Month: January 2017

Making Sense of it All

I’m trying to make sense of all of this.  I’m trying to understand what is going on.  The more I try, the more concerned I become.  Every day I read articles from a variety of news columns to try to understand how people are seeing the world, and more importantly to try to identify with how readers who only read one perspective may be seeing the world.

This morning I read these four articles, each providing very different perspectives.  While their individual opinions are worthy of discussion, what I care more about is how we as citizens, who have different opinions can have civil conversations on these different opinions.  I want a real conversation without name calling, eye rolling, or sensationalizing.

We need to understand each other.

Here are the four articles I read today. Notice how  they are written.  Notice the audience they believe is reading the article.  Think critically about each article.  What do we learn about the writer, the reader and the world, by reading these four articles?  What do we learn about ourselves?

Could we pull these opposing articles out and have a mature conversation about what is going on in the world?   Can we read these articles and not getting angry, emotional, or defensive?  Could we work together to try to make sense of it all?

The first article I read was by Keith Ablow from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/dr-keith-ablow-whats-really-going-on-in-trumps-mind-hint-its-not-what-think.html

And then I read this article by David Brooks from the New York Times:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/opinion/the-politics-of-cowardice.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collectionolit

 

 

Then I read this article by Newt Gingrich from Fox News:

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/01/27/newt-gingrich-left-should-be-scared-to-death-after-trumps-first-week.html

I finished my Saturday morning circuit with this article by Jim Wallis:

https://sojo.net/articles/christians-call-speak-truth-alternative-facts

If you have read all four of the articles by now, you are probably not interested in reading further.  So I will end here and say that I think we need to force ourselves to read and engage in conversations with opposing points of view.  We have to try to understand each other.  If we don’t, we are just screaming into the wind.

We must seek first to understand than to be understood.

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We the People: The Greatest Gift in 2017

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union…. Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”
Susan B. Anthony

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The most surprising thing has happened.  The most unexpected little gift has occurred. The most quiet, spark of light has come through.  In the midst of the most controversial and unsettling political era of my lifetime, I have received a gentle gift.

It’s a gift that easily slips away, if I’m not careful.

The gift is, I have fallen in love.

I have fallen in love with the country  in which I live.

I confess that  I have taken her for granted.

It’s the gift of heart-swelling patriotism for its history, its ideals and its beauty.  Who would have thought that such a tenacious and brutal election season, would stir up such deep patriotism?

Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as simply “love or devotion to one’s country.”  Notice that  it is not defined as having pride in one’s country, or believing that one country is better than another’s.  Patriotism is not elitism. Patriotism is not nationalism. Patriotism is more about serving than being served, just like falling in love.  Because when you fall in love, you would do anything for the one you love. – Remember?  Remember falling in love with your sweetheart? How you would do anything to help your beloved – bring him cookies when he was studying, bring her flowers when she was sad? – You were their love-sick servant.

Patriotism is that deep devotion that is not interested in arguing. You can’t argue about how much you love someone, you just take care of them, support them, honor them and make sure they are o.k. Putting it simply, Theodore Roosevelt said,  “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

This does not mean that we are perfect.  The people we love, are not perfect and neither is our country. We fail, let it each other down, sin, and forget. We mess up.  And when that happens, leaders show up who set us on the right path.  They remind us that “the greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself”  (FDR).

They remind us to come together.  Perhaps the bravest speech of all time,  were these words given to us when we were the most fragile: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Patriotism is not love of party or a particular person.  It cannot be bottled into one particular point of view.  It is more patriotic to honor another person’s point of view than to dishonor it by discounting it. In other words, if we all come to the table with the same love and devotion for our country, we can start healing.  But we must see the other person’s patriotism equal to our own.  Nobody owns the corner market on patriotism.

I have decided that worry does not serve me, and more importantly it does serve my country.  Fear does not honor the people who fought for the values upon which we stand.  Anger does nothing for the ideals of this land.

But love and devotion, love and devotion, deep gratitude and a willingness to serve and rise up – this is patriotism and it matters.

