Monday, August 8, 2016

Youth Are NOT The Future of the Church

Sermon from Sunday, July 31.

Teens With A Mission Report on the week long mission trip to San Antonio Del Mar, Mexico.
[Sorry, no transcript or text for this one]

1 Timothy 4:12English Standard Version (ESV)
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

(Link includes sermon, talks from two youth and two youth who went on the trip,
and a solo by one of the youth in worship)

It's the Hard That Makes it Great

Sermon from Sunday, July 10, 2016.

Giving up our power and privilege for those who are marginalized and oppressed.
[Sorry, no transcript or text for this one]

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where Do You Build Your Nest?


Where do you build your nest?

We just finished up VBS this week.  The kids learned stories and songs every day to learn a specific lesson each day…
God Creates
God Helps
God Loves
God Calms
And finally… God Sends

Our reading from Psalm 84:3 reads… Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

Entrusting your children to the Lord.  VBS, SS, FK, etc.

A show I used to watch chronicled the mis-adventures of a misfit crew at a community college.  The sitcom featured a study group made up of broken dream stories… a lawyer who had faked his college credits, a high school athlete who lost his scholarships due to injury, a recovered drug addict, a poor immigrant, a hippie without direction, a stay at home second career mom, and a retiree. 
In one particularly moving episode, the young poor immigrant, a young man with Asperger’s, expressed a desire to take a film course.  His falafel salesman father did not want his hard earned money to go to such trivial pursuits and forbade it.  Despite the counsel of the lawyer (father to the study group), the well-meaning hippie offered to pay for the course so he could follow his dreams.  Not being a parent herself, she was dismayed when he spent the money not just on the course, but new camera equipment, props, and so forth.  He had completely exasperated his study group parents by the end and caused a major head to head between his real father and his adopted study group surrogates.
The main thrust of the story was an argument over who had Abed’s best interests at heart, and whether he should be allowed to choose to follow his gifts and talents to where he felt called.  And there was no clear right answer.  Until the end.  Abed shared his final project, his film.  In it, he captured the arguments of his adopted parents, a story clearly repeated from his childhood with his biological parents, a story of how people could not accept Abed for Abed, a very unusual and challenged, but creative boy.  His real father cried.  He turned to the study group parents and said, “My boy has trouble expressing himself.  If movies help him to do that, I will pay for the classes.  With medical school as a backup!”  You see, Abed’s father knew the risks.  The risks of stifling his son’s calling.  And the risks of a world in which he’d worked so hard to provide for his own son.

Question is not where your children will/should go after they leave the nest. 
Where do you build your nest?

We build our nest where we nurture our young, where we spend our time and where they learn.
Is your nest at school?  Is it on a ball field?  A theater?  In your car?  In front of a screen?
(Graphic – nest pie chart)

Building your nest on the altar of the Lord or the Altar of something else?
Who or what will they serve after their time there?  Who or what will they serve after their time there?

Building your nest on the altar of the Lord is not without danger…

Any altar you build your nest on carries risk… If it is only the altar of education, they run the risk of pursuing a career that is overcrowded or becomes obsolete or is a bad fit for them.
If it is only the altar of athletics, they run the risk of severe injury, or sudden elimination, expulsion, failure, or fatigue. 

If it is only the altar of recreation or relaxation, they run the risk of never contributing to the needs of others with their resources and time, prioritizing themselves.
Now, the expectation of our God is not that we have no interests or involvements outside the faith community.  Education is highly valued among us Presbyterians for our ability to critically think, to study scripture and our world and to grow in understanding and wisdom and obedience.  Athletics provide ways to appreciate and nurture our bodies, to teach us a sense of competition and fair play, cooperation and teamwork, and to strive to reach our own greatest potential.  And recreation and relaxation can give us time to gather with loved ones, to regain our energy and inspiration for the callings God gives us.

But when we give them too much power and priority through our commitments, or let them crowd out tending to our faith and our callings to serve, we trade involvement for idolization.  We build our nests on other altars.

Now here’s where it gets really hard.  We Presbyterians don’t use the word altar very much.  Anyone know why?  Where is our altar in here?  Our youth can tell you.

We don’t have one!  WHAT is an altar?  It’s where a sacrifice is offered.  Christ was the final sacrifice.  We don’t make offerings of animals or plants any more.  We have a table.  Not an altar.  So the idea of the Lord’s altar in metaphorical sense may need to be put into context.  It’s a place of sacrifice. 

We either sacrifice our time or energy or money or imagination and effort or our very bodies.  And when we sacrifice those things, we sacrifice ourselves, our loyalty.  God asks for all our heart and mind and strength.  And we demonstrate that loyalty by giving a portion of our resources and time.  When we squeeze out that 10% tithe because we budget in more expenses… when we squeeze out our one day out of seven to fit in more activities… when we relegate God to our leftover money, and part of a Sunday or one or two mornings a month… we build our nests on other altars.

But to make those sacrifices on the Lord’s altar does not eliminate risk.  Our children at VBS this week learned that God creates, God Helps, God Loves, and God Calms.  But then God also sends.  God sends us into our world to be a light in dark places, to confront our enemies and our friends in the poor decisions they make or want us to participate in, to fight injustice when we see it, and to look for it, to think others first and ourselves last, to travel to the places and people of need, no matter the peril, and to invite those in need into our lives, into our homes.  In point of fact, the altar of the Lord may be the most dangerous place to build your nest.

So why on earth would the swallow build her nest on the altar of the Lord???  Why should you?  Because this is not all that there is.  Because we are people of eternity not bound for this world only, but a home and a life and a love beyond this world and the altars in it.

