Thursday, August 23, 2018

Poetic Bread Slam - Daring Choices and Warm Bakedness

Eucharistic bread stamp
I am the bread of life I am the light of the world. I am the gate. I am the way. I am the vine. In the gospel of John Jesus uses I am statements 16 times. A person saying that they are material objects that they are physically not is art. It is a cooperative brain exercise of creative genius. It is theopoetics: God words in poetry. Like a singer-songwriter Who sings things Without singing the actual words That would define them. Theopoetics is an art form that can help us know God in ways that doctrinal definitions cannot. The creeds took over a hundred years To work out, And while they are foundational They are also only a ghost of a trace of a pale imitation of all that we experience in the one in three and three in one.

I am is such a basic statement. We say I am lonely, Or I am curious. Or I am going to mow the lawn. I am is both an everyday sort of thing And a whoa kind of thing. I am is being and essence and without I am there isn’t much to be much less to say. Here in our gospel text, it holds even more quiet potency. When Moses asks God’s name at the burning bush The response Moses gets is that God's name is I am what I am or and also I will be what I will be. The Hebrew is prismatic that way God’s name Is both foundational eternal essence and a future-forward endless essence. I am what I am and I will be what I will be. God’s stated name In the short form as it is usually translated into English is I am. 

The holy artist who is shaping this gospel is knee deep in the sands of the exodus. Jesus is the bread from heaven, like the manna in the wilderness but way more than the manna. If manna could be both deliciously in your tummy And future forward manna-ness, That is the manna Jesus says he is. I am and I will be forever filling essential good stuff. It is art, not an evidentiary statement. It is an invitation, not demand. Manna in the wilderness is about using our resources wisely. Bread in community Is about the commitment to each other because it is nearly impossible to make bread alone. Breaking bread is an act of care for one another, of resting and attending to friend and stranger across the table. It is hope, it is a conversation, It is laughter, it is tears. 

However, just like in the desert with Moses, there was grumbling around Jesus. We need to take a few minutes and unpack one of the most consistent problems with this gospel. The phrase the jews has led to so much hatred and bloodshed. We do well to remember that almost everyone, probably in the 95% range, Nearly everyone in these gospels are Jewish. From the time of Jesus’ teaching ministry There was excitement and new life, and plenty of folks who just didn’t get it, Or they got it And they were not going to accept it. 

The communities that nurtured the holy storytellers of the gospels are all wrestling with this anxiety and division and confusion. Why Jesus’ own community didn’t trust and follow him was disturbing and alienating. There are dynamics of displacement and frustration and fear of both the fragile power within the Jewish communities nd the cruel desperations of empire that press in on their safety from the outside. When we read of the ‘jews’ we need to recall that most of the time what our minds should hear is the Jewish neighbors who were in opposition to the Jesus movement. 

It isn’t as shallow as even the fiercest sports rivalry, It is more heart wrenching than the mutual distaste we experience between some churches. This is friends and family with a river of anxiety and distrust running between them. The opposition are the people we know and care for and who completely disagree with us. Connections where the power of empathy and candor have been weakened. I have those relationships, you probably do too. 

Somewhere in the I am poetry is a daring choice. Where instead of trying to win the argument, they set the table and invite the opposition into a feast. There is something about the smell of bread that is A mind-blowing allurement for me. I once had a wine intern roommate who in his spare time Was trying to learn To bake sourdough bread. When I would open the door to the house He would be practicing his banjo and bread was baking and it felt like a little bit of heaven. 

I think this wording in the gospel Is an artistic power play A hard to resist invitation. It is the smell of fresh baked bread and a warm kind light beyond a gate held wide open. Jesus is already there, Already where we are going. He is holding open the gate And is offering the cup of the vineyard. He stands in front of us with enticing bread (or warm fragrant rice) and we can smell it and we can imagine how it will taste and we follow it.

So, where is Jesus standing out in front of us and is that where we should be going? Jesus isn’t a word puzzle of incredulity, but instead an artists invitation that draws us into satisfaction for all. Jesus Is what he is and will be what he will be and is always already present wherever we are going. I am what I am and I will be what I will be: Light, freedom, sustenance, community, forgiveness. Jesus is out in front of us, offering us fresh hearty bread. What are you gonna do?

Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey
August 12, 2018

Proper 14 RCLB Track 1

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Continental Divide of Grief: Sin, Forgiveness, and Steadfast Love

It is hard how closely intertwined love and passion are with sin and brokenness. How bound the beautiful can be with harm and the terrible. It is hard that by one person’s inability to hold boundaries, so many are harmed and hurt and left in a valley of confusion. If we didn’t have passion would we know love? Would we know hate? The violation, the abuse, are almost predictable. The lies that surround it so too.

