Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon - Feb. 19th

This is more "note-y" than usual, but here it is.
Mark 2:1-12
“Casting Call”

Casting call - which part do you want to play?  Which will you read for?  High school drama productions, it was always what we discussed.  What part do you want?  And I loved it when there were LOTS of parts.  (When there were only two or three, I could bet that my very talented and beautiful sister would get one and I would end up on doing Props or Make up.) 

Suppose we were going to act this story out.  In Wednesday afterschool sunday School, we really are going to act it out.  Or at least we’re going to try.  When I told the kids we were going to act out the story - immediately a couple of them wanted to be Jesus.  For the purposes of this sermon, at least, let’s just say that that part has been taken.  None of us is Jesus.  And isn’t that a relief?

This story has lots of big, juicy parts.  Which part is the one you want to play? 

Let’s look at the AVAILABLE parts:

We have many parts for extras.   Those who came to hear Jesus speaking the Word.  These folks crowded around Jesus, filled up the house where he was, and the doorways, and sat in the windows.  They came to see what all the fuss was about and to hear what this man, who had grown up in the neighborhood, had to say.  Is this a part that almost any of us could play convincingly.  We are curious about this Christ.  We’d be interested in giving him a hearing.  We’d walk across the street to see what all the commotion is about.  Who wouldn’t?

But there’s more to this part.  Do you have the elbows and the death stare to play it?  You see these folks got a good seat at the show, and they didn’t care about much but enjoying the Jesus’ performance.  They got there first, after all.  They had a right to be there.  So when the next characters enter the scene, they feel called to hold their position.  They don’t let the latecomers, the newcomers get in. 
I was once at a sale.  A really good, going out of business sale.  At a really good shop in Topeka Kansas.  The last day of the sale everything was going to be 90% off, and my friend Jim Buskirk and I met there about 7 oclock.  We weren’t the first.  But we were in pretty good position.  And we were prepared to wait, which we did.  We had our coffee.  We had each other’s company.  Gradually, lots of others joined us.  The store was going to open at 8.  And about 7:55, clear at the back of the crowd, and woman’s voice rang out.  Excuse me!  Excuse me!  My dad is up there.  I need to get to my dad.  Daddy!  Here I am.  She was pushing and shoving her way to the front of the line.  Jim and I looked at each other and instantly linked elbows. 
We would have been right at home in Capernaum, surrounding Jesus and protecting our place in his presence. 
Do you want to play that part in the story?  Do you want to be part of the crowd that protects its place, even though it requires keeping others away from Jesus? Well - maybe in some sort of play.  But it’s an attractive part for members in churches around the world - part of the crowd.  gate keepers One problem that some churches have is that they’ve got a lot of these crowd members.  Some think a certain pew belongs to them.  Or a certain ministry is their exclusive domain.  But I hope that none of us, when we stop to think of it, will want to play that part in real life!

But don’t worry - there are other parts. 
The heroes of the story are the four friends who, at great personal cost and trouble, bring their buddy and place him before Christ.   Now I want you to realize - these aren’t speaking roles.  And they are very demanding. 
This is an example of ensemble acting.  I’ve always pictured it as four men, four guys who take life by the horns and “get ‘er done!”  But it could be women, too.  Or a couple of couples.  Could you play this part?  Do you relish a challenge?  Do you have a big heart?  Are you as stubborn as the day is long?  Because the part is not an easy one.  You can throw your back out, sometimes, bringing folks to Jesus.  But these guys were persistent, too.  They see that the door is blocked.  They can’t get through the usual way, but do they give up?  No!  They haul the mat and the man up the flight a stairs, and proceed to dig through the roof of the house in order to put their friend before Jesus.  They wouldn’t rest and they wouldn’t give up bringing their friend to Jesus. 
This is a part of the story that I pray we will all learn and act out in our real lives.  Bringing people who need healing and forgiveness into Christ’s presence. 
One way - I’ll admit it, the FIRST way a preacher thinks about - is to invite them to church.  To put them in physical proximity to a community where Christ lives.  Just invite them to be where the church is - at worship, in fellowship, in mission.  And inviting once is rarely enough.  Rarely. You have to offer over and over, and in the mean time, you can carry them to God in prayer, over and over and over again.  Just bring them into Christ’s presence and have faith that He will do his Saving Thing. 