Because your children are builders for eternity.  Because when you build your nest on the altar of the Lord, it will guide them when they leave the nest.  It will be the biggest influence on their future nests and where they build them.

Where have you built your nest?  How can you build your nest on the altar of the Lord, how can you be like the mother swallow who offers her young to the Lord?  Every parent or grandparent or neighbor who brought a child to VBS has gathered twigs to build a part of their nest.  When parents bring their children consistently to worship and to First Kids and Youth, and not just when it fits into a hectic schedule or leftover time, they are building their nest on the altar of the Lord.

Some of you have empty nests, some of you are parents and mentors to the children of this place.  Some of you help parents build their nest on the altar by teaching Windows to Worship or Confirmation.  Some of you cook meals every week for children who come to First Kids.  You are people who know that every family needs help to build their nest.  In this world, it’s too hard to build it alone.  You know that shouting across the park to other parents to do a better job is not the way to help them.  They need this place and space.  They need childcare and meals and financial resources and words of encouragement to build their nests where their children will learn of God’s love and God’s call on their lives to every broken place.

It's summer, and this year’s VBS is over.  But the TWAM mission trip is approaching, and when the fall arrives, there will be weekly worship and weekly gatherings for our children and youth.  In order to build a firm foundation of faith for the rest of our children’s lives and to build our nests on the altar of the Lord, those of you with children will need to bring them each week.  And everyone will need to volunteer as there is need, to pitch in, and… to pray daily for the children and families of our children and youth ministries.  Can you all commit to that?  Don’t say yes unless you mean it.  Where will you build your nest?  [On the altar of the Lord]  Tell your neighbor.  Where will you build your nest?  [On the altar of the Lord]  The next time you’re asked to change your priorities or make smaller your offering to God in time or energy, tell someone you are building your nest… on?  [On the altar of the Lord]  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Wayfinders (Baccalaureate Sunday, June 5, 2016)

Audio Link to Sermon

Six miles of rope.  That’s what lashes together the Hokule’a, stem to stern, a 60 foot catamaran-style canoe with twin sails.  The Hokule’a, crewed by 12 Hawaiians is built in the style of the ships that their ancestors sailed hundreds of miles to settle the islands of Hawaii.  Sailing west for the last many months, the Hokule’a sailed up the Potomac to Washington, DC last week.
It is remarkable that a rotating crew of no more than a dozen have made this journey around the world thus far in a vessel of such ancient design and materials.  But far more impressive than the tools and the technology, the raw material, or the traditional design… is the method… the way this crew has navigated from their port of origin.  They… are Wayfinders.
Wayfinding is a method of navigation not widely used for the last 600 years.  It takes years of learning and practice, not to mention constant vigilance, fine tuning, and guidance from a seasoned Wayfinder.  This method relies on a combination of knowledge and observation of constellations, currents, winds, sea life and birds, and the rhythm of the waves as they move under the vessel and are felt from one foot to the other of the navigator who stands at the stern.  And… as importantly as observing all of those elements, a Wayfinder must have a nearly perfect memory and recollection of where he or she has traveled so far in the journey, a mental map.  The navigator often has to stay awake for 18 to 2 hours a day to accomplish this.
This fascinates me and I stand in awe of the inspiring undertaking of this vessel and her crew that have already traveled 26,000 miles.  But what does it have to do with you, graduates?  Why don’t you tell me?
Have any of you undertaken a long journey of any sort?  Are you about to?  In your long journeys, have you had help?  Training?  Have you been given tools?  Have you learned to read the signs?  To look to the horizon and set a goal for yourself?  Has looking back from where you come helped you to find your current whereabouts and set your course for your destination ahead?  Where have you been?  Where are you now?  Where are you going?
Those questions are not separate!  They are, in fact, inseparable!  Where you have been, each moment, each decision, each event, each day, each accomplishment, each gift or lesson, and even each obstacle or storm has brought you here.  And each of them has helped you choose where to go next.  You have been guided to where you sit now and the accolades you wear and boast, the offers you’ve received, the awards you’ve earned.  And none of you sits here alone.  You sit here because of the family God has given you, the teachers, the mentors, the church, the heroes of your faith journey, and the gifts God has bestowed upon you. 
Our reading from I Samuel tells us that our God is a God of knowledge, that God is a rock like no other.  It tells us that God has set the pillars of the world, that God will guard the feet of his faithful ones, and break his adversaries.  Who you are is not nearly as important as whose, you are God’s child.
Your family knows this, your family off birth and your faith family, into which you were adopted in your baptisms and professions of faith, and your participation.  You have learned, as the writer of our Romans passage to let your love be genuine, to abhor evil, and to hold fast to that which is good.  You have learned to serve the Lord, to contribute to those in need, to seek to show hospitality, to bless those who persecute you, to weep with those who weep, to associate with the lowly.  Have you done this?  Will you always?
If your enemy is hungry, will you feed him?  If she is thirsty, will you give her something to drink?  Will you be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good?  Will you?  Will you?
I know you will.
Each of you has been a part of the crew in your life, in this faith community, in your schools, in your homes, in service to others.  You’ve learned to hoist the sails, to tie the knots, to work with others, to look out for one another, to pick up the slack, to take discipline and learn from it, to watch out for danger, to point it out to others, to fend for yourself, and to care for those in need, and… to find your way… together.  Each of you has been given opportunities to be the navigator.  After much learning, preparation, small tests, and evaluation, you’ve been entrusted to bear your own responsibilities… as you should… and to lead.  Most of you have helped to lead worship, to teach a Sunday school class or lesson, to tutor someone, to teach a skill on a worksite, or to impart wisdom about something important to a younger sibling, a classmate, or even us adults.
Like the Wayfinders, you’ve had to find your bearings, look to the horizon, look to the changing environment, find what’s familiar or new, rely on past experience, remember where you’ve been and who has sent you, and trust that you’ll be guided not just by your own knowledge, but by the Spirit that blows where God guides, and the rhythm of the waves that will carry you somewhere new.
My prayer for all of you is that you find a way… to see and remember where you’ve been… be aware of where you are… and learn to understand and strive for where God calls you to go.  I want you to see where you’ve been, know where you are, and discover where God is calling you next.  For you, too, are a Wayfinder…
I got married just a few weeks ago.  On our wedding day, I had a small present for Jessica.  I had found an artisan who stamps coordinates – latitude and longitude – onto small copper washers.  I added places of significance to us in our journey together thus far.  One was the place we met, another was our first date, first home we would share together, where we got married, and so on.  It was a way for her to look back and see where we have been, and to express a hope that we would add to this collection as we journeyed on in our future as a family together.  Where you have been and who has been with you is a strong indicator of where you will one day be and who you will become.
I want you to close your eyes for a moment.  It’s something Wayfinders must do often.  I want you to picture where you’ve been.  I’m sure many images could come to mind.  But I want you to remember landmarks.  I want you to remember your first introductions to God and faith.  Who was there?  Who taught you?  Who was with you?  Was it in class? Camp?  At home?  Your church home? 
What about the times of trial for you?  Were the same people there?  Did the lessons and love they shared with you bring you comfort or direction?  Are any of those people here with you today? 
And lastly, before you open your eyes, who do you imagine will be there in your next moments?  Have you met them yet?  Will it be your family and friends you know now?  Will it be God that you turn to when the seas are rough?  Will it be God you turn to in thanks when you reach your next destination or weather the storm and choppy water? I hope that it will be.  Now I want you in the congregation to keep your eye closed.  Graduates, open your eyes, stand, and turn around.  See all those here today.  These are people who have promised, and are promising today to love and nurture you and give you a home here whenever you return.  Take a good look.  Congregation – now you can open your eyes.  These young people are Wayfinders.  They are children of God.  They are your family.  It is up to you to make this a place that is always home for them, and to keep praying for them and teaching them lessons, and giving them a turn to navigate.  Graduates, you can sit.

