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Sunday, July 15, 2018

“The Gospel in Peanuts: The Wages of Sin are ‘Agggh’” Romans 6: 1-11

Perhaps what makes Charles Schultz, author of Peanuts, one of the most well known cartoonists of the time, is his ability to see cartoons as allegories. An allegory is a story with deep symbolic meaning. Isn’t that why many of us kept coming back to Peanuts week after week? To be sure, its funny, however, what makes it funny is the fact that we can see ourselves and our world in the characters as they interact with one another. There is a deep spiritual meaning rooted behind the words of the Peanuts children. 
There is a Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown is reading the paper and says to Lucy that the newspaper is reporting that people today don’t believe in any real causes. Lucy responds by going on for three frames about how she, of course, believes in causes. She believes in herself and she is her own cause. 
We see the allegory, right? On the surface, Lucy’s self-centeredness is funny because of how much she drags in out. But it also has some truth that rings through it, does it not?
In spiritual terms, Lucy has made her own self into an idol. As humans, our hearts are often drawn to such idols. In fact, Martin Luther described it in this way, “Whatever then thy heats clings to and relies upon, that is properly thy God”. It’s really similar to the idea we find Jesus teaching throughout the Gospels - if we look for where our treasure is, we will find where our heart is centered. In other words, what is our true, ultimate concern? For Lucy, it was herself. And while we may laugh at her brashness, for how many of us would that be the honest answer as well?
So what makes our hearts be drawn to idols - whatever they may be? Sin. Sin is not a popular word today. Certainly you will find church folks pointing out the sins of others, but how many times in the Church do we talk about our own sin, be it as individuals or as the collective body? As the church, we seem to realize that sin, which we talked about last week, is part of our story, but that doesn’t make us any more prone to talk about it in our own lives. Its always a problem out there, with “those people”, instead of at the root of our own wayward hearts. 
Enter Paul. Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans is writing to a group of people who are struggling with the connection between sin and grace. He begins by asking a really powerful question, that is supposed to be rhetorical, with the answer already obvious, only for some that isn’t the case. Paul asks - should we continue to sin so grace will multiply? By no means!
Friends, grace is also an intrugial part of our story as those who have claimed Christ as Lord and Savior. Grace is the gift of Jesus Christ, freely given to us. Its a gift of freedom and forgiveness. The gift that we see magnified in the cross. Paul wants to boldly proclaim that yes, Jesus came, while we were yet sinners and offered this most precious gift of grace. But we don’t need to continue to sin just so we can continue to receive grace. That’s not how it works. It is grace that has invited us into a new life in Jesus Christ, but the truth is that new life should change us. 
But sometimes we miss that point. Sometimes we miss that Paul wants to cut off any misunderstandings about the connection between sin and grace. Instead, Paul wants to point us to the change that our baptism should signify. We have died to sin! Praise be to God! 
This week I was reading a book about spiritual formation that gave one of the best descriptions of baptism I have ever read. From Brent D. Peterson, “The sacrament of baptism is a communal act of initiation whereby God offers healing and forgiving grace.” Did you catch that church, baptism offers healing. Healing from what? Our sinful nature. Peterson continues “Baptism should not be understood as what ‘God has already done in my life’ - a testimony of God’s past activity - instead it is the entrance into the community of faith, where we celebrate that it is God who continues to bless, heal, and sustain. Baptism is a celebration that a person finds life only by dying to a life of sin and selfishness.”
Because of Christ’s gift of grace, which we celebrate in baptism, who we once where is not who we are. The persistence and power of grace changes our life to the very core. Through baptism, we as Christians are united with Christ, both in his abundant life and in his defeat of death. 
Yet, for so many of us, do we truly claim the power of baptism in our lives? Are our lives transformed because of Jesus? Or do we still allow sin and idols to have dominion over us? Paul keeps talking about needing to be dead to sin - because honestly we don’t get it. Because the truth is church, either we need to be dead to sin, or sin is going to kill us. Maybe not physically. But sin kills our very souls. Thats why we say that the wages of sin are death - both because of what Jesus suffered and the fact that sin kills our souls. We need to experience a spiritual death in order to be brought back to new life in Christ. Being dead to sin in order to be alive to God. 
In baptism we proclaim with all we have and all we are that 1.) our identity is now in Christ Jesus and 2.) as a church we are going to support people on that journey. That we are going to support people who walk with Christ. Not just think about Christ or believe in Christ, though that is certainly important. But we are going to walk with each other on this journey of discipleship. Because what we believe should shape the way that we live. 
Too many folks claim to be dead to their sins, but really their lives are still chalk full of idols that they haven’t even realized. They claim to love Christ, but they don’t want to give up the security of the sin that they hold onto in their lives. 