For the next 100 days, and the next 100 days after that, I’m going to focus on what I love about this country.  I am going to focus on all of things that I have taken for granted and be grateful for them. I am  going to make sure I am part of protecting them and ensuring that they are not dismantled.  Instead of feeling anger or fear or arguing about numbers or pictures or who is right and who is wrong, I’m going to look for the good and try to make it better – for as long as I have breath, this is my promise and my pledge.

THE BILL OF RIGHTS

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

 

WRITER’S BLOCK

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Matthew 4:12-23

12Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Something happened this week,  something that has never happened to me before.  I had a serious case of writer’s block.  I take great pride in my discipline and efficiency in making sure I have a first draft sermon written no later than Thursday afternoon.  This week, I did what I always do.  I studied scripture, read articles, read the news, read commentaries, all the things I normally do, and  yet I could not begin to write –

 I cast my net into the sea of language and  pulled up no words. – Nothing.  Part of the reason is that it’s the end of January and I’ve preached one, too many weeks in a row and we have been working pretty much nonstop since October – but that’s normal, par for the course life in the church.   It’s normal to getting to the annual meeting after a month of starting up the calendar year after all of the work of Advent and Christmas, and stewardship campaigns, and fall programming, to feel like your gas tank is running on empty.

There was something more.  I kept throwing my net over, asking God to help me, give me a word, and again, nothing.  Thank God for the great gift of procrastination.  – There is always laundry to run, or a room to pick up, or an email to respond to,  or the news to read, and best one of all… Facebook.….  I would find myself distracted in the deep waters of the unknown.  There’s always another article to read, or another post to see, or a video to watch.  There is always another person writing an offensive thing about another person to make another person feel good, another person feel bad, and then with that one little post, the world becomes more broken than it already is.  There is always one article, or editorial saying we are right and they are wrong to be followed by another article saying, no we are right and they are wrong.  Which leads me to think there are too many words out there already, and nobody is listening. So what’s the point of writing?  I think the only point, the only reason to keep writing, is knowing that our kids are watching – and if they see that it works to be obnoxious and make illogical statements and that being shocking works, and that’s not acceptable. –And so I don’t give up and I think maybe God has a word for us in all of this mess and  so I take out my net and I throw it over to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There was something more. And this is probably the biggest, most honest reason of all that no words came to me this week.  If you want to be a faithful preacher and write effective sermons you have to do two things well – you have to exegete -that means study scripture and you have to exegete the congregation. – A good preacher knows their congregation and what I know, or deduce is that our mainline congregation is just like most church’s in this country – except for those congregations that are on the extreme left and extreme right and that is that is this:

Some of us really, really hate Donald Trump and some of us really, really hate Barack Obama and some of us really, really hate those who hate the other, and some of us really, really hate those loser liberals and some of us really, really hate those close mind conservatives, and nothing, nothing, nothing will convince us that we are wrong and they are right, and why can’t they just see how clearly wrong they are, and what’s the point?

And the preacher is left thinking, “Good Lord.”  ” I can’t say the words  ‘live into hope’ or ‘this is going to be huge’ without sounding political.” Everything sounds political.

We are a microcosm of our society and our society is bleeding internally and as a long we blame each other for the bleeding and not all take responsibility for it, the bleeding will not stop.  So, I go again, and cast my net into the sea to look for a word that can heal and unite and not sound biased, but rather sound hopeful and I throw it over, to catch some words, and again my nets come up empty.

There is something more.  Disciples of Jesus Christ have long gone fishing and found their nets coming up empty.  All three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story of the soon to be disciples out on the water, casting their nets into the sea and discovering that they come up lacking.  You remember this story – Jesus comes to the seaside looks out and calls to Peter and Andrew and says, “follow me and I will make you fish for people” and then an amazing thing happens, they drop their nets and follow him.   They surrender.  They stop trying to have control over their lives and their understanding of the world and their way of life, they put down their nets and they follow him- and they follow him with a new thing to catch and that is people.

