Sunday, November 18, 2018

Stewardship - Legacy

Legacy Giving

            The Wednesday night and Thursday morning Bible Studies have spent this past fall studying Elijah.  We have this beautiful Elijah stain glass window here in the sanctuary, so we wanted to learn more about this ancient prophet.  The last chapter of our study was called Legacy.  Elijah, through his faithfulness to God, through his work proclaiming people to return to God, he left a legacy to future generations, including us, here in this place.  The legacy of Elijah connects to the role and purpose of John the Baptist, but his legacy is also passed along through people naming their children Elijah, and it just so happened that we had a pastor named Elijah Stoddard and that this particular window was dedicated to him, so in a sense, it is a double legacy.  A legacy of Elijah the prophet and a legacy of the ministry of Elijah Stoddard.  A physical reminder to us of those who came before us to share their faith through ministry. 
            Our church building is filled with legacies.  We could take a tour and learn about those that came before us through the gifts that have been left in their names.  Today, I specifically chose Miss Grob as someone that has left us a legacy.  I reached out to Sue Anderson to see if she knew Miss Grob or had any history on her and this is what Sue has to share:
Miss Clara Grob was a first grade teacher in Roxbury.  She was my first grade teacher in the Franklin school on Meeker St. in Succasunna.  She lived on N. Hillside Avenue in Succasunna in a brick home that backyard was along our Cemetery fence.  She had lots of bird feeders in her backyard.  She would talk about the many birds in her classes.  She would give books about birds to her students for example for Christmas.  I still have mine. I remember finding it and bringing it to church to show Miss Grob.  She was shocked that I still had it like 25 years later.
        She was very tall and slender, but hunched over later in life.  She wore a hat and dress and walked to church from her home.  She always sat in the front on the left in front of the pulpit.  She left a pillow to sit on, on her pew. .She had no children or relatives.  Her students were her children.  She was very generous and left her home to our church. She was a wonderful teacher.  
            I chose Miss Grob to share today, because more and more, her name is becoming just a name on a fund.  A fund that has been our endowment fund, a fund that has been our life raft to help us through difficult years of continuing our ministry despite limited financial resources.  When she left her house, she had no idea how her gift would further enhance the work of God’s people, here in this place.  Gifts can have a ripple effect, they might be intended for one thing, such as housing an associate pastor, but through prayer and discernment and trusting in God, they can be transformed into other resources for God’s ministry. 
            Our scriptures are filled with stories of people of faith leaving a legacy to the next generation and these legacy gifts come in all different shapes and sizes.  In the story of Hannah, she is barren and she wants a child more than anything else in life.  So, as she prays in the temple, she asks God to give her a child, and in response, she will give the child back to God.  Her legacy, her way of giving to God for God’s goodness in her life, is to return what she has received, her child.  I love the story of Samuel.  Samuel, while living in the temple with the priest Eli is called by God to be the first in the line of prophets.  Hannah’s gift, her dedicating her son to be a part of the priestly class, specifically a Nazarene, is transformed by God and Samuel’s legacy is even more than his mother’s expectations, he becomes a prophet. 
            And then we have the story of the woman with the costly nard or perfume.  Those gathered together are shocked and surprised when she takes this ointment and pours it out upon Jesus.  What could she be thinking?  This perfume should have been sold so they could use the money to help the poor.  I know I have had those very same thoughts when I wrestle with stewardship decisions.  When I was in Kenya, the church I was visiting on Sunday was raising money for a church bus.  My thoughts were, you are raising how much money for a bus when there are street children right outside your doors.  Couldn’t that money be used to make a difference in the life of these children?  We can always make judgements on how we think money should be used rather than how it is being used.  So Jesus responds: “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news[d] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”  Jesus transforms her action into a legacy.  Others cannot understand her actions, but Jesus does.  Jesus understands that this is what the woman has and out of complete love and compassion and dedication to him, she literally pours out what she has upon him.  And as others scold her, Jesus says that she should be remembered always. 
