Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent 2 Sermon: Pause

Isaiah and Matthew
That’s how we should be during Christmas season. All the hustle and the bustle—Advent is about pausing. About reflecting. Can you imagine the wonder in our acquantaintance’s faces, kind of like those passers by in Grand Central Station?

Have to adjust to life knowing that the real world isn’t like a DVR. We can’t just pause it!

That’s what the season of Advent is all about. It is about pausing it. It’s about waiting. There’s all these scriptures and songs and liturgies, they’re full of words like “wait” and “watch.”

Today’s scriptures are like that. “Prepare the way of the Lord!” How do we do that? By sweeping the leaves off the front porch? I got a call from someone the other day who was going to stop by the parsonage, so I went outside and saw the pile of leaves on my front porch and thought, “that’s not very welcoming!” So I went out there and swept them up and then bagged them up in a garbage bag.

I think you can mentally and spiritually do this by spending more time in silence. By “pausing it,” especially during this season amidst all the hustle and bustle and decorating. The family got all our Christmas stuff out and we have boxes of stuff all over the place, our house is a wreck, but you know what—we have lights on the tree and ornaments, and it just looks magical. One of my favorite things to do (and to my delight, my kids love doing it with me) is laying down with my head under the tree looking up through the branches at all the lights and ornaments glowing through the fir needles. I said to Wesley the other day that this is what it must feel like to be a present. This is what it feels like to be present. Yes, even with boxes of stuff all over the wrecked house, taking a moment to lay there with your head under the tree with your kids, or perhaps the prayerful equivalent, is a spiritual “clearing off the porch” to prepare the way of the Lord. Why? How? Because it’s a good place to listen. That’s how we prepare—we listen. We wait. We cultivate silence in our day, so it’s not just jam packed and messy with all the “I gotta do’s”

You know the problem with those leaves on the front porch? You sweep them off, and then somehow they come blowing right back. I don’t understand the fact that my east facing house gets all these leaves nestling up against the front door, but it happens. That’s why all throughout these four weeks the theme of Advent is waiting.

In today’s scripture, we hear from John the Baptist, the voice in the wilderness, setting the formula for us. Part of the expectant waiting of Advent involves a harkening back to the voices of promise and hope found in the prophets.

He’s pushing the pause button, in a way, on what is going on in the world all around him. He looks at the temple system of worship and he sees corruption. He looks at the monarchy or his own country and he sees overfed users of the poor and oppressed in league with an occupying army. He looks at all this and he says “Pause it!” Wait! Listen! There is one coming who will judge all of this corruption. There is a doctor coming who will diagnose our illness and offer us a cure.

Instead of the same routine, the prophets invite us to look at the world with creative eyes. How can we be ambassadors of peace?
Show “G

How can we bring news of the Christ child in ways that don’t just meld into the background of all the trappings of the season? Can that last video be a metaphor for an invitation that you might hear on this day. How can your life be an accompanying song to the ever present jingling bell of need?
Wait! Listen! Amen

Community Thanksgiving Sermon: Banquet of Grace

Text Luke 15: 13-21

Don’t need to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner, you come when you’re part of the family, right? I remember the first time I went to my wife’s extended family thanksgiving meal. Things were a bit different than what I was used to. Now there’s an experience. Oysters at Thanksgiving? And yet, there they were in a casserole.

Banquet table an important place to be according to our scriptures: You heard the Isaiah passage where God swallows up death forever—many times this is read at funerals, and my own church heard it just recently on All Saint’s Day when we toll the bell for all who have died over the past year. That banquet sounds delicious, doesn’t it?! Well aged wines and lots of marrow! Yum! But, the important thing about that banquet isn’t what is served, but instead who’s invited—you heard it in the text, “people of all the nations will come to the Holy mountain.” That must’ve been interesting to the people who first heard Isaiah’s message. God was pushing the boundaries. In fact, God was simply stating that our “boundaries” don’t mean anything to him.

We have another banquet table in the much loved 23rd Psalm, and once again, the table is set with people we might not expect to see there. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Hmm, that’s odd—I thought banquets were supposed to be something you shared with friends and family. That’s what we do, right?

Then you have all the banquet parables that Jesus tells in the Gospels, such as when a King throws a wedding banquet for his son, and everyone rejects the invitation, so the king sends his messengers out to invite the street urchins and rejects, and that’s who we find around the table at God’s banquet.

It’s at a table that the two disciples see the resurrected Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” after they’ve walked with him and they’ve talked with him but not recognized him. After they plead with him to stay even though he seems intent on walking on, he stays, and then they see him. They came into the banquet.

Later on, Peter and Paul come to blows because Peter seems embarrassed in front of the Jerusalem apostles because he had taken Paul’s advice and what? Eaten with the Gentiles. These unexpected people who showed up at God’s table and are hungry for what is there.

What is there? What is the succulent marrow of life? It’s grace. You see it there in the story of the Prodigal son—it runs throughout the story.

