Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mysterious God

The Mysterious God?
You know the old saying; God works in mysterious ways. As I continue to walk my journey in faith, I am beginning to believe and understand the falsehood of that statement. God is not as mysterious as we would like to think, rather the opposite holds more truth for me these days. God is obvious, what is mysterious is our reaction to God’s active presence in our lives. It seems easier that way, to explain or rationalize why things either happen or don’t when we do not take responsibility or participate in world events and world affairs. God does what is right, always has and always will. It is our responsibility to either believe and follow or oppose and let someone (if anyone) else do the work.
I believe people fear the responsibility that is entrusted on us when we accept the obvious and rightness of that which God offers to the world. So, we prefer to close our eyes to the reality and thereby create a false reality, our reality (not God’s). Where is the mystery in the dawn of a new day? Where is the mystery in having family and friends? And where is the mystery in food and sustenance for our bodies? God has provided all of these and freely gives them to all.
Surely, there are those who will say, look at the disasters of the world, the death and destruction surrounding many, the famine and starving peoples of the world. Although these things exist, it would be inaccurate to draw conclusion that they are the result of God’s desire for His creation. Certainly, these things exist and occur each and every day. The mystery is not in the why or how they have come to be, but in the what. The, what becomes of them once they are disclosed and we know the reality of their existence is then the question. We need to focus, not on the why of God ways, but on His expectations for our actions and on what are we doing to improve, prevent and change the course of events. We are created in the likeness of God and it is by that very essence that we, armed with the awareness of God within us, can solve the mystery. We then can look to dissolve the barriers that keep us from our calling and illuminate the opportunity for all to demonstrate the true nature of God and come to accept our role in the world.
When we take that one last look at events and issues, we know in our hearts what is right and what is wrong. We know that deep within us is an urge and an understanding of when, how and why we should act. Unfortunately, we more often take the less complicated, less frightening, less accountable and finally the less demanding of paths. Even when we choose to the right thing, often we choose to jump in only up to our ankles and not submerge ourselves and commit to total resolution. In short, we hold back. We may freely give or ourselves, but what we give, often is only a portion of our total capabilities.
What would the world look like if we all contributed to the extent of our abilities? The full use our unique talents and gifts in support of others could have a very dramatic impact not only in the lives of others, but just as important, on our relationship with our creator, the Living God. If you will, image the inventor of the world’s most powerful engine only then to install it in a vehicle whose purpose is to transport a person to and from church on Sunday mornings. All that potential but never given the opportunity to used for the purpose of it’s design. Such it is with us. We were created in the likeness of God, to be in relationship with Him, to serve His purposes, to care for His creation and to build His church on earth.
There is no mystery to it. God created us for a purpose. He created the world for a purpose. As for the mystery surrounding the question of why, we only need to look at our neighbors to recognize the obviousness of God’s creation. We were not created to be a solitary people. We are design to interact and to support one another. No one person has the gifts, talent and ability to thrive without the support of others. By our design we need others in order to grow and live with contentment. The only mystery is then, when will we discover what God has already fashioned in us and when will we release the power of His Spirit and build the Body of Christ. Amen.

Fuel the Fire

Fuel for the Fire
As I look out on to the sea of opportunity and hope, I see with increasing clarity a growing need to find the fuel that feeds the fire of our ministry within the Church. Years, if not decades of effort to relocate the physical framework of our ministry have taken it’s toll and drained the church body of the essential energy that makes ministry work possible. For years our leadership has been focused on financial and facility related issues as our top priorities if not our only priorities. On the surface, this attention to the tangible world of building and finance seem appropriate, but upon further inspection, it becomes evident that disproportionate attention is harmful to fulfilling our mission as a Church of Christ.
Within the membership of our congregation we are blessed to have many individuals and several groups whose ministry keep our hope and faith alive. The problem and the potential solution for our financial woes rest in our attention to ministry. The value, time and effort of these groups and individuals bring stability, care and growth opportunities for the church. These actions are rarely recognized and affirmed among the congregation and demonstrated through the leadership of all members.
An unscientific survey conducted with several members recently, gave indication that one of the most significant values that we bring as a congregation to our community of faith is LOVE. Love, demonstrated for our genuine care for each other is our strength and it is our single largest opportunity. Unfortunately, the awareness of our love for each other stands in the shadow of discussions over finance, facility and sound issues. Because of this, our priorities and focus are on our weakness rather than on our strength. We have been blessed with the ability to truly support, care and love one another and I suggest that as a congregation we commit to using God’s creation and our God given talents to the best of our abilities. We need to lead and demonstrate to our members, neighbors, visitor and community at large that we care deeply for their faith formation and the development of their relationship with our Lord and Savior. We can not change the future nor can we change lives of others, but we are placed here to create the opportunity to learn from one another, support each other and affirm the future that is given to all through the gift of God’s grace.
