Sunday, January 20, 2019

Your Hour Has Come!


So much of our lives is about timing.
It is about being in the right place at the right time.
Who we fall in love with, what we do for work, where we work, where we live, what friends we have.
Of course there are choices within those circumstances, but we have to be in the right place at the right time.
Many times in my life things just seemed to come together.

I had not worked at Camp Calumet for a couple of years.
I actually thought that part of my life was over.
However, in the summer of 1998 I found myself living in Freedom with my parents.
I didn't have a job.
And I always wanted to be the CIT trainer.
I had applied to be the CIT trainer for the summer of 1994.
I had been offered the job of program director instead.
I hated that job, and really wanted to be the CIT trainer.
My life was a little adrift at this point.
I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
Anyway, I was at the right place and right time to be the CIT trainer.
It was during that summer that I Vicki and I started dating.
It was during that summer that I put myself on the path to going to seminary and becoming a pastor.

Jesus this morning isn't sure if this is the right time for him.
He is at a wedding, and has an opportunity to show who he is, but isn't sure if this is moment.
Luckily his mom is there to push him along.
This is his hour.
It is the right time and place for him.
He just doesn't know it for sure.

In our lives this is so important to be able to discern when it is our hour.
When it is our time to act, to make a move.
And this morning I want us to think about what makes it the right time.
What makes it our hour?

First off, we have to have other people in our lives who help us discern these things.
We need people who know us so well.
Who know our gifts and passions, who know what we are capable of to push us, otherwise we might not to do it.
We might not think that we have what it takes.
We might not see the opportunity in front of us.
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we don't use the people in our lives around us to help us know if this is our hour.

Second, we have to know ourselves.
We have to know our own skills.
Our own wants and desires.
Our own passions.
We have to know what we are good at, and practiced those things.
We don't know much about Jesus between when he is born, and when he is 30 years old.
But here is what we have to assume.
Jesus was taught things.
Jesus learned the word of God.
Jesus learned what it was God wanted from him.
Jesus learned what it meant to follow God.
Jesus learned what he was capable of.
By the time Jesus shows up to the wedding at Cana, he knows his mission, he knows it will not end well.
Because in John Jesus hour is when he is lifted on the cross.
"My hour has come"
Jesus says later in John.
Even though he wasn't sure this was the hour, Jesus knew what he could and couldn't do.
Jesus knew that he could do this sign.

Third, we have to trust in God.
This is important.
Every time we make a decision about something we have to trust that God is with us.
We have to believe that God will walk with us.
Because if this is our hour, then it is something that God has put in our path.
I believe that God put me in that place in the summer of 1998.
I believe that was where I was supposed to be at that time.
It wasn't exactly what I would have chosen for myself.
I mean I had wished at the time that I would have been more accomplished, I wish my life would have had more direction and certainty.
I wish that out of college I would have known exactly what I wanted to do and would have had a great job doing that thing.
But this is the way my life had gone, and this is where God wanted me to be.
I don't know if I thought this at the time, but in hindsight it worked out.
And I did trust God was in the midst of all of those really complicated life decisions.

I could repeat this story more times in my life.
I could tell you about how God lead me here to be your pastor.
What about you?
What is the story that you tell about how your hour had come?
When were you in the right place at the right time?
Who pushed you into seeing that it was your hour?
What skills did you learn to make it the right time?
How did God make the circumstances right?

This weekend we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He was a man that was in the right place at the right time.
He was a pastor in Montgomery when the bus boycott started.
Yes he had been to college, and then to seminary.
He had been trained in leading the people of God.
And when the time came for him to act, he was ready.
But if you read about him you know that he wasn't sure.
He needed a push too.
He came to believe that this was the right time and place for our country to change the unjust laws of segregation.
In his famous "I have a dream" speech in front of the Lincoln memorial, he talked about this being the time.
He said, "We have also come to this hallowed spot  to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. 
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Now is the time  to make real the promises of democracy.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time, to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children."
We too must know when the right time is to act, to speak up, to be bold.

