Thursday, December 15, 2011

Waiting Activities: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Thessalonians is one of the first of Paul’s writings we have. The church at Thessalonica was one of the church’s of which Paul was most fond. In many ways all of his churches were like children to him, and in his family Thessalonica was the on who obeyed the rules and did all the things that would make a Daddy proud. When Paul writes this letter to them, they are a little discouraged. People are dying and it seems to them that Christ return, which was believed to be immanent was not quite as immanent as they might have hoped and this is bothering them. They don’t know what to do now. They are learning what it means to be a people who have to wait, waiting for Christ to come again, waiting for all things to be set right, waiting for the promise of God to all come to fruition.
Cidra was about two years old and Stella was still a tiny baby. We were traveling across country via plane and had a 3 hour lay over in someplace like Columbus. We had been lucky Cidra had slept the first half of the trip, but now, as we settled into our seats at the gate from which our plane would be leaving in a few of hours we had an energetic and awake child on our hands. We sat there for a little while taking some deep breaths and settling in as Cidra proceeded to run back and forth and climb all over the chair between us. We had placed ourselves in front of a window and fed her a snack while we tried to get her to watch the people on the tarmac below or the planes as they taxied around the runway, but as you can imagine, to a two year old Cidra, none of these things were interesting for any measurable length of time. So, I pulled out my magic bag. My magic bag was chock full of small toys, games, coloring books, and what have you all designed to keep one small toddler entertained while we waited. All of them gathered and a few recently purchased to entertain when all other forms of entertainment had failed. I pulled each thing out individually, without reveling anything else I might have up my sleeve, making sure that each toy, games or activity was used to its fullest before resorting to bringing out another. In this way, we whiled away the three hours we spent in that airport and they went by much quicker than we had thought they would. Cidra was entertained; to tell you the truth we were also entertained by entertaining Cidra.
In many senses we are living in a time of lay over. We are living in world in which Christ has already come but he is yet to come again. We are living in a time when Christ has begun to redeem the world but all things have not yet been set completely right. Heaven has come to earth in the form of a baby born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago and Heaven comes to this world each time we act, react, and speak in ways which exemplify the love of God as seen in the life and teaching of Christ, but the Kingdom is not yet fully seen in this world and will not fully be seen until Christ comes again. In many ways we are between flights. The first flight brought the creator of the universe to earth and showed us the love God has for us and that that love can be lived out in our lives. We were shown what it looks like to live out the goodness of God in every moment of our lives. We saw what humanity can be when we are living our lives in relationship with our creator. And we saw in Christ the depth the lengths God will God to draw all creation back to the goodness and righteousness that was in the beginning. But that was the first flight. Right now we are waiting for the second flight. We are living a layover.
Paul is much like Mike and I with our bag of activities, entertaining ourselves and our antsy daughter while we wait. In this passage Paul is showing the Church the activities that can help us constructively pass the time while we wait. So as we are looking, as we are waiting at this terminal together, what do can we do with ourselves while we wait? What is in Paul’s magic bag of waiting activities?
So what should we do to fill the time we have while we are living through this layover between the Christ who has come and the Christ who will come again? We begin by being the Church, we take care of one another, lift one another up, help each other be better, encourage one another and help those among us who are weak. We are a family who helps each other be the best they can, are there for each other when those around us are in need and are an encouragement. Being nice to each other and helping each other out are primary to the kinds of activities with which we are to be keeping ourselves busy while we are waiting for Christ’s return. Living together as the body of Christ, supporting one another and being there for one another, learning from each other, and listening to those whom God has given us to teach us and guide us. This is what it means to be a family, to do life together.
But that is just the beginning. There are four things which Paul calls us to do always, or continually be doing. The first is a continuation of these first things. We are to always be good to each other and to everyone. Not only are we to be supportive of each other and encourage one another but we are to always be good to one another, but not to just each other to everyone. We begin filling our time by always doing good to everyone, treating everyone with the goodness, the kindness, the love which we experience in and through God. We bring the goodness of God to the lives of those within as well as without the church. Goodness is the mark of the love of God on our lives.
The second thing to which Paul calls us to always be doing is to be joyful. Being joyful is something we often want to make something that it is not. It is easy to believe that being joyful is about always being happy. Having a smile on your face and always sounding upbeat. Joy is actually not so much about our emotional state but more has to do from whence we gain our emotional reserves. Joy is a well of water from which you draw when the land is dry and parched, or even bitter cold. It is a fresh place from whence you pool your emotional sense of stability no matter what is going on, no matter what kind of day you are having, whether the events of the day, week, month or year are generally uplifting or depressing. Joy is a strength of emotionally stability that brings goodness and strength to even the most difficult and weighty situations. It is only when we have joy at the depths of our emotional beings that we are able to rejoice in all things, at all times and it is finding this sense of emotional stability in God that allows us to bring joy to all situations of life. And it is this joy, this rejoicing with which we are to fill our lives and our time as we are in this waiting period.
When joy is in the depths of our being, when that is the strength on which we rely, then we are able to fill our lives with the next thing with which Paul calls us to fill our time. We are to be thankful in all things, at all time. Even when our lives are filled with turmoil and chaos our lives are always filled with much for which we can be thankful. God has given us life and breath, redemption, love, grace. All goodness in our lives, all things that are pure, or wonderful, all these things have their roots in our lives because of the hand of God upon us, and our lives, working in and through our lives and the lives of those around us. And for these things we can be thankful. Living a live of thankfulness recognizes that the goodness, the beauty, the wonderful things around us are blessings for which we are to be eternally and continually thankful.
The last activity to which Paul calls us is to pray, to pray always. The activities to which we are called to live our lives as we wait are a lifestyle built on relying on God in all things at all times, finding our strength and joy in God and being thankful in all things. A life of prayer would just naturally flow from these previous things.
I was young mother, still on maternity leave, so Cidra was less than six weeks old. She was asleep in the stroller and I stood in the antique and tea shop that was just down the street from my house. Since I was on maternity leave, I had very little other than taking care this tiny little baby to fill my time and although she did fill much of my time, I still found that I needed to get out of the house and find other things to do. So I would go down the street to the little antique tea shop and talk with owner. She was a very kind and generous Christian lady who was an active member of the Disciples of Christ church in town. The particular day I have in mind we were talking about prayer life. I was telling her about my Orthodox friend and the ways she had worked to incorporate prayer into her daily life, the things she did and the ways she brought daily prayer into the mundane everyday parts of her life. There was another lady in the shop who had dropped in and out of the conversation. She had established for us that she believed herself to be quite the amazing Christian having corrected several of our misconceptions and have admonished us on things she saw as false beliefs of which we were speaking. To tell you the truth we did not know what to make of her. She had not participated much since we had been talking about my friend. Suddenly she piped up and said, that we really shouldn’t worry about having specific times of prayer, we should be praying continually. “I really don’t understand why people think it is so important to spend hours in prayer,: she explained to us, “Paul tells us our wholes lives should be a prayer. This whole idea of prayer time is completely unbiblical.” At that point I was shocked into silence. Never had I heard something so utterly bizarre in my life.
Paul does call for us to live lives of prayer, lives in which we are always praying, but this does not mean that we abandon a serious prayer life in which we spend significant time praying for the things which God calls for us to pray. No this means that we build prayer into our lives; that we take moments to pray as we go about our daily activities, that we take time in our down time to speak to God about the things that are heavy up on our hearts, bringing our daily struggles to God, sharing our joys and pleasures with God, taking our day to day activities to God; this means that we set aside special time where we spend time alone with God. It does not merely mean any one of these things, but instead means all these of these things. A life of prayer is a life where pray is at home in all parts of our lives. It is a life in which coming to God is a part of all parts of our lives. We live talking to God, we live spending time with God, and we live bathing the good parts, the bad parts, the exciting parts and the dull parts of our lives in the presence of God, speaking to God and bringing God into all parts of our lives.
This is living a life continually connected to God, drawing our strength from God, finding our joy in God, thanking God in all things and bringing every aspect, every moment of our life to God. As we are filling our time, waiting for Christ to return we are good to each other, our lives are filled with joy, thankfulness and prayer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

I was waiting in a line. It was a really long line. I looked at my watch. I had been there somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes and it did not feel as if the line had moved at all. I had been there far too long. I had not planned on just standing here for minutes on end. I wanted to come in get what I needed and leave, but instead I was waiting; waiting in a line that did not ever seem to move. I had looked at all the people around me, I had looked at everything in the room in which I was standing and not only was I waiting, but now I was board. It might have helped if I could have chatted with those around me; I did not know the language well enough to do so. I think it would have helped, if I could have at least entertained myself by reading the signs around me, but I could do little more than pick out one or two words. After all I was in the Pharmacia and although my tourist Romanian might have gotten me around the market quite well, I was not so good at pharmaceutical terminology. So I was board, waiting in line in a foreign country and I did not even know why I was waiting. Well, after I had waited 20 minutes all together, I came to know why I was waiting, it seemed the Pharmacist was late coming back from lunch and we were all just standing there while he had been chatting extra long with one of his friends over at the café. And it seemed I was the only one in the room who thought this was inconsiderate.

Thing is 20 minutes in line showed me one thing and one thing only, and that was that I was the only one standing in that not moving line who was becoming perturbed. Everyone else was just waiting. They were standing there chatting or thinking or doing, I don’t know what, but not a one of them was upset, or fidgety or anything. I was the only one shuffling and huffing and board and visibly disturbed by the situation. I could make my bets that they were all wondering, “What is wrong with that American? What is her problem?” At the same time I was noticing that not a one of them was upset or concerned or perturbed and they all seemed to take it in stride when we were told that the pharmacist had just taken an extra long lunch. Everyone else was just waiting. I was impatiently waiting.

