Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013

Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti! Christ is Risen; the Lord is risen, indeed!

What is Easter all about?  What is this season of bunnies, eggs, peeps, and daffodils?

I would like you to go back with me – to another time in your life and mine. Close your eyes for a moment, and put yourself back into your mother’s womb.         It’s warm, dark, and safe.
You neither toil nor labor; You neither plant nor reap; Off in the distance you hear a heart beat that’s not exactly your own, and yet you know there’s a connection. You know neither hunger nor thirst. You’re getting everything you need, although you’re not exactly sure how. You have a feeling there is more to life than what you’ve experienced up to this point, but that’s OK because if you have everything you need, what more could there possibly be?

And then one day, it happens. Everything is turned upside down as your world begins to collapse in on itself. You have no words to describe it, but the only word that comes to mind is: DEATH. “I’m dying!” you scream, but no words come out (because you don’t even know what air is). And then …

POW! There it is. You make your exit and you enter a world you cannot even imagine. No longer bathed in the warmth of your mother’s womb, you enter a world that is 30 degrees colder. No longer embraced and held secure within the body of your mother, your arms flail about. You’re jostled from pillar to post. The back of your brain explodes with pain as your eyes are subjected to light for the very first time; your ears begin to drain and you hear the angels around you making strange noises – you hear the clatter of instruments; the bleeps and blips of the monitors; your skin is rubbed raw with something called “cloth”.

You don’t know it yet, but you haven’t died. You have simply transitioned from the first heaven to the second heaven. Somewhere along the way you were, to use the old English word, “quickened” – made alive. The day will come when you won’t remember even a moment of the first heaven or the first earth, but you will come to learn of the second heaven and the second earth.
Where you appreciate the great benefits of the first heaven and the first earth – worlds without worry; worlds where everything you needed was passed along just by the very nature of that world into which you were conceived; you have only just now begun to discover a new world, where you can actively participate in a community called “family” – a community where you have neighbors, and friends – people who care, and people who don’t. 

The day will come where the great benefits of this second heaven and second earth will begin to fade away. Your ears will no longer hear as clearly; your eyes will no longer see as sharply; your mind will start to lose some of its Velcro; your body will begin to give way to the diseases of old age.

But if you listen carefully, you may hear another muffled heartbeat in the distance. This (church) is our stethoscope. If you watch closely, you may see glimpses of yet another heaven and another earth. This (church) is our telescope. We make our confession, and the toxicity of our lives are taken away by the umbilicus (that is this church). We eat the bread and drink the wine and are nourished through the umbilicus (that is this church).

What we have chosen to call “death” in this life is not death – not for us. We are children of yet another mother; a mother who has nourished us; a mother who has kept us warm, safe, and secure; a mother who, in the fullness of time, will deliver us into yet another heaven – another earth.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” asked the angel. “He is not here; he is risen – just as he said.”

What is Easter all about?  What is this season of bunnies, eggs, peeps, and daffodils? It’s not about that at all, is it? This season of Easter – and believe me, it is a season, not a day – this season of Easter is about three things:

1. Easter is not just about Jesus; it is about you. He has already claimed his new life; now is your opportunity to claim yours. The Bible tells us “Today is the day of salvation.” We don’t have to wait. Easter is God’s gift, waiting for you, right here, right now, in this puddle of gravy we call “life.” You don’t even have to call a toll-free number to claim your prize. It s enough to simply say, "Thank you, Lord."

2. Easter is not just about death; it is about life, and not just life after death–that’s the easy part–but real life before death, right now. Just as our life in the womb was spent preparing for our entry into this world, so life in this world is to be spent preparing for the world to come. We don’t earn our salvation by doing good works; we do our good works because our salvation has freed us to live in the fullness of God’s presence. It is enough to simply say, "Thank you, Lord. And …"

3. Easter is not just about the past, way back then and long ago; it is all about the future. Literally, I say to you, your best days are ahead of you. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Whatever is holding you back, the stone has been rolled away so that you can get out and so that God can get in. It is enough to simply say, "Thank you, Lord."

That is what Easter is all about.

Khristós Anésti! Alithós Anésti! Christ is Risen; the Lord is risen, indeed!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Story of the Prodigal Father

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the so-called story of the Prodigal Son. I say "so-called" because it really isn't about the son (who isn't prodigal, but quite the wastrel), but about his father's great love and capacity to not just receive his son back, but to do so with real flair!

That's a wonderful picture of the God we preach. It isn't about our capacity to repent nearly as much as it is about a God who just can't wait for us to come home and fill him in on what's been happening.

You can find the sermon here (it starts about 5 minutes in, as the gospel reading and sermon hymn take about 5 minutes):

Finding Sweet Water in the Valley

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you … as in a barren dry land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

I like to think of myself as a fairly self-reliant person. I don’t mind asking for help if I need it, but I really do try to stay out of situations where I might have to look for assistance.

A few weeks back while going to church, my wife and I saw two cars pass each other at an icy corner where they bumped, sending one off the road and down the narrow, steep shoulder. Both drivers were going ever so slowly and yet the ice, momentum, and nudge was all it took to wreak havoc. There were no injuries and (amazingly) there was no damage to either vehicle. Everyone stopped and made sure no one was hurt, and while two of us could not get the ditched car back onto the road, several other Samaritans stopped, joined us in the effort, and working together we succeeded.

