Monday, January 31, 2011

We are Fortunate!

Today we begin the Sermon on the Mount.
For the next month until the start of lent we will hear the entire Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew takes all of Jesus teachings and makes them into one huge super sermon.
I am thankful that we don’t have to have the whole sermon today. (As I am sure you are too.)
Today we start with what is the most well known part of the Sermon on the Mount.
We start with the beatitudes.
We think we know them really well.
And yet to read them again they seem well odd.
Jesus says blessed are those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are persecuted, those who are peacekeepers, those who are meek.
This is not a list of great things to be.
The preacher Robert Schuler once gave a sermon where he argued that these where the “Be happy attitudes.”
If we saw life through the beatitudes we would have a better attitude about life and we would be happy.
But looking at them again I don’t see these things leading to happiness.
All of us in this room have been mourners at some point.
I don’t believe that is really a way to be happy.
I don’t know how being poor in spirit would make my life better.
I mean isn’t the point to try and live a more spiritual life?
Don’t I want to be like the saints who pray five times a day, and sleep on a bed of nails?
Peacekeeping seems like a good idea.
But man it is hard and really unpopular in our day.
People who advocate for peace are called unpatriotic, and are ridiculed as unrealistic.
I don’t know about you but I liked to be liked, I don’t want to be reviled and persecuted.
When people talk bad of me I get very upset, and don’t feel happy at all.
I don’t think that Jesus is prescribing a way to be happy.

The word blessed here means something else.
It means fortunate.
But even that seems a little odd.
How are we fortunate to mourn, or be poor in spirit?
We are fortunate because in those times is when God comes closes to us.
Jesus taught us that God is about coming from the bottom up.
In the lowest of the low, in the worst of the worst, God is at God’s best.
On the cross God did the most wonderful amazing thing.
At that moment of violence and death, God showed us true life and love.
The Beatitudes confirm that it is ultimately in what the world sees as foolish that God does God’s best work.

Jesus in the beatitudes is not prescribing a way to live, but describing what he sees in the crowd.
Jesus is describing our lives that are filled with times of mourning, of being poor in spirit, of being reviled, because we want peace and righteousness.
Jesus is not prescribing actions that we should take, but describing the human condition, and God’s actions in the face of those realities.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
It is true that when we lose someone we love we feel sad.
We feel that lose deep to our core and cry out in the pain of death.
And yet as people of faith we know that into that pain steps our God.
In our mourning we see God offering us the comfort of eternal life.
Does not stop us from feeling sad, but offers us hope in the midst of the pain.
I know that when my dad died it was the worst feeling in my life.
The pain of that loss still stings today.
Except when I think of my Dad I think of him with Jesus in his heavenly home.
We are blessed in our mourning because through death we see the gateway to eternal life.

Blessed are they who are poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I know that I do not possess enough faith.
I do not possess enough spirit in my daily dealings with my life and the people around me.
I was listening to a woman talk about her life this week, how it had become unbearable.
She had lost her spirit.
Yet Jesus tells us that this is exactly where God comes to offer the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom is not for ultra religious people who walk around as if nothing can bother them ever.
It is for you who have lost your way, and don’t know where God is anymore.
For you God comes and lifts out of your spiritless existence to a new place.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Last week our car broke.
It is only a three year old car.
It has been a struggle against Chrysler to try and get the situation resolved.
In the process I have felt rather week against this major corporation.
We all feel this way to some extent in our lives that there are forces out there bigger then we are controlling our destiny.
St. Paul called these power and principalities.
But Jesus says that it is the meek the lowly that will inherit the earth.
Not the rich, not the powerful, not the people pushing all the buttons but the lowly and least.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
After my sermon on righteousness someone told me that the word righteousness meant literally, “things as they were meant to be.”
How we ache for things to be as they were meant to be.
How we ache to live in world free from violence, and oppression.
Yesterday, I was out with Rise Again preaching before we handed out items to the homeless.
How I long for the day when all God’s children have the basic necessities of life.
Jesus tells us that there will be a day when everything will be as it should be.
We can catch a glimpse of that day sometimes now when we act in a way that puts life as it should be.
When we act for those that are the least in this world, but the most in God’s kingdom we strive for righteousness.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
One of the great things about being Christians is that we don’t have to pretend that we are perfect.
And we can then offer forgiveness to the other not perfect people of the world.
Surely forgiveness is the center of the Christian life.
And Jesus tells us that we receive mercy from God.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.
Jesus never said that following him was easy.
To be a Christian is to be a little odd.
As one person said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”
To follow Christ means to love in a world filled with hate, to have compassion when others are screaming for revenge, to strive for peace in a world in love with violence, to offer forgiveness even to one’s enemies, to help the stranger and the poor.
These are things at odds with those around us, and it will make you stand out and look odd.
Yes, people will attack you as some idealist fool.
What we will find is that when Jesus is our companion that nothing in life can get us down, and we will be able to rejoice even in the face of being reviled.

