Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Hell Run

I got my license in March of 1989 when I turned sixteen.
Shortly after that my friends and I developed what we came to call, "The Hell run".
We would go to this windy road that ran between Derry and Windham.
My parents had a Toyota van.
It barely had any front.
It looked something like this.
And we would drive it as fast as I could.
Often times the car would come off the ground.
The key to the Hell run was that we would play the Ramones greatest hit.
The  best song to do a hell run was, "Sniff some glue".
The complete lyrics where, "Now I want to sniff some glue
Now I want to have somethin' to do
All the kids want to sniff some glue
All the kids want somethin' to do"
The Ramones are the perfect band for indolence male expression.
They can sum up how you feel about the world at that time in a 2 minute song about sniffing glue.
Recently I was talking to someone in my family about how much we couldn't stand being in High school.
We talked about how glad we were to be done with it.
You see the "Hell Run" was more a good metaphor about how I felt at that time in my life.
Stuck in hell.
Not sure what life was about, other than it was about some loud music, and driving dangerously.
This one night in particular, we were going to pick up another friend and on the way decided to sneak in a "Hell Run".
This time it didn't end well.
I came over a hill and the car  lifted off the ground.
On the other side was a big truck.
I hit the brakes and tried to veer to the right to get passed the truck.
Instead I hit a tree.
Instantly I could hear my friend Don yell from the back of the van.
He wasn't hurt just really scared.
We all got out and realized that we were OK.
As soon as I knew everyone was OK, I thought about  what my parents were going to do.
Especially my father.
As is often costmary in your teen years my dad and struggled at times to understand each other.
I knew my mother wouldn't be happy, but she would be her normal calm and patient self.
My dad on the other hand wasn't as patient.
My mother drove all of my friends home and made me go in and tell their parents what had happened.
We of course left out the part about the Ramones and the "Hell Run".
Everyone understood and was glad we were alive.
I worried about what awaited me at home.

Pilate like everyone else believes that the world works a certain way.
There are rules, there are protocols, there are things to conquer.
The way you make it is to be ruthless, the way you get what you want is to punish those who don't do as you wish.
If you want something you raise an army, and then you destroy that which is not good for you.
There are categories for things, there is order to be maintained.
In fact, the main part of Pilates job was to maintain order.
During Jesus day there was a lot of unrest among the people.
Mainly because they were forced to pay high taxes to Rome, and their religious beliefs were not respect, their rights were trampled.
Religious leaders were in cahoots with the Roman authorities to keep people sedated from the truth.
However, the more that Rome tightened their grip the more people rose up to oppose them.
This was especially true in Jerusalem around the main religious holidays.
This was Pilate's main task to keep the peace during these times.
Pilate's answer was to beef up security, and to have any trouble makers crucified.

During the time of Jesus their lots of people who wanted to rise up and overtake the Roman occupation.
It is in this category that Pilate puts Jesus.
But what we fail to see, what Pilate failed to see, was that Jesus was not from this world.
He was the word, he was there at the beginning when the world was created.
He didn't exist within this time and place.
He didn't belong to the categories that we place things.
If he had he would have raised an army, and set out to conquer and destroy.
Jesus was king but not in the way that Pilate, or anyone else, thinks of Kings.

Jesus was king because he loved the world.
He was king because he was willing to give his life.
He was king because he served the women at the well.
He was king because he brought joy to a wedding feast.
Jesus was king because he fed 5,000 people free of charge, not because they deserved it, but simply because they were hungry.
He was king because he was a shepherd.
Jesus was king because he forgave sins, and washed his disciples feet.
Jesus didn't fit in the categories we think of now.

I got home and my dad was in his usual place watching sports.
I walked in to the room very slowly and sheepishly.
I was ready for his wrath.
Ready for him to put me in my place.
Ready for him to regain control of his son who was out of control.
"You scared?" he asked me.
"Yes...I am really sorry."
"We all make mistakes. I am not upset. It is Ok. I am glad you are OK."
Not the category I was expecting.
A moment of grace.
A moment outside of this time and place.
A moment that doesn't seem like something that should have happened that way.
It should have been worse.
I deserved worse.
Maybe my parents didn't know the whole truth, but they knew I was on a road I shouldn't have been on, driving faster than I should be driving.
The Kingdom of God is not a place.
It is an experience that we have.
It is those moments of unexpected grace.
It is those moments when something happens that is different.
It is those moments when we are in hell, and the kingdom of God breaks forth.
That is when we realize that Jesus is King.

