Sunday, November 30, 2014


Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37

“Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Oh, that the mountains would quake!!!”

How bad would it have to be to make you beg God to destroy the fabric of our world,
rip open sky and earth and space, and arrive with destruction more dramatic and terrifying than any Hollywood special effects department could dream up?
How bad would it have to be, before you and I would pray for that kind of drama and destruction in Lombard?
Can you imagine it?

It’s that bad in Ferguson.
It’s that bad in the communities near St. Louis and around this country that are bleeding and devastated this week, protesting and praying and sometimes lashing out in pain that was focused this week by news that a grand jury did not indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown in August.
It’s that bad in Chicago, even if the protests here are quieter.  It’s that bad in parts of Lombard, too, even if you and I never hear about it here.

Is it that bad for you?
How do you feel, when you see this news? what do you pray?

It can feel far from Lombard; it can feel like it doesn’t affect us.
After all, this happens often enough that it barely ripples the news in most cases: a black or brown unarmed man or child is shot, and often the shooter is exonerated.
Our world is not set up to punish police who shoot and kill in the line of duty.  Our world is set up to protect those who act in self-defense.
That’s good.
But our world is also set up – by the same system – to punish young black and brown men for expressing themselves, to punish the victims of systemic, impersonal racism
for anything that makes the rest of us uncomfortable, and to kill young men whose opportunities are already limited, whose lives are already bound by other people’s fear.

That’s what’s driving protest and heading the news in Ferguson and around the country. Not just one incident, but that whole system.
The words are different, but people not too far from us are living that cry of Isaiah’s for God to tear open the heavens and shake the earth; for God to bring desperately needed change so radical that it will feel like our world is torn apart.

The people of Israel knew something about despair and distress when Isaiah pleaded for God to come with power and fire and destruction. And Jesus speaks to that kind of pain, acknowledges a suffering community, when he promises the coming of the Son of Man heralded by the ruin of the heavens, by a darkened sun and falling stars.

Today, on the first day of Advent, Jesus and the prophets invite us to stand with them in that place of desperate longing, to feel the unrelenting pain and grief of prejudice, oppression, fear, and division, so that we, too, can cry out for the coming of God in unimaginable, scary, power.

In the prophets’ Israel, in Jesus’ Jerusalem, they yearned for freedom from invading empires, for dignity, and for a world where God’s care for the poorest and most vulnerable could actually be lived out in the gritty business of everyday life.

Those things are disruptive.  Those things require the powerful to lose their power, and most of what’s comfortable about our everyday life to radically change. All those things cause protest and prophecy in the streets, and moderate challenges in the courts, in Jesus’ time and in ours.  And those godly longings also spilled over into riots and destruction in Jesus’ time, just like in ours.

In Ferguson, and around this country, protesters and activists long for a world where black and brown children are treated with real care and protection and love –
especially when those children are 6’4, and strong,
and even more vulnerable to other people’s fear.

In Ferguson, and here at home, people long for a world where oppression and racism aren’t embedded, hidden, in the systems of law and commerce, so that we are bound by them, even if we don’t want to be racist.  A world where hearts that long to be fair and loving actually can be free of the fears and divisions of racism.

I long for those things. 
I long for God’s justice in this country – justice that brings more balance and healing than courts or laws or death ever do. 
I long for a world where no police officer is ever scared of an unarmed 18 year old; where no one is scared of that teenager, not in the dark or in the daylight, and no matter the gender of that teenager or the color of their skin. 
I long for a world in which my own heart, my own life, are as affected by Michael Brown’s life and death as they are by the health of my family and the life of this congregation.

I long for those things, and I tremble, because I know that to achieve them would mean a transformation of my life and of our world as disruptive and dramatic as falling stars, torn heavens, and quaking bedrock.
I don’t like it,
but it feels like Advent.

Because Advent, this season of preparation – and Advent, that final coming of God that we pray for in every Eucharist – Advent demands that kind of longing.
Advent demands that we long for deep, radical justice and peace and healing; long for it so strongly that we plead for even the most disruptive transformation of this world.

