God of many names and boundless compassion, strengthen all who have come today. For some this is a time of victory, for others this is a time of healing, and for others, still, this is a time of struggle.
Let this path be a sign of your realm, where each one is known by name, where no one is a stranger and all are welcome.
As this connects the past location with the current one, help us to never forget the past as we live into the future.
Remind us that all that we have, we receive as gifts, and that we are stewards entrusted to each others care. Make us instruments of your grace and peace.
We thank you, God, for the gift of life, for the beauty and wonder of creation, and for our own life which comes from you.
We thank you for the richness of our community: for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Intersexed, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, and Straight and the beautiful array of colors they bring to this world.
We thank you for lives of those who have come before, for the ones who would not be silenced. For their sacrifice and courage that paved the way for others to be honest and true.
We pray for the ones who needlessly died. Whether through violence, abuse, or AIDS, may their courage remind all that we must not allow our community to be seen as second class.
We thank you for the straight allies who helped to make equality a possibility, yet also know that the journey is not over. We pray that we may all continue to name and address injustice wherever it is seen.
We thank you for the politicians who have passed the laws and given the protections so that we can live free and love whoever God has called us to love.
Blessed are you, living, loving God. As we stand before this path let it be a reminder of our past as well as a symbol of our future. Let this always be a bold statement that the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Intersexed, Queer, Questioning, Asexual, and Straight community is accepted and respected in San Jose. Let those who walk this path be blessed knowing that they are loved by our creator and welcome in this community.
Let us boldly go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit and the Love we feel today. Amen.
The passages we encounter this week are important ones for Lent and for our lives. Often when I talk about the Lenten experience I speak about how we order our lives in preparation for meeting Christ. Many people wonder what it means to order one’s life.
It is not organizational nor is it categorizing every moment of one’s day, it is about bringing order to your life, creating a focus, and giving space for God so as to not let our own thoughts and lives take over to the extreme that we no longer are able to connect with God. This is something that is not easy to do because it is counter cultural. In our society we are programmed to think for ourselves, strive for the things we like and discount the things we do not. We are motivated to strive for the ideals of this world over listening for God.
I remember not too long ago watching a child melt down in the candy aisle at the store when his mother told him “No” as he reached for the sweets. Unfortunately, the mother gave in, the child got what he wanted, and they strolled off as if nothing happened. “Strange,” I thought, but I see how often that happens in the world. More importantly I looked inward and saw how often that happens within my own life. There are times when I am drawn to what makes me feel good over what is really healthy and nutritious.
I cannot help but think of the Snickers commercial that had the tag line “Snickers satisfies.” No it does not! It may make you less hungry and quench a temporary hunger pang, but really what does it do for you? The energy you would get dissipates almost as soon as you eat it, and the fat and other chemicals actively work against your overall health. So while it may make you less hungry, what does it do for you other than to please you? And it pleases you in such a temporary way that you often find yourself looking for that next thing.
We are often like the child in the supermarket. Though as adults we do not have tantrums-- well, not like we did when we were kids--often we think about what we want and what our desires are over what God wants from us or what really is the best for our lives. This is where we become out of order. Instead of being connected with God’s hope and calling for our lives, we place our comfort and our knowledge before God, putting us out of order with the way things ought to be.
This is central for both of the passages that we encounter this week. In no way does God desire us to suffer or deprive ourselves of this world. God wants us to enjoy what has been created! However, we must not allow our enjoyment of the world to reorder our enjoyment of our relationship with God. As Paul reminds us often, we are not living for this world, but we live to please God and must listen and follow, lest we find ourselves in dire places!
As we continue our season of Lent, let us focus on how we reorder our lives. While for some, Lent is a time for giving something up, for others, it is adding something to their lives. Neither is better than the other, as long as the reason is to help refocus and reorder our lives so that when the Easter story comes, we are ready to hear and understand the glory that will come.
“ARE YOU READY!” The park attendant yelled as my friend and I felt the safety bar clamp down with a loud click and a following clack. With a jerk and a loud screech the cart began to roll down the first hill, up the second and down into quick turns, flips, fast ups and downs. It was a thirty second exhilaration that made my heart beat fast and drove my adrenalin up. It was so great I wanted to go again. I went to stand in line and wait. It was only 35 minutes this time.
