Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Christmas Gift

What started as a spark of inspiration,
In the clouded mind of a husband,
was extinguished by horror.
The horror was replaced with a question
"How was this year any different from
Failed attempts in the past
To truly give something,
To express the deep passionate love
for another?"
The task to find a gift was always
Sidetracked with fear,
Of buying the wrong gift,based on a
Faulty perception of what the other wanted.
Panic played a bigger and bigger role in the
Crucial period of time necessary
to procure this treasure until
All options fell away, and fewer choices remained.
The chill in the air was nothing like the
Frozen imagination paralyzed by fear.
Oh for unlimited resources
Unlimited wisdom and timing
The pressure pushed up ideas
As bubbles of desperation pop into the steamy air.
The gift giver cries:
"My kingdom for just one good idea!"
SPM 12-9-07

How does your christmas shopping proceed and do you have any hints to make shopping less stressful?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

what a summer

Hey out there in cyberspace. Guess I am not getting too many responses since I have not updated the blog. It is a sometimes weird and wonderful relationship I have with the Internet, at times I can't live without it, and other times I want nothing to do with it. I guess this is reflected in my posts this summer, none! I hope to post more, but if you have any suggestions as far as what would get you to participate in this blog, let me know by responding here. thanks, Steve

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother's Day Sermon 2008

There is not a topic more dangerous, or diverse as motherhood! There are those who defend motherhood as the most sacred of all purposes in life, on the other hand, there are those who would not even consider raising children, for any number of reasons! Added to the preacher’s burden of reflecting intelligently, and faithfully is the added twist, Pentecost falls on the same day!
On the one hand you have a national holiday, an international day, on which we honor mothers and on the other the sacred celebration of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, a time to honor the Spirit of God which fuels our faith.
On the one hand I want to read letters like: (Slide)

My mom is pretty she clensth hosus and sweeps the floor she cooks dinner and she takes me to peano class. And she does the londeries and washis the dishes. My Mom has short brown hair and she works in her iciss. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you

or (slide )My Mommy is nice, She has long hair it is redish black. She takes care of derek and me. She brush my hair and makes my yummy lunch. She tucks me in to bed. She is the boss of my Daddy. She takes me to ballet class and Jimmasticks. I love her!
On the other hand I want to emphasize the third person of the trinity, and how we are given gifts of spirit and how important it is for each of us to acknowledge this gift.
So, after much research and careful thought, I would point us to the
The "Mother's Day Proclamation" by Julia Ward Howe (slide) which was one of the early calls to celebrate Mother's Day in the United States. Written in 1870, Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. The Proclamation was tied to Howe's feminist belief that women had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.
Mother's Day Proclamation
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: "Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

As I read that I reflected on how many mothers this day are mourning their sons, daughters spouses and even parents who were lost to war. There are those who have lost their mothers to mental illness, or any number of diseases. So observance of mother’s day is often a memorial day, a trip to the cemetery or to take part in events such as the Revlon Breast Cancer walk, that several of our members took place in yesterday at the L.A. Coliseum. (slide)
What is good about these observances is the hope that fuels the desire to remember. The hope is that peace will settle in around the earth, that cures for disease, both physical and mental will be found, and mothers everywhere both two legged and four legged, webbed and winged will be able to raise their children in peace.

This tradition is continuing today:
The San Luis Obisbo Mothers for Peace came together in 1969. A young mother had written a letter to the editor of the local newspaper asking that people who shared her sadness and frustration at the needless loss of life in the Vietnam War join her in searching out ways to act effectively as a group. The shared values and compelling need to act that originally brought the group together have continued to characterize the Mothers for Peace.

(slide)The Peace Alliance is a nonpartisan citizen action organization representing a growing constituency for peace. Peace is not a utopian ideal; it is an issue critical to our national and human security. Either we continue reactively addressing ever-increasing levels of violence and the consequent human and economic costs, or we take a fresh approach. This isn’t about the politics of left or right; it is about what is practical and effective. We must create the possibility for applied peace-building to identify and resolve conflict before it erupts into violence.
The possibility of peace is not a false hope, a insignificant hope or a naiver hope. Rather by remembering our mothers, we remember how tough the battle is sometimes, we pray for peace, knowing much work has to be done.
We live in a world where the health and welfare of all is too often ignored, instead we suffer from “Get all I can, as long as I can” syndrome. Remember how mothers remind us to share?
As we turn to the Corinthians text, the varieties of the spirit all point to peace:
“To each is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good”
Those manifestations of wisdom, knowledge, healing, faith miracles, prophecy, discernment, are all born of one spirit that seeks to unite us in the Kingdom of God.
Yes the spiritual gifts are for others, to unite us together in peace. This is the hope of God unrevealed in the Acts passage. The spirit is revealed to a diverse and sometimes warring group.
Very often our cultural differences keep us at war, language differences often lead to misunderstanding, conflict, political differences lead to power struggle, and in recent history the withholding of aid to those who suffer.
It has been amazing to me that the military government in Burma will not allow aid into their country after the devastating natural disaster. On the other hand I have been comforted by the outpouring of the offer of aid even before the government has requested it. The wonderful generous spirit of others reveal a deep connection with those who are suffering.
The hopeful message of Pentecost is that barriers can be overcome. The same spirit infects and affects us all, young and old, male and female. Regardless of any differences on the surface, we are all of one spirit.

If my childhood is any indication Mothers are good at keeping the peace. When I would get into arguments with my brother and sister back in chicopee, massachusetts, it was my mother who found a way to bring us together. In the extended family it was my grandmother Marshall who kept us united even as our family grew and spread out across the United States. It is only when I grew up and became a parent myself did I appreciate the way she held us together.

Now what does all this have to do with Pentecost? As I was reading the scripture three themes stuck out, first the image of a variety of gifts, and second, that this variety of gifts came from the same spirit, and finally this unifying spirit caused men and women, boys and girls to have visions and dreams.

Pentecost is also about the birthday of the church, as a response to the spirit working in us. This church celebrates a birthday, but the greater church, the worldwide church also celebrates a birthday, and in this moment we are connected both to the past and the present work of the Spirit, and the work of the churches around our world.
We celebrate the variety of gifts.
As I look around today, I see a variety of people, each of you who is unique and have particular talents.(Name a few). We have a number of people who speak a variety of languages (point to a few). I am grateful for this variety, it is a living example of what Paul was trying to say in I Corinthians. But in his view, it was important to note that all these gifts came from the same spirit. There was no hierarchy of gifts, they are all given freely by God, and we celebrate all of these today.
Some are more visible and some are in the background, but we celebrate the richness and the blessing of these gifts to the world. To continue the theme of peace, the way to true peace is for each gift to find expression in our world.
Recently, I was talking to one of our younger clergy about what his experience with working with youth. He was successful in building up the youth group in his church because he said, he did not tell them what they needed to do, but rather was more like a coach, finding ways they could each contribute to the life of the group using their unique skills and talents. The youth led youth group gave a place for them to try new things, to make their visions for what the group could be a reality.
Each of us is given a unique DNA for what we are able to contribute to the world to make it a more peaceful place, a place where all of God’s creation can live and thrive. The same is true for each congregation, as a group we have a DNA, and have a way to contribute to the world. This variety of gifts makes life more interesting, more dramatic, and more of a challenge.
For us on this mother’s day, this day of Pentecost we celebrate the one spirit that unites us all, of different cultures, backgrounds, languages, but one spirit. We celebrate the witness of mothers everywhere who work for peace so their sons and daughters do not have to go to war. We celebrate the spirit in each person we meet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sermon 4-27-08

This week in preparation for this service, I meditated on the word Heritage. This led me to go into the notebooks I have that once belonged to my Grandparents Marshall. My grandfather was a lay speaker and often would fill in for pastors on vacation, or away on retreat. In the notebooks I have I find sermons, quotes, notes about upcoming meetings, and even the meaning of words. For example:
One Book and only one,
The Book my Father gave;
One Book, with power to serve.
One Book and only one,
that points the pilgrim’s way;
One Book, and only one,
To keep me, lest I stray
-J.R. Clements

Or this one
“God will not change; the restless years may bring
Sunlight and shade; the glories of the spring.
And silent gloom of sunless winter hours,
Joy mixed with grief-sharp thorns with fragrant flowers;
Earth lights may shine awhile, and they grow dim,
But God is true; there is no change in Him. -unknown

My grandfather died when I was too young to appreciate his passion to serve the church, and to serve God. But I had a sense ever since that He and I would have a lot to talk about and so I pray to him from time to time, to connect me to him, and his eternal spirit. Reading these words in the notebooks connects me to him and to my heritage. More than that as I read the words he preached, it helps me to see what he believed, and helps me connect to God.

