Genesis 9:8-17 † Psalm 25:1-10 † 1 Peter 3:18-22 † Mark 1:9-15
Cognitive scientists Steven Solma and Philip Fernbach have spent many a year asking anyone they can find if they know how a toilet works? How about a zipper? They want to know. Or a coffee maker? Do you know how those work?
Yeah – yeah I have a reasonable idea how they work is the answer they would first receive. So then they follow up. Okay, can you explain to me exactly what it takes? How that toilet bowl empties, how the water in the Mr Coffee gets to the pot and how it gets heated, how those little prongs attach when you put on your favorite hoody. Then they let the person think for a while and try to explain as best they can how these processes they engage every day actually work. Finally they ask – so tell me again how would you rate your knowledge of how that toilet works?
These researchers have spent time and effort measuring these dynamics very precisely - lots of well-designed questionnaires and sophisticated coding and exacting measurement - and what they have found is that in the vast majority of cases when we take the time to examine our understanding of some of the mechanisms around us we realize that we actually know quite a bit less than we think we do - on almost every subject.
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 † Psalm 111 † 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 † Mark 1:21-28
According to those who have spent their lives studying the subject, mosquitos are, as it turns out, really quite smart, and also therefore, as it turns out, really quite trainable. Mosquitos identify who is good to eat based on how they smell. Clearly, they love my own sweet smell of coffee…and Scotland. They smell that hearty Northwest base of Pike Place roast laced ever so subtly with exotic notes of heather, and shortbread, and maybe a little peat bog, and they can’t help themselves. and who could blame them.
But here is the thing, if when that mosquito is buzzing close by and I swat at it, even if I miss, which I usually do, they feel the vibration of my hand tearing through the air, and their hunger pangs turn to alarm bells. If I keep at it pretty soon they associate my unique perfume with danger and they steer clear. Smart little pests, as it turns out. And also quite trainable. What I am hoping is that some dedicated scientist will spend their life working out how to teach these clever little pests how to communicate and then they can spread the news about which smells spell danger and I’ll be bite free. In the meantime, I’ll flap away happy to know I am contributing to a more highly trained mosquito population.
A number of colleagues and mentors have, at various time, told me, that when you are in the swamp you must stay vigilant, hold steady – it’s not the crocodiles that’ll get you, its the mosquitos. It’s the little things, the close things, the hard to get to, buzzing in your ear things, that’ll take you out, that’ll keep you from where you want to go, and who you want to be.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:47-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
I have heard it said, and I have also said myself, that movement towards justice and peace takes time. In times of discouragement and doubt, I have gone to those I trust, I have come to this place on a Sunday, and I have asked how to hang on. I have been encouraged to try to do so, as best I can, by trusting that in small actions of love and in steady movement to the side of those who are vulnerable and excluded, we not only get powerful glimpses of love and hope in the moment, but get a sense that we connected to something bigger than ourselves, a power that is good and faithful, that gives life meaning and that moves the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
There have been a trail of Mary’s in the path of this arc. They have shown up in their own vulnerabilities, shown up on behalf of those who suffer and those who do not have equal control over their lives, or full access to the opportunities that others are afforded. A trail of Mary’s who hoped, I imagine, that maybe in the moment, their contribution would be the one to topple in some decisive way the systems that oppressed them and others, but who ultimately had to trust that the justice and sense of hope that propelled them would come in a larger way in the future, a future illuminated in important parts of their own lives for sure, but also bigger than who they were and what they could fully know. Mary, the mother of Jesus was in a line of Mary’s who’s heart sang, and whose heart pined for the world to turn.
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 † Psalm 78:1-7 † 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 † Matthew 25:1-13
Shaun is a resident of the Seattle Interbay area and a representative of the District 7 Neighborhood Action Council. Neighborhood Action Councils – or NACs as they are known - emerged in Seattle in the aftermath of the 2016 general election. There is one in each electoral district in Seattle and on their website they describe themselves as a politically independent coalition of hyper-local neighborhood councils, committed to combating oppression and supporting our neighbors where the state fails them through mutual aid, solidarity, and direct action. Shaun and District 7 NAC became involved in supporting Tent City 5 and worked in close partnership with the Tent City Ecumenical Support Network. Together these two groups, along with a number of others, helped the residents of Tent City 5 find a new piece of land on which to set up their temporary homes because under current city ordinances Tent City 5 is not allowed to remain on the site in Interbay where they have been since the end of 2015. Finding a new piece of land is no easy task. Tent Cities are easy to disagree with.
On the face of it, it maybe seems obvious to some that the NAC and the local church would partner given their mutual goal of supporting neighbors, but really Shuan had lots of reasons to distrust the faith community. As a member personally of a deeply marginalized community and as someone representing those on the underside, Shaun has seen the church, or at least parts of it, move slowly to speak out for those Shaun loves and cares about and even act against what Shaun understands to be in the best interests of those who do not have power. But there was something about the way the church in Interbay went about serving the Tent City 5 that developed in Shaun a firm and trusting partnership.
Revelation 7:9-17 † Psalm 34:1-10, 22 † 1 John 3:1-3 † Matthew 5:1-12
“We have to stop and get Gran some ice cream.”
That was the memory that pressed in most strongly as I looked down at the rough map of my family that I had drawn. It was for a class, this map, and I wasn’t at all happy that I had to do it. We were to draw out the relational and emotional map of our families 3 generations back so that we could examine together the dynamics and the forces that are at play; so we could see what had formed us, and what has power over us.