The Wayfinders of Hawaii aboard the Hokule’a have more than a year left in their journey.  When they complete it, they will arrive… home.  That is the journey we are all on.  None of us is home yet.  But you have been given tools to use… your mind, your intellect, your education, the prophets, your savior and redeemer, your years of Sunday school and youth group and mission trip lessons, your mentors and loved ones… and an understanding that in prayer and daily seeking… God will guide you in the Spirit in every move you make, today, and evermore.  YOU are a Wayfinder… As you stand on your ships and look around you and feel the waves below your feet… We want you to see where you’ve been, know where you are, and discover where God is calling you next.  May all your journeys one day lead you home.

Benediction:  Sailors all know something we too often forget.  We think of wind and waves as obstacles to our journeys.  Sailors know you can get nowhere without the wind and waves.  They carry you to your destination.  The earliest Christians were known as "followers of the Way."  You are a Wayfinder.  As you go from this place and feel the waves move below you, remember that you go nowhere in your journey by accident, but that God has sent you, and you go nowhere alone, but that God's Spirit guides you... this day, and evermore.  And all God's children said... Amen.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

So, You Think You're Friendly?

Hebrews 13:1
Romans 12:13
Luke 2:41-52

Soundcloud: Listen Here (note: manuscript and live recorded sermon are often very different)

So You Think You're Friendly

I’ve been asked multiple times if there will be any Star Wars references today.  Yoda have to come and find out.  But, there won’t be, I’m sorry.  I promise it won’t be a dark sermon, though, and I’ll keep things on the light side.  But I won’t force Star Wars on you.  That’s all I could master muster for one sermon.

Marhabaan  مرحبا 
Creoso    z`ViN`N
καλωσόρισμα   Kalós orísate
ברוך בואך  Baruch haba 
ようこそ  Yōkoso
Dobro pozhalovat   Добро пожаловат

I'm a student of languages.  I find them fascinating.  Many languages express things we do not have words for in English, emotions or concepts we struggle to relate or don't even consider.  If you do a little research, you'll find that every language has the concept and a word or phrase for WELCOME.

And most websites include this phrase in their "useful phrases to know" for almost all languages.  After hello, and some important questions, it's ranked highly for communication.  While its urgency may not rank with things like, where is the bathroom or what you'd like to eat, it is important enough to us as people to create a phrase and learn it and use it.

Something within us recognizes the importance of not just greeting those we know and love, but to make even the stranger feel at home.  And this is a calling to which God calls us quite clearly.

A recent experiment... VIDEO

This was an experiment by a for-profit company.  Not a charity, not a church.  It created a space in which strangers could meet and find common ground, form the basis for friendship with a stranger through mutual love of something outside of themselves, and to go away strengthened, and encouraged.  Now... The Church is FAR more than that.  But it has to be AT LEAST that.  Is it?  Is the Church as friendly as a street corner ball pit?  Is our church?  Shouldn't it be?

Someone once said home is the place you go and they have to let you in.  Like most things, it's funny because it is true.  But what about the people who aren't family?  Don't people become family?  Aren't there neighbors you trust with a key?  With house sitting?  

