Breaking through!

Isaiah 64:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

Coming home for Christmas is a common theme of movies and music this time of year.  Most of us know the song “I’ll be home for Christmas,” originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime, which is now a standard of the season.

Some of us know of the movies by that title

the one where a college student faces an impossible journey when he is left stranded in the desert thousands of miles from home, with no money and only a few days left until Christmas.

Or the one that Hallmark aired for the first time last year, dealing with an Assistant District Attorney and single mom, whose estranged dad, a gruff retired police officer shows up at her door unexpectedly forcing them to confront old wounds.

Some of us are having conversations as to who in our families will be home for Christmas and who will not.   Some of us long to be home, others long to be anywhere else because of situations in our lives.  Some of us are not sure where home is.

The phrase “Home for Christmas” can bring us warm, comforting feelings, and it can push us to confront situations we would rather ignore.

This morning’s scripture lessons are comforting and disruptive all at the same time.  The Isaiah passage depicts all the powerful ways God breaks into our world, showing us majesty, power and direction.  The Mark passage encourages us to watch for the ways God is with us in past, present, and future.  Again, lifting a God who meets us where we are in our common experiences, in ways that are really beyond our ability to comprehend.

God comes down to our home in ways we can understand if we are looking for them and provides a path for us to come to God’s home.  We need to stick the tasks Gods set before us, all the while watching and waiting for glimpses of where God is working for and through those who are alert to God’s presence.

Advent is a time of preparation.  We are cleaning and decorating our homes, shopping for family meals and presents, for some a very long list.

For many children it is a time of watching for the Elf on the shelf and the ways they can stay on the “Nice” list.  For some adults it is a time to look at the Isaiah passage and see where some redirection is needed, what areas of our lives we need to give over to the potter to reshape.  These are all appropriate directions to take during this special season of our faith.

There is a direction, a focus, that I suggest is even a more important part of this season of preparation.  It is becoming more in tune to seeing the places God is breaking into our world, living among us, leading us, caring for us.  It is difficult to see Jesus in the manager as “God with us” if we cannot see God with us in those around us.

It is a time which offers us an opportunity to consider how Christ is leading us, to realign our lives with the purposes and challenges of living in God’s kingdom here and now.  To remind us that it is God’s intention to meet us where we are, to fill us with joy, and to do everything possible here and now through us to make this world more closely approximate what God is longing for it to become.  We are called to live always as those who are ready, who are fully prepared for God’s kingdom to come, and for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, whenever and wherever that occurs.

Here is a Christmas commercial that is currently running.  Several of my Facebook friends posted it this week and it seemed to fit with a theme of expecting God to break into our daily lives in unexpected and amazing ways.  Let’s watch.

So many twists and turns in this story of lost and found.  A dog is found and returned to its owners. A lonely man finds a friend, willingly gives the friend back to those who love this new friend, and then is welcomed into a new family.  All have found their way home, even if they didn’t know they were looking.

Advent isn’t just about waiting for the baby in the manger.  It’s about expecting Christ here, in our own messed-up lives, right now.  It is about recognizing that we don’t need the perfect house, the most expensive gift, or a magazine worthy dinner.  It is about knowing deep within our souls that we don’t need to have it all together, that we can be imperfect, flawed, fragile. God will meet, love, and redeem us regardless of our condition and will use us to reflect His love for all people to those with whom we come in contact.

I expect the last few weeks have given you opportunities to see God break into your world.  Answers to prayers, healing, people stepping up to help people, transitions that seemed hard at first and which ultimately proved to be just the right thing at the right time.  All of you have experienced Christ breaking through time and space to be present in your life and the lives of others,  I hope all of you have been awake and alert to know it was happening.

I hope you will have opportunities to invite others to see where God is breaking into their worlds through your actions and when necessary, your words.

In the midst of knowing that we are changed when God comes down home, when God breaks into our now, we have the assurance that God comes in love.  May we be alert for the unexpected places and ways it happens throughout this Advent season.

Scattered

Ezekiel 34:11-22

Matthew 25: 31-46

Officially, Christ the King Sunday is a late addition to the church calendar.  It was added in 1925 in response to the government of Mexico insisting that all allegiance was due that entity.  The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land with significant governmental pushback proclaiming Christ is King and Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of Holy Day, which after the Vatican II became part of the church calendar.  It was a day set aside as a reminder of who we are called to follow above all others.[1]

Earthly governments demanding ultimate allegiance from their subjects is not new.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are figures from chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel: three Hebrew men thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, when they refuse to bow down to the king’s image.  In the story of Esther, Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman  putting him on the execution list.

In modern times governments in North Korea and Cuba try to eliminate the church or minimally keep it under their control.   North Korea’s leader demands citizens of his country worship him and if they don’t, the consequences can be prison or death. Cuban leadership has the authority to make any church a part of the government system, requiring rent if they do.  The official stance of the country is there is no God.

