Wednesday, November 30, 2011

it's all about me?

In this Sunday's text, John the Baptizer clearly points away from himself to the one who is coming, and our Spiritual Lunch bunch wrestling with the text wondered what our lives point to.....hmmm. Often we revel in the attention we get, or resent all the attention we have to give to other people. Is it all about me, I wonder? It reminded me of a story about an ancient spiritual leader who was close to death and was asked what he wanted to be remembered for. "I've spent my life sitting by the river, handing out water," he said. " I want people to notice the water." As we walk intentionally through Advent, may our lives, our attitudes, our words point beyond ourselves, to the one who comes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the color purple

During some midnight wakefulness I found myself thinking about the color purple, the liturgical color for Advent as well as the title of a classic by Alice Walker. NOTHING in our society at this time of year is purple, except in the walls of a church or on our home advent wreaths--it's all green and white and red and glittery silver. And my reading this morning from the Rule of Benedict was all about being intentional about the work of the spiritual life. SO....I am going to spend Advent looking for and celebrating the color purple, for as Shug says in the book, God is trying very hard to get our attention with the color purple, and our attention wanders all over the place in red and green and glitter.

Monday, November 28, 2011

advent musings

I will occasionally post some random thoughts that come to me this season, notably through my daily reading of scripture and the Rule of Benedict!

today, at midday prayer at church, the chimes played Make Me A Blessing, an old favourite hymn. It occurred to me that this is a time of year when we seek blessings for ourselves in the guise of blessing others with gifts. We want to feel good, to seem generous, to enjoy the season.... but I for one am often so frazzled I am more an irritation than a blessing! May you, and I, be a blessing for someone today.

As we begin another Christian year with Advent, we enter a tender time in our lives—some of us because we’re grieving or hurting, some because we’re frazzled by our own choices, some just because it’s a season that touches deep places in our souls.

All of us yearn for something to be different. We look around in our own live, in the economy, in our politics, in the world, and we yearn for change, yet despair of its coming. And sometimes we are paralysed by that despair.

Both of our texts for today speak to both of those - desire for change and despair of its ever coming – they’re evocatively deep ancient texts, and touch places in our souls that we rarely allow to see the light of day. And they’re every bit as evocative of what we need 2500 years later!

Both sound like laments: You can hear the plaintive cries--

O God, come

Lord, let your face shine—let us know you’re there!

How long must we wait?

Tear open the heavens and come down!

The people cry out for God to be made known.

And like us, as soon as they recognize their need for God, it spurs them into a reality check—they recognize where they have gone wrong. Like the bumper sticker says, if God seems distant, guess who moved?

In this coming season it’s easy to move away from God—life gets in the way, and in our culture there’s no such thing as Advent, just Christmas – and even that has little to do with God anymore. We’re not so different from the ‘we’ of the text.

So, we too must do a reality check. We need to take Advent seriously and look hard at what is wrong or missing that we so yearn for change.

Let’s go back to the Isaiah text and take some reflection time with the ancient people…..

Listen as they pray….listen with the ear of your heart; it may help to close your eyes or whatever your prayer posture may be….

v. 3 We look back at what you’ve done in the past God—awesome deeds that we did not expect, that shook us up…..

Looking back, how has God been there for you in the past?

v. 5 We see how we’ve messed up, God, and blamed you for not guiding us…

Looking back, where have we not taken responsibility for our own behavior, or lack of action?

v. 6 And now we’re held in the grip of our own mess, God, carried away on a wind of our own making…

Looking at now, what’s engulfing you?

v. 7 We’re disconnected from you God, and sometimes it feels like you don’t even exist!.......

where do you wish God was? What do you yearn for God to do?

AND YET. And yet, we say….O God, you are connected. We DO believe it.

You are our Father and Mother who gives us life….., the shepherd who gently steers us towards the safe and healthy places, and seeks us out when we wander off…..the Potter who yearns to make something of the clay that is us. We ARE all the work of your hand.

So come God, come!

For those of us who need a loving father or a strong mother, come and wrap us in your embrace….

For those who need guidance, come and mold us into what YOU want us to be for once.

For those who have messed up, come and help us begin again in your way

For those of us blown about by circumstances, come as a solid rock on which we can rely………..

For God DOES come. All the time. Trouble is we don’t see it.

God the embracing father comes in that person who so deeply cares for you that you dare to believe you are worth loving

God the life giving mother comes in the regularity of a sunrise or season

God the shepherd comes in the strength of others during your tragedy times

God the potter comes in that small group that’s holding us accountable for our own growth

There is no limit to the times and ways and places God comes

We’re so busy calling for some far off God to ‘rend the heavens and come down’ that we’ve forgotten how to put ourselves into the Presence of the God who is already here. All around us…all the time.

