Don’t “Like” Jesus

It’s not a lie. Really, Peter is not lying. When he denies Jesus, and says I am not– I am not a disciple of Jesus. Peter is not lying. You see at that moment, the moment he opened his mouth to deny Jesus, to save himself- he quit being a disciple.
When questioned that night by the woman gatekeeper and by the slaves around the fire. Peter is asked are you a disciple of Jesus. Peter says– I am not. He says no–and he’s not lying.

While Peter may have physically followed Jesus who has been arrested by temple police and is being questioned by the religious leaders and authorities, Peter physically follows but to save himself he bails. He chickens out; he lies and in his words the truth has come out. He is no longer a disciple, no longer a student of Jesus.

His lie speaks the truth.

What Peter is admitting in denying Jesus is that there is no on-again off-again following Jesus. We can’t just follow Jesus when it’s convenient and safe. Peter may at that moment is what we say a fare weather Christian. You know the type, when everything’s going smooth and good, when it seems like blessings are all around, then God is good. It’s easy to “like” Jesus. You who are on facebook, you know what I’m talking about. You know how easy it is to just click that “like” button. But it doesn’t really mean anything. There’s nothing to loose.

But that night outside Annas, the religious leaders house, Peter had lots to lose, and he was scared.

I know what that’s like, and I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s like. Peter’s not the only one whose faced a dilemma–when to claim your faith. You know what I mean. Think about those times when you wanted to say something, you know you should speak up or act out for what is right, for what our faith says is right, and instead we’ve shied away. Kept our mouths shut, our heads down, perhaps even closed our eyes and covered our ears to deny what’s going on. We don’t want to get involved because, well because it might hurt or cost something. We may not be like Peter and in this country actually face physical harm, torture, or death. Although that is not always true.

The cost could be a friendship, the cost could be peace at home or at work, or with neighbors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Lutheran Christian who died for his faith in God and his work against Hitler, tells us “when Christ calls [someone], he bids [them] come and die”.

As I said it may not be literal physical death, but it may. This week I heard the story of
Mona Iskander. She is the mother of Fadi Samir, a nineteen year old Egyptian who was arrested and mistreated and abused. He was charged with being a member of the radical islamic group the islamic brotherhood. But as the crucifix tattoo on his arm shows, he is a radical follower of Jesus who is speaking out about the injustice in his country. And his mother, while she fears for her sons life, encourages him, supports him, and speaks out as well.

This week some of you may have heard that on Thursday, Fred Phelps, founding pastor of the small but infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, had died. Under Mr. Phelps leadership and teaching this very small family church hit the news a lot because they protested at soldiers funerals. He preached a hate-filled message against the acceptance and equality for gay, LGBT people in our country. He taught that natural disasters and man-made horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were God’s punishment for acceptance of homosexuality. Some other Christians, To their credit spoke out, some Christians counter-protested and demonstrated the true gospel–that of God’s love.

Those are just two examples.
In each of our lives we will have more. Some big, but many much littler daily ways when being a real follower of Jesus will be a challenge, and we will face the dilemma to challenge what we see around us, what we hear, and what we say or to just say nothing, and deny Jesus.

Peter’s denial isn’t the only point of this story. . The reason that The gospel writer John could show us Peter like this, show us who Peter was in that moment denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. The reason John can tell us like it is isn’t because Peter somehow grows a backbone and at some point becomes a hero of the faith. The story is really about Jesus.

You see, while Peter is outside denying Jesus, Jesus is inside and he’s not denying anything or anybody. We don’t hear him call out to Peter, hey bud I got this. But that’s what’s happening. Jesus knows us. I mean really Jesus knows what’s going on. I’m sure when he responds to Annas by suggesting they listen to the words of his followers, the ones who have deserted and are in the midst of denying him, Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows our strengths, our good deeds, our good thoughts, and more importantly he knows our weaknesses, he knows our fears, knows our limits. And he says to us. I got this, because I got you. I will not abandon you; i will not run away, or turn from you. I am with you to the end, whatever end that may be. I will not deny you. That is the faith that allows us to be honest. You know in that confession we said a bit ago. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us allows us to really say confess those things, allows us to be truthful to ourselves with one another. And so importantly, as Peter will find out faith in the love and forgiveness of Jesus gives us the opportunity, the resposinsibility, and the strength to do more than just click a thumbs up. Because even when Jesus is tortured by and suffers a state sanctioned execution, Jesus does not deny, but forgives. That is the one we follow. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us gives us the strength to speak, the strength to act, the strength to be a disciple to face injustice wherever and whenever. It may, it probably will cost us something, but remember Jesus says , hey I got this. I got you. Amen.

“I see paradise trees”.

I see paradise trees.  That’s what Micah said to me as we stepped out the doors of the Orlando, airport in Florida.

“Paradise trees?  What are those”? I asked him,   And he pointed to the big palm trees across the street.  “Oh  I see them now (I told him) Thanks for showing them to me.

It would make sense that he would see those palm trees and rename them, “paradise trees”.  After all, those trees don’t grow up here in the frigid semi arctic of Wisconsin.  And isn’t the typical picture of paradise white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and skies, maybe a puffy white cloud, and a palm tree–paradise tree–too. So for the rest of our vacation we saw paradise trees.  Of course we had seen them before, but then they were just leafy green palm trees.  It took a new vision to now notice and recognize them as paradise trees.

