Sunday, February 17, 2019

In Memory of Mr. Rogers...


Tonight we watched the documentary entitled "Won't You Be My Neighbor," about Fred Rogers, his ministry, his life's work.  And it reminded me of an essay I'd written right after his death in 2003....which seems like centuries ago.  I couldn't find it electronically, but my mom and dad saved a hard copy of just about any email I ever sent to them...and so I have it printed in a binder. (Let all of that sink in.  I love parents.  I love technology. :)  )

So I typed it back in...because I want it forever.

Here's what I wrote 16 years ago...right about now:



I like to consider myself cool and contemporary, hip and liberated….a resourceful parent and recovering professional who is independent, idealist and just plain spunky.

With that out of the way, I confess that I shed tears over the passing of Mr. Rogers. I’ve actually spent a lot of time since his death pondering why I care so much.

After some soul searching, I’ve accepted something very important. I needed Mr. Rogers as a kid.  I need him even more today as a parent.  Thank God there are nearly 1000 episodes of his show in the PBS vaults to keep his memory and his message alive for at least another generation.

“Won’t you please, please won’t you be…please won’t you be my neighbor?”

My memory might be skewed by the passing years, but I remember as a child meeting Mr. Rogers in our living room almost every weekday morning, often over a lunch of grilled cheese sandwich quarters and tomato soup served on the wooden ottoman that doubled as my TV tray.  Like many of my contemporaries, I could mimic every gesture and nuance of his entrance, from the moment he turned the door handle through the last tug on his deck shoe laces.  I knew every word to every song.  I could even toss my own shoes in the air like that and catch them.

In the course of the thirty minutes that followed, I felt understood, accepted and unconditionally loved.  I felt embraced and celebrated as a child and as a person.

It was always a beautiful day in his neighborhood, and that always made my neighborhood a little brighter.

I learned how childhood staples like crayons and applesauce were mass produced thanks go Picture-Picture.  I was always a bit awed by the technology of that mysterious device.  I wished our framed oil paintings could reveal such mysteries.  Of course, we thought film strips were high tech and a real treat back then, too. Picture-Picture silently unveiled the mysteries of the world to me.

In the Neighborhood of Make Believe, I safely watched beloved friends confront their fears, disagree in safe ways, and achieve dizzying feats because they believed that they could fail safely among friends.  It was always safe to say what you felt in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  And someone always understood.  Prince Tuesday could talk to his neighbors about feeling misunderstood by adults…and more specifically, his parents.  Henrietta Pussycat could be so upset that you couldn’t understand a word she was saying (unless you were well versed in the language of cats). In spite of Lady Elaine’s knack for causing trouble, her neighbors loved her just the way she was.

Back in Mr. Rogers’ “real” neighborhood, other friendly neighbors shared their jobs, their feelings and their special talents or abilities.  They brought the big grown-up world to my small feet in a way that I could embrace, and they often even gave me ways to experiment with my own place in the world. Could I be a deep sea diver? A baker? A storyteller? A dancer?  I especially loved visitors that sat at the kitchen table and played with Mr. Rogers, joining him on a trip to the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  It was so intriguing to watch adults play.  It made adults approachable.

“I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you. I hope that you’re as proud as I am proud of you…”

Years passed and I became a jaded adolescent.  Like my entire generation, a world of mass media unfolded before me…computers, music, television, magazines all bombarding me.  I watched Eddie Murphy waltz on to the set of Saturday Night Live spoofing Mr. Rogers, oozing overdone charm, mocking the zipped up cardigan, omnipresent smile and sugary tone of voice.  I laughed as he made fun of Mr. Rogers’ simplified view of the world.  I joined my peers, rolling my eyes and reports about Mr. Rogers’ waning popularity. I chuckled at the inevitable jokes that circulated.  …And then somewhere along the way, I really just forgot Mr. Rogers. I  forgot the Neighborhood of Make Believe and Mr. McFeely. They evaporated as I stretched my wings and tried to become an adults, self-sufficient and empowered.  But they must have lingered with me…just out of sight.