When I was in high school and we went to the Six Flags for Physics day, the manager had a question and answer period. One of the first questions had nothing to do with the physics of the rides but about the wait, why the wait was so long. The manager said that it was as much a part of the ride as the ride itself. He said that by the time people arrived at the ride they were already excited with anticipation and the ride drove that excitement to another level at least for those who still wanted to go on the ride.
As we work our way through the time of lent we are journeying toward a new life, to the promise fulfilled. As with the ride the great anticipation leads us to a glorious new experience. Easter provides us a glimpse of that glorious new experience. By Easter in most parts of the country, some early flowers are beginning to bloom and we begin to see signs of nesting birds and new life all around us. The gloom of winter transitions to the beautiful blue skies and sounds of spring.
As we work toward Easter we need to do so with diligence and patience. Easter is the beginning of something new. It is the most important day of the Christian year, not only because it is the prophesy fulfilled or the promise of life eternal. It marks the beginning of a journey that will take us to new places and make us feel things we would not have otherwise felt.
Isaiah prophesized, in the coming of the Lord, that the world would be called into something new. Thus, the world was going to begin a journey, one that would be new and glorious. He said, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”
As we prepare, we must do so in preparation for the new journey that we are called by Christ to be on. We must challenge ourselves and our trepidations to allow Christ to change and mold us.
I barely got on the ride that time. It was the first roller-coaster I had ever been on and the whole time I had been standing I knew where the exits were. By the time the attendant screamed “Are you ready,” I did not have much time to say yes, no, or run from the ride! I was ready whether I wanted to be or not. In our lives we are on a journey with Christ. Granted there are times we don’t realize it, but it is through this journey that we prepare ourselves for what is next, the Resurrection.
I love a good Healing service. Granted, I never experienced one until I was in Seminary, but from the very first one I recognized their power. This power brought me back to the first time in my life where I experienced real physical healing from pain and how important both pain and healing are to life.
Sometime in early 1983, I began to have some serious issues. Unable to keep my food down, we spent much of the year seeing doctors to try and figure out what was going on. After months of weight loss, stress for my parents and other issues we found a doctor who gave us the greatest gift. He actually told us he did not know what was going on, but validated that something was!
This admission started the ball rolling for a months of tests, procedures, evaluations, and many other things. By Feb. 2, 1984, I was nine and a half years old and forty-five pounds. I was having trouble in school as it’s hard to concentrate when you’re not able to get nutrition. And while I longed to play like other kids, I spent most recesses in the principal's office because I would get so worn out on the playground I would be useless in class. When I entered the hospital that day to have that surgery I would be having a surgery that was almost never done on someone my age so many precautions were taken. That became a theme for me in later surgeries, but that is another story. What was interesting for me was that, as I ate the hamburger the night before the surgery, I knew my life would be forever changed.
The surgery was difficult, but the doctor was surprised at how strong my heart was, especially with the malnutrition caused by the Achalasia (the name for my disorder). The surgery was pronounced successful, yet problems abounded. That hamburger they gave me the night before the surgery found a new home in my lungs and my few days' recovery turned into a couple weeks. Other than the tons of attention you get when you’re a child in an adult ICU, it was a painful time, but recovery came and life changed for me. During this time of healing I learned three important things.
First, I learned that some pain was temporary. This was important because, while I was never the best athlete, I could always outlast my opponents in sports, much to the frustration of my coaches, when I would wait until the end of the match to make my winning move. Later in life, I would find that I could persevere through the most difficult situations, knowing that things change and that with time you can get through anything.
Second, I learned that some pain becomes so much a part of life it becomes normal. Avoiding the churn of stomachs, I won’t go into too much detail here. However, there are many things that I live with that are normal for me but would seem odd for many people. Interestingly, the only time I recognize those painful areas are when others bring them up, and often I realize that while they are painful, in a way I have learned to cope and accept them for what they are. This is something that now, as a middle aged man dealing with injuries and the like, I understand even more!
