Wednesday, September 9, 2015

God Is Our Champion!

It is back to school time.
I often think that a kid going back to school is often harder on parents than the kids.
Having your kids go up a grade is bitter sweet because it means that they are growing up.
They are going out on their own.
And it means that they are one more year closer to adult hood.
They are closer to being out in the world that we all know is hard and sometimes cruel.
One mother put it really well when she wrote this about her son going off to Junior High, We need a word for the feeling that overtakes a mother after saying goodbye to her infant who is somehow masquerading as a young MAN and who is walking away from her into his adolescent life.
A word to describe the phenomena that is a mother sitting helplessly in her empty van while her heart silent screams her daily PLEASEPLEASEPLEASES!!! PLEASE be good to him.
 Please see his strengths and overlook his weaknesses.
Please sit by him at lunch.
 Please smile back when he smiles.
Please want to be his partner.
Please be gentle.
Pleasepleaseplease. PLEASE.
We want our kids to do well.
We want them to make it in the world, but most of all we want them to be understood.
We want others to see their uniqueness, their gifts.
Rita Pierson who is a teacher that gave a TED talk on education said, “Every Child needs a champion”
In fact, I believe that every person needs a champion.
We need someone who believes in us, who cheers us on, who knows our faults and failures, but cheers us on through them.
Today I want all of us to know that God is our champion.
God is the one in our lives who knows us enough to know all of our deficiencies and imperfections.
But God cheers us on; God wants what is best for us.
God wants us to know that God is on our side.
God is a like a parent on the first day of school, putting us on a school bus, and waving goodbye, secretly dying inside as we venture out into the world.
God is hoping along the way that we meet people who will sit next to us, will care for us, will show us what God already knows that we are loved and cared for in a special way.

This morning our Gospel story is about a woman who knows that God is her champion.
She knows that God roots for her and her daughter.
And that struck me this time as I read the story.
It struck me that what we have is a mother who is championing her daughter.
This mother is relentless, daring, and full of faith.
This mother will not let Jesus dismiss her so easily.
This mother changes Jesus mind with her faith and tenacity.
But what also impresses me is Jesus, because Jesus allows this uppity woman to change his mind.
Jesus allows her faith to turn him around.
She says to Jesus that yes God even cares about me.
God cares about a single woman from a foreign land.
God is my champion; God is my daughter’s champion.
Jesus has enough humility to listen to her, and in compassion reach out.

This story is one of the reasons I love the Bible so much, because this story escapes easy lessons, and easy explanations.
This story challenges what we think about other people different from us.
This story challenges the ways we think about Jesus.
It is complex, and every time I read it I am confronted with something new and different.
Today it is of a mother fighting for her child.
Today it is about faith in a God who champions the lost and forgotten.
Tomorrow who knows what nugget of wonderful grace it will reveal to me.

I mention this because it is political season and we all know that this means it is time for politicians to pander to us.
It is time for politicians to tell us what they think we want to here.
It is especially time for politicians to pander to us who are religious by telling us that their favorite book is the Bible.
I wonder have they read the story of the Syrophoenician woman?
Have they struggled with its meaning, with what it says about us, about God?
I don’t think that one needs to love the Bible to be president.
But if you are going to tell us that the Bible is your favorite book I hope that you have read it, studied it, and heard it preached.
Because I would like to challenge any politician to tell me where in the Bible Jesus talks bad about the poor?
Where does Jesus say that we should shun the foreigner?
Where does Jesus say that we are perfect enough to never have done anything wrong, and therefore we never have to apologies for anything we have done?
In fact, even Jesus in this morning’s Gospel is humble enough to know when he has made a mistake.
What the politicians don’t say is that Jesus is the champion of the people they have to talk bad about to get elected.
I can say that to you this morning because I am not trying to win your vote, I am trying to get you to see that God is your champion.

And I know that is hard to believe sometimes.
It is hard that God even loves you.
That God loves not because you are good.
Not because you are successful.
Not because you have done something awesome.
God loves all of you.
God even loves the failures.
God even loves the stuff that we don’t want to talk about.
And God even uses that stuff to make a difference to make us humble, and give us perspective.
God is the one who came here and walked with us.
God is the one who even listened to a desperate mother.
God is the one who walks with us every day.
God is the healer of our every spiritual ill.
It is hard to believe that God is our champion because we live under the idea that if we are ruled by shame and intimidation that it will make us better.
If we tell people enough all the things they do wrong then their behavior will change.
I don’t really believe that, because shame simply leads us to fear not to higher purpose.
Shame does not lift us up it drags us down.
Perhaps this fall as we all go back to our routines of school and work, as we leave behind vacations, we can champion each other.
We can champion our kids.
We can champion the people around us at work.
We can champion our neighbors and friends.
We can champion our spouses.
We can find ways to speak of what they do well.
We can find ways to rejoice in their particular gifts.
We can see each others strengths and overlook our weaknesses.
We can be gentle with each other.
We can want to be each others partners on this ride of life.

