Sunday, December 28, 2014

Doting Devotion - Simeon Anna Luke 2:22ff

Preached, Dec 28, 2014
Commerce Presbyterian Church
Luke 2:22-44; Isaiah 61:10-62:3

When Ruby was a baby, she had no hair.  

She actually didn’t really get any hair until she was about 3  
She was round, ears protruded from her head boldly;
hers was a unique look, so much so that she drew a lot of attention;
It wasn’t uncommon for random people would make comments about her.

One of the most unique encounters between a stranger and Ruby happened in Santa Fe--the city different.
We were at the international folk art festival.
You can imagine the wonderful artsy type people who came out for the festival;
and that many there had significant exposure and leanings to Eastern Religions.
The Buddha was quite popular and most likely he was present in the form of a miniature statue in their homes.  
There was no getting around it, Ruby looked like a miniature Buddha:). Laughing Buddha      

But, I guess a lot of children kind of look like the Buddha...another example I found....Diaper - As we change the diaper, the diaper changes us…

Anyway back to Ruby at this festival...
An older woman would not stop looking at Ruby, who was on my shoulders while we watched one of the dance acts.
Eventually, she approached us with intention and a soft directness….and when she stood in front of me, eyes fixated on Ruby, she said,
“There is something about your baby. This is a special baby. Such a special baby.”
“Thank you,” I said.
The woman touched Ruby gently and departed in peace.  

It certainly is nice when others take notice and have kind things to say about our children; or even about us :).
It is kind of flattering: “To think, someone else thinks my child is special, just as I do.”

Certainly it can be that certain expectations, certain hopes and dreams, might be projected onto our children by others and ourselves.  
We, as a people, are quick to look to others to fulfill our hopes and dreams;
We look to washington...and then quickly look elsewhere.
We look to ministers…
To hollywood actors
To sports figures and coaches...

And from time to time we look to a newborn child...the ultimate symbol of hope and new life!  
And it really is amazing how much a newborn can bring with their peaceful innocence.
Their non judgemental spirit;
quite often our troubles fade away in the presence of a newborn...until it is time to change the diaper…”as we change the diaper, the diaper changes us.”

In our story of Jesus we find baby Jesus with his parents in the temple.  Before rushing home to show off their new baby to family friends and neighbors, Joseph and Mary take the time to do that which was required of them by the law; they fulfill their responsibilities by going to the temple.  Luke mentions no less than five times in these verses the actions of Mary and Joseph are motivated what was required by law of the Lord--these are some devout and pious parents!   Through ritual they sought purification, for Mary, who had to cleanse herself after exposure to blood during the birth.
Through ritual the family presented their first born baby boy before the priests so that the priests could “designate him as holy to the Lord.”
There at the temple, the family kills two birds with one stone;
literally, to fulfill these obligations they kill two turtle doves...
What is it you bring with you to the temple? two turtle doves…
and a partridge in a pear tree.
Actually, Luke says, they may have been two pigeons…but who’s really keeping count….
five golden rings
At the center of the scene is Jesus in the presence of two doting elderly folks: Simeon and Anna. Doting, Simeon and Anna, who it seem have dedicated most of their lives to looking for God’s action in the world.

Simeon is described as just and devout. THe holy spirit rested on him.
He saw in Jesus that God was going to do something great.  
Anna--whose husband had been gone a long time--is described as one who served God day and night with prayer and fasting.
She saw in Jesus God was going to do something great.
Both are portrayed as people who are looking to interpret the sign of times.
They are looking at how God is being experienced and how God is acting in the world.
They see things through eyes which want to see God….

Simeon, describes the greatness he sees in Jesus coming in the form of salvation,
a universal salvation: salvation prepared in the presence of all people.
Light for gentiles or for all nations, and glory to the people of Israel.       
The salvation does not come from economic security, nor in political triumph, but through falling and rising, through the revelation of innermost thoughts; even to the point of a sword piercing one’s very soul.

