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.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

God Lives In Us!

This week in the mail I received a questionnaire from the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church In America).
It wanted to know why we didn’t go to the ELCA youth gathering in Detroit that was last week.
It was an interesting questionnaire.
I have heard that less people attended this youth gathering because it was in Detroit instead of New Orleans.
It seemed to me that what the questionnaire was trying to ask was did you not attend this youth gathering because it was in Detroit a city with a bad reputation.
I say this because nowhere on the questionnaire did it ask, “Did you not attend this youth assembly because your pastor didn’t have his act together, and did not plan far enough in advance to make this possible?”
Because that is the reason I had to write in the questionnaire.
It should be said that I wanted to go to Detroit.
Our youth wanted to go to Detroit.
We should have been planning since we got back from New Orleans if we wanted to go to Detroit.
But I am told that some people didn’t want to send kids to Detroit because they feared it would be “unsafe”.
(I want to take a little side trip just to say that how can New Orleans be a better place for youth?
Why is Detroit worse than New Orleans with its reputation for drunkenness, nudity, and general bad behavior?)
This is what I wrote on the questionnaire.
If we are going to be the Church, if we are going to be Jesus people than we need to be in places that are unsafe.
We need to be in places that the world sees as awful, dirty, hopeless, lost, forsaken.
That is where we are sent.
But it is more than just a moral ideal.
It is more than this is what “good Christians” do.
This is about what is in our DNA.
It is about who God made us to be.
It is about who we are beneath our own fears and brokenness.

Consider our reading from Ephesians this morning.
We have heard for the last two weeks about the foundations of why we do things in the world.
Today’s reading is the culmination of the first part of the letter, the part that lays the ground work for all that is to follow.
I was struck this week by one part of our reading this morning.
“I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in the your inner being though God’s Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
This is not about us as individuals.
This is about us, here this morning, us the Church.
This is a prayer for us together.
It starts with our inner beings strengthened through God’s Spirit.
Deep inside us the Church, deep inside you and me, is an inner being.
It is below what we see on the surface.
It is below what we do, what we know of our Church.
God in the very DNA of the Church is there.
God doesn’t have to be summoned by our will, but is merely strengthened.
That Christ may dwell in our hearts.
That Christ may live in us, through us, around us.
That Christ may have a permanent home in the Church.
This is after all not us, it is Christ.
We are Christ body.
And in this Church Christ lives dwells in us so that are rooted and ground in love.
Love that transforms not only those we come in contact with but us.
This Love defines us.
Not hatred.
Not the things we are against.
But the things we are for, the things we believe to be true.
The things we want to transform.
In other words, deep inside us Christ lives and we are rooted in love.

If Christ dwells deep in our Church than it is always about love.
It is about the Good News we see in the world, in our neighbors.
It is about the way that God in us, through us.

If Christ dwells deep in us, and we are rooted in God’s love than we have to be in the world, but not of the world.
And what that means is that we are always deeply involved in the world’s problems.
We walk with those that are struggling with life, those that are downtrodden, and left out.
We walk with people that don’t know the good news, or have forgotten it.
What it means is that we are not afraid as the world wants us to be.
We are not afraid because we have love deep in our souls, and hearts.
And that love makes us stronger than our fears.
We are not afraid of any city or place, because there is Good news to deliver.
And I know that while the 30,000 youth were in Detroit they delivered it, and they were changed by it.

My nephew, Jack, went to Detroit.
He was transformed by the experience.
He loved it.
He saw things he never saw before, experienced the world from a different view.
The thing you should know about Jack is that he is a great kid.
He gets really good grades, he is a good friend, and I am always proud to call him my nephew.
I was at his baptism.
My sister in her wisdom selected all of us to be his God parents because she wanted Jack to know of all the people in his life who loved him.
And on that day, I know that God loved him and promised him love.
And what is so great is I get to see now as he grows up how that God has taken up residence in his life.
I get to see how much he gives back of that love to the world.
And that is what the Church does for all of us plants God’s love deep within us, makes it live in us.
And together as a Church we get to share it with the world.
We get to share it with places like Detroit.
But not just Detroit but also right here in Concord, NH.
We get to share it right here with people no one else wants around or wants anything to do with.
And here is what I have noticed and experience people do take notice of God’s dwelling in us.

A man who attended the gathering but was not a Lutheran wrote this about what he observed.
“As I witnessed this enthusiasm, I was overcome with a pride for the universal church that I, unfortunately, haven't recently felt.
 In fact, the last time my eyes welled up with this bliss was while working at a church camp.
 As I examined the differences between normal life and what I experienced at both the camp and this Gathering, I found one key difference:
Outside these exceptions, American Christianity seems to have been hijacked by negativity.
A quick search of recent news proves this, as a faith meant to be characterized by its "good news" has become known not by what it's for, but by what it's against. Christians in America are now best recognized by their feigned religious persecution, anti-Muslim sentiments, or their unwillingness to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding…
Let American Christianity stop being known as a religion that hurts, as a faith focused on what we're against, and instead let them know we are Christians by our love.
Let us be known by the same love that radiated from 30,000 youth in Detroit.”

I believe that God is turning the tide.
That this indwelling of the spirit, which is always there, but sometimes needs to stirred or strengthened is beginning to come out.
More and more what we as Christians are becoming known for is our love of our neighbors, of the things that we are for.
Of the good news we bring.

And that Good news is not that we are great people who went to Detroit to do great things.
But that God lives in us, God’s love is rooted in us.
We are for that God.
We are for that “God who is able to accomplish abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine.”

We are for Good news to all people.

We are Church.
We are God’s people.
We come to proclaim that, and as we go back out into the world we go to live it.
So that they will know we are Christians by our love.