Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Obstacles to Grace 10.2013

This rollo is about the obstacles to grace. God through Jesus Christ has given us his grace to be in a personal relationship with him. But, being the way we are because of sin, we‘re not always able to receive the grace given freely to us by our God.
          The fact of the matter is we live in a broken world that doesn’t seem to be getting fixed very quickly. Every day when we read or listen to the news it’s very apparent that the world is in a mess. We live in this world, this very real world.
Every day we encounter obstacles to receiving God’s grace. Every day we do something that strains our relationship with God, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and those strangers we encounter as we go through our days.
If you look in your Bibles at Genesis 4:6-7 you’ll find God talking to Cain about sin. In this passage God lays it out for us… “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
If we do what is right we’ll be accepted but if not sin is waiting to pounce on us. Every day, every minute of the day, sin is waiting for us to mess it up. And we don’t disappoint. At least I don’t disappoint. Every day I go to God and ask for his forgiveness because I’ve been pounced upon by sin.
Usually it’s because I let my ego get in the way. I forget that it’s not all about “me.”  This society in which we live is so focused on feeding our pleasure centers as fast and as thoroughly as we can.  That’s why fast food places do so well. They have become the experts at satisfying our appetites. And because they do such a good job at catering to our every need and want we become angry when we have to wait or whatever we’ve requested doesn’t exactly measure up to our standard of service.
Look at the word, sIn. How is it spelled, s, capital I, n? Oh maybe you capitalize the letter “s”.  In my example, talking about our egos and everything being about “me,” the letter “I” is capitalized. The “I” is capitalized because most of the times if we’re honest with ourselves that’s what gets us on the wrong side of the fence with God.
On the wrong side of the fence makes me think of sheep. I used to have a 100 head of ewes which meant that I also had 100 plus lambs and a couple rams. More than once they were on the wrong side of the fence…because they saw something there that they wanted and it looked better than what was on their side of the fence. And so, through the fence or over the fence or maybe around the fence they’d go. Did they ever find their own way back? Never in a thousand years. They always needed help, always.
By being on the other side of the fence they couldn’t be with the rest of the flock. They didn’t notice at first but then they would and that’s when I knew, because I could hear them crying. They were alienated from the flock and they wanted back in.
That’s what happens to us. We see something we want and somehow, we honestly don’t know how, we find ourselves on the wrong side of the fence. We discover that we’ve alienated ourselves from our family, our friends, and most of all, God. We realize we’ve made a mistake and we begin to cry.
What got us there? What do you think? Remember the question Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment and how he answered? 37 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’] 38 This is the first and most important command. 39 And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 40 All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.”
Sin, these obstacles to receiving God’s grace, snaps us up when we fail to love…fail to love God with all that we are and fail to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
Sin can also be more than that. Sin can be, and I believe is, anything that diminishes life, abusing our environment, abusing anything that God created, land, water, air, plants, animals, or people.
So, sin can be one of two types, something that messes up our relationship with God and/or anything the messes up our relationships with our people, family, friends, the community, the world.  
Reading God’s word we find words like idolatry, blasphemy, resisting God, ignoring God, disobedience, unbelief, ignorance, pride, and unforgiveness, either toward God or people. Each of these is something that keeps us from being in a right relationship with God.
Things that will hurt our relationships with others are: murder, addiction and abuse, lying, gossip or slander, stealing, coveting, laziness, and dishonor.
And then there’s our relationship with ourselves. We hurt ourselves by our lack of love, bitterness, and spiritual blindness. 
So, what do we do? My friends, God had and has the answer. The answer to all these obstacles, these sins is Jesus Christ. He took all these sins, our sins, upon himself and carried them to the cross. They were nailed to the cross with him. They were buried with him in the tomb.
Through Him we have been forgiven and made clean and acceptable in the presence of God. Through Jesus we recover our identity as children of God.
In John’s gospel 3:16 we read, 16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.
That’s it. If we accept Jesus Christ into our lives and rely on the power of his Holy Spirit then we are on the way to a new relationship with God.
A balanced life of grace needs three things, piety, study, and action. Resist evil and renounce the power of the evil one.
