Monday, April 30, 2012
I did not go to those sorts of camps where the preacher told us what God was saying and then had us repeat a one-size-fits-all-prayer of salvation so that we would be saved from going to Hell when we die. I’m not saying that a Prayer of Salvation is a bad thing. There are times when we need to turn away from bad decisions in our lives, and make a clear turn toward God. I am all for that.
But church camp was different for me. I grew up in a good home with parents and older sisters with values of compassion, justice and peace-making. The spirit of Jesus just seemed to hang out with us so I never felt I had to make a big turn away from my sin and toward God. I am was a little confused as I didn’t fell like I had to turn away from any horrible things.
And yet, these worship services at church camp, when the preacher would somehow lead us to a point of being in the presence of God, in a time of prayer, are times I can still remember, with feelings of great awe. I can remember sitting in an open air tabernacle in Ceta Canyon, Texas, and beginning to hear my call to ministry at around age 17, and being overcome with emotion. There were not a lot of people in Ceta Canyon, Texas who thought a woman should be a minister. But, there were a few though. And I prayed and asked God to help me.
I can remember being at another youth leadership camp in the Ozarks in Arkansas, sitting in the sanctuary and as we sang some songs, and took communion, and had time to pray in silence, I knew that I belonged to God and that God would see me through the perils of high school and all that drama. That awkward time when you don’t fit in anywhere.
Can you remember some of your earliest memories of prayer? As a child, a teen, a young adult, or an older adult? How do you pray?
In several periods of my life, I have returned to the Psalms, when I need to reconnect with God. Sometimes, I lose touch with God. I can’t really explain how it happens. I go in and out of seasons when my spiritual life has a rich harvest, and time when I am in a drought. Gasp, say it isn’t so that the Pastor has those same down times. I guess I just started a scandal in the church.
Sometimes I am in a good rhythm; I get up every morning and get the kids off to school, and then I sit in my rocking chair with my cup of coffee. I light my candle to remind me of the presence of God, and I take my bible or some other inspirational reading, I take a journal to write in. Sometimes I start by sitting on the floor and doing some yoga stretches and meditative breathing just to clear my mind and be open to God. Then I read and write; I listen and pray. The LISTENING is the most important part, OPENING to God. You see, I believe this OPENING to God is the source of our HOPE.
Our theme for the year, and maybe beyond as this is something we need much more of, is “Hope grows.” We want to see HOPE grow through The Village Church. Last week we started this series with H, healing for our brokenness; This week we are going to look at O, Opening ourselves to God; Next week P, Purpose for our lives; and then E- Everyone is included.
So, today, we focus on “Opening ourselves to God” through the practice of daily prayer. At various times in my life I have found the practice of praying the psalms to be a wonderful daily ritual. There are psalms that call me to count my blessings. There are psalms of deep lament that remind me that people throughout all generations have suffered, but have still put our trust in God. Those are some of my favorites.
If you think you don’t really know how to start praying, then using the psalms for your daily prayers is a great place to start. Consider this psalm for today. It was the one we used in worship. Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
This Psalm is written by someone with some hard stuff going on in life. The world is changing, it feels like mountains shaking and it sounds like the sea water roaring. This person is crying out to God for help. Anyone having things like these in their lives?
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
But there is the comforting river where God lives and where we can rest in God.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; God utters God’s voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations God has brought on the earth.
God makes wars cease to the end of the earth; God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; God burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
This phrase is a powerful call to us. Be still in the presence of God. When pastors get ordained in the West Ohio conference we’re asked to have a banner made for us by our home congregation. We process, parade, into a huge auditorium together. My kids love to watch them go in every year. Most candidates put some significant scripture on it. It has those words: “Be still and know that I am God.”
I chose those words 22 years ago, because I knew that it was important for me to remember then, and it’s still important for me to remember now, to take time and to find space to open myself up to the presence of God, and to listen.
To Be still is very counter cultural. Can you imagine your boss telling you, go away, be still, and center? It just doesn’t happen. But this is the way of Jesus – he was always finding ways to be still. He would speak to thousands, heal dozen, but he would always go away and pray.
Why don’t we do this? What blocks us? The answers from our worship service were the same ones we came up with in our home:
- Don’t have time
- Don’t know how
- Never done it before
Why would we even try to do this? We hopefully take the time to take care of our bodies. We eat, we sleep, we bathe, we change our clothes, maybe we exercise. Because when we open ourselves to God, on a daily basis, we grow closer to God. It’s just that simple. We know this. We know that you can’t have a connection to anyone or anything without intentional time and attention. God is no different from your mother, or your child, or some goal in life, in that respect. The relationship that gets our attention grows stronger.
Why wouldn’t we want to get strength from God, who made us, who created the world, and who is the source of all love and strength and goodness in the world? We would be crazy NOT to give a chunk of time to listening to God every day.
How can we do this? This isn’t rocket science. You know this, as you took the time to come to worship or read this. It’s about making it a priority and you are right now. You have to make it a priority. That’s the first step. The next step is to get others in our life who affect our scheduling have to respect this priority; my children and my husband understand that I need my quiet time. Then need theirs too.
