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."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Back to Galilee

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.  Mark 16:7

Reed and I love to play board games, but there is an interesting quirk to a number of them; just when you think you are about to wipe the board with the other person you get sent back to start.  When Reed was little and we played Chutes and Ladders it never failed that I would get to the top row and almost be at the finish line and then hit that Chute that takes you right back down to start.  Or now when we play Parcheesi or Sorry, it has become rather cutthroat and it never fails that one of us ends up being the person sorried or sent back home especially when you are just about to get your pieces safe.  But one of my favorite games is Bonkers (bonkers is fun, bonkers is nice, bonkers is never the same game twice).  In this game, you create the action on the board by placing cards down that allow you to return to start and collect a point.  If you’re lucky, you can get caught in a loop in which you score over and over again.  Going back to start and figuring out ways to make those scoring loops are part of the fun of the game.  Like Monopoly it is one of the few games where start is good.
In more modern games, there is also the going back to start element.  When you play a video game you often have to restart a level until you have learned how to fight the main boss in a way that leaves enough life for you to win and move on.  But to do this you may end up stuck on that level for a very long time.  Or in some games what ends up frustrating you is missing something.  In order to move on and be successful you have to find all of the right objects along the way and meet the right people who tell you pertinent information that you have to collect.  But when you have missed something and you get to the end and don’t have that item you have to go back or start over.  If you head back, you may not be able to figure out where the item that you missed is located.  But sometimes you wander aimlessly searching but never finding what it is you seek.  So there is the point where if the frustration level is high enough you have to choose will you reboot, will you delete the file and begin the game again, losing all you have found.  Starting from scratch, at the beginning sometimes allows you the best hope by being a little wiser on the journey. 
 The Easter Story in the Gospel of Mark asks us to go back to start and begin again.  The women who find the tomb empty are to head back to Galilee where they will see Jesus again.  Why are they being sent back to the beginning?  Does Jesus want them to walk where they have walked before remembering what happened in each of those spots?  Will they remember the place where they first heard the good news, where a family member was healed, where they heard the best story of their life, where one of these dear friends was transformed through healing, where people were fed and nourished, where they learned to pray and what it means to follow God?  Will Mary Magdalene remember where Jesus pulled out those demons that were drowning her and then showed her what it meant to be a servant?  Will Mary, Jesus’ mother remember all of the times she watched as her child grew into the anointed one?  Will she remember the day she went from being his mother to becoming a follower.  When they return to Galilee will they encounter Jesus in the people?  Will they meet Jesus along the way in Simon, Andrew, James and John, the demoniacs, the lepers, the tax collectors and prostitutes, the mother-in-law and young children?
This Easter Season journey with us back to Galilee where we will see how some friends will bring a paralytic to be healed, where we will meet a tax collector who becomes a disciples, where we will learn that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, where a mother fights fiercely to get her child healed, where we learn what the Sabbath is for and that we are to be new wine.  The Easter Season is our chance to reboot, to start our walk with God over again.  We are invited once again to enter the story and believe the Good News that the Kingdom of God has arrived. 
Journey with me to Galilee with the following Sermons
April 8            Mark 16:1-8                 Easter
April 15          Mark 2:1-12                 With a Little Help from My Friends
April 22          Mark 4:21-34               Earthday Kingdom Seeds
April 29          Mark 2:13-17               Feasting with Sinners
May 6            Mark 2:23-3:6              Sabbath Practices
May 13          Mark 7:24-30               Mama Fights Jesus for Help
May 20          Mark 3:7-19a               Help for the Journey
May 27          Mark 2:18-22               New Wine

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Act Differently

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

"Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."   Esther 4:13-14

Imagine that you are placed in the exact spot where what you do, how you act can change the history of your people.  What would you do?  Would you play it safe?  Would you continue on as if nothing has happened or would you step out and act? 

The book of Esther asks this question.  In a moment of great struggle, what would you do if you had the power to change history?  There have been laws passed that will lead to the slaughter of your people.  You have been placed in close proximity to the one person who has the power to change this outcome.  Will you remain silent and hope that they don’t find out you are one of the people scheduled for discrimination and possibly death or will you do something courageous that could change the course of history?  This is the question Esther’s cousin Mordecai asks Esther.  He challenges to think about whether she has been placed in her position as one of the King’s wives in order to save her people.  She chooses to act, to see this as the time when she can save her people.