When I told my Romanian friends about this occurrence they told me that Romanians simply don’t mind waiting in line or waiting for anything for that matter. In fact one told me a story that once she was going somewhere and saw a really long line for something and got in the line and waited with everyone else because if there was a line that long, it must be for a good reason. They lived in a society were you waited for everything. Nothing came immediately. Everything took time, so waiting was built into everything they did and they waited like pros. They did not huff or puff, or fidget or become impatient they just waited and accepted that waiting was a part of life. They knew something that very few of us here know and that is that it does not help things to get impatient or upset simply because you have to wait.
I was upset, I was perturbed and my upsetedness and my pertubitude did nothing. No matter how much I huffed and not matter how much I puffed that pharmacist did not come back from lunch any faster. No matter how much I tapped my foot and made loud deep sighs, my visible signs of impatience did not make that line move. If I wanted the medicine I was there to get (and believe you me, I wanted that medicine) I was going to have to wait in line. And whether I realized it or not, I could choose to wait patiently or I could choose to wait impatiently. I could use the time to think, to pray, I could have even broken out my poor Romanian and talked to the lady in front of me or I could wait impatiently and allow myself to get perturbed. I was going to wait either way, the question was, “How was I going to wait?” Waiting is a part of life and the sooner we learn to accept that the happier our lives will probably be.

Built into Paul’s understanding of Christianity, is the idea that we are all waiting. We are waiting for Christ to come. We are waiting to be made complete. We are waiting for the fullness of our salvation. We are waiting for the revealing of Jesus Christ. We are waiting for the end when all things will be set right and the world will be as it always should have been. We are a people waiting.
On Friday, we took our children to the tree lighting at the Royal Sonesta, which is a fancy hotel just a few blocks from the parsonage over in East Cambridge. We had hot chocolate, warm cider, gingerbread and sugar cookies, listened to Christmas music and the girls got this season’s first glimpse of Santa. As we headed home, Cidra turned to me and said, “Mommy, I am so excited, it is almost Christmas.” We don’t go to the malls much and don’t take the girls too many stores besides the grocery store, so they have not been inundated with Christmas since before Halloween. Friday was their first glimpse of Christmas and it was the first time we started talking about the fact that Christmas is near as a family. Yesterday they came here and helped decorate the sanctuary with all these beautiful advent decorations which we have here.

From here on out they will be living in anticipation for Christmas. Everyday will be a day of excited waiting. The most anticipated holiday of the whole year is soon upon us and they will spend every day between now and Christmas waiting. They have now joined the ranks of children, all across the country who are waiting; waiting with joy, waiting with expectation for their favorite day of the whole year, Christmas.

Our waiting is one of the things we are remembering during this time of advent. Advent is the season of waiting. During this time we look forward to celebrating the incarnation of Jesus on Christmas day, but it is also a season when we not only remember the time of waiting that occurred prior to the birth of Christ, while we wait for our own celebration of that glorious day, but we also remember that we are still waiting, waiting for Christ to come again, in all his glory and once and for all set all things right and restore this world to creation’s glory so that we all might be the people we were created to be and so that this world might be the world God had intended it to be.

But Paul is not concerned about the fact that we are waiting. The fact that we are waiting is a given. It is simply a part of the Christian life. What we do while we are waiting is what will define who we are. Christians will wait, but what will we do while we wait?

The church in Corinth, although not doing very many things well at this point in their history, are doing a few things right. They are waiting but they are not standing around, impatiently tapping their foot, looking at their watches, huffing, puffing and sighing deep sighs wondering when in the world will Jesus get around to coming back. They are not upset wondering why Jesus is wasting their valuable time and keeping them waiting. They are not upset or perturbed while they wait, they are using the wait and Paul is thankful for the things they are doing while they wait.
The people of the church of Corinth were people who called themselves Christians, they were people who had already chosen to follow Christ, to live their lives the way that God call them to live them and as such they realized that they were a people who lived waiting for Christ to return for Jesus to come again and set all things right but they were not sitting around waiting and wasting their time they were putting their waiting to good use they were waiting patiently and productively.

While they are waiting, Paul sees that God has gifted them and they are using they are using the gifts, that God has given them to allow God to strengthen them. God had provided the Church at Corinth with people who were gifted in many ways. In fact I would venture to say that God had gifted the Church at Corinth with the very gifts they needed to be the Church God was calling them to be. Paul is thankful that God has gifted them as such and Paul sees that among them they have all the gifts they need to be strengthened until the end. This means that the people of the Church of Corinth had the very gifts that the Church of Corinth needed to be the Church God had called them to be.

God gifts each and every church with the gifts that that Church needs to not only to survive but to thrive. The gifts that we have among us are the gifts we need to be the people God is calling us to be. The key is to see that we are gifted and figure out how that gifting is meant to strengthen the Church in which God has placed us and use that gifting so that the Church might be the church God has called her to be.
This is exciting, it means two things. First it means that God has gifted you, secondly it means that God has gifted us. God has gifted you. There are things that you can do that God has given you. Things that you are good at, things that you love to do things that you thrive in doing. And God has placed you here in this church because this church needs you. You are needed here. You belong here. God has called you and the very things that God has given to you to use to glorify and further God’s work and ministry in this world are the very things that this church needs. This means that your skills, your voice, your presence here matters. There are no unneeded or useless people in a church. Everyone whom God has placed in this church belongs here, has a place here and has something unique which only you can bring that we all need.

This also means that together God has gifted US so that together we can be the Church God has called us to be. We are not lacking. We are not less than what we need to be. If we all are using the God given gifts and talents, that each of us have then this Church will be the glorious Church God has called her to be. If we all are working together being the people of God, we are called to be, then this church will be the image of Christ’s love in our neighborhood, in this city and in the world. Together, we are the Church God envisions us to be, when we all are working together and being the people God has called us be, living out the giftings God has given to each of us.

But not only was the church of Corinth gifted but they were also active while they were waiting. While they waited for the Lord, they are doing all they can to enrich their knowledge and speech of Jesus Christ they are seeking truth and understanding, they were telling each other what they knew. They are seeking to know who Jesus is and what living for Jesus means. They are seeking to learn from one another; to be taught and to teach so that all may better know and understand. They were doing everything they could to know Jesus better, to know the story of the gospel better.
They were participating in what we call discipleship. They were essentially getting together and studying who Jesus was. They were listening to the stories of God. Learning what they could from the Holy Scriptures and from one another about how to be the people God was calling them to be. They were learning and teaching and becoming people who better understood who Jesus was, and who God is. This was important to them. They took time from their every day busy lives to spend with other people to grow, to learn and to teach one another so that they could all better understand and know the God whom they served and the savior in whom they believed.
These are people who are doing everything they can to allow God to use them to strengthen one another, so that the truth of Jesus Christ and the testimony of who Jesus is might be strengthened among them. They are teaching each other and allowing themselves to be taught by those around them so that they all might be strengthened, so that together they as the Church might grow and prosper. These are people who know that as Christians, coming to know Jesus better is a life long process and that God had given us each other in our church so that we might grow and learn. Everyone was teaching another and everyone was being taught. They were discipling each other. They all were mentoring and being mentored. No one was seen as unworthy to teach and no one was seen as being above needing to be taught. They were all growing, learning and becoming the people God was calling them be. And because they were all teaching and learning the testimony of Christ, the truth of the gospel, the work and will God was being strengthened among them, by them and through them. This was a thriving community of persons willing to disciple and be discipled.

In short they were attending Sunday school classes, they were going to Bible Study groups, they were teaching Sunday school, they were gathering in twos and threes teaching and learning from one another. They were never too busy to take time out of their schedules to spend time with other Christians learning and teaching about who Christ is and who it is we are called to be as Christians.

As Christians we are called to wait. We are called to wait, to wait patiently and to wait actively. We are to wait and while we wait we are to realize that we are gifted. We are all called to do the work and the ministry of God. Each of us have ways in which God has uniquely gifted us so that we might be the people God has called us to be, so that the work and ministry of God might be furthered in this world and so that the Church, in which God had placed us, this church, might flourish and be the Church that God has called her to be.

We all are to be willing to work together, all using the abilities that God has given to each of us furthering the work and the ministry of this church, so that together we may be the Church God is calling us to be. The church is only as effective and gifted as her members are willing to use their giftedness on behalf of the whole. Look at your life, think about the ways you are unique and special. Think about what you love doing. The small things that at which you excel, and think about the things that need to happen for this church to be the Church God is calling her to be. Think about the ministries we have here at this Church. There is some way that your gifts, your talents, your loves in life can be used to further the work that God is doing among us. God has placed you here because you have something to offer this church that no one else can offer.

But not only are we to work together in our giftedness to further the work and ministry of God in this Church but we are also to come together to learn from and to teach one another. None of us should go, from week to week without being taught and teaching. The truth of the gospel must be told, it must be learned. We cannot grow as disciples unless we are learning from one another and teaching one another. Each of us should have a group of at least two or three other Christians with whom we meet regularly to learn from and to teach. We all should have another stronger Christian from whom we are learning what it means to be a person of God and we all should be taking the time to mentor and teach at least one other about what it means to love Christ and to live the kind of lives of love to which Christ calls us.

We are called to be Christians waiting, but not waiting impatiently and most assuredly we are not called to wait while doing nothing. We are called to wait actively. Using the gifts and talents God has given to us and to learn and teach one another so that in all things we, the church might be strengthened until the day when Christ returns.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46 - Christ the King

Matthew 25:31-46
What is a king? What does it mean to have
a king? Who is a king? In this land of
democracy, which was built throwing off our
ties to a king and breaking out on our own
without the fetters of a dieing feudal system
and its monarchy, what does it mean to say
that Christ is king? England still has a queen
and will someday in my lifetime have a King.
But the monarchy there is little more than a
living parade, a living heirloom of by gone
days of England’s past. But many countries
still have kings in far off places of this world.

