Sunday, September 25, 2016

"My Life Is Worth More Than Yours"
(And Other Lies That Lead to Hell)


Sermon preached at St. Luke's, Madison. Here are the readings for the day: Amos 6:1a,4-7Psalm 1461 Timothy 6:6-19Luke 16:19-31.

So I’ve got to say, I find this parable of Jesus’ of course absolutely terrifying but also really fascinating, particularly in the polarized religious and political climate that is 2016. After all, the two main features of this passage - hell and a man living in homelessness - frequently get divided into two separate camps among Christians, just as Christians, along with about everyone else, get divided, at least every four years, into two separate parties, left and right.  

In overly simplistic, broad strokes: American evangelicals, on the one hand, have this reputation for insisting on a physical hell over and against Christians who would rather discard the idea. Progressives, on the other hand, are seen as lifting up the social dimensions of salvation, like care for the homeless, in contrast to those Christians who would reduce the life of faith to a scorecard kept between each individual and God.

But here, in this passage the party lines fail usHell and care for people without homes intersect in this challenging story and become a unique crossroads through which all Christians travel and find something new. The evangelical can’t cite this passage as proof of hell’s existence without being confronted with salvation’s social dimensions. Neither can the progressive point to this scripture in promoting care for the stranger without acknowledging Jesus’ physical, if not literal, portrayal of hell.

This morning, I want to explore the story of hell and Lazarazus, the man outside the gate, through three questions: 
  • Is hell real? 
  • What are human beings created for?
  • What does the one who rises from the dead show us about how we belong to each other?
Let’s start with the question “Is hell real?”

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus describes hell as a point of no return. A place of eternal punishment. This is where most objections to hell begin. It seems unfair that the chasm would be uncrossable and the pain would be unending. In the understated lyrics of the largely forgotten musical group The Heritage Brothers, “Forever is a long, long time.”

Of course, it’s not clear from the story that the rich man knows what he’d do with a chance to do things differently. Astoundingly, the rich man’s imagination for bridging the chasm is to have Lazarus come over and serve him. He never does see Lazarus, even in hell and with the revelation of God's priorities, except through the lens of a self-interest that says, "My life is of more worth than yours. Sacrifice yourself for me." If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact opposite of the last command Jesus gave his disciples before he died for us.

So there’s an uncrossable chasm that neither the rich man nor Lazarus can cross. But, interestingly, sound and sight can bridge the gap. Abraham can speak to the unnamed rich man. The rich man can see the poor man, Lazarus, whom he hadn’t bothered to see in his lifetime. But their positions it seems are fixed.

The spacial ambiguity of Jesus’ depiction of hell - its being both far away and strangely near - led some students in this week’s bible study to observe that it feels like heaven and hell are 1) closely arranged in this story, if not 2) occupying the very same space. This fits in a way the earliest Christian thinking about hell and evil: namely, that evil is not a thing you can grab but a privation and absence. Evil is what isn’t; it’s the existence of non-things. Which isn’t to say evil isn’t real; it’s to say how evil is real. A hole in a blanket is a thing, but it’s also a non-thing. It’s a very real non-thing whose presence can quickly and really ruin a blanket. So it’s real. Exactly because it isn’t. This understanding of the nature of evil led one theologian to paradoxically quip: “The reason the devil’s so angry is because he doesn’t exist!”

Evil is void, departure from God’s purposes for creation. Evil is undoing, unraveling, the resounding “It is good!” God pronounced over each and every created thing in that seven day liturgy at the very beginning. Evil is humanity’s forgetting or rejecting what humankind is made for. 

Which brings us to question two. What are human beings made for? 

Staying for a moment in that very first garden, with creation, God reveals in creation at least three aspects of what it means to be human. The first is to be made in the image of God and for relationship with God; walking with God in the cool of the day. The second thing it is to be human is to be made for relationship and enjoyment of one another, including the invitation to be fruitful and multiply. The third thing is means to be human is to be good stewards of the land and the rest of the created order. This is God inviting humanity to lift up creation and give names to what we find (tigers, hippopotami, and absurd little creatures like the platypus) and ask God’s blessing and give God thanks. It’s the same pattern we fulfill in the Eucharist, when we take our place in the new creation and we offer bread from the land and wine from the fruit of the earth and lift up our hearts and, in a sense, become more human for doing what we were created to do, as we give thanks to God and share God’s joy.

