Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Are You Waiting For?

Matthew 11:2-11   (NRSV)
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Advent --- is a season for waiting, but there is one important question --- What are we waiting for?
          Seriously, what are we really waiting for?

If you look around and asked somebody who knows nothing about this season and asked them what it all about --- what would they tell you we are waiting for?

While we like to say Jesus is the reason for the season, the sad truth is: Santa is what dominates our society and appears to be what the season is really all about.

This question of what we are waiting for in Advent is nothing new.

Our scripture this morning is an interesting one.

John the Baptist is in prison, and he hears about this itinerant preacher and so he sends some of his disciples to ask the all important question.

John the Baptist is afraid that he might not have the right guy, so he sends his team to the source to find out.
“Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?” (The Message)

When you hear this question --- is should stop you in your tracks.

John is asking, WHAT?
          He doesn't KNOW who Jesus is?

How can that even be?

It is almost as if John wants to make sure Jesus is the One, because he doesn't want to end up on the wrong side of history.
He doesn't want to end up following the wrong guy

And then Jesus answer is even more astounding.

First he says to John's disciples:  Watch what is going on and go back and tell him, and he will know the answer.

But, it is when John's disciples leave that the conversation really gets interesting.

The people that had gone down to the river to see John probably went expecting to see a madman putting on a religious show.

Instead what they got was a man announcing the advent of God’s Messiah.

Many weren’t ready for what they received.
Perhaps we’re still not ready.

Jesus calls them on the carpet and says to those who had gone out to see John baptizing in the wilderness:
“What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pajamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A prophet? That’s right, a prophet! Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear. He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’ (The Message)

We struggle with the same questions that John and the Pharisees had. 
          Is Jesus the one? 
          And if he is, what does that mean for our lives!

As we read this episode in Matthew’s Gospel, we too are challenged to reconsider what we expect to find when we leave the safe and acceptable confines of our sanctuary this morning.

What do we expect to find in our neighborhood once we leave church?
          What did you come to church to learn about?

That is the question of Advent --- and we all ask it

"Are you the one I've been waiting for, or shall I wait for another?"

·         Is this the present I've been waiting for?
·         Is this the job I've been waiting for?
·         Is this the date I've been waiting for?
·         Is this really the house we wanted so desperately?
·         Is this really the person I loved years ago? Is this really the person I love now?

Jesus tells us, that the true gift of Advent --- if we have eyes so we can see beyond our expectations --- if we are willing to look around us and see all the places where Jesus is working and inviting us --- the true gift of Advent --- is reconciliation and peace.

“Go and tell John what you have heard and seen. The blind are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People with leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news.”

Jesus came to the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, the dead.
He came to the downtrodden.
He came in humility for the humble.
He came for those who did not have it all worked out for themselves.
He came for those who knew they needed Him.

Some of us think we have finally got it all.
We have the house we always wanted.
We have the job we always wanted.
We have that spouse, that husband or wife, who is the answer to all our dreams.
We even have the car we always wanted.
We got our children into good schools.

But is that all there is?
Is this what we were waiting for?

Listen to what Jesus told John's disciples when they asked that question.
Jesus said, "When you get me, the lame walk, the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, the poor get good news."

What does all that mean?

It means that John's disciples, who had already repented and turned around once, were going to have to repent and turn around again.

It means that Jesus comes to reverse things.
What was dead is now raised.
What was blind now sees.
What was lame now walks.
When we get the gift of Jesus, our lives are changed.

The sign that Jesus has come --- is that people are changed.

Do we really want the gift of Christ this year?

·         We will recognize the gift of love and peace when we recognize that people have changed.

·         We will recognize the gift of love and peace when we recognize that we must change, too.

The spiritual word for that change is repentance, to turn around.

No matter how young or old we are, whether we are waiting to receive that perfect bicycle, waiting to receive that special answer from our loved one, waiting for that special moment of reconciliation with our children or with our parents, we are also waiting ultimately for Jesus.

Jesus will change us.
Jesus will turn us around.

Even if we've changed before, --- even if we have repented before, --- Jesus will raise the dead again.

Jesus is what we are waiting for
Jesus is what we have come to see --- and Jesus will come!

