Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 7C
Elijah stands on the side of Mount Horeb, with his face wrapped in his mantle to meet the Lord who comes in the sound of sheer silence. And the Lord asks him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As with all defining moments in life, so much has happened to bring Elijah to this point.
“King Ahab of Israel did more to provoke the anger of the Lord the God of Israel than had all the kings of Israel who went before him.” And his wife Jezebel? Well, really her name says it all. Ahab and Jezebel have led the people astray from following God. They have promoted the worship of Baal in Israel, and they have defied Israel’s covenant with her God. So Elijah goes to Ahab and tells him that God will send a drought on the land for 3 years, because Ahab is so bad, so corrupt. Well, Ahab doesn’t like that and he sets out to kill Elijah, but God takes care of Elijah. God finds Elijah a safe place to be and provides him food and water in the midst of a drought. Later, when that runs out, God sends Elijah to a widow and provides them all with a never-ending supply of meal and oil to make bread; God heeds Elijah’s prayer when he prays that God might spare the widow’s son who has died, and God restores the son to life.
In the third year of the drought, God sends Elijah back to Ahab. Elijah encounters Ahab’s servant Obadiah, who is a faithful worshipper of God and who tells Elijah that he has worked to save 100 prophets of God when Jezebel went on a recent killing spree and was murdering all the prophets. Elijah asks Obadiah to tell Ahab he wants to see him, but at first Obadiah refuses to do it. He tells Elijah that Ahab has been searching hi and low for him, and because Elijah has been so elusive, Obadiah fears that when he goes to tell Ahab that Elijah is there to see him, and he returns with Ahab, God will have whisked Elijah away to safety and Ahab will kill Obadiah. Elijah assures Obadiah that he wants to speak to Ahab, and when Elijah and Ahab are face to face, Elijah issues a challenge to Ahab. He invites him to assemble all Israel on the top of Mt Carmel along with 450 prophets of Baal.
Once they are all assembled, Elijah speaks to the people of Israel and challenges them to choose which god they will worship and serve: Baal or Yahweh. He then brings two bulls for sacrifice, one for the 450 prophets of Baal and one for himself; they prepare the bulls for offering and lay them on the wood, but they put no fire to it. Then each set of prophets is to pray to their god to answer by fire, and that god will prove to be the god of Israel. The people agree to this plan, because Elijah speaks it well and because it promises to be a good show.
Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first, and from morning until noon, they cry out “O Baal, answer us!” But there is no voice, no answer. At noon, Elijah starts to mock them: “Maybe you should yell louder! Surely he’s a god; either he’s meditating, or he’s wandered away or he is on a journey, or perhaps he’s asleep and must be awakened!” They keep going until the time of the oblation, but there is no voice, no answer and no response. Then Elijah takes the stage. He invites the people to come closer to him, repairs the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down, and he makes a trench around it. He puts the wood in order, cuts the bull into pieces and pours water 3 times on the offering so that the water overflows and runs into the trench.
Then Elijah calls upon God, the God who has never yet failed him; the God who has repeatedly saved him from assassination from drought and from hunger, and he says, “ O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord falls from heaven and consumes the offering, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even the water that was in the trench, and the people fall on their faces and proclaim that God is their only God. Elijah commands them to seize the 450 prophets of Baal and has them all killed.
After that amazing feat, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat and drink because God is about to end the 3 year drought with some rain, and Elijah goes back up on the mountain and bows himself down upon the earth and puts his face between his knees (from exhaustion or in prayer for rain?). When he comes down, it rains and both Ahab and Elijah head to Jezreel where Ahab has a palace. Elijah has won; the people have proclaimed that God is their God, and Ahab is no longer trying to kill Elijah. But when they get to Jezreel, Ahab tells Jezebel all that has happened, and Jezebel vows that she will see Elijah dead within the next 24 hours. At this point, something strange happens: Elijah’s nerve fails, and he flees into the wilderness, running as far south in the promised land as he possibly can.