I think if we are going to heal as a society, that is what we all have to do.  We have to drop our nets, let go of our own words and rhetoric, and start catching people- not just the people we like and agree with, but all people – because people are people and Jesus does care one iota who you voted for.  Jesus cares, who you catch.  If we follow Jesus, we have to put down our nets, meaning our agendas, our power and follow him  in order to catch people.

Now Matthew explains what he means by catching people, he says, they went into the communities and cured the sick and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Now, what in the world does that mean in 2017?  It means that God is bigger than politics.  It means that while presidents come and go, along with elections and inaugurations, God remains: the inauguration of God’s Kingdom irreversibly changed the world. As Matthew introduces the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he quotes Isaiah: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” The light of God dawned on all God’s children when God’s Kingdom was inaugurated, back there at the Sea of Galilee.

I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s couplet: “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.” Columnist David Brooks makes the comment that, most of the things that make our lives worthwhile and meaningful do not have to do with politics. They have to do with relationships or beliefs or virtues.  They have to do with our life stories, our kids, our grandparents, our grandchildren.  They have to do with meals around the table, and days at the beach, and books that we read, and stories that we share, and people that we love.  They have to do with  ways in which we come together as a community after a tornado hits, or an accident happens, or a child gets sick, or our neighbor gets cancer and suddenly who cares about politics, because people are people.

So I put my net down again and ask God to give me a word to say to you today, and after prayer and angst and impressive procrastination and even tears, it is  simply this:  love people more than politics.  Care more about people than politics.  That’s it.  Love people more than your own opinions.  See people before you see party.   Put down your nets and follow him.  Be brave enough to tell people the Good news – what’s that you ask?

The Good News is this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The Good News is this: “Jesus said, come to my all who weary and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.”  (Matt 11:28)

The Good News is this:  “My Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The Good News is this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and God is love.  He that loveth not, loveth not God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.” (1 John 4:7-8),

These words have nothing to do with a political party, and they have everything to do putting down your nets and following Him.   These are the words that I have caught for you today.  What you choose to do with them, is up to you.

May the peace of Christ flow through you today.

May the peace of Christ sustain you tomorrow.

May the peace of Christ carry you always.

Amen.

The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

creating sacred communities

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day…

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The Wolves We Feed: A Reflection for Inaugeration Day

 

wolf-2Do you remember this Cherokee parable?

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. 

One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

January 20 has become a date that many of us are excited about and many of us dread.

It’s a day that all Americans take pride in, as we celebrate the mark of a peaceful transition from one leader to another. It’s democracy in all of its splendor.

It’s a day of parades and music and poetry.  It’s a day that marks a transition into a new era.

It’s supposed to be a day to feel good about being an American, and for many. many people it will be just that. They will feel very proud and excited and hopeful. It will be a great day.

For others, the day will be a day of fear and uncertainty. It will not be such a great day.

For others, it will be neither a good day or a bad day, but a”wait and see day,” a “give him a chance day.”

It would be great if we all had the same day on January 20, if we all felt equally excited and hopeful. But we know that is not going to happen. We are a divided nation and we really don’t want to try to understand each other.  We really don’t want to take Atticus Finch’s advice and walk around in another person’s shoes.  We are too angry to even try.  We are too angry for the past eight years for failed promises and hallow speeches.  We are too angry at the rhetoric that offends and divides.  Which ever side we are on, the last thing we want to do, is try to understand the other person’s point of view.  But, I wonder, if we could be brave enough to try?  I wonder if we could love our country enough to try to heal it?  I wonder if we could all try to feed the same wolf?

Every single one of us, regardless of our political persuasion has these two wolves living in us.  No one person gets through life without both wolves sleeping in our psyches.  When the wolves wake up, we have a choice of which one we feed.  We alone have the option to be feed fear or bravery.  We have the choice between feeding hatred or kindness.

It’s in us to decide the kind of people we want to be and how we are going to live and treat each other in this world.  We can choose to feed kindness, bravery,  and love, but let it be known that you have to choose to feed it. It’s a choice we make every day. If you do not feed it, it will starve.

