Monday, May 31, 2010
Saturday I was a little stressed. That’s when I got a text message from Joe Woods, our band leader. He was calling to find out what time he was supposed to play for our Old West End Free Store Concert. Joe was just trying to add another gig, but to me, without the context of tone, body language, etc, it seemed to me that he was trying to back out of playing, at one of our key outreach events, something that had been on the Calendar for months (Kurt says a year). I got even more stressed. Joe laughed, literally LOL and "center yourself.". Joe "got it.". You know you’re in trouble when at 47 years of age, and 20 years as a Pastor, your 24 year old band leader has to remind you to get centered and pray.
When Joe and I started working together I asked him to bring in a CD of one of his favorite songs and this is the one he brought in. It's a "centering song”, “Aqueous Transmission" by Incubus (here’s a link to rendition on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlLCXiG4eD4 ). The song reminds me of the summer I call my Sabbath Summer. It was a turning point in my prayer life. In the summer of 2005 my life changed forever.
Experience unlike any other. Perhaps you could call it, my own version of that Pentecost we talked about last week, when the Spirit of God filled Peter and the disciples of Jesus, and it felt like fire and wind and they were filled with so much power that the sermon he preached that cause caused 3000 people to give their lives to Jesus and be baptized! I spent hours in the summer and well into the Fall of 2005, sitting on my front porch with God, praying, and having my own little Pentecost revival.
There had been many times in my life before when I had gone through short periods of disciplined prayer routine - and those were meaningful times in my life as well. It's all good.
But something was deeper that summer. I was ready. Perhaps I needed God more. Or I was just at a level of maturity in my life to receive God's Spirit. Who can explain the things of the Spirit? It's beyond human wisdom. But here's what happened.
I sat on my porch every night, with The Message Bible, my journal, and pen, first a book called Sabbath, by Wayne Muller, and later a book called Mother Tongue by Paul Nixon, and every night I opened my heart and soul to God in prayer. I spent some TIME with God. I poured out my heart to God. I got angry. I laughed. I read scripture. I wrote in my journal. In the mornings I took some walks in my neighborhood, and just tried to clear my mind of my thoughts and listen to God.
It was during that time that I began to hear God's call to plant this church. I was not in a very good place with my last church, because my work there was winding down but I could not see it and I did not want to see it. The time in prayer gave me the space to SEE what I was not seeing. It created space for God to show me a new vision for my life. I am not a patient person. I knew it would take awhile to get here. Five YEARS to get here. That did not make me happy back then. I was not sure how long it would take or how I was going to get there. All the more reason why I needed those weeks and months of going deep with God in prayer.
So why am I telling you all this today? Because I want each one of you to find God's wonderful purpose for your life. There might be more than one. But I want you to see the wonderful vision God has in mind for you next. And I believe the way for you to see it, is for you to connect to God in prayer. There are lots of ways to connect to God in prayer - your way may not be my way. Hear that clearly. There are soooo many ways to pray, soooo many ways to listen to God, and to see and hear God. But in order to hear God we do have to be intentional; and put some time and effort into it.
Like any relationship, a relationship with God, means we carve out TIME, and SPACE. That is clear in our scripture for today.
38-39Peter said, "Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away-whomever, in fact, our Master God invites."
40Peter went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!"
41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
We also know from reading the Gospels that Jesus routinely took breaks from the crowds to go away to a quiet place to pray. He could not do his work without the rhythm of prayer and quiet to center himself and to have his spirit filled by God's Spirit.
Many of you have told me that you want something more for your life. Either you have something you want to change - or you are still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up - whatever age you are.
Others of us are just ready to change the world. We are watching as our planet in hemorrhaging, seen that for the last month. We are seeing the results of corporate greed. Robin has her pictures of her fallen comrades from Iraq. A church like ours, that wants to follow Jesus and change the world - well, we have our work cut out for us. The world is eager to hear our message of hope. We NEED to be grounded in prayer. We NEED to be talking to God, because these world problems are huge. They are too big for any small group of people to face alone - this will take the power of God working through us to conquer. But remember how powerful Peter became when the Spirit of God was in him. That's the Spirit that is in us too! That's the Spirit that can change the world through us when we pray. I want that Spirit in all of us.
So, what will your next step be?
I imagine that all of us pray in some way. If nothing else, we probably ask God for help now and then when we are in trouble, “God help me”. That's a start - at least we know that God wants to help us. Maybe we also say thank you once a day - that's another simple and important prayer practice. I do that with Jamie every night.
If we want to grow as followers of Jesus and our prayer life - and I'm going to assume you want to grow - since you are here today - then I'm going to challenge each of us to make one commitment to deepen our prayer life today.
