Monday, November 15, 2010

Nov. 14 Sermon: Thanks

1 Thessalonians 5: 11-22
1 Chronicles 16: 7-14, 28-36

Hmm, I must've accidentally deleted the recording this week--notes only!

Met with the finance committee this past week. Two part series, First on Thanks and Second on Giving. Hahah! You’re stuck coming for the Giving sermon b/c you don’t want to miss the Thanksgiving pot luck!

Thanks:Taking? A response to what we have received , or a regular posture of gratitude in all things? Paul’s words for the Thessalonians is that we should be thankful “in all things.”
Hand getting tired from writing so many thank you notes.

Courtney would say this on the football field after we’d pair up doing our receiver’s drills. What is it about receivers that causes them to be so boisterous?

We were taught various methods of blocking, but perhaps the easiest way to block when we had someone covering us “man on man” was to just run off toward the endzone. If the cornerback failed to block us, then we could potentially be thrown the ball and then we would be able shout him down with “You betta recognize!”

Of course, this didn’t work as effectively with me. An observant cornerback would probably note that I was never really thrown the ball, and so there would be nothing to cover. Instead, I’d have to work for my blocks, because there was nothing to “recognize” with me.

There’s something I noticed about the hymns and professions of praise and thanks in the scriptures. They all go something like this. 23Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of his salvation from day to day. 24Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. In other words, “you betta recognize!”

There’s something about praise and thanksgiving that is connected intricately to the notion of spreading the word.

I know sometimes when someone has done something wonderful for me, I know they don’t want to feel put on the spotlight, and so a simple heartfelt expression of gratitude is the route I go.

God, on the other hand, loves the spotlight. God wants us to put Him in the spotlight in our lives, because that’s how other people will see God.

That’s one constant thread throughout all the scriptures of praise throughout the Bible. The call to Thank God for this or that is always followed by “tell everyone how great God is.”

I thought today’s theme of Thanks also applied to the civic holiday we recognized this past week in Veteran’s day too, don’t you think?

Most veterans I know, including my grandfather, don’t talk much about their service. They don’t necessarily want to be put on display for the great sacrifices they have made for all of us, but I can guarantee you that they probably sense our true thankfulness for their efforts on our behalf when we tell other people, when we teach our children about what a great privilege it is to live in this free country, and how that great privilege, purchased with the lives of our veterans, demands great responsibility.

If we simply accept the good without giving thanks, amnesia sets in and we begin to believe in another God. We begin to believe in the God who says we deserve what we have because we have worked for it. We begin to serve that God by taking without gratitude, by spending without thought of others, by living the “looking out for #1” life.

When we forget to live thanks, we forget that God is God and that we are not. God saves us from that trap by commanding us to remember—to remember who we were and the journey we have taken as a people. To remember that the bounty we share is a gift from God. IN the sharing of thanks, we remind each other of our gift.

As Paul says in the second letter to the Corinthians, “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” The more thanks we sow, the more thanks we will reap. If we live with a joyful and thankful heart, we will continue to live in joy. The generosity which is an outpouring of gratitude will multiply our gratitude. If we don’t feel thankful, then we probably need to give more.

It’s kind of like that odd fact that scientists have found that if you smile more, then you will be happier. Even if you just fake it—even if you’re not happy, if you smile more and often, the face muscles signal to our brains that things are going swimmingly, and research shows, our mood improves.
Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;
Brush off the clouds and cheer up,
Put on a happy face.
Take off the gloomy mask of tragedy,
It's not your style;
You'll look so good that you'll be glad
Ya' decide to smile!
Pick out a pleasant outlook,
Stick out that noble chin;
Wipe off that "full of doubt" look,
Slap on a happy grin!
And spread sunshine all over the place,
Just put on a happy face!
ThanksLiving is making this openness to God our lifestyle, our permanent dwelling place. Thanks-Living is making our heart an altar, and bringing the light of Christ to that altar. Have you noticed that oftentimes, it is easier to generate a sense of collective victimization than collective joyfulness? When we get together with people we may not know, sometimes we bridge the gap of unfamiliarity by gathering around the things we despise. We pump ourselves up on our shared troubles or worries or whatever it is that unites us negatively.

. Yes, it is our temptation to rally around our shared dislikes, complaints, and feelings of victimization. What would it be like to identify with one another by our thankfulness? What if, instead of uniting around our shared dislikes, we instead found a common bond in our shared gratitude?

This, I think is the community we are called to form under the banner, “Christianity.” When we live with thankfulness in our hearts and share that thankfulness with others, the things we have to be thankful for seem to multiply. Let’s take a moment to experiment with this. We’re a community of believers, and I would hope that we have a lot to be thankful for.

