Sunday, February 22, 2015


Covenants 022215
Genesis 9:8-17     Mark 1:9-15
It’s a kind of old-fashioned word, ‘covenant’…..not one that shows up in everyday talk or in the media; in fact there seems to be a flagrant disregard for anything covenantal, and most of our news seems to be about breaking covenant.
But we do talk occasionally about the covenant of marriage for example: an agreement between two people who love each other and agree to live together in a relationship they know will be work.  The essence of covenant is a binding agreement between two or more parties to live in mutual respect and commitment to doing what it takes to make it work, not something based on power but on relationship.
For those of us familiar with scripture, we know that there are several covenants between God and humanity that seem to be broken and restored over and over again.
today’s Genesis text is one of the first.  It’s a story reflecting a time in prehistory, probably coming from some memory of a real life flood event in the middle east….many faiths have flood epic stories.   In the Jewish tradition, this flood came when people had forgotten the God who created them, and Noah was called out by God to be the new first family in God’s new beginning.   The God portrayed in the flood story seems a bit cruel and over the top, a god who got ticked at people’s arrogance and warfare and sent a flood to wipe them out!    
But then we hear this awesome plea from God to be in a renewed relationship with all of creation, with the rainbow as God’s reminder, and humanity’s, of this new covenantal relationship.   It’s mostly a promise on God’s part, without much required by humanity. Does God need reminding of the divine promise?  Maybe so, when humanity continually breaks covenant with God and with creation and with one another…..perhaps God needs rainbows like I need deep breaths when frustrated!  But this is a very different God who is portrayed after the flood….a god who seeks to be in relationship with all of creation instead of having power over it all.    And all means all; this God cares about the universe, and all means all: animals, vegetables, minerals and ALL people. (quote from first hymn God of the sparrow….)
But Noah too had to buy into this covenant, to leave his old way of life and risk something dangerous and new…..some of you may remember the Bill Cosby skit:  “you want me to do what?”   Noah had already risked mockery and reputation, and now he’s asked to begin again in a new way, because
this covenant is about care and commitment….care for the earth as beloved of God, commitment to following God’s call not knowing where it might take us.
I thought about that a lot this week on vacation, and while I was gone you all heard that we as a congregation cannot continue in the same old ways as before - we need to risk setting out in new ways, not knowing what’s ahead.  And we all need to step up and be part of the change, the new thing God is doing…..change? did you say change, Margaret?  aaargh…..
But remember, we have the benefit of eons of God’s faithfulness… was uncanny this week how many rainbows I saw with this text in my head and heart!  I urge you to find or draw a rainbow today and tuck it in your pocket as a reminder that God is faithful, God cares, God calls us out.  (maybe have some to pick up? Esp for children’s time)
The Mark text isn’t formulated as a covenant story, yet it is.  Again we hear God speaking to one human being:  at his baptism, Jesus enters into an intentional relationship with the God of covenant, and another new beginning is possible.  Like Noah, Jesus is called out from his old way of life into something new.  This time the sign is a dove, a sign again that God is involved in this life we’re called to by our baptism too, just as Jesus was.    Here too we have a God who is in relationship with us, not one who exercises power over us.   Jesus freely agrees to risk the call to do something different, like Noah did.
The story tells us he was then driven into the dry desert where he went deep into introspection, before coming out of that discernment into active ministry, setting about doing things differently from the culture of the day, healing, teaching, confronting the powers that demean and oppress.  
Lent can be like that for us; some of us are reading “real good church” as an aid to discernment about how God is calling us to change and do things differently, but we must all take some serious stock of what this baptismal calling is that we have as Jesus followers.  No more same old same old….
This covenant we have with God isn’t just vertical: God and the earth or even God and humanity;            
it isn’t just personal either: just God and me
This covenantal relationship is also horizontal, it is communal.  It is cross shaped. 
Noah came out of the flood to begin God’s story anew
Jesus came out of the desert ready to do things differently from the culture
We may come out of Lent ready to join them.  Maybe.  But only if our lives are cross shaped: in relationship with the God of the rainbow, and in relationship with the hurting, covenant breaking world around us.
As we move into Lent with rainbows in our pockets, remembering God’s faithful love for the universe, let’s add a dove to it, reminding us that the Spirit calls us to be that Love for others.
As I sat under that rainbow (photo) the other day,  I happened to read Teresa of Avila’s words:
"Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world."

