Unlikely Prophets and God’s Two-Cents Worth…

destitute-pea-pickers-in-california-mother-of-seven-children-age-thirty-two-3cba1d-1600<If you listen along you can hear the laughs and the awkward pauses…click here to hear it all.>

38As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
41He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Unlikely Prophets and God’s Two Cents Worth…

Gracious One,

Today we ask for your two cents worth

But we ask that you give it with a good dose

Of grace

Amen.

Ok, folks, you wouldn’t know it, but at one time my hair was glorious.

No, seriously. Like remember those Herbal Essence commercials?  Like that kind of glorious.

My college roommate is here today, he can testify.

But I remember one day my senior year of college noticing like a good bit of thinning going on.  And I remember this, which is a total testament to my humility, right?  I remember looking at this thinning hair and going, “Nah…it’s not real…”

It’s like, if I don’t pay attention to it, it’s not real.  Because, I mean, I was afraid, right?  Afraid of losing my hair.  Afraid that I’d wasted my money on gobs of gel and brushes and haircuts…

I mean, if that hairline was a sermon, then it wasn’t for me, right?

Funny thing about sermons…the hard ones are never for us, right?  Usually because we’re kind of afraid they are.

But my receding hairline was a prophet, my friends.  A prophetic sermon about the truth of my follical warehouse.  And like most prophets, it brought unwelcome truth.

And I mean, that’s the definition of a prophet in the Biblical sense, btw.

I think we often associate prophets with those kooky street corner folks yelling on soap boxes telling us that, “The end is near!” except they told us that last week, too, and last year, and “the end” always is near but never arrives.  I think we assume that prophets tell the future, but that’s not true.

And you’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it for as long as I’m a preacher, prophets, Beloved, don’t tell you the truth about the future.  No, prophets tell you, tell me, tell us the truth about the present.  And we have unlikely prophets all around.

Often unwelcome, but usually needed, truths. Truths to people who too often live in fear of the truth. Prophets give their two-cents worth to us all the time, whether we like it or not, we just usually don’t pay much attention because it’s better to ignore the prophets than face reality.

My sons are prophets.  They continually tell me the truth about my lack of patience.

I mean, you’ve heard of people who mosey, but I tell you that my kids have perfected it.  They are the model, the picture definition.  But they often mosey because they are in awe of something on the ground: a flower, a bug, a worm, a pine cone.

They tell me the truth about my inattention to the world so often.  “How did they see that?” I wonder.  I too often fear being late, or wasting time, and my sons tell me the truth on that.

My friend is a prophet to me.  She reveals to me the truth of her experience as a woman, the way that her body is talked about, the way that makes her talk to herself in the mirror, the way that people fear a strong woman because they think it makes men weak.  And what she reveals to me is how easily I can slip into that way of talking and thinking, too, if I’m not mindful.

That a prophecy that we don’t like to pay attention too because it makes us men feel uncomfortable, and even guilty, but that fact doesn’t make it less true.

My checkbook is an unlikely prophet, my friends.  It often tells me an unwelcome truth, and that’s usually not associate with the bottom line, Beloved, but the unwelcome truth it so often reveals to me is that the distance between where I say my heart is and where my heart actually is, is really far apart.  Really far.  I cling to my money because I’m afraid of losing it, and I cling to my false idea that I usually spend my money well because I’m afraid of being the kind of person who doesn’t.

Honestly: I don’t.

Jesus says, in his prophetic voice, “Where your treasure is, there your heart is also.”  And it’s no surprise that my heart is often at the coffee shop.  Or at the store.  Or at that indulgence that I think is good to me, but is not good for me.

Our checkbooks are prophets, friends, and we’re in stewardship season here, but we’re also about to head into gift-giving-to-the-point-of-debt season, and here’s a stark question that we can ask this morning, in light of both of those seasons and our Gospel text for today: what do you want that prophetic text to say?  What truth do you want to be revealed?  Do you want it to speak to glorious ideals now dashed on the shores of consumerism, or something else?

Unlikely prophets are often uncomfortable and force us to see hard truths and ask hard questions.

And there are some prophecies I carry on me that I’m afraid to show you.

Scars that speak truths about my pain, accidents, and even intentional actions that are painful.  Scars you can see and some you can’t.  We all have them, if we’re telling the truth.  Scars are unlikely prophets if we listen…they speak to our fear of living, of dying, of the truth of our inattention to our bodies and our questionable choices.

You know, this morning’s Gospel text this morning is a prophecy, though it may not sound like it at first hearing.  And the prophet is not even Jesus, my friends.

It is the widow.  Jesus sits back and lets her life speak its prophetic word of uncomfortable truth.

It sounds like we have two stories this morning.  It sounds like a warning about the trappings of power, and then a story of praise for this widow who, despite her poverty, gives back to God.

But that is the story that is told when we don’t want to face the truth of the prophecy, Beloved.

Because this is one story, one prophecy, and it is uncomfortable.

Because we forget that the ancient world was one that called for those in long robes to watch out for and take care of others, especially widows and orphans.  The religious laws of the times demanded that the vulnerable be cared for most of all.

And so when Jesus talks about the scribes, who were wealthy and respected and liked being wealthy and respected, looking out only for themselves, even as they gave large sums to the treasury.  He said, “They devour widow’s houses…” you can even imagine the disciples coming back and going, “Oh, c’mon Jesus.  Things aren’t that bad.  They’re not that bad.  What’s wrong with wealth and respect?”

Jesus then points to this widow, the one who is supposed to be protected by the powerful, the religious, the law makers, and says in effect, “She just gave everything she had into the treasury.  Why is that all she has?  Why aren’t these other people watching out for her?  She should have more than that, by God…”

Her house was devoured.

The woman is a prophet, telling the truth with her body about an economic and religious system that cares more about making money and being respected and individuality and honor and appearances than it does about community, about the vulnerable, about “the least of these.”

I dare say Jesus is pointing less to her sacrificial giving as a model of faith and more to the injustice of a system that requires someone to give all they have to live on…

The widow in the story gives religion, gives the political system, God’s two-cents worth.

Literally. And Jesus points it out.