One of the blessings we experience here in Montana is the good cheer with which most people face a problem. In many of the more populous areas of the country, people are so plentiful that many just assume that when there’s an accident someone else will stop to help and, of course, they always have 911 to fall back on. Here, despite being a self-reliant sort of people, when a neighbor is in trouble, everyone “comes a running”.

Sometimes trouble is obvious. Seeing a car in the ditch or a house on fire is kind of hard to miss if one is paying the least bit of attention.

Harder to see, though, is a thirsty soul.

When people are thirsty, they generally go find something to drink – and why not? We live in a land of abundance. Even the poorest of the poor can find a glass of water when they’re thirsty. I have plenty of options from which to choose at home: juice, milk, and assorted hot and cold beverages are right at hand.

If I have a problem, it is in having an abundance of choices. The question is less one of thirst than of figuring out what I’m in a mood for, and therein is the rub. When I’m not thirsty, anything will do, and when anything will do, nothing will truly satisfy me. When that happens, I’m not in need, but in want – and that’s a bad place for me to be.

When my appetite drifts, it always drifts toward things that really aren’t all that good for me – foods high in salt, sugar, or starches. For some reason, I seldom drift toward carrots, celery, or foods low in calories. I would like to think snack-foods have some sort of gravitational pull on my body, but in reality I know it is neither the goodies nor is it the body that is at fault. No, it is the space between my ears where one will find the Milky Way swirling around in all its sweet chocolaty goodness.

When that happens, I find I need to stop for a minute and actually engage in – oh, what is that word? Oh yes, I need to stop and actually engage in thinking. I need to stop and ask myself what I “need”, rather than what I “want”.

If I do that, I find my needs are far more manageable. I need air (check); I need water (check); I need shelter (check); I need food – something with nutritional value (oh, OK, check).

What else do people need, then?

Well, I think we need to know God cares, and when people jump out of their cars on a wintry day to lend a hand pulling us up or pushing us over to safety, I think, in our many acts of kindness – both big and small – we become a living water that quenches the thirst of many parched souls. We become the means of God’s grace, and that is a source of great comfort and satisfaction for many.

That’s a beautiful, refreshing, (and quite non-fattening) thing in this, our world – and oh so sweet to a thirsty soul.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Lent 3C

Do you believe in miracles? There are many little things that happen day to day that we may call coincidental or mundane, and yet they bear witness to God's presence in our lives, if we would just recognize them for what they are. There is no reason a miracle can't describe an ordinary event, for the real miracle isn't the event, but the God who walks among us and within us - the God who dares to believe in us!

Check it out:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Prayer Percolating in the Valley

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Matthew 6:7

I am a morning person. I like the stillness and quiet of the morning. I like listening to the coffee maker gurgle and pop as it heats the water, pumps it up to the lid to fall quietly and gently into the basket of grounds through which it will make its way back into the carafe from which it came – the circle of life.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the air is particularly delightful, providing a sense of peace and contentment as the day begins to unfold. I do not break the spell with news and commentary – or music and entertainment – from radio or television. Rather, I listen to the sounds of the world around me.

Oh sure, many of those sounds are artificial or manufactured. There is the steady rhythm of the clock above the fireplace ticking and tocking; there is the hum of the refrigerator cycling on and off, dropping off a load of ice every now and then; there is the fan whirring away from the kick-board heater in the kitchen; but aside from those ambient noises within the home, all is quiet.

It is a time for centering prayer; spending time alone – with God.

I find that many people are uncomfortable with silence. When we have periods of silence in church there is often an uneasy rustling that rises up from the pews as folks are anxious to get on with the service. Surely, they must think, if we’re not doing something, we must not be doing anything – and that certainly runs against the grain of the perpetual motion machine that is our culture.

But sitting, standing, or walking quietly is not the same as doing nothing. Being at peace while walking through the woods or skiing down a mountain trail is hardly “doing nothing.” Certainly it takes some concerted effort to move along without stumbling over roots and rocks or without accidentally skiing off a cliff, but in the process, one can find him or herself coming into harmony with the activity, the process, and the whole universe. When that happens, I think one is engaged in communion with God. That, I believe, is the essence of prayer.

I am not fond of doing a lot of talking when I pray. There are times I do converse with God about the people and situations I am facing in life, and that takes a bit of organization and time, of course. But mostly, my desire is to simply be in the presence of the Almighty, and to know that is enough.

Trying to line one’s life up with God’s isn’t easy and, ultimately, isn’t even really possible. There is a great gulf fixed between us that is far too great to transit even just a smidge, and yet that God delights to spend any time with any of us is a miracle of grace beyond my comprehending, and so I don’t try to understand it; I just try to accept and enjoy it the way I would enjoy a grand symphony – with eyes closed, personally lost in the reverie of the moment.

Like a scoop of freshly ground coffee, I am content to sit in the basket – basket case that I often am – and let the Spirit of the Most High flow in, through, and around me. If I am going to be in hot water (as I sometimes am), then it is my expectation that it will at least result in filling the air with a sweet aroma. My hope, prayer, and desire is for the essence of my life to rise to the heavens above and tickle with pleasure the nose of God.

At least that’s some of what’s percolating in my mind this week as I share some of the grounds of my faith with all of you here in this, our valley.