Monday, January 15, 2018

Come and See

I can remember the first time I felt the desire to volunteer.
I was a sophomore in High school.
I found out that the Baptist church in the center of town had a meal for people that were experiencing homelessness.
For some reason I really wanted to go there and help.
I will tell you that I believe that the desire to help someone else came from God.
It was a calling, maybe as clear a calling as I have ever received.
I just knew somehow that what it meant to be a Jesus person was to help others.
Where did it come from if not God?

You might be thinking it came from my home church.
But the reality is that at that time my home church didn’t do much volunteering.
Church was a place of worship and learning about God.
At that time we simply didn’t have a lot of opportunity to serve.
And the one thing that I knew that our church did, serve a meal at the race track in Salem, they wouldn’t let the youth group do it.
 Church it seemed to me was concerned about the building, and budgets.
We had just built a really nice new church, and what I saw from the adults was a desire to keep the building nice and new.

You might be thinking that I got it from my parents.
My parents were faithful and generous people.
We always had people over our house.
They would help anyone in any way they could.
But we didn’t do a lot as a family volunteering outside of our church.
My parents were working hard, raising a family, and trying to pay bills.

This is in no way to disparage either my home church or my parents.
I learned about Jesus from those two places.
I learned about compassion for others.
It is only to say I can’t attribute that strong sense of wanting to do something to help others to either of them.
I can’t attribute that call of wanting to make the world a little better to either of them.
It must have been God’s call.
It must have been God whispering in my ear that part of a life of faith is giving what we have with others.

I love John’s account of the call of Nathanael, because he resists Jesus.
And I think we all do that to some extent.
We are skeptical of the call.
It seems to come from nowhere.
What does it really mean to follow this homeless Rabbi from Nazareth?
Does anything good come from it?

I also believe that this call doesn’t just come to me.
It has come to all of us.
In our human DNA there is something that makes us want to serve, to make a difference, to give of ourselves.
I have seen it over and over again.
I have friends who serve the world in such wonderful ways.
I have friends who have adopted children from Haiti, Africa, and South America.
Friends who live a life of service and care for people marginalized.
I know that even people who have nothing to speak of desire to make a contribution.
That call is alive and well in the world.
And even if people don’t know it I believe it comes from God.
What about you?
What has Jesus invited you to come and see?

“Come and see” is the words that Phillip uses to invite Nathanael to meet Jesus.
It is also the words that Jesus uses right before this to invite Phillip to come and see where he is staying.
I feel that my whole life is about this phrase.
Over and over again I have been called by God to come and see.
Come and see what it means to work a full time job and not have enough to eat.
Come and see what it means to have problems that prevent you from working.
Come and see what it means to sleep in a tent when it is below freezing.
Come and see what it means to live a country torn apart by war, exploitation, and hunger.
Come and see what it means to be a person of color in a country owned and run by white people.
Come and see what it means to live in the inner city.
Come and see what it means to not speak the language.
Come and see what it means to be forced from your homeland only to move to a place no one wants you.
Come and see.

I have been blessed in my life by this call.
I have been blessed to see God in the faces of people of every culture, class, race, sexual orientation.
That is the call of what Jesus invites us to see.
“God so loved the world”
God loves all of the world.
Not just the nice parts of it.
Not just the parts I grew up seeing.
But the parts that we don’t like to see.
I realize that I take for granted sometimes what I have been able to come and see.
I take for granted the idea that God cares about people experiencing poverty, or people of color, or people of different sexually orientation.
I realize that not everyone has had those same experiences.
Perhaps the best thing about serving others is that you learn.
I have learned so much about my privilege.
In fact, the idea that I have time, money, and energy to serve is a condition of my privilege.
There is an inherit injustice in me having so much that I can give someone something extra that I don’t need.
For example, I have like seven different coats.
I have a coat for every occasion.
I have a dressy winter coat, a skiing coat, a fall coat, a spring coat, a coat for when I sit at the fireside while camping.
And there are people who have no coat, or only the coat I choose to give them.
That is unfair, and unjust.
The great gift is that service has broken me open time and again and showed me my own sin.
Service shows me my complacency in face of injustice.
It has shown me my own racism or inherent prejudices.
It has shown me all the things I have done, and left undone.

I don’t know the mind of almighty God.
I don’t know why I was gifted with wonderful parents, a loving church community, or a sense of helping others.
But I do know that all of that means I have a great opportunity to do something for others.

I do know that my call is linked to that of Philip, to invite others also to also come and see.
Come and see what Jesus Christ offers you.
It is to tell people that indeed good does come out of “Nazareth”.
Good comes from everywhere.
Because God has made the world, and God loves the world.
It comes from Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria, Iraq, and every place on this earth, if we only will come and see.
If we only serve with those that are left behind and belittled by others.

