August 28, 2012

Jesus: Cardiologist

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile."  

For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come...

- Mark 7:14-15, 21

you are all about heart work
a cardiologist of the soul

and so much less about gut work you say
it’s not the outside coming in

and the digestion and the excrement
it’s the inner life, the heart’s desires

the mind’s formation, the mouth’s utterances
that you came to expose and name

and reshape into something life-giving
and not life-diminishing which seems to be our way

before we suffer arrest and infarction
you have come to clean out our arteries

infuse us with your Lipitor grace
clarify us with your angioplastic mercy

prop us open with your stents of truth telling
letting the warmth of blood flow freely again

so every lub dub beating of our new hearts
can oxygenate our own active mercy

and shape our vocal chords for words of lovingkindness
and fill every corpuscle with hope

that the rhythmic drumming of our lives can sync
and syncopate with the cosmic cardiac pulse of God

August 22, 2012

If Only We Had Better Options

do you also wish to go away
he asked and stunned us like electricity
and we whispered under our breath

yes we would like an easier path
clear cut through the oak forest
something that made sense at least

or better, we wish you would go away
Jesus, you keep complicating and confusing us
and messing us up so we can’t think straight

if only we could have not known you
and heard your words that burn in us now
and never felt your spirit wormhole its way through us

right on into the infinite yes
but then again, before you
was only the deafening finite no

and the deathtrap of our anxious breathless days
so, no, we don’t want to go away
not because we have any idea where this thing goes with you

but because, honestly, where the hell would we go?
it’s you, you ethereal brother, you who is so full of god-life
that every second in you seems eternal

August 18, 2012

Sense of Wisdom

wisdom knows that it does not know
so it knows it knows something
but that something is a speck of nothing
and in that speck of a nothing
is the beginning of knowing a something;
wisdom knows that the subject and object
and preposition and verb and participle
of all that can be known is the one divine
and so the only sentence uttered
that ever made any sense is
when a sole man, a lone woman,
looked up at the spattered starry sky
and looked in at the blood-pulsing heart
and felt the space between them collapse
in that immeasurably small grain of time
and he and she said: 
God is here
and not here
and now I know

August 14, 2012

Thanksgiving for Baptism Rite

A rite of Thanksgiving for Baptism for use at the beginning of worship.


The ministers gather at the font. The presiding minister scoops water from the font and makes the sign of the cross.

In the name of the Father,
and of the + Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

People of God, in the baptismal waters
you traveled with Christ from death to life.
Your past, your sin, your failure, your doubt,
           are drowned and gone here.
Your fear, your confusion, your self-righteousness, your despair,
           are washed away by grace.
Your pride, your hypocrisy, and other people’s opinions of you
           no longer define you.
The Spirit lives and moves through you now,
           a great and joyful mystery,
so you may bring love and mercy into the world
           as the body of Christ.
Rejoice that God has claimed you
in this baptismal grace,
           my fellow brothers and sisters in Jesus,
not by your own doing or believing
but by God’s mercy alone.

As we begin worship
           we give thanks to God for the gracious gift of baptism
           that joins us together in Christ by the Spirit’s power.
And all God’s people said:  Amen!

Water is taken from the font and the assembly is sprinkled with water during a hymn.

August 9, 2012

Second Breakfast

But Elijah himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. - 1 Kings 19:4-8

Maybe the Hobbits were right.  Maybe second breakfast is a required part of the day if you’re going to be strong and nourished for the work ahead.

Elijah is worn out and starving, ready to die.  It sounds like he would be fine if everyone, including God, left him alone and let him pass. But God has need of Elijah yet.  A holy messenger comes to Elijah.  A nearby village woman?  A wilderness Bedouin wanderer?  Who knows.  But they see Elijah’s pitiful state and get him to eat and drink.  Some hot cakes and shade cooled water were all set to go.  He eats and drinks, goes back to sleep, and seems ready still to let it all go and breathe his last.

God knows what is yet to come is going to challenge him more.  There were kings to anoint and defeat, wars to navigate, and a disciple to train so the word could be passed on and on about a God of justice and mercy and amazing things.

So the messenger comes again, and whips up some more hotcakes and scoops some more fresh water from the stream.  Elijah needs a second helping.  He needs more nourishment.  Once was not enough.  The journey will be too much for him.  His second breakfast, or late night snack or whatever it was, gives him strength for 40 days and nights.  Maybe it was the energy in the grains.  Maybe it was the realization that God will nourish and energize him more than he expects or even desires, because there is something more important going on that is bigger than his small self, but God still needs his small self to do it.

