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, March 19, 2017

March 19 -- Lost Sheep, Coins & Sons

Sisters and brothers in Christ, I’m going to liken every single one of us here today...to the older brother in our Gospel text.  

Usually, I want you to put yourself into these stories.  Who do you identify with?  But today I’m going to tell you: You’re the older brother.  Why?  Because you’re here at church.

Now maybe there have certainly been times in your life when you’ve identified more with the reckless younger brother.  I’m sure many of us can relate to the father as well.  (Although, I’ve been reminded by theologians and preachers that none of us can be the merciful parent in this story.  Ultimately -- and the point of the story is -- only God can be that…even if you’ve rejoiced at a child’s homecoming or struggled through the pain of a loved ones reckless behavior.)

No, today, you’re the older brother.  Because you’re here.  And because we can all relate to bitterness.  Hard-heartedness.  Hard, diligent work through the years.  Doing the right thing.  And wanting everything to be fair.  Because there’s a word we all need to hear from our God again this day: mercy.
Quick recap of the famous story.  Little brother, “brattily,” demands his share of the family inheritance.  Goes out -- goes far from home -- and blows it.  Until he arrives at this scene with the pigs.  Couldn’t be any lower than that, especially, remember, for a Jewish audience: Swine are unclean, defiled creatures.  He’s hit rock bottom.

But there in the pig pen, he comes up with a plan.  “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worth to be called you son; treat me like one of you hired hands.‘  So he sets off…”  
Note: there is no sign of or word for “repentance” here!  The Greek word for repentance metanoia that we’ve seen before in Luke’s gospel -- nope.  The closest we get is that it says, “When he came to himself…” Lots of great discussion on what that means.  (from “sobered up” to “discovered who he was”)

I’m convinced, especially given the two parables that precede this one -- the lost sheep (stupid) and the lost coin (dead, inanimate) that that son is pretty much in that categories...plus he’s un-repentant and maybe even preparing to manipulate his father all over again.  “Here’s what I’ll do:  I’ll say this to my father…”  He rehearses his lines, like an addict, says what he needs to say to get his next hit.  He’s a reckless, self-centered, stupid, lost, worthless son.  That’s the image Jesus is so vividly painting in this story.  (Love that painting in my office, but John August Swanson’s depiction of the prodigal son is way to beautiful.)  This kid is lazy, dangerous trash.

And that’s intentional build-up for the rest of us who are far from lazy, dangerous trash.  We haven’t gotten to us yet.  Maybe you have been in the pig pen, but you’re here now.  You’re the oldest son today. 

So I don’t even have to tell you to “imagine” the father lavishing mercy on this deadbeat, mooching, manipulative, robbing younger brother.  Yeah -- you know, one commentator reminded me that the fatted calf, the ring, the robe all the stuff the father gave that youngest son was actually the inherited property of the older son’s, right?  The whole story starts with “Father, give me my share of the inheritance…”  So, everything else belonged to the older brother.    

I mean, there is so much here for that older brother to feel bitter about.  
Think of all the bitterness that you carry, sisters and brothers in Christ.  That’s the whole project this Lent here at the cross -- to acknowledge the bitterness, the hard-heartedness, we bear, and to bring it forward and leave it at the cross.  

Ever been jealous when an act of compassion was directed at someone you didn’t think deserved it...AT ALL.  “Why should they get that -- they haven’t done anything to deserve it!”  

“Why should my deadbeat sister, my lazy brother, my mean neighbor, my late-coming co-worker, my corner-cutting employees, those other Lutherans, that other side of our community -- why should any of those robbing, cheating, lazy, ungrateful, spoiled other people (Samaritans) get the fatted calf slaughtered for them, get a party thrown in their honor…[slowly] when I haven’t even gotten so much as a small goat?!”

Lord, it is hard to be gracious.  Like God is gracious. 

I’m starting to think this is really a story about the lost older son.  We know know where this is going with the youngest, by the time we get to the third story.  First it’s the lost, dumb sheep.  Then it’s the lost, dead, inanimate coin.  So we know what’s going to happen to the prodigal son.  He’s going to be found!  They all get parties thrown for them!  The real gift and twist of this story is the way the father treats the oldest.

And this what God says to us, People in Church:
“You are always with me.  And all that is mine is yours.”
Let that soak in this week:  God is always with us.  God has always got us-always had us-always will.  [Baptism of Emma!]  Since you were in your mother’s womb, God has held you in love, grace, mercy and peace!  And all that I have is yours.  

