Monday, August 19, 2019

sermon: name that tune

Today’s game show is: Name that Tune or rather - we are going to play, Name that Hymn.  I had a lot to debate with this one.  We could play, name that scripture.  Many of our hymns are based on scripture passeges.  It is truly amazing how inspired people have been throughout the generations to take scripture and compose lyrics and music to God’s word.  As we sing each Sunday, we are lifting up God’s scripture. 
            Name that Tune was first aired in the 50’s and had many variations to the game throughout the next several decades.  The goal of the game was either to be the first to identify a song correctly, when played with two contestants, or in the individual round, to identify a set number of songs correctly in 30 seconds.  So, today we are going to play our own variation – you, the congregation are the contestants – when you think you can Name that Hymn: yell out the name of the hymn.  Here we go:
Amazing Grace
Joy to the World
Thine is the Glory
I've Got Peace Like a River
Great is Thy Faithfulness

Music connects to people at every age of our life span.  When we are infants our parents sang to us lullabies as they rocked us to sleep.  We learned the alphabet through song.  And as we grow, we learn Bible Stories through song.  That is one part of Vacation Bible School that I just love, learning the new songs and having them become a part of me at least for the next month or so.  Do you ever get a song just stuck in your head?  Many couples have their song.  And sometimes when we hear a song it reminds us of a specific time of our lives or a special event.  Be Thou My Vision was my seminary class song for graduation.  My father had the lyrics framed for me and I have kept it in my office for years now.  I can’t remember much of what I learned in school academically from middle school but I still seem to know every word to every song. 
God desires for us to embrace God’s teaching into our very being the same way we do with song.  Psalm 98 – Sing a new song to the Lord.  The Lord has made salvation know to us, let us sing with Song – Joy to the World.  At one point in time, that was a new song.  I can’t imagine Christmas without it, but just a few hundred years ago, it was none existent written in 1719 by Isaac Watts.  Sing to the Lord a new song.  Name that Tune – each of us has a way to create music to our Lord. 
Psalm 98 lifts up that not just will God’s people sing a new song, but all of creation sings forth a song to God.  If we listen carefully, we can hear this new song on a daily basis.  From the Grand Canyon to the Grand Tetons to the Jersey Shore; from birds to crickets to dolphins and whales, God’s creation sings forth beauty and awesomeness.  Joy to the Word the Lord has come, let earth receive her king.  And heaven and nature sing.  Each of us, whether we are gifted with musical talents or not, can live our lives as a song to God. 
There was a children’s show called Jack’s Big Music Show – and there was an Orchestra episode showing all the different instruments that come together to make one song.  In a very real way, this congregation and all of its ministry teams are an orchestra to God.  Each ministry has a song to sing, sometimes one group has a solo, but most of the time, we are playing together in unity, lifting up our gifts and service to God.
Paul is trying to connect this idea of all parts working together for the whole when he writes to the church in Corinth.  People are identifying themselves with Apollos and with Paul, creating division.  Paul reiterates how important it is to remember human tasks versus God’s tasks.  Paul plants, Apollos waters, but God makes things grow.  No matter what song we sing, no matter what church we build, Paul reminds us that the foundation that we build upon is Jesus Christ.  In all ministries of our church, we seek ways to build people’s lives upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  Whether we do this through Sunday School lessons, Bible songs, mission opportunities, each of these exists as an expression of creating community, fellowship, and a foundation for faith growth and development.   
Sing a new song to the Lord, we are so blessed in this place to have so many opportunities in which we can build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.  Together, we are God’s orchestra and together we are building upon the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, and as we build and as we grow each of us is a holy temple to God.  When I think of a holy temple I think of a place of worship and when I think of a place of worship I think of music.  Name that Tune – name the song that your life sings to God.  Claim the new song that you will sing to our loving God, whether it be through singing in the choir, volunteering at the Habitat build, helping with fellowship time, or studying scripture, and remember that your song joins together with the entire orchestra of God’s people.  Amen.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sermon: A Minute to Win it

            About nine years ago, a new game show aired called: A Minute to Win it.  As soon as I saw the first ad, I knew this show would produce fun ideas for youth group games.  I believe we even played a few at the church mission adventure a few weeks ago.  Basically, when the game show aired, it had sixty games, all using regular household items.  A contestant must complete ten of these games, each one within a minute, in order to win the million dollar prize.  For example, in a minute, the contestant has to pull all the Kleenex out of the box, one at a time, or use a pizza box to fan three eggs across the stage into a marked circle on the other side. 
