The Open Door

the-open-door

There was a day not so long ago when I was feeling discouraged.
Grumpy even.

I was feeling sorry for myself,
muttering around alone in the sanctuary picking up used tissues,
tossed music, broken candles, crumpled bulletins,
broken crayons, discarded inserts,
and all the detritus of weeks of winter worship.

I was preparing the way for Easter coming.
The stone rolling away.
The tomb yawning open.
Jesus set loose once again to be among us
until the end of days.

I had the church door open to bring in a breath of spring on the way.
And because the door was open,
there were suddenly two strangers in the sanctuary with me.
A young man and woman appeared excitedly exclaiming as they looked around at the beautiful wooden beams, the glowing stained glass windows, the gleaming organ pipes. They asked me if they could pray for the church. They said they were on a mission to go around town and pray.

I found myself feeling suspicious.

I wondered if this was some sort of scam.
I wondered if they hadn’t expected to find someone muttering around alone in the sanctuary and had made up something to cover their surprise.

I wondered what they were up to.

And then I wondered how I could be so cynical.
Standing in the sanctuary.
Standing in this place where people have gathered to pray together
for over 100 years.

“Yes,” I said, “Please pray for our church.”

The three of us took hands, and they prayed.
Out loud with great exuberance.
They prayed for the life and mission and ministry and people and programs and heart and soul of the church. They prayed for our neighbors and the town and the community and our country and for the whole world.

And then they asked if they could pray for me.

I felt the spirit flowing through our small circle carried by their enthusiasm.
I felt Jesus present in their great daring to pray with strangers.
The spirit was flowing and when they finished praying for me,
I prayed for them.

Tears in my eyes.
Cracks appearing in my hardened heart.
I prayed for us all.
Amen

They smiled.
We hugged.
And they bounced out as energetically as they had come in.

The spirit was flowing.

I felt peace as I basked in the warm flood of colored light streaming in through the stained glass windows. My heart was burning warm within me.

I felt full.

As if I had just finished a delicious meal of all my favorite foods.

As if I had just recognized Jesus in the breaking of a loaf of bread.

Or, in the faces of a young man and a young woman who came into my church
asking me if they could pray.

The spirit was flowing.

Jesus set loose among us.

All because

I had left the church door

open.

Sermon: Consider the Lilies

tiger lilies

Matt 6: 25 – 34

Like Advent, Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  We prepare ourselves to once again bear witness to Jesus Crucifixion, and we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter resurrection.  One of our ways of preparing is with our most essential spiritual practice, praying.

That is why one of our themes for Lent is “Pray without Ceasing.”  Prayer is one of our most important faith practices and sometimes it’s also the hardest one for us to do.  So for Lent, we will be exploring many of the different ways we can pray and we will reflect on some of the things that get in the way of us praying.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life…”  And there is one of our great emotional obstructions.  Worry.  Too much worrying can inhibit our ability to live more in the moment, to live with appreciation, and to live with joy.

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life….Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them…consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin…how much more will God care for you?”

It’s easy to say, “do not worry…” but it seems that there is just so much to worry about these days. We worry about our finances, our savings, our college and retirement funds.  We worry about looking for jobs and we worry about keeping our jobs. We worry about budget cuts in our towns, cities, and states.

We worry about the discord and chaos in our government especially with the animosity and chaos we are already seeing in this election year. We worry about who the next president will be and what it will mean for us as a people and as a country.

We worry about Isis, Syria, South Korea, the Saudis, Afghanistan…and our own backyard terrorists…

We worry about our health and well being.  We worry about our medical coverage.

We worry about snow and ice dams, flooding and rain, and drought and heat waves.  We worry about climate change. We worry about our kids, our parents, our families, our friends, and our neighbors.

We worry, worry, worry….

Pervasive worry can almost become a physical presence, entering and filling our whole body with darkness.  Science has proven that stress and anxiety take a physical toll on us, it strains our hearts, disrupts our sleep, causes us to eat more, drink more, and medicate more.  And worry just makes us worry more…..

Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life.”

So, let us consider the lilies of the field for a moment.  Or better yet, a field full of lilies.  Tall, bright orange Tiger lilies.  Or, lemon yellow lilies glowing like splashes of sunlight strewn through the garden.  Or luscious, white lilies that will soon fill our Sanctuary with the fragrant scent of Easter Resurrection.

There is a stand of bright, orange, tiger lilies, in my neighbors front yard.  Those lilies spend their day straining to reach towards the sun.  Each bell-shaped blossom, sitting atop a long, stout stem, follows the sun as it travels through the sky.

On cloudy days, the lilies heads droop a bit, melancholy and morose, waiting for the clouds to clear so the sun’s bright light can and lift them up again.  I have seen lilies flattened by wind and rain, rise up again with the coming of the sun.So, consider the dedication of those tiger lilies in following God’s sun.

Consider the plucky urban flower that, against all odds, burrows a way through the minutest of cracks in the hardened concrete and pokes and pries its way out into the light of day.  Consider the tenacity of the alpine flower, clinging to an inhospitable mountain side, drawn from the darkness, into the light.

A few years ago, we cleaned out our front beds and hauled the dirt and mulch into the woods behind our house.  Apparently, I had missed a few of the tulip bulbs because out amongst the pines and skunk cabbage, there are several bright red tulips that each year herald the coming of spring. Consider the persistence of those tulips, displaced as they were, continuing to grow towards the light.

Jesus invites us to trust in God, to trust that God will provide for us.  Jesus invites us to find peace in giving tomorrow AND today into God’s loving hands.  Jesus invites us to let go and let God, to release what it is that would rob our lives of peace and joy.  Jesus urges us to give it all back to God who gives us all we have in the first place.

Let us not just consider the lilies of the field, let us try to emulate them by focus ourselves on always straining towards the light of God’s beloved SON, and turning our lives to follow where ever God’s light leads us…having the tenacity to persevere against great odds, and persisting even when we find ourselves tossed into unfamiliar circumstances.

And, like the lilies….

Do not worry about tomorrow!  

The gift of this day in God’s creation is treasure enough!

 

 

 

Sermon: While He Was Praying

Transfiguration 2 sunburst

Transfiguration

Luke 9:28 – 43

Do you ever have a morning when you wake up and you just want to stay in bed?  Maybe a day like yesterday with that cozy, thick, thermal blanket of snow coating everything…a perfect day to stay and linger under the covers, warm and protected.  A day when it takes a great effort to step out of bed and into the work and challenges of the day.

Or, Have you ever lingered in the theatre at the end of a really good movie?  Every Christmas for three years, I went with two of Bob’s brothers to see the newest episode of Lord of the Rings.  The music and visuals were so captivating that I was transported for 3 hours.  The three of us would sit there all the way through the credits until the very last note of the music stopped playing.  And even then, we would sigh, and sit a little longer….in silence.  We didn’t want to leave that world.  We weren’t ready to move on.

When I used to ski, the best part for me was the view from the top of the mountain.  I would get off the lift and ski over to some little flat place and drink in the beauty of the cold, crisp air, the majesty of the mountains, the endurance of the old gnarled pines, all pointing towards the infinitely deep blue sky.

I was never in a hurry to descend back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity lining up for the lifts, packing the cafeteria, clomping and bumping, boisterous, noisy and demanding, and sometimes, simply overwhelming.

Is that how Jesus felt?

In this moment of blazing light and revealed glory?  Do you think he wanted to linger awhile in God’s cloud, clinging to God’s presence, and be warm and protected?  For just a few more moments?  Does Peter tempt Jesus to linger in this sacred moment with his offer to build 3 booths and with his exuberant exclamation of awe-filled delight…”it is GOOD for us to be HERE!”

It’s not always easy coming back to the real world – sticky underfoot, trash strewn about, people shoving and jostling, noisy and demanding.  How much better to be like Puss and Boots and just magically skip from mountain top to mountain top and have all the glory with none of the hard work to be found down in the valleys, down among disgruntled, desperate, needy, complicated, and annoying people.