Finally, then, our third question: How does the one who rises from the dead show us how we belong to each other?

In order to answer this question, it helps to look at how evil, or holes in the blanket, got in the way of humans being fully human, almost from the start, in each of the three ways of being for which humans were created. The first hole occurred in the part of the blanket called relationship with God. Adam and Eve did things they discerned they should not have done. Rather than seek God’s help, they hid, and the blanket tore. The first hole. At the same time, another blanket, a veil, came between God and the ones he loved most. 

If you’ve ever wondered if God really loves you, if God’s love is for you, and if you’ve feared you can’t trust God’s love with your whole self, no hiding, you’ve felt the snag of this hole in the blanket. 

The second hole occurred in that part of the blanket intended for our mutual enjoyment of each other. You can see this hole most clearly when you hold the blanket up to the light of Cain and Abel’s story. One brother kills another because of insecurity and jealousy, because Cain felt out of place with God. When the rich man steps over Lazarus, leaving him on the ground, preferring his own life to another’s he’s not being original, but imitating Cain and the generations after him. 

If you’ve ever felt the desire to block a sister or brother from flourishing in a future you both share, you’ve felt the snag of the second hole in the blanket. 

The third hole occurred when human beings, aware of the brokenness of humanity’s life with God and one another, began to wonder if it was possible any longer to lift up the gifts of creation with thanks. Truthfully, I mean. They looked at the land and saw scars of their mistrust of God and one another. You’ve felt this hole if you’ve ever let shame’s voice for you become louder than God’s voice for you and wondered if anything could make it better. 

For the people of God, some days it felt like a mess, not a gift. Lift that up to God? Some days it felt like the blanket was more holes than fabric.

But then, at his baptism, Jesus received the blessing of God’s goodness once again for all creation. In his death, he tore the veil that separated humanity from God, and by his resurrection and ascension, the first hole was mended, healed, and Jesus brought humanity into the full presence of God. The second hole found healing, too, when, on the night before he died, Jesus washed the feet of his friends, poured out the cup of forgiveness for them, and told them to love one another with everything in them, even when it meant seeking and extending forgiveness, over and over again. Love one another, he said, as I have loved you. When we look to this one, rising from the dead, we are meant to remember that mending with God has made us people made for mending with one another. 

The first two holes repaired, humanity began to hear again the groans of the earth, the same earth she had been certain her brokenness had doomed. Humanity looked again to the one who is risen from the dead and remembered that here, in this one, creation is being made new; that God isn’t done with us yet; that God in Christ is doing new things. Jesus Christ is the one who lifts and offers the toil of the land and the fruit of the earth and blesses what he lifts with himself. All of creation is being made whole, finding new life, in him.

What is the one who rises from the dead supposed to show us about belonging to each other? That’s it’s possible. That, in spite of everything, God in Christ has made us friends of God and one another. That holes are for mending. That evil has been overcome by God. That it is possible to be human again: one with God, one another, and the rest of creation. That God’s people have been given all that we need to love God and one another, to seek and serve Christ in each other, to sing God’s praise, and give thanks, with joy. The risen Christ shows us that mercy is God’s delight - even for you and me - and we will know God’s mercy as we extend nothing less than God’s mercy to one another, our sisters and brothers, and all of those standing outside the gate. For this Christ died. For this he lives.


Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

God is not a Rich Man
(And other true things that are hard to believe all the way)


Sermon for St. Dunstan's, Madison. These are the lectionary readings: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1Psalm 79:1-91 Timothy 2:1-7Luke 16:1-13

So, this is a difficult parable. Even before we get to the difficulty of what the parable may or may not be asking Jesus’ followers to do and whether we think we can do that, whether we’re willing to do that, this is simply a hard parable to understand. If you say it’s not, you’re lying because part of the difficulty is that the parable concludes with four separate interpretations, four different things the parable tells us it’s about. It’s trying to be difficult! It’s not just you. 

I do think this difficult parable has become slightly less difficult in recent years. Specifically, after 2008 and Occupy Wall Street and thousands of protesters flooding the capitol, it is easier to imagine the possibility that the rich man with which the story begins is someone other than God. And that begins to open things up, imagining that the rich man is someone other than God.

