Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Unknown

The Israelites have left Egypt on their way to a land God promised Abraham so many generations ago. They have been led to a place with a lot of water in front of them and the whole Egyptian army behind them. And then, they turn on Moses. They’re afraid of the unknown.
It’s a natural response to turn on the person in the leadership position. But, Moses wasn’t leading them. God was. God led them here with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; neither one leaving their place in front of the fleeing Israelites.
It was all part of God’s plan to lure Pharaoh into a trap so the Egyptians would know that God was Lord, all powerful, all mighty.
The problem was the Israelites didn’t know it was God’s plan that had put them in this predicament. Kind of like us too. We find ourselves in a tough spot, a painful situation and we can’t believe that it’s part of God’s plan.
The Israelites being between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army was God’s plan. He had the best interests of his people at heart. He was taking care of them. They just couldn’t see how he was doing that. Often times neither do we.
So, here’s the Egyptian army closing in fast with chariots, the Stealth fighters of Moses’ day. And there’s this sea in front of them without one way of crossing over that anyone could see. They were no bridges in sight, anywhere!
God tells Moses everything’s falling into place just as he planned. He told Moses to stretch out his arm holding the staff over the sea and the waters would divide.
That’s what Moses did because he knew after the ten plagues in Egypt that God would do what he said. So, the wind God sent blew all night and the next morning the ground was dry, water piled up on both sides of the path where God wanted them to walk through.
All this time God has been protecting the Israelites from the Egyptian army. The cloud and the fire that had always been there preceding them moved behind them to hide them from the pursuing Egyptians. The pillar of fire gave them light to see when the ground was dry enough for them to walk over.
Don’t you kind of wonder who that first brave soul was who took that first step into that canyon of water? We don’t know who that person was but we do know that they all made it across before the Egyptian chariots started across in hot pursuit.
When all the chariots were in the Reed Sea Moses again stretched his arm out over the water and it all began to come back where it had come from covering Pharaoh’s army. It also helped that God jammed the wheels of the chariots so they couldn’t move. The sea returned to its original place drowning all the Egyptians.
All the folks Moses had been leading out of Egypt who had been complaining about Moses’ leadership qualities now knew firsthand the power of God, their God, and they feared the Lord and put their trust in God and God’s servant, Moses…at least for a time.
God lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, the land first promised to Abraham. And in Matthew’s gospel we read that our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his mom and dad, Mary and Joseph, went back to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the Great. All part of God’s magnificent plan. Kind of a full circle type of plan.
So, by now you may be wondering what’s God’s plan for us. Where is God leading us? Is God leading us toward a ‘Reed Sea’? Has God led us to a place where we know that the only way out is through the power of God?
How many of you have been between that ‘rock and hard place’ and decided that the only way out was to risk everything and trust in God and step out into the unknown?
So, where are we today? Where are you today? Almost eleven years ago I was asked to fill this vacant pulpit. I had no idea what God was going to do or how. It has been a journey and for this church I don’t think it’s over. A new chapter is about to begin and no one knows what’s ahead but God.
We may not be in the same situation the Israelites found themselves in but there’s a lot we don’t know. And that always worries people. It worried the Israelites and it worries us.
My friends, God is telling us in the lesson from Exodus not to worry. He’s got a plan. He’s got it covered. Trust in the Plan.
As this church steps into the unknown sharing a pastor with United Church of Avoca your pastor is stepping into another unknown, retirement. Both are a little scary because there’s always some risk.
Today God is telling us, again, that there’s a plan. Trust in God, believe in God, have faith in God and everything will be all right. God was there for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the Israelites and God will be there for you and me.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dealing with Bad Things

The story of Joseph begins with his birth in Jacob’s later years. He was favored by his dad; in fact, you could say that Joseph could do no wrong in Jacob’s eyes. His dad loved him so much he made him a coat of many colors. Maybe you’ve heard that story…or seen the musical.
And then Joseph had these dreams where his siblings, and even his parents bowed down to him. Being the typical favored child he also told on his brothers.
Needless to say they didn’t share their dad’s love for their younger brother. It’s no wonder they threw him in that dry cistern and changed their minds about killing him; instead they sold him to the Ishmaelites.
It may have been on that journey to Egypt that he matured and began to lean on his faith in God. It may have been on that trip that he learned how to deal with the bad things that were happening to him.
So, how do we deal with the bad things life throws at us? What do we do when the car breaks down and there’s not quite enough money in the account to pay the mechanic? What do we do when our teenaged children rebel and won’t or don’t listen to us? What do we do when people spread rumors about us that may or may not be true? How do we deal with the news that we have a tumor growing inside of us? What do we do when our country is overrun with terrorists? How do we deal with bad things?
That’s what this scripture is getting me to think about. Is my faith in God strong enough to deal with the bad things of life? If I had been Joseph would I have been able to adapt and prosper no matter what situation I was in?
Just take the first situation Joseph found himself in, thrown into a cistern, hearing them talk about killing him and then being sold by his brothers to foreign traders and taken to who knows where. Was he angry? How long was he angry? Did he talk with God? Was he mad at God for what happened to him? How did he deal with it?
We can only imagine because we weren’t there…and we haven’t walked in his shoes. We only know how we would react…or how we think we’d react.
Some of us have had bad things happen to us. Some of us already know how we’ve reacted. Our neighbors know too how we’ve reacted or they think they know. No one really knows unless we’ve told them.
Again, I believe, it’s a question of faith. Most of us know we’re not been promised a life of wine and roses and an easy road. And yet, if our lives have been relatively easy without too many bumps, encountering a really big pothole or a major crisis can be a real test of our faith.
How do we deal with bad things? Some of you may have already asked yourself this question. I’ve been thinking lately about how I’d deal with bad things.
When the bad things come it’s then that I wish I could talk with God, and he with me. I mean like really hearing his voice and knowing it was God speaking; having a deep and intimate conversation with the One & Only God.
Did God speak to Joseph like he did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? We can’t tell for sure from the scriptures. The reading from Genesis tells us that God was with him but don’t you want to know if he heard God speak to him. How did he know? Was it just because he prospered that he knew God was with him?
We might think that because the jailer trusted him and didn’t worry about anything he asked Joseph to do that being in prison was easy. I don’t think it was, at least not as good as working for Potiphar.
I think we have to be careful in how we understand this scripture. We could think that if we live a righteous life, doing all that Jesus commanded, that God will prosper us and make us successful. Friends, that isn’t the way God works. At least I don’t think that’s the way God works.
There’s too many examples of God’s prophets and Jesus’ apostles suffering, being persecuted, tortured, and killed. These were folks doing what God called them to do. We can’t say that they prospered; at least by the world’s standards. They didn’t all have an easy time of it and yet they received blessings from God. They dealt with the bad things because they trusted God.
Joseph dealt with the bad things that came his way by trusting in God to take care of him. Joseph had heard the stories from his dad about God’s grace. The example of Jacob must have made an impression on Joseph and he believed.  That must have been what helped him deal with the bad things.
So, the question has been, how do we deal with the bad things?  Is our faith, our trust in God enough for us to handle what life throws at us? Do we need more than our faith? What if our faith isn’t very strong? What do we do then? When life’s not fair, when life’s a burden how do we deal with that?
You may very well ask, “Pastor, how do you deal with the bad things?” It’s a struggle sometimes. To be honest I talk with God a lot about the bad things. It’s really good to talk. I’m sometimes angry when bad things come my way. I sometimes whine at God. Sometimes I don’t know what to say and I just sit. Sometimes my mind is just blank because I can’t even think about it.
I listen to music and read the Bible searching for help, for answers, for anything that can help me cope. And I continue to talk with God. When things are really bad I also count on my friends…to pray for me, to listen to me, to just be there for me. Without God, the church, and friends I don’t know how anyone can survive the bad things.
So, with all the stuff that happened to Joseph he may have done some of the things I did. It sounds as if Joseph was pretty good at networking whether he was a slave with Potiphar or working for the jailer in prison. He had friends, his network, that he could count on…and he had his faith in God being there with him, always.
And you know what, Joseph didn’t sit still. Wherever he was he kept going and didn’t look back.  He assessed the situation he was in, made a plan, and worked it always trusting in God.
