Friday, November 29, 2013

Jesus Who

Texts: Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 1:68-79

            The internet is fascinating.  It has changed much about our lives and our world in both helpful and perhaps unhelpful ways.  Some wonder what the effect may be on memory now that we can look so many things up instantaneously.  The other day I was wondering what the name of the actress was who played the talented young singer in Mr. Holland’s Opus, and what the television series was that she later starred in.  There’s you challenge for you with smart phones.  Let me know when you have the answer (Jean Louisa Kelly – “Yes Dear”).
            So I saw this story on the internet this week.  At an Applebee’s restaurant, a person who had eaten with a larger group, and was thus charged an 18% gratuity, scratched off the tip and wrote “I give God 10%, why do you get 18” and then signed the receipt, Pastor _________.  The server posted the receipt on-line, the pastor complained.  The server has been fired for breaching privacy and the pastor has apologized.  It does make me want to ask about the kind of Jesus this pastor follows.  Jesus who?
            Also on the internet this week I discovered a sermon excerpt.  Much of the hate and discord that has been poisoning our nation has been preached in the name of Christ and the church.  This sermon was preached in Dallas, Texas in a Methodist Church on the Sunday following the assassination of President John Kennedy fifty years ago (November 22, 1963/November 24, 1963 – Rev. Charles V. Denman, Wesley Methodist Church).  The words still have relevance, and they make me ask, “Jesus who?”
            A few weeks ago, I posted on my blog some reflections on being an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church.  In part I wrote about the unique situation of the church today, and how, though some have compared our situation with the First Century, I don’t think that comparison holds up very well.  After all there are Christians in powerful places and doing some powerful things and the example I used was Hobby Lobby suing the federal government arguing that providing contraceptive health coverage for female employees violates the Christian values of the store and its owner.  It was not the main point of my reflection, but I received this response: "contraceptive health coverage" = abortion and abortifacients. You, David have a gift of communication, it's too bad it's wasted on politics and social engineering instead of preaching the Good News of the Gospel and the saving power of faith in Jesus.  The respondent is someone I know.  I was the pastor to this person’s parents in another place.
            I happen to disagree with my respondent’s view that all contraception is abortion, but I also think the criticism misses the point of disagreement between us.  We disagree on the question of “Jesus who?”
            Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year before the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.  Traditionally it is known as the Sunday of Christ the King.  It is a Sunday to focus in a unique way on Jesus.  It is a Sunday to remind ourselves that Jesus is at the heart and soul of Christian faith and life.  No Jesus, no Christian faith.  On that every Christian would agree.
            But the question then becomes, “Jesus who?”  And that question matters profoundly.  Theologian and biblical scholar Marcus Borg puts it well.  There is a strong connection between images of Jesus and images of the Christian life, between how we think of Jesus and how we think of the Christian life.  Our image of Jesus affects our perception of the Christian life in two ways; it gives shape to the Christian life; and… it can make Christianity credible or incredible. (Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, 1-2)
            How might we answer the question, “Jesus who?”
            This morning’s invitation to worship provides one answer.  He was a man's man, but we feminized him in the church ... He was a tough guy and that's the Jesus that I want to be like. That's the side that I want to be like. But we've feminized Jesus in the church and the men can't identify with him anymore; not the kind of men that I want to hang out with, they can't identify with this effeminate Jesus that we've tried to portray. He was a tough guy. He was a man's man. (Jerry Boykin)
            Does focusing on masculinity, and importing a certain idea of masculinity into a picture of Jesus get at the heart of the Jesus who is at the heart of the Christian faith and life?  How do women get to follow Jesus the tough guy?
