Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wednesday's Sermon - healing

It remains a challenge for me to "post" my Wednesday sermons because I only use an outline and it is much more interactive sermon that Sunday mornings.  But since it was requested that I try to post this, I'm doing my best to recreate what I said last night:

Mark 1:29-45

            What things did Jesus do in his ministry?
            Teaching, preaching and healing.  Anything else?
            Why healing?  Do you think it was to get people’s attention so that they would pay attention to him?  Do you think it was so people would like him, come to listen to him?  Was he trying to be liked? 
            Jesus spent a lot of time touching, caring for, listening to, and engaging people that other people rejected.  Those with leprosy were outcasts.  They couldn’t live with their families and it was assumed that someone in their family or the person themself, must have done something wrong and that is why this person was sick.  Disease was seen as punishment.  Some people still have this thinking but they call it Karma.  While some have a different understanding of what Karma is (so I’m not knocking the idea itself), others believe that while it may not be clear why some suffer and others don’t, they must have done something to deserve it, either in this life or in a past life.  But Jesus first confronted it with words like “the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous.” and “He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these … proves that they were more sinful than all the others?  No, I tell you!”  But he went much further than just declaring that it wasn’t their fault that they were afflicted.
            He touched, he talked to and he healed any who were in need – the rejected, the outcast, the condemned, the judged, the dismissed.  He touched them, included them, treated them as the incredible and beautiful people that they were, regardless of how others treated them.
            I have a ten dollar bill here.  If I mangle it and squish it and stomp on it, if I make it dirty or even filthy, what is it then worth?  It is still worth ten dollars.  The appearance, the condition, the outward attributes of this money don’t change it’s worth.  Well, Jesus was able to see that this is the same with people.  He saw beyond the outside of the bill.  He saw beyond the dirt, the scrounge, the disease.  He saw beyond the vocations, the judgments, the rejections.  He saw beyond their mistakes, their sins, their choices.  He saw beyond all of that to who they WERE.  And who they were is the same as who you are – you are a child of God.  Worthy of infinite value. 
            I came across an article in Sojourner’s Magazine that was talking about Henri Nouwen.  Henri Nouwen was an amazingly gifted priest, professor and writer.  I love his books, I love the way he thinks.  He has a brilliant as well as deeply faithful and spiritual mind.  But after teaching for many years, he was invited to become pastor to a community of people with intellectual disabilities.  He soon discovered that they didn’t care how brilliant he was, and all the wonderful things he had written and taught just didn’t mean that much to them.  He told the story in one of his books, Life of the Beloved, of one particular woman, Janet who one day asked Henri for a blessing.  When he tried to bless her with the sign of the cross on her forehead she became very upset and said, “No, I want a real blessing!”  He didn’t know what to do with that, but that evening at worship, he mentioned that Janet had asked for a real blessing and she marched up to the front and gave him a huge hug.  In that moment, he found the words that were needed.  “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s beloved daughter.  You are precious in God’s eyes.  Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are.  I know you feel a little low these days and that there is some sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.”  She gave him a satisfied smile, but as Nouwen then turned away, he found himself bombarded with the others in the community also asking for blessings.  Henri gave each a hug and affirmation that they are loved as they are.  And Henri walked away a changed man.
            I am reminded of this clip.   The man who did this did one for men as well, but I’m just including the one for the women here:

            This is a beautiful sentiment.  But the reality is that it is a different thing when that kind of blessing comes from someone who really knows you and really loves you, when the blessing is genuine because it is real.  One of our lines that we sing is “This is what I’m sure of, I can only show love When I really know how loved I am. When it overtakes me, Then it animates me, Flowing from my heart into my hands.”

            Jesus not only healed bodies of the outcast, of the oppressed, of the disadvantaged, of the physically broken.  He healed their souls by showing them, reminding them, acting in a way that said beyond a doubt that they were loved and valued, that they were worthy, that God still saw them as more important and beautiful than anything they could imagine.  We are invited to do the same.  As we are called to follow, we heal others by showing them how loved they are.  Go into the world, affirming, uplifting, and healing one another.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sunday's Sermon - in the beginning

Genesis 1:1 - 2:4, John 1:1-5, Mark 1:4-11 

            According to the gospel of John, what is “the Word”?  It’s Jesus, actually.  Not scripture.  The Word of God is Jesus.  And we are told that, in the beginning, this third person of the trinity already existed.

            In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

            The Word was already in the world, it was there since the beginning.  Jesus, as the Word, was there from the beginning.  And yet Jesus was born and Jesus was baptized as one of us.  What does that mean? 

            As I mentioned at Wednesday evening’s service, Epiphany actually has three parts, or three events.  Epiphany is the revelation or revealing of who Jesus was.  The first part of the epiphany is the visit of the Magi, their recognition of who Jesus was, through the star, through their study and wisdom and their declaration of who Jesus was by their commitment to travel, to bring him gifts, to honor him.  The second part is what we read today, the revelation of Jesus by the Spirit descending on him like a dove, with the voice that came from heaven saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  The final piece of the epiphany is the assigned lectionary passage for next week which is Jesus’ first miracle or his turning the water into wine.  The Magi represented the revelation to the Gentiles of who Jesus was.  The Baptism was God’s own naming of who Jesus was.  And his first miracle was done for his own community, for those attending the wedding, or other Jews. 

            But baptism, the piece of epiphany on which we focus today also has other meanings for us.  And the fact that Jesus was baptized shows the extent to which God joined us in this human journey, including this, the baptism or the second revelation of God’s coming to be with us.  It was, for Jesus, as it is for us, a renewing.  It is a commitment to living in the way of Christ, in the way God calls us to be, it is a commitment to being God’s children and therefore doing our best to live with integrity, faith, love and grace.  It is also a commitment to see with eyes open what God is calling us to do and to then do it.

