Sunday, June 28, 2015

Cries of the heart: cry for healing

The Cry for Healing 062815
Today we begin our summer worship series called “Cries of the Heart”, tho unwittingly our men started us off last week with their theme, “Storms of Life”.  Our world, our nation, our local community, our own hearts, have been crying out over the last couple of weeks, from Charleston to Lyons, to Tunisia,  because when our hearts cry over one situation, they are more likely to see other situations compassionately.
It may seem negative to say we’re going to spend our summer worship on ‘cries of the heart’.  But God’s people need to find godly ways to respond.  And it has become clear to me that the place to begin is with myself.
At Baber AME the night after the shooting in Charleston, my heart cried, none of us is free from racism if one (or 9) of us isn’t free from racism.   On Thursday night at a panel discussion, my heart cried with the black pastor who said, enough!   The place for God’s people to begin is with ourselves, our white privilege, our denial, our pretence.
So if God calls us to look at ourselves, let’s look at the cries of the heart in today’s texts and see what stirs in us….with whom do we identify?  We’re going to look at the characters and give ourselves some moments of silence to reflect.
If you’re used to reflecting on your own life, heart, mind or soul, then you’ll hear what you need to hear.  You will know the cry of your own heart
If that is new or too threatening for you, then at least listen for what God might be saying to you about what someone else needs….the cry of someone else’s heart. 
Today we have two texts and at least four kinds of heart cries for healing.   Let’s start with the Jesus story according to Mark’s writing.
Here we have a story within a story.  It starts and ends with the story of Jairus seeking help for his 12 year old daughter, and in the middle comes an interruption of a woman seeking help for herself.  This is a characteristic of Mark’s literary style; he will bracket a story with another so we might be forced to ask what the connection might be….which I invite you to do this week, we’re not going there right now.
So first, Jairus…his heart cries out for another person he loves.  He comes to Jesus, speaks clearly about what he needs, as one might expect for a religious leader (we’re all expected to be articulate!).  What’s not so expected, and would have shocked the witnesses, was that he ‘fell at Jesus’ feet and begged repeatedly’.   Leaders are also expected to have their act together; they send messengers, or at least greet the other with dignity as to an equal.  But Jairus gets off his high horse and gets humble.
Where do you see yourself as Jairus?    What’s your life position of superiority? …… Where don’t you have it all together?  What needs do you have beyond your own ability to meet?  Can you risk what others might think if you admit a need you can’t handle? …………………….

Then there is this anonymous woman who interrupts the agenda.  Just the opposite of Jairus, she’s a nobody.  She has suffered for years and all that’s happened is she has drifted further and further to the margins.  She too is desperate, but has no particular right to address this wandering rabbi.   She’s already fallen well off any high horse she had; she’s already as low as she can get.  And maybe because of this, she’s a risk taker.  That happens when you’ve nothing left to lose.  She went out where she didn’t belong, not only beyond her own comfort zone but beyond society’s.  I thought a lot about those who experience racism because of their skin color—her heart too cried,  enough.
In what way are you like her?  How many years have you tried to stop the bleeding of hurt?  Are you still trying to fix things yourself, or can you risk trying something new and take it to God? ………….

And then there’s the child.  She’s utterly vulnerable and has absolutely no ability to do anything about it.   She is completely powerless.   I think of the first step of the AA twelve steps: admit our powerless.   This one is completely countercultural for us; our whole western society says we’re powerful, we’re in charge, we can fix anything.  There are people who think the church is simply a crutch and we’re weak for needing to go to church.    Well, yes.   And once we see our own helplessness, we are more likely to allow others to offer compassion.   I am sure that 12 year old girl trusted her dad to find help, deep in the silence of her heart, beyond words, beyond action.  Like her father, like the woman, but unconsciously, she had to let go and trust.
How does her heart speak to you?..........

Then there is the psalm.  It will be our theme for the summer – out of the depth I cry to you, O God, hear my prayer.   For the child, cure came the same day; for the woman it took 12 years.  In the psalm here’s the cry of the heart when cure and fixing doesn’t happen.   When you reach the end of your rope, you pray, you reach out to Jesus and nothing seems to happen.   It’s a huge theological problem for many.   And I don’t have an answer.  In fact, I don’t need to have an answer to why questions, (unless it’s to see how I contributed to the problem)   because I think they’re a distraction…..we can ask them with head and heart till we die, and they will keep us safe from examining what we really believe.  
I think that might be what Jesus is saying to Jairus when he says, Do not be afraid, only believe.  Whatever happens, who’s your God?   If the child dies and doesn’t come back to life, who’s your God?  When the cancer metastasizes, who’s your God?   When you lose your job and you’re full of fear, who’s your God?
 The psalmist says, I wait, and I hope.   That’s it.  That’s all.  It’s about relationship with God, not about outcomes.
Of course we don’t think that’s enough.  We want results, OUR results.
Perhaps that’s also why Jesus tells the parents to keep quiet about this miracle…..a common request of Jesus in Mark’s gospel.  The sign of the coming kin-dom of God isn’t so much miracles as it is change…..a leader becomes humble, a woman takes risks, a child is valued.   Counter cultural.
In the midst of all this, what CAN you believe?.........

