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Saturday, December 24, 2016

By Heart

The only way we could know God’s heart, God’s love, is by meeting God in the flesh; this is still the only way the world will know, as we enflesh God’s love in the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord
   Texts: Luke 2:1-20; John 1:4, 14, 18; Isaiah 9:2-7

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.” (John 1:18)

We have come to this manger tonight, and to this baby, as we always do, through Luke’s eyes. But John tells us what this baby, this manger, means.

God the only Son, who is close to God the Father’s heart, makes God known to us. Like so many, we have longed for God’s coming, for God’s hope, for God’s light, especially in our world that careens ever more wildly toward darkness. But none of us has ever seen God. None of us can know God. Anything we imagine about God is a reflection of our own heart and mind, not of God’s true heart and mind.

Unless God comes to us. Unless God’s true heart is revealed to us, in the flesh. Then we could know.

This is the great wonder of this moment in Bethlehem. Not the familiar elements, animals and straw, angels and shepherds, tired young couple. No, the wonder is that in this baby we are told we see God. This baby, this Son of God, who is close to the Father’s heart, came to make the heart of God known to us.

This baby came that we might know God by heart.

When we are people walking in darkness, it’s hard to understand this.

There is a beauty and sentiment that appeals to us on Christmas, that moves us in music and word, through the light of candles, the smell of pine. Much of this, in the moment, brings peace.

But beyond this moment tonight, it’s a hard world, with frightening things. We will awake with the same problems the world faced before, the same concerns about our lives, about our neighbors’ lives, the same fears. All that makes tonight special can seem just decoration, fluff, in the light of day.

The darkness in which the world walks is real. If God is bringing light into that darkness through this baby, we need to look much more closely at what John says, not simply having a momentary basking tonight in Luke’s manger scene.

If this baby is truly God-with-us, how is that real for tomorrow, not just tonight?

If this birth is God coming to be with us so that we can know God by heart, how is that real right now, in our lives?

The truth is in the baby, but it began centuries before, almost from the moment of creation.

God’s great dilemma with humanity is that love, which is the reason for God’s creating the universe, cannot be taught. So these people on this planet God loved, when they did not live and act in love toward anything – God, the creation, each other – we became a challenge for God.

Given the call to nurture and care for this creation, we disrupted the harmony of nature instead. Given hearts to love each other, we sought our own good above all, to the destruction of our neighbor. Given spirits to reach into the loving life of the Trinity, we placed ourselves as gods.

How could God break through to us? Love was what we were designed for, but love can’t be taught. The Ten Commandments are beautiful teachings on love and how to live in love with God, nature, and each other. We made them an enemy, we treated God’s law as punishment. We wouldn’t listen to the heart behind the teaching.

The Spirit of God was always moving in creation, and through that, throughout human history, God was moving and drawing us to love. But eventually this truth stood out: the only way we could know God’s love is if we met God in the flesh.

Love can only be received, met through the love of another, their grace, their compassion, their embrace. If this world was going to be shaped and moved by love as God intended, God would need to come in person.

We needed to learn God’s love by heart.

When we learn something by heart, it’s embedded in us. We act and operate without thinking, it is second nature. This is how deeply God wanted us to know God’s love. So that we had it by heart. So that it was the fuel for our spirit, the shape of our mind, the purpose of our hearts.

This is why there is a baby in a manger we need to see as God. When God contemplated coming among us, showing us God’s true heart, the answer was obvious to God. God would be born among us as a child, dependent upon human beings for everything. Because for God, the heart of love is vulnerability. Love at its heart is willing to be wounded in order to love, willing to risk all to be open to the other, to God, to the world. Love doesn’t build walls or weapons arsenals. Love doesn’t protect itself.

This is what we know about God by heart. Vulnerability is the way of God’s love, of God’s life, of God’s peace. There’s no need for an artist to draw the shadow of the cross over the manger for us to learn this, either. At the cross we see God’s utter vulnerability, yes. God’s willingness to let us kill rather than to overpower us with might. But we need only see this baby in a manger to see this truth about God’s love already.

God comes to us utterly vulnerable, dependent on us just to live. “Take up your cross,” Jesus said. He could just as easily have said, “Get into your manger.” The love is the same.

And we learned it from this baby.

We can’t teach this love, either. Now we know why God has called us Christ.

If the witness of this baby, who grew to be Christ Jesus, died, rose, and ascended, was the end of God’s plan, the world would be back in the same mess. For the years after this birth, stretching now to 2,000, God would be back to trying to teach us how to love each other, the creation, and God. If it didn’t work before, it’s not likely to now.

The only way to know God’s heart is to meet God in the flesh. That’s where we come in. God’s heart will not be known through doctrine or teaching, through us telling people things. But if we are, as Scripture tells us, God’s enfleshed Christ in the world, well then. Now God’s plan, begun at this manger, can continue to work God’s love in the world.

We cannot tell someone “be not afraid,” and hope it will stick. But we can stand with them as God’s vulnerable love and ease their fear.

We cannot preach to someone “God loves you,” and hope they believe. But we can stand with them as God’s embracing love and show them in person.

We cannot talk about light shining in the darkness and hope people will see it. But we can be God’s light in our lives and our love and it will shine in the deepest night.

The only way we could know God’s heart, God’s love, was by meeting God in the flesh.

That’s how any of us came to faith. We came to faith through the love of God enfleshed in another, begun in this baby whom we worship tonight. When vulnerable love opened to us, embraced us, brought us undeserved forgiveness, unexpected hope, unfamiliar welcome. When one of those who are Christ was love to us, then we knew.

It’s still how we learn God by heart. It’s how the people in darkness still see a great light. When we climb into our own manger, open our lives and hearts to love as we have been loved, when we risk all to be grace, to be love.

Now we know God by heart. Now we can love others that they might also know God by heart.

And so the light shines. And the darkness cannot overcome it.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, December 18, 2016

God Is With Us

When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak, it stirs up our lives. But it is still God with us, and it is our life.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fourth Sunday of Advent, cycle A
   Texts: Matthew 1:18-25; Isaiah 7:10-16

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it.

That’s our Advent warning. We’ve been praying each week that God would come, that God would stir up things (power, hearts, our wills), that in Christ God would heal our world.

But what if God answers our prayers? Are we ready for that? A friend quoted to me one of her teachers, who said, “God coming near is of course what everybody wants, and what nobody wants.”

That’s ridiculous. Of course we all want God with us. But look what happens when God comes near. When the Triune God enters the world to bring healing and life, it’s inconvenient, it’s unexpected, it looks foolishly weak. So if we’re not ready for how God answers our prayers for coming, should we pray them?

The coming of God into the world is always inconvenient, it changes things.

We imagine God as the Great Fixer, who could cut through all red tape and make things right. Whether or not we admit it, part of that hope is then we don’t have to do anything to make a difference, we’re off the hook.

Unfortunately, God’s plan is very different. God looks at the pain and suffering in this world and says, “I need to be with them.” But not as the Great Wizard who instantly forces all things into different shapes and realities. (If God were such a god, our lives would also be radically changed; we forget that. We’re stuck with change either way.)

But God’s way of being with us is coming to us as one of us, in this baby Joseph is trying to understand today, this baby who is the Christ. But the plan continues with filling each of God’s children with the Spirit of God, so each is Christ, anointed, God’s presence in the world. As far back as Abraham and Sarah, this part is always God’s way.

We know this. But we need to remember it when we pray that God come and stir up things. The first thing God always stirs up is our lives.

Whatever Joseph might have been praying, God’s coming tore his life apart.

Did he want the Christ, the Messiah, to come? Probably, though it’s hard to know if the everyday working person in Israel had a lot of time to hope for Messiah.

Whatever he wanted, though, was lost once Mary got pregnant. Hope for a settled life with this woman to whom he was betrothed. Hope for a firstborn of his own, maybe a son to teach his livelihood. All this is shattered with Mary’s announcement that she’s pregnant, and her claim that God is the other parent.

Gentle Jesus sweet and mild in the manger is a lovely image for a Christmas card. But Joseph’s life was utterly changed by God’s coming. So was Mary’s, of course, but today our Gospel focuses on Joseph. This baby was inconvenient, unexpected, weak, dependent upon Joseph’s skill and energy and effort. This baby might have been God’s plan, but without Joseph and Mary it was going nowhere.

We could say the same about our own lives.

Whether or not we like it, like Joseph, we are faced with the reality of God’s coming being exceedingly inconvenient, unexpected, weak, and dependent upon us.

We’d rather God didn’t involve us. The problems we face just in our own lives, let alone the horrors that the world endures, are daunting beyond our ability to grasp. We wake up in the night and realize our worry again. We read the papers or watch the news and fret, get angry, feel despair.

But when we say, “Come to us, God, be with us,” God says, “I am. I’m in you. You have my Spirit.” And then we realize our lives are part of God’s answer. We realize God is stirring things up in the world, beginning with our hearts and lives.

That doesn’t always feel like good news.

If Joseph could have seen the whole story of this baby, from birth to life to teaching to healing to the cross to the resurrection and ascension, maybe he’d have a perspective of hope and expectation.

