The Christ in Me, The Christ in You

Grace and peace to you as we people of faith, journey throughout this season of Lent, towards the one whom God has sent, Jesus Christ Our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The birth of another morning should stir excitement and joy at the prospect of another leg of our journey.

Yet, some mornings, my heart is troubled.

And echoing in my soul is Ms Mahalia’s song, Troubles of the World

Because there is so much trouble, Mahalia is done with the world,

Done with weeping and wailing

Going to go home to be with the Lord.

(pause and begin to point out that there are no proflic stories that could be told or any heart moving song that could be song to highlight the troubles of this world. Unfortunately there are so many real, stark examples that are oozing out of every social media page and blasting from every television set.

Begin with talking about the word immigrant:

How that word alone conjures up images of suspicious, shifty, dirty, lazy people coming over the border into our country, taking up space, bringing with them guns and drugs and more criminal activity. How that through seeing their “sins” does a huge injustice to who they are and not seeing the good in people, not seeing Christ reflected a single mother who took up residence in a North Side Chicago church because she was attempting to escape some of the horrors that fall upon poor or working class people by the Cartels and even by the government

Continue with the word of homosexual:

Especially in Uganda where the use of this word for many Ugandans is vile, predatory, evil, criminal; that these people are only here to pollute our pure environment and the culture instead of recognizing that these, their fellow brothers and sisters in Faith love as their heart and soul directs them, and who continue the brave road as freedom fighters, sometimes not only for their right but for others who do not have a voice against political pundits and governmental agents who are only interested in keeping the status quo by any deadly means.

The use of the word inner city:

The images that are evoked echo in Marvin Gaye’s inner city blues song, those that struggle with getting through basic daily living, through poor conditions in housing, in food, in jobs, with drugs and alcoholism, lack of medical care  because they have been forgotten, discarded, misused and abused and too are seen as shiftless, criminal, fatherless, uneducated, unteachable; that they are not seen as brothers and sisters in Christ, in Faith through the eyes of politicians like Paul Ryan whose hurtful and hateful comments about those economically suffering and only seeing them for their “sins”; It should be noted that  Paul Rand and others who wear their Christianity on their sleeve are immersed in the philosophy of Ayn Rand, whose focus is on individualism and capitalism and therefore can not fathom seeing those who are poor as anything else but expendable.

Finally the word mentally ill/disabled. Those words spark images of burden, of useless, of lifeless, of embarrassment. Those words easily flow into our other examples: of someone who loves differently must have some sort of disease; of those living in poverty must have some sort of disease; or those who were not born into a certain class, a certain status, that the fault lies with them for not burrowing themselves out of it. Equally disturbing is the conclusion that some people in this world state when they are stricken with autism, with ADHD, with cancer, with leukemia, with bipolar syndrome obviously it is because something they have done, some sins of their parents as the disciples as Jesus “Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”  )

This is the trouble in our world; being blind with ignorance, hate, self-indulgence, jealousy, suspicion that human beings can not see the good, can not see Christ in one another.

We see this echoed in the accusations of the Pharisees in our Gospel text this morning. The Pharisees could arguably be seen as an ancient, devout people;

dedicated to preserving these ancient laws of their ancestors, preserving the practice of daily prayer

and sacred rituals and rites to be passed down from generation to generation.

One could argue that the Pharisees cradled the traditions so carefully in their hands, as precious as the blessed land itself.

Yet one could say that the Pharisees were dedicated to a fault because of the rigorous application of these man made laws

instead of continuing to remain fluid and connected to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Everything had to be a certain way,

confirmed by certain people who were elevated

and sanctified

to bless any and everything that was prescribed by law.

So imagine the mass confusion when a forgotten man,

who was only known by blindness,

supposedly one of their fellow brothers

his suffering

was not anyone else’s concern

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

….is healed by this strange man called Jesus.

and the Pharisees protest saying “How can a man who is such a sinner perform signs?”

The Pharisees rejected this healing, Why?

