Prepare!

Preached at Fountain UMC December 2015. (I don’t edit spelling and grammar on the written part of my sermons! Sorry!)


Luke 3:1-6

My youngest son was born on January 5th. (He missed the new millennium by 5 days…) I preached right around his birthday last year and in my research I discovered that January 5th was Christmas Eve for much of church history, and still is in some parts of the church. And I thought that was the coolest thing ever! So, I ran to his room and told him… “You know what? We’re both born on Christmas Eve!” I was born on December 24.

The thing about our family that makes us unique, is that my birthday, on December 24th, is the third birthday we celebrate the week before Christmas. My oldest son was born on the 18th and my husband on the 22nd. It makes for a very long week!

In years, like this year, where we cooked Thanksgiving dinner, it makes for a very long holiday season! Our season begins the weekend before Thanksgiving and ends on the first weekend of January. The weekend before Thanksgiving, we clean the house, from top to bottom. And somehow, we pull it together for the rest of the season and keep the house somewhat clean. We subconsciously put new routines into place…we almost have to with the calendar so full of birthday parties and Christmas celebrations!

It is truly a time of preparation and expectation.

As I vacuum and sweep, and dust…I can almost hear John the Baptist crying out… “Prepare the way of the Lord…”

“Prepare the way of the Lord…” John the Baptist was not the first to utter these words of course, he was quoting the Book of Isaiah. Even Isaiah was probably using a phrase that was commonly used when a King was coming to town.

Just like a presidential visit today, a community would have to prepare for a Kings visit. An advanced messenger would come to announce the royal visitor…and everyone would tidy up their homes and their city and themselves… “Prepare the way of the Lord…”

For hundreds of years the Jewish people had been expecting a Messiah, the one that would deliver them from oppression, that would save them from sin and death. A King was coming, and when it was time, God sent before the Lord an advanced messenger. “Get ready it is time. Get yourselves ready, it’s time.”

For John the Baptist, preparing for the Lord was tied closely to repentance. Stop doing what you are doing, turn from your old ways, and turn to God. Get yourselves cleaned up, do what you are supposed to do, pay attention to the details…prepare, for the King is coming…

We have reduced John the Baptists idea of repenting to a few short steps…I found one list, repent in12 easy steps…it was my favorite list…just because of the first step…Listen to your preacher! But there was another even shorter list…6 steps. Yesterday when me and Alan were wandering around an antique store we ran across a set of videos…transform your life in seven days.

Seven days to transformation. Six steps to preparing for the coming of The King.

I love the first line of The Chronicles of Narnia novel, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it…” Now, I don’t know if he deserved that name, but if any imaginary child did, it would probably be Eustace! He was whiney, and selfish, bossy, and a bully. And he really didn’t like his cousins, Edmund and Lucy. But during a summer visit, the three of them found themselves transported to Narnia, travelling on a Narnian ship…on a small ship where it was hard to avoid each other…Edmund and Lucy were trapped with whiney, bossy, Eustace. Finally, after about a month of sailing, they spotted land!

And when they landed, Eustace decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with the hard work of unloading the ship and setting up camp, so he wandered away. Quickly becoming lost.

Unfortunately, for him, as he tried to find his way back he wandered into a dragon’s valley. And in the magic that is the world of Narnia, he became a dragon. And he didn’t like it very much. And although he did find his way back to his cousins, he couldn’t talk. He could not tell him what hurt, what was bothering him, he could not tell them how scared he was, or how alone he felt, so even when they were around, he was miserable and alone in his selfishness.

But one night, a large moonlit lion, Aslan, the Christ like lion, came and brought Eustace, the dragon, to a pool of water. And he knew, when he saw the water, that it would be healing. But Aslan let him know that he had to remove the dragon first. And Eustace did. He scratched and scratched, pealing his dragon skin right off! Until it was laying on the ground beside him. But as he took a step towards the water, he saw his foot…still very much a dragon’s foot. So, he tried again. Scratching and scratching until his dragon skin was laying on the ground beside him. He took a step towards the water, and again he saw, he was still a dragon. He tried again, but again, no matter how deeply he scratched, he was still a dragon.

Isn’t that how it is with us? We prepare for a King, for THE King, by cleaning our homes, buying new Christmas clothes, setting the table, following six steps to repentance…and when it is all over, we go back to the way it was. Nothing really changed at all.

