Sermon for 7/28/19 Luke 11:1-13

As most of you know, Chris and I recently took a vacation to Las Vegas. Some of you had a familiar question: did you gamble? And we did. And we didn’t win anything. I played a complicated slot machine that I can’t begin to describe how it works or how I won when I actually did win (a few cents here and there). Most of the slot machines that you may be familiar with are almost phased out. These would be the traditional 3 window slot machines with one “win” line in the middle. Usually it’s filled with symbols like cherries or seven’s or something similar. You put the coin in, you pull the arm, and you know immediately if you win. First of all, rarely do people put coins in anymore. And while the lever is still there, most people push a button that says “spin reels.” A more traditional slot machine is easy to understand. I wonder if we think about prayer the same way sometime. We say the right words, we make the right gestures, we put the right amount in the offering plate, and JACKPOT! God answers our prayers. It’s not that easy. Thankfully, it’s not that complicated either. 

Before you feel yourself tense up, I want you to know that this will not be a sermon about how you should be praying more and that praying is good for you. We all know this already. It isn’t my job to stand up here and guilt you into doing anything, especially something I know I need help with. I would love to understand prayer and how it works. But, the thing is, I don’t. I don’t know why God answers certain prayers and leaves others unanswered. I don’t know why God feels like answering prayers for someone else but not me. What I know for sure is that I am still learning about prayer. I also know that God wants us to pray. God desires for us to be bold and persistent in our prayer. In fact, in the text today we hear the story of the man waking his neighbor for bread and he is persistent. The translation would more accurately state that he is shameless. I’ve never thought about being shameless in prayer. And I believe that God listens to our prayers. Please understand though, my beloved, listening to our prayers and answering our prayers are two very different things. 

The words of today’s text are familiar because we pray them every Sunday. Maybe you pray them every day. In the Gospel of Luke, prayer is central to who Jesus is and what Jesus does. “According to Luke 11, through prayer believers participate in God’s commitment to bring forth God’s reign.” When the disciples come to Jesus and say “Lord, teach us to pray” they are asking the right person. Notice Jesus doesn’t tell them how to pray, as in, “close your eyes” or “bow your head.” Instead, he tells them what to say. And the entire prayer is built around a relationship with God. A loving and shameless relationship with God. 

The prayer does not assume that we need to be something that we are not. We are not expected to become greater than we are. We are not asked to transform ourselves into some kind of super human. It is a “deeply human kind of prayer. It is a prayer for … creatures in need.” What do we need? Well, the prayer breaks it down quite simply. We need relationship. When we address God as father, we speak to that relationship. And yes, it is okay to address God as mother. If you’ve had a difficult relationship with your father or father figure, thinking of God as a loving father may prove to be challenging. After that, it is simple human needs that we pray for: “give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us.” We cannot do this on our own and as crazy as it may sound, we need God’s help. 

Prayer is a lifetime practice. I want to emphasize that word: practice. Prayer evolves as our life does. If you’ve ever listened to a child pray, they are some of the most thoughtful and thought provoking prayers. But they may also not reflect your life at this moment. But what remains constant in our prayers is our reliance on God. You hear me say this almost every Sunday and you hear the disciples speak it in the text “teach us to pray.” We will never advance to “Lord, remember us in your kingdom and you taught us to pray…” The idea is that it is ongoing. Again, I don’t know how prayer works. It’s not a Holy Spirit slot machine. But, I know that God desires a relationship with us and that is accomplished through prayer. 

What keeps you from praying? I can’t very well ask that question of you if I don’t ask it of myself first. What keeps me from praying? I thought about that for a while and every answer I came up with really boiled down to one main answer: fear. It’s easy for me to say I don’t pray because I just don’t have the time. But maybe it’s not that I don’t have the time but I don’t make the time. Because if I pray, God might actually respond. I don’t pray because I don’t have the right words (whatever those are). Well, Jesus gave me the words right here. My desire to be a perfectionist keep me from praying because I am afraid I will screw it up. So, every excuse I came up with really was just fear. And with a loving, grace-filled, mercy-filled God, why do I fear? God wants you and I to be shameless in our prayer. Shameless in how we pray, when we pray, what we pray and to whom we pray. 

