Sunday, June 26, 2022

6.26.22 "Hand-Me-Down Clothing" - Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

 2 Kings 2.1-14; Luke 9.57-62

I love our story for the morning - Elijah and Elisha … teacher and student ... it’s so wonderfully human … 

Three times Elijah tries to get away from Elisha!

He has things to do … he doesn’t want Elisha tagging along.

Elijah finally relents, and off they go on the last hurrah … like a Rolling Stones concert at the Hollywood Bowl … 

Note the direction of travel - from Gilgal and Jericho to the Jordan … 

And then crossing over on dry land, to the east ... turning back the clock of history - the route used by Israel centuries earlier - when Israel left the Wilderness, after 40 years of wandering, to enter the Promised Land. Retracing these steps, Elijah takes Elisha to the beginning, the east side of the Jordan River.

From here to there … and back again … a rehearsal of the fundamental  story.

Elijah knows it’s time … time to get his affairs in order, time to say farewell … to visit the schools, to see his students at work, now in their maturity, fulfilling the call of God … 

Elijah knows it’s time … and Elisha tags along … 

"Leave me alone” says Elijah, “can't you see I'm busy? I'm tired; give me a break; I’ve got work to do.” 

Elisha has none of it ... he didn't like goodbyes ... Elisha knew this goodbye would be final ... he wasn't ready to give way ... he stayed with Elijah.

Goodbyes are hard …

Donna's father came to this country when he was 4 years old, 1911 … he came with his parents and seven siblings - he remembered a poignant moment at the train station in Winterswijk, the Netherlands - he was on the train, ready to go, looking out to the platform, and there was his grandmother, seated on a bench, weeping ... she knew she'd never see them again ... and that little boy looking out the window remembered the image for the rest of his life - Gramma on the bench, weeping.

I don't like goodbyes, either … I’m an emotional wreck when it comes to goodbyes … 

In just such moments, we realize - life is fleeting and fragile ... the prospect of the last moment, woven into the fabric of time … the last embrace, the last kiss, the last goodbye, the last dance ... it's painful when time presses in upon us with such unrelenting force ... we know it to be true, like it or not; it's just the way it is … we know what the passage of time is doing. 

LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.

Elisha refused to let Elijah go ... until there were no more moments left.

Elijah is swept up in a whirlwind - separated from Elisha by a chariot of fire pulled by fiery horses ... an image of God … God in the divide … God on the boundary, in the gap, on the edge … between time and eternity … heaven and earth … life and death.

In a heartbeat, Elijah is gone.

Yet the story goes on … 

Elijah leaves behind a hand-me-down cloak … as good as new.

Elijah’s mantle - a cape, a covering, a robe, a wrap - with fringes, embroidery - symbols of God's ordination ... the Prophet's work ... from one generation to another.

Today, we celebrate our Elijahs!

And hand-me-down clothes, as good as new.

I think of Burt, my Sunday School teacher … I must have been in second or third grade … Hope Reformed Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin - in the church kitchen where our class met … I asked a question (no recollection what it was), and the class laughed - but it was Burt, my Sunday School teacher, who didn’t laugh … he took my question seriously … I don’t know what he said in reply, but I know that he affirmed who I was - that moment, so long ago, has never left my mind - I wear his mantle … he was my Elijah.

I think of Aunt Lala - her name was Sylvia, but in my mouth, it became Lala, and the name stuck - she was Lala forever … even as I was her Tommy.

She knew my mother was a mess … my mother, a harsh and jealous women, angry at the world, it would seem … abusive of my brother and me, and abusive of my father … looking back to those days, Lala always made me feel ten feet tall … and I’ll always be grateful … I wear her mantle … she was my Elijah.

Last week, at a study group, the question came up: “Who are those who have shaped your life?”

Three names came immediately to mind, three ministers from my youth: 

Henry Ver Meer, tall and spare with a crown of white hair ... 

Harold Colenbrander, sort and portly, with dark hair ... 

Jerome DeJong - serious in demeanor and firm in his convictions.

