Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Kingdom of God Is....

A reflection on Luke 23:33-43

I have one long-standing tradition for the day after Thanksgiving, I go see a movie. It began almost 18 years ago when my daughter and I went with my sisters in law and their daughters to see “The Little Mermaid.” And since then, nearly every year, I have gone to a movie on the day after Thanksgiving.

This year our kids had other plans so my husband and I went to see, “Dan in real life” starring Steve Carell. It’s the story of a single father named Dan, played by Carell.

He is widowed and has three young daughters. He is also a journalist who answers people’s questions and helps them with their real life issues. The title of his column is “Dan in real life.”

He and his daughters go off to spend a weekend at the family home with his parents, his siblings, and their spouses and children. It is a full house and because one of the brothers is bringing a girlfriend Dan is assigned the “special room” the laundry room with a blow up mattress.

That night we see him trying to fall asleep to the banging of the dryer.

One of the early scenes has Dan heading into town from the parents home. He’s going to get a cup of coffee and a newspaper. He wanders into a bookstore where he meets a woman. They spend a long time, over coffee, talking. Dan ends up telling her his life story. Suddenly she gets a phone call, she’s lost track of time and needs to leave quickly.

Later, back at the house Dan tells his brothers about meeting this amazing woman. Everyone is excited for him. Then, in walks the brother’s new girlfriend…and, yup, she’s the woman Dan just met at the bookstore… Dan does not reveal this to the family; nor does the woman. They pretend they’ve never met.

But, in the end it all comes out. It’s a movie about forgiveness, remembering, and gratitude.

Our Gospel reading today points us to these same elements of forgiveness, remembering, and gratitude. We have come full cycle in the Christian liturgical year. A year spent reflecting on the Gospel of Luke. Today is like the liturgical new years eve - a time to remember where we have been this last year, a time to forgive and make amends, and a time to be grateful for all our blessings.

The liturgical year offers a way to move through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and remember who we are as a people of faith. Our worship, emphasizing the seasons of the liturgy, grounds our lives and gives us a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

In each of the Gospels Jesus is struggling to bring the kingdom of God into reality.

In Mark it's all about humanities failure to recognize Jesus as the messiah, and it plays out in the obtuseness of the disciples.

Matthew, the Gospel we begin next week for year A, is all about how Jesus is the fulfillment of the law.

In John it’s about Jesus being the incarnate Word, the very presence of God from the beginning of all time.

And in Luke, Jesus’ struggle to bring in the kingdom, focuses on humanities obsession with three things: possessions, power, and prestige.

In the 4th chapter of Luke Jesus is tempted by these very things: power, prestige, and possessions.

The first temptation is about possession - the core of what all humans desire.

“If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.”

We all want possessions. And it’s not that this is bad. We just need to be careful that the desire for possessions is not what motivates us.

“If you are the Son of God jump from the top of the temple and the angels will save you.” Such an act of glory will surely impress everyone, you will have prestige. Prestige can be a good thing when our ability to influence others is used to bring about a better world. To bring attention to the war of genocide in Darfur or the plight of refugees seeking a safe place to live.

And, lastly, the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness with this:

“Bow down before me and you will have power!”

Jesus does not succumb to these temptations and when his time in the wilderness is over he goes to the synagogue and says, “I have come to bring good news to the poor.”

In Luke, morality and human sexuality, are not the issues that Jesus worries about. He is concerned with how humans treat other human beings. He is concerned with how we view ourselves and our role as God’s disciples. “I have come to bring good news to the poor –

the poor in possessions, the poor in power, the poor in prestige, the poor in spirit, the poor in faith, the poor in hope, the poor in life.”

Today as we celebrate the feast day known as “Christ the King,” we come back to Holy Week. We stand at the foot of the cross and remember.

We are asked to remember who we are, a people of God. And as a people of God we are asked to participate in bringing forth the kingdom of God.

We do this by caring for one another.

We do this by being a people focused on forgiveness and reconciliation, remembering the profound way we are loved and forgiven by God through the life of Christ.