So, my friends, the lesson for us today is to have faith, trust in God, and know that God is always with you. And if you’re one of the lucky ones with friends who believe in Jesus and believe in God then knowing that they have your back is a bonus.
Friends, through all of this life there are bound to be some bad things. Dealing with them is easier if we have faith in our God, trust in his grace and love in Jesus, and keep the communication channels open talking and listening for God’s voice.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Building Peace (Shalom)

The Lord called Abram to go to place that he would show him. God told him that he would make him into a ‘great’ nation.
God also said something about blessings and curses. God said, “…I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
This could be interpreted a few different ways. I’d like us to think about it this way, whatever action Abram took, whatever decisions he made would end up either being a blessing for the people or a curse.
When we read the story of Abram we find that he didn’t always make the right decisions. In fact sometimes they were the wrong decisions and they almost got him into trouble. But, for the most part, Abram’s decisions were good for the people and they were blessed. And because of his righteousness God’s people were blessed and we, the adopted children of God, have also been blessed.
Is that it then? God promised to make Abram’s family and great nation and bless them. Because God kept his promise to Abram we’ve also been blessed.
I don’t think that’s it. Did you hear the first verse from the psalm today? It said, “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” And, also, the gospel from Matthew, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
These words weren’t meant for the first people to read them or hear them read. No, my friends, they were meant for us. We are to proclaim his name. We are to make known among the nations what Jesus has done. We are to go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded. We are to do these things. We have been called. We have been given a promise too.
Those we bless will be blessed and those we curse will be cursed. The decisions we make to share God’s story of Jesus Christ with those we meet on our journey will be blessed and the times we decide not to share the story, well then, those folks will be cursed because they didn’t get to hear the story of salvation. Because we didn’t tell it to them.
Blessings and curses, if we share the gospel story folks are blessed and if we don’t they are cursed. Those who hear the story find peace (shalom) and those who don’t may not find peace.
So, sharing the storing of God’s love for the world in his Son, Jesus, is the beginning to building peace.
Every time we tell the story another milestone is created to mark that event. Maybe not a pile of stones that we can see but a definite marker has been created.
Think about the people who’ve impacted your life. Think what your life would be like if they had decided to do what they did.
Now, think about those who told you the story of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ. Where would you be today if they had decided not to do that? But they did and now you have to choose who you will tell and how you will tell the story; how you will build peace, how you will mark this part of your journey.
It sounds so easy, all we have to do is tell the story. But, the honest truth is, sometimes we don’t because our faith isn’t as strong as our fear of rejection or ridicule. We need faith in our Lord before we can tell the story.
Abram had faith in God. That’s why he could be a blessing. His ancestor’s had faith and so they were a blessing. Jesus’ disciples had faith and the world was blessed by their faith.
So, good friends, pray that God strengthens your faith so you can tell the story and be a blessing and lay a stone to mark the beginning of building peace.
Thanks be to God for his gift of grace. Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

God's Promises

Have you ever wondered how bad, how evil man was for God to want to destroy all humanity, every living thing? Have you then looked at our world today and wondered how God feels about mankind now?
I have and it worries me some. According to the writer of Genesis God promised to never destroy every living thing on earth with water. But the state of the world today does give me pause and make me wonder.
Water is so necessary to our existence that it’s hard to imagine it being used by God to destroy his creation. And yet just last week some places received so much rain that flood warnings were issued, rivers were cresting and people had to evacuate their houses.
It’s hard for me to imagine what it must have been like when the earth was deluged with water for 40 days and nights. Can you imagine what it was like to see nothing but water everywhere you looked? Maybe that’s why Noah didn’t open the windows of the ark until later.
After 40 days it quit but then it all had to go back to where it had come from and that took a while. Eventually the water receded and the boat came to rest on a mountain. After a period of time and a few birds being sent out the door of the ark was opened and everything and everyone came out.
Life began all over again. Noah offered a sacrifice from the ‘clean’ animals and God found the odor pleasing. Then he declared that never again would he destroy the earth. He made a covenant with Noah and his family. The sign of the covenant was the multi-colored arc in the heavens after a rain. The rainbow is a reminder to God, and to us, of this covenant.
