Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Long Game

We are a playing a short game, and God is playing the long game.
We are running a 5k, God is running a Marathon.
We see finitely, God sees infinitely.
This is why we are so impatient.
We don’t have the time to wait around for things to happen.
We only have so much time, so many years to give.
Things have to happen quickly for us.

I was struck by this truth this week at the Family Promise one year event.
I have been working on getting Family Promise to come to Concord for about five years before it got up and running.
And I can tell you it felt longer than that.
Sometimes it felt like I was working on it forever.
And there were many times when I wasn’t sure it would happen.
But there we were in that house attached to the Capital Center.
There was a really good size crowd maybe 60 or so people.
People smiling, people happy to be there, proud of what we have all done together.
It made me feel so good.
It was a labor of love for me.
I can’t tell you how many people told me it was a bad idea.
That this wasn’t what Concord needed.
That I didn’t understand.
I had some hard moments.
And I wasn’t sure we would get to the moment we had on Thursday.
I wish you could have been there.
I wish you could have heard Bow’s story.
Bow, who has three young daughters.
Bow, who was in prison, was on drugs.
Bow who told us that Family Promise was more than a program for him.
He had been in programs before, but this was family, this was about doing.
Bow who told us he got a job that day with tears in his eyes.
All those years, all those people that told me this wasn’t going to happen or this was a bad idea, I did it all for Bow, although I had no idea at the time.
We run the sprint, God the marathon.
We see in moments in front of us, God sees in grandeur time.

After I went up to Bow, and I told him that it was a great speech.
He reminded me that we had met before, that his wife and he come to me for help.
We helped, but not like this.
I didn’t know when he came last time that we would be together 6 years later at this event.
Bow told us he believed in God and that God lead him to this moment.
I believe that too.

God for a long time, longer than any of us can imagine, has been trying to get our attention.
God has been trying to remind us of the infinite.
God has been trying to tell us that life is about more than what we see right in front of us.
And we always fail to listen.
We always only can’t imagine beyond what we want, what we need in this moment.
But it is so much more.
John the Baptists was one of those people God sent us to remind us, to point the way beyond the here and now.
John came telling us to repent, because the time was right, because the time is infinite, and there is God at the end of time.
John was one of the many prophets God sent.
And yet we don’t listen, we don’t understand.
John will be arrested and killed just like the other prophets.
Just like God’s son.
Just like the Messiah.
Surely we will listen to God’s son.
No…Not even that.

Today’s theme is patience.
And I am amazed at God’s patience with us.
God is infinitely patience.
God gives us chance after chance.
God is giving us time to understand to repent.
And we are too busy, too impatience to want to understand.

But now in this time we take great comfort in infinite nature of God.
I take comfort not knowing what the future holds, what everything means, and how it all ties together.
A colleague told me this week that she was disappointed about the election because she believed the Church was making “progress”.
That the world was turning for good.
I want to believe that.
But the truth is I don’t know how it all comes together, where everything goes.
I only know a very limited piece of it.
I know this part that I play.
And I know that it always doesn’t move in some progression.
Just like our individual lives don’t always move in some forward progression, neither does our corporate lives.

The women who started Family Promise, Karin Olson, was also there on Thursday.
She shared with us her journey of how and why she started Family Promise.
And that story is not a straight line either.
She thought she was going to be a nurse, and then a business person.
Her story was filled with starts and stops.
She wasn’t even sure where it all would lead.
She had no idea to know that it would lead to over 200 affiliates across the country.
She didn’t know the impact it would have.
It is no wonder that we don’t have much patience.
We can only see what is in front of us.
We can only see the moment with all of its complications, and twist and turns.

And that is why this morning I don’t want us to think about us becoming more patience.
I am not sure that is our roll in this life.
We don’t have enough time here to be patience with things.
Instead I want us to see God’s patience.
Yesterday at Planet Fitness I ran into someone who told that Advent is not about us trying to get God to see us, but about us seeing God.
That is true.
We are trying to work on seeing God so that when God shows up in a manger, in a little backward town, with shepherds.
When God shows up as a poor baby we won’t miss it.
We won’t overlook the significance.
And today we look and see God’s patience with us.
That again and again God sends people to remind us of who we can be, who we are supposed to be.
That God reminds us of who God is to us.
God sends prophets, preachers, and teachers, and most important God sends God’s Son.
Can we see?
Can we hear?

Again and again we miss it, but God is patiently waiting for us.
God is playing the long game.
God is hoping that we will come around.
God is waiting for people like Bow to see how much it means for him to be a good father, waiting for Karin to see that her life was leading to helping homeless families, waiting for you this day to see God in your brother or sister in need.
We are impatient, we only see right now.
God is patient and sees forever.
Today I hope we give thanks to God for being patient with us.
And I pray to God that we too can play the long game.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Now Thank We All Our God!

