chaplaincy in seminary I would sometimes get that reaction from people.
The chaplain is here that must mean that someone is dead.
People don’t call the chaplain for good things.

Our Gospel for this morning is about what we expect when Jesus comes again.
Will we be prepared?
Will we be scared?
Will we rejoice?

I think we should back up one space.
And just say the obvious thing; many of us don’t believe that Jesus is coming back.
Or at least we don’t live like that could really happen any time soon.
This is not part of the Christian doctrine that we take seriously.
Is that good?
I think it is in the sense that we simply don’t know when it is going to happen.
Jesus told us this many times, including in Matthew’s Gospel right before the one we have today.
Since we don’t know when, and since we don’t have any control over it, there is something to be said for going about our lives.
To live as Jesus calls us to live.
I heard a lecture by a woman who used to be a Pentecostalist.
She was talking about why pentacostalist don’t care about the environment.
She said that they don’t care because in their theology God is going to come and blow up the earth anyway and it is going to happen soon.
Why take care of something God is just going to destroy.
I understand this argument.
It is the same one I give for not making the bed.
Why make the bed I am going to get right back in it and mess it up in a couple of hours.
So maybe there is a danger in over emphasizing that Jesus is coming back.

On the other hand, what does it look like to live as if we expect Jesus to be here tomorrow?
What are the implications for our moral choices?
What are the implications for how we treat each other?
Distancing ourselves too far from this Christian doctrine may lead to laziness on our part, as if what we do doesn’t matter at all.
As if God doesn’t care about the world we live in, or the people that are in it.
Having a sense of God’s coming gives us urgency to our actions.

But most of us simply don’t think about this that often.
Because why should we care?
Here is why it is important, how we see the end of time says a lot about how we think of God right now.
If you think of God as really angry and out for revenge then that god is going to show up mad.
That God is going to destroy this sinful place we live, and all the sinful people in it.

But if your God is loving and caring, if your God is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, then when God shows up it is a wonderful and glorious thing.
It is a renewing of the world that cries in labor pains.
It is a time of no more tears or hurt.

What does this Gospel say about God and what Jesus return looks like?
First thing is that the bridesmaids wait for a party.
The image of marriage feast is an image of joy.
The bridesmaids are waiting in an expectation of joy.
They are not anxious about it.
Because they sleep before the groom arrives.
Isn’t that what we wait for and hope for?
Are we not waiting now in expectant joy of the marriage feast that has no end?
Are we not waiting for God to come and right all the wrongs, end all the suffering and hurt?

What about the end of the parable?
It comes off as really mean for the Lord to shut out the foolish bridesmaids.
I think we can say that there is preparation that comes before the party.
The ending of this parable would have been a surprise to the people reading it.
Weddings were open occasions to everyone in a community.
To have a closed door would not have been common.
The community that Matthew wrote his Gospel to is growing weary of waiting for Jesus.
They have begun to slack off in their love of the Gospel.
Can’t we say the same about us?
Are we not like Matthew’s community?
As the Gospel ages its message sometimes looses the radical nature.
We lose our passion for what Jesus is calling us to do.
We forget to prepare ourselves for Jesus to come again.
We forget the oil to light our lamps.
And our light doesn’t shine.
We hide it under a basket, because we have forgotten the goodness of God.
We forget that God is gracious to us.
We become like the woman in the waiting room.
And in doing we become afraid of God instead of God’s companion and friend.

The question that I think is at the heart of our faith life is this.
Do I experience joy when I think about Jesus?
Do I experience a genuine good feeling about following Jesus?
Does my faith energies me to love and care for others?
When I think of Jesus I think of my salvation.
I think of all the times I have needed my faith in really dark times.
And I think of all the times Jesus has come through for me.
And I want to share it with others.
I want them to have that joy.

If we don’t know Jesus, if we become complacent about our faith, about the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is as if our lights go out.
It is as if the door is shut, and we can’t get back in.

So today let your light shine.
Care for the least of these.
Love those who you struggle to love.
Prepare your hearts for the joy of the Lord, because Jesus is coming again.
Will we be ready for that moment?
Will we be joyful that the bridegroom returns?
Live today as if Jesus is returning.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Glimpse

About seventeen years ago my wife and I saw a PBS special by Rick Steves.
He was in a part of Italy called the Cinque Terre.
From the first time we saw that special we wanted to go there.
But we didn’t, because of life.
 Kids, jobs, and what not all got in the way.
But we would talk about it from time to time.
Other people who went there would tell us about it.
This past summer because of our generous congregation we got to go.
We added on to our trip to Germany a couple of day in the Cinque Terre.
To get there we took a train from La Spezia into the Cinque Terre.
We went through a tunnel, and when we came out we saw the clear blue water, the cliffs descending into the water.
I looked over at my wife and she had tears running down her face.
And then we went into another tunnel before getting off at our stop.
It was a moment, a glimpse of something we had dreamed of for a long time.
It didn’t disappoint.
In fact, it was better than we imagined in our minds.

This is what I think about heaven.
It is something we dream of and imagine to be wonderful and glorious.
And every now and then we get a glimpse of it here and now.
Every now and then we see love and kindness so spectacular that we weep with joy.