            A minute to win it.  If we are going to look at possible scenarios within the Bible, the following would be the ten I would identify for the game. 
1.  Moses and the Hebrew people crossing the Red Sea.  A minute to win it for Moses to let the waters crash back in and drown the Egyptian army. 
2.  Queen Esther appearing before the king.  Queen Esther has not been summoned by the king, to summons the king herself could mean immediate death to her.  Esther stands strong and appears before the king and he grants her favor to listen to her request.  A minute to win it for Queen Esther.    
3.  Elijah replenishing the flour and oil.  This is a story of the prophet Elijah encountering a widow.  He asks her for a piece of bread and a cup of water.  She tells him she only has a small amount of flour left and she is returning home to make one more meal before she and her son die.   As this story continues, the widow’s son dies and Elijah brings him back to life.  A Minute it to win it for Elijah. 
4.  the walls of Jericho.  In this story, the people march around the city of Jericho for six days.  On the seventh day they give a loud blast of the trumpets and the city walls collapse.  A minute to win it for Joshua. 
5. Daniel in the lion’s den.  Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den for worshipping his one true God rather than worshipping the king.  Now, Daniel is in the lion’s den for more than one minute.  He is in there all night, but those found to have falsely accused Daniel are thrown in and devoured before their feet hit the ground.  A minute to win it for Daniel. 
6.  David and Goliath.  David is a young boy who takes five smooth stones and his sling shot and in less than a minute takes down the mighty warrior Goliath.  A minute to win it for David. 
7.  Jesus turning water into wine.  Jesus is at a wedding feast and the wine runs out.  In order to prevent shame and embarrassment for the host, he asks for the ritual water jugs to be filled with water.  When they are poured out they contain wine. 
8.  the fishermen pulling up so many fish the nets break.  The fishermen have not caught anything during their time out at sea.  Jesus sends them back out and tells them to throw out the nets which become so full of fish the nets begin to break. 
9.  the feeding of the 5,000.  This is the well known story of Jesus taking five loaves of bread and two fish and feeding the masses with baskets of food left over. 
10.  walking on water.  Jesus has gone off to pray and has sent the disciples ahead of him in a boat.  He walks on the water to catch up with them.  When Peter sees him coming he gets out of the boat and walks on the water towards him, until he gets scared and begins to sink.  Jesus reaches out his hand and pulls Peter to safety.    
            So, throughout the Bible we have numerous stories of God working through people in moments of quick action to win victory over enemies, moments to show how God’s power can transform normal everyday items into something new, or how God’s work can overcome human doubt.  And fortunately enough, we did not have to win any of these events, let alone all ten, in order to win God’s favor.  Like Peter, when we are in a situation where we begin to sink, when we fear, when we doubt, we have the hand of Christ reaching out to us to pull us back up.  As contestants, we do not play any of these games alone, we have God make known to us in Jesus Christ to assist us. 
            This past week, I was at a conference sponsored by Presbyterians for Earth Care.  Much of this conference focused on climate change, climate change not in something that is going to be happening in the future, but something that is already happening.  As I reflected on our passage today of David and Goliath, the modern day Goliath that is looming in front of us is climate change.  I wish it was as easy as picking up a smooth stone and that it could take just a minute to win it against the destructive impact we have had on our fragile earth.  It is going to take a whole lot more than a smooth stone and a minute, but we have to face the giant before us. 
            During the conference, we took time to move through lament, the grief many of us feel for parts of God’s good creation that we have already lost and will never get back, such as animals that have gone extinct, and the mass death of our coral reefs.  But we ended the conference with hope, with faith, with the promise that God reaches back into creation and offers healing. 
