God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23 -- 7th Sunday After Pentecost


What is it about waiting...that changes us from the inside out?

Waiting for something to happen.  Waiting for change to come.  Long hours in a waiting room or a holding pattern…

When was the last time you had to wait for a long time?  Often  I think of airports.  This past week that airport waiting had nothing to do with my own travel, but with Micah’s: waiting to hear that he had arrived safely home.  Waiting with hopeful expectation there.  

More times than not, I’d venture to say, we hate waiting.  Waiting is not something we do well in our culture, is it?  It’s always interesting to watch how waiting affects people in our country, especially us white, upper-middle class, privileged folks, like myself--how often we get short, aggressive, even hostile when we have to wait.  Just think about our collective disdain for traffic in North County…

Yes, waiting has usually got negative connotations, but here in Paul’s letter to the Romans, waiting is associated with hope, patience, nature and freedom.

“We wait with patience, as we hope for what we do not see.”  That almost sounds downright un-American! Who waits with patience for something we don’t even know (cognitively) for sure is there?!

I’ll hang up on my own brother if he makes me wait more than one minute, so that he can take an incoming call from his wife, who’s got a short grocery list for him!  “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
What the heck, Paul!?!  Why are you trying to slow us down?  We are trying to get places faster, accomplish more, impress each other more, see more, consume more, make more…

If you’ve never considered Paul a mystic -- that is, a person with a deep mystical awareness of God’s deep presence right here and now, and God’s deep connection to you and all creation -- consider it today.  Maybe you already do, but Paul can often be considered by many scholars as merely a systematic theologian -- a big brain, making very cool, logical, calculated cases and arguments for the reality of God in Christ in a Greco-Roman culture (much like ours: “if you can’t see it, prove it, understand it cognitively, it’s not there.”)  But here, Paul’s tapping into something that can’t grasped like that:  

It’s really hard to wrap our minds around “suffering that’s not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us…”  We’d rather convince each other how bad the suffering we’re experiencing is...how the long hours we’re working makes us way more worthy of respect and admiration, maybe a raise; how the troubles in our past make us way more entitled to the good things we enjoy now; how the hardships we’ve endured make us tougher and justify our behavior.  Comparing suffering is embedded into our egocentric DNA.  In other words, it’s embedded into our “flesh”.  (Remember a couple weeks ago, I shared Fr. Richard Rohr’s suggestion? -- Whenever you read “flesh” in Paul’s writing, think “ego”.)

Pay attention in your conversations this week for “suffering one-uppers”.  Are you a “suffering one-upper”?   It often starts with, “You think that’s bad…”  Why do we feel this need to let others know how bad we’ve got it?  How hard life is for us?  How much greater my pain is than yours?  
One word: ego.  Another word: sin.
Paul, calls us, just as he called the early Christians in Rome to recognize and celebrate an even deeper reality than the reality of our sin and ego.  Yes, those are there, nagging at us.  But there’s something much deeper keeping us connected, this ancient mystic tells us again today.  There is a “glory about to be revealed” that comes alongside our sufferings.  Ready? ... 
We have been adopted.

We’re caught up in all this egotistical comparing and impatience, and yet much deeper, way down there -- last week I shared that quote from Terese of Avila, who talked about the deep well that is God’s love -- much deeper than all our selfish and competitive, suffering-one-upping stuff, is a God, who sits at the desk in the adoption agency and says, I want this one, and “signs on the dotted line” for you, in order to take you home and be -- not just your guardian -- but your “Abba”. That’s the greatest term of endearment for a parent.  (My kids have asked me why they can’t call me “Dan” like everyone else.  And I’ll say, “Everyone calls me, Dan.  But you’re the only 2 people in the whole universe, who get to call me ‘Daddy’.”)  That’s the kind of intimacy that God has with you, friends -- every single one of you, God signs for.  The egotistical, impatient, tit-for-tat stuff we get caught up in has got nothing on the way God still feels about us.  Just like when your kids bicker and argue (mine don’t, but yours probably do) -- it’s annoying, but it doesn’t even come close to the kind of love you’ve got for them.  That well is so deep, they can’t dig themselves deep enough into trouble.  