This past week when I was at the District
Pastors and Spouses retreat, a group of us
went to eat at a Thai restaurant. On three of
the walls of the restaurant was the picture of
this very regal looking couple. When we
asked the waitress who this couple was, she
told us that they were the king and queen of
Thailand. From what I understand the king
and queen of Thailand are held in great
affection by the Thai people. The waitress told
us quite a bit about how wonderful this couple
is and how much they are revered and
respected by Thai people everywhere. The
owners of this restaurant live here in the
states, but they still honor and revere the king
of their native land.

I can ascertain that a good king is respected
and honored by his people. A good king is
kind and just and is loved by all those whom
he rules. But a king does not have to be these
thing in order to be king. A king is a king by
birth by lineage or by coo, by over throwing a
the current king and taking over his throne
and establishing his line and his lineage as the
new succession to the throne. A king is king
by power of the law but ironically in many
ways is above the law and not required to
adhere to the very law which makes him king.

A king can still be king due to this power he
wields even if he is cruel and tyrannical. A
king can still be king even if he squanders the
people’s money and mistreats them at every
turn. As long as he can hold onto his power
the king. History shows us that a king can be
good or bad; kind and just or tyrannical and
bent on nothing but his own gain.
So there are kings who are revered and
honored, kings who deserve to be praised for
their kindness, generosity and the just way
they rule the people. When we look to God
we, as Christians would expect that Jesus as
king would be the later. But what kind of king
is in this passage? This passage presents to us
a king who divides people as a shepherd
separates sheep from goats. The sheep he
allows into his kingdom and the goats are
throw out, not allowed to enter. The way that
I understand it a king just accepts the people
he is given. Just as he was born to be king
everyone else who was born within the
borders of his kingdom are born to be his
subjects but Christ the king is picky. He does
not simply want subjects, he wants a certain
kind of subjects. He wants subjects who live
and act in ways which he deems worthy, just.
He only wants subjects who are righteous, for
it is those whom he calls righteous he decides
are the sheep and accepts, it is those who do
not live in righteous ways whom he calls goats
and casts out.

Jesus is not only our king but he is choosey
about those who will be in his kingdom.
Jesus, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of
Heaven and divide up those who are in his
kingdom and those who are not. On his left
he puts the goats on his left saying to them
that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked,
sick and in prison and you did not feed me,
give me something to drink, welcome me,
cloth me, take care of me or visit me. To the
right he puts the sheep and he will likewise
say to them, I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger,
naked, sick and in prison and when you saw
me you fed me, gave me a drink, welcomed
me, clothed me, took care of me, and visited
me. To those on his right he praise them and
welcomed them into his eternal kingdom, to
those on his left he will cast out of his
kingdom where they punished.

And all the good protestant Christians who
know that the grace of God and the gift of
eternal life are freely given to those who have
believed and have and not earned entrance
into God’s kingdom by merit or by good
works, look on wondering, “when was it that
the world turned upside down and how is it
that everything we believed to be true about
how these things work can proved to be
false?” What is Jesus saying? Earning our
way into God’s eternal kingdom is earned by
giving to those who are less fortunate than
ourselves. That can’t be right, can it? It goes
against everything that I have ever been
taught, when it comes to how the grace, and
forgiveness of God works.

But that is what Jesus says there. I just read
it, “Then the king will say to those at his right
hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my
Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world; for I was
hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty
and you gave me something to drink, I was a
stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked
and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you
took care of me, I was in prison and you
visited me.'. . .‘Truly I tell you, just as you did
it to one of the least of these who are members
of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will
say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are
accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was
hungry and you gave me no food, I was
thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I
was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing, sick
and in prison and you did not visit me.'. .
.‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to
one of the least of these, you did not do it to
me.' And these will go away into eternal
punishment, but the righteous into eternal

It says it right there if you give food the
hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome the
stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick
and visit the imprisoned we will be called
righteous and welcomed into eternal life.
Jesus says it, so it must be true.

And it is true, but it true because faith and
belief came first. Those who live the love of
God in their lives, those who accept the truth
of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have faith in
him for eternal life will visit the sick, cloth the
naked, welcome the stranger, give water to the
thirsty and feed the hungry. They will do all
these things because their faith compels them
to, because the love they have from Jesus will
not allow them to not.

Faith is a strange kind of belief. Faith is a
belief that is lived, it is a belief which can only
exist in action. You can believe that the earth
is round. You can believe that the world is
made up of tiny electrically charged particles
whose properties dictate how our world
works but those kind of beliefs require
nothing of us. We either believe that these
unseen forces are at work in our world or we
don’t. There is nothing that believing or not
believing in electrons requires of us, but faith
in Jesus Christ requires something of us. It
moves us, it changes us and spurs us into

Once you know the truth of the gospel,
once you come to and understanding of the
God of the universe and that God’s love for
each and every one of us, that love, that truth
changes who we are, it changes how we live.
It compels us to move in our world in loving
ways. The love of God is a love that requires
us to then in turn love those around us. If we
truly understand that God loves us and calls
for us to love the world around us, we can not
see one who is hungry and desire to feed, see
one who is thirty and desire to quench that
thirst, we can not see one whom God loves
and cherishes in pain or in need and not desire
to reach out with the love that God had given
to us and share that love by soothing that
pain or meeting that need.

If we truly believe that God loves us. If we
truly believe that Jesus Christ showed that
love in his life, teachings, death and
resurrection and that love calls us into
relationship with the God of the universe and
then we can not help but be filled with that
love, that love fills us, lives in us and is
worked out in our actions and interactions in
this world. The love we have for Christ is
manifested in our love for those around us.
Christ, the king of heaven, knows that if we
truly love him then that love will be lived out
in how we treat those around us. When we
love Jesus we will treat each and everyone we
meet as if that person were Jesus. As
Christians we should see Jesus in everyone we
meet, in everyone with whom we interact. We
should treat our boss, our siblings, our
parents, the stranger we pass on the street
with the love, the dignity and the respect with
which we would treat them if we truly
believed them to be Jesus Christ himself.
No this passage is not putting forth a works
related righteousness. This passage is not
telling us how to earn our way to heaven, this
passage is describing what a life lived in love
with God, in love with Jesus Christ will look
like. This is not a prescription of how to get to
Heaven, feed three hungry people, take a cup
of cold water to one who is thirsty and call me
in the morning. This is a description of what a
life lived completely and totally given over to
God will look like; if you love Jesus. If you
live the love of God in this world, the hungry
will be fed the thirsty will be quenched, the
stranger will be welcomed, the naked will be
clothed, the sick will be taken care of and the
prisoner will be visited. Those who are in
need around you will be provided for. You
will live a life of compassion. You will love
each and every person as if they themselves
were God. You will speak to each person you
meet as if they were Jesus Christ. Everyone
you meet will be treated as if they were your
God and your savior. You will honor
everyone as if they were you king. When you
love God, you will love your neighbor. When
you love Jesus Christ you will love the outcast
and the lonely. The love of God will be the
hallmark of your life. When people encounter
you they will encounter the love of God in
you, because you are loving them as if they are

We love because God loves. We love
because we believe. We love because our faith
compels us to. We can not love Jesus without
loving those around us. We can not be people
of faith unless we are feeding the hungry,
quenching the thirst of the thirsty, clothing the
naked, welcoming the stranger, taking care of
the sick and visiting those in prison, because
that is what a life of faith will look like to one
who is observing it from the outside. It will be
a life marked by action, a life marked by love
moving; a life marked by someone who can
not stand by and to allow those around them
to suffer. Our faith moves us in ways that will
not allow suffering to continue to go on
around us in this world. A true believer in
Jesus Christ will not go unmoved when
another is suffering. A true adherent to the
faith can not but help but be torn apart when
one around them is hurting. We, as follows of
Christ will be forced into action by our faith
and by our love for Jesus to mend the broken,
and be balm to those who are hurting. The
love of Christ compels us, moves us and
transforms us in ways that we are ruled by an
over powering, outreaching love that will not
stop until we have loved all those we touch
and are moving to right the wrongs that Jesus
himself came to this world to right.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Revelation 7:9-17 - The Story of a Saint

Revelation 7:9-17
She was working her field alone on the side
of Wild Mountain. She was working because
that is what she needed to do feed her large
family and she was alone because of the coal.
Well, not so much because of the coal but
because of the lack of it. When the coal had
dried up, her husband had been unable to find
work in the hollers and valleys of their native
land and had headed to the cold, heartless city
to find work and send back the small amount
of money on which they lived.
The Sun was hot and was rising in the sky,
she wondered idly at the time. As a pearl of
sweat dripped from her bun festooned head
down her back, she stopped for a moment,
wiping her dripping face and leaning on her
plow. She looked up at the Sun to determine
the time. As she squinted into the light, she
noticed that something was wrong, it was
terribly wrong. A plum of dark smoke was
rising up over the tall trees on the mountain.
She frowned at it for a heart beat and the
broke out running. That was not someone’s
cook fire, that was not a hearth from a home,
that was a home! That was her home!
As she tore through the trees up over that
mountain that day, I am told she was
screaming, “My babies, my babies!” In her

