Monday, January 13, 2014

VISION: It's A Matter of Hope

I changed the last third of this sermon drastically between services.  I didn't like how it flowed and I felt like the ending was too impersonal and long.  The part about the study I condensed and in it's place I shared the story of someone who is bringing hope to others.

Jeremiah 29:11-14    (NRSV)
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Have you ever been on the top of a mountain?

Not just on top of a mountain --- but have you been on top of a mountain on a clear day?

It is one of the most amazing things, because when you are on a mountain --- or on top of a skyscraper --- or in an airplane ---- YOU CAN SEE FARTHER THAN YOU CAN SEE.

Too many of us however suffer from a deficiency
          We can't see farther than what is in front of our faces.

If we want to thrive, we desperately need to be able to see farther than we can see.

The author of proverbs understood this when he wrote:
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish

Nothing happens without vision.
The world hungers for people with vision à
for people who look farther than they can see.

An African American pastor led a thriving church.
Many of its members were actively serving the surrounding community. Asked the secret of his success, the pastor responded,
“I hold a crown above my people’s heads, and watch them grow up into it.”

That’s the power of vision.

Sometime around the year 7 BCE, the planets Jupiter and Saturn appeared very close together in the night sky, casting a bright glow similar to that of a single large star.

The following year, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were also closely aligned.

Some scholars believe one of these two events produced the bright light in the sky the biblical wise men followed when they came to Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

You know the story.

What fascinates me is this: hundreds of thousands of other people living in that part of the world saw the same bright light in the sky, but they did not leave their homes to go find the newborn king.

What was different about these magi?        

These magi were searching for something that was real
something that would transform their lives.

For the next couple of weeks, we are going to talk about what Ridge Church is all about.

Who we are ---

And what drives us to do what we do.

The mission statement of Ridge Church is the same mission statement that all United Methodist Churches have:
Ridge Church exists to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Pretty simple and pretty obvious for all Christians
As Christians we want to become Disciple for Jesus who seek to change the world

It is our Vision however that sets us apart.

Our Vision defines how we are going to go about becoming Disciples for Jesus

Our Vision is the crown that we hold over your head and watch you grow into it.

Our vision is also pretty simple:
We of Ridge United Methodist Church are united with Jesus Christ in His ministry of compassion for all people by offering HOPE, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE and MEANING FOR LIFE.

For the next couple of weeks we are going to look at those three key components of our Vision
          Today --- HOPE
          Next Sunday --- Unconditional Love
          January 29th --- Meaning for life

When we talk about Hope --- there are primarily two types of hope that we speak of
1.    We believe that with Jesus' help --- WE CAN transform the world and make it a better place

2.    We believe that death is not the end --- that God has something more for us

More often than not, the church likes to focus on the second kind of hope --- but the truth is it just is --- there is nothing we can do about it --- It is God's promise for us.

It is the first one, that, together with Jesus --- that we can help make happen.

If you can, try to remember how you felt when you heard the news about each of the following events:

  • The massacre of 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado by two students in April 1999;

  • The killing of five young girls and the wounding of five others in an Amish school by a lone gunman in Pennsylvania in October 2006;

  • The slaying of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech by a deranged student in April 2007;

  • The killing of 6 at Northern Illinois on Valentine's day in 2008

  • The gunning down of 13 people at a community center in Binghamton, New York, by a lone shooter in April 2009;

  • The killing of three women and the wounding of nine others by a lone gunman at a fitness center near Pittsburgh in August 2009;

  • The murder of 13 soldiers on the grounds of Fort Hood in Texas, November 2009.

  • Six killed when gunman tries to assassinate US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson Jan 2011

  • Twelve killed at Aurora Co movie Theater -- July 2012

  • Newton, Ct 27 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec 2012

  • Boston Marathon bombing last April

  • 12 killed in the Washington Navy yard, September 16, 2013

If you are like most people, you experienced a sense of deep shock and dismay on hearing the news of those events.

But unless you were personally connected to a victim of one of the subsequent tragedies, it’s likely that each one had progressively less emotional impact on you.

Mass killings -- defined by the FBI as four or more victims, not including the killer -- have occurred across the U.S. at the rate of about one every two weeks since 2006

In fact, by the time the last of these was reported, your reaction may have been little more than a sad shake of the head and a weary utterance of:
          “Come on, not again!”

And you probably turned your attention away from the news much more quickly than you did after Columbine.

Not surprising is it?

We lived through 9/11

Our news is filled with reports on bombs and deaths from the war on terror, and drive by shootings from our own back yard.

On, the TV and internet we have witnessed such awful stuff that our shock threshold has been raised.
Now when we hear of such tragedies our reaction is more controlled.

Following the Virginia Tech shootings, columnist Daniel Henninger, writing in the Wall Street Journal, commented on this growing numbness to bad news.

He suggested that it may be that as a nation we have reached “tilt“ with tragedy.

By TILT he was referring to the old classic pinball machines which would stop working if you banged on them too hard.
          Sure you could bang on it pretty good --- but there were limits.

It seems like, as a people we have been banged on pretty hard.

Later in the same column he wrote:
          “Our capacity for shock at genuine violence has been recalibrated.”

It is sad, but true.
When tragedies become commonplace, it just isn’t humanly possible for us who are at a distance from them to experience the same level of emotional distress as those who are close at hand.

And our lessened reaction has nothing to do with not caring or a lack of empathy.

It is simply that we have a survival function that causes us to become protective of our emotional energy.
We cannot continue to dump it out day after day on extreme events and have any left for daily living.

And so a kind of numbness creeps in, and to some degree, it needs to.