Maybe you don’t long today for the same things God’s people are crying out for from Ferguson, the kinds of things that Israel longed for at the time of Jesus,
but we could.
We can pray to God to expand our love, and break down the barriers – often invisible – that keep you and me from demanding justice in the streets this week.
And I expect you do long for something.  For healing or peace or justice or love, small and personal or the size of the whole world.

It’s Advent.
It’s time to stop being shy about the transformation we long for,
it’s time to deepen our yearning for God
so that we are ready for anything.

So take a minute, right now, to reach deep into your heart.
What is it that you long for?
I suspect – I hope – that you do yearn for something more in this world.
The coming of God – as an infant, or in glory and power – depends on that.

What love or peace or justice or healing – small or large – would you be praying for if you stopped being practical, if you were willing to risk your comfort and stability?
Write it down.
Offer it to God as a gift, the first of our Advent gifts this season.
Write it down, open your heart wide to that yearning as we pray, share peace, bless the bread and wine, and bring it as a gift to God as you come to communion.

And all week long, all Advent long, practice yearning. Practice a longing for God that is more powerful than fear, or comfort, or stability.

Because it could still be this year that God comes in power and glory, tearing the heavens, or transforming the earth.

“Stay awake,” Jesus said, because it could be this year that our longing transforms the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Matthew 25:14-30

I used to like this story a lot. When I was a kid, and good at school, feeling smart and successful at the thing that seemed to be most important to authority figures, it was easy to like this idea:
God gives us resources, we're supposed to do good work with those resources, then we get rewarded. Great!  And if we do nothing, well, then God gets mad. Makes sense.
Work hard; earn heaven.  I’m in!

But the more I read the gospel, the more that sounds a little fishy, and I don’t think that this is a story about how we earn our way into heaven. So this week I did a little research and a little math, and I want you to listen to the beginning of the story again:

Jesus said, "It's like when a CEO goes on an extended trip, and before he goes, he leaves some of his own money in his employees' hands.
To one, he gives something over three million dollars. To another, he gives about 1.2 million, and to a third, between six or seven hundred thousand* – and leaves it in their hands for a very long time.

Wait a minute! Who gives three million dollars to one individual, with no instructions, other than "I'll be back - eventually..."?  This is hardly pocket change! And how many people really double their money by hard work? Or even by trading and investing?  (Do you?)
This is not a Main Street story, it's a Wall Street story.

And that makes me think: On Wall Street – and in the places influenced by Wall Street – money is not just money. Money is power. And I think that’s as true in this story as in the nitty gritty world of our political, social and practical life.

So the two new millionaires in the story immediately start using their power.  They buy, sell, trade, influence, invest, and generally make the most of the power and authority that’s left in their hands.   For this, they are praised and rewarded.That’s the way it is on Wall Street, too.

But the third servant is baffled by what he receives. He’s never thought of himself as powerful, and even several hundred thousand dollars doesn’t change that.  He’s more aware of the master’s power, and he’s afraid that power corrupts.  So he buries it, ignores it, and can’t wait to wash his hands of it by turning it back over to the master.  He probably never wanted power; he didn’t recognize it when he had it – and that gets him tossed into outer darkness, a place of despair and bitterness.

I don’t particularly like this story any more, but it’s started to haunt me. It’s started to make me wonder about the power that’s in my hands, and what I do with it.

Honestly, I don’t feel powerful most of the time.  Do you? 

I watch avalanches of super-PAC funded campaign ads and what passes for the business of government in Congress, and even on the day I vote, I feel extremely powerless.

I pay for groceries and gas, write out the checks for my mortgage and ever-increasing condo fees, get stuck in traffic, feel the weeks go by faster and faster as I try to catch up…  and I growl and complain because I don’t believe I can change any of that.

I grieve the deaths of friends and family, pray for healing for so many people struggling with physical pain or emotional injury, and I’m full of hope, but also of helplessness.

All those things get my heart into the habit of helplessness, and they help me forget that the kingdom of God puts power into our hands, yours as well as mine, whether we want it or not.
And when we meet God once and for all,  God’s going to expect us to have used that power wisely and well.

