Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How Different This is From The Marketplace

 In the temple Jesus found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! 

Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" -John 2:14-16

It’s 2001. 

Waukesha, WI. 

I get a call from Oscar on the landline.* 

[They were just called telephones back then]. 

Oscar and I know each other because we’re both in the martial arts club. 

Once a week we beat each other up and then we go out for pizza. 

We sit in the back of a pick-up truck with a $5 Little Caesar’s Hot ready. 

And we eat. 

And we look at the stars, if there are any. 

And we talk about life. 

And romance. 

And french fries. 

And TV. 

Oscar likes to argue about belief and doubt and faith and religion. 

And I like to argue back. 

We become like family. 

The time we spend is holy. 

A temple in the back of a truck. 

A weekly reprieve. 

So, no doubt, we he calls, 

I’m pretty stoked. 

It’s hard to find good friends. 

perhaps tonight 
we’ll splurge for pepperoni. 

Amen? Amen! 

But Oscar isn’t calling about a pizza run. 

Not tonight.  

Tonight, he’s doing something I don’t think he’s ever done before. 

Tonight, Oscar is calling a meeting: 

Next week!

In his dorm! 

6pm sharp!

Be there! 

Oscar has something we all need to know about. 

Something I need to know about, he says. 

Me! ’Cause I’m his friend. 

‘Cause I’m like his brother. 

Because he cares about me. 

This is something he doesn’t want me to miss, he says. 

So, I write it down. 

Next week. 6pm. Oscar’s dorm.  


You know it’s a pyramid scheme when the first thing the presenter says 
is “This isn’t a pyramid scheme.” 

“This isn’t a pyramid scheme,” says a man in a shiny suit. 

We watch his slideshow. 

This was Oscar’s important meeting. 

Because we’re like family. 

Because I’m his friend. 

Because he cares about me. 

How could he possibly allow me to miss such an amazing opportunity? 

A way to make thousands, says the man in the suit, Oscar smiles with pride and possibility twinkling in his eyes. 
A way to make thousands in just a week!!!

It only takes a little bit of investment.

Oscar’s other friends and I—we’re stuck. 

We showed up because—you know—it’s Oscar, 
and Oscar is awesome. 

But now perhaps because we are young, or perhaps because we are Midwestern, we’re afraid we’ll look rude if we leave. 

We just sort of stare around at each other awkwardly during the presentation. 

But we continue to sit. And we stay. 

And we stay for three hours. 

Three hours! 

Three hours of “success stories”: 

Three hours! Of some guy in Florida who sold a thousand boxes [of whatever] in a week and bought a yacht and now goes sailing every day. 

Three hours! Of a young woman who these days drives a convertible for a car and paid off her student loans and visits Paris when she gets tired of the beach. 

Three hours! Of a poor lonely man turned rich and surrounded now by young and beautiful friends at a pool party, sipping a cool drink, all because he invested the initial $19.99. 

Three hours. We’ll never get back. Of stories and slides and money and the beach. 

And it’s not just them,
Oscar takes the mic from his friend.  

You too, my friends, my family,
you too, can get a piece of the action by buying this product from me! I sell it really cheap. And then other people buy it from you. And you get a ton of profit! 

It’s wonderful! It’s fool-proof.  

And—what’s better—this isn’t a pyramid scheme!” 


I don’t remember what the product was. 

I just remember that it was SO CLEAR that it was, indeed, a scam, a scheme. 

And that we had just wasted three hours of our lives. 

I also remember that from then on, Oscar was no longer my brother or my friend. 

I mean, we tried. All of us tried. 

But he was just constantly trying to sell us stuff. 

Instead of faith and doubt and french fries, 
he was all about the benjamins. 
It’s all he ever talked about—buying and selling and convertibles  
and “product” 

It seemed that all he ever thought about was money. 

And the only kind of relationship he would ever entertain anymore was that of seller and potential buyer. A relationship that would make him money.  

That was it—that’s all there was for Oscar. 

He was "driven," as they say. A real Saint of Sales. 

The rest of us joked that he had joined a cult. 

But more so,  
we lamented that we had lost our friend. 

We lamented that something sacred had died. 

Because, though he didn’t mean to,  
Oscar had turned our Temple, our home, our chosen family

into a marketplace. 


Jesus’ charge against the sellers and the moneychangers at the temple in Jerusalem today

is not about their profession. 

He doesn’t say to them: 
Go and sell—or go and make change—no more. 

Not in this chapter. 

This story is about location, about place—about where they were doing what they do to survive.

Incidentally, I think, it’s also about our calling as curators of sacred space—as Christians here in this place surrounded by all kinds of communities who may stop in at any moment looking for something, even a foretaste of God’s promised Reign. 

This space, this Temple of God, 
like any space that claims to be set aside as a house of worship, as a House of Prayer,

is charged with this sacred commission: 

of being just that: a sacred home.

God’s house, we say. 

How different this is from the marketplace. 

Because in God’s house each person has deep, 
and unlimited value 
simply by virtue of being born,
loved and blessed by God. 

Amen? Amen!

We hold value here, in this place, this temple made out of community, simply because we are. Simply because we exist. Period. 

There's nothing you can do to make God love you less and nothing you can do to make God love you more. 

Amen? Amen.

And if we are, if we exist, we are good, because if we are, God has desired us to be. 

We as followers of Jesus  

are charged with being God’s family. Here in this place. And acting like it (as best we can). 