I put it on my daily schedule; so that I will try to remember not to schedule over it. Be flexible about the time of day. You don’t have to pray first thing in the morning. One summer I had a rich season of prayer, sitting on my front porch every evening around 10 p.m. You could pray on your lunch hour if you can find a quiet spot and you will protect that time.
Find others who are able to help you and make you accountable. How can we help one another do this? It never hurts to have an accountability partner. I go see our Spiritual Director, Sr. Breta, once a month. She keeps me accountable. There was a time in my life when I had a prayer partner. We met for lunch once a week, and checked in to see how we were both doing with our prayer life. We had both been on a spiritual retreat together and part of the follow up commitment was that we would have this accountability with someone, to help us keep the commitments that we really wanted to keep.
Then the question becomes how will we do it? Well, if you are completely satisfied with your daily practice of prayer, and you feel really centered and connected to God all the time, that’s great. In fact, if you are that person, let me know because I would like to learn from you. Let’s schedule lunch and we’ll talk about how you can teach me.
But they call it a daily practice of prayer, but we never “get it right.” We are always growing and deepening our connection to God. And prayer is an essential entry point for doing that. You were here or reading this later because you want a relationship with God.
Opening ourselves to God is where this all starts: finding time and space, to set aside everything else in the world, and listen and watch for God. You see God wants to speak to us; God wants to gently guide our lives in a small voice. Sometimes God wants to give us a big kick in the pants. But we have to open ourselves to God. What usually works best for me is to take some time each morning, in the quiet. I do some simple ritual to remind me that this is my time with God. I’m not just “praying on the run” as I drive down the street. Yes, sometimes I do that, but it’s really not giving God my full attention.
So my ritual is usually lighting a candle. Then I take some deep breaths, and clear my head of the to-do lists for the day, and just listen for God. Eventually I may take out my journal and write my worries to God – and try to let go of them.
Also, I write my dreams – so that God can help me make them come true.
When I go through seasons of doing this faithfully every day, you’ll be able to tell. I will be more centered, and calm. You will be able to tell.
I must confess to you that I have not been in my best season of prayer in recent weeks. I have let the overwhelming tasks of launching in this new location get the best of me. Some of you may have noticed I’m a bit frazzled. But I saw my spiritual director, Sr. Breta, on Friday and I told her I’m preaching this sermon today. She really let me have it.
She said, “So you’re going to preach a lie.” You’re going to tell them that praying every day, to stay centered, is essential to the life of a Jesus follower, and yet you are not making time and space for that. “Well,” I said, “There HAVE been seasons in my life when I have prayed well. So it’s not exactly a lie.” Let me tell you that such arguments do not get you far with a spiritual director who has known you for almost 20 years.
She’s right of course. So today I prayed. And tomorrow I am going to start praying the Pslams, using this plan that we will be giving you on the Village website. If you’ll do it too, then you can hold me accountable. You can e mail me or chat with me on FB about the psalm for the day.
We are growing HOPE here at The Village. And the more we open ourselves to God, with intentional time and space for prayer, the more our hope will grow and spread over this whole city. So I urge you to find that time and space. And let me know how it goes. I want to hear about it.
I believe this is true: HOPE really does grow, when we open ourselves to God. If you want to be part of a Community where Hope Grows, come join us at the Village Church. We’re at the Maumee Indoor Theater on Sundays at 10:30 AM, at the corner of the Anthony Wayne Trail and Conant Street in Maumee and in the world the rest of the week.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
We have spent a great deal of time trying to hone in on what our message is. Because you see there are plenty of churches out there. And people ask me: why start a new one when there are already so many? But to be honest, my husband and I wanted to start a new church, because there was not a church in NW Ohio that really met the needs of our family. There wasn’t yet the church that wasn’t quite right for our children, our family, our beliefs.
And we knew lots of other people that were not connecting with the existing churches. So we prayed, and listened to God. And God led us to plant this church. To create the Village Church a few years ago.
You see, this is what we discovered. We need HOPE. Other people are looking for HOPE too. Everywhere we turn, people are searching for HOPE. All over, people are trying to fill ourselves up with all sorts of things, because we feel empty inside. What we need is HOPE.
All over the place, people are trying to find a way out of emptiness. We are trying to shop our way out of the emptiness, eat our way out, use drugs, alcohol, or sex; we try to work ourselves out, to find success as a way out of the emptiness but it is still there. The Beatles even sang a song about it: HELP! “Won’t you please help me?”
What we are all searching for is a sense of contentment. We want wholeness. We want to know we are OK, just the way we are. We want healing from the things that ails us. You see we all have some basic sense of discontent. It just seems to be human nature. I don’t know why we don’t feel good enough, or smart enough or rich enough. We always want to be more of something.
Some of us feel this way because something has happened to us and we are hurting. We need to let go. Some of us feel this way because we are just naturally driven. But we all seem to be longing for something we don’t have.
