Jesus goes public.

It is the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. Like we heard last week in our Sunday worship, these weeks after Christmas give us a peek, or an aha, into who Christ is, and who we are in relationship to God and to each other. Imagine those Three Kings traveling home by a different road after meeting the Christ Child. It must have taken them weeks, if not a lifetime, to grasp the significance of their meeting with the Holy Family. It is the same for us. It takes a lifetime to grasp, even a little bit, of what it means to us that God is here, between us and in us and all around us. All the time.

It takes a lifetime because we encounter God through our daily experiences, through listening to the Scriptures, through prayer and meditation and in more ways that we can count. We see the Divine with and through our own lenses so to speak. And if you are anything like me, your lenses, meaning your vision, changes – especially with age!

In our Listening to the Gospel group we talked about the story that we heard today – the wedding at Cana. Some of us immediately loved this story and could quickly find their place in the story – as the servants, or Jesus, or the baffled disciples, or as Mary his mother giving her son a push to get his life going. Others were affronted by the story; questioning what was happening in the text and what it was bringing up for our ourselves. We all had one kind of aha or another.

wine vessels

My aha came quickly. As soon as I heard that Jesus and his mother were at a wedding, I thought of the many weddings that I attended with my parents, including the first wedding that I performed when the bride took what seemed almost an hour to show up. I thought about my own wedding 22 years ago.

When I heard that today’s Gospel story was centered on wine and that the steward was talking to the bridegroom about the custom of pouring the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests had become drunk, I flashed on all the weddings that I have attended and even officiated, including family weddings, where the bride or the groom and many of the guests were not only drinking fine or inferior wine, but were drunk. And I thought, what is Christ doing at a drunken wedding party? If the word Gospel means Good News, where is the Good News?

Our lives; our history, our hopes, and all of our baggage have a strong influence on how we see and hear and understand the world and the Word. The Good News is that nothing, not even our messy history, can separate us from God. As Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says, we all have different gifts and the Spirit activates all of us. Of course God is going to show up at a wedding party. As every 12 step program attests, our lives are out of control when we think that we are out there on our own, running the show. When we do what the servants did – which was turn their lives over to God, and just do one small thing at a time, miracles can and do happen.

Miracles happened for Jesus too. There he was, minding his own business, lounging at the banquet table with some of the wine drinkers. Who shows up? His mother. She points out the problem (the wine has run out) and he says what many of us have said, in one version or not, to our mothers “What does that have to do with you or me? Can’t you see that my time has not yet come? Can’t I just be a guest?”

Mom lets his question rattle around in his head and she goes to the servants and tells them “Do what he tells you.” And Jesus’ public ministry – his miracles, his healings, his speaking, and his dying and rising, is activated. His ministry was seeded back when he was sent out to the desert to be tested, or maybe at his baptism when the Spirit shouted a blessing to him, but his gifts came to life when his mother tapped him on the shoulder.

“Do whatever he tells you to do.” Jesus does not tell the servants to do anything remarkable – just what they do all the time. Show up. Get water. Fill the jars. Draw some out and bring it to the steward. Do no more and no less than I tell you to do.

This is the news that I heard in our Gospel group. In whatever circumstance that I find myself in, whether it be a drunken wedding, or a walk downtown, don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t overly analyze it. Just do what God is telling me to do. No more, No less.

We often listen to the Gospel as though it were written or told for us personally. And it is. As I said, we all hear the Word through our own lives. But the Gospel is also, and maybe even more so, given to every community of faith to wrestle with and to respond to and to act on. This is what is happening in worship and in meetings and in every encounter. Where two or more are gathered…God is speaking.

We, like Jesus, are prodded and sometimes pushed to go public with our ministry. We, like the servants are given small mundane doable tasks that may make a huge difference. We, like the steward at the wedding are charged with using the abundant gifts that have been given to us, without clinging to them. And we, like the disciples, are invited to the party – which sounds a lot like the kingdom that Jesus is always talking about,  where love flows like wine – and we are invited to trust and believe.

What is the point of this miracle at Cana story? One of the people who came to the Listening to the Gospel group put it this way. There is no point to this or any of the stories. It is not an intellectual exercise that can be distilled to a point. The Gospel is an Epiphany! God is here in the mundane and the miraculous. In our hearing, our living together, our turning our lives over to the Higher Power. In doing one thing at a time.

Who am I?

This past week, just a few days before the end of Advent and a few days before the arrival of Christmas I was as startled as Elizabeth, the elder cousin of Mary, was startled when Mary who was “a little bit pregnant” with Jesus, came to visit. Elizabeth was 6 months into her own pregnancy, hunkering down for the last weeks with a silent husband beside her. When Mary came knocking on Elizabeth’s door, the elder cousin cried out “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me!” Why me? Why now?

With this story lingering in the back of my mind I was happily engaged in the last minute preparations for our Christmas Eve service. Then came a knock on my door and in came a young couple. They came to see me, the elder minister, to talk about some concern that I was able to easily address. As we were about to wrap up our talk, the young woman hesitantly asked if I perform weddings. Startled, I said that yes, for sure, I perform weddings. Were they interested at some time, way down the road, in getting married?

