Monday, February 27, 2012

Cut It Out

Matthew 4:1-11
Isaiah 58

I didn’t grow up knowing much about Lent. It wasn’t something we talked about much in my church, and when we did it was at a time less than convenient for anyone but the retirees in our beachside Florida community. In my senior year of high school, though, I decided to try to remedy the situation the best way I knew how - by skipping school. Legally, of course, but still skipping school.

My plan started with a trip to my vice principal's office. One day a few weeks before Lent began, I made my appointment with Mrs. Brennan and declared that I was looking for a religious excused absence from school, once a week for the next several weeks. I needed to attend Lenten worship on Wednesday afternoons. I had the required signed letter from my pastor in hand. It was my ticket to a new understanding, I thought. or it could have been that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time.

Miraculously this worked. My Latin teacher, whose class I was missing, rolled her eyes when I told her of my plans. She told me to add it to the book I should write on how to skip school with permission from the administration. I had developed a knack for that by my senior year.

I don’t remember too much about those sermons, and I can’t differentiate now what I learned then and what I have learned later, but it was my introduction to Lent. The next year I went on to college, and had a further education in the season when I met my new best friends who were all Catholic. They taught me about giving things up for Lent - - chocolate, desserts, pop, potato chips, pretty much anything that might add a few pounds to the freshman 15. I came to think of Lent as God’s diet plan for the college student.

Lent wasn't always about chocolate. In its earliest days, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for those who were to receive the sacrament of baptism. Baptisms of adult converts and their households were held on Easter Sunday, once a year, in the early church, and a whole year was spent in study, prayer, and preparation. The final forty days of that year were an especially intense and holy time. Those who were already a part of the Christian community who felt a need to rededicate their lives, who recognized that the way they were living their lives was not the best representation of the body of Christ in the world, would often join the new converts in their final preparations for baptism.

As such Lent became a time of repentance and penance as it is now often considered, but it was at the same time a period of great spiritual growth and rebirth. It was marked by careful devotion to biblical spiritual practices. In Shrovetide, the week before Ash Wednesday, believers would make their confessions to God. They would discover their own required penance to be carried out in the forty weekdays of Lent. The season of Lent would be marked by personal acts of piety that corresponded to the sins confessed, but also general disciplines, like fasting, acts of charity, and prayer. Probably the best known of these in contemporary portrayals of Lent (whether faithful or mocking) is fasting, but many of us still wonder about how to do it or what it is for.

There is a strong biblical witness to the spiritual discipline of fasting. Moses fasted on the top of Mt. Sinai when he remained there to record the commandments of God on stone tablets. For forty days and forty nights we are told in Exodus he refrained from eating food or drinking even water as he dwelled in the presence of God, receiving the terms of God's covenant with Israel. Daniel, after having been saved from the den of lions, fasted as he prayed and mourned in the Babylonian exile. One fast recorded was twenty-one days long, in which Daniel cut out meats, rich foods, and wine. Esther, a young Jewish girl chosen providentially to be a queen while also in exile, asks the Jewish community to pray for her and fast for three days as she discerned her divine placement in the king's court. And, of course, there is Jesus' fast in the wilderness which we heard today. Still wet behind the ears from John's baptism he is led out into the desert by the Spirit where is fasts, presumably from food and water, for forty days and forty nights and is tempted.

There is something to be said for the practice of self-denial. In cutting something out of our lives that we love and crave and, maybe without even noticing, depend upon, we are reminded each time we begin to miss it, to turn our attention to God. Friends of mine from all walks of life answered a question I posed this week about fasting. One childhood friend chimed in that this year he is fasting from coffee, a difficult fast for him as it would be for many who cling to that morning routine. For him it also removes a "taste of home" from his life as he lives and works in China where most other tastes are foreign to his tongue. My friend Chris wrote, "It's amazing how something so seemingly small can provide so much comfort -- comfort that should be coming from His Cup, not my coffee cup."

Fasting, denial of food or water, accompanied by prayer has a long and rich tradition in Scripture and practice. Those who participate in this practice speak of a renewal of spirit, a realization of their dependence on God in new ways, humility in the face of a struggle, a connection to the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Jesus in a new way. For thousands of years people of faith, people of MANY faiths, have felt challenged, encouraged, and blessed through fasts, but the prophecy according to Isaiah seems to be pointing to another kind of fast. It's not better or more holy or more correct, necessarily, but a different way of thinking about a potentially important spiritual tool, especially, I believe, for the church in our culture, our context, our world today.

