Sunday, December 23, 2007

Turning Harm into Good

When you have been hurt it is hard to let Out the agony
The denial of your pain is collaborated by Those closest to you
They do not see, they turn away when The harm is exposed
They evangelize against you.
Often, you are the only one who can choose a different way
But as a pioneer for good health,
You leave cherished ones behind, but not forgotten.
You know you cannot ever go back
Never choose the old habits,
Yet you wonder if you will always be alone
Unable to speak of the past
In a moment of circumstances
Reversed, you control the care of those Who did not care for you, and you cannot Choose with any good conscious to harm Them the same way their bitter hate Wounded you, and so the divide Becomes greater to those who do not try to understand.
Still others do understand for they have been there too
Unique in their stories, but woven together with yours
Partners in transforming harm into good.
SPM 2007

Sermon on the Messiah by Handel

Choices, the choices we make each and every day have an impact on how our lives are shaped, and how our lives impact the lives of others. As the shopping frenzy reaches its climax at sundown on Christmas eve, I realize the most anxiety producing, heart racing, brain freezing, action procrastination decisions I make to get the right present are at Christmas. No matter how much time I have, no matter how early I start, I always feel I have fallen short of the perfect gift choices! But choices are what I have to decide on, no one wants the excuse that you could not decide. The choices we make are important in our journey of faith as well. In today’s scripture, we learn our Messiah will choose good over evil, and will be a light for the nations. In our moments of indecision we need this light to guide us in the difficult times, in the ordinary times, in the joyful times of our lives.
This week I did some research on the life of George Frideric Handel , who composed the masterpiece being performed today by the Claremont Symphony Orchestra, Messiah, . This music which has become a tradition at Advent time, almost would not have been written Handel had made different choices.
If Handel's father had had his way, the "Hallelujah Chorus" would never have been written. His father was a "surgeon-barber," a no-nonsense, practical man who was determined to send his son to law school. Even though Handel showed extraordinary musical talent as a child, his father refused for several years to permit him to take lessons.
When George was eight or nine years old, a duke heard him play an organ postlude following a worship service. Handel's father was summarily requested to provide formal music training for the boy. His father chose to follow the summons of the duke. By the time Handel turned 12, he had written his first composition and was so proficient at the organ that he substituted, on occasion, for his own teacher.
Although Handel would go on to write great music in England, he suffered personal setbacks. Falling in and out of favor with changing monarchs, competing with established English composers, and dealing with fickle, hard to-please audiences left him on the verge of bankruptcy more than once.
Audiences for Handel's compositions were unpredictable, and even the Church of England attacked him for what they considered his notorious practice of writing biblical dramas such as Esther and Israel in Egypt to be performed in secular theaters. His occasional commercial successes soon met with financial disaster, as rival opera companies competed for the ticket holders of London. He drove himself relentlessly to recover from one failure after another, and finally his health began to fail. By 1741 he was swimming in debt. It seemed certain he would land in debtor's prison.

On April 8, 1741 he gave what he considered his farewell concert. Miserably discouraged, he felt forced to retire from public activities at the age of 56. Then two unforeseen events converged to change his life. A wealthy friend, Charles Jennings, gave Handel a libretto based on the life of Christ, taken entirely from the Bible. He also received a commission from a Dublin charity to compose a work for a benefit performance.
Handel set to work composing on August 22 in his little house on Brook Street in London. He grew so absorbed in the work that he rarely left his room, hardly stopping to eat. Within six days Part One was complete. A few days later he had his mystical experience of seeing heaven and wrote the concluding piece of Messiah, called Hallelujah! This was his attempt to express the joy of seeing heaven, and the witness of Jesus of life conquering death.
I have been to see or sing in Messiah, about 20 times in my life time, ever since I first learned the score in college choir. The words to the music always hit my heart so I would like to highlight a few choices Handel made from the Old Testament to introduce us to the expectations to who this Messiah would be. In doing so, perhaps we can also catch a glimpse of what inspired Handel. I do not include all the verses, only my favorites I will use to share my love of this music with you.

1.Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplish'd, that her Iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness; prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40 : 1-3)
The first word is comfort: a word that will create in us a sense of peace, of contentment. We live in troubled times, when war is claiming the lives, when hunger and poverty still have not been conquered, a time when the world seems to have lost its way. It is good to know that the expected Messiah, will first bring a word of comfort to our troubled souls.
2. Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, and ev'ry mountain and hill made low; the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.
In my last visit to my hometown, Chicopee Mass, I went to a picnic at Look Park in Northampton, a really neat outdoor park where you can build a campfire, throw rocks in the stream, rent a paddle boat. However, the skies darkened and we had a severe thunderstorm, a real down pour, and the winds knocked trees down, and the thunder made you jump! We ran back to our cars and then decided after a waiting until the crowd had left, and the rain lessoned to leave. However, in getting back to our hotel, I had to drive around downed tree branches, pools of water, and traffic that had slowed down to 25mph. All the time we huddled together, the heater doing its best to dry us out, until we could reach the warm safe room where we could change. There are times in our lives when we are trying to navigate through storms, of loss, of financial crisis, of a health problem when we wonder if we will safely arrive on the other side. Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will help us through the rough places of our lives.
(Isaiah 40 : 4)
3. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
(Isaiah 40 : 5)
When we turn to Jesus, we will see the glory of the lord, the light will shine and guide us, comfort us.

Challenges: The Messiah does not only offer comfort, but challenges us to make right choices throughout our lives.
1.Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts; Yet once a little while and I will shake the heav'ns and the earth, the sea and the dry land: And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come.
I went to Danny’s Kosher Pickle for some good chicken noodle soup! The bonus was a guy playing the piano, and he played, “Shake Rattle and Roll”. One line of the lyric says: well you never do nothin' to save your doggone soul. The Messiah does shake up the world, the life and message of Jesus is all about saving your soul, which means you may need to make choices that willl shake you up, make you uncomfortable.
(Haggai 2 : 6-7)
2. The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts.
(Malachi 3 : 1)
Often when we try to change our ways, we might want more time, next Christmas I will make better choices, I will not wait until the last minute etc. But the moment in which Jesus enters into our lives will be a sudden and unexpected. We celebrate both the birth of Jesus into the world in Bethlem so many years ago, and the birth of Jesus in our souls which does not just occur once but in every moment and in every day.
3. But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire.
The Messiah comes to purify our lives, all the impure will be burned away, and our hearts will be renewed.
(Malachi 3 : 2)
Handel chooses then to move us from comfort to challenge to how we can respond to the challenge. The most important message is that God is not a distant God.
1. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.
(Isaiah 7 : 14)
God is with us, in every step, in every breath in all our lives. The presence of God makes all the difference as we travel through life. As I think about all the wonderful holiday memories I treasure, it is not what I received, or gave that really stays with me, what stays with me is who was there, who I spent the time with. This is my seventh Christmas with you here in Walnut, and you need to know I cherish the time we have spent together. I especially value the way you give to others at this time of year, through donations of food for Toberman Settlement house, gifts for those in foster care, time and effort in feeding the homeless, to giving for special offerings, you are surely a small membership church with a giant heart!

2. O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain. O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God! O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Good tidings come in many forms, we proclaim the good tidings by choosing good over evil, by doing good works, by worshipping and singing, by sending cards and gifts. All of this work in whatever form we choose, gives us and those who receive strength.
(Isaiah 40 : 9; Isaiah 60 : 1)
3. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
(Isaiah 60 : 2-3)
In the moments we become lost, God’s light leads the way.
4. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9 : 6)
This is one of my most favorite pieces of the Messiah music, the infant who comes into the world in a hushed manager, goes on to be all of our dreams come true. A wonderful counselor, the prince of peace.

The most famous movement is the "Hallelujah" chorus, which concludes the second of the three parts. The text is drawn from three passages in the New Testament book of Revelation:
1. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. (Revelation 19:6)
The reign of God is what rules the world, and in this reign we can take comfort, we can celebrate, and we are challenged to be faithful followers.
2. And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)
Christmas comes and go, but the work of the Kingdom continues on, every day of our lives, every moment of our faith.
3. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:16)
As we make our final preperations for Christmas, as we anticipate the new year, let us continue to sing this song of promise. As we make choices, as we live, let us do so singing to the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings!

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Scrooge in Me!