So let’s start with that groundbreaking hypothesis: God is not a rich man. I know, it sounds obvious when we say it that way, but most of the time, when we read the parables, God is the owner of the vineyard or the head honcho in charge or whomever else, but that information does not always come from the story, right? Sometimes, in some stories, we supply it. We make assumptions. It’s called projection. Something to talk to your therapist about.

So, to say the obvious again: Jesus doesn’t call the rich man God. In fact, since one of the four interpretations says you can’t serve both God and wealth, and since the story that follows this story is about a poor man, Lazarus, and an unnamed rich man being licked by flames in hell, let’s go out on a limb and say with some certainty, at least for today, this rich man is not God. This won’t be a September stewardship sermon about extracting wealth for God, whether from yourself or others. 

But let’s also say, since we’re out climbing limbs, that the confession God is not a rich man, even when it sounds absurdly obvious, is still not easy for us to believe, all the way. We can tell we don’t believe that the rich man isn’t God when we, from time to time, take wealth to be a sign of God’s favor in our own lives and in the lives of others; when we regard people according to their dollar value or the position we think we stand to get from them. 

I want to give an example of what I mean:

I was watching one of the countless presidential debates back a few months ago. And a commentator was stacking up pictures of all of the candidates’ heads on a sharp looking graphic, and you’ll remember there were a lot of heads to line up, at the outset at the election cycle. And next to each of the faces of the candidates was a number: the estimated net worth of each face. And part of the commentary involved whether the candidates in question were actually worth the numbers next to their faces. But implied in that commentary was the evidently undebatable and bipartisan assumption that a higher net worth equaled greater qualification for office. Wealth was assumed to be a sign of leadership, success, and suitability, even as the politicians were pushed hard to defend the authenticity of their faiths, and none of this was staged ironically. No moderator asked the candidates to defend their suitability for office in spite of their wealth, in light of their faith. And I thought, Christians know better!

If God is not the rich man, it follows that the rich man is something or someone other than God. The manager, then, is a person caught up in a system, a structure, that has him serving someone or something other than God. In return for accountability to this someone or something, the manager gets status, a position. And then he loses it. It’s gone. Over. The gig is up.

What will our hero do next? That’s the question on which the parable hangs. It’s also the question on which Israel hangs. It’s the kind of question that takes on existential stakes in light of Israel’s history played out over hundreds of years - a history of exile, return, and now Roman occupation. What will you do when you’ve lost, when it’s gone? is also a question that haunts most of us, even if the “it” that we stand to lose is different for each of us. Of course it’s a question about life and death, but it’s also a question about Alzheimers and memory. It’s a question about physical strength and career aspirations. It’s a question about reputation. It’s a question about life with those whom we love. It’s a question about wealth. It’s a question about legacy and self-importance. It’s a question about the day after failure and the truth that the only thing worse than failing, for those who haven’t failed, is the paralyzing question of when. It’s a question that cuts like a knife through the illusions we keep about the things we can’t keep and who we are, really.

So, what does our hero do next?

In Jesus’ parable, what our hero does next is begin to undo the social isolation he had previously self-inflicted out of loyalty to the rich man and his understanding of what maintaining his position required. What our hero does next is pick back up some of the relationships he had been told to sacrifice in order to maintain his standing. As he does so, he uncovers the extent to which he had entangled questions of worth and identity with his work and ambitions. What our hero does next is honestly name for himself how he had allowed the promise of his position to enslave him. What our hero does next is counter the ruthlessness of the rich man with a mercy and generosity the rich man’s world says isn’t the manager’s to give. In short, our hero gives up making himself a hero of anything.

Theologian Stephen Colbert one time told a bunch of college grads that they could not win their lives. Sometimes losing can save your life, especially if it ends the charade and gives you permission to return to what was most important in the first place. No more posturing over-against or harboring hopes of defeating the others through threat or violence or sheer strength of will. Just the good stuff. Nothing to lose, because you've already lost it. Love without fear. And this isn’t just good advice. In fact, if it’s just good advice, it isn’t true advice. But this is more than good advice, it is the beginning of the way of Jesus:

…if there is anything to this Christian “stuff,” it must surely involve the conviction that the Son would rather die on the cross than for the world to be redeemed by violence. Moreover, the defeat of death through resurrection makes possible as well as necessary that Christians live nonviolently in a world of violence.
In today’s parable, to live non-violently is the beginning of friendship, as position and power are exchanged for vulnerability and new possibilities; is to enter into a world in which we belong in true ways to God and one another. And it is, finally, to show up in the only way Jesus has promised to meet us. For we follow one, says St. Paul 
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
So this is the promise: fear replaced by forgiveness, mercy, and unexpected friendships. Because God in Christ has unexpectedly made us of friends of God and one another. God, give us courage to believe all the way.

Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Feeling of War & The Promise of God
(A homily on the 15th anniversary of 9/11)


A sermon for St. Luke's and St. Francis House Episcopal Student Center on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The readings for the day are these: Exodus 32:7-14Psalm 51:1-111 Timothy 1:12-17Luke 15:1-10.

War should feel different from not being at war. You should know war when you’re in it. But for the last thirteen years, at least, this country has been at war (by various congressional definitions), which means there’s a good chance you and I have forgotten what it feels like not to be at war. It’s like when the electricity goes out in your home, and the buzzing of all the electric appliances stops and you hear a silence more silent than what you had grown to call silence - and you discover you’d forgotten that a silence like this one was possible. For thirteen years, though, the buzzing hasn’t stopped. 

Truthfully, it has felt like war for longer. At least since 9/11. Fifteen years ago today. A friend reminded me the other day that this year’s freshmen were three when it happened. So much for exchanging “Where were you when?” stories. Of course, 9/11 was murder, not war. But one Christian thinker suggests that we called it “war” to normalize the chaos. Because Americans are good at war. We can do war. War gives us confidence.

My children were born into war. They have never not known it. They have no memories of landing at the airport and exiting the plane while craning their necks to find loved ones come early to meet them at the gate. The letters “TSA” dominated our family’s first travel experiences. Bedlam over stuffed animals forcibly relinquished and run through the requisite scanners. I am not one of those who thinks the added security steps are unnecessary. I appreciate the visible interest in our security. Still, when I was traveling through a crowded Chicago airport a couple of years ago and the security guard yelled out, “Keep your shoes on! Your government trust you! Your country trusts you! I don’t trust you, but your government trusts you. Keep your shoes on!” I felt uncontrollable tears fill my eyes. You can be shaped by war even when the wars are fought far away.

I believe we can say we want the buzzing to stop without dishonoring this country’s military, many of whom pray the prayer for lasting peace with an intensity I’ll never know. In fact, I think defending war with appeals to this country’s military personnel is worse than dishonest because it obscures the conflicts our servicemen and women carry. My grandfather served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States army. He fought in World War II and Korea. He would have fought in Vietnam, but my Granny said she’d leave him. He retired, reluctantly, and sold used cars, frequently to members of the great Dallas Cowboys teams of the 1970s, scoring occasional autographed souvenirs for my dad. My grandfather never talked about war. He drank about war. And carried the stories alone. He died of liver disease two years before I was born.

Today, the global movement “22Kill” is raising awareness toward the twenty-two veterans who take their own lives every day, suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues. Nevertheless, war remains the last, great bipartisan commitment. 

But we are not here today to be partisan, or even bi-partisan. We are here to be a part of the kingdom of God. Shortly after 9/11, Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote,
…if there is anything to this Christian “stuff,” it must surely involve the conviction that the Son would rather die on the cross than for the world to be redeemed by violence. Moreover, the defeat of death through resurrection makes possible as well as necessary that Christians live nonviolently in a world of violence. Christian nonviolence is not a strategy to rid the world of violence, but rather the way Christians must live in a world of violence. In short Christians are not nonviolent because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.
Hauerwas thinks that peace is not just the absence of war but, for Christians, the presence of friendships that God, in Christ, has made possible. It’s not a bad summary for the whole salvation story: God in Christ makes us friends of God and one another. That’s short enough to tweet!

I’m willing to wager that each of us, in our lives, has at some point felt provoked to battle - literal or metaphorical; has felt flushed with emotion and triggered in the way of all creatures toward either fight or flight. And maybe it was comforting to call it war, to see no other way. The betrayal of a friend. The colleague or student who advances faster than we do, the resentments and obsessions that follow. The loss of a loved one. The allure of power. The prospect of failure. A break up. Impending uncertainty. Insecurity of all kinds. Financial distress. Even prosperity. And whatever it is, here, at this juncture, is our opportunity to choose the alternative to desperation and violence: to walk with Jesus Christ. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” And those sentences aren't together by accident. For Paul, where war and violence forget the nearness of God, gentleness and vulnerable engagement with the powers profess that Christ is at hand. Patience becomes the confession that God is present and can be trusted to act, even in the midst of disappointment and things we do not control. Finally then, for Paul, worship and prayer become the most truthful things Christians can do.

