Monday, February 25, 2013

Anything but Lukewarm

Lent 2, Year C, 2013, All Saints’

                The Men’s Bible study is currently reading the Book of Revelation.  You might not think this would be a popular subject but the group has grown to record numbers.  When I say record numbers, I mean that our attendance has grown to tens of people!  I would say that is pretty good considering we meet at 7 a.m. on Monday mornings.  I don’t even have to bribe them with doughnuts, just some weak coffee.
I think more than anything the group is hungry to be transformed by the Word of God, and the book of Revelation certainly offers this opportunity in some, let’s say, shocking ways.  But if you cut through the strange, veiled language, you will find a book that gives a spectacular and mysterious vision of Christ and His new world, a vision of beauty, awe, and hope.  If you can’t cut through the language, well, you will just find a very strange book. 
This past week we focused on the message to the church of Laodicea and the vision that Christ was giving to this church.  A part of that message to the church in Laodicea said, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish that you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth…Be earnest, therefore, and repent.  Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
As consistent with the Book of Revelation, the writer is giving the original readers images they would understand firsthand.  The people in Laodicea knew very well the taste of lukewarm water and the need to spit it up.  But more to the point, Christ is admonishing this church because he doesn’t like their taste of Christianity. 
The Laodiceans are a proud people and have ascended to a worldly standard of success.  These people have money, lots of money, they have a world renowned medical center, they make the finest clothes, they have everything they need to survive in this material world.  Suffice it to say, they don’t need any help, let alone help from God.  However, Jesus says they are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold.  In many ways, this church is dead and they don’t even know it because the illusion of money and power has them thinking otherwise.
Jesus warns this church that the places where they are searching for salvation are only temporary, that the safe and comfortable world they have created for themselves is only an illusion.  All these earthly luxuries that promise safety from death and decay all have a shelf life too.  Jesus tells these people that He, the incarnation of God, the Alpha and Omega, is the only reality that will last forever, Christ is the only reality that will stand in the end.
The earthly success that Laodicia enjoys prevents them from seeing that they really do need God’s help.  But Jesus stands and knocks at their door again and again inviting them to be a part of his reality, his truth that endures from age to age.  Despite being lukewarm, Jesus still knocks at their door.  He hasn’t given up on them yet.
As Anna Russell mentioned last week in her sermon, the Christian journey isn’t just about our drawing closer to God.  The truth is that God is right here, endlessly knocking on the door that exists inside of each one of us.  Jesus’ home is inside the hearts and minds of those whom he calls.  The place where Jesus means to find his home is inside of you and me so that we can find our home in God alone.  When we let Jesus in, when we open the door, we are privileged to become a part of a reality that will reach no end, where death has no power.  When we finally let Jesus in, we are changed forever.
Friends, this is terrifying.  This is terrifying because when we do let Jesus in, we can no longer be lukewarm about how we operate in the world; we can no longer be subject to the idols we make out of the temporal things of this world, out of money, status, and power.  Because when we worship the world instead of the God who created the world, we make a mockery out of God’s good creation, and we end up diminishing those around us and ultimately ourselves. 
When we let Jesus in, we can no longer be lukewarm because in the reality of Jesus there is no place for that way of life, there is no place for a way of life that corrupts and destroys the creatures of God, there is no place for a way of life that seeks comfort in the world’s easy answers.  Jesus desperately wants us to live in this new reality but on some level we reject it because the world’s solution to our problems (money, power, and status) has us believing there is a better way to live.    
In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus’ great lament, a lament that wonders why his people choose not to believe in his salvation, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Again, Jesus is saying, how often have I desired to make my home with you, how often have I desired to gather you and protect you from the death and decay of this world, how often have I desired to save you again and again and again from the mess you have created for yourselves.  Jesus must go to Jerusalem to make this final truth known. 
Letting Jesus into our lives is terrifying because in order for Jesus to take us home to his Father in heaven, he must first journey to Jerusalem, to the cross where death is changed into life.  Therefore, we too must journey to the cross; we too must face the reality of death, we too must be changed.  We can no longer be held captive by the world’s temporary answers to our problems.
Following Jesus to the cross means we must die to the world’s short-term solution to death.  The world’s short-term solution says that we should try and outsmart death or pain by consuming ourselves with food, TV, booze, laziness, everything except for the truth of God’s Word, everything except for the reality of Jesus.  The world tries to tell us that death is the end, so the natural reaction is to try and avoid it.  But “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  The cross that we are marked with on Ash Wednesday also reminds us that in Christ life never ends, it is only changed.    
  I have found that the only way I can face pain and death with any kind of dignity and hope is with Jesus, with the one who has sovereignty over life and death, with the one whose reality extends beyond death.
Ultimately, following Jesus to the cross means saying, “I need help.”  It means saying that we need God’s help to deliver us from the idea that we can somehow create new reality free of pain and death by our own will, that we can somehow outsmart death.  Asking for God’s help is what repentance is all about.  Lent is the season where we are called to repentance.  This is a season where we ask God to help us resist those things that corrupt and destroy our lives and the lives of others.
If you are currently working on a Lenten discipline, ask for God’s and don’t be tempted to do it alone, don’t be tempted to make an idol out of your work, don’t try to be God.  Remember that these disciplines are supposed to remind you that you aren’t God, that you need help.  These disciplines are supposed to remind us of how powerless we are over the temptation.
Ask for God’s help.  Ask for God’s help by staying connected to Jesus through your weekly participation in the Holy Eucharist, through your daily prayers, through the reading and mediating on scripture, through Sunday school, through anything that keeps you connected to the reality of Jesus who is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Maybe you need other help, the help of a counselor, or an AA meeting, or an Al Anon meeting.
However you ask for help from God, I hope you find more and more that Jesus truly is the answer to the problem of death and decay.  I hope you find that staying connected to Jesus will help you resist finding comfort in the easy answers that this world is trying to make you believe in.
To the church in Laodicea, “I wish you were either hot or cold.”  Friends, be anything but lukewarm.  In your successes and your failures, ask for God’s help, repent and return to the only reality in this life that will give you a life that is truly worth celebrating. 
Jesus is knocking at the door asking you to let him in.  When you let him come in, how will you be changed forever?  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