I believe that most people, are genuinely good at heart. I believe most people  love their kids and  love this country, and want it to be a country that stands for liberty and justice for all…..We all just may not like each other…but we can still choose to be kind to each other.We may not share the same values, but we can find a way to respect each other in our differences.

We  have to have enough self-resolve to feed the wolves we choose to feed.  No one makes us feed hatred, we choose that. No one makes us feel afraid, we choose that.  No one makes us feel greed, we choose that.  We can choose another path.

If we want to feel better on January 21, we as nation have to decide which wolf we are going to feed.

No matter how you feel on January 20: overjoyed or overwhelmed, that is your truth, and it has value and it matters.

But also know this truth, and be equally proud of this;  it’s a truth we all share:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

 May it be forever so.

wolf-un-dominated-wolves-19664762-1600-1200

 

 

The Park Bench

park-bench-resized-600John 1:29-42

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

I would like to begin this morning by asking you to shut your eyes and imagine something for a few moments.

Just sit back in your pew, close your eyes, take a breath and imagine you are sitting on a park bench, outside on a warm spring day.

Imagine that someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and you see that this person is Jesus.

What does he look like to you? There are no right answers.

How do you know it’s him?

Do you feel nervous sitting next him?

Do you reach over and hug him, like you are greeting an old friend?

Do you feel angry sitting next to him and start asking him questions, like, “how could you let that happen?”

Do you see that it’s him, feel so uncomfortable that you get up and walk away? – Hoping that he did not recognize you?

Do you sit in silence next to each other, knowing that you know each other, but choose to sit in comfortable silence?

How do you approach Jesus? 

O.k. you can open your eyes.

If you did this exercise every day, or once a month, or every now and then, or even every morning and night, you would find that every time Jesus comes and sits next to you on that bench, that you would respond differently.  Sometimes you may know him well, sometimes you may not know him at all, sometimes all you will want to do is weep and ask him to take away the hurt, and sometimes you will feel so much doubt, you will want to get up and walk away.  While you may change your behavior when you go through this guided meditation, what does not change is that Jesus always comes and sits on the bench.  He faithfully comes and sits and waits and we respond.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus comes and John the Baptist introduces him, not only to the disciples, but to the readers in the Book of John and indeed to the world. This is how Jesus comes on stage in the Gospel of John – John the Baptizer sees him coming down the road and says, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of this world.”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, my cousin, Jesus!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the Messiah!”

He doesn’t say, “Behold, the King of Kings and Lord of All!”

He introduces Jesus to the world as “the lamb of God.”  First observation: Jesus is not of this world. He is the lamb of God. So the first thing people are asked to see when he comes and sits on their park bench is that he is from God, that he is of God, that he is God.

Now, what is even more difficult to get our heads around is the second part of the sentence. After John says, he is “the lamb of God,” he says why he is here. John the Baptist says,  “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He did not say, “behold the lamb of God, who will make you happy, rich, or successful.”  He said, he is the one takes away the sin of the world.  The sin of the world.  Now just think about that.

There has been a critique, and I think it’s a fair one, that churches don’t like talking about sin any more. It’s not a good way to fill a church. It’s not good for PR.  And if we are going to talk about sin, well, we should talk about the sin of others and not our own.  And yet, every week as Presbyterians we begin faithfully with a prayer of confession acknowledging both our individual and corporate sin.   But I think we often leave that confession tightly in that place and then move on with our lives.

Think for a few minutes about the enormity of the sin in the world. Think about all of the cruel things people have said to each other just these past months either on social media or directly.  Think about the way we have been treating our brothers and sisters.  Think about the atrocities of the human race around the world. Think about the pillage of our earth.   The weight of sin is so heavy upon us, it’s almost suffocating.  It’s enormous.  Now, this is our time and place, but make no mistake sin and evil was just as powerful 2000 years ago, and in that moment Jesus appears and John says, “Here is the one who will take away the sin of the world.” 

