Monday, December 29, 2014

End of the year message

Sermon for 12-28-14      To Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church               Text: Isaiah 61:10-11
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God;

2014 is about to end. For me, this year held so many important events, and experiences. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, sporting accomplishments, school achievements, the rain, and the coolness of winter. We have worked to gather to provide hope for the hungry, by supporting Empty Bowls (fundraiser that benefits the hungry) and the Baily Center at the Tujunga UMC.(a place where those who need food and a shower can go during the week)  We have worked on peace through educating ourselves about the concerns of others that perhaps we had not understood before, issues like prison life, hunger, education of those who are considered uneducable, HIV/AIDS.
We worshipped and held meetings; we shared food and fellowship, love and concern, prayers and greetings.
We cried when we felt the pain of living in such an imperfect world, and the sorrow for those who have lost loved ones. We witnessed new families being born through marriage and expanded through birth and adoption. We laughed until we lost our breath, and listened to a stream of stories. We spent money, earned money, received money, gave away money, and tried to be good stewards of money. We sang songs both familiar and new adding to our repertoire, we tripped and fell, we scraped our knees or scratched our arms, we listened to the news and it broke our hearts more times than we thought possible, violence and ignorance running rampant in our world. We said goodbye to those we knew by their art, those who made us cry or laugh, or feel comfort or who moved us to action.
We faced moments when we did not want the moment to end and moments when we thought this was the end.  We shook when the earth moved, burned under the intense sun, sneezed during windy days, and bundled up when it turned cooler.
We gave thanks for the blessings, and yearned for finding the words to express our deepest desires for connection to God, to one another so we could find peace.
We discovered once again the world is scary and magnificent, enormous yet small, strange yet familiar. We discover just when we thought we had it all together, it all fell apart, and yet we started again, and again, and again.
We learned not to trust advertising to give us the truth about the world, nor movies or fiction. But we learned the truth in just a little more depth than the year before even if we cannot put it into words.
We learned that our experience of the world is not the same as others even our neighbors, but somehow we all stop for red lights, and go on green, even when chaos threatens our safety. We have learned once again there is always another way to look at a situation, and how hard it is not to give an opinion before all the facts are presented, how we want things just to stay neat and tidy even though the reality is very chaotic. How do we not fall off of the earth?
As we move into a new year, we will make promises, and break them, resolutions and become unresolved, set goals we will meet and accomplish, we can rejoice and be glad because God prepares us, and gifts us with all that we need to move into the future. That is not to say life will do all it can to steal away the garments of salvation and robes of righteousness from God, but do these thieves foil God? Will God’s gifts be taken from us never to return? Yes life does often give us more than what we can handle, but God gives more, so we can find purpose and honor in the days ahead. God will always be with us and For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

So in those times ahead when we experience a flood of anxiety and worry and fear about whether or not God has been defeated, that our best efforts go unrecognized, that our gift seems to small to impact lives, take heart, God will always spring up again, no matter how many times God’s work gets torn down, plowed under, destroyed, cemented over and abandoned. God is always at work and so we are those who move into the future with hope, and with the assurance that God is at work in the world, in us and you shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

As Howard Thurman said it in his poem The Work of Christmas,

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

Our work, our lives have been born anew, it is time to make music, seek peace and rebuild the nations! Amen.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fears and Halloween

What we think is ours is really not.

I have trouble sometimes with giving away my love and blessing to others. For example, when I meet someone new for the first time, I tend to be careful about letting down my guard, of fully being present with that person in that moment in time. There are too many voices in my head who distract me. I love that Jesus was able to understand the moments he had with others, and made the most of these encounters.
Fear is a big part of my reluctance, I am afraid of far too many things to be fully Christian. I feel afraid of being taken advantage of, being ridiculed, insecurities I have lived with and never let go of.
I feel in control I guess if I withhold my love and blessings, I am the decider, you have earned my trust, you have not.
So my practice is to sign all my emails of late with , Blessings, Pastor Steve. I have to think about it sometimes, but the idea is that the love God pours upon me is such a blessing, I want to share this with others. This blessing is not finite, it is not petty, it is not withheld, even in those terrible moments when I behave badly. I find it takes more energy to withhold than it is to give freely, and so much work that keeps me from freely living.
Life is a gift, I may not always understand or feel wonderful as I live the gift, but when I remember that all I have has been given to me freely, no strings attached, I mean the important stuff, then I can remember that those who  have been left out by myself or others and have not received the gift. They instead have felt love withheld, food withheld, because others think they own these things, but they don't.
I know we need to live lives that reflect the depth and the beauty, and the love of God. We need to be kinder to one another, help one another, forgive one another, share with one another, instead of withholding these gifts.
When we become humble, admitting when we are wrong, seeing how no one is greater than or less than ourselves, we can see the way to be in the world that brings blessings, and love.
There are far too many with big loud voices who want us to judge one another, who want us to do violence against one another, who want us to be afraid, so very afraid. Cause they know when we fear, our best selves go into hiding.
I heard today that Halloween costumes often reflect our greatest fears so we can make fun of those fears when we wear a scary costume.  So I wonder what a bully costume would look like? What would a greedy politician look like, what would a judgmental Christian look like? What would our darkest and most dangerous self look like? We need to name all of these so we can get over them. We need to move forward in bringing blessing, not threats of being left behind, to a hurting world.

Friday, October 17, 2014


J.M. Barrie in the book, "The Little White Bird" writes "Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary". I read this in another book called "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio.
It is a book about many things, but this quote helps me to remember that kindness is so important, yet is often in short supply. I am guilty of feeling unkindly towards others, of letting my judge rule my heart more than the prince of peace, of conforming to the need to fit in and not be ridiculed for being different. I am a mixed up person of many emotions which often play tricks on my logic and so I act in unkind ways that harm or hurt others. This is not my true intent, my true intent is to sow seeds of kindness and acceptance wherever I go. I want to honor each part of creation as I live out my day, but so often I fail, and see myself acting out of unkind motives.
So, perhaps if I focus on being a little kinder than necessary, go beyond the expectations I imagine others have of me, or I have for myself, I will see an opportunity to act with radical kindness. Maybe this starts with myself and instead of putting myself down for those times I do not act with the best spirit, to let go and accept my murkiness. The only thing I can do is stay in the present and be kind.
To find ways of nurturing that kindness and pushing out the rest means seeing others as human, a mixture of kind and murkiness just like me. I choose to connect to their kindness or to the murkiness, in how I act, how I think about them.
There are those who really test my patience, and who seem outside this rule, kindness? Sometimes I rather they just go away to some isolated place and think about the bad they have done. But, if I give up on them even if they have given up on me, am I really being kind, am I being kinder than necessary?