Here is hope. Hope is in the calling for help, the calling for the God you’re not even sure you believe in…the calling itself is an act of hope.

But as we said last week and the week before, it has to be intentional. God does not force us into this relationship.

Song Seek God, in every one and every thing, every day of your life.

In this season of tenderness and vulnerability, let us try to seek God, not the right gift, the perfect recipe, the prettiest decorations, the best job, the happiest family, the greatest bargain….. but seek God, who is already seeking us.

And the change we yearn for will come. Because we will become the change we want to see, for we will be the people of God, the people of hope.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reign of Christ - now

Reign of Christ – now 112011

Matthew 23:31ff

Margaret Scott

Children’s message

Mirrors—see yourself.

Screen—see all the children

Out into congregation—see everyone

God wants us to see everyone, notice if they’re happy or sad, and try to help them.


In the Christian tradition, this day is the high point the culmination of the Christian year. It’s the day we celebrate the Reign of Christ, sometimes called Christ the King Sunday, when the year that begins with the anticipation of Jesus’ birth ends with his return as King of all creation.

Some people have seen this as some future time when he’ll come back and in one fell swoop fix the world—condemning some of it to endless torture and rewarding some of it with endless life, when the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. That’s sort of what our text today suggests.

Yet we are also people who believe we are called to bring about the kingdom, or kin-dom as is more realistic and more challenging, here and now. It’s in this way that I am most challenged and comforted by this story Jesus tells.

Whether you read this text as being about a future or after-death judgment, or hear it as a judgment on your behavior now, it’s still judgment.

Like it or not, judgment is a fact of life. Break the law, society judges you. Live a lifestyle of constant stress or abuse of substances or abuse of time, our bodies and our souls will judge us.

But let me be clear about something. This is not a story, nor is this a sermon, intended to be about guilt. I overheard someone say, oh that’s Margaret trying to guilt you into something.

Oh sure, guilt has its uses , but the church is NOT about guilt. We are not called to operate on guilt and threat—if it feels like that then we need to listen to what that says about our lives and how we’re influenced by the culture, which DOES operate on guilt and threat.

WE ‘re about love. Because we try to follow Jesus, we are called to love God and serve others.

Our culture has those two tools, guilt and threat—ours are love and service

listen to how coaches coerce while Jesus invites

notice how bosses bully and God embraces

see how politicians function on fear and disciples function on trust.

Love and service, this is what we do as the people of God. Not because of guilt, when our ‘doing’ becomes a burden, nor because of fear, of that eternal damnation or some rejection more immediate, but because it’s who we ARE, or at least who we are becoming.

Which brings us to the story.

We’ve always heard, around here at least, that we’re supposed to see Jesus in everyone we meet. And while that’s one part of growth in the spiritual life, lots of us ain’t there yet. And that’s not the judgment in this text. There’s no emphasis on Jesus, on the Christ, on the king himself even.

Did you notice in Jesus’ storytelling that neither group recognized Jesus in the hungry, sick imprisoned and so on? Both are equally puzzled by the king’s comments. “When did we see you…?”

Many of us still have to learn to see EACH OTHER, let alone Jesus. Let’s not worry about seeing the face of Christ in everyone we meet until we can see the face of everyone we meet, and see what need is reflected in it. Only then might we meet Jesus.

Do I recognize when someone is lacking something, hungry or thirsting for something more? Do we notice someone who is imprisoned by their lifestyle or behavior? Can I recognize the sick at heart?

When we can see that so and so is hungry, that that village has no clean water, or that family has no electricity, that such and such a person I work with is sick and weary of life…..then we’re on the way to becoming the people of God.

But that’s not the judgment in the text either. We’re not judged on whether we have observant eyes or not. BOTH groups saw the hungry, the stranger, the imprisoned, the sick.

The judgment lies in how we treat the people we see, those who are usually considered ‘the other’, different, the least and last in our society…or in our social circle…or even in our classroom….or, gasp, even in our family……..or even in our own soul.

John said last week that becoming the people of God means being intentional not just about our beliefs, but also about our practices.

The judgment on us in this story is on how we respond, act, offer help, to the stranger, the thirsty, the sick and so on.

The judgment, whether on some final reckoning for the “Left Behind” folks, or on me today, isn’t about whether I can claim Jesus as my Lord (Christ the King of my life), but on simple acts of compassion, which is how I act out my belief in Jesus as Lord of my life.