            How do we pour out our lives for God?  How do we dedicate the next generation to knowing our faith?  How are we leaving a legacy for the future?  And are we willing to leave a legacy that just might look different in the future than what we are expecting?  We have legacy gifts left for specific ministries, which is wonderful, but we also need legacy gifts left to be used how the Holy Spirit is calling us to become.  In this season of Thanksgiving and Stewardship, how might you prayerfully give to the work and ministry of this church for today and tomorrow, but how might you also give for the future?  Miss Grob loved to teach, she loved children, she loved birds, and she must of deeply loved this church and her God.  She could have given her estate to Audubon for the protection of birds for the future, she could have given her estate to the school for the continuation of education, but she chose the church.  The church must have meant something very personal for her, it must have impacted her life very deeply, and my hope is that we can be that ministry to those gathered here today and for those that will gather in this place fifty years from now.  Whether you knew Miss Grob or not, here legacy is making a difference in your life today, as her gift continues to ripple out into this ministry.  Amen. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Steeple Dedication

Steeple:  Faith can move Mountains

            Do you have faith to move a mountain?  Well, I know how to turn a mole hill into a mountain, but faith to move a mountain?  This summer, as the carpenters and painters worked in extreme heat, to restore our historic steeple, this passage kept coming to mind.  Faith to move mountains.  And then I would add in my head, or faith to restore a steeple.  For this is so much more than repairing and painting a steeple.  This is a story of years and years of conversations, time invested, and careful discernment as to the priorities in the ministries of the congregation. 
            So, although it was not a burning bush with God’s voice speaking to us, we did have a sign from the steeple that it was time to really prioritize its restoration.  A few years ago, a board fell from it.  Yikes, what if it had hit someone?  Are there more loose boards?  From that point forward, small steps starting moving us to today.  The session approved a capital campaign fund to restore the Steeple.  A small group of members were elected at a Congregational Meeting to begin the process of receiving estimates.  Deeper conversations were held with our session and deacons discerning the ways we could use our treasure could be used to offset the costs for the steeple’s restoration.  Then, a group formed that decided to apply for a historic grant.  This dedicated group, became the Steeple committee, and pulled information from a previous grant application, updated information, sought estimates, and submitted the grant to the county.  Only to find out that a lawsuit against the county made religious organizations ineligible to receive these grants.  Defeat! 
            Except, this is a story of faith moving mountains, or in this case, restoring a steeple.  Back to the drawing board.  We had not yet officially started a campaign for the steeple, although we had already received significant gifts towards it restoration.  The energy seemed to be here, could we really do this without the grant money to help us?  The steeple committee decided to take that leap of faith.  There were no guarantees of future grants, and we had received an amazing gift from the estate of a church member towards the building.  Maybe God was talking to us.   
            The Steeple committee set a budget without really knowing what would be found once the carpenters got up to the bell tower, although we did borrow a drone with a nice camera to get some areal views of the steeple.  Again, taking a step out on faith, we moved forward.  As pledges came in, the energy increased and the reality of not only restoring the Steeple but being able to pay for this project all seemed to be in alignment.  A report was brought back to the Steeple committee and the session that there was significant wood damage, a lot of water damage, and that there was going to be a lot more carpentry work than originally thought.  Move forward, let’s do this, and do it right.  Faith moving mountains. 
            Our original two week time frame turned into three and the rain pushed us to four.  The heat caused the lift to basically melt the driveway over on the kitchen side of the building, the rain caused it to sink into the mud, and a tow was needed.  Obstacles, hurdles, but no roadblocks, but would it be finished within the month lease of the lift?   More conversations on additional costs of the lift.  And a wee bit of fear entered in as we wondered how much extra costs would begin to accumulate.  Without fail, the last day of the lift lease, work was finished!  It seemed impossible, but faith truly did move this mountain or in this case, restored a steeple. 
            So, what is so important about a steeple?  I think I said on more than one occasion, let’s just remove it.  Everything right now seems to be about finding your why. What was our why?  Well, it’s historic, it’s been a part of this church building for over two hundred years.  It’s part of our identity here in this community.  There is nothing Biblical about steeples, but they did serve two significant purposes in the past.  Before people had watches, the church bells, located in the steeple, were used to call the community together, not just for worship, but for meetings and other community affairs.   The bells needed to be up high enough for the sound to carry across the region.  Now, our steeple does not have a clock, but some church steeples, also have a clock that was used by the community and again, it needed to be up high enough so people had greater access to see it.  But we don’t need a town clock or bells calling us together, we all have watches or phones that we use for telling time. 