later years when her mind was gone and time
no longer journeyed in an orderly fashion
through her mind, the cruelty of her illness
brought her back to that moment and she
would awaken from a nap or from dead sleep
in the middle of the night reliving these most
horrible moments, jumping from her bed
ready to tear through her small apartment to
go save her babies from that fire once again.
When she came up over the ridge of that
mountain and came into the clearing by the
creek where here house stood she saw all of
her small ones sprawled safely in the grass
surrounding the charred remains of her house.
They where choking but their black smoke besmudged
face showed that they were none the
worse for wear from their ordeal. One of the
elder boys, having gone back into the burning
house to retrieve the two youngest boys,
picking the one up as he screamed and
grabbing the two year old by his diaper and
dragging him out by it, saved both of their
lives. She looked at her home and her small
children and wondered what to do. She had
11. She had had others but as is typical of
mothers in her days, several had not lived to
see their first birthday and two had passed just
before their 5th birthdays. But all those she
expected to be alive, remained alive on this
day. The eldest four were old enough to care
for themselves but the younger ones were still
in her care.
She looked her small ones and she looked
at the distinct lack of hearth and home she
now had. Life was hard on the mountain, the
land did not easily give up its fruit and the
only thing of value, the coal, had gone, taking
her husband from her, except for the handful
of visits he made back to see her leaving in his
wake another precious baby for which shed
cared and now her home was gone, it was
probably high time she was gone as well.
The family chroniclers do not tell me how,
but I imagine that she had been gathered in by
her scattered relatives who lived up and down
the creek in their holler and had gathered the
money she needed, because of course all the
money she had had was in the house when it
burned and money burns just as well as cloth
and wood. They had each given to her what
they could spare and it was just enough to buy
bus tickets for her and her family to make it to
What my grandfather did or thought when
to his bachelor’s flat bell had rung one evening
after work and he went to the door wondering
who was calling on him at this time of day,
opened the door to see his wife, babe in hand,
two year old pulling on her skirt and the rest
of his children gathered around is also lost in
the family lore, but my grandmother had
bustled into the flat with nothing more than,
“The house burned down, so we’re moving in
here,” as her explanation. And that is the
story of how my father, who was the two year
old by-the-by, who had been born in the hills
of Appalachia came to live most of his life in
one of the poorest sections of Baltimore.
Family, stories, we all have them. Some of
them are more dramatic than others, some are
filled with sorrow and hardship, and some of
them are down right hilarious, we share them
with each other at family gatherings. We
share them with young men when they are
planning on marrying our daughters, you
know right after we show them embarrassing
pictures and we tell them to our children so
they will know who we are and from where
we have come. Family stories are the stories
of our identity, they are the stories that make
us who are they are the stories that bind us
together and connect each new generation
with the generations who have gone on before.
We as the Church have our stories as well.
Just like families, these are the stories which
make us who we are. Some of them are stories
we would rather not remember, stories of the
burning of inhabited monasteries, or people
who baptized others via fatal full immersion.
There are other stories that are easier to
remember; stories of how we have overcome
persecution, stories how we have bonded
together in the face of adversity, and stories
how the church has been the driving force in
bringing hope and stability in the presence of
tragedy. We have stories about crazy uncle’s
with whom we don’t know what to do (just
look at Origen’s story sometime) and our
pious grandmother’s (like Theresa of Avila).
We have stories of hero’s of the faith, (Joan of
Arc and Dietrich Bonhoffer come to mind).
We have heard stories this morning of people
we would consider saints of the Faith; people
who lived their lives devoted to God, who
spoke truth to authorities, shared the gospel
with others in every day life and spent their
whole lives teaching and preaching the gospel
to the next generation. Today we have heard
several stories of saints.
Here in John’s revelation we also hear the
story of some of the saints of the faith. John’s
vision has brought him to the great throne
room of heaven where and uncountable
multitude gathered from every tribe and every
nation, from among all peoples and every
language, have gathered before the throne, are
dressed in white robes and waving palm
Robes in the first century were the primary
piece of clothing. They were practical and
their color and make designated your position
in society. There robes where white, they
were clean they were pristine to show the
righteousness and holiness of those who wore
them. The palm branches were a sign of
victory and joy. This is a picture of the multilingual,
multi-racial church, standing before
the throne of God in triumphant victory and
joy, singing praises to God because it is in God
and God alone that salvation is found.
These are the ones who have come out of
the ordeal, the saints of the church. Saints is
an interesting word. It has been used in many
ways over the centuries. I don’t know about
you, but usually when I hear the word “saint,”
I think of those who have passed on, whose
lives were lived as holy examples of what it
means to live a life dedicated to God. Some
may think of a Saint as something more
formal, as a person who has been sanctioned
by the Church of the East or the West as a
proper Saint. In recent years there has been
much discussion about the sainthood of
Mother Theresa and whether or not in her life
and her death she has met the requirements
that allow her to be a saint in the eyes of the
Catholic Church. There is also a much broader
meaning of the word saint, which is actually
how the word is used throughout the New
Testament, that is for any believer, any person
who is living a life shaped and formed by the
life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. The saints found in our passage are
along these lines, everyday men, and women
who have lived lives given over to God.
The heavenly throne room is teaming with
these saints, a multi-lingual, multi-cultural
gathering of saints have come before the
throne of the Most High God. We are told that
these are those who are coming out of the
great ordeal.
These are the saints, who had passed on,
had died in their faith for their faith or in their
faith. John has a word of comfort for them
and for those they left behind, no longer will
they hunger or thirst, labor under the sun’s
rays or be scorched by its’ heat. God is with
them, will shepherd them and wipe away
every tear from their eye. All the pain and all
the turmoil they had lived in this life has
passed and they now live in the safety and
security of their Lord’s presence.
These ones, standing before the throne of
God, were vindicated, they were seen as holy,
worthy, and pure, celebrating their victory
through Jesus Christ, singing praises to God.
And they were assured that no matter what
they had suffered or undergone in their lives,
God was there to comfort and wipe away their
tears, and to shepherd them, they would no
longer go hungry, or thirsty. Life is now as it
should be; it will be lived as it was meant to
be lived. These who had gone on before, who
had suffered so much had so much to be
joyous about, they had won the victory and
would live in peace and security.
What a comforting picture for the early
church to which John wrote. The church to
which John wrote was a church in persecution,
a church undergoing a great ordeal. The
members of the congregation who would have
read John’s apocalypse would have seen these
saints who were coming out of the great
ordeal, as their brothers, sister, fathers,
mothers, friends, loved ones, fellow believers
in Christ who had suffer terribly and were
currently suffering unspeakably at the hands
of Domitian and before him Nero.
These were perilous times to be a Christian,
the Christians had been blamed for the
burning of Jerusalem during the time of Nero
and persecution had begun and those were the
good times before Domitian had come to
power, where those who believed lived in fear
of becoming a human torch lighting the
coliseums where fellow believers would be
forced to participate in the gladiatorial fights
or face the lions in the arena. These were
times when what happened to those who have
gone on before, who had suffered and died
for the truth of the Gospel laid heavily upon
the hearts and minds of living Christians.
And here in John’s revelation, their story is
told. They have come out of the ordeal. They
may not have survived in this life but they live
on in glory, filled and satisfied, comforted and
protected, never again will they face the fire’s
burn, never again will they be harmed by the
lion’s claw or the gladiator’s blow, and never
again will they live in fear. They live on
victoriously, triumphantly, in peace and
wholeness, holy and pure in their faith, in the
presence of their God. Things, during their
lifetime, may have been less than desirable
(to say the least) here but they live on. Their
faith is an example; their lives are a testament
to the greatness and holiness of our God.
Their stories are a comfort and an
inspiration. And their story is told here. They
may have suffered and lived in turmoil while
here on earth but in the end all things will be
set right, love and peace will reign and we all
will live as we were intended to live.
But the end is not yet here, right now all we
have are the family stories; the stories of the
lives of those who have gone on before us in
the faith. They are stories of harrowing
bravely, stories of quiet faith lived, they are
stories of heroism, and stories of those who
have paved the way for us. They are grand
stories, exemplary stories and sometimes as
time has passed the people who lived them
seem bigger than life. But each one did
nothing more than live faithfully, listening to
the call of God on their lives.
Today we celebrate their stories and can
rest assured that they one day will be counted
among those who will stand victoriously
before the throne of God. Their lives give us
examples of what it means to live lives wholly
given over to God. Their lives inspire us to do
the same, to walk in the Christ-light that their
testimony shines for us. But they are also a
reminder, a reminder that someday we too
will be gone. One day we will be the
generation that has gone on before. And these
saints remind us that a saint is not merely
someone who has done great and amazing
things for God. A saint is not someone who
history remembers for the truly remarkable
way they lived their life. A saint is not just
those whom the church somewhere, sometime
has decided to hang a banner over and declare
saintly. A saint is any Christian who daily
lives their life for God, quietly living, faithfully
obeying, and being the person whom God
calls them to be in all things. A saint is one
who brings the peace, the glory, the joy of
heaven to this earth in how they live their lives
here and now. A saint is you, a saint is me,
when we live holy lives, pure lives in which
we daily share the love of God with those
around us and love our God in and through
all things. And when we are no longer, when
our lives have passed our story will join that
of those whose stories is told in this passage
today. We will be those who gather before the
throne of God. And our story will be the story
of the life of a saint.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 - Struggling with God: When you don't like the rules

The Israelites have journeyed from Egypt to Mt Sinai, they consecrated themselves and on the third day Moses brought them to the foot of the mountain to meet their God. I can almost see the Israel as a young ancient eastern bride meeting her future husband for the very first time. She comes shyly, curious about this one with whom she is about to covenant to live for the rest of her days. Who has the match maker chosen for her? What is he like? Is he kind? Is he just? Is he handsome? She comes expecting to gain some understanding of who this person is, so she can have a glimpse of what perhaps the rest of her life will be like. Instead of merely getting to see her new husband, and perhaps exchange polite pleasantries, under the careful eye of Father, Mother and match maker, she gets a first hand look at the marriage covenant, the papers, the agreement. Her father does not make the agreement for her on her behalf, but the husband with whom she is covenanting to live, comes to her with the terms of the covenant. He tells her directly what it will mean to live in covenant relationship with him. What it will mean to be his bride and what is expected of her. What their life together will look like.

What we have here is the heart of the covenant, the heart of what it means to live as a covenant people, what it looks like when a group of people come together and join themselves with God. When people come together, and live as God is calling them to live this is the way that community will live.

The people who live in covenant relationship with God will, worship God and God alone, will have no idols, will not wrongfully use God’s name, will remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, will honor father and mother, will not murder, will not
commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet. Jesus summed it up well, “You will love the Lord God and you will love your neighbor.”

