Monday, May 24, 2010

Faith Is A Lifelong Journey

At our last music and worship committee people were asking for me to more fully explain special days on the church calendar.
Days like today.
It has been forty days of the Easter season.
Jesus has been ascended, and his followers are praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus.
Pentecost is often referred to as the Birthday of the Church.
For on Pentecost the Church is born.
But this is by no means the end of the story.
It is the beginning of the story in many ways.
What started at Jesus birth what culminated in his resurrection is continued through the work of the church.
From the day of Pentecost the Church is born and from here the Church has much learning to do about what it means to be the Church.

It would appear on the surface that once Jesus is resurrected that everything would be settled.
But for the Church nothing is really settled.
The Church has to continue grow in faith in light of the resurrection, to fully comprehend and understand what it meant to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Think about it this way, it will take another 4 centuries before the great creeds are written.
Before that time the Church will carry on a great debate about what it means to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
In fact, we too are still learning about it.
The Church in our day is struggling with what it means to follow Jesus in the world that we find ourselves.

As individual members of the Church of Jesus Christ all of us are constantly on a journey to try and understand what it means to have Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
One of the problems that we are facing is that sometimes people believe that they can know everything about faith in only a short time in their life.
Often times we have about an eighth grade education in our faith life.
Let me tell you that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
For faith takes a lifetime to learn and understand.
Not only that but often times once we understand it we change.

In other words that faith we have at five years old is not the faith we will have at fifty-five.
And the faith we have at fifty-five is not the one we have at ninety-five.
I know many people of deep faith who have told me that only by growing in that faith do they fully understand God.

My friend Bob Sherman for example.
Bob is in his late eighties.
And Bob would tell me all the time that he wished that when he was younger he had known Jesus the way that he did now.
It was not that he did not know Jesus when he was younger, he just knows Jesus on a different level.
He had to grow in his faith over years of living with God.
And even in his eighties Bob would tell me he had only scratched the surface of what it meant to be a child of God.

What is true of individuals is true of the church.
2,000 years later we are still learning what it means to know this God in Jesus Christ.
We are still struggling with what it means to know Jesus as our Lord and savior.

If I could tell you anything this morning is that not to give up on your journey of faith.
Continue to seek and know God in your life.

Do not think that because Pentecost has come and gone that God is still not working to form us and his church.
Do not believe that all things are worked out.
I believe God is still working it out through us.

If we are still on our journey the question is how are we formed in our faith?
How do we grow in our faith?
This morning let us use the story of Acts as a guide.
The story that we read this morning from Acts is mysterious and strange.
It is one of the things that cannot be explained in any normal way.
How do you explain people understanding each other even though they are all speaking different languages?
This is why the crowd of Gentiles is so confused.
“All were amazed and perplexed.”
This is what I think God does for us.
God leaves us amazed and perplexed.

I am constantly amazed at what God can and will do.
I am amazed that Babies are born in the world,
that people who are supposed to die live,
that enemies become friends,
that hatred is overcome with love,
that people are married for sixty years,
that friends are so willing to lend an ear and word of comfort,
that people give so generously to those in need.
God is good and it is constantly amazing how much God loves and cares for us.

I am also perplexed.
I don’t know why some people starve to death in a world with plenty of food,
I don’t know why two countries have to kill one another,
I don’t know why we have so much fear of other people,
I don’t know why good people die,
I don’t know why there are people who are twisted enough to kill for no reason.
I am perplexed a lot.

And this is why the journey of faith must and does go on.
Because we don’t know why things happen the way they do.
We don’t know why the world runs the way it does.
And in being amazed and perplexed we discover the only way to live.
We discover a life of faith.

We find in the midst of both things a God who cares and loves us.
We find a God who brings dreams to the old and visions to the young.
We find a God who pours out his spirit upon the whole world.
We find a God who saves everyone who calls on his name

It is appropriate to talk about the day of Pentecost as the Birthday of the church because it is where we started from.
But like our individual lives it is not where we will end up.
The Church will continue to grow in faith, it will continue to be pushed by the Holy Spirit.
And it will forever ask the question, “What does this mean?”
And in the search it will find, as it always has, God there waiting for us.
The church in every age and in different ways rediscovers God’s abundant mercy.
We see again fresh that God through Jesus Christ desires for us to live and dream.

So on this Pentecost let us continue to grow in our faith.
Let us continue to ask the questions and let God amaze and perplex us.
Let us continue to know that God is good, and at the center of it all good and bad is a God who only wants to save us all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Joining God's Work

Since yesterday was our pictures for the new Church directory,
and since I was going to Germany for the next fourteen days,
and since the Bishop was going to be here this morning, I decided this week that I needed a haircut.
So I went to get one.
I sat in the chair and this very nice young woman was cutting my hair.
We were talking about her life, her boyfriend, her ex-husband, her son.
When she found out that I was a pastor she said, “You know I have been meaning to go back to Church. I have been looking at different churches.”
I then asked her what kind of things she might be looking for in a Church.
She told me, “One where I am not judged”
That is why I stopped going to church, because after my divorce I was made to feel bad.
She told me that she could no longer receive communion at the church she was going to, and she was looking for a Church that would accept her current life circumstance.
Since she lived in Manchester I suggested she try out Gethsemane Lutheran Church.
I told her Lutheranism is perfect for you.
We believe in God’s love for us know matter what.
We believe in God’s grace, and that God forgives our sins.
You can imagine that as I pastor I have these kinds of exchanges all the time.
Here is what I think about them, God is very active in this world.
God is out in the world moving in people’s lives changing them, encouraging them, and loving them.
People have a sense that something is missing.
They have a sense that God is calling them.
The question is the Church willing to go where God is already at work?

