December 31, 2011

Why I Like New Year's Day

I do.  I like New Year's Day.  And not just because we have turned it into a slovenly day to stay home, read, watch TV, and eat endless plates of really crappy frozen snacks like Pizza Rolls and taquitos.

I like it because it gives me a little breathing room to think about beginning again.  Beginning better habits.  Starting new pursuits.  Giving myself direction, focus, and priorities.

I can't say that I always make progress.  I know that I don't meet half of my ambitions.  But none of that matters.  It's the fact that we can begin again.  We can begin again any time and any day.  But New Year's Day gives us a reason to give it another try.

I'm going to put a few things on the forefront of my time and goals in 2012.  Some of these are things I've wanted to do for a long time.  Some are things I have tried and failed at before.  But so what.  Here we go again:
  • Learn to play guitar (I got some software for Christmas to help me out this time!)
  • Learn some Spanish (not sure how, although I have had a program for this for a while, I'll try it, and some CD's)
  • Read more outside of my familiar areas of theology and spirituality (I got a Kindle fire for Christmas!)
  • Get back to regular exercise (I haven't since I started working in Austin...)
  • Being more intentionally open to the people in the room with me, whatever room that is on whatever day
  • Blogging more (Hey, this is a start!)
Here's to the silly foolish belief that we can actually become new again, January 1, or any other day, and thanks for the One who makes all things new, even us, even now.

December 25, 2011

December 24, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2011
Michael Coffey

Luke 2:1-20
John 1:1-14 

This somewhat silent and beautiful holy night,
 we come together again
to hear an ancient nativity story 
and contemplate some odd claims about God.
We come together again,
not so differently from how we come together most of the time,
but tonight with concentrated effort and expectation.
We come together hoping again,
 maybe with some cynicism,
 maybe with some weariness,
 and maybe with some desperation.
We come together wondering
 if love can be renewed in us,
  or if we have used up all of our wishes.
We try, don’t we,
 to let others love us, to let God love us,
 to love others and God in this life,
 and maybe even to love ourselves,
  accepting what we are and what we aren’t.
We try, and at times we shine like stars in a high desert night sky.
 But too often, we grow dim and love fades within us,
  lost in the light pollution of the evening city atmosphere,
  and in our deepest regret, we even do harm instead of love.

I just saw the movie Hugo.
 Hugo is a boy who knows that the saddest thing
  is something that doesn’t live out its intended purpose.
In the story there is a mechanical man,
 a magical machine that, when wound up, can write and draw.
There is also an older man who lives in sadness
 because he no longer does what he loves,
  and sense his life was for nothing.
There is another man, a police officer,
 who is broken by war and become part rusty machine himself,
and who is damaged by a childhood of abandonment.
Hugo wants to make the mechanical man work again,
 but he discovers he doesn’t have the key.
They keyhole is heart-shaped,
 and nothing but a heart-shaped key will make it work.
In the story we come to see
 that the same is true of the other characters:
 Their heart-shaped hole is waiting to be filled
  so they can live out their purpose:
   to love and to be loved
   in the particular ways they were each made to love.

Can anything renew the love within us
 the love we ache to accept,
 the love we long to give in our particular ways,
in order to truly live our purpose
   on this short hike through the universe?
Can anything fill the heart-shaped hole in each of us?
If the answer is no,
 the only thing left to do in this day and age
  is to shop, and eat lonely meals, 
and hide behind locked doors and computer screens,
and live with regret and sadness 
at all the love we failed to give and receive.
But tonight, maybe foolishly,
 maybe without good reason except childlike wonder,
 maybe beyond what we can justify 
with the state of the world and the state of our lives,
 tonight, let’s assume that love can be renewed in us
  by the ancient nativity story 
and through odd claims 
about God and love and the human family.

The ancient story is Luke’s version of the birth of Jesus,
 a birth that sets the cosmos sailing in a new direction.
Everything in the story helps us hear
 that love in this world is renewed in a particular way:
  not through the empire’s power and wealth,
  not through those who account themselves great
   like Emperor Augustus.
In Luke’s story one thing startles and awakens us
 to the way God’s love is renewed in the world:
  through ordinary, even lowly, people,
from Joseph and Mary,
 caught up in a divine scheme they can barely figure out,
to shepherds minding their own business
 as they eke out a living tending sheep
 suddenly summoned by divine messengers
  to seek out God’s wonderment in their midst.
But most important, there is the newborn, 
the one who will unlock human hearts to love again,
 Jesus himself, with angelic songs singing him
  into lofty greatness above even the emporer,
 but born in lowliness, vulnerability,
 caught up in the confusing shuffle of human life.
Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth highlights the most startling claim:
  the renewal of God’s love
  comes through ordinary, humble, unremarkable human life.
There may be hope for us yet.

Then we get to the odd claim about God and love and humanity.
 It is the claim that God’s love in Christ, 
God’s Word or wisdom or purpose in John’s language,
 is an embodied love.
The great, strange claim that Christianity makes,
 is that God’s love is not an abstraction,
 it is not a great philosophical or religious idea,
 it is not a lofty goal so high we can never reach it or experience it.
The great Christmas claim we make
 is that God’s love comes to us in this reality,
 in the flesh, embodied and touchable and knowable,
 through action and presence and personhood.

In the Orthodox churches of the east,
 the incarnation is the central redeeming thing God does:
  God becomes enfleshed in real human life in Jesus,
   and this renews God’s love in us,
   this makes us new and more than we were on our own.
The Orthodox tradition has been willing to go farther
 in the Christian claim about incarnation
 than most of the Western churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant.
They have been willing to claim,
 that God becomes human in Christ
  so that we can become divine.
Now, this could play into our needy little egos
 and make us think we as individuals somehow become great,
 god-like, and then maybe we can get everything we ever wanted,
  and not need anyone or even need God anymore.
But that would just be our way of messing things up again.
The point is that God’s love became embodied in Jesus
 so that we can embody God’s love in ourselves.
And only when God’s love is embodied
 does it renew and transform and create new possibilities for life.

That is what we celebrate in this Christmas festival:
 We are renewed in love by God’s embodiment in Jesus,
 and we become the embodiment of the same divine love
  through the Holy Spirit and some kind of crazy trust.
If you want to know what happens when God’s love is embodied,
 just look to Jesus.
Don’t just look at the infant in the manger, though,
 look at his whole life and how he embodied love
  with persons and in society.
 Look at how transforming and world-changing Jesus was,
  for individuals, families, societies, religions, politics.
Look also at Jesus’s life and how much it costs to embody divinity:
 it will cost you your whole self,
 it will require you to let go of keeping your life safe,
 it will draw you into a story bigger than your own.

This love of God is not an easy, sentimental,
 feelings-oriented love.
It is a real, risk-taking, costly love.
It is love in the personal dimension
 that means embracing each other, 
 accepting each other as wounded souls,
 suffering how much we hurt each other,
 forgiving family and friends for their limited ways of loving,
 walking through pain and sorrow together,
 holding one another’s hands when we lie in death’s bed.
It is love in the public dimension
 that means seeking healthcare for those without money or insurance,
 sharing food and shelter with those who have lost job and home,
 shaping society toward justice that protects those most vulnerable,
 welcoming as neighbors those who build our homes 
and harvest our crops
  but are here without legal documentation.

I recently showed a documentary called
 Lord, Save Us from your Followers:
  Why Is the Gospel of Love Dividing America?
There were two particularly powerful stories in the film.
 One was how the film’s director and narrator
 setup a confessional booth at a gay and lesbian pride festival.
 The confessional wasn’t for others to come and confess,
  it was for the church to confess its sins
  in rejecting others, and even promoting hatred.
 The men and women who came into the booth
  were shocked, surprised, and moved to tears and gratitude,
  when they sat face to face with another person
  who asked for their forgiveness in how they had treated them.

Near the end of the film there is a beautiful and powerful story
 of a church in Seattle that lives out incarnate love
 in a city filled with homelessness and lost souls.
They head downtown on Saturday nights
 to feed the people living in the streets.
But more than that,
 they shampoo their hair,
 they wash their feet,
 they listen to their stories and their struggles,
 they embrace them as fellow members 
of the human family divinely loved.
These two stories are beautiful examples
 of divine love embodied in real life.
This embodiment of divine love
breaks down the barriers between us
and draws us into the unity we share with each other 
and with God.

At the heart of the church’s life is the meal of divine love.
The reason we take the Eucharist, Holy communion, 
with such reverence and seriousness 
and ecstatic joy and great thanksgiving, 
is that it is the ongoing renewal of embodied love in us.
We, once again, receiving Christ, become Christ, 
become embodied love in a world dying to be loved, 
become a community that bears the cost of love,
become our true purpose, as our heart-shaped hole is filled. 
The reason for being part of the church 
is so we might more fully embody divine love for the world, 
which we cannot do on our own, 
not without God and not without each other.
Because love is not a lonely, self-centered project 
meant to prove our individual worth.
Love is the God and community centered process of becoming one,
 one with each other, one with God,
 one in Christ, the incarnate Word,
  the embodied love that renews us even now.