Where are you today, Church? What is blocking you from maturing in your relationship with Jesus? Maybe you are still dead in your trespasses and have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Today would be a wonderful day to come to him and confess your sins and find that healing balm and forgiveness that is grace. Maybe you’ve accepted Christ but you are still an infant in the faith. You believe in Jesus, but the walk isn’t quite there yet. Maybe speak with another disciple today about how we can support you in your journey. Or maybe you are growing with God, but often your own preferences and expectations have become idols - and as a result, it feels like your stuck. Or maybe you’re on fire for Jesus Christ, but aren’t quite sure what to do with all of that zeal and passion. Would you speak to someone today about that as well? May we be people who stop saying, as Lucy did, that it is all about me, but instead join Paul in proclaiming that it is all about Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

“The Gospel in Peanuts: “The Whole Trouble”: Original Sin” Romans 7:15-25 Mark 7: 1-8,14-15, 21-23

07/08/18 “The Gospel in Peanuts: “The Whole Trouble”: Original Sin”
The Church of the Resurrection, the largest United Methodist Church in the United States, has a compelling purpose - to build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians. At first it seems like a purpose that we should all have as the Church, right? To reach out to non-religious and people who are seeking to know about Jesus but just aren’t sure yet. But I have to wonder how many of us do this well? How many of us put ourselves in a position to be used by God in a way that deeply connects with people who may not yet speak the Christian language or know much, if anything, about Jesus? How many of us would rather default to making people come to us and speak like us before we share the Good News?
We are now the second week of our sermon series focused on using things in the world around us as a connecting point to share the message of Jesus. In other words how we use things of this world to proclaim the power and glory of God. This year, our sermon series is focusing on the comic strip Peanuts, which ran for over 50 years. Perhaps what makes Peanuts so relatable is that it talked simply and honestly about life. How many of us could connect with at least one character from the comic strip - whether it was Charlie Brown, Linus, or Lucy?
What the creator of Peanuts, Charles Schulz realized was that art could reflect deep truths about life that we aren’t able to always grasp or put words around. Jesus understood this too - its why he told parables. Parables were stories that used common things that people would understand to talk about difficult things. While parables didn’t give easy answers, and in fact often led to more questions, it led people to think deeply about spiritual truths. How many people could look at a mustard seed after Jesus’s teaching and not hear his words about faith echoing through their minds? 
This week we are talking about a word that we hear a lot, but perhaps one that hasn’t sunk in for us yet - sin. There are a lot of definitions of sin, but the one that I keep returning to is missing the mark. In Genesis 3, we find sin entering the human story, as Adam and Eve chose to defy God and eat from the one tree they were forbidden from - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As they ate, their eyes were opened and they ran and hid from God. The result of this choice are long lasting, effecting all of human history.
This teaching about sin is often called original sin - or the belief that Adam and Eve’s choice led to their fall, which has effected all of human history since. In other words, as children of Adam and Eve, we have a bent towards sinning. It seems to be in our human disposition to choose to miss the mark, to choose to stay and hide from God. In our doctrine as United Methodists we put it this way: is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually. A lot of words, that if we summed it up would means that part of being human is having our will bent towards sinning. 
We understand that part about sin, at least in our minds. But often we stop there. We talk about sin as an abstract concept instead of something that deeply effects each of us today. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:  I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. That even though the desire to do good is inside of me - I don’t do it. Sin lives in me. 
Paul is considered one of the greatest teachers of the Christian faith. He planted church after church. He traveled countless miles by foot and by sea for the Lord. He was jailed and beaten for the sake of the Gospel. And even Paul, looks into his own heart and sees a bent towards sinning. For Paul sin isn’t about just committing immoral acts, its about something deep inside of us - the origin of who we are and what we are predisposed to do. Lucy explains this to Linus by saying that the human heart has both hate and love in it that are constantly at war with one another.
No one is exempt from this bent toward sinning. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is speaking to religious officials, folks who made their lives about the business of God. But somewhere along the way, sin took over even that, as rituals replaced ethics. Before we start wagging our fingers at the Pharisees I think we need to look at our own hearts and actions - why do we do what we do as the Church? What have we misinterpreted as being very important to God, when really it is our human preference? We, too, get trapped by how our faith looks from the outside instead of looking at how our faith asks us to change on the inside. 
Which is of course what Jesus is trying to point out. Faith isn’t just about looking from the outside like we don’t struggle with sin - its trusting God to change us from the inside out. A word that is used in scripture and can sometimes be used today is hypocrites.  Some of the words used to describe hypocrites include liar, pretender, and deceiver. But I don’t think its as sinister as that. Hyporcracy is when we pretend to have it together on the outside, without checking how we are on the inside - which leads to a disconnect. 
For Paul that type of disconnect comes from putting our hope and trust in something other than Christ. For so many during that time it was the law - thinking that one could become righteous simply by following the rules, but the problem is that rules don’t change lives. 
Which is why we need a Savior. Sin is this active power in our lives trying to distance us from God. We are all sinners. We have all fallen short. And it is Christ alone that can restore us. That, friends, should be our hope and what we put our faith in - yet all too often we try to earn grace and forgiveness on our own. Or we talk about how Adam and Eve led us to be this way, without taking time to examine how sin still troubles each of our human hearts.
There is a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy telling Charlie  Brown“you know what the trouble is with you Charlie Brown?” He walks away “That you won’t listen to what the trouble with you is”. Because of sin, we too, don’t listen, brothers and sisters. Our hard hearts become a barrier to accepting Christ. And sometimes we try every conceivable way but Christ to find freedom from sin. We try looking like we have it altogether - but that is just a surface change. We try to earn our way through good deeds - but we can’t rescue ourselves from sin. We try to bring order to our lives as a form of security - but that doesn’t change our being. Only Christ can break the bonds of sin in our lives. 
For Paul, sin wasn’t about breaking rules, even though that is far too often how we talk about it. For Paul, sin was about distorting our relationship with a Holy God. We can sin, not just by what we do (sins of commission), but also by leaving things undone (sins of omission). We are fighting a losing battle against sin, my friends. Which is why we need a Savior. 