            So, other than its historical meaning, what does a steeple mean in this modern world?  Why not just remove it?  Well, as a people of faith, we often use symbols to signify deep spiritual meaning.  We mark our worship space with the symbol of the cross, the baptism font, the communion table, but we are people that are not just to gather inside a building for worship, but a people called to go out into the world.  The steeple is outside, it is out in the world, our bell rings out and whether you are someone that attends church or not, it is a reminder, a reminder that faithful people do gather, that people in this community do trust in God, that hope moves us forward to ensure that we have a strong and healthy community to live and raise our families.  For some, a steeple might just be a reminder of past days, but for others, it can be a symbol of hope, a symbol reaching up towards heaven, reminding us to pray, reminding us that God is at work, not just a thing of the past, but is currently present in our lives.  Some people might just drive by the church and say, finally, they have painted that thing, they won’t know the faith it took to make this day a reality.  But we know, we now we have a story to share.  The steeple I once said, let’s just remove it, now is a symbol to move of faith, a symbol of faith moving a mountain, a story of faith overcoming defeat and rising up with determination that together, we can make miracles happen.  Amen. 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Sermon Series: Dreams: Mary and Joseph

Last week I mentioned that sacred dreams occur in the scripture during major times of transition in the life of God’s people.  Dreams bringing people closer to God, dreams showing outsiders to the faith that God is the true God, dreams bringing hope to people who have little to no hope left.  Even in the darkest of times, God reaches out to God’s people and sends a message of presence, of hope, of possibilities for the future.
            And so today, we have another dream, another angel speaking to Joseph in his sleep, that Mary will have a child, a child blessed by God, a child that is proclaimed to be the son of God, the long awaited heir to the throne of David, the new branch from the stump of Jesse. 
            The dream that Joseph had, of this angel sharing with him about the birth of this child, is so transitional, that early church leaders took these stories and marked them as different.  Although the Hebrew scriptures were not yet known as the Old Testament, this dream, this birth, this transition brought about what we now call the New Testament and the Gospels.  A whole new set of holy scriptures were born through this dream. 
            For those that were here the Sunday we heard the dreams from Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar, we heard about two separate dreams that were of future kingdoms.  There would be four kingdoms and after that God would create an eternal kingdom:  “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. And from Daniel’s dream:  Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’   We also look to Isaiah and his words about God’s future kingdom as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and how we believe he is the fulfillment of God’s promises and sacred dreams. 
            And so generation after generation have waited.  God’s people who were in exile during the time of Daniel and Ezekiel have returned home.   They have reestablished their lives in Israel but have not become the might kingdom they once were.  They have struggled to protect themselves and have found themselves conquered by the Greeks and then again by the Romans. 
There is a deep yearning in the people to have a new leader, a new king, someone that will defeat the Roman oppression and allow the people to once again live as an independent nation.  But sometimes human yearning is not what God is creating.  The angel shares these words with Mary:  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  This tends to connect to that yearning of God’s people.  It gives them the hope that this is the one that has come to be their new king. 
But to Joseph we are told:  you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”  There is nothing here about a kingdom or the throne of David it is a much more spiritual nature.  But Joseph knows that there is something special about this child.  Perhaps God was calling him to be a religious leader, a Pharisee or a Sadducee, someone with the authority to cleanse God’s people of their sins.   There is no king language here, no new kingdom, but still a major message of who this child will be, he will save his people from their sins. 
And so the time has come, the dreams from 500 years prior are being fulfilled, are coming into reality, God’s very presence is truly entering the world.  No longer is God speaking through dreams to bring transition and hope and purpose to God’s people, but rather is entering the world in human form, in a sacred presence, in a living dream to share with God’s people how to truly live in the world, even when there is oppression, even when there is injustice, even when hope seems scarce. 
Last week, I asked the question that perhaps we are lost in today’s world because we do not know where we fit into the story, where are we in the sacred dream sequence?  We are no longer waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises, we are no longer waiting for the coming of the Messiah.  Some people are diligently awaiting the second coming, we hear mention of this once in awhile, all the bad things happening in the world must mean that Christ is coming soon and all of this will be destroyed and God will redeem God’s people. 
But as Presbyterians, we live into this current time understanding our place within the promises of God as disciples, as followers of Jesus, as doing what we can to live out the teachings Jesus calls us to live out.  Just as Moses gave the people the 10 Commandments, a code of living as God’s holy people, we have been given teaching after teaching to live into as we journey through these lives. 
What is God’s dream for today?  Well, each congregation, each Christian organization or agency should be interpreting this question or themselves and living into their own piece of the greater picture.  The mission that I grew up volunteering with in Maine had a statement that their purpose was something about – until we fix the last house on the last road.  The YMCA has been running commercials that state:  There's never been a better time to build a better us. At the Y, we are committed to creating a better community for all.  Also – we are not just a gym, we are a community. 
