Sunday, December 27, 2015

Searching for Jesus

Luke 2: 41-52

One often hears the tales from mother to mother, I believe, every parent experiences this at least once in their lives, a child wanders off.  Even if just for a moment, that moment, to a parent, seems to last forever.
Of course these were different times, Simpler times.  The family heads out on an annual excursion to Jerusalem about a 65 mile walk about a 3 day journey considering most of the town was heading there.  They would have to stop to rest often especially for the older and the youngest among them.
They spend their days in Jerusalem for the festival and then set out to return.  About a day into the journey Mary realizes that Jesus is nowhere to be found.  Martha Spong imagines it to go something like this;

“The whole family has been to Jerusalem, to the temple, traveling with friends and neighbors. They made the journey together. Everyone keeps an eye on the children. One of the mothers counts repeatedly. It takes pressure off the others. She hates to tell Mary. A good boy missing could mean a boy in real trouble. Time matters. Has someone taken Jesus? She calls to his mother. "I'm sure we can find him," she says, but she can hear the sharp edge in a voice usually so soft, when Mary cal1s, "Joseph Come quickly!"
That’s when people tell the mother to breathe, but she can’t get a breath at all.
Word spreads. Some go ahead, in case he ran that way. Boys do run off, she says to Mary. Boys will be boys. Don't worry. Not yet.
Not yet. That's what they say. Boys will be boys.
Some go back, retracing steps. Some look on the side of the road, just in case he fell, or worse.
Mary's heart beats fast. How can a heart beat so fast?
Joseph and Mary run back to Jerusalem. After three days, they find him at the temple, talking to the elders as if he knows what he's doing.
He didn't know how they had worried. He lost track of the time. He has work to do, his Father's business. He is an unusual boy..
Boys will be boys. Jesus will be Jesus.
You want to yell at them, when they finally come home. You want to yell and cry, but you don't. You hug them, if they’ll let you.
Mary is unusual, too. She takes these things and keeps them. She keeps them in her heart.”[1]

Julie Craig reflects on this as well saying “I Understand Mary and Joseph’s point of view here.  I know the frantic feeling of losing track of a child for a moment.  I cannot imagine three sleepless nights and three terror filled days of not knowing where my child was. (As a mother I have to say I find Jesus’ response her to be not very Godlike, but that of a sulky tween.  Good heavens, child!)”[2]

I believe both these reflections can give us a more human perspective of Mary.  Poor Joseph is kind of just there but not really in the picture even Jesus when referring to his father is not speaking of Joseph here.

I think Luke may be trying to do a few things here and the scholarly research seems to back me up.  First we hear language used at the end of the birth sequence for Luke.  Jesus goes from birth to presentation at the temple for naming and then “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40) That was Jesus as a baby and now we have Jesus as a boy and this passage ends in a similar way as we heard “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in favor with God and humankind alike.” (Luke2:52) Now we know that Jesus actually had a childhood for there are no other canonical accounts between birth and Jesus’ ministry except this one.

 Does this story serve any purpose besides showing that Jesus had a life somewhere between birth and ministry?  If so what is being shown to us? 

I see a young boy …though not so young for those days, he is about to enter manhood officially.  He is also is fully aware of his role and basically admonishes his Mother for not assuming where he would be. It would seem Mary forgot…Really?  Do you think Mary could forget what was said in prophesies concerning Jesus? I mean the angel, the cousin, Simeon, and Anna?   And that is just in the Book of Luke. Do you think Mary could forget the visitations form scholars from the east? Forget that even lowly shepherds were stopping by to see the baby?  Do you believe Mary simply shrugged off Josephs dream and their flight into Egypt and back again?

If one adds all this up this makes Jesus’ admonishment seems even more “Un-Godly like” UnGodly only if you forget the one phrase here.  Mary kept all these things in her heart.  This is not only said after this passage but also right after the shepherds left.  Mary, for Luke, is a record keeper.  She doesn’t proclaim all these things but keeps them in her heart.  After all she doesn’t want Jesus to get a big head.

The parallel here is also drawn to the death of Jesus.  This would not have gone unnoticed by those who heard this story in the first century.  Jesus is missing for 3 days and Mary and Joseph are looking for him.  Just as they looked for Jesus in the tomb but he was not there for he had risen.

