Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Walmart Opening Early on Thanksgiving is Anti-family

My Dad spent his life working in retail. For many years with Sears and then for TJ Maxx.  He put his three kids through college, provided a home, and food to eat with his job. He taught me that it was honorable work. My Dad for the most part liked his job and he was good at it. When I heard that Wal-Mart was opening at 8pm on Thanksgiving I thought of my dad and what that would have meant for our family. It would have meant less time together on Thanksgiving. We still would have eaten. We would have made arrangements to eat earlier. But for us Thanksgiving was an all day family event. We got up and watched the parade, and then my sisters and I would plan a play to be put on for the adults at dinner. Later in the day other family would arrive. We would spend a couple of hours simply sitting in our living room talking to each other and catching up. Then we would have eaten, after dinner I would have watched football with my dad and some of the other guys.
We could have skipped parts of this ritual, but all these years later I still enjoy the day of leisurely visiting with family, eating, watching football, and giving thanks. Walmart has robbed families of that ability to not rush, to take our time and simply enjoy being together. When in our culture do we have such time? I have no problem with shopping, or Christmas, or companies that want to make money. I do have a problem when those companies do not take into consideration the importance of families having time together. I have a problem when companies decide that being open a couple of more hours is more important than their employees having time to sit and watch some football with their kids.
I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite holiday (it is a close tie with Easter) because it is about a very simple idea that we should take time out of year to give thanks to God for all that we have. We do that by slowing down for a day. We do that by paying a little closer attention to those we love. I pray that those who run Walmart (Michael Duke, CEO) would want that same thing for their employees, and for all families in this great country. I am thankful this year for all those memories I have of spending time on Thanksgiving with my family and I wish that for all the employees families at Walmart.
Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

God Has Bigger Dreams for You!

This week I attend a community discussion about New Americans who have come to call Concord their home.
There was a panel with many people who told their stories of how they came to be here in Concord.
All of their stories were a combination of heroism and tragedy.
For example, on the panel there was a woman who came here from Sudan.
She told us a harrowing story.
She was with her family sitting in their home.
Over the ridge came a raid by military.
She heard gun shots and people screaming.
She fled and hid with her family.
When she came out her home and school were totally destroyed.
They had to flee.
She ended up her in Concord, learned English, and now wants to be a cardiovascular surgeon.
She said that even though her life was totally destroyed when she was a kid even then she believed that, “God had bigger dreams for her life.”
Today in our Gospel Jesus is talking about the world coming to an end.
Most of the time when we talk about the end of the world we think about death and destruction we think about earthquakes, wars, and people being whisked away to some heavenly place.
To view the end of the world in this way is to misunderstand the nature of apocalyptic literature and its place in the Biblical witness.

When people in the Bible talk about the end of the world it is from the perspective of a people in the midst of great tumult.
Their lives are being invaded and taken over.
Our first reading from Daniel is a perfect case.
At that time the Emperor had declared Judaism a crime, he had desecrated the temple, and co-opted the leadership of Israel.
This sent people into a panic.
What did it mean?
All the things that people had relied on for security, spiritual support, and stability,  had been taken away.
To talk about the end of the world was a way to make sense of what was happening in the world.
To tell what God was up to in uncertain times.
And a couple of things are consistent in this type of literature.
One, God is always in control.
Two, it is not the end but the beginning of something new and better.
Three, be ready because God is up to something.

In our culture apocalyptic movies, books, and theology is often used to scare us.
We better shape up or else God will really get us.
You better believe in God or else you will have to suffer throw a horrible future.
This morning I want to recapture the tradition of this type of literature as a way to see a better tomorrow and to have faith that God is in control of that better tomorrow.
So that we can have the same faith as that woman from Sudan, and we can believe that God has bigger dreams in store for us.

Where do we turn when our life has ended?
When we experience a horrible event?
When our lives are turned upside down where do we turn?
Often times we look to leaders to solve our problems.
We want our leaders to tell us that we are safe and that nothing is really wrong.
I was surprised in this last presidential election how much we were promised by both candidates.
We were told that we could have everything that we wanted without any sacrifice on our part.
We were told that we would always be kept safe and secure.
Jesus warns us this morning about finding our security in anything but God.