That is what all the beatitudes are really about is finding God in the midst of all the struggles of life.
Not about being happy, because happiness is always a fleeting thing.
We can be happy one day and down the next based on what luck comes our way.
But with Jesus we find that life is not about luck.
It is about being fortunate enough to know God.
And then in the middle of the struggle we can see a greater purpose, we can see a better day, and the light of Christ shining in the darkest spots of our lives.
When we have Christ the situation of life does not matter, what does matter is knowing God.

So may all of you be fortunate enough to know God…so that you may rejoice and be glad in whatever situation you find yourself.
Amen

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Wonderful, Frightful, and Life Changing Story

It seems appropriate on the day of our annual meeting that our Gospel reading for this morning is about the call of the disciples, because annual meetings are about a call.
A call we hear from God to do the work of the Gospel in this time and this place.
In Matthew’s Gospel the call for all Christians and all time is presented at the end, “Go therefore into all nations baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
But in today’s Gospel we have the start of that call, the beginning of the extraordinary story of Jesus life.
This morning we hear Jesus offer a call to some fishermen on the shores of a Lake.
Fishermen who are going about their business one minute, and the next being called into participation in a wonderful, frightful, and inspiring story.
We too are called into that same story.
Today at our annual meeting we do more then pass budgets and hear reports on meetings held this past year.
We discern together what it is God is calling us to.
Where is Jesus telling us to lay down our nets and follow him?
Where is our story connecting with the story of Jesus?

Think about the disciples who leave their nets in order to follow Jesus.
They leave a steady job to follow some long haired hippy idealist talking about the kingdom of God.
I can only imagine the conversation they had with their families when they tried to explain their next big career move.
The message of the call is clear.
God, not just in this case but all the cases of calls in the Bible, says it is too safe to simply continue to go about our business as usual.
Jesus is calling us away from that into something more, into a story more than we can imagine, into places yet unknown.
Churches are famous for playing it safe.
Churches are famous for doing the same thing over and over.
The line, “That is the way we have always done it.” I am pretty sure was uttered by one of the disciples inside the upper room where they were hiding after Jesus crucifixion.
You can hear the discussion right now.
Peter saying, “Why are we in this room? We should get out and do something.”
John saying, “But this is what we have always done.”
So every year I think it is important to ponder the question where is Jesus calling us this year.

Consider that Jesus own life in the Gospel of Matthew was not one of ease.
Jesus was always moving about never having a home.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is an internet preacher moving about always into new uncharted territory.
This morning for example we are told that Jesus moves into Gentile country.
Away from his home and what he had known into uncharted territory in order to follow the call.
Jesus then calls us away from what is familiar and easy into what is unknown in order to follow God.
What will that be for our congregation this year?

Last year we embarked on the Heart for the Homeless campaign.
For our congregation it was stepping out into an unknown world into new territory.
And this last year we listened for the ways that God was calling us to help those in need.
Because we were open to that call we have done some extraordinary work together.
We have helped many people.
We started a community circle to help a refuge family here in Concord.
For many of us this was new territory.
We did not speak the same language, there are many cultural differences, we were not sure what we were getting into, and we were not sure we can do it.
But that group of people has really done an outstanding job.
They heard God’s call and stepped out in faith.
This year we heard about the need in Concord for help for families and children who were homeless.
We started to organize a Family Promise organization here in Concord.
It has been difficult there have been set backs.
We are not always sure it will work.
But in faith we feel God calling us in this effort.
We have heard the call and are following into unknown territory.

This is true not only in our life together.
But also as Christians who live outside of these walls.
What are the ways that you have been called by God?
Where are the places in your life that God has called you to spread the Gospel?

