Tuesday, October 18, 2011

amazing weekend!

I had the most amazing experience this past weekend. 
I traveled home to visit my parents and my mom and I completed the Hartford 1/2 Marathon together. 
We started together....and stayed together until we crossed the finish line - together. 
I am so blessed to have such a close relationship with my mom.  It was such an honor to see the results of her training as we finished the race. 

It's a moment I will never forget.  I thank God for my mom, for the relationship we have and for the memories we are blessed to share.  I know there are other mothers and daughters that have relationships like we do...and those who do not.  I should also say that it was great to have the opportunity to worship with the congregation where I worshipped as a kid and young adult.  Stepping into that building is coming home.  The people there are family, whether they knew me as a kid or just met me this past weekend, that community in Christ helped me become the woman I am today, the woman God created me to be.  There are so many women in that congregation who I could call mom.  So many women who impacted my life in little, yet important ways to help me become who I am today and who I continue to be. 

I feel that way at Trinity, too.  The sense of family, the feeling that people here are my family, just as my mom, dad and sister in New England are, just as my family at First Lutheran in Ellington is....The blessings found in the family of a congregation are amazing.  I pray that people find that congregation that teaches, nurtures and encourages them to grow in faith and in life. 

Find that congregation, worship with that congregation, pray with them, sing with them, fellowship with them, share highs and lows with them and be there for them.  It's an amazing thing, a church family, I hope others can experience God's grace and love through the actions and love of a congregation.


Monday, October 10, 2011

God's joy wins....(C.S. Lewis)

October 9, 2011

Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer, amen. 

Today in our gospel reading, we come to the end of a trilogy…a trilogy of parables, that is.  The past two weeks we have heard Jesus telling parables, and today is no different….but as we hear about this king and the wedding feast he prepares, it is helpful if we hear it in the context of the other parables. 

This section started off with the chief priests and the elders questioning Jesus’ authority.  Jesus shares a parable about the two sons and a father who asked them to work in the vineyard.  One says he will, but then decides not to, and the other says he won’t but changes his mind and does end up working that day.  A challenge for those in authority to hear that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom before they will. 

The second parable we heard last week.  About the absentee vineyard owner who sends slaves to collect the rent…the slaves are beaten and killed….so the owner sends his son.  The tenants of the vineyard treat the son the same way, in hopes that by killing the heir, they will inherit the vineyard. 
After this parable, the chief priests and Pharisees realize that Jesus is talking about them.  They want to arrest Jesus, but have a fear of the crowds, so they do not. 

Today’s parable follows those two…and speaks about this wedding banquet that a king prepared for his son.  Those surrounding Jesus, especially the chief priests and the Pharisees, know that this is directed at them.  They would have heard that God has prepared and elegant banquet for his Son, but those who were invited have chosen not to attend.  For whatever reason, they are not going to the banquet.  So the king has sent his slaves out to the main streets to gather whomever they can find to come to the banquet.  In the Greek, the word for main streets translates more as cross roads, not necessarily the main streets in town, but the cross roads where the main roads diverges to other cities.  These slaves are being sent out, out of the city, out of the inner circle, to see who they can find to invite.  And…they invited both the bad and the good.  (Get that….everyone is invited!  Everyone!) 

But then comes the unsettling part of this parable.  In the midst of the celebration, there is one guest who is not clothed appropriately.  In Jesus’ time, at special banquets and celebrations, clothing was available at from the host, so everyone would be dressed appropriately.  Kind of like those fancy restaurants where a jacket is required…they usually have a few on hand in case the diners didn’t know the dress code in advance.  Yet this one guest just doesn’t’ have the robe, and doesn’t have a reason for not having one either.  He’s speechless. 

So the king has him bound and thrown into the outer darkness…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth….the gospel of the Lord? 

Really?  This is the last parable in this trilogy?  Again, here I am looking for the happy ending…and this guy has been thrown out of the banquet because many are called but few are chosen.  Ugh. 

But think about this.  You’ve been at a party where someone is not having a good time.  They came to the wedding and they are at the reception, but they are a bump on a log.  They are not happy.  And you just can’t seem to get them to have a good time.  They don’t want to dance, they don’t want to talk, they’d rather just sit there.  The joy is there….the fun surrounds them….but they don’t see it…or don’t want to let it break into their hearts….and change them. 

