Monday, October 31, 2016

The Cloud of Witnesses that surrounds us, at Cambridge Church of the Nazarene

Hebrews 11: 1-3, 32-12:2

Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (and Esau), Joseph, Moses, and all the people of Israel who followed God through the desert into the land of promise and then those listed here. When the early Christians needed examples of faith they looked to those who had gone before them. When they sought examples of what it looked like to live as God was calling to them to live they looked to the faith other who had gone before them. These are their examples, examples of how faith is lived out in life, through trial, through error, through failure and through victory. They saw what it looked like to be faithful in the tough times, and examples of how rise up from the dust of weakness when you fall short of the person God calls you to be and yet still rising to be a great example of faith. The ups and down, the glory and the mud, in the lives of the heroes of faith they saw reflections of what it meant to be followers of Christ. The lives those who had gone before spoke to them, showed them the way, and shined the light of faith on the paths they were walking.
Tuesday, the 1st of November is All Saints Day. On which we remember the light of faith which is shone to us from all those who have gone on before us. We honor the lives of those who have lived faithfully through the centuries, countless Christians, who have gone on before us; all those who passed their faith down from generation to generation. Throughout the centuries God has been faithful to the Church, continually rising up Christians to carry the faith from generation to generation. Great and grand examples who have lived through the centuries, Paul and Peter, Basil the Great,  Macrina, Perpetua, Chrysostom, Augustine, Catherine of Sienna, Bridget of Kildare, Martin Luther, Joh and Charles Wesley, Phineas F Bresee, even John N. Short. As well as saints who have faithfully, quietly, and beautifully blessed those within their sphrere of influence, mothers, fathers, Sunday School teachers, board members, faithful church members each seeking the light of Christ in all things and working to be the person God was calling them to be in the places they lived, at work, in their Churches among their friends and to their family; their light of faith shining brightly on just a few, but brightly shining none-the-less.
Each week when sit or stand or pray or worship in our sanctuary at Cambridge Nazarene, we stand in the light of the legacy of the faith of those who have gone on before us, quite literally. If you came into our sanctuary one of the first thing you may notice  is the the windows which surround us. What you may or may not notice at first is that each one bears the name of a Christian long gone from this world. These Christians were honored and remembered by their friends, their families and their loved ones when they donated in the money for these windows their memory, to complete this Church building. Each time I stand in their reflective light I am thankful for the generosity of those who gave and in awe of the faithful, Christ-filled lives each window represents.
Each window represents the life a member of this congregation, an example of the Christian life. And a Paul said, "what more can I say?” Here are the lives of those we cannot forget, whose faith shines light on us each week as we gather to worship.

John Short  - The two windows in the back of the Sanctuary facing Franking Street is a memorial to Rev. John Short, who served as pastor from 1899-1922, twenty two years. He burned the mortgage before he died. He was preaching in the pulpit one Sunday morning in April 1922 and he sat down in his chair, A doctor was in the congregation an immediately went to him. They helped him from the Church to his home next door at, 240 Franklin Street, where he expired a month later. Mrs. Gwendolyn Spooner many times went to help Mrs. Short take care of him. Our communion Set was given memory of Mrs Spooner, who passed in 1972.

Albert Fiske – The window in the back in the foyer. Albert was Superintendent of building the Church. The window was given by his wife- a signatory on the deed of the Church and the loan taken out to build it. Albert came to an early death from a fall while doing work here at the Church.

George Haddow – A Sunday school teacher for 17 years (listed as a “Rev” in the window)

Elizabeth Alley – The window in the front near the Piano - Played the piano for 20 years, was the mother of George Haddow’s wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Waldo Brigham – Both were active early members. They grandparents of Walter Burgess for whom the education wing is named.

Cynthia Dean – This window was given by her daughter. She was the first African American person brought into membership