Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid I used to read these books called, Choose Your Own Adventure.
This one here is called, “Spy for George Washington”.
It was my favorite one when I was a kid.
In the book you are a spy who has to get a very important message to George Washington across enemy lines without the red coats finding out.
These books are different than other books because instead of just reading through you get to make choices about what your character will do.
You get to decide on what adventure you will go.
And sometimes your choices worked out well and other times not so well.

Mark’s Gospel kind of ends like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, because it ends with the women fleeing from the tomb in amazement and fear without telling anyone what the angel had just told them.
The question that we are left with in Mark’s Gospel is what we will do with this story.
Will we share it with others?
Will we believe it?
Will we make it our own?
(I should mention that there are other endings of Mark’s Gospel. But these are believed to be added on latter.)
Like us the women simply don’t know what to do with this story that the angel at the tomb tells them.
Could it really be true that Jesus is alive!
The story seems impossible to believe.

That is point of the whole Gospel of Mark is to explain the unbelievable, to help people have faith in the one whom we thought was dead but is really alive.
And this story helps us to see beyond the grave, beyond this world, into the kingdom of heaven.
It is a story that can change our lives, make them have direction and purpose.
It is a story that gives us love, hope, and joy.
It is a story that we have told over and over throughout the ages.
It is a story that is passed from grandparents to little grandkids.
It is a story that we remember at the dark times of life.

I remember standing at an outdoor chapel at Camp Calumet Lutheran.
I was standing there pouring my father’s ashes into the form of a cross.
And what I was thinking about was this story.
I was thinking about the life that he lived, and the one that God has now given him, and that this tragic parting was only temporary.
Perhaps you had a similar moment when the resurrection wasn’t just some theological theory preached to you on Easter morning.
But it was real, because the story of Jesus Christ had entered into your own story.

This is exactly how you and I make sense of the world.
We tell stories.
When we are in conversation with someone and we want to prove a point most often what we do is tell a story.
If we want someone to understand something about us, about who we are, or what we believe we tell a story.
This story of Jesus resurrection is a story that can help us to shape our lives, to make sense of the things that happen to us.
It can be the story that explains all the other stories.

I am not saying that what we can do is choose everything that happens to us in life.
Much of life simply happens to us.
I love the line at the end of the movie Boyhood were the lead character has a friend who says, “Life isn’t what you make it. Life is what makes us.”
I agree.
But what we can choose is the story by which we will see that life.
We can choose to see in life death and resurrection.
And if we think about it those two realities surround us all the time.

Our family has been dealing with some tragedies lately.
I will not go into it all.
But they all feel like the end of some things.
It feels like things are dying.
And you know what happened last week.
Our family added another member.
My sister-in law had a baby girl.
I can’t tell you how much that brightened our spirits.
Life goes on, it turns around.

We have all experienced a very cold and snowy winter.
But we all know and expect that warmer days are ahead.
We know that the flowers and trees that have lain dormant are going to bloom again.
Life goes on, it turns around.

This week I was at the state house, at the time I was wearing my collar.
I was walking down the hall and a man stopped me.
He wanted to talk about his parent’s death.
He missed them.
I said, “You know they are well cared for that they are at peace.
That they are surrounded by love.”
There is was the promise of the resurrection spoken into a moment of death on a Wednesday at the State House.
Life goes on, it turns around.

I was at the hospice house this week visiting with someone whose mother was dying.
We prayed.
As I left I whispered into her mother’s ear.
“You are going to be fine. God is with you know and forever.”
She woke up and whispered back, “Thank you”.
The resurrection is our hope at the end of all things.
Life goes on, it turns around.

Since the New Year I have been at four different funerals, and I have officiated at two others.
Every time I am at a funeral I am thankful to hear again that promise of life eternal given by Jesus Christ.
The story of Easter is important each time.
Life goes on, it turns around.

That is why we need this story.
It is why we want this story.
We want it to be part of our adventure.

What is amazing about the ending in Mark is that we know that the story doesn’t end there.
We know that it continued to be told over and over again.
We know this because we are all here today.
This means that even if we don’t tell it, believe it, or share it the story still goes on, because it is really ultimately about God.
That God really wants us to know about this story.
God wants it to be part of our adventure so that whatever path we choose good or bad, we know that God is there with us, bringing life from death, hope from despair, and grace from sin.
This story is important part of who we are as God’s people, as people.