We celebrate at Christmas and in the church always
that Jesus embodies God’s love fully.
But we need not claim that Jesus embodies God’s love uniquely.
If Jesus alone embodied God’s love,
  then it only lasted 30 years or so
   in a small corner of the world.
 But, God’s work among us by the Spirit
  is to continue the embodiment, the incarnation,
  through real, ordinary people
  people whose lives are caught up the love story of Jesus
  people who have died to their old life
   of resisting the cost of embodied love,
   and are ready to freely and joyfully love as God loves.

December 18, 2011

Sermon December 18, 2011

Sermon for Advent 4 B
December 18, 2011
Michael Coffey 
Luke 1:26-38
Luke 1:46-55 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
 everywhere you go…
Yes, it is.
 But we have a week to go.
 And that gives us a week to ponder something,
  something that prepares us for Christmas joy
  in this final Advent time of waiting:
   God needs an entry point.
   Christ needs a way into this world,
 and this week is our time to consider:
  The way Christ comes into this world matters.
  And Christ is still looking for ways into this world today.

Mary got the news from the angel Gabriel.
 Gabriel, by the way, means warrior of God.
 So Gabriel has got some important things to get done
  on God’s behalf.
 And in this instance, it is to help Mary see and accept
  how it is God works God’s wonders.
You can hear the conversation:
 Hey Mary!   
 Guess what!?  
Um, ok, what?
 God is about to come into the world
 through a newborn Messiah and set people free.
   Oh, OK, well, it’s about time.
   But why are you telling me?
   Shouldn’t you be at the priest’s house
   or talking to the Jerusalem political machine?
 No, Mary, that’s just it.
 God needs a way into the world,
so God is coming into the world through you.

And then you can just hear a pause, a silence,
a moment of bewilderment and wonder,
a second to consider what is happening and how and why.
At first, she is puzzled:
 How can this be?
And the angel Gabriel reminds her:
 God has always brought renewal through women
  who didn’t fit the bill,
  too old, too young, 
too unseemly, too much outside the fold.
 And Gabriel says:
  Nothing will be impossible for God.
Mary, trusting only in the God who indeed does the impossible,
 says:  Here am I, servant of the Lord; 
let it be with me as you have said.

Mary then takes off to see Elizabeth,
 who is on the other end of the spectrum of problematic pregnancy,
 and Mary sings her amazing song,
  known commonly by its Latin liturgical name the Magnificat:
   the magnification of God,
  Mary’s song of praise and protest.
It is surely a song of praise,
but a protest song?
It’s not “Give peace a chance” or “We shall overcome”
 or even that “What do we want” chant 
you always hear at demonstrations, 
and people tell you when they want it now, 
whatever it is.
But this song is different,
 because it comes from ancient lips
 and it is about amazing things and impossible possibilities
  that come from God alone.
This song is different because it is a song of praise and protest,
 not merely protest.

Still, you might be wondering about that word, protest.
I’m particularly interested in it this week
since Time magazine chose as person of the year: the protestor.
Not any one protestor, but all of those persons in the past year
 all over the world, who have changed the direction of the world:
  those involved in the Arab spring,
  the Madison rally,
  the Occupy Wall Street movement,
  the homeowners facing foreclosure who refuse to leave.
In the Time magazine article, it says:
All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries' 
political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt — 
sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change. 
They are fervent small-d democrats. 
Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism, 
they believe they're experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony 
hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract. 

Well, you don’t have to listen for long
to Mary’s song of praise and protest
to think that Mary might have been Time’s person of the year:

46bMy soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
     47my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
     From this day all generations will call me blessed;
49you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
     and holy is your name.
50You have mercy on those who fear you,
     from generation to generation.   
51You have shown strength with your arm;
     and scattered the proud in their conceit,
52casting down the mighty from their thrones
     and lifting up the lowly.
53You have filled the hungry with good things,
     and sent the rich away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
     to remember the promise of mercy,
55the promise made to our forebears,
     to Abraham and his children forever.  

Throughout generations Mary has been remembered and hailed
 as the great example of the feminine.
And in traditions that have lost Mary as part of their faith practice,
 there is something lost of the feminine.
However, the feminine we see in Mary and her song
 is not a passive, submissive, I’ll do whatever you say femininity.
This is more like Mary the feminine warrior whom Gabriel called to action,
 Mary the great woman protestor,
 Mary the wonderful witness to God’s great turning of the world.

We often think of the word “protest” and “protestor”
 as emphasizing what you are against.
  To protest is to be against something, in our common usage.
But the word itself means the opposite:
 To pro-test is to speak for something,
 to witness for something,
 to give public speech for what you are seeking and dreaming.
And in the case of Mary and Scripture and people of faith:
 to give witness to what God is for:
lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry, 
freeing the oppressed, strengthening the weak, 
tending the neglected.
So there it is, right there in Mary’s song of praise and protest:
 What God is for, what God is about.

And most important for us today:  
What is God’s entry point into the world:
Mary realized her lowliness,
 her very sense of disqualification,
was the entry point for God to work in this world.
 Mary sings praise to God,
 Mary gives protest for God,
  by singing about the way God comes into the world,
  the way God turns the world around: through lowliness.
This itself turns the world on its head.
 Everyone assumes that God’s entry point into the world
 is through loftiness, and power, and wealth, and success,
  and a proven business model,
  and a screen tested plot,
  and guarantees that nothing will fail.
But not this God.
Not the God of Scripture.
 Not the God of Israel.
 Not the God of Mary.
 Not the God of Jesus.
  The only way this God 
brings the true good news into the world
  is through lowliness,
  because the good news is that human lowliness
   is where God is pleased to dwell.

Contemplate it this week.
We have a great gift this year:
Advent is as long as possible.
We have an extended period of time between this Sunday of Mary,
and the birth of Jesus.
Ponder it this whole week.
Stop pondering if you can have enough money 
to make Christmas happen,
or if you can be good enough to bring reconciliation,
or if you have been successful enough this year
to justify your existence,
or if you have risen high enough in the ranks
of human esteem.
Ponder this instead:
 Our disqualifications are useful to God.
Our lowliness is God’s access point for doing good news things.
Our greatness is most often a hindrance.
Our successes and prestigious positions
most often get in the way.
Our need to be accounted as something in the human ordering of things
is a road block to God’s work in us
because we get in the way.
Instead of getting out of the way and following 
and embracing what God is about,
we lead with our own agendas and our puffed up egos
and our need for lifting ourselves up.
What Mary sings praise to God
 because the entry point of God into this world
 comes through human lowliness,
  because there, and only there,
  can God do the lifting up of our souls
   so our souls will sing magnification of God 
and not ourselves.

The Gospel is a protest message, 
it is a public message about what God is doing, 
what and who God is for, 
and what people who want to be a part of God’s good news 
are about.
We can fight and resist it.
 We can keep trying to show ourselves worthy and better than others
  through our wealth and our positions above others
  and our materialism and our cars
  and our ability to control others
  and our power and our degrees and our intelligence.
Or, we can listen to Mary’s song of praise and protest
 and learn from Mary herself,
 and reply to God’s desire to come into the world in Christ
  through our lowliness,
  and respond, as she did:  Let it be.
And then, we might finally be ready
 to get Christmas, really get it,
 and sing that little ditty:  
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
  everywhere you go…

December 5, 2011

Sermon for December 4, 2011

Sermon for Advent 2 B
December 4, 2011
Michael Coffey

I’d like to convince you
 as we come together during this middle of Advent time
 that what we are waiting for is not Christmas Day.
I know we all get caught up in the Christmas frenzy
 which right about now might have you wondering
 if you’ll ever get everything done.
  There are children’s concerts,
  and caroling, and parties with friends,
  and Conspirare and Ensemble VIII
   and Guy Forsyth and Carolyn Wonderland Holiday show
   and the Nutcracker!
 Shopping?  Traffic?  Wrapping?  Shipping?
 Cooking? Sending cards and letters?
  Why do we do this to ourselves?
It gets crazy and can run you down.
 If Advent is about waiting for Christmas Day,
  then forget it, we’re not waiting, we’re doing it,
  and it’s exhausting.

But Advent is more about life than about the pre-Christmas psychodrama.
I’d like to convince you that what we are waiting for in Advent, 
and more so, what we are waiting for in life,
  is nothing less than God, God in Christ,  
God becoming real again,
 God making sense again,
 God filling up the emptiness again,
 God coming into this day, this time,
  this need, this ache, our doubt, my fear,
   not just those of long ago,
   or those yet to be.
 We are waiting for God, the God of here and now.

It seems strange in a way,
 because God is always here, with us, 
  in the now, present, close.
Yet, something else is needed,
 some kind of preparation,
 some kind of renewal,
  so that God as great idea of presence and closeness
   and mercy and love
  can be known deeply as the God of real presence, 
palpable closeness,
   genuine mercy, tangible love.

Isaiah and John the Baptist
 called people to prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare the way, not for a holiday,
 or even a wonderful family gathering,
 or a midnight mass,
  but prepare the way of the Lord!
Prepare the way for God,
 the God whom you are waiting for,
 the God who acts in ways that bring life
  and stir up justice
  and renew the love in our hearts.
Both Isaiah and John say it:
 Prepare the way of the Lord!
 Get ready, for God is coming to you again!

