Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Monday

I'm still thinking how great it felt to give these four young people their very own Bibles, with their names on them and everything!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Maundy Thursday

Why do we call the Thursday of Holy Week "Maundy Thursday"? What does Maundy mean? Someone asked me and, if I ever knew, I had forgotten.
So I looked it up: There are two theories: That "Maundy" comes from the Latin "mandatum" or commandment, because on this day of Holy Week Jesus told his disciples "A new commandment I give you - that you love one another." That's a good theory. But, unfortunately, it probably isn't correct.
The other theory, which has more to back it up, is that on Holy Thursday kings and queens (the royalty in England still does this, I guess) gave alms to beggars before they went to mass/church. Maunders= beggars. These gifts were given in little bags called maundy purses.
So unless we re-institute the custom of giving to beggars on our way to church, I think I'll start calling it "Holy Thursday" - like most of the rest of the world.

Palm/Passion Sunday - No sermon. Luke's story.

During Lent, the season leading up to Holy Week, we have been thinking and praying about renewal. (God renews us through gratitude, through dark times. Our spiritual appetite is renewed, our relationships are renewed, our vision is renewed.)
And now we have come to Holy Week - the time in which we, as a church, remember and contemplate how that renewal was accomplished for us. We are spiritually prepared to look at what Jesus did in order that we might be made new.
Usually -- almost always -- in worship I read about 3 minutes worth of scripture, then I talk about it for 15 or 20 minutes. This week, we’re going to reverse that. I’m going to talk for 3 minutes, then read the story of Jesus’ Passion from the Gospel of Luke. It's about 15 minutes long.
The story has many interesting, compelling aspects and characters: The fickle crowd which shouts both “Blessed is He” and “Crucify Him!” , Treacherous Judas. Political Pilate. Cowardly Peter. The women. The darkness.

(One thing I noticed this year, because of the Ten Commandment scholars receiving their Bibles, is how many of the Ten Commandments are violated by the people around Jesus. I think maybe all of them. And how the last line that we’ll read is about Jesus’ followers keeping one of the commandments. Scholars - you might listen for those things and tell your families what you heard.)

But the center of the story isn’t any of those interesting sidelights. The center if Jesus. And so, as you listen, watch for what Jesus does and says. It’s amazing! His grace and generosity. Jesus’ gentleness and faithfulness. His courage and the cost of making all things new.
In the midst of their confusion, he encourages his disciples. Knowing of Judas betrayal, Jesus still shares the bread and the cup. At his arrest, in a violent situation, he brings healing and calm. When lied about, he tells the truth. Out of his own pain, he prays forgiveness. And, even as he dies, even to a criminal, he offers hope of eternal life. This is the One who makes all things new.
Listen with me for the Word of God.

Luke 22:14-23:56 - The Message (Eugene Peterson’s translation)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday before Palm Sunday

Eco-Palms are out to area churches:
Tolono Pres
Zion Lutheran
Sidney United
Sidney Christian
Westville UCC
Countryside Methodist
Hessel Park Reformed
and PHILO PRES of course!

How about that!

Now I need to get my service in order.
And add the Ten Commandments/Bible presentation.
Six kids are getting Bibles this time.
I've very excited about that.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Prayer Circles

During Lent, as part of each service the congregation has filled out prayer circles - colored paper with a prayer prompt based on the scripture/sermon theme.

First was "gratitude" - Thank you God for these blessings . . .
Second was "darkness- Faithful God, shine some light on the darkness surrounding . . .
Third was "appetite"- Help me to stop "snacking" on . . . Help me to hunger for . . .
Fourth was "relationship" - Show me how to participate in reconciliation with . . .
And this week we did "vision" - Help me to see . . . in the light of Christ.

People were encouraged to offer these prayers to God during offering time, and to put the circles in the offering plate as it passed.

I prayed these prayers during the week, and it made me feel much closer to my congregation. Sometimes I could tell who had written a particular thing. Sometimes I couldn't, which was also humbling for someone who thinks she knows "her" people pretty well.

Now I am gluing the circles, message side down, into a quilt like pattern. I'm not really sure what I'll do with it. But it is sort of pretty. And it is a nice paper demonstration of the way we pray for and with one another.

Anyway . . . for what it's worth.

Renewal of Vision - Sermon 3/21

Lent as a season of renewal . . . gratitude, through darkness, appetite, relationship. This week we come to a passage in which Paul’s explains how Christ gives him a new vision of what is important in life.

Read scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14

All that I counted as gain - now I consider as loss. Empty and worthless to me - in the light of the love of the Lord. (The choir's anthem is a lovely paraphrase of this passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians.)

This passage is puzzling.