This man had not been recognized by his given name, but his situation was painted with an ugly, broad stroke;

his so called and named “sin” of blindness

Being disfigured

Afflicted

These illnesses that people suffered

That apathy was the norm

They were abandoned

Not worthy of their consideration

Or God’s Mercy.

So, then nothing could be more embarrassing than to have a stranger who perhaps does not know or understand the rules or rituals of a community,

come in and extend his hand cradling mud and water,

taking the time to bring comfort and healing to a nobody,

redeeming this nobody to the world;

giving this nobody back who they are,

what they are to this community,

even when the community ignored this man,

who they considered to be worthless because of his illness-his sin.

There’s a camp song (and  we just sang this yesterday at the Lenten retreat) where the line about the Pharisees is mocking-

It goes, “I don’t want to be a Pharisee” and the response is “Why not?”

No one wants to be like a Pharisee, because they’re not fair, you see (pause for small laughter)

and yet, as people of faith we unfortunately repeat these same mistakes with those that we do not know,

and only call them by their weakness

A homeless man who is also an alcoholic

A wayward youth who has fallen into prostitution

An undocumented Mexican father forced into being a drug mule

An African American woman forced into purchasing guns illegally

We have tossed them aside,

deemed them unredeemable

….and then are beside ourselves, resenting the attention when someone who does not know who we are,

comes into the community and although they can not lay hands and heal their wounds, their afflictions,

they lay hands on them to share God’s Love and give them hope, giving them a sense that their lives do matter to someone in this world and they are not alone.

This is what Jesus Christ gives to this blind man, for Jesus taught His disciples “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

And that is Good News.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God sees how are weaknesses, how our “sins” blind the world from seeing whom we truly are, beloved children of the Creator God!

That we have been reborn through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon that cross, reborn, renewed, healed;

Hear Jesus’s words about this blind man, this blind man that could be any of us “this man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

That doesn’t mean that the Creator God who loves us so much that He sent His Son among us, deliberately afflicts us with illness and disease for our discomfort

but when the world counts us out because of these perceived weaknesses,

God turns them into strengths by allowing who we are as called children of God to shine through.

Hear what Jesus says to us, hear his powerful words of freedom that release us from the shackles of this world. “I came to this world for judgment so that those who do not see, may see!”

(pause then sing the first stanza of Amazing Grace)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me

I once was lost

But now I am found

Was blind

But know I see

Thanks Be To God.

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What Fills Us Up, When Life Drains Us Dry?

Grace and peace to you as we, people of faith, journey throughout this season of Lent, towards the one whom God, Our Creator has sent, Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

 What fills you up when the reality of this life drains you empty?

 (Pause, then step from the pulpit down to where the baptismal bowl/font is and reveal the bare bowl with only the stones placed in the bottom. Begin introduction about talking how wandering in green spaces has always recharged me and most often I could only get filled up at my camp in Oregon, IL.  Point out about Austin’s well known secret: the ability to visit all of the green spaces especially the nature preserves, nature wildlife refuges and other areas that are great for hiking and exploring. Point out that along our walks that we have observed many, many dry creek beds which have saddened our hearts because without the life flowing waters, Creation is interrupted.  Also point out that without water, feeding the foundation of the Earth-plants can not thrive, flowers of every fragile beauty fail to bloom, and creatures big and small can not come to refresh themselves, refilling those places within which cry out for thirst. In other words Creation itself is stifled. Pause, returning back to the pulpit but pause on the stairs and then ask the question again).

What fills us up when the reality of this life drains us empty?

 It’s impossible to answer that when we find ourselves waiting for relief as our loved ones lay in a hospital bed, hoping that this final surgery, that this new procedure, that this new medical drug will break the dam of sickness and illness, flooding over everyone healing.

It’s impossible to answer that when we find ourselves pacing slick tile or ceramic floors outside of a foreboding courtroom hoping that a childhood friend who was so important in our lives or that well known neighbor who lived down the street will find  a waterfall of grace inside those doors or that justice will roll down as pristine waters for those whose wounds are hurting.

