Sunday, March 27, 2022

4 Lent

 


March 27, 2022

Laetare Sunday

Luke 13.1-3,11b-32

+ Today is Laetare Sunday—the rose Sunday of Lent

Laetare is, of course, Latin for “Rejoice.”

And today we get to rejoice a bit.

We’re half-way through Lent.

It’s a little break for us from this kind of heavy season.

Of course, we still are pondering things like sin and repentance.

But Laetare gives us a time also for reflection and rejoicing.

And reflection, as serene as it might seem, can really be difficult too.

I don’t really like doing.

Because, reflection means looking at one’s self.

And, more importantly, seeing one’s self.

Really seeing one’s self.

That can be really hard.

For me, as I said, I do find doing such very difficult.

As I’ve been talking about over the last several months, I’ve been going through this time of spiritual deconstruction in my life.

 And I believe I’ve shared how as liberating as it has been, it has also been very difficult.

 Realizing that certain aspects of my spiritual life are simply “fluff,” that certain things that once held so much importance to me are actually now not able to sustain me or hold me is a hard thing to do.

 I will say that doing so is frustrating to me.

 I didn’t think that, at this point in my life, I would be forced to grow even more.

 Isn’t there an end to growing?

 Yeah there is. It’s called death.

 My parents at my age seemed to have it all figured out.

 They didn’t struggle with things deconstruction in their faith.

 My spiritual heroes weren’t dealing with these things at this point in their lives.

 Actually, most of my spiritual heroes were dead by the time they were my age.

 But the ones who did live to this age were definitely not struggling with aspects of their faith by this point in their life.

 So, I wonder, why don’t I have it all figured out?

 Instead, here I am, still growing, still changing, still have to reflect on my changing self.

 It’s exhausting!

 There’s something both comforting and disturbing about that realization.

 As I look back over my life, certainly I find some very solid mile posts.

 I know this might come as a surprise to most of who know me, but I have been a bit of a rebel in my life.

 No, not maybe the traditional rebel.

 But I have rebelled a lot in my life.

 Look at me, after all.

 I am a walking-talking, poster child for rebellion!

 I am a poet. That takes some rebellion in this world.

 I am an Anglo-Catholic. That’s definitely a kind of rebellion.

 I am a progressive/liberal/inclusive/Anglo-Catholic PRIEST of all things! That’s all kinds of rebellious right there.

 And as if that wasn’t enough, I am a vegan, asexual/celibate, teetotaling socialist.

 All of that that is a rebellion against…well…everything!

 Now, for some people, that sounds great.

 For some people it makes them…interesting.

 Many people think the rebellious life is a romantic one.

 It’s so full of challenge and adventure.

 There’s never a boring day in the life of a rebel.

 I know you’re all so envious of that in my life, right?

 And all of that is, well, very true.

 But there’s a downside to being rebellious.

 What is the downside to being a rebel?

 There is never a boring day in the life of a rebel!

 That is one of the downsides.

 There’s no resting.

 There’s no day of not being a rebel.

 You don’t just get to have a day off from it.

 Up in the morning,--rebel.

 Before bed at night—rebel.

 And, let me tell you, as romantic as people might think it is, the fact is: the rebellious life can be a very lonely life.

 It can be very isolating.

 Rebels aren’t the only ones who get exhausted.

 The people around rebels gets exhausted too.

 Oftentimes, the rebel is all alone in the cause of rebellion.

 There are days when it feels like one is Don Quixote fighting windmills.

 And it’s exhausting.

 As I look back over my life and the choices I have made in this life—and more than the choices—the things I have just realized about myself and who I really am--I realize: I’m tired.

 It’s been hard at times.

 And I’m not the same person I was before.

 Maybe, to some extent, that is why I can relate so well to the story of the Prodigal Son.

 We have all been down that road of rebellion and found that, sometimes, it is a lonely road, as I said.

 Sometimes we do find ourselves lying there, hungry and lonely and thinking about what might have been. 

 But for me, in those lonely moments, I have tried to keep my eye on the goal.

 I am, after all, one of those people who habitually makes goals for myself. 

 I always need to set something before me to work toward.

 Otherwise I feel aimless.

 Goals are good things, after all. 

 They’re essentially mile markers for us to set along the way.