But I have a new image I want to try out on you. You see if this makes this passage of Paul’s letter any easier to understand. OK. Here’s an image to start with: a street lamp in the dark. See it? It casts a pool of light in a circle on the ground. Got that image? If the street light is hard for you - think of a reading lamp that sits beside your favorite reading chair. If you sit in the chair, a pleasant level of light falls on the pages of your book or newspaper. But if you sit on the couch across from the lamp and try to read - the light doesn’t reach that far. A Coleman lantern set on a camper’s picnic table shines brightly on the table - and maybe even the benches. But it doesn’t light up the edges of the forest, much less penetrate the shadows around that spooky old outhouse.
Lamps cast a certain very useful light.

The old joke about the man who was searching on the ground under the street lamp. And someone comes along and asks what he’s doing. “I’m looking for my key,” the man says. “And you dropped it here?” “No. I dropped it down the block, but the light is much better here.” Lamps are great. And in the dark, we’re glad to have them.

But, “When the sun comes up, the lamps go out.”
We can imagine that when the sun comes up, the guy is much more likely to find what he is looking for.

What Paul might be saying in this passage is that the little lights by which he had seen his life - family heritage, uprightness, religious observance, citizenship - are worse than useless to him now. They all mean nothing, because of his love of Jesus. Once the incredible light of Jesus shown on him (remember the road to Damascus? Paul was blinded by the light!) nothing else was worth bragging about, caring about, pursuing.

It is as if the million of foot candles of sun shine flood a candleabra. The darkness can’t put out a candle. But the dawning of a bright new day renders the candle’s glow useless.

So what did Paul see differently in the light of Christ? He saw his family differently. Paul’s family was a wonderful one. He was a Hebrew born of Hebrews. He could trace his lineage back to Jacob’s son Benjamin - a favorite son, born of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. It was a good family - a family that had been blessed by God and materially prosperous. And just by being one of them, Paul had a certain amount of status, and the self-confidence and ambition that comes from knowing that success is possible, it is expected.
Family is also an important thing for us these days.
Family values was quite the rallying cry for evangelical Christians in the recent past - and it was widely and loudly said that the one of the church’s most important missions was to promote “family values” - however that was defined - and it was usually defined as a particular family configuration. Thankfully, that fad has passed. But the fact remains that “Family” is one of the earliest and most important lights that help us see ourselves. Many of us are quite justifiably proud of our lineage. I’m defined as a certain kind of member of a certain kind of family:
I’m a single mother from an Polish family.
I’m the Patriarch of a large Italian clan.
I’m a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution,
or the Sons of the Confederacy, or both.
My family goes back to the Mayflower.
Someone told me last week that both he and his wife could trace their family trees back to the Mayflower.
Our family lamps illuminate for us who we are, what our chances for success may be, what kind of impact we’re supposed to make on the world.

But Paul is saying that the little light cast by our family is nothing compared to the blinding light of knowing one’s kinship to Jesus Christ.
Look what a difference Jesus made in Paul’s understanding of his family: He left his Hebrew family home. He left behind the Temple of Jerusalem, which had sustained his family’s faith for generations. He neglected - deliberately violated - the rules that had made his family special. And became a brother to Greek women, traveled with a half- Jew Timothy, took his meals in Gentile homes and was at home among Roman citizens at every layer of society, from nobility to slave. He didn’t see who he was in terms of his Hebrew of Hebrews, tribe of Benjamin identity anymore.

Our unity with Christ expands and explodes our family boundaries as well. We may sit in a pew with brothers and sisters from vastly different backgrounds than we have. We may find that what our mother did, or how much success our father enjoyed may not be that great a predictor of our own faith journey. Our relationship with Christ supersedes what our family may have caused us to expect of them and of ourselves. The light of Christ casts a much brighter light than the little lamp of our family.

Paul seems to reach the same conclusion when we considers the moral and religious framework that had been his guiding light before he encountered Christ: As to the law - I was a Pharisee, and a good one! I was blameless under the Pharaisaic law!

Being a Pharisee was a good thing. We don’t know any Pharisees except the ones that opposed Jesus and made his life miserable - but Pharisaic Judaism is actually a based on a beautiful concept - that every action that we take can acknowledge and glorify God. That’s why they had so many laws - because they wanted every single little part of their life to make God happy. Doesn’t that sound like a good thing? To use a system of laws that please God to illuminate your life?

