All posts by alanclaassen

It Does Move

It Does Move

Alan Claassen

May 21, 2017

Psychotherapist, Piero Ferruci, from Italy, has written a book called, Survival of the Kindest.

In his book, Ferrucci discusses the precious gift of connection, giving one’s attention to another human being. He writes, “People who are suffering don’t need advice, diagnoses, interpretations and interventions. They need sincere and complete empathy—attention.”

Once they have the feeling that another person is putting themselves in their shoes, they are better able to let go of their suffering and head down the path of healing.

“When someone opens themselves up to you and puts their trust in you, it is the greatest gift of all. Just think about it: which relationships in your life have enriched you the most and why? These are nearly always relationships in which people gave you their trust, whereby you had the feeling that the other person trusted you. Putting your trust in someone is precious. It is the gift we should be the most grateful for.”

Now, here’s a story from Piero Ferruci’s book, Survival of the Kindest.

It takes place on Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States, and the beginning of the Freedom Trail. The characters in this story are two men with little in common. One a well-heeled, high-powered attorney, the other a street-schooled, often ignored homeless person.

Rob slept on a sidewalk. Peter had a swank condo in the Back Bay. But every morning they would cross paths here on Boston Common and over the course of several months, actually became good friends.

How did that happen? Such contrasting men, living such different lives. You’d think after the weather and box scores they’d run out of things to talk about. And indeed, they did run out.

So Peter the high-powered attorney gave Robert, the street-powered homeless person, a copy of a favorite book of his called ‘Water for Elephants.’

Robert read the book. And discussing the book became their way of connecting, and a friendship was born.

“Then one day Peter asked Robert what he had done with the book. Robert replied, “I gave it to a fella over there. I knew he liked to read” So it occurred to Peter and Robert that there was an interest out there on the Boston Common that could draw people together”

“You’d be surprised by how many people actually read,” Robert said.

Peter and Robert started the Homeless Book Club. They meet every Tuesday in a church conference room. Peter buys the books. In the beginning he offered to bring in lunch too, but the members said “no thanks.” They wanted this to be about more than just another free lunch.

“For me it’s a place to go and escape,” said Donald, a member.

“And to question things,” said Louise, another member.

“Yeah, I feel more sophisticated,” said Jamie, a member, laughing.

Unlike the others, Jamie, who lives in a rooming house, says he never used to be a reader. His addictions were the priority.

“I picked up the first book and started reading it and I couldn’t put it down,” Jamie said. Now Jamie is addicted to literature. “If I keep reading, and keeping my mind occupied, I’m less likely to hurt myself in life,” Jamie said.

Testimonials like that are now inspiring other people in other cities, even other countries, to start putting together their own homeless book clubs.

And as for the homeless man who started it all – Robert – turns out, the only reason he couldn’t get subsidized housing was because he had an unresolved moving violation on his record. Fortunately, he knew a good lawyer. Peter was able to clear up that traffic ticket, which is why tonight Rob is no longer on the streets. He’s housed and working as a church custodian.”

A connection. A paying attention to another human being and a giving soul to soul. A Thankful Heart and a Shared Gift.

(Source: A Story about connection A Tale With a Storybook Ending By Steve Hartman CBS News. Found on

I received a book, from my father.

          It is a book entitled the The Future of Humanity and it was written by Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit Priest and a paleontologist.

          He is considered by many to be the grandfather of what is now called evolutionary Christianity.

          I opened the book to the first chapter, skipped over the quote written in Italian, since I don’t read Italian, and read these words.

          “The conflict dates from the day when one man, flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature are no more unalterably fixed in their orbits than the stars themselves,

          but that their serene arrangement around us depicts the flow of a tremendous tide—the day on which a first voice rang out, crying to humankind, peacefully slumbering on the raft of Earth, “We are moving! We are going forward…”

          I loved the quote and so became curious as to what conflict Teilhard de Chardin was referring to, so I looked back the quote that I had skipped earlier.

          E pur si muove

          Not only did I not know how to pronounce it, I didn’t know what it meant so I googled the phrase and found that it means, “We are moving.”

          I also learned who is famous for saying that phrase, the man was who, “flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature” were not fixed but were flowing.

          As the story goes, mumbling these words quietly to himself, Galileo left the session of the Inquisition that had found him guilty after a trial for “grave suspicion of heresy”.

          The “heresy” was in connection with his publication of a book, “Dialogue on the Tides” in which his belief in the Copernican notion of a Sun centered universe had sort of “slipped in”.

          In Italy in 1633, suggesting that the earth, that rock solid center of God’s universe actually moved around another body, the Sun, was not the wisest thing to do. In fact that idea could get you killed… or worse.

          Galileo got off easy since he was sentenced to life in prison, which, lucky for him, became permanent house arrest instead.

          In addition he was commanded to never mention the idea again, his book was burned and the sentence against him was to be read publicly in every university.

          But Galileo knew what he saw.

          “And yet it does move”.

          And yet, “we are moving.”

First Congregational Church in Sonoma

          You are moving! Together is the challenge.

And it is scary.

You have to let go of some precious things, but not everything

You have precious things to offer also, your love for one another.

What moves you?

Feel the earth move under your feet and the sky come tumbling down.

And when the Spirit says move, you gotta move!


God the Hen, Herod the Fox

God the Hen, Herod the Fox

Psalm 27

Alan Claassen

This one of the great challenges of being human; standing on the edge of the awareness of our finitude and yet choosing the amazing place of being alive.

Standing on the edge of

our memories of loved ones, who are no longer with us,

ones we love who are facing illness that may be terminal

or injuries that restrict our movement

or our awareness of the foxes of the world that breathe out violence,

          and wanting to still choose to be fully alive

          wanting to live as if we are on the road to the land of the living

          where life will be as it was meant to be.

          Where does that vision, that strength, and that courage come from?

“I believe that I shall see, the goodness that was meant to be,

               In the land of the living.

       Let your heart take courage.

               In the light, of love.”

       Psalm 27 is my favorite Psalm.

       These words are like spiritual medicine.

       Our spiritual well-being is strengthened if we include this message of love and light, protection and courage among our daily vitamins.

       Our muscles of our soul will be strengthened when our daily practice includes remembering the source of all creation, remembering whatever anchors us to something solid, remembering a sacred place or community that can hold all the emotions we are feeling.

        If take scriptures such as these verses from Psalm 27 deep into our heart and soul they will be ready to help us in times of the stress, and storms of life.

       I once saw a documentary on PBS about hurricanes and there was a story of a woman who was carried twelve miles out into the sea and back. The entire time she was in the water she said the 23rd Psalm, over and over again, and prayed that God would be with her.

       Now all sorts of tragedies happen to people who pray, so remembering a Psalm is not a miraculous cure that can work in every situation. But I believe, that because this woman held on to Psalm 23, she was able to keep hanging on to the hope that she would survive. In this case, her faith in God may truly have been her salvation.

       Having Psalm 23 in the core of her being kept her eyes focused on hope.

       Psalm 27 has the same message.

       The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?  

       For the writer of this Psalm, salvation is very immediate.

       Salvation is health, wellness, trust, now.

       It is a daily experience.

       It’s a way of seeing the world no matter what the broken world is seeing.

       Salvation is confidence, is patience, is trust, in the midst of being carried out to the sea of injustices and frustrations and disappointments of this life; the times when we grieve over the losses we have to endure because we have taken the risk of loving. Psalm 27 is a good friend to have in one’s spiritual medicine chest.

       I remember sharing with a member of a church that I was serving many years ago that Psalm 27 was my favorite Psalm, and he said it was his also,

       Though his favorite verses in the Psalm were different than mine, which was puzzling to me. I was drawn to the passages of love, light and living.

       My friend, was drawn to the verses:

               “When evil doers assail me… they shall stumble and fall.”

               “Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.”

               And, “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

               for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.”

       For my friend these passages meant a lot to him because there were times in his life when he had enemies who slandered him, there were times when he knew people were lying about him and it felt very violent.

       And these words of the Psalmist comforted my friend because he believed there was a deeper truth, a deeper source of strength and righteousness that would guide him and protect him. And these words gave my friend strength because they were his words. The Psalmist, like a great blues singer, was singing his experience.

       He wasn’t alone. And he was guided to respond in a way that was non-violent, honest, and compassionate.

       Heard the words of the Psalmist again,

       “Teach me thy way, O Lord; and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

       Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;

       for false witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence.”

       My friend had to ask himself:

       What shall I breathe out in response to these attacks?

       Do I breathe out fear? I don’t want to.

       Do I breathe out violence in defense? I don’t want to.

       Protect me, O Lord. Lead me not into temptation. Lead me away from violence. Lead me on a level path.

       Another way to put it is this:

       To respond to pain, not with fear or judgment,

       but instead with compassion or mercy.

       This is the level path: to respond to violence without resorting to violence.

       This is the path that sustains life, even in the face of death.

       This is the path of Jesus. This is the path of prayer-focused living

`     which becomes the source of healing and strength, hope and courage.

Baptized in the Holy Spirit in river Jordan,

       tested by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness,

       returning to the world with the light of God within him,

       Jesus proclaimed good news to those without power,

       which was bad news to those who had power.

       Jesus proclaimed the power that comes from the place of no fear.

       And so when some Pharisees came running up to Jesus with a warning that Herod wanted to kill him, because Herod was threatened by this wandering rabbi

who was healing the sick, and preaching a gospel of good news for the poor.

