Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You Say You Want A Revolution!

I have found that people often times don’t understand why Jesus was killed.
I don’t mean that they didn’t know about Jesus being crucified, buried, and raised on the third day.
But they don’t understand the narrative flow of the story told in the Gospels.
They didn’t understand that after Jesus rides into Jerusalem he then begins to turn over the money changers.
After the crowds shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Jesus spends five more days in Jerusalem teaching and preaching.
This is why Jesus is killed, because he went to Jerusalem and upset the order of things.
Jesus made the religious and political leaders angry when he overturned the tables in the temple.
He made the religious leaders angry when he taught that they didn’t understand God correctly.
Palm Sunday is not about triumphant it is about revolution.
Revolution is defined as “a sudden, extreme, or complete change in the way people live, work, etc.”
I have no doubt that what the disciples were thinking was that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to take it back for the Jews.
But this was too small a goal for Jesus, what he really wanted was to change the order of life as we know it.
He wanted people to understand life differently.
Palm Sunday is the beginning of that revolution.

It is easy to cheer for a conquering hero.
Although, what the crowds are asking is for Jesus to save them.
The word Hosanna means, “Save us”.
It is an appropriate way to think about Jesus because we do need Jesus to save us.
But often not in the way we think.

We sometimes think of Jesus in this way.
We think of him as a super hero.
Like Superman.
When we are in trouble we just need Jesus to sweep in and use his super powers to make everything better.
The idea of Superman is that he is a super hero who will make the world better, a man who will stand up for truth, Justice, and the American way, a man who can sweep out all the bad, and all the people who try to do bad.
It is a nice thought.
But it is not the story of Jesus.
It is not the holy and sacred story we are about to experience this Holy Week.
Jesus story is more complex.
The savor is the one dying on the cross.
The savor is the one not doing away with the violence, hatred, and evil of the world, but the one who is succumbing to it.
Jesus is no super hero.
He is a revolutionary, drastically changing the way we understand our lives, and the world around us.

Lots of people say that Jesus dies because he taught us to love everyone.
It is true that Jesus taught us to love everyone, but that is not why he died.
He died because loving everyone disrupts the status quo.
In the real world when you disrupt the status quo when you try to change things, you are not treated as a hero.

Most of you know that I have been outspoken in my support of repealing the death penalty in NH.
I have written op-eds in the paper about it.
I have spoken in front of both the house and the senate.
I have helped organize a vigil here in Concord.
This is my way of walking the path of discipleship.
But like everything, not everyone agrees with me.
I decided to read some of the comments people have posted on-line after I testified, marched, or wrote.
Normally, I don’t do this because it is usually very nasty.
But for the purpose of this morning’s sermon I thought it would be instructive.
I will only share two of them.
One person wrote, “I say take off the collar and earn a living then pay for these criminals yourself. Anyone that can read, watch, or listen to what these people have done and still quote a passage in the bible is completely out of touch with the reality of life.”
And another wrote, “The Reverend is a MORON.”
For me this is what happens when we follow Jesus.
Not just when we talk about it with each other, but when we get out in the street.
People become disturbed and nervous, just like the crowd in Jerusalem when Jesus came riding into town.
It creates turmoil, because we are testifying to the revolution.
We are asking for a drastic change in how we understand all areas of life.
And it is upsetting when the world is actually run on the principals of love and compassion that Jesus taught us.

This is the issue it is one thing for Jesus to talk about these things, another thing to ride into Jerusalem and overturn the money changers, set up camp in the middle of the temple and begin to teach and preach.
It is another thing to put the revolution into motion.

I have a confession to make to all of you.
A couple of weeks ago I allowed four people experiencing homelessness to sleep for one night in our building.
It was a cold night, and they had nowhere to go that night.
I suppose it was risky thing to do.
But here was my thinking on this.
Why have a church that follows Jesus Christ into loving service if we don’t open our doors to people in need?
Of course there are all kinds of things that could have gone wrong.
I know what the risks were.
But if we are really going to be a Christian Church then we can’t merely talk about Jesus’ love, we have to live it out in some way, shape or form.

