Proper 13 Year A: Wisdom Satisfies

Isaiah 55:1-5
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Some people say that the real miracle in our gospel story this morning is not the fact that the food multiplied, but rather that the example of sharing the loaves and fishes prompted other people in the crowd to give up the food they had been hoarding and share it also, so that everyone was fed. Others will explain the miracle by saying that being with Jesus was so satisfying that even the tiny amount of food that was shared (five loaves and two fishes divided amongst thousands of people) was enough for all those people. Maybe those explanations are true. I tend to think that strange things happened when Jesus was around, so I have no problem with any explanation, even the traditional one of the loaves and fishes multiplying enough to feed all the people and still have leftovers. It is true in our own lives that whatever we have, if we are willing to give it to God, becomes enough for us and for the people around us. When we think we don’t have enough strength or courage or time to go on, we are absolutely right. So we can choose to give up, or we can choose to give what we have to God and allow God to satisfy our needs in ways that we could never have imagined. We can keep pretending to possess things to keep us secure, or we can realize that we are only temporarily given stewardship of things, and by acknowledging that all belongs to God, we can all share what we have so that no one is in want.

But it is obvious we don’t do that. We need to be like the crowd in the gospel story – we need to let Jesus satisfy us. Instead, we try being satisfied by everything else, and while everything that God created is good, it is not God. If we let God satisfy us, then everything else is gravy – wonderful when we have it, but quite alright if we don’t.
Isaiah talks about this same matter in our first reading this morning: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” He is wondering why we waste time hoarding things while God is offering so much more for free. Once again, the things are not bad – it is how we substitute them for God that is the problem. Isaiah is trying to get us to listen to wisdom when he says: “Incline your ear and come to me, listen, so that you may live.”, and in so doing echoes what the monks know so well from the beginning of Benedict’s Rule: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”

Listen to the truth that only God satisfies. We can never be full of God, and we will always want more, but it is a life-giving hunger, rather than a life-killing greed for things. Like the crowd in the gospel: we can share, we can be satisfied with little, we can allow God to multiply what we have – whatever the miracle really was doesn’t matter, because the crowd allowed Jesus to satisfy them in whatever way he knew best. May we allow God to satisfy us. May we incline the ear of our hearts and live.   AMEN

Proper 9 Year A: I Beg To Differ

Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus just said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I beg to differ. To truly follow Jesus means to love, and love is hard work. To love means to take ourselves out of the center of our universes and allow God to take God’s rightful place there. To love means to admit that it is never about us – it is always about God. To love means to allow other people to be who they are, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us feel. To love means to allow ourselves to be who we are, no matter how uncomfortable that makes us feel. The yoke of self-centeredness seems so much lighter, because it is easy to judge people and situations by our own checklist of appropriate actions and attitudes. Love does not have such clearcut guidelines, and so it seems more difficult.

But of course, our feelings deceive us. The weight of self-centeredness pulls us down until eventually we close in ourselves, creating a black hole where nothing can escape: a tiny, pitiful false universe called “the world of me”. We all know that, because we all carry the burden of pretending to be self-existent at some point each day. Jesus calls us out of that burden into the realization that only God is self-existent, and yet God freely and lovingly gives us existence so that we can enjoy the wonderful world around us. It is all about God, and when we live in that realization, our only job is to be ourselves and be thankful for all that we have been given. On the other hand, when we try to live in the falsehood of “it’s all about me”, we take on the burden of making sure everything and everyone fits into our categories of propriety, and that is a lot of hard work. Of course, all that work is for nothing, because anything we create, including our own petty worlds of fear, are destined to dissolve. But the true, wonderful world God creates is destined to grow ever more and become ever more real.

So, maybe Jesus is right. His yoke isn’t really all that easy, and his burden isn’t really all that light, but in the long run, it is much easier and lighter than the yokes and burdens we impose upon ourselves. Of course, in order to learn to live under the yoke of Jesus, we need the help of discipline so that we do not slip back into our own yokes. And of course, the word “yoke” come from the same root as discipline, anyway – hence the resemblance to the word “yoga”. Discipline is good – it is something a disciple does. Unfortunately, we often confuse discipline with punishment, but the two have nothing to do with each other. Disciplines are techniques for growth.

