Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

YEAR B 2018 lent 2

Lent 2, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Psalm 22:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You know how it feels strange when someone totally overreacts to something?  Like there was this time when I was about 20 years old, and I went to apply for a job as a short-order cook.  I had a few years experience in this field, so I knew what I was doing in a kitchen, at least on a breakfast shift.  The owner of the place decided the best way to choose between the two applicants was to have us both cook together and then watch us.  Like a working man’s version of Celebrity Chef or something.

When the breakfast rush was over, the owner approached us both in the kitchen and told me that I was going to get the job because—and then he looked at the other guy and said—“There is nothing in the world worse than crinkled bacon!”  Nothing in the world worse than crinkled bacon.  Nothing.  This is the version of overreacting that I have carried in my mind ever since.  My personal version of, “everybody just settle down for a minute here.”  And it’s the memory that comes to mind when I read this story from today’s gospel.

We heard this story a year ago in Matthew’s gospel, and we heard Mark’s version of it this morning.  In both cases, Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and die.  And in both cases, Peter takes him aside and says this must not happen.  And in both cases, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!”  And that response from Jesus always shocks me, even though I know it is coming.

Put yourself in Peter’s shoes here.  As Matthew and Mark both tell it, Peter has just declared Jesus to be the Messiah.  And in Matthew Jesus tells Simon that his new name will be Peter.  It’s got to be an absolute mountain top for Peter!  He alone, among the disciples, has correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!  Gold star for Peter!  Move to the head of the class, right?

And then, right after that, in both gospels, Jesus begins to tell the disciples that he must suffer and die.  Again, put yourself in Peter’s shoes.  He must be thinking that Jesus already forgot what Peter had just said.  Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  Jesus is not some lowly criminal who will be tortured and crucified.  So, of course, Peter takes Jesus aside and says, “This must never happen!”  Like, we’ve just realized how important you are, Jesus.  You heard me correctly identify you as the Messiah.  God’s chosen one.  There is no way we are going to let this happen to you.

Imagine you’ve been searching for some important document.  I don’t know, like your great great great great grandmother’s birth certificate.  And your distant cousin shows up at your door and says, “I found it!”  And you’re both so excited you high five each other.  And then your cousin pulls out a lighter and says, “And now I’m going to burn it.”  You would definitely take that person aside and rebuke her, right?  This must never happen!  This is the one we’ve been waiting for!

And then, “Get behind me Satan!”  Or . . . “There is nothing in the world worse than crinkled bacon!”  Right?  The response from Jesus doesn’t make any sense, because we automatically put ourselves in Peter’s shoes.

So, put yourself in Jesus’ shoes.  Well, if we’re honest, we can’t.  We can’t know what Jesus is thinking, or pretend to know what Jesus knows.  All we know is what he says and what he does, from what we read in the scriptures.  And what we just heard is, “Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”  So, Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus says, correct.  AND, the Messiah must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and rise again after three days.

And THAT’s when Peter says this must not happen.  He’s saying Jesus has the wrong script.  Jesus, their Rabbi, is the Messiah, and the Messiah must overcome oppression and set the captives free and announce the day of the Lord.  The Messiah is victorious, not humiliated.  The Messiah is God’s chosen one, not a religious outcast.  The Messiah is supposed to march into war, not walk into death.

But you know what I think?  I think Peter missed the last part of that whole thing.  The part where Jesus says, “and after three days rise again.”  That’s the key to it all, isn’t it?  It’s not the rejection and suffering and death that mark the Messiah; it is the after three days rise again part.  Peter is obviously rebuking Jesus for saying the Messiah must suffer and be killed, and he is missing the most important part.  How the story ends.

And then Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  And he adds the part that is hardest to hear: For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Peter wants Jesus to save his own life.  To deny the cross.  To walk away from the suffering and gain the whole world.  Just like us.  We want Jesus to stand up to the powers of evil, not suffer and die.  We want Jesus to be a little baby in Bethlehem, not an adult who goes to the grave.  We want our Messiah to be popular, not rejected by the religious leaders.  We want Jesus to be tough for us.  We.  Want.  Victory!

