Sunday, March 22, 2015

Storm Home

Mark 4:35-41   (MSG)
Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”
Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

A young man committed suicide and as his family tried to understand WHY, they found a rather strange note nailed to a tree outside his house:
This tree is the only thing in my life that has roots.

Where do you find roots --- what provides stability in your life?

In our story this morning, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus.

One of the rather interesting phenomena about the Sea of Galilee is that storms can blow up suddenly and intently --- Much like Lake Michigan . . .

As the Disciples are in the boat with Jesus --- heading to the "other side", the Gentile side of the lake --- a massive storm blows up.

Jesus is sound asleep

But the disciples are panicking
The boat is being swamped by the waves and they are fearful for their lives

They wake Jesus up ---- not really sure what they were expecting him to do
BUT --- he tells the waves to BE STILL
          and they listen!

The wind died down
          The waves ceased

And the Disciples had no idea what had just taken place

Life is full of storms

Some of the storms of life it appears that we might have some control over them

Others seem totally outside of our hands.

Think of some of those storms

·         Divorce
·         loss of a job
·         job change
·         illness
·         death of a loved one
·         children growing up and leaving the nest
·         Floods
·         Car Accidents
·         Tornados
·         I am sure you can add others to this list

Where do you find shelter in the storms of life?

Who is able to calm those storms?
          Who says: "Peace, Be Still" in your life?

If we don't have somebodies --- it often seems like we are going to go under

I hope you are familiar with Garrison Keilor and his tales from Lake Wobegon

Keillor is the creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly radio show on NPR.  One of the show's best-known features is Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon", a weekly storytelling monologue, claiming to be a report from Keillor's fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

The opening words of the monologue usually do not change: "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."

Garrison Keillor tells a great story:

In Lake Wobegon every child was assigned a storm home --- a home that you could go to if the weather got bad during the school day and you could not get home safely.

The home that he was assigned to was the Krueger's --- they were an older couple who lived in a cute little green cottage by the lake.

He says that he used to walk past the storm home and he could just tell that it was a good home

He knew that he was a lucky child

This storm home became very big in his imagination.

Many times he thought of stopping and introducing himself
"I am the kid, that if there is a blizzard I will come and stay with you."
He says that he felt that they had a relationship in the world --- even thought they had never met

He wanted to believe that he hadn't just been randomly assigned to the Kruegers --- but that they had come down to the school and had picked him out.

He said:
"I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard --- Blizzards aren't the only storms, you know, and not the worst things that can happen to a child."

"I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door and she would open it and say:
"Ahh, it's you
I knew you would come someday
Won't you come in and get out of those wet clothes
Come on in the kitchen, sit down and I will make you some Hot Chocolate --- Would you like an oatmeal cookie

It's terrible outside"
"And I would say 'Yes'"
"It's gonna get worst they say"
"Yes, it probably is"
"Carl, come down here and see what's in the kitchen"
Carl would say: "Is it our storm child?"
"Yes, he is sitting here
in the flesh
big as life"

"I never did go --- there were no blizzards that came during the day --- Only convenient blizzards --- blizzards that came on evenings or weekends"

"I didn't because all my troubles were bearable troubles.

But I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krueger's were there --- my storm home.

When things got bad --- I always thought --- there is always the Krueger's"

Where is your storm home?

Too often we make the mistake in thinking that a person is our storm home
That person can certainly be an important part of that home --- but I think we make a mistake when we put our eggs in one basket

When somebody looks to me --- and not the church as their Storm Home --- they are often disappointed

          Because I often disappoint people

It just is not possible for me to be a storm home to 200+ people, any more than it is possible for you to be

Storm homes usually are a group of people

When I was growing up --- my storm home was my UMYF --- my youth group.

We were a group of 30 or so
We came from 4 different high schools --- so there were some challenges to make us a group

But we were always there for each other

After I graduated from High School every New Years Eve one of us would hold a party and we would all come together. 
          Bringing whomever we were dating at the time
Sharing what was going on in our lives

We all knew we were there for each other

We were there with each other through good times and bad times.

