Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hearing God.



How do we know when God is talking to us?
How do we know what we are called to do?
This question is in both our first reading from Samuel and our Gospel reading this morning.
Samuel is talked to by God and he doesn’t know it.
Nathanael is called to follow Jesus, but he isn’t sure what he is being called to do.
And at first he is not even sure that Jesus is worth following, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Both are not sure.
And like Samuel’s time our time too is a time when the word of the Lord is rare, and visions are not widespread.
At least it seems that way.
I guarantee that if you tell someone that God came and spoke to you, that the other person would think you lost your mind.
But at the same time I believe that God does speak to us all the time.
I do believe that even in these times God calls us to follow.

I was at an ordination yesterday and the bishop used a story about Martin Luther King Jr. that I was also planning on using this morning.
On January 27, 1956 as Martin Luther was beginning to be one of the key leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott he got a phone call late at night.
He was told that if he didn’t leave in Montgomery in three days that they would blow up his house and shoot him in the head.
Martin got off the phone and went into the kitchen thinking of a way to leave Montgomery without seemingly like a coward.
He prayed to God that night and he heard a voice call to him that said, “Martin stand up for truth, and stand up for justice.”
Well…you know the rest he stayed, he fought for those things for the rest of his life, and eventually lost his life for standing up for those things.
But it was that call from God that set everything in motion.
It was God whispering in his ear telling him to stand up for what was right and good that made Martin Luther King Jr. the name that we still remember.

Now that is a rather dramatic call, but I believe that we all have it.
That God is always whispering in our ears.
God is always saying to us, stand up for truth, and stand up for justice.
God is always calling us to love, kindness, patience, and self control.

How do we hear it?
Jesus tells Nathanael that he shouldn’t be that impressed with this dramatic moment.
Don’t get caught up in the fact that I saw you under the fig tree.
Don’t get caught up in the fact that I know who you are and what you are about.
Jesus tells him that, “You will see greater things than these.”
And I think we too must not get caught up waiting for the big dramatic moment.
Instead, we must trust in what we know about God through Jesus Christ.
We know that Jesus asks of us to give, to give of our money, our time, and our talents.
We know that following Jesus does not mean that our life will be easy.
In fact, it will often be hard.
We know that we are called to be there for others, because “the greater things” that Jesus is talking about his is own death and resurrection.
The greater things are the Son of God is going to give his life for the sins of the world.
The greater thing is that Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

This past Friday I went with my mother to Dana Faber for her cancer treatment.
My older sister Jen was there too.
Jen’s sister in law, Karin, came by to hang out with us for some time while we waited to hear the outcome of my mom’s tests results.
She brought us fruit, and cookies.
I mention the fruit because Karin doesn’t like fruit.
She brought it because she knew that we liked it.
She knew that is what my mom would want to eat.
I mention the cookies, because as we went from the cafeteria to the next appointment, Karin would offer people a cookie.
One woman in the elevator was thrilled to get a cookie in the elevator.
She gushed about how that cookie made her day.
(By the way they were really good cookies)
When Karin left we continued to hand out the cookies to doctors and nurses and others that worked at Dana Faber.
It made everyone happy.
I don’t know what made Karin bring those cookies and fruit, but they were heaven sent.
They brightened everyone’s day, including ours.
A small thing perhaps, but I also think it illustrates what it means to hear God’s call.

If it is truly God calling us to do something I believe it will have two characteristics.
One hearing God’s call means doing something for someone else that goes against what you want.
It means putting someone else needs ahead of your own.
Two, hearing God’s call will bring goodness to others.
It will make someone else day, it will bring good news, joy, and show kindness.

If you think you hear God talking and are not sure I would check it against these two things.
I would ask myself if what I think God is asking me to do will be mean that I have to give of myself.
Does it mean that someone else besides me will benefit.
If those two things are present than you can know for sure that God is talking to you, and that you heard God correctly.

On the other hand, if you think you hear God’s voice and that voice tells you to do something self-serving, or something that hurts other people, than you need to readjust the tin foil antenna and try again, because that voice was not God’s.
The voice that tells people to kill abortion doctors in the narthex of their church, or the one that tells you to protest against gays at military funerals, or the one that tells you to call poor people lazy, or the one that tells you to call and threaten the life of a Baptist pastor because he is protesting a law.
All of those voices do not belong to God.

The voice that belongs to God is the one that says, help others, care for the poor, and love the unlovable, give of yourself.
Martin Luther King in a sermon he gave at Ebenezer Baptists church called “The Drum major instinct” on February 4, 1968, two months before his assassination.
He said about his funeral,
“I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)”

“And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.”

Martin Luther King heard the call from God to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
He heard the call to follow Jesus the “Son of God! The King of Israel!”
That same voice that propelled him still speaks to us today.
Can you hear it?
If you can than serve others, forgive freely, love unconditionally, give generously, share cookies with strangers, and eat fruit even when you don’t want to because you know someone else does.
And your living will not be in vain, because you would have heard and followed the call of God.
Amen

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Prologue for a New Year!