We are not faced with the same levels of control and intimidation in our faith communities, but there are often efforts to influence how we live out our faith.

There are organizations that demand our ultimate loyalty even if it conflicts with our worship and service in the local congregation.  There are activities and sports teams which would have us believe our children cannot be successful, happy individuals if they don’t participate and which often schedule mandatory participation at hours of worship.  To follow our favorite professional sports team from pre-game to post-game can fill a Sunday morning and afternoon.

There are voices encouraging us to buy and do something they are offering or selling to be truly fulfilled and happy. There are business systems that push us to the point we have little room for family, let alone family time for Christian Education and worship.

Into that history and our scattered reality comes Christ the King Sunday.  A day we focus on to whom we will give our full allegiance, for whom we are willing to sacrifice, time, resources, comfort, our very lives, as well as what that means in our daily and eternal lives.

The passage in Ezekiel describes the pastoral side of shepherding.  Israel and other ancient Near Eastern cultures often depicted their leaders as shepherds.  In that culture, flocks could number in the thousands, requiring immense administrative skill.[2]

Here the Shepherd who is King has the interests of his flock ahead of his own interests.  The sheep are scattered and bringing them all home is his priority, which he takes on personally.  The Shepherd who is King is gentle and caring, seeking good pasture for his sheep, making provisions for them to lie down and rest in safety, caring for their brokenness, sticking by them in adversity, making sure everybody is cared for.

The sheep are scattered by the influences which have self-interest as priority.  Political leaders, those with influence who want to profit from them, predators who want to make a meal out of them.  They are scattered because they follow something or someone more closely than they follow the Shepherd who is King.

Their true King, the King God appoints, is not just any shepherd.  This shepherd actively goes out looking for the scattered sheep, wherever they have been abandoned or wandered astray.  This Shepherd cares for their wounds, and when it is time, carries them back to a safe fold where they can find healing.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves. Those whom made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still.  This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.  This shepherd spends time with them, caring for them.

The Ezekiel passage is reflecting on the kind of Shepherd King God is calling King David to be.  It also reflects the kind of Shepherd King that Jesus was and is.  Actively looking for those who he calls into the flock, never giving up on them even when they follow other shepherds or are wounded.  Calling out to them with directions and hope.  Lovingly caring for all their needs.

The sheep, listening to the Shepherd’s voice and direction, are changed, healed, and called to be in community where each one is important.

As we move to the Matthew passage we see how the sheep who follow Christ the King as Shepherd are found to be righteous.  Jesus tells the parable showing us how as those truly gathered into his flock we are to see Jesus in each human being.  To listen carefully to their stories, to offer the hope found in following the Shepherd, Christ the King, to care for them, to love them.  It is in living our lives as passionately for others as the Shepherd in Ezekiel, that we find ourselves among the sheep Jesus deems righteous.

In both passages, it is God’s responsibility to determine who are among the flock, who are worthy, who are righteous.  It is our responsibility to love and care for others in the manner the Shepherd shows us.  To follow the laws and teaching of Christ the King before any set by worldly rulers. To have as our highest authority and example, Christ our King.

Christ is at the same time both fully human and fully divine, and is truly worthy of worship and obedience.

When our priorities are not those set by our Shepherd, when we do not fully heed his voice, we remain among the scattered.  When decisions and relationships reflect more self-interest than Good-Shepherd interest we remain among the scattered.

It is tough to consider that in some situations, in some relationships, on some days we are more like the goats than the sheep, more like the things that threaten the sheep than a shepherd.

But those situations and relationships exist at times for all of us.  Those circumstances do not need to define us.  We have a Shepherd King in whom we are loved, safe, and protected no matter what we face.  If we are his, we acknowledge who we are and what we’ve done.  We let him find us, let him tend our wounds, let him love us with the love of the Eternal, let him show us his face in the face of those who we might be more comfortable ignoring or casting aside.

We respond to his touch on our lives and find ourselves out of the fold less and less.  We are both broken and whole, at once healer and healed, at the same time shepherd and sheep.[3]  As the sheep in the parable we help because we cannot stop ourselves.  Christ’s love in our hearts has compelled us to compassionate action.

We are not saved by our compassionate action, our action is a natural response to recognizing the grace extended to us through Christ.  It is part of how we respond to others because of how God reached out in loving compassion to us before we were even aware.

Many of us will watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” this holiday season.  We will watch as a man discovers that everything he did in his life, even the smallest seemingly insignificant kindness, impacted someone else and made a difference.  The lead character, George, never realized all the good he had done, and all the bad he had prevented, simply by being alive and by being himself.

He simply was not aware of the larger meaning around him every, every minute of every day.  A similar phenomenon plays a surprisingly large role in Jesus’ words about the sheep and the goats.  Sometimes the most important things we do in life are things that, at the time, we see no real significance in.   Like meeting Jesus in prison, at a food bank, at a homeless shelter, the clothing depot, on sidewalk, in the parking lot…[4]

We shout “Christ is King,” in the face of all the forces that try to scatter us, every time we follow our Shepherd and live like his sheep.