This is our God, the God Paul is describing here in Romans.  This God walks alongside us, and all creation -- that’s another thing: it’s not even simply an “every single one of us human beings” -- it’s every single creature, the whole creation waits with us, the whole cosmos is in longing for the kind of freedom we need too.  Isn’t that so deeply mystical?
The insights from our kids up at Confirmation Camp this week are too many to share.  But the wisdom and the faith of our young people -- 6th, 7th, 8th graders, and our incredible staff of 20-somethings up at Camp Luther Glen.  I love it, every time.  We ought to pass the keys of our churches over to these young people, and let them lead us -- with all their hope, wisdom, computer-savvy ;) and trust in this God of the universe.  

So much of our problem, as we get into our middle ages and more secure, more able to take care of ourselves, protect ourselves and our futures, ensure our comfort -- is that we no longer need to trust in God.  “Why go to church and be in some broken community, when I can have my own customized spirituality?”  These kids, I watched again this week, model this incredible trust in God as they lived in community -- not even aware always that they’re swimming and splashing in that deep well water of God’s grace and provision!   We tap back into that child-like faith at the end of our earthly lives -- as we rely on others and on God once again.  

But that deep water covers us here and now too, friends in Christ!  We don’t have to just be a young person or close to death to enjoy this God.  Despite our impatience and brokenness, the renewal is now.  And God is already here, holding us.  No waiting need, in this case.  The pardon and the grace, the new life is ours for the enjoying...as we wait, and even as we suffer.  The well water runs deep and never runs out.  So, let’s share that as we go out together!  
To close in prayer, I’d like to you repeat after me:
(song from South Africa we learned at camp)  
“Hum-a-na-ti.  Ko-lu-lu we-tu. Come walk with us.  The journey is long.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 18 -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

This morning, on Facebook, I posted some pictures of my dad and me in Rome.  I’ve gotta tell you about how we found each other in Rome to start that amazing trip together:  

It was January 4, 2016 -- 2 days before Epiphany -- the 10th day of Christmas.  I had been up in Assisi, in the Umbrian region of Italy; Dad had just arrived in Rome that afternoon.  There was some last-minute concern and chaos that maybe he wouldn’t be able to make the trip because of my Grandpa’s failing condition, but things for him stabilized, and Dad got on that plane after all!  But now we had to find each other, and the city was dark and foreign.  Rome’s a huge place.  (What is it about meeting up in a foreign country that is so thrilling?!)  

I disembark the subway at the San Giovanni exit, and text Dad. I start walking around with the battery on my cell phone slowly dying, only a couple bars for reception. There’s this big building in front of me, rectangular -- can’t tell if it’s a church or a government building -- it’s lit up, statues across the top.  I wander around that for quite a while.  Everyone else seems to know where they’re going.  I’m faking it.  Walked all the way down one street...and back, thinking I might know where our lodging is, but can’t find anything.  (What is it about maps in a foreign country that don’t always seem to work out?)  

Finally I get a call, “Dan! It’s Dad! [really?] Meet me at the obelisk at the San Giovanni piazza.  Do you see it?” I had wondered by there a couple times, yes.  So I make my way back. “I’m just coming up the hill,” Dad huffs and puffs.  Now this obelisk, as I recall, was in the middle of a busy roundabout.  Maybe you’ve been to or seen one like it in Paris at the Arc de Triumph...cars are screaming around, and he wants to meet there?  OK.  I venture across Italian traffic and wait for about 5 more minutes. I had been wondering about for almost an hour since getting off that training, but finally there he was, in his signature blue Eddie Bauer jacket!  My dad.  Waving excitedly, darting out through traffic toward me...we had been dreaming, and then planning, this trip for years!  And finally we were together in Rome!  