One group went on a walk: from death to life and visited places in the area that were poisoned, where the soil was contaminated, and then they visited places that had once been polluted and are now healed.  Although I did not do this walk, it made me think of the site down the road from here where the Habitat homes are being built.  It took a good two years to remediate that land, the soil was heavily contaminated, and now, it is healed and able to offer space for twelve families to live.  We need to pray for Lake Hopatcong, for the damage done to it this past year, another Goliath before us, needing a David to come forward to defeat the causes for why this lake had such a horrible algae bloom.  But, with the work of the people, with dedication and commitment, these damaged places can be healed. 
Other places of hope were lifted up as images of reforestation were shown, of cities being creative with urban landscaping and greening of buildings.  Churches around our country our using solar panels on their buildings, and are paying more attention to their carbon footprint.  But, if we don’t choose to use this minute, these minutes before us, to make healthier choices for the earth, each minute further down the line only creates a bigger and stronger Goliath.  Our time, our minutes are now, we may not have a minute to win it, but we do have a minute to create sustainability, a minute to slow things down, a minute to lean into God and discern what God is calling us to do.  David does not go forward to slay Goliath without spending time with God.  David has a deep faith, and a deep trust, and he takes God forward with him into battle.  We too need to take God forward with us as we engage all the choices we have each and every day, between what we eat, what we buy, what we throw away, and what energy we consume. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

sermon - Elijah and the Gerasene

Elijah –

Today, we have two passages where a person has sought solitude.  As we begin with Elijah, Elijah has fled to this cave for fear of his life.  Elijah is not your average person, he is a prophet of God.  And he lives in a day and age where people have turned their worship to the false gods of another nation.  Perhaps you have heard of Jezebel, or at least the term Jezebel.  Jezebel was the queen but she was from a foreign land and she brought her gods with her and had much influence on the nation in turning people to worship the gods of her country.  Over and over Elijah spoke out against this false worship and by doing so, he has greatly angered the queen to the point where he goes into hiding.  And so, here he is, hiding in a cave, seeking guidance from the God that has called him to be a prophet.  And he waits. 
As he seeks to hear from God, the word of the Lord came to him and asks him:  What are you doing here?  Wow, seems like a strange question to me, doesn’t God know why he has fled and is hiding in a cave.  The queen is trying to kill him.  So, Elijah responds.  And then he is told to go and wait some more, for God is about to pass by. 
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 
What I like about this passage is that it shows the reality of what it is like trying to listen for God.  Will God speak, such as in Pentecost, through the loud wind?  Or through the rumble of an earthquake?  Or like the burning bush, through fire?  Or will it be through sheer silence?  One of the last people committed to following God, committed to teaching others about the one true God, has to wait and discern where the voice of God will speak to him.  Elijah had to remove himself from the chaos of life, from the stresses, the responsibilities, he had to re-center himself, and find the time and space to listen.  When the same question comes to him:  What are you doing here?  So he gives the same answer.  And this time, God tells him to go, to return, to continue his work.  This time he will anoint a new king for the northern kingdom and anoint a new king for the southern kingdom, which is an important task for a prophet.  And God gives him a promise, that God will leave 7,000 others that will remain faithful.  This is probably not the answer Elijah wanted to receive, but he listens and he acts.  God is always leaving a remnant, a small group of faithful people that will continue the work.  And the work continues on.  People continue to remember stories that share what we value, stories that continue to guide us as a people of faith.  Remembering that God can work through a small group of faithful people from generation to generation can inspire us and give us the assurance of hope that God is still with us, still calling us to do the work that we are called to do. 

Our second story also takes us to a cave or tombs, this time inhabited by a man tormented by demons.  Instead of being a man of God, the people view him as the opponent to God, a demon.  He also lives on the other side of the lake from Galilee, in the land of Gerasene.  He is a foreigner.  But Jesus comes to him.  Jesus gets in a boat and travels across the lake and finds this man.  This outcaste.  This person who has also fled to a cave to seek solitude, solitude from a society that does not know what to do with him.  But I am sure, with the torment with which he is living, he has not found any solitude. 