Monday, December 05, 2016

Doing Justice

Isaiah 11:1-10   (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious

Matthew 3:1-12   (NRSV)
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matt invited you to slow down last week --- to: “let go of all the busyness, let go of all the gifts, let go of all the worry, and simply be present to the season and receive the gift of God that is found throughout this season.” 

I tried --- and it is definitely a work in progress.

But until I slow down,
until I find that peace that passes all understanding,
it is hard for me to understand,
let along move toward become a person of justice.

As I wrote to you this week --- justice is a difficult word for me.

As I was getting ready to sit down and work on my sermon, I was watching the morning news.  And a commercial came on that illustrates the confusion many of us have with the word justice.

It is a commercial I have seen thousands of times, because this lawyer is from "The Region" but has expanded his practice throughout the state.

I am sure you have seen it.
It begins by showing pictures of tragedies ---
          Car Accident
          The stage collapse a few years ago at the Indiana State Fair
And the voice talking over the commercial says: "The simple truth is life isn't just . . . and it concludes by saying "Even when life isn't just, there still can be justice."

And it leaves me with the question --- is that the same kind of justice that Jesus and the Bible talks about?

What is justice?

If you listen to the news, or Kenneth Allen's commercials: justice seems to be about retribution.

When somebody does you wrong --- somebody else needs to pay.

Retribution is not the goal of Biblical Justice --- BUT WHAT IS?

Our scripture passages this morning help us to understand.

The first passage is from the prophet Isaiah.

This passage gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is to look like.

Isaiah wrote during a very violent and turbulent time in the life of ancient Israel.

Isaiah 11 is often illustrated in art and referred to as the Peaceable Kingdom. 
An ideal state that God is calling all people to.

From God's point of view --- the least, the last, and the lost are not to be the prey of the powerful.

Big companies should not take advantage of smaller companies by devouring them and running them out of business.

The rich and powerful are to become the advocates for those who are oppressed by economics.

Local business owners are to cooperate by reaching out to the indigent poor who reside in streets and alleys.

When we see this happening, says the prophet: it will be evidence that God’s kingdom is emerging in our very neighborhoods.

When we as a church --- as Christians --- work together to reach out to the dispossessed and disenfranchised and take steps to help them help themselves and become part of the valued community, then we make our communities safer places for children to live and thrive.

The images that Isaiah uses are powerful

The lamb and the lion --- the powerful predator and the weak prey --- seemingly friends

The image of the child playing over a rattlesnake’s hole is a picture of a community that values rehabilitation and recovery in order that its children may not become the victims or prey of those who desperately need our compassion and help.

Tuesday a number of us went to the World Trade Center to the 911 memorial.
          It was a powerful experience.

But just imagine if you can what the world might look like had our nation on September 12th 2001 begun the arduous and difficult task of calling Arabs and Muslims from around the world to discuss why the twin towers disaster in New York City happened rather than designing a war room and battle plans?

I know --- you are all saying --- what Isaiah saw --- the peaceable kingdom is pie in the sky idealism.

But Isaiah wasn't calling us to stare at Edward Hick's iconic picture called the "Peaceable Kingdom" and stop there.

Isaiah was calling us to do specific things to help transform this world and help it reflect God's kingdom.

And it is our Matthew passage that holds the key to how we get there.

Yes, it is a strange passage to be listening to during advent, when we all really want is tinsel and parties and Christmas carols.

Matthew is reminding us that the key to justice (God's justice) is found in repentance.

I don't know about you --- but repentance generally isn't high on my list during the Christmas season.

But Matthew is telling us about ADVENT --- the coming of Jesus not just 2,000 years ago, but today.

John tells us that if we want to experience this ADVENT of Jesus we must prepare ourselves by doing three things.

First, in order to prepare for Jesus we must confess.

Have you ever known someone who had a lingering illness but who refused to seek a doctor's attention?
You have to recognize that there's a problem before you will seek assistance from outside yourself.

This new thing that God wants to do in our lives requires that we recognize that there is a problem and by ourselves we cannot fix it --- we need the ADVENT of Jesus.

Second, to prepare for the ADVENT of Jesus we must become obedient.

