Monthly Archives: July 2015

07-26-15 Youth Mission Sunday

When children think of the word family, they think of their immediate family. Mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, and grandpa. But as we get older, we learn that family is bigger than that. We meet people in our lives who are like a missing piece to our puzzle.The different service sites I had lent my time and hardwork to this past week, furthered my understanding of this.

 

I started my week at Bethel-Ensley Action Task-force, or BEAT as we had called it. The director, Henry spoke of what he did for his community. As he explained, he painted a vivid image of outdated homes with no Air Conditioning, which by the way, is a MUST in Alabama. Henry and his men took time out of their lives to rebuild homes for their fellow community members. He told us of how they replaced furnaces and updated the rotting wood frames of the houses. As he spoke, he grinned wide, especially when he told us that the Mayor was holding a parade in BEAT’s honour for all the positive feedback the organization had received recently. To prepare, we spent that day, mowing lawns and learning how to use hedge clippers in loo of a weed-whacker. Which had me thinking, even in God’s love, we need the proper tools but are still able to gain assurance. At the end of the day, we took a step-back, gazing upon all our hard work. This strengthened our crew’s family bond, especially after fighting ankle high grass in the 110 degree Alabama heat. And when Henry saw what we had done, he was on the verge of tears. he told us it wasn’t just for him, it was for the community, and for many generations beyond.

 

As the week carried on, I was introduced to Frank, at Sparkle Learning Center. This program gave the kids of the community a place to go during the summer and catch up on their academics. Frank welcomes all volunteers with wide open arms to help him with the kids. In the two days I was there, I learned that even though Frank was hard on these kids, he truly loves them. In fact, out of the 35 children there, only 3 of them have a father. For the young boys and girls who don’t, they’ve started to view Frank as their father. But through his rough exterior, he still would do anything for them. An example was on Father’s Day. Frank sat down and let the kids come up to him one at a time and hug them. As he held them close, he assured them that he would be there for them. These children range from the 4 to 14 years old, and they have never had a full family. They learned at a young age that family isn’t just your nuclear family, but it’s the ones who you love. Blood relation isn’t a restriction. These kids depend on Frank as if he was actually their father, just by the tough love and caring attitude he gives them. Frank had told us his experiences in the Vietnam War when asked how he started, “People where getting killed on either side of me. I bent down and prayed. I told the Lord if I get home alive, I would serve his children. After the war, I came home without a single scratch. So I guess it was some type of calling for what I had promised.”

 

The best things that I learned was that family can be found in our own congregation. I felt really connected like a family on the last night. After the small prayer service, Cara went around and washed our feet and prayed for us. As she finished each of us, we gathered into a giant spontaneous hug. In that moment, as everyone as everyone was hugging one another close, family rang true. Many times, we hear the phrase “Brothers and Sisters in Christ” but never really get to experience it. But in that warm embrace, I got to experience what it felt like. You could really feel, we were connected by God. Blood relation wasn’t the only thing that counted. Only God’s undying love for us did.

 

Cassidy Coleman

July 26th, 2015

 

As you know, we, the youth of our church have gone on a mission trip to Birmingham, Alabama. This trip was important for me in a lot of ways. Before this trip, I was still confused on what a mission trip was really for. Was it for helping others? Was it to strengthen my relationship with God? Was it really just grueling physical labor and mental exhaustion? Or was it something more, something that could change us or our beliefs just by being there and connecting with a community that needed the help so much?

 

This question kept nagging all week long, and I kept thinking to myself, “How can people do this for months or years at a time if I can’t even figure out what mission work really is?” The question stuck with me until the second to last day of work. Our crew was scheduled to go to a daycare called “Sparkle Learning Center”. We had already been warned about this site, and it was said to be disorganized and dysfunctional at times. When we arrived on the first day at Sparkle, we were greeted by excited kids and a passionate, yet strict, instructor named Frank. Frank explained that these kids were growing up in a very tough environment with parents that couldn’t provide any better for them. So when the kids there wouldn’t let go of anyone in our group, it was really amazing to see the connections being formed instantly. I started to see that mission work may not have a long term effect on everyone, but the short time effect could be really important to the kids who needed it. Still, I didn’t quite grasp that at the time, because not being able to see if I made an impact made the work seem almost useless.