But our victory is in the cross of Jesus.  If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Jesus leads us on the way to resurrection, which is how the story ends for all of us.  But on the way to that victory, we suffer.  Even the happiest life will end in death.  And we know that.  We don’t like to think about that, but we all know it.  Which is why once a year we gather to have ashes rubbed on our foreheads with the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Death is inevitable, yes.  But because of Jesus, death is not the last word.

I think we all like to think that Jesus will solve our earthly problems for us.  In its most extreme form, you could call this the Jesus Saved Me a Parking Spot Syndrome.  Or, that kind of preaching that we call the Prosperity Gospel, where Jesus will make you rich if you just send the TV preacher ten bucks a week.  When we look to Jesus to save us from difficulties in life, well, as Jesus told Peter, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Jesus does not save us from difficult times; Jesus saves us in difficult times.  In the midst of suffering you are healed; in the midst of rejection you are loved; in the midst of death you are brought back to life.

That is perhaps the hardest thing to hear.  We want life to be easy, and happy, and fun.  And I think anyone whose life is easy, and happy, and fun is not paying attention.  As Jesus says in John’s gospel, “In this world you will have trouble.”  True enough.  But Jesus adds, “But do not be afraid, because I have overcome the world.”

So why does Jesus call Peter Satan?  Because Peter is setting his mind not on divine things but on human things.  He wants a world without trouble.  He wants a world where the Messiah rules on earth instead of in heaven.  And Jesus asks, “What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?”  Turns out, it is Peter who has the wrong script.  It is Peter who wants Jesus to focus on the here and now rather than on eternity.

So what am I saying?  That this life doesn’t matter?  That the suffering we see and feel isn’t real?  Of course not!  And it is our Christian duty to relieve that suffering as much as we are able, because we seek and serve Christ in all persons, just as we promise in our Baptismal Covenant.  But what I am saying is this:  Let Jesus be Jesus.  Do what you can to make this world a better place, yes please!  And take up your cross and follow Jesus on the way that leads to life.  Because it is in following Jesus that we find life.

In this life you will have trouble.  Yes.  And on bad days maybe even crinkled bacon!  But do not be afraid, for Jesus has overcome the world.  May God give us the strength to pick up our cross and follow Jesus, who will lead us together into new life.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

YEAR B 2018 lent 1

Lent 1, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15
Psalm 25:1-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  Every one of those things is scary.  With some explanation, every one of those things is something we spend our lives avoiding.  It’s fair to say that someone would probably have to force you to go out and face one of those things, let alone all four at once.  And in today’s gospel reading, someone does exactly that to Jesus.

The way it gets translated in our gospel text is, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  That’s pretty good.  But I want you to know that the Greek word that becomes “drove” in that sentence is actually ekballo.  Which doesn’t help yet, I know.  But ballo is the Greek word that means “to throw.”  When you add the prefix ek, which means “out,” you get ekballo, to throw out.  So, immediately after his baptism, the Spirit throws Jesus out into the wilderness.  What that looks like, we don’t know, but it definitely suggests that Jesus didn’t necessarily decide to take a walk in the woods, right?

And then, let’s go through that list of scary things I started with.  On the face of it, forty days is a long time, yes, but is it scary?  Does it drive fear into your heart?  I mean, for little children, the phrase “wait till next week” brings howls of protest.  But as adults, we’re pretty okay with forty days.  You know, someone makes an offer on your house to close in forty days (just to pick a totally random hypothetical example out of thin air—or our family’s recent personal experience), and you think, “Yeah, forty days isn’t that long.”  Or maybe even, forty days is not long enough!

But it’s important to look at the number forty from a Biblical perspective, which is what the readers of Mark’s gospel would bring to it.  For forty days and nights it rained until every living thing was killed except Noah and his family.  For forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert without a home.  Moses was on the mountain alone with God for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments.  Twice!  Jonah warned the people of Ninevah for forty days that God would destroy their city.  Ezekiel laid on His right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah's sins. Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.  And I feel compelled to point out that a healthy pregnancy typically lasts for forty weeks.  The number forty is usually connected to a time of testing or endurance or judgement or all of the above.  Forty days is a fearful amount of time.