You know, I bet paradise trees are in the kingdom of God.  Now I’m not trying to describe heaven and add palm trees to images of the pearly gates, people floating decked out in white robes, wings, and golden harps.  Because that’s not the only thing Jesus is talking about in our story for this morning.  You see heaven and the Kingdom of God, well they not exactly the same thing.

Heaven, heading there, going there, that’s a done deal for those who believe.  As Jesus says, “those who believe are not condemned”.  That’s what Paul is telling us in his letter to the church in Rome, chapter 5.1:   Paul writes, “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”.

Faith in the love of God in Christ, means we don’t have to even worry about heaven, getting there or going there.  That’s a done deal, done for us through the simply and only, or as we Lutherans like to say, solely through God’s amazing love.  That belief makes us confident and bold, it gives us comfort when things are going rough, when life gets really tough, like it does.  We know that this all here, well it’s not the end, we have something even bigger and better to look forward to.  That’s the hope that can get us though each day.  Heaven is where we are headed. No need to worry; end of story. 

Except it’s not the end, because there’s this whole kingdom of God stuff. The thing is Jesus isn’t done with us and the promise of heaven.  He doesn’t come to this world just to focus on the next, on what happens after this life, but to change us in this life, to change life right now, to change this world right now–to give us eternal life, and that eternal life is something that starts right now, as Jesus says we have it.  right now.  You see God isn’t just the God of heaven, but of of heaven and earth. Don’t we pray every Sunday, if not every day, thy or your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

As Jesus says in his talk with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, this leader of the Jews, it’s all about seeing.  Seeing this kingdom, this God power, this rule and reign of God in this world right now.  As Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” So, it takes  a whole new way to see, a new vision to recognize it, a whole new set of eyes that we get when we are reborn from above.

Here’s where we get the born again Christian, because the Greek word, anothen, can be translated as “again”, but in John it’s better translated as “from above”.  Almost the same thing, really. 

 The thing about this vision, though, is that it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s from above, from God.  It got it’s start in us when we are reborn in the waters of baptism,  but we need to practice seeing this way; we need to come again and again together so that others can point it out to us, we need our vision fixed again and again.  We baptize only once, but we come back repeatable,  to that new birth.  , practiced and formed and reformed, because it will be tested.  Evil wants us to close our eyes of faith, and just rely on the flesh as Jesus says.

 Here’s the thing, the eyes of faith look at the same world as the eyes of our flesh. And Let me tell you the flesh can have really good eyesight.  You can see real sharp with that 20/20 vision.  The flesh won’t miss a thing.  Seeing with the eyes of flesh will notice any imperfection, the flesh sees all the flaws, the flesh sees all the evil and wickedness of this world.  The eyes of the flesh see hypocrisy and violence.  Oh sure evil likes to hide; it likes to camouflage itself and pretend to be good, pretend to be harmless, but even the eyes of the flesh can see through that ruse.

 The difference between eyes of the flesh and eyes of kingdom/faith, is that where the flesh sees death, faith sees life, where flesh sees despair, faith sees hope.   With our new eyes, our new vision we see water turned into wine, we see healing from the touch of love, the kiss of forgiveness, we see Jesus calming the waves of water and waves of fear, the eyes of the kingdom see Jesus sitting with sinners around a table at a tax collectors home, and sitting with us sinners as we gather around this table today–young and old, rich and poor.  We see Jesus standing with us when we work and speak for justice and peace. 

 Just like I needed Micah to help me see the paradise trees, we need Jesus, we need God’s Word, we need one another to see paradise trees blanketed in snow, see paradise places where people are together, paradise people praising God, see us being paradise people being Jesus in our lives and in this God’s world.  With these eyes of faith we see a whole new world, God’s kingdom, paradise on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Advent Devotion – Isaiah 57 – Road Construction

Isaiah 57:14-21

14It shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

15For thus says the high and lofty one

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the humble,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

16For I will not continually accuse,

nor will I always be angry;

for then the spirits would grow faint before me,

even the souls that I have made.

I admit it, I like to drive.  When we are on vacation, I can just sit behind the wheel driving for hours, and there’s nothing like driving over a nice new smooth road.  As many of us well know, this past summer there was road construction all around St. Pauls.  It was pretty annoying.  I couldnt just cruise up and down 27th street.  I had to find all sorts of alternate routes. Some days I even rode my bike (which was a great gift). But now, the cones and barrels are all gone; the big trucks and other road repair machines are gone.  Theres nothing but a nicely widened smooth street.

Id like to think that God promises us a smooth ride.  But thats just not the case.  Obstructions, potholes, dead ends abound.  Sometimes they mysteriously show up, sometimes were given at least a signa warning.  Often these barriers and hindrances are of our own making.

While some blame everything on God, to me it seems like God is actually giving us an alternate route in life.  Instead of getting stuck in complaints and negativity, we can think about the pains and struggles in life as a form of road construction.  Sometimes we need to take a detour.  Smooth spots are the product of work, often hard work. We may not enjoy ourselves in the midst of these rough places, but God is right there with us.  With God’s help we can slow down, we can look more closely at ourselves and those around us.

