Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Create a Right Spirit within me

In my experience as a Hospice chaplain, I was privileged to serve on a dedicated team of caregivers, all dedicated to providing end of life care to patients from all walks of life. As I witnessed this dedicated group, I was amazed at how each team member, from the doctor to the Pharmacy tech, from nurses to the volunteers all brought their best to provide care in the most difficult of situations.

What was a witness to me was how much diversity there is in the team, some are California Natives, some come from different parts of the world. Some spoke English as their first language, others Spanish, or Mandarin. And the families who came to depend on their care are also are very diverse, each with their own family system, cultural heritage and beliefs about death. The witness was how in the midst of the diversity the Hospice team worked to provide such wonderful care that honored each family's wishes.
The key was the commitment to providing end of life care in a compassionate and healing way.
We in the church can learn from those who work in hospice, we can learn how to work together for the healing of the world. We can learn to honor one another and offer the best we can to those who seek God, and avoid getting caught up in fighting about who is right, and how the church can fulfill our wishes. To often we get caught up in the politics of the church and fail to learn how to work as a team to care for a hurting world.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Prayer concerns

I am reading the news about the flooding in Fargo, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/03/30/flood_monday, and want to lift up all those involved with helping with this crisis to God. I ask for strength and endurance for all the residents and those helping hold the flood waters at bay. I will be calling for a special offering in church to help with the relief efforts.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sermon for Lent 5: Following the Prince of Peace