       Jesus responded from the place that the Psalmist sang about,

        “The Lord is my light and my salvation who shall I fear,”

       and Jesus said you tell that fox, Herod, this news:

       I am going to keep on walking, keep on talking, keep on healing, keep on teaching, today, tomorrow and the day after that.

       And then Jesus cried out for Jerusalem,

       He cried out for humanity,

       When are we going to see that we all have, all that we all need?

       There is bread enough; there is room enough,                    

       there is land enough; there is water enough,                 

       there is compassion enough for everybody.

       And then Jesus shares a wonderful, fully feminine image of God.

       Having just called Herod a fox, Jesus imagines God, as the hen in the yard,

       wings outspread, gathering in the chicks under her wing, protecting the   innocent, at the likely cost of her own life.

       This just like Jesus who turns all cultural norms and expectations on their head; for Jesus, the hen has more power than the fox.

       It is a power that begins by caring for the least among us so that all are fed.

       It is a power that remembers the teachings of the prophets, and that is what scares Herod the most, for the prophets condemned the king who would take advantage of the poor.

       It is power that can be both merciful and strict.

       Just like a mother hen, who loves her chicks.

Jesus, filled with the light of God’s love for all creation, walking the path of nonviolence, and preaching a gospel of good news for the poor, and made his radical action plan healing the sick, feeding the hungry and clothing the clothes-less and housing the homeless, and welcoming the stranger.

Jesus did not let the overwhelming power of Herod stop him; but neither will he heed the Pharisees advice to run away, to avoid the conflict.

       Jesus saw something different. Jesus saw the vision he received at his baptism:

       We are all beloved.

       Believing that he was called to share that vision of humanity with humanity,

       knowing that in sharing that prophetic vision he would make enemies,

       and trusting that he was protected,

       not from death, but from fear,

       he kept on walking, this day, tomorrow and the day after that.

       At the beginning of this sermon I mentioned a woman carried out to sea 12 miles and back. How many times must she have thought about letting go of that little raft that carried her? And yet, she held on.

       How many times must Jesus have despaired over the wide gap between what he saw as a real possibility for humanity and what he saw in Jerusalem.

       And yet, he kept on walking, preaching, healing, right into the city of Jerusalem.

       Our call is not to save Jerusalem, though we can pray for her, and all cities to live in peace.

       Our call is just about as wide as our wings can reach.

       Our call is to be the body of Christ in this community.

       Like a mother hen we can be peacemakers, courage teachers, bread-makers,

       in that little bit of the world that we can reach.

       Our call is to accept the love that gathers us in, protects us, provides for us,

       and guides us on the level path.

       Our call, as the body of Christ is to live the resurrection,

       And whisper this message to Herod, wherever he is these days,

       The work that Jesus began will be completed.

       Today, tomorrow, and the day after that.

Let the people say Amen.

Reach For Beauty

Reach For Beauty

Micah 6:6-8 Matthew 5: 13a-16

Alan Claassen                 November 9, 2014

          I met Lily Yeh while I was a student at the University of Creation Spirituality, which was founded by Matthew Fox, author of many books including, Original Blessing.

          Matthew Fox was also famous for having a year of silence imposed upon him by the Catholic Church. I was fortunate to be at this first lecture when the year of silence was completed. His first words were, “As I was saying…”

          Lily Yeh was invited to teach at the University of Creation Spirituality because of her work combining art and social change.

          In 1986, Lily Yeh was asked by the dancer and educator Arthur Hall to create a park in an abandoned lot next to his building in North Philadelphia. With a small grant, a few shovels, and little else, Lily invited children and adults in this impoverished inner city neighborhood to join her in clearing the rubble-filled lot. They then transformed the lot into an art park with brilliant mosaics and sculpted trees, creating an oasis of safety and peace.

          Lily’s vision has rippled out far beyond North Philadelphia’s borders.

          She inspires and collaborates with prison inmates to create beauty and art, and does the same with thousands of adults and children who live in some of the world’s most broken communities.

          She has collaborated with residents of the Korogocho slum near Nairobi to transform a barren churchyard with murals and sculptures and traveled to Ghana, Ecuador, The Ivory Coast and the Republic of Georgia to work on similar projects. 

          A recent endeavor is the Rwanda Healing Project, in which she worked with hundreds of children and families to transform their bleak village into a place of beauty and joy. The work is based in a village of survivors of the horrendous Rwandan genocide of 1994.

          Born in China, Lily immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts. A successful painter and professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, Lily traveled to Beijing in 1989 to show her work at the Central Institute of Fine Art. While there, she witnessed the tragic events of Tiananmen Square.

          Through the 1980s, Lily gradually realized that being an artist “is not just about making art, t is about delivering the vision one is given and about doing the right thing without sparing oneself.”

          She continues pursuing her vision through her new organization, Barefoot Artists, Inc., which teaches residents and artists how to replicate the Village model in devastated communities around the world.

          In an issue of Yes! magazine, where she is one of 15 persons honored by that magazine for their transformative work, Lily says, “I have found that the broken spaces are my living canvas. In our brokenness, our hearts reach for beauty.” She sees her work as “igniting the light of creativity that rests in all people.” She says, “My message is that your light is as bright as mine. It’s sunlight. There’s no difference. You just need to have it lit.”

          Here is my story of how Lily Yeh lit this little light of mine.

          I found three themes in the tools that Lily gave me for the journey of walking on the path; self-care, beauty, and good will.


          I want to share one time in class in which she exemplified self-care in her actions.

One day she came into class late and flustered. She had been dealing with traffic problems.

Before she began the formal part of the class she asked us to help get her focused and present. She asked us to form a circle around her and sing a note.

          After we had done this for a few moments she then thanked us. So we were then invested in her health and well-being. She brought her vulnerability and willingness-to-be amazed to class and we were, in effect, responsible for our own well being because we had helped put our teacher back together again. Since we had brought her to health we were naturally invested in her success that day as a teacher and our success as teachers.

          Thisstory exemplified for me how Lily comes into a community with self-care,

expressed in her relationships with others. Caring for one’s self includes the humility that asks others for help.

          In the act of self-care that names ones limits and needs, a community is formed.

          Lily shared with us that in the early years of her work in Philadelphia she was ready to back out but a small voice said, “that if you back away from this you will never amount to anything.” Courage is required in completing this work.

          To help one deal with the difficulties is also important to protect oneself. Lily shared that she was protected both by angels and by people. One of the first art projects on the abandoned, inner city, Philadelphia block was the  “Wall of Angels,” that was there to protect the children.

          Lily took hundreds of pieces of broken glass and the people of the neighborhood made a mural with three angels that hovered over and protected that city block.

          Lily’s first tool was self-care.

Beauty is her second tool.

          One would expect an artist to talk about beauty.

           “You must clean the park to play in the park.” The question is how can we make this park, body, church, school, world beautiful.

          First we clean out that which is ugly that we can remove. Then the park, or city-block, needs a center and a boundary. After cleaning the park of debris Lily brought color to the center. That color might be as simple as large circles of red and blue on concrete. Color brings energy. Color instantly transforms even the most mundane of things.

          After color the place needs dirt, then water. It is almost as if the creative process is an re-enactment of the first creative project, Creation itself. First the vision, then order from chaos, then light, then dirt. What comes next? The things that are attracted to form, color, dirt, butterflies and children.

          And it is good.

          As Lily involves people in the vision she engages them in their stories, which means engaging them in their darkness as well as in their dreams. All the while she holds onto her vision and her high sense of quality. This is a place where Lily’s deep gladness meets the deep hunger of the inner city of Philadelphia.

          Besides for the self-protection and beauty, Lily Yeh also gives the tool of a good will.

          To go into a community with good will means many things.

          It means to enter with an open mind, curious, turning to wonder not judgment.

Gentleness, beauty and kindness are other elements of good will. Impatience and manipulation come from a bad will.

          Good will is to come into a community without an attitude of problem solving, but instead to look for ways for the community’s dream to be awakened,  beauty to be uncovered, pain to be expressed and healed.

          Lily saw that her task was to cultivate and inspire people with the “magnificent and magnetic principles.” Lily directs people’s energies towards a common goal. She enters a community and asks for their dreams. Then she sets up a project based upon achievable dreams.      

          Following this process of creative good will increases the chances that the dream will be maintained once it is completed. Without ownership by the community that is a result of good will, the dream is not likely to be maintained.

          The tools that Lily Yeh gave to me on my Vision Quest are self-protection, beauty, and good will.  If I have this three qualities I will not be afraid to go walk the path I am meant to walk. If you have these qualities you need not be afraid to pursue the dreams you have within you as a congregation.

          Lily Yeh, reaching for beauty, provides us with a practice to follow, like the method a potter might use to transform clay into a pot, or the Holy Spirit might use to form a community.

          Each of has been given a gift that brings us joy and serves the community at the same time. This is our authentic self. This is the way of service. This is walking on the path God wants us walk on.

          In this season of thankful hearts and shared gifts you are given an opportunity to gather around this congregation with your pledges of time, talent, and treasure just as Lily Yeh asked her students to gather around her.

          May you reach for kindness, justice, humility. May you reach for beauty.

          May you be a light on Cornwall Avenue in the heart of Bellingham.

