Friday, September 24, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 19

The Lost and Found Box

Where my husband works, at the Valle Crucis Conference Center,
they host many groups.
Some come for one overnight,
others stay multiple nights.
Young people come, older people come, all ages, all genders,
many faith traditions and even some business groups.

As at many places,
they have a lost and found box at the Conference Center.
People leave things behind.
We lose things.

I sent Tom an email this week and asked if he would give me a list
of all the things in his lost and found box on this one particular day.

Here’s the report:

Assorted books and notebooks
Bible in a black leather carrying case
Assorted pillows
Child’s stuffed cat (I believe it is a toy stuffed cat—not a real one!!)
Child’s stuffed fairy horse
Black belt
Printed scarf
Pair of black leather sandals—size 15
Empty suitcase (not sure what they packed in to go home!)
Camera chargers
Reading glasses
A knit hat
A Woman’s blouse

And the number one left behind item—
there are about 20 of these in the lost and found box at this time--
—cell phone chargers!

Sometimes people call when they leave something behind.
Some people will even pay to have it shipped to them.
But most people—
either they don’t know they lost the item,
or they can’t think WHERE and WHEN hey lost the item
or they don’t care.
Sometimes things are lost and never found.

Many of you have probably heard of—
or even kept—
a gratitude journal.
A journal where at the end of the day,
you write down 3 or 4 things that you are grateful for,
trying to think back over the day,
remembering the little blessings that we often forget.

As I read our gospel lesson for this week—
parables of lost sheep, lost coins—
as I thought about the piercing significance of this September 11th date--
I thought about what it would be to keep a “lost” journal.
Things I have lost.

Physical losses--
Losing our keys,
Losing one earring of our favorite pair,
Losing the elusive matching sock that goes into the dryer
and never come out,
Losing the ability to do push ups
(not sure I ever really found that one!)

Emotional losses—
Losing a friend,
losing our job,
losing our memory.

Landmark losses—
Having our house burn down,
Losing someone who was the love of our life,
Losing our innocence…

That would not be a very uplifting journal—things we have lost.
Yet those lost things always ride with us,
Sometimes out of mind,
but never really out of heart.

It is an interesting juxtaposition--
this gospel coinciding with September 11.
A day of loss—
not just for Americans,
but truly for the whole world.

Sometimes when the world or our own life is in pieces,
the truth is
we don’t have the energy or the heart or the faith
to go and look, to search.

We feel overwhelmed by the harsh reality
of knowing that time can never be rewound.
Life will never go back to what it once was.
Loss often changes everything.

Jesus’ parables today call us to trust that God is looking for us
and God will find us.

The message of today’s gospel
is how much God cares about those who are lost.
The message of today’s gospel
is that God never stops looking for us.
The message of today’s gospel
is that God’s deepest longing
is that we will be found. Each one of us.

A sheep is about as common a creature as one could find in Jesus’ day.
Sheep were not exotic animals.
Jesus does not tell us a parable about someone in Palestine
in search of a kangaroo.
Just another sheep. Just another common creature. Lost.

And goodness!
If you have ever had anything to do with sheep,
you know they wander away in a heartbeat.
That blade of grass on the other side of the fence?
It does indeed look better to a sheep’s eye
and they wiggle their way
through the barbed wire or the brambles
and then that blade of grass
leads to another blade of grass
leads to another
to another, to…
and then they look up…
and realize
they have wandered away from both flock and shepherd.
They are lost.
Some of us know too well what it is to be a wandering, lost sheep.

What an amazing parable to teach us that all the sheep matter.
ALL the sheep matter.
No one is common or insignificant to God.
God keeps calling. God keeps searching.
God is not the kind of shepherd who gives up.
Not the kind of shepherd who gets fed up and says “This just isn’t worth it!”

Lost coins.
Coins are about as inanimate as we can imagine inanimacy!
We might care if we lost a twenty-dollar bill,
but a penny?!!
Though I remember my mother
always keeping an eye out for lost pennies along the sidewalk,
or in a parking lot.
She would shriek with joy
as she bent over to pick up what she always dubbed
her “ lucky penny”.