Original sin tells us why we do what we do, but the cross tells us that the victory has been won. Original sin is the frustrating part at the center of our being that tries to pull us away from God, but Christ, through his death and resurrection says that it doesn’t need to be this way. Do we have the humility today to accept the gift that Christ has offered and come and confess that we, too, are a sinner in need of grace?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

“The Gospel in Peanuts: The Church” 1 Cor. 9: 16-23

On October 2, 1950, a comic strip came out that ran in newspapers for over 50 years. This comic strip was funny, but it also spoke deep truths about life. It was made into TV specials and books as well as a full length feature film. What comic do you think had such a wide impact? If you guessed Charles Schutlz’s Peanuts then you were correct!
How many of us have seen the case of characters from Peanuts appearing in our newspapers and on the TV? When I was little, we used to have a ritual with my dad. After Sunday School and Church we would go to the grocery store to pick up something for lunch and the Sunday papers. I always got to read the comics first, in full color on Sundays, and I had my favorites, including Garfield, Family Circus, and of course Peanut. 
As I look back on Peanuts now, as an adult, I have an even greater appreciation for the humor of Charles Schultz, for it didn’t just get to the punch line, but often in just a few frames could speak deep truths about our faith life, if only we would just look deeper and notice. 
For the past several years in the summer we have engaged in sermon series focused on seeing the Gospel of Christ in the world around us. Why do we need to have sermon series like this? Because I think its important that we have ways to engage the world around us in order to bring out the Gospel truths. More and more, we are finding that the folks around us, didn’t grow up going to church, yet are spiritually seeking. If we can use every day things that they understand, we have an opening to proclaim the Gospel in a way that can sink into hearts and change lives.
That being said, I’ll give the same disclaimer that I feel the need to give every year - we are not saying that Peanuts is the Gospel. Instead we are saying that it is a lens we can use to explain Jesus to folks. 
In some ways, I think we find ourselves asking the same question that the Psalmist raised so long ago in one of my favorite Psalms, 137. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? In some ways the context of the Psalm doesn’t fit us today - for here the Israelites are in Babaloyian captivity. They have been told to sink down their roots because they are going to be here a while. And now it would seem like their captors are mocking them, at the worst, or not understanding their religious songs, at the best, as they ask them to sing those songs. So the Israelites are wondering how they can sing the songs of God when they aren’t in Jerusalem, aren’t in their comfort zone, aren’t in the temple. 
But perhaps that is where we can resonate with the Psalmist today - for in a lot of ways it may feel like we are living in a foreign land. The world around us is rapidly changing. More and more of our neighbors are either leaving church, not going to church, or even more common, simply didn’t grow up in church. They don’t know why this God language that we use has value for their lives when they are simply trying to make enough money to raise their families and keep up with their ever-busy schedules. How can we sing (or share) the gospel truth today, in this type of context? 
It can often feel like we are Charlie Brown in an old strip from Peanuts where he is going around shouting again and again, louder and louder “Believe Me!” With everyone passing him by, until at last he sits down, defeated, head in his hands, saying “I guess no one believes me.” It seemed like no one was listening. No one was connecting with his message. 
