“They were filled with wonder and amazement”
I am going to look at this story in a way that is a little different than the way we often look at scripture.
I am going to put myself in the picture -- and perhaps you will be able to put yourselves in the picture also.
In some ways I am the man by the gate.
Remember??? He was sitting by the temple gate, crippled to the point that he could not walk.
Ol’ Peter came by -- took his hand -- pulled him up, and this crippled man walked away under his own power.
AND THE PEOPLE WHO SAW HIM WERE FILLED WITH WONDER AND AMAZEMENT.
(At least some of them were.)
I would suggest that is my story, and perhaps is is yours also.
Sometimes my days get to seeming all the same, every thing is as usual. (My friends help me to my place by the gate.)
Life starts to get BORING.
You may know the story -- even the crises are usual.
And I would confess that there is a part of me that likes it that way. It is familiar, and comfortable.
But, there is another part of me that likes excitement; there is another part of me that is not crippled; a part of me that needs the fresh flavor of looking at things in a new way.
And sometimes it takes conflict to cause that to happen.
Conflict may not be pleasant; but it is not all bad.
It is not all bad because it creates a tension that (allows or causes take your pick) things to move and change.
I would guess that you have heard the some variation of this old story about the woman who cut the drumsticks off every turkey she cooked. Finally one of her kids - the trouble maker - asked her why she did that. She didn’t know, but that was the way her mother always did it.
So the kids asked their grandmother about it and learned that when her family was young it was during the depression and they had to make everything stretch. (I don’t suppose any of you remember those days.) She used the drumsticks and the bones from the carcass to make soup.
The daughter was crippled in her outlook; she never made soup, she just threw the drumsticks away with the rest the carcass.
I suppose that we all have our ruts, and stay in them long after their usefulness has passed.
(Someone suggested that a rut is just a grave with both ends kicked out.)
Remember the story of Nicodemus - he was in a rut when he asked Jesus, “How can I be born again when I am old?”
I would suggest that that is a good question for me, and maybe for you too.
After my divorce I lived by myself for about two years and I discovered that I did a lot of things just because I always did them that way before.
But I also discovered that I could do things in a different way -- and -- the new way worked because almost everything can be done in more that one way. WOW
(Virginia Satir, a serious scholar, once did a whimsical study and reported that there are 255 ways to wash dishes.)
(One of the presenters in the video we saw for the adult study group says that the Hubble telescope and other similar instruments are giving us information about the universe so fast that scientists cannot keep up getting it cataloged;
But what we have is just about 2 and a half percent of what is there -- so with all we know about the vast reaches of space, there is still about 97 and a half percent that we don’t know.)
One thing I do to move from HELP to THANKS and then to WOW is to slow down. (Carol finds it difficult to believe that I could slow down from my already slow pace.) I do know how to do that. Early this week I went into Carols garden. The neighbors were trimming their hedge and at first all I could hear was the drone of the gas clippers. But I took a couple of deep breaths and walked the path. First I heard the Ospry – they are loud and strident and hard to miss. However by the time I made the loop I was hearing the various sounds of the stream, all kinds of birds, and the hedge trimmers not so much.
On our last vacation we drove some on the freeway because we needed to get to Colorado within a certain time frame and we drove through some beautiful country. When we left Colorado we were hurrying to Arches and Canyon Lands national parks. But when got close to Moab Utah we left the freeway for Utah route 128, a two lane road that insisted we slow down as we drove past the Colorado River and the Eastern side of Arches National Park - WOW what beautiful scenery. What a wondrous world in which we live.
One of my seminary classmates took advantage of a long weekend (three days). He came back telling us what a wonderful vacation it had been. They saw ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, SALT LAKE CITY.
I guess there could have been more, but they got stuck in a bear jam in Yellowstone and lost some time.
In our irreverent way we rush through life, so much to see and do; -- but on our way we are discourteous to beauty and THANKS and WOW.
To live with WOW is to walk slowly.
I know that I am not the only one who has come to the place of WOW -- I would like to hear some of your experience - and remember that the wow moments are not all earth shattering events - not all like the man who had been lame all his life and now could walk - what were some of your WOW moments in the recent past?
I believe that WONDER lets us look at things that are so familiar that our tired eyes don’t really see them anymore and then see new meanings in them.
A mother wrote this free form verse about her son:
Phillip is five
Every inch alive.
After a rain he watched the birds bathing.