 

About halfway through the day, Frank told us about a small tradition that they have at Sparkle. If all of the children are good, and don’t beat up the YouthWorks staff too much, then they’re allowed to go on a bike ride to a nearby park and play there for an hour before they had to get back to their computer lessons. I was kind of apprehensive about going to a park that was in such a rough part of town, but I figured that all of the kids were going, so it was my duty to go with them and play with them.

 

When we arrived at the park, the little kids were ecstatic to have new friends to play with, and all took off to run, jump, and swing as much as they could. The older kids were less than thrilled to have more people there, and they started talking with some other teenagers there that they seemed to know. None of us really paid much attention to that, but eventually more and more older kids started arriving at the park, and before we knew it there was a crowd of over twenty people standing around.

 

During some pint the conversation between them went bad, and two girls, one of them from Sparkle, started to yell and get physically violent towards each other. Our YouthWorks leaders saw that the park was a bad place to be at the time, so we all began to guide the kids away from the park as quickly as we could. As we were walking around the crowd, the girls started chasing each other down the street. Seeing this at the time felt completely unreal, as the girls and other people there were so belligerent and harsh, even in a public place where they knew other people were.

 

This is when I started to see what growing up in this environment was doing to some of these kids. While I was helping walk them away from the situation, a lot of the kids didn’t even pay any attention to what was happening. Some even walked between the two groups while throwing a football, without as much as batting an eye. It started to dawn on me that these kids had been around this their whole lives, so while us volunteers were worried, the kids didn’t have a single qualm with what had just happened. Only one girl was scared, and she was so young that she had to be carried back to the daycare. Seeing the little girl who wanted the people to stop fighting so much that she was getting emotional over it really touched me in a way I didn’t think possible. Perhaps, I thought, mission work didn’t always have to “fix” things per se. It can also help make an impact on a single child’s life that can hopefully allow them to one day realize that they can do great things and help others more than others have helped them.

 

When we arrived back at the daycare, we were all pretty shaken up. The kids were mostly fine, but when they realized that the girl who had been screaming hadn’t come back yet, they started to look worried. It was at this time that Frank came back from the park after talking with police there and told the kids to “Circle Up”, which was a signal to get them to sit around him in a circle and listen to him. Frank looked very serious and angry at the situation, but held his composure and started talking.

 

Frank talked about what had just happened, about how the girl let go of who she really was and let the crowd get the better of her. He continued to talk about how the town worked there, in what he called getting “caught in the cycle” Frank made sure to stress how bad the cycle was at times. According to him, the school system in their town was very poor, and the children didn’t get a decent enough education early on in their lives, so the core skills that needed to be built up during first through fifth grade weren’t there, which made them struggle when they moved on in school. Another topic that he reinforced was how much the kids should work on their studies and leave as soon as they can, because in it’s current condition, the town wasn’t going to help them grow in any way.

 

Frank moved away from the kids. “I have kids in the second generation from some of these families. I taught their parents and gave them the same advice as I’m giving these kids, but they didn’t listen and now the kids are right where their parents were.” he said, obviously upset over the situation. To Frank, he wanted these kids out of the town to do bigger and better things, but they were trapped in a cycle that won’t let them out because they couldn’t learn the skills that they needed. While Frank’s words were touching and extremely important, the kids were still trying to understand what had happened, and the words didn’t sink in with them properly.

 

After seeing the events that unfolded that day, something inside of me really clicked. Even as I’m standing before you all right now, I can still remember the feeling of understanding and Epiphany as I realized what mission work means to me. Mission work isn’t always about making an immediate change that we can see, it’s about leaving an impact on a community that needs it. And that’s what mission work is to me now: helping where and when I can to spread God’s kingdom.

 

Zac Anderson

July 26th, 2015

 

 

I’m never really that comfortable being in a really large group of strangers. I have trouble being able to socialize and just be myself. As the other church groups were coming to our mission site I didn’t really know how this week would go. When got there we were the first group but the boys rooms were right in the gym. The next group came in you could tell they were from Texas with the big Ten gallon hats and big clunky boots. It was exactly what I didn’t want to see. But God knew my fear and was there with me through this week. It turns out God knew and protected me and everyone there couldn’t of been more welcoming. I’ve never seen such a huge group of kids be so friendly and welcoming to everybody. God was there with me and later I was talking to everyone confidently. God’s presence was there for me and is there for all of us wherever we may be, or how we feel, or even feel like we don’t even deserve God to be there with us.