A recent study suggests that most people who participate in a congregation of any religion in America, these people say they seek out religious practices to be closer to God. Sometimes I think that we think that means that we only want safely distributed warm fuzzy feelings. We want God at a safe distance until we need something beyond ourselves. We want God to tell us we are moral and good, despite the replay review. I'm not sure that many of us really want a prophet appointed by God to come tell us how badly we've messed up, and how much we need to turn around and repair our lives. Yet biblically, that is (part of) being closer to God.

Other research shows that a lot of us we want to feel like a tender sweet sheep snuggled on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. We want Jesus to share with us abundant life, but what we don't expect, what we may wish to fast forward through, is when Jesus looks at us and tells us we've understood it all wrong. Where Christian-ness has not taken hold it is not because it is easy. Easy is easy. Moral therapeutic deism is easy. Where genuine Christianness doesn't take root is In its holy challenges and the us-not-me demands. Christian-ness is love and humility, and anything else isn't about Jesus Christ.

But it is the kind of love that holds up a magnifying mirror. It declares judgement of our worldly system that we want to feel secure in so much that we turn a blind eye from the cruel truth of its power. Jesus' life and death and resurrection exposes the lie, demands that we look at the truth of the system. That it is born in and fed by violence violent language violent actions much worse than clutch and grab.

I wanna believe that the world is good to the core. And I want to believe that the evil and malice are just random spilled bags of trash across an otherwise glorious scene. What following Jesus shows me, again and again, is that my disneyfied lenses might have it upside-down. The dark mean broken licentious lying murderous world may be a more pervasive dark thing than I can take solace in. It is this darkness that Jesus comes to. It is to this storm that God's prophets that speak to. This is where disciples serve and the space in which apostles teach. Faith with Jesus is hollow if it is reclining in marshmallow clouds of saccharine perfection. Faith is faith when it is knee deep in the imperfections and muck of the world.

It seems that this faith IS a streak of beloved light in the darkening scene. It seems that kindness and mercy are the strands of hope. Our Psalm today is one that I (and you may) know very very well I hear and say it year after year at the multiple Ash Wednesday services. We are far from Lent, but we are always also in a time that is Lent and Easter and Christmas and Advent all at once. This sense of time that isn’t linear is a core piece of practice of the Christian life. Confessing, lamenting, regretting, turning around and claiming the light, recommitting to this light in the sacraments of bread and wine are our altar call.

Yet for all it’s alleluias, the very nature of this path assumes the failures and the lostness. Psalm 51 has been for a very long time associated with exactly the scenes in 2nd Samuel we heard last week and this week. These almost NSFW scenes of David ‘s powerful lostness and his breaking over half of the commandments and having a convicting prophet sent to him by God. A prophet who says this is it. This is the continental divide of a screw up. This is why the path ahead is a trail of terror and tears. 

What's interesting is that the Psalm certainly speaks to that story, but the Hebrew scholar can see that it's playing with language from another episode of grievous sin from the episode of the golden calf. While God’s people are wandering in the desert and get tired of waiting and make up their own golden cow gods to worship. So much easier than all this beloved community nonsense. Easy is easy. As much as this violent crisis with David and Bathsheba, and its aftermath, is considered to be on par with being cast out of the Garden, one of the things that is always getting us in trouble is idolatry. The million lights of Times Square, the upside down devotion to the wanting what other nations and people have. The choosing to take the easy route rather than the one of steadfast love.

The best I can tell God is a God of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness in the midst of constant disappointment and frustration. The Psalm translation we read says God’s core emotive action is loving kindness. But the better translation is that God’s core emotive action is steadfast love. It seems that God is made of steadfast love for you and for me and for David and Bathsheba. And dimwitted disciples in the company of Jesus. God stands ready to forgive and guide us into paths of justice and grace. God stands ready to welcome us home when we are lost and cruel and selfish. God stands ready to forgive and to hold before us the names and realities of our victims.

I choose Christ and life together in Christian community because I cannot approach this darkness all by myself. We need a sacred community One that stretches very far back through time and stretches into the future to people I can't even imagine We need a life together that is a beacon of truthfulness about who we are and the violence we do And a life together that is rooted in the steadfast love of God. One turn is rarely just one turn. Turning from God’s way leads to heartbreak and bloodshed. The cover-up leads to terrible news conferences Which are a shame and lead to numbing and doubt. I thought I knew what was what and it turned out I had no idea.

Would we be mostly free from sin and error and falsehood if we all lived alone on desert islands, well perhaps? At least the second two-thirds of the commandments would be less of a necessity But we are not human solos we are humans in community. There is no i without the u and the us. So how we live together, how we trust the you and honor the dignity of all the fragments of us-ness, that is the sacred story. One that is both a scary horror and a romance and a comedy and an exciting adventure. Every time we think we have it all figured out… God comes in with steadfast love and straight up challenge and calls us to turn to God and to each other with steadfast love.

August 5, 2018
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

(one of the sermons that i realized afterward had several riffs on a buffy episode.)