These are the great commandments, this is the heart of how a community desiring to join together and join themselves with God will live. These 10 commandments, because that is what they are, they are not suggestions, guidelines, or statements; they are the articles of the covenant. God says, “This is how a community living with me will live.” These are the legal guidelines of the relationship which God is building with these people. These commandments are in a sense legally binding on the community which desires to join itself in relationship with God.

As wonderfully interesting, awe inspiring and fundamental as these covenant stipulations are, the people’s response is what catches my attention. Did you notice it when I read it? One of the hard things about coming to a passage which I have heard in one form or another since I was perhaps 3, maybe even younger, is that it is hard to not come to it with every Sunday School lesson, devotional, Bible Quizzing study sheet, Bible Study summary, and sermon which I have heard over the years all echoing in my head fighting for my attention to tell me what I already know about these nearly memorized words of holy scripture.

But this time, something immediately jumped out at me, and that was the people’s response to these words spoken to them by God. (If you read on into the next chapter it is very clear that God spoke these words, directly to the people, out of the thunder wrapped cloud that had descended up on Sinai.) Their response is to request that Moses speak to them instead of God. They did not want to hear what God had to say. They did not like what God had to say, or how God had to say it and wanted instead to speak through an intermediary. They did not want to deal with their God themselves they wanted a go between someone to run interference.

Last night a tremendous crime against humanity was committed in Stella’s bedroom, Cidra was hit in the face with Stella’s new ladybug light. As best as we can tell, Stella, enthralled with the light which shines stars on her ceiling in an attempt to stay off her fear of the dark, she picked it up and was spinning it around the room. In comes Cidra, who’s face manages to get in the way of the spinning Stella and her bug. What happened in the room does not really matter, what happened down stairs in the office is what I want to talk about today. Mike brought the children down, one by one to get them to explain to him how Cidra had managed to get hit by the lady bug. Mike was stern with them. When Daddy is being stern and serious for some reason it causes them to shy away and clam up. They don’t want to talk to Daddy when daddy is being stern. The funny thing is when this happens it does not matter what daddy has to say, at that point they would be willing to talk to anybody else other than Daddy.

This is exactly what the Israelites are doing in this passage. They do not want to talk to God themselves. Here God is offering to have a personal, relationship with the entire community, the likes of which have not been seen since God walked with the Adam at the dawn of creation. God is willing to descend upon the mountain at whose foot they are standing and speak directly to them and let them know what it means for them to be God’s people and for God to be their God, but they want nothing to do with it. They do not want to talk to God. They do not want a direct relationship with the God of universe. They are not sure about a God who comes up on a mountain in a cloud, with thunder and speaks to them sternly about the seriousness of the covenant they are making together. It is easier when they feel somewhat removed from the God with whom they are dealing. It is easier to deal with this God when they meet God at the rock and Moses makes the water flow. It is easier when God uses Moses to turn the bitter water sweet or in their minds remove things one more step and begin to the think that it was the staff of Moses that caused the waters to part so they could pass through on dry ground.

They like the God they only see through Moses, they like the God they only hear through Moses, they like the words of God when it is passed down through Moses, besides it is a whole lot easier to grumble against Moses than is this great, mighty, powerful God who speaks commandments from a cloud with a voice like thunder.
God is scary and the commandments that are the way of life of those who covenant to live in relationship with God are harder than they sound. The people knew this. They heard the words of God that day. They saw the agreement; they saw the marriage covenant and wanted an intermediary to speak on their behalf to shelter them from the reality of what it truly means to live as the people of God, to be the bride who God was calling them to be. In many ways, God was too much for them; too big, too powerful, too demanding, to loving, too caring.

God was not merely giving them rules about how to worship, rules on how to sacrifice. Being the people of God was harder than cutting of a nearly unnecessary part of their body that nobody could see anyway, being the people of God meant that they had to change the way the lived their lives. Being the people of God did not merely affect their “spiritual” life, how they worshipped, where they worshipped, who they worshipped and what they did when they worshipped, it affected every part of their lives. It affected how they spoke, what they said about others, their familial relationships, what and who they wanted, and what they did about what and who they wanted. It affected how they lived in relation to God and it affected how they lived in relation to every other person around them. This was not just making an agreement about which God they choose to worship, this was about adhering to a new way of life.
God does not call us to simply live by a new set of rules. God does not merely call us to come to church on Sundays and make nice with the people of God we encounter there. God does not want just our spiritual lives. God does not merely want our worship. God wants us to completely change our whole lives. To change how we interact when we are not at church, God cares about who we worship, why we worship and when we worship, but God also cares about how we treat others. God does not want us to speak wrongly about God, but neither does God want us to speak wrongly about others. God loves us and desires our honor and praise, likewise God expects us to honor our parents. God love us and is a jealous God, God will not share us with other gods, and thus God wants us to assume that other people are just as jealous about those whom they love and that they do not wish to share those whom they have covenanted to love with us. Nor are we to desire their stuff, or take it. And on no account are we to haul off and kill them for just any reason. God does not merely care about who we worship, and when we worship, God cares about all our relationships, who we are when we are not worshipping, how we treat others when it is not the Sabbath, these things matter just as much to God as our focused allegiance and love.

These “rules” are not easy. And many times a God who is all up in our business is not easy not an easy God with whom to be in relationship. It may seem easier to pull away to desire an intermediary, to put space between us and God, so that we don’t have to really deal with the reality of the relationship, so we don’t have to deal with the reality of what is required of us. To put the church between us and God, allow the manual to be our guidelines. To set up a system that allows this relationship to be easier, more manageable, a system that does not quite require so much out of us. We don’t want to be direct in contact with a God who gives so much and asks so much. Who wants to have a finger in every aspect of our lives, who wants to have a say in all that we do and in how we act with each and every person in our lives. Who cares what we say, what we do, and how we act toward others. These rules, these expectations, these commandments demand too much. Let us find an easier way.

These ten commandments; only worship God, do not have and idols, keep the Sabbath holy, do not speak wrongly about God, honor your parents, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not speak wrongly of others, do not murder, and do not covet. Sound easy, but they are more than just a check list, they are a way of life. They are the backbone, the heart, the inner workings of a relationship with God. This is about loving God and loving neighbor, as a way of life, a complete and utter change that requires us to wholly commit all aspects of who we are and all the relationships in our lives, whether they be who we worship, our parents, our friends, our neighbors, they guy who pumps our gas or that lady we pass every day on our way to work, all our relationships, every part of our lives is handed over and given over to a new way a life, a way of life that may not be easy but a way of life that is what living a community that is in relationship with the God of the universe is.

Exodus 17:1-7 - Struggling with God: When God is hard to trust

The Israelites are making their way across the wilderness. They have left the Red Sea filled with the chariots and the Egyptians floating its waters behind them. They have ventured out on this grand adventure with the God of their ancestors who has promised to lead them back to the land which God had personally given to their ancestor Abraham and his descendants, who was them. Even though God was in many ways leading them to the home they never knew they had, in many ways, they are walking in the spiritual footsteps of Abraham, to whom God said, “follow me and I will lead you to land which I will show to you.” Stepping out into that wilderness and following a God they barely knew they had, who had done, great things, terrible! (In many ways) Yes, but great things none-the-less.

God had sent the plagues, which did not end so well for anyone who was not a God-fearer, and then when the Egyptians had chased them across the wilderness, after saying they could go. God divided the water for the Israelites to pass through safely but the result was not the same when the Egyptians attempted to follow them in to the “dry sea.” But the end result was that the Israelites were free.

And there was much rejoicing (yeaahhh). But it soon stopped, they were running out of water and were getting mighty thirsty, and just in time they came upon some water, but it was unsuitable to drink, it was bitter so God made it good to drink, sweet. Then as they traveled they realized their rations were not going to be enough to get them where they needed to go so God daily provided food them, which fell from the sky and was more plentiful than they would need.

Which brings us to where they are in our passage today, they are still following God to the Promised Land and find they are thirty once again. And begin to fret about having enough water. You might want to think that this is a little repetitive, hasn’t God already provided them with water? Well the thing about being thirsty is as soon as you run out of water, it does not take more than a couple of hours of hard walking in the hot sun to make you thirsty again, and while your body can go a surprising amount of time without food, it can’t go very long at all without water. So here they are somewhere between Egypt and the “land to which God was taking them.” And they are out of water. This time there is not even a hint of bitter undrinkable water in sight. And this does not make them happy. As they set up camp that evening Moses can hear the rumblings among them. And as they settle down that evening with their roasted Quail dinners and their sweet like honey manna bread they find that the meal is not as satisfying with nothing with which to wash it down. And the people begin to mumble and the mumbling turns to grumbling, and grumbling turns to rumbling. Why did Moses bring out into the desert? Did he do it so we could watch our animals and our children die of thirst? What the people are beginning to really wonder is “Is God really among us?”

Moses begins to fear that they are so angry that they might attempt to stone him, so he goes to God with the problem. “God, these people might just up and kill me, if they don’t get some water, here real soon.” God tells Moses what to do, so the next morning he gathers up the Israelites and has the elders come with him and they go up to the Rock of Horeb, where God is waiting for them, Moses takes his staff, the same one God used to part the red Sea and he hits the rock with the staff and God causes the water to flow forth and the people are able to drink and are satisfied.
At the hour of their greatest need the people are satisfied; satisfied in more than one way. Satisfied, in that their thirst is abated and satisfied in that by providing water God answers their desperate question, “Is God really among us?” God shows them that they are not alone. They were not brought out into the wilderness to die, not by Moses, not by God. God is a God who will provide.
Thousands of years of hind sight cause us to look back on the Israelites and call them, “silly.”

“Those silly Israelites, didn’t they know that God would not take them into the wilderness and leave them there to be killed by wild animals, starvation or even thirst?”

“Don’t they know that is not how God acts?”