And that big, rectangular building?  Yeah, that was San Giovanni, the very first (official public) Christian church...EVER!  Dedicated to the glory of God, 5 years after the Edict of Milan, in 318 AD.  Predating the Vatican, it actually still houses the “seat of the pope”.  And it was once at the very edge of town.  You could still see the old Roman wall that once guarded the city.  We were, in a way, at the birthplace of the public church -- the church that’s out of the closet, in front of the world.  I had been wandering around some of the most historic and sacred territory of the Early Church.  I had walked right by (not knowing) the famous Holy Steps that Martin Luther had once climbed on his knees, crumpled up an indulgence at the top and went home to Germany to start the Protestant reformation!  I had this thought that the Reformation actually started -- not at the Wittenberg church door -- but right there in the San Giovanni piazza!   [pause]

Once thinking I was lost, and then realizing I was right in the center of it all...and found.  You have stories like this too?  I love to tell them, and on Father’s Day!  

“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…”

We, sisters and brothers in Christ, have just wandered into God’s good grace.  (We practice infant baptism.)  How did I get here?  Not really sure.  Just kind of wandering around, even a little nervous, to be honest…
But be assured: you are right in the center of it all!  

No, it’s not safe!  No one said Rome was a safe place!  But safety is not the point.  It never has been -- when have characters in the Bible, when have God’s people, every been called to stay safe at all costs?!  Abraham and Sarah?  Moses and Miriam?  Ruth and Naomi?  Jonah?  Deborah?  Hanna?  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah?  The 12 apostles?  Paul and Barabus?  MLK? Bonhoeffer? Mother Theresa?  Bishop Elizabeth Eaton?  Bishop Andy Taylor?  You?  No one said Rome would be safe.  No one said this life in the faith was going to be safe.  This life-in-faith is like an Italian round-about.  But finding ourselves, realizing ourselves -- despite all that -- in the midst God’s grace at the center: that’s the point.  We’ve been there all along.  I was there all along, right where I needed to be.  Just hadn’t realized it, “this grace in which we stand.”  That’s the point. 

One translation: “We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand -- out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”  That’s the word for “boast”.  That was me by the obelisk.  

And then it gets even better: We even “boast” that is “shout our praises” in our sufferings.  No one said it would be safe.  But suffering produces “endurance” -- that translation is a little empty: one scholar suggests “passionate patience”.  

“We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us [endurance], and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue [character], keeping us alert for whatever God will do next [hope].  In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged [disappointed].  Quite the contrary--we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God so generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”  

That’s Eugene Peterson’s brilliant work, bringing the text alive in new ways for us!  Sucking the marrow out of the Greek.  [read it again!..comparing to “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope doesn’t disappoint”]

And this is just the beginning of the trip!  Dad and I proceed to share 10 days then of exploring Early Church and Roman imperial sights together.  It was like a pendulum swinging back and forth from all the places of power -- the military dominance of Rome and the emperors one day or half-day, and then the swing back to the humble, underground, subversive sites of the Christians -- always at odds with the proud and self-centered powers of the day.  God’s grace hurls us into dangerous places, exciting places, community-centered places, poor places, high traffic places.  And that’s just the beginning...

[calmly]  And we are going to be just fine.  You would think we might feel shortchanged, disappointed.  “Quite the contrary,” Paul says, “we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God so generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.”  [pause]

I was so excited when Dad found me, for all kinds of reasons:  It was the culmination...and the beginning...at the very same time.  It’s crazy how one of the most memorable moments of an unforgettable trip was the very beginning. [pause] That’s a baptismal metaphor.  I was going to be just fine.

Standing in the center of God’s grace, now the fun begins!  Now our exciting travels continue, but with an under-current of deep and abiding peace with God, “for this [grace] is the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes” (Mt.21:42)!  AMEN.

Blessing of Fathers, and those serving in fatherly roles:

God of all creation,
pour out your blessing on all fathers
and those who provide fatherly care.
You have made them in your image
and given them children to love and care for in your name.
Bless them with a heart like your heart:
discerning and thoughtful, bold and decisive,
compassionate and loving.
As they model for their children
the life that is lived by faith and not by sight,
grant them courage under pressure
and confidence in your power.
When troubles threaten to overwhelm them,
grant them your coping calm.
When doubts give rise to anxiety,
shore up their trust in your promises.
When joy fills their days,
grant them a keen gratitude 
for your abundant supply of grace.
Season them with a lively sense of humor, Lord,
for it will make life richer for us all.
In all circumstances preserve them as your own.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.