God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hungry for Justice

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” NRSV
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.” The Message
Matthew 5:4

 I have struggled with this sermon this week. How do I speak about righteousness and what it means?  The message translations gives the beatitude a more spiritual understanding, that to be righteous is to seek God. In the context the NRSV would be the sense that we are meant to be in right relationship with God. If we just believe the right tenants, practice the right traditions, laws, beliefs than we will align our selves with God. 

But this understanding of righteousness was not where I wanted to be this week. As I struggled with this I thought about the encounters Jesus has with the religious folk  in the synoptic gospels. His religious foil is always trying to call him to follow tradition, to follow the law as they understand it, to practice their version of faith. These are the people who appear in the stories asking questions meant to test his understanding of what it means to be faithful and how to live under the law. So they ask questions like is it ok to get divorced, do we have to pay taxes, what is heaven like, what happens in the resurrection, which commandment is the greatest (check out Mark 12 for the tests they present Jesus). The religious folk are testing him but are also trying to pull people closer to what it means to be Jewish in the face of colonization. They want Jesus to see that the path and practice they have created for being in relationship with God and the way to follow. So they are continually challenging and testing Jesus. So when Jesus says to a paralyzed man, your sins are forgiven. They argue that only God can forgive sins what right do you have to do this. Or there was the time when he was asked why during this time of religious fasting his disciples are not fasting. They grumbled when he and his disciples are caught gleaning on the sabbath. They set him up when he is coming out of church to see if he will help the hurting man. Jesus whose first impulse is always love and compassion, heals the man's withered hand. He points out the way the rich make a show of giving to the temple and points out the faith of the woman who gave just three coins.

Jesus throughout the Gospels is challenging the religious folks understanding of righteousness. Jesus wants us to experience righteousness differently. He wants us to think about the people in front of us. He wants us to interact with them to show love and compassion. To be righteous implies discerning what it means to be right with God in the midst of the challenges, hardships, struggles, and injustice we are faced with. 

I admit that I fall more on the side of being right with God, righteousness involves justice. So this week I have struggle with how to be right with God in the face of injustice. When we as a country decide that refugees are not welcome. When orders come down that we will not let in people from Syria because they might be terrorist. I couldn't help but remember the anger and hurt that a mother expressed when she called into the Pete Dominick show. She shared that she has been working to adopt 2 Syrian orphans. The only way to adopt Syrian orphans is for them to be refugees. With the executive order those two little children would now not be allowed into the country and would remain alone as she continued to fight to adopt them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

What do we desire, what do we hunger for, and when we hunger and thirst when does our desire align with God's desires? When we are sick we desire health, when we are poor we desire money, when we are lonely we desire companionship, when we are troubled peace, when we are hungry we desire food, when we are thirsty we desire water, when we are naked we desire clothes, when we are homeless we desire a home, when we are imprisoned we desire to be free, when we are a stranger we desire welcome. When we are a refugee we desire refuge. When we are a refugee we desire a home, welcome, food, shelter, clothing, peace, freedom. When we are confronted with a refugee we should be reminded on Matthew 25 and bring welcome, food, water, freedom. It is part of are call to be righteous