So, that is my goal for us this summer as we move into the fall, to truly spend time imagining, dreaming, wondering, what is God’s dream for us in today’s world?  Through New Beginnings, your dream was to partner with the community near and far to spread the love and joy of Jesus.  Another dream was to live more fully into what is called Missional Church.  I have shared various aspects of missional church with you all and as we journey into 2019, I want us to dwell more deeply in the understanding of missional church. 
One of the habits of missional church is to announce the kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God, to announce the very fulfillment of the angel’s message to Mary.  Mary, your son will be the Son of the most high – and his kingdom will endure forever.  Two thousand years later, do we see that kingdom in our midst?  Do we feel God’s presence with us?  God’s dream for us to be disciples, disciples that see God at work and share those moments of love, justice, reconciliation with others.  We announce that the homeless have shelter, the hungry have been fed, the thirst have something to drink.  We announce that broken have been healed.  We announce that children that have no school supplies now have the resources they need for school.  We announce that God’s love is creating loving community where all are welcomed and offered safe space.  Amen. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Sermon Series - Dreams - Ezekiel 1

            There is a saying:  Without vision, the people perish.  This saying was an important part of my early youth and young adulthood in connection with the ministry and mission of my home church.  Each summer, we would journey up to rural Maine and would work on housing for low-income families.  It is very much like the Appalachian Service Project that many of our local churches participate in, and perhaps a possible mission trip in our future. 
            Without vision, the people perish.  Without dreams, without hope, without the potential for a better future what would give people meaning as they look into tomorrow?  Although I am not an expert on this, people appear to be unique in that we are able to think about tomorrow, to think about next week and next year, to think about how to take care of ourselves to ensure our survival in years ahead.  Other intelligent creatures, such as dolphins and elephants, don’t have a retirement plan.  They take each day as it comes, living within their community, seeking food and companionship.  They definitely understand fight or flight, knowing when danger is at hand and working together to protect each other especially their young. 
            Over the course of human history, people have learned that they need to think about the future, that the need to plan for the changing seasons, that they need to store food and create clothing and shelter to protect them from the elements.  And somewhere along the way, people also developed an understanding that as they think about the present and the future, as they live together in family units and greater community, that a presence greater than themselves is also involved in their lives.  Life became more than just food, family, sleep, but a sense of soul, a sense of a spiritualness to life, a sense of purpose that people are part of a divine plan, a sacred journey. 
            And so we have these unique stories within our scriptures, these dreams and visions of God speaking to humans through images embedded with deep meaning.  Dreams guiding people into a future of promise, of love, of healthy and whole community.  From Jacob’s dream of the ladder, to Joseph’s dream of greatness, to Daniel’s dream of future kingdoms, each dream happens in a specific time and place and marks a significant transition in the life of God’s people.   Jacob’s dream gives him the deep understanding that God is present with him, awakening him to the sense that he has a soul, that there is a sacred quality to life, and that his future offspring are a part of God’s plan for humanity.  Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel’s dream mark a transition in the life of the Hebrew people.  They are in exile, perhaps feeling abandoned by God, but through these dreams God sends a vision, a meaning, a purpose for God’s people to stay strong that if they are able to endure, for kingdoms later, their offspring will be a part of God’s eternal kingdom. 
Imagine, having to live into a dream that is not for you but for your great-great-great grandchildren.  That’s really tough for us to imagine in today’s world of instant gratification.  Maybe, just maybe I could engage in Pharaoh’s dream, seven years of abundance and seven years of famine.   Fourteen years is not so overwhelming as potentially four hundred years to hold onto hope, and at least seven of those fourteen years are going to be good.  Maybe that is part of the crisis churches are going through today, people have lost the sense of where we fit into God’s plan.  Where are we in the grand scheme of things?  What dream are we living into?  Do we feel like the seven years of scarcity, that a famine is in our land, and we are trying to wait it out until better days arrive?  Or are we like the people in Daniel’s time where the just is no hope for us but perhaps the future generations will be a part of God’s grace? 
So, enter in Ezekiel’s dream.  Ezekiel lives in the time of exile as well.  The great Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed.  God’s home, God’s dwelling place is in ruins.  What must that have felt like for the faithful people.  The pain, the loss, the sense of spiritual death, the destruction of hope.  What kind of future would they have and where was their God, was God dead too?  People do not do well in exile.  People do not do well when their belief system is destroyed.  People do not do well when they are forced to live within a new culture.  Unfortunately, this has happened over and over and over again through human history.   Here in our own country, we are still trying to sort through the destruction placed upon the Native American people and the impact that slavery has had upon our nation. 