That might be enough of a sermon to chew on, but it doesn’t go quite far enough for the text. You see there’s this other troubling little phrase in what the king in the story says, you did it, or you did NOT do it, to the least of these who are members of my family.

There’s two ways to look at that definition of the God- family. We can say that we have to be compassionate and charitable to the hungry and stranger and sick in the church; we are God’s family, and we must behave tenderly toward one another.

But this can also be read to say, the least of these suffering people are members of my family. Maybe it’s the human family, not the holy family.

I believe in this story God is challenging us to draw the circle wide.

Those, anywhere, who hunger, for food or for love, belong to the family

Those who are thirsty for clean water or for meaning, are members

Those who are sick in body or in spirit,

Those who are imprisoned by society or by the calendar

We might start that circle small and face up to the fact that God’s family includes you and me, personally: God cares about how we treat our own strangeness, our hungers and thirsts, our sickness, our prisons. Maybe in you there’s a hunger you need to attend to, a hamster wheel that imprisons you. Name it, address it, and maybe you’ll meet Jesus there.

Then draw the circle wider to include most of the people we know: the folks who SEEM to have their act together, the middle class and well educated, the gainfully employed or sadly unemployed, or the happy homemaker

Can you see the need? Will you address it? Maybe you’ll meet Jesus there.

Then draw the circle wider still

In the pew beside you someone needs a word of welcome,

up ahead someone is hungry

Over there someone is hurting

Can you see that everyone here belongs, deserves love and respect, needs something you can offer, or has something to offer you.

Maybe you’ll see Jesus there.

Then draw the circle wider still and see everyone beyond your private world that includes church. Go into the school and workplace and store and gym and shelter and tutoring sites: look! see what you can see, then see what you can do

I KNOW you’ll meet Jesus there.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Becoming the People of God Part 5: God's

Becoming the People of God
Part 5: God’s
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
November 13, 2011

We have been talking over the last few weeks about becoming the people of God. *What does it mean to become God’s people? We’ve talked about how it means belief commitments and practices. These beliefs and practices  frame our lives together so that we live in particular ways. We believe and do particular things.

We do not become the people of God accidently. If we are to become the people of God we will do so by intention. We will do so on purpose. It is God’s purpose that we become God’s people. What is in question is whether we will become God’s people.

We must be intentional about these beliefs and practices because the cultural environment in which we live does not have the same commitments to which Christ invites us. We have been looking at those over the last few weeks.

I have wanted to repeat these so that we can fix them in our minds as distortions of our faith and recognize them as propositions that are not Christian. When contrasted with the Christian faith, we find among them some falsity, some distortion, or a failure to go far enough. They will not lead us to the God we affirm.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
·         A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
·         God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
·         The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.
·         Good people go to heaven when they die.

Some of these sound plausible, but we’ve reviewed how they contrast with our particular commitments as Christians. Christianity is offering a contrasting alternative to these positions.

Our Affirmation of Faith

·         We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new.…
o   God who is engaged and comes to us.

·         We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen.

o   Beyond nice and fair to proactively celebrating and being God’s presence in the world for service and justice with Jesus’ way as our way.

·         We believe in God...who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God.
o   It’s not about us. It’s about our trusting that God is at work in us. It’s about trusting God through all things whether we are feeling happy in any given moment or not.

·         Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.
o   God respects us and cares for us enough to take our lives seriously and we believe that ultimately God desires our healing and restoration to the persons God created us to be.

To become the people of God is to live allowing these statements and these practices to shape and form us into whom God has created us to be and to discover God’s call on our lives. Just as we will not become accomplished violinists, or carpenters, or gymnasts without attending to certain consistent practices, we will not become Christ followers unless we take on particular beliefs and practices that will form us in a particular way.

We turn now to today’s proposition of MTD

·         God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem. 

This is another proposition that is emblematic of our contemporary cultural situation and goes along with the first proposition of MTD that we considered. It is the companion to the God who stands back until we beckon God to come back. This one is about our standing back from God until we are in trouble.

We are generally in a position of confidently taking care of ourselves. In our world of relative abundance and comfort and safety, it is easy to imagine that we have no need of God. If we want food we go to the grocery store, if we are sick we go to the doctor. If we are bored we turn on the TV. If we are cold we put on a sweater or turn up the heat. It is often easy to believe that we are in charge.

This is falling asleep to God. This is being intoxicated by simply trying to be on top of the affairs of the world. Paul says in our lesson this morning:

So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober;

When we can’t solve our problem we turn to God. We wake up.

But here is the question: When our crisis/problems begin to overwhelm us, will we be able to recognize God?

