Relieve: A Prayer

O God, guide my strength into your own.
I want you to relieve all my pain, all my doubt, all my grief; your Word enters into life to relieve us, but the pain continues. The tension of good and evil, the tension of sacred and secular, the tension of joy and sorrow come close to breaking my spirit.
Find my heart and relieve it.
But more than actions benefiting only my wants and needs, move to relieve the pain and suffering of those in my community, and in our world. My sighs are the sign of my sorrow for your people. Move in the world, move in me to do your work. Relieve the fears of those around me, that they may re-live your glory and majesty. O God, you are mighty and yet you consider things so small as lilies and sparrows.
Guide us to seek the day when your kingdom will relieve us, that we might all live in your love and glory. In the name of the healer and Lord who came as a tiny baby, Jesus Christ Emmanuel. Amen.

Scratch or Heal

It’s An Itch You Shouldn’t Scratch.

I think that my mother must have spent a third of her time the summers I was growing up telling me that I shouldn’t scratch the mosquito bites on my legs. I’m a mosquito magnet, and it is a testament to her instruction that I don’t have a thousand scars on my legs from my childhood of itchy legs. I remember one night, as a teenager we were out in the Florida night, waiting for a Shuttle launch, and we had forgotten the bug spray. Only a couple of hours standing out in the muggy Florida darkness, but that next morning we counted a hundred bites. Just on my legs. From two hours.

Don’t scratch it, you’ll only make it worse. I perfected the backwards scratch. Only using the backs of my nails, I would manage to relieve the itch temporarily, but not irritate it more. I would hit the bites sometimes, hoping that a bracing shock would serve as a better nerve message than the unrelenting itch.

Itch. Itch. Itch.

Part of the reason you shouldn’t scratch it is because you’ll get the germs from your fingernails into the bite. And then you can get an infection that makes it a thousand times worse.

There are other summertime itches that you shouldn’t scratch, or even touch. God be praised that I haven’t gotten Poison Ivy yet. (Knock on Wood.) If you even touch it when the oils are still on your skin then it can creep into other places on your skin, or even be transferred to someone else. Now that’s just mean. I mean, what’s the point? It’s not going to be able to produce more because you are suffering from the chemical burn!

I wonder if we have itches like that in the church. Don’t poke the hornets’ nest, because all you’ll get is stung. Don’t scratch that itch, because all you’ll get is the angry past, and you’ll be sorry. Like a dysfunctional family, every church has it’s history, it’s estranged cousins, the uncle that we try to keep hidden, and the aunt that has a disgraceful past.

New pastors are told to not start poking until some trust has been built. It is inevitable that eventually we will blindly stumble into the deepest pit, without even trying. The murk will get stirred up, and folks will turn and some will even explain what is going on.

That was the itch that you should have left alone.

But was it, really? Was it going to heal all covered up like that? Or left alone and by itself was it going to continue to fester and infect the healthy parts around it? Maybe it is better that it is out in the open now, ready to be reevaluated by the surgeon and cleaned out. Maybe it will heal better now, rather than continue to seep sickness into the life around it.

When you tell a child not to do something, the very first thing they want to do is that very action. Don’t scratch: want to scratch. Don’t look: can’t wait to see. Don’t listen: where is the best place to hear.

Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.

What about a “do” for a change? Watch: see the new thing. Share: play together. Celebrate: dance and sing. Remember that your Mom and Dad love you: share the hugs together.

As a Church, if we celebrate the life that we have been promised, then we won’t get so caught up in the petty differences between us. Instead of a series of prohibitions and warnings, we are called to a greater joy and celebration. That itch is a sign of a deeper infection. It shouldn’t be ignored, rather, it needs to be tended and cared for so that it can heal.

There are some deep wounds in every church. Our greatest disservice to our community is that we claim that they do not exist. When the outsider or the newcomer is blamed for the new upheaval, it is a misdirection of the sickness of the system. Yes, a wound has been revealed, but it is much deeper than what this stranger could have caused.

I wonder if we as a church have forgotten that we are called to love the stranger, and instead have come to make the stranger our scapegoat for our own issues. Maybe like the Samaritan from the parable in Luke chapter 10, we need some strangers to come in and pour healing salve over us so that we can heal.

Don’t scratch that itch, but don’t ignore it either. It is a sign of something that needs attention, care, and healing. Take care that when you go to fix something, you do not make it worse. Or if you find that your attempted solution is causing more pain, have the integrity and courage to step back, claim your failure, and try again.

Our healing will be found in openness. The salve for our deep wounds is the love of Christ. The hope of our community is the joy found in the Spirit. I pray that we move toward the light and provide healing for others who need it so desperately.