Most of all we should remember what the Syrophoenician woman knew so well, that God is our champion.
God is the one who is our healer, friend, confidant, and cheerleader.
God is the one who wants us to use both our strengths and weaknesses for each other.
God is the one whose love and grace give us strength.
God is our champion!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Imatators Of God

Jesus death and resurrection always has two meanings.
It is a sacrifice for sin, and a model of the Godly life.
The first one we usually get pretty good.
The second one usually gets muted and lost.
My College Chaplain used to talk about this a lot.
In his view the Church sold out to the first one and totally forgot about the second.
It is easy to see why.
I myself don’t like to talk about the second, because it leads to moralizing.
It leads to the law.
It leads to self-righteousness, hypocrisy.
There are too many dangers involved.
But as we continue to talk about the letter to the Ephesians we have to talk about it.
Because that is what the text is talking about this morning.
I want to say that if you weren’t here for the first three sermons I gave on Ephesians please go and read them on-line at pastorjonsreverentbestguess, because in those sermons I laid the groundwork for today’s sermon.
In those sermons I said that everything that came after flowed from the foundation of God’s grace to us.

Today in our reading from Ephesians we are asked to be imitators of God.
We are to live as God in Christ forgave us, live in love, as Christ loved and gave himself up for us.
It is a lot to be imitators of God.
I have been thinking about it all week.
How hard that is.
The example that Jesus gives us on the cross is one that is about giving ourselves totally over to others.
The example is one that says that we give all we have not for our gain, but so that others may gain.

As an example of this, in our reading for this morning consider what it says about working.
It says that we are to work.
I think most of us would say that work is a good and honorable thing to do in life, and that it necessary for us to work to make money for food, housing, and to provide for our family.
But the letter of Ephesians does not mention those benefits.
Instead it says that we are to work so that we “have something to share with the needy.”
In our political discourse about the needy I don’t hear people saying this.
In fact, what I hear is the opposite.
I hear a lot of anger from people because they work hard, and they think that other people are lazy and need to get with the program.
I don’t want to make this about politics.
I want to point out that to be an imitator of God means to order the world, and lives in a different way.
(I also want to say that if you don’t like what I said than you have to take it up with the person who wrote Ephesians, not me.)
To be imitators of God is to give of ourselves for others, just as Jesus gave himself up for us.

This weekend at Soul Fest I went to hear the story from Brad Corrigan.
He is in a group called Dispatch.
And he told this story about a young girl he met in Niagara in a trash dump community named Ileana.
He went to this trash dump community in Niagara to take pictures of the people who lived on this trash dump.
He was in his taxi, and a young girl told him to get out of the taxi and play.
He did and it changed his life.
"There's my life up until 2006, and then I met Ileana," Corrigan said,
"That little girl became like a daughter to me and wrecked me so beautifully... and I’ll never forget the courage and strength in her smile.
 It’s now my honor to speak and sing to her life so that other kids like her can be protected and live."
This little girl with nothing, who lived in a trash dump, had a smile and heart that transformed Brad’s life.
He told us that before he met her he had everything that one might want.
He was a successful musician in a successful rock band.
But that he was always thinking about what he could get out of life.
Ileana showed him that life is about what we give away.
It is about what we share with someone without expecting to get anything in return.
He met this girl who showed him God.
And because of this he became an imitator of God.

I was thinking how imitation is not the same thing as saying that we become God.
Imitation just means that we resemble something that is more genuine and real.
We are meant to resemble the God we have met in Jesus Christ.
And that God is always waiting for us in little girls who have to live in trash dumps.
God is waiting for us in the things that the world throws out without really thinking about it or feeling guilty about it.
And when God continually comes to us in grace and beauty then we see it and understand it better.

Martin Luther said it this way, “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise.
We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way.
The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on.
This is not the goal but it is the right road.
At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.

The reason that we fall so easily into moralizing, hypocrisy is because we place the process in our hands.
We make it about what we “have to do”, or “should do”.
This process of becoming imitators of God, this process of learning to give ourselves away for the sake of others isn’t about us.
It is about what God is doing in us, and through us.

Here is what I can tell you that I have learned in my years on this earth.
That every time someone discovers this, every time God speaks to someone and shows them what it means to give yourself away for the sake of another person that person will tell you that life is better.
It is more whole.
It is more fulfilling.
It has more meaning.
It is richer.
What they will also tell you is that it is harder, more difficult.
It makes life more complex.
To think about someone other than ourselves is way harder, even if it is more fulfilling in the long run.
To love someone else is harder, even though it is better in the long run.