[1] Discipleship Ministries, Christ the King Sunday

[2] James C. Howell Weekly Preaching: Christ the King Sunday www.ministry;matters.com

 

[3] Worship Elements: November 26, 2017 Ministry Matters.

[4] Proper 29A Center for Excellence in Preaching 11/22/2017

Grateful Living

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Matthew 25: 14-30

“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

I read these words on the plane as we headed home on Wednesday.  They were words I really wanted to ignore in that moment.  But my commitment to preach the Lectionary scriptures each week so that I force myself not to ignore the tough passages, removed that as an option.

We had a roller coaster, emotional, faith deepening, relationship building, and life changing experience last week, all impacted by the reality that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, when we least expect it.

Our mission team almost immediately came together as one body with many parts, working, sharing, and at times giving each other a difficult time as if we had known each other for years.  We openly shared how the long drives on bumpy dirt roads to communities where survival was the focus of each day and the number of those coming to know joy in loving Jesus was increasing, impacted our hearts.  We worked together to work with disabled children and their parents, to buy food from “croppers” and distribute it to those in the greatest need.

We took equipment and uniforms to teams who had none, we heard the triumphs and the struggles of pastors actively taking the good news of Jesus to those who are hungry to hear, we received blessing after blessing, as person after person offered us hospitality.

The team became family and those who welcomed us into their homes and churches became brothers and sisters as well.  Late in the week, one of our team members, John, shared a testimony with a small congregation which worships in the open air of an abandoned building where slaves lived well into the 1800’s.  John told those gathered to meet us that they were his brothers and sisters in Christ, that we would all be together and understand each other’s language someday, no longer needing a translator.  He shared with enthusiasm and joy and the congregation received him in the same way.

On Sunday, John was part of the worship team traveling with me to a growing congregation meeting in a living room already expanded twice to hold the worshipers attending there.  He sang with gusto, greeted his brothers and sisters in that place with love, and enthusiastically shared in a three person reading with Ken and another team member to end my message.

The pulpit had inscribed in Spanish the words from John 1:51    51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,  you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

Accepting an invitation from the pastor and his wife to enjoy some coffee, John and the rest of us enjoyed a time of conversation about the countries we love, family, and faith.  Around the table we were one with each other and with the Lord we serve.  When we were reunited with the rest of the team they asked me how I did, and before I could answer, encourager John told them all emphatically.  “She knocked it out of the park.”

We didn’t know it in that moment, but the message John shared about being together with God without language barriers and the scripture on the pulpit that morning, were prophetic in his life’s journey.

Seven members of the team decided to go to the ocean Sunday afternoon, Ken and I headed to find a WiFi connection, taking advantage of the first opportunity we had to let our kids and some of you know we had arrived safely.  Our team leader headed for a nap, he had preached three times in two days, probably the equivalent of six times here.

Five went swimming, getting caught in a rip tide which pulled them out a significant distance from the shore.  Three made it back on their own, although one of them was quick to say he felt God pushing him until he could crawl out.  One needed help from people on the shore, and one needed rescuers to swim out to him and pull him in.  That one was John.  Efforts to revive him failed, our brother had seen heaven open to receive him.

In the hours that followed, we experienced coping with loss and dealing with authorities in an authoritarian country.  We also experienced many connections that helped us feel God’s presence in the midst of tragedy.  Police there do not generally have a friendly demeanor.  As John lay on the beach and the team took turns staying with him, a police officer came to stand with us.  Before taking his post, he greeted John’s pastor and myself expressing sympathy, extending a hand to both of us.  A while later a woman and her daughter came down the beach with a candle in a mason jar.  They offered condolences, asked God to bless us, then dug a hole in the sand at John’s feet and set the mason jar and candle in the hole, kneeling in prayer before they turned, and again expressed sympathy before returning to her home.

Back at the place we were staying, the staff remained, letting the last bus for home leave so they could bring food to members of the team as they came back.  Using translators on their phones they asked about his family, about the accident, what they could do for us.  They sat with us as we prayed while calls were made to John’s family.  They encouraged us and cared for us.

Then on the plane I read these words:

“He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”

Scripture made flesh  in the lives of those who love Christ and who share His love with strangers.  God revealed in those who, by the way they reached out to us, reminded us to put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

As I continued to work through the scriptures scheduled for this Sunday, the parable of the talents emerged.  At first the connection was unclear.  Then I remembered the way John shared his faith.  How a man with little material resources of his own, played ball with kids challenged physically, joyfully shared his faith and enthusiastically took on the job of carrying heavy sacks of beans and rice and carefully packaged them for the families who needed them.  I remembered his smile that was contagious wherever we visited.  I remembered his desire to share God’s love in any way he could.