But like us, all he could see was what changed that day. That moment. Before he could get around the idea that God was changing his life, he had to believe that it was God, and not some other man. The angel dream helped.

But no angel or dream could change the truth that his life was now on a different path, a harder path, one he probably didn’t want, certainly didn’t expect. That’s often where we are when we hear God calling to us.

But here is why we pray in Advent, why we hope, why we say, “Come to us, O God.”

Because we know we want God to be with us. Yes, God’s often inconvenient, and unexpected, and we are weak and dependent. We don’t often know how we can help or if we want to.

But we know the Spirit of God in our hearts, and we know the love of God in our lives. We know the grace of being forgiven and restored. We know the comfort of being guided on our path, and having our eyes opened to ways we can be God’s Christ. We know the joy of God’s community of faith, where we meet God in each other.

And we’ve seen God’s plan actually working. Unlike Joseph, we can see how important he was. We can see countless followers of Christ Jesus the same way, living as Christ over the centuries. We can see God brought healing and life through them.

We don’t always see the inconvenience it caused them, or the suffering, or the fear that they weren’t enough. But we know they felt it, since we do, too.

But like us, they knew God was with them. So they lived, as we do, in hope.

God is with us. That’s the promise. That’s the truth. That’s the sign.

We are the coming of Christ in this world for our time, along with billions more. That might mean changed habits, challenging moments, fearful days. We might, like Joseph, wish for a simpler, calmer life, where God just fixed things and we just lived as we wanted to.

But we don’t always get what we think we want. The grace is we always get what we really want.

We get God, who comes. We get the joy of living in God’s love with each other and with the world, filled with God’s Spirit, never being alone. The hope of God’s healing coming to the world.

Compared to that, what’s a little inconvenience, a little stirring up, a little change? Or even big ones? God has heard our prayer, and is come. In us, in Christ throughout the world, God will heal all things.

That is a prayer worth praying.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What You See and Hear

We know Christ in the world by what we see and hear: the grace and love and healing of God continues to move through a dark world, bringing light and hope.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Third Sunday of Advent, cycle A
   Texts: Matthew 11:2-11; Isaiah 35:1-10

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

That’s a powerful Advent question John the Baptizer asks Jesus. Has Christ come, or should we wait for another?

It’s a question filled with sadness, too. John, in prison, sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask this, because somehow John isn’t sure anymore. John, sent to prepare the way of Christ in the world, wonders as he faces death if Jesus is that Christ. John, who didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he recognized him as the greater One coming, now wonders if he made a mistake. It’s a frightening thought as you face death to wonder if you messed up the one main job you had.

Jesus answered “Go and tell John what you see and hear.” Tell him what’s happening. Ask him what he thinks that means.

But John was seeing and hearing things already. That’s why he asked in the first place.

John was a prophet. His call was to prepare the world for God’s anointed to come.

The Christ, the Messiah, was coming. And John saw a world woefully unprepared. He saw corruption, oppression. He saw people living lives apart from God. He saw in stark terms, in or out, black or white. You either bear fruit or you don’t.

He was in prison for speaking out about what he saw. He rebuked his ruler for marrying his own niece, who also happened to be married to his own brother at the time. John publicly condemned this, and “other evils” Herod had done, Luke tells us. So Herod put John in prison.

But John had been hearing about Jesus’ ministry since his baptism, and it seems to have caused doubt. Earlier, John’s disciples had come to Jesus with another question. John and his disciples practiced fasting as a spiritual discipline, but Jesus and his disciples apparently enjoyed their food and drink. They wondered why, and asked Jesus.

Jesus said you don’t fast when the bridegroom is present, an odd answer. But probably as troubling to John was Jesus’ approach to repentance. Jesus and John both preached it. But instead of proclaiming axes and fire and threatening people, Jesus said, “Follow me.” He invited people to follow him and learn as they went.

He picked flawed people as disciples, and trusted that they’d figure it out. Jesus had standards, no doubt. He called his followers to give up their lives to follow him. But his approach came with invitation, with promise of forgiveness, with proclamations of God’s love. He sought out publicly known sinners and ate with them, instead of publicly rebuking them as failures.

It seems clear the contrast between John’s and Jesus’ approaches were so striking John was finding doubt about his whole mission.

Jesus’ answer to John is brilliant.

He didn’t defend himself, or defend his disciples’ eating and drinking. He didn’t explain his approach. He simply sent John’s disciples back with the evidence of their eyes and ears.

And what did they see and hear Jesus do? Act like the Christ, the Messiah, as Isaiah promised. At Christ’s coming, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a deer. Jesus was doing all this, and John’s disciples witnessed it. For good measure, Jesus reminded them that they’d seen lepers cleansed, the dead raised, and the good news preached to those who were poor.

Jesus, God’s Christ, has a simple answer for any who wonder if he is whom we claim him, if he’s the one for whom the world has waited: what do you see and hear? What does that tell you?

We likely share more than a little of John’s concerns.

Even some time after Christ Jesus began his ministry, John still looked at a world of corruption and oppression, of violence and evil, where people lived with little regard for living as God’s people. Yet Jesus seemed to act with much less anxiety about what was happening, and with much less prophetic anger. Did he not see what John saw?

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John’s question is our question. In a world of darkness and fear such as ours, we have to know the answer. Even if other generations have thought the same, that they were living in particularly evil times, challenging times, times of tribulation, and even if they really were, we know we, too, live in such times.

And if God isn’t taking the world’s evil seriously enough to come and put an end to all of this, if the coming of Christ at Bethlehem 2,000 years ago still hasn’t changed this world, brought peace on earth, goodwill to all, then we’ve got questions. If we’ve still got to wait, if God’s Messiah is yet to come, we need to know that.

Jesus’ answer to John is Jesus’ answer to us.

And that’s part of our problem. Blind people seeing, deaf people hearing, lame people walking, dead people living, all these were signs Jesus did 2,000 years ago. Such miracles don’t often happen like that anymore. Part of our struggle with faith is that miracles like Jesus did, and restorations of the whole creation and of all people such as we hear promised in Isaiah don’t seem to happen now, and haven’t for some time.

But we’ve forgotten something very important. When Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to fill his followers, to transform them into Christ themselves, anointed ones, Messiahs. Paul claims that we are the Body of Christ and he doesn’t mean it as metaphor. We are, Paul constantly claims, actually Christ in the world, Anointed Ones of God, doing the work of Christ. That was the plan all along. That God would come to us as one of us, and transform us to be God’s Christ in the world ourselves.

So yes, Christ Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, did amazing things when he was here. Perhaps since we are not God ourselves, we can assume the Triune God never expected us to do such things with divine power. And remember, even when Christ Jesus was here, he himself was reluctant to do such miracles. Can’t we assume God knows our limits, our abilities, and knew them when we were called and anointed in baptism? If we are needed as Christ in the world, if the coming of Christ is coming in us to the world, it will be a coming that can use the abilities and gifts that we have.

This is what the Scriptures tell us repeatedly: the followers of Christ Jesus are now Christ. So the “second coming” might just be us.

So if Jesus says, what do you see and hear?, well, what do we?

I see Christ in the world, that’s what I see. Look at all of you, to start with. Dedicated, passionate people who bring light into the darkness every day, sometimes in small and sometimes in large ways. I see Christ everywhere I look here, anointed people who witness to God’s love by bearing the same love in their families, in their daily lives, in this place, in the world. I see people working against the powers of evil, making a difference every day, people with imagination and courage. I see people giving of their wealth to God’s work here and many other places, giving of their time and sweat to bring God’s light and healing hope into this world in more ways than we can count. That’s what I see and hear.

And that’s just this congregation. I see evidence of the same in our sisters and brothers in south Minneapolis all the time. And of course it’s happening in St. Paul, and rural Minnesota, and throughout this country, and throughout the world. Christ is alive and working against the darkness, the corruption, the oppression, the pain, the evil all over this planet.

God never needed us to do the miracles that even God’s Son wasn’t sent to do. God always simply needed us to be us, anointed ones of God, bearing the love and grace that we are given by the Holy Spirit so that the world would be healed.

It’s all in what we look at and listen to.

We can look at all the darkness and evil in the world and worry that God isn’t showing up to get rid of it all. We can spend Advent waiting and watching for that big, bright, flashy moment when God says, all right, we’re cleaning this place up.

Or we can look and listen for where the Triune God has actually said we will see evidence of God’s grace. We can listen and look for signs of Christ in everyday people, starting here, but stretching throughout the world. We can spend our Advent waiting and watching for where God really is coming and bringing life and hope, and we can join in that coming ourselves, as the Christ we are.

If we asked Christ Jesus John’s question, we know what he’d answer. “What do you think? What do you see and hear?” And in that answer we find all the hope our Advent waiting needs, and all the calling we need to go out into the darkness as the light of Christ we are.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

That Branches Bear

John preaches repentance and pruning as a present reality oriented to the future, to God’s future, that we live our truth as Christ for the world, bearing fruit for the healing of all things.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Second Sunday of Advent, cycle A
   Texts: Matthew 3:1-12; Isaiah 11:1-10

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

John the Baptist isn’t someone you’d want at a dinner party.