The Wolves Within

A Holy Ditch

Rev. Alan Claassen

Romans 12:9-23

Matthew 16 21-28

On the blessed Blessing of the Animals Sunday we enjoyed together two weeks ago I shared with you a story attributed to St. Francis. It was the story a village that was being terrorized by a wolf. St. Francis is said to have struck up a deal with the wolf. The wolf would stop eating the pets and little children of the village if the townspeople would simply leave a bowl of food out on their doorsteps for the wolf to eat each night. St. Francis’ plan worked.

I have another wolf tale for you this morning, called…

The Wolves Within

An old grandfather told this story to his grandson who came in to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story, said the grandfather.

“I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those who have taken so much with no sorrow for what they do; but hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking a poison and wishing your enemy would die.  I have struggled with these feelings many times.”

He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good and does no harm.  He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended.  He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.  But the other wolf? Ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper.  He fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason.  He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great.  It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

“Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”

The grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”

This morning’s passage from Romans is about choosing which wolf within us we are going to feed. Feed with our thoughts, habits, and actions.

This morning’s Gospel passage is about the inherent difficulty that may well arise within our world when we say that we have chosen the path of non-violence, and non-violent resistance. For Jesus himself paid the ultimate sacrifice, giving away his very life, by proclaiming that we should feed our enemies and not seek to destroy them.

Which wolf do we feed with our thoughts, habits, and actions?  The one that one is good and does no harm, lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended or

. the other wolf who fights everyone, all of the time, for no reason.  He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great.  It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”

The one we feed is the one who wins.

Paul makes it very clear in Romans which one we are to feed. Let love be genuine. Bless those who persecute you, repay no one evil for evil, and never avenge yourselves. Nothing could be clearer than what is listed in these verses.

There are those in our world today, in our American religious and political spheres today that claim to people of Christian values. They seemed to have skipped this passage.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. For evil response to evil only creates more evil. It make take years or decades but and violent response to evil brings about more evil.

But that wolf within that is quick to temper, quickly says that non-violence is wimpy, can’t work, an the poor need to find their own way out trouble, they found there own way into it. And we ourselves may read this passage and simply out of the kindness of our best hearts may say, it just can’t be done. It’s too difficult, I may get hurt.

Which brings to mind for me the stories of two women and three quotations by a WWII Veteran.

The two stories exemplify not only the practice of peace as outlined in this passage in Romans, they also reveal what made it all possible for Paul the Apostle to call the early church to this very vision. And that is a deep sense of belonging.  Belonging to a community. Belonging to God. Belonging to family. Belonging to Christ who ends all sense of separation between people. No east or west, no gentile or Jew, all children of God. All brothers and sisters, including golden retrievers and hermit crabs.

These two women are familiar to you all very much I am sure.

Rosa Parks story and Miles Horton’s Citizen Ship Schools. Rosa Parks learned her self-acceptance and all peoples through her participation in these schools which included all races studying together.

Cindy Sheehan story. A mother of a Iraq War Veteran killed in action galvanized the peace movement by simply asking to speak to the President.

Now we all know that Cindy Sheehan has had to go through a lot of threats and misrepresentation. This is carrying her cross. Not hiding it. Not staring at it. Not running from it. Carrying it. Moving forward. Being pulled forward. Why? Because she belongs to her son, and she belongs to everyone mother, father, family who has a loved one serving in the military. She belongs to this country and she is speaking for many of us.

But some are not listening or hearing.

To love enemies, to love people that we disagree with or are angry with means talking with them. Listening, speaking. Searching for that place of mutual belonging.

And speaking out when that sense of connection to one another has been broken.

What would it sound like for a President to think like this? Which brings me to my quotes, actually said by a former President of the United States.

“There is no way in which a country can satisfy the craving for absolute security, but it can easily bankrupt itself morally and economically in attempting to reach that goal through arms alone.”

          “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

 “There can be no enduring peace for any nation while other nations suffer privation, oppression, and a sense of injustice and despair. In our modern world, it is madness to suppose that there could be an island of tranquility and prosperity in a sea of wretchedness and frustration.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

There is something deeply satisfying quoting a veteran, a Republican, a former US President in a sermon dedicated to exploring what makes for peace.

One of the things that I most appreciate from the Romans passage is the verse,

“Hate what is evil. Love what is good.” I can be angry but I must temper how I may express my anger. The “wolves within” story said it well, “He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. The right way is a very powerful way and it is a way that breaks the cycle of violence without getting rolled over and playing dead. It means speaking out against those who take more than they need at the expense of the poor. It means sometimes getting in trouble for doing the right thing, even to the point of risking security, comfort, and life itself. Do it anyway.

There is one other verse in the passage from Romans that I want to lift out before closing this sermon.

“If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”

So far as it depends upon you.”

I am reminded of a quote I heard at a Conflict Resolution Workshop that we had at Cedar Hills UCC. It comes from the Dalai Lama.

He said that each one of us should ask ourselves this question,

“What can I do to preserve the beauty and wonder of the world, and,

What can I do to eliminate the anger and hatred in the world?

in that part of the world which I touch?

          What can I do to preserve the beauty and eliminate the anger and its root causes

in that part of the world which I touch?

          This statement encourages us to ask and to affirm, what can I touch? Not what can’t I touch, but what I can touch? It empowers us into action rather than the despair of being overwhelmed. It asks us to be clear about that which does depend on us. I think it also encourages us to allow ourselves to depend on others sometimes, too.

          Our sphere of influence begins right here, and within in our homes, and at the check out stand and coffee shop.

As members of the United Church of Christ our touch reaches around the country and world through the offerings that we give to special offerings such as Neighbors in Need, which is coming up next month.

          And as members of a democratic country our touch extends all the way to Congress and the White House.

What can I do to preserve the beauty and eliminate the anger and its root causes

in that part of the world which I touch?

          To eliminate anger and hatred and its causes in the world means beginning right where I am, where we are.

          It means reconciling relationships that I have, that we have.

          It means praying for those relationships we cannot reconcile and blessing both parties to God’s care.

          It means doing some small act of love, whether that be at the transitional shelter, the Red Cross, or in your own home.

          It means asking for help when you need it, and offering it when you have it to give.

          It is a new year for Lake Oswego United Church of Christ. How we act during these days and months ahead, in the part of the world that we can touch, will affect this church for years to come.

          How shall we go about eliminating anger and preserving beauty in this place? How shall we build a community that serves the community? How can we let people of this community know that there is a place such as this that welcomes everyone and is beginning a new journey into freedom?

          In this passage from Romans Paul has some words of advice for us that will help us feed the good wolf.

          As Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message,

          Love from the center of who you are, don’t fake it.

          Don’t burn out: keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

          Be inventive in hospitality.

          Surprise your enemies with goodness.

We do this out of gratitude for all that God has given to us. We do this because we are aware of all that Jesus Christ has done for us.

Let us, explore the possibility, so far as it depends upon us, to live peace, to love genuinely, to hold fast to what is good.

And may both wolves within us, lay down together.

The Way of the Wise

The Way of the Wise

Isaiah 60:1-6         Matthew 2:1-12

Rev. Alan Claassen

January 6, 2007

          Good morning. I am one of the men that visited the newborn baby Jesus when he as lying in a manger. I am also one the men wise enough not to go back to King Herod as he had instructed us to do. Once I saw Jesus I saw a new authority that deserved my deepest allegiance.

          I am here this morning to clear up a misconception that has developed of the years since I first saw the baby Jesus. I also want to share some things that I and other wise men and women have been thinking about over the last century. We like to stay current.

          So first, the misconception: I am not a king, my two friends were not kings. I know that you all just sang the chorus from the song, We Three Kings. I know the song has a wonderful melody, and I love the words of the chorus just as much as you,

                   Star of wonder, star of light,

                   Star with royal beauty bright

                   Westward leading, still proceeding

                   Guide us with thy perfect light.

          I would have no problem with the song if the words were about the wisdom of the stars… but we were not kings. We were magi, astrologers, star-watchers, and wise men from the east. Over time the stories got a bit expanded and people wrote hymns calling us kings and so it goes.

          The significance of our being there, as the gospel writer, Matthew, rightly understood it, was that we came from a long way away, from a different country, from a different culture, from a different way of thinking, to see this who this star was guiding us towards.

          We came from Persia, Babylon, and the place where the ancestors of Jesus, were exiled hundreds of years before. Our ancestors were affected by their ideas and we also had a hope for someone who would come and set the world back on its proper course. ; a course that is in line with the universe, in line with the stars, in line with creation.

          Our being there said, and still says, something about Jesus, something about God.  Which is, that God is not the property of any one nation, any one people, any one culture.  This was an entirely new way of thinking about God. It’s a way of thinking about God that seems to be forgotten quite often, it’s a way of thinking about God that seems hard to understand.

          And it’s not because it’s a difficult concept; it’s because it’s just such another way of thinking from others that we also get taught as we grow up. This is the way that Jesus would later teach his followers when he grew up.

          Jesus says in his society there is a new way for people to live:

                   You show wisdom by trusting people

                             You handle leadership by serving

          You handle offenders by forgiving

                             You handle money by sharing

                   you handle enemies by loving

          In fact you have a new attitude toward everything, everybody. Toward nature, toward the place you live, toward women and men, toward the poor, toward every single living thing.

          Now this isn’t the way of the world at large is it? In fact if you start talking about trusting people and serving people and forgiving, sharing, and loving people you’re likely to be considered foolish or dangerous.