Which brings us to our scripture from the Apostle Paul this morning. The Corinthians are sort of being a pain in Paul’s side. He loves them dearly. He invested time in them, setting up their community, teaching them about the ways and mission and ministry of Jesus - then when he left to go on to the next church plant, everything seemed to fall apart. The individual behavior in the community was awful. The way they were treating one another was worse. And now they are starting to doubt what Paul taught them, so he has to write this letter to set them straight. 
Two important things - first Paul has to defend himself as an apostle - a proclaimer of the Gospel. However, while he is speaking about himself, it is also true of all believers. By virtue of our baptisms, we are all called to share the Gospel. All. Robert Short, who has written several books about Peanuts and the Gospels, sums it up this way: “The job of the Christian, in everything he does, is to make down the good new of the victory already won.”
But we have to think about how we proclaim the Gospel. I vividly remember one day in college where I had to walk past a man with a very large sign on an even larger pole that was shouting at all the girls, and only the girls, who walked by that all of the women at my university were going to hell. He didn’t know us. But he thought that was his way of sharing the Gospel. Paul tells us that we not only need to be careful about how we share but also think about why we share - we don’t proclaim the Good News in order to boast about ourselves, we do it because we love Jesus. Because we are obligated to share because we are believers. 
Second, Paul points out that we get the privilege of sharing the Gospel by meeting people where they are at - not just in terms of physical location but also in terms of spirituality. Friends, we have to meet people where they are. I can’t stress that enough. If we start using church-y words that are super familiar to us, but mean nothing to people who haven’t heard them before, we can quickly lose someone’s attention and privilege to speak to them about Christ. Even using what used to be familiar Bible stories, don’t hold as much familiarity. So we begin where people are. 
Where do you meet people in your every day coming and going that gives you the privilege to form relationships? For me, one of my passions in ministry are called Fresh Expressions - going to where you naturally are and discerning if God is stirring up something new there - a new way to talk to people about God. For me, that happens a lot at the YMCA teaching exercise classes, or down at The Painting Broad. A few months ago, I had two ladies that stumbled upon our Paint and Pray there, not realizing what it was, but wanting to engage in the project. By the end, they were asking me to pray for them as they left. Friends, that is meeting people where they are and being open in how we share the Good News. 
Here’s the thing - I am not where you are. I am not always with you as your pastor. So it is on you to share about Jesus with what you do and say at your work places, grocery stores and meetings. Around your kitchen tables and at your kids schools. When we limit to being a Christ follower to Sunday morning, fiends we are missing the mission field, where God is sending us to be in deep, real relationships with folks, and relating to people where they are. Where are you called to meet people and in what ways is God leading you into conversation. 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to us as the bodily form of love. We are now called to go and share that love with others. Key word being go. Using the things God has put in front of us is not about making our church the new popular place to be, or making grace cheap, its about inviting people into conversations that matter. Using the language we have been given to reflect the message of grace and beauty to a world that is yearning to hear it. Let us go forth and exist into our purpose church, to raise up disciples and transform our world, all in the name of the one who loves us. Amen. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