Those friends of you and your kids.  At some point, they stop being front door guests and start coming in the side or back door or garage.  They knock as they open the door or stop knocking altogether.  As you sit around the kitchen table for snacks and meals and holidays, you stop asking if they'd like a drink and they head for the fridge for what you have on hand, maybe only because they stop by for it.  You moms of teenagers stock your pantry this way.

How many conversations do you have with someone before they're an acquaintance?  A friend?  A family member?  Can they become a loved one without conversation?  Is there anyone in your life you'd call a loved one with whom you've never had a heart to heart?  Heard a secret?  Shared a secret?  Been vulnerable?  Trusted?  Revealed or unearthed?  I bet there isn't.  So do you think you can form a family of faith, a community of believers if you don't converse?  Step outside your comfort zone?  Find the common?  Do you think you're friendly?  Have you tried as hard as the people in this video to make a friend, a connection to someone new here at First Pres or new to you?  Have you tried to do that often?  Every Sunday?  Today?

Most of you know David Upton.  This is David’s home.  When I visited him last week and asked if we could bring him anything to make his new room feel like home, he asked for just one thing.  A picture of the church.  This place is home to him.  You all have made it that.  Will you make it that for others?

Today, you have a ball near you, hopefully enough in each row for everyone to have one. Your color is going to be your guide.  During the offertory, you'll have a chance to go to someone new or new to you, or at least that you don't know well.  I'll know if you're cheating.  ;-)

Colors = specific question. 

Red –             Your favorite Christmas tradition – and WHY?
Blue –            Your favorite dessert or treat… who makes it or where do you get it?
Yellow –        Who loves you the most?
Green –         What do you love to do most?
Purple –         What makes you feel welcome?

In just a moment, during the offertory, you'll go find someone and get them to answer your question and you'll answer theirs.  After the service, I will once again ask you to linger and find two more people for the same assignment.  You will leave here knowing 2 new people a little better.  And you'll be known.  Meaningfully, I hope.  You'll have started something that I pray you'll continue.

Christ's clear command to us to welcome the stranger.  Christ's call is to make disciples.  Christ's disciples were his friends, those he loved, those with whom he broke bread and went through triumphs and trials, parades and storms.  Isn't that what the Church is for?  Are we a street corner or are we a ball pit?  Are we friendly enough that disciples can be made here?  Do you think you're friendly?

Do you think you’re friendly?  Will you be?  If so, say we will!

You can be.  You can do all things in Christ.  He will strengthen you.  Amen.

Let's Ruin Christmas! (Christmas Eve Contemporary Service)

John 9:39
John 18:37
Luke 2:8-18

Soundcloud: Listen Here (note: manuscript and live recorded sermon are often very different)

Let's Ruin Christmas

I came to know this as a true story.  Some years ago, a little boy named Marvin wanted to be in his church's nativity play.  The boy's parents were concerned because he was mentally challenged.  But the volunteers in charge of the production took him on happily and made him an innkeeper.  His only line was simple and he rehearsed it for months, "There is no room in the inn!"

Christmas Eve arrived and parents, especially Marvin's.  He was excited to do his part.  The lights lowered, the play started.  When Joseph and a young Mary expecting a small pillow arrived at his door and knocked, Marvin answered.  The couple asked desperately, do you have a place for us to stay?  My wife is soon to deliver!  Marvin crossed his arms, puffed out his chest, scowled his mightiest, and delivered with a boom, "THERE IS NO ROOM IN THE INN!"

Audible sighs were heard, smiles beamed from his parents.  Joseph and Mary turned dejected and trudged slowly away...  Marvin looked on.  His arms uncrossed, his scowl dissolved.  His lip quivered.  And Marvin belted out with great urgency... "Oh come on in baby Jesus!  We'll find room for you!"

Marvin ruined the play.  Marvin.  Ruined.  Christmas.  Or did he really?  I don't think anyone there that night really thought so.  I don't think any of us do.  Because isn't the point of the whole blessed story to make room for Jesus?  Isn't Marvin infinitely more wise than any of us?  Wasn't he moved as we all should be moved?  Didn't he GET it like we all strive to every year?

We read the Christmas story.  We tell it.  God slips in.  God knocks.  And we have to invite God in.  Even at Easter, God must be welcomed, invited.


So Let's ruin Christmas!!!

Let's take a page from Marvin's book and turn everything on its head.  Let's RUIN Christmas like he did.

Instead of looking for the War on Christmas, let's look for ways to undermine it all, to ruin Christmas like Marvin did, by really getting it, by refusing to play along with the script, by bravely inviting God into our home and making room, whatever it takes!

Instead of trying to shove baby Jesus into stores and advertising and holiday greetings and onto the airwaves and into our trees and football games and into the stockings and onto the shelves, let's invite the Christ child into our hearts and homes.

As a Methodist billboard recently read across a picture of red Starbucks cups... It's not their job to tell people about Christ.  It's ours.  Isn't it?

If you ask your own children to name the things in the living room that need to be present for it to be Christmas, what would they name first?  What would definitely make the list?  The tree?  Lights?  Stockings?  What about Santa's plate?  Cookies?  Milk?  Carrot for the reindeer?  We had a placemat and plate and cup and saucer.  I still remember the whole setup. 

What about a nativity?  Could they name all the characters?  Do they know anything from the story about when they arrived or why they stayed in the animal pen?  What about an Advent calendar?  Do you read a Christmas story?  Watch one?  Do you read the Christmas story?  Will you tonight?

