A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Posts tagged ‘Worship’

Undeserved Suffering and Unhelpful Friends

This is  my sermon from July 10, 2016

Job 2:11 – 13
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home — Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Job 3:1 – 10 (to his friends)
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night — let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning — because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes.

Job 4:1-9 (to Job)
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of God’s anger they are consumed.

Job 7:11-21 (to God)
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling     and death rather than this body. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

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After this week’s events all I really want to do together is stand in a circle, hold hands, and pray our guts out that we the people of these United States of America will stop the momentum of violence by being unafraid of hearing and believing someone else’s story of their life.

The momentum that we are in has a life of its own. Unless an outside force stops it we will become its subjects and do its bidding. This force that can stop it is not the force of more violence. It is the force of non-violence … of listening, of sharing, of being fearless to put down our pre-designed arguments in lieu of having no argument at all. This force is the action of listening to our own fears and the fear of others.

When Job’s friends gathered around him they sat for seven days without talking. Finally Job spoke. The problem arose when his friends began to speak. During their course of silence it seems they were figuring out all the things they wanted to say rather than just sitting with Job and being present with his pain.

When Job speaks he expresses his despair and confusion. His friends didn’t respond with something like … “Yes, Job. This is terrible. I don’t know what it feels like to be you. Thank you for sharing your pain.” Instead they correct him, which they have no right to do; and they try to make things better which they have no power to do. They might say that they are motivated by care and concern but really they are motivated by fear. They are afraid that what is happening to Job might happen to them and they afraid that Job expressing his pain might actually touch them deeply enough so that they end up experiencing their own pain.

When we hear Job’s friend’s talk we might forget that the truth of Job’s situation was told to us at the beginning. Job was blameless. He did nothing wrong. This is hard to remember because we have a habit of blaming the victim. When bad things happen we want to make sense of it. Typically that means giving an explanation of why the victim wasn’t actually a victim but really what happened was a consequence of who they are or what they did. This happens with rape victims all the time. Comments about what she was wearing, how she was standing, or if she was drinking take precedence over the fact that she was a victim of violence. It is a veneer of order that is meant to help us feel safe. The problem with it is that it actually keeps us all at risk because we are excusing away perpetrators of violence.

This week, after a celebration of our country’s declaration of independence, two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in St Paul, MN were fatally shot by white police. These killings are under investigation as being racially charged. The Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, made this statement. “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white? I don’t think it would have. … I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”

Thursday in Dallas, during a peaceful rally about racialized violence in our country, a sniper took matters into his own hands and fatally shot five police officers. Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson.

We must not let the momentum of this violence take us. Let us mourn. Let us sit for seven days in silence … not to gather together our arguments and justifications, but simply to listen and bear witness to the humanity of all those who have died.

It wasn’t right for those police officers to die. They were doing their job respectfully and well. There are a lot of good cops out there. Know that I believe this when I say that there is also a problem in this country where black men are perceived as more dangerous than white men and end up fatally shot by police during situations where they pose no real threat.

This problem is where the Black Lives Matter movement came from. It doesn’t mean that white lives don’t matter or that police lives don’t matter. Given Job’s friend’s reaction to his out-pouring of grief about the violent losses in his life I have no doubt that they would have taken issue with the concept of Black Lives Matter if they were alive today. But that is a reactionary response which only justifies the violence and does nothing to keep anyone safe.

Job is blameless in his grief and in his defense of his innocence. His friends see the violence, and wishing to keep it a distance from themselves, they blame Job for what has happened to him. They are very unhelpful friends in the midst of Job’s undeserved suffering.

God help us so that we are better than that. I pray that we are helpful friends. That we don’t react against the violence because we are afraid of it … but rather that we embrace those who are grieving … all of those who are grieving.

This week I grieve with the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. On behalf of all the innocents who are killed I ask Job’s question to God which we read from Job 7:21, “Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”

We can pray this prayer and pose this question on behalf of all those who are killed in their innocence. We are Christians. Mercy and Love are at the heart of our path. Let us practice it with abandon the way Jesus offered it to us. This is what will change the world toward peace and give our next generations hope and safety.

Moving Forward

800px-Janus_https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Janus_.jpg

What does it mean to move forward? Whatever it means, it takes equal parts grace and will; equal parts faith and works. Going forward isn’t simply picking yourself up by your bootstraps and doing what you think you have to do. There’s a time for that kind of response, but I think it’s a temporary thing. There are lots of ways to go forward.

Whether we take a micro step or a quantum leap we are still moving. Sometimes moving forward is resolving to never “do it that way again” or to “always do it that way in the future.” More often than not, I believe that going forward is to honestly realize that you don’t know if you would do it that way or another way – if it comes up, you’ll make the decision.

We can only control so much, but what we control is important to acknowledge. We can also only decide so much, and I believe that we have to be flexible at all times.

Looking back on your year, if you had to, would you do it again? Mediate on this question in the presence of the One Who Is, who is also The One Who Was There. Don’t dodge the question, but don’t dwell on it either. Then make peace with your past. Let your experience of yourself inform your future, and then let it go as best you can. Intentionally work on letting it go so that it doesn’t become a ball and chain.

It is recorded that Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. We all know that the work of following the teachings of Christ is difficult. But maybe the burden of our Christian commitment can be lightened as we learn how to reflect and then let go. I believe that when we are stuck in the mire of cyclical reflection that we are not growing into our own divinity and we are not participating in the realization of the Realm of Heaven on earth. The good news is that you can participate in the world of the Holy.

As you reflect on this past year I hope that you can believe that you are integrated with divinity and that you participate in the collaboration of the world of the Creator and the world that was created. The Holy lives among us and we live in the Holy. In so believing, ponder your faith and your works; ponder the grace in your life and the will of your life. Ponder and then take a step.

Trust For Love

Micah 5:2;4 – 5a (NRSV)

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. … And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

 

Luke 1:46-55 The Message

46-55 And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

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manger 3

A promise came through the prophet Micah and was fulfilled through the prophet Mary.

Micah proclaimed a promise of hope and a future. Mary realized she was God’s hope and God’s future. She exclaims about how blessed she is and praises God for the gift she has been given. She feels seen and loved. Her heart is full of love for God, for the child she is bearing, and for the people to whom the child is being sent.

Today we look at the symbol of the empty manger and remember that although Mary’s proclamation is joyous and full of praise, that she also endured great hardship and pain. Waiting for her baby to be born had its own wonderfulness, especially after Joseph received his revelation about Mary’s pregnancy. Sure there was probably small town gossip about what was going one, but she could handle that.

I can imagine she and Joseph setting things up for the baby. They probably had some sort of a cradle for him – whatever they were using at the time. Joseph was a carpenter so maybe he made the cradle as well as some toys for Jesus to play with. And they made sure to have blankets and clothes. Family and neighbors likely helped them get all set up. Mary knew that her time was due to have her baby. She was getting the last minute things done as best she could.

And then trouble happened. To be honest each gospel account of Jesus’ birth varies. Luke says a census was called and that Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Matthew says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as if that was Joseph and Mary’s hometown. But then the Magi came and told them that Herod was seeking the boy’s life so they fled to Egypt for a few years. Then they came back to Bethlehem but because of more trouble they decided to go to Nazareth and there they stayed.

Either way – there was trouble and they had to risk their lives to save their son.

Mary needed to remember her proclamation of joy which was steeped in being seen and being loved by God. When trouble came she had to trust in that love … and so did Joseph.

Let’s take the Luke version of the story. Mary and Joseph get everything ready for the baby. The cradle. The blankets. The toys. And then the census is called and they have to leave for Bethlehem to be counted. Joseph is worried about Mary and the baby. How is she going to make it? What can he do to help? Mary is steeling herself for the journey. She knows the baby is due to be born so she takes a couple blankets so she has something. But they can’t carry much. The clothes, the toys, and the cradle will have to stay home. As picks up her bags to leave she feels Jesus kick and puts her hand on her side. She looks at the empty cradle and walks out the door.