She didn’t need those pennies to pay bills
or for any practical reason—
she just felt drawn to always keep an eye out
for the wayward coin.

God’s eye is like that too. Always on the lookout for the wayward coin.
If we listen carefully we might hear God shout with joy
when one of his “lucky pennies” shows up.
Lost coins—
dropped without care or concern or acknowledgement.
There are people like that too.
God is anxious to pick us up,
dust us off, and delight that we are found.

Today’s gospel is not about you.
It is not about me.
It is all about God.

Jesus is teaching us about the nature of God, the way of God.

Yes, we get lost. We go lost.
We wander away—sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally.

We need to understand that God is always looking for us.
We need to understand that God is both patient and persistent.

Imagine God walking around with a gigantic, enormous lost and found box.
The sweet lambs and the black sheep.
The lucky pennies and the bounced checks.
All sorts, all kinds, all conditions.
Here we are.
All tumbled together in God’s box of the beloved.

God loves us all. Every single one of us.
Lost and found.

No one is forgotten.
No one.

That may not be our way
But that is the way of God.

That is the good news.
That is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sermon for Year C Proper 18

Jesus Groupies

We lived in Memphis, Tennessee at the time.
Our son Jody was in high school
and when he heard the Grateful Dead were coming to Memphis,
he really, really, really
wanted tickets to that concert.
He and a friend went and stood in line for hours to get their tickets—
But by the time they got to the ticket window,
the concert was sold out.

My husband Tom’s youngest brother Henry
was already living in Los Angeles where he still lives today.
Henry had a high powered, fast-lane position with a big marketing firm
with lots of impressive clients.
Somehow he had a connection
with the rock and roll band The Grateful Dead.

Tom called his brother Henry with a long-shot hope
that maybe—MAYBE--
Henry could get Jody two tickets for the Memphis concert.
And Henry came through.
Our son was thrilled.

Except on the weekend of the concert,
Jody got sick.
The kind of virus that you know you are in no way leaving the house.
And the friend who was supposed to go with him—same virus.

So my husband Tom decided
that WE should go to The Grateful Dead concert.

Now I had listened to Grateful Dead’s music back when I was in college—
Everybody listened to their music in the 1970’s!
I liked their music
but I wasn’t too sure I wanted to go
to this sold out late night concert.
But since Tom really wanted to go, I said yes—
plus that way the tickets would not go to waste---
and we’d have an answer when Henry called and asked,
“So how was the concert?”

Then I realized the concert was on the same night
that theologian and writer Marcus Borg
was to speak at our church.

But, once again, Tom had the perfect solution.
Our church, Calvary Episcopal, was right downtown,
just a few blocks away from the Pyramid,
where the Grateful Dead concert would be held.

Marcus Borg was speaking at 7 pm.
The concert did not begin until 9 pm.
We could hear Marcus Borg and then just walk over to the concert.
What could I say?

Now if you are not familiar with Marcus Borg
he is one of the theologians in a group
known as “the Jesus Seminar.”
One of the activities undertaken by this group of Bible scholars
has been to consider and actively discuss
everything accredited to Jesus in the gospels.
Based on their academic knowledge,
they then vote in one of three ways—
YES, I believe Jesus really did say that –OR--
MAYBE Jesus could have said that –OR--
NO, I don’t think Jesus really said that.
This group of scholars has done a lot more than this
but that is what you always hear in the media.

Anyway, Marcus Borg’s lecture that night was excellent.
His lecture was about what life
was probably like in the time when Jesus lived
and what it was like to follow Jesus at that time.

He talked about the crowds following Jesus.
He pointed out that at a certain point,
there is little doubt that Jesus had become well-known enough--
(Trust me, word of mouth can travel faster than the internet
at times—even today!!)—
at a certain point
there were probably some people following Jesus
just because it had become the thing to do.