Here’s what I am coming to believe this week…..
I believe that healing and cure are not the same thing
I believe
Nobody is above the need for healing…not our nation, not our leaders, not ourselves
I believe
Nobody is beneath God’s compassion….not those who’ve bled from racism or oppression for many more than twelve years…..not the voiceless children of our world
I believe that trust and hope are ways of life that can help me live with the questions and the lack of results, that God can bring good out of my worst nightmare
I believe in people who bring compassion and act as Jesus, conduits of wholemaking grace.
I believe I need to pray, that we need to pray:
Get me humble God
Get me daring God
Get me trusting.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Storms of Life (A Lotze/UMM)

The storms of life

Storm’s come in all shapes and sizes, some that last a day, some that last months, years and even lifetimes.  When the storms in our lives occur, and they always do, who do we turn to?  The disciples were afraid for their lives in a small boat with Jesus when the seas of Galilea were frothing and battering them.  Jesus was sleeping soundly in the stern of the boat, unfazed by the storm surrounding him and his companions. When awakened, Jesus raised his arms commanding the seas and wind to subside and then turned to his disciples saying “Do you still have no faith?”

Today is Father’s day, and I could talk about being a father, or even my own father, and what joy I have experienced, but the idea of storms has been so overwhelming this week, I feel called to talk about them.  I do thank God for Brian and Scott, my late father Tom and Amy’s dad Jarrold all of them considered a wonderful gift from above! Happy father’s day.

Christ calls all of us to be his light in this world, to help others when they experience storms in their lives.  A violent storm erupted this week in Charleston, SC at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  A ferocious storm that can only diminished through the power of love and forgiveness.  Yes, I said forgiveness.  The individual that committed this atrocity will be held accountable to the laws of man, and ultimately sit in judgement by God.  However, Christ calls us to forgive, just as he called out to God – "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."  We need to do our part to help heal the brokenness that created such hate.  We must look at each person as a wonderful creation of God, to sow seeds of love and acceptance.  The headline could have easily been from the City of Rochester.  To work against this type of hate, we must develop relationships to build on the attitude that we are ALL God’s children regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or any other description that attempts to segregate and create barriers to the commonality of all.  Is this a call to start a new ministry working with residents of the City of Rochester solely based on the building of relationships?

It is indeed all about relationships!  Amy and I have been members of this church for close to 30 years, and have experienced challenges and storms in our lives, and frequently have felt Christ’s touch through members of this, our extended family here in this place.  Our lives have become a tapestry of threads made up of all of the people in this place, forever intertwined with us as a community of faith.  We indeed feel that Christ’s love permeates this sanctuary, these rooms, these halls and mostly – these people in our lives.  We are blessed in spite of the storms that at times rage all around us.  What can we do to allow this mindset, this wonderful feeling to extend outward from this place?

As you might have heard last week, our son Scott has finished his Master’s degree and is now headed off to Lander University to begin his career.  Our prayer for him is that he finds a church family, like we found here, an active, living, loving church family that will help navigate and buffer the storms that will come.  More than that, we hope that he positions himself to be Christ’s light himself, wherever the future takes him.  Scott and his older brother Brian, whose love of music is shared through his teaching in Queens at a high needs high school, both found friends and companions on their spiritual journey here in Youth Group and Sunday school.  They participated in a variety of Youth Group programs: Reach Workcamp, 30 Hour famine’s, Wheel’s for the world bike trips, and many other outreach ministries, showing them firsthand the importance of sharing with others their time and talents.  Shepherded by Mark & Pam Renfro among others, these are lessons that they now carry with them into the future.