And so Ezekiel has this dream, a dream of heavenly nature.  His dream is every bit as descriptive and symbolic as Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, with winged creatures each with four faces, faces of God’s creation: human, eagle, lion, and ox.  From the birds of the sky, to the domesticated animals for farming to the wild animals of hunting, appearing together in one heavenly being.  A dream filled with a wild storm of wind and lightning and fire, makes it almost sounds like Pentecost.  And then there is the appearance of the wheels, a wheel within a wheel, Ezekiel saw a wheel way up in the middle of the air.  Now in several cultures, the sun god rode a chariot across the sky each day, was Ezekiel connecting the sun god of the Babylonian people into his dream?  I’m not sure.  But whatever his vision, he saw a heavenly being sitting on a thrown, being honored and worshipped by the winged creatures.  Has Ezekiel had a glimpse of heaven? 
Ezekiel’s role as a prophet during exile is to keep the hope alive.  It is his job, his vocation, his calling to remind God’s people that God has not abandoned them, that just because the earthly Temple where God dwells is destroyed, God is not dead.  God has a heavenly Temple, a heavenly presence and God will continue to be present in the lives of God’s people.  In times of great distress, when earthly hope seems to be lost, people will seek the promise of a heavenly life, an eternal life, a life where God reigns.  Our scriptures are scattered with these promises that no longer shall there be tears, or loss or grief, that a time will come when God’s peace reigns. 
I sometimes wonder if that is the role of the church in today’s world, to be like Ezekiel the prophet, to keep the hope alive, to remind the world that God is not dead but still very much a part of our lives or this world and that God still has a purpose for us.   Just like people in exile, we live in a day and age where so many people have lost their vision and are in one way or another perishing.  This happens though addictions – drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, and even with our phones.  People are connected to each other and yet feeling extremely lonely.  Suicide rates are up.  As we saw in Philadelphia, homeless people are often ignored and treated as if they are not anyone’s problem but their own.  Mental illness struggles can bring people into a stage of lost hope, as well as tragedies within one’s life.  So many people are looking out into this world and wondering where is God?  And God has blessed the world, blessed communities with the church, with faithful people still holding onto hope and love and forgiveness and grace, we are called to be the voice of the prophet the voice of hope for the future the voice of God to the people. 
And yes, even us, even if we feel lost and lonely and are asking where is God in all of this, even us, we are called to dream.  We are called to embrace the sacred and come together and create a vision for the future, a dream of God’s love to be born in this place.  We are called to look around our community, to listen to the places of hurt, and respond with a vision, a dream, a purpose for how God is calling us to connect to those places of hurt and loss.  And when it feels overwhelming or when we feel we don’t have the energy or insight to move forward, God meets us and reminds us that we are loved and feeds us through the sacrament of communion.   As we break bread and share the cup, we are reminded that God has never abandoned God’s people, that sacred dreams have moved God’s people forward in a new direction and that we too are called into the story of dreams, of God immersed futures, of God’s current presence here in our lives.  That we are fed to continue the story, to dream new dreams, to remind others that God and the church are still relevant in the world today. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

sermon - Daniel: dreams

Prophetic Dreams

            When people think of the book of Daniel, most often, they think of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  This book is one about a tragic time in the life of the Hebrew people.  Israel has been conquered by the Babylonians and the educated and skilled people have been taken captive, into exile back to Babylon.  As they enter life in the captive land, they are encouraged to assimilate into the culture and ways of the Babylonians including their religion.  This is a story of resistance, a story of people seeking to stay faithful to their God despite chaotic times, and it is a story of hope that even though the present is not very favorable, the people find hope that God will establish a better future.  And it is a story of dreams. 
            We started our sermon series on dreams with Jacob, who dreamed of a ladder connecting earth to heaven.  In this dream, Jacob was awoken to the sacred right there, in the very place where he slept.  It was also a sacred dream that reinforced Jacob’s call that he and his descendants would be God’s people.  Last week took us to Egypt where Joseph had a dream that he, the youngest brother, would rise to power over his older brothers.  In this story there were several other dreams including that of Pharaoh.  These dreams were prophetic, speaking to things in the future and Joseph was able to interpret these dreams so the Egyptians could prepare for a long season of famine. 