Something else I find interesting here is Jesus is basically holding his own in the ancient tradition of Jewish teaching.  Jesus is seated with scholars and they are posing questions to him and he is answering and posing questions to them.  One scholar describes it this way;

Probably in one of the many chambers which tradition says were built against the walls of the temple and its enclosures, and opened upon the temple courts. The sacred secret which they knew concerning the child should have sent them at once to the temple to seek for him]; sitting [Jewish scholars sat upon the ground at the feet of their teachers] in the midst [the teachers sat on semi-circular benches and thus partially surrounded by their scholars] of the teachers [these teachers had schools in which they taught for the fees of their pupils, and are not to be confounded with the scribes, who were mere copyists], both hearing them, and asking them questions [He was not teaching: the God of order does not expect childhood to teach. He was among them as a modest scholar, and not as a forward child. The rabbinical method of instruction was to state cases, or problems, bearing upon the interpretation or application of the law, which cases or problems were to be solved by the pupils. For typical problems see Matthew 22:15-46 ]:

  47 and all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

  48 And when they [his parents] saw him, they were astonished [Mary and Joseph stood as much in awe of these renowned national teachers as peasants do of kings, and were therefore astonished that their youthful son presumed to speak to them]; [3]

This may be Luke trying to give us a glimpse of the human and God in one.  Jesus being the Christ could hold his own with the best of them and of course as a young man he is no threat but a joy.  Jesus being a young man thought nothing of sitting down and engaging in conversation and assumed his parents knew where he was without telling them anything, a typical teenager.

In this analysis of Luke we find Jesus a young man fully living into his teenager-hood and yet being fully divine and, unfortunately, for his parents at this time, this is not compatible.  We also may take an impression that it is truly not his time yet.  For the passage tells us that Jesus increased in wisdom over the years.

In ministry matters one of the many resources I use there is a prayer that states
“Lord, you know our confusion this day when the gospel reflects that moment in Jesus' life when he is found in the Temple learning from and teaching the Elders. We haven't really gotten over the mystique of Christmas, the birth and angels and shepherds, and suddenly we are cast, just for this moment, into this scene. We aren't ready for Jesus to be the 12year old boy. We want to keep him a baby. Like the worried parents of Jesus, we are frightened by his disappearance. Why weren't his parents more diligent? Why didn't they know where he would be? When Joseph and Mary found Jesus, they were upset. They wanted to know how he could be so thoughtless; but he responded with a rather cryptic message about being in His Father's house. What did that mean? What does that mean to us? We come to this building, for this time of worship, and we say we are in God's house. And for this time we feel a sense of the spirit; of the presence of God. But then we go back "into the world", and lose that feeling. God's house is our very selves. God makes God's home in each of our lives. The gathering time we have and call worship is a time to remind ourselves of God's abiding love and to celebrate with each other God's infinite presence and challenge to be God's community. Open our hearts this day, Lord, to understand your loving presence and your challenge to us. Make us ready to serve you in this world. AMEN.”[4]

This kind of reminds mean…this passage in many ways is all about this season.  Maybe we did take the time to pay attention to things around us.  Maybe we did slow down to see God in this world, in this messy, messy world.  Perhaps we did make room for the Christ Child and the spirit of the season was allowed to invade our hearts and infuse joy into every moment….But now that day is gone and many spend rest of the year looking to get it back.  Others are off to focus on Mardis Gras and get ready for lent and then Easter Sunday.  Then we are off for the summer until we start prepping for Christmas again.

If we find ourselves moving from holiday to holiday, moving form point A to Point B only to pause in that moment and move on again…we have left the baby on the bus, or more appropriately, we have left the baby in the manger. 

You see the whole concept of the angels singing, the Christ child arriving, the shepherds and the wise men being brought to their knees…The whole thing of Joseph and Mary desperately looking for Jesus and Jesus just casually reminding us he is about Gods business.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Dickens a Christmas carol.[5]

I couldn’t resist this for what Marley is saying; what Jesus the young man is saying to me is we should be about our creators business.  For Jesus at this time it was to learn and grow in wisdom.  For you it may be something different.  You see the business of being human is to do it in an engaged way so that it is always Gods business.

You see even for Joseph and Mary…
“The problem was that they were engrossed in their own business. Now there was nothing intrinsically wrong with what they had been doing. They had been obeying the law and going to worship God at the temple. They were being very religious, but in their attempt to fulfill the requirements of God’s law, they lost the one and only Christ. Why? Because what they were involved with – the journey home – and this wasn’t Jesus’ priority. They left Jesus behind because they were distracted by getting home.

How easy is it to be distracted from God’s priorities? We fill our lives with all sorts of good things – just like Joseph and Mary did, but we leave Jesus behind because even these good things, aren’t necessarily Jesus’ priorities. The starting pistol fires and we are off doing our thing, and we leave Jesus behind, doing God’s thing.” [6]

Now our thing and God’s thing may be the same thing or better yet can be the same thing as long as we make a conscious decision to welcome God into our daily lives not just Christmas or Easter. Not just an hour on Sunday!  This is about prayerfully allowing God to be a part of your day.  As you go about the daily business of being you, take the time to stop, and say ok God just checking in...Thank you.

Now I am going to suggest something that is very scary for some people what if you took a half day or a whole weekend and made a spiritual retreat. What would that do to your life to give God a half day to be alone and meditate on how God is moving you, shaping you …is God preparing you for something new, Something different?  Is God calling you to keep doing what you’re doing but maybe be a bit more diligent about it?  Is God drawing you into something deeper maybe something more spiritual?

We live in a very rich area here and there are opportunities for private retreats…there are opportunities to take the time and do your own thing by the ocean or in the woods.  There are places to go for silence or for guidance.  I can name 3 different retreat centers off the top of my head that have planned programs throughout the year.  They also allow one to make their own quiet private retreats if they wish.