Paul had been a zealous and accomplished practitioner of that religious system. But no more! Jesus’ life, its freedom and grace, Jesus’ stories of God’s overwhelming love and faithfulness to us shone an entirely different light on Paul’s religion and the theology behind it. Paul could see the shadow side of Phariasaism, which is that it is a theology which sees God as obsessed with his own laws, angry and offended when things are not done in exactly the prescribed way. In Christ Paul comes to see God as incapable of such attitudes and behaviors. The new light of Jesus shows God's being to be characterized by love and generosity which is pained and angered by human sin and harm, but which ultimately seeks to reconcile people from their estrangement and their captivity - including their captivity to religion. The theology that Paul had found light giving now he sees as a projection of human egotism. And he loses it.

I don’t have to tell you that a lot of religion, even in churches, has the same shadow side that Paul saw in his religion. It is based on a belief in God as a strict old man, perched up in heaven, keeping score of how many good deeds and bad deeds we do. At the men’s group - one of my most educational hours of the week - someone reminded us how Benjamin Franklin kept a journal and he wrote down on one side of the journal all his bad deeds and on the other, all his good ones. As if he could, by moral effort, balance the book.
Jesus put an end to all that. The concentrated, focussed beam he shown on who God is - that light is like farenheit 451 - the temperature at which our pitiful little attempts to be good enough for God burst into flames. I like that image of Benjamin Franklin’s - and my - moral scorecard bursting into flames in the light of Jesus. Paul saw that and said, “I want to be standing in that fire - I want to know Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, based on faith. I want to know Christ.”

For in being one with Christ, I am surrounded by a light that illuminates not only this life but the reality of a life beyond this one. It shines beyond all earthly boundaries and into eternity. So Paul says, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings so that somehow I may share in his resurrection. And this knowledge, this perspective, this view of who God is and who God has made me to be - seeing life - my life, other living beings, the universe, and the ultimate reality at the heart of all that is - in this Light is my first, my primary goal.

Can we reach that goal? Can we see ourselves and others in the blazing noontime sun of God’s light? Paul did sometimes - for sure. On the road to Damascus the light hit him so hard it knocked him off his horse. Moments of clarity and power like that happen yet.

We read the parable of the prodigal son and, just for a moment, we see God as a loving parent, running down the road to meet us and welcome us home.
We pray, and in the silence, a peace that passes all understanding permeates our very being.
We look into the eyes of a poor person, a sick person, a hungry person, a hurting person - - - and we see the face of Christ.

If we could just live in those moments! how incredibly light and beautiful our lives with God would be! Yet Paul admits that our eyes are not yet up to constantly perceiving in that light. To the Corinthians he writes - “now we see in a mirror dimly what soon we shall see face to face”
Here he says: “Not that I have already obtained this, or have already reached the goal” he writes. But Christ Jesus has taken hold of us and is gently yet firmly pulling us toward the goal of being made one with Him in the light.

Holy Week is only seven days away, the week in which we remember and again experience what God did in Jesus to pull us into the light. The suffering of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection. The events of that week shine a light into the deepest recesses of our own hearts, and put to flight the darkness of this world.

Little darlin’ it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. Here comes the Sun. Here comes the Sun, and I say. It’s gonna be ALL. RIGHT.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

why today made me glad

It was a beautiful day

Because the sun came out and the sky was blue and it was warm enough to walk
Because someone called to chat
Because I had 9 kids at our afterschool program
Because 3 of them were "ours" and 6 others chose to be there.
Because I called a bunch of people and asked them to come eat soup, and some did
Because Janice made soup and brought pies, and Mark brought fruit salad,
Because we still had just enough food
Because I saw a friend I hadn't seen all winter

Because the Spirit had my back
Because there was a lot of laughter and interesting talk around the table
Because Tim liked the corn beef I fixed for dinner for him and the boys
Because tomorrow Caleb is 15
Because I got to see my mom.
And tomorrow will be another beautiful day.

Here's a cute and sweet St. Patrick's Day treat:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

tuesday and the bulletin's done.

I'm afraid to look at my calendar, cause I must have missed something to have gotten so much done this morning.

Hymns are "Jesus the Very Thought of Thee"
"When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"
and "I Sing the Mighty Power of God"
Text: Philippians 3:4b-14

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Keepin' the Faith" with Steve Shoemaker

Oh. I forgot to say that I had a good time on Steve's show talking about fair trade and my trip to Nicaragua. We had SIX callers, which I thought was really great. If they put it on the website, I'll try to put a link in here.

starting out another week

I wasn't planning to preach this next sunday. I thought I had a pulpit exchange arranged. But it fell through. So instead of focusing on Holy Week, I've got to put together one more "renewal sermon".

The scripture lessons are Philippians (I press on for the upward call of Christ) and G. of John (Mary annointing Jesus feet). After a bit of "textweeking", what strikes me is about how these two have in common a sense of burning desire for intimacy with Christ.

And God knows THAT won't preach.

But I wish it would. Because if anything has changed in me and my life in the last few years, it has been that I've fallen in love with Jesus. I loved him before. I respected him before. I knew he was important - the most important person ever to have lived.
But I wasn't just thrilled by the chance to hear what he said. I didn't linger over descriptions of his actions. I didn't savor every morsel of every story he ever told. I didn't imagine what it would be like to see him face to face. And now I do those things.

Which makes me weird, I think. It for sure hasn't helped my preaching any. But I'm not sorry.

renewal of relationship. Mar. 14 sermon

Mar. 14, 2010
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Renewal of Relationship

Reconciliation is a word that has, lately, taken on some unfortunate cultural baggage: right now, the reconciliation that is in the news is some fancy or not-so-fancy (I don’t know!) parlimentary procedure: the process that the US congress is doing to try to get a health insurance reform bill through, in spite of the fact that they can’t come to any agreement as to what the bill should be.

If this time together is going to be of any use to us at all, we are going to have to completely shut that usage of the word out of our heads, and think, not what reconciliation means on Capitol Hill, but what it means in the Bible AND on the Central Illinois plains.

Reconciliation, according to Biblical uses, means a renewal of relationship - to bring together, to reunite persons who have been estranged. It has the flavor of settling accounts - we talk about reconciling our checkbooks, which means to make the necessary corrections and additions and substractions so that we agreed with the bank and we can start off the new month on and even, agreed upon solid ground.

That word - reconciliation is at the heart of our scripture lesson today. It occurs, in various forms, 5 times, six if you count a paraphrase. God has reconciled us to himself. We have ministry of reconciliation. In Christ God was reconciling, and entrusting us with the work of reconciliation. Be reconciled - since God has named you an ambassador of reconciliation.

First and foremost - reconciliation is something that God has caused to happen between God’s self and ourselves. It’s a complete reversal of the estrangement we cause by ignoring God, or defying God, or going against God’s love for us or others - what theologians call sin. That stuff makes our lives shallow and ugly and mean and hateful, both to ourselves and to God. It’s not that God hates us. But that when we are full of Hate, we can’t relate to the One who is Love. There is an unbridgable distance between God and us.

Then God reaches across that great divide and draws us close through Jesus Christ. In Christ, we can see ourselves and see God, together as we are meant to be. And that changes everything in ways that are profound - and profoundly difficult to explain. It opens up new possibilites for friendship. It breaks down dividing walls between people. It connects us with the good and beautiful and true in the universe. It’s grace. They don’t call it amazing for nothin’, folks!

Paul - who is a great little explainer - is at a loss for words. So he writes this: If anyone is in Christ (and words fail him. There is no “that person is” or “surely God makes that person” or . . . anything . . . He just explodes: ) NEW CREATION!

Paul’s real genius - the idea that underlies so much of his greatest work - is that he understands and makes clear an inherent tension within human beings - even faithful Christian human beings: Within each of us lie two contradictory inclinations:

(Author Sarah Miles puts it this way in an interview I read on beliefnet this week:)

People profoundly want to be made new, and people profoundly want to be clothed in Christ, to be born again. They want to be reconciled new creations!

And they profoundly want to cling to everything old—about the world, and about themselves.

Part of us is desiring more God, has glimpsed more, had an experience of more that it’s trying to recreate. And that’s the job of people who run churches—to try to listen to that desire, and feed it.

We have the impulse to experience this new creation and the impulse to stifle it. And the church needs to be the place where we come to get the courage to tell “the secret” of the deep and transforming love God has for us and all people.

Reconciliation is something we experience. And something we are expected to help others experience. Paul’s pretty clear about that. So is Jesus. And followers of Jesus need to be reminded of that every once in a while. What a blessing that the Corinthian and the Philothian churches have Paul to remind us: Being Christian is about sharing with others the grace of God as we know it in Jesus Christ.

How we who have experienced renewed relationship with God become ambassadors, messangers, participants in renewing relationships in our extended families, our communities, among our neighbors, our co workers, the folks that live down the street?

I’m not talking about evangelizing here. Not about bringing others in or telling them about our experience. But about listening to them and prayerfully discerning how God is moving toward reconciliation in their lives. IN our community’s life. In the world - which is now our neighborhood. And becoming part of that.

And it’s sort of urgent. Paul says, “As we work together, we urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain. Don’t be reconciled and then fail to offer reconcilation to others. For God says, “at an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.”

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and realize that we have missed our opportunities to reconcile, to be agents of reconciliation for God in the world.