For Jesus this moment, at the wedding in Galilee, was the right moment.
It was the right moment to start his public ministry.
It was the right moment to give others the first sign of what grace looks like.

I hope this morning for all of us in those times in of transition in our lives for the right place and the right time.
I hope that you have  people in your life to give you a push when you need it.
I hope you have people that you can turn to for advice.
I hope that you know yourself, know your gifts and passions.
I hope that you have spent time learning skills that will serve you well.
Most importantly I hope you know that God is with you.
The Holy Spirit is guiding you.
God is putting things in your life at the right time and place so you can know when your hour has come.
Amen





Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Machine!


The truth is that we are all part of the machine.
We all are caught up in the systems of the world.
The economic system consumes us.
The social system defines us.
The political system overwhelms us.
We like to think of ourselves as individuals as people who make their own destiny.
But the truth is that we are all part of the machine.

I realized this on Christmas eve day.
I was at Rite Aid buying some last minute stocking stuffers.
I had picked out all I wanted.
I had a very full basket.
I was standing in line waiting to pay when the clerk announced that the computer system was down and they would only take a check or cash.
Just so you know I don't carry cash, and I almost never write a check.
All of my financial transactions are done with a bank card, or on the computer.
I stood in line thinking about what was I going to do.
I was running out of time for the day.
I needed to get home and get ready for my family to show up.
I didn't have time to abandon my shopping cart and go to another store.
It made me realize how caught up I am in the machine.
How much of my life is dictated by other things.
If for some reason all the machines went down in the world, I would have nothing.
I would be lost.

This is the world that the wise men find themselves.
It is a world where most people are caught up in the machine.
Herod rules, Rome dictates what is to happen.
And as long as nobody ever disturbs anything Rome is happy.
This new thing that the wise people say is about to happen is disturbing to people.
It is disturbing to Herod who doesn't want anyone to take what little perceived power he has away.
Historically speaking this was Herod's biggest fear.
There was  saying about Herod.
"It was better to be Herod's pig than one of his relatives."
People said this because Herod kept having his relatives killed in fear that they were after his thrown.
So Herod is caught up in the machine.
The system benefits him, it suits his needs.
But it also benefits the people around him.
Because at least there is peace.
Herod might be a tyrant, but at least Rome leaves us alone while he is in charge.
Herod might not be a Jew but he is refurbishing the temple in Jerusalem.
The status quo works for us.

I think it works for most of us here this morning.
We would rather not make too many waves.
And yet we all still have this sense that something is not right.
It is why this time of year we make resolutions.
We make them maybe because we perceive that our lives are out of whack.
We have over consumed for the past month, and now we need a course correction.
We have bought too much, ate too much, and drank too much.
So we make resolutions to make us feel in control of things.
I see resolutions as a way for us to try and get out of the system.
We will try to make different choices this year.
I don't know if it is possible.
I speak for myself when I say that.
Because I find myself repeating the patterns all the time.
The same patterns that lead me back into the machine.

Today I think about the wise men.
I think about the visitors from another country, making a dangerous journey, following a star.
Coming upon a different system that maybe they didn't fully understand.
Not knowing who Herod was, or why he was important.
Not knowing the prophecies of old, told in ancient days, when others dreamed of a different time.
Wise men who came to bring gifts to an infant king.
They knew something that others didn't.
And then they left to return home.
They realizing the dangers of this system went home a different road.
That story gives me hope today.
It gives me hope in this new year.
A new year filled with promise and possibility.
A new year where we just might be able to get out of the system.
A new year where we just might go a different way.

I read one commentary this week about us being like the wise ones.
Being able to discern better the systems that we think are working for us but are really hurting us.
I want to say this morning that I have no hope in that.
I know that I am not wise enough to break free of those systems.
I will remain dominated by them.
In this story we see the hand of God.
It is God who puts in the star in the sky.
It is God who warns the wise ones to go home a different way.
It is God who has come to be with us in Jesus Christ that is the hope of the wise ones.
That is our hope this new year.
It is that God has set out on the horizon a star for us to follow.
And when we get to the end what we will find is Jesus Christ shining for us.
We will find Jesus who is our king.
Jesus who is worthy of all of our riches.
Jesus who is worthy of all of our time and energy.
Jesus who is worthy of our journey.
Jesus who is worthy of our faith.

