Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Strength For Peace

Malachi 3:1 – 4
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

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The purification that Malachi is prophesying has to do with the religious leaders. The tribe of Levi and all his descendants were set apart to carry the Ark of the Covenant; to stand before the Lord to minister; and to be priests to the people. Because they were the priests they didn’t get an inheritance like the other tribes. Their inheritance was God. They ate and drank the offerings that the people gave to God in sacrifice. At first they were vigilant but as time wore on many of them became corrupt. They demanded more of the people than God did. Because they weren’t allowed to have anything of their own they took the best of what everyone else had. The offerings that they presented to God, because of this, were not righteous. Malachi prophesies that God is sending a messenger to purify the priesthood so that the people will be free… so that the people can live in peace.

For some of us as Christians we understand this messenger as being Jesus, the one we call The Prince Of Peace. For others of us we see this messenger as being John the Baptist. In the Gospel of Luke we read,

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Luke 3:1 – 6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

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John the Baptist is a messenger. He is tough on the political and religious leaders of his day. John the Baptist points to Jesus. There are times in the gospels where Jesus points back to John. In some ways, there couldn’t have been one without the other.

Both brought distress to the leaders of their day. Both were called to bring wholeness to the people of God. Both died because of their unrelenting fervor and the audacity of their message. And both were bringers of types of peace. John, six months older than Jesus, was wild, insightful, and combative. Jesus was calm, thoughtful, and keen minded. John prepared the way for Jesus. He knew he was laying the foundation for the Messiah.

John brings peace by beginning the upset in the social and religious structures, a trend that Jesus continues in his ministry. This kind of peace-bringing isn’t calm and quiet. It is for a greater peace, something that everyone can share. Sometimes we think of peace as not upsetting the status quo or staying quiet so that nothing gets worse. God’s way of bringing peace was to expose the unrest, the conflict, and the powers so that there was a chance for true resolution. Too long the hypocrisy and corruption was covered over. Jesus was born to usher in a new covenant and to bring a new peace. In order for this to happen he needed John to lay the foundation.

This kind of calling is hard though. Peace isn’t passivity. It is getting in the way of corruption. Peace isn’t quiet. It is speaking out on behalf of those who have no voice. In Matthew and in Luke Jesus explains that they all think he has come to bring peace but no, he has come to bring unrest. Jesus is challenging their understanding of peace.

Along with this outward peace-bringing, the kind that stands in the way of  violence and often is violently opposed, there is another kind of peace. Internal peace. Here again we think in terms of stillness and calm. But this peace also can require a getting in the way of violence. Here though it is internal violence. Internal peace, or what Paul writes the Philippians in chapter 4:7 “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I like to call this the peace that doesn’t make any sense. It is this peace which will guard your hearts and minds.

A peace that guards your heart and mind. Whatever else kind of peace you are called to, the peace that guards your heart  and mind seems like a real good idea to me. John the Baptist must have had this peace when he confronted Herod and ended up getting his head lopped off. After John’s execution, Jesus had to have relied on the peace that guarded his heart and mind. I think he knew his own fate as well.  How else could he continue if not for peace guarding him? How else can you have strength to be a peace-bringer in the world?

Jesus’ ministry to “purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness” was for the sake of the people to be able to live in peace.

As we consider the babe in the manger, let us look deeply into his eyes. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, through peaceful means got in the way on behalf of others. He was born for it. It was his destiny. This is the Messiah, the Saviour, that we follow and that we celebrate.

The Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of all believers. The writer of 1st Peter puts it this way, 2:
4“Come to Jesus, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Let us be purified for the work of following in the footsteps of Jesus, bringing peace through peaceful means, even when things get messy and scary. Even at those times, there is an inward peace that must be our foundation. The peace that surpasses our understanding – having peace at a time that doesn’t make any sense for us to have peace – will guard our hearts and minds.

Here are a few questions you can answer on your card for our tree. Or you can write what you want to about peace.

