Sunday, August 18, 2019

I came to bring fire...yikes!

Sermon for August 18, 2019 – St. Matthew’s Church

Proper 15C – RCL Track 1

Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
and daughter against mother,
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

mother against daughter
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

I have to be honest – I don’t like this passage from Luke!  Every time it comes up I hope that I am not the one who is assigned to preach.  This is not a feel-good passage about Jesus going after the one lost sheep.  It is not a passage that talks about radical forgiveness like the parable of the prodigal son.  This is a passage that makes me uncomfortable – and I bet it makes some of you uncomfortable too.  And that is a good thing for me and for you.  It is a good thing to wrestle with difficult passages.  It is good because they make us think.  It is good because they challenge us to look at our theology and see where it might be veering into hypocrisy or heresy.

This passage seems so out of character for Jesus…but is it really?  We find it uncharacteristic, uncomfortable, because we have largely domesticated Jesus.  We want to see the Jesus that we find in stained glass windows or in children’s Sunday School books.  We try to domesticate God so that we are comfortable.

Our presiding Bishop likes to say that if it isn’t about love it isn’t about God.  And this passage is still about love.  Because the fire Jesus yearns to ignite is the refiners fire that leads to God’s reign of Love coming into our presence.  A reign that is characterized by love of God and love of our neighbors.  A reign that welcomes those who society would cast into the fire into the very embrace of God.

The reality in Jesus time, if only the people would look, is that most people do not want that kind of society.  They don’t want to let go of their perks that have been given to them by a conquering empire.  Humans have a propensity for taking what we find comfortable and worshiping that as an idol.  We do it today. 

In Friday’s Sacramento Bee Marcus Breton had an article on homeless folk and our failure to provide housing for people.  He chronicled all the reasons that someone will likely die in the cold this winter.  And he lays it at our feet.  He points out that all the talk from our politicians about providing shelters runs into roadblock after roadblock.  Anyplace that is proposed for a low barrier shelter – one that accepts all people, complete with their needs, their pets, and their partners, someone opposes.  There are limited areas that have the space for a large 100 bed shelter.  And none of the places are right.  None are perfect – and all of them will be opposed by a set of Sacramento residents.  It will not be the same set at each location but there will be opposition.  Some of it is real and much of it is fear.  Fear that “the others” will bring crime to the neighborhood.  Fear that it will drag down the fragile improvements being made in areas that have the space and sewer and water connections needed for a large shelter.   The idea of shelters causes division.  Just a Jesus caused division in his community by eating with outcasts and declaring forgiveness to those who turn towards God.

We live in a country where division is so pervasive that we hardly even notice the headline anymore.  We only pay attention when someone dies – and then only long enough for the bodies to be buried.  This division is, in part, due to folks being fearful that if we let someone else have what they need – be that housing, asylum, medical care, a living wage, God’s love – if somehow we let someone else have something we will lose out on our privilege.  Our society – indeed much of the world – subscribes to an economy of limitations.  An economy of scarcity. And we put that economy on God.

However, God’s economy is one of abundance.  An abundance of Love.  An abundance of forgiveness.  An abundance of welcome.  And Jesus came to try and get those around him to see that economy.  To see the need for radical healing.  To see the need to change how we operate. 

Jesus called us to stop worshiping the idols that separate us from God’s creation.  And that kind of talk causes division because we don’t want to let go of our comforts.  Jesus told the people that just like noticing the weather they should notice the need for change.  And it is still just a true today.  Too many people, many who call themselves Christians, cannot see the need to change.  They continue to domesticate Jesus and God.

The good news is that there are people who advocate for the kind of radical change that Jesus calls us to make.  The good news is that there are places in our scriptures that make us uncomfortable with how our world is behaving. 

The sad part is that advocating for the kinds of change that God desires still causes division.  The sad news is that eating with those society considers outcasts and unclean still causes division. 

I invite you to continue to wrestle with the difficult parts of God’s word… because it is those parts that will call us to shake off our sins and to welcome God’s reign of love into our hearts and into our world.  And when we do it will cause division – it will cause the refiners fire to melt our hard hearts and accept a different society.  The society of love and forgiveness that is the dream of God. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Be not afraid, little flock...

Sermon for August 11, 2019 – St. Matthew’s Sacramento

Proper 14C – RCL – Track 1 

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Luke 12:32-40

Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
"But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Do not be afraid.  With all that is going on in our world it is hard to not be afraid.  With multiple mass shootings, at least one of which was racially motivated, the young man told investigators purposefully targeted Hispanics shopping in a Walmart at the border town of El Paso.  A town that the gunman had to drive for 10 hours to reach.  Shootings in Ohio in a popular, and officials said, “safe” entertainment district.  Shootings at the Gilroy garlic festival. A festival my parents attended for years.

With heightened racial rhetoric including a request from a group in Stockton to produce a “Straight Pride event” which during a hearing the organizer of the event described the group as “peaceful racists”.  An oxymoron if I ever heard it – being a racist is not by definition peaceful.  Denigrating any of God’s beloved children due to their racial identity, their gender identifications, their sexuality, is an act of violence – if not directly acted upon in overt violence to any particular person or persons, is an act of violence in the eyes of our loving God. 