In the wilderness.  For me, personally, this one is right out.  Forty minutes in the woods is 30 minutes too long for me.  As the comedian Jim Gaffagan says, I’m what you call indoorsy.  But for those of you who enjoy being out in nature, I just want to remind you that the wilderness of Jesus’ time and place is not the peaceful woods of Pennsylvania.  You’ve seen pictures, I’m sure, of the desert places around Israel.  Not exactly a walk in Walden woods.  Plus, since there was less than 300 million on the planet at the time, wilderness meant actual wilderness.

With wild animals.  I don’t really need to say much about that, do I?  I mean, you’ve seen Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, right?  Wild animals means exactly that.  There’s no lion tamer or matador walking in front of Jesus, let alone Jacques Cousteau.  It’s just Jesus and the wild animals in the wilderness for forty days until we remember, oh yeah . . .

Tempted by Satan.  This one is a little trickier, because we don’t really know what is meant by the word “satan.”  But that’s a discussion for anther time.  The main thing to remember is that it isn’t a man in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork, no matter what you may have read in Dante’s “Inferno” or seen in Renaissance paintings.  Nonetheless, tempted by satan would certainly be something Jesus would not be eager to run out and do.

So.  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  And then we get the one good thing here: and the angels waited on him.  Now THAT is an unfortunate translation, especially given our cultural baggage.  Because, what do you picture?  A bunch of creatures with wings and white robes, with a towel over their arm, bringing Jesus silver trays filled with pina coladas, right?  Well, it’s what I picture, anyway.  But there are two Greek words we need to look at here.  (Who knew this would turn into a Greek class?)

The word diakanoun means “ministered.”  We ran into it a couple weeks ago with the healing of Peter’s mother in law.  The second word is angello, which always gets translated as “angels,” which makes us think of chubby little babies with wings, but which actually means “messenger of God.”  We never get a reliable description of angels, but we each carry our own picture in our heads, either from Hallmark cards or artwork we’ve seen.  We don’t know what angels look like; we only know that they are messengers of God.  So, that phrase, “the angels waited on him,” should really say something more like, “the messengers of God ministered to him.”  And that’s important, for a reason we’ll get to in a minute.

To catch us up, then, immediately after his baptism, Jesus was thrown out into the desert for forty days with wild beasts, tempted by satan, and the messengers of God ministered to him.  And what happens after that?  Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now I want to revisit the specific dangers of those four things that Jesus faced.  You could say that forty days is a dangerous time.  And the wilderness is a dangerous place.  And wild beasts are physical danger.  And being tempted by satan is a mental and spiritual danger.  Dangerous time and place, and dangerous physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Immediately after his baptism, all that Jesus is, as a person, is in danger.  And, in the midst of this, messengers of God ministered to him.  And then, Jesus went out, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Each one of us faces dangers in life.  Not usually all at once, or hopefully not.  But there are times in all our lives when we are under assault by the dangers of time and place, where our physical, mental, and spiritual health are at risk.  Sometimes those dangers are caused by others, sometimes they are caused by our own actions.  And sometimes they happen just because the world is a dangerous place to live.  But, thanks be to God, we have messengers of God who minister to us in our dark times.  If you look around the room this morning, you will see some of them, these messengers of God.

I’ve never been a fan of telling people to do what Jesus does.  You know, asking yourself, What Would Jesus Do?  Because you and I are not Jesus (in case you haven’t noticed).  But I am always a fan of pointing out instances where we can follow Jesus, where he shows us the way.  And today’s gospel lesson is just one such time.