Tonight or tomorrow, will you invite someone to join your family or will you go to someone who must remain at their care facility or home or shelter or hospital room?  Will you make room in your celebrations to be like little Marvin and ruin Christmas by welcoming Christ, even when it all seems so full?  Will you find the time to invite the lonely, the broken, the hungry, those walking in darkness to be in the light of your love this day?

Let's ruin Christmas!  Let's do all those things!  Let's pick up the phone and reconnect with a family member or friend or get to know a neighbor or find a stranger in need.

You see, Jesus, I think, would have loved Marvin's style.  I do.  Jesus was always up for ruining things.  Not to be a jerk, but to draw attention to what has been missed.  We use symbols to MAKE meaning.  They're important.  But as wonderful as those symbols are and as useful as they can be, they must be done with care or they run the risk of hiding the meaning they were created to breathe life into.

Jesus saw how his own people had buried the meaning of the Temple in systems of robbery and extortion that grew out of the loving symbolic acts of sacrifice.  He turned over tables to ruin the system because the meaning had been lost.  I'm not saying you go full blown Grinch tonight and empty the fridge, rip down the stockings, and shove the Christmas tree up the chimb-ly.  But, rearranging furniture in a not so calm manner was not outside Christ's repertoire.

Christ ruined royal entrances, riding in on donkeys instead of horses and chariots.  He ruined places of worship.  He ruined the religious hierarchy, the Jewish patriarchy, the Roman polity, and every prejudice his people and the world had every concocted or carefully crafted.  ANd he ruined Christmas.  He came in as a baby, born in a feedbox, visited first by the smelliest, poorest people in town.  And then he and his refugee family took off for Egypt immediately, fleeing threat of death, so that the Magi had to come find him in a new land.

Several years ago now, I was alone in Denver for Christmas.  I expected to wake up Christmas morning, sit around with the cat and maybe go to a gathering in the afternoon that church friends had invited me to attend with their family, knowing I'd be by myself and unable to travel to see family.

Instead, a dear friend arrived on my doorstep with baking supplies to make blueberry muffins from scratch.  We baked all morning, went and acquired a giant box of coffee and cups, and then headed out to the snowy empty streets of town to the corners where homeless people waited cold and mostly unnoticed.  We brought our baked goods, piping hot coffee, and hugs, and we listened and laughed and prayed with everyone.  We learned the stories of so many that day and for the first time felt like maybe we had gotten Christmas more right than we had in years, or ever.

My friend ruined Christmas.  My friend shook me up and got me out on the street.  Our friends and family thought we were a little nuts.  I'm pretty sure everyone's reaction was, "didn't you have plans?  Weren't you with your loved ones?  Didn't you wanna see your brothers and sisters?"

We did.  My friend is my hero.

My other hero is St. Nicholas.  St. Nicholas began his work when he noticed all the poor children who didn't have gifts to receive on Christmas, as had become a tradition.  He noticed they didn't have food or firewood either.  He loaded a sack and visited those in need.  Could there be a better example of faithfully following the call of Christ to notice our brothers and sisters, to love them, and to love them with a generosity of sharing all we have and are, the Good News we know, incarnate.

St.Nicholas, I am sure had family and friends and plans that day.  But he decided to chuck that, or at least, as Marvin would tell us... To make room for Jesus.  I like to think he invited his friends to be helpers... To not think of them-s-elves, but to fill a few bags, a few socks, a few hearts...

And can't we do that too?  Will you?  Will you make time tonight and tomorrow.  Will you make room?  Will you teach your children to make room and why?

Will you pitch in with St. Nick, with Marvin, with Jesus... Let's ruin Christmas.  Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Bouncing Off the Walls

Bouncing Off the Walls

Thanksgiving Eve Worship Service, November 25, 2015

Scripture References for Sermon… (Only those with a star were read aloud)…

Genesis 12:10 – Abraham from Famine
Genesis 12:1920 – Abraham from Pharaoh
Genesis 14:1112 – Lot from Invasion
Genesis 21:14-16 – Hagar & Ishmael from Persecution
Genesis 26:13 – Isaac & Rebecca from Persecution
Genesis 27:4244 – Jacob from Violence
Genesis 47:4 – Jacob from Famine
Genesis 36:7 – Esau from Scarcity & Conflict
Genesis 37:28 – Joseph from Human Trafficking
Exodus 12:41 – Moses & ALL of Israel from Religious Persecution & War
*Deuteronomy 10:1719 – How to Treat the Refugee
Ruth 1:1 – Naomi from Famine
2 Kings 17:23 – ALL of Israel from War & Conquest by Assyria
2 Kings 24:1415 – ALL of Israel from War & Conquest by Babylon
Esther 2:57 – Esther & Mordechai from War & Conquest
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel – Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego from War & Conquest
*Matthew 2:1314 – Jesus, Mary, & Joseph from Political Persecution
Acts 8:1 – The Early Church from Religious Persecution
Acts 11:19 – The Early Church from Religious Persecution
Acts 8:45 – Philip from Religious Persecution
Acts 12:17 – Peter from Religious Persecution
Acts 18:12 – Aquila & Pricilla from Religious Persecution
*Scriptures that were read before message.

 Deuteronomy 10:17‐19
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the refugee, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the refugee, therefore, for you were refugees in the land of Egypt.

Matthew 2:13‐14
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt.

Bouncing off the walls.  That should be normal. But I'll come back to that.

There's a reason I had us sing that silly kid song.  When you’re happy and you know it, when you’re thankful and you know it… Most of us need a reminder of what it means to express ourselves.  Unless you are a musician or "professional" artist, you do not have many opportunities in our society to express yourself... your desires, your hopes, your frustrations.  And no, road rage and Facebook are not what I mean.

