Sunday, April 30, 2017

April 30th On the Road to Emmaus (Luke24:13-35

Two disciples are heading to Emmaus.  Surely, they are still reeling from the loss of Jesus, but something keeps them moving.  As they walk along Jesus falls into step next to them. “what are you talking about?” he wants to know. They respond: “Haven’t you heard? Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place?” in short “what rock have you been living under?”  (well, …, begins Jesus)[1]

Reverend Glen of Maple Grove Methodist church writes:

The original journey to Emmaus took place on Easter day.  In the wake of Jesus’ death, two of his followers have given up and left town.  While they’re walking and talking, Jesus comes and walks with them.  But, Luke says, "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  Not "they failed to recognize him," but "their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  In other words, it wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t some problem with their eyes or a lack of faith.  No one’s blaming them.

Maybe grief or disappointment got in their eyes.  After all, their hopes in Jesus have been dashed, their expectations left unmet.  They’d been so excited about Jesus, put so much faith in him, that when he died there didn’t seem to be anything to do but leave, put it all behind them.  Oh sure, there were some people who said Jesus was alive again, but who could believe talk like that?  They hadn’t seen him yet.  So, on they walked, telling this stranger about their problems with Jesus, never suspecting the stranger was Jesus.[2]

It is kind of funny as we watch the two disciples, accompanying each other in their grief walking to Emmaus they encounter a person.  We know it is Jesus but they don’t. In the midst of their grief, in the middle of their heart break, Jesus, as a stranger offers this…tell me your story and I will walk with you  I will companion with you as you move through this moment in your life.

Even though Jesus was there and experienced way more than any of the disciples had, he said nothing.  He allowed them to tell their story, to share their experience from their own place, their own perspective with all the grief, disappointment and feeling of a lost movement.  This is a model of what spiritual Direction is based upon. It allows one to talk through their emotions and life freely without judgement.

The vision of a house of prayer for all people and a table, where all God’s children are welcome, also means we have a space where all God’s children call for some type of pastoral care.  One common area of pastoral care that is seeing a resurgence in the world today is spiritual direction which I prefer to refer to as spiritual companioning. 

Spiritual Companioning calls for passionately and compassionately walking with people on their spiritual journey.  Creating a welcoming and inviting space where the traveler is made to feel comfortable in sharing their path.  The Spiritual Companion, in turn, is a witness to the journey and may help to point out moments of God’s spark that have come along the way.  I intentionally use the language of companion and traveler that is not commonly used.  The relationship between a Spiritual Companion and/or friend and the Spiritual Traveler is rarely one that is truly director and a directee experience.  As a spiritual companion, I do not direct any one and I choose to stay away from those terms.

Margaret Guenther states; “The art of spiritual direction lies in our uncovering the obvious in our lives and in realizing that every day events are the means by which God tries to reach us.”[3] As Companions, we notice things along the path that a Traveler may have missed, overlooked or did not pay close enough attention too. We simply ask the Spiritual Traveler to stop, take moment and perhaps, if they choose to notice and  to explore what God has placed along the path.

A good definition of spiritual companioning is in the book The Art of Spiritual Direction by W. Paul Jones who states;

Providing companionship on someone’s pilgrimage; walking together in the Spirit so as to provide support, discernment, and encounter; integrating spiritually at the intersections of the person’s intellectual, emotional, social, and cultural contexts.[4]

The opportunity to share in such a relationship is one of the greatest and most sacred gifts I can imagine.  I am astounded by the grace that God has found a way to allow me to be such a companion to another and I hold the opportunity as such.  The Companioning relationship is truly a gift of God.

The art of Spiritual Companioning is as old as the earth itself. W. Paul Jones Points out that in the Hebrew Scriptures. . . “The Bible’s first story concerns spiritual direction.  Adam and Eve had regular appointments to walk with God ‘at the time of the evening breeze’ (Gen. 3.8)”[5]   This day and age, we still continue to walk with God it is just that we sometimes need some help in noticing what God has left for us along the path of our journeys.

I am forced to emphasize that Spiritual Companioning is not a clinical act.  It is not a quick fix.  It is a long enduring relationship where two people set out on a journey together intentionally listening for and seeking out the God moments in life.  On the road to Emmaus, the two disciples were joined by another traveler. These travelers ate, drank and discussed many a thing about Jesus and his ministry but it wasn’t until Christ was gone could they open their eyes and look back and see all the signs that God had been with them. “They said to one another were not our hearts burning inside us as this one talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) There are times when our hearts are burning and we do not know why.  It takes another Companion to look lovingly along the path to help the Traveler see what they have missed.

Again, Spiritual Companioning is a gentle long walk and is not clinical encounter. It is not a medical procedure, nor is it meant to be a fix all session and then we are done. Again, let me use Paul Jones to affirm this.