Grace is the fuel that feeds our ministry and our service in God’s creation. How do we tap into this life sustaining source of energy? The answer is, focus and attention to spiritual development and discipleship. Pursuit of finding God’s active presence in all that we do and seek the purpose for which we as individuals have been created, should be our priority. As we align our talents and activities around the pursuit and understanding of our spiritual calling, we will see that our future is secure and in the best hands possible, God’s.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon June 2010

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father to you this and everyday.
Today’s gospel from Luke marks the starting point of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It is the first of many encounters that the author brings forward over the next 9 chapters. Jesus has set His sights on Jerusalem and intensifies His efforts to prepare the Disciples for the future. Jesus knows His destiny and at the very beginning of this passage we note that as Luke reflects back on this time, it has now become evident there were indicators of Jesus’ destiny for he writes “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem”.
In this passage, only 2 paragraphs long, I can quickly summarize to at least 5 talking points that can be discussed. With this in mind, I am draw to discuss the call to ministry and the guidance that Jesus provides for those who choose to follow Him. Over the last six verses, Jesus is describing the kind of life His followers should expect to encounter in their journey. In these verses, Jesus makes a very clear effort to warn those who choose to follow of the consequences and the difficulties of living a life in Christ. Jesus gives 3 examples of the kind of life one is to expect; the 1st is a nomadic life (homeless if you will). No place to call home, a safe harbor to find comfort and rest. Using the illustration that even the animals of the sky and land will have a place to call your own, but not for you. Not on earth and not now. The 2nd, seems to be the most cold hearted of the 3 statements in His instruction to let the dead bury the dead and to go forward and proclaim the kingdom of God. While the 3rd, to leave your family and friends without bidding farewell, is just as unsettling. In these examples, Jesus is setting the tone and establishing priority for those who will soon travel without him. It is as if he is saying, “decide now because it doesn’t get any easier from this point forward.”
Jesus is also, providing a sense of urgency, an indicator of the limited time that they have with Him. “keep moving, don’t look back and stay focused” may be more literal a translation for these verses. In verse 58, Jesus continues to point to the future; “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”. Here, Jesus is establishing that He now is on course to meet his destiny and fulfill His mission of God’s word. He is focused on getting to Jerusalem and will not look to set roots in any one place longer than required to complete His mission and establish His Church among the people and develop leaders to spread the word of God throughout the land. Jesus role as teacher and mentor moves into full swing. This is preparation work for the job that lies ahead. Just as He will suffer so will those who follow Him in this world. As scripture states, a prophet is not welcome in his own land, so too it is for us. Our home, our future, our eternity does not rest in the world as we now live, but with God our creator and with Jesus by our side. So, it is only expected that as He suffers, so too, it is likely that we will suffer.
As I read this, the image of Jesus as the ultimate mentor begins to form. Jesus is preparing the way. Good preparation helps us to keep us steady and on course of for us serve and be faithful in our service. A road without surprises is a road more easily traveled. Think back over your years and maybe more particularly, your younger developmental years. Can you recall a person who by their actions, words and leadership had a direct impact on your future or who had that ability to guide you through a variety of situations? I know there are several in my life, who I would identify as key influencers. As you look at these people, do you see any common traits or any patterns that bring relationship to them as a group, something that differentiates them from others? To assist us, let’s look at the word “mentor” and work our way through a definition.
Websters defines the term mentor this way – a trusted counselor; tutor or coach.
Wiki adds - … mentors provide expertise to less experienced individuals to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks.
Exploring this further, as I recall those in my life, they were individuals who knew where they were going and had specific plans or ideas as to how they can accomplish their goal or follow the calling. My mentors all seemed to have a unique ability to envision the future while preparing and living today’s life in step with their future hopes. In other words, how to “do today so that tomorrow will be.” The specificity of their actions, reflect to an underlying philosophy that; one, our actions equal reactions and two that preparation works best when you anticipate all possible events, including those that could be deemed the “worst case scenario”.
This is why, Jesus can be considered the ultimate mentor. Jesus is very specific and very direct in his instruction for the work and difficult course that your life may take when following him. The best mentors in my life were the ones who quote “laid it on the line” unquote. Those whom made it clear in very specific and very direct terms as to what needs to be done. Mentors know, that life doesn’t just happen. Life is for ever changing and evolving, this is the beauty of Gods’ creation. God gives us, His creation, the freedom to decide the extent of our participation. God fully desires that we participate to the best of our ability and delights in us as we take on the challenges of living a life to its fullest and living life in Christ.
