Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Letting go of the Doorknobs

Carlos Valles, in his book Tales of the City of God, tells a story about a man who decided to have a new house built for his family. He had a friend who was an architect and went to see him to secure his services. The architect happily offered his help and asked him for details as to what he wanted in his new house.

“Tell me what kind of house you want, how many rooms, etc…whether you want a garden or lawn, what your budget is. Talk to your wife and give me whatever directions and ideas you have so I can begin to plan a comfortable house that will suite your needs.”

The man went home and returned a few days later. “My wife has given this more thought than I have and she said I should tell you this.”

The man then took from his coat pocket an old doorknob. “We are very attached to this old doorknob; it has been in our family for many years. We want our house to match it.”

Sometimes you and I can carry doorknobs in our pockets, too. Such as preconceived ideas, and prejudices that we have “built” our lives around. We may want everything to fit in with it - forced meanings, ignoring advances in thought and life and behavior, so that the doorknob can fit it. It is almost like the whole “blueprint” of our lives must be accommodated to the “doorknob.”

In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus challenges us to let go of our “doorknobs” so we can see the whole house that really is our lives. Our task then is to let go of the comfortable prejudices and reassuring but simplistic beliefs, in order to realize the possibilities for forgiveness, justice, and compassion in our living “houses.”

*my thanks to Connections for this insight.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Letting Resentments Fly Away - Mark 9:38-50

I would imagine that you could ask about a 100 people
to identify their favorite Bible passage,
and it's very likely not one of them
would have ever chosen these verses
from the 9th chapter of Mark's Gospel:

Jesus said,
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it’s better for you to enter life maimed
than to have two hands and go to hell,
to the unquenchable fire.

“If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off...
and if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out...”

So, what in the world….are we to do with these shocking words from Jesus;
so, early in the morning?

Many preachers across the country right now
are probably back peddling on this question
and moving on to something else.

Well, I am going to step up to the plate…
and make this bold assumption –

Jesus is really not talking about literal amputations.
He has something else on his mind…
and it’s troubling him.

We recognize that the language and culture of the Bible
is sometimes so vivid and so concrete
that it can truly perplex us.
Leave us wondering…what the heck?

At times, we may even think…
we’ve figured out what Jesus is NOT saying,
but then this knowledge by itself,
really leaves us…no where.

So, in the context of these strange verses from Mark,
what is it that Jesus calls on us to do in our lives,
right now…this week ahead?
You and me.

It might be helpful to begin by
searching around in the storerooms of your mind,
and see if you can locate a - Resentment.

A Resentment that is old and really ugly…
deep and probably still very much alive.

And if it is a person –
they may have done something, which really hurt you.
There is plenty of resentment / anger to go around.

I certainly have a couple which come to mind,
but for me it almost doesn't matter
if I am aware of these or not.

Because, they are still growing inside me,
like a huge monster pumpkin.
And at any moment are ready to pop out once again.

So, when resentments are alive like this,
they can drain our energy,
and take away life.

Some ways, Resentment becomes almost like a tumor.
It puts pressure on our healthy tissue.

Perhaps this is more likely what Jesus is talking about
when he gets all “steamed up” about amputations.

Maybe, what he means is
when our resentments need to be removed -
the removing can feel pretty painful -
but this pain…this transformation,
can also be life giving, i.e.
there can be growth after the amputation.
And growth is good.

Now, unfortunately, there is some rather dark Christian theology around this like:
“No pain, No gain;” “Suffering is good for you…”
but I am not going there this morning…
plenty of others have already done that.

Rather, what I hear Jesus warning his disciples – you and me….
is this -- Resentments are dark and can become too much apart of who we are
if we’re not careful.

In fact, our whole identity can get lost in them.
You probably can think of someone like this?
I grew up with a family full of them.

Nevertheless, Jesus has a new way forward for in this odd passage…

But, there is no way we can bring our resentments along with us
into God's kingdom.
There is simply no place for them.

In fact, those who dwell with God are all amputees…
our resentments have already been removed.
The Cross makes this possible.

Now, you may have already caught this…
but when I recently read about Tammy Duckworth’s story,
I suddenly understood this whole Gospel lesson differently.

Tammy Duckworth is a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs to a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq five years ago.
But, today she has made a remarkable recovery
and is currently the assistant U.S. veterans affairs secretary,
and has apparently just learned how to fly again,
with her two artificial legs.

But listen to what she told the Chicago Tribune --
"When, I leave my wheelchair behind, and get back in the air,
all my resentment flies’s gone. And I am Free again."

Freedom – but it’s not easy, is it?

