Thursday, October 19, 2017

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for October 22, 2017:

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 33:12-23

Psalm: Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 99

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22

This week's Gospel contains a saying of Jesus that is probably familiar: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Mathhew 22, verse 21). Even people who have never set foot inside a church are probably familiar with this saying, although they may attribute it to somebody else, like Shakespeare or Ronald Reagan.

I love how Jesus realizes that the Pharisees have set a trap for him, and he manages to avoid entanglement. This passage also shows Jesus reacting to the legalistic outlook of the spiritual leaders. He seems to tell us not to be so rigid in our formulas of our finances. We know what we must do. We have bills and obligations (among them, caring for the less fortunate); we cannot escape those worldly cares. But in figuring out our tithes and taxes, we should not lose sight of the larger spiritual picture.

God calls us to more than a rigid formula of living. Instead of dividing up our budget into tight categories, we should always be on the lookout for ways to love each other. Some days/months/years, that love might be manifest in monetary ways. But in a way, just writing a check is much too easy. God calls us to be involved with each other's lives. That doesn't mean we need to hop on a plane to personally respond to every huge disaster. Look around--you'll see plenty of opportunities just outside your door.

My mother has a theory about tithing money. She posits that in our society, giving money isn't the same kind of sacrifice that it would be in earlier times. Most of us have more money than we know what to do with. You might disagree, but if you compare your income to the rest of the world's, you are rich beyond compare. I would argue that we buy so much stuff because we have that much disposable income. Do you really need more than one outfit a day? Is your closet overstuffed, like mine is? There's a disconnect.

My mother says that the more precious commodity in our culture is time, and I think she's right. Most of us can barely find time to phone each other. Have you tried to have anyone over for dinner lately? It seems to take the scheduling skills of those people who used to organize Superpower Summits. My mother's theory is that if Jesus spoke directly today, he'd tell us to sacrifice time, not money.

What if you gave 10% of your time? There's 168 hours in a week. If you gave 17.8 hours to God, how would you need to change your life?

And the reality is, that God wants and needs more from us than a mere 18 hours a week. God wants an ongoing relationship with each and every one of us. And that relationship should transform us to do the tough work of transforming creation, of creating the Kingdom of Heaven right here and now.

In these days of financial ups and downs, the message of Jesus seems more prescient than ever. If we save up our treasures on earth, moth or rust or inflation or deflation or bad policies or some other kind of ruin will leave us bankrupt.

The way we live our lives moves us closer to God or further away. If we devote our lives to God, our whole lives, not just an hour on Sunday, then we'll find a relationship that we can count on in good economic times and bad. And that relationship can help us transform not only ourselves, but our families, our communities, everyone we touch.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Feast Day of Saint Luke

On October 18, we celebrate the life of St. Luke, a creator, an evangelist, and a healer. Some churches might have a healing service in honor of Luke’s role as patron saint of doctors and surgeons. But St. Luke was so much more: he’s also the patron saint of artists, students, and butchers. He’s given credit as one of the founders of iconography. And of course, he was a writer--both of one of the Gospels and the book of Acts. As we think about the life of St. Luke, let us use his life as a guide for how we can bring ourselves back to health and wholeness.

The feast day of St. Luke offers us a reason to evaluate our own health—why wait until the more traditional time of the new year? Using St. Luke as our inspiration, let’s think about the ways we can promote health of all kinds.

Do we need to schedule some check-ups? October is perhaps most famous for breast cancer awareness month, but there are other doctors that many of us should see on a regular basis. For example, if you get a lot of sun exposure, or if you live in southern states, you should get a baseline check up from your dermatologist.

Many of us don’t need to visit a doctor to find out what we can do to promote better health for ourselves. We can eat more fruits and vegetables. We can drink less alcohol. We can get more sleep. We can exercise and stretch more.

Maybe we need to look to our mental health. If so, Luke can show us the way again.

Luke is famous as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, but it’s important to realize that he likely didn’t see himself as writing straight history. He was maintaining a record of amazing events that showed evidence of God’s salvation.