            Some answers to the question of “Jesus who?” focus on Jesus’ death.  Jesus’ death is significant, but too often that death is disconnected from Jesus the teacher, and healer, and welcoming presence.  Too often Jesus’ death is disconnected from history.  The Romans used crucifixion as a method of execution for those they considered politically subversive.  That matters, I think.  If we only focus on the death of Jesus in answering the question of “Jesus who?” I think we miss the richness of his life as given in the Gospels.
            Today is Christ the King Sunday and we are going to sing later “Crown Him With Many Crowns” – a very stately song.  And sometimes in answering the question of “Jesus who?” we have focused on this magisterial Jesus, but imported our ideas of royalty into the picture.  We make Jesus a new Caesar, with thrones and dominion and ruling power, as in the language in Colossians.  Yet we should not forget that at least part of the function of the language of King and Lord being used for Jesus was to put him in contrast with the Roman Caesars.  Jesus is not intended to be a different Caesar, but stands for a different kind of ordering of life altogether.  Our understanding of Jesus as king needs to fit with these words of Jesus from Luke 22: The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority are called benefactors.  But not so with you….  I am among you as one who serves.
            There are more adequate ways to answer the question, “Jesus who?”
            Jesus is the one who shows us the character of God.  He is the image of the invisible God….  In him was all the fullness of God pleased to dwell  And what does Jesus reveal about the character of God?  A very good, succinct answer can be found in one of Charles Wesley’s hymns: Jesus thou art all compassion.  Pure unbounded love thou art. (Schubert Ogden, The Understanding of Christian Faith, 28).  The character of God shines through the character of Jesus – pure, unbounded love.
            Jesus is one who transforms our lives, who moves us, whose presence in our lives changes us.  We have been “rescued from the power of darkness.”  We have “redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  We are reconciled.  I appreciate the language Eugene Peterson uses in his Message version of the Colossians text.  So spacious is he [Jesus], so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.  Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies.
            I had a conversation this week about church with someone and in that conversation she said, “Isn’t it really about being a good person?”  And the person who said this really is a good person and we did not have time for a longer conversation.  Christian faith, isn’t it really about being a good person?  Yes, but only if we have a rich enough idea of what that means.  I think I would say it’s about goodness and graciousness.  Jesus wants to bring out our goodness, but God’s pure, unbounded love is there before anything we do and cannot be lost because of anything we do.  If it’s just about being good, I know some folks who are always comparing their goodness with others, and that’s not the point.  That easily leads to self-righteousness.  Jesus is about bringing out our goodness, but also offering forgiveness when we mess up, and offering healing for those broken places, places we sometimes try to hide when we think it is all about being good.  Our goodness is rooted in the graciousness of God and our goodness should always be mixed with graciousness towards others.
            My last “Jesus who” for this morning.  Jesus is one who guides “our feet into the way of peace.”  There is a social side to the Jesus way.  It is not just about our personal relationship with God through Jesus, though it is importantly about that.  God in Jesus invites us into a way, a way that sometimes challenges the way the world works.  The way of Jesus is a way of peace, of caring for the poor, of welcoming the outcasts, of healing the hurts of the world and trying to prevent further hurts.  We can disagree about exactly what the Jesus way means for our politics and social arrangements, but someone would be hard pressed to say that the Jesus way has nothing to do with the larger social world.
            In his rich and thought-provoking book about Jesus, The Human Being, theologian and biblical scholar Walter Wink writes: My deepest interest in encountering Jesus is not to confirm my own prejudices… but to be delivered from a stunted soul, a limited mind, and an unjust social order (16).
            My friend who wrote about my disinterest in Jesus and faith in Jesus is wrong about me.  I am pretty wild about this Jesus.
Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who delivers me from a stunted soul, from the power of darkness.

Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who delivers me from a limited mind, and who is always teaching me about this God who is pure, unbounded love.

Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who teaches me about goodness, who enriches my understanding of being good, and how being good means also being gracious.

Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who offers my life space and grace and forgiveness.

Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who takes all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – and fixes and fits them together in vibrant harmonies.  Some of those broken pieces are the broken pieces of my own life.

Ø  I am pretty wild about this Jesus who seeks to guide my feet in the way of peace, justice, reconciliation and love.

I am pretty wild about this Jesus who, and I invite you to be wild about this Jesus who too.  Amen.

Friday, November 22, 2013

God the Scarecrow

Sermon Preached November 17, 2013

Texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19

            “If I Only Had a Brain”:
I could wile away the hours
Conferrin’ with the flowers
Consultin’ with the rain
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts are busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain

Oh I could tell you why
The ocean’s near the shore
I could think of things I never thunk before
And then I’d sit and think some more

            When I was a child, there were certain annual television events that we anticipated.  There was the “Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin Halloween Special.”  There was the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special,” from which I still love the music.  There was “Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer,” narrated by Burl Ives.  And once a year, one of the three television networks would broadcast “The Wizard of Oz.”  In our day and age of streaming movies and Net Flix, it seems strange to think that people would wait a year to see a movie or show, but that’s the way it was then.
            If you were watching the Wizard of Oz with theological eyes, I would guess that for many people the Wizard of Oz himself, that stern, disembodied, rather frightful image might capture something of one’s image of God.  God is Spirit, that seems to fit.  God is often portrayed in human discourse as stern, demanding obedience – “Silence.”  There may be some kindness there, but you have to get beyond a lot of fear first.  I think there are a lot of people alienated from the church because that is just how the church has sometimes described God.
            I think there is a better image of God in “The Wizard of Oz” and my sermon title leaves little room for wondering who I think it is – “God the Scarecrow.”  I don’t mean the Scarecrow who sings, “If I Only Had a Brain.”  I am thinking of another image of the Scarecrow from the movie.  I will let you know which one in just a bit.
            But I want to get to that image of God the Scarecrow through our Scripture readings for this morning.
            God is up to something.  That is a clear message in Isaiah 65.  God is up to something.  For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth….  Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.
            God is up to something in the world, and this is the direction of that new creating.  No more shall the sound of weeping be heard… or the cry of distress.  No more shall there be… an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live our a lifetime….  They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit….  The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox….  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.
            Don’t you just want to say, “Yes!”  This passage reminds me of part of a Seamus Heaney poem (Chorus in Philoctetes):
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

            God is at work creating a tidal wave of justice.  God is at work creating a newer world where hope and history rhyme.  God is at work toward a world of peace, reconciliation, beauty, harmony, care, tenderness, wholeness for all, a world where all are safe and all have enough.
            And God is doing this work in the midst of our world - our volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world.  Part of the world we live in is well-described by Jesus in Luke 21.  We live in a world of wars and insurrections.  “Nation will rise up against nation, kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
            It is important to read Isaiah and Luke together, and to think of this as the on-going work of God in the world, not simply as words meant for some future time.  The world is just like the world described by Jesus sometimes.  All we need to do is read the newspapers.  But it is in that very world that God continues to work toward a newer world.  In the midst of this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, God is creating a newer world, a new heaven and a new earth.
            And, and… God invites us along.  That’s where God is like the Scarecrow.  With the sight of the Emerald City in the distance, the Scarecrow leads the way, running.  “Come on.  Come on.”  []  And that’s just what God does in our lives.  “There is a horizon where hope and history rhyme.  I am creating a newer world.  Come on.  Come on.”
            I think of a Robert Frost poem, “The Pasture”
I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I amy):
I shan’t be gone long. – You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother.  It’s so young,
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I shan’t be gone long. – You come too.

            Here is the good news of the Christian faith.  God remains at work raking the leaves of the older world away, in tenderness caring for all creation, creating a newer world where hope and history rhyme.  Like the Scarecrow God is out ahead of us, waving God’s arms, “Come on.  Come on.  You come too.”  And that means you and you and you and you, and every “you.”