When we take Jesus into our lives our relationship with ourselves and our neighbors is mended. We discover anew who we are and we learn to love ourselves again. We work out our differences with our neighbors…or we accept them as they are, God’s children.
And when we encounter struggles, as we will, we know to turn to the body of Christ for prayers and support and love. We learn that we’re not in this walk alone and we value our support groups and long to be with them every week because they help us to be accountable for living and walking as Jesus walked.
And we learn to pray…pray for our leaders, those in authority over us, pray and love our enemies, feed and clothe the hungry and naked.
My friends, the life of a Christian is a daily decision to put on the yoke of Jesus, pick up our cross, and follow our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a life that keeps the picture of the cross ever before us and paying attention to our relationships…with God, Jesus, and others. And friends, remember that God always has more grace for us than there is sin. As Paul said to the Romans there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can ever separate us from God’s love. In Jesus the Christ we can overcome any obstacle to grace.
My friends, God loves you and so do I. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


          What does it feel like to be in exile? Not having ever been in exile with no chance of ever coming home, I can’t imagine what it must feel like. Can you?
          But wait a minute. We actually might know people, family members or friends, who are in exile right in our community, maybe even while living in their own houses.
          Imagine waking up some morning and knowing who you are but not knowing what happened last week or even yesterday. You can remember all your favorite hymns and favorite scriptures that you’ve memorized but your grasp on reality seems to be slipping.
          The only constant you have is that the loving presence of family, and God, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. With that there is comfort and joy.
          Or what about those who have secrets that they can’t reveal to anyone or they would be ostracized and excluded from community and even family gatherings. 
          Imagine carrying this secret around with you every day and longing just to tell someone hoping to feel some acceptance and understanding without fear or rejection.
          But you can’t because you’ve seen others reveal their secrets and not be able to survive the criticism and shunning. You’ve witnessed families torn apart, friends become enemies, and even seen folks fired from their jobs. So, you can’t possibly let anyone know this secret buried deep within you.
          Look what happened to Jesus. He was whipped and mocked and rejected for being true to God and to himself. I wonder, sometimes, if he thinks it was worth it. That’s why I can’t tell you my secret because I’m not sure. I don’t believe society has changed. Won’t I receive the same tongue lashing and maybe worse, maybe my friends will turn their backs on me because I didn’t trust them with my secret.
          Living with this is like being in exile. I am in exile. What I know is true is abhorrent to others and it just tears me apart. I know who I am but I just can’t tell anyone.
          It’s only with God that I feel safe and comfortable. It’s only when I’m with God that I’m able to experience joy because I know he knows and I know he still loves me.
          Or maybe someone has lost their best friend, their partner in life, and their world has been torn apart. They still have to go to work, they still have to get their mail, they still have to buy groceries and go to meetings. They still remember the day they heard the words that he/she was gone.
          They’re filled with questions. Why me? Why now? Why did he/she have to leave me alone? How am I going to make it by myself?
          They walk and act as if they’re in a fog, just going through the motions dealing with all the everyday things of life but inside their heart is frozen in that time and space when they got the news and they can’t feel anymore, can’t feel anything. All they can think about is how they’re going to get through the day or this week or the rest of their life. They question where God is now when they need him so desperately.
          Maybe being in exile is like those who are autistic. They like the way worship services are ordered, the same every Sunday. They know what hymn is going to be sung by looking at the page number in the bulletin. They find it difficult to adjust when things change.
          They like the music but not if there’s microphone feedback or if it’s not too loud and people don’t clap too loudly.  If that happens they plug their ears with their fingers and make their own noise so they can’t hear the other noise. It’s frustrating when children mimic them.
          They like listening to the same words spoken at communion. They like how there’s always a loaf of bread and a cup and the same responses are spoken. They know them by heart. But they don’t like sharing the peace because people want to touch them, hug them, or shake their hand. And so, they say a little too loudly, “Don’t touch me, please!”
          They like being with people but sometimes they have to leave because they’ve had enough of us for the day. Sometimes they don’t understand why their family takes them out. They feel like they’re not part of the community. They don’t know why because they know they know things that some others don’t know but they don’t stay around to listen.
          These are examples of exile. Maybe one of these voices could be yours. Think about the different voices in our church, in our community. Think about those who might feel like they’re living in exile.

