Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Call to Action! And remembering Dr. Marcus Borg...

Ordinary Time (Epiphany) 3 - January 25, 2015
Psalm 25
I Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

In the Name of God: + Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

“Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here! Change your life and believe the Message, the Good News!”

Today Jesus meets each one of us and calls us to action! He asks you and I to allow our lives to be transformed this very moment for the domain of God is not far off or in the next life but here before us, surrounding us and within us. We are called to action not for ourselves alone, not to suppress or appease the blood thirst of some vengeful Deity, but in order to bring to completion the world-altering message of Christ. Jesus approached his first disciples today in our Gospel reading and invited them to become fishers of men and women, to seek out the hurting, the broken, the confused, the marginalized, the outcast and offer to them the message of transformation and hope, the message that God’s domain is here!

This past week Christianity and all people of faith lost a leading theologian and biblical scholar who paved the way for many to return to their faith in the ever-abiding presence of Jesus Christ. Dr. Marcus Borg left this world and entered into the mysterious and yet promised eternal presence of God’s love at age 72 on Wednesday. Dr. Borg was willing to approach the Good News of Jesus in a way that many did not dare. He was willing to look past 2,000 years of heaped on church traditions and lofty rhetoric and look for the man Jesus, who with only three years or less of public ministry and teaching left a mark on this world as few others have.

Dr. Borg was raised a Lutheran but always held significant doubts pertaining to faith in God and Christianity. Not withstanding these doubts he decided to venture to seminary and heed the call of God to a very public teaching ministry. His brutal and transparent honesty pertaining to his faith was his greatest strength. Dr. Borg opened the eyes of the Christian world to the realization that God does not ask for blind allegiance and refusal of deep internal questioning. Instead God asks us to use all of our being, all our intellect and all our creative spirit in order to truly draw close to the Divine as revealed in the person of Jesus. Dr. Borg once said, “When somebody says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” my first response is, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” Almost always, it’s the God of supernatural theism.”

Many of us here were raised in a faith community where God was the supernatural “man in the sky” dishing out miracles and damnation as he saw fit. A god who required individuals to adopt a specific doctrinal system to evade the fires of hell. A god who was kind and compassionate but only for those chosen few. A god who by any loving parent’s standards would get a big fat “F” when it comes to paternal and maternal principles of love and caretaking.

Thankfully, Dr. Borg reminded us that the God whom Jesus spoke of is not distant, is not seeking to damn nor is found lacking in love and compassion but rather pours out goodness to without reservation or hesitation. As matter of fact, our Gospel reading makes this clear. Jesus doesn’t come to the first disciples with a bound Bible, the Roman’s Road to salvation, the message of the cross or (breathe deep) even the resurrection. Jesus simply comes with the calling, with the invitation, to seek transformation recognizing the presence of God. The disciples did not need to ask questions because their calling was not one of doctrinal beliefs or absolutes but instead entering into a dance with a man. A man, not so unlike themselves, who had helped open their eyes to the domain of God and the promises it brings.

Our God is not asking for mechanical robots but rather people who seek to experience the fullness of the Divine. We do this through an engaging relationship with God, God’s creation and walking in the ways of Jesus. Dr. Borg also once said, “The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”

Jesus changed the world beginning with Simon and Andrew, James and John, simply with the call to action: the calling to radically bring about a personal and world transformation by recognizing God. Often times progressive Christianity is guilty of minimizing the teachings of Jesus to nothing more than a calling to kindness or being nice. Not surprisingly, Dr. Borg once touched on this issue saying, “The point is not that Jesus was a good guy who accepted everybody, and thus we should do the same (though that would be good). Rather, his teachings and behavior reflect an alternative social vision. Jesus was not talking about how to be good and how to behave within the framework of a domination system. He was a critic of the domination system itself.”

The calling of Jesus to the first disciples was not simply to be nice and to love everyone. They could have easily done this while remaining on their boats and catching their fish. Instead, they heard Jesus and they IMMEDIATELY got up and followed after him. In just a few short weeks they began to go out and touch the untouchables, teach the people deemed to be un-teachable, stay in the homes of the so-called sinners and break bread with all who were hungry, especially those on the fringes of society. The call to action, the call of Jesus, is not necessarily one of quiet kindness or one of allegiance to dogma. Instead it is a vocal proclamation to change the world, as we know it! To turn imbalanced systems of power upside down, offering freedom to all.