It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by the beautifully bald prophetic pastor from Riverside Church in New York City, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, who once said that, “Those who fear disorder more than injustice will invariably create more of both.”

These scribes, in their well-ordered religious, political, and economic system, have done just that…

The prophetic truth this morning is that we still do that.

For my friends who feel as if they can’t get out from under the system, today’s prophecy is that the God known in Jesus Christ sees you, and makes his disciples see you, too.

And it is into the middle of all the messiness of our human systems, the ones we suffer from and the ones we participate in, that God gives God’s two-cents.  Except instead of giving humanity a piece of God’s mind, God in Jesus will give humanity a glimpse of God’s heart.

A prophetic reminder that God would rather die than play in our systems, to show us that God’s love can’t be stopped by the powers of this world that try to keep it silent.

Here’s the thing: in the end Jesus becomes the widow, giving everything he has to prove God’s love to a people trapped in and under these ways we lord over one another and hurt one another.

Because the prophetic truth is that we cling to money, power, and esteem at the expense of others because we’re afraid that that’s how we have to get ahead in this life.

Jesus tells us, with his own life, a different prophecy, a different truth.

So, for all the systems that take advantage of us, and even the ones we participate in, God gives God’s two-cents so that we might know just how far God will go to be with us.  So that we might know just how unjust we make things sometimes, and that God knows that our systems shouldn’t work this way, and desires something different for humanity.

Jesus gives all he has to show us this…

But. But…

This sermon’s not for us, right?

It’s just God’s two-cents worth.

Advertisements

Worth Doing Something About

broken-and-cracked-window-glass-realistic-vector_1441-656There’s a viral post going around about some fake bullying at a Burger King intended to gauge how people will respond when they witness something terrible going on.

You can see it here.  (Seriously, watch it.  If the link doesn’t work, copy and paste this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnKPEsbTo9s)

The sad (and prophetic) point of the exercise is that people are more likely to complain about their beat-up burger than they are engage bullying that happens person-to-person.

If you didn’t view the video above, you should know that while most people sat by and watched someone else be bullied, they were all too ready and eager to complain about their hamburger arriving broken, torn, and disheveled.  The claim there, of course, is that they paid for that item, and it should arrive as promised.

Economics wins out over people all too often in our world.

And that is one of the points of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, though you rarely hear it talked about like that.

Before we go on, take a gander at Mark 12:38-44.  You can click here to find it, or Google it (if the link doesn’t work).

Read it? Ok. Let’s go on…

See, here’s the issue: Jesus witnesses something terrible here, and makes the disciples see it, too.

These long-robed scribes walk around with their wealth and their vanity and their esteemed existence, putting on for the public.  And, it is noted, they give to the treasury, obeying economic and religious law.

And then this widow comes and puts her two-cents in.  Literally.  And Jesus points to her and says, “She’s given it all.”

And for most of us we think this is a story about generous giving and generous living, about “giving it all!”  In fact, when I was working on this little piece, I glanced next to me at the young woman here at Starbucks (no royalties for product placement, mind you), and at the top of her calendar for December she had, “Give it Your All! One Month To Go!”

But, actually, I think it is more a commentary on what happens when not everyone has it all, or enough at all, by design.  It’s what happens when we love rules more than people. Because while those long-robed, long-winded scribes are walking around gaining money, power, and esteem, they’re ignoring their Torah-given mandate to care for the orphan and the widow (Deuteronomy 4:28-29).

In other words, the widow is the product of what happens when a community doesn’t live generously, not the model of living generously.

Jesus witnesses the horror of an economic and religious system that appears to follow all the rules but leaves behind the people God loves.

God loves people more than rules.  He says, in not so many words, “This is all she has, and that’s not right.  She shouldn’t have to give all she has. She should have more than this. Something’s got to change…”

The broken systems of a broken humanity are…well…broken.

On Thursday morning I turned on the TV.  Another mass shooting.  Another night club full of dead bodies, many of them college children, and one deputy.

I turned off the TV so the kids wouldn’t see. They’ll learn enough about bullies eventually.  At 3 and 5 I want to shield them from how broken things are…for at least a little while longer…

What do we do when we witness terrible things?  How do we step in the middle of that messiness to protect the vulnerable and live generously when we feel so helpless?

I don’t have an answer to that, honestly.

All I know is that at the end of the story of Jesus’ life, he’ll have given his all for this humanity. This messy humanity.

Literally, he’ll give everything he’s got like the widow, even his life, for us all.  His life, like hers, will be a testimony to how broken things are.

But his life, death, and resurrection, will be also be a testimony to how worth it we are to God.

To show us that we’re worth doing something about, even if it kills him.  Showing us that we don’t have to rely on our long robes and bank accounts to be lovable, broken as we are.

The fact that Jesus will give it all for us, makes me think we’re worth it.

Which makes me believe that we are worth fighting for, broken as it is; worth stepping into the messiness for.

Worth saying loudly to the people with the proverbial long robes, “This is not how we love our neighbor as ourselves in this world! Somethings got to change!”

Madeleine L’Engle once said, “We either add to the darkness of indifference and out-and-out evil which surrounds us or we light a candle to see by.”

So let’s start figuring out which candles to light, and not just memorial votives for beautiful lives snuffed out too soon.

Advent is coming, after all; a season for candles.

We may be broken, but I don’t think God would die for something that isn’t beautiful.

And redeemable.

And worth doing something about.

Goodness and Mercy and Having No Fear

allSaintsDay_690x518_72After Lazarus had died, Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Judeans who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in his spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept.  The Judeans saw this and noted how he loved Lazarus.  But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the other sister of the dead man said, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you trusted, you would see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone.  And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I say this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may trust that you sent me.”  When he had said this he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus: come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Goodness and Mercy and Having No Fear

Holy One,

Today we pray

That we will rise

To you

One day to meet

Trampling death beneath

Our feet.

Amen.

I’ve always thought of graveyards and memorial gardens as thin spaces, where eternity and the present collide.  Two sides of the same coin.

When we’d walk through graveyards as a child, we were told to walk carefully, and to be mindful of all life, even the insects. They were not to be harmed.

In graveyards we hold life sacred, not death.