Really, he’s not someone we’d want to speak to us here. His yearly arrival on Second Advent is a shock of harsh critique, threats of axes chopping and fires burning. He’s not good for polite society.

But he is God’s messenger preparing the way for the coming of Christ into the world. John is the one asked to get the people ready, to get us ready for Christ in our lives. For John, that means repentance is needed, literally a changing of our minds, a redirection of our lives. What’s hard is he delivers that message with such threatening language and tone.

But why must we hear John as all or nothing? If some are all good and fruit-bearing and others are all bad and must be cut down, where’s the hope for repentance? There’s no hope for fruit at all if the tree is gone.

But the whole tree doesn’t need to be cut down if it isn’t bearing fruit. Not if fruit is God’s goal. Rather than deforestation of fruitless trees, we might better hear John as preaching a repentance of pruning.

Careful pruning is critical to the plant’s life, to bearing fruit.

John’s axe threatened leaders of the people he thought were hypocritically seeking baptism. Maybe that’s why he was so harsh. Seeing John’s tool more as a pruning knife gives us a vision of preparation where all need trimming, all have dead branches preventing fruit from growing.

Pruning is the gardener’s way of keeping plants healthy and productive. Branches that don’t produce need to be trimmed away so they don’t drain resources from the rest of the plant, so fruit-bearing branches will thrive. Many plants also need the old, dead heads of fruits or flowers cut away after the season, so new buds may come.

Pruning often looks harsh. It leaves a pile of branches and leaves that need to be burned, or composted, in our modern metaphor. Sometimes pruning almost looks like an ax was used, that the plant was reduced to a stump. Our spirea at home need to be pruned almost to nothing for them to come back in the spring bushy and floral. It seems impossible when such pruning is done that new life could return. But that’s how it can.

Which suggests we’ve been looking at repentance in the wrong direction.

Pruning removes the dead parts, the unfruitful branches, the past life of the plant that no longer gives life, so the plant can thrive and grow and bear fruit. Pruning is actually all about the future.

So is repentance. Too often we’re focused only on the past when we consider confession and repentance. We feel regret for past actions, frustration at our continued difficulty at stopping doing things, sadness at pain we’ve caused. We seek forgiveness, and go on our way.

But repentance is not just about the past. The turning of our minds toward God is a present movement oriented to the future. The whole point is turning, shaping, for what is to come. Our future, bearing fruit for God. God’s future, where the world is whole and healed, and enemies live peaceably together.

Grace is also all about what is to come. It’s not just forgiveness that takes away past sin and that’s the end of it. Grace is all about God readying us for a new future, a new life of blessing for this world.

And even if the pruning we need feels as if we’re reduced to a stump, God promises to bring a shoot of new life from the deadest of stumps. That’s grace. God will raise up in us, from what looks dead, a new branch that will become a blessing of life for the world.

But wait. Are we saying that Isaiah’s not just talking about Jesus, the shoot from the dead stump of David’s family tree?

Are we claiming this Messianic prophecy applies not just to Christ Jesus but to us?

Yes, we are. In our baptismal rite we claim for each whom we wash in God’s waters the same seven-fold gifts of the Spirit Isaiah promises the Messiah, the Christ, will have. We lay hands on the head of God’s child and pray for the Spirit of God to come: the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the Spirit of delight, of joy, in God’s presence. In baptism, we audaciously claim the anointing of Christ as our own anointing, our own Christ-ing.

This isn’t a new claim. John just said Jesus would bring a baptism with the Holy Spirit. As far back as St. Ambrose we have evidence that this prayer was part of the laying on of hands at baptism, and many of the early Church teachers assumed the seven gifts of the Spirit promised about Christ Jesus in Isaiah are also promised to us.

That means we also are the shoot from the stump, the righteous branch bringing life, not just Jesus. We are God’s Christ life growing up out of what seems dead and gone. We are the ones to help bring in a peaceable reign of God where even enemies delight in each other as dear friends.

So what are we to do about this today, tomorrow? How shall we respond to John?

We begin by claiming our true identity as God’s Christ. You are Christ, so be Christ. Live that truth in your place, in your life. The Spirit of God intended to bring God’s anointing is now laid upon you, upon me, upon the whole Church throughout the world. We begin our response to John by realizing that the coming of Christ for which we are preparing is happening in us.

Knowing this, we can face the pruning knife with much less fear. There are things in us that need removal if we are to be God’s Christ-branch bearing fruit in this world. Things that maybe used to be helpful but now are dead, useless, or worse, taking our energy away from life-giving things. There are sins to which we are tied that trap us, that need to be removed, not for fear of punishment, but because they are pulling us down and keeping us from growing and deepening in our Christ-life.

Letting God’s Spirit prune away these things will hurt. Some of these dead things are familiar and comfortable; some are deeply rooted.

But the Pruner always has the good of the tree in mind, even if the cut is deep. Christ Jesus, who died and rose for our life and the life of the world, sees the true Christ in each of us and rejoices in that life-giving plant. So the cutting away of the deadheads and the useless branches is all to free us to grow and live as the Christ we are.

John might not be great dinner company, but listen to him anyway.

Harsh and loud as he can be, John is God’s chosen messenger to prepare us for the coming of Christ into the world. Much to our surprise, he proclaims that we need to be reshaped and pruned because we are that coming of Christ into the world. Shouting John is the one God needs to wake us up so God’s people begin to bear fruit in this world for the life of the world.

Because this pruning, this repentance, this turning of our minds and lives and hearts to God, is a present truth oriented always to the future, to God’s future. That God’s future might become present reality, a whole, healed, blessed, peaceable world where all bear fruits of love and peace and righteousness and gentleness and grace to each other, to the creation, to God.

This future is coming. Christ is coming. We only just realized Christ is coming in us, too. It’s time we lived that way.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Think About These Things

In a challenging, frightening world, Paul invites us to focus on the grace and gift of God that is our hope and our life, and find God’s joy and peace.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Day of Thanksgiving, year C
   Text: Philippians 4:4-9

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Someone gave me a piece of bacon this week.

We were at the regular pastors’ text study at Maria’s on Tuesday, and one of us got more bacon than she wanted. She gave me one of the extra pieces. Let me tell you, a free piece of bacon on a Tuesday morning is a very good thing. A colleague who shares her bacon is a colleague worthy of praise.

This may seem like a small thing. It is a small thing. But it was a moment of gift for which I was thankful. It was a little piece of joy in the day.

So I’m thinking about that bacon this week.

Because that’s what Paul told us to do. He might seem simplistic today, urging us to think about the good, the excellent, in our world. But there is so much negative in this world that demands our attention, and we so easily find things that lead to despair, sadness, anger. What’s there to lose trying Paul’s way?

Maybe we can rejoice when someone gives us a piece of bacon.

This encouragement concludes a beautiful letter from Paul.

There is love and encouragement both ways. The Philippians love and support Paul, even financially, as he travels in ministry, and now in his imprisonment. In turn, Paul lovingly praises their partnership with him in the Gospel, their shared relationship in Christ that gives him hope and life.

In this letter, Paul speaks of the challenges of life in Christ, of witnessing to Christ with their lives. Doing that has landed Paul in prison; some of them are also encountering hostility for their witness. Paul calls them to share the mind of Christ, who emptied himself of divine glory and became human, facing death on the cross. Such is the life in Christ, Paul says. A mature faith willingly takes on suffering as Christ did, for the sake of others, for the sake of the Good News.

This is a letter of encouragement to people who live in a difficult world and whose witness to God’s love in Christ causes challenges, suffering, possibly even death. It sounds familiar. But today we hear Paul’s conclusion, and it is a light in the darkness.

Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul says. The Lord is near.

The times may be hard, and taking on Christ’s life is not easy. We can be afraid, and anxious. So, Paul says twice that we can rejoice in Christ, because our Lord is near. We are not alone in this life and witness. We are loved by God in Christ forever. So rejoice in that!

If Christ is near, we can release our anxiety and worry. That’s easy to say, but Paul says the way to let go of worry is to pray with thanksgiving about everything. Bring all worry, all anxiety, all fear about the world to God in prayer, and give thanks at the same time. We thank God while we ask because we know we’ll be heard, and calmed, and given hope. And we’ll find joy.

In our prayer, the peace of God that is beyond our understanding will come to us, and keep our minds and our hearts in Christ Jesus. The circumstances we face aren’t the issue, Paul says earlier in this letter. What matters is to know the peace and joy of God who is always with us, always loves us, no matter what happens.

Living in God’s peace then frees us to focus on the good, the true.

Think about honorable things, what is just and pure, what is pleasing and commendable, what is excellent, what is worthy of praise. Focus your mind on these things, Paul says.

Paul’s no blind optimist. He sees challenges and faces them head on. He names evil and preaches against it. He critiques his congregations and calls them to new life. Paul’s a realist.

