Sunday, December 18, 2016

Anticipation 4th Sunday of Advent Matthew 1:18-25

DECEMBER 22. 201 6
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Matthew 1:18-25
A Pastor is in the sanctuary after Christmas services are all over.  He is just relaxing and tidying up a bit when he notices the baby Jesus is missing from the crèche.  He rushes outside just in time to see a boy with a bright red wagon walking down the sidewalk with Jesus in the bed.  The pastor approaches the boy and Comments: “Nice day for it.  Who is your passenger?””  Why it’s the baby Jesus” the boy replies rather matter of fact like.  The pastor   why would you take him?” the pastor asked and the boy explained…”I prayed to baby Jesus for a red wagon and I promised if he got me the red wagon for Christmas I would take him for a ride around the block!”

Advent teaches us to wait. Of course, during Advent, we wait for Christmas, and such waiting is a countercultural discipline in its own right. Especially now when everything seems to be so instantaneous. On a deeper level, Advent forms us to wait for the appearing of the Lord, and perhaps you have noticed that God doesn't always follow our calendar. That was Joseph's experience, and I suspect it’s yours as well. According to our church and family calendars, today we stand at the doorstep of Christmas. Only a few days remain, ready or not. In today’s Gospel, we also stand alongside Joseph, waiting to hear what God is about to do in and through Jesus the Messiah.

You may say, "I've heard it many times before," and perhaps you’re lulled by these familiar words: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place” (v.18). So then, cue the shepherds, the magi, and the angel: with the Christmas pageant. Careful readers will see that there is only one angel and no shepherds in Matthew's narrative, but we'll leave that for another day. I'm not so worried about shepherds, but had I written Mathews Gospel, I might've said, "Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this strange and surprising way. Mary is pregnant. She and Joseph are not yet married, and this righteous man has a major dilemma. Then God spoke to Joseph, 'Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" (NRSV). It's strange stuff. Religious people have blamed all manner of things on the Spirit.

 Then the narrator informs us that this development was the fulfillment of prophecy, and so he quotes Isaiah 7:14, amending it ever so slightly "Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, /…Emmanuel" (v. 23) . Here we see the beginning of a pattern that Matthew follows throughout this Gospel. He describes events in the Life of Jesus, and then he connects them with texts from the Old Testament: “This fulfills what had been spoken through the prophet." What’s going on here? Its Mathew’s way of claiming that God’s work in and through Jesus stands in continuity with what God had done before. Our Biblical, covenantal faith is based on that continuity. We believe that the God who spoke through Moses on Mount Sinai spoke through Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and the same God, speaks to us when we hear the scriptures today. We believe that the God who freed the slaves from bondage in Egypt still frees captives today. Al1 of our prayers rise from this dynamic.

So then, "Don't be afraid," right? But remember, this is God we’re talking about.

"Don't be afraid" doesn't mean that God's call won’t shake us to the very foundations, perhaps delighting us, perhaps rocking our world and changing everything. God spoke Joseph heard God, and he would never understand righteousness in the same way again; and just wait until Jesus begins speaking. Yes, God is doing what God has been doing. “Don’t be afraid, but watch out!”

I cannot go into this fourth Sunday of advent without thinking of those who are struggling and those that are suffering loss.  I think of my father who I lost just two years ago, or my mother who is still putting her best face forward though it is hard.  I think of our recent loss of Joe Armetta.  I am thinking of Gregor and His husband Robert who are struggling so bravely at this time. On the flip side of that I am also thinking of my friends Kelly and Dan who have just celebrated their daughter Emma’s first Birthday or Jennifer and Patrick owners of the Coffee shop here, and friend s of the congregation, who are expecting a son any day now.

So we have suffering- mixed with joy: birth, new, life and death. That’s Life! That’s the way of faith. That’s advent and Christmas. I wish I could say that believers somehow get to skip such difficulty, but we don’t and you know it' Along with Joseph, we are called to serve Christ, in the midst of complicated situations, and we don't know where it all leads.

 I will grant you some suffering is expected.  We know there will be loss.  We understand that no one lives forever.  But then we have unexpected fires, drought, famine and war.  Children continue to go hungry and people have lost jobs and houses. Some people have healthcare and some don’t.  People are suffering and grieved just as some of us here are suffering and grieve today, even in this shadow of Christmas.

Yet God appears, and God will appear even today.  Ray Tilton, a friend of mine shared this story on face book and I have to share it now.

  I was on my way to the city on Saturday morning. It was cold and rainy at the transit mall waiting on my bus. There was a homeless guy, sitting on the cold, wet metal bench playing his guitar. First he played some Fleetwood Mac which hearkens back to a simpler time in my life.
The music, as he strummed rang out clean and clear as if somehow the rain made the tones sweeter. Suddenly the rain became a torrential downpour and it got colder. He began playing Fly like an Eagle and I found myself remembering a more tumultuous time in my life.
Just as suddenly as it started the rain subsided and left it a bit warmer and he started playing Hotel California. This dirty homeless man with a care worn face and raggedy clothes will never know he played the music of my life’s memories.
My bus pulled up, I quickly and embarrassingly pushed my last $20 in his hand and boarded, not looking back and thankful that the rain hid the tears.

I would say God appeared.  God appeared in that moment through the action and face of the homeless man.  God appears every day if we just take the time to look. Yet knowing this does not make trouble or grief go away.   Listen to the Poet Debbie Thomas


Because A was for Adam, B for Bethlehem, and C for Cross, and my first classroom was a pew.  Because I played hide-and-seek in the font when the preacher wasn't looking, answered every altar call with a sprint down the aisle, and snuck the leftover Communion juice from the glasses the church ladies washed on Mondays.  I was hoping -- I understand this now -- to steal a drop more of You.