Our Heritage
Why Did God create only one man? So that thereafter no one could say, “My ancestors were nobler than yours,” or that virtue and vice are inherited, or that some races are better than others.. And to teach us that whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and that whoever saves one life earns as much merit as if he had saved the whole world.

I find throughout his writings, my grandfather’s perspective to see our ancestry, not just with those we can trace on our family tree, but to Adam, to Moses, and Jacob, to Jeremiah, and Isaiah. This theme has also been a part of my understanding of our place in the universe. Our ancestry extends to the beginning of time, before what we can remember or understand.
In a sermon he preached in 1930 to Orange Methodist and Athol Methodist
on the subject of government he advocates that we become christian nationalists: this nationalism is a “nationalism for peace, for disarmament, and devotion to the common welfare, and the common good of all people. Let us sing America the Beautiful, and the Star Spangled Banner, and my country ‘tis of thee, but first of all give God a chance, a share, a place”.

There are two key words in the scriptures today that I would like to highlight that bring this ancestry into clearer focus: offspring and orphans.

There has been much written about orphans, movies and plays, little orphan Annie, being one of those enduring tales that seems to get remade every generation. But the issue of having a family, a place to belong is an important theme throughout all of history. Long before Orphan Annie, children have struggled with growing up without parents. And this issue is more than just an emotional one, when I visited South Africa one of the activities I participated in was to give food and school supplies to children who had become orphans because both their parents had died due to HIV/AIDS. The children had very little, and deepened on the kindness of others just to get through another day. The worker who was responsible for the orphans in an area the roughly equivalent to the state of Texas, told us that many children simple die because their is not enough food, or water to sustain them. It was only the churches who could provide hope through donations they had collected from those who did not have much themselves. Yet even in these most trying of circumstances the Methodist church of South Africa is making a difference in the lives of those orphans, in cooperation with Catholic Relief services so fewer children die, and have a second chance at life.

Our heritage is much more than those we are related to, we are made with the same stuff of all of God’s creation which means all have the same spiritual parent, we are made with the same vision for the world.
John records Jesus’ promised that we will not be left orphaned, that the Holy Spirit will live in us and us in the spirit. We belong to God and with God, and on that promise we can rely throughout our whole life, even when we lose those closest to us. Our ancestry reveals that at the roots of our heritage God is there.

These days we have many resources at our disposal to trace our family roots, there are numerous websites you can go to, research that in days past took years, can be accomplished sooner. Recently, Linda’s aunt Lil who does some of this research on line discovered a whole line of relatives that were assumed lost. Now it turns out that my daughters are decedents of the daughters of the American Revolution! Which is an organization that has its headquarters in Washington D.C.

As one of the most inclusive genealogical societies in the country, DAR boasts 165,000 members in 3,000 chapters across the United States and internationally. Any woman 18 years or older-regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background-who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution, is eligible for membership.

today we know the source of our Christian family tree: the bible is our source that connects us to our ancestors, those from whom we descend, the membership is open to all races, genders, and national origin, I know you have that same conversation that I have had, what are you? My ancestors come from England, but Linda’s are polish, french with a bit of cherokee Indian. In God’s eyes we are full blooded sons and daughters in the Kingdom of heaven. This will never change, God is always there, no matter where life takes us, God is there and will always be there because as Jesus told us that God is in us, and we in God.

Once we accept this ancestry, once we fully embody the notion that we are God’s, there is a desire to love God with all our heart and mind and strength, once we find out who we are, and whose we are, we want feel a desire to bring others into the family and experience the same joy we have.

To really be a part of the kingdom is never to stop inviting others to be a part of the goodness of God. Jesus wanted his disciples and followers to know they would not be alone because they were the ones who would now do the work of building the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, they were the ones who would put their lives on the line to preach the gospel, to teach others about Jesus. Our Lord knew this would not always be easy work, but he also knew it would be the best work his followers would ever do.

Today, we are called to find more of our brothers and sisters who are in the world but have forgotten who they are and whose they are. There are many who feel orphaned, alone, without love, without hope wanting so desperately to belong. They are people who want to connect to others in a meaningful way.

But it is hard in our society to find that connection, life can be frantic at times and when you are alone it seems like all you can think about is what you do not have, not what you do have. And you feel disconnected, and do not know how to plug in, to reach out.They are waiting for the invitation that will make the difference in their lives, to find a family, to connect to their heritage, to find they are a beloved child of God.

So what can we do?
First, take the time to connect to God! Deepen your connection to your spiritual heritage

2. Connect to family and friends. Loved ones provide support and encouragement. Talk to them when you need guidance, and be prepared to help them in their times of need.

3. Connect to coworkers. Given the amount of time we dedicate to work, it's important to foster healthy relationships there. Spend lunch with your coworkers or take a walk with a colleague you haven't talked with in awhile.

4.Connect to community. Shifting from our own issues to others' concerns can be healthy. In church we work to serve others, and often it is the passion of one person that turns into a project the whole church can get around.

5. Connect to yourself. Take time out for a hobby, a book, meditation, or exercise. This is your time, so choose something you enjoy.

Connect to professional help. If you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope, reach out to a mental health professional.

When we take the time to connect, we will find ourselves busy being the family of God,we will be doing the good work of listening for the concerns and celebrations of those in our communities and we will find ourselves drawn to help.

Connection to God connects us to the world in a whole new way, and we take our place in the family. Who knows some day, your grandchildren or someone’s grandchildren might be reading something you wrote or did and finding inspiration for their lives!

Monday, April 21, 2008


The neighbors drive their shiny new cars into the homes built wall to wall close with their neighbors,
Open the garage remotely ease in gently, close themselves in never to be seen again.
SPM 07-07

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Easter Sunrise Sermon

Sunrise service

Failure: Not a pretty emotion to experience. I avoid it, make excuses for it, run away, ignore it, deny it, and all in an effort not to experience the absolute cold ache of failure. Fear of failure can drive me to overwork, and to under trust the Spirit of God. Besides I hate to fail, I hate the feeling falling flat on my face, of hoping for something so much and not having it come true.
When Mary walks to the tomb of Jesus in the early morning, I wonder if she too thought about all the failures that led to the death of Jesus. We do know that Judas failed to trust in Jesus, we know Peter failed to stand up for Jesus, not once but three times, we know that the disciples failed to stay awake while Jesus prayed, we know the crowd failed to chose Jesus to be freed and instead chose Barabas,
And what about Jesus? Mary could have been grieving what she perceived as his failure to run away, to avoid the trial by retreating into the wilderness. What about all his promises, all his teachings, all the miracles, had his life and ministry been a failed mission, the idealistic brought down by the realistic cruelty of death?

As she approaches the tomb, the grief pours out the tears of sadness, the tears of loss blur her vision.

Have you been there? Maybe you too know that feeling? A time when you have felt the pain of failure? A time when you were fired, a time when you failed a test, flunked a class? A time when you were unable to accomplish something you had invested your whole self into?
Mary was going to the tomb to fulfill the task of preparing Jesus’ body for burial, to wash, anoint, and clothe the body. But in the midst of this ordinary task, of the cultural routine of burying the dead, something far from ordinary happens, when she arrives the stone has been rolled away the tomb is empty!

