God Through Us

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S (Scripture): Psalm 25

The Lord’s voice is over the waters;

    the glorious God thunders;

        the Lord is over the mighty waters.

The Lord’s voice is strong;

    the Lord’s voice is majestic.

The Lord’s voice breaks cedar trees—

    yes, the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes Lebanon jump around like a young bull,

    makes Sirion jump around like a young wild ox.

The Lord’s voice unleashes fiery flames;

    the Lord’s voice shakes the wilderness—

        yes, the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The Lord’s voice convulses the oaks,

    strips the forests bare,

        but in his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

10 

The Lord sits enthroned over the floodwaters;

    the Lord sits enthroned—king forever!

11 

Let the Lord give strength to his people!

    Let the Lord bless his people with peace!

O (Observation): In the creation story – and in this Psalm – the waters and floodwaters reflect the chaos that existed before creation. God separated the waters from the waters in creation. God created order out of chaos.

God is sovereign over all. God can make the lands and forests act like pets and play toys.

God is present in the midst of chaos and with that kind of power, surely the Lord can bless her people with peace.

A (Application): Our school system was closed today and yesterday and closed 2 hours early the day before that. Why? Flooding. Rain has been incessant for days and now many roads are flooded.

When waters rise, chaos ensues. Water is quite the force to be reckoned with. One must obey the serious damage that water can cause, especially when it flows over its regular bounds.

And somehow, God sits over the waters. We are part of a broken creation, but God remains faithful to us. How? Empowering our neighbors to love one another.

A great service organization – Murfreesboro Cold Patrol – sprang into action to help the homeless population by washing their newly soaked clothes and sleeping bags. They are helping to ensure that the chronic homeless are aided through this storm and flood.

God lives in the hearts of humans. We serve others and ensure the safety of our fellow humans the best way we can. In doing so, we can endure the floods and disasters of this world.

P (Prayer): God, empower us as co-creators to be the care and love in this world that you wish us to be. Amen.

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Open the Windows and Doors to the Autumn Air

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S (Scripture): John 4:19 The [Samaritan] woman said [to Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you and your people say that it is necessary to worship in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You and your people worship what you don’t know; we worship what we know because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—and is here!—when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth. The Father looks for those who worship him this way. 24 God is spirit, and it is necessary to worship God in spirit and truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one who is called the Christ. When he comes, he will teach everything to us.”

26 Jesus said to her, “I Am—the one who speaks with you.”

O (Observation): Usually this story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well draws me into Jesus’ witness of crossing boundaries for the sake of the Gospel. And indeed, this does occur. And yet, a new thing has caught my attention in my reading of this lesson today.

Worship.

Where does it happen? The Temple, of course!

Of all the things she wonders about, worship (and where to worship) is important to her.

Jesus opens up the expanse of proper worship. Worship is not about a place, but an orientation towards something. In this case, the orientation is towards truth and spirit. God is released from the confines of the Temple, for “God is spirit.”

The Temple served a purpose for a time. The people wandered in the wilderness until a settlement was established. Organic moved to organized. But then the organization grew and became complicated – it got in the way of worship and mission for God. And the Samaritans, for example, were not welcome to worship with the Jews…thus producing a stumbling block to the movement of God’s grace in the world.

A (Application): Stumbling blocks. We (the Church) are good at creating stumbling blocks for others. Yet we are also so close to opening up the doors and windows to allow the refreshing autumn air into our homes and places of worship and more.

Breath it in! The crisp, fall air. God is up to something. Can you feel it?

Meet someone new lately? Catch up with an old friend? Or do you find yourself wrapping up tighter and tighter, pulling yourself away from the world?

We are all in different places. But I would invite you to be aware of the places in your life where God is trying to pry open your heart to experience the Spirit’s presence.

Maybe at the water fountain? The coffee station? The lunchroom? Where is God showing up and shaking things up?

P (Prayer): Lord, show us that you are here with us. Amen.

Give for Water

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S (Scripture): Psalm 49

5

Why should I be afraid in times of trouble,

when the wrongdoing of my bullies engulfs me—

6

those people who trust in their fortunes

and boast of their fantastic wealth?

7

Wealth? It can’t save a single person!

It can’t pay a life’s ransom-price to God.