Because decades later, I'm still felled by stain glass; by musty old Bibles in empty, patient sanctuaries; by altar cloths, choir robes, and candlewax.  Because my breathing slows in Your house, my muscles unclench, and I remember how to sing loud and clear.  Because You are my rootedness, my air, my water.  The dark and frozen ground in which I wait to crack open, die, and sprout. You are the closest I ever come to flourishing. 

Because I love stories, and I cherish the ones I first learned in Your book.  Because I am Eve and the apple makes sense to me. I'm Rachel and I won't surrender my sacred objects.  I'm Leah and I long to be loved.  I'm Hagar, and I will name You in the desert.  I'm Miriam and I am ever watchful.  I'm the bleeding woman and I need the hem of Your robe.  I'm Mary Magdalene, and I must bear witness by Your tomb.  I'm Junia, and my story aches to be told.

Because childhood ends, but childhood hungers do not.  Because my first house, first Father, first Mother, first love, first hate, first heartbreak, first safety, first terror, was You.

Because the Psalmist got it right: I was cast on you from birth. 

Because Peter got it even better: Lord, if I left, to whom would I go?

Because I like questions, and it turns out that You ask good ones.  Because I answer when You ask, and my answers never shock You:

 "Why are you so afraid?"  (Are You kidding me?)
"Do you still not understand?"  (Nope, not even a little bit.)
"What do you want me to do for you?" (Um, how much time do we have?)
"Do you want to get well?" (Occasionally.)
"Do you love me?"  (I think so.  Or, I want to.  Or, not yet.  Or… silence.)
"How long shall I put up with you?"  (A little longer, please.)

Because sorrow came too many times this year, and there had better be an Afterward to explain it.  I stood at gravesides and raged, my body betrayed me to panic, and my children knew fear and pain.  Bodies failed, minds cracked, and we didn't live happily ever after like the fairy tales promised.  Because all in all there are far too many unfinished stories, and I'd like to believe You're neater than that.  Because I yearn for So Much More than I have.  Because my yearning comes from somewhere, and that somewhere must be You.  Because "on earth as it is in heaven" is all I've got, and if it's not enough, then I am lost.  Because "Death, where is thy sting?" is a mockery, but "Jesus wept" is not.

Because joy comes too, and it doesn't look anything like I think it should. Because You hound me, and I can't get rid of You.  Because our pursuit of each other is exquisite in both directions -- pleasure and pain.  Because rarely -- too rarely, but I'll take what I can get -- the veil parts, the ground gives way, the skies open, and my hunger for You intensifies to the breaking point of Communion.  The hunger itself becomes You.  Incarnate.  Shining.  Present.  I know You then in the liturgy, in the Word, in the broken bread and spilled wine.  I press my palms against ancient redwood trees, and You are there.  You awe me in the mountains and at the shifting edges of the ocean.  I hear You in the stillness of the forest, in the cacophony of birdsong.  I feel You in the solid embrace of the people I love -- their hands Your hands, their eyes Your eyes, their voices soft echoes of Yours.

And in those moments the possibility of You grows and grows until I am unhoused and undone, almost too alive for this world.  Because You are my Everlasting Almost -- almost here, almost certain, almost always, almost irrefutable.  You are the tenuous edge I will live and die on.  Because the Almost of You -- heartbreaking as it is -- is sweeter than any guarantee I can find in this world.

Because You're not who I thought You were, so I must wait for revelation.  Because the mystery of Your strangeness is a lure that calls my name.  Because I thought I needed to contain You, but a tiny deity won't bend my knee.

Because the path is winding, and You are a God worthy of perilous journeys.  Because I need to wrestle, and You meet me at the river.  Because this is no ordinary hunger, and Your manna alone will suffice.  Because You know the loneliness of the desert, and I do, too.  Because I will drown unless You part this water.  Because the world is dark, but it shimmers at its edges. 

Because I'm wild inside, and You are not a tame lion.  Because You suffered, and only a suffering God can help.  Because You spoke of joy and I need to learn how to laugh. 

Because I am wired to seek You, and I will not let You go.  Because my ache for You is the heart of my aliveness.

Because I am still Your stubborn child, and I insist on resurrection.[1]

We are all Children of God in anticipation of the Christ child to come.  We are the child; the child who made a deal with Jesus and in his joy takes him for a ride in a red wagon, We are the Child, the inner child who heard his life in song by a homeless man on a train platform, We are the Child, the woman child who  prays and stays.

The beautiful Christmas Lullaby asks:
 “What Child is this
Who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?”

And I am not sure we know the answer to this yet, for we each arrive to the child from different experiences, different ways and different cultures but we are called to wait and seek and stand here in anticipation “look a virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son/ and they will call him Emanuel.