Not to say that death isn’t a natural part of life, of course.  But it is usually, not always, but usually, not a welcome guest to the party of life…

Christians, particularly Christians in America, have a fondness for Psalm 23.  I’ve rarely held a bedside vigil or led a funeral where it wasn’t woven somewhere into the spoken words.

Indeed, there is something powerful about proclaiming that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil.

And as we sit in this valley here, today, I dare say death is present, but we fear no evil.  But perhaps Mary and Martha, who undoubtedly knew this Psalm in their hearts, did.

They feared life without their brother, Lazarus.  They feared Jesus was too late to be any help…Jesus, it seems, was seen as a preventative measure, but not a reversal measure.

And I can’t blame them for fearing.  Death usually brings fear along for the ride, Death’s trusty companion.

When death happens, most of the fear, I think, is reserved for the living.  It’s like John Denver so rightly sings about losing his loved one, “I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be, but more than anything else, I’m sorry for myself…because you’re not here with me.”

That’s an honest quote in the valley of the shadow of death.

Fear can hold us captive, friends.

But going back to Psalm 23, if death often brings fear along as a trusty companion, the good shepherd spoken of in Psalm 23 also has companions.  In fact, my theology professor in college called them “God’s sheepdogs”: goodness and mercy.

And think about it: the way that the Psalm goes, they sound like sheepdogs.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

If Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep, goodness and mercy are what keep us in line, and keep us safe.

Not fear.

See, when Jesus called Lazarus from that tomb and told everyone to “unbind him” I have to think that actually the people being unbound in that moment were Mary and Martha.  And me and you.

Because Jesus knows something about us that we don’t like to admit all the time: we can be alive but be dead in so many ways.  We wrap graveclothes around ourselves all the time. We all need unbinding somewhere in our life in order to truly live before our death.

So be unbound.

Unbound from the fear that we have around not only death, but a life that has death as a part of it.  Unbound from the ways that we practice death and cope with death with our gossip, unending anger, addictions, and harm.

Because if God can even stop that last enemy, death itself, from its eternal blow, then there is nothing, Beloved, nothing we have to fear.

Death certainly still has its sting, but it has no victory with goodness and mercy following us around.

So, on this All Saints Day, while we still have life in our bodies, let us hear Jesus’ words for the living: be unbound.

From fear. From practicing death. From whatever binds you.

Be unbound, Beloved.

Hocus Pocus

<Like movies are best seen in the theater, sermons are best heard. Click here to listen along…>

John 8:31-36

1_gSYc0TX8hAEo93QSE7QYgg31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

Hocus Pocus

Transform us God

Into the kind of people

Who transform others

Who transform our city

Who transform our world

We’d ask you to do it for us,

But then we’d never learn

How important transformation is.

So transform us, empower us,

Reform us.

Amen.

How many of you make it a practice to watch the 1993 Disney movie Hocus Pocus every Halloween?

Bette Midler, Sarah-Jessica Parker, Kathy Njemi as the Sanderson Sisters, old witches of Salem.

It is a seminal movie for people from my generation.  It is quotable, hilarious, and still holds up to this day.  In fact, it’s the 25th Anniversary of the movie, and there was a big to-do in Hollywood over it.  Trust me; I watched it on TV, much to Rhonda’s chagrin…because I’m a grown person who is still in love with that movie…

And the ominous phrase that is at the pivot point of the movie, just as Max who doesn’t believe in the curse that will bring the witches back to life takes out his lighter and holds it to the black-flame candle he says to his sisters, “Oh come on, it’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus…”

Hocus Pocus, the phrase that tumbles out of magicians, is thought to be a parody of the Latin said at the Catholic Mass just as the priest holds his (always a his, unfortunately…) hands over the bread to say Hoc est enim corpus meum, or “this is my body…”

Some historians believe that the priests around the time of the Reformation were so poorly schooled that they didn’t even understand the Latin they would say in the Mass, and so something like “hocus pocus” would come from their lips.

And it’s not hard to believe that it could be true. Our own Blessed Martin Luther’s exclaimed on a visit to Saxony that both the people and the priests were so poorly educated, and understood so little about the faith, that something had to be done. It was all a bunch of hocus pocus.  This is how the Small and Large Catechisms came about, by the way, to teach in bite-sized chunks the essentials of church doctrine, primarily for use in the home.

Hocus pocus is what you say when you forget what something is all about.

And I dare say, Beloved, that Reformation Day has become a whole lot of hocus pocus for the church.

Because in many ways, including the ways that the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation was celebrated across the world last year, it has become the celebration of an event.  A historical event.

But that is not what this day is intended for at all.  That is a bunch of hocus pocus, a misremembering of it all.

Instead, what today is about is the continual re-forming that the Holy Spirit unleashes upon the world moment by moment, day by day, second by second.

The Holy Spirit, when she is talked about in scripture, is always talked about with an energetic metaphor that can’t stay still: a descending dove, wind that blows where it will, fire that dances and dazzles.

The Holy Spirit, that shy person of the Trinity, is not content to cause something to happen, but to cause happenings, over and over again.

The Reformation was not when the church got it right, but when it got it better…and if we think we got it right 500 years ago and believe the same things we did 500 years ago then we have not moved in the Spirit, we have not learned from the past, we have not taken Martin Luther seriously when he said, “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.”

Because hope, Beloved, leans into the future.  If he had believed that the church was done reforming, that the world was done changing, I imagine that he would have said, “Everything that is done in this world is done by conviction.”  Because conviction does not move.

But he chose the word hope, instead, because that is a word that is always grasped at, but never held.  Hope is not something you hold, but rather something that holds you.

You know, when Jesus tells these disciples to dwell in the truth and be free, they take it as an insult.  “We’ve never been slaves to anyone,” the Jewish followers say.  Except it’s all a kind of joke, right?  Because they were slaves in Egypt, and to Assyria, and Babylon, and Persia, and now, at the time of Jesus, they were living under the thumb of Rome.

That idea that they weren’t slaves, and had never been slaves, that was a bunch of hocus pocus.  A forgotten truth.  A misremembering of reality.

And we, who sit here, from the youngest to the oldest, what are we in service to?

To what are we enslaved?

Fear? The past? Toxic relationship? Toxic beliefs about yourself and how you don’t deserve to live?