Scandalous Gospel

Easter Sermon 2013 John 20:1-18

Our story begins in darkness.

Some of us began this morning in the drizzly darkness, in the place where we have buried our dead. All of us at some point this week, this month, this year have been in the dark, in the shadows, in the desperate need for redemption.

Mary Magdalene begins the journey to her teacher’s grave in the dark. She’s been waiting for three days so she could come to her Lord’s tomb so that she can anoint his dead body.

She goes to the tomb, expecting to grieve. And what she finds, instead of her Teacher’s body, is an empty tomb. “They have taken him away, and we don’t know where he is.” She cannot care for him in death the only way she had left.

She is so lost that she runs to the disciples, and tells them that Jesus’ body has been stolen away. She arrives, breathless, and only two of them follow her back to see what it going on.

Immediately she knows that he has been stolen and they are going to desecrate his body, claim that the disciples had hidden him, and deny her Lord’s body the dignity of rest.

She returns to darkness. She returns to grief. Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, and maybe she feels them begin to encroach on her once again. (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9)

We do this just the same way. When we are stuck in the darkness, when we are stuck in grief, we know that the worst has happened. It feels like our savior has been stolen away from us.

When our lives fall to pieces, when we lose a loved one, when we lose a job, or have to leave behind friends, or friends leave us behind: we are in the darkness. When we realize that we are in trouble, that trouble has caught up with us, when hopes have died, when death is the most real thing in our lives: we are walking among the graves.

And so we begin our journey this morning with Mary. We walk to the tomb, and we look in.

And…

We find…

Emptiness.

And at first, with Mary and Peter and the other disciple, we are stymied. We look into the tomb with them and we see a couple of piles of linens. We see the remnants of what our Savior was buried in, and we don’t understand the scriptures.

We can believe part of it, we can see that the tomb is empty, we can see that Jesus is not in the tomb any more. It is empty.

And we can be like the two disciples that follow Mary to the tomb, and look in, and see the emptiness, and then return home. They believed that the tomb was empty, they have verified that, but they just return home.

As Christians, we have been given the opportunity for this wonderful experience of an empty grave, and too many of us take this wonderful truth, and carry it back home with us. We take it home and keep it there, safe, locked up.

But the Gospel is not safe.

And Mary stays there at the tomb, weeping. Her teacher has been stolen away.

She looks into the tomb, and finds… Two angels, clothed in white. And they talk to her. “Why are you weeping?”

She answers, absently, perhaps she thinks she is going crazy with grief. She turns, not waiting for an answer from them, she merely turns away from the empty tomb, and finds… a man.

And he asks her the same thing, but adds to it: “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?

And she answers him, thinking he is the gardener. The Gardener. On the first day of the week, at the garden tomb. As we read this Gospel message, we see the truth of her assumption. Who else, than the Lord of all the earth and all of creation could this be?

She doesn’t recognize him, but she doesn’t know how right she is.

He calls her by name. Only then, when Jesus calls her by name, does she realize who it is.

She sees her teacher, standing there, and she instantly realizes the amazing good truth of his presence. Christ is risen. Jesus is risen.

What an amazing gift. This Gospel and Good News.

The Gospel is not safe. No. The Gospel is scandalous.

As y’all probably know, we have a new Pope. Now, we’re not part of the big “C” Catholic Church, but we are a part of the church universal, and the little “c” catholic church. And it is valuable to pay attention to what the leader of the Catholic Church says and does.

On this past Thursday, for the Maundy Thursday service, instead of having the service in the Vatican, he went to a youth prison, and washed the feet of twelve youth. Two of them were women. A pope has not washed the feet of a woman in the modern era. Usually it is twelve priests, handpicked for their leadership. The foot-washing represents when Jesus stooped to wash the feet of the twelve disciples.

But Pope Francis the First decided to change the pattern, and go out, and do something scandalous. He washed the feet of a Muslim woman. Not by force, but as a gift.

A scandalous gift.

See, today we are celebrating, in the midst of the eggs and bunnies and butterflies and flowers, a scandalous truth. We celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We celebrate the love of a man who died for each and every one of us, for the whole world, and cared enough about one of his friends, one of the women disciples, to call her by name the morning that he has risen from the dead.

Mary was one of Jesus’ Disciples, she traveled with him through his ministry and journey. She stood in witness to his crucifixion, death, and burial, and she was there at the grave on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, looking for her Lord and teacher.

And she found the Teacher, the Lord, in a way that she had never imagined.