After baptism, it would be really nice just to stay here by the font.  Safe and sound in the knowledge that God has redeemed us through the waters of baptism, and claimed us as God’s own child.  But then, the Spirit throws us out in the dangerous place of daily life, to live in the dangerous times into which we are born.  Along the way, there will be challenges to our physical well being, our mental health, and our spirituality.  But all along the way, we are ministered to by the messengers of God.  And that is what gives us the strength to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As we begin these forty days of Lent together, may God send messengers to minster to each of us through the hardships of life, so that we can proclaim the good news of God’s love to the world.


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey
Feb. 17, 2018
Joshua 1:7-9
Psalm 146
Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
John 15:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

It truly is an honor to be with you all this afternoon.  A month ago, I asked Bridget to send me a sermon to read today, but with all the planning, I guess she forgot.   Bridget and I went to seminary together in New York.  But before seminary, my family and I lived in Maumee for about ten years, which is when I joined the Episcopal Church.  In my journey into the priesthood, members of St. Andrew's were on my various discernment committees.  And just before leaving for seminary, my wife and I attended our first Easter Vigil right here at St. Andrew’s, with all the drama and flair that Lynn McCallum brought to such things.

In my second year of seminary, the incoming class included Bridget Coffey.  We became friends, and eventually both became part of a small clique of marginal Anglo-Catholics . . . like you do.  For complicated reasons, I stayed in seminary an extra year (which I usually refer to as my “victory lap”), and spent most of my senior year hanging around with that small clique of four other future priests.  (And now that Bridget has been called to our Diocese, my secret reunification plan is 3/5 complete!)  So, then, Bridget came to my ordination here in Ohio, and I went to her ordination in Kentucky, and then we went off to our first calls.

I began my priestly work in Brunswick, which is southwest of Cleveland.  As the people and I approached our first Christmas together in the parish, a couple asked me if they could be married at the Christmas Eve service, since the bride’s mother was married on Christmas Eve.  I said, “Let me think about it,” and quickly called my assigned mentor, the Rev. Gay Jennings, current President of the House of Deputies.  (Yes, this is what you call “Episcopalian name dropping.”)  So Gay suggested I would have my answer by just imagining the opening procession of the service.  Where does the bride go?  Before the gospel book?  Behind the priest?  Carrying the cross?  And it was then I learned that some things just don’t go together.  Not all seasons of the church are appropriate for all things.

So let’s talk about having a celebration on the first Saturday in Lent, shall we?  As you know, Lent is a time of fasting and self-reflection, a time when many people give up sweets and treats.  So, a Lenten invitation might end up saying something like, “Come to my party this February!  There will be plenty of bread and water for everybody.  And if things really get hopping, we might even break out the sackcloth and ashes!  Regrets only.”  But . . . there is a distinct difference between a celebration and a party, when you think about it.  We might have a party for New Year’s Eve, but we have a Celebration of Life to remember a loved one.  While a fraternity might party till dawn, you and I gather together to celebrate the Eucharist at an Easter Vigil.  And though there might well be tables full of sweets awaiting us here in the parish hall, we are here today to Celebrate a New Ministry.

So, speaking of celebrating during Lent, let’s talk about commandments.  Many churches begin their services during Lent by reading The Decalog.  (Which is a fancy word for the Ten Commandments.)  The Ten Commandments, of course, are the list of things God gave to Moses up on Mt. Sinai.  If you ask most people about the Ten Commandments, they will tell you they’re a list of things that God says you shall and shall not do.  You know, like some basic guardrails of human behavior.  Most people think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts, all designed to bring the party down.  You know, like a commandment puts limits of the fun.  “I hereby command you to stop enjoying life.”

I think when we hear the word “commandment,” we all tense up a little.  Because we think of  a “commandment” as something against our will, or something we’re going to fail at.  Either it’s a list of rules we can’t keep, or it’s some requirement that is going to take away our fun.  We’re not good with commandments, especially when we know we can’t keep them.  That’s why the word makes us nervous.