“I like to take my time I mean, I just don’t like to do a thing. I like to take my time and do it right…”

Fred Rogers reentered the landscape of my life after my own children were born.  I suppose each of the three have taken their turn in his neighborhood.  But recently, Fred Rogers became a part of the daily ritual of my newfound career as a stay-at-home mom.  Paige is in an afternoon Pre-K program, and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood airs at 11:30, her pre-departure lunchtime.  As I am rushing to get her out the door, she frequently pleads, “...just until Mr. Rogers is done.”

Now that I’m an adult and parent, I think Mr. Rogers would invite me to call him Fred…sort of a rite of passage in the neighborhood.  I now revisit Mr. Rogers through Paige’s eager eyes.  At the same time, I have the pleasure of discovering Fred Rogers through my own eyes all over again…this time as a parent who desperately wants to follow in Fred Rogers’ footsteps by doing the right thing…for my kids, for my neighborhood and for the world around me.

I think I know why I’ve spent so many moments mourning Fred Rogers.  It’s because in recent months, he has spoken to me as a parent and as an adult as clearly as he spoke to me as a child.  The messages are the same, but in the complexity of the current world, they have even greater impact on my everyday life.  Today, I think Fred Rogers would wan the parent and adult in all of us to know that:

…the world is sometimes a scary place.  It’s ok to be scared.  We all play tough some of the time, but we all have fears.  It helps to tell someone how you feel. They might be scared too, and it will help to listen to their fears.

…it pays to take the time to do it right.  That goes for laundry, homework and budgeting. But it also goes for family relationships, careers and world diplomacy.

…we could all benefit from some role playing in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood…a place where we are safe to express our feelings to others, to test their reactions and to apologize for our mistakes or gracefully accept their apologies. Imagine taking the time before a tough encounter with a co-worker to slip into the Neighborhood of Make Believe and to work it out with Lady Aberline, Lady Elaine or Daniel Tiger.

…we all want to be heard.  To be heard, we must listen, too.  We must listen to ourselves, to our spouses, to our kids, to our neighbors, our co-workers and the world community around us.

…kids and parents both have feelings.  So do bosses and employees.  So do pastors and congregations.  So do teachers and students. So do world superpowers and third world nations. Authority is not an excuse for failing to listen and respect those feelings.

“I’ll be back when the day is through, and I’ll have more ideas for you. And you’ll have things you want to talk about.  I will too.”

I’ll never get to meet Fred Rogers in person.  I’ll never be able to thank him for reaching me as a child and perhaps more importantly as an adult.  My kids will know his shows thanks to technology and with any hope, they too will grow up feeling capable and strong. They will learn to listen to the world around them.  They’ll care about their neighborhood. And they’ll raise children with the same basic values.

There’s always a lot of hope in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, and that makes my neighborhood seem more hopeful, too.  For that, Mr. Rogers, I thank you.


The World Turns Upside Down - The Way (Part 3)

I found myself commuting to DC this week on a day when I was kind of wrestling with life.  I was frustrated by the complexity of the world.  I was frustrated by our endless disagreements as a country about whether or not to build a wall. I was frustrated by our polarized language for “pro-life” and “pro-choice” as if there are not any shades of gray between those things. I was frustrated by suggestions that faith and politics are separate things and should not mingle.  I was frustrated by the United Methodist church of my childhood, a global connection of 7 million + members that is wrestling to agree on how to read the Bible— which in practical terms translates to how we will or will not fully include gays, lesbians, folks who identify as transgendered in our leadership and in the life of our communities.  My brain is always going full tilt, and on this particular day it was full of hard things.

By now you’ve figured out that music is often the backdrop of my musings and my wrestling.

So in that state of frustration, I was longing for the simplistic, idealistic, Jesus is my homeboy praise music of 20 years ago…

Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of You be still
(I Can Only Imagine, MercyMe, 2001)

Or…

Savior
He can move the mountains
My God is Mighty to save
He is Mighty to save
(Hillsong United, 2006)

I wanted to be comforted by the idea that God’s got this…that I am saved and that’s that.  I wanted to wrap myself in the words “God is good all the time….all the time God is good.”

But I was also keenly aware that while those things might be comfortable, all of those things have meanings far deeper than I necessarily want to think or act on in any given day.  It actually was the complexity of who God is and how God works and how I am called into the midst of that which was the backdrop to my wrestling.