 The reality of goals are, however, that oftentimes—sometimes more often than not, I hate to admit for myself—they are not met sometimes.

 It was a really growing edge moment in my life when I stopped beating myself up and learned not to be too disappointed in myself when certain goals have not been met in my life.

 In our Gospel for today, we find the Prodigal Son has some big goals and some pretty major hopes and dreams.

 First and foremost, he wants what a lot of us in our society want and dream about: money.

 He also seems a bit bored by his life.

 He is biting at the bit to get out and see the world—a place many of us who grew up in North Dakota felt at times in our lives.

 He wants the exact opposite of what he has.

 The grass is always greener on the other side, he no doubt thinks.

 And that’s a difficult place to be.

 He only realizes after he has shucked all of that and has felt real hunger and real loneliness what the ultimate price of that loss is.

 It’s difficult place to be.

 But, I’ve been there.

 Many of us have been there.

 And it’s important to have been there.

 God does occasionally lead us down roads that are lonely.

 God does occasionally lead us down roads that take us far from our loved ones.

 And sometimes God allows us to travel down roads that lead us even from God (or so it seems at times).

 But every time we recognize our loneliness and we turn around and find God again, we are welcomed back with open arms, and complete and total love.

 That, of course, is what most of us get from this parable.

 But…

There’s another aspect to the story of the prodigal son that is not mentioned in the parable.

 The prodigal has experienced much in his journey away.

 And as he turns back and returns to his father’s house, we know one thing: that prodigal son is not the same son he was when we left.

 The life has returned to is not the same exact life he left.

 He has returned to his father truly humbled, truly contrite, truly turned around.

 Truly broken.

 And that’s the story for us as well.

 In my life I have had to learn to accept that person I have become—that people humbled and broken by all that life and people and the Church have thrown at me.

 And I have come to appreciate and respect this changed person I’ve become.

 That’s the really hard thing to do.

 Accepting the change in myself is so very difficult.

 Realizing one day that I am not the same person I was 10 years ago in 2012 or even a year ago is very hard to do.

 Who am I now?

 Who is this person I look and reflect upon?

 I sometimes don’t even recognize myself.

 God at no point expects us to say the same throughout our lives.

 Our faith in God should never be the same either.

 In that spiritual wandering we do sometimes, we can always return to what we knew, but we know that we always come back a little different, a little more mature, a little more grown-up.

 No matter how old we are.

 We know that in returning, changed as we might be by life and all that life throws at us, we are always welcomed with open arms by our loving God.

 We know that we are welcomed by our God with complete and total love.

 And we know that, lost as we might be sometimes, we will always be found.

 And in that finding, we are not the only ones rejoicing.

 God too is rejoicing in our being found.

 In our being re-constructed.

 That is the really great aspect of this parable.

 But, there’s still one other aspect of this story that’s important to remember.

 It’s the part about the other brother.

 Because sometimes, we might realize that we were never the prodiga, after all.

 We were the good and faithful child in this story.

 This was recently driven home to me.

 Now, as most of you know, I received a calling to be a priest when I was 13 years old.

 I was a 13-year-old Lutheran boy who suddenly, out of the blue, started telling people I wanted to be a Catholic priest.

 It was unusual to say the least.

 And back then—in the 1980s—it was even more unusual.

 In junior high and high school, this did not make me a popular person by any sense of the world.

 After all, back in those days, the majority of people who went to my junior high and high school were, like I was, Lutheran.

 I always joke when someone says they went to a Lutheran high school like Oak Grove that I did too. It was called West Fargo High School.

 But back then, proclaiming one’s faith, saying you wanted to be a priest, not dating, not going to dances, not being interested romantically in other people made you an object of ridicule.

 And, in high school, there was one girl in particular who was kind of mean about it all.

 She actually went out of her way to be mean and spiteful and make fun of me for my faith, for wanting to be a priest, for not being interested in the things other teenage kids were interested in like dating and dances and things.

 For years, whenever I would think about her, I would kind of curl up my nose.

 She was the face of all those people I rebelled against to a large extent.

 But, to be clear, it hurt to be mocked for something I held so dear.

 It hurt to be made fun of for my faith.

 Well…one day when I was Facebook, I happened to see that this person was a mutual friend of one of my Facebook friends.

