Tuesday, July 1, 2014

God Will Provide


Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

I can barely read that story out loud.
Genesis 22.
The terrible details.
The sharp knife,
The fire, blazing on its torch.
The wood.
All the steps detailed with maddening slowness.
Abraham rises early in the morning.
For how could he have slept?
He has two men to help him.
He saddles the donkey.
Making sure he has everything he needs.
The fire.  The wood.  The rope.  The knife.
They come to the mountain.
It stands tall, terrible before them,
Unmoving and impossible as God’s command.
And from here, Abraham and Isaac must go on alone.
He makes Isaac carry the wood.
Isaac turns to his father.
Did his voice shake?
Were his eyes filled with tears?
Did he know?
And his question that wrenches the heart, father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?
The father answers, God will provide the lamb.
They reach the top of the mountain,
And Abraham took his son Isaac,
Bound him with rope to the rock,
Strapped him down and raised the knife over his baby boy.
Did he have to wrestle his child to the ground?
Was his son crying out in fear?
How can we read this?
How can we accept as Holy Scripture a text that I feel uncomfortable reading when children are in the sanctuary?
How can I talk about this moments before a baptism?
How can we just say, “The Word of the Lord,” to this?
Can you imagine your own child?
A child you love?
A child who has reached up to take your hand?
A child who has trustingly fallen asleep in your arms?
God says, Abraham, take your son, your only son, whom you love,
As though to torture this father.
Isaac is not just a child.
Isaac is the long-awaited promise of the future.
Isaac is the fulfillment of years of hope deferred.
Isaac is the hope of any couple who have experienced infertility:  a miracle baby.
Abraham and Sarah have gone through years of trying and failing,
Have withstood the well-meaning questions and the snide whispers,
Have withstood the continual bleeding out of lost hopes,
Have withstood the pain of watching as everyone around them celebrates what they will never share,   
And have been surprised by a miracle.
God has ordered Abraham to kill that miracle.
I wonder what would have happened if God had asked Sarah instead of Abraham.
How can we believe this of God?
Who are you, God of Genesis 22, and what have you done with the loving and gracious Father I believe in?
I was talking to a Jewish man who at the time only attends synagogue on the day of Atonement,
And he hates that annual duty because the reading is always the same:  the sacrifice of Isaac.
He cannot believe God would force people to have that kind of faith.
He cannot imagine doing such a thing to his own children.
It is as though to my friend God is a terrible and abusive parent.
And theologians have had the same reactions.
Rabbi David Blumenthal was once asked by a psychiatrist, “Are you trying to say that God is an Abuser?  If so, you should just come right out and say it.”
And so, Rabbi Blumenthal did.
Some people see in this text God as an abusive father.
Who hurts his own children, saying, it’s good for you.
Saying, you asked for it.
Is this the God we believe in?
A God who would ask this of a father?
What kind of faith does this God want us to have?
The kind of faith that would compel us to do something without any perceived moral good,
The kind of faith that would compel us to destroy someone young and defenseless,
The kind of faith that would compel us to do something almost physically impossible for a parent to do,
The kind of faith that would make me kill my daughter?
Is that what God wants?
A faith that would kill without reason because God ordered it?
Is Abraham’s faith the faith of Dan and Ron Lafferty, fundamentalist Mormons who in 1984 killed their sister-in-law Brenda and her infant daughter Erica?
Is the faith God wants the faith of Scott Roeder, pro-life activist who in 2009 shot and killed doctor George Tiller, while Dr. Tiller was serving as an usher in his church?
Does God want us to have the faith of Mohammed Atta, one of the September 2011 hijackers, who had in his checked luggage reassurances that he should feel complete tranquility, because the time between now and his marriage in heaven would be very short?
Mohammed had also reminded himself,   
With the twisted, high-mindedness of the deranged, keep your knife sharp.  You must not discomfort the animal during the slaughter.
Is this the kind of faith Abraham had?
Is this the kind of faith we are supposed to have?
That once God has given a directive it must be obeyed, no matter how much our moral compass, our hearts, our souls, find that directive reprehensible?
No. 
No.
No.
I do not believe it and I will not believe it.
I don’t like that this text is paired in the lectionary with Matthew 10, in which Jesus calls us to love God more than our children.
I do love God more than I love my child.
And that is why I would not kill my child or any child.
When my daughter was born, I had never known such a visceral love.
I began to have irrational fears of all the things that could happen to her.
I could leave her carseat behind my car, forget and run her over.
What if she rolled over in the night and was smothered in her bed?  Shouldn’t I watch her all night long?
I imagined my daughter’s death and I imagined how I would kill myself.
Because there seemed to me no other choice.
And when I heard myself have that thought, I prayed.
I prayed, God, do not let my daughter become an idol.
I prayed to love God more than I loved my daughter,
Knowing in that way I would be a better mother.
And in that moment my whole perspective changed.
And so, I am the mother whose daughter can be found climbing up a slide on the far end of the playground.
When she broke her foot last year, people asked if I was so scared.
And I did feel for her in her pain.
But I also thought it was just a little bit funny that she thought she would try to fly down the basement stairs.
I trust God with my child.
I love my daughter, but I love God more.
And that is why I would not kill my child or any child.
My faith in God is faith in Good.
I believe Good and God are the same thing.
My faith is not just that God is mighty but that God is good.
That he would not order me to do something that is wrong.
And so my reading of this text is different from many preachers and theologians and biblical scholars I have heard and read.
I believe Abraham’s faith was not an unquestioning obeisance of whatever command he believed he heard from on high.
I believe Abraham’s faith was such that he trusted that God would show mercy.
I believe that when Abraham said to his two assistants that he would come back down the mountain with Isaac he was not lying.  He believed that was what would happen.
And that when Abraham told Isaac God would provide the ram,
That is exactly and literally what he believed.
That Abraham held within him both the faith to take every step leading up to the altar,
And the faith that he would have a reprieve.
I believe this story is included in Scripture not to tell us to sacrifice to our children,
But the exact opposite: to teach God’s people not to kill children,
To not follow the popular religion of Molech at that time an in that area,
Which Scripture records had drawn away the Israelites from the worship of the one true God,
Or the many ancient religions that practiced child sacrifice.
In many places in Scripture God condemns child sacrifice, and God would not contradict God.
I believe God meant through this story to show us the cruelty of that sacrifice, and to point us to another way.
And I believe something else too.
I believe Isaac knew.
I do not believe Isaac fought.
I believe Isaac carried that wood up the hill knowing.
I believe Isaac laid himself upon the stone knowing, and accepting, and trusting.
And that as he felt the ropes cut into his arms,
As he saw the knife rise above him,
Isaac trusted in his (F)father.
I believe this because I am a Christian.
I believe this because I believe this story does not stand on its own.
Abraham finds a ram in the bushes, but in verse 8, Abraham does not say,
“God will provide a ram.”
He says,
“God himself will provide the lamb.”
This Hebrew word Seh is also the word used in Isaiah 53:7,
Which we read on Good Friday:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”
I believe the lamb is Christ.
I believe this story points us to another son,
Who carried his tree up another hill,
Who let himself be bound,
Who gave himself as a sacrifice.
I believe this because the God I believe in is the God who will never let us be alone,
A God who chose himself to feel the fear of Isaac,
The heartbreak of Abraham,
To cry the scream of the lamb who is slain.
My God loves us with such a love that there is no place he will not go with you,
No pain he will not bear for you,
And no hilltop where he will let you suffer alone.
This is the God we worship, the God whose name is Goodness, whose way is mercy, whose power is called Love.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Which way?

