Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sunday - Discover Life, Again

What a JOY to baptize Micah Frisch (10), Isaac Kiptum (3), Jennifer Frisch (39), Ruby Gene Topple (4) this Easter Sunday.  Ruby said afterwards, "I got bapbitized!"

'My good people, I have here in my hands three Easter sermons, and in light of the baptisms and communion and who knows what else, you decide which I preach...... The $100 sermon will last five minutes The $50 sermon will last fifteen minutes The $20 sermon will last a full hour. Now, we'll take up the offering, tally up the individual amounts given, and the majority amounts will determine which one I'll deliver.'

Zia --17 months old now--wakes up with a smile on her face every morning... well not quite every morning, her mother corrected me. Most every morning Zia wakes up with a smile! Her sister Ruby used to wake up with a smile on her face every morning, but now at four, she's old, and worn and wise, she knows the day may not greet her as she greets it, so she sometimes wakes up with a smile, and sometimes she wakes up and pulls the covers over her head and moans... But Zia wakes up in the morning with a smile on her face.... It's almost like, she's programmed to do so.

She has reasons already at her young age to not smile: She had major surgery when she was 8 weeks old. She’s been poked at, prodded, and stuck, by doctors and specialists like she were a cow. She’s fallen down, been wacked in the head by our dog’s tale, been knocked over by her big sister, had things taken from her, had to ride in car seat for hours... She has to put up with her goofy dad. But, every morning, smiling like the sun!

Don’t you love it!? Who couldn’t like that?! Do you wish you could do it too?
Maybe some of you do, oh, don’t you happy people just make the rest a little sick to our stomach...
Ok, rest of us...what'taya say: wanna give it a shot? Wake up every morning with a smile. Impossible you say? Why? You and I, all of us, we’re here this morning celebrating the most impossible unrealistic story of a man God raised from the dead... and we act like we believe it, some days anyway. So why can’t we wake up every morning with a smile? Giving thanks to God for a new day before we get out of bed and stub our toe. ? Isn’t that what resurrection hope is all about? Easier said than done right?

-How do we wake up with resurrection hope when our job is ahh, and we’re loaded in debt?
-How do we wake up with resurrection hope when our child or grandchild is hooked on drugs and slipping away?
-How do we wake up with resurrection hope when the one we’d been waking up with for years is no longer there?
-How do we wake up with resurrection hope when there is so much injustice all around us? Does anything seem to make a difference anymore?
Wake up smiling?
Life’s hard: Sometimes misery can only be responded to by being miserable. But is that the way we want to live? Is that the way we’re called to live? It’s been said: “The world is like a mirror; frown at it, and it frowns at you. Smile and it smiles, too” (― Herbert Samuels) Mary Magdalene, God bless her, went to the tomb early that easter morning. “Good morning,” someone said on her way to the tomb. “What’s good about it?!,” she responds gruffly.
Her day got worse.
When she got to the tomb, she saw a crime scene--a body snatching. - the last of Jesus would be gone forever. When she tells Peter and the other disciple, it didn’t really help matters: They run to find out what happened..find some cloths in the tomb, and take off. Way to comfort the crying woman there fellas. Mary’s left alone, lost, confused. She sees a couple of angels: Why are you weeping? they ask.... “Don’t you get it? They’ve taken away my joy! She sees Jesus, the gardener. (Any of you find that when you are gardening people mistake you for Jesus? It happens to me all the time!) The Gardener/Jesus asks the same question: “Why are you weeping?” Why are you weeping?
Why are you weeping?
You know why, and you have every good reason to weep... But this story.
In this resurrection story! Joy had called her by name. Peace had returned to her. Love was back. She could smile again! She discovered life, again. Okay, here’s what I have in mind: During Lent, many people take on a discipline, try to create a new habit over the course of 40 days. Here, I’m saying, let’s create a new habit for the next 50 days till Pentecost, we’re reprogramming ourselves re- discovering within that which was already there from the beginning-- you don’t remember not smiling every morning when you were a year old, do you? Even you grouchies, and you know who you are--you turned two and everything was terrible ever since!
That joy is in there, somewhere. God has called each of us by name, in our baptisms. As we come to the table for communion. As we serve in the world. And You and I can claim LIFE, because we want to cling to the hope that God is among us, raising us up day after day to bring love and hope into this world. We are witnesses to the resurrection; this is our calling, and this is our true selves!

Let’s celebrate for 50 days! Let’s rejoice till Pentecost, that God is active and alive in our lives. God is active and alive in this world. Amen! Amen! This is a time to live with Resurrection hope!

Winston Churchill said: "Never give up, never give up, never, never, never give up."

Jesus said, I am the Resurrection and the Life; even though you experience death, you will live!
Even though misery happens, live! Every morning can be Easter morning; a day to wake up ..smiling. Rejoicing. Celebrating. Why not? Tell jokes: Laugh. Hug. Encourage. appreciate the life you have while you have it. And Let’s watch the world be transformed before our very eyes. as we recognize and are recognized by the risen Christ right in our midst. Discover life, again.

Let’s pray: Gracious and loving God, we thank you for another glorious Easter morning. We arrive here from many varied places, some of us from a place of rejoicing, many of us from a place of difficulty, and we’re doing all we can to hold it together. Wherever we are this morning, I ask that you reveal yourself to us once again. In baptism. In communion. In a hug; in a smile: Call our name, and so that we may discover the joy of life in you, again. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Goodbye Letter to WPC

 Querido WPC,

        It is with a joyful and at the same time sorrowful heart that I write to announce my family and I are going to be leaving this beloved congregation at the end of May - May 19, Pentecost Sunday, being our last Sunday. On the first of June, we will move to Ghost Ranch to coordinate the camp's summer college staff. In early August we will move to Athens, Georgia, where Trasie will begin the Ph.D. Program of Social Work at the University of Georgia — a real conflict of interest since we are both Georgia Tech grads!
        When we came to this congregation in January of 2007, we were in our early thirties, we had no children, and we were filled with optimism about all God had in store for us in Santa Fe with WPC. Now we are too quickly approaching 40, we have two precious girls--Ruby Gene and Zia, and we have come to dearly treasure the relationships we have formed and marvel in the ways we have been able to serve God as part of this community. Since Ruby Gene’s birth, we have wrestled with the tension between being faithful to our calling to this place and in this community, and our desire for our children to be closer to their grandparents. We have prayed for God to reveal to us the right time to resolve this tension. When we recently got news of Trasie’s acceptance into the program with an assistantship, meaning her tuition is waived and she is given a monthly stipend, we sensed this is what God is calling us to do. In order to support Trasie and the girls, I will spend a year as the “Catcher” (as a baseball catcher who cares for home base), meaning I will cook, clean, and coordinate family life! We are humbled and grateful for this next step, and our families and we are delighted.
     But, our delight does not come without heavy hearts as we begin to say goodbye (for “realz” this time). You mean more to us than any words can convey. You have shaped and transformed our lives in deeply meaningful ways. You have helped us raise our children and nurtured and cared for us in difficult times. You have entrusted your lives to me as your pastor; accepted my shortcomings and come to endear (some of) my quirks; patiently given me the freedom to try new ideas and graciously expressed times when those ideas weren't really working. You have challenged me to grow spiritually, to be an agent of reconciliation, and to fight for justice in this world so that we all might walk the path of sanctification. You, by God's grace, have molded me into a more Christian man as I have shared with you deep expressions of humility, compassion, patience, and agape love. You are my first parish; the painting we have of the church by Noe Cervantes will always hang proudly on the wall of our home, as we carry you lovingly in our hearts for all of our days.
     Reception of this news will vary from deep sadness, to regret, to possible relief. No matter where you are on that spectrum, I invite you in these remaining days to celebrate the life we have had together; let us be present to and with one another; may we work toward healing and wholeness where needed for the sake of Christ’s body, the church. I ask you for your prayers for my family and me as we go through this transition, and we commit to praying for you in your transition. Additionally, I want to put a plug in for the opportunity the church has to explore how God might be calling you to something new. “Behold,” God says, “I am doing something new!” What is this new thing? It is wonderful timing that the Session has already taken steps to potentially seek answers by setting up the visioning gatherings led by church consultant the Rev. George Packard called “God's Future Promise.” These gatherings will begin on Sundays April 21 and 28 with worship at 9:30 a.m. I encourage everyone who is part of WPC in small and big ways to share all hopes and dreams for WPC for the short and long-term.
     Goodbyes are always hard for me. Given the uniqueness and sacredness of the pastoral relationship, this will be especially difficult. Still, I look forward to upcoming days filled with laughter, tears, and heartfelt expressions. We give thanks to God, nuestro compañero, who accompanies us through all that life brings. Qué la gracia del Señor JesuCristo, el amor de Dios, y la comunión del Espíritu Santo nos acompañen ahora y para siempre. Amén.
      Con Amor y Gratitud,  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Meditation on Luke 15

(for future reference, a friend was encouraged to write a letter to his father with the idea of why do we wait until someone is dead or no longer with us before we tell them how much they mean to us).

This parable of Jesus found in Luke is popular not only for Christians, but also as a wisdom story shared and cherished by many traditions. It is a story so rich; so full of meaning. It is a story of radical grace and forgiveness. I was told in seminary that preaching this kind of radical grace and forgiveness would be the most difficult task as a preacher. So, instead of me preaching which only provides my feeble and limited interpretation, Let’s let the story “preach” this morning. Let’s sit with this parable and give space for God to speak through it Here’s what I propose: I'll read the story again, I chose to not use the more familiar NRSV translation of scripture, but rather the message translation so that we might hear this familiar passage in a new way. After the reading for about six minutes, I’d like for you to engage the questions found on the sheet. So everyone will need something to write with. The questions aren’t necessarily to be answered sequentially, but they can be. This isn’t a test. You don’t have to answer them all, or any of them. If you would rather engage the story by drawing an image or writing your own questions you can do so on another blank section. Or just reading the parable over and over. This is time for you and God and this parable, which many of us probably don’t get too often. Before we start, I'm going to point out a few observations scholars have made on the passage:

- The parable is told after Jesus has been challenged by Pharisees and scribes. Their job is to preserve a community’s sense of righteousness. They accuse Jesus of not just keeping bad company, but welcoming those they consider a violation of the nature and purpose of true other words, he is threatening their work. - A younger son could expect one third of the inheritance, divided up before the death of the father, but usually received at the death. (1Kings 1-2) Anthropologist and longtime missionary in the Middle-East, Kenneth Bailey makes the following observation in the light of this parable: ”For over fifteen years I have been asking people of all walks of life from Morocco to India and from Turkey to the Sudan about the implications of a son’s request for his inheritance while the father is still living. The answer has always been emphatically the same…the conversation runs as follows: Has anyone ever made such a request in your village? Never! Could anyone ever make such a request? Impossible! If anyone did, what would happen/ His father would beat him, of course! Why? The request means–he wants his father to die.” the action of this younger son asking for inheritance and it being given was unusual at best, extremely offensive at worst.

- After he’s squandered the inheritance and finds a job working among pigs is an added layer of his unworthiness, as Jews and pigs don't really go together...he is outside of the covenant (Lv 11:7; Is 65:4; 66:17)!

- The story is told in a way to convey that the younger son is living in extreme poverty.

The questions that I hope will allow this story to speak deep meaning to you during Lent. Do not rush, do not feel pressure. Simply sit with the story, and respond as you feel would be helpful. This practice is for you.

Sit comfortably, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and allow God to speak. I will ring a bell to signal the end of the time.
Q. What surprised you or stood out to you, maybe something familiar, or maybe something new?
Q. What is most troubling for you in this passage? What about that aspect is troubling? Sit with that disturbance for a moment...
Q. What was the father's reaction to both sons in the latter part of the story? What did this convey about his love for his sons? Consider the listeners: What might Jesus have hoped would been learned through this reaction of the father?
Q. Of the characters, the father, the older son, the younger son, with whom are you most sympathetic? With whom do you most identify? What might this say about your own spiritual longings in this moment?
Q. The party is what seems to really offend the older brother. If you were a next door neighbor, knowing well the situation with the younger brother, would you have attended the party? If you were the older brother, would you have attended?
Q. Using a word or a phrase, what one thing has God spoken to you through this story?


We actually ended up sharing these reflections as a community...and it was beautiful to hear the way Scripture came alive in this way. 

I didn't get a chance to do this portion of what I'd planned due to time. 

Okay, now, as if that wasn’t different enough. I’m going to play some music...
One of the most powerful ways I've engaged the drama of this parable is through a musical interpretation by the late Keith Green. It may not speak to all of us but, it has meant so much to so many people. I’m going to play just the last half of the song, picking up the story after the son has spent all his inheritance.

Again, as I play this, there is no pressure... Just enjoy the music if you find it enjoyable, the words are printed on the sheet. You may continue to write or draw or reflect as you feel led, Or just tune it out and bask in th reality of God's ridiculous gift of love joy and desire to party with us, penetentes.

Keith green, Prodigal Son Suite (was only going to play from 6:15 on--lyrics below to that section--but whole song is awesome):

I finally found some employment, feeding pigs on a farm, I wasn't treated to kindly, lo! I had to sleep in the barn, I had to eat with the swine, The bread I ate was like stone, It didn't take too much time until, I was dreaming of home. Oh, the servants there are better fed, If I could only have what my father gives them, I would truly need nothing more. Oh, I will go and say to him, I'm no longer worthy to be in your family, Will you take me as your servant, and let me live with them. It didn't take too long to pack my things, I left with only what I wore, And I prayed that I still had a home. I was near home, in sight of the house, My father just stared, dropped open his mouth, He ran up the road, and fell to my feet, and cried, and cried... "Father I've sinned, Heaven ashamed, I'm no longer worthy to wear your name, I've learned that my home is right where you are, Oh Father, take me in." "Bring the best robe, put it on my son, Shoes for his feet, hurry put them on, This is my son who I thought had died, Prepare a feast for my son's alive, I've prayed and prayed, never heard a sound, My son was lost, oh thank you God he's found, My son was dead and he's now alive, Prepare a feast for my son's alive, My son was dead, My son was lost, My son's returned in the hands of God."  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Manure - Luke 13:1-9

HO! LO! We’ve got HO and LO in our out! We’ve got manure in our story: Watch out! Ready to get a little dirty! Stinky! I see two types of manure in our passage from Luke, horse manure and rabbit manure.
     The first type I’m saying is suggested by the text. This type of manure describes the approach, the attitude, people often have to the reality of tragedy in life. We’re going to call this type of manure, horse manure. Bob Marshall’s theory as to why horse manure gets such a bad wrap is because back when people and horses shared common routes, people would frequently step in horse manure and say, Awe Horse....Poooh. Good theory... to suggest a bad type of manure... Feel free to replace horse with bull. And you may even replace manure with.... pucky.. what did you think I was going to say?
    The second kind of manure is like a rabbit Manure. Urban Farmer Novella Carpenter points out that not only is rabbit manure really good stuff, but it can go straight from the rabbit onto edible plants without harmful side-effects... unlike most manure which has to decompose a bit.. good manure. Rabbit manure.. You may replace manure...with...another word...starts with an “s”... “scat” What did you think I was going to say? Rabbit scat.

Part 1: Horse Manure:
Our passage from Luke starts off by raising the classic existentialist question: Why do tragic things happen? The problem of evil. If God is all powerful and God is all loving - Why does God allow for tragedies? And even more to the point, tragedies happen, manure happens, and when it does often it is said that victims of tragic events have received God’s judgment. To this kind of thinking Jesus says (implies): "Horse Manure." In our passage, some people come to Jesus--point out that a certain group of people - Galileans--were done in by Pilate...and ..."they deserved it right Jesus, Right! It was because they had done this bad thing, right!"
What did Jesus said in response? "Awe, Horse Manure. Bull pucky! Do you think they deserved this because they were worse than others! That kind of wrong-headedness is a load of manure!" Jesus goes on to say: "So long as you think that way, judging people from the tragedies they suffer... when the day comes that tragedy befalls you...people are going to judge you, too."
"Ok Jesus, but what about the tower... you know the one that collapsed right on top of those 18 people... Surely they did something wrong...right! They had to have been bad people right?!"
"AWE Horse manure! You think they were worse than others? Bull pucky." Jesus goes on to say: "So long as you think that way, judging people from the tragedy they suffer... when the day comes that tragedy befalls you...people are going to judge you, too."
Here Jesus once again is talking about one of our favorite pass-times: Judging people.... Basically, Jesus is saying:
- we are not to parse who are the really bad sinners and the not so bad sinner--EVER.
- We are not to assume that tragedy befalls people because of particular faults or traits or decisions they’ve made...EVER!
- and the real nugget of wisdom: when we no longer judge, we no longer fear the judgment of others or even divine judgment.  Still, WE judge, God weeps....
Here we go: HO! A litany of horse manure... I say the event, and if you think it’s wrong-headed rationale, you may say or shout horse manure or some other variation of the concept ready:
- Judging tragedy as a cause and effect helps us to understand: Horse manure.
- Judging tragedy may relieve us of guilt in some strange way? Horse manure
- bad things happen to bad people because they deserve it; and bad things happen to good people because...well the world is just not fair.
- When bad stuff doesn’t happen to us it’s because we’re pretty good! Horse MANURE!
If I suffer a tragedy it’s because of a sin from my past. HORSE MANURE
If something terrible has happened to me it’s because of a sin of my father: HORSE MANURE
my mother? HORSE MANURE
An ancestor's sin? HORSE MANURE
My child was born with down syndrome: God’s judgement on some wrong thing the mother or the father did: HORSE MANURE
- A hurricane tears a city apart - surely it was because it is a sinful city - HORSE MANURE
- A homeless person... must have made some bad decisions in his life...he deserves it... HORSE MANURE
- A rape victim...what was she wearing? HORSE MANURE
- THe victims of Newtown.... no one even dares go there with this line of horse manure thinking...the rationale completely breaks down.
Tragically, there are so many examples of this. Do any of you remember who Viola Liuzzo was? Her story was retold this past week in light of the voting rights act that’s being challenged in the Supreme Court. A white woman who had spent some years growing up in the segregated south, who, when she was 39, went down to Selma, Alabama to participate in marches and a carpool program helping those in the movement get from place to place... One day she was driving a 19 yr old black man on a winding, isolated road outside Selma, they were ambushed, and Liuzzo was shot to death by a car of four Ku Klux Klansmen. Liuzzo's murder became international news. And, it turns out people had little sympathy for Liuzzo. Hate mail flooded her family's Detroit home, accusing her of being a deranged communist. C rosses were burned in front of the home. Her husband had to hire armed guards to protect his family. A Ladies' Home Journal magazine questioned right after Liuzzo's death its what kind of woman would leave her family for a civil rights demonstration? In the aftermath of this tragedy, the majority of people said she had brought death on herself. And the perpetrators were initially acquitted Turns out, one of the four in the car was an FBI informant, and the FBI had to cover itself-- so the FBI leaked misinformation to the press, which soon began writing stories questioning Liuzzo's mental health and her morality. “It was horrible,” Her adult daughter Penny recalled.
What do we say? Horse manure!
Jesus says stop it!
HO! My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts says the Lord! LO! Here we go! Part 2: Rabbit Manure.
If you’re looking for a way to respond to suffering... maybe instead of judge Jesus suggests we A parable. A fig tree is no longer producing.. but it’s not dead. “Pull it up, says the landowner, it’s just taking up space! “But, wait,” the sympathetic the farm worker says, “Don’t give up on it just yet.... It just needs a little diggin... and a little manure.. Rabbit manure and then, maybe then it will produce fruit.” A parable as simple as it is short. We only have a certain amount of time to live. DO we produce fruit while we live? Once life is over we can’t produce fruit anymore. Yes we can think fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as individuals and/or as a community... are we bearing fruit? In the context of this passage, when we are judgmental, we may have trouble producing fruit. During this season of lent, maybe we need to cover ourselves in a little rabbit manure... This may help to humble us - to repent --. I think, by calling us to repent of our judgmental ways, Jesus is calling us to achieve a higher consciousness... by taking a position of lowliness, humility, and compassion in the face of tragedy.
You may think you are right when in fact you are wrong.
You may think you know, when in fact you do not know repent.
Do not judge. Love. Rabbit manure wisdom.
Two rabbit manure stories:
The story of Reverend Carlson Pearson is fascinating, maybe controversial? Carlson Pearson calls himself Oral Robert’s black son, because he’s black and because Oral Roberts took Pearson under his wing as Pearson was up and coming in ministry. As a result Pearson became “a rising evangelical megastar. - A Republican activist who prayed in the Bush Sr. White House, - a guest on The 700 Club, - host of a national TV show, - he traveled all over the world in chartered jets lecturing to fundamentalist gatherings.” [from]: “he’s at the top of his game. but something didn't feel right. Carlton had always preached a pretty conventional evangelical theology, which centered in large part around Hell-- the ultimate tragedy that will happen to people, who deserve it-- Hell, a horrible place, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for eternity, and the only way to avoid it was to accept Jesus. But then, one evening in front of the television, in the late 90. Pearson recalls: “I was watching the evening news. The Hutus and Tutus were returning from Rwanda to Uganda. My nine month old little girl was in my lap. I'm eating, and I'm watching these little kids with swollen bellies. It looks like their skin is stretched across their little skeletal remains. Their hair is kind of red from malnutrition. The babies, they've got flies in the corners of their eyes and of their mouths. And they reach for their mother's breast, and there's no milk. And I’m sitting there, with my little fat-faced baby, a plate of food, and a big-screen television. I said God, I don't know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and just suck them right into Hell, which is what was my assumption. Here’s where we can interject...what kind of thinking is that: Horse Manure! But let’s try some rabbit manure wisdom: Pearson continues his story: I heard a voice say within me, "So that's what you think we're doing?" I said, "That's what I've been taught." "We're sucking them into Hell?" I said, "Yes." "And what would change that?" asked the voice. "Well, they need to get saved." "And how would that happen?" "Well, somebody needs to preach the Gospel to them and get them saved." "So,” the voice inside says, “if you think that's the only way they're going to get saved is for somebody to preach the Gospel to them and that we're sucking them into Hell, why don't you put your little baby down, turn your big-screen television off, push your plate away, get on the first thing smoking, and go get them saved?" And I remember I broke into tears. I remember thinking, God, don't put that guilt on me. You know I've given you the best 40 years of my life. Besides, I can't save the whole world. I'm doing the best I can. And that's where Pearson, believes God was saying to him, "Precisely. You can't save this world. That's what we did. Do you think we're sucking them into Hell? Can't you see they're already there? That's Hell. You keep creating and inventing that for yourselves [and then you judge them.] I'm taking them into My presence."
- See more on Pearson here.
Repentance...moving from judgment to humility From a position of horse manure thinking to rabbit manure, wisdom:
Last story: We go back to the story of Viola Liuzzo’s daughter, Penny.... people have smeared her mother’s memory, and tormented her family. Penny has become terribly bitter And she carries this bitterness with her for many years... ...producing little to no fruit of love. But a little rabbit manure wisdom: When Penny gave birth to her first son, she resolved not to let her anger infect her boys. "How can you be a good mom and be hateful?" she says. "Adults who grow up prejudiced -- how did they learn that? Their parents were role models. You have to be a living example.'' Penny got her chance to be a living example with an unexpected encounter in court. During her family's suit against the government, Penny was giving a deposition when she encountered Eugene Thomas, one of the men arrested for the murder of her mother. Penny was sitting in a waiting room when Thomas walked into the room. At first, he just stood there and said nothing as he looked at her, Then he asked her, "Can you forgive me?" Penny paused. Then she said, "Yeah, I do." Thomas' shoulders relaxed, and relief seemed to wash over his face. "Thank you," he said. Then he turned and walked out of the room. When asked why she would so readily forgive the man who participated in the killing of her mother. Penny said she felt sorry for Thomas. He looked like he was in agony. "I didn't hesitate. I could see the look on his face. I'm not out to crush people. Everybody lives with their own torture.'' Everybody lives with their own torture...
Rabbit manure wisdom... bringing health and nutrition... healing and wholeness.

Let us pray: God, enrich our lives...with some good manure... Cleanse us from that horse manure: guilt, judg, bitterness, anger, resentment, hatred... Cover us in that good manure so that we may produce fruit... love, compassion, now and always; in the name of Jesus. Amen.