All she can do is trust God for the love that she felt when all this began.

That is all that we can do too. We can make the best preparations possible. We can do the best we can with what we have and know. But we can’t predict every circumstance and we can’t predict the outcome. It boils down to trusting the God of our love. Every day. Moment by moment.

The week let’s remember the times that God interrupted our lives in good ways … ways in which we felt seen, known, and loved. And then let’s trust God that all of that is still true even if our circumstances have turned. We can walk with Mary letting go of the stuff we can’t take with us, wondering what is ahead, and trusting God’s love with each step.

Good News or Bad News?

Over and over angels, Spirit, and Jesus remind us to not give ourselves to fear.  I don’t believe we live in a time which is any more violent or oppressive than any other time. I do believe that we live in a time where mass violence is more easily enacted and that fear mongering is more easily spread.

Sometimes I wonder if going to a worship service holds any meaning. Why get up on a Sunday morning when we are already so tired and so busy? How does it help?

Earlier this week I went to a concert at Culver Academy. Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals were performing. It seemed to me that everyone left the auditorium that night feeling good, possibly inspired. The words and music were uplifting and energizing. That night I heard Good News. It wasn’t preaching … it wasn’t focused on Jesus … but still I heard Good News.

When we rehearse in our minds, hearts, and spirits the voices of bad news then we can become despondent and lifeless. Everything looks bad. Even the good things that we can see are filtered through a gauze of sadness and hopelessness.

We must not give in to the bad news and let it take our lives away. This is the purpose to church. To remind us that there is Good News. To inspire us to face the bad news filtered through a gauze of hope and life. Church is also a place to build determination to be a light in the world and not a damp wet soggy rag.

Gathering together for the purpose of being inspired, determined, and hopeful is the best that a worship service has to offer.  There will always be bad news. We might feel like we have little we can do to change what is going on. But if we give up altogether then bad news has won.

Don’t give up. Rehearse in your mind, hear, and spirit that there is good in the world – that life holds beauty. Consider coming to church to gather together for mutual inspiration.

Philippians 4:8New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Advent – Trusting For Faith

shepherds_field

Luke 2:8-11, 15

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

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 Working third shift is tough. I did it for a little while. There were some advantages but I found it wasn’t something that I could do long-term. I know there are folks who do … and some do it by choice. I don’t know if these shepherds were taking the night shift by choice or if they were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. My guess, given their societal structure, that they were on the bottom rung. Shepherds in general were considered bottom rung, so to be working third shift was likely the lowest of the bottom.

It was a night like any other. They were watching for hazards or predators on behalf of the flocks they guarded. In the midst of a normal night there comes a surprise. Not a predator which they would have anticipated. Instead an angel greeted them.

These were rough people; the shepherds of the night. They did not scare easily. They fought off any and all who would try to slay or steal their flock. And yet we are told that they were terrified. The heavenly realm had just burst upon them. We would be terrified too.

The angel spoke words of peace and gave them good news – tidings of great joy. These rough men listened – astonished. Had the heavenly realm really just broken in upon them? How could this be? Surely they were the last ones to know. They were the last ones to know everything.

They led their flocks to Bethlehem to see the thing that they had been told. They left right away to behold this amazing and life changing news. They left immediately to find great joy. They left because they believed. Their belief … their faith … drew them onward.

These shepherds, not the last to hear this great news but the first, before kings or governors, before the rich, before the well fed and acceptable people, these shepherds got words first.

If anyone needed to hear good news of great joy it was them. If anyone needed something greater and more wonderful than the life they knew it was them. They grabbed on to this message of hope with their faith and didn’t let it go. They let it move them – physically taking their flocks to the town of Bethlehem. They also let it move them in the hearts and spirits. Their minds were moved in how to imagine such a thing so wonderful. And they went to see.

What will your faith grab hold of? Is there any good news of great joy that you have heard? Will you let it move you? Do you think you are the lowest and on the bottom rung? Do you wish you had better? Do you need good news? Will you welcome a surprise from the heavenly realm, as terrifying as it might be?

