Monday, December 19, 2016

Do Not Be Afraid to Love!

How many of you believe that Joseph loved Mary?
I do.
But we notice that in the Christmas story after hearing of Mary’s pregnancy his first reaction is “do away with her quietly”.
You can’t blame him.
He is doing what the law requires.
According to Deuteronomy a women who lies with another man should be stoned to death.
Actually what Joseph is doing is more honorable and merciful by not having Mary publicly stoned to death.
Joseph is following the customs and traditions of his day.
Even more he is following his religious teachings.
He is doing the right thing.
He is following the law and being merciful.
He is doing what a good religious person would do.
It is not love that stops Joseph from divorcing Mary.
It is an angel of the Lord.

I have talked about love a lot from this pulpit.
I have used it many times in sermons in my years as a pastor.
I use it so much that I once challenged myself not to use the word love in a sermon for a whole month.
Love is the essence of God.
It is hard to talk about God without talking about love.
It is hard to talk about the birth of Jesus without talking about love.
We are told that the purpose of God’s son coming in human form was because of God’s love for us.
“For God so loved the world….”
Love is everything.

But it is not that simple is it?
Love is harder than we think or know.
We fall in love.
We fall out of love.
We love our new car.
We hate our car.
We love our family.
Our family drives us crazy.
The Beatles told us, “Love is all we need”.
They broke up by the way, couldn’t stand each other after a while.
The band Heart reminded us, “Sometimes Love Ain’t Enough”

If everyone knew the love of God, if everyone lived it out fully with all those they met or came into contact with I would be out of a job.
There would be no need for me to get up here every week and tell you that God loves you, and you to share that love with others.
But if it is so simple why don’t we do it?
Why does Joseph need the angel to tell him what to do?
Why didn’t love carry the day?
Why doesn’t love win the day now?

Here is something we are not told enough.
Love takes work.
Lots of work.
Love takes discipline.
Love is hard.
Love is messy.
It is not just a wishy-mushy emotion that we feel; it is a spiritual discipline that takes every ounce of us to muster.
It takes us looking beyond what we see, what rules we know, what things we have been taught.

I was saying in adult forum last week that I can understand why Christians are/were against homosexuality.
It is not because they are bad people; it is because for years the Church taught that homosexuality was a sin.
Then one day it wasn’t.
I can see why that is hard to accept.
I believe it changed because of love.
Because enough people have someone they know and love who is gay, and they began to question what was taught to them.
They looked beyond the teaching and tradition to love.
I was in the NH legislature when they were debating same sex marriages.
One pastor stood up and said, “This is all nice, but my God is a God of truth.”
I wanted to say, “Yes and the truth is that God is love.”

Who are we asked to love?
What does love help us do?
I would like to believe that Joseph decided to keep Mary as his wife partly out of love.
I believe that the angel told him what he really wanted to do all along.
That he was relieved that he didn’t have to part ways from Mary.
Joseph’s act of love would not be easy for him.
It probably brought ridicule, and people wondering if he lost his mind.
But it was the right thing to do.
We often talk of Mary accepting her role in this incredible story, but we forget that Joseph too had an important part to play.
That he too had to make a difficult choice.
He heard the angel, and in faith and in love acted.
We forget sometimes that we are called to do the same.
We are asked to love even when it is hard, messy, and inconvenient.

This week our whole family was sick at some point.
For me it was Wednesday night and Thursday.
My wife was tired and sick, but I got up and threw up.
I didn’t make it to the bathroom.
She probably wanted to be in bed, but she got up to help me clean up.
That is what love looks like.
Love is in the middle of the night helping someone clean up their puke.
Love is hard.
It is messy.
It is inconvenient.
It is ugly.
But it is God’s way.
It is the only way.

We can’t rule our way through life.
We can’t follow tradition and ceremony our way through life.
All we can do is love.
Not to love is to miss the angel’s message.
“Do not be afraid…..”
Take this chance on this person because of love.
Do this thing that seems crazy because of love.
Break this tradition or this rule because of love.
Risk this ridicule, people staring for love.
Be disciplined and strong for love, and do not be afraid.

In this Christmas season I hope you experience the call to love.
You will miss the angel’s invitation to take a risk for love.
Do not be afraid to love.
Vicki’s uncle Angelo had his 93rd birthday a couple of weeks ago.
At his party he gave a speech and told us, “don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them.”
That is my message to all of you today.
Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them.
God’s not afraid to tell you how much he loves you.
That is why Jesus came to show us God’s love and gives us the strength to love each other.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Long Game

We are a playing a short game, and God is playing the long game.
We are running a 5k, God is running a Marathon.
We see finitely, God sees infinitely.
This is why we are so impatient.
We don’t have the time to wait around for things to happen.
We only have so much time, so many years to give.
Things have to happen quickly for us.

