Monday, November 29, 2010

Be a Prophet!

When we start out in life none of us knows what will happen.
We don’t know the twist and turns, the ups and downs, the path that lies ahead.
We all could point to something in our lives that was unexpected that took us by surprise.
I was thinking about this week because it was my 10 year anniversary.
My wife and I were discussing what we thought might happen in the next 10 years.
What we agreed was that we had no idea.
The last 10 years was about twist and turns and living day to day.
It would be foolish to try and predict the next ten years.

This morning’s readings are about future events.
They are about things hoped for, things longed for, and dreams.
When will be that day of peace, when God will judge between nations, when swords will by beat into plowshares, when nations will no longer learn war?
When will be the day when all nations flow to the holy mountain of God?
When will be that day when we walk in the light of God?
When will be the day when Jesus comes again?
This is what advent is about waiting for that day.
Anticipating the day of spears becoming pruning hooks.
Of the prince of peace coming.
While we wait we need to be prophets of our own lives.
We need to see beyond today and into God’s promised future.

The job of a prophet is to be able to see through current circumstances into the promise of God’s future.
It is not about predicting future events, it is about reminding people of God’s promises.
Even though we don’t know what will be coming around the next twist and turn in the road, in faith we know that it will be God there with us.
Isaiah sees beyond the war torn predicament of Israel into the day when all nations come together under God’s rule.
Isaiah sees beyond the destruction and scheming of politicians to the day of peace for all.
Summarily, Jesus had a vision of God’s future, of a day of all things coming together.
He talked about it a lot.
He talked about the day when God’s kingdom would come to earth.
The problem is that Jesus is short on the details.
Gives no date or time, no predictable event, this morning he evens tells us that he does not know any more than we do when these things will happen.

And that is where we find ourselves in this advent.
We simply don’t know what will come next.
We don’t know if it will be joy or calamity.

This is why it is so fitting that James is going to be baptized on this first Sunday of Advent.
Here is a new life, and we don’t know yet what that life will be like.
We don’t know if all the things that his mom and dad have dreamed for him will become true.
We don’t know if he will be a lawyer, a doctor, a mill worker, a salesman, or whatever.
James’ life is yet to be written, it is yet to be seen.
Every day for him will be an adventure to what he someday might be.
We know that for him there will be twists and turns, ups and downs.

Today we can be assured of one more thing for James.
For the rest of his life he will have God as his companion.
In Baptism we receive the promise of God’s grace and love toward us.
What this does for James and for all of us is give us the ability to be prophets.
It gives us the ability to see beyond the moment we are in and toward a better day.
And there will be days in James life when he is going to have to see beyond the moment into what God is calling him to be.

When Jesus tells us to be ready.
This is what he is telling us.
Use the gifts of faith to see something greater at work in your life.

The world is full of stories where people started out doing something very small and it became something much greater.
For example, I once met a thirteen year old boy who was walking to school one day.
It was a day like all the other days.
He happened to see a man sleeping in the woods just beyond the sidewalk.
He also happened to notice that the man was cold because he did not have a blanket only newspaper to cover him.
He went home after school and took some blankets from his house to give to the homeless man.
Then he started to ask his friends and family for extra blankets.
Eventually he collected 100 blankets, and then 500.
He ended up forming his own charity that collects blankets for the homeless.
A small act of charity that ended up helping hundreds of people.
More than this it inspired people to be better, to hope more, to believe in the possibility of good.
It gave people a vision of a world where we help others, and that no one is too small or young to contribute.
It helped others see a way to beat a sword into a plowshare.

Perhaps that is what all of our lives are about beating swords into plowshares.
We have rough edges that kill others and our own lives.
And what God helps us do is beat those things down and smooth out our sharper edges.
This means taking the long view of life.
What we are today is not what we have to be tomorrow.
God will give us time to change to make ourselves better.
If we fail today we still have a chance to do better.