The job?  Busyness? Unrealistic expectations? Your phone and those never-ending emails?  Your calendar and your responsibilities? Your secret addiction?  Your public anger?

Your dislike for people who don’t look like you?  Or maybe you’re enslaved to the idea that you’re right all. the. time. That your politics, your religious beliefs, your opinions…let’s be honest, you’re just usually right, right?

What about the church?  What is religion enslaved to? Holding on to the past? A fear of shrinking into irrelevance? Their budgets? Being a social club more than the hands and feet of God?  What is this church a servant to?

Raleigh, North Carolina, this nation: what is it a slave to? Partisanship that gets deeper each day? An inability to honestly discuss anything because we’re constantly raising money to get elected and so we rely on dog whistles, buzz words, and what not?

Or maybe we’re a slave to the violence? On edge wondering where and what will be next?  11 dead yesterday, as signified by these candles up front. Pipe bombs in the mail. Black citizens targeted at a Kroger in Kentucky. School lockdowns that are now a part of the routine.

I kind of get why it’s easy to slip into hocus pocus mentality, to forget the meaning of things: sometimes it feels like the meaning has been lost.  That Reformation is a thing of the past, and that it won’t take for the future.  That transformation is moving backwards and we’re spiraling rather than evolving.

But listen again to Blessed Martin Luther, “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.”

And listen to his namesake some 460 years later, “The moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.”

Or, as Congressman Mike Doyle said outside the vigil for peace yesterday in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania, “This is not something we’re going to let break us.”

So do I really believe that the world can be, is being, reformed?  That the moral arc is bending toward justice and not toward chaos?  That goodness is stronger than evil?

I do. Because I believe that hope is not a bunch of hocus pocus.  Or as Indian author and hope activist Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Hope is not misplaced memory and just something that we say when we’ve forgotten what words to say, but rightly placed faith and a testament of love: love in who we can become, by God.

I believe that God is still forming and reforming through the Holy Spirit, and it starts here, at the font, as it did today for these two little ones.

Here, at the table, where we hear that God’s body is our body, which means that we can be a part of amazing things in this world, amazing transformation.

Here, in the heart.

Here. In you.

Another world is on its way, Beloved.  Can you hear her breathing? That’s not a bunch of Hocus Pocus, Beloved.  That’s reformation hope.

Have We Forgotten? There is No Choice.

What-Would-You-Do-With-Your-FreedomThe irony in the Reformation reading that we’ll read this Sunday is subtle, but absolutely present.

When Jesus encourages his Jewish followers to remain in his truth because that truth “will make them free,” they respond with some defensive indignation.

“Free?  We are children of the great Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone!”

Oh, before we go on, read the short passage to get the gist.  Here it is.

Ok?  Onward…

So at this point I imagine Jesus doing a bit of a double-take.  Because the seminal story of his people is the story of the Exodus, of being held in slavery by Egypt and being brought out of slavery by God’s appointed one, Moses, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night over years of desert wandering and into the promised land.

That mouthful is the grounding story of unity for the children of Abraham: that God saved them…saves them…from bondage.

But Egypt is not the only situation where they’ve found themselves subservient.

Their history has been one of conquest and being conquered: by Assyria, by Babylon, by Persia, and most recently in this context, by Rome.

As Jesus is speaking the Roman taxation laws were in place, keeping the children of Abraham under monetary and cultural siege.

Which all points to this deep human truth that we hate to recognize, but need to embrace: we forget.

All the time. We forget.

We forget that there are things that hold sway over our lives, things we’re not comfortable with but feel powerless over.

We forget that we are slavishly in the palm of the constant news cycle and social media feeds of smiling faces that actually make us feel more depressed.

We forget that we are servants of the never-ending phone notifications that are not just relegated to our pockets anymore, but are now on our wrists.

We forget that we are becoming more and more entrenched in our political partisanship,. The demonization of “the other” is making us zombies of group-think.

We forget that when we go to work we conform, sometimes unconsciously, into the person our co-workers expect us to be; our bosses expect us to be.  We forget that, around the table of the family reunion we become who our parents expect us to be; our family members expect us to be.

We are servants of their expectations.

And even if that is not the case for you, we often become addicted to not being who others expect us to be, a kind of servitude of protest which always puts us on guard.

Or maybe you’re a slave to your anger. Your self-loathing. Your self-righteousness. Even (gasp) your religiousness? Your prejudice. Other people’s prejudice. Your wealth.

Caught in addictions, caught in other’s expectations, caught in our own web of lies, caught in bad relationships, destructive thinking; caught in fear, frozen finances, and failed dreams…these are our Assyria, our Babylon, our Rome, our Egypt.

We conventionally think of freedom as having many choices.  But, think about it: you have choices…we have choices…and we’re still, so often, caught in the traps.

But what if, in Jesus’ definition, freedom isn’t about choice? What if, in Jesus’ definition of freedom, you have no choice?

No choice but to be God’s beloved.  No choice but to be who God made you to be.

So often we live thinking that we must be different in this world.  That we must be our mother’s “pride and joy,” that we must be “the best employee,” that we must be “the rebel.”

I even caught my two boys playing school the other day, and one was the teacher while the other was the self-proclaimed “star student.”  God forbid they ever feel that they have to be that…

What if the hard difficult truth is that God is not waiting for the star student to show up, but just waiting for you?

In Richard Rohr’s beautiful book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation he speaks honestly about feeling like he’s not enough in life.  “All I want to be is like Saint Francis,” he tells his spiritual director.

Fed up with it, his spiritual director replies, “Hey Richard, you’re not, and you’re never going to be, Francis of Assisi.  You’re not even close, all right? You’re unfortunately Richard Rohr from Kansas.”

And then he writes, “It feels so insignificant, and yet this is the liberating secret: I am precisely the gift God wants…” (p 62)

We are trapped, too often, by trying to be the kind of gift others want us to be.  The kind of gift our addictions want us to be.  The kind of gift our ego, our pride, our anger, want us to be.

But, Beloved, the truth that Jesus came to expose is that God is not coming to help you fulfill your wildest dreams, or make you perfect according to some heavenly plumb-line, or even whip you into shape.

