Monday, June 25, 2012

Paul McCartney Turns 70!!!??

Can you believe that Paul McCartney turned 70 this week?
It seems incomprehensible to me.
I wasn’t a teenager when the Beatles came to America.
In fact, by the time I was born in 1973 they had already broken up.
But to me they will always be young.
The Beatles are meant to be young.
They are meant to be captured in a moment in time.
Up on stage singing, “Love me do.”
Leading a cultural revolution with the way they dress, sing, and act.
But now Sir Paul is 70 years old.
I guess we should celebrate because he outlived John and George.
He is one of only two left of that era.
But there is something to the idea that our heroes should stay young forever.
They shouldn’t grow up.
They shouldn’t die.
We hear a lot about storms of life.
How we pass through them, and survive.
But we don’t talk enough about life.
We don’t talk enough in the Church about the passing of time, about the transitions that make us who we are.
How do we mark the time?
One way is to see those around us grow and change.
One way we mark time is through the transitions of our lives.

I was thinking about Paul McCartney this week and how there will never again be something like the Beatles.
That was a once in a lifetime moment.
Music nowadays is so much more prolific, so much more diversified.
We are moving into uncharted territory.
The biggest selling album of 2011 was Adele’s album 21.
Consider that she sold 10 million copies, but there are over 300 million people in the United States.
Consider that the US population in 1967 was just over 198 million.
Sgt. Pepper sold 11 million albums in 1967 in the US.
Which means it reached a larger portion of the population.
Not to mention that Rock-n-Roll was in its infancy in 1967.
There weren’t all the genres and sub-genres of music there are today.
Beatle mania was about the moment in time.

The same is true for the Church.
There are moments of time that capture our imagination.
There are moments of transition, things that we look back on as once in a lifetime occurrences.
For example, there will never be another reformation.
That was about a specific moment in time, and it changed everything for the Church.
Today we have so many denominations that are part of the heritage that came out of the reformation.
We will never have another reformation, but we will have something else.
Some other thing will happen in the Church.
What will it be?

Today’s Gospel lesson is about transitions.
We have heard this Gospel before and we have heard the sermon about maintaining faith amongst the storms of our lives.
In fact, I have given that sermon on more than one occasion.
But today I want us to see the story from a slightly different angle.
The story is about the importance of the times of transitions.
How they prepare us for the next shore line.
Something was happening in life and ministry of Jesus.
At this point in Mark’s Gospel we are still in the beginning stages of that ministry.
Jesus disciples know that something is up but they are not sure exactly what is going on.
They don’t know that they are in the middle of some extraordinary changes.
The story of the calming of the storm happens in this transition time.
It happens as Jesus and his disciples are moving from the relative comfortable setting of Galilee to the “other side” of Gerasene.
The Gerasene side is unknown.
It is hostile territory.
I wonder if the disciples are feeling restless and uneasy about being taken to Gentile country.
The story of Jesus calming the sea is about Jesus assurance that even in this transition time, even in the uneasy moments Jesus is still in charge.
There is nothing to fear.

The Church is going through major tectonic shifts.
It is being driven by what Leonard Sweet has called the “perfect storm” of influence.
We live in a post-Christian, Post-modern, and post-human world.
Post-Christian because Christendom is dying, we no longer live in a world where we can expect that Christianity will be the dominant force in our culture or politics.
Post-modern because we no longer live in a world where we can assume that we all share the same truth.
And Post-human because we so much of our lives are technologically driven.
All of these things seem to mean that the Church is being less effective, and pushed to the margins.
I believe we are merely in a time of transition.
We are going from one shore to another.
And yes the seas are rocky, and we are unsure ourselves of what is coming up on the next shore line.
But we have Jesus in our boat.
Why should we be afraid?
Why should we worry or despair?
Instead in faith we should boldly set our sights on the mission that Jesus has given us.
We should boldly step out because on the shore is waiting a man who has been dealing with lots of demons and is waiting for Jesus.
(Just keep reading to the next story in Mark’s Gospel if you want to see what I am talking about.)
There are people in Concord.
There are people you all know in your life who want to know Jesus.
There are people waiting for Jesus to come.
And you and I my friends are the people that are called to bring Jesus to them.
We are the people who know that Jesus is in the boat with us, and we know that there is nothing to be afraid of.