But there was another text in the lectionary this week. Another text on repentance…Listen to these words from the book of Malachi:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

The process of refining silver is long, and detailed, and to be honest, pretty boring to watch. If you watch the process, it looks as if the silver smith isn’t doing anything…

A few years ago, my dad called me to let me know that my grandma had cancer. They were going to do all they could to make her comfortable but she had elected to not fight it. So, over the next eight weeks, we took turns at her bedside. Sitting with her, comforting her, feeding her until she couldn’t eat any more…one night, we knew it was nearing the end, my aunt, my dad, and I were sitting by her beside. As the night wore on, my dad and I fell asleep. But my aunt, she didn’t sleep. She sat there watching my grandmother’s every breath…quiet, still, silent…but there was nothing passive about her presence with her mom that night. At about two in the morning, she whispered into the darkness, that she had taken her last breath, it was done, her pain was no more.

This image of God’s presence in our lives, the silversmith, still but intense and active…It is a powerful image.

The silver smith adds silver to a container that can handle the heat, and then he starts applying heat. For a long time, you can barely tell that anything is happening. The silver smith is just sitting there. Adjusting the heat, just a little, here and there almost imperceptibly. As the silver begins to melt, it starts separating from the impurities. The silver smith actively, even if in his stillness adds heat where it is needed and just at the right moment, so it isn’t too hard to work, he removes the silver from the heat, poring it into a mold…not to fast…not to slow…

It is a beautiful image. God making small adjustments here and there, still…not passive, but with the eternal patience and stillness of God.

But then I realized that we are not the silver smith…but the silver…Ouch.

This is not an easy, cheap image of repentance. This isn’t temporary change; it isn’t simple…it is not pain free. Turning away from the old and towards God…hurts.

Back in Narnia, Eustace could not remove the dragon skin that he found himself living in, no matter how many times he tried. Aslan, finally said… “you will have to let me…”

“I was afraid of his claws,” Eustace said, “But I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. ‘The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. …He peeled the beastly stuff right off-and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been…”

This is repentance. The thing is when you discover something that needs to change…really needs to change…in a “you’re the silver. God’s the Silver Smith” kind of way…it will cause you fear…in a clutching your fist, “there is no way I am letting this go” kind of way.

It is in this moment that you begin preparing for The King. Preparing for This King has less to do with getting it done yourself, and more to do with letting God do God’s thing. Hearing His voice calling…whispering to you… “you will have to let me” … “trust me” … “have faith in me” … “you’re just going to have to let me” …

Eustace, finally swimming and splashing in the cool, refreshing, healing water “found that all the pain had gone”…and then he saw why. He’d turned to a boy again. The dragon, and his selfish, bossy, bullying ways…gone.

The silver smith, holding us, shaping us, refining us…Watching so closely that he knows when the silver is fully refined; when the impurities are burned fully away…It is when the silver smith sees his image reflected in the silver, that the silver is finally prepared.

Rise!

We live amongst some of the most beautiful valleys in the world!
I grew up a couple of hours west of here, in Buena Vista, in the Upper Arkansas Valley. I still travel that way on occasion. There is a moment at the very end of the journey…after a few mountain passes, some long flat valley’s, a handful (or two) of tiny towns…almost at the end of the trip, you turn this corner and there it is…God’s creation…all the valley’s beauty laying before the majestic mountains. God’s artwork in full view. I feel God’s presence so clearly; it’s like I can touch the sacredness of the moment.
When I was growing up, we used to get in our ‘48 Jeep Willies and drive into the mountains. We would come to a fork in the road, and my dad would ask “left or right”…right! Left! How about right this time? Once we drove all day, in fact, I remember we were a little worried about running out of gas! And suddenly the road came to a dead end. A very abrupt dead end. The road drove right into a deep canon. The bridge long-gone but we could see where the road used to be on the other side. We got out of the Jeep and walked around taking in the beauty of the place. Not far from the road was a tree stump with flint chips laying all around. Someone sat under this tree hour after hour, chipping away at the smooth glass-like stone…I can almost hear stone colliding with stone…day after day, month after month, year after year…
My grandma lived on the other side of the valley near Salida. On the side of one of the mountains, the property was originally a homestead. 360 acres. If you walked out of her front door and up the hill, at the top you could see the beauty of the valley, it was on that hill that I found my first arrowhead almost like someone had left it there for me to find.
As I think about that arrowhead and the others we found lying around over the years, I realize that I grew up in a valley of dry bones.
Assyria had been a tiny nation for well over a thousand years. It had grown a bit, taken over some of its neighbors, but never much. And something would happen, often factions within Assyria would battle one another, and the country would collapse into a small nation once again. Until about 800 BC. A strong King took the thrown, stop the factions from fighting and focused their energies on taking over the surrounding nations. Well, not taking over…the nations had the choice. They could pay a heavy tax and allow Assyria to put a puppet king on the throne…the Northern Kingdom of Israel decided not to go along with the plan they fought Assyria. And Assyria decimated them as a people, ending 10 of the 12 tribes Moses led out of Egypt. Assyria took those with power and influence away, they sent in their own citizens to resettle the land; they brought in the worship of their own gods…