There are churches and organizations with hundreds of planned events if one seeks them out.  Stillpoint of California has many day retreats from lectures, to story writing to art projects all done prayerfully.  The catholic Missions, besides being historical, often have some of the most beautiful grounds for just silent meditation as does the path around the lake at Echo Park.

I think this is an opportunity to see the baby Jesus arrive, see a panicked parent trying to keep their baby though he has become a young man and our own panic of just trying to live, all incorporated into one story.  The story of Jesus from beginning to end is about connecting ourselves to our humanity and connecting that to our spirituality.

We often separate the two…here is our daily life…and Sunday is for God…that is if I have the time and nothing better is on TV.  But Jesus, God, came into this world a child fully human and Fully God to teach us how to be fully human and fully connected to God.  We are being called to stop panicking and running to seek for God and discover that “God with us” Immanuel.

Even Handel’s messiah gets it right
“For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace. -   This does not say was…this is a very much a in the present thing.  We must stop seeking God and allow ourselves to be in God and of God and about Gods business. Amen!

[1] The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual (Tennesee: Abingdon Press, 2014), 229.
[2] Ibid., 228.
[3] Bible Study tools, Jesus living at Nazareth visiting Jerusdalem at twelve, 2014, accessed December 21, 2015,
[4] Nancy Townley, Pastoral Prayer, 2015, accessed December 21, 2015,
[5] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings, Penguin classics (London: Penguin, 2003), Digital eBook.
[6] David Elvery, Leaving Jesus Behind, January 1, 2004, accessed December 21, 2015, 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My Words won’t wear out!

A centering prayer video reflection

This is video is not very centering it is really kind of disturbing as it takes us from 1949 to 1989 there is a newer version by another artist that goes from 1990-2012 and still another that goes from 2000-2014. What is interesting is really it looks the same, the pictures are different, and yet it all looks and feels the same. The point is in the midst of terrorism threats, black Friday shopping sprees, and a moment of silence after we have set up our tree… can we just stop? Stop to remember what this season is about? What this first day of advent symbolizes which is hope? Even In the midst of a horrible terror attack there is Hope of survival, there is hope that humanity will respond. When all else fails us as humans there is always hope and our hope lies in knowing to whom we belong we are all beloved Children of God and it is in that knowledge and hope that we strive to better ourselves, care for our neighbors and heal the planet. Amen.

Luke 21:25-36 from the message

25-26 “It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.

27-28 “And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!”

29-33 He told them a story. “Look at a fig tree. Any tree for that matter. When the leaves begin to show, one look tells you that summer is right around the corner. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too—these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

34-36 “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”

My Words won’t wear out!

“It will seem like all hell is broken loose…” Hey stop right there…well greetings from the sacred text to you too. I thought this was supposed to be the good news??? Everyone in a panic the earth and sea in an uproar? When was this written? I thought this was supposed to be an ancient text? As in our centering moment today evidently we did not start the fire.

So the writer goes on to say that once all of this has started and you see all these signs stand up and stand tall for then you will see “the Son of Man” welcomed in Grand style!” I can’t help but wonder how many Times the Son of Man has come and no one noticed. I mean if these are the signs they were happening then, they have happened in our recent histories and they are happening now.

Again what does the scripture say? “When you see things happen, you know God’s Kingdom is about here. Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too – these things will happen, sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.” My words won’t wear out…Christ words will continue to inspire and nurture those who listen.

I would add Christ said Sky and Earth will wear out I would add human spirit as well. We become weary of the pain and suffering of the world, we get tired of the wars, impending wars, the possibility of war. We get tired of people hurting and hating each other in God’s name. We are worn out! yet we are reassured, My words won’t wear out. We are called ot go one reaching out, living in Christ’s love, teaching Christ’s way and welcoming the stranger in Christ’s name. Because God’s kingdom is about here!

You know what is funny from God’s perspective it is so true. lets use a metaphor that some of you may have heard before to put it in perspective.

Look at the dial of a clock. Imagine that the 12 hours showing on the dial are equal to earth’s history of four-and-a-half billion years. Now, this is how the earth’s evolution happened…


We are Only 10 Seconds Old [Illustration by Shinod AP]

“We know very little about what happened in the first three hours of the earth’s existence. The first signs of life appeared in the form of bacteria when the earth was four hours old.

Then came the first vertebrates (animals with skeletons). They were born when the earth was 10 hours and 35 minutes old. The huge dinosaurs arrived at 11 hours and 25 minutes and birds and mammals at 11 hours and 50 minutes.

And guess what. In this 12-hour life span, humans arrived only half a minute before 12! This means that the entire human history is just 10 seconds old – because the chain of evolution from the great apes to humans actually took up 20 seconds!

Clocking human folly

Let us look at this in yet another way.

Compress earth’s existence into 100 years. This means that the dinosaurs came and left the earth about one year ago. Man arrived only two weeks ago. Humans started burning fossil fuels, like coal and petrol, only five minutes ago.