Who am I? Why has this happened to me, that this young couple who I do not know well, who does not know me hardly at all, is asking me to officiate their wedding? Why me?

The details spilled out. Their desire to be married soon. Before the young man headed out to Marine training and who knows what else. Before the “little bit pregnant” young woman was showing. Before whatever was coming down the road met them, without a mooring or a ring to remind them about who they belonged to and what they mean to each other.

It was hard to brush aside the sense that there was an angel in the room announcing something that I at least was not ready to hear. But of  course, as always, angels in stories like this demand answers. I said yes. Then I sent the couple home to talk together about their vows. I sent them a personal note later in the day and gave them wide berth to change their minds. Maybe they really did not want me, the queer pastor of this church, to be the one to bind them together.

A day later they got back to me, determined that yes they were ready to get married. Yes they wanted me to officiate. Yes. Yes.  Yes. Before the week was over we gathered again at the church. A small group of witnesses were there to remind us of the promises made. Many pictures were taken, as this is, after all, the social media age. Blessings were bestowed. Prayers were said. Tears shed. Laughter too; at the audacity of it all.

“Why has this happened” will be asked again, by all of us, because that is one of life’s short and constant questions. All that we will be able to say is that we were told to not be afraid and to let Love lead the way. Here we are, caught up in love and hope.

wedding

 

poetry in motion

On  Monday I walked downtown to my yoga class. Across the street, at the fence overlooking the river, there was a man I did not know. He was standing, as folks often stand, looking out at the river. Nothing odd about this, except it was very cold that morning and the sun was hardly over the hill. I saw him and walked downtown.

Got to yoga and, behold, a closed door. The class had been cancelled due to the wintry mix last night.

I walked back home, up the hill, glad that I got a walk if not a yoga class. I looked to the other side of the street and saw the same man, standing in what seemed like the same place, looking out to the cold river.

First thought. A bit odd. The man not having moved on a cold day. Second thought. Keep walking home. Third thought. Wonder who he is and if he is okay. Bridge Street is not exactly a place for jumping off but something seemed, well, not okay.

I crossed the street and said hello and asked if he was okay; that I had seen him earlier in my walk downtown and there he was standing on my walk uptown. He told me that he was waiting for the Doctor’s office to open. He was okay.

All seemed well.  Sort of.

I said how sometimes at this spot you can see an eagle swooping down the river. We looked across the river together and he exclaimed “There is the eagle. Right there!”

The eagle flew by us, across the river and gracefully landed on a tree. We sighed in awe.

He said “Thank you for coming over and asking about me.”

I thanked him and the eagle and God for the sighting and that all was, is, well.

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a poem. Here is the river on a summer day. It is not always so sunny and blue and green and welcoming. river

One small thing

One thing that I love

about living in a small town

is that I can buy my Christmas tree

at our local gas station

knowing that the trees come

from not too far away.

This love for shopping local is enough.

After all, who gets to buy a Christmas tree at a gas station?

Then there comes the sweet surprise

when the owner asks

“Can we drop it off at your house?”

Every year they send

a beautiful Christmas wreath

to hang over the church door

and now, just as we were about to toss

the tree onto our car

or stick it in the trunk

and brave the ride home

comes that small gracious question

“Can we bring it to you?”

They know where we live.

tree on the porch

 

Seriously…

Most true stories do not have an ending. They keep going. This is one of those never-ending stories about churches and signs.

Our church was formed between the 1950’s and 1970 with the merger of 4 small historic Protestant churches (American Baptist, United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Episcopal.) Throughout all the years that we have been “as one” we have tried to live into the idea that all are welcome here. Our weekly community meal has been going strong for over 25 years. We started and continue a free community clothes closet, housed in a town building. We became a fully open and affirming church  more than 2  years ago and our building doors have been open since 9/11/2001 when it was clear that our community needed to have a safe place to go for comfort and consolation at all hours. The story continues.

This past week I was in our fellowship hall with our music director. We were planning an Advent Taizé service, before the choir practice began and before people came for a public showing of an Advent movie. We were more than a bit frazzled like lots of church people are in Advent even as we strive to be in a waiting and wondering mood.

The door to the fellowship hall opened and a young woman stood there, red-eyed and hesitant. She told us that she works in our town and had seen an advertisement for the movie. She said that she tends to be uncomfortable in closed spaces so she wanted to see how she would feel in our space, having never before entering our church.

The music director took her under her wing, almost literally, and showed her the room, the multiple exits, the places that she could sit if she wanted to make a quick exit. The young woman started to cry, and she told me that she never comes into churches and did not know what was making her cry other than she had walked in and saw our “welcome sign” (the one we had made for the Pride Parade float) and wondered if that meant her?

parade sign

And then she saw the word “seriously” and she knew, on a deep level that she was being spoken to. She told me that she was surprised at how loving the two of us were to her, a stranger. That today this might be enough. She was not ready to come to a movie. Maybe she would come back for the quiet Taizé service later in the week. She needed to go. Now.