Assyria eventually fell. Babylon filled the power vacuum left by the fallen Assyria. Ezekiel was a prophet as Babylon came into its power and started pushing towards the remaining tribe of Israel, warning the Southern Kingdom of Judah to change its ways, to turn back to God. Ezekiel begs the people of Judah to remember who they are, whose they are. And when Babylon takes over the Jerusalem, cutting off their food supply, destroying the temple and most of the city, carting off many of the people into exile…ending a way of life, bringing an entire race of people nearly to extension…

It is in this hopelessness that we find Ezekiel’s wild image…this valley of bones.
Last summer I went to Pine Ridge, South Dakota on a mission trip with our youth. They don’t sell alcohol on the Indian Reservation where we were staying and working, but they do, right outside the border. We drove through the small town of White Clay a few times while we were in the area. It is poverty. Buildings barely standing, not an inch clear of graffiti or drawings, Indians…ratty clothes, sitting, sleeping, slouching…people littering the streets. No more hope than the trash that surrounds them as they sleep.

And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

On Nov. 29, 1864, more than 600 U.S. Army volunteer soldiers — led by Methodist ordained minister John Chivington — attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes near Sand Creek. Nearly 200 women, children and elderly in the camp were killed and many more left wounded. In the summer of 2014 the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, all 600 of us, got on buses and traveled to the Sand Creek Massacre site. We saw the valley where the massacre occurred. We walked in silence as we felt the hot wind on our faces, remembered the tragedy, we could almost hear the cries of the women and children in the silence of the day….

And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

You don’t have to travel to Pine Ridge or Sand Creek to see that we are living in a valley of bones. Just turn on the news, even for a few minutes! The brokenness, the death is all around…Orlando, Virginia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Dallas…
And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?” …and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

Then God says to Ezekiel, Ezekiel, speak to these bones. Speak into the death, speak in the brokenness… and there was a great noise, and bone came together with bone, and flesh came upon them…

While we were at Pine Ridge we visited Red Cloud Indian School. Some graduated students gave us a tour of the building and the property. It is a Catholic boarding school started in the 1880’s. From the beginning, Lakota children would leave their homes to learn, reading, writing, math, and how to be white. Today, the children are taught both Catholic values and Lakota language and history. This school has the more Gates scholarships than any other school in the nation. One senior that graduated this year…Marlee Kelly dreamed for years of going to Washington University..and she got accepted. But Marlee decided to expand her reach…just to see. She was accepted to Yale and Harvard. Another student Jacob is going to Brown. Another Bobby got accepted to Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth.
Can you hear the rattling? The shaking? Bone coming together with bone.
Just last month the clergy from the Rocky Mountain Conference gathered together during clergy session and we took a vote. We condemned Chivington and his actions on the day over 150 years ago. We stood together and made it clear as his colleagues we could not stand by his actions…
Can you hear the rattling? The shaking? Bone coming together with bone.
Of course, you can! It doesn’t take much looking to see God at work. To see glimpses of healing, to see God breaking into the world. To hear the rattling of bone against bone.

But that is NOT the promise of this text.

“Come from the four winds, Oh Spirit, breathe upon these slain that they may live.” Ezekiel called upon the spirit of God to bring life to the bones and there was life. The promise is life, abundant life…From death to life. From brokenness to healing. Do you believe that promise? Do you believe the Lakota people will thrive once again? Do you believe that one day the world will know that Black Lives Matter, too? Do you believe that God can do all of that?…because I have to admit, most days I am not really sure.