Has God called you to a new vocation?
Has God called you to witness to someone in your life that needed God?
Has God called you to love someone everyone else dislikes?
Has God called you to forgive a wrong done to you?
Has God called you to leave something you regret behind?

Perhaps today is a good day to hear the call of Jesus.
Come and follow me and I will make you fish for people.
Come and follow me join my story to your story.
Come and follow me make your life about my life.
Come and follow me to what is unknown, scary, and yet life changing and wonderful.
Do we dare?

As Paul says to follow Christ is to take the story of the death and resurrection and make it our story.
“For the message of the Cross is foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
To follow Christ is to make the Cross about our story.
To be saved to find and discover the power of God in following the one who has no home except where people need God.

This is where our church belongs following Jesus.
Because otherwise we find ourselves following something or someone else.
This is what is happening in the church at Corinth instead of following Jesus people have begun to take up factions and follow certain leaders in the congregation.
This of course has caused different groups to fight.
It reminds me of the story about a young rabbi who found a serious problem in his new congregation.
During the Friday service, half the congregation stood for the prayers and half remained seated, and each side shouted at the other, insisting that theirs was the true tradition.
Nothing the rabbi said or did moved toward solving the impasse.
Finally, in desperation, the young rabbi sought out the synagogue's 99-year-old founder.
He met the old rabbi in the nursing home and poured out his troubles.
"So tell me," he pleaded, "was it the tradition for the congregation to stand during the prayers?"
"No," answered the old rabbi."
“Ah," responded the younger man, "then it was the tradition to sit during the prayers?"
"No," answered the old rabbi.
"Well," the young rabbi responded, "what we have is complete chaos! Half the people stand and shout, and the other half sit and scream."
"Ah," said the old man, "that was the tradition."

Our tradition is not about who sits or stands, what songs are sung, what food is served, or what battles have been won and lost.
Our tradition is simply Christ crucified.
Jesus died so that we may live.
And today Jesus is calling us to hear that call from the shore.
Away from what is familiar and safe, and into a greater story.
We are called.
What will it be this year for Concordia Lutheran Church?
What will be the wonderful, frightful, and inspiring ways that God calls us this year?
Let us go forth and be ready to hear the call and follow Jesus on this wonderful, frightful, and life changing story.
Amen

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shed a Little Light!

Last week we all heard the horrible news of the shooting in Arizona killing 6 people and wounding 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford.
Since then there has been a lot of talk about what caused this horrible event.
The sheriff in Pima county got the ball rolling by stating that, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government.
The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
The sheriff was then attacked for making a political statement.
Sarah Palin said, “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own.
They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.”
Who is right?
Who is wrong?
To ask this another way is sin simply personal or is it societal?
Am I an individual or a product of my environment?

I would like to argue that it is both.
There is no doubt that I carry personal responsibility for my actions.
My parents from an early age taught me that there were consequences for my actions and that I would have to live with those consequences.
I was to blame for the decisions I made.
There is no doubt that the shooter in Arizona is responsible for his actions and will have to face the consequence of those actions.
But to say that outside forces have no bearing on who we are, the way we think, and the way we react to stimuli would be an equally ridiculous thing to say.
We are all tied together.
We react to certain things partially because of the times in which we live.
People of other times thought differently about the universe and our place in it.
I am a product of my upbringing both good and bad, and the society in which I am a part.
We cannot divorce ourselves from the reality we find ourselves.
Our sin is always tied up with the sins of the entire world.
And my sin however personal affects more than me.
For example, I am sometimes rather lazy about my environmental responsibilities.
It is not that I don’t agree with the scientific evidence of global warming or that I don’t believe in being a good steward of God’s creation it is just that sometimes it is more convenient to drive then to walk, or just throw out the can of soda in the regular trash rather than recycle.
It is my own love for conveniences, and yes that has some consequences for me, but it also affects all of you.

I believe that how we act, or don’t act, is about more than an individual choice but has communal consequences.
And sin is bigger than one person.
The sin of the shooter was about more than a bad choice that he made, about more than he had some serious psychological problems.
He lives in a world where we tend to settle disputes through violence.
He lives in a world where guns are made that are able to take out a lot of people in a small period of time.
He lives in a world where we ignore the signs of people in trouble because, “We don’t want to get involved.”
We live in a world where politicians take the quick route to sound bite instead of the thoughtful way to understanding.
We live in a world filled with inflamed rhetoric, and vitriol.
He lives in a world where you can buy ammunition at Wal-Mart like a pack of gum.