It’s far too easy to ignore evidence of God’s presence in the world. We get bogged down in our own disappointments and our deeper depressions. But we could follow the example of Luke and write down events that we see in our own lives and the life of our churches that remind us of God’s grace. Even if it’s a practice as simple as a gratitude journal where each day we write down several things for which we’re grateful, we can write our way back to right thinking.

As we think about St. Luke, we can also look for ways to deepen our spiritual health. In popular imagination, Luke gets credit for creating the first icon of the Virgin Mary. Maybe it’s time for us to try something new.

We could experiment with the visual arts to see how they could enrich our spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke knew that there are many paths to health of all sorts. Now, on his feast day, let us resolve to spend the coming year following his example and restoring our lives to a place of better health.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Parables from the Pumpkin Patch

The pumpkin offload at church takes several hours--it's all human labor, no conveyor belts or machines to help.  Well, we had 2 wheelbarrows, which saved us some time, but not much.  Handing pumpkins hand to hand gives a person time to think.  And I thought about the great diversity in pumpkins, especially when we got the occasional green pumpkin.



This warty pumpkin made me smile.  We only got a few of those.



I also liked this one, with its curling stem.



And hauling pumpkins with my own two hands gave me time to reflect.  Does every culture equate smallness with cuteness?



As we nestled some of the pumpkins with the tropical flowers, I thought about how some of us, but only a very few of us, head out to cultures that are not ours and never return.



I thought of the spider that we found, who started out in a pumpkin patch in New Mexico and won't be able to return.  Will that spider always yearn for a different climate?  Or will the spider learn to love its new home?




I thought of how we accept diversity in a church pumpkin patch, but not in the larger culture.  And of course, I thought about how even in the church pumpkin patch, we can only accept a certain amount of diversity, if we want to make sales.  People expect their pumpkins to look a certain way.



I think of all the ways we have to be of service.  Some of us carry pumpkins.  Some of us sell them.  Others of us bring water and remind us to take breaks when we need it.  There are many ways to build a community, and we all can play a part.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Last Thoughts on This Past Sunday's Gospel

Yesterday, I preached the sermon at all 3 services.  It was interesting to revisit the Gospel and to try to say something new about it.  For those of you who have already forgotten, the Gospel was the parable in Matthew about the king and the wedding feasts and the guests who are too busy to come.  So the king calls them and invites a brand new set of guests.

So far, so good, right?  But then we get to the verses of Matthew 22:12-14, where the one wedding guest doesn't have a wedding robe, so he too is bound and cast into outer darkness.  The kingdom of Heaven is like this???!!!!

I went through several different interpretations of the parable with the congregation.  I find it troubling to see God as the king in the story, with all the sorting and casting away, but there's a long history of Christians who do.  I also talked about the Gospel as having a subtext that most of us won't understand, this many centuries away.  These aren't just stories to tell us who Jesus was.  In the case of Matthew, the Gospel is written for Christians who are trying to figure out how to integrate all these outsiders into what had been a Jewish offshoot.

For the record, I think the parable is most likely about that integration or failure to integrate.  But I also wanted to play with the parable's potential to shock us.  So I said, "What if God is the wedding guest who doesn't come with the right robe?"

I talked about Jesus not being the Messiah whom the Jews were expecting, for whom they were yearning.  They wanted someone to kick the Romans out of the homeland.  Jesus wasn't that guy.

Then I asked about our own experiences with God.  What if God doesn't come with the wedding gown of the miracle cure, the job we need, and so on?  What if God isn't a Santa Claus God who grants our wishes before we even know we have them?

I talked about God appearing where we least expect to find God, like in a manger, born to Mary and Joseph.  In current times, it would be like being born to a McDonald's worker and someone who drives a truck:  God without a wedding robe.

I ended by reminding the congregation that God invites us out into the darkness, the edges, the places we don't expect to find the Divine.  What will our response be?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Pumpkin Offload

I've been watching--with some amount of jealousy, I freely confess--my friends' postings about Octoberfests and trips to see turning leaves and apples and harvest festivals of all types.  Today, perhaps I'll get some pictures of my own.

