Monday, February 22, 2016

The Reverend Christopher W. Hogin
Cocooned In God’s Love
Luke 13:31-35
The Episcopal Church of The Ascension
February 21, 2016

            For some reason a story kept nudging its way in my consciousness this past week. I’m not sure why. The story is a Polish folktale called Zlateh the Goat.
It begins in a small village. Reuven, the local tailor, was having a bad year. It was a mild winter. There was no snow, and it wasn’t even very cold. Because of that no one bought any winter clothes from him. Reuven needed money for his family, and so he decided to sell the family goat named Zlateh. He called in his eldest son, twelve-year old Aaron, and instructed him rise early in the morning, travel to the neighboring village, and sell the family goat to the butcher. Aaron was dismayed. He loved Zlateh, and didn’t want to sell her, especially to a butcher. Still, he understood the family’s dire situation.
The next morning Aaron rose, tied Zlateh to a leash, and hung a copper bell around her neck. He grabbed a tin pail, and then bid his family goodbye. The boy and goat ventured off into the wilderness. A few hours later hiking in the woods, Aaron noticed a change in the weather. It got colder. Raindrops fell. The raindrops turned into snow flurries. The snow flurries turned into snowflakes. The snowflakes turned into snowballs. Soon, a violent blizzard erupted. The wind carried a high-pitched shriek sounding like a chorus of a thousand demons. Aaron and Zlateh were lost.  They could not they see. Darkness descended. Aaron panicked. His wool jacket gave little protection from the cold. Zlateh’s hoofs sank deeper into snow. Aaron cried, and prayed to God. He sat down in the snow, resigned to his fate. It was over. All he could do was submit to the howling wind of the cackling demons. They had won.
Then Aaron saw something. In the distance he saw a large frosted lump in the middle of an open field. It looked out of place. Aaron summoned his strength. He and Zlateh, her copper bell clinking, trudged over to it. Aaron realized it was not a snowdrift, but a haystack covered in snow. He became excited. This was his chance. Aaron burrowed into the haystack forming a cocoon-like shelter. He led Zlateh inside. There it was warm and snug. The goat was astonished. This human had led her into a house made out of food. She began eating the straw until she could eat no more.
Aaron patted Zlateh, happy that she was fed. He realized that he too was hungry, and noticed Zlateh’s swollen udders. Aaron placed his tin pail under Zlateh and began milking. The milk gave him nourishment and strength. Outside the blizzard raged, but inside the haystack Aaron and Zlateh remained warm, safe, and full. The straw was fragrant with cut grass and dried summer flowers. Soon, both boy and goat fell asleep, and Aaron dreamed of green fields and sunlight.
The storm lasted three days. On the third day, Aaron awoke. The wind no longer blew. It was quiet and still. The demons had vanished. Then he heard it—ever so faintly. He heard sleigh bells and horse hoofs. Aaron scurried out of the haystack and signaled the driver. Soon, boy and goat were back in the village and received a loving homecoming. Because of the snow, Aaron’s father sold many winter coats. With money in hand, the family was secure and Zlateh remained with them for the rest of her life.
Why do I tell you this story about a boy and a goat surviving the wilderness? What does it have to do with the Gospel? Jesus often confronts demons in the Gospels. We see it briefly today in Luke where Jesus tells the Pharisees that he’s far too busy to worry about Herod because he’s performing cures and casting out demons. Earlier in Luke, Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus replies, “Get-behind-me!”
In Zlateh The Goat, Aaron ventures into the wilderness where he confronts his own demons through fear, hopelessness, despair, and manifested in the howling wind. When Aaron prays he sees hope in the darkness. That hope leads him to shelter, warmth, nourishment, and safety.  
My brothers and sister, during this Lenten season we also have the opportunity of venturing out into the wilderness of our souls. It can be a place of beauty, but also a place of danger. In the wilderness we often see things clearly, both demonic and angelic. Use this time to see both. Ask yourself, what are the demons in my life? We all have them. It may be an addiction, regret, fear or uncertainty. It may resentment over how life may have turned out. It maybe disappointment, or an unresolved issue from the past.
Whatever it is, know that the demons will always be lurking in the shadows. They come in the form of despair, pride, envy, anger, hatred, and fear. But we have a choice. We can either sit down as Aaron did in the snowstorm, tortured by the madness of our demons, or we can seek out shelter. We can put those demons in their proper place, just as Jesus when he cast them aside.
Brothers and sisters, consider doing three things this Lent. First, ask yourself, what are my demons. What demons are controlling my life? Are they pulling me away from those I love? Are they in your marriage, your work, or in the people you interact with? What draws you away from God and one another? Are they grudges, or regrets? Confront your demons.  
Second, find a refuge from the storm. Look for that frosted lump. Find that haystack, which often emerges in unexpected places offering shelter, warmth, and nourishment amidst the storm. That shelter can be here in church. The shelter can be drawing closer to one another through relationships in community. The shelter can come through prayer, which can be a haven warmth, safety and nourishment amidst the storm.
Finally, have hope. Keep your hearts directed towards God. Just as Aaron dreamed of green fields and sunlight as he breathed in the fragrant aroma of cut grass and dried summer flowers, so also hope. Know that whatever storm rages in your life, whether an illness, a broken marriage, a broken relationship, disappointment, fear, sadness. Whatever it is, God does want you healed. But you must listen to God, not the demons. Cast them aside as Jesus did. Put them in their proper place. Respond by commanding them to, Get behind, not in front of you.
Nothing ever really lasts. The howling winds are eventually silenced. And in that stillness, listen for those clinking bells of hope. Dream those dreams of green fields and sunlight. Remember the fragrant aroma of dried flowers. For when we find ourselves sheltered in the cocoon of God’s perfect love, all will be well.

