I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we
cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not
remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that
are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is
the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the
details of the wedding. We live a
Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found
but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that
violence tips the scale. In Christianity
the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy
Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of
Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But
that is not what we hear.
Why are the happy
times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind
are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who. That is not the world I want to live in, but
it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.
Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest
ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I
get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is
always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to
eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need. Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so
because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard”
resources. There are enough resources on
this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer,
or go hungry.
We have that inequality because we have people who claim
ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill,
to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of
God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from
petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish,
we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to
destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.
But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world
where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the
joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a
planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world
look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You
know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind
of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but
it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words,
visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very
So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting
ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden”
where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.
I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets
because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.
All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing
suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about,
rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in
sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.
When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?)
we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.
We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the
Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of
anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from
welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I
have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a
selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At
this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about
them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often
abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the
joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every
day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.
We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and
unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest,
and we will take the rest of creation with us.
I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo
sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.
Thomas where were you
when Jesus came?
What was so important
you couldn’t stay for a while longer?
Did you have to do that
laundry, or groceries, or maybe clean a closet?
What could have drawn you away?
I know how it is to have all those tasks
to always have no time to finish those all important tasks.
I understand you
I am like you, . . .
to busy to stop
to busy to listen
to busy to wait
You won’t believe
unless you see
you must feel the wounds to have faith
Oh so like you am I . . .
I too wasn’t there to see and touch the master
and sometimes I find it hard to believe,
to just have faith.
It took you the touch of the Master to believe I have the words he spoke to my heart to believe It took you putting your hands in his wounds to believe I have his love warming my spirit to believe I have not seen the Master as you have done But I have seen the Master in the face of a newborn child, in the morning sunrise and evening sunset, Yes I’ve seen the Master, for the he is all around me If you weren’t so busy you would see the Master too
Tomorrow, November 8th, is election day and I am becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen tomorrow and in the days and months that follow. This campaign has been so very divisive, hateful, and acrimonious that I fear for the safety of whoever wins and for our own. The name calling on both sides and the call to kill a candidate, the call to commit treason, and murder goes beyond anything we have seen before. We are in a difficult time where we need to step back and rethink our and way forward.
It will not be easy to heal the wounds opened in this election cycle to much hatred and anger has been spewed into our air to make this a comfortable process but we must begin to forgive each other if we are to be the people we profess to be. The spiritual practice of prayer, individual and corporate, helps us focus on each other rather our own selfish interests. Prayer can awaken our concern for the welfare of all and quiet our fears that we are threatened by forces we cannot control. Prayer gives us the courage and strength to take control of who we are as spiritual beings.
To begin I offer a prayer written by the Rev. Kara Markel, a pastor friend of mine, for the Council on Christian Unity, to begin our election day and post-election spiritual practice. As we offer our prayers may we remember Jesus cared for all of us; poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian, Male, female, and differently gendered, and peoples from all cultures and ethnicities. Let us open our hearts to reconciling with each other in prayer.
An Election Prayer
Let us be a people at prayer in these days of waiting:
We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities. Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.
Lord, hear our prayer.
From the Council on Christian Unity
written by The Rev. Kara Markell, Pastor
Lake Washington Christian Church
1After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” –Matthew 28:1-10
We are now in the season of Easter, yes I said “season,” which is comprised of the weeks from Easter Sunday to Pentecost. This is a time of reflection on what it means to be a Christian and the significance of living a life of God’s people out in the world. Easter season is a time for all of us who are the church to focus on how we are witnesses of the resurrection in our daily lives. In the light of the Easter Season the weekly spiritual practices will focus on how we express the light of the resurrection to those we live and work with and those we meet in our goings and comings.
To begin this series of Spiritual Practices I would like to start with the Spiritual Practice of Intention. The practice of intention focuses on how you are “being” in the now, this very moment. Your intentions come from your own understanding of what is important to you in our ever changing world. When you reflect and meditate on what matters to you, what is most important to your inner self you learn to act out of that intention. Your commitment to, and actions in, the world around you will begin to reflect what you value most, and what lies within your heart. I am not talking about setting goals rather I am suggesting that you search your heart for what you value most. What is important about the spiritual practice of intention is you do not want to search for peace, stop thinking, or discover some enlightened thought. Rather you are looking to set an intention, discover what it is that you value most and then do you best to live into that intention as you go about your daily life.
For the practice I would like to suggest you take some time this week and contemplate what matters most to you. Two or Three times this week set aside 15 to 20 minutes to sit in silence, and explore your inner dreams, wishes, and desires. What is most important to you? Do you value peace, justice, or mercy, or something else? Contemplate how you might express that value in the coming weeks of living your daily life. Let yourself rest in the silence and in the voice of your heart offer up a prayer to the Divine asking for guidance and giving gratitude for the grace God has given you.
May the Eternal give you guidance and show you how to live as a child of the Everlasting. Amen
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1
Today is Super-Tuesday, a day when political parties in mostly southern states choose who they want to run as their Presidential Candidate. So far in this election we have heard the traditional political rhetoric and a great deal of speech filled with anger, hate, bigotry, greed and plan nonsense. My choice of candidate is not important, no, rather what is important is that each of us look carefully at who is running and who has the American peoples best interest. Not just white, male, and wealthy, but all Americans regardless of socioeconomic status, choice of faith, where they come from, color of their skin, age, or gender identification. All Americans regardless of whether or not they have U.S. citizenship or hopes to attain American citizenship all must be considered equal participants in our society.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” We cannot serve the people, the Divines own people, if we serve our own self interests. When we love power, money, and status more than we love the people of God, whoever they may be, pain and suffering will be, has been, the result. We who call ourselves followers of the Divine, with whatever faith tradition we choose, must not let those whose primary interest is greed, hate, and power, and not the American people, or the people of the world be elected into a position where they could destroy the fabric of our nation and world.
So today, offer prayers for those voting, that they think carefully of their choices. To refuse to let false, hateful and self-serving rhetoric sway them. Rather pray that all people will stand together to push back the evil we are seeing displayed during this election year.
My prayer: May the hand of every voter be guided by the desire for a country that holds sacred the lives and well being of all who live in American and beyond.
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA. I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA. We would be married in September. This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.
I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married. But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since. You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community. And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life. Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.
Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace. It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into. Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.
Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet. In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process. Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation. If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.
You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled. To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out. The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given. When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner. It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.
The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending. The first guest refuses because of business issues. The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given. I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.
First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder. No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives. How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life? How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?
So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them. Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation. An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event. But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living. So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting? Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different. But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city. These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.
How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century? Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town. Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”
Can you imagine how they all felt? Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith. He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”
Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media. It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited. They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table. They wanted to have new lives. Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.
What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet. For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:
4“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:
6 “ theLordof hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
In the New Testament James writes:
6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning. She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples. But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.
But what does it mean to choose life? Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living. That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.
No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options. Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that. I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here. But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship. One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet. Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed. Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life. But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are. We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house. When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.
As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games. To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.
We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo. We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life. We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . . Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves. Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
 Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.
Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World
Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies. But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.
Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught. Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year. The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit. A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home. Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.
Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers. Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world. Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea! If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.
To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?
So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.