Terrifying because even though you are ready for almost anything you never imagined anything quite like this?

I want to walk to Bethlehem with you and see the thing that was told to us. I want to experience new life with you and become more than we are today.

I want to be like those shepherds with you. Let’s believe together and let our faith move us toward beauty, love, and life as we follow the angel voices even if we are terrified. Let’s believe, move, and be changed.

Trusting God For Peace

Luke 3:1 – 6 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,  “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Scripture: Isaiah 40: 1-3 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

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 Isaiah and John the Baptist both prophesy that a way is to be prepared for God. The preparation is the removal of obstacles. That can be seen as being a kind of peace. I think that we see peace that way most of the time – as the removal of obstacles which makes life easier.

But peace is more complicated than that. And also it is more simple. Peace is so simple that for us it is complicated.

As we know, Advent means to wait. When we wait, especially if it is to be for a long time, it is helpful to have something to think about … to meditate on. Last week we meditated on Hope. This week we are meditating on Peace. We have a whole week to ponder the complicated simplicity of Peace.

In a nutshell, peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the absence of violence. Conflict is not the problem. How we deal with conflict is the problem.

We live in a violent world. Lately I think it is fair to say that we live in a violent country. I wish I could say with confidence that everyone who hears about violent actions are heartbroken and deeply grieved. But I know this is not the case. Some people believe that violence is the only way to show whatever group of people they hate that they need to sit down, shut up, go away, and be very afraid.

Violence comes in many forms – physical, verbal, emotional, and spiritual. It can be manipulative or head on aggression. People perpetrate violence (and by that I mean that they start it) because they are afraid and they don’t have the skills to express their fear or to figure out why they have it.

As Christians we are called to follow Jesus, our Prince of Peace. What does that mean in our day to day lives? How do we wait while meditating on peace? Jesus himself was a little difficult to understand when it came to peace. At one point he told people that he wasn’t here to bring peace. At another time he said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.“

Jesus also says that we are to take up our cross and follow him. That is not exactly a recipe for no conflict. What it speaks to is our intentional way of living – facing conflict with a heart that is stayed on the peace of God.

We may not have the ability to give the world a worldly kind of peace. But as Christians we do have something unique to offer. We have access to Spirit peace. This is a way of life – it is a choice and a difficult one at that.

When we live in Spirit Peace we know that it is going to look odd to those who don’t. It might even increase the aggravation of those who don’t have it. Jesus experienced this all the time. The more he lived in the peace of his soul the more people wanted to throw him off a cliff or to crucify him. So the trick is to not get discouraged when your soul’s peace is aggravating others and they try to get you riled up.

I believe that the best response to violence is beauty and love. What if we perpetrated acts of beauty in the face of anger, intolerance, hatred, and all those other toxic ways of being? What if we refused to participate in violence even during conflict? What if we blessed instead of sending a curse?

This is not the world’s peace. It is God’s peace. This is how we prepare the way for the Lord. This is how we prepare our hearts for the incarnation of God in the baby Jesus. We live in peace and offer peace to a world which may not know it evens wants it. We bring beauty in us and with us. Even in the hard times we do our best to perpetrate beauty.

Will we fail sometimes. Oh yes. Will we find ourselves in the momentum of anger, rage, and possibly violence? Possibly. Can we then stop and shower our own souls with beauty? I believe we must. In the words of Isaiah, “Comfort, Comfort oh my people.” Speak tenderly to yourselves and each other. Prepare yourselves with beauty. Not as the world sees beauty, but in the beauty of unconditional love. Prepare yourselves with this beauty because God is coming near.

“Spirit Break Out”

Dance – it is my worship method of choice. I don’t get to do it much any more for a number of reasons.

Lighting – I have done a little lighting design for dance and much more lighting set-up. But it was years and years ago. Still, it captures my heart and spirit.

Music – And essential aspect of my isness.

Here is a phenomenal video which brings these three together. I fall in love with God over and over when I see the testimony of God’s creation. I hope you enjoy this beautiful testimony.