Corrie ten Boom tells this story of forgiveness in her book, “The Hiding Place.”

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of the jailers I had actually seen since that time.

And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away.’His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people…the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them….I struggled to raise my hand, but could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.

And so I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that …When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he gives along with the command - the love itself.”

Jesus tells us to love God, love neighbor, love self, but we are not left on our own to figure out how to do this. Jesus gives us the ability, the love, to do so. God, having lived as one of us, knows the struggles of our heart…

A rabbi was once asked, “What is a blessing?” He answered with a riddle:

“The Book of Genesis tells us that after finishing work on each of the first five days “God saw that it was good.” But God did not say this on the sixth day after humans had been created.

What conclusion can you draw from that?” asked the rabbi. Someone said, “We can conclude that the human person is not good.”

“Possibly,” the rabbi answered, “ but that’s not a likely explanation”

He then went on to explain that the Hebrew word translated as ‘good’ in Genesis is ‘tov,’ which is better translated as ‘complete.’ That is why, the rabbi contented, God did not declare the human person to be ‘tov.’Human beings are created incomplete.

It is our life’s vocation to collaborate with our creator in fulfilling our potential. For Christians this means fulfilling the Christ in us, that we may be the face of Christ to the world.

We do this by offering an alternative to the cultural pull toward prestige, power, and possessions. We do this by being a people who remember who we are, a people of God. We do this by remembering that just as God forgives us so we are to forgive others, and ourselves, of all things known and unknown.

And we do this by lifting up our hearts in gratitude to the God who loves us deeply and gives us the ability to love in return.

Each one of us, making even the smallest of efforts to do this can have a big influence on the world.

Hellen Keller once said,

"The world is moved along not only by the mighty shove of its heroes,but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker."

Jesus, remember me…

Surely you will be with me in paradise…

With each one of us,

Remembering whose we are

And who are,

doing our small part,

but working together,

loving, caring, forgiving,

the kingdom of God will be a reality in our lives and our world.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Future is Largely Unknown


A reflection on Luke 21:5-19

A few weeks ago I had a dream about someone I knew years ago. In my dream she had died and I was reading about her in the obituary column. When I woke that morning I knew this person had not died, the dream was clearly about something else.

I know my dreams are never prophetic. I don’t dream about things that are going to happen. True, in my conscious life I sometimes have a pretty good idea how things might turn out. But then there is always the possibility that something else could happen.

Have you ever tried to make a prediction? Were you right? Here are some predictions made a long time ago by respectable people who were experts in their field:

In 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."

In 1962 The Decca Recording Co. said: "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." They were talking about the Beatles.

Of course we all like the idea of predictions. On some level we all want to know what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year. We want to be prepared, or if possible, avoid the problem altogether. All around us people are predicting the cost of gasoline or heating fuel, the state of our economy, the housing market, the next major epidemic, which version of the flu will make us sick this winter, global warming, world poverty, what will give us cancer, what will prevent cancer, and on and on…

Often these predictions are wrong; although surely natural disasters, the economy, fuel, and global warming are key concerns in our world today. But, often these predictions are wrong because there are too many variables at play. In some ways the world is made new every day. Even as we are prone to do the same thing over and over again, one small shift and everything could change.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus is calling the people to take a good long look at their lives. “Beware,” he says, “that you are not led astray.” He wants them to examine their lives; to understand who they are and why they do what they do.
Looking carefully at our lives is a spiritual discipline. St. Ignatius created a method for this called the “examine of conscience.” This method leads us through a systematic review of the events in our daily lives. Intentionally reviewing our lives enables us to recognize when we need to forgive others or seek forgiveness, to look at what causes us concern, and what has brought us joy.

