Monday, March 31, 2014

Moving Forward

Sometimes we have a hard time letting go.
We have to move on in life, but we can’t let go of the past.
We can’t let go of something that happened.
We want to hold onto grudges, people not good for us, lives we wished we had.
But letting go is essential in life.
It is essential for new birth.
It is essential for growth and change.
Letting go is essential for us to move forward.

In our Biblical story this morning we start with the Samuel having a hard time letting go.
Saul was his king.
He had been Saul’s spiritual adviser.
He didn’t want to let go.
“When will you stop mourning Saul?” God asks.
When will you move on?
When will you let go of what used to be?

It is tough for us to let go, to move forward, and to see things from a new perspective.
I think back on my own life, and some of the things I have left in the past.
It was not easy.
It was painful.
I have had to move on from certain relationships that were not good for me, or for the other person.
In the long run it worked out, it was for the best, but it was still difficult.
Just as it is difficult for Samuel to leave behind Saul and find the next king.

It is interesting that the next king would be different from the last.
Saul was one thought of when thinking of a king.
Saul was a military leader he was tall, majestic, and strong.
God’s next choice was weak, small, and a shepherd boy.
In fact, not the person Samuel thought God would choose at all.
And this is the best reason to let things go, to move forward, because God has something new for us to learn, something new to understand about ourselves, about God, or about the world.

You know when we think that God has a plan for our lives I think we miss something important that the journey is sometimes just as important as the end.
We say God has plan because we want to get to the happy ending.
But along the way there are lots and lots of great stuff that happens to us.
We get to experience the change, to see the ways that God subtly moves us in a direction.
And we can see in the small things God at work.

In high school I had this friend who I spent most of my time with.
He was a good person, and a very good friend.
But when we were together I mostly got in trouble.
My parents didn’t really enjoy that we hung out together.
There came a point when we kind of started to drift apart because I started to change my life dramatically.
I started to do really well in school, I started to work at going to college, my faith became a more important part of my life.
And then there came a day when we stopped hanging out together at all.
It was a relationship that I had to leave behind.
I came to realize that I wanted different things in my life than my friend did.
I came to realize that we were simply going in different directions.
It was painful, but it was necessary for me to leave it behind.
I also wouldn’t take any of it back.
I don’t regret having him as a friend.
I learned lots of great things from that time in my life, but it was simply time for us to part.
I also believe that God was at work helping me move in a different direction.

I think we all have relationships like this in our lives.
They were good for us at certain times, they made sense, but at some point we had to move on, we had to grow, to change, and to find a different path.
God all the time is working on us in this way.
God is calling us to some new horizon we have not yet thought of, or dreamed of.
And it is only possible when we are ready to leave certain things behind.

I am reading the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book this year for lent.
Someone suggested that it is a good book to read as a Lenten devotion.
I am not reading it because I think I have a drinking problem, but because in its pages are many spiritual truths.
In step four, Alcoholics are encouraged to make a personal inventory of themselves.
To look at the things in their lives that need to be left behind, the things in their character that needs to be discarded.
The big book suggests that the number one flaw that alcoholics face is resentment.
It is the thing that needs to be left behind.

I thought about this and I realized that for many of us this is also true.
That we have built up in our heads a lot of resentment about our lives.
We resent that we are not more successful, more beautiful, more rich, or whatever.
We are resentful at the people in our lives that we feel are holding us back.
Our partners, our kids, our employer, our friends, can all be seen as people that we are angry at because we are not the person we think we are.
How true is that of us in our lives?
How much do we need to let go of resentment?

This lent perhaps it is good for us to think about the things that we need to let go of.
The things God is calling us to move on from.
So that we don’t build up resentment and lose track of the ways that God is trying to work in our lives.