Peace
How is Jesus peace to you?
How does this community help you offer the peace of Christ to others?
How do you extend peace to others?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Hope As A Foundation

Jeremiah 33:14 – 16
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

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Jeremiah said a lot of harsh things before we come to the 33rd chapter. There was a lot to be concerned about, but in general folks didn’t agree with him. He called the people to repentance. He prophesied punishment. They ignored him. Eventually they were conquered and taken into exile.

In the book, “An Introduction To The Bible” by Christian Hauer and William Young we read, “When the doom of which Jeremiah had spoken arrived, a new side of the prophet emerged. … He turned from the time of judgment to envision hope for Israel. It was not the naïve hope he had condemned other prophets for voicing. It was a long-range hope grounded in a deep faith in the love and fidelity of the Lord.”

Long-range hope. This is what the people needed. Not a superficial hope or a naïve hope. This is also what we need. And so we turn to Jeremiah. We look forward while we look back and see that what Jeremiah prophesied relates not only to his time. These words, originally meant for their current situation, can also be seen as prophecy for the time of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Additionally, the kind of hope that Jeremiah is offering can be a foundation for us to stand on while we live in the promises of God in the spirit, but still see the suffering of hunger, homelessness, bullies, and greed rampant in our society.

Placing our hope in Jesus, the incarnation of God, is a big deal. Sometimes we can see no hope in our circumstances or imagine hope for our lives. At these times can we summon up hope from the core of God’s own self based on God’s unrelenting love that led to the incarnation? This is the foundation of hope that I want us to stand on. God could have stayed as Spirit and yet desired us so greatly as to make this sacrifice to become embodied, subject to both the joys and pains of our life. And the pains were not averted for the sake of comfort, but Jesus willingly took all the pain that his life offered. He could have said no or made some convenient ways out, but he didn’t.  I am willing to live my life based on this long-range hope.

Sometimes we want a more tangible hope. It feels more concrete when we can see or touch the process that leads to hope. Paul addresses this when he writes to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:2 – 6
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

I think we can agree that circumcision is a visceral experience. I won’t tarry long on this uncomfortable subject, but let’s think for a moment about this. Paul is talking to the Galatians. Gentiles. These folks want to be real Christians and some people are telling them that in order for them to be real Christians they have to undergo the Jewish ritual of circumcision which marks a man as being a follower of Yahweh. While circumcision is what many baby boys continue to experience today, for the Jews it was a religious ritual. Because the Gentiles weren’t Jews, they weren’t circumcised.

Paul is telling the Galatians that they do not have to undergo this ritual. Through faith in Jesus the law is fulfilled. They are to cling to grace. They already are real Christians and need not prove anything by a physical act.

The ambiguity and mystery in all of this can make it challenging. How do we stand on a foundation that isn’t physical; that we can’t see or touch? For me, it is the physicality … the embodiment … of Jesus on which I stand. Jesus as a person, as the incarnation of our Divine Beloved offers me both the mystery and the visceral satisfaction that I need.

I believe that we have to be intentional about standing on this foundation. We have not seen Jesus in the flesh … or at least I haven’t. I am counting on the ancient witnesses to help me see him. I cannot walk up to Jesus but I can experience him through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. That is a faith experience, even when my body feels it, possibly in the form of goose bumps or a sense of something ethereal. It isn’t something that I can point to and say, “Look here. See?” But that doesn’t make it less real.

For the sake of intentional waiting during this advent season I’m going to ask you to consider a few questions each week. We are going to decorate this tree with our ideas about Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. It will be our Advent Tree. I invite you to write words or draw pictures or shapes.

This week, on the subject of hope, please think about these questions. If something comes to you today, please write it down on the card provided so that we can fill up our tree. If something comes to you later you can fill it out and bring it in during the week or next Sunday. For those of you listening on the radio, you are welcome to send us your own card or a note and we will fill out a card for you and add it to the tree.