You see, while I have been frustrated with the world around me this week, I am also wrestling with the difficult path that is the Way of Jesus Christ…perhaps I’m frustrated with the world around me because of the Way of Jesus Christ — A Way that won’t let me sing or speak those words without pondering and accepting how I must actually be willing to be changed by what I believe.

We are in our third week of exploring what it means to follow the Way of Jesus, that is to live as a disciple on a narrow path in a secular world that is largely not paying attention to God, let alone God made flesh to dwell among us.  This Way is the path that Jesus followed himself, the path he called the disciples to follow, the path we’re still called to follow along today.

Have I mentioned the path is narrow?  This is one of those weeks in the text that really drives that home.  And it has made me uncomfortable preparing this week.  I suspect it will make us uncomfortable as a community in some ways.

That’s sort of my warning about today.  This might be a tough one to bear.

Choosing to follow the way is costly.

It will cost us relationships. It will cost us material and relational comfort. It will cost us the anxiety of speaking out about things with our neighbors, our families, our friends and one another here in the Ferndale community.  It will cost us the discomfort of choosing to be something other than “mainstream” in this world.

But the fruit of a faithful response is the way we change, and the way world changes.

The way much can be shared by many.
The way the poor are lifted up, the blind helped to see,
the lame walk
and the oppressed are made free.
The way love changes things
…because we’re loving one another instead of seeking a win.
The way gratitude seeps from our pores.
The way we suddenly are beaming with fruits of the spirit
 – things like generosity, joy, gentleness, patience, self-control.

Do you believe it? That we are changed when we choose to follow the Way of Jesus Christ? That the world changes when we choose to follow The Way of Jesus Christ?

Here’s the “two line sermon” for this week:
The Way turns the world upside down.
And in doing so, the Way brings the Kingdom of God into the here and now.

We’re exploring this call to follow the Way largely through Luke’s gospel, written to make very clear that Jesus falls in line with the prophets of the Hebrew scripture.  For the past two weeks, we’ve seen how Jesus’ message and teachings are described by the gospel writer to model prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Remembering that each of the gospels is written by a particular person writing to a particular audience with a particular context, Luke has made it vitally important to highlight how Jesus mirrors the prophets of old and how Jesus is in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, a messenger of justice and mercy.

Last week, the Hebrew scripture from Isaiah set up the formula of a divine call from God for us.  This week’s scripture from Jeremiah sets up another formula found in scripture — a formula of blessings and curses. This idea of blessings and curses begins in the Hebrew Scripture, in Deuteronomy. Essentially, in Hebrew scripture, there is an economy of sorts to the covenant that God forges with the Israelites, and in Deuteronomy, Moses shares with the Israelites how they will be cursed for failing to abide by the covenant and how they will be blessed if they do… “If you will only obey the Lord your God by diligently observing his commandments….Blessed will be the fruit of your womb…But if you will not obey…cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl…

But the prophet Jeremiah picks up this familiar language of blessings and curses …you are cursed when you trust mortals and make flesh your strength…turning away from the Lord.  Blessed are those who trust in the Lord – as a result they will thrive like a tree planted in water….

Picking up on this familiar way of framing things – this is the blessing and this is the corresponding curse – Jeremiah is setting up an expectation for Judah’s behavior and relationship with God.  Unlike similar language in Deuteronomy,  Jeremiah highlights something important about a relationship with God…something a little more complicated or perhaps nuanced than Torah – the written laws.  How is it that Judah trusts in God?

Luke, in his ongoing attempt to be sure that we understand this Jesus is a big-deal prophet, echoes this language of blessings and curses kind of – focusing on what is blessing and what is “woe.”

Now…if you’ve spent time studying scripture, this sounds familiar …but maybe not “quite” what sticks in your head.  This is Jesus’ sermon on the plain (… “he came down with them and stood on a level place…”) which is the parallel to the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s gospel. We commonly associated the sermon on the mount with the beatitudes… Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor in spirit…  The sermon on the mount is actually a much longer teaching with some common themes, but this in Luke is framed very differently.  In my experience, sometimes these stories that appear similarly get blended together in our minds.

Let’s pay attention to some details in this Luke text. Because it is easy to gloss over some thing that really matter for our understanding of the Way of Jesus.  Luke is doing some specific things here.

“He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Jude’s, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.  They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured.  And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them….

Then he looked up at his disciples and said….”