Just for fun I wrote an opposite piece:

This Christmas I want to create havoc and fear in the world
When I gather with friends and family
I want to be bitter and resentful
When I send out x-mas cards I want my worlds laced with
envy and malice
I will not be satisfied with gifts and resent others who got stuff I wanted
I will brood and fume over what could of been rather than enjoy the moment
This Christmas I will, out of guilt, fulfill the required outward signs of celebrating
the season
Go to Christmas Eve services
Give money to the poor
Drink a toast to the new year
But inwardly I will feel unappreciated, ignored, taken
advantage of and feel insecure.
This Christmas I will drink too much, eat too much
spend too much, and excuse the excesss to being in the spirit
Yet still get a holiday hangover that will only add fuel
To the yuletide log of guilt and emptiness.
Yeah, Christmas comes but once a year, but the gloomy cloud
of self pity lasts the whole year round!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sermon 12-9-07

Dead Wood: Roscoe, Texas a farm town with a population of just 1,300, is about to become Wind City U.S.A. — the locus of one of the biggest wind farms in the nation and the world. It's a striking development in a state better known as the U.S. leader in emissions of global warming gases.
The wind project is largely due to the vision of a one-armed, 65-year-old cotton farmer named Cliff Etheredge.
"We used to cuss the wind," he says. "Killed our crops, carried our moisture away, dried out our land. But because of the advent of the wind farms, we've had a complete 180-degree attitude change. Now, we love the wind."
A few years ago, Etheredge noticed wind towers sprouting up near his cotton farm and wondered if Roscoe could cash in on the great West Texas wind boom. He hit the jackpot. A company called Airtricity, out of Dublin, Ireland, is spending more than $1 billion installing as many as 640 huge windmills around Roscoe. Together, they'll generate 800 megawatts, enough to power 265,000 homes. That once-cursed wind that blows across the Big Country may ultimately pay royalties to as many as 400 property owners.
"No one could've imagined this three years ago," says Etheredge. "It's absolutely unbelievable."
He says the income from a windmill is more dependable than dry-land cotton farming, where drought and hail are constant threats. Depending on the size of the turbine, a landowner can earn between $5,000 and $15,000 per windmill per year.
A "lot of the farmers around here are getting 10 to 20 towers, so it's going to make living in Roscoe a lot easier for those of us that are farmers here," Althof says.
All of this came just in time for Roscoe, where the trains don't stop anymore. Worse, the Dairy Queen closed three years ago. Cliff Etheredge says that in West Texas, that means your town is really in trouble.
"When I was a kid, all the traffic from Fort Worth to El Paso came right through town," he says. "Well the interstate bypassed town, and that's when it began to just dry up. All these stores began to close and no one reopened them. And no one came back home from college or school, none of the young people did, or very few of them. So mainly we've got a lot of old folks in this town. That's about it."
Now, there are new signs of life. Walking along Broadway Street, Etheredge points with his good arm — he lost the other one to a cotton harvester — to the cafe that's just expanded and the new Mexican restaurant.
"Hopefully, we'll see Roscoe reborn here," he says.(NPR/Environment).
This is one example of how wind can make a difference in the lives of people who were feeling despair about their future.
Today’s scripture talks about the God’s Spirit, which Isaiah pronounces is life giving, future creating, world forming, despair ending power. The tree stump has had its very life ripped off from its roots. There was no trunk, no branches, no leaves, no fruit. But yet, life is still possible, a shoot, barely noticeable sprouts up, is nurtured and once again bears fruit. Isaiah and John the Baptist talk about the reality of such a leader being born into the world so we too can feel the power of God, in the midst of our lives.
A king with spirit
First , this king will have wisdom which is equals practical and FAIR leadership. The story of the wind farms is one of ordinary people who need to find a way of reversing the downward spiral of their economic reality. Cliff Etheridge used practical wisdom to research and then pursue the vision of using the wind, which had brought destruction and applying a practical solution to bring people hope. This project brought a town on the edge of poverty, a new beginning. So too for us the King will bring us a new vision for what is possible even in the times we feel despair and resignation.
The new king will be able to combine counsel and might which equals diplomatic and military SKILL. The New king would know how to make the possibilities become reality. Of course in the prophet and in the preaching of John, both anticipated a military leader who would lead a rebel uprising, ala Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, but as it turns out it is not a military Messiah that is born, but one that advocates for peace, and for people to learn how to get along. The non-violent resistance advocated by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., and many others has its roots in the teachings of Jesus. And as I learned in class at Boston University, Martin’s alma mater, non-violent resistance is still resisting the forces of evil, it is an active not a passive strategy to bring about peace in the world.
Lastly a King with Spirit will have a FEAR of the Lord which equals piety. Fear is used here to denote respect, honor, a giving away of ones own personal agenda to listen to the voice of God, to be in harmony with the deeply rooted values woven into life. This past week the presidential campaign coverage was focused on the speech given by Mitt Romney who addressed a fear that many evangelical Christians have voiced: He said his faith would shape his moral values, but he promised that his church would not dictate his policies.
