Friday, March 23, 2018

Turn the Guns In

I'll be with church friends tomorrow, in Live Oak, as we sponsor this important "Gun Buyback."  Make a difference, spread the word!  We can make our families, homes, neighborhoods and schools safer for all!

The Art in Us

Amazingly, with thanks to my friends and colleagues Yael Lachman and Pam Roby, our sanctuary's been transformed this weekend--into a fantastic gallery of congregational creativity and art.  There's portraiture and sculpture, photography and poetry, quilting and much, much more!  Contributors include church friends of all ages, teens at the local Juvenile Hall, women at the County Jail and so many others.  It's a stunning reminder of the creative spirit, the Holy, that runs in each of our lives, and through all of our human veins!  If you're in Santa Cruz, stop by and take a look.  Sunday's always a good time to visit--but the whole installation is up through Holy Week!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sounds of Peace

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Remember. Resist.

A Southern Gospel Revival: Ben & Micah Hester - By The Riverside

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sermon: "Imitating Jesus"

A Meditation on Philippians 2:1-13
The Fifth Sunday in Lent 2018


This morning I want to trace two arcs across the six weeks of our Lenten journey.  In the first, Yael has asked us to consider what it is that makes us come alive.  I hope you’ve had a chance to do this, and that you’ll continue doing it.  What makes you come alive?  You know, Jesus goes out to the desert, for forty long days, to work this out for himself.  What makes him come alive.  He meets the Hinderer there, the Satan, who tests and tempts him, tempts him to choose an easier way, a quicker fix, even a power trip.  But Jesus looks to God and chooses life and love and deep joy.  His own unique vision and his own precious ministry.

So Yael asked you and me, you remember; she asked you and me to do the same.  To spend this Lenten season discerning joy in our lives, and creativity in our hearts.  And there’s a bright and glorious poster in the narthex this morning, a poster bearing witness to all the ways you’ve responded.  All the pursuits, all the ministry, all the practices that make you come alive.  As human, connected, spiritual beings.  Later this week, by the way, a stunning art show will take over this very space, this same sanctuary: and next week, next Sunday, you’ll catch a glimpse of the wildly diverse energies that stir in our many hearts.  We come alive in a thousand different ways!  So that’s the first arc we trace, this arc of discernment and temptation and joyful practice.

The second begins on Ash Wednesday, in the humility of prayer and the ashes we trace on one another’s foreheads.  “Child of God,” we say on Ash Wednesday, “you come from the good earth, and to the good earth you shall one day return.”  And this second arc extends across the Lenten season, day by day, week to week, all the way to Maundy Thursday.  Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday.  As disciples of Jesus, we turn to his own example, to his humanity, to what Walter Brueggeman calls the “pattern and sequence of Jesus’ own life.”  He too was a child of God, a frail and hopeful, broken and joyful child of God.  He too came from the good earth and returned, in the end, to that same good Palestinian earth. 

On Maundy Thursday, then, eleven days from today, we trace this second arc all the way to an Upper Room in Jerusalem: where Jesus ties a towel around his waist and kneels by a basin of water; where he washes the feet of his friends—much to their surprise and even frustration.  “If I’ve washed your feet,” he says that night, “you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”  We make meaning in our lives, we find purpose in our faith, by kneeling in kindness before our friends, by humbling ourselves as servants and lovers and prophets. 

Again, it’s Walter Brueggeman who says that “Lent is a time to face the reality that there is no easy or ‘convenient’ passage from our previous life to a new, joyous life in the gospel.”  No easy or convenient passage.  So from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday, we look deliberately, intently, prayerfully at the “pattern and sequence of Jesus’ own life.”  Preparing ourselves for the moment we too might fall to our knees and wash one another’s tired, dusty, human feet.  The second arc.              


Obelisks, Meteora, Greece
As I think about these two arcs—the one about joy and creativity, the other, humility and human connection—I’m reminded of the moment four years ago when I fell in love with Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  I was sitting on a huge boulder outside a quirky Orthodox monastery in the steep hills of Central Greece.  Not far from Corinth and Athens and Philippi, cities Paul himself had visited and served.  I had my writing pad with me that day, and a new book about Paul and his legacy to read.  It was a sweet, shimmering, sunny day in the hills, and ancient obelisks rose up from the Greek plain, in every direction, forming a kind of holy cathedral of rock and cliff and light and shadow.  From deep within the monastery itself, I heard monks chanting an old Greek liturgy.  “Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.  Kyrie eleison.”  That’s the day I fell in love with Paul and his Letter to the Philippians. 