Spiritual Direction is not psychotherapy nor is it an inexpensive substitute, although the disciplines are compatible and frequently share raw material.  Spiritual direction is not pastoral counseling, nor is it to be confused with the mutuality of deep friendships, for it is unashamedly hierarchical.  Not because the director is somehow ‘better’ or ‘holier’ than the directee, but because, in this covenanted relationship the director has agreed to put himself aside so that his total attention can be focused on the person sitting in the other chair.  What a gift to bring to another, the gift of disinterested, loving attention![6] 

In the midst of the relationship of Companion and Traveler, there may arise a need of that which is more than the Companion can offer.  It is important to know ones limitations and the limitation of the relationship itself. I have no qualms allowing a Traveler to be referred for pastoral counseling or even more medical counseling along with Spiritual Companioning. As a result of co-operating with other professionals the road may become easier for a person to travel.  This does not diminish the Companioning relationship at all in fact this can only enhance the Companion relationship by leaving the psychological distress of everyday life at the counseling office allowing the Traveler to focus on the spiritual.

 It may be required here to actually distinguish between the different opportunities of services available and how one or the other is not Companioning and what is. Therapy is for when mental or emotional pain becomes overwhelming, so overwhelming that one seems unable to cope with the stress of everyday living.  Therapy may take many forms, but it usually is initiated by a crisis, and the relationship works to free a person so that they may cope with daily living.

Counseling is needed to resolve a problem, clarify an issue, or sort out a particular situation, usually for the sake of making a decision.  Whatever methods are used, they usually evoke “now” feelings that clarify the implicit issues.  The working assumption is that by providing firm support, the pros and cons can be identified, and the person is thus able to make a decision and follow through with it.[7]
Spiritual Companioning is the art of entering into a relationship thoughtfully, prayerfully and seeking out the Holy. Jeffery Gaines, the former director of Spiritual Directors International, describes Companioning as “always happening in the context of prayer and spiritual intimacy . . . discernment is based upon the intimate engagement of two people walking into the sanctuary of God.”[8]   Spiritual Companioning is about “the great unfixables in human life.  It’s about the mystery of moving through time.  It’s about morality.  It’s about Love.  It’s about things that can’t be fixed.”[9]  It is a quiet and gentle walk as one holds open the presence of the Spirit so that eyes may observe, hearts may feel, and mystery and awe can be expressed fully with great understanding and compassion.

Jesus ministry here, as the companion, touches on grief.  The grief of these disciples. And Grief when one can name it, talk about it and share it is a great thing.  It is a natural process and often times we do not even realize that we are in the midst of grief.

Grief and grieving are the natural response to a major loss, such as the death of a loved one. Loss can cause feelings of grief, sometimes when you least expect it.

You may find that old feelings of grief from past loss can be triggered by current experiences or anniversaries of that loss. This is normal.

Anticipatory grief is grief that happens in advance of an impending loss. You may feel anticipatory grief because a loved one is sick and dying. Anticipatory grief helps us prepare for loss.[10]

I bring this up because you may or may not realize it but there is grief in losing a pastor, there is grief when rituals changed.  This time in between settled pastors can be unsettling.  The thing is one can be grieving a loss and not even realize it. Especially when that loss is not as concrete and obvious as a death.  When a pastor leaves there is a time of grief and one should be allowed to express it, often times though, until it is mentioned, defined one may not realize this is even happening.

It’s an odd thing because even though the Pastor was gone the church went one.  Services continued. You had guest pastors.  From an outsider view it all appeared like any other church. The shift is subtle.  Now I am here but I am not your settled pastor. I am here to help you make ready for the new pastor. Part of the process is to acknowledge your feelings around your past pastor and her leaving.  To acknowledge your grief, your frustration with change, your need for all this “transition” to be over, or whatever else may be coming up for you.

I know some of you are probably thinking what is he talking about our pastor left and now we move on and yet for others there is pain, sadness, maybe even anger or disappointment.  In the old days which are not that long ago a pastor came and stayed.  There are churches who have only had a handful of pastors over the period of 150 years.  In this day and age things are changing.
First thing we realize all pastors are transitional pastors.  Meaning that most pastors do not stay till retirement but also the nature of congregations and ministry is in and of itself transitional by nature.  The dynamic of the congregation is constantly changing and as is the world in which we seek to serve. 

The person you sit next to in a pew today is not the same person next week, even if they are physically the same person.  The world is changing faster than we can keep up with.  The needs and the wants spiritually and emotionally for this congregation as a community are not the same as they were when Blyhte started here. They will not be the same tomorrow or a year from now.

So in this time of intentional transition and preparation I lift you in prayer.  I acknowledge there are emotions and loss here.  I honor each and every voice and concern raised and I will do my best to address your needs.  We also will do our bests to address the needs of the building.  Part of the process in preparing to call a new “settled Pastor” is putting your best face forward.

In that the kitchen is obvious and we are doing our best to get it finished and resolved. Other things include taking a walk around the building and neighborhood and well what do we see.  I will tell you the first two things that concerned me just coming to the church the first time.  How do people know you are here?  The second is we proclaim to be open and affirming and yet how would someone know that walking in?  IF you are interested UCC resources actually has upcoming webinars on ONA 101 on may 2 ONA and the bible, may 9, and ONA 201 Best Practices for church Growth and there are groups rates available though we would have to move quickly for the May 2nd.

In today’s gospel Jesus walked besides the grieving disciples offering spiritual companionship.  That is what I am called to do as an intentional interim pastor.  I am going to walk beside you offer you spiritual companionship.  On the other hand, I am going to challenge you as a congregation to make yourself ready physically and spiritually to call a new Pastor. This is a gradual process and it will take time but I am here for you through this process.  I promise to make it as peaceful and gentle and fun as possible.

