Monday, February 25, 2008

Sermon 2-24-08

Birthday of Amy Tan
This past week it was the birthday of of author Amy Tan, born in 1952, in Oakland, California. Tan is best known for her first novel, The Joy Luck Club. A first-generation daughter of Chinese immigrant parents, Tan says she spent much of her youth trying to deny her heritage. From third grade on, she was the only Chinese-American girl in her class. Tan once went a week sleeping with a close pin on her nose, trying to make it narrower and more like her classmates' noses. She was embarrassed by her mother's broken English and by her Chinese customs.

When Tan was 15, her father and older brother both died of brain tumors, within six months of each other. Her mother became convinced spirits were cursing the family, and she moved Tan and her younger brother to Switzerland. Tan continued to rebel against her mother, who wanted her to become a part-time concert pianist and a full-time brain surgeon. Instead, Tan became an English and linguistics major, and fell in love with an Italian. She and her mother didn't speak for six months.

Tan worked as a freelance business writer, working 90-hour weeks to keep up with demand. But she eventually realized she was addicted to work she didn't like. She went into counseling and began writing short stories.

When her mother went into the hospital in 1985, Tan promised herself that if her mother survived, she would take her to China and learn her mother's stories. It was a trip that would change Tan's perspective. She said later, "When my feet touched China, I became Chinese."

Tan's short stories became The Joy Luck Club (1989), a novel about four Chinese immigrant mothers and their relationships with their American-born daughters. It was an instant best seller and was made into a film. (Source: The Writer's Almanac)

In the story of Jesus at the well with the woman who is from a different culture, and his actions in that story are even more amazing when we understand the depth of the division between Samaritans and Jews, Men and women of that time.
Jewish Rules
"How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" This question hints at the cultural and sexual divides that were the norm of that day. To understand the Jewish perspective, all we have to do is remember the stories of the exodus, a time when the nation of Israel was ready to strike out on its own, with God as their guide. They followed Moses who brought to them the law, and the promise of God to be their God. They were to establish themselves as a different from the prevailing cultures who worshiped many gods, and worship only the one God. They were to turn away from paganism, the worship of Egyptian gods, and create a community that was different, one that had a special relationship to Yahweh. So for generations, the chosen people did just that, through good times and bad, during times of abundance and times of drought. And so Judaism would be shaped into the religion it is today, all the while most of the gods that were so prevalent in the rest of the world, would disappear. From this faith, the faith of Abraham, Islam would sprout, out of this faith, Jesus would come and Christianity would be formed. So, for all these many years of faithful obedience there has been a pay off, God has continued to bless the nation of Israel, the faithful who have kept the commandments, who continue to believe in one God.
So as we read the scriptures, we know that the Jews were a bit selective of who they conversed with, who they ate at the table with, and especially drank from the cup with. Here Jesus breaks the rules, and breaks down the walls that have been established between him and someone outside the circle.
What happens? Does the world come to an end? Does the woman run away? Does the water make Jesus unclean? Not in John, who is the evangelist of all the gospel writers. John shows how Jesus goes beyond the barriers to testify of how we need to break down the barriers in our own lives.
Jesus BREAKS the rules God so loves the world! Not just our part, not just the parts that we get along with, not just those who we like! God so loves the world! We cannot run away like Amy Tan did, we need to embrace all the cultures of the world, and learn to live in peace and harmony.
Walls are broken down

As I was reading statistics and stories about how churches are facing the new immigrant populations in their community, none compared to what we are facing right here in Walnut. All we have to do is go out to eat, and we can see the enormous diversity right here! We can eat Thai food, Vietnam, Korean BBQ, Japanese Sushi, New York Style Pizza, Mexican, Indian, These are just a few of the examples of how we reflect a multi-cultural population that has settled here.
This week I went to the Pastors Prayer Network and we had represented a number of churches, some who identify themselves as Chinese or Korean, but who have found they have to have a ministry to non-Chinese and non-Korean because of the diversity here.
The World today
Diversity rules

I believe in the multicultural congregation, our church needs to continue to find ways to celebrate the richness of culture we have represented here. As the world continues to grow larger in population and smaller in the ways we travel and interact, we need to find ways of worshiping together, because we all draw from the same well.