The Emmanuel of Advent-Christmas, the God who is with us, witnesses our social life from within the community, so that God is not far away but is actually among us as we become part of each other’s lives (and sometimes step on them), as we work together (and sometimes against each other), as we try to support each other (and yet abandon millions of people to the miseries of destitution).
There is no childish game of hide and seek with this God, who is present to witness our good deeds and our misdeeds.   “Let the Lord enter (Ps 24:7c).” We rejoice at the prospect of having God among us, and yet we should also reflect on the awesome responsibility of living in the presence of God.  “We who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:6) are called to imitate Mary, who, when faced with the reality of Emmanuel, “placed her life at the service of God”[2]

Believe it along with Joseph, even if it all doesn’t make sense right now.  Believe that God is with us, even today: with us in the breaking of the bread, with us in the sharing of fellowship, with us in words of encouragement, with us in the cancer ward and the maternity ward, with us in our hour of birth and the hour of death. Therefore, we wait, and wait and God is with us.[3] Amen

[1] Debie Thomas, Why I Stay: A Prayer, December 11, 2016, accessed December 13, 2016,
[2] Gerald Darring, God with us, accessed December 13, 2016,
[3] Rev, The Abingdon Preaching Annual (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013). 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reflection 11/27/16 We are called to Love and Action (Matt. 24:36-44)

In other words Jesus is coming look Busy….That saying and this text always seemed odd to me.  I mean the whole dire warning be ever on watch, be on guard because God , the son of man, may just show up and poof one will be gone and one will be left standing alone on a hill. 

You know what? we are terrible at this…We are the opposite of that energizer bunny we are never ready.  Well almost never ready.  Maybe , a select few who can see the end is nigh prepare themselves and try to prepare their loved ones  otherwise the rest of us go about living our lives minute by minute hour by hour never looking back…never really looking ahead and definitely never looking side to side.

I mention side to side because this is the time of year most human kind looks to the side, to the margins.  It is almost as if Christmas has become a time of a giant guilt trip and we do all we can do to make up for lost time or at least a little something to ease our guilt.  That does not say much for us.  One of the great things about being human is our great potential for love and to figure things out.

What would happen if the world stopped trying to get more stuff, buy more stuff, and become president just in order to be able to say I am the winner?  What would happen if we stopped and instead of saying not in my back yard we said yes in my yard, yes how can we help, yes we can build a high-rise of no cost units that the city maintains and supports for those who cannot support themselves.

Yes I know it is a crazy idea.  Yes I know there are all sort of logistics that surround it but what would happen if a whole city, country, world decided that care of those in the margins should and has now become our highest priority. What would happen if we became a completely egalitarian society?  I know Pie in the sky or star trek but any way…

Our time on this planet is so short and we cannot possibly do everything but if we do just one thing it makes a difference.  Live your life for today.  Be aware of the here and now.  Pay attention to the world around you.  Around you; that is in front of you, behind you and whats on the left or right.  Who is left in the margins?

For some reason we think we have a whole lifetime even when there are constant reminders that things happen…there are constant reminders that no one and nothing is forever…there are always reminders that there is no next guy…you know what I mean…the whole concept that is somebody else’s problem. Someone else will do something about it…Well there is no next guy and there never has been! The next Guy is you/Us!

Jesus through the Gospel calls out to each and every one of us to be ready, to expect God’s call on our hearts, on our lives and in our daily day to day.  But not only to expect God, not only to pay attention to God in our life’s but to respond to it. Too truly stop and say how can I be your hands in the world today?  Better yet say yes I will be your hands and feet and ears and eyes in the world today.

You know national security and even our local LAPD have a thing “see something say something” How does that transliterate here?  I mean it truly does, doesn’t it?  God is saying be at the ready…If you see something, say something, DOOOOO Something.  For God sake do something!

Oh I hear your head and your heart having a fight now.  I should do something; there are things I can do says the heart but the head the stops things up.  It says no you need that extra dollar!  Oh no I need that extra minute.  My time is precious!  I work hard for my Money! I will get in trouble if I say something.  I pray for them that’s enough.

Praying is never enough.  Oh what did that preacher just say?  I said praying is never enough!  Praying is a first step! If you are called to pray for someone, for some action, for some tragedy, that is just a first step.  The next step is to get up and do something more.  Maybe you are moved by a tragedy in the news.  It may even be a global event or around the world.  Yes pray but then do something locally.

In this time in this place where human capacity for hatred seems to be growing…it’s not, it is just getting more coverage, respond with love and action.  Go through your cupboards and donate that can of peas you are never going to eat.  Make a donation to the AIDS Life cycle.  Go to a local rally and be there to offer comfort and prayer.

Go to the Global Ministries website of the UCC and see what you may be able to contribute too.  You do not have money to spare take the change out of your pocket every night and put it in a jar.  I bet by Easter you will have a few dollars to donate.  Be brave volunteer with the interfaith food pantry they have times and volunteer needs on their website.

As you know I had started the solar empowerment project in Tijuana.  I am happy to say they are near completion and starting a final stage.  I will have a campaign up and running in the next week to fund the final $8700 dollars needed for the project.  Now I do not have $8700 heck technically I have no money.  But I have time and energy and I can write and I can ask.  You can ask as well for this or any other project.

We are all given by God hands hearts eyes and brains or at least o few of these things.  It only takes one of these to make a small difference.  In this season of Advent let us become ready.  Let us keep our eyes on the worlds around us and see where we can bring Love, Hope and joy.  Do not let fear and anger be your guide but the love of God. If we allow the love of Christ in our lives to be our Guide then this will be a joyous Christmas season.  If you allow the practice of sharing your god given Gifts with the other then this will be a year of Gods reign, Gods Kindom here on earth.  And when the time comes, and it will, we can look into the light of all love and say I am ready for you Lord.