So when he says to these people he loves, let your mind dwell on things that will edify you, bring you happiness and joy, he’s saying that from a realist’s perspective. There will always be problems and things that need us as Christ. This world is filled with pain and suffering, we struggle with evil.

But don’t let it overwhelm you, Paul says.

Take some time to smell the roses. Enjoy a piece of bacon. Delight in a child’s smile.

There is grace, there is good, there are excellent things. Think about them.

Yes, there are problems out there. But there are also wonderful people who are dedicating their lives to make a difference. Think about them and rejoice. There are people standing with the oppressed, people creatively seeking solutions to our society’s problems, people praying daily for the life of the world. Think about them and rejoice. There are people of faith, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and many others, who witness to their faith not with hatred and violence but with love and gentleness, and are making a difference. Think about them and rejoice.

Psychologists tell us negative thoughts and emotions cling to our mental pathways like Velcro, but positive thoughts and emotions are more slippery, like Teflon, and easily disappear. Recently I heard a neuroscientist has discovered that might physically be true. But it seems if we hold to positive things as Paul encourages for at least 15 seconds they stick to our neuropathways, they stay with us. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes sense to the wisdom of the ages. It makes sense to Paul.

Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is excellent, whatever is honorable, whatever is worthy of praise, think about these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Actually, isn’t this exactly why we have a Day of Thanksgiving?

Sometimes when things are going well we forget to be grateful. But when they’re hard, when there are so many things people fear, when we’re worried about our future and our country and our world, isn’t it a gift to hear Paul today? To do what he says, and focus thankfully on what is beautiful, what is good, in people, in nature, in life?

So let us rejoice. God is near, and loves us and this world beyond our imagining. Let us pray with thanksgiving alongside our requests. And the peace of God will take away our anxiety and fear. Fear and anxiety may come back, because the problems we face will still be there. But we’ll handle them far better with God’s peace and joy filling us. So let’s keep thinking on these things of excellence and beauty, dwelling on the grace and the good and the gift.

And I am so thankful for that bacon. God is good.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All Things

Christ rules over the universe, but not in the normal way, so as followers of this King, this Sovereign, we follow not in the normal way, but Christ’s way, willing to take death and resurrection into ourselves for the sake of the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Christ the King, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 34 C
   Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43; Jeremiah 23:1-6

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We should be careful as we celebrate today that we truly see and hear what God is doing in Christ.

When the feast of Christ the King was first established in the nineteen-twenties, it was a witness in a world of rising nationalism, fascism, and racial hatred and tension, that our trust lies with Christ who is reconciling all things to God, not with any human governments or rulers.

God is pleased to reconcile all things through Christ, Paul says, whether on earth or in heaven, to God’s own self. All things, the creation, beings sentient and otherwise, living things, rocks, planets, stars, all are reconciled into God through the ruling grace of Christ. This is whom we serve as we celebrate the feast of Christ the King.

But are we overlooking how God is doing this in Christ? God is making peace with all things through the blood of Christ’s cross, Paul says. And we have this in our Gospel today: a criminal dying on a Roman cross, who looks at Jesus, also dying on a Roman cross, and sees a king. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he says.

Look, this is not news to us. We know we follow a crucified and risen Christ. But as we look to God for the hope of reconciliation in our fractured world, as we imagine how Christ reigns over us and the world, we can’t ignore this confusing paradox of the ruler of the cosmos receiving that crown on a humiliating tree of execution. All God’s reconciliation hinges on this, and so does all our hope.

Paul’s claim is a ray of hope in a world hopelessly divided.

The problems our nation and world face are enormous, and need a God-sized reconciliation. We are destroying our future on this planet by practices that are inexorably changing our climate, and time is running out. Millions of our people suffer under systems of racism, gender inequality, and prejudice. Our laws aid the wealthiest and make it exceedingly hard for the poorest to survive. We have needed immigration reform for years, so we can be more welcoming to the stranger. We’ve long needed to solve astronomically rising health care costs. This all in our country. Oppression, war, famine, hatred, systemic failures of government, religious conflict, human environmental abuse, plague our whole planet.

But what drives hope into the ground is the divisions that prevent even talking about solutions. Our country is divided as deeply as many of us can remember, as is our world. This election is only the sign of an extended period of people on all sides isolating from those who disagree, listening only to our own points of view. Huge divides exist between those who live in rural areas and in urban centers, between rich and poor, between men and women, between races, between faiths, and these divisions only seem to be deepening.

A reconciliation in God through Christ is needed. But that’s not one side getting everything they want and not listening to the other. True reconciliation is our only hope. But it’s not what we might think.

Our challenge is that God will heal all things through reconciliation, not vengeance, forgiveness, not punishment.

In Jeremiah, God’s anger at the failed shepherds of God’s people causes God to promise to “attend” to their evil doings. God will raise up a righteous, wise Shepherd who will execute justice. Yet when this Shepherd comes, proclaiming God’s reign of justice and peace, righteousness and love, he is put on a cross. And on that cross, he looks at those who are killing him and asks forgiveness for them.

This is how God is “attending” to the evil-doing of God’s people? By forgiving? By taking on this death, which somehow reconciles God to this world?

This doesn’t always feel like an answer of hope and healing when we or others are wronged, or hurt. It doesn’t feel like a fair answer to those who have been beaten down and oppressed, who struggle to survive.

When it comes to our individual sins, we’re happy to be forgiven. But as a strategy for God’s healing of the world, we wonder how the cross can be effective if evildoers are not only forgiven, they get to kill God.

But we don’t see the world as God does.

On the cross, the Son of God looked out on some of the worst of human sinfulness, sights still familiar today. Religious leaders seeking to be faithful to God through hatred and death, soldiers exceeding orders by mocking humiliated convicts, crowds finding a day’s entertainment at an execution and joining in the derision. He had a pretty horrible view.

But what Jesus saw was people he loved. “Father, forgive them;” he said, “for they do not know what they are doing.” But of course they did, at least at one level. The leaders, the soldiers, the crowds, even the criminals were aware of what they were doing.

But Jesus saw people he loved. Christ embodies the fullness of God, Paul says, and here shows the fullness of God’s love: to receive hatred, evil, and death, and say, “I forgive you. I understand that you’re not aware of all that you are doing.”

Our problem isn’t that Christ is naïve and doesn’t see evil. Our problem is that Christ sees evil and offers forgiveness. Christ takes evil into himself in order to bring about reconciliation.

God will reconcile all things, but in God’s way.

God will heal divisions between people, heal the pain of this world, by loving us whether we do good or evil, taking on our evil and our death, taking all things into God’s own life. This is the way of the Triune God who made all things. Like it or not.

And is our way, if we celebrate Christ the King. If we truly follow this One who rules not from a throne but from a cross of death. We are literally crucial to God’s reconciling. As Fr. Richard Rohr has said: “Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves – these are the followers of Jesus. They are the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is the dramatic image of what it takes to be such a usable one for God.”[1]

This is what it is to follow such a King, such a Christ. It is to follow our vocation, as Rohr puts it, “to share the fate of God for the life of the world.” To be usable, like God, for the world’s healing.

This sounds elevated and theological. But it is lived in our ordinary lives.

Living our vocation in such a divided world, being Christ’s reconciliation, might begin for some of us at the Thanksgiving table. I’ve heard from a number of folks who know there are political divisions and hostility awaiting them this Thursday, as they gather with their families. If listening between opposing sides of issues is going to happen, it will start with those closest to us. Being Christ at table with a loved one who makes you feel despair or sadness or anger is hard. But Christ would so listen, and love. This is a little death, such bearing with another. But in God’s love is resurrection life, and this path is the only way reconciliation can begin.

But the path gets rockier. We learned from Luke this year that Jesus “welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” So our reconciliation work is not just with those we disagree with. Today Christ seeks those who proclaim hatred and intolerance, those who threaten and intimidate, those who do violence or use power to crush people, to spend time with them. Our King will seek out these whom we fear, these whom we stand against when they harm our neighbor, because Christ welcomes sinners and eats with them. Christ sees people he loves, as he did on the cross. At some point, Christ will call us to follow there, too.

If Christ rules in our lives and hearts, this is our vocation.

We begin and end at the cross, and it might be our own. Maybe small deaths, the daily pain that comes from risking to reach out to the other in love. Maybe even larger suffering. The only way walls that divide can be broken in Christ is by our willingness to lose, to break down our barriers, to listen and see as Christ Jesus listens and sees. To share this vocation of death and resurrection with Christ.

It’s a little frightening. But Paul says today we are given all strength in Christ, and patience to endure all that is to come. We’ve been rescued from the power of darkness, Paul says, and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have forgiveness and life. We are not Christ alone, we are Christ in Christ, with all the grace of God we need to be a part of this reconciliation God is making in this world.

We know how badly the world needs it. Now we know how badly the world needs us, and all who are drawn into Christ. God make this so, for the sake of this creation.

In the name of Jesus, Amen

[1] Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), pp. 179-180.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

In My Name

Words are hard to find, so Jesus speaks them to us: it’s going to be hard, but don’t be afraid, this is your chance to witness in my name, and I give you all you need to be Christ to this world in pain and need.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 33 C
   Text: Luke 21:5-19

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Jesus said there will be wars and insurrections. And dreadful portents.