In my opinion, the hardest word in the English language is OBEY!
          We don't like anyone telling us what to do.

But God does --- being a follower of Jesus --- literally a disciple of his --- requires that we obey our teacher, our master.

I imagine you have heard the story about the little boy who was disrupting the dinner table.  He was standing on his chair --- and despite his mothers demands, he refused to sit down.  Eventually, she came around behind his chair and forced him to sit.

After squirming for a time, he finally sat still, but he said defiantly, "I may be sitting on the outside, but I'm standing on the inside!"

That's us!

How like that child are so many of us --- we continually insist on our own way.

But the truth is, God wants us to experience so much more --- but we can only experience it when we give God our trust and are willing to obey.

And if those two aren't hard enough the final challenge that John gives us is that we must recognize that we need Jesus --- that we are actually dependent upon Jesus.

We can't "do" justice without Jesus.

But it still begs the question --- what is meant by God's justice?

We know it is not retribution --- but what is it?

God's justice is uncomfortable for many of us.

It doesn't fit into our world view very well.
          Our economy is based on different principles

Biblical justice involves making individuals, communities, and the cosmos whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality.

It is perfectly illustrated in Isaiah 11

It is a world where all of creation lives in harmony

Maybe one way to illustrate it is again using two words that we often see as meaning the same thing, but words that God sees very differently.

And those two words are Equality and Equity

Equality is certainly a very good thing
          Everyone should have an equal chance

But God calls us to Equity

What's the difference?

Again let me try to illustrate rather simply

3 boys are standing at a six foot fence
Unfortunately, none of the boys can see over the fence

So someone finds them a box that they can all stand on

The box is one foot high --- so it is equal for all three boys

The problem is:
One boy is 5 feet tall, so with the help of the box he can now see
The second boy is only 4 1/2 feet tall --- and while standing on the box --- even on his tippy toes he can only get glimpses of the field
The third boy is only 4 feet tall and cannot see a thing

The box was EQUAL for all three boys --- but it did not provide EQUITY

EQUITY would require three boxes of different heights so all three could see

The world focuses on EQUALITY

God's justice demand EQUITY

How can you promote God's justice this Advent Season?

First, you need to slow down --- and let God's peace wash over you --- then we can begin to work for justice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Christ The King --- I was made for this

John 18:33-37    (NRSV)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

A number of years ago, USA today put together a panel of sports experts to name the 10 most difficult things to do in sports.

I don't think it was a very scientific list --- but one that a group of wannabe athletes made based on what they know --- or at least on what they thought they knew.

10.   Downhill skiing
9.    Saving a penalty kick in soccer
8.    Competing in the Tour De France
7.    Running a Marathon
6.    Landing A Quad jump in Ice Skating
5.    Returning A Serve in Tennis
4.    Hitting A Tee Shot Long and Straight
3.    Pole Vaulting
2.    Race Car Driving
1.    Hitting a Baseball

What do you think?  
What would you change to the list?

I was surprised that golf was considered the 4th most difficult.

While that list is kind of fun --- at the end of the day -- it really isn't all that important.

But what if you were to make a list of the 10 most difficult things to do in life --- what would you put down?

If you were to search on the internet --- you would come up with all kinds of lists that all seemed based on where somebody was in life at that particular moment.

But if we were to try and create just a list, what would you include?

Here is my list --- but i want to admit I used other people's lists for ideas.

10.     Be-loving God in the midst of the challenges of life (keeping faith)
9.       Being a servant --- truly doing humanitarian deeds for no reward
8.       Raising children
7.       Forgiveness (accepting and giving)
6.       Regaining trust that had been lost
5.       Loving those you don't like
4.       Quitting an addiction ---- drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography
3.       Removing life support from a loved one
2.       Burying a child

The life list is a tough list --- and I changed it pretty much every time I went over it --- because they are all so difficult and important, --- but those last two — having to make decisions about life or death --- or losing a child or really any loved one — are really difficult!

If you have ever been in the position where you had to decide to allow someone to go into hospice care, or to remove life support --- even when your head knows what the right thing to do is--- it is a terrible choice.

Top world athletes, even on their hardest days, never make that kind of choice.

