This has been another rough week. Something, it seems, that is to be expected in this year of years, 2020. This week we are witnessing devastation in our world due to weather events, including hurricanes and typhoons, and extreme temperatures and wildfires, here and in other parts of the world. We’ve also been witness this week to the tragedy in Wisconsin. And to the continuing pandemic that has taken over 180,000 lives in our country alone. This has been another rough week. And in the midst of it, today, we are talking about release. About letting go.
Monday, August 31, 2020
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
This morning we begin the first of three weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. We also begin four weeks thinking together about stewardship. Now, you may say that connecting these two things makes no sense whatsoever. How in the world does money connect with prayer?
Well, if you’re at all like me, this makes perfect sense. Because for many of us, I would imagine, at some time in our lives we have spoken a desperate prayer to God, asking for money. Maybe it was at the end of the month, when the money from our paycheck was no more. Wondering how we might make it to the end of the month. Put food on the table for our families. Pay our electricity bill to keep the lights on. I dare say that the connection of money and prayer makes perfect sense.
So, today, we read the Lord’s Prayer, not as we generally know it, from Matthew. But, from Luke. A shorter, more condensed prayer. To the point. Just like the direct conversation about money we will be having over these next weeks.
For us to think and to speak directly of money is to automatically invite tension into this space. We quickly want to avoid the conversation. Yet, money and possessions are one of the most common topics in scripture. Jesus talked about money more than faith. Or prayer. So, our money story is a spiritual story. Over these next weeks, you will be invited to explore your money story. To compare it to God’s money story. And to consider making your own stewardship practices a fuller expression of God’s story. And of who you are. And what you believe.
So, we begin today, reading three short verses that we will be using for each of these weeks. Today, I am reading from the Common English Bible translation.
‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’” --Luke 11:2-4 (CEB)
We begin today by considering the first verse. “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”
In our book club this month, we read a lovely book written for middle school children - One Crazy Summer, by Rita Garcia-Williams. It’s the story of 11-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters. And of their experience in the summer of 1968 traveling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with a mother they barely know. When they arrive in Oakland, they learn that their mother has taken on a new first name. They’ve only heard about her as Cecile. Yet, she has changed her first name to more fully reflect who she is. Nzila. A poet’s name, she says. “A poet who blows the dust off surfaces to make clear and true paths.”
This is not something appreciated by 11-year-old Delphine. Just a few pages later, Delphine notes that a “name is important. It isn’t something you drop in the litter basket or on the ground. Your name is how people know you. The very mention of your name makes a picture spring to mind, whether it’s a picture of clashing fists or a mighty mountain that can’t be knocked down. Your name is who you are and how you’re known even when you do something great or something dumb.”
Your name is who you are and how you’re known. Isn’t that why Jesus begins his prayer the way he does? With a name that tells us who he is and how he knows God? Father. Parent. In the Aramaic, Abba? This is how Jesus addresses God and how he invites his disciples to address God. Up to this point, it was unusual to name God in this way. The Hebrew scriptures sometimes compared God to a father, but it is rare that they referred to God as Father. Jesus uses this title to reshape the disciples’ thinking about who this God is. Shifting their understanding from the angry God that the Jewish people had come to know. And instead expanding their understanding and relationship with God as one of parent and child. Giving them permission to call God, Father. And to claim their protected position as God’s own children.
Now, for some of us, to call God, Father, can be difficult. Especially if we have not had good relationships with our fathers. Or have had negative experiences with patriarchy. Yet, it’s important for us to understand that as we are created in the image of God, so God is in the image of human beings, possessing both male and female attributes. Parental attributes. Loving, compassionate, nurturing. Yet firm, establishing necessary boundaries for their children and in their relationships with their children. To call God, Father, or Abba, is to simply view God as parent.
But, as young Delphine notes in the book we read, one’s name is not just who one is, but also how one is known. However we address God as parent, we are invited to regard God’s name as holy. As God is holy. The Hebrews believed that the name of God was so sacred, that they used the word Jehovah. A word that in Hebrew could be pronounced without any consonants. Like a breath moving through their lips. Yehovah. A name spoken with whispered awe. Awe appropriate for such a powerful and deeply loving heavenly Father. A Father whose reign is not just limited to the heavens. But, a powerful and loving Father who seeks to pour out God’s heavenly reign into this world. “Bring in your kingdom,” Jesus teaches the disciples to pray. Bring in your kingdom of peace and justice. Your kingdom of love. Bring it to this world, this earth, this planet, this ecology, to these animals, to these people, even to the industry of our world. So that you, Father, might be fully experienced here. Just as in heaven. This is the prayer Jesus teaches the disciples. And what Jesus was living out on earth, offering and living into an economy, as Walter Brueggemann writes, “that was sure to collide with established economic patterns and with those who presided over and benefited from these patterns.” Jesus’ term for this alternative economy was “kingdom of God.” A social practice. And a set of social relationships there were consistent with the God of the covenant. The God of Israel. To mention this “kingdom of God,” was to call on Jesus’ disciples to remember who this God - this Father - was. 