“The Gospel of Luke: The Good Samaritan” Luke 10: 25-37

I have often been asked by church folks if I get worried about talking about non-Christians about faith. My response often surprises them. I would much rather talk to someone who is seeking faith or does not yet know Christ then talk to Christians who think they know all the answers. We need to look no farther then today’s scripture passage to see why.
The story of the Good Samaritan is one that perhaps you already know. Countless Bible Studies and Sunday school lessons have been taught on it over the years, as well as numerous sermons preached. But I want to invite you to set aside what you may already know about this story today and explore it with open hearts and open ears. 
Let’s start back at the beginning of this story - the part that often gets left out. A lawyer came to Jesus and asked him a very specific question - “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Friends, a whole sermon could be preached just on this question. This lawyer, or legal expert as some translations call him, was an expert in scripture - thats what lawyers were back in that day. He was one who would have studied the scripture with meticulous detail, and guess what, he isn’t asking this question because he is truly curious or seeking. He is asking this question because he already has an opinion and he wants to justify what he already believes. 
What does he already have an opinion on - how to gain eternal life. As modern day Christians we may assume that he is asking how to get to heaven or how to obtain a life after death, but that isn’t what he is asking at all. Instead, eternal life, was here and now and it was the fullest, most richly blessed life that you could live. 
Do you see now why I dislike talking to Christians who think they know it all, or enter a conversation not with an open heart but instead wanting to justify themselves? Its just like the lawyer in this text who wants Jesus to give him the thumbs up that he is doing everything right - proving that he was right all along. 
But Jesus saw right into the man’s heart, and instead of giving him a pat on the back, he responds with a question of his own - what does the law say and how do you interpret it? Jesus wanted to engage the man further, seeing where his own justification lie. To which the man replied. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” - right of Deut.  and Leviticus. 
Jesus then answered that the man was right and that he should live into what the law says. But that answer didn’t satisfy the lawyer at all. He wanted to prove that he was the best of the best, and that he was going to get eternal life right here, right now - so he asked Jesus who his neighbor was - which enters us into the story commonly referred to as the Good Samaritan. 
There is a lot that we can miss in our modern day understanding of this story - so lets start with the road that ran from Jerusalem to Jericho. First, it was dangerous. It was not a road that you would want to travel alone, as it was often inhabited by thieves. Why? Because of the way that it was formed. The road was only a few feet wide - with a steep drop off on one side. Thieves could hide behind boulders and then ambush folks, because there was literally no place to run to. 
We can assume because Jesus didn’t give the man’s religious affiliation that he was a Jew. A man like the one who asked the question that led to the story in the first place. He was robbed, beaten up, and left for dead. And then other folks started to walk past him. Now I have heard plenty of justification over the years as to why those who walked by - specifically the priest and Levite - didn’t help the man. But saying that they didn’t see the man does not work. Remember - narrow road - only a few feet wide with no other side of the road - they literally almost had to walk right over him in order to be on their way. They had to choose to ignore him. 
But, thankfully, a third person stopped by, a Samaritan. Jews didn’t like Samaritans at all. They disagreed about teachings in scripture and as a result Jews were not to have contact with the Samaritans. Yet, it was this man, the one who wouldn’t have been treated kindly by the injured man in any other circumstance, who stopped what he was doing and took care of the man, going above and beyond to continue to pay for his needs until he was healed. 
Jesus ends the story by asking, What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves? And the lawyer couldn’t even bring himself to say the Samaritan - all he could say was the one who demonstrated mercy.
Friends, we may have heard this story before. And we may have heard about how it is a story about helping those in trouble, which is certainly true. But there is a deeper power to this story than just that. This lawyer would never have thought there could be such a thing as a Good Samaritan - in fact, even at the end of the story he couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge either inside of his heart or through his words. 
Who are our neighbors? Perhaps those people who are most unlike us. Perhaps those people who we even dislike. 
I think the first time I remember hearing this story was in Kindergarten Sunday school class, complete with a flannel graft board with pictures. Over the years I have heard it again and again - it was often one that we even acted out in class, because it could be performed without words. Why do we keep coming back to this story, friends? Because we get it. Even kids understand the type of people in this story - there are people who are “in” and people who are “out” at school. And there is a deep truth in this story that sometimes its the people who are outsiders who are willing to give it all, even if other people may not be willing to do that for them. 
We get this story even starting at a young age. But that doesn’t make it any easier. We need to keep coming back to this text that we are almost too familiar with, because it hasn’t changed us yet. We may still be the priest of the Levite - people who know the law to love God with all we have and all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it hasn’t really changed us yet. We still stick to our categories or who is in and who is out, and we keep pushing the people on the outside further and further away. 

But the truth of this story - the hard truth - is that God hasn’t given up on that person who may not be like us. God isn’t like the Levite or the priest, so we shouldn’t be either church. Instead, God binds us together. God transforms us together - if only we let Him. May we go forth from this place, not looking for who is in and who is out, but instead listening to the call of the God who invites us to love our neighbor, all our neighbors, even those most unexpected. Amen. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Gospel of Luke: Calming the Storm Luke 8: 22-25

