3/23/19  3rd Sunday of Lent

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

What a joyous inclusive welcome! That is a feast of celebration and radical inclusion. This is God’s welcome and God’s radical inclusion that the prophet Isaiah shares. It is so exciting that the hills sing and the trees clap. It is a welcome that is refreshing to all of creation. It is a universal celebration. Lord, I want to be in that number! It is so gratifying to understand that we are hugged in God’s embrace.

It is so unlike the hardship that the disciples are talking to Jesus about in our gospel lesson. The news has spread throughout the area that Pilate has murdered a number of Galileans who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. The tower in Jerusalem has collapsed on folks there. Everyone is shaking their heads and wondering why, why God, why? How could this be happening? There must have been some well intentioned folks who said, “Well, maybe God had them taken out or it was God’s will for these folks to perish?  Maybe they were such sinners that God took them out. “ That is what some folks say, even today.

Jesus challenges that idea. Jesus asks them, “Were these Galileans who were murdered and these folks in Jerusalem such sinners?”

Then he tells a parable about a fig tree and the land owner wanting to dig it up because it isn’t a good tree. It is not productive. The gardener, comes and says, let’s give this tree a chance. I will dig around its roots, fertilize it, and let’s see if it will bear fruit. So the land owner gives his permission. The tree survives and receives a chance to grow, be productive and live. What a story of grace!

There is a lot of hurt and harm in this world. Good folks die and suffer. Accidents happen every day.  Many suffer because of power struggles within repressive systems. Such systems achieve a sense of power through expressions that divide and demonize the different to the point of harming and killing the different.  I don’t think God has a whole lot to do with that. I do think there is a lot of evil in this world. There is a lot of lack in this world. This world and the people who manipulate and control others with fear have little value for life.  Jesus said, in John 10:10: “I have come to give you life in all its fullness!”  I believe that! I also believe that God is like that gardener that works with what the world would destroy.  God values what the world does not!

Lent 2, Sunday March 17, 2019

Philippians 3:17 - 4:1

Moving into Trust

In Genesis, Abram was worried and a bit sick at heart about his own legacy for he had no children and his wife, now very old, is unable to have children. He lifts his heart to the heavens and the scripture says that “the word of the Lord, speaks to Abraham in a vision”. We know that Abram, later Abraham, the father of the faith of those worship God in three religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity lived before written scripture, the Levitical laws that some like to quote to attack the GLBTQ community. The rules that some quote to say who God loves and who God does not.   God tells him to look to the stars and to consider that he will have as many children as the stars of the heaven. Abram believed God, the scripture says, and “God counted his belief as righteousness”.  Abraham believed God. He moved into trusting God. He could trust his future, his legacy, his life and the life of generations to come to God. God spoke and as our United Church of Christ brothers and sister proclaim, “God is still speaking to the hearts and minds of people in all kinds of places, circumstances and beliefs. How dare we be so arrogant as to say how God speaks or to whom God speaks.  How dare we declare who has faith and who does not or who is acceptable to God and who God counts as righteous and who God does not? 

    Abraham’s movement into faith, not unlike ours, was somewhat of a rough trip. Yet, though he took things at times in his own hands, put his wife in what appeared to be dangerous circumstances, sent a child and his mother into a wilderness with little provision, and suffered angst in making choices Abram believed God even though he was unsure of the how and the when the promises would happen. He moved day to day believing and trusting God.

       Paul writes in our Phillipians passage to hold on to believing in God’s promises. He encourages those of the church to press on, believing and trusting in God’s provision and care. Sometimes pressing forward is tough. Sometimes you must lean forward and take the next step. There are many, Paul says, who say that they serve the God, but in truth they serve the God of their belly. They want, want, want, and are told and tell others that God will prosper them. Then when the circumstances of life run contrary to satisfying their needs their faith is challenged.   It is not always easy to move into faith, or to even  believe God especially when the world tells us formulas and outcomes that are not evident and forthcoming. Yet, still today people try to say how God works and who God blesses and who God curses.

     Lastly, Jesus is warned to flee for his life as Herod, the king wants to kill him. Largely, Jesus meets people where they are concerning superficial things like wealth, health, even behavior. Jesus travels with something of a counter cultural rule breaking crowd. He does amazing things to bring the community to a Shalom of unity and peace. The culture of the Roman’s that Herod promotes creates divisions, marginalization, and oppression. We could almost put the name and leader of any country in place of Romans and Herod in place of political leaders today who do the same.   Jesus calls them foxes compares His care to that of a mother hen who will oppose the fox to the death to guard and protect her chicks.   He will show the way and the truth of God’s love for all people, and he will shine a light on their fears to dispel them, and move them into trust.



3/10/2019 1st Sunday of Lent

We enter the wilderness of Lent thinking of the nature of temptation. Our gospel story takes us through Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness following his baptism. Temptation can be a devilish topic.  As Jesus was tempted to mistrust or doubt,  so are we tempted. The seeds of mistrust grow as we doubt who we are, who God is, and our life’s mission.  Jesus was confident, but sometimes we are not so confident. Jesus knew who he was.   Jesus emerged from the waters of his baptism bathed not only in water, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The echoes of the heaven’s announcement, “This is my beloved child”, ringing in his ears. How could he not know who he was? He was certain!   There was no wiggle room for a seed of mistrust there. 

Yet, I think sometimes those seeds wiggle into our hearts. Could we be God’s beloved too? Some church folk would try to create mistrust and fear in that area of our minds and hearts. You have to do this or be that to be God’s beloved they say. But, wait a minute! We were baptized too! We belong to God. Yet, we listen to the lies of those tempting folk that would try to make our brothers and sisters in the GLBTQ community think they are not loved by God and not welcome in their community of faith. Ah, the temptation brought on by the seeds of fear and doubt when mistrust in who we are begins to sprout! 

 Jesus also knew the nature of God and the mission of God in this world and his role in that mission. Do we? Have we heard some folks lie about the nature of God. Have they forgotten that God is love.  1John 4: 7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The very nature of God is love and the proof that we belong to God is that we can love others. We belong to love itself. Good news! The mission of God for us is to love our neighbors and build communities of love and inclusion. We cannot forget who we are, who God is, or our mission.

So, can we trust love. Can we trust that God loves us? Can we trust ourselves to be loving? Those are important questions.  Sometimes, we question our ability to trust.  So, I invite you to look in the rear-view mirror of your life and remember a time when you trusted God for something. Something like the notion that God loves you!   If you could trust God’s love then, you can trust God’s now. From childhood, I have trusted God’s love. I did not have to earn it. I did not have to be someone I am not. God created me. My mission is to love and create a community of love and inclusion. We need not fear. We need not fear hate or hateful punitive prattle.   Read the next passage very carefully.

 1JOHN 4; 17 “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”  Do you think that might include other family relationships and neighbors, too? Let us boldly and fearlessly go into the season of Lent. We know who we are, whose we are, who God is, and our mission!