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
John 12:20-33

It is that time again, the time of the year when those in the United Methodist Church decide if they will be retiring, which sparks decisions by our Bishop and the District Superintendents as to who will be appointed. And it is that time of year when all of us United Methodist pastors might receive a phone call asking us to consider moving to another church. Moreover, this happens all across our denomination from California to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from Alaska to Guam.
We serve always at the Bishops discretion, for the first time in 12 years; my wife will be awaiting the phone call, because she will be moving as of July 1rst. I am reminded of the story of graduating seminarian student from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who had just received his appointment from the bishop. He was complaining and grumbling because the appointment did not fit what he felt he deserved. Another Student, in a loving but unsympathetic way patted him on the back and said, “You know the world is a better place because Michelangelo didn't say,
'I don't do ceilings.'"
Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but at first Michelangelo refused, he was a sculptor. He referred to himself as such, and vastly preferred working with marble to almost anything else that life offered. Before the ceiling frescoes, the only painting he had done was during his brief stint as a student.
Julius, however, was adamant that Michelangelo - and no other - should paint the chapel ceiling. What Julius wanted, he usually got. It took him a bit over four years, from July of 1508 to October of 1512, and now it is a treasure, many people on pilgrimage to Rome will visit.
Often we are called to service, to walk with Jesus along an unknown path, one that takes us down the road to places we feel unprepared, or even overly prepared for. However, being a faithful follower of the Prince of Peace, we commit ourselves to do what ever it takes, no sacrifice is too big or too small, no amount of work for the kingdom is too small or too big, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit resonates with the law that is written on our hearts so we will have the strength to serve wherever the road will take us.
We might want to object, just as we might when it comes to housework,
I do not do windows! I never knew the truth of that statement until I as an adult and responsible for cleaning windows how difficult it is to get all the dirt off, especially when you have to climb up on a roof to get the outside! And especially cause just as soon as you get them clean, they get dirty quick and all your hard work goes up in dust!
But cleaning windows also helps me remember how I need to clean away those things in my life that keep from seeing the law God has written on my heart. Create in me a clean heart the Psalmist writes as a prayer to God, to clean away the resistance to answering God’s call to be a faithful disciple.
This is the message the student was trying to share with his friend, when he lifts up the Michelangelo image of how to serve means to follow where ever the Spirit is working in you, even if it comes way of stubborn pope who wouldn’t say no! The world is a better place because of his art. Just as the world is a better place because
Moses didn't say, "I don't do rivers."
Noah didn't say, "I don't do arks."
Jeremiah didn't say, "I don't do weeping."
Ruth didn't say, "I don't do mothers-in-law."
David didn't say, "I don't do giants."
Mary didn't say, "I don't do virgin births."
Mary Magdalene didn't say, "I don't do feet."
John the Baptist didn't say, "I don't do deserts."
Paul didn't say, "I don't do letters."
Jesus didn't say, "I don't do crosses."
Now the interesting thing about all these folks, is that they were not the valedictorians of their class, they were not mayor of their cities, they were not known for their brilliance and oratory skills. In every case their lives were transformed when they listened to the Holy Spirit, and then followed God’s commandment to love one another with all your heart and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Moses had a lisp, but he delivered the 10 commandments, Noah was not a builder but he hosted all of creation on an ark, Jeremiah was not considered the greatest prophet, yet God’s words he preached came true. And Jesus, well Jesus was born in a stable and crucified next to the garbage dump on the most anti-climatic way, on a cross, like a common criminal.
For him to lose his life meant trusting God all the way through the difficulties, all the resistance, and all the hatred. Not exactly a glamorous job. However, as Leonard Sweet states: “If you want to be first, you have to be willing to be last. Do you want to be strong? You have to be willing to be weak. Do you want to win? You have to be willing to lose.
He goes on to say: “What is most weak, most despised, and most contemptible in your life and mine can become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what is most beautiful and most radiant, and what can produce the most blessing.” (The Gospel According to Starbucks, WaterBrook Press, 2007, p.26)>
The weak are made strong, the afraid are given courage, the angry transformed into passionate peacemakers, and the unfaithful are given trust. God clears away all the dirt and sin away from our hearts so we are reborn into a life of service.
In the next few Sundays, Palm Sunday and Easter, we will have wonderful reminders of God’s ability to transform death to life. We celebrate these two Sundays with great joy because we are a resurrection people, and we believe God, we trust God with our lives.
However, in between those two high holy days, it is good for us to remember that Jesus suffered, Jesus bled, and Jesus was crucified.
We might be tempted to ignore this part of his life, to gloss over the pain he suffered. We want our lives to be free from suffering, we want to receive the good stuff of life and be able to live comfortably. But this is not the way Jesus preaches, this is not the life Jeremiah preaches.
We will suffer if we choose to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. We will be in pain if we open our hearts to the suffering of the world around us.
We do not have to go looking for it; the world just is full of it already. Moreover, it is all around.
People have asked me why we spend so much time on prayer concerns and celebrations, so even reflect that they do not know the person we are asked to pray for. Nevertheless, I say, this is one of the most important ways that we open our hearts to hear God speaking to us. If you don’t think you can change the world it is okay, cause God has that covered, all we have to do is open our hearts, lose our lives for Jesus sake and we will be given the way to making the world a better place.
We never know what we might called to do, how our lives might be changed as we worship, but unless we give Jesus our lives each time we worship, we might live our whole lives without answering God’s call.
Last week, Jim M. and I were looking over the wedding brochure we give to couples contemplating using our facilities for their wedding. When I went to the Bridal Faire up at Cal-Poly Pomona in Feb., several couples asked if I only performed weddings at the church. I said, “No, I would go just about anywhere!” Therefore, I asked Jim if we could include language in the brochure that would reflect my willingness to go just about anywhere. Then I paused as I thought about the pastor who performed a wedding skydiving, or the one who performed the ceremony while the couple ran the Boston Marathon, or the couple who thought a bungee jump wedding could work, and I realized that I might not be as willing to go anywhere as I thought!
Yet, Jesus does call me to lose my life, to give over direction, to trust and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me, wherever that might be on my pilgrimage. Do I trust God that much? Do I believe God that much?
No but I am willing to try, to dedicate, to be open to new possibilities, and to allow god to use me where ever that might be. This is the kind of fellowship we are all invited into, to be a pilgrim people, to keep following Jesus no matter where the path might lead, no matter how much suffering we might feel, no matter how difficult the journey will be. When we let go and let God, then God can create a masterpiece with our lives and we can leave this world knowing we served faithfully and the world is a better place because of our service. Amen

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts on Psalm 51

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
This passage has been my sentence prayer for about 10 years now, and each time I find something new for my spiritual journey. This time I am struck by how there is both a cleaning and creating a new spirit. This rythm of the spiritual life is to wipe away all that keeps me from seeing God, and allowing God to give me new glasses to see in a whole new way. This emptying and filling creative act of God keeps my soul energized and alive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sermon 3-22-09

Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:4-21

The story is told of a young man who entered a very strict monastic order. It was so strict that members were permitted to speak only two words per year to the abbot. At the end of year one the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke his two words, "bad food." At the end of the second year, the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke two more words, "hard bed". At the end of year three he came to the abbot and spoke his last two words, "I quit." The abbot responded, "Well it is about time. Complain, complain, and complain - that’s all you’ve done since you came here."
We all know those who complain, and especially if you play golf, you will hear all kinds of complaints, the wind blew my golf ball off course, the mud made me miss the shot, etc.
We can find plenty to complain about in our lives (What complaints have you heard lately?) Maybe there is also truth to the abbot’s observation of the young man, perhaps it was more than the two words the man spoke, perhaps like most complainers, the young man also exhibited complaining in his silent state by being late to prayer, not participating fully in the life of the monks daily rituals.
Most complainers do not articulate their complaining by speech; rather their actions speak louder than words.
As we turn to the scripture from Exodus, we find people complaining and becoming impatient with Moses and God. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water!” It was hard to please what have you done for me lately people. It was not that long ago, they were in slavery; it was not long ago God had provided the miracles to allow their exodus from Egypt. Now, when things were getting tough, their trust in God was evaporating in the desert heat.
Now I find myself wondering how they could of forgotten so soon, how could they forget the wonderful works of the Lord, and how Moses had stood up to Pharaoh for their sakes.
Then God does something quite unexpected, God sends venomous snakes among them. They bit the people and many Israelites died. Moreover, you know this worked to wake up the people to their sinning, against God and Moses, and they repent and ask Moses to intervene on their behalf. Which he does. They have learned that their complaining does have consequences, that their lack of trust in God brings punishment, in their eyes they see the snakes as God’s way of punishing them for their sinfulness.
Lastly, we learn God directs Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole, so anyone who is bitten can look upon it and be healed.
The Mishnah, a written form of Jewish Oral traditions rejects any magical interpretations of the story, the point of the story is that as the bitten people raised their heads and looked upward, they would submit their hearts to their Father in Heaven, and this would bring about their cure.
In other words, the people reestablished trust in God. The Bronze serpent was a reminder to seek God when they were in pain, when their lives were threatened, instead of complaining about it.
In the season of Lent is a time to examine our own lives and see where we have strayed away from God. It is a time to ask ourselves important questions like. “Do we trust God? With all our hearts, with all our strength? On the other hand, do we find ourselves complaining about what we do not have, or how hard the journey is, do we find ourselves wanting to quit and go another way?

As we turn to the gospel lesson, we are introduced to the bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant established by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
Instead of a bronze snake on a pole, we have something else to look up to for our healing, to keep us on the right path. We have the cross, an empty cross that testifies to the power of God’s love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.
Love is what the world needs to cure what ails us, a powerful love that has raised Jesus off the cross, has conquered death, will reverse the poisons that we encounter each and every day, greed, envy, oppression, and so on.
We're told that when early printers, using handset type, received an order to print a collection of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems, they immediately ordered hundreds of extra letters L and V for their presses. They knew Tennyson. He used the word `love' so often in his poetry that the average set of type could not possibly supply all the necessary letters.
It is with that same kind of extravagant love that God loves us. God so loved the world.
(King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
God so loved the world so we are healed from all that sickens us.
God so loved the world so we find strength in times of weakness
Life in the face of death,
Hope in the face of helplessness
Joy in the face of terror
We might not be typesetters, but perhaps we can wear out the letters L.O.V. E on our computer keyboards, phone keypads, as we express God’s love to a hurting and wounded world. On our journeys with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we can bring peace to the world by loving one another so profoundly so passionately, we experience healing and bring healing.
We are all on a spiritual journey as we follow the Prince of Peace.
The secret to fulfillment in this journey is to look up and away from ourselves and to the promises of God. When we look to the goodness and graciousness of God, we walk more closely with Christ and are less vulnerable to getting lost in the hurry and hassle of our living.
The cross is a reminder to us all to live in the heart of God. In the intersection of the cross is the place where we dwell completely trusting God, and allow for the Holy Spirit to guide us.

The joy of this season is the realization that our journey has a certain destination. In the time of Moses, the destination was a physical Promised Land. For you and me, the destination is rooted in the words of Jesus:
"...whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
In John's gospel, the manner in which the Son of man was lifted up is superseded by the function for which he was crucified. As Moses elevated the bronze serpent for the people to see, believe, and live, so the Son of man on the cross of Golgotha is raised for us to see, believe and live.
(T. HOOGSTEEN First Christian Reformed Church Brantford, Ontario, Canada)
In our pilgrimage with the Prince of Peace, we will encounter poisons that can kill our spiritual, physical, and emotional selves. In those times we need to lift our heads and look at the cross which reminds us of the healing power of Jesus’ love for whatever ails us. Amen

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What if? A Poem

What if we eagerly anticipated each day,
Expecting wonderous miracles in each
Encounter we have with complete strangers
Who dwell within our friends?

What if we savor the time we have instead
Of dreading the minutes
That drag or fly by
So we taste the goodness
Of God's creation as if
We had never this moment before?