Third, I learned that some pain can make you stronger. I know it is a cliché but it is true. Not all pain will go away. Not all pain can be integrated into your life, and that is not all bad. Maybe the most important thing I learned is that, when you are in pain, you become more alive. I know it sounds strange, but when I would go through the painful times and have the constant pains that have not ever really been integrated in my life, I find a place of gratitude. Not in some sadomasochistic way but in gratitude for all of the places where I do not have pain reminding me that I have to always strive to live there for the good moments and not let the “pain” take the better of me.
Thus, I really do believe that pain can bring us to a place of gratitude for life which God has given to us. To this day I suffer from the ramifications of the surgeries, not only in the esophagus and stomach but also with my lungs. Moreover, I learned over the years that every time I feel that pain it often comes with gratitude because I realize on a fundamental level that, for me, the alternative to life without that pain is no life at all.
It would be later experiences that would help my faith to grow. I know I have spoken about that before. But at the same time, I think because this started when I was so young, I accepted that it was not something that God had done to me. I think that, as a child, I took for granted God’s presence in my life and did not really think about it. Looking back, what I think was so interesting about my nine-and-a-half year old self was that I could separate the pain from God, accepting that pain would be part of life and really had nothing to do with God.
What is really interesting, and something I think of often, was that the church, more then the hospital, was the place where I found healing. The strength I found was that God and the community were there to support me in my journey.
As we celebrate our healing service tomorrow night we do so asking to reconnect with God. We seek a spiritual healing that will bring us from pain to life and give us hope even within the pain that will always be part of us.
Growing up in the eighties two of the biggest things for boys were GoBots and Transformers. Personally, I liked GoBots better but both had the same general principle. They were something that when the time came would transform into something else. Most of the time it was cars, but sometimes buildings, rocks, and so on. For the longest time when I heard the story of the transfiguration of Christ I always thought of the GoBots I played with as a kid.
On one hand this was good imagery for the Transfiguration. On the mountain, Jesus is transfigured in front of Peter, John, and James. Right before their eyes, Jesus changes from a man into something more. However, that is where things kind of fall apart. Since the transfiguration is not really a moment where Jesus goes from one state of being to another, it is more of a revealing of how Jesus was the whole time.
For the three, this was a significant moment when they saw that Christ was much more then who they thought he would was. Yet, as the story lets us know, they still could not fully understand what they were seeing. To their eyes, Christ was in something like an ordination ceremony but it would have been the ceremony of all ordination ceremonies. But, they did not make the connection fully. Even though Jesus explained to them what went on, their future actions revealed the disciples' lack of understanding.
Instead of thinking of this as a transformation, I like to see this as more of a revealing. Jesus brought the disciples to a place where he could be fully revealed to the disciples. The truth of the passage is that other then a light show nothing is changing; Jesus was the same going up the mountain as he was coming down. Even in the moment one could justifiably argue that there is no real change.
The line, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white,” points to something that has much more to do with the nature of the event then to some magical metamorphosis. I liken it to watching a child see their parents who have been deployed for over a year. Watching a child's face change states from whatever it may be to pure joy is amazing! Here, Christ is being reunited with his father and in doing so changes into the joy which comes from that reunion. So what about the clothes becoming white? Who knows, but it does not signify a change in the person of Christ, rather his state of being.
Here is the interesting thing, by looking at the story with analogies like the GoBots or, as I have also used in the past, butterflies, the emphasis of the story is often put in the wrong place. Christ has always and will always be the same. Thus, the basis of this story has little to do with the change that happens in him as it does with the change that happens in us. When we make the story about magical things that happen, we remove ourselves from the world of belief and enter to the world of unbelief. When we see this passage as a revealing, we are forced to ask ourselves how many times Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, have revealed themselves to us yet we were either blissfully ignorant, refused to understand, or neglected to care.
The truth is that when Christ is revealed in our lives, it is not some magical transformation. Christ is not hiding somewhere waiting to transform into something big and powerful. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is there with us each and everyday, and when we believe, we can see the full beauty of our lord now and forever.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen