Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lost Causes


I believe in lost causes.
I have been on the side of many things that had no chance of winning.
Lately I have been working with other leaders in Concord on the issue of what will happen to our homeless sisters and brothers.
It certainly feels like a lost cause.
There is nothing to be won for politicians to take up the cause of people experiencing homelessness.
They don’t have any money.
And most of them don’t vote.
The people who do have money and who do vote are often people who want a nice place to live without having to look at or be around others who don’t look good, and who don’t act good.
I will be the first to admit that there are some people experiencing homelessness who will probably be homeless for the rest of their lives.
There are some who will never get a job or be respectable.
You can ask Bill and Gail Megan and they will tell you that in the many years they have been feeding people at the Friendly Kitchen there are some who have always been there and some who always will.
It seems like a lost cause.
So why do I do it?

I believe in peace.
In my life I have done what I can to fight for the quest to live in a world without violence as the solution to our problems.
Don’t get me wrong I understand the need for our armed forces.
I am glad for the sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives, who put their country first.
But I think we all yearn for a day when that will not be necessary.
And yet that always seems like a dream.
There has always been strife between people.
At the beginning of time there were disputes and people fought to get their way.
Peace is a lost cause.
So why do I do it?

Why do any of us believe in lost causes?
Why does the mother keep helping her son who is addicted to drugs even though he keeps stealing from her?
Why does a father pray at night for his daughter to turn her life around?
Why does a grandmother talk to her grandchildren and tell them how much their actions are hurting her and others?
I would contend that even if you don’t agree with my lost causes all of us have been involved in a lost cause or two in our lives.
Why do we do it?

We do it Because of hope.
Because this time it might be different.
This time someone might listen.
This time it all might change.
We as a people believe in hope.
More specifically Christians are a hopeful people.
We don’t give up because we just don’t know what will turn things around.

More than this we believe that God does not give up on us.
At a certain point in my life I was considered a lost cause.
But thankfully God and others did not give up on me.

Today our Psalm essentially asks this question.
Who are we that God is mindful of us?
We are people that are constantly messing things up.
We can’t seem to love each other as we ought.
We can’t seem to set aside our pride and do what is in the interested of everyone and not just ourselves.
And yet through all the years God has not given up on us.
Why not?

Perhaps God is hopeful that this time it just might be different.
This time we just might understand.
But maybe even more than this that God has made us a little lower than gods.
That God, for good or ill, has chosen us as his co-workers in kingdom making.

Sometimes, Christian theology is presented to us as God loves us even though we are unworthy and useless.
I disagree with this.
God loves us because God created us.
God loves us because God knows that despite even our failings there is something worthy about us.
God believes that there are things about us that are lovable.
That we are redeemable and we can do to great things.
Perhaps one of our greatest attributes as humans is our capacity to hope, our capacity to reach for the stars and do better.
This is why it is important for us to be involved in lost causes.

The Psalmist today tells us that God has a very high opinion of us.
That God gave us rule over the works of God’s hands.
God could have created the world and run the whole thing by God’s self.
In fact, it might have been a better plan.
There would have been no humans to pollute the planet, kill others, and create the atomic weapon.
But God created humans because God wanted helpers.
God didn’t want to do it alone.
God crowned us with glory and honor.

There are many things that we don’t do well.
But we stand in the grace of God, hoping to share in the glory of God.
We know that things cannot stand as they are forever.
So while we wait for God to make all things right we don’t stand idle.
But we suffer with our homeless brothers and sisters.
We feel angry and sad that there are people who have no place to call home.
We feel a need to speak when people are evicted from the one place they can sleep without a place to go.
We hope that perhaps this time our elected officials will listen and act.

Even though war might be necessary we still pray for peace.
We hope that this time cooler heads might prevail.
We hope that we might find words that will produce understanding.

St. Paul today tells us that we suffer now and that suffering produces in us hope.
Not because we are na├»ve about the world, but because we know of God’s love that is poured into us.
We know of that love since the beginning of all things.
We know of that love that was spoken to through Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth, the prophets, Mary, Jesus Christ, the apostles, and Paul.
We know of that love because we still sing “Jesus loves me this I know”.
Even in a world that seems to become more evil, and more complex, we still know of this love and believe in it through faith.

A couple of weeks ago at our adult forum I was saying that we simply cannot create peace.
Peace is too far from us.
There has been no time in human history have we known true peace.
Then someone in the class said, “But we continue to keep trying.”
Amen to that.
We keep trying because we have hope that perhaps this will be the day and time when God’s glory will shine through the heavens and there will be peace in our time.
We keep trying because Jesus told us that it is the peacemakers who are blessed.
We keep trying because Jesus told us that it is the poor who are blessed.
That it is those who weep that God cares deeply about.
We keep trying because all is not lost as long as God’s love is poured into us through the Holy Spirit.

I pray for all of you to be involved in lost causes.
So that you know suffering and that suffering leads to endurance, and that endurance leads to character, and that character leads to hope.
So that you may live in faith and know the glory of God.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Life Moves Pretty Fast!

