Unwelcome

The church I serve has a wonderful day school and today is the last day of class. There are people and parties everywhere!!! Of course, today is the day a cute little skunk decided to wander around the campus courtyard. And while everyone of God’s children is welcome in this church, some of God’s critters are, at times, less welcome than others. Luckily, our little black and white air un-freshener decided to stay hidden amid the hubbub!!  This poem is dedicated to our little smelly friend!!!

 

Unwelcome.

Your shiny fur coat

notwithstanding.

I get that you are amazing,

made to withstand

any foe.

But seriously,

would you want you around?

Your little waddle

is endearing.

And that bright white

stripe is quite fetching

in its own unique way.

But the unpleasant air

surrounding you

when you are on edge

is just too much.

I’m sorry.

You have to leave.

This painful putridity

has brought me to tears.

I am sorry to say this,

but you are

unwelcome.

25 May 2017

An Easter Manifesto 2017

We are still in the Easter season so I thought it was fine to share my Easter sermon/poem.  Here is a bit of a reminder to continue to look to new life.  Inspired by Wendel Berry’s wonderful poem!

 

So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it…

…Practice resurrection.

(Wendel Berry; “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1973)

 

An Easter Manifesto

Come out! Come out of your hiding places!

Everything has changed beyond our sight,

shaken open by God’s powerful Love

which cannot die, cannot be stopped.

The Tomb of Jesus is empty! He is

not there! He is Risen! Alleluia!

Open your eyes, dry the tears

Jesus lives. His face shining brightly

in the lives of friend and stranger alike.

Love your friends and love others knowing

that you are loving the Living Jesus in them.

Open your hands to be filled for sharing

what you have with others. Reach out

with compassion to those in need, feed them

as you have been fed. Hold hands and pray.

Open your heart to feel God’s deep love.

Feel joy in human connection and spiritual

experiences. Let love overflow like rivers leaving

their banks with power to change the landscape.

Open your life to the abundance of God’s gifts

for you. Step out with truth to speak Love in the world;

to undam to the waters of justice; to give life.

Live resurrection

in all you do today. The power of fear is ended.

Take resurrection

wherever you go today. Walls fall before God’s love.

Speak resurrection

in every word you utter today. The Enemy is silenced

and God’s WORD bursts in colorful blossom

from the barrenness of dead wood and cold stone.

So come out! Come out of your hiding places!

Everything has changed beyond our sight,

shaken open by God’s powerful Love

which cannot die, cannot be stopped.

The Tomb of Jesus is empty! He is

not there! He is Risen! Alleluia!

Waking up

Waking up

Slowly

Body stiff

Yesterday’s

Walking

Through life’s

Challenges

It’s not easy

Or

It wasn’t

Remembering now

What I forgot

Hit my knees

And pray

God, please light

My path.

Reveal your will

For this day.

Let your Spirit

Fill me,

Like slow-brewing

Coffee, with the

Aroma of your

Love.

 

 

21 May 2017

 

The Fierceness of Love

Love.  Good.  Holy.  Omnipotent.  Father.  Creator.  Caring.  Provider.  Almighty.

These are some of the adjectives we use to describe God.

Let’s reflect on others:  Fierce.  Wild.  Intense.

To speak of God’s love in this way is to break out of the thinly walled compartments in our minds that limit love, limit God to our own notions, easily reduced to what we are able to fathom.

But God’s love is not limited, is not reducible to cliches or intellectual sound bites we can easily digest.  God’s love is, frankly, as God is – boundless, expansive, reckless, mysterious, fierce, wild, intense.  These words open us to experience what Brennan Manning calls “the shattering truth of the transcendent God seeking intimacy with us.” (The Furious Longing of God, page 24)

God’s love is reckless (cf Luke 15, especially the story of the prodigal).

God’s love is both boundless and yet specific:  embodied in Jesus in ancient Palestine and present now, we believe, in the sacrament of His body and blood at the Eucharist.

God’s love is mysterious to both believer and non-believer alike.

God’s love is fierce – ready to face and embrace the cross to once and for all defeat the rule of death in this world.

Rule of death.

This is a peculiar phrase.  It can refer to the powers and principalities which “seek to corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” (BCP, page 302).  A menacing statement, to be sure, but also nebulous.

If we were to take that phrase with the same understanding as we mean when we say “rule of life” we might see in a way less nebulous and more specific.  A rule of life, if you are not aware, is a listing of intentionally used spiritual practices meant to deepen and strengthen one’s faith.  Thus, a rule of death would be a list of intentionally used spiritual practices which have the opposite effect.