Undoubtedly not everyone who traveled with Jesus was a believer
or understood what Jesus was teaching.
We know that even Jesus’ own closest disciples
sometimes did not understand what he was saying.
Jesus comments on this more than once.

In fact, there were probably some people
who were traveling along with the Jesus crowd
who had not even heard Jesus speak. Not ever.
They just—as the saying goes—went along with the crowd.

So in today’s gospel,
it is important to note this first sentence—
“Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus….”
This is the group that Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel.

You have to wonder how large the crowd was—or how small it was—
AFTER he finished speaking.
Because essentially this is what he said:
“You want to be my disciple?
Let me tell you what that means.
You are going to have to learn to hate your family,
to give up all you own, all your possessions,
and to be ready for a brutally ugly death.”

Not exactly the Dale Carnegie how to win friends and influence people
sort of conversation, is it?

Jesus wants people to really think through
what it means to be his follower.
He wants people to be aware of what the consequences might be.

Jesus is not saying that our families do not matter
or that we should ignore our families in the name of God.
Jesus is not saying that possessions are evil—
In Luke’s gospel he says nothing
about selling all we have and giving it to the poor.
He simply points out that sometimes there comes a need
to travel lightly.

Jesus is just realistically saying
being a follower, being fully committed to God,
is a difficult journey and a dangerous journey.
I just finished reading the book BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
by Roxana Saberi.
Roxana Saberi is an Iranian-American journalist,
who was forced from her home by four men
and secretly detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison in 2009.
To neighbors and family alike
she was there one day and gone the next.

This 31 year old young woman was falsely accused of espionage.
She was accused of being a spy for the CIA.
She was eventually freed--
thanks to the intervention of our government and others
and also her very determined parents--
but those four months living in harsh prison conditions,
knowing that at any moment she could be executed,
changed everything about her life.

Interestingly enough, when she believes she has lost everything—
her family, her friends, her possessions, her vocation--
when she accepts that her fate may be
to spend the rest of her life in prison—or even to lose her life--
she surprisingly finds her faith deepened and strengthened.
She also finds that she is stronger than she ever imagined.

Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and he knows
that immense strength is needed for this journey he has undertaken.

This is why he tells the crowd
they need to be very mindful and very cautious
about being a follower of his.

Now back to Marcus Borg and the Grateful Dead.
After Tom and I left the church that night
we began walking towards the concert venue.
The size of the crowds, the number of people, was overwhelming.

I finally understood what it was to be a “groupie.”
These people crowding the sidewalks around the Pyramid
were not just fans of the group The Grateful Dead—
they seemed to be fans of being part of the group itself.
They were groupies of the group of groupies.

There were people camped out all around the Pyramid downtown.
Some were in brightly painted school buses.
A few seemed to be staying in tents.
Some seemed to be just wandering aimlessly about, rather lost.
Some were cooking their supper—yes, over open fires—
right there in downtown Memphis.

Some had laid out blankets on the ground
and were selling beads and tie dye t-shirts and…
well, let’s just say “herbs.”
There was Grateful Dead music booming from boom boxes.
There were people singing and dancing and laughing.

I felt like I was walking through a bustling first century marketplace
After all, we had just left Marcus Borg with his images
of the large crowds following Jesus.
Suddenly I felt like I really understood—
I saw it, I got it.

Some people were following because their hearts called them to follow--
they could do nothing else even if they had wanted to.
Some people were following
because anything was better than staying at home.
Some people were following because they were looking for something,
and maybe, maybe this was it.
Some people were following out of deep and abiding love.
And some people were just along for the ride, along for the song.

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus.

I sometimes wonder who I am in this crowd following Jesus.
Some days I think I can really say I am a follower of Jesus.
Other days, it feels like I am just going along with the crowd.

Can we really be the disciples we are called to be?
Can we understand how much we are loved by God?
Can we let go of all the things that get in the way?

Being a true disciple of Jesus is costly--
it is not just a good-time ride with Uncle John’s band.