One final thought, as Jesus sat down with the followers for a simple meal.  He took bread, blessed it and broke it and at that moment the follower’s eyes were opened. It is at the table, in the breaking of the bread that Christ is revealed to us.  It is coming together at God’s table where all are welcome that strengthens and helps us grow as a community.  No matter our pain, our grief or our differences, it is in this church that we are called to come together as Christ revealed, the body of Christ to companion each other on our journey, to b spiritual companions to each other.  As we journey, I pray that this road be light, that the wind will be at our backs and that we remember Christ always goes before us.

[1] Scott Hoezee, The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2017 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 65.
[2] Glenn Schwerdtfeger, Journey With Jesus- The Emmaus Road, March, 2013, accessed April 25, 2017,
[3] Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Cambridge, Mass: Cowley Publications, 1992).
[4] W. Paul Jones, The Art of Spiritual Direction: Giving and Receiving Spiritual Guidance (Nashville, Tenn: Upper Room Books, 2002).
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] News, Spiritual Direction as Choosing Life.
[9] Guenther, Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction.
[10] webMD, Grief and Grieving,

Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23 I know Thomas (John 20:19-31

I know Thomas.  I see Thomas almost daily.  He is on Facebook, he is on twitter, he walks with the incarcerated, he ministers in Hospitals, he can be very loud in certain groups of marginalized people, and he sits in every pew of every congregation. Poor Thomas has been branded “doubting Thomas” because of one moment.  One moment spoken in grief and confusion.
We really do not know much about Thomas. He is listed as one of the 12 in Mathew, Mark, Luke.  But it is in John we see a bit more of Thomas though often we do not pay attention to him.  It is Thomas, who after learning that Lazarus has died and the apostles complain that heading back towards the city could be dangerous, and Jesus could be killed, makes the statement; “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:6-16).
It is Thomas who is strong and zealous who is willing to go all the way with the Lord.  It is Thomas who asks; “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to Abba God except through me. If you had known me, you would have known Abba God also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7)
Without Thomas’ Statements and Faith we never could have gotten to this day.  Thomas was devoted, loving follower of Jesus.  He was eager to learn and asked leading questions that gave us “I am the way”.  So is it any surprise that after Jesus’ Death he is broken, and like the others, afraid and confused and he just happened not to be in the room when Jesus appeared, so in his Grief, in his confusion and pain the statement arises.  Until I see for myself I will not believe it.
You know for the past two weeks we have a regular visitor to our front lawn and, from what I understand, the deer have been visiting for quite some time.  Yet when she is here, when someone notices and announces the deer is here we all are compelled to see it for ourselves. A deer on a lawn is a common event and yet we must see.  So who could blame Thomas in the midst of doubt fear and confusion, and remember the disciples really had yet to come to understand the scriptures and all Jesus had said, who could blame Thomas for a human response. Joseph Richardson writes:
The sense I get of Thomas, overall, is not the hard-nosed skeptic, but the passionate, devoted follower, deeply feeling, but like Peter, of so “little faith.” He was ready to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth, to give his all — but at Jesus’s death, he was shattered: all the hopes and dreams he had for the coming kingdom crushed. Dejected and depressed, he wandered away; he was not even hanging out with the other disciples when the resurrected Jesus first appeared. When he heard the news, he no doubt thought the companions delusional. His doubt was deeply rooted in disappointment and loss. How could he bring himself to believe again?

Thomas is human, Thomas is all of us.  To Doubt, to ask questions and seek answers strengthens faith.  IT is only through questioning and seeking that we can develop a strong faith. You see “In one sense, Thomas represents the burden of the intellectual: the doubt that comes from thinking and questioning; the demand of the rational mind for concrete, tangible proof.”  Unfortunately we see the results of blind faith too often.  No questions, no explorations lead to a world where slavery is biblically authorized.  Blind Faith leads to a place where women are unequal and diminished.  Blind faith leads to a place where hatred, cruelty and even murder can be justified.  We see it way too often in this world.  Extremist and literalist make it difficult for us to eliminate prejudice hatred and war.

Now I am not saying that we all need to think the same way and I don’t want to live in that world either but healthy exploration and questioning leads to a deeper faith where we can explore discuss and disagree in insightful ways. Which may challenge us in our own faith and allow us to continue to grow.

Ironically today is also earth day Sunday actual earth day was Saturday but we are recognizing it as a congregation today.  And it ties in well with doubting Thomas.  97% of climate scientists believe that Global warming is caused by humans and is a real thing and yet here, in America many still doubt.

A recent Gallup poll shows that “Forty-five percent of Americans now say they worry "a great deal" about global warming, up from 37% a year ago and well above the recent low point of 25% in 2011. The previous high was 41%, recorded in 2007. Another 21% currently say they worry "a fair amount" about global warming, while 18% worry "only a little" and 16% worry "not at all."  What is seems peculiar to me is that only 71% of Americans believe that most scientists believe in global warming.  We have statistical facts and yet we still refuse to believe.

