Sunday, July 29, 2012

Youth Day Sermon

Miriam Molly Blair by paynehollow
Miriam Molly Blair, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
Molly did an outstanding job with the sermon today. Check it out...

By now I’m certain many of you know that the theme of Unidiversity, this year, was never-ending stories. When I first heard this theme I was really excited because I automatically thought that we would be talking about how God connected to books and movies and other types of stories. I was fooled up until our proclaimer, Amy, spoke that first night.

She talked a lot about how the story of God was never-ending and made up of normal people. And that is when it got interesting. By the fourth day I had figured out what the organizers meant by never-ending stories and I was really excited to be able to preach about it. I liked the idea that the Bible is really like the first installment of a story and we are writing the sequels to that story with our lives.

Throughout the bible God uses ordinary people who have problems. The dysfunctional family of Isaac is a great example. You have Jacob who is a liar and a cheat, and then there is Rachel who plays favorites, Isaac who is emotionally and physically blind, and Esau who is stupid enough to give away his birth right and then wants to kill Jacob because of it. Yet God uses them in ways none of them probably ever thought could or would happen.

Paul, who was once Saul, became a disciple and a pretty good one. However this is the same guy who persecuted Jesus’ his disciples and he helped in the stoning of Stephen. Yet even though he wasn’t a great guy, for most of his life, God uses him. The list could go on and on, and if we had time you all could probably list many more examples than I have here, but the point is that these people weren’t perfect yet they were still used to continue the story.

Now for some reason people have missed this aspect of the bible. So now there is this belief that there is a “perfect” type of Faith. One that includes not doubting God ever! That you should never yell or scream at God. That basically if you follow God, you should never question and always be a happy go lucky person in faith.

Now I have no idea how these people got this idea in their heads, but to me it just seems like a bunch hogswallow. If you read the bible carefully there is not a single person who fits this description. For crying out loud, Job spends half the time saying “woe is me” and the other half yelling at God. Then you got the Psalms which go back and forth from saying “Praise the Lord” to “What the crap are you doing?”

If you want some examples from the New Testament, what about Peter who denies knowing Jesus three times. You also have Thomas who doubts so much that he needs to put his finger in Jesus’s wounds to know that he is really there. So that is why I call this notion of Perfect faith hogswallow. There is no such thing as a perfect Faith. If there were faith would be easy and everyone would do it. Faith is not supposed to be easy.

In fact that is so true, that my family calls the days when you want to yell and scream at God "Job Days." We recognize that it is okay to be mad at God. So with these examples in mind, maybe the challenge is not to be a perfect Christian but a never-ending one. One who continues the story of Jesus.

So there maybe days where you are like Peter where you deny Christ. Or maybe you’re like Thomas but instead of not believing that Christ has risen, you believe that you have nothing to offer God’s story. Or maybe we really are confused about why bad things happen to good people. Or maybe you a have a Job Day, where everything seems to go bad and you wonder where is God?

It is Okay to have a Job Day because those are when you become stronger in your faith. Amy, our proclaimer, she said that these were the times you are like Jacob and are wrestling with God. She claimed that when this happened all God said was “bring it on.” Because God can take it. So maybe these are the times when your faith deepens and you begin to look into yourself to find the means to get through those periods.

SO what does this have to do with Samuel, Jesse and David? This connects with their story in that both Samuel and Jesse assume that they know what God wants. Samuel when he assumes that the oldest is obviously the chosen one. Then we have Jesse, who decides to hide David and not even bring him to dinner. David can’t be God’s chosen, after all he is the youngest, he is small, and he is herding the sheep. What could God possibly want with him?

And God has the best come back line ever. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God looks at the heart and maybe we should examine ours and then we can know that God wants us to be a part of her story.

In this summer’s edition of the magazine “Conspire”, the editors ended their introduction with this:

“A Cross on a hillside and an empty tomb tell us the story is forever changed. Love spreads like wildfire, hand to hand, prayer to prayer. Violence cannot intimidate it. The forces of domination are restless and afraid. Each word, each action, offers us the choice to love more deeply, in spite of everything. Let us spend our lives learning this new path.”