It’s important to note that Paul wrote this letter, and the passage we’ve read this morning, from a Roman prison cell, somewhere in the Mediterranean basin.  Maybe Ephesus.  He wrote it to friends in Philippi to encourage them in a difficult time, a conflicted time, to urge them to build a community of mutual care and common purpose and collaborative spirit.  He’d spent time in Philippi sometime previously, preaching Jesus’ gospel, creating a new church, growing leaders.  And now, from prison, he recalled an old hymn, maybe one they’d learned together, to offer Jesus’ example to his friends.  It may be the oldest hymn in Christian memory.  It’s set apart in verse form in your bulletin:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus, Paul wrote.

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
         But he emptied himself
                  by taking the form of a servant
                  and by becoming like human beings.
         When he found himself in the form of a human,
                  he humbled himself by becoming obedient
                  to the point of death, even death on a cross.

         Therefore, God highly honored him
                  and gave him a name above all names,
                  so that at the name of Jesus everyone
                  in heaven, on earth, and under the earth
                  might bend at the knee
                  and every tongue confess that
                  Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God.

Remember this.  Paul, writing this, remembering this, singing this hymn perhaps, was in a Roman prison cell.  He wrote to the Philippians from that cell.  I can’t imagine Roman prison cells were anything but miserable, dark and scary.  There was no doubt, on the inside, who was in control, and who wasn’t.  So Paul had firsthand experience, grim, personal experience of Roman power and pride.  And he knew that any resistance to Roman authority, any critique of Roman theology was met with quick and crippling force.  Paul did both: he resisted authority and he critiqued the empire’s oppressive theology.  And for this, he paid a price.  Rome said that empire was the ultimate force in the world and Caesar the bearer of the only meaningful salvation.  Paul said, Foolishness!  There’s a better way.  There’s a holy way.  There’s a life-affirming, justice-honoring, community-building way.  And it’s the way of Jesus the Christ.   Paul’s preaching is clear.  The kingdom of God stands against the kingdom of Caesar. 

So on that brilliant day in Greece four years ago, I considered the old hymn and Paul’s celebration of the hymn in a whole new way.  I confess that I’d often bristled at the notion of all knees bending before Jesus, or the idea that every tongue had to confess his name.  As if the whole point of Christianity was uniformity of thought or conformity of practice or the triumph of one way of life, one idea of divinity, over all others.  I’d heard Philippians used in just this way by evangelical preachers on TV and even the great Billy Graham himself in a college auditorium.  “Let every knee bend before Jesus,” he’d crooned that night, “because bending knees are saved knees.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sermon: "Uprising!"

A Meditation on John 3:11-18
Sunday, March 11, 2018
The Fourth Sunday in Lent


What you’re looking at—the byzantine fresco in your bulletin—is titled “ANASTASIS.”  You can make out the Greek letters at the very top of the picture, above Jesus and the circle of light around him.  “ANASTASIS.”  It’s Greek for “resurrection.”  And in this 14th century fresco, the Resurrected Jesus reaches out, boldly, purposefully, for Adam on his right and Eve on his left.  And the energy of all this, it’s even better in color, in person, the energy of the great eastern fresco suggests that he’s coming for us too, that he’s reaching out for us too.  “ANASTASIS.”  
"Anastasis" (Chora Church)
Down below, beneath the two graves, we see a chaotic assortment of chains and locks, bolts and weapons.  See where I’m looking?  Jesus is stomping all this stuff.  In the 14th century, this stuff was the detritus of misery and oppression.  Chains and locks and weapons.  If artists were reproducing this tableau in 2018, they’d most certainly include AK15s and AK47s, and ballistic missiles and syringes bubbling with opiates.   The idea seems to be that Jesus rises from his own grave to free Adam and Eve (and our whole human family) from fear and cruelty, from slavery and exploitation, from all the systems, all the habits that entangle human spirit and warp human community.  This resurrection—in the old fresco, at least—is an uprising.  “ANASTASIS.”  And indeed, “uprising” is another meaning for the Greek word.  “ANASTASIS.”  This is a particularly eastern—as opposed to western, Roman, Protestant—vision of resurrection.  Jesus rises from the grave to lift us from all that shackles us, from systems and ideas that bind us to anxiety and suspicion.  This eastern Jesus is in no hurry to rise out of the world and settle into his heavenly throne.   This eastern Jesus is movement and energy.  This eastern Jesus is connected and relational.  Easter is his uprising.  And ours.  Adam and Eve are essential to the project.