"Let me assure you," Romney said, "that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin."
This speech echoed the words of John F. Kennedy who had to address the fears raised about his Roman Catholic Faith. Political leaders are not religious leaders, and our system of separation of church and state is a hallmark feature of our government. Yes our political views need to be shaped by the universal morals of our life together, yet we do not need a preacher in the white house, we need someone who fears God but who has the wisdom and skill to lead us a country.
A true Leader that Isaiah points to has several qualities
JUDGES with Righteousness. This kind of leader is not open to bribes, or subject to propaganda, this kind of leader is concerned not with his own needs, but with the needs of the meek and the powerless. The messiah judges us according to how we tended to the needs of these forgotten ones.
A true leader: Believes in the power of GOD. It is a proven fact that leaders who are given too much power, will abuse it. Kings often would get in positions of authority and use it to their advantage, forgetting their pledge to serve God, and the people. A true King would never forget to be humble, and give all the glory to God.
A true leader Rules with Justice: there are far too many acts of injustice in the world, women who are sold as slaves, children who starve, men who are lost in the web of mental illness. Our world is hurting, just as much as it was in the times of Isaiah. We need leaders who will right the ship, who will help our world to function in a healthy fruitful way.
Advent is a time when we anticipate this new King to arrive into the midst of our lives. Isaiah calls us to trust in this new king, the new wind that moves over us, threw us, within us, and give up the ways of the past that have led to destruction. As we move to John the Baptist we go from hearing about the new king and what the king will do, to what our role is in this new kingdom.
We need to anticipate the king and John
Calls us to change FOCUS. This week I was talking to one of the staff people working at my wife Linda’s church. We were talking about her background, and her experience in the church. She said, “you know I really love when worship is for God, and instead of singing about God, we sing to God.” Her words did not really sink in until yesterday when our choir was rehersing for next weeks cantata. As I was singing, I tried changing my focus on my preperation for the cantata concentrating on singing to God. My whole attitude changed, and I had a much more joyful experience in singing. Instead of feeling badly about the mistakes I made, the missed notes, counting wrong, I realized this was all so I could sing of my love to God! Now as we prepare for Christmas, I wonder if there if we could all shift our focus, from having to buy the right presents, make the right food, seeing all the right people, to making things right with God, and making sure our focus is on praising God for the gift of a lifetime, Jesus our Lord and Saviour.
John states that once we repent of our sins, honestly desire to turn our lives around we will bear fruit. John Wesley said, “The fruit of faith whereby we are born of God is power over sin, power over outward sin of every kind; over every evil word and work”. To repent means to be a child of God, to believe in God, through Christ, and not to commit sin and to enjoy at all times and in all places, that “peace of God which passeth all understanding”. Lastly, we are to make our whole life a labor of love. When we honestly repent, we yearn to live a life worthy of God, and all we do worthy to God.
JESUS in redefined: As I mentioned earlier Jesus was thought of as one who would be a military leader. However, Jesus does not take on that role, rather he calls us to love one another, our neighbors, ourselves, the world. Again, Wesley emphasized for us to repent of anything that was contrary to the love of our neighbor: “Find jealousies, any evil surmisings, any groundless or unreasonable suspicions, malice, hatred, bitterness, envy, resentment, revenge, all which do not spring form brotherly love, all which does not agree with that golden rule, ‘What ye would that should do to you, even so do unto them’.
So What? What are we to do in this Advent time to anticipate, and to prepare for Christmas?
I repeat the three actions we can take that I mentioned last week
PRAY attention; By taking more time to pray we can then be open to how God’s spirit is moving in our lives,and in the life of the world. We can lift up all our confessions, all our needs, and refocus on God in prayer. It is free, easy and there are no right ways to pray, we can be formal or informal, as long as we are talking to God, and this is key, wait for an answer.
Prepare and be READY: It is a good time to take moments in the middle of the business of the season, to take account, of all things
WORK FOR PEACE: You and I are working together for peace. We does this in small ways, like studying the Bible together, serving the homeless, worshiping God.
This how we anticipate the messiah, in small ways guided by the wind of God, who turns desperate situations into opportunities for practicing peace.

New book

I am excited because I recently found my old journals packed up in the I am going to be able to put together a book of poems and reflections! I hope you will be interested in this project. Steve

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Link to an interesting article on Church history

If anyone is interested in reading about church history, this short article gives you a glimpse into the history of the church schism that took place. Steve


Greetings to all of you, I wonder if you could comment on what your favorite christmas movie is. I am preparing a sermon for Advent that will be talking about this so, need your feedback, thanks, Steve