Jesus came into this world to show us, that we can be content, we can be content when we invite God to take the lead in our lives. We can rest easy when we accept the premise that God made us and God loves us just the way we are. God loves us. We don’t have to prove anything. And whatever we have done, or whatever has happened to us, it’s ok. God can make us whole again. God can heal us. Our hope comes, when we accept this healing from God, when we accept God’s love.
The Village is a community where we come together week after week, to find healing, and then to grow HOPE in our world, not just among ourselves, but among other people in our community and world.
We come together to hear the ancient stories and connect them to our lives. Today, we have a great story from scripture about hope and healing (Acts 3:1-11 from The Message for those following along on the Internet). This is actually the first account of some of Jesus’ disciples doing an act of healing, after Jesus was gone, and had left them in charge of the ministry.
Peter and John were going to the temple in to pray. There was a man, who had been crippled from birth. It was customary that men like this would sit by the temple gates to beg for money or food. This man was there every day. I imagine Peter and John had walked by him many times before. But on this day, they stopped.
I think about myself when I read this story, and how I am often so focused on one thing, that I do not stop to see a need that God puts right in front of me. How ironic that they might have been so focussed on going to PRAY, that they could have walked right past one of God’s children in need. (How often does that happen to us?) But the man asked them for money, and they stopped.
Then, the story says, Peter looked the man “straight in the eye.” That’s important. There was a connection. Some how the man got Peter’s attention. The man was hoping for a few coins, so he could buy a little food, and get through another day. This was his routine. This was his life, just getting by, one day at a time.
But Peter was being used as an instrument of God. He had something much more in mind that day. Peter looked at the man and said, ‘I don’t have a nickel to my name, but I’ll give you something better. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took the man’s hand and lifted him up and the man who had never walked a day in his life stood up and walked. Not only that but so the story goes, we’re told the man started dancing and praising God! And he went into the Temple telling the story.
Now that is a story of HOPE! That is a story of life restored! Now here is what I LOVE about this story. The man was asking for a few coins. It shows us, that so often, we have learned to settle for so little, but God wants to give us so much more!
Maybe long ago the man had prayed for healing and the ability to walk, but he had given up on that, so he had resigned himself to sit at the Temple gate every day and just beg for a few coins so he could just get some bread to eat, and get enough nourishment to get there the next day and do the whole thing over again.
But Peter and John broke that cycle by using the power of God to give the man so much more. I wonder how many other lives were touched by that one man as he went and told his story to his friends, and witnessed to the healing power of God. This story reminds me of so many people whose lives are touched by God, and because they do not limit the power of God, God uses them to work wonders.
Perhaps you know the story of the young girl named Agnes, born in Albania in 1910. She knew by the time she was 12 years old that she wanted to give herself to a religious life, as a Roman Catholic nun. When she got her calling to serve the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, she faced huge obstacles from the church hierarchy. They did not want her to answer her call. They did not think she could do it. But she persevered. At the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had grown to include 4000 sisters, operating 610 missions in 123 countries, giving HOPE and comfort to countless people across the world. When she faced obstacles to living out her call, she could have given up, but she did not. She gathered her strength, and got back in there and trusted God to show her the way. She did not give up hope. And God gave her the resources she needed.
When I think of people who overcame great personal tragedy to bring HOPE to others, I also think of Candace Lightner. Her 13 year old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver in 1980. Candace could have stayed at home, broken and grieving for the rest of her life. And who would have blamed her? But instead, Candace founded the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving to advocate for tougher laws for those who drink and then get behind the wheel. She turned her tragedy into healing and HOPE for other families; to make the world a safer place for others. Somewhere along the way, I imagine that God must have used a servant, like God used Peter and John, to reach into Candace Lightner’s sorrow, and to say to her, “Don’t settle into your sorrow. Do SOMETHING to bring HOPE to others.”
Both of these women could have given up. But they did not. They dug deep inside, and found the strength and choose HOPE.
So how about you? Now, we may not all have something from which we need to be healed that is extreme as the man who was crippled from birth, or the woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. We may not all have to stand up to a powerful institution in order to live out our calling.
But I would venture to say that we all need help or healing from something. Because, as we know, there are no perfect people. We are all flawed, injured, or challenged in some way. We all have something to get beyond, so that we can live into the joyful, whole life God wants for us. God wants joy for us.
We find our HOPE, when we can find healing, or acceptance, or come to terms with these flaws or set-backs in our lives, and move on.
We all have some sort of brokenness: whether it is an injury, or some sort of self doubt, a loss, or regret. We might not even be able to name our deepest need, like the man in the Bible story for today. We might be asking for a hand out to get by today, when God is ready to help us stand up on our own two feet and dance. We may have forgotten what our real hope is – because it has been so long! That’s ok too. God knows our hearts. God can set us free.
So Today, in response to this story, I want to invite each of us to respond to this story today, by asking for prayer for healing. I want to challenge you to take a step forward into the life God has laid out for you. We’re going to do this in a simple and concrete way.
In worship some of your Village friends, who are comfortable praying for you have volunteered to be around the worship space. I invited people to go walk up to them, and ask for prayer. It did not have to be complicated.
