Sunday, March 28, 2010

That They May Be One

Sermon for March 28, 2010, on the text John 17:1-26.  Today is Palm/Passion Sunday.  We start shouting Hosanna!  But we know at the end of that road, there was a cross.  Christ died that we might be one - one with God, through Christ and one with each other.  In this prayer of Jesus we have Jesus praying that his disciples might be one as he and God are one. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just for Me

Have you ever read something or heard something that seemed like God meant it just for you?  Maybe it was something said on the radio that spoke to a situation you were experiencing.  Or maybe you have had someone send you a card or poem that was perfect for whatever you were going through, only they didn't know.  Possibly it was a scripture verse that just jumped off the page with what I call "holy highlighting" and you have a God moment.  I believe God gives us words of encouragement or guidance with perfect timing. we receive them?

Many times the still small voice of God is drowned out by our own worries, the voices of others, or our own agendas.  It is easy to rationalize our desires or the desires of others to whom we are close, and allow these rationalizations to sway our desire to follow God.  When we do this we tend to become confused.  I think having an open heart to hearing God speak at all times, not just when we are troubled, is the key to hearing God well.  If we recognize the still small voice in the little things of life, then we are more accustomed to hearing God speak in the big things.

Last week I heard God speak to me in my morning devotions with "Pray as You Go."  Now you would expect God to talk to you in morning devotions, right?  Well of course you would!  Today, however, I distinctly heard God say to me, "do not be afraid."  Awesome right!  You know what "do not be afraid" generally indicates right?  That you are afraid. 

Three months after Christmas the scripture referenced in the devotional was Matthew 1:18-25, the verse of the angel appearing to Joseph.  Joseph had a situation land in his lap.  He was planning to handle a "wrong" done to him in the most merciful, compassionate way of the time.  I'm certain he wrestled with this choice, his own worries and concerns, as well as the outside voices that would have contributed to his anxiety.  But there was one more voice.  In verse 20 we hear the voice say, " not be afraid."  Scripture does not say that after this everything went perfect for Joseph and Mary, but through whatever might come they could trust and not be afraid.

My family and I are getting ready to move.  This means we will be leaving one congregation and meeting another.  There are many worries that comes when this happens.  Packing, ugh!  Is this the right decision?  How will the church you dearly love and are leaving transition to their new pastor?  How will the church to which you are going welcome you and your family when they are losing a pastor they love?  Will I be able to live up to the many expectations that are placed on me in my new location?  How will my family do with the move? And the questions could go on and on and on.  But I heard God speak to me, "do not be afraid."  This was very helpful in calming my anxiety and fears over whether or not this decision is right.  "Do not be afraid" breaks into the darkness of my fears and banishes them in the light of Christ in my world. 

Sometimes, God follows these words of encouragement with something that just shouts, "see God is in this!"  And that happened two days after my morning devotion which told me, "do not be afraid."  I found that a good friend of mine will be coming to serve the church I am leaving.  So the church I love will be ministered to by someone I love.  God said, "see I told you, nothing to worry about." 

Of course there are still concerns.  Did I mention packing?  Ugh!  There are stresses that come from transitioning to a new job, moving to a new community, leaving people you love, and in all of these things I can know with surety I do not need to be afraid. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Forgive Them

Sermon March 21, 2010, on Luke 23:34 and Matthew 5:44 with references to Matthew 18:21-31. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Not What I Want, But What You Want

Sermon March 14, 2010 on Mark 14:32-36.  Continuing today in the Lenten Sermon Series on the Prayers of Jesus.  Today's focus is prayers of surrender.  Do we surrender our will to Jesus?  What does it really mean to surrender?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Suffering

In Romans 5:1-5 we read:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Suffering is something we shy away from, and certainly we cannot imagine boasting in our suffering.  And yet here we have scripture telling us "we boast in our suffering."  How does this work?  How does one truly 'boast' in one's suffering?"  How can we as the people of God and the body of Christ, who truly suffered, bring hope to others who are struggling under the burden of their own struggling.