Sermon 11/6/2016 All are alive to God! (Luke 20:27-38)

November 10th 1972 “The members of the Valley Study Group Presented their petition to the board of Home missions at the District Conference and were given Mission status by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches” We are a long way form 1972.
That day in History we had “The hijacking of Southern Airways Flight 49 started on November 10, 1972 in Birmingham, Alabama, stretching over 30 hours and 4,000 miles (6,400 km), not ending until the next evening in Havana, Cuba.”[1]
The cover of life magazine Questions for a peace 543 POW’s what shape are they in?  1271 MIAs; how many are alive?  Where does it leave us? An Ohio town talks of the war. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated 25 years
The Dow would just clear 1000 that Monday of course today it is over 18000.  The dollar had the buying power of 5.75 today, the inflation rate was at 4.06%.
The median price for a new home in the USA was just 29100[2].  Yet in California it was 28,100 [3]we were actually lower than the national average.
 President Nixon was just reelected as President of the United States
The hottest day of 1972 in Los Angeles was October 6, with a high temperature of 93°F. For reference, on that day the average high temperature is 74°F and the high temperature exceeds 82°F only one day in ten. The hottest month of 1972 was August with an average daily high temperature of 78°F.[4]
Happy anniversary 44 years of growing together of seeing pastors come and go some of you have witnessed it all some of you all this is still very new.  We have been a strong congregation and at times we have been a burdened congregation. 

So that is just a little bit of our history there is much more on the altar behind us.  I left it up because technically this is all saints Sunday.
Today’s reading from Luke Jesus is questioned by the Sadducees who do not believe in the resurrection.  This story appears in Mathew and Mark’s Gospel
.  I am the God of the Living Jesus is referring to eh promise of the resurrection or the promise of Life after this one.  Whether or not you believe in a physical or a spiritual resurrection there is more to this life than. Well this life!  We just celebrated day of the dead, all souls, all saints.  We celebrate because we know deep down that though are loved ones may be lost to us in this world they are very much alive in the next.
“In almost every culture there is a belief that the dead should be honored, be it out of respect or a fear of ghostly retribution. In some cultures there are holidays set aside specifically to commemorate the dead, which vary from reserved veneration to a killer party.”[5] 
The Inuit people believe their ancestors would visit them and appear as the northern lights. The Lakota people hold the tradition that the dead ones spirit lingers for a year after passing and “a special place is set up for the spirit, who is fed every day.  Members of the family and community can come and visit, eat, and sit with the spirit and family.  After a year the spirit is released.”[6]
The Japanese celebrate the Obon festival, “the Japanese believe on the interconnection and interdependence of almost everything on earth from humans, nature, the elements and including the spirits. They give honor and express their gratitude not only to their immediate relatives who have recently passed away but also to their earliest human ancestors who lived decades, centuries and millenniums ago.
The Japanese believe that at the start of Obon, the spirits of their relatives and ancestors come back to the physical world and visit them. Aside from offering prayers and holding memorial services at Buddhist temples, individual houses and establishments hang lanterns believing that their lights will guide the spirits. And on the last night of Obon, people send off the spirits back to their world with the help of floating or paper lanterns, candles, bon fires, etc.”[7]
So we just celebrated all hallows eve, all souls day, all saints day there is obon in Japan, Chuseok in Korea, Gaijatra in Nepal, QingMing in China, Pitru Paksha in Hindu Tradition, [8] Just to name a few.  Many of these festivals include leaving out food for the visiting ancestor.  Okay I know it’s symbolic but you do not feed the dead.  Our God is the God of the Living!  From long before Christianity to faith traditions all around the world there is an inherent knowledge that there is life beyond this plane of existence.  There is a promise of something more and not just something more but a place where we are united with those who have gone before us, a communion of saints if you will.
So today as we celebrate the anniversary of this congregation we share in memories and lives of those who have gone before us.  Who built this road that we are on and allows not only to look at the past but look at where we have gone.
I came to this congregation not knowing anyone.  Bob and I were starting to date and we knew what ever and how ever our lives were to evolve it would involve our congregation.  We were married here, I was ordained here.  We have had quite a few couples married here.  You all have shared your lives with this community.
We built a garden, planted seeds for a going greener way of being with changing out the lights bulbs, reduced paper, put solar panels not only on this building but on Las Memorias Hospice and rehab center in Tijuana.
We have put on plays, made our space available for movie shoots, important films like sinners and Corpus Christi playing with redemption.  We have put on festivals and yard sales. We have fed our community.  But first and foremost we are a loving community who try to do our best to welcome all.  We are human and we have failed at time, we make amends and move on.
We have so much to be proud of and so much to look forward too as we grow and change.  The future is unknown and perhaps scary but we need to face it and be active in it. We have become a very active part of the united Church of Christ and they are very happy to have us.  WE are their first ECO Justice Church, we were just proclaimed and Accessible to all Church one of four in the nation according the United church of Christ Disabilities Ministries website.
We, as a congregation, have put scarves and hats and socks on the homeless. Brought toys to children affected by HIV.  Helped out a women’s shelter.  Provided underwear and socks to an orphanage in Africa one year.
We provide a safe place for outreach and support groups dealing with recovery form multiple abuses. We are a space for the over 50’s group of the LGBT Center of Los Angeles. We have a working relationship with our local police station in north Hollywood as well as the LAPD.  We are represented at Clergy and laity united for economic justice, united church of Christ AIDS Network and Claremont school of Theology.
For a small congregation you are powerful and should be proud. You prove that God is a God of the Living and this Congregation is very Much alive!