 Even though I didn’t really want to do it, I decided to troll her page, just to see what happened to her and her life.

 Well, the first thing that came up was her profile photo.

 It showed a much older woman—a woman who has kids and grandkids.

 Definitely not the preppy, vain teenage girl she was 35 years ago.

 But the banner on her Facebook profile photo proudly proclaimed under her face:

 JESUS LOVES YOU

 Geesh, even I don’t post things like that on my page (maybe subconsciously because of the ridicule I received from people like her all those years ago).

 Now, you would think I would’ve been happy about her faith in Christ.

 But…I wasn’t.

 My first reaction to that banner was:

 What??? Seriously??? You’ve got to be kidding.

 This person, who was the very face of my persecution for all these years, is now a born-again person proclaiming that Jesus loves us.

 The very FACE I associated with criticizing my faith was name framed with the words JESUS LOVES YOU.

 Like the good son in our Gospel reading for today, I fumed about it.

 I said, “NOW she’s a Christian! Now she proclaims her faith, while I always felt like putting a bushel over my flame because of people like her. I have always been follower of Jesus, even back then. And now she comes along and gets to claim being a Christian after being so terrible about it back then? This is insane.”

 But then, God, as God often does, like the father in our Gospel story today, scolded me in that way he does.

 God said (not literally mind you): “Seriously??? You’re upset about this? That’s the wrong reaction.”

 Then came those words from our Gospel reading,  

 “You are always with me, and all that is mine if yours. But we have to celebrate and rejoice because this loved one was lost and has been found.”

 I realized that God rejoiced in her just as God rejoiced in me.

 And that I should celebrate that, not complain about it and rage against it and lament about how unfair it was.

 So, yes, de-construction is good.

 But it’s ultimately pointless if there’s no re-construction.

 It is all pointless if we don’t realize that.

 God rejoices in us.

 All of us.

 God rejoices in embracing us and drawing us close.

 So, let us this day rejoice in who we are, even if we might not fully recognize who we are.

 Let us rejoice in our rebelliousness and in our turning back to what we rebelled against.

 Let us rejoice in our de-construction and in our re-construction.

 Let us rejoice in our being lost and in our being found.

 Let us rejoice especially in the fact that no matter how lonely we might be in our wanderings, in the end, we are always, without fail, embraced with an embrace that will never end. 

 And let us rejoice in our God who embraces us and rejoices in us.

 

 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

3 Lent

 


March 20, 2022

 Luke 13.1-9

 + I know this is hard to believe, but we are rapidly—very rapidly—approaching the middle point of the season of Lent.

 Didn’t Lent just start?

 For some of us, that might be a reason to rejoice.

 For those for whom this season gets a bit heavy, that is why we have our Lataere Sunday next Sunday, with our rose vestments.

 We get a little half-way break for Lent.

 For me, I actually don’t mind this season, despite what I said last week.

 It gives me the opportunity to slow down a bit, to ponder, to make a concentrated effort to do some very specific spiritual things.

 I’ve been sharing with you that I’ve been going through some deep, spiritual deconstruction in my life.

 And I have to say, this Season of Lent has been very conducive to my making spiritual headway.

 For me, I’ve been burning off quite a bit of the spiritual “fluff” in my life.

 More importantly, I’ve been working hard to get to the real core of my faith---a place I feel I have moved away from.

 I’ll talk about this more as we go through Lent.

 But this season is also a time for true repentance.

 Now, I know.

 That’s such a “church word.”

 Repent.

 I mean, it’s not a word we use in our day-to-day lives.

 It doesn’t come up in our lunch conversations.

 Well, maybe in mine.

 But probably not in yours.

 But Jesus seems pretty clear on this one,

 In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say some very stern words to us:

 “…unless you repent, you will all perish [just as those poor unfortunates whose blood was mingled with sacrifices and on whom the tower of Siloam fell].”

 Not pleasant talk.

 It’s uncomfortable.

 When we hear words like “repent” we definitely find ourselves heading into an uncomfortable area.

 We find ourselves exploring the territory of self-abasement.

 We find some people lamenting and beating their breasts or throwing ashes in the air over all of this repentance talk.

 We have been taught for a large extent that what we are dealing with in all of this talk of repentance is that somehow God is angry and is going to punish us for all the wrongs we did and that is why we must repent—repent, of course, meaning turn around.