This was brought home to me this week in an essay I read by Steve Martin, the comedian/actor Steve Martin. And I want to share it with you. Because it speaks of the beauty and urgency of reconciliation in a sort of different voice:

The Death of My Father
By Steve Martin 
In his death, my father, Glenn Vernon Martin, did something he could not do in life. He brought our family together.
After he died, at the age of eighty- three, many of his friends told me how much they loved him--how generous he was, how outgoing, how funny, how caring. I was surprised at these descriptions. I remember him as angry. There was little said to me, that I recall, that was not criticism.
Martin does recount a few pleasant memories of his father. There are maybe five, all told. His father had wanted a career in show business, but had given that up early on, and settled on real estate. And he took no pleasure in his son’s success as a writer, comedian/ actor. His lack of support is almost comic. After the son won an Emmy at age 23, his dad said, “Well, I hope now you’ll go back to college and get a degree in something you can fall back on.” He wrote bad reviews of his son’s performance and had it published in the realtor’s newsletter Stuff like that.
The younger Martin had a friend whose parents both died young, and he advised Steve that if he had anything to work out with his parents that he do so, since they wouldn’t be around forever. So he started taking them out to lunch once a week. But his father was so domineering and critical of Steve’s mother that he finally figured out he’d have to take each of them separately. That became their routine for many years.
And as he grew older and had health problems, his demeanor became, if anything, even more belligerent. Until finally, he was under hospice care, and the cantankerous man began to soften just a bit. Then one day in May, 1997, we all found ourselves gathered at my parents' home, in Orange County, California. I walked into the house they had lived in for thirty-five years, and my weeping sister said, "He's saying goodbye to everyone." I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing.
He said, almost buoyantly, "I'm ready now." I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death, and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed, and we looked into each other's eyes for a long, unbroken time. At last he said, "You did everything I wanted to do."
I said, "I did it because of you." It was the truth. Looking back, I'm sure that we both had different interpretations of what I meant.

I sat on the edge of the bed. Another silence fell over us. Then he said, "I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry."

At first, I took this as a comment on his plight but am forever thankful that I pushed on. "What do you want to cry about?" I finally said.

"For all the love I received and couldn't return."

He had kept this secret, his desire to love his family, from me and from my mother his whole life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now, two days from his death, our pace was aligning, and we were able to speak.

To be in stride - to draw alongside and move into the future together - to be able to speak and to hear the other - this is reconciliation.

In Jesus, God has drawn alongside us. And now he is trusting us to draw alongside others, entrusting to us the reconciling message, that God may renew relationships in and through us.

In the next few minutes, hold the scripture in your heart: If anyone is in Christ - NEW CREATION! Ask God to show you where you might participate in God’s work of reconciliation.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Way the Week Worked on Me

Still thinking about the day spent at "Moving Back into the Neighborhood" and the emphasis on listening to and looking for what God is doing around the church (rather than inside the walls of the church building)
And listening to the scriptures. Which I practice some.
The passage I'd tentatively chosen for this week seemed better than ever: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 is all about parallels between God's work and the work God calls us to do. Reconciled to be reconciling.
An interview with Sarah Miles (love her) about her new book included her insight about Paul's understanding that human beings both do and do NOT want to be a new creation. And how the church so often feeds the "don't let God change me or my world" side of the equation rather than the NEW CREATION side. ("If anyone is in Christ - - - new creation!") And about how becoming the new, reconciling creation is the real business of God's people. interesting.
Then PeaceBang posted an essay by Steve Martin about the death of his father. And the opening line is about how, in death, the father did what he never did in life: bring the family together. And it's all about reconciliation.
So you'd think I could string those things together . . . so we'll see.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Renewal - - of appetite. Sermon 3/7/10

Lent is the Old Anglo Saxon word for SPRING. It is a time for us to practice being renewed. Get ready for resurrection and the new life in Risen Christ. So far our scriptures have pointed us toward Renewal through gratitude, and the Renewal that comes in the midst of Life’s darkness.
This week’s scripture points us toward a renewal experience that is has more pleasant associations for us: Call it a renewal of appetite.

Scripture:Isaiah 55:1-13

Hunger and thirst are important parts of human experience.

God has used hunger and the satisfaction of hunger as powerful ways to communicate his love and care for his people. Our scripture lesson this morning is just one instance (and one of my favorites, at that.)

Isaiah portrays God as a gracious and bountiful host, calling his people to come and get it! - come take part in a banquet of rich and nutrient dense food and delicious clean water and nourishing fresh milk.