            Today, we continue with prophetic dreams, dreams held not by God’s people, but like Pharaoh, the oppressor of God’s people.  The first dream we heard was that of Nebuchadnezzar, but instead of sharing his dream with others he demands that others must tell him the dream and then interpret it for him.  Those in his court cannot tell him his dream, but Daniel has a true gift.  Here, in the land of exile, in a land where Daniel has taken great risks to stay faithful to his God, he has the opportunity now to not only interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream but also share what he dreamt.   “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come
            So Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar his dream, his dream is of kingdoms, starting with the current kingdom moving far into the future.  As each kingdom comes after Babylon, they are slightly weaker and weaker.  Unlike the dream of Pharaoh and Joseph, this dream takes us long into the future and there seems to be no immediate action that can be taken.  There is no calling to stockpile food in order to prepare, it just is.  As Daniel gets to the end of the dream, listen to the language:  the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.  Does this sound like the texts we use at Advent?  Isaiah also speaks of a future kingdom, an eternal kingdom of King David, a Kingdom that we now speak of as that brought to us through Jesus Christ.  And as Daniel concludes his interpretation, giving credit to God in heaven, Nebuchadnezzar responds:  Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.  And just like Joseph, Daniel is given a position of authority within the Babylonian Court. 
            For a people in exile, to know that their God is present with them, is sending them a message of hope, even though it is through their oppressor, they find encouragement, they have a new anchor in which to place their faith, they have something to lift them up out of the chaos and stress of these trying times. 
            Over time, a new king came to rule over Babylon, king Belshazzar, and this time it is Daniel that has a dream.  Daniel’s dream parallels that of King Nebuchadnezzar, in that it is predicting future kingdoms.  As his dream concludes he has this vivid image of:  In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.  Again, we have this prophetic vision of the Messiah. 
            Professor:  Juliana Claassens
Share this:  Daniel 7 assert that God is not just a far-away removed deity, but that God is present in the chaos of this world: moving, acting, and intervening in the real life struggles of the believers who are yearning for a Liberator God.  Sometimes when we switch on the morning news and read the newspapers over a cup of coffee, we may feel a bit like Daniel, frightened by devouring monsters in his night visions, when we seek to wrap our minds around everything that is happening in our country and around the world. However, the belief and hope in a Savior that enters exactly where the forces of chaos seem to be most rampant is what allows one to get up and face the day. 
            God, through these dreams, sent the people hope despite being in exile, despite being in captivity, despite being oppressed by outside forces.  We, continue to live as a part of that dream, on the other side of it, on the side where God has sent the son of man, the redeemer, the liberator and yet, we know there are still forces of oppression in this world, there are still vices that we need liberated of.  When we find ourselves struggling in hard times, what is our anchor?  What is our hope?  We have the eternal kingdom of God, the eternal reign of our loving Creator, we are a part of this on-going story, this on-going dream.  God is not done with the world yet.  The people of God have endured through amazing trials and tribulations and the promise of God’s presence in their lives has strengthened them. 
            The forces of oppression in our lives today are varied.  They can be disease, unemployment, under employment, addiction, poverty and homelessness.  They can be global structures where we just feel powerless.  And God’s people do not stay silent, there are various groups being a voice for the voiceless, being a witness to God’s goodness in the world, speaking out on behalf of the environment, dedicating their careers to mental illness treatment and care.  So many people seek to be a part of God’s dream, a part of the redemption of this world, a part of the liberation, witnesses of God’s presence in this world  Amen. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

summer series: Dreams

This summer, I thought it would be fun to do a summer sermon series on the various dreams found in our scriptures.  So, as we begin with this first dream, often referred to as Jacob’s ladder, I will share a bit of background on Jacob.  The story really begins with Abraham and Sarah, called by God to leave their land and follow God.  Eventually, Sarah and Abraham have a son named Isaac and now the next generation has been born.  Isaac marries Rebekah and has twin sons: Esau and Jacob.  During her pregnancy, Rebekah seeks the Lord and learns:  And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
 the elder shall serve the younger.”
Esau is born first which secures him the birthright of the eldest son.  Jacob was rather cunning and bought his brother’s birthright from him for a bowl of stew.  Then, with the help of his mother, Rebekah, he is able to trick his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing instead of Esau.  Between taking his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing, Esau and Jacob are no longer on speaking terms, in fact, Jacob flees with the fear that his brother just might kill him. 