For those following along at home or on the road, you can do this by commenting on this blog or emailing Cheri (or Kurt). You can just say: “I want prayer for healing, or for strength.” Or you can name the thing you want healing for. And we are going to pray for you. We will ask God to bring hope and healing to your life situation.
Because here is the thing: there is power in praying together in community. We bring hope to one another. When we name our brokenness out loud, and ask God to heal us, God will heal us, in some way. It may not always be in the way we expect, but I do believe God will bring us healing in some way.
You see, God is our HOPE. And God wants to bring hope to our broken lives. So take some time now to listen to your own heart. Ask yourself “what do I truly need to let go of? From what do I need to be healed?” If you want to do this face to face, we’re here every Sunday at 10:30 at the Maumee Indoor Theater (the corner of Conant Street and the Anthony Wayne Trail). We’re imperfect, broken people, but together we have Hope and we can change the world.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Happy Easter! Yeah, I know you think that was last week, but we’re not done yet. You see, now, we’re just getting started. Actually, it’s OK to think about every Sunday as a “little Easter.” Every Sunday when we gather for worship, we are coming out of hiding, coming out of our fear, coming into the light, to discover in this community that Jesus is alive. Beaten & bruised, afraid & hesitant if need be, we can gather together and care for each other. God’s love and God’s power are available to us. We can be forgiven, fed and healed and we can go back out into the world for another week of trying to make things better for ourselves and for others.
So on the Sunday after Easter we always read one of those stories of those mind-boggling encounters of the disciples with the Risen Christ (Luke 24:36b - 48 for those following along on the web). Somebody asked me this week, “How did that happen? Was Jesus a ghost?” and I tried to answer that question. Looking back on what I said, I realize, I don’t really know, why did I try to answer that question? This was a once for all time sort of event. All I know, is that they saw Jesus and they were empowered to go into the world and live in his way, and we are here today because they did.
Seeing the risen Christ was something powerful. This particular encounter of the Risen Christ, recorded in Luke, is a really good one. In other versions, you get a lot more doubt out of Thomas:
· The Disciples are in a room in Jerusalem hearing about another appearance Jesus made to a couple of them.
· He appears and they ask if he is a ghost (the Disciples asked the same kind of questions we ask today), but he says they can touch him. A ghost does not have flesh and bones, he says. They are still doubting and fearful.
· 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
Can you imagine? Isn’t that funny? They are right there with Jesus and they have trouble believing. Is it any wonder we have problems with that at times 2,000 years later. He asks them if they have anything to eat, really? There are Bible studies about the questions Jesus asked. This one doesn’t come up very often though. And then he ate some fish right there in front of him.
In a reflection on the UCC Daily devotional this week, Pastor Martin B. Copenhaver says, this is kind of an odd question: “What do you make of that? That doesn't sound like the question of a Risen Lord. It sounds more like the question of a teenager arriving home from school.”
Copenhaver offers a couple of reasons: for one, Maybe Jesus is really hungry, and this also shows that he is more than a ghost. But here is the second: Jesus asks them “Do you have anything to eat” because he was always teaching, up to the absolute last minute. He wanted them to look at what they had. Bread just keeps popping up in the stories of Jesus multiplying loaves, and remember in the example of prayer he gave them, he said: give us this day OUR daily bread.
I never quite caught this until I read this reflection this week, Jesus does not have us pray as individuals. We don’t pray “Give me my bread” It’s ‘our bread.” You see for Jesus it was always about the community.
“Who needs bread?” “Do you have anything to eat” Because guess what, because he was about to tell them to go out and witness to all the earth.
“YOU ARE MY WITNESSES” he said. We went over some major points and then He commissioned them to tell the story and to carry on with his life changing ministry: Feed them, Heal Them, Forgive Them, and tell Them how much God loves them. Pass it on.
So on this Sunday after Easter, here we are, followers of Jesus, gathered together in a room, and we might also ask ourselves, How Will We Witness?
Well, that story is from ancient times. Sometimes it’s hard to transfer it to our context today. So let me tell you the story, of another disciple, living today in the San Francisco area.
This is Sara Miles’ story, in her own words:
“One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans — except that up until that moment I'd led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.
“Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I'd scorned and work I'd never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all, but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized what I'd been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.
“And so I did. I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I'd experienced. I started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal around the same altar where I'd first received the body of Christ. I organized new pantries all over my city to provide hundreds and hundreds of hungry families with free groceries each week. Without committees or meetings or even an official telephone number, I recruited scores of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.” (http://saramiles.net/books/take_this_bread)
This food pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, has an amazing story. Our picture this week is of their sanctuary. The table in the midde is their altar. That’s mounds of food that people are fed during the week. On the weekend, they have communion and feed people’s souls. She tells a story of how the pantry kept growing, from 200 people a week, to 400, 500, ad when the economy collapsed, 800. They did this all with individual donations, no grants.