Jesus came to expose that God is deeply in love with humanity.  So deeply, that God will do exactly what great love does: lay down its life for the loved.

And that truth at the heart of that love is that all those other definitions that we’re trying to embody are keeping us bound in these webs of success-seeking, power-playing, shame-inducing games.

And the truth of deep love as Jesus shows us, it can free us, free you, from that Egypt.

So, in the spirit of the Reformation, stop paying indulgences toward all those things that are keeping you bound.

Because it is absolutely the most freeing thing in the world to know that you are not, and cannot ever, not be loved by God.

There is no choice.

 

Lutherans are Stingy with Their Amens…

<This one is better heard than read because, you know, singing…>

Mark 10:17-31

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 9.28.57 AM17As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Lutherans are Stingy with the Amens…

Give us your grace today

Gracious one.

Without regard

…because we so often fail to notice it.

Without condition

…because we so often fail to make the mark

Without hesitation

…because we need it, now.

Give us your grace today

And we will respond with grace.

Amen.

Let’s sing today, ok?

Now, not all of you will know how to respond to these songs, but let’s see who does, ok?

And, Lutherans, this is not a time to be reserved, alright?  Sing. Our own Blessed Martin Luther said that when you sing it’s like praying twice, so let’s sing, ok?

Easy one first.  “Sing us a song, you’re the piano man, sing us a song tonight….”

So here’s a bet I’m willing to make.  I’m willing to make that at most any restaurant, or any social club, if you start singing that song people will respond.  They’ll gladly join in.  And there are like a million key changes in that song, so no one except for St. Billy of the Joels sounds great singing that song, but they’ll sing it anyway.

How about this one, “Nibblin’ on sponge cake, watchin’ the sun bake.  All of those tourists…”

St. Jimmy of the Buffetts, right.  You responded. I heard once that Margaritaville is playing somewhere in the world at every moment.  I don’t know if that’s verifiable, but I heard it’s true.  And since we just sang some of it, it was absolutely true on a Sunday morning, which I think takes out the most unusual time bloc for that statistic.

One more song, ok?  A little harder this time.  “I see a little siloetto of a man…”

The new movie on Queen is about to come out, so I thought it’d be appropriate to throw some St. Freddy of the Mercury’s in there.  That man was born to sing, and you agree, because you responded.

In The Empire Strikes Back Han Solo and Princess Leia have this whole scene at the end where he’s about to be frozen in carbonite and at the last minute she says to him, “I love you.” To which he says…anyone?

A line that Harrison Ford snuck in there because he felt that the line written for him didn’t sound like Han Solo.

Sometimes it’s all about how you respond.  And there are some things that we are really good at giving a response to.  Like music.  We respond to music.  Or how about, “The Lord be with you!”  See, Lutherans love that.  But I can tell not many of us are Episcopalians by heritage, because you’d have probably said, “And with thy spirit” there.

And there are some denominations who will pepper a church service with Amen! everywhere, right?

And then…there are Lutherans.  I’ve mentioned this before, of course, but most Lutherans prefer the approving stare to the verbal Amen…we’re a bit stingy with our Amens.

Sometimes it’s all in how you respond, Beloved.  Responses make or break things sometimes.

How you respond sets the scene, and it does in this Gospel reading for today, too, Beloved, though you may not have picked up on it.

See, Jesus is setting out on a journey, and the man comes up to him and says, “Good teacher…” which totally sounds like just a nice thing to say to our ears, right?  But here’s the thing: you didn’t offer a greeting like that and not expect a similar greeting.  He expected Jesus to say something complimentary about him, too.

But instead Jesus says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…why are you calling me good?  Only God is good.”

And in that response, friends, the scene is set, because Jesus makes something very clear to him, to anyone within ear shot, to us: Jesus isn’t going to play our little games of call and response, of quid pro quo, of mutual back scratching.

Because God doesn’t play those games, Beloved.

Then the man, undeterred, goes on to prove to Jesus how good he is: he follows all the commandments to the letter, and has his whole life.

Wait, let me rephrase that a bit because I’m not sure you heard me quite right.  See, the man goes on to make an account to Jesus just how much he deserves praise, how much he deserves God’s good graces, how much he deserves this inheritance of eternal life.

And the scripture says, “Jesus looked at the man and loved him.”  He loved him.

And because he loved him, get this please, because he loved him, Jesus gave the man a task that he could not do: “Go sell everything you have, and give the money to the poor, and then you will prove your worthiness…”

Oh friends, what a scene.  Because I bet half of you are thinking, “Well, the man certainly could do that. He just chooses not to.  Jesus told him what to do and he just can’t do it.”  And the other half of you, if you’re like me, are kind of like, “Oh…that hits a bit too close to home…”

And I’m not sure, friends, if the man is grieved because he didn’t want to sell his things, or because he didn’t want to give the money he got from selling his things to the poor.  See, I’ve heard this played out and preached on dozens of times, and each time, including the times I’ve done so, the focus is usually on the man’s attachment to his things.

But I wonder, friends, if perhaps we might not entertain the notion just a bit that the man’s problem isn’t his love for his things, but maybe his dislike for giving things to the poor.

Because, remember, this man has earned his way through life.  He deserves it.  But the poor…?

I notice a lack of Amens in here with that interpretation.  I just wonder if it kind of hits close to home for us, me included, because we have been raised in and live in a meritocracy, friends.  It’s what you taught your children. It’s what you’ve been taught.

And a meritocracy is all about getting, earning, what you deserve.  The response to hard work, to good work, to right living, is, well, what this wealthy man lays out before Jesus.

But here’s the thing, Beloved.  God does not work in a meritocracy.  Grace has no place in a meritocracy, at least not for long, and in God’s economy the only currency is grace, Beloved.

Which is why Jesus gives the man something that he cannot do: so he will realize (and this is totally Lutheran) so he will realize that everything is God’s gift, even eternal life, even grace, and cannot be earned.

Earning God’s grace is about as possible as sticking a camel through the eye of a needle.

But here’s the thing, folks, for any of us holy rollers out there who smirk at the wealthy man’s answer because we’re like, “Oh, please…God doesn’t like people who brag.  God likes the humble.”