And Mary: Mary has the blessing of running to the rest of the disciples, declaring the good news. The Gospel of the resurrection of our Lord Christ.

“I have seen the Lord!” she says. He spoke to me, he stood there and called my by name, and he has declared that he will ascend to his Father and our God.

It is very difficult to believe the good news. But it is a good news that is open for us to receive.

The Gospel is open for us, in a way that we have never imagined. All we have to do is keep our eyes open, search for it, and sometimes, show up in the darkness. Even when we return to the tombs in our lives, in the midst of the darkness, God can surprise us with the glorious, scandalous good news of resurrection.

And the Gospel is open to all of us: Man and woman. Adult and child. Gay and Straight. Slave and free. Married and single. Lost and found. Whether we have all the answers or are still looking for a new solution. It is open for all.

Never think that you don’t have what it takes to share the Gospel. We have received the gift of grace, and we have been given the commandment to love one another as God has loved us.

So love, share the Good news of resurrection, and celebrate this living, breathing wonderful scandalous glorious news.

Amen.

Saints and Hope

Another of the saints has gone on to glory.

There is a sign in front of the Baptist church on my road. Both sides can be changed to have different messages. This past week, the words go something like: every sinner has a future, and every saint has a past. I don’t always like what is written on the sign, sometimes just because the grammar is very poor, but this time, I think I like it.

I like it because it is a message of hope. I want to think that the writer is saying something about our collective identity. We all have a past, we all have a future, and because God is involved in our lives, we have hope.

Often, we talk about members of our churches as saints. We talk about how individuals have lived selflessly, and have given of themselves, and have been vital contributors to our communities. We have living, breathing saints in our midst. And we are the richer for it.

But they are not perfect. No one is. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And actually, as I look at the saints around me, that gives me hope. We may not see the cracks, but we know they are there. I’m not hoping that anyone will fail, but when I see someone doing really well, if I compare my whole being to only the saintly parts that I can see of everyone else, then I rob myself of grace. The saints would be devastated if everyone only looked at their lives as an example of what we couldn’t do.

The saints in the glorious community of God have received grace, and continue to have grace extended to them. We are a part of that promise. And that is the hope.

I hope that when people look at me they see a life filled with grace. I would hope that they would see someone who is trying as hard as she can to live into the rhythm of grace. I would hope that they see a saint.

Deep Calls to Deep

Deep. Deep life, deep need, deep and open and deep and wide.

Yesterday, I was centering, in the midst of forty other people opening themselves up for the Spirit. A video session that went too long and intruded into the silence of the evening still managed to open a new understanding for me. The idea that I came away with from Father Keating was that true sacrifice was not intended to cause suffering.

God pours out love for all. God continually empties and yet is never any less full. God’s own love called creation into being, and formed into us the gift and breath of life. If never-ending giving, never-ending love, never-ending pouring out of oneself is sacrifice, then God first sacrificed self for us, in love, and did not suffer for it.

Suffering entered when we turned away, and our love failed. Our love failed to turn and return the love that was first given to us. The love for which we were created. Our very image is formed from the God who loves us and created us.

Created for Love, and yet unable to conceive it, we entered into suffering. Our sacrifices, especially because we were unable to give fully of ourselves, only ended in more emptiness, and more doubt.

God saw that we were unable to return the love given to us, and so God entered into the world, in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ entered the world, and loved everyone and all that he saw. Jesus sacrificed everything, and suffered for it, because suffering had entered the world. Jesus suffered, because he loved us so deeply that nothing else would bring us back, but the ultimate completion of his love.

And so, God loved us, and still loves us, and desires more and more love. And God, as Jesus, came to live within us. To dwell within. To indwell.

It is this indwelling that calls us to love others. To “love with urgency, but not with haste.”* To love now, to begin loving because it is such a dire, immediate need. But not a love that is cheap, nor hasty, nor only on the surface.

A love that is deep. So deep that it reaches the depths of the thoughts and hopes of those around us.

This love, a deep love, is possible through the Spirit. She is the wonderful and powerful and fearful movement of the Love of God. She moves within us. She calls us deeper and deeper. She calls us to open up, to bare ourselves to others, so that we might see the full impression of the image of God within each other.

We so desperately need this Spirit moving within us, we do desperately need God as we enter into the living breathing work of the Kingdom. We will suffer, because we have loved so much. We will cry out in anguish when we feel that we have emptied ourselves so that nothing is left. And then, when we are emptied, Christ will come to live within us, and bring us peace. Amen.

 

*This is a quote from “Not with Haste” in the album Babel by Mumford and Sons. You should get and listen to the whole thing.