 And at first glance in our Gospel reading that’s exactly what we might be thinking.

 God is angry and we must repent—we must turn away from what is making God so angry.

 There is a great meme going around Facebook that I love:

 It shows the division between religion and the gospel.

 Religion states: I messed up. God is angry.

 The Gospel however states: I messed up. Call Dad.

 That’s it.

 If we look a bit closer and if we really let this Gospel reading settle in, we find that we might be able to use this idea of repentance in a more constructive and positive way.

 In our Gospel reading, we find Jesus essentially saying to us that we are not going to bear fruit if we have cemented ourselves into our stubborn way of seeing and believing.

 And that’s important!

 A stubborn way of seeing and believing.

 The kingdom that Jesus is constantly preaching about is not only this magical place in the next world.

 If that’s all we believe about the Kingdom, then we are not really hearing the scriptures.

 And belief like that lets us off the hook.

 Essentially then, all we have to do is work on getting in our magical sky-kingdom in the sky.

 But Jesus, again and again, talks about the kingdom not just there, but here too.

 It’s fluid.

 And our job as followers of Jesus is to make this Kingdom a reality NOW.

 Right now.

 It is our job to allow the Kingdom into come into our midst, to give us a glimpse of what awaits us.

 And the only way that happens, as we have heard again and again, is when we can love God, love others and love ourselves.

 And I would add as well another aspect to that.

 When we do—when we love God, love  ourselves, love each other, love the stranger—it is then we bear fruit.

 It is then wthat we see the Kingdom of God right here, right now.

 When we don’t love—and it is hard to love when we are stuck in all that negative stuff like being angry or stubborn or resentful—then we are essentially the fig tree that bears no fruit.

 And it’s important to see that this love needs to be spread equally.

 It is love for God, love for our neighbor, love for the stranger and love for ourselves.

 We are not bearing full fruit when we are only doing two of the three.

 The love becomes lopsided.

 If we love only God and ourselves, but not our neighbors, then we are in danger of becoming fanatical.

 And we are seeing A LOT of that right now in our world.

 If we love God and love others only and not ourselves, we become self-abasing.

 But if we strive to do all of it—if we strive to love fully and completely—then we find ourselves being freed by that love.

 And it is freeing.

 When we talk of our stubbornness, when talking of closing ourselves off in anger and frustration, we imagine that cementing feeling—that confinement.

 But when we speak of love, we imagine that cement is being broken.

 We find ourselves freed from our confinement.

 We allow ourselves to grow and flourish.

 That’s the point Jesus is making to us in our Gospel reading today.

 And that is why repentance is so essential for our spiritual growth, for the health of our Christian community and for the furthering of the Kingdom in our midst.

 Repentance in this sense means turning away from our self-destructive, stubborn behavior.

 The Kingdom will not come into our midst when we refuse to love.

 The kingdom cannot be furthered by us or by anyone when we feel no love for God, when we feel no love for others and when we feel no love for ourselves.

 Repentance in this sense means to turn around—to turn away from our self-destructive behavior.

 Repentance in this sense means that we must turn around and start to love, freely and openly.  

 Repentance in this sense means that by repenting—by turning around—we truly are furthering the Kingdom in our midst.

 There’s also another aspect to the analogy Jesus uses in today’s Gospel reading.

 If you notice, for three years the tree didn’t bear fruit and so the man who planted the tree thought it was a lost cause.

 But the gardener protests.

 He gives the tree a bit of tender loving care and what happens? The tree begins flourishing.

 What I love about that is the fact that it says to us that none of us are lost causes.

 We all go through times in our lives when we feel as though we are bearing no fruit at all.

 We feel as though we are truly “wasting the soil” in which we live.

 We feel as though we are helpless and useless and that sometimes it feels as though the pains and frustrations of our lives have won out.

 We have been cemented into our negative feelings and emotions.

 The pains and frustrations of this life have stifled in us any sense of new life and growth.

 But that little dose of TLC was able to bring that seemingly barren tree to new life.

 A little bit of love and care can do wonders.

 It can change things.

 It can change us. It can change others.

 It can give life where it was thought there was no possibility of life before.

 It can renew and it can revitalize.

 At this time of year, we are probably made most aware of this.