[1] Wikipedia, Southern Airways Flight 49,
[2] Census, median price of a home,
[3] ABC real-estate, California Real Estate Median Prices of Existing Homes since 1968, December 15, 2005,
[4], Historical Weather For 1972 in Los Angeles, California, USA,
[5] Carissa McDonald, 10 Festivals that Honor the Dead, Medium, accessed November 2, 2016,
[6] Jack Eidt, Life and Death; Lakota Spiritual Practice, Medium, accessed November 2, 2016,
[7] Nathan Glover, the Japanese festival of the dead: Obon, Medium, accessed November 2, 2016,
[8] McDonald, 10 Festivals That Honor the Dead.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Persistent Widow's call to us...Pray Constantly

I confess I do not like today's parable…I just don’t because it implies that if you pray long and hard enough God is going to give you what you want but if we look at Jesus’ way of being in the world and his way of prayer we may be able to get at his meaning.
One clue that this was not the message Christ was trying to get at is the simple fact that this story starts with an atheist Judge.  His listeners would know that that isn’t likely so we cannot take this parable literally.  You see in that day and age of you were a Jewish Judge you followed Jewish law and prescribed to Jewish theology.  If you were a Roman Judge you proclaimed that the emperor was a God you could not be an atheist and well, be a judge. 
enough Trivia
Richard Rohr reminds us that “Jesus’s own style of teaching in stories, parables, and enigmatic sayings was undoubtedly learned in his own prayer practices.  He clearly operated from a consciousness different from that of the masses and even that of the religious leaders who largely fought him.  Most seemed to misunderstand him, or even ignore him, despite what seem to be astounding healing and miracles.”[1]
I believe this parable is an example of that…this misunderstanding can and has led to the prosperity Gospel.  Where if you pray for it, it will come and if you don’t get it you did something wrong and/or you’re a sinner!
Jesus seemed to know that he would be misunderstood and did not allow that to stop him nor discourage him.  He even said: “For this people’s senses have become calloused,
        And they’ve become hard of hearing,
        And they’ve shut their eyes
            So that they won’t see with their eyes
            Or hear with their ears
            Or understand with their minds,
                And change their hearts and lives that I may heal them. [A]
16 “Happy are your eyes because they see. Happy are your ears because they hear.” (MT 13:15-16)
Let us explore a little further what Richard Rohr addresses.
  Jesus himself seemed to prefer a prayer of quiet, something more than social, liturgical, or verbal prayer, which is mentioned only a very few times.  What we do hear are frequent references such as “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house and went off to a lonely place to pray.” (Mark 1:35; also in Matthew 14:23 and Mark 1:12-13) Luke describes him as praying privately before almost all major events. There are the forty days alone in the desert, which means he must have missed the family-based Sabbath observances and the public temple services.  And of course there is his final prayer alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.[2]
Richard Rohr Points out that Jesus taught us “You should go to your private room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6:6)  This is again rather explicit and also intimately invitational, especially because most homes of his people would have had no such thing as a private room.”[3]
But some people Caught what Jesus was teaching, he was teaching of seeking a quiet place.  This quiet private space does not need to be physical.  It can be spiritual, it can be done in group much as it is done here today.
“We need no wings to go in search of
God, but have only to find a place where we
can be alone and look upon Him present
within us.” These words were written by St.
Teresa of Avila in her book The Way of

Jesus says we should not seek prayer in public, now he did not condemn the concept of church or synagogue but he did emphasize a different kind of prayer life. “What all of these teachings of Jesus seem to say is that we probably need “unsaying prayer,” the prayer of quiet or contemplative prayer, to balance out and ground all “saying prayer.”  Many Christians seem to have little experience of prayer of quiet, and tend to actually be afraid of it or even condemn it.”[5]
Without this inner, secret contemplative prayer life, a life of constant prayer, a conversation of love in God that is ongoing  our external, communal prayer becomes nothing more than a meaningless show, prayer, communal and silent are practices that each supports the other.
St. Teresa reminds us that: “First, we must be searching for God. If God is just a name, if God’s love for us is an abstract truth which we believe but do not realize, we will hardly search for It. … If, on the other hand, we are convinced that God is in Teresa’s words “a better prize than any earthly love,” if we realize that we actually have within us something incomparably more precious than anything we see outside, then we will desire to enter within ourselves and to seek God. When we are convinced that God cares for us and waits for us, we will have the security and the courage to love God in return.”[6]
This is what that odd parable is about, it is not about bugging God to get what we seek, but it is about what we should be seeking  a relationship with God.  When the stern Judge offers justice to the woman she is getting what she sought and there is a relationship there now between the judge and her.
When we turn inward and constantly seek God we will find God seeking us as well.
“Western culture has tended to be an extroverted culture and a “can-do” culture.  Prayer too easily became an attempt to change God and aggrandize ourselves instead of what it was meant to be – an interior practice to change the one who is praying, which will always happen if we stand calmly before this uncanny and utterly safe Presence, allowing the Divine Gaze to invade and heal our unconscious, the place where 95 percent of our motivations and reactions come from.  All we can really do is return the gaze.  Then, as Meister Eckhart so perfectly said, “the eye with which we look back at God will be the same eye that first looked at us.”  We just complete the circuit!”[7]

[1] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (New York: Crossroad Pub., 2009).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ernest E. Larkin, St. Theresa Speaks of Mental Prayer, accessed October 11, 2016,
[5] Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.
[6] Larkin, St. Theresa Speaks of Mental Prayer.
[7] Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.