They used the money to start 18 more pantries at last count. She writes:
“We gave away seed grants and advice to people like the short tough Mexican pastor who came one afternoon and stood speechless in the middle of the chaotic food distribution for forty minutes, then said, “This looks more like Jesus than anything.” (Jesus Freak, p. 23)
The volunteers come from among those who come to the pantry for food. She writes that they don’t have a lot of rules. “You could be drunk or a junkie, but you couldn’t volunteer if you were high. You couldn’t steal food, call people names or get in fights” (ibid, p. 24)
Anyone is welcome, and if you read one of her books, you will see that EVERYONE comes. It is, after all, San Francisco. She writes: “We were making a bet that what Jesus suggested was true: when you begin to expand your ideas of who the right people are, when you break down boundaries to share food with strangers, God shows up” (ibid.)
Sara Miles and her friends at the food pantry are witnesses to the power of life over death. She inspires me and countless others to ask: How Will We Witness?
We are not a church that lives for ourselves. We understand that we are blessed, and because we are blessed, we are motivated to bless others. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, talked about the process like this. Our good works in the world, to care for others, are a natural expression of our thanksgiving. When we know that we have received the gift of God’s grace and blessing in our own lives, we can’t help but want to share that grace and blessing with others.
It’s like when you fill a glass of water under the faucet and you don’t pay attention, and you let the water start spilling over the top of the glass. That is how I imagine Sara Miles and the food pantry. She was so touched by God in that first act of receiving bread in communion, and knowing that God’s love for her was made real through Jesus, that she had to act. She was so full of love, the love just spilled out.
I want The Village to be that kind of community, and I think you do too. Now, that does not mean we need to start a food pantry. Maybe we will do that, but there are already lots of food pantries. That’s why we just raised some money and collected some food. And now we have a way in the theater lobby of the Maumee Indoor, to collect more food in the next few months, and be a witness. It’s called the HOPE Chest. It’s a chance for people to bring food to the movie theater lobby. You see by collecting food, we are actually helping people share from their abundance. We are giving all the people who come to this movie theater a gift, because they see the hope chest out in the lobby and they can remember that the next time they are here, they can bring food.
But it’s a way to be a witness. A way to suggest maybe I can just bring some food to the movies and change the world. It’s sort of about the food we collect, but it’s also witnessing a way to help that is easy and remind people about the fact that there are hungry people right here in Toledo.
But there may be other ways of sharing that God is calling us to. How will we be witnesses, together?
If you have some idea for a ministry of outreach, I want to hear it. I will meet you anywhere, for lunch, for a cup of coffee, over a diet coke in a fast food restaurant or down the street at the Village Idiot Bar & Pizzeria. You already hear about various opportunities we have, like going to the food bank in May. But this is all it takes to create an outreach project to change the world: come up with an idea, and find 3-4 other people who want to work with you, and go for it. They don’t even have to be from The Village. If we can expand our circle though loving service in the world, that is all the better.
This is the bottom line, we need to look at what we have, and how God can use it to change the world. We are all very different. That’s the wonder of the diversity of our world and our community here. Jesus asked the disciples: “Do you have anything to eat?” In that simple question he reminds us that we all have “our daily bread” and there are ways we can share it.
But we have other resources too, we have time, we have money, we have talents. We have skills which can help others who are in need. And anything we do in the world, as followers of the Risen Christ, Jesus, to get outside of ourselves and care for others, will be blessed by God. We have no idea what God can do through us, until we open ourselves to God, like Sara Miles did, and ask God to set us free to serve.
We have no idea what God can do when we open ourselves up to God. Look at what Sara Miles when she opened herself up to God. Last Sunday was Easter. Today is another Sunday to live out the message that life overcomes death. So Friends, let us be witnesses, let us be witnesses to the Risen Christ.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
similar events across the country and around the world, probably millions of people went to one. If you’ve not been a part of this moving experience, there are fourteen stops where we read scripture and remember the death of Jesus. We carry a big heavy cross along the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering. And we try in our humble way to imagine being there when Jesus was crucified
HOPELESS, that’s the only way to describe the mood at the end of the experience. Those first followers were regular people like us, looking for hope. They had problems like our problems: not enough money, a government that they were not satisfied with, illness, children they worried about, worries about jobs, and conflicts with other people and nation versus nation.
Jesus came along and gave them hope, he reminded them of the ways of God: compassion, forgiveness, justice, cooperation, generosity. He helped them form a sense of community like we have here. But when Jesus was crucified, they had to ask themselves: Did love lose? Was Jesus wrong? Was all hope lost?
That was on Friday. They waited through the long day of Friday, and all day Saturday. Most of the Disciples were afraid and in hiding. And then on the third day, Sunday, the women went to the tomb to anoint his body. And of course, you know what happened; they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. There had been a story circulating that he would be raised from the dead on the third day, but no one really believed it. It was much more likely that someone had stolen his body. That's what the women thought had happened so they ran to tell the disciples.