Herod is only a mirage of a king.
It is Herod who wants you to spend too much.
It is Herod who wants to keep making false promises to yourself you can't keep.
It is Herod who wants you to be afraid of the future.
It is Herod who wants you to remain part of the machine.

God on the other hand is calling us forth.
God is asking us to move ahead.
God is calling us to Jesus Christ.
And there we find the opposite.
We find a God who gives instead of takes, a God who keeps promise, a God calling us into the future, and a God who frees us from bondage.

I don't know if we can ever escape the system in the world that we depend on.
I will need this year to use my bank card to pay for things.
I may not keep any of those new year's resolutions.
Next year we will show up again and be ourselves still.

What I am holding out for is a sign from above.
A star in the distance that calls us forth.
I am still looking for another way.
A way that that is filled with grace and light.
A way that is filled with love and joy.

I hope for you this year that way.
And that God may shine his grace on you all your days.
That your faith may lead you to follow the star so you too may come and worship Jesus Christ.
Amen

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Past, Present, Future


This week at bible study we were talking about how we would have love to have been there.
We would have loved to hear Zachariah give his prophecy.
We would have love to been moved by the Holy Spirit to realize this new thing God was doing.
We all feel this way at certain times in our faith journey.
If I was there it would have been so great.
This morning I want to say that we are there.
Everything that was available to the characters in the Gospel is available to us.
We know everything that Zachariah, Elizabeth, and Mary know.
To some extent we know even more.
We know that Jesus will be the promised one.
We know that Jesus will save us.
The only question we have is the same one they had is do we believe it?
Are we open to the Holy Spirit working in our lives?

My wife this season was talking to some of her colleagues at work and they were talking about traditions.
What Christmas tradition do you have?
To her surprise her colleagues had almost none.
It is surprising in our house because we have like 50 million.
(OK not that many...but a lot)
For example, we eat certain ethnic food to remind us of our ancestors.
Every year I go with my mom to Worcester to get Swedish food that we eat on Christmas eve.
Every year as we drive down Greenwod St. to Helen's Bakery my mom points out the landmarks.
"Here is the house that Aunt Austry lived in."
"Here is the house that Aunt Marie lived in."
"Here is the Church that your great Grandfather was the pastor of."
The women at Helen's Bakery knows us because we come every year and get 13 loaves of Swedish Rye Bread.
Every Christmas we open gifts one at a time the youngest going first the oldest going last.
Every Christmas day we have an Italian feast with Vicki's family.
We eat the gravy from the recipe that Vicki's grandmother taught her, the one brought over on the boat from Italy.
For us these traditions are important to root us in our past.
In that way every Christmas is the same.

But we are aware that Christmas also changes.
Kids grow up.
You celebrate in a different house.
We used always go to Winthrop Mass on Christmas day to spend time with Vicki's grandparents.
They have died, and so now we celebrate at her parent's house.
I am sure some of you have gone through this.
You used to host Christmas, have all the family to your house, and now you go to your kids houses.
You get married and you start eating Italian food on Christmas day, or start opening your presents on Christmas morning instead of Christmas eve.
Or maybe you used to have big celebrations, but now it is just you and a couple of friends.
Christmas changes.

The year that we have had often times dictates our Christmas.
Are we employed?
How is our health?
Did someone we love die?
How do we feel about the world we live in, and where it is going?

Christmas also points us towards the future, it reminds us that next year will be different.
It reminds us that things are moving and changing all the time.
Sometimes that is good, and sometimes not so good.

Our Gospel for this morning is rooted in that same thing.
The prophesy that Zachariah says is rooted in the words of Isaiah, Malachi, and the psalms.
It is rooted in the traditions of his ancestors.
It is not new.
But it points to the changes happening in the present moment.
It is the fulfillment of God's promises.
And it point us towards the future of what God will do through John's life.