          And you know that’s what happened to us. To us wise guys I mean. We were so profoundly moved and changed by seeing a vision of God in the form of a human baby that we understood why this new child was a threat to King Herod. So we didn’t go back to him as we said we would when we first came into town. We went home by another way. Another way. Being a disciple of Christ means looking for and following another way. Sometimes this requires a lot of imagination; sometimes it just takes freeing up your God given common sense.

          And so we have been traveling the world ever since that day, passing along the story of being guided by a light to the village of Bethlehem, to see the perfect light of a child. And that light is still proceeding, and that brings me to other thing that I wanted to share with you this morning.

          When we sent to see that Baby Jesus two thousand years ago we were guided by a light and a prediction, a hope, of the birth of someone who be a light for all humanity. Do you all know what’s going on in science these days? The scientists of your day are actually looking at the birth of stars and galaxies!

          And they are looking at nothing, emptiness. When they use those tools they have nowadays to look at atoms and into atoms the physicists are seeing elementary particles fluctuate in and out of existence. Elementary particles, leap into existence and then leap out. A proton emerges suddenly- where did it come from? Who made it? How did it sneak into reality all of a sudden? Particles come out of nothingness. That’s the way the universe works. That’s the way it worked in the beginning. Physicists are just seeing this now but it’s the way that the spiritually wise have always seen the universe.

          We three wise men, from the Orient were, ahead of our time.

          May I recite a quote familiar to you all? In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. The God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

          Scientists from a couple of hundred years ago wanted to reduce the universe to a machine that followed certain logical rules. Well to a great extent it does. But now they are also seeing the mystery of the universe and consequently seeing the universe and the earth as a living entity that is held together by mutual attraction, which we can either call gravity or we can call allurement or we can call love.

          May I recite a verse from a hymn? “Bless be the tie that binds.” That is true not just for communities but for all of creation. God’s blessing ties everything in the universe together.

          Please excuse me for going on so long about these scientific discoveries, but I just love talking about stars. The elements, such as carbon and iron that were made in the explosions of supernovas billions of years ago are what make us, and the earth, and just about everything we know. We are stardust. We wise men knew that centuries ago. But thanks to the discoveries of modern science you all have seen it with your own eyes.

          Thank God for Evolution.

          But I hope that you see that when we begin our thoughts with the way of creation it has a profound affect upon how we view our world, our little place. And remember that this is the perspective that Jesus taught from.

          There are many indications that Humanity has forgotten its connection with creation because we have so many ways in which we can destroy it. Whether it’s the slow destruction of pollution or the mismanagement of limited resources or the immediate destruction that we can inflict with our weapons we have come upon a power that we do not seem to know how to control. Our ability to destroy has made some members of the human community aware of our need for healing and living our lives in another way.

          When we don’t realize the source of our life we stumble in confusion and sorrow. But when we realize where we came from, we become naturally tolerant, amused, and kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Immersed in the wonder of God we can deal with whatever life brings us. For our strength, our wisdom comes from God.

          Another way: We came to see Jesus as the Prince of Peace not of a nation but of all creation. And how does this prince rule his kingdom? Just as the Psalmist sang in Psalm 72: His power is felt as naturally as the rain that nourishes the earth. He does not stand with the powerful but with the poor and the needy. He comes to the aid of those who have no helper. His people are precious to him.

          It’s as if, like those elementary particles that come out of nowhere, there is someone or something that comes to our aid when we are knocked down. We are in a period in history where there is great potential for uniting the parts of ourselves that have been separated, such as science and religion, such as men and women, such as people of different cultures.

          But sad to say, what was true in 2,000 years ago is still true today; this way of partnership with God, the stars and humanity is a threat to those who would rule by domination over others. This way of peace is still a threat to some kings and presidents. But you have also had visionary leaders, such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel who understood that there is an other way to lead, based upon truth and reconciliation. As far as I can see it, that is the light that is still proceeding. That is the light that will not be overcome by darkness, not matter how strong the darkness might appear.

          I’ll leave you with one last thought. I hope that you consider it wise.

          Another wise man, his name was, … let me see, Caspar, Bathalsar, Melchior, that’s me!, …Galileo, Copernicus, … Einstein, that’s it! Einstein had a theory of relativity that’s hard for a lot of people to understand.

          Well Melchior’s Theory of Relativity is easy to understand, and it is, simply, that everything is related. We are all relatives. We are all made of the same stuff. We all came from that moment when God said, “Let there be light.” You can’t separate us from each other, human from nature, body from mind and spirit, poor from rich, Muslim from Christian.

          So many of our problems come from believing that we are separate from God. When you see God in the face of a baby all notions of separation just go away.

          So when your intended route seems to be taking a turn for the worse; take a word from the wise; try another way.

          I know that isn’t easy, in fact I wouldn’t suggest trying it by yourself.

          My two buddies and I, we are still proceeding on that journey. Making our choices based upon the vision of a star, the vision of the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes it’s all a question of who are you following. Are you following in love? If you are then you will learn and understand the mystery of life and learn what you are meant to do and be. (Howard Thurman/Jim Strathdee, I Am the Light of the World)

          Think of your life as a gift that you take to God, the one who gave us the gift of life in the beginning. Everything we do is giving gifts back to God.

          Each one of us can choose right now to go another way. It’s not the way of the crowd. It is, what Jesus called the narrow way. When we make that choice, be ready for some elementary particle to pop out of nowhere and say, 

          I care about you. I will walk with you if you will walk with me.

          Come; follow the star, the light of the world.

          In my journeys I have discovered you don’t need to look to the stars to see bright lights shining, you just need to look into someone’s eyes and see the magnificence of the universe.

          Well, being a wise man, I know when it is time to stop talking, and that time is now.

John the Baptist Didn’t Get What He Wanted for Christmas

John the Baptist Didn’t Get What He Wanted for Christmas

Isaiah, 11:1-10        John 1:35-42

Alan Claassen       January 15, 2006

          JB didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. Jesus wasn’t the powerful, wipe out all the bad guys type of Messiah he thought God was sending.

          JB had good reason to expect something; he just forgot that it was going to come from something small. Something as small a new shoot that grows from a fallen tree.

          Have you ever been in a redwood forest? If you have, you probably have seen or even walked inside a circle of towering redwoods. It is enough to be amazed by the size of the trees in a redwood forest, but to come upon a circle of redwoods is to walk into a sanctuary designed by God.

          When a redwood tree is destroyed by lighting or cut down, what sometimes happens is that new growth will sprout around the base of that old redwood and form this circle of beauty and magnificent power. 

That’s where it all begins, with God’s eternally creative spirit. It cannot be stopped. It is genetically wired into creation.

          John the Baptist knew this. He lived very close to creation. And undoubtedly he knew his prophets, and this very passage we just heard read this morning. And he also could see evidence all around him, in the actions of the Romans, and his own religious leaders, that the intentions of God were not being carried out.

          And so he gave these most amazing, upsetting, impolite, set of speeches and performed the symbolically rich act of purifying people in the Jordan River, in nature rather than in the corrupted Temple, and he told everyone that something is big is going to come and wipe away all the bad and lift up the good.

          And this is exactly what Jesus did not do.

          John didn’t get what he wanted. A powerful new ruler who would annihilate all evil. Of course, John wasn’t really around long enough to see what Jesus did have to say, and what Jesus’ program actually was. IN fact, perhaps the fact that John lost his head had a big impact upon the words and actions of Jesus.

          Because the fact is that Jesus did not have coercive power. Jesus did not have financial or military power. In the ways of the world Jesus was incredibly poor and weak. And it is so helpful, I believe, to remember this, when trying to make sense of what Jesus said.

          I want to talk about this power that Jesus had, this power that I want to call lamb-power, in light of today’s passage from Isaiah.


          The Wolf and the lamb lie down together.

          This is very good news for the wolf.

          I can imagine a wolf family sitting around the breakfast table eating breakfast and reading the morning paper. Headline reads, Prophet Isaiah says, Lambs and wolves to lie down together.

          Papa wolf says, Great news family. No more hunting. According to this Isaiah guy the lambs are just going to come and lay down with us, when they do, we’ll eat ‘em.

          Boy this new world order is going to be great for us wolves!

          The lamb and the wolf laying down together means some basic so-called laws of nature are going to have to be changed. Or else we have some very well fed wolves on our hands.

          And if you read on in the passage, not only are the wolves going to be well fed, but also the lions are going to become vegetarian? What was Isaiah thinking?

          This is ridiculous naive pie-in-the sky garden-of-eden thinking that won’t get us anywhere.

          And what is the Papa Lamb thinking as he reads the same headlines.

          The situation in Jesus’ time was that Israel was the lamb and Roman empire was the wolf, and a great number of the religious authorities, to save their own hides, wore the wolves clothing.

          Jesus came onto the scene, a tender branch, a shoot from a once and mighty family, but without any power, and began talking about the power of the lamb.

          Let me tell you what I mean.

Part of the problem we have in understanding Jesus is that we read the lamb’s teaching from the point of view of the wolf, and we think it is naive, idealistic, not helpful.

          Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence have been perverted into injunctions to passive nonresistance, which, as we shall see, is the very opposite of active nonviolence.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your outer garment, give your undergarment as well; and if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, go two” (Matthew 5:38-41).  And the crowning blow: don’t resist evil at all.