            But there is more good news.  This newer world that we are invited to journey with God toward is a reality where not only is the world made new, but we are, too.  In God’s newer world we find for our own lives heart, courage, our right mind, the way home.  In fact, we begin to discover these on the journey itself.  That’s the promise of the Christian faith.  That’s the adventure of the Jesus way.  God is waving, God’s arms beckoning us forward to a newer life, a newer world.  God continues to create.  You come too.  Amen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Splaining To Do

Sermon preached November 10, 2013

Texts: Luke 19:1-10

            “I Love Lucy” theme:
            How many of you over 40 knew that song?  How many of you under 40?  How many did not want to raise their hand because it might give away their age?
            This summer, on our way back from visiting our daughter in Rochester, New York, we took the long way back and stopped at the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz museum in Jamestown, New York, Lucy’s hometown.  Lucille Ball had a remarkable television career.  “I Love Lucy” was on the air from 1951-1957 when it morphed into “Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour” which was on the air until 1960.  These shows were followed by “The Lucy Show” and “Here’s Lucy” so that Lucille Ball was an on-going presence on television for twenty-three years.  Twenty-three years!  Remarkable.  These were different times but I tried to think of a contemporary actress who has had that kind of staying power.  One candidate might be Jennifer Aniston who was on “Friends” for ten years beginning in 1994, and has certainly been in the spotlight since.  Just this week we heard that she has a new hair style!  It seems these days Jennifer Aniston is known as much for being Jennifer Aniston as she is for her acting.  That has something to do with the different times we live in – not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, just different.
            When Lucille Ball was doing “I Love Lucy”, her show shared a theme with countless other situation comedies – they were set in family life.  “I Love Lucy” was on with “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows Best,” Leave It To Beaver.”  Lucy’s family dynamic was unique, though, in that her husband played a role not unlike his real life persona – Desi Arnaz played a Cuban band leader, Ricky Ricardo.  By the way, it is easy to forget that during this show, Cuba had not yet become a communist country under Castro.  Some of the humor played on Desi’s accent.  A famous line from the show, when Lucy had made a mess of something was: “Lucy, you got some splaining to do.”
            Rewind even further back, to Roman occupied Palestine.  This is a time before tweeting, Facebook, text messages, television, even before radio or telegraph.  For ordinary people in the harsh economy of Rome, there probably was not a lot of time for entertainment anyway.  Yet people enjoyed stories.  They enjoyed debates.  Debates could be about serious issues, to be sure, but there might also be a certain entertainment value in them.
            In the Jewish community of Jesus day in Roman occupied Palestine, there were some vigorous debates about religious matters, with differing groups taking differing positions.  Sadducess were part of the Jewish aristocracy, part of the priestly class.  The Sadducess religious views were distinct in two ways.  They accepted only the Torah, the first five books of what we call the Old Testament, as Scripture, whereas most of the Jews of Jesus time also accepted the prophets and the writings.  The other issue which made them distinct was their rejection of an afterlife.  They did not believe in a resurrection of the dead.
            Jesus, apparently did, along with the Pharisees, who are so often at odds with Jesus in other places in the Gospels.  But what kind of absurd belief is this, contended the Sadducees, and they set up a Scriptural test case.  A woman marries a man, the oldest of seven brothers.  The man dies.  According to the Jewish practice of the time, if a man dies before his wife conceives an heir, then his brother is to take her as his wife and conceive a child who will be treated as the older brother’s heir.  Marriage in that day was less about romance than about property and heirs.  In the case set up by the Sadducees, though, all seven brothers die.  Then the woman dies.  The question they pose is this: In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?  Jesus, you got some splaining to do.
            Jesus responds brilliantly.  They think that resurrection life is just some kind of continuation of this life, but it is not.  “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”  Jesus shifts the whole premise of their question.  He does even more, but I take that up in a moment.
            Eugene Peterson in The Message renders some of Jesus’ words this way.  “Marriage is a major preoccupation here, but not there….  They have better things to think about, if you can believe it.  All ecstasies and intimacies will be with God.”
            But wait!  Jesus, you got some splaining to do, not to the Sadducees, but to us.  How often when we come together to mourn our dead, to grieve our losses do we take comfort in the idea that in the afterlife our loved ones will be reunited with each other, and one day we will join them.  Is Jesus here taking that away?  Is he dashing that hope?  Jesus you got some splaining to do.
