Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Matthew 16:13-20

Who do you say that I am?

These haunting words of Jesus are not for the faint of heart or those easily swayed by the opinions of others. They are moving words directed to each and every one of us, asking us to individually declare who we believe Jesus to be. 

Today in our Gospel reading, Jesus first asks the disciples, “Who are the people saying I am?” Jesus is given multiple responses by the disciples demonstrating a variety of opinions and understandings. However, Jesus isn’t satisfied with these answers and I believe it has less to do with what they were and more with the fact these responses were not personal to the disciple’s understandings. They were catch phrases or "feel good answers" that seemed to be good enough. The disciples were essentially repeating what others had said. They were not thinking for themselves. Our Gospel says that Jesus then “pressed them.” He stared them straight in the eye and said, “How about you?” 

Imagine the silence that probably came over the disciples for a moment or two. They had walked and talked with this man for many months now. They knew his eating and sleeping habits. They knew his bathroom habits! They knew his demeanor and perhaps, just perhaps, even his flaws. They had witnessed unexplained phenomenon and heard his teaching to love in extravagant and almost impossible ways. But today Jesus looks at them and demands an answer to the question, “Who am I?”

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Feast of The Transfiguration - Divinity in Christ, Divinity In You

Originally preached at Bloomington Inclusive Mass on August 10, 2014. 

2 Peter 1:16-19 (The Message)
Luke 9:28-36 (The Message)
A Spiritual Reading by Marianne Williamson, that can be found here

In the name of God, the Source of All Light, Life and Goodness…

Today we have gathered together to celebrate the Feast of The Transfiguration.  The ideas of light, transfiguration and transformation are weaved throughout the Christian faith and may other universal religions. The biblical narrative of creation, found in Genesis and cherished by Jews and Christians alike and to a lesser degree Muslims, attempts to explain the appearance of the universe with a simple phrase: “Let there be light.” We are told light then came into existence at God’s own beckoning. Our modern scientific understanding of the universe, most often explained in the terminology of the Big Bang, had led us to discover a cosmic radiation that is deemed to be the oldest light in the universe. Our very existence, whether we turn to biblical or scientific resources shares the belief that our evolution, began with the appearance or manifestation of light. Regardless of our race, gender or sexuality we all hold the beauty and life-giving properties of light to be our common ancestry and reason for our continued existence. In the beginning was light and that light is still with us today.

Today’s Gospel reading shared with us the Christian understanding of Divine Light as manifested in the person of Jesus. We read of Jesus going off once again to pray on his own apart from the distractions of the crowd and the many needs placed on him. It is worth noticing that throughout the Gospels, Jesus required periods of thoughtful breathing, meditation and conversation with the Creator. Jesus did not operate in some magical way that superseded his very human needs for quietness, solitude and rest. Some of us could do well to remember - if Jesus needed to take “time outs,” we probably do too!  So we see Jesus praying on a mountain, with his disciples a little ways off from him, and suddenly we are told an amazing event occurs. Two men, who had long since left this world, appeared on each side of him in a cloud of light, a bubble of brightness or what some might call an aura. Eventually, the sleepy disciples were awakened by the splendor of this sight and became very excited and very chatty, very quickly!

I think we can understand their excitement. Many of us speak of the splendor of God but rarely do we get to experience it in such otherworldly ways directly impacting our physical senses. The Gospel says Peter wouldn’t shut up and he started planning a construction site complete with real estate development in order to try and capture the light of the moment. It seems to me, Peter did not understand that this moment wasn’t meant to be captured - it was meant to be experienced. Jesus never uttered a word, according to the account given to us, and suddenly the mystical light, the aura, surrounds Peter and the other disciples, as well. A voice from within the holy light declares, “This is my chosen child, listen to him!” Needless to say Peter shut up and the disciples were left speechless!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Real Miracles Behind the Loaves & Fish

Originally preached at Bloomington Inclusive Mass on August 3, 2014.

Romans 8:37-39
Matthew 14:13-21

"When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of- the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with compassion and healed their sick. Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said. Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed." (The Message)

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, who weeps over tragedy and knows pain and yet never forsakes us. Amen.

Today, I want to encourage you to leave behind what we often consider to be the miracle in our Gospel reading. Yes, we just heard a spectacular story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people and purportedly doing so with just a little bit of fish and bread. How amazing it all seems! We remember fondly our Sunday school teachers explaining to us how this proves Jesus to be God’s only son. We remember the astonishment we felt at the idea that God could perform such an act! However, most of us here are no longer Sunday school students. Many of us have left behind what many would deem to be fairy tales. We have each stared real life in the face. We have often witnessed a cruel world where miracles like that of the loaves and fishes seem nowhere to be found. We watch the news and we see the starvation that affects not only so-called third-world countries but also our very own neighborhood children. Some of us still whole-heartedly believe that these Gospel narratives are historical facts and others of us believe they are storied symbols conveying spiritual truths. Regardless of where you fall on the belief spectrum and your understanding of the Christ, I encourage you to leave behind, for a few minutes, the multiplicity angle of the miracle. If you are willing to do so, I believe, we can search deeper for much more profound marvels in the story. Marvels, or miracles, that are beautifully divine and human, while offering themselves for imitation in our daily lives and relationships.

Our Gospel began with the words, “Jesus got the news.” Without a back-story we can easily miss the Jesus we are coming face to face with in this passage. Jesus has just been told that the local ruler, Herod, has beheaded his cousin and one of his greatest friends, John the Baptist, during a lavish dinner. We meet a Jesus here who is grief stricken, likely anxious and heartbroken, with clenched hands and swollen red eyes from tears seeking to make an appearance. One of the greatest tragedies of Christianity, as it became the imperial religion and law of the land, was the separation of Jesus from the people. As the creeds became increasingly solidified and rulers wished to align with Jesus the Christ, the God-man and the invincible ruler, they lost sight of the human Jesus that walked and talked and lived very much like everybody else. Jesus was suddenly viewed and understood to always be in charge and never batting an eye, no matter the situations set before him. Christianity, in many ways, caused the character of Jesus to cease being one of us and rather become a God above and apart from us. We picture Jesus as always calm, always collected and never frazzled by any situation. But today the Gospel of Matthew shows us a Jesus who is so heavily burdened, even traumatized, with painful news that he must get away from the crowds by slipping onto a boat.