This brings me back to Paul McCartney.
When I hear that Paul McCartney is 70 years old it makes me think of how old I am.
When Whitney Houston dies it makes me feel the pressures of my own mortality.
It makes me think of where I have been and where we have been.
It makes me nostalgic for other times in my life.
It reminds me that this is a time of transition for all of us, because we are always on our way somewhere.
We are going from being young to old.
But maybe the best transition is that we are growing in faith.
This is what St. Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians.
From being unknown to known, from dying to alive, sorrowful to rejoicing, from poor to rich, as having nothing to possessing everything.
We are experiencing the transition of living a life of fear to a life of faith.
As we age, as we experience more transitions in our lives we realize whatever we face we need not fear, because Jesus is in the boat with us.
It is not that the other shore is going to be calm always.
It is that on the other side there is a new task that we have to encounter, and the only way to get through that is to know that is trust and have faith that Jesus is with us.
And even if we forget it doesn’t matter because Jesus is there regardless of our ability to have faith.

This is why I am not worried about the Church.
I am not worried that is going to die or go away, because this is just a transition for us.
It is just preparing us for the mission that Jesus wants us to go to next.
This transition is getting us ready to step out of the boat on the other side with confidence that Jesus is always with us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Small and Insignificant

You never know.
You never know when the kingdom of God is going to sneak up on you.
It is always something hidden, just out of our ability to see and understand.
It comes in small things, but always produces big surprising results.
This is what the parable about the mustard seed is about.
It is about the kingdom coming in something so small and insignificant that we often miss it.
But once sown it is about everything.
It grows so big that it brings shade to all who want to lie under its branches.
It brings protection and lets us know that we are home.

Every other week I get a visit from a man named Harry.
Howard has some special needs.
He comes with his Lutheran Social Services worker.
Every two weeks we sit and talk about life and God.
Harry is very special to me.
When I see Harry I see in him the kingdom of God.
I see someone who cares about others, and who wants to know more about God.
But to the world he is nothing special.
He isn’t rich, famous, or powerful.
In fact some might even believe that he is of no use.
Some might view him as a drain on the economic system.
This week was one of the weeks Harry came to see me.
And his aid worker said, “Tell Pastor Jon what you said about God earlier.”
Harry said, “God is great.”
Now I thought he was going to talk about how God was great because of the nice weather we were having, or how good his father is doing as proof of God’s greatness.
But he said, “God is great because he forgives us.”
That was right on the nose.
Yet most of us when we think of God’s greatness we think of miracles, or how God has given us health and wealth.
We thank God for our families, for our lives, for all things.
But the kingdom of God comes in small things.
It is something simple and wonderful like forgiveness.

It is in things that we might throw off as insignificant and unimportant.
Like fatherhood.
I can say that part of my spiritual journey has been to find the wonder and workings of God in my calling as a father.
I like most people had grand ideas of what I would do with my life.
Maybe I would lead a revolution, or convert the most hardened of hearts.
I wanted to be and do something great.
My journey has led me to see those great things in being a father.
It is not always glamorous work.
But it is in waking up at two in the morning to change the sheets of your child who wet the bed, and then consoling them because they are upset about it.
That is where we find the kingdom of God.
It is in the moments of self sacrifice in moments of real grace.
I am sure that all the fathers here this morning had some moments in their lives when they did something they never thought they would do for the benefit of their kids.
That is the beauty of being a dad.

I noticed this in my father.
Who always went out of his way for us kids.
When I was in college he worked two jobs to make ends meet.
And yet, when he came to visit he would always slip me some money for beer.
In fact, one time he drove me to school.
It was unusual because my mom usually came, but for some reason she couldn’t make it.
Now if my mom came she would always make my bed and put away my clothes.
My dad, he made sure that my fridge was stocked with beer.
It is a little thing, and maybe even a silly one…but it was a moment I will always treasure.
Seems like something so insignificant.
And at the time I don’t know if I thought too much about.
But now that he is gone it is a moment that I cherish.
It was something small that meant a lot.
I could sit in the shade of it.
It made me feel at home.
This is the kingdom of God.
It is something that is small when we sow it, but it grows into something so much more.

