Monday, November 23, 2015

Love Your Enemies?!

This past week I was not myself.
I was filled with such mixed feelings about the terror attacks in France, Beirut and Kenya that I was out of sorts.
I was talking to one member of our congregation who said that I just didn’t sound like me.
I was simply tired of terrorism.
I was tired of hearing about it on the news.
I was tired of it being something that is scaring us all the time.
I was thinking that perhaps we have to start wiping people off the face of the earth.
But more than that I was feeling despair about it.
And then on Thursday something happened that got me out of that funk.
I was at the board meeting for the New Hampshire Council of Churches.
And for devotions someone read from the Gospel of St. Luke, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners do the same.”
Sometimes the exact right Bible passage comes to us at the exact right moment.
I was overtaken by Jesus’ words.
I was convicted and I was set free by them.
I had forgotten what is essential for Christians, to love in spite of hate, to hope in the face of despair.

And then I read a letter written by a husband whose wife had died in the attacks in Paris.
This husband wrote a letter to ISIS the people who killed his wife.
“Friday night, you took an exceptional life -- the love of my life, the mother of my son -- but you will not have my hatred.
I don't know who you are and I don't want to know, you are dead souls.
If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.
So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred.
You're asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are.
You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security.
You lost. 
I saw her this morning.
Finally, after nights and days of waiting.
She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago.
Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived.
I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world.
I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap.
He is barely 17-months-old.
He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free.
Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”

These two things brought me back to what Jesus tells Pilate this morning, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus is not saying that God’s kingdom is in some far off place away from here.
He is saying that the values of the world.
The values that Pilate rest in, the values of retribution, of hatred, of might makes right, of power that wants to rule over others.
Those values are not the values of the Kingdom of God.
In John’s Gospel the “world” is anything that is opposition to God.
It is the things that want us to strike out in our anger.
But Jesus always teaches us a new way.
In the beatitudes Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to pray for them.
How many of us have prayed for ISIS?
How many of us have prayed that they might have a change of heart?
How many of us have prayed that we might have a change of heart?
I know what you are thinking that prayer is not going to do anything.
We cannot pray the crazy out of people.
But this husband, who wrote that letter, knows what we should know, that we only let people win if we give into our hate.
And for me this week it was only Jesus who could break through my hardness of heart.
It was God’s word that broke through to me to understand the power of love, the power of prayer, the power of things that other people in the world see as foolish and useless.

Truth is that ISIS is an extremist Muslimgroup that believes that we are living at the end times.
They believe that the area they have captured in Syria, Dabiq, is the place where the battle that brings about the end of the world is going to take place.
We are wrong to think that they only fight us because they don’t like our western values, although they don’t like them, they fight to hasten the day when the end will come.
We too wait for that time.
But we don’t believe that by controlling others we will bring it about.
We don’t believe that it comes by us killing people.
But more important is what Jesus told us that kingdom looks like.
It is a mustard seed, a women searching for a lost coin, a wedding banquet with uninvited guests, a small child.
It is found in values anathema to the world, forgiveness, gentleness, love, self-control, humility, poverty.
It is in the lost and forsaken.
It is in the least.
Most important that kingdom is here now.
It is here this morning amongst us, within us, around us.
God’s kingdom has come and it is present this morning as we break the bread and drink wine.
As we remember Jesus death and resurrection.
It is present as we kneel at this rail and ask for forgiveness.
We are not merely waiting for it to come.
Jesus has told us that it has come.
“The Kingdom of God has comes repent and believe in the good news.”
It has come because God so loved the world.
The world that is against God, that fights to make sure we don’t know what God wants from us.
A world, were people distort religion so they can kill others.
God loves that world and sent his Son so we might know how to live in the kingdom.
Church, today God is calling to us, God is asking us to be the kingdom of God.
God is calling us to live in the kingdom of God, and not just this morning, but everyday of our lives.
God is calling us to live in that kingdom outside of here regardless of what is happening in the world.
The response to this kingdom is reverence and awe.
To be overtaken with how God’s words of grace speak to us.
I know that I was in awe this week as I heard again the beatitudes from Luke’s Gospel.
It reminded me of what the psalmist says, “The Lord is king, robed in majesty!”

Even though we experience the kingdom it is not yet what it shall be.
It is not as perfect as it someday shall be.
And that kingdom will not look like this one.
There will be war no more; there will be no more violence, or tears.
There will only be love.
There will be a father and his 17 month old son robbed in God’s love, reunited with their mother and wife.
There will be us who shine like the son.

As we go back into the world filled with terror, with hatred, filled with opposition to God, let us live not in that world, but in the kingdom of God.
Let us live in God’s love that cast out hatred and violence.
So that we can imperfectly live in God’s kingdom now with reverence and awe, even as we wait for the kingdom come.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

God Is Our Champion!