One path of discipline that has helped many disciples follow Jesus is the monastic way. Some have confused it with punishment, but if followed willingly and openly, it is a path of discipleship that can help us live more and more in the truth that it is not all about me. It can seem difficult and frightening at times, as can any way of following Jesus. But as Benedict says in the Prologue to his Rule: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run in the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”

It is our choice: whose yoke do we want, and how will we learn to live with that yoke.   AMEN

Easter VI Year A: To An Unknown God

Acts 17:22-31
I Peter 3:13-22
John14:15-21

As Paul tells the Athenians, we all worship an unknown God, and we are all ignorant in our knowledge and worship of God. That is not God’s fault, and it is not our fault. God is just too different from anything we can know for us to comprehend anything about him. So we must never be smug about our religious beliefs or practices. That doesn’t mean we should not be sincere about our religious beliefs and practices – it just means we should always realize that when we try to make the ineffable effable, we will and do fail.

However, we do have the best and ultimate revelation of God in Jesus. We also have the best and ultimate revelation of humanity in Jesus. (Fully God; Fully Human). So, we can be sure that as long as we are truly modeling Jesus, we are worshiping the true God. Of course, we know that the definition of modeling Jesus has had many variations throughout history, and even know everyone has their own idea about how to do that best. So we should do what we can do get to know the people who knew him best by reading the scriptures with an open mind, heart and life. We can also get to know him through praying with an open mind, heart, and life. We must do all that with the realization that even with a lifetime of scripture reading and prayer, we can never fullly know Jesus. However, we can be assured that God knows us fully, and that God will honor our search by opening up to us as we open up to God.

As Paul quotes the poet: “in him we live and move and have our being”, so must we make sure that we are living, moving, and taking our existence from God, not in our own self-centered desires and whims. Jesus never turned anyone away, but he did warn them not to be smug about their religious beliefs and practices. It is all about Jesus, not about us. Others will seek and find him in ways different from us. That is ok. Our job is to do what we can do and trust God.   AMEN

Lent II Year A: The Chain

Genesis 12:1-4a
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Our first two readings this morning are about Abram (or Abraham as he was later named). The story from Genesis recounts what is sometimes termed “the call of Abraham”, when God tells Abraham to move away from his own country and family into a new land where God promises to make him a great nation and a blessing to all the families on earth. If one reads the whole Bible, one learns that the movement away from Abraham’s native land into the promised land did not begin with Abraham, and the promised great nation did not come about until several centuries after his death. It was Abraham’s father Terah who moved them out of the city of Ur and halfway to Canaan. It was Moses who brought the great nation to the promised land and it was Joshua who finally led them into it. Abraham did a lot of great things and was obedient to God, but the work did not begin or end with him. He was only one in a long chain of people doing God’s work.

Paul talks about Abraham in our second reading this morning. He says that Abraham was righteous and did great things, but it was not the work that made Abraham righteous. Rather, it was Abraham’s faith that made him righteous. Abraham believed what God said and so he did the things he did. Paul hints that it should be the same with us: we should work because we have faith in God. We can’t do anything to gain God’s favor, because God already loves us. Nothing we do can get us on God’s side, because God is already on our side. Our work must spring from our belief that God loves us and our faith that God will take care of us. Any other basis for our life is false and bound to fail. When we trust in God’s love for us, we will work to make the world a better place for everyone, not just in order to make the world safer and more comfortable for us. We will understand and be ok with the fact that (just like Abraham) the work did not begin with us and won’t finish with us – we are merely links in a chain of people working to spread God’s peace and joy. In fact, our most fervent prayer should be that we never see the fruit of our work – not that our work should have no fruit, but that we should never see it, because if we see the fruit, we tend to work for results instead of out of faith, and we can even fall into pride because of our fruit. That is something important to monks, because from our vantage point, sometimes we can’t see the fruit of our prayer and life, and so we can become discouraged. We must continue in our discipline of prayer simply out of love, because the fruit of it is more than we can ever hope for our imagine. We do get a lot of letters from people thanking us for our prayer and life here, and it is always good to get those letters, but sometimes I wish we did not know of those people, because it can make us smug, rather than relying solely on God to carry us through or monastic vocations. Constancy and perseverance are keys to joy in monastic life, not knowledge of others’ appreciation of us.