God wants us to pray and God wants us to ask for anything. “Prayer is praise; prayer is thanksgiving; prayer is conversation; prayer is questioning; prayer is arguing; prayer is lamenting. Prayer is all these things and more. But prayer is also — and perhaps fundamentally — asking God for what we most need and desire…shamelessly” (Lose, Working Preacher). And I understand that we may have a deep desire to know how prayer works. Because then if we know how prayer works then we can pray just the *right* way and our prayers will be answered. And then cancer would be gone, and hungry people would be fed, and people wouldn’t die of curable disease, and on and on. But we don’t know how prayer works and I know how frustrating that is. While we don’t know the “how” of prayer, we do know the “who” and that is Jesus. 

We pray to the God that answers, no matter the time of day. We pray to the God that gives us more than we expect or needed and loves us like a parent, but even better and even stronger. We pray to the God that gives us, feeds, us, forgives us, and leads us. There is no such thing as a small prayer. There is no prayer to big for God. You can scream at God or sing to God, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no wrong way to pray. Because every time we pray, we once again admit to God, and maybe, more appropriately, to ourselves, that we can’t do this alone and that our lives are dependent on the one who generously gives us our daily bread. Our lives are dependent on the one who forgives our sins and encourages us to do likewise. Our lives are dependent on the one who will not allow us to be tried beyond our limits. Our lives are dependent on the one who loves us beyond our comprehension. Be shameless in your prayers. Be bold in your prayers. Be daring in your prayers. God is always listening. 

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Sermon for 7/21/19 Luke 10:38-42

“But Martha was distracted by her many tasks…” How dare Jesus call me out like that. This text might as well say “but Jealaine was distracted by her many tasks.” I feel seen and offended all at the same time. I think there are better ways of getting my attention, Jesus. This Gospel text didn’t have to come up now, at this time, in this place, in order to get my attention. And I can almost hear Jesus saying “oh really? How else was I to get your attention?” I have no doubt that there has been a Sunday or two where you may have thought “I really feel like Pastor was talking directly to me. She’s got a lot of nerve.” Well, that’s me today except with Jesus. I have a small example of this. 

Last Sunday, Ellen was determined that she wanted to go swimming. On Sunday, after church one thing takes priority: my Sunday afternoon nap. I believe Jesus created naps for a reason. But, Chris wasn’t up for swimming and so I needed to be the best and coolest mom ever and go swimming. Task accepted. It was hot. I was a human jungle gym in the pool. There were like 3000 kids at the pool and Ellen had a great time so that’s all that matters. We made a brief stop at the grocery store before going home. By the time we got home, I was not the cheery ray of sunshine you see before you now. But, I kept moving as soon as we walked in the door. I started our dinner. I put the wet, chlorine filled towels in the washer, I changed my clothes, I filled one of the dog’s water bowls back up, and then I opened the dishwasher to empty that. By this time, Chris had come in the kitchen and said “what are you doing?” I said “emptying the dishwasher” (which, I thought was apparent by the fact that I was literally in the middle of emptying the dishwasher when he asked. It’s not like I was in the middle of brain surgery.) But I think what he really meant is “why are you moving? Why are you still working?” So, in his best and most gentle voice he said “go sit down.” He was inviting me to rest. I will tell you that the look I gave him was not real loving. 

How often does Jesus come among us, begging us to rest, to sit at his feet and learn, to soak in knowledge, to have a sabbath of sorts, and we either miss it or we’re just too busy? I find it interesting that when God created the world, everything was called “good” except for one thing, and that is sabbath. Sabbath is the only thing that, when created, was called “holy.” What a relief it must have been to Martha, perhaps, to take a rest from society’s expectations. And Jesus calls us to rest, calls us to recenter ourselves on that which is life-giving, calls us to just be, and we’re too damned busy to actually do it. 

Now, please understand that I am not telling you all to quit your jobs and go lay on the beach (although if you can afford to do that and want to do that then more power to you). But what do you do that is life giving? I’m not saying that being busy is a bad thing. But, we’ve made busy almost a status of statement in life. We often try and “out busy” one another. “You think you’re busy? Listen to this….” I know I’ve jokingly said that I often need vacations from my vacations. Yet US employees in general leave 170 million vacation days unused every year. Like Martha, our work is good work. It is work that may even leave us really satisfied. But, at the end of the day, we are called to rest. We are called to step away from society’s expectations, and sit with the one who loves us unconditionally. 