Of course we know the rest of the story, but Mary doesn’t yet.
She does not understand the emptiness, she thinks not of the promises of Jesus who told them that on the third day he would rise from the dead…no she thinks thieves have stolen the body! Now not only did she weep, she panics, runs to tell the disciples who send two representatives, Peter and the other disciple to check it out.

And then the ordinary becomes extraordinary, the other disciple sees the empty tomb and he believes! Before Jesus appears, before Thomas touches the wounds, before Jesus calls Mary by name, before he has breakfast by the sea of Tiberius,
The empty tomb was all he needed.
Soon Mary then the others will come to see the victory of Jesus. What they believed was failure was turned into the greatest victory, love over hate
Hope over depression
Trust over anxiety
Life over death

Failure does not feel good, it feels cold and dark and we feel alone, as the tears well up in our eyes and in our hearts.
But the good news is failure is not the end of the story, it is only the beginning!
Jesus says in 17.4 “I glorify you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do”

Jesus knew that his death would not be the end of his work, because he trusted in God his father to bring to fulfillment the work of Jesus in the resurrection.

Furthermore Jesus saw his death as necessary, in 16.7 he says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you’

This advocate, the Holy Spirit is the intimate connection we have with God through all our successes and failures in life. The good news is that failure does not define who we are in God’s eyes. The empty tomb means the love of God is not stolen from us ever. Rather the love of God is forever with us poured upon us, until our hearts are full, This everlasting, ever creating, ever powerful love is greater than any failure, greater than death itself.

Yes life is full of dark, cold and empty moments when we feel as though we have failed, but today we celebrate this new day, we celebrate the sun rising, and the Son of God rising. We celebrate that although we will experience failure, and the experiences of life will be full of near death experiences, we trust and believe in a God that is able to transform grief into joy, transform failure into victory, and transform our tears of sadness into tears of gladness.

So next time you find yourself failing, or have failed, do not ignore it, rather enter into the emptiness, face your fears, and your grief, trust that the emptiness will be filled with the love of Jesus, trust in the Advocate to lead you, and trust that God will wipe the tears of sadness and despair away.
Then like Mary we will be ready to follow the risen Christ and care for a hurt and anxious world!
For today, we celebrate Easter
We celebrate with our brothers and sisters all across the world
We celebrate the love of God, which never ends
Amen and Alleluia!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A question

In this age of multi-tasking is there room for a man who stays focused on one thing at a time? My wife can balance work, mothering, wiving, all together, but me, I get discombobulated when asked to do more than one thing at a time! I need to finish what I am doing right then or else I will forget where I was in completing the task at hand. The food is burned, the dog pees on the floor, the newspaper turns to trash in the sun. I have multi-tasking envy, I want to be able to juggle it all I want in the air. I want to be able to be good at all I am asked to be, but inevitably I drop the ball, I leave tasks undone, I forget, I rush, I panic! One thing, one day at a time , this is my quest. To be able to complete my to do list and do good work in all the arena's of my circus life.

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.

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.”


Saturday, February 9, 2008

The week

The week of a preacher

Each week, every week
I enroll in class.
Each week, every week,
I acquire books and articles,
Eat the knowledge and wisdom within,
Attend classes in classrooms all around.
Each week, every week,
I write notes, insights, thoughts,
Put my computer to work,
Distilling God's word in this particular moment,
In this particular situation,
In this particular place.
Meanwhile, all the time,
Adjusting to winds of need and change.
Each week, every week,
I put all these scattered bits
Into images and words, songs and prayers,
transmitting a glimpse of truth, maybe.
I submit the term paper, await confirmation
I satisfied the requirements to pass and
Can register for the term next.
Each week, every week,
I start again, finish maybe, continue lessons
Of being a student preacher
Wholly dependent on God.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

These are words to bless a body at funerals, are a reminder of our mortality. Last summer I attended the strength for the journey retreat, for people living with HIV/AIDS, for the first time since I was on staff as dean now 7 years ago. I went to see if the retreat still had the same impact on the lives as I witnessed happened those many years ago. I am to report that yes, the retreat is a rich and spiritual experience for those who attend. One young man, told our small group during a sharing about our lives, that he was glad to have AIDS, because it has changed his life, and brought a change of perspective of his life. He cherishes every moment here on earth, and has stopped his addictive behavior. For him, his brush with his mortality clarified his priorities, and he saw he had a choice, to continue destructive behavior or choose another path.

As we stand now, on the brink of another lent, we too have the opportunity to come face to face with our own mortality, to no longer deny the inevitable. In addition as we study Jesus’ life we remember often with tears in our eyes the path he chooses brings him to his own death. So lent can be a burden to us, to see how limited we are, how death is at the end for us all. We see what the disciples did not see, the path that lead Jesus to the cross, so we are somber and respectful.

But here is the rub, even though we come face to face to our mortality, we still have a choice to make. My friend living with AIDS, tells of his choice, he has chosen to use the time he has for the better, to make changes in his life so he can live more freely from the bonds of addiction.

So too do we have the choice, to face our inevitable death, and then choose a path that leads to the appreciation of what the world beholds right now. Or we can live in denial and ignore our opportunity to live fully with out bondage to sin, and death.

Often, the ashes that are blessed at a funeral are taken to a place where the one who has died loved. For some, it is the ocean, or the mountains, for still others it is a favorite spot on the golf course, or even by a tree in the backyard. Since I am at home both here and Massachusetts I often think I would want my children to distribute my ashes in both places, somewhere in the eastern Appalachian mountains I grew up by, hiking the trails, sliding down the slopes on toboggans, camping in the summers. And then here in California, somewhere like Wrightwood where I have attended so many camps, and had so many mountain top experiences. It is not so much that I need to have my ashes there, but it is in those places I felt so close to God, and it is a way for my family to remember to whom I return.

I would hope they would in those moments also remember that this life is temporary, from ashes and dust I was born, to ashes and dust my body returns. My spirit is another matter, who I am, my essence, my soul, is given to me at my creation, and then returns to the Creator at the end of this mortal life. If I fear this end, I truly do not trust in God who through Jesus made known for all believers the resurrected life.
So even in this time of lent, we take a break from the somber path, and do not include Sunday in the time of sacrifice. On this day we take a moment to remind ourselves that eternal life is the end result of our lives. Yes we go from dust to dust, but our souls lives on!

We need to keep in our vision the entire passage of John 3:16 “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”. God gave us Jesus so we can live, that we can be free from the bonds of sin and death!
God gives us the world so we can experience the love of one another, of all creation, which conspires for us, so we can live with joy and courage and peace.

This Lent I call us to renew our souls by listening to the words of Isaiah, who calls us to not just go through the motions, but to listen for God in our worship, and in our prayer.
We need to heed the teaching of Jesus not to fast for show, but in order that we become aware of our dependence on God, and God alone for a fruitful life.
Psalm 51 contains my personal sentence prayer, that calls me to listen and act with the right attitude: “Create in Me, O God, a clean heart and put a new and right Spirit within me”.