“What are you doing, Phillip?
“Just lookin at things,
just loving the world.”
I believe we all need to do that more;
Just look at things…
Just love the world
I read once of a woman who was confined to her bed which had been placed by a window.
She liked to look at the stars at night, which was ok by her.
She said, “So many people have been kind to me.
I pick out a star and say,
‘THAT ONE IS MOM, and that one, the twinkling one, that is my brother.
That one is the man across the street who waves at me every day when he goes to work and when he comes home.
BUT, she said, THERE AREN’T ENOUGH STARS TO GO AROUND.
She may be crippled, but she walks outside that condition all the time.
I believe that is what God wants for all of us;
TO WALK OUTSIDE OF OUR CONDITION.
Crippled by boredom, our limiting conditions,
Walking into a new world;
A world filled with wonder and amazement.
So, I row.
As you know, and this last April, I made the journey to Brentwood, as I annually do.
And it’s a fairly prestigious event. Brentwood is a prep-high school on Mill bay.
Last year was my first year going, and, let me be honest: It was a bit like I imagine heaven. You go through these big tall gates, and there are big, lush, green athletic fields for any game you want, the dining hall serves the greatest school food I have ever eaten, and not to mention, there are very nice Canadian people to talk to.
But, this is earth. The regatta doesn’t want me to forget that, so I have to race.
Racing is the only painful part about Brentwood.
I like to draw this Regatta and rowing as parallel to my Religious life.
Crew, in my social life, is like being religious. It’s not the cool thing to be religious, neither is it the most popular thing to be in crew.
But because I'm in crew (and what I could call: God’s rowing team), I made a special group of friends.
I know some of you wonderful people because I came here, to the church. Not every Sunday, but you know, a good amount.
But anyway, I digress…
When I race, I pray. I get up to the start line, and there are these huge guys sitting there in my race and I can’t help but pray!
I feel like asking for first is a bit selfish, so, I ask for other things.
“Dear God, please give me strength, patience and endurance”
“Dear God, please let me finish this in record time, please, by your hand give me a bit more strength…”
During one of my races, we were going strong, but our boat was sitting a good 20 meters back. Getting first was out of the question. I always hope that maybe by chance…or God….they’ll catch a crab, or sink, or a giant octopus might eat them…
And then it hit me,
Maybe God doesn’t need us to be first. Maybe God chooses for us not to be first.
I believe it is because He loves us so much, that He doesn’t want us to stop trying to be even better. We work on having a good religious life, but nobody is perfect!
I just returned from Regionals, where, if I may, Vashon is sending EIGHT boats to nationals; twice what we sent two years ago.
Not to brag or anything.
At regionals, I was not the best, because God is always pushing us to improve.
In my case, I am now working toward nationals for myself, pushing myself every day for a better time on a run, or more reps.
I think I should be pushing myself further in my understanding with God. Maybe it doesn’t need to be coming to church every day, but just making changes so that I can better understand what he has planned out.
Rowing is all about small changes. If the boat is not set, small change to the level my hands and the boat can be set. That small change can be the difference between a good row, and a bad row.
So many things go into a good race, any one of them be out of line and it is all going to come down.
A good many things go into being a follower of God. –“Child of light” if you prefer— celebrating holidays, being a good neighbor, observing the Ten Commandments,
Now, far be it from me to stand up here and tell you WHAT to do, or HOW to do it, being a Christian means different things to people. Small changes.
You don’t have time to come to church? Garden, God’s there. God is in this world, not just this bulding.
There is no other place than church, where I feel closer to God than on the water. Rowing along in the beautiful Quartermaster harbor, thw water is calm, a couple birds fly by, maybe Pumpernickel (the seal) comes by and visits….
It is a peaceful place where I can connect with God.
Unless it’s jellyfish season, that’s like the 9th plague or something.
Okay….well, I am way off topic again, where was I again?
In my mind, God and Crew are parallels, both have made me who I am today, and that it’s alright not to be first. God may have us not be first for a reason, and that small changes can have big impacts on our lives.
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Jesus is amazed. What amazes him? A Roman centurion who loves the people of Capernaum, who has built them a synagogue, who is held in high regard by those he is supposed to dominate and who cares for his slave. This is a man who, in spite of being a Roman soldier in the army occupying Israel, has treated everyone in this story with extraordinary respect and kindness and has received the same in return. Here is the Kingdom of God at work in the last place we would expect it.