A pastor friend told me Thursday that an African-American pastor he knows called him and said, “I need you to know, before you preach, that black people are viscerally terrified.” They dread what is to come.

A local sixth grade teacher I know heard a commotion in the hallway Wednesday, went out, and heard a group of boys chanting, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” He worries what his Latino sixth grade boys and girls can do in a school like that. Other teachers I know report the same thing.

One of my daughter’s dearest friends is African American, gay, and lives in Texas. His family home is in east Texas. His grandma called him Wednesday saying that some of his family from the country are moving into the city for awhile because they don’t feel safe. They couldn’t sleep Tuesday night because there were Ku Klux Klan members marching in the streets of their town. Not ten of them. Over 100.

Stories like these are being told throughout our country this past week, stories of Muslim girls afraid to wear hijab to school anymore, African-Americans being told to get into the field and pick cotton, Latinos being told to get out. Many are physically threatened. Signs, graffiti, and flags of hate are appearing all over our nation. This is reality.

I don’t preach about whom to vote for, or criticize any of our people for how they vote.

In a Christian community we are joined in Christ in our baptism and in our life together we can and do disagree about political solutions. Every election leaves some disappointed, discouraged, even frightened because of likely policy and law changes that will affect their lives or the lives of many, and leaves some who are excited and hopeful for the same changes. In every election there are people within our congregation who voted differently, disagreed politically. This is normal, this is how it works, and we all have experienced both feelings at times. As disciples of Christ Jesus, we will love each other in our multiple political views and work out our differences in love. This is what we do, every year.

But as disciples of Christ Jesus we are called to speak the truth.

There is now a truth in our country that has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican, nothing to do with policy disagreements. All Christians, regardless of how or why we voted, must face this hard truth: we have elected to the office of President someone whose bigotry, bullying, prejudice, disdain, and hatred for any and all who are weak or vulnerable, were on constant display throughout the campaign, and contributed to some voting for him.

We will pray for him, constantly, that he be a faithful and good President. That is what we do. We will hope. That is also what we do.

But if he doesn’t repudiate the violent, evil, spewings he poured out for eighteen months that inspire the behaviors so many of our neighbors are enduring already, more of these horrors will keep happening. Even if he does repudiate it, the time for civility, tolerance, respect, and compassion may be passing in our country. In this new reality, people don’t fear being held accountable for such violence and hatred anymore. Not if our President says it and condones it, and encourages it. So they will keep doing it, until someone says they can’t.

I have felt the heaviness of this truth this week, knowing I would stand before you today, and that you have called me to speak God’s Word into our life together. You want to know if God has a word of grace and Gospel and hope. But I knew this truth needed saying, and that burden weighed on me.

Then I read the Gospel again. I prayed. And to my relief, Christ Jesus said to me, “Don’t worry; I’ve got this one. I know what to say.” So I gave thanks and stepped aside.

Now, hear what Christ is saying to the Church today.

Christ Jesus today says, I told you times like these were coming.

They’ve come in many generations, but we are grateful our Lord cared enough to also warn us it would get bad sometimes. It helps knowing God’s not surprised by this. I began with those stories not to frighten or inflame fears, but because many of us live insulated from such abject fear and dread. Many of us aren’t at risk of these things that are already happening. We need to know the truth others face.

And yes, racism, misogyny, hatred of the other, bullying, disdain for the weak, existed before. They always have, and many have suffered. They’re enshrined in systems we perpetuate, systems that benefit us without our asking, structures long built up that powerfully continue to exist. What is different now is that we live in a reality where such things are endorsed at the highest level. Jesus’ warnings today remind us to be ready, as people who live in Christ, for what it means to be Christ in such a reality.

But there are those among us who know exactly what it is like to be on the other side of this, to be mocked and hated for who you are, to fear for yourself or loved ones, to be disregarded, or assaulted, or gaped at objectively, or silenced, or threatened because you were different. We need you to help those of us who don’t know that experience understand. We need you to help us all know how to stand with those who are threatened and are very afraid.

But Christ Jesus also says today “don’t be terrified.”

This is such a gift. Many of us are deeply afraid of what is happening, and the grace of Christ Jesus is this word, “Don’t be terrified. I am with you. I have overcome death; I have conquered these powers.”

But there is a harder word in this: Because we are Christ, we need to go from here and stand with all those who are truly afraid for their lives, their loved ones, with the bullied, the sick, the vulnerable, with those who are wondering what this country can be for them. We need to, with our bodies and arms and voices and love, say, “Don’t be terrified. We are with you.” That is the love we must bear to our neighbors, so they know it and know they’re not alone.

Because Christ Jesus says today that this is our opportunity to testify.

When we affirm our baptism here three times we loudly, boldly, renounce all the evil the world makes, all the works of Satan, all our sin that leads us from God. Now, Christ says, is the time for us to witness that in the world. If we don’t, if we who are insulated from the risks others are facing take comfort in our safe homes and our safe lives, we no longer are renouncing evil, and we have no business ever again saying in this place that we do.

Some of us have become complacent, trusting that leaders will care for justice and peace, hoping others will do this. We don’t have that luxury anymore. We can’t wait for others to care, others to say “no,” others to say, “this is not of Christ,” or even “this isn’t who we are as Americans.” Whether we’re 10 years old or 95, if we do not witness by our words and lives, we condone.

Christ also says this witnessing may lead to persecution, arrest, betrayal even by those near and dear to us. Maybe we’ve heard these words before and thought, “that doesn’t really happen anymore.” Well, it does. Sisters and brothers in the faith have been walking in solidarity with those who need it for years, to this day, from Standing Rock to police precincts. Some have suffered for it, been persecuted, arrested, hated by people close to them. If we haven’t experienced this, it’s likely because we’ve failed to witness to the hope that is in us, to the love of God that is for all people, to the grace of God that makes all things new, by standing with those who desperately need such hope, love and grace.

It’s time for us to get to work. Time to witness.

But Christ also says to us today, “don’t worry about what you will say (or do), I will give you what you need.”

We don’t need to worry about not having the right words, fear that we aren’t brave enough or strong enough. We don’t need to worry that we have no idea right now how to act, how to help, where to offer ourselves. Because this is Christ’s promise to us, and to all the faithful: We have an opportunity every day to witness to the truth about what God is doing in this broken, suffering world, and Christ will give us what we need to do this witness.

The words we need. The wisdom we lack. The strength we cannot find in ourselves. The courage that comes from the Spirit of God in our hearts. The compassion for others that is the very beating heart of God for this world. All of this we are promised.

Throughout these words, Christ Jesus keeps saying “in my name.”

That’s our hope and our call. We gather here as ones anointed in our baptism to be Christ for the world. We literally bear Christ’s name in our bodies, our hearts, our voices, our lives.

That’s what this is all about. We know things will be hard. We know many are suffering and afraid and need Christ’s love. So, let us be who we are. Let us be Christ, as we were made to be. We don’t need to be afraid, and we can hold our neighbors and tell them the same, because Christ is with us and with them. We don’t need to worry right now about details, we’ll get what we need as we go.

This is why we are here. So let us sing, pray, serve faithfully, and trust. Trust that the One who holds all the world in wounded hands now raised to life will hold us, too, as we bear this name into this world in need.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, November 6, 2016

God of the Living

If you don't have to be afraid of dying, because of God's love in Christ, then you don't have to be afraid of living, either. For the same reason.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   All Saints Sunday, Lectionary 32 C
   Texts: Luke 20:27-38; Psalm 17:1-9; Job 19:23-27a

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Are you getting the answers you came here for today?

This is a holy day here, a day we remember those saints we love who have gone ahead of us into life eternal, a day we celebrate those we’ve welcomed in baptism into the body of Christ’s saints. It’s a day of great beauty, mixed with both our grief and our joy.

But are you finding the answers you hoped to find? The All Saints liturgy is much like a funeral, it’s a liturgy where we have many questions of God about life and death, about ourselves.

Like the Sadducees had a question for Jesus. It wasn’t sincere; they wanted to trick Jesus into saying something incriminating. Still, the question they asked isn’t far from questions we ask on a day like today.

Of course, the answers we seek depend entirely on whom we ask. And if we follow the Sadducees and ask God’s Son, we might find the Answerer is offering far more than we knew to ask.

We start with the Sadducees’ question, though.

We probably haven’t pondered the heavenly reality for a woman and the seven men she married and buried. But we know what they’re asking. There’s so much we don’t know about the life to come that we wish we did. Every time we bring a loved one before God in their death, we wonder about much.

What is the resurrection like? What can we expect? How do we know? Are the beloved dead with ones they know? Are we still ourselves?

Then there’s the question of whether those who die sleep to the last day and all awake together, or if they are even now awake in God’s presence and aware of us. We can find suggestions for both in the Bible, but not a definitive answer.

Even without the Sadducees’ cynicism, we join them today in waiting breathlessly for Jesus’ answer. But it’s not what we expected.

Christ Jesus, the face of the Trinity for us, tells us we’re missing the point.