Yours, mine, ours

May it be so.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

more thoughts on God at work

we had some individual reflection and response on Sunday, and powerful it was for me to pray with those who came forward. 
But what of our community of faith, our congregation, maybe even the Church (United Methodist and universal)?   what is Jesus confronting in us?   what possesses us and prevents us from being wholly what we are meant to be?
I think of our vision here at FUMC--to become a holy and bold movement living our God's dream; and our mission--to reach OUT and share the faith, AROUND and embrace God's people as and where they are, IN to learn Jesus' teachings and develop a deeper faith, and UP, praising God.

We are often driven by lack of resources (financial and volunteer) instead of trusting God's abundance....old thinking keeps us from change.....focus on believing the right things instead of doing the right things.....are there other demons possessing us?

God at work

God at work 020115   Mark 1 21-28
Not a very modern text at first glance----an exorcism, who does that anymore?  Surely this has no relevance for us.    google search for images said otherwise—more of that later.....but we think its old fashioned stuff so lets see if we can hear any relevance as I move through the text…..
Setting….here we see Jesus the good Jew attending the synagogue, the gathering place of learning, the community of faith away from the central temple.   It’s a pretty normal kind of setting, very familiar to everyone.   And this new rabbi gets a chance to teach, and he’s pretty impressive.  With authority, suggests he had his own authority, not like the scribes whose authority was scripture, in fact Moses. First hint something different is happening
And in that comfortable familiar setting there is a man with an unclean spirit, perhaps we might call it mental illness, we don’t really know, but it was something that possessed him, controlled him.  He may not even have known it was in control of him; people are pretty good at hiding what festers inside, and he may well have been a regular attender—up till now there had been nothing in that faith community to confront it
But in the presence of Jesus something stirred this inner thing….and we see it’s something that had a life of its own.  It recognizes Jesus as someone threatening to the status quo, have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, holy one of God! Stop meddling.
Shut up, and come out of him, Jesus says….come out where we can see you, name you for what you are and we’ll see just how powerless you actually are.
Imagine the shock for the gathered faithful!   Not what we expected this morning in our comfortable community of faith!  Number two surprise of the day.  This Jesus doesn’t just have some new authority, but he has power, the power they knew comes from God.
Clearly Jesus is some kind of conduit for the power of God in practice as well as in theoretical teaching.
See/hear anything relevant, or pertinent to today (not a rhetorical question)…
Now fast forward 2000 plus years.   That google search I mentioned earlier shows that there is still a deep seated belief in some kind of demonic possession, a dark side of the spiritual life albeit couched in fictional fantasy…and most of the images I found were pretty ugly.
I choose to assume many of us don’t watch that stuff on tv, because I want us to look at something more reality based.
Here we are, gathered as a faith community – pretty comfortable in our life. Nobody really expects anything different this morning.  We hope we’ll get a Jesus word of grace to help us through the week, a word of comfort or reassurance perhaps.  Nobody expects Jesus to show up with power that is transformative, that might actually be able to change us!
But, getting real, as someone told me this week, everybody has something…something that possesses or controls us:  whether tangible addictions like food or medication or alcohol, or invisible ones like worry and anxiety, resentment, fear of failure, financial striving or ambition, all the demons of a consumer society……
In the presence of Jesus this morning, something may be stirring within us: that ‘demon’, or addiction, or behavior, or dependence or striving that has a life of its own and is controlling us.  Something that says, stop meddling with me, I don’t want to hear it.   Is it stirring in you?  Can you name it?  Take a moment to be honest……..
it can be very scary.   But I can tell you from personal experience that Jesus still has power, the very energy of the universes, that can free us from those things that have control over us.  Jesus was and is committed to doing God’s work of liberation, committed to making people whole.
God does NOT stay away from us because of these things; it is precisely in these fearful honest realizations that God draws near. 
If there is something stirring in you that you’d like to let go, I invite you to come to the rail while Nicole plays, kneel if you are able, and we will pray with you.
God is still at work, casting out the unclean spirits of our lives and our world.  May we let God in, our demons out, so we might become the whole, transformed, called and beloved disciples God dreams for us.