We see only in part.
We see finite things in this life.
And that is why we need the heart and mind of a prophet.
We need to see the bigger picture, the larger plan, the things that God will do through us.
In baptism we are called to that larger picture of God’s redeeming work in the world.
Through this water and God’s word we tie ourselves to Noah, Moses, the prophets, Jesus, the disciples, to our parents, our grandparents, and all those who have gone before us.
Our story becomes part of the narrative of God’s larger story.
Through James God is going to do something really wonderful and magnificent.
I have no idea what it will be, but I know that God will use James for a larger purpose then I or you can see.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Hoosiers.
It is about a small town basketball team that makes it to the state finals.
The actor who played the point guard in the movie was a local Indiana basketball player.
In real life he was a farmer.
His life took some unexpected turns.
He ended up getting divorced and then killing himself.
I don’t know all the reasons why someone would kill themselves.
I don’t know why this person killed himself.
I am sure that the reasons are complex.
His ex-wife had this to say about it, “that everything had gone right for him. He had a Midas touch. He didn't know what to do when adversity hit.”
It is important for us as human beings to be able to see beyond the twist and turns in the road.
Otherwise we get bogged down in the moment when things don’t go right, we get lost in the ways we fail, or in the way life does not measure up to our expectations.
We don’t give God a chance to change the course of our life for good.
It is important for us to be prophets and rely on God’s promises so that we give God a chance to beat those swords into plowshares.
We give God a chance to take our rough edges and make them into something good and useful.
Because we will experience some things in our lives that are not always good.
And it is important to see beyond them and see the larger picture.

So today I hope that James in his life learns to be a prophet.
I hope that he learns to rely on God’s word and is able to see the bigger picture.

May all of us learn to be prophets and see beyond the twist in turns in our paths, and may your path whatever they be always lead you to God.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If The World Seems Cold, Kindle A Fire To Warm It

A couple of years ago I was eating Chinese food for lunch.
And I did something I almost never do.
I saved my fortune that came out of my fortune cookie.
I lost it in our move here to New Hampshire from Long Island, but I still remember what it said.
I remember it because unlike the usual fortune cookie this one seemed to offer some sage spiritual advice.
It read, “If the world seems cold, kindle a fire to warm it.”
This seems like good advice to keep in mind as we head into these cold days of the winter season.
But deeper then that it seemed important because too often in this world we become cold and cynical about our lives, and the world we live in.
Maybe especially now in these economic times when everyday we wake up to bad economic news, especially in these bad times we might be tempted to be cynical and disheartened.
Everyday we hear some combination of bad economic news, the dow is down, inflation is coming, deflation is coming, highest unemployment in fourteen years, home foreclosures, home prices dropping, our state faces difficult financial decision ahead.
You all know this already, and as we enter this Thanksgiving season it might be even harder for us to find reasons to be thankful.
But in all circumstances of our lives it is important that we are thankful for what God has provided no matter how small.
Because being thankful leads to something so much more important and that is living thankful lives.
Being thankful leads us to an attitude that says when the world seems cold; I will kindle a fire to warm it.
When things are at there worst I will be at my best.
When things are the scariest I will be fearless.

As people of faith who live together in Concord we must be the leaders in our community to insist that we live in thanksgiving, that we light the fire of hope, love, and joy.

Did you know that the Thanksgiving Day we celebrate was really due to the efforts of one woman?
Her name was Sarah Hale.
She was the editor of Godey’s Lady’s book, a very popular publication of her time.
And for 36 years through five different presidential administrations she wrote about our countries need for national day of Thanksgiving.
This is what she wrote, “There is a deep moral influence in these periodical seasons of rejoicing in which whole communities participate. They bring out, and together, as it were the best sympathies in our natures.”
Sarah Hale believed that having a day to sit and contemplate all the good things we have in this life would help us to not only be thankful, but to live thankful lives.
She believed we could not hate our neighbors, cause wars, and be intolerant of one another if we rejoiced together in the gifts God has given us.
She was finally able to convince Abraham Lincoln to create a national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Lincoln too was convinced that Thanksgiving could have a positive effect on a country that was divided and about to start a civil war.
In the darkest and coldest hour of our country Sarah Hale decided to light a fire.
And that fire lives on today, as we will gather later today in our homes with those we love and care about to celebrate and give thanks for all God has given us.

Thanksgiving is so much more then merely giving thanks because it is during this season that we are moved more then ever to give of ourselves.
We give food to the needy, clothes to the homeless, and shelter to the lost.
On Thanksgiving I am always overwhelmed with all the good things God has done in my life.
And that motivates me to pass those blessings on to others who are in need.
Thinking about what we are thankful for motivates us to live lives that are thankful.
What I wish for our community here in Concord is that we learn to live Thanksgiving everyday, and we act towards one another in a spirit of thankfulness.