Isaiah’s people were living a dead end in exile in Babylon, 
a hopeless time after terrible suffering.
  They gave up on God entirely,
  they believed only in bad news
  and settled on shopping and greed and hopelessness.
Isaiah says to them:
 There is no dead end with God!
 Prepare the way!  The Lord is coming to bring us new life!
 Let go of your past that makes you feel like a failure!
  There’s nothing left to be forgiven for!
 Open your hearts!  Comfort each other!
  Stop believing the bad news!
  God is coming. And this is the good news!

John the Baptist
 called people out to the wilderness,
 out away from the cities where Roman coercion
  and fear-mongering robbed people of faith and trust in God.
John called them out into the wild
 to find the renewal that comes only when you get away
  and let the trees and the water and the sun teach you.
 Let go of everything that keeps you from God.
 Let go of your fear and sin and doubt
  and confess it and drown it and leave it all behind in the river!
John called them out and said: Prepare the way!
 God is coming!  Empty yourself!  Forgive each other!
Forgive yourself! Let go of blame!
Trust in the Lord!  Renew your mind!
Stop believing in bad news!
God is coming.  And this is good news!

Now to get to the rest of the sermon,
 we need to learn a song:
  Prepare the way of the Lord… And God will come to you.

Like the people of Isaiah’s time,
 like the people of John the Baptist’s time,
 we stop hearing that God is good news.
 We hear the bad news all the time.
  We hear that violence runs the world.
  We hear that money corrupts everything good.
  We hear that we are caught up in systems of injustice.
  We hear that only a very few will know the good life.
  We hear that everything we have failed at
   is being tallied and recorded 
and can and will be used against us.
  We hear all of this and we believe only in bad news.
  Dead ends.  Lost dreams.  Low expectations of ourselves,
   and worse, far worse, low expectations of God.

So Isaiah and John have something to say to us.
 Isaiah has to find some way to say it, 
so he practically invents a new term: Gospel!  Good news! 
 Prepare the way. Renew your mind.
 Stop believing in bad news. 
Believe in the good news. God is coming!

They tell us there are definite ways to prepare the way
 for God to come into our lives again,
 to be real again, to be present to us again.
It’s hard to hear it,
 because we are afraid that if we get it wrong,
  if we don’t do the right kind of repentance,
  if we don’t really mean it deeply enough,
   then somehow God will be absent,
   the bad news will win,
   the dead end is really the end and really dead.

But all of these things we do to prepare the way,
 don’t cause God to act,
 they don’t earn us the good news.
  The simply open us up to the full reality
   of the God who is always good news for us.
 The God of grace we know in Jesus by the Spirit
  is always that God for us, even in the bad news times.
 We don’t determine God’s goodness and grace,
  but we do affect whether we trust it
  and sail in it and let it take us to new places.

It’s like all of the signals floating around us
 all of the time in the airwaves.
TV and radio broadcasts fill the air around us and travel through us.
 Which ones do we tune into?
 So-called reality TV, where everyone acts like ego-centric children?
 Politicized news that always needs an enemy to blame?
 Terrible religion that creates doubt and fear in people
  about God and God’s good news ways?
 Bad news is everywhere, and it isn’t hard to tune into it.
  But tuning into good news,
  tuning into the reality of God,
   means finding the stations and the signals
   that let us hear what is already there.

As we sing the song again,
 in between each part of the refrain that you sing
  I will sing ways we prepare the way of the Lord.
 It’s a way to meditate on how we come to know good news again,
  and so it will help us prepare the way.

Prepare the way of the Lord, open your heart, and God will come to you.
1. Open your heart
2. Empty yourself
3. Let go of fear
4. Let go of blame
5. Renew your mind
6. Forgive each other
7. Forgive yourself
8. Trust in the Lord
9. Love one another
10. Welcome the stranger
11. Comfort each other
12. Give praise to God

Doing these things prepares the way of the Lord.
 They don’t make God be good news for us.
 They open us to the God who is already good news.
 They tune our minds and hearts to the good news message
  already broadcast by Isaiah and John and Jesus.
 They drown out all the bad news we keep believing and despairing over.
 They prepare us to see God in Christ becoming real again,
  God making sense again,
  God filling up the emptiness again,
  God coming into this day, this time, this gathering,
   this bread, this wine,
   this need, this ache, our doubt, my fear,
    and not just those of long ago,
    or those yet to be, but here and now.

Open your hearts. Renew your minds.
Prepare the way of the Lord, and God will come to you,
God in Christ Jesus,
 God who is already here,
 God who is already real presence in Christ,
 God who invites us to the meal of tangible love,
 God who is already now,
 God who is nearer to you than you are to yourself,
 God who is already and always good news. 

November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday
November 20, 2011
Michael Coffey 
Where are the true kings of today?
 Where are the kings of blessing and order?
 And because this isn’t really about gender:
  Where are the queenly rulers who make sure 
   those who have fallen into great need
   find great mercy?
 Where are the selfless leaders who put the common good
  ahead of their own gain?
 As we talk of Christ the king today, 
about Jesus, the one who rules 
with blessing and order and great mercy,
it immediately makes us critique
  those who are our leaders, our kings and queens,
  whether in politics, or business, or religion, or culture.
Where are the true queens and kings of today?
 You know we have plenty of false kings.
 Kings who rule over us as tyrants
  and take all they want for their own power and grandiosity
   and do nothing to help those in need
   and don’t have a larger vision.
 We know kings who are weak and afraid to act
  and do nothing to change the course of society
   and move it closer to fairness and mercy for everyone.
 We know these false leaders, male and female
  who embody the negative aspects of power
  who are either tyrants who fear losing power
or weaklings afraid of their calling.

In 1925, the rise of fascism and desperate hopes put into false kings
 led to the creation of a new holy day.
Pope Piux XI saw how people were misguided in trusting the false kings
 and called people back to the true king, Jesus the crucified Lord.
He instituted the Feast of Christ the King
 as a call back to true kingship.
Now, whatever his mixed motives may have been,
 and partly it was about making sure the church stayed in power,
 and even held on to all of its own false kingly, misguided power ways,
  he did remind us of how much we long for,
  and deeply need someone to bring order, blessing,
   and care for all the people.
 When a society doesn’t know and have true kingship
  it will give itself over to false kingship.

In Matthew 25,
 Jesus presents the image of how he reigns as God’s appointed king.
 He doesn’t say what we often think he says.
 He isn’t merely saying:
  I identify with the hungry and naked and stranger,
   so go take care of them.
  This text comes after a long section,
   and a whole Gospel story,
   where Jesus teaches and empowers his followers
   to go into a difficult world
    and tell good news about God
    and live God’s righteousness.
 Throughout the Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are called
  his brothers and sisters, his family,
  and sometimes, the least and the little ones.
 And throughout, you hear and understand,
  especially by the end,
  that after Jesus’ death and resurrection,
his presence is known in the world through his followers.

So when we hear the story about a judgment of the nations,
 this is a judgment of all those in the world
  and how they receive Jesus’ emissaries.
You see, the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, and sick and imprisoned ones
 are the church being faithful to its calling,
 and living out the hard disciple way.
They are the ones through whom Jesus is present in the world.
 Jesus is known through his church,
  and his church is a vulnerable community
  that has given all for the mission.
This isn’t a general call to care for those in need,
 though that is at the heart of knowing God and all over Scripture.
This text is a word of encouragement and promise to the weakling church:
 Christ reigns through you!  Do the hard mission of living it out!
 When the world accepts or rejects you, it accepts or rejects Christ.
This text  says
 that the church is the community living so committed to its joyful calling,
  that it risks all to bring good news, even to a world that rejects it.
The least of these are actually followers of Jesus.
They believe those blessings spoken back on a mountaintop
  that the meek, and the poor, 
and the persecuted are the ones blessed.
 They know they really are the presence, the body, the living witness,
  the reign of Christ, cross and all,
  not in spite of their weakness and struggles,
  but because of them.
Back in Matthew 24, leading up to this passage,
 there are stories of struggles and survival.
It says of the struggling followers:
The love of many will grow cold. 
But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
 The one who endures is the one who has nothing left but love,
  and that love does not grow cold.

Now what is so strange about these texts for our times
 is that the church was ever thought of or assumed to be
 so vulnerable and needy and living on the edge!
Yet, this is nearly the definition of the church in those early years:
 A community that suffered for the sake of the good news
  that God reigns the world in vulnerable love.
 A community that had nothing left but love,
  love as Jesus embodied it,
  love as it had received,
  love as it had to give.

We would not often look upon people who
 vulnerable, poor, and needy
 and say:  That must be the church.
We in the privileged world, the privileged church
 simply don’t know that way of being church.
Yet, Jesus is known through that very vulnerability,
 that very willingness to suffer for the greater good,
 that very costly discipleship that leads to the cross
  in all the ways the cross shows itself in the world.

So here’s the thing:
 We aren’t that church.
 But that church does exist today,
  and it is all over the world,
   living in poverty, and singing Kyrie
living in oppression, and singing Gloria
   living in unemployment, and singing Alleluia
living in addiction recovery, and saying I Believe,
   living without health insurance, 
and praying for others’ healing,
   living in war, and being peace,
living as refugees, and singing Holy, Holy, Holy,
living in protest, and praying your kingdom come.
   living with rejection because of their sexual orientation,
    and singing Lamb of God.
The church living in vulnerability, in great need, in hunger and estrangement,
has much to teach us about what it means to be church.
 It is the part of the church where true kingship is embodied.
 It is the part of the church that Jesus most identifies himself with,
  it is the part of the church that has nothing left to give
   except love.
 We are part of that church
  and we can welcome those fellow disciples
   and share with them in their costly witness.
We can more intently foster relationships with Christians 
who fit the bill of Matthew 25,
  who live in vulnerability and weakness, 
yet with great faith and with great love,
who embody Christ the king.