8

The price to save someone’s life is too high—

wealth will never be enough—

9

no one can live forever

without experiencing the pit.

10

Everyone knows that the wise die too,

just like foolish and stupid people do,

all of them leaving their fortunes to others.

11

Their graves are their eternal homes,

the place they live for all generations,

even if they had counties named after them!

12

People won’t live any longer because of wealth;

they’re just like the animals that pass away.

O (Observation): The psalmist – a seemingly poor person – considers a rich person (who indulges in the lifestyles of the rich) to be an abomination. The psalmist points out that no amount of wealth actually makes them superior – after all, when they die, what will become of their wealth? It will go to their heirs. And what will be their eternal home? Their grave.

A (Application): We are so caught up in vanity these days. Latest cars. Biggest houses. Why?

Most folks living in these huge homes or latest model cars cannot afford them. So why do we go for them? Status? Power? Wanting to “fit in”?

I know this sounds judgmental, but I really struggle with vain wealth, when 663 million people are drinking dirty water…yet so many of us are wealthy…something is not right.

What can we do? How can we be about the ongoing work of Jesus?

Simple: give. Give and give and give some more.

For my 40th Birthday, I’m thinking of doing something big (big for me)…I’m going to seek funds to establish a simple water well through the ELCA Good Gifts program ($2,500). As I get closer in, I’ll advertise a link and invite as many people as possible into my campaign.

I hope that folks can help out as I put this effort together to support others whose basic need of water has escaped them to this point.

Maybe this is what the psalmist intended all along…that we might read this Psalm and wonder our place in it all.

P (Prayer): Lord, thank you for granting me the opportunity to give and encourage others to give, as well. Amen.

The River of Life

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S (Scripture): Ezekiel 47:1 When he brought me back to the temple’s entrance, I noticed that water was flowing toward the east from under the temple’s threshold (the temple faced east). The water was going out from under the temple’s facade toward the south, south of the altar. 2 He led me out through the north gate and around the outside to the outer east gate, where the water flowed out under the facade on the south side. 3 With the line in his hand, the man went out toward the east…
6 He said to me, “Human one, do you see?” Then he led me back to the edge of the river. 7 When I went back, I saw very many trees on both banks of the river…
9 “Wherever the river flows, every living thing that moves will thrive. There will be great schools of fish, because when these waters enter the sea, it will be fresh. Wherever the river flows, everything will live…”
12 “…on both banks of the river will grow up all kinds of fruit-bearing trees. Their leaves won’t wither, and their fruitfulness won’t wane. They will produce fruit in every month, because their water comes from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for eating, their leaves for healing.”

O (Observation): The Temple was at times the locus of worship, the center of God’s presence on earth. Ezekiel is given an extremely detailed explanation for the Temple’s layout and function. In this particular text, he is shown a river that flows from the Temple, outward. And where that river flows, life springs forth! Abundant life, at that. Like trees that bear fruit every month! Like fish being plentiful!

And not only does life spring forth from the fruit of the trees, but also the leaves of those trees are for healing.   

A (Application):   Knowing that God provides life and healing is comfort that I need.  I try to muster up healing and actions on my part that will provide what God promises…and yet I fail.  

As life goes on, I realize more and more that I am simply NOT God.   We all know that, but if we’re honest, we try to prove to ourselves and to others that we can keep our sh!t together.  That we can provide life and sustenance on our own. That we can be on top of all things.  That we can handle this thing called life.

The thing is, we will never have our lives completely together.  We will have days where we drain life from others, rather than give life.  We will cause pain, instead of healing.   

So, our complete hope is in God. Not in our hands alone, but God working through our hands.  Not our voice alone, but God working through our voice.   Not our hearts alone, but God calling us together into one heart that is bent towards loving God and loving our neighbor.  

May we share in the hope of the river of life that brings true life to all!

P (Prayer):  Lord, keep us alongside your life-giving waters, always.  Amen.  