Looking out on life in our simplistic terms, we know that winning a Super Bowl is not an easy task, becoming a CEO does not happen by itself and surely caring for another person through their struggles takes emotional fortitude and requires personal sacrifice on our part to do it well. Almost every dream we may have for our life and or for the lives of our family members and friends, is worthy of our dedicated and undivided attention. And I would suggest that there were many mentors/teachers/coaches and parents that worked hard to guide those individuals to become the best that they can be in their particular field of endeavor. People, who painted a picture of possibilities for us. Who provided support and direction and maybe most of all, preparation for what to expect along the way. These things are not automatic, mentors, make special effort to shine as much light as possible on the pathway ahead in the hopes of avoiding a derailment. Mentors are people who put themselves on the line for the benefit of their students, athletes and children. What the best motivators know, is how far and how hard to push in order to get a persons attention. They know that at times, ice cold reality is important, so that you can gain clarity in your thought and drive your actions. They know that your focus needs to be acute and without interference or distraction.
Jesus is doing just that. He is letting His followers know that there is difficulty and there is pain to endure. But with his presence and through His example he shows that the reward we seek is readily at hand. Like all great leaders, Jesus goes one step further, by living the life and modeling the behavior that will lead us to the prize, eternity with our creator, redeemer and king. Jesus, ”lays it on the line” and tells us just what we are to expect so that the distractions remain just that distractions and never become barriers.
Little did the disciples know at the time that Jesus would set the ultimate example of a mentor. Total commitment and total release of Himslelf for the benefit of the world. This sacrificial act sets the tone and makes it clear that our future is an eternity with God. Through Jesus death on the cross and resurrection, the ultimate picture has been painted for us. This act of selflessness gives us not only the hope for our future but the knowledge of our future. Jesus death is the beginning and His resurrection is our future. Giving of ourselves for the benefit of others is the model that God has chosen through Christ Jesus. Jesus our mentor, will never ask us to die as He did, but He makes clear the expectation and the opportunity of living a life by His example. The choice to accept the role and challenge of leadership and to accept our God given calling, is left up to each of us. How we embrace and embody this framework for our lives today is the same choice that Jesus gave to the disciples in this passage of scripture.
Think of the sacrifices you make today in order to provide for your family that is stable and full of possibilities. How many of you have or are currently working 50-60 or more hours a week? How many of you are taking classes to advance your opportunities of employment? How many of you have worked 2 jobs so that your family may have enough income to sustain themselves? Look at your sacrifices, if it is anything like my life which I am certain for many there is a similarity you probably sacrificed too much of your life working on your career. As I now look back and I can see a familiarity to Jesus words and say that although I did not miss the funeral of my father, I missed many events and opportunities to support and be a part of the development of my sons. We all can relate to call of Jesus, although it seems strong, is it really that harsh? We unfortunately have made sacrifices that we would rather not have been forced to make which impacted our love ones. Life sometimes is a balancing act. We give a little here and take a little from there, but we all do it. Unfortunately, for many, we will be required to make difficult choices again in the future and weigh the risks of not being someplace we really want or should be and instead travel to that business appointment in order to preserve our job.
These statements about life as a follower of Christ are no different in that following Jesus, may require us to place priority in a direction we may rather not think about or discuss. Perhaps we have never framed the discussion or thought in the same hardened way that Jesus does for us in this lesson. Because of the finality of a funeral we see this statement in particular as too difficult, too hard, too sacrificial for us to live up to, but is it really? Jesus isn’t saying these things to scare His followers away. He is just calling it as it is and letting us know what to expect along the way. Dedication, focus and determination are all words that our parents, coaches and mentors have all used with us and we with our children. Preparation, knowing what to expect is more than half the battle. What good would it have been for us if Jesus said, follow me but if you must stay, then stay. I will be fine and maybe our paths will cross again. How miserable would that have been? Where would be able to place our hope if all could be given up so easily? Jesus knows that the best time to mentor and mold someone, is when you are face to face and in the company of one another. Once you separate yourself, the distance often continues to grow.
Who are your mentors today? Whether you are 7, 37 or 77 years old you should always look to have mentors in your life, people who share in your passion. We are never too old to seek help and support in our journey. Jesus is our living mentor. By overcoming death on the cross, He has secured His presence with us forever. He lives so that we may become His students, He lives so that we may find the path for our journey home. This is why I talk so much these days of Christ presence in our lives today. We should seek to grow in our relationship with Him through a continuous dialogue with Him. Talk to Him in prayer, through times of worry and through times of joy. Look for Him and when you find Him, stay close to Him. Let Him mentor and guide you. Listen to His words as He speaks to you. Watch the actions of those He places in front of you. Grab onto His hand don’t let go of Him. Keep Him close so that His strength will support you in the difficult journey that is life. Jesus is our mentor and much more than that. He is the source of our strength, the fulfillment of our needs and the comforter and healer of our wounds. His resurrection is the source of and the reason for our joy in life. Jesus makes Himself known to us and shows Himself to with us through the love and support we are given from others. He is alive in each of us. Let us learn to hear His voice and watch His actions so that we may be able to live a life as He did and as God desires. Let us go forward and proclaim God’s Kingdom and the gift of grace to the world by our actions and by our words as given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Our Responsibility

Our Responsibility

Today as we look out at the landscape of our faith life and our participation in the body of Christ we have to remember that it is with our eyes and our ears by which we receive the word and accept the Holy Spirit. So, why is it, that, we work so hard to ensure that our worship time on Sundays is exactly the way we remember it to be and the way by which we feel comfortable? We have already found our faith and yet we continue to look for strength and the love of God from that which we most familiar. To that point, we then expect others and our youth in particular to find their faith in the same place and in the same way we found ours. As we read the bible we know that even among us Christians, there are those who believe that one translation is more accurate than another. One translation that rings truer to our hearts than others, yet we also know that there is only one Bible. The translations are just a means to help different people, who have different modes of learning be able to recognize the true word of God. So, why do we expect our children to learn and grow in understanding from the exact same means that we did?