As Jesus encounters this man he commands the unclean spirit to leave the man, and the man roar backs:  what have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God?  This man, this man with the unclean spirits, this man who has been tormented and lives amongst the dead in the tombs, has encountered the Son of God.  He seems to be the exact opposite of Elijah, and yet, they both have this sacred experience one in silence the other in extreme torment.  Or perhaps, as the unclean spirits leave the man, he finally has a moment of clarity, a moment where the noises in his head stop, where he finally experiences peace, and the only way that could happen is if God was present with him. 
And then Jesus asks him, what is your name?  What a powerful and important question.  To be known, to have an identity.  To not just be known as the demonic that lives in the tombs, but to have a name.  But the man has been truly lost to his demons and can only identify himself by the identity of his illness.  And he responds:  Legion.  It would be as if Jesus asked us our name and we responded:  cancer, diabetic, bi-polar, addict, broken.  But Jesus wants him to have a name and he wants him to be made whole and he wants him to be in community.  And as the man is healed, he desires to remain with Jesus, to join the others and follow him.  But Jesus responds:  Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.  There is work for him to do in his own community.  His healing can bare much witness to the power of God to the community in which he belongs. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sermon: Dads and Grads

Proverbs 8:  Wisdom
At The Crossroads
            Today’s scripture reading is about wisdom, something I thought was rather fitting for dads and grads Sunday.  For all of our grads out there, whether you have finished 8th grade or just received your masters, I sure do hope, you have gained some wisdom through your education, your studies, your classes, your social experiences, and your extra curricular activities.  Wisdom is all around us, and in the Biblical sense, it is more than just gaining knowledge, wisdom, or hokma, is something we equate with the Holy Spirit.  Last week was Pentecost, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus and empowering them to go into the world to share God’s message of love, compassion, and reconciliation with all.  But the Holy Spirit existed before this moment, it has existed with God since the beginning.  In this passage from Proverbs we hear that wisdom was with God when God laid the foundations of the world. 
            Wisdom, aka the Holy Spirit is with us when we learn, when we think, when we make choices.  Cartoonists like to use the illustration of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other shoulder.  When at a cross roads, when making decisions, what do you listen to?  Do you listen to your values, your faith, hokma:  the Holy Spirit, or do you listen to what we call peer pressure, or your own self interests even if they seem in conflict with your values?  Whether you are a dad or a grad or anyone else, throughout our lives we come to these places that Proverbes calls the cross roads.  For our graduates, it is more pronounced.  You have finished one major life accomplishment and you are ready to move into something new, perhaps even different, it could be further education, it could be seeking a job, it might involve moving to a new place, it might mean taking an incredible risk.  And dads, you are right there with your children, perhaps empowering them to make their own decisions, or supporting them in the process, maybe even offer your own life experience as guidance.  And at the cross roads, wisdom desires to be a part of your life, of your decision making, or how you process your choices.  In the church we call this spiritual discernment. 
            Now, for those that are ready to go out into the world ready to find a job and make a living, the following might just be a challenge:  Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels.  Wisdom is better than jewels.  Our culture tells us that wisdom, knowledge, education, is what we need in order to be self sufficient, it is what we need to make money.  Go to college so you can get a good job.  That is what culture tells us.  Hopefully, alongside our education, we hold tight to our morals, our values, the things that we believe in and are passionate about.  If environmental studies are near and dear to my heart and my faith tells me to care for God’s good creation, but I am offered a very lucrative salary for a toxic chemical company, am I embracing wisdom?  And sometimes life seems to push us into places that we might not want to be.  What if you are seeking employment and the only thing that seems to be available just does not sit right with you?  Do you take it because it is a job?  Because you need it?  Or do you live into your passions, your true spiritual calling, to the place that you feel your gifts and interests and values fall into place?  Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, is better than jewels. 