But even if we aren’t perfect disciples,
maybe there is still something to being a “groupie” for Jesus.
Maybe we are transformed in some ways
by just showing up over and over and over for worship.
Maybe we are changed by just letting the gospel
wash over us and into us like a well-loved song—
even when we don’t fully understand what is being taught,
even when we aren’t really sure we are a believer
much less a follower.

Maybe one day we wake up in our worldly prison
and surprisingly find that our faith has deepened,
our hearts have been transformed
and everything
about how we live our lives changes.

Every Grateful Dead concert closes with the same song.
It is this same song they sing after Compline at Camp Henry:

Lay down, dear children,
Lay down and take your rest.
Won’t you lay your head
upon your Savior’s breast?
I love you so
but Jesus loves you the best.
And I bid you
Good night,
Good night,
Good night.

The concert closes. The worship ends.
The crowds are sent out into the world.

Maybe being a Jesus groupie is just coming to know we are loved.
No matter what.
No matter where.
No matter when.

Sermon for Tom Warren's Burial Service

Life is Short

There is a blessing that we use sometimes
at the end of our Sunday worship service.
It goes like this:

Life is short.
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts
of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love
and make haste to be kind…

Over and over again
Jesus tells us there are really only two things we need to know,
Two things we need to do:
Love God. Love one another.

I only knew Tom Warren for three years.
I realize that is a much, much, much shorter time
than so many of you knew Tom.

But it did not take long
to discover that Tom Warren understood what Jesus was saying:
Love God. Love one another.
Everything I saw in Tom—
in both Tom and his beloved wife Ann —
spoke volumes that he—they—
understood and understand
what love is all about.

You see love is not frivolous.
Love is not a nice-to-do if you have the time.
Love is the heart of the gospel.
Love is the mandate—love is the very thing Jesus commands us to do.
Love needs to be at the heart of our lives---every day, every moment.

Imagine how the world might change
if every word spoken, if every action taken was infused with love.

What better place to start than in our own lives.

Be quick to love.
Make haste to be kind.

I believe that Tom Warren was indeed a man who was quick to love.
And I have absolutely no doubt
that he was a man who made haste to be kind.

Even in the midst of Alzheimer’s Disease,
a disease so cruel that it can rob you of your whole being,
Tom was never robbed of his love or his kindness.

I can still see him chuckling when Ann told a story about their lives.
I can still see him in the bright red blazer coming into church.
I can still see him struggling his hardest to move from wheelchair to car seat
with Ann as his loving coach.
Often when we are reduced
to some of the most difficult situations of our lives
the heart of whom we really are shines forth.

Now I am sure that his family, especially Ann, could tell us of a few times
when Tom needed to up his dose of love and kindness—
but don’t we all have those times?
Don’t we all depend on those who love us to remind us?

Tom was a true man of God—
and a true man of God is one who knows how to love
and does not hesitate to be kind.

We heard in our gospel reading,
Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
To Tom’s family I say,
hold on to those words.
I do not believe that Jesus was saying do not grieve, do not cry,
do not acknowledge the depth of your pain.
Jesus knew about losing people he loved.
Jesus knew about pain and suffering.
Do not let your hearts be troubled—
Because I am right here beside you.
Every step of the way.

Tom has joined those others
that we still love but see no longer.
I will miss him. You will miss him even more.
You will probably miss him every single day for the rest of your lives.

When Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,”
He is letting us know that Tom is just fine.
Tom is great, in fact.
Tom has found his way to truth and life that has no end.

But here we are.
We are still here.
How do we survive such loss?
Love God. Love one another.
Look to God and to one another for comfort and care.
Live each day to its fullest because indeed,
no matter the length of our life,
Life IS short.

Make haste to be kind.
To one another.
To family and friends but also to strangers.
Love and kindness open the door
so that we might see the face of Jesus in every one we meet.
And they in turn see likewise.

Love does conquer all things.
Faith, hope and love—
the greatest of these—indeed—the greatest of these is love.
Tom Warren’s life was a testament to that kind of great love.

Life is short.
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love
And make haste to be kind…

And the blessing of God who loves you
be upon you this day
and ever more.