Our pumpkins are scheduled to arrive at our church at noon.  They are coming on a big 18 wheeler, which means we'll need to unload them.  We do it pumpkin by pumpkin and then we arrange them on the front yard of our church.

We do it for many reasons, but primarily, we do it to make money.  We use the money that we raise for education--some years VBS, some years sending youth to the national gathering, some years for supplies.  One year the money helped repair the roof--it might not seem like supporting the community until one thinks about how many community organizations use our building, from AA groups to the drama group for developmentally disabled youth, not to mention the other congregations that use our building.

Is the money worth the effort?  It's not just the effort of the offload, but it takes lots of human volunteer hours to sell the pumpkins and to turn them every night so that they don't rot.  Right now we have some church members who are fairly able bodied and retired, so we can make it work.  It doesn't take much imagination to envision a time when we don't have the type of congregation that can pull together a pumpkin patch.

So, if you haven't already bought your pumpkin(s) for the season, drop by a local church pumpkin patch.  Your dollars will go further than if you bought a pumpkin at a grocery store. 

If you're in South Florida and you want to support my church, it's Trinity Lutheran at the corner of 72nd and Pines Blvd, across the street (but on the same side of the street) from the South campus of Broward College.  We will be happy to sell you a pumpkin or a gourd of any size.  And if you want to help with the offload, come on by around 12:30--why do we go to the gym, if not to build muscles for such a time as this?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Continue to Pray for the Synod Assembly

I just heard from my pastor who is at the Florida Bahamas Synod Assembly.  Three candidates remain for Bishop, and the next round of voting begins at 8.

So, let me take a minute to pray.

Creator God, please continue to bless the Florida Bahamas Synod Assembly with wisdom and discernment.  Let those who vote be able to hear the whisper of the Spirit that can lead us to new vistas. 

And since there will be another round of voting later today, let me also continue to pray.  I will add prayers for the candidates who did not win, and for those who saw their candidates not win.  I will pray that we can all gather to support the newly elected bishop, once we know who that person is.

Let us remember that the prayers should not stop today.  Whoever is elected will have lots of work to do, as we all do across the Synod and the nation.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Poetry Friday: "You Bring Out the Monk in Me"

Last week, I got my contributor copy of Adanna.  What a beautiful journal!  They published two poems that I was unsure of  when I first wrote them, but I've grown to like them.  One of them is "History's Chalkboards," which was my spouse's favorite.  When I read both poems out loud, my spouse was visibly moved by "History's Chalkboards," which is not a response that he often has to my poems.

The other poem was "You Bring Out the Monk in Me," which I thought might be his favorite, since if he saw himself as the "you" in the poem, he might be happy.  Of course, he's been well trained not to see literary work as necessarily autobiographical.

The poem was inspired by January Gill O'Neil's  "You Bring Out the Mitt Romney in Me," which in turn was inspired by other variations of this theme, which you can find in this post, along with some writing prompts.

I find it interesting that I would write a love poem that uses monastic imagery--but those who know me probably won't be surprised.




You Bring Out the Monk in Me



You bring out the monk in me,
the ancient practices in me,
the candles and incense in me,
the Psalms chanted across a day in me,
the calm of Compline in me.

You bring out the long robes in me,
the rough fabric in me.
You bring out the longing to know
the social order by the length and color
of our clothes, the simplicity of pattern in me.

You bring out the recluse in me,
the one who retreats in me,
the one accused of hiding in me,
the one who prays for the world
while the world carries on in obliviousness to me.

You bring out the silence in me,
the longing for only the words
that matter in me.
You bring out the perfectly balanced in me,
equal time for work, study, and worship.

You worry that there’s no space
for you in this equation,
but I assure you that space
remains in the silence,
the work, and the worship
because you bring out the monk
in me, the one who knows
what to keep and what to shuck away.