As people of faith we are called to change the world by making known the ways of God through our concrete and public actions, our life-saving words of hope and our demand that the “least of these” be treated with equality. We are fishers of men and women, fishers who are willing to put our hands in the dirty, mucky waters of the world - waters that are filled with hatred, scorn, envy and strife. We are called to be willing to pull anyone and everyone out of those waters offering them a new lease on life. We are to call out systemic racism, sexism, economic inequality, homophobia and transphobia, often existing in the name of religion, and critique it with the embracing and affirming message Jesus left us. Fishers of men and women cannot remain silent, they cannot remain peacefully in their boats of life but instead they go out into the world and put their lives on the line in order to bring a societal awareness to God’s domain and rule.

To believe the message of Jesus, as the disciples did, is to believe that God loves the entirety of the world. God loves all the little children, every shade from dark to light; every gender – male, female or in-between; every sexuality – gay, straight or in-between. God loves us all and Jesus calls us to action for the time is now, the domain of God is here. It is time to change our lives; it is time to get busy fulfilling our call as faith people. Our call is to change the very fabric of society. To ruffle the feathers of the religious who deems themselves better than others, to root out dogmas and doctrines that cause hatred of others and self, to demand national and world-wide care for the poor and sick, to educate out bigotry and hatred that would harm those of differing genders and sexualities and to bring into reality the belief that God is with us and no weapons used against us will prosper.

For “God is fair and just; God corrects the misdirected and sends them in the right direction. God gives the rejects God’s own hand and leads them step-by-step.” Today we choose to walk step-by-step with Jesus, we choose to believe the message of radical change and we choose to recognize the domain of God that is before us. We will heed the call to action? Systems of oppression and domination will fail for God is here!

I leave you with this final quote from. Dr. Marcus Borg: “Christianity's goal is not escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better.”


Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent II - St. Nicholas and True Peace

Advent 2 - December 7, 2014
Mark 1:1-8

Today our Gospel reading shared with us a glimpse into the life of St. John the Baptist. John was someone who prepared the way for justice, liberty and true freedom. He came before Jesus and he used his entire life in order to reveal to people the ways of God. The means with which he used to carry for his message of Divine forgiveness and Divine acceptance was not the typical way endorsed by the religious of his time. John did not preach from high places in the temple nor in the local houses of worship wearing regal robes and using lofty rhetoric. Instead, John preached from the desert using simple language and actions to bring about meaningful change for the many lives he touched. John was not about validating himself or his own needs, John was about offering hope to those who felt they were forsaken and forgotten by the religious system and even by God. John pointed to the one who was to come after him, to the one who would offer a baptism of fire that could change one’s entire existence and outlook on life. John was about offering the hope of lasting change, redirection and true peace. Not a facade of peace that exists when we ignore our own issues and the issues of the world but a true peace that exists when we seek to make a difference through our lives, deeds and words.

Today, we celebrate the feast of a bishop who lived long ago and, like John the Baptist, he sough to create the opportunity for lasting change and true peace in the lives of all those who were found in need. His name was, his name is, Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. You might know him as St. Nick or Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was born in Asia Minor in the year 270AD to a wealthy Christian family. Nicholas was a lucky little boy, you might say. However, while he was still very young a horrifying epidemic washed over the land killing countless lives including the life of his mother and father. After his parents’ untimely and unexpected death, Nicholas was raised by one of his uncles, who happened to be a bishop in the church. Over the years, Nicholas grew in love for God and everyone around him, so much so that his very own uncle ordained him a deacon and priest when he became an adult. Later on, due to Nicholas’s ability to offer hope and the love of God to many, he was ordained a bishop. There are many stories that surround the life of St. Nicholas, some are likely true and some are likely legend. Regardless, they all have beautiful meaning, they share with us great insight into life and humanity, and, finally, they invite you and I to participate in our faith with similar engagements.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

First Sunday of Advent: Stay at your post, keep watch!

Preached at Bloomington Inclusive Mass on November 30, 2014. 

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:2-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37

“Stay at your post! Keep watch!” These are the words that Jesus gives to us on this first Sunday of Advent. It might seem to us a little bizarre that Jesus would be speaking to us from the Gospels when we are supposedly waiting for his coming on Christmas morning. We might wonder to ourselves, why aren’t we hearing the lead up to the Christmas story? Where are Mary, Joseph and the angels? Where is the journey to Bethlehem and the donkey? These stories will arrive but not yet. Instead, the lectionary reading calls you and me to a state of acute awareness today.