When she left, my music director and I looked at each other and we said “This is why we are here. Why we were here tonight.”

Our open door paved the way. Our being “in fellowship” paved the way. A sign paved the way. The God who is Love, paves the Way. Seriously.

Ready or not

christmas-christmas-ball-christmas-ornament-214238

I woke up this morning with my eyes set on Jesus. Actually I woke up this morning to read on my Facebook that someone was advocating that we cancel Christmas this year until we are ready to act like Christ. The writer of that article did a great and yet dismal job of listing all that ways that Christians across the centuries, right up to the present, have marched forward in the name of Jesus spreading fear and hatred, violence and oppression, privilege and exclusion.

The author that I read this morning was crystal clear that we have no right to celebrate the birth of the one who gave his life “for the least of these” until we straighten up and turn around (repent). Until we are ready to recognize Christ everywhere and greet “that of God” in all. She said “Christmas should be cancelled until we’re actually ready to welcome Jesus into our hearts, our homes, our thinking, our voting, our actions, our words, our lives…until we’re ready to recognize Jesus in the eyes of everyone. Especially the “least of these.”

I was convinced that she was right until I started taking my eyes off her reflection and my eagerness to align with her clear eyed reflection. I put my eyes on Jesus and I saw that there is no way that we can cancel our celebration of Christmas any more that we could cancel the birth itself. God did not put a hold on the incarnation until the world was ready to greet Jesus. If our readiness was what was needed then, or now, we would still be waiting. Which of course is part of what Advent is all about – waiting for Jesus to come yet again.

This morning, the day before Advent begins again, I am thanking God that it is not my or our readiness that makes/allows God to burst into our lives. God/Christ/Jesus/Spirit comes at the most inconvenient, unexpected and rejected times all the time.

Even when we are full of ourselves, acting our worst, feeling at our worst, speaking out of turn “in the name of Jesus” or in any of God’s names, God arrives. Whether we are ready or not. Christmas is not canceled this year, because the Love that walked the earth, has a lot of walking to do. It is not in our power to cancel God’s arrival. We don’t have to be ready. And yet…what would it look like if, in fact, we were ready? That is worth 4 weeks of Advent. Not meditating on Christmas but meditating on our surprise, day after day, being in the presence of God.

 

the wreckage

Lately I have been astonished that any of us can carry on a civil, or really any, conversation with another person. It seems to me that everyone I know is not only fighting a hard battle but everyone is carrying a heavy burden that takes up just about all our willpower and imagination.

Even on a good day, when I have a window open in my own mind, what I see around me are friends and family walking around the wreckage of what we used to imagine life would be. One friend is consumed by and about cancer. Another by and about divorce. A third is caught up in fears for the children. Then there is the one who everyday faces a void. All those whose parent is lost in the world of dementia. This is just in the neighborhood, not in the big ol’ world. Now. Here. Not world history. So how can it be, and it is, that we actually meet each other and see around or through that burden/battle, to find a kind face, which is sometimes our face, and it tumbles around like a kaleidoscope and beauty breaks through?

I am reading a collection of essays by the late pastor Eugene Peterson. Peterson is remembered as a pastor for pastors. He is already, just weeks after his death, missed by many of us. In one of his essays he comments on this “general environment of wreckage” and has this to say. Somehow I find it comforting.

“We believe that God is not a spectator in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history but a participant in it. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage, is material that God is using to make a praising life. We believe this but we don’t see it…What we see are bones. Dry bones.”

When I read this I remembered my recent trip to visit a dear friend in the scorched hills of California. We took a day trip to the see the redwoods. Tall beyond tall. Wide beyond wide. Some blackened by recent and long ago fires. us in redwoods

Most still standing. Some with wide caves we could walk into and wonder what reason there might be to walk out; the smell of earth and wood were intoxicating. Then we left the tall trees and traveled down the road to something that turned my mind inside out.

More redwood but these trees, millions, yes millions, of years ago, uprooted, felled,  wrecked, wrenched from the earth. Tossed about like everyone I know feels tossed about. Time, the kind of time I cannot really imagine, passing over and through these magnificent and very dry bone trees. The trees had been transformed – petrified and transfigured -transformed from the inside out, from wood to rock. petrified rock

Knock knock on what still looked like wood and we found rock. Beautiful forms, with those circles of life, water no longer racing through their veins and yet still powerfully “alive” in their millions of years new form. Wrecked and shockingly present. I could hardly believe, but I saw, and I was called to praise this life.

Now when I walk through the forest of my own life and I meet up with fellow trees, walking on two feet, consumed by our sorrows and our present forces of change, I consider the standing redwoods who even just a few years ago were so terribly burned in fire and now sprout life. And I remember the petrified forest. I look to my friends and family and the big ol’ world and I am shocked that we can, and do, continue, communicate, love, hope, and are willing to keep our imaginations fresh. Who knows what God is doing now, among us?