Now I know this work is not easy, we can so frequently step on each others cultural toes, and learn to hate one another for the differences in how we live. We are constantly reminded of how people suffer because of the hatred that develops, in places like Iraq we mourn the deaths of those who continue to act out of desperation to establish domination against others.
President Bush, in visit to memorial of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, says "We must not let these kind of actions take place." In our own backyard, hate crimes against those who are different, gangs fighting gangs for turf all are testimonies to the fact that hate is alive and well.
Hate and suffering
OXNARD, Calif. — Hundreds of mourners gathered at a church here on Friday to remember an eighth-grade boy who was shot to death inside a junior high school computer lab by a fellow student in what prosecutors are calling a hate crime.
Lawrence King in December 2006. A 14-year-old classmate has been charged in his death.
In recent weeks, the victim, Lawrence King, 15, had said publicly that he was gay, classmates said, enduring harassment from a group of schoolmates, including the 14-year-old boy charged in his death.
“God knit Larry together and made him wonderfully complex,” the Rev. Dan Birchfield of Westminster Presbyterian Church told the crowd as he stood in front of a large photograph of the victim. “Larry was a masterpiece.”
The shooting stunned residents of Oxnard, a laid-back middle-class beach community just north of Malibu. It also drew a strong reaction from gay and civil rights groups.
“We’ve never had school violence like this here before, never had a school shooting,” said David Keith, a spokesman for the Oxnard Police Department.(Source: Yahoo News)
Drink from the Well As Christians we are called to get beyond the hate, and love one another as Jesus commanded. We are all to gather at the well, and dip in the same cool refreshing water, and drink.
When we do several things will happen
First, Stop complaining. Like the people in the desert, we often can find ourselves grumbling about this or that. We can complain to God about our circumstances , or about the difficult lives we have. Many of these are of course legitimate. The prayer concerns we have lifted up are of course serious problems. So too were the lack of water for the people in the story of Exodus. Of course they needed water, they could not survive without it, the desert would take victims who did not keep hydrated. So too today, we could not live without water, it is more precious than oil, or gold because we could not live without it. But, the story is there for another reason, because as much as we can see physically our need for water, our souls thirst this much for God. Prayer, worship, caring for others, working for justice, all these are like a drink of cool water. There is nothing that can satisfy our thirst, there is nothing that will refresh us, give us new energy, new vision than what God provides. So if we try to satisfy that thirst with anything else we will be unsatisfied, and we will complain,and we will argue , and we will be quarreling with God. When we find ourselves doing these things, we can see that we have become thirsty, and turn to God.
Second, When we gather at the well, we will Find understanding there that blows our mind! When the woman at the well encounters Jesus there, she finds that Jesus understands everything about her. She is amazed because he knows things she herself had forgotten, what her deepest self was really like. When we drink from the well of God, we too will find understanding, and a blessing of Jesus that will free us from whatever we are grumbling about.
Third, when we drink from the well of God, we will find ourselves wanting to Respond with Worship. And this worship is identified by Jesus is when we worship God with spirit and truth. An authentic encounter with God results with us worshiping in spirit and truth, and then we can say we have met the Messiah! And we will never be the same.
Fourth, we will want to tell the story to others. Just as Connie did today, we want to continue to spread the news of what has happened to us. We will want to share with others, and we will want to hear the stories of others and bring them to the well to drink of the living water of Jesus Christ. And then when they drink they will want to worship and then our worship become a more spirit filled and truth filled experience as well.

Today we prayed for our leaders as they start a new term in helping us to make disciples for Jesus. I admire each and every one of them for their dedication, for their love of God that has caused them to want to help others. You should be proud of them,and I hope you will pray for them as they carry on the work of the church this year.
But you also have a task to do. The danger of having such capable, intelligent leadership is that the rest of us might think all we have to do is let them do the work.
That would be wrong. It is not our job to sit back and complain, when there is things we do not agree with, or if our feelings get hurt. Rather, it is up to all of us to make this ministry work, as a gift to God.
OUR prayers
Our gifts
Our love

We all are unique and special in the sight of God, we all have a unique cultural and spiritual heritage, we are all known by Jesus, yes everything, and yet loved so tenderly that our souls thirst no more. Some of us have been to the well, some of us are still finding our way, but the invitation from God is to work so others can find Jesus, so their thirst might be quenched.

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