Ordinarily we think of humility as a hallmark of faith. Jesus speaks often of losing our lives in order to gain them, of humbling ourselves, not thinking too highly of who we are, what we have, what we can do. But there in Isaiah the prophet, speaking for God, seems to be saying that a day of humility is not the only fast pleasing to God.

In Epiphany one of the first ways we heard of God acting on the loose in the world was in a story about Jesus preaching in the synagogue. While he was there a man with an unclean spirit arrived. The demon challenged Jesus, recognizing his source and his divinity when no one else could. Seeing the torment this spirit inflicted on the man, Jesus cast it out, cut it out of the man's life in order that he could be free from oppression, from possession, from that which kept him from God and his community.

What if this could be a different model for fasting? Not a replacement, not something better than what has served so many for so long, but a different model, an additional one, one that addresses themes in our culture that encourage self-service and self-indulgence over serving others, putting their needs before our own. What if a Lenten fast was undertaken that cut things out that not just please me, but cut things out that keep me from pleasing God, that keep me pleasing from others, even things that harm others.

A fast of this kind might not look like fish Fridays and avoiding chocolate. A fast of this kind would probably look totally different. It might look like turning the TV off for a while and spending our time volunteering with the food shelf, Networks youth ministry, or Grace Place. It might look like deciding with our children that no toys will be purchased during Lent, but as a family we will purchase teddy bears given to children at Turning Point shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence. It might look like lowering our voices in our homes and among our families, honoring each other as precious children of God, instead of asserting our will and authority with loud and angry shouts. It might look like the fast undertaken this Lent by a good number of friends who responded to my poll this week. They are fasting from fast food or eating out at restaurants or driving through drive-throughs and setting aside the money they would have spent on these things to give to organizations in their community that are fighting hunger.

Another friend spoke of doing everything she possibly could to ensure that the products she buys and uses in her home are fairly traded, that the corporations responsible for them treat their employees fairly. Still another friend and her family have decided to cut out all non-essential spending during Lent. They will buy simple foods, pay their bills, and continue their tithe to the church, but anything else, an app for the iPhone, a song to download, an afternoon at the movies, a coffee on the drive to work, the book screaming to them from the shelves of the store, ANYTHING not related to day-to-day living will be set aside for Lent. The money they save from this fast will be given, above and beyond their usual church pledge, to the church and other causes that aid people living in poverty at home and abroad.

Fasts of this kind honor what God was saying through the prophet Isaiah. Fasting and repentance, often thought of as very personal spiritual practices, have a communal or social aspect to them, too. A fast means nothing, Isaiah tells us, if we’re looking out for our spiritual health on one day, but treating workers unfairly on the next. Denying ourselves pleasures we enjoy, but at the same time ruining the enjoyment of others by fighting, mistreating, and striking others with our words, fists, or attitudes makes for a fast that is displeasing to God.

Isaiah points beyond simply spending time alone with God to other faithful actions we can incorporate into our lives as important parts of a truly faithful fast. Look out for the workers we employ. Watch our angry words and attitudes. Loose the ties that bind the oppressed. Share our bread with the hungry. Invite the homeless into our dwelling places. Cover the naked.

Isaiah's community took fasting seriously. They are not chastised for their lack of piety. But in the context of this passage, the lack of wholeheartedness, the lack of a holistic view in their practice of fasting was evidence that God's people were more interested in looking religious than in serving God and their neighbor. Their half-hearted attempts at fasting, attempts that looked only within, instead of also looking around to the community, were evidence that God’s people were more interested in getting ahead in their own relationship with God, instead of also aiding others in their spiritual and life journeys.

This is not the fast that God desires, a fast that only looks inward and only tends to my personal needs. The trumpet is sounding, Isaiah proclaims, and we are called to listen up: the fast God prefers is the one in which the hungry are fed. In God's realm, the rich person's fast shall make the way clear for the poor person's feast.

This Lenten season, we have been invited to participate in a fast before God, a fast that brings us closer to God and one another. Consider your fast in a new way. Consider casting out those demons that are holding onto your life, that are holding you at arms length from God by holding you away from others. Accept Isaiah's challenge to fast in a new way - sharing what we have to feed and clothe the hungry, satisfy ing the needs of the afflicted, challenging the systems in our community and in our world that oppress the poor.