Jesus never meets the centurion or his slave. The centurion simply assumes that Jesus’ authority and compassion match his own. Jesus is amazed. Nowhere, not even in Israel, has Jesus found such faith. I think it might be a mistake to think that Jesus was talking about faith in him—faith in Jesus. After all, the centurion had already built a synagogue and had real relationships with the leaders of the community. He seems to have a profound trust in goodness and a trust in Jesus’ authority as someone who works within God’s command. The centurion sends word to Jesus as one middle manager in the military to another middle manager in the spiritual realm. He has tremendous confidence in Jesus’ authority based on his own. His faith seems to be in the way that God works for good through command and action.
Steve Garnaas-Holmes writes:
God does not try.
God does not wish,
or command from afar
and hope we obey.
God says, “Light,”
and the word shines.
God wills life.
There is no command, no obedience,
nothing conveyed from there to here.
Trees put forth leaves,
earth turns green, living things blossom.
What God wills is what is
and what is most deeply becoming.
The saints live in harmony with God's energy,
trust it unfolding,
even as we will otherwise.
The healing you yearn for,
the wisdom, the peace,
these God has already spoken.
They have already begun to become.
You yourself are a word God has already said,
a word of grace,
grace that was, and is, and ever shall be.
This is in essence a healing story. In our culture, we are more likely to seek medical attention before we pray for healing. And that’s okay. We have learned a lot about the healing arts and are able to restore health in situations we never thought possible even ten years ago. But we have separated healing and wholeness from the spiritual realm and made the word salvation mean “life after death.” It has taken centuries to create that divide, but it is an unnatural division. God works in and through our bodies as much as our spirits; and God works in and through the minds of human beings that seek to provide medical care.
Several years ago, I began to study spiritual healing. I have my own story of a physical healing that has made me both curious and cautious. There are some Christian traditions that promote faith healing and some that reject medical care. There are many denominations that are suspicious of miracle claims and believe that miraculous healing ceased at about the time that the canon of scripture was closed. I think that humans are usually uncomfortable with things that we can’t explain and often our explanations do more harm than good. For instance, if the congregation has laid hands on you and prayed for healing and you are not healed in the expected way, the question becomes, “Whose faith is faulty? The sick person or those who prayed?”
The truth is that the healing miracles of Jesus happened in a number of different ways and in one case healing was not complete on the first try. Today’s story comes about the closest to our experience of intercessory prayer. We pray to God in the name of Jesus—like middle managers in the chain of command. And like middle managers in any other business, we may think we have the best idea about what should happen. Our opinion may be very short-sighted in the view of those with responsibility above us. So I have learned to simply tell God what I want and trust that God wants the best for me or the other person and knows more than I do. It’s not a great answer, but it lets me pray with a sense of spiritual confidence. I know that God is in charge and that God is good. Then I can turn my attention to joining in good and responsible behavior to the best of my ability.
The other thing that I have learned is that the Church baptizes and lays claim to lives in the name of God. We have some responsibility to be witnesses to the baptized, but we trust them to God’s life-long care. We have no control, we simply trust that God will keep the promises we make in God’s name. The same is true with communion. We cannot guarantee that people will feel fed, accepted, loved, or forgiven in the meal. We simply offer it, trusting in God’s grace. What I see missing in our worship is faithfulness to the other ministry of Jesus—healing. That is why we offer anointing with oil and prayer for healing of physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational ills. Just as in baptism and communion, we use the same words each time, trusting in the goodness of God to know what we cannot know and love us beyond our imagining. I have the same spiritual confidence in the effectiveness of healing prayer as I do in baptism and communion. Spiritual confidence comes from understanding that I am a middle manager and that I work for the God of all creation. So do you. You are also a middle manager who works for the God of all creation. Let us pray and offer forgiveness, words of healing and wholeness to all the world, trusting that we have been given the authority to speak goodness into being, the authority to speak peace into being, the authority to speak wholeness into being. And then we can act with spiritual confidence in conjunction with our prayers.
 Steve Garnaas-Holmes, www.unfoldinglight.net, May 30, 2013.
May 26, 2013
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
How do you imagine God? What do you think about when you think about God? Is there a primary visual image or word image? Is God alone? Who do you address when you pray? God or Jesus, or a combination of both?