In the opening chapter of Joshua, part of which we heard in our first reading, God tells Joshua to be “careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left.”  So, Joshua, stick to the commandments that I gave to Moses, plus the other rules.  And then, following that, there’s another command: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It feels a little strange to be commanded to be strong and courageous, doesn’t it?  I mean, if it were that simple, we could all be strong and courageous by sheer will, right?  But notice that the command to be strong and courageous is because the Lord your God is with you.  It is not strength and courage based on self-confidence and internet motivational courses; it is the reliance on God that gives strength and courage.  So, phew, it turns out that commandment comes with a set of tools and instructions.

In the Gospel reading from John, which we just heard, Jesus uses the word “commandment” three times.  And with such a short reading, that’s a lot!  And, as is typical of John’s Gospel, there’s a lot of logic and if/then kind of stuff going on.  John is often hard to follow for that very reason.  Like you have to pick it apart to see what he is saying.  And, as the preacher, today it is my job to do the picking.

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”  That’s pretty straight forward, right?  Jesus loves us like the Father loves him, and he says: abide in his love.  Got it.  So . . . How exactly do we abide in his love?  Well, Jesus helpfully answers our question: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Uh oh.  This If and Then sound like bad news, and I think it starts to make us sweat a little.  Because now there’s a condition attached, right?  And the condition is attached to our old nemesis, “commandment.”  IF we keep the commandments of Jesus, THEN we will abide in his love.

We’re all pretty sure Jesus’ commandments are a mile long, based on the Sermon on the Mount.  And then, Jesus ratchets it up by saying, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  So now, on top of if, then, and commandments, we’ve got long-term goals, right?  We will abide in his love, IF we keep his commandments.  And if we keep his commandments,  our joy will be complete.  So there’s a lot riding on getting this right, right?   We would like to abide in Jesus.  We would hope to keep his commandments.  And we certainly want for our joy to be complete.  Okay.  Alright.  Let’s have it Jesus.  What are your commandments?  Seriously, just go ahead and give us the bad news.

And Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Seriously?  That’s it?  Nothing about shellfish or coveting or gluttony?  Nothing about adultery in our hearts and killing with evil thoughts?  Just . . . love one another?  Oh, wait.  Love one another as you have loved us.  You knew there had to be a catch, right?  We’ve got to see what it means to love like Jesus loves.  So, let’s consider the question:  How does Jesus love us?

And the answer is, unconditionally.  Jesus loves you unconditionally, whether you like it or not.  If we love one another unconditionally, we will be keeping the commandment of Jesus, and we will abide in his love, and our joy will be complete.  It’s that simple.  Well, maybe simple is the wrong word.  I mean, it’s that straight forward.  Love one another unconditionally, and your joy will be complete, because you will abide in the love of Jesus.

Rev. Bridget Coffey, People of St. Andrew’s, we all want your joy to be complete.  And so we ask you to follow the commandment of Jesus: Love one another as Jesus has loved you.  Be patient with one another.  Give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Laugh and cry together, dance and pray together.  But above all else, love one another, as Jesus has loved you.

Your New Ministry together is     indeed something to celebrate.  We are excited for you, and we will support you in everything you do.  But I can tell you right now, we absolutely draw the line at having a wedding on Christmas Eve.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

YEAR B 2018 last sunday after epiphany

Last Sunday after Epiphany, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Psalm 50:1-6
Mark 9:2-9

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So today is what we call, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which is also the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  And, when was Epiphany, you may ask?  Twelve days after Christmas, or, you know, January 6th.  There are certain times in the church year where we count time in relationship to significant days that have passed.  The Sundays after Epiphany is one of these times.  The season after Pentecost is another one.  (Think, green.)

Epiphany is sometimes called the season of light, because of the star that led the Magi to the manger.  And the end of Epiphany is yet another time where the church is about to be intentionally out-of-step with the world.  The biggest example of that rebellion is at Christmas; when the world is at its darkest—seasonally—we talk about the light.  (That’s not unique to Christianity of course, since much of our Christmas symbolism is lifted straight out of pagan traditions.)  But the point is, in the midst of darkness, we talk about light.  There’s a poetic balance in this.