And this world has been around a lot longer than merely what happened last weekend in Arizona.
Consider that tomorrow is Martin Luther King day.
On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot to death by a man who did not like his politics.
This despite the fact that Martin Luther King preached non-violence, love of enemy, and peace.
You can go back even further 2,000 years ago on a hill outside the city walls the place called the skull.
Jesus was hung on a cross in a most savage and violent manner.
This despite the fact that he raised no army, never hurt anyone, and was God’s son.
This despite the fact that he preached to the poor, welcomed sinners, and talked of God’s love.
For a long time we have lived in a world filled with sin and death.
We have lived in a world where people solved problems with vitriol, hard words, and violence.

The question that we are left with this morning is what shall we do?
What is left to be said or done?
As Christians, as people who follow Christ, we have to look towards Jesus.
We have to see the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
Jesus on the cross became the symbol of the violence and hatred in the world.
Jesus became the one onto whom we put all of our hate and violence in order to redeem that world.

Dr. Martin Luther King knew this truth.
He knew that Jesus was the source of his strength, life, and courage.
For us it has to be too.

And this is our way out.
We can be part of this world.
The world that filled with sin.
The world that speaks in vitriol tones.
The world that allows a man to kill 6 people and wound 13 on a Saturday morning at a grocery store.
Our place in the world is in the middle of all that mess.
It is in the middle of the debate.
We enter that debate with a great sense of humility knowing that we are not perfect, knowing that no human endeavor is perfect, and that only in working together are we made whole.
And it is always with the knowledge that Jesus is the one who takes away the sins of the world.
That God has called this world good.
That Jesus Christ pointed us toward the light and what is good.
And maybe we can help the debate be about something more than winning elections, but about the way we care, the way we serve one another, the way we love our enemies, and show empathy.
As Mother Teresa once said, "Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness."
Our role in the world can be to spread the light.
We can remind people that we are tied together in this world.
As Martin Luther King once said, “All life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Because we look not to ourselves, but we look towards the one who takes away the sin of the world, and replaces it with love, understanding, and peace we can help point others towards the light of Christ.
I want to end today with a video I made for the worship tomorrow at Concord’s Martin Luther King day service sponsored by the Greater Concord Interfaith Council.

video

Monday, January 10, 2011

Righteousness

This sermon was a conversation that Edwina Landry (first year seminary student at Gettysburg seminary) and I had on Facebook the week leading up to Sunday January 9th.

Sermon – Jan. 9, 2011
Text: Matthew 3:13 -17

Jonathan Hopkins
What struck me about this morning's readings was the righteousness.
In the passage from Isaiah we hear that God will send a "servant" and he has been called in "Righteousness".
Jesus before being baptized tells John that they should do this so that all "righteousness" might be fulfilled.
Righteousness is a word that happens to be part of the Biblical witness and our lives as followers of Jesus Christ.
I was realizing that I never really thought about righteousness before. I have given lots of thought to justice, justification, and sanctification but not righteousness.
So my question is what does it mean to be called in righteousness, and to fulfill righteousness?

Edwina Landry
According to Webster's dictionary, righteous means to act in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin; morally right such as a justifiable or righteous decision.
Jesus is free from guilt and sin and therefore can be called righteous, but by that definition how can people be righteous when we are all sinners?
Job was considered a righteous man and he was certainly not sinless.
In the case of Job, he was righteous because he was faithful in following God.
I think righteousness therefore, has more to do with a right relationship with God and Jesus unites us with God therefore making us righteous.

Jonathan Hopkins
I can tell you are in your first year of seminary all about the Old Testament :-)
I believe you are right that it is Jesus uniting us with God that makes us righteous.
In our Baptisms we are drowned in the water and cleansed from sin and death.
Not that we will never sin again (that is a heresy. I forgot which one, but you will probably know since you are at seminary) or that we won't die.
In Jesus Christ we are given forgiveness from our sins and eternal life.
Baptism is what gives us the ability, strength, and call to go out and live righteous.
Meaning we follow the will of of God.
This of course is a slippery slope because the question becomes what is the will of God?
How do we follow it?
Help me out here.

Edwina Landry
Old Testament - ha, ha - it is important you know. :-)
As far as heresies, we have not learned about those yet.