We take some healthy opportunities to do this.  We pack a box for Operation Christmas Child, say yes when Kathy Sang or Bob Harris call.  But we take so few opportunities to open ourselves completely to this world and then RESPOND in healthy ways, good ways, ways that show the truth of our faith, the good news we claim, but don't always PROCLAIM.

Bouncing off the walls.

This weekend, we waited to tell Vincent we were going to the RenFest till the last min, as all parents know.  When I walked in the door, he was already bouncing off the walls.  Not about the festival.  But because it was MY birthday.  Not his.  Mine.  When was the last time you bounced off the walls for someone else's birthday?  He had a piece of notebook paper on which he'd drawn me a card and couldn't wait for me to read it.  The walls came off the house when we then told him about the festival.

There's a link going around on Facebook that advertises Google will tell you your future.  If you click, it says, if you care this much about YOUR future, what about the future of others?  What about refugees?

It's a bold question for google.  It's basically a Jesus question.  How many times does Jesus ask his disciples or the religious leaders or the crowds, what about... those people?  What about God's prophets in the whole Old Testament, God's Apostles in the New Testament?

What reaction do you have to all the news?  Sadness?  Anger?  Did you care much at all till the issues was Syrians being resettled here?  Did that change your reaction?

Bouncing off the walls.  That was Vincent's reaction because he knows and loves me.  Do we know the Syrians?  DO we want to?

If you had to guess, what is going on over there?  Do you know?  DO you care?  Do you want to?  Do you have any idea where Syria is?  What’s happening?  How many people?

I want to introduce you to your brothers and sisters in Syria a little bit.  Of the recorded deaths (experts are certain the numbers are higher), 200,000 have been killed.  That's like someone coming to the US, killing every man, woman, and child in Rowan County and Davie, and probably heading down to Concord and doing the same.  Everyone.  Then, for good measure, displacing every single person in the middle and western 2/3rds of the state, and driving the other 1/3rd into other countries.  The entire state, over 10 million people.  Do you have some idea now?

Well, yeah, Brian, but which are Christian and which are Muslim?  That is SO not the question that Jesus ever asks, nor the prophets.  In fact, the opposite.  That list of scriptures in your bulletin are the complete list of our ancestors of the faith who fled and became refugees.  Jesus and his parents are ON that list.  Take a look.

And that's to say nothing of the TWENTY TWO references in scripture to LOVE the REFUGEE in your land.  These are not commands to love the other Jewish people in the neighboring country (or Christians).  It was a GUARANTEE in that day and age that the foreigner, the refugee was of another faith, probably an idol worshipper or polytheist or something far stranger or more barbaric.  These commands are to love and welcome and defend the foreigner, the refugee.  To rescue and provide sanctuary.  And I will tell you right now that God made that command to a people who had no capacity for background checks, to people who were not protected by being surrounded by other countries and oceans and thousands of miles, but to a people right on the front lines, neighbors.

So certainly the loudest voices after these atrocities in a world so full of Christians would be words of welcome and hospitality, right???  Or at the very least, the loud voices of opposition would be from atheists or people of other faiths telling us Christians to not be so naive and foolish and risky!  Certainly any national leader or politician to be quoted in the paper or on TV as denying asylum to the MILLIONS in need would never claim the radical faith we claim and PROCLAIM through our actions of love and hospitality.  Right?

Certainly the worriers and the wise among us who have concerns would be spending all their creativity and resources on SOLUTIONS and ways to provide the love and welcome and sanctuary we are called to as Christians?

Certainly, we would consider the refusal to welcome middle-eastern families with children knocking at our door with the answer, "there's no room here," would be considered the real war on Christmas...  Right?

But Brian, I really do love my neighbor.  I do love the Lord and want to do as he calls me to do, but I'm scared.  Good.  That's honest.  And if you're not scared, you've gotten far too comfortable in your faith.  The Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, his brother, the disciples, the prophets, do we assume they were not scared?  No.  They just knew that to cling to this life more fiercely than the truth we have had revealed is to have no faith at all.  We are not a people of fear, but of faith.  And do we have a faith that we claim, or a faith we PROclaim?  Is it a faith that we intellectually assert and post about and use for guidance, or is it a faith we proclaim in word and deed?  Is it a faith that reminds us to buy a birthday card out of obligation or a faith that has us bouncing off the walls?

At a time when most of Christians are either terrified of who may arrive in our country and what they may do, or we remain blissfully unaware of our brothers and sisters knocking at the door this advent... one little boy in Texas showed a little light to remind us what it's like to be grateful for all the blessings we have and to SHOW it, to be a bouncing off the walls believer...

In the same week that the governor of Texas wrote a letter to the President refusing to accept Syrian refugees in his small state, a mosque was vandalized.  SEVEN year old, Jack heard this news and with the help of his mother, approached Naeem, a board member of the mosque, at the mosque in Pflugerville (a suburb of Austin, where I was born) with his piggy bank, the contents of which totaled about $20.  His mother said that they wanted to show them that what's not happening in Paris is NOT what is happening in Pflugerville. Said Naeem, "Jack’s $20 are worth $20 million to us because it’s the thought that counts,” Naeem said in an interview with ABC News. “Jack is a just a little older than my son, Ibrahim. If we have more kind-hearted kids like them in the world, I have hope for our future."