This invitation to eat, drink and rejoice is welcome good news for those who are looking for renewal. And there is nothing quite as renewing, quite like the feeling of joy and relief when real hunger is assuaged. Moods lift, pains dissipate, outlooks brighten. Food is great stuff.
What has worried me this week, as I’ve lived with this passage, is that we live in a time and place where food is cheap and hunger - real, stomach growling, hunger is getting to be a rare thing. Physically, I mean. The Biblical metaphor of God feeding his people works spiritually because it taps into what we know physically. And I think we are living in a time and place in which hunger is becoming rare.

A story I heard on the radio last week seems to confirm my sense that hunger is not a common experience. It said:

“Gone are the days when parents forbade their children to snack in between meals. The trend these days seems to be toward continuous eating.
Childhood snacking trends are moving toward three snacks per day as compared with 30 years ago, when children ate an average of about one snack a day. And many school-age kids — about 1 in 5 — are snacking up to six times a day.
The same is true of young adults and adults in general: In young adults
Snacking prevalence increased from 77 to 84%. Calories consumed per snacking occasion increased by 26% and the number of snacks per day increased 14%.

Among all adults, snacking has become more common. 1 in 3 adults eat more than 6 times a day.
This is not the way it used to be. You know that. Studies prove it.
But so what? What would your mother say? Don’t snack, you’ll spoil your appetite! The danger is that we won’t be hungry when we sit down to eat the good, nutritious meal. We won’t want to come sit with the fam, or sit with ourselves over something worth saying “grace” over.

Which makes me wonder - could that be true in the spiritual aspect of our lives as well? Could we lose our appetites for the spiritual food God prepares and spreads before us?

The scripture seems to confirm that God’s people have always faced this possibility: The Bible asks: Why do you spend your resources on things that don’t feed you? Why do you waste your money on what doesn’t satisfy? Apparently, even in Isaiah’s time, God’s people were eating spiritual junk food, rather than coming to Him to be fed.

So think with me - what are the spiritual ding dongs and ho hos (I’m sure none of you actually eat REAL ding dongs and ho hos. As if there was anything real IN a ding dong or a ho ho, which there isn’t, by the way.) we use to get by when we need a little spiritual pick me up during the day?

When we have worries - do we take them to God in prayer? Or do we open the fridge?
REAL Comfort or comfort food?

When we feel unhappy with our lot in life, do we take one of the many opportunities to do something good for someone less fortunate? Or do we buy something?
Divine Love? Or “love those boots?”

When we are bored, do we take a walk and let our mind be filled with the beauty of creation? Or do we call up the town gossip, or get on the internet, and laugh at someone’s stupid decision or misfortune?
Priceless JOY? or a cheap laugh?

When we feel the need for enlightenment and a little time spent thinking of higher things, do we struggle through a difficult passage from God’s Word, or do we pick up an “inspirational” story from some magazine . . .
Wisdom from on high, or a quick dose of sentimental sweetness?

Maybe you are different. In fact, I’m sure you are different. Those are just snacks that tempt me and spoil my appetite for the goodness of God. Your specific ding dongs are no doubt slightly different. TV? Video games? Counting your money? Day dreaming about revenge? Pride in your own accomplishments? I don’t know. There are lots and lots of ways we can dull our appetites for God. I’ll give you a minute to think about those things. But before we get to that, it’s important to remember that none of those things really, in the long term, WORK.

Thanks be to God’s gracious love and wisdom in creating us, the hunger and thirst for The DIVINE never is entirely satisfied until we finally come to CHRIST and take what THE HOLY SPIRIT has to give us.

Even when we don’t realize it, we still are hungry for the good stuff that only God can give. We are thirsty for the life giving water, whether we know it or not. Like those signs out in the desert southwest - at the grand canyon and parks out there where the humidity is so low it’s almost dangerous. There are signs that say: "'Stop! Drink water. You are thirsty, whether you realize it or not.'"

Well, Scripture tells us that we are thirsty for God, whether we know it or not. We are hungry for the comfort and joy and peace and purpose of God, even though that hunger may be so dulled by the snack-y junk food we’ve downed to try to satisfy ourselves.

And God promises that, when we accept his invitation and come to the table, he will fill us with good things. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Take. EAT.”

the last couple of weeks we’ve made renewal circles - prayer circles - as a way of focussing on how God might renew us during this season. This week, take a couple of minutes and get in touch with your spiritual appetite for God’s goodness.

the prompt on the circle says, “God, help me give up snacking on . . . . . Renew my appetite . . . “

After a couple of minutes, Betty will play through “Break thou the Bread of Life” We’ll stand and sing.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Short week, long haul

I've been on the road a lot this week, and I'm staying close to home today, trying to get some past-due work done, and my sermon written. I'm going to go to Bloomington tomorrow for a workshop about how to have the church make a bigger, better impact on the community.
On Monday I took Chris to Midway and said good bye to him. Drove back and had committees and Session.
Tuesday I went to a transition team retreat in Springfield, at a franciscan monastery. Very nice. I wish I could have stayed. But I came home in time for choir.
Wednesday the only place I went was the grocery store. Made good stuff for Pastor Soup. 9 people came. It was fine.
So that leaves today for me to get most of the week's work done.