Those kinds of decisions are not what we expect life to be about!

Does anybody remember Tom Laughlin?

He was famous in the 70's as the writer, actor and director of the Billy Jack movies.

Later in life he began working with cancer patients, lecturing and treating the psychology of cancer.

Steven Pressfield, in his classic work: The War of Art spends quite a bit of time focusing on Tom Laughlin.

And the point that Laughlin makes is that:
The moment a person learns that they have a terminal cancer a profound shift takes place in their psyche.  At one stroke they becomes aware of what really matters

A simple tragic diagnosis is sometimes what it takes to help us understand what is of ultimate importance.
·         it's usually not another meeting
·         or a bigger car
·         or larger house
·         it's not even a bigger paycheck

Those things that were an irritation only days before the diagnosis seen no longer important

What matters most in our lives is . . . RELATIONSHIPS

Go back and look at my suggest list of the 9 hardest things to do (I haven’t given you my #1 yet)
---- Everyone of them is about relationships

Laughlin went on and posed an interesting question:
Is it possible that cancer is the result of our failure to live our lives the way that they were intended to be lived?

Could cancer be the result of our un-lived lives extracting their vengeance upon us?

You have to wonder . . .
Laughlin even suggested, that when people with cancer began to live their lives fully --- that sometimes the cancer would go into remission
While Laughlin suggests that --- I can find no scientific evidence proving his claims
But there may be some truth to it

What I do know is that for most of us --- the most difficult thing in the world is to live the life the way that they were intended to be lived the way that God intended for us.

And that would be the number one --- most difficult thing to do

1.    Live the life God intended for us

It is easier to fill it with other things
          Worldly pursuits
                   Chasing the Almighty dollar

It is easier to fill it with other things --- than to risk it all for what our insides (our spirit) keeps telling us to be.

At the end of the day ---- what holds us back more than anything else is FEAR

And as crazy as this sounds; what I think we are most fearful of is becoming what we are truly supposed to be.

Have you ever witnessed a baptism?

What takes place during a baptism?
If I were to try to explain what happens (and words can’t really do it), I would suggest that what happens at baptism is that we place a sign-post --- a marker on that person or child's life

A sign-post that says --- I acknowledge that I am a child of God

What will become of that child's life?
          Do any of us really know?

The one thing we do know is God has blessed that child with a calling
Our job, and that child's job --- is to help them figure out what that is --- and then to help them not to be afraid to pursue it.

Our scripture this morning is that key moment, when Jesus claims his calling.
          Jesus says that he is to be king of our lives
                   Lord of our lives

Today is Christ the King Sunday.

It is one of those days that doesn't seem to get celebrated in many Protestant Churches, but I understand it is always celebrated here at Meridian Street.

So I probably don't have to explain the significance

But I hate to assume, so maybe I should.

Quoting the Companion to the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA, 2003)
The festival of Christ the King (or Reign of Christ) ends our marking of Ordinary Time after the Day of Pentecost, and moves us to the threshold of Advent, the season of hope for Christ’s coming again at the end of time.

The day centers on the crucified and risen Christ, whom God exalted to rule over the whole universe. The celebration of the lordship of Christ thus looks back to Ascension, Easter, and Transfiguration, and points ahead to the appearing in glory of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Christ reigns supreme. Christ’s truth judges falsehood. As the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, Christ is the center of the universe, the ruler of all history, the judge of all people. In Christ all things began, and in Christ all things will be fulfilled. In the end, Christ will triumph over the forces of evil.

Such concepts as these cluster around the affirmation that Christ is King or Christ reigns! As sovereign ruler, Christ calls us to a loyalty that transcends every earthly claim on the human heart. To Christ alone belongs the supreme allegiance in our lives. Christ calls us to stand with those who in every age confessed, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” In every generation, demagogues emerge to claim an allegiance that belongs only to God. But Christ alone has the right to claim our highest loyalty. The blood of martyrs, past and present, witnesses to this truth.

Behold the glory of the eternal Christ! From the beginning of time to its ending, Christ rules above all earthly powers!