It’s impossible to answer that when we find ourselves holding the hands of a good friend or fellow peers, colleagues whose own riverbed is starkly absent of anything resembling water because the prospects of a new position or job or employment has been reduced to a landscape of drought.

It is impossible to answer that especially if with each passing morning there is no relief from the thirst or the heat of worry that beats down upon those family members endlessly floundering in a hotel room, enduring the pain of not knowing where their loved ones are or if the vast, mysterious ocean will ever give up its secrets.

And so is it any wonder, that we as people of faith hear our own voice echoed in the Samaritan woman’s as she pleads in our Gospel text this morning “Sir give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 Have we answered the question of what fills us up when the reality of life drains us dry? As people of faith, perhaps we believe that the answer is easily found within church walls, nestled in church community, right? Isn’t this where the living water is supposed to flow nestled securely in the baptismal font? But what happens when the wells run dry, when life in the church comes to a complete standstill because people of faith cause climate chaos; when our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ unknowingly divert what the true meaning of the Good News of Jesus Christ can mean in the lives of someone who particularly needs to hear it today:

Someone who is marginalized for who they are or what they represent:

Whether that is as a woman

A person of color

A person with physical ailments

A person with social difficulties

A person whose differences rile up the uncomfortableness within who we are

A person who is unrecognizable, unnoticeable or forgettable because they are perceived not to have anything to offer.

And this is where we find our sister, our neighbor and this familiar story of the Woman at the Well.

This Samaritan woman who has been trivialized and demoralized and accused of ruminating in polluted waters-

Is whom Jesus chooses to reveal this living, healing water.

This Samaritan woman who is nameless, nondescript, a nobody

Is whom Jesus begins to pour out this living water because of what dwells within her

Her Faith

I find myself almost jealous at the child-like abandonment of this Samaritan woman because it is not because of some earth shattering, fire blazing conversion or some fantastic revelations or even whispers of who this Son of God carried on fine mists if dew that seemingly clings to everything and what He has the power to do, through the Holy Spirit that brings this Samaritan woman to the well and into His presence.

But it is because of what already resides within her spirit

The seeds of her Faith that already are budding, struggling to stretch and meet the healing power of the sun, burrowed within her soul, the richness of the soil that the Creator has created this woman of Faith. Do we find ourselves astounded that she, then unfettered by convention of who she is and questionable status and appearance to the rest of the judging, outside world, immediately runs back to her community sharing this Good News!

“Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done!”

(pause)

Why would that be good news?

What would possess to want to expose the “imperfect, hidden” us and how rocky our journey has not flowed so fluidly or traveled in crystal clear, pure waters perhaps as we may have claimed?

That teeming within our waters are the microscopic germs of our suspicions and dread, of practically every situation and those whose streams we must cross.

How that these pools simmering within our very being, under scrutiny are questionable and tainted as our experiences throughout this life unfortunately renders it grainy and murky.

That the formation of who we are as distinct rivers and how we thrived and survived are slowly drained because of what we allow to access and hungrily devours of the essential part of what was lovingly poured into us, this precious living water from God Our Creator.

“Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever done!”

Listen to this Samaritan woman proclaim Good News!

Come and see this man, this Son of God who knows of our beginnings, who has seen the paths we have traveled, who knows everything we have ever done…

And Loves Us Anyway

 That is Good News.

The Good News is that Jesus Christ, Our Savior is only concerned with the fact that the water of this world which overflows and floods in abundance cannot heal any barren places that are reside within who we are and so Jesus proclaims “those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty.”

 Have you noticed that Jesus Christ NEVER mentions the Samaritan Woman’s sins, her shortcomings, her faults?

How has it been all of this time that her story seems to be surrounding these so called sins?