It should be his finest hour. He has done what God asked him to do, turning the hearts of the people back to God, and he has accomplished it through some pretty decent showmanship on his part and some really cool pyrotechnics on God’s part. At this point, he should be feeling like the superhero of all prophets, but something in him fails, and he goes out into the wilderness and prays to die. Even then, even there, God sends angels with food and water, and they take care of Elijah, and they send him to Mount Horeb (which is Mount Sinai where Moses received the 10 commandments from God) so that Elijah can meet with God. Elijah spends the night in a cave on Mt Horeb, and then God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah, like many prophets before and after him, speaks his peace to God saying: “ I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.”
So God tells Elijah to go stand outside the cave on the side of the mountain before the Lord. First comes the wind, but God is not in the wind. Then comes the earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. Then comes the fire (which God had just used to defeat the 450 prophets of Baal), but God is not in the fire, and then a sound of sheer silence. That’s when Elijah knows God is there, and he wraps his face in his mantle and goes out to stand before the God of Israel.
God says again to Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (Why does God ask him again? Is God giving him a chance to change his story or rethink his answer?)
And Elijah says again: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life to take it away.”
And as God has always done in this relationship, God listens to Elijah and tells him, “Get back to work.” Here’s our new plan: no more pyrotechnics. You are going to anoint your successor and anoint new kings for Israel and Aram, these two whom I have named. And God will continue God’s work of salvation for Israel in a new and different way.
In Elijah’s story is good news for us as well. Elijah, the superhero prophet, who escapes death on multiple occasions and orchestrates a marvelous and show-stopping defeat of God’s enemies, has a crisis of faith in Jezreel right on the heels of his most marvelous victory. First, he is erroneously focused on being the only prophet of God left in the whole world, and he overestimates his importance in the overall scheme of God’s salvation of Israel. Second, he loses faith in God’s providence. God has taken care of him every step of the way; God has done everything that Elijah has asked of God, but in Jezreel, Elijah loses his nerve, he loses his faith.
But in spite of all this, God still takes care of Elijah. God still listens to Elijah and answers Elijah. God even issues a new call to Elijah for how Elijah can continue to be a part of God’s new plan for the salvation of Israel. God promises Elijah that there is a future for Elijah after the cave, when Elijah has said, It is enough. I can’t do this anymore. And God promises that there is a future for Israel through the abundance of God’s grace which makes the impossible possible and which is unceasing, untiring, unrelenting.
This is good news for us, who are not super-hero prophets. We too feel the effects of life beating us down. We too grow weary of following God’s call for us. We too are tempted to believe that we are all alone in facing whatever we are dealing with, we are the only ones who can do a certain thing; we are the only ones who are left. We too lose our nerve and run for it. We too come to a point in our lives when we say, “It is enough, God! I don’t want to do this anymore!”
And God who is always faithful, always providing, always listening and willing to answer, reminds us that we are not the center of the universe and the only piece of God’s plan of salvation, and then God issues a new call to us, a new way to participate in salvation and in God’s work in the world.
Take a moment this morning to listen to the silence of your own heart. Is God speaking to you, asking: "What are you doing here?" Is God issuing a new call to you, new work for you in the world?

