Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Sermon for July 24, 2016

Sermon for July 24, 2016                            By Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall
Colossians 2:6-15

I can remember one time I was playing with a group of friends a game of whiffle ball, in the lot next to my house. We choose sides and began playing. Right from the start the other team was so dominant, and began to pile on the runs. Nothing our team could stop them, and not too long into the game, the guy who owned the bat we were playing with, quit because his side was losing so badly, went home and took the bat with him. Of course my team was relieved because we were losing so badly, but on the other hand we could no longer play since the equipment was gone. Soon, we all wandered off to our homes.
Through the years, I remembered that moment, how one person could change the experience of so many, how his being frustrated about the score, caused him to act in this way. And I would be in that position many times, on a basketball team that lost every game, being on a tennis team and never winning a match, being the goalie of a soccer team and being beat for a goal again and again.

But perhaps the most challenging times are not so much on the playing field, but in life, times when I have become frustrated with how things are going with my life, and with those who are suffering. When someone is going through cancer, or ALS or any other kind of life threatening disease, and especially when he or she are losing the battle, I sometimes hear their frustration, they just want to be able to get healthy again.
And in our world, when there are awful events that are in our news, people being shot, wars that claim more innocent lives, these too are frustrating and overwhelming.
For those whose lives have become lost in our world because there is no one who understands, cares, or bothers with them because of their disability, I can see their frustration.
I can still remember working as a counselor at Camp Daniel Boone outside of Lexington KY, back in the good old days of the 1978.  We were hosting a group of adults with special needs, and our camp cook, one of the nicest persons in the world, was so afraid of the group, she literally put the bars across the doors so no one would wander back into the kitchen.  Her fear led her to this, action.
Well, as time went by and the camp preceded her heart melted and soon she was mingling and talking and caring for the campers.
In today’s scripture Paul is laying out for the church how none of us are outside the circle of God once we are baptized. He is talking about how through baptism we are raised with Christ to a new relationship.
There is no physical evidence of this transformation, no tattoo, or circumcision, no hairstyle or clothing, no food or exercise routine that causes that change to occur. Rather baptism is a free gift, one that is given to us for us to accept or deny in our life. We have the freedom to choose to walk with God as a baptized disciple of Jesus Christ, or not. We accept this gift of acceptance and transformation, or not.
But once we do, Paul makes sure that we understand we are now in Christ and no one can condemn us
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. 17These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

A growth that is from God, this phrase reminds us in those moments of frustration, when the odds against us seem insurmountable when all hope is lost, when we want to just take our bat and go home, that we are part of the body of Christ now, we are in Christ now, and all things are possible.

God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our sins

We are made alive, we are renewed, we are given all we need for the journey ahead, no matter how long it will take for us to get there, no matter how many detours we take, no matter how hard the going gets, no matter how many times we want to quit and go home. God is at work in us because we are in Christ.

Paul does make this clear:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Now you and I hear this phrase a lot in our living, we hear many people say something like: Right now I am really into yoga, jazz or hiking.
Sometimes you wonder what they are thinking, I am really into poetry of the 15th century, I really resonate with music from satanic band, Blood and Vomit.

But all of this is to say that Paul means something more profound, when he says:
Continue to live your lives in Jesus, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

To be rooted in Jesus means our whole orientation to life, our priorities, our hopes, our decisions, are from being in Christ, not simply being into Christ.

When we live our lives in Christ, our faith extends to every aspect of our life, and the lives around us, the lives of even friends we have yet to meet.

Paul calls us to believe as Jesus has taught us, with all of who we are, all of our strength, all of our hearts, all of our minds, yes with all of our fears, and imperfections.

And when we live in Christ, we are then free from all that has weighted us down, all that keeps us from moving together without fear, without prejudice, without violence.

We are in the midst of the politician convention season. The republicans have just completed theirs and the democrats are just about to begin.  I am always amused at the chants, the rhetoric and the hoopla of the conventions. I have never been a delegate, but what fun it must be to participate in what looks like a party for the party.
But at the same time I am concerned about all the name-calling, the posturing, the anger and frustration that are expressed. And I am clear I hold very little hope in politicians to solve all the problems of the world. Rather I am sure that it is the power of the Holy Spirit working in the world where I place my hope. Paul calls us to put all our trust, all our hope, and all our energy all our lives in Christ.

As the church of Jesus Christ it is also important that as a congregation that we continue to live in Christ.  Yes, we live in a scary time, a time when churches are closing, a time when we know statistically 60% of our neighbors do not go to any church.  We live in a time when despite our best efforts, the world seem to be raging out of control. We live in a time when risking new things is scary because we might fail, we might be hurt, we might be show our imperfection.
In this congregation we have people who disagree passionately about decisions that will impact our future, impact how we reach out, how we welcome, how we worship and how we are in mission.
This is nothing new; Paul was very familiar about the tensions of believers in his churches he was overseeing. This letter today was written to make clear you did not have to be circumcised before becoming a Christian.

That is why Paul urges his people to root themselves in Christ, to be as spiritually vital in practice and thought, so the spirit can work within them, unite them, guide them.

So prayer becomes the cornerstone of any church trying to find the way into the world.  And the prayer we prayed today is the way forward for all of us. The modern translation from Luke is:

Father, hallowed is your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.

Yes we have the freedom to live in Christ, to orientate our whole selves around Jesus, to ask for God’s kingdom to come. But we also need to know that once we do, we have died to our old self. We need to bury our fears, and our doubts, we need to bury our prejudices and our judgments, we need to rise again as Jesus has to new possibilities and new realities.

That kid that took his bat and went home, was not the example I wanted to be in my life. I wanted to stay engaged with my friends even if I was losing. That basketball team that had lost every game had many of my friends on it, and I loved getting together with them to play foosball, and go on trips together.  I played on many teams since then, and have enjoyed the experience of being together, of learning together, of improving together.  The lessons I have learned on the soccer field or on the basketball court have helped me be who I am today. I am reminded of that these days because our new Bishop Grant Hagiya who will become our bishop September 1rst played basketball with me and other clergy for many years before he was elected Bishop.

Sometimes it feels like we live in an “I’m going to take my bat and go home” sort of world, where there is no sense of negotiation, or compromise or understanding of what the other is feeling, thinking or experiencing.  Marriages end because the two cannot talk to each other, grow with one another. Simply opting out rather than working through the tough issues they face is so often the way.  Churches too find that the atmosphere has changed, there is less loyalty to a particular church and when there are disagreements over directions, people leave for another church.

To be a free to follow Jesus means that we will commit ourselves 100% to being his disciple. There is no, “When the going gets tough we can opt out” card. We give ourselves to the Lord whose name we honor with our thoughts, words and actions all of our life. This means we commit to being a part of a community that will often be less than perfect, will have those we disagree with, but we learn to love.

As we move through life, I yearn for companions who I can help support as they wrestle with what it means to walk with Jesus, I yearn for companions who will listen to me and try to understand what I am wrestling, I yearn for those who can provide music that will gladden my heart, for those who are not afraid of difficult discussions and, I yearn to find ways to invite others on this journey, those who may have been left out, those who suffer from loneliness and overwhelmed by suffering.  I look for those who forgive easily, and often instead of keeping score on who has done what when.