Jack has a bouncing off the walls faith. Jack is known all over Texas and the world now for his act of love. Will we be known for our security or our love? Our hate or our hospitality? Our fear or our faith? I don't know the name of the innkeeper in Bethlehem who let a young Middle Eastern family into his barn. Maybe history will not remember my name either. But I'd rather be nameless and famous for my compassion… than famous for my refusal to accept the refugee in my land when the prophets tell me my people were once wanderers too. So if you are thankful and you know it, SHOW it.  Don’t claim your faith only, but PROCLAIM it.  As for me and my household, we will be believers who bounce off the walls for our faith. Amen.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mission Field of Dreams

You can listen to the full sermon here.

YouTube video link coming soon...

Or read the rough draft of the manuscript here...

Coming back from mission trip is often when I am most on fire for my faith.  And I've had a week to recover from the trip, but not yet come down from that high.  Y'all are in for it.  ;-) The trip was incredible and gave all 19 of the youth and 7 of us adults the opportunity to serve an immigrant community in Costa Rica known as Pavas.  As you've heard from our TWAMers this morning, it was a transformative experience... for the people in our neighborhood, and for us.

For the families, it was a lifelong dream realized, giving them a future and a hope.  And for our kids, it inspired a few dreams of what their lives can be, and we pray as leaders, alters their future and gives them hope.  And we, as adults, are inspired once more to dedicate our lives to serving the Lord every day, not giving up on dreaming what God may be calling us to do.

One of my favorite films centers on one man following his dreams with his family and the people put in his path along the way, the dreams of everyone he encounters.  Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones, among others, is one I've seen countless times.  As Kostner's character Ray lies awake one night with his wife, having already plowed his cornfield for a baseball field, he muses that his father must have had dreams, but he never did anything about them. 

He never did anything about them.

On Ray's journey, he encounters some wild and colorful characters and feels driven to help people reach their dreams.  He learns of a man named Moonlight Graham.  He goes searching for him and discovers that DOCTOR Graham passed away some years before.  A retired journalist reads them his obituary, detailing a life of quiet service and love.  Not just a doctor, but a hero who provided children in need with the necessities and the occasional ticket to the ballpark, a real hometown hero.  In interviewing the townspeople who knew him, they learned how this saint had changed the lives of everyone who lived there, famous only for caring for the needy and loving his wife in equal measures of devotion.

What on earth does any of this have to do with baseball? wonders our hero, Ray, he muses as he goes for moonlight stroll.  In his stroll, he wanders back in time and meets Doc Graham.  They share a cup of coffee and the elderly doctor tells him his story.  He played in the minor leagues and finally got called up.  He rode the bench and finally got called out of the dugout to outfield for a game.  The ball never made it out of the infield and he never got to bat.  Knowing he was going back to the minors was crushing, and he went home and became a doctor.

Ray asks him if he could fulfill any dream, have just one wish, what would it be?

Doc Graham says he never got to bat in the majors.  He says he'd like to face down a major league pitcher, let him go into his windup, and just before the pitch, wink.  Make him think he knew something he didn't.  Connect with the ball, run the bases, stretch a double into a triple, and flop face first into third, wrap his arms around the bag.  That is his wish.

Ray excitedly tells him that his baseball field is where dreams come true, that players long gone come back to play and live their dreams and begs him to go with him.  He politely declines.

On Ray's drive home with the author played by James Earl Jones, he sees a young kid hitchhiking.  They give him a lift and he introduces himself as Archie Graham.  They take the kid to his Iowa farm where he gets to play with the legends, they greats, and even fulfill his dream, arms around the bag and all.

Ray has done it, fulfilled his dreams.

And then in the climax of the film, Ray's extended family come to ruin things.  They don't believe in the magic and can't see the ballplayers.  A confrontation occurs and Ray's daughter falls from the bleachers, laying motionless on the ground not breathing.  As the mother runs for the house to call the paramedics, Moonlight Graham jogs in from the outfield.  He stops at the edge of the field, a boundary the players have never crossed in the film.  He drops his glove and slowly steps across, instantly becoming an old man in his wool suit and overcoat, carrying his medical bag.  He sits the young girl up and sees she's choking.  He gives her a few hard thumps on the back, she coughs up a hotdog, and is just fine.  Ray and his wife begin thanking him profusely, and he says, "No.  Thank YOU."

Oh my God, you can't go back, Ray says, realizing the profound sacrifice he's made.  He begins to apologize and he's interrupted.  Doc Graham tells him it's worth it.  He gives him a look, and Ray remembers his words in the diner several nights before when he tried to persuade him to come with him.  The doc had told him to have his dream come so close was devastating, like having your dreams brush by you like a stranger in a crowd. Ray says, it would kill most men to come so close, to only have 5 minutes to live their dream, that they'd consider it a tragedy! Doc Graham shakes his head and says, no.  If I had only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, that would be a tragedy.  And the doc leaves, making his way through the legends who had razzed him as a rookie for days, patting him on the back and giving him accolades, he was their hero.

Ray spent the movie trying to help people fulfill their dreams, their one wish, only to discover that many of those dreams were a passing fantasy, and while exciting and momentarily fulfilling, it was not the dream to which they were called by God to be who they were called to be.  James Earl Jones helps him to see that his true calling is not to run around as an errand boy to a voice, but to love and appreciate his family, his father, and all he'd been given with the same passion he'd gone he distance for.  He had to learn to pursue not what was fleeting and personal, but eternal and godly (that which God dreams for God’s people and creation)…

How many of us doggedly pursue dreams of ambition, personal fulfillment, and good intentions for ourselves and others without pausing for a moment to consider if it is the dream God is calling us to pursue?  In the busyness and whirlwind of our lives in this country and this day and time, are we truly pausing to ask ourselves what plans God has, how God calls us to use our gifts to serve all those in need.  The master in our Gospel story gives gifts to his servants.  The good servants don't use those gifts for self-improvement, but rather to show their thankfulness to the master for his trust and generosity.  Have we done the same?  Do we pursue what is fleeting and personal, or eternal and godly?