It’s the same God we remember every time we celebrate communion and hear the Great Thanksgiving - the words that precede our receiving the bread and wine, the body and blood. In this thanksgiving, we remember how God moved over the waters. How God led Israel with a pillar of fire from bondage to liberation. We remember that still, small voice and then the prophets, proclaiming a new way - a new Messiah. We remember Mary and Joseph and the angels. The blind man and the leper. And the crowds that Jesus healed. Him walking on water. The little children running to him. We remember the justice he preached. The hosannas and palm branches. The love that changed the world. We remember this each and every week so that we do not forget who this God is. And so that we remember who we are. And, what our money story is to be.
So much of our beliefs and our behaviors are rooted in stories. Narratives that are personal, familial, societal, cultural, and religious. We subconsciously absorb and construct many money stories. Perhaps our money stories are about scarcity. Coming from or living in stories of fear and shame. Of never having enough. Perhaps they are stories that the church is dying and no longer relevant. Or the stories that our actions in this world won’t have any impact.
How might we begin to unpack and reconstruct these stories to make them a better reflection of who we know God to be? Who we remember God to be. The God of scripture. The God who meets Israel in the wilderness with manna. Who, even in the midst of desperate and fearful prayers, provides. Abundantly. An extravagantly loving God. Never content with just a heavenly kingdom. But who pours out that love into a Spirit-breathed creation. To bring life and freedom. This is the God we remember.
May we, over these weeks, begin to tease apart our own complicated money stories. To rewrite them if necessary. So that they more fully reflect what we believe. Who God is. And who we remember and know this God to be. Our Father, Lord of heaven and earth. Amen.
 Brueggemann, Walter. Money and Possessions. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016). 23.
Sunday, August 16, 2020
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, we made it! We have been in 2nd Corinthians for five weeks as of today. Immersed in this letter that is considered one of Paul’s most theologically dense writings. I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of exhausted. Yet, today, we come to the place really where the “rubber meets the road.” For the first seven chapters, Paul has been trying to explain to the church in Corinth the nature of his apostolic ministry - a ministry patterned after the life of Christ. And, in turn, what the nature of their ministry is to be. And my ministry. And your ministry.
So, this morning we see how all that Paul has talked about up to now is manifested in the most practical of ways. We read from 2nd Corinthians, chapter 8.
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
“The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.” --2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (NRSV)
Throughout all of 2nd Corinthians, Paul uses these themes of giving and receiving. Of reciprocity. If we think back to the first week, when our focus was on the word, consolation, we learned that within the body of Christ our suffering is mutual. When Christ suffers, we suffer. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. We are bound together in suffering and in consoling one another. There is reciprocity - a sense of suffering and consolation, of giving and receiving. An interconnectedness.
Then, in week two, we heard Paul talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. How Paul could have, in his anger and hurt, walked away from the Corinthian congregation. But that he didn’t. And instead, he moved in. Closer to them. Forgiving them. And seeking to be reconciled with them. A true and reciprocal witness of Jesus and of Jesus’ own love and reconciliation for us.
In the third week, we listened as Paul compared us to earthen vessels. Cracked and broken clay jars into which God has poured God’s Spirit. This treasure, this life that God has worked and continues to work in us that points to Christ. A life lived reciprocally, in response to the gift - the gracious gift of God’s mercy and love. And a life that, as we heard last week, through which we walk by faith, trusting in the steadfast love of God, and shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Today is where all of this comes to fruition. Manifested through the reciprocity of love. If we truly believe that God is love and that the nature of this love is manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus - love poured out for us in grace, then our only response can be love. Love that manifests itself in the most practical of ways. In generosity. By caring for one another, for our world, and for all that God has created.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
In these weeks that we’ve been reflecting on what was happening in the church in Corinth, on the conflict there, not only between members of the community, but between the community and Paul himself, one of the issues Paul has been dealing with is that of his apostolic authority. His ministry has come under attack. He, personally, has come under attack, with false apostles and members of the congregation challenging his attributes as a leader. That he is not polished enough. That he is not refined enough. That his speaking skills are inadequate.
What Paul understands by these attacks is that the church in Corinth does not yet grasp the full meaning of apostleship. Not just his apostleship, but theirs, as well.
And so, we begin this morning in the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians, where Paul continues the idea from last week of the treasure we have in earthen vessels. Paul’s theology was deeply grounded in the life of Christ, specifically in the death and resurrection of Christ. As this first part of today’s reading opens, we see Paul using metaphor - images familiar to him and to those in the Corinthian church - in order to help them understand the nature of life and death. We read, beginning with verse 1.