It’s a far better part - though more difficult - than the part of the scribes in this little drama.  These are the guys that have been listening to the goings on and choose to criticize what is happening.  The script says, “They began to discuss in their hearts and then whisper to each other, “What’s going on here?”  
In real life, there are always people who play this part.  I have a pastor friend who gets an email every Monday morning, letting him know what he did wrong in the service on Sunday.  Every Monday morning.  He didn’t say the prayer right. The hymn selection stunk.  He forgot to announce the page number for the Bible reading.  Something.  I am so thankful that I don’t have such diligent scribes in this congregation.  Cause every Sunday, I know I make mistakes!  And I don’t mind hearing about them, every once in a while.  Maybe that is better than having folks whispering amongst themselves.  But I have to wonder, is that really the role that anyone wants to play?  The critic? I hope not.

There is one other part you might consider:  the part of the paralytic man who finds himself gathered up, strapped in his stretcher, lowered through the roof and set down in front of Jesus.   There are times in every life when we need to play this part.  When we need someone to do this for us, put us right in front of Jesus’ face, where he can look us in the eye and we can look up from the floor where we are lying and see that glorious face, and let him do what he needs to do to get us up and moving again.  Sometimes we need that word of forgiveness.  Jesus says, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”  For one thing, I love that Jesus called the man, “My child.”  There’s something so precious about being reminded that that is how God sees us.  This may sound strange, but the guy who used to work at the shop where I took my car called me “Kiddo.”  “Hey, Kiddo!”  I never missed an oil change on that car, because I so loved to hear that greeting. It made me feel like part of the family, and not the part that had to figure things out and fix them.  Someone else was in charge.  Kiddo.   The guy at the Nissan place now calls me “Ma’am.”  It’s not the same. 
Last week someone said to me, “You’re a good kid.  It’s going to be all right.”  That’s what Jesus said to the man on the mat.  Kiddo, you are forgiven. 
We have no idea what “sins” that man had weighing him down.  But we know what it is like to be so burdened with guilt and regret that we can’t go on.  To have a past mistake always playing itself out in our minds and hearts, keeping us from moving into the future God has planned for us.  Sometimes we need to be that man who is forgiven.
And wonderful are the times when the forgiveness is followed by healing!  Maybe you wonder, like I do, why Jesus forgives before he heals this character. One possibility is that by forgiving and then healing, Jesus is attempting to break through people’s natural but WRONG tendency to connect sin with physical sickness, or financial poverty.  Back then, this connection was especially strong.  People thought that if someone was sick, or disabled, it was because they were being punished by God for doing something wrong.  Remember at one point when Jesus and the disciples encounter a blind man and the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 
And Jesus said, “Neither.”  We aren’t quite that cruel these days, but there is still a tendency to put all the responsibility for some crippling situations on the one who is crippled by them.  If people are poor - they must be lazy.  If kids don’t read well, the parents are unfit.  If there is a car crash, somebody must have been drinking.  I don’t know why that makes us feel better.  Because things are usually much more complicated than that.  So Jesus forgives the man first.  So that the people don’t think that his problems are God’s punishment.  That’s a possibility, at least. 
But, wonderfully for the man - and for his friends who drug him there and whose arms were probably too tired to drag him back home, Jesus also heals the man, telling him, “Get up!  Take up your bed and walk.”  The story isn’t complete until the person who is healed is able to stand on his own and move out into the world as a living testimony to God’s love and power and grace. Mark says, “It blew people’s minds when they saw it!”  
So do you have it in you to play that part?  To get up, roll up the mat you came in on, and walk out into the world to demonstrate what Jesus can do?  Is that the part for you?
That’s the part I want.  That’s the part I want for all of us.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Lifted Life - Sermon Feb. 5

Scripture:  Mark 1:29-39
                  Isaiah 40: 21-31
Need a lift?  I don’t mean a ride to the post office, but a lift for your spirits?  A little wind beneath your wings?  During these mostly grey, often damp and cold days of winter, I’ll admit that sometimes my spirits lag just a bit.  So the words that shone out at me from the scripture lessons for this week were those beautiful words of promise - Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall rise up with wings like eagles.  They shall walk and not be weary, they shall run and not faint. 
And then the Gospel story of Jesus coming right into the humble house of Peter’s mother in law, who had been laid low by a fever.  Immediately.  Mark’s favorite transition - IMMEDiately - they told Jesus about her and he went to her, took her hand and lifted her up. 
What a great story for us to hold in our hearts as we walk through these mid-winter days. 

Jesus took her by the hand and LIFTED HER UP!  It’s better than that - this is the same word that is used by this Gospel writer about Jesus himself on Easter morning.  He has been raised - lifted up.  So Jesus is raising up this weary and fever worn person and lifting her into New Life!