I want to share with you from Humans of New York a refugee storyMuhammad served as a translator for the author. He was a student at Damasks University in English Composition. He spoke English very well and could help the author navigate the area. The author kept track of Muhammad and the rest of his story of how he becomes a refugee. He went to Turkey where he was working in a hotel - 12 hour days for 400 a month, and teaching English - 6 hours a day for 600 a month. He was saving up for the fee he would need to get fake papers to make it to Britain. Before he left he wanted to take a trip home. His father came to him and told him he needed to leave because if he stayed any longer they would find him and kill him. Even though they had been kind, honest people, they were targeted for being Kurdish. He leaves and getting ready to head to Europe when his sister calls to tell him his father had been badly beaten by the police and needed and operation. He took the money from his fund and gave it to his family. Then his sister called to say that his brother had been killed. His younger sister had found the body and the head. She hasn't spoken sense. He speaks to his father on the phone after his operation. His father asks about where he got the money and he said friends. Then he asks if Muhammad has made it to Europe. He says I lied to my father for the first time and said yes. He takes the money he has left and hires someone to take him across to Greece. This journey began being stuffed in a van, than placed in a boat. The smuggler said just head straight ahead then jumped out of the boat and swam back to shore. They continued but the engine cut out. He tried to keep people calm while a man worked to get the engine started. The trip was rough and horrible. And when they reached land they saw the police coming with guns, He tried to tell them they were not dangerous, but they arrested them. Calling them names and sticking them in prison.
Our clothes were wet and we could not stop shivering. We could not sleep. I can still feel this cold in my bones. For three days we had no food or water. I told the police: ‘We don’t need food, but please give us water.’ I begged the commander to let us drink. Again, he said: ‘Shut up, Malaka!’ I will remember this man’s face for the rest of my life. He had a gap in his teeth so he spit on us when he spoke. He chose to watch seven people suffer from thirst for three days while they begged him for water. We were saved when they finally they put us on a boat and sent us to a camp on the mainland.
He walked north eating leaves, with his feet swelling so badly he couldn't where his shoes. He is helped on his way by someone who told him, he too had experienced war.  
 “After one month, I arrived in Austria. The first day I was there, I walked into a bakery and met a man named Fritz Hummel. He told me that forty years ago he had visited Syria and he’d been treated well. So he gave me clothes, food, everything. He became like a father to me. He took me to the Rotary Club and introduced me to the entire group. He told them my story and asked: ‘How can we help him?’ I found a church, and they gave me a place to live. Right away I committed myself to learning the language. I practiced German for 17 hours a day. I read children’s stories all day long. I watched television. I tried to meet as many Austrians as possible. After seven months, it was time to meet with a judge to determine my status. I could speak so well at this point, that I asked the judge if we could conduct the interview in German. He couldn’t believe it. He was so impressed that I’d already learned German, that he interviewed me for only ten minutes. Then he pointed at my Syrian ID card and said: ‘Muhammad, you will never need this again. You are now an Austrian!’”
How can we not remember the call to welcome the stranger. To be reminded that we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. 
And yet I am reminded of the story of Genesis 18. God had decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. God saw that they did not practice hospitality, they did not provide welcome to the stranger. Abraham wanted to save these people so he bargained with God. He said if I find 50 righteous ones will you let them live, if I find 40 righteous ones, if I find 30 righteous ones, if I find 20 righteous ones, if I find 10 righteous ones? They settle on ten, but all Abraham could find was Lot and his family. When God looks at us will he find the righteous here in Hinckley, here in Illinois, here in the Midwest, here in the United States. Will you be numbered among the righteous? 

 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
Variation on a sermon preached on January 29, 2017 at St. Paul's United Church of Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