" Listen to God
" Meet once a week with prayer partner
" Go on a retreat
" Use a prayer book as a guide
" Read scripture
" Read a daily devotional
Sunday, May 23, 2010
There's a lot more back story to this endeavor, but I want to share one little bit with you.
Today, we had a free parking lot party. Tim did a lot of the planning so we rolled in about an hour before the official start time to set up grills and do whatever needs to be done to have a cook out in a parking lot. Miraculously, it stopped raining long enough for this to happen. (It's rained enough that I saw a mushroom the size of a hubcap today. I may grow gills.)
Our South Korean friend arrived just before we did. He saw a man near the intersection for the highway ramp and the main road. He picked up the man and brought him along. Everything he owned, presumably, was in a rolled up pack about the size of a small pillow. He wasn't unkempt, but he was homeless and ragged, so a certain amount of unkempt goes with the territory. He helped unload grills and carry things. He stayed with us nearly all afternoon eating hamburgers, drinking orange Kool Aid and listening to music. Someone said he was trying to get to Pontiac, Michigan.
As I stood behind the food tables to refill bowls of chips or whatever, I saw him slowly approach the table. We had some flyer's down at the end that we were holding down with a small change bank (like the ones you use for spare change during Lent.) The party was free but a few folks had jammed some bills in the coin slot on the top of the can. They didn't need to, but it was nice anyway. The man refilled his water bottle from the orange Kool Aid container and then reached into the little pocket on his jeans. You know the pocket- the little one in the front that makes them five pocket jeans. He pulled out a few coins. From the looks of him, I have to imagine this is about all he had.
He took a and some pennies and another coin, maybe a dime, and he put them in the can. He walked away slowly. I saw him a few minutes later on the other side of the building lighting a cigarette and then he was gone. Off to Pontiac I guess.
He didn't need to give us his money. For that matter, our friend didn't need to have picked him up. But he got picked up and he fished in his pockets for coins for the can. Do I ever give that much? Do I ever reach into my pockets and rummage through the last few coins that I have and willingly and cheerfully give them away? Am I that generous with my time? Am I that generous with my talents and spirit that even when I'm pretty sure I have nearly nothing left, I give just a little bit more away?
Well Sir, I don't know who you are, but what you did will stay with me forever. I hope you made it to Pontiac, Michigan. Thank you for coming to our picnic. for a while. We rented some space in a not-so-nice neighborhood about nine months ago with some lofty ideals about changing the world or some such thing. This is really rather daunting, but I suppose you have to start somewhere. So you put a stake in the ground and say "here, is where we start."
That sums up why we are here.
This week in worship we read the story from Acts 2 of Pentecost. A little background for those of you who are not familiar, Pentecost was already a minor Jewish Feast. Jews from around the world came to Jerusalem for this celebration, 50 days after Passover. The Disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, were trying to figure out what now. Just about 50 days ago, their leader, Jesus, had been taken from them, violently. While he did rise from the dead, he was only occasionally reappearing. They were not sure what to do now. But, WOW, God sure did and God showed God’s presence that day.
The Holy Spirit, God’s presence in the world, came to the Disciples. The scripture describes it as a strong wind, a gale from nowhere. It was a force that filled the building. The Disciples were filled with a passion, a fire that spread like wildfire. They were put on fire for God.
The Assembled Jews, were from dozens of countries from around the area. They spoke dozens of languages. But as the Disciples spoke, they each heard them in their own language. Imagine, being at an international gathering, where everyone spoke in your language, but your neighbor heard them in their language too. Peter spoke to the crowd with a passion and a skill that few had seen out of him before. If the church has a birthday. This is it.
When you hear Christians talking about being on fire, filled with the Spirit, etc. This is where it came from. This is where the fuel to spread the good news or Gospel, came from. This is where the fuel for the movement to abolish slavery came from. This is the fire that fueled the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, etc. came from. From here, a few dozen followers became a few thousand in one day, and millions in the years that followed.
Imagine a movement, a great movement, premised on a great idea, but led by a screw up. Yes, I called Peter a screw up. The “Rock”, the man upon whom the post-Jesus church was built was a screw up. Look at what the Gospels (the four books of the new Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) say about Peter.
He was personally mentored by Jesus. He heard the words of Jesus first hand, not in a Sunday School class from another person; not in print, but from the man himself. Did he get it? NO!!!! Repeatedly Jesus tried to teach the Disciples in general, and Peter in particular a lesson. I can see Jesus shaking his head repeatedly. I am sure the human part of Jesus wondered whether they were ever going to get it.