Our reading from Revelation shows us what it is like.
It shows us the wonder and beauty of heaven, the worshiping of God.
New song of praise we sing to God.
This is what the book of Revelation does; it pulls back the curtain to show us what is really behind everything.
It does this with beautiful, brilliant, and strong language.

Last Sunday I went to a really fancy dinner at a Castle.
It was my mother in laws birthday.
While we were waiting for dinner we were exploring the castle.
I spilled wine on a doily.
I tried to get it out with cold water.
It didn’t work.
So I turned myself in to the people who worked at the castle.
Turns out it was no big deal, but wine is hard to get out of a doily.
If wine is hard to get out of a white doily.
How hard is blood to get out of a white robe?
But we are told this morning that people who are worshiping God around the throne are wearing white robes that have been washed in the blood of the lamb.
I am not great at doing laundry, but again I know enough to know that blood is not easy to get out of white robes.
I know that you wash the whites separate from the brand new red towel you bought at target.

Why this saying?
Why is John telling us that blood is used to wash robes?

The problem with all saints Sunday is that we tend to make out the people we remember to be better than they were.
I know that when I think of my father or Grandmother I think of only all the good times, the good things.
But maybe that is not such a bad thing.
Maybe that is how we should remember loved ones, remembering that they showed us a glimpse of heaven.
Because remembering the other stuff is too painful, or not helpful.
Or maybe we just like to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Or maybe we realize that none of us is so good, and we would want others to remember our good side instead of our bad.
We would not want to be remembered for the worse thing we have done, but the best.

And maybe that is what the experience of death does for us.
Maybe we are washed through the blood.
And we come out the other side clean.

But something more significant is going on in Revelation.
It is a letter to a real community that is really suffering through the oppression of the Roman Empire.
It is a community that sees how the empire uses force to say that there is peace.
In the Roman Empire people were crucified for not pledging allegiance to the Empire.
It was a political message that you better get on board, or else.
It was through blood that the Romans thought you made people good citizens.

Jesus turned that on its head.
It wasn’t blood that made us good citizens.
It is blood that makes us holy.
It is not violence, but non violence and love that make us into God’s people.
It is the sacrifice of Jesus that makes us righteous.
That makes us worthy.

For a long time we thought that being a good person makes you a holy person.
But it is really only one thing and that is Jesus blood.
I would say that every life is filled with difficulty in some way.
That we all struggle here on this earth to figure out what it means to live a blessed life.
Jesus told us that it was found in living.
It is found in the mourning, in thirsting, in hunger, in poverty of spirit.
In those things we pass through to the other side and find something more significant.

And that is why death is so shattering for us.
It often clarifies what is really important.
It helps us to see better the people in our lives.
We see that they were flawed, but through that they struggled to do good.

I often think how much I misunderstood my father.
I didn’t understand how much he struggled with his own father.
I didn’t understand how much he wanted to be loved.
And how much he wanted to be a good father, and let me know that he loved me.
It wasn’t always easy for us.
But the thing is that when I remember him it is only with the finest thoughts.
When I speak of him it is only in glowing terms.
Because I understand better what he went through.
I understand better why he reacted to things the way he did.
At his funeral I gave his eulogy, and I talked about how much he loved me and all the people in his life.
I didn’t talk about the struggle.

It was as if the stains of his life had been taken away.
I believe it was because of Jesus that I was able to see the best part of him.
I know it was because of Jesus that he struggled to love me and others.
That idea that Jesus died to show us a better way to live, a gentler way, gives us a better vision of what we can be.

At the heart of Revelation is this truth, that through all of the hard ships of life.
Through everything that we face there is a God at the heart of the universe that is bigger than those hardships.
There is a God bigger than our sins, or the sins of others.
At the center of all things is a glory better than we can imagine.
At the center of all things is a God who is constantly trying to put things back together.
God is trying to wipe away every tear, and have no more hunger.
That is the vision that we sometimes glimpse in the best parts of us.

The Good News is that you and I are invited to participate in that action.
We get to be the saints of God here and now.
We get to be there for each other.
We get to stand up for others.
We get to give others a glimpse of what it might look like.

The Blood of Jesus gets out stains.
The one who was slain is worthy, has shown us a better way.

Let us remember that we all struggle, but that Jesus works out the stains.
Jesus makes us righteous and holy.
Jesus gives us a better vision, a less violent vision, a gentler vision.
And when we put our lives in the blood we come out clean.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Reformation Is Alive!

It started with a hammer, a tool that is used to build things.
This time it built a movement, a reforming movement.
That shook the church, and the world.
500 years ago.
The banging of a hammer on a door started in motion a movement.
It built something.

What did it build?
What do we celebrate today?

All this fall I have been preaching on the themes of the Reformation.
The ideas that Luther, and other reformers, brought to bear on the world.
They are the foundation of our faith.
They are important ideas.

But I am afraid that 500 years later we have forgotten about the hammer.
We have fallen in love with the things that we have built.
The institutional church, the lovely church buildings built to encapsulate that institution.
This week at Bishop’s convocation the keynote speaker told us that there is a difference between a movement and monument.
A monument is a dead thing.
It has no life.
It only exists to show us something that happened a long time ago.
A movement is alive.
It breathes it moves, it matters now.
The reformation was a movement.
It was alive.
It was changing all the time.