I am not going to argue for nor against Global warming.  There is no point.  Today we celebrate care for the earth.  Bob, my husband, always signs his email with “If you fall in love with the Earth, you will fight to save the Earth.”  I always have on my emails

I know its subtle but there are so many ways we can care for the earth.  People often mistake Genesis verses as permission to do what we want with creation.  That the earth was a gift for us to use, abuse and throw away. However in the first creation story God says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen. 1:29-30)

In the first creation story, Human and other living creatures are equal and given plants for food. There is nothing about subduing or having dominion over anything. However, in Genesis 1:26 the ancient text proclaims, “Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." But what does it mean to have dominion and rule over something.?

For the longest of times ancient civilizations understood that with dominion and rule comes responsibility.  As chiefs of a tribe you are responsible for the wellbeing of your people and for their sources of sustenance.  This is where you see hunter and gatherer societies only took what they needed.  Then when they had to take a life they gave thanks for it and consumed all of it and used other parts for clothing etc. Anything that could be used was used and nothing went to waste.
It is sad to say that today we have lost much of our concept of conservation of using just what we need and replacing what we do use. Here is a sad fact, “roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting “one third of all foodstuffs.” Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found.”   This fact is just sad and quite frankly shocking.  I believe we can do better.

What is more sickening is the reason why the food goes to waste here! An article written for the Atlantic last year has some interesting points.

What causes this? A major reason is that food is cheaper in the United States than nearly anywhere else in the world, aided (controversially) by subsidies to corn, wheat, milk, and soybeans. But the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, enabled in large part by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food. Fruits and vegetables, in addition to generally being healthful, have a tendency to bruise, brown, wilt, oxidize, ding, or discolor and that is apparently something American shoppers will not abide. For an American family of four, the average value of discarded produce is nearly $1,600 annually. (Globally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one-third of all food grown is lost or wasted, an amount valued at nearly $3 trillion.)

What is worse is much food doesn’t even reach our markets. “Quoting workers and experts at a variety of vantage points in the food system, The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg also reports that, “Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.”  All this is because we over produce or it’s not pretty enough? We need to lower our standards!
There is much activity surrounding this earth day. IN KYP “Keeping you posted” a regular news feed of the United Church of Christ there is an article that tells us much about what is happening;
The focus on creation care will be very evident in many United Church of Christ congregations over the next few weeks, with Earth Day on Saturday, April 22, followed by Earth Day Sunday. The next weekend, on April 29, the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. and Sister Marches around the country will be drawing environmental advocates from across the country, called to put their faith in action for the sake of our planet.

"Preserving God's creation is perhaps the greatest theological mandate of our time," said the Rev. Jim Antal, president and conference minister, Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. "As climate change worsens — as creation offers chaos in place of continuity — injustice in all its forms is multiplied. Together with our interfaith partners — as people of faith — as the church — this is our calling. It is neither partisan nor political. The earth is our home. Our responsibility is at the center of our covenant with God."

We are called to be good stewards to each other and this planet if you cannot understand it any other way look at it this way.  We are called to leave this place better than we found it!  If we look at the big picture it may seem overwhelming and yet each and every voice makes a difference one small gesture can lead to another that becomes much larger.

"I don't know what effect it will have but my hope and my faith tell me it's important for all of us to raise our voices," said Barbara Darling, chair of Environmental Ministries for the Massachusetts Conference UCC and one of the organizers of the climate march in the Boston area. Darling chairs the Church of the Covenant UCC Consumption and Justice Group.

There are many things we can do besides march.  Be conscience of our consumption.  Change the way we look at and how we care for the planet.  Change out your light bulbs to more energy efficient ones.  Walk, walk when you can or use mass transit if possible. Recycle and reuse as much as possible. Educate!  Educate! Educate!  Be well informed seek out resources learn what a difference you can make.

We can join and partner with organizations in this area.  One such organization I am sure someone here has had contact with at some point is Interfaith Power and Light.

The mission of California Interfaith Power and Light (CIPL) is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. This ministry intends to protect the earth’s ecosystems, safeguard public health, and ensure sufficient, sustainable energy for all.

The united Church of Christ also has a program in place where we can declare ourselves a Creation Justice Church.  This what the UCC has to say about this program;

Whether it is taking on climate change or addressing the lead poisoning of children, environmental justice ministries could not have a higher purpose or calling than they do now. If the followers of Jesus today care about the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the world in which we live, then environmental justice ministry should undoubtedly be an integral strand in any church’s DNA. The UCC’s Creation Justice Church program aims to help you do just that. Here are some of the tremendous features and benefits of doing the program:

Congregations collectively discern their high calling to care for creation and seek justice for the oppressed.
Congregations make a commitment so serious and so sacred that it necessitates talking about God’s covenant with us and with all of creation.
Congregations not only become recognized as “green.” They become a part of a larger network of churches and a larger movement to change the world.
Congregations engage in critical thinking about the socioeconomic dimensions of environmental justice such as race, class, and global inequality.
Congregations foster a deeper sense of connection: connection to God, to each other, and to the world in which we live.
Congregations unleash their imagination and creativity as a sense of purpose propels them to make a difference.