No they don’t. They don’t know God, not really. This is the beginning of God’s relationship with these people. They really did not know the one true God of all creation from false gods that were worshipped by the Egyptians. When Moses came to them to bring them up out of slavery, was really their first introduction to YWH God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus far they had seen that God was a powerful God, who could out magic the court magicians of the Egyptian court. This was a God who could call down death on their enemies and control the forces of nature, making a dry path through the sea. This God could take bitter water and make it sweet. YWH God was a God who could cause it to rain bread in the morning and quail in the evening. But here they are thirsty and there is no water to be found anywhere. Can they trust this God to provide what does not exist?

Was this new God, still among them? So far God had proved to be faithful and true but
they were still learning. They were still coming to an understanding of exactly who this God, the God of the universe, this “I am that I am” truly is.
It is the same with us. Sometimes we wonder, “WHO is this God we have chosen to follow?” When we are truly honest with ourselves each of us can find that we are just as unsure about God as the Israelites in this passage:

“Can I trust God?”
“Can I trust God with my money?”
“Can I trust God to meet my daily needs?”
“Can I trust God with my hopes? My dreams?”
“Can I trust God with my parents, my children, my livelihood?”
“Is God really with me today? Will God be with me tomorrow?”
“Is God among us?”

I can remember laying on a make shift bed, snuggled underneath a top sheet laying on top of a fitted sheet wrapped around a comforter in a tiny little one room apartment, that very little food in the cupboard. My computer was sitting on a box. My clothes were stacked in neat piles in the corner and my newly completed Greek homework was resting on top of my brand new seminary books which were stacked on a bookshelf, which was one of few pieces of furniture there. Lying on that “bed” in the dark crying to God, asking God, “Why?” I had moved halfway across the country to attend seminary. And my life had almost immediately fallen apart around me. Here I was alone, hungry, laying in the ashes of what were my hopes and dreams, still slugging through my homework, beginning Seminary, because I did not know what else to do. I felt so lost.

In that moment I knew what it felt like to be the Israelites as they made their way through the wilderness toward Mt Sinai. It felt like God had brought me out to this wilderness call the “Midwest,” a land that was flat and desolate and a city which simply was not a city, not anyway that I would consider a city a real city. And I wondered if God had brought me out here and leave me, not so much to die, but to fail, to shrivel up and live a shell of the life I had once envisioned I would live. I wondered if God was still there.

It was not that God had not worked amazing miracles in my life before. It was not that God had not proven that God was trustworthy to provide exactly what I needed all along my journey thus far, but this time felt different. This time might really be the end of me. This might really be the ruins of my life, this might really be the time that things were too big for God; this time I really felt like there was no place I could go, there was no way that things would ever be right or good again. It had all come crashing down around me and there was nothing anybody could do to fix it, perhaps not even God.

There are times in our lives when we look around us and we wonder; “Where is God now? I am lost. There is not enough money to make it the next month. I am hungry. I am thirty. Can God really be here among all this?”

These are not the questions of some silly Israelites who lived a long time ago and have nothing to do with us. These are our questions. This is the tenuous relationship we are building with God. Even when we have seen God work miracles in our midst in the past, when we come to this new thing, this new trial, this new fear, this new part of our journey through life, we have to learn once again that God can be trusted, we have to learn once again that God does, will not forsake us or leave us. And it is ok. Each time we find ourselves in these kinds of places we will come a little closer to, a little more confident in trusting God. It will be just a little easier than it was last time. Each time we find that we are hungry, thirsty, lost, in need and cry out to God, we will find it easier and easier to trust and know that God is there, that no matter what is going on, no matter what we have done, no matter what life throws at us, no matter what kind evil befalls us, God is still among us and God will always provide exactly what we need, and in all things, when we turn to God we will be filled and be satisfied.

Jonah 3:10-4:11 - Struggling with God: When You Don't Like what God is doing

Once upon a time a long time ago in a land far, far away, there lived a prophet of God named Jonah. We don’t know if Jonah was a particularly good prophet. We don’t know if he was respected by the people or by the king, what we do know is that God came to the prophet Jonah one day, while he was out and about doing prophety stuff and told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and tell them exactly what disgusting horrible no good people they were and that it was making the Lord the God of all things very displeased with them. Jonah did not think this was such a good idea. Instead of going to Ninevah to give them the message that God had given to him to give to them, he decided to head in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh and get on a boat and sail as far from Nineveh as he could think of getting, Tarshish.
Now before we get all judgmental on Jonah, I don’t know about you but I believe if I was in his position I would find listening to God pretty hard as well. You see Ninevah wasn’t just any ole city. It was the capital city of the country which had invaded their country, killed the weakest, taken way the brightest and the best, and stripped the country of anything that was valuable, ruined the fields, burned the crops and then expected the people who were left to come up with a tribute to pay them for the this privilege.

Now not to defend Jonah, because of all the Biblical prophets, I would be the first to tell you that Jonah does not deserve any defending, but we need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to the position that Jonah was in. God was not simply asking Jonah to love his enemy, God was not simply asking Jonah go and give a message of God to his enemy, God was asking Jonah to go deep into the territory of an enemy who had nearly wiped out his people, destroyed their land and was taxing the life out of all those who were left. These were not simply people who went around slapping other people with fish (as the Veggie Tale Movie portrayed) but these were people who had were daily causing suffering for Jonah, his loved ones and for the country in which he lived.

It would almost be like expecting one of the original Boston Patriots to get on a ship, go over to Britain and share the love of God with the King and parliament while the king’s troops waged war on his friends, neighbors and relatives back here in Boston. Paul Revere, or Thomas Jefferson, or John Hancock had they been in Jonah’s position would not have done it and I would venture to say that you or I would at the very least hesitate if asked by God to do something like this as well.

So once Jonah got on the boat and the boat headed out to sea, God sent a mighty
storm. The storm raged and Jonah slept. The storm raged and his shipmates began calling upon all their different gods to spare them and the ship captain noticed that one among them was not praying to his God to be spared, so he woke Jonah up and commanded him to get about the business of praying to his God.

When all the praying did not seem to be working, the passengers and crew cast lots to see who was responsible for this calamity, because truly somebody’s god was unhappy and they needed to know whose and why. When the lot fell on Jonah they began a game of twenty questions with Jonah, to try to determine what exactly he did to make his god so very angry with him and what they needed to do to appease his god and make the storm storm. He answered all their questions and took the responsibility and even suggested that God might stop the storm if they threw him into the sea. God had not said anything to anybody about throwing anybody into the sea, perhaps Jonah thought death was preferable to preaching to the Ninevites. Jonah’s shipmates thought this was a pretty silly idea and tried to do everything within their power to save the ship before they gave in to Jonah’s suggestion and threw him into the sea. Immediately the storm stopped and the ship was saved. All the people on the ship praised God, repented and believed that Jonah’s God was the one true God. Jonah is apparently a good prophet even when he is not trying at all.

God, not wanting Jonah to die and still wanting him to go preach to the Ninevites, sent a big fish to swallow Jonah whole. Then through some unexplained miracle the fish did not begin to digest him. And there Jonah sat for three days. After a while Jonah calls out to God thanking God for sparing him by allowing the fish to swallow him (I may point out here that Jonah not once apologizes for doing the wrong thing) and God’s answer to Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving seems to be, “That’s nice, your going to Nineveh, don’t bother to thank me for the ride.” And the fish spits Jonah up on dry land. Where upon God once again tells Jonah to get himself to Nineveh and act like a prophet and preach. And Jonah, being a wise man, decides that not going to Nineveh had not been working out so well for him, so he would try actually going to Nineveh. So off he went to Nineveh, to tell the Ninevites that God did not think too highly of their way of life and so forth.

Jonah goes into the city, preaching, gloom and doom and destruction and a strange thing happens, the people of Nineveh, listen and when they listen, instead of throwing rotten fruit or tossing him in a dungeon for preaching a message that would probably amount to treason in most places, they listen to him and repent. The people of Nineveh, repented, believed in God, declared a fast and put on sackcloth to let God know that they were serious about this. When the king heard about all this, he was far from angry and calling for Jonah’s neck in a noose, as some kings might be if a conquered enemy waltzed in to their capital city and began to proclaim destruction upon that city, the king instead he also repented, put on all the outward signs of mourning and repentance and declared a fast, in hopes that the Lord God would repent of destroying the city, forgive them of this misdeeds against God and against God’s people.

And what do you think God does at this point? God forgives them, God repents of destroying the city. And so ends the part of the story of Jonah of which we all are most familiar. And here, where those of us who grew up listening to Sunday School teachers tell of the greatness of Jonah and the greatness of God’s forgiveness left off, is where our passage picks up this morning.

Jonah gets angry and throws a hissy fit because his front row seat to the destruction of Nineveh turns out to be a front row seat to their repentance and God’s subsequent forgiveness. He actually admits to God he did not want to come to Nineveh in the first place, not because he was afraid because they were his enemies, but because he did not want God to be merciful and forgive them should they repent. He basically said, “I hate these people, and I know you are big on the forgiveness thing and I did not think that after all the Ninevites have done to my family, my friends, my neighbors and my country, that they deserved forgiveness. They deserve to be destroyed, and repentance or not I still believe they deserve to die, every last one of them. As he sits there waiting for God to send fire from the heavens and torch them all, a plant grows up that gives a little relief from the Sun but then it dies and he gets angry at God about it. God calls Jonah to task over his attitude and the fact that he care more that stupid weed than he does for the numerous men, women, children and animals on whom he wished destruction. And the story leaves us there with Jonah on the hill outside of town and God’s rebuke ringing in the air.
You see Jonah is not the hero of this story. Jonah, never gets it. He never understands. Jonah never wants what God wants. He never repents of his hard heartedness. He never does what God wants him to do for the right reasons. It seems in the end he only went to Nineveh, because it beat the belly of the whale and it would give him front row seats to the destruction of his enemies. All this leads me to believe that Jonah was never really a very good prophet of God.
If you have seen the Veggie Tale cartoon version of this Biblical tale Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber tell you that the point of the story is to not be like Jonah; to instead listen to God when God talks to you, to desire the salvation of your enemies and to accept that God forgives everyone even those whom we would not think are worthy of God’s forgiveness.