The new path may lead us to the confusions of our t-shirts. At Unidiversity, I heard a lot of people talk about the t-shirt and how plain it is. There is no complex design, challenging thoughts, or words of wisdom. There are just two words. Two little words. But in writing this sermon, I think I’ve figured them out. And then… we are the “and then”. In this light those words are not so little anymore but become a big challenge. So just like that cross and empty tomb, we too can forever change the story.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Hard Hope

Sophia by paynehollow
Sophia, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
Excerpts from a sermon from Pastor Cindy, from July 1, 2012. The Scriptural reading was from Jeremiah 32:1-15

There would have been a mad scramble there at the end, as the realization of certain defeat came to the people of Israel. As the rumble of the war horses came ever closer, as food became ever scarcer, as the death count rose ever higher.

There would have been a mad scramble: bury or hide what you cannot sell, sell what you can, turn it into something that you can use later, into something that you can sew into the hem of your garment, to trade, to bribe, to buy safe passage for you and your children.

Any of us who have read much of history know about this mad scramble, the desperate last minute scramble of the Russian Jews, the desperate last minute scramble of the Polish gypsies, the desperate last minute scramble of the Rwandan Tutsis, the desperate last minute scramble of the Sudanese Christians, and even as I speak, of those who are fleeing Syria.

And in order to fully understand the bold hopefulness of this morning’s story, we’ve got to be able to at least try to imagine this desperate scramble. Because it is in the midst of this chaos, in the midst of this suffering and pain and utter hopelessness, that Jeremiah hears and acts upon the life-giving, hope-giving Word of God.

Let us be clear: It’s not that Jeremiah was not affected by the chaos at hand; it’s not that Jeremiah was not caught up in his people’s pain.

O that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears that I might cry day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people, he had cried.

It’s not that Jeremiah was uncaring, or naïve, or oblivious. He had, in fact, been imprisoned because of his relentless warnings of doom and gloom. Hope did not come easily for Jeremiah.

His was a reluctant hope, a troubled hope. He knew the score. He could read the times more than most. But he knew that beyond the score, beneath the times there was an underlying reality shaped and sustained by an unrelentingly faithful God.

And so in the midst of the mad scramble, we see that Jeremiah is buying a piece of land, proclaiming hope, proclaiming promise, proclaiming future: For thus says the Lord of hosts, God of Israel, “again houses and fields and vineyards shall be bought in this land.” The story is not over. Thus sayeth the Lord. The story is not over.

We live in a culture where hope has been cheapened, lessened, taken over by Hallmark card sayings and cheery hospital bedside assurances. But what Jeremiah acts out here is what we might call hard hope; hoping not on the basis of a naïve denial of the facts at hand, but in spite of the facts at hand.

Hoping not on the ability of one’s people’s or oneself to somehow pull through, to somehow make good, but on the basis of God’s ability to create something brand new out of the shambles, on the basis of God’s promises and desires for God’s people...

...Jeremiah must have felt a bit absurd as he brought in the witnesses, as he signed the papers, as he sealed the earthen jars. And yet, as the other ears in that room were straining for the sound of the approaching horses, Jeremiah’s ears were attuned to the voice of God, proclaiming a different way, a different ending, a different beginning to the story.

On the other hand, says Brueggemann, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.

Hope calls the present into question...

This week, some of us will make choices about where we will pour out our time and energy and love. Those choices will not make sense to the majority. We will love people who will not love us back, we will forgive people who will turn around and do the very same thing to us all over again, we will give second and third and fourth and fifteenth chances to people who somehow manage to blow it every time. Why? Because we want to participate in that world where love matters more than pride, more than self-preservation, more than anything.

It’s not that we don’t know the score. It’s not that we can’t read the times. But as are bearers of that hard hope, as bearers of that eyes wide open hope, with Jeremiah we know that the story is not over, that God is not finished with God’s people, that God is bringing in something brand new, out of all the scramble, out of all the rubble of this world, bringing in something brand new...