It fits with what we know about Jesus.
Jesus was a man of little significance.
He was not rich or worth mentioning.
But because of his life, the way he gave to people, the way he followed God, Jesus own life was planted into the minds and hearts of those who knew him.
And what he left behind grew to something greater than the sum of the parts.
Today we gather to remember his life, to hear his words, and to eat and drink his body and blood.
And in doing we live in the shelter of the tree that grew out of the small seeds that he has sown in our hearts, gives us shade, and makes us feel at home.

One other thing about the parables we heard this morning.
And that is that this kingdom is not something we control.
I am wondering how many of you like to be in control.
(I won’t ask you to raise your hands)
But I know that I do.
God knows this about us.
And so God created a world out of control.
God created a world where things happen in a random order.
Mathematicians call it “Chaos theory”.
I wish I could explain it to you, but I am horrible at math.
But basically it is the unpredictability in complex systems.
We all have experienced and seen this in life.
Why does the really nice guy who never talked bad about people get the horrible non-curable cancer and die too young?
Why did the person who was never late a day in their life all of a sudden over sleep on September 11th and survive because they were not at work that day?
The older I get the more random and unpredictable life becomes.
But you see I think God made it that way.
Because we want to control things so much God made this life basically uncontrollable.
And the only thing that we are left with is faith and trust.
We have to trust God because otherwise things just don’t make sense.
We have to have faith that the kingdom is coming regardless of what we do.
This is the parable of the sower.
The sower sows, but does not water or weed, but merely sleeps.
And while the sower sleeps God produces fruit.
God brings the kingdom.
It is not ours to control, or to do.
Merely to have faith and trust that God knows what God is doing.
To trust that all the random chaos has a purpose and is leading to something beyond our expectations.

My grandmother turned 93 this week.
I went to have lunch with her and my mother.
She was talking about miracles.
And she said to me, “Thank God for all the miracles we see, and the millions of miracles that God does that we don’t see.”
My grandmother has a great and wonderful faith.
She was witnessing to it that day.
May we all be able to see with eyes of faith that helps us see God amidst the chaos.

The kingdom is hidden and beyond our control.
But to be able to live in faith, to be able to see glimpses of it invites us to plant God in our hearts.
It means to give our lives to God so that we might live in the shade of forgiveness, love, mercy, and acceptance.
All things that seem so small and insignificant, but that once are grown mean everything.

So as you go into your week may you live in under the shade of God’s love.
May you open your hearts to allow God to plant the smallest of seeds in your life, so that you might be able to see the kingdom of God all around you.  Amen

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Awe and Joy of Holy Communion

I am wondering how many of you remember your first communion.
Raise your hands.
What do you remember most about that day?
What I remember most about mine was that sense of awe in the face of receiving communion.
As a kid it seemed like something that only adults got, and something I wanted.
I am not sure I can say why, but I remember feeling really happy to be receiving the body and blood for the first time.
I wish I could tell you that every time I receive communion I still feel that sense of awe and joy.
Truth is that sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.
Today will be one of those days when I again feel that sense of awe and joy.
Seeing Cheyene, Corey, Emily, Logan, and Charlie receive their first communion brings back that awe, that joy of the first time receiving the body and blood.
I hope for all of us gathered together this morning that seeing these young people receive their first communion will bring you back to the first time you received.
It will rekindle in you the joy of knowing God’s love and forgiveness.

This morning we hear about the Prophet Isaiah’s call.
It starts with a moment of awe.
Isaiah while in the temple sees the symbols of God all around him, and is overcome with the sense of awe at them.
Isaiah is able to see behind the symbols and they come alive.
Isaiah sees the scene of heavenly worship.
Of God sitting on a throne, God’s robe flowing, angels worshiping the one true God.
When we worship we are always surrounded by the symbols of God, and in worship God comes alive for us.
They point us to God’s redeeming work of creating, loving, and sustaining us.