But I’m here to tell you that God’s joy will win out in the end. 

All of these parables speak to us, about the kingdom of God.  When we think about the kingdom of God we often think about what happens after we die.  We think about heaven…..and hell.  We wonder what will happen after we die….or where we will end up. 

If you’re looking for the difference between heaven and hell, here it is.  In hell, there is a huge feast laid out on the table, but everyone's knives and forks are so long that they can't get the food to their own mouths. Struggle as they may, in the face of all this food, they starve.

In heaven, the story is almost exactly the same. There is a wonderful feast laid out. The knives and forks are so long that you can't get your food to your own mouth. The difference is that, in heaven, the people stop trying to feed themselves and instead use their long knives and forks to feed each other. No problem!

Now…take that next step with me.  The kingdom of God is here and now.  No, seriously it is. 

So how are we called to live in the kingdom here and now? 
How are we called to be embraced by God’s love and joy? 
How does the joy of God break into our hearts….and shine forth in what we do and say? 

Here are a few examples: 

“Tonight I lectured on my passion! Assistive Technology. I do this every week in the Fall but tonight I felt my passion speaking out as I taught six students how to write by scanning using a switch to type a sentence 1 letter by 1 letter on an onscreen keyboard. I thank God every day that he gave me this passion and joy is sharing it. One day I will help kids succeed in their school and environment again. But until that day I will continue to watch people become amazed at what the possibilities are. I love assistive technology!!!”

Can you feel that passion?  Can you feel God’s joy breaking through the heart of this person?  Can you see the joy?  It’s here and now. 

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a parishioner at the hospital.  The first day I visited was his birthday.  Due to his liquid only diet, he did not get the hospital birthday cupcake :( nor did he get to go to Shady Maple Smorgasbord for his free birthday meal.  I was there as 3 staff came in to get an x-ray and they were laughing and talking with all of us, and genuinely enjoying their vocation. 

I got to visit again the next day and the wife of the patient said, "You know what one of the nurses did, Pastor?"  "No...." I replied. 
She said, "The nurse called Shady Maple to see if the hospital could send a note so he could get his free meal when he gets out of the hospital.  The restaurant said no, they used to do that but too many people worked the system that they had to stop." 

But the nurse took that extra time.....to see beyond herself, to see the patient as more than just a patient, but as someone in community with her. There is love, there is joy and there is abundance here and now. 

Can you see it? 

How are you called into daily vocation, living your life in the kingdom…at the wedding banquet here and now… sitting at a bountiful table, surrounded by God’s blessings of family and friends, of food and shelter, of companionship and support….how are you feeding others around you? 

C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Great Divorce, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell . No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it….

Look for those ways to see God at work through you. 
Tell others about those amazing experiences.
Share that joy in your heart, in your life and in your community. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

God is God, all the time.

October 2, 2011
Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer, amen. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! 
He is risen, indeed, Alleluia!