In this time when we are asked to give our lives over to those who want to control us.
When we are asked to be afraid of people different than us.
When we are told that we can have safety and security if we only yell more or impose our will more.
Christ the King reminds us that the kingdom is not of this world.
It is not the categories that Pilate makes, it is in the word made flesh.
It is not to be found by those who think they have power, because they have the biggest army or the best houses.
It is in the one who dies on a cross, who gives his life as a ransom for many.
It is in a father showing some grace upon his son who hasn't figured out that hell is not the place to be, but has given him a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

This week may Christ the King give you a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
May you know God's grace in an unexpected time and place.
Maybe there are days when all you want to do is sniff some glue, maybe there are times when you feel like you are on a hell run, know in those times and places that Christ is King and his kingdom comes. Amen

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Hope of the OK Sign

What do we owe each other?
This is the question I have been pondering this week.
What is it that binds us together, that holds us together?
This life that we live can be heartless, and difficult.
Sometimes we have a hard enough time living our own lives how can we possibly worry about someone else's life?
Some days it is hard enough to simply get through a day.
We work hard for what we have.
What do I owe anyone else?

According to Jesus and the scribe we owe each other love.
We owe each other exactly what we would give to ourselves.

I want to share this picture with you.
This is a picture of my Dad.
He died when he was 58, about 12 years ago.
I love this picture of him.
If you didn't know him this picture sums him up as person.
First of all he is eating.
He loved to eat and drink.
He loved a good time.
This picture is taken at Camp Calumet which was his favorite place on earth.
Finally, it shows him giving the "OK" sign.
He was an optimist.
He was quick to give you a compliment, say he was proud of you, or liked something you did.
He was not a rich man, not a famous person, not a great thinker.
He had his flaws.
He sometimes let his demons get the best of him.
He was also quick to acknowledge when he was wrong, and ask for forgiveness.
When I think of him I think of a man that loved his family, was a faithful church person, had lots of friends, and gave back to those around him.
When I think of what it means to be a good man, I think about him.

I am sure you have your own people.
They are on the list that we read this morning.
People who taught you what is important in this life.
They taught you that your life is never simply about you, it is about those around you.
It is about how you show that you love them, and give to them?

Buried in the two great commandments is exactly this thought.
We are not our own.
First, all that we are belongs to God.
All of our thoughts, our passions, our good and bad.
All of those things are in service to God.
As a person of faith God resides in our lives.
This life is meant to be lived not for my glory but for God's glory.
And second it isn't about me, but about how I give that love to my neighbor.
It is about how do I share it with those around me?

Friday, I went to Temple Beth Jacob for Shabbat.
They invited people in the community that wanted to show love after the shooting last week in synagogue Pittsburgh.
The synagogue was packed.
They ran out of chairs, and had to go get some from downstairs.
It shows that we are indeed responsible for one another.
We do belong to each other.

I didn't live in any other time than this.
I can't say if this time is worse or better.
All I can say to you this morning is that I need moments like the one I experienced at the synagogue on Friday night.
I need to know that we are not alone.
That people think about more than themselves.
I need that to give me hope.
I need it with all of my heart, body, and soul.
Because without it I think I would break.

This is why we remember our dead.
This is why we read the names.
Because it helps remind us that this isn't all there is.
That there awaits for all of us something more glorious.
It reminds us of the hope that we as people of faith share.

Rabbi Robin said something at our Greater Concord Interfaith Council meeting.
She had been interviewed for an article in the paper.
The reporter asked her, "Why do you think anti-Antisemitism is on the rise".
She told the reporter that she wasn't going to answer that question.
Because Jews live by hope.
And it is time to look forward and not backward.
When we as Christians think of the cloud of witnesses we should think of them giving us hope.
Telling us not to live for ourselves, but for our neighbors.
Telling us to not let death have the last word.
Telling us that God loves us through eternity.
Giving us the Ok sign.