By the way, I saw a meme the other day that said, “It’s not bragging if it’s true” which is absolutely wrong, people.  And look, people tell me I brag all the time.  In fact, someone not long ago was like, “You’re arrogant, you talk too much, and you’re not funny” and I was like, “Hold on a second…I’m very funny…”  But it is totally bragging even if it’s true.  If it’s not true it’s called “lying…”

But for all of us holy rollers out here who think that humility will earn God’s good graces, that somehow we have to be the most pious, that we have to be obedient but not talk about it, that we have to put other people in their places, but do it quietly, well…you’re not going to like Jesus’ response to Peter, then.

Because this little scene is a lovely little grace sandwich, friends.  Peter, who can’t just leave well-enough-alone to borrow a phrase from my grandmother when I was talking too much or trying to be too funny, has to pipe up and say, “Hey Jesus, you know that whole sell everything and give the money to the poor thing?  Well, we’ve totally done that to follow you!  What that guy couldn’t do, we can!  We deserve this abundant life thing.”

To which Jesus, who loves Peter too, I imagine pats him on the shoulder and says, “You’re so right, buddy.  Except, you must know, that the last will be first, and the first need to be last my friend…”

Because if there’s one thing we know about Peter, he can’t not be first.  So, because he loves him, Jesus gives him something he can’t do, either.

So he’ll know what it is to live off of a diet of grace.

See, friends, this is all good news for us, because we like to have the right responses in life.  We like to know how to answer the question, totally in type.  But this gets really tricky for us sometimes because things will come up in our lives that don’t fit the script, that don’t follow the notes, that don’t make any kind of sense.

Because sometimes the marriage ends in divorce.  Because sometimes our kids get addicted.  Sometimes we get addicted.  Sometimes we do everything right, and still get the short end of the stick. Laid-off. Broken-heart.  Sometimes that friend we thought would stick by us cuts us out.  And sometimes we’re that friend.

Because sometimes we shove needles in our veins to stop feeling anymore, and sometimes we cut our veins just to feel something, by God.   When I sit down with our Confirmands for coffee at the end of the year and ask them what youth their age are struggling with, the top answer for the last two years running has been feeling the unending pressure to succeed and be the best and…and…

Earn it.

And into that tortured reality where the right response doesn’t seem to come, God speaks a word of grace today to you.  No matter where you fall on the spectrum: totally think you deserve it because of what you’ve accomplished, or totally think you deserve it for what you’ve sacrificed.

And that word of grace is, well, grace.  Because we are loved.

Because in a world where we get all sorts of responses, God’s response to us is, again and again, grace. Grace we can’t earn, even though we try. Grace we can’t do enough to get, even though we secretly think we can.

Because while Lutherans are stingy with our Amens, which, by the way, literally means, “Let it be so,” God is not stingy with grace, Beloved.

And in the end, the first-born of all creation, Jesus, will end up at the end of the line standing between two criminals with his arms stretched out to them, inviting them into that eternal life.  The cross is that final sign that God will not play our little games. Not our games of violence. Not our games of quid pro quo.  Not our games of earning the good life.

God will die before God let’s us die thinking that we are anything but loved just for who we are. That’s God’s response.

And that, Beloved, is grace.  And to that, whether your Lutheran or not, I think we can all say, “Amen.”

Generosity with Roots

nature-moneyPadraig O’Tauma, an Irish theologian and poet, once told a story of meeting with fellow Irishman and poet John O’Donohue to chat.  O’Tauma was discussing with O’Donohue about how he was thinking about loaning a family member some money.  Their exchange went something like this,

“How much will you loan them?” O’Donohue asked

“Oh, about $500 pounds,” O’Tauma replied. His relative was living in Britain at the time.

“Double it,” O’Donohue said.

“What?” O’Tauma said.

“Double it,” O’Donohue said with a smirk. “Be over-generous. You can, so do.”

O’Tauma did.

A time later, O’Donohue and O’Tauma were at a party together, and O’Donohue remarked to his friend that he was now thinking about loaning one of his relatives some money.

“How much?” O’Tauma asked.

“Uhoh, I know where this is going…” O’Donohue replied.

Money is a tricky thing in this world.  A very private thing, for most of us.  And as we come up to this weeks first budget forum at church, I imagine that we’ll be looking at a bunch of numbers together, money together, and thinking about it in those economic terms.

But what if we all looked at it in the same sort of way that O’Donohue and O’Tauma encouraged one another to look at it?  What if it wasn’t about numbers and amounts, but about an opportunity to be generous?

What if all of our life looked like an opportunity to practice generosity?

This week’s Gospel lesson has the rich man coming to Jesus to inquire about how he might achieve eternal life.  “What must I do?” he asks.  You can read it here…do so before we go on.  I’ll wait.

Ready?  Ok.

One of the interesting realities that we’ve lived into over the course of 2000 years is that the current culture wars that rage in the world, and rage within Christianity, don’t seem to have been on Jesus’ radar.

But one thing on Jesus’ radar, continually, is wealth.

Because Jesus knew, and perhaps we’ve forgotten, that how wealth is used indicates the spiritual health of a person and the communal health of a people.

I hear Christians quite concerned about who people love, how people vote, what people think about this policy or that policy, but very few concerned about how people use their money.

Money is a private thing, after all…or is it?

When the rich man is invited to sell his possessions, and balks at the request, his true god in life is revealed.  He says he wants to be in God’s good graces, all the while surrounding himself with the graces his god, and he’s surprised to realize they aren’t the same thing.

In Confirmation when we talk about other gods in this world, I rarely talk about other religions.

I usually talk about money, power, fame, and piety.

And sometimes with that last one I note religion, too.

Because it’s easy to fall into the trap that Peter falls into in this passage.

When Jesus says, “Sell all you have” to the man with wealth, Peter pipes up and says, “Oh, we’ve done that!”  As if to say he’s in God’s good graces because he’s achieved what the wealthy man couldn’t.

But even that won’t do it for Jesus.

Because God’s good graces are not about achieving anything, but about God achieving everything.

And when we truly internalize the idea that God’s good grace doesn’t have to be earned, we can get rid of all the ways we bow down to the other gods in our lives (money, power, piety) and “return to the Lord our God” as the prophet Joel says.