 

Through this week of service I could really just see God’s presence.  The first day my group went to the LoveLady Center and we could really see God with all those women. The LoveLady Center is a place for women who just got out of prison or have a drug addiction or just need help. It’s at least a 9 month program but they can stay the whole year if they choose. They take classes and lessons to graduate and some come in without a G.E.D. and they will get it before they graduate. While we were there we got to see a wall called the prisoner to princess wall which shows pictures of the women’s mug shots  next to one when they graduate from the program, and you can really see a difference. Karen the volunteer coordinator was on the wall and she looked so much after the program. 90% of the women that work there have gone through the program there selves. You can really see how God has gotten them back on their feet. You can tell the women there have a great passion and feel very strongly about this program. The program is there to show the women that God is there and will bless them and is there to give confidence and not to keep going back to their old patterns. God is there for those women who have and had nothing but God is there for them and you can really see the improvement and the life he has given and the change they all have done. God’s presence is always there.

 

We also went to the Christian Service Mission. I’m very fortunate our group got to meet Michael who is in charge of the gardening center. Right now Michael and CSM are making gardens throughout the city and harvesting food for people to come and have a meal with other people that they don’t know yet or ones that they don’t really trust. CSM doesn’t just want to give people one meal they want to connect them with a community to feed them for a lifetime. God really has a meaning for this organization. Tracy the owner bought this empty warehouse just because he wanted to help people. But not long after when he bought it a hurricane swept through the Birmingham area and because his warehouse was empty it was able to be used as a distribution center which gave his Warehouse a big start. God is there and he has a meaning for that warehouse. Whenever you don’t really know where you are called, God’s presence is right there. Tracy bought an empty warehouse only because he wants to help people and God was there and now his warehouse is producing food and people’s needs and so much more, like a garden and a class for women. Whatever you want to do but don’t really know how to God is there and will help you every step of the way.

 

The last place my group went was the men’s shelter the Foundry. When I got there I could just feel God, the people were so welcoming and friendly. We were serving the people in the community that came in. There were three different types of people there: the Rehab which were people trying to get drug and alcohol addiction, Recovery which are people just out of prison trying to get back on their feet, and the Rescue which are the disabled and homeless or on the edge of becoming homeless. The Foundry on Tuesday’s and Thursday’s give a free meal to those people. But before they eat their free meal Pastor Pace is there giving a huge inspirational sermon to all of them. After a lot of what Pastor Pace said the people would reply, “That’s right”, or “Say it”, or even, “Amen”. These people wanted to hear the word of the Lord. They didn’t have much, yet they were there to hear the word of the Lord over the free meal. Pastor Pace asked which they were there for the free meal or to hear God, and all but two said for the word of God. Pastor Pace kept asking if they wanted him to stop so they could eat but they all begged him and said please for him to keep on going. These people had nothing, were going through hard times, and not all of them had places to go or knew if they’d get a meal until next time they could come back. But they wanted to hear God over getting their free meal. It just opened my eyes and I could just really feel God there, God is everywhere and whenever you feel lost or don’t know what to do, God will lead you. I could just feel him there when these people mostly have nothing and just want him, not the free food but God, I could just feel the presence of God.

 

God just helps us all in every way, I was nervous and he gave me a wonderful group of people to give me an amazing week and give me confidence. I always can feel God will always protect me in any situation and for all people. We are all part of God’s Kingdom and we are all equal. We love God and he loves each of us, the people who have plenty and those who need the most help. We aren’t perfect but God’s presence is with each and every one of us no matter what we do or what happens to us. Jesus took a sacrifice for all of us and we should do the same for others. It truly makes a difference and I am a servant of God. A sacrifice isn’t really a sacrifice; it’s doing for others like Jesus did for us. We are all a part of God’s Kingdom and there is no place I’d rather be.

 

AJ Osiborski

July 26th, 2015

07-19-15 A TIME TO WEEP AND A TIME TO LAUGH

A TIME TO WEEP AND A TIME TO LAUGH

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

 

Preachers are each unique creations; special messengers of God. They can be male or female; Pentecostal or Presbyterian; expository preachers or narrative preachers, and the descriptions can go even further. Preachers share their message seasoned with their own life experiences. Some, like Joel Osteen today, bring an enthusiastic, positive-thinking message! An earlier version of that type of preacher was Robert Schuller who commanded the positive thinking airwaves for decades. But after Dr. Schuller retired, his Crystal Cathedral was sold. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

 