Monday, September 19, 2016

3rd Sunday in Seasons of Creation - Storms! Why don't you Trust me? 9/11/16

In today’s Gospel Jesus physically calms a storm and then asks the question “why don’t you trust me?”
In the Psalm Gods voice is in the thunder and flattens the cedars.  Now the image of a man telling the seas to calm and the storm to cease is hard to picture, but if anyone has seen pictures of mount St. Helen’s we know what flattened cedars look like.
There is a dichotomy in our souls when it comes to storms.  How many are in awe when they see videos of thunder and lightning or maybe a tornado in a field somewhere in a distance?  How many glue themselves to the flooding and the storm surge and the spectacle of a reporter in a hurricane.
There is a sense of safety and awe and beauty when we see a storm at a distance.  We are not affected by it.  I remember when I first entered the diocesan seminary.  It was an old gothic building built in 1923 and the tower was about 7 or 8 stories high and, being the explorer I am, I found the hatch that opened to the flat roof of the tower.  We could sit there and see an approaching storm from miles away with lightning bolts flashing against an enormous cloud.
It was safe to watch a storm from a distance but when it lands and the walls shake and the wind howls and the windows rattle, well, our perception changes. It becomes angry and threatening and we cannot wait for it to be over, especially if you ever had to sit in the basement listening to the am transistor radio waiting for an all clear.
 Our ancient world often blamed the storms on angry God’s and yet those same God’s were also attributed with fertility in many cases.  Why?  Because rain brings new growth and feeds the crops in spite of it being terrifying.
However the Hebrews, from where our Jesus’ tradition and faith is rooted, “believed that God, without any detriment to God’s majesty, Makes God’s presence known even through the force of nature…The Israelites envisioned God as one who reveals God’s self through the sudden and the unexpected, the terrifying and awesome forces of nature, namely the thunderstorm and lightning.”[1]
Often storms are attributed to God’s wrathful response, with an image of a vengeful God.  Lord knows our LGBTQ community gets blamed for every storm, flood and tornado that happens except when it hits the home of a wrathful preacher.
In article from the religion exactly a month ago today“(RNS) comes the news that the Baton Rouge flooding destroyed Tony Perkins’ home and forced the Family Research Council president and his family to escape by canoe to their RV on higher ground.
Perkins revealed this in a special segment of his radio show a couple of days ago, describing the disaster as “a flood of near biblical proportions.”
There are those who have noted some irony here, since when Hurricane Joaquin threatened Washington last year, Perkins declared the storm to be God’s punishment for the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.
That of course recalled the interpretations of Hurricane Katrina by Pat Robertson, John Hagee, and Yehuda Levin, as well as Robertson and Jerry Falwell’s explanation of 9/11, and so on.
These are what’s known in the trade as exercises in theodicy — justifying bad things as demonstrations of God’s goodness, omnipotence, and righteous judgment….Perkins, who in his interview stayed away from any speculation of this sort. The flood, he said, “is a great opportunity for the Church to minister.” The experience has taught him “what is important. Sometimes we get too occupied with the other things of life.”[2]
I hate to say it but Tony Perkins got something right.  In the midst of the storm we need to trust God.  Jesus asked; “why don’t you trust me?”  I mean the disciples had Jesus right there with them, physically with them and yet, in the midst of a storm, they panicked.
In this day and age as we are seeing more extreme weather, more storms, more devastation instead of playing the blame game or getting all justified and righteous we need to see this for what it is.  God’s voice is in the thunder and this is our call not only to minister to others but to the planet herself.
The voice of God could not be any louder, could it?  Summer is hotter, fire season is all year long, hurricanes are stronger, and floods are moving further inland.  Yet many do not trust that this is the voice of God calling all humanity into action.
I am not speaking of just the continued call to service and monies needed for refugees and victims of natural disasters but the call to reverse what we can and to try to limit the extent of human damage to the atmosphere, and the planet.
We have come a long way and, as I pointed out last week, have even achieved bringing certain species back from the edge of extinction.  I am also proud to say that our president is doing all he can and has gone beyond the call of duty.
“When he signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, President Obama marked the most extensive expansion of land and water conservation in more than a generation, designating more than 2 million acres of federal wilderness, thousands of miles of trails, and protecting more than 1,000 miles of rivers. In addition, the President has used his authority under the Antiquities Act 13 times to permanently preserve some of America’s most treasured landscapes and waters, most recently designating the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Los Angeles County, one of the most disadvantaged counties in the country when it comes to access to parks and open space for minorities and children.”[3]
I know this is a lot about president Obama but he has done a lot more than most if not all the past presidents for example he also has created the largest marine sanctuary in the world with a single signature he created a reserve that ended up “resulting in 370,000 square nautical miles (490,000 square miles) of protected area around these tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean. Expanding the Monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.”[4]  Yes this was just one man with a lot of power but each one of us can seek out ways to make a difference.
Yesterday was beach cleanup day and over 500000 volunteers in 91 countries got together and well cleaned our beaches.  They even had an underwater squad here for the first time.  Last year this effort 800000 volunteers who picked up over 18 million pounds of trash.[5]
We have done a lot around here on the conservation side and we preach about it a lot but you know  I would encourage you , if you have never done it, take a ride up into the mountains take a look at what your tax dollars are protecting it is truly amazing.  Take a drive, a slow drive, along the pacific coast highway and stop, just stop in a remote spot where you have just you and the ocean.  And if you do not hear the voice of God in the waves, or if you do not see the hand of God in a mountain sunset you are not listening or looking very hard.
Better yet the next time you see extreme weather or really feel the heat that seems to never end or simply rejoice at a tiny sprinkle we got because it seems like it’s all we get.  Listen to what the voice of God is calling us to do.  Cry out in anguish and anger and fear then do something, hear Gods voice in the thunder and answer. We trust you and we shall act accordingly!  Amen.