He answers the marriage question, saying that in the age to come people aren’t married like they are here, so it’s not really relevant.

But then he says what matters: when we die, we will be raised as children of the resurrection. God is God of the living, and that includes all who have already died. For, as Christ says, to God all of them are alive.

We can’t know all the details about that life, it is mystery. As Paul and the elder of 1 John remind us, here we only see partly; there we will see face to face, clearly, and understand. Jesus knows this is hard for us. But on this All Saints Sunday, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, would have us hold this confidence firmly, joyfully, hopefully: In Christ all shall be made alive, and brought to resurrection life in the age to come. So we don’t need to be afraid of dying, ever.

But our Lord also wants us to realize this: If you don’t have to be afraid of dying, then you don’t have to be afraid of living, either.

That’s the answer we didn’t expect today.

But it’s Job’s answer, in the midst of terrible suffering: he knows his Redeemer lives, so he can live with hope. It’s in the psalmist’s prayer today, “keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings.” If death has no power over the love of the Triune God for the world and for us, we are freed to live in this world without fear.

We need to know this. Because there are so many things about living that we fear. We fear what might happen to those we love, or to us. We fear sudden illness. We fear job losses, financial setbacks. We fear being a burden to those we love, and we fear others might be a burden to us. We fear the life in Christ to which we are called, because it’s hard and it costs, and we’re not sure we want those costs.

We fear the problems in our world and our country, both for the pain they might cause us, and for the pain they already cause others. But we fear the solutions, too, because they also might cause us difficulty and suffering; there are few cost-free ways to solve all the pain and division and injustice in our world. And even if we know we will be raised, we fear the act of dying, the suffering and pain that might come.

But Christ Jesus says God is God of the living. That’s not just those who have died. God is God of the living. God is our God. Our mother, under whose wings we are gathered for safety and warmth. We are the apple of God’s eye, the delight of God.

We don’t need to be afraid of dying; God’s love destroys death’s power. But we don’t need to be afraid of living, either: the Triune God who made all things is with us always, because God is God of the living.

We know this, even if we’ve forgotten it, because we celebrate Baptism today even as we remember the saints who’ve come before.

Baptism is a sacrament for the living; it is the gift of God that anoints us into the Body of Christ that we might be Christ in this world, bringing God’s light and life. It is our beginning and our call.

So we rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for those brought into this life through the waters of baptism this year. We rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for Harold, who today will be washed into this life. We rejoice on this All Saints Sunday for all the baptized whose names are precious to us and whose baptismal life we give thanks for as we name them before God today.

We rejoice, because on this All Saints Sunday God’s answer to us is this: live, confident in my love and grace and strength. Do not be afraid to die; but do not be afraid to live. I am your God, and I am with you.

This might not be the answer you came here for today.

But it’s the answer that gives us all life and hope.

There’s no denying that this world can be difficult and challenging. As hard as it can be for us, there are millions for whom it’s far worse. So it’s imperative we take Christ seriously and trust this promise, so we might live without fear, even as we know we can die without fear.

In such fearlessness we can risk being the Christ we were anointed to be in our baptism, and, like the Son of God we follow, offer ourselves to God’s world as healing and hope. We can do this without fearing the costs, because God is God of the living and will be with us. We can do this without worrying about ourselves, because God is God of the living and will be with us. We can do this with joy, even when we see just how many problems and pains and sufferings we are called to bring healing to, because God is God of the living and will be with us.

Have you not seen? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, who does not faint or grow weary. God gives power to the faint, and strength to the powerless. *

This is the One who answers our questions today. This is the One who is our confidence and hope. This is the One who will be with us in death and in life.

So we are not afraid.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

* Isaiah 40:28-29

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Seeing Like Jesus

When sinners like Zacchaeus are ostracized by the crowd, Jesus asks us to see them and widen our circle of inclusion.

Vicar Kelly Sandin
   The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 31 C
   Text: Luke 19:1-10

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

A friend once told me that people aren’t all bad. Yet, we want to categorize other humans into neat packages of good or bad. It justifies our position. It allows us to continue our hate or mistrust or dislike. If we ever do see good in what is perceived as a bad person, we find it hard to believe. We don’t want it to be true because it’s much less confounding that way. It messes with our easy system of good versus bad so we dismiss the possibility.

If you remember the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he had a scale for the golden goose egg. It determined whether it was good or bad. There was nothing in-between. If it was bad, down the chute the egg goes. If it was good, well then it was a wonderful chocolate Easter treat! Even Veruca, one of the main characters in Willy Wonka, ended up down the bad egg chute for singing a Wonka treat coveting song. If you were like me, you rather enjoyed seeing the scale judge her in such a way.

The problem is how quickly we want to write each other off with any perceived notion of a character flaw, a mistake, an infraction of what would be deemed socially unacceptable, or simply because the person rubbed us wrong that from that point on we’ll have nothing to do with them. We don’t want to see them. They’re bad eggs. Down the chute they go.

Zacchaeus’ life was like this. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. The text makes sure to include this description – chief tax collector and rich. He was deemed a bad egg and rightly so. Being a chief tax collector meant you were an entrepreneur. To collect taxes in a certain territory you’d pay a select amount of money in advance to the Roman government to work that area. It was kind of like leasing property. Then, as chief tax collector, you’d get a team of people to work for you who actually collected the taxes. They did the dirty work. The point in all this was to make a profit. All the middle men needed to get paid while still paying the Roman government the taxes that were owed. So, of course, the system was oppressive with excessive taxes. The common folk were being robbed by their own people, Jewish tax collectors, who were traitors working for the Roman Empire.

This, apparently, was the life of Zacchaeus. But, was he all bad?

What if he was just trying to make a living? He could have had a family to care for. Children to feed. We don’t know. It’s probable. We might do this job if it meant providing food for our family. We have no idea what Zacchaeus went through. People get desperate. But, given the business he was in the crowd would choose not to see him. They wouldn’t care to know his story. He was a bad egg and that’s all there was to it. He made a living in an unacceptable way and therefore was an outcast living on the margins of society, even as a rich man. No one wanted anything to do with him. Until Jesus came along.

What had Zacchaeus heard about Jesus that made him so eager to see him? Had he already met him? Was Zacchaeus among the large crowd of tax collectors in Luke 5 who ate with Jesus at Levi the tax collector’s house? The tax collector whom Jesus saw sitting at his tax booth and simply said, “Follow me” and immediately Levi left everything and followed. Where also in this same scene Jesus responded to the complaining Pharisees and their scribes with “I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Had this possible first encounter with Jesus planted seeds of reform in Zacchaeus? Were there other stories circulating that had Zacchaeus willing to run ahead of Jesus and the crowd, a grown man, and then climb a tree to get a better view? He was certainly putting himself out there for ridicule. Apparently, though, none of that mattered. He got to see Jesus and in turn Jesus saw him.

“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” It sure seemed like Jesus and Zacchaeus were old friends. And if Zacchaeus had been at Levi’s dinner party, then perhaps they were. Since Jesus was in the business of seeing tax collectors and joining them for a meal, he called Zacchaeus to make haste and come down. There was urgency in his voice.

Zacchaeus was needed.

One minute Zacchaeus is perched on a limb above the marching crowd to get a better glimpse and the next minute Jesus publically calls his name and invites himself over! He was taken out of the limb and given solid ground.

Not only is he seen by Jesus, he’s pulled out of the margins so the crowd is forced to see him, too. And in front of all those grumbling, Zacchaeus is given opportunity to tell his story. “Half my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Through an encounter with Jesus who sees Zacchaeus and offers new life, Zacchaeus is now able to truly see his neighbors and love.

He is transformed.

Will his new way of being impact the other tax collectors who worked for Zacchaeus? Will they change their ways? Perhaps they were also at Levi’s banquet with Jesus and the seeds had already been sown. Is it possible, with this being Jesus’ last stop before Jerusalem, that the other tax collectors would also see who they were oppressing, their own people, and reform could have come upon Jericho? Setting the crowd free, to love and see?

In today’s polarized political climate, we are guilty of wanting to point out how horrible others are because of the views they hold. We can’t seem to see the good in anyone if they behave or believe in a way that’s different from our own. In fact, we often dismiss any possibility of good or refuse to give the benefit of the doubt as a fuel to keep our animosity burning. Of course there’s legitimate evil in this world, but in our day to day life people get misunderstood or labeled for all kinds of reasons and their stories don’t get told because we don’t want to give them the time of day. We’d rather send them down the bad egg chute.

However, God models a different way, more difficult, yes, but one that doesn’t allow us to write each other off so easily.

Jesus saw Zacchaeus and welcomed him into the circle, even as a chief tax collector. And while the crowd might have booed at first, Zacchaeus was provided a platform to speak. And on that day salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house.