A Sermon in Response to Charlottesville Chaos – 8/13/2017

10th Sunday After Pentecost – Lectionary 19

Sunday, August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; MATTHEW 14:22-33

 

I’m angry…I don’t think it’s good to write a sermon when you’re angry…

I’m angry about what’s going on in Charlottesville…

If you don’t know, up in Charlottesville, a group of folks rallied together

Their purpose:  oppose the pending removal of a General Robert E. Lee statue

This demonstration resulted in protestors organizing

And like a fuse being lit…

it was just a matter of time until things got out of hand

Tensions rise…

People start acting irrational.  Mob mentality sets in.  US vs. THEM – VIOLENCE!

And then some fool races down a street full of people, likely a mix of demonstrators and protestors, rams into a stopped car, causing a chain reaction of accidents, and literally sends people flying into the crowd, injuring dozens, and killing one

Fights break out along racial lines

This is happening in 2017 people!!!

This isn’t Detroit, 1967…This is Charlottesville, VA, 2017!!!

WAKE UP, PEOPLE!

This is hatred…this is a demonstration of evil…

In OUR TIME, people! In OUR TIME!

I want to point fingers and I want to BLAME PEOPLE!!!…but I’m not going to today…

I’m not gonna blame the President.  I’m not gonna blame the demonstrators.  I’m not gonna blame those protesting the demonstrators.

You know who I’m gonna start with?  I’m gonna take a selfie and I’m gonna take a long, hard look at the person in that selfie and I’m gonna work on that person, first…and I invite you to do the same.  Take a selfie!  Put it on social media…  #SpiritLeadMe

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different race, we are part of the problem.

Every time we ignore the invitation to get to know someone of a different religion, we are part of the problem.

Every time we fail to speak out against ANY injustice: Homelessness, access to healthcare, racism, bigotry, prejudice, we are part of the problem.

#SpiritLeadMe

And do you know the saddest part of this terrifying moment?

Fear robs us of the abundant life God intends for us

Peter and the disciples are full of hope and passion, and yet full of fear

They’ve seen the abundance of God in the feeding of the 5,000…but now…out in the boat…living through a storm of their own…a literal storm…Jesus comes out walking on the water.

They are scared! Tired!  Worn!  In the midst of their fears, they recognize Jesus, and Peter wants to come and walk on water, too!

May we all be foolish enough like Peter…silly, blind faith to step out…and he did it…for a few steps…And then he starts to sink.  As Peter is sinking…he shouts, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:31   31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

And I pray that white churches all across America, today, are crying out, “Lord save us!”

And Jesus reaches his hand out…

You see, Peter needed saving…he walked on a water a bit…but he still needed saving

And I can say the same for us…We will take a few steps, but we need prayer…we need Jesus now more than ever.

Folks, we all have fears…but God helps us to TRANSCEND our fears.

And you know what my fear is, right now?  That I’ve been wrong…My fear is that I have not done enough to stand up for justice for the poor, the outcast, and that I haven’t really stood with my African-American brothers and sisters

#SpiritLeadMe

But I recall…that Jesus didn’t let Peter drown…

Jesus didn’t let those disciples drown…

And Jesus ain’t gonna let us drown! No, sir!

And we are gonna seek God’s holy wisdom, right now…

We are gonna walk out on the waters…and face our fears…

 

“A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy”
Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien

Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

When your people cried out in slavery,
You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power
And lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.

Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest,
To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.
Yet, they are us. And we are them.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless ALL are free

In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son,
Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,
The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,
The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.

The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”
In Christ, we are all one.
Not in spite of our differences, but in them.
Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,
In Christ we are all one.

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.
(One in Christ, who calmed the seas, who walked on water, who saved Peter from drowning.)

Each week, we confess our sin to you and to one another.
We know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
We are captive to the sin of white supremacy,
Which values some lives more than others,
Which believes some skin tones are more perfect than others,
Which commits violence against those who are different.
We confess our complicity in this sin.
We humbly repent.
We ask for the strength to face our sin, to dismantle it, and to be made anew
We trust in your compassion and rely on your mercy
Praying that you will give us your wisdom and guide us in your way of peace,
That you will renew us as you renew all of creation
In accordance with your will.

We ask this, we pray this, as your children, all siblings, all related, all beloved children of God.

Amen

I feel like I’m starting…just barely, to understand why folks would need to sing a song that goes like this:  “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light Take my hand precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Jesus won’t let US drown…Jesus is the abundant life!

