Monday, July 19, 2010

Keep the Core, Change Everything Else.

This week I am having the joy of being the Chaplain at Camp Calumet.
It is a place that has meant a lot to my faith journey over the years.
Since I have been on Long Island for the last six years I have not been able to be the chaplain at Camp Calumet and see the day to day operations.
In the two days I have been here so far I have come to see that some things stay the same and some things change.
Camp is still enthusiastic, energetic, beautiful, and filled with young people finding faith and making friends.
These things have not changed and are ingrained into the DNA of this very special place.
Some things have changed.
Free period is now before lunch instead of before dinner.
The day starts with "Ra, Ray, Ray Theme of the Day", instead of quiet time.
Unit time is after discovery time, which in my day used to be called learning groups.
These are improvements.
I see more counselors doing better discovery times then when I was a counselor.
I see more kids participating in free time.
I see lots of improvements.

The point is that this is the way The Church should and could be.
Instead of arguing over what color paint the new bathroom should be.
We should be figuring out what are the things that are core to what and who we are.
We should also figure out what is it that we could or should change because things run better when we change them.
What is core to us as Christians is the grace and love of God of given in Jesus Christ.
What can change is the all the other stuff.
We change things not for the sake of change but because things might run better if we try a different path.

In fact, this can also be true of our individual lives.
What are the things that are core to who we are?
What are the things that we could/should change so that our lives are more fulfilling?
Some things should stay the same.
Some things should be ingrained in our DNA.
Other things, well...they should be up for and welcome change so that things run a bit smoother.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Ditch Effort

One of the hard things about preaching this summer is that all the Gospel readings we are going to encounter are about discipleship.
This is hard only because I try in my preaching to vary the message so that some weeks we hear Jesus tell us hard truths about our behavior, and other weeks we can simply bask in the glow of God’s grace together.
I don’t think that every week we come to worship we need to hear about how much we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, or how much more we need to do for Jesus.
Although, those sermons have their time and place (I have preached them before and will again) I think that we can have too many of them.
So today when the story of the Good Sanitarian was our Gospel reading I wanted to find some other way into the story.
By now we have all heard the sermon on having mercy for everyone regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
So this morning I want us to examine a character in the story that we often ignore.
I want us to think about the man who fell among the robbers, was beaten, and left for dead.
I want us to think about this man who is lying in a ditch and is about to die.
It might be easy for us to think of ourselves as the “Hero” of this story.
We want to think of ourselves as the privileged person who can come and save those hurting.
As Americans we love a story about a hero who saves the day and helps the little guy.
But sometimes in our lives we are not the hero.
In fact, I bet that all of us have that moment.
The ditch moment.
We all have that moment when everything in our lives seems hard, or lost, or just not right.
We all have had that moment when things seem to go from bad to worse.

I know that some of you who are here this morning are dealing with some really hard things in life.
Some of you are dealing with aged parents who you have to take care of.
Some of you are dealing with serious medical conditions.
Some of you are dealing with loss of a job.
Some of you are dealing with pretty heavy life changes.
This morning might be your ditch moment.
And perhaps you are trying on last ditch effort to get your life back on track.
But here is where out man in the ditch comes in.
He is in the ditch robbed, beaten, and left for dead.
There is no more ditch efforts on his part.
All he has is to rely on the mercy of those that are passing by on the road.
He had to put his life into the hands of others.
That is the only chance he has.
Perhaps for us we don’t do this enough.
We fully believe that we can simply make it on our own.
We can find a way out of no way.
In the process of doing that we miss the opportunity to rely on the mercy of others.
Our last ditch effort is one of surrender.
Surrendering into the mercy of God, into the love that others people show us.
When we surrender we give others the opportunity to shine.
We give God a chance to work in our lives.

This week I was in line at a gas station to buy a cup of tea.
The woman in front of me told me I could go ahead of her because I had only one item.
Trying to be the hero I told her that she only had three items and it was no big deal.
Then she said, “Have you ever had a really bad day and being nice to someone was a way to make it better. That is all I am trying to do. I thought by letting you go first my day would be a little better.”
I went first.
Allowing others to give of themselves enriches everyone.
Thank God that we are not created to be self sufficient.
Thank God that everyday in ways we don’t even fully understand we have to rely on the mercy of others.

What happens to us when we forget this is bad for us.
What if the man in the ditch had told the Samaritan, “No thanks I will find a way out of this myself.”
He would have died.
No other way.
His last ditch effort was to rely on the mercy of this stranger.
We too do well to rely on the mercy of others.
We do well to let go and surrender ourselves to God’s grace and love.
Not doing so leads us to look down on others who need help.
I hear people say this a lot.
I hear people talk about how self-sufficient they are and how they made it without anyone helping them, or making exceptions for them.
I remember this one woman who came here from Russia telling me that we should not help new immigrants because no one helped her and she made it all on her own.
The truth is that she did rely on others.
Someone else paid for her to get to the United States after WWII.
Her aunt and uncle allowed her to live in their house.
A friendly neighbor would help her learn English at night after the kids had gone to bed.
She was not as self-reliant as she thought, but for some reason she could not have mercy on others who simply needed the same kind of help she had received.

We forget that all of us depend upon other people for our lives.
All of us would not be here if not for the mercy of our parents.
We would not survive on a daily basis unless others gave us a hand.
We are all in that ditch.
We are all robbed, beaten, and left for dead.
But then God sends us neighbors.
God sends us other people that stop what they are doing.
They take time to listen, to bandage our wounds and help us to safety.
They give time, energy, and money to make us better.
What a great gift from God.

This week think of all things that you rely on others for.
For example, when you are at the supermarket think of all the people that have had to work very hard so you can go and buy that food you are going to eat.
Think of the person who keeps care of the animals, or the person who slaughters them, or the person who works behind the counter to make sure the meat stays fresh.
Think of the people who are growing the fruit and vegetables we eat.
This is just one small example, I am sure you can think of a million others.

We are not always the hero, sometimes we are the victim.
Sometimes we are the ones crying from the ditch for others to come by and notice our pain.
Sometimes we need saving.

God has provided you today with a neighbor.
God has provided someone to do God’s work on earth.
So that when we are in that ditch someone will be there to bandage our wounds, and take us to a safe place.

Jesus in this wonderfully rich and powerful parable shows us more than merely a morality play on the way Christians should behave in the world; he gives us an example of God’s love and concern for us.
God will not pass us by.
God will be there for us in our ditch moments.
God will lift us up and get us to safety.

This week I got a Facebook message from a friend who is going through some really hard things death, sickness, and feeling like God has left him to die.
“I am trying to find this god who is so good.”
He wrote.
Jesus this morning shows us that God’s actions come through mercy and love of others.
The answer Jesus gives the lawyer is that God’s actions are shown through the mercy and love of neighbors.
Of one person to another.
God’s love and mercy was being poured out to my friend through a Facebook conversation of one friend to another showing love by being concerned.
It is not so much that God will miraculously cure all of our diseases; it is that God’s mercy comes when we surrender and experience in others God’s compassionate heart.

Today is our last ditch effort.
Today is our day to surrender.
Today is our day to give up trying to be the hero all the time and to start living in the ditch by giving our lives over to God and one another.