When we take our ashes in a few moments, I am changing up how we can use these ashes in our lenten journey. Instead of distributing them in the traditional way, the sign of the cross on your forehead, I am instead going to give you a small bag of ashes. Keep these in a place you see every day, as a reminder of the limited time we have here on earth. But then on Easter, find a place you can spread them that is a sacred place for you. It might be a favorite park, or a favorite tree or even in your flower bed, but wherever it may be know that these are organic made from palms and wood, so there is not health safety issues, and they will go to help feed the soil. In that moment wherever you feel close to God, give thanks, and be glad that God loves the world, God loves us, and we have been given the gift of eternal life! Amen

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sermon 2-3-08

Ghost Ranch(Chimney rock is to the left) is one of the places where I go to commune with God. The marvolous mesa’s, the mountains, the rainstorms, the experience of being with people, who I can be with whether we are painting a sunset, writing a poem, worshiping God, or walking the labryth. Being in this place is always a mountain top experience for me.
Being in Massachusetts this past summer was a mountain top experience for me, as I co-officiated with my wife the wedding of my oldest neice. I was not literally on a mountain, but the high I felt in the fellowship of my family and their friends, made the moment a precious moment in time. Then to be able to go back a month later to Orange, where I was born, and co-officiate with the pastor of the Orange United Methodist Church the service I wrote for my parents 50th anniversary, this was too a mountain top experience. This was the church I was baptized it some 49 years ago, it was where my grandfather preached before I could really understand, where my grandmother and I preached together while I was on break from college, where I helped with the funeral services of my grandmothers and one grandfather. All of these are to remind us today, of those mountain top experiences of our lives, of the times we have had the experience of glory, of joy, of peace almost too hard to put in the words. I am aware that for some, our mountain top experiences are only hills compared to others experiences. I would not compare my awesome moments to someone like Tiger Woods, President Bush, or the New England Patriots, but that is not the point. It is important that we all celebrate, we all get high, not on drugs, or alcohol, but the experience of being human at its finest.

Today is the day of transfiguration, a theological term hard to define, and even harder to get our minds around. Jesus takes Peter James and John to the mountain top, and perhaps this is something we can get our mind around. Jesus you see had something to teach them there, he had to teach them that his purpose in life was about to undergo a radical transformation. He no longer was to be the teacher, rabbi, master they had come to love, although Jesus was all of these things. No, Jesus was about to be revealed as something quite different, something even more glorious than they could imagine.

In these past few weeks, we have gone from celebrating Jesus’ birth, to this moment in his life when he is all grown up, and now stands ready to reveal the deeper purpose, the one in which is boldly proclaimed in John: God So loved the world, God gave us his only begotton son....

Wow, now that is an experience these three would never forget, they went up to the mountain knowing Jesus one way, but came down knowing Jesus at even a deeper level than they could imagine.
Isn’t that true with our mountain top experiences? Isn’t part of what it means to have this kind of profound experience is to be changed, inspired, strengthened in some way that sheds a whole new light on our lives, on life in general?
We have been following the book, by Henry Nouwen about being the beloved. Discovering our status as God’s beloved is the truest form of a mountain top experience we can have. We discover in seeing ourselves as loved by God, as Nouwen says,
“We are God’s chosen ones and I mean that we have been seen by God from all eternity and seen as unique, special, precious beings”. ( p. 53)

But the mountain top experience is not just about me!
There is a second dynamic that plays out in those precious moments, we discover that we are not only chosen by God, but we are to be the bread for the world.
Yesterday, at the worship service I attended with several of our leaders from this church at the Covina UMC. Our district supertindent, Adiel DePano,issued this challenge, to step outside of our comfortable way of doing things, and bear fruit for the Kingdom in the community, get out from the four walls of our church and make disciples for Jesus Christ, for the transformation of the world! If this does not become our most sacred task, than we might as well be any other organization in the community. We however have seen Jesus on the mountain top, we have met him there, and he calls us to do the tasks of transforming the world.

Now I must say there is one part of the mountain top experience that is does not feel so good. I love ghost ranch, I love Massachusetts, I love my family, and yes I love you, and I love celebrating the mountain top experiences with those I love, but there is a time when we have to come down the mountain. Peter, James and John want to set up shop right there on the mountain, let us build memorial buildings right there. We can relate, it is hard to come down the mountain, and face our daily tasks once again, it is hard to come down from this mystical and magical moment.
I know I am sad when I have to say goodbye, to leave the places I had such wonderful times, but I know too that I cannot stay there, that the calling of God tugs at my heart. Jesus knows he cannot stay there, he has a mission to accomplish, he needs his disciples by his side to help accomplish that mission, so they can’t stay either and so that sad moment comes when you go back to reality.

And so you do, and you go back to work but the good news is that the mountain top experience goes with us. Again Nouwen says it this way: “When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work”( Ibid. p. 47)

There comes a time when we do put into practice in our daily living the truth we experienced on the mountain top, weddings are followed by the hard work of learning to live together, and be a family, worship is followed by the hard work of making disciples, and following the disciplines that keep us connected to God, graduations are followed by the anxiety of wondering who will hire us, and starting our careers, our experience of accepting the Lord into our hearts and lives, is followed by the hard work of service and sacrifice. Yet, even then, even in the most tedious moments, that glory we have experienced on the mountain top drives us forward with courage and joy, and usually when we least expect it we get another rush of God’s love that fills us with enthusiasm once again.
There is sadness too when the disciples discover Jesus’ deeper mission. We know the rest of the story, we know the suffering that is to come, and how hard this will be on the people that Jesus loves, how hard it is even now for us to hear, of how much pain Jesus endured, ridicule, abandonment, prosecution. We wish Jesus could of stayed up on the mountain top, safe free from the doubters and the injustice. But God does not stay safe up in heaven some where, rather God is here, God is suffering because we suffer, God cares even about those we can’t seem to care for. John Wesley our founder of the Methodist moment, did not stay in his safe town, but traveled extensively, and declared at one point the world is my parish, as United Methodists we follow in that tradition, caring for not just ourselves, not just for those close to us, but for those whom we do not even know their names, who suffer because they do not have enough bread, who are murdered, those who are mistreated. It is not an easy task, but this is the inevitable result of going to the mountain top, you will be changed from selfishness to selflessness. And so, Jesus experiences pain, and unfortunately when we follow Jesus, we experience pain, as we work with those who suffer.

And yet even as we lose the self we once knew after we have been to the mountain top, we find a promise that will satisfy our souls. “God has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity!” (Ibid. 58)
The rest of the story, the story of Easter, the story of how love overcomes death, how nothing can seperate us from God, how no one can cancel our belovedness, this promise keeps our spirits from bottoming out from despair as we go through the difficult and impossible experiences of life. This is the ultimate mountain top experience, coming to the acceptance that death is not greater than love.
As we move now into the life of Jesus and his journey from the mountain top, to the cross to resurrection, let us take the glory we have received and stay close to God

Let us keep looking for the love, practicing the love and celebrating the love of God as we move from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to his ministry to holy week and Easter. As Bishop Swenson reminded me this week, let us practice the three simple rules of Wesley:
(Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sermon 1-27-08

Our Covenant
We can’t do everything but we can love. These words we read together at the beginning of the worship service unveil an important truth about our lives and our work as a beloved community. We can’t do everything, but there are things we can do, things that bring us closer to God, closer to one another and close to our true selves, our belovedness. John Wesley, the founder and spiritual father of United Methodists believed that what we can do is to covenant together, to structure our lives in simple yet profound ways which gave us both the insight and strength to love. So today, we will trace the steps of those early methodists, by examining a practice Wesley endorsed, of gathering in small groups and reading a covenant together. Each member was to then reflect with the others in their small group about how they were able to fulfill the promises they made to God to be faithful disciples. In a bit you will have an opportunity to sign the covenant wesley put forth, and then we celebrate the love feast, which was a ritual designed to be used in the covenant groups. First, let us examine line by line exactly the words used in the covenant.
1. CALLED into being.
We are all called into life with the love of God, and we are called beloved by God. The sacred voice of God calls us by name, and whispers into our hearts that we are beloved children with whom God is well pleased. Life is a gift of our creator, and we are filled with the breath of God, so we can then breath.
Empowered by the grace of God,
As I think about the grace of God, I am reminded that this grace is a free gift, or as John Wesley taught is preeminent, there before we even need it. As we were born, grace went before us even then. As we grow, we become aware of our brokenness, of the ways we have fallen short of the gift, but even then through grace we are empowered to keep on loving.
We covenant to dedicate ourselves to a life that exemplifies Christ and the gospel.
Each new day brings a fresh opportunity to live a life responding to the call of Christ. This portion of the covenant recognizes that once we have been called into being, and empowered by the grace of God, we naturally want to respond.

