Archive for the ‘5th Sunday’ Category

You Come Back Now 4-29-2018

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

Sam is a great kid, but Sam is the only kid he knows that goes to church. But Mom insists.
Mom is a writer. In Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Mom explains why she wants her poor little Presbyterian church to be part of her son’s life:
“I want to give him what I found in the world, a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith…They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle.”
“When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on. The church became my home. They let me in. They even said: You come back now.”
Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew’s seven months before he was born. When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered. All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped. Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me…Women [who] live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks…routinely came up to me and stuffed bills in my pockets—tens and twenties…And then, almost immediately they set about providing for us. They bought clothes. They brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer. They brought me assurance that this baby was going to be part of the family.
“I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame, until I’d remember that wonderful line of Blake’s—that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love—and I would take a long breath and force these words out of my strangled throat: Thank you.”
Today’s Gospel calls us to realize the connections between Christ and us and between us and one another. On the night before he died (the setting of today’s Gospel) Jesus reminds his disciples of every time and place that, in his love, we are “grafted” to one another in ways we do not completely realize or understand. As branches of Christ the vine, we are part of something greater than ourselves, something which transforms and transcends the fragileness of our lives. May our families, communities and parishes become extended branches for all of us who struggle to realize our own harvests of joy and discovery, of grace and faithfulness.
I close – “When I was at the end of my rope, the people of St. Andrew/the people of Resurrection tied a knot in it for me and helped me to hold on. The church became my home. They let me in. They even said: You come back now.”

The Raising of Lazarus 3-18-2018

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Let’s allow our imaginations to create a Hollywood version of the raising of Lazarus.
Picture it: Lazarus comes out of his tomb-bound up, mummy-like, wrapped tightly in burial garments.
See those tight wrappings around his body? Even as he comes forth to Jesus, they restrict his sight, speech and freedom of movement.
Listen carefully to the words of Jesus. “Untie him and let him go free.”
I believe Lazarus coming out of the tomb represents every person!
What is it in our lives that binds us up? At times ties us up, immobilizes us, limits our perception, and gets in the way of us reaching out to others and to God?
Is it an attitude or possibly our own fears that restrict us? Maybe it is a prejudice toward a particular group of people? Perhaps it is something that worries us? Something we did in the past that we are ashamed of? Could it be financial problems or a medical concern? Is it a broken relationship in our family, a habit of lying, trying to cover our tracks? Are we being squeezed to death by bitterness, resentment, anger, grief, guilt or a poor self image?
Remember these words. “Untie him and her and let them go free.”
As we reflect on what has us all wrapped up. What is preventing us from moving freely and experiencing real life?
I think it is important to also ask ourselves: Are there situations or relationships going on right now, where we are binding or tying up other people? How would we do this?
Does our sour, negative attitudes and biting criticism destroy the spirit of those around us? Are we quick to see the bad, and blind to the good and positive in the people close to us?
How about back stabbing rumors, parking lot gossip and unfair stereotypes?
“Untie him and her and let them go free.”
During this Lent as we take some time to look inward, as we think about what binds us and how to remove the tight wrappings. I think our Gospel reminds us of 3 significant realities that need to be clearly stated.
As Martha mentioned, regarding her brother, it is going to be a smelly procedure. Taking off these bindings will be a slow and painful process. It will be very messy. No real conversion happens without pain. We may be tempted to short circuit the process. We may want to fantasize that everything will be fine in the morning. But it will not go away by itself!
Jesus tells others to help unbind Lazarus. We will need help also. A good friend to listen and to challenge. A teacher, a minister, a trained counselor and a support group. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can do it alone!
The final point may be the most important. Right in the middle of this smelly, messy process of unbinding that we are challenged to enter into, we too, just like Lazarus, have the presence and reassurance of Jesus. “I am with you!” “You are not alone, even when it is the darkest.” “Don’t give up!” “Keep trying!”
“Untie him and her and let them go free.”