It is our obligation, it is our responsibility and it is our calling to bring the word of God to our children and in doing so we need to look beyond our comfort zones and use the words, media and communication methodology that is easy for them to understand and accept. We can not allow worship to be our time. We need to make it their time. Our time is in hand, we already know the love of Christ and we already know where and how to find God in our lives. It is time that we shed our self centered perspective and desires and open up the opportunities for others, in particular our young to find God. We must open the gateway and give permission for them to seek Him on their own terms and to find Him in ways that only they may understand. It is not about us. It is for them, that we need to prepare a place to find refuge, mercy and forgiveness that is Christ Jesus. We are His children, He spoke to us on our own level. Now we need to let go of ourselves so that those who follow will have what we have found. That the may find the joy and simplicity of life that comes from God the Father through the love, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sermon - Relationships

Sermon October 4, 2009
Grace, mercy and peace be given to from God our Father.
As had happen to me on the last few occasions that I was given the opportunity and responsibility to deliver a sermon, I found myself drawn in a direction that seemed to be in contrast to the typical responses to the scripture lesson and the guidance for sermon preparation. Having disclosed that to Pastor Jane, she assured me and said to continue and go where God is leading and to speak as the text unfolded in front of me. So, with that, I pray for the active presence of the Holy Spirit to be with me and to fill this room with mercy and open our hearts and minds to reflect on the meaning and the potential that these words may have for you and your family.
The lessons that often are translated, taught and delivered from this text, generally focus ones attention to God’s intent for the establishment and continuation of marital relationships. And surely this is true as Jesus responds to the Pharisees "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate."
I believe that this instruction is a clear and concise statement of God’s will for how we are to live our lives and hold dear the relationships that unite us in God’s Kingdom. However, just as Jesus found the original question posed by the Pharisees to be a trap, I see the potential for all of us to fall into a similar trap by reading and taking these words as ultimate and finite in their meaning. Think of all of the lessons provided by Jesus throughout his life on earth and how many were delivered with such finite and ultimate conclusions having already been drawn. Not very many when you analyze it right? More often we find Jesus giving lessons in story form, parables that cause us to think and discern their meaning. Jesus, in His wisdom and knowledge, understands that we must find our own path through life to see and accept God’s will. Throughout His earthy life, He challenges those He meets and those that gather around, to explore and examine their lives, all in the context of finding God’s desire for how they are to live. Jesus knows, that God wants us to come forward and to live with Him in our hearts and thus forming our own relationship with our creator. A relationship that emerges from deep within us, so that our lives will have meaning and be an example of the pure love that God offers for us to know, experience and share.
It is with these eyes and in this direction that I want to draw our focus toward the beginning and ending sections of the Gospel lesson that is given for us this day. In verse 5, Jesus says “…because your hardness of heart, Moses wrote the commandment for you”. Hard hearted, in another translation, this part of the Gospel verse is stated this way “because you are hard to teach”. This is the beginning of what I think is the essence for this lesson and in so thinking, it might as well have been any number of instructions that Jesus might have illustrated following that statement. I think the issue is clear but as like with so many of His teachings, the answer is not readily available or resting on the surface of this discussion.
In this lesson, Jesus points out that it was necessary for God to give us laws through Moses because we are hard hearted and ill prepared to fully accept the gift and grace of total forgiveness that He offers to everyone. Our hearts are not clean, they are not open and they are not ready to understand the true meaning of unconditional love and total forgiveness. This love and the forgiveness of all people, should be the first gift that we share with one another. Unless we approach the world with an open heart, how can we be confident and think that we are ready and able to accept living the life God has given to us in His kingdom? We are ill prepared, and because we are ill prepared, we more often than not, fail to see God’s active presence in our lives, in our homes, in our congregation and in our community. Our hearts are hard. We have allowed ourselves to be directed, controlled and led by our worldly view and also from our understanding of our own physical and emotional experiences. We have grown up in the world where there is little room to grow in our spirituality and our understanding of the nature of God and the nature of God’s true Kingdom. I believe this to be the main issue at hand and what Jesus calls out for us to understand and resolve. Simply put, there would be no reason to continue with the lesson or for that matter the lesson be given at all, if it were not for our harden hearts. I hope that as we go through this discussion today, that you may be able to see through your own eyes the forest and not lose your attention because of your focus on the trees.