So, next time you see those flashing lights, orange barrels and construction workers.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving and for safety for those hardworking and sometimes maligned men and women.  Then take a moment or two to look at your life, honor the bumps and potholes, give thanks for the smooth spots, look for Gods grace at work in your day.

Faith in Action.  This may not be terribly practical but it can be quite thoughtful.  Look around and see that person who is working, toiling, often thanklessly.  Write that person a thank you note and give it to him or her.  You dont need to sign you name; you could just write Your friend in Christ or “In Christian love”.

Prayer: God of rough places and smooth spaces, we give thanks for this life.  Help us to take every opportunity to be more loving to ourselves, others, and you.  Amen.

“What a Waste” — Sermon for December 15, 2013 – Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah 55.1-11

Leaving lights on and wasting energy, leaving the water running and wasting water, not finishing dinner and wasting food, people littering and treating our neighborhood like its waste, dillydallying when we need to be going somewhere or getting things done, in other words wasting time. These are just a few of my not-favorite things. These are my pet peeves. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to list them. Looking at them, the thing that peeves me the most is wasting. I don’t like to waste things. But it seems, we live in a throw away world/culture. Appliances only last so long. We waste–time, energy, resources, people. Our culture treats al sort of things and even people as disposable.

This, however, according to the prophet Isaiah in our reading for today, is not the case with God.

We hear these words of the prophet Isaiah, words declared thousands of years ago, uttered hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus which is what we are preparing to celebrate in a short couple of weeks–Micah how many days did you tell me? 10?

The prophet speaks God’s words of invitation, come drink and be satisfied, be filled, come and feel what it is like to be filled with good things. Stop wasting yourselves on the things that do not last, be filled with the life that knows no end, that does not waste away.

The power of this invite is that it is not limited. It is not limited by number, only so many guests may attend, it is not limited by ability to pay, to reciprocate, to earn or deserve it, it is not limited by perceived worthiness. The invite goes out to all.

I am certain that there are those out there who would hear these words, hear what God is saying, inviting each and every one, inviting all and declare, “What a waste,”. Because not only do we waste our precious natural resources, we waste our people. Our culture/society has a way of wasting lives, of consigning people to disposable status. We look around at others and even at ourselves, we see what people do, the crimes that are committed, the abuses that are perpetrated, and it is tempting and easy to just want to throw away the key, so to speak.

Christmas, the coming of Jesus which we are preparing ourselves for, Christmas is not only in the stores but in the news. The war on Christmas isn’t about manger scenes and holiday advertisements. The true war on Christmas is being waged by people who throw others away, who believe that love, forgiveness, generosity, compassion is a waste. Often we see our differences: political, cultural, and ethnic, and experiential and determine well, that person is just not not able, not worthy, of our investment of time and energy. We toss the. In the discard pile.

But God’s call, God’s invitation, God’s love goes to wealthy and the wicked too–whether we deserve it, or not, whether they accept it or not. It’s easy for us to say what a waste. We should conserve our resources, make sure that the good people get what they want out of this life–even in the church.

But God sees it another way. As the prophet puts it well, “
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Where we see waste, God sees opportunity, where we see waste God sees a beloved child. God’s word is wasted on no one.

God invites us to trust, to trust that where we may see waste God sees something different, potential, opportunity,, maybe but definitely a child of infinite worth. God’s love is more powerful than we can ever imagine, that God’s love can do the unimaginable, it can change the human heart.

The examples are all around– from an Isreali mother Robi Demelin whose son was killed by a Palestinian to a Palestinian Ali Abu Awwad, who have claimed each other as family instead of enemy, who travel and speak about peace. Who were here in Milwuakee just over a year ago to talk about their work in Israel and Palesting.

Another, all to timely example is of Scarlet Lewis and her son JT, who just one year ago their Jesse was shot and killed in the Sandyhook massacre. This mother and son, instead of turning inward and bitter, instead of turning to violence, turned to others. JT connected with survivors of the genocide in Sudan in Africa. He has raised money to send a girl their to school. They have done this because they have consciously made the decision to forgive. To forgive the man who terrorized and shot their son, their little brother. These people and so many, many more answer the Divine invitation to life.

Their life, their energy, is not wasted in enmity and vengeance. They choose to give of themselves. Because God’s word, in whatever form it comes to this world is ultimately not wasted.

It is not wasted on us, even here. God is calling us to a new life, a life of trust, a way that looks around at those all around us, that looks within us, and doesn’t write anybody off. Nothing we do, say, give, in God’s name, as disciples of Jesus is a waste, The church, here, us, we are people who have taken drugs, we are people who’ve walked the streets, we are people who have committed crimes, we are people who have been so angry and disappointed, and hurt and yet we hear God’s Word: are people who are answering God’s gracious invitation.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.”

“Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.” To you, to me, to all.Thus says The Lord, amen.

Advent E Devotion II – Stubborn

Ezekiel 2
4He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. 5For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel— 6not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. 7But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. 9Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 10He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; 11then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; whether they hear or refuse to hear.

I wouldn’t have thought that stubbornness would be a spiritual attitude. As Christmas approaches we all can probably picture a child in some store stomping his or her feet, pitching a fit, and throwing a tantrum. Face it we’ve either suffered through this as a parent or grandparent or witnessed another adult deal with a stubborn child. Being stubborn just seems so contrary to what we think of as “Christian nice”. However, in some instances being stubborn is evidently a spiritual strength. And that is because unlike a child (or even an occasional adult) God isn’t whining about some toy, desert, or petty preference.