There is a group of Christians in Juarez, Mexico
 doing true kingly things.
Juarez is now the murder capital of the world,
 mostly due to the overtaking of society by drug lords
  while rule with false kingly power: violence, fear,
   creating chaos, taking away from others for themselves.
Some teenage Christians in a small, poor evangelical church 
on a dirt road there
 have decided they have had enough 
of the reign of fear and terror in their city.
So they started doing something unbelievable.
They started dressing up as angels,
 feathery wings and flowing gowns,
 and standing on street corners holding up signs:
  Murderers repent!
Then they started showing up at
 the murder sites themselves,
 angels with signs speaking directly to those who rule with violent power:
  Murderers repent!
Then they started showing up at
 prosecutor’s offices, and police stations,
 and the police chief’s office.
They confronted the whole corrupt system of false kingly power
 calling them to repent
 calling them to let go of fear and selfish ways
 calling them to see the reign of Christ in their gentle angel wings
  and their bold and fearless witness.

These are the things that happen
 when people who have nothing left to lose
 but trust in the reign of God in Christ.
They have nothing left to lose,
 and nothing left to give,
  except love, costly love,
  challenging love, transforming love.

There is much we can do,
 as the privileged, wealthy, powerful church
 to help those in need, to feed, clothe, and heal.
But there is much more we can learn from the church
 that lives in such need and has found its true power
  in following Jesus, the crucified and risen King.
There is much we have to do
 to let some of our own false king ways go,
 to trust that when we have nothing left to give but love
  Jesus is reigning through us with true kingly power.

October 25, 2011

October 23, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Proper 25 A
October 23, 2011
Michael Coffey 
 This sermon was given at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, Austin Texas, 
as part of a city-wide Lutheran pulpit exchange.

What a great privilege to be with you today.
 St. Martin’s is the closest ELCA parish neighbor to First English,
 and on a day when the Scriptures remind us to love our neighbor
  it is appropriate and good to come closer as neighbors.
It is a reminder to us all
 that we are a part of something bigger than our own congregation,
 a part of the church that is more expansive than our Lutheran identity,
 a part of something distinct and unique and called in the world,
 a part of something holy.

You heard the Leviticus text, didn’t you:
 The Lord addresses the people saying:
  You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
 How’s that been going for you, that holiness thing?
  Are you feeling pretty holy today?
  Do you feel like we’re living up to that?
  Does that sound daunting and nearly impossible?
  Does it sound unappealing and make you think
   of religious folks who wear that 
“holier than thou” frown on their faces?
 Anybody want to be one of those frowny faced church folks?
  I thought not.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
 The word holy has the sense of being distinct,
  set apart for a unique, divine purpose.
 Throughout this section of Leviticus
  there are a number of laws and customs to follow.
 Dietary laws, clothing laws, Sabbath laws…
 You know, Kosher dietary laws for observant Jews
  require them to keep meat separate from dairy.
 That’s from Leviticus.
 No one really knows why it’s there or what it means,
  but the law is there, 
and observant Jews have kept it for millennia.
Keeping it helps maintain distinctiveness,
   uniqueness, holiness.
 Sometimes, groups and clubs have unique logos
  or handshakes or slogans.
 It isn’t really the logo or handshake that matters,
   it’s that they help maintain a distinctive identity.

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
What makes us in the church holy, unique, distinct?
Is it because we dress a certain way for worship,
 or practice unique rituals and sing particular songs?
  They’re all a part of it.
 But what is it,
  what is it that most makes us like God,
   holy, like God is holy, 
like God commanded the people to be?

If you’re one of those frowny faced people,
 you might think that holiness means separation,
  disconnection, turning away from the other.
 the church in too many places
  and for too many centuries,
  has practiced a holiness that meant just that:
   separation, disconnection, turning away from the other.
It’s a way to preserve your holiness
 when you’re afraid you might lose it.
It’s a way to feel safe
 if you encounter anyone who is other, different, not like you.

Is this what it means?
 Is this what God’s holiness is?
 Is this how we are to be faithful people?
  Separateness, disconnection, and turning from the other?

You might guess that Jesus has something to say about this.
 The Pharisees who struggled with Jesus’ teaching and activity
 were concerned about being faithful people,
  they were concerned about maintaining holiness,
  they were concerned about not losing it.
When they challenged Jesus and asked him
 which commandment was the greatest,
 they might as well have been asking him:
  what makes us most holy?  
And Jesus says, quoting Scripture:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
and with all your soul, 
and with all your mind.'  
38This is the greatest and first commandment.  
39And a second is like it: 
Wait a minute!
 A second?
 Who said anything about a second?
 They asked which one was greatest!
  But no, the only way to answer that question,
  the only way to answer what it means to be faithful people,
  the only to say what it means to be holy like God is holy,
   is to give the second with the first:
'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'  

There it is.
 You want to know what it means to be holy like God?
  Not like crinkled brow, squinty eyed, frowny faced people,
   but like God?
 It is to love the neighbor.

Even in Leviticus,
 which has a whole laundry list of laws for maintaining holiness
  that we don’t really understand or even try to practice,
 even in this book most concerned
  with distinctiveness and uniqueness 
and holiness for God’s people,
  right there, smack dab in the middle,
   is the reminder to love your neighbor.
It’s like saying:
 Yes, take your life of being God’s people seriously,
  and strive to be a holy people,
  but never if it keeps you so separate, so unique,
   so distinct, so holy,
   that you ever, ever stop loving your neighbor.
 Because then you miss the whole point.
 The whole point of being holy like God
  the whole point of having a unique identity as God’s people,
  is so you can excel at loving others,
  so you can love others with the holy love of God.
   Not separation, but neighborliness.
   Not disconnection, but connectedness.
   Not turning away from, but turning toward the other.
 For what makes us most like God,
  is to love the other,
  to love what God already loves.
This is spelled out clearly in Leviticus 
in love for the resident alien, 
the poor, the hungry, 
the handicapped, and the elderly.

And for those of us who gather as church,
 we gather in the name and presence of Christ Jesus.
And who would we name as holier than Jesus?
 Jesus, the one who reached out to all the others,
  the others rejected,
  the others suffering,
  the others who failed,
  the others in fear,
  the others in great need,
  the others so different,
  the others who doubted,
   yes, reached out to them with the very arms of God
   and embraced them all as neighbor,
   as beloved,
   as worthy of mercy and care and food.
 And who is Jesus for us all
  if not the neighborly love of God for us.
 If I can coin a new verb:
  God neighbors us in Jesus.
  God ends our separateness, and neighbors us.
  God ends our disconnection, and becomes deeply connected.
  God ends our turning away from, and turns toward us.

If you know this,
 if you know the holiness of God
  as the neighboring of us in Jesus,
  if you know the deep connection to God we have in this life
  because God desires it and creates it and sustains it,
   then you know all you need to know.
You don’t need 613 commandments.
 You don’t need 10.
 But you need more than one.
 You need the two:
  Love God with everything you’ve got in your body, mind, and spirit,
 and love your neighbor as yourself,
youself which is already neighbored by God in Christ.

All this love talk tends to make us think about feelings
 and whom we like or don’t like.
So we need to hear and remember,
 that biblical love, divine love,
  is best understood as mercy put into action.
 Mercy put into action.
Love your neighbor.  Have mercy on the other.
 Act in a way that heals and helps and gives life to your neighbor.
This is true with our neighbor next door,
 and our neighbor that picks our food in California fields,
 and our neighbor in the Sudan suffering starvation.
How do we love our neighbor in the larger realm of this world?
 We put mercy into action.
 We seek justice as love for the other who is suffering.
 We stop separating ourselves in any way from anyone
  and we act with compassion as best we are able.

If anything seems more true now than ever,
 it is that neighborliness has become harder and harder to live.
In our technological consumer culture
we separate more than we connect.
 We build walls more than we embrace the foreigner.
 We mistrust more than we welcome and enjoy each other.
 We stare at screens more than we stare into eyes with compassion.
If anything makes us not only like God in this world,
 but also more and more distinct as God’s people,
 it is our willingness and our capacity 
to be neighborly in unneighborly times,
 to love others in their very otherness,
 to allow the suffering and vulnerability of others
 to break into our lives.

What if it were true?
What if what made us most unique, distinct, different from the world,
 was our willingness and our capacity
  to be neighborly, connected, 
and turn toward the needs of others.
The neighboring love of God is here, now, in Christ Jesus,
 for us so that we may be this holy people.
The only reason we separate ourselves for part of the week
 to pray, worship, share in the meal of Jesus’ sacrificial love,
  the only reason we separate for a little while once a week
  is so we can connect the rest of the week
   to the joys and sorrows,
   needs and gifts,
   problems and opportunities of those around us.