And at that point, he begins teaching the disciples.  This is not an address to the crowds. It is a teaching directly to his disciples…those he’s called away from their daily lives to go deeper, to follow him day by day.  And he’s teaching them something quite hard, especially as we read it today.

First, Jesus is framing current circumstances and future conditions… just because something is now, doesn’t mean that it always will be For those who are poor, hungry or who weep, there is goodness coming. What is now will not be forever.  That is good news, right?

Second, Jesus has a word for those who are gifted now with stuff and power. Wealth, plenty and laughter may change…and surely will.  Your circumstances will change…and that will be hard. Woe to you…

Let’s be really honest here.  For 99% of us sitting in this room, we are rich, full and laughing.
That is our reality.  Even if we think our life is hard, for us, life is actually pretty flush.  We are here, we have the wherewithal and relationships to get help for the things we need to survive.  We live in a time and a part of the world where material well-being is significant.

And if we read this as disciples – people who choose to walk in the Way of Jesus Christ seeking to grow more and more like Him each day, that puts us pretty solidly on the “woe” side and not the “blessed” side of the formula.

Are we aware of our circumstances?  Are we aware of those whose circumstances are not like ours?

This week, I spent a lot of time wrestling with what it means to be among the rich, the full and the laughing.  My choice to follow the Way of Jesus doesn’t mean I get to sing the glorious praise, attend to worship and take comfort in a relationship with my personal Lord and Savior…

Because while I have a personal relationship, when I am being guided in and by that relationship, Jesus is looking at me and saying:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God…
…but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation…

Because I’m pretty sure the next line, when my eyes are locked with Jesus, is “So what are you going to do about it?”

The good news is that Jesus spent time with folks in both columns of the equation — those who needed to receive God’s blessing for their hard lives and with those who spread banquet tables full of rich foods and good wine. Because he loved them all and knew the Kingdom of God needed all of them.

What am I going to do with my current comfort then? My wellness?  My current well-being?

This is hard stuff.

The Way turns the world upside down.
And in doing so, the Way brings the Kingdom of God into the here and now.

When I think of something being turned upside down, I think of what happens with a full vessel when that happens.

What happens when we empty this vessel?  We make room for more, don’t we?

God is good, all the time.  When we say that, we have to be willing to remember that we are called to pour ourselves out as part of how God works in the world.

The Way turns the world upside down –
and to be filled, we are called to empty ourselves…so that we can be filled up again in relationship with Jesus.

May it be so.  Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Called to The Way, We Discover Our Calling (Part 2)

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 (9 – 13)
Luke 5: 1 -11

We continue this morning to explore The Way of Jesus Christ – that is a path that Jesus followed, Jesus led other on, and Jesus continues to call us to and guide us on today.

We discover this path using scripture and the traditions of our faith, our reason and intellect and our real life experience of the divine and of the world around us…because the Way is not revealed to us in any one of those sources alone.

Today, I want us to hold on to this:
We are called to The Way.  And The Way will reveal our call.

Let’s begin with scripture.

Last week, we heard Jeremiah’s call story, and this week, you heard the dramatic beginning of Isaiah’s.  The call stories of the prophets typically follow a formula…

some sort of revelation of the Divine,
a reaction of unworthiness,
reassurance that indeed the called prophet is enough,
a commissioning (a task and sending forth with blessing)
and an obedient response from the called.

It’s good to know these things always happen in a predictable way, right?

Not so much when we depart from scripture and look at experience…but maybe that is for another time…

I want to read the part this selection left out – the next words of dialogue between the Holy and the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:9-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
And he said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
    and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
    and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
    whose stump remains standing
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

This is a conversation between God and Isaiah in which Isaiah is getting specific instruction about what he is to say and do.  My Harper Collins study bible summarizes this instruction this way:  “The message God gives Isaiah will not lead to repentance, but to the hardening of people’s hearts, thus making them ripe for God’s judgment.”

So…that is not quite as hopeful as, “here I am, send me!”  Can you imagine the range of emotions here – an amazing experience of the divine that includes a pretty clear call to pay attention and follow a direction….but then the direction includes wreck and ruin and judgment.

Preparing the way is not a triumphant path for Isaiah.