This is from the United Methodist Church:
Christ the King Sunday is a relative newcomer to the liturgical calendar, arriving only in the early twentieth century. At that time, many Christians in Mexico were suffering religious persecution from their anti-religious government, and secularism was rapidly gaining the upper hand in Europe. In 1925, the Roman Catholic Church declared this day as a worldwide celebration of the kingship of Christ over every earthly power.

Kingship is a problematic concept for democracies, and perhaps for none more than the United States. This nation’s founding and continuing political philosophy rejects kingship as a failure to understand what government is to be at its most basic level—governance with the consent of the governed. These Scriptures make clear, as does the ministry of Jesus, that God’s politics are not identifiable with those of democracies or typical kings.

So today we celebrate that Jesus is our King

Our primary allegiance is to God and God's Kingdom

And that is a scary thing.

Scary because it requires us to set aside our personal agendas, and even our corporate ones --- and instead seek God's

Isn't that what we pray every time we pray the Lord's Prayer?
“Thy Kingdom come”
“Thy will be done”

Jesus is our King

And our job is to be obedient to him

And what does that mean?
          Read the Gospels

          But in a nutshell
"what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"

The hardest task in life is not hitting a baseball --- it is accepting the calling that God has given us, and being obedient to it.

It was the challenge that Jesus faced in our scripture, when Pilate asked him: "Are you King of the Jews?"

What was Jesus answer?
That his Kingdom was not of this world --- it is the Kingdom of the creator of the universe

Was Jesus afraid to accept and pursue the calling that God gave him?
          I don't know
But Jesus announces and accepts this calling in the face of the reality that by doing so will cost him his life

If Jesus truly is King
If Jesus truly is Lord

What is it that God is wanting you to pursue?

What are you hesitating in being obedient too?

What have you been afraid of becoming?

If you are not familiar with Bob Goff, you need to get to know him.  He is a lawyer and teacher in California, but is also one who has learned obedience to his king

He has a great little book called LOVE DOES --- I highly recommend it.

I have had the privilege to meet Bob a couple of times

And one of Bob Goff's favorite phrases is one that has become very important to me:
          God sees who we are becoming, not who we were!

Let Jesus be King in your life.

And become obedient to the calling he has for you.
          doing justice
          loving kindness
          and walking humbly

Friday, November 18, 2016

Prayer for healing

Here is the prayer that I prayed on Sunday.  Some people heard it very differently so I thought it was important to share.  I hope it is/was a prayer calling for us to come together as followers of Jesus and help bring healing to our nation.  I would love to know your thoughts.  I almost never write out a prayer but I was lead to, knowing how important this past Sunday was in our country.  I also felt very led by the Spirit to pray this prayer.  I have had numerous people share with me how they feel threatened and/or afraid, and I felt that I had to address that.

I hope and pray that we, as followers of Jesus can indeed rise up and proclaim the values that he teaches us.  I also believe that this would have been my prayer regardless of which candidate won --- it speaks more about where we are as a nation than where we are as an electorate.


Gracious God, we thank you that YOU are still God.
We gather today, still dealing with the election in our country.
We acknowledge that this is a hard time for many
And we pray that those who’s candidates won can show grace to those who are struggling
And those whose candidate’s lost can recommit themselves to the values that they hold dear.
But for both side, we pray that we can find common ground.
The only way America can be great is when we recognize that this is a nation for ALL of us and not just some --- and that together is what makes us strong and great.

So we pray today for President elect Trump --- we pray that he will listen to your spirit and be guided by your gracious love.

We pray for our brothers and sisters who feel like the country has let them down.
Who wonder if there is a place for them because they are:
            A legal emigrant
            Or maybe even illegal
            Other minority

Using the words of Rev Dr Martin Luther King
"Hate is too big a burden to bear.  I have decided to love."
Heal our land, O Lord.

Help us to Rise Up and carry forward your message of Grace and Love

Remind us of the powerful message of Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
It is in Jesus name we pray.  Amen

Monday, November 07, 2016

Celebrating The Past by Moving Forward

Hebrews 12:1-2    (NRSV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Sometime in the early 60's my father took me my first Major League Baseball game --- any guesses what team we went and saw? 

We went with another dad and his sons, and it is probably the only reason we went because my dad is not a sports guy. 
          Never has been. 
But from that first experience at Wrigley Field, I was hooked! 

