Sunday, May 30, 2010

June is full of special events

June 6 - Youth Group leads worship! Yeah!
Summer Sunday School starts. The art project is going to be a mosaic mural!
(I love summer sunday school!)
June 13 - The big Malawi send off for J and K with Melissa R. at Philo
June 20 - Honoring Men of the Church Day and Deacon's Diaper Day for Crisis Nursery
June 27 - Baptism for Anna K. Yeah! (Maybe new member's day, too? That would be nice!)
Sean and Caleb leave for mission trip to Mt. Vernon.

June is coming!

May is almost done. Sean has graduated. Caleb just has two finals to take before he is out for the summer. I've posted 3 out of 5 sermons for May. One of the missing ones was the fair trade/mission message I took to Paxton. I can't remember the other. So it is a good bet that no one else can either. I'm trying my best to preach without checking the manuscript, which is going pretty well, I think.
Today I asked for input on topics or issues that people would like to probe more deeply. Every thing they asked will get me in trouble. Great. But it's good to know what folks think is interesting.
Tomorrow I have a busy day: I'm going to meet MR about the commissioning service for Jeri and Kirk. Then I have the memorial day thing at Locust Grove. Then cookout at AJ and J's.
Caleb is going to spend tonight and tomorrow with his dad.
That's about it. Good bye spring, Hello Summer!

Trinity Sunday - The Way of Truth

Trinity Sunday/Memorial Day
John 16:12-15
One thing I am pretty strict with myself about is when I step in the pulpit on Sunday morning, I preach the Bible. It always starts with scripture, and is an attempt to help us reflect on the meaning of the scripture for our lives. There’s only one exception to that rule and that comes on this Sunday - Trinity Sunday.
“Trinity” is not something we read out of the Bible. it is something we read into the Bible. Jesus didn’t ever use the word Trinity.
The scripture this morning is just one of those places where Jesus comes close: He talks about himself, and God the Father, and someone he calls the “paraclete” - which we call the Holy Spirit. Jesus used the term paraclete interchangable with “Spirit of Truth.” There are five "Paraclete"/"Spirit of truth" sayings in John. All of these are part of Jesus' Farewell Discourse. Ours from chapter 16 is the last.

The role of the "Paraclete" is to guide us into all truth (16:12-15)

The word for "guide" is hodegeo, a compound word from hodos = way, road; and ago = to lead. So literally it means "lead in the way." To say that the Paraclete will guide the disciples into all the truth is to say that in the future the Paraclete will lead the community into the life-giving revelation of God in Jesus. [p. 773]
And, in the early church, the Trinity became part of that way of truth. This is so, even though the work is not in any of the Gospels, or the Epistles of Paul, or the the Pastoral Letters, or even that crazy book of Revelations. You’d think, as much as the author of Revelations like using symbolic numbers, he would have latched on to the Trinity. But he didn’t.
So where did the idea come from? It, like most doctrines, came out of the experience of the early followers of Christ. They were on fire with passion for sharing their faith, and they wanted to express it clearly. They asked, “How can we make clear our experiences of God the Creator and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit?”
Frederick Houk Borsch was dean of the chapel and taught religion at Princeton. - He arrived just as I was leaving, in 1981. He puts it really well:
There are probably a number of people who imagine that the idea of the Trinity was thought up by ivory-tower theologians who, typically, were making things more complicated than they needed to be and were obscuring the simple faith of regular believers. In fact, it seems that the process worked pretty much the other way around. Practicing believers and worshipers were driven by their experiences of God's activity to the awareness that God related in several different ways to the creation. ... Thus what these believers came to insist upon was that God had to be recognized as being in different forms of relationship with the creation, in ways at least like different persons, and that all these ways were divine, that is, were of God. Yet there could not be three gods. God, to be the biblical God and the only God of all, had to be one God. This complex and profound faith was then handed over for the theologians to try and make more intelligible. They have been trying ever since.
They have been trying, but not necessarily succeeding. Every book about the Trinity ends up saying, this is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be explored. Reading and writing long books, thinking about things that have no answers, may seem like a waste of time to some of us.
Henri Nouwen, who WAS at Princeton while I was there, he was the speaker at my class’s commencement ceremony, Henri Nouwen talks about "a docta ignorantia, a learned ignorance" [in Reaching Out]:
We all want to be educated so that we can be in control of the situation and make things work according to our own need. But education to ministry is an education not to master God but to be mastered by God. [p. 74]
At our graduation, he told us a story that makes more sense to me now than it did then:
I remember the educational story of a thirty-year-old Methodist minister from South Africa. When this man felt called to the ministry and was accepted by the church, he was sent as an assistant pastor to work in a parish without any formal theological training. But he was so convinced of his insights and experience, and his enthusiasm and fervor were so great that he had no problem in giving long sermons and strong lectures. But then, after two years, he was called back and sent to the seminary for theological education. Reflecting on his time in the seminary, he said, "During those years I read the works of many theologians, philosophers and novelists. Whereas before everything seemed so clear-cut and self-evident to me, I now lost my certainties, developed many questions and became much less certain of myself and my truth." In a sense, his years of formation were more years of unlearning than of learning and when he returned to the ministry he had less to say but much more to listen to. [p. 74]
Trinity Sunday can be a powerful reminder of the importance of things we do not know, knowing that we do not know them, and the spiritual growth that can result from pondering the mysteries. When we have the courage to ask questions that take us deeper into scripture, into the nature of God, into our own moral and ethical dilemmas, we cooperate with the Spirit of truth which leads us along the road to a fuller, more complete experience of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

I’d like your help in naming some of those questions, some of those areas you wonder about, some of those topics you’d like to probe more deeply. So I’ve put a piece of paper in the bulletin and I’d like you to take a few minutes to write down topics, questions, faith concerns that are in your mind and on your heart. Maybe it is a theological doctrine you’ve never quite understood, or a Biblical story that seems contrary to your experience. Maybe you have heard about some practice, or read some inspirational book that you’d like to talk to someone about. Is there something that you’d like to hear explored - maybe explained - I do know some things! This is your chance.
It’s helpful if you sign - in case I have questions about your intent. But if you don’t want to, don’t. I’m at the place where I’m thinking about the direction sermons and classes might take beginning next fall, and this is one way for me to listen to where we are as a community.

In spite of the fact that I can not explain the Trinity - I do believe that it is true that relationship lies at the heart of God - that the Creator relates to the Redeemer relates to the Spirit - in a way that is the foundation for our relationships with God and with one another. I believe that the Spirit moves among us as we gather and that in our relationships within our community we are drawn along, guided along the road of Truth by the Spirit. May it be so this day and forever. Amen.

Pentecost sermon

Blow, Spirit, Blow!
Acts 2:1-18

Midwesterners are tuned in to what is blowing in the wind. You don’t grow up in tornado alley without being very interested in which way the wind is blowing and what kind of system is blowing in, and . . . this time of the year especially, the chances for a violent wind to blow through. I wonder if it is some sort of a coincidence that Pentecost - our windiest Christian holiday - also fall at the same time of year that the National Weather Service declares time for “Severe Weather Preparedness”.

The church’s sacred story relates that The Gift of the Holy Spirit, on that Pentecost long ago, was accompanied by a mighty wind that blew through the place where the disciples were gathered and turned them into the church. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t just a one time event. To the extant that it still blows, the church remains vibrant and alive and an exciting group to hang around. To the extant that the mighty wind of God still blows, the people in this room are empowered to change the world in the 21st century, just as Peter and the women and men around him changed the world in Century 1.

Think with me about how Pentecost still happens, how the wind blows, in our lives today:

The wind blows things away.
It’s a funny expression, and can be used in a couple ways: blow away is to utterly destroy - or to be completely impressed. Think about a more mundane usage:
Every fall I long for a strong wind to come because I want it to blow away the leaves in my yard. I love a good strong wind.

How is God’s gift of the Holy Spirit like that in our lives? Think about some of the things - things that are lying around your spiritual yard - that you’d be glad for the spirit of god to blow away: Aren’t there things like leaves - lifeless, used up, dried up, no longer beautiful aspects of life that the violent wind of the Spirit might blow away? Think about grudges. Self-limiting expectations - that little voice that says, “My little bit doesn’t matter. I can’t make a difference here.” What about “insane” ways of dealing with problems. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. All of us have a touch of insanity at times. What if the
Spirit blew away that craziness.
Part of the human condition - baptists call it “sin” - is that we actually get used to these dead leaves in our lives. We go out and instead of raking them up - we nail them down. We superglue them to our porches and eaves. We may even begin to think they are holding the house together. We NEED the Holy Spirit to come like a violent, mighty wind and blow this stuff out of our lives. And when the Spirit comes, we need to welcome it - Blow, Spirit Blow! Blow our used up, dried up old lifelessness away!

That’s one way the wind blows - it blows things away. And we also say, “Blow UP”
Blow up, too, can be used to describe an explosion. But I want to think about a gentler kind of blowing up: . . . like breath that inflates a balloon, making it bigger and better. where can our life and our faith be expanded by the Spirit. Tell the story of Cinco de Mayo with the ministers at a party bar. The possibilities of who God is working on, and how God might work with us was radically expanded. Where can the Spirit expand your life?

So the spirit can blow away. it can blow up. And, one last expression: it can blow through. This is the way the spirit often works in the Bible: by blowing through human beings, . . . like the wind that blows through an instrument. Think about the last band concert you attended, or football game with a marching band at half time. Did you look at all the different instruments in the band? Was there an alphorn? Not a marching band instrument!! Reeds, brass, whistles, we are each a unique instrument, fashioned by God to vibrate with life and beauty. What will it feel like, what will it sound like if you let the spirit blow through your life. At Pentecost, Peter became the disciple Jesus knew he could be. Not through his own effort, but by the power of the Spirit. This Pentecost, we can become the men and women - the boys and the girls - that God created us to be.

While the rest of the world observes “severe weather preparedness” pentecost remind us that the church is called to practice “mighty wind preparedness”
Look for signs of the mighty wind of the spirit blowing through your life and the life of this church:
Blowing away what is lifeless and dead, so that something new can grow
Blowing up - expanding and inflating - our vision of our work in God’s world.
Blowing through us - making with each of our lives sweet music for God’s band.

Pentecost still comes with a mighty wind.
Let the church greet it gladly,
saying, “Blow, Spirit, Blow”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ladies Like Lydia

This is the text and sermon for "Honoring Women of the Church" Sunday. After the service I handed out geranium plants and temporary tattoos.

Acts 16:9-15 (The Message)

 9-10That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.
 11-12Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
 13-14On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
 15After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, "If you're confident that I'm in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests." We hesitated, but she wouldn't take no for an answer.

Have you met Lydia? In “At the Circus” Groucho Marx sang a song about Lydia, the tattooed lady. He sang the movie song again, in 1950 and stopped trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes. Last week, when the computer went hay wire and trading was stopped again, I thought “Hey, I bet this little incident would be a lot more fun if Groucho Marx were there to sing about Lydia.”
It’s a silly song, but it starts out:

Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.
Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,
Oh Lydia the Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it the wreck of the Hesperus, too.
And proudly above waves the Red, White, and Blue,
You can learn a lot from Lydia.
There are some other verses, which we’ll skip. I just thought of it because of “Have you met Lydia? and You can learn a lot from Lydia.”

This morning Lydia appeared in the scripture lesson from Acts - She is Paul’s first convert in the continent of Europe - and since most of our ancestors hailed from Europe, you could say that Lydia is our spiritual grandmother. So it’s fitting, on the day we honor women of the church, the day that most of the country calls, “Mother’s Day” that we take a few minutes to think about Lydia, Lydia - - - not the tattooed lady, but the faithful lady. We can learn a lot from Lydia!