All three are remembered for their intelligence, their passion ... two characteristics I have sought in my own way to embody - to know the faith as best I can, to proclaim the faith with heart and soul ... I wear their mantles … they were my Elijahs.

I could name any number of Elijahs … some known to me … many others unknown …  who, in their own way, gave life to me … a mantle for me to wear.

In the larger sense of life, I can speak of creation, Christ, church - all three have given so much to me.

And, then, family, friends, and America - I am fortunate beyond words.

Elijahs all around me … I count my blessings, and I run outta numbers … I’ve got a closet full of mantles - capes and coats, wraps and cloaks … everyone of them, a gift!

Who are YOUR Elijahs?

Whose mantles you wear today?

Hand-me-down clothing, for sure … and good as new  - love and kindness never grow threadbare … grace, mercy, and peace are always in style … compassion, commitment to the truth, a willingness to put life on the line for justice - mantles ready to wear - any time, any place!

Who are your Elijahs? To whom is owed a debt of gratitude?

With a question - about the future … who are your Elishas - who are tagging along with YOU? … looking to YOU, for a mantle to wear?  

To God be the glory.

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

6.19.22 "Our Father" - Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

 Psalm 43; Matthew 6.5-15

Happy Father’s Day …

May it be a good day for all of you … maybe some hamburgers on the grill? … dinner out? … a stroll through the park? … a movie? … or just plain old relaxing - feet up, a drink, and some Netflix.

On a more somber note, it’s Juneteenth … June 19, 1865, our fellow Americans were finally and

completely freed … what the Emancipation Proclamation set in motion in 1863 was finally realized only after all Confederate-controlled areas were liberated, especially so in Texas. 

And a reminder to all of us - the struggle still to realize - equality of all, equality of opportunity, equality of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Which ties into the purpose of my sermon for today!

To be mindful of reality … the power of words.

For some, the word “father” has an unhappy meaning … 

For millions of women throughout the Christian world, male supremacy, male domination, male control, has done a terrible injustice … women denied a place in life … the church deprived of their talent, leadership, wisdom, compassion, intellect. 

For many women (and men, too), “father” has an unhappy meaning.

Language is powerful … the words we use, and how we use the words.

With words , God created the heavens and the earth … with words, Hitler seduced a nation and took the world to hell.

With words, Lincoln lifted up the noble ideals of equality and the abolition of slavery … with words, Jefferson Davis sought the destruction of the Union to perpetuate human enslavement.

Language is powerful.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” … is hardly the truth … words cut to the core, slash the heart … steal away a person’s sense of worth … words can destroy a child.

Language is powerful.

A change of language can help …

Here’s a feminist reading of Psalm 23:

Yahweh is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing.

She makes me lie down in green pastures. She leads me beside still waters.

She restores my soul. She guides me in the paths of righteousness for her name's sake.

To think of God only as a male is deficient … we are created in the image of God, both male and female … every version of humanity … every race, color, ethnicity, gender … tall, short, wide, and wonderful …

When Jesus addresses God as Father, what is his purpose?

To inspire trust … 

Especially when life goes off the rails … 

When we can’t see God, when our souls are depleted, when there’s nothing left of us … there is a yet a love woven into the fabric of our existence … a divine Yes! No second-thoughts or questions on God’s part … a love, total and eternal. 

When Jesus is baptized, there’s a voice from heaven, This is my son, with whom I’m well pleased … words repeated on the Mt. of Transfiguration, with this added, Listen to him.

Listen to Jesus … his words carry the weight of life …  

Born in a small town, at a time when the Empire forced everyone to return to their ancestral homes for registration … “registration” you ask?

Yes, for taxes, military purposes … 

The Empire flexes its muscles, makes sure everyone knows who’s boss, who’s in charge, who runs the show. There’s no room in the inn, and there’s no room anywhere when an empire of steel and blood runs the world.

Herod, the puppet king, gets wind of a contender for the throne, when some Seers from the East come to Herod to inquire about what they’ve seen in the stars.

Herod, all oily and smarmy, says, “Oh yes, and when you find him, let me know where he is, so I can worship him, too.”

The Seers visit the Holy Child, and then warned by an angel, return home another way … they skip out on the meeting with Herod. 