However, in these five minutes, human actions have upset more than 99 years of the development of the earth’s environment.

And, if we want to save the environment from irreversible destruction, we must act in the next four seconds…”[1]

One of my favorite quotes is form Xanadu when the Gods are speaking to Kira as she argues to go back to at least say goodbye to Sonny we hear the female heavenly voice say; “maybe Just one moment , darling. To which the Male heavenly voice replies; “well, maybe just one moment. Or forever. I keep getting them mixed up, too.”[2] Our urgency, our panic, our lives are just a flash. Human history is but a scratch on the surface of the Earth. Though, we have become quite an irritating scratch!

Jesus goes on to say; “keep your sharp edge of expectation.” He is saying in Luke is be prepared for the kingdom for it is here and now, right upon us, and it is yet to come. I do not see this as a conflict it is not an “if then” situation. If the kingdom should come then I am ready. It is a “both and” situation. The God’s kingdom is always at hand and it is coming.

We are told this is how we should live and this is how we need to act every day. Jesus often said God’s Kingdom is at hand the prophecies are fulfilled. This is what we anticipate during advent and what we celebrate at Christmas. Yet when I do research on the Kingdom, and what does it mean, I often find language that doesn’t comply with what I have learned and hopefully what many here have come to understand.

One problem for us in general is this concept of Kingdom. The ancient concept was one of a Ruler who make decrees and see that all his subjects were treated fair and equal and there would no longer be a need for conflict for we would all be united under this rule.

The problem I have with this image as it has never truly been experienced by any community let alone globally so it is truly a foreign concept. The better image is what Christ taught and lived. How to be the beloved community. How we are to care for each other and especially the stranger. How we are to love and support each other. How we are all children of God and therefor none is above the other.

The concept of a loving kindom, where we are all related, where we are all kin, and as children of God and should treat each other as such is something I can wrap my head around. Yet this may still be problematic. I mean how any here have brothers or sisters. Did you get along every day? Some never really deal with their immediate family at all and find even this concept hard to accept. Human language gets in the way of God speak.

If the kingdom of God is at hand why is this place such a mess if the kingdom of God is yet to come why it doesn’t just arrive already and take over for we are just making a mess of things!! We get angry, we get frustrated, we use and abuse. We are human and we are frightened. We are frightened of our own kind let alone the quote “Stranger”.

Am I the only one who has thought these thoughts? Has anyone ever been in a moment of despair over the constant battle that seems to be raging in this world? If we are not fighting someone else we are fighting nature herself. Just making it from day to day can sometime seem like an overwhelming task. So what can we do? Where is the assurance? “My word don’t wear out!” The reminder right there in the Gospel. For over two thousand years those words have not worn out. In our comparative few milliseconds of existence those words do not wear out. For extra assurance Christ gives us directions on how to survive it all. “Pray constantly!”

Unceasing, incessant prayer is essential to the vitality of your relationship to the Lord and your ability to function in the world. But exactly what does it mean to pray without ceasing?

The first time someone hears about the concept of praying without ceasing it may conjure up the image of Christians walking around with their hands folded, heads bowed, and eyes closed, bumping into things. While certain postures and specific times set aside for prayer have an important bearing on our communication with God, to "pray at all times" obviously does not mean we are to pray in formal or noticeable ways every waking moment. And it does not mean you're supposed to devote yourself to reciting ritualistic patterns and forms of prayer.

To "pray without ceasing" refers recurring prayer, not nonstop talking. Prayer is to be a way of life--you're to be continually in an attitude of prayer. It is living in continual God-consciousness, where everything you see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to Him. It should be instant and intimate communication-not unlike that which we enjoy with our best friend.

To "pray without ceasing" means when you are tempted, you hold the temptation before God and ask for God’s help. When you experience something good and beautiful, you immediately thank the Lord for it. When you see evil around you, you ask God to make it right and to use you toward that end, if that is God’s will.[3]

John Macarthur is telling us here how this constant prayer makes God’s Kingdom truly at hand. Truly here and now. If we are all living in a way that we can see, appreciate and know God immediately. In this way so is the kindom immediate. The Kindom is At hand. God’s Kindom is here and now. My words won’t wear out.

Christ words to us. Christ teachings on how to live and love in life fully. Christ also warns us , in this season of Christmas and, as they used to say, making merry. Be sure not to “get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.” In other words do not let the day to day get in the way of the here and now.

I know Christ was not saying not too enjoy the season, heck this is the guy who turned water into wine and not cheap wine either! He enjoyed the company of people, friends and strangers alike. To those who criticized him and his lot for being drunkards and breakers of the law …snakes and viper brood! Often it was the hypocritical religious leaders who condemned Christ and the followers for their actions all God ever said was this is my beloved in whom I am well pleased!

As we look to this holy season of reminders to prepare the kindom. Reminders to make sure our hearts are ready for the coming of Christ. The best way to prepare is to know that Christ is here, in our hearts. Available to us every day if we just take the time to seek God’s spirit in our lives.