Demons 2-4-2018

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

At the crack of dawn while the village slept, they made their way to the place where Jesus was visiting. Some came with paper bags on their heads. Others had on phony noses and fake mustaches. Yes, some of the men even came disguised in women’s dresses while some of the women had shoulder pads on under their sweaters and wore trousers so they’d look like men. Each had come alone because no one wanted anyone to know the reason for the visit. So, what a surprise it was to discover themselves in the courtyard of the home where Jesus was staying.
“Oh no!” One man gasped as he took the paper bag off his head and looked at the woman sitting across from him as she removed her beehive wig. “You mean you have a demon too?” “But you’re my wife!” ”
And you’re my husband! You never told me you had a demon?” She exclaimed.
The man next to her took off his fake beard and stared in disbelief at his wife sitting across from him as she took off her fake beard as well. Together they asked, “Have we both got demons?” And together they answered, “I guess we do.”
All over the room people who had come in various sizes and disguises had surprises had surprises as they bumped into neighbors, friends, relatives, and associates. Over and over they found themselves saying, “You have to be kidding!” “You have a demon too?” Well I never would have guessed it. How many times had we eaten together and not once did we suspect one another of having a demon.
Without knowing they would all be together, they had come intending to have Jesus expel their demons. As they waited in awkward silence for Jesus to appear, one lady spoke up. “Since now we know we all have demons, we might as well talk about them more openly to one another. After all, we have time. He can’t really take off our demons all at once.”
So, as they sat there waiting, gradually they began to describe the demons that possessed them. One potbellied man started out very quietly as he looked straight forward above the head of the woman across from him. He said he thought his demon was the suicidal thoughts that came into his head from time to time. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone he had that demon because he was afraid they would think he was crazy.
A woman in floral patterned house dress checked to see if the man who had just spoken had finished and then she cleared her throat. “I get so depressed. I don’t feel like talking or walking. I just want to sleep all the time, and when I’m not sleeping, I eat donuts. So depression and overeating are my demons but I wouldn’t tell anyone because I’m afraid people would think I was really off the wall.”
“I get depressed too,” a young boy chimed in. “It is good to know someone else feels that way,” he said with relief. “I’m afraid to tell my friends because they’d think I was a wimp.”
“Well, I have to be strong so my family can lean on me and I don’t feel very strong a lot of time,” a huge man with big hands and muscular arms and legs said softly. “My weakness is my demon and I’d be afraid to tell the other fellas that.”
At first, the conversation stopped and started, lapsing into long silences, but as one, then two, then three villagers spoke up, more and more people wanted to speak. Husbands and wives shard their demons with one another: fathers and sons, mothers and sons, brothers and sisters. As one revealed his or her demons and the fear of speaking about them due to what others might think, everyone else listened with an understanding heart. Their understanding arose from having many of the same demons and fears themselves.
As they spoke, they gradually readjusted their chairs so they could see and hear one another more clearly. The potbellied man said, “I’m not as afraid as I was. I don’t feel so anxious. I wonder if my demon has fallen asleep.”
And the woman who ate so many donuts said, “I’m not as afraid as I was either. I think my demon must have gone out to lunch.”
“My demon must have gone with yours,” added the man with the big muscles. From all over the circle others talked about how they were less fearful.
Then the door opened and there in the archway stood: the one for whom they had been waiting. He had a warm smile on his face and they all smiled back, expecting him to call them one by one. But he did not. He surprised them by telling them they could go home because they had already been exorcised. Their demons had been expelled and sent on their way.
“How can that be?” Was he kidding them?
He motioned them to be quiet as he said, “Think back for a moment about what had just happened. Many of you have known one another for years. In some instances you have shared the same bed, the same office or table or playing field. Yet, you were unaware that each of you had your own special demon. And why was that? Because of your own fear of admitting what you were going through. And that is the real demon! That is the demon which had paralyzed and cut you off from one another. That is the reason the demon has controlled you and had you in his power. The exorcism I have to offer, you have already experienced because you have come together and listened to one another as you have never done before. Your demon no longer controls you.”
Then he told them that he had lots of work to do that day. They could all go, and as they left they could drop their disguises in the waste basket near the door. After all, they no longer had any need of disguises. Their demons had gone.