·         Through marriages
·         And babies
·         Through divorces
·         Lost jobs
·         death of parents
·         death of one of the group

We were always there for each other

Last fall some of us from that youth group got together for dinner --- it was wonderful to connect with these friends who have been there so often for me

Who can you turn to in times of need?

          What are your roots?

          Who can help calm your storms?

Last Thursday I attended the Urban League's Diversity and Inclusion Awards Lunch.

It was a rather unexciting affair
          The food was so - so
          They gave out a number of awards
But other than the name of the award, and the name of the organization who won it I could not tell you
          What the award was for
          What they did to win it
          What they did as an organization (unless the name gave me a hint)

BUT ---- there was a group of High School students from Merrillville high school that stole the show

They were a part of STAND
·         Socially
·         Together
·         and
·         Naturally
·         Diverse

If you look them up on the Merrillville High School web page you will find this statement
(Stand is a) student-led club that promotes an appreciation for diversity through community service. The club provides its members with the opportunity to earn community service hours through mentoring opportunities, participating in student exchanges with other schools, creating programs that address discrimination and other injustices, and educating and celebrating the rich cultural diversity that exists in our community.

As they shared their values --- and their dream for every person to find their value and worth --- I realized that what they have built is so much more than a extracurricular activity
          Even one that promotes such a good cause

They have built a storm home --- you could see it in how they interacted with each other.

They were there for each other

And they will be there for each other long after they graduate from High School

Where is your storm home?

I do a lot of funerals for people who have no church --- they have no storm home to help them through the loss

I often wonder how they are going to manage --- how they will survive the storm

When the storms are blowing
          when the boat seems to be filling with water
                   We all need a storm home!

But let me tell you a secret
          Just coming to church isn't enough

You have to create a place for yourself
          Ministry team
          Book group
          Bible study or Sunday school

It is in the small group that we build our strong shelter for the storms of life

Plant your roots --- so that WHEN the storms of life blow --- you have a safe harbor

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Everything Must Change

For the last couple of weeks I have been reminding you that Christianity is a journey and not a destination.  Or to put it another way --- Becoming a Christian is the starting line --- not the finish line.

Being a Christian means that we stand up against those things that hinder the kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed it.

It calls us to be activists in a cause of peace, freedom, justice and compassion.

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus lay out his vision for what the Kingdom is to be like better than in what we call the Beatitudes

The setting for this story is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee --- near the town that becomes Jesus headquarters while he is in the Galilee --- the town of Capernaum.

Jesus was not from Capernaum --- rather he was from Nazareth a small town not that many miles away.

If you remember the story --- Jesus had been chased out of town by the people of Nazareth.

Chased out because they did not like his RADICAL message

Luke 4:16-21
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

They didn’t like what they had to say, so they chased him and tried to throw him off a precipice --- but Jesus got away and moved on to Capernaum

When you think of the ideal biblical city --- you think of Capernaum

Small, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, picturesque --- even today

One day Jesus walked out of town with his small group of disciples and sat down on a hillside overlooking the Sea.

Other people had come as well --- almost as if they are eavesdropping on this teacher ---- wanting to hear what he has to say.

He starts in an interesting way: BLESSED

Blessed he says are these people.

All too often teachers and preachers of his day (and still today) started from the other end of the spectrum --- WOE is you

But he says Blessed are you

Listen he seems to be saying --- pay attention to what I have to tell you and your life will be better.

And then he begins to describe what God’s kingdom is going to be like.

And he does it so differently than most of us do today.

When we talk about being blessed --- what comes to mind?
·         becoming rich and powerful
·         for higher status in the social pecking order
·         healthy, wealthy, wise

But that was not how Jesus defined success.

Who are blessed?

What kinds of people does he say we should be identifying with?

Listen to his words:
Matthew 5:1-16
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Do you hear the power of these words?

Jesus is turning the norm of the world upside down!

Look at what he is suggesting --- Who are the hero’s?
·         Warriors?
·         Corporate Executives?
·         Politicians?