I Am Lost

I was in the movie theater the other day, watching Lion. There is a scene in the movie where a man who got lost from his family as a child of five. He ends up in an orphanage where the children are locked in. He is probably sold although it doesn’t say it, to a family in Australia. So he is now 26, and he is away at school where he meets people who are India. At a dinner party where they are talking about growing up India. He says he grew up Australian. But this conversation around the table makes him remember. He starts think about his mother and brother. The memories of his young life come back. One of them suggested have you heard about this new thing Google Earth. Saroo can’t let the memories go and begins the search. This scene has these powerful words where his girlfriend goes to find him and he is hunched over in pain. And he says, “I am lost.”
I was struck by those words. I am lost. He literally was lost to his family. But how many of us and those around us are lost. Whether we have a family member who is lost in a world of addiction and the ripples this created in all the people around them. We may have a friend who has lost their purpose when the job they have always done has disappeared. We may know a neighbor who is struggle with trying to raise their grandkids while taking care of their parents as their dreams for a peaceful and fun retirement evaporate. We have a friend who don’t know how they will make it through this illness when their health insurance leaves them with the 20% bill that means they may lose their house and they don’t what to do. We may have a child, a grandchild who haven’t found their purpose, dream, bliss, who seem to be losing that spark we loved in them as a child. I am lost. We feel like the country we love, the people we thought we knew, have created a world that seems straight out of a dystopian novel.
The lost matter to God.  
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Luke 15.6
“When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Luke 15.9
“But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” Luke 15.32
“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19.10
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Ezekiel 34.16
We are invited to seek out, to search high and low for those who are lost. We are called to find the lost, to bring back the strayed, strengthen the weak, bind up the wounded. Saroo gets lost in the search for his birth family. He loses his job, his degree, his girlfriend, and pushes his family away. He looks ragged and haggard. His search seems hopeless. Yet in that moment he goes outside his search parameters and finds the landscape he remembers and with Google Earth is able to find his village. The lost is found.   

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How Do You Measure a Year - In Miles

Five hundred twenty-five thousand / Six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand / Moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand / Six hundred minutes
How do you measure - measure a year?
In daylights - in sunsets / In midnights - in cups of coffee
In inches - in miles / In laughter - in strife
In - five hundred twenty-five thousand / Six hundred minutes
How do you measure / A year in the life
How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love
Seasons of Love - Rent
3,336 miles.
When I look back over the year I was struck by this number. That is how many miles I drove last year on church related business.
3336 miles – miles where I met with families experiencing the death of a loved one and walked beside them as we said goodbye and grieved.
3336 miles – miles where I brought communion to those who are unable to come to church anymore. Those miles to those at home, in nursing homes, in assisted living, represent conversations where life stories were shared, where prayers were shared and the sacraments were given. Those miles have countless memories of laughter and tears, prayers and fears, food and wine.
3336 miles – miles where I met with other pastors and laity whether to support each other, learn from each other, gather together to remember we are connected to one another. These miles include trips to places where clergy prayed together and were refreshed. These miles include meetings of the larger church where I met people I see three times of year who share their hopes and worries for their church. These miles led me to learn new ideas for ministry and to be inspired by the work of others. These miles include Association Meetings, Conference Meetings, Boundary Training, Local Clergy Cluster, Committee on Ministry, Clergy Day Out.
3336 miles – miles that included opportunities to serve others, where I had the privilege to help make life better if only for a moment for those who have less than we do. Those miles allowed me to help with Feed My Starving Children, Crop Walk, Beloved Community Dinner.
3336 miles – miles where I went out to eat with members of congregation. Where over food we shared our stories pieces of ourselves.
3336 miles – miles that include community events and worship services. Where I am part of the local and larger community.
3336 miles – miles that don’t include the trips I have taken to be inspired and refreshed by the beauty of God’s creation, the creativity of God’s people in art, film, and music. Those miles help to inspire me, to inform my preaching and thoughts, to allow me to pray and breathe deeply.
3336 miles – this doesn’t include the footsteps that lead me to worship, dinners, confirmation, potlucks, movies. These steps I take to our church include times where we gather weekly to be inspired and challenged, where we gather to rest in the presence of God and experience the love of God poured out for us. These steps include times where I volunteer for HAFP putting away food or giving food to those in need. These steps have led me into deep conversations and also times of laughter. These steps led me to times when I provide comfort and times when I listen to you and for God.
3336 miles – How many mile and steps have you taken this year to share God’s love?  The early followers of Jesus were called people of the way. The way – Jesus taught them to use their steps, their days to follow his teachings, to reach out to the hurting, the lost, the least. Jesus invited his followers into a life of service to others. We too are called to be people of the Way. Will you uses your steps, your miles to follow the example of Jesus: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23).
Pastor's Annual Report for St. Paul's United Church of Christ, Hinckley.