The lesson on marriage is important but is it primary? That is the question for us today. And that is why this Gospel passage is so carefully approached by many in church leadership positions. So many people and so many leaders are busy looking at the trees. When we as a people look at the trees, the path through the forest becomes unclear. Many people, many congregations many church organizations give far too much time and make far too much effort to parse the exact words of Jesus and their meaning (the trees), and in so doing they miss the most important aspect of the message, our relationship with God and with one another (the forest).
Let’s think about this for a moment, how is it possible to have a proper and right relationship with anyone, if we do not understand how to have a right and proper relationship with our own creator? And in so doing, understand His desires for how we are to live our lives. Don’t be trapped in the debates that often surround this scripture. But if that happens, let it happen with a clear understanding of the full context of Jesus words, and become right with God, learn to hear His call and be able to recognize His face. Then carefully discern His that call for your actions and for your life. Be guided by and with the knowledge of His full forgiveness of ALL sins, the sins that we ALL are burdened with and we ALL are responsible for. If we are truly open in our hearts and minds to ask for and accept God’s call and will in our lives then the lessons of Jesus become clear and evident, requiring little to no explanation and therefore they will serve more as reminders. They will become natural, a part of who we are, a part of how we conduct ourselves in the world. We truly then become God’s hands, eyes and ears for all to see, all to encounter and all to experience.
Jesus makes this point perfectly understandable for us in his instruction to “Let the little children come to me… for such are these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Children, pure of heart, clean from the trappings, misgivings and harsh realities of the earthly world governed and managed by people with human interests not Godly concerns. Children, open and honest, willing to accept and free to experience everything. The world is theirs. The future is theirs. The Kingdom of God is theirs to inherit. This is how we are to approach the balance of our time living among each other. Open, unfiltered, and sharing. Without any judgment and without any prerequisites. Accepting and giving with innocence in our hearts and in our minds. Childlike. Jesus further instructs, “Truly, I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
This, this then is the importance of today’s Gospel. Renewal of our spiritual curiosity and renewal of our hunger, like a curious child who hungers for comfort, acceptance, knowledge and understanding of the world around him. We must look to see and experience anew. With fresh eyes and fresh desires to experience everything that God has created for us. To share our lives the way children first share their toys in a sandbox. Remember when you were very young or maybe remember your children’s youth and how simple and easily a child accepts another child and they begin to play together with no formal introduction, no formal guidelines of what to share or what to do or how to do it. Simple and pure, natural response mechanisms that bring young children together at play in a sandbox. This is the nature of God, who created us. Jesus instructs us to approach our lives and our relationships with that same simple understanding. Understanding, that all people who have been placed in the sandbox where we currently play are to be accepted and appreciated for the gifts that are themselves.
The Gospel is clear on God’s intent for how we are to approach our relationships and the significance and uniqueness of marriage. But do not fall into the debates that spring from the words of this lesson, instead, focus on the forest and become mindful of the path that God has created for us to follow. Keeping open our hearts and minds to fully understand the nature and origin of our creation and look for God’s call for how we are to act and respond in care for others. Actively seek God’s presence and God’s voice in directing you through the trees and along the path. The path becomes clearest when we use the eyes of our creator and not the eyes of our own choosing. Open your eyes today, call upon God to guide you, seek the Lord’s presence in you and receive the gift of forgiveness, so that you will be able to give that gift to others that you encounter along the way.
What does it take to be childlike again? How do we shed the burdens of a life lived by and through the control of our intellect? How do we “unlearn” the ways of a sinful world? These are difficult questions to give answer, especially when we approach them through the filter of our own experiences. The unfortunate reality is that when we use this filter, it is often set with the default that contains the bias of human action and negative human response. We need to change the dial and reset the default for this filter and allow more of, or perhaps only those responses in which we can find the joy and thankfulness of God’s will and presence.
We need to be “intentional” in seeking and finding God. We all should be able to agree with these words, “God is everywhere and in all places and in all things”. I know this, because I have heard many of us use these or similar words over the years. But do we really think that? Do we really believe that? What would happen if when we analyze it, we start with the assurance that God actually is in all things and in all places. Now, what happens when we actually, believe and accept that nothing is random in origin but given to us by God. What then? What happens when we encounter a difficult situation with our spouse but before we react, before we respond, we first look to see God their eyes and in their heart. What would change in how we respond? What are the likely consequences when we respond to God’s presence in that encounter? I believe, that it is likely to be a completely different response, which would yield a completely different result.
God has blessed me this year with the gift of new life. Through the help from many members of this congregation and my family, He has surrounded me with love and forgiveness, encouraging me to move forward in my journey and to discover the glory of His presence in this world. Although not always clear, my eyes have surely been opened. However, the real joy in this blessing, comes from being a witness to the discovery of renewal by others. A life alter experience, is to sit in conversation with another and see a transition and transformation to the awareness of God’s presence filling them and for that person to begin seeing and understanding it for the first time. Making everything they see appear new and different, though nothing has physically changed. But from that point forward, for that person, All has changed. The Holy Spirit is working right here in Bethlehem to open the hearts and eyes of all those who seek to deepen their relationship with God.