Now I hadn’t seen an “ANASTASIS” like this, in all my life, until I stood with a museum guide in Istanbul four years ago, and listened, in rapt attention, as she pointed to this very fresco in the Kariye Museum.  And I imagine you’ve not seen one like this either, unless you’re an art history buff, or you’re spent time in Greece or Turkey or the Middle East.  You and I are more likely to be acquainted with the other “resurrection” icon of the middle ages: the icon that prevailed in the west, and across Roman Catholicism and into the Protestant traditions.  I didn’t print that picture; but it’s probably familiar to you.  Jesus is freed from death, freed from his grave; and he rises (in this western version) or really floats above that garden tomb, and above the stunned soldiers and angels and disciples below.   He’s on his way to heaven.  He’s on his way to that special seat (a cushy one) beside God, to live and rule in paradise, for ever and ever amen.

And in a sense, that’s the image that’s shaped western imagination for centuries, the image of a singular Christ, freed from death, rising to heaven for his reunion with God.  Transcending the gritty details of life below.  Rising above the earthly realm, the soldiers in the garden, the puzzled disciples, even the baffled angels of Easter morning.  And if that was Jesus’ resurrection, maybe we could come to expect something like it.  Life after death, a better world than this one, transcending the gritty details of life below.  But you set that western icon alongside this eastern one, and you begin to see a more complicated theology of resurrection, a more complicated experience of resurrection in early Christian communities.

There were clearly some—and especially in the east—there were some who experienced resurrection relationally, intimately, corporately.  The Risen Jesus wasn’t a singular judge on a heavenly throne.  The Risen Jesus wasn’t a distant God, triumphant and transcendent.  In this eastern vision, the Risen Jesus was a friend reaching out to the church; he was a companion in service and worship and fellowship; he was an advocate stomping instruments of oppression; he was physically present lifting folks like you and me from gloom and despair.  Lifting us into communion.  Lifting us into community.  Lifting us into God’s presence.


Now here’s where the Gospel of John—which we’re reading this morning—gets really interesting.  In the Gospel of John, resurrection isn’t just a biographical detail at the end of Jesus’ life.  This Gospel doesn’t carve up Jesus’ life in that way: life here, death here, resurrection and we’re done.  In John’s community, resurrection is something like the nature of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and the character of his being, and the dynamic at play in his relationships with all kinds of folks.  And when the Gospel says “we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen,” the Gospel means we touch this Jesus in our daily lives; we receive encouragement from his hand in worship and prayer; we are lifted by Jesus from hopelessness and despair.  He’s with us now.  “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen.”  Resurrection is Christian practice.  Resurrection is life in the here and now.  Life with Jesus.

And this is the vision, I think, of the eastern icon in Istanbul, “ANASTASIS.”  “God does not send the Son into the cosmos to condemn it, but in order that the cosmos might be healed, might be redeemed, might by blessed by him.”  Jesus rises from the grave not to get out of town, not to rise above all the rest of us, and certainly not to leave us all behind.  Jesus rises from the grave to reach for us, to connect with us, to join us in the sinew and muscle of our lives, in the joys and challenges of the church.  This is the incarnational vision of John’s Gospel.  God in us.  Jesus in us.

I was reminded of this incarnation vision, this incarnational experience, all over again on Friday, as I met with our extraordinary Caregivers’ Circle in the library downstairs.  This is a circle of brave and loving souls, who devote their lives to others, and come together for support and encouragement every month.  We talk about the daily challenges of loving and living in the midst of frailty and illness.  We talk about the walls you hit from time to time, the hopelessness that shows up sometimes, unannounced.  These are honest souls, and their tears flow freely, and their laughter is honest and well-earned. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Benefit for Hurricane Relief!

For more information, go to:

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

In the Beginning

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Insult

Undoubtedly, "The Insult" is a story of conflict in a very particular setting, Lebanon, between Lebanese Christians and Palestinian refugees.  Watching it, though, it's hard not to think of the angst and anger dividing so many other societies in 2018--including our own, here in the United States.  Is it possible to speak aloud of our distrust?  Is it possible to create space for grievance and reconciliation?  Is it possible, most importantly, to find some measure of compassion--even for the one whose meanness seems unimaginable and unjustified?  "The Insult" explores--with some depth, I think, and even sophistication--the roots of our hostilities and the stories and hurt we so often suppress.  We're asked to pay attention: to our own wounds, and to the strange and complex wounds of others.

This film speaks to what's happening in Lebanon, to be sure, but also to what's happening in Jerusalem, in Guatemala, and maybe even in Indiana and Texas and Kansas.  No easy answers here, but instead a path into a different future.  A better one.