Hope
What is the hope that keeps you centered when you have lots of questions?
What are the promises of God that give you hope?
When have you experienced your hope become your truth?
How do you extend hope to others?

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Now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pouring Out Like Water

1 Samuel 1:4-18

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?"

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: "O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head." As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, "How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine." But Hannah answered, "No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time." Then Eli answered, "Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him." And she said, "Let your servant find favor in your sight." Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

Lamentations 2:18 – 19 Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!

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At the time of this story, Hannah’s whole worth in society hinged on her ability to bear sons. Her husband’s love is touching and heart-warming, but it does not erase how society sees her. Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, is said to be Hannah’s rival. In true form she digs at Hannah’s self-esteem and social status every chance she gets. Hannah feels worthless. She isn’t measuring up to who she is told she is supposed to be. And there is nothing she can do about it.

In her desperation she goes to God. She pours herself out like the scripture in Lamentations encourages us to do. She is mistaken by the priest, Eli, to be a drunken women making a spectacle of herself in the temple. She was praying, but no sound was coming out of her moving lips. That alone doesn’t seem like much of a spectacle to me. Why would he mistake her for being drunk? Was she standing while rocking back and forth in her great anxiety and vexation? Was she sitting while passionately gesturing with her hands and arms? What would cause Eli to accuse her of making a drunken spectacle of herself?

In the second chapter of Acts the people accused the disciples of Christ of being drunk when they started speaking in other tongues and getting excited. But they were just letting their guard down and experiencing the presence of God.

Hannah too let her guard down. She sought after the presence of God. She presented herself before the Lord in no uncertain terms. She poured herself out in her distress and made a vow to God. The way she poured herself out like water was as if she were Niagara Falls. I believe this is why Eli thought she was drunk. It was the sheer force of her pouring.

Grief and desperation expressed fully make us a little out of control, like alcohol. They flood our body with their energies. They reshape our thinking. They make us a little off balance. And that can be scary. We don’t want to be off balance. We don’t want to be out of control.

There are many times and many places where being out of control and off balance isn’t good for us. But there are other times when it is exactly the right thing for us to do. Hannah presented herself before God. She got real with God. It might have unnerved the priest a little, but he got over it. She needed to not hold it all in anymore.

Sometimes we need to not hold it all in anymore. Antiseptic mourning and polite desperation may be how we have to maintain ourselves in public, but when we go before God we can real. You can let down your guard in the presence of God. And sometimes, you will even find a person or two who can sit with you if you end up pouring yourself out like Niagara Falls.

There are scenes in movies, iconic scenes, that express for us what we feel like we dare not speak for ourselves. In “It’s A Wonderful Life” George Bailey prays, “God. Oh God. Dear Father in heaven. I’m not a praying man but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God.” In the movie, “Keeping The Faith,” Father Brian Finn pours out his heart, not in prayer but in storytelling. Neither of these men seem to be able to access their expression of despair and grief unaided. They both turn to drink. Maybe that’s another reason why Eli thought Hannah was drunk. He was used to seeing people need an aid in order to open their hearts.

We watch these scenes and it is a way for us to tap into our own stuff at a safe distance. We may cry. We may examine some of our own inner workings. But pouring our own hearts out like water comes harder. And it should. It isn’t always the right time. It would be exhausting if we lived that way day in and day out. But sometimes it is the right time. Sometimes there is a right place.

I also want to acknowledge that each one of us is different. The way we pour ourselves out won’t be the same. While for some it may be like Niagara Falls, for others it may be more like the steady stream of a faucet. There isn’t one right way to pour out our hearts.

In those times when you feel worthless and you are tired of it, pour yourself out to God. When you are in great anxiety and vexation, pour yourself out to God. And when you are wrapped in joy and hope …. yes, even then …. pour yourself out to God.

After God answered Hannah she replied by pouring her heart out once again. This is the beginning part of her prayer in chapter 2,

“My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the LORD, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”

To which I say, Amen and Hallelujah.

