Monday, October 26, 2015


Blindness 102515
A conversation this week about Christian Education and formation, and the announcement about my retirement, two things that got me thinking about our ministry together.   We’ve been together for almost 30 years and much of my work has been about those two things…..then it dawns on me our life together is also about in-formation and trans-formation.  So today I want us to walk through this Bible story in the light of I, F and T.   Some of you are here interested mostly in I: in your head learning, always seeking more knowledge so you’ll get smarter and look impressive;  some are here yearning for F: spiritual deepening and growth;  some of us have an even deeper yearning to make a difference: T: of our own lives, of our society and world.   Its all short  notes, so you might really have to pay attention….you can pay attention at whatever depth you care about, I, F, or T.

 They came to Jericho.
As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho,
I  We’re at a turning point, both in Mark’s gospel and in the geography of the middle east.  Jesus has spent the first half of the gospel in Galilee, rural, agricultural, simple.   Jericho marks the beginning of the end for Jesus….its a short trip now to Jerusalem, urban,  corporate, powerful.  
F    Jesus doesn’t stay long anywhere.  He is always on the move, journeying with purpose, what does that say to our comfortable settledness?   And I wonder: Where might we be in the crowd….curious, hanger on, disciple, critic?
T   What do you, or we, need to leave behind, to truly be on the way with Jesus?

Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 
I  this blind man is named….unusual.  and twice named.  Must be important.  Naming is key.  Name the person you’re talking to and you truly acknowledge them; Name your fears and you’re on the way to overcoming them; name your need for forgiveness and reconciliation is possible.   Naming matters.   My story of the man at Goodman/490    He’s blind and begging and sitting by the side of the road….handicapped, he is separated from society, and from inclusion in community. Having no safety net reduces such people to begging.
F  Who doesn’t even know your name, or who treats you as if you’re invisible?   what needs to be named in your life?  And maybe toughest of all:  what are my blind spots?  Catch ourselves when we hear ourselves say, I just can’t see…such and such
T  who do you picture today in such a situation?  Do you know their name?  what needs to happen to transform your “seeing” that person?

When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 
I  word has evidently got around.  This guy may be handicapped but he’s not stupid.  And in hope and desperation he takes a risk
F   Does it really occur to us that Jesus might be close enough to call to?  Or do we just sit on the edge of the faith life and hope I get tossed a coin here and there?  and how about the way I regard those with handicaps or who are different?  FB post re language…..
T  transformed lives come about when we risk.

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
I   Then as now, people will tolerate beggars, or the poor, or the handicapped or the LGBT community as long as they keep quiet and stay out of sight.  But when they get noisy, the supposedly sighted, the privileged and the powerful move to shut them down.
F  When stuff bubbles up in our souls, do we squash it down sternly so it doesn’t make trouble, or are we willing to pay attention….
T  our culture is full of people calling for mercy.  In what way do  we as Christians, or as a congregation, perpetuate the status quo when it comes to the marginalized people of our village, city, nation.  If we can name that, we can be changed, tho it’s not yet a given.

 Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’
I   Jesus stopped.   The first pastor I worked with here, Walt Barger, used to say that the interruptions become the agenda.  That’s the Jesus way.   And Jesus puts others to work, probably the same ones who’ve been trying to keep him quiet and out of sight.
F   Jesus has come calling us out of our need, that we’ve either been quietly hiding at the side of the road, or have been screaming loud and clear.  God does indeed pay attention.   Do we?
T who do you know who is unnoticed and needs drawn into community?  Bring a friend last week doesn’t need to be a special occasion….its a way of life

And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 
I   how fickle humans are!  One minute you’re trying to shut some group up until the tide seems to turn and you turn with it….
F  encouragement is one of the spiritual gifts God gives; it would be worth thinking about who has said words like this to you…and to whom you might say such words
T change means action.  When we change our minds, when we get new insights, does it make any difference?

So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
I  such is his confidence that he will be helped by Jesus that he can set aside what a colleague called his ‘cloak of invisibility’, that which protects him from the weather and keeps him out of sight of the head turning passersby.
F  what do you use to blend in, to make sure you don’t stand out as a person of faith?  Jesus calls us to cast it off and get moving towards Jesus
T  there are cultural systems and powers of privilege that keep the poor and different hidden.   Bus lines and schedules that prevent movement between poor and rich areas of our county are but one example….what would it take for you to ‘see’ someone who’s been marginalized by our society’s structures.

Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
I  remember last Sunday, Jesus asked James and John the same question.   This week in our Way of Forgiveness group we had an exercise in which we were to imagine God asking us, what is your heart’s desire?.   And here it is again.   Must be important; must be God cares.  
F  Chances are what you really want isn’t a Jaguar X6, but deep in the  soul, in the hidden recesses of the heart, what do I REALLY want?
T  once we get in touch with our deepest yearning, maybe transformation comes when we can, with Jesus, care about others’ yearnings

The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’
I  ‘again’: he wasn’t always blind, but once had his sight.  he knows what its like to live in community, accepted, with enough to eat and a roof over his head,  and what its like to be ostracized, begging for handouts, at the mercy of the elements.
F  what blindness to I need relief from…and do I really want to change?
T  what does our congregation need to change to really learn to notice and call people – like Jesus does

 Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 
I   on the way: the way to Jerusalem, leaving behind the comfortable practices of Galilee for the tough uphill climb to Jerusalem, where bad things will happen.  He doesn’t go back to his old way of life, but he has a new community and he will put his new sight and insight into that
F there are comfortable, we’ve always done it this way, practices we need to leave behind if we are to follow the way—whether we’re talking about our own spiritual formation as disciples, or as a congregation, or as a nation.   Transformation wasn’t just this one man’s gift, it came to the whole community.   It’s faith that makes us ‘well’ as Jesus says, not just healed miraculously, but well, whole.
It is our faith that can bring wholeness to God’s world….but we must throw off our cloaks, get moving, and follow in the way.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kin-dom standards

Kin-dom standards 101115                        Mark 10:17-27
(thanks to Pam Spiteri and Drama Kids for the use of her door frame as a prop for this sermon)
Today’s story is about a man who has it all and seems to have it all together.  He’s done well for himself—the storyteller says he’s rich—and he’s done all the right things, both by cultural standards and even by religious standards.
But he seems to want to be sure he’s all set, as if there is something missing.   it seems like a genuine question that resonates with us today.     Like this man, we too operate on our particular cultural standards, and unfortunately the church has adopted them as religious standards….. standards that say do more and you get more, work and you’re rewarded.  Try harder, you never can have enough, maybe  there’s no such thing as having it all but we’ll keep trying, I want my cake and eat it too standards.
What he wants to make sure about is our common understanding of  ‘eternal life’ -- usually life after death, getting into heaven.
And the rest of the story is about how Jesus responds to these cultural and religious assumptions.
There IS something missing, says Jesus.  You’re missing eternal life, all right, so  get rid of what prevents you from having Life – eternal and abundant life – and think about those who don’t have all your privileges, do something with your gifts instead of thinking about yourself all the time.   Eternal life isn’t about getting into heaven when you die.    Its about living in the present and coming kingdom of God—the reign of God, the household of Love, the family-life of God, what I most often call the kin-dom.  Where God reigns, and I don’t; where we are kin with one another and with God, and caring about kin we give our wealth so they may have what they need.
Clearly the standards of the kin-dom are different from the culture around us.
I love the camel and needle image!  Its so utterly silly! I can just see the laughter in Jesus’ eyes as he gives this exaggerated example of impossibility of us wealthy people entering the kin-dom. 
The key here is ‘entering’.   It’s not about getting in, as if something about the kingdom of God is preventing us…’s not the needles fault the camel can’t get through!   It’s the camel that’s too large.
You’re too big, says Jesus.   Drop some of that baggage and then there’s a chance.   Chris quoted the 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart last week—that the spiritual life is gained more by subtraction than addition. in the realm of God we let go instead of hold on.  It is not about do-more-get-more.
 (Door)     we are invited into the kin-dom of God, to step in voluntarily and freely; the door is open and nobody is holding us back.   Except ourselves.  Because  we’re too big.  Rummage Sale clear example of how much we need to let go…Individually, as a church and community, as a nation, we suffer from TMS (too much stuff)
But there’s a lot more than physical stuff we need to be letting go before we can freely step through:
Let go our attachment to outcomes of all of our little and big life situations—my friend who has ALS, at first wanted to live long enough to see a nephew graduate, and she focused hard on that, until one day she realized she was missing his growing in the here and now by focusing that far ahead….
Let go anger at physical limitations
Let go habits and ways of relating that are unhealthy
Let go your workaholism or any other ism or addiction
Let go control and being in charge
Let go worry or anxiety about your income, your job, your family,
Take a moment and name, in the silence of your heart, what you need to let go, what’s stopping you from giving yourself fully to the Jesus way.

Perhaps the biggest thing we need to let go is our fear of being without all that stuff we carry; most of us don’t like the idea of loss of any kind…..but the great irony of this teaching of Jesus today is that in fact we GAIN when we move into this kin-dom, this new way of living and loving and giving.
We let go unhealthy relationships, and step into true friendships
We leave behind our reliance on wealth and status, and step into being valued for ourselves as beloved
We let go our habits that we use to satisfy our empty spaces, and step into wholeness and love
We let go control, and step into freedom.

Jesus asks us today, what’s stopping you?    Sure it seems impossible; the culture has such a strong hold on us – and for me it is impossible.  But with God, says Jesus, all things are possible.
There’s the other key….let go of it being all about you, and make it all about you and God.   That’s the message I hear from this text today:  what’s my, your, our primary energy source: our selves or God? Follow Jesus, or keep our stuff?
Today, individually and as a congregation…and we can see it too in our nation…we stand on a threshold that asks that question.  Can we see what’s making us too big?   And can we let go and answer Jesus, who invites, Come, follow me.
 an invitation to come forward and let go/step through follows during the last hymn