          A clearer translation of this passage is given in the new Scholars Bible: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.” The meaning is clear: don’t react in kind, don’t mirror your enemy, and don’t turn into the very thing you hate. Jesus is telling us to resist evil, non-violently.

          Jesus gives three examples to explain his point. The first is: “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

           Most people picture a blow with the right fist. But that would land on the left cheek, and Jesus specifies the right cheek. A left hook wouldn’t fit the bill either, since the left hand was used only for unclean tasks, and even to gesture with it brought shame on the one gesturing. Jesus is speaking about striking the right cheek with the back of the right hand. This was not a blow to injure. It was symbolic. It was intended to humiliate, to put an inferior in his or her place. It was given by a master to a slave, a husband to a wife, a parent to a child, or a Roman to a Jew. The message of the powerful to their subjects was clear: You are a nobody; get back down where you belong.

          It is to those accustomed to being struck in this way thus that Jesus speaks (“if anyone strikes you”). By turning the other cheek, the person struck puts the striker in an untenable spot. He cannot repeat the backhand, because the other’s nose is now in the way. The left cheek makes a fine target, but only persons who are equals fight with fists, and the last thing the master wants is for the slave to assert equality.

          But the point has been irrevocably made: the “inferior” is saying, in no uncertain terms, “I won’t take such treatment anymore. I am your equal. I am a child of God.”

          By turning the other cheek, the oppressed person is saying that she refuses to submit to further humiliation. This is not submission. It is defiance.

          Jesus’ second example deals with indebtedness, the most onerous social problem in first century Palestine. The wealthy of the Empire sought ways to avoid taxes. The best way was to buy land on the fringes of the Empire. But the poor didn’t want to sell. So the rich jacked up interest rates—25 to 250 percent. When the poor couldn’t repay, first their moveable property was seized, then their lands, and finally the very clothes on their backs. Scripture allowed the destitute to sleep in their long robes, but they had to surrender them by day (Deuteronomy 24:10-13).

          It is to that situation that Jesus speaks. Look, he says, you can’t win when they take you to court. But here is something you can do: when they demand your outer garment, give your undergarment as well. That was all they wore! The poor man is stark naked! And in Israel, nakedness brought shame, not on the naked party, but on the one viewing his nakedness.  Jesus is not asking those already defrauded of their possessions to submit to further indignity. He is enjoining them to guerrilla theater.

          Imagine the debtor walking out of the court in his all-togethers. To the question what happened, he responds, “That creditor got all my clothes.” People come pouring out of the streets and alleys and join the little procession to his home. It will be a while before creditors in that village take a poor man to court! But, of course, the Powers That Be are shrewd, and within weeks new laws will be in place making nakedness in court punishable by fines or incarceration. So the poor need to keep inventing new forms of resistance. Jesus is advocating a kind of Aikido, where the momentum of the oppressor is used to throw the oppressor and make him the laughing stock of the community. Jesus is not averse to using shame to kindle a moral sense in the creditor.

          Jesus’ third example refers to the law that permitted a Roman soldier to force a civilian to carry his 65 to 85 pound pack. But the law stipulated one mile only. At the second marker the soldier was required to retrieve his pack. By carrying the pack more than a mile, the peasant makes the soldier culpable for violation of military law. Again, Jesus is not just “extending himself” by going the second mile, He is putting the soldier in jeopardy of punishment.”                                                                    (Walter Wink, Can Love Save Us)

          That’s lamb power.

          The examples Jesus gives are something more than passivity. They are gutsy, courageous, and aggressive.  It’s a powerful kind of power when you have not got coercive power.

          They are the kind of power that the Fellowship of Reconciliation devised when they sent the Freedom Riders to the south, to sit, black and white together in restaurants, and then to sit together black and white in jails, and there to refuse bail. To stand with strength and say we will not be humiliated. And we will not resist violently. We will bring the pain ourselves in an act of courage that is meant to awaken a nation and heal the curse of racism.

          That’s lamb power.

          Gandhi had lamb power. He couldn’t violently oppose the British, though many of his countrymen were trying.

          ML King had lamb power. He couldn’t violently oppose the racism in this country, though many of his countrymen were trying that method.

          Nelson Mandela had lamb power and the whole world took part in the non-violent revolution that took place in South Africa.

          Each of those leaders used great force to achieve their goals, but they didn’t use violence.

          But what do we as a nation do in our relations with other nations that can be in keeping with the wisdom and teaching of the Bible?

          We need to balance the wolf and the lamb.

          The first section of the Isaiah passage describes this.

          It describes how the king shall act and the results of his reign.

          The future king would resemble David’s son Solomon, renowned for the wisdom of his judgments. No “appearance” or “hearsay” would mar his ability to judge; instead, he would go to the heart of any matter brought before him.

          The poor would find in him a friend, and the ruthless an enemy. So strong would this ideal king be that the justice he meted out, and his “faithfulness” to God’s law, would be as readily seen as the royal sash he wore in public to signify his authority.

          Being filled and guided by the spirit of God this ruler will act on behalf of the poor, the weak. IN other words, the wolf cares for the lamb to have a world of peace

          The wolf acting alone can think that power is all that is needed. I can have my way and not ask any tough questions or be responsible to other nations or the earth itself because I have all the power.

          The wolf and the lamb in balance with one another can create a situation where evil is responded to but not with more evil, violence is responded to but not with more violence.

          The wolf and the lamb in balance with one another realize that my well-being cannot be at the expense of another’s.

          The wolf and the lamb in balance with one another. The only way for that to happen is for both of them to be well fed.

          Are we confident that we are doing all we can with our great power to feed the world? When I look at the poverty in our own streets, the homelessness in our own streets, the number of children in our country that do not have a safe start, and a healthy start, a moral start and a head start, I don’t think the answer to that question can be yes.

          When I hear Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, said that her bill in Congress to help the children of our country is stalled in committee but Congress is willing to support repeal of taxes to our major corporations I don’t think that the answer to that question can be yes.

          I can give you an example from US history when we could say yes, when the wolf did lie down with the lamb.

          What do you think of this advice from a senior U.S. military officer and statesman about how the people of the United States should deal with a part of the world torn by war, poverty, disease, and hunger?

  “…it is of vast importance that our people reach some general understanding of what the complications really are, rather than react from a passion or a prejudice or an emotion of the moment…. It is virtually impossible at this distance merely by reading, or listening, or even seeing photographs or motion pictures, to grasp at all the real significance of the situation. And yet the whole world of the future hangs on a proper judgment.”

          The speaker was General George C. Marshall, outlining the Marshall Plan in an address at Harvard University on June 5, 1947.  Surveying the wrecked economies of Europe, Marshall noted the “possibilities of disturbances arising as a result of the desperation of the people concerned.” He said that there could be “no political stability and no assured peace” without economic security, and that U.S. policy was “directed not against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

          As Marshall’s words so plainly suggest, finding the terrorists should be part of a much more ambitious campaign, one in which the rich countries approach the appalling inequities of the world with the same boldness and determination that the United States brought to bear in Europe under the Marshall Plan.

          The United States and the other industrial nations should launch a global “Marshall Plan” to provide everyone on earth with a decent standard of living. We can already hear the cries of people claiming that such a global plan would “cost too much.” But let’s look at the numbers.

          A 1998 report by the United Nations Development Programme estimated the annual cost to achieve universal access to a number of basic social services in all developing countries: $9 billion would provide water and sanitation for all;  $12 billion would cover reproductive health for all women;  $13 billion would give every person on Earth basic health and nutrition; and $6 billion would provide basic education for all. 40 billion dollars.

          Too much?            Military expenditures by all nations? $780 billion each year.

                                                (Source Dick Bell and Michael Renner, World Watch Institute)

          This is the kind of thinking and acting that plants the seeds of peace and thinks for generations and generations not just for today. This is the kind of thinking and action that has a chance of annihilating evil.

          This is the wolf and the lamb acting together. This isn’t idealism; this is spiritual, practical, earth-friendly, and the intention of creation that was planted in us by God.

          What can we do, in the part of the world that we can touch that will give birth to mercy and compassion?

          On the personal action level we can participate in the Mission Programs of this Church and of the United Church of Christ.

          We can support organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund and Mercy Corps and the Oregon Food Bank.

          On the national level we can support the Fair Wage campaign.

          On a spiritual level we can ask the question, what do you seek? What are you looking for? What are our expectations? Are we willing to consider the teachings of the Prince of Peace who is as clever as a fox, and as strong as a wolf, and as powerful as a lamb.

          There were men who were followers of John the Baptist and he directed them to Jesus, “Look there goes the Lamb of God.” So those men left John and caught up with Jesus who was on the move, making the road of peace by walking it. He turned, looked over his shoulder at the disciples, and asked, “What are you looking for?”

          “Where do you live, Jesus?”

          “Come and see,” was the reply. You gotta move when the spirit says move.

          We learn by following. We learn by acting, doing, resisting without violence.

          Because we trust the wisdom of the redwood tree. One may fall, but six or eight will take their place.

          To paraphrase Marian Wright Edelman, I may not have the power, or the eloquence or the wealth of humanity’s great leaders

          but I care

          I am willing to serve

          and I stand for children.

          And now to close with the words of Alice Walker.

Look closely at the present you are constructing.

It should look like the future you dream of.

The Universe has a dream and we are that.

And let the people say,

Grace of the World

Grace of the World
November 24, 2013
Philippians 4:4-9

Two weeks ago I was one of the co-facilitators of a Circle of Trust Retreat based on the work of educator and sociologist Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal.