Now that I write it, I feel more deserving of my harried feeling.

Breathe in the Spirit of peace. Breathe out frustration and fear. Ahhhh. That's better.

Sermon for Feb. 28th

Here is the manuscript I preached from. It came out somewhat like this. (Some parts, not so much.)

Lent is the Old Anglo Saxon word for SPRING. It is a time for us to practice being renewed. Get ready for resurrection and the new life in Risen Christ. Last week our scriptures pointed us toward “gratitude” - one of the foundations of renewal. Taking the time to be conscious of and name our blessings is a renewing exercise, and one that I hope you engaged in this week.
This week’s scripture points us in a different direction, toward an experience that is more difficult and less pleasant, perhaps, but just as real and just as necessary for our renewal:

Genesis 15:1-18

I’ve told you about the night I climbed a mountain in Nicaragua in the dark. I’m going to tell you “the rest of the story”.

When they dropped the five of us off at the foot of the mountain, with our host Luis, the sun was just beginning to set. But a sunset in the mountains is not like sunsets here in Illinois. The sun doesn’t gently settle closer and closer to the horizon, the darkness working it’s way from east to west, seeping around but not melting into the glow of champaign/urbana to the north, bumping off of streetlights, porch lights, headlights on the highway.

Here, night comes slowly and gently. In Nicaragua, in the mountains, it descends, boom, like a curtain. Within minutes, we were walking in what to me was a pitch black night. Up a mountain. We stopped and got in our back packs, rummaged around and found flashlights. I had an LED book light that was nice and bright. Very focused in a tight circle, but bright. That was good because one woman had forgotten to bring one. She walked in front of me and I tried to shine my light so that it hit the ground in front of her feet as we moved forward.
We walked single file, because the path was about twelve inches wide. Recently it had been traveled by a mule who hauled up food and the gringas water. So we had to step carefully over mule manure, as well as rocks and tree roots.
Quantos minutos hasta la casa? Diez o quince. Bien. We chattered a little among ourselves at first. But after 20 minutes or so, we had to quit talking in order to climb. Esta cerca la casa? Muy cerca, Luis promised. But we kept walking.

After about a half hour, which included crossing a stream by hopping over rocks, all kinds of fears began to play in my mind. I told the woman in front of me, “If I have a heart attack here, don’t send my body back to the states. Please. Just bury me here. It’s fine.”
We couldn’t see anything but the 24 inches ahead of us. We heard children singing and calling, up the mountain just a little bit. Are those your children, Luis? The children are welcoming you! he told us. But we walked past the point where we heard them and on up the incline. Every time we passed through a pasture gate, we’d ask again, “Quantos minutos? Esta cerca?” And be assured, “Muy cerca.”
It hit me that I was about a million miles from home, with a little group of women, following a man I’d never met before to a destination I wasn’t sure existed. Banditos. Kidnapping. Clips from a Mexican film about the revolutionary struggle that I’d seen played in my head. I could see the images clearly, because I couldn’t see anything else. It was so dark. I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face. That dark. And I will admit now that I found the experience . . . a little unsettling. All right.
Perhaps that is why when I read this very rich and interesting narrative about the renewal of God’s covenant with Abram, it hit me this time that much of the action here takes place in the dark. And that darker emotions - fear and doubt and anger and even the threat of violence - are part of this renewal story. Verse 12 says “A deep and terrifying darkness descended on Abram.” And this account of human experience in our holy scriptures seem to invite us to think about times when we, literally and figuratively encounter God in the dark times of our lives.
How do we seek renewal and new life when the darkness closes in? When, like Abram, we begin to doubt what God is doing, and we wonder if maybe he has forgotten His promises to us.

Abram was at one of those points in life where things seemed pretty dark. God had called him out, and he’d gone. But God had promised him a child, and he had no child. God had lured him away from his father’s house in Haran, promising a new home. And Abram was still living in a tent. Was it possible that this had all been a mistake? Was God just fooling with him? Had he made the whole thing up in his own head? Abram was in a dark place - a place of fear and doubt. And he wasn’t too happy with his life, or with God. That’s a dark place.
Christians, we have dark places in our lives, too. times when loss, confusion, fear and doubt obscure our lives. We can’t see what’s ahead. We don’t feel sure of God’s involvement. We are in the dark. And it can be a bad time.
In Abram’s story, into this terrifying darkness, a light comes, in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.  Our scriptures are filled with examples of light shining through the darkness, and yet, we still have trouble believing and trusting that God will bring light to our own terrifying dark places.  Even when we know that Jesus is the light — to outshine all other lights, to overcome any darkness — we still huddle in fear when the darkness descends
Lent is a time when we face the darkness (together?) and admit that it scares us to death, and that we doubt God’s promises, and Lent is a time in which our connection with God and God’s intention for our lives can be renewed.