When I was a kid, every gas station in suburban Chicago gave away White Sox tickets when you filled up your tank, and I went to a few Sox games, but it was the Cubs that stole my heart.

By the time I was a teenager, my friends and I had figured out ways to get to Wrigley Field on our own. 
·         All we had to do was manage to somehow get to the Skokie Swift station, and then we could then take that to the Howard Street El and then on to Addison and Sheffield. 
·         I spent many a summer afternoon sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.  Glenn Beckert was my first hero --- to be replaced as a young adult with Ryan Sandburg. 
·         I even once got into a fender bender right in front of Ron Santo's house. 

Wednesday night, as the Cub's recorded the final out, tears streamed down my face. 
·         Tears, for all those missed opportunities.
·         Tears for the fear of goats, and black cats and Steve Bartman.
·         Tears, for Jeff Aten -- my compatriot who went with me to all those summer games and would wear the floppy hats and crazy glasses that they always seemed to be giving away --- Jeff died just a little over a year ago and I shed tears that he never got to see this.

As I shared in my email on Friday --- it seems somewhat profound that we celebrate the Cubs victory during this season of All Saints.

November 1 is the traditional date for All-Saints day, but most protestant churches have taken the first Sunday in November as the day that it is celebrated --- since we don't typically have daily services.

We don’t talk about saints much in Protestant Christianity.
We leave that to our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters.
They name their churches things like, “St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Francis’,” while most of the time we choose names that tell you more about where we are located --- Like Meridian Street.

It is almost as if we have a certain suspicion about the saints.

It seems like we are afraid of making idols out of them, and so we acknowledge their place in ancient church history, but we leave them there.

Have you ever wondered --- just what is it that makes somebody a saint?

We, of course, have seen and watched the process as the Roman Catholic Church has moved to make both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul "saints".

According to Roman Catholic sources there are four steps to being declared a "Saint"

Before a person can be considered for sainthood, he/she must have been dead for at least 5 years.

First Step: When the subject arises that a person should be considered for Sainthood, a Bishop is placed in charge of the initial investigation of the person's life. If it is determined that the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration, the Vatican names the candidate as a "Servant of God."

Second Step: The Church Official, who coordinates the process and serves as an advocate, must prove that the candidate lived a heroically virtuous life. When a candidate is approved, he/she earns the title of "Venerable."

Third Step: To be beatified and recognized as a "Blessed," one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue (or martyrdom).

Fourth Step: Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification.  Once this second miracle has been received through the candidate's intercession, the Pope declares the person a "Saint."

I am not sure that is what we mean, in the protestant church – or specifically in the United Methodist Church, when we talk about saints.

We don't have a system in the UMC that elects people to sainthood.
We don't pray to saints or believe that they are mediators for us to God.
We believe, as we are told in 1 Timothy 2:5-6
"... there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all" (1 Timothy 2:5-6a). 

We call people "saints" because they exemplified the Christian life.

That is why we take the time every year, on All-Saints Sunday to read a long list of names of people who were saints to us. 

The “witnesses”, that the author of Hebrews talks about.

We pause and remember the ways that they touched our lives, the ways they made us better people.

Think about it ----
We gather here every week, because of the commitment and dedication of the Saints who have gone before us.
·         Our sisters and brothers who had a vision for making a kingdom difference in Indianapolis.

If you have never read Daniel Evans book: At Home in Indiana for One Hundred and Seventy-five Years, you need to pick it up and reflect on the saints that have made Meridian Street United Methodist possible.

But, I think it is a mistake to believe that only dead people are saints.

As I prepared for this morning, I read and listened to a number of sermons on All-Saints.  And they all ask a similar question --- who is going to one day remember us as Saints?

I think it is the wrong question.

As I understand the concept of being a saint --- in the United Methodist tradition one thing seems apparent.
          Sainthood isn't about the past --- it is about the present

As United Methodists we believe that every Christian can be considered a saint.

So while it is important for us to pause and reflect on the saints who have gone home to be with God --- today must also be a day in which we recommit ourselves to living a saintly life every day.