I was struck by this truth this week at the Family Promise one year event.
I have been working on getting Family Promise to come to Concord for about five years before it got up and running.
And I can tell you it felt longer than that.
Sometimes it felt like I was working on it forever.
And there were many times when I wasn’t sure it would happen.
But there we were in that house attached to the Capital Center.
There was a really good size crowd maybe 60 or so people.
People smiling, people happy to be there, proud of what we have all done together.
It made me feel so good.
It was a labor of love for me.
I can’t tell you how many people told me it was a bad idea.
That this wasn’t what Concord needed.
That I didn’t understand.
I had some hard moments.
And I wasn’t sure we would get to the moment we had on Thursday.
I wish you could have been there.
I wish you could have heard Bow’s story.
Bow, who has three young daughters.
Bow, who was in prison, was on drugs.
Bow who told us that Family Promise was more than a program for him.
He had been in programs before, but this was family, this was about doing.
Bow who told us he got a job that day with tears in his eyes.
All those years, all those people that told me this wasn’t going to happen or this was a bad idea, I did it all for Bow, although I had no idea at the time.
We run the sprint, God the marathon.
We see in moments in front of us, God sees in grandeur time.

After I went up to Bow, and I told him that it was a great speech.
He reminded me that we had met before, that his wife and he come to me for help.
We helped, but not like this.
I didn’t know when he came last time that we would be together 6 years later at this event.
Bow told us he believed in God and that God lead him to this moment.
I believe that too.

God for a long time, longer than any of us can imagine, has been trying to get our attention.
God has been trying to remind us of the infinite.
God has been trying to tell us that life is about more than what we see right in front of us.
And we always fail to listen.
We always only can’t imagine beyond what we want, what we need in this moment.
But it is so much more.
John the Baptists was one of those people God sent us to remind us, to point the way beyond the here and now.
John came telling us to repent, because the time was right, because the time is infinite, and there is God at the end of time.
John was one of the many prophets God sent.
And yet we don’t listen, we don’t understand.
John will be arrested and killed just like the other prophets.
Just like God’s son.
Just like the Messiah.
Surely we will listen to God’s son.
No…Not even that.

Today’s theme is patience.
And I am amazed at God’s patience with us.
God is infinitely patience.
God gives us chance after chance.
God is giving us time to understand to repent.
And we are too busy, too impatience to want to understand.

But now in this time we take great comfort in infinite nature of God.
I take comfort not knowing what the future holds, what everything means, and how it all ties together.
A colleague told me this week that she was disappointed about the election because she believed the Church was making “progress”.
That the world was turning for good.
I want to believe that.
But the truth is I don’t know how it all comes together, where everything goes.
I only know a very limited piece of it.
I know this part that I play.
And I know that it always doesn’t move in some progression.
Just like our individual lives don’t always move in some forward progression, neither does our corporate lives.

The women who started Family Promise, Karin Olson, was also there on Thursday.
She shared with us her journey of how and why she started Family Promise.
And that story is not a straight line either.
She thought she was going to be a nurse, and then a business person.
Her story was filled with starts and stops.
She wasn’t even sure where it all would lead.
She had no idea to know that it would lead to over 200 affiliates across the country.
She didn’t know the impact it would have.
It is no wonder that we don’t have much patience.
We can only see what is in front of us.
We can only see the moment with all of its complications, and twist and turns.

And that is why this morning I don’t want us to think about us becoming more patience.
I am not sure that is our roll in this life.
We don’t have enough time here to be patience with things.
Instead I want us to see God’s patience.
Yesterday at Planet Fitness I ran into someone who told that Advent is not about us trying to get God to see us, but about us seeing God.
That is true.
We are trying to work on seeing God so that when God shows up in a manger, in a little backward town, with shepherds.
When God shows up as a poor baby we won’t miss it.
We won’t overlook the significance.
And today we look and see God’s patience with us.
That again and again God sends people to remind us of who we can be, who we are supposed to be.
That God reminds us of who God is to us.
God sends prophets, preachers, and teachers, and most important God sends God’s Son.
Can we see?
Can we hear?

Again and again we miss it, but God is patiently waiting for us.
God is playing the long game.
God is hoping that we will come around.
God is waiting for people like Bow to see how much it means for him to be a good father, waiting for Karin to see that her life was leading to helping homeless families, waiting for you this day to see God in your brother or sister in need.
We are impatient, we only see right now.
God is patient and sees forever.
Today I hope we give thanks to God for being patient with us.
And I pray to God that we too can play the long game.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Now Thank We All Our God!