            I have a doctor that shared with me that one of the reasons she wanted to become a doctor was so she could use that expertise in mission, in ministry, in outreach to those that did not have access to medical care.  As she graduated and realized the reality of her debt and other family obligations, she would have to go into a local practice.  Now, all of these years later, her children are grown, her debts are paid, she finally has the financial freedom to do what she originally set out to do.  She has been able to partner with another doctor and go oversees to provide free medical care for short term mission.  She never gave up her dream, her passion, it just took a much longer time to come to fruition than her original vision.  And she has shared with me how meaningful these mission trips are to her.  How spiritually fulfilling they are.  How much they have enriched her life.  She has embraced hokma, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and has found the spiritual wealth it offers which may not pay the bills but truly does give life a richer meaning. 
            Dads and grads, life gets in our way.  We get so caught up in the daily grind that we can easily forget the bigger picture.  Wisdom is a part of God, and a part of us, make sure you have some sort of passion, some sort of issue or value that you hold near and dear to your heart and even if you cannot make it a part of your career, find a way to carve space for it somewhere in your life.   If you care deeply for the homeless, find out what the local needs are and perhaps make a monthly donation of laundry detergent to the shelter.  Or donate a can of food each week to the local food pantry.  But make whatever is near and dear to your heart a spiritual practice that is not left and forgotten until a distant time down the road. 
            When ever we are at the cross roads, God is with us, wisdom is with us, the Holy Spirit offers us the ability to reflect on our values, our beliefs, our morals, our passions, the things of life that we hold the most near and dear.  Cross roads can be scary places of uncertainty but they can also be places filled with possibilities.  We don’t always have to take the road less traveled, but whichever road we take, we should prayerfully ask ourselves the hard questions of what it means to us, and what it means to God, and what it means to our spiritual connection to our Creator and the gifts and passions instilled within us.  Amen. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Sermon: Ascension Sunday

            When I was a child, there was a tv show called Dallas.  I was too young to watch it, but I do remember at the end of one season there was a cliffhanger and the question asked was:  Who shot JR?  All these years later, I still have never watched Dallas, and perhaps I learned who shot JR but I don’t remember, all I remember is the cliffhanger – the question.  Good writers want to create suspense, they want to leave the audience engaged and eager for more.  Cliffhangers are great to create the suspense for the audience to come back, I think that is why we have now have the term binge watching.  We don’t have to wait week to week or the entire summer, we can watch an entire series in a few weeks.  But eventually, the series has to come to an end.  Just recently, two big shows had their final episode:  Game of Thrones and the Big Bang Theory.  Although I have never watched Game of Thrones, this chatter about the show ending was all over social media and even made the news.  An ending to a story or a movie or a tv series can never please everyone, and the reviews from Game of Thrones are all over the place.  Big Bang theory – well it offered one surprise but really offered a sense that everyone was growing up, their goals were being met, and their lives were going to be alright. That’s what we seem to expect from good endings, all the loose ends are tied up, the boy gets the girl, good conquers evil, and the lost has been found.  I personally, like endings that you never saw coming, but those seem to be far and few in-between. 
            So, why all this talk about cliffhangers and endings?  Because the Ascension of Jesus is the end of the story.  Jesus was born, he lived, taught, healed, performed miracles.  Spoiler alert, he was killed and talk about a great cliffhanger, three days later he rose from the dead.  For many, wouldn’t this be a good enough ending?  I mean really, did you see that coming?  The disciples sure didn’t.  I guess the twist in this story is that what seems like a good ending is not yet the ending.  The risen Christ, after appearing several times to his disciples, is not going to finish out his life to an old age.  Even though he has conquered death and has risen from the dead, his time is still limited.  And so we get this event, that only appears in one other place in the Bible, of him ascending into heaven.  Elijah, the prophet, also ascends into heaven.  Our stained glass window, here in the sanctuary is of that event. 