it's too dark

Epiphany 4, Year C, All Saints’, 2013
Jeremiah 1:4-10; Luke 4:21-30

“Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”  I imagine we have all experienced moments when we did not know how to speak, moments when there seemed to be no words to speak, moments when it seemed more appropriate if someone else spoke up.  Like with the prophet Jeremiah, these moments occur in the face of change and adversity; when we are faced with making a big decision, when a loved one dies, when the unthinkable happens, when someone hurts us, when we watch helplessly as someone we love slowly loses their life.  
                This past week marked twelve years since my father died.  My sister posted several pictures of him on Facebook, and I was cued to remember his life and our life together.  It was good to remember all the fun times (to laugh at his 70s hair cut, etc.).  But I also couldn’t help but to be reminded of the pain of that time. 
In particular, I couldn’t help thinking of all the nights when we slept only a room apart during the worst of his illness.  I remember sitting there in my bed with the covers pulled tightly over my head praying my hardest that he would be made better.  Most nights I prayed myself to sleep.  I remember wanting to go into his room to sit with him but I didn’t know what to say.  What could I say?  I was only a boy.  I remember saying to myself, “It is too dark to go in there.”  And it was too dark.
Darkness is a lonely place.  It is hard to see much at all in the dark except darkness itself.  It is hard to know how to speak, who to be, or what to do.  Darkness severely limits how we see and respond to the world. We all have these dark places in our lives, these places where nothing good or holy seems possible.  And when we are in the dark, there isn’t much to see, there isn’t much hope, and life isn’t really life at all.
During the darkest months of the year, the church calendar finds itself in the season of Epiphany, the season of light.  In Epiphany, our scripture readings remind us that through the gift of Jesus, God has caused a new light to shine in our hearts.  Jesus has come to fulfill what has been said in scripture that is to cast a new light, a new story, a new possibility, a new way out of the darkness.  And I dare say a creative way out of the darkness, a way that shows us a world that is overwhelmed by light.
Jesus’ plan to lead the people of the darkness is constantly met with resistance and that resistance is ramped up in today’s Gospel lesson.  Just a few moments after Jesus is praised for his gracious words he is dragged to the side of a cliff and is nearly killed before he slips away.  How about that for the first time in the pulpit?!  What happened?  What did Jesus say to make the congregation want to kill him?
We have to look back to last week’s Gospel reading to remember that Jesus’ sermon starts out as you might expect.  He promises good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and release to the prisoner.  He promises a way out of a darkening scene.  Jesus is preaching directly to the hearts of the people in the synagogue because they are the ones who are poor, who are blind, who are held captive to the Roman government.  They are the ones that Jesus is supposed to save.
Sensing that the congregation isn’t really comprehending the fullness of his message, Jesus puts before them an image that shocks and horrifies the congregation.  Jesus remembers the time of Elijah and Elisha, two of Israel’s greatest prophets.  He reminds them that God asked Elijah to help a widow except not a Jewish widow.  And he reminds them that Elisha was sent to heal a leper but that leper was Naaman the Syrian, the leader of the enemy army.  This is the part where the congregation stops saying “Amen” at the end of each sentence and starts turning red in the face thinking of ways to kill this up-start preacher man.
Jesus’ way out of the darkness is not the way that the people expected, specifically the Hebrew people.  Those gathered in the synagogue that day thought the way out of the darkness meant punishment and death for the enemy.  Instead, God hoped that Israel would lead all the nations out of the darkness, offering healing to the foreign enemy because they too were poor, blind, and imprisoned.  God’s way out of the darkness meant release for all nations.  Ultimately, God’s way out of the darkness was executed through Jesus in his death and resurrection. 