[1] Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, and H. Paul Santmire, eds., The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), Digital eBook.
[2] Mark Silk, Tony Perkins ditches theodicy after flood destroys his home, August 18, 2016, accessed September 14, 2016,
[3] the white house administration, Our Enviroment, 2016, accessed September 15, 2016,
[4] Office of the Press secretary, FACT SHEET: President Obama to Designate Largest Marine Monument in the World Off-Limits to Development, 2014, accessed September 15, 2016,
[5] The Ocean Conservatory, 2016 daata release, 2016, accessed September 17, 2016,

Flora and Fauna Sunday 9/11/16 second Sunday int he Season of Creation

Today is Fauna and flora Sunday, those terms are heard often in a biology class that one took somewhere and after that not much thought is given to it.  So what is this flora and fauna, fauna and flora?  Well it could be the Siamese twins that dated fester and Gomez in the Adams family but not today…
Fauna is all of the animal life of any particular region or time. The corresponding term for plants is flora. Flora, fauna and other forms of life such as fungi are collectively referred to as biota. Zoologists and paleontologists use fauna to refer to a typical collection of animals found in a specific time or place, e.g. the "Sonora Desert fauna" or the "Burgess Shale fauna".[1]
So we are talking about Life, Anything and everything that breaths, no matter how they do it all creatures and plants breathe.  I know it is not the season but I cannot help myself and quote the Ghost of Christmas present; from the 1970 movie musical scrooge with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse , “The sins of man are huge, A never ending symphony Of villainy and infamy Duplicity, deceit, and subterfuge. And no one's worse than Ebeneezer Scrooge, though man's a handy candidate for Hell I must admit life sometimes has its brighter side as well. I like life, Life likes me, Life and I fairly fully agree, Life is fine, Life is good…Life and I made a mutual vow, 'Till I die, Life and I, We'll both try to be better somehow”
Being better somehow is what life calls us to be.  As in today's Gospel Christ is calling us to pay attention to more important matters than what clothes we wear or where we are going to go out to eat tonight.  The centering prayer today, Psalm 104, calls us to see the interconnectedness between us and all of Gods creation. In the Psalm there is a line that says the Earth is satisfied by Gods work.
The Earth is satisfied by Gods work.  Well now there lies a problem.  You see humans have never been satisfied by Gods work.  We are always trying to improve upon it, or fix it.  We try to control what was never meant to be controlled and are surprised when it goes drastically awry.  We built damns, we encased rivers in cement, we build on flood plains, and we use pesticides and poisons to control what we see as pests, and where has that gotten us?
The psalm points out the interconnectedness of all creation how one part of creation opens itself up to provide for another.  There is a co dependence in nature that relies on each and every other part of God’s creation doing its part.  For a long time man did his best to play by the rules.  Knowing that water ran downhill people created a terrace farming system that allowed crops to grow without creating erosion. Knowing that crops and plants use up nutrients people learned how to replenish nutrients in a natural way and rotate crops so that the land would always be hardy.
Heck the story of Joseph even tells how knowing that there are seasons of drought people learned the cycles of the weather and prepared for the worse and learned to survive.  But all that was man cooperating within the set ecosystems in which they lived.  All in all there is a simple fact the natural world does not need human kind in order to survive. 
Humans had to learn to adapt to their environment in order to survive.  Our ancestors were very aware that we are dependent on the earth for e very aspect of our being.  The fruit of the earth nourishes us, the water keeps us alive, the landscape and plants and animals have fueled our imagination for centuries spawning some of the greatest artist ever known.  Yet, until recently we paid no attention to what we did to the planet and its consequences.
Yes Genesis 1:28 says man is to “subdue” and have dominion over the earth.  Yet with Dominion comes responsibility.  A ruler, a king, a conqueror, or invader does not last long if the region in which it has control is not cared for.  Look at our own human history for the answers to any question you might have about dominion and relation.
“In that ancient world, it was quite common for people to set up some kind of an image, symbol or representation to signify the locale of their god’s jurisdiction. Since ancient monarchs were often thought to be divine, they could be considered images of the god. Israel would certainly reject any thought that its monarchs were divine. Therefore, the man and the woman in the creation account could be depicted as royalty with responsibility for the rest of the created world. However, they would not be considered divine. The world was not theirs to do with as they pleased. They were accountable to God, as the story of the first sin demonstrates (Genesis 3). We can say, then, that while human beings are totally dependent on Earth for their life, they have a special duty to exercise responsibility for the created world, and they are accountable to God for this responsibility. Today we speak of this responsibility in terms of stewardship. The second creation account says it in very simple words. It directs us “to serve and guard it” (Gen. 2: 15; my translation).”[2]
Give you an idea on just how bad we are at our role of serving and protecting in California alone there are some 283 plants (flora) in California listed as threatened endangered or rare.  Six pages of plants alone.  There are 124 species of fish animal and invertebrate (Fauna) 41 pages of mammals and their accounts.  All of this can be found at California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  But that is pretty scary when that is just our state.  What Kind of stewards are we?
As I did further research I found that there are a total of 11,577 vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered plants species in the world.  On that same list there are a total of 1208 mammals, 1375 birds, 2343 fishes that is a total of 4926 species and that does not include reptiles, amphibians, insects, mollusks, other invertebrates and fungi.  When you add all of them together on this list there were 23, 919 vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered flora and fauna. This is from International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.[3]  What kind of Stewards are we?
“The message of the Gospel text redirects our attention from awesome aspects of the natural world in their own right to human attitudes regarding our well-being in that world.  It describes a kind of carefree attitude that is present in various lifeforms.  Animals are not anxious about their next meal, and yet they seem to survive; flowers do not worry about their covering, yet they are enfolded in their beauty; grass is not disturbed by the brevity of its life, yet it continues to grow. Why do we human beings seem unable to trust nature in a comparable way? Why do we fail to see that, through the mysterious workings of earth, God provides our basic needs? Might it be that we humans are not satisfied with the way we have been created? We want more than we need, so we exploit and we hoard at the expense of the earth itself, of other human beings, and of other form of life?”[4]  I mean look at what we have done just across our border.
We created very smart environmental protections in our country.  We do not want factories dumping mercury onto our water.  So, we paid no attention when they built factories in Tijuana.  We paid no attention when those factories dumped mercury and lead into the local water ways.  We did not cared if another part of our earth was poisoned as long as it wasn’t ours?  Luckily a group of women got together and sued the EPA for allowing the factories to do to them what they would not allow them to do in our neighborhoods.
But one does not need to look past our borders. I mean just look at the air quality verses neighborhoods one lives in.  Environmental health news reports;
“Tiny particles of air pollution contain more hazardous ingredients in non-white and low-income communities than in affluent white ones, a new study shows.
The greater the concentration of Hispanics, Asians, African Americans or poor residents in an area, the more likely that potentially dangerous compounds such as vanadium, nitrates and zinc are in the mix of fine particles they breathe.
Latinos had the highest exposures to the largest number of these ingredients, while whites generally had the lowest.
The findings of the Yale University research add to evidence of a widening racial and economic gap when it comes to air pollution. Communities of color and those with low education and high poverty and unemployment face greater health risks even if their air quality meets federal health standards, according to the article published online in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives”[5]
As Human beings go, we average white people have been horrible.  Somewhere along the way of learning to exploit the earth to get what we want, we also learned to exploit our fellow humans.  It is bad enough we treat the earth with basic disregard but we treat each other even worse.  Somehow, somehow we had been called to be stewards of this planet to learn to live with her and all of God’s creatures and yet we have managed to Rape pillage and destroy her.  We have managed to marginalize exploit and burden ourselves in the constant search for more.  More power, more control, and more stuff.