What if we embraced each task that sits
On our to do list
So long undone as
God embraces us so
We will blossum into sun-
Flowers standing bright and beautiful
And tall?

What if we rested with pillow angels
Who wisper their calming song into
Our hearts as we reherse the
Day in our minds, So we
Can drift into peaceful sleeping?

What if we worried less and
Celebrated more
Opened ourplay to include the world
Into the game of life?
What if we trusted God
So completely we could release
The tension in our soul
And be moved by the Spirit
To be present, to be the presenter of Spirit
To a hurting world?
What if???
SPM 9-29-08

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sermon from 3-15-09

Sermon for 3-15-09 Exodus 20:1-17, John 2: 13-22
When I was a child growing up in Massachusetts, I was very curious about what I would see as we traveled along. When my family would visit family back in Orange we took the Daniel Shays Highway, named after one of the revolutionary war heroes. On one trip, I became curious about all the road signs we passed. I was too young to think about driving yet, so in previous trips I had not really paid attention to how we got there, just knew we would get there, no matter what route we took, Dad knew the way. However, as I said on this particular trip I took an interest in the road signs and for the first time saw that they would predict what we were about to do, a curve or an intersection, how many miles to left in our journey.
Many of the signs had arrows on them, and we started a game of deciding which tribes of Indians were leaving these arrows behind. My imagination dreamed up interesting stories, how the curved arrows were designed to go around trees. We would pretend there were tribal members still in the woods, waiting to hit us with their arrows if we believed the sign, Rest Stop, cause we knew it was just a trap to get us to stop and pillage through our picnic basket, and take us captive.
Of course, as I grew up, I began to use signs for more important things, to get around. I soon found out that even though I had traveled the road many times, I needed them to direct me to where I wanted to go.
As the people of God traveled from Egypt through the desert, there were no such signs for them as they tried to understand where they were going. In fact, they wandered around for quite a while before they ever got close to the Promised Land. However, during their spiritual pilgrimage in the desert they were given a different set of directions, the 10 commandments, the law of God, Torah! This law was to give the people of God directions for being the people of God, of how to live now that they had gained their freedom from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s rule. As one commentator points out:
We usually define torah as the Law, but the Hebrew can also be translated to say “the finger pointing the way” – a means to direct people in their covenant relationship with God.
A finger pointed their way on their journey through the desert. A finger pointing to the way of faith, of giving them directions as they practiced their worship and their living.
The commentator continues:
The Ten Commandments are a gift to those who have been set free, showing them how they can keep their freedom. They are not an assault course, a barrier to overcome in order to gain freedom. Freedom is a gift from God, not something that can be earned by years of striving. The commandments are not a prison in which God places people, a straitjacket to prevent them from getting above them. God has done what Israel could not do for itself – has given it freedom in the crossing of the Red Sea. God now gives the people a second gift – the means of keeping that freedom. In the process, God shows them who God is and what freedom is.
As we consider our lives, it is good to remember that the law of God is designed so that we too can keep our freedom, to keep us from going down the wrong roads, which lead only to danger and dead ends. If we keep the law, the torah we do not earn our God’s love and freedom these have already been given to us as a gift. This gift is ours to accept or deny ours to follow or try to go it on our own.
The key to following all the laws is to worship the one true God and keep from giving into the temptations. The other is our prayer, live so that peace may prevail. Now it is tempting to go into each individual commandment, but today lets explore how the Ten Commandments tell us are the keys to worship and living. Perhaps we can learn by exploring what some of the alternatives to worshiping God. One preacher, David Wells suggests in a book called Torah from Dixie, suggests four alternatives to the commandments.
First is to worship a different God. If God did bring them out of Egypt as the believed, if it was the same God who backed up the pleas of Moses to the Pharaoh to let his people go, with the plagues, if it was the same God who parted the red sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army, then why should they worship any of the Egyptian gods? God has brought Israel out of slavery. What use would Israel have for any other god? And how about us, if we believe in the God the creator of heaven and earth, the God who keeps the promise made again and again to be our God, the God Jesus taught, why would we worship any other God?
A second is to make an idol. This is to worship something smaller than God does, something God has made. God made the sun, the moon, all of creation. To worship something God has made is to confuse the creation with the creator, to serve that, which cannot liberate – in other words, to return to slavery. If we make money our idol, or our jobs, or even our country we put God in second place. In the gospel
A third is to trivialize God by forgetting that the Lord’s name is holy, by using God’s name to advance our own purposes. Unfortunately there are too many who go about the work of the church as a money making operation. We all know of those high profile pastors who carve out a fortune for themselves, misuse the power they have to satisfy their own selfish desires only to be found guilty and their empire collapse. For us to, we need to be careful to make time to dwell with God, to bask in the holiness of God so that we might live holy lives, so we too will not forget the Lord.