You see you and I we are in the time of prophecy.
We are in the time of great awakening.
We are in the time of God.
Because we are always in that time.
God is always rooted in our past, speaking in our present, and making promises for our future.

The only questions are we open to it?
Can we hear it?
Can we see it?
Can we believe it?

Because the truth is this that many people missed the birth of Jesus.
Not many were there.
Not many were looking for it.
They were doing what we do.
Going about their lives, working, complaining about the government, loving, dying.
The people in our Gospel this morning they too probably didn't fully understand the significance of all that was happening in their midst.

Because while we walk in the darkness, God provides for us a great light.
God provides for us a light that shows us a way to be in the world.
It is a way of good news, joy, and promise.
It is the way of God.

I know that I some point I have said in a sermon that the reason we have faith is because we were not there that first Christmas.
We didn't hear Zachariah tell us that John would lead the way for Jesus to come and save us.
We were not there when Mary and Elizabeth sang songs of joy.
We were not there when Zachariah first heard the good news of his son being born.
We were not there when the promise was given to Mary.
We are here now, together today.
And the truth is that God stills shows up.
God is here today with you and me.
Here in the worship service that we share.
God is speaking right to you.
God is acting to bring light into your darkness.
"Because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of Peace."

For me God shows up in traditions that root me to my past.
God shows up this Christmas to help me find joy now matter my circumstances.
God shows up at Helen's bakery, here this morning, and in words spoken through others.
God will show up for you too.
Other things will change this Christmas.
Our circumstances, and how we feel about life will change.
We can always be assured of this God will show up, just as he did for Zachariah, Elizabeth, and Mary.

This Christmas be open to what God is doing.
It is rooted in the past, speaking to you today right now, and giving you hope for your future.
Amen

Monday, December 17, 2018

Leaping for Joy!


Mary does something in our Gospel this morning that most of us will do this Christmas season.
She goes to visit her relatives.
For most of us Christmas is about being with family.
I wonder why?
What is about family that makes us get together during times of celebration?
I would like to believe that Mary and Elizabeth knew that sharing their pregnancies with one another would bring joy to each other.
It would confirm that God was doing something new in the world.
We can tell from the songs that they sing that being together helps their faith in what is about to happen.
When we gather with family does it help us to confirm what our faith tells us.
The Holy Spirit tells us that this time of year is special.
It is a Holy time.
Because during this time of year we celebrate that God came to be with us.
We celebrate that the world got turned on its head because of the birth of a baby.
That the poor are fed, and the rich go away empty.
That God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
That God has helped us according to the promise God made to our ancestors.

But we also know that not all holiday celebrations are wonderful.
We know that not all family get together are joyful.
We know that there are families that don't get along.
We know that sometimes when we get together with family it brings up for us painful parts of our past that we don't want to remember.
We know that not everyone has a family to go to.
We know that not everyone can be with their family.
And this is why I think we have to have a note of caution during Christmas.
If Christmas is only about the joy getting together with family then it would seem that Christmas is only for those few whose family is awesome!
Jesus Christ didn't come for the few.
Jesus Christ wasn't born so we could have elaborate Christmas celebrations.
If we believe the words that Mary sings, then we have to believe in a deeper meaning for Christmas.
It has to be about how the world is changing because of this birth.
How are we participating in the saving act of God?

Every year on December 21st I participate in a memorial service for those who died while experiencing homelessness.
In many cases, there were no other funeral for people who died while homeless.
The names that we read were not reported in the paper.
People hardly took notice of the person who was living in a tent and froze to death.
Or the person who didn't get the right type of medical care and died as a result.
The stories of the people we remember is often very sad.
Just as a contrast think of the funeral services for our 41st President George H Bush.
For that funeral we had two days of national coverage as people got up to say what a great man he was.
I am not denying that he was a great man.
I am saying that the reversal that Mary is talking about this morning means that every life is treated as George H Bush's life is treated.
That all people matter, regardless of circumstances.
"he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
Perhaps you are thinking that George H Bush accomplished great things in his life, and someone who is homeless didn't.
George Bush deserves a major funeral, he earned it in his life, by being a good public servant, a good husband and father.
All true things, but it misses an important aspect of God.
God's love is equal for everyone.
God cares just as much about the person who is experiencing homelessness, as God cares about George H Bush.
That is the power, and the scandal of grace.