It is back to school time.
I often think that a kid going back to school is often harder on parents than the kids.
Having your kids go up a grade is bitter sweet because it means that they are growing up.
They are going out on their own.
And it means that they are one more year closer to adult hood.
They are closer to being out in the world that we all know is hard and sometimes cruel.
One mother put it really well when she wrote this about her son going off to Junior High, We need a word for the feeling that overtakes a mother after saying goodbye to her infant who is somehow masquerading as a young MAN and who is walking away from her into his adolescent life.
A word to describe the phenomena that is a mother sitting helplessly in her empty van while her heart silent screams her daily PLEASEPLEASEPLEASES!!! PLEASE be good to him.
 Please see his strengths and overlook his weaknesses.
Please sit by him at lunch.
 Please smile back when he smiles.
Please want to be his partner.
Please be gentle.
Pleasepleaseplease. PLEASE.
We want our kids to do well.
We want them to make it in the world, but most of all we want them to be understood.
We want others to see their uniqueness, their gifts.
Rita Pierson who is a teacher that gave a TED talk on education said, “Every Child needs a champion”
In fact, I believe that every person needs a champion.
We need someone who believes in us, who cheers us on, who knows our faults and failures, but cheers us on through them.
Today I want all of us to know that God is our champion.
God is the one in our lives who knows us enough to know all of our deficiencies and imperfections.
But God cheers us on; God wants what is best for us.
God wants us to know that God is on our side.
God is a like a parent on the first day of school, putting us on a school bus, and waving goodbye, secretly dying inside as we venture out into the world.
God is hoping along the way that we meet people who will sit next to us, will care for us, will show us what God already knows that we are loved and cared for in a special way.

This morning our Gospel story is about a woman who knows that God is her champion.
She knows that God roots for her and her daughter.
And that struck me this time as I read the story.
It struck me that what we have is a mother who is championing her daughter.
This mother is relentless, daring, and full of faith.
This mother will not let Jesus dismiss her so easily.
This mother changes Jesus mind with her faith and tenacity.
But what also impresses me is Jesus, because Jesus allows this uppity woman to change his mind.
Jesus allows her faith to turn him around.
She says to Jesus that yes God even cares about me.
God cares about a single woman from a foreign land.
God is my champion; God is my daughter’s champion.
Jesus has enough humility to listen to her, and in compassion reach out.

This story is one of the reasons I love the Bible so much, because this story escapes easy lessons, and easy explanations.
This story challenges what we think about other people different from us.
This story challenges the ways we think about Jesus.
It is complex, and every time I read it I am confronted with something new and different.
Today it is of a mother fighting for her child.
Today it is about faith in a God who champions the lost and forgotten.
Tomorrow who knows what nugget of wonderful grace it will reveal to me.

I mention this because it is political season and we all know that this means it is time for politicians to pander to us.
It is time for politicians to tell us what they think we want to here.
It is especially time for politicians to pander to us who are religious by telling us that their favorite book is the Bible.
I wonder have they read the story of the Syrophoenician woman?
Have they struggled with its meaning, with what it says about us, about God?
I don’t think that one needs to love the Bible to be president.
But if you are going to tell us that the Bible is your favorite book I hope that you have read it, studied it, and heard it preached.
Because I would like to challenge any politician to tell me where in the Bible Jesus talks bad about the poor?
Where does Jesus say that we should shun the foreigner?
Where does Jesus say that we are perfect enough to never have done anything wrong, and therefore we never have to apologies for anything we have done?
In fact, even Jesus in this morning’s Gospel is humble enough to know when he has made a mistake.
What the politicians don’t say is that Jesus is the champion of the people they have to talk bad about to get elected.
I can say that to you this morning because I am not trying to win your vote, I am trying to get you to see that God is your champion.

And I know that is hard to believe sometimes.
It is hard that God even loves you.
That God loves not because you are good.
Not because you are successful.
Not because you have done something awesome.
God loves all of you.
God even loves the failures.
God even loves the stuff that we don’t want to talk about.
And God even uses that stuff to make a difference to make us humble, and give us perspective.
God is the one who came here and walked with us.
God is the one who even listened to a desperate mother.
God is the one who walks with us every day.
God is the healer of our every spiritual ill.
It is hard to believe that God is our champion because we live under the idea that if we are ruled by shame and intimidation that it will make us better.
If we tell people enough all the things they do wrong then their behavior will change.
I don’t really believe that, because shame simply leads us to fear not to higher purpose.
Shame does not lift us up it drags us down.
Perhaps this fall as we all go back to our routines of school and work, as we leave behind vacations, we can champion each other.
We can champion our kids.
We can champion the people around us at work.
We can champion our neighbors and friends.
We can champion our spouses.
We can find ways to speak of what they do well.
We can find ways to rejoice in their particular gifts.
We can see each others strengths and overlook our weaknesses.
We can be gentle with each other.
We can want to be each others partners on this ride of life.

Most of all we should remember what the Syrophoenician woman knew so well, that God is our champion.
God is the one who is our healer, friend, confidant, and cheerleader.
God is the one who wants us to use both our strengths and weaknesses for each other.
God is the one whose love and grace give us strength.
God is our champion!

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.