This morning’s reading from the book of Acts is about God’s activity already going on in the Gentile household.
God was at work in Caesarea giving visions to a gentile man to send for a “Simon, who is called Peter; who will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.”
Notice God was moving in that community before Peter arrived.
It was before Peter had preached to them.
They knew through God that something was up they felt that they needed something.
The only question is was Peter going to go to them and tell them what he knew about Jesus.
Here is my point, God is working in people’s lives weather or not we as the church do anything at all, the only question is are we going to go out and join God’s work?

The problem is not that people don’t experience God in their lives.
People seem to know God is at work in their lives it is why they say things like, “I am spiritual, but not religious.”
“I don’t go to Church, but I do pray at home.”
“I feel that God is with me even though I never go to Church.”
What they are expressing when they say things like this is that God is already at work in their lives.
God is at work all the time in the world outside these walls.

But what we do in church hopefully is participate in the love of God.
We come together as a community to live out the new commandment of love that Jesus gave to us.
And we invite others to experience and know that love with us.
Even though God is at work in the world, it is in the Church were God’s love is lived out in a concrete way.
We come together so people like the young woman who cut my hair can know God’s love even more fully.

The question is if God is already at work in the world why then do we need to do anything?
Let me say why we don’t need to do it.
We don’t need to do it so that we can preserve or save our Church.
For some of us this might be a motivating factor in why you think the church needs to reach out.
That is fine.
But let me say that as far as God is concerned it is not about saving and preserving a building, or even a lot of great memories that might have happened in that building, or even saving a certain type of worship style that we might like.
No we go out into the world to tell others about Jesus Christ because we believe that in that telling we give something to people that they do not get anywhere else.
We do it because we believe that we have a saving message about Jesus Christ.
We do it because we believe that God is saving people all the time.

Saving people from having to pretend that they are something they are not.
God is saving people from having to feel judged by others.
Saving people from having to live up to the false standards of the world.
Saving people from themselves.
And God is setting them free, to love themselves, and to love others.

We believe that this congregation is here for a greater purpose then saving a building or preserving a legacy, however good those things might be.
We are here to share the message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
To share with all searching hearts the repentance that leads to true life.
Because when we do, when share the message of God’s grace with only one person and they understand that they are forgiven through Jesus, we do what the people at the Church in Jerusalem did we give thanks and praise to God.
We praise God that his arms of mercy and acceptance are wide and deep.
We praise God that his love is wide like the forest, deep like the ocean, beautiful like the sunrise.

One of the great questions throughout the Bible and especially in the book of Acts is how big and wide is God’s acceptance of other people.
Meaning people different then us.
And the answer over and over is that God’s love and his mercy knows no bounds.
That every person, every creature, every rock, hill, and blade of grass belongs to our God.
As Peter said this morning’s reading form Acts who are we to hinder God?
Who are we to hinder God to not share with all searching hearts the message of salvation in Jesus Christ?
That is our job to love others and to tell them about Jesus.

Now some of you might be thinking that it is easy for me to talk to strangers about God because I am a pastor.
It is true that because of that it sometimes opens up conversation like in the case of this woman cutting my hair.
But in some cases it is also a barrier.
People don’t want to be judged and they believe that pastors are judging them and so I have had cases where being a pastor has closed dialogue.
Not only that but people sometimes think that as a pastor my motives are not always pure.
In other words, I don’t care about them only getting them to come to church so I can have another person to put money in the offering plate.

I think the most powerful witness can come from those of you who are not pastors.
People can see in your lives the power of God to save.
They will hear in your stories how God is good and merciful.
I know that many of you share your faith with friends, co-workers, and your own family.
You do it in a way that shows God’s deep and rich mercy.

Not in a get to church or burn in hell kind of way.
But in a my faith is so important to me because God has saved my life kind of way.
That is all it takes from us to share our faith God does the rest.
All Peter had to do when he showed up was tell them about Jesus.
We are not out to win an argument about God, but to tell others about what God has done for us and our lives.
And then we let the Holy Spirit work.

That is really were the work is being done.
The Holy Spirit is working on people all the time, and the Holy Spirit is working on us too.
It is the Holy Spirit that put me in that chair to get my haircut, it is the Holy Spirit that helped me talk about my faith, and show care and concern for the young woman cutting my hair.
It will be the Holy Spirit molding and growing you that will lead you to share your faith in unsuspecting moments.
Just as the Holy Spirit led Peter to see no distinction between himself and the Gentiles.
Just as the Holy Spirit led the people at Caesarea to call on Peter to preach to them.
Just as the Holy Spirit gave Peter the words to say to the Gentiles so they would know they are saved.

Let us be led by the Holy Spirit to go out into the world, to share with others that they are saved through the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.