A friend on Facebook asked this question this week.
“What do you consider to be your core values? The guiding moral compass by which you navigate the murky waters of connection and communication with your fellow human beings?”
I thought it was a good question.
And here is my answer.
I believe that every human being is flawed, sinful, and selfish, including myself.
That is my core belief.
It is what I assume about the world around me.
You might say, “That is really a pessimistic view of the world.”
I don’t think so.
I think it is a realistic view of the world.
The world is what it is.
It is important because I am not caught off guard, I am not surprised, shocked, disappointed by what people do.
I assume it, because people are people.
I don’t really expect them to get better, or do something drastically different to improve life here on the earth.

On the other hand I have a core belief that God loves this world.
That God loves all of us who are flawed, sinful, and selfish.
God redeems us, reforms us, and reclaims us.
God makes right what we cannot.

I mention this because today our theme is hope.
And I am hopeful.
But you just said, “Everyone is flawed, sinful, and selfish and we can’t make the world better”.
I didn’t say was I was optimistic, I said I am hopeful.
There is a big difference in my view.

The Czech writer Vaclav Havel once wrote, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Hope carries with some element of trust.
Hope is the belief that together we can make things better.
Hope takes courage.
Hope is active.
But here is the thing what do we hope in.
We might hope for better outcomes in the world.
We might hope for a more just world, a more peaceful world.
And that is good.
But who is bringing in that world.
Certainly not us, we are too much concerned about our own selves, to make that happen.
Certainly not the Government we elect to represent us.
Certainly not anything I have come across in this world.

But I don’t hope for things.
As a person of faith, I hope in something.
My hope is always in God.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is about this very thing.
Today’s Gospel is apocalyptic literature, part of a longer section in Matthew about the end of the world.
It is meant to lift back the curtain and show us what the end looks like.
It is to show us what the powers of the world really look like.
And it is not pretty.
The powers of the world are monstrous.
And the only thing that defeats them is God’s goodness.
Matthew wrote his Gospel to encourage Christians to remain hopeful during difficult times.
To remind us to be alert so we can see God at work.
“Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Matthew writes so his faith community can trust that God was working through all the things that they faced in the world.
Matthew believed that faith in God lead to an ethical life.
That because of faith we could and would serve our God and neighbor and live out justice and grace.
Yes, the world was flawed, sinful, and selfish, but God was working it all out.
Put our hope in God, to make us and the world better.
As it says in Psalm 39, “My hope is in God.”

We need that hope.
We need it at all times.
Many people will think that we live in the worst times ever, but I can assure you we do not.
We live in relative easy times compared to what others throughout history have faced.

Consider our hymn of the day today.
I choose this hymn so I could tell you the story that lay behind it.
It was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in the little village of Eilenberg, in what is today Germany.
He was a pastor during the thirty years war, one the worst wars in all of European history.
Because of this war his little town was a place where refugees flooded into, and his walled town was surrounded by Swedes.
Not on only that but there was the plague going around.
He was the pastor of this little village and all around him people are dying.
It has been said that he once did as many as fifty funerals a day.
He buried his wife, and all of his pastor friends.
His little village was surrounded by Swedes and they wanted a huge ransom to stop fighting.
The good Rev. Martin went out and negotiated peace and the hostilities ended.
Things eventually returned to normal.
Martin wrote this song for all those that survived war and the plague.
Think about that.
He wrote a song about giving thanks to people who were devastated by war, famine, and fear.
What could they possibly have to give thanks for?
They could give thanks to God, because it is in God that we put our lives.
It is in God that we trust and have hope.

It is true without God there would be no reason to be thankful.
And this morning I want us to think about how God gives us hope.
Without God things are very grim.
There is war, famine, death, and fear.
Without God there is only our flawed, sinful, and selfish self.
But with God we can believe in the power of the resurrection.
We can believe in redemption for us all.
With God we can have hope that the powers of this world will not rule forever, and that God will have the last word.

That is truly worth giving thanks for.
And we just gave thanks, on Thursday around Thanksgiving tables.
And maybe it was too easy.
To easy to sit around a dinner table filled with food, surrounded by loved ones, in relative safety and say all the things we are thankful for like family, food, friends.
But also we know that even today our lives are not as always easy as they look.
That we too are filled with fears about what is happening in the world.
What our children face.
We are filled with empty souls that turn too easily to material things to bring our lives satisfaction.
We are filled violence in our hearts.
And we too need to remember that even in our sinful, flawed, and selfish selves we are Thankful to God for giving us hope.
Hope that we can and will make a difference to others in this world.
Hope that we can be used to love others.
Hope that this world is worth fighting for and striving to make more just and loving.

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices…”
Thanks be to God for giving us hope that indeed Jesus will come into our hearts, and into the world to tear away fear, famine, and war, and make us and the world the place it should be.
During this season of advent we wait for that with eager anticipation and hope.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Shake Down Sunday!