One of the things I notice about this time of year is that there are lots of specials on television about the history of Jesus.
There are specials about archeological evidence, about historical records.
Some of you might watch these and if they help you to understand the story or to believe it that is good.
I love history.
And I too find those specials to be of great help.
But they also fall short for me, because the story is about faith, not about fact and figures.
It is about what we are going to believe about our lives.
It is about what is the story that will help us to make sense out of our adventure our lives.
And of all the stories that I have heard I simply cannot find a better one.
This is the one that brings me comfort and hope.
It is the one I want with me when I stand over the grave of someone I love.
It is the one I want with me when I hold a new born baby.
It is the one I want with me on cold snowy night.
And the one I want with me on a warm sunny morning.

Today as you live your adventures.
As you make decisions about your lives and what they will be, I hope and pray that you will take this story with you, so that you may know the power of knowing God who makes life out of death.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Love Is All That is Left

In my first year as a pastor I made a mistake of not telling the congregation that during the Maundy Thursday service we were going to have foot washing.
I just assumed that every congregation has foot washing.
But it was the first time for that congregation, and not many people came forward.
After the service a couple people came up to me and said, “Pastor if I had known that there was going to be foot washing I would have been prepared. I would have washed my feet.”
I couldn’t help but think that they had missed the point.
The disciples didn’t have time to wash their feet before Jesus washed them.
In fact to wash someone’s feet that had been walking on dusty roads all day with only sandals on was about as dirty as it could be.
The point was that their feet were dirty and Jesus offered them a service usually done by a servant.

But the real issue is not the dirt on their feet, or on ours.
The real issue with the disciples is that all of them are dirty on the inside too.
Jesus already is aware of what will happen.
He already knows what is in the heart of Judas Iscariot;
 He knows that he cares more about money than the kingdom, and that he is disappointed in Jesus.
He already knows that for all of Peter’s bluster he will not go all the way to the cross with him.
He knows that all of those around him for various reasons will flee and run from him.
Even if their feet were clean the rest was not.
And here is the real problem for us too.
We think that we can hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, that are not flattering for others to see.
We cover them up in all sorts of things.
Sometimes we cover up our own insecurity by acting better than others.
Sometimes we cover it up with owning lots of really nice things.
Sometimes we cover it up with trying to look pretty.
And maybe from others we can hide what is really going on deep down in us, but we can’t hide it from Jesus.

Around the table that night Jesus sees through all of his disciples to what was really going on.
He sees through their bravado to their fears and insecurities.
But the Good News is that none of that really seemed to matter to Jesus.
He still washes everyone’s feet.
He washes them clean forgives what is about to happen so that all remains is his love for them.
Despite what is about to happen Jesus still offers them something better than they can even name for themselves.

Tonight we will have our feet washed.
Yes they are dirty and disgusting, but the act reminds us that at our worst, when we let our fears and insecurities get the best of us we are still valued and love by Jesus.
In fact, the meal that he shared with his disciples that night was to help them remember that love and value.

That when he was gone they should remember that no matter what happens his sacrifice and love is what binds them together with him.
It is what binds us here together tonight.
Tonight we also share that meal, and here at the table of our Lord there is no hiding from what really lies beneath the surface.
Beneath the face that we show the world is a person that needs to know that they have value and worth.
God at this meal assures of that because God says to us that we are so valuable that I gave my only son for you.
That we are so valuable that we are worth dying for, we are worth being served.
We are worthy of God’s love.