This morning I would like us to contemplate together some of the ways that we might live Thanksgiving.
If we live in thankfulness, we can see in one another God.
As we heard from Psalm 65, everything in the world belongs to God.
“You crown the year with your bounty, the pastures overflow and the hills clothed with joy.”
Across our faith traditions we share a fundamental belief that God made the world, that God created us, and that every human life is sacred because it is created by God.
We should be Thankful for our lives, but we should also be thankful for the lives of others.
Because I can not succeed without you.
In Concord across race, religion, nation, and anything else we can think of that might divide us, we are one in our common humanity.
In each person God has placed something of value and of richness.
I happen to be a Christian, but for us Christians it is true that we are called to see the sacred beauty and wonder in each person.
Jesus tells us that when we help those in need, visit the sick or the imprisoned we do these things for Jesus himself.
Therefore everyone in this community must be given value and worth, and as people of faith we must seek the best for our neighbors.
In living Thanksgiving we live with idea that all of our lives are tied together.
Just as the pilgrims learned they could not succeed without the help and advice of their Native American neighbors, we can not live without the help and advice of one another.

Living Thanksgiving means that we take nothing for granted.
We give thanks not to ourselves, our own industry, our own abilities, but as people of faith we give thanks to God.
Our God makes all things possible, and gives us every good thing.
Therefore I think we are able to see the larger picture, and have a deeper compassion for those who are left out.
In our community we must continue to help those who are being left out.
The family whose home is being for closed, the immigrant who cuts our lawns, the refugee searching for safety and a new home, the day worker who builds our homes, the single mom struggling to make ends meet, the drug addict, the person dying of cancer.
All of these are God’s and their failure is not merely loss of fortitude, it is circumstances that conspire against people to ruin lives.
We can never lose our compassion for such people.
Across our faith traditions is the mandate to care for the least in our society.
And living thanksgiving means we understand that everything we might have is only given by the grace and mercy of God.
It is not given for us to horde, but to share with all in need.

We live thanksgiving when we put away cynicism.
If we see all things in our life as gifts from God, if we see our community as something to celebrate, if we see our neighbors as friends, then we can not feel cynical about the world.
I sometimes read in the comments section of the Concord Monitor online people describe our community and our world as if it is a lost cause.
As if we once lived in some utopian dream and now we live in a world of despair.
But remember this is the world that I now live in; it is the world I am bringing my children up in.
And it is the world that was past on to me.
Is not that world worth fighting for, worth struggling to make better.
Living Thanksgiving is about having hope that what God once created God will continue to make better.
Being thankful for our lives means we no longer live in cynicism but in hope.
We share in our faiths a hope that God will make everything right; hope that our fellow human beings are at their core good.
We as people of faith have to lead the way in this community in spreading hope.

There are lots of bad things happening in the world, but there is also lots of good.
Think of all the good that happens in our community every day.
The Friendly kitchen offers a warm meal in a welcoming environment, First and South Congregational give shelter to the homeless during the coldest months, Rise Again offers clothing and other necessities, Friends of Forgotten Children give so much, every year we have the CROP walk that helps hungry people all over the world.
I could go on and on…
We don’t hear the good stuff enough; because we are too busy complaining.
We are too busy concentrating on the few bad seeds that ruin it for the majority of people in our community who want to live in peace.
We should all be thankful that we live in this wonderful community.
This community with its diversity, its commitment to learning, its parks, it fine public servants, and its spiritual houses of worship.
How can we be cynical about such a community like Concord?
But even if you are cynical my advice to you is the same as the Fortune I received from that Fortune cookie, “If the world seems cold, kindle a fire to warm it.”

The great thing about our country is that all of us have an opportunity and a responsibility to not merely watch things happens to us, but to participate and act to change and right the wrongs.
We have the ability and freedom to not only be thankful, but to live out our thankfulness everyday.
When we live in Thanksgiving we light a fire to warm this cold world with love, hope, and joy.
May all of us this Thanksgiving be blessed, and ready to live each day thankful to God for everything we have.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welcomed by God

When I was an intern the church I served had a nursery school and every morning the kids would gather and we would sing songs, read Bible stories, and pray.
Often we would sing the song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
And every time we would sing that song we would sing the verse with each kid in it.
He’s got Jacob in his hands…He’s got Jacob in his hands…He’s got the whole world in his hands.
And every time the kids as we sang this song would shake their heads no.
I wonder if we sometimes feel this way.
That our lives are carried away by forces greater than us, but that it could not be God.
Today is Christ in the King Sunday and what it is about is recognizing that God has the whole world in his hands…that God has all of us in God’s hands.
Because as it says in Colossians this morning” And through Jesus Christ God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”

