Monday, February 25, 2013

Fox And The Hen

In a dark alley I would rather be the fox then the hen.
It seems as though a hen in those circumstances would have no chance.
A fox is the natural hunter of the hen.
It is the fox that is fast, has sharp teeth, and can kill a hen no problem.
And yet Jesus in today’s Gospel describes Herod as a fox, and himself as a hen.
Jesus concedes the power of this world to Herod, and admits that it will be the fox that eats the hen in the end and is still undeterred and unafraid.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus knows at this point that his time is nearing its end.
At this point there are many things that Jesus could do and one of them is turn around.
Go back to Galilee, preach there, become a famous Rabbi.
Jesus could be a rock star.
Instead he is choosing the life of a hen.

Perhaps for us all there is something here in Jesus’ story that will give us courage.
We all have fears that hold us back.
We all have fears that stop us in our tracks from living out our mission.
Perhaps it is simply that we feel like we might fail.
We feel like we are not good enough, strong enough, noble enough.
Perhaps we fear what might happen to us if we dare to risk loving someone who is unlovable.
And so instead of heading in a direction we stop, we turn around and head for safer ground.

Jesus might have been afraid.
In fact, I would like to think that he was.
That he really didn’t want to die.
Jesus believed perhaps foolishly that he could make one more appeal that God’s ways were better than the world’s ways.
That caring for the lost and outcast was better than military or economic security.
That religion was not as important as following God.
Perhaps once in Jerusalem he could teach the religious leaders what they had forgotten.
He could remind them of what the prophets had said.
But Jesus knew people well.
He knew what they thought and how they acted.
Jesus knew that people did not respond well to outsiders.
Jesus knew people did not respond well to people different than them.

One of my favorite movies is “Ground Hog Day” staring Bill Murray.
It is the story about a selfish weather man, who has to live the same day over and over, over, over again.
Eventually, this man learns what it means to give and to really live.
There is this one scene where he is trying to convince his producer that he is living the same day over and over.
They are in a diner.
He goes through every person in the diner and tells their life story.
She doesn’t believe it and accuses him of tricking her.
He says, “Maybe God’s not omnipotent. He's just been around so long he knows everything.”
I like to think about God this way.
God has been around so long, God has seen people throughout the ages, God just knows us and therefore God knows what we are going to do, and how we are going to act.
It is not that God doesn’t hold out hope that one day we will listen, that one day we will take the prophets seriously.
It is just that God knows that on a basic level we don’t want to know what Jesus has to say, or what the Prophets had to say.

The twenty-first century prophet Steven Colbert has said, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”

 I always think that lent is a good time to admit that what we like about Christianity as practiced today is that it is often comfortable for us.
Lent is a good time to confess that our religion is more about our comfort than risking to help other.
Lent is a good time to confess that we don’t like the challenging part of Jesus.
We don’t like it anymore than Herod did.
Because Herod was fine with religion as long as it kept people in line.
But once it became something that made people want to change things, then it was dangerous.
This is why Jesus is dangerous to Herod.
And that is the fox in the hen house.
It is the fox that sets out to make us all feel that everything is fine.
And the fox who wants to stop us from taking a chance, from moving outside of our comfort zone.

Jesus knew people like Herod and the Sanhedrin did not like to give up their power.
He refused to be afraid.
Maybe more important he choose to rely on God.
Jesus knew that God’s plans, God’s future where more secure than anything else he could have been offered.
Are we sure?
Do we know that our lives are secure with God?
Do we honestly really believe that?
Do we believe it enough to put our lives in the hands of the hen in the alley way?
Do we believe it enough to actually live it?

My good friend Mindy works in a very poor school district as a school nurse.
She told this story the other day on her Facebook page about a ten year girl.
The girl came to the nurse’s office to ask if she could brush her teeth there in the mornings before school.
Mindy had some donated items from dentist in the area so she said, “of course.”
The girl came in the first day and Mindy gave her a toothbrush, small paper cup, and floss.
The girl asked for a paper bag to keep her things in.
When she left she returned the bag to Mindy.
In the bag were the cup and the floss.
She was going to use it again.
I will let Mindy’s words explain the significance of the story,
”When I hear what sounds like, "Judging" to me of people in poverty.
I cringe. I just think, "How can we judge their choices."
Maybe they are forced to do things against their moral beliefs?
I've seen the effects of poverty every day for 10 years and I still wouldn't claim to understand their world enough to judge what they have to do to survive.
Especially when everybody around them, family etc is also...just trying to survive.

Let me tell you....I've looked at floss a bit differently since that day.
Just makes you think........that world is incomprehensible.
As much as I think I might get it.....I don't.
I just can't get think I have any right to impose my thoughts on what they should and shouldn't be doing, when I know nothing about that world.
That's all.....check out your floss.
Ever even consider reusing that?”

Those are the words of a prophet.
They are the words that we often need to hear.
The words that challenge us to not be so comfortable with this world we take for granted.
Words that make us question whether or not it really is better to be the fox instead of the hen.

I know this for sure.
I would rather be with the hen underneath those protective wings, that with the fox who is only trying to get something out of me.
I would rather be with the God who knows me well and wants me to take risks, than the fox who wants me to be comfortable.
I would rather be with Mindy and her ten year old student, than with the powerful, rich and famous.
Being with Mindy and her student is more dangerous, less secure, but ultimately more eye opening, more satisfying.