If you have heard me preach before you have heard me talk about how chaotic life can be.
I usually talk about life that way to describe big things that happen in our world that we can’t explain.
Today I want us to think about how our ever day lives are growing more and more chaotic.
It is no secret that we are busier than we used to be.
We are always going from one thing to the next.
Life is moving and it often seems or maybe feels like organized chaos.
As we do more and more, as we work more and more, we have little time to do the little things that are so important.
We eat fast food instead of sitting down and eating as a family.
We don’t take time to be together to listen to each other.
I was told this week by a colleague that this is what mothers understand better than anyone else.
They understand how to get multiple things done.
They know how to cook dinner, do laundry, clean the bathroom, and help kids with homework all at the same time.
In the midst of a chaotic life mother’s no how to serve.
So can the rest of us.

Today’s reading from Acts is about serving in chaotic times.
There is a woman, a slave, with divination.
She follows Paul and his companions around yelling at them until they relented to curing her.
In the midst of the chaos Paul finds a way to serve.
Paul and his companions are beaten with rods and then thrown in Jail because this woman was a money maker for her captures.
They are thrown in Jail, and while in jail the pray and sing.
Brings comfort to the other prisoners.
In the midst of the chaos of being in Jail Paul and Silas found a way to serve.
Then there is an earthquake.
It is discombobulating to the jailer so much so that he is going to kill himself.
Yet after this the jailer takes Paul and his companions to his house and washed their wounds, and feed them.
In the midst of a discombobulating earthquake the jailer finds a way to serve.

In the words of Ferris Beuller, “Life moves pretty fast.”
So much to be done and not a lot of time to do all the things we wish we could.
We have to work, feed our families, take care of the lawn, fix the car, pay the bills, do laundry, fill out forms, and file taxes.
This doesn’t stop when our kids get older either.
For many people they are helping out with the grand kids, and also taking care of aging parents.

Some of you know that my mother is facing stage four cancer.
But this is not her first time with cancer.
She had it twenty-five years ago.
At that time I was a teenager.
At that time chemo therapy was much harder, because they didn’t have all the advances they have today.
I can only imagine that for my mother it was a pretty chaotic time.
But the thing is I don’t really know.
Because she managed to make everything seem normal.
She still cleaned the house, made dinner, went to work, and took care of us kids emotionally and spiritually.
A midst all the chaotic she still found time to serve, to wash the wounds of those around her.

Perhaps this is the way the Gospel is spread.
Not through serene times of prayer and contemplation but in the midst of chaos.
In the midst of the demands of everyday life we show forth God’s light.

I know that I admire my wife for this, because her life is much more hectic than mine.
She works, helps the kids with the homework, does most of the household chores, serves the church as the head of the education team, serves on the PTO, bakes cakes for the kids things at school, signs all their permission forms, volunteers in the kids classroom, keeps track of the family schedule, runs half marathons, finds time to be a good daughter and sister, and hardest of all puts up with me.
In the midst of the chaos she serves and in that serving honors God.

What about you?
What are the ways that your life is hectic, chaotic, even out of control and how do you find time to serve with all the demands on you?
What are the ways that you honor God in your lives?

I have been thinking lately that it is not so much in the big things that we honor God, but in the small everyday things.
It is in the midst of life when we are tired and worn out.
It is in those times when we muster the strength to spend time reading to our kids, or listening to a friend who is having problems, that we spread the message of this God who saves.

I want to take some time to talk about this idea of saving.
When we think of that as Christians we often think of it meaning that we have saved someone from hell.
Salvation has been belittled to only mean that we are saved at the end of our lives and go to heaven.
Certainly this is one of its meanings.
But in our reading today the word that is translated as saved has a bigger meaning.
It could also mean wholeness and healing.
It also means what happens to us here right now on this planet.
When we talk about saving others it also can mean that we are helping them in some way to be whole to heal.
When God saves us it doesn’t just mean that we are going to heaven someday, but also that God can heal our wounds and make us whole.
So if we are saved by the grace of God we are able to react differently in times of chaos.
Paul and Silas are saved by God’s grace making it possible for them to pray and sing hymns even though they have beaten with rods and put in prison.
Knowing God is our companion, in this hectic crazy life, makes it possible for us to serve even in the chaos.
I know that is what helped my mother when she had cancer; I know this is what helps my wife every day.
I know that many of you rely on God to wake you up and get you through the day.
It helps me.
Some days I like to say this little prayer.
Dear Lord,
So far today I've done all right.
I haven't gossiped, cursed, or lost my temper.
I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or over indulgent.
I am really glad about these things.
But, in a few minutes Lord,
I am going to get out of bed,
and from then on,
I'm probably going to need a lot more help.

It is easy to feel that you have done all things right when you are lying in bed.
It is totally a different thing to do all those things right in the midst of a busy and hectic life.
I know that I often fail at this.
But I also know that I am saved by God.
I am forgiven, redeemed, and empowered; I am given second and third chances.
And so are all of you.

Life moves pretty fast.
Life is hectic.
Thanks be to God that we are saved because then we have opportunities in the midst of all of it to serve and to show God’s light to our families, our friends, and our co-workers.
Thanks be to God for the mothers in our lives who have served us in the midst of all the craziness of life.

