01 April 2009

the fifth sunday in lent, year b


John 12:20-36

So, have you ever bought anything as seen on tv? A Salad Shooter? OxyClean? Don’t try to pretend that you’ve never been tempted to buy Debbie Meyer Green Bags. Or a Big City Slider Station? Can’t you just hear that Bill Mays guy YELLING at you about how YOUR LIFE WILL IMPROVE and YOUR KIDS WILL BE SO HAPPY if you buy a Big City Slider Station so you can make the perfect little, tiny burger JUST LIKE AT THE RESTAURANTS. And IF YOU ORDER RIGHT NOW you can get a Big City Slider Station cookbook FOR FREE. All this can be yours for 19.99. Plus shipping and handling.

We are easily seduced by the urgency of advertising.

Buy it NOW
it won’t be OFFERED
to YOU

It’s very American of us, isn't it? To be pulled into the fast-paced urgency of NOW and YES and MUST so that we can get SOME before SUPPLIES run out. I make jokes about Billy Mays and the As Seen On TV phenomenon, because it strikes me that it is who we are at our most ridiculous. It exploits our manic frantic need for a quick fix.

We are suckers for a promise, aren’t we? A promise that if we do this we will get that. If we buy this our lives will be easier. If we do this we will be more productive, efficient, happy. We’ll be beautiful. We’ll be rich. It’s all of this stuff, right?

Our culture tells us that the more we have the better we are, and, as a result we can’t get enough of all this stuff that we don’t need.

The current state of the economy isn’t helping, is it?
Everyday it is practically crammed down our throats that supplies are running out.
We’re in the middle of that manic frantic that tells us that there isn’t enough.
We’re losing our jobs. Money is running out. It seems that our natural inclination is to stretch and reach for whatever we can get a hold of.
Whether or not it’s good for us. Whether or not we need it.
Something, anything is better than nothing, and even though we don’t have nothing yet, we’re being told that any day now we’ll find our satchels hollow and our wallets empty. Everything’s gonna run out and nothing is precisely all we’ll have.

* * * * * * * *
Today’s Gospel lesson from the 12th chapter of John brings us to a time when Jesus’ ministry is just itching to go global. It’s not like in the first century they had airplanes or the internet or digital billboards in the sky, so launching a maybe-powerhouse like Jesus much past walking distance was kinda out of the question. But, at the same time, never underestimate the power of the mouth—word of Jesus and his healing and compassion spread like wildfire.

So. It should come as no surprise that just as his life was approaching crescendo, people from other places started showing up. Today, it’s the Greeks. They make a cameo in today’s gospel—they want to see this Jesus guy.

They started the game of telephone. “Hey, Philip. We wanna see Jesus.” Philip went to Andrew, “Hey, Andrew. The Greek people wanna see Jesus.” Then Andrew was like, “Well, come with me!” And together they said, “Dude, Jesus. The Greeks want to see you now.”

“Well, actually...” Jesus said. “They don’t have to see me, because the hour has come. Everyone’s about to know me. God will be glorified.”

…In today’s gospel text it’s not made entirely clear, but we know the story. We know that soon and very soon, Jesus is going to be glorified on the cross. It’s ironic that John uses the word glorified, because there’s no glory in the suffering whippings and beatings and crucifixion. But it is God’s Glory on the cross that draws us into the radical love of God. Our God who is present to all people at all times in the midst of their recession and pain, suffering and grief.

It’s beginning, folks. Until now, this kind of love was limited to a very specific region of the world.
That Grecian Cameo is an important clue for us. They play a symbolic role in today’s Gospel, because they came from a far away land to see Jesus. They show us that the love of Jesus Christ spreads beyond Judea, Samaria, and Galilee—the land he walked. Turns out that today is the day that we find that Jesus Christ’s availability is universal. His love is open to us all the time, no matter what, no limited time offer.

“The hour has come for Jesus to be glorified.”