Imagine if people looked at the church,
 our churches, St. Martin’s and First English to start with,
  and said:  Look at how holy those people are!
   They are constantly loving their neighbor
   and mixing it up with strangers
   and reaching out
    and welcoming everyone into their neighborly care!
  And they don’t even frown that much!
  Could that be what God is like?  they’d say.
  Could that be what it means to know Jesus? they’d wonder.
  Could that be holiness right here in our midst?
It could be.  And it is.
 We have been neighbored by God in Christ,
  loved, shown mercy, turned from other into beloved.
 With this great love in us by the Spirit’s power,
  we love God, we love our neighbor,
  one flows into the other and they become holy, holy, holy love.  

September 26, 2011

September 25, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Proper 21 A
September 25, 2011
Michael Coffey

I have been watching a lot of news 
in recent months.
	I’ve been listening to our political leaders
		talk and fight and tear each other down.
I can tell you without a doubt:
	I’m really sick of our politics today.
	I’m really fed up with one more leader
		getting a hold of some power or some attention
		and exploiting it all for his or her own gain.
	The funny thing is, they think we don’t see through it.
	They think we buy their rhetorical cover-ups.

But when we hear a text like the one from Philippians
	even if we were duped by politicians wrangling for power
	we can’t stay duped any more.
In just a few, concise verses
	Paul quotes what apparently was one of the earliest Christian hymns
		and exposes all our misguided trust in those who exalt themselves.

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
	 6who, though he was in the form of God,
	did not regard equality with God
	as something to be exploited,
  7but emptied himself,
	taking the form of a slave,
	being born in human likeness.
	And being found in human form,
  8he humbled himself
	and became obedient to the point of death — 
	even death on a cross.

So here, Paul tells us the powerful story
	of the one who had all power and all authority
	and all glory and all honor
	and all privilege and all wealth
	and all status and all birthright
	and all pedigree and all rights
		and didn’t use any of it for his own gain.
He used it all to embody the love of God
	which is always a love that makes room for others
	in the circle of one’s concern and love.

Paul even points out the great tragic irony
	that Jesus didn’t just work hard all of his life
	to love other people and help other people love other people,
		he did that, of course.
But he even emptied himself of self-concern
	to the point of dying in humility and shame
	under the one political system that could never get
		what God was about:  the empire.
	Empires can never get what God is about
		because God is about self-emptying love
		that lets go of control and power
			in order to make room for others
			in the circle of concern and love.

The early church apparently got this
	to the point that it very quickly turned it into a hymn,
	or an early creed.
That’s what this reading from Philippians is,
	so very early the church got something
	that we have to keep getting generation after generation:
		Even if we can’t fix the political systems of our day,
		we can still live the love of God in our very real lives.
	I’m not saying we don’t work for and strive for
		and hope for and vote for
		better leaders and a better political life
			that values care of others
			more than elevating the self and grasping for power.
	But the fact that our world doesn’t get it very well
		has nothing to do with whether we
		as people bold enough to claim the way of Jesus as our way
			live with love for others as best we can.

But how can we?
	How can we in the church live something radically different
		from our common patterns in politics and business
			and institutions and organizations?
	I might even say:
		How can we in the church live something
			radically different from the church?
		Since we know the story of the human institution of the church
			is just one more example of the same old thing.

First, we begin at the proper place:
	The self-emptying love of God in Christ.
	The message here is powerful and clear:
		God is love in the way that Jesus is love:
			Emptying of self,
			letting go of using power for self,
				but using it for others.
		God is best understood, the early church tells us,
			as one who empties out
			and makes room for others in God’s self.

We are the hearers and the believers
	and the eaters and the tellers
		of this radically different God
		and powerful good news.
God isn’t a god who claims all power and authority
	and pushes us aside in order to protect God’s power and authority.
God is power and authority to love
	and to heal and to forgive
	and to bless and to renew.
The church is the place that celebrates
	the empty place in God where there is room for us.
You know, Augustine, the great early church theologian,
	famously said:  There is a God-shaped hole in each of us
		that only God can fill.
And that’s wonderful and profound and I’ll come back to that in a second.
	But I think the inverse is also true:
		There is a you shaped hole in God
		that only you can fill,
			and God keeps that space empty
			out of deep love.

This is the great power the church has
	and it is not to be confused with the political power
		that is so troubling today.
It is the power to free us all
	to live in the love of God,
	to live in God, really,
		in the empty place in God where divine love
		has made room for you, and keeps room for you.

We all have an empty place in us,
	it is emptiness, it is a dark void
		that is mysterious even to us.
We wrestle with it,
	we feel the pain of it,
	we anxiously try to fill it with anything that might make us feel better.
We mostly fill it up with our self-interest,
	our self-preservation,
	our fear-based hoarding of anything that will keep us safe
		and in control and in power.
We aren’t so different, I guess,
	from our political and institutional leaders,
	they just live it out on a grander scale.
Jesus is the gift of God
	to set us free so we can clean house,
		get rid of all the junk that has filled us up,
		have a garage sale for the soul,
		empty ourselves out
		so that we can be filled up
with the one thing that fits:  God. 
Once we have been loved by the one who makes room for us
	we have room in us for others.
Once we have been taken in by the grace of God
	we have much gracious space to take others in.
Once we have been filled by divine love
	we have divine love to pour out to others.

Paul quotes this early Christian hymn
	to make clear the powerful message of the Gospel:
		Jesus is God’s self-emptying love for us
		that is now available to all.
And then he says:
	Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus.
	Let the same self-emptying love be in you.
	Let the same pattern of living in God and loving others be yours.
	Let the same acceptance of the power grabbing empire
		lead you to live beyond and above the politics of the day.

But you say:
	Pastor Coffey,
		if we live that way in real life,
		everyone else will take advantage of us.
		Everyone will see how vulnerable we are.
		Everyone will abuse our loving attitude
			and use us for their own gain.
	We can’t be that naïve and weak.
	How could that change anything?

What did they say about Jesus,
	those early Christians who lived in the power corrupted empire?
  8he humbled himself
	and became obedient to the point of death — 
	even death on a cross.

Yes, our human political and business and institutional world
	will not give up power easily
	or suddenly see how loving Christians are
		and get all warm and fuzzy
			like the end of a Hollywood fantasy.
So what?
	That’s the whole point.
	Somewhere, someone, some people,
		have to embody the vulnerable, self-emptying love of God
		in this world, or transformation of this world won’t happen.
And the one thing we know,
	as people who gather around the gifts of self-emptying love
		in bread broken and wine poured out,
		the only thing that transforms us or anything
			is the love of God that makes room for others,
			and this love is costly,
			it costs us ourselves, as it cost Jesus himself.

We know that in order to truly be ourselves beloved by God
	we have to find meaningful and purposeful ways
		to give ourselves away.
We are looking today for great reasons
	to empty ourselves, give ourselves away,
	instead of filling ourselves,
		or wasting the gift we have to give,
		which is the gift of our beloved selves in God.
We are needing to keep offering our young people,
	and our more cynical and worn-out older people,
	great reasons to love others greatly.

Yes, we have to decide here and now,
	like we do every week when we gather,
	that we are going to live a higher functioning life
		than the majority of the world around us.
We are going to risk humility
	in order for divine love to be enacted and shared.
We are going to die with Jesus
	and be exalted with Jesus,
	which is an exalting we cannot give ourselves,
		but which we know is God’s endless gift to us.

September 4, 2011

Sermon 9/4/11

Sermon for Proper 18 A
September 4, 2011
Michael Coffey

Text: Matthew 18:15-20 

What kind of community would you want to join?  
Being a part of a community in one form or another 
is a part of our lives.  
Church community.  
Civic community.  
High school class.  
Ethnic group.  
Political group.
We live in these various communities as part of our lives and identities.  
Some of them we are born into.  
Some of them we choose.  
What kind would you choose to join?  
How do you pick?  
Do you wonder if they are conservative or liberal?  
Exclusive or inclusive?  
A group of folks who are clones of each other, 
or a mixed bag with contentious discussions?  
Maybe you would follow the old adage of Groucho Marx, 
and not join any group that would have you as a member.

As I thought about these questions, 
I realized that the whole notion of community 
has become rather fragile for us.  
What does it mean anymore to be part of a group?  
What does it mean to live life with others, 
instead of only with yourself?  
The idea of community has lost some meaning for us 
in our subdivided, 
cell phone talking and texting,
internet surfing, 
politically contentious,
privatized world.

I have to bring up this question about joining communities 
because Matthew’s Gospel is largely about what it means 
to be a part of one particular community.  
He uses a word that no other Gospel writer uses, 
and we hear it in today’s reading: church.  
Now, church is probably not the best translation
	of the Greek work ekklesia.
We might get a better sense of the word
	if it were translated assembly or gathering.
		It is a word about community,
		not about institution or religion,
		as church often connotes.
Matthew tells us more about what it means 
to be a part of a community called church 
than does any other.  
And Matthew seems to be describing a community of disciples 
who walk a fine line between two extemes.  
Those two extremes are something like this.

