Monday, April 29, 2013

A New Thing, Love Everyone

          Take a minute to look around the sanctuary. How many different shoe sizes do you think there are? How many different shades of hair color do you see? How would you group the different ages represented here? Look around at the clothes we’re all wearing. How many different styles do you see? How many different colors?
          There’s quite a bit of variety here this morning, different colors, different ages, different shapes and sizes, a lot of diversity. Yet, we’re all here to worship our God…and he doesn’t discriminate because we’re different. He loves us one and all because we’re his creation, his children.
          It hasn’t always been like this…and it’s still not where it should be. Look back in time to the Civil War that divided this country…and remember the racism of the 50’s and 60’s. Remember when women didn’t have the privilege to cast votes. Remember when women were first elected elders.  Remember the first women ordained as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament. And what about the discussions today, about same sex marriage and the civil rights associated with those…discussions that have and are dividing churches and denominations and families. And racism has it been totally eradicated? What about those coming across the borders looking for work so they can support their families back home? Is our nation making them welcome here?
          How does our reading from Acts speak to us now? Are we living the gospel we heard read today? Or…are our hearts convicted by these lessons?
          Changing our paradigms isn’t easy. Look how long it’s taken us to get where we are today and we aren’t anywhere close to where Jesus asked us to be.
          So, how do we get from where we’re at today to that place Jesus spoke of, that world where we all love each other, that place where everyone is accepted just the way they are?
          God sent a vision and an angel to Peter and Cornelius…and they listened and believed. Jesus spoke directly, face to face, to his disciples instructing them to love each other as he loved them. For the most part I think they did that. So, what’s happened?
          Where’s the love today? Where can we find examples of this total inclusion God showed to Peter?
          I believe there are people working to bring an end to racism, genocide, and prejudice and bigotry but doesn’t it seem to you like they’re fighting a losing battle? Why?
          Friends, we need to look within for the answers. We need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to spread the love of God in the world?” What am I doing to end racism, prejudice, and injustice in my community, in my church? How am I supporting those who are in the frontlines of this battle?
          Friends, it’s no longer “us and them.”  If we truly believe what we say we do then it’s all of us together, one people, one church, working to share God’s love with the world no longer believing that these folks are where they’re at because that’s what they deserve.
          They deserve our love. They deserve a place here in our sanctuary. They deserve a place at our table.
          Christ died for them…and us. We’re all his children and we don’t deserve such love yet he loved us anyway. He loves us anyway. That’s grace.
          We’re asked by Jesus to love one another as he loved us. We’re asked to share the grace of Jesus Christ with everyone, not just those we think have earned it. No one can earn God’s grace.
          That’s really what these scriptures are about, grace, God’s grace. And we’re so miserly we can hardly part with even a little bit of it. Yet God still loves us.
          God’s love doesn’t have any fences around it. He doesn’t have any laws that prevent us from receiving his love so why do we think some don’t deserve it?
          Just think where we’d be today if the old laws were still in place, the Law that God gave Moses. That’s not a pretty picture. The priests would be busy full-time, 24-7, offering sacrifices for our sins.
          Jesus said that his yoke was easy. Isn’t it easier to love one another than to try and keep all the commandments? Yet, when I listen to the news apparently it isn’t.
          Friends, if the world is ever going to be a better place to live then it begins right here in this place today with you and me. If not us, then who?
          I beg you right now this very minute make a commitment that you will love every one you encounter this week, everyone. Even the ones who are like sandburs in your sock. Love them unconditionally. We can with God’s help. We can with Jesus. The Holy Spirit reminds us all the time what Jesus said, “Love one another as I’ve loved you.”
          If there was a law against being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict any of us? This day, this week, let’s begin to change the world beginning right here in our church, in our community.
          God loves you my friends. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Letting Go