The talents God gave John were not large sacks of heavy gold.  The talents God gave John were the understanding of what it means to be saved through the grace of God, to be loved no matter what has gone on in your life, to have someone on your side regardless of what you face.  He faithfully multiplied those talents by risking reaching out to those he didn’t know in a country that may look the other way, but which officially does not support churches, by risking not being in control so that he could encourage and build others up in the Lord.

As those images circled in my head the song by Tim McGraw – “Live like you were Dying” – kept coming to mind.

I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
“I was finally the husband
That most of the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have
And all of a sudden going fishin’ Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
I finally read the Good Book, and I Took a good, long, hard look At what I’d do if I could do it all again
And I watched an eagle as it was flying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance To live like you were dying
John didn’t know when he went for that swim that it would be his last.  But he was prepared, because he lived like he was dying.  He took every gift and blessing God gave him and he shared it with everyone he met.  He knew Jesus died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  He lived every moment with a sense of thanksgiving for every part of his life.  He was an example of “Grateful living,” and the lives of many are forever changed because of his example.

As we celebrate the day we call “Thanksgiving” this week, my prayer is we pause to look at the talents God has given us, even if only a smile, to took a good, long, hard look at what we’d do if we could do it all again, and find ways to multiple what we have by sharing it with others by loving deeper, speaking sweeter, forgiving one another.

Continuing to encourage one another and building each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Creator God, who gives us all we need, who bestows blessings better than heavy bags of gold, who calls us to live abundantly, be with us this day and every day.  Help us to live like we were dying, not in fear but with joyful enthusiasm that brings your light to all we meet and serve.  Amen

Spilling the Spirit

As Halloween approaches many are choosing costumes to wear for the Halloween events in which they will participate.  Some choose their customs on “what’s in”: Star Wars seems to be pretty popular this year, as does Wonder Woman and Disney characters.  Others choose based on the characteristics of the person they want to be: super powers like Super Girl and Superman, or on cuteness like Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, or on a favorite game such as Minecraft.  Some choose costumes which are scary or allow them to have an evil persona for the evening.

Whatever the costume, imitating the character we choose is play acting.  We don’t expect to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to stop bullets, to rescue the galaxies, or become a Disney prince or princess.  We are just pretending, briefly living a reality that isn’t our own, and ultimately, we will change out of costume and character to become the unique person we really are.

Sometimes our faith resembles this kind of imitation.  We look the part and use the language of a faithful follower of Jesus.  Our resumes say “active member of,” and we get to worship, study, fellowship, and opportunities as it fits into our schedule.  We have the persona of who we say we are, in the situations we choose.  However, sometimes what we say and how we treat each other reveals the “self” under the costume.

When Paul writes to the people in Thessalonica saying “You became imitators of us and of the Lord,” he isn’t talking about putting on the right clothes and saying the right things to be counted among those who love God and neighbor in the way Jesus modeled.  He is talking about living in such a way that the outward garments and accessories are not needed because every part of their lives, every action, every word is filled with the grace, mercy, and compassion they saw in Paul and Jesus.  The transformation is internal, not external.

Paul notes that the church of Thessalonica welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  They didn’t find reasons to dismiss the parts that made them uncomfortable, that required a change in how they formed relationships with one another, that didn’t offer an easy way out of their circumstances.  They embraced the message and embraced the power of the Holy Spirit to reflect that message at all times and in all places.

The Message paraphase describes this realty this way: “Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.”

The description: “You are the message!” struck me.

Claiming that we are the message to the Millville, Knowlesville, Medina area. We should also consider what message we are giving.

There is a message of “amazing cooks” out there.  When I talk about this congregation I often hear about a wonderful meal they have eaten here.  The medical personal helping Loraine recover all know about the Applefest and Lenten dinners at the Knowlesville Fellowship Hall.  The pastors I meet with are quick to ask about the many events with food in case they are free to attend and we were the first congregation they thought about when planning for the Ride4Life event at the fairgrounds, and many ask about the availability of pies.

There is a message of caring for one another.  Funeral directors in the area know this is a congregation that will support grieving families with food and fellowship.  Caregivers at Medina Hospital, the Manor and the Villages, know patients and residents and visited and supported by members of this congregation and express appreciation.   In the last week all parts of this congregation have joined in prayer for the family of Betty and for Joe and Roxanne.  You have also made sure there was the support of personal presence, as well as physical and spiritual nourishment.

There is a message we believe in the power of prayer, with persons in the community with no direct tie to the congregation, added to our prayers.  With our pausing whatever we are doing to pray when an urgent need comes to our attention.  Our prayer quilts and prayer chains reaching out whenever and wherever needed.

There is a message we put our faith into our feet as we gather and distribute resources to help those suffering physically, economically, spiritually, and more.