Which leads me to this question, do we really mean it when we shout out to Jesus riding into Jerusalem.
Do we know what we are really asking for when we are asked to be “Saved”?
Are the shouts merely superficial?
Do we want Jesus to be part of our individual lives and the lives of this congregation or not?
Are we ready for Jesus to change us, to make us totally different?
Are we ready for the revolution?

These are important questions for us to ask.
It comes down to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus has told us that not everyone who shouts our Lord, Lord…will be part of the Kingdom of God.
Because all they want to do is praise and worship God, without that praising and worshipping meaning that we get dirty in the world.
Sure it is nice to ride triumphantly into Jerusalem with Jesus, but we really don’t want to be part of the revolution.
And that is what Jesus is about revolution, a revolution that transforms us and the world.

This lent we have had time to think about letting go of things in our lives that don’t matter; we have had time to think about adding God into our lives.
And that is what this revolution is about.
It is about letting go so we can live as Disciples of Christ, so we can have God in our lives.
And this does not mean that we will be perfect.
There is no such thing.
It only means that we are willing to grow in our spiritual pursuits.
We are willing to order the world in a different way.
We are willing to not just shout words of Hosanna, but also live those words.

We are willing to be saved by the one who dies on a cross, because love is stronger than hate, goodness stronger than evil.
We are willing to join the revolution.
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!


Last week we talked about things in our life that we need to leave behind, things we need to let go of.
It would be a shame to leave lent with only taking away things.
Today I would like to talk about things we need to add to our life.
I know when I say this you are probably thinking that it would be impossible to add one more thing to your life.
I know that we are all busy and that life at this time is hectic.
But what I am talking about this morning is not about adding another chore or task on to your list.
Instead, I want to talk about adding God into our lives.

I know that if you are in worship this morning you already know and love God.
I am not questioning anyone’s dedication or desire to know God.
But this week I was talking with some of my pastor colleagues here in Concord about over functioning.
One of my colleagues said that they have been operating for too long as a “functional atheist”.
I really loved that term and wanted us to think this morning about our own lives and if we were also operating as a functional atheist.

Here is what it means to be a functional atheist.
It means to act as if God can’t or isn’t doing anything.
It means to act as if everything in life depends solely on you and what you do.
That you have to do it all because if you don’t then everything will fall apart and nothing will work out.
I wonder if this is why we are often so busy in our lives, or if this is why we keep our kids so busy.
Because if we didn’t do everything than it would all just be a mess.
If we don’t push our kids they won’t get into the perfect college, they won’t have the perfect life.
Dr.Louis M. Profeta an Emergency Physician Practicing in Indianapolis,Indiana wrote an article that I read this week that touched on our obsession with our kids being over programmed.
 “We have become a frightened society that can literally jump from point A to point Z and ignore everything in between. We spend so much time worrying about who might get ahead - and if we're falling behind - that we have simply lost our common sense.”
We live in fear and in the process we are cutting God out of our lives, it is time to add God back in.

In today’s reading, we hear of the prophet’s vision given by God.
In the vision a valley of dried up, dead bones are brought to life.
God’s spirit is breathed into them.
God is added back in.
"Mortal, can these bones live?"
The answer that the prophet gives is instructive, "O Lord God, you know."
The answer rests in the hands of God.
And this is an important part of our lives that we sometimes are too busy to see.
That God is working, that God is moving.
We are just too busy trying to lock down the outcome to comprehend it.
We forget that just as the bones were brought to new life, we too can rise from bad situations.
This is the life of a Christian death and resurrection.

This was the mistake often of Israel that instead of deferring to God they would try to figure out the answer on their own, they gave up on God all together, and in doing just made themselves miserable, because in the middle of death and exile God is at work.
God is doing something new.
God is breathing spirit into those bones.