If I had to pick my favorite Gospel it would be the Gospel of Luke. There was a time in the life of the church, where new believers would be encouraged to read the Gospel of John - though I could never quite understand why this is where we wanted folks new to the faith to start, since the Gospel of John, while beautifully written, often speaks in language that can be difficult to grasp. Others have been encouraged to read the Gospel of Mark - but everything happens so quickly in this Gospel (where the most frequently occurring word is ‘kai’ - ‘and’) that it is easy to skip right over something important. 
I love the Gospel of Luke because it focuses on the totality of Jesus’s ministry - from before his conception through his death and beyond - connecting seemlessly with the other books authored by Luke the Physician - Acts. It speaks of miracles and healings. Teaching and parables. All of Luke’s writings are pointing us towards a God who loved us enough to send a Savior.
For the next three weeks we are going to be exploring the Gospel of Luke together, picking up on some the key stories found within. Today we start in the eighth chapter of the Gospel with the the calming the sea.
One day, Jesus and his disciples ventured across the lake. However, while they were sailing a storm hit. Let’s pause here. When we say that the disciples were in a boat, I think many of us have grand visions of what a boat would look like during this time. We may not be thinking ocean liner or ark, but we are definitely thinking more than a modern fishing boat. But a fishing boat it was. One that would easily be swept up and take on water during a large storm. 
For my parents 30th wedding anniversary, our family ventured to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It was truly a week full of family and celebration - from renewing their vows on the beach to renting a pontoon boat to watch the sunset one evening. If you have ever been on a pontoon boat - they also can take on water. If you want to steer clear of the spray, you are told not to sit in certain locations and even then you are probably going to get a little wet. That’s with the weather being good. Seeing what happened on a beautiful day in that pontoon boat, I would never want to be caught in one in a storm.
Yet the disciples found themselves in something probably equivalent in size, if just a bit larger and maybe with a lower level on it, then that pontoon boat. In a storm. Those disciples who had previous lives as fishermen would have known about life on the water - and they would also know about the power of the storm. The boat was taking on too much water and the knew that they were in danger. 
I think many of us know about the power of storms in our own lives as well. Perhaps it is a natural storm. I have shared with a few of you - that at an early age my brothers and I became avid shop-vac users, because my parents basement would flood when it rained too hard and too fast. We lost toys and photos and records and books, and quickly learned not to leave things in the basement that we were prizes possessions. 
For others of us, the storms we face aren’t ones from nature but ones from around us - storms of rock relationships, divorce, estranged family members. The storms that you know are coming - like when you have to go a family reunion where you know you will face the same people making the same hurtful comments, and the storms that completely take you by surprise. 
Still for others it may be the storms that we face within - addictions. Illness. Private struggles. Those things that we try to keep to ourselves, while the waves inside seem like they are breaking us apart. 
Jesus, too knew about storms. All sorts of storms. Just in the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we find him telling his disciples that his family is really those who listen and respond to the Word of God, as he is told that his family is looking for him. He heals a man possessed by demons and a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. He raised a daughter from the dead. Jesus was seeing daily the effects of storms in people’s personal and communal lives. 
Here’s the problem church. All too often we let the story end there. We talk about the storm. And then stop. We forget the next part of the story. The part where the disciples recognized their need and went and got Jesus and he calmed the wind and the waves. The disciples thought they were going to drown and parish and Jesus brought peace. 
Friends, the storm is not the end of the story. Jesus is. Jesus who brings healing. Jesus who brings peace. The problem is that we often are only looking for Jesus to show up in a very particular way, and if things don’t turn out the way we want - then we assume that Jesus wasn’t there. We want the Jesus from this story, who stops the storm immediately, and no other way.
However, that isn’t always the way that Jesus’s peace works. I was recently talking to a friend who has had a rough year. Nothing has seemed to go the way she and her family had planned. Yet now, even with the midst of the storm still going on, she was able to say that Christ has been with her. In fact, if things would have went her way, then she would probably be even worse off then she could imagine. For her the peace of Christ was recognizing his presence in the fact that things didn’t go her way, and didn’t go her way for a reason far beyond her understanding. 
Often we read what happens next as Jesus accusing the disciples of not having faith, but what if instead Jesus is asking them, where is your faith located? Is it truly with me? The one who can calm the wind and the waves. The one who has perfect ways and perfect timing? Are you with me, even when the storms of life are raging, or are you swept away? Are you in awe and wonder of me because of what I have done or because you know who I am? 
Friends, the hope is this story is not located in the storm that no one wanted to be in. The hope is located in Jesus. Do we have confidence in the power and authority of Christ, even when the storms come rolling in? And in the midst of the storm, do we know who to cry out to? 
It is so easy for us to get caught up and lost in the storm, even as the church. And when our eyes get focused on the wind and the waves, it is hard for us to declare the hope in this passage and in our lives, even as the church. What storms are you facing in your life today? And do we proclaim more about the storm then about the Master over them? Let us cry out, again, O Church, to Jesus. Amen. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