What is the will of God?
That IS the question isn't it.
We all ask ourselves that question.
We wonder if the decisions we make are the will of God or if they are merely our own will, at least I wonder that.
I guess that is why Jesus asked us to pray The Lord's Prayer and ask for God's will to be done and not ours.
And we can study the Scriptures to see what God's will is for us.
Prayer and Scripture study are what help us determine God's will for our lives.

Edwina Landry
Or...as Pastor Jon Hopkins said in the first sermon at Concordia when faced with deciding between two choices, "it's all a crap shoot" because God is with us no matter what choice we make.
Ah, still one of my favorite sermons! :-)

Jonathan Hopkins
You should be careful who you listen to.
I hear that Pastor Jon Guy has long hair and is weird. Well, Pastor Jon Hopkins is on to something, but I think that righteousness is about doing something.
I think the texts itself gives some ideas on this matter.
Jesus is the messiah, Son of God, or whatever other great title you want to give him.
Jesus gets that title not because he rules over people with an iron fist but because he gives himself away.
Jesus is not afraid of John's ministry and therefor has no problem being baptized by John.
Likewise, John submits his own feelings thoughts about the Messiah to the will of God.
I often think the will of God is whatever the opposite of my personal desires is.
God wills what is good for the neighbor and for others not what is good for me.
Righteousness comes from putting others ahead of ourselves and putting God above all things. What do you think?

Edwina Landry
Yes, and Jesus exemplified this righteousness.
He did not want to suffer and die on the cross, but it was necessary.
He agonized in the garden and prayed "let this cup pass from me" but only if it was God's will.
He relinquished His own desire for the will of the Father.
The concerns of others came before what Jesus wanted.
He asked us to do the same when He gave us the new commandment to love our neighbor.
This leads me to another thought.
The commandments are considered righteous (Psalm 119) - Sorry to quote the OT again! - and the pharisee in the NT thought he was being righteous by following the law.
But Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, so righteousness is not just following the law, but following Jesus who is the new commandment.
What do you think?

Edwina Landry
In looking at the text I also am struck by the phrase that "John would have prevented him..." I wonder if this means that by John or anyone of us not fulfilling our role in the ministry of Jesus, by not doing what we were sent here to do, we prevent the will of God. We are necessary, as John was, for the fulfillment of all righteousness.
It is a relationship and that is what baptism does. It brings us into that relationship. Thoughts?

Jonathan Hopkins
This is amazing a person from Gettysburg seminary and another from Philadelphia seminary agree!

It is a great point that John is necessary in this case.
John just like Jesus has to be open to the will of God as do all of us.
We have to play our part and listen for the ways that Jesus is calling us even if we don't think this is what we want.
The key for me is to maintain that relationship with Jesus and to listen to the places I am being called.
I think this is a good time to stop talking all this theological mumbo-jumbo and to talk about our lives.
Tell me a time when you found it hard to follow God so that you might fulfill righteousness?

Edwina Landry
I know there are several examples in my own life, but the most obvious one is the one I am struggling with right now and that is my time at seminary.
I felt for a long time that this was God's will, but I fought it.
How did I know it was God's will and not my own?
For one, my resistance, but more importantly, it was the people of God who saw that it was God's will and kept encouraging me to follow this path.
I did not want to go and leave my family, get rid of all the possessions I worked hard to get, face the loss of some people in my life because they did not agree.
It is incredibly hard physically and emotionally, but I am really getting to know God more deeply through this experience.
I think that is key to knowing when it is God's will because when we follow God, our relationship becomes deeper and despite moments of doubt and fear there is a peace that transcends it.
Following the will of God does not mean we always want to do what is asked of us, but we know it is necessary and in that respect it fulfills righteousness.

I think of the people every day who get up and work at jobs they don't particularly like - sometimes even hate - but they do so because they put their families first.
Or, the kids in high school who are so tempted to follow the wrong crowd and make bad decisions, but they don't and because of that may feel alone.
Sometimes people do make the wrong choices and get themselves into serious trouble and they check themselves into rehab and make the tough choices to turn their lives around.
These people are following God even if it is hard, and in doing so fulfill righteousness.

Edwina Landry
What about you?
Can you tell me of a time when you found it hard to follow the will of God so that you might fulfill righteousness?