That’s what Jesus’ story about talents tells us.
And it’s what Facebook tells me, often this fall.

You see, I have a lot of friends in St. Louis, and they don’t let me forget about Ferguson.
They don’t let me forget that after one of the hundreds of times in our lives that police officer shot a black teenager, a whole lot of ordinary people – clergy and mothers and small business owners and teenagers and teachers and bus drivers and police – are suddenly dealing with extraordinary power.
It’s extraordinary to be a suburban police officer, and suddenly be responsible for assault weapons and tanks.
It’s extraordinary to be a busy parish priest, pulled unexpectedly into the front of a march and a movement to pray and lead.
It’s extraordinary to be a teenager, reaching out to hold hands with a police officer, and bridge an unthinkable social gulf.
It’s extraordinary to be a mechanic, a waiter, a teacher, and discover that the power of riot and the power of reconciliation are in the palm of your hands and the words on your lips,
to discover that by that, you have the power to dramatically change the whole world.

Those are extraordinary discoveries. But God puts that kind of power into our hands, yours and mine, much more often and much sooner than we are usually ready for.
You and I have all kinds of power that we may accidentally bury, or genuinely fear, and God gives it to us to see how we’ll use it, day after day.

Loving, and being loved, by parents, children, spouses, friends, gives each of us incredible power to heal or hurt.

What we buy, how we do our jobs, and where we choose to live, even – maybe especially – how we spend our time; all these are ways we exercise power, especially power we don’t realize we have.

You and I have power, every single day, to name oppression where we see it, and to encourage others to break down barriers between races, faiths, class, and gender.
We each have power to forgive and to reconcile – often small hurts, but also systems of injustice and opposition.
We each have power to spread grace and joy and peace – with small smiles or large political action, our silence and our speech.

If all this feels a little scary, that’s good.  Power is a messy thing.

Nobody gets it all right in this parable –  not the frightened servant who buries his riches,
not the master who gets called out for his exploitation and shady business practices and doesn’t deny it, and not the successful temporary millionaires who no doubt copied some of those practices to double their master’s money and power. 

Nobody gets it all right, but the successful servants find that with great power comes increasingly great responsibility – that’s their reward.  And the damnation to outer darkness, the condemnation to despair and bitter yearning, is reserved for the only one who denied and buried his power.

You and I have been given the gospel. We’ve been given love and influence and time – in the millions or simply hundred thousands, and God is eager to see what we’ll do with it.
So what do you think God will find in us, when we meet God once and for all?

*These numbers are very approximate. They are based on commentators' assertions that a talent was either 15 or more wages for a laborer, and a $19.50 current hourly average US manufacturing wage (googled and found here). 

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Matthew 25:1-13

Did you hear that story Jesus told?
Ten bridesmaids wait for the groom to come and get the party started.  They’ve brought festive and necessary light for the celebration, but the groom is late.
Very late. Everyone falls asleep waiting.
And when the groom finally arrives, half of them have run out of lamp oil.  If you’ve run out of phone battery at a critical moment, you know how they feel.
So only the “wise” or “clever” bridesmaids get to party. The ones who ran out of oil get shut out, rejected and ignored.

And the moral of the story is…..???
Yep. "Be prepared."  You screw up, you lose heaven once and for all. (Not high stakes at all.  I’m sure my blood pressure’s fine.)

That’s a useful warning in some ways.  It is important to be ready for God, to be ready for heaven, and ready for Jesus to come at any moment – soon or long delayed. But I’m not sure Matthew actually gets the moral of the story right when he tells it to us.

Since Jesus has just been warning that God comes like a thief in the night, it’s natural that Matthew is still focused on the importance of “staying awake” to be ready. But everybody falls asleep in this parable, even the “wise” women, and that’s not what gets them in trouble, so that can’t be quite right.
And I’m not even sure that the traditional interpretation of "preparedness" is what Jesus is after.  The way I usually hear the story, it sounds like when God finally comes, you’d better be not just ready, but over-prepared, and it’s every one of us for herself.
Something doesn’t feel right about that.
But I couldn’t put my finger on what until I read this parable with the Vestry recently.  It didn’t take long for someone to ask the question that changes the story:
“Why didn’t the bridesmaids share?”