Brad was transformed by his relationship with Ileana in her he saw God’s grace reach for him.
I pray this day for all of us to have these moments when God will speak to us in unexpected places, and in those moments we will experience God’s grace, and we will become imitators of God so that we will live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.
Everything that makes life rich, fulfilling, and whole comes from that fragrant offering.
I pray we don’t forget that Jesus Christ is a model of the Godly life.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Person Next To Me In The Pew

This past week I spent time with friends who were visiting from Wisconsin.
One of the things we did was to go to the North End in Boston.
We visited the Old North Church which is famous for lighting lamps to warn Paul Revere “One if by land, two if by sea” on his famous ride.
If you never have been to the Old North Church it is interesting not just because of the significant part it played in our countries history but also because it has box pews.
Box pews segment the church into compartments defined by five foot high walls and are large enough to accommodate an entire family with benches along two of the walls.
In colonial times you would buy a pew for you and your family, and only people that bought a pew could worship in that church.
As I was walking in a man behind me said, “If I had my own box I might go to church more often.”
It was meant as a joke.
But behind it is a truth.
We would all like our own pew.
We would like church just fine if it wasn’t for all these other people around me messing up my time with God.
You know that family that sits next to you with the kid who is too loud.
Or that old person who sits next to you and gives you dirty looks.
Or maybe that middle aged man who sings off key way too loud.
Or maybe that person who wants the bathroom to be pink, and well you just can’t stand a pink bathroom.
What kind of person is she?
This doesn’t even get at other more substantial issues that get on our nerves about going to Church.

This week we shift, or maybe swing, in a different direction as we continue to talk about the letter to the Ephesians.
The last three weeks have been about things that are up in the atmosphere.
We have been talking about what God means to us.
We have been talking about what God does for us as the church through Jesus Christ and the Spirit.
Today the rubber hits the road.
Today we start talking about what it means to live out those things.
What it means to express the in our lives the unity of God, the love of God.
It is interesting to me that we start this part of Ephesians with a discussion about how the Church is supposed to interact and be with each other.
We don’t start on the how we are to be in the world, how we are supposed to spread the message of Christianity.
But it starts with how we are to be with each other.
How we interact with the person in the seat next to us.
That person in the seat next to us, the person who is maybe not like us, who does not act the way, we would or we would want them to.
That person we are to bear with in love.
We are to be concerned about their well being, not ours, because we are supposed to be one called together in unity.
We are one body.
We are part of this body and the head is Jesus.
All of us have our parts to play.
We have all been given gifts that are to be offered for the good of the whole.
But let us talk together this morning in real terms of what that means.
I want to share some stories with you all of times when I have noticed that the church has fallen short.
I will not use names to protect the innocent, nor will I tell you what church these things happened in.

One person told me that they didn’t attend worship because there was a child in the pew with special needs that made too much noise.
It would distract this person from their worship.
If we don’t come together and bear one another in love than you are not really worshiping that is the point of worship!

One person told me that they didn’t want to go to worship because they only had “old people” in church.
And that “old people” are hypocritical and judgmental.
It was interesting because that comment to me seemed judgmental.
And it was hypocritical to say you don’t like being judged but then turn around and judge others.
We have to learn not to talk about each other except in ways that “promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

Another person told me that they didn’t want to go to worship because they didn’t like the hymns that were selected.
We all have personal preferences, but it might be that the hymn you dislike is someone else favorite.
We have to not just think about what we like, but also consider what others like.
We have to not just think about what we want, but what is beneficial to others as well.
When we do this we bear each other in love.

The purpose of all of this, the purpose of worship is not our satisfaction.
It is not that my needs are met.
Although many people think that is what worship is for.
They think it is for only them.
But the purpose is for us to grow in our knowledge of the Son of God.
To grow in maturity, to no longer be children.
And anyone who has children or raised children will tell you that what kids care about 99% of the time is themselves.
They care about their needs and very little about the needs of anyone else.
And what it means to be a parent is to teach your children humility, patience, gentleness so that they can begin to care about others in the world.

For people of faith all of that starts in baptism.
Baptism is the start of a relationship with God.
And it is about our growing in that relationship.
Vanessa will be baptized today.
And what we pray is that she will continue to grow in her knowledge of Christ.
In her baptism she will promise to continue that relationship by learning the creed, Ten Commandments, Lord’s Prayer.
By hearing and studying God’s word, receiving communion.
So that she will learn to proclaim Christ in and through her life.
That she will be bringing her gifts to the body of body of Christ.
And by being part of this body of Christ.
She will be baptized into the same baptism that we all have.
One baptism, one lord, one hope, one Spirit.
We are one together.
And we will bear with her in love all that life has to bring.

I often think about that promise that we all make at a baptism.
As the body of Christ today we promise to “support Vanessa and pray for her in her new life in Christ”.
That is a big promise to make, because we simply don’t know what will happen with the rest of her life.
We don’t know what kind of trouble she might get in or what kind of tragedies will come upon her.
We don't know what kind of person will end up sitting in the pew next to us.
And yet today we confess our unity in knowing Jesus Christ.
Today we confess that as the body of Christ, we will use our gifts to promote love amongst us.
We will bear with each other in love.
We will not demand that we have our own pew, but we will gladly share it with whoever God calls to sit next to us on any given Sunday.
We will be one with each other.
That is what we are called to do.
We are called to love each other, because that is what the Church is all about.
That is what Christ has taught us, and cared for us.
Vanessa welcome to the body of Christ.
May we all bear each other in love as we grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ so that we may be one.