Sunday, November 22, 2015

Last Sunday after Pentecost--Christ the King Sunday

Last Sunday after Pentecost—Christ the King Sunday November 22, 2015 Today I would like to tell you two different tales of two different bunnies. The first bunny is named Barrington Bunny. Barrington is the only bunny in the whole wide forest, and he is sad and lonely because he cannot go to the other animals’ Xmas parties--he cannot climb trees like a squirrel or swim like a beaver. And he doesn't have a bunny family of his own. Barrington is crying alone in the snow on Christmas Eve when the wise wolf whose eyes are like fire appears before him, The wolf tells Barrington that all of the animals of the forest are his family, and that he as a bunny has his own special gifts. He can hop and he is furry and warm. As Barrington is hopping home filled with hope and a plan to help the members of his family (all the different animals of the forest), a blizzard wind begins to blow, and he comes across a young field mouse who is lost from his family. Barrington tells the mouse to not be afraid, that he will stay with him, and because he is a bunny, he can help keep him warm. In the morning, when the young mouse's parents find him, Barrington has died in the night keeping the little mouse warm. And the wolf comes and keeps watch over Barrington's body all Christmas Day. The second bunny is named Foo Foo. You see, Little Bunny Foo Foo was hopping through the forest. And out of nowhere he inexplicably scoops up a field mouse and bops him on the head. Then, down comes the good fairy, and she says, “Little Bunny Foo Foo, I don’t want to see you scooping up the field mice and bopping them on the head. I’ll give you three chances. And if you do, I’m gonna turn you into a goon!” Well, we all know what happens. Whatever inexplicable forces that are at work in Little Bunny Foo Foo’s soul to make him want to bop the innocent field mice on the head do not abate, in spite of the good fairy’s warning, and he burns through his three chances, getting turned into a goon in the end. These two stories of two different bunnies are actually two different pictures of kingship that we need to consider on this Last Sunday after Pentecost which is also known as Christ the King Sunday. The Foo Foo way of kingship is a way of might and violence. Foo Foo is bigger and stronger than the field mice and he exercises his power over them until someone stronger than him comes along and punishes him with more violence. The Barrington way of kingship is a way that knows and experiences suffering and loneliness, a way that reaches out to others out of that shared pain and offers a comforting presence even to the point of sacrificial death. We all know suffering, loneliness, tribulation. And most of the time, we are like the communities who John's gospel and Revelation are being written to. We want a strong, Foo Foo like King who will come in and bop all our enemies on the head and rescue us from our suffering. That is the world's way. But Jesus is not a Foo Foo like King. "My kingdom is not of this world," he says. “The way of using might to bring about victory, the way of violence, the way of ‘bopping the little ones on the head’ (or even turning the bullies into goons) is not my way,” he tells us in that one simple phrase. His is the way of Barrington Bunny: the way of staying beside those who are suffering, the way of sacrifice, the way of peace and a love that eventually conquers everything-even death. If we are to be his followers, the citizens of his kingdom, then that must be our way too. Which kind of bunny will you be? Whose way do you follow?

Monday, November 2, 2015

All Saints' Day--baptismal letter

All Saints’ Day Year B November 1, 2015 A letter to Becky and Matthew upon the occasion of their baptisms. Dear Becky and Matthew, This is an interesting time in the life of the church year. It is the half-way point between Easter of one year and Easter of the next, and it is one of those Christian holidays that has become something entirely different in the culture around us. We see it most prominently in the contrast between Halloween and All Saints’. Every year at Halloween, I am increasingly more astonished (and somewhat dismayed) at the bacchanalia that takes place around us, as people work themselves up into a frenzy over costumes and candy. At the root of this, I recognize what Christian theologians wiser than I have named as being our culture’s fear and denial of death. But today, here in this church, we are going to do the exact opposite. Today, Becky and Matthew, we actually celebrate your death, and we will take with you this first step into a long journey of not only not being afraid of death, but seeing it as a peaceful companion throughout your life. Today we all will relearn and remember with you, that even though the world around us will scramble to deny death, we, as Christians, recognize that death is an important part of faithful living. “…We as Christians know at a deeper level that our society has it all backwards. It is not that life ends and death goes on forever. Death is but a single event that is not itself the last word. At the heart of the Christian faith is the Easter story of the Resurrection revealing that God does not abandon us at death, but raises us to new life.” So, Becky and Matthew, when we baptize you today, we are baptizing you into Jesus’s death, and we are baptizing you into Jesus’s resurrection. From this day forward, you are claiming your place as the beloved of God, who created you good, and you are becoming a part of God’s resurrection people-the body of Christ. As Christians, we also recognize that the awareness of death and mortality is a gift to us, because it then spurs faithful living, and not for the reasons you might think. Awareness of our death does not spur faithful living because we are afraid God is going to send us to hell if we’re not good enough, if we don’t “do right” or if we don’t earn our salvation. The truth is, none of us could ever be good enough to earn our salvation. That is a gift that has been already freely given to us by the God who loves us and who chooses to make God’s own home in and with us. Rather, we long to live faithfully because we are grateful to God; we recognize this mortal life as a beautiful, finite gift, and we long to cherish it and live it to the fullest. We are all here today because in some deep part of our souls, we have realized that our struggle is not to remain alive forever at any cost, but to live and to die faithfully; and we are here today because we have discovered that this living and dying faithfully is work that is more easily and better done when we have companions along the way. We are here today because we have discovered that following the way of Jesus, the way that is articulated in our baptismal covenant, the way of peace, forgiveness, healing, sacrifice, and reconciliation, following the way of Jesus gives our lives meaning; it makes life and our relationships infinitely richer than they would be otherwise, and we are all so much better for having companions to walk with us on this way. That is what we will promise to do for you this day and forward, Becky and Matthew, and you will promise to do it for us as well. And that is where the Saints come into the picture, why we remember them today on this All Saints’ Day, and why it makes today especially appropriate for baptism. The New Testament talks about “saints” 20 times, and it’s not talking about stained-glass people living perfect lives of faithfulness that we could only dream about. Saints, in the New Testament, refer to “God-lovers;” or as one of our old, beloved hymns puts it, “they loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.” Brother James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes about Saints: “The promise of triumph which we celebrate today in the Feast of All Saints’ is for all of us… who have lived lives of hope, or even just attempted to do so. It is for all of us who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to.” It is this work of attempting to live lives of faith and attempting to live lives of hope that we do together that forms us (and all those God-lovers who have gone before us) into Resurrection people through the weaving and working, inspiring and initiating of God’s Holy Spirit. We give thanks to God for your presence among us, and we look forward to walking this way with you. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+