Through silence, poetry, and the touchstones that guide us into becoming a trusting community, we are able to create a safe place for the soul to show up. The soul, or inner teacher, that can easily be forgotten as we live out our commitments to others.

I am deeply grateful for having introduced to Courage and Renewal and am very proud to say that I learned on Friday that I am now, officially a Courage and Renewal Facilitator. I look forward to finding ways to bring that work to my time with you.

This retreat was a special one for me for many reasons.
One of those reasons was that my father was one of the participants.

Another reason was that I was invited to perform my setting to music of one of my favorite poems, Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.”

I am not going to perform it for you now but I would like to read and explore it with you this morning.

When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound,
in fear of what my life and my children’s life may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water,
and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

“When despair for the world grows in me,
and I wake in the night at the least sound…

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his stillness on the water. For a moment
I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”

This poem directs our attention towards a source of grace, courage, healing.

And in this moment of grace there arises a sense of gratitude for a larger life, a wider affection.

In a moment of fear and despair, Wendell Berry took an action, a simple action in a powerful place. “I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water…”

But in that simple action new life, hope, courage, and renewal were found. I think of this action as a form of prayer, a practice of grace.

Taking a stand, positioning the human soul to receive the soul of nature, experienced as Holy Love and Wholly Mystery. It is a place where we can trust silence.

It is a place where we can hold despair gently, patiently, prayerfully so that a way out of despair may be seen, imagined, or offered It is a place where we can touch a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being, called to compassion.

It’s just a moment.

“For a moment I rest in the grace of the world and am free.”

But it’s a moment like baptism. I don’t have the sense from the poem that this freedom is one of escape or denial of what caused him to fear for his children’s lives.

I have the sense that Wendell Berry recognized that his fears were causing him to wake in the night in he least sound. He had lost his sense of trust in the world. Where to regain it?

The simple act of lying down where the wood drake rests, the act of writing a poem that shares this moment with others, this moment of rest, returned him to a sense of trust in the world.

In fact, it returned him to the world itself. It’s only for a moment. You experience this moment of grace and then you go back and you have to respond to all of those things that sent you out into the riverside in the first place.

You may think, the first thing I need to do is take everybody out
to where the wood drake rests, but it isn’t that easy is it?

You have to bring the day-blind stars who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief back to the people who you live with, work with, go to church with — everybody.

It isn’t easy.

That why we need a time and place of sanctuary where we can come into the peace of wild things, of Wholly Love, Holy Mystery.

It takes practice. Isn’t somehow fitting that the same way you get to the kingdom of heaven
is the same way you get to Carnegie Hall, practice.

Practicing the sacred presence of the Holy on this planet, our blue boat home.

I would like to share another poem with you that speaks of this practice of grace. This is by the poet, William Stafford.

This poem was commissioned by the US Forest Service and appears with others at selected viewpoints along the Methow River.

So imagine you are driving along a road in the Cascades, you pull over to look at a beautiful valley, and you find this poem.

A Valley Like this

“Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened-there was nothing,
and then…
But maybe sometime,
you will look out and even
the mountains are gone,
the world becomes nothing again.
What can a person do to bring back the world?
We have to watch it and then look at each other.
Together hold it close and carefully save it,
like a bubble that can disappear if we don’t watch out.
Please think about this as you go on.
Breath in the world. Hold out your hands to it.
When mornings and evenings roll along,
watch how they open and close,
how they invite you to this long party
that your life is.”
“Please think about this as you go on.”
Remember this moment in the Cascades.
Hold out your hands to it.
Look at each other.
The Messiah is among you.

A friend, Ray Gatchlian, gave that poem to me. Ray was a firefighter in Oakland. Ray also traveled the world giving speeches, reading poetry, and making a difference in his own community by tackling the issues of racism and drug abuse.

And putting out fires. He gave me this poem when I asked him if he had any thoughts on he subject of gratitude.

I must admit that I was surprised when Ray answered that for him, at that moment of his life, a practice of gratitude was the most significant, most powerful of all spiritual practices.

He had studied and worked with many spiritual practices, meditation, yoga, and he found that the practice of saying 100 gratitudes a day was the most rewarding. 100 gratitudes a day!

How could one possibly think of 100 things to be thankful for in one day? As I reflected on this I quickly realized how many grumps I do a day.

How many ungratitudes I do a day. How many times I wish that such and such had happened.

How many times I wished I had something I don’t. How many times I wished I could be somewhere I am not. I realized that living with 100 grumps a day makes it impossible to stand where I am.

When ever I am wishing that the world be something different than it is, then I am not present in the world.

And this is exactly what Ray said happened for him.

That rather than creating some sort of unreal Pollyanna world, the practice of 100 gratitudes a day actually helped him get into the present, into where he actually was at the moment.

It helped to see that the present is always full, whereas thinking of things in the past that haven’t gone right is limited and limiting.

Nevertheless it still is a challenging practice. You have to turn off the grump voice and turn on the grace voice with in yourself.

Gratitude as a spiritual practice enables us to see things as they are fully, honestly, with an awareness that with all of the events set before us we are still called to choose life. And to take actions that help and others to choose life.

A spiritual practice of gratitude, 100 multiple gratitudes a day, moves us fear to trust, from being judgmental of ourselves or others to being compassionate, from hurting to healing, from losing energy to gaining creative power, from despair to freedom. It begins in a simple act.

Going to where the wood drake rests. Stopping the car, getting out, and marveling at the beauty of the valley.

Turning ones life from grump to gracious. Finding a way to feed someone who is hungry, visiting someone who is locked up. Locked up.

When the Apostle Paul wrote the Letter to the Church in Philippi, he was locked up. At least that’s what his jailers thought. But Paul didn’t see himself as locked up.

He was, wherever he was, sitting in the grace of Jesus. And this is exactly what he was encouraging the members of the church in Philippi to do.

Practice having the mind of Christ Jesus as much as you possibly can. Here’s how Eugene Peterson translates this passage in his book The Message Celebrate God all day, every day.

I mean, revel in God!

Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Messiah is about to arrive.

The Messiah could show up any minute! Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.

Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Jesus displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious— the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into excellent harmonies.

Paul, the coach, says practice.
In community, in family, in work, in playing, in crying, in serving,
we have opportunities to practice

In his poem William Stafford asks, “What can we do to bring back the world?” What can a person do to bring back hope, clarity, acceptance of the present and energy for the future?

We have to look at each other and hold together that community of life affirming love that knows compassion, honesty and forgiveness.

That celebrates simple gifts even as we mourn together the tragedies. We have to hold out our hands to one another to heal the cuts and bruises that are a part of life.

We have to do the hard work of bringing the grace of the world into the grit of our daily life. And when we orient ourselves to the spiritual practice of gratitude we open ourselves to rest in the grace of God, which will enlighten the eyes of our heart, and see that everything we need is here.

In this, is the experience of the living Christ who guides us to care for others so that they might for a time rest in the grace of the world and be free.

For a moment. For a moment, rest in the grace of the world. And then? Bring back the world.

What can a person do to bring back the world? We have to watch it and then look at each other. Together hold it close and carefully save it, like a bubble that can disappear if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breath in the world. Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings roll along, watch how they open and close, how they invite you to this long party that your life is.”

And now there is only one more thing for me to say. I thank you for the way in which you have received me into your church. Gratitude # 39…………..61 to go………………….Amen

We Are Stardust

We Are Stardust
November 16, 2014
Psalm 104 Luke 5:36-39

If you were looking for an organizational theme for the Bible you could go along way with the theme of beginnings.

The Bible is a story of beginning again and again and again. It is a story of evolution; change over time. One note before I enter into this stardusty sermon. In place of the word God, I am going to use the word Creative Energy.

I am doing this for a couple of reasons. One is that I don’t think of God as a noun.

God is not a being, God is being itself. I don’t think of God as Matter, as a thing among other things in the place, existing in one place far away and long ago. I think of God as energy that is always engaged in the creative process, always exploring, expanding, learning,

falling down and getting up again.

In a word, evolving.

Thank Creative Energy for evolution.

Creative Energy loves new beginnings.
What are the first words of the Bible? In the beginning.
What is the first action of the Universe?
An incredible release of energy that continues the expansion of the universe today.
Chaos, Light Dark, Earth. Sky, hydrogen, helium,
stars, exploding stars, carbon, iron.
bacteria, cells, trees, water, birds,
the buffle head ducks on Cain Lake,
the trumpeter swans in Skagit Valley
where Hiway 11 crosses I-5.
Back to the Bible again.

Creative Energy saves the human race and animals with Noah and the Ark. Creative Energy begins a new people with Abraham & Sarah Creative Energy sends the people into a new land led by Moses Creative Energy renews the people with the words of the prophets Creative Energy takes the form of a person in Jesus. Creative Energy takes the form of a community in………us.

And when we live our lives as people united and uniting in Christ we are said to be a new creation, we are begin again as spirit centered people.

If we open our Bible to the Psalms we will find many examples where the might works of Creative Energy are remembered and praised. And often, as in Psalm 104, these mighty works of Creative Energy, refer to the ongoing creation of the universe.