          The journey of faith isn’t easy. We listen to new ideas about this mystery of God and faith; we experience God in different ways…and we have to let go of some things that no longer fit with our encounter with God.
          The people we’ve heard about today in the Scriptures began their life journey going one direction but God through Jesus changed them and their journey took a different path than they were on at first.
          We’ve heard how Saul went to the high priest asking for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, search warrants to try and ferret out the followers of the way. Saul was like a rat terrier in his desire to weed out and destroy those whom he thought were poisoning the Law of God.
          Saul knew he was right in what he was doing. He studied the Law under Gamaliel so he knew the interpretation of the Torah. He knew this is what God wanted him to do. It was the “right” thing to do. In his mind there was no question that he was right.
          But…something happened on the road to Damascus. There was a light…and a voice. He didn’t recognize the voice and he didn’t understand what was happening to him. He couldn’t see a thing. Everything went black, black as the deepest, darkest cave. His friends had to help him find his way into town. 
          It’s ironic in a way that his friends took him to Judas, the one who lived on Straight Street. He didn’t realize that his live was going to take a turn he never envisioned. His journey was going to be anything but straight.
          There he was blind as anyone could ever be. He didn’t feel like eating or drinking all he could do was talk to God and hope that he’d hear his prayers for help. It was beyond anything he could imagine when in this blackness he had a vision. There was man, someone called Ananias, praying for him and laying hands on him. He didn’t know any Ananias. And so, he continued to pray.
          On the third day there was a knock at the door of Judas’ home. He heard a voice and then there were hands on him. From the sound of the voice he could tell it was a man. He said his name was Ananias and Jesus had called for him to go to Straight Street and find this man named Saul who’d been struck blind.
          Ananias put his hands on Saul and he prayed for him. Saul had never experienced anything like this. His sight returned. It was like scales fell from his eyes.
          Just like that he realized he was starving…and very thirsty. So, he ate. Then he went to the temple to preach and teach that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. He stayed there quite a few days.
          What do you think it must have been like for Saul to experience hearing Jesus’ voice, to be struck blind, to have someone, a Christian, a follower of the Way, pray for him and lay hands on him? The very people he’d been hunting down and sending back to Jerusalem were praying for him, feeding him, and now he was teaching them about Jesus the Christ.
          Just imagine the emotional trauma he must have experienced as his Jewish faith was tested. Imagine the conflict in his mind, in his very soul, as God revealed Jesus to him as the Christ. It had to be painful, pure torture at first, until he began to feel the hope that Jesus’ sacrifice meant for him and the Gentiles and the people of Israel.  And he was forgiven completely.
          God called him to carry the Good News of God’s kingdom to the Gentiles in Asia and eventually to Rome. Imagine the turmoil that must have been going on in his head. No wonder God waited 3 days before sending Ananias to him. Think of all those things he had to discard and bury so he could begin his new life.
          A seed had been planted. It took root and in three days Saul was ready to do what God called him to do; take the Message to the Gentiles. Wow!
          Compare you journey with Saul’s. Has your journey been anything like his? Have there been any detours or 180’s?
          When we invite the Lord Jesus to walk with us most times the journey is anything but straight. There’ve probably been a few bumps, a few hills to climb, maybe some steep descents.
          Don’t you wonder why we choose to stay with it, to continue doing this work for God again and again and again?
          Jesus sent his disciples out with next to nothing. Think about what we have and what we could do with it to make disciples, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
          Journeying with Jesus is a challenge. It will change us. Living with and for Jesus may even change how we live.
          Saul was blinded by the light. He struggled with his demons for 3 days, not eating or drinking. Then a man he’d never met came and prayed for him. His eyes were opened and he was a completely different man.
          In those 3 days Jesus showed him what suffering he’d have to endure to tell this story he’d been given. Think what that must have been like for someone who thought he knew the law inside and out.
          That’s what Jesus did for Saul. What do you think he’ll do for you? How is he calling you today? Is there a battle going on inside your heart over what Jesus is asking you to do? Do you need someone to put their hands on your head, around your shoulders and pray for you so you can see clearly again?
          Friends, we can do that. This life is about more than coming to worship, singing three or four songs and listening to prayers and then going home. This life following Jesus is way different. There is suffering. There is hurt. There is conflict. There is hate…and there is love and healing and peace. Are you ready for that?
          God loves you my friends and so do I. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Your Journey