And now, later this week, we will enter into the season of Lent.  Funny thing is, as the days are growing longer, and a rodent in Pennsylvania has predicted our weather patterns, the church makes a decisive move into darkness, or, at least, contemplation.  The world is turning toward light and rebirth, and we will start focusing on our mortality and sinfulness.  There’s a poetic balance in this too.

Plus, there’s a tradition in the church during Lent to downplay the beautiful things.  We will figuratively bury the Alleluia (which is why I overused the word picking the hymns this morning--last call!); we will cover all the shiny crosses; we will stop with all the chanting and singing the Gloria.  In a sense, we will focus on the earthiness of things, the absence of glory.  And to get us ready for that journey into a somber six weeks, we get today’s gospel reading:  What we commonly call, The Transfiguration of Jesus.  And just to make things confusing, I want to note that the actual Feast of Transfiguration is observed on August 6th in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, while Lutherans and Methodists will be celebrating that feast today.  So, for us, this is not Transfiguration Sunday, and yet, we still get this gospel reading.  We press on . . .

The reason I started with all that church-year light-and-dark stuff is because I want to be sure we notice the combination of glory and earthly in this gospel text.  If I ask you what you remember about that story, you’ll probably say the part where Jesus was glowing more brightly than anyone could have bleached a cloth.  Or, you might remember that Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing next to him.  Or, if you’re more practically minded, you were wondering where exactly Peter was going to get a hammer and nails, let alone wood to build three dwellings on the mountain.

But, really, the most startling thing has to be Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration of Jesus, right?  Jesus is revealed in all his glory, right along with Moses and Elijah, two of God’s most celebrated servants, heroes of the faith.  It’s almost like heaven has come down to the top of this mountain, and the disciples are there to witness it.  The glory of Jesus is revealed!  Such a vision!  And the message they get is not, “Behold the glory of the Lord!”  The message is not, “Check out this vision of awesomeness!”  No, the message they get is, “Listen to him.”

It’s like someone takes you to the Louvre in Paris and says, “Listen to these paintings!”  Or like I take my wife up to Lake Erie because she loves sunsets, and I sit her down a rock, and say, “now close your eyes.”  What is going on here?

And the answer is, the disciples are really good at watching, but not so good at listening.  In Mark’s gospel, over and over Jesus says, “Let those who have ears listen.”  He says that like five times.  Why?  Well, here’s why:  Every time Jesus tries to tell the disciples that he must suffer and die they either don’t get it, or they say they don’t want to hear it.  Just a few verses before the reading we heard today, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, and Peter takes him aside and rebukes him saying, this must never happen.  And now, next thing you know, they’re up on the mountain with a loud voice saying, “Listen to him.”

But up on that mountain, oh the disciples see the glory of Jesus!  Brighter than bright.  Moses and Elijah.  Let’s build some houses and stay right here where everything is beautiful.  We love the glory of Jesus, and we don’t want to hear about any suffering.  And then—poof—everything is back to normal, and the disciples are alone with Jesus, standing on the mountain.  No glory, no Moses and Elijah, just them.  And then they come back down the mountain, and Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they saw until he has risen from the dead.

Now consider this for a moment . . . If that experience up on the mountain with Moses and Elijah and the glorious Jesus was like a glimpse of heaven, then Jesus is now coming down from heaven.  You could almost put it like this:  for us and for our salivation, he came down from heaven.  Jesus is coming down the mountain to where you and I are, because we cannot climb the mountain to see his glory.  We can’t go up, so Jesus is coming down to get us.  And guess what?  He brings his glory with him.  Jesus doesn’t stop being God when he comes down the mountain.  It’s not like a magic switch went on and off up there on the mountain.  Jesus is still Jesus.

But, like the disciples, we naturally prefer the glory to the suffering and death.  We are all very good at pretending death can be kept away, or avoided.  Easter is a lot better than Good Friday.  We’d prefer happy days every day, if you don’t mind, Jesus.  Fortunately, for us, it’s not an either or kind of thing.  Jesus is truly God and truly man.  And by going to the grave for us, Jesus overcomes the grave for us.  We can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.  And Jesus doesn’t get to the salvation of all without dying a real death himself.  To give it a folksy spin, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.  Or, bad with the good.  However that goes.