Jonathan Hopkins
The issue of call is not just for pastors of course.
All of us need to consider God's call to us.
What is our Baptismal call?
What has God called us to do in this world for our neighbor?

I was thinking about the everyday decisions I have to make.
How hard it is to fulfill righteousness.
In particular there was this one time when my wife asked me to call my mother to ask her about when we would be having dinner.
I totally forgot about it.
When she asked me if I had called my mother my first thought was to lie and tell her I did.
As a husband I am called to tell my wife the truth.
I was going to lie because I thought it would save her from being mad at me, and save me the embarrassment of having to admit I failed her.
This is the thing about righteousness it cost us something of ourselves.
This cost me some of my honor.
The Good News is that my wife forgave me and we moved on in our relationship.
That is the key in our relationship with Jesus the more honest we make the easier it is to get back on the right track.
Here is the other problem.
The story I told did not just happen that one time.
It happened many times, and will probably happen again.
I think that living in righteousness is not so much about always doing the right thing (impossible anyway) as it is about truthfully owning up to our failures.
On a deeper level it is about recognizing our desire to protect ourselves from embarrassment, shame, or from being the best.
This is what is really so extraordinary about Jesus that he is God's only begotten Son but he lived as one of us.
He fully took on our humanity and shared in the same baptism as us.
Righteousness comes from his humility at being human.
Ours should come from that same place.

Edwina Landry
Yes, I can think of times when I was late for work due to my own poor time management and I could have easily made up an excuse because I didn't want to look bad in my boss's eyes. But I knew that telling the truth was the right thing to do and I had to accept the consequences if there were any.

There have also been moments when I have lost my temper and yelled at my children when I shouldn't have. I had to apologize and confess that I was wrong. I think it's critical to say I'm sorry when we have made a mistake and re-open the lines of communication and get the relationship back on track.
As a person who is plagued by perfectionist tendencies, it is important to value the righteousness that as you say comes from humility at being human. We cannot, as you said, be perfect, but in acknowledging our failures we are humbled and drawn closer to Jesus who makes us right with God.

I recently watched an episode of Oprah who interviewed J.K.Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books.
She went from being desperately poor to now one of the wealthiest people in the world, but she remains extremely humble.
And she remains humble by understanding and talking about the benefits of failure.
In a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard, she said "failure is a stripping away of the in-essentials" and through failure she stopped pretending she was anything more than what she was. She went on to say that "rock bottom (failure) was the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life and it is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all."

Edwina Landry
Through baptism - not just once, but a daily baptism - we acknowledge our failures and are stripped away of the in-essentials.
What is essential is the righteousness of God.
And relying on God's grace that we receive through baptism and the sacraments, we have the courage to really live life boldy and not cautiously.
We are not afraid to avoid failure, but live in the promise of the grace and forgiveness of God.

Jonathan Hopkins
Well said, even for someone who is going to that other seminary :-)

Let us go forth and live in our baptisms stripped of our in-essentials. So that we too might fulfill all righteousness.
Amen

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beginnings

In the beginning....
St. John’s Gospel brings us back, all the way back, to the book of Genesis.
John’s Gospel starts by reminding us that God made all things.
In the beginning God spoke and the world came into being.
I thought this was a very appropriate theme for today, because it is a beginning of a new year.
We all like a new year because it means for us possibility, fresh starts, and the ability to right the wrongs of last year.
If we ate too much we leave that behind and we start our diet again.
If we drank too much we give ourselves the opportunity to finally practice moderation.
If we picked up some bad habits this is the year to stop and live healthier or better.
Perhaps this year we will be kinder, more forgiving.
Even more a new year is the opportunity to turn the page on bad luck.
This might be the year we meet Mr. Right, we recover from a health issue, we get a better job.
This is the beginning of something and every year at this time we feel it, or at least we say it.
This is why every year we make resolutions.
We say that we are going to do better.
I know that I made the resolution to go and exercise more at the YMCA.
Just out of curiosity how many of you made some type of New Year resolution?
This is the time to get out and do the things we wished we had done last year, or to stop the things we shouldn’t be doing.