Why didn’t John say,  “Behold, the Lion of God, who takes away the sin of the world?”

Wouldn’t a lion be a better animal to take on sin and mangle it to bits?  Wouldn’t it have been smarter to describe Jesus as aggressive and sort of like a vigil anti.  – Maybe I’ve seen too many movies, but making Jesus a lamb – doesn’t that sound…. weak and powerless? –  I mean; this is the sin of the world we are talking about.  Do we really think that a lamb can take on ISIS?  Could a lamb take on the Nazis?  Could a lamb take on the KKK?  Well sure, a lamb could take them on, but he’s going to get himself killed!!

The next day, the would be disciples are curious about John the Baptist’s introduction and they come to Jesus and he turns to them and asks, “what are you looking for?”  and they say, “Rabbi” which means teacher.  He then asks, “where are you staying?”  and he invites them to “come and see.”

Now if people of don’t like talking about sin, the only thing they dislike more than that is talking about evangelism.  We really worry about offending people by “pushing our faith on others.”  Put it this way, we are sitting on a park bench with Jesus and a friend comes by and sits next to us  and instead of introducing our friend to Jesus, we choose not introduce them to each other.  Jesus, whispers in our ear, “I think I could help out here…” and we choose to ignore him.

Out of fear of offending our friend, we offend and pretend like we don’t know Jesus.

Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now Jesus gives us three actions for how to introduce people to him safely. He asks the question, what are you looking for, and the disciples answer “a teacher,” and then they ask,  “where are you staying?  And Jesus replies, “come and see.”

If you know someone who is lost in their faith, or lost in sin, or lost in the world, and you think that if they knew Jesus or had a measure of faith, they might be less lost, but you don’t know how to invite them, ask them this question, “what are you looking for?” It’s a safe, open ended question.  Take the time to listen to their answer.  Sometimes we are so caught up in our stuff, that we don’t stop and really ask the question of ourselves, “what am I looking for?” and then once you identify need, stay with Jesus, the lamb of God,  follow him to find the answers.

Recognize friends, that the way you answer that question, is your deepest prayer.  It’s your soul’s deepest desire to ask and its Jesus’ deepest desire to know.

Take a minute to try to answer that question – What is it you are looking for?

Is it peace?

Is it hope?

Is it justice?

Is it forgiveness.?.

The truth is, we have enough lions in our world. We have enough roaring and aggression and violence.  We don’t have enough lambs.  We don’t have enough gentleness, compassion, empathy and kindness. And if we believe in the lamb of God, we must believe that he can overtake the sins of the world, and he does so through the scandal of grace. We don’t have enough people willing to sit on a bench. willing to listen, and not judge, willing to stay with us, and help us find what it is we are looking for.

Evangelism is as easy as sitting on a park bench with someone you love or don’t know and letting them tell you what it is they are truly looking for, and loving them enough to help them find the way.  Little did you know, that you were being Jesus on the bench.  You sacrificed your time, yourself, your energy, your love for the sake of another person.  It’s that easy to be an evangelist.

Close your eyes, one last time. Imagine that you are sitting on a park bench on warm spring day, and someone comes and sits beside you.  You look over and recognize that it is Jesus.  What does he look like?  You turn to him and he recognizes you.  He asks you, “what is it you are looking for?”  Take some time this morning to sit in a quiet space, stay with him, and tell him what you are looking for….

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us. 

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, 
grant us peace, grant us peace. 

Amen.

1

Trust

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We have lost something as a society.  We may not want to admit it, or believe it, but it’s true.  We do not trust each other anymore.  We do not trust our neighbors, our leaders, our institutions, the newspapers.  Case in point, the word for 2016 was “post-truth,”  narrowly beating “fascism.”

There is a lament, a cry, in this statement, because we believe that we used to trust each other.  We used to believe fundamental truths such as,  “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”  Does that truth still apply in our society today?  