There used to be a T-shirt that said Jesus is coming look busy! “Tony Campolo used to say that when he was growing up the preachers used to scare the kids by warning them that Jesus could appear at any time, and woe betide them if he turns up and finds them at a movie theater! Tony says he grew up with a constant fear, every time he went to the movies, that Jesus would return during the feature and he’d miss the end of the movie.”[4]

Sometimes when we look at the world around us it can feel just as scary as a kid afraid he will miss the ending of a movie. We busy ourselves with our lives and forget to live. To live means to be in that constant prayer. To live means to be present to God in our lives and to see God in the other.

So I pray may our hearts and minds be open to God today and every day and especially during this advent season. This first Sunday of advent, this Sunday of Hope, I pray we carry that Hope that Christ promises everyday as well. amen.

[1] Ajay Dasguta, Planet Earth for Kids, 2015, accessed November 28, 2015,

[2] Robert Greenwald director and Lawrence Gordon producer, Xanadu (Originally published as United States.Universal (1980 ;), United States: MCA Home Video, 1984), Digital eBook.

[3] John MacArthur Jr., Alone with God, MacArthur study series (Originally published as United States.Universal, Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1995), Digital eBook.

[4] David Smith, Jesus is Coming!, December 1, 2006, accessed November 28, 2015,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Life lived is not to be grieved

The Life Lived is not to be grieved!
Yesterday was all hallows eve…Today is all souls day when we recall those we have loss and are missing from over the years.  It seems strange but we, as church, only really talk about death twice a year now and at the time of Easter.
As Christians we technically believe that death is a joyous occasion for our loved ones for they have entered into the next part of life.  They have moved from the physical to the spiritual…shedding the mortal coil.  Yet we mourn the physical loss of a loved one and we mourn the gap that we perceive from the lack of their presence. 
Working in hospice care and serving as a chaplain I see death more casually than most.  I work with people who are in the process of dying.  Some who are acutely aware and others perhaps not so much.  I have worked with the Police where death often comes suddenly and though possible it is still unexpected.
One of my favorite professors would often be heard to say that it is not a matter of if we die but when.  Dying is a physical and spiritual process.  There seems to be a pattern that often arises in the dying process.  A person will, in what we assume is a delusional state, will often speak of leaving or having to get the bags packed.
This is a spiritual awareness.  Something deeper in ourselves when we are in the process of dying.  Often animals can sense this in someone better than we can in ourselves.  You know like a dog trained to anticipate seizures?
I have an excerpt form a story I want to share about a home for those suffering from extreme Alzheimer’s.
It WAS TIME TO STOP. I HAD NOW SPOKEN TO A HALF dozen people whose loved ones had died with Oscar by their side.  I had plumbed their memories and emotions, and learned a lot more about what Alzheimer's does to families. But I was still surprised by how little I knew about Oscar.
I didn’t feel frustrated, though. While I didn't feel enlightened necessarily, I did feel oddly elated. The image I was left with was that of Oscar walking Cyndy Viveiros down the hall sitting with her in the darkened dining area-as he had with her mother in her final days. Maybe that's all he was: a companion, a sentient being who might accompany one person on their journey to the next world, or another through the grief of losing one they loved-a kind of underworld of its own. Wasn't that enough?
Did it matter if he had some extrasensory power of perception, if he could pick up on impending mortality before the best minds of medicine could? Maybe he was just a master of empathy. Maybe caring was his superpower.
I needed to talk to Mary.
"I've been thinking about what you said, that Oscar has forty-one family members and when one of them is in trouble he goes and stays with them."
It was a little before three in the afternoon and Mary and  I were sitting in her office. She had asked the staff to assemble at the nurse's desk at three, and I had arrived in time to get a few words in with her before the changing of the guard. The worries of our last encounter-the latest funding crisis, the Sisyphusean task of running the floor of this nursing home-seemed to have vanished, and she was looking calm and collected. She was also being quite modest.
"Oh, David, that's just my theory," she said. "What do I know? You have to remember, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool animal lover. It's not like I'm objective."
"Objectivity has its limits," I said. "Remember, I started out not believing in Oscar. To be honest, I thought you guys were all a little crazy."
"You know what the sign says," said Mary with a smile. "You don’t have To BE crazy to work HERE-BUT IT HELPS!”
"But now I think that Oscar has some purpose," I continued. "Maybe he's meant to help the residents-the family members, as you put it. But also their family; they may be the ones who suffer the most."
"Don't forget the staff" said Mary. She was fully engaged now, playing Watson to my Holmes. "You can't work up here and not become involved in the lives of your patients. We come to love these people, David. Their loss grieves us, too. In the end, we often become as close spiritually and emotionally to these patients as their own family members."
"Does it help to have seen so many die with Alzheimer's?" I asked. "Doesn't it make it any easier?"
She thought for a minute before answering. "It makes it easier to understand what's happening," she said finally, "but not why. Why would anyone be afflicted like this? Why would God allow this to happen?"
Though we seldom touched on the subject of religion, I took a chance and asked her, "Do you Pray, Mary? I mean have you asked God why?"
She smiled without directly answering the question. "I don't think He'd answer right away," she said.
No, I thought. He'll take a message and get back to you.
'As l’ve said before, the thing you have to remember about domesticated animals," Mary said, as if she'd been reading my mind, "is that people started to keep them because they had a purpose. They worked. If you were a dog, you were herding sheep or something. Any cat that wasn't doing some serious mouse hunting around the farm wasn't going to be there for long. They had to earn their keep."
"So you think that's Oscar's job," I said, "to take care of people?"
Mary shrugged. "Why not, maybe he's just more highly evolved than the other cats. Maybe" it's his way of paying the rent." She checked her watch and smiled at me. "We're all just guests here, you know."[1]
We are all just Guests here.  Don’t ask me I am just passing through or sorry but I am only visiting this planet.  This reading is about a cat that only purpose in life is to accompany those about to die.  He seems to know long before there are any signs and the staff at this nursing home specializing in Alzheimer’s has come to trust the cat.  Eventually the Doctor who wrote the book does as well.
The book doesn’t offer any answers as to why we must die or why we must suffer or is there God.  It does say that when the time comes the body and spirit make a shift and for some reason this cat could sense it.
All souls day the day we celebrate those who have passed.  So, of course, we get the dead guy gospel reading.  In the Gospel it says; “The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth.”  But what does today say about life? I cannot help but think of Terrance McNally’s interpretation of this in his play Corpus Christie.
“Simon There was an old man named Lazarus. He’d been dead for six days and was starting to smell to high to high Heaven. He had a wife and six daughters. I wish you could hear the racket they were making.
Joshua Arise, Lazarus.
Simon I think this was one of the practical miracles. I mean, there was no big reason for it. Lazarus wasn’t a big cheese or even an especially nice guy. Joshua just couldn’t stand the noise.
Joshua Shut up, women. Thank you. I say Lazarus, arise.
Lazarus What is the matter with you? You’d think you’d seen a ghost!
Joshua You have been asleep, Lazarus not for six days but for all the years of your life. Now live as if your very Life depended on it.
Lazarus How do I live? Teach me.
Joshua Be awake every moment and give thanks to God the Father for it. Give back as much- no more! - Than you have been given. Laugh. Fill your lungs with His good air and pray. You have all forgotten to pray.”[2]
In the gospel it speaks of Lazarus being physically bound, but in the play, I believe Terrance clears this up for us.  Lazarus has been bound all his life.  He has been squandering it.  How often are we moving from pay check to paycheck, from this need to that need, from this desire to that desire? From one project to another without stopping, looking and being present? Is that living?
At this time when we remember our loved ones, friends and family, we do not recall how they got up went to work, bought groceries, read a newspaper and went to bed.  We actually recall the good times, the loving moments, the special meals we shared the joys and yes the sorrows.  We celebrate the lives lived…not the chores done, but the Life.