In today’s Gospel the disciples are impressed with the size of the buildings.
Jesus warns them not to be too impressed.
The buildings are not as great as they seem, they too like all human endeavors are fleeting.
Jesus also warns them not to be taken in by leaders who say that they can do it all and save them.
Our hope as Christians, as people of faith, does not belong in our institutions, our buildings, or even our leaders; it is always based on God.
For only God can truly help us.
God is the only one who is there for us no matter what.

I have sat with many people whose world was coming to an end.
Most of the time it is because someone they trusted let them down, or an institution they believed was always there for them failed them.
And my message is always the same in those circumstances trust God.
God is up to something even when things are falling apart.

God is usually creating something new out of those horrible situations.
God is birthing new things to life.
No wonder Jesus describes the end as birth pangs.
In our lives all the time God is starting new things.
The woman from Sudan’s faith told her that this was not the end for her and her family.
God had bigger dreams for her.
God has bigger dreams for us too.
What new things is God birthing for you?

When we are ready for God to act then we can better understand the new way we are being led.
This is Jesus advice to his disciples.
If we take out all the stuff about wars, famines, and earthquakes we see Jesus advice to his disciples.
Don’t be lead astray.
Do not be alarmed.
Beware of when people tell you they can solve all the problems of the world.
Do not be lead astray to think that every little thing is the end of the world.
I was amazed that after the election so many people wrote on Facebook and twitter that this was the end of the world.
(I am sure that if the election would have turned out the other way that people who didn’t get what they wanted would have also written that it was the end of the world.)
Let us be clear that it was one election among many.
It is not the end of the world, it is only the start of another four or two years.
Which leads us to Jesus last piece of advice to us don’t be alarmed.
Perhaps we all need to calm down a bit.
Is the world a scary place?
Is the world difficult and complicated?
But I believe that God is ultimately in control.
That even though we humans are trying our best to destroy the world God is up to something even beyond our wildest dreams.

I think this morning about the Pilgrims who came to this country because they wanted something more.
They wanted religious freedom, they wanted a better life.
They fled the comforts of their home to find that.
They traveled across the seas and endured a life threatening year in a new world.
Because they had faith that God had something better in store for them.
And amidst the crumbling of their life something new and better came out of it.

Still today New Americans are coming here looking for that same new start.
One person at the event told this story about a New American who told him at an ESL class that USA stood for You Start Again.
If your life feels like it is coming to end God is saying that there is new things coming and you can start again.
Today God is offering us to start again.

If your world feels like it is coming to end.
If you feel that there is nothing but death and destruction all around.
Be ready because God is in control and birthing new things to life so that you can start again.
Because God has bigger dreams for you! Amen

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Widow's Might!

This week I found out that Mabel Isakson died.
I am the only person who that matters to here this morning.
In many ways her death is of no note.
She did not hold any formal titles.
She was never a senator, congresswoman, or president.
In fact, in the time I was her pastor she was never council president, on even on Church council, or even on a committee at church.
She was not a well known religious figure like Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, or St. Francis.
In fact, she was not a pastor, bishop, or pope.
Her passing is not front page news.
She wasn’t rich, but she wasn’t poor either.
She never was on television.
But she was one of the mightiest people I have ever known.
She had a faith that always lifted up my eyes to what was possible.
She was kind and gentle.
Every person who I knew who knew her was affected by her faith and love.

What is it that makes us great?
This is the question that we have been talking about a lot this fall.
As we have read through Mark’s Gospel we have heard Jesus again and again talk about what it really means to be great.
What does it mean to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ?

Most of the time Jesus has been talking about this in the abstract, but this morning, as Jesus sits in the temple in Jerusalem; we get a real life concrete example.
A widow with nothing to her name puts two small coins into the treasury.
It is hardly noticed by anyone, because the rich and religious are making a show of dropping in tons of money.
They are making a show of how much they have.
And this woman who nobody notices come along and gives what seems like nothing, but is so much more.
Jesus notices her.
What makes her giving so noticeable is that it is a sign of her faith.
By giving all she has to God she is saying that her lot is cast with God.
What would make someone give all their money away?
It is really the act of a mad person.
But this is not merely an act of charity; it is an act of faith.
This widow by her actions has said that her life is in God’s hands.