“Life Together: Communion and Confession” 1 Cor 11: 23-26

I am a big fan of going to the movies. One of my favorite movies I saw this year was The Greatest Showman which told the story of P.T. Barnum, who was the founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. But I also have a hard time just watching movies - often when I’m sitting there I find myself saying “This will preach” and brothers and sisters, parts of that movie will preach. 
As Barnum was first setting up his museum of oddities, it was mostly wax figures and an utter failure. Later, he had the idea to invite people who were outcasts in society to be part of the show, playing up their oddities, and forming a family in the process. 
There is one particular scene where Barnum was trying to make himself acceptable to high society by inviting a famous singer to come to America and perform. When he was asked where his circus family could sit for the performance, he stuttered and stumble, trying to figure out the best place to hide them so they wouldn’t be seen by the high society folks. When they came in after the performance to meet the singer they were shooed away. Until they came right into the middle of everyone, singing about their pain, before they proclaim “ And I know that I deserve your love.” 
This wasn’t the only time that the circus family were mistreated - in fact, there were protestors outside of the circus telling them to go home. But in the scenes where they found themselves being unwelcome - be it by the protestors or the high society folks or even Barnum himself, I found myself wondering a very hard but powerful question - who is it that we turn away and are not welcome amongst us as the church?
Paul was deeply struggling with the church in Corinth. They were quite frankly not behaving as the church. A little bit of background - communion in the early church was not celebrate necessarily as it is today - as part of the service. Instead, they would learn from one other, in homes, and share a meal together at the end, what we would call an agape meal, where they share of their bounty and remember the Lord Jesus. It was in this context of the shared meal that the Eucharist would be celebrated.
Except in Corinth your place at the agape meal was quickly boiling down to who you knew and what you had in terms of wealth. Those who had less were relegated to eating last if there was anything to be had at all. So much for a meal to celebrate the love and abundance of God. People were being shooed away from the table of God because they were being told that they weren’t good enough. As if they were being told through the actions of the church that they didn’t know the right people or have enough wealth to be present. 
I can hear the mutterings - but Pastor Michelle. We don’t do anything like that. We welcome everyone. On the surface that may be true - but I have to ask - do we really? When people come as guests to the church do we go out of our way to get to know their names, or is it weeks before we introduce ourselves or get to know them? When people come with young children, do we wish the children would be quite or do we realize that the giggles and cries of children are the life blood of our congregation? Do we tell people to come as they are - or do we really mean that they need to get their act together - acting like we do and understanding church rituals - before they are welcome? 
Paul is urging the Church in Corinth to open themselves up to truly be a welcoming congregation, by remembering. Paul tells them about the tradition from the Lord - around the celebration of Holy Communion, because quite frankly they had forgotten. These are folks who were rooted in remembering - but they had made it all about them. They heard the words “this is the body of Christ broken for you” and took it to be singular. Only them. And it led to incredibly selfish and harmful behaviors.
Recently, a fellow pastor posted the following statement about the church on his facebook page: “No one should feel more welcome in your church than the screaming baby, hormonal kid, or defiant teenager” Is that true for us church? Or do we want everyone to behave a certain way so we can get something out of the service, instead of seeing the service as a place where grace is poured out for all - no matter what you may be going through.
There is a tradition that we sometimes don’t follow when we celebrate Holy Communion - the part of the liturgy where we confess our sins before God and one another. While I understand why this is often glazed over - maybe we need a good time of confession again church. And not the time of confession, where we tell other people how they hav sinned, but instead on where we confess when we didn’t really act as the church. Weren’t welcoming to the stranger. Weren’t open to the new mom with the screaming baby or the person sitting in our seat. The times where we may not have said “go home and get it together before you come back” but sure acted like. 
I think part of remembering isn’t just remembering the story of Jesus that we celebrate during Holy Communion - how he gathered his disciples together and celebrated this holy mystery and gift of a meal with them, which we continue to celebrate as a church until he comes again. I think Holy Communion is also an invitation to each of us to remember as well. To remember what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ. To remember a time when we were a stranger and someone welcomed us. And to remember that we, too, are a sinner saved by grace. Sometimes just like the prayer of confession is glazed over, so is the fact, brothers and sisters, that we are all sinners. Every single one of us. 
The church in Corinth didn’t find themselves abusing the communion table over night. It started as the root of all sin does with pride - thinking that they were better than the person next to them. And because they thought they were better they didn’t think that their sin was as bad, so of course they were more welcome at the table. Dietrich Bohnhoffer points out that the more isolated we are the more power sin has over us, and the more we become involved in sin, the more isolated we become. 