These are the messages that share with others in tangible ways that when the Message you heard about Jesus came to you, it wasn’t just words. Something happened in you. The Holy Spirit put steel in your convictions as a paraphrase of this passage says of the church of Thessalonica.[1]

Then there are the messages that we don’t get along, that some of us walk out when we don’t get our own way, that change is unacceptable, that there isn’t any room for new people and new ideas although we say there is.  There are messages that we criticize before we learn the whole story.  There are messages that some of us do more, know more, contribute more, are more holy than others.  These are the messages that can make it look as if we are in costume, acting out the role of Disciple of Jesus rather than acting out of a transformed life.

Paul embraced the unique gifts he found in the people of the Thessalonica church.  He thanks God for each one of them.  We welcomes them as an important part of the body.  He lifts up all the ways they witness to the love of Christ in their lives.

All of those times when we embrace the gifts each one of us bring to the body we send the message that we love each other as God loves us.  All those times we celebrate rather than criticize our differences we recognize the wonder of a Creator God.  Whenever we extend hospitality in all of its many forms, reflecting God’s love for all, we send a message that we have the heart of Jesus who was sent to free the poor, the lonely, the hungry, the discarded.

Hospitality is one of the things for which this congregation is known.  It is a foundation from which we can show our Spirit of love and grace as loudly and passionately as possible.  Sometimes we will have a hard day, maybe a string of hard days, and we just don’t feel like reaching out to others in joy.  We know that the Spirit of Christ is always with us, in us, so we can move forward in our hope that joy will return.

When the Holy Spirit who dwells within us is allowed to shine through us in hope, love and grace of the Lord, others can see it and feel it.  People who live their faith, who do not need a costume because every cell of their being is in relationship with God and neighbor, are Holy Spirit fountains – spilling out the Spirit onto everyone they meet, so it surrounds and embraces many.

Beginning in November we will be talking about those who have spilled out the Spirit on our lives, introducing us to what it means to be imitators of Jesus in our real life situations.  I hope it will be a time when we can hone our hospitality to each other, allowing the Spirit to increasingly spill over in this sanctuary, our fellowship halls, our community and beyond.

As we serve a living and true God, and live into his kingdom through Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we leave behind those things that separate us and embrace and encourage the gifts that bring us closer together and feed into our “Spilling the Spirit” into the lives of others.

Together we have the endurance of hope as we labor in love so that all with whom we come in contact will experience the hope and love found in Christ.  In turn we will grow deeper in our faith and closer to Jesus as well.

[1] The Message

Family Rules

Chances are many of you have something in your home that lists Family Rules.  It may be a wall hanging that looks similar to the one on the front of the bulletin today, it may be a black board or white board with a list developed at a family meeting, it may resemble the rules set down in Cheaper by the Dozen the original or Cheaper by the Dozen the remake.

They likely address acceptable actions which help the family meet their particular needs for keeping everyone safe and healthy while providing for ways to maintain and deepen relationships within the family.

In a family where everyone works and goes to school on the same schedule, rules may call for all chores to be done when everyone gets home in the afternoon.  In a family where schedules vary and someone may need to be sleeping at 3 p.m., vacuuming or clanking dishes may not be the best thing to do as soon as you get home.

Always say please and thank you.  Always tell the truth, are usually part of a family’s rules, but priorities, ideas about what respecting parents means, and if everyone is expected at the table for dinner, likely vary from home to home.

There are Family Rules and grandma and grandpas and Family Rules at grandma and grandpas.  There are Family Rules at mom and dad’s and sometimes Family Rules at Mom’s and at Dad’s.

Sometimes they seem rigid and sometimes flexible.

But even with the difference, for the most part, rules are there in an effort to keep everyone safe, share the responsibilities of keeping a household running, and to help us understand a little about what it is to interact with others outside of our homes.  They are gifts we give each other to help us function together and to develop relationship, while developing our own identities.

Even the rule about taking out the trash can prepare us for the parts of our jobs we don’t like much, but must do so that we are able to do the parts we love.

Rules are gifts of teaching one another of how to be in relationship even when facing conflict.

The people of Israel in this passage from Exodus were under the Family Rules of their Egyptian masters.  Those rules designed to benefit the slave owners, not those they enslaved.  Now free from those rules, developing a system of order to connect them to each other and to the God who brought them out of Egypt was critical to maintaining that freedom.  God provided what they needed each step of the way:  Their means of escape, the food and water in the desert, and guidelines for how to live together peacefully.

Without the gift of God’s rules, the Israelites only had the examples of their captors to set up their way of living and working together.

The new Family Rules set the Israelites’ attention on the powerful Love-filled, one true God and on looking out for others before themselves.  In so doing, God provides a guide which allows all to live in peace and to be the unique persons and community God called them to be.

The top ten list of how to live well all about upholding the basic human rights and dignity of other people, providing clear concise basic, easy-to-remember principles for what it means to live in community with others.  Linking our relationship to our Creator God with our relationships with other people.[1]

All reminding us of God’s vision for life as it should be and can be.[2]

Martin Luther saw in each rule God’s grace and mercy.[3]

Grace in God’s reaching out to us with a plan of salvation, Grace in the freedom from looking for personal worth or power in possessions, wealth, position, or weapons.