Then, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, Peter really screwed up. Jesus repeatedly taught love your enemies, do kindness to those who would harm you. When the chips are down, when the High Priests mob & Judas show up to snatch up Jesus, what does Peter do? He whips out his sword and lops off an ear. Jesus has to back Peter down and heal the wounded. So much for loving the enemy. Also, even after Jesus warns him about denying Jesus three times when he is pressured, Peter does just that. This is the “Rock upon which the church is to be built?”. The foundation of a movement? The new leader to take Jesus’ place as the head of the church?
But, then you add the power of the Spirit. Now, you’ve got something. Imagine adding skill to passion, God did both with Peter. BAM, 3,000 converts in a day, that’s right, the equivalent of a Mega-Church in one day. A wildfire is born that will spread across the world, bringing down the most powerful empire of the day and transforming history.
Once at The Village when we were talking about what we are passionate about, what is that thing in the world that we would do anything to change, Tianda said she wanted there to be a world where there are no “throw away children”. She wants every child to feel they are worth something. Cheri wants every child to live with the joy in the picture from our theme slide. With freedom and love and that almost wreck-less abandon that comes from knowing that one is safe and loved no matter what.
Cheri was reading a devotional this week. In the devotional, believed written by Eberhard Arnold, the author wrote that the dwelling place of God in our world belongs to children. God’s home is where children live. People with a childlike spirit are the ones that are the closest to God. Not childish, or immature, but what he calls a spirit of “confident trust” and a spirit that rejoices and loses itself in the object of its love: a spirit that is released from self-contemplation. The true child is never afraid. And this is why. Because the childlike spirit comes from the Holy Spirit. So, he writes “let us believe that this Spirit really exists and that we can receive it”.
So, where are we in Peter’s story? Are we ready to receive the Spirit? Our friend Laurie Swyers has just returned to church. Her friends, worriedly asked her “are you one of those holy rollers now?” So, she knows this moment. The question is whether to become Peter in the court yard or Peter on Pentecost. So, which would you be?
There are hurting folks out there, right. We’ve seen it time and time again. They need places where love is; where acceptance is. Just yesterday we experienced a little of that. Dozens of people dropped by our church parking lot when we did the simple act of playing some music and cooking some food. We had a homeless man stop by. We had residents of a group home. We hadd single moms, families, single people, gays, lesbians, transgendered, straight, immigrants, etc. We offered some basic hospitality and 85 people came by.
I think Eberard Arnold is onto something when he says in order to make a home for God’s spirit in our lives, we need to be more like children, we need to find that simple trust and courage to put our trust in something outside ourselves; to give ourselves into the freedom to trust goodness and joy.
There is power, friends, the message that good is stronger than evil; and compassion is a better way than selfishness. It really is that simple. And it really is that powerful. Children, in their purest, unrestrained form, get that. And they can teach us.
That’s what happened on the first Pentecost. The people were filled with God’s Spirit of Love. Some crazy miracle happened so that the preaching was simultaneously in the languages of the people from all sorts of countries. Words spoken by a bunch of simple, uneducated and not multilingual Galileans became a powerful message that transformed the world. That was the miracle of the day. The message that God loved us so much, God came and lived among us, died like us and rose from the dead, was given so much power, it had to spread around the world. The crowd was called by the former screw up, Peter, to “get out of this sick and stupid culture”. Then? The culture was sick and stupid then? We thought we only had that now.
Peter said that and the people at Pentecost listened and 3,000 of them left it behind. They committed themselves to the teachings of the disciples, the life of following Christ together, the common meal, and prayer. We had a little taste of that last night.
Like Pentecost, we had a big party for everyone. Our party included the homeless and affluent, suburban families; farmers and lawyers; Democrats and Republicans; the young and the old; the able bodied and the mentally and physically disabled; those without a high school diploma and several with multiple doctoral degrees. A group of people who would normally not be together were together in the same place for a couple of hours. They worked together, eat together and experienced God’s love together. You’ve got to think that made God smile Yesterday.
You see, our world is pretty broken right now; racism (yes, it’s alive and well), a broken economy; political division. People tend to socialize with folks like them. But we had lots of different folks working together. The church of Jesus is supposed to be one place where the Holy Spirit has the power to draw together we who are very different. It isn’t always true, but it was yesterday.
We have the power to change this sick and stupid culture, just like the early disciples did. We’re just a “baby church” as our coach Paul Nixon calls us. We have typically 60 people on Sundays. But in four months, we’re going to add a second service of about 50-80 people. And then 6-12 months later, a third service and a fourth after that. We know it sounds crazy, but at The Village, we dream dreams so big that only God can make them come true.