Since it is Dr. Martin Luther King weekend I want to end by saying that what Dr. King invited us to is this very truth.
Come and see that we are all equal in the sight of God.
And maybe, just maybe, our country and laws can reflect that holy truth.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, ever hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
I have that dream too.
It goes back to that moment in high school when I felt that desire to serve a meal to people experiencing homelessness.
It is a dream rooted in the biblical promise that one day we shall all be one.
One day we shall all eat from the same banquet table of the lord.
One day we shall all be seen and know.
Until that day I invite you to come and see!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

New Year!
I always love the New Year.
It always feels like a time for new possibilities.
In the New Year we have the possibilities of new thinking, new ways, new days.
This is why we make resolutions, because we have been given a new year to try to do things differently.
Nothing wrong with trying to change things we don’t like about our lives.
Of course, the majority of our resolutions tend to be fairly shallow.
Lose weight is the biggest one.
It is also the one we fail at by February.
Most of the resolution we make we fail at.
I always liked the “One Word” resolution.
You adopt one word as your goal or mantra or motivation.
A word like ready, grit, fearless, or breathe.
Those are just some examples from friends who are doing the “One Word”.
I like it a lot better than a resolution.
It gets at the deeper issues we face in life.

My problem with all the resolution talk is that it is always about us.
What am I going to do to change my life?
The problem is that we don’t have control over everything in our lives.
I would argue the big things that really matter we actually don’t control.
We don’t control life and death.
We control the shallow things.
How much we weigh.
How healthy we are.
What job we have.
What clothes we wear.
The deeper issues are not in our control.
As people of faith we believe that they are in God’s control.
We believe that the bigger things of life are in the hands of forces bigger than us.
And so this New Year I want to suggest that instead of looking at our lives and thinking what needs to change in this New Year.
Ask a different question.
What will God do in my life this year?
Of course the problem with that question is that we don’t know the answer.
It is something we can’t predict, or make a resolution to make happen.
That is the point.
Faith is about trusting God with your life, all of it.
Faith is about not knowing the outcome, but trusting somehow that God is at the end of it all.

Our Gospel for this morning is about Jesus’ Baptism.
The meaning of Jesus baptism is not what does it mean for our baptisms?
It is that in this event God tore open the heavens and removed the barrier between us and heaven.
In Jesus Christ God bridged a gap between human and divine.
In Jesus Christ God invades our world.
And this year how is God going to invade your life?

The interesting thing about what happened in Jesus Christ is that most people missed it.
At his baptism we are told that the heavens, “torn apart”.
It is the same thing that will happen at his death, when Jesus dies the curtain in the temple “torn apart”.
God removes a barrier between God and us.
And we miss it because we are not looking for God.
Instead we are busy trying to improve our weight, make more money, stop smoking, or whatever else we have decided needs our attention.

Because of all this resolution talk, and because we fail at it so much, this time of year there are a lot “experts” on television telling us how to keep our New Year’s resolution.
I was reading one of those lists and I re wrote it for us to think about this morning.
So the experts say that we should do these things to keep our resolutions in the New Year.
I want to say do these other things because God is going to show up in your life this year and you don’t want to miss it.

1)    They say, “Choose a specific, realistic Goal”
a.     Instead, how about we look for God in your everyday normal life. God is going to show up. God will show up in the interactions you have with people, in your job, while you are shopping, while you are picking kids up, and doing all the things that life demands. Can we see God in the specific and realistic parts of our lives?
2)    They say, “Start with small steps”
a.     Instead, look for the small ways God is talking to you. God’s voice is often as soft as a whisper. Where is God leading you? What are the things that happen in your life that will show you a different way to be?
3)    They say, “Avoid repeating past failures”
a.     Instead, remember that God forgives all your sins, so that you can move on. We can’t undo what we have done. We can ask for forgiveness, and forgive others. In this process we learn to let go, to stop being ashamed.
4)    They say, “Remember that change is a process”
a.     Instead, change comes from death and resurrection. Let things die so new things can come into being. There are lots of things in our lives that we hold onto that don’t need to be anymore. What needs to die, so that new things can be born in us?
5)    They say, “Don’t let small stumbles let you down”
a.     Instead, you will fail this year, remember that God loves you. Remember that even in our failure God is at work. Through everything that we face we have a God that loves and cares for us.
6)    They say, “Get support from Friends and Family”
a.     Instead, God is found in the body of Christ. Go there to remember his love and care for you. God is everywhere and in everything. God is most visible here in this place amongst us. In the body and blood, in each other. I am always moved by the ways that people in this congregation care for each other by sharing their hurts with each other and helping each other through difficult times.
7)    They say, “Renew your motivation”
a.     Instead, Jesus brings the Holy Spirit – It will be your guide. God has provided us with all we need. Let God stir you to act out love, kindness, justice, mercy.
8)    They say, “Keep working on your goals”
a.     Instead, God is always working on you. God is the potter we are the clay. God is always working on us to help us learn the deep spiritual truths of our lives.