 Certainly ,when we look around at our seemingly dead and barren landscape, with mud and dirty snow everywhere, we might think that nothing beautiful or wonderful can come from all this mud.

 And in this season of Lent, when we are faced with all this language of seeking mercy, on recalling our failings and shortcomings and sins, in this stripped-bare church season, it is hard to imagine that Easter is just a few weeks away.

 But, in a sense, that is what repentance feelings like.

 Repentance is that time of renewal and revitalization that comes from the barren moments in our lives.

 Repenting truly does help us to not only bear fruit, but to flourish.

 Repenting and realizing how essential and important love of God, love of our neighbors, love of the stranger, love of self are in our lives  truly does allow us to blossom in the way that God wants us to flourish.

 So, as we journey together through this season of Lent, toward the Cross, and beyond it to the Resurrection, let us do so with our hearts truly freed.

 Let us do so with a true, freeing and healthy love in our hearts, having turned away from those things that are ultimately self-destructive

 And let the love we feel be the guide for our actions.

 Through all of this, let us bring about the Kingdom of God into our midst slowly, but surely.

 Let the Kingdom come forth in our lives as blossoming fruit.

 And when it does, it is then that will truly flourish.

 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

2 Lent

 


March 13, 2022

 Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Luke 13.31-35

 + I read a fascinating article just recently in Christianity Today.

 Some of you might have read it as well.

 It is an article about Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

 And it was timely not only for the events that were taking place, but also because, in the days after the invasion, I heard from many of you and others came to me and ask about what to do with their anger and frustration over these events.

 One person—one of our proxy members—asked bluntly and honestly: “Is it wrong for me to pray for Putin’s death?”

 It’s an important question.

 And it’s one that makes my pacifist blood turn cold.

 Within a few hours of that query from this person and before I could answer, I happened to see this Christianity Today article floating around Facebook.

 The article is entitled:

 Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.

The imprecatory psalms give us permission to push boldly against evil.

TISH HARRISON WARREN|

 Warren writes from a sense of helplessness many of us are experiencing right now.

 We are dealing with a sense of real helplessness in the face of this oppression and blatant violence.

 We are watching with wringing hands as an invading army is killing innocent people.

 And we simply don’t know what to do.

 Well, Warren says, she actually did do something.

 She began praying

 “Each morning,” she wrote, “I’m praying Psalm 7:14–16 with Vladimir Putin in mind: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (ESV).”

 Psalm 7 is one of the so-called imprecatory psalms

 She writes, “An imprecation is a curse. The imprecatory psalms are those that call down destruction, calamity, and God’s judgment on enemies … I am often uncomfortable with the violence and self-assured righteousness found in these kinds of psalms.”

 “These psalms express our outrage about injustice unleashed on others, and they call on God to do something about it.

“I strongly tend toward Christian nonviolence and pacifism. But I recognize that in the past, there have been times when calls to peace have been based in a na├»ve understanding of human evil.”

Which is where many of us are as well in these dark, violent days.

 “The imprecatory psalms name evil. They remind us that those who have great power are able to destroy the lives of the weak with seeming impunity. This is the world we live in. We cannot simply hold hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and hope for the best. Our hearts call out for judgment against…wickedness… We need words to express our indignation at this evil.


“Those of us who long for lasting peace cannot base that hope on an idea that people are inherently good and therefore unworthy of true judgment. Instead, we find our hope in the belief that God is at work in the world, and [God] is as real—more real—than evil.

 “We hope that God will enact true and ultimate judgment… Very often in the imprecatory psalms, we are asking that people’s evil actions would ricochet back on themselves. We are not praying that violence begets more violence or that evil starts a cycle of vengeance or retaliation. But we are praying that people would be destroyed by their own schemes …

 Or, in my own understanding of all of this, I who truly believe that the chickens always come home to roost, simply pray that God will simply bring those chickens home to roost sooner than later.

 And that in some real way, it will truly matter.

 Warren ends her article in this way:

 “If you’re like me and you gravitate to the seemingly more compassionate, less violent parts of Scripture, these kinds of prayers can be jarring. But we who are privileged, who live far from war and violence, risk failing to take evil and brutality seriously enough.