Sometimes the chain of people doing God’s work seems to take a strange course, and sometimes the evidence of any good works being done is scant, and sometimes we worry about who will do the work after us, but there is always someone continuing to do the work of God – picking up where generations before left off and passing the chores on to generations yet to come. It is the same in our own lives; sometimes we can’t see how anything we are doing will amount to any good for anyone. Jesus says to not worry about that. John quotes him in our gospel story this morning as saying: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Just like Abraham, we won’t always see the results of our work done in faith, but just like Abraham, the important thing is to have that faith so we can and will do those good works. We must be born from above, as Jesus says in the gospel. He doesn’t explain much about that, except saying that anyone who believes in him has eternal life.

This new life in Jesus comes from faith in God and trust that God sent his son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. The new birth and new life that Jesus offers us brings us into the chain of faithful workers bringing God’s peace, joy, and health into the world. Like Abraham, we did not start the work, and we will not finish it. God is the beginning and ending of the chain. God lets us in on it because God loves us and wants to share eternal life. We just have to accept that love and life. Like Abraham, God will make us a mighty nation that brings a blessing on all families on earth. We might not ever see whom we are blessing, but that is ok, because we live by faith, not by sight, or feeling, or emotion. Righteousness and new birth are offered to us daily and hourly. May we believe, and so be reborn into the righteous nation of Abraham that brings blessings to all. May we then do good works and be a blessing to others out of gratitude for the new life, and may we be thankful for the blessings we receive from all the other members of the nation of righteousness. May we be faithful links in the chain.   AMEN

Epiphany VII Year A: Like Father, Like Son

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
I Corinthians 3:10-11.16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

People have always been trying to live up to the scripture that Jesus quotes at the end of our gospel story this morning – “Be perfect…”. The ways they have done that have changed with time and place. In our society, people don’t worry much about ritual purity, but we still try to be perfect either by doing things or by not doing things. A contemporary example of trying to be perfect by doing things would be ‘recycling, driving a Prius, and being welcoming and affirming of others with different lifestyles’. A contemporary example of trying to be perfect by not doing things would be ‘not drinking, not smoking, not fornicating’. Both of those ways can and do produce some very cruel and self-absorbed people. The reason that happens is because we so often forget the second part of that quotation about being perfect – “Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In other words, be fully you, as God is fully God. Since God is love, and we are made in God’s image, it follows that to be fully us means to also be love.

The problem is, we all know that none of us ever is fully love. That is because we are so full of ourselves. We are not created that way, but we all choose to be that way, and we do it from the first time we are able to choose anything. And so we have rules to live by that help us curb our self-absorption and steer us toward loving actions. That is what our Old Testament reading was all about this morning. We often think of the Old Testament as being full of arbitrary rules mandated by a capricious God, and some of it is, but many of those rules were simply attempts to get people to do the right things toward others. There is a lot of love in the Old Testament if we are patient enough to look for it. We need to not be smug about our own ideas of morality, because two thousand years from now they will seem as barbaric to people as a lot of the Bible seems to us now. Instead of smugness, we need to take great care to make sure that all of our rules are geared toward loving ourselves, our neighbors, and our God. If we define love as the action of helping all to grow into the unique, beautiful individuals we are all created to be, then we need to make sure all our rules help us with those actions, not hinder us by causing us to be judgmental toward those not following our rules or interpreting them differently.