            I don’t think that is what Jesus is up to.  The Sadducees are not really asking a serious question.  They are asking a rhetorical question, thinking that they will have stumped Jesus.  Jesus responds brilliantly by digging deeper.  You don’t even understand the question you ask, and perhaps not even the God about whom you ask it.  Speculation about resurrection and the afterlife is o.k. and I don’t think Jesus is really making a very serious statement about how we might relate to others after death.  His concern is elsewhere.  “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living.”
            What is brilliant about Jesus response is that he takes a rhetorical question and turns it into an existential question, that is a question about who we are going to be and how we are going to live now.  Are you alive in God now?
            Religious questions are wonderful and always welcome here.  A strong faith is a faith strong enough to ask questions.  At the end of the day, however, the question we each need to answer is who we are going to be and how we are going to live now.  It is who we are going to be and how we are going to live toward God, God’s love for us, God’s work in the world.  The Sadducees, at least in this story in Luke, wanted to major in minors and Jesus won’t let them.
            So what does life alive to God look like?  What does it mean to have all our ecstasies and intimacies rooted in God?  There are all kinds of places in the Bible we could go for an answer.  We could look at the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.  We could look to I Corinthians 13, where we are told that faith, hope and love abide and the greatest of these is love.  We could look to Romans 12 and its description of life transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We could look to Galatians 5 and its list of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  A few years ago, I proposed using five words to describe what life alive to God might look like: joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice.  Being alive in God should have joy to it, not a shallow smile slapped across the lips but a deep sense that one is loved and a deep appreciation for the beauty in the world.  Being alive in God should mean that we can be more honest, authentic and genuine in our lives.  Begin alive in God means being gentle – learning the strong art of forgiveness, being gentle on the earth.  Being alive in God means being generous, generous with our resources, but also generous in spirit.  Being alive in God is to know that God is at work toward a newer world, at work toward inner and outer transformation, at work toward a world of justice and shalom and that work of God in the world is our to share with God and with each other.
            The crucial question we need to ask ourselves often is how alive we are in God.  The Jesus way is the way of being alive in God now, then trusting God with our lives when this life ends.
            This focus on being alive in God that Jesus is putting forward in his discussion with the Sadducees does, though, have some implications for the topic the Sadducees begin with – marriage.  Being alive in God becomes a criterion to evaluate our lives, our relationships and our institutions.  While the focus of Jesus in this story is not on the afterlife nor on marriage, he does, in a quiet way offer a cautionary word about marriage and families.
            Now I have some splaining to do.  I am a family person.  I cherish my family.  My family has helped me be more alive to God in wonderful ways.  I want our church to be a family-caring, family-nurturing place.  But the church, by which I mean the Christian church through history, and maybe especially in the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries has sometimes made an idol out of families.  In a recent blog post on the Christian magazine Sojourners site, a single woman wrote about “the isolating power of family-centered language” (Emily Dause, 10-21-2013  I am 27, single, and my father has passed away.  It seems everywhere I turn in the Christian world… I am excluded, because I am not part of a family.  A pastor comments excitedly on the number of new families joining his church.  If I joined, would my membership be valuable?  Respected Christian leaders urge us to support “family values.”  Are values really tied to family units, or can I have values, too?...  A church bulletin asks me to bring enough food for my family to the church gathering.  Am I even invited in the first place?
            The writer understands that most of those who speak in such ways mean well, but good intentions alone are not sufficient.  The Church of Jesus Christ, concerned as Jesus is with being alive in God, needs to acknowledge that sometimes we have made an idol out of families, particularly families of a certain kind.  The Church of Jesus Christ, concerned as Jesus is with being alive in God, needs to say that marriage matters, all marriage; that families matter, but families of all kinds; and that persons who may not see themselves in a family matter.  What matters most is being alive in God, and that possibility is open to us all by God’s grace – open to us all: single, married, widowed, divorced, gay, straight.