The time has come for Jesus to be available outside the limits of his land,
through his death and resurrection,
he’s available everywhere,
all the time, to all persons.
Jesus even says that he’s about to be lifted up
so that all people will be drawn to him. All, all, all.

Rich, poor.
Black, white, yellow, red.
Friendless, needy.
Privileged, impoverished.
Educated and stuck-in-a-rut.
Prostitute and slave, doctor and lawyer.
Gay and straight.
Male and female.
Grown ups and school children.

Jesus Christ + The Cross = God’s Glory = Unconditional, Unimaginable, Unfathomable, 100%, No Doubt Everlasting Life & Love for Every Human Being No Matter What.

Of course there’s a weakness with God’s Great Love Equation. It’s the human being part. All, all, all people get to know God’s Love now, but all all all of us are too distracted and scared to accept it. The promise of God’s Glory doesn’t necessarily result in convenience. We might not be more beautiful or more rich. We might not be smarter or better. In fact, being Loved By God 100% doesn’t mean we won’t suffer in this life. Quite the opposite. What God’s love DOES do, however, is meet up where we are. At all times, and in all places, God is With Us. God’s Name Glorified might not be as handy as a salad shooter; it might not give us the immediate results of Oxyclean. But I tell you what:

God’s Love for us—God’s Name Glorified—is sufficient. It’s all we need.
Stained and miserable, God Loves You Anyway.
Depressed and mournful. God loves You anyway.
Doubtful, cynical? God loves you anyway.

And the Good News is that that this stuff is available in abundance. It never runs out, it never gets old. It’s not a limited time offer. No gimmicks. No smoke and mirrors.

No one—no one!—gets to be exempt from the love of God’s Glory. Everyone gets salvation. Everyone gets salvation. No matter what.

And you don’t have to look far at all to find the Glory. You don’t have to look any further than the people sitting to your left, to your right, before you and behind you. God’s Glory is alive and active in every one of us. God created us out of Love so that we might be able to see the face of God Glorified in each other.

I know one thing for sure and it is that the power of human relationships is strong and resilient force. And I believe that the number one way to know God’s Love is to Be In Love With One Another. To reach out, through thick and through thin, to stick together, to not isolate, but move toward community. Toward relationship.

You don’t need the stuff they sell on the tv. You don’t need your fancy handbags or good grades. You don’t need trophies, medals, honors or degrees. To know God’s Glory, you just need each other.

Your families, your friends, your neighbors. You are what God’s Glory looks like.

And it’s a beautiful sight.

22 February 2009

feast of the transfiguration; year b

2 kings 2:1-12
mark 9:2-10

Elijah and Elisha. Two friends on one huge journey. First they find themselves called by God out of Gilgal, just west of the Jordan river. They are to head from there to the land of Judah into a town called Bethel.

“Stay here,” Elijah says to his friend and successor-prophet Elisha. “I gotta run this errand for Yahweh, and it’s forever away. Stay here and preserve your strength.”

“Nope,” says Elisha. “I’m totally coming with.”

Elisha knows that Elijah’s days are limited. It had been made know to them by God that as soon as Elijah’s prophet-work was through, that he would be taken up in a whirlwind—a mysterious, miraculous taking up to a land far, far beyond the Jordon. Elisha wasn’t going to miss a second of his mentor’s last days.

“As long as you live, I will not leave you.” And so they went.

Once the two hit Bethel, they were joined by fifty other prophets. They questioned Elisha’s friendship with Elijah: “Don’t you get it?” Elisha answered: “Yes, I get it.” His devotion was unswerving.

Elijah heard a word from God to carry on southeastward to Jericho.

“Stay here,” says Elijah. “It’s safe.”

“Nope,” says Elisha. “I’m coming with you. As long as you live, I will not leave you.”

When they arrived in Jericho, the scene was similar. More prophets came out of the woodwork to meet the prophet Elijah, the voice of Yahweh. “Don’t you get it,” they asked Elisha, “Why are you attaching yourself to him if he’s just going to leave you?” “Yes, I get it. And I’m sticking with him. Now y’all hush.”