          May God fill us with his all knowing grace this day. Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Faith…and Forgiveness

          Jesus said if our faith was no bigger than a poppy seed we could tell a mulberry tree to “Go jump in the lake.” That’s not very big. If you’d drop a poppy seed in the carpet you couldn’t find it without a vacuum cleaner. Faith, no bigger than a poppy seed, Jesus said.
          What does that say about our faith? I know, it’s meant to be a metaphor, but is that what Jesus meant? What if he meant it? What if our faith was no bigger than a poppy seed? Could we move trees or mountains or governments? I haven’t moved anything that big lately, so does that mean that my faith isn’t big enough?
          It could be that Jesus wanted his disciples to understand the power that’s contained inside just one infinitesimal seed. The seed doesn’t look very powerful and yet…when it’s buried in the soil and tended with water and nutrients it can grow into a tree 60-80 feet tall.
          Some folks are planting radishes in their fields this fall as a cover crop. Radish seed isn’t very big and yet it will grow a root 12-24 inches long and bring up micronutrients that will benefit the next crop planted. All that from little, tiny seeds barely covered with dirt…and all they needed was a little rain to help them germinate.
          The disciples came to Jesus after hearing him tell them that even if their friend sinned against them 7 times they should continue to forgive them.  They were to forgive their friend even if they thought he wasn’t being truthful. If he said that he wouldn’t do whatever he’d done again…and then did, they were to forgive them…again.
          That sounded impossible to them and so they asked for more faith. Jesus refused to give them more faith. He said they had enough. He said they had just the right amount.
          Faith, five letters, one small word and yet we’re not sure we have enough. We want more or we want a stronger faith. But Jesus says, “You don’t need more or less. You have just enough.” Really? Why doesn’t it feel like it? 
          I believe, then why can’t Aunt Jane’s cancer be cured? Why can’t our political leaders agree on bipartisan legislation that will bring peace to our nation? Why are there shootings every day in our cities? I believe in the power of Jesus. I believe in God. What am I missing?  Do you have the same questions?
          I’ve been a farmer. Every year Linda and I put seeds and plants in the ground trusting that they’ll grow and produce something good for us to eat. We have faith that what we plant will grow into what is pictured on the seed packet. Why do we keep planting seeds? We plant seeds because we’ve had some measure of success in our garden. We’ve had failures too but not so many that we want to stop planting seeds.
          So, what kind of seeds of faith are we going to plant? Every Sunday I ask you to pray for peace. Will we ever see a peaceful world? I believe one day we will. My hope is that we will someday have peace. That’s why I keep praying, and asking others to pray for peace.
          If we want a world that is peaceful, compassionate, just, loving and filled with resources enough for everyone, what kind of seeds do we need to plant?
          My friends, I believe with all my heart that it begins with every one of us. It begins with us speaking words, powerful words of peace, love, justice, compassion, words that will produce more words, kind words, just words that will flower and grow bigger than the biggest maple. Words filled with truth, God’s truth. Words filled with love, God’s love.
          Words aren’t very big. They don’t look very powerful on paper. If that’s true why do we continue to use them? I contend that we use them because they are powerful and we know it.
          We’ve seen how words can wound. We’ve seen how words can bring tears of joy to people’s eyes. We’ve seen how words can make Wall Street tremble and shake and stock prices tumble.
          So, why not believe that words, simple, truthful words can bring peace and joy and love and justice to a hurting world? What prevents us from testing this theory?
          Surely we have faith in Jesus’ words otherwise why do we come here to worship? Surely we don’t just come to visit our friends. We can do that at McDonald’s or Roberts’. 
          Maybe our prayers should be, “God give us more faith, faith that can learn from Jesus’ stories, faith that can question and wait patiently for answers. God give us faith to will lead us to act and to share our wealth with those who have nothing. God give us more faith in you and in our friends who are praying just like us. God give us faith and bless us so we can go out this week and tell your story of love and peace and grace.”
           Friends, we have just enough faith. Jesus said so. You had the faith to come here to worship. You have the faith go back into the world. Trust God’s grace and lean on his Word, Jesus the Christ. Thanks be to God for his faith-filled grace. Amen.