Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How Then Do We Live?

This week's scriptures are Genesis 6: 5-22 and Matthew 7: 13-29.

If you take a look at the titles of the blogs for the last couple of weeks you'll see a conversation taking place with myself (and hopefully with you):

"What Does God Think of Us?" is followed by the question "If God Cares So Much, Then How Come....?" This is a basic question that has troubled humankind for centuries. Whether you ask it as "how can a loving God allow suffering?" or "why do bad things happen to good people?" or in more painful, deeply personal ways (I will leave you to speak your own) it is a set of questions-and answers-that will shape our responses to the world around us.

According to some geological theories, about 12,000 years ago, toward the end of the Ice Age, glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere began to melt. Oceans and seas grew deeper. About 7,000 years ago the Mediterranean Sea's waters pushed northward slicing through what is now Turkey and flooded into the Black Sea with 200 times the force of Niagra Falls.

Seared into the memories of terrified survivors, the tale of the flood was passed down through generations; from the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic on into the Hebrew Scriptures account of Noah.

I read an interesting comment while preparing for Sunday's sermon. It isn't a pretty comment, but it rings true to me. The writer said that we've taken a story of terror and turned it into a cute little story about animals coming two by two. The truth, he pointed out, was that Noah looked over the ship's railing at the bloated corpses of animals and people floating in a scene of absolute devastation.

Talk about being overwhelmed. And yet...and yet each day, Noah sent out a bird. It wasn't a big thing to do. It wasn't some great act. He turned a bird lose. He committed a small, single act of faith in God's promise that this wasn't the end...that there was more to come...that God would, in fact, live up to God's word.

It is easy for you and me to feel overwhelmed as well. For me, accounts of 38,000 cases of PTSD resulting so far from the Iraq war; the tragedies in China and Myanmar; and the brutal violence in Zimbabwe are mind numbing. When I add to those stories the ones I hear closer to home from both victims and perpetrators of abuse; from those suffering from physical illnesses who are denied insurance coverage; the requests for help with food and electricity.....

Jesus talked about this at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, "Everyone who hears these words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house..." Can you relate so far? I sure can. But listen to the rest: "...but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock."

Now I've got some other things I want to add to this on Sunday; but for now, I want to point out that being "founded on the rock" looks a lot like what we talked about on this past Sunday when we explored "living in trust" as opposed to "living for security." It isn't that we're not afraid, or that we don't have issues to deal with. It's that we do the little things. Like Noah, we 'send out a bird.' We commit small acts of faith in God's promises, based on what Jesus has taught us about what God is like....'everyone who listens and acts, builds on the rock.' The action may be small. It isn't the size of the act, but the direction we take it in.

What 'bird' will you send out this week? Will you respond to Joann's request and write a letter to Zimbabwe? Will you make a contribution to relief aid somewhere? Will you live today in hope...despite what your past may have been? Maybe you'll plant your garden..and that beauty will be your statement in the face of all that is destruction. All of these may be 'birds' that we send out from the deck of our life's ship into the face of the overwhelming turbulence we see. Acts of faith that God loves us and all creation; and that this love will speak the final word.

Oh...a hint about Sunday...if you look at this scripture, ask yourself: 'what was the first thing Jesus did after talking about listening and doing in imitation of Him as building on the rock?'

Hope to see you Sunday.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

If God Cares So Much, Then How Come.....?

This week's scriptures are Isaiah 49: 8-16 and Matthew 6: 24-34.

The Bible Study group on Monday found that these scriptures may raise as many questions as they give answers. They are comforting passages; that's true. But they also force us to ask some hard questions about our own anxieties and fears.

The passage from Isaiah is a good example. In the early verses, God-through Isaiah-talks about all the good things that have been done for God's beloved Israel. Look at the language:

"I have formed you" "I have destined you" "I answered you" "I came to your aid"

But Zion's reply to this is "The Lord has forsaken me: my Lord has forgotten me." Israel's fear of abandonment is strong. So, apparently, are the trust issues of those that Jesus reminds in our Matthew passage not to worry about their life, "what you will eat or drink, what you will wear."

Unfortunately these verses don't mean that everything is okay, that we can count on God filling our every need right now. If that were true, what would that say about Christians in other parts of the world (or even in America) who go hungry, who are poorly clothed, who suffer from illnesses brought on by poverty?

Things don't go the way we would like. Trouble is all around us; personally and from a world wide perspective.

It's easy to start feeling like the Hank Williams Jr. song that starts off

"The preacher man says it's the end of time
and the Mississippi river she's going dry.
The interest is up and the stock market's down
and you only get mugged if you go down town"

The song's solution, unfortunately is that owning a "shotgun, a rifle, and a 45" takes care of those problems. It's a solution (or some version of it) that can look very attractive when we're feeling helpless and anxious. It's a power based solution. But is it the solution we're called to?

Two things leap to mind for me (and there will probably be others before Sunday):

The first is that we live in an 'Escatological Hope.' That means we believe somethings about what the Final Word is going to be. We believe that God is moving in and through history to heal and restore creation. That movement is often bumpy and rough; and confusing to us as we stand in our little bit of the road. But we hold tight to our faith that God is going to have the final say.

The second thing is a belief that part of God's answer is us. You and I are called to be part of God's action. Listen to these verses from our Isaiah passage:

"I have formed you, and destined you to be a light for peoples, restoring the land and allotting once more its desolate holdings." God goes on to describe how the prisoners will go free, those in darkness will come into the open. How "one who loves them will guide them and lead them by springs of water." God speaks of calling creation home, "Theya are coming; soe from far away, some from the north and the west, and others from the land of Syene."