I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6-7

The fastest growing religious group in the United States is nones.
Not n-u-n-s but n-o-n-e-s.
People who claim no religious affiliation at all.
“Spiritual but not religious” is the most common way you might hear such a person describe himself.
You and I count people of no religion among our family and friends.
We love them deeply.
They are going along with the current religious trend.
So many spiritual answers are available in the marketplace.
From Dr. Wayne Dyer to Marianne Williamson,
From pop psychology to belief in the wisdom of the universe,
There are a variety of spiritual answers and truth claims available to comfort and guide us.
Christian truths stand alongside the truths of other religions in this marketplace of ideas.
But anything labeled “religion” is less popular these days,
Because the current culture abhors institutionalism of any kind,
Preferring individualism of expression.
With so many religious truths available to us,
We should be happier.
We should have better relationships.
We should pray more, meditate more, and be less anxious.
But that’s not what has happened.
Instead we are more stressed, less able to commit to relationships,
Less likely to pray, meditate, or even reflect.
There are so many paths we can follow, so many directions to go,
That I feel like many people dabble in one way or another,
But do not really commit to the spiritual life.
And so, like Thomas, so many people around us say, “How can we know the way?”
Thomas is a great example to those of us who have questions and doubts.
I am so glad Thomas was a disciple and an apostle,
Because he asked the questions others were too afraid to ask.
When Jesus decided it would be a good idea to go to Jerusalem, where all his enemies were waiting for him,
Thomas quips, “Well, let’s go, so we can die with him.”
Thomas will be the one to demand evidence of the resurrection—evidence you and I have never seen but perhaps have always wondered about.
And when Jesus, here, after the Last Supper,
Gives his long farewell discourse to the disciples,
Telling them not to be afraid when they see him on the cross,
Because he is going to go to the Father,
And they already know the way,
Thomas interrupts and contradicts Jesus.
“No, Jesus, actually we don’t know.  We don’t know how to get to heaven.  We’ve never been there.  How can we know the way?”
Thomas is a literal person.
He’s a scientist.  He’s an engineer.
He wants to know the coordinates of heaven.
He wants it mapquested.
He wants GPS.
Thomas wants directions.
But Jesus doesn’t give directions.
He doesn’t give us the details we want about heaven.
Where is it located exactly?
Outer space somewhere?
Inside black holes or dark matter maybe?
What is it like?
Pearly gates?  Streets paved with gold?  Will we be able to walk on clouds?
What will we look like?  Thinner?  Younger?
And my big question, will I get bored?
These are the questions we have, and one reason why we find descriptions of heaven, as in the book and movie Heaven Is For Real, so intriguing.
But our questions about heaven don’t match up with what Jesus wants us to know about heaven.
Thomas asks for directions, and Jesus…talks about Jesus.
He replies, you do know the way.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
Thomas wants directions…and Jesus talks about relationships.
“Way” is a word that has a multitude of definitions,
And it’s the same in Hebrew and Greek
In the Hebrew tradition of Jesus and his disciples, Derek, or way,
Is often used as a metaphor for the life of faith.
As the way of the Lord.
Deuteronomy calls us to “walk in his ways.”
The first line of Psalms says “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”
Psalm 139 calls, “Lead me in the way everlasting.”
The New Testament describes the way, or hodos, as the Way of God,
And The Way is the first name of the Christian faith.
Rather than call yourself a Christian, you would call yourself a follower of the Way.
Yet the Way is not simply a Way to heaven.
The Way is the Way of Jesus.
To follow the Way is to be united with Christ,
To know him and to seek to follow him.
Jesus says “I am the Way” just before his arrest and crucifixion.
To follow the Way is to give yourself in sacrifice to others,
To take up your own cross, to experience suffering, persecution, and hardship,
To experience the death of sin within yourself as your own worst impulses are crucified,
And so to experience spiritual resurrection.
Thomas wants directions to heaven, as we all do,
But the Way is the description of a life lived in unity with Jesus.
Thomas seeks directions, Jesus describes relationship.
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It is through relationship with Jesus that we know truth and experience newness of life.
The Way therefore is not simply a mental decision that the principles of Christianity are right,
Or that the Bible is historically accurate,
Or even that Jesus is the Messiah.
The Way is an invitation to newness of life.
To salvation now, in this life, and forevermore.
This Way is a Way of life, a method, a pattern for us to follow.
I think of this Way of Jesus as similar to a sewing pattern.
In the past couple of years I have taken up sewing.
After all, Galatians says, as many of you have been baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
We are seeking to be covered, clothed with Christ, so that others will experience Christ through us.
We take the blank canvas of our own lives and try to model them on the life of Jesus.
The thing about a sewing pattern is that the pattern must be attached to the fabric.
You pin the pattern down very carefully.
In the same way, we must be connected to Christ, to know him personally, as we pattern our lives according to his way of love.
We have to cut out the pieces that don’t belong, and piece everything together,
Recognizing that the final product will never look as good as the model,
But hoping to create something beautiful.
That is what the Holy Spirit seeks to do in a Christian life.
There are so many people out there seeking newness of life.
Looking to create something beautiful.
Do we describe to them this experience of the Way?
Do we share with them how we have been crucified with Christ,
How we have known his truth, felt it resonate in our hearts,
Do we share with others how we have experienced newness of life?
It has become clear to most Christians that explaining the means of salvation as a set of beliefs that must be agreed upon is not a very effective means of evangelism.
Our culture no longer blanketly accepts that the Bible is true.
If people are to believe in the Christ of Scripture, they must have some experience that convinces them of that truth.
Most people experience Christ first through relationship.
And perhaps this is how Christ wants to be experienced, through relationships, as by the Holy Spirit, we share him with others.
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”
These verses have been used to announce Christian triumphalism and to condemn people of other religions.
Certainly, Christ is expressing that he is the only Way to God the Father.
Yet the early Christians who proclaimed Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life were not proclaiming the truth of the world’s largest religion over against the claims of other major religions,
As do Christians today who use this verse in polemic debate over who’s saved and who’s not.
None of us is God, and none of us can know exactly how salvation through Christ is accomplished.
My personal hope for those who do not profess faith in Christ is expressed so beautifully by CS Lewis,
Who describes in his book The Last Battle a conversation between Emeth, a follower of the god Tash, and Aslan, a figure of Christ.
After the end of all things, Aslan and Emeth are walking together.
Aslan says, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”
Emeth responds, “Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.”
“Beloved,” said the Glorious One, “unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”
This is my hope:  that all find what they truly seek.
That those who have been led astray in this life might have a moment, a glimpse, maybe even at the time of death, to accept the Way, the Truth, and the Life offered by Christ.
I don’t believe the best way to persuade people of this truth is by arguments so much as by relationships,
By hearing their stories and sharing our own,
By giving of ourselves without expecting conversion, without expecting anything in return, in short, by love.
The early Christians, a small and persecuted minority,
Kicked out of the Jewish synagogues and living in fear of literally being crucified by the Roman Empire,
This little group of followers described the Way that had shown them Truth and given them new Life.
They believed that through Jesus anyone could experience that newness of life and come to God the Father.
Would that we, today, could have such passionate, infectious faith, such intimacy of relationship with Christ, and such a desire to share him with all!
We know the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Why should we follow any other?
Why should we live our lives by any other pattern?
Jesus is the pattern of surrender.
Jesus is the pattern of stewardship.
Jesus is the pattern of forgiveness.
Jesus is the pattern of evangelism. 
He met people where they were, and shared God’s truth and healing.
Jesus is the pattern of love.  He gave.  He fed.  He healed.
May we know him more, love him more, and seek more and more to pattern our lives after his, to follow in his Way. 
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Peace be with you