Have we used our vocations, our skills, our resources to acquire and maintain at our worst, accolades and a lifestyle, and at our best, security and safety?  Have we challenged our kids to give selflessly, to risk their popularity, their future, and themselves to follow God's call on their lives?  The Bible challenges boldly with these questions!  The psalmist does not speak of the mother sparrow who builds a safe nest far from danger and risk, but one who builds her nest close to the altar, the mother who offers herself and her young before the Lord to go and be and do what the Lord calls her to go and be and do.

But, Brian!  Your story was about a doctor!  I am working hard to put my kid in the right private school or AP class or get them a sports scholarship!  They have talent!  Yes, they do!  Yes YOU do!  So are you pursuing a life of service or a life of security and self satisfaction and comfort?  This is a question we ask of ourselves every single mission trip.  That is one of the most valuable parts of these trips.  I was reminded of a talented young man at a Florida university who had the opportunity to play starting quarterback and told the offensive coordinator he was thrilled for the opportunity, but would need a week off during camp to go on his church mission trip.  The coordinator told him he was nuts to jeopardize this chance and possibly his career to miss out and go do this.  The brave young man said he understood that was a risk, but that was a priority to him and his family.  The head coach heard about this dedication to this calling God had placed on his heart and Tim Tebow was able to go on his mission trip AND start as quarterback, retaining his chance for a career in the NFL, but that was not promised to him for the risk he took.  He pursued not what was fleeting and personal, but eternal and godly.

Are the dreams you are chasing or building your life around, or preparing for your children the lives of safety, security, and acclaim, or lifelong service and pursuit of God's ongoing call?  Have you carved out time for your family to be dedicated disciples present in worship, active in faith community, and prioritized your time and resources, and dedicated your entire family to serving others above the fleeting dreams we all have?  If I'd only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, that would be a tragedy.  The kind of doctor that Doc Graham was.

The youth on our trip don't just give a week of time and energy.  You don't just give money to build houses or send kids out of the country.  Our youth bring love and hope to the hopeless and downtrodden.  Your resources provide HOMES for families who have dreamed of nothing greater.  Our youth come to appreciate who greatly and richly they are blessed AND how they should respond in gratitude for the rest of their lives.  We help them grow their roots down deep into the lord so they respond in thankfulness, so they respond as good and faithful servants who seek every opportunity to serve the Lord because God expects them to use what he has given them! 

It's risky!  I don't usually recruit for mission trip by telling kids and parents how risky it is.  It's not the neighborhood, or the travel, or the governments, or the poverty, or the people we encounter, or the groups we work alongside, or dangerous heretical ideas with which they could come into contact.  Those are not the risks and the dangers.  The risk is that they will begin to dream dreams of God's call on their life, to seek and save the lost, to put service and love above safety, security, career, or the American dream.  They will dream big and pursue what is eternal and godly.

Our YWAM liaison, Mark, is a Kiwi, a New Zealander with a heart for the world and for mission, who shares his dream with his wife and 3, soon to be 4, kids to serve others in love and with all his gifts of leadership and music and hard work.  His father, he told me, once asked him what he would do about money and retirement.  Had God provided for those things?  What would Mark do when he was old?  Mark bravely, and with no naivety at all, told his father that then perhaps he would go to Asia and die in poverty like most of the world does.  I was floored.  Mark trusted God to provide for his needs so completely that he was going to give his all and follow the Lord wherever he called, whatever is eternal and godly.

I've told some of you that I spoke at length with Pedro, the father of the family that my work team built a house with and for.  His arm around me, he told me in Spanish that GOD had built this house, that we were his family now, that we were always welcome, as all of you are, and that one day when he saw God, he would tell him about us.

God dreams for us, brothers and sisters, and God dreams BIG.  We are the wicked servant whenever we dream small or dream for ourselves and our children in small ways.  But when we step aside, when we pray, when we seek, when we find need and meet it with great love, giving all of our heart in thankfulness with our roots deep in the Lord, we are the good and faithful servant.  When you pour out your resources to send young people to change lives and be transformed, when you join us and travel to those in need, when you step aside from micromanaging your life and the life of your children to set them on a road measured by success and security and prestige and allow them to seek God's call, we dream big, we love deeply, and discover the hopes and future God calls us to be a part of.

I challenge you this week... yes, more homework... sit down.  Sit down alone or with your spouse, your children, your parents.  Sit down and dream together.  Ask yourselves about your own gifts.  What do you have in small portion or abundance?  Then ask yourself what dreams God may have for each of you.  How will you serve, how will you make use of what the master has given you?  Will you be serving this year here, in our community, on mission trip?  Will you be volunteering or giving of your time and resources in some new way?  Make a list of the biggest dreams you can dream for how you are maybe being called to serve and use those many "talents" the master has given you.  Put that list on your fridge and keep looking at it, adding to it, changing it, and keep dreaming big. 

There's a big old mission field of dreams in this world.  And when you have dreamed and done and become, you will stand before the Lord, and a little man named Pedro will be there to introduce you, and the Lord will say, "well done, good and faithful servant."  Amen.


Isn't it strange, that princes and kings, 

and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common-folk like you and me, 
are builders for eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,

a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules;
and each must make 'ere time has flown,
a stumbling block or a stepping stone.