I have struggled with that a lot as I studied this text this week. I am not sure how to promise you that God can bring life to the brokenness of our world if I don’t believe it myself most days. I see the death, the brokenness, And I hear God ask… “Can these bones live? Can this brokenness be healed? Can this death be resurrected?”

…and I answer with Ezekiel, “oh God, only you know.”

I answer with Ezekiel, “God, only you know.” And I realize, I am in good company, Ezekiel did not know either.

But still, God commanded him to speak, even though he doubted. And Ezekiel spoke. God commands us to speak, even if we doubt. He calls us, as his church to speak life into death we encounter…

There is that moment, returning home, I journey up that final hill, around that final corner, and there it is…God’s creation…all the valley’s beauty laying before the majestic mountains. God’s artwork in full view. I feel God’s presence so clearly, it’s like I can touch the Sacredness of the moment.

And I hear God’s promise, bigger than the brokenness, bigger than death, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live. Tell these bones that God is God. That God is bigger than death. Remind them that God brings life…even from dead bones. God can bring hope even when everything seems hopeless. O hear ye dry bones, God is bigger than your story, bigger than your death, God can bring you up to life.”

It demands that, even in the hardest of moments, that I hope. It requires that I take steps in faith. That I live like God’s promises are true…because if I am not speaking God’s promises into the brokenness I encounter…then what I am I saying. Because I, because we have something to say to death…we are a resurrection people…death is not the end. Death is not the end. Thanks be to God.

You are Blessed

Years ago as I started taking those first few baby steps into Christianity, I felt myself drawn to Judaism, to this deep, deep history. To the people that were Jesus’ people, to the rituals that shaped and formed him, to the stories that formed the culture in which he lived.

My family was friends with a Jewish family. Spending time with them, learning about their faith was powerful for me. I had the opportunity to share a Sabbath meal with them, to worship with them, to learn from them. I am lucky they are really good teachers and I ask a lot of questions: About their faith, their religion, and how it shapes the Jewish people, about what they thought about Christ and Christianity. One day, I asked about Jesus being the Messiah. Their answer was clear, and to the point. Jesus is could not be the Jewish Messiah because he did not bring 1,000 years of peace.

It was with that simple statement that I understood. I understood the disciple’s consistent confusion over who Jesus was, why they argued over who would sit at his right and who at his left; why they reached for the sword when the romans came to arrest him.

They were expecting a warrior king. They believed that God would send them a king, a Messiah from the line of David. The anointed one would overthrow the Roman rule and save them from oppression. He would usher in a time of peace. There was a list of things they expected of the Messiah, and Jesus seemed to have a hard time convincing them that it was not going to go as they had planned.

 

 

The first thing we hear about Simeon, he was righteous and devout. Simeon knew he would get to see the Messiah, the one that would bring restoration to Israel. Simeon was probably keeping his eye out for a warrior King. Instead, God nudged him towards a baby. A little one, probably a little over a month old. And something happened when Simeon took the baby from Mary and held him in his arms.

Have you ever had a moment of clarity? A moment where the world drops away, all distractions vanish, and you see something you have not seen before? Something that had been there the entire time, you just couldn’t see it?

In the touch of the Christ child, Simeon saw for the first time. The Messiah was not a warrior but a baby. And he overflows with joy overflowing and praise, he had hoped for Israel’s salvation but now he says… “I have seen your salvation; I have seen your salvation for all nations.” It was there the whole time. And finally. Simeon saw, and he was at peace.

Salvation not just for Israel but for all. David Watson talks about universal hope in his book, God does not Foreclose. “the appropriate attitude for Christians must be one of universal hope. Although we can in no way predetermine the final outcome of Christ’s saving work, or in any way tell God what to do, we can surely hope that God will manage to bring together the human family in its entirety to celebrate the heavenly feast.

We can find hope in the promise that God desires that every human know that they are beloved children. We should hope that all people would know that there is a table set for all of humanity and that they know they have a place reserved for them, and that they might accept God’s invitation of Love and Grace and take their place and feast at the heavenly banquet.

 

 

Overflowing with joy, seeing how much greater God’s plans were than his, Simeon hands the Christ child back to his parents. But he has something more to say, he looks at them and tells them that “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

One of you shared a video on your Facebook wall. It’s a video from the boys and girls club, maybe you’ve seen it. A voice off camera asks a child sitting in a room a question. “What are you hoping to get this year for Christmas.” They show a variety of kids giving a variety of answers: Xbox 360, a really big Barbie house, a laptop computer. They want big, extravagant gifts! Then the voice asked them another question: “What do you think your mom or dad would want for Christmas?” And their answers are just as big and extravagant: Jewelry, a flat screen T.V. , a new dress.

And one by one you see their eyes grow huge as their gifts are brought into the room. The gift that they most desired…and the extravagant gift their parents would love.

Then the voice off camera informs them, they have to choose. You can have what you were expecting, or you can give to your loved one. They are being asked to sacrifice what they desire for their loved ones… You can see the struggle on their faces. Their hearts are revealed in this difficult choice.

In his book, The Great Divorce, CS Lewis tells a tale of a bus that brings people from hell to heaven. The bus is available for anyone to board. Most don’t. Those that do find themselves uncomfortable in heaven. For a variety of reasons…because they refuse to be there with people they don’t think belong…because they can’t see beyond their own certainty… because they won’t sacrifice what they hold close… most choose to get back on the bus and return to their sorrow.

The Christ child will grow up to challenge his people, to challenge us to sacrifice. He will tell the rich man to sell everything he has and give to the poor. He will teach abundant, extravagant forgiveness; he will teach that whoever tries to keep their life will lose it.

If we were given the choice these kids were given: If we were given the choice between what we most desire and what God most desires, would we choose the Hope of God’s salvation? If we could see as clearly as Simeon, what would our hearts reveal?

 

 

Simeon was not done yet. He had one more thing to say before disappearing into history…

I was flipping through books as I prepared this sermon. Looking for images and stories that fit, that would draw you in, explain what I am saying a bit better than I could. One of the books I picked up is a book by David Platt. I don’t remember where I got the book, I’ve never read it, but it was on my book shelf, judging by the outlines and notes in that I am not the first owner of this book. As I looked through it, I ran across a really sad story. A women died at the hands of her parents for converting to Christianity. In the margin next to this story is a note, a question: “Then what will God protect us from?”

And I wonder if the person that wrote that note had ever read Simeon’s final words. If they had seen Simeon look at this baby and his mother and heard him tell her, “he will pierce your soul.”

Last week we heard Elizabeth pour down words of praise and blessing upon her. Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you bear!” Mary, the one who sings praises, “from now on all generations will call me blessed.” Mary, “he will pierce your soul.”

Which was it? Was Mary, the mother of the Messiah, blessed or would she suffer?……… Of course we know, being blessed does not mean we will not suffer. It does not mean we will not have to sacrifice.

Simeon walks away. Leaving the family to their future. He leaves, full of joy, for God’s gift was so much more than he thought it would be, and he understood, that it would cause the rising and falling of many, that hearts would be revealed through him, that souls would be pierced

The kids, sitting in front of two gifts had to choose. The video shows each one choosing the gift for their parents. When asked why, child after child tells of the great things their parents give to them. One child said this: “Because Legos don’t matter…your family matters. Not Legos, not toys. Your family. So, it’s either family or Legos and I choose family.”

What a blessing…

The Sermon that Wasn’t…

via tiffkei
via tiffkei

A sermon is only a sermon when it is being preached, so this isn’t really a sermon…It’s the sermon that never was! I was going to preach this but a still small voice stopped me :-) Instead I preached “Just an Inch…”

Even though I never preached this one, I did “teach” it to my Sunday School class.

 

 

 


Acts 9:36-43: Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)

Let us pray…

 

O God open us up.

 

Open our eyes that we might see,

 

our ears that we might hear.

 

Open our hearts that we might feel,

 

and then O God,

 

open our hands that we might serve.

 

 

 

My family loves the renaissance festival. We look forward to it every year, the sites, the sounds the smells…being immersed in this world that isn’t really ours. A few years ago we were walking around just taking in the experience…the fairy’s and dragons and pirates…and something caught my eye! I my husband by the arm to make him stop walking because there was this statue. The statue was either the perfect representation of a man…or it was a man as a perfect representation of a statue…I couldn’t tell. But I WAS going to find out. So, I started examining this mystery…until he looked at me!!! I jumped…I might have screamed…I definitely laughed!! This guy fascinated me. So, I stood back for 10 – 15 minutes and just watched. People would walk by and not notice him…so he would poke them with his cane! Sometimes he would gather a crowd and they would just wait to see what he would do next. And every once in a while someone would gather up enough courage to examine him a little closer…and he would suddenly move…surprising every one of them. It was a scene for America’s Funniest Home videos!