These are striking statements of Simeon: rising and falling, revelation of innermost thought.  
Do these images speak of the experience of Jesus on whose shoulders was placed so much expectation?
He rose and fell in the eyes of many.
He rose when he first began his ministry there in his local synagogue by announcing who he was, only to find the people shortly trying to throw him off a cliff.
He rose as people flocked to him to see him preach and heal;
and he fell as those in positions of authority sought to trap him;
he fell as they killed his cousin John in the process.
He raised bread and he raised a cup….
He fell into the hands of the authorities;
his disciples turned their backs on him as he was raised up on a cross.

Throughout are revealed his innermost thoughts--
seek the kingdom of God...Forgive them, they know not what they do…
Is this what Simeon and Anna would have expected from the baby they dotted over there in that temple? We don’t know.

But what Simeon said that was true for the experience of Jesus,
and it is true of our experience as well.
We rise and we fall. We suffer and we succeed with our innermost thoughts.

Each and every time we experience a rising or a falling, the revelation of innermost thoughts, we can experience salvation in the form of God’s presence--
the comfort of knowing God is with us in Emmanuel.

It seems like we just need to be made aware of what God may be doing in the world.
What is it that God is revealing to you in your rising and falling, in your innermost thoughts?
What is God revealing during difficult visits with family members?
Troubling situations at work?
Tough decisions that come in later years?   

I have a friend who has an interesting way of helping me become more aware of what God may doing in the world and in my life.
If I am talking to him about something that is troubling me,
or some current issue, or even something mundane like where we might meet up for lunch..
His response is pretty much always the same:
What do you think God is saying to you?
What do you think God is telling you to do?
What do you think God is doing in this situation?

It’s almost like, come on, give me a break, can’t we just talk like normal people….?
But, as annoying as it sometimes can be, I really appreciate the simplicity and complexity of his questions.
With these questions he invites me to think about how God may be present in each and every aspect of life.
And this is unusual.
We live in quite a secular world, one in which it seems like God talk is not readily welcomed, or When we do hear of God talk, it is usually accompanied by politicized ideology, or it has judgemental undertones.
When God does show up in talk, it is so often comes in the form of  in your face bible thumping; or a God’s not dead and I’m going to prove it kind of attitude.
Is it any wonder we hesitate to include God in our daily living…
why we may be hesitant to talk about God as part of our daily experience…

I appreciate the way our consitution protects religious freedoms…
and, in a religiously plural society, I’m don’t really see putting ten commandments in public spaces as a way to increase our awareness that God may be active in our lives..the beatitudes...maybe.

But I do like my friends questions as part of day to day living.
In our rising and in our falling. As being an intergral part of our innermost thought:
What do you think God is saying to you?
What do you think God is telling you to do?
What do you think God is doing in this situation?
These questions suggest a keen openness to the possibility that God is God in the way we profess God to be God….
The way my friend sees the world and his life with this constant perspective of seeking God, looking for what God may be doing…
by doing this he is so frequently amazed by revelations of what God is doing...of how God is present in the world.

In this way, he reminds me of Simeon and Anna.  
And so do many of you.
Particularly those of you in this congregation who are among the more seasoned and elderly; just as Anna and Simeon were.  
We are here on the first Sunday after Christmas;
when pretty much only the hard core show up at church.
Plus, It is rainy and cloudy and cold outside.
You really are the hard core church goerers;
kind of like Simeon and Anna...if the sanctuary doors are open you are there...seeking after God….

It is my understanding that many of you who are elderly, grew up in times when it was not uncommon to include God in daily conversation.
Many of you learned how to pray and read scripture on a daily basis.
Many of you have learned how to watch and wait and see God at work….

And so I want to reach out to you Simeon’s and Anna’s to help us of a younger generation.  We’re trying to make sense of this confusing world we live in.
We’re trying to have faith in God; but we need your help.
Sometimes, we show up in churches, some with more consistency than others.  
We need help talking about God.  
We need help learning how to look for what God may be doing.
And we need your prayers and blessings….
you see what a troubled world it is--think if you had to raise your children now in these times?  