That doesn't mean we are going to be perfect --- it means that we are forgiven and have the opportunity not to let our failures define us, but to let our successes define us.

So the question becomes --- who sees the saintliness in your life?

Every day since arriving in Indianapolis I have had the opportunity to witness saints in action.
All you have to do is open your eyes and you see saints running all around Meridian Street Church

Yesterday, I witnessed two groups of saints.

One group met here at Meridian Street.  They were a part of IndyCAN (which stands for Indianapolis Congregation Action Network) of which Meridian Street is involved.  Seven members of Meridian Street were here hosting and reaching out to voters who had expressed interest in supporting the Transit Initiative encouraging them to get out the vote.

The second was a group of people, including two Meridian Street members, who decided to run a marathon pushing Robert, a retired United Methodist Pastor, who is battling Huntington's disease and help raise awareness and support for Joy's House.  Although, the truth be told, I think it was really to help Mr. Robert achieve a life-long dream of completing a marathon. 

Why do I call these people Saints --- because they were willing to give of themselves supporting others.

None of those callers will probably ever use the IndyGo Transit system, but they know the people who desperately need it are the under-served, and without changes to the system they will continue to be left behind.

The runners ran 26.2 miles not for their own glory --- but for Mr. Robert.

They were, using the phrase from the Roman Catholic Church, modeling a heroically virtuous life.

Look around you.

This room is filled with Saints.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Repairing The World

Revelation 21:1-6    (NRSV)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

There is a town in Southwest, Ohio --- it is a pretty small town ---- named for Jeremiah Morrow, one of Ohio’s early governors.

I imagine most of the town's residents probably wish his name had been something like Jeremiah Smith.

As you can imagine, the town's name can provide for some confusion ---- especially when someone wanted to get to Morrow tomorrow

Bob Gibson, realized the possibilities and a funny song was born. 

It was recorded by Gibson and a number of other people --- including The Kingston Trio and my favorite by far is the version by the Muppets --- you need to go find it on youtube!          (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEilPR1PXko)

The song goes like this:

To Morrow

I started on a journey, about a year ago
To a little town called Morrow in the state of Ohio
I've never been much of a traveller, so I really didn't know
That Morrow was the hardest place I'd ever try to go!

I went down to the station for my ticket and applied
For tips regarding Morrow not expecting to be guyed
Said I," I'd like to go to Morrow and return
No later than tomorrow, for I haven't time to burn."

Said he to me, "now let me see if I have heard you right--
You'd like to go to Morrow and return tomorrow night"
"You should have gone to Morrow yesterday and back today
For the train today to Morrow is a mile upon its way....

"If you had gone to Morrow yesterday now don't you see
You could have gone to Morrow and returned today at three.
For the train today to Morrow, if the schedule is right
Today it goes to Morrow and returns tomorrow night.

As the song points out ---- getting to tomorrow can sometimes be a difficult proposition!

That's always been true!

Especially when we turn tomorrow into a day, when all of the problems of today are going to be solved.

I bet you all remember that it is Annie who reminds us --- Tomorrow is ALWAYS a day away!

When we look at "tomorrow" in the Bible, tomorrow --- the future ---- the time that has not yet arrived --- tomorrow is the assurance that the present is never the end of the story.

It reminds us that the darkness of today will not survive into tomorrow.

One of the prophet Jeremiah's favorite phrases was "the days are surely coming . . ."

Jeremiah was proclaiming this during the dark and dismal days of Israel's history.
For the Israelites at that time --- the future (along with the present) looked pretty bleak!

But by reminding the people that there would be a  TOMORROW --- Jeremiah and the prophets were able to encourage Israel to keep their faith alive.

The future --- tomorrow is also very important for us as Christians.

For us it means something like this:
When you embrace the way of Christ, you enter the kingdom of God, which is already here in some ways.
But you also inherit the hope of the kingdom to come, where God’s love and power will have full sway, where all wrongs will be righted and where there will be neither sorrow nor suffering anymore.

If you listened closely to our reading today from Revelation --- you heard this same idea

The author says: (Revelation 21:1-4 The Message)
I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”

I can't tell you how many times I have said to people:
          "Don't lose hope --- tomorrow will be a better day"

or we say things like
Quoting Paul in Romans
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God"

“Tomorrow — some distant tomorrow — you will see your loved one again.”
“Tomorrow there will be war no more.”
“Tomorrow all violence will cease, and people will live peaceably with their neighbors.”
And so on.