God has entrusted this earth to us to do with it as we please, to manage it as we like, to care for it.  The planet is our family farm.  God’s trusted it to us.  (This is stewardship, btw.)

“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of ours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found.”

[My friend Kevin Womack’s prayer]  “Give us eyes to see what you want us to see today.  Give us hearts that are soft and ready to receive what you reveal.  And give us courage to apply what what we see and understand to the way that we live for you every day.  I pray all of this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God invites us out of our hard-heartedness, Christ calls us to let go of our bitterness -- pay attention to when you’re feeling bitter this week -- and instead God calls us to celebrate and rejoice.  Come join the party.  

This grace is amazing which means it’s for everyone:  it is for the healing of the nations, the breaking down of barriers that divide, the joining hands and joining hearts of sisters and brothers who are different.  This grace is amazing which means it’s for everyone: it is for you and for me -- the lost and the lonely, the broken and the bitter, the angry and the afraid.  

This grace is for all.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 12 -- Second Sunday in Lent

Educator, principal and professional counselor, Dr. Kristin Meyer of Waverly, Iowa does an interesting exercise with her graduate students:  She asks them three questions.  The first: “What would you do if you were given $1,000,000?”  The second: “What would you do if you were given 10 years to live?” And the third: “What would you do if you were given 3 hours to live.”  She reflects that the answers to the first question were usually about “things”, the answers to the second about “experiences”, and the answers to the third were about “people” (relationships). *

It’s interesting to think about what comes to the surface when given an ultimatum.

Jesus gives an ultimatum in verse 5 of this Lenten Gospel lesson for today: repent or parish.  It might be hard to find Good News there, at first glance, but let’s unpack this a little bit, looking at what happens before and the parable that follows. 

The people are trying to figure out why some bad things have happened to their people.  In one example, some people had been to Pilate’s cruel and unusual, empirical punishments, meant to strike fear and submission into the hearts of the Jews.  In the other a tower falls and kills 18.  Whether that was because terrible wind or heavy rain...or just bad engineering, those weren’t the people’s concern.  In both cases, people are wondering if the victims here were worse sinners than everyone else.  If God was punishing them.

Perhaps we can relate to that...even with the advances we’ve made in engineering and predicting weather patterns.

If something bad happens to someone, especially when it’s to someone we don’t know or like very much, it may be tempting to say, “Hmmm, I wonder what they did to deserve that.”

My own, dearly departed grandfather -- it grieves my heart to share this with you -- Grandpa, pastor and mentor for me (pectoral cross, pulpit quote) -- I’ll always remember, we were all together in Nebraska in 2004 when those terrible tsunamis hit the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia.  And I still remember him shaking his head and asking, “I wonder why God is punishing them.  They must have done something.”  I think he was trying to find a way to explain it...  

(Isn’t it complicated when our beloved heroes aren’t perfect?)

Jesus seizes the moment to say NO to the people, to Grandpa.  [slowly]  No, they don’t deserve punishment any more than the rest of us.  Sometimes things just happen.  Your mom’s cancer diagnosis, the tragic death of a family pet, the loss of a job, the cross-country transfer away of a beloved family member, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, getting caught in the crossfires.  Sometimes things just happen, and to get trapped and bogged down with the “why is God doing this”, Jesus teaches here, is to miss the point. 

The point is what we do with what we have left.  The point is the ultimatum.  What comes to the surface when we think about the time and the resources we have left?  Is it about things?  Is it about experiences?  Or is it about relationships?

Repentance is what Jesus calls us to in the season of Lent.  
And repentance is about healing (salvus in Latin)...healing relationships.  If you only had a short time left to live on this earth, what repentance and reconciling needs to happen for you to die with a clear heart and a clean conscience, for you to die with a soul that is free and a mind and body that is full of love and deep peace?

It’s interesting to think about what comes to the surface when given an ultimatum.

Don’t get caught up with the “why” questions, Jesus says to us today.  Live as if you don’t have much time left.  

But we keep falling again and again, for the lures of the world, back into the why, just as the people of old did.  “What did they do/I do/we do to deserve this?”  And that always leads us to act out of fear: 

Our next episode starts with the Pharisees telling Jesus to run!   
(Like it’s nothing but predator and prey.)

But Jesus responds -- not with some kind of animal-instinct reaction, but -- with courage, calm, and love to face the fray.

He grieves that the Pharisees and us as well at times [slowly] just. don’t. get it.  And he expresses this longing to be a mother hen to us.  What a surprising and contrasting image!