Aristotle gives the good advice that to become a virtuous person, one must do virtuous things. That mangled semi-quotation is only partly right, because to become truly virtuous action must be a follow up to desire – we must first ask God to heal us of our self-absorption so that we can be the loving persons that God made us to be. Desire and action can also be called faith and works, and there has been a debate about which of the two is more important for as long as the church has existed. Of course faith is the more important, because it needs to come first, but works are just as important, because they need to follow. Only God makes us perfect and holy, but only we can act perfect and holy. God makes us who we are, but we have the responsibility to live who we are.

Our second reading this morning talks about this in terms of our status as living temples of God. Jesus is the only foundation for our lives as temples, but we must be careful what we build on top of it. Faith and works go together. Even people who say they have no faith in God and yet live loving lives really do have faith in God – they just think they don’t. On the other hand, people who say they have faith in God and yet live unloving lives really have faith in something other than God – usually rules or Bible knowledge or doctrinal minutia. That last sentence should not make us worry every time we fail at loving – it doesn’t mean we have lost our faith or we are hypocrites, it just means that we have a lot of growing to do. We are not perfect without God. We cannot act perfect without God. God makes us perfect, but it takes a long time for that perfection to become apparent. Constancy and perseverance are both major constituents of both faith and works. If we have Jesus as the foundation of our lives, then no matter how often we fail in love, we can always try again. We can recycle, drive Priuses, welcome and affirm others, not smoke, not drink, and not fornicate, and all of those things can be instruments of love toward ourselves, our neighbors, and our God, if we do them in the spirit of Jesus. As our heavenly Father is perfect, so will we be. We are already now in God’s eyes, and we will be ever more so in our own eyes and the eyes of those around us. We will be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.   AMEN

Epiphany III Year A: The Means Is Not The End

Isaiah 9:1-4
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

“Jesus came to give us a new life, not a new religion.” That is a good thing to remember. Of course, one of the best definitions of true religion is simply ‘the way that one leads one’s life’, but if we are thinking of religion in the lower sense of a set of prescribed doctrines and rituals to which one must adhere, then the saying is true – Jesus came to give us a new life, not a new religion. We hear in the gospel this morning about Jesus traveling through Galilee teaching and preaching good news and curing diseases. He was busy spreading new life around. In other parts of the gospel, we hear about Jesus sending others out to do the same thing, and at least one time, they come across some people whom they do not know who are also spreading new life around. When they tell Jesus about it, he says to not worry about it – if those others were not working against the apostles, then they were working with them.

Paul confronts a similar situation in our second reading this morning. He mentions the partisan spirit which has sprung up there in the church, and warns them about how silly it is. He reminds them that although different people brought them the news of Jesus, the messenger and the way the message was presented is not important. Jesus is the important thing, and their new life in him is the important thing. We need to be told the same thing. New parties and denominations are being formed all the time, and often the people in the various denominations and organizations forget that the reason for their existence is to proclaim the gospel, not to bolster the public image and membership rolls of their particular group.

Sometimes new Christian groups are formed because the founders see a specific need that is not being addressed by existing groups. Sadly, more often new groups are formed because of disagreements and bitterness within existing groups. It does not matter how or why the denomination was formed – if its members are open to God’s will, then good will come of it. People will be healed, good news will be spread, and new life will be given to people. That is what matters – not total conformity in every detail of doctrine and practice. But we must remember that no matter what good comes from any organization, the group is merely a channel of grace, not the source of grace. All life comes from God, and the new life being spread by any group comes solely from God, not from the organization, so we must be careful never to cling blindly to any denomination – they are all merely tools that God can use or dispose of as different needs arise. We should remember that our gospel story this morning begins with the arrest of John the Baptist; John did not claim loyalty to himself or his followers.
Instead, he pointed to Jesus and faded away after his task was done.
We need to have the same willingness to fade away after we and our particular parties have pointed to Jesus in their various ways. Church organizations and denominations are means to an end, not the end itself.