Then our lights shall break forth like the dawn; then when we cry the Lord will say, “Here I am”; then our lives and our fasts will show the glory of the Lord to all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 8:31 – 9:1

Overwhelmed
I hardly even look anymore. I know I should. I have a responsibility to do it. I used to take pride in the fact that I considered myself well-informed and up-to-date on the news, but I barely crack up a newspaper and conveniently miss the world news at dinner time. I just can’t stand to hear it. I know I’m not alone because when I mentioned in several different circles this week that I would be talking about feeling overwhelmed almost everyone who heard it offered their own version of that same confession. The weight of the world just seems too heavy to even read about, so we are tempted instead to ignore it.

And it’s not just the news from around the world that’s a problem. Maybe we could handle that if things in our more tangible “real” lives were a little smoother. Maybe it would be easier to pay attention even to the difficult news we hear places like Syria if our own political system seemed more civil that it has been recently. Maybe we could begin to contemplate the violence in other parts of the world if we weren’t worried about threats of violence in our community. Maybe it would be even possible to look at any of this if our joints weren’t failing, if our hearts weren’t skipping beats, if the cells in our bodies weren’t growing in wrong places and fighting against themselves. I’m not saying it’s right to get caught up only in our own struggles, but it’s true. It’s what happens.

Then throw some sermons from church on top of all that – sermons that encourage us to touch the people no one else even considers touching, to speak up and speak out against the evils and injustices in our culture, to announce a message of reversal where the power have none, the rich are brought down and the lowly greatly honored – throw that in the mix and, well, yeah, it’s overwhelming!

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering. No wonder Peter tried to quiet him down. He told them they needed to carry their own crosses. He told them they needed to lose their lives. He called the generation sinful and adulterous. He said the kingdom of God was coming even before the time of their own deaths – a kingdom they expected would be accompanied by divine horsemen and blessed warriors coming to topple an oppressive government and set their nation on the top of the pile.

I don’t doubt for a second that they were overwhelmed.


Mark 9:2-8

On the Mountaintop
Each summer my high school youth group took a trip to Montreat. Different people mean different things by “Montreat.” Montreat is very small town in North Carolina. In the town is an even smaller Presbyterian college, Montreat College. Next to the college campus and overtaking it in the summers is a Presbyterian conference center by the same name. Each summer my high school youth group went to THAT Montreat for their legendary youth conference. It was a literal and figurative mountaintop experience in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Inevitably each year we would read together the story of the Transfiguration during one of our nightly devotions.

The temptation to want to stay on top of the mountain is not hard to understand. Peter’s desire to build a few dwellings, camp out, and call it good is a desire to which I can relate. Up on the mountaintop it was all clear. Up on the mountaintop it was easier to see. Up on the mountaintop it impossible to deny, in Jesus of Nazareth is the presence of God. Moses and Elijah were there, confirming Jesus as the next great prophet and agent of God’s promise. The cloud overshadowed them as it did on mountains before when the voice of God would speak to mortals. “This is my Son, the Beloved,” it spoke, announcing the truth that they needed to hear.

In the middle of all that threatens to overwhelm – the crowds of people sick and demon-possessed; the daunting task of ministry before them; the illness in our own lives, families, and friends; the uncivil political discourse; the financial worries all around – in the middle of all that makes us want to run away, God is present and has a word of grace to speak. “Listen to him.” Up there on that mountaintop, Peter and James and John caught a glimpse of God. It was a quick peek at the reality that is so hard to see sometimes. It’s like the veil between heaven and earth was lifted, even if just for a moment, and they could see what was true all along. God was with them.

God is with us. It’s the exact same truth we celebrate every time we gather to worship, but especially when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism as we will today. God is with us. God does not forget us. God does not expect us to go through our life alone. By the water in the font that comes from God, we are blessed and reassured of God’s presence. By the water in the font that comes from God, we are cleansed even before we can clean ourselves. By the water in the font that comes from God, God’s all-encompassing peace, God’s never-ending grace, God’s overwhelming love is revealed.


Mark 9:9, 14-27

Coming down the mountain
As much as Peter wanted, they couldn’t stay up that mountain. The experience was amazing, brilliantly shocking, yet simultaneously calming, but they couldn’t stay up there forever. They couldn’t ignore the world below them, the world that included people with broken bodies and souls, nations fighting against nations, bank accounts that were empty or near empty, relationships stretched to their limits. No, the experience of Jesus transfigured and the appearance of Moses and Elijah was a revelation of God in the most extraordinary of ways, but none of them could stay up there forever, because there was still work to do in the world.