This year at our annual New Year’s Eve party one of my friends asked me, “How was your year?”
This question caught me off guard.
I had never taken time to really think about 2014.
New Year’s is usually about putting the year behind us and thinking about the next year.
It is about making resolutions about what will change in our lives in the upcoming year.
And probably because of this I never gave much thought to 2014.
But also because 2014 was a year without much distinction.
It was a year that some good stuff happened in my life, and some bad stuff, but it was really just a year like any other year.
I had some success, and some failures.
I celebrated a few milestones with friends that got married, got pregnant, had babies, or whatever.
I watched my children grow and become more independent.
I mourned over the loss of loved ones.
(My grandmother died this past year.)
I worried about friends who are battling cancer.
I prayed that they would live another day, month, year.
I gave thanks that my mother was still alive, and active despite her battle with cancer.
I spent time with family and friends.
I swam in the waters of Lake Ossipee, and in Melville lake at my in-laws.
I rooted for the Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots.
All these things are part of life.
As I think back on my year I think this is just life.
Things happen, some good, some bad.

I can remember other years when friends would come to our New Year’s party.
We would toast in the New Year, and that year was so bad for them that they couldn’t wait for the New Year.
They couldn’t wait for something new to happen in their lives that would change its course.
I am not in that space this year.
I am basically happy and content with my life.
I have a calling that I love, a family that loves me and is dependable and great.
Life is basically good.
Except for when it is bad.
But even in those moments I find that I have a calm about them.
What about you?
How was your year?
Was it a year that was so bad that you are glad it is over, and ready to move on to the new awaiting you in 2015?
Was it really good and life changing?
Did you have a major event that brought you joy?
Was it just like other years?
I have nothing new to report or change, but all in all really good?

I mention this because our Gospel for this morning is the prologue to John’s Gospel.
It is John’s way of telling the Christmas story.
But unlike in Luke or Matthew John doesn’t tell you the story, but John explains what that story means.
It means that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
That in all areas of our lives, in the world there is a light that shines through the darkness and illuminates our lives.
That light gives us life and hope.
And that nothing that happens in our lives can make it go out.
It is not about optimism, it is about faith in God.
John’s birth story brings to mind the very birth of creation.
That in the beginning there was a formless void, God spoke and said, “Let there be light.”
In this New Year God speaks to us once again.
God says that God is not done creating us, and so we have another year of life.
God says into our darkness let there be light.
The light is God’s only son, Jesus.


Some of you may know, through the history channel or magazine articles, (http://www.history.com/topics/christmas) that Christmas was a Christian celebration that co-opted the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.
Saturnalia was the Roman festival of lights leading to the winter solstice.
It brought light to the darkest days of the earth, and anticipated the return of light.
It makes sense that this is part of what we celebrate at Christmas.
Because what we are reminded of this time of year is that God is always shining light into the darkness.


As I look back on my year regardless of what happened that light was always shining.
Every week I try to share it with you all.
I try to read the scripture and find the light in our world, in our church, in our lives, and point it out so that you will know that God is shining light.


And perhaps that is what we can look forward to in 2015.
We can look forward to God shining light into our lives.
Because we don’t know what kind of year this will be.
We don’t know what will happen that is unexpected in this new year.
What we can be sure of is that God will be in it.
God will be there shining light of grace

That is what I remember most about 2014.
Is that God was there for me, with me, in me.
God was there with you, for you, in you.
Even when things didn’t work out as planned.
God was there even when things looked bad, God’s grace and truth shown through it all.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I never keep them.
But also because they are much too dependent on my will to make those things happen, and I know myself well enough by now to know I don’t have the will power.
So a while ago I simply stopped making them.
But some of my friends are into this idea about taking one word and making that your word for the year.
There is a book called, “One Word that will change your life.” (http://getoneword.com/)
It is based on the idea that if you pick just one word and focus on it you it will help you in that area, and make a significant change in your life.
So your word can be forgiveness, if you feel that you need to forgive more.
I really like this idea.
It is so much better than making a list of resolutions, because it helps us focus on spiritually what needs to change in our lives not just on what happens on the outside.
I was giving some thought to my word and what it should be.
And I realized that my word is always the same.
This year I want to continue to be able to see and understand God’s grace given in Jesus Christ.
I always want that to be central to who I am as a child of God.
It is not about me and what I do, but about what God’s grace is making possible around me, through me, in me.
I want to know what God will do in my life this year.
What is the one word that God will make in my life to make me see God’s light.
And for me that word is always grace.
That in my year, in your year, you and I will experience grace in some way shape or form.
It may be that we will understand something about God differently.
We will be offered forgiveness by someone.
We will get through a trying time because of God’s presence.
Whatever it is God will bring light into our lives through grace.

And that is what I hope for all of us in 2015.
That we see the light that shines in the darkness, that we see that the darkness cannot overcome it.
That God is always creating something new in us, with us, through us.
That God is with us no matter how our lives are in the new year.