For the last three weeks we have been talking about what it means to live as ourselves in God’s grace.
We heard that God’s grace frees us to be who we are as we are, and that we are given the power to live as saints, that God’s grace means living without fear.
We end our sermon series in an appropriate place talking about the reign of Jesus.
Today we will be talking about Jesus as our King.
We have to say up front that this is really hard to talk about.
It is hard to talk about because we simply do not have any experience with Kings.
The first time I was the pastor during a Christ the King Sunday I made the mistake of asking the kids at the children’s sermon if they could name any Kings?
After a long silence finally one kid blurted out, “Burger King”.
After another long silence another kid said, “King Kong?”
It was apparent that they did not know any Kings.
In America where we rejected the rule of Kings from the outset we have not known a King since George III.
So why do we have this as part of our liturgical year?

In 1925 after the First World War in response to over secularization and nationalization the Church decided that people needed to be reminded about who ruled their lives.
We all have something that rules our lives.
Most of the time we don’t recognize those things, we don’t name them.
We pledge allegiance to our country, to our freedom, to our ability to make and spend money.
Christ the King attempts to get us to recognize the true source of lives.
That Jesus is ruler of heaven and earth, and ruler of our lives.
That when we say that God has the world in his hands we can say yes with confidence.
This is a hard concept for us because Americans don’t want to admit that we are ruled by anything, or that anything but our individual choice is in charge of our lives.

But Jesus rule is not like those other things that rule us without us knowing it.
Jesus rule is about something more.
It is about something deep in us, around us, through us.
In naming it, in giving our lives over to it, we don’t become slave but become free.
The popular image of church is that it is the place we come to be told what not to do.
It is where we come to be told who we can have sex with and at what time, where we should spend our money, what kinds of words and actions are expected of us in a civilized society.
I disagree.
Church is where we come to be welcomed, to be free, to be ourselves, to live in God’s grace.
It is the one place in this world where I am truly myself.
And today Jesus welcomes you into paradise as yourself.
On the cross Jesus welcomes a criminal, a guilty man into paradise with him.
On the cross Jesus ask for forgiveness of those who are mocking him, crucifying him.
Think about that act.
I have trouble sometimes forgiving people who mess up my order at a restaurant.
Jesus forgives those who kill him.
And today Jesus welcomes you, forgives you, and sets you free.

I would like for us to think about the criminal on the cross for one minute.
The one who Jesus welcomes into paradise.
Here is this criminal who was free to steal and kill, and do whatever he wanted to do in this life.
But in summiting to Jesus he becomes welcomed and truly free.
Freedom is not about being able to do whatever we want whenever we want.
Freedom is about giving our lives over to others, to God.
It is an interesting paradox.
In searching for who we are we only find it in submitting our lives to others.
This is what faith gives us.
It gives us a place to live free.

Jesus as King is not about demanding things from us but rather about inviting us into something greater then we can imagine.
It is about a Kingdom of grace, not about the rules that we know in this world.
It is about a Kingdom where grace is operating all the time.
The Kingdom is about a father who makes a fool of himself by running after both his legalistic son and runaway son.
A woman who throws a big party after finding one coin.
A Shepherd willing to leave 99 sheep to find one.
A Samaritan willing to risk his own life for someone he should dislike.
A worker who gets equal pay for less work.
The Kingdom is about you and me this morning.
It is about this time right here that we share together.
The kingdom is about this time, this one hour, where we are welcomed by Jesus into paradise.
If you want to know what God’s kingdom looks like look around.
Because this hour we recognize that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and we surrender our lives to that truth.

I think to some people this is a very hard thing to explain.
How does coming to Church give us freedom?
We have to wake up early on Sunday, fight with the kids to get in the car, come and sing songs we might not like and listen to a sermon that might put us to sleep or wish that we were asleep.
How does it benefit me to serve on a committee, or work to make the church better?
How does it help my life to be involved in a faith community where I have to give my money, time, and energy, when I can worship God anywhere at any time?
It seems to most that we are locking ourselves into a life of slavery.

Those of us who have been involved in the Church our whole lives know better.
In submitting to the one who died for us we have been freed from all the other things that pull and tear us apart.
We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away or defiled.
Our money will someday be gone, our careers will someday be over, our kids will someday grow up and move out (hopefully), our parents will someday die, political ideologies and parties will change, our sports coaches will someday retire.
One thing will remain constant Jesus will always be there for us.
Even while dying on the cross Jesus thoughts were not about himself but about us.
Jesus was thinking about our salvation or need.
Whatever happens in our lives Jesus is the one thing that we will be able to count on and know.
And the Church is the place we were experience and know that permanent invitation of welcome.
Today you will be with me in paradise.
Today we are forgiven and welcomed into new kingdom of grace.
Today we can be with Jesus in paradise, simply by submitting to God’s grace and love.
Nothing else needs to be done on our part just by being ourselves we are receiving the welcome of God.