We often call this story the story of the widow’s mite.
Because the amount of money she puts in is one mite (Not an amount of coin in Jesus’ day, but it was when the King James version of the Bible was written).
But I think it should be the widow’s might, meaning the strength of this woman.
Her faith is strong, and that makes her mighty.

And that was Mable.
She was a small and weak looking person.
But once you got to know her you knew what a strong and mighty person she was.
I could tell you lots of stories about Mabel.
But the one that sticks out is when I really first started to get to know her.
I hadn’t been at that congregation for too long.
I was a young just out of seminary pastor.
I didn’t know much, but I was giving it my best.
You learn a lot of things on the job.
In seminary they teach you theology, Biblical studies, Church history, preaching.
But everything else you make it up as you go along.
Anyway, we had decided to move the altar away from the wall, so that when I presided at communion I could stand behind it and face everyone.
One of the problems was that moving it meant we would no longer have room for a kneeler that was in front of the altar.
After some research someone on the council came and said to me, “Pastor Mabel gave that kneeler in memory of her husband.
I guess we are going to have to keep it there.
Unless pastor you talk to her.”
This made me nervous.
I didn’t want to offend one of the oldest most respected members of the congregation.
I had just gotten there.
After a little while I finally got up the nerve to talk to Mabel about it.
She said to me, “Pastor, I gave that kneeler out of love for my Lord to the Church if you never used it that would have been ok with me.
Of course you can move it.
This isn’t about me.”
She was a mighty woman.
She had might and she gave that might all the time to those around her.

I think about Mabel a lot.
Because she taught me so much about what it meant to have faith in God and what it means to live that faith out every day.
She was the person she was because for Mabel her life was given over to God.
She never claimed that she was better or superior to others.
In fact, I constantly saw her uplift others and let herself go down.
She was a mighty person.

We too can be a mighty person.
Not because we are good or better than others, but because we can cast our lives onto God.
We can give God our lives.

I can’t tell you how many times a day I think to myself.
Ok Lord I am not sure how I am going to get through this, but I am putting myself in your hands.
That is what the widow did when she dropped in her two mites.
Her strength, Mabel’s strength and ours can come from the Lord.

Once Mable was having headaches, and she went to the doctor.
She got a head CT.
The doctor called her on a Friday to tell her that she had a brain tumor and she didn’t have long to live.
She called her family to tell them.
Those who lived out of town made the trip to Long Island to see her thinking it might be the last time.
There were many tears shed.
Of course, the whole time Mabel gracious and at peace knowing she would be with God soon.
On Monday, the doctor called to apologies.
He had made a mistake and read the wrong scan.
Mabel was not dying in fact everything was fine.
What was amazing about the story was that Mabel never switched doctors.
She told me, “Anyone of us could have made that same mistake.”
I said, “But Mabel if I go to a restaurant and the waitress messes up my order I don’t go back.”
Mabel was a mighty woman.
She was able to forgive because of that strong faith she had in God.
That is what faith does for us.
It makes us able to do things that are really crazy and unattainable.
It helps us to forgive even the worst of things, it helps us give even when there is nothing left, it helps us to let go of things that are not that important.
In the end, it helps us to know that the God of the universe is watching and notices those acts that everybody else misses.

We don’t have to be politicians, religious figures, or have lots of money to be important or have influence.
Our faith in God makes us mighty.
It lifts us up and gives us strength we didn’t even know that we had.
As our Psalmist sings this morning, “Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

For All the Saints!

The hurricane disrupted many lives this week.
We still are praying for those who are still without power.
My disruption was small.
I was supposed to go to the Bishop’s convocation on Cape Cod this week.
It is something I always look forward to.
Mainly because I get to catch up with my friends and colleagues.
I get to spend a couple of days thinking about ministry and the church;
I get to hear what other people are doing.
I get to hear how other congregations are tackling some of the more difficult problems we as a Church are facing.
I get to have my own assumptions questioned and challenged.
It is renewing for me.
So instead of going to Bishop’s convocation I spent some time with my family.
It was equally as gratifying.
On Tuesday My wife, Vicki, and I, took our son, Charlie, out to eat for lunch.
I made them talk to me about the Church like I was at the Bishop’s convocation.
I asked Charlie what he thinks the Church should be about.
He thought about for a little while and said, “The Church is about love.”
Vicki and I looked at each other and said, “See it is that simple.”
Perhaps I should have Charlie be the main speaker at next year’s Bishop Convocation.
He could just get up and say, “the Church is about love.”
And then sit down.
Perhaps sometimes we try and over think things.