The fourth is to make gods of us. This is the underlying warning of the commandments concerning the Sabbath and parents. We are not gods, we are not to be worshiped we need to remember the only one worthy of worship.
Now with this basic understanding and review of the 10 commandments, perhaps we can read the actions of Jesus in the temple with more understanding. Jesus too is on a pilgrimage, one that takes him from the manger to the cross then as a risen Messiah. He knows the history of the temple and why it was built. This was the place where so many searching for truth and purpose in their lives came to reconnect to God. This was where God was encountered, and many from the countryside would make their way after leaving everything they had worked for in their life.
Jesus found something else going on here. He found corruption, and violations of God’s commandments in the very place built of encountering God. The moneychangers had found a way to take advantage of the desire of travelers to honor God by charging high prices for the objects of sacrifice. This was in direct violation of the 10 commandments. These unethical merchants were trivializing God, using the practice of offering sacrifice as a money making endeavor for their own gain. They believed that a profit was more important than worship; they had made money their god.
Jesus saw all this, and had a choice of how to remedy the situation. He could act boldly, radically, or he could try some other less upsetting method. Jesus chose the radical movement and drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip. Now it is interesting to note that nowhere does it say Jesus whipped anyone. In fact, I could see in my minds' eye, using all the authority of God to proclaim the message, using the whip as a threat of harm without actually using it. This is a side of Jesus we rarely see in the gospels, but it witnesses to the fact that sometimes-passionate responses are needed to free us from those who practice evil in the world. Sometimes it is important to clearly state what is wrong and take action to make things right. Sometimes it is good to get mad at the injustice of the world, and upset the current denial that anything is wrong.
`Conflict can be destructive or constructive, depending in large part on our attitude, which governs our response. Conflict is natural and necessary. It can be a catalyst for growth, learning and positive change. Our response to conflict is a matter of faith. With a constructive and faithful attitude, we can transform conflict in a positive way. (ENGAGE CONFLICT WELL: THE SPIRITAND ART OF CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION Thomas W. Porter, Jr)
We need to sometimes be radical in our approach to break the shackles of oppression and violence. Sometimes we need to confront what is wrong with society with determined and radical action.
Now what can we learn for our spiritual pilgrimage as we prepare for our week?
First, we need to rededicate ourselves to worshipping the one true God. Worship with all our hearts our minds, our strength with all our love. Each time we gather we bring all our sorrows, all our joys to the Lord. We receive God’s love in abundance, we receive the forgiveness we ache for, and we receive guidance for daily living.
Second, we commit to putting God first in our lives, and worship only God. This is not easy in a world that calls us to worship money, power, and status first. We need to put our trust in the one we worship, trust God first, others will let us down, others will testify against us, others will cause us to suffer, others will break promises, but not our God, God love us, and promises us with an everlasting promise to be our God, to give us all we need.
Third, we need to remember not to trivialize our faith. We need to remember that what we do has implications, a ripple effect to the whole world. As United Methodists when we give to the worldwide funds of the United Methodist Church, we give to provide care for those who would not otherwise have that care.
This week our conference sent another rebuilding team to Mississippi area to help rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricanes. When is the last time you heard a news report about this trip? The world in general has moved on to other news, but our brothers and sisters have not forgotten those who live have been changed when they lost everything.
Lastly, we need to remember that as a church we are called to reach those in our communities who are hungry for a new way of living, whose souls are aching to find a higher purpose, to be connected to a higher power. They may have very successful lives in other ways, but are missing the keystone to the foundation of their lives. There are those too who have lost everything in today’s current financial crisis, those who have been swindled out of their money by promises that have dissolved. We have a part to play in the rebuilding of our communities by offering ourselves in service to those who are hurting, searching and afraid.
This church exists for God, not for us, and so we need to continue to follow God’s directions to serve a hurting world. There are social clubs who can be a place where people can hang out together, there are sports where people can play together, there are city, county, state and national political groups where people can argue politics together, there are places of learning where people can learn new skills and prepare for their careers, but in the church, we are hear to serve God, to trust God, to worship God, and to study the life of Jesus and how to live as Christians, to follow the prince the peace.
Today you will receive the stamp of a temple. This symbol is a reminder to all of us to make our church first a place of worship, a place to connect to the Lord of the Universe. All we do here should honor God.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In Honor of Dr. Seuss Sermon for 3-8-09