In this time of beginnings we should remember that indeed it is God who creates all things.
At our New Year ’s Eve party some of our friends have babies just born in 2010.
My wife was saying that they had a lot to look forward to in 2011.
Like sitting up, crawling, walking, and beginning to talk.
In these little ones we see God working creating them into who they will be.
And the same should be said for our lives.
We should be on the lookout for what God is going to create in us this year.
One of the ways we describe God is that God creates things.
We should never forget that God is always creating.
God is always creating new things in our world and in all of us.
It is not that God once upon a time created the world and then stopped.
No this very year God will create a whole new things in our lives.
This is a year of new beginnings.
What I would like us to think about is what does God have in store for 2011?
What new things will God create in your life in 2011?

The prologue to John’s Gospel that we read this morning can be very helpful in seeing what God has in store for us.
God brings light from darkness, life from death, grace from ugliness, and truth from falsehood.
These are things that we can look forward to God creating in our lives in 2011.

The God who created all things in the beginning is not done creating.
That same God who spoke and made the world still speaks to us today.
In that way, all days are really about the beginning.
Today is a beginning another day and another chance to see light, life, grace, and truth in my life.

What I believe is that those things are around us all the time, and we usually miss them.
Just like the people of Jesus day missed his presence among them.
“He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”
In the moment when Jesus was born God was beginning something and lots of people missed out.
Jesus was not good enough, not powerful enough, not splashy enough, and not at all what they wanted or expected.
We can fall into that same trap we can miss the beginning that God creates for us all the time.
We can miss the ways that God comes to us and brings light into the world.

Maybe this will be especially true in the months and weeks to come.
The celebrations are over.
The carols are done, the trees are thrown out, the sparkle and magic of Christmas is over.
I suspect that we will have a little coming down from all the good times.
We have to go back to life.
We have to deal with snow and cold weather.
We have to go back to work and business as usual.
And another year begins.
There is a beginning.
It is the beginning of the everyday, of being human, of living, of loving, of dying, of sweating, of feeling let down, and dragged out.
Into the middle of all this God comes.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Jesus Christ has and is living among us, with us.
And in this we see God’s glory.
In this New Year we will see God’s glory amongst the everyday things of life.
Louisa Fletcher Tarkington once wrote, “So I wish there were some wonderful place called the Land of Beginning Again, where all our mistakes and all our heartaches and all our poor selfish grief could be dropped, like a shabby old coat at the door, and never put on again."
I think that God through Jesus Christ has given us that land of “Beginning Again”, because this year God is beginning something new and exciting in our lives.
God this year is going to show us God’s glory.

I might keep that New Year’s resolution and get more exercise this year.
I might lose the 20 pounds I gained this year.
I might be kinder, more merciful, and more compassionate.
But really none of that matters, because I have seen the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

And this year you will too.
This year believe in the possibility of God being a part of your life.
This year believe that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to show you God.
This year believe that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it then you will see the Glory of God.

This past year I have been to too many funerals of people that I love and care about.
I was thinking about how I once would go to weddings and baptisms.
And these days I go to more funerals.
2011 will not be much different I suppose in that regard.
In fact, this week my mom’s uncle Al died.
I will start 2011 with a funeral.
But in each case I do not see death, but life.
I see in each case the life given to us through Jesus Christ.
This does not mean I am not sad, it means that I can see in this life God’s glory, because Jesus made God known to me.
I see through death to God’s eternal life.

Where will you see God in 2011?
What does God have in store for you?

We only know this we will see light, life, truth and grace.
We will see the glory of God this year in our lives.
May all of you have a new beginning this year.
May all of you have a very Happy New year.
Amen

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Jesus Is Welcome Here

Indeed Jesus is welcome here.
Welcome relief from the messages we normally receive.
Messages that tell us we are not rich enough, not good looking enough, not smart enough, and not worthy enough.
Is it not a welcomed relief to hear the message this night of the Angels, “To you this night is born a savior”?
To see the majesty of God dwelling not in palace, not in the grandeur, but in a simple teenage mother, and father.
Not in royalty or religious splendor but with shepherds.
Jesus is a welcome relief from all the things in our life that we are trying to work towards.
That is why we love this story so much, because it is simple.
It is a story about things we can easily understand.
We can understand a Mother’s love.
We can understand a Father’s care.
We can understand having to look for a place to stay but not finding it.
Perhaps Joseph forgot to make the arrangements in advance.
I know that I have done that once or twice in my day.
What we see in Jesus is hope, joy, and love.