Dennis Linn, along with his wife Sheila and brother Matthew, write that “we become like the God we adore.” In their book, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, the Linns posit that our understanding of God’s character shapes our own character. If we believe that God is the essence of love, we will seek to be more compassionate. If we believe that God is judgmental and harsh, we will judge others and treat them harshly. I highly recommend the Linns’ book if you haven’t read it. Sometimes our image of God comes from the Church, sometimes from the way we were parented, and sometimes it is shaped by our own experience.
So let’s look at some images of God on this day that the Church identifies as Trinity Sunday. The very idea behind the Trinity is that God is not alone. In the second creation story in the book of Genesis (Genesis 2) we read that, “The Lord God saw that it was not good for man to be alone,” and created woman. In telling their stories of God, it seemed to the Hebrew people that it was also not good for God to be alone. In the first creation story (Genesis 1) we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’” Later the writer of Proverbs describes Wisdom as a being that existed with God before all of creation. Wisdom tells us that she was God’s partner in creation. Either created by or born of God (you can read both in this passage), Wisdom labored with God in the creation of the world. She is sometimes called Sophia, or Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), in Orthodox and Roman Christianity. Wisdom is an expression of the Holy Spirit.
What does the writer of Proverbs tell us about Wisdom? That she cries out at the gates of the city, and in the streets and marketplace, calling all to acquire prudence and intelligence. She sings a song of the beauty and goodness of creation:
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
Wisdom rejoices in the beauty and wonder of all that God has made and delights in humanity. Wisdom delights in humanity! In the gospel reading from John, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Advocate. An advocate is one who pleads the case of another, or supports and promotes the interest of another. In other words, the Holy Spirit delights in us and roots for us. The Holy Spirit pleads for us, supports and promotes what is in our best interest. It doesn’t make sense that the nature of God is divided concerning any part of creation, including humanity. So if God delights in us and pleads for us, who is it that is against us? Here it would be really easy to imagine an evil being, and that’s exactly what some theologians have done using Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit as The Advocate. The court room is set up with humanity on trial before God the supreme judge and Satan as the prosecuting attorney.
Let me offer another scenario. Let’s return to Wisdom, who delights in humanity, and calls humans to act intelligently and prudently. This Friday evening my husband and I spent a couple of hours in the emergency room at Swedish while our son was checked for an injury sustained when a band member at a concert tried to crowd surf before there was enough of a crowd. Besides the ordinary kinds of injuries and illnesses, we observed a number of people whose personal choices threatened their well-being. We heard people being treated for the effects of alcohol and drug abuse, anger and violence. I kept imagining these people as children that someone loved. These people may or may not have had the advantage of a loving home with caring parents, but the One who created them loved them as children and loves them still, even as they are doing damage to their lives. I could imagine the Holy Spirit trying to support and protect them from themselves, calling them to choose life. I believe that the Holy Spirit, the One who advocates for us, gives us openings and nudges toward life. We may have made such horribly poor decisions that our next options are not very good, but we always have a choice between better and worse. Every time we make the better choice, we move back toward wholeness and the possibility of new life. The Holy Spirit never stops pleading with us to make the better choice.
I wonder how the Holy Spirit does not eventually crumple in despair as I sometimes do. We watched the sole doctor in our part of the emergency room move from patient to patient gently focusing on the patient’s injury—treating each patient with the same positive regard. What the patient did afterward was out of his hands, but in the moment he had, he used his skills in the patient’s best interest. I am convinced that is how love works best. The apostle Paul wrote that the Spirit prays for us when we cannot pray in sighs too deep for words. The Spirit always calls us toward healing even when we cannot hear or choose not to listen.
The word juxtaposition is used frequently in theological conversations. That’s the idea of holding two ideas side by side to understand each better. I am holding the ugliness and despair of the emergency room next to Wisdom’s song of creation and her call for prudence and intelligence. The questions that that juxtaposition raises in me are:
What do I/we have to do to choose life?
How do I/we work alongside The Advocate?
How do I/we join Wisdom’s song?