Let’s say you like cycling.  
You want to join a group of cyclists.  
You decided to join Club Excellence.  
They have high expectations of each member.  
They set goals for themselves that seem unattainable, 
and yet they have gone very far.  
They go to races to win, 
and win they do.  
They have the best average race time per member of any club.  
The problem is, they have little room for mistakes.  
They don’t accept low achievers.  
They don’t let you stay long if you roll in at the end of the race.  
They even got rid of someone for getting a flat tire during a race, 
because he couldn’t fix it fast enough.  
They went far and did great things.  
But there was little grace or room for forgiveness
	for the inevitable failures and faults of real people.  
You decide if it sounds too harsh for you.

Then there is this other group.  
They’re the laid back kind of folks.  
They go to races to have fun.  
They’re the ones who bring all the beer.  
They let anyone in, and kick no one out.  
They have a great time together just being together.  
They have no goals, 
and have achieved little, 
except a certain kind of notoriety.  
They have plenty of room for error, 
because there are no expectations.
You decide if they would help you achieve your goals.

Neither one of these hypothetical communities
is the kind of community in Matthew’s Gospel,
	the church or assembly or gathering.  
In fact, Matthew is showing us the community of Jesus’ disciples 
as walking a fine line between the two.  
At first reading, Matthew’s Gospel sounds harsh.  
Jesus has high expectations of his followers, 
the highest, 
higher than the Pharisees had of others.  
They were to seek the highest kind of human living, 
righteousness as Jesus himself lived it.  
I used to read Matthew’s Gospel and get really depressed.  
I was sure I would get kicked out of the club.
I was sure if I got a flat tire or crashed
there would be little room 
among the Jesus’ band of over-achievers for me.

But then you get to Matthew’s chapter 18.  
The one we hear part of today, 
and part of next week.  
Surprisingly and unlike any community we might experience,
In the midst of a community with high expectations, 
there is an abundance of forgiveness.  
Jesus tells us that when someone in the church sins, 
well, now wait a minute.  
That right there tells you something.  
This was never supposed to be an ideal community.  
It was never about everyone getting it right all of the time.  
It was always about real folks, 
real problems, real struggle,
real faults and failures. 
So there is built into the structure of the whole thing a lifestyle of grace.  
If someone in the church, 
the Jesus community of high expectations for human living, 
if someone there sins, you must forgive.  
Oh, wow.  
You can get a flat tire and get back in the race.  
You can have a bad day and come back next week.  
You can really miss the mark, and be made new again.

To be sure, Matthew won’t let us think the church 
is about cheap grace and low expectations.  
As the people who gather in Jesus’ name, 
we have a calling in that holy name that is staggering.  
Live with his kind of righteous integrity.  
Strive for the highest form of human living.  
Go for gold in our lives of service, faith, love, and relationships.  
But all of that would be too much to take 
if it weren’t for the built-in understanding 
that what makes us most of all like Jesus, 
is our ability to forgive, 
to accept one another as we are today.

Today’s Gospel reading can easily be misread.  
It could be taken as a strict, three-strikes and you’re out 
kind of forgiveness.  
It could seem like a wooden, constitutional process 
for handling grievances and people’s problems.
It has often been used that way in the church.  
But that is a mistake.  
It does mean we take sin and repentance seriously, 
but it also means we are always to be about forgiveness, 
not rigid moralism, 
about grace, 
not impossible expectations, 
about acceptance of one another, 
because we know we are all on the same mysterious journey.  

All of this is true and possible because of whose name we gather in.  
We gather in the name of Jesus, 
and where we do that, 
he is present and risen and abounding in mercy.  
He is present not only as we gather in prayer and worship, 
but in how we seek God’s righteousness together, 
and in how we forgive on another.
Where Jesus is, there is grace and mercy.

This all assumes something as yet unsaid: 
That this community is terribly important,
that this gathering of folks is about something so central to our lives 
that we are willing to forgive one another to make it work.
Too often, many of the relationships we have today
	are not deep and abiding,
	many of our communities are fragile and short-lived.
We might get connected on Facebook
		or in a political group,
		or in a shared interest activity,
	but as soon as things get difficult,
		or someone offends, it’s all too easy to walk away or disband.
To be honest,
	much of the time,
	church community doesn’t mean that much to people.
It is surprisingly and disappointingly easy
	to just come and go,
	have a scuffle and move on,
	dislike someone or something and pick another franchise.
But to deal with problems,
	to seek reconciliation where pain was inflicted,
	to ask for and seek forgiveness,
	to grant such grace to one another,
	to grow and change together….
		To go to all that trouble
		would mean it must actually matter to be a part
		of church, of this church,
			of this community.
And this is true of all of our relationships
	that really matter, that we value,
	that give us life and meaning,
	that we would never just lightly toss aside.
I sense, too, for many of us,
	even if we aren’t always living up to it,
	this community actually does matter.
We sacrifice for it, we dedicate time and energy to it,
	we love one another and forgive one another for it,
	we sense that we are better human beings within it,
	and better connected to God through it.

What kind of community would you want to join?  
How about one that can call you to your highest level of human living, 
and one that can pick you up when you fall?  
How about this one, 
where God is calling us to this kind of living, 
and where Jesus is here offering us the trustworthy word
		of God’s grace and forgiveness,
	and where the Spirit is empowering and celebrating 
all that is excellent and faithful about us.

August 22, 2011

August 21, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Proper 16 A

August 21, 2011
Michael Coffey

Text: Romans 12:1-8

Let’s face it:
It would be easier if Paul had said:
Be conformed to this world!
Get in line with the expectations of others!
Live out the common assumptions
that human life is about garnering enough power
to win and accumulate and rise above others.
We know this way of the world very well.
We all have, to a certain degree,
been conformed to it.
Like Play-Dough pressed into a mold,
we get pressed and conformed into the shapes
that our society gives us.
I suppose those church folks in Rome that Paul is writing to
had been pressed and conformed as well,
which is why Paul wrote them.
Conformity comes easy.
The hard thing is transformation.
It is some kind of deeper change.

Do not be conformed, Paul says.
Do not be conformed to the ways of this world.
“This world” for Paul is the Roman empire,
in which power is something to be sought after at all cost.
It is the social reality where everyone is ranked
in a carefully structured hierarchy
that keeps most people at the bottom.
It is the empire in which people are devalued
it they cannot produce enough and don’t own enough.
It is the world where people are deemed unworthy
of attention, care, dignity, and love
if they haven’t earned it.
Don’t be conformed to this, Paul says.
Don’t let your minds get so convinced
that this is how we are to live and believe
and treat each other.
It isn’t life giving.
It isn’t expressive of divine love and mercy.

And yet, Paul knows,
we all get conformed to it.
The empire then is not so different from the empire now.
Maybe some details have changed.
Maybe some things have gotten better
and we have overcome a lot of the more oppressive forces.
But the same old mind,
the same old way of thinking and seeing ourselves and the world
still draws us in
and presses us against its mold,
conforming us to it.
It’s like when you go to bed at night looking sort of OK,
and then you wake up in the morning
and your face has lines and creases across it
from your pillow and bunched up sheets.
You get up and look in the mirror all bleary eyed,
and you wonder: How did that happen?
Well, you lie in it long enough, whatever it is,
and you get conformed to it.

So Paul says,
don’t be conformed.
Be transformed.
Paul chose the most radical kind of “forming” there is.
Not conformed. Not deformed.
Not informed. Not malformed.
Not reformed.
Be transformed.
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds.
What is this radical change Paul talks about?
It is a complete change in the way we think,
not just what we think,
but the way we think,
the categories we use to discern,
the lenses we use to see.
And that complete change, Paul says,
is the one given to us in Jesus.
It is the complete change in how we see ourselves,
each other, the whole creation, and God.
It is the transformation that comes
when we see all of life
not as a series of paychecks earned,
but as a series of gifts given by grace.
It is the transformation wrought by the cross and resurrection,
where every worldly category got exposed as a lie.

Paul begins these verses with the little word “therefore.”
It is a big word, that little word “therefore”
because it implies that all of what Paul just said
about God and Jesus and the Spirit
the cross and resurrection and baptism
has some deep implication:
Transformation. A change of how we see and think.

What happens when we start thinking in a new way?
When we see all of life as a series of gifts given by grace?
When we view ourselves as redeemed persons
worthy of love?
When we view every other individual as worthy of love?
When we view every other human group
as worthy of dignity and respect?
When you stop viewing God as the big distant daddy
who is terribly disappointed in you,
but instead, as the great source of your life
who is thrilled that you exist,
and longs to heal all that is broken in your life
out of sheer merciful, grace-filled love?
What happens?
Transformed relationships, transformed church,
transformed spirituality, transformed psychology,
transformed economics, transformed society,
transformed politics, transformed liturgy.

It occurs to me that in this time of deep economic recession
when many people are facing unemployment
and struggling mightily to get by,
it might actually mean something to say:
All of life is a series of gifts.
You are not your next paycheck.
You are not only what you can earn and spend.
You are something fundamentally deeper and more valuable.
Not that employment and providing for yourself and family
isn’t terribly important.
But the mind we use to think about ourselves
can be radically transformed
so that a recession in the economy
doesn’t become a recession in our spirits.
So what we might want to know is
how does transformation actually happen?
How does it happen in our lives
and how does the church lead transformation in the world?
Note that Paul doesn’t say: Transform yourselves!
His “therefore” means first:
Let the cross transform you.
Let the suffering of others
embodied in the suffering of Jesus
enter your life,
penetrate your shell,
make you vulnerable to our shared humanity.
Transformation is the work of God in us
through Christ and the Spirit,
through cross and resurrection.
Transformation is what happens
when we enter the mystery
of living in utter and complete surrender
to our merciful, loving, compassionate God,
the God who can be trusted with our very lives.
Transformation is what happens
when God gives us a taste of the kingdom of love and mercy,
and we know there is no going back to the old food of conformity.