The goal is spreading the gospel – the good news that Jesus brings new life. The gospel story this morning says that where Jesus went, a prophecy was fulfilled: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,”. We always need to check the goals and accomplishments of our parties against that standard. If people have light brought to them because of what we are doing, good. If not, we need to do what we can to change the course of our group in order to align with that goal. No organization, no matter how great its history, is exempt from the danger of forgetting its purpose, and that forgetfulness will eventually bring about its downfall.

Our purpose is to spread the good news of Jesus to a world that needs good news. That news can be spread in many different ways, as we have seen throughout history. There is no need for competition between the various groups spreading the news. Instead, we should be ready and willing to support each other, and be joyful at the successes of others as well as mournful at their losses. Our criteria should be whether or not people are being healed and hearing good news, not the details of internal organization and discipline, and certainly not whether or not other groups offend our sense of style. Of course, there are times when harmful things are preached in the guise of Christian doctrine. Most of these negate either the full humanity of the full divinity of Jesus, and therefore water down the good news that God really is with us. We do have the responsibility of refuting those groups and their message, but we must always do so with love, compassion, and kindness.

However, having said that about bad news in a Christian veneer, we must always remember that there have always been and always will be non-Christians of good will who do a wonderful job of spreading the kingdom of God in our hurting world. In fact, some of the most Christlike people I know would not call themselves Christians. That is quite alright. Every person is unique and therefor has a unique relationship with God that no one else can judge.

So we need to be careful about judging people with different opinions about how best to spread the gospel. We can be proud of our own denominations and parties in a good sense – acknowledging past accomplishments and carrying visions for the future – but we should never let that good sense of pride twist into an attitude of superiority toward other groups. There is one Gospel: God is with us. There is one Jesus: God with us. There is one goal: sharing God with others. Jesus came to give us new life. May we all work together to spread that life around.   AMEN

Advent I Year A: Up the Mountain, Be the Mountain

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

Isaiah was right about a lot of things, and we heard about some of those things this morning. He tells us that God’s house will be the place where everyone wants to go (and by the way, by the term “God’s house”, he doesn’t mean the church building – people still won’t want to go to church, but that is a subject for another sermon). Everyone will want to go there because God will solve all our disputes and teach us all to be peaceful. That sounds great – who would not want that?
Unfortunately, another thing Isaiah tells us this morning is that Gods house will be on the highest mountain. We can look at that as a logistical problem, because high mountains are difficult to scale. Or we can look at it as a source of hope, because God is in us and we are God’s house, so we will be big and majestic. Both ways of looking at it show us the grace of God, because only God can get us up that mountain, and only God can grow us into that mountain.
We can’t make it up the mountain by ourselves, but God won’t force us to go, either. We are the ones who need to show God that we want his help by taking the first step. We will fall on the way, of course. And then we need to get up and take another step so that God can help us go further. One of the ways we take the steps up the mountain is by avoiding potholes in the road. That is what Paul is talking about in our second reading this morning when he says: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That doesn’t mean we treat all the fun things in the world as bad – it means we treat them as good gifts of God by not abusing them by making everything about us and our wants. It means we share and do things in moderation and not try to substitute things and experiences for God.
We don’t always live like that, though. Maybe it is more true to say that we rarely live like that. That is why we can make it up the mountain and become that mountain only by the grace of God. God makes the way; we fall off the path. We admit we need help; God helps us back up. God shows us the way; we fall off the path. We admit we need help; God shows us the way. It goes on and on at least until we die, and who knows how much longer after that.
All of that takes perseverance, faith ,and constancy, but it is worth it, because the closer we are to that mountaintop, the more our disputes will be solved, and the more we learn peace. The more we grow into that mountain, the more we can teach people how to beat their spears into pruning hooks, because we will be doing it ourselves.
Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord. We have made one step by being here, another step by listening to the scriptures, another step by praying, and we will soon take another one by being fed by God at God’s table. We will fall later – count on it. God will pick us up and take us further – count on it. But right now, let’s keep going a little further. We will learn peace, we will grow.   AMEN