            And one of the remarkable things this God of Jesus Christ does in our lives as we seek to be more alive in God, as we seek to be people of joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and justice, one of the remarkable things this God of Jesus Christ does is create something like an extended family.  And here we are, trying together to be more alive to God.  Amen. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Give Me a Boost

Sermon preached November 3, 2013
Texts: Luke 19:1-10

            Many of you know that my family and I lived for seven years in Dallas, Texas.  Our daughter Sarah was born there.  She is a Texan by birth.  These days when the Vikings play the Cowboys are difficult for our son, David.  He grew up a Cowboy’s fan.
            When we lived in Dallas we lived in a townhouse apartment in a complex of such apartments.  Over the years we had various neighbors.  One who lived next door to us for a few years was a man, a large man.  He lived there with his wife and two children.  Jerry was his name.  Jerry looked like he could have played linebacker for the Cowboys.  He was that big a man.  Jerry often seemed to have some issues with his car, and thus was often working on this or that in the parking lot behind our apartments.
            One day as I was walking out to our car, I heard Jerry say, “Dave, Dave, come give me a boost.”  Now in my upper Midwest understanding, giving somebody a boost meant helping them climb something, maybe putting your hands together and lifting them up.  “Dave, Dave, come give me a boost.”  The thought of lifting Jerry up anyplace was absurd.  He was a really big guy.  Thankfully, my jaw did not drop nor my eyes squinch before the context made his request clear.  He wanted me to use some jumper cables to help him get his car started.
            Zacchaeus was not a Jerry sized guy.  He wasn’t playing linebacker for anybody.  But Zacchaeus needed some help.  He needed to get higher, to get elevated.  Did he need a boost to get up into the sycamore tree?  The story doesn’t indicate that, but he sure needed to get up into that tree to see Jesus.
            Sometimes we need a boost to get a better look at Jesus.  Sometimes we need a little help from our friends if we are to move forward in our lives, if we are to live the Jesus way more adequately.  Sometimes we need someone to be a tree branch for us.  That may not be the most flattering image, unless you know the story of St. Kevin.  St. Kevin is an Irish saint, who was praying in his tiny, narrow monastic cell with his arm stretched out a window when a bird came and landed in his hand.  Seamus Heaney tells the story in his poem “St. Kevin and the Blackbird.”

Kevin feels that warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws, and finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.