            I, honestly, cannot give you an explanation of the ascension.  It does make me think of a literary term I learned in high school freshman English:  Deus ex machina, (Latin: “god from the machine”) a person or thing that appears or is introduced into a situation suddenly and unexpectedly and provides an artificial or contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.  This is a difficult situation, how does Jesus return to heaven?  How does the one who has conquered death end his earthly life?  He can’t die again can he?  So, if he has already overcome death, he must return to God in his earthly form, and so the disciples watch him being lifted up, out of their sight, into heaven.  I’m too scientific for a literal understanding of this text.  I believe our souls go to heaven, but not these physical bodies.  But since Jesus is the son of God, I believe part of his teaching to his followers is this final miracle, his showing them that now he is returning to his Father, to his Creator, to take his place in heaven, to reign with God. 
            I guess the disciples were a bit baffled as well, or at least amazed and awed by the sight.  The text tells us they were standing around, looking up into the sky, I assume watching Jesus until they could no longer see him.  I had the chance to see a launching of the space shuttle, and that is what we all did.  We all stood there, eyes fixed on the sky, watching until we could no longer see it. 
So, what do you think of this ending?  Does it tie up the loose ends?  Or does it just create a whole lot of new questions?  This is the kind of stuff theologians love, they love to debate whether this is a literal ending or a symbolic ending and they use all kinds of big words to support their theories – but maybe we are not suppose to get stuck in the details of the text.  Sometimes, by getting stuck, we keep ourselves from the real meaning behind it.  So, perhaps Luke is telling us something important about Jesus' departure: that it is both an ending and a beginning.  Since this event happens at the beginning of the book of Acts, we know there is more to come.  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  I attending a conference a few years ago and this was the theme scripture.  Does it feel like maybe we, as a denomination, or as the church in today’s world, are stuck?  That we seem to be looking to heaven, asking God – what do we do?  How do we fix this?  I know I am constantly praying for inspiration:  God show me the way to be the church in today’s world.  Is the ending, just the beginning?  Was the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus just the first season of the show, and then the book of Acts – season two?  And if so, what season are we?  I kind of feel, we are in a cliffhanger, except not everyone is interested in staying tuned.  We seem to have lost our audience. 
Why do you stand looking toward heaven?  Rather, there is work to do.  Jesus instructed his followers during his lifetime, and in his resurrected state he instructed them again, to follow his teachings, to care for each other, to love one another, to feed his sheep.  And the book of Acts is just that.  It is the continuation of the story, season two, of the disciples going out, teaching others about Jesus, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, seeking the lost and sharing God’s love with them.  And the Good News is, we are not yet at the final episode of the show.  The Holy Spirit has poured out upon God’s people, and upon God’s church, and people of faith are still investing their lives into the work of Jesus, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, sharing God’s love and forgiveness in a chaotic world.  We can stand around wondering what to do, or we can act.  We can continue God’s story, leaving the symbolic or literal interpretation of the text behind, but rather engaging in the simple teaching of Love one another as I have loved you.  Amen. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter - Sermon

Embodying the Resurrection

            We live in a world where people believe and they don’t believe.  Some people don’t believe the earth is round or they don’t believe people have actually walked on the moon.  Some people believe in aliens and some believe in ghosts.  Some people believe dinosaurs once existed while other people believe the world is only about 6,000 years old.  Some people believe and some people don’t.  Life is filled with ideas, concepts, values, rules, social norms, and we either believe or we don’t.  What do you believe in?  Here’s one:    Snails have 14,000 teeth and some can even kill you!  What do you think?  Do you believe it or not? 
            Do you believe in friendship and love?  Do you believe in forgiveness and renewal?  Do you believe in fresh starts, a new day, being a part of God’s new creation?  Do you believe in God?  Because this Easter story is not an easy story to believe in.  In fact, when the handful of women returned to the others and told them that the tomb was empty, that Jesus was not there, and that two men told them not to look for the living amongst the dead, that he had risen just as he said he would, they did not believe.  They just thought the women were sharing an idle tale. 
            Personally, I do not believe in the Easter story of the empty tomb and the risen Lord just because it is written in the Bible.  Rather, I believe in the Easter story only through embodying the resurrection in my faith journey.  If I had been in that room with the others and heard what the women shared, I would have thought the grief these women had gone through definitely had gone to their heads.  But, I do think I would have been like Peter, I think I would want to go and check out their story for myself.  That is of course, if it was safe.  I’m a bit of a safety freak.  I’m not sure I would have gone if I thought maybe there would be soldiers or guards that might arrest me, but I would want to go, I would want to go and see for myself, just because that is my nature. 