Isaiah is actually being commissioned to a failure of sorts – at least a failure by the standards we think of in our world.  Listen to the hardships and confessions of the people but do not hear it. Don’t receive their “turning back to God,” returning to the right way, (their t’shuvah!).  And eventually, only a few will survive the days to come.

Like last week’s call to Jeremiah, there is an unexpected expectation of something other than what society calls good and successful.

We often wrestle in the Tuesday bible study about the times God is harsh in the Hebrew Scripture…this is one of those threatening, smiting God moments. But I think the central message we can take today is that not all call is simple and rosy. God calls us to God’s purposes…which are not always or even often the world’s purposes.

Our Gospel text continues in Luke.  Remember that 6 months ago we were often reading Mark and talking about how few words and how much urgency there was to Mark’s gospel?  Luke’s gospel has WAY more detail…

Jesus has been traveling and teaching and healing after departing his home town of Nazareth, driven out by his angry childhood neighbors.  In the verses that come before today’s text, Jesus has healed the mother-in-law of a man Simon…this is the first we hear of Simon, and then we arrive at today’s call story.

Jesus is along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (which Luke’s gospel refers to as the late of Gennesaret), and the crowd that seeks him out is growing.  I have this image of realizing there are no good sight lines --- no way on a lake shore to find the place where Jesus can be seen and heard without risking folks ending up in the lake…and so Jesus summons a nearby fishing boat.

The owner of that boat is Simon. He’s at the shore, washing his nets, which would indicate that he’s done with a night of fishing and returning to shore for the day.

Jesus asks him to take the boat out a bit from the shore so that he can be seen and heard while teaching the growing crowd.  And Simon does as he’s asked. Remember this man Jesus had just cured Simon’s mother-in-law.

We don’t know what Jesus taught that day. That is not what this story is about.

I do imagine Simon sitting there, thinking about the prior night’s work and what he might be missing on shore – like more work, a meal, his family…

We haven’t heard yet that his night of fishing had gone poorly, but with the benefit of knowing that now, I imagine him counting the cost of a bad haul and a lost day of rest and preparation for the next fishing excursion.

…all with Jesus sitting in his boat, teaching in a big preacher voice to a crowd on the shore. (Can you imagine that?)

When Jesus is done teaching, he turns to Simon and his clean nets and says…go out further and drop your nets again.
And Simon protests a bit – I’ve tried that, it was a bad night.  But if you say so…
And he goes out further, drops his nets and is so overwhelmed by fish that he has to call for back up.
And then two boats are nearly too full to float.

Like the pattern of call we see among the prophets, the divine has been revealed to Simon and those with him including James and John in an unbelievable haul of fish.  Simon’s response is to announce how unworthy he is.  Jesus reassures him and tells him what he will be doing from now on – catching people.  And they – Simon, James and John – left everything to follow this teacher.

They left everything.  Their boats. Their equipment. Their families. Their homes.

Everything.

That’s a really big ask, isn’t it?

This theme of call, one that repeats itself time and again in the scriptures, should be nagging at us a bit.  I think sometimes we look at scripture and all those characters and see them as “other,” not us, examples but not archetypes for our own selves, “those people were special, they weren’t me, this isn’t actually about me – it is about them…it’s about other’s “like” them.”

Guess what? We are like them.

I love the way the Holy Spirit moves in my devotional life, because this showed up in my daily devotional email this week form the Society of St. John the Evangelist…words from Brother Nicholas Bartoli…

“Being made in God’s image means we are children of God as Jesus was, inheriting Jesus’ ministry of reflecting and recognizing the light of Christ in the world. And by this simple act of recognition it becomes perfectly natural that in God’s Kingdom, our kingdom, our dominion is one of relating to all of creation as intimately as mother, father, brother, sister.”

It is still the season of Epiphany in the church year.  That’s a fancy way of saying this is a season when we’re still really paying attention to the way Jesus was God’s Son, fully divine but fully human, sent to experience humanness with us, alongside of us.

And by that miracle, we are included as flesh in God’s family.  Brothers and sisters in and of Jesus.  And by that relationship, we are called to relate to all of creation….like Jesus did.

I guess what I am saying is that we don’t get a pass on this.

We are, all of us, called in some way.

First, we’re called to follow this Way – with a capital W – the way that Jesus taught and continues to show us today.

But also, when we are following on that WAY, we will discover the other way or ways we are called.