I should tell you MCC/United Church of Christ in the Valley was the first Creation Justice Church.  They recycle, compost, changed out lights, and have solar power as well as rain barrels. We here can choose to do all of these things or none of these things it is up to you.  You can do all or some of these things at home or not! However, I will leave us with this quote; "We believe that it is our calling as people of faith to respond to the God who loves us, and who loves the earth and all its creatures, by protecting our planet and all its inhabitants — through political activism, marches, personal lifestyle choices, raising awareness in our church and beyond."  About this, there can be no doubt!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter Sunday, April 16 2017

Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) is an American writer and theologian. He is the author of more than thirty published books and has been an important source of inspiration and learning for many readers. He has a perspective on Easter I find unique and a great way to start.

The Gospels are far from clear as to just what happened. It began in the dark. The stone had been rolled aside. Matthew alone speaks of an earthquake. In the tomb there were two white-clad figures or possibly just one. Mary Magdalen seems to have gotten there before anybody else. There was a man she thought at first was the gardener. Perhaps Mary the mother of James was with her and another woman named Joanna. One account says Peter came too with one of the other disciples. Elsewhere the suggestion is that there were only the women and that the disciples, who were somewhere else, didn't believe the women's story when they heard it. There was the sound of people running, of voices. Matthew speaks of "fear and great joy." Confusion was everywhere. There is no agreement even as to the role of Jesus himself. Did he appear at the tomb or only later? Where? To whom did he appear? What did he say? What did he do?
It is not a major production at all, and the minor attractions we have created around it—the bunnies and baskets and bonnets, the dyed eggs—have so little to do with what it's all about that they neither add much nor subtract much. It's not really even much of a story when you come right down to it, and that is of course the power of it. It doesn't have the ring of great drama. It has the ring of truth. I f the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster. Here there is no skill, no fanfare. They seem to be telling it simply the way it was. The narrative is as fragmented, shadowy, incomplete as life itself. When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.
The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can't depict or domesticate emptiness. You can't make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn't move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. Even the great choruses of Handel's Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.
He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. If it is true, there is nothing left to say. If it is not true, there is nothing left to say. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. For some, neither has death. What is left now is the emptiness. There are those who, like Magdalen, will never stop searching it till they find his face. [1]

Easter Sunday Morning Starts with this emptiness but leads us to a new place a new way of being in this world and relating to one another and that will be explored in the sermon...


Ok I admit when I sat down to write this sermon I was not sure where it would go.  I like having some quotes in mind, stories to tell, other research at hand.  This time I am starting from the text and see where it leads me.
“Early in the morning while it was still dark Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.”  I am thinking that is brave. But after researching I see there is some merit to this.  Yet some reversal as well. 
We always have said that Jesus came to turn the whole social order and the world upside down.  He does away with tradition left and right while he walked on this earth and even in death.
According to Bible archeology website burial custom for the time of Jesus was that it was the;
“women’s task to prepare a dead body for burial. The body was washed, and hair and nails were cut. Then it was gently wiped with a mixture of spices and wrapped in linen strips of various sizes and widths. While this was happening, prayers from the Scriptures were chanted.
The body was wrapped in a shroud, but was otherwise uncovered.
Tombs were visited and watched for three days by family members and friends. On the third day after death, the body was examined. This was to make sure that the person was really dead, for accidental burial of someone still alive could happen.
At this stage the body would be treated by the women of the family with oils and perfumes.”[2]
Through this description we can see where the burial of Jesus is still turning things the wrong way out.  First it is Joseph of Arimathea along with Nicodemus who “took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with spices, in linen clothes.” (John 19:40)  This was women’s work according to the tradition of the time and yet we have the men doing it.
Then tradition has it that the romans stood guard over the tomb.  Not the Family but the Government, the ruling class has taken on the role of what would have been for family and friends to do.
Then Mary, while it is not yet light enough to see where one is going heads to the tomb alone.  Women did not travel alone.  Nobody went out before light except those who had the lowest of jobs to sweep the streets, night watch or shepherds. Yet Mary sets of alone with no concern on how she would roll the tombstone back.
Mary runs back to the disciples and then we find Mary right behind the disciples back at the garden.  She is healthy no wonder she thought she could move the tomb stone by herself.
John traditionally holds the two disciples are Peter and the one who Jesus loved ran back to the garden.  The one out races Mary and Peter and sticks his head in the tomb and see the linens lying there and then peter walks in and sees the face cloth folded and then the other disciple walks in sees all this and believes.
I often thought this a great leap.  The beloved disciple only had but to look into the tomb and believe.  But what think this really says is he was paying attention and got what Jesus was teaching all along.  You see with the linens lying there and the face clothe all folded up neatly says this is no robbery.  Who would steal a body and take the time to unwrap it first?  It had to be something else.
Some think the next verse is a little contradictory but I do not see it as such.  It says they did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead.  Peter, I assume walked away understanding nothing, as usual.  The beloved disciple believed, he may not have made the scriptural reference as yet but he understood Jesus’ words and sayings.
Of course the men leave Mary standing there alone, in her grief, unaccompanied again!
Mary sticks her head inside the tomb and there are two angels seated at the head and the foot of where Jesus’ body should be.  Jesus is bracketed by angels.  Angels at his conception, birth and now at his resurrection.  This says that death is not that important.  It is important to us because we identify with human suffering – yet the resurrection, to me, points past the suffering.  I believe the narration points to that as well. For the Angels ask her “Women why are you crying?”  She answers; “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”  Isn’t that the definition of grief?  I mean when a love one dies we try to rationalize we try to stand firm in our faith but in that ultimate moment of extreme grief we are lost. Our loved one is gone and we really do not know where they are.  Mary is us at any moment of loss, confusion fear…the tomb is empty.  As empty as the hole in our heart when we lose someone we cherish.
Then Jesus repeats the question “Woman why are you crying.” I think this is made to emphasize this is not a time of grief, “The life lived is not to be grieved”[3] see my blog spot Sometimes Alleluia November 2015 for that sermon. Then Jesus asks; “who are you looking for?”  That is a strange question to be asking at a grave side.  I mean the question assumes you must be seeking someone living for the dead are easy to find.  But Mary, missing that it is Jesus is speaking to her, says just tell me where he is and I’ll get him.  So Mary is assuming this Gardener is somehow part of this conspiracy to steal the body of Jesus. Then he says to her, in a tone of voice that only she could recognize and it melts her heart and opens her eyes…Mary.  As Christ calls her by name she recognizes him.  How many times in our own lives when we look back we can see God’s hand at play but when we were in the moment we could not or refused to see God with us.  I wonder how often Mary looked back on that moment and wondered why she did not recognize Jesus Right away.
Jesus then says do not hold onto me, or another translation would be do not cling to me.  Jesus is saying to do not hold on to me as you once believed for I am something new, something different, and something beyond physical. One interpreter believes this is Jesus saying my Physical body has died and I am now a spiritual being.[4]  This is where Jesus moves form man to Christ.  There is a shift in his being and how he is perceived from here on out.  Then he proclaims to Mary “Go to my Brothers and Sisters and tell them I am going to my Abba and your Abba, to my God and your God!”(John 20:19)  This is important again because not all of Jesus followers, not all of his disciples were Jewish.  We traditionally think of the disciples as the twelve yet in the books of acts the numbers “range between 70 and 120 to a ‘growing Multitude’”.[5] Like we teach here about the last supper it was women, children servants those healed by Christ and those who will hear the 12 in their own tongue.  Jesus proclaims one loving accepting parent God for all and in that God we are all, every one of us, brothers and sisters.
The final Proclamation Mary Makes is “I have seen the Lord”.  Mary, a woman, who ventures out before dawn.  Mary who walks around independent of any man or any other companions.  Mary who is assuming she can roll back the stone.  Mary who keeps pace running with the men. Mary is the first to see the Lord and proclaim a resurrected Christ a new Jesus a new way of being in relation to one another in this world. A world where we are called to care for each other no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey. A world where we as Brothers and Sisters in Christ proudly proclaim for all to hear…You are a part of God’s family!  This is what I hear in today’s Gospel and the message of the resurrection.  May we always get past the empty tomb moment and live in the experience of an all loving God, a true family of humanity, and the blessings that a relationship with Christ can bring into our lives.  Amen.