The rule of death, in this sense, is practiced and expressed in anger which is a deep, unspoken fear of others, of the unknown.  The antidote for this is faith, meaning trust, in God and in God’s sovereignty in the world.  Fear and anger drive us to strike out, strike back.  Faith allows us to to wait as God works everything out to God’s purposes on God’s time.

The rule of death is practiced in greed which is a habitual seeing and acting from a place of “scarcity,” that is, the “deficits,” that exist in our lives, our finances, our world.  It feeds fear that we will not get what is ours – there is not enough to go around.  That we are not enough.  (This is why you will never hear me use the word “deficit” in describing our budget.  And why you will receive a theological lecture from me should you use that word in my presence.  It is not a Kingdom word.). The antidote for scarcity and the greed it festers is generosity.  It is to practice the Biblical tithe as a way to change our scarcity perspectives to a vision of God’s abundance for our lives.

The rule of death is practiced through division, which arises out of a particular fear of others twisted in with a scarcity mindset.  Division is bred in the petri dish which contains all the limiting thoughts humans apply to God.  Division is meant to build both literal and figurative walls between ourselves and others.  Division means since there is not enough of anything, God included, that one of us is good/chosen/right and one not.  We can see how this feeds our human propensity to demonize others, to perpetuate and justify cultural violence, and feeds all sorts of unhelpful ideology which encourages partisan thinking.  The antidote for division is practicing forgiveness, engaging in mission and service to others, having reconciliatory conversations and seeking out partnerships among those who are different.

Yesterday, I was blessed to participate in our Middle School’s annual Seder Meal.  It is an opportunity to connect the dots – so to speak – about the commonalities between Jewish faith and Christian faith.  In the midst of that meal it struck me how much the Jewish people throughout history have suffered at the hands of others.  I remember critiques by biblical scholars who cautioned that care be taken in preaching John in light of the tragic acts of Christians of various ages who have used John’s gospel to vilify “the Jews” and justify so much hatred and violence towards Jewish people throughout the centuries.  Participating in the seder meal provided a ray of hope that by teaching the common roots Jewish and Christian faith with our students we might break down the dividing walls, helping to prevent further walls as we find a way forward in making peace and reconciliation among all people.

This time spent with 150 of my middle school friends also provided a moment of clarity as I reflected on the rule of death.  When the human habit of limiting of God, or to paraphrase JB Phillips’ words in his seminal book – we make God too small – is mixed with the practices of the rule of death – anger, fear, division, hatred, greed, scarcity – they become a volatile movement which time and again has left brokenness and death in its wake.  It is always awful when this activity happens in the world around us.  It is tragic when people of faith, when Christians, participate.  And Christians are no less guilty than Muslims or Jews or any other group in “drinking the Kool Aid” that the rule of death offers as it promotes violent, divisive behavior as “holy” when it is in fact a perversion meant to further an agenda.

Jesus never partnered with power brokers.  Jesus trusted in a powerful God he called Father.

We would do well to pay attention to Jesus.  The rule of death has but one logical conclusion – death.  The story of the Cross is tragic.  Life and Love Incarnate – the innocent Son of God sent to save us from the power and rule of death – is nailed to the hard wood of the Cross.  Love is rejected. God’s Love is rejected by God’s beloved.  Relationships, including our relationship with God, are reduced to transactions.  Blame, not grace, abounds.

Jesus is nailed to the cross.  Jesus dies on the cross.  Life and Love Incarnate is crucified.  He who is both perfectly human and Divine is nailed to the cross.  The rule of death, the powers and principalities of death defeat the rule of life.

We often say that, “Jesus died for our/my sins.”  We mean that Jesus substituted himself to pay the penalty of our sin, by which we mean “wrong-doing.”  This is a very useful, traditional theology to remember today.

We might also consider that Jesus’ death is “for” us meaning on “behalf of” or for “the benefit of.”  We are beneficiaries of his suffering on the cross.

For us and for our salvation, Jesus bore the wounding of all that which festers in the dominion of death.  He bears on his body the devastating marks of anger, violence, division, greed, fear, hatred, one-sided ideology and partisan acting.  He endures all their wounding and the logical outcome (death) of the spiritual practices of the rule of death.  But Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mean we are freed from that rule.  The power of death to “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” has been exposed for what it is and does.  It has been soundly defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Evil and death lose.  Life and Love win.