“You, O Creative Energy did fix the earth on its foundation so that it can never be shaken; the deep overspread it like a cloak and the waters lay above like the mountains. (5,6) “Countless are the things you have made, O Creative Energy. You have made all by Your wisdom; and the earth is full of your creatures, beasts great and small. (24)

Here is a passage that may remind you of a verse from the Prayer of Jesus: “All of your creation looks expectantly to You, to give them their food at the proper time. (27) Sometimes new beginnings happen when nothing has been going on,

sometimes new beginnings happen when we realize something is going wrong, sometimes new beginnings happen when we feel confused and abandoned.

sometimes new beginnings happen when someone has a vision, let’s land on the moon,

let’s land on a comet,

let’s end hunger and war.

Where were the disciples when they first saw the Risen Christ?

As the Gospel of John tells it they were hiding behind locked doors in fear for their lives. Creative Energy says, This is not the time to be afraid,

this is not the time to hide,

this is the Time for a new beginning. Jesus is a new beginning.

Jesus comes to a people who are living under the rule of a foreign nation, Rome. And their own religious leaders seemed to be abandoning them and seeking favors from the Roman authorities. And Jesus comes in with a new message. Blessed are those who know their need of Creative Energy,

for theirs is the kin-dom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, those who know their place in the delicate balance of life, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. And throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is telling these beat down people words they never heard from their temple priests. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Ask and it shall be given to you. Knock and the door will be opened for you. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

You can imagine the resistance. Not just from the religious authorities, but from the people themselves. People not treated with respect tend to not respect themselves. And so Jesus had to wake these people up.

He had to get around their defenses,

their old patterns, their old ways of thinking. And so Jesus hung out with the wrong people and he taught with parables. You know why Jesus used parables to teach people? Parables are for people who are stuck. Stuck in old ways of thinking. Or old patterns of acting. To get people to see things in new ways Jesus told parables,

like the one we heard today: No one puts new wine into old wineskins;

if he does the new wine will burst the skins,

the wine will be wasted, and the skins ruined. Fresh skins for new wine.” Make your wine cellar big enough that it includes old wine

and new wine well cared for. Make your own wine cellar inviting enough that new wine will feel like this is a nurturing place to raise a young family, or to evolve into one’s own true self. I have another story for you this morning.

This is an old famous story called the “Tale of the Two Sands.” I found this in a book written by the great teacher of world religions, Huston Smith.

The title of the book is Forgetten Truth, The Common Vision of the World’s Religions A stream, from its source in far-off mountains,

passing through every kind and description of countryside

at last reached the sands of the desert.

Just as it had crossed every other barrier,
the stream tried to cross this one,
but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand,
Its waters disapeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert,

and yet there was no way.

Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered:
“The Wind crosses the desert,
and so can the stream.”

The stream objected

that it was dashing itself against the sand
and only getting absorbed;
the wind could fly,
and this was why it could cross the desert.
The Wind responded: “By hurling yourself in your own accustomed way you cannot get across.
You will either disappear or become a marsh.
You must allow the wind to carry you over to your destination.”

The water didn’t understand. “How can this happen?” “By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.” The idea was not acceptable to the stream.

After all, it had never been absorbed before.

It didn’t want to to lose its individuality.

How could it become water and stream again? The voice in the sand replied, “The wind does it all.

It takes up water, it carries it over the desert,

and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.” The stream was still reluctant, “How can I know that this is true?” “It is true,

and if you do not believe it you will become

nothing but a quagmire,

no longer the stream you are today. “So, I cannot remain the same as I am today?” You will either be a quagmire or born by the wind. To make the right choice you must see your essential part. And the stream began to wonder what its essential part really was.

Then the stream remembered vaguely
once before being held in the arms of the wind.
And as the stream remembered
its vapor lifted up off the hot desert sands into the welcoming arms of the wind,
which carried it gently and easily across the desert and to the top of a distant mountain many miles away.”

And began the journey of being a stream all over again. The stream was at the edge of the desert and wanted to move

but wanted to do it as it always done before.
But the voice in the sand, the voice in the wilderness said,
that the stream needed to be transformed in order to move.
In order to be transformed
it had to remember its essence rather than its appearance,
and this re-membering
allowed the wind to lift it over the dry desert.

As with all good parables there are many ways to approach the Tale of Two Sands. We can look at it as individuals in need of transformation or we can look at it as a community. I leave this story with you to interpret and live into within your lives together; as you prepare for a new beginning;

what is your essential quality, vision?

who do you want to forgive?

what do you want to let go of?

I do have one more parable that offer a way of seeing the forgotten truth that this story tells.

The Moment of Dawn Mark Nepo The Book of Awakening

A very touching story from the Talmud captures the soft paradox of how all journey alone together. A Rabbi asks her students, “How do you know the first moment of dawn has arrived?” After a great silence, one pipes up, “When you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog.” The Rabbi shakes her head no.

Another offers, “When you can tell the difference between fig tree and an olive tree.” Again, the Rabbi shakes her head no.”

There are no other answers offered. The Rabbi circles their silence and walks between them, “You know the first moment of dawn has arrived when you look into the eyes of human being and see yourself.”

See yourselves from the first moment of breathing in darkness to the last moment of breathing into the light we are perfectly imperfect we are stardust, we are golden we are billion year old carbon and we got to get ourselves back to the lake, back to the garden, forward with the Creative Energy that will never leave us alone.

Questions in the Wilderness

Questions in the Wilderness

Exodus 16: 2-15          Philippians 1:27

September 18, 2013

            I remember the first time I heard this part of the Exodus Story. I loved it. How honestly human it is. The Hebrew people had been living in bondage, in slavery, in a foreign land for centuries. Along comes Moses and they are liberated, freed from slavery. Freed from Pharaoh. God heard their cries and they were blessed.

            But before they can be freed from Pharaoh they have to find a way through the Red Sea. And that happens. And then they begin their journey through the wilderness.

            Things aren’t what they were. Food and water and shelter are no longer easily available. And the people begin to grumble. And suddenly slavery didn’t look so bad anymore. At least they were sheltered; at least there was food. They were secure.

            This episode is so honestly human. Earlier they were threatened by slavery, and the Pharaoh, now they are threatened by fear of the unknown, and they want to return to what was secure even though it was destructive.

            Let’s get a little deeper into this story and see what it has for us as individuals and as a community seeking the promise.

            The Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, left Egypt, passed through the Red Sea and entered into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.

            On their way. In between the old and the new.

            Isn’t that a difficult place? In between. In the middle.

            Away from the comforts and routines of home.

            And just like a group of children in the back of the car, the people of Israel rose and said to Moses and Aaron, “Are we there yet?”

            I’m thirsty. !!              

            We’re hungry! I want to go home.

            It takes a lot of effort to leave home. It also takes a lot of effort to sustain oneself on the journey. We need reminding of why we left. We need reminding of who we are. We need to keep our focus forward. And we need to water to drink and food to eat.                                        

            In the passage just before this one God turns the bitter water sweet and says,

            “If you do what is right in my eyes, if you listen to my commands I will never bring upon you any of the sufferings which I brought upon the Egyptians: for I the Lord am your healer.”

            This helps me to see two things.

            1) The time in the wilderness is not really an in between time. It is an essential part of the growing out of slavery into freedom.

            During time in the wilderness they receive more than water and food, they also receive the teachings that will lead them into full humanity. They receive the wisdom of a thousand years.

            2) These people didn’t know what was going on as they were first living this story. These people were learning with each struggle in the story that God was with them.

            What happened back there? Will that happen to us?

            In todays’ reading the people complain to Moses and Aaron,

            We may have been slaves in Egypt but at least we had food. Have you brought us here to starve to death?”

            Moses hears God’s response tells the people, “The Lord will answer your complaints with flesh in the morning and bread in the evening.”

            Is this a miracle story?

            Is this a story that reveals God glory?

            It all depends on what your definition of miracle is.

            I would like to suggest a possible natural explanation for the meat in the morning and bread in the evening while at the same time finding the glory in the story.

            Nothing up my sleeve…

            Bread, manna from heaven, is a secretion from the tamarisk tree. It is a sweet yellowish-white substance that dries in the heat of the day and can be gathered in the cool of the evening.

            The quail, migratory birds flying from Africa sometimes fall from their flight exhausted over the desert.

            These people of the Exodus did not know that gifts are provided in the wilderness.

            These Exodus people are learning in the wilderness that the God of freedom is also the God that sustains. These are gifts from God for the people of God through the gifts of creation itself.

            When the people saw the manna on the ground they say to one another, “What is it?”

Moses said to them, “That is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”

            “Doesn’t look like bread. It’s not like the bread we had back in Egypt.”

            Take it. Eat it. It is bread of heaven.  

            Now here is the glory part of the story?                                                        

            How did Moses know that this was bread?

            Back in Egypt they all, including Moses knew how things worked, what was safe, what wasn’t. How are they going to know what is safe when we are strangers in a strange land? How are we going to find our way when we are called to try something new? How are we going to find our way when we are asked to stop doing something that was familiar?

            Moses, guided by God, guided by trust, was able to see what the people, guided by fear, could not see. Not yet anyway.

            How do we venture into a new land when we don’t know the answers ahead of time?

            Part of the answer comes from this story. Learning the story and then believing that we are living the story.

            God was guiding these Exodus people.

Is God guiding us too?

What if there are gifts all around us that we don’t recognize?

How much abundance of energy is there in the congregation for the mission of this church?

            How can we learn from a mistake made, or a question asked, or a load that is too heavy to carry? We all have something to learn and we are helped in this if we ask our questions and lift up our prayers to God that we trust because we have evidence of God’s generous love.

