Monday, March 24, 2014

God, Are You Still Here?

Moses and the group with him who’ve fled from Egypt are thirsty and grumpy and they’re beginning to wonder if God is even paying any attention to their plight.
That ever happened to you? You heard God’s call to do something. You decided it was worth the risk; after all it was from God. But now God seems distant and things aren’t going so smoothly. Then you begin to grumble and gripe, maybe to God or maybe to the pastor or maybe to the chair of whatever group is responsible for leadership.
After a while, just like Moses, they can’t bear to hear one more gripe or complaint and they take it up with God, too.
Why do we do that? Have we forgotten the stories of the Israelites trek through the Sinai? Do we really think God would abandon us? Or maybe our faith in God’s power has begun to wane. Maybe it’s our humanness and we just can’t help it.
Still, if we believe what we hear and read in the Bible wouldn’t you think we’d not be so quick to complain?
You’d think so but you can ask Linda to verify this, I’m pretty good at complaining myself. It seems we have plenty to complain and gripe about these days, the government, the weather, taxes, politicians, the newspaper delivery guy, the service at fast food places, the neighbors, people who walks their dogs and don’t pick up after them, cats that roam through your flower beds, the roads, the schools, kids today, other peoples kids…the list could go on and on.
So, do you have a name for your quarrelling and testing place? Moses gave a name to the rock where God told him to go and get water, Massah and Meribah. Here they quarreled and tested God. Where do we complain, gripe, and test God?
When we’re calm and the ranting has subsided and we begin to think a little more about what we’ve been saying, what is it that we wish our community, our church were like? Can we describe it and, with God’s help, is it possible?
If we trusted in God’s grace what kind of reality could we create? Can we picture a place where both the strong and the weak could gather knowing that God will provide for their every need?
You know we heard that we aren’t going to live on this spinning orb forever. We only have a limited amount of time to accomplish things. How will we be remembered? When we’re no longer here what names will folks call us?
This week as you spend time with God consider the times in your life that were dry places where God seemed distant and doubts about his ability to take care of you crept in. And then reflect on the fact that God said that he is always with us, especially when our eyesight has grown poor. When we’re the thirstiest we’ve ever been is when the living water that Jesus spoke of is so refreshing. In our desert places God reveals himself to us, usually when we’ve just about given up hope.

My friends, pray to God this week to fill us all with the living water promised to us in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Call

You get a ‘call’ from God…should I go or should I stay? What to do? Is it really God speaking? Maybe it’s my conscience or maybe I’m just hearing voices. Can I trust the feeling that I should go? Should I go or should I stay? What should I do?
I wonder if Abram had questions like this bouncing around inside his head. I wonder if he lost any sleep pondering this ‘call’ from God. I wonder if he had doubts. Don’t you wonder the same thing?
Abram wasn’t young when God ‘called’ him; neither was his wife, Sarai. You know what the scary thing is…if God ‘called’ Abram at 75 then that means he could ‘call’ us to go on a journey for him…or something equally as hard, something folks might call foolhardy. I’ve always said there is no early retirement from this call to be a follower of the Way of Jesus.
In this Lenten season how do you feel God speaking to you? As you spend time with God what is he ‘calling’ you to do? What do feel him ‘calling’ the Church to do? How does this story from Genesis speak to us today?
Let me ask you something. Have you ever felt or heard God telling you to do something that the world would call totally inappropriate? Have you ever sensed God telling you to do something that was a risk? Maybe it was risky financially or maybe it was a risk in that people would ridicule or think you foolish for doing it. What did you do?
What Abram did had a certain amount of risk and danger. Don’t you think that his family and friends probably counseled against his going on this journey? He went anyway and we should thank God for that since we who trust in Jesus are his ancestors.
So, what is God ‘calling’ us to do during this Lenten season? What radical journey is God ‘calling’ us to go on? I wonder.
You know some people give up things for Lent. Here’s something radical. What if we gave up going to church for Lent? What if we closed the doors and put up a sign that the doors weren’t going to open until Easter morning?
What if we did that and then went to live somewhere beyond our community and live simply by faith, kind of like those who are homeless. What if we just went and lived solely trusting in the things we say we trust in? What if we became people of the Way like Abram who set out on faith traveling through the wilderness? What if we gave our weekly nap in church and gave up our comfortable life?
What if we just went and put our trust in those things we talk about, the things that give us life and give us the strength to keep going when life gets tough?
What could we accomplish and how would our lives change if we trusted God, believed his words, and let them hold and guide us through the wilderness? What if we only unlocked the doors when the sun rose on Easter morning?
Would the church be the same? Now that the tomb of Jesus has been broken open will the church be ready for us?
Until then maybe we should survive on our faith and dreams and hope. In this wilderness of our world let’s trust these things.
If we took hold of the Lenten gifts of longing, expectation, and promise do you think we could recognize and know and…believe the resurrection.