Herod’s furious … asks his advisors about the situation, and they say, “Well, it might just be Bethlehem!”

Herod dispatches the troops to kill all the children - his own version of Order 66.

Mary and Joseph, warned by an angel, run for their lives.

All the way to Egypt. 

They escape the slaughter; but there’s no escape for that little town, and all of its children … Rachel weeps for her children, because they are no more.

After Herod’s death, Mary, Joseph, and the child return.

We know next to nothing of Jesus before his baptism - Luke says he’s growing up just fine … in the ways of the LORD.

And then his baptism, an ordination of sorts - Jesus is 30 years old, a time when a man could become a rabbi … 

After his baptism, the Spirit sends him into the wilderness … the Evil One offers him easy answers … the easy way out … the slick way, the clever way, the religious way - easy answers … all of them dead wrong.

In that wilderness, Jesus is hungry, tired, weary, but he stays the course; he stands firm; he remains faithful.

Now his work begins …

People sick, desperate, poor, vulnerable, vulnerable to religious flimflam … some given to violence, others flee into the wilderness, to live in caves and eat locusts … some make an arrangement with the Empire, just to make a living, to get by, to survive, some thrive on the injustice of the Empire - some get rich, like Zacchaeus the tax collector … … and across the landscape of Palestine, the ever-present Roman cross - just to make sure everybody understands who’s boss.

In time, the work of Jesus goes south … literally south, from Galilee to the fabled city of Jerusalem, the city on a hill … 

John the Baptist - arrested, executed.

Jesus - arrested and crucified.

In agony and death, Jesus knows what it means to doubt, to doubt everything - he cries out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 And then, with his last breath, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

The words of Jesus point us in the right direction, to the love of God … the divine, unconditional, Yes … Our Father who art in heaven …

Call God Father, call God Mother, call God sister, brother … friend, fellow traveler … call God Mountain, Light, or Love … call God Hope, Peace, Kindness, or Promise … call God Mystery, Wonder, Rock, or Lamb … whatever you need.

Our Promise, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …

Our Light and our Hope, who art in heaven … give us this day our daily bread.

Our Mother, our Friend, who art in heaven … thy will be done.

Words are all we have … we can play with words … we have to … words have been used to harm and to hurt … we have to use words to heal and to help … words to liberate, inspire, enlighten … words to set people free, throw open the doorways of the church - welcome everyone who wants a place in the sunshine of God’s love … 

Our Father, our Mother, our hope, our help, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name …

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, June 5, 2022

6.5.22 "Google Translate," Westminster Presbyterian Church Pasadena

“Speak English,” she shouted at the man … “Speak English! You’re in America now! Speak English! or go back home!”

It’s sad … very sad … and it’s wrong.

Let’s do some work this morning.

First off, language is about as personal as it gets … we all have a native tongue, the language we learned as a child … it’s our second nature - we don’t have to think about it, because it’s the language of our mind, it’s how we think, it’s how we dream … language is very much who we are … who we are is the language we speak.

Language is what we celebrate … the Bible makes it clear: language is what it means to be created in God’s image … God speaks, things happen … God’s word creates the world … Jesus is called, “The word of God incarnate” … by words we learn from one another … with words we encourage one another … we say, “I love you” … we say it with words … or sign language … we write it … create Hallmark cards, make the music and write the songs …

The power of words to harm or to heal … to incite violence, or calm the heart … words to inspire, or words to mislead … we create dictionaries - these days, on line … we take writing courses, learn how to use words effectively … we have grammar software to help us express ourselves more clearly … words are who we are, and how we live together.

Now for some biblical work …

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are sometimes called a pre-history, the backstory to the story of Israel … 

The world created by God, good and beautiful … and the hard turn taken - Cain kills Abel, and so it begins - a world given to violence … 

The flood story tells the tale of a God who gives up on the human race, a God who’s had it with the species-experiment called human.

God washes the human race outta God’s hair - nothing like a good scrubbing to clean things up.

When the rain finally stops; the flood waters recede, the animals leave the ark two-by-two … all is new … or so it would seem.

