Archive for August, 2017

Blessed Are You 8-27-2017

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

They were surrounding him. They were simple people: his disciples, fishermen, people who did not think very much of themselves. People nobody thought very much of. Nobody ever asked their opinions. Nobody ever paid much attention to what they thought or felt. The people who mattered looked down on them. They smelled of fish. The smell came out of their hair and out of their clothing.
And now Jesus whom they had followed as their model, whom they had imitated like children, whom they were surprised to be allowed to follow, asked them, “What name would you give me? Who do you people say that I am?”
They could not believe their ears. It was impossible that he was asking for their opinion. That is why they started telling him what the scribes, the priests, the Pharisees, the political leaders, and the important ones were saying. They answered, “They say, those other ones say that you are John the Baptizer, others say Jeremiah, others Elijah, and again others, one of the prophets.”
Then he said, “But you, who do you say I am?” They looked at one another. Was he really going to pay attention to what they thought? Again they looked at one another. They nudged Peter, who was obviously their leader, and he said, “I know who you are, we know who you are. You are the Messiah, you are the Son of the Living God.”
And then Jesus said something strange. He said, “Peter, how blessed you are because you do not say that of yourself. What you said came from God, God in you.”
What Jesus said of Peter, he also said to us. I pray that we believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I pray that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I hope that is the reason we come together today.
That same God who was in Peter must be in us. We are charged with God’s spirit. We are full of the Son’s spirit. God is in us.
A lot of us have the bad habit of thinking of ourselves as totally negative, as non-participants in so many affairs, as in a sense, good-for-nothing. Just like the early disciples thought of themselves.
Others are important – others are leading the world. We forget the good in us – we forget God in us. We overlook our potential – our dignity.
I read about an African Bishop, who was described as a contemporary saint by TIME magazine. He was from Tanzania. Bishop Christopher said we need two types of confessional boxes in our churches, some at the right side and some at the left side. In the left ones, you confess your sins, getting as a penance to go to the right side with the obligation to confess honestly the good you did, the good in you, the God in you. That is what Jesus said of Peter. Blessed are you, Peter. God is with you. That is what I say to you. God is with you – in you. Don’t forget it! Live like you believe it. Blessed are you!

Human Beings Get Tired! 8-20-2017

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

There are so many great stories about Jesus. Jesus curing the blind; Jesus feeding the multitude; Jesus embracing children; Jesus the consummate contemplative in prayer; Jesus sensitive to the point of knowing when someone in a crowd touches his garment; Jesus reading people’s hearts like a book. Jesus giving his life away like bread and wine.
And then we have today. How many preachers have profoundly wished this story wasn’t here. And maybe skipped it, or tried to explain it away by saying Jesus was really just joking with the lady. But when a child is sick, you don’t joke with a mother. Or when he used the word dogs, he meant “little puppies”. Or he was just pretending to be blunt and grumpy, but really that was just to elicit deeper faith and deeper seeking from the woman, or maybe from the apostles.
Possible….but it sounds like rationalization. And maybe the true sense of the scripture is the plain sense. But if that’s so, what in here is edifying or saving?
First, a detail. The Gospel doesn’t say Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He withdrew. Withdraw is what people do when they’re tired, spent, drained. Withdraw mentally, withdraw emotionally, even downright physical withdraw. And Jesus had his reasons to withdraw. In the previous chapter, Herod beheaded John the Baptizer. The apostles reported that the Pharisees were getting shocked by Jesus’ teachings. Jesus is getting a clearer picture of what lies ahead. And he needed to withdraw, to some anonymous place so God could restore him.
Human beings get tired. Jesus’ divine nature was unlimited, but his human nature was limited. So he needed to withdraw. For us – a question. Do you have enough sense to withdraw when you’re spent? A little blue? A little tired? Let the world turn without you. Can you humbly admit it when there’s nothing more you can do right now? Do you notice when people around you are spent? Do you give them permission to withdraw? Do you help them if necessary, with some mad money, or an offer to baby-sit, or make a meal?
But there’s more here than just that. Jesus once told a story about two sons. The father says to the first son—go to the fields and work. “Yes I will”, comes the answer, but he doesn’t. So the father says to the second son, “You go to the field and work”. “No, I won’t”, comes the spontaneous first response, but after mulling it over, the second son goes and toils. Who is doing the will of his father, Jesus asks? The one who ended up doing right. It’s not your first response that counts; it’s your last and final response.
Even Jesus got tired, spent, blue…even Jesus had to struggle to make the most godly loving tender response and had to change his response when he could, to come from a deeper more loving part of him…then that’s a great lesson of challenge and hope for us.
Sometimes our first responses to a request, a situation, and unattractive person, like the response of Jesus, aren’t our best response. But we don’t have to leave things there. We can lighten up on others and on ourselves. We can give grace time to work. We can be humble enough and free of stubbornness enough, to say…well, that’s my first response. But, I’m capable, in God, of something better.
What would happen if parents always stuck with their first response to a nagging kid, in the middle of anger? We can change responses. And today, that’s what Jesus himself does.
So we can ask, “Is my response to people I’m upset at, sometimes over a long stretch of time, really my best response, my deepest response, from Christ in my heart? Is my reaction to the immigrants who come to fill our city streets and use our services really my best reaction – my most Christian reaction? Is my aversion to people who question me, contradict me, or stymie my desire for a simple uncomplicated life, really my best reply – my Christian reply? Am I so stubborn that I haven’t changed, deepened, and matured my response to things for a long time?
Jesus wasn’t like that. We don’t have to be either.