Our challenge is that we still live in a world that bears the wounds of the rule of death.  We still hear the subtle invitations to pick up the spiritual tools of greed, division, fear and anger which lead to death.  Embracing the cross of Jesus and the victory of the Empty Tomb is our sole hope, our sure defense, our strength.  We live as people who have already had the war won for us yet continue daily to extinguish the desperate skirmishes of our vanquished opponent.

Listen to these words from William Dixon Gray:  “The resurrection breaks all the rules. Everything is shattered. Of the former structures there is nothing left. Not really. Of course things look the same. There is still death, and law, and government, and banks and times and seasons; but this is like an old skin being shed, a holdover while a new creation is being established. … The point is to get wise to this and stop acting, thinking, talking, and feeling as though a resurrection had never happened.” (From April 12 emailed edition of Synthesis Today, a free service that provides quotes for the upcoming Sunday Sermon based on the Revised Common Lectionary.  Learn more at http://www.synthesispub.com )

The reckless of love of God still seeks us.

The fierce love of God in Jesus burns away the rule and power of death on the cross.

The wild love of God runs free in our lives having shattered the bits and bridles we use to harness God.

The boundless love of God breaks into our world one transformed heart at a time.

The mysterious love of God invites us on this day to live out the rest of our lives embracing the reality of Jesus’ victory over the cross; to bear witness that no despair or darkness can hinder the present and coming resurrection life as it blossoms and bursts forth into new creation.

Maundy Thursday Reflection 2017

In my office are three angels which have been with me since I began ordained life at St. Alban’s, Harlingen. They came to me as a gift. Throughout the years, they have journeyed with me, living on bookshelves and desks in my various offices . One of the little old angel guys has his hands straight up in joyful praise of God. The other two are doing different activities: one, ringing bells, and, the other, feeding birds with a bag of bird seed in hand. They share one thing in common.

Each has one foot up raised in a high-kick position.

Some days I imagine them dancing along to the rocking, celestial sounds of the Kingdom. Today they seem to be walking. Taking a big, first step on a journey of joy-filled movement; carrying with them a joyful message. They are about to move forward – full of hope – stepping out in faith – walking towards whatever comes next. Their old, wrinkled faces glowing, eyes closed, hearts full of unspoken praises to their God, a whole, lifetime on a journey – beginning to end – that is a continuous act of praise.
I wonder – where have those old angel feet been? For what joyful purpose has God sent him? Where will God send those feet sooner or later?

What about our feet?

Are we ready to engage our feet in joyful movement to carry a joy-filled message? Do our feet move in hope towards the future? Will they step out in faith? Are our feet moving us toward God and whatever comes next? Do our feet move along in a continuous act of praise?

Have you considered all the places your feet have been? For what joyful purpose has God sent your feet and you? Did you go? Or did your feet wander off the path? Did someone or something lure you away or stomp on your toes? Did your feet freeze in fright at the size of God’s task before you? Where might God guide your feet sooner or later?

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another…as I have loved you.” (John 13.34)

“…as I have loved you…”

Jesus has just finished supper, the last one in this life with his twelve disciples. After supper he washes their feet. He kneels in front of his students, now friends, and washes their feet. I cannot imagine it was any more comfortable for them than it was for Jesus. But there are just some things only someone who loves us dearly can do. And Jesus loves deeply.

And Jesus is doing more than just showing love. He is showing them what love expressed through action looks like. Jesus models for them the future of their ministry. John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as one who lovingly serves others.

Wrapping a towel around his waist, Jesus takes in his hands each of his disciples feet and washes them. He washes away the dust of many days of traveling and teaching. He washes away the grime of worn out ideas and unhelpful notions about God. He cleans off the muck of prejudice and contempt of others who are different. He wipes away the soil of bitter disagreement and disillusionment.

What the disciples do not know as Jesus washes is that soon their own fear and betrayal will muddy their feet as they run and hide as Jesus hangs on his cross. They do not know that the Empty Tomb about 72 hours away will be a moment of cleansing, not just of feet, but of the whole being of every human. Jesus washes their feet not just to wipe away the past. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for the joy-filled journey ahead. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for a journey of carrying a joy-filled message to the ends of the earth. Jesus washes their feet to prepare them for a life of serving others as an act of praise.

So it is with us.

Jesus washes our feet to cleanse away the sins and hurts of our past travels. Jesus washes our feet to remove our worn out ideas and unhelpful notions; to clear away our prejudice and contempt of others who are different; to wipe away bitter disagreements and disillusionment. Jesus washes our feet to refresh and prepare us for our joy-filled journey ahead. Jesus washes our feet to prepare us for a life of serving others as an act of joyful praise.