            It is here that today’s passage begins, a younger brother, destined by God to break the cultural norm of birth order, fleeing for his life.  As night fell, Jacob found a place to rest and as he slept, he had a dream.  President of Princeton Seminary, Rev. Craig Barnes says this:  You see, when it comes to dreams, the only good ones come from God. And God insists on just giving them to us. The most important dreams are things like being loved, having a child, beholding beauty, discovering your purpose in life, finding joy in your work, or finding a friend who will stick with you through anything, even the truth. Those dreams, the things for which we yearn most in life, come only as blessings from God. And blessings can only be received.
            As Jacob falls asleep, he dreams of a ladder, a ladder connecting the earth to heaven and going up and down on this ladder are angels.  What I think is interesting is that God is not up at the top, God is not up in heaven sending his message down the ladder through the angels, but rather, we are told that the Lord stood beside Jacob.  And then Jacob was given a promise, if you compare this message from God to that given to Abraham it is almost the exact same.  God promises, that Jacob will have numerous descendants and this land will be his.  But more importantly, all the families of the earth shall be blessed[d] in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go. 
            Perhaps before this dream, Jacob knew that he was to inherit his father’s blessing, perhaps he knew that he was going to assume the role of the elder brother even though he was the younger, but it is not until this dream, that he truly understands that this is not a role of power but a blessing, a gift from God, a sacred calling. 
            How often in our lives, we seek to climb the ladders before us, if you are in the corporate world, we even call it the corporate ladder.  We want to climb up, we seek promotions, we seek job security because we then have financial security.  But how many awful stories have we heard of people climbing and climbing and climbing only to destroy their own lives? 
            Jacob has to learn to live into who he is, and that God is with him and God will journey with him where ever he goes.  As Jacob awakens from this dream, he proclaims:  Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”  As we seek to grow in our professions, or in our daily journey, God reminds us through this dream to do so with God alongside of us.  Jacob could have lived his life for his own gain, but God desires for his life to be one of blessing. 
            I’ve met a handful of people in my life that had rather prestigious careers and had some sort of divine intervention and changed their course in life in order to be more connected to serving others.  One couple I met gave up their dream of retirement and moved to a rural area in order to be full time volunteers for the mission program our church was involved with. 
            Now, I have had some rather vivid dreams, if they have any kind of religious meaning, most of the time they are of me showing up on Sunday morning without a sermon.  But imagine, waking up from a night of sleep, of having such a powerful dream, that you proclaim: Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”  What a wonderful dream, to awaken one’s self to the presence of God all around us.  And to awaken to a promise that in Abraham and in Jacob God has promised a blessing upon their descendants.  All the families of the earth shall be blessed.  What an amazing dream to live into.  Summer is a time for dreaming.  Some of us are trying to embrace the dream of being a part of God’s blessing, some of us are trying to embrace the dream of God’s blessing extending to all, some of us are somewhere in between.  But the dream of Jacob’s ladder continues into today’s world.  God is standing beside us, the angels are ascending and descending the ladder to heaven, and the promise of blessing is flowing for us to receive but also for us to give.  We know there is much pain, suffering, and struggling in this world, and together, as Christ’s disciples, we are called to be agents of blessing.  God had a new dream for humanity, and so God called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be a great and mighty nation but also to be a people of blessing, bringing God’s love and peace and joy into this world.  We too are called by God, as a congregation to dream a new dream, to be a people that imagine a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending, with God standing next to us, reminding us that we are blessed to be a blessing, and encouraging us to remember:  Surely the Lord is in this place.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Sermon - Jesus silences the storm

In today’s world, we love to travel.  No longer do people tend to stay in their own neighborhood for their entire lives, or their own county or even their own state.  People travel, we have cars that can get us places quickly, but we also have trains and planes.  Just one generation back, people did not travel anywhere near like what we do today.  When my parents were in high school they might dream about foreign lands, but never would they think that they would go to Australia or Spain or England or France.  By the time I was in high school, my family had travel all over the United States as well as allowing me to travel to England to visit my best friend who had moved there and to Spain with my high school Spanish class.  These opportunities did not exist for my parents when they were the same age as me. 
            In the day and age of Jesus, people also traveled, mostly for trade.  They walked, or rode animals, or traveled by boat.  And traveling was dangerous.  There were bandits on the roads, Roman soldiers stationed throughout, storms would blow through, they didn’t have convenient stores to stop into if they were hungry or thirsty.  They didn’t have cell phones or GPS or AAA for roadside assistance. So, most people limited their travel. 
            One of the commentaries I read shared that this story is less about the storm at sea, but rather more about getting into the boat and traveling from one place to another.  For the most part, when we decide to go on a roadtrip, we know where we plan on going.  We set a destination and make arrangements for when we arrive, but it seems with Jesus, he gets his disciples into the boat and off they sail, intending to go to the other side, but not knowing anything about what awaits them when the arrive.  