Instead he identifies hero's as brave and determined activist who seek peace and are willing to suffer with Jesus as they actively proclaim that new way.

But let me be clear --- JUST AS JESUS IS CLEAR

If we want to be disciples of Jesus we can not simply coast along and conform to the norms of our society.

We have to CHOOSE a different definition of success than our society has adapted

We need a new set of values.

And the other thing that Jesus wants to make sure we understand:  WE WILL PAY A PRICE FOR MAKING THAT CHOICE

But we will also discover many new, maybe even unexpected rewards
·         True aliveness in God's kingdom
·         the warmth of God's comfort
·         Seeing God's restorative justice come more fully real
·         receiving mercy
·         experiencing God's presence
·         Maybe most importantly --- we can PARTICIPATE with God in the transformation of lives and the world

We will as Paul says --- experience "the peace of God that passes all understanding"

Jesus invites us to be difference makers

Catalyst for change

Jesus wants us to be "the salt of the earth" --- He wants us to bring out the best in this world

To preserve the world

Jesus wants us to be "the light of the world" --- He wants us to be a light that penetrates into the darkness

A light that radiates warmth and goodness and health

Jesus knows, however, that there will be great temptation for us to tone down --- to become tamed in our passion for the Kingdom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked:
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Jesus wants us to stand apart from the status quo --- the way things are

Jesus wants us to stand up for what matters

Jesus wants us to stand out as a part of the solution --- rather than remaining part of the problem

I don't know if you noticed --- but the way that Jesus presented this information to us is rather interesting.

And they way that he does it, tells us something important about him --- and about us

This isn't about Jesus

He isn't saying --- LOOK AT ME

Instead, Jesus puts US in the spotlight
          YOU are the salt of the earth
          YOU are the light of the world

Jesus will, later on, tell us who he is --- but right now he wants to begin by declaring who WE ARE.

Can you imagine this scene?

On a bright and beautiful Galilean afternoon, crowds of people have gathered around to hear what this teacher has to say
          They are hanging on to his every word

They know something amazing is happening --- even if they are still not quite sure what it really is all about.

But they can tell that he is not wanting to FIX things.

Jesus is here proclaiming something BIGGER, something DEEPER, something more POWERFUL than they have ever heard before.

It is a revolutionary message.

But not one of weapons and violence --- no this message is something more subversive.

And it begins with a new identity.

On that hillside, on that afternoon ---- Jesus invites his hears to reflect upon:
·         who they are
·         who they want to be
·         what they want to make with their lives

He is doing the same thing to each of us as well

Some of us are young --- we have our whole lives ahead of us

Some of us are further along --- we have lots of hope, but not a lot of time to fulfill them.

I hope you are hearing him --- for he is calling to YOU

And as we listen to Jesus --- inside we know:
If I accept this new identity --- everything will change for me

Brian McClaren --- We Make the Road By Walking

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Traveling Light, but Not Alone

(Mark 6:6‑13 NRSV)  Then he went about among the villages teaching. {7} He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. {8} He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; {9} but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. {10} He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. {11} If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." {12} So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. {13} They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

For the past two weeks I have tried to emphasize to you that Christianity is a journey!

That we travel the road of life moving from one experience to another.
One defining moment to another.
One Holy moment to another.
Each encounter --- each experience --- each defining moment catapults us to the next!

Christianity is a lifelong (eternity long) journey with Jesus Christ.  And the point of the journey is THE JOURNEY!

This journey that we are on is a never ending journey --> one that is always changing and growing as we sometimes inch our way along.

The point of Christianity is the continual journey that takes place along the road of life.
And every moment of life is one of learning.
Don't forget what Dr. John Sylhavey said:
"I realize that I don't know anything compared with what I really need to know. My job and your job. tomorrow and every tomorrow is to begin to learn what it is that I really need to know in life."

I have shared with you five “rules of the road” already and today I want to share three more.

When I was a junior in High School, my father got a crazy idea. 
He thought that a trip of just the Conger men was in order.

So he convinced my two brothers and me that it would be a wonderful experience if we went canoeing in Quetico Provincial Park in Canada.