Until God breaks in to help us see. Until we truly hear another’s story. Until we are able to see the personhood in the other, it’s hard to reconcile. We want to keep the scale of good or bad as our only options. But, hearing one another’s story opens the door for healing, of the other and ourselves.
In life we have opportunities where God nudges us to see the other and widen our circle of inclusion. To extend the life-giving love of Christ. To see as God sees everyone, neither all good nor bad, but loved, like Zacchaeus hanging on the limb of a Sycamore tree.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Surprising Mercy

God’s love for us and for all people is constant and wide; letting go of our need to declare ourselves righteous, we find God ready to embrace our brokenness and name us truly righteous.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 30 C
   Text: Luke 18:9-14

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“Jesus also told this parable, to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”

It would be lovely if we weren’t among the people to whom Jesus told this parable. But in this time of polarization and hostility in our national conversation, an election season that seems worse than any we’ve experienced, we know we’re those people. Speaking only for myself, if at confession we were told to consider only this, “have we ever trusted in ourselves that we were righteous and regarded others with contempt?”, I would have multiple examples to confess from just the last six months.

In fact, it’s likely just in today’s telling of this parable many of us were thinking contemptuously of some others when we heard about this Pharisee and his braggadocious prayers. The trap in this parable is how easily we say after hearing it, “God, I thank you that I am not like them.” And then we realize we are.

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. But why would Jesus tell us this parable if there was no hope for us or the Pharisee? If Jesus feels the need to tell us a parable, Jesus must intend us to hear it and be changed.

This situation is like another parable Jesus told a few chapters earlier.

It’s the story of a father and two sons, the elder one faithful and hardworking, the younger one less so. The heart of that story is the father’s welcoming home the younger brother after he’d squandered his inheritance and rejected his father and family. But notice: Jesus also told that parable to people who trusted in their own righteousness, and had contempt for those they considered “sinners.”

Our Pharisee is like the elder brother: he’s followed God’s rules and has been faithful, just as the elder followed his father’s rules. He also knows the tax collector hasn’t lived up to God’s law, just as the elder brother knew his younger sibling was worthless. It’s hard to miss the contempt of the elder or the Pharisee, and hard to miss their trust in their own righteousness.

In that other parable, the elder son is angry that he has been taken for granted, that his good hasn’t earned him anything, and that his brother’s sinfulness is rewarded by a feast. But the point of that parable was the unfailing, astonishing, prodigal love of the father for both his boys. The elder soncouldn’t see it; the younger son was overwhelmed by it.

This is key to Jesus’ hopes for today’s parable. The Pharisee’s problem isn’t that God doesn’t love him. God’s love is without limits and embraces him fully, just like the tax collector. The problem is the Pharisee can’t see his need for such mercy and love. And if he can’t see it, will he experience it?

If God’s love is the constant, then it’s this problem that needs our attention.

We know we too often trust in ourselves that we are righteous. We act confident in our own decisions, we justify our own behavior, even if deep down inside we doubt. We play the common human game of compare and compete. As long as we can compare ourselves to others who are worse, as long as we’re doing better than some, we seek no more introspection.

Jesus suggests we’re putting up a false façade when we try to trust in ourselves and what we’ve done. We also know this is true. In the dark of the night all our self-defensiveness and self-assurance can melt away when we realize we aren’t always loving and faithful and well intentioned, as we seem to need to claim.

Jesus told us these parables so that in seeing the Pharisee and the elder brother, we might also realize that God’s love for us is constant and unwavering. Then, rather than trusting in ourselves, we might learn to trust God. Rather than trying to impress God with our list of accomplishments that we secretly fear aren’t enough, we might begin trusting God’s love for us that cannot be taken away.

The tax collector and the younger brother connect us to God’s grace.

They’re not exemplars of faithful living; no attempt is made to say they were good. But both know this, and come asking for mercy. This poor tax collector can’t even lift up his eyes to heaven. But God looks at him and says, “I just want to put my arms around him and love him.”

This is what it is to be declared righteous by God. That’s how the word “justified” should have been translated here, contrasting with our being self-righteous. When the only thing that matters is God’s love for us, the only declaration of “righteous” that matters is God’s declaration, not our own.

Far from having contempt for people who seem to fail and struggle, we should be grateful to them for revealing the depths of God’s love. If tax collectors and delinquents and even Pharisees can be loved by God, then we can, too.

The trap in this parable is a huge gift.

If Jesus had simply rebuked self-righteousness and exhorted us to confession, we might have missed the point. Instead he told a tricky story that was bound to trip us up so we’d realize we are the very ones we are mocking, we’re the ones we’re holding in contempt.

Jesus’ trap helps us see we and the Pharisee belong with the the tax collector, and that’s the best place to be. We have nothing to bring before God except a plea for mercy and grace, and then we’re surprised to learn we’re already surrounded by God’s loving embrace. We don’t need to trust in ourselves that we are righteous because the Triune God who made all things declares us righteous. We don’t need to brag to God in hopes of being loved, because at the cross God made it clear that we are loved beyond anything we could ever imagine.

The center of these parables is the beating heart of God’s surprising mercy and love.

Only such love that is willing to die for us can break through our defensiveness and fears and embrace us, whether we’re hanging our heads in sorrow over our sin or whether we’re trying to put a brave, bragging front before God and declaring our goodness.

The truth Jesus would have us hear, the reason he told us this parable, is that God sees us as beloved children, forgives our wrongdoing, and embraces us with love and grace.

When our eyes are lifted up and we look into the loving face of the Trinity that Jesus has revealed to us, then we are able, with God’s help, to begin to live as the redeemed and loved people of God we really are. Then we’ll know what it is to go home justified, that is, declared righteous, and live that way in God’s love.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, October 16, 2016


God invites us into a relationship of prayer that is like wrestling, where we are privileged to fully engage in the life of God and are changed.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 29 C
   Texts: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; Luke 18:1-8

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

When was the last time you did what Jacob did, spent a whole night wrestling with God?

Jacob was utterly alone. On his way to meet his brother Esau after twenty years of estrangement, having fled due to Esau’s death threats for stealing his birthright and inheritance, Jacob fears what tomorrow will bring. Esau has 400 men with him. For all Jacob knows, Esau plans to kill him the next day. Jacob has sent his family across the river, wives, concubines, children.

So this night he’s alone. And he meets a stranger who wrestles him until sunup, gives him a new name, “God-struggler,” and a limp. The text never identifies the mysterious opponent. But after this encounter, Jacob says in wonder, “I have seen God face-to-face.” Jacob, who struggled with everyone, spent the night trading moves with the God of his father and grandfather.

Maybe some here know Jacob’s struggle. But judging by how we tend to talk about prayer, we’ve domesticated the experience to a shadow of what Jacob knew. We endlessly discuss God answering prayer, as if prayer was some kind of ordering service like Amazon. We box prayer into specific times and places – at meals, first thing in the morning, last thing at night – and go on our way. But we don’t often hear people describe their prayer life as all-night wrestling matches with God.

Jesus has words of comfort today for those who do live into their relationship with God in a vigorous, constant, persistent way. If prayer is only our mild, carefully proscribed version, Jesus’ words won’t help much.

Also, when was the last time we took Psalm 121’s words about God seriously?

Have we stopped believing God actually cares about this world, means to participate in the life of this world, will keep us all from evil? We don’t often talk with each other as if we believe this.

Have we not only domesticated our prayer, but also domesticated God? Christians can talk about mission for hours without considering or naming God’s investment in it. I’ve been in conversation with pastors about issues of peace and justice and wondered whether we had confidence that God not only sought the same justice and peace but would strengthen and bless us in this work.

Apart from our prayers of intercession each Eucharist, in which we actually do call upon God for healing, intervention, strength for many people and many situations, do we sometimes shy away from asking God for help ourselves? Do we fear God might not want to help? Rather than struggling with God, do we back away and keep our prayers to ourselves?

Well, what if we emulated Jacob, and took heart from Jesus?

We might find joy in wrestling with God even as we took God’s promises to care for us seriously. We’d bring anything and everything to God in prayer, trusting in God’s unsleeping love our psalm sang about, and willing to stay in that conversation, struggling with God for understanding and hope.

Jacob reminds us wrestling requires two participants. When our prayer life is only us talking to God, we’re not there yet. In a wrestling prayer life we persistently struggle with God and God struggles with us, and both are changed, each learning the other’s heart and need.

A wrestling prayer life also means wrestling with God’s Word. Keeping at this gift God has given, digging, probing, reading, contemplating, wrestling with the words and with God in prayer to understand what God is trying to say. We learn things when we wrestle, we hear God’s voice. It might take all night, it might take years, but in that struggle we, too, see God face-to-face.

A wrestling prayer life means wrestling with each other, learning from our life together about God. When we struggle with each other’s pain, with the deep questions our world raises, with God’s involvement in our world, together we find greater insight than we could by ourselves. And a stronger faith.

And a wrestling prayer life means wrestling with ourselves, when God says things counter to what we want. It means struggling with our tendency to be self-centered. It means wrestling with the reality of our sin and willingly facing that struggle rather than ignoring it.

Such wrestling prayer helps us understand God and ourselves.

It’s astonishing that God wants such a relationship. That God gives us the invitation to pray, to struggle. That God meets us on the riverbank. The joy is that this gift teaches us so much.