And lent is a good time to add this to our life.
And that is God’s spirit.
It is trusting in God to pull us through, to help us through, and to give us strength.
If we don’t then well we are functional atheist.
We say we believe in God, but we don’t act like.
Our life doesn’t reflect it, because we are scheming to make it better, to fix it.

As I said last week I am reading Alcoholic Anonymous Big Book as a Lenten devotional.
In a chapter about how AA works there is a section of identifying the problem.
One of the biggest problems is self-centeredness.
Here is what it says about getting rid of our self-centered life.
“First of all, we had to quit playing God.
It didn’t work.
Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life; God was going to be our Director.
He is the Principal; we are his agents.
He is the Father; we are his children.”
This could be said for all of our lives.
That if we desire to be spiritual people, we have to admit that trying to play God doesn’t work for us.
Instead, we have to give up our trying to do it all, and add God to our lives.

Let me tell you how I think this could play out in a practical way.
So next time you have a problem.
Instead of thinking, “What should I do about this problem?”
Try to think this instead, “What is God up to here in my life?”
What Do I need to pay attention to?
What does this say to me about God, about myself.
And then in the next step give the problem over to God.
Say, “I can’t solve this problem it is too big for me.
It is too overwhelming for me to handle.
God you take it.”
And then wait and see what happens.
Don’t do anything.

When I do this a few things happen.
First, it is really hard.
It is hard not to do anything to merely wait.
It is hard to not try to jump in and solve the problem, make it go away.
It is hard to let God take the lead.
Second, I usually gain some perspective about the issue.
I don’t have as much overreaction and fear.
Third, I actually feel better.
It brings me comfort to know that not everything depends on me.
That I can let some things go.

Every year we have a Swedish Meatball dinner.
I love this dinner.
I love it a lot.
I love it for a couple of reasons.
One, I am Swedish and I am proud of my heritage just as I am hope you are proud of your heritage whatever that may be.
Second, I really enjoy cooking Swedish meatballs.
Third, I really enjoy eating Swedish meatballs.
Fourth, it is one of the events that we all do together as a congregation, just about everyone helps out in some way.
Fifth, it is one of the things that our congregation is known for in our community.
When I first moved here and mentioned what congregation I was from some people would say, “That is the church that has the meatball dinner.”
My first reaction when we talked about not having it was to jump in and say that I would do it.
But I felt the urge to step in and do it myself; instead I thought “what might God be up to here?”
Second, I said that if God wants us to have a meatball dinner God will send someone else to step up and lead it.
Nothing says we have to have a Swedish meatball dinner even if I wanted one.
You see we need to add God into our lives, because that is where we draw strength that is where we come to understand the world and see things as they really are.

I know that many people here this morning are dealing with a lot more significant issues than are we going to have a meatball dinner or not.
And I only offer this as a small example of how we can add God into our everyday decision making process.
How we can add God so we can let go of other things.

We might feel like a valley of dry bones.
When we feel this way the only answer is to add God.
To add God’s spirit into our lives so we might see a vision of life that God wants us to see.
God wants us to see the vision of a valley full of life.

Today I hope for all of you that God be added into your life so you might experience resurrection in the midst of death.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Moving Forward

Sometimes we have a hard time letting go.
We have to move on in life, but we can’t let go of the past.
We can’t let go of something that happened.
We want to hold onto grudges, people not good for us, lives we wished we had.
But letting go is essential in life.
It is essential for new birth.
It is essential for growth and change.
Letting go is essential for us to move forward.

In our Biblical story this morning we start with the Samuel having a hard time letting go.
Saul was his king.
He had been Saul’s spiritual adviser.
He didn’t want to let go.
“When will you stop mourning Saul?” God asks.
When will you move on?
When will you let go of what used to be?

It is tough for us to let go, to move forward, and to see things from a new perspective.
I think back on my own life, and some of the things I have left in the past.
It was not easy.
It was painful.
I have had to move on from certain relationships that were not good for me, or for the other person.
In the long run it worked out, it was for the best, but it was still difficult.
Just as it is difficult for Samuel to leave behind Saul and find the next king.