God has the whole world in his hands…
Yes it is true!
Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth and we are welcomed to participate in this kingdom of grace.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Be Not Afraid!

Have you ever had one of those weeks when all you received was bad news?
I had one of those weeks.
It was filled with one bad thing after another.
It was filled with bad news about death, sickness, and destruction.
My week was filled with stories of a husband that allegedly killed his wife and daughter, a former co-worker of my wife’s that was hit by a truck, a colleague whose house caught on fire and husband lost his job.
Yesterday was a great day until I received the news that my godfather was dying.
It is weeks like this that make me yearn for the end.
The end of the struggles that we face in this life.
An end to the bad news that often crawls across our televisions on a nightly basis.
It makes me want to shout out “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is what the end of the world is about.
It is about our desire to have God come and take over for good.
It is about our desire for the hardships and heartache to end and for us to live fully with God.

All end of the world literature is written by people who are facing extremely difficult situations.
The book of Revelation for example is written by a community of people being persecuted by the Roman Empire because of their Christian faith.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus talk about the end.
He is talking to a community that will face extremely difficult times.
It is a community that will see the Roman Empire destroy the Temple in 70 AD.
Jesus words are meant to be of comfort to a community in fear and disarray.
“do not be terrified” Jesus tells his disciples.
Jesus tells them that he will give them the words they need to have to defend their faith.
Jesus tells them that although they will be hated and reviled they will gain their souls.
When we read these words about the end time our imagination gets ahead of us and we focus in on the horrors of wars, earthquakes, famines, plaques, and dreadful portions.
There have been lots of books written about the end of the world and how horrible it will be.
We have the obsession with focusing on the end of the world and making ourselves and others afraid of it.
It would be better if we focused on what Jesus tells us about living in times of wars, earthquakes, famines, plaques, and dreadful portions.
In such times we should focus on not being afraid.
Passages like this bring us fear and dread, but their intention is to bring us comfort and hope.
The Gospel is not about fear and dread but about Good News that is brought to us by Jesus Christ.

So on weeks were bad news is all around us.
On weeks when nothing seems to go our way perhaps we should remember that in all these things God is there with us.
Perhaps instead of focusing on what awful things went wrong we should remember that these things are inevitable in our world.
There are wars, earthquakes, famines, and plaques.
There always has been.

We would be hard pressed to remember a time when we were not threatened with something.
There was never an idyllic time or place to be alive.
Each generation faces its own difficulties.
In generations passed some of you fought against fascism, economic depression, in the cold war we fought against communism and lived under the fear of nuclear annihilation.
Recently, we have been fighting against terrorism.
Against fanatics hell bent on destroying people to bring fear into our hearts.
Thomas Friedman in the New York Times last Sunday wrote in an Op-ed that we have been lucky that five terror plots have not succeeded in the last year.
“But one of these days, our luck is going to run out because the savage madness emanating from Al Qaeda, from single individuals it inspires over the Web and from its different franchisees — like the branches in Yemen and Iraq — is only increasing.” Friedman ominously predicts.
We live under constant threat.

Into the midst of the threat of terrorism Jesus comes and tells us not to be terrified.
In the Gospel this morning Jesus is discussing all of the things he knows his disciples will face.
Jesus is talking to us about all the things we will face too.
And telling us not to be afraid, not to let those things overtake us.
Because what Jesus calls us to in these times, as in all times, is faithful living in the midst of difficult times.
Faithful living involves witnessing to our faith, and helping others not to be afraid.
This week on more than one occasion I have offered prayers and thoughts to those whose lives have been turned upside down by death, sickness, economic travesty.
I believe in those prayers, because I have faith that God will not let a hair on our heads perish.
I have faith that God is with us all the time and there is no reason to be afraid.
We can face all the things that come at us in life because God is always with us.
This is the true comfort that Jesus offers us today.
He is not trying to scare the disciples, but tell them that in the midst of horrible things he will be there with them.
That is what faith is about.
Trusting in God even among difficult and contradictory times.
Living in fear of the end times is not a real faith it leads us to stop living.