God has an important and life changing word for us. And that’s the problem. Often we don’t want to hear that word. We don’t want to be told to stop; we don’t want to be told to change. We think the way we are doing and being is good enough. The problem is good enough isn’t Godly enough. Our divisions do not please God. It does not make God smile to see so many hungry children and families, to hear the sound of weapons of war, to have her creation used and abused. I could go on and on, because that’s what God chooses to do. Since before the prophet Ezekiel, till now, and till whenever, God is going to go on and on. And when we stop and think and pray about it we can give thanks for Godly stubbornness. We give thanks that God is in this match of wills with us because God:
WILL NOT back down
WILL NOT give in
WILL NOT abandon
WILL NOT leave
WILL NOT forsake
WILL NOT give up on us!

Faith action: During these days of list making, sit down and make a “God List”. What is important to God? How does it compare with what our world says is important? Carry that list with you as you shop, as you go to work, as you go about your days.

Prayer – God of Holy stubbornness, help us to discern what is worthy of such a strong stance. Help us to pray, speak, and work for your peace and justice in this world. Help us to welcome your stubborn expectations, your stubborn forgiveness, and your stubborn love for all. Amen.

Divine Sweet Nothings – Narrative Lectionary, 1 Kings 19.1-18

We will begin the sermon this morning listening to a piece of music by the modern composer John Cage.

 

(Stand without saying anything for as long as we can stand it)

 

Imagine if you had paid money for a seat at a concert, and the orchestra just sat there, still.  Not a single instrument playing, the conductor just standing there, no one singing, no one even speaking, not for 30 seconds, not for even a minute or two, but for four minutes and 33 seconds.

 

That is the name of an actual piece of music, Four minutes, 33 seconds.  It is the idea of composer John Cage.  The composer wanted to experiment with silence, but actually not even true silence, because there is always sound.  What did you hear as we sat here?  The sounds of quiet, of expectation, of being uncomfortable, of patience and impatience, the sound of breathing, whispering, murmuring, these for Cage were music.

 

Of course you weren’t expecting that, you were anticipating some notes, chords, a melody, a tune.  Instead we heard ourselves, heard one another in a way more quiet and admittedly more uncomfortable.Not true silence, just being quiet, just having stillness is uncomfortable and disconcerting.  There is now so much more sound to life than possibly ever before.  We live a noisy life.  Sirens, alarms, notifications, ringtones, music everywhere.  We expect to be if not bombarded by noise, at least to be surrounded by sound.

 

So as Elijah is up on that mountain, in that cave, seeking refuge, hoping for guidance, looking for that vision of God, he’s ready and prepared.  First he hears the clamor of thunder, wind, shaking and breaking rocks, hears the roar of a blazing inferno.  Even in their destructive cacophony, The prophet Elijah could probably take some comfort, comfort in the predictability–the expected sounds of an awesome epiphany.  These are the sounds that have been heard by God’s people before.  When God has revealed his presence in power and might.  But then something changes, the earth shattering heavenly percussions cease.  And Elijah is there in quiet, in silence.  Well, it could be silence, but evidently the Hebrew is a bit vague or confusing.  So, what Elijah heard or didn’t hear has been translated as: 

a gentle whisper                         New International Version

 

a sound. Thin. Quiet.                 Common English Bible

 

a gentle breeze                          Contemporary English Version

 

a still small voice                      King James Version

 

a sound of a gentle blowing     New American Standard Bible

 

a sound of sheer silence           New Revised Standard Version

 

a soft murmuring sound           Jewish Publication Society

 

 

As I was working on this text, this story, I came up with my own translation, could possibly be the  sound of sweet nothings. It is actually close to the words found in the translation called the message, where scholar Richard Peterson — a gentle and quiet whisper.Of God whispering in the prophets ear.  So, I tried a little experiment and I posted on Facebook the question, if God could whisper a sweet nothing into your ear, what would you like, what would you need to hear?  Some of the responses where:

 

You’ve been blessed!

everything will be okay

forever and always yours

“I’ve got your back.”

Well done, good and faithful servant.

“Rest yourself. I got this.”

Keep going!

It’s ok.

Yes calling you shows I have a sense of humor!

“Go back to bed.”

Welcome home

Don’t beat yourself up

And one I find refreshingly honest – “eat more chocolate!”

 

 

 

So, there’s a something, some kind of sound, exactly what we do not know.  What we do know is it’s not bombastic and fantastic — it is different, and whatever it was, it draws Elijah out, out of his cave, out of a place of hiding, fear, and despair.  Now he was ready to listen, to follow as God sent him on another mission.  Elijah was able to carry on.

 

We all need to hear something from God.  Our spirits need to hear that whisper, that rumbling, a still small voice.  Sometimes we really need a word from God, perhaps it is in times of grief, as we miss a loved one who has joined the saints with God, maybe it is in a time of confusion, a feeling of purposelessness, meaninglessness.  Maybe life has just gotten too to be much.  So, this morning you can take a moment, we’ll have a time of quiet for you to think, to listen to your heart, and listen to the presence of one your brothers and sisters, all the saints all around us, and then you can write on the piece of appear your own prayer, what word you want, you need to hear God whisper to you.