In recent conversations I have had with others about 'suffering,' it seems that many people feel that suffering comes from God.  Suffering from God comes either directly, in that God gave it to them to either test them or punish them, or indirectly, in that God allowed their suffering.  This understanding can be harmful, even damaging, to those who are struggling and really need a message of love and grace from God.  The people who view suffering this way seem to have an attitude of "poor me," but console themselves in their suffering with the understanding that God must be shoring them up for something really difficult in the future."  It seems they want to be tested by God in this way, but really what is their alternative in their way of thinking?  If it weren't God testing them, then their suffering is coming from God as punishment, or that God is allowing this suffering to happen to them, which brings about feelings of abandonment.  Their outlook is pessimistic to say the least.  Therefore, when things are going well in their lives, they cringe in fear of the next struggle that will come their way, never enjoying anything in life. 

I cannot see this as boasting.  It seems more masochistic to me. This type of suffering seems to multiply as well, because the people who view suffering this way, always seem to be suffering, or anticipating their next suffering on a rare good day.  They aren't boasting, they are wallowing.  How can they be a help and a hope in a hurting world?  How can they bring the message of the gospel, "good news," to those who truly need it?  They seem to have not even found it for themselves.  So, if this isn't the answer, what is?  How do we boast in our suffering?

I have read this passage in the past, but my reading today brought up new inight.  I have recently shared my testimony at a women's retreat, and in preparing for this, I had to truly look at all the things that have happened to me in my life.  Some of the things are awful, and I remember during those times people would say things to me like, "God won't give you more than you can bear."  That was never very comforting to me.  My purpose in sharing my testimony at this time is to show how God has worked in my life to bring me to the point where I am today, how God's grace has been with me all along, even in spite of what has been done to me by others, or even in spite of what I have done to myself.  I had to reflect deeply on the suffering of my past, and look at it differently than I did at the time I was in the midst of it. 

I have learned through observation and experience, that suffering is not exclusively Christian.  But I suppose that some would view non-Christian suffering as punishment or wrath of God.  Truthfully, suffering is a universal element of life.  When we are born, we begin the struggle, simply to breathe our first breath.  And our struggles do not stop until we struggle to breathe our last.  So, what was Paul talking about that was unique to the Christians of his day. 

This is what I have discovered about suffering, at least the suffering my own life.  I did have more than I could bear on occasion.  But we aren't to bear it alone anyway.  God is there with us, helping us in our struggles.  I can now look back and see the many, many ways God was working in my life, even if I couldn't see it at the time.  During some of these times, I remember I felt abandoned by God because I couldn't see the handwork of God bringing grace, love, peace and mercy in my life. 

I have discovered and through God's grace have been able to admit my own culpability in some of my suffering.  The things we do to ourselves tends to be equally as devastating (if not more so) as that which is done to us.  We fear looking at it, let alone admitting that we may have contributed to our own suffering.  And in my life, some of these places, I was struggling against God, which brought about an even greater feeling of loneliness.

I have learned that as lonely as I may have felt in my suffering, as unique as my problems felt to me, many people have gone through the type of suffering I faced.  The overwhelming nature of such thought brings a sense of hopelessness unless we find the hope we have in Christ.  Because I have learned the way out of the valley, it is only right that I share that with others.  All too often we struggle under the burden of our suffering, and when we finally are free of it, we boast in ourselves, "see how I made it through that."  And this type of thinking is where we find we leave others in the suffering we once experienced.  We leave them there and shy away from them because their suffering reminds us too much of our own.  So we run from the valley and never look back.  But as Christians, this is not what we are called to do.  We are all called to bring a message of hope and good news.  