The words from Ecclesiastes, when put to music by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, or sung in harmony by the group called “The Byrds” in 1965, can make for a joyful and uplifting message; it can be the message for children, as it was today; or it can be the message for joyful or hopeful youth or adults. In the 1960s it was a staple of folk music. But preachers aren’t always joyful or even positive; and the Bible is not always put to music!  Let’s hear these words, so often chosen for both weddings or funerals, from the words of the biblical writer. The person is called literally a “Qoheleth” which has been translated, according to R.B.Y Scott, as “One who assembles a company or a congregation.”  But it was Martin Luther who labeled such a person as “the preacher.” So through the ages the author has been called “The Preacher,” even though the New Revised Standard translations before us begin the book with “The words of the Teacher.” For our purposes we will call this person “Preacher.” And the original language uses a feminine participle, so this could be a woman, or perhaps a man. But whoever the preacher is, she or he has a particular mood; it is at one point sardonic; it is at another point sarcastic; at another, realistic, and at another- bitter. This is the viewpoint of life that may come from age, or burnout, or something else. So with that framework in mind, and without it being put to music, hear this scripture again:

To everything there is a season: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pull up; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

 

And so on. Read in that way, from the prospective of age or wisdom, it is more of a reflection than it is a vision of hope. Age and youth often balance each other.

 

Age has some funny moments even in this vain.  The cartoon called “Maxine” alternately called “Crabby Road,” has Maxine, a smart, no-nonsense elderly woman looking straight at the reader in one comic, saying “Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me twice, you’d better have a good look at your insurance policy! Or the cartoon “Pickles,” first introduced to me by Richard Hills. It features an elderly couple. In the June 23rd comic strip, the man’s young grandson says to him: “Grampa, your shirt is on inside out and backwards.” And his grampa, still laying on the couch and not batting an eye, says to his young grandson: “I know. It’s my way of rebelling against the mindless conformity so rampant in today’s society.”  Straight talkers! That’s what they are! That’s who this preacher in Ecclesiastes is too. Over the years, preachers see a lot; they can get tainted by deaths and burials, and by illnesses of people who don’t heal. They get worn down by  congregational conflicts, or by situations or persons in their congregations who are critical or difficult. So as the preacher in Ecclesiastes starts that litany:  “ a time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;  and time to weep and a time to laugh,” we who are this preacher’s congregation for the time being, should not add a soundtrack to the sermon.  I know in some churches an organist plays music softly as prayers are prayed. This preacher would have none of that! Why would we let music guide the mood of the message? Sometimes I write words for hymns and sung responses; how important it is to choose the right music, and the right key, to enhance the words!  But music can also distract us from the text. Comedian and actor Steve Martin is also a proficient banjo player.  On one of his earliest record albums, he says, when you play a banjo, it makes everything happy!  You can’t say anything unhappy when you’re playing a banjo; look!  (And so, while picking his banjo, he sings, “Oh death, and grief, and sorrow, and murder” then he grins and keeps playing!) So our apologies to the Byrds who made Ecclesiastes sound uplifting. It can be uplifting, but it can also be realistic.  I am so proud when realistic and honest people fill our pulpits over the ages or serve in the mission fields. Arthur John Gossip, on the Sunday after his wife died, did not take a day off, but  instead stood in the pulpit of the church he served and poured out his broken and hurting heart in his masterpiece sermon “When Life Tumbles in, What Then?”  In it he said: “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadows must believe it.  We have nothing else.” Contemporary Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor found that church life as the rector of a small congregation in rural Georgia was not what she thought it would be. She was overwhelmed by the demands of ministry and her immense popularity made her church overflow to standing room only every week. So what did she do in the midst of her calling?  She resigned. She is now an author and teacher, but not a pastor.  She wrote about it in a book she called, “Leaving Church.” Her decision was met with some resentment by the flocks of people who loved her. She asked her colleague and friend at Columbia Seminary, Rodger Nishioka, why there was such a backlash to her book. “Barbara,” Rodger said, it begins with the title! “Leaving Church!” It hadn’t dawned on her that her title was so provocative. But for Barbara, the move was needed for the cup of her soul to start to be filled again.