One of the wonderful things about this story is that EVERYONE in this story save Jonah repents at some point in this story. Jonah’s shipmates repent and give praise to God. The people of Nineveh including their horrible evil king repented and come to believe in God. In the original language, even God repents, twice in fact, God repents of the storm and causes the sea to be calm once again and God repents of destroying the city of Nineveh. But not once does Jonah repent. Jonah, does thank God for the fish, but that is the best thing he does in the whole book. The narrative closes, with Jonah chastised by God, on the hill angry that God did burn and entire city of living breathing people to the ground.

So there are only two “characters” in this story. There is unrepentant, stubborn, angry Jonah and there is the almighty, merciful God. As the story closes who is in the right? Who do we want to be like? Who should we strive to emulate? The answer is obvious. I mean seriously, no one wants to be like Jonah sitting on a hill in the heat of the Sun calling down fire on your enemies and cursing God for God’s forgiving nature. The only choice is to NOT be like Jonah, to be like God, which of course is what we aim for as Christians anyway. We aim to share the love and forgiveness of God with our world.

It is easy to look at Jonah and say we won’t be like Jonah, but how many of us cheer when our enemies fail. How many of us have ever wished calamity upon those who have sought to do us harm? What how would we feel if we found out that God had forgiven our worst enemies? The gospel calls for us to love where the is hate and for prayer where there is persecution.

What a wonderful God we have who forgives even those whom we would deem unworthy! There are some we may secretly desire never truly know the love and forgiveness of our God. There may be some in this world whom we really hope will “burn in hell.” But God desires to forgive all, all who repent and turn to God will be forgiven. In this story we should be routing for Jonah’s pagan shipmates and rejoice when they come to believe in God, and our hearts should rejoice when God forgives every last one of the Ninevites when they repent and call out to God. Our God does not only love and forgive the worthy. God does not love and forgive the good. God loves and forgive ALL who will repent and believe.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Romans 14:1-13

Romans 14:1-13
As fallen human beings we have many failings that are all too often common among us all. One of those failings is our constant need to live in comparison to others. We want to be able to look at others around us and say, “Hey, at least I am better than that!” I had a friend in college who told me that she enjoyed watching day time talk shows because when she watched those shows, she could look at the lives of those people and KNOW without a doubt that her life was better than theirs, qualitatively, morally, whatever, her life was never anywhere close to being as messed up and hopeless as the poor peoples’ lives on that show. I suspect that this is exactly the reason why these types of shows are so popular. They give the viewer as sense of superiority. Something to look at and say, at least my life is not as messed up as that.

As children we also had this innate need to feel as if we were somehow better than those around us. After all is it not the desire to show themselves to be better than a particular peer, at the heart of every tattle-tale? There is an overwhelming desire in the heart a small that wants the adult to know exactly how bad little Johnny has been, thus highlighting what a good boy or girl they have been, all though not realizing that they are putting themselves on par with little Johnny because most of the time tattle-taleing is just as naughty as whatever it was that Johnny had been doing. That of course does not seem to matter to them and they do not understand why they too are being reprimanded for bringing Johnny’s short falling to the adult’s attention, in their own mind they have the moral superiority, after all compared to little Johnny they are being a saint.

Paul is dealing with this common human problem among the Christians in the church in Rome. The Christians in Rome were comparing themselves to each other and different individuals had come up with different reasons as to why they were better Christians than those other Christians that were not doing as they were doing. You see the people of that church were split in their opinions on two issues that they thought were very important.

First of all there are those that eat meat and those who do not eat meat. Surprisingly the vegetarian/meat eater debate is still one that rages among Christians and non Christians alike. Although the vegetarians in Paul’s day did not abstain from eating cows because they are so cute, or because human beings should learn to live without killing other living things, or for environmental reasons or for any of the other half-dozen reasons that a modern person might be a vegetarian. They abstained from eating meat for religious reasons and depending on whether they were Jewish Christians or Gentiles they might have had entirely different reasons for abstaining from eating meat.
Some of the Gentiles would have chosen to not eat meat because they felt that it had been defiled. You see most of the meat that would have been available in the Roman market would have come from the slaughtering facilities in the local pagan temples.

The Gentiles who had come out of these pagan religions would know that before the meat was sold that it would very likely have been offered as a sacrifice to a pagan deity. They felt that they would be accepting and promoting the worship of these pagan deities by eating meat that had been previously used in this way. Since there was no way of knowing which meat had been offered to pagan idols and which had not, some of them choose to abstain from eating meat altogether.

The Jewish Christians on the other hand would abstain from eating meat on reasons of Jewish dietary laws. Rome was far away from Jerusalem and any large community of Jews, therefore making it hard for them to find meat that had been prepared in a “kosher” way, in other words the meat at the market was unclean. Finding themselves living in a city where it was nearly impossible to find meat that they would consider clean, some of the Jewish Christians chose to abstain from eating meat.

Note that I said that only some of the Jews and only some of the Gentiles chose to abstain from eating meat altogether, others did not feel that either of these issues had any bearing on their Christianity and chose to eat whatever meat was available to them there in Rome. The problem is not that some ate meat and other did not, but that each group thought that they were necessarily right and the other group was necessarily wrong.

As if this was not complicated enough, there were more issues in the church at Rome than meat. There were meat eaters and vegetarians, but there were also those Jewish Christians who strictly observed the Sabbath, as well as all the feast and fast days that God instructed the Jews to follow in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. The Gentile Christians had probably never read Deuteronomy or Leviticus and did not see why observing these days had anything to do with being a Christian. And of course those that observed the days thought that those that did not observe these days should and those that did not, did not see why those other Christians were so concerned about something that seemed so trivial to them.

Paul would not have had such a problem with people having different opinions if it was not that those that abstained from eating meat and those who abstained from observing the special days despised those that ate meat or observed the special days, while those that ate meat and those that observed the special days judged those that that did not eat meat and did not observe the special days. Paul did not really care if some people liked beef and others did not, what he cared about was all the despising and judging that was going on over what seemed to him to be unimportant issues.

Before I delve into what it is that Paul is saying in this passage let me begin by telling you what he is not saying. Paul is not making a blanket statement to all Christians everywhere not to judge, not to declare what sin is and expect all Christians everywhere to flee from it. He is not saying that all morality is relative, that sin does not matter. He is not telling us that we cannot call sin, sin and wrong doing, wrong doing. In the verses preceding this chapter he does just that, he declares to the people of the Church of Rome just a short list of what he considers sinful and should be avoided if we as Christians are to live honorably as Christ has called us to live.

No Paul is not telling us to be soft on sin and to allow it to seep into our lives and corrupt who we are as Christians. Paul is instead telling us not to live our lives in comparison to those around us. We are not live act as if the rest of the world is a day time tv show and live trying to see that our life is better than theirs. We are not to be five year old tattle-tales that are constantly looking around the sanctuary and telling God exactly how sinful so and so is, so that God will see, and will know exactly what good, wonderful, moral upright Christians we are. We are not to live our Christian lives looking to our neighbor on the road, see their short comings and the areas in which they struggle with sin in their lives and see that we do not struggle or fall short in the same ways they do and therefore judge ourselves to be better than they.

On the other side of the coin neither are we to look at others who are doing their very best to be the people that God has called them to be and in an attempt to flee from anything that might even have the appearance of wrong doing go a little farther than we do, or think is necessary, we might think that they are taking their Christianity to far, or being to strict, surely those things that they are so worried about are not things that God is worried about. We are not to compare ourselves to these people and think how enlightened we are that we are encumbered by the same sensibilities that those people have. We are not to look down our noses and silently call them backwards or simple. In short we are not to despise them for being extra cautious when it comes to their relationship with God.

Paul wants us to know that when we look at other Christians who are striving their best to be the people that God has called them to be and they don’t do things exactly the same way that we do and we think that they are wrong, that if they are truly reaching for God and searching for his guidance in their lives, they are seeking to honor and serve the same God that we honor and serve, they are worshipping the same risen Christ that we are worshipping. Those of us that are seeking the face of God in all that we do, should not be split amongst ourselves. We should be striving together, building each other up and glorifying Jesus Christ as OUR Lord and Savior.
Paul is telling us that in the end we will all stand before the judgment seat of God, after all it is God’s right and not ours to judge our fellow Christians. We will not stand before God and get to have a giant three-year-old-esk tattle-tale session with God, telling him all the things that those other Christians were doing wrong and how we were such better Christians than they were, because we did this and did not do that. We do not get to sit back and watch everyone else’s lives and show God how much better we have been compared to them.

Paul reminds us that when we stand before God each of us will not be accountable for “their lives,” but we will be accountable for ours and ours alone. Remember that one of the most important lessons that we learned as three year old tattle-tales was that we were just as wrong for standing in the judgment seat of the capable adult that was there and declaring the wrongness of our peer, when we ourselves, in the very act of tattling were doing something just wrong. Think how much worse it will be when we stand shamefacedly before the judgment seat of God pointing at our fellow Christian, who Christ declared that we were suppose to encourage and build up, instead of despising and pushing them down with our judgmental attitude towards them and God stands before us and says that we were not called to live our lives as better than “theirs,” but we were to live our lives according to the loving instruction that God himself gave to us.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Romans 12:9-21 - Living Live of Living Sacrifice

Romans 12:9-21

In the first half of Romans 12 Paul instructed his readers to give themselves to God as living sacrifices. Last time we met together, we looked at this passage and explored what it meant to be living sacrifices and what it meant to live the holy, God pleasing lives of the living sacrifice to which God calls us. In the latter half of this chapter Paul gives us a pretty descriptive explanation of what a holy, God please life of living sacrifice looks like. In fact I think that many of us could spend the rest of our spiritual journeys reading, re-reading this passage, studying each of these 40 some odd exhortations, and working to live these simple instructions out in our daily lives. Living out these forty exhortations is being holy, being the person in this passage is being the person God created us to be, these 12 verses tell us what it looks like to be a living sacrifice.