So sorry it's been so long since I've posted!  It was a very busy spring.  This is from Eastertide:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  John 20:19

The doors are locked.
The disciples are huddled in little groups.
Their faces are solemn.
Their voices full of anxiety.
Some make stern pronouncements.
“This is the end.  He was full of prophecies that will not come true.  We staked our lives on a lie and we lost.”
All are anxious.
All are afraid.
Some assign blame.
And then suddenly, and among all the fearful voices, there is a voice of utter calm:
“Peace be with you.”
These were ordinary words of greeting.
But this was more than just a greeting.
“Peace be with you” echoes the cry of the prophets:
The lion shall lie down with the lamb
“Peace be with you” echoes the song of angels:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will towards men!
“Peace be with you” echoes the prayer from the cross:
Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do.
“Peace be with you” echoes in the words of one who knew grace:
The peace that passes understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“Peace be with you.”
What kind of peace did Christ bring?
It was not an easy peace.
He’s about to ask the disciples to follow in his footsteps,
He’s about to ask them to take up their own crosses, to be persecuted and even to die for his name.
This was not an easy peace.
This was not the peace of the status quo.
It was not the peace of the Pharisees, who wanted to keep order in the religious community, whose faith was about text and tradition more than grace and love.
This was not the peace of comfortable religious institutionalism.
This was also not the peace of Rome.
The Pax Romana was much trumpeted.
A peace based on everyone united under one empire.
One empire that would crucify anyone who got in its way.
Rome’s peace was based on military domination and economic oppression.
This was not the peace of Christ.
And the peace of Christ was not the peace the Zealots sought.
Social righteousness won at any cost and by any means necessary.
The peace of Christ was not just justice.
The peace of Christ is not the peace of the institution.
It is not the peace of economic stability.
It is not civic peace.
Christ’s peace is deeper than all of that.
The peace Christ offers is the peace of the soul.
I believe that at our very core, each of us struggle with two basic questions throughout our lives.
For some of us, the basic question is:  Am I lovable?  Does God love me?
The answer to that question is the cross.
There are some moments in our lives when we do things that are unlovable.
We say things we really shouldn’t say.
We do things we really shouldn’t do.
I hear people say, live life with no regrets.
Or, the popular saying in current youth culture:  YOLO.  You only live once. 
Of course, a Christian does not believe this life is all there is.
And, in my opinion, a person who says “I have no regrets” has not looked hard enough at his life.
Certainly, you may have learned something in your wandering journey,
But you also hurt others along the way.
You can’t avoid it.  We are all connected to one another, and what we do affects the community and the world.
There are people we have hurt and we can never take that hurt back.
We have even and especially hurt God.  And we can’t take that hurt back.
We are not always loveable.
But we are always loved.
When Christ proclaims, peace be with you, he lifts up broken hands.
His hands bear the marks of the nails.
Why were his hands not healed after the resurrection?
Wouldn’t his body be made perfect?
Perfect love is not always neat.
Love’s perfection is messy.
Love’s perfection leaves marks.
It is through his messy, costly sacrifice,
Through that love that takes our wounds and purifies them, sanctifies them,
Making us holy and making us whole,
Through that ultimate act of self-sacrificing love that we have ultimate peace with God.
The rift that separates us from the holy
The deep chasm of our sin
Is bridged by the cross.
In the church’s liturgy, we share the peace of Christ immediately after we learn that we have been forgiven of our sin.
“Peace be with you” is more than a greeting.
It is not a time to say hi, how are you, have you lost weight?
It is a time to celebrate together that we know peace!
It is a time to thank God that we don’t have to worry about our sin.
We are not perfect and we probably never will be in this life.
Because of Christ, we are forgiven and set free.
We can be in community and love one another.
So, it’s more than a greeting.
It’s a celebration and an exhortation.
The peace of Christ be with you!
Some of us need to hear that today, to remember we have been forgiven and set free.
And the church needs to hear that today.
I so often hear in meetings the anxiety over what we as a church could do better.
How we could be better and make people come to church.
How we could be better and stop people from leaving church.
As though the decline in the church were all our fault.
As though salvation were not ultimately in the hands of God.
I have been in many meetings where I felt like the agenda was self-flagellation.
As a church professional, I am very flawed.
There are things about myself that I’d like to change.
But no matter how hard I work, I will never be a perfect church professional.
And even if I were, that would not instantly make the church grow.
I don’t have that power.
While I keep working to improve my ministry to others, to be a better associate pastor,
I’ve decided to give myself a little bit of grace.
And I think we, in the church, need to give ourselves a little bit of grace.
Are we, the church, loveable?  Most of the time.  Not always.
But we are always loved.