Jesus calls Herod a fox, and then Jesus imagines himself as a mother chicken -- not a hunter that shoots the fox, a bear or a big dog that chases the fox back, even a protective wall that keeps the fox out.  No, Jesus here imagines himself as a mother hen, gathering her chicks under her wing.  

Courage, calm, and love.  That is what we find this morning.  Jesus doesn’t run from the violence and the pain and the chaos.  Jesus stays with us in it.  And longs to cover us and to love us, like a chicken wing over her babies.  

That may not mean a perfect protection:  foxes kill chickens.  [pause]

But death doesn’t have the final say, with Christ.  This is not how the story ends, ultimately.  

So how will we live, given this ultimatum?...Repentant.  

A life lived is a life lived in repentance.  It’s an ongoing task.  To breath is to be in a state of repentance.  To inhale grace and exhale peace.  

Attentive to relationships and healing.  Peaceful and present, even amid the fray.  How will we, sisters and brothers in Christ, live?  Sheltered...in the gracious and loving arms of God.  Repentant and courageous.  Covered by Jesus’ wings of mercy.  AMEN.

* Love Beyond Measure: ELCA Schools and Learning Centers 2016-2017 Devotional Guide, 43.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February 26 -- Transfiguration Sunday

Grace to you and peace, from God…

Transfiguration Sunday: the day that Jesus’ face and clothes change right before his disciples’ sleepy eyes.  

I think the “sleepy disciples” image resonates particularly this time of year.  Did you catch that in the story?  Unique to Luke.  Matthew and Mark both include an account of the Transfiguration, but it doesn’t say that the disciples were weighed down with sleep. (Message: “hunched over with sleep” -- Paul Gaske, sleeping in church)

Please don’t hear me wrong, sleep is good, a gift from God in other parts of the scripture—but in the Gospel of Luke, for Jesus, sleepiness is an opportunity to fall into temptation.  

I wonder if you can think of another time the disciples fall asleep while their with Jesus at a critical time?  [Gethsemane]  And Jesus command in that moment was “Pray—don’t fall asleep—pray, so that you may not be led into temptation.”

Sleepiness in this context is a fuzzy-mindedness.  Foggy brain.

When I’m slumped over with sleep, I’m grumpy if I get woken.  Part of me is glad that wasn’t me on the mountain with Jesus, because I would have really embarrassed myself and snapped, when the bright lights and the 2 Old Testament heroes showed up.  I probably would have barked at them: “Get out of here!”

My fuzzy-mindedness, my being hunched over with sleepiness, and the temptation that can accompany my sleepiness, leads me to anger and grumpiness.

The disciples, on the other hand, weren’t grumpy, thanks be to God.  They didn’t bark at Jesus or Moses or Elijah, like perhaps I would have.  They were much more like happy-drunks in their sleepiness.  They came to, and “not knowing what they were saying,” the Scripture tells us, blurted out, “Let’s build something and stay here forever!”

And can you blame them?  They are hanging with Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  Moses and Elijah?!  That’s like hanging with your heroes -- like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, or 2016 MVP and World Champion on the Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant.  I mean these were the All Stars of the past and present!  And they woke into it — can you blame? — with elation and frenzied processing?  They were star-struck and jolted awake at the same time.  The few experiences I’ve had being star-struck, I said something stupid.  

Peter, James and John were star-struck, sleepy happy-drunk...and away from the world.  That’s the other thing!

Can you blame them for wanting to build and stay up there forever?  They were far away from the hurting, real world, and they only wanted to capture that moment, and keep cozy forever.  It’s like being nice and warm in your bed—all snug and cozy—and even thinking about getting up is daunting.  “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  Let’s build, let’s add-on to this glory, and let’s stay here forever.”

But precisely as Peter is rambling, a cloud comes over them all, a thick fog moves in [just when they thought everything was so clear and beautiful] and they hear a voice: “This is my Son, the Chosen.  Listen to him.”  In other words, God says to the disciples of old and to us today — listen to him, to Jesus, not to your own voices of vanity, celebrating accomplishments, craving safety and protection from the world, not to your own fuzzy-mindedness.  Listen to him.    