Proper 21 Year A: Karma Land Mines

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32
I have often thought that Ezekiel’s proclamation that we heard in our first reading of God’s absolution of children from the sins of their parents is incomplete. It is true that people are liable only for their own sins, but it is also true that many people suffer from the consequences of other people’s sins, including the sins of the people who came before them in the past. We can see that in children who were born of mothers who ingested dangerous substances during pregnancy. We can see it in generations of families caught in cycles of abuse. We see it in first world countries suffering from terrorists fueled by the hatred and frustration of people living in their former colonies that were pillaged by the earlier governments and business interests of those first world nations. We see it in the seemingly unsolvable racial problems caused by our own nation’s history of slavery. We see it in church denominations separated from each other because of the what seem to us to be trivial matters, but were seen in the past as issues important enough to split churches.

However, there is also the truth that just as children suffer because of the sins of their parents, we also benefit from the good things they have done. We live in a wonderful monastery associated with a wonderful denomination in a wonderful country because even though all of  the people who came before us in those institutions were sinners who sinned, they also did many good things of which we are reaping the benefits.
So we too must be careful in our actions. We are sinners who have, do, and will sin, and the people who come after us will suffer because of it. We must heed Ezekiel’s proclamation to repent and turn from our transgressions, and get new hearts and new spirits; to turn from our own selfishness and turn towards God, turning from death to life. We heard Paul talk about that in our second reading this morning, when he wrote to the church in Philippi to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard each other as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” That doesn’t mean that we should not enjoy life here and now, but it does mean that we should enjoy it in such a way that it does not leave a mess for others to clean up after us.

Of course, most people do not do evil on purpose. It does happen occasionally, but that is a topic for another sermon. Most people do selfish things without thinking about it, because human society is selfish, and that is what we are used to. First world countries pillaged their colonies because that is what first world countries were expected to do. Large landowners in this country kept slaves, because that was how things got done. People split churches because they thought the issues of the time were important enough to do so. We just can’t think outside of our box, or culture, or zeitgeist, or whatever we want to call it, and that is why it is important to pray about our occasional big decisions, as well as our daily patterns of little decisions and behaviors. Everything we do will have an impact on future generations (even the most trivial things), and even though we can never be certain of the situations in which those generations will find themselves, we must always try to put ourselves in their shoes and see how our actions and decisions will affect their lives. We must base our lives on the desire to be a blessing to all, and when we do that, we will be ever more able to think outside our box, guided by the Holy Spirit.

We are responsible only for our own actions, but we are also responsible for the impact that those actions have on everyone else throughout time and space. May we act wisely and prayerfully, always as servants whose Lord of the Universe is servant of all.  AMEN

Proper 6 Year A: Chosen People

Exodus 19:2-8a
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:23

Our scriptures today describe our job and what to expect as we perform it: our job is to bring people and God together, and we are to expect trouble while we try to do that. In our Old testament reading, God tells Moses to remind the Israelites of the dangerous path God has carried them through out of slavery in order that they might be a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” They were God’s chosen people, but not chosen because they were superior or to be superior; they were simply chosen to fulfill the task of transmitting the truth of God’s love to the world around them.

The gospel story this morning is about Jesus commissioning twelve people to travel around, bringing the loving, healing mercy of God to the people around them. Jesus warns the twelve that their message will be unpopular with some powerful people who will harm them, but to do their best to keep their message of hope alive. Like the twelve, we are still disciples of Jesus, and we still have the task of bringing God’s grace to our own world. Like the Israelites, God chooses us, not because we are superior or to be superior, but to humbly serve others as God’s priests: being channels of God’s love, joy, and peace to the world around us.