            There once was a little boy named Sam who was very excited about Halloween.  But his parents kept putting off getting his costume until finally the day of Halloween his mother came home with a costume that Sam hated.  It was of some comic book character who had been big once but who now was seen by all the kids to be ridiculous and only for the littlest of children.  Sam was devastated.  How could he ever wear this?  He couldn’t possibly go out on Halloween in this costume!  He was so upset, he ran down the street to where an older couple who had become surrogate grandparents to Sam lived.  He ran into their house and cried and cried about the terrible costume his mother had picked out for him.  Well, Norm, the older man thought for a few minutes and then he said to his wife, “Don’t we have some old costumes up in the attic from when our kids were children?”

“Why, I believe we do!”  she replied.  Up they all went into the attic and down they came with an old ghost costume.  Really, it was just a sheet with holes cut in it for the eyes.  But Sam was so thrilled with the costume, he just couldn’t wait to put it on.  With a look of awe in his eyes, he pulled the sheet down over his head and before anyone could stop him, he went running out the door to go trick or treating and ran straight through the yard and bam into a tree!  Norm saw this and he dashed out after him, picked up the little boy, but before he could stop him, there Sam took off again, running as fast as he could until bam he ran smack into another tree!  This time the force pushed him flat onto his back where he lay still until Norm came running up.  Norm wondered what on earth was going on until he looked into Sam’s face and realized that Sam had not lined up the eye holes to match his eyes.  He had been virtually blind, running around the yard, completely unable to see where he was going.  Norm gently but firmly took hold of the sheet, pulled it around until Sam was able to see through the eye holes, tied a rope around his waist to hold the costume in place and sent Sam off on a much more successful and enjoyable Halloween evening of trick-or-treating!

We, too, sometimes walk around in the dark, not because it is dark, but because our vision is covered, obscured in some way.  We sometimes fail to realize that we could see, if someone were to just help us adjust our costumes, adjust our outlook, adjust our approach, just a little bit.  Oftentimes it is this blindness which causes us to err, to sin, to take a wrong path so that somebody gets hit, whether it be just a tree or another person, someone gets hurt: and we obviously do as well.

On this, baptism of the Lord Sunday, we remember our baptism in which God comes and washes the dirt, the blindness, the darkness from our eyes.  The Spirit revealed Jesus on this day for all of us, the light which can guide us, bring us from the dark, help us to see.  And when we are baptized, we are called to see who we really are too – God’s children, chosen, called, loved into being.  It is the day when we celebrate that God offers us first, calls us first, even before we are able to ask for it, the gift of being made new, being made clean.  With its cleansing and renewing waters, then, we can see enough to give to others, to give to each other, to run around doing God’s work, hopefully without slamming into too many trees along the way. 

Today, on this second Sunday of Epiphany, we are called to reflect on the amazing gift of baptism that God has given to first Jesus, and then us.  It is a gift of remembering that God calls us into relationship with God.  It is a gift of remembering that God initiates care for us, call to us, purpose and meaning for our lives, before we are even old enough to choose to respond. It is a gift that says, “because I first chose you, because I first brought new life to you, because I begin your life by giving to you every day again and again; now you are called to return that gift to all God’s people, caring back, giving second chances to others, choosing to love and live and care for others in the way that I have cared for you.”  It is a gift, like the star, that shows us the light and invites us to use it to see.

Today as we install our new elders and deacons and recognize the trustees, we are given a concrete example of responding to the call that is within our baptisms with a “yes”.  It is not the only way.  And so, in all that we do, let us search for God’s call for our lives, invite God’s call into our lives, respond to God’s call for our lives with a “yes” and a “yes” and a “Yes”!  Amen.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stories of care...

At our adult study last night, we were talking about caring for one another and the importance of caring for even the least of us.  These two poems came to mind:

Poem by Martin Niemöller.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Unknown Author:

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall
To see the farmer and his wife open a package.
"What food might this contain?"  The mouse wondered.
He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.
Retreating to the farmyard,
The mouse proclaimed this warning :
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and scratched,
Raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse,
I can tell this is a grave concern to you,
But it is of no consequence to me.
I cannot be bothered by it."
The mouse turned to the pig and told him,
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The pig sympathized, but said,
"I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse,
But there is nothing I can do about it
But pray..
Be assured you are in my prayers."
The mouse turned to the cow and said,
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you,
But it's no skin off my nose."
So, the mouse returned to the house,
Head down and dejected,
To face the farmer's mousetrap
. . . Alone.. . ...
That very night
A sound was heard throughout the house
-- the sound Of a mousetrap catching its prey.
The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught.
In the darkness, she did not see it.
It was a venomous snake
Whose tail was caught in the trap.
The snake bit the farmer's wife.
The farmer rushed her to the hospital.
When she returned home she still had a fever.
Everyone knows you treat a fever
With fresh chicken soup.
So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard
For the soup's main ingredient:
But his wife's sickness continued.
Friends and neighbors
Came to sit  with her
Around the clock.
To feed them,
The farmer butchered the pig.
But, alas,
The farmer's wife did not get well...
She died.
So many people came for her funeral
That the farmer had the cow slaughtered
To provide enough meat for all of them
For the funeral luncheon.
 And the mouse looked upon it all
From his crack in the wall
With great sadness.
So, the next time you hear
Someone is facing a problem
And you think it doesn't concern you,
Remember ---
When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.
We are all involved in this journey called life.
We must keep an eye out for one another
And make an extra effort
To encourage one another.