And suddenly the cloud lifts and it’s just Jesus...and what’s he doing?  He’s headed back down the mountain, back to the pain and the brokenness, the division, the cruelty, the evil of the world.  No better example of that than the last part of this reading today:  Jesus casts out a demon IMMEDIATELY after this great glorious event.  Listen to him — the one who confronts evil and oppression with love.  [pause]

Here’s the gift of Transfiguration: we a get just a glimpse of God’s glory, and then we get back to work.  Just a little flare, to remind us, that this work in the trenches is a worthy cause— more than that: it is a divine cause, it’s God’s cause -- God’s work, our hands.  Because sometimes it seems like there’s no difference being made, no hope, no change, no matter.  But our work, your work, people of God, in your everyday lives is not in vain — caring for the poor and the sick, caring for the hungry, the outsider, the immigrant and refugee, reaching out to support a friend in need, being a loving parent, doing the right thing (even if it’s more costly to your reputation or your wallet), staying alert so that you don’t fall into temptation (we don’t live on the mountain top, we live in the valley) — living and working in a valley is not in vain...even if sometimes it feels like it.

One of the themes in the Gospel of Luke is that he says it...and then he does it: “Proclaim liberty and release to the captive, stand with the oppressed...here, let me show you…

“And if it doesn’t go well, then shake the dust from your sandals and just keep moving.”  

Jesus talked about this when he sent out his disciples, and then he gets chased out of his own hometown.  Just keep moving.  [Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.”] 
Today we get a peek at God’s glory, and this week we descend the mountain top into the journey of Lent — 40 days of valley living, coming face to face with our sin and the sin of our world.  And yet we “just keep swimming” in the waters and the promise of our baptism.

Today we get a peek at God’s glory, at this peaceful Christ, who is the true hope and safety of our lives and of the life of this world.  Let us bask this morning in the wonder of his presence, shining among us even today, even in 2017, let us be in silent awe of Christ’s glory [not babbling or happy-drunk with suggestions on how to package and domesticate the moment].  Let’s just be in praise.  The German mystic Rilke: “Praise my dear ones.  Let us disappear into praising.  Nothing belongs to us.”  

And when the glimpse is past.  When the cloud of praise lifts, then, O God, give us the courage to follow your Son, the Chosen One, down the rocky path to face the world’s pain and sorrow, but to do so knowing that the glimpse of God that we have today, both in the scripture and the sacraments, the glimpse of God is only a foretaste of the feast to come, when we shall dwell with all the saints in endless glory.  

Thanks be to God, who goes with us now, who leads us now, into the valley of our lives, who casts out demons, and welcomes the stranger, who loves everyone -- even you -- this day and always. AMEN.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 19 -- Forgiven at Jesus' Feet

I’ve been thinking about young, sexually attractive women this week.  (How’s that for an attention-grabbing opening line?)  Let me try to elaborate: starting with this text from Luke 7, I’ve been thinking about young, sexually attractive women...and the church.  See, at Bible study on Monday, I asked, “If you had to draw the woman in this story, how would you picture her -- young, old?”  Most of us responded “young”, and I was even so bold as to say, “I think she was pretty, too.”...because I believe that Jesus includes, loves, forgives and calls everyone.  
Back in seminary, in a course entitled “Transition to the Parish”, I chose women in the ministry the topic for my final paper.  I had never really asked.  (There’s a sign of my privilege, right?  I get to deal with sexism, when I decide to do a paper on it.)  I basically just interviewed female pastors around the church and two of my friends who were soon-to-be female pastors in the church -- a few of them, to be honest, were very attractive.  

In that project I listened to these women share stories of how challenging it is to be a pastor.  (They weren’t complaining; I was asking for their candidness.)  One told me about when she got to the door of the house of the woman she was visiting, she was announced by the husband, “Honey, the little pastor girl is here to see you.”  

It was clear to me that the female pastors (at least the ones I talked to) when it came to the church were either objectified or patronized and not taken seriously by many men.  And then by older women in the church, often judged, glared at, or ignored.  Often comments on their clothes, their hair, their make-up.  Questions like “Sweetie, do you understand what that outfit is communicating?”  (reminds me of the Pharisee’s words of judgment, “...if he had know what kind of a woman this is...” -- by the way, says nothing about ‘prostitute’, but...)  

Anyway, I’d never had experiences like these female colleages of mine, so could only sit agape and listen.

Not all bad things either, and certainly there were some wonderful stories too.  But the sense of being an outsider in what has traditionally been a male profession -- at least, for the past couple hundred years -- was so great and sometimes overwhelming for these women that nearly all of them had considered at one time or another leaving the ministry completely...even my seminary friends who were just starting!

I’m thinking of young, attractive women, as I approach this text because they teach us something; and Christ -- of course -- teaches and offers us something too.  