Here at the table…at the font…we see abundance…we see hope…

God is with us in our sin…in our fears…

When the winds of life are overwhelming us, when a city like Charlottesville is under siege, when called upon, I urge you to step out in faith…to confront hatred, with love; to stand up when others are dismissed

And when you step out…and you start to sink…

Remember: Jesus will be there…and he ain’t gonna check out your skin color before he reaches his hand out to save you…

#SpiritLeadMe

Spirit Lead Me.

Spirit Lead Us!

Amen

Grace in Action


S (Scripture): John 2:1 Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.” 4 Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.” 5 His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the water jars with water.” So they filled them up to the very top. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward,” and they did. 9 When the head steward tasted the water that had been turned to wine, not knowing where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

O (Observation): As we wade into the Gospel according to John, we see Jesus’ first of seven signs.  The first is significant to the reader, because it is the first little bit of Jesus revealing his true nature, publicly.  

As Karoline Lewis says in her reflections on this text on WorkingPreacher.org: “the miracle itself is not really what we are supposed to see, as miraculous as it is.”  So if this is about revelation…then what is Jesus revealing?

John’s Gospel opts to say less about Jesus, and let’s Jesus SHOW us what grace looks like through his signs.  Jesus reveals what grace sounds like…or in today’s case, what it TASTES like!  

We see wine in abundant proportions, and it is something SO good that we cannot ignore it.  

A (Application):  What is more effective: to tell you something or to let you experience it?  

I challenged my seminary professor:  isn’t an experience of some kind important to the faith?   His response, “Preach Christ, and him crucified.  That is all that is needed.”   I agree and disagree.  

I agree that this faith statement is the foundation of the Christian faith.   And as one believes in this statement, that faith moves from the head to the heart over time. 

Yet as a “feeling” type of person, I give a lot of weight to experiences.   I want to hear that Christ died and was raised for you and me.  And yet, I want to taste it and touch it and smell it.   I shouldn’t have to, but I do.  

As I gather around the font to baptize folks, I feel God’s Promise in the waters, hear the sounds of water lapping, and hear the coos and cries of the babies whose lives have been transformed. 

As I prepare and distribute Holy Communion, I taste the grace in the cup and on the paten.  I am renewed with abundant grace in just a taste of wine and bread.  

At times, I also see signs of Jesus in humanity around me.  I know our social media is full of headlines about racial tension and scrutiny of police these days.  Yet, if we listen to one another, we will see God’s grace in action.   In peaceful ways, we can be drawn closer to one another, by listening.   

P (Prayer): Jesus, continue to show us signs of grace in action all around us. Amen. 

The End of Our Capacity

  

S (Scripture): Exodus 17:1  The whole community of the Israelites traveled on their journey from the Desert of Sin according to the Lord’s instruction, and they pitched camp in Rephidim. Now there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So the people contended with Moses, and they said, “Give us water to drink!” Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people were very thirsty there for water, and they murmured against Moses and said, “Why in the world did you bring us up out of Egypt – to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?”

4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What will I do with this people? – a little more and they will stone me!” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go over before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go. 6 I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb, and you will strike the rock, and water will come out of it so that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in plain view of the elders of Israel.

O (Observation):  God’s people are thirsty!  They walked through the Red Sea, but couldn’t take any of it with them : )

So now they are in the desert, headed to the Promised Land, but now they are seeking a basic necessity of life: water.  And Moses feels stuck in the middle…

Moses and God’s people have reached their capacity.   And that is where faith is matured the most.   And God shows up, using Moses and his staff to strike a rock, from which the water flows.   Wow!  God showed up!  Awesome…

A (Application):  I get so caught up in leading sometimes, that I fail to acknowledge my limits.  I sweep them under the carpet, rather than cry out to the Lord.  I hide those limits, and do work on things that I CAN handle.   

But this also limits God’s grace.  

Is acknowledging our limits an okay thing?  Sure it is!  But how many of us do that?  How often do we go to God as a last resort, rather than the FIRST resort.   And when we step back and rely on God to work through us, we are usually blown away by the fruit we can bear.  

Please pray for me this day.  Help me to acknowledge God first…and when I fail, pray that I will cry out to the Lord…and that the Lord will provide again.  

P (Prayer):  Lord, I seek you today first.   You have claimed me for your own.  Help me today to seek you and your Kingdom first. Amen.