It is inevitable.  I’ve seen it time and again.  In my own life.  In the lives of so many others. We’re called to be in relationship to a living God and as a result of that relationship we are inevitably called to be and do differently in this world.

For a moment, let’s think about what we might learn about that “call” in light of what we’ve heard and understood in scripture.

Call is where the ordinary meets the extraordinary and is transformed. These ordinary fishermen had a specific lifestyle and skillset.  But in meeting Jesus, in following Jesus, in learning from Jesus, they were changed into something new and different.  Simon Peter emerges as the rock upon which the church is built.  A long way from casting nets in the Sea of Galilee.

It seems that call seldom has prerequisite skills.  You’ve probably heard it said that God doesn’t call the prepared but prepares the called.  I believe this in my deepest being – again, not so much because of what the bible says, but because I see it happen time and time again.  You hear me say it almost every Sunday – you are created by a loving God how has created and equipped you with all the gifts you need to go out and light the world. You may discover a need to gain some new skills, but it – the ability, the capacity - is there in you…

Call affirms that we are enough.  Each of us. Just as we are.  We are enough.  Back to the idea – God will prepare you as God calls you.

Call is full of surprises.  Very few of us are sitting in anxious anticipation of a booming heavenly voice to tell us what it is we are to do.  Here’s the thing….not all call happens that way.  We read about the dramatic calls of scripture, but what about the still, small voice that someone experiences?  What about that nagging sense that we are able to make a difference, or should make a difference?  What about the fact that three or four people have asked you to do something specific that you hadn’t really considered before?  God’s booming voice sometimes shows up in the requests and observations, nudging and encouragement of others.

Call is disruptive.  Oftentimes we are called away from something we love.  Or we’re called at a time that couldn’t be more inconvenient. In my own experience, we can resist the disruption that we think the call creates, but often a soul disruption happens until we find it in our faithfulness to respond to that call.

EVERYONE has a call on their lives.  No, really.  Everyone.  Maybe not a call to preach or a call to teach or a call to feed the homeless.  But God is calling you to something even now.  And calls can be for a lifetime, or a season.

But we have to be paying attention, listening, waiting, exploring.
We have to be willing, faithful, grateful.

We are called to The Way.  And The Way will reveal our Call.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Way Isn't Always What We Expect... (Part 1)





This week, we start a new journey. 

We start on a journey that looks at the Way we’re called to follow.

And I mean “the Way” with a capital W. 

Because for the next five weeks, we’re going to walk with Jesus and the disciples, thinking about how Jesus’ ministry unfolded and what that might have to do with us today.  How it might shape our following in his WAY in the world today.

Last week, I quoted a song by DC Talk, What if IStumble.  It bears repeating…because many of you have asked some important questions over the past month about how we move in the world, what we’re called to do, who we’re called to be. 
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

The song goes on with these lyrics:
Father please forgive me for I can not compose
The fear that lives within me
Or the rate at which it grows
If struggle has a purpose
On the narrow road you've carved
Why do I dread my trespasses will leave a deadly scar

Do they see the fear in my eyes?
Are they so revealing?
This time I cannot disguise
All the doubt I'm feeling

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?

So…the lyrics come from a Christian musician, whose paycheck is tied to producing Christian music that is real and that is vital and that shapes people and does not mislead people about who God is and what God is doing in the world today.  But that same musician knows he is “only human.”  He knows that sometimes he is imperfect.  And he’s wondering about those times he steps or falls off the path…. “the narrow road you’ve carved” and stepping off that path might misrepresent Christ in the world.

The job title “Christian” is a weighty thing.

I wonder, can you be a Christian without being a disciple?  I don’t think so.  And so then, the title disciple becomes a weighty thing.  I think the job description for a disciple reads something like this:

Follower of the Way of Jesus Christ, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding, relationship and connection to the triune God – that is the creator, redeemer, sustainer…Father, Son, Spirit…parent, intercessor, life force.  Necessary to be a lifelong learner with humility, a heart for service, and a focus on staying on the path and inviting others along the way. Ability to be in relationship with others on the same path, at various points on the path, at all times.  Must exhibit grace – for oneself and others – because the path is long, at times treacherous, at other times overwhelmingly joyful. Must navigate among shades of grey because there is no black or white.  Must have a capacity to see their commitment to this role as their greatest identity, overriding race, nationality, job training, citizenship and cultural norms.  Over time, the path becomes familiar, the traveling companions are reliable, fruits of the spirit emerge.