Poor Jesus.

He “went up on the mountain to pray, and while he was praying, the appearance of his face changes”...was it Exultant? Ecstatic?  Joyful?  Was he laughing?  How often do you imagine Jesus laughing?  His clothes become dazzling white…and in the midst of this blazing glory, Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus about what lies ahead for him.  They talk with him about ‘his departure which he was to soon accomplish in Jerusalem’.

Talk about a buzzkill…talk about having to wake-up to harsh reality…

Poor Jesus.

Maybe Moses and Elijah are offering words of encouragement to get him through what is coming; just as Jesus has given Peter, John, and James this glimpse of glory, to give them encouragement for what lies ahead for them.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, he brings Peter, John and James.  And while he is praying, he is transformed.  While he is praying, Jesus is transfigured, and the disciples can SEE the light of his Spirit pouring out of him.  I don’t think the light stops flowing when the disciples stop seeing it.  I think that light of Spirit is always flowing from Jesus…It is just that “since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory.” 

In a moment of spiritual wakefulness…there is a clarity of seeing what must always be there…that light of Spirit shining out into the world, a light that is revealed to them and transforms how they see Jesus…for a moment, transforms how they SEE.

 All this, while Jesus is praying….

Jesus is equipping the disciples for what lays ahead the best way he knows how…by demonstrating for them the power of praying….

So caught up in the moment, Peter is overcome by the impulse to “do,” to do something to capture this moment…it is so hard for Peter to simply “be” in that moment.  It’s the Martha/Mary challenge, learning to pause in those sacred moments when you catch a glimpse of glory…a hint of the holy…It’s important to stop and savor those moments because they don’t last for long.  Like Manna, you can’t put them in a box and keep them for later.  You have trust in God that there will be more of those moments along life’s journey.

Peter is inspired and moved to “do”…Jesus teaches us that sometimes it’s ok, more than ok, that it’s necessary and awesome to just “be” in a moment…We cling to our moments of glory because we don’t want to hurry back down the mountain into the frothing flow of humanity, bumping and grating against each other in the struggles of every day.

Even Jesus, when he comes down the mountain, vents his frustration at the inability of those he left behind to take care of people while he was gone.  Jesus knows that all too soon, they will have to carry on without him…

He comes down from sacred ground into the muddy, murky reality of every day life and he can see how hard it will be for his disciples to build God’s kingdom…how hard it will be to change how we think and act, and feel towards one another and towards God.

Just like the boy who Jesus heals, Life sometimes mauls our spirits and dashes our hopes and dreams into pieces on the ground..  Our negative emotions and disparaging thoughts and ideas can seize hold of us, poison us, drain our spirits, overwhelm us, cast us down, and break us.

Jesus knows life is hard.  Jesus knew the difficult road the disciples would follow after he was gone…and to bolster and sustain them, he taught them that when they gather together, to pray.  He taught them to withdraw alone from time to time, and pray.

He taught them when you are afraid of the path ahead, to kneel in God’s garden and pray.  Jesus showed them that transformation comes through the power of praying.

Prayer prepares us for what lies ahead of us.  Prayer grounds us, connects us, opens us, molds and shapes us…prayer prepares for us all that lies ahead of us each and every day.

People are complicated and challenging.  But Jesus comes back down the mountain because he love us.  Jesus comes back down the mountain because we are God’s beautiful and beloved children.  Jesus comes back down into the complicated mess that is humanity, because he knows how much we need him and how much we need what he has to offer us.  Jesus knows how much we need to see the light of the Spirit and experience the joy of God’s glory.

In the midst of Peter’s building plans, God covers them with a cloud, cocoons them, and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him!”  “Listen.”

Listen, because it is in the silence, not the fire, or the earthquake, or the whirlwind…that we discover God’s presence.  Praying has the power to transform us and to reveal the light of Spirit that flows from all of us.

God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; Listen to him.”

Listen to Jesus.

The only way we can listen….

…is by being silent.

Let us pray…..