This list of exhortations given to the church by Paul in this passage are pretty basic. Almost simplistic, reading through this reminds me of a poem that was on a poster when I was in High school. It was by Robert Falghum it went like this:
All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do
and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not
at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the
sandpile. These are the things I learned:
Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die.
So do we.
And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned - the biggest
word of all - LOOK.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any of those items and extrapolate it into
sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or
your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if
all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about
three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with
our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments
had a basic policy to always put thing back where
they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it is still true, no matter how old you
are - when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.

The heart of what Fulghum has to say is simple basic life lessons but these basic early learned lessons are the hardest things to remember in the general goings on of our everyday life. The same is true with this passage here in Paul these are the basics of living the Christian life. These are the basics of what a lived submerged in the love of God. These are the basics of Holy living. A life lived this was is a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God. At the end of it all is holding hands and sticking together. Paul has told us this as well, as Christians, we are called to hold hands and stick together. Live, our holy, living sacrifice lives as a part of a holy community of faith, as a part of the Body of Christ, to work out holiness and holy living in, among and with the Church.

Being a holy person and being a holy community, the holding hands and sticking together part of being a child of God, begins with love. But not feigned love, not false love but genuine love. Truly loving people, as opposed to fake or put on love. That is not loving people because we are “suppose to” love them, but loving people because we want to love them, because we really do love them and care about them and care about what happens to them. This is about loving people because Jesus loves them. We love because we are loved. We love because as persons who are living Christ-like lives we will love all who Christ loves. This means that we do not love people with ulterior motives; we not only care about people because of what they can do for us. We don’t reach out and love people because we want to get anything out of them. We don’t only love people because the act of love, words of love, or sharing the love of Jesus with them is some kind of notch in our spiritual belts. As Christians we simply and genuinely love people.

The love that we have as Christians begins with one another, first and foremost, and last and finally we are, as the people of God, the body of Christ, to hold hands and stick together, i.e. love. For Paul being a Christian begins with being a part of the community of faith, a part of the body of Christ, a part of the Church. Being a Christian is not an “alone” kind of thing, being truly Christian, living a life of holiness and holy love can only truly exist within relationship with the body of Christ. In many ways, I am only as holy as WE are holy. I am only living a life of living sacrifice as much as WE are living sacrifices and MY love is only genuine as much as OUR love is genuine. The Christian life is not lived alone, it is lived within community. So Paul tells us that holy, genuine love is first exemplified within the Church community.

So how do we genuinely love one another within this community? We begin by doing our best to out do one another with mutual affection. It is like school yard contest. “I bet I can hop on one leg longer than you can!” “I bet I can jump farther than you can!” But instead of trying to out do one another with our mad grad school skills, we all are trying to be the best at showing love to one another. In this game of out loving one another, each of us is striving to exceed each other in showing more and more love, loving more and more. It is a Loving competition.

Paul tells us that as we are doing this will are not to lag in zeal for genuine love. If loving were a running race, this means we are not to be the straggler who is only half heartedly making her way down the track not caring what place she ends up in, but we are instead to strive to be first and win the loving race. We do not want to be out done or let ourselves “come in last.” The imagery used here makes me think of the girls in my gym class who would choose not to “run” the mile when we were all suppose run it, but they would instead walk it, lagging behind and just doing what needs to be done to finish the “requirement.” Paul does not want us to be like those girls but strive to out do one another in loving each other.

As a community we are also to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. These are all ways that we can love one another. When you truly love another person, you care about them so much that when they are rejoicing you rejoice with them hoping for the best for them. But it is more than just that, we all know that together we can rejoice in the fact that through Jesus Christ we can hope for a world the way that it should be. We can rejoice together knowing that there is hope for life lived as it was meant to be lived, life lived as it was created to be lived, hope that one day all things will be set right, that one day we will no longer live in a broken, bent, sin twisted world. We can rejoice because by living holy lives we are bringing the holiness of God down to earth, allowing the kingdom of God break into this broken world in our words, actions and interactions.

We also love one another through patience in suffering. When those in this community are suffering, we patiently suffer along side of them, allowing our hearts to break, even as their heart is breaking. But also knowing that suffering is a consequence of the sin and evil which we brought into to this world and the world is not the way that it should be, or could be and knowing this we are patient in our hope.

Lastly as a community of Christians living lives of living sacrifice, we persevere in pray. Pray and keep on praying, even when it does seem to accomplish anything. In all things we pray. In rejoicing we pray and thank God. In suffering we pray. We pray at all times in all things for God’s will to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. We join our hearts with God’s and pray for what it is God desires most, that someday things will be as they should be, that all things will be as they were created to be, that all things will be set right, that in the end God’s love wins.
As people living lives of living sacrifice, living the holiness of God, Paul tells us that our love does not end at the church doors. We do not only love those who are a part of us, who have chosen to join themselves with God and join themselves to this community, Paul call for our love to extend beyond the borders of our churches into the world outside of our sanctuaries and church walls. Genuine love is begins with us but it reaches out to those in need. We are to give to the saints in need and extend hospitality to strangers. In Paul’s day and age, by definition strangers, that is people who are not from around here, were in need. When someone choose or was forced to travel far from home they were at the mercy of the hospitality of strangers. A person would not get far on the shelter and provision he could bring with him, so he was dependant upon the people he met along the way to extend kindness and hospitality to him along his journey. So in essence Paul is telling us that holy Christians love not only their community, those who are needy inside the body of Christ, and outside their community as well. The love, which we have for one another blossoms and grows and extends beyond us into the world around us.

God has blessed each of us in many and differing ways and as Christians we share that blessing with one another and with anyone who God might put in our path who needs what we can spare. God bless us and then God blesses others through us. Christians are by virtue of the generosity of God extended to them are therefore likewise generous. No matter how hard up we may feel or may actually be, there is always someone who has less than us. No matter how much or how little we have we should be generous with what we have and even more generous with anything that we have in surplus.

Being living sacrifices means reaching out with the love of God not only with this idea and feeling of love but with action of love and generosity, giving to those in need within and without our community. Loving people in these physical generous ways is speaking a language of love, which those who do not know the love of Jesus, can understand.
There are many ways to be generous. You can help out at the local homeless shelter, you can always carry something to hand to the man on the corner who asks, you can give to Hope’s cradle (or even volunteer to help out), you can give to the Haiti Hot water project or any other number of organizations who are wiling to help you be generous to people all around the world who have less than you do.

But we are not only to love those who “deserve it.” We are not only called to love those closest to us and those within our surrounding community, but we are called to love everybody in all things. That is a pretty tall order. It is easy to love our family, it is not all that hard to love others our church, especially when our church is filled with loving members of the body of Christ, it takes little effort to turn our pity for those who have less than us into actions of love, compassion and generosity. But Paul calls for us to love everybody in all things. No matter who they are, no matter what they have done, no matter what they are doing or have done to us, no matter what is going in their lives. We are to love everybody. Even when we don’t want to.

So rejoice with those around you, weep with them, mourn when they mourn. Live in harmony, seek to live peaceably with those around you. Don’t think yourself better than them for any reason, associate with the lowly, the outcast, the disenfranchised, and those who society has deemed unworthy or less than worthy. Be kind and generous to everybody.

And least you are at all confused about what “everybody” means, that includes those you don’t like, and those who don’t like you. Loving everybody in all things, extends to our enemies, and to those who wish to do us harm. This means loving those who are not kind to you, those who disappoint you, those who would do things maliciously against you. But we are actually to go one more step than simply loving them but we are to bless them. Show them the love of God, extend the same amount of grace, forgiveness and blessings which God has extended to us to anyone who would work to do us harm. That is hard. That is sincerely difficult. They have done nothing to deserve your kindness, they have done nothing to earn your favor, but Paul spent enough of the book of Romans showing us exactly why we don’t deserve God’s grace, but receive it none-the-less. Of Course they don’t deserve it, but neither do you.

Do not repay evil with evil instead do your best to out do your enemies’ evil with goodness and kindness. Paul than uses an image that does not really make sense and when taken at face value, seems contrary to what Paul has been saying about the place of genuine love in all our relationships with everyone. But Paul is drawing from a common practice, which was when it was cold it was common to send a person who was leaving your house away with a coal from your fire to keep them warm. Paul is saying that if you are dealing with your enemy with kindness and generosity that the extent of your generosity should be as such that instead of just giving them one coal to keep warm heaping coals upon them when they leave. It not simply about being barely hospitable to your enemy, it not about simply being cordial, this is about going above and beyond showing them extreme kindness, over abounding generosity, leave whatever judgment they do or do not deserve up to God, you love them, treat them with overflowing kindness and give to them more than they would ever even think to require of you. Out do their evil with goodness.

Whew, now that is a lot! That is a lot of loving. Can you remember all that? I have gone over it once and there is going to be a test. (pause) No I am serious. There will now be a test. After I finish my sermon, we will depart from here. Some of us will fellowship for a while down stairs and our love for one another will be tested in our actions and interactions with one another, can we be genuinely loving with the body of believers in which God has called us to live in community? Then eventually we will all disperse from here, each to our daily lives and every morning we will wake up to another test, will we live lives of love today? That is the question asked of us each and everyday. Will we love our fellow Christians? Will we give to the needy? Will we reach out to the lowly? Will we live peaceably? Will we treat even those who wish us harm with over abounding kindness and generosity in all things? Will we be living sacrifices to God today? Tomorrow? In this moment? With this person who is before me right now?