Jesus is preparing the disciples, and in essence us, for the challenges that lie ahead. Sometimes, as a people of faith we think we are protected from life’s difficulties. God will protect us. Or conversely that God never gives us more than we can handle…well there have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve said, “Ah, God, don’t over estimate me…”

In one of the Hagar the Horrible comic strips Hagar is preparing his troops for battle:
"This is the moment we've been waiting for men! The moment we do battle with the enemy! Is everyone here?"
They shout: "YES!"
Hagar continues: "Okay men -- repeat after me. 'I am a Viking Warrior!'"
"I AM A VIKING WARRIOR!" they shout.
"And I will fight to the death for what I believe!"
(the next frame: silence)
And, again, in the next frame: silence…)

In the third frame Hagar asks: "Okay, why aren't you repeating after me?!"
One meek Viking speaks for them all: "Hagar, the men would like to change that to 'and I will fight hard until it's time for dinner.'"

Yes, God, don’t over estimate what I can handle… I want to be home in time for dinner. I want my life to be anchored in things that are comfortable, safe, and familiar. I don’t want to suffer.

Ultimately I do not think God micro-manages the events of our lives. God does not give us trials and tribulations to teach us something, nor does God dole out rewards for good behavior. Life happens, the good and the bad. To a small degree we are able to influence what happens to us. Our actions have consequences. But we are not able to completely control things one way or another.

This Gospel reading falls in the genre of apocalyptic scripture. Apocalypse means “Revelation” and in the Bible apocolyptic texts describe horrible events leading up to a great transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. In other words, the Kingdom of God is revealed in the process of living through tragedy. We often hear these readings “as if” God is imposing these horrible things in order to prepare us for the Kingdom of God.

In essence, though, the apocalyptic texts describe the human condition, what it is really like to live a full life. At some point in our lives we will hurt someone or be hurt. We will lose something or someone or become lost ourselves. Life includes suffering. It’s not what God does; it is just a part of life.

Our goal is not to avoid suffering, but to learn how to move through suffering. Because it is the moving through suffering and coming to the other side that brings us one step closer to the Kingdom of God. It is in suffering that we as humans grow in compassion and love and concern for others.

True, we could also become bitter. Suffering leaves us with choices. We can move through it, trusting that God is there with us. Or we rail against it and refuse to see any grace or hope. Suffering can make us bitter. We can come to resent God. And, suffering can leave us wondering if there is a God at all. Don’t you wonder that sometimes when you hear about all the suffering in the world? How can there be a God when things like this happen?

Several years ago, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks did a comedy skit called the "2013 Year Old Man". In the skit, Reiner interviews Brooks, who is the old gentleman. At one point, Reiner asks the old man, "Did you always believe in the Lord?"

Brooks replied: "No. We had a guy in our village named Phil, and for a time we worshiped him."

Reiner: You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?

Brooks: Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!

Reiner: Did you have prayers?

Brooks: Yes, would you like to hear one? O Phil, please don't be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.

Reiner: So when did you start worshiping the Lord?

Brooks: Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, "There's somthin' bigger than Phil!"
Tim Carpenter,

I am always grateful when I can see, within my own suffering, signs that there is something bigger than myself, bigger than my problem, bigger than the suffering. I am always grateful when I see God’s grace at work in and through the suffering. Jesus says, “For I will give you words and a wisdom…” Signs, of God working through my life, and the lives of other people who, with care and compassion, strive to alleviate the suffering of others.

Having care and compassion for the suffering in this world can feel overwhelming. There is so much. Where do we begin? Sometimes we can become stuck, feeling immobilized by the intensity of it all.

There’s a story from one of the ancient church writers that looks at this very thing. A student asked the teacher about suffering, and the teacher told him a story. It goes like this:

A man had a plot of land that had become a wilderness of thistles and thorns. He decided to cultivate it and said to his son: "Go and clear that ground." But when the son went to clear it, he saw that the thistles and thorns had multiplied. He thought, "How much time shall I need to clear and weed all this?" and lay on the ground instead, and went to sleep. He did this day after day.

When his father found him doing nothing, the son explained his discouragement. The father replied, "Son, if you had cleared each day the area on which you lay down, your work would have advanced slowly and you would not have lost heart." The son did what his father said, and in a short time the plot was cultivated.