 

So, a few weeks ago I was watching a TED Talk…by Amanda Palmer. In her talk she explains how she would stand on the streets…an eight-foot bride! People would drop money in the top hat at her feet.  To say thank you she would offer the generous soul a flower…most rushed by…uncomfortable with the personal contact on city streets. Some however, would pause to take the flower. Amanda Palmer describes this moment of contact…she would say with her eyes, “I see you.” And in response, she could see in their eyes, “no one ever sees me.” … Later in her speech, she shows a picture of a rock-concert. You can tell it is a huge production, bright lights, huge stage, and thousands in the audience. The contrast is clear…up close and personal, eye contact, and silent communication versus the stage of a Superstar! …. We live in a culture that loves our superstars, we are bombarded by the message “bigger is better”… We love our T.V. stars, our sports stars and it’s not just about celebrity status! Our whole world says “bigger is better”…everything points to our title as being important…our business cards say our name and our title…”CEO” – President – Owner – The clothing we wear…a police uniform, the doctors stethoscope, the black robe of the clergy….points to our status, our importance,- Even our spaces are designed to point to the important person in the  room – our lecture halls, classrooms, sanctuaries – designed to point towards the most important person…the teacher…the preacher.  We live in a culture that bombards us with the message “bigger is better…more important…more valuable…more influential. The superstars are the important ones.”

 

And Peter, the main character of today’s text, he is definitely a superstar! I know he didn’t start off so hot. I mean…he tried walking on water but ended up wet. He slept when Jesus needed him, and then went on to deny Jesus..three times. Peter had a slow start…But Jesus did say “on this rock I will build my church!”  And Peter did live up to his superstar status! The text we read this year for Easter morning was from the Gospel of John. The story races along, Mary runs and gets Peter and the other disciple. They race back to the tomb…and the story slows down dramatically…the writer gives us details…Peter standing alone in the tomb, one folded cloth and one just lying there. … Peter is the one that stands in front of the crowd on Pentecost and says, “We are not drunk!” and ends the day with 3,000 converts! In the story before today’s text he healed a man that had been paralyzed for eight years…the story after this Peter has a vision of unclean animals lowered on a sheet that God says are clean…and gentiles are welcomed into the church…and in this text, Peter kneels in prayer and breathe is restored to Tabitha’s lifeless body. Peter is a superstar…this text is about Peter, this text is about his power and influence on the early church…

 

We are so trained to see the superstars that sometimes we miss the supporting characters. We know very little about the women in this story. We know her name…her name is Tabitha. Dorcas in Greek. Gazelle in English. She is a disciple. She became ill and died. ……. We know she had widows grieving at her bedside, we know she made clothes…. we know she was full of good works and good deeds….that’s about it! Tabitha’s whole life is relegated to these seven short verses in the book of Acts. As I read this text, I wanted to know what we were missing? What was her life-like! This text tells us that widows were grieving over her lifeless body but we don’t know WHY the widows were grieving at her bedside. We know a little about what it was like to live as a widow during this time…A women’s value was in her role as a wife or mother. Which means widows had no value. The widows counted on the generosity of people for food and clothes, their very life was in the hands of the generosity of others. And these were the women grieving at Tabitha’s bedside.What kind of life did she live that the widows were the ones grieving her loss? Maybe she was an affluent member of society, with the time and resources to help the lowest members of her society.  Or maybe Tabitha wasn’t reaching down to help a widow, maybe she was a member of their community. One of them, gathering together in community, pooling resources so to improve one another lives. Or was it neither of these? We don’t know. What we know about Tabitha is that she lived in such a way that the love of Christ showed in her. Her power and influence, dedication and love….shows. Even though her live story is told in just a couple of sentences. Because this is a story about Peter and the early church, it is easy to miss the importance of Tabitha and the ones that lived like her. Because we know so much about Peter, because he is a superstar, because there is so much written about the influence he had on this early community, it is easy to miss the power and influence of Tabitha. The church would have not survived past those first few years without Peter, but it needed the Tabithas too. To survive, and grow, and thrive, the church needed the dedicated disciples. It needed the superstars but the superstars are not more important than the Tabithas.