It is interesting that the next king would be different from the last.
Saul was one thought of when thinking of a king.
Saul was a military leader he was tall, majestic, and strong.
God’s next choice was weak, small, and a shepherd boy.
In fact, not the person Samuel thought God would choose at all.
And this is the best reason to let things go, to move forward, because God has something new for us to learn, something new to understand about ourselves, about God, or about the world.

You know when we think that God has a plan for our lives I think we miss something important that the journey is sometimes just as important as the end.
We say God has plan because we want to get to the happy ending.
But along the way there are lots and lots of great stuff that happens to us.
We get to experience the change, to see the ways that God subtly moves us in a direction.
And we can see in the small things God at work.

In high school I had this friend who I spent most of my time with.
He was a good person, and a very good friend.
But when we were together I mostly got in trouble.
My parents didn’t really enjoy that we hung out together.
There came a point when we kind of started to drift apart because I started to change my life dramatically.
I started to do really well in school, I started to work at going to college, my faith became a more important part of my life.
And then there came a day when we stopped hanging out together at all.
It was a relationship that I had to leave behind.
I came to realize that I wanted different things in my life than my friend did.
I came to realize that we were simply going in different directions.
It was painful, but it was necessary for me to leave it behind.
I also wouldn’t take any of it back.
I don’t regret having him as a friend.
I learned lots of great things from that time in my life, but it was simply time for us to part.
I also believe that God was at work helping me move in a different direction.

I think we all have relationships like this in our lives.
They were good for us at certain times, they made sense, but at some point we had to move on, we had to grow, to change, and to find a different path.
God all the time is working on us in this way.
God is calling us to some new horizon we have not yet thought of, or dreamed of.
And it is only possible when we are ready to leave certain things behind.

I am reading the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book this year for lent.
Someone suggested that it is a good book to read as a Lenten devotion.
I am not reading it because I think I have a drinking problem, but because in its pages are many spiritual truths.
In step four, Alcoholics are encouraged to make a personal inventory of themselves.
To look at the things in their lives that need to be left behind, the things in their character that needs to be discarded.
The big book suggests that the number one flaw that alcoholics face is resentment.
It is the thing that needs to be left behind.

I thought about this and I realized that for many of us this is also true.
That we have built up in our heads a lot of resentment about our lives.
We resent that we are not more successful, more beautiful, more rich, or whatever.
We are resentful at the people in our lives that we feel are holding us back.
Our partners, our kids, our employer, our friends, can all be seen as people that we are angry at because we are not the person we think we are.
How true is that of us in our lives?
How much do we need to let go of resentment?

This lent perhaps it is good for us to think about the things that we need to let go of.
The things God is calling us to move on from.
So that we don’t build up resentment and lose track of the ways that God is trying to work in our lives.

I wonder if the disciples felt any resentment towards Jesus after his crucifixion and before Easter morning.
They had given up everything to follow him.
They had been promised that they would be “blessed”.
They had been promised that the “Kingdom of God had come near.”
They wanted so badly for Jesus to be the promised Messiah they had hoped for.
And then it all went so horribly wrong.
Perhaps they had not let go of things in their past so they could be ready for what was to come.
They had not yet given up on their idea of what a king should be, what a messiah should be.
And this is why they missed not only the end but also the journey along the way.
And therefore were not ready for the ways that God was about to change their lives.

In lent we are getting ready for Easter morning.
We are preparing ourselves for death and resurrection.
What do we need to get rid of in order to be ready for God to change our lives, and for those lives to be reborn?
What resentments are we holding on to?
What unhealthy relationships are we involved in?
What ideas of God are we holding on to that are no longer true?

Lent is a good time to take inventory of ourselves.
It is a good time to let go of unhealthy things in our lives.
It is a good time to be ready for God to change our lives so that as Christ died and rose, we too might die and rise with Jesus.
It is a good time to not worry so much about the end of the story, but to enjoy this time in our lives so we might see God’s grace at work and grow from these experiences.