We have to teach ourselves how to be intentional about building our relationship with God. We need to seek council, guidance and support from one another. The relationship that you have with our Lord is yours and yours alone, no one can create, break or change the relationship that you establish and develop. It is you and you alone to make the choice and allow your heart to opened, no one can make that choice for you. It is you and you alone to decide to attend worship and give praise to God. It is you and you alone who decides to walk with Christ in your heart, and it is you and you alone who can offer the gift of Christ to others. It is here, where we need to support and strengthen one another. This is where the journey meets the road and it is up to each of us to encourage and care for those who seek to know the Lord. It is here, that we are reminded that in the body and blood of Holy Communion each week, we become one with Christ spiritually and physically. It is here by the example of Christ in us that we are able to make available the love of God to those who don’t know Him and it is here, where we find the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sermon for March 29, 2009

Grace Mercy and Peaceful given to you from God our Father, Amen
Once again, you have blessed me with the honor and privilege to stand before and try to bring illustration to today’s lessons.
Before I get started, there is something that I would like to ask of you first and foremost. Would you please join me in prayer? Please stand if you can and join hands, if you can’t, then would those nearby be certain to arrange yourselves so that no one is left alone and no one is left disconnected from the group. If you need to move around a little, that is OK. The key element is our connection to each other. The prayer that we are about to say is a prayer of silence, and although silent, this prayer is an active prayer. A prayer of preparation, a prayer to make room for the word of God, a prayer of listening, a prayer of hope and a prayer of expectation.
Close your eyes, silently ask God to be present with you. Ask Him to open your heart and open your mind to His word and His will. Cast aside your thoughts, release your fears into the hands of people you are connected with, silence your inner voice and listen for His words. As you pray, feel the energy that is being transferred into you through your connection with others. Feel it cross over into your body, gather in your mind, fill your heart and then pass back out to another through your hand. Can you feel the concerns, the needs, the pain, the joy and the hope of everyone in this room? Can you feel the life of others being alive in you? As we end this prayer, let us thank God for His presence with us and let us give thanks for the gift of the lives of those around us who are willing to share their time, giving of themselves so that we can be strengthen through the support they offer freely. You may sit down now.
Thanks you for sharing in this prayer. I hope that as your day continues that each of you will reflect back on this prayer to understand what God was saying to you and that you may have the confidence and courage to share your experience with someone else.
The Gospel lesson for today, the story of the death and transformation of a single grain of wheat and the glorious fruits it produces, illustrates the abundant and powerful love that God has and awaits us all in His kingdom. In review of available commentaries and discussions that I have had with a variety of people, I realized that in this passage, as with so many scripture lessons, there are a variety of points to ponder. The words of Jesus are so crafted that they can provide instruction in many ways. So, it is up to each of us to find for ourselves the message or messages that God has placed in the scripture, the message that awaits your discovery. In my preparation, I have found that my own attitude or state of mind had a direct impact on what I would find in this passage and at different times under different circumstances my vision changed. Even as I went back through and looked at verses that I underlined, I often had to remind myself as to why that particular part of the verse caught my attention. What I discovered and learned to accept, is that the Gospel reading for today reflects back at me in several ways, some of which have hit me straight between the eyes. God has made this scripture very personal for me this Sunday. Having said that, I need to emphasize, that this conversation that we are about to have, is not about me. I will share with you, personal experiences that have had an influence on me but I do so, only in the hope that it would help to illuminate the message that awaits you in today’s Gospel.
The subject of death is never an easy topic. Often, our questions overshadow available answers when we seek understanding and support following a time of loss. So here we are, facing Jesus, eye to eye and He leaves us with this instruction as recorded in John: 12, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in the world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
I know that I have made mention in past sermons of a play that my oldest son was in at Wheaton College in Illinois, Johnny Pye. The musical is based on the story of the “Fool Killer” The Fool Killer is a spiritual being that no one but Johnny Pye can see. This spiritual being is a messenger of sorts, maybe more of a “Go For”. His job, is as the song goes “collecting the lode”, gathering what is God’s and returning it home. In this case the lode is nothing physical like boxes, crates, or any other kind of tangible material but rather the spirit and soles of those whose physical body have been shed. Following the passing of Johnny Pye’s father, young Johnny runs away, so as not to get caught by the Fool Killer. In one encounter with death Johnny confronts the Fool Killer, who leaves him with this riddle. When is a man a human being and not a fool?
Throughout his life the fool killer continues to take the soles of people Johnny knew and loved, including his wife and oldest child. As the story concludes Johnny, having lost all who were close to him finally discovers the answer to the riddle.