Would you willingly apply?

So this is the backdrop for our exploration of what Jesus is doing in scripture over these next few weeks.  And my hope is that this series will lead us right up to the season of Lent where we are going to explore the concept of T’shuva – turning and returning when we’ve wandered off the path.

And so today we begin with the path.  The way.
Ready?

The Way may not be going where we expect….In fact, the Way might take us where we do not think we want to go.  The Way may require us to do hard things. But God is with us on The Way.

I want to highlight something in our reading from Hebrew scripture this morning.  Jeremiah is describing his call story.  God declares that he knows Jeremiah and has a plan for him, and Jeremiah makes some excuses –

Woo GOD…that is a big ask, I am only a boy.

Jeremiah is pretty clear about what he can’t do.  But God’s response is faith in what Jeremiah can and will do…with God’s help.

If you are willing to squint and be light hearted here, God’s answer is kind of a take down – like, hush your mouth. IT doesn’t really matter if you are a boy or not, because I’m actually doing the thing here – I’ll give you the words you need and I’ll tell you where to go, and I’ll save you from the bad things.  You are just the vessel.

God goes on to basically say, I’m giving you what you need and with that power, you are to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

I am notorious for collaborative meetings where I get somewhat frustrated and say, how about instead of talking about what we can’t do, we focus on what we can do?

Then in the Gospel reading, we pick up this week with the last verse that we read last week – Jesus has read from the scroll in the synagogue, offered some teaching.  The attentive audience is amazed….

It’s hard to read all the social cues when we are told that folks marveled, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  Are they surprised that Joseph’s son would teach?  Are they surprised Joseph’s son would claim to fulfill prophecy they’ve been waiting on? Are they in awe of the fact this is unfolding in their little corner of the world? 

We don’t really know. 

What we do know is that his next words create quite a reaction.  Jesus gets salty. 

I like it when Jesus gets salty, especially when he’s about to drop a shocking truth bomb
…Of course no one is going to get it here in my hometown…
But both Elijah and Elisha performed miracles to save folks who were decidedly NOT Jewish.

In a time and place where land was power and the outcomes of political battles were seen as signs of God’s favor, the ancient prophets Elijah and Elisha were moving in time and space when the Israel seemed to be closed off from God’s mercy.  These were difficult political times when the Israelites desperately needed someone to show them that God still loved them best, God still was on “their side…”  And in the midst of that expectation, both Elijah and Elisha ended up helping the enemy…

So, in the midst of the oppression of Roman occupation, a new era of the Jewish people feeling threatened, Jesus shows up, proclaims he’s the Messiah…and that he’s going to work much like the ancient prophets.  God’s power is not JUST for the Jews.

This makes the hometown crowd angry, and Luke describes something like a mob driving Jesus away.

I suppose it is hard to hear that the person that you think has come to save you might actually love your enemy too.  Or at the very least, that he’s not come to save your nation so much as the poor and oppressed no matter their background.

We desperately want God to be on “our” side…which must mean that God is not on the side of those who are something other than us, right?  Other faith identities.  Other ethnic identities. Other political identities.  Other sides of the tracks.

And with that mindset, surely if we have needs, our needs will take precedent over theirs? Whoever “they” might be…

But right here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his very actions testify to the wideness of God’s saving action in the world. 

Do you remember with whom, other than the disciples, Jesus has the longest dialogue in the gospels?

With the woman at the well.  Who was… not a Jew.  She was a Samaritan. 

In Jesus, God enters into the world in human flesh not to condemn or destroy the other…but to erase the idea that anyone is “other…”
That anyone is beyond the reach of God’s saving action.  
That anyone is not our neighbor, whom we are commanded to love.

Our gospel lesson ends with the angry mob chasing Jesus toward a cliff.

“…but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

A way that is not the way they would have him go.

As we set out to understand this way, this seems a fundamental thing – to know that this is not a way to condemn those with whom we disagree…  This is not a way to elevate myself over and against another. 

It is a way that invites all. 
It is a way that has room for all.
It is a way that I am called to walk, loving my neighbor at every step.

Amen.