And, the children--they need you as well.
They need to learn the faith from you;
they need you to be an active part of their lives;
they need you to speak of how special they are….
They need your blessing….

if you’re not sure how to get involved in the young people’s lives, ask their parents…
maybe just ask their parents if you can pray for their children on a regular basis.  
I know I would welcome the gesture for my girls.

We come to the end of 2014.  
A year we saw falling and rising,
in the life of this church;
in many aspects of society and the world.  
And in our own lives we surely experienced falling and rising as well.
What was God doing in those moments?
How was God revealed during those times?
How was God present to us then, and how is God present to us now?

With a new year comes so much possibility, as well as the reality that expectations will not be met--there will be trials and losses.  

Maybe 2015 can be a year when, with intention, we consider the possibility of God being part of our daily living--
in our waking and our sleeping,
in our rising and our falling
in our wars and our suffering
In our prayers and fasting,
and our protests and our struggles...
in our work and in our play…
in our waiting for the redemption of the world….
WE may be surprised by joy at the ways in which God is redeeming the world before our very eyes…

Hope came into the world; and Simeon and Anna, saw God in the face of the newborn Jesus.
Hope comes into our world as we become aware of the living Christ present among us.  
And in each moment we might discover salvation….

It may take a stranger, a dear friend, or even a Simeon or an Anna among us to call our attention to God doing, but none-the-less, Rejoice
God is, God was, and God will be.

Thanks be to God. Amen.   

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pastoral Prayer, stumblin and bumblin

This morning I went to visit a parishioner who will undergo surgery today.  It is an easy commute to the hospital from my house: a 2 minute bike ride.  I'm still relatively unfamiliar with the hospital, so it took me a little while to get to the Pre-Op waiting area. Just as I arrived to the area I saw her heading into the surgery Pre-Op. I hurried after her and the woman accompanying her, whom I later learned was her daughter. I caught up to them and they were heading right into the prep room.  I asked if she wanted me to say a quick prayer and she said sure.  There in the middle of all who were around, I attempted to pray. Words came out, but they were almost non-sensical. It just wasn't happening! I wanted to hit the do over button! After a moment, I looked up and I said, I'm so sorry, my brain is just not working right now.  Graciously, she said it was early and that she needed her coffee. The daughter awkwardly smiled.  I apologized for not being able to pray in that moment.  The parishioner reassured her daughter I was a great guy.  It was embarrassing to say the least.  In 14 years of ministry, I don't recall ever having that hard a time simply praying!  If ever there was a time for a prayer book (which I often have with me) or just a simple prayer, that would have been the time!  I hope in the very least, rather than potentially causing any anxiety, it may have given them something to laugh about!

Prayer, a precious gift--what happens when it is just a stumbling and bumbling pray-er? God knows our needs before we can utter the words--thank God! Grace upon grace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Islands, Sail Boats in the Labyrinth

Ruby and I, after a wonderfully lengthy detour in the ARMC park, began our walk in the labyrinth...or at least, I attempted to begin my walk. She, who had been standing at the precipice of entry, retreated and squatted down in order to gather items, twigs, bark, leaves, monkey grass. I began my walk "Walk in Peace" says the block.  "Dadda, Dadda, WAIT FOR ME!" says my daughter.  I wait a few moments; she is still collecting. I begin to walk again, "WAIT!"  "It's not a race, you can begin when you want to," I respond.  She says, "It is a race, I decided!"  I wait. She blows past me in a flurry, hands full of objects who destinies are forever changed, uprooted from one place and soon to be placed in the center. She cuts ends and is quickly in the center, and she begin to build her fairy world. With twigs logged in between stones, rocks collected in a center "island" leaf sail boats floating around.  I join her in the middle and sit. "Help me, Dadda."  I follow her lead in building this world.

Once complete, she stands up and makes her way out.  But, before making it too far out, she finds another "sail boat" which she quickly puts in the "water." I continue to walk: "Dadda, you're supposed to wait." "You didn't tell me I was supposed to wait." She races to retrace her steps to the place she'd left, but zig zags around, trying to honor the integrity of the path, but at the same time desperate to get ahead of me. Soon she discovers she has only moved further away, so she hops from one track to another in my direction until she is firmly in front of me and then she briskly continues her walk until she is out! "I won." Yes, you did, my sweet girl.  