4.We offer our time, talents, abilities, and resources in obedience to the gospel,
You notice that we offer ourselves, we bring ourselves to God, God does not manipulate, or badger, or seduce us, we offer freely of our time talents, abilities and resources.
Acknowledging our dependence upon God's grace and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This week was a difficult week to get my tasks done. I made phone calls some that went unreturned even though I left messages, some that people assured me they would get back to me with the answers to my questions, and some I did not get to follow up on because I was waiting for information from someone else. I e-mailed people with questions, and have not received an e-mail. Preparing for this sermon was difficult because unlike the past few weeks, I did not sense the inspiration from God, as much as I asked for clarity. And, even my electronic calendar let me down, it alerted me to appointments that were already a day past, and completely forgot about the Evangelism meeting I was supposed to attend until after it was held. My phone voice mail kept key returned calls to itself until days later. I think it was the rain. Anyhow, in the middle of my imperfect week, I realized how dependent I am on God, that even when I fail, when things don’t go according to plan, it is God who powers my life.
6.We respect and accept all seekers and members, whose integrity and confidentiality we will uphold in all that we share. Respect means keeping conversations we have with others as a sacred trust. I don’t mean every conversation, because that would be difficult, but when we have a deeper than usual conversation, when we share from our souls, these are conversations that are important to honor. Our church is beginning a new year, with new people who serve on our various work areas, Trustees, Finance, Staff-Parish relations, church council, evangelism, preschool board, ___________. Each person who serves on these new committees has a responsibility to respect the integrity and confidentiality of those who are dealing with the deep issues. What would the life of our church be like if the finance committee disclosed the amounts each person gave? What if the Staff parish relations committee started to gossip about the conversations they had with the church staff during their year end evaluation, what if the trustees started to attack the integrity of the chairperson just because they disagreed on a issue? These would all be violations of respect and would only serve to pull the community apart. We need to treat the conversations with one another as sacred encounters, not to gossip or talk out of trying to put one another down.
7.We will seek/spend four hours in service with the poor of our community each month. We can spend a bit more or even a bit less, the point is to keep the poor among us in our vision. The bible is very clear, we need to remember that we are to care for the poor, the widow and the children in our society. I would also extend the definition of poor to mean more than the financial status of a person, poor can also mean poor in spirit according to the bible, those who have no spiritual development, those who are mentally or physically ill, those who are physically or emotionally challenged. There are many ways we can serve them, advocate for them, because as we serve them, we too will grow in our faith, seeing others as God sees us.
8.We will balance the time we devote to church, work, family, and friends — including our own spiritual and recreational lives. It is important for us to have a good balance in our life, to keep healthy. I have a tendency to neglect some of my friends when I get too busy. And some of my friends tend to neglect me when they get too busy. This week I made an appointment with a friend of mine that I have been trying to spend some time with. We finally set a time because the strategy of just getting together when we both had time was not working. It is the same with us, we need to schedule a healthy balance between working, play, family, friends, and our faith.
9.We will actively work for justice in our community, nation, and the world. Martin Luther King Jr, is only one example of the ability of love to change lives. Dr. King was convinced that the answer to overcoming injustice was to use the power of love to motivate us to look for ways of overcoming injustice because if we love, we see the suffering of others, and desire to overcome it in whatever ways we can. Love instead of fear leads to safer communities, better living for all, and less of us versus them mentality.

10. We will regularly attend worship, unless prevented. I know this sounds like a simple thing, but the fact is that there is much that competes for our attention. In Southern California there is a plethora of activities we could participate in with the time we spend in worship. Work, sports, cultural events, recreation, museums, or just staying in bed instead of braving the weather, all of these compete for our time and commitment. And the point is that as important it is to have balance, we cannot neglect worship. It is the way we stay connected to God, and to the needs of others.
11. We will share in Holy Communion (or a Love Feast) as part of our weekly meeting. Wesley believed in the weekly, and even daily participation in the holy meal. He thought this essential in spiritual practice. Henry Nouwen compares the actions of taking the bread and cup, blessing them, breaking and giving these gifts how our lives are to be used by God to feed the needs of the world. I believe in the power of this sacrament, and know I have been fed in these last few weeks as we celebrate Holy Communion, and hope there are some of you who would like to gather each week and continue this celebration as a weekly event. I would like to have as many as we can be in a covenant group and go through these steps with one another so we can be a healthier church. A love feast was instituted by wesley as a way of groups remembering the sacrament of Holy Communion, when covenant groups did not have a clergy in them.
We will seek to practice daily the presence of God through unceasing prayer.
We are seekers, always looking to God for the path, always trusting in God to lead us and those we love. Unceasing prayer does not mean being on our knees 24-7 but it does mean having an ongoing conversation with God.
13.We will have a regular daily devotional time.
This could mean in the morning, or before we go to bed, it might be 5 minutes or an hour, the key is to have a regular daily devotional time, one that we would miss if we did not reflect and pray.
14.We hereby make our commitment, trusting in the grace of God to give us the will and the strength to keep this covenant. As Paul writes to the Corinthians; there should be no division, keeping this covenant is the way to unity, together we work on our faith, confessing our sins, looking to each other for strength and inspiration of how to live, always bringing glory to God in whatever we do.
This week I heard the story of a 57 year old woman who was divorced after 28 years of marriage, and who lost her son to suicide at age 21. Her son was the kind of person who talked to everyone, “Everyone?” she said to him once, “Yes everyone, that way I won’t miss someone I need to know”. So, after she cried for months after his death, she finally realized she had two choices, to live with a bag of rocks or celebrate his life. So she adapted her son’s philosophy of talking to others, anyone and everyone she wanted.
It was also a realization that she wanted to connect to others now, more than ever. Her son has lost his way, and she still does not know what drove him to suicide. But her making connections keeps him alive in her heart, his death had made her sit up and take notice, and is in the game now making connections to others.
We have been given a great gift, this life of ours, to open this gift and to appreciate all its complexities means giving ourselves to God, and to one another. It is not always a big bowl of cherries, sometimes we get only pits, yet sharing our love in always, in all ways is exactly how we should act as God’s beloved.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sermon 1-20-08

Sermon for 1-20-08

(SLIDE) Pick Me! ( One Act Play)

I. Take the Bread
A. Isaiah recognizes that he is TAKEN.
Today’s scripture is one of my favorite passages of scripture because when I read it I am reminded that God has already picked me. “The Lord called me before I was born, and while I was in my mother’s womb named me! These words are not just for Isaiah to claim, they are ours as well. This fact shapes our daily lives. God has chosen us, we are taken by God. Each time we celebrate holy communion we take bread, a physical act that reminds God has taken us, chosen us. When we recognize this important and vital understanding of who we are, whose we are we then...
B. Connect to our deepest SELF. There are many who call us all kind of names, who try to pigeon hole us into who they think we are. There is no one who understands this more than God. Yesterday as I walked through the Getty Museum's display of Sacred Art, I was bombarded by many different images of Jesus and his mother Mary. There were a variety of interpretations of the relationship between them. There were images of a purely saintly understanding on one side of the spectrum, artwork that interpreted their relationship separate from the human emotions of affection compared to the works that showed the human intimacy full of compassion and love for one another. I believe that God has the capacity to love each one of us deeply, intimately, not as I love which is very limited, but with a perfect and holy love. To be connected to the God love means to be connected to the deepest, most authentic self, not the one that is defined by false expectations and labels. Further, what is amazing is that ...
C. Our preciousness and uniqueness is a GIFT. We might have similar characteristics to others, we might have similar personalities, quirks, dislikes and likes, but each of us has been created as a unique and precious. Sometimes we are affirmed for our uniqueness sometimes others try to force us to be what they think we ought to be. God has a purpose and call to each one of us, we all have a part to play. Today we honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s contribution in the cause of civil rights. But Dr. King credited the successes of breaking down the structures of racism to those who took actions like the bus boycotts, walking to work rather than supporting back of the bus social attitude, who put their lives on the line, and faced fire-hoses, bombings, threats of lynching, to change the culture of the communities in which they lived. Dr. King possessed the charisma and the preaching skills to inspire, but it was God ,he said that transformed the south, using the skills and gifts of many who for us are nameless. It is all of these courageous contributions we honor today, those who transformed the relationships between people from being oppressors and oppressed to equality between all of God’s people.