In 1533 in Wittenberg Germany a preacher by the name of Michael Stifiel who was also a mathematician told people that he had figured out that the world was going to end at 8:00 am on October 19, 1533.
All of the people of Wittenberg believed him and spent the last week eating and drinking everything in town.
On that morning they all gathered at the Castle Church to wait for the end times.
It didn’t happen, and Michael Stifiel was put in the Castle jail for his own protection because the towns people of Wittenberg were so upset that they had squandered everything they had that they wanted to kill him.
Having the end of the world as the focus of our faith leads us to do some pretty crazy things.
Instead the focus on our faith should always be the present moment, the task at hand, and the thing in our lives that God has called us to at this moment.
Our faith should always be focused on the comfort Jesus brings to us in uncertain and difficult times.

The end of the world is not our concern because we don’t control it.
Jesus knows this and it is why he does not directly answer when the disciples ask for more specifics.
“When will this be?”
They ask Jesus.
We don’t know.
And we shouldn’t, instead we should live today with the faith that all things lie in God’s hands.
Martin Luther supposedly once said, “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!”
It was a statement of faith in God.
That we should not fear but live in the promise of God, live with knowledge that God is always with us and keeping us.
As Martin Luther said in a sermon on the end of the world, “now we journey and know not just whither; yet we put our confidence in God, and rest in his keeping, and our faith abides in all its dignity.”

If you are having a bad week, a bad day, a bad year.
If you are afraid at what the world has become or what it will become.
Listen to Jesus, “do not be terrified.”
Instead live right now today and in faith trust the future to God.
And everything will be fine.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Forgiven Saints

Since today is All Saints Sunday I looked up what the criteria was for becoming an official saint like St. Francis.
I thought that we would go over it together in case anyone here wanted to try and become a saint.
First, you have to die.
Then people who thought you were extra Holy when you were alive have to pray to you.
And then you have to perform a miracle.
And then you have to perform another miracle.
Finally, after all this is verified then you can become a saint.
I think it is a pretty complex process.
I like Martin Luther’s definition much better, “A saint is someone forgiven by Jesus Christ.”
By that criteria everyone in worship this morning is a saint.
It is why we read that long list of people’s loved ones this morning.
Not because they were perfect people who always did the right thing.
But because they were people that had faith in God, and taught us about faith.
Saints of God given that title not by their deeds but by the virtue of being forgiven by God.

St. Paul tells us this morning in his letter t the Ephesians that we are given an inheritance.
Each of us have been given by God something so wonderfully magnificent that it is more important than any amount of money that our parents could give us.
It is an inheritance that gives us the power to live for the praise and glory of God.
That is what I would like us to focus on this morning the immeasurable power that God gives to us.
We don’t really talk about it enough.
I for the last two weeks have been reminding everyone that they are sinners.
Today I want to remind you of the other side of the coin.
Each of you are also saints.
All of you have an immeasurable power.
Power to love, to forgive, to teach, to lead, to be the people of God.
It is not a power that you can conjure up, but one that is given to you by God.
I bet that the saints that have gone before us could tell us about that power.
They would tell us that having Jesus in their life gave them the ability to face hardships.
They will tell us that having Jesus in their life gave them the ability to give their love to others.
They will tell us that having Jesus in their life made it possible to get out of bed each morning with joy in their heart.
They will tell us that having Jesus in their life made it possible to hope for a better tomorrow.

Think about the people in your life who have shared God’s love with you.
Maybe your grandmother, or aunt, or teacher, or pastor, or parent, or friend.
What they will have in common is that you felt the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through them.
When you were with them you felt that power.
You felt like nothing could go wrong.
It was not them it was God’s inheritance that gave them this power.

Do not be fooled because you all have it, in your baptisms God gave it to you.
Who have you been an example to in your faith journey?
What youth have you taken time to talk to and take an interest in?
What person have you taken time to share God’s love with?

In this congregation there are so many people doing such powerful work.
For example, there is a team of people working with a refuge family in Concord.
This team of people is inspirational to me.
The time they put in to help, the way that they are making a difference in the life of this family, the love that they are showing, and the care they are spreading.
To me they are doing more than merely driving someone from place to place, or showing a new family how to navigate the system.
They are participating in God’s power.
By sharing themselves they are welcoming new people into our community, they are giving love and care.
It has been a wonderful thing to be a part of, and an outstanding testament to the power of God.
This is what we are about together living out our faith by showing others the power of God.