And today as we celebrate and remember that important moment in time what I am hoping for us is that we continue the movement.
My father in law told me a couple of weeks ago that nobody cares about all this Reformation stuff.
I would agree with him if all we are talking about is what happened 500 years ago.
If all we wanted to do is build a monument to sometime long ago.
But I don’t agree with him because I think it is important to keep alive the reformation.
That the Church and us individually needs to continue to reform.
It is only important if this is a movement and not a monument.
That the Church continues to live, breath, move, and matter.
That we are continuing what the reformers started.

Let me tell you what I think that looks like and doesn’t.
I have been trying for a year to come up with some new thing to say on this day.
To say something that will save the Church and make it relevant for today.
The truth is that I am not that creative a person.
Instead what I think we need is to return to the essence of our faith.
That is what the Reformation did.
The Reformers would say, “Back to the source”.
We need to go back to the source.

It is always centered on Jesus Christ.
The heart of the reformation was a return to Jesus as the center of the church, life, and theology.
That the church whatever it does has to be centered on Jesus Christ.
That is all that matters.
I don’t care how we bow as we approach the altar.
I don’t care what color the candles are.
I don’t care what music we sing.
I don’t care what flowers are on the altar.
I don’t care the clothes people wear to worship.
I don’t care if the kids talk.
I don’t care about the petty things that people protecting a monument care about.
I care that we as a community of Jesus people worship Jesus!
I care that we know the grace and mercy of God.
That we love each other, we forgive each other.
That we live out a passion for caring for the poor and lost.
That we want in our lives to have a deep and important relationship with Jesus Christ.
We want to know what it means to follow him.

We have to admit that we, the Church, have done some harm to people.
I don’t think it was intentional.
But we did harm because we stopped caring about what Jesus said.
We care more about what a politician says, or a movie star tells us.
We stopped listening because we thought we knew everything.
We have to go back and listen to what Jesus is telling us.
We need Jesus more than ever, the world needs Jesus more than ever.
We need to be reminded of Jesus love for us.
We need to be reminded of Jesus love for our neighbors.

Jesus tells us this morning what is at the heart of his message.
Know that God loves you.
And love one another.
We have to continually live into that truth.
Jesus was reminding the religious leaders of his day what they had forgotten.
That at the heart of God is love.

We can never stop reforming!
If we are going to be part of movement that we have to get out our hammers and continue to build.
We are not yet the people that God wants us to be.
We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves.
We don’t love God with our whole heart.
The reformation is not a onetime event.
It is an ongoing challenge as we face new realities of life.
The issues we face are not the same that Jesus faced, or that Luther faced.
What is the same is that Jesus still calls us to know God’s love and proclaim it to others.

When my wife and I were in Germany this summer she kept on saying to me, “I didn’t realize that the Reformation was so many years.”
She thought that Martin Luther nailed the 95 thesis to the door and that was it.
But the truth is that 500 years later it is not over.
It is not over because we will continually face things in the world that we have not ever thought of today.
Think of all the movements that have happened in these 500 years the church women’s ordination, LGBTQ rights, ecumenical understanding, interfaith dialogue, peace and justice movements, multi-cultural understanding, these are things that Luther and reformers never thought of.
They were things that our Church struggled with, fought over, lived and died through.
And that is one of the wonderful things about re forming something.
You take it from the form that it is, and through blood sweat and tears, through hammering it into something else you reform it.
I hope as heirs of the reformation we never lose that spirit.
That we never become complicit about what and who we are, even though it is hard, even though not all of us are going to agree, that we continue to challenge each other.
You know that the 95 thesis was meant to be debate points.
They were not meant to be lasting truths, but points of debate about one topic the sale of indulgences.
That is what our heritage tells us that when we see something wrong, an injustice built on the premise of bad theology and bad Biblical interpretation we need to debate it.
We need to hammer it out.

In the source book we bought to help us plan our 500 reformation celebration.
There was an article saying the worse thing you could do was to dress up as Luther with a hammer.
(I can be a but contrarian sometimes.) 
I understand the caution.
We don’t want to simply re-enact what happened 500 years ago.
We don’t want to go back and fight all those fights, and be anti-Roman Catholic.
Not only that, but there is significant debate among historians if Luther even nailed the 95 Thesis to the door.
But this is the story we share with each other.
And I believe it has power.

Hopefully it is power to move us not to create a monument, but to continue to reform ourselves, our church, our country, our world.
It is the power to continue to live into the truth of God’s love for all of us, and for the entire world.
It creates a movement that seeks everyday to love more deeply, and understand more fully God’s grace given to us in Jesus Christ.

Let me end by encouraging us every day to reform our lives.
To wake up every day and think who is God calling me to love today?
Where in my life do I find hatred, dislike, prejudice, and judgment?
How can I reform myself so that our church, community, and world are better?
Where is God’s grace working on me to reform me?

In other words, pick up your hammer and get to work on the reforming, because the Reformation is alive.