Because when God looks at us, he sees the body of Christ.
Some of us will struggle with believing in God’s love our whole lives.
It is one of the great spiritual struggles.
The other great spiritual question I see is: Why do I hurt?
Or put another way, can I trust God?
And the answer to that question stands among the disciples.
He is here, in our midst, telling us, commanding us:  “Peace be with you.”
We, all of us, experience pain and loss.
We live, many of us, in fear of what could happen, when in reality it’s not what could happen, it’s what will happen.
We will, all of us, die.
And for some of us that vulnerability causes us to live in fear.
When the crucified and risen Christ comes to them, the disciples have no peace.
They have fear.
They are terrified of losing their lives.
And with good reason; their leader has just been murdered.
Fear is a great robber of peace.
Our fears of death can also be played out as fear of losing some part of our lives.
Such as the fear of losing money, comfort, or livelihood,
Or fear of losing a relationship or an institution precious to us.
Many of us have experienced the anxiety that surrounds the decline and death of a church.
So many meetings I have been in discussing the decline of the Presbyterian Church, or the church universal, have been marked by fear and anxiety.
“The church will die if we don’t do this.”
There are often stern pronouncements and solemn faces.
“This is the end.  We staked our lives on this and we lost.”
All are anxious.
All are afraid.
Some assign blame.
As though the death of a religious institution would mean that God is dead.
And to that anxiety, Christ says:  “Peace be with you.”
Love is stronger than death.
That tomb was empty.
Life is a miracle.
Christ is among us.
And God is not dead.
Whether the church is big or small won’t change that.
Whether I can be paid for my ministry or not won’t change that.
Whether Christianity is popular,
Whether Christianity is even legal won’t change that.
God is real.
Christ is risen.
And because he lives, we have peace.
We can trust that no matter what happens,
God is at work.
Good persists.
A light shines in the darkness.
I don’t know if any of you saw the series True Detective.
Matthew McConaghey and Woody Harrelson play good cop, strange cop.
Woody’s character Marty is an all-American churchgoing guy who likes to keep his life and his cases uncomplicated.
McConaghey’s character Rust is a reclusive agnostic who says what he thinks, and what he thinks is often very cynical.  He is, unsurprisingly, not very popular in the department.
The two get assigned to a high profile murder case.  There are strange Satanic symbols all over the crime scene. 
The investigation draws them into a bizarre underworld, a network of corrupt politicians and pastors, involving secret worship rituals and child abuse.  The investigation leaves both of them scarred for life.
They wind up in a terrible shoot out that leaves Rust in a coma.
As they leave the hospital, Marty is pushing Rust in his wheelchair, trying to cheer him up.
Marty wants his partner to open up and says, “Talk to me, Rust.”
After a moment, Rust answers, “There was a moment, I know, when I was under in the dark, that something… whatever I’d been reduced to, not even consciousness, just a vague awareness in the dark. I could feel my definitions fading. And beneath that darkness there was another kind—it was deeper—warm, like a substance. I could feel man, I knew, I knew my daughter waited for me, there. So clear. I could feel her. I could feel … I could feel the peace of my Pop, too. It was like I was part of everything that I have ever loved, and we were all, the three of us, just fading out. And all I had to do was let go, man. And I did. I said, ‘Darkness, yeah.’ and I disappeared. But I could still feel her love there. Even more than before. Nothing. Nothing but that love. And then I woke up.”
Caught up in that remembered joy, Rust breaks down, sobbing.  Marty, clearly uncomfortable, tries to get his friend to think about something else.
“Hey Rust, didn’t you tell me one time, dinner once, maybe, about how you used to ... you used to make up stories about the stars?”
Rust pulls himself together and answers, “Yeah, that was in Alaska, under the night skies.”
Marty says, “Yeah, you used to lay there and look up, at the stars?”
Rust recalls, “Yeah, I think you remember how I never watched the TV until I was 17, so there wasn’t much to do up there but walk around, explore, and...” he trails off.
Marty encourages him, “And look up at the stars and make up stories. Like what?”
Finally Rust says, “I tell you Marty I been up in that room looking out those windows every night here just thinking, it’s just one story. The oldest.”
Marty says: “What’s that?”
Rust says, “Light versus dark.”
It is clear that now they are not just talking about stars.  Marty looks up at the sky, all around them in the hospital parking lot, thinking about all they have seen, and says, “Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”
Rust concedes, “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
Marty insists on helping Rust out to his car, and Rust agrees.  As they head to the car, Marty helping Rust along, Rust stops for a moment.  He makes one final point to his former partner.
“You know, you’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.”
Marty says, “How’s that?”
“Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”
The light shines in the darkness.
The darkness has not overcome it.
And it never will.
Peace be with you.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Door Number One




15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God[a] that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.  ~Deuteronomy 30:15-19

