Tuesday, June 28, 2016

We. Are. Alive.

Guest Preacher: Theresa Henson, M.A.

When Love comes to town. I’m going to catch that train. I have had that song going through my head the last two weeks. I realized that it’s the song of a penitent — someone (in a fantastically bluesy way) is owning up to their words and actions before their heart was transformed by love.

I realize I am seeing myself both as one transformed by love and as the one who needs to repent. These last two weeks I have had a lot of  — what my friend would call — big feelings: sadness, despair, anger, frustration. BIG feelings. 

In my quiet moments, though, I noticed I was also angry at myself. Angry when I have been silent, angry when I have been complicit in silence that perpetuates injustice and greed and violence. I have been silent in the face of systems and beliefs that hurt people. I repent. I have heard a lot of people repenting lately. People saying: I am over staying silent in the presence of homophobia, racism, sexism -- this culture of violence and death.

You know, in the time of Jesus’ ministry in the middle east, the region was occupied by the brutal and violent Roman empire that enforced their will through terror on every level. The way Jesus died, by crucifixion, was a standard punishment by the state for those found guilty of treason. The dead and dying were left up on these poles for all to see. People daily walked among death and terror and the intent was to keep them afraid. The intent was to keep them in a culture of death. Because people who are seeing death all the time may not know they are actually alive. And people who do not know they are fully alive are easier to control.

But in walks Jesus. Who is not afraid. Who is fully alive which is also to say he is full of love — the only thing stronger than fear. And he says to people: Remember who you are! You are not this culture of death! You are not some dim, half creation struggling to survive in all this despair and oppression. You are alive!!! You are a child of of the living God. Remember! Remember who you are!!!

Jesus turns his attention directly toward people’s hearts. Because if he can get people to remember who they are, the world is going to change. He is transforming the world one heart at a time. He restores hearts. He heals bodies. He heals minds. He opens hearts. And at every turn, at every person he meets, he is working to bring people to wholeness and to correct their sense of identity. 

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; stand firm! and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” We are intended to free. Stand firm!

When Jesus gets frustrated and even angry — it’s not necessarily at the temporary political situation of Rome — it’s at the closing of hearts, people forgetting who they are…the disciples bickering over who will be first in heaven or wondering if they should rebuke the Samaritan. He gets angry at the violation of a sacred place, the temple, a place intended to be a safe space where we open our hearts to God and to each other.

In today’s gospel reading, he is correcting his disciples again. No, you will not rebuke the Samaritan. That is not who you are. That is not who we are. Judgement and rejection and exclusion are not our work. That is not God’s work! We are about God’s work. What are the signs of this work in us? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

In Luke, we see Jesus once again intent on going to Jerusalem. Which always makes me nervous. Sometimes I want to say ‘Jesus, just get yourself a nice place by the lake and go fishing. These disciples are idiots. Jerusalem and the temple are corrupt. They know you are not afraid of the empire and that makes them angry. They eyes of death are upon you. 

But no. Jesus never hides. He withdraws in prayer and then returns with a clear sense of action and heightened powers to respond. When he enters Jerusalem right before his death on a cross, it is not in hiding. He comes humbly upon a donkey, but elevated above the dull and deadly fear, the culture of violence, that had become a normal part of life. Love had come to town, people. Love had come to town. And things would never be the same. For one, that brutal empire fell 1500 years ago. 

So we follow Jesus. Our hearts transformed by love and asking for our hearts to continue to be transformed by love. Always answering the invitation to more life.

So how do we live in a culture of life? How do we remember who we are? Remember that we are alive? The answer is simple: prayer. Jesus models it for us over and over. Prayer and action. Prayer and action. You see, prayer focuses us. In prayer, we remember we are not the death around us. We are not the violence and fear. We are God’s. We belong to the God of life. Then we go forth in action, guided by life and creating and supporting new life.

Jesus gave us the tools we need. He taught us to pray. And it follows a very simple format designed to help you remember who you are:

“Our father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.”
You are God. You are everywhere. 

“They kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” These are affirmations. You are here. You are working. You are working in me. 

“Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” 
This is where the prayer keeps us present and mindful, in the right now,… not in the news or Washington D.C., but right here. You, God, are meeting all my needs and guiding me. Help me to stay focused on you. Help me stay focused on my work as your child of God. Help me stay focused on my work as an expression of life. As somebody who is fully alive. From this place, you can engage all the news coming from the culture of death.

“For thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever.” 
For you are great. Love is great. Life is great. You are the reality. Love is the reality. Life is the reality. Amen.

Brothers and sisters, pray to remember who you are. Pray to be lifted and strengthened. Pray to be inspired. Pray to be at peace. Pray to be happy. I promise, as you hear your calls to action, you will be a lot more effective this way. 

In John 10 we hear: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."

How about this? Spend as much time in prayer as you do taking in the news. Letting the mystery and love of God hold you and your heart and your weary mind. Do what it takes to unplug from the culture of death and plug into the source of life. It is tough out there. Take good care of yourselves. You must.

Jesus said my burden is easy and light — which doesn’t mean this world is easy. It means that we can face whatever we have to go through with true life and God’s love lifting us up and carrying us through. You feel yourself start to lose it? Pray. You feel your sense of calm and peace starting to dim? Pray. Can’t pray? Ask someone to pray for you. That’s why we are in community. Your actions need prayer where you gather strength and inspiration and where God can take our actions, however small, and make them a part of something big and powerful.

Pray — in the face of the culture of death — However you pray…sitting quietly, playing music, dancing, marching in a pride parade of color and celebration. However you affirm the essence of you in the surrounding, nourishing essence of the divine. We are not the death all around us. We are not this culture of violence. As Jesus proclaimed throughout his ministry, we are sons and daughters of of the living God, expressions of God, expressions of love. He never, ever put any conditions on that. It is only we ourselves who remove us from the love of God through our hardened hearts. May we all repent of hardness in our hearts and forgetting who we are. We are a people who are not forgetting who we are made to be. 

Perhaps that could be a new identifier. Who are you? I am someone who has not forgotten who I am. I am someone who is remembering who I am. I am love. And I am alive. We, despite all the death around us, are still alive. Vibrant and beautiful. What a rush of love and gratitude for our hearts! I am looking into the eyes of all you around me and know to my core that YOU are alive. The LGBT people and their friends and family, celebrating around the world, are alive. And they are free. We celebrate the life in each of us. The life that expands and unfolds, inspires and directs, brings us to action and ever greater love. We are alive. We are all alive!

Let us pray.

God, 
We submit ourselves to your guidance, 
to the Holy Spirit who brings forth good fruit in us.
You are always bringing us to new life,
making all things new, renewing us in hope
and vibrancy and goodness.
You take away our hearts of stone and give
us a heart of flesh. 
How good it is to feel, again, God.
Help us not to forget to spend time with you
where we will learn how to continue to transform 
this world for beauty and justice.
Amen.

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