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Proper Dress, Matthew 22:1-14

Commerce Presbyterian Church
October 12, 2014
Rev. C. Craig Topple
Many are called, few are chosen.
There are many passages of scripture, and this particular passage for today was chosen by the Monday bible study group who wanted to hear a sermon on it.
They wanted a challenge, or just wanted to challenge me!  
Let’s see what Craig can do with this!

We are in week four of our Heaven on Earth project.  
We are focused; honing in on passages found in Matthew’s Gospel when he uses a certain key phrase, a frequently used term of Jesus: the kingdom of heaven.
We are attempting to see this as a code word for transformation of consciousness,
Jesus is calling us to be transformed
by going past our minds and moving into our hearts, where we can be more in tuned with the heartbeat of God, whose heart yearns for closeness with us.
Many of Jesus teachings that used this code word, kingdom of heaven, are told in parables.  
Many parables, like the good Samaritan or the prodigal son, are familiar and well-loved; but how well understood?

Then we have others, like the one from today, which are not spoken of often, and kind of leave us scratching our heads….uh say what Jesus?

Jesus admitted: The reason I speak to them in parables is that "seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' (Matt 13:13)

I’d like to hear some of you teachers in your evaluations at school say something similar to school administrators if/when they express concern about your students’ getting it - I teach this way so they do not perceive or listen or understand!
Jesus loves to teach in parables, but, what is a parable?  
Let’s look at how a parable may function, by comparing it to a proverb.
A proverb is something along the lines of Aesop’s Fables: a teaching story with a moral to it; we're learn a specific lesson.
The moral of the story is….always listen to your mother and father...those are the best ones right.

But for Jesus, his parables seem to function in a very different way than a fable or proverb…
He doesn’t always leave us with a clear moral of the story;
His parables often conclude with a pithy phrase:
therefore the first will be last and the last first;
many of called but few are chosen.
And we’re kind of left like...huh?
how does that phrase fit with what you just said?

Jesus parables are much closer to what in the Zen tradition would be koans--
they’re more like profound paradoxes (riddles, if you like) that are intended to turn the egoic mind upside down...
As we pay more attention to Jesus’ parables, seeking to discover their meaning/what jesus was trying to do in his teachings, our head may hurt a bit, but
slowly we discover  what he may really be up to is rewriting our consciousness.
What we once thought of as beloved folk tales are in fact engaged in some fairly radical sabotage of our way of seeing the world.

Let's consider today’s parable.

What are some of your reactions to this parable
harsh? confusing?
What questions come up?
Who are the originally invited guests?
why would they refuse to come...not once, but twice?
why were they invited twice?
why did some turn all violent?
yikes...the king gets some major revenge on--
who was the king to represent again?

the new guests show up...good and bad people, what’s that about?
the one dude gets called out because of his clothes?
The king asks him how he got in...were there bouncers there?
you’re outta here! not into the streets, but to where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
what kind of wedding banquet is this anyway?
and then to top it off,
Many are called, few are chosen…
are the many called all the guests there, but the few chosen the one wearing improper garments
or are the many called the first invited guests, the few chosen the guests who finally came, but weren’t invited initially, and they are good and bad, and then there’s the one who isn’t wearing proper dress....

what is this about?
you want answers?
we think we’re entitled them
you want answers?
we want the truth!
you can’t handle the truth?!
As we sit with these questions, I thought it would be interesting to see how others have attempted to interpret these passages, provide answers to espouse the truth since Jesus first told the parable....  
let’s go back more than 1500 years.  ancient church father, st Chrysostom preached a sermon on this text.
When speaking of the wedding garments he says:
Reverence the love of Him, who called you, and let no one continue to have filthy garments, but let each of you busy himself about the clothing of your soul.
Hear, ye women; hear, ye men; we need not these garments that are bespangled with gold, that adorn our outward parts,2603but those others, that adorn the inward....
It is not possible at the same time to deck both soul and body.