Yesterday I was having breakfast with some friends.
I was talking about my sermon for this morning and how it is for us Stewardship Sunday.
One of my friends said, “Oh, you mean shake down Sunday”.
I admit that it can often feel like that.
The pastor gets up and gives a sermon about how we are not doing enough, and that we need to give more.
I know because there have been times I have given that sermon.
I once gave a sermon in my first congregation where I pointed out that I as a first year pastor was making as much money as the pastor who had been there for 14 years previous.
I chastised them for failing to pay her properly.
I may have been right, but later I regretted it.
Talking to people later about it I realized that it did not make anyone in that congregation more generous.
It just made them feel ashamed.

So this morning I want to start by doing something that is unusual for Lutherans.
I am going to brag about all of you.
I am going to commend you for being very generous people.
I am going to tell you that I am often overwhelmed with how generous you can be.
I want to tell just one story that illustrates this point.
Every year our congregation collects health kits to send to Church World Service that serves poor communities around the world.
This year we again had people give very generously to that.
When we do that program we have to pay about $300.00 for the shipping.
This last year I had two people that both wanted to pay for that shipping cost.
I won’t say they fought over it, but one of them was disappointed that they didn’t get to give the $300.00
This story shows that generosity is contagious.
Think about all the generosity going on in that story.
We had the generosity of people giving the supplies, and on top of that we had two people that wanted very badly to give to ship the supplies.
We had more than we needed.
In this story we had abundance.

When we think about God I hope that what we think about is abundance.
Our Gospel for this morning is a great example of abundance.
Jesus is being crucified.
That is horrible in and of itself.
But on top of that humiliation he is being mocked and derided.
His whole life, and all the great things he did, is being is called into question.
Think about how extraordinary it is that while this is going on Jesus responds with forgiveness.
How easily are we offended?
 How easily do we walk away because we have been disrespected?
How many relationships have we given up on because we felt that we just were not treated correctly, or for minor things?
Jesus is being crucified!
Jesus is being made to look foolish, and he is still forgiving others.
“Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
It is an abundance of grace.
It is over the top.
We would not ask any one we know to act the way Jesus does here.

But this is what separates us from Jesus.
We cannot be as abundantly giving as he is.
We are limited in what we can do for others.
We are limited in the amount of chances we are willing to give.
We are limited in the amount of abuse we are willing to take before we want to get revenge.
Jesus has no reservations about offering grace to those who hate him, torture him, mock him, and cast him aside.
We can never duplicate that.

What we can do is live a life of a steward.
We can live a life that recognizes the great gift we have been given.
We can use that life to help others, to give of ourselves in small but meaningful ways.
It will never be as glorious as what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
But it will be glorious.
And our generous spirit will encourage others to have the same spirit.

My father in law was telling me how he learned to be generous.
He was telling me that when he would go out to eat his father would tip 30%. And he would tell his father that he didn’t understand why he gave so much.
His father told him, “They have to eat too”.
Generosity breads generosity.
It helps us to see in the other person their God given importance.

The reason we have stewardship Sunday is not to shake you all down.
It is not to have you give money to the Church.
It is not about paying my salary.
It is not to have you part with your hard earned money.
It is to acknowledge the gift.
Today we acknowledge that we have been given by God something that no amount of money can pay back.
We acknowledge that God has been abundantly generous to us, and we desire to do the same.
We also acknowledge that we are not alone, and that others have to eat too.

I am aware that this is counter intuitive to us in many ways.
We are used to a system that is based more on our personnel satisfaction and desires.
A system that tells us to get what we can while we can.
A system where we get what we deserve.
I get it.
I live in that world too.
How beautiful it is to see the abundance God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
To see how much God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
How wonderful that people are willing to give up $300.00 so we can send health kits to people in another country.
How wonderful that we give to that without knowing if the people who will receive it are worthy.
We don’t know anything about them.
We don’t know if they are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, good or bad people.
All we know is that there is a need and we can help.

I have been thinking a lot about the election as I am sure you all have been too.
And last week I was at the Bishop Convocation where I talked about the election a lot.
And I want to offer something that will bridge the divide between people.
I want to say something that will make my Gay friend feel less scared about losing his rights.
I want to say something to the refugees and immigrants living here in Concord who are being told that they are not as good as the real Americans.
I want to say something to my Black/African Americans friends who are worried about all the racist words being used.
I want to say something to the Trump support who feel hopeful, vindicated and proud at the outcome of the election.
I want to say something that will make us all feel better, and will bring us back together.
I will admit that I have not found those magic words.
(This is not easy to say for a preacher.)
I don’t know if they exist.

What I do know is that what is true today was true before this election.
God calls on all of us, regardless of who we voted for, to a life of abundant giving, to a life of abundant grace.
Not because it is the right thing to do, but because the God we know in Jesus Christ did it for you.
God gave all he had so that you will be “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, and the forgiveness of sins.”

Our God is abundantly generous.
I thank God today that all of you are abundantly generous too.
I thank God you are generous with your time, your money, your lives.
May we continue to grow in our generosity, and continue to show others the power of God’s generous grace through our stewardship.