We used to stand for the American flag, put our hands our hearts, join together in song.  Even if we disagreed with a policy or a practice, at least we would all stand together as a community at the ball game and claim a unified loyalty.  Lately, some athletes and others have chosen not to stand, causing a stir in the media. The choice not to stand feels disrespectful and insulting to the rest of us who are standing, but more than that, not standing is a symbolic act that says, “I don’t trust you.”

We used to have a common enemy that we could all rally behind, like Russia.  If we didn’t trust or like each other, at least we could all agree that we really didn’t trust Russia.  Having a common enemy at least brought us a sense of unity.  Having someone to trust less, helped us trust each other more.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Those who claim the name Christian  today have very different understandings of what Jesus meant in this statement.  Today, those who identify with the Christian faith, have taken this statement and have turned into a message of warning, instead of as a message of hope.  Within the large umbrella of those who claim the name Christian, there is a deep mistrust.  This fracture of mistrust provides evidence to those who have left the church and affirms their decision that they did the right thing in leaving.   “Who would want to be part of that mess, when I can just find God on my yoga mat and be accepted for who I am?”

If a religious organization, institution, country, family, any system has lost trust, then the system has collapsed and it is vulnerable to false prophets, (as lamented by the prophet Jeremiah,) false teachings, (as warned by Paul in Corinthians), and false hope, (as spoken against in the Gospels.)

What is required to regain a lost trust?  

First, we have to admit that we don’t trust each other.  Let’s just get that on the table and deal with it.

Second, we must have the desire to trust again.  Look, if we don’t want to trust each other, then we won’t. If it serves us to fear each other, then we will keep fearing each other.  We have to choose to trust each other. We have to want to believe that people who see the world differently than we do are still people. We have to see each other.

But just having the desire to trust is not enough.  We must know the truths within us – the fundamental values that define us as individuals. If we believe that Jesus said to love God and love our neighbor,  and if we believe that to be a fundamental truth, then why don’t we act like it?   If we believe that, “all men (and women) are created equal,” then why don’t we act like it?  We cannot expect society to act one way, if we are not willing to behave in the truths that define us as individuals.   What is your truth?

We must hold each other accountable. If we hear hatred, bigotry, dishonesty and cruelty, we have to speak up and speak out.  Part of trust, is loving each other enough to say, “That’s unacceptable. You are hurting our society. You are pouring words into the impressionable minds of our children, and they trust you.”  When we give adults permission to be cruel and do not hold them accountable, we are telling our children that it’s o.k. to be rude, hurtful and even violent.  Part of being a trusting community is holding each other accountable. Speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

If we are going to trust again, we need to forgive each other.  We need to be humble enough to ask for forgiveness and generous enough to forgive.  We must see the hurt we have impeded on each other and start to slowly, faithfully, work towards reconciliation.  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31)

It took us a long time to get this  broken as a society.  It will take a long time – perhaps a life time to begin to trust again, and perhaps admit that the trust we thought we had was a falsehood.  If  we are going to heal, we have to begin to be willing to trust.  It begins with one small step at a time.  It begins with one neighbor reaching out to another neighbor, one community, reaching out to another community, one stranger, opening her door to another stranger.  It will not be resolved on social media. It will not be resolved in the halls of Congress.  It will only be resolved one person at a time.  I believe we can heal this country. I believe we can trust each other.  I believe we can love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  I believe love always wins.  I believe we can get there — even if it takes a life time.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
Fred Rogers

 

Epiphany

hike“Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.” ~Theresa of Avila

We have become numb.

Our brains hear  words and see  images, and we know we should feel outrage, sadness, anger, and we have experiences so much of it, that we no longer respond.  We don’t move.  We feel helpless, confused, disconnected.

Here is the Epiphany we have all experienced:

We thought we were one kind of country, but actually, we aren’t the country we thought we were.  We are not all on the same page.

We have made assumptions about who we are and what we believe and now we look around at our fellow citizens, some friends, some family and we realize we see the world so very differently.  There has been a light shown on a truth we were all too naive to see, or did not want to see. The truth that we do not see concepts of democracy, freedom and human rights in the same way.  The truth that we are more divided than united. The truth that we don’t trust each other. The truth that we are not all on the same page when it comes to words like “tolerance, justice, and equality.”