Two of the men ran to the tomb: Peter and the one whom Jesus loved. It was like a foot race. I think they were racing toward HOPE. They wanted to break free from that terrible heavy weight of sorrow and fear that had covered them since Friday. I imagine it like one of those heavy fishing nets with weights on it that just traps you. They had been in hiding since Jesus hd been crucified. They were in fear for their own lives. But when Mary came to them, they RAN, as if their very lives depended upon what they would see in that tomb, or rather, what they would NOT see. Because of course, their lives did depend upon it.
When they got there, they saw the empty tomb. Where Jesus' body had been, they saw the linen cloth, the shroud that had been used to wrap his body, neatly folded. There was no sign of him.
Now, even today, there are many devout Christians today, who follow the teachings of Jesus, but who cannot bring themselves to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Their strong sense of logic just cannot bring themselves to do it. They still choose to be Christians because they believe he was a singular prophet and a unique example of one who embodied the love of God. But they don't think he rose from the dead. And I respect that position. I am not one of those people.
I believe. I choose to believe. In the end, the resurrection comes down to belief. Peter and the other disciple saw evidence. But they could have chosen to believe the body was stolen, right? But, they did not. They broke free from their fear. They chose to believe that God resurrected Jesus.
Now Mary got a bit more persuasive a sign. We're told she spoke to a man, that at first she thought was the gardener. But when he spoke her name, "Mary" she recognized his voice. He was her teacher, Jesus. She actually saw the risen Christ. Now again, some might say in her hysterical state of grief, she imagined this, because she so WANTED to see Jesus. I believe that she saw Jesus because indeed the miracle of the resurrection is true.
And this is why I choose to believe: because I see evidence every day of people putting our trust in God's love and I see signs of new life. Every day I see people breaking free from the power of death. I see life winning over death, I see love winning out over the power of evil every day. We break free, when we put our trust in God. Jesus did not back down. He put his trust in God. Right there on the cross, he said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." That’s love. That’s courage.
They thought they could kill the power of love. But he rose from the dead. And more than 2000 years later, the followers of Jesus still choose hope in the face of adversity. We are breaking free. We will not be defeated. Oh sure, we get discouraged. Life is not a picnic and we don’t believe becoming a follower makes your perfect here at the Village or your life perfect. But then we turn to one another in this community for strength. We turn to God, and we break free from our burdens. We choose hope.
How are you breaking free from the negative forces in your life, so that you can choose hope and choose God's way for your life? Every day we have a chance to dig deep into our souls and find the inner resources God has given us to overcome something. To choose Hope.
Do you know the story of Aron Ralston? He is the American climber who went out for a climb one day, alone, and made the mistake of not letting anyone know where he was going. He was in the Blue John Canyon, in Utah, in a National Park. "While descending a slot canyon, a suspended boulder from which he was climbing down became dislodged, crushing his right hand and forearm and pinning it against the canyon wall."(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston).
The boulder weighed 800 pounds. It later took "13 men, a winch and a hydraulic jack" (ibid.) to move the boulder. Aron spent five days trying to free himself and trying various ways to cut off his arm. After four days he had given up hope, and he carved his name and date on the boulder as he was sure he would die there. Then on the fifth day he thought of a way to break his bone so that he could amputate his arm. He still had to walk 8 miles to his car. He encountered a family that called authorities. His family had been searching for him and a park ranger had found his truck at just about the same time he had amputated his arm so a helicopter nearby airlifted him.
A movie, called "27 Hours" Aron's experience. In an interview with The Sun he was asked how he felt as he watched the film. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/showbiz/film/3326119/I-smiled-as-I-cut-off-my-arm-I-was-just-grateful-to-be-free.html
In the Sun Newspaper, describing the story Aron replied:
"The pain doesn't connect with me so much — more the GRATITUDE.
"The pain was irrelevant. I was smiling as I was amputating my arm."
I must have looked as surprised as I felt at this — a response Aron has evidently seen before.
He followed up with: "That's one of those, ‘What? You were smiling?' looks.
"But I had been there for more than five days at that point and I wanted to get out.
"I wanted to be free. I wanted to be with my family. And those impulses, the fundamental root emotions of love and freedom, are universal. So it was a case of whatever it took. It was going to hurt. I knew that."
"My grin came back even bigger. I was thinking, ‘I am going to do that. I am going to get out of here'." Then he adds an even more baffling theory about his entrapment. He said: "I did feel there was a sense of destiny. It was something I was looking for."
Yes, that's right. Aron, who now has an artificial limb, says he was "looking for" this terrible experience. He added: "I wanted to know what I was made of, if I was up to this.
"I felt most alive in those moments when I was taking the greatest risks."
Aron spent a week in intensive care and needed several operations. But even though he had dragged himself out of the canyon he could now not go to the bathroom without help, a fact that depressed him deeply.
He said: "I contemplated overdosing on painkillers. Then I thought, ‘I didn't get out of the canyon just to kill myself'." Remarkably, just ten days after his final operation Aron was off climbing hills.
He is now one of the world's most famous adventurers and his 2004 autobiography, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, was a best-seller. He had planned to climb Mount Everest this year but changed his mind after getting married to Jessica and having baby Leo, now ten months old. His priorities changed, he says.