 

But as we know Elijah didn’t stay hidden in the wilderness.  He returned to face his world, to face the challenges.  So after your write that prayer, write what you feel God is calling you to do, calling you to change in your life or in our world.  Instead of collecting these slips of prayer paper, you may take it home.  This may even be a spiritual discipline you take up, to each day do this, in the morning before you face your day, or at the night as you finish one day and move to another.

 

Elijah was a prophet in his day.  He spoke God’s word.  Sometimes things went well for him, and sometimes they didn’t.  Today, All Saints Sunday we remember that by God’s grace we all are saints.  Some of us have gone to be with God as saints in light, but we are saints in this life.  People claimed at the waters of baptism to be God’s voice (prophets),God’s hands, God’s love.  Some days this all works out, and somedays it doesn’t.  So we come here together to hear I whatever way God whisper into our ears a word for us.  amen.

Create in me a Wholeheart, O God – sermon for Oct. 20, Narrative Lectionary,

I have a heart problem. No, I don’t have a physical problem with my heart. The ticker is still working good. No, my heart condition is more like what we sang just a few minutes ago–a cold, a hard heart. My heart problems come from years of having my heart broken and wounded over and over again. So now I have a dis-eased, an un-easy heart, an unclean heart.

This heart condition is part hereditary–it passes from one generation to another. It’s cause is also environmental–meaning it develops from just living in this world. If you are ready for more bad news, here it comes. The thing about this condition, is that it is pervasive, and a little like a plague–affects everyone. No one is immune from this heart condition. We all suffer from heart problems.
Our hearts are wounded by wrongs done from the beginning,from jealousies, from misunderstandings, from the evil that we live and breathe in all around us. We have hearts wounded by shame and pain, by pride, and fear.

For me that is one of the gifts of these stories we’ve been reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, what was called the Old Testament. Our bible is not sanitized or rather edited to erase these heart problems. In these stories we often read about the worst of humanity . . . but the best of God.

Such is the case this morning. Last week we met the boy Samuel as he is called by God to be a prophet. Today, Samuel is anointing, again making God’s choice for a King.

A leader for the people. Now as I mentioned earlier, this wasn’t The Lord’s first try at this. No the people already had a king, a man by the name of Saul. But Saul well he hadn’t lived up to what God had intended. So the prophet Samuel, with the guidance of The Lord picks another.

The king will be David. King David is quite a character. Can you think of any stories about him? I know our Sunday School class last week looked at some stories– David and Goliath, David and Bathsheba, David and Jonathan, and David with others as well. In some of these stories David looks like he could be a good king, a courageous and loyal king. But In others, it’s the complete opposite. King David’s approval rating, especially with God, would match the numbers, the approval ratings, we have been giving our elected leaders lately.

Having said that, King David is most often considered a great king, a great leader of his people. And that must mean that what makes a good leader is not perfection, because King David like President Obama, Rand Paul, getting more local, Governor Walker, or even me. We’re not perfect. We all suffer from the same heart condition I began my sermon with you this morning.

Our hearts are not clean, are not pure, are not impeccable. So that probably isn’t what God is looking for when God looks at our hearts, when God calls us to lead. Dr. Brene Brown in her TED talk and her book, “Daring Greatly, How the Courage to be Vulnerable transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead”, asserts what we should be looking for in a leader, what we should be developing in others, and especially in ourselves is wholeheartedness. This wholeheartedness is a life of courage, compassion, and connection. And at the heart of that is being able to be vulnerable. As she writes: “wholeheartedness …at it’s very core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks and knowing I am enough.” [pg 29].

King David was that kind of guy. He could take a stab at fighting the giant Goliath, and refuse to slaughter his one time friend, teacher, father-in law, and enemy King Saul. King David could dance wildly exuberantly as the Ark of the Covenant because he knew that no matter what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was his God too. That the promise that The Lord had made years and years ago was just as real for him as he lived and breathed. David could sing the words, pray to God to create in him a clean heart, to forgive him for the great sin of abusing his power to kill a husband to take his wife. King David was as we say now-a-days all in, because he trusted that God was all in for him and for the people too.

It is no surprise then that when we talk about Jesus, we talk about him as coming from the line of David. To look for a leader who was vulnerable, we don’t need to look much further. In Jesus, God gives up this all powerful stuff and becomes so completely vulnerable incarnate, in the flesh–born poor and homeless, becoming a refugee and immigrant. He doesn’t march around with armies and weapons. Guns, guts, and glory was not his way. He ate with sinners, touched the sick, spoke and taught women and foreigners. But most importantly he did this not as some experiment, like a science project, but because he cared, he loved, he opened himself up completely to grief, to betrayal, and ultimately to being executed on the cross and then raised to new life in the resurrection.

He did this not that we don’t have to, but to show us the way. So that we can also have the courage, the compassion to really connect. That’s really what Holy Communion is all about. It iS connection with God, but not just God, it is connection with one another, with all God’s children, with all God’s creation.

This is the healing that only God can give, a healing of our hearts. God creates in each and every one of us a clean heart, so that we can know, we can feel that we are completely loved, and made worthy, that we are loved, and lovable, that we belong. That is why each and every time we gather we are sent out with the words, Go in peace to do something, today it is proclaim or share the good news. You are made whole so that you can lead others to this gift. Because God calls us, with our heart conditions, our tired, trampled, broken hearts and God says to each one of us, “my child you are healed, I have created and will create again and again a clean heart, so that you may be for me, to yourself, and with others wholehearted. Amen.