Are we called to live a life where we do not confirm to the kingdom of earth or live as if we are already seeds for the kingdom of heaven?  Micah 6:8 says that God has already told us what it means to be good:  do justice, love kindness, and walk with God.  These are active criteria for living as flowing God.  We are to do, love, and walk.  We are not to have a passive faith we are called to do justice:  to actively work , to struggle for a world that is fair, where justice prevails, where there is no one who is hungry, in need of shelter, who struggles to get water, who can’t see a doctor, and does have meaningful work.  We are to love kindness, be merciful, and practice an active faith life where we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and visit those sick and imprisoned.  And after all that we are to walk with God, meet God daily and spend our time immersed in the Spirit.

Tonight at our Lenten services we are focusing on what it means to act differently.  Have you thought about what it means to live and act as a Christian?  As Paul says, are you leading a life worthy of your calling?  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Think Boldly

The Believers Pray for Boldness After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant:
“Why did the Gentiles rage,
   and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
   and the rulers have gathered together
     against the Lord and against his Messiah.”
For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
The Believers Share Their Possessions Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Acts 4:23-37

Every summer in the heat of August my father’s family gathers and sings:
We limit not the truth of God
  To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
  Crude, partial and confined.
Now let a new and better hope
  Within our hearts be stirred:
The Lord hath yet more light and truth
  To break forth from His Word.

We have been singing this song for over a hundred years.   For our ancestor, great grandpa, John Robinson sent us his ancestors to America with the charge to let yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy Word.  A charge and a promise my family remembers and sings. 

George Raw­son, in the Leeds Hymn Book, 1835,  in the description of how this hymn came about writes:
He charged us be­fore God, and His bless­ed an­gels, if God should re­veal an­y­thing to us by any other in­stru­ment of His, to be as rea­dy to re­ceive it as any truth by his min­is­try; for he was ve­ry con­fi­dent the Lord had more light and truth yet to break forth out of His ho­ly word.
Nar­ra­tive of Pas­tor Rob­in­son’s Ad­dress to the Pil­grim Fa­thers [1620]

The apocryphal story is that our branch of the family was true religious zealots that we were kicked out of or left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to settle in Connecticut in order to practice religious freedom.  Among our ancestors you find Roger Williams who left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found Rhode Island so that there could be a place where laws were passed to ensure jury trials, to end class discrimination, and to extend universal suffrage and religious tolerance. 

I like to imagine that these ancestors were part of the Group that followed Thomas Hooker to Connecticut.  Hooker was disenchanted with the Boston hierarchy and led followers to Hartford in 1636.  He was inspired by his religious convictions and liberating ideas of democracy.  Hooker had been with the dissenters in Holland.  He differed from the Puritans in terms of politics.  He saw no justice in disenfranchising 9/10ths of the population that included women, children, servants, and apprentices, and the unchurched.   Hooker made the vote in Connecticut untied to religious membership (gender and ages still issues), but it was still not easy to vote a man had to be able to hold an honest conversation and believe in Trinitarian theology.    He is considered the father of American Democracy.

Now I can’t say how bold the rest of the family has been since our first ancestors sought religious freedom and democratic politics, but it inspires many of us descendants to struggle and hope for more.  To think about what it means to let more truth and light to shine forth. 

But before my ancestors of almost 400 years ago sought to think and live boldly we have the early gathered church of the disciples struggling with what it means to speak and live boldly through the power of the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Jesus.  In the scripture we read this evening, some of the disciples had been brought before the religious council of elders for healing a crippled beggar outside of the temple in the name of Jesus.  The council released them because they could not come up with a charge that would work to get rid of the disciples.  The Disciples head back to their friends where they pray to God for guidance, the power of the Holy Spirit and for boldness.  A boldness that infuses them with Spirit guided speech and the creations of a community that holds all things in common, that prays together, shares resources, and teaches each other the Gospel. 

The original Greek word here for boldness means to take up courage, to receive courage.  To be bold according to the dictionary is to be “fearless and daring; courageous.”  Can you imagine us here around Lake Geneva, as the bold church, the fearless and daring church, the courageous church?
Our Faith is 2000 years old, Our Thinking is not.  As the United Church of Christ we proclaim this message that we believe in a God of continuing testament.  We believe as my great grandfather said that there is yet more light and truth to come from God’s word.  The ancient story that we hear becomes fresh and alive in our practice.  We want to be a church where you are able to engage both your head and your heart.  Because God is still speaking we don’t want to look at a world full of periods.  We never want to place a period where God has placed a comma.  We want to experience a world of Comma’s where we know that we are called to think boldly, to think outside the box.  We are not a perfect church.  We often disagree about just what the comma means or have people who have placed a period and will not listen to those of us with commas.