Fits and Starts

Blogging is not my default setting. But I'm going to try again. Sermons Musings Reflections It can't be that hard ... can it????

Monday, February 06, 2012

That Simple

Mark 1:29-39 (American Standard Version)

And straightway, when they were come out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's wife's mother lay sick of a fever; and straightway they tell him of her: and he came and took her by the hand, and raised her up; and the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were sick, and them that were possessed with demons. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick with divers diseases, and cast out many demons; and he suffered not the demons to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him; and they found him, and say unto him, “All are seeking thee.” And he saith unto them, “Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth.” And he went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons.

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This little paragraph could be developed into the first half hour of a movie. There’s much here to talk about. First let’s look at Simon’s mother-in-law. It says she had a fever. Remember that medicine then and medicine now are very different. This woman’s fever is likely no mild thing. We don’t know how long she was sick or what her other symptoms were, but we see that they told Jesus about her “straightway.” There was an urgency to her healing and Jesus responded to their request.

Next notice that after Jesus healed her, she immediately began to minister to them. Many translations use the word, “serve.” This word can be translated as serve or as minister. Often what happens though is that when the word is used in reference to a man, the word gets translated as minister. When it is used in reference to a woman, it is translated as serve. This has a lot to do with assumptions about roles, and about what those two words mean to us. Also, did you notice that Simon’s mother-in-law’s name is not mentioned? She is anonymous like many women in the Bible. Anyway, back to this woman ministering … many consider Simon’s mother-in-law to be the first deacon. That’s high praise.

Then, in our story, evening comes. As the sun sets we see that the whole town begins to gather at the door of Simon’s house. Jesus works during the night, healing people and delivering them from demons. Eventually it looks like the crowd falls asleep. It appears that Jesus might have taken a nap too but that isn’t for sure. What we do know is that “a great while before day” Jesus takes off to get some alone time so that he can pray. In the morning the disciples wake up to find him gone so they go out to search for him. So much for his alone time. At least he had some time away. His disciples tell him that everyone is seeking him. It really looks to me like the whole town that gathered at Simon’s house is still there, they all just camped out for the night. They just fell asleep where they were and when they woke up they wanted more from him.

Jesus tells them no. He didn’t come to stay in one place. His destiny is to go from place to place preaching, healing, and casting out demons. And so that’s what he does. The story in Mark continues from there with Jesus going from one place to another. The whole of Mark’s gospel is filled with urgency and intensity. It is an action packed gospel.

In spite of all the action, we do see Jesus trying to get time to himself. He wants to pray and to recharge his soul. It is often interrupted, but in spite of the fact that he appears to be exhibiting poor self-care – working through the night, meeting the demands of those around him – still we see him craving time with his God. He would rather spend time with God than sleep. Jesus may not be the best model of self-care, but if nothing else he knows that he cannot continue his ministry if he does not recharge his soul. And let’s remember that Jesus is capable of things like going 40 days without food and water. Angels minister to him. So I want to make it clear that I am not advocating we pray all night instead of sleep. However, I am advocating that we carve out time to be with our God. There is no replacement for recharging our souls.

Let’s return to the moment of healing for the woman. All that I’ve said is a kind of set up for this moment. From the rest of the story we see the fast pace and the intensity. We see the crowd and their needs. Jesus is willing to go beyond his reasonable strength to do what needs to get done. However, that moment of healing for the woman … in that moment all his does is the simple act of taking her by the hand.

That’s it. He took her by the hand. Granted, the power of the Living God flowed through his hand … but think about it. He didn’t have an elaborate prayer. He didn’t have to quote scripture. He just took her by the hand.

All of his prayers. All of his study. All of his dedication and loyalty to God were made manifest in one simple moment of taking the hand of a sick woman.

Sometimes I think we believe we really have to do elaborate ministry. But we don’t. What we need is a depth of relationship with God and the willingness to do the simple things. Spend time with people. Listen to someone’s pain. Take the hand of a sick person. Comment on the facebook page of someone you know who is going through a hard time. Be with people and care about them. Jesus didn’t have a goal of growing his number of followers. People followed him because they believed in him.

People need to know that they can believe in us. Not that we are perfect. Not at all. We will all make many mistakes. But if we take time to listen and to care, if we simply reach out with our hands – our physical hands and our spiritual hands – people will know that they can believe in us. We don’t have to have answers and we don’t have to make miracles happen. We have to stay in direct communication with the Living God so that the power of the Holy Spirit flows through us.

Friends, with my whole heart I believe that it is just that simple.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Peace In Christ

Mark 4:35 – 5:1
On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd behind, they took Jesus with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Jesus said to his disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.

Philippians 4:2 – 7
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche (Sin’-ta-key) to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


Today is the second Sunday of Advent – Peace Sunday. Out of all the Sundays of Advent I think this is the most challenging to wrap my mind around. Peace. What does peace mean? And what does it mean for us to have peace in Christ.

In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” But in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “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, and do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus did not come to be the King who conquers enemies and to take over a region of land. Jesus does claim that his presence will divide households. There will be those who believe in him and those who don’t in one household. There will be some in one household who believe in Jesus one way and some who believe in Jesus in another. The incarnation of our Christ did not settle these kinds of disputes. We still have wars, fighting, factions, and oppression. Jesus did not rally an army. He rallied a band of healers and insisted that his followers need to lay down their lives for the oppressed.

This is a radical notion of love. It is a radical notion of peace. The way of Jesus is to create peace by not fighting. It is to love when you are hated. Being committed to this way of life ruffles feathers and can actually make people become violent against you. It is also a difficult life to sustain. We can get weary of well doing. Galatians 6 says, “8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Paul writes this to the Galatians probably because they are growing weary and they need to be reminded to not grow weary. It is so much easier to go along with the greed and violence of the world. Paul tells his people … and us … to continue sowing in the Spirit. Do not give up.

Sometimes we need to see something with our eyes to encourage us. In our reading in Mark we see the disciples with Jesus in a boat during a bad storm. Apparently Jesus is a sound sleeper but the disciples are preparing for their death. They wake Jesus and he calms the storm with his words, but before going back to sleep he chastises them. "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" This is one of the few times that Jesus makes circumstances more convenient. Usually he is willing to let the chips fall where they may. Maybe he is taking pity on his friends because he loves them. Or maybe he is just too tired to use this as an elaborate teaching moment. Either way, we see the power of Jesus, the kinds of miracles that he can perform, and the choice of miracle that he makes. He calls for peace. He commands stillness.

This voice of Jesus is one that I think we would do well to heed for our own internal storms. As we work for external peace in the radical way of Jesus, we also need to work on our internal peace. In fact, I think that the reason we often cannot sustain the work of being Jesus’ hands and feet and eyes and life here on this earth is because we have not taken the time and effort to let Jesus be our peace within.

Our reading from the letter to the Philippians could have been easily used next week when we celebrate Joy in Christ, but what caught my eye for this week was Paul’s instruction to not worry. Paul tells us that after we make supplication to God with thanksgiving we can find peace, a peace that passes our understanding – what I call a peace that doesn’t make sense.

Paul doesn’t say that we will have peace once God answers our prayers. It is in the turning over of our concerns to God that will result in peace. Not a peace of situation, but a peace that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Rejoice in God. Celebrate God. Don’t give yourself to worry but instead pray. Do these things and you will experience a peace that your mind won’t understand. Don’t analyze this peace. Don’t deny yourself this peace because it is beyond your understanding … because it doesn’t make sense. Give yourself to it.

This is what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel of John when he said, “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, and do not let them be afraid.”