What if….?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

She Just Wanted to Know It All

Why did Eve take the fruit from the tree in the middle of the Garden? Why did Eve listen to the voice in her head tempting her, telling her that God was wrong and instead of dying she’d know it all? Why?
And why didn’t she die? Are we sure she didn’t die? Maybe she did inside as you heard in the children’s message.
But, who doesn’t want to know it all? What’s wrong with that? Why did God put restrictions on eating the fruit from the tree in the middle of the Garden? Why put a tree in the garden and then not let anyone enjoy the fruit? Why’d God do that?
Don’t you want to know it all? I do. I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can. What have I received by gaining this knowledge? I’m not sure. It helps with crossword puzzles and sometimes I know the answers on Jeopardy. But, am I truly wise? No, I’m afraid I’m not. But still I want to learn new things.
Adam and Eve never knew that God had created them to live forever and that with this one indiscretion they were sentenced to die. Seems pretty harsh but that’s the way it is, or was before Jesus, the Son of God and Man, entered our world and became our salvation.
So, what’s the lesson to be learned here? Eve and Adam sinned by disobeying God, by trying to be like God, to be as wise as God and so all of us are sentenced to die.
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden because God didn’t want them to eat the fruit from the tree of life and live forever and be like God. So he drove them out and stationed a flaming sword at the entrance to keep them out.
God’s Spirit in our gospel lesson drove Jesus into the wilderness and there he was tempted with food, safety, and power. He didn’t give in to the Tempter. He resisted and because he chose not to give in to temptation, because he chose to continue on this journey of teaching, healing, and dying we have a chance to live forever, eternally with God.
Eve made a decision to eat the fruit. She could have said no. Then the world would’ve been much different. Jesus could’ve given in to temptation and the world would’ve been different. Eve chose one thing, Jesus chose another way. And that’s why this world is the way it is today.
Now the choice is ours. We have two choices, Death or Life. Which will we choose, Life or Death?
There are advertisements on TV and in our magazines and newspapers that shout at us to choose them. If we buy Nike we can jump higher and run faster. If we drink Gatorade we can go on forever and win the crown.
Then there are the ads about addictions to heroin, crack, meth, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, pornography, and food. Quite a few of these ads use words like “choose life.”
Today’s lessons from the Bible are crying out to us to make the right choice. “Choose Life” they say. God’s given all of us another chance to get it right and the clock is ticking. What choice are we going to make?
Are we ready to die? Are we ready to die to our old way of living and begin to live as disciples of Jesus? That’s the choice we have today.
This world we’re living in isn’t going to make our choices easy. The temptations are there for us to acquire more things, to build more wealth, to create a cushion against the economy going the other direction.
In the meantime people are living on the streets, people are starving all over the world, and people are killing others because that’s the way it’s always been.
God’s given each of us a choice, an opportunity to change all this. It begins with Jesus. It begins with admitting that we need help. We can’t do it alone. We need forgiveness. We need to change and we aren’t able to do it the same way we’ve been doing it all our lives. We need God to step in and help.
My friends, that’s exactly what God did in Jesus Christ. He came teaching, healing, listening, and praying for this world to be saved. He died for our sins, those dark sins nobody knows about but us.
He knows and he died for us anyway so that we could be saved. And they only way to be saved is to believe, to trust, to have faith in God that his word is true and he will keep his word.

Two choices, believe or not to believe. Eve wanted to get wise and know it all. That didn’t work to well for her and it’s not going to work to well for us either. We can learn from the mistakes of our ancestors…or we can keep doing what we always done and nothing will change.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Now Is the Time