One Plot at a Time by Roberta C. Biondi

Moving through suffering means taking things one step at a time. Perhaps it is our own suffering we face. Then, all we can do is wake up each morning and take that first step out of bed. Or, perhaps we are working to alleviate suffering in the world by helping one refugee family at a time. We can’t fix all the problems or alleviate all the suffering. But we can help; one thing at a time.

Jesus calls us into the suffering. We are not to avoid it. We are to enter into to it. To be present with it. To suffer with the families who have lost their homes to fire, flood, war, or cyclones. To suffer with people who have been injured by the many battles being raged across our planet. To suffer with the hungry, the poor, the forgotten. Jesus tells us to not pick sides, do not justify the suffering. Rather, testify on behalf of the suffering. Examine our lives. And. Give witness to God’s desire for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, for “by your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Living the Questions....

A Reflection on Luke 20:27-38, Proper 27C

One New Year's Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit.

It was out of gas.

The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas.
(C. Neil Strait, Minister’s Manuel, 1994, 315).

The irony is, the float was sponsored by and represented an oil company. A primary symbol of American Society, the status quo, fails…

Which is both funny and thought provoking….

Our vestry meets 10 months out of the year on the second Thursday of the month. We begin every meeting with a Bible study, usually pondering the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday. In this Bible study we ponder the reading from the perspective of three questions. The first time we read it through we listen for what word or phrase stands out for us. Our response, usually after a few minutes of bewildered contemplation, is the sharing of a few words.

So for instance, at the vestry meeting on Thursday we contemplated today’s Gospel, and we heard things like:

“all of them are alive;” or

“Some of the Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question…”

We don’t explain why the word or phrase stands out. We just say it, the sign of the Spirit speaking to us. Then we read the lesson a second time, using another interpretation of scripture…

This time we are listening to what the passage is saying to the people of "Small Church." Then we read it a third time listening to what the Spirit is saying to us, the vestry, the leaders of "Small Church."

Each time we read it we use a different interpretation. Usually we use the New International Version, The Message, and the one we use on Sunday morning, The New Revised Standard Version. Each version offers us a slightly, or radically, different understanding of the lesson.

So, each read through is from a different interpretation pondering different questions.

These help us to enter into the reading in ever deeper ways.

We begin our vestry meeting with scripture so that we can shape and form the work we do in scripture and prayer.

Now, it’s true that some nights the reading “speaks” to us in fairly clear terms. But other nights, like last Thursday’s vestry meeting, the reading seems obtuse – we are getting nothing out of it.

And I don’t help. I don’t jump in and unpack the reading. I don’t add commentary on what the “Scholars” say about the reading. I let us wallow in it and muddle through the confusion. Because often that is when and where the Spirit will speak to us.

We went through the first question and then second with very little ability to engage in the reading and gain any insight.

Gosh, we thought, this is a tough reading. What we “hear” Jesus saying about the resurrection is just not what we want to think.

We want the resurrection to be about being with our family and loved ones.

We want the resurrection to be about living again, about new life.

We want the resurrection to be about hope.

Then, suddenly, we had some insight. One of the vestry members suggested that the reading was not really what it seemed to be about. It isn’t about marriage and it isn’t about what happens in the resurrection. Sure, marriage is used as the example, but with the intent of pointing us elsewhere.

The message is pointing us to stop thinking about things in the same old way. The point of the reading is that we should not be satisfied with the status quo. We need to be careful about choosing things that allow us to remain in our comfort zones.

The kingdom of God is about a new thing…

So, marriage is a prime example of what is “normal” in our society. This is true even as 50% of all marriages end in divorce. And it’s true even as many people refuse to get married.

The common mind of our society is slightly suspicious of anyone in power or authority who has not been married.

Think about, for instance, what it might be like to consider for President a person who was not married, never had been. Or was divorced? The Sunday night soap, Brothers and Sisters is looking at this very issue.

It goes against our standards of what is “normal,” what is “trustworthy.”

So the vestry member was on to something.