When we struggle with God in prayer we learn that God does hear the cries of this world for justice and peace. That God hears all cries for help. That God is constantly working in this world for good. But we also learn God wants us to deal with this world. Ever since the first command in the first Garden, God has said, “this is your job to do.”

This isn’t arbitrary or capricious. The more we struggle with God the more we learn this is the only way we can become who God means us to be. We need to deal with the unjust judges of the world, with the unjust systems, with our unjust neighbors, with our own unjustness, because it’s our job to do so. We’re meant to deal with all that makes this world broken and evil and unsafe. We’re designed to care for this world for God.

 That’s what God needs from us. To help us become fully human.

Much of the Word of God we heard throughout the summer could easily take us to guilt and anxiety. But God doesn’t mean to teach us to feel guilty for not doing enough, guilty for not serving and loving as we are called to do.

We learn through persistent wrestling with God that God means us to grow through struggle. If we are to become fully human, God can’t learn our lessons for us, take our conflicts for us, magically solve all our problems for us. Imagine a parent of a baby praying, “God, you take care of this child for me and raise it.” Or someone at a job saying, “God, you do this work for me.” Only by trying, working, doing, will we grow and become the people God made us to be. We see this in Jesus, who easily could’ve avoided all he faced, but modeled true humanity in becoming fully human, facing struggle, even to the point of death.

Wrestling with God in prayer helps us grow and learn about God and ourselves. Struggling to live faithfully in this world changes us, too. It’s how God created us.

But over all this remember: Jesus’ words are so we “do not lose heart.”

That’s why he told a parable of persistent, wrestling prayer. Because it can be discouraging to realize that prayer isn’t about getting easy answers or everything we order up, it can be frustrating to seek understanding from God and know it might take years.

But remember Jacob. As the sun rose, he still faced uncertainty and danger. He didn’t know if he’d survive the day. It turns out Esau welcomed him in love, but at dawn Jacob didn’t know anything would change. But he knew he’d met God face-to-face. He’d learned from God and taught God, and he was different. He had a new name, and he was more than he was before. And he knew he wasn’t alone.

You see, the joy is in the wrestling, because we are with God. We’re not alone by the side of the river, afraid, wondering. We’re with the Triune God who loves us enough to die for us, and the more we wrestle, the more that love enfolds us. When we’re wrestling with God, we’re never alone.

So we do not lose heart. We rise in the breaking dawn and rejoice that we have a new name from God, “Child of God,” “beloved,” and we face the day knowing whose we are and who will always be with us, in all our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

Sunday, October 9, 2016

There Were Ten Lepers

We come to Christ together, wounded, seeking healing and love, and are bound together in Christ in our salvation and life, and to the whole of the creation.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 28 C
   Texts: Luke 17:11-19; 2 Kings 5:1-15c

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

There were ten lepers. That’s the wonderful thing.

Leprosy was a terrible disease. It maimed your body, filled you with pain, took away flesh. It was horrible suffering. It was also contagious, so you couldn’t live with your family, those who could love and support you. Since leprosy’s destruction was so visible, there was no hiding and hoping to stay in your life.

But there were ten lepers in this village. Ten people who found each other, walked with each other, made community with each other. Ten people who understood suffering and pain, loneliness and rejection, sadness and fear, and who shared that life with each other when no one else could.

Naaman also had a community. Maybe because he was rich and important, maybe because his religion didn’t have the same taboos on uncleanness that Judaism had, it appears he was still in his household, and with people who loved him. He didn’t travel to Israel alone, either, but with people who cared for him.

But these communities did more than support. They carried each other to the healing love of God.

Naaman’s servants, who could have hated him for their life, shared their suffering with his, loved him enough to want him well. Even the Israelite girl, stolen by his army from her family, wanted him to know about the power of the God whom Israel worshipped, and a prophet who could offer healing from that God. When Naaman balked at the method of healing offered, his servants gently urged him to follow the prophet’s instructions. They carried him to God’s healing with kindness and wisdom.

The ten lepers did this together, too. They banded as a group of broken, suffering people and were stronger as a result. But when Jesus came to the village, this little community did what they most needed. Together, they turned to the Son of God and asked for mercy, for healing, for hope. Together, they cried out to Christ and sought the healing of God.

There were ten lepers. Naaman wasn’t alone. This is our truth.

Like every community, our community here is made up of people suffering from many different things, people who also have joys and hopes. What is remarkable about our community is that we have a deep sense that no one here is normal. We have no expectations there are people here who have it all together, people without sin, people without pain, people here who have never suffered rejection or loss or sadness. I’ve never heard anyone say about another member of this community, “That’s just not normal.” We expect we’re all in need, and we love each other because of it.

This is remarkable because the thing about leprosy is you can always tell if someone has it.  But what ails all of us isn’t always so evident. It takes years of a community learning to love those who are hurting, those who have been turned away elsewhere, those who suffer silently, to understand that one of the things that binds us is that what is normal is our woundedness. We don’t have to pretend we’ve got it together, we don’t have to lie to ourselves that people won’t love us if they knew the messes we had, we don’t have to fear that if our truths were told we’d no longer be welcome.

Those ten lepers never had to be embarrassed to look at one another, worried about how they appeared. When all are wounded, it’s not a big deal to admit one’s wounds. We are a band of lepers, gathered together in the grace that we can be of help to each other, we can love each other, we share a reality we don’t need to be ashamed of.

It’s not only our shared woundedness that binds us, though. That’s the real Gospel here.

In both these stories today, the community led those in need of healing to the healing love of God. We are, of course, members of the same family in our baptism into Christ. But often that hasn’t seemed enough in the world for Christians to love each other. Here we recognize Christ’s family as the wounded family, just like Christ Jesus himself. Our shared sense of need for God has led us to this place because here is where we are healed. Here we meet Christ at this table and are given love and life, together. Our little band of lepers shows up here on a Sunday morning and together says, have mercy on us, God! Hear our prayer, O Christ! Come to us and heal us!

And the healing we receive in this place, the welcome of God, the love and forgiveness of God, has taught us to love each other, to band together with each other, to be Christ to each other, and to always be ready to welcome others into this group of wounded, sinful, needy people who come here for healing and life.

In this community, Christ is teaching us a far deeper meaning to salvation.

“Salvation” in the Greek of the Gospels is a word that also means healing. To be saved is to be made well, made whole, healed. Our community of faith stretches back 2,000 years, and those who were wiser than we are and thought even more deeply than we yet do, have witnessed to us that being in Christ is always being in each other. They have said salvation is healing when it’s shared. They’ve witnessed that such healing and wholeness is possible even when individual pains aren’t taken away, because in Christ and in each other we find healing of our souls together.

So St. Paul can be content in any and all circumstances, even after praying that his suffering be removed and not having that happen, because he has become part of Christ, part of Christ’s family, and Christ moves in him and in those who love him, and he knows peace the world can’t give.

And so we, who know so many whose physical or mental illnesses aren’t removed, who know that each of us struggles with sin and a need for forgiveness daily, who know that everyone here is wounded, inside or out, find salvation and wholeness not as individuals but in the deeper healing of God’s love that has made us one and whole in Christ. And yes, a love that also broke death’s power and promises to restore us all into the community of the healed wounded ones who surround the throne in the life to come.

But Christ is also teaching us a deeper meaning of community.

In Christ, the Triune God would draw all people and all creation into the life and love of God. The Risen Christ whom we turn to for life wants all to be a part of this group of healed lepers. Our community is more than Mount Olive. It’s the whole creation.

Imagine we looked at everyone with the same understanding as those we know here, with the same compassion, expecting them to be wounded as well, wanting to walk with them and help and be helped. Some are so far away we can only do this in prayer and political action. Others live in our city and are part of us. Their joys and their pains are ours, as much as any here.

When we understand this breadth of God’s love, that salvation not only isn’t individual to us, but that it’s not even limited to this community, that God’s healing is meant for all, all sorts of teachings of Jesus become clear. We understand why we’re commanded to pray for our enemies. Praying for them admits they’re part of us, they belong, so they are no longer enemies. And our compassion for their pain leads us to pray for the removal of their hate, so they can be whole and healed in God as we are.

We haven’t talked about gratitude yet. Maybe we don’t need to.

Naaman overflowed with gratitude for his healing. One of the ten lepers broke from his group and ran back and gave thanks to Jesus. We don’t know about the other nine, what they did or felt, but it’s not the point.

The truth is that when we understand the amazing gift of healing and wholeness that we have by being in Christ and in each other, the last thing we need to worry about is whether we’re going to be grateful for it. Not a day goes by without me being thankful to God for all of you, for this community of wounded people who walks with me in my woundedness, and are Christ to me, who, with me, gathers at this Table seeking forgiveness and life and wholeness. I don’t need a reminder to be deeply grateful for that. And the more we understand the connectedness God has made between us and everything else in creation, the more we find joy and hope in that, too, and again, being thankful is pretty obvious.

We are blessed to be joined to each other in Christ, who heals us of our deepest need and brings a wholeness to our life together and to this world, a peace nothing else can. The more we know this, the more our gratitude to God will pour out, trust me.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen


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