When we look for peace that our minds can understand then we might miss the peace that Jesus has to offer us. It is a hard-fought peace. We have to recognize our fears, not pretend that we don’t have any. Once we recognize those fears we have to give ourselves to God in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, and then we have to look steely-eyed into our own internal storm and say with Jesus, “Peace. Be still.” I have found no other way to experience this “peace that doesn’t make sense.” It is part faith, part act-of-will and part surrender. It doesn’t happen all at once. This is a process that goes deeper and deeper all our lives.

The best metaphor that I have for this peace is in a story that my dad told me. I hope you aren’t getting tired of hearing my dad stories. My father was in the navy in WWII. He was an underwater bomb demolition expert; a strong fearless man who could hold his breath up to 3 minutes. The oxygen tanks that they had back then were clumsy so they routinely went down in relays. They were on a small ship. He says it was the kind that knocks your kidneys loose. Well, one day they got into a bad storm. Jesus was not laying on a cushion in the back of the ship. One after another the men on the ship were getting sick. My dad was one of the few left able to do anything so he took the helm. The wind was whipping them around something fierce. He had to head straight into the storm as it overtook them. He told me that he thought for sure they were all headed to Davy Jones's Locker. After a day and a half they got through the storm and he tells me the sea was as smooth as glass and that the wind was still. It was like a perfect day. And then they realized that what they were in was the eye of a hurricane. He knew that the other side of the hurricane was going to overtake them in a matter of time. He was at the helm for three days total not knowing if they were going to make it alive. But in the middle of it all there was a calm and a peace that he hadn’t know before and hasn’t known since. All around him a storm was raging, but in the eye of the hurricane you wouldn’t know it.

Once I asked him why they didn’t just stay there, in the eye, until the storm calmed and they could safely move on. He laughed and said that the storm was moving way to fast. They didn’t go through the storm. The storm went through them. He had no choice but to try to steer the ship as strategically as possible and then hang on.

People of God, I think the peace of Christ is like a hurricane. In the center of the raging storm you can find peace. It is hard-fought and you sometimes have to steer strategically to get there. But in the center of it all there is a peace that is beyond anything else you have experienced. Some people will think you are crazy because it doesn’t make sense. They are looking from the outside in and they see the raging wind and water. You will have been through all that storm and know the truth of it, but if you can find the center, unlike the hurricane my dad was in, I believe you can ride out the storm in Christ’s peace.

This is the second Sunday of Advent. Jesus is our Immanuel … God-With-Us … Our Prince of Peace.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hope In Christ

Texts: Psalm 33:13-22 and Matthew 12:9 - 21

Happy Advent! Today we are celebrating HOPE. The One who fashions our hearts and observes all our deeds is our Hope. Psalm 33 cautions us that our own strength and our own wiles are not enough. Our hope is to be in the steadfast love of God.

What we are talking about today is big hope. Not little hopes that are more like wishes, but big hopes. Life hopes. Hopes that are born out of the gnawing concerns in our souls. Hopes that are created by amazing promises of things like Eternal Life. Hopes for a future in this world. This is what we are talking about today. These hopes are not mere wishes attached to a fantasy, but foundations of our existence … of our lives.

Our hopes … the foundation of our future … is found in the steadfast love of God. We may be strong. We may be smart. We may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But our hope, what we count on, must be in the steadfast love of God.

The story in Matthew that we read takes it a step further. Jesus is healing people and getting into trouble with the authorities. He’s trying to keep a low profile, healing as many people as he can. His calling is to bring wholeness to those that he encounters. Jesus is the beloved of God, whose Spirit rests upon him. This story ends with, “in his name the Gentiles will hope." Even though he is performing miraculous healings, we are told that it is in the name of Jesus that hope will be found. The name alone evokes a hope in us that is beyond all the miracles he performed. Jesus the healer; Jesus, the one who brings wholeness; Jesus, the one who offers a future; Jesus, the one who reaches outside of his own circle and offers hope to the Gentiles.