We often think of dying as an end.  It is the end of our interaction with that person we loved.  That part of our life will never be the same again; can never happen with that person again.  We grieve the loss of the persona and we grieve the part of ourselves that went with them.  We grieve the life lived.
So as a final thought I want to say live life!  Let those you love and care about know it every day.  When they are gone celebrate that life as we do today we celebrate lives lived not lives lost.  So, as Troy Perry might say…My dearest Saints happy all Saints day!

[1] David Dosa, Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat (New York: Hyperion, 2010), Digital eBook.
[2] Terrence McNally, Corpus Christi: A Play (New York: Grove Press, 1998), Digital eBook.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss, My Husband, to be at Parliament

UCC pastor to take message of climate care to interfaith audience at Parliament of World's Religions

 The actual article can be read here

September 23, 2015
Written by Anthony Moujaes

A United Church of Christ minister in Southern California is preaching climate care next month at a global gathering, but his remarks about how different faiths engage the care of creation aren't addressed only to one faith group. The Rev. Robert Shore-Goss plans to break down interfaith barriers and help build interfaith cooperation in caring for the Earth and all life among his Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist listeners.

"I wanted to attract the widest interfaith audience," said Shore-Goss, who will represent the UCC's Southern California-Nevada Conference during the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions Meeting and lead a discussion about the interfaith effort on earth care. The meeting takes place Oct. 15-19 in Salt Lake City.

His workshop, "Interfaith Understandings about Earthcare: How Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims can speak together about climate change," will explore how those faith communities' respect for nature derived from religious resources, how they respond to climate change, and how they can engage interfaith communication and coalitions to take action for the Earth.

"It is taking the UCC principle of 'united and uniting' and going several steps beyond," Shore-Goss said.

"I believe in two significant principles," said Shore-Goss. "First, we all share life on the Earth, and climate change impacts us all. It makes sense to work together to reduce the impact of climate change. Second, I accept a principle articulated several years ago by Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian, 'There will be no peace until the religions are at peace.'"