A poem by Dr. Seuss, titled “Oh, the Places You’ll Go…”

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.
About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there
in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
and hang-ups
can happen to you.
You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.
You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both you elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!
Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.
Except when they don’t.
Because, sometimes, they won’t.
I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.
All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather be foul
On you will go
though your enemies prowl
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Dr. Seuss
Sermon: Mark 8:27-38, Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Moreover, when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. Dr. Seuss

These are not words we might expect from Dr. Seuss, whose birthday we celebrated this past week. We would rather avoid those times in our lives that we are scared out of our pants! In addition, perhaps we would like to protect our children from those moments. However, the reality of our journey in life means that we will encounter those scary moments. Just this week one of the staff members of our preschool was telling the story of how their family may have to file for bankruptcy, and is afraid of how this will influence her children and their lives. It is a very scary time for many in our community. The current rise in unemployment and the insecurity of the stock market are creating a perfect storm in which many are having to losing their jobs due to cutbacks, losing their homes due to their inability to pay high interest mortgage payments, and find themselves just trying to survive.
Since this is the reality of life, it should not be a surprise to us that the journey of faith is full of hardships as well. However, this is not always our expectation.
In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning describes what he calls a myth that flourishes today in many of our churches, the suggestion that Christian discipleship consists of one rousing victory after another. This myth, he thinks, has done many a believer “incalculable harm” because it misrepresents the way Christian life is really lived. The myth goes something like this: "Once I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, an irreversible, sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished success story; life will be an unbroken upward spiral toward holiness."
One commentator reflects: Personal experience confirms that this myth is patently false, but many Christians still chase it as their standard, goal or expectation. Thank God, for Lent, and for Mark's Gospel this week, which shows another way. Lent reminds us that the road to Easter resurrection zigzags through the valley of the shadow of death.(Textweek.com)
I like this image of zig zagging through the valley of the shadow of death. Christian discipleship is not a straight line, from birth to eternal life, rather there are times when you feel like you are not making any progress, times when you try to find safe places to go to in the midst of the assault of life.
The Old Testament lesson reminds us that what sustains us during these uncertain times is the certainty of God’s promise. In addition, Abraham and Sarah’s response are reminders that it is important to maintain a healthy humorous attitude when it comes to following God down the path to peace.
In the first part of our reading for today God makes a promise to Abram "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." (Genesis 17: 1-2)
So far so good, God preaches to Abram, expecting a response of obedience. God is prepared to offer Abram the deal of his life, walk before me and be blameless and I will promise to be your God, and you will prosper. This is a promise not to be entered into lightly; it is a holy contract, one that is woven into the fabric of life. In God’s eyes, this promise is a promise is a promise is a promise unto all people who will take the journey of discipleship.
God promises and we can rely on that promise all our lives with all our life. Of course, that is not our experience of life. Contracts are broken, marriage vows violated, parents abuse their children, those in power take advantage of those who look to them for help. Countries neglect the poor and sick, churches shut out those seeking God, pastors fail to serve those in their care. Broken promises are all to prevalent, and it can be any easy leap to think God has changed the terms when we experience the trauma of suffering, when we are scared out of our pants!
When things go wrong we can falsely conclude that God has forgotten us, forgotten to care for us in the times of deepest pain. However, this is not the message God brings to Abram.
I will establish my covenant between you, and me and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
God is our God forever, even when we are zigzagging through life, trying to find a way out of the dangerous circumstances. On the other hand, maybe as this is spring training, we might say when life throws a curve, we hang in there, and prepare to face whatever is thrown at us.
God does two things: First, he renames Abram and Sara, they are known as Abraham and Sarah. Then God tells them they will have a child! Now I have not reached the age of 99 yet, but even now, at the age of 50, if I were told that I would be the father of a son, I would laugh too. One commentator says it this way: It strikes me as supremely important that the laughter of Abraham and Sarah should be appreciated in all its profound importance, for somehow it plays a decisive role in that grand design. The first fruit of that covenant was named "Isaac" for laughter, and there is an implication that people who are incapable of a spontaneous chuckle, even in the presence of the Almighty, are not considered worthy of participating in the covenant.
I have to believe that humor is an important characteristic to have when we follow Jesus, we need to be able to laugh at the absurdity of life or else we might be weighed down in the burdens of discipleship. I know for me, I value those who help me laugh, without laughter I would surely of become dependent on strong courses of electric shock therapy. One of these sources is the Joyful Newsletter:
Good news and bad news
for a pastor
Good news: Church attendance
rose dramatically the last three
Good news: Mrs. Schmidt is wild
about your sermons.
Bad news: Mrs. Schmidt is also wild
about the “Friday the 13th” “The
Valentine Day’s Massacre,” and
all horror shows.
Good news: The church board
accepted your job description as
you wrote it.
Bad news: They were so inspired by
it that they formed a search
committee to find somebody
capable of filling the position.
Good news: Your staff-parish relations committee wants to
raise funds to send you to the Holy Land.
Bad news: They are stalling until the
next war breaks out. (via Rev. Dr. Karl R. Kraft , Feb. Joyful Newsletter)