The next thing Elijah experiences, in his fed and renewed body and mind, is the still small voice as he cowers in a cleft and the divine passes by.  Ah, that was it.  Second breakfast pricked his ears and opened his mind for the divine whisper he wasn’t strong enough to hear:  You are the one I need.

You’ve probably had breakfast.  You’ve probably heard some good news about God and grace and purpose for your life.  But you probably find it all hard to believe or trust.  You probably need to chew on it some more.  You probably, now and then at least, feel like the journey ahead is too much for you. Get out your forks, Hobbits.  It’s time for second breakfast.  You are the one I need, says the voice you didn't expect to hear.

August 5, 2012

Sermon for Proper 13 B - August 5, 2012

Sermon for Proper 13 B
August 5, 2012

As the rock poet Bruce Springsteen sang:

Everybody's got a hungry heart
Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don't make no difference what 
        nobody says
Ain't nobody like to be alone
Everybody's got a hungry heart 

When we are wandering and lost
on the lonely days of life
and the confusing paths we often take
we are left wondering if our hunger will ever be satisfied.

God’s ancient people Israel were fans of Springsteen.
Who knew, right?
In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew slaves
are liberated from anything that robbed them of life,
most especially Egypt’s massive economy
and its abuse of foreign workers.
But after crossing the sea into freedom
           they discovered freedom felt lonely.
           Liberation was risky.
           Emancipation was harder than being stuck in the past.
They knew they didn’t get out of Egypt on their own.
           And they knew that Moses guy wasn’t all that great.
           Some other mysterious presence was traveling with them
                     and watching over them
                     and setting them free from everything that robbed life from them.
But, when they got out on the wilderness trail
           and they felt their stomachs rumble,
           it got a lot harder to trust that traveling presence.
They murmured, they grumbled, they whined.
           You know, anytime I go on a youth trip
                     like the National Youth Gathering or camp,
                     my number 1 rule is always: no whining.
                                It drives me nuts.
           So imagine Moses and God having to listen
                     to all that whining and complaining:
                                We’re hungry.
                                We’re lost.
                                We’re thirsty.

It turns out God was more compassionate and patient
           than Moses was, or I would be, with the people.
                     God heard their grumbling. God listened.
                                This is the first bit of good news in the story.
                                God listens to the people.
                                God hears the cries of the hungry.
                                God’s heart is full of compassion.
So the second bit of good news
           is God responded.
                     A bunch of quail flew into the camp at night.
                                Catch them! Pluck them!
                                Grill them up with chipotle sauce!
                                          Those little quail legs weren’t very big,
                                          but they were succulent and there were plenty.

Then in the morning,
           they went out and saw the morning dew on the ground.
           And as it evaporated, it left a fine flaky something or other
                     that was like free toast for breakfast.
           They didn’t really know what it was,
                     so they called it: English muffins.
No, they called it: What is this stuff?  or in Hebrew, Manna?
Everybody’s got a hungry heart,
           and these people were fed and satisfied,
even if they didn’t know what breakfast was.

But there was just one stipulation,
           one limitation, one requirement from the Lord:
                     Only gather enough for each person for one day.
                     This is not the God of Costco,
                                where you buy enough for a 3months at a time.
                     This is the God of the corner market,
                                where you stop by every day for each day’s provisions,
                                and you say  “hi” and get to know the store owner.

The wilderness texts of Exodus
           are a central image for a life of faith:
                     God’s mercy, justice, love, and power set us free
                     to live an entirely new kind of life.
                                But that new life is a journey of discovery.
                                It’s a kind of wandering that can feel like
                                          we are lost and lonely and hungry.
                                Some days of this life of faith
                                          can leave us murmuring and grumbling
                                          and complaining against God or at least
                                                     our leaders and our neighbors.
                     We’re hungry!  We’re thirsty! 
Doesn’t anybody care about us anymore?
Are we being led on this journey
or are we utterly lost and alone?

Yeah, we can get some food now and then
but is it random food that comes from a heartless universe
or is it a gift of compassion and creative generosity?
That was the lesson God had for the ancient people of faith
           and it is ours today:
                     Do we receive each day’s provisions
                                as a random occurrence in a cold, empty world,
                                as a marketplace battle to get the most we can,
                                or is it all a gift of a compassionate, generous God?
Because if all the manna we collect along the way
to keep us going
is actually a sign, a word, a thoughtfully placed gift
then not only are we being led and watched over and directed
we are also deeply and profoundly loved.