A friend on Facebook asked this question this week.
“What do you consider to be your core values? The guiding moral compass by which you navigate the murky waters of connection and communication with your fellow human beings?”
I thought it was a good question.
And here is my answer.
I believe that every human being is flawed, sinful, and selfish, including myself.
That is my core belief.
It is what I assume about the world around me.
You might say, “That is really a pessimistic view of the world.”
I don’t think so.
I think it is a realistic view of the world.
The world is what it is.
It is important because I am not caught off guard, I am not surprised, shocked, disappointed by what people do.
I assume it, because people are people.
I don’t really expect them to get better, or do something drastically different to improve life here on the earth.

On the other hand I have a core belief that God loves this world.
That God loves all of us who are flawed, sinful, and selfish.
God redeems us, reforms us, and reclaims us.
God makes right what we cannot.

I mention this because today our theme is hope.
And I am hopeful.
But you just said, “Everyone is flawed, sinful, and selfish and we can’t make the world better”.
I didn’t say was I was optimistic, I said I am hopeful.
There is a big difference in my view.

The Czech writer Vaclav Havel once wrote, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism.
It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Hope carries with some element of trust.
Hope is the belief that together we can make things better.
Hope takes courage.
Hope is active.
But here is the thing what do we hope in.
We might hope for better outcomes in the world.
We might hope for a more just world, a more peaceful world.
And that is good.
But who is bringing in that world.
Certainly not us, we are too much concerned about our own selves, to make that happen.
Certainly not the Government we elect to represent us.
Certainly not anything I have come across in this world.

But I don’t hope for things.
As a person of faith, I hope in something.
My hope is always in God.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is about this very thing.
Today’s Gospel is apocalyptic literature, part of a longer section in Matthew about the end of the world.
It is meant to lift back the curtain and show us what the end looks like.
It is to show us what the powers of the world really look like.
And it is not pretty.
The powers of the world are monstrous.
And the only thing that defeats them is God’s goodness.
Matthew wrote his Gospel to encourage Christians to remain hopeful during difficult times.
To remind us to be alert so we can see God at work.
“Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Matthew writes so his faith community can trust that God was working through all the things that they faced in the world.
Matthew believed that faith in God lead to an ethical life.
That because of faith we could and would serve our God and neighbor and live out justice and grace.
Yes, the world was flawed, sinful, and selfish, but God was working it all out.
Put our hope in God, to make us and the world better.
As it says in Psalm 39, “My hope is in God.”

We need that hope.
We need it at all times.
Many people will think that we live in the worst times ever, but I can assure you we do not.
We live in relative easy times compared to what others throughout history have faced.

Consider our hymn of the day today.
I choose this hymn so I could tell you the story that lay behind it.
It was written by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor in the little village of Eilenberg, in what is today Germany.
He was a pastor during the thirty years war, one the worst wars in all of European history.
Because of this war his little town was a place where refugees flooded into, and his walled town was surrounded by Swedes.
Not on only that but there was the plague going around.
He was the pastor of this little village and all around him people are dying.
It has been said that he once did as many as fifty funerals a day.
He buried his wife, and all of his pastor friends.
His little village was surrounded by Swedes and they wanted a huge ransom to stop fighting.
The good Rev. Martin went out and negotiated peace and the hostilities ended.
Things eventually returned to normal.
Martin wrote this song for all those that survived war and the plague.
Think about that.
He wrote a song about giving thanks to people who were devastated by war, famine, and fear.
What could they possibly have to give thanks for?
They could give thanks to God, because it is in God that we put our lives.
It is in God that we trust and have hope.

It is true without God there would be no reason to be thankful.
And this morning I want us to think about how God gives us hope.
Without God things are very grim.
There is war, famine, death, and fear.
Without God there is only our flawed, sinful, and selfish self.
But with God we can believe in the power of the resurrection.
We can believe in redemption for us all.
With God we can have hope that the powers of this world will not rule forever, and that God will have the last word.

That is truly worth giving thanks for.
And we just gave thanks, on Thursday around Thanksgiving tables.
And maybe it was too easy.
To easy to sit around a dinner table filled with food, surrounded by loved ones, in relative safety and say all the things we are thankful for like family, food, friends.
But also we know that even today our lives are not as always easy as they look.
That we too are filled with fears about what is happening in the world.
What our children face.
We are filled with empty souls that turn too easily to material things to bring our lives satisfaction.
We are filled violence in our hearts.
And we too need to remember that even in our sinful, flawed, and selfish selves we are Thankful to God for giving us hope.
Hope that we can and will make a difference to others in this world.
Hope that we can be used to love others.
Hope that this world is worth fighting for and striving to make more just and loving.

“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices…”
Thanks be to God for giving us hope that indeed Jesus will come into our hearts, and into the world to tear away fear, famine, and war, and make us and the world the place it should be.
During this season of advent we wait for that with eager anticipation and hope.