When I look at this picture I would like to think that my dad is giving me this sign from heaven every day.
Encouraging me to move forward, to live today in gratitude towards God.
That is what the saints that have gone before can do for us.
Encourage us to remember that tomorrow is still filled with endless possibilities yet to be discovered.

The mourners Kaddish says, "Exalted and hallowed be God's great name in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God's majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime and the life of all Israel--Speedily, imminently, to which we say Amen.
Blessed be God's great name to all eternity.
Blessed, praised, honored, exalted, extolled, glorified, adored, and lauded be the name of the Holy Blessed One, beyond all earthly words and songs of blessing, praise, and comfort. To which we say Amen
May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and all Israel, to which we say Amen.
May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel, to which we say Amen."

This is not a prayer of our faith tradition, but it speaks to the same things that we would pray today.
May the peace that God creates in heavens be here on earth.
May we know that peace.
May we have hope in that peace.
As people of faith maybe this is what we owe our neighbor and the world.
A sense in the hope that we all know in Jesus Christ.
It is a hope that comforts us when those that we love die.
It is a hope that gives us courage in the midst of a violent and hateful world.
It is a hope that reminds us that we are not alone, and that we belong to one another.
It is a hope that reminds us that God cares about us, and walks with us in the most difficult of times.
It is a hope that indeed we will someday love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is that hope that I cling to today.
It is that hope that I think about when I see this picture of my dad.
It is the hope of all the saints that have gone before us.
It is that hope that I look forward and not back, knowing that just ahead of me, just out of my reach,  is the kingdom of God.
May you have that same hope today, and always.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Men Being Men!

At the gym I saw a man on CNN talking about the anniversary of the #metoo movement.
I didn’t catch all of what he said but he did say, “We have to let men be men”.
This seemed curious to me.
When I heard it I wondered what he meant.
I spent Friday night and most of yesterday at Camp Calumet as the Speaker for the Men’s retreat.
At meals we took some time to talk about what it means to be a man.
There are of course lots of images that come to mind about what it is to be manly.
These are perpetuated by Hollywood, and popular culture.
They are mostly images of men with big muscles shooting guns, yelling, fighting wars, or acting detached and cool.
We see this in the Rambo movies, the James bond movies, and war films that over glorify what actually happens in war.

It got me thinking about the men in our congregation.
What is it that we know about being a man?
I want to show you images of men in our congregation being men.
(If you didn’t make any of these pictures take no offense.)
You can see that the images of what men in our congregation do is really different then what we are told in Hollywood movies we should be doing.
We can see men serving their families, loving their partners, giving of themselves.
They are pictures of men being tender, caring, and loving.
Like that person on CNN know many people that would say that men have been stripped of their manliness.

What does Jesus tell us about being a man?
Jesus this morning reminds his disciples that being a man is not about having power over others.
It is not about being domineering.
It is not about being controlling.
It is not about getting our own way.
It is not about using violence to get what we want.
It is about giving our lives for others.
It is about serving the people around us.
Because Jesus didn’t come to dominate us.
Jesus didn’t come to force us to love God through violence or corrosion.
Jesus came to serve us, to show us what love looks like.
Jesus came to be non-violent.
Jesus came show us how to be vulnerable and caring.
Christians follow Jesus.
And it should not be among us the way it is in the world.
The way that it is in our politics or in the movies.
It is the way of love.
It should look like the pictures I showed you of the men in our congregation.

Here is one of the big problems is that we are even trying to decide what a man should do.
The question shouldn’t be about men and women.
It should be about our humanity.
What does it mean to be a good human being?

One of the things that is so disturbing to me about the way that women are treated in our society is the way that we try to dehumanize women by making them sex objects.
Or by fitting them into previously constructed boxes of what we think a women should do, or be.
We have lost our way as we try to take away what it means to be a human being, and instead insisted that, “Men should be men, and women should be women.”
What if Jesus way would be the better way?
What if we saw each other not as objects to be ruled over and pushed around, but fellow humans who needed us to serve and love?