How have you felt the touch of Christ from this Church family?  Have you been the face of Christ for others?  To be like Christ, we are called to be actively present for all people experiencing personal storms.  As you are most likely aware, our church has a planned deficit budget this year.    Without increase in pledges, or significant reductions in expense, we anticipate another deficit next year.  We are at a crossroads, weathering a storm.  It is time to take stock of our blessings and understand what we need from, and for, this our family of faith.  Church council appointed a team in April to develop recommendations for improving our long term forecast.  You will be receiving a more comprehensive communication regarding the team that was formed in the next week or two.  We cannot undertake this task without the fully informed participation of the entire congregation.  We need your help to understand and hear what God’s plan is for us.  We need to hear from you directly about what it is you feel is important about this church.

When you entered the Sanctuary this morning, you were handed a sheet with the following questions:
1.     Why do I attend FUMC?  What brings me back?
2.     If you could only choose one thing, what would you change or work to improve?
3.     What program, study or other aspect of what is offered here at FUMC do you feel is most important to your spiritual journey?
4.     What can we do to attract and retain others to this community of faith?

Please add your sheet without your names on them, with ideas and thoughts to the offering plates that the ushers will collect.  I promise to share what we learn with you directly!

One final story about this place, when Scott was in first grade, Amy was in Dallas Texas on a business trip.  I was with the two boys, and Scott ended up being admitted to the hospital at 11pm. I was distraught and all alone at the hospital.  An Angel was sent in the guise of Margaret Scott.  She helped focus and calm me from the raging currents of my fears.  A steady stream of family members from FUMC continued to reach out, personifying Christ, steadying Amy and I during this emotionally difficult time.  This is just one of many stories where so many of this family of faith intervene weekly as emissaries of Christ.  The impact of this family of faith on our lives is irreplaceable, it was most definitely divine action that led Amy and I here to this place we consider hallowed ground.  God is good, all the time!  All the time, God is good!

Are you looking for and seeing other’s experiencing storms?  What will be your response?  I ask you to look for and be Christ’s light in the eyes of the people next to you, behind you and in front of you and in the City of Rochester.  We are all children of a loving caring creator, and are called to be God’s presence here on earth.  Do you hear Christ’s call: “Do you still have no faith?” – Be steadfast, be active, be generous, be grateful for all of the blessings in your life, most of all, be not afraid of change, or evil in the world, for we are not alone… Christ is with us, especially in Charleston South Carolina, the City of Rochester and in Fairport.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Let go and let it be (Jewell)