 

We live in a culture that tells us “bigger is better.” The higher your title, the more important you are, the more influence you have, and the church? The church has fallen for it. We like our big names, Billy Graham, Rob Bell, and the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church, Adam Hamilton! The church seems to agree with the culture, “bigger is better.” The leaders are the ones with the power and influence; we expect them to bring life back to the church. We see the crowds and the lighted stage and are blinded to the Tabithas in our midst. In a recent conversation, the question was asked “who do you know that lives a Christ-like life?” And the response was fairly predictable…most people talked about pastors or other leaders of the church. But one man, a pastor, talked about a women in his congregation Over 14 years ago this women walked into the church and sat in the last row, looking like she could make a break for it at any moment. She lived a troubled life; life had beaten her down as tragedy after tragedy knocked her down again and again. But she didn’t make a break for it….she stayed. Today she doesn’t look like she is ready to make a break for it, in fact when asked to tell the story of a person living a Christ-like life, her pastor told her story. She lives a Christ-like life…her dedication and love are powerful and influential. She is often the first person at the church and the last to leave. She gives of her time, talents, and finances. She lives her life in such a way that a leader of the church told her story telling us that she serves her church with all of her strength. Sometimes the message the “bigger is better” blinds us to the Tabitha’s in our midst.

 

I really want to be a “thank you note” person. I TRY to be a thank you note person! Don’t get me wrong. I am good at writing thank you notes! I enjoy intentionally thinking about what I am grateful for and writing it down. I know the power of God at work in stepping back from life and taking time to be grateful. My problem is not that I am not thankful…because I am…my problem is that I always seem to be missing something, I don’t have a pen handy, or I’ve run out of stationary, or most often I run out of stamps. I have a stack of thank you notes sitting on my desk, some months old! Just waiting for a stamp…I try to be a thank you note person even though I often fail; I DO believe we have a lot to be thankful for.We have the best pastors, the best leaders. the best mentors…we can come and pay almost nothing for a delicious home cooked meal on Wednesday nights…we can go to class where some of the best teachers come to teach us about who we are….and the building. Wow…this building. If I remember right we had over 7,000 different activities last year! Worship, Sunday Schools, Plays, AA Meetings, IHN nights…Taking care of this building takes a lot of work…and we have an amazing team that keeps this building running. Our facilities team works hard to make sure that the building is ready for us and when we come, they welcome us in ways that we can see, with a smile and an offer of help…and in ways that we can’t see. A lot of work goes into keeping this building running, and welcoming. I have to admit. In the last six years I have sent a thank-you note to almost every one of our pastors…I have sent one…just one…to someone on the facilities staff.

 

We live in a culture, that says bigger is better. And when we stand in the crowd focused on the bright lights and stage of the superstar we are blinded to the Christ-like lives lived by the people in our midst.

 

 

 

Listen again to these words from the Book of Acts:

 

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. (NRSV)

The word of God, for the people of God…thanks be to God. Amen

 

 

 

 

Just An Inch..Sermon from April 21, 2013

Second sermon down!! Here is the video for my second sermon. Thank you chapel service for welcoming me back! Again, it was a wonderful experience! Also, thank you to all that supported me in any way and those of you that sent me with your prayers. I appreciate it!

 

Just an inch (Revelation 3:20)…

My husband is the practical one in our relationship.

Everything has a place and a purpose. I know what time he will wake up in the morning, what time he will get home from work and what he will do when he gets there. He likes things to be predictable…safe. He has a “concrete” personality type. You know…rock solid! I rely on his predictability! Because I am the unpredictable one…the creative, artsy, constantly “blazing new trails” one. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed at the same time two nights in a row…Nine at night? Not a problem! One in the morning? Why not? My workspace is always a little on the messy side and I am always thinking of some new way to decorate the house. When Alan finally caved and agreed to something other than white walls…you know what I did right? We have had blue walls, green walls, textured walls, dark gray walls….and I am seriously considering a pink wall…or maybe I should go with purple?  I am the kind of person that if you give me an inch I will take a mile!