          Think about the current direction you’re traveling right now. Are you going in the direction God wants you to go? How do you know for sure?  Do you have signs you’re following that point the way you should go? Or have you received a vision like Saul did? Have you been blinded by the light of Christ’s love? Did you have an Ananias come to you and pray and lay hands on you? Have you had someone come and prepare a meal for you because you’d been fasting for 3 days like Saul?
          Think about you life to this point on your journey. Has anyone ever played the role of Ananias for you? How did they do that? Did you have to call them to come or did they just arrive at your front door? Did they come right in and tell you Jesus had sent them to pray for you?
          We are all on journeys, I believe. Some of us know where we’re going and some of us just wander willy-nilly through this life without much of a plan. And then there are those who actually talk with God…and listen to Him for directions.  And then there are those whom God smacks right between the eyes with a 2 X 4 to get their attention before he gives them directions. Which one are you?
          Saul thought he knew exactly where he was going. He knew he was going in the right direction. He knew that he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. But we see now that he didn't really know anything about what God had planned for him. Maybe he was talking to God but he wasn't doing the listening part.
          Let consider for a moment what we’d do when it looks like God is going to ask us to do something really hard? Are we really quick to say, “I can’t do that because I don’t know how,” or, “I’m afraid I might make a mistake or someone might not like it?” Or has it ever happened that God did to you what he did to Saul and just dumped it in your lap and told you to get to it. Sometimes that’s the way it works. God doesn't give us time to say yes or no because he’s God and he just needs us to get it done. Or, do we just turn our backs on God and walk away, kind of like Jonah? I wonder if God had been talking to Saul before the blinding light on the road to Damascus but he just wasn't listening. I wonder…
          Has what God been asking you to do ever seem so hard that you did walk away from Jesus or thought about doing so?  Weren't you a little afraid to do that, knowing God was calling you to a particular task. I’ll tell you if his mind is set on you doing it you’d just as well listen because it’s going to happen sooner or later. Just look at Saul and the drastic measures God went to to get his attention.
          So, how does Jesus call us back when we try to ignore him?  How has he called you back? Is God calling you to a particular task today? Are you listening? Are you digging in your heels? Friend, I pray that you will heed God’s call to serve him. I’ve found that even though I don’t think I can do something when I decide to give my problem to him everything falls into place.  I don’t mean to say it’s easy. It’s usually not but it does get done.
          Good friends, pay attention to word Luke has for us about Saul’s conversion and his change of direction for his life. Take time to listen for God’s voice and if he’s nudging you to go in a certain direction I pray that you’ll go because I believe that the rewards will be great.
          My friends, God loves you and so do I. Amen.

Monday, April 1, 2013


          We're using the Spill the Beans liturgy material put together by this group of Scottish folks from the Church of Scotland and other denominations again this year. We believe it's great material and that's why we keep coming back to it. 
          This lesson takes some of their words and a few of my own to tell the story to those who came to worship with us yesterday. My thanks to Roddy Hamilton and his friends and of course God for leading us to them. And by the way the stones have left the sanctuary to tell their "story" to this community.

          Every Easter Sunday don’t you have questions ricocheting around in your brain? I do.
          There was a stone rolled in front of the tomb and there were guards there to prevent anyone from stealing the body of Jesus…and yet the stone rolled. Didn’t anyone hear it?
          And those who went to the tomb early in the morning, what did they expect to find behind the stone? Why didn’t they plan on how they were going to move it?
          Haven’t you ever wondered, who folded the grave cloths and why were they left there? Who would have thought that after Jesus was risen that tidy and neat were important?
          And…how can death be turned back into life? Everyone saw that Jesus was dead. Joseph and Nicodemus carried the body to the tomb and wrapped it in spices. They surely knew that the stone was rolled into place and that guards were stationed at the front. 
          I guess no one ever said that it would be easy to believe the tomb would be empty.
          Have you ever wondered how people could go from yelling “alleluia” one day to “crucify him” the next day so quickly? Are people really that fickle? Didn’t they think it a little strange?
          Questions, that’s all there are. How can it be? How can Jesus be resurrected?
Do you think we’ll ever stop asking the questions?  I hope not.