Advent is an often-misunderstood season in the church year. For some, it is another Lent, calling us to fast and repent and see the error of our ways. For others it is simply a time for holiday parties and celebrations that expect the glorious event that occurs in four weeks. What few realize is that Advent is not simply a lead up to Christmas but a season each year where the church calls us to look towards the reign of God on earth in a complete and perfect fashion. It is why we hear the often quoted, yet never quite fulfilled, greeting of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men (and women).” Advent asks us to expect the impossible, to keep watch for the unexpected and to stay at our posts endeavoring for a peaceful earth that often seems implausible.

Our Advent reading today from Isaiah speaks of this hopeful future, a time when things will be made right between many peoples and the nations will settle their matters fairly. We are given the glimpse of an earth where our very weapons of mass destruction are turned into farm implements for war will cease to exist and there will be no need for protection from our brothers and sisters. These are undoubtedly wonderful images and yet most of us here probably find ourselves laughing at such notions. If you have watched the news in this past week, you can’t help but find yourself experiencing sorrow as you witness worldwide events of death, bigotry and hatred. The president of Turkey declared women to be unequal to men, claiming equality goes against nature, as he called for limited right for women. Over 16,000 confirmed cases of Ebola have now existed on this our mother Earth; meanwhile nations unscathed continue to ignore the plight of those nations who are ravaged by the disease. Finally, none of us, in this room, can ignore what has been happing in our own country as we watch our bothers and sisters in Ferguson, Missouri wail and lament in ways that most of us can never truly understand or will have to experience. Yes, hope seems more like the laughable delusions of a raving lunatic than a reality to be expected by people of faith. Yet, our reading calls us today to expect and keep watch, believing the impossible will one-day manifest itself before all the earth.

How can it be that we, faith-filled people, dare to claim these biblical promises in the context of a society where all seems hopeless? It is because our definition of hope is not the same as many share. Isaiah doesn’t reveal to us a hope that is nothing more than a “pie-in-the-sky” promise. Isaiah reveals to us a hope that demands our action! It tells us that we, humanity, will decide to climb the mountain to stability and tranquility, we will choose to learn the ways of God, we will turn our weapons into farm instruments and we, and we alone, will choose to no longer create war among the nations. We have hope this first Sunday of Advent, not because we expect a miracle to suddenly appear before our eyes, but because we have been called into cooperation with the ways of God and believe one day all the earth’s people will heed the message and invitation of peace and goodwill.

Advent is much more than a season of merry making and waiting for a baby to appear in a manager. Advent is more than nostalgic songs and baking in the kitchen. Advent is much more than waiting to say, “Merry Christmas!” Advent is the church calling you and I to stand at our post as Christ-followers, engaging ourselves in the work of peacemaking and justice. It is a season of Divine mandate that asks us to no longer sit idly by and accept the death and brokenness that surround us but to proactively demand reconciliation and wholeness. It is a season of finding the faith within ourselves - to truly believe that the promises of God are YES and AMEN and will arrive one day through our expectation and purposeful engagement.

The question is whether we are willing to stay at our posts and keep watch? Are we willing to participate in a spiritual and physical work that seeks to bring justice to all peoples and nations? Or are we like the people of faith Paul mentioned in our Epistle reading today? Do we only nurse on milk, grabbing ahold of tasks in life that only make us feel good and look important? Are we only willing to do what comes easy for others and ourselves? Advent calls us to get dirty, it calls us to be daring and it calls us to do the work no one else wants to do. We have beheld a glimpse of those who are willing to fight for true peace and reconciliation in Ferguson, Missouri this past week. We have witnessed those who refused to be silenced by bigotry and boldly proclaim that all people-kind are worthy of equal resect and dignity. Do we dare join them as we proactively await the advent of peace on earth?

Our advent calling gives no promise of when the miracle will be fully manifested. We do not know the day or the hour when peace will be embraced by all the earth. For that reason many lose heart and believe the lie that no difference can be made. Too often we sit by and watch the horror and say to ourselves, “Who am I to make any difference?” Well, you are a child of God and whether you were born in a manger 2,000 years ago or born in a hospital bed you have been given the call to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward all. You and I are beckoned this Advent to live in respect in Creation, to love and serve others and to seek justice and resist evil. Today, we have lit the candle of hope. Has this hope become aflame in your heart? Not the wishful hope of a lazy people who serve only themselves but the hope of a people who are willing to plow the ground and change the world one heart at a time, one city at a time and one nation at a time. Hope beckons us to engage all that it promised no matter how dark the world seems. After all, the great Bishop Desmond Tutu, a true hope engager and reconciler of our time, once said, “"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Today, the light of this candle shines before you on the darkest days of the year promising that light, that hope, can never be extinguished as long as there are people willing to carry it forth to the nations. So I dare you - Go tell it on the mountain!