When is a man a human being and not a fool? The answer, when he is dead and buried. Johnny realized the foolishness of a life spent being chased by the unknown. He also came to the conclusion that life as he had defined it, was not perfect and that control was not within his ability.
Having spent his entire lifetime trying to control his circumstances and searching for the answer, witnessing and grieving the passing of so many people, Johnny finally asks for the Fool Killer to take him. And so he goes, with the hope that he will find for himself that which never left him, the love of his family and friends.
We are foolish to think that this world, we call earth, would be our refuge, our safe place, our place of comfort and a keeper of all that is good in our lives. As the Gospel lesson comes forward, Jesus gives us another parable our self exploration, and reflection, all to help us understand and remind us that, in fact, we are human beings. And in being human, we need to look beyond our manifest bodies and allow our sole to be free of the framework of living a life on earth. Our sinful nature, our humanness needs to be cast aside so that our spirit, our sole will have room to grow and accept God’s presence in our lives. We need to move beyond our ideas of who we think we are and clear a path for us to discover who God made us to be. That discovery can and will only take place if in fact we are prepared to lose ourselves lose ourselves in hope, faith and trust, that the seed God planted in us at our birth, will awaken to a new life. A life filled with abundant love, a life that is giving of itself just as Christ gave of Himself for our salvation. We must be willing to shed the self-directed life that we have been holding dear and embrace the life that God desires for us to live.
I believe that the riddle applies to our spiritual nature and that we can experience and be present with God the father by living a life that is modeled by and led by Jesus Christ. I believe that the Gospel is alive and is a personal guide to living a life that is both blessed and a blessing to others. I believe that this message is alive in the here and now. It is a lesson that provides a focal point for us to take aim and change the direction from life in a myopic prison of self satisfaction and self protection to a life of openness for caring and sharing. As Jesus puts forth this lesson, it is an opportunity and an invitation to walk with him in the here and now. For you see, Jesus is among us, He is alive and He is showing us the way to be present with him for he says; “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” He is giving us instruction to give up our own self directed lives and accept the eternal life given to us through His own acts of self giving and self sacrifice.
As I said earlier, God hit me between the eyes with the very personal delivery of His message. On January 31st, almost 2 months ago now, God had my life in his hand, it was His for the taking. By most accounts and by most people with any knowledge of medical care, when I recorded a blood sugar level in access of 1100 (norm 100), I should have been at very least in coma and or even dead from stroke or a heart attack. I felt His presence many times in the past but this, this was something unique and different. I realized that I was not in control and that I had to completely let go and that the outcome would be of His choosing. On a day when I was to assist at the funeral service of friend and fellow Stephen minister Judy Brooks, I found myself in God’s palm not knowing if He will take me to Him or bring me forward to do His will. God held me together while he called upon others to guide me through the next 8 hours. God never left me alone, He kept me calm through the love, care and comfort of Dawn, the paramedic team and the attendants in the emergency room. This allowed/forced me to empty myself of my pride, my vanity and my belief that I had control. I was completely and utterly useless to myself. Whatever God wanted to happen, would happen now that control had been removed from me and my view of being a self-sufficient, self-directed man was erased. I lay there that night in peace and filled with the blessings of His love as given to me through the people who would care for me through my stay in the hospital and beyond. It was at that time when God held out His hand and released me, saying there is more for you to do, you have work yet to be done. This was not the first time that God had made himself known to me, but certainly He made His presence an experience to remember. As I look back over the years, I can now see the connection to this and other events and situations of my life. Maybe its maturity, maybe it’s the shock of a near death experience but more likely, it is God at work within me, showing me the nature and strength of His kindness and love.
Earlier this week, Dawn and I were driving back home from a visit with her mother and father in Oklahoma and in the course of our drive to make the travel a little easier on us, we stopped for the night at a Holiday Inn Express, somewhere in Missouri. We attempted to stop a little bit sooner at a different Holiday Inn, but their computer was not functioning and they could not take any new registrations. So, onward we went. About 30 minutes later we decided to try again. It was now about 10pm or so, when I entered the lobby and inquired about room availability and the status of their computer system. After a brief back and forth with the young women about nothing in particular, she began to tell me her story. Why she felt compelled I will never know, but she told me that she was a recovering drug addict and that she had been clean for the past 18 months. She told me about the near fatal accident that her fiancé had recently experienced. She then continued to tell me that they recently became members of a church and that the congregation there loved them both and embraced them with their prayers and with their love. She told me that Jesus had saved her from a path leading to certain death and that she had to give up her old life and dedicate her future to a life walking with Jesus. She said it was the least that she could do for His sacrifice for her. I believe God placed me there in that second Holiday Inn, so that I may meet this young women and in doing she would help bring this Gospel message to life for me from the perspective of another human being.