Friends, it is time that we come before God and confess. Confess the times we have acted like the church in Corinth. The times pride has tricked us into thinking our sin isn’t as bad as our neighbors. Let us confess, and then open ourselves up to the transformation that can come by remembering who we are - as the people who hunger and thirst for true communion with God and with one another. Amen. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Life Together: Ministry” 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians always amazes me. It has sections that are often quoted, chiefly a passage about love that is used as weddings. But if we read the surrounding chapters, we find that Paul needs to speak to the church in Corinth about love because they are behaving so poorly towards one another. Not acting as the church of Jesus Christ. 
By second Corinthians, where we find today’s scripture passage, it appears that the situation has not improved. Paul again writes to the church and essentially tells them to get their act together, because what is at stake is so high. At a first glance it may seem like Paul is concerned about his ministry - his authority. But really Paul is passionately pleading with the church to put the ministry of Jesus Christ first; its because the stakes are so high that Paul’s emotions are high.
The truth is sometimes we miss the point as the local church. Sometimes we get so caught up in the trivial, because it feels important to us at the time, that we surely miss the point. Our District Superintendent a few years ago shard the story of a church that fought over the color of new carpet for their sanctuary. I served a church that fought over nursery renovations. Another church over kitchen space and supplies. Do you see a pattern developing here? Sometimes we get so caught up in the physical building that we forget that we, together, are the body of Christ in ministry to the world. Our building is a wonderful tool that we are to be good stewards of, but it is not the church with a capital ‘C’.
Think about all of the things that you have heard of churches fighting over - money, calendars, space, special traditions, special worship services - I’m sure you could think of a few things to add to this list as well. None of those things are actually the Church. Yes, they are gifts and tools, we use to do the ministry and mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world - but when we get so caught up in them that we fight, we’ve missed the point. 
While we read bits and pieces of scripture during church and Bible Study and personal devotions, when the scripture was first given, it wasn’t written with chapters and verses and headings. This letter of Paul to the Church in. Corinth - was just that - a letter. It was meant to be a continual reading - and sometimes we miss the connections in studying scripture the way we do. This passage of scripture comes right after Paul reminding the church in chapter five that they are to be ambassadors for Christ -  a representative of Christ who speaks of and acts for his mission in the world. Not our mission, Christ’s mission, bringing the message of God’s grace. 
Instead, we find that the Church in Corinth misused and misunderstood that mission in just about every way possible. They fought about who was the greatest. They treated some members of the body of Christ as better than others. They even mistreated Timothy when he came bearing Paul’s message to them. 
But before we find ourselves scolding the Corinthians - I have to ask, have we ever acted that way? Have we always act as if we have a common ministry or do we sometimes argue about who’s the greatest? Maybe we don’t use that exact terminology - but isn’t that what’s at the root of most church fights - about how we spend money, who gets what what space on the calendar, even around special traditions and worship services, as well as building choices - we want our preferences to win. We may truly stand firm in the belief that we want what is best for the church - but when we think of the Church as our brothers and sisters, these people around us, engaged in mission together - is our preference really what is best or is it simply just a preference? 
Then we run the risk of taking our preferences a bit further by using them to categorize people - you are either with me or against me. Perhaps that is why the Corinthians treated Timothy so badly - they say him as being with Paul and against them. We create sides instead of letting the Spirit leads, and the division deepens. 
Another way we can create further division is by judging our brothers and sisters, using ourselves as the measuring stick. Dietrich Bohnhoffer writes, “Self-justification and judging others go hand in hand”. When we think that we are better than someone else - we often let others know it by our words and actions. We speak poorly of one another. And guess what Church, that behavior is known by the outside community. The Corinthians let their tongues tear one another down - and it wasn’t just them - we find James writing to a community of believers about this problem as well. And when the tongue runs ramped - it leaks out to non-believers. We may think our judgments and dirty laundry stays in house - but it doesn’t. Why would anyone want to come and be part of a community that treats one another poorly? 
So what is the way for the Corinthians, and for us, to truly engage in the mission and ministry of being ambassadors for Jesus Christ? First, we give ourselves away through active service. Being part of this community, the Church, the body of Christ, is not so much about asserting ourselves and our preferences, as it is about serving others. And what better way to learn to serve others in the world than to learn to serve each other? Active service is all about looking for the opportunities that God puts in our path to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. 
When I was in college I was on the ministry council for my building - we planned way to encourage students and encourage relationships. One evening, we were planning a cookout next to the building. I set up and was preparing everything when I got a phone call from a friend in need. I just sat with her for the next several hours listening, as she poured her heart out to me. I remember that the RA overseeing the event was not pleased with my absence until I said that this is what encouraging students and encouraging relationships looks like - listening to a friend in need. Serving one another with the opportunities that God puts in our path, even if it doesn’t neatly fit into our schedules. 
We serve one another when we truly listen Church. Not just listen until we get our turn to speak to make our point known, but rather listening from the heart, as a sign that we are bearing one another’s burdens. 
Second, we recognize that we are all in this together. There is no one greater in the chain of ministry than another - we are all linked together. When we find ourselves judging others or judging a situation, take time to ask -  am I truly serving God to bring God honor and glory or is this about honoring myself? Because we cannot put ourselves above others when we serve by thinking ourselves better than them.
Brothers and sisters, the truth is somewhere in our church history we have probably acted like the Corinthians - arguing about anything and everything, because we lost sight of our true mission and purpose. We need to refocus on what it means to be the body of Christ. Christian community isn’t about holding preferences and interests in common - its about serving God and witnessing to our faith. Its about mutual charity and servant leadership. May we seek to be the body of Christ - brothers and sisters - serving one another and serving the world as we make disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.