Of course, laughter is not the only response from Abraham and Sarah, they go on to fulfill the promise made to them by God, they walk down the uncertain path, that will have many zig zags.
As we jump over to the Gospel lesson it good to remember the lessons of the Old Testament as we explore Jesus’ teaching of his death and resurrection.
In Mark 8:31-32 it tells us: Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly.
Jesus was very clear about his mission and purpose. He knew the path ahead would zigzag through the valley of the shadow of death his entire ministry. Jesus knew from the beginning of his ministry he would not escape suffering nor escape death. Jesus starts the journey and does not deny or avoid the work ahead.
This was not an easy message for his disciples to hear, and Peter took exception to this doom and despair prophesies. Peter takes Jesus aside and disagrees, rebukes, argues with Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter right back and tells Peter to get behind him, to set his mind on divine things.
On this journey of lent, we need to time to examine our own beliefs, to reaffirm our belief in the one true God, who we trust to lead us even when the path ahead will zig and zag through the valley of the shadow of death.
Bishop William Willimon stated in a sermon on discipleship: Do not think about discipleship as memorizing a whole string of Bible verses. Think about discipleship as a journey, a journey with Jesus.
This is the story that each of us is finishing for ourselves. Each of us is busy tagging along behind Jesus, being surprised by Jesus, trying to figure out what he said at the last stop. Being amazed at the places that he leads us on this adventure. (9/14/1997 - The Journey Dean William Willimon)
He goes on to say: The call to discipleship requires certain disciplines for keeping at it. As we have said, the journey, like any journey, is not always easy....Some modern people say that they feel God is far from them, absent from their lives. However, they do not consider how often they have been absent from God. In just coming to Sunday worship, you are putting yourself in the right place to keep on the journey. Perhaps today, sitting in church, your journey is going well. However, your journey will not always go well. There will be valleys, times when you wonder if you can make it. At those times, the resources, which you gained here during Sunday morning worship, can be invaluable, life giving.” (Ibid)
As we zigzag through life we need God to guide us, to help us. This is what God will do, has promised us.
Moreover, when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. Dr. Seuss reminds us that life is scary when we try to walk the journey alone. But with God, we can find our way, we can find courage for the path ahead no matter the places we will go.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sermon 3-1-09

Sermon for 3-1-09
Genesis 9:8-17, Mark 1: 9-15

The time is fulfilled…
The Kingdom of God has come near,
Believe in the Good News…

Jesus preaches this short yet profound message to the people of Galilee after his baptism. Jesus preaches this message as he begins his journey to Jerusalem. He preaches a simple message, one that can capture the hearts and imaginations of all who hear, fellow travelers, those in authority, and those who become disciples. Some scholars have stated that in these four brief phrases is the message that Jesus was to preach, teach, and live in his ministry. These are sacred words, not to be dismissed as too short, or unworthy of contemplation. As we begin this journey of lent, before we hurry off to Easter, it is important to sit a moment and reflect on these four foundational proclamations of Jesus’ good news to those who heard the words for the first time.
To put it another way, before we take the sacred journey with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, it is good to pause for a moment and reflect on where we are going and how we are going to get there. What message can we take with us as we follow God?