The World is pretty broken right now. There is pain to spare. There is fear to spare. There is hatred to spare. But starting at Central & Monroe, in the broken City of Toledo, Ohio, a city in economic depression, we are going to start. We may be crazy, but we have more disciples than Peter started with, and we are going to start changing the world. We’re screw ups too, but we’ve got the Spirit that’s been around for a few thousand years now. Wanna help change that world? Join us Sundays at 10:30, or next Sunday between 2-6 PM feeding the poor at St. Mark’s Church, or Saturday June 5th giving away free books & toys at the Old West End Festival.
Monday, May 17, 2010
"Beware ministry on the cutting edge; because on the cutting edge you bleed." I'm told this piece of advice was circulating more than a decade ago, in the church growth movement, among mega church staff people. The idea was this -- better to play it a bit safe when trying to grow a mega church. Let someone else experiment. Use the tried- and-true methods that are working to grow your church -- and don't take too many chances. This advice may have worked in the 1990's of fast growing suburban church planting; but in my world, the words take a different twist.
I work in the urban context, with people who, for the most part, "live on the edge" every day. They don't choose to be on the edge, it's simply a fact of life. And yes, when you live on the edge, it's messy and bloody. So, likewise, cutting edge ministry with people who live on the edge, can be both messy and bloody. But I have to say, I think ministry on the edge is a familiar place for Jesus.
In this first six months of the Village Church these are some of the life situations we have encountered among our community: death of a friend from a drug overdose, a pregnant single woman asking for help so she can keep her baby, a divorce, a lesbian being publically kicked out of her leadership position in a church for being a lesbian, a homeless family with a mom with epileptic seizures living in church buildings for housing, an ex-con, a war vet dealing with post traumatic stress, and parents of transgender children looking for support. The list of people living on the edge goes on and on. . . .
Sadly, there are few churches prepared to deal with the REAL WORLD hurts that REAL PEOPLE are dealing with, and so church is the last place people go when they need help. People turn to bars for community; and turn to sex and drugs to numb their pain. They buy lottery tickets and go to casinos in the hopes that money will give them freedom.
This is a great time to be planting churches. People need hope. And every Sunday morning, at The Village Church, I see about 60 people who would not have a place to worship if it were not for this edgy church. We meet in an old restaurant/bar, and serve great coffee and have music led by a band leader who does not know any hymns. Joe is often sleepy from playing a gig at a bar on Saturday nights. But he drags himself out of bed to play at The Village Church on Sunday mornings because he wants to offer HOPE to people who live on the edge. You see, on the edge you bleed, and people who live on the edge need the healing message that God loves us no matter what!
So, yes, beware ministry on the cutting edge. On the edge you bleed.
But people on the edge of life are already bleeding.
And Jesus is already hanging out there with them, so I'm pretty sure that's where Jesus wants us to be to -- a church, on the edge.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Our guest preacher this week, really isn’t a guest. Leslie Eppler has been a part of The Village almost from the beginning. But she had to do it from a distance for a time. Leslie was busy in seminary in Lancaster, PA, but she’s done now and today, at the Village, she got to show us what’s she’s got as a preacher & teacher. Which it turns out is a lot.
She spoke today at the outset about how ministry is not something you do just in church or for a church. She’s a social worker, working with folks with mental health issues. She reminded us all how we all are ministers. Whether our vocation is working construction, cooking, homemaker, home care provider, politician, etc. Whatever our day jobs are, we are ministers.
Also, just because we are Christians, doesn’t mean we are perfect or that our weeks will be perfect. Just because you have a bumper sticker that says “Honk if you love Jesus” or even if you’re a minister (Cheri), doesn’t mean the cops aren’t going to pull you over. Ask my dear wife, that’s not gonna stop you from getting pulled over if you speed, etc.
Just because we accept Jesus, doesn’t mean we’re not going to get depressed either. If pay attention in church, even at the Village, you hear about how we’re supposed to have joy. Our songs talk about “let the glory of the Lord rise among us” and “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, down in my heart . . .”. While we’re in church, we feel like we should be happy, perfect people. But, leave church, and the depression of life sets in.
But God didn’t say God was going to stay up in heaven. In John 1: 1-14, that we read in worship today, God became one of us through Jesus. God became flesh. As the Message translation we use says it, with a little spin by Leslie, God moved into neighborhood.
Leslie told us the story today of Anabel & Chuck. They were professors at her seminary. An amazing couple who found each other later in life, having had past relationships. They were in the first year of their marriage to each other when they got the phone call. As a parent, I can attest, this the call we all dread. Chuck’s youngest son Mark had been killed in a car crash. There was no drugs or alcohol involved, no speeding, just a freak thing. Mark was a passenger and thrown out a window, and died.
