Monday, July 29, 2013


I would like to start this morning by telling you all a story.
I came to know a homeless man named Vinnie.
He was one of the people who were bringing a lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire so that he could continue to camp out on state propriety.
I was talking to him at one of the rallies in support of the homeless in Concord.
He was telling me his story.
He told me that he was a computer tech, and that he had lots of experience and certifications as a computer tech.
Our church needed some help with our computers.
The computer in the church office was not sufficient for all the work that needs to be done for the bulletin.
Our administrative assistant kept asking when we could get a new one.
It wasn’t in the church budget this year.
Someone donated a new laptop for me, but the DVD drive was not working.
I had someone else look at it, but it didn’t look good.
So I hired Vinnie to come in and do some work on our computers.
He fixed the church computer saving us at least $1,000, and he got the DVD player on my laptop to work.
A couple of weeks ago my keyboard wasn’t working so I called Vinnie.
He came in and we were talking.
Some of you may know that he and the other homeless guys lost their law suit.
They had to be out of the campsites by the 24th.
I was asking Vinnie what he was going to do next.
He told me he wasn’t sure.
But if he could get a car then he could live in the car, and he could get to some jobs that were offered to him outside of Concord.
(Vinnie never asked me to find him a car I just was offering.)
I told him that I would ask around.
That very day I got an email from Diana who is a newer member of our congregation.
She was going to be getting a new car and wanted to know if I knew anybody who needed her old car.
That is a great story!

Now, some might call this mere coincidence.
But as a person of faith I see it as God at work in our prayers
God was answering prayers of Vinnie and of me.
But more than this God was also answering the prayer of Diana who told me, “I have been praying for new and inspired ways to donate and I just felt like this was a perfect opportunity to do just that.”
I told her that Prayers for ways to help others are always answered!

Jesus this morning tells us that when we ask it is given, when we seek we find, and when we knock the door will be open to us.
This is a challenging piece of scripture, because we have all had prayers that were not answered in the way that we wanted them to be.
We have prayed for a loved one to be healed and the outcome was different.
We have prayed for someone to find their way and they only got lost.
We have prayed for outcomes that just don’t turn out well.

I know that one of my constant prayers is for people that are experiencing homelessness to find a home.
To me that fact that there are homeless people is simply unjust.
The idea that I have too much, enough to give away what I don’t need, and others have nothing, is just not the economy of God.
It is a problem that will be fixed when God’s kingdom comes.
Our world might be about the survival of the fittest, but God’s is not.
It is clear in scripture that those who have nothing now will someday eat at the same banquet as everyone else.
But as much as I pray, as hard as I pray, there is still homelessness in the world.
There are still refugees wondering the world because no one wants them.
There are still people sleeping in tents, cars, or under the stars.
If Jesus says that our prayers will be answered why has that prayer not been answered?
Why are any of our prayers not answered?

Now there are plenty of crafty explanations that I am sure you have all heard.
Things like God sometimes just says, “No”.
“We don’t understand God’s ways.”
Maybe those explanations work for you, and that is fine, but I want more.
I want to know why people still starve in a world of abundance?
Why do good people die too young?
Why are there horrible illnesses?
Why is there war?
Why doesn’t God make right what is wrong?

Truth is that I don’t have a good answer for any of those questions.
And even the answers I might come up with seem hollow.
Here is what I think we are missing about what Jesus says about prayer this morning.
Is that it is an ongoing process.
And sometimes the process is more important that the answer.
Jesus tells us to seek.
Sometimes we forget this part of our prayer lives.
We remember to ask and knock…but we forget that prayer is also about seeking answers to very difficult questions.
Seeking to me indicates an ongoing process.
When we set out to find something it takes time and energy.
Prayer cannot be the simple fall back when things seem to go wrong.
Prayer is an ongoing conversation that we have with God.
Think about the Lord’s Prayer.
We ask that God’s kingdom will come, thy will be done.
We can say for sure that the unfolding of God’s kingdom and God’s will takes time.
How many of us can say that we always do God’s will?
Not many of us.
But in our prayer life we struggle with God to figure out what that might be in any situation.

There are moments when things like what happened with Vinnie happen.
There are moments when the heavens open and God’s hand reaches down and does something that just takes our breath away.
But even when those moments are not happening in our lives can we still believe in God’s promises.

All prayer is ultimately not about our prayer but the way that God works in us through those prayers.
The prayers may not change God, but they may change us.
In prayer we might come to some new revelation about our spiritual lives.
We might find a way to be more compassionate, more giving, more helpful.
But even more we might find ways to be more thankful to God for the things we do have.
We might find more miracles in the midst of everyday life.

One thing that always bugs me is when people seem to give up on prayer simply because it doesn’t work the way they wanted it to.
I once had a friend tell me that he didn’t pray to God anymore because it never seemed to help, because in the two or three times in his life when he asked God for something it didn’t happen.
So in the middle of a crisis he was giving up the one thing he had left and that is prayer.
Not because it would change the outcome, but because in the praying we come to find something.
We find faith, we find God holding us up when we thought we would fall, we find God promising everlasting life, we find hope, we find God offering forgiveness, we find gratitude for the blessings God does give.
And yes, on occasion we find that God does directly answer our prayers in the way we want God to, like they did with Vinnie.
Most important we learn to trust God.
We learn that our prayers are not so much about us as they are about God entering into our lives in a very real way.