From 1963 to 1977 Monty Hall hosted a popular game show, Let’s Make a Deal,
One of the gimmicks of which was so inventive that it became a meme of its own:
The choice is yours.  Do you choose door number one, door number two, or door number three?
Behind any of these doors could be something really cool, like a BMW, or something stupid called a “zonk.”  A “zonk” might be a used tricycle.
The meme of door number one sticks because a door represents mystery and possibility, a new future to be entered into.
Like Christ speaking in Revelation: 
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Doors represent choice.
We make hundreds of choices every day
And we open hundreds of doors every day.
To get up and go to work or school, you have to open a whole series of doors.
You open the bedroom door, the bathroom door, the shower door, the refrigerator door, the kitchen cabinet door, the front door, the garage door, the car door, the office door, and finally you have to choose whether or not to open your laptop, open a window and actually work.
Each of these is a little choice.
Many of these choices are very simple and don’t seem to have lasting consequences.
But sometimes the doors we choose to open or walk away from can dramatically alter our lives.
Opening the refrigerator door could up your pants size.
Opening the door for a lover could cost you your marriage.
Knocking on the door of a drug dealer could take your life.
In Deuteronomy God sets before the people of Israel two doors:
Door Number One:
If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
Door Number Two:
If your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
God makes it ridiculously clear:
I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. 
These doors are not blank white mysteries.
On the first door is painted the promised land.
On the second door is skull and crossbones.
If God were Monty Hall, he would announce:  “OK Israel, here’s a hint. Behind door number one is an all-you-can-eat milk and honey buffet.  And behind door number two is a very fierce looking army. What’ll it be?”
There’s a drumroll as the audience weighs in.
“Door number one!  Door number one!”
Nodding helpfully in his pinstriped polyester suit and polka dot tie, God hints:  “Choose life!”
And yet, how often do we walk over and open the door with the skull and crossbones?
You know that five minutes after you eat the stale birthday cake in the refrigerator you’ll regret it.
You know that trading in your forty year old wife for two twenty year olds will only be fun until each of those twenty year olds demands child support.
You know that the temporary euphoria of intoxication quickly leads to a crash—and that it takes more and more and more to get that high, and less and less and less of you will be left at the end.
You know which of the doors placed before you will lead you to joy and which will result in sorrow.
For Christians it’s tempting to spiritualize this passage of Deuteronomy.
Door number one is heaven, door number two is the other place.
It’s true that Christians believe that the choices we make in this life have consequences in the hereafter.
Yet the people of Israel who stand before Moses are making a choice about here and now, about the life of the community in this world.
What God is offering them is a very real, physical, immediate consequence:  a plentiful land of their own.
This is something for Christians to pay attention to.
Heaven is not only something we are looking forward to.
This life is not a trial meant to be endured.
We are meant to experience a foretaste of heaven here on earth.
The joys of health, prosperity, love, and service
Are gifts that we are meant to enjoy.
And, in the same way, when we stop listening to God,
When we follow idols of romance or sex, comfort or pleasure, getting high,
When we choose actions which result in only temporary and illusory happiness,
We experience, over time, the slow slide
Into loneliness, frustration, and despair,
Getting high eventually gets you pretty low.
It’s not that God condemns us to hell.
It’s that our choices can result in what feels like a living hell.
Sometimes our temptations are not as clear-cut as treats or twenty-year-olds or tequila.
Sometimes our temptations are much more insidious.
I have a temptation to negative thinking.
For instance, I start thinking about my to-do list, and as I run over and over through the things I have to do, I start to feel overwhelmed,
And then thinking, “I feel overwhelmed,” causes me to feel more overwhelmed.
Or I think about every bad thing that has to me happened recently, and I think, “I have the worst luck.  Nothing good ever happens to me.”
Or as I’m driving home at 10mph up I-75, praying I won’t spin out, I think “Winter will never end.  Winter will never end.  Winter will never end.”
It’s very simple, but it took me a long time to realize that I had a choice in what I thought. 
That I could take a thought like “winter will never end,” and evaluate whether it was really rational or helpful.
To get into the habit of choosing the good,
Of choosing life,
Of daily choosing the path that will lead me to joy,
For me means relying on the Holy Spirit.
For me means listening to God:
I set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Choose life.
For me listening to God means remembering what God has shown me in the past:
Don’t make decisions when you’re hungry, lonely, or tired.
Turn to those saints in your life who sit, maybe not on my shoulder, but on the other end of my phone,
people I trust who will call me on my stuff.
And finally, ask, is this me talking, or the demons that haunt me?
This ubiquitous pop song by Imagine Dragons is just running through my head:
“I wanna hide the truth, I wanna shelter you
But with the beast inside, There’s nowhere we can hide
When you feel my heat, Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide.”
That song sticks with people because
Whether we believe there are literal demons or not, we each have our metaphorical demons, our lifelong temptations, those habits and thoughts that lead each of us to that door marked death.
Our Oakland University group is reading CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, which is the collected letters of the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, tutoring him on how to tempt his assigned human patient, a young man choosing between door number one and door number two.
Lewis is a great student of human nature.
He writes, “when two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face that are almost unendurably irritating to the other.  Work on that.”
And, “When he gets to his pew (in the church) and looks round him he will see…his neighbors.  Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somewhat ridiculous.”
Temptations are not necessarily obvious and rarely have a supernatural quality.
Temptations are all around us in the smallest and most ordinary aspects of everyday life.
How do we resist?
Deuteronomy repeats the refrain it began back in Chaper 6, proclaiming, “Hear, O Israel.”
Listen.
Hear.
Recognize which voice is the voice of God and which is telling lies.
Hear God’s voice and listen.
The voice of God is the voice of your true self,
It is the voice of the angels that you can call at any time,
Your friends who you trust to love you no matter what.
The voice of God is the voice calling you to life, health, and joy.
The voice of God makes you laugh and smile.
You know what that voice sounds like.
You know what door number one looks like for you.
And the best way to stay away from door number two is to open door number one.
It’s the door to the gym.
It’s the door to the therapist.
It’s the door to the church.
It’s the door behind which Jesus stands and knocks.
And the good news is, he really wants to get in.
Look at the people of Israel.
In Deuteronomy, these characters the Israelites have already failed.
They already picked door number two over and over again.
Moses leads them out of Egypt, they ask to go back.
God parts the waters of the Red Sea, they say, hey, let’s worship a golden calf!
God tells them, Choose life!  after they have already chosen death.
God gives them this choice after for-giving them all the wrong choices they made in the past.
God could choose door number two for us.  God has every reason to condemn and punish us.
But God keeps choosing to forgive and forget and say, OK, let’s try this again.
If God has to, God will open the door himself, God will unclasp our locked hearts,
God will break down every door, every wall, every idol that separates us from him, and enter in our hearts.
Jesus is dying for us to choose life.
God wants us to choose life because life is a gift God wants us to unwrap.
God wants us to really live.
Saturday was a rough day in the Grano household.
Diana broke her foot on Wednesday jumping on the stairs
(I did not encourage this activity.  I was unloading the dishwasher.)
And she’s too little for crutches, so we have to carry her everywhere.
And she’s heavy.
And Rosie is barking because she’s been cooped up all winter,
And we’ve been staring at the walls for months and months,
Which by the way, I am thinking, are really dirty, 
When Dan crosses his arms and announces,
“We are going to Belle Isle and we are going on a nature walk.”
“Are you crazy?” I respond.
“Our daughter can’t walk. 
And we don’t have time.
Have you noticed how dirty our walls are?
We have to clean.  And unload the dishwasher. And put away the laundry. And I have to preach tomorrow.  I have to think of something to say. I have so much to do!
I’m overwhelmed.
Winter will never end.
Winter will never end.
Winter will NEVER END!”
And Dan says, “I’m gonna pull the car up.”
So, we drive to Belle Isle.
We put the invalid on a sled and I pull her along for two miles.
And halfway through, I discover she’s been reaching over the side of the sled, grabbing the snow (full, I’m sure, of microbes) and eating it.
She looks up at me with her face totally red from eating snow, and she’s smiling.
And Rosie is following the tracks of some small animal deep into the woods, panting with joy, and she looks back at us with this big doggy smile.
And Dan says, “Look!”
There’s an ice formation left by the barges that came through to create a shipping channel in the Detroit River,
Crags of ice jutting up from the water,
And nearby two tufted ducks sit together, gazing over to Canada,
And we are smiling, really alive,
Unwrapping the gift of this day.
Unwrap the gift of today.
Choose to really live.
See the door? Open it.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Nets

