Monday, November 30, 2015

Expect A Miracle

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Jeremiah 33:14-16:

Behold I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.  A 32inch television for $75, an Xbox system for $299, ipad minis for only $199, Bose headphones for $75, kitchen appliances for just $9.99.  Does it get any better or more exciting than that?  And isn’t that what Christmas is all about, getting more good stuff and at such a great deal?  There is certainly an aspect of receiving at Christmas; after all it is the time we remember and celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received.  But when did Christmas become like our birthday instead of Jesus’ birthday? The best sermon I ever heard was by the Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, who was and is very influential in my ministry, and that day he was talking about the statement that it’s better to give then to receive.  But the series he was doing was about things we say, but don’t actually believe.  The same might be said about miracles.  We might say we believe in miracles, but we don’t act like we do.  We might pray for rain, but how many of us then start carrying around umbrellas?  We pray for miracles, but do we believe that a miracle will actually happen?
In the movie Grand Canyon, Mary McDonnell’s character finds a baby which has been abandoned under a bush, in talking with her husband, played by Kevin Kline, she tells him that her finding the baby was a miracle, which he discounts.  But she responds that maybe miracles are so rare that we don’t notice them when they occur.  While I love that movie, that line has always struck me as being wrong.  If something is really rare, those are the things we tend to notice? Why was it so exciting for the Cubs to make the playoffs, or for the Royals to win the World Series? Because it doesn’t happen all that often and so we pay attention.  So instead of miracles being rare things, maybe miracles are in fact so common that we no longer notice them, they are in fact so common they we no longer call them miracles, they are in fact so common that they pass us by every single day, maybe even the ones being done by us, but we never even notice they are there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

With Great Expectation

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 1:4-8:

When I was growing up, every Thanksgiving my brother and I would wake up and then go curl up with our parents in their bed and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.  Santa making his triumphant entry at the end was always the best part because that meant we could “officially” start listening to Christmas music, and so we would all climb out of bed and my mom would get out the Christmas records, and it’s nice with this group because we all know what a record is, and then we would begin getting ready for the trek to my grandmother’s house for dinner, although since it was Phoenix, it was not over the river or through the woods  Being curled up in my parents’ bed watching the parade is one of my fondest childhood memories.  In working to create our own family traditions, by tapping into the traditions that Linda and I had as children, we too watch the parade each year, and when we lived in Boston we twice went down to New York to see the parade in person.

But watching the parade live is very different than watching in on television.  When you are there in person, there is a lot of waiting.  First there is the fact that in order to get a good spot to watch you have to show up by at least 6:30 am in order stake out your location.  The parade itself doesn’t start until 9, and then doesn’t get to where we are sitting until 9:30.  That means we have at least three hours of sitting or standing on the streets of New York waiting for the parade to arrive.

Our first year the crowd was singing songs, and led by the police officer “guarding” the route, he had each side of the street chanting back and forth to each other.  It was a lot of fun.  Our second time there, the crowd was more subdued and there was no police officer to keep up under control, so we were left to our own devices to occupy our time.  But, of course, the longest period of time seems to be once you can see the beginning of the parade, you know its right there but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  The anticipation and the excitement build and you know the end is in sight and yet it’s not there just yet, there is still a delay of time, and it is in times like this that we realize we have to hurry up and wait.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who are We Together?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:

For the past two weeks we have been seeking to answer three simple questions posed by Bishop Reuben Job in his book by the same name.  Those questions are, who is God, who am I, and who are we together?  Of course those are anything but simple questions and a very brief recap, we started with what I thought was the hardest, and really is the building point, who is God.  What I said was that God is love, an idea of God found throughout scripture and everything else that we might think about God can build from that point.  Because God is love, that also means that God wants to be in relationship with the creation and most importantly, at least for us, God also wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us because we are all children of God, which led us into our second question, Who am I, and that is that we are children of God and we are made in the image of God.
We hear in Paul’s writings that when we clothe ourselves in Christ, that all of the distinctions that we like to think are important, or that society says are important, are blown away because of the freedom we achieve in Christ.  For Paul, and for us, this is best represented in the act of baptism, an outward symbol of our adoption by Christ, to recognize that we are sons and daughters of God.  When Martin Luther was feeling unsure about himself, when people were attacking him, or he had doubts, he said that he would stop and tell himself “remember you are baptized.”  When he did that he said he was reassured that he was a beloved child of God.  I suggested that we should do the same in our own lives, that our mantra should be, quoting from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, where God says to us “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”  But when we recognize and remember that we are children of God, we must also recognize and remember that everyone else is a child of God as well.

Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance.  When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.”  Because when we do that then we stop following Jesus’ example and injunction to love others as God has loved us.  And that too is part of baptism, because we don’t become Christians through baptism and then seek out a church to join. Instead, when we are baptized we become part of a community.  Baptism is an initiation not just into the faith, but also into the community, into the body of Christ.  To recognize that we are children of God and baptized members in the faith is to begin to answer the question who are we together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who am I?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Galatians 3:23-29:

Last week we began a new series looking at Bishop Reuben Job’s book Three Simple Questions, but as it turns out those questions are really anything but simple.  The questions are, who is God, who am I and finally who are we together.  Last week we tackled the first one, which is, at least in my mind, the hardest question which is who is God?  We looked at several different aspects of God, and twenty minutes greatly condensed we stated that understanding who God is is to know that God is always beyond our ability to completely understand, as well as to communicate that nature of God, and yet we can also say that God is love.  But what we also discussed is the fact that since God is love that God wants to be in relationship with the creation, and most importantly to be in relationship with each and every one of us.  For God so loved the world, John says, and God loves us and we should understand ourselves as sons and daughters of God, which is how we answer today’s question.  Who am I?  Who are you?  We are the sons and daughters of God, we are brothers and sisters in the faith, and since we’ve answered that so easily and so well, let’s all go home, right?  Well, it’s not quite that easy.  So we start back at the beginning again where we were last week.
In Genesis chapter 1, we are read “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Notice that in this version that man and woman are created at the same time, and this will be important when we come back to the passage from Galatians, and after God creates mankind God blessed them.  The word for God in Hebrew is אֱלֹהִ֤ים. The last letter of the word as we read it, which is actually the first letter of the word since Hebrew is read from right to left rather than from left to right, is that sort of n looking character, which is known as aleph.  It has no sound, so it’s not actually pronounced, but as the first letter of the alphabet holds a position of preeminence, and so perhaps says something to us about the mysteriousness and unutterability of God.  There is a wonderful Midrash which asks why the aleph is not the first letter of the Torah, that is the first letter of the Bible.  The story says that all of the letters came to God to say why they should be the first letter to be used, all except the aleph.  When God asked aleph why it didn’t give an argument in its favor, it said since it was silent it had nothing to say.  But to honor the letter’s humility, God honored it with being the first letter of the alphabet and to also take God’s name.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who is God?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 17:22-31:

Several years ago when I was appointed here, we did a sermon series based on a book by Bishop Reuben Job entitled Three Simple Rules.  Bishop Job didn’t create those three rules, instead they came to us from John Wesley, the found of Methodism, and they were his general rules, the things we were supposed to do if we were to call ourselves Methodists, and those three things were to first do no harm, second to do good and third was to stay in love with God.  Several years after Bishop Job wrote that book, he wrote another book entitled Three Simple Questions.  These questions go to the heart of our faith even more than Wesley’s rules did, and those three simple questions are: Who is God?; Who am I?; and Who are We Together?  Now those three questions might be a lot of things, but I don’t think they are very simple, and yet we have to answer them in order not only to proclaim a faith, to have a set of beliefs, but also, more importantly, to live our faith because how we answer those questions should impact our actions, although sometimes there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually live our lives out and the God that we worship in our lives.
Everyone has to answer who is God.  Even atheists and agnostics have to answer this question, and every one of us has a god, whether it’s the God, or a different smaller god, money, fame, fortune, power, education. But there is something that holds our allegiance, something or someone we serve to give our lives meaning and purpose, something gives us the rules, guidelines, whatever you might call them, about how we are to live our lives.  So what can we say about God?  First is that God is obviously a baseball fan because it’s the one sport that’s mentioned the most times in scripture, the other is tennis.  And second, and most importantly, we can say that God is a Yankee fan simply because the Yankees are twenty-seven time world series champions.  That’s more than the next three best teams combined.

I know they haven’t won in a while, but that’s because God has to give other fans a chance as well, right?  But isn’t that what we hear all the time, that someone is winning, especially in sports, because God is favoring them, and so athletes point to God, or where they imagine God is, when they score, or do something great.  So that must be who God is and how God works right?  And anything that contradicts that must be wrong right?  When Arian Foster of the Houston Texans says that he doesn’t believe that then it must mean that he’s an atheist right?  But perhaps the players who say things actually believe in a different idea of God, but don’t live that reality.  Who we imagine God to be is incredibly important to who and what we are.  So who is God?