            Do we ever hear Jesus calling:  Let us get in the boat and cross over to the other side?  Symbolically, asking us to move from a place of comfort to a place where we just might engage in a new ministry.  This summer, nine of us will be getting into the boat and traveling to Philadelphia for a week long mission trip.  To be honest, we have no idea what to expect once we get there other than we know we will be given shelter and food.  We don’t know how hot it will be, or which urban ministry project we will spend time with, but we do know Broad Street Ministry has been hosting church groups for years and that they know what they are doing.  For some people, the unknown can bring great anxiety while for others it is a thrill of adventure and brings great excitement in that anticipation of encountering the unknown.  Jesus must have had an adventurist heart, for he was constantly moving from place to place always with the trust that God was calling him in whatever direction he took. 
            Let us get in the boat and cross over to the other side – might speak to our young adults that have just graduated from high school and are heading off to the unknown of college.  Or to our college graduates that are heading off to the unknown of a new job.  Or to parents that are becoming empty nesters.  Or to a church that is seeking new ways to partner with the local community. 
            The thing is, nothing in life is smooth sailing.  There will always be ups and downs and storms will blow through, literally or symbolically.  Another writer shared this:  in the storm, we disciples cried out to Jesus to wake up.  How this speaks to us in todays world.  Don’t we want to shout, to cry out, to demand that God do something to stop these storms that we are in?  Our Presbytery is focusing on current events that we believe are breaking God’s heart.  We have already done one meeting on the Opiate addiction crisis and another on the #metoo.  In September we will be addressing the Immigration crisis and in November we will be sharing about gun violence.  We are in a storm, all around us, in so many different places and topics and issues and we cry out, God save us.  God, do something to stop this madness, stop children from killing children, stop people from overdosing on heroin, stop families from being separated one from another, stop the sexual discrimination and abuse that seems to be running rampant in our nation.  We, just like the disciples, want God to break in and perform a miracle and bring life to some sort of peaceful calm.  Jesus woke up, and he silenced the storm, but he also scolds his disciples asking them, why are you afraid have you still no faith?   
 Would that be God’s response to us today?  As we move across the waters from one place to another, as we wonder what is becoming of this world, would God say: why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?  Is God encouraging us to allow our faith to guide us through our fear?  Or can we travel through the storms not calling out to God to stop them, but rather knowing that God is in the boat with us, traveling with us, present with us, promising us God’s love and grace and mercy. 
And what if, what if God responded, stop the storm with me.  How would we respond?  Would we be willing to get involved in the things that make us angry about our world?  We are seeing more and more people involved in marches because in these storms people are waking up and wanting to be empowered to be a part of change.  There is an incredible desire within our society of people wanting to restore peace, of people wanting to stop the storms, of people understanding they can no longer sit quietly waiting for someone else to take care of the problem.  More and more boats are moving out into the lake, despite knowing there are storms at sea.  Over the centuries, it has been people of faith that have spoken out, despite the fear of others, to condemn slavery and segregation.  People have taken incredible risks to be in the middle of the storm, working with God to bring peace, peace not just for one group of people, but for the greater good, the whole of society.  At one church, we held monthly peace vigils, we chose a topic and then spent an hour, out on the front steps of the church with signs, and discussed with each other the issue at hand, and shared with those that passed by, and made ourselves a visible presence of peace to community. 
There is no denying we are in a storm, what is your anchor or where do you place your hope?  What brings you peace when torrential rains hit?  Is it knowing God is present, is it trust that God is faithful?  Is it through prayer or becoming involved in some sort of social justice movement?  Or maybe you are in a place where you have lost your mooring and feel tossed about and truly believe we are perishing just like the disciples did, cry out as they did, reach out to the source of peace, the source of creation, the source of love that has been present in your life.  The disciples knew Jesus was there, they knew he would come to them, they knew they could answers or help or calm in his presence.  And he me them in their need.  Some of us just need to find a place of calm, a place of peace, a place where we truly feel safe, and in this particular story, it does not happen on the beach or the safety of land, but in the midst of traveling from one place to another, in the midst of the storm, in the midst of not knowing where they were going next, they engaged the peace that only God can give. 
Whether we are in the boat or not, there is a storm, and God is not sleeping, but is calling those who will listen to participate in Biblical justice for all humanity.  Amen.