Don’t we need people who can hold us up until something in us is hatched and fledged and flown, something of our spirit?
            All Saint’s Sunday is about celebrating those people who give us a boost so we can see Jesus a little bit better, so we can hear him a little more clearly, so we can follow him a little more nearly.  There’s almost a song here!  All Saint’s Sunday is about remembering and celebrating those who have held us until something essential about us is hatched and fledged and flown.  Today we remember and celebrate those who have seen us as beloved people of God, those who have helped form us in faith, who have encouraged us along the Jesus way.  While it is often those who have  moved on from this life that we pay special attention to, this is a day for all those who have been saints for us, all those who have given us a boost, all those who have held us in the sun and rain of life.
            For many of us it is a day to remember family - grandparents or parents.  My mom is here today and she is part of the reason I am here today.  As many of you know, my dad was not a church goer.  My mom was not a driver, but she was the one who got us up and walked with us the eight blocks to church on many Sunday mornings.
            Other family members are important to our faith.  A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how my own family, Julie and our children, inspire me.  They have often given me a boost so I can see and hear Jesus more clearly in my life.
            Along the way there have been teachers who have encouraged gifts in us.  Coming back to Duluth I have had the wonderful opportunity to see some of the teachers who encouraged me to develop some of God’s gifts in me.  Sometimes they have even found their way here.
            There are church people - pastors, teachers, friends, who give us a boost so we can see and hear and follow Jesus more closely.  For me, there are a number of pastors who are my friends who have boosted me along the way, who have held me until something in me has been hatched and fledged and flown.  Over the years, this day has become a very special day as I recall with fondness the gifts of God given in those we will remember in a few moments.
            The saints we know in person are often those with the most impact, but there is such a thing as saints from a distance.  For me my faith has often been given a boost by theologians, poets, novelists, philosophers, essayists, musicians.  Some of the writers and artists who have helped me see the world more broadly and deeply, and thus to see Jesus in new ways have been Christians.  Some have been quiet Christians, like Seamus Heaney, about whom you are probably getting tired of hearing me speak.  Some have had very little to say about faith.  This past week the musician Lou Reed died.  His music, among other things, helped me hear beauty in new ways.  His words combined an open-eyed look at some of the gritty realities of the world with a celebration of love and tenderness.
            In my first year of college, I wrote to myself that the three people having the most influence on my thinking at that time were Abraham Maslow, a Jewish-humanist psychologist, Alan Watts, a former Episcopal priest who left the ministry to teach Buddhism, and Taoism, and Bob Dylan.  In some ways their thinking and artistry held me until something in me was hatched and fledged and flown.  I am a better follower of Jesus because of them, and because of so many.
            This week I watched a TED talk by a young man named Joseph Kim, a young man who escaped from North Korea and eventually made his way to the United States. [] Kim tells his heart-breaking, hopeful story and among the things he shares is how he was inspired by small acts of love.  Joseph was not a good student, and struggled in school.  One evening at dinner with his foster family, when Joseph wanted another chicken wing, but refrained because there wasn’t enough, he found the last wing put on his plate by his foster father.  It reminded him of how often his biological father had sacrificed some of his own food to keep his son fed.  “That chicken wing changed my life.”  It motivated Joseph to work hard in school.
            If All Saint’s Sunday is celebrating those people who have given us a boost along the way so that we can see and hear and follow Jesus better, if it is celebrating those who have held us until something in us is hatched and fledged and flown, it is also intended to be a day when we rededicate ourselves to being saints for others.  Zacchaeus is changed in his encounter with Jesus.  He is moved to help the poor and make up for whatever damage he has caused.  He wants to boost the lives of others.
            I was in North Carolina earlier this week.  On the return plane ride to Minneapolis, the man sitting next to me, a man who was wearing a cap and jeans and had carried on a camouflage duffle bag, looked at me in my coat and tie and said, “You don’t look like you’re going to Minnesota to go hunting.”  No I wasn’t and I figured that it would not be too long until I had to tell him what I did.  I am the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Duluth, the Coppertop Church.  He knew where it was.  He was from northern Wisconsin.  After a bit, he said, “I bet you deal with a lot of tragedy.”  ‘I guess I do.”  “My grandson is really struggling.  He is ten and has lost both his grandmothers in the last two years.  He is asking a lot of questions, asking me if I am going to be going too.”  I mentioned something about grief resources, but coming to Duluth was not really an option.  I wish I had some magic words to share with this man for his grandson, but there are none.  “The best thing you can do for him is just be there for him.”  As we got off the plane in Minneapolis I asked him his grandson’s name.  “Justin.”  I said that I would pray for Justin.  I have.  We did.

            I don’t know what good I did, but I know that as a follower of Jesus who has been given a boost by so many, who has been held by so many along the way, I have to try and hold others, too, until something in them is hatched and fledged and flown.  The Jesus way is the way of small acts of love that help give life and hope.  On All Saint’s Sunday, we remember and celebrate the saints in our lives even as we rededicate ourselves, in the strength of God’s Spirit, to be saints for others.  Amen.