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. I

As many of you know, my current husband was also my high school sweetheart, my college sweetheart, and my seminary sweetheart.
We are blessed to have grown up together, and we’re still growing up, and still doing it together.
Some of our good memories come from when we went on study abroad in my senior and his junior year of college.
We decided to study in London, England, for six months in 2003.
It was a great experience and one that was really enriching for both of us.
Neither of us had lived in another country.  Dan has still never lived outside of Michigan.
So moving to the second largest city in the world, with minimal support from the University of Michigan, was a rather jarring experience.
Sure, we knew the language, but we were there with a duffel bag each and a student ID and had to buy pots and pans, get a TV license which one needs in order to have a television in the UK, and learn to navigate the London Underground since of course we had no cars.
We had decided a few things beforehand:  we were not going to hang out with people from Michigan, because if we just hung out with Americans, why were we even in Britain?
We were going to do volunteer work because we recognize that most tourists just look at the pretty parts of a new place and never deal with the more challenging realities.  We wanted to help others in Britain and not just ourselves.
And third, we were going to join a Christian community.
The University was able to set us up as volunteer drama teachers with a Bangladeshi immigrant children on the East end, which was an amazing experience.
But finding British friends and joining a Christian community proved more difficult.
Like much of Europe, London is extremely secular.  One study showed that less than 10% of London students had ever gone to a religious service.
We were amazed that at the University of London at that time, there were only two student Christian organizations, neither of which were Presbyterian.
Good millenials, we looked at their websites.
The first group had information about their next meeting on the website.  The topic?  Why Evolution is Evilution.
“Quick!  Quick!  Close the browser!” I yelled.
On to the second group:  “Koinonia—a charismatic Christian community from a variety of Christian traditions.”
“Charismatic?  Dan, that means they speak in tongues!”  I exclaimed.
Speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift experienced in Pentecostal and charismatic communities whereby the Holy Spirit moves a person to ecstatic, often unintelligible utterances. 
The idea totally freaked me out.
“Well, let’s keep an open mind.”  Dan said. 
He went on to add:  “Maybe God has a reason for us to go there.”
Finally I agreed to go to one meeting, but just one. 
And if it did not seem like God had a plan for us, we would not be going back.
So we went to the first meeting and were greeted when we arrived, by the group’s leader, Nico, who, we were amazed, spoke with a Midwestern accent.
We said where we were from, and he said, “Ann Arbor?  No way!  I went to Michigan!  Go Blue!  And you’re Presbyterian?  Hey, do you know Graham?”
Well, Graham was our campus minister.
Dan looked at me and just smiled.
Sometimes God is annoying.
That group became a wonderful community for us with whom we still keep in touch.
Yes, they prayed in tongues, while we respectfully prayed our silent Presbyterian prayers.
And then after our meeting, we would go to the pub, because that’s what even Christians do in London.
Through that group we were able to really soak in another culture, which is what we were hoping to do, and it also expanded our own faith and openness to possibility.
But I was initially so scared to follow Christ’s call.
Were the disciples scared to follow Jesus?
Jesus gives no details about where they are going.
In Matthew’s Gospel, they haven’t seen him perform any miracles.
They haven’t heard his teachings.
All they have is his words, come, follow me and fish for people.
If they had known what was coming, perhaps they would have been scared.
Following Jesus will set them against their religious tradition and against the entire Empire of Rome.
Following Jesus will be physically taxing work with little financial reward.
Following Jesus will eventually lead some of them to an early and violent death.
And all they have to go on is this man, Jesus, and his words:  “Come, follow me.”
They left their nets.
They left their boats.
They left their families.
They left it all, immediately, and followed.
Fisherman could have meant a variety of different occupations—Matthew doesn’t elaborate.
It could have meant a government official who sells fishing licenses—the upper class.
It could have meant a fishing business owner who hires seasonal day laborers and reaps a profit—the middle class.
Or, it could have meant the seasonal day laborers themselves—the lower class.
Mark tells us they had servants, and Matthew tells us they left their boats, so it’s likely that they were the middle class small business owners.
If that is the case, in a way it’s even more shocking.
This is not just giving up a seasonal wage, but leaving their largest capital investment on the lakeshore, to be snatched up with glee by their former competitors.
We know the nets were important to them.  James and John are right in the process of  mending the nets, carefully sewing, untying the tangles, when Jesus comes to them.
They’re obsessed with the nets.
And they left it all behind. 
They left their nets.
They left their boats.
They left their families.
They left it all, immediately, and followed.
Recently I asked someone in this church for an enormous favor, and he said yes, and then he said, “how can you say no to God?”
I can think of some ways to say no to God.
I can think of some excuses.
“Not if they speak in tongues.”
Or,
“I have tickets to a concert that night.”
“I’m going to drama camp.”
“I like sleep.”
In ministry, a lot of my job involves twisting arms.
There were no seminary classes in the art of arm twisting, and little preparation for the variety and number of excuses we would receive.
I know that in many cases, people have very real reasons why it is unhealthy for them to say “yes” at any given time.
I have also heard people who reluctantly had their arms twisted later tell me what an amazing and life changing experience service to the church became for them.
There are many reasons not to give of yourself to the church.
There are many reasons not to follow a possible call from God.
For one thing, there are the nets.  There’s the boat.  There’s the job.  There’s the family. 
Responsibilities.
Peter, Andrew, James and John were not in Hebrew school looking for a rabbi to follow.
Jesus could have gone to the Hebrew schools and looked for people seeking to become spiritual leaders.
He didn’t.
He went to people who weren’t actively seeking the call, who were actually quite gainfully employed in other productive work, and asked them to leave it all behind.
He asked them to give up something good in exchange for something better.
So you enjoy fishing?  I’ll show you how to catch people.
And they left their nets.
Is there a net that you’re holding onto?
Concert tickets?
Drama camp?
Sleep?
Could you be holding onto your nets, your responsibilities, your excuses so tightly that you don’t even realize they have you completely tangled up?
Could you be so tangled, twisted, and tied up in knots, so trapped by things that somehow became important, that you can’t follow when Jesus calls?
Today we have a congregational meeting.
Maybe you’ve never gone before.  You’ve said, let other people do that.
Well, you are the other people.
Go.
Listen.
Meet someone and learn about them.
You never know how God might speak.
Leave the nets behind and follow.
Because it’s only when you stop letting the nets tangle you,
That you can become God’s fishing net.
Maybe by serving with our mission committee you can be a safety net for people in great need.
Maybe by helping with the Boy Scouts you will find yourself used as a human basketball net that brings joy to a boy’s face.
Maybe by greeting on a Sunday morning you can be the fishing net that brings in a new member in need of this community.
If the disciples had never left their nets behind,
If they had never given themselves up to be the equipment on God’s fishing boat,
Well, they would have been small businessmen, who lived and died in Nazareth.
Instead, they are Peter, Andrew, James, and John, whose names have been given to children for two thousand years, so common that we forget that they were the names of the disciples.
Instead, these men founded a faith cherished by billions of people, which has brought comfort and joy to you and to me.
Instead, these fishermen caught people.
And there is no greater joy than catching people.
There is no greater joy than helping someone find faith.
When I die, I won’t be thinking of the products I did or didn’t buy,
I won’t be thinking of how fancy my car was or how many square feet were in my house.
On the day that I die I will remember how it felt to baptize a young person who found faith,
How it felt when someone told me, I saw God speaking through you,
How it felt to watch a child repeat a verse I had taught her,
How it felt to know that when God went fishing, God chose to bring you and me.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

mmediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22

Black and Decker



Do you know why you were created?
Have you ever wondered, what in God’s name am I doing here?
I have wondered what in God’s name I am doing with my life from time to time,
When I’m organizing another game of Sardines,
When I’m pulling out my sleeping bag for another retreat away from my family,
When I’m hauling out my paint-stained pants for another mission trip.
Ephesians says: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do, to be our way of life.
What, in God’s name, we are supposed to be doing with our lives are good works.
It makes even more sense in reverse:  What we are supposed to be doing are good works, in God’s name.
Our purpose in life is not to make a lot of money.
Our purpose in life is not to have a lot of fun.
Our purpose in life is not even to have children and raise them.
Not fully.
Our purpose is to do good works.
God created us so that we can share in his work of truth, justice, and love.
We are not here for ourselves.
God chose us to experience the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and to share that grace, love, and fellowship with the world.
God chose you and me and each person here and prepared work for us to do, work that he carefully chose for us.
God made you in such a way that there is a specific task he wants you to do.
Listen again to Ephesians 2:10:  You are God’s workmanship, created in Jesus Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do, to be our way of life.
God formed you in such a way that there is a specific task he wants you to do.
You are God’s handiwork.
You are God’s machine, God’s instrument.
He wants you to perform a specific function.
And if Black and Decker, Hewlett Packard, or Ford are concerned with their machines performing their functions well,
Imagine the care and thought God has put into designing and engineering us to do his work.
In our church in Rochester Hills we have lots of engineers.
Many of our congregation members work in the auto industry trying to make cars run better.
Engineers are people who are very interested in how things work.
There’s an old joke about engineers.
Three men were sent to the guillotine to be beheaded, a doctor, a lawyer, and an engineer.
The doctor comes up to the guillotine, says his last words, weeping, to his family, proclaims his innocence, kneels down on the block, sticks his head out,
And the executioner lets go of the rope and the blade begins to fall but…
Halfway down the blade stops, perfectly still.
The doctor looks up, astonished.
The executioner shrugs his shoulders.
The judge proclaims, this must be the will of God!  And lets the doctor go free.
Next the lawyer comes up to the block.  Says his last words, proclaims his innocence, kneels down on the block, sticks his neck out, and the executioner lets fly and…
The blade stops still, halfway down.  Must be the will of God, he must be innocent.  The lawyer goes free.
The engineer comes next to the block, kneels down, and looks up, and he says, “I think I see what the problem is!  There’s a little knot in the wood right there…does anyone have sandpaper?”
The engineer is obsessed with making sure something does what it’s supposed to do.
My dad is, in fact, an engineer.
And whenever we’re having a problem with something around the house, he’ll say, well, let’s look at it.
Just like the engineer on the execution block, he likes to study something and think about how it works.
Look at this can opener.  See the sharp blade?  That’s what cuts.
See the little wheel?  So, we turn that.
And soon, we have it figured out.
We make it work the way it was made to do.
Have you ever looked at yourself that way?
Have you ever considered yourself as God’s equipment, meant to perform good works, and asked,
What was I made to do?
What was I fashioned for?
Look at your life.
Look at what your gifts are.
Look at the ways you could be using your gifts to serve God.
I believe that you can tell quite a bit about a person from their kindergarten report card.
My kindergarten report card said:  Reading skills:  Excellent.  Mathematic skills:  Excellent.  Hand-eye coordination:  Needs improvement.
To this day, I am more comfortable in the spiritual world than the physical one.
I tend to trip over myself, to walk into walls, to spill food and beverages on myself, etc.
When I remember kindergarten, I remember that I often would withdraw from my class, to go into a little cubby by myself, to read and pray.
And God is so good that now reading and praying is called “work.”
Look at your life.
What did your report cards say about you?
What gifts have your friends and family noticed in you?
What is the good work that God wants you, and only you to do?
Think about what you do when you’re having trouble with a new machine, a new cell phone, a new gadget.
You look at it, and then you play around with it, don’t you?
Try the buttons and the levers and figure out what works.
Are we afraid to mess around and try things out to see what works?
Are we limiting ourselves out of fear?
Maybe you can do something you never thought possible.
This sermon is not a lesson on what-color-is-your-parachute; it’s not career development.
The good works we are called to do are not always related to our jobs.
We may have several callings at any one point in life, in our church, community, family, and career.
Our good works may be in surprising areas.
I was with my husband’s aunt Pat in Florida and I wanted a cup of tea.
And she took some water in the coffee pot, poured it in the coffee maker, and turned it on without any coffee grounds in the coffee maker.
Then, when the coffee pot was full of hot water, she poured it on my tea.
I was astonished, I said, “that’s how you make tea?  With a coffee maker?  Without lighting the stove and filling up the teapot and everything?”
She said, “why are you so bound on having something used only for one purpose?”
Perhaps you too can be used in a way you didn’t think possible.
I love the email you’ve no doubt seen:  Noah was a drunk, Abraham was too old, Moses was a murderer, Rahab was a prostitute, Mary was a teenager, Peter denied Christ, and Lazarus was dead.  God can use you.
Perhaps you already know this.
Perhaps you’ve figured out what it is God wants you to do, but you are not doing it.
You know you are meant to brew coffee, but someone poured alcohol into you instead.
You know you are meant to open cans, but instead you have turned your sharp blade onto yourself.
You know you are meant to carry others forward but you can’t seem to get out of your own garage.
You are misused so that gifts that God could use for building up the church are only building up yourself,
Or worse, you too are being destroyed,
Because when you use a machine the wrong way you ruin it.
When you turn on the coffee pot with no water in it it could catch fire.
When you don’t take time to clean off the can opener it will rust.
And a vehicle that just sits there will fall apart.
When you are not being used correctly, you soon won’t be good for what God needs.
Are you the machine that has been used and abused?
Are you feeling like you’ve failed God?
Are you feeling like you are useless to anyone, fit for nothing but the junkyard?
God has good news for you.
Three times, three times, in this passage of Scripture, Ephesians 2, it says “by grace you have been saved.”
By grace you have been saved, and this is not your own doing.
God saves you whether you’re working right or in need of a few repairs.
Our salvation doesn’t depend on what we do, it depends on who we are and whose we are.
Because unlike Black and Decker, Ford, or Hewlett Packard,
Who make things that will eventually be thrown away,
God doesn’t make junk.
All these machines will eventually wear out and be thrown in the junkyard.
But a human soul is something that can never be destroyed.
God made you to save you.
He is intent on saving you.
He wants to repair you so you’ll work right.
He wants to prepare you so you can do what you are meant to do.
You are God’s handiwork, created for good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God knows what you were truly meant for, the great work he has set aside for only you.
He has prepared it for you in advance, and he is preparing you for it as well.
The purpose of our communion meal is not to quietly mourn the death of Jesus.
The purpose of the communion feast is to fill us spiritually with Jesus Christ, so that we are prepared to do good works throughout the week.
God spends a lot of time preparing us.  He’s given us an instruction manual to read,
And he sends us helpers to keep us tuned up.
Have you ever thought that when you are going through a hard time, perhaps it’s because God is preparing you for greater service?
Being tuned up and repaired isn’t always entirely comfortable, but it’s necessary.
And sometimes God is tuning us, preparing us to serve him better.
I have also struggled in my life with depression.
At one point in my life I was suicidal and I was hospitalized.
Through my own struggles with depression, I am now able to sit beside those who are hurting and understand in part that pain.
I share my story with others and it helps them to know that they are not alone,
And it helps them to know that like me, they can get better,
And it helps them to know that God has not abandoned them, but walks beside them.
So such a difficult thing in my life has become one of my most abundant blessings.
If you are in a time of trial,
If you are in a time of challenge,
If you find that you need to rely on God more and more,
Perhaps God is preparing you for your good work.
Look at your life.
Listen to your life.
Watch for what God is doing.
There is a work that only you can do.
Do not be afraid to do the good work God has prepared for you.
This is your opportunity.  Don’t waste it.
Do the work God designed for you to do.
Be the person God created you to be.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Umbilicists