The woman in this text teaches us about repentance.  She approaches Jesus with tears in her eyes, tears of regret, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of hopelessness.  See Jesus was seated in a circle and this woman could only approach Jesus from behind, from outside the inner circle, and she offers him the kind of hospitality and welcome that even his host didn’t.  This whole episode ends with Jesus commending her faithfulness: “Your faith has saved you.”  This young, attractive woman (in my imagination, maybe yours too) is teaching us that faith = being repentant, deeply thankful, and offering signs of hospitality.  That’s what faith looks like!

Making confession is a sign of our faithfulness.  Have you ever wept and poured out your sins to anyone?  Individual confession is so cathartic and good.  We Lutherans have traditionally and even jokingly shied away from individual confession, because we don’t want to be perceived as Catholic, and I think there’s all kinds of baggage around the guilt/shame of “not going to confession”.  But have you ever told a trusted confidant your sins and heard God through them share promise of forgiveness, the “Go your way, your faith has saved you”?!  It’s life-giving, renewing, talk about a deep healing breath!  Martin Luther elevated private confession and some scholars even suggest it was a sacrament for him:

“Confession embraces two parts,” Luther said, “One is that we confess our sins; the other, that we receive absolution, or forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, and in no ways doubt, but firmly believe, that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

This woman in the story teaches us about this true, deep, honest confession.  Because as she approaches Jesus, she already knows God’s forgiveness.  And her tears and these gestures of hospitality and welcome -- the oil and foot-bathing -- are only signs of gratitude.  She’s not begging Jesus to forgive her, she knows that he already has.  So now she can’t help but offer a sign of her deep gratitude and joy.  

Having been forgiven by God, through Jesus Christ, we can’t help but fall on our knees, weeping and giving thanks through signs of gracious hospitality.

Oil on the head, washing of the feet, providing a good meal for a guest (which the Pharisee’s part out here) -- all of these were signs of gracious hospitality and welcome back then.  It’s worth asking and pondering and praying over this together as a congregation, who is building new spaces:  What are the signs today of deep welcome and hospitality in response to the mercy and forgiveness that God has poured out endlessly for each one of us?  
And then I said that Jesus teaches us something here too:  

The circle just keeps getting wider.  That’s why I wanted to get more vivid with the appearance and the age of this woman.  
Jesus has welcomed and forgiven, old men with withered hands, battered women slumped over with years of oppression and disease.  He has brought cute little children into the middle, he’s even raised them from the dead!  He has lifted up and shown mercy toward the Roman marine, whose dominant armies have oppressed and squashed Jesus’ own tribe, the Jews.  Christ offers him welcome pardon, even heals his favorite slave, and calls that Roman soldier’s faith greater than any he’s ever witnessed in his own community.  Do you see how the circle just widens and widens?  Surprising us again and again?  Those people too?  Those people too?   

And now a young, sexually attractive woman receives this same embrace.  In Christ, no longer is she an outsider.  In Christ, no longer is she to be patronized and objectified through careless words and actions.  In Christ, she is free from the oppression of judgement, and being reduced to simply an outfit or a certain style.  In Christ, sisters and brothers everyone, everyone, everyone is welcomed at the table of mercy.  We struggle with what that means, in our world, in our church, in our hearts; but God does not.

And at the end of the day, all we can do is fall down on our knees, maybe weep a little bit and give thanks that we too are included in this cosmic embrace of God.  We too are forgiven, blessed, and now sent out.  Go your way, this faith that God has given us -- a gift, by the way, offered freely to us in our baptism (little Isabella’s receiving a gift this day: the gift of faith) -- this faith is what saves us.  And so we can truly go out into this hurting, dangerous, challenging world -- in peace.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12 -- Go Tell John

Have you ever known anyone who refuses to play a certain board game or card game or sports game?  [pause]  Even worse, someone who starts the game, but then if they start losing, they quit?  

Often a question like that hurls us back to childhood -- I bet our kids can all name someone -- maybe we were once like that ourselves ;)  when the game doesn’t meet our expectations -- which is pretty much “to be winning” -- the temptation is to quit, “like children in the marketplace: the flute’s being played but they did not DANCE”.  [  >: (  Humph.]

Ooh!  There’s an even better image: ever known someone who absolutely refuses to dance?  :)  Or worse, starts dancing and then quits in the middle of the song, just walks off?  

Sisters and brothers in Christ, God is inviting us this day to get in the game, to join the dance.  “Get off the sidelines, stop being a wallflower of faith, and jump in here!”  [slowly] But be aware that as the music goes on, we may just find that it’s not a song that we like all that much.  It may not be a game that meets our expectations...