So here’s something to ponder during Lent:  We cover the beautiful shiny objects during this upcoming contemplative season, but they’re still there.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  Jesus comes down the mountain with the disciples to eat his meals and bathe in the river, but he is still God.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  The glory is still there, and the voice tells us to stop looking and listen.  Listen to Jesus.

And  here’s an even better way to think of it.  Every Sunday we gather to celebrate the Eucharist together.  It is a foretaste of the feast to come.  And at this meal, we enter into an eternal feast with the saints of every time and every place, and the whole company of heaven, gathered around the throne of God singing Holy Holy Holy!  The feast of victory for our God.  The passover from death into life.  The holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.

And how do we partake of this most magnificent meal?  In the earthiest of ways.  Not on glorious, expensive china, but in our regular, personal hands.  A small piece of bread and a sip of wine.  And that bread and that wine remind us that the only reason we are sharing in this feast, the only reason this whole thing even works is because of the last meal Jesus ate with his friends, as he was preparing to go to the cross on our behalf.  In this glorious meal, we are remembering his death.  In our celebration of life we are commemorating his descent among the dead.

Jesus was transfigured in heavenly glory on the mountain, yes.  But more importantly, for us, and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, so that we might share in his victory over the grave.  May God give us the grace to listen to this beloved son, and to trust in his word, that he has brought —and continues to bring—life out of death.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

YEAR B 2018 epiphany 5

Epiphany 5, 2018
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Back when our kids were in grade school, I found myself with an awful combination of pneumonia and my back being all out of alignment, and I spent about a week on the floor, lying on my back.  Throwing out your back, along with pneumonia is kind of a perfect storm . . . except for the perfect part.  From there, it was a painful, slow recovery, but I don’t remember much about the whole thing.  Or at least not the pain part of it.  (If humans actually could remember pain, no woman would ever have a second child.)

But the one thing that does stick in my mind—the most horrible part of it all—was when my children would come running past where I lay on the floor, and then slow down so as not to disturb me.  It honestly broke my heart, and it felt horribly isolating.  I should’ve been up and running around the house, tormenting their mother right along with them.  Instead, I was covered in blankets, coughing and in pain, cut-off from all the joys of being with my family.

Obviously, I did recover.  But there’s a similarity between my story and today’s gospel story, the healing of Simon’s mother in law.  To remind you of the setup, it is the Sabbath day.  Jesus has just finished teaching in the synagogue, and walks over to the house where Simon’s mother-in-law is lying sick with a fever.  We’re not told whose house it is, but it is likely that Simon and his wife (and possibly his brother Andrew) would all have been living in the house with Simon’s mother-in-law, and other relatives as well.  That arrangement was quite common in those days, and it would’ve meant that Simon’s mother-in-law, the Matriarch would be in charge of hospitality.  It would be her honor in the household community to welcome visitors, to arrange for food, and so on.

But she is sick in bed.  She is unable to welcome Jesus and the others.  She is unable to do much of anything except be covered in blankets, cut-off from all the joys of being with her family, and her special place within it.  The Sabbath meal is a big event in any Jewish home, and to be excluded from it is no small thing.  For the person in charge to be excluded is just unthinkable.  Simon’s mother-in-law is not only sick, but probably heartbroken and distressed as well.

And as we heard, the four disciples told Jesus about the sick woman, and Jesus goes immediately to her.  He grasps her hand, raises her up, the fever leaves her, and she serves them.

Now we have to deal for a moment with this idea that “she serves them.”  I grew up in a house of four boys.  I know that my own mother’s read on this would be that Jesus had to heal Simon’s mother-in-law because he was hungry, and these five men would be incapable of making a sandwich on their own.  Maybe true.  Or, maybe by the time Simon’s mother answers all the questions about where everything is in the kitchen, she would just end up going to the kitchen and cooking, despite being sick.