On the one hand our life together as a faith community is about forgiveness we offer to each other.
On the other hand it is also about living in the power of God by doing things that show’s others God’s love.
Those things have an effect on people it matters.
It matters to young people when we take time to share God’s love with them.
It matters to refugees when we show them that they are welcome in the city of Concord.
It matters to an elderly person when we take time to listen to their stories.
It matters to God that we use our power to help others.

Yesterday, at the youth event we had at our congregation that brought together youth from Lutheran Churches in Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire the youth made foot prints that I have left on the floor for you to see this morning.
They wrote on one foot someone who taught them about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
And on the other they wrote what inspires them to share the Good News with others.
The youth had various answers some wrote their parents, some pastors, some other adults they had known.
We all have had these people in our lives.
We all have Saints who have shared their faith with us in powerful ways that make us who we are today.
We all walk in the footsteps of other saints who have trod this way before.
Walking in the footsteps of the Saints gives us the assurance that we don’t walk alone.
We always walk with others, behind others, in front of others, and most importantly we walk with God.

This speaks to the power of God in our lives.
That God sends us people to teach us about faith, and inspires us to continue sharing the power of that faith with others.
This morning I want us to think of the names that we read at the beginning of worship this morning.
How they taught us and inspired us to know God’s power.
Today we stand in that company of saints and we receive the inheritance of faith.

That faith is not only for dead people but for us who are alive now
Saints are not only dead people.
Paul calls people in the church who are alive saints as well.
In our lives now we live as saints in the power of God.
This week think of the people on that list that taught you about Jesus.
Think about the power that had in your life.
And then think about how this week you are going to share with others the power of Jesus Christ in your life.
This week look for the ways that God is inspiring you to continue to be the saint that you are.
This week use the power of God to show others the Good News.

We have been given an inheritance.
It is the grace of God.
Because of that every day we have the power to love others.
Every day we have the power to be a Saint of God and inspire someone else in their lives of faith.
This is what it means to be the body of Christ.
As we live as God’s people and are the Church we share God’s power.
Let us go forth and inspire others so they might know the power of God.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Free To Be

On any given day there are about three areas of my life that I have been called by God to pay attention to.
I have been called to be a pastor, a father, and a husband.
There are other things that come into my life from time to time.
I have to be a good friend, an uncle, a brother, and a son.
But pastor, father and husband are the most pressing on a daily basis.
The truth is that most days I fail at all three.
On really good days I can get two out of three.
Very rarely am I great at all three.
Truth is that on any given day I fail to be a good pastor.
I am sure there are people in worship this morning who I have failed at some point.
I didn’t do what you thought I should do, I didn’t do what you wanted me to do, I didn’t live up to whatever standard you had for me.
More than this on any given day I have not lived up to the standard that God has for me.
I didn’t use my time wisely, I didn’t speak in the best way possible, or I didn’t get to that thing that has been sitting on my desk for a month.
Thankfully our congregation is about forgiveness and love; I depend on that every day in our ministry together.
Even if I am not a perfect pastor I feel that this congregation loves me anyway.
And I don’t expect any of you to be perfect either; I love you not in spite of your imperfection but because of it.
It is our imperfections that make us who we are.
It is our imperfections that make us children of God forgiven and loved.

You can ask my wife and she will tell you that on any given day I am not the greatest husband in the world.
I didn’t remember that we were supposed to go out this weekend.
I didn’t go to a family event because I had to be a church for some meeting.
At night when my wife is talking about her day I was too busy watching the television to give her the attention she deserves.
Yet my wife and I made a commitment to one another to love each other even or maybe especially when we are imperfect.
I rely on her forgiveness and love every day.

My kids will tell you that I lose my temper sometimes.
That on any given day I am not as patient as I should be, that I am not as an attentive father as I should be.
A couple of weeks ago after taking my daughter with me to the store I went in the house and was continuing on with my day.
My wife asked me where was Phoebe.
I said she is in the play room.
A couple of minutes later we hear the car horn beeping.
I had left her in the car.
She was crying terribly scared that I had left her in the car for good.
I felt so bad.
I told my wife, “I guess there will be no father of the year award for me.”
Yet, when I come home from work my kids are there running towards me waiting to give me a big hug.
I depend on their unconditional love.