In the midst of darkness, Abraham did some things that can guide us when the darkness falls:
1 Most important! He kept talking to God. Even when all he had to say was a complaint. I know how easy it is to quit talking when God seems to have forgotten us. It’s a mistake to just keep mouthing the “Make me thankful that things aren’t worse.” prayers. We have to tell God what’s on our heart. If you don’t think you have the words, open your Bible and pray the psalms of lament. “Dogs surround me. They are yapping at my heels, trying to bring me down. Why don’t you protect me from these malicious people.” “My friends have betrayed me. Those I thought were my friends talk about me behind my back.” “I am exhausted. My strength is poured out and my bones are dried up.” There are words. Say them. God is not going to be shocked. He is big enough to handle your frustration. Talk. And listen.

2 Perform rituals to remind you who God is. Abraham performed this ritual sacrifice at God’s command. This ritual is clarified by the curses attached to a Sefire treaty, from the 8th century BCE:  "Just as this calf is cut in two, so may Mati`el [one of the kings involved in this treaty] be cut in two, and may his nobles be cut in two."    In Genesis, therefore, Yahweh is invoking upon himself a curse in order to make his promise credible:  "May I Yahweh be cut in two if I do not carry through on my promise to Sarai and Abram."
It was God’s way of saying “Cross my heart, Hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” It was ritual. It was a visible sign of an invisible committment. It was a symbol meaning - I’ll keep my promise, or die trying.

In the dark parts of life, we need those symbols of God’s love and care and willingness to suffer for us. We need the cross. Come to church. Even if it’s hard and the sermon’s don’t apply, and the hymns sound hollow, and you don’t know why you are here. Where else are you going to see the cross? Where else are you going to be reminded of the promise of God to save you - a promise fulfilled by Jesus, even though he did have to die trying.

3 Know that its OK to believe and doubt at the same time. Faith isn’t the same thing as certainty. Faith is the substance of things hoped for - the evidence of things NOT SEEN. Abraham believed and questioned. And his faith was reckoned as righteousness. Remember when Jesus is asked to heal the centurion’s child? The father says, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And Jesus did it. Having all the answers isn’t faith. And having stronger faith doesn’t necessarily lead to having more answers. Ask Job. Ask Jesus. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

I’m aware that there are flavors of Christianity that claim to have more answers - some claim to have all the answers - And they have answers. When I was younger, before any real darkness came into my life, I thought I had all the answers, too. From the Bible, of course. but then life happened to me. The darkness came, and I found out something about all those answers. Some of the answers are wrong. It’s like taking the SAT - you have to know when a wrong answer is going to cost you more than just leaving the question blank.

If I know what to do in every situation - If I ALWAYS KNOW what’s right and wrong - If I’ve got a rule for every situation -
I don’t need God much anyway. what’s he gonna do? Applaud my perfect life? But if I don’t - then I am more like Abram, and the rest of the human race.

We live out our faith, and ask our questions, and look to God’s mercy to sustain us.
Abraham in his time, and more fully Jesus Christ, showed the life of faith to be lived as we live it - sometimes in the dark - with barely enough light to take the next step.
Abram had a smoking firepot and a flaming torch. On the mountain in Nicaragua, I had an LED book light. But that light can be enough for us to keep going in faith, until the sun shines brighter again.

Even the darkness is not dark to God. The dark places of life can be places of renewal, if we do as Abram did:

Keep talking honestly - nagging or complaining, even - let’s just call it respectfully requesting that God enlighten you about his intentions.
Keep your eyes on the sacrifice that reminds you of God’s faithfulness - the cross. That means keep coming to church - strange as it may be, it brings you face to cross with God’s love.
Keep believing and doubting at the same time. That’s what faith is all about.

Last week, we filled out gratitude circles, listing blessings for which we thank God. This week, I’d like you to fill out the circle that petition God to shed light on the dark places of life. This might be your life, or dark places in the world. Any place or situation that makes you, like Abram, wonder if God is doing what God said he’d do. Place those prayers in the offering plate, like we did last week.

After a couple of minutes, Mark will play through the hymn, and we’ll rise to sing.