May 19, 2013
During the season of Easter, we have been looking at spiritual practices as ways of finding everyday sacredness. I came across a list of over a dozen practices and we may touch on some of them in the future, but this sermon series concludes today, on Pentecost Sunday, with the observance of sacred seasons. Today we celebrate one of the highest holy days on the Christian calendar, arguably the pinnacle of the Christian story. Today is Pentecost! Pentecost, literally "the fiftieth day,” is the Greek name for the Feast of Weeks, a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. This feast is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot. The word Shavuot means weeks, and the festival of Shavuot marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot. Jesus’ disciples were gathered in the upper room to celebrate Shavuot, Pentecost, when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The disciples who had been hiding and meeting behind locked doors suddenly received courage and power. Peter, the fisherman, preached boldly in the street. Jews from many other nations comprehended what the disciples were saying in their own languages and marveled. Weren’t all of the disciples from Galilee? Some were skeptical, and some became followers of Jesus. We count Pentecost as the birth of the Christian church, even though it took a while for the disciples to understand that gentiles could become Christians without first converting to Judaism. God’s power and work in the world revealed by Jesus suddenly exploded as ordinary people received the gift of the Holy Spirit. A vision for the Kingdom of God was revived as people shared their lives, studied scripture, prayed, and adapted the way they lived and treated each other. What followed, and has continued with greater or lesser success, has been an experiment in Kingdom living—participation in the Beloved Community.
Instead of trying to fit God into our time, which is seldom successful for very long, we can learn to live in the Kingdom of God. I lived in Japan near a military base for two years when I was a young bride because my husband was in the Army. We so enjoyed learning about Japanese culture and tried to participate in it as much as we could as respectful guests, but we were Americans. We spoke a different language, celebrated different holidays—or the same holiday on a different day, like New Years. In a very real sense, we still lived as Americans while living in Japan. First generations of immigrants to the United States have the same experience. In many ways, Christians throughout the centuries, starting with the apostle Paul, have understood themselves to be foreigners in the culture that raised them as they chose to identify more and more as citizen of the Kingdom of God. The spiritual practice of observing sacred seasons is one way for us to identify more and more as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Think of the secular holidays that identify us as Americans: the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Veteran’s Day, Labor Day, even Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and the list goes on. Yesterday was Armed Forces Day and the flags flew on Vashon Highway. These American holidays shape our national identity and tell our story.
In the same way Christian holy days and seasons shape our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God and tell our stories. Unfortunately, it requires more attention and intentionality to shape Kingdom identity. We do not find Kingdom markers in the media, sanctioned days off from work, and whole community celebrations. We have to work a little bit harder. And it’s harder for some of us who didn’t learn to observe sacred seasons at home to get the hang of it—so it’s harder to live and teach being a citizen of the Kingdom of God than it is to preserve native customs when we move to a new land.
Many years ago I met a clergy colleague in another tradition, Joseph, and his beautiful wife, Deborah. Joseph and Deborah live authentically and gracefully as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Their first words of greeting and final words of blessing are deeply grounded in the sacred season. I have learned so much from Gertrude whose family’s celebrations taught the Christian story and Kingdom living with simplicity as a first language. Gertrude currently teaches families how to teach faith to their children through celebrating the sacred seasons. For Gertrude, Deborah and Joseph, and many others like them, the home is the first church. Children are taught the stories of the faith and the seasons are celebrated in very practical and hands on ways. The seasons are observed as holy by parents and taught as naturally as we teach Thanksgiving and Fourth of July.
Let me give you some examples. Advent is a season of waiting and acknowledging the gathering darkness as the seasons change and winter sets in. Some families don’t place the baby in the crèche until Christmas Eve. Some move the wise men slowing through the house until they finally arrive on January 6, the festival of the Epiphany and gifts are given on that day.
Lent is another time of waiting. This season is about introspection, a time of reflection and clearing away all that separates us from God’s love. Sometimes food or activities are given up to allow for the things missing in our regular routine to call us to prayer.
Easter is all about new life. Families used to let the fire in their hearths die on Holy Saturday. Then they would like lamps from the Easter bonfire at midnight or sunrise to take home to light the hearth for another year. When furnaces became popular, families turned out the pilot lights in stoves and furnaces and relit them from the Easter fire.
Pentecost calls us back to spiritual practices. Pinwheels, kites, and streamers celebrate the animation of the breath of God that enlivens all of creation.
Ordinary time celebrates the growing season and the life of the church. Planting rituals help children learn about season and the joy of sharing a harvest.
The feasts and sacred seasons we observe are as important as our fasting. If fasting is about creating a just world, feasting and observing sacred seasons are about delighting in God’s Kingdom and preserving it by teaching and telling the stories. Let us feast and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit today. May the Spirit blow with power through our lives and through our church.