HEB grocery store has a very sneaky think they are doing,
at least at the one near us in Circle C.
They have a cheese of the month.
They set up a tasting booth and entice you to try it.
This month, it is a finely aged Australian parmesan.
Most of the time we are used to cheap parmesan
that is a dusty powder shaken from a green can
or a salty, flavorless grated substance in a bag.
But once you get a taste of a fine, aged parmesan,
there is no going back.
It is firm, and nutty, and not too salty,
and rich and complex in flavor.
One taste and your taste buds are transformed.

Oh, they’re pretty clever, those HEB cheese purveyors.
Sure, I tasted it, and went “wow.”
But I mustered enough strength to keep on walking
and not buy any of it.
And then the next day, my wife was going to the store,
and I said you might want to try some of that cheese of the month
and buy some, because it is so awesomely good.
And we have now ruined our sons for parmesan cheese.
They have tasted the good stuff.
There’s no going back.
Transformation in Christ is like that.
God gives us a taste of what life lived by utter grace means,
and there is no going back,
as much as we want to live a cheaper, more conformed life.
A life lived by being loved and loving everyone and everything
is just too good and complex and nutty to go back.
That might be a good way to understand our education and formation
of our children and ourselves:
Give them a taste of how good it really is
to live in the transformed life of God,
and they won’t want to settle for the
boring, tasteless life of conformity.

Now Paul already gave away the goods
on the rest of how transformation happens in us
in the first line of the passage:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,
by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship.

Paul is playing with a lot of words here.
Present your bodies,
your whole selves, your true selves,
body, mind, and spirit,
as a living sacrifice.
Well, in religious terms
a sacrifice is something that dies when presented.
But Paul talks here of being a living sacrifice.
Make the living of your life a sacrifice, an offering, Paul says.
Live the mystery of your own self humbly and fully,
joyfully and gratefully,
without expecting perfection,
but with striving toward perfect love.

Paul understands that this transformation,
this renewing of our minds, our ways of thinking and seeing,
happens not by trying hard to think about it,
but by living it out,
by enacting it, by doing it and experiencing it.
Richard Rohr says it this way:
"We don't think ourselves into a new way of living,
we live oursleves into a new way of thinking."

The good news is that by God’s grace, by the cross of Christ,
by the Spirit’s mysterious power in us,
transformation happens,
it happens in us, in the church,
in society, in the whole world.
Why waste much of our time and energy anymore
being conformed to the same old, boring,
lifeless ways we already know so well?
Have a taste today of God’s goodness
and the one who loved you before you did anything to earn it.
Have a taste. Just try it.
You don’t have to buy into it.
But I’m betting, you might just want some more.

June 20, 2011

June 19, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Trinity Sunday
June 19, 2011
Michael Coffey

We long for it, your know,
our spirits sing for it,
our hearts pine for it,
and our minds search for it.
Even when we don’t know it is what we are searching for,
drawing closer to God is our journey and goal.
But how, and with what resources,
and in what direction, and with what guide?

Trinity Sunday is a time to look at the whole biblical story
of God and humanity,
and celebrate that the mystery of God
is none other than the mystery of love,
celebrate that the searching for meaning,
is none other than the journey of life with God and each other.
We celebrate that in Jesus we have been drawn into
the story of God’s mercy and compassion
that could not happen apart from his life, death, and resurrection.
We celebrate that the Spirit that dwells among us now
keeps us close to God’s love throughout life.

So why is it that so much history of Christian theology
and teaching about God
is about as warm and loving and compassionate
as calculus.
Not that I didn’t love learning calculus.
I did. I thought it was fascinating.
But we have approached our Christian experience of God
too often as if it were a mathematical puzzle
which, like calculus, many of us don’t love very much.
Well, since I can’t find a more appropriate word to use on Sunday morning,
that is just rubbish.

I have not kept it a secret over the years that Trinity Sunday
is on my short list of least favorite Sundays of the year.
It’s not because I don’t like or accept the doctrine.
It’s because I don’t like the way the doctrine gets used
and analyzed, and mulled over, and too often
turns faith in God into belief in a doctrine.
When it comes to talking about God
and even more, forcing belief in doctrines about God,
we fall severely short of the mystery that is God.
Not that we shouldn’t do it,
this talking and theologizing and doctrinizing,
but we shouldn’t assume that these words and theories
and mental maps of God
are the same thing as the mystery that is God
and our experience of God.

It’s like the poem by Billy Collins called “Introduction to Poetry,”
which sounds a lot like a college freshman course on poetry:

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

You can hear the frustration in the professor
at freshman trying to figure out a poem,
instead of enjoying the words, and the sounds,
and the images and the experience of the poem.
Collins knows that the truth of a poem
is only expressed in the poem itself.

There is a famous quote that no one seems
to be able to trace to an original source.
I’ve heard everyone from Elvis Costello to Steve Martin.
In talking about music criticism, someone said:
Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
Now I kind of like the thought of someone
walking up to the Chrysler Building in Manhattan
and doing a little dance that tries to capture the elegance and beauty
of that iconic skyscraper.
But still, only the Chrysler Building can capture what it is,
just as only music can express the truth that it is.

This morning I heard an interview by Krista Tippett
with the singer Bobby McFerrin
on her radio program called Being.
They got to a point where they were talking about
the spirituality in McFerrin’s music.
She said: It’s hard to talk about it.
He said: Why?
She said: It’s hard to find adequate words to express it.
He said: Yes it is.
She said: Can we try anyway?

That’s what we’re doing when we talk about God:
We are doing something like dancing about architecture,
writing about music,
or forcing a confession out of a poem,
when all you need to do is let the thing express itself.
And yet, appropriately, we try anyway,
because the words are one way to get a little closer.
And as long as we don’t confuse the words and concepts and doctrines
with the mystery that we call God,
as long as we keep humility about our calculus of God,
then we’re OK.

In the text from Matthew we just heard,
Jesus ends his time on earth with his friends
by sending them out.
He says: Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. Obey. Remember.
Well, those are the verbs anyway,
but sometimes the verbs do a better job than the nouns
and the adjectives at getting at the matter.
This text is often called The Great Commission
which drives me kinda nuts.
It got the church so caught up in a Christian conquering of the world
by assuming Jesus wanted us to convert everyone to Christianity.
We often ended up oppressing or killing them if they didn’t.
But the text says nothing about that.
The text says in my humble paraphrase:
Go and make disciples out of every nation,
which really means every ethnic group,
and create a unique community of compassion and love
that includes every kind of person
so that God may be known and experienced in this community,
so the story can be continued.

To make disciples is to form people in the story of God.

To baptize is to take people deeply into the story
so their old story of selfishness and fear dies
and the new, compassionate and loving story of God in Jesus
becomes their whole life.

To teach is to connect people to the life of Jesus
so that the way of compassion and love,
the way of the cross,
becomes their own way even when it is costly.

To obey is to joyfully give one’s self over to this Jesus way.

To remember is to constantly reconnect ourselves to the story
even after we have forgotten, or strayed, or failed,
or been distracted by the old story.

Go. Make. Baptize. Teach. Obey. Remember.

The language of this Matthew text is one of the most Trinitarian sounding
in all of Scripture,
even though, of course, the word Trinity does not appear here
or anywhere in Scripture.
Jesus says to do this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But what is the thrust of this Trinitarian language?
It’s about getting people caught up in the story of God,
forming people in the story of God’s compassion and mercy
which Jesus embodied
and the Spirit empowers.
Getting caught up in the story of God is the mission,
not forcing belief in the doctrines about God,
because this story is the mystery of life itself,
which is experienced before it is reduced to words.

The story of God’s compassion and love
is the story of God,
and God is the mystery of that wonderful story
that we mostly only experience through sharing in the story,
not by forming words or doctrines.
Words and doctrines are helpful,
but they often only get as far as dancing about architecture,
or beating a poem to death.
First and foremost,
we are invited to share in the joy of experiencing God
as the story of compassion and love
embodied in the story of Jesus
and empowered to live today by the Spirit.

Trinity Sunday is often a day to recite creeds about God.
There is a long tradition of reciting the Athanasian Creed
on Trinity Sunday,
that rather long and laborious statement of faith.
Even though it is one of the three historic creeds we Lutherans
include in our statements of faith,
it is not very pretty, it is severely lacking in compassion and love,
and it leaves one with the impression that believing doctrines about God
is how we are saved and is the main thing about faith.

It is a curious thing
that none of the three great, so-called ecumenical creeds,
Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian,
is accepted by all of the major Christian traditions in the same form,
and only the Nicene is accepted by the Orthodox traditions,
but again, in a different form than in the West.
And yet,
we claim that they above all other statements
unite us in the church as one in Christ.
I’m not speaking against creeds,
I’m just challenging their ability to unite us,
and even more so, to draw us into the mystery,
the story of compassion and love that is God.