“To everything there is a season” is either a joyful accounting of a hopeful existence, or a painful realization of what life brings.  Some preachers have offered it optimistically, especially when used in weddings. Other preachers have offered it as a commentary on the transitory nature of life. C.S. Lewis, for example, spent the first half of his life as an atheist.  But the Word of God and the Grace of God began to melt his heart and change his outlook, leading him to become one the most beloved inspiration authors and speakers in Britain.  Mother Teresa, who the world lifted up as a model of faith, had her very dark, doubting, and unsettling times, especially later in years, when, like the Preacher, the romantic notion of mission gave way to the realistic political and cultural roadblocks she constantly faced. Some of her times of darkness were found in her diary and published after she died.  Perhaps she, like others, could have used Ecclesiastes 3 as a means of triaging and evaluating situations that came her way. Perhaps this passage is less about description and more about decisions? It depends on your age and how you read these words. One child who was in our church years ago, had her grandmother teach her Ecclesiastes 3.  Why would that grandmother chose those words among others in the Bible? “Because children need a basis for knowing how to act,” her grandmother told me. She said to her granddaughter: “We act differently on a playground than we do in church. On a playground we can run, and hang from monkey bars, and talk loudly or scream. But in church we are still and silent except when we pray or sing. See it says that in the Bible.” And she pointed to Ecclesiastes 3:7. “There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” This litany guided the growth of a young girl; it has guided many others too.

 

How should you hear that sermon? That’s up to you, of course. You may hear it differently during the different seasons of your life. You may hear it differently during the different moods of your life too. But don’t assume the preacher had a twelve string guitar or a banjo playing in the background while it was preached! These words, likely written by a person later in years, bring realism, insight, and a matter-of-fact attitude that for some is refreshing. A short hand way of saying it is wisdom; with age comes wisdom: a different way of looking at life than you did where you were young.  The words of Ecclesiastes 3 were likely spoken with a sense of straight taking honesty, something that is often in short supply.  Thanks be to God for preachers who truly are joyful in the Lord! Thanks be to God for preachers who, when they are struggling express it honestly. And thanks too that God knows, and understands, every emotion that we feel in the seasons of our lives.

 

Let us pray:

God of the young, the middle-aged, and the old: you are the same yesterday, today, and forever. But we change; and when we change, parts of the Bible speak to us differently. Even if we think we know that Bible, a fresh reading can offer us new insights. Help us find that wisdom and will to keep learning and adjusting to every age we face so that we not only find peace for our selves, but become good examples for young eyes who are watching us.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          July 19, 2015

 

 

07-12-15 Proper 10B

Our passage this morning is a blessing offered up to us over the centuries. Paul begins this letter to the Ephesians with a blessing for them and their community.

 

One of the remarkable things about this blessing, is that in the original Greek, this was all one long sentence. The entire passage this morning was one poetic sentence, phrase building upon phrase to create a blessing that is part of the Jewish tradition.

 

While it may sound poetical in the original Greek, translating it into English turns this passage into a very dense, theologically-heavy, blessing. It can be hard to take all in at the first reading and it is easy for a listener to miss the impact of what they are being blessed with.

 

To understand all of it, I think this passage is best looked at broken down into sections. Paul begins with:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us” (Verses 3-8a).

 

We begin the blessing by realizing just who we are to God. God chose us. God chose you and God chose me to be God’s children. To heap grace and love upon us. To show us forgiveness and redemption. To claim us as God’s own. You have been chosen and loved by God, through Christ.

 

That alone can be hard for many people to accept. “God chose me? Why me? What makes me worthy of being loved by God?” But God loves you because God chose to love you, and God chose you because God loves you. It is not a question of what you deserve, but instead it is what has been freely offered to you by Christ.

 

And because we have been adopted in Christ, we never are completely alone again.  No matter how low or worthless we feel on any given day, we can rest assured on the certain knowledge that God loves us, even us. Through our adoption we have been saved and redeemed for all time, in Christ. God is with us and God will be with us, not because of our own merits, but through God’s endless supply of grace.

 

The other difficult part of this blessing, once you accept that God chose you and loves you, is the knowledge the God chose and loves more than just you. Look around and you will see all around you people who, just like you, are loved by the Creator. God chose them because God loves them too. They are your brothers and sisters by adoption, different though you may be.

 

The different bit can be hard to handle. “How can God love me and that guy over there that I disagree with so much? How can God chose me and someone who said something so hurtful to me at the same time?” But God instead lavishes grace upon us all. While we might not always get along with everyone, we are called to accept them as part of our adopted family in Christ.

 

The second part of the passage move the focus from the self and our community to the entire world. “With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Verses 8b-10).