When we've been significantly injured by another person,
we can not simply yank the injury from our self
and expect all that bitterness, malice, and emotion
to be gone.

Resentment can hide under the surface.
And so, the only way to become truly free again…like Tammy has,
is to remember that Jesus said,
“Salt is always good.” It’s God’s sacred spice.
Salt – meaning God’s goodness and Grace,
is what we can use once again to begin to find Peace,
with our selves, and one another.

God promises us that when we ask for help,
and cut loose of our resentments
we will be surprised to find
that where our resentment was amputated
there will not be a gaping wound,
but a place of renewed health
and unexpected vitality.

May God grant each of us…
the courage and faith
to let go and be Free.
And fly again.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Labor Day 2009

Sermon – Sept 6, 2009 – Christ Church Greenwich
Proper 18 year B (Mark 7:24-37)

This passage from Mark’s Gospel is a great text for us to look at
here on this beautiful Labor Day weekend?

I mean, we’ve got all the perfect Labor Day themes, if you think about it…
healing – restoration
a few surprises, we like surprises, don’t we – the good ones, anyway.
Fresh hopes and expectations for the coming year

And then what I think is really perfect…
is this -- we gain a very short but clear insight into some of Jesus’ work – his Labor for God.

Mark sets out for us - two of Jesus’ working miracle stories –
first, we are introduced to a very troubled parent, and my goodness who couldn’t identity with this poor frantic woman? even those of us without children, must know what it feels like to care for a loved one who faces serious health issues.

This mother is prepared to do anything in the world for her mentally challenged little girl. She is doing what every good mother or father does for their kids…help when there is a need. But unfortunately, this little girl has worn her mom down, with these relentless, unexplained issues. Anyone living with or aware of someone with Autism today can identify with this mother. She and her daughter are both at the end of their ropes, if ever there was a need for a saving miracle, this was the child.

Then next in Mark’s story he shifts our attention to a second miracle – this time for a much older person. A man who has throughout most of his adult years slowly, but surely lost his hearing. He was frustrated…angry in some ways, I would imagine. Bet some of you can, connect here too. Vision and/or hearing challenges…are no fun.

Well, this guy’s family I am sure and many others must have tried everything to help him regain connection…communication with the larger world. But the day in and day out care for him, like the mother earlier, has worn them all down. He can’t see or speak clearly and they are tired of caring for him. “something has got to give….”
My brothers and I know what that is like right now as we try to care for our failing 86 year old mother…it’s hard.

Well, presumably for Jesus, none of this is new for him. He has seen it all before and then some. Jesus must have encountered hundreds, if not thousands of people just like you and me, caring for our failing parents, people who actually live with significant health issues. The mental, emotional and physical strain on human beings can be enormous at times, can’t it??

But on this occasion in Mark’s story, I suspect Jesus was actually looking forward to his Labor Day weekend..away from all this. He was tired.

He was tired of walking, preaching, healing, eating, traveling around this whole region of Tyre –
and if you sign up for the exciting new trip to the Holy Land with Jim/Rabbi Mitch in February,
you can see first hand that this same area where he walked in the north country of Galilee.
It’s beautiful, very hilly, and certainly hot most of the year.

But down by the lakeside in Galilee, I found it to be much cooler there in the evening…
more olive and cedar trees to provide shade.

Nevertheless, Jesus’ work continued…he moves on and the locals brought him this man who had hearing and speech issues. And what Jesus said to this man is remarkable -- here in this Gospel reading we encounter one of the most amazing words in all of the Bible – it is Aramaic, but our English word sounds like this “Ephphatha”

Actually, the Church’s whole tradition around baptism and our full sweep of Christian initiation are captured right here in this single word. “Ephphatha!,”

Priests in the early church said this to each person being baptized. The presiding minister at baptism would blow on the ears, nose, mouth and eyes of the new person in Christ. And simply say -- “Be opened!”

This was the first word heard after coming up from the waters of their salvation: “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”

Amazing, the power of these words,
for the man presented to Jesus so long ago,
and now for you and me right here this morning.

God says to each and every person in this room – Ephphathal – be open and live.
Live with God fully and completely aware that we are not perfect,
but confident that we are always forgiven and resurrected.

In Baptism, we are empowered for ministry
and every day we draw a breath,
we are transformed and renewed to begin again.
This bread and wine remind us of God’s loving presence.

So, our task on this Labor Day weekend is this – listen for God’s words.
Listen very quietly and prayerfully…
because when we do,
somehow and in some miraculous way,
God says
Ephphata – Be opened…
Be healed,
Be alive in Christ, forever!