Some of you may know who Justin Bieber is.
He is a young man who was one of those teen pop stars.
As he grew up he went through what most people his age go through except in the limelight of international media.
When I was in Sweden a couple years ago I was at fancy hotel in Stockholm having a drink and some food.
Justin Bieber was at the same hotel.
Hundreds of young girls were outside the hotel waiting for him to come out.
When he did they screamed then they ran after his bus until it pulled away.
On that same tour he was arrested for drugs, went to the airport without a shirt, tried to bring a pet monkey with him, and generally acted outlandish.
He has been arrested, and almost deported to Canada.
Recently on Comedy Central he had this to say about his life so far.
"There was really no preparing me for this life.
I was thrown into this at twelve years old and didn't really know what I was getting myself into.
There’s been moments I’m really proud of, and a lot of moments I look back and I’m really disappointed in myself for.
 But the things that I've don’t define who I am.
I’m a kindhearted person who loves people and through it all I lost some of my best qualities.
 For that, I’m sorry.
What I can say is I’m looking forward to being someone that you guys can all look at and be proud of.
Someone that you can smile at and see some of yourself in.
Someone close to me once said, “It’s how you rise from a fall that truly defines you as a man.”
 I’m excited for that challenge, and I want to say thank you so much for taking this journey with me, and I’m excited for you to see what’s next.
Thank you God for your grace and never giving up on me.”

God of course already knew all these things about Justin Bieber, God has washed away all the bad and left only grace and love.
It takes a lot of guts to admit that we don’t have it all together.
It takes guts to confess that we are not clean that are feet are dirty and we need forgiveness.
Any of us could say those same words that Justin Bieber said.
Any of us could say that, “There was no preparing for this life”.
Any of us could say that we have made mistakes, that we have regrets, that we need forgiveness, and grace.
We would like to show the world that we have it all together and can handle everything.
But I can assure that admitting it is also freeing, because you realize that all that is left is God’s love and that is enough.
That is what gives us the ability to go on.
It is what gave Peter the ability to become the leader of the Jesus movement.
It is what gave the rest of the disciples the ability to eventually die for their faith in Jesus Christ as the risen savior.
Forgiveness is freeing.
Tonight Jesus tells us that we have a place at the table.
That he washes us clean and that we are forgiven.
Jesus washes everything away so that all that is left his is love for us.

Tonight we gather to remember that love.
We gather to gain freedom from knowing what it is like to be washed clean.
We gather to remember who we are, but most of all to remember that Jesus came so we might know who God is.
That God is a abounding in steadfast love.
Knowing that makes it worth having our dirt washed from us by Jesus.

Monday, March 30, 2015

We Are All A@$#es!

(During the sermon I had our organist beep out the A@$# words with the organ.) 
If you were in worship last week I read an email our congregation received from someone who was mad because we were helping New Americans in our community.
Shortly after that we received another email from the same person.

Sir or Madam,

I guess maybe you thought I was joking about the first e-mail I sent to you regarding Morning Star Condominiums in Concord, NH. 
Well news flash for you I was not and I am done playing games and going to report you and anyone and everyone at Morning Star Condominiums to the health department.

This is from a current resident as well as my son that live there! 
For people that are supposedly supposed to be religious and holy rollers you are as disgusting as they are for expecting these people to live in these types of conditions. 
White,  American,  hard working people do not deserve this and your church,  your free rent for these pigs,  and your ignorance and sympathy for them are a bunch of stupid,  ignorant,  low life,  rude,  uncaring,  unkind religious A@$#es!

It got me thinking about the A@$#.
Indeed that is exactly who we are A@$#es.
This morning is Palm Sunday and on this day Jesus rides an A@$# into Jerusalem.
This parade of palms was a mocking of the Roman procession that would take place when a ruler would come back after conquering another land.
They would ride either behind or in front of the people that they had conquered as crowds cheered their heroes.
Of course a king would never ride an A@$#, they rode a majestic stead.
They would never have a motley crew of disciples; they would have soldiers fresh from battle, dressed in full military gear.
Jesus comes on an A@$#.
He comes not conquering people but hearts.
He comes not in royal splendor but in humble submission.
The entire Gospel story in Mark has been leading to this point.
Half way through Mark’s Gospel Jesus, “Sets his site towards Jerusalem”.
He has told his disciples three different times that he must go there and be handed over and die, and on the third day rise again.

It is a big moment and Jesus rides on an A@$# for this big very important moment.
Probably he doesn’t have the money for a big expensive horse.
So he comes on an A@$# that he borrows from some town’s people.
But this is what Jesus has; this is what is available to him.