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that because as God Our Healer travels and journeys throughout Creation, walking pathways where it is painfully obvious of what this world and its destructive power has done to who we are as God’s Children; that God sees each one of us as gentle, rushing streams and sometimes as  riverbeds devoid of life affirming, life fulfilling, life giving eternal water…

and so God sends His Son, Jesus Christ who poured out of Himself upon the Cross as a sacrifice to revive, renew, replenish and restore all of God’s Creation, all of us as sisters and brothers in Christ and in Faith; to cause our hearts to overflow in those dry places with the Living Water that is Jesus Christ.

Because God has the power to cleanse and renew the stagnant places within our lives and along our journey, this Living Water rushes and seeps, connecting eternal life to our lives.

Jesus Christ is this Living Water that flows freely into who we are, not because we are perfect

Not because we have knowledge

Or Wisdom

But because WE HAVE FAITH

Even if that Faith is as small as a mustard seed

Or as fragile as a rain drop.

(Pause, go back to the baptismal font and slowly pour it with water from the pitcher)

Here is the answer to our question: Here is where we come to be reminded and fulfilled and refreshed when this life overwhelms us, stinging our eyes and filling our mouths with choking, debilitating dust.

Is there someone who if you asked the question, what fills you up when this life seemingly drains you dry? Is there a Samaritan woman in your own life who freely proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ, who testifies “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have ever done?

(Pause then tell story of the Samaritan woman in my own life, the example of my Mother who bore many stigmas of not only who she was as a woman of color, but being a single mother and raising three daughters through difficulties and bearing the burden of battling breast cancer that sometimes left her void of anything but a husk and a shell of a person. But throughout this journey she remained deep in her faith, and found the strength and the call to share this Good News with others, that God is indeed never absent from our lives but present and because God sees that we endure many twists and turns, that we suffer through hardships and sorrow, that through this life giving water there is hope and sometimes we even as those tiny, smooth stones can too be refreshed through the power of Jesus Christ, the Living Water.)

Thanks Be To God.

 

 

Ashes to Ashes…

Grace and Peace to you from God Our Creator, and from His Son Jesus Christ Our Savior and Lord. Amen

 

It’s not about how you do it, or where you do it but rather whether or not your heart is in it.

( I shared the stories with the congregation about growing up and Sundays being sacred in my Mother’s house and therefore always going and experiencing worship service. Sometimes the worship services would be at a local non-denominational church and sometimes we would go back to our family church, which was a Baptist church on the Southwest side of Chicago where my grandfather served actively as Deacon and Elder. I Recalled how, sitting small in the pews I would observe quietly and with confusion at people in the congregation throughout various points in the service and especially during the sermon who would shout out, who would stand up and wave their hands, who would get up in the middle of the aisle and flail themselves about, who would weep and cry, kneeling and praying outwardly to God, who would faint and have to be fanned and carried out by women in starch white dresses and hats. Also recall how the tithing was taken, as the Pastor would publicly shame everyone to come down the aisle with their pledges while the choir sang some old Gospel tune that nothing belonged to you and everything belonged to the Lord, and I watched as people brought up their checks and dollar bills. Talked about the conversation that I would have with Mother then, and how she would laugh when I asked about people “falling out” in church and add about my daughter’s own firsthand experience when she spend the weekend with her best friend and attended her church).

How very strange this experience is to me still, as people of faith unashamedly fall upon their knees in the aisles, to publically confess their sins and shortcomings, to testify before the community of faith and cry out to God, Our Healer

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity”

“Purge me with hyssop”

“Create in me a clean heart”

“Have mercy on me, O God”

How utterly raw it seems to expose ourselves to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ….

How peculiar it would be for someone in our church to unashamedly stand up and sway

And weep

And beg God for forgiveness

Yet, how peculiar then, we  allow these ashes upon our foreheads marking and proclaiming our bondage to Christ openly…

And yet, Jesus seems to be cautioning against these public acts of piety this Ash Wednesday evening in our Gospel text.

Or is He?