Somehow he managed to talk us into going, so we began the process of getting in shape.

The hard part about canoeing is not paddling the canoe (although that is not the easiest task to do for four or five hours every day!)

The worst part is when you come to the end of one lake and you have to carry all your "Stuff' to the next lake.

One of the things that makes Quetico so wonderful is that there are no motor boats allowed in the Provincial Park.
There are no stores, there are no bathrooms, there really aren't any campsites - it is primitive, especially once you get farther into the Park and away from Boundary Waters in Minnesota. 
So everything that you are going to need for your week long jaunt into nature, must be brought in by you and out by you!

As we started planning for the trip, my father decided that it would be a good idea if we began practicing carrying the canoe on our shoulders along with our backpacks.

So for a couple of months, we practiced carrying those packs around our neighborhood. I am sure the neighbors all thought that we were lunatics. We worked hard so that we would be in good shape -- BUT

The truth is nothing can prepare you for that first portage. We thought that we had done a good job in limiting what we were taking. After that first day, however, I was convinced that half of what we brought was worthless. For the rest of the trip I dreaded ever portage we had to make --- especially Prairie portage which was basically one mile!

From that trip I learned a basic lesson of life (I only wished I followed it better) and that is: When traveling long distances or for a long period of time --- it is best to pack light.

This simple lesson is also true for our Christian journey. Too many of us try to make headway in our Christian lives while still carting around a whole lot of baggage.

We over pack, refusing to throw away useless weight, and we find ourselves worn out and beaten down by our Christian journey.

Unfortunately, when that happens a lot of people just give up, forgetting that Jesus invites and encourages us to give up some of that weight.

As Christians we are called to pack light. Yet, still, time and time again I hear it. Most of us are so very good at storing away our old hurt, our past sins, so those things become like a mill stone around our necks weighing us down. There is the person who says: “Christianity just isn't working for me. I'm just not loveable.”

Then there is the person who is consumed by their job, they wake up one day to find that their children have grown, their spouse has run off with somebody else. They are overwhelmed with the weight of guilt and shame - burdened by the “woulda, coulda shoulda’s” of life . . .  what could I have done differently.

To this Jesus speaks when he says:
(Mat 11:28-30) "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

The point of our Christian journey is the Journey --- and if we are going to survive the journey we must learn to pack light!!

Jesus calls to us --- NO, Jesus pleads with us to drop our burdens at his feet. There is no need for us to journey with the extra weight, the garbage we walk through life with - Jesus will take it —  and he promises that he will give us rest!

In other words --- We must learn to forgive ourselves!

God has forgiven us long before we forgive ourselves.
Why are we so insistent on clinging to those old sins?
As we journey, why are we so insistent on traveling with weight that is unbearable, unnecessary, and foolish?

Why do we find it so hard to travel light? To lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus --- to exchange our yoke of sin and sorrow, which is so heavy, with the light yoke of Jesus?

If God is willing to wipe the slate clean and give us a fresh start, we too, must be willing to accept ourselves, learn to live with the past --- learn from its scars --- and move into the future with strength and determination.

Face it, most of the weight that you and I carry on life’s journey is unnecessary --- and Jesus says to us: "give it up, forgive yourself even as I have forgiven you."

Pack light -- Jesus wants not only our stresses and problems in life --- Jesus wants our old shames, guilts and hurts as well.

Jesus understands this rule of the road --- if we try to carry everything with us, we will not get very far.


Face it we need each other.  As much as I don't like to admit it, I have found myself lost at times. I hate being lost --- And I bet most of you can identify with that feeling.

There are moments on our Christian journey that we feel utterly lost!

We have no clue as to where we are, where we are going, or how we are going to get there!

Listen to what Paul has to tell us from his letter to the Romans:

(Romans 12:9‑21 NIV)  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. {10} Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. {11} Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. {12} Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. {13} Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. {14} Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. {15} Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. {16} Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. {17} Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. {18} If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. {19} Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. {20} On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." {21} Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

It's here.
It's in this place --- in the Body of Christ --- the church --- that we can in our times of loss, in our times of doubt, even in our times of joy --- find friends!!!