Grace in being in relationship with God and others.   Not judging the value of others by anything other than that God loves them and wants them protected as much as God loves you and wants you protected.

Family rules offering worth to a people who have only known slavery to those who saw them as expendable.

Jesus simply summed it up, we live out our love of God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Jesus modeled what living the family rules looks like.  He cared for the children, the poor, the outcasts, the Jews and the Gentiles.  He used the rules to love, even though he could have used them to judge.  He directed us to live with a spirit of love.  Those who sought to destroy him were met with forgiveness.

When someone is baptized in this church we promise to model our lives so they may grow in faith.

That includes living the Family Rules in the sanctuary, the fellowship hall, the parking lot, where we work, play, and study, by what we do and what we say.  It means looking out for each other and for others in our community and beyond.

This week the Missions Team voted to distribute the Hurricane relief offering three ways.  A gift to the grandson of a member of this congregation who is rebuilding after the hurricane.  A donation to Hurricane relief in the United States through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and a donation through UMCOR to disasters in the world.  They also decided to help support Ken’s and my mission trip to Cuba.  Modeling the family rules.

On Friday and Saturday a number of you prepared food to offer at an affordable price for those coming to HopeFest.  Working together to support an outreach to those who needed to hear a word of Hope in the midst of a world which offers up natural disasters, mass shootings, human trafficking, power struggles, injustice, and more…   A number of people claimed Jesus as Savior, many others shared in prayer for those facing difficult situations.  You modeled the family rules.

Earlier in the week some of you gathered for a time of prayer specifically for all those impacted by the tragedy in Las Vegas and some sewed quilts which offer hope to those struggling with health issues.  You modeled the family rules.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to live these rules.  It takes time, effort, patience, love.  The grace in the rules is God not only allows us to see how we should be in relationship with others, God also gives us everything we need to live in the way modeled by His Son.  As the Ride4Life testimony to yesterday’s audience said, “You don’t have to do it alone.  Jesus is always by your side ready to walk with you.”

As part of the Family Rules God offers us rest.  The Sabbath is a gift to us.  It is not a demand.  In it we find the opportunity to deepen our relationship with God and others, we find an opportunity to rest, we find a space where we purposely focus on the family rules so we can live them the other six days of the week.

God gives us this gift of Family Rules out of love.  When we live them, we share God’s love with others, extend God’s mercy in the midst of a world that wants to craft rules that benefit the world, setting one person against another person, one community against another, one set of ideas against another.

We accept the world’s Family Rules when we fall into the pattern of finding fault with one another instead of encouraging each other.  We reject God’s gift when the Family Rules are ignored or used as weapons against those with whom we disagree.

I encourage all of us to look at God’s Gift of Family Rules as sources of grace and mercy to us and to others.  To remember the summary Jesus offers and the ways he modeled how we can live into them.

Maybe Wesley’s 3 simple rules can help us remember the ten we are called to follow.  Do good, do no harm, stay in love with God.

 

[1] Dawn Chesse Discipleship Ministries Children’s Sabbath

[2] Scott Hoezee Old Testament Lectionary

[3] James C. Howell Weekly Preaching October 8, 2017

From ‘Overwhelmed’ to ‘Peace-filled’

The headlines come at us in wave after wave of tragedy, turmoil, distrust, pain.  Billions of dollars in damage from storms, people displaced and lives disrupted, shootings, robberies, corruption, accidents, an endless stream of negative information floods our newspapers, airwaves, social media, and family conversation.

That doesn’t even begin to cover the personal crisis that likely impact all of us in some way this morning: job stress, relationship strain, struggle for survival against health, financial, or grief issues that we face.

This onslaught of the world into our daily existence is overwhelming.  We do not have the physical and mental capacity to take it all in and to work toward solutions for all that we see.  It is enough to make us want to crawl back into bed and pull up the covers, or head out to a beach somewhere and disconnect completely.

Someone told me recently that they don’t even want to answer their telephone any more, sure there will be just one more difficult situation to deal with if they do.  It has been a rough summer for this particular congregation this year with illness, loss, and even weather patterns disrupting the rhythm of our lives.   On some level, we probably all ask, why – when we seek to follow Christ in all areas of our lives – do bad things seem to keep happening.  Why we leave one difficult situation to come face to face with another.  Jesus knew that is a question we would ask and he addressed it head on:

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In this world you will have trouble.  The names, places, and circumstances may change, but the troubles continue throughout history and will continue into the future.

The Israelites were suffering greatly under the Egyptians.  Their work quotas increased while they were forced to find more and more of their own resources to meet them.  Their days were long, filled with hard physical labor, and the product of their work built the Pharaohs’ kingdom, with barely enough resources available to their own families to stay alive.  It was an overwhelming situation even to those in good physical shape.  Into their circumstances comes Moses, and unlikely leader, with let’s face it, seemingly crazy ideas.