  God’s action through Christ is calling us to see that we are all made of one blood, that we are all human, that we all need salvation, and that we all need a new story because the same old story of fear, injustice, and hate stinks for everyone.  What God is doing through Christ is giving us words to speak to our common humanity, to the fact that we all struggle to find a way out of darkness. 
And through Christ we are all given a great light, a light that shows us another way, and that way is together, as a human family made one in the love of Jesus.  We can’t possibly do it apart because we will keep on finding ways to put each other, and subsequently ourselves, back into the darkness, we will keep on finding ways to call each other less than human, less than God’s children. 
And we can’t overcome the darkness based on our own great ideas because our great ideas are limited, they are dimly lit, they can’t see the whole picture.  Only the light of Christ shines brightly enough to reveal a world where all people are reconciled as one.  Jesus never said the way out would be easy.  In fact, he said it will be the hardest thing we ever do as human beings.  And as evidence in today’s lesson, we will often resist Christ’s way and sometimes even violently.  But Jesus keeps that light burning, moving through the midst of us, reminding us the way back to life.  When we stumble, when we get scared, when we turn back, Jesus still shines brightly, calling us back to life again and again and again.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is calling His Church, that means you and me, to move through the midst of a turbulent world and shine His great light, a light that gives hope to all who are blind, poor, and held captive in their own darkness.  The church is a place where all are welcome, where all can be human, where all can receive the message of salvation.  This is a place where we can share our fear of the darkness together, where we can pray and hope together, and where we can search for the light together.
Even then, it is still hard to know what to say in all of life’s dark places but friends this is a part of being human.  For me, the church has been the only place where I can admit how afraid of the dark I am and still feel human.  I know now more than ever before that without the light of Christ we could say very little at all, at least nothing that would help us see anything more clearly.  It’s been said that God became man so that we might become more like God.  I’m growing more convinced that God also became man to show us how to be more human.
And never does Jesus show us how to more human than in the Garden of Gethsemane before his own death.  In the garden, Jesus gives us permission to say, “I’m scared and I’m grieved to the point of death.”  If we can’t say these kinds of things to each other and to God, then we aren’t honoring our human dignity, something that we promise to uphold in our baptism.        
Sometimes I wish I had just said to my father, “it is too dark in there.”  I imagine he would have said the same thing.  Just saying those words now frees me from that dark place.  These honest words free me from feeling like I could have made things better with some magic words or actions.  We could have just been human together, two people who were afraid of the dark, two people searching for the light together.
Like with Jeremiah, God will help us say the rest if anything else needs to be said at all.  As Paul reminds us, when our words come up short, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.  It’s not so much about saying the right things.  It is about being honest with ourselves and each other.  It is about being human together and admitting that we need the light to help us out of the dark.
When we can bring ourselves to confess that we are lost in the darkness, that we are powerless to overcome it on our own, that we need each other, then we open ourselves up to see the light that only Christ can shine into our lives, a light that opens our eyes to see God’s creative and redemptive response to the world, a light that opens us up to a life worth living.  Amen.