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 (Belief.net)
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!