What about you?
What is it that you feel ashamed of in your life?
What are the areas of your life that you fail at?
Today we are invited by Jesus to lay those things down.
We are invited put all sin on Jesus and allow him to make us free.
“If the son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Today we are invited to think of ourselves not as slaves to shame, failure, and guilt, but as heirs to God’s love and forgiveness.
Jesus invites us to have a permanent place in the household of God, not because we got it all together, but because of God’s love.
We are invited to see ourselves free from sin and living with Jesus in his word.
Ultimately it is living with Jesus that we experience that unconditional love that we need in our lives.

Jesus tells us today that when we know the truth it will set us free.
This is why I started this morning talking about the ways we fail.
Because that is the truth about our lives.
We often fail.
As St. Paul tells us this morning, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
And we know it.
We feel the shame, the guilt, and that sense of loss.
It would not do any of us any good to get stuck in that place.
We would end up a slave to our shame, guilt, and sin and this is why we need Jesus in our lives because Jesus helps us move beyond that to a better place.
Jesus tells us that God loves us not in spite of that sin, but precisely because of it.

Jesus tells us that this truth it leads to freedom.
“You will know the truth and it will set you free.”
To know that we fail does not lead us to despair.
It leads us into the arms of God.
It allows us to simply be.
I am not perfect and I know it.

This is how we live truly enriching lives.
God’s grace is what helps me wake up every morning and try again.
Try to be a better pastor, father and husband.
With God we don’t have to pretend who we are.
We don’t have to worry about what we have done.
Instead we can simply be ourselves.
We are free to just be.

Knowing Jesus allows us to get beyond the shame, guilt, and worry.
And allows us to live in forgiveness, joy, love, and hope.
I am convinced that people who have been down and out know this better than anyone.
Talk sometime to a recovering alcoholic or drug addict and they will tell you that it was only when they admitted their powerlessness that they came to truly be free.
For example, Judy who was 45 when I met her told me about how she lived a life a slave to her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
She will tell you that she did everything in her power to get drugs and alcohol.
She lied, cheated, and stole mostly from people who loved her.
But by the grace of God she came to realize that she was a slave.
After she lost everything her home, family, friends, and job she realized that she needed God in her life.
After finding God she got sober, she asked for forgiveness.
She found in her life that unconditional love that she wanted so badly.
And now she is free to live, free to help others, free to love herself and others, free from the shame she always felt about her past.

It is not always in such dramatic ways that God comes to us and frees us.
It is a million small ways every day.
When we mess up at work, or offend our best friend with poorly chosen words, when we squander the gifts we have been given.
God is there not with harsh words, but with love and forgiveness.

Yesterday I got to go and give a message in the parking lot near the Friendly Kitchen our soup kitchen in town.
Because our congregation had recently collected thermal underwear the Reach for Hope bus had invited me to come and see how they helped homeless people in our community.
What I saw was lots of people wanting a relationship with Jesus.
What I saw was people trying to be free.

The people from Reach for Hope are trying to start a homeless church for homeless people.
Because many of the homeless don’t feel welcomed in our churches.
They feel that if they come to church they will be judged.
This is sad because many of them desire to grow in their relationship with Jesus.
Church should be that place that we are able to bring our failures.
It is the one place we should be able to be ourselves.
Because here we experience not judgment but love and forgiveness.
Freedom in Christ means letting go of our shame and living as ourselves for others.
It means that we don’t have to live under the law, but under the freedom of grace and love of neighbor.
It is because of Jesus that I get to be and love.

Today we celebrate the reformation.
We celebrate the freeing of the Gospel to be heard and preached.
But more than this today like every Sunday we celebrate the reforming that happens in our lives every day.
We celebrate that Jesus Christ is working on us and reforming us all the time.
Jesus is taking our lives and freeing us from sin.
That doesn’t mean we won’t sin it means that we are free from the effects of sin.
We are free from the shame, anger, and resentment that comes from realizing we don’t always have it together.

Some of you hear this morning might be wondering how this can be possible.
Is it possible to live without shame, fear, guilt, and resentment?
It is possible when we remain in a relationship with the Son.
Continuing to read and hear his word helps us remain in that relationship.
Our relationship with Jesus is one of constant growth.
It is a relationship not based on what we do, but who we are.
We are heirs of God’s promise, children of God.
Therefore we are free to love our neighbors and ourselves.
We are free to be.

This week when you fail remember that there is unconditional love in Jesus Christ.
When others fail remember to offer forgiveness to them as God has given it to you.
Don’t live in shame and guilt, but in grace and hope.

This morning we leave here not slaves, but heirs of the promise of God given in Jesus Christ.
We leave here free to be.
Free to be loved and forgiven.