These amazing people of faith, people who train minister to bring the word, now found themselves doubting the word. They began to question: WHY? HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? HOW COULD GOD LET THIS HAPPEN? And they grieved.
Anabel felt numbness, but thought “Where is God?. She could not feel God’s presence, let alone God’s love. She went through the motions of her life. But, she could not find that fierce presence of God in her life, she felt before. She was just going through the motions of life and beginning to doubt whether there could be a God.
She shared this with a friend of hers, Walter Wink. Walter Wink is a famous theologian (and thinker and writer about God and faith). He told her that sometimes God is in the wound. She realized that she had to look into her wound, and she would find God with her. God is in our brokeness, our weakness. We are broken at birth. God is in there in the brokeness and pain of being born.
As I said, Leslie had a rough week as a social worker. She has what she called a “scary, painful, dangerous” week. She works with rough and dangerous folks, so she expects that. But this week was really scary. So, to deal with it, she had to go see “our” Baby Faith and Venetta and see that miracle we’ve all gotten to see with two of our newest members. The joy and affirmation of new life, of birth. God is there. God is with us in that wonderful moments of a new life.
But, how can God be there in the bad moments? How can God be there in the death of Mark? How can God be there in a 9-11? How can God be there in fear? In Anger? In Depression?
God is not an emotion. God is there even when God is not felt by us. GOD IS THERE. That is one of the toughest things about accepting the Christian faith. We all want to have a booming voice of God. We all want to feel a warming presence of love. But it’s not always there.
Leslie’s bad week, well one of those dangerous folks, you know the folks who scare the rest of us, those with criminal records, gang members, etc. Well, one of them threatened her. Work, well they didn’t take that seriously. Worse, in the midst of all that, she had to work alone and a double shift. And when she got home, no comforting life partner. Just her dog to give her comfort. But in the midst of that, she asked God to help her. She did feel that comforting presence.
God doesn’t promise to take away the bad things. People have this crazy idea that if they become Christians that the bad stuff goes away. God never promised that. The bills are still going to be there. The unemployment is still going to be there. The threats and fear are still going to be there. The depression is still going to be there. But God is there. And God promises that God will be bigger than all those things. God didn’t say once that this life would be perfect.
What God has always said is “I’m bigger than all that”. Not that I will take the bad stuff away, but that I will be there, no matter what. I’ll be by your side. I’ll lead you through this, just listen.
One out of four of us will suffer from depression periodically. One of out of seventeen of us will have to grapple with a long term, even lifetime mental illness issue like being bipolar. Leslie shared she is one of those seventeen. One out of five families will suffer with a loved one who is grappling with one of these issues. It’s hard to watch for those who don’t have the issues. But it’s also hard on those who do. They loved one with issues doesn’t want it to be hard. They don’t want to be a burden.
So, what can you do if you are one of the folks grappling with this on one side or the other? First, seek the help you need. There is lots of help out there. You need to find it. Not just metal health help, but help with your burdens. God gives us resources, we just need to open our eyes and ears and hearts to find it. Second, remember that God is bigger than everything. God is bigger than financial worries, neighbor issues, issues with your spouse, mental health issues, etc. Third, remember, Joy lives with Sorrow. God is there in both and God will be with you in both.
Leslie had us watch a wonderful scene from the movie “Beloved”. It is the movie of Tony Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning book on the lasting effects of slavery. In the scene we watched, we get to see Baby Suggs’ sermon. She is a former slave, physically and mentally broken, preaching to a group of folks. She tells them to let the children come and laugh. She has the men come and dance. She then tells everyone to use this to weep for those who have died. Those who have been hurt. But above all laugh and dance and live.
God is bigger than even all that. Even the oppression and hurt of a whole race, systematically hurt and killed for centuries. God is in your wounds. God will be there, just look. You just need to come and feel God’s healing grace, as the song that followed Leslie’s message said. Church is a place where you can come and be real. It is a place where you should be able to come and grieve and also to celebrate and laugh.
If you’re not a part of a community of faith like that; If you’re not attending church where that is true; consider joining us at the Village. This is truly a place where Joy lives with Sorrow. A place where we want you to come grieve when you need to, to be depressed when you need to, and to be filled with joy. Come be part of a family that is real with each other.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
I had a really little thing, in the big scheme of things, I needed to forgive friends for. Two of my friends, then newlyweds, Ian & Jessica, were moving into their first home. As a good friend, and Best Man in their wedding, I showed up early. They were a mess. They weren’t fully packed on moving day. They had a huge amount of stuff. Most of their family was elsewhere and few of their friends showed up. So, it took about 18 or 19 hours on Moving Day to move them.