God is still speaking! Are we listening?

God is still speaking!  It’s not just a catchy tagline used by our brothers and sisters of the UCC church, the United church of Christ. God is still speaking is a statement of faith–a belief that no matter what, no matter what’s going on, how bad life feels, God hasn’t gone away. That is God’s promise to his people from the beginning, through all the ages, and to today. And as a statement of faith, there’s no way that It can be proven.  We simply, we choose to believe that God is still speaking.   And if that’s what we believe, the next question must be: are we still listening?  After all, we probably know what it’s like to, what it feels like to talk, to speak, and not be heard, not be listened to.  God is still speaking, so how are we listening?

 

That is one if the tough questions in the story of Samuel and Eli. Samuel doesn’t expect to be hearing The Lord.  Alone at night what he hears is more logically old Eli calling from the other room.  And so time and time again, Samuel runs to Eli, waking him up, ready to listen to him, but Eli the prophet is not the one calling.  God is speaking, but not  to, not through Eli.  Eli is old, but not the good kind of old.  You know that grandfatherly wise and gracious kind.  Eli may be bitter and sad.  After all, his sons have turned away from him; they probably quit listening to him years ago, when they figured how they could live high, and fast and loose, by cheating the people, cheating The Lord.  When they started skimming off the top.  And Eli, well maybe at first he tried to call them back, but you know how it is when your not listened to–pretty soon you just stop talking.  That’s Eli, his physical blindness matches his spiritual emptiness.  He’s just been going through the motions. God’s word is scarce, because for Eli, it doesn’t mean much anymore.

 

But I’ve heard God’s word. Hopefully you’ve heard it too.  Those moments and times that will stay with you, that mean so much.

 

Just a few months ago God spoke in the words of hymns, of songs sung by a family around the bedside in intensive care.  Through the voices of Ruth’s children and grandchildren God was speaking, welcoming Ruth into God’s arms, into eternal rest with all the saints in light. And the beauty of it was that the words of faith Ruth’s family sung also comforted them, gave them the peace knowing that as their beloved mother and grandmother died she passed from this life to one with the God who loved her for all her long years.

 

So god doesn’t confine God’self to these sacred walls and sacred spaces.  God is speaking in places, and especially in the voices those we don’t expect. Samuel was not of the priestly line, he was just a boy.  God should have been speaking to and through the prophet Eli.

 

That is how our God works. When it seems like the normal channels are shut down, when the leaders, the powerful, the authorities, are not listening–God turns to the unexpected.  Of course, I say this as one of those–as the local church professional.  I’m here to tell you, that I don’t always have the answers, I don’t have a monopoly on God’s word,  and that maybe we should be listening to other voices.  In some churches, some people’s words carry more weight than others.  I have heaRd of congregations making decisions about ministry, about how to proclaim God’s word, not by how faithful it is to Jesus, but by what the big givers! you know the ones who right the biggest checks! or the ones who’ve been there the longest, or the ones that do the most, or do that you know really hard job that no one else will do.  Their word carries more weight.  Ands really if all we judge our actions by is practicality, by logic, by worldly standards, well that may not seem so bad. 

 

But this isn’t a club, we’re not just another institution, a non-profit.  We’re the church, and the church is God’s people.  And God doesn’t disqualify someone because of how much or how little he gives, doesn’t disqualify based upon age or experience. Intellect or fancy degrees.  There are no better quality people.  God may just be listening for whoever has the most open heart to pour out her Word.

 

It was last summer, I was outside of our building here, doing some sidewalk chalk evangelism, as we’ve been doing.  I wasn’t alone.  Larry was with me.  We are the church here, and we follow Jesus who is the way and the truth.  And the truth is a lot of people wouldn’t want to really pay attention and listen to Larry.  They allow his disability to get in the way of them really listening to him.  So out on the sidewalk I was finishing writing “God loves you”.  When Larry said to me, that’s not right.  I was confused and worried.  What was Larry going to say to me, what could I have done wrong?  Did I misspell something like Jesus? What could be wrong with God loves you?   Then Larry said, “don’t write that, write God loves everyone!”  In this day and age when so many turn to violence, when it seems we are so divided–rich and poor, republican, tea partier, democrat, black and white, immigrants. That subtle difference is so astute.  Larry’s words were God’s word that this world desperately needs.  It’s not just about me and mine, but all of us together.  God loves all, no matter how great or small.  So God is still speaking, but in this day in our country, in our city, in our congregation are we listening?

 

Hearing God speak is all about choosing to listen.  You can either choose to listen, or close your heart.  As followers of Jesus, it should be no shock that God speaks outside the regular channels. Jesus spoke the Word of God on the beach, as he ate with sinners, surrounded by hungry people, from the cross, and yes even in the house of worship.  And then, just as today those who heard him had to choose to really listen.