Jesus washes our feet so that we will wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, sharing the grace and comfort of Jesus in ever-widening circles in our human family.

Let us pray:

Jesus wash our feet.

Wash away the pain inflicted by others on the road with us.
Wash away the shame of our mistakes and hurtful choices.
Wash away the stubbornness of our hearts that keeps us lost.
Wash away the pride and prejudice which limits where we let our feet take us.
Wash away the fears which cause us to flee.
Wash away our unfaithfulness.

Help us, Jesus, to take a big first step on this next stage of our journey of joy-filled movement; taking with us a joyful message. Help us, Jesus, to move forward – full of hope – stepping out in faith – walking towards whatever comes next. Our old, wrinkled faces and young, smooth faces glowing, eyes closed, hearts full of unspoken praises to our God. Teach us, Lord, to see our whole lifetime – from beginning to end – as a journey, a continuous act of praise, loving others as Jesus loves us.

Palm Sunday Reflection 2017

I offered this on Palm Sunday as a reflection on God’s love.  I use the word “for” to mean “on behalf or benefit of” rather than “in place of.”  The cross means freedom, healing, hope, courage, meaning, transformation and the list can go on.  Of course, the cross means, most of all, that God loves you deeply.  And, of course, this eternal reality no words, however lovely, can adequately convey.  God. Loves. YOU!!!   -Ram


A Palm Sunday Reflection

Jesus died for you sister;

That you’d be free from your compulsions to be perfectly put together for the world to see while you deny the emptiness of your own heart.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you brother;

That you’d be free from the bondage of your addictions which numb the inner pain of daily existence that churns in the depth of your being.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you child;

That you’d find healing from the wounds of losing your truest self striving to meet the rigorous standards of achievement heaped upon you by well-meaning, but demanding, parents and other adults in the classroom, in athletic competitions, in your hobbies and activities making you feel that WHAT you do is more important than WHO you are.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you my suffering friend;

That you’d find meaning in the midst of your chronic illness and find strength in God’s grace to face and to embrace your coming death with dignity; in hope of finding wholeness and eternal renewal in the nearer presence of God.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you lost traveller;

That you’d discover that your life and time on earth has been neither lost nor wasted in the wilderness of life through which the Hand of God has guided you, shielding you from all enemies, gently leading you to this moment.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you, bitter soul;

That you’d begin to see this world as abundant, full of God’s good gifts for you and all of us who share this planet; that you’d know deeply that all political thinking, all divisions, all violence, all walls, all anger, all fear, all greed and all that brings us anxiety and despair has been nailed to the cross and burned away in the fire of Jesus’ self-sacrificing love.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you Seeker;

That you’d recognize that you are a beloved child of God and find a restored sense of self that seeks not only your own good but the common good of all humanity whom God created in love, for love, and to love.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for you, my enemy;

That our hearts would awaken in peace and hope to resolutely face the truth that, while missiles can change the landscape, only God’s love in Christ can change our violent hearts.

God. Loves. You.

Jesus died for us, fellow pilgrims on the Way;

That as we journeyed we would be bound together in ever-strengthening bonds of love, discovering our interconnectedness and interdependence, discovering that sharing in each other’s lives is how we share in God’s life.

God. Loves. You.

Believing is Seeing – A Sermon

The world is blurry beyond my eyes.

 

Words like arrows fly by,

an undeclared war amongst

family members who see

only that which proves

their fear shaping words.

 

Those same fears fill the

innermost places of my hidden

heart which grasps at a

fleeting certainty, a failing

story mistold for power’s sake.

 

The world is blurry beyond my eyes

 

perhaps because I who see

can claim my blindness, can

reveal my fears and their power

to misshape all souls, my own,

just as seeing claims believing.

 

Spit, mud and water – a healing balm –

washes away our blinded sight,

breaks down the dividing wall ‘tween

siblings built by arrogance, anger, fear’s

revealing God’s ever-growing heart.

 

The world is blurry beyond my eyes;

 

Human blindness – by grace of Christ – dissolving,

a Godly vision of a new Creation given.

 

25 March 2017

 

By Ram Lopez

Cathy’s Oak Trees

In a cluster of oak trees,

arms lifted, reaching high

towards heavenly realms,

gather the winged choristers

whose lilting songs like hymns,

floating far beyond this life,

Praise the Artist of the wildly

bursting blooms painting

the early spring landscape

with new life – as time

floods the space between

Life and Death – as Light

fades beyond this horizon rising

anew over other clusters of oak trees.

17 March 2017

Ram Lopez