The season of Advent is a time of active waiting and reflecting. This week as we wait, let us reflect on hope. What does it mean to us that our hope is in Christ? How does that come to bear on our lives? Is it an ethereal wispy hope or is it a concrete hope that shapes the decisions that we make? Is it both? Can our hope in Christ be active in the realms of the mysterious and mystical as well as in our flesh and bone existence? Is mystery just as concrete as the stuff we can touch? I believe it is.

Our hope in Christ lives in our spirits and becomes manifested in the way we live our lives. It can move us forward and reveal to us from one day to the next how the Holy Spirit is abiding within us. Whether we are sick or healthy, poor or rich, weak or powerful, we move forward from one day to the next until the day we die. How we move forward and what propels us is something we can control. If our hope is in our own strength or wisdom, if it lives in our accomplishments, then it is fragile and can be crushed. If our hope is in our strength and we become weak or ill, then our hope becomes weak and ill. If hope lives in power and we are beaten or oppressed, then our hope is beaten and overcome. If our hope lives in our power and we maintain our power, then it feels like our hope is strong but the truth is that our power is only as powerful as our next conquest. Relying on some manifestation of our strength or health is not living in true hope – it is living in conquest and control. Our hope is to be in the steadfast love of the Lord.

The Big Hope – the foundation of our future, what we count on – is more than circumstantial. It is more than Jesus’ healings and miracles, it is in the essence of who Jesus is. It is Jesus as Christ. That might seem esoteric or flimsy, but because of who Jesus is, this gives our hope more substance than we can even imagine. Jesus is the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Jesus was in the beginning and nothing was created without him. This is the one we call the Christ.

Moving through life day by day with Christ as our hope means digging deep to build a solid foundation. Philippians 4:12 and 13 says, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In other words, the essence of my strength is not derived from my health or fitness, from my status or influence. It is the strength that comes through my relationship with Jesus that gives me my solid foundation.

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. No merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

It is important for us to remember from whence our hope comes. When we are well fed and have power, do we remember that our true foundation is in the steadfast love of God and in the hope of Christ? If we do, then we will be more apt to not abuse what power we have and not take for granted our needs and wants being met. When we are powerless, hungry, or sick do we remember that our true foundation is in the steadfast love of God and in the hope of Christ? If we do, then our Big Hope will not be crushed by our circumstances even if our smaller hopes are.

Finally, as we reflect on hope this week I want to ask you to consider the children in our lives. Where do they see your hope coming from? Do they see you relying on the love of God and Christ? Do they see you relying on your circumstances and your strength? Do they know there is a difference between big hopes and smaller hopes and wishes?

Kids are not fooled easily. Even if they can’t articulate the incongruity that they see in our lives they will see it and it will teach them their core values.

Big Hopes have to do with our future. We want to build our future and this church on a solid foundation – on the love of God and on Jesus our Christ. If this is what we want, then we have to make sure that we are living out this truth and teaching it to the kids. To quote some lyrics from the Dixie Chicks, “Our children are watching us. They put their trust in us. They're gonna be like us.”

Like Paul said, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. If we live relying on the strength of Christ rather than our own strength, the kids will see it and learn it. They will learn humility, confidence, gentleness, faith, and most importantly love. We need to live our faith openly and continue to learn how to hope in God’s love and in Jesus’ name if we want our children to live faithful lives with a solid foundation.

This week reflect on from whence your hope comes. Think about the steadfast love of God. And ponder the hope that is in the name of Jesus, who we are waiting on to celebrate the glorious mystery of the incarnation of God in Christ.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Texts: Deuteronomy 8:7 – 18 and 2 Timothy 1:1 – 18

Timothy came from a family of faith-filled women. Paul draws on that to inspire him to continue in the faith and to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. He wants Timothy to lean on his ancestors and move toward his future.

The writer of Deuteronomy is saying something similar to the people of God. “Remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth, so that God may confirm the covenant that was sworn to your ancestors, as God is doing today.”