These are the epiphanies we must face.

We cannot deny that a Light has shown on the darkness. Do we believe that the light can overcome it?

Only if we, ourselves are the light.  We cannot rely on some magical, ethereal light to show up and make it all better.  If we want the world to be better than it is today, we must not be afraid to be the light in the world.

What does that look like?

We must start seeing each other as Christ sees us. We must stop putting people in categories of liberal, conservative,  uneducated, educated, poor, rich.  We must keep shining light on things we don’t want to see or hear. We must not be afraid to shine light in the darkness.

Be the Light of the world.

Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what he tells his church, tells us to be. Love each other, heal the sick, raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. ~ Frederick Buechner

The world has been dark before, and there have always been those willing to shine light even in the darkest places.

Somehow, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, someone managed to scrawl on the external wall of the Warsaw Ghetto:

I believe in the sun, even when it does not shine.
I believe in love, even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even if I do not see him.

In our own national experience, in the midst of legally mandated segregation and deeply embodied institutional and social racism, Christian preachers such as Martin Luther King Jr. rose up, not only to challenge the law in acts of courageous civil disobedience, but also to challenge African American people to remember who they were and whose they were.

And the result—someone managed to write the lyrics, “My Lord! What a morning, when the stars begin to fall.” “Go tell it on the mountain.” “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

And James Weldon Johnson’s powerful words, “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven sing, ring with the harmony of liberty. Let our rejoicing rise—high as the listening skies. Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

Let us refuse to be numb. Let us refuse to be indifferent.  Let us refuse not to speak up and speak out. Let us get up to a high mountain and claim, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (Isaiah 60:1).

Arise. Shine. Let us be on our way.

 

 

Time

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Happy New Year.

We begin this first day of 2017 with an ancient piece of scripture from the book Ecclesiastes.

This book is set in the section of the Bible known as wisdom literature.

There was an ancient teacher of wisdom who was called in Hebrew Qohelet. The name in Greek is translated “Ecclesiastes.” This wise person understood time quite differently from the way it is understood today. He wrote after the Babylonian Exile, an experience that had taught the Hebrew people that human experience was never going to be easy and that time should not be a tyrant that demanded all our allegiance. In other words, Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is more to life than time.

Today’s reading catalogs various seasons of life, 28 of them arranged in sharp contrast to one another and yet each an undeniable part of human existence. begins with what is most fundamentally true–that one day, we are born into this world, then, just as inevitably, our life in this world comes to an end.

Listen to this ancient poem again, for the first time.

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

I have been thinking a lot about time lately.  For one reason, I suppose because time seems to be going so quickly.  This past Christmas season came so quickly, It seemed like school started and the with a blink it was Christmas.  I was talking to a member of our session last month and was saying that I needed to get the church officer retreat organized for our new officers, and I felt like I had just done that.  Wasn’t it January, 2016 only five minutes ago?  Where has the time gone?

Dr. Suess shares this feeling, he wrote a little poem that went: How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

This happens when I look at pictures of my kids and see how much they have grown and changed and I think to myself where has the time gone?

My days are spent trying to control time.  Sometimes I curse time.  This happens when I wake up at 3:00 in the morning, and turn to see the clock, and I think, “why in the world am I up at this time?”  I lay there in the dark, trying to will myself back to sleep,  but call it anxiety, call it clarity, call it wanting to get things done, call it annoying, whatever it is,  the list starts going, and I give in and get up and get to it.

Allan Burdick wrote in a recent article for The New Yorker,

For more than two thousand years, the world’s great minds have argued about the essence of time. Is it finite or infinite? Does it flow like a river or is it granular, proceeding in small bits, like sand trickling through an hourglass? And what is the present? Is now an indivisible instant, a line of vapor between the past and the future? Or is it an instant that can be measured—and, if so, how long is it? And what lies between the instants?