May we leave here this morning ready to serve by the grace of God who saves us.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Youth Sunday

Today is youth Sunday.
I want to start with admitting this morning that I don’t really like Youth Sunday.
Don’t get me wrong I love watching our youth take a leadership positions in worship.
I love the songs they selected.
I love seeing their energy and enthusiasm.
I love the drums.
But I worry that we might give the impression that youth only get one Sunday.
It might give the impression that only once a year do we care what the youth want.
Think about it we don’t have a senior citizen Sunday.
Or a middle aged Sunday.
Every Sunday when we gather together all of God’s children are included.
Worship every Sunday is not just for adults it is for everybody.
It is for the entire body of Christ young and old and everybody in between.

In our baptisms we are welcomed into this body and in those baptisms we become full members of the Church.
There is no second class distinction.
Today we get to celebrate the baptism of Ben Wilhem and today Ben becomes a full member of the body of Christ.
For the rest of his life no matter where he is or what he is doing he has full membership in the Christ’s church.

In our Reading this morning from Acts we hear the story of Lydia’s baptism.
Paul driven by the Holy Spirit goes to Philipi.
We know about the church at Philipi because of Paul’s letter he later writes to them.
And we know that Paul has a love for that congregation.
The first convert in Philipi is Lydia.
It doesn’t seem like such a promising start to a congregation.
It started with all women and no men!
It doesn’t seem like such a good idea to start a church with all women who are given second class citizenship in Paul’s day.
But Paul knows the truth that has been constant throughout the book of Acts that God shows no partiality that all people in the kingdom of God are equally valued.
Lydia’s entry into the community is her baptism and once she is baptized she becomes a full participating follower of Jesus.
She instantly begins to serve others and offer hospitality to Paul and his traveling companions.

Baptism does the same for us that it did for Lydia and her household.
It is our entry rite into the community of faith.
It is God’s sign that we now belong to all higher calling.
Ben now belongs to that higher calling.
And so do all of our young people.
We want them to know that they are full participants with us in following Jesus Christ.

In many ways they have it even harder than we do.
Our youth are in the midst of figuring out who they are and what they are about.
They are doing it in an atmosphere that is not always embracing of the values of Christianity.
It is why we need them even more.
Because they are our witnesses, out there at school, and with their peers, they are witness to the love and grace that Jesus gives to us.
What a great and glorious thing to have our youth show others their dedication to their faith by serving others, and showing God’s love.
We have some really extraordinary youth here at Concordia.
They are filled with energy, and filled with faith.

I know that our congregation supports them.
I know that our congregational council has an attitude that we will find a way to help the youth get whatever resources they need.
I have seen how supportive this congregation is of our youth.
When we were raising money to go to New Orleans we raised it easily.
Today our choir agreed to help our youth singing the prelude.
And I know that it wasn’t always easy for them it was outside their comfort zone, but they did it with love and enthusiasm because they wanted to support our youth.
It wasn’t easy for our congregation to learn to sing with loud drums, and the energy of our youth.
But I really appreciated their efforts.
That is the kind of support our youth need so they know that we value them, and we consider them our partners in this ministry.

When I was their age I was the president of our youth group.
And our youth group did a lot of fun things, we were close friends.
I wanted us to do something besides have a good time.
I wanted us to serve as well.
I wanted us to be like Lydia and the other disciples.
Our congregation had a feeding ministry to people who worked at the race track in Salem, NH.
I asked if we join with the adults in this ministry.
I was told that we couldn’t.
That really hurt.
I felt that we were not being taken seriously that our desire to be fully participate in the life of that congregation was not welcomed.
Perhaps our youth Sunday can be a reminder to us all of the desire of our youth to be taken seriously.
Youth Sunday can be a reminder to listen to what they have to say, because what they have to say is important.

That is what baptism does for us it reminds us all that we are all in this together that no matter who we are, or what we have done we are all children of the same God.
We have all been washed in the same waters.
And those waters call us out to be in the world different.
To serve and love and offer hospitality without distinction.

Today is special for me in another way, because I was Matt’s Trainer at Calumet in the summer of 1998.
And Ben’s godmother, Becca, was a camper in Girls Cabin one when I was the unit leader at Camp Calumet.
I have watched those two people grow up to be extraordinary adults.
Matt lives his life serving others.
And Matt’s wife Jody lives her life serving others.
I have seen Becca continue to have that strong faith, and how much she gives of herself for others.
Today they give Ben a gift once given to them.
They give Ben the joy of knowing that he belongs to a faith community of people dedicated to making this world better.
He belongs to a faith community living in the Spirit that calls us to be different than the world.
Calls us to love and serve without regard to weather someone is worthy or not.

Today we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit.
We are called out by that Holy Spirit just as Paul was, just as Lydia was.
We are called out to serve and love God with our whole heart.
We are called to see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are called as Lydia was to be faithful to the Lord.

In this place we have old, middle, and young.
We are here together ready to serve together.
We are here together raising our voices in praise to our God.
We are here together and remembering that our God is forever with us, is forever faithful to us.

Let us go from this place remembering our baptism that brings us together, and that we ready to serve others in love.