So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we take the time to rest? Why don’t we take the time for sabbath? Why don’t we stop for a while and rest at the feet of Jesus? Could it be that we’re missing Jesus? It’s possible. Jesus longs to be in relationship with us. And yet we treat him like anything else on our “to-do” list. As if Jesus is a light bulb we’ve been meaning to replace. We don’t take the time out for a few reasons (at least as I see it). One, we feel guilty when we do take time off to just rest and be. Two, we have a little bit of martyr in us. Perhaps people will feel sorry for us that we’ve been working 6 or 7 days a week straight for the last 18 years. And three, if we take the time to slow down, that means we just might have to listen for Christ and to Christ and do we really want to hear what he has to say to us?

Martha isn’t trying to avoid Christ. She’s not making herself a martyr. She might be dealing with guilt (especially again, because hospitality was expected). But it is as if Jesus is saying to her “Martha, I don’t care about any of that. Just put that stuff down and come and relax. Listen to me.” What keeps you from sitting at the feet of Jesus? Are you afraid of what Jesus might say to you? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a message of love that you’ve convinced yourself you don’t deserve? Are you afraid that you’re going to hear a word of forgiveness that you’ve craved but keep denying? Are you afraid that instead of hearing judgement and condemnation, that you might hear mercy, peace, and the desire to love you? That is scary, my beloved. If we keep ourselves busy enough we don’t have to be vulnerable. 

It goes against everything this culture stands for to stop what you’re doing and sit at the feet of the one who gives life. It goes against everything that society says we should want to bask in the knowledge and love of the one who gives us love. And it is most certainly counter-cultural to not be busy. Perhaps it’s time that we start to “busy” ourselves with just being. Maybe we should busy ourselves being in the presence of the one who calls us to be. Nothing else in this life matters, my beloved, if we have nothing and no one to call on. Nothing else in this life matters if we are counting on ourselves or our own actions to ensure our salvation. Maybe if you won’t hear Jesus, you’ll hear me: I am giving you permission to rest. I am giving myself permission to rest. I am giving you permission to no longer cower and cave under what society expects of you. I am giving you permission to sit at the feet of the one who loves you and be reminded what it means to be loved, be washed, be fed, and be freed. I am giving you permission to be Mary and Martha in a world that expects you to be either one or the other.  

 

Sermon for 7/14/19 Luke 10:25-37

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.” That alone should tell us a lot about that road. The Jericho road doesn’t just exist in Jesus’ time. We have a lot of Jericho roads in this town, in this state, and in this country. It may not be called Jericho road, but it is. It is often the line between the have and the have-nots. It is the line between barely getting by and barely living. It is the line between a school with enough supplies for each child and a school filled with asbestos, mold, and the majority receiving free lunch. It is the road that no real estate agent wants to sell or buy on. It is the road that gets the most calls to 911. It is the road that comes with stigma. “Oh you live on the Jericho road?” and then people think they know your story. “In many cities, Jericho road is called ‘Martin Luther King Boulevard’” (Traci Blackmon). Here are some versions of our Jericho roads: International Boulevard, the crossing between McAllen, Texas and Mexico. El Paso Road, the crossing between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Virginia Avenue, the crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. So many places that we hear about on the news. The stories of cages, camps, crying babies, separated families, laws and regulations, imigration, and honestly, a lot of confusion. 

I’ve been overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to believe. What I see on the news is disturbing. I might even go as far to say that what I’ve seen is inhumane. I know that the majority of the asylum seeking people that arrive at our borders do so in the hope of escaping trauma and violence in their home cities or countries. Some arrive at our borders, much like our ancestors did, hoping for a better life, better opportunities, better everything. The reality is that the stories of drug and human trafficking do happen, but so less often than you might think. The other reality is that no wall, no immigration policy, no law will ever stop drug and human trafficking. It’s a sad reality. 