In genesis Adam and eve eat of the tree they were told not too and then when God comes walking in the Garden they hide themselves from God.  This is the lesson we have yet to learn.  We as humans continue to take too much, live where we shouldn’t break into the planet in ways we were never meant to and when repercussions occur.  We run, we hide, we cry out. Then we go right back to our bad behavior.
I must say we have started to learn from our behavior and not everything is doom and gloom.  People and scientists are looking at the way we live and many are making a conscience effort to change.  Because of that some trends are reversing.  For example the national wildlife foundation reports;

“Habitat loss, hunting and poaching, toxics and other man made interventions have at some point pushed all of the following species to the brink of extinction.
In some cases species have even been declared extinct in the wild!

But the good news is that human intervention has also saved these species. Protection of habitat, effective control of hunting and captive breeding programs have all played their part in these dramatic rescues.

Whilst in many cases there is still much to do to assure the future security of these species, many are now safely on the road to recovery.

Tigers in the Russian Far East (Amur Tigers)
Gray Whale
Southern White Rhinoceros
Black Rhinoceros
African Savannah Elephant
Mountain Gorilla
Saiga - The saiga (Saiga tatarica) is the world’s northernmost antelope. It originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone.
Greater one-horned Asian Rhinoceros
Golden Lion Tamarind
Takhi - Przewalski's Horse”[6]

We can make a difference by participation in programs that help to reverse the carbon foot print man leaves behind.  Animals like the Grizzly bear, and the bald eagle have all made comebacks thanks to conservation efforts. One interesting story I read talks of the trumpeter swan. “People living in 19th-century Minnesota must have found trumpeter swans delicious, because the species was eliminated from the state — and practically from its entire range in the United States — after it was over-harvested for food. The largest native waterfowl species in North America, trumpeter swans didn't successfully return to the wild in Minnesota until a number of ecological agencies partnered in the 1980s to restore them, according to a statement released Feb. 11, 2016, by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). Trumpeter swans' Minnesota population is currently estimated at 17,000, and continues to grow”[7]  We can be good stewards!

It is news and stories of the creatures making comebacks, of people finding better ways to seek food sources without over fishing or destroying habitats.  It is when we make true efforts to set aside unique environments and protect them that makes us good stewards. One of the best things we have done in order to become good stewards is something like the Paris accord.  This is where a 195 countries have agreed to reduce the carbon and green gasses output sin order to slow climate change.
We are good stewards when we decide to plant climate appropriate plants around our homes.  We are good stewards when we use solar if we can and uses electricity outside of peak demand.  We are good stewards when we seek out sustainable food sources, not just for ourselves but teach others how to do so as well.
We are Good stewards when we care for those who are less fortunate than us, the marginalized, and the neglected and make sure they have safe clean and healthy environments to live in.  Many see this connection to the flora and fauna as a connection tot eh earth, plants and animals, but it is also a connection and responsibility to each other.  We are responsible for our neighbor just as we are responsible for the earth herself and all that encompasses.  Once we learn how to do it all with equanimity and healthy practices then we will witness the kindom of God here on earth as it is in heaven.

[1] wikimedia, Fauna, August, 2016, accessed September 6, 2016,
[2] Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, and H. Paul Santmire, eds., The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), Digital eBook.
[3] International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Changes in numbers of species in the threatened categories (CR, EN, VU) from 1996 to 2016, Medium, accessed September 6, 2016,
[4] Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary.
[5] Cheryl Katz, Unequal exposures: People in poor, non-white neighborhoods breathe more hazardous particles, Medium, accessed September 6, 2016,
[6] world wild life foundation, 10 species that may have just escaped extinction, Medium, accessed September 6, 2016,
[7] Mindy Weisberger, Species Success Stories: 10 Animals Back from the Brink, Medium, accessed September 6, 2016,