II. Bless the Cup
We ask in communion for God’s blessing on the bread and the cup so they will be for us the spiritual food we need for our lives of faith. The need for us to continue the struggle for more people to be freed from the bonds of oppression continue.
A. Blessing is saying YES to Belovedness. God loves us, and blesses us, God loves our friends and blesses them, God even loves our enemies and blesses them. It is easy to say negative things about others, it is harder to say positive things. Blessing means to speak well of one another or saying good things of someone. I have a hard time trusting those who will speak ill of another, I wonder what they say about me when I am out of earshot. God always blesses us, we are called to bless others with our thoughts, words and actions. For most of us this is a constant battle, especially if we root for our favorite sports teams, it is easy to get caught up in the heat of competition and say things that ridicule and put down our opponents. Saying yes to our belovedness means never being afraid that God does not love us, Saying yes means knowing we sometimes fail at being a blessing, but understanding God blessings are not conditional on what we do, but who we are a beloved child. When we forget it is good to turn to God.
B. Psalm 40: 1 reminds us to WAIT patiently for the Lord’s blessing. One of the hardest things for me to do is wait. Today the New England Patriots will be playing the San Diego Chargers for the league championship. This week seems to have lasted forever! This is because I tend to be a worrier, and worry makes me anxious, when I am anxious, I become very impatient, and often will lash out to those I love the most. This sounds absolutely ridiculous when I say it, but it is my growing edge, to keep the worry from triggering the anxiousness and impatience and anger, I need to keep cultivating my ability to be happy, again as psalm 40:4 states: Happy are those who make the Lord their trust. When I trust in football teams to make me happy I will find myself disappointed. What can we do to trust God more fully?
C. CLAIM the blessing with prayer. Nouwen says the work of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about you (p. 76. Life of the Beloved).
Prayer reconnects us to that self that is beloved, as well as to the source of love, God our creator. It is when we become disconnected from the voice of God that we fall into the trap of sin.

Once we have taken the bread and cup, after it has been blessed, we move into breaking the bread, and pouring the cup.
III. Break the Bread
A. We are AWARE of our brokenness, the times we doubt, times of disaster, times we feel down in the dumps, times when our best laid plans unravel before us, despite our best intentions. We live in a broken world and we bump up against brokenness each day. We are not always comfortable with this brokenness, and we sometimes try to cover up our brokenness, deny it, put a positive spin to it, blame others for it. But living the faith means trips to the valleys of death and doubt. When I studied the life of Dr. King while a student at the Boston University School of theology, my professor Dr. Cartwright was a friend and colleague of Dr, King while they were both Students at Boston University school of theology. Dr.Cartwright was familiar with the personal lives of Martin and Corretta as they tried to balance school life, his call to ministry, and their family life. Dr. Cartwright told us the story of how Martin tried to help with the dishes to do his part with supporting his wife. But, he was not blessed with domestic skills, and Corretta kicked him out to kitchen because despite his best efforts, he did more harm than good! There are those who have pointed more serious actions of his brokenness, but Dr. Cartwright taught us to see that this imperfect, broken man was used by God to spread the message of freedom to a broken people. God can use our brokenness as well.
B. Befriending our brokenness is our first step. Once we are aware of our brokenness, we can move from being burdened to being freed from the weight of guilt and remorse by seeing our brokenness as lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique. (Ibid. p. 87). Being human means suffering as no one else does, because no one is exactly alike. Yes, we all have experiences that are universal, loss of a beloved, physical injury, abuse, feeling rejected, ignored or despised. We can even endure many of these unless we sense we no longer have anything to offer anyone. Sometimes when we experience pain we try to avoid, deny or cover it over, it would be like breaking a leg and then trying to live as though it never happened. “Steve, you are limping around, what is wrong?” “Oh, nothing”, but there you cannot put weight on that leg by the way you are dragging it behind you”, so on and so on. Until I realize the leg is broken, I will not seek treatment, and set on the road to healing. The only way we can move forward is to face and accept our brokenness, and put it before God.
C. Putting ourselves under the BLESSING. This is opposed to putting ourselves under the curse. Our brokenness is often very frightening to face if we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. We whisper to ourselves: “I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and because I am going through this painful experience, I am sure of it”. Putting ourselves under the blessing means bringing our pain into the presence of God. Instead of the ostrich approach of burying our burden we are called to lift that burden up to God through confession. We can’t really hide anything from God, God already knows our pain before we even admit it to ourselves. Once we admit our pain and face the fears, God blesses us, and transforms the pain into joy. This brings us to a place where we can offer the world a gift.
Once we have been taken by God, blessed and learn from our brokenness, we are able to give.

IV. Give: Isaiah knew that he was known by God and he knew also he was called to a particular mission in a particular time to use his particular skills and gifts.
A. ISAIAH discovers his mission. During his lifetime many threats to this purpose could of caused Isaiah to change course. But, Isaiah was able to keep on course because he kept aware of the brokenness of others, and yearned to be a light to lost in darkness so they might be brought back into right relationship to God. So we learn the purpose of our lives.
B. Fulfillment in giving to OTHERS comes when we see the brokenness of the world and our call to bringing to others bread and drink. Sometimes this means literally bringing food to those who are hungry, those who are homeless, those who suffer from malnutrition. Sometimes it means bringing the spiritual food others are seeking. When we befriend our brokenness and bring ourselves before God’s blessing, we discover that it is exactly our brokenness that helps us to minister to those who hurt. Those who have walked through the dark valleys can use their experience of salvation. When we have gone through an especially difficult experience, we often find ourselves listening to others differently. If you have ever had a biopsy, when you hear of someone awaiting their test results you feel close to their worry, if you ever struggled with addiction, you know the bondage another experiences who admits their addiction, if you have been abused, you are sensitive to the pain of someone who has experiencing abuse to name just a few examples. Our sensitivity to the brokenness also allows us to minister to those who have been through things we have not experienced, being bought and sold as a slave, living on the street, committing a violent act such as murder or rape. It also means allowing them to work miracles of healing in our own lives. I often look back to the time when I went to South Africa to build this church you see on the slide. I thought I was going to give my time and energies to helping others who seemed to on the surface have so little. But, what I found was so much more. Even now, three years later, this experience gives me food for the journey of faith. What I found to be true is when we break bread together, whether here or at our tables in our homes, we connect to one another in a deep way. Being in communion with others means to bring our brokenness to the table as we live (Slide)
C. Being ALL we can be. We will be talking more about this point, but for today it is suffice to say being all we can be means bringing all of who we are, broken and healed, joyful and sad, courageous and afraid, faithful and sinful to the table and to one another. The image I think about is the starfish because as you might know if you cut a leg off a starfish, it has the ability to not only live but form a whole new starfish. In a book “The Starfish and the Spider, The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” Brafman and Beckstrom argue that organizations that have a rigid hierarchy and top down leadership are not healthy. Rather we should have starfish organizations that rely on the power of peer relationships. This is exactly what a healthy church is, called to be the body of Christ each according to their own gifts and skills, aware of their brokenness, but letting the power of God heal and transform our brokenness so we can bring our special gift to a hurting world. Today, we will celebrate our deep communion with God and one another. The method of communion will be for us to gather in one big circle around the church. You will be given the bread, and take a piece, keep this and offer the loaf to the next person. Then the cup will be offered to you, you will dip your bread into the cup, eat, then take the cup and offer it to the person on your left. We will serve one another, because this is exactly what it means to hear and answer the call of God. Amen.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sermon 1-6-08