Indeed, Augustine wrote, what we call three tenses are only one. Past, present, and future are all immediate in the mind—our current memory, our current attention, our current expectations. “There are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present of present things, and the present of future things.”

To consider this present is to glimpse the soul, Augustine argued.

Much has been said about 2016 being the worst year ever.  While it has not been the best year for the human race, if we know history we know that there have been some years far worse than this one.

But if you know history, you know that there have been some far more tumultuous years than this one. The Dark Ages wasn’t exactly a picker upper.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents lately.  All of them are gone now, and I will never get to spend any time with them.  I think about the lives they lived, and the things they saw.  I try to imagine the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, or the day the stock market crashed, or the day Kennedy was shot, and then Martin Luther King and then Robert Kennedy and they must have thought, “these are the worst of times.”  I wonder if they worried about the future, how things would turn out. I’m sure they did.

But when I knew them and spent time with them, time was slow.  I never knew their worries for the future, because their futures had arrived. Their present was their future.  And in their future, their granddaughter would come to their house for a week every summer, and climb trees, and pick strawberries in the garden, and play with tools in the basement, and ride bikes to the grocery.  We would eat long meals, with cloth napkins and sip coffee from tea cups. Conversations would linger over pumpkin pie, until the sun  set and it was time to go into the den and sit on the davenport and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune and we wouldn’t move too fast, or be in a rush.   It was joy.

Time is something we have constructed.  It’s relative.  If you have ever waited for someone to call, or to get home, or for the mail to arrive, or the results to come in, or the surgery to be over, you know that time can move at a snail’s pace.  And if you have ever gone on a week vacation, or been wrapped in a great show or been immersed in a fruitful conversation, you can later look at your watch and ask incredulously,  “Where has the time gone?”

Time hasn’t changed, what has changed is how we feel in that moment.  So on this New Year’s Day, I invite you to pay more attention to the moment and less attention to what is next.  The more mindful you are of the moment, the closer you are to your soul and thereby more connected to God.

Writer Anna Quindlen authored an essay on being a mom in which she wrote,   “One of the biggest mistakes I made as a mother is the one that most of us make while doing this.  I did not live in the moment enough.  This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs.  There is one picture of my three children sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 7, 4 and 1.  And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.  I wish I had not been in such a hurry to go on the next thing: dinner bath, book, bed.  I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” 

You know, the same thing can be said for the church. What if we said as a church community that “we are going to treasure the doing a little bit more and the getting it done a little less?” What if we really tried to pay attention to those with whom we worship every week? What if we were less concerned about what was ahead of  us, and were more concerned with who was beside us?  What if we came to the Lord’s Table and let the bread and juice touch our tongue and could taste and see that the Lord is Good. What an interesting New Year’s Resolution it would be to covenant together to not worry about tomorrow and not grieve the past, to but to be present with each other in the present.

I don’t want to sound sad here, but I want to say that over the past three years, so many wonderful people have greeted me at these sanctuary doors, and they are no longer on this side of heaven.  I miss them. I wish I had one more moment to greet them.  I don’t want to rush through life so quickly that I miss that holy moment of looking them in the eye and greeting them as a brother and sister in Christ.  It’s too important.  So my charge to all of you who faithfully came to worship on a holiday weekend is to ask that we all commit to finding the joy in the moment, regardless of the season.  God is in every season and if God is there, there a glimpse of joy. Let’s covenant to treasure the doing a little bit more and the getting it done a little less.

We don’t know what 2017 will hold, but we do know there will be birth and death, there be a time to speak and a time to be silent, a time for love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Whatever the time presents, God is there and if we are present with God, no matter where we are, there is always the potential of joy.

As we stand at the threshold of a new year uncertain of it will bring, we have control over very little, except for how we respond to what comes our way. I will conclude with words from another wise poet.  Mary Oliver writes:

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”

Amen.

Allen Burdick, “The Secret Life of Time.” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/19/the-secret-life-of-time

Anna Quindlen, “All My Babies Are Gone Now”  Newsweek Columnist and Author

Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems