Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
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 112011
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
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.
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.
- · Celebrate God’s presence.
- · Love and serve others.
- · Seek justice and resist evil.
- · Proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen.