Monday, May 11, 2015

A Bleeding Heart

This week I was at the public hearing for the senate as they heard testimony about the State budget.
As I sat and listened to testimony after testimony I realized something I am a bleeding heart.
I heard stories of mothers who lost their children to drug overdose and I wept along with them.
I heard stories of mothers who spent long hours helping their children with developmental disabilities and I wept.
I listened to mothers who had children take their own lives because of depression that went untreated and my heart broke.
When I hear someone tell their story that is struggling my heart does bleed for that person.
I have tried to fight it.
I have tried not to let those stories get to me, but they do.
I know it is not good to be a “bleeding heart”, but I can’t help it.
And I think that is how you want your pastor to be.
I don’t think that you would want a pastor who didn’t care about people, about their stories and where they came from.
This morning’s Gospel is about letting our hearts bleed for others.
It is about opening those hearts so that we might be able to love each other as Jesus Christ loved us.
Interestingly enough the phrase “bleeding heart” has its origin in the Order of the Bleeding Heart, a semi-religious order of the Middle Ages honoring the Virgin Mary, whose heart was pierced with many sorrows.

This morning we have to start with the idea of love.
It is thrown around a lot in our world.
And the idea that we should love other people is in our culture, it is not just for religious people.
I don’t know anybody who would disagree that we should love other people.
And because of that what Jesus says to us this morning seems kind of like common sense.

I have been reading lots of articles about people who are not going to church anymore because they have heard it all before.
They have heard enough sermons on love to know that we should love each other.
I suspect that many of you already know that you should love everyone.

Here is the problem.
Love is not that easy.
It is hard.
Love is easy in theory, as a concept that we should generally be aware of and keep in mind.
But love in practice, in the reality of everyday life is much harder, because love demands of us more than merely being aware of it.
Love demands more than merely having groovy feelings about each other.
It demands sacrifice, and action.
Love has to be lived and experienced and not just talked about.
We can’t just say that we love everybody, but we actually have to show that love somehow.
And not everyone is easy to love.
Not everyone is easy to show that love to.

Jesus this morning in the Gospel actually tweaks the golden rule.
Jesus does not say, “Love others as you love yourself.”
Jesus says, “Love each other as I have loved you.”
Jesus loved us enough to die for us.
Jesus loved us enough to meet us where we are.
Jesus loved us enough to make us the center of his attention.
Jesus didn’t just love us in theory, Jesus loved us in practice.
Jesus showed us his love for us.

And perhaps that is why we come here every week.
Not because we get to hear something new and earth shattering.
But because week after week we need to be reminded of what we already know.
We need to be reminded to love others, because doing so is hard and exhausting.
We all have our limits.
We all have that spot that we reach in life when we have exhausted all of our capacity for compassion and we just can’t do it anymore.
And perhaps that is when we need to hear again that love is not easy, and demands the extra mile on our part.
We need to be reminded that it is OK to be a bleeding heart.
That is how we know that we are living right, that we are truly loving and giving of ourselves.

Perhaps that is what mothers know best.
Now not everyone here this morning is a mother.
But we all have mothers.
And perhaps some of our mothers are not the best.
But our mothers are the ones who loved us first.
It is where we learned love.
And if we you are a mother you know that being a mother is heart breaking.
It makes your heart bleed.
Because you will watch as your children do something that is not good for them and yet you can’t stop it.
You will watch as your children suffer through things in life and you will want to take away that pain.
It is heart breaking because you watch your children grow up and you wish that they would be young forever.
You watch them move away, and not fully understand the sacrifices you made.
But that is love.
Love is about having a bleeding heart, about caring for another person enough to give of yourself for that person so that they might have a better life.

I often think that if we could all have a good mother’s heart.
If we could think that it is all of our calling to be mother’s weather we are one to our own children or not.
If we could see all the children of the world as our children then we can become more loving and caring for those people who don’t do well in life, the people who make pure choices and have their lives in ruins that they are our children too.
That we care for them because it isn’t just about our kids but all kids.