But that tomorrow is shrouded in mystery

And when we offer consolation or encouragement with words like those --- even though it is the basis of our confidence --- it seems so far off that it often seems like wishful thinking.

I am fascinated with the history of World War II

During the early dark days of the war, England was unprepared to defend itself against the German onslaught.

Night after night German planes bombed London.
          Parents sent their children into the countryside hoping to keep them safe
          London was under constant threat and fear
The British air force --- which was no match to the German Luftwaffe, in personal or equipment --- did their best to defend their island nation.  But the reality is, many did not survive.

One of the most popular songs in England during that time was “The White Cliffs of Dover,” which proclaimed,
“There’ll be joy and laughter
And peace ever after,
when the world is free ... Tomorrow
Just you wait and see.”

The mood of that song sounds a great deal like our reading from Revelation.
The tomorrow that they proclaimed was not an eternal one
It was a tomorrow within the lifetime of that generation.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is not about "Heaven" but is best understood as envisioning a this-world someday.

At the beginning of the 20th century it was a time of great hope and optimism.

Many believed that our world was making progress toward becoming a more just society.
They believed that being a disciple of Jesus was more than just saving souls but being a Christian also required that they had to tackle the social problems of their day
·         poverty
·         warfare
·         human injustice

They saw themselves establishing a new social order
          A social order build on peace, justice and well-being

They took very seriously the call of Micah as he proclaimed:
"what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

Unfortunately, two World Wars, The Great Depression and the Holocaust put a damper on the optimism and hope of so many!

Christians began to realize that WHEN the Kingdom of God arrives it will because GOD has acted to make it so and not the result of our own doing.

And while they did not usher in the Kingdom of God as they had anticipated --- the Social Gospel Movement created some important and significant changes in our world.
Many of their ideals wound up in the New Deal legislation of the 1930's and I imagine most people who are getting a Social Security check is pretty thankful for that.

But it also helped us to recognize that we (as Christians) have a responsibility not only for one's soul but also for each other's and their own whole being.

While we cannot expect to establish the Kingdom of God (that has to be God's doing).
We must recognize that we have a responsibly to care for God's world and people --- even if it is only temporary.

After Hurricane Katrina, work teams from all over the United States of America (I believe Meridian Street was one of those churches) traveled to New Orleans to help rebuild the homes of people who didn’t have enough insurance or other income to rebuild on their own.
It has been slow work, and volunteers are still at it 11 years after the hurricane.
But wait! Aren’t at least some of those homes being rebuilt in areas that are likely to flood again in a major storm?

What’s the point of rebuilding there?

The point, of course, is that that is where people live.

Some have little option but to stay on property they already own.

We certainly can’t predict their future, but in the meantime, they have to have a place to live, so the church moves to help them where they are.
Even if a storm takes their restored homes next year, the work of God’s people hasn’t been for naught.

In Judaism there is a wonderful phrase for this concept --- it is called tikkun olam and it literally means "repairing the world".

The expression tikkun olam is used in the Mishnah to indicate that a practice should be followed not because it is required by Biblical law, but because it helps avoid social disharmony.

Tikkun olam isn't just about good works, it is closer to the concept of advocacy.

Tikkun olam isn't acts of mercy --- even though acts of mercy are important.

It's about engaging in social justice while also meeting people’s spiritual and physical needs.

The truth is while we strive to repair the world --- by securing economic well-being and equal rights for everyone --- we also need to assist people in helping them get shelter, food, and clothing, and also help them in finding God.

The kingdom of God is the ultimate tomorrow.

It’s the goal of history and the reward of the faithful.

The Kingdom's coming --- is up to God.

But between today and that tomorrow are the nearer tomorrows.

We who follow Jesus have the duty to make sure that the doors of justice and society’s benefits are open for all for those tomorrows and that the Discipleship Path to spiritual fulfillment is well marked.

And we shouldn’t wait for tomorrow to get started.

Because we can get there from here.