But as he negotiates with the Pharaoh with God’s directives, it becomes clearer that God is in charge of the situation.

The people start to believe, to see hope, and to trust that God will prevail.  We know the story, the final plague comes and the Pharaoh says, “get out of here,” and they leave, probably thinking they were leaving all the trouble behind them.

Then they find themselves between the forces of Pharaoh chasing them down because he changed his mind and the watery boundary between them and a new land.  Overwhelmed again, they challenge Moses, and, in essence, God’s ability to get them through.

11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

Faced with the trouble of this world, we may be inclined to raise similar question.  To wonder why when we try to follow where we hear God calling we are faced with obstacles which seem impossible to get through.  Why we often feel caught between the forces of Pharaoh and the realities of physical, mental, and societal barriers in the way of our following the pillar of cloud and fire God sets before us. To feel overwhelmed.

In our humanness I think these feelings are valid.  Facing the troubles of this world alone is overwhelming.  It is why people are looking for ways to address the fear they face through their relationships with others, through their work, through benevolent organizations, and sometimes through things that lead them to behaviors detrimental to their health.  We want control in our lives and our world and sometimes we want to just go back to serving the Egyptians, to the seemingly safety of the “known.”

But …

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.

And the Gospel of John reminds us…

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Particularly in today’s world of the twenty-four news cycle, Facebook® posts, Twitter feeds, and text messaging, the moments in our day free of the world’s relentless trouble sometimes seem few to non-existent.  It is easy to feel helpless, angry, ready to just be concerned with self and let everything and everyone else take care of itself.

Hear the good news in the midst of this overwhelming situation.

You are not of this world.  You have seen God’s deliverance.  You know that Christ has overcome the world.  That ultimately every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord and that the things that plague us now are already overcome.

That does not mean that we stand passively at the water which is blocking our way, nor does it mean that we retreat.

Rabbis teach that one of the Israelites, a son of one of the leaders, actually waded into the water before it parted at the command of Moses.  That he took a step toward the future trusting the path would be revealed by God.  Even if the order of events is different – if the water was already parted when the first person took a step on the dry land between the walls of pushed back water, someone had to be the first one to step out in faith.

You do that when you face the trouble of this world by taking a step forward, claiming God’s promise to deliver you, believing Christ has indeed conquered the world and is walking with you through everything you face.

You step out in faith –

As you live out God’s Expectations of kindness, justice, and humility.

As you let the countless times we hear God and God’s messengers tell us: “Do not be Afraid,” “Be Anxious for nothing,” “Do not Worry,” “Take Heart,” guide your reactions to circumstances you face.

As you prioritize your schedule around God’s call on your life.

When you remove the physical and mental clutter that keeps you from seeing God’s purposes in your life.

When you trust God will deliver you.

You live into the future as you believe God’s presence and promises are  real

with your prayers, your worship, your study, your gifts.

with your presence with others, your service to neighbor.

And by facing each day with hope and the joy that comes from the peace Christ gives.

Grady Panek shared a profound thought this week.   He was playing his harmonica while riding in the vehicle with his mom and announced. “I have my window down so I can spread joy”

As people of God you have that joy, that “down in your heart” joy that comes from knowing and claiming Christ has overcome the world, from witnessing God’s deliverance in your own life.

It is a joy that can be, and needs to be, spread.

You spread it with the regular and special offering for flood victims this morning.

You spread it by sharing your faith and life stories with others.  I was with another publisher this weekend who shared how her house gets cluttered because of the schedule she keeps.  As you know from last week, I have a similar story.  We talked about the realities of our lives and how our spiritual walk is impacted.  It progressed from a shared experience to a good discussion of faith, which was filled with joy.

We all have those opportunities.

Opportunities to walk with others through difficult times, sharing our experiences with God’s faithfulness.

Opportunities to let go of what we think is safe to experience something new God is offering.

Opportunities to stop for a moment to feel God’s presence, to take heart, and then to move forward into the future confident in the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.

Opportunities to “have the window down” so we can spread joy.

Those are the ways we move from overwhelmed to peace-filled.  Peace not as the world gives, but peace as Christ our redeemer gives.

 

Clutter Conquered

Romans 12:1-2

Ephesians 3:14-19

Luke 10:40-42

Psalm 119:34-37

I choose to include the Shoe comic strip in today’s illustrations because on most days Shoe’s desk looks exactly like mine.  This one was particularly representative because I have been known to locate things I have been missing for a long time under a pile of files and paper setting right there on my desk.  The sad thing about that truth is – I don’t really function well in those circumstances. I really prefer everything organized and in its place.

I have trained myself to function in spite of the clutter.  To become blind to the chaos that often surrounds me.  That can be a good thing when the goals and schedules need to be met, but in the long run, it creates stress and, if left in its cluttered state, will overwhelm me and render my efforts less than effective.  Periodically my clutter expands to the point that mentally and physically I can’t do anything until I restore some order, if only to a small portion of my space.