 

Really? God will gather all things up in the fullness of time? That can be hard to accept, especially if we ever turn on the news.

 

When I look around at what is happening in the world with all its problems and violence, people exploiting, abusing and neglecting one another, it is hard for me to imagine a time when all things will be gathered up and used for God’s will for creation.

 

How Lord? How can the murderers and the rapists  and the abusers be gathered up with the innocent victims, the peace-makers, and  the caregivers? That sounds impossible, to us. There sometimes seems to be too much bad in the world to find the good. Luckily we are not God, who can look at even the mess we sometimes see the world as and turn it to God’s own ends. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We might not always see the outcome, and we rarely see God’s final plan, but we can rest assured that in the end God’s plan will prevail.

 

Now, this does not mean that the violence, poverty or destruction happen according to God’s will, that God deliberately causes or encourages or accepts any of the horrible things that happen in the world. No, instead God finds a way to work all that we do towards God’s final purpose for creation. We may do evil, but God finds a way to work with it to good. I have a hard time imagining how that can happen, but God does not. God sees a vision that we, who see through a mirror very dimly, may be unable to see. We are blessed with the knowledge that God will turn all things back to God’s plan.

 

Finally, in this very long sentence of Paul’s, we turn to our response to this blessing we have been given. “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. ”

 

“May you be blessed and a blessing.” God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and our right response to these blessings is to live for the praise of Christ’s glory, to in turn offer that blessing to others. We are called to affirm the first two parts of this blessing to the rest of the world.  As the church, we are to live lives of service, working for peace and reconciliation among our brothers and sisters all over the world through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

You are chosen. You are loved. God will gather the world up to good in the fullness of time. Now go forth and offer up your praise and service to the one who chose you.

 

One of my favorite blogs, Unfolding Light, which is written by Steven Garnaas Holmes, posted a paraphrase of this passage this week. He returned it to the spirit of poetry these lines were meant to be read as, but for the modern English speaker. I’d like to end with that blessing for you all this morning

 

“Blessed be God, who birthed real love among us in Christ, and in that love has given us the blessings of heaven itself. Since before Creation, in this love, God intended that we would be holy, loved, and loving, God’s own dear children. In this love, so generously lavished on us,we are redeemed, and all our wrongs are forgiven. Stop and wonder at this grace, and give thanks!

 

“If God gives us any wisdom or insight it is to know that it is God’s delight to always be gathering everything in Creation into Christ, into the body of love. This is is our destiny, God’s will, which is always fulfilled: that we, who began by hoping in the Love that Fills the World, would ourselves live lives that radiate that love.

 

“When first heard this wonder, that you are part of the world’s salvation when you first opened yourself to this love, it poured into you. God’s Spirit changed you. Now you yourself are part of God’s promise. The Spirit in you is the first bit of God’s redemption of the world. That is God’s glory. Doesn’t it make you want to praise God?”

 

Well, doesn’t it?

 

Blessings be to you. Amen.

 

07-05-15 Proper 9B

When you think about it, Jesus was just a hometown boy.

 

Our Lord never even left Nazareth until he was close to thirty. While we can’t be sure, why, one convincing argument is because his father had died young and he was needed to support his mother and his brothers and sisters. That would be why the people in the passage today call Jesus Mary’s son instead of Joseph’s son. As the oldest child, all that Joseph had would have passed to him and he would have been responsible not just for his siblings, but also for his mother, because Mary wouldn’t have been able to inherit at the time.

 

It was only when his siblings were all old enough to fend for themselves that Jesus felt free to leave. Even God’s mission had to wait for Jesus to take care of his family. There is something comforting in Jesus’ actions here, in the idea of God being there in the ordinary in every respect, even taking up family duties.

 

So in our text for today, Jesus was coming back to where people knew him as an infant. They knew him as a small child. They saw him grow up, working as a carpenter just like Joseph, The people there  thought they knew who Jesu was. After all, he had spent most of his life with them. How could they not know him?

 

When Jesus started saying things that didn’t make sense, that didn’t fit into their view of who he was in their world, the people there didn’t listen. And some of those who sort of listened, grew offended. “Who does this guy think he is? I knew him when he was just a child. How could he possibly think he can tell me what to do?”

 

Because Jesus had lived in this little place for so long, and because he was so well-known, when he finally returned to his hometown, the people there couldn’t believe he was anything more than the child they had know. Jesus was rejected not for being too different, but for being too well known. The theologian William Barclay writes: “Some times we are too near people to see their greatness.”