In 1872 Julie Ward Howe wrote what came to be known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation.
Julie Ward Howe was also famous for writing the hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
Her proclamation was a call to all women to stop the evils of war.
It says in part, “Arise, then, Christian women of this day !
Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears !
Say firmly :
We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.”
She wrote this after seeing the carnage of the Civil War and Franco Prussian War.
It is a call to see ourselves as having hearts not just for our own children but the children of our enemy too.
Because you see love is hard.
It is heart breaking to lose your child, your spouse.
It is heart breaking to lose any child and any spouse.
The kind of love Jesus calls us to is to see the heartbreak of another mother for another child.

So we leave here today with bleeding hearts.
That celebrates not only our mothers, but all mothers.
We weep with mothers who have lost children.
Mothers who wish to have children, mothers who failed, mothers who succeed.
We pray that all of us have the heart of true mothers and we might love as Jesus loved us as hard as that might be.

Monday, May 4, 2015

God of Life

The first time I met Karl, Gus’s father, was at the Bishop’s convocation.
Bishop’s convocation is a yearly event when all the Lutheran pastors in New England get together for refreshment and to learn new things.
It was my first Bishop’s convocation here in New England.
I didn’t know a lot of people, but since I had grown up here I had some friends.
It was toward the end of the night when my friend Dave said that we should go to the room of Joe Ekeberg for a night cap.
In the room were a bunch of pastors and Karl.
I was impressed with Karl because amongst all these pastors he kept asking questions, and he would then challenge the answer.
Maybe because his dad was a pastor he was not intimidated by all these pastoral people.
Karl that night exemplified an important part of a mature faith, the ability to ask questions.
A true living faith means that we are engaged in the deep questions that faith gives us.
And today we are here to witness together as a faith community the baptism of Gus Ekeberg.
Today is only the beginning of a life, it is only the beginning of a faith journey.
One thing that we know for sure today is that we don’t know what Gus’s journey will be like.
We don’t know what he will face in his life.
We don’t know what will be the ways that he will need to change and grow.
We don’t know what special skills he will have that he can use to serve the world.
We don’t know what challenges he will face.
It is what makes today so wonderful for all of us, but especially for Karl and Erika, we/they get to watch Gus grow, change, and become what he will become.
We/ they get to be there when Gus asks the hard questions, wonders out loud, stretches his parents patience.

I mention all this because we often think of baptism in the wrong way.
We think it is about death.
We think that we are baptized so that when we die we go to heaven.
Baptism is not about death, it is about life.
It is not here only for that final moment of earthly life, but it is here for us throughout life.
Today is the start of a life of faith for Gus, but only a start, and baptism is the assurance of God’s care and love for the rest of that journey.

Our Gospel this morning is about this life.
Jesus this morning tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
I don’t know too much about horticulture, but I know enough that if you rip off a branch from the vine it will die.
Our lives are given meaning, value by being attached to Jesus Christ.
Our lives are given unconditional love by being attached to Jesus Christ, because we worship a God of life.
We worship a God who gives us life, creates us, and then helps to mold and shape who and what we become.

I have been thinking about this a lot this week.
My vacation started on Friday when I went to the funeral of a man I knew from Calumet named Ray.
His wife and kids where on staff and he volunteered to help out in the camp ground.
One of the things he did was drive what we called the honey wagon.
The honey wagon was the machine that pumped out the sewer systems of the trailers on the camp ground.
The thing about Ray was that he made that job looked like fun.
Ray always had a smile on his face ready with joke.
Anyone who can do that job and make it look like so much fun was a special person.
At his funeral people talked about his life, about the love he shared, the gifts he gave to his family, friends, community, and church.