We are here, in this building, because many years ago a group of people decided they wanted to worship God together. They put together their resources and started a community of faith. The building they built has gone through changes. The founders of this church have long gone to be in the Roll Call of the Saints. And the world is a very different place from the world that they knew.

Farther back than the founders of the church that worshiped in this building are the ancestors of faith to whom God has sworn the covenant. We are here today because of God’s covenant to us from long ago. In the Old Testament we are told over and over “I will be your God and you will be my people.” It is God’s faithfulness to us that keeps us in this covenant. In the books of the Old Testament we read things like,

Deuteronomy 5:29 “If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever!”

Nehemiah 1:9 “If you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place at which I have chosen to establish my name.”

In the New Testament we read, in the Gospel of John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments

From the Old Testament, Jeremiah 31:31 – 33 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Then in the New Testament, Hebrews 10:15 – 17 from which we read last week, “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds," he also adds, "I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."

What we learn about our future from looking at our past is that God wants to be in relationship with us. God keeps trying, at every turn, to find a way to bring us back or keep us close. The Old Testament speaks of a new covenant where the laws of God will be written on our hearts. The New Testament declares this covenant to be in effect. God’s desire is our heart-led relationship, not our deed-based relationship. Last week we talked about our hearts being supple so that we would not be broken-hearted but rather our hearts could be broken open. Our hearts are to be supple not only to the harassed and the helpless, but also to the very spirit of God. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit which softens our hearts, helping us to receive the laws that God would write there. And it must be the Holy Spirit, lest we take credit for the relationship that we have with God through Jesus.

2 Corinthians 3:1 – 11 “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses' face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!”

It is the Holy Spirit that wrote on the hearts of those who came before us and it is the Holy Spirit who writes on our hearts today. But let’s take it a step farther. It is the Holy Spirit who will be writing on the hearts of our children and grandchildren. We look at our past and honor those who have gone before us, those who laid the firm foundation of this church. We know that we are standing on the shoulders of these people of God and are building on their firm foundation. But we must also look at the future and realize that someday we will be the ancestors that this church looks back on. How we live today, how we are ministers to this community today, and how we love God today will impact the future of this church. Someday in the future this community of faith may read the same scriptures that we are reading. They may be looking back as we are today. And they will be in part looking back at us. We are building the future for that community. Just like we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before they will stand on our shoulders.

When Paul wrote to Timothy encouraging him to “rekindle the gift of God that” was in him, he did so only after reminding him of the faith of his “grandmother Lois and (his) mother Eunice.” The scripture in Deuteronomy says that the people are being brought into an amazing land. Their future is one of lavish resources. This promised land that they are being brought into will confirm the covenant that God made with their ancestors. They are the bridge between the ancestors and their future. We are the bridge between our ancestors and our grandchildren.

For those of you who have no children and think you might be off the hook, let me remind you that I have no biological children either. Even so, the future is very precious to me. The generations that follow us in this place will be our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of faith. They are counting on us to consider how we live and how we glorify God as a church.

This church has a future. I believe it is one of lavish resources. When we gather together, let us remember those who gathered before us, those who put their heart and spirit into making this community a reality. And let us give thanks to God for writing not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God on the tablets of their human hearts. And then let us look to the future and thank God for the promise that the ministry of justification abounds in permanent glory for those who come after us.

Finally, let us look at who we are today. We are the bridge between the past and the future. We are those whose hearts are written on by the Spirit of God. We are ministers of grace and glory to each other and to our community. We are the fulfillment of the promise to our ancestors and the building blocks on which our children and grandchildren will build.

Because of the faith of those who came before us I remind you as Paul did to Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” We can lean on the foundation of our ancestors while moving toward our future. What we share with them is the law that is written on our hearts. Regardless of the shape of our ministry, how it changes or unfolds, the promise of the Spirit of God remains the same. God will be our God and we will be God’s people.