Call to mind those holy persons...them that wear garments of hair, them that dwell in the deserts. These above all are the wearers of the garments of that wedding; this is evident from hence, that how many soever purple robes thou wert to give them, they would not choose to receive them; ….even that purple robe they spurn like the spider’s web... And if thou wert able to open the doors of the mind, and to look upon their soul, and all their ornaments within, surely thou wouldest fall down upon the earth, not bearing the glory of their beauty, and the splendor of those garments, and the lightning brightness of their conscience.

For St. Chrysostom, this is a parable about material wealth and spiritual asceticism…
choosing a life that pursues adorning the soul through spiritual pursuits rather than adorning the body through material pursuits; in this way the conscience is brightened.

let’s jump ahead 1000 years to the writings of john calvin, our beloved church father...
much of his interpretation of this passage uses broad sweeping strokes to condemn the “jews”,
those invited first were the jews, and their haughty rejection of [God’s] grace was followed by the madness of cruelty. Yes, Calvin says, God destroys those ungodly men who reject the grace of god…. But not just the Jews….lest non Jews get too comfortable, Calvin says:
this doctrine applies equally to us; for the same destruction which Christ denounces against the Jews awaits all the ungodly, who violently oppose the ministers of the Gospel. As to the wedding garment, is it faith, or is it a holy life? This is a useless controversy; for faith cannot be separated from good works, nor do good works proceed from any other source than from faith. Let us not flatter ourselves with the empty title of faith, but let every man seriously examine himself, that at the final review he may be pronounced to be one of the lawful guests….I enter no farther, at present, into the question about the eternal election of God; for the words of Christ mean nothing more than this, that the external profession of faith is not a sufficient proof that God will acknowledge as his people all who appear to have accepted of his invitation. [293]
our man Calvin! Violence, destruction, rejection!
You may profess the faith, but that isn’t sufficient proof god will accept you. ...
we jump ahead again 500 years this time to 1955, I found this book by, John R Rice, The King of the Jews, in the church’s library. Rice is firmly convinced:
“this is a parable interpreting the course of events until christ returns.” [A rapture interpretation.]
The certain king is God the father.
His son is Jesus Christ.
The marriage will occur following the rapture of the saints when christ comes into the air to receive us.
The church is likened unto a bride.
After the rapture, when [the chosen] are caught up to meet christ in the air, we will never leave him anymore.  
“this parable clearly shows” - I love that, clearly show-- “that all the prophets preached the same plan of salvation as given in the new testament.”  
But, they would not come - the response of sinners to God’s grace  
the king sent to kill them- typical of the wrath of god against all sinners who reject christ.
those who accept are exceptions.  
the garments are like the robes of righteousness, the garments of the saints, - salvation.  
the man speechless - a christ rejecting sinner.
outer darkness is hell, so terrible there are many phases of its torments.  
many are called -that is everybody is invited to the wedding supper
few are chosen - no one can attend but those who are willing to take by faith the wedding garment ahead of time...
...rapture! Acceptance and rejection,  faith and hell!  woah!

Finally, we jump ahead again, just 50 years this time, to this century, and theologian Brian McLaren, a leader in what is known as the emergent church movement.  On his blog--of course--he responds to a query about this confusing parable:
I used to interpret this passage according to this "key" -
God = king
Son = Jesus
"Invitation" = predestination, gospel presentation
outer darkness = hell
But I am leaning toward another approach.
The king in this story is characterized by violence, capriciousness, and coercion ... hardly a sensible portrayal of the God embodied in Jesus!
So try this:
king = Caesar
outer darkness = persecution for justice's sake, cross
man cast out = Son of Man (Jesus and those who follow his way)
Caesar….pretends to be a benefactor...
pretends to be inviting people to a feast,
but the falsity of his invitation is shown by the way he treats those who decline.
Some of the people - representing local leaders who are being "invited" into the empire but know where it leads
(to oppression, exploitation, etc.) - respond in kind.
They aren't fooled, and they engage in terrorism and rebellion against the emperor (seizing his slaves, maltreating them, murdering them).
The insecure and dictatorial emperor responds by filling the banquet with the population at large (against their will).
Among them is a lone figure who refuses to dress up in costume and play the role.
Who is that? The Son of Man - "the new generation of humanity" -
Jesus and those who follow his new, nonviolent way of freedom, love, and peace.
When he is apprehended, "like a lamb to slaughter, he opened not his mouth," as Isaiah said.
He is expelled into "outer darkness."
This is Jesus going to the cross - and in doing so, he exposes the false generosity of "the powers that be" as a sham and show.
Mclaren admits:
“This interpretation is problematic in some ways, but so is the standard one (!).”
so Mclaren asks: “What do you think of this interpretation? I'd love to hear comments on twitter or facebook.”