 

How often do we dismiss what we are told, just because we think we know something about the person saying it? How often do we tune out what others are saying because we have heard it all before?

 

Too often we go through our days only half listening to what others are saying to us. And we can be the most guilty with this when it comes to the people we are the closest to. Spouses and siblings and children all get less than our full attention because we know them. Because they are familiar. Because we think we already know everything they have to say.

 

Jesus has this problem in his hometown. In his passage, Ezekiel is dismissed as being the crazy, ranting prophet. How many times has God tried to speak to us in our lives and we haven’t listened? How many times have we gone “Mmhmm.. That’s nice” and continued thinking our own thoughts,  when God is using a loved one to speak?

 

One morning a man in Washington D.C. stood on a subway platform. By most measures, he was nondescript; a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled  to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.  It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by.  No one knew it, but this was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.

 

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run,  for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

 

Most rushed by, ignoring the man with the violin, giving a concert for whatever change the crowd might give, when only days before the very same man’s concert tickets brought in hundreds of dollars a piece for the cheap seats.

 

How often do we fail to hear what is happening around us?  Male and female, young and old, wealthy and working class, each demographic walked past this wonder  in equal measure.  All demographics that is except one.  “Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.  And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.”  The children didn’t know enough not to listen.

 

If we truly believe that God can work through anyone, that God is present in every moment, we cannot tune anyone out. We cannot nod and smile politely while waiting for our turn to speak. We cannot dismiss the child who wants to share her day with us. We cannot rush through the streets without looking around and seeing who else is present.

 

We are called to listen in our daily lives, to listen for God speaking through the mundane and familiar. Some days we will be better than others, but we have to try.

 

Now if we manage that, if we hear when God is speaking to us, we are only halfway there. Because we are then called to follow that message.

 

After all, there is a second part to this passage. The flip side of listening for the Word is going forth and sharing the Word ourselves. Once we have heard God we must speak in turn. Listening comes first, but then we must speak. We must work towards the will of God in the world.

 

This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. In the second part of the passage this morning, Jesus tells his disciples, and therefore us, to go forth and preach to the world.  He told the disciples to teach and to heal and to care for people.  And he warned the disciples of what might happen.

 

Sometimes? No one will listen to you even though what you have to say matters. Rather than getting hurt or upset, or trying to force the message upon them anyway, Jesus tells us to move on and offer the message to someone else. Don’t take other’s reactions personally. Just go and find someone who will listen to you.

 

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that if we are unwanted shake the dust from our feet and move on. Now, all of us will find some time in our life where we are not wanted. No one is liked and accepted by everyone. No message is either.

 

That is the delicate line of evangelism. We cannot force belief on anyone. We can offer up our belief and others can chose to respond to it or not. If they don’t, we are called not to lash out, but instead, to seek out someone who will listen. Too often Christian groups try to badger people into belief, but that attitude usually drives people farther from Christ.

 

At the end of the day, Christ himself isn’t always listened to. Why do we assume we will be?

 

Most of the time, we aren’t comfortable with this. We don’t like saying things that others reject. After all, who likes being rejected? Coming out and speaking the truth makes us vulnerable and puts us at risk, which is always hard to take.

 

And  more than that, it’s hard to let it go when people ignore us or ridicule us. We want to fight back, to defend ourselves. But that’s not what Christ is asking us to do. We are called like Ezekiel to speak. To offer up our faith. And then to let it go. What God does with it afterwards is out of our hands. The important thing is that having heard the Word, we go out and speak.

 

Jesus says if we are rejected move on.  But if we move on don’t think all is lost or we have failed.  If we move on without rancor, resentment, animosity or malice, but with love and self-possession we will leave behind a message from God. When we respond to anger with anger, we don’t show Christ as being any different. When we lash out and fight back we don’t carry that message of love to others.

 

Because God is at work in the world around us. God is at work whether we see it or do not see it. Whether we listen or don’t. God is at work outside the walls of our churches and outside of our communities. By speaking we participate in the incredible work of God in our world. But it begins with listening, even to those we know so very well. Every day it begins with hearing God.

 

So as we go out this week, listen. Listen to all those around us. Listen to the familiar and the strange. Listen with open hearts and discerning minds to all that you hear. We never know where the Word may come from.

 

And when you hear the Word, follow it’s call. Amen.