The scene repeats itself one more time. This time, Elijah gets a call from God to head to the Jordan River again, and Elisha is not leaving the side of his friend, his mentor.

As the two men approached the Jordan, the band of prophets hung back a little. The water was deep, and Elijah knew he had to cross it, so he struck the water with his mantle, and the river parted. The land in the gap was perfectly dry, and the two men crossed it to points east, to the other side, leaving the gaggle of followers on the west bank.

This was Elijah’s final destination. This tour through the Promised Land was his swan song. The miles trekked were his last. The words spoke were final. The minutes passed were a means to an end. And there, at the other side of the Jordan, Elisha asked for even double the inheritance: “You’ve done such good, master, I hope for double of your spirit,” he said. And then, the clouds swirl and part and chariots! of! fire! swoop down between the two friends. Elijah is scooped up and spirited away in a whirlwind of power and dust and glory.

For crying out loud, it took chariots and horses on fire from heaven to separate the two men. Such friendship can only be from God.

* * * *

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, where we remember another friendship story. Jesus took with him his pals—Peter, James, and John—to the mountain top where he was greeted by the late great Moses and Elijah, prophets who arrived from heaven for a brief spell to give Jesus a celestial high five of sorts. For it was on this day, atop this mountain, among these friends, that Jesus—literally—dazzled with holiness and then the skies parted for God to speak to the others present: “Jesus is my Beloved!” God said. Jesus is my Beloved.

Friends, there is one thing I know for sure:

God did not want us to do God’s work alone.

This grand experiment of God’s isn’t just to keep God company. Sure, we are to live for nothing short of God’s glory, but what is that glory? What does that look like?

I am convinced that the thing that keeps us connected to our creator, the thing that glorifies our God the most, is our capacity to be in relationship with one another. Community. Getting in it with each other, holding hands tight, not letting go, waiting for nothing short of burning, magical chariots to pry us apart from one another only to be joined at last in the company of the forever saints.

Here’s something else I know beyond any shadow of any doubt:

And I can only speak from my own experience….

But my darkest places come when I am not connected to others. I feel furthest from God when I fall out of community. When, for whatever reason, there’s a wedge in my relationship with others, I realize that I miss God’s work around me. I miss Jesus, sparkling on the mountain top. I miss the chariots of fire. I miss the Kingdom at work.

I know for sure that God loves us through the agency of one another.
When we are open and vulnerable enough to never leave each other’s sides.
No matter what. When we find it in our hearts to be honest—truly, blessedly honest—with one another. When our love for each other parts the Jordan River. When we care so deeply that we follow each other up mountains and through Jerusalem, just for the sake of being together.

Because life is short.
And we don’t have much time to gladden each other’s hearts.

It is our call to stick together. Through it all. Until we are parted by death. It is our call to be friends in community with one another so that we may, in turn, know all too well the indescribable, huge friendship of God.

How right and good it is that in a minute we will see a glimpse of God’s character through the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is nothing more than our way of welcoming each other into the presence of community in the name of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today we will welcome these two little ones into the St. Anne’s Community. Blessed are they, and, because of them, blessed are we.

I love this place. This community shows me over and over again what it means to be in friendship with God through your friendships with one another. I see here a true community of people—you’re not always perfect, but more important than perfect, you are always, always together. If this is your first time here, we welcome you. And hear me say that you will find at here at this church a community of friends who pray together, serve together, read together, play together, cook together, love God together.

You bless me.

And you bless each other.

And I feel certain that God is smiling on you through the rays of sunlight jetting through these windows.

We are about to enter a Holy Lent. During this time we walk with our God to the cross where the skies part once again, and we see God’s Love, bigger than we could ever ask or imagine. Go there together. As long as you live, never leave each others’ sides, and believe me, you will know the power and love of God—as grand as chariots swooping down from the heavens.