Outline for 1-13-07

Introduction: The Golden Thread
My Old Testament Professor from Boston University School of Theology, Dr Beck was a big teddy bear of a man. He had an unbridled enthusiasm for teaching, which was contagious. His mission in teaching the Old Testament was for us to see the golden thread of God’s love woven into the lives from Genesis all the way to Revelation. It was Dr. Beck who first taught me that the royal garments were woven through with gold. If the golden thread were to be ripped out of the clothing the whole garment would unravel. Philip Newal in his book on the sacredness of the body echo’s my professors teaching, he says, “So it is with the image of God woven into the mystery of our being. IF somehow it were to be extracted we would cease to exist”,(J. Philip Newell, Echo of the Soul, p. xi)
God within, God all about, God loving, God singing to us the beauty of our existence.
Today we claim that presence in our lives as we live out our faith in this new year.
I. Claiming the Name
The Creation of beloved
The words of God today at Jesus’ baptism is not just for a one time revelation of how God feels about his son, rather, they are words spoken to each and every one who has been created. The creation is God’s beloved. Notice how I speak this way of all creation, not just us here in Walnut, not just the two legged ones, not just the creatures, but the air, the moon, the sun. All of creation is loved by God. The love God has for each one of us is revealed in this passage, and in a moment we will dip our hands in the water and remind ourselves of how much God loves us.
Redemption is being reconnected
What is important to finding the golden thread of God’s love throughout our life’s experiences is for us to reconnect to the source of all love. In my experience of counseling with individuals, with couples, and families, I have found that many times people have lost that connection with their deepest selves, they have disconnected with God, and with one another.
Our True self
When we are disconnected from our true self, the self that is loved and blessed by God, we become unraveled in our life. The problems we have seem more extreme, the relationship issues we have with one another pull us apart rather than together, Without God our lives fall apart and we fall into the traps of self-rejection
Traps of self-rejection Henry Nouwen in the book, Life of the Beloved states that there are three main negative messages that seem universal.
You are no good and ugly :
I was watching the television show ER the other night and one of the patients who comes to the ER for treatment following a fire is a little girl, who turns out to have a rare eye disorder. She is a foster child of and one of her older foster sisters blame her for the fire cause she had one time left the stove on. She is blamed and called stupid, a liar and irresponsible. But a turning point comes when the doctor believes her, inquires of the firefighters what started the fire, which turns out to be an electrical short, and the older sister ends up apologizing for her mistake. Not all of us are so lucky to have this quick resolution to false accusations. Unfortunately it is often the closest to us who cause us the most pain, those who we love, but all we receive is condemnation, ridicule and putdowns. We are called, worthless, good for nothing, and no matter what we do is not good enough.
You are worthless
Your are nobody

So we reach a critical decision in those moments when we get those messages of self-rejection. Will we accept them as truth, will we hold on to our belovedness, or will we accept the negative voices as the truth, and then become unraveled? If we chose to accept the negative voices as true then we find ourselves trying to prove to others and even more importantly to ourselves we are not worthless. But often these negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. Nouwen states that often the three paths we take when we buy into rejection are:
Negative voices
You need to be successful
You need to be popular
You need to have power
These are the paths we use to try to compensate for the feeling that we are not good enough, we are not worthy, we are nobody. This week I was thinking about my first appointment in West Los Angeles. One of the saints of that church was Bill, who was such a big hearted person. Bill had owned a restaurant, and was the kind of person who loved being with people. During my two years of serving as the pastor, Bill had taken to telling me that he believed some day I would be serving the largest church in Southern California. So, this was very good for fighting the negative voices, by serving the largest church, I would be earning the biggest salary of anyone else in the conference, so I would be successful. I would be popular because, as someone in that position I would of much wisdom to impart to the struggling pastors in the smaller churches. And finally, as the pastor of the largest church I would be able to harness the resources of the church to make sweeping changes, I would have the power! Fortunately, before there were folks like Arlene, Bill and Phil, there were people who helped to keep me humble, and to challenge my misconceptions of what it means to follow God. I learned climbing the ladder to greater and greater success was a path full of traps and dangers, and it was not what God was calling me to be and do in the world. What I was calling to was a ministry wherever God calls me, whether I find myself in the smallest or largest church or somewhere in between. And, instead of worrying so much about being popular and having power, live the blessings of God.
With blessings of light, of hope, of peace, of spirit--we bring not might, not power, but the Breath of Life.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow (
So how can we leave behind those negative voices, and become the beloved community of God? Again Nouwen suggests these three ways:
Becoming the Beloved

Facing the call
We are the beloved children of God: Yes, Jesus loves me, because the Bible tells me so! God calls us beloved and calls us to be the beloved! Our spiritual journey will take us down some very rough roads, places that will challenge us, cause us to question our life’s purpose. As Philip Newell reminds us: Spirituality does not consist of being told what to do. It consists of being reminded of who we are. (Echoes of the Soul, p.xiii)
He goes on to say we are invited by God to be liberated, to be reconciled to what is deepest in us instead of being held in bondage to what is false in us. (Ibid).
The Goal is to be all we can be, no not in the US Army but in the army of God, to be the beloved , to leave the false behind, all that is not loving, all that keeps us in bondage. It means listening to the voice of God, not to the voices of self deception and self rejection. You are the beloved, God loves you and is well pleased. Yes even in those moments you feel you are anything but beloved. As we enter 2008 our challenge then is to become the beloved community, to live as the beloved children of God in profound and new ways, to love as we have never loved before. But key to this is not to do more, but to pay attention to how we live:
Thinking, talking, acting as the beloved. In everything we do, we need to let the love of God
As you come forward today, you bring all of who you are, imperfect, yet beautiful, struggling yet blessed, weary, yet hopeful, and first you will give of your offering, as a concrete giving of your gifts to God, then you will dip your hands in the water as a reminder of the blessing of God, who calls you beloved, and finally receive the food God offers to us through Jesus Christ. You can if you want stay and pray here at the kneeling rail or return to you seats. Let us then in these sacred acts, reclaim our status as God’s beloved, and dedicate ourselves anew to being the beloved for a hurting world. Amen

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sermon 1-6-08

Intro: Lost
This past summer, I arrived in Albuquerque to attend the writing conference I had signed up for. I had arranged to rent a car, booked my stay, and even gotten there a day early so I could adjust to the higher altitude. As I set off north to Santa Fe then on to Abiquiu, I felt excited, ready to take full advantage of the opportunity to reflect and write. I secured the rent a car, took the directions I had printed off the internet, and started driving. My hope was that I would get there before dark, so I could settle in and have a quiet dinner. All went well, until I got to a intersection which seemed to be the turn I needed to take to get to the hotel, which was off the beaten path just a bit. I had been here before, and it looked like the right place, so I turned. After about 10 minutes on the road there were other turns, and suddenly I did not know where I was. Darkness had settled in and I felt disorientated, alone, frustrated, and unsure what to do next. I tried retracing my steps, and took a different turn, all to no avail, the directions I had did not make sense anymore. I stopped at a gas station, and they were not sure where I was going either, but did give me directions, to where I still don’t know, cause I turned around and went all the way back to the road I started on. Finally, after calling the hotel several times, I found my way, about 2 hours later than I planned, tired, frustrated and upset at missing dinner.
Journey of the Wise-men
Studied the Maps
Trusted the Light

By contrast, the wise me in our scripture lesson today, took a more successful journey. They had studied the signs, poured over their maps, anticipated a star that would guide them to the new king, one they believed would be extraordinary, and the culmination of their life long work. When the day finally came when the star shown in the sky, they were ready to follow it, to see where they would go. They trusted in the light to shine the way, and as they moved closer and closer their excitement must of filled their hearts. They stopped in Jerusalem and the news they shared with Herod, filled his heart not with joy, but with fear, as with all the leaders in Jerusalem. Yet the wise men kept on their quest, either ignorant or ignoring the fear. And then they were rewarded, they had found the one who they had waited for, planned for, made the journey for, Jesus, the son of Mary.
The paid homage
And so at the end of their quest they paid homage, they offered their gifts carefully chosen, carefully given.