A Prayer for Father's Day

A Father’s Day Prayer
(adapted from a mediation written by Kirk Loadman-Copeland)
Holy God, whom we call Father, we give you thanks for the people who have been our earthly fathers in this life, and we pray for all sorts and conditions of fathers. For fathers who have striven to balance the demands of work, marriage, and children with an honest awareness of both joy and sacrifice. For fathers who, lacking a good model, have worked to become a good father. For fathers who by their own account were not always there for their children, but who continue to offer those children, now grown, their love and support. For fathers who have been wounded by the neglect and hostility of their children. For fathers who, despite divorce, have remained in their children's lives. For fathers whose children are adopted, and whose love and support has offered healing. For fathers who, as stepfathers, freely choose the obligation of fatherhood and earned their stepchildren's love and respect. For fathers who have lost a child to death, and continue to hold the child in their heart. For those men who have no children, but cherish the next generation as if they were their own. For those men who have "fathered" us in their role as mentors and guides. For those men who are about to become fathers; may they openly delight in their children. And for those fathers who have died, but live on in our memory and in the communion of your Saints, whose love continues to nurture us. All this we ask in the name of your beloved Son, who is both father and mother to us all. Amen.

3rd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 6C

3rd Sunday after Pentecost—
Proper 6C
This week, a good number of us have been gathering at the church each night and dressing up like pirates. It’s been Vacation Bible School, and both the adults and children have been learning from each other what it means to “Seek God’s Treasures.”
We’ve had a different Bible story each day that offers us a one word nugget of God’s treasure and how we seek it. We learned the story of Jonah and the whale and that God’s treasure is sought and found through obedience, in not running away when things get tough or don’t go our way.
We listened to the story of Moses who led the children of Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt through the parted waters of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army chasing them down, and we learned that God’s treasure is sought and found through courage.
We heard the story of how Jesus first called the disciples and invited them to leave behind their fishing nets and follow him that they might become fishers of people, and we learned that God’s treasure is sought and found when we trust God and God’s call in our lives.
And we heard the story of Jesus walking on the water and how Peter started to join him until he grew afraid and began to sink, and we learned that God’s treasure can be sought and found through faith.
But those are just a few of the treasures that God has to offer us. (I want you to think for a minute: What are some of the other treasures of God that you have encountered in your life? )
In our gospel story today we see another example of how we seek (and find) God’s treasure. Jesus is eating dinner at a good, religious man’s house, and a woman appears. She is very sad because she knows she has done wrong, and she has not been seeking the treasures of God; so she weeps upon Jesus’s feet to show how sorry she is; and Jesus offers her a beautiful golden nugget of God’s treasure. He offers her forgiveness; he offers her a new beginning. And when the good, religious man protests and tells Jesus he shouldn’t have anything to do with the woman, Jesus tells the man that God’s forgiveness, God’s treasure is available to everyone who seeks it.
We all do things that are not good, that are not what God would have us do… God’s forgiveness, God’s new beginning is available to each and every one of us, no matter what we do. (Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “There is no condition for forgiveness.” )
There’s another beautiful piece of God’s treasure that we especially need to remember this week. (It’s what Vacation Bible School is really all about, I think.) You know what else is God’s treasure? You. You are God’s treasure. Each one of you is created by God, made to love God and to be loved by God, and made to love other people. Each one of you is God’s treasure; you are so precious to God, and you are invited to live your life held in the hollow of God’s loving hand, held next to God’s very heart.
No matter what you have done, to hurt yourself or other people, you are offered God’s forgiveness and you, yourself are God’s treasure.
But when we claim this as truth for ourselves, then we must also recognize it as truth for each other: No person falls outside the forgiveness of God. And each person we come into contact with is treasured by God. So we have to remember this when we choose how to treat other people. We have to treat others as they are treasures of God, also.
So, everybody. One last lesson from Vacation Bible School this week. Repeat after me. I am God’s treasure…. (Now look at your neighbor: ) You are God’s treasure… Let us all seek God’s treasures.

Monday, June 7, 2010

2nd Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 5C

2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 5C
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine with me. You are walking down a road in your own private funeral procession. You carry in your heart a secret burden; it is the burden of the loss of your dreams. It is the death of someone you hold dear; it is the loss of your independence as you grow older; it is the burden of never-ending work, of the constant demands of children, of an empty nest, of caring for an elderly parent. It is the burden of broken promises, of broken relationships. It is the burden of a lost job, of feelings of shame and worthlessness. It is the burden of always making things perfect. It is the burden of addiction; it is the burden of illness or the illness of someone you love. It is the burden of depression, of lost-ness, of loneliness. It is the burden of lost hope, of disappointment, of disillusionment.
Take a silent moment to examine and name your own secret burden, for we all walk through life carrying something.
As you stand there alone, under the weight of your grief, your secret burden, suddenly Jesus is there walking by. He looks at you, and he sees you; he sees your secret burden—your grief, your loss of hope. And he feels with you, and he walks up beside you and says in a whisper to your very heart: “do not weep.” Then he places his hand on you—on your head or cupping your face, on your shoulder or even a full embrace, and he speaks directly a command to your dead hope: “I say to you rise!”
Suddenly you feel it, your burden is not so heavy, and you feel the first stirrings of your hope, the green shoot of new life breaking forth out of the deepest darkness of your soul into the light of your awareness. It is your new life; your new hope. But you are afraid, because it is so sudden, and maybe you were not ready to set aside your grief, your burden; maybe you didn’t want your hope resurrected because you couldn’t bear the pain of being heart-broken and wounded all over again.
So you take a deep breath and your initial panic subsides, and you realize how good it feels to be free of your burden, how good it feels to be whole-hearted again. You realize the power and the gift of your newly-resurrected hope, and you taste in your soul a sweet dab of joy and freedom, like a dot of honey on your tongue.
This is the gift of Jesus’s compassion in your life. We are invited to come to God’s table, where we are looked at by Jesus in his infinite compassion, and we are invited to lay down our burdens there and to receive that compassion, to eat and drink it in until it heals our broken hearts and resurrects our dying hope. And then we are sent out from here and invited to share Jesus’s compassion with others. For when we show compassion and mercy to others, we are participating in Jesus’s own life-giving compassion. It is a resurrection compassion that gives dead hope new life and gives heavy hearts new joy.
May this be your gift this day. Amen.