I wonder if the disciples felt any resentment towards Jesus after his crucifixion and before Easter morning.
They had given up everything to follow him.
They had been promised that they would be “blessed”.
They had been promised that the “Kingdom of God had come near.”
They wanted so badly for Jesus to be the promised Messiah they had hoped for.
And then it all went so horribly wrong.
Perhaps they had not let go of things in their past so they could be ready for what was to come.
They had not yet given up on their idea of what a king should be, what a messiah should be.
And this is why they missed not only the end but also the journey along the way.
And therefore were not ready for the ways that God was about to change their lives.

In lent we are getting ready for Easter morning.
We are preparing ourselves for death and resurrection.
What do we need to get rid of in order to be ready for God to change our lives, and for those lives to be reborn?
What resentments are we holding on to?
What unhealthy relationships are we involved in?
What ideas of God are we holding on to that are no longer true?

Lent is a good time to take inventory of ourselves.
It is a good time to let go of unhealthy things in our lives.
It is a good time to be ready for God to change our lives so that as Christ died and rose, we too might die and rise with Jesus.
It is a good time to not worry so much about the end of the story, but to enjoy this time in our lives so we might see God’s grace at work and grow from these experiences.

Crazy Theories

Someone asked me if the missing Malaysian flight 370 is a sign of the rapture.
I think it was kind of meant to be a joke, but I hear a lot of crazy theories about the rapture in my line of work.
I think people think this way because they want to try and make sense out of the world.
They want there to be answers to crazy things that happen.
We live in a crazy world; it is often hard to make sense out of it all.
It doesn’t make sense that in a world where you we are being videotaped all the time, when you can go to Google earth right now and see a live picture of this Church from space, that we somehow lost an airplane and have no idea what happened.
We want to make sense of it.
We want to understand how a routine flight goes wrong.

I believe that we feel out of control a lot of times in life.
Often times it feels like we are in the wilderness groping about trying to find the Promised Land.
It is a difficult journey.
Lots of things that could and do go wrong.
There are the wild animals, the fighting amongst people, the harsh weather.
In the Bible if you are in the wilderness it is not a good place to be.
It means that you are about to die.
I sense that this is how lots of people live life, always thinking that this is it.
That we are just a couple of bad steps away from something really horrible happening.
And in some cases it seems like calamity will and can strike.
We feel like we are in the wilderness wandering, lost, and on the verge of dying from thirst.
What can we do?
Where can we turn?

One of the possible solutions to this problem is to leave the wilderness and go back to Egypt.
You see in Egypt things might have been bad, but at least they were secured.
You had some safety.
Yes, you were a slave, but at least you knew that after a lot of work you would have a place to sleep, food, and water.
Egypt is much better than the wilderness.
Lots of us seek security in the stuff we have accumulated, the homes we built, the cars we drive, the 401k we have amassed.
Sure we are slaves to those things, they end up owning us, but at least we are sure where we will sleep, when we will eat, and what we will drink.

But if we need to see the falsity of this assumption all we have to do is see how people react when something goes wrong.
Like flight 370, or the millions of stories that populate the news about the top calamity of the day.
We are shocked when a small suburban “safe” neighborhood experiences a horrible tragedy.
We are shocked, because we are supposed to be safe from such things.
We have moved as far away as we can think of from the wilderness.

But more needs to be said, because even with all of our possessions and nice safe suburban living we are still not in good shape.
We still feel unfulfilled, we still feel not worthy, we have lots of negative thoughts about ourselves, about our neighbors, and about our world.
Egypt seems so nice, but we forget that we were slaves there.

And here is the other thing that we forget is that in the wilderness we are not alone.
God who has led us there is there with us.
One of the most shocking things about today’s story is how quickly the people forget what God has done for them.
Before this story the people had complained that they had no food so God made manna rain down from the heavens.
Even that is not good enough and they complain that they don’t have meat, so God gives them meat.
And now they are complaining about water.
Next they are going to complain because they really wanted lemonade!
What they forget is that it was God who rescued them from Egypt.
It was God who sent the plagues against Pharaoh.
It was God who parted the Red Sea so they could safely pass, and God who closed it so Pharaoh’s army was drowned.
They forget the goodness of God.