The reading was not about marriage, but about the status quo…

In this reading marriage is a metaphor for what we know, what we are familiar with, what feels “normal”. We need to stop worrying about how able we are to maintain the normal way of life. The kingdom of God is not about maintaining the status quo.

Jesus has come to do a new thing.

We need to stop sweating the small stuff that locks us into, and limits us to what we think is normal.

Jesus is telling us we need to learn to think outside the box.

In Jesus’ day the Sadducees were just beginning to think about resurrection, about what happens after we die.

Then and now many people think life just ends when we die.

But this Gospel conversation about the resurrection explodes this idea. Blows it wide open. But again, just like this reading is not about marriage, it is also not about resurrection.

It is about God and how we understand our lives as a people of faith.

When Jesus speaks to the Sadducees he is saying that their rendition of reality is stifled; he offers an alternate view of the after life as a way of pointing us to understand our lives today.

Jesus offers them a way of thinking outside the box.

As he always does Jesus takes their question and turns it upside down.

Have you read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet?

In it an aspiring poet from America writes the famous poet Rilke in Germany with questions about his art. In one of his replies, Rilke writes,

“Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then someday far in the future, you will your way into the answer.”

So, what Jesus does is offer them a revelation of “uncertainty.” By Jesus telling them this version he shakes loose the version of known reality and offers up a radically different one…

True, the one Jesus offers may be more filled with questions than certitude.

But, that would be the point.

What does life look like if we think out side the box?

What does life look like if we stop seeing the differences in the color of our skin?How many times do we use skin color as a way to describe someone?

“there was this African-American….”

“She is an Hispanic…”

“He is Asian…”

Rarely do we feel inclined to say, “That white guy?” Because white is normative…

I hope we see the irony in the events of our Diocesan Convention.

We spent Friday afternoon debating the merits of supporting people of color.

We considered the need to make anti-racism training up front and center in our diocesan budget and in the lives of our parishes. The resolution on this issue passed with very little dissension.

We spent a good amount of time debating the merits of asking General Convention in 2009 to rescind resolution B033. This resolution, passed in the final moments of General Convention 2006, makes a statement about who we will confirm as Bishop in the Episcopal Church.

We argued thoughtfully about why we need to rethink this. Why we need to find ways to fully embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and welcome them into the church.

It was an amazing afternoon. The Episcopal Church at its best, struggling to think outside the box. Struggling to embrace a wide berth of what can be possible and normative.

And then the very next day we elect the white guy as our Bishop.

Now. Don’t misunderstand me.

He will be a fine Bishop.

But hear what I am saying in the context of our debates at convention on Friday. We say one thing, but when it comes to action, we move right back to the status quo. To what feels safe and good and right.

Someone at convention asked me, "Do I think our new Bishop will be an agent of change?"

"Sure." I said. "Just like Persell has been able to be an agent of change in this Diocese. But to the world around us, the people who do not really know the day to day stuff of our church, we present once again, a "normal" face. This is who we see as Bishop. In essence the same person who has been elected Bishop the last eleven times."

Living the Gospel is hard work.

And it’s not about the small stuff.

It’s about changing our paradigm of what we think is normal.

It’s about thinking outside the box and following Christ into a new thing.

It’s a cry for us to look carefully at all the ways we get stuck in racism and sexism.

As human beings we slide so comfortably into what feels normal. I do it all the time!In biology we learn that living systems always seek homeostasis. We actively seek to find what we know as “normal.” It’s in our DNA to do this.

But, Jesus seeks to point us in a new direction.

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question...

How is it that, in our world today, "we" are the Sadducees?

Naturally, we want the things that feel safe and comfortable. We live in time of radical change and upheaval. It's only natural that we want to be comfortable and "normal."

But, Jesus tells us we need to push back against this. We need to look carefully at what we think is safe and normal.Because eventually the very things we hold up as the status quo run out of gas.

We need to live with the questions.

What is safe?

What is normal?

What does Jesus call us to do?

We need to let the questions sit in our beings and wrestle with our souls and give us sleepless nights like the one I had last night.

“Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then someday, far in the future, you will your way into a new answer.”

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Come to this table...

One of my earliest memories takes place when I was two years old.

It is evening and my parents have just left. I am in a hospital room and in those days parents were not allowed to stay in the room over night. I was being prepped for a tonsillectomy and for some reason I had to spend the night; the surgery would be first thing in the morning.

I remember standing in the crib shaking it back and forth. I was offended that I had to sleep in a crib like a baby. I was not a baby. I had a baby brother; I knew the difference between my big girl bed and his crib.

I remember the nurse trying to get me to drink the twinkle time juice. I would not. (Who knew what was in that beverage!).

I remember climbing out of the crib and taking a walk down the hall.

[Oh, I’m sure the nurses were fit to be tied with me.]

I remember my uncle coming into the room with a group of elders from our church. My uncle laid his hands on my head and prayed. I don’t remember the words he said. I remember the calming effect of his hands and the soothing sound of his voice. I remember the presence of God’s love pouring through my uncle and into me.

In my memory I went to sleep after that prayer. --------

Memory is interesting….

Why do we remember some things and not others? Why is it that something happens and a memory pops up out of nowhere? That happens to me often when I am driving. I have lived all over the Chicago-land area. Certain neighborhoods are filled with memories…from college, to my first real job, the various apartments I lived in in Roger’s Park, the first house I bought and the second…memories of family and children, and friends.

But day in and day out I do not remember most of my life.

Some days I’m lucky if I can pull up in my memory bank the word I’m looking for…or remember why I walked into a particular room…


Most days I live in the future, the place I am trying to get to, not in the present and not in the past.

Memory is important though. It is our memories that help guide us and keep us from making the same mistakes over and over. Memory is why Isaiah is pleading with the people – remember who you are and whose you are.

“Hear the word of the Lord…”

and then Isaiah reminds the people of what God desires of them.

The people have forgotten what the love and grace of God is really all about. They have started to think that what God wants of them is sacrifices and burnt offerings. They have started to think that God requires this of them before God can forgive them their sins.

We Christians have gone the same direction. We hang on to the idea that God needed Jesus to die on the cross before God could forgive us our sins.

The Letter to the Hebrews develops this idea, so does St. Augustine, so have many church writers through out history. Through out the ages, and even still today, we Christians have been struggling with a crucified and resurrected savoir, a God who came to live as a human… We call this “Atonement Theology;” what God was doing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and how that pertains to our salvation. And, while there is one prominent way we remember the story, there are seven or eight or nine atonement theologies.

It’s helpful to remember that Christians have not completely figured this out.

[Yeah, the mystery of God must have something to do with it…]

What God is telling the people through Isaiah is that their religious rituals and acts have become meaningless to God. They are meaningless because the people are doing them for all the wrong reasons.

Sometimes our memory plays tricks on us,

we start doing something for one reason and then end up doing it for another…

But the truth is God has forgiven their scarlet sins and turned them to snow.

God forgives our sins too!

The sacrifice, Isaiah tells us, is supposed to be an act of gratitude.

A thank offering.

Thank you God for forgiving me my sins and loving me just as I am.

We hear a similar thing in Luke.

In our reading it sounds like Jesus’ willingness to forgive Zacchaeus depends upon Zacchaeus’ willingness to be repentant.

But here is where the interpretation of scripture misleads us. Our scripture speaks of Zacchaeus’ actions as if they are something he will do in the future, but the original Greek words, the verb tense, tell us it is something he is doing now. Present tense….

He is giving things away now.

He is tending to the issues of injustice now.

His heart is in the right place, even if his job would say other wise.

He is already doing what God asks.

It’s the people around Zacchaeus who presume, because of what he does for a living, a tax collector, that he cheats and steals. (

How often do we do this –

judge someone else based on superficial evidence?

How often do we limit our understanding of “who” they are, based on “what” we think they are?

Oh, you’re a lawyer…oh, you’re a priest,...oh, you’re a….

This reading tells us that when WE do this We become the sinner. We sin when our actions are “On behalf” of God, or “for” God, or to “appease” God rather than being “Of” God.