“I still pray, daily and earnestly, for Putin’s repentance. I pray that Russian soldiers would


lay down their arms and defy their leaders. But this is the moment to take up imprecatory prayers as well. This is a moment when I’m trusting in God’s mercy but also in [God]’s righteous, loving, and protective rage.”

We have to recognize the fact that there is violence in this world.

 Some of us here have been victims of actual violence in our own lives.

 And to be on the receiving end of violence is a horrible thing.

 Violence can be expressed in multiple ways, not just in physical ways but also through intimidation, bullying and downright terror.

 There’s no getting around violence in our lives.

 We see it in the news.

 And we are most certainly seeing it in Ukraine right now.

 Some of us grew up with violence in our lives.

 Many of you have heard the stories I tell on a regular basis of those teenagers my siblings who grew up with in West Fargo in the late 1970s were brutally and horrifically murdered.

 Also a story I don’t share very often is the story from around that same time of a dearly beloved friend of my family who was murdered by her husband in New Mexico in 1978.

 As a young child, those events scarred me.

 They affected me.

 And I have grown up, even here in this seemingly protected part of the country, knowing full-well that violence happens, and it happens more often than not to people who never deserved that violence.

 Even today, in our scriptures readings, we get some violent images.

 First, let’s take a look at the reading from Genesis.

 In it, we find God making a covenant with Abram (soon to be called Abraham).

 God commands Abram to sacrifice these different animals, to cut them in half and to separate them.

 Violent and strange, yes.

 But the really strange part of the reading is the smoking fire pot and the flaming torch passing between the pieces.

 If we don’t know the back story—if we don’t understand the meaning of the cut up animals—then the story makes little sense.

 It’s just another gruesome, violent story from the Hebrew scriptures.

 But if we examine what covenant is all about, then the story starts taking on a new meaning.

 Covenant of course is not a word we hear used often anymore.

 In fact, none of us use it except when talking about religious things.

 But a covenant is very important in the scriptures.

 A covenant is a binding agreement.

 And when one enters into a covenant with God, essentially that bound agreement is truly bound.

 In the days of Abram, when one made a covenant with someone, it was common practice for that person entering the agreement to cut up an animals and then to stand in the middle of the cut-up pieces.

 Essentially what they were saying by doing so was: “let this happen to me if I break our covenant.”

 Let this violence come upon me if I break what we have sworn.

 What we find happening in our reading this morning is that it is not Abram standing in the midst of those cut-up animals.

 Rather it is God.

 God is saying to Abram: “my word is good. If this relationship between the two of us I breaks down it is not I who breaks the covenant.”

 Then, we come to our Gospel reading.

 Here too, we find a sense of impending violence.

 The Pharisees ominously come to tell Jesus that he is in danger from Herod.

 This is real danger.

 Life-threatening danger.

 And how does Jesus respond to this danger and impending violence?

 He is not concerned at all over Herod or even the danger that he himself is in.

 His concern is for Jerusalem—for the city which, no doubt, was in sight as he was speaking.

 A city that in a couple of decades will be destroyed and its inhabitants killed.

 His concern is for the city he is about to enter and in which he knows he will meet his death.

 His violent death. 

 As he does so, Jesus does something at this moment that really is amazing.

 He laments.

 He uses words similar to those found in the imprecatory psalms.

 He uses poetry.

 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

 It is beautiful.

 And it is powerful.

 It’s incredible poetry.

 Psalms like this are important.

 It is important to be honest with our selves before God about our feelings of anger, of justice, or fear.

 And these psalms often give voice in a way we, polite nice Christian people that we are, often can’t.

 It’s sometimes all right to complain.

 It’s sometimes all right to wish bad things on bad people.

 Lamenting is one of those things we don’t like to think about as Christians.

 After all, it is a form of complaining.

 And we don’t like to complain.

 In this part of the country, we find people who might face bitter winters and harsh summers, might make their way through floods and droughts and pandemics and rising gas prices, but who don’t ever complain much.

 We, for the most part, shrug our shoulders and soldier on.

 And when it comes to our relationship with God, we certainly never think about complaining to God.

 But the fact is, although we find it hard to admit at times, we do actually despair occasionally.

 Even if we might not actually say it, we sometimes secretly do find ourselves crying out in despair, saying, if to no one else than ourselves, the words from our psalm today:

 “Deliver me not into the hands of my adversaries.”