And in this world what Jesus has is you and me.
All he has is us A@$#es.
You and I are Jesus’ A@$#es because we are the ones that carry Jesus into the world.
We are the ones that God uses to bring good news, to shout hosannas.
We are the ones that ask for salvation for the world.
We are A@$#es, and I think that God wants it that way.
Because let us admit that it is not really enough.
You and I we are tired, we are distracted by so many things.
We are not powerful, rich, or anything.
We are just normal folks trying to get by, trying to spread some love, give a hand up.
We are simple, humble, A@$#es.
That is all we are.

When this woman calls us religious A@$#es I once again have to agree with her.
That we are all those things she accuses us of and much worse.
But the reason we do it is for because as imperfect, small, and insignificant as we are we want to be the ones who bring Jesus into the world.
We want to confront the powers of the world that make people have to leave their homeland because of hatred, violence, and persecution.

People after worship last week asked me what I was going to do about this woman’s email.
I told them that I wasn’t sure, but was taking time to pray about it.
After the second email I knew that I had to do something.
So I invited her to come to the church and talk with me about her concerns.
Because that is also what religious A@$#es do.
We don’t respond in kind.
We respond in love and understanding.
I really wanted to have a dialogue about her concerns and hear her out.
And maybe help her to director her anger in a more positive way.
Needless to say she refused to meet with me and talk about it.

But that is the world you and I are in now isn’t it.
We have all retreated to our bunkers.
We have taken our positions and refuse to listen to another view point, or try to understand someone else.
We refuse to be the A@$#.
We still want to be the king riding a magnificent horse.
I think in our day part of what it means to be an A@$# for Jesus is that we are willing to ride into the place where our perceived opponents call home, and offer them love and grace just as Jesus offers it to us.

Because the truth is that Jesus picks, A@$#es, because he wants us to know that it really is not us doing the lifting.
It is God that lifts us up, and gives us the ability to love and care for all the A@$#es of the world.
And I am thankful today for that, because sometimes I am not sure I have enough strength.
There are days when I am emotionally and spiritually spent and I have no ability to offer compassion, love and grace.
But God is always there to pick me up, to give me power to try again.

Jesus Christ has ridden straight into my heart and conquered it for God.
Jesus Christ has called an A@$# like me to bring him to others.
That is what Palm Sunday is about.
It is about the start of something really big.
This story is the start of Jesus carrying the message of God into the heart of the world, into the religious center of all things, and offering us that message.

And I need it.
I need to know that it isn’t all about me and what I can and can’t do, because I can’t do it all.
I can’t be everything to everybody.
But Jesus Christ can and is.
Whatever your need today Jesus Christ is coming to ask you to lay it down.
Lay down your worries and fears in the street.
Shout hosanna as Jesus comes to conquer our hearts, comes to conquer our fears, and our hurts.
Jesus comes to show us A@$#es that there is another way.

The crowd shouts “Hosanna” which means “Save, now”, or “Save, I pray”.
The crowd believes that Jesus is the one who has come to save them.
The problem is that it is not in the way that they are expecting.
Because Jesus is lowly, humbling himself, using quiet dignity to show us that the God we know through Jesus Christ is majestic because of this humility.
When you and I are able to join with those that are also humble and lowly then we join with Jesus.

The older I get the more I realize how much I need that saving.
Just this week someone said to me, “pastor don’t get old”.
It is unavoidable, the older I get the more people in my life I lose.
I come to see more and more how much I can’t control, and can’t do myself.
I would like of course to control things, to cure cancer, to stop sickness, to cure mental illness and addiction.
But I can’t, and it is really not my job.
I am simply an A@$#, who carries Jesus into the world.

I notice that every day I need the quiet strength that comes from knowing Jesus.
Today I want you all to know that you have it too.
That Jesus gives it to you.
That you can access it, because you know the name above all names.
When you are on your knees at night and you plead with God for saving, for help, for whatever you need, know that God is there for you.

As we leave here this morning, as we get ready for Holy Week, let us remember that we are A@$#es, and that we are the ones that Jesus asks to bring him into the world.
Remember that Jesus humbled himself to conquer your heart.
Use that power to be able to love others who are hard to love.
Even love people that send you nasty emails for trying to help others.
Even those people are worthy of God’s love.
And tonight when your knees bend thank God that you are an A@$#!