Monday, November 08, 2010

All Saints Day Sermon: To See with Blinding Sight

Scriptures: Isaiah 25: 6-9
Romans 6: 3-11
I always love the first day after daylight savings time.  Doesn’t everyone feel rested!?  I went to bed last night at 11:00!  And I look forward to waking up on school days and it being light outside.  I was starting to get really weary with this dark as the kids were getting ready for school thing.  Bad idea to move daylight savings time back a few years ago. 
But, one thing about it is that tonight, it’ll be dark at what, 5:45?  As the night comes sooner and the days continue to get shorter, it has always been a time of year when our ancestors contemplated life and death.  On the winter solstice, just a few days before Christmas each year, there were always celebrations of new life as the shortest day of the year also signaled getting over the hump and knowing that the days would be growing longer again instead of shorter. 
Is Death a friend or a foe?
A very complex question for which there is no easy answer, I think.  Our faith tradition sends us mixed messages.  On one hand, we downplay it or embrace it as the necessary passage between this life and the next.  Emphasis is put on the next life as the “eternal life,” the life that will never end, and so sometimes death is romanticized, and we picture for ourselves what comes after it as a reminder that death won’t be the end.  Talk about Mrs. Hunter’s Happy Death. 
At the same time, we have scriptures that seem to shake their fist at death, and it’s definitely seen as the enemy over which Christ gains victory.  But in order for Christ to gain that victory, he had to fall to its clutches. 

Through that gift, through that sacrifice, says the scriptures, the light of God shines into a world darkened and corrupted by sin.  The light that shines though our lives is beautiful and unique, like the colors coming through our stained glass windows, and that light continues to shine in a way even after we have gone on.  We are aware of that light that shines from the “cloud of witnesses” when we take time to remember those who have departed, as we do today.  We remember the dead, and we live with the comfort and the hope that we will be remembered after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil” to quote another great poet.  “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” (Tagore)

Carl and Tim recently fixed the porch light right on the outside of the prayer chapel door.  It’s on a timer, and when I look over at the church in the early evening hours, I can see this single window fully illuminated.  It’s the window that represents our baptism, and so it is a reminder of my baptism, and the fact that I, that we, are claimed by God.  That we’re welcomed into God’s family.  But right next to it, more faintly illuminated just because of the angle at which I’m looking at the sanctuary, is this window, the window that symbolizes the resurrection.  The event, the victory that makes the new life possible.  As Paul writes to the Romans in today’s scripture (brilliantly re-conceived by Eugene Peterson)

1-3So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we've left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn't you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
 3-5That's what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we're going in our new grace-sovereign country.
 6-11Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin's every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ's sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That's what Jesus did.



From the Ephesians text for All Saint’s Day, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”  I love these words and how they resonate with the poem that Duane read. 
I think that it is with these “eyes of our hearts” that we can “see with blinding sight” the hope that we are given.  It is because of this hope that we should live life as a precious gift and “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” 
Dylan Thomas felt the urge in humanity to not accept death, to rage against it.  To relish anything, whether a curse or a blessing from his own father, if it meant he was struggling against death.  It is what we are made to do. 
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 15 with kind of a gloating “smack talk” attitude toward death, So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where isthy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?


We don’t rage so much against the dying of the individual light so much as we rage against the dying of the light “which illumines everyone” in this world.  And the truth is that that light is not dying at all, but instead that we are drawing the sheet over our heads “because we loved the darkness rather than the light.”  So, when we say “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” we’re not doing battle with an inevitable truth but instead combating a lie. 
What is it that “dies inside us while we live?”  I think Jesus spoke of it when he said, “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 
When I was planning the children’s sermon, I had the memory of being in PE as a kid and loving the “parachute days.”  Did anyone ever do “parachute day” in PE?  We’d take this big multicolored parachute,
When I was a kid I remember we used to take a parachute and stand on its edge, then everyone at once would lift up their hands and then bring it down behind us and then sit on the edge.  It was good for teaching us coordinated action, I suppose, but it was also good for just filling us with wonder. 
That’s something you can only do with a group.  We are in eternal community.  You can’t get under a parachute and make a little bubble world of your own.  You can live in a bubble, but it is usually a false bubble that sooner or later gets burst by reality.  But, I think what was instigated in me by that little parachute bubble is something that will last my whole lifetime.  Every once in a while I come across something that stokes the fires of wonder in me.  And I feel like my eyes are “ablaze like meteors and gay.” 
If you don’t like people now, you might be pretty unhappy when you die!
That’s one reason we need to figure out how to love our neighbor, b/c the witness of scripture is that we are never going to escape it!

Dylan Thomas poem.
Living a life of light.  Peaceful, quiet death is what we hope for, but Thomas lifts up another ideal.  Being a beacon of life. 
Nothing puts us more in touch with our frailties and our failures than the prospect of dying, as Dylan Thomas points out.  But death also halts those who live life to the fullest.  Those who “caught and sang the sun in flight, and learned to late they grieved it on its way.”  It seems like we are bound to fail in some way in this life.  This is what we must all come to terms with.  We are imperfect, but we strive for perfection. 
And so, we “rage, rage, against the dying of the light” by living our life unto Christ.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Our lives are cherished and held together by God even after we die, and we participate in Christ’s resurrection.  Through it, we can be a light in the darkness, and we won’t die at all.