Every moment is a moment of Divine generosity, Beloved.  Every second God is doubling grace upon grace.

And because of that, we’re invited to tap into that generosity, to grow from there, and to respond from there: with our wealth, with our power, with our various pieties.

Jan Richardson, that weaver of words, has a poem called “A Blessing with Roots.” If we root all of our blessings in this life, all of the wealth, power, piety, what have you, in the Divine, the blessings are protected from becoming the curses that they have become for the rich man and Peter in this reading.

Let’s have blessings with roots, friends.  All of life is an opportunity to be generous, even over-generous, as God is over-generous.

We can, so do.

A Blessing with Roots

Tug at this blessing
and you will find
it is a thing
with roots.

This is a blessing
that has gone deep
into good soil,
into the sacred dark,
into the luminous hidden.

It has been months
since the ground
gathered the seed
of this blessing
into itself,
years since the earth
enfolded it.

Sometimes
that’s how long
a blessing takes.

And the fact
that this blessing
should finally show
its first fruits
on the day
you happened by—

well, perhaps we shall
simply call the timing
of this ripening
a mystery
and a sweet grace.

Take all you want
of this blessing.
Take every morsel
that you need for
the path ahead.
Let its fruits fall
into your hands;
gather them into
the basket of
your arms.

Let this blessing
be one place
where you are willing
to receive
in unmeasured portions,
to lay aside
for a moment
the way you ration
your delights.

Let yourself accept
its inexplicable plenitude;
allow it to give itself
to sustain you

not simply for yourself—
though on this bright day
I might be persuaded
to think that would
be enough—

but that you may
gather its seeds
into yourself
like the ground
where this blessing began

and wait
with the patience
of seasons
and of years

to bear forth
in the fullness of time
a stunning harvest,
a plenteous feast.

 

Take It Seriously. Listen. Seriously.

IStandWithYOuBrother Martin Luther said that “We are not only responsible for what we say, but we are also responsible for what we do not say.”

This is an unusually partisan time we’re living through.  As a pastor and public person, I feel it heavy on me at times.  And though I know what I’m about to offer might sound like I’m furthering those partisan lines, I hope you know my heart, and know that I offer nothing but honesty and bare humanity in these words.

Allegations of sexual assault must always be taken seriously.

What also must be taken seriously is the role that male-dominated systems play in quieting the voices, especially those of women, who have been victimized by sexual assault.

And not just sexual assault, but sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, and misogyny as a whole.

In the ancient world, women were not able to testify in court. Their testimony was considered “unreliable” in those days. We have certainly come a long way since that official silencing, but there still exists today a culture of silence when it comes to hearing and trusting the testimony of women who have been sexually abused, assaulted, harassed, and harmed. Fear of retaliation, further victimization, and of alienation keep the hurting quiet, and therefore keep the hurt alive.

On the news today (9.27.18) there is testimony of such hurt. Hearing this testimony may trigger pain in others. We must acknowledge this, and offer our ears and hearts to help bear whatever pain we can with those who know this particular pain all too well.

Women need to be free to speak without fear, and we men need to listen, to trust, and to acknowledge the pain and the wrong. All victims of whatever gender need to be able to speak without fear.

Indeed, as a man, I need to listen, to trust, and to acknowledge the pain and the wrong.

Take it seriously. Listen. Seriously.

You know, despite women being unable to bear witness in the ancient courts, it was the women at the tomb that the resurrected Christ first chose to make himself known. They became the first witnesses, and the first proclaimers, of God’s good news of Christ’s resurrection.

God seems to always choose the person on the margins. God chose the ones the world called “unreliable” to proclaim the first Gospel message.

We should take note.

I said at the beginning of this note that I had some worries in writing this letter. I worry as a pastor that some of my parishioners will think I’m taking a partisan stance, or that I’m once again pushing some sort of agenda.

But, in all honesty, that worry for me is secondary to the worry that I have of being silent.

Sexual discrimination and sexual violence don’t care about your politics or your party, folks.

Today I want to say to victims of sexual assault, I hear you. I trust you. You did not deserve it. There is no excuse. I am for you. I am with you.

 

On Paper, Rock, Scissors and A New Definition of Greatness

<Stories are better heard than read. Click here to listen along…>

Mark 9:30-37

4444670504_878f0db2de[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

On Rock, Paper, Scissors, and a New Definition of Great

Teach us your ways, Lord,

For they are not our ways.

Make us people who include

Not exclude.

Make us people who love deeply

Not just tolerate.

Make us people who know you more

Not just know about you.

Help us to be about what you are about.

Amen.

Since the hurricane last week life has been a bit hectic here in Lake Wobegon.  Any of you feel that way?

Like, I was having trouble remembering what day it was all week.  And it kind of felt like I was in the Twilight Zone a bit, because things aren’t just quite normal yet.

Like for instance, this last week after a long day, late visits, I get home and open the fridge and it was like a cave: cold, dark, and empty.  Which was fine for Rhonda and me back when we didn’t have two strangers living in our house, but now that vacuous echo from the empty fridge will certainly be filled with crying in the morning if there’s not milk for the Count Chocula, which is perhaps the only cereal that you can eat when you’re coming up on Halloween…

Yes, we’re working that far ahead.

So I head to the Food Lion to pick up milk, and cream, and tortilla chips because, I don’t know about you, but we have like 19 different jars of half-eaten salsa, but never any chips, right?

So I get to Food Lion, and I guess Hurricane Florence has just totally disrupted the shipping process, which is totally expected, but I kid you not there was no milk in the entire store.

It was like “beer, beer, beer, smattering of eggs, canned biscuits, cheese, heavy whipping cream, and then a whole lotta nothing.”

And as I’m walking down the aisle just amazed that there is such a drought of lactose products from the bovine species, I spy at the end of the aisle, coming toward me, another guy, about my age, doing the same slow walk of amazement.

And it was totally like some sort of Western, where we slowly walk toward one another and meet right in the middle in front of, I kid you not, the last, the very last, half-gallon of high-priced, no lactose, Bougie, this costs more than craft beer milk.

And we both stop in front of it.