As I have reflected and shared my testimony, I realized that standing up there that day, I was boasting.  Yes, really I was.  I was actually excited even.  I was telling these women the horrible things that have happened in my life and said, "see God was at work here, and more importantly, I am where I am today, I am who I am today because of everything that has happened in my life.  And I like who God has formed me to be."  I could boast on how God has worked in my life to bring good out of bad, beauty from ugly, and comfort even in the midst of pain.  Isn't God awesome, to work like that in our lives?

I have seen where God has worked in my life, when troubles come up, I know that God is there.  I never doubt it.  I know that even though I cannot imagine how it might work, or cannot see how it is working, I know that God will bring wholeness to our brokenness.  It is our limited imagination that thinks the broken pieces must be put back exactly as they were in order to be 'whole,' but God's imagination isn't as limited.  God can take the pieces of our broken lives and create something completely new, something beautiful.  

So now, I read Romans.  We can know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  I have suffered, and in my suffering I have learned, which gives me character, and by this outlook, I do have hope.  And because I know where my hope comes from, I am not disappointed, and when we aren't living in the shadow of disappointment we can feel God's love in our life, and share God's love with others.

Ah, now I get it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I Have Come to This Hour

Sermon on March 7, 2010 on the scripture text John 12:27-28.  We are ontinuing our sermon series on prayer this week.  We look at praying when we are troubled.  We all have troubles.  How do we handle our troubles in prayer?  Do we whine?  Do we want retribution?  Do we pray for God to work in us that we might become more like Jesus?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

On Lenten Disciplines

I remember my first brush with Lenten Disciplines happened at a job I had in my 20s.  Since I grew up Baptist, we didn't really follow the liturgical seasons, so I had no clue about Ash Wednesday Services.  I had joined the United Methodist Church since then, but at this time in my life I really did not do much more than show up occasionally on Sunday mornings.

I worked in a law firm where two of the three partners were Catholic.  They showed up to work one morning with smudges on their foreheads. Part of my job was to make sure that they didn't look too stupid going into court, so I made a comment about the smudge to one who was walking out the door.  He looked back at me with an incredulous look on his face and said, "it's ashes" like I was supposed to understand what that meant.  I'm sure I had a blank look on my face, and the other attorney walked by and said, "heathen protestants."

Of course, since then I have discovered the significance of Ash Wednesday.  I get asked each year questions like, "what should I give up for Lent" or "why do we give up something for Lent."  And I give answers like, "you should give up something that you place as a priority over God." (People hate that answer, they want to hear something like, "you should give up spinach.")  I explain that we give things up to understand sacrifice and to surrender our will to God.

Yet, when I talk to my confirmation class about Lent, I tell them to think of what comes between them and God.  They would rather give up cola or chocolate than to even think about what they may need to really give up to get closer to God.  And typically within a day or two, they are eating chocolate and drinking cola.  While we may not necessarily expect our youth to fully understand these concepts, I have found that the youth I work with are simply an example of their parents life.  The adults are often no better at making God top priority than their teens. 
I have found that for me, it isn't so much what I give up, but what I add, so I suppose it is actually about giving up time.  My typical excuse is "I don't have enough time."  If I feel God wanting me to do something, it is really convenient to not have enough time, if I don't want to.  I am also an expert at 'being busy.'  I am always doing 'something' and it is always important, but it isn't always what I should be doing.  I am giving my time to God for Lent.

Lent is a great time to remind us that without God we are nothing.   Everything we have from our resources to our time to our family, etc., belongs to God.  We never know how much time we have left, so do we give it to God, or do we try to orchestrate it ourselves? In John 10:10 Jesus tells us, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  Are we living the abundant life God wants for us, or are we accomplices in the theft of our own lives.  

What are you doing for Lent?  Not necessarily giving up something for Lent, but what are you doing to grow closer to God?  Are you placing God as top priority?  Or are you holding on to things and not giving God control?  Would you rather give up superficial things, or deepen your faith?

I'm participating on Spiritual Sundays this week