Today Aron, who lives in Colorado, is doing his best to resist the urge to take on any more dangerous challenges. He said; "To play with my baby Leo when he giggles and laughs is far more fulfilling than standing on that mountain."
Aron Ralston literally broke free from an 800 pound boulder. He lost an arm. He was hospitalized for quite some time after. He lost 40 pounds. But he came out of the event stronger than ever before. When he broke free of that boulder, he knew he could survive anything life brought his way.
His story makes me feel like I can probably tackle any challenge life throws me. I mean I'm not planning on going rock climbing alone any time soon. But we all take risks every day. When you get out of bed in the morning, you take risks. Many of us have situations in our lives that probably feel as heavy as an 800 pound boulder, and we just want to break free.
What is your 800 pound bolder? What is it in your life that is dragging you down?
Have you done something that you need to be forgiven for? Because God will forgive you. Do you give in to negative thoughts? That's a big one. Do you let thoughts of self doubt or the criticism of others weigh you down? God loves you, and wants you to love and accept yourself. Those negative thoughts are not helpful.
Or do you have old patterns that you want to break? Are you caught in a relationship that you know is not healthy? Do you know that you need to speak up for yourself and make some changes? God wants us all to be in healthy relationships. God wants us to be respected and to be in relationships that bring joy to each person involved.
Easter is about life overcoming death. Easter is about HOPE. The resurrection is a gift from God. Jesus was not trapped in a tomb. The stone was rolled away and he rose from the dead. Aron Ralston found a way to be free from his 800 pound boulder. We can break free too.
If Jesus were standing right here, reminding you that you are God's beloved child and that God only wants what is best for you – how do you think Jesus would guide you. What would Jesus tell you to leave behind so that you can break free and live in God's love for you?
I am going to pass out some pieces of string to everyone. The band is going to come up a play a song. During the song, I want to invite you each to take a piece of string and have someone else tie your hands together with this string. Let that string be the thing you need break free from. And then when the song is over, I'm going to invite you to break the string and break free.
Are you ready to be surrounded by HOPE? To be surrounded by imperfect people who need hope too, but are ready to share what they have with you? Join us at the Village. We’re imperfect people who make mistakes, but this is a place where Hope Grows. Come be a part of it. We’re at the corner of Conant and the Anthony Wayne Trail, Sundays at 10:30 AM and out in the community the rest of the week.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
But my, my, my, being caught up in a political campaign season can give you whiplash, can’t it? The popularity of a candidate can turn on a dime. The crowd can be with you one day, and then next day, you wake up, and you at the bottom of the pile. How soon the crowd turns.
It’s the same with heroes. They have their day. But it usually does not last for long. I’m told a historian named Gene Smith wrote a book about Woodrow Wilson, called When the Cheering Stopped. The book tells about how Wilson was such a hero after World War I, but it did not last for long. “It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI.
When that war was over Wilson was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.
“On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
“The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate, and his League of Nations was not ratified.
Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.” (from www.sermons.com, sermon titled: “When the Cheering Stopped”)
Have you seen heroes rise and fall like that? How soon the crowd turns.
This is what happened to Jesus during the last week of his life, the week we are entering now, that we can Holy Week.
It began on a Sunday, the day we call today Palm Sunday. We gave you each a palm branch today and I want you to take it home with you and put it somewhere that you will see it every day, so you can be reminded that this is Holy Week.
So today I just want to remind us all, of the story of that week.
First, a little background: Jesus’ ministry had lasted about three years. He had been preaching, teaching and healing all over the area of Galilee. The crowds had been following him all over the countryside of Galilee. He could hardly get a moment to himself. Do you remember? Sometimes he would try to go to the other side of the Lake to pray --to get his Sabbath moments. But the crowds would always follow him. He was so charismatic – so full of the spirit of God – they could not leave him alone.
In that last week of his life, he and his disciples went to Jerusalem which was the capitol. It was the seat of power – both political and religious power. When he got to the edge of the city, the crowds gathered again. An impromptu parade and celebration erupted.
They threw down their coats on the path in front of him which was a ritual for royalty, for heroes, for the mighty. They grabbed branches from the nearby palm trees and waved them in celebration. They shouted “Hosanna” which is a word of praise and celebration for a hero.
They said “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” They were announcing that Jesus was God’s servant. They were making bold statements of faith. He was their hero. Their savior. He was greeted in much the same way we greet a returning hero, like Woodrow Wilson was greeted after the first World War.
The crowd was filled with hope. This Jesus might really be the Messiah they had been waiting for. The world might really change. That was Sunday. But guess what happens by Friday?
By Friday, the crowd turns on Jesus. By Friday, everything changes. But not in the way we had hoped. You see, they begin to doubt. They get scared. They have second thoughts.
Do you ever put your hope in a leader, or a hero, and then your friends, or your boss at work, or your mom, or someone else you respect, says, “You are crazy!”? That leader is no good. You have been duped. That one is a fraud! He is bad news. You are going down the wrong path.