            Some stories of faith are not so much to believed but rather to be experienced, to be embodied, to be lived out.  Jesus had an impact on people.  He called twelve men to be his disciples but many more men and women joined together to be a part of his community.  He was not about doing his ministry alone, it was relational, it involved deep friendships, it involved sacrifice and love.  The disciples dropped everything to follow this teacher, this rabbi, this man that they believed was the Messiah.  And over the course of three years, they witnessed healings and miracles, they heard stories of God’s deep love for God’s people and they saw Jesus interacting with outcastes and sinners and people that others despised.  He did not follow the rules of his faith, and by doing so, he connected with so many that felt they had been exiled from the faith, and even worse, exiled from God. 
            Jesus sought to shed the dead skin of his faith tradition and allow a fresh and new way to be God’s people to be born in the world and people flocked to him.  They were hungry and thirsty for a God that loved them, that accepted them for who they were, not as others told them they should be.  But power does not like change and those that have power will do what they have to in order to stop change.  Jesus was all powerful, but he referred to himself as a servant.  And sadly, because he changed people’s lives for the better, he was stopped.  Except he wasn’t.  In the idle tale of the resurrection, God refuses to take no for an answer.  God refuses to be stopped.  God refuses to let oppression and injustice and greed and self-centered interests have the last word.   And that is where I have seen the power of the resurrection in my own life. 
            If we look at history of the past two thousand years, we can see how humanity seems to come two steps forward and then perhaps three steps back and then four steps forward and a step back.  We don’t move in a linear motion towards healing and wholeness in this world, but if we look, if we pay attention, if we allow our inner spiritual selves the space to embrace our scriptures, we can see the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in our midst.  We can encounter the risen Christ for ourselves.  Have you seen the Lord? 
The first time I saw the Lord was up in rural Maine working on a trailer home for a family.  We went in community, as a work group from our church, and we arrived with love, love for people we had never met but we knew deserved better housing than what they had.  So we gave of what we had, our time, our energy, our dedication to create a dryer, warmer, safer place to live.  And by embodying Jesus’ teachings, by putting faith into action, I learned that the Bible is just flat if you keep it on the page.  But when you live it, when it put it into action, it is transformative. 
            I’ve seen the risen Lord in the Dominican Republic as we helped build a health office adjacent to a church.  I’ve seen the risen Lord on the border of Mexico as we built cinderblock homes in the slums.  I’ve seen the risen Lord in Kenya as schools and health centers are built and supported by the church to ensure that the forgotten ones are educated and healed.  I’ve seen the risen Lord even here in NJ, as men find recovery through Market Street Mission in Morristown.   There are dead places everywhere, places where life is not able or allowed to thrive in the way that it is intended and it is in those places that resurrection is waiting to be born.  Life can come out of death.  I’ve seen it in Camden, NJ with a school program called Urban promise.  We witnessed it this past summer in Philadelphia through Broad Street Ministry and we will participate in it this next summer right here in Morris County.  God is the power that births new things in the world.  God is the power that brings agencies like Homeless Solutions and Family Promise into being. 