If it's going to happen...if the Kingdom of God is going to come...then you and I are going to have be part of the coming. Jesus told us, "the kingdom of God is within you" this is the same kingdom that is described as yeast in the bread baking in the oven...the thing that makes the loaf rise.

Still and all, we fear being forgotten. Our anxieties about tomorrow still trouble us, even if they're just a vague feeling underneath it all. We need to acknowledge this; put it on the table with God...that's part of what Zion was doing in the Isaiah passage. least in part...that's the conversation:

US-It's dark and I'm afraid

GOD-I'm here. I've always been here

US-I'm scared you'll leave. It's dark, I can't see what's going on and I can't see you.

GOD-Listen to my voice. I'm right here. I could never leave you...I love you.

US-(breathing a little calmer) Let me try to light a candle, someone else might be scared of this dark too.

It's a thought. We'll look at it further on Sunday.

I know many folks will be on the road this weekend. Please drive safe. And if you're in town, we hope you'll join us for worship on Sunday.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Does God Think of Us?

This week's scriptures are Genesis 1:1-2:4a (and probably 2:4b-2:9), Psalm 8, and Matthew 28: 16-20.

First of all, I'd like to thank the folks who commented on last week's blog. Kara's comments about creating a space where things can happen and Jeremy's comments about the need for us to risk vulnerablility are important lead-in's to this week's conversation.

I would maintain that one of the reasons that most of us find it so difficult to risk vulnerability...with God, with others, even with that we tend to see ourselves as being judged rather than embraced. Another way to put it is that we do not believe that people (or God) will embrace/love us unless we are some how "good enough" to deserve that love.

Even when we give 'lip service' to the idea of God's love being free, unconditional, and for everyone, there is the little voice in the back of our head that hedges our bets, that wonders if this kind of love is truly possible.

For those of us who grew up in homes where it felt like love was doled out based on our accomplishments; or where violence and abuse were common; such love is almost beyond belief. In fact, we can be suspicious of the words that come from scripture or the church when our life experience was to hear one thing ("Mommy and Daddy love you just like you are") and experience another (the feeling that love was given or withheld based on what we produced).

For many of us, our experience of love has felt more like running for office that the recieving of a free gift. We feel like we have to store up enough "votes" or "trophies" or whatever before we can safely expect to be cared for.

Even those moments of exquisite awareness of God's love for us are often accompanied by words like those of the Psalmist:

"What is a frail mortal, that you should be mindful of him/her, a human being that you should take notice"

Or those of Chris Christofferson:

"Why me Lord, what have I ever done
To deserve even one, of the pleasures I've known?
Tell me Lord, what did I ever do,
That was worth love from you, or the kindness you've shown?"

The truth is that the answer is "Nothing...and we don't have to." This is shocking to most of us. It goes against the grain. But it doesn't go against scripture. The Bible keeps telling us things like: "God showed God's love in that while we were yet sinners...." and "greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." The truth is that God doesn't love us because we're good.

In fact, there's some pretty steamy stuff in scripture that points to the idea that God's feelings toward us are more like those of a lover in the erotic sense. The Song of Songs, in addition to being incredible (and vivid) love poetry, compares God's love for humankind to a young couple who can barely restrain themselves. And the description of the Church in Revelation as "prepared as a Bride for her husband" builds on this image.

his isn't an intellectual exercise....God loves, craves, desires, "has the hots for" humankind. And what's more, God created us to have that kind of desire for God. This is why St. Augustine could say "our hearts are restless til they find their rest in Thee." God wants you (and me) in a big way. And we were created for that relationship. All our seeking, all our wandering, all the striving/addiction/craziness/hungry for we don't know's our search for the true home that we find only in God. Just like (if we're lucky) the true home we find in the arms of our lover.

Good parents...good lovers...when these are at their best, they point us toward another reality. All of them point to-but can't even begin to describe-how God feels about us. You and I are called to join this terrifying, joyful, giggly, tearful dance of Life....and we can only risk the vulnerablility to step into the music when we know how God feels about us.

God loves you. Come join the dance.

Hope to see you Sunday.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Living Water

This week's scripture are Isaiah 55: 1-5, John 7: 37-39 and Acts 2: 1-21

All these images link together. Isaiah invites us to come to the water; to recieve the gift of an everlasting covenant. Jesus promises that "springs of living water shall flow from with [us]." And the Acts passage tells us something about what it looks like when the Spirit comes and we overflow.

I don't know about you; but I could certainly use some of that water this week. Let's start with the fact that this is the latest I've ever posted my blog about the upcoming sermon. This week was the last week of the semester. Papers were due, exams to be taken (one in statistics....and some of you know how numerically challenged I am). A wedding last weekend. A friend in crisis. A client in jail. Some days you feel like you're in the middle of a 'spiritual blanket toss.'

I could really use some of that water.

That was what I was telling myself when I sat down to write this blog.....Then, I had to take a break to go lead a therapy more thing I had to do before I could go home and get some sleep.

And the funniest thing happened. One of the men in the group openned up about a painful part of his life. Something he hadn't talked about for years. And the man across the room from him said, "yeah, that happened to me too." Around the room, one by one, men began to share...not just their pain; but their care for each other.
They made sure that guys who'd had a really hard time in group tonight had phone numbers so that they could call each other if they needed to talk. Two of them made plans to go hear a third play in a band over the weekend.

I didn't have to do much. Just sit back and drink from the well that opened up when one man had the courage to share his pain and have a community of men gather around him.

When I sat down to write this blog tonight, I said to myself, "I certainly could use some of that water." Obviously Someone was listening. Isn't it amazing the places where the Holy Spirit moves and wells of living water spring forth.

Hope we'll see you Sunday.