Not a months or two later, they were to help me move into my first, post law school apartment. Not only did they not come help, they tried to get others, including me, to go out and have fun where they were. I was furious. I was asking for an hour or two of help, having given them a pretty full day, but they couldn’t even do that. I had it with them.
Another friend suggested I was not being a follower of Jesus in holding onto that grudge. I needed to let go. She was right. I wanted Ian & Jess in my life. They are still dear friends, and we had many sorrows and joys in that paths that are our lives to left to share. So, I followed Jesus and forgave and asked their forgiveness.
Cheri had us tell a great story in worship. In Mark’s Gospel (Chapter 11, Verses 23-25 for those following along at home), Jesus is talking to the Disciples in the last week of his life. He is talking about embracing the “God-life” (The Message translation, the Bible we use in worship is very contemporary). He is instructing them on praying. How if you ask, it will happen. He then adds, sort of, oh, by the way, when you pray, forgive.
Jesus says that because it is just no good to live with something eating at you. It keeps us in that state of separation from God. My unwillingness to forgive Ian & Jess, and others, made ME broken & separated from God. It’s not about them, it’s about me.
Forgiveness is connected to the basic choice of compassion or hate. Jesus was all about compassion. He took the higher ground. He saw the humanity, the brokenness in all of us. Now, he would still hold the powerful accountable when their actions affected those without power. He was the champion of justice; but when it was one on one, he would look for the pain inside the abusive power hungry leader and treat that person with the compassion of God.
You see, compassion is the motivating factor underlying forgiveness. When I fail to forgive, I am getting stuck in MY anger. I’m failing to dig down deeper, to that rich source of compassion that is my true self, my baptized self, the self that chooses to be a follower of Jesus.
Cheri shared her story of a need to forgive her Dad. Cheri’s Dad James was a Methodist Minister. He loved Cheri, and his family dearly. But, James had his issues on dealing with his youngest daughter. Cheri found him emotionally absent. He was overly critical. He showed some of the dynamics of abuse, but never technically crossed the line. Cheri was very angry with her dad for not dealing with stuff. Worse, still, just as they were getting to working their issues out, James died suddenly and without warning.
He had lived in his head , trapped in a bad situation. This was something he passed along to Cheri, closing off, not sharing feelings. She had to do years of hard work in therapy to get passed it. Finally, Cheri was able to forgive him.
That’s because she found her compassion. She realized that he did the best with what he had. He had bad issues with his Mom. He was unhappy and trapped in his job. But he was a small town pastor in Kansas. They didn’t have the good levels of support they have today. And, then, the last thing the small town pastor could do is go to therapy then anyway. He just couldn’t find a way to be happy. Cheri found at her core she loved her father and he loved her. She discovered, what we all hate to admit about those who anger or annoy us, they’re human, and worthy of our compassion. What he had done wrong was between him and God. So, now she holds onto that realization when dealing with others.
In the end, forgiveness is letting go. Because it’s better for us to let go. It’s not really about the other person and whether or not they are sorry. They will had to deal with God on that. So you don’t have to wait to forgive the person based on whether they’re sorry. They may not even be alive still. You can forgive someone because you need to let go of the negative feelings inside of you, that are making you feel broken. You can find your compassion for the brokenness in that person, even if they have not yet discovered how broken they are.
What about you? Is there someone you need to forgive so that you can be free from those feelings that are hurting you and eating away at you? I’ve got someone I’m working on. Someone I don’t want to deal with. How about you? It’s not about whether they are sorry; They may die on us before they make their peace. It’s about whether we want to let them have that power over us or whether we can let go, and give them to God, and get on with our lives. It’s about finding that deep well of compassion inside. It’s hard, I know to try to be like Jesus. And that’s all we followers of Jesus can do, is try. We are going to fail from time to time, but as Christians, we try again.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
We get angry when bad stuff happens, because it is not fair. It’s senseless. It’s one thing when suffering comes as a result of our actions. It’s a whole different thing when it comes to undeserved suffering, random acts of pain and violence. I know, in those instances, I ask the ancient question, “Why does God let bad things happen to us?” And, I know many of us, get angry at God from time to time.
Cheri told a story of such a time. She was volunteer chaplain for Forest Park Police Department in suburban Cincinnati, and part of her job was to go with the police to make death notifications to families. One night she got the call to go with two officers to tell a mother her teenage daughter had been killed. They did not have the details, other than it was a horrible car accident. She was to sit with her as the first hours of shock, anger, denial, bargaining, etc were going on. Cheri did not know the mother, but they became bound together in that experience. The mother was devastated, horrified; she blamed herself, why had she let her daughter drive? A mother wants to protect her child.