I get into my car this morning and I hear a great song by the Who—it’s called “The Seeker”, these are some of the lyrics---“I asked Bobby Dylan, I asked the Beatles, I asked Timothy Leary, but he couldn’t help me either, they call me the seeker”
Jesus’ parables and short sayings turn us into seekers…
·        We are invited to get to the bottom, to the heart of the matter. We don’t get it if we just listen superficially like the crowd—we have to be disciples, we have to go deeper…we have to really hear…as verse 34 says, we have to have that private audience with the Christ
·        The mustard seed parable is not gardening advice and it almost certainly goes back to the historical Jesus, it is found in the in all three synoptic gospels, that’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is also found in the gospel of Thomas and the lost gospel Q.  The fact that it is found in the Q or source gospel is significant, for the Q gospel is a document put together by the top Jesus scholars in an attempt to reflect the words of the historical Jesus. So, in other words, according to the top Jesus scholars—Jesus actually, probably, told someone the parable of the mustard seed.
·        In verse 30 Jesus asks, “What is a good image for God’s Kingdom?” here he is intentionally asking a question that raises a particular image in the minds of the people. That image is a cedar of LEBANON. A big beautiful tree like the redwoods of California. Tall—probably 2 or three hundred feet. This was the dominant image for the Kingdom of God—a big, highly valued, very useful, gorgeous tree (Hear Then The Parable—Brandon Scott)
·        In verse 31 Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”.
·        Now, in Jesus’ time, planting mustard was illegal—it was strictly forbidden to cultivate mustard in your field—because mustard was basically thought of as a weed—it grew aggressively, spontaneously—it would spread like wildfire through a cultivated crop and overtake it (Brandon Scott). In fact, our neighbors to the north are the world’s largest exporter of mustard and on a Canadian government website there is a warning that mustard can cause problems with other crops if it is allowed to get into your fields.
·        So Jesus just likened the kingdom of God to an illegal weed that people desperately try to keep out of their fields.  This is Jesus at his subversive best…he is undermining and challenging the dominant image for the kingdom—why would he use such a strange, provocative image for the kingdom?
·        For one, this image ridicules and subverts the conditioned response of the people—it shocks them and gets their attention—it creates a space for the seed he is planting. Jesus is saying the kingdom is not what you have been taught about it. The kingdom is not like a cedar of Lebanon—it’s like a weedy mustard plant
·        This image of the mustard seed also challenges and subverts the culture of success and grandiosity. The kingdom is not like a big beautiful tree. It’s actually like this tiny seed that grows into a shrub that you’re afraid of. Jesus seems to be saying you’re like the kingdom when you’re like this dangerous weed—to the dominant culture of his day Jesus himself was a dangerous weed. Jesus grew out of native Palestinian soil and was spreading a message many people did not like. Jesus is also saying you’re like the kingdom when you’re not very awe inspiring—no you’re like the kingdom when you’re ordinary and maybe even a little wild. Our culture loves the big, the successful. We even speak of successful churches this way. That church is doing well—look at it—it’s big—it’s rich--it looks like a successful church.
·        But here is the truly interesting point Jesus is making with this remarkable imageThe kingdom is something you actually try to control, the kingdom is something you actually try to keep out of your fields. Jesus’ first audience must have responded much the same way most of us do to this—wait a second, we like being good to people, we like trying to build the kingdom, what do you mean we try to keep the kingdom out of our fields? I’m a good person, I invite the kingdom into my field.
·        But, no matter how you slice it Jesus is suggesting otherwise here. If Jesus is telling the truth, the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, then we try to keep it out of our fields and we don’t like it very much. We’re afraid it will corrupt and overrun our nice-neat, cultivated crops.
·        I can imagine someone saying to Jesus, hey ya crazy nut, I like my field. I’m very careful about what goes in there, I carefully plant and then water, and then I worry about how it’s doing. I want a nice, pretty, controlled, successful field!
·        And to this Jesus says, yes, and what you’re keeping out is the Kingdom. The experience of the Kingdom is outside that nice controlled, cultivated field.
·        So, how do we plant kingdom seeds—how do we grow the kingdom? By letting go, by letting God. For by letting go we let it be. And that takes real faith. We stop acting like farmers trying to keep mustard out of their fields. We stop trying to control, we stop trying to cultivate our ideas of what the kingdom should be because ultimately that brings conflict. Christians have their idea, Jews have their idea, Muslims have their idea, this group has their idea, that group disagrees. You have yours and I have mine. The kingdom will grow on its own—if we let it. It will grow like wildfire, like the mustard plant. It might look a little ugly—it might not be a big beautiful tree—it might just be a plain old weed—and like plain old weeds it will be everywhere—if we let it be. And, paradoxically, this small, ordinary, forbidden plant that grows from the smallest of seeds will somehow provide shelter for everyone.  It will get into the nice, neat, controlled fields we work so hard for, it will break into the crops we cultivate  and then we will say the kingdom has come. Amen.

Monday, June 08, 2015

follow up from Chris sermon

this came in today, but is a great complement to what Chris spoke about last week!

A good rest

We drive ourselves from one exhaustion to another. We pace our societies by the pace of our computers. We conduct the major relationships of our lives—both professional and personal—according to the speed of our communications. We measure ourselves by the amount of our productivity and every day we become more exhausted, less rested in body, spirit and mind, and so less capable of producing things, let alone of developing relationships, as a result. That’s not irony, that’s tragedy. And though we know it, we do not know what to do about it.

Maybe what we all need most is time to process what we already know so that we can put it together differently, even more effectively than ever before. Maybe we need to think a bit, out on a porch in a summer breeze, down by the creek when the trout are running, back in the garden when it’s time to put the beets and beans in again.

Turn off the television and read a good book. Quit texting and ride your bike. Close the computer and go to a movie. Don’t answer any email. Don’t try to “get ahead.” Don’t take any callbacks. And during the family dinner, turn off the phone. And when the television is on, watch it instead of talking through it. Reclaim your life, your thoughts, your personality, your friends, your family.

No, the world will not end. And no, the rest of the staff will not get ahead of you. They’ll be too tired to even think about catching up.

It’s time to sleep in like you did in the good old days. Have a late breakfast. Read the newspapers all day long. Call some friends in for a game of pinochle. As Ashleigh Brilliant says, “Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.”

As the proverb teaches, “A good rest is half the work.” At least, that is, if you really want to be productive.

—excerpted from Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Rebirth (C Jewell)

After looking over this week’s passages I realized I should open this sermon with the same quote I opened my last sermon with—because, well, it bears repeating—and it fits… So here it is again: “Christianity started in Palestine as an experience, it moved to Greece and became a philosophy, it moved to Rome and became an institution, it moved to Europe and became a culture, it moved to America and became a business”.
Our passages today from Romans and the gospel of John, describe this experience in different ways—but it is the same experience in each. They are speaking of rebirth, renewal.
In our Romans passage, Paul contrasts life in the Spirit with what he calls life in the flesh. For Paul life in the flesh was a self-centered life. Now a self-centered life is difficult to describe. But I’ll give it a shot—a self-centered life is one that is dominated by one’s own drive to satisfy one’s own desire for power, security, control, pleasure, etc..It is basically the conditioned, competitive, sense of a separate self we all end up with by the time we’re 5 years old. The early Christians called this self-centeredness several things, sin, life in the flesh, the old self, etc..and they were right when in saying that everyone, the whole world, suffers from this condition. It is the normal evil we all deal with. Evil or hell is simply the usual self-centeredness that is life outside the Spirit or kingdom. Remember, Jesus thought the whole world was drunk on this power trip—and Paul said that anything that is not faith is sin. Both recognized that wars, corrupt systems, and their root, plain old fear, come out of this condition. Why does all this nasty stuff come out of self-centeredness? Because big or obvious evils are simply the result of everyday self-advancement, self-importance, and ego gratification. We create things like war and poverty when we allow ourselves to perpetuate an ambitious, competitive, cruel, society.
Self-centeredness is very difficult to spot until you have an experience that is beyond it. When that happens it’s like walking out of a small room you’ve spent your whole life in and entering a much larger room. You then look back on the room you just left and say “man that was one small, cramped little space—of course, before you left it you thought that was all there was. But now, thanks to the bigger room you just walked into, you realize, borrowing Jesus’ words, that “your father’s house has many rooms.”
Paul likens that experience to being adopted by God. When one is adopted one is taken into a new house. When one is adopted one goes from one reality into another, New Reality, that replaces the old. And such renewal only takes place with an ending—what ends? The old reality. This is our problem—we like continuity—the old self likes continuity—but with continuity there is disintegration—even with the modified continuity that too often passes as change. Only in ending is there renewal. In Christianity we recognize this as crucifixion and resurrection, as dying to self, and divine adoption. Where the caterpillar ends the butterfly begins. Paul’s experience of the risen Christ brought an end to his old life as a Pharisee—therefore it brought renewal, it brought adoption into God’s household. This is why baptism was so important for Paul—it meant an end to the old identity as Jew or Greek, male or female. Does it still mean that to us?? It meant one was adopted into New Life in the church—the body of Christ on earth.
In our passage today, Paul says that we become equal to Christ when we live life in the Spirit. Think about that—equal to Christ. We become Christ on earth when we transcend self. The body of Christ cannot be the body of Christ if we don’t encourage and teach one another to transcend self. We live in God’s household when we transcend the competitive, ambitious, self-centered society that is the household of the old self.
John’s passage calls this experience rebirth. John is not describing simply believing in and adhering to the rules and moral codes of Christian corporate life when he speaks of rebirth. He is describing the experience of transcending self.
In verse 2 Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. That means Nicodemus was still caught in the darkness of the world—the spiritual blindness, the usual self-centeredness, the usual hell of the world.
And Jesus, famously, tells him, “Unless someone is born anew it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom”. This is tough language. The experience of transcending the old self is a must if one is to see God’s Kingdom. All of the world’s spiritual geniuses agree on this. John agrees with Paul—the old self must end. Only in ending is there renewal. With continuity it is impossible to see God’s kingdom. This flies in the face of our culture of self-improvement. Just look at television—we are absolutely obsessed with self-improvement. Self-improvement is merely modified continuity—not self-transcendence. Self-improvement is the strengthening of the thing we are meant to put down. And that is not Christianity—Christianity is about self-ending. Because that is renewal. Just as physical death is the instrument of eternal renewal in nature—so is the death or ending of the self the instrument of spiritual renewal.
How are we to be reborn?—how are we to be adopted into God’s household?
Through turning to God—through offering ourselves wholly and completely to God in deep forms of prayer and meditation.  As Paul says, by offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. The great theologian and mystic Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Teaching about Christ begins in silence”.  We don’t like silence much in our culture—we love noise—we love big talkers—we love things that make noise. We love self-promoters and loud, big-selves. Squeaky wheels get the grease. This is often true in church life—trust me, I just went to annual conference and there was a lot of noise.
 For the good of our spiritual lives, and our world, we need to learn to experience silence as the living presence it is. (Rohr??) Remember, in Genesis it is the Spirit that moves over a silent void. Everything first comes from nothing—from the great silence—the pregnant silence. It is in this great silence that our selves end—and therefore it is this great silence that brings renewal.
It is in the great silence that we are adopted into God’s household. It is in this great silence that we are renewed, born anew. Amen.