And perhaps we sometimes forget too.
We ask the same question that the people ask wandering in the desert, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
We have forgotten all the things that God has done.
The most important thing for us is that God sent his son to be with us, to walk among us, to show how much God cares for us, and ultimately his Son dies to show that death has no power, that love wins the day.
And yet we sit here now and wonder is the Lord among us or not?
We get upset over the smallest part of life that goes wrong.
We worry too much about things we can’t control.
And we sit and complain that we are thirsty.

We are only thirsty because we have forgotten that the well is not dry.
That we have living water that means we can never be thirsty again.
But none of that seems to matter because we want to know what God has done for us lately?
Sure God once upon a time made water come from a rock, but what has God done for me today.
That takes all the power out of the stories.
We tell these stories not merely to say something that was once true, but to remind ourselves of what God will do for us today.
These stories of God’s people and God are also our story, because we too are often in the wilderness.
We feel lost and abandoned, and what we are hoping for is a miracle.
Instead what we should be longing for is a relationship with the living God who lives with us, we want the stick that will bring water from the rock.
It is not the stick that brings water from the rock, it is not Moses, it is God.
God is the one who brings real life into our lives.
But we try to find real life not in God, but in finite things.

Jesus tells us that we are looking in the wrong places.
It won’t be about the physical things, but the spiritual things.
There we will find true freedom, security, safety, and release from the lives that feel dry and empty.
This is what the woman at the well experiences with Jesus.
This is what we experience with Jesus too.
It is a life never dried up, never used up, a life filled with endless water and true life.
And that is what lent is for to bring back the water into our lives, to help us live again in that relationship with Jesus.
It is to prepare us for Jesus death, but also his resurrection.
To prepare us for our resurrection, to bring us out of the desert, out of lives that feel dry into new life.

This is why lent can be helpful to us, not so that we can think about all the bad stuff we have done, but so we can think about and give thanks for all the great things God has done for us.
To think about all the ways that God has been there for us in the middle of the noonday sun, as we feel lonely and beat down by life, God comes and speaks with us and offers us cool water to drink drawn from the well of spiritual coolness.
Otherwise we end up the like the Israelites wandering in the dessert.
We forget what God has done for us, and therefore what God is doing.
We end up wondering if God cares at all.
We end up wondering if God is there at all.

This morning I tell you that God is here, God does care.
And so we don’t need any crazy theories to explain what is going on in our lives.
We just need to remember that God is with you even in the desert, even when you feel used up, and dried up.
God is there to the end, and beyond.
God is the true water that never goes dry and leaves us invigorated wanting to share with the rest of the town what God has done.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

All We Have Is Faith

We all like to see the end of something.
We like to see how everything wraps up.
Perhaps this is why we like television shows.
We see problems that are resolved in a ½ hr or an hr.
We like to see the happy ending.
But what if things don’t work out that way?
What if the ending is not so much in sight?
Let us take Abram from this morning’s first reading.
He is called by God to leave his home and travel to an unknown place.
He is promised two things.
One, that he will have this land.
And two, that his heirs will be numerous.
We have the advantage of hindsight.
We know this story.
We have seen how it unfolds.
But think about Abram.
He doesn’t know.
He is 75 years old with a barren wife, asked to travel to a place that is unknown and could also be barren or already inhabited.
Everything at this point in the story is unknown.
All Abram has is faith.
All he has is faith that God is good to his word.
Faith that somehow it will work out the way that God has promised.
All he has is faith that this is really what God wants of him.