Then the anger set in, HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? HOW COULD GOD LET THIS HAPPEN? How could God take her baby away from her? Most of us have been there. Something happens. It’s something horrible. We get angry. We ask God why/ Why are you doing this to me?
My story is from Sophomore year from High School. At the end of my Freshmen year I had lost my dog. The day before I was to go to Football Camp, I wrecked a moped, getting 40 stitches in my knee and ending my football career. At the end of my Freshmen wrestling season, I had tore the muscle connecting my leg to the rest of my body (yes, my backside as we call it in front of the kids). But, things were turning around. I had lost a bunch of weight to get to the next lower weight class, and with about 5 more pounds, would be wrestling varsity. Then, a new kid, who I was training, did a stupid move and broke 5 bones in my foot. I thought I was at rock bottom, when I left for school on December 8, 1983 on crutches, again.
My Dad was a career Corpsman, a battlefield medic somewhere between a doctor and an EMT. While he was in the Navy, he spent most of his career patching up wounded Marines. He served a tour with a dangerous unit in Vietnam. He was wounded twice, had another two guys get the drop on him, only to have members of his unit save him. He was in a foxhole when an enemy solider dropped a grenade in, shredding everyone else to bits, but throwing him clear. He was onboard multiple helicopters or helos that were shot down, another few that crashed, a airplane crash, and had two helos collide overhead as he was on the deck of his carrier.
He was awarded several Purple Hearts, several Bronze Stars, a Silver Star, in fact every medal the U.S Navy gives, save it’s highest two, the Navy Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he was put up for the Navy Cross. The whole time he served, we knew he was in danger, even in peace time.
We even knew what his death notification would look like to us. A Government license plated car would pull up. Two sailors in uniform would get out, one would most likely be a fellow corpsman, the other a chaplain if possible. They would come to our door and tell us this time, he was not coming home. We knew as I had seen my Dad leave to do this sad duty for others while he was on shore duty or his ship was in port for an extended stay. But Dad retired. He got a temporary job with the City of Akron Health Department in a lab. He was semesters away from his Hospital Management Degree. The plan was he would be getting his MBA while I got my undergrad degree at the same school.
But, you guessed it by now, December 8, 1983, did not go that well for us. I came home from school, walked through the door, and there was my Mom and a doctor friend. She should not have been home, and our doctor friend should have been at work. They told me Dad had died. He had gone Christmas shopping on his lunch hour. His Chevette (which was going to be mine in 29 days) had gone left of center and hit a beer truck, head on. Thankfully, mercifully, he died instantly.
Not on a battlefield, not at sea, but shopping on his lunch hour. After that year, like Job in our bible story at The Village, I had it with God. I wish I had been nearly as eloquent as the speaker in our video clip in worship this weekend. Martin Sheen’s character did a much more stylish cuss out of God than I did.
In the television show, The West Wing, Martin Sheet played Jed Bartlett, The President of the United States. In the episode Two Cathedrals, his secretary, and friend since his teen years, Mrs. Landingham, has just died in a car accident. Another staff member had been shot just months before. He is making the tough decision whether to run for re-election or not, in light having to disclose that he has hidden that he has relapsing, remitting MS, or let his running mate, John Hoynes do it. This is a very angry and raw man who lets loose on a God who has let him down, despite years of service, again, think Job.
Here’s the quote from the clip, thank you West Wing WikiQuote:
Bartlet: [standing in the National Cathedral, walking towards the altar and talking to God about Mrs. Landingham] You're a son-of-a-bitch, you know that? She bought her first new car and you hit her with a drunk driver. What, was that supposed to be funny? "You can't conceive, nor can I, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God," says Graham Greene. I don't know whose ass he was kissing there 'cause I think you're just vindictive. What was Josh Lyman? A warning shot? That was my son. What did I ever do to yours except praise his glory and praise his name? There's a tropical storm that's gaining speed and power. They say we haven't had a storm this bad since you took out that tender ship of mine in the north Atlantic last year, 68 crew. Do you know what a tender ship does? Fixes the other ships. Doesn't even carry guns, just goes around, fixes the other ships and delivers the mail, that's all it can do. Gratias tibi ago, domine (Translation:I give thanks to you, O Lord). Yes, I lied. It was a sin. I've committed many sins. Have I displeased you, you feckless thug? 3.8 million new jobs, that wasn't good? Bailed out Mexico, increased foreign trade, 30 million new acres of land for conservation, put Mendoza on the bench, we're not fighting a war, I've raised three children... that's not enough to buy me out of the doghouse? Haec credam a deo pio? A deo iusto? A deo scito? Cruciatus in crucem! Tuus in terra servus nuntius fui officium perfeci. Cruciatus in crucem. Eas in crucem! (TRANSLATION: Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments! I was your servant on Earth - I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with your punishments! To hell with you!) [Walks away from the altar, lights a cigarette, takes one puff, throws it to the ground, puts it out with his foot and proceeds to leave.] You get Hoynes!