Don’t worry, your pastor hasn’t completely lost it….by beginning her sermon with an Easter greeting in the middle of the Sundays following Pentecost.  And most likely I won’t be wishing you all a Merry Christmas next week.  I know it’s not Easter.  But as we talked through this text at our clergy Bible study this week, one of my colleagues said, in essence, this is an Easter text. 
It’s a challenging text for us to read and hear.  I don’t know about you, but I love a happy ending.  I like it when all the loose ends are tied up…in the movie world, the villain gets caught, the love interests are resolved and the goofy friend continues to make everyone laugh. 
Yet in today’s parable, it seems to be anything but a happy ending.  NT Wright says, “There is no happy ending to this story.  It is pure tragedy.” 
The parable begins with a situation that was business as usual in Roman-occupied Palestine. A landowner established a vineyard complete with a fence, a winepress, and even a watchtower.
He then became an absentee landowner, returning to his own country as often happened in the far-flung territories of the Roman Empire. Tenants were in charge of overseeing the productivity of the vineyard and paying their rent to the owner at harvest time, in the form of a share of the produce.
In this case, though, when the owner's slaves arrived to collect his share of the produce, the tenants attacked them, even beating one and killing another. The owner of the vineyard then simply sent another delegation of slaves to collect the rent.
Those slaves were treated even worse than the first. Surely by now the owner would send in troops or some form of armed enforcement of his rights!
I mean, think about it, you’re the landowner…you’ve sent some of your slaves to collect what is due and the tenants have beaten some and killed others…who would you send now?  Certainly, not your son.  After seeing how the others were treated and killed, would you be willing to send your son into that?  No way! 
But the tenant does, perhaps hoping and praying that the tenants will respect him.  Which we know does not happen, they kill the son somehow thinking that they will get his inheritance. 
In sharing this parable, Jesus seems to be addressing those who are tending to the vineyard, and people of Jesus time would have thought of Israel as the vineyard. 
We are reminded of that connection in our reading from Isaiah this day.  In Isaiah, however, it is Israel itself that is blamed for not producing fruit.  Yet, as Jesus tells this parable it is not the vineyard that is the problem, but those who are tending it, those in charge. 

So if we follow this parable to the end, we hear that those who are tending the vineyard, will kill the son of the heir.  Jesus is telling the story of his own life….and death….he is predicting his own death: such an unhappy ending. 

So where is the good news in this passage?  Where is the promise of God’s love in our lives?  Where is the good news of promise and hope?  Where is the happy ending? 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, alleluia!

Why the Easter refrain?  Because in this passage, as Jesus predicts his own death, God’s love is revealed to us.  Through the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s love is revealed to us and to the whole world.  That, my friends, is good news.  Jesus knows what is going to happen and Jesus knows that his death and resurrection is part of that plan.  Through his own death and resurrection, the world will be saved. 

How heart wrenching to hear Jesus predict the saving event for all peoples. 

Last month, my childhood friend, Liesl was diagnosed with IBC, Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  The diagnosis was a complete surprise, but the love and support from friends and family was not.  This weekend, the Lutherans for Liesl team will be walking to raise money for IBC research.  They have already surpassed their goal of $20,000.  As the testing and treatments continue, friends and family are holding Liesl, her husband and their two little girls in prayer. 

We are praying and hoping for a happy ending. 

But the reality is that we don’t know what the future will bring. 
We don’t know how things will pan out and we’re not the only ones facing situations like this. 
There are other families facing futures unknown because of cancer or other life threatening diseases.  There are other families facing futures unknown because of financial problems.  There are other families facing unknown futures because of wounded or broken relationships. 

The reality is that we live in a world where things are not perfect and we, as humanity, cannot make things perfect. 

Yet in the midst of an imperfect world, God sent Jesus to live with us, to teach us, and to die for us.  Jesus rose from the dead to save us from all these imperfections, all these struggles and all the strife we face in this world. 

God didn’t send Jesus into the world to take all of this away….but so that we may know God’s love and grace in our lives here and now. 

We are invited into the kingdom here and now.  We are saved and loved by God….and therefore we are a changed people. 

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

We are free to love and serve one another. 
We are free to see outside of ourselves.
Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we know of God’s abundant love and grace in our lives….that changes us. 

So as you go from this place, let that message of love and hope and good news change you. 
May it be seen in your words, deeds and actions.  May the freedom from sin and death show forth in all that you do and say. 

You are loved.
You are saved.
Let that be seen in all that you do and say. 

And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say, amen.

PS.  At the Crossfire (Trinity's Contemporary Worship Service) last night, I added in a different call and response:  God is God, all the time.  and All the time, God is God.  You see, the one I orginally heard was God is Good, all the time and all the time God is Good.  In light of today's gospel reading, God did not send Jesus into the world to make it all sunshine and roses...not to take away all the struggles and tribulations, but so that we may know God's presence with us amidst life as it happens.  Because when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, how can you say, God is good?  When your home is foreclosed upon and your family must relocate, how can you say, God is good?  But in the midst of that...you can say, God is God.  You can say God is in the midst of this and cannot be moved.  You can be certain of God's love and grace in your life in the midst of the hardships, illness and distress....and that, my friends, is good news.