It is not just humankinds’ unjust actions to the other that is happening.  We live in a world that is increasingly suffering from environmental destruction.  Nicotinoid pesticides are wiping out bee colonies.  Climate change is impacting where multiple species are able to live. In my recent trip to the Midwest I was astonished, driving through swaths of corn and soybean fields at the almost complete lack of insects.  Years ago, I remember driving through agricultural fields in the central valley ending with a car windshield so impacted by bugs that we could not see through it.  Where have all the insects gone? The command of our loving God to be good stewards of creation is being violated all over the world – both to the detriment of the environment but also to the detriment of God’s beloved children. 

With all that is going on in the world today it is hard to not afraid.  Today I feel more resonance with God’s lament from the prophet Isaiah that we read today:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation--
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

Indeed our hands are full of blood.  The thoughts and prayers offered up by leaders after every tragedy ring hollow in the absence of action.  On Friday night I joined our Bishop Megan, along with other faith leaders, and civic leaders, for a Vigil of Lament at Trinity Cathedral.  Lament for the ways we humans have fallen short of the command to Love our God with our entire beings and to love all of our neighbors – a command that does not have a footnote that says our neighbors are only those who look, act, or pray like us.  A command to love all of our neighbors.

During the service DeaconKaren and I gathered with an interdenominational group of faith leaders to read the litany against gun violence.  In that litany we prayed for those who have died.  We did not have time to read the names of the individuals who have died, as unfortunately we would have been there all night, but we named the places and the number killed.  Even at that the litany was long – the number of mass shootings just in our country was staggering.  People killed.  Children killed.  People killed because of the color of their skin.  People killed because of being Jewish.  People killed in churches.  People killed because they were dancing at a gay nightclub.  People killed while they were enjoying concerts, watching movies, enjoying a night out with friends.

During the service we were all invited to write on pieces of paper the names of those we know who have been a victim of gun violence.  Or how we have been impacted by gun violence.  One young boy, Raihan Said , who was featured in news footage from the service on channel 10 wrote on his paper:  “life is so prescioies [sic]. Life a gift that can be there one second and be gone the next. Peace and Love.”  In the interview He said he can’t really explain it.  He asked “how many times is this going to happen? When will it end?”  Wise words from such a young man.

In her opening remarks at the Vigil Bishop Megan said, “Tonight, we pause as sorrow and hope hold hands across the pain of this moment. But we must also move and push forward, rounding the corner toward answers; solutions that provide the assurance of safety we need in our communities. Let us take action, joining our civic leaders in asking for the change that is necessary to make our city, our state and our country safe from gun violence.”

The service was, like the reading from the prophet Isaiah a lament.  But it was also one that opened our hearts to God’s cleansing healing.  It was a time when we could come forward and offer our hurts to God.  It was a times we could hear the voices of our leaders say that enough is enough.  It was a time we could call to wash ourselves as Isaiah said in God’s lament:

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.”

At the service Bishop Megan called us to prayer, “Tonight, I invite you, again, to join me in unceasing prayer as we bear witness to the continued suffering of our children, siblings and parents: families together. I pray that we might recognize and begin the right actions to address this scourge of anger and sorrow. As Jesus commanded us to pray for others, we pray also for those who have used violence against others, that God’s grace may transform all of our lives.”

Jesus reminds us in our Gospel lesson to not be afraid.  A tall order both then – at a time of occupation in Israel, and now in a world that seems filled with violence and hate.   It is a tall order, but Jesus said to his disciples – and to us that “for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  This is an incredible promise, an incredible gift if we will only take it.  God wants to give us God’s peaceful kingdom.  God want to give us the kingdom of Love. 

It is a gift that we cannot earn.  It is by God’s unbelievable love for God’s creation that we are offered this gift.  When we accept that gift, we will discover that we act differently.  We will find it easy to  give alms.  We will find that we are prepared to shine a light on the light of goodness and love of creation when the evil tries to snuff out that light.  We will be ready to call out the evil that infects the hearts and souls of our world.  We will gather, as we do today and as we did at Trinity Cathedral, to show that evil will not snuff out the light of a loving God.  Evil will try but we must be vigilant.  We must call out evil when we see it.

This community of faith gives me hope in the darkness.  When I see the welcome that this congregation provides to the community, when I see the work of River City Food bank, when I see this community hosting a health clinic on a Sunday for members of the community who are in need I have hope.  I wonder how many faith communities would be willing to disrupt its worship time by hosting a health clinic during their worship time!  I tell you by doing so you are being the heart of Jesus.  You are being the hands and feet of our living God.  You are indeed following Jesus’ command when he said, “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." 

When we call out the evil that infects our world.  When we offer a place of healing for those who are hurting.  When we provide a place that feeds God’s beloved children – both spiritually and physically.  When we welcome all of God’s beloved children into our midst – then we are ready for the coming of the Son of Man.  Indeed, we are already seeing the coming of God’s kingdom at this very corner of Edison and Bell.