Like Abram that is all any of us have faith.
We don’t know how everything will work out when we make major life decisions.
When we are having kids we don’t know what they will be like.
I was listening this week on NPR as a reporter was talking about an interview he had with the father of Adam Lanza’s, the boy who killed so many innocents lives at Sandy hook Elementary last year.
The reporter was asked what he learned from the interviewer.
And he said that we can never learn why Adam Lanza became this person.
That it would be easy and convenient for us to blame the parents, but the truth is that they did everything they could to raise Adam normal.
That is not very reassuring for those of us trying to raise kids that are productive healthy members of society.
But perhaps it is the truth.
No one ever starts out with their kids thinking, “I am going to raise a mass-murderer.”
When we start out on the journey we just don’t know the ending.
And all we have is faith.

Same could be true for marriage.
Truth is that no matter how long you date someone.
No matter if you live together or not you will never know everything about that person.
You will never know how much you change, how much they change, how much life changes.
I remember going to lots of weddings in my 20’s and 30’s, and I remember how happy we all were at the time, I remember how young we were.
And now I think about how naive we were.
And now that we are in our 40’s and some of those happy couples are getting divorced, how some of them just feel “unfulfilled”.
Or that marriage is too hard.
Or that things just didn’t work out the way we all planned.
That is the thing we just never know the outcome.
We never know what will happen along the way to “happily ever after”.

The same can be said for any major life decision.
If you take a new job you don’t know if it fulfill your life’s calling.
If you move to a new place you don’t know if will ever feel like home.
We define faith as believing in man in heaven with a beard.
But faith is about more than this.
It is about the daily rising to see our lives from a different perspective.
It is about everyday being born again, so that we can experience the world around us in awe and wonder.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of viewing life from only two perspectives.
One is that life has become common place, routine, and boring.
 When we are born from above we can see ordinary life as extraordinary, because we believe that God is working in it.
The second is that life is scary to us because it is new and unknown.
When we are born from above we can see the possibilities of new adventure undertaken with God.
Faith is about the daily need we have to know that there is a greater plan.
That all these things add up to something more.
We need faith to believe that our marriages matter, that our kids are important, that our jobs serve our neighbors, that we are where we are supposed to be at this moment.
Faith is the ability to believe that anything is possible.

If you think about Abram, he didn’t get to where he was going without lots of interruptions.
It was not an easy path.
There were moments of doubt; like when Sarah laughed when strangers suggest that she will have a child.
Before this story is over, Abraham will almost lose his wife in Egypt.
There will be much pain with Hagar and Ishmael.
The barren couple will finally experience the joy of an own son.
They will come close to losing him, and that is only in their own life time.

We know now that indeed the great majority of the world sees Abraham as their spiritual heir.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims all trace their lineage back to Abraham.
There are roughly 2.1 billion Christians in the world, 1.6 billion Muslims, and 14 million Jews in the world, 2/3 of the world’s population are spiritual heirs to Abraham.
So the promise of God came true.
But the way we have gotten there has not been easy.
There have been dangers and setbacks along the way.
The land question still is up in the air, but it is occupied by these three great faith traditions.
Perhaps if we could see our commonality in Abraham we could stop killing each other over the land?
What we see now is that God was true to the promise.
Our question is what is God’s promise to us?
What is it that we believe God will do for us?
I would suggest that it has moved away from this physical promise of land and heirs, into a spiritual promise.
We believe that God is with us as we set out on the different adventures of our lives.
That we believe God is with us in our marriages, in our raising kids, in our jobs, in our homes, in our retirement, in our dying, and finally in our raising to new life with Christ.

What Jesus tells Nicodemous is essentially this, you just can’t look at the physical world for proof of God acting, and you have to see it from above, from the perspective of faith.
St. Paul interprets the act of Abram as a being an act of faith.
That Abram believed God was good to his word, and did as God asked.
And that in our lives we too can be like Abraham by having faith in the spiritual promises given by Jesus Christ.

As we go out today into those adventures that God has called us, into a future not yet known, may God be your constant companion.
May you have faith to know, even when there are unforeseen troubles and trials that God is in it all with you, and for you.
May you know that like Abraham God will bless you in your life’s adventure.