 

God has brought us to this place, we are in a house of worship.  We come expecting, looking, eager, and listening for God’s Word.  And that God is speaking in so many ways, in the different voices that speak the words of Scripture, in the words of forgiveness that are spoken as we enter worship, as I’ve mentioned before in the music.  But that’s not all.  God is still, God is even speaking in a way that sometimes gets overlooked and missed, is in the sharing of Christ’s peace. This isn’t “hi how ya doin?”, an excuse to get up, an interruption in worship.  At the sharing of the peace, God is speaking, as we repeat the words of Jesus, words spoken to his followers–peace be with you.  Jesus is saying to us today in the voices of so many different people who gather.  These are God’s words spoken by Jesus’ people.  Today, listen. Really listen.  Listen to the voice of friends, of family, of strangers, listen to voices young and old, listen for God speaking with all the accents of her people.

 

Today, the Word of God for us, is here, it’s all around, it’s in your homes, out on the streets, in the world.  Faith is about listening, because God is still speaking!  Amen.

Draw a name

What do these things have in common?  Mascots, bullies, identity? They all have to do with names. Mascot names are in the news because for some people they can be degrading. Bullies call people names, and names are part of our identity that we don’t want stolen or forgotten.

 

I don’t think anyone would argue about the importance of names.  I experienced an example of the value of names this August, when Tanya and I were at the Churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh, there was quite a discussion around names.  Specifically, in considering a statement on criminal justice there was a decision to replace in a document the name blacks with African Americans. What followed was a lively debate, well as much as you can have with about a thousand people following proper parliamentary procedure.  But we did spend time hearing from people express their opinions on using terms like, blacks, African Americans, people of color and people of African Descent.

 

Now to some this may seem inane or silly.  However getting a name right is crucial. Moses in our scripture passage knew that.  He knew if he were going to try to convince his people that he should be their leader in a face off with one of the most powerful forces of the world, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Moses would need to make sure he knew something about this god.  He knew he was going to have to take with him some powerful proof, a word, a name.

 

Names are important, especially for people like the Hebrew slaves, especially for anyone who’s been oppressed.  Because one of the ways of oppression is to take away your name, take away your identity. Hundreds of years ago, when Africans were loaded onto boats to make the horrible journey to this country, when they were sold at auctions, when they were born.  The white masters took away the names, the language of their people, and gave them new names–trying to define and control them.  And as my family has learned in our travels, names that weren’t supposed to matter, just as their lives didn’t matter much.  At  Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson–where a monument to he and his family stands to this day, at Mount Vernon home of George Washington, there are no grave markers for any of the hundreds of slave men, women, and children who built those grand homes, grew the crops, sewed the clothes, crafted the tools, cleaned, and cooked the food. There’s only a little grassy area where it is believe the slaves were buried.  Just as their names were disposable to their masters, so to were their lives.

 

Not so for us.  Names for us are important.  In today’s reading, we are given a name for God, in Hebrew it may sound something like this.  YHWH.  It means “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”.  But you know, that is not the only name we heard this morning. It wasn’t a name of a King or a pharaoh, but actually the name of one of the so many nameless.The man who The Lord is speaking to on a mountain, beside a burning bush.  His name is,  shout it if you know it,  Moses.

 

Moses, who was a child of the Hebrews, a child of this oppressed, suppressed, distressed people.  A child again named by the powers that be, when he was just a baby, Pharoah’s daughter drew him out of the waters of the Nile, the waters into which his family had out him to save him from Egyptian genocide.  Pharaoh’s daughter, names him Moses, which can mean to draw out.

 

 On one hand Moses’ life could have been so good, living in the Pharoah’s household, but as a young man Moses had taken things into his own hand, and killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.

 

In the story for today, God is drawing Moses out of his exile, out of his hiding, and The Lord is doing this, so that Moses can draw his people out of slavery, out of suffering, out of oppression.

 

Because that’s the thing with our God.  Our God, God Yahweh, the God “who will be who  she will” be chooses to not exist aloof, far away, but in close relationship with his people, close enough to hear and listen to the cries of the oppressed. Our’s is not the god of the winning team, the most popular and powerful.  But the God of the who is close enough, who is near to those who cry out in pain, in grief, in sadness, as their masters of the world seek to own, demean and define them. The masters, the movers and shakers.  They don’t want to really know this god.  They want to control, define, and own God too. 

But in the Bible, w the God who will be who he will be is the God of Moses, the God of Miriam, of others with names like Shiprah and Puah, midwives who save babies defied the command of Pharaoh.  Ours is the God who will be the God of the prostitute Rahab, and so many others, some with names we recognize and others with names we do not hear.

 

The God who will be who he will be is the God is today drawing us up, and out of whatever would hold us down, drawing us to be who She,  not the world, not marketing companies, not politicians, not bullies, bosses, and bigots would have us be.  We are not Chinese, or illegals, grown men do not answer to boy, grown women are not girls, we do not use words like fags.  The “n” word is not ours to toss around, women are not the same as female dogs. People struggling in poverty are not takers.  Middle easterners are not Muslims and Arabs.  God knows us, God loves us, God hears us, when we speak and when we are spoken about.  God is drawing us always closer.  This drawing you up and out began when your name was spoken as the waters of baptism were poured over you, it continues to this day.  We don’t get a burning bush, but a burning Word, a burning desire to have peace in our streets, peace for our children, jobs and schools, to know that your name is spoken it is used with respect. Ultimately, our God is the God is the God of whomever he will be, and draws us all together to her heart, calling us to be who she would have us be.  Amen.