Shore-Goss is the senior pastor of MCC UCC in the Valley, a dual-affiliation congregation of the UCC and Metropolitan Community Churches in North Hollywood, Calif. A carbon-neutral congregation, which includes the planet Earth as a member, it won a 2011 award for Advocacy for Environmental Issues from California Interfaith & Power.

This will be his first time attending the Parliament of the World's Religions. About 10,000 people from 80 countries and 50 distinct faiths are expected to attend the gathering, which first assembled in 1893 and claims to be "the oldest, largest, and most inclusive gathering of people of all faith and traditions."

In addition to pastoring MCC UCC in the Valley, Shore-Goss teaches world religion classes at California State University and Claremont School of Theology, on topics including justice and environmental issues in various faith communities.

"Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share notions of God's community and covenant. So it is natural to assist folks in each tradition," he said. "Sallie McFague quotes the poet Wallace Stevens in several books that 'Nothing is itself taken alone. Things are because of interrelations and interconnections.' This is true of the religions of the book, and it is a central principle in all forms of Buddhism. It is the basis for compassionate care for the Earth and all life. It is the foundation of a common spiritual practice in each religion."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

This is the air I breathe - sermon in the season of Creation - Sky Sunday

This is the air I breathe     
Welcome, Sulfur Dioxide   
This is the air I breathe
Hello, Carbon Monoxide
Your Holy presence
The air, the air
Living in me is everywhere.
This is my daily bread
Breathe Deep
This is my daily Bread
While I sleep
Your very word
Breathe deep
Is spoken to me.
And I am desperate for you,
And I am lost without you.
This is the air I breathe
Bless you, alcohol blood stream
This is the air I breathe
Save me nicotine lung steam
Your Holy Presence
Incense, Incense
Living in me, is in the air

This is my daily bread
Breathe Deep
This is my daily Bread
While I sleep
Your very word
Breathe deep
Is spoken to me.
And I’m cataclysmic ectoplasm
And I’m fallout atomic orgasm
Desperate for you
And I’m vapor and fume
I’m lost at the stone of my tomb without you

And I breathing like a sullen perfume
Desperate for you
Eating at the stone of my tomb
I’m lost without you,
Looking rather attractive
I’m lost without you,
Now that I’m radio active
I’m desperate for you,
Just watch me spark
Cry out to live
I glow in the dark
I am desperate for you
Breathe deep
I’m lost
While I sleep
I’m Lost
Breathe deep
I’m lost without you

This poem is a mash up of this is the air I breathe by Michael W. Smith and Air from Hair by James Rado, Gerome Ragni.  It is actually the first thing I thought of when I knew I had sky Sunday.  The imagery that these two images bring about can be, and I hope it was, disturbing.
When I used to drive into Los Angeles from Palm Springs it would strike me as I came over the one hill and looking into the basin of Los Angeles there was a yellow/brownish haze just hanging over the city.  The air is everywhere and this is the air we breathe.
The original Gospel assigned for today speaks of the sky turning dark for 3 hours as Christ hung on the cross.  I choose instead the reading where Christ actually says red sky at night sailors delight red sky in morning sailors take warning…well more or less.
The other readings one is from Jeremiah and it says;
Jeremiah 4:23-28Common English Bible (CEB)

23 I looked at the earth,
    And it was without shape or form;
        At the heavens
        And there was no light.
24 I looked at the mountains
    And they were quaking;
    All the hills were rocking back and forth.
25 I looked and there was no one left;
    Every bird in the sky had taken flight.
26 I looked and the fertile land was a desert;
    All its towns were in ruins
        Before the Lord,
        Before his fury.
27 The Lord proclaims:
    The whole earth will become a desolation,
        But I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore, the earth will grieve
    And the heavens grow dark

And still a 3rd reading form the psalms says;
Psalm 19
For the music leader. A psalm of David.

19 Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
    The sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
2 One day gushes the news to the next,
    And one night informs another what needs to be known.
3 Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
        Their voices can’t be heard—
4     but their sound[a] extends throughout the world;
        Their words reach the ends of the earth.
God has made a tent in heaven for the sun.
5 The sun is like a groom
    Coming out of his honeymoon suite;
    Like a warrior, it thrills at running its course.
6 It rises in one end of the sky;
    Its circuit is complete at the other.
        Nothing escapes its heat.