Christmas is an excessive holiday.
It is about eating way too much.
It is about spending too much.
I am in support of lavish celebrations that show our joy in knowing that Jesus was born.
The problem is not in the celebration, it is in our understanding of what that celebration is about.

As I was pondering the Gospel this week I found the key.
It is in the joy that John the baptists has in the womb.
It is the joy that Elizabeth and Mary feel when they are in each other's presence.
The joy comes from knowing the blessing of the fulfillment of what was spoken by the Lord.
We celebrate that God cares about the names of the forgotten of the world.
We celebrate that God's grace is sufficient for this day.

Because ultimately you and I are also in that category.
We have to be.
We need this joy  too.
Because not everything in life goes great all the time.
We don't always get along with our family.
Our jobs are not always fulfilling.
We lose people that we love.
We sin and do bad things to other people by what we do and by what we leave undone.
And this Christmas we all have left plenty undone.
While we were out shopping and loading up on stuff, people were dying because they didn't have enough to eat or drink.
You and I we need Jesus to come just as bad as anyone else.
We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Because that is where real joy comes from.
It comes from knowing that Jesus has come to be with us, to show us the way.
Jesus has come to remind us of God's gracious and merciful ways.
Jesus has come to do great things for us.
This week a friend of mine, who is going through a hard time, wrote on Facebook.
 "This holiday season rivals the one where grandma died.
 I can’t remember another one that was feeling so irrelevant."
I responded.
"This is exactly the condition that God shows up.
In a manger born to a forgotten people.
When we are at our worst God is at God’s best.
That is the whole point of Christmas!"
Our joy in this season doesn't come from any of the outward signs that we attribute to Christmas.
It doesn't come from  shopping, from family gatherings, from eating.
Those things are a response to what we really have been given.
They are response to the joy we know from having Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior.
They are a response to the grace given through Jesus Christ.
They are response knowing that God is great.
That God cares not about our station in life.
God doesn't care about fancy titles, or how much money you have in your bank account.
What God cares about is you!
Your true self, the one in your soul.
And because of that truth we can, just like John in the womb, leap for joy.
We can have the same joy as Elizabeth and Mary.

May you leap for joy this Christmas.
May you know that grace given in Jesus Christ.
May you know how much God treasures you!
And may you know that you are indeed blessed.
Amen

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Hell Run


I got my license in March of 1989 when I turned sixteen.
Shortly after that my friends and I developed what we came to call, "The Hell run".
We would go to this windy road that ran between Derry and Windham.
My parents had a Toyota van.
It barely had any front.
It looked something like this.
And we would drive it as fast as I could.
Often times the car would come off the ground.
The key to the Hell run was that we would play the Ramones greatest hit.
The  best song to do a hell run was, "Sniff some glue".
The complete lyrics where, "Now I want to sniff some glue
Now I want to have somethin' to do
All the kids want to sniff some glue
All the kids want somethin' to do"
The Ramones are the perfect band for indolence male expression.
They can sum up how you feel about the world at that time in a 2 minute song about sniffing glue.
Recently I was talking to someone in my family about how much we couldn't stand being in High school.
We talked about how glad we were to be done with it.
You see the "Hell Run" was more a good metaphor about how I felt at that time in my life.
Stuck in hell.
Not sure what life was about, other than it was about some loud music, and driving dangerously.
This one night in particular, we were going to pick up another friend and on the way decided to sneak in a "Hell Run".
This time it didn't end well.
I came over a hill and the car  lifted off the ground.
On the other side was a big truck.
I hit the brakes and tried to veer to the right to get passed the truck.
Instead I hit a tree.
Instantly I could hear my friend Don yell from the back of the van.
He wasn't hurt just really scared.
We all got out and realized that we were OK.
As soon as I knew everyone was OK, I thought about  what my parents were going to do.
Especially my father.
As is often costmary in your teen years my dad and struggled at times to understand each other.
I knew my mother wouldn't be happy, but she would be her normal calm and patient self.
My dad on the other hand wasn't as patient.
My mother drove all of my friends home and made me go in and tell their parents what had happened.
We of course left out the part about the Ramones and the "Hell Run".
Everyone understood and was glad we were alive.
I worried about what awaited me at home.