Because ultimately this is how God thinks about us.
God doesn’t see our gender, our race, our religion, our politics, and our economic status.
Those are all superficial categories.
God sees the person we are deep in our souls.
Underneath our skin God see our fears, hopes, dreams, our scares, our abilities, and our short comings.
God sees us as complete human beings complex and Wonderful.

The disciples themselves are good example of this.
We have been having almost four weeks of the disciples not getting what Jesus is trying to teach them.
Even though Jesus keeps giving the same lesson over and over.
Even though right before our Gospel this morning Jesus tells them that he will die for the sake of the world.
They still don’t get it.
They still want to rule over others.
They still want it to be like it is in their minds.
And yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on them.
He doesn’t yell and scream.
He just keeps teaching.
He knows them deeply.
He knows their flaws, and what they want this all to mean.
I sometimes wonder, why he picked these twelve at the beginning.
When he came down to the sea of Galilee and he saw James and John tending their nets.
He must have known that they were not the smartest.
He must have known that they would be hard headed.
He must have known that they wanted to go from the bottom to the top.
And yet, he choose them anyway.

He looked through who they were on the surface, to understand them on a deeper level.
God does the same with all of us.
God looks into our humanity.
God looks into our souls.
God asks us to see other people as human, as loveable, as children of God.
What a great thing to know.
That I am not tied to the world’s thoughts on what it means to be a man or woman.
I am not tied to what others think I should be or not.
Instead I can be me.
I can be a tender man.
I can be a fierce woman.
I can be who God made me to be.

Finally, we have to look to Jesus.
And we have to think about the ways that his death and resurrection changed the world.
How does it change us?
How does it make us more than what people see, what the world tells us?
Jesus didn’t die so we would be trapped as a man or woman, but so we can live free as God’s child.
Jesus put to death any system that tries to dehumanize us, tries to dominate and control us, and rises in its place a system based on love and service.
Like the disciples we are not always ready for those old systems to die.
We try to sneak in and still think we can rule and control others.
Through God’s grace Jesus comes to us again and again to put the old systems to death, and rise in us new things.

I hope for all of us the dying of the old systems so that we may live.
If you are man I hope you have the freedom to live as loving, gentle, caring people.
If you are a woman I hope that you are able to live as God has empowered you to.
Mostly I hope we all live as God’s children serving each other, as Christ has served us.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

It Is Better!

"It would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea."
A millstone looks like this.
It was a tool used to grind grain, nuts, or corn.
An animal would pull the millstone as it ground what was needed.
You can see from this picture that it was a good size.
So if you were to tie this around someone's neck and throw them into the sea there would be no way to escape.
And we know that this was actually a use of capital punishment.
I can only imagine that this was a horrific way to die.

What are we to do with verses like this in the Bible?
This is a pretty harsh way for Jesus to talk.
It doesn't seem to fit into the Jesus we know.
The Jesus who loves us and forgives us.

If you are somebody who believes in taking the Bible literally then you would have to believe that Jesus is describing a use of capital punishment.
But nobody that I know of is actually suggesting that stopping little ones from having faith deserves this kind of death.
What Jesus is doing is using Hyperbole to make a point.
If you remember last week's Gospel Jesus had placed a small child among the disciples and told them that to live in the kingdom is to welcome a little child.
This week our Gospel is still in that moment.
Jesus is still sitting there with a little child among them.
And one of his disciples says this non sequitur about other people casting out demons.
As a way of saying that the disciples are better than other people.
Again, they don't get what Jesus is trying to say.
Jesus realizes that he has to get them to listen.
So he uses hyperbole to show them how serious this issue is.
They shouldn't stop a "little one" from having faith.