. At the end of our parable today, we see the same thing—a party. And then we see one of our characters, who is actually the main character considering who Jesus is speaking to when he tells this story, we see him sulking outside the party, whining that his father has been unfair.
We see him distancing himself from his brother, “this son of yours,” he says. "The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." (TS Elliot) This doesn’t just apply to the prodigal son, it applies to the older son as well. The older brother is faced with a decision. He chose not to go exploring. He chose not to have parties with his share of the inheritance. Instead he chose to silently stay and fester. How he came to utilize his father’s inheritance evidently came to weigh him down with the burden of resentment.
For all those years, he directed his resentment toward his long lost brother—that selfish, head in the clouds, squanderer. But when the boy returns home and he refuses to go in and join the party, the resentment boils over onto his father as well, doesn’t it! “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.”
So, the older brother too finds himself in a new/old environment. He is home where he has always been, but now his father has cracked the door open a little bit so he can see his old relationships in a new light. He can view his brother not from a “human point of view” as Paul puts it in his letter to the Corinthians, but instead as a “new creation!” The power and glory of grace is that if he looks at his brother in the light of his father’s love and acceptance, he will see his father’s abiding love for himself too! He will arrive at the place he started and know it again for the first time.
But then again, our older brother may withdraw from his father and run off into the dark night, listening to the faint echoes of the party from his own private hiding place, sinking deeper and deeper into the hell of resentment.
Jesus, master storyteller, leaves us hanging. He doesn’t give us an ending because the story itself is a call to action. He doesn’t just tie up the story in a pretty little bow and say, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Jesus was telling the story to the Pharisees. He probably intended for them to see themselves as the older brother, and he was giving them a choice: stay out here and sulk and turn you nose up at the people I am embracing, or come on in and enjoy the party!
Resentment can poison a heart. It colors one’s whole perspective, and turns a celebration into reason for jealousy. But Grace pursues us, even into the depths of hell, trying to get us to turn around and peek through that cracked door. Part of our most central creed had the notion of Grace pursuing even those in Hell. And because the parable ends with the Father out there on the porch, we are led to the conclusion that God’s grace chases us wherever we go—endlessly hopeful in our persuasion.
And this is a key to sanctifying grace. It offers us the framework of saying that Grace is journey. It is a process. It is not a ring put on our finger, it is not something to possess or earn. It is a dynamic, evolving relationship between us and our Heavenly Father.
Grace, even sanctifying grace, isn’t compulsive. God will run out and welcome us as we return home, but notice you don’t see the Father down there in the far country, grabbing Prodigal Son by the ear and fetching him back home. He will come out in the courtyard and cajole and plead with us to come on in to the party, but there must be some element of response.

But though Grace isn’t forced upon us, it is never withdrawn from us. God cajoles and pleads with us to walk in the Light, but we are stubborn. We are “stiff-necked” people, to use an Old Testament description, who are too resentful to have fellowship with our brother.

It’s my hunch that we’re not all that excited to see one or two people who will be sitting at the Thanksgiving table this week for one reason or another. That’s how families are, isn’t it? Perhaps you have a prodigal son in your family—perhaps you are the prodigal son, and have been shown a tremendous amount of grace just by sitting there enjoying the food and the love of the family.

We’re all that prodigal son. We’ve all run off and “squandered our substance.” But isn’t it wonderful to be treated with grace. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of the opposite, when someone doesn’t treat us with grace and forgiveness. It’s corrosive! It eats a hole in our guts!

Isn’t it beautiful to be shown grace? That’s something to be thankful for. When you mess up and you come home with your tail between your legs and you receive an embrace. Sometimes that’s the kind of response that makes you want to change the most. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I know I’ve messed up and I get attacked for it, that only makes me defensive and hard headed. But when I’m shown grace, the disappointment with myself sinks in, and I’m more ready to change. God is a smart parent. God knows what works, and it’s grace that works.

Think about what the original thanksgiving meal was giving thanks for: for peace between people. For living another year through a cold and unfamiliar winter and a hot and humid summer amidst illnesses and people in a whole new world. It was for grace.

If the banquet table is a symbol for our lives of faith, then who are we hoping isn’t included? Who are we shocked has an invitation? Who is God welcoming in that we don’t see as fit or favorable? God help us! Keep cajoling us to come into the banquet for our lost brothers and sisters. Soften our spite, warm our hearts, open our minds to the great gift of reconciliation and peace among people. Help us be thanksgiving peacemakers. Inspire us to be one of your servants preparing the feast rather than one of your sons complaining about who’s on the inside.

11/21 Sermon: ThanksGiving

Corinthians 9: 6-15
Ezekiel 47:1-12


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.

If we don’t feel a warm sense of gratitude when we give, we are probably too attached to our things and maybe we have the idea that we deserve what we have. Paul says, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Thanksgiving is about Thanks and it is about Giving. Sharing our thanks together is an “overflowing of Thanksgiving to God.”