But this cynical read overlooks the word that is used in the text.  The word in Greek is diaconei, which gets translated as “she served them.”  You can probably guess that this word, diaconei is related to our word, deacon.  And, though our Deacons may feed people, they are certainly more than short-order cooks.  Simon’s mother-in-law does not rise up to make a sandwich for the guests.  She begins to serve them, to minister to them.  Which might include making food, sure, but definitely means much more than that.  She rises up to perform her ministry in the house.

She is taken by the hand and healed, and is restored to her place in the community.  She is raised to join in the celebration.  Jesus comes to this woman in a physical and tangible way.  Not with magic words, spoken from across the room, but with a healing touch.  Where she had been excluded from the Sabbath meal, restoration to the household means restoration to the meal.

She is not healed so that she might once again be a highly functioning individual, seeking out her personal destiny.  She is not healed to cook up some food for five hungry men who don’t know their way around a kitchen.  She is healed in order to retake her place in the community.  And her response to that healing takes the form of service, to Jesus and the other guests in the house.

We can contrast this healing with the healing of the nameless crowd that happens later that night.  Here, we are told, the whole city gathers at the door of the house, and Jesus heals many and casts out demons, and then all the healed people just go on home.  Flashy, yes, but all we see is a crowd getting healed.  At the end of this long day, Jesus rises early and goes off by himself to pray.  Can he a get a moment’s rest?  No, he cannot.  Here come the disciples, telling him that “everyone is looking for you.”  The disciples seem to miss the point of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law.  There’s the suggestion here of Jesus being some side-show miracle healer, rather than the one who brings fullness of life. 

There’s a hint that the disciples want the rock star Jesus to come back and bask in the glow of his awesome accomplishments.  They say, everyone is looking for you.  And Jesus responds, then let’s go somewhere else.  He has no intention of setting up Jesus’ Magical Healing Shop in the house next to the synagogue.  Jesus seems to be trying to tell them that there is more to all this than “fixing” people.  Jesus wants to go into the neighboring towns so that he “may proclaim the message there also.”

What message?  The message of the good news.  That God has come near.  That healing and rejoining the community are possible.  The mighty and fearsome God we heard about in Isaiah has come to heal people face to face.  God raises up by the touch of Jesus’ hand, that people might then minister to those around them.  The kingdom of heaven has come near.  To stand around the door of the house and get a dose of healing misses the point.  To be brought to physical wholeness is only half the story.  The message to be proclaimed throughout the surrounding cities is seen in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, not in the clamoring crowd.  Jesus reaches out, raises up, and restores community.

God reaches out to us in this same way, takes our hand, raises us up, and restores community.  In Jesus, we are brought back to community--to life in fact--and can take up our unique place, fulfilling our own roles, living out our own parts to play in the Sabbath celebration.

There are times when each of us is debilitated by suffering and isolation.  Jesus meets us where we are: lying on the floor, or sitting in these pews; suffering in our beds at night, or worrying behind a desk at work.  Jesus offers himself by stretching out his hand to raise us to new life.  But it’s important to note, we are not raised back to life so that we can continue to live in our little isolated worlds.  The point of being healed is to rejoin the community, because that is where we are nourished and comforted and carried.

When we are too weak to stand, Jesus raises us up.  When we are isolated in our pain, Jesus brings us back into the fold.  And when we feel we cannot carry on, we are carried by those around us.  There are days when any one of us walks in that door and can barely stand.  Days when our personal suffering is overwhelming.  Days when the last thing you want to do is sing or pray.  And on those days, the household sings and prays for you.  You are carried on a song and a prayer because you don’t have one of your own.  The voices of those around you is the song you cannot sing, the prayer you cannot pray, and the congregation is speaking for you.  The community of Jesus carries you through.

And on those days, and on this day, Jesus feeds a meal, ministers to us in a body broken and in blood poured out.  This God who knows the names of the stars and puts them in their place, knows your name, meets us here in this place, in the most personal way: in food and drink.  We are raised up, and restored to health together, so that we might rise up and minister to those around us together.