When looking out for God this year we will find that God is always with us.
Sometimes in surprising ways, in surprising places.
God shows up.
God in Jesus Christ has torn open the heavens and removed the barriers.
And in this New Year I am asking you to be ready, so that you will see the heavens torn open, and hear God’s voice say to you, “You are my child, my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Hope Is Not Hard Anymore

“It is hard to feel hopeful.”
I heard this at a meeting I attended this week.
It encapsulated for me how I have been feeling.
I really wanted to know why.
I wanted to understand what is happening with us that is making hope so hard.

Part of it for me is exhaustion.
Not that I am physically tired.
I just have nothing left to give.
I have no more energy to be outraged.
I have no more energy left to mourn.
I have no more energy left to feel things that happen.
There is just too much, too much bad news, too much violence, too much bad behavior.
And there is too many of us that want to dismiss it.
Or there is too many of us that want us to be outraged at every little thing.
I am exhausted.
And it is has left me spiritually spent.

I wonder if you are all feeling this way too.
Do you feel exhausted?
I hear it a lot from people.
How tired they are.

This week I read a couple of articles that were tilted, “how to survive the Christmas season.”
These articles are written advice from, mostly women, on how to try to get through Christmas.
That is how life feels most days, about survival.
About checking off things we have to get done.
We believe that when we get it all done we will feel better.
Or if our families have just the perfect Christmas experience it will all be worth it.
Truth is that all it does is leaves us exhausted.

What is the way out of our malaise?
I actually think that the Gospel of Mark is perfect for a time such as this.
Mark is a different Gospel than Matthew.
Matthew is about not being complacent in our lives of faith.
Mark is about an unveiling of God’s action among us.
It is about God breaking through the heavens to enter a fallen humanity.
It is about our need to be saved!
“Come and Save us”
We need saving.
I need saving.
We need saving from ourselves, from the constant rush from this crisis to the next.
Mark is written in a time of crisis for the Christian community.
A time when they feel that the world is coming apart, and they don’t know what to do.
Mark’s answer today is to, “keep awake”.
We get our of our doldrums by looking for the heavens to open, for the Lord to come.

Our answer has to be to see through the ridiculous nature of the world.
Our politics has robbed us of our ability to talk to each other.
Our financial system has robbed us of our ability to feel secure.
Our world is robbing us of our souls.
We are becoming exhausted shells of ourselves, not knowing where to go or what do to.

Christmas is a great example.
We are nervous about Christmas.
We are worried about being with our families because what if uncle mel talks about politics.
We are worried about spending too much of what we don’t have.
We are worried that it won’t be perfect, like the advertisers tell us it has to be.
We are worried that we won’t get the Christmas spirit.

I have to admit that part of my feeling this way come from the fact that my kids are not as much into Christmas as I want them to be.
They used to beg me to listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.
I wouldn’t allow it.
But as soon as Thanksgiving was over we could listen to and sing Christmas music again.
And they would rejoice every time.
My daughter Phoebe said to me, “Why are you so into Christmas? Can’t you give it a break?”
My son wanted us to get a fake tree this year!
Instead of continuing our yearly tradition of picking one out from the lot at Arnie’s, he wanted to get a fake one!

But I have to let go.
One very wise woman said to me recently, “Our Children teach us to let go of our idols.”
I have more idols than I thought I had.
And this is my other secret for this season.
We have to let go of our idols, and look to the heaven, because God is coming.
God rips opens the heavens and enters our world as a defenseless baby.
God rips opens the heavens and tells us that world is a sham.
That we have given over our lives to false idols.
We have given it over to the idol of perfect.
We have given it over to the idol of political ideologies.
We have given it over to the idol that we can do everything, and be everywhere.

And when all that is stripped away, when all of our pretense and false security is gone.
At that place we find true hope, because we begin to hope in the only thing that is left, God.

This is has been my biggest problem for years.
I have been hoping in the wrong things.
I have been hoping in human progress.
I have been hoping in the idea that life gets better.
That we get better, the idea that I can build my life better.
If I only have a real tree every year, life will be as it should be.
My kids will love the tradition.
It will be like it was when I was a kid.
If only I can make my Christmas Eve sermon the best it has ever been, those people that only come once a year will start coming regularly.

What is it for you?
What are the idols of your life do you cling to, hope in.

The good news from Mark’s Gospel is that God is coming to rip those things away.
That in this moment of crisis God is creating in all of us new things.
God is making moon and sun dark, the stars fall from the heavens.
God is forming us in this state into something else.
God is moving us away from our worries to be able to dance with joy in God.
God is the potter, we are the clay.
God is forming us through all of this.
Can we celebrate and feel that this Christmas.

Christmas isn’t something we survive, it is something that shapes us, forms us, because the God and ruler of the universe has crossed the lines of heaven and earth.
God has brought us something new and extraordinary.
God has ripped apart our idols.
And in its place built us back up as people that have a soul and spirit, not just flesh and blood.
Then the traditions seem less important, perfection seems impossible, and hope is not hard anymore.

I wish for you this season a ripping apart of your idols.
A spiritual awakening of your soul, that leads you back to hope in the God who came to be with us in Jesus Christ!