So let us go forth to ask, seek, and knock.
And trust in faith that God is at work in our prayers.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Our Neighbor Problem.

At some point in our lives we all have a neighbor problem.
We have those neighbors that just don’t want to get to know us, or make too much noise, or bother us with little problems.
When we lived in New York we had some of the best neighbors ever.
But there were also some neighbor problems.
The house that was kitty corner from us across the street had people dealing drugs.
We knew this because at all hours of the day and night cars were pulling up someone was getting out and going in the house for five minutes then getting back in the car and driving away.
Often those cars had out of state plates.
It escalated to the point where people where having fights in our street.
Sometimes those fights were people yelling at each other, but a couple of times they became violent.
We had a neighbor problem.
We had this one house a little further down the street that was quite every day except one day in the summer.
On those nights they would have a party, and play really loud music.
I would lay in my bedroom and wait until 1am and then I would go over and ask them to turn down the music.
The problem was that it was always on Saturday night and I had to be up for worship early on Sunday.
We had a neighbor problem.
I had a friend who bought a house and had lived there for six years.
They got a new neighbor who insisted that they remove a small shed that was technically on the neighbor’s property.
The first week he came over and asked them to move the shed.
My friend stated that it wasn’t hurting anyone and it had been there for a long time.
The neighbor insisted and eventually went to the town.
My friend moved the shed and the neighbor put up a fence.
They don’t talk.
It was a neighbor problem.

Then there is the bigger issue we have that is asked in our Gospel this morning.
Who is our neighbor?
Jesus’ answer is surprising in so many ways.
Most of the time when we hear this text we think of it as a call to go out and do good deeds for those around us.
Doing good deeds is always a good thing.
But Jesus is getting at something more here.
Jesus is digging down into our neighbor problem, because we all have enemies.
We all have people that make our skin crawl.
We all have people in that we know in our lives who don’t do the right thing, or the smart thing.
And Jesus is asking this lawyer who is well versed in scripture to see his enemies as his teachers.
Are we able to do it?
Are we able to look beyond our neighbor problem?

I want to risk naming one of my enemies this morning.
I am not attempting here to put down anyone else’s political views.
I am merely being honest about my own enemies.
They might not be yours, but they are people that make my skin crawl.
I can’t stand to listen to them because the things they say are so against what I believe.
So…one of my enemies is Michelle Bachman.
I find her to be ignorant on her best day.
And most times I find her downright mean and vindictive.
Just as one example, at a presidential campaign event in Florida She suggested that the 2011 East Coast earthquake and hurricane was a message from God.
"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians.
We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'
Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."
It is offensive to my ears to learn that someone thinks God so vindictive that he destroyed lives so we can all pay fewer taxes.
 Needless to say, I took great pleasure to learn that she was not running again.
Ok she is one of my enemies.
But the question that Jesus poses to me this morning is do I believe that Michelle Bachman can do God’s work.
Do I believe that she is a person who has something to teach me?
Am I willing to be a neighbor to her, not by helping, but by listening and trying to understand another point of view?

Let me put it this way.
Do I believe that Michelle Bachman is a child of God?
Can I see her in this light?

The Samaritan in our Gospel this morning is not supposed to stop and help.
He doesn’t understand God in the right way.
Samaritans are Jews, but according to this lawyer who was more of a pure Jew he was not the right kind of Jews.
Samaritans came from mixed races, and they opposed the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.
They constructed their own temple on Mount Gerizim.
They were considered ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic.
See they were Jews, but in the eyes of the lawyer not the right kind of Jews.
You see the lawyer in our Gospel has a neighbor problem.

The lawyers question is one that often rings in my ears.
Who is my neighbor?
Perhaps in our day when we can easily demonize each other, when we can spend most of our time listening to people that only agree with us, when we can listen to only those shows that share our world view, read papers, books, and magazines that cater to us.
In these times it is more important than ever to be able to reach out to our neighbor.
We can realize that our neighbor problem in most cases is about our inability to listen and understand our enemies no matter who they are.

The stories that I told you at the beginning do not have easy answers.
I can tell you that our congregation in New York led a neighborhood group that handed over to the police information that eventually led to the arrest of our neighbor.
But I can also tell you that when the family wanted to rent the Church for a function I was happy to make it happen.
I can tell you that our neighbors with the loud music still had that party, and still had the loud music.
But when I went over to ask to turn it down they did.
I can tell you that even though they are not best friends.
That my friend moved his shed and the incident did not result in violence.
They still live peacefully next door.

See we are always going to have neighbor problems.
How do we as people of faith handle them that is question?
And are we able to see in the other a child of God?
Can we see in our enemy someone who might be able to teach us?
Are we willing to listen, to understand, to reach out, to forgive, and to act in peace?

Notice this morning I am not giving any easy answers.
This is on purpose.
Because the parable that Jesus tells about the Good Samaritan should not be an easy one for any of us.
We should all have to struggle with the conclusions.
We should all have to battle our neighbor problems.
And if we do perhaps we come a little closer to living out what Jesus asks us.
“Go and do likewise.”
Go into the world with all of the complexities that come from the relationships we form, with all of the people with their varying different opinions and lives, and live as a neighbor.