So what do we do when bad stuff happens? The story of Job, from the Book Of Job in the Bible reminds us that we need to just keep trusting God anyway. We remember we are not God, that we can not know what God knows, that we can not conceive of anything good that will come out of the bad. God can’t intervene in every situation, in the same way a parent can’t fix everything that goes wrong for a child, lest the child grow up helpless and without an understanding of consequences. Like God reminds Job in the Bible, and later in the episode God reminds the President through a vision of Mrs. Landingham (“you know God doesn’t cause car accidents, . . quit using me as an excuse), God does not cause bad things to happen to us.
By the way, for those at home, again courtesy of West Wing Wiki Quote, here’s God’s response as the clip played in worship today:
[Bartlet stands alone in the Oval Office, in the middle of a raging storm. The back door suddenly flies open]
Bartlet: God damn it...Mrs. Landingham!
[Mrs. Landingham suddenly walks through the main door of the Oval Office]
Mrs. Landingham: I really wish you wouldn't shout, Mr. President.
[Bartlet stares at her for a few seconds]
Bartlet: The door keeps blowing open.
Mrs. Landingham: You could have used the intercom to call me, you know.
Bartlet: I know, but I didn't want to-
Mrs. Landingham: You didn't want to, or you didn't know how?
Bartlet: It's not that I don't know how. It's just that I haven't learned yet.
[Pause. Mrs. Landingham smiles at him]
Bartlett: I have MS, and I didn't tell anybody.
Mrs. Landingham: Yeah. So, you're having a little bit of a day.
Bartlett: You're going to make jokes?
Mrs. Landingham: God doesn't make cars crash and you know it. Stop using me as an excuse.
Bartlett: The Party's not going to want me to run.
Mrs. Landingham: The Party'll come back. You'll get them back.
Bartlett: I've got a secret for you, Mrs. Landingham, I've never been the most popular man in the Democratic Party.
Mrs. Landingham: I've got a secret for you, Mr. President. Your father was a prick who could never get over the fact that he wasn't as smart as his brothers. Are you in a tough spot? Yes. Do I feel sorry for you? I do not. Because there are people way worse off than you.
Bartlett: Give me numbers.
Mrs. Landingham: I don't know numbers. You give them to me.
Bartlett: How about a child born this minute has one in five chances of being born into poverty?
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans don't have health insurance?
Bartlett: 44 million.
Mrs. Landingham: What's the number one cause of death for black men under 35?
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are behind bars?
Bartlett: Three million.
Mrs. Landingham: How many Americans are drug addicts?
Bartlett: Five million.
Mrs. Landingham: And one in five kids in poverty?
Bartlett: That's thirteen million American children. 3.5 million kids go to schools that are literally falling apart. We need 127 billion in school construction, and we need it today!
Mrs. Landingham: To say nothing of 53 people trapped in an embassy.
Mrs. Landingham: You know, if you don't want to run again, I respect that. [stands up] But if you don't run 'cause you think it's gonna be too hard or you think you're gonna lose - well, God, Jed, I don't even want to know you.
God sends a similar mesage to Job.
When bad things happen, we grieve . Then we pick ourselves up, and start living again. Bad stuff happens in this life. It just does. There is no explanation why a car veers left of center, why an oil rig explodes, or mine collapses on one day, while on others it was safe (or at least didn’t kill anyone). We can try to blame God or try to make sense out of it, but we fail on both counts. Or, we can just realize that we just don’t and won’t have the answers and we can move forward. I have never been able to understand why my Dad died when he did. But over time I came to realize that God was with me that day, and every day since, even when I was furious. I came realize most of the blessings in my life would not be here without that dark time.
Friends, it’s ok to be angry with God. Read the Bible, especially the Psalms and the Book of Job. King David and Job were some of God’s favorites and they got righteously indignant at their creator. We are in good company there. God can take it. God also created us with emotions, including anger. So, if God is our creator, and is all knowing, then God knew we were going to get ticked, even at God. There are lots of forces at work in our world. It’s complex, and we’re not going to understand it all.
But here’s what we do know, throughout the whole story, God loved Job. Through thick and thin, God’s love was a constant. Even when bad stuff happens, God loves us. When we weep, God weeps with us. When we rejoice, God is rejoicing with us. Joy and sorrow live together, in life and at The Village. So it’s ok to get angry, even at God. Just remember, that even in your anger, God still loves you. May you know more joy than anger this week. And, join us next week as talk about forgiveness.