[1]. Frederick Buechner, Easter, October 13, 2009, accessed March 14, 2016,
[2]. Elizabeth Fletcher, Tombs,
[3]. Joseph Shore-Goss, The life lived is not to be grieved, November, 2015,
[4]. anonymous, John 20:17, February, 2014, accessed March 14, 2016,
[5]. Nikhilesh Jasuja, Priya mMenon, and Carolyn, Apostle vs Disciple, March 8, 2016, accessed March 14, 2016,

The triumphant Ride into Jerusalem, Mathew 21:1-11, April9 2017

The triumphant ride into Jerusalem!  The grand Procession.  The joy, as we reenact often what for many us is a fond memory from our own childhood. John Wesley Notes that “‘Hoseanna’ (Lord save us) was a solemn word in frequent use among the Jews.  The Meaning is ‘We sing hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he, the Messiah, of the Lord. Save. Thou that art in the highest heavens.’ Our Lord restrained all public tokens of honour from the people till now, lest the envy of his enemies should interrupt his preaching before the time.”[1]
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  Today is also known as Passion Sunday, which we will honor during the week as we recall the events that led to the torture and execution of Jesus.    So today let us focus on today!
Marcus Borg with John Dominc Crossan in the book “The Last Week” gives us a beautiful picture of what was happening;
Two Processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30…. One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession, From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. …

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the roman Governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers.  Jesus’s procession proclaimed the Kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire.[2]

Most people do not realize that Pontius Pilate rode into Rome.  He was sent down during the Holidays to make sure there was no trouble.  Yet during this time there had been trouble and Pontius was anticipating it.

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A Visual panopoly of imperial power: cavalry on Horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of the bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curios, some awed, some resentful.[3]

This is an intentional display of imperial power much like the army marching in Tiananmen square or rocket launches around north Korea.  This is to instill fear and remind people who is in charge.  It is also a warning to anyone who may think about offering any kind of resistance that there is a whole army waiting to react.

This display also was to be not just a display of military might but that of Religious authority as well.