 

 

Despicable me, despicable you, despicable Jacob – Sermon for Sept. 22, Narrative Lectionary

Sept. 22

Kids Sermon –  Despicable Me” –

[Chorus – Pharrell Williams]

Im having a bad bad day

its about time that I get my way

steam rolling whatever i see, huh

despicable me

Im having a bad bad day

if you take it personal thats ok,

watch this is so fun to see, huh

despicable me

 

Who says cartoons aren’t educational?  From the modern movie soundtrack we just heard a couple of moments ago to Daffy Ducks, “Your despicable!” Where else could we learn such big words.  Where else, ok well maybe at worship?

 

So what does despicable mean?  what its Definition?  How would you define it? 

Mean, rotten, dirty, no-good.  perhaps it would be better if we didn’t name any names, you know as examples.  Did you know it comes from the word despise?  It can mean deserving to be despised.

 

And to despise something or someone is to: regard with it or him or her with  contempt, distaste, disgust, or disdain; scorn; loathe.

 

Now you probably didn’t wake up this morning and look forward to coming to worship to hear and learn about some despicable character.  After all, we see and hear of plenty of them day in and day out.  We probably even know a few, sometimes you may even feel that way about yourself.   But to have one of the one of the big three– Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The big three that we will hear about next week–you know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  To hear him referred to as despicable?  Well let’s see.

 

Can we describe Jacob as a despicable guy? He’s opportunistic, prior to our reading for today he had already taken advantage of his older twin’s, Esau’s hunger, getting him to bargain away his birthright, his inheritance for a meal.  So before or reading for today, Jacob had already secured his future with wealth and material goods.  But when there’s more to be had, there’s more to be taken.  So with the  prompting and coaching of his dear sweet mother, Jacob lies to and deceives his ailing father.  Incorrigible and despicable if you ask me.  Stealing the last thing this old man could possibly give, his blessing, the passing on of his power, his mojo.  And in that world, once its gone, it’s gone. Once it’s out there, it can’t be taken back.  Yeah, Jacob. . . He is one dirty, rotten, scoundrel.

 

It should then be no surprise that Jacob would have trouble sleeping, would have dreams.  We could only hope that his conscience would catch up with him.  But that’s not exactly what happens.  Fleeing his older brother, on his way to his uncles’ to get a wife or two, Jacob spends the night with a rock for a pillow, falling  asleep he dreams a vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, with God’s messengers hard at work going up and down.  Then The Lord speaks to Jacob, not from up those stairs, but right next to him, at his level so to speak. And what does The Lord do?  Does The Lord reprimand? Does The Lord correct? Does The Lord condemn the rascal at his feet? Nope.  The Lord promises Jacob children galore, and the very land he is resting on.  It’s The very same promise made to his grandfather Abraham.

 

I don’t know about you, but it almost seems as if God’s got a really poor sense of judgement with these guys.  Or perhaps maybe, God’s just not got that good of a pool to work with.  But it sure seems like The Lord God doesn’t do what the label we’ve been using and tossing about all morning.  The Lord doesn’t despise Jacob.  Instead God’s going to use him, use his family to bring blessings to all her children.

 

And before we try to wiggle God out of this one.  This isn’t a case of you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  No Jacob’s been wrestling with his brother since before they were born.. And it’s not like Jacob saw the light, so to speak.  It was just a ladder, not light.  Meaning  he doesn’t exactly straighten up and become an upright and model young man.  He will trick his future father-in-law.  And he will continue the family tradition of favoritism, loving one wife more than the other, and loving her children more than his others.

 

Now learning about these guys like Jacob, and well pretty much just about the rest of these people that God works with in the bible isn’t supposed to tell us that it doesn’t matter what we do.  These guys are not necessarily models of behavior for us to emulate and put on some pedestal.  No, when you really look at them, they are just like you and me.

 

We can not idolize these Biblical characters, but nor can we dismiss them.  Just as we should not be dismissed either.  Instead we are here to be honest, terribly, even brutally honest about our faults, our sins, our weaknesses–how we cheat, steal, how we judge others,

 

These are the things that in worship, with you, with one another we can confess.  You know this is one of the best ways to erase that big excuse for not coming to church.  You know the one,where someone says he or she doesn’t go to church because we are a bunch of hypocrites.  A hypocrite, is someone who points their finger at others, and never admits their own guilt.  Well that’s not what’s going on here.  Nope.  We admit, we confess, we embrace our sin, our fallenness, our imperfections, our addictions, our hatreds, our unforgiving hearts, our prejudices, our ignorance, and more.  Because we are no better than anyone else.

The thing is God doesn’t despise Jacob, and God does not despise, you or me, doesn’t despise even the folks who never ever make it here on a Sunday morning. God’s not in the business of calling us names like the rest of the world, so when we are at ooir lowest, maybe even feeling downright despicable,God’s got different vocabulary for us–these are the words we should always use as church, these are the words we should know deep down in our hearts, and they are: forgiven, beloved son and daughter of God.

 

God is making a promise to us, and we deserve it as much as Jacob, but that doesn’t mean the promise isn’t real.  God’s promise is to use us to bless this world.  God’s promise is to be with us no matter what.  And brothers and sisters, there’s nothing despicable about that.  Amen.