The world still needed the gospel. The world still needs the grace of God in Jesus, and the disciples of Jesus are called to share it. When they got to the bottom, before they were there even, the crowds were already rushing to them. The man with his demon possessed son was already there waiting, clamoring to reach the one who could heal his boy. When they got to the bottom, before they were there even, they were called to touch and to heal.

We have been here on the mountain together. We have wondered how in the world we are going to be the disciples Jesus calls us to be. We have lamented over the brokenness in our lives and in our world. We have begged to see God to know that it is all for something. And here on this mountain we have seen our answer.We have seen a glimpse of God’s all encompassing grace in the baptism of a beautiful child of God before she even knows of God’s love. We have heard the words of God’s promise to be with Savannah, to be with us. We have made our own promises to support Savannah as she grows in faith, reaffirmed the promises we have made to every other child whose baptism we have witnessed, remembered the promises that were made about us. We have seen Christ revealed to us right here in this place.

And now we have to go back down the mountain just like the disciples did. We can’t keep our heads in the clouds or in the sand. Just like the crowds were waiting there for Jesus and the disciples to return, the pains and fears and discord of our time are right outside our doors, too, and we have to go down to meet them. Jesus and the disciples came down the mountain because they couldn’t hide away with what they knew, with who they knew, with what they had to offer the world. Like the disciples we have to come down from the mountaintop experiences we have with Jesus and carry his healing into the world. We have to come down TOGETHER to follow where he leads.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ReLENTless



I'm doing a lot of hemming and hawing about Lent today.  OK, it's been more than just today, but when hot cup posted about a foiled Lenten plan it just got me going again.

I'm in that place where I think I'll take a crappy canned sermon over the void of ideas I'm having myself.  I know I'd feel different as soon as it showed up in the mail, though.  I know I want to do a series of some sort.  I'm not feeling particularly tied to or excited about the lectionary, but I don't know what else I should do, what I need to do in this particular time, in this particular place.

I'm a little less traditional in my own beliefs and comfort with the language of Lent as a "journey to the cross."  My theology of the cross has a lot less guilt and traditional atonement theory, so while it's important and part of the story that gets us to resurrection it's not so much of a highlight in my personal theology as say the empty tomb is.  The cross says more to me about humanity than it does about God's grace.  And when people talk about the empty cross vs. the cross with the body, it seems to me that they really want to talk about the empty TOMB and the full cross.  Anyway, that's another post altogether.  Yet it does get tot he heart of my struggle with preaching in Lent  I think at some point in the history of the worship and the liturgical calendar Lent turned much more guilt-ridden than I think it was initially.

From what I remember from seminary and what I've been reading around this week and last, there were basically three different traditions that sort of turned into what we call Lent.  One was an extended paschal observance that started at first a few days, then up to 40 days before Easter.  The second was the final preparation of catechumenates for baptism.  The third was a period of penance and self-examination for those who needed to reunite with the church, to recommit themselves to faith.  It feels like if we're doing anything with Lent at all anymore we're turning it into an extended Good Friday, berating ourselves for all the horrible we do, instead of making it a period of good, focused work on transformation, of recommitting ourselves to practices of faith and spiritual disciplines that strengthen us as disciples of Christ and the people of God, culminating in the celebration of the resurrection, THE transformation of all transformation, the new life into which we are baptized.


I watched a documentary when I was at an Arts and Sabbath conference in Montreat, NC last fall.  One of the artists (don't ask me who or when or what movie, I wasn't paying attention that well) said this, "Spring doesn't begin on the surface; it begins below...."  That's what I think about Easter and, therefore, Lent.  New life, renewed faith, doesn't begin at Easter.  It starts earlier.  It starts with the hard work of Lent, working before, working below.  Something is happening before we get to that time of rebirth and resurrection, and THAT'S what I want to talk about in Lent.  What has to happen to get us to Easter, to resurrection, to new life.

I've thought about trying to draw from the ancient Lenten spiritual practices - penance, almsgiving, fasting, etc - as springboards for sermons on transforming our lives as disciples.  If I go this direction I'd like to open Lent up as a time that's not "just for Catholics" but celebrate (maybe that's not the best word) the ways it can enrich our lives of faith.

On another hand (it's not "the other" because I might come up with a third or fourth hand eventually, I'm not sure) I've been pushing pretty hard during this Epiphany about God's reversal of life as we know it, and the invitation to join where divine work is happening in the world.  Epiphany has been our season of "God is on the loose" in the world.  I've spent a lot of time naming the way God REALLY IS a part of the world.  I've included invitations to join God out in the world (especially out of our church walls and the myth of needing prop up the institution) each week, but I'm beginning to think Lent should be about this more.  It feels like Lent should be more nitty gritty about getting ourselves out there to follow.