The next time you are afraid to take a chance and help someone in need think about how Jesus was unafraid to die for us.
Think about how Jesus was undeterred in his mission.
So the next time you are in a dark alley go with the hen don’t be afraid to put your life in the hands of the hen who desires to gather you under her wings.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

We Are All Aliens!

We are all aliens.
We are all Foreigners in this land and place.
We often don’t think of ourselves this way.
Especially, if we were born in the United States, and lived here all our lives we think of ourselves as insiders.
In our current body politic we talk about things this way.
There are immigrants, illegal immigrants, refugees, and then the rest of us who have been since birth.
Let us remember that all of us, unless we are Native Americans, come from immigrants.
Every one of our ancestors traversed the sea and came to live here for one reason or another.
My Great Grandfather, Pastor Albert Laurell, came to this country from Sweden.
He came when he was 15 ½ .
He came to attend Upsala University and then go to seminary, and eventually to become a pastor.
He came here because his single parent mother could not support him, so he came to live with his uncle who helped support him financially and emotionally.
When he was in seminary he would go to school for a year, then work for a year to earn enough money, until he was done with his schooling.
I am sure that if any of you traced your family history you could tell a similar story.
When my grandmother would tell me about my great grandfather I would wonder how he found the strength to not only survive but also to thrive in this new world.
What sustained him in his life was the relationship he had with God.

Our alienation is not just about being an immigrant.
It is also about being alienated from our true selves.
We are always searching for our homeland.
Spiritually we are on the journey to find out were we belong.

Our reading from Deuteronomy represents the end of one journey for the people of Israel.
For forty years they had wandered in the desert.
Before that their ancestors had wandered looking for a home.
They wandered looking not to be alienated from themselves and their neighbors.
When they come into the land, cultivated it, and brought forth riches from this land “flowing of milk and honey”, they need to remember that it was God who brought them here.
That just because they have this land that does not mean that they are not still aliens.
“Remember that your forefather was a wondering Armean.”
They don’t really belong here.
As good as it seems this land is not their salvation.
What brings them true salvation is the God who has been there through all their journeys.

Here is the thing about these journeys.
They were not pleasant ones.
Abraham had to wait years to have his promised son.
During the time he was waiting for his son he was wandering from here to there  going to Egypt were he disobeyed God by lying about Sarah not being his wife.
Likewise the story of Jacob is a difficult story.
It is filled with betrayal, with sin, with heartache, and pain.
Jacob steals his brother’s birthright.
Jacob’s sons pretend to kill one of their brothers.
They go to Egypt for food only to become slaves.
Yes, the Israelites where rescued from slavery, but before they came to the promised land they had to toil in the dessert for forty years.
And yet when we read the creed from Deuteronomy it sounds like everything went great that there were no problems.
And the reason for that is because even in the dessert, or sin, or tough times on the journey the Israelites believe that God is with them.
This creed confirms that even in the most difficult of times God’s hand at work.

In that way we are not aliens, because our true home is not a piece of land.
It is not a physical house.
It is not a country, city, or community.
Our true home is with God.

When we feel alienated it is because we have disconnected ourselves from God.
We have begun to think that the land, the richness of the fruit belongs to us and our hard work.
We have become dependent on temporal things for our comfort and security.
The truth is that all of those things can be gone.
We can loose a number of things in our lives that make us feel lost and wondering in the desert.
That is the great thing about God we can never lose God.
God is always there for us.
When we are feeling like we are aliens wandering about it is God who connects to our true home.
When we are wondering, “How did my life turn out this way?”
This is a question the Israelites asked themselves often in the desert.
Why did God bring us out here to die, and be miserable?
How did it end up this way?
They had forgotten that there home was not about place or having certain items, but it was in God who was leading them to the Promised Land.

It is an old saying but it is true that as Christians “we are in this world, but not of this world.”
We exist in this world, and we experience all the pain and hurt that anyone else would feel, but our vision is not only of our current pain it is longer and deeper than that.
It is looking beyond our current circumstances to know that God is leading us to a land flowing of milk and honey.
While wandering in the desert this is the kind of faith that the Israelites had to have.
God never wants them to forget it.
That even though they have now come to the Promised Land they should never forget that they are still aliens, and their true home is with God.
Because my great grandfather went through all of the hard times in his life, my life has been easier, but it is just as important for me to remember that God is my true home.
God is where I belong.
Even though I am settled and had more financial security than my great grandfather it is still God who sustains me.

The reason why Jesus is able to resist the temptations of the devil is because Jesus knows where he belongs.
Jesus vision is beyond the immediate gratification of the moment.
Jesus knows that this current desert wandering he is going through only serves to strengthen him for the journey ahead, the journey that takes him to the cross.
Jesus knows that putting his life into God the Father’s is better then temporarily having his belly full, ruling nations, or controlling a religious institution.
Jesus knows that it is better to rely on God than anything else for his substance and life.
We can share in Jesus’ vision and have faith to know that God carries us through the troubles of this day.

So even though we are aliens, we don’t have to be alienated from ourselves.
As long as we remember that it is a loving God who carries us through the desert into the Promised Land.
As long as we remember that we come from people who have always wandered, but who ultimately found their home in God.
Like my great grandfather, and like all of our immigrant ancestors.

I hope in your Lenten journey you come to see God as your home.
You come to see God leading you through whatever you might be dealing with at this time in your life.
So that you don’t feel alienated, but united with God who is always with us leading us to the Promised Land.