...for God’s dance has got some funky beats, some irregular measures, some strange instruments.  God’s game takes these unexpected twists and turns.  And often it’s tempting to bow out:

“Are you the one, Jesus?!  Really?  Or are we to wait for another?  Is this all there is, Jesus?  [pause]  Because John the Baptist, our big hero, is all locked up in prison now!”  [pause]

(John, here, btw is anyone whose hope is waning, whose despair is creeping in.)

Does it all ever make you want to throw in the towel, to give up and go home?  I don’t know about you, but I want to win!  I want to be the best!  And I want my Jesus to lead me to victory, crushing the competition, knocking out the bad guys, and raising me up on the pedestal to shine like the winning star that I am...or at least that I should be...right?

But this one Jesus, doesn’t do that.  His ways are not our ways.

This one Jesus takes a completely different direction, plays a game we never expected.  What kind of a dance is this?  [pause]  Humility?  Letting go?  Emptying of self and pride? Serving others first?  Loving our enemies?  Welcoming the stranger?  What kind of a crazy dance is this?  Not a game I always want to play!

But God’s not done with us yet...
When I was going to Confirmation Camp as a kid back in Texas -- Camp Lutherhill -- Jr. High -- there was always a dance the last night.  And it was meant to be the grand finale of the week, everyone was so excited building up to the dance.  The cute counselor that all the girls liked and thought was so-o-o-o-o cool was the DJ.  Everyone was so jr.-high-nervous, and put on their best outfits on for the dance.  I was no exception.  Heart pounding in adolescent anxiety.  Eyes sweeping constantly over the one we wanted to like us back.  Hormones churning, sweat glistening, voice cracking.  It was terrible: 

Kids got rejected, or just totally overlooked, hearts got broken, weird kids always got left out, tears always fell.  Some of the worst hours of the week happened that last night at camp.  There were winners and there were losers.  It was good learning for life, I guess, but this was not a fore-taste of the kind of community and inclusion and love that God invites us into, frankly the opposite of all those great themes that highlighted our week up until then.  No, this was torture.  
Walls were being built, cruelly dividing up who’s in/out.  The strong triumphed over the weak...you get the picture.  And others just got plain left out.  I hated it almost every year.

(Basically, it looked like just about every other dance in middle school and beyond ...  But but this was church!)

Well, I am pleased to tell you that camp dances have really evolved for the better...or maybe our camps here in Southern California have always been doing it right...because the first time I took our confirmation kids to camp, I was so pleased to see the way they make the dance a blast for EVERYONE.  

They taught line dances, where everyone could participate, And they’ve come up with these inclusive games now, where someone invites you to dance until everyone has been invited by someone to dance.  (“A-a-a-a-and you look like a real cool cat...”)  

And then they have “the paddle dance” where one person gets to hold a canoe paddle like a queen or a king, and two people beg that one person to pick them.  If you don’t get picked, then you get the paddle next and get to have two people beg you to dance.  Now, there’s still drama and hormones, but I gotta tell you, after my obviously traumatizing memories back at Lutherhill, it almost brought tears to my eyes to see those awkward kids, those nerdy kids, those outsider kids, kids in wheelchairs, kids covered in zits and dandruff and the cool kids, all having a genuine blast together on the dance floor.  

It was like the lessons of the week were literally being embodied in these ... funky beats, irregular melodies, strange instruments: these are the games of God.  
Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus invites us into a dance, and  it’s not one we win at.  It’s one where everyone joins in.  

“You go tell, John,” Jesus says, “that everyone is dancing!”  The blind receive their sight.  The lame walk.  The lepers are cleansed.  The deaf hear, the dead are raised...and the goofy, smelly, awkward kid is dancing and being cheered on in the middle of the circle.   There’s no better feeling for a kid than everyone chanting your name to the beat.  “Go Thomas, go Thomas…”

It’s not what we expected.  It’s not what the rest of the world calls cool or successful.  It’s not winning and beating others.  It’s God’s unconditional love, poured out for you and for me and for both the outcast and the cool kid.  It’s not the game we thought we were playing, but you go tell John...

...that with Jesus, no one is left out.  This is a glimpse of God’s party.  Go back, sisters and brothers in Christ, and tell John!  It’s not what you thought, and there’s still plenty of pain in the world, but I tell you: Christ is here.  Now.  And he is the one.  AMEN.