So, what about now? For as long as I can remember the earth has been pretty stable. But in the last 10 years or so there’s been a lot of talk about climate change. The blame has been placed on damage to the ozone layer that has been caused by some chemicals that man has produced or from too many cattle being on feed. It depends who you listen to.
That’s not the only change that been taking place. Some animals are nearing extinction. Some insects are dying off. Should we worry about that or will God intervene and fix the problem? What do you believe?
If man is abusing the environment will God let it continue or will God step in? What do you think? Is it possible that we, mankind, could do something that would annihilate all living creatures and not destroy the earth? Should we care?
This creation is balanced. Everything in creation needs everything else in creation. Today it sounds and looks as if everything is getting out of balance, out of kilter, kind of like a washing machine trying to spin when the load isn’t put in evenly.
And who are the ones affected the most by the ecological imbalances? It’s the poorest and the least informed who suffer the most. The people with the power and the money can move and protect themselves against ‘acts of God.’
The story of Noah is a reminder to us that when things get out of balance we have a responsibility to work to correct the problems. We are all in this together with our brothers and sisters all over the world. And we’re in this together with every animal and every plant on this earth. If they’re suffering eventually we will too if we don’t take steps to fix the problems.
So, before we all just throw up our hands and toss in the towel remember that we’re not in this alone. As God told Moses, “I will be with you.”
God was with our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Noah and God is with us today.
We don’t think of this often enough but everything we do has an impact on our environment, physically and spiritually. How we take care of our little piece of the world does affect us and those who are our neighbors.
My friends, be reminded today of God’s covenant to never destroy the earth again with water and his promise to always be with us in everything we do. Give thanks for the gift of Jesus Christ, who came so that we could be saved from a life of torment and instead be welcome into the kingdom of God as children of God.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Cost

When you go into a store to shop are you one of those folks who’s always looking for the best price? Do you buy multiples when it allows you to save a buck or two? Before you buy that new car or pickup or new computer or phone or IPad do you calculate the cost and maybe how long it will take to pay for itself? Do you calculate the overall cost to your budget, to your life?
What about what we’ve heard read today? God calling Moses to lead the people out of Egypt; Paul talking about how Christians should live and behave and serve; and Jesus telling the disciples they must deny themselves, take up their own cross, and follow him. He said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it?” Everyone must count the cost.
So, my friends, God’s calling you to serve him. Maybe you’ve encountered a burning bush. Maybe you’ve encountered God in the reading of the scriptures and he spoke to you. Maybe Jesus has come to you like he did Paul and given you a particular job to do. Did you count the cost?
Jesus told his friends that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer at the hands of the Pharisees and die. But he would be raised to life on the third day. Jesus knew the cost and it didn’t matter to him.
Peter knew the cost and it did matter to him. He didn’t want Jesus to even talk about it. He didn’t want his friend to die, even if he said he was going to be raised on the third day. The cost was too much for Peter.
My friends, this is a personal question, what is God calling you to do? Has God been tapping you on the shoulder? Has God been pointing something out to you and you’ve been ignoring his call? Is the cost too much?
Friends, what would you give up to make someone’s life better? How far would you go? Would it make any difference if they were family or not, if you liked them or not, if they were a bum or homeless?
What did Jesus give up? He was going to give up his life. What did Peter say when Jesus talked of dying? Put yourself in Peter’s sandals. Jesus heard Peter’s words and spun on him and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You’re a stumbling block to me. You thinking like a human not like God.”
That’s when Jesus began to talk about denying one’s self, picking up a cross and following him. That’s going to cost everything we have. Is the cost too much?
Jesus said, “The Son of Man is coming again in his Father’s glory with his angels and he will reward everyone according to what they’ve done.” Have you calculated the cost benefit ratio for this?
The cost sounds tremendous. Is the benefit eternal life worth the cost? This is what makes the question really personal. We are the only ones who can answer.
God is calling every one of us to serve him. Are we thinking like humans or are we thinking like God?
Jesus is begging us to change, to be transformed, to repent.  He wants us to be more like him.
My friends, I beg you to open your hearts to God and answer his call to serve. The cost is worth everything.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.