I also ended my vacation on Friday and Saturday by attending the funeral of my friend Sarah.
I have known Sarah her whole life.
My parents worked at calumet with her dad when they were teenagers.
Sarah and I worked at Calumet together.
Her and her husband Dave started dating the same summer that Vicki and I started dating.
They got married a couple of months after we did.
We lived downstairs from them in Seminary.
It was a sad day.
But at the funeral people talked about Sarah’s life.
How it touched so many people.
They talked of her compassion, her grace, her intellect, her faith in God, the way she made a difference in the world.

We spend lots of time looking for meaning in death.
Why? How?
I have never heard a satisfactory answer to any of those questions.
The conclusion that I have come to is that there is no meaning in death.
Death is a horrible nasty thing.
It is nasty because of its finality.
But we forget that we have a God of life.
We have a God who created us, a God who sustains us in all things, and a God who upholds us.
We have a God who sent his son so we might have life and have it in abundance.
We have a God who gives life meaning.
We have a God who tends the garden, a God who provides the vine and connects us to the source of all life, so we can share that with other people.
A God who helps us produce fruit in this world that makes the lives of people around us better.
We are the branches and the source of life is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ redefined for us what true life is, and what it means to have true life.
Jesus Christ takes away the power and sting of death, so that in it we don’t see the finality we see a gateway to eternal life.
As we continue to celebrate Easter we look for life.
We yearn for life.
In his death on the cross Jesus shows us that what matters is really life.
And Jesus redefines the meaning of that life.
Jesus gives us gifts and vitality to spread to other people.
That is what we celebrate today.

I have enjoyed getting to know Karl and Erika better.
On the day Gus was born I went to see them at Concord hospital.
I was impressed with how calm Erika was as a new mother.
How much she loved her son.
Karl and Erika are going to give Gus so many good things in life.
But the best is today.
They have tied his life to the vine.
They have given Gus the beginnings of faith, so that his life will be one that has meaning and value.
His life will be about using the gifts God has given to make other lives better.

It will not always be a smooth ride.
There will be lots of twists and turns, ups and downs.
There will be lots of questions to ask.
But in the end there will be life, there will be God who gives all of life new and important meaning.

And for all of us who are here this morning let us take today to not only celebrate this baptism but also to celebrate ours.
To remember that it was for life.
That moment when water is poured on our heads our lives forever abide in Jesus Christ.
We are the branches who need the vine for life, not for death.

Let us remember that today God has created this day for us, let us live it as God would have us live it.
Let our lives abide in God so that we might really live.
Let us love out loud, give freely, laugh often, forgive quickly, and have life in abundance.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid I used to read these books called, Choose Your Own Adventure.
This one here is called, “Spy for George Washington”.
It was my favorite one when I was a kid.
In the book you are a spy who has to get a very important message to George Washington across enemy lines without the red coats finding out.
These books are different than other books because instead of just reading through you get to make choices about what your character will do.
You get to decide on what adventure you will go.
And sometimes your choices worked out well and other times not so well.

Mark’s Gospel kind of ends like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, because it ends with the women fleeing from the tomb in amazement and fear without telling anyone what the angel had just told them.
The question that we are left with in Mark’s Gospel is what we will do with this story.
Will we share it with others?
Will we believe it?
Will we make it our own?
(I should mention that there are other endings of Mark’s Gospel. But these are believed to be added on latter.)
Like us the women simply don’t know what to do with this story that the angel at the tomb tells them.
Could it really be true that Jesus is alive!
The story seems impossible to believe.

That is point of the whole Gospel of Mark is to explain the unbelievable, to help people have faith in the one whom we thought was dead but is really alive.
And this story helps us to see beyond the grave, beyond this world, into the kingdom of heaven.
It is a story that can change our lives, make them have direction and purpose.
It is a story that gives us love, hope, and joy.
It is a story that we have told over and over throughout the ages.
It is a story that is passed from grandparents to little grandkids.
It is a story that we remember at the dark times of life.