We start this new year of worship with the reminder of this journey because we too follow the light of Jesus. We do not know what this year will hold for us, we do not know where we will travel, what roads we will go down. There are many dangers and traps that can harm us, but there are also many joys, and treasures that await our discovery as well.
I wrote this poem back in October
Dark Places

I have been to a dark place
Where light is dim
Where my soul mourns
My mind stumbles
We have been to a dark place
where vision blurs
when our souls hurt
Our worry controlling
Life tempts us with goodness
And these moments tick on by
Leaving us caught between then and now

Music, love concern, all shine in the darkness
Hauling us back to reality
Keeping us company in blackness

The light calls, we able to push open the tomb
And thrust upward toward the Son.

The Journey of 2008
What has God called us to do?

As we begin then , this journey of 2008, I wonder what is God calling us to do and be? If we can use a word or two that will sum up what we are being asked to do, what message we are to bring to a hurting and anxious world what would this be? How can we not only follow the light, but be the light?
Henry Nouwen, “Being the Beloved”
On the advice of my wife, Linda I read a book by Henry Nouwen, a well known Catholic priest, whose books have always spoken to my questions, on Being the Beloved. This book was inspired by a friend of Nouwen’s, who was not churchy, had a skeptical approach to life, and who nevertheless found Nouwen’s approach to faith touching his soul. He challenged Nouwen to write a book “for those in the secularized society, to respond to the great spiritual hunger and thirst that exists in the countless people who walk the streets...” These were people who did not go to church, or synagogue, who had been caught up in life, and were not sure exactly what it was that was missing, but they were looking for something.

Sounds to me this is exactly what the church, our church should be focused on as well. What is our purpose for doing all that we do?
Offer Spiritual Food
To offer spiritual food to those who hunger for a more authentic, a deeper experience of life.

For Nouwen, the beginning of the journey is remind ourselves who we are, which he points out is revealed in the word, “Beloved”. When Jesus is baptized, God speaks in Matthew 3:17, “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests”. Nouwen says, “You are my Beloved revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not”. The philosophical question of whether humanity is basically good, or basically bad, has been around since the beginning of time. In theology, the question is answered in our beginning, we have been created in the image of God as beloved, in communion with our creator all of our lives.

Connection with God

As a reminder of this deep connection we have with God at all times, we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion every Sunday until we begin Lent. As we begin the new year, let us own the gift of love from God. Let us ground all our actions, all our thoughts, all our being in this love. Let us celebrate the tie that binds us together with God and with one another.
Connection with one another
Story of Lucas and Sarah
Recently I was listening to a pod-cast of a radio show called, “This American Life”, this episode broadcast originally in December explored this topic of ties that bind us together by telling the story of Sarah and Lucas. Sarah was 11 years old when her oversized heart threatened her life, and had to be replaced with a new heart, a transplant. Lucas was a 11 year old, youngest son of parents who were migrant workers up in central california. He went to school, spent time with friends and when his parents were off in the fields sometimes weeks at a time, he was watched over by relatives or neighbors along with his older brother and sister. Sarah, was hospitalized for an infection that caused her to be passed over twice for possible transplants until the infection was treated and she was 100% healthy. Sarah remembered the day she was cleared of the infection, and was told there was a heart for her, she would have surgery the next day. “What a relief!” , her mom said, I couldn’t believe it. The surgery went well, and Sarah described the feeling of waking up and experiencing the ability to breath normally, “It was like I was overwhelmed with air!”
The story does not end there. Sarah’s Mom just could not shake the desire to find out what she could about the donor. Hospitals do not encourage these things because it is difficult for the donors, it is difficult for the recipients. Sarah did not want to know because she already felt mixed feelings, thankful for the second chance at life, but guilty about someone who had lost their life.
Lucas, was home alone sleeping, when a gang fight broke out in his neighborhood. His sixteen year brother was caught up in the fight, and two rival gang members came looking for him. They mistook Lucas for his brother, and shot him in his sleep. His family all felt guilty, the parents for working so far away they had not been there, his brother because it was him the gang members were after, and his sister who was out at a friends. But when they did come together, it was Lucas’ sister who convinced the family to donate the organs, it would be the only way that some good could come out of the tragic event. Reluctantly they agreed, and Sarah had her new heart. It would be months before Sarah’s family knew the circumstances, but they persisted with the little information they had and found the city, and then the school, and finally the family of Lucas, who had since moved up to Washington State to escape the violence. Sarah was very reluctant to meet the family, it was her Mom who did the work who made the trips, who sat in the desk of Lucas, at his elementary school, the teacher had kept Lucas’ belongings just as they had been for the year. And Lucas’ family was unsure they wanted to see the person who received the heart, it might just be too much for them. So for the time being, the two families went about their business. However, when the trial for the young men came, Sarah, had a change of heart, sort to speak, she decided she needed to be there to provide Maria, lucas’ mom with her support. A meeting the night before the trial was scheduled, and the families came together. When Sarah walked into the room, all the doubts, all the reluctance washed away, and Maria, and Sarah walked towards each other and hugged, and for Maria, as her head rested on Sarah’s heart, she felt the life of her son living on. The two families, one from Santa Cruz, one from Fresno, were now bound together.
What I love about this story is that it not all sugar and spice. There is drama, there is tragedy , their is imperfection. Yet in the middle of it all, love wins out. Love overcomes prejudices and fear, love overcomes obstacles and barriers. Love gives second chances.

In this year, we do not know what is ahead, but we follow the light. We do not know all the wrong turns we might take, but God leads us back. We have the opportunity to touch the hearts of all we meet this year, if we give from our hearts. We do not have to be gifted speech writers, we do not have to be brilliant wordsmiths, all we have to do is live the message: we are loved, those we meet are loved, and we are called to be the beloved community of God. We are God’s beloved, and there is nothing we can do about it!

In conclusion let me make three suggestions of how we can take care of the love God has given us
Taking care of the Love

Prayer is the RX of a healthy faith
Pray, if you have never prayed before now is the time to begin, whether you talk to God spontaneously, use written prayers, pray the psalms, start the habit of praying today! As we pray our connection to God and the call of God stays strong. We need to care for our spiritual health and prayer is the primary prescription
Worship strengthens our connection
When we worship in the next few weeks we will be praising God together, as a faith community. We are called to be in a community together with others who are following God. There is no more important act than worship, in keeping our faith vital and alive. And since we will be celebrating communion every week this will be a great way of strengthening our connection to God in worship.
Love in a way you never have before!
Find one way of loving another that is different from anything you have done before. Let you imagination go crazy! Maybe it is spending time with someone, maybe it is starting a new relationship, maybe it is loving the earth, by starting to recycle, or volunteering for a new project, what ever you do, do this with all your heart, mind and strength! This is the way we keep our love strong by loving God and our neighbors wilth all our prayers, with all our worship , with all our love. Amen


Intro: Lost
Journey of the Wise-men
Studied the Maps
Trusted the Light
The paid homage

The Journey of 2008
What has God called us to do?
Henry Nouwen, “Being the Beloved”
Offer Spiritual Food

Connection with God
Connection with one another
Story of Lucas and Sarah

Taking care of the Love

Prayer is the RX of a healthy faith
Worship strengthens our connection
Love in a way you never have before!