I looked down at my map, all colored boxes and tiny dates and squiggly lines. “We have to stop and get Gran some Ice cream”, I heard my mom say, and my dad, and my uncle Hugh, my Uncle Ralph, my cousin James, my cousin Helen.
You see, when we gathered at my Gran’s house with family, everyone knew that someone had to stop at the corner shop right below her apartment and grab a little tub of the soft serve ice cream they sold there.
Now all these years later, it is this thing that I remember, so fondly. So much more happened in my family as shown by the rough contours of my map. Rough times, and happier times. People, regular, complex people trying to do the best they could, struggling with hurt passed down over the generations. Family gatherings could get difficult, old patterns kicked in. But she would always look forward to ice cream, and she would laugh when we brought it, and she would sit with her grandkids, while the other adults did their thing, she would sit and share a little ice cream.
Exodus 17:1-7 † Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 † Philippians 2:1-13 † Matthew 21:23-32
Moses is just full of questions in this episode from Exodus.
Full of them…..
I have been thinking a lot about questions these past few weeks and months. Some of you know that I am in a new job – alongside the one I have here. New places. New situations. New life stages. They bring lots of questions, don’t they? Easy questions, and questions that can be a little harder.
Genesis 32:22-31 † Psalm 17:1-7, 15 † Romans 9:1-5 † Matthew 14:13-21
We have not yet run out of bread when serving communion here at St Andrew, at least not in the time I have been here. Once or twice, I’ve seen the server looking nervously down the line to note how many more were to come and how that measured with the chunk of bread held in their hands. I have been in that spot myself and known that feeling of continuing to serve and trusting we’ll make it. I have come really close once or twice. There is one occasion that is imprinted on my memory and that gets to the grace of this table. It was a busy Sunday. I was getting to the end of the bread I was holding. I think it may have been a week where we expected to need more bread than normal and I was hoping that Chuck had brought two loaves instead of one. He’ll do that when he thinks we might need more. I was pretty sure he had, but just a little worried.
You see I hadn’t set eyes on any extra loaf for myself. I like to see and know for sure that the things I will need will be there. Maybe you know that need. So my anxiety grew and I wondered what I’d do and I kept going hoping, not short changing anyone, knowing that above all, the thing that brings us to this table is the claim everyone gets a piece of bread. I was getting to the last couple of pieces of my bread. There was just no way to split it between what I remember as being a dozen or so people still in my line. Mostly the choir I think, smiling, moving towards me one at a time. Then I felt this presence to my left and I turned. I kind of knew in my bones that it would show up. I am pretty sure that’s why I just kept going. I turned my head hopeful, and there was Julie Kae. Smiling, you know that way she does, with her hands outstretched, gently holding what I needed, you know the way she does. Looking at me saying, of course I noticed, of course I’ve got you. Another beautiful loaf, broken ready to go.
Ezekiel 37:P1-14 † Psalm 130 † Romans 8:6-11 † John 11:1-45
You’ve maybe heard me say this before, but I loved fairy tales as a child. They contained for me a power, a kind of terrible fascination, that I have revisited as an adult. I am pretty sure that big bad wolves, wild hags, shoemaker elves, ugly ducklings, good fairies, taking animals, and savvy children abandoned in forests populated my childhood dreams. They provided for me very good company.
Now I am not talking about the “handsome prince rescuing the helpless damsel” kind of fairy tale, although those are always fun too. I am talking about the fairy tales that help us look at the terror and the hope in this life.
I remember a long list of little stories – sometimes called fairy-tales, folk-tales, or wonder-tales. Maybe you know some of these.
Genesis 12:1-4a † Psalm 121 † Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 † John 3:1-17
After I became a parent I remembered what a midnight knock on the door meant. Someone is scared, confused, needs to be reassured. Someone I care about has questions that are troubling them, needs to talk something out, needs a safe place.
Many have said that Nicodemus comes at night because he is important. He is a leader among religious leaders. His role carries authority and speaking to Jesus during the day would not have been the “done thing”.
I think that could be true, although frankly I imagine he could have found a way to pull it off if he had really put his mind to it. But even if this explanation carries some truth, it remains the case that to go during the night means that something is really bothering him. Something is unsettling him. He has questions that won’t leave him alone, that visit him when the world is quiet, and that need to find some space to be explored. Nicodemus’ imagination, his sense of what is true is caught by something in Jesus, but who he is - this Jesus - and what he does doesn’t fit, doesn’t align with how Nicodemus has come to expect the world to work. He cannot settle and so he goes knocking on Jesus’ door in the middle of the night. And Jesus lets him in.
The question that Nicodemus brings is one that we will witness other’s wrestling with as we make our way through these ancient texts this Lent. As we move with Jesus towards the cross and that Easter dawn, we will be with others as they ask: What is true? What is real? What can I rely upon?
Readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 | Psalm 130 | Ephesians 4:25-5:2 | John 6:35, 41-51
We have been reading this story of David all summer. Now I don’t know about you but I have had a hard time following along. I have grasped bits and pieces and been able to connect ideas here and there that are relevant to my life today, but overall I haven’t really been captivated by all that’s been going on. And this week as we jump six chapters ahead from where we left it last week to this story of Absalom, I have been left wondering why we are even reading this?
St. Andrew Sermons