As I mentioned, God made this a very message personal. I like many of you, I have had my share of living with the heartache and hardships of death and I had to learn to find faith and trust in God. Trust that He had taken members of my family away for reasons yet to be discovered. In some regards, I think that I will always be on the search. But, there have been times in my life, where God has given me a vision and an insight to His plan, just when I needed it most. One such occasion took place earlier this month when God presented another side to this scripture. A side that would help me come full circle with His abundant love and mercy. March 9th is the birthday of my brother Scott. It has been nearly 20 years since I have been able to celebrate his birth with him. He passed at the young age of 32. You can say any number of things about his death and the causes and circumstances that drew him to a life filled with sadness and sorrow. Like an unfortunate many, and like the young women in Missouri, he fell victim to the control that drugs and alcohol have over a person’s spirit, which led him to take a destructive path in the second half of his life. Although Scott’s life was cut short, the memory of his whole life, will live within me. So, this year I wanted to make sure that I remembered him on his birthday. As I sat at the dinner table that night and prepared to say grace and offer a prayer for Scott, I was overwhelmed with the presence of God and a vision that was so clear I began to breakdown. Tears filled my eyes and my voice was silenced as I gazed upon the image of Scott with a smile on his face standing alongside Jesus. It seemed as though time stood still while my body was immobilized. I could not utter a word, I could not even begin to say my prayer and offer my praise and my petitions. God was granting me an opportunity to view the full circle of life. As we all have, I have experienced death and have grieved and had to find faith in God’s plan. But never, never before, have I experience an emotion so powerful as seeing both death and salvation at the same time. The enormity of this emotion and the experience of pain and joy rushed through my heart and my mind with the power and strength of a bulldozer. Later that night, in reflection of what I experienced, I realized that God brought this vision to me so that I may see for myself what lies ahead for each of us. As with my brother, despite the all the issues surrounding his later life and the things done to him and those that he did to himself, all was erased, all had been cast aside and all had been made perfect once again. It’s appropriate and necessary at this time to again remember, that as we continue this discussion, although very personal, we need to keep our focus rooted in the Gospel lesson and in the words of Jesus. This lesson, is about God’s unifying mercy for His creation. It is about Jesus, who is providing a path for us to follow. It’s about Christ’s self-sacrifice. It is about His death and it is about His resurrection. It is a call for us all, to look at the cross and discover why, Jesus had to die and why He did die. He died for you, He died for me and He died for Scott. Today, Scott lives with Christ. Today, if we shed ourselves of our own desires, if we shed ourselves of our prejudices, if we shed ourselves of the walls we have built for self-protection, and if we shed all of the clutter that makes us comfortable in our lives and make room, make room to accept God’s will, then we too can live with Christ and we can do it in the here and now. We do not have to wait for death to come to free us from the bondage of our sins. We have only to look at ourselves and realize that we do not have control over our destiny. And that the destiny of each and every one of us has already been written and the seed, the seed of which had already been planted inside of us. Christ is with us, He is in each us and He is ready and waiting for us. He is waiting for us to unlock that which is His to begin with, our hearts and soles.
For a length time now I have been trying to understand when, how and where to share God’s love with others. I have walked a path through personal, emotional and spiritual challenges in preparation for things yet to come. My experiences over these last 2 months have worked to solidify the fact, that God is with me and Jesus is in me. I believe He blessed me with this vision of Scott, so that I may be strengthened with intimate knowledge that God’s love is real and that He keeps watch over us, even if we don’t feel or see Him. I believe that He saved me so that I may continue to serve Him and I have discovered that I need to walk with confidence and to proclaim the good news. The good news, that Christ lives and salvation is granted to those who believe.
So, when is a man a human being and not a fool? When he sheds himself of the self-directed life he is living and accepts a life of self giving. As Jesus reminds us in today’s scripture, fruit can only be born as a result of the death of the seed, and that the Kingdom of God will be glorified by the fruits born from our own self sacrifice. Together, with all who serve and believe in the salvation given through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we will await the gift of an eternal life in heaven, Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In conversation with a friend the other day, I was trying to describe, what I believe is God call for me and my life. Here is a portion from that discussion:

I wish I had specifics but alas, I don't. There is this sense/vision/hope/opportunity that is in my thoughts and is more easily felt in my heart and seen in my minds eye then it is to express aloud. The message is simple, so simple that in trying to describe it, the words seem so complex and require more words to accurately articulate the intent of the message. "God on earth - seek Him, live Him, love Him". That's the best I have to offer. The rest is a call to action to guide, encourage and affirm people so that the above statement may become a reality for them. So simple, yet our hearts and minds work hard to make sense of it and begin the search for hard facts, visual evidence or specific and measured results. We are so focused on the conclusion that we do not even understand the original opportunity. We need to have the outcome before we begin the journey. Funny thing is, that the real journey begins with just one simple act, "opening the door", something we do everyday. The difference is whether or not we look for and are prepared to encounter Christ. Do we recognize and then acknowledge God's work, as people are lead by the Holy Spirit to do His will?