Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sermon 2-17-08

Sudden Changes

Moments of change often arrive without notice, without warning ye have the the power to turn our world upside down. An accident can cause injury to body and spirit, which takes, months, years to heal.
One phone call can bring either sad or glad news. Pastors tend to either hide from, or anticipate phone calls this time of the year from the District Superintendent because it could be a call to move to another church. You hide out if you don’t want to move, you anticipate if you re waiting to see if you are being offered another church, because you and the church you are currently serving have agreed it is a time for a change.
Phone calls can change our lives if it is the news of a person close to us has died. Or if we are awaiting the news of a new baby, who is past due!
The weather can bring change, tornados or hurricanes have the power to change the lives not just for individuals but whole communities. Of course we here in S.-Cal. live with the potential of an earthquake or wildfires destroying our homes.
Change can come with forces outside our control, or can be choices we make. Sometimes like Abraham who gets a sudden and life changing call from God, it is all about how we react that gives change a positive or negative impact on our lives. Sometimes like Nicodemus, change is hard to comprehend, what does it mean for us to be born again, to have our spirit transformed from the old to the new?
First, we need to trust God.
Earlier this week I was talking to a fried about an issue I was concerned about. Even though she was way in Tennessee, and I was here, she observed: “ you are really anxious, relax, trust God!” Then I read about the anxiousness of the people who were following Moses in the desert in Exodus, the people quarreled with God, the people complained against Moses, and the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Wow, I was embarrassed to say that I too complain, quarrel with God, especially when I am trying to do something new, especially when I am anxious about something I feel totally out of control about.
Then as we turn to Abraham, I see the opposite reaction to something new. Instead of being anxious, instead of being hesitant, Abraham goes! One commentator says it this way: “God’s speech to Abraham requires Abraham to embrace newness, to go where he has never been, to depart all familiar markings and reference points”.(text for preaching) In other words leave everything you have ever known behind, and go where God tells you.
This is the journey of all who follow Jesus, once we choose to follow him once we embrace the invitation to turn our lives over to him, we are never the same. We leave the old ways of our lives behind, and we are born into a new life, one with God firmly and solidly at the center of all we do.
I remember having a conversation with my father after he had become the president of the Monson Savings Bank, a position he retired from a few years ago, but at the time he started the banking world was changing. I asked him what it was like to be president after all these years of working his way up the ladder, of starting as a teller, and working with several banks. He said he was working harder than ever to keep the bank up to speed with all the changes in the industry. I always remember that conversation because it shattered my image of what a bank president did. I thought it would be a cushy job, a reward for all the hard work he had done all his life, now I thought he could enjoy the fruits of his labor! But no, that was not the case. Then I was in Carl’s Jr, and I read the story of how Carl Karcher the founder borrowed a few hundred dollars against his Plymouth, and purchased his first hot dog stand in 1941. He risked it all to start up his business, to start new, but he did, and the rest is history.

The church is faced with many obstacles in being a thriving and vital presence in the community. In some ways I yearn for the days when the church was the center of the community, times when the blue laws kept business on Sundays at a minimum so people did not have as many choices. I have heard about the glory days of my wife’s church in Montebello, when that church was the only one in town, and so everyone went there, the mayor, the fire chief, city council members, and they were able to build new buildings, raise money for missions, and offer a wide variety of programming.
It is time to relive the glory days, but dangerous if we expect to do the same things today as those churches did in the past. It is time to keep our promise to God, God has loved us, and kept the promise to bless us, and bless us, and bless us. But that means that we are asked to keep a promise too.
It is dangerous for us to harden our hearts and minds to the call of God. We are always being called to be reborn, to shed the old skins we became comfortable in to
“embrace newness, to go where we have never been, to depart from all familiar markings and reference points”. (Ibid).
This takes tremendous trust in God, who goes with us into this strange and wonderful new life.
We live in a world where many have become weary of the fallout from their destructive habits and attitudes, and want a new way of living. This week we had many reminders of the hurt many in our world, suicide bombers trying to upset the elections in Pakistan, another shooting on a college campus, this time in Illinois. the service of a Swat officer, an illegal street race turning deadly, just to name a few of the sad experiences of this world. The world needs Many want to feel joy and worth, relief from pain and a connection to others that fosters intimacy. Being born again means a new life free from
A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, got together to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups — porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some exquisite — telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice-looking, expensive cups were taken up, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is normal for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the source of your problems and stress. Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In most cases it is just more expensive and in some cases even hides what we drink.

What all of you really wanted was coffee, not the cup, but you consciously went for the best cups. And then you began eyeing each other’s cups.

Now consider this: Life is the coffee; the jobs, money and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of the Life we live.

Sometimes, by concentrating only on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee God has provided us.” God brews the coffee, not the cups. Enjoy your coffee!

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything. They just make the best of everything.” Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.
Stephen Marsh, assistant to the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Southeast Michigan Synod and director of Acts in Common, a ministry with African-American congregations, asserts that a congregation that determines the most serious needs of its community and then sets out to address those needs is the one that will flourish.

In the July 2007 issue of The Lutheran magazine he writes, “Today, church growth and renewal statistics clearly show ministries that ascertain a community’s needs and then creatively meet those needs are the ones that thrive. These congregations understand that Jesus didn’t just teach about loving the neighbor as yourself but also practiced showing such love.

“The renewal of our Jesus communities, our congregations, depends on realizing that ‘love’ is an action word. Congregations must creatively give themselves away in the name of Jesus, the name that is all about love.”


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