Which leads us at last to our gospel. In Luke’s gospel today, Jesus describes God’s faithfulness to God’s promise. It’s the same promise Moses holds up to God in our reading from Exodus, which is the same promise God made to Abraham: y’all are gonna be my children, are gonna flourish and shine like a light that’s gonna keep your neighbors up at night.  Y’all are gonna be like the stars and shine in the sky and people will see things they didn’t see before you came along by your light. Beautiful things that will bless them. “God,” Moses interrupts, generations later, “We, no, they, um, your children, how do I say this? They built a cow out of grandma’s wedding band and some other stuff and said that was just as good as your promise of stars, just as shiny, but, um, before you smash us all to pieces, let me humbly remind you that, even so, you made a promise to bless, keep, and flourish them.” And so, more centuries later, Jesus describes God as a widow with a broom in her hand, scouring the floor for the one that got away; as a shepherd who, just as he’s about to call it a night, counts the sheep one more time. One’s missing. In an instant, he’s back in the hills. 

The biggest thing about faithfulness in Luke’s gospel is that it doesn’t primarily refer to the faithfulness of Jesus’ followers. Faithfulness describes God’s commitment to God’s people, no matter what else they do or don’t do. God is the shepherd. God is a widow with a broom in her hand. You are a coin. Me, too! And it’s assumed we sometimes get spun on our heads; that we need help; that repentance and forgiveness and new life and mercy and the pursuit of these things are vital to what the life of the kingdom, with God, will mean.

And maybe you’ve already felt it. I’m almost sure you have. One day, some day, recently or long ago, you looked up, and heard a strange sound, a sound you would later call broom bristles against the tile. Maybe you felt the surprising and initially uncomfortable push of the straw on your back, only to find yourself, moments later, swept up in awe. Into the hands of the One who sought you and loves you, whose love makes you lovely. Who came after you. Who found you. Maybe you’ve felt the pull, the gravity, of God’s reconciling work in your life: you, even you, swept up and gathered into the purposes of God. Maybe you have tasted the forgiveness that comes from the prayer when the psalmist sings, “Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. Make me hear of joy and gladness, that the body you have broken may rejoice.”

God in Christ makes us friends of God and one another. Friends are those people who are learning to care about the things the people they care about care about. We are friends of God! He’s found us. Thanks be to God. 

Lord, trusting your friendship, make us gentle toward ourselves, gentle toward one another, and gentle toward you. Show us where we do not yet trust you as we could, and then show us your joy, that we may share it generously for your sake and be surprised. Finally, give us your peace, still the buzzing in our hearts, that we may be your peace in this world. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. 


Amen.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Wearing Christ & Laying Down Arms
(On Parables that Stretch Us)

Sermon preached at St. Luke's Madison, on the readings appointed to the day: Deuteronomy 30:15-20Psalm 1Philemon 1-21Luke 14:25-33. I'll post to the audio when it becomes available; this one left the script. 

One of the things I love best about Jesus is the parables. The stories. The riddles and truths. It’s not so much that Jesus hides truth in them, but he never gives us disembodied truth. With Jesus, every truth has a story, a name, and faces. Likewise, Jesus invites us to live truth, in our bodies, with our names and faces. To wear truth, is the invitation. To move from inside it. Paul says we put on Christ; we wear Christ, because he is the truth.

I love the parables. 

Only.

I sometimes misremember the parables. Or remember only certain ones.

I remember the parables about mustard seeds and trees with branches that become homes for all of the birds. That’s one of my favorites. I remember the parables about lilies and fields and believing that God will beautifully clothe me. I even remember the parable about the farmer and the seed and the different kinds of soil, a sort of parable of generosity and unexpected hope. Of course, who could forget the parable of the prodigal son and the loving embrace of the father. So many parables and pictures of faith. So many good stories. I love the parables.

But sometimes. Well. 