Four interpretations across two millennia...
many interpretations have been given, you may have to chose the one you like best; particularly if you are hoping for answers in order to be more certain….

But what if we go beyond seeking answers and certainty, and ask:
How does this parable function to give me better understanding about who God is and about who I am?
It has been suggested there are two major groups of people in the world: those who want certitude and those who seek understanding. And, those two groups have a very hard time understanding one another! Often, we find church people primarily consisting of people in the first group... An enclave of settled and certain people, who have and will serve a real need in history and culture.
But are good certain church people what the gospel needs and the world longs for right now? Father Richard Rohr says, “just speaking structurally, it is a sure recipe for a failing company or institution when people caught up in certitudes are running the show.”
Just look at church splits…look at our political discourse!
So often we find church people who are not bridge builders to a larger world, but wagon circlers around a world where teaching their own mythology--our american way of life; our version of christianity; our ideology...becomes more important than honest faith seeking understanding.
When this happens the church becomes more and more an exclusionary institution, concerned about being certain, and proper church dress may serve as metaphor for how this has played in churches over the years.
Statistically, the crowds that are gathering in churches, any churches, are the already properly dressed. All in the name of a Jesus who told us to "go out to the crossroads and invite everyone to the wedding feast." And, as we often see, rigid people finally turn against one another and against the success of the mission.
Can the ancient and wise institution of the church move beyond the fears and threats that may feed a need for certainty, in order to “[collect] everyone they could, good and bad alike" (Matthew 22:9-10).
Many people are growing up without any clear sense of identity, order, or boundaries, without much inner experience, and even less any authentic religious experience.  
If they’re receiving invitations, they aren’t banging down the church doors to get in....
the church can try to threaten, “come to church or else there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” but folks aren’t falling for it anymore.  
They seek authentic faith, which maybe isn’t just about having right answers, “orthodoxy” but, instead, where people of faith seek to engage the world in a meaningful way “orthopraxy”….for the need for meaning is deep and profound. Jesus offers deep profound meaning through the dark journey of sacrificial living. Jesus offers communion with the Divine Mystery that can overcome such darkness. Jesus echoes the teachings of wisdom...who calls to us all.
And so jesus teaches in parables; challenging all basic structures, assumptions, and beliefs about that we may be transformed. He may make us angry or frustrated sometimes because there are no easy answers...but he doesn’t want us to give up…
But instead, maybe just to simply sit with these difficult teachings in meditation,
and begin to discover where all of these characters—
the king and his slaves,
the various invited guests,
the good and bad,
the properly dressed
the speechless one thrown out
—where do these live within our own being,

Do you worried about those who reject the invitation to the banquet?
Are you concerned you won’t get invited?
Do we really know as well as we think we do what’s good and what’s bad?  
Do you worry you aren't dressed properly?

And when you find yourself sitting with a certain question, something that is unsettling,
or focused on a particular phrase, you might ask, “What is God saying to me in this?”

In this way this or any parable becomes like a mirror that reflects back to us our own state of consciousness. This is what my teacher Cynthia Bourgeault taught me, and so I share with you. Once you begin to see it, you can’t not see it: This element of subversiveness is the common thread in virtually all Jesus’ teaching.  He is very deliberately trying to short-circuit that grasping, acquiring, clinging, comparing linear brain and to open up within us a whole new mode of perception not what we see, but how we see.  

This is a classic strategy of a master of wisdom; calling us to see a whole new world.  Thanks be to God...Amen.