Communion is just bread and wine that are really ordinary objects.
But when they are combined with the word of God they come alive for us.
When they are mixed with words that speak of forgiveness, love, and inclusion they become so much more than that.
They become a holy awe inspiring glimpse into how God works in our lives.
They point beyond the mystery to something more tangible.
Communion is more than merely some ritual we perform.
It is the active presence of God to transform our lives.
It is real for us.
It gives us love, forgiveness, acceptance, and strength.

We all need these things in our lives.
Without it how do we accomplish the tasks of our lives?
How do we show others God’s love?
We can only do it because God is alive in the world and in us.

Isaiah knew that he was not worthy to speak God’s word, but when offered forgiveness he is able and willing to be sent.
And it is only God that can offer the forgiveness needed to carry on and do the task.
It is only through the power of God that Isaiah can handle the difficult task that he has been given, because Isaiah’s task is very difficult.
He is going to have to say some very unpopular things to very powerful people.
He is going to have to tell kings and priests that their ways are not God’s ways.
He is going to have to tell God’s people that they have forgotten God.
They have forgotten the beauty and awe of when they first experienced God’s love and grace.
They have turned away and cannot be reasoned with.

I guess what I hope for today for these 5 young people is that they can remember the awe and wonder of this day so that every time they come to Jesus’ special meal they might see beyond the symbol to see the ways that God is alive for them.
Today is not merely a nice moment in our worship, but it is essential for understanding who and what God is for us.
Worship gives us faith to see God at work in and through our lives.
It gives us courage to meet difficult times ahead.
Worship injects us with faith.

Faith gives us a vision of the world that is not tied to the confines of this world.
This is what Jesus is talking about with Nicodemus in this morning’s Gospel.
To be “born from above” means to be able see past the troubles we face in the world.
It is great to be able to see past our present situations to the greater purpose for our lives.
Most days I wonder what we would do without it.
How would we go about living if this was all there was?
How could we have hope in this world if all we knew was this world?
How could we face the difficult challenges we have?
Only with a view from above can we understand and put into perspective our lives.
This is what Jesus is trying to get Nicodemus to understand.
Yes, Nicodemus can see Jesus and see the miracles, but does he understand what the miracle point to.
Does Nicodemus see God active and alive in the words and ministry of Jesus?
The same is true for communion.
It is something tangible we can touch, smell, and taste, but do we understand the bigger reality that it points to.

For our first communion class we read a book together called, “A Place for You”.
It is a book that helps us to understand that Jesus’ special meal is here for all people.
It is here so that we can see beyond our sin, our troubles, our sickness, and our differences to the God who heals all things and brings all people together.
Here at God’s table is the place we experience the holy mystery that binds us together in God’s love.
Here is where God comes alive for us.
At the end of the book we see a picture of Jesus at the table surrounded by all the earth and stars, all people of every tribe and race, all creatures of the earth, and of course you and me.
This meal that we celebrate today is a foretaste of that great meal that is to come.
It points us to a greater reality then the one we can feel and touch.
It is awe inspiring to think about.
No wonder we are so awe struck when we first taste and experience it.

It is true that God is everywhere.
We experience God all the time outside of these four walls.
However, there are times in our lives when it is hard to see God at work.
There are times when not everything is going according to plan.
There are times when we get lost in the sin of the world, or our own pain.
In those times where can we find God?
How can we know that God is still alive and at work?
Jesus has told us that if we want to find him.
If we are lost he will be at the table with us.
Jesus tells us, “Do this in remembrance of me”.
If you want to remember Jesus and see Jesus come to his special meal and there he will be for you, there Jesus will be alive for you once again.
In the words that we read from our first communion book, “Whenever you share this bread and cup, I will be with you, feeding you, loving you, forgiving you.”

So this morning we celebrate with Cheyenne, Corey, Emily, Logan, and Charlie who are sharing God’s meal with us for the first time.
And we worship God who gave us this meal so that we know God is alive!
We worship with the angels, with all people throughout time and space, with all creatures of the earth, with the stars, moon and sun, and we give thanks this day because we are in awe of what God has done.