And then you start to second guess yourself? That’s what happened. The chief priests began to work the crowd. They spread rumors that Jesus was a trouble maker, that he was a false prophet, that his ways were undermining the good family values of their religious tradition. They told the political authorities that Jesus was trying to take away their political power. They certainly did not like that. They said he wanted to be the King. Everyone knew that Caesar was the supreme ruler.
Even more than that, I think those who had listened to Jesus, might have started thinking about the hard things Jesus called them to do. He said crazy things like: love your enemy, forgive the person who hurts you, share your wealth with the poor, and stand up for the oppressed. I think the crowd began to have second thoughts about whether or not they really wanted to follow this savior that called them to the way of radical love.
And so there came a time when the crowd got to make a choice about Jesus fate. You see, every year at this festival time, the Governor, who was Pilate, had a custom of releasing one prisoner back to the community. So Pilate stood before the crowd and offered Jesus back to them. They had a choice, they could either choose to have Barabbas released, or Jesus.
Pilate’s wife tried to persuade him to release Jesus. She had a dream and knew that Jesus was innocent and she did not want Pilate to be involved in executing Jesus. But Pilate had to follow custom and let the crowd decide. He asked them: “Which one do you want me to release?” They said: “Give us Barabbas.”
And when Pilate asked, “What should I do with Jesus, the one called the Messiah?” The crowd shouted, “Crucify him!” One day they were waving palms and shouting praises, and five days later they were shouting “Crucify him.” How soon the crowd turns!
I wonder why? Why does public opinion change so quickly? How does that happen? We see it happen all the time with public figures, don’t we? Just watch the TV news, or any entertainment show. Our fascination with political leaders, sports figures, and entertainment stars, shifts with the wind. Do they change, or do we?
Do you think Jesus changed? Not a chance. I believe Jesus was consistent from the day he was born. He was clear about his mission and his purpose on this earth: to bring God’s love, justice and healing to this earth. The crowd changed. We change.
I imagine him walking around with this glow of compassion, mercy, healing, and justice just spilling out from him, everywhere he went. Jesus did not change.
So it must have been the crowd that changed. We change. We say we want to follow Jesus.
We come here every Sunday, and we pray and we nod our heads and say “Amen!” We mean it, don’t we? We are sincere. We are not lying. I do not believe we mean to be hypocrites. I don’t intend to be a hypocrite. But we are all fragile human beings and so we fall short.
We say we want to follow Jesus with our words, but then with our actions, we fall short. We betray Jesus, in little ways and big ones. I say I want to love Jesus with my actions, and then when I get tired, I snap at my husband and my children and I have to ask for their forgiveness. I say I want to be a forgiving person, and I want others to forgive me, but then when someone hurts me, I can’t forgive them. I hold a grudge and I avoid that person. Because I know they are not really sorry. She is a mean person and does not deserve to be forgiven.
But darn it, Jesus even forgave people who did not deserve it. And God calls us to leave the judgment to God. Because anger and judgment, when we carry them around in our hearts, they just eat us up. They don’t hurt the other person. So we need to ask God to help us find a way to let go, and leave those people to God, and leave our hurt to God. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus would stand up for those in the crowd who didn’t have a voice, who were beat up and bullied.
You see, I think we want to be part of the crowd that praises Jesus by living our lives in his way. We don’t want to be part of the crowd that turns our back, and sends Jesus to the cross, condemning him to his death.
But we are fragile human beings. We are weak. Our allegiance to a hero or to a leader, well, it blows with the wind. We are prone to shift our attention one way or another, depending on our mood. We are the crowd, easily swayed by the message of the day.
Just watch the political polls in the next few months. They will go up and down, for one candidate and another, over one issue and another. As a people, we will be all over the place. And you and I will be too.
This is Holy Week. This is a good week, a perfect week to renew our commitment to follow the way of Jesus. The way gets really hard this week. But we know that Easter is coming. We know the end of the story. And Easter is the best message of all. But don’t skip ahead to the ending. This is a great story, but you need to experience the lows of the week, to get to the end. Don’t skip the betrayal and death.
I want to encourage you to check The Village website every day this week, or check our Village Toledo Facebook page. I am going to post a short Holy Week devotional message each morning – something to encourage us to pray and remember the importance of this week together. We will also be celebrating the events of Holy Week with our friends at Park Congregation United Church of Christ.
And please take your palm branch with you and use it as a reminder to pray this week. Let’s ask God to help us be part of the crowd that stays with Jesus. Let’s not turn away from Jesus’ way of love, but stay right there with him. Every day this week, as life brings us little challenges, and big ones, to make choices, let’s consider: which choice brings us closer to Jesus? Will I be loving, compassionate, healing and just with my actions? Will I walk in the way of Jesus with my choices? Will I be shouting “Hosanna” and proclaiming Jesus as the hope of the world with my actions?
Or will I be sending God’s gift of love to his death on a cross with my choice? We can do that too. It’s easy to get caught up in the crowd and make that choice. I know how easy it is. But we don’t have to. With this most holy of weeks, we can choose love. We know how the story ends. So in this Holy Week, by our actions, let us choose love.