This is why I love youth ministry.  In Confirmation I collect written questions that either I don't have time to answer in class or the students don't want to ask in class.  Then I attempt to write responses that will help the students.  The above query was raised after a lively discussion of creation last week.  I had no idea how seriously some people, specifically creationists, take this question.  Enjoy.   There's some big quotes here from an article by Al Maxey in Grace Centered magazine, 10/10/12.

Did Adam have a belly button/navel/umbilicus?
“This will help answer the question. “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul)” (Gen. 2:7). Woman had not even been created at this point in time, so it is obvious that Adam did not come from the womb of one. “For man does not originate from woman” (1 Cor. 11:8). This being true, then how could Adam have had an umbilicus?”  So, the traditional answer would be, “no.”

Did Eve have a belly button?
“ ‘So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man…’ (Gen. 2:21). Eve also did not experience a natural birth, but rather a supernatural creation! Thus, for her to have been given an umbilicus would likewise be a false testimony.”
Again, neither an innie nor an outie.

Uncle Sam gets involved: 
“In 1944, a subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives Military Committee (chaired by Congressman Durham of the state of North Carolina) refused to authorize a little 30-page booklet titled ‘Races of Man,’ that was to be handed out to our soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting in World War II, because this little booklet had a drawing that depicted Adam and Eve with belly buttons! The members of this subcommittee ruled that showing Adam and Eve with navels ‘would be misleading to gullible American soldiers.’”

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—I mean, Renaissance painters—weigh in:
“Some of the world’s great artists also wrestled with this problem, as did the Roman Catholic Church. In 1646, Sir Thomas Browne, a doctor and philosopher from Norwich, published a work titled ‘Pseudodoxia Epidemica’ in which he sought to expose some of the ‘vulgar errors’ then present in society. He devoted an entire chapter to ‘Pictures of Adam and Eve with Navels.’ He points out that even such notables as Raphael and Michelangelo were guilty of such ‘vulgar errors.’ He declared that to paint Adam and Eve with belly buttons would be to suggest that ‘the Creator affected superfluities, or ordained parts without use or office.’ The Catholic Church, as a rule, seemed to be against artists depicting Adam and Eve with navels in their paintings, so this posed quite a problem for a number of these artists who didn’t want to antagonize the church. A good many of them, therefore, chose to take the ‘safe path’ and simply painted the couple with strategically placed foliage, long hair, or forearms blocking the abdomen. And yet Michelangelo dared to paint Adam with a navel, and to place it right there on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for which he was accused of heresy by some theologians of his day.”

Did you know that people who believed they had navels are called umbilicists?

“Pre-Umbilicism — This is the view that has already been presented above; the view that Adam and Eve were given navels at the moment of their creation by God.”

“Mid-Umbilicism — This particular view suggests that Adam’s navel was created when the Lord God took the rib from him and created the woman Eve. God chose to pull the rib from the center of Adam’s blank abdomen, thus forming a puncture wound. Therefore, the navel on Adam, unlike all future navels, was not a visible sign that he had come from a woman, but actually a visible sign that woman had come from him. Eve, according to these Mid-Umbilicists, never did have a navel, as there was no need for her to have one.”

“Post-Umbilicism — This last theory places the umbilicus on both Adam and Eve after their sin, and at the point of being driven from the garden. When Cain was later driven out because he had murdered his brother, we are told God ‘set a mark on him’ (Gen. 4:15)…the Mid-Umbilicists similarly assume that a distinguishing mark was placed on Adam and Eve when they were driven from the garden (although Scripture never mentions any such mark being placed on them), and that this mark was the belly button. This ‘scar’ in their midsection would forever be a reminder to this couple, and to all mankind, that they had, by their sin, been ‘severed from’ their God, just as a baby is severed from its mother when the umbilical cord is cut, with the navel being a constant visible reminder of that previous connection now forever severed.”

So what do you think?  Did they or didn’t they?