                                                                        Amen


Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Inconvenient Truth
Rob Gieselmann, Epiphany 4C, Jan. 31, 2016

I have a question for you:
Does Donald Trump love you?

Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians –
which is “First Corinthians,” not ONE Corinthians –
about the nature of love, that love does not
demand its own way. And I’m wondering, when The
Donald looks at you and me, through the television
screen – as it were – does he – well, does he love you?

Now, the person who loves you will tell you inconvenient
truths about yourself. You know – you have spinach
stuck between your teeth, or you drank too much
at the party tonight.  And embarrassed me.
Mr. Trump is certainly willing to speak inconvenient
truths, but my sense is that he wants to tell you
inconvenient truths not about you, but about other
people. Like all the presidential contenders –  It’s easy
to talk smack about third parties –but what about your
own audience, the people you are cultivating –
When was the last time you heard a Republican endorse
a constructive immigration policy? Or a Democrat endorse
the benefits of modern capitalism?

Does Hilary Clinton love you? The sum of her life is
campaigns, and – shades of truth, and some would add,
insincerity. Does Hilary love you? And Ted Cruz, does
he love you? With his supercilious insistence that he
and nobody else has it right?  Maybe you can forgive
Donald Trump for telling it like it is – for his petulant
Demands about Megyn Kelly and the debate –
People treat him, after all, like a modern-day John
the Baptist – John the Baptist didn’t take noth’n
off-a nobody –  Only John the Baptist spoke
inconveniently to people, not about people. And most
people don’t want John the Baptist – not really –
we want people who will hate what we hate.
Not hate what we love.  I’m looking for integrity,
though – the unique politician who is going to tell me
that the inconvenient truth that Social Security
won’t survive unless I sacrifice.  Who will tell all of us
that we don’t pay enough in taxes – rich and poor,
participating together.  When the rich young ruler
asked Jesus, What must I do to inherit life? Jesus told him
the painful truth – sell it all, and give it to the poor.
But first – it says this – Jesus loved him. Jesus loved him
first, then spoke words he knew the man could not heed.
Now Jesus is teaching the hometown crowd, people
gathered to see whether Jesus might perform miracles
for them, too.  Instead, Jesus loved them, and told them
exactly what they didn’t want to hear - inconvenient truth.
Messiah isn’t for you.  Miracles aren’t for you. Don’t you remember the Hebrew lessons about the widow –
a foreigner – and Elijah helped her during the drought,
and not the Hebrew children. And that foreign soldier
Naaman, Elisha healed him of leprosy, and not any of the Hebrew lepers. God is interested in the outsider.
Do you remember the story of Naaman? He was the
outsider – a foreign soldier – and after Elisha healed him
of leprosy, Naaman promised to worship Yahweh forever.
In those days, one’s god was tied inexorably to land –
physical dirt. Naaman went so far as to promise Elisha,
I’m going to take a wheelbarrow full of Palestinian dirt
home with me, so I can worship Yahweh at home, too.

Such devotion, yet even in the story – there is this
sense that Naaman’s expression of faith would eventually
falter. That he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his promise
completely. Nonetheless, Elisha – with a wink and a nod –
patted Naaman on the back and sent him on his way with
his wheelbarrow of dirt.

And this is the point: God is more interested in the honest,
yet sloppy worship of the outsider than in the carefully constructed worship of the insider – especially when the insider wants to keep it all to himself. Jesus loved them,
these hometown folk - insiders who wanted to keep it
all to themselves – He loved them enough to tell them the inconvenient truth.  *I sometimes think of myself
standing in line at the pearly gates – and about who
might be waiting in front of me – as my old seminary
professor liked to say, you’ll be scandalized by that person standing in line in front of you …  Who is it you least
expect? The drug dealer?  But more than that – I think
about those  who in this life have suffered so much –
Indeed, we’ve all suffered – But there are some
who seem to carry on their shoulders a suffering
that is greater than the rest of us. Their souls are bent
double from the load, their gate halting, and life is
simply overwhelming. Day in and day out.

Here I think about my own brother, the one who
was born without a full mental capacity – and how it
has forced him to live a lesser life – never to have
experienced the love of a woman or his own children,
or to have a career …  I also think of the long lines
of Syrians being forced from their homes and country
and faith – wholly displaced, while my greatest worry
seems to be Janet Yellen and the falling stock market. 
Every day, Mexican children seek a better home here,
spurned and many bequeathed to the desert vultures.
I hope these people are ahead of me in line at the
Pearly Gates. I really do. I hope these people get the
first choice of mansion, the first selection of love,
the first embrace by our Savior whose kind words,
will simply be, well done, good and faithful servant.

I need the love of God to scandalize me – that same love
who declares yet again, I don’t care that you didn’t do it
right.  I’m just glad you’re here. And isn’t this what
Jesus tried to tell his hometown crowd that day –
that there is more to faith and God and love than
you think? God doesn’t hate everything you hate.
So why is it we want politicians who do? Who express
our hate? Who talk smack about others. I don’t know
about you – I need an honest-to-God Savior, not
a politician.