And so let that be our new year’s resolution.
And next year when we are asked, “how was your year?”
We will be able to say, “Well…the light shined in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Amen


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Overshadowing



On Thursday my wife and I were sitting in our living room enjoying a moment to talk at the end of a busy day.
I looked up on the mantel over our fire place and noticed that something was different this year.
The manager scene that we put up every year looked better for some reason.
It looked different because unlike in years past, we didn’t surround it with lights, greens, or family photos.
It was on the mantel all by itself.
This made it easier to see, and made it stick out as the center piece of the room when you looked at from our couch.
We didn’t overshadow it with other things.

The Angel, in this morning’s Gospel from Luke, tells Mary that she will be “Overshadowed” by the power from the Most high.
One of the things I love about the Biblical story is the way that just one word can stick out.
And for me this year this word stuck out.
Probably because my kids and I were having a discussion about how Jesus was born.
Who was Jesus father?
And in Luke’s telling of the story this is the explanation from the angel about what is going to happen.
But what does it mean to be overshadowed by the Most High?

I was thinking about all the things in our lives that can/do overshadow Christmas.
Like our mantel that had so many things on it that our manger scene was overshadowed.
What are the things that keep us from seeing clearly into the manger, what stops us from seeing God with us this season?
The over commercialization of the season, the feeling that we have to do it the “right way”, the pressure to make sure that our families are happy.
And for some the overshadowing can come in real painful ways, the loss of a loved one at this time of year, the inability to travel to be with our families.
And then there are things that simply make it impossible to believe that God’s kingdom has no end.
We know of the news that tells us that the world is falling apart.
We live in a world where children are killed in school by religious extremists to prove a point in the middle of an internal struggle.
We live in a world where police officers are killed in while on patrol.
We live in a world of bravado that seeks to use violence as the way to solve problems.
We live in a world where justice is hard to find, and where there is no justice there is no peace.
We live in a world where on Christmas Eve there will be families sleeping in a car.
Lots of things are threatening to overshadow Christmas this year.
The overshadowing seeks to make the darkness find a permanent home in our lives this season.

Things were probably not that different for Mary.
Her world was about to change dramatically.
It was about to be upset and turned around.
How would she explain to those around her this pregnancy?
She knew that in her world it could mean death.
Maybe Joseph would think that she was lying and have her stoned to death for having an affair.
At best he would be compassionate and simply ask for their engagement to be off.
Mary was in danger, that fear could have overshadowed her.
Not only that, but Mary doesn’t seem to know what is happening to her.
She was perplexed by the Angels words.
So Mary is at first fearful and doubtful.
She was in jeopardy of being overshadowed by those two things, but the angel promises that it will be God who will overshadow her and take away doubt and fear.

I am wondering if we will be overshadowed this Christmas.
Will we be overshadowed by greed, fear, injustice, sadness?
These are all very real things in our lives.
Or will we be overshadowed by the power of the Most High.
Will we stand in awe of what God is doing, will do.
Will we risk the faith to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

What would have happened if Mary had not accepted God’s proposal?
This would have been a very different story.
God would have taken another path, and done something different.
But in faith Mary accepts what the angle says.

If you have heard me preach before you will know I am not big on our personal choices.
I just don’t believe that much of what happens to us we can choose.
Most of what happens in our lives is out of our control, and we too often operate with the illusion of control.
But here is this exception.
We don’t choose faith, but we do accept it.
We do accept God and God’s plan for our lives.
It overshadows the fear that we feel, the uncertainty we have, and the other things that seem to overshadow our lives.

And in this final week of advent we light a candle for peace.
We seek a peace that seems so elusive, so out of our abilities to obtain it.
But if we are willing to allow God to overshadow us, through everything else we can see peace in our lives.
What Mary does is surrender to the idea that she is not in control.
And in faith we can too.
Here am I.
I don’t fully understand.
I am worried about what this will mean.
I don’t know what will happen next.
But Lord I stand in faith.
I stand here putting my life into your hands.
That is what Christmas brings us, an unbelievable story.
It is a story about a broken world, hurting, afraid, doubtful, and full of violence.
And into the middle of that we are met with something unexplainable that overshadows everything else.
And we stand in awe and wonder.
We find in that story faith in something too marvelous for us to explain.
We find God who was willing to give up heavenly majesty walk among us, to dwell with us.
We find a God willing to be born a vulnerable baby.

Only in faith can we embrace such a story.
But what I think we find is when we are able to accept this story in faith than we are overshadowed by its beauty, wonder, and might.
We are overshadowed to know that we don’t have a God that doesn’t understand what it is to be week and mild, like us.
We have a God that is weak and mild for us.
We don’t have a God that we have to guess about what it means.
We have a God that came down and showed us what true love, hope, joy, and peace look like.
We have a God who risks becoming a human out of love for all humanity.

And that is what stands out.
That is what overshadows us this Christmas season.
It overshadows all the decorations, sadness, brokenness, and injustice that we experience and know.
May that be what your Christmas is about.
Clearing away the greens and lights to see God come down to overshadow us, and the Holy Spirit comes upon us.
So we might say with Mary that we to don’t understand the plan and we too are doubtful, but here we are, we stand in faith.
May God overshadow you this Christmas so that you know the hope, love, joy, and peace that comes with believing.
Amen