I have been thinking all week about this.
And I don't know if Jesus words here are too harsh.
Because when I think about Priests sexually molesting kids I get really angry.
And I would say it would have been better for them to have a millstone placed around their necks and thrown into the sea then what they did!
Or for that matter any person who commits crimes of sexual aggression.
I have no patience for it.
We can see how much it ruins lives, how much it takes away someone's spirit and life.
So Jesus is on to something.
It is better to have no life than to have a life that ruins and does damage to other lives.

But something else about Jesus saying kept coming up for me.
I have met so many people that are weighed down by so many things.
I have met people that seem like they have a millstone around their neck.
Sometimes people do say, "That is like a millstone around your neck."
And I can see in people's story that they have these things that they are struggling with that are so heavy.

This week I was about to leave my office.
And this women called from Riverbend wanting some help with gas.
She was on the phone crying.
I have become a little too accustomed to people crying and telling me their stories.
I told her I was about to leave but if she came right now I could get her some gas.
It took her longer than I thought to get here, and then she had trouble following me to the gas station.
So I was a little annoyed, because I was late for my next appointment.
I paid for her gas and was about to get in my car.
She came and shook my hand and told me that she would do something to help the church to pay us back.
I told her, "That she didn't have to do that, because this is a free gift."
For the first time I stopped being in a hurry and looked at her.
She started crying.
I could see the millstone, the heaviness of her life in that moment.
And that a free gift was overwhelming.

What if Jesus frees us from the millstone?
We all have the burdens of life upon us.
We all are weighed down by so much.
By death of those we love.
By trying to keep up with the world around us.
By the shame of our sin.
By just trying to live.

Jesus says, "It would be better..."
Isn't it better to live with Jesus than without.
Isn't it better to live with grace.
Isn't it better to live with the free gift.

Jesus words seem harsh, because we read them as punitive.
But I think they more likely explain our lives.
To live in a world as the disciples see it is so burdensome.
Because that world is filled with competition.
Who is the best?
Who has done the best?
Instead Jesus invites us into a better world.
It is a world without competing with each other, or with the world around us.
It is a world where we are who we are.
We are flawed and imperfect.
We are the woman at the gas station so weighed down by life that at the first sign of compassion or freedom we cry.

That is all Jesus is expressing to his disciples.
They have been freed with good news!
And it is better to live with the freedom of that good news then to put stumbling blocks in our lives or in the lives of others.
We often suffer unnecessarily.
Because we can't seem to live knowing that we are loved beyond the universe.
We don't know that sins are forgiven, that this isn't about being perfect, or having it all together.
Jesus is there telling us that we don't have to carry the millstone.

I hesitated to say this next thing, because it might be misunderstood.
And it is politically a fire ball right now.
But One of my friends on Facebook wrote this about Judge Kavanaugh.
"Some further reflection on the painful train-wreck of this week:
As I watched the SCOTUS hearings, watched Brett Kavanaugh clamor and claw his way through his testimony to prove his cleanliness, I thought: Wow.
Now there is some poverty.
That man is full of shame. He doesn’t trust his own worthiness.
He must work towards being (seen) as good and a god, rather than trusting his humanness, his inherent goodness and withness.
And, I felt sorry for him and, gasp -- some twinge of compassion -- because I can hustle for my belonging with the best of them. Because what would happen if he admitted his own fallibility and culpability and need?
Would he not discover grace?
Would there not be the opportunity to participate in God’s energy and momentum of redemption?
(I'm gonna sit in this for myself. As the mother of a white boy who will become a white man, as a white woman, and as a human being. Where am I missing the opportunities for grace and redemption and healing and new life for me, my neighbor and the world? And, don't think for a second that I don't think he should accountable for his actions or that I think he should be allowed to sit on the SCOTUS. I just think Love is up to something...and he is missing it. Where are we missing it?)"
My friend said what I was thinking.
In trying to defend ourselves, and trying to keep up appearances we are losing the free gift that Jesus has given us, not being perfect, and being broken people.
We miss out on the kingdom of God, and we keep the millstone around our necks.
I hope for all of you this week to experience the beauty of being broken.
And that you may experience the free gift of God's grace in your lives.
I hope that you can experience the free gift so that Jesus can take away the millstone from your neck, because it is better to live in God's grace.