I have for a few years used the Masai Creed,
a modern African creed,
on Trinity Sunday because it is very Trinitarian,
but it also talks about beauty, and love, and compassion,
and poverty, and being on safari,
and sharing bread together.
It is much more attuned to the story of God’s love and compassion
in Jesus than are the orthodox statements of faith.

So today,
we are not going to recite the Athanasian Creed,
and you can thank me later.
We’re not even going to say the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds,
even though we use them often.
We’re going to try to come closer to the mystery,
through a musical meditation
that does a pretty good job of telling the story,
the Trinitarian story,
the story of God,
whose compassion and love was embodied in Jesus,
whose Spirit of power to live the same compassion and love
surrounds and fills us even now.
And more than believing any single thing in this creedal song,
we are called, over and over again,
to delight and rejoice in God,
who is the very mystery which we sum up best
with one word that is endlessly rich,
and need only be experienced and not explained: love.

I Delight and Rejoice in Your Love (Taize Song)

The assembly sings the refrain after each line,
and may sing the “O” part while the cantor sings.

Refrain: I delight and rejoice in your love

God, Creator of the world
You are forgiveness and goodness
Our life is in your hands
You sent us Jesus Christ
All sing on “O”

Jesus, Son of the living God
Gentle and humble of heart
Our help and our refuge
Jesus, our peace
Jesus, you came for all people
You proclaimed the kingdom of God
Jesus, brother of the poor
Jesus, goodness without measure
All sing on “O”

Jesus, you carry our burdens
Jesus, you know our trials
You suffer with those who are in sorrow
Jesus, you heal our wounds
All sing on “O”

You loved your disciples to the end
You gave your life on the cross
For us, you rose from the dead
Always offering your forgiveness
You are with us until the end of time
You send us out to proclaim the good news
You prepare us a place close to God
You send us the Holy Spirit
All sing on “O”

Holy Spirit, our comforter
Spirit of the Father, source of all life
You remind us of all that Jesus said
You gather us into the love of God
God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Amen, amen!

May 9, 2011

May 8, 2011 Sermon

Sermon for Easter 3 A
May 8, 2011
Michael Coffey

Do you want to see him?
It’s all over these resurrection stories.
People heard Jesus was raised,
and they want to see him.
Maybe it’s because this miss him
and want to return to the friendship they had.
Maybe it’s because they can hardly believe the news,
and need to see him for themselves.
But whatever the reason,
there’s something about the resurrection of Jesus
that means seeing Jesus in new and surprising ways.

What about us?
I mean, it may sound hokey,
but what if we could actually see the risen Jesus?
What would your faith and life mean
if you had that kind of experience?
Would you become some crazy street preacher?
Would you become a contemplative soul?
Would have exactly the same life you live right now
but with a deep, inner knowing?
The apostle Paul saw the risen Christ
a couple of years after the day of resurrection,
and it transformed his whole life.
Mystics have had experiences of seeing Christ
and write about the profound sense of warm light and love.
But us? Seeing?
Having an experience of the risen Jesus
in this day and age?
Isn’t that kinda weird talk,
and not Austin weird, just really weird.
Maybe, but maybe any talk about an executed man
who was raised from death is weird to begin with,
so why not?

We know there are a lot of weird sightings of Jesus today.
Jesus on burnt toast.
Jesus on a tortilla.
One of my favorite Jesus sightings is told
in a transcript from a CNN story many years back.
A photograph was shown of a bunch of stars.
It was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
Some people thought they saw something in the picture,
so the next day, the phone lines were opened
and the following conversation occured
with anchors Lou Waters and Bobbie Battista,
as reported in Harper's magazine (April, 1996, p. 23):

Lou Waters Pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have created a phenomenon of sorts, with folks calling, saying that they see something in these pictures that perhaps many others do not see. We have someone on the line from Texas. Texas, are you seeing something there?

Caller Yes, I do. I noticed it last night. I saw it on CNN as I was about to go to bed, and I thought, "That appears to be Jesus Christ, but I will wait till tomorrow and see if anyone else sees what I see." To me, it just looks like him.

Waters We've been getting a lot of calls from people who agree with you. Why do you see that?

Caller I don't know. It just appears to be a picture of Jesus Christ. Let me say, first of all, that I do not go to church regularly. I try to live a plain, good life. I'm not a religious fanatic who, you know, sees Jesus Christ in everything I look at.

Waters Right.

Caller. But when I walked by the TV and looked at that, I thought, "My God, they say this is the birthplace of stars and things, and that appears to be Jesus Christ."

Bobbie Battista Okay. Thanks for calling. Let's check to see if anybody else agrees with you. To Nevada--you're on the air.

Caller Hi, I just saw a cow in the picture, just below where the lady said she saw Jesus Christ. Plus, there's a cat, and there's a dog barking up a tree, like he's treeing a coon.

Waters Okay, Nevada, thanks a lot. Florida is on the line.
Florida, what are you seeing?

Caller I see a portrayal of what looks like Jesus Christ--the big hair, the skin, the mustache, the nose, the eyes. Like the lady from Texas, I don't attend a denominational church, but I believe in the Word and I clearly see that face.

Waters Okay, thanks a lot.

Battista Thank you.

Waters It's really remarkable that so many people called independent of one another.

Battista I see what they're talking about. I mean, I can see it, too, if you look at it long enough.

Waters Okay. New Jersey is on the line. Maybe something different here. New Jersey?

Caller Yes?

Battista What do you see?

Caller I see the Statue of Liberty.

Battista That's a new one.

Waters All right, what do we got here? Toronto? Okay, Toronto, go ahead.

Caller Well, to me it looks a bit like Gene Shalit.

Waters Gene Shalit. Seven thousand light years away--Gene Shalit.

OK, maybe seeing Jesus is kinda strange,
thought not as strange as Gene Shalit…
Here’s the really strange thing in our story:
Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
The story begins with two disciples, Cleopas,
and an unnamed disciple,
who was likely a woman disciple since she wasn’t named.
They are walking along with, yep, the risen Jesus
but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Funny… in a resurrection story about seeing Jesus
it begins with being prevented from seeing Jesus.
They walk along with Jesus,
but they don’t recognize him.
They talk about what had happened to Jesus with Jesus,
and Jesus plays with them a bit by pointing out
how everything they had experienced in him,
his rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection,
fulfilled God’s intentions in Scripture.
Then they get to the place where they were going,
and it’s time for supper,
and the crucial moment comes,
as the stranger is about to walk along into the night.
This is their testing.
This is the reason their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
Would they invite him in for supper,
this stranger in their lives,
or would they let him go on his own way.
The stranger Jesus starts to walk on,
and they stop and invite him him.
They share their bread with him,
this stranger who seems more strange than ever.
He breaks the bread with them,
and their eyes are opened. They recognize him.
Jesus is risen. They saw him. And he’s gone.

They didn’t see him in toast or tortillas.
They didn’t see him in the stars.
They didn’t see him because they expected to see him.
They saw Jesus because they broke bread with the stranger.
The resurrection of Jesus,
the very living presence of Jesus,
is known and seen and experienced
when the stranger is invited in to share a meal.
It isn’t so much that they saw him with their eyes.
The text says: They recognized him.
They re-cognitioned him.
They knew him again and their living Lord and companion.
I imagine that after that encounter,
those two disciples would never dare let a stranger
walk off alone in the night
without offering hospitality and breaking bread,
and knowing Jesus again and again.

I said that their moment of pausing and inviting the stranger in
for hospitality, for supper,
was their moment of testing.
It wasn’t a testing like a pass/fail exam.
It was their testing so they could know,
so they could re-know Jesus,
so they could know how to re-know Jesus again and again.
Would they do just what Jesus did:
share meals with everyone,
break bread with everyone,
stranger and friend,
rich and poor,
socially acceptable and ostracized?
They do, and they know Jesus as risen, powerful presence
in doing the Jesus thing.

Jesus disappeared immediately after they recognized him
in the breaking of the bread.
Then they went back to Jerusalem to tell their friends
and Jesus appears again.
And this time, they eat fish together.
Bread, fish. Jesus sharing food with all.
Sharing a meal is how resurrection is understood.
Sharing food in community and with strangers
is how we know and re-know Jesus
as our risen Lord and friend.

This text is a clue, a hint, an invitation
to find the presence of the living Jesus
in the breaking of bread, sharing of food with strangers,
not because they are hungry or in great need,
though certainly that, too.
But because when strangers break bread together,
they are no longer strangers,
they are companions.
Companions are those who break bread together, literally.
Jesus is known as our companion
when we break bread in his name in our sacramental meal.
Maybe instead of Holy Communion, we could call it Holy Companion.
But don’t miss it:
Beyond the sacramental meal,
Jesus is known as risen, living, empowering presence
in all our normal meals,
in all the ways we are brought together in companionship,
and specifically in this story today,
in the ways we show hospitality to strangers,
break bread together,
and become strangers no longer.

Do you want to see the resurrected Jesus?
Do you want to know him again?
Don’t look for toast or tortillas or stars
or expect to figure it all out, or have a glowing light appear.
Let the story guide you and reveal the mystery to you.
Learn how to recognize him
as we share this meal together.
And go out and find him in the gift of companionship
and hospitality
and the stranger you wouldn’t dare let walk off alone in the night.