How do we get lifted up? How does Jesus take our hands and raise our spirits - raise our lives to that next level?  Well, the Spirit that lifts us and makes us soar is renewed in three different ways:

The first way of renewal is service to others -
    This isn’t “passed around the sandwiches and beers”.  This is the same word Jesus uses to describe His own life’s purpose - “I have come not to be served, but to serve”.  This is the measure of greatness Jesus holds out for his followers of every age - “The greatest of you must become the servant of all.”  This is the challenge and the hope Martin Luther King captured when he said, “Any body can be great.  Because any body can serve.” 
    How do you serve?  It can be huge - giving up her job and possessions to help homeless people find homes.  Or it can seem small - giving a few hours to cut homeless men’s hair.  But it cannot BE small - because it is doing what we have been raised up by God to do.   And at every stage of the Christian life, it is vital that we recognize and embrace the service we do.  Hazel Mumm died this week.  She was 104 years old and about as big as my right arm.  She used to live across the street, but for the last 10 years or so she’s lived in the nursing home.  By the time she got to 100, she was beginning to wonder about how long this show was going to go on.  But she’d say, “As long as God gives me, I’m going to do what I can to help out.”  She brought her bedridden hall mates water.  She prayed - out loud- for the sick.  She told the dying that there was nothing to fear, that God would take them home.  And she just kept breathing.  The last time I saw her was at the Philo Tavern.  Her children were taking her out for lunch and she was drinking a beer.  And she told me I should have one, too.  That woman knew how to serve.  
    To be Lifted Up by Jesus is to be lifted up to a lifetime of service - whether that lifetime is 104 years or considerably less than that.  One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of our lives can be recognizing and fulfilling our call to service.

Two _ Lifted up for prayer. 
    Jesus was serving - healing diseases, casting out demons - and he slipped away.  To pray.  He raised himself up out of bed and headed out to some where where he could be alone with God.  A life that soars like an eagle has to be balanced.  It can’t be constant activity.  There has to be time spent in quiet with God.  Watch the soaring birds - they aren’t flapping flapping flapping all the time.   The “eagles” of Isaiah’s poetry were big birds that perched on the edge of the rocky cliffs overlooking valleys, spread their wings and waited for the warm air to lift them and carry them aloft.  Think of prayer as spreading your wings and waiting on the Lord.
    And prayer is one of those things, those habits of the heart, that need renewal at times.  Lent is an opportunity that the community of faith gives to each other to attend to this important element of our spiritual lives.
    This Lent you are invited to undertake 40 days of renewal in prayer.  I ordered a few copies of a book I think we’ll find encouraging - called “Praying with my Pen”.  If you would like one, please let me know. 
    For Jesus, communion with God in prayer refocussed and renewed his spirit.  It does the same for us.  This week a friend shared a meditation by Mary Oliver that captures the experience of prayer in a somewhat unexpected way:

    The Summer Day
Mary Oliver
Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down

into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

The third way of renewal and lifting up that the Gospel writer points us toward is to seek out new places and new people and new ways to share the message of Christ. 
The disciples come to find Jesus, and they want to take him back to the scene of his recent triumph, and, incidentally, their home and the place they are most comfortable.  One way that God renews his people is by taking us beyond our comfort zone and out into the wider world.  That is certainly true for churches.  We tend to think of this group and this place as our church home.  And it is wonderful to share Christ here.  But we are also called to go OUT and share God’s message of grace and love more widely.  Jesus doesn’t suggest it.  Jesus commands it. 
    Yesterday the Outreach Committee of this congregation met to outline plans for reaching out for the year ahead.  They planned three events to reach new people with Christ’s love.  And one continuing emphasis - for each one of us to invite one new person to participate in our life in the coming year.  I’m going to be asking you this year - who have YOU told about what God is doing here? Who have you included in the Kingdom Life of this congregation? 
    Renewal and lifting up of the church happens when we have the courage to step out of our routine and into the outward and upward call of Christ. 

The Good News of Jesus Christ is moving and active in this world. 
The Spirit is still lifting up those who are weary and burdened by living.  God is still strengthening us, individually and as a church body to walk and not be weary, to run and not faint.  
Jesus is still taking us by the hand and lifting us up - in service, in prayer and in outreach. 
As we come to the Table this morning, as we lift our hearts to God, the question we might ask ourselves is, this week -
How will we live the lifted life?