 But we have hope that we can continue to be the bold church. We want to be known as the people who arrive early on issues of inclusivity and justice.  
            Think about Our Firsts:
1.       The Pilgrims Sought spiritual freedom in 1620
2.      In the 1700s we took an early stand against slavery
3.      In 1773 our building and people led the Boston Tea Party
4.      In 1785 we ordained the first African American Pastor Lemuel Haynes
5.      In the 1800s we fight slavery before the war
6.      In 1853 we ordain the first woman pastor Antoinette Brown
7.      In 1957 we bring together 4 different stream of Christianity to form a stronger whole
8.      In 1959 we fight to keep the airwaves free and open
9.      In 1972 we ordained the first openly gay pastor William Johnson
10.  In the 1980 we publish the first work that shows the connection between the placement of polluting sites and race.
11.  In the eighties we become open and affirming, just peace, and disability accepting
So when we pray to think and speak boldly today,
How will we continue to be the people and church out front in the fight for inclusivity and justice?
How will we continue to allow people to explore their doubts and think outside the box?
How will we allow people to continue to be intellectual honest and not have to leave their intelligence at the door of the church? 
How will we continue to do what is right and just even when it is hard?
How will we continue to preserve freedom?
Will you pray for boldness, to be part of the Still Speaking Church where there is yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s word?  

Sermon delivered at our Lenten Services for the Geneva Lake UCC church's.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Stay Awake: Prayer in the Garden

It’s about 11:30 pm and the phone rings.  Are you the pastor?  They gave me your number when I stopped by the church.  I don’t want to live anymore.  I can’t find any work.  I was hurt on the job and the social security disability hasn’t come through.  I am living in this hotel and barely have enough to make it through the week.  … We talk for a long time.  We pray.  We speak about the how and the why.    I get a promise that in the morning they will come see me at church.

The dark night of the soul.    A time of great anguish and pain. 

Is that the picture we have of Jesus praying in the garden?  Do we see a Jesus in torment and pain?  Or do we picture Jesus on his knees with his face illuminated by the glow of heavenly light with resigned resignation on his face.  There is a serenity and peace.  There is the feel of the hymn.  I come to the garden alone.  Where God walks and talks with us and lets me know that we are God’s beloved.

This is the image we have of Jesus last night that while Jesus asked a question of God he resignedly accepted his role as the lamb of God being led to the slaughter. 

The Jesus of Mark 14 is not calm and resigned.  The night is more like those Saturday night calls I get about suicide.  Those calls of anguish and pain. 

Jesus has gone to Gethsemane to pray.  He tells his disciples to sit while he prays.  He went a little further with Peter, James and John.   And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here and keep awake.’(Mark 14:34).  Jesus invited his closest followers to stay  awake and stay nearby while he prayed. 

Jesus has prayed three times in Mark’s gospel.  The first is at the beginning of Jesus ministry when he wakes early and facing God in Mark 1:35.  The disciples find him and say everyone is looking for you and Jesus doesn’t respond to their anxiety and instead sets of to proclaim the Good News.  The second time is found in the middle of the gospel in Mark 6:46.  Jesus has just fed the 5000 and is seeking some time alone to pray.  This episode is followed by Jesus telling the disciples not to be afraid in the midst of a storm.  Here we are at the end of the gospel and Jesus who has spoken of his death and told the disciples to have courage and stay awake is having trouble.  He unable to follow his advise and keep calm and carry on.  Jesus shudders in distress and anguishes.  Jesus is facing betrayal and death not with stoicism, or contemplative detachment, but with real human fear, even terror. 
Lohmeyer:  The Greek words depict the utmost degree of unbounded horror and suffering”
Rawlinson :  suggestive of shuddering awe
Swete:  His first feeling was one of terrified surprise.. .the distress which follows great shock.
Moffat:  Appalled… agitated
Lightfoot:  It describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, as grief, shame, disappointment (Ched Meyers, Binding the Strong Man,  p. 366).
Jesus is shaken to the core.  Can the disciples stay with Jesus in the heart of darkness? 

They cannot.  Three times Jesus asks them to stay awake. 
37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?  38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 
Yet they can’t do it.  They can’t remain awake.  Three times he finds them sleeping.  The final time he says,
41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
Mark sets up this contrast between the disciples and Jesus.  Jesus exhorts prayer and the disciples sleep.   

Jesus faces his struggle through prayer.  The prayer allows him to face the danger, to face his betrayal, to move his way through the darkness. 

The profoundly shaken Jesus, shows us the heart of prayer in the darkness.  For Mark has argued that all things are possible for God.  The first concern of prayer is not to remedy personal distress.  The first concern of prayer is to seek the Holy One whose desire is the healing of broken history. 

The darkness, the hour has arrived and only Jesus, praying in the heart of darkness, can summon the courage to go the Way of the cross.  Jesus prayer reflects a trust in God even in the face of the worst you can imagine.