‘Don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life…now is the right time to listen. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing question marks over everything we’re doing.’
These words from Paul from his second letter to the people of Corinth is in response to the reassuring report Titus gave him when they met in Macedonia. You see the relations between Paul and the Corinthian church had really gotten bad and it troubled him terribly. That’s when he wrote the severe, reprimanding letter to them that has been lost.
When he received Titus’ report he composed this letter which we’ve heard read. And the part of it that spoke to me and I want to share with you is this, “Now is the time.”
I celebrated my birthday this last Sunday and that may be why these words spoke to me. I’m getting old. Therefore my body is wearing out and I think about how much time God will give me to try to get it right. Maybe some of you can relate.
Solomon talks about time in his writings in Ecclesiastes, a time for every matter under heaven, everything that has been made was made suitable for its time. He has appointed a time for every matter. We all have just so much time and it should not be wasted.
And yet…we do waste our time chasing after things that do us no good and aren’t part of God’s plan for us and the world.
So, now is the time. This season of Lent, beginning today, is the time to begin anew walking with Jesus. Now is the time to listen. Today, this day is the day to be helped.
None of us want to frustrate anyone, especially God. But, we do, I do I know. How do I know? Well, I know because I frustrate my wife who is someone I love more than I love myself. So, if I frustrate her I know I must frustrate God.
That’s why Paul tells his friends in the church in Corinth that time is passing and they need to get it right and get on with the work God has called them to be doing. That same message is for us today.
People are watching us to see if we are living what we’re talking. This work God has called us to do is being validated by what people see us doing…or not doing.
Every one of us has been given 86,400 seconds every day. How are we using that time? How much is spent on just us? How much is spent in gossip? How much is spent complaining about others? How much is spent in prayer, reading God’s word, in study, in service?
I read these questions and my heart breaks as I listen to the words come from my mouth because I know that I’ve squandered way too much of the time God has given me.
My friends, as we begin this Lenten season lets commit to doing a better job of being a disciple of Jesus Christ and by the grace of God’s love for us may we become more loving, compassionate servants in our communities and in this world. May we be better stewards of the time God has blessed us with.

Thanks be to God for this gift of grace and time which he’s freely given to all of us. Amen. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Get Up. Don't Be Afraid

          How many of you looked in the mirror this morning and didn’t like what you saw? How many of you have wished that you could have someone wave a wand or something and all the wrinkles and moles and splotches would be gone? How many of you have wished that you could be transfigured, transformed outwardly into something better?
          Our gospel lesson from Matthew is about that day when Jesus went up the mountain with his three friends, Peter, James, and John and they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. 
          They’d been with Jesus for quite a while now. Six days before they went up the mountain he’d told them about the suffering and persecution and death that was waiting for him in Jerusalem. 
          I wonder what they thought they were going to do on top of the mountain. They knew that many times Jesus went away to the mountain to be alone with God, to pray. Maybe they thought that’s what they would be doing there, praying.
The trek up the mountain wasn’t easy, apparently, since Matthew doesn’t record any of their conversation. They may have been too out of breath to talk. I know what that’s like.
Matthew doesn’t say how soon after they arrived that the transfiguration took place he just says, ‘2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.’ 
That’s quite a change from the Jesus they’d been with. But it didn’t end there. As they looked they saw two other men with him who they decided were Moses and Elijah. How’d they know that? There weren’t any pictures of either of them and yet they were sure that’s who they were.
But the scariest thing is still to come. After Peter said that he thought it would be a good idea to put up three tents or memorials, this bright, white cloud settles over all of them and from deep within the cloud there’s this voice that says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
That drops them to their knees. They were kind of like the shepherds were when the angels appeared and told them about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. They were sore afraid. I think that means they were scared to death; so scared they fell to the ground.
And when they looked up Moses and Elijah and the cloud were all gone. They were alone again with their rabbi, Jesus.
He touched them and said, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.” A little anti-climatic don’t you think? Get up. Don’t be afraid.
And then he instructs them to not say a word about all this until after his death. Like anyone would have believed them anyway. 
But the question I want us to think about today is, “What do we believe.”  Do we believe that they actually saw what Matthew wrote about or did they dream it or was it a vision? Have any of us ever seen or experienced anything like Jesus’ transfiguration?
The closest I can come to seeing anyone transfigured, glowing with light, is seeing the face of a mother holding her new born baby for the first time, or maybe the face of a bride as she walks down the aisle toward the love of her life.
In this story, notice that Jesus says nothing about anyone’s sins or failures. He just tells them to get up and don’t be afraid.
Isn’t that the same thing Jesus says to us when he calls us to service? Get up, arise. Don’t be afraid.
I know most of you have heard this gospel lesson many times. And you’ve probably heard many pastors give their interpretation of Matthew’s words.
Today, I’d like you to hear Jesus’ words, “Get up. Don’t be afraid,” as a call, a call to service for Him, a resurrection if you will, maybe a transfiguration.  I don’t know exactly what Jesus is calling you and me to do or be but I am hearing him say, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”  And I trust him enough to believe that he will be beside me as I answer his call, whatever that may be.
What about you? What is Jesus calling you to do or be? Listen to him! Get up and don’t be afraid!