Take Jesus this morning. He’s got a large crowd. Everybody’s happy. The sky is blue and birds are singing. He’s saying something godlike as they all nod their heads and walk down the road. Suddenly, he spins around and says, “Can I give you a picture of what it’s like to follow me?” Sure, Jesus. Please! “Great. Following me is like going to war. Against God. Only as you get closer and closer to God, you begin to doubt you can pull it off. Or, you should begin to doubt you can pull it off, defeating the Almighty. So you surrender instead. And you’ve got to know this surrender is not a negotiation, but a total take over. You lay down your life and lose everything. Family, heirlooms. Nothing’s safe. And,” if we can inject some of Jesus from a few chapters later, “Try to hold on and you’ll die. Lose your life, though, and you will save it.”

This parable doesn’t get included in most Sunday school curriculums. You don’t see as many artistic renderings of this parable. If parables invite us to put on Jesus and wear the truth, this one fits too tight and wears like a stainless steel sponge.

What do you make of Jesus’ implying that you and I are out to conquer God, or at least out to get as close to God as possible while keeping ourselves for ourselves? “You don’t have enough,” Jesus says, “to keep yourself to yourself and be a self apart from the love and mercy of God.” So put down your arms. And all the other stuff you would use to make yourself a proper self without relationship with God. Put it down. You look ridiculous. Put on Christ. Wear your baptism. In Old Testament terms, it's God's shouting in Deuteronomy today, “Choose life!” Surrender it all and feel for yourself that mercy comes in your size. It’s for you!

But you have to put it down. All of it. You can’t put on the new shirt, your new clothes, with two heaping armfuls of Justifying Yourself. Surrender.

Well, that was close! We had almost stumbled into warfare with God! And not just with God, with all the other people we would have tried to impress or conquer or hurt with all of the “see what I did by myself” stuff we were carrying. You could poke an eye out like that! But, putting them down, we’re invited to explore how our fights out there, with God and others, are connected to the fears in here, inside of ourselves. We’re invited to remember God’s promise that our surrender will meet God’s mercy. We’re invited to stretch ourselves and be opened, where once we were curved in on ourselves.

I’m an expert on stretching. Or I’m learning to be. You see, a few months ago, I went to the doctor with symptoms that scared me. Unpredictable pain. Tingling in my fingers and other limbs. Numbness. It was starting to affect the way I interacted with the world. But it turns out the conflict wasn’t between me and things outside me; it was a conflict within me. Specifically, my trapezius didn’t trust my shoulders enough to give them room to operate. The trapezius was doing everything, running the show. It was killing me! Sometimes it pinched areas outside of its purview. Thus the tingling and numbness. And, if you’ll make room for metaphor with me, maybe you’ve experienced a time in life in which you were operating primarily out of only one part of yourself, at war with yourself and one side was winning, and it changed the way you engaged the world, and not for the good; it altered your perspective. Maybe it left you unsure of yourself or mistrustful of others. Maybe it hurt. Maybe it left you numb.

A pastor on Facebook this week pointed out that, across the country, its the beginning of the school year and, for a lot of places, program year for the church. And he said there are three ways Christians can stretch themselves if they want to continue to grow in Christ, and - as fate would have it - those three ways correspond to three of the stretches that have opened my body, helped me surrender myself, and engage the world around me again. Three opportunities to be opened up. I want to share them with you.

The first stretch is up. [Off script here (doing exercises), but talking about serving God in worship.]

The second stretch is out. [Talking about serving one another and neighbors, keeping the elbows in.]

The third stretch is back toward myself. [Talking about investing in one’s own spiritual life.]

There’s a last stretch. It’s the hardest and the easiest. You don’t do this stretch. It’s the stretch that does you. [Foam roller as Eucharist.]

It’s takes all of them. One without the other leaves untapped potential to be opened. And once you get a taste for it, it’s hard to leave untapped potential on the table. It’s hard to walk away from the kingdom you’ve felt in your bones as the new possible. So we stretch - up, out, and inside. We feel the shape of his kingdom under our backs. We get up and go out, paying attention to the changes, seeing how long we can carry them. And we’re glad to come back. This new posture, this new kingdom, is not a fix for a moment but the way of living and being and loving and praising for which God has made us. There’s joy in this knowledge, and we hold onto this joy, and we stretch ourselves again and again toward him who stretched out his arms in his love for us.

Amen.