Ideally, I'd like to find a way for these two ideas to intersect.  Maybe they do. While the first feels more personal and the second more missional, I'd like for the personal to always be misisonal, so maybe I need to work on that. I sort of feel it.  I think I can even connect some of the sermons I have delivered during Epiphany to spiritual disciplines or practices that support the way God is on the loose.  Like last week I talked about how Jesus was on the loose proclaiming the message; this could be paired with a Lenten sermon (with example from the congregation for SURE) on giving testimony.  Maybe the Epiphany sermon about casting out demons (naming evil) could be paired with one about acts of justice and solidarity.  If there aren't an equal number I can add in ones that don't necessarily match up for with Epiphany sermons for disciplines of giving (a mid year stewardship sermon NEVER hurts), fasting, etc.

Hmmm....is something finally brewing here?  Sometimes I need to just start writing about my struggle for the Spirit to start working something out.  Maybe tomorrow or Thursday I can flesh it out a little more after I have sat with it a little more.

Monday, February 6, 2012

God is on the loose and proclaiming the message

Mark 1:29-39

Thanks to modern technology while I watch more TV than I probably should, I don’t watch a whole lot of commercials. Ordinarily I zip through the advertisements placed in the shows I’ve recorded which make my evenings, especially in election years, much more pleasant. There is the problem however, of watching live sports events. When I do that I just have to bear with it and watch what’s there. Thankfully, every once in a while, there’s a clever ad that makes it all worthwhile. The image you see in front of you is a still shot from one such commercial.

I can laugh at it because in some ways I see myself in it. The folks there are waiting in line outside an electronics store. While it’s not named the stereotypes involved and the hints about their phones tell us they are Apple lovers - - not the fruit, but the products… like my own iPad here, like the iPod I use when running. I don’t have the phone, but you can catch my drift. I can see myself when I’m being parodied. 

Anyway, these Apple users, shown in cities all across the country, are waiting in line at the electronics store, somewhat excitedly, somewhat grumpily, for the next update to their precious phones to be released when they notice something right in front of them. They see young men and women using a device that they can see is almost exactly the one for which they are waiting. ALMOST. The screen is bigger, the picture better, the service clearer, but…it’s not their beloved brand. It’s a Samsung. You can see the looks on their faces. They are defeated. They are behind. They are very clearly left out of the next big thing.

Being left out is a feeling we all know in one way or another. Whether we have been left out on the playground when teams are being picked, or the sorority or fraternity in college, maybe among a group of friends gathering for dinner, or hopefully not, but possibly even in the life of the church when it becomes dangerously close to a country-club-type existence, being left out is one of those universal human experiences. For some it is even one of the biggest fears about living in relationship with other people. There’s this nagging worry that somehow, somewhere we won’t know what is happening, we won’t be included, we’ll lose our place in the community.

Simon’s mother-in-law was left out. A fever had her left out. She was stricken with illness, confined to bed, and unable to go about her daily tasks, unable to fulfill her role in the family, in the community. Right away Jesus heals her without much fanfare and though her immediate return to service could be written off as a burden of women in a patriarchal society, there’s a hint to more in the way that it is reported. Immediately upon being healed, she began to serve them.

It doesn’t say she waited on them or helped them. She served them. It’s a word reserved for a special purpose. It’s the word used to describe what Jesus’ purpose is, he “came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). It’s the word from which we get our word for deacons, an ordained office called to serve the body of Christ and the world with compassion.

Immediately upon being healed she returned to her call, not all of womankind’s call, not to be “in the kitchen where she belongs,” but her call, her ministry, her place of service. Immediately upon being healed she was brought back into the role she held, she was no longer left out of the circle of people who are fulfilling their purpose, living their life with meaning, doing what they are meant to do. She was healed so she would be able to serve. So really, she was healed so she could be sent out. Mark pairs this healing with the exorcism we heard last week. They lose a bit of their combined impact when they are split over two Sundays like this.

Mark writes this first chapter of his gospel with such urgency. Everything happens “immediately.” We lose a bit of that when we divide the fast action of one day over the course of two or even three weeks. However, as soon as they left the synagogue, the crowd with its collective mouth still dragging on the floor, Jesus and his new brand disciples went straight to Simon’s mother in law’s bedside. In three quick verses she’s healed and up fulfilling her divine call.