According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God.  It began with the greatest of emperors, Augustus, who rules Rome form 31 BCE to 14 CE.  His father was the god Apollo, who conceived him in his mother, Atia. Inscriptions refer to him as “son of God,” “lord” and “savior,” one who had brought “peace on earth.”  After his death, he was seen ascending into heaven to take his permanent place among the gods.  His successors continued to bear divine titles, including Tiberius, emperor from 14 to 37 CE and thus the emperor during the time of Jesus’s public activity.  For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.[4]

Jesus’s procession, if we look at it as it is written in Mark seems like a very deliberate, planned, political action.  He tells his disciples where to find the colt and just mention that the master needs it and it is understood who and what it is for.  Okay, that is an assumption, but no one questions the disciples after they say that the colt it is for the master.

People of that time had to be very conscience of the symbolism, the direct contrast Jesus was presenting. Jesus is coming into town riding on a donkey, lowliest of animals.  His army are all peasants and common folk.  They are hailing him as the King, mocking that of Pontius’s entrance.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world.  Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God.[5]

As we have visualized this event could you see yourself in the story.  Would you have been one of the people joyously, celebrating, welcoming the new king into your city.  Believing this man was going to change everything right away.  This man, the one who is always causing trouble, breaking tradition, is in opposition not just to Rome but the religious authorities.  Would you welcome him Knowing that at any moment trouble could break out and you might be caught up it in it?

If you are saying to yourself yes I would be there.  I would welcome Jesus to the city.  I would be ready to stand beside him and walk with him no matter where it leads.  I would then say to you, know this…you are part of a great and brave group of people who are ready for a big and dramatic change.  Until it starts to happen.  For as soon as trouble started they all turned against him.  They asked for a murderer to be released over him.

Can you picture yourself maybe as the colt.  An innocent creature living in servitude, who is suddenly thrown into this spotlight.  You are given the great honor to carry the Lord and Master into this city.  You alone have been chosen to be blessed and to touch the living Christ.  The excitement of the crowd is energizing and terrifying at the same time and yet.  And yet, when it is all over you go back to what you were doing before no better and no worse for it.  Your life just goes on as it always did.

Maybe, just maybe you are one of the Roman guards on the far side of the city.  Part of the big corporation.  A Good soldier.  Following orders and doing what you are supposed to do.  Maybe you have heard something about this man about town.  There are rumors and stories.  Oddly enough you are called to stand Guard at an execution and turns out to be this Jesus you have heard so much about, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"(Mark 15:39)

Knowing all this, all this history, all this conflict, knowing what might be, knowing what we might have done in this story, who we might be.  Knowing that all this triumphant celebratory entry into the city will only end on a hill.  Jesus comes. Despite all that Jesus comes and Because of all this…All of you…all of us, all of humanity…Jesus comes!

Jesus Comes! Jesus Enters the city and there is an open invitiation to follow.  But how do we do that?  How do we follow Jesus into Jerusalem? What are we Called to do? How do we prepare to follow Jesus into Jerusalem?

 Here are a few practical ways to follow Jesus this week: Offer forgiveness freely and from the heart. Forgive often. It may be that you have been withholding forgiveness from someone who has deeply offended you. Or perhaps you need to work on forgiving those little everyday offenses that creep up. More likely you need to work on forgiving yourself. Become a good forgiver, without keeping count, as Jesus instructed Peter. If you are a grass is always greener or a keeping up with the joneses type person…let it go. Stop obsessing so much overstuff.  Yes, we love our stuff but it might be that we spend too much time holding on to what we think is ours. Obsession and control we need to let go! Be a peacemaker; love and pray for your enemies; go an extra mile with someone; stop worrying about who is to be first or best or most powerful.
Amanda Beck writes;

You may say that these practical instructions amount to being nice to others and being a good person but carry very little spiritual weight. We would all prefer merely to contemplate the mystery of God’s coming near and follow Jesus’ journey with a spiritual devotion to the suffering servant. It is true that many of these instructions don’t seem spiritual in themselves. We must do them, not because of their own spiritual weight, but because our hearts are very small. We clutter them daily with concern for ourselves, misplaced loves, and hurt feelings. We must make room for Jesus in order to welcome him properly. Somehow this practical work done with spiritual attention prepares the way of the Lord as nothing else can. It changes us. It makes room in our hearts that Jesus can fill with the kingdom of heaven. This is the way to make straight the path of the Lord: self-emptying. There is no other way to let Jesus’ message sink in, and there is no other way to follow our Lord than to walk in his footsteps. Jesus’ life was one of self-emptying and service to God and humanity, and so we make our lives in his likeness. If there was ever a week to get this right, this is it. If there was ever a point in the Christian narrative to step out of the way and let the story of divine love continue, this is it.[6]

So on this day when we gleefully welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with all the knowing and all the anticipation of the spiritual practice this week.  This is the time to spend spiritually on ourselves.  This is the week to practice spiritual centeredness and forgiveness and right living so that we cannot only be  spiritually present to each other but to the community around us.

This week can be used to ramp us up for the rest of the year so that we here at United Church of Christ Petaluma may “put our faith into action through our commitment to compassion and justice. So that As individuals and as a congregation, we address need and challenges of inequality in our community and around the world as we seek ways in which we may join others to advance social and environmental justice.”[7]

Does anyone know where those last few lines came from??  Your own website. you all are doing a lot individually and collectively as a congregation, but this week, this week is for yourself.  This week is about reenergizing ourselves as Christians as we live into our story.  Look for yourself in the story, look for what moves you spiritually this week.  Jesus’ walk to good Friday is part of our richest tradition.  It empowers and inspires so that we may be who we are called to be  Christ to the world. Amen.