It’s a defense mechanism that keeps us from reaching our personal tilt point.

That said, such numbness also gives us a jaded view of life,
a pervasive pessimism that whispers to us that the cards really are stacked against us,

and that no matter how much we think we’ve organized our lives, the forces of chaos and destruction will ultimately prevail.

We hear some of those whispers after almost every one of these shootings.

Some commentator says the incidents should reignite the debate about gun control --- Certainly that was the assumption after New Town --- but those of us who have been around awhile find ourselves thinking something such as:
Yeah, this latest tragedy might cause some debate, but even if some changes are made, it won’t make the kind of difference we need. People who are determined to kill others will always find a way to do so.

But do you hear in that admission deep pessimism --- that nothing could have prevented it,
          or something like it ---
that neither arming everybody nor disarming everybody would make much difference?

That’s a fatalism we don’t wish to surrender to, but it nibbles at the edge of our minds when we contemplate awful things.

Fully developed, it can cause us to doubt God’s existence, or at least God’s goodness.

And while we begin to wish we could do something, we know that nothing will change.

Do you hear the pessimism in that?
“We Wish it could come true,“ which implies, --- but it we know it won’t.

That is the problem, when we can’t see farther than we can see.

So, how do we find hope in the world today?

As we live on this side of eternity, what we need to know is that God is still here in this life, that God has not left us, that God is our shepherd, God has plans for us.

Did you listen to the words from Jeremiah?

Jeremiah 29:11-14    (NRSV)
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

God reminds us that it is in community --- when we gather together with others that we can find hope.

We support and encourage each other.

Following the Virginia Tech shootings, the university reacted by holding a convocation, by creating a place for people to come together and talk about God.

In an essay on about the tragedy, religion correspondent Lauren Green wrote,
“So where is God?  He is in the prayer vigils. He is in the rivers of tears flowing from everyone affected. He is in the community coming together to offer support to the families. He is at work in the love and strength people are offering each other. God is with us.”

We shouldn’t discount the power of corporate worship to help us when numbing news bombards us.

A recent study by a Harvard researcher, in conjunction with a UC San Diego researcher, gives us some evidence in that direction.

In 2003, this pair gained access to some old papers found in a storeroom in Framingham, Massachusetts.

They were the handwritten records of 5,124 male and female subjects from a heart study done in that community in 1948, looking for risk factors for heart trouble.

It wasn’t so much the heart information that caught the attention of the latter-day researchers, but rather some clerical information on the forms.

The original Framingham researchers had noted each participant’s close friends, colleagues and family members simply so that if the participant moved away, the researchers could contact the friends to locate the participant.

Looking at that information, the 2003 researchers realized it could be transformed into a detailed map of the human relationships of those folks.

Two-thirds of the adults in Framingham had been included in the first phase of the study, and their children and grandchildren had participated in subsequent phases.

Thus, almost the entire social network of the community was chronicled in these old records.

It took nearly five years to input all that data into a computer format, but once that was done; the current researchers were able to construct detailed diagrams of the social networks of the Framingham residents.

As they began tracking those people as an interconnected network rather than as a mass of individuals, they discovered that the social networks influenced the behavior of the people involved, even as the participants spread out over a larger geographic area.

Because the study had kept track of the subjects’ weight, the current researchers first analyzed obesity trends.

They found that in 1948, fewer than 10 percent of the residents were obese.

By 1985, 18 percent were, and today, 40 percent are.

That equates with national trends, but looking at it from the social-network angle, the researchers realized that while the whole group discovered fast food at the same time, the social-network effect was what caused obesity to begin to spread, almost like a virus.

In other words, when your friends change their eating habits, it’s likely that you will, too.

They found a similar trajectory with smoking. In the early 70s, 65 percent of Framingham residents between the ages of 40 and 49 smoked regularly.
          But by 2001, only 22 percent did.
The researchers found that friends and family had a positive influence, and that people quit together.

Both eating habits and smoking are behaviors, but the researchers went further and found that such things as happiness are also influenced by our social networks.

Because the original study asked people to describe their moods, the latter research showed that essentially, happy people have happy friends and unhappy people have unhappy friends.

In other words, gloom is contagious, but so is joy.

It doesn’t take much thought to apply that same dynamic to people who worship together.

One thing that helps us maintain hope when soul-numbing bad news is all around us is that we’re coming before God in company with others who share that hope.

There have been enough awful tragedies caused by somebody with a grudge, or paranoia or evil in his heart, or a desire to get even or whatever, that we assume similar things will continue to happen from time to time in some place in our society.
Evil is real, sin rages in people’s hearts, madness descends, despair begets chaos.

What’s more, there’s no guarantee that we or our loved ones might not someday be among the victims.

But standing here among the people of God, in the place of worship, we can sense the truth: that good is stronger than evil, that there is something --- something --- that cannot be taken from us because God has given it to us.

And furthermore, we together know that nothing --- nothing --- can separate us from the love of God.

It’s that knowledge that helps us not tilt when bad things happen.

We at Ridge Church offer hope to people by being hopeful ourselves.

By looking for the positive,

By being creative in our search for solutions to life’s problems

By helping one another to see, farther than we can see

1 comment:

C CONGER said...

You said it- the hope that you offer in the church community is the sense of belonging to a community that believes in good & in doing good; this gives people the hope/faith to believe that good truly is stronger than evil. It gives people hope to believe that no matter what life throws at them, they can overcome it together with the love and goodness that God has given them in the form of their faith and their church family. I am looking forward to getting involved in the church again when we move back to the States. Keep the sermons coming! -CEC