I also believe that a path to citizenship should be easier than it is. We will always have a Jericho road. If it isn’t immigration, it will be something else. “Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk” (ibid). A priest and a Levite both passed by the man. They both saw him, it tells us that in the text. They purposefully chose to ignore a man who was laying on the side of the road, naked, beaten up, probably bruised and bleeding, maybe not even conscious. And along comes the Samaritan who himself knows what it is like to be ignored, forgotten, avoided, and shunned. He has nothing to lose. Jericho road is a place that requires personal risk and the Samaritan had nothing to lose. The priest and the Levite, they had plenty to risk and chose not to. I relate all too well to the priest and the Levite. I want to think I am the Samaritan. But, when it comes to putting myself on the line, I become selectively blind. 

As I said, I’ve become overwhelmed by the situation at the border. I don’t want to turn away, but the problem seems so large that I wonder what I, a single person, can do about it. The Samaritan could have ignored the situation on Jericho road and chose not to. I wonder what the Samaritan would do on International Boulevard, El Paso Road, or Virginia Avenue? Would the Samaritan be able to ignore the cries? The stench? The filth? The look of frustration, worry, and exhaustion on the faces of immigration enforcement officers? Might the Samaritan be arrested for civil disobedience for offering water at the border? What would happen to the Samaritan if he or she showed up to refugee camps with boxes of toothbrushes, socks, soap, or deodorant? Here’s the thing, my beloved: I am willing to put a lot on the line with what I am about to say. You can believe what you choose to believe about immigration. It’s not as cut and dry as we try to make it. But, I cannot claim to be a Christian, live into my baptismal promises, or live into my ordination vows and believe that what is happening at the border is remotely okay. Crossing a border should not alienate a person’s humanitarian rites. Crossing a border, any border, does not turn a human into an animal. The cost of keeping our country safe, which we have a right to do, should not come at the cost of treating other human beings like they are less than. It should not come at the cost of turning every single road on our borders into a Jericho Road. 

Who is our neighbor? The one who is suffering and at the same time, the one who is celebrating. Our neighbor is the friendly farmer down the road that rents land from us. Our neighbor is the kid who is the first in his family to go to college. Our neighbor is the cute kid next door trying to sell us more wrapping paper, again. Our neighbor is the addict who is clean, for now. Our neighbor is the prostitute desiring a better life if leaving didn’t mean being beaten by her pimp. Our neighbor is child sent from Guatemala to our borders hoping to escape gang violence. Our neighbor is all of these people and then some, the ones we choose not to see. Our neighbor is Jesus and he walks the Jericho Road, the same road we try to avoid at all cost. 

Christ calls us to show mercy. I don’t know what that looks like to you. All of us have our own definitions of mercy. For me, it’s becoming aware of my own biases and prejudices. For me, showing mercy is contacting my elected officials on a semi-regular basis. Showing mercy means seeking out the true stories and not just relying on one news source. Showing mercy means looking into the eyes of someone I do not agree with and seeing God. Showing mercy means daring to take the Jericho Road knowing that it is I that will be changed and not me changing the road. What Christ is calling us all to is a life that involves risk. Loving someone that others would rather leave for dead is a risk. Opening ourselves up to love is a risk. Following Christ is a risk. But from what I can tell, Christ also makes it abundantly clear what we are to be doing. When we dare ask questions like “what must I do to inherit eternal life” then we must be willing to accept the answers, even if we don’t like them and even if they make us uncomfortable. All of the other commandments kind of filter down into this one: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Love without action is wasted grace. 

The Jericho Road isn’t about our charitable intentions, it’s about real, life changing transformations. The question shouldn’t be “what will I gain if I act” but rather “what will others lose if I don’t?” Are you able to see the divine in the other and more importantly are others able to see the divine in you? Often our faith is about fork-in-the-road kind of moments. One way appears to be the easy way, the way filled with good intentions, thoughts, and prayers. The other way is the Jericho Road. It’s unknown, filled with unknown people, and a bit of a risk. But, guess which road Christ is pointing us to? Guess on which road Christ will meet us? In the cross, we weren’t promised a life of ease and comfort. We were promised a life of Immanuel, Christ with us.Christ with all of us