 

And I know it’s not just me. When I was a little kid I would play in the dirt by our shed in the back yard. I would dig little lines in the dirt and turn the water on just a little to create miniature rivers. Eventually I would have a whole river system weaving between the wild onions. I remember it being hours…days of fun. So, of course I thought my kids should have the same opportunity! I bought them cute little gardening kits, they had little shovels and buckets. You know what happened right? Within a couple of days they replaced the small plastic shovels with the real thing from the shed and they replaced the rivers with a lake…the hole was about 8 feet around and a few feet deep. I guess they liked the idea of a lake better than the idea of a river! I gave them inch..they took a mile! That was years ago, now they are teenagers with a whole new set of inches to turn into miles! (Don’t worry, we signed up for the unlimited texting plan!)

 

((( I totally missed this section while preaching…oops!)))

There is something about being human that drives us to take a mile when someone offers us an inch. I hear that people used to own one T.V. per house. And the house was the right size for the family, maybe even a bit too small. When given an inch we take a mile…Have you ever said “hello” to the person next to you in the grocery line only to leave the store a few minutes later with their life story? Or books? If you are a book lover…you don’t have one or two books! You have more books than you could read in a lifetime…maybe even two lifetimes. Do you remember the Lay’s potato chip slogan “betcha can’t each just one!” it was right you know! Not about the chips…it was right about us!

We seem to be creatures wired to push limits.  To fight for a mile when given an inch!  We are wired to push boundaries. It’s something that comes with being human.

((Here is where I picked it up again!)))

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Generally, I don’t like dressing God up in human traits

But with this text I just can’t help it! Can you imagine it? You hear a knock on the door, go open the door a tiny bit just to see who’s there…that’s it! That’s all it takes…the next thing you know God is joining you for dinner. He is eating with you, and you with him. Give God an inch and God takes a mile!

 

This God that chooses to be one of us…always pushing boundaries, testing limits and taking a mile for every inch offered.

Jesus could have turned the water that was already there into wine, that would have been a miracle…but he doesn’t…instead he has the servants fill up jug after jug, gallon, after gallon, after gallon…then he turns that water into wine! Jesus could have fed a few people and sent the rest to town to find their own food…but he doesn’t …instead he feeds thousand with a couple of fish and a few loafs of bread! He could have kept prostitutes, tax collectors, and other sinners at arms distance…but he doesn’t…instead he singles them out and does things like call out “get down from that tree we are going to eat together.” When I talk about serving people I am talking about clearing their plate, carrying their luggage, or holding open a door…but this God….this God washes feet. He doesn’t just tell us to turn the other cheek, he shows us how by forgiving while hanging on a cross…even that is not the end, Jesus brings promise and hope to the world with resurrection, Easter.

 

Following this God that is willing to wash feet, break bread with sinners and hang on a cross…it’s not comfortable or predictable…it looks a lot more like pushing boundaries, testing limits and taking a mile for every inch offered. Following this God…it’s a often a journey into the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncomfortable.

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Five years ago, I had a dream.

It was a simple dream, I heard someone knocking, I heard someone call my name; all I had to do was open the door an inch…and of course that is what I did. My kids were in elementary school, me and a couple of the other moms were hanging out on the playground after school, watching our kids play. One of the moms said something about church…and I told her, I think I need to go to church. I did not have enough courage to go alone, so that Sunday I drove to her house so we could ride together. I remember feeling out of place but welcomed. I remember the smiling faces and the snacks. I remember the pew I sat in, and bits and pieces of Kent’s sermon, I remember the first time I saw the pipes framing the cross.…but what I remember the most is the music. The drums, and guitars, and singing…Something inside me started stirring, even if I did not yet have words for it. After service we left and I returned a couple of weeks later, and a week after that…and the week after that…the week after that. And now? I am more than half way through seminary! If all goes well, in a little over a year, I will graduate with a Master of Divinity degree and just a few weeks after that I will be a pastor in a church. ME! Six years ago, I was a couple of years away from earning my Bachelors degree with no plans of going back to school, I had been a stay at home mom for years…my life was comfortable, predictable, I was content…Now I am teaching classes and adult Sunday School, joining in skits and living sculptures with our youth group, going on mission trips, and preaching!! Me? Preaching?? Four years ago, I laughed at the suggestion.

Today, everything is different…better…deeper.

I can see; I am alive. My every breath is changed, and it all began with an inch. A door opened. The possibility of a new tomorrow. All it took was an inch. An inch to see that God was more than I could ever imagine. That my life could be beyond imagination. That I could be more than I ever imagined. Give God an inch? God just might take a mile…Thanks be to God. Amen.