There is a theme here which is the voice of creation, or more specifically the way which
The sky not only announces and celebrates God’s presence, but also sympathizes with
Creation when it suffers.
Have you ever watched the skies when a storm was brewing, black clouds rolling?
In like wall after wall of waves? Have you ever had a sense of God’s presence in?
The storm or God’s voice in the thunder as many ancient peoples did? (Note
Psalm 29!) Have you ever sensed that eerie feeling that comes during an eclipse?
When all the animals are spooked?
Why is the sky so important to us? Our moods seem to change with the weather—
When the sun shines we are likely to be happier than when darkness covers the sky.
Why? What does the sky mean to us? Is our faith influenced by the sky or related to
The sky in some way?[1]

It is interesting to note that in general when the Old Testament refers to heavens the original Hebrew could be translated as sky or skies, and really that often works better, for me anyway for then the air around us, above us and beyond us.  All of this space is where God dwells.  God is living, according to the Old Testament, here between us.
 We take God in…This is the air I breathe.  We exhale God…This is the air I breathe.  We harm and foul God with pollutants form cigarette smoke to exhaust from Coal mines and power plants.  We made the Earth a member of our congregation and yet we walk in God daily.
In Jeremiahs vision he sees an enemy about to destroy all that God has created.  As a matter of fact the season of creation author describes it this way;
“. The
Disaster he sees coming is so destructive he depicts the event as if it were a reversal of
The original acts of creation. To understand this vision we need to return to the events
Of Genesis One. Consider the following:
Compare v. 23 with Gen. 1.1: Return to pre-creation – all is ‘waste and void’
Compare v. 23 with Day One: No light in the sky
Compare v. 25 with Day Five: No birds in the sky
Compare v. 26 with Day Three: No vegetation comes from the land/Earth
Jeremiah’s vision turns the whole of the original creation process upside down. This
Portrait, moreover, is more than a metaphor.”[2]

If we look around us we can see this destruction happening around us every day.  Fires are wiping out acres of vegetation.  Drought is devastating our state.  In other parts floods and mudslides are wiping out villages where glaciers are disappearing, and ocean tides are rising. Jeremiah ends his vision by predicting the earth will mourn the sky will turn black.

I have seen the sky turn black and the sun disappear due to the big fires in Oakland.  I have seen the sky turn from a haze to a dark orange to fill with soot due to nearby fires.  Jeremiah has laments where he speaks further of the earth mourning and the land crying aloud to God.  I believe in many cases this is happening today.  The land is crying out and some are listening.

The author of the Seasons of creation sky Sunday bible study tells us; “We have created a hole in the ozone layer. By excessive use of various sprays and chemicals we have released chlorofluorocarbon molecules into the atmosphere. In the stratosphere chlorine atoms escape from these molecules and attack the ozone molecules. The resulting ‘hole’ first appeared over the South Pole, but the ozone layer is thinning over other continents. Because of this thinning, UV rays from the sun have now increased and so have skin cancer rates. (though , due to changes we have made,, in a study released this summer if we stay the path the ozone may heal by 2070)

There are many ways in which we have polluted our skies. The combustion of fossil
Fuels in factories and cars produces a host of noxious materials that fill our skies. One
Of the common effects is smog. Air pollution is no longer a crisis we can avoid.”[3]

I must say we are getting better but our dependency on fossil fuels is still way too high.  We are still in the very early stages of switching from more hybrid and fuel cell cars but I believe we are getting there.  We, as you know, have most of our electricity generated from the sun. 

People have shrugged at solar energy claiming it is a flash in the pan or not viable.  But I still wonder what would happen if we required every new structure to have solar panels, or at least every government building. “In full sun, you can safely assume about 100 watts of solar energy per square foot. If you assume 12 hours of sun per day, this equates to 438,000 watt-hours per square foot per year. Based on 27,878,400 square feet per square mile, sunlight bestows a whopping 12.2 trillion watt-hours per square mile per year.”[4]  We have yet to begin to access all the energy around us.

Of course the biggest problem with this is someone will lose money.  Someone else will make money.  The energy companies, the way many stand, are losing money as solar becomes more popular.  The gas companies are losing money as responsible organizations and people are divesting form them.  They try to block advances that will better our environment at every turn.  It really is a shame. Yet, in spite of all that, the LAPD announced today they have just bought 137 electric cars!
Finally the author I have been sharing with you form seasons of creation goes on to remind us
 Many of us have been conditioned to think that only humans communicate the mysteries of God. We do not expect other parts of creation to have a voice like that of humans. Butterflies do not talk. Trees do not sing the way we do. Skies do not communicate.

Psalm 19 indicates just the opposite. Many Psalms, like Ps. 148, celebrate the way trees sing, fields rejoice and the rest of creation praises God. This Psalmist invites all creation—including sea monsters and storms—to praise the Creator!

Sometimes we think this kind of talk is but poetic language, giving human voice to non-human reality. Psalm 19 suggests that the voice of creation is more than a poetic way of praising God. All creation is here communicating about—and with—the Creator.

In this Psalm the sky proclaims good news in its own way, not a human way. The sky is the mediator of God’s word. The sky announces two things—the vibrant presence of God and the creative work of God.[5]

Unfortunately over the city of angels the sky often mourns and warns of the troubled air.  The sky becomes distressful for those with conditions and young people on certain days as the particle count is just unsafe.  We must listen to God in heaven, God around us, God in us, between us and remember.  This is the air I breathe. This is the air we breathe. Amen.

[1] Norman Habel, Good News from the Sky, accessed September 8, 2015,
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ecoworld magazine, Http://, June 14, 2006, accessed September 8, 2015,
[5] Habel, Good News from the Sky.