I remember standing at an outdoor chapel at Camp Calumet Lutheran.
I was standing there pouring my father’s ashes into the form of a cross.
And what I was thinking about was this story.
I was thinking about the life that he lived, and the one that God has now given him, and that this tragic parting was only temporary.
Perhaps you had a similar moment when the resurrection wasn’t just some theological theory preached to you on Easter morning.
But it was real, because the story of Jesus Christ had entered into your own story.

This is exactly how you and I make sense of the world.
We tell stories.
When we are in conversation with someone and we want to prove a point most often what we do is tell a story.
If we want someone to understand something about us, about who we are, or what we believe we tell a story.
This story of Jesus resurrection is a story that can help us to shape our lives, to make sense of the things that happen to us.
It can be the story that explains all the other stories.

I am not saying that what we can do is choose everything that happens to us in life.
Much of life simply happens to us.
I love the line at the end of the movie Boyhood were the lead character has a friend who says, “Life isn’t what you make it. Life is what makes us.”
I agree.
But what we can choose is the story by which we will see that life.
We can choose to see in life death and resurrection.
And if we think about it those two realities surround us all the time.

Our family has been dealing with some tragedies lately.
I will not go into it all.
But they all feel like the end of some things.
It feels like things are dying.
And you know what happened last week.
Our family added another member.
My sister-in law had a baby girl.
I can’t tell you how much that brightened our spirits.
Life goes on, it turns around.

We have all experienced a very cold and snowy winter.
But we all know and expect that warmer days are ahead.
We know that the flowers and trees that have lain dormant are going to bloom again.
Life goes on, it turns around.

This week I was at the state house, at the time I was wearing my collar.
I was walking down the hall and a man stopped me.
He wanted to talk about his parent’s death.
He missed them.
I said, “You know they are well cared for that they are at peace.
That they are surrounded by love.”
There is was the promise of the resurrection spoken into a moment of death on a Wednesday at the State House.
Life goes on, it turns around.

I was at the hospice house this week visiting with someone whose mother was dying.
We prayed.
As I left I whispered into her mother’s ear.
“You are going to be fine. God is with you know and forever.”
She woke up and whispered back, “Thank you”.
The resurrection is our hope at the end of all things.
Life goes on, it turns around.

Since the New Year I have been at four different funerals, and I have officiated at two others.
Every time I am at a funeral I am thankful to hear again that promise of life eternal given by Jesus Christ.
The story of Easter is important each time.
Life goes on, it turns around.

That is why we need this story.
It is why we want this story.
We want it to be part of our adventure.

What is amazing about the ending in Mark is that we know that the story doesn’t end there.
We know that it continued to be told over and over again.
We know this because we are all here today.
This means that even if we don’t tell it, believe it, or share it the story still goes on, because it is really ultimately about God.
That God really wants us to know about this story.
God wants it to be part of our adventure so that whatever path we choose good or bad, we know that God is there with us, bringing life from death, hope from despair, and grace from sin.
This story is important part of who we are as God’s people, as people.

One of the things I notice about this time of year is that there are lots of specials on television about the history of Jesus.
There are specials about archeological evidence, about historical records.
Some of you might watch these and if they help you to understand the story or to believe it that is good.
I love history.
And I too find those specials to be of great help.
But they also fall short for me, because the story is about faith, not about fact and figures.
It is about what we are going to believe about our lives.
It is about what is the story that will help us to make sense out of our adventure our lives.
And of all the stories that I have heard I simply cannot find a better one.
This is the one that brings me comfort and hope.
It is the one I want with me when I stand over the grave of someone I love.
It is the one I want with me when I hold a new born baby.
It is the one I want with me on cold snowy night.
And the one I want with me on a warm sunny morning.

Today as you live your adventures.
As you make decisions about your lives and what they will be, I hope and pray that you will take this story with you, so that you may know the power of knowing God who makes life out of death.