Jesus was hanging out with a hungry crowd.
           He had just fed them,
                     and they followed him hoping not only to get dinner,
                      but breakfast and lunch and a snack and dessert.
           But they missed the lesson that came with the feeding:
                     Listen to your stomach’s hunger
                     and let it teach you about your soul’s hunger.
                                Everybody’s got a hungry heart.
                                And the food that satisfies our human lives
                                          is the divine presence that fills us up
                                          every moment, every day,
                                                     every one, every thing.

Jesus is embodying that gracious and merciful presence
           in his very being, his very body,
                     his words and signs and life and death, and resurrection.
           But people risk missing it,
                     and listening only to the stomach’s hunger
                     and not to the corresponding heart’s hunger.
           And it’s not that the stomach’s hunger isn’t important.
                     It’s that we are never satisfied with anything,
                                even a full stomach and healthy body,
                                if we don’t have full hearts and fed souls.
           In John’s Gospel, Jesus is known as the incarnation of the Word,
                     the enfleshment of God’s own purpose and meaning,
                                the bodily presence of the mysterious spiritual presence.
           In Jesus, the material and the spiritual come together,
                     and cannot be separated,
                     so that both hungers are satisfied,
                     and never one without the other, bread and love,
                                and we are truly filled and satiated and glad.

Like the Israelites,
           we tend to be a people who complain,
           complain that we aren’t happy and comfortable and stuffed
                     every minute of the day, every day of the week.
Our insatiable hunger is a symptom
of our fearful or prideful inability
to trust the holy presence that moves with us
through time and space.
Yet, God is more patient than Moses was or I am.
           God hears our cries, and gives us exactly what we need:
                     Daily provisions.  Enough for the journey today.
           Why did God only give enough manna every day for that one day?
           Why did the manna rot if anyone collected more than a day’s provisions?
                     Because our hunger is only satisfied
                     when every day our stomachs and our hearts are filled.
                                Everyday we must learn to trust again
                                that we do not wander alone,
                                          but journey with the one who loves us
                                          and watches over us and hears us and feeds us.

The lesson of the wilderness wandering
           and of Jesus feeding the crowds
           is that we learn how to receive everything in life every day and moment,
                     as a gift from the holy generous giver.
The good news is that every day
           is a day lived in God, with God, filled with love and mercy.
Every day God is listening and responding,
           providing and sustaining.
Where is your manna today?
What’s falling from the sky into your life today?
Where is your “what is this?” that surprised you?
It can be whatever you understand,
or whatever makes no sense,
whatever is profoundly miraculous,
or whatever is mundanely normal.

“What is it?”  It is the bread of life,
it is God’s gift to bring sustenance, joy, and energy to you and me.
It is everything Jesus was about.
It is bread and love.
What is it?  It is God’s gift to us!
           We are blessed to know this and name it and give thanks for it.
Like so many Olympic athletes,
           we can work hard and train and plan for years,
           but when that Gold medal comes,
                     it’s like it dropped out of heaven
                     and you can’t help but be grateful to the giver of all of life.
I read a story about ranchers in the Texas panhandle
           last year in the midst of the long drought.
                     When it suddenly rained one day,
                     all they could do was think: It’s like manna from heaven!
These stories aren’t so much about once in a while miracles,
but about the enchantment of our daily lives with God.
I’m not saying there aren’t miraculous things that happen.
I’m saying it is all so miraculous and all from God
that whatever it is we call a miracle
is just a matter of degree or frequency.

Through faith, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,
           we have a life with God that is never alone
                     even when we’re lonely,
           never empty even when we’re hungry,
           never heartless even when we’re hurting.
Eat and drink up all of life’s gifts as gifts from God,
the God who hears and provides
who is the hunger of our hearts’ desire
and the groaning of our souls’ yearning.
Through faith we can live as if
every bite and drink is a sacrament, a holy gift.
So we have this bread and wine from Christ today
to lead us toward the sacred vision of life in God
           in all things and all times and all people.

Because the bread that satisfies,
the bread that is Jesus,
 is relationship and connection and unity,
divine and human relationship bound together in bread and love.
Everybody’s got a hungry heart,
and our stomachs and souls are satisfied
 when we share bread together as a gift from heavn,
           giving thanks to God for Jesus
                     in the Spirit which is so near now.