First, let us consider the source of the proclamations, Jesus the prince of peace. Jesus has spent 40 days in the wilderness contemplating the call of God to be message incarnate of the good news. In this time Jesus, has had time to think about what God had proclaimed at his birth, “you are my son the beloved, and with you I am well pleased”. Notice that God does not put any requirements on Jesus to be the messiah the world had been waiting for in order to earn or deserve the love. No God is freely pouring on Jesus an unconditional and boundless love. Jesus has the choice to accept the burden and the responsibility of being the messenger that the world had been waiting for. Jesus chooses to preach, to teach, to heal all the while depending on God to guide and direct him. Jesus believes God when God said to Noah: “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Covenant is the sacred promise God makes with us to be our God. God does not want us to be punished ever again like those who suffered with the flood over all the earth. Instead as the Psalmist proclaims: “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep the Lord’s covenant and the Lord’s degrees.”
This past week as I was reading over some of the e-mail discussions, I came across one testimony from a member of the
Our Cal-Pac Academy Jo Ann who helped me to make a distinction about the relationship I have with God, she said, “ I believe God, which is for me not the same as believing in God.”
Jesus believed his Father, not in his Father, Jesus believed what was said at his baptism is true. So this Jesus we talk about, study, walk with is who we believe, who we trust, who we affirm is alive and walking with us now, as the resurrected Lord and Savior of the World. When we come to the table for Holy Communion we affirm once again that we believe Jesus and unite with him in faith to serve the world. Not only do we believe Jesus when he preaches the good news, but we also believe the Good News, the promise of God, and we take Jesus’ hand and walk together with him down the path that leads to righteousness.
So it with this faith and trust we read the four preaching points of Jesus who stakes his life on the truth of his message.
The time is fulfilled
Jesus knew this was the time to start his ministry, he had been preparing for a moment like this all his life, and now there was no doubt, it was time to come out of the desert and begin the public ministry he believed in. This was the time to bring the good news to God’s people, to heal the sick, to bring hope to the poor, to open the hearts of the people in power and bring news of what God is creating.
The same is true for us; the time is now for us to respond what we believe God is calling us to do in this place and time. It is time to take the journey. It is not time to make excuses, to find distractions, to ignore the call of God to bring peace to the world.

The Kingdom of God is near…
My family and I watched a movie called, August Rush this past week. August Rush was born with the gift to hear music all around him. He believes that he will find his parents if they only hear his music, because they are truly bonded by their music. In the opening scene August is in a cornfield listening to winter wind blow through the dry corn stalks in the field outside his orphanage. He hears the music in all things, as he listens to the wind, children playing on the playground, in the sounds of NYC. He keeps listening because as he answers the question from his new social worker, “Where does the music come from?” August answers: “From those who made me.” As we walk down the road with Jesus, we are guided by the one who made us, the one who is near as a whisper, who knows us inside and out, our fears our dreams, our sins and our graces. The kingdom of heaven is not so far away if we only take the time to listen for the voice of God.
Harry Emerson Fosdick was one of the greatest American preachers of this century. He described his preaching as counseling on a large scale. Few people knew that as a young seminary student he reached the breaking point after working one summer in a New York Bowery mission. He went home and was overcome by deep depression. One day he stood in the bathroom with a straight razor to his throat. He thought about taking his own life. And then -- and then he heard his father in the other room calling his name, "Harry! Harry!" It called him back. He never forgot it. It was like the voice of God calling him.
As we walk the path of Lent, it is crucial that we repent of those habits, attitudes, misconceptions, prejudices, anxieties and fears that keep us from hearing the voice of God speaking to us, and keeps us from bringing peace to the world. In the 12-step recovery process followed by those recovering from addiction, one of the steps is to apologize to those you have hurt due to your addiction. This can be a painful and difficult step, and it is done after you gain support from a sponsor and from a rehab program.
Lent has also traditionally been a time when we seek out those we might of hurt in the past year. It is time for us to make amends to intentionally make the effort to heal any open wounds in our relationships. It is indeed the time to repent of our own self-righteousness, our own self-pity, and our own stubbornness and allow God to work in us a new spirit of forgiveness. We need to trust God, trust that all roads of repentance lead to the Lord of steadfast love and faithfulness. A way that we practice a new way of living is giving up something. One of my friends passed this reflection on to our sermon study group.

IVE UP grumbling! Instead, "In everything give thanks." Constructive criticism is OK, but "moaning, groaning, and complaining" are not Christian disciplines.

GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study, and personal devotion. A few minutes in prayer WILL keep you focused.

GIVE UP looking at other people's worst attributes. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.

GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting or to offer a smile. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?

GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. "Love covers a multitude of sins."

GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! They're too heavy for you to carry anyway. Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God's grace be sufficient.

GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit someone who's lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the "tube?" Give someone a precious gift: your time!

GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We're called to be stewards of God's riches, not consumers.

GIVE UP judging others by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ.

We believe the Good news that God loves us unconditionally, promises us forgiveness and guidance for the road ahead, and calls us to proclaim to the world what we believe, who we believe. This lent I invite you to walk with me, and one another as we lift up our souls to God for transformation and renewal. I invite you to preach with your lives the good news of Jesus Christ, to bring peace to a war torn world. Amen