For those that don’t believe, they might say, yes, there are compassionate people out there.  But for those that have embodied the resurrection, that act in their faith, it is so much more than being a compassionate person, it is sacred work.  It is participation in the resurrection.  We worship on Sunday because we are Easter people.  We don’t believe in the resurrection, we are to be the resurrection.  What do you believe?  Do you believe in friendship and love?  Do you believe in forgiveness and renewal?  Do you believe in fresh starts, a new day, being a part of God’s new creation?  This is who we are, an Easter people, building friendships based in God’s love.  Seeking forgiveness when needed and participating in God’s new creation.  We don’t always have to believe, but in faith, we take what may seem like an idle tale and when we see it for ourselves, experience it for ourselves, we know we have encountered the sacred, the transformative work of God.  Christ is risen!  For I have seen the risen Lord at work in this world.  Don’t believe the story, embrace the story, embody the story, participate in the resurrection as we are called to be participants in God’s new creation.   Amen. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Sermon - Lent: money and love

            As I started working on today’s scripture, I just couldn’t help but think of the Beatles song – Can’t buy me Love – the lyrics go like this:

Can't buy me love
I'll buy you a diamond ring my friend if it makes you feel alright
I'll get you anything my friend if it makes you feel alright
Cos I don't care too much for money, and money can't buy me love
I'll give you all I got to give if you say you'll love me too
I may not have a lot to give but what I got I'll give to you
I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love
Can’t buy me love. 
Today’s story of Mary pouring costly ointment on Jesus’ feet is definitely a story of love.  And Judas’ response is definitely one of money.  Judas responds to this lavish gift of love from Mary to Jesus as a crime.  He tries to be the good disciple here, he tries to connect this action to the ministry that Jesus has called them to do.  They are supposed to care for others, pool their resources, make sure the widows and the orphans are fed.  This resource that Mary has just poured out upon Jesus’ feet is now wasted.  Think about all the people it could have helped if it had been sold.  Judas tries to be a good disciple. 
            I have found myself making such statements myself.  When I see money used, in what in my opinion, is not the best form of stewardship, I find myself thinking – wow, that could have fed a whole lot of people.  Churches all around the world are adorned with costly stained glass windows, gold objects, costly gems, ornate stone and wood workings, and the cost to maintain them is staggering.  Where do we draw the line?  Where do we lavish our love towards God on costly worship?  And when do we lavish our love for God on our care for others?  Judas tries to be the good disciple here although the text tells us he was stealing from the disciples treasure, so maybe he did only have self interest at hand, but he also shames Mary and her love for Jesus through his statement.
            Mary has been a faithful friend of Jesus throughout his ministry and just recently, he returned to their home when her brother Lazarus died.  Jesus calls out to Lazarus and Lazarus rises from the dead.  Mary has witnessed an amazing miracle in and through Jesus.  Her life has been deeply touched by Jesus.  Jesus is so much more than a friend to her, she has seen God’s very presence in him and Mary knows no other way to say Thank You – If Jesus had restored life to one of my family members, then I might want to lavish a gift upon him too.  How do we say thank you when someone donates an organ, or is able to give bone marrow, or serves as a surrogate?  How do we say thank you when someone changes our life for the better?  How do we say thank you when we see the very presence of God in our midst? 
I'll give you all I got to give if you say you'll love me too
I may not have a lot to give but what I got I'll give to you
Mary knows that money does not buy love, she knows that her actions are not buying Jesus’ love for her, she just has no other way to say thank you, she has no other way than to show her abundant love for him.  Sometimes the heart just swells so greatly with gratitude and love that we just act.  Maybe she thought about what she was going to do the next time she saw him, maybe she didn’t.  Maybe when he arrived she just acted and with what little she had to give, she gave what meant the most. 
So, the reason this is a Lenten text involves Jesus’ response to Judas, that she is preparing him for his burial.  As we know in the Easter morning scripture readings, the women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with oils and spices for preparation for his burial.  He was just temporarily laid in the tomb until the time for his burial.  And so when Jesus visits the house of Mary and Martha, he knows he is moving closer and closer to his final days on earth.  He takes this outpouring of love to illustrate to those gathered with him that he will soon die.  Whether they understand this or not, he seeks to continue to prepare them.  Her action of love will soon be reflected by his action of love - I'll give you all I got to give if you say you'll love me too
I may not have a lot to give but what I got I'll give to you
And his response is yes, yes, I’ll love you too.  I’ll love you not in the earthly form of love, but I’ll love you with deep spiritual love, love that knows no bounds, love that will transcend this life and remain with you forever.  Just as the nard was a fragrant gift of love, Jesus too is referred to as a fragrant offering.  Not a sacrifice given out of guilt or shame or wrong doing, but a true offering of pure love.