The exorcism and the healing are placed side by side, and they go hand in hand. In the first a man who is gripped by an unclean spirit is freed from that possession. A man who is cast out from society, ignored, worse, even shunned for the evil that holds onto his spirit, is released from that captivity. Jesus brings him back into the circle of companionship. He who is left out is brought in.

In the home of Simon’s mother in law, the reverse takes place. She is used to serving. She is used to working among people. She is used to showing compassion and hospitality, but she is laid low by a fever and can’t participate in her called role. She is left out, but left out in a different way. A woman who is already accepted by her community, used to GOING OUT, used to serving others, can’t. She is held back. She is left out from the privilege of using her God-given abilities.

Yet, Jesus reverses both conditions. The one who is cast out and shunned is brought into wholeness and community. The one who is held back and insulated is sent out to serve. This, Jesus says, is the message he needs to get out and proclaim. It’s what he has spent his day proclaiming with his actions; it’s what he proclaimed from the minute he started his ministry. “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). It’s the whole reason, he says, that he is on the loose – to proclaim the message, a message of reversal, a message of repentance.

 Repent! We hear the word and we think of the folks whose eye contact we avoid, carrying signs, shouting on street corners, lining the walkways into sporting events and political debates. “Repent!” Jesus proclaims as he travels the countryside and people come flocking. “Repent,” we hear, and we shrink away, turn aside, and start to feel guilty for what we did or didn’t do. We think of being made to feel guilty or getting caught. We immediately berate ourselves for being jerks, punishing ourselves as we think we should be punished, taking God’s job and making it our own, which we are really really good at doing.

But that’s what we’ve done with the word. Or at least that’s what’s been done to it in our presence, and we have just gone along with it. The folks on that Galilean countryside, however, heard it different. They heard it in the way Jesus enacted it as he displayed the exact ministry, the exact kingdom of God that came near in him.

 Repentance isn’t about feeling guilty and groveling. It isn’t about beating ourselves over the head, stopping us in our tracks, rendering ourselves immobile. In fact, the call to repent is one of the most active calls in the gospel. It’s not a call to shame; it’s a call to action. It’s not like screaming “Stop!” It’s like screaming “Turn around! Come this way!” Repentance isn’t an exercise of the mind or the perfect words we speak in prayer. Repentance is the reversal of our way of life. It’s a turning away from whatever keeps us from living in as if God’s kingdom has really come near and turning toward the good news. The message Jesus proclaims, and the action to which he calls us, is one of complete reversal. Those who are left out are brought in and included. Those who are broken are healed in order to make others whole.

In this one day in Mark’s gospel, in Jesus’ first day on the job, Jesus shows the message he proclaims. Jesus shows the message we are also called to proclaim. The kingdom of God is near. The way God intends for the world to be is coming close. In this person, in this Jesus, we will see what it’s all supposed to be like, and the shocking thing is that everything we thought was true, everything that we thought held power and was holy and was blessed isn’t necessarily powerful, sacred, and desirable. Jesus spends the rest of his ministry expanding on what he started in this very first day.

He takes the least holy, the demon possessed, and cleanses them, brings them in, and gives them a place at God’s table. He takes the broken and sick, and touches them, lifts them up, heals them, and sends them out to serve in his name. He points to those who are powerful in the world, leaders of armies and nations, and declares their power is nothing compared to God’s. He looks at those who guard the temple and the presence of God and shows them their building is empty; God’s Spirit cannot be confined to sanctuaries made by human hands. He says the peacemakers are blessed, not those who divide and conquer. He says the poor wll inherit God’s kingdom, not those who try to buy it with their wealth. He says the sinners are welcome, not those who see no need for grace in their life. He says the old will not get tired. He says the young have credibility.

This is the message he proclaims. This is the good news he scatters through the countryside. This is what it means to repent, to go in a completely different direction, to go in God’s direction. This is what we are called to proclaim in his name - - an amazing grace that shatters the assumption of the world in which we live, that breaks down the barriers that have been constructed around God, that calls for a complete reversal of the way we are used to treating each other, ourselves, and God. We are called to proclaim, to ENACT a kingdom that is entirely different from what the world expects, a world where the weak are not whole, the poor are excluded, those of different races aren’t even considered fully human.

That world is not what God desires. That world is full of unclean spirits. That world is sick with the fever of injustice. That world is NOT REAL. The kingdom of grace, the kingdom of renewal, the kingdom of welcome, the kingdom of servanthood, the kingdom of reversal is real. The kingdom of God is real. And the kingdom of God is near. Believe it. And proclaim it. Amen!