God Is Stretching 8-13-2017

Sunday, August 13th, 2017

Probably the most famous picture of God ever painted was done on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo did it, and I’ll bet most of you have seen pictures of it at one time or another. Is it a picture of God resting on a heavenly throne? No. Does it show God relaxing on a cloud? No.
The painting shows God in a very painful position. Off to one side of the ceiling is Adam, just created out of mud. His hand and finger are reaching weakly toward God.
And God? God is stretching his finger, his arm, his body–God’s whole being towards Adam.
God stretched totally, in a most uncomfortable and painful way. Ribs on one side are crunching together. Bones on the other side are pulling apart. God’s muscles are straining. God’s eyes are intent. God is stretching and stretching.
It is the faith of Michelangelo and the faith of our church, that this is the permanent posture of God.
God is stretching…God’s whole heart, whole mind, whole will, and whole love stretching toward all of us, to every sinner.
God is not reaching. Reaching is simple. Effortless. Someone reaches for a cup of coffee in the morning. God is stretching.
This is how the people in the New Testament knew that Jesus was God. He does what God does. He stretches. When Peter was wet and drowning, today’s Gospel says, Jesus stretched out his hand immediately.
Jesus was always stretching out his hands…to the blind, to the deaf, to the paralyzed, to the sinners, to the poor, to the lepers, to everyone.
Finally, he allowed his out-stretched hands to be nailed to the cross…to show us that’s how his hands and arms always are…stretching out in love to us.
In ancient times, if you were a beggar in a crowd, and you were starving and the King and Queen were traveling by and saw you, they would hold out their golden scepter…what joy you would feel. You would receive a coin for bread.
But in Jesus we see that God stretches out to us not a scepter but the bruised and battered body of his own son, on a cross. I close with this. How do we know that we’re the real church? How do we know if we’re really following Jesus? The answer is simple. The church is true to itself when, like Jesus… it stretches. Stretches towards the poor…stretches towards the people with aids…stretches towards the jobless…stretches towards the depressed and the sick…stretches towards families in pain. This is the test, to see if we’re the church and if we’re Christians. There should always be an element of discomfort, or its not true stretching.
Remember this…Stretching is inconvenient, uncomfortable, costly, and painful. And yet, we’re never more like God, and never more like Jesus, as when we’re stretching…Lord help us.