            Like the Israelites bringing manna to Moses and saying, “What is this?” we can also bring our questions, doubts, mistakes to God and say, “What is this?” (Turn to wonder)

What is going on here?  God, What are you trying to give me or teach me in this moment?

            God didn’t judge or condemn the people in the wilderness when they cried out thirsty and hungry.

            The Exodus story that we can learn and live can be a guide for us if we see that these people were in a wilderness discovering new blessings in the midst of hunger and thirst just like we are today. The wilderness may be a new job or no job. It may be an aching body or heart. It may be the call to leave something secure and known into something never tried before.

            It’s all right in the wilderness to have questions, to be hungry and thirsty. The story tells us to direct our questions to God. When we call out, when we question, God responds if we patiently allow the body to generate its own healing power. Anxiety cuts us off from what is all around us abundantly. It is there and we cannot see it.

            I have found that sometimes the prayer to God is not to ask a question or ask for guidance. Sometimes the prayer to God is just to stop the anxiety, stop the fearful tapes in our mind that move us back into Egypt rather than forward into the promise.

            I have also found that this prayer can be very simple. It may be simply to say,       

“Lord, hear my prayer.”

            By repeating a phrase a simple as that may lead us from fear into trust and with that attitude of grace we are more likely to see that manna that surrounds us daily.

            Another thing that I learn from this story is that fleeing from Egypt is only the beginning. Freedom from slavery doesn’t mean freedom from work. And the work, finding the blessings in the wilderness, is going to make us into something new.

            Getting out of Egypt is just the beginning. Getting through the wilderness is just the beginning. But just like a child learning how to manipulate it legs and arms and the effect that this has on the development of the brain we will learn how to control our fears and anxieties and grow into the compassionate and creative people Gods knows we can be.

            Part of the answer is in trusting that God is providing bread, water and guidance. It is often only our anxiety and need to be in control that stops us from seeing what is all around us.

Part of the answer is in learning the story and then seeing that we are living the story. Part of the answer is remembering that Messiah is among us, that we need one another to complete this journey.

And here I would to close with that wonderful verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and now Paul’s letter to us.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the message of Christ,

so that whether I come and see you am absent,

I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit,

With one mind,

Striving side by side

For the trust in the Message,

For the faith in the gospel.

And not frightened in anything…

What we learn in the wilderness is what takes us into the Promised Land.

Are we there yet?

Trusting abundance teaches us that we are already there and we are not yet there. We are yearning to be there, we are learning to trust that God’s blessings are here calling us to step forward.

Trusting means moving. Trust is an active verb. It is an activating verb. It is no good to say that we trust God and then remain in Egypt.

We need to lean into the future knowing that there will be bread and water.

Knowing that there will be the bread that is broken open for us and the cup emptied for us,

Let us enter into this time of prayer and offering and communion with joy.

And may we then go into the world with joy and live the way we pray.

What Are You Waiting For

What Are You Waiting For

Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44

November 27, 2016 Alan Claassen

First Sunday of Advent

          Do you remember that old Curtis Mayfield song

          People get ready, there’s a train a comin’

          Don’t need no ticket you just thank the Lord. You just get on board.

          I remembered that old song while I was thinking about this first Sunday of Advent

          and what it means to be waiting with a sense of expectation, waiting in one place and expecting to be carried to some other place, …what it means to be doing nothing really,

other than standing in a place of expectation and readiness.

Like waiting on a train platform for your train to come. You hear the train approaching and you the destination up in lights…

          No, not that. I am not going to Tucson.

          No, not that one, I am not going to despair.

          No, not that one. I am not going to tolerate fascism.

          Yes, that one. That’s my train.

                   The one that’s bound for glory for all human kind.

          What does it mean to actively waiting, waiting with anticipation to move or be moved?

          That reminded of a line from Will Rogers, that rope-twirling trickster from Oklahoma who said:  “Even if you are on the right track, if you are not moving, you are going to get run over.” It isn’t enough to be waiting in the right place but sitting still.

          And that reminded me of a story from former Supreme Court Justice,

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

          As Justice Holmes saw the train conductor approaching asking for passengers’ tickets,

          he began to search his pockets for his own train ticket.

          By the time the conductor got to his seat,

          Justice Holmes he was quite flustered saying,

          “I am sorry, Mr. Conductor, but I can’t seem to find my ticket.”

          “Oh, Justice Holmes, that’s quite alright. I can trust you.”

          To which Justice Holmes replied,” I appreciate your trust, Mr. Conductor,              but you see the problem is, without that train ticket, I don’t know where I am going.

My destination is printed on the ticket.”

          It isn’t enough to be moving, you need to know where you are going?

          People get ready, there’s a train a’coming.

          What are you waiting for? What train are you waiting for?

          Where do you want to go? Are you ready to be moved to some place new, beyond your expectation but within your imagination and your need to hope?

On this first Sunday in the beautiful season of Advent,

          the dream for a better way that we find in the Book of Isaiah

          the end of the world scenario, like the one heard read from the Gospel of Mark

          set the context for a world in need of a radical new beginning.

The Latin root of Advent is a word that means, “coming.” Advent means “toward the coming.” Advent is preparation for the coming of Jesus to the world—

          then in the past; now in the present; and … later, in the future.”

                    (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan The Last Christmas 231)

          Advent is remembering the past, so we can reframe the present, so that we can re-imagine the future.

          Advent is a reliving in the present of ancient Israel’s hope and yearning that is expressed in that favorite advent hymn.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.”

          We look at so many lives today and see humanity in a time of exile, captive, mourning, lonely, longing. And in our Scriptures, we remember that the great new insights into the nature of the divine-human connection were born out of that suffering and we wonder what is being born now in this time of so much suffering that gives us hope?

          What are we looking for?

          And so the first reading for the season of advent is an open-eyed and honest looking at how things are in our world, in the world today. Violence in our cities, escalation of war,

a loss of faith in government’s ability to govern, and a justifiable fear that many corporations are running this world, and they are running it into the ground.

          In the Scripture readings that always begin the season of advent name those things that are broken in our world. They were broken for the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon. They were broken at the time that Jesus came into his world as a subject of the Roman Empire.

          The Scriptures call for a radical shift that comes about from a desire for God to intervene in a world that has fallen apart. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, in their book, The First Christmas, refer to this desire for intervention as the Great Divine Clean-up.

          It is not that the world is coming to an end. It is time for the corrupt, greedy, and violent practices of merchants and governments to come to an end.

          It is as if humanity has hit rock bottom and so has begun the first step of a twelve-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous. We are called to admit that we are powerless over the mess that we are in. And in that honesty the potential for a new force of energy and healing

is released, anticipated, prayed for, received.

          In that honesty, is our source of hope. That hope becomes our source of gratitude, finding the support of companions, a re-dedication to our calling, and alignment with our deepest values.

          As we read the Bible we see that this yearning for God to come into our lives and help us begin again, has always been a part of the human consciousness. It goes back a thousand years before the birth of Jesus and continues in the hearts of many today.

          What are we waiting for? In that very question lies the conundrum of Advent; namely that we have the patience to let the new song of hope and peace arise from within us, and that we stop waiting and start singing and working to build the beloved community.

          Maybe what we are waiting for is that most authentic heart within ourselves, the one that is willing to risk incarnating hope, peace, love, and joy.

          And for us Advent, this time of hopeful waiting, begins today, immediately following Thanksgiving. The Great Gratitude.

          As we enter into this time of waiting with expectation I would like to ask you to think about these words written by a friend of a friend of mine, Esther Armstrong.

          “This year I am struggling.

                   This year I am troubled.

          For I believe that this season of Advent is calling me into

                   that which feels absurd, impossible, and even dangerous.

          This year…

          I am not waiting for the baby Jesus,

                   though that would be a lot more comfortable and safer.

          But baby Jesus has already been born.

                   He grew up, died, and is risen among us

I am not waiting for the Kin-dom of God to come,

                   though it would be easier if waiting was all that is asked of me.

But it isn’t.

This year…

          The Kin-dom of God is waiting for me,

                             and I suspect for you,

                                      to take on more fully the character of Jesus.

          This means I will:

                   Voluntarily relinquish my need to control

                             and my sense of entitlement.

          Let go and be delivered of

                             my insatiable appetite for more

                                      and my need for security.

I will seek to

                   Shine a light in the darkness

          Put my life on the line

                   for peace, for the heart of democracy

          This year…

          The kin-dom of God is waiting for me,

                   and all God’s people,

                             to be non-violent, forgiving, honest,

                                                humble, compassionate, and loving.

          God is waiting for us.

And so this Advent I will pray for courage to “live” Jesus,

                   while I hold onto the promises that God has come,

                             God will come again,

God will bring deliverance and justice,                                              

          and the world will be born anew through God’s people.”

          And so we say to Will Rogers, we are on the right track and we are moving.

          And we say to Oliver Wendell Holmes, we found our ticket and we know the destination and we sing along with Curtis Mayfield, we are ready to get on board.

          Let us take the risk of incarnation. Let us take the risk of being born again this year

in a new understanding of who we are and where we are going. Let us wait with expectation and with patience. And then get on board. A train platform is not a place to stop; it is a place to get going, toward the coming of the promised One.

          Let us live adventually.

          What do we do while we are waiting?

          Love one another.

          And oh yes, sing.   Sing, a lot!