That is true in my physical space, my schedule, and in my spiritual life.  Clutter ultimately shows I have conformed to the pattern of this world; keeping things, accumulating things, assigning significance to things, focusing on things, allocating time to things – according to the world’s standards.

The gospel of Luke record of Martha asking Jesus if he cares that Mary has left her to do all the work by herself and requesting him to make Mary help her, holds me accountable, reminding me to get rid of the clutter that keeps me from seeing and doing what God has called me to see and do.  The response Martha receives from Jesus is not what she expects: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:40-42)

Jesus sets the clutter of the world aside and restores order with his answer.  God’s riches shared with us, God’s gift of grace and strength, God’s direction for our lives is found at the feet of Jesus, learning from his words, following his example,

He didn’t own a home, had few clothes and likely only one pair of sandals.  He had a small inner circle of friends, cared about the welfare of everyone, didn’t worry about world standards of success, regularly worshiped and prayed.

 

Clutter can be our “things”  The drawers filled with items we might need someday, the closets without room because our clothes from high school still hang in the back.  The cupboards of the kids pinch pots, art projects, and school notes.  It can be the possessions we have just because they are the latest and greatest or because we are sure we will fix and use it again someday.

Clutter can be our thoughts and relationships.  The grudges, traditions, information we heard at the coffee shop about someone that “must be true,” regrets, things we wish had been different, and broken relationships.

Clutter can be our priorities.  How we spend our time, what we value, who we value.

As Jesus answers Martha, I don’t hear him calling us to focus on making sure someone can eat off our floors because they are that clean.  I don’t hear Jesus calling us to ignore health and safety in how we cook and clean either.  I hear him saying if you want to remove the clutter, the distractions, you need to put first things first.  Seek God first, take time to learn, to pray, to be in a faith community.  Don’t worry about accumulating stuff, accumulate resources that build your faith, that bring you closer to the feet of Jesus.

When  rooted and established in love, the Holy Spirit brings us power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.  And, filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, there isn’t any room for the things that clutter up our lives and keep us from what is truly important.

One of the stories often told about John Wesley reveals that although his income increased throughout his life, his lifestyle remained simple.  He did not increase the amount of money he spent on himself over the years, instead giving away the difference to the poor.  He had few possessions, wore inexpensive clothing and ate simple food.  He kept clutter to a minimum in all aspects of his life, choosing to focus and to call each of us to Do good, Do no harm, and Stay in love with God.

When clutter of any kinds starts to overwhelm us, here are some possible ways to de-clutter.

We can start fresh – taking on one small section of clutter at a time.

If it is stuff in our home.  We can clean out a drawer, a closet, maybe even just clean off one corner of one table.  Figure out what is important to keep, what someone else could use, and what should go curbside, then distribute it accordingly.

If it is stuff in our relationships.  We can start by working on at least one.  Ask forgiveness if we need to, give forgiveness if that is needed.  Find some common ground and find a way to love, even if we can’t find a way to like right now.  Find balance and respond to circumstances with that in mind.

If it is stuff in our faith walk.  We can start by increasing time aside for prayer and study.  We can reduce those “clutter” things keeping us from spending time in worship and conversation with our faith community.  We can set goals and schedules based on God’s call on our lives to be Christ-like in all that we do.

If it is stuff in church.  We may need to let go of a ministry or project that no longer bears fruit.  Create space for new ideas, new people, new projects.  If it’s stained, unused, unclaimed or out of date, it is time to let it go![1]  We need to let go of the stubbornly held beliefs that only keep us stuck.  Negative self-fulfilling prophesies are clutter.  Creating ideas that move ministry forward, in love, are the clutter reducing order bringing ideas.

If we can keep our lives from being cluttered up with things that distract us from what is important, the Spirit of God will teach us real wisdom and help us catch a new vision of things as they really are. One of the things Jesus teaches repeatedly is that we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God and all things belong to God, so all things belong to us.

In Christ, we have every bit of the beauty and goodness and truth and nobility and aliveness and joy that are to be found in this world, in all of life, and in death.  We cannot try to own them in some way that hoards them and keeps them away from others.  That only serves to add clutter.  We need to move through life with arms and heart wide open to embrace and to share every good thing.[2]

In Psalm 119:34 The psalmist pleads for God to “Give me understanding that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart” “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities,” he asks, “give me life in your ways,” (v 37)   In some respects the psalmist asks God to remove the clutter in his faith walk, to remove the distractions.

When we are open to the fullness of God, when we set aside the distractions of the world, when we focus on what is important.  We are able to handle the clutter, even if only piece by piece by piece.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Rebekah Simon=Peter rebekahsimonpeter.com

[2] Sermon Options, February 19. 2017 Ministrymatters.com