[1] Jenee Woodard, The Abingdon Creative Preaching Annual (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 85.
[2] Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: The Day-by-day Account of Jesus's final Week in Jerusalem (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006),
[3] Ibid., 3.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 5.
[6] David Neil Mosser, and Wellman, eds., Abingdon Preaching Annual 2011 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 119.
[7] UCC Petealuma, About, 2017, accessed April 9, 2017,

Be the Miracle, John 11:1-45, April 2, 2017

Thomas R. Kelly writes in his spiritual classic, A Testament of Devotion:

Over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by. Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens, we are further strained by an inward uneasiness, because we have hints that there is a way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power.[1]
I had a professor at Claremont school of theology that used to say; ”I hate to be the one to tell you this but it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when ”From the day we are born we begin to die. It’s as if our bodies are already dressed in grave clothes. As marvelous as science is, it has not yet mastered life’s greatest enemy, death. Yet there is one who has.
What kind of life would we lead if we were guaranteed not to die? How would we live if we knew already that we were immortal like a kind of Superman or Superwoman? Would be in such a hurry to get so much done?

There is something hard about this reading.  Jesus waited.  God waited.  God allowed someone to die and for “The people he loved” to suffer. Yet isn’t this the experience of everyone at one time or another. Sometimes we pray and God delays. Why?
 Though not one of the twelve disciples, I do believe this is the one whom Jesus loved, Lazarus was at least one of Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus heard of his friend’s sickness, he indicated God’s purpose by saying that the illness would be used for God’s glory and God's Son’s glory. While others panicked, and were concerned, Jesus was calm in his faith. Then he went on to say that God’s purpose was “so that you may believe.” Lazarus’ sisters both responded quite emotionally that if Jesus had been there sooner he would not have died. By this time, he had been dead four days. Again, Jesus emphasized the necessity to believe. Even his prayer, which was a public prayer, was said so that hearers may believe.
In the Play Corpus Christi by Terrance McNally we get a little different view of this miracle.
Simon there was an old man Lazarus. He’d been dead for six days and was starting to smell to high heaven. He had a wife and six daughters. I wish you could heard the racket they were making.
                And we do as the DISCIPLES become the WAILING WOMEN.
                They are Loud.

Joushua Arise Lazarus.

Simon  I think this was one of the practical miracles. I mean, there was no big reason for it.  Lazarus was no big Cheese or even especially a nice guy.  Joshua just couldn’t stand the noise.

Joshua Shut up, women.  Thank you.  Lazarus arise.

                LAZARUS suddenly sits up. ( in the 2006 version everyone screams in horror)

LAZARUS what’s the matter with you? You’d think you 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 how to pray.”[2]

Have we forgotten How to pray?  Or have we become obsessed with prayers of need and want or prayers for that miracle?

Before Lazarus’ resurrection (John 11:1-45) several things happened, perhaps serving as clues as to what we might expect before God intervenes.

Before God intervenes… Delay.  A sacred time of living into the situation we are in, a time where we must seek out our own way of just being.  Jesus stayed several more days after hearing of Lazarus’ Illness while the family had to cope, comfort each other and find acceptance of their situation.

Before God intervenes… Opposition: When Jesus finally decided to go, the disciples tried to dissuade him.  This opposition to a miracle sometimes comes as we love our misery, or we hate change even if it might be for the better of the situation or worse yet the betterment of ourselves.

Before God Intervenes…Blame: Martha and later Mary told Jesus that if he had been there her brother would not have died. Often too we blame ourselves for whatever our situation may be or blame others…this never would have happened if I only had done this or if you had only done that …

Before God Intervenes…Doubt: Martha also doubted that anyone could do anything after her brother had been dead four days. We become stuck in our own situations.  Feelings of helpless ness or hopelessness overwhelm us and we cannot seem to move on.

God may choose to bless us with a temporary miracle, and our faith may be tried but I believe we need to follow the wisdom of Terrance McNally’s 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.”[3]

The miracle given is not the resurrection, in my opinion, it is the opportunity to live life to the fullest

You know time McGraw has a song that address that it tells a story of a man in his forty who gets hit with the news of being terminal when asked what he did with that he says ;
“"I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying"
And he said
"Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying"[4]
Jesus said; “Lazarus come out.” The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth.  Jesus said untie him and let him go!” (John 11:44)  That is the miracle Lazarus was free from what bound him able to live life as Jesus wants us to live.
We are called to live and laugh and love fully in this life, to offer forgiveness and understanding where we can, to offer hospitality and companionship, and to fight for those who have less than, so that they too may have the opportunity live a resurrected life.
That’s it right simple live free and forgiven and proclaim it to all.  Simple to say the challenge is to try and to do it every day.  Do not wait for a miracle, be the miracle. And choose to live a Resurrected Life! Amen!

[1] Stephen W. Smith, Living the Lazarus Life: A Guidebook for Spiritual Transformation (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009),
[2] Terrence McNally, Corpus Christi: A Play (New York: Grove Press, 1998), 58.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Tim McGraw, Live like you were dying [piano, vocal, chords] (Miami, Fla: Warner Bros., 2005).