Jesus this morning simplifies for us and this earnest scribe who asks him a question.
What is the greatest commandment?
Love God and love neighbor.
It is really that simple.
(This of course is a dangerous thing to say because it might put me out of a job.)
We put way too much time into things that don’t really matter.
This has always been my struggle with organized religion.
We spend way too much time talking about, and arguing about things that don’t really matter.
What time will the church supper be?
What hymn will people want to hear on this Sunday?
What would be the proper lighting for All Saints day?
Where should the flowers go?
All other good things that we might come up with are subjected to these two commandments.
These two commandments are were the Church should be giving all of its attention.
There were many other things in Jesus day that also occupied people’s time and energy.
There were many religious laws and observances that people put time and effort into.
This scribe asked Jesus this question while he was in Jerusalem.
It comes at the end of other questions that Jesus was asked.
And they really were all beside the point.
Should we pay taxes?
If a woman who had seven husbands dies whose wife will she be in heaven?
These are all questions that are interesting to ponder, but they are all beside the point.
There are only two things we need to love God and love each other.
So instead of debating points of minutia we should be putting our time and energy to living out these two very simple commandments.

Of course, it isn’t that easy.
Lots of things in our lives want our time and energy and we are often diverted from making God our priority.
Many people come into our lives that are hard to love.
This morning I don’t want to get caught in the complications, it is enough just to acknowledge that they exists.

This morning I want to talk about the people that surround us.
These people whose names we have written and surround us this morning.
They are all people that we remember this morning.
We remember them because they are saints.
And they are saints not because they were perfect, but because of the love they shared with us.
They are saints because of their love for God.
That is all that is needed to be a saint.

What are the stories that you share about the people that surround us?
Those stories might be funny, might be sad, might be informative.
But I bet they include some way that person helped you, encouraged you, and influenced you.
I bet that they include some way that they showed you that they loved you.
And that love is equivalent to God’s love.
Jesus connects them together.
To love God is to love others.

I think of the people who loved me who now are in eternal glory.
I could tell you a story about each one of them and how they manifested that love.
And all of them were people who knew God’s love and who passed it on to me.

I think this morning of my Grandfather’s.
0Grandpa Kent he used to take us out in his garden when we were kids and tell us the story of Peter Rabbit.
My Poppop would stock his house with Tasty Cakes whenever we would come to visit.
They were both very different men.
Grandpa Kent was a pastor, he was a FDR liberal.
Poppop was in upper management for Sears and Roebuck, and was an Eisenhower Republican.
But both men were men of God, they both worked hard, and they both loved their family and friends with warmth.
In their own ways they were extremely generous.
Neither of them was perfect, but I don’t remember their flaws all I remember when I think of them I remember how much they loved me.
How they both inspired me in their own ways to be the person I am today.
How I am really a little bit of each of them.
I bet that all of you have stories and memories of people that you loved.
Saints who have shared God’s love with you.

The saints of God are not just the names on these walls.
They are not just the ones who have died.
You all too are the saints of God.
You are here this morning because you love God.
You have given up this part of your week to be with God.
You all desire to know God better.
And all of you love someone else.
All of you have passed on that love to someone.
If nothing else we have an opportunity to give that love to one another here.
A couple of the people I wrote down I am not related to.
They are people who taught me something about Jesus in my life, or who I loved.
They are church people who gave me faith in my life.
And all of you continue to encourage and inspire my faith with yours.
I see how you love God, one another, your families, and our community.
You are the saints that God has called to love.
What made me most happy about what my son Charlie said was that he thought the church was about love and that is because of all of you.
You will be his saints that he remembers and encourages him to love God and others.

Loving God with all of our heart, mind, and soul, and loving our neighbor as ourselves are the marks of our faith.
They are outward signs of an inward belief in a God who gave us everything.
And that is what our Church is all about.
Let us continue to live that out saints of God.