And I say, “Kids gotta have milk with their cereal.”  And he looked at me and said, “Mine, too.”

And we both stood there looking at the milk, as if we were hoping that it would choose one of us, like a puppy at a pet store, like, it would be so much easier if it would just choose us…

And then he looks at me and says, “Shoot for it? Paper, rock, scissors?”  To which I respond, “It’s only fair.”

And then we prepare, and now it’s really like a Western, and I swear there was like a tumbleweed that rolled by, and one-two-three-shoot!

What does success look like to you?

The self-help section of the book store has as many volumes as the cooking section these days, which is not a knock on self-help, but to me just kind of hammers home how elusive the definition of “getting better,” and “succeeding” is in this world.  There are as many variations on what that means as there are things that you can do with chicken.

But, here’s the thing: Jesus really has only one consistent measure of success, one consistent measure of greatness throughout the Gospels.

Success to Jesus means giving up your life for others.  The martyrs of old imagined this only meant death, and many of them sought it out on purpose.  I never really understood the idea of seeking out suffering.  I mean, if you hang around for a while, you’re liable to suffer somehow…something our Buddhist brothers and sisters point out well.

But giving up your life doesn’t necessarily mean dying for others.  It could mean going with less so that someone could have more.  It could mean sacrificing your time, your gifts, and even your reputation.

Yes, your reputation.  Because here’s the thing we forget about Jesus: he was constantly inviting people to hang out with him who weren’t welcome to hang out anywhere else.

Christians, if they’re following Christ, should be known for hanging with the wrong crowd in a way that doesn’t judge, but walks with them.  In popular opinion polls, that doesn’t appear to be what we’re known for though…

Did you see the viral video going around about a guy shaving on a commuter train in New York?

A man was videoed shaving, with shaving cream and all, no water, on a commuter train.  And it was posted online and the shaming started on this guy.  People called him a pig, called him vile, said it was disgusting.  And, certainly, it would be surprising for me, too, to see that.

But here’s the thing: news reporters tracked the man down and found out that he was in and out of homeless shelters.  And someone had bought him a ticket to go see his brother, who he hadn’t seen in years.  And he wanted to look presentable.

When we see things, especially people in this world that at first revile us, perhaps we should imagine that the perspective we’ve adopted is not the story.  When we can imagine that our perspective is not the norm, and perhaps not even the right perspective, then we can truly begin to love our neighbors as ourselves in the way that Jesus asks us to.

And if you wonder if this is true, refer back to today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus takes this child…and remember folks, in the ancient world children were not seen as cute and cuddly and the center of the world like they are in middle-class America.  They were often seen as nuisances, especially if they were beggars…which this child that Jesus brought into the center of these disciples who think they’re so great, probably was.  This child was probably a street child; a beggar.

This child was probably like a child of God who was videoed shaving on the train because he’s gets to do something important that day and has no bathroom and just wants to look presentable in a world that doesn’t look too kindly on you either way: if you don’t look presentable, you’re shunned, and if you try to look presentable but not in the way that society thinks is right, you’re shunned.

That’s who Jesus pulls into the middle and says, “Here is the greatest.”

Jesus upends what it means to be the greatest today, and if our hearts are not summersaulted because of it, we’re not paying attention.  We’re not listening.  We’re not being about what Jesus is about.

So, one-two-three shoot.

Any bets on what was thrown?

He threw paper, thinking I’d throw rock.  Because everyone throws rock, right?  Because rock is seen as strong, and it’s a fist, and we like fists…I really think that’s the psychological reason we often throw rock first.

But I anticipated that he’d anticipate that I’d throw rock, and so I thought to myself, “Self: throw scissors.”  And so I did.

Scissors cuts paper.

“Good game,” I said.  “You can have the almond milk.”  To which he said, “Well, the milks are the same price…”

“So we both lose,” I said.

And I get home triumphant with my milk, holding it up like a trophy walking through the door.  Like the gold metal.  “I have provided for my family!  I have succeeded…”

But I didn’t succeed.  I got lucky.  I mean, I guess you could say I played the game better, but it’s a stupid game, and it’s not easy to win, and it’s not easy to lose, and on any given day it ends up differently, right?

Guy Raz, the NPR host of a great podcast called, “How I Built This” always asks his guests the same question at the end of the show.  His guests include the founder of Starbucks, Bobbi Brown cosmetics, Larabars, etc…people who have founded multi-million and even multi-billion dollar companies.  And he asks them this question at the end of his podcast, “So, how much of what you’ve done is hard work and how much is luck?”  For a show made to highlight so-called successful people, it’s the most honest moment of those 45 minutes.

And I have to think that part of all of that is what Jesus is saying to the disciples, to us, too: we imagine that so much of our status is about success, about winning, about being greater than the person below us and next to us and getting toward the people we perceive to be above us.  But this life is an easy game to win and an easy game to lose, especially when a lot of the chips are stacked in your favor.

Which, I dare say, applies to the vast majority of us.

And so Jesus wants to reorient our lives a bit today.  That in the cosmic game of paper, rock, scissors, the trick is not to out think your opponent, not to strategize, and not to hold up your trophies pretending that luck is success.

The trick is not to play at all.  To opt out.  And instead sit by the guy shaving on the train to hear his story, celebrate in his joy, and be with him on his journey.

The trick is to take throw the most unexpected thing in rock paper scissors: throw your arms out, one to the left and one to the right, choosing to rather have your pocketbook suffer, your time take a hit, and your reputation even die to opt out of playing these social games of greatness that the world forces you into, that the world tries to get you to believe you need to survive.

One of the reasons Jesus would be hung on the cross would be because of the company he kept.

The ragtag men and women who followed him around.  The street children who walked at his heels.  Hanging around with undesirables like that upended the social order, upended the game…we don’t like that.

And so Jesus instead chooses to upend heaven and earth rather than play our games.

Look, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t succeed in the world, Beloved.  It’s just that Jesus, in today’s Gospel, defines success differently, defines greatness differently, and invites us to open our arms to that new definition of greatness.

Open our arms kind of like this, dying on the games the world tries to play so that, with Jesus, we might all truly live.

In other words, if this ever happens again, you can have the milk…

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