 Let me tell you—that has often been my prayer.

 I have people who don’t like me. I have enemies.

 “Deliver me not in the hands of those who hate me.”

 It’s good, honest language and it’s good to be honest about those negatives feelings we feel occasionally.

 It’s a strange moment when, as we examine our scriptures readings for today, and we ask ourselves: who do I relate to the most from our scriptures, that we find ourselves relating more to the cut-up animals than anyone else.

 Let me tell you, those people in Ukraine today can relate to those cut-up animals.

 It’s hard to be in such a place.

 It’s hard to realize: people out there hate me, or don’t like me, or want to do me real violence.

 So, what do we do in those moments?

 Well, most of us just simply close up.

 We put up a wall and we swallow that fear and maybe that anger and we let it fester inside us.

 For the most part, we tend to deny it.

 But what about those feelings in relationship to God?

 Well, again, we probably don’t recognize our fear or our anger or our pain before God nor do we bring them before God.

 And that is where Jesus, in today’s Gospels, and those imprecatory Psalms come in.

 It is in those moments when we don’t bring our fear, our anger and our frustration before God, that we need those verses like the one Tish Warren writes about.

 When we look at what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel and what the psalmist is saying today’s Psalm, we realize that, for them, it was natural to bring everything before God.

 It didn’t matter what it was.

 Certainly, Jesus, in his honesty before God, wished bad things for Herod.

 And I think this is the best lesson we can learn from our Gospel reading today.

 Jesus is letting us see his fear and his sadness.

 Jesus is letting us see the fear he has in knowing that he, in a sense, has become the sacrifice that must be cut in two as part of the covenant God has made with us.

 He is letting us see him for what he is about to be, a victim of violence.

 In fact, Jesus lays it all out before God and us.

 He wails and complains and lays himself bare before God. 

 He is blatantly honest in his lamenting.

 The fact is: sometimes we do fear and despair.

 Sometimes we do want to pray to God,

 “Hide not your face from me…”

 Sometimes we do want to pray for the death of a dictator or a despot.

 It is in those sometimes awful moments, that it is completely all right to complain to God.

 It is all right to vent and open ourselves completely to God.

 Because, the important thing here is not how we are praying or even what we are praying for.

 It is important that, even in our fear, in our pain, in our despair, in our horror at the gruesomeness and violence we find in this world, that we come to God.

 We come before God as an imperfect person, full of insecurities, exposed and vulnerable.

 Take what it is hurting you and bothering you and release it.

 Let it out before God. Be honest with God.

 Because God knows.

 God stood in the midst of those cut-up animals.

 God has stood in the midst of that violence.

 Because, as I say again and again, just because you pray for it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. 

God is not Santa Claus.

 In this case, it’s not the outcome that’s important.

 It’s the actual praying that’s important.

 And what we might sometimes find in those moments of complaining and ranting is that the words coming out of our mouths are not ugly, bitter words at all.

 But sometimes the words coming out of our mouths in those moments of despair are beautiful poetry.

 Sometimes, even in those moments, God takes our fear-filled words and turns them into diamonds in our mouths.

 See what we find in this morning’s Psalm.

 After all that complaining, we find the Psalmist able to sing,

 “O tarry and await the LORD’s pleasure;

be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.”

 See. Diamonds. 

 So, when we pray these psalms together and when we come across those scriptures full of violence that might take us by alarm, or when we may want bad things to happen to Vladimir Putin, recognize in them what they truly are—honest prayers before God.

 Let us follow the example of Jesus, who even in the face of violence and death, was still able to open his heart and his soul in song and poetry.

 More importantly, let us, as Jesus himself did over and over again in his life,  pray those psalms when we are afraid or angry or frustrated.

 Let the Psalms help us to release our own anger to the God who loves us and knows us more completely than anyone else.

 In the shattered, cut-open pieces of our lives, God, as a bright light, passes back and forth.

 I can tell you from first-hand experience that even in that “deep and terrifying darkness” God appears to us as a light.

 All we have to do is recognize God in that midst of that darkness.

 And in doing so, all we can sometimes do is open our mouths and let the poems within us sing out to our God.

  

 

3 Pentecost

  June 26, 2022   1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Galatians 5.1,13-25; .Luke 9:51-62   + I don’t want to toot my own horn, but for any of y...