The righteous Noah and his not-so-righteous family soon fall into all the familiar patterns of fear and hurt … so what’s a self-respecting God to do?

 With the rainbow in the sky, God promises to work with the world as it is … no sense, even for God, to lament what isn’t … no use crying over spilt milk … it is what it is, and it’s the world God has to love … even for God, there is no starting over; there is only one way, and that’s the way ahead.

As the story unfolds, humankind decides to build a tower to heaven  - apparently nothing better to do … they all speak the same language, as the story goes.

Ironically, even as humankind builds toward heaven, heaven comes down, and takes a look around. 

God realizes all of this endeavor, all of this pride and power, is built upon a common language.

So, what does God do?

God confuses the language … 

With one quick command, a diversity of tongues … the tower of power and pride is abandoned … folks head out to the far reaches of the earth … north, south, east, and west … to farm the fields, fish the seas, hunt and harvest … to make this world a home.

Let’s jump now to the Day of Pentecost - a harvest festival, 50 days after Passover - a celebration of hope and renewal.

On just such a day, the Holy Spirit pays a visit to the disciples.

Tongues of flame appear above their heads, and they begin to speak in other languages … 

Out they go into the streets of the city, the festival in full swing - Jews from all over the Roman world, speaking a myriad of languages, and to everyone’s surprise, the disciples speak the languages of the world. 

Just a story? Perhaps, but a story of kindness - there is no single language required … the Gospel is proclaimed in the languages of the world.

Perhaps you know something of the Wycliffe Bible Translators - for many years now their purpose has been to translate the Bible into every language of the earth. To do so, each translator has to learn the language of the people. And then the task of creating the written version, and then the task of teaching people to read. An arduous task, for sure, but at the heart of it all, a deep and abiding sense of God’s purpose - to honor all tongues, all peoples, all races, ethnicities and cultures - because every language is sacred to God, and every language can carry the joy and hope of the gospel.

I’m not saying any of this is easy - it isn’t! To live in a city with many languages is a challenge … jokes abound about taxicab drivers … it isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. 

And remember, when we’re doing something right, it doesn’t get easier.

In a nutshell, those who scream at immigrants to “speak English,” violate God’s purpose …

Use Google Translate when needed.

Last summer, my wife and I travelled in France - our knowledge of French is nil, but we found everywhere folks who were kindly on the language - they respected us as tourists; no one said, “Speak French, or go home!”

When the menu was in French, out came our phones with Google Translate - hover over the menu, and there it is, on the screen - translated - escargot and all.

As a nation, we are healthier with a diversity of tongues!

Think of a spice cabinet!

Only salt and pepper?

Not likely, 

Rather a cabinet full of little jars and tins - rich and savory seasonings - oregano, cinnamon, chili powder, sugar, turmeric,  paprika, rosemary, cardamon, thyme, and hundreds of other herbs and spices, to flavor our food and enrich our diet. 

Hats off to the bilingual … the schools that honor the language of all the children - no ridicule, no scolding, no shame, no humiliation … 

Children of other tongues soon learn English … their parents will still speak with an accent … some older folk may never learn English. 

I ask you, Is that so bad? 

Does that deserve a screaming tirade of hate?

Pentecost Sunday - a celebration of language.

The Holy Spirit comes down with flames of language … the original Google Translate … to affirm and honor the languages of the earth.

Language is sacred, language is the heart of God - God speaks the language of every creature, great and small … from the mouse of the field, to the whales of the sea … including you and me.  

We may not always understand each other, but if you’ve ever been in a situation where languages are different, it’s amazing what can be communicated with hand gestures, pointing and smiling … everyone speaks the same language of kindness - the smile, a kiss, the hug, and some laughter.

Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, enfleshed, God’s word of love, love for all the earth … every language, every tongue … especially the children of the earth - who play and shout, dream and laugh,  cry and hurt, all the same - whatever their tongue may be.

Today, Pentecost Sunday, we honor the diversity of language. We respect one another, learn from one another.

In a thousand different tongues, in a thousand different ways … to God be the glory!

Hallelujah and Amen!