Indeed Jesus is welcome here.
In your life this Christmas what is it that makes you worry?
What is it that makes you feel inadequate?
Into our failures, our worries, our vulnerability, our sufferings Jesus comes.
Perhaps this night you are worried about your job.
You are worried that the economy is not going to truly recover.
Perhaps someone you love is serving in the military and is overseas.
Perhaps you are worried that your plans will not work out.
Maybe you or someone you love is dealing with sickness or death.
Maybe tonight you don’t feel like you are worth anything.
Whatever is going on in your life God this night has entered in to our lives, into the history of the world.
Here in the manger wrapped in cloth is a baby the hope and light of the world.
Here in this beloved story we hear angels declare, “Glory to God in the highest”.

Indeed Jesus is welcome here.
This week I have been doing some running around filling some last minute Christmas request for people who are having a hard time.
In each case what I have been thinking about is that in the midst of these lives is Jesus.
In the midst of trouble and sin is Jesus.
In the midst of the stores were people are buying presents eagerly anticipating the joy they will bring is Jesus.
In the mother searching for the perfect gift for her children is Jesus.
I guess that Christmas is a hectic time, but it is also the time when Jesus comes into the chaos.
Not to tell us that everything is wrong, that we should think or feel different about Christmas but redefining the meaning of what we are doing.

On that first Christmas there are lots chaos and lots of things going on.
There is a census ordered by the political authorities.
There are plans to be made for traveling.
Then there is a birth.
There are shepherds hard at work in the fields.
There are Mary and Joseph with their own fears of being parents for the first time.
What makes the scene calm and bright is the glow of God.
“Peace” is the words from the angels, and we feel it not because everything is fine, but because Jesus has come into our lives.

This year I really enjoyed the work of Christmas.
I enjoyed being with my wife as we cooked and cleaned for Christmas festivities.
I enjoyed the chaos of getting our tree, putting it up, and decorating it.
I enjoyed sitting on the floor wrapping presents for the people we love.
I enjoyed taking my kids shopping so they could pick out a present for their mother.
In each of those things I saw and felt God working in the midst of them.

I am not sure it is useful to rail against the over commercialism of Christmas because it is the world that we live in.
It is a world so loved by God that he gave us his son to be our savior.
And Jesus presence in our world, in our lives is what changes everything.
It is what takes it from chaos to calm from fear to peace.
Jesus takes what is sin and makes it forgiveness.
Therefore we can embrace Christmas, all of it, instead of feeling guilty that we are not being more holy.
Because the Christmas story tells us that the holy shows up in what is thought to be unholy.
God shows up to shepherds in a manger, to a teenager mother, in a baby, to you and me.
What brings calm into our lives is not our actions not rejecting Christmas, not rejecting consumerism, but the redeeming grace of God.

Jesus is welcomed here.
Into our lives filled with busyness, with shopping, parties, and trees the savior is born.
So where has Jesus been for you this Christmas?
Where have you welcomed Jesus into your life so that he can save and redeem your life?
The theologian Meister Ekhart said, “What good is it that Mary gave birth to Christ so many years ago if we do not give birth to him today?”
In faith welcome Jesus into your life, because Jesus will bring calm and peace into your life.
What are the parts of your life that need saving?
What are the parts that need redeeming?
Jesus is welcomed here.

This week on NPR I was listening to segment where people would call in and tell stories about gifts they received.
All of the stories were heartwarming and really inspiring.
One of the callers told of when she was in second grade.
She noticed that the biggest present under the tree that year was for her.
It was from her godfather.
It was a globe and a Graham’s guide to the galaxy.
She said that her godfather “really got her”.
She still has the book and today she runs the Christa McAuliffe planetarium here in Concord.
She said it was the perfect gift.
Tonight we have been given the perfect gift.
God knows us so well that he gave all of us what we need.
Whatever it is that has been going on in your life God sent his son to save us, to give us peace.
What a perfect gift.
Jesus is welcomed here because Jesus is the perfect gift for us and our lives.

Jesus takes away the sin, guilt, fear, and worry.
And Jesus replaces it with peace calm.
With a silent night in a stable with teenage parents, and shepherds that visit.
Jesus replaces the darkness of the world with light.
As Isaiah foretold, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
Tonight the darkness has lifted and God has given us the perfect present, the one we all need the one that sheds light on our lives.

So tonight open your hearts, minds, and spirit and in faith welcome Jesus Christ your savior into your life.
Amen