Pilate like everyone else believes that the world works a certain way.
There are rules, there are protocols, there are things to conquer.
The way you make it is to be ruthless, the way you get what you want is to punish those who don't do as you wish.
If you want something you raise an army, and then you destroy that which is not good for you.
There are categories for things, there is order to be maintained.
In fact, the main part of Pilates job was to maintain order.
During Jesus day there was a lot of unrest among the people.
Mainly because they were forced to pay high taxes to Rome, and their religious beliefs were not respect, their rights were trampled.
Religious leaders were in cahoots with the Roman authorities to keep people sedated from the truth.
However, the more that Rome tightened their grip the more people rose up to oppose them.
This was especially true in Jerusalem around the main religious holidays.
This was Pilate's main task to keep the peace during these times.
Pilate's answer was to beef up security, and to have any trouble makers crucified.

During the time of Jesus their lots of people who wanted to rise up and overtake the Roman occupation.
It is in this category that Pilate puts Jesus.
But what we fail to see, what Pilate failed to see, was that Jesus was not from this world.
He was the word, he was there at the beginning when the world was created.
He didn't exist within this time and place.
He didn't belong to the categories that we place things.
If he had he would have raised an army, and set out to conquer and destroy.
Jesus was king but not in the way that Pilate, or anyone else, thinks of Kings.

Jesus was king because he loved the world.
He was king because he was willing to give his life.
He was king because he served the women at the well.
He was king because he brought joy to a wedding feast.
Jesus was king because he fed 5,000 people free of charge, not because they deserved it, but simply because they were hungry.
He was king because he was a shepherd.
Jesus was king because he forgave sins, and washed his disciples feet.
Jesus didn't fit in the categories we think of now.

I got home and my dad was in his usual place watching sports.
I walked in to the room very slowly and sheepishly.
I was ready for his wrath.
Ready for him to put me in my place.
Ready for him to regain control of his son who was out of control.
"You scared?" he asked me.
"Yes...I am really sorry."
"We all make mistakes. I am not upset. It is Ok. I am glad you are OK."
Not the category I was expecting.
A moment of grace.
A moment outside of this time and place.
A moment that doesn't seem like something that should have happened that way.
It should have been worse.
I deserved worse.
Maybe my parents didn't know the whole truth, but they knew I was on a road I shouldn't have been on, driving faster than I should be driving.
The Kingdom of God is not a place.
It is an experience that we have.
It is those moments of unexpected grace.
It is those moments when something happens that is different.
It is those moments when we are in hell, and the kingdom of God breaks forth.
That is when we realize that Jesus is King.

In this time when we are asked to give our lives over to those who want to control us.
When we are asked to be afraid of people different than us.
When we are told that we can have safety and security if we only yell more or impose our will more.
Christ the King reminds us that the kingdom is not of this world.
It is not the categories that Pilate makes, it is in the word made flesh.
It is not to be found by those who think they have power, because they have the biggest army or the best houses.
It is in the one who dies on a cross, who gives his life as a ransom for many.
It is in a father showing some grace upon his son who hasn't figured out that hell is not the place to be, but has given him a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

This week may Christ the King give you a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
May you know God's grace in an unexpected time and place.
Maybe there are days when all you want to do is sniff some glue, maybe there are times when you feel like you are on a hell run, know in those times and places that Christ is King and his kingdom comes. Amen