Jesus remains on the mountain continuing to pour His wisdom, His teachings and God’s Love into all who have gathered to listen, to learn, to simply be in the presence of this Son of God.

 

Beware of practicing your piety, your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them….”

 

These ancient people of God have had the experiences of being a very comfortable and content people, to being ragged, run down and subservient to the oppressors who darkened their doorways and overcast their rugged streets. In these times, these ancient men and women clung to their faith and to one another; worshiping and celebrating the Creator God was the one (word?). In these times, coming together as a community meant caring for one another because God had commanded their ancestors so many generations before…

Random acts of kindness…

Sharing a meal…

Sharing of blankets and coverings…

Sharing Sacred space….

Sharing a hearth and home…

Sharing of their own small treasures…

If not their own, then who?

…..because certainly the occupiers, these oppressors were not motivated or concerned to do so, even though in the center of Roman life you could find them lavishing in sacred temples to their gods and goddesses, flinging coins to the poor in the streets proudly, or bragging openly about how much time and money and devotion they had paid for favor of wealth, of status, of longevity, of perfection from their particular patron god.

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who pray in the streets so that they may be seen by others.”

Prayer allowed these ancient children of God, poor in status, stamped as the impoverished, pushed to the edges of nothingness…

…..to be acknowledged, affirmed and accepted by God, Our Redeemer.

Prayer was the only place these people of God could stand in the Light of the Creator…

…..and every wound, every pain, every fault, every sin……

Be forgiven.

Their lives were already exposed and scrutinized so they had nothing to lose from living and praying publically..

Because they believed in their Faith

Lived out their Faith

 Emptied out their Faith for others to see and to share….

Martin Luther definitely had no qualms of sharing his testimony

Luther prayed defiantly

He bore the burdens of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ openly

Luther acted fearlessly

Because of his Faith

He had nothing to lose!

But as people of Faith, as this season of Lent approaches…

…why do we enter it as if we have lost everything?

We as a people of faith sometimes equate Lent void of anything joyful…

We drag our scarred feet over the roughness of a dry wilderness,

We wrap ourselves in scraps of hastily sewn cloth

We abandon our community and move down hidden roads away from their healing light

We weep and mourn about what we have failed to do and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus

We hastily run ourselves ragged trying to make up…all on our own……

We whisper in far off dark corners our fears, our flaws, our sins, our pain…

….so that no one knows of our imperfections….

And that no one has the ability to reach out their hands….

……and holding us close to them….

….bearing our burdens….

…raising their own voices in prayer……

This journey of Lent is not about hiding who we are!

This journey of Lent is revealing who has claimed us

          This journey of Lent allows us to freely live out our FAITH

Through Faith we have the ability to do for others, pray as a public witness for others, give to others

……because of the presence of Jesus Christ whose Love fuels our FAITH

And that is Good News!

The Good News is that we do not have to wander endlessly through desolation

Because in those secret places God has heard our pleas

“Do not cast me away from your presence”

In those moments when we are removed from the community

Hunched over, withered away

God sees our broken spirit…

Because God has not forgotten about God’s People….

He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ

Who has already walked that treacherous path!

And At the end of that journey, when we are heavy with sufferings too deep for words…

Jesus Christ stands there waiting to welcome us…

Renewed, reborn, washed clean…whiter than snow..

The Good News is that God, Our Deliverer cleanses our souls

And so when we pray publically

When we shout joyously

When we share freely what God has given to us, for others

We are faithfully showing the world what the healing power of the Good News of Jesus Christ means and can be for all of God’s Creation

Through our Faith fueled through God’s Love, Mercy and Grace.

Because we know that death has no hold on Jesus Christ

And neither on us.

Lent, as our Music Director Bryan reminded me the other day “is not about a six week funeral for the baby Jesus”

But there is some truth in that, right?

Lent is not being ashamed of our Faith

So allow your ashes upon your forehead to be that public witness of Faith.

A reminder of what the Good News of Jesus Christ means in our lives.

Thanks Be to God.