And so, just like the Israelites escaping from slavery and walking through the wilderness, and just like the twelve disciples upsetting harmful social and religious structures, we will encounter trouble as we live out our vocations as God’s ambassadors. One source of trouble is the fact that being associated with God in any way brings with it high expectations of moral behavior. We will all fail to meet those standards and so will be rightly branded as hypocrites, but it does not mean that we should not expect ourselves and others to strive for them. One thing we do need to work on is to have a better understanding of morality than the often encountered childish view of morality only meaning prudishness, but that is fodder for another sermon. But even the most pure and respectable disciples of Jesus will be offensive to many of the power-holders of our greed-driven culture, because by pointing to Jesus, the disciple points away from greed.

We in this building are not in much danger of physical abuse for following Jesus, unlike the people of Myanmar or Zimbabwe or North Korea. We are much more likely to be slowly numbed and seduced by the consumer culture around us, and to slowly substitute merchandise and military strength for God. We are prone to buy disposable, polluting items to try to fill our emptiness, rather than realize that God already fills us infinitely. We won’t have horrible persecutions that we can use to help us grow, as described by Paul in our second reading today. But we do have the choice of letting our daily minor trials and our occasional major catastrophes making us either bitter or sweeter. Choosing the sweeter option is not easy, but it does make our job as disciple of Jesus easier. We won’t always choose the sweeter option, at least not at first, but hopefully we will come around to it, and help each other choose it so that we may be better channels of God’s grace to our world, living out our vocations as a “priestly kingdom and a holy nation” as we travel the difficult road from slavery to our promised land, bringing as many others along as we can.   AMEN

Easter II Year A: We Forget

Acts 2:14a,22-32
I Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

The Lord is risen indeed. It will be hard to forget that for the next forty-two days, because during that time, the altar will be fancier than usual, we will have a huge candle burning, and almost everything we say in this church will be followed by “Alleluia”. But even with all that, we will forget, and we much of the time we will act as if it never happened, because humans are forgetful. We will forget it even more as time goes by, so that next year we will have to have another Lent and Easter to remind us again. But even with a lifetime of Lents and Easters, we will still keep forgetting the fact that the Lord is risen indeed and we will act as if it never happened, because humans are forgetful. We forgot that we were not supposed to eat the fruit of one tree; we forgot that we are not supposed to make our own Gods, kill each other, or lie and steal; we forgot that we are supposed to have fair business practices and treat foreigners with respect. We forget that God lived a human life as one of us, died as one of us, and brings us to new life, making us more human than we ever were before.

But we forget, and we so often act as if it never happened. Peter reminds us of the Resurrection of Jesus and of our participation in it in our second reading this morning. He also warns us that even though Jesus has been resurrected, we have not. He reminds us that before we are resurrected, we must go through trials and death. That sounds more like something from Lent instead of Easter, Christmas, or any other time of year. It sounds like work, instead of celebration – like preparation instead of party. If we want to, we can shrink from our trials, but by doing so we only show our forgetfulness, because resurrection can only come after death.

Of course, hoping for hardship is not the way to go – God made a good world, and we should seek the goodness of it. Unfortunately, our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others often covers up that goodness and brings us harm (that is the law of karma, if we are not afraid to call it that). The good news of Jesus is that God’s grace is more powerful than the law of karma, and even though we do so much to harm ourselves and others, and they do so much to harm us and themselves, God breaks the chain of pain by soaking it up himself and not passing it on. He also calls us to participate in his work of breaking the chain of sin and grief by taking a little of it into our own lives – not because it is good for us, but because it is bad for others, and as disciples, we are to do as the master does. As Jesus did not retaliate for his betrayal and torture and instead made something good out of it, so we are to soak up the pain around us and do all we can to heal the situation and the person committing the crimes, instead of trying to find quick and easy release by passing the pain on to others. Through this daily crucifixion of our own desire to find joy in others’ pain, God can, will, and does bring us to the joy of resurrection.

The Lord is risen indeed. That is too good to live as if it never happened. With every alleluia, every fancy candle, every act of self-control and love, may we announce it to the world and to ourselves. We will forget, because humans are forgetful. So we will keep hauling out the alleluias and fancy candles every year. Those other things that Peter talks about: suffering trials, faith tested by fire – we can do those things all year long.   AMEN