People who will help us find our way — people who will be supportive --- people who will hold out lights in the darkness — people who will help us keep perspective on our current journey.

Remember, us who sit here this morning --- we have got to always remember: We are the Church (I am not the church) and it is to the Church that hurting people come in their time of lostness and need.

In my book there is only truly one kind of hypocrisy that the church must really be concerned about.

And that hypocrisy is not that we are Christians and yet still sinners --- because that is the reality of why we are here, if we were perfect we would not need to come.

No the hypocrisy that I am concerned about is when we turn our backs on those who are lost, on those who need love, on those who need compassion and support.
Don't ever forget what Paul says: "Be devoted to one another in . . . love."

My final rule is this and it flows from the previous one: TAKE ALONG SOMEONE WHO KNOWS THE ROAD!

A friend of mine tells the story about a time when he and his family were white water rafting. On this trip there were four boats. Now normally each boat has its own guide --- someone who knows the river --- knows the best way to get down the river --- and where all the trouble spots are that need to be avoided.

When they got ready to go, they were told that one of the guides was sick --- and they asked if someone would be willing to steer the boat down the river.
They said that this person's job would be simply to follow the other guides.

Needless to say, my friend volunteered.

And as he would tell the story, he was a good guide (at least for most of the trip!)

While they were heading into some pretty good white water, he was dutifully following the other guides in front of him and shouting out the paddling orders to the other members of his boat.

Suddenly, there was in front of them a boulder that had to be navigated around. Proudly, he says that is exactly what he did --- yet little did he know, but right after that big boulder was a second smaller boulder that also had to be maneuvered over.

He did pretty well at that too, most of the boat missed that little rock --- actually the only part of the boat that caught that rock was the exact spot where he was sitting --- and the result was predictable.

Once he fell, instinctively he grabbed the rope that encircled the boat --- he said that the water was so cold that he could not talk, nor even scream.

It wasn't until the others noticed that he wasn't screaming out orders that they even realized that he had gone over.

Fortunately they helped him get back in the boat and get it down the rest of the rapids successfully.

The point of the story is this: without a guide to lead us --- someone who is experienced in the journey that we are taking --- the results can be tragic.
We need someone to help guide us along the way.

As Christians that guide is none other than Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God's chosen disciples.

Have you noticed how Jesus went about preparing people to become guides?
He didn't say: "Go do it yourself"
No, what Jesus always did is say: "Follow me."

And then, once we have followed we can help others along the journey that we have firsthand knowledge of.

Paul always was busy trying to teach others, to show them the way first and then, and only then to let them become guides along the way, under the direction of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

All too often we travel along on our journeys and we lose sight of whom it is that is our Ultimate guide.

All too often we travel along on our journeys and we forget to enlist the help of our guide!

All too often we travel along on our journeys and in our bull headed nature we say --- the heck with the guide, I know a better way --- and it never fails, but we find ourselves thrown from the boat!

Christianity is a never ending journey --- and you and I are on that journey!

It is impossible to make the journey without a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The journey that we are on is at times long and hard, and it has far too many obstacles for us to travel on without an experienced guide!

Jesus Christ is the only one who fully knows the way, and is the only one who can be the trailblazer!

PLEASE, please take someone along with you who knows the journey.
find a prayer partner
find a study partner
find a friend in Christ

Over the last couple of weeks I have shared eight simple, yet I believe profound rules that will make our journey more successful and more fun.

4.            LEARN PATIENCE.

Christianity is a journey --- a journey through this life, experiencing God and all that God has for us.

Let us try to remember these rules as we go through our life.

We are going to share in our closing song.  As it is being played, I invite you to come forward and pray at the altar, or to pray at your seat --- to consult your guide, Jesus Christ --- for direction, or maybe courage --- that you might continue or maybe even begin this lifelong wonderful journey with Jesus.

Only you know what you need at this moment on your journey
courage to start
lessening of the burdens that you carry with you

Only you know.

Bring those before our Lord and receive his blessing and guidance!