If nowhere else, at least here. Amen? 

No buyers. No sellers. 

No insiders or outsiders. 

No last or first or first or last. 

Just family. 

‘Cause when we’re family, we’re free. 

At least in this place... 

At least in this place,
we can talk about doubt and faith and romance and french fries. 

We can look at the stars if they’re out. 

We can laugh and pray ad sing. 

We can share our things. 

Break bread. Distribute it freely, so all can eat. 

We can be a foretaste of what God desires the world to be. 

In this space, we can all belong. 

This is our Creator’s house. 

And we are God's children. 

This is our Creator's house, and we are family. 

Amen? Amen.

May God turn over any tables that keep us from this sacred calling. 

*Names and details have been changed.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Dead Will Care for the Dead - Transfiguration 2018

Photo by Tom Gaulke February 2018
Megalithic Monument at Peneda Gerês National Park, February 2018
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. - Mark 9:2-9 

It has been said among the people of the Portuguese mountains that in ancient times, 

when stories were passed on only by the light of kitchen fires, 

that there lived in a certain village a very old and very wise man 


after decades of friendship, 

lost his boyhood friend. 

Stricken with grief, this man went up a high mountain, 
as was the custom of his family. 

There, he placed stones and arranged flowers. 

He made a monument to the friend he had loved. 

The deceased’s family came. 

They muttered prayers and sang ancient songs. 

They tore their garments. 
They marked themselves with dirt and ashes. 

Their weeping and wailing rang out through all of the mountains and valleys so that villages miles away could feel their loss. 

As the sun returned, 
the family descended the mountain, as was their custom. 

They went back to tending to the flocks, to singing, to chores. 

the old man didn't return. 

Though hunger would nag him, 
though thirst tug at his shoulder day after day, 
the old man’s heart rendered him immovable. 

One night as the sun was setting, 
the old man closed his eyes. 

As he breathed his last he knew that, 
life or death, he would be at his friend’s side 


To this day as the winter sun sets,
that you can see him. 

There he is. In the mountains, lying on his side. 

You see his elbow there. 

And there his head held up by is hand. 

His beard has mingled with the shrubs, his tears winding downward, watering the streams that flow eternally into the sea.* 


Early this week, Daisy and I were hiking in those mountains. 

As we made our way through the rocky trails, up hills, 
past freely roaming oxen 
and wild orange trees 
and little streams, and avoiding a lot of thorny brush, 
here and there we would happen upon these
super ridiculously ancient sites, 
much like the one’s spoken of in this legend:

sacred places 
literally marked by love and by sorrow and by rocks

that still remain there thousands of years after they were created!   

Today we call these sites “megalithic” sites.

(Think: Stone Henge, for example). 

Here’s one of the ones we saw in Portugal. 

[See picture above.]

Places like this were uncovered by archaeologists 
beginning in the the 1960’s and 1970’s.

And here and there while you are hiking or sometimes driving, 
you will find these little wooden markers with arrows pointing you to them, off the path a little way. 

This one, actually, the marker was burnt, so we had to sort of put it together, and figure out what it used to say, and then found our way down the trail to it.

It’s believed that these monuments
were put there by somebody or some group of people 
3,500-7,000 years ago;

probably (in the case of this one) 
to mourn the loss 
and celebrate the life 

of a friend. 

3,500 to 7,000 years ago someone placed a monument

high up in the mountains,

for someone they lost and loved. 

And they had a funeral. 

As was the custom of their families. 


Jesus, his friends, and his students, 
were no strangers to such ancient customs. 

They, too, ascended mountains to remember. 

They, too, piled stones and murmured prayers 
and wept 
at the passing of those they loved. 

When the Disciples go up and see those heroes of the faith, 
the ghosts of faithfulness past, 
Moses and Elijah, dazzling and full of light, in the Gospel story today,

they are filled with love. 

And with terror of course. 

But they want to stay! 

To admire these sacred and holy saints. 
To pile up rocks and to build dwelling places in the name of love. 

But the voice from the heavens seemed to know better. 

“Here is where we go to remember,” it seemed to say, 
“to touch the past, 
to offer our love.” 

“But when when our offering is complete, 

we’ve gotta return.  

When our offering is complete,

we’ve gotta come back down." 


The story of the old man’s love for his friend may be beautiful. 

As is the story of the disciples’ love. 


what if it’s true that God doesn’t want the old man to die up there?

And what if it’s true that God doesn’t want the disciples to remain sequestered, alone with the saints on a hill, as holy as that calling may seem? 

What if God wants them to come back down?

What if it’s true that God wants them in the village, laughing with the children, eating with their friends, cracking jokes and being healed? 

What if it’s true that God wants them to be a part of the community, broken as it may be,

and certainly not to die of a broken heart? 


I wonder if the voice from the clouds says this then, to us, Christ’s disciples today:

If we are lucky, we love. And certainly we all have loss.  

But a horrible thing happens if we stay on the mountain with the dead. 

It is not, as the disciples wished, a dwelling place. 

If we attempt to make it so, if we try too long to stay, 
we, too, like the old man, will start to die before our time. 

“The dead will care for the dead,” Jesus says.

We the living must tend to the crucified among us.

Come down from the Mountain. Into broken, beloved community. 

"The dead will care for the dead."

the living 
must tend to the Crucified. 


Christ is Risen. 
Christ is Risen, indeed. 


*The myth above is written for illustrative purposes. It's not an actual myth from the mountains!