Maybe this sounds like I’m splitting hairs.

But what I’m trying to nuance is the significance of our actions when they are grounded in the love and graciousness of God instead of what we think will please God and grant us salvation while forgetting that we are already saved.

The heart of both these readings is to remind us that God has already forgiven us and loves us as we are.

God’s mercy is profound and stretches beyond our comprehension.

Thankfully God’s mercy is not dependent upon anything anyone of us does.

Thankfully we have a history of God acting in and through people upon which to ground our trust. --------

Today we celebrate the collective memory of the Saints, those blessed ones who have gone before us, those who gave their lives to God. (think, St. Paul, St. Theresa, St. Hildegard, St. Augustine)…

Individually their lives help us remember God in a particular time in history

and collectively they help us know God’s grace and love through the eons of time.

Most of us are less like the saints…we are more like the Israelites that Isaiah is speaking with, we get caught up in details that distract us from what is really going on.

We forget what God really wants of us. We get carried away with issues about human sexuality and forget about the dying, the hungry, the poor…

I am really drawn to the line in Isaiah where God says,

“Come now, let us argue this out.”

I love that God is portrayed as one willing to argue with us and still love us.

“Let us argue this out…though your sins are like scarlet they shall become like snow…”

God invites us into a passionate caring. God wants us to be deeply invested. This passage from Isaiah tells me that God cares about what is in our hearts. God cares about why we do something. God seems to care less about the exact details of what we do.

It’s not about the burnt offering;

it’s about your heart.

It’s like God is saying

I don’t want you to do “the right thing” in order to make me love you.

I want to know what is in your heart.

And, so, it’s about trusting that God does love us just as we are. Trusting this because God has lived as one of us. And if God in Christ has lived as one of us, then God understands the distractions and conflicts of the human heart.

But, at some point, trusting that God loves us, really trusting that, will fill our hearts with joy and gratitude.

We will worry less about doing the right thing for fear of reprisal or to sway God’s heart.

God’s heart is already with us, that’s the message.

That’s why we are called to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving.

This is the language of our Eucharistic prayers. These prayers are known as “The Great Thanksgiving.”

We come to the table, just as we are, broken and lost.

We come to the table with our opinions about:
We come to the table with our opinions about who can lead this country, could it be a woman?
We come to the table with our opinions aboutwho can be Bishop..
We come to the table with our opinions about Homeless
We come to the table with our opinions about immigration…
We come to the table with our opinions about the economy…
We come to the table with our opinions about the environment.
We come to the table with our opinions about mental illness.
We come to the table with our opinions about global warming.
We come to the table with our opinions about the meaning of scripture.
We come to the table with our opinions about about homosexuality.
We come to the table with our opinions about the war.
We come to the table with our opinions about Right to life or Right to Choose….
We come to the table with our opinions about real bread and real body.
Is it?
We come to this table with many different opinions.

We come because God calls us to this table.

But God does not call us to come in order that we all have the same opinion.

It’s about unity not uniformity….

There is a line in an Indigo Girls song that goes,

“There is more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line…”

Christians through out the ages have held different understandings of who God is and what God desires of us.

It is a crooked line.

Thankfully there resides, I think a kind of collective memory in our history. It is this collective memory that we are trying to pray in the Eucharist. But even in that collective memory is much diversity.

Can we pray about God as mother?

Some early church fathers did just that...they used images of God as mother.

Some of us today think that’s blasphemy…..

Come, God says, let’s argue this out.

Because to argue it out says something about our investment in it.

I’m not suggesting vitriol nor am I suggesting mean spirited behavior.

I think the passage is a cry for passion.

Passion for Christ’s sake….!

Passion for the love of God!

Come God says, because you care.

Come God says because no matter what,

so long as your heart is here,

I will turn your sins from scarlet to white as snow.

Come God says.

This bread and this wine is a fragrant offering of love

given equally to all.



Let the meal at this table

be for you the real presence of God’s love,

that you may remember

and then,

go and do likewise