Honestly, isn’t that the entry-level lesson about what Jesus expects us to do?  Share what we have with people in need? So why don’t the bridesmaids in this story share their oil?

Well, it’s a disruptive, chaotic, scene, and they’ve all been woken from a sound sleep without coffee.  Few of us are generous and flexible under those circumstances. 
Jesus is intentionally setting that up. He’s telling us a story about how it will be in the chaos before God’s final coming.  We’re probably going to be afraid, and off balance.  It’s very human to become self-protective and hang on to what you’ve got in those circumstances.

But I think that the question about sharing is one Jesus wants us to ask about this gospel story.
Think about this: What would have happened if they did share?

If they did share, there would be twice the number of festive, welcoming lights and ladies for the bridegroom’s arrival, for the start of the party.  It would have been better hospitality.
If they’d shared, no one would be shut out of the party.  The bridegroom wouldn’t have broken relationships with half the bridesmaids, and all the women would belong to the holy and festive community.
If they’d shared, it would have deepened the relationships between the women. Gratitude and generosity have a lot more staying power than selfishness and resentment.
If they’d shared, it would mean everyone let go of the fear of running out.  There’d be more peace in the whole community.
Isn’t that what the kingdom of God is supposed to be like? 

Jesus is awfully big on caring for the outcast, welcoming the stranger, and healing the broken. So maybe that’s why he’s telling this parable. Maybe he’s telling it so we can see how scary it is not only if we are unprepared, but if we fail to share.

ANY time we worry that there’s not going to be enough for us – enough money, enough time, enough love, enough patience, enough anything – any time we believe that there is not enough, we get selfish.
We don’t usually mean to.  But it happens. If it feels like there’s not enough for me it’s very hard to give away – or even share – whatever I may have.

And we live in a world that’s very good at telling us there’s not enough.  That’s the subtext of every political ad.  It’s the limited-time-offer, winner-take-all, work-smarter-and-harder water we swim in.  It’s the fear of loss every time we face unexpected change.

So every day, there’s a way that you and I don’t share.
Every day, there’s a way many of us don’t share our money.  Not just by turning down panhandlers and tossing out the charity appeals that show up in your mailbox – but perhaps by spending it on disposable things that don’t really satisfy; pouring away what you could have shared.

Every day one or another of us fails to share our time.
Not just by turning down a volunteer opportunity, but by not getting around to that phone call you’ve been meaning to make, or not making the effort to meet a new neighbor.

Every day many of us fail to share our faith, our dreams, our talents.  We might fear rejection or ridicule. We might fear that we’re not good enough.  We might just be tired or busy. 

Those are all forms of the same fear of “not enough” that keeps the bridesmaids from sharing their oil.

So Jesus tells us about how bad it can get when we forget to share.  This story tells us that the people we didn’t share with are left lonely and rejected in the dark, closed out of even a glimpse of the abundant feast at which they’d been expected.

I don’t think anyone in Jesus’ story today was really prepared for the coming of God.  Not even the Boy Scout bridesmaids with their jugs of oil. 
Because being prepared for the coming of God means being ready to let go of every fear and convention,  ready to share what you don’t have enough of,  prepared to light a lamp without oil or matches, ready to join the celebration and welcome strangers even if you’ve screwed up your part of the planning beyond recognition.

Jesus tells a story that isn’t finished – a story that’s still happening, because we’re still in that time of worry and waiting that precedes the coming of God.  The end of the story is still up to us.
We can listen to Jesus’ story, and share pre-emptively.  We don’t have to wait until we have enough, or until our friends and neighbors run out. We can listen to Jesus and get ready to celebrate in spite of every mistake and inadequacy and failure you can find in yourself when God shows up in front of you.

Because the kingdom of God is like that: abundant, disruptive and joyful, demanding and relational, and never when or what you expected.