Have you met Lydia? I’ll bet you have! She is a woman we’d all like to meet: a successful business woman, who own her own textile company and deals in high end clothing, the kind that only the wealthiest women and men can afford to wear. So you know that Lydia has some social graces. She is able to move with ease among the class in which her customers live. But she seems equally at home with people not so worldly and wealthy: the Sabbath finds her outside the city of Philippi - down by the river where a group met together to worship and pray.

Lydia is a “God-fearer” a technical term for a Gentile who studied and admired the Jewish faith. But Lydia is already experimenting outside the rigid forms of the religion she admired: Rather than sitting in the synagogue, where someone else would be doing all the reading and interpreting, she was outside the synagogue, outside the city, in the fresh air, where she and some others could pray freely. Lydia, like most successful business people, knew that sometimes you have to get out side the regular venues to find the best opportunities - to sales, for growth, even for faith.

Maybe Lydia is on to something - - - I like worshipping God outside these walls. And it is certainy outside these walls that we will most likely find opportunities to engage unchurched people in conversations about what God is doing in their lives and in ours. Maybe the “church” should think about how to be the “church” when we aren’t at “church” - huh? This week, at my continuing ed event, I heard about a t-shirt slogan I think is cool: It’s got a silhouette of Elvis on the front. And on the back it says: the church has left the building.

Lydia was looking for opportunities to pray down by the riverside. Hey - you can learn alot from Lydia.

Lydia was gifted with an open heart - and the skill to listen intently. That open heart reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples - Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid. Jesus knew that fear and trouble make it hard to listen. I have to share with you a letter that the church received from a Lydia: Actually, I don’t know this woman’s name. But this church, and several others in the area, heard about her family from the school nurse, who realized that the family didn’t have a source of water in the house they owned, out in the country. The nurse, and others from school, sent out an appeal to area churches, for the money to drill a well for the family. And the money - all 5,860 dollars of it, was raised and the well dug. Yesterday I got a copy of the letter she had written, which is so sweet. Listen to this first part:

Hard to be open to the good news of his love and grace poured out for us. When pride, or fear or stubborness, or self-pity, or any of a hundred different impediments cause us to close our hearts to God and to each other, I want us to remember this lady, and remember Lydia. Lydia and this woman decided that they had to open their hearts and trust in God’s goodness. Lydia was not afraid. She was open - both her ears and her heart - to hear the Gospel message. We can learn alot from Lydia!

And Lydia, good business woman that she is, knows how to “close the deal”. When she understands the gospel message, she asks to be baptized, right away. And, as head of her household - we don’t know if that means she had an extended family, or whether this refers to the employees and servants that are part of her sphere of influence. But, either way, she has them all baptized. She makes the committment, she closes the deal.
Book club read “Animals in translation” - which has a lot of interesting anecdotes about how human and animals think. I think of one case she sites - of a man who was pathologically incapable of making up his mind. About anything. Even what day to schedule a doctor’s appointment. He debated his options endlessly. Was this better than that? Would thursday be as good as WEdnesday? How could he make Friday work? Should he rearrange this other appointment to make it fit? He was crippled by all the options and incapable of choosing one. And his life, or course, was a mess. None of us are like that, but I think a lot of us know that the option of a deeper, fuller, more committed life of faith is open to us. We could be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit could help us forgive one another, become more generous, pray with our whole hearts, become true leaders among our church brothers and sisters. We know the deal is there to be made. But we don’t grab hold of the opportunity and seal the deal, like Lydia does. Lydia, Lydia, have you been Lydia? We could learn a lot from Lydia.

After Lydia closes the deal but asking for and receiving baptism, Lydia does what good business people do - she follows up. She immediately (the Message translation says she experienced a “surge” of hospitality) asked Paul and his missionary companion to come and stay at her home. She put her faith into action. And she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Confident, bold, persistent in invitation . . . are these words we use when we think about our own Christian action? If not so much, - - - we could learn alot from Lydia.

I think I’ll rewrite the Lydia song:

Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Faithful Lady.