God is always there, but we don’t always have the eyes to see and ears to hear.

We need to practice. There is certainly a sense in which we can find God anywhere, but we need to know how to look, how to listen. How to recognize God’s presence.  It can be especially difficult in times of crisis or trouble.

The classical language for this is that we are to attend to the means of grace. We have already spoken of these in a way when we considered the four particular tasks to which we are called to:
  • ·         Celebrate God’s presence.
  • ·         Love and serve others.
  • ·         Seek justice and resist evil.
  • ·         Proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen.

It is in doing these things that we come to that we become more and more practiced in recognizing God and how God is at work in the world.  This list could be made more specific and extended to include other practices of the Christian life:

Prayer, worship, reading and studying the Bible. Silence, solitude, fasting. Feeding the hungry, serving the poor.

Some of us require help in knowing how to engage in these practices. There are many ways to learn. Some of them are offered here at Fairport United Methodist Church. Some of us require a regular group to support us in these habits. We offer some of those here too.

Let us not fall asleep. Let us not remain intoxicated by our management of the comforts of the world.

A colleague of mine, Doug Spencer, a retired pastor, gave this analogy. He said that we might very well run into our physician at the mall or the grocery store. We might very well run into our barber or hairdresser at the library or the movie theater. But if we want to be treated for an illness or consult about our health. If we want our hair cut, that is much more likely to happen if we make an appointment.

The means of grace are like making an appointment with God. It is the experience of God’s people through the ages that God will show up for these appointments.

And it turns out that the more familiar we get God by keeping these appointments, the more we will come to recognize God even in those times when we are not particularly keeping an appointment.

If we believe that God is only worth bothering with when we have a problem to solve, it is unlikely that we will recognize God even in those times in any meaningful way.

The more we keep those appointments of the means of grace, or our four tasks we have talked about,  the more we will come to know todays contrasting statement from our affirmation.

·         We are not alone; we live in God's world.

We will know this  not just as a proposition of belief, but we will know it experientially as the frame of our life.

There is a great temptation to believe that we live in our world. Our affirmation is very clear that we live in God’s world. We have no world but God’s world.

It’s not about us inviting God into our world, rather it’s about recognizing that there is no world besides God’s world.

St. Paul is telling us to wake up to that fact. Wake up to the fact that this is God’s world, whether we open our eyes to notice it or not.

To become the people of God is to live as though we are convinced that we live in God’s world and we are not alone

This raises the challenging question. Maybe it’s even a kind of judgment: are we attending to these means of grace, these beliefs and practices, so that we are experiencing this world as God’s world and know each moment that we are not alone. That we are always and everywhere in the midst of God?

Becoming the people of God means that we are connecting with God through the means of grace.

But notice this also: We have been talking about becoming the PEOPLE of God. Not persons of God or individuals of God. To become people of God also means that we are to be connecting with one another about being the people of God.

Paul says:  (5:11) Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. 

Paul recognizes that community (peer) reinforcement is needed. He recognizes that the becoming the people of God project is a community development project.

Becoming the people of God is a community effort. The Christians in Thessalonica were doing it. Paul says, “as indeed you are doing.” How about us?

So here is the challenge that crystallizes this here and now. The reality is that sporadic connection to this community of faith is not going make this happen. Is not going form us into the people of God.
Sporadic church attendance is not going to make this happen. Hanging back from participation in church activities is not going to make this happen. Not connecting with a smaller group for service or learning or conversation is going to keep this from happening.

If we want our children to become people of God, irregular Sunday school attendance and the lack of sufficient adult leadership is going to keep this from happening.

These are the kinds of contexts in which we can build each other up. These are the kinds of activities and opportunities that will form us together into the people of God.

Again: We do not become the people of God accidently. If we are to become the people of God we will do so by intention. We will do so on purpose. It is God’s purpose that we become God’s people. What is in question is whether we will become God’s people. Some of us are well on the way. Others are just catching on. Some are still looking for a way to engage more fully. Please, don’t give up. Those of us who are more involved must invite those who are less involved.

I know there are other things to do besides being here on Sunday mornings and at other times for other activities. I know that there are lots of stuff that pull people away from regular participation. But I also know that we won’t become the people of God together unless we are together. Unless we spend time with God and one another. Unless we focus our priorities to reflect what we say we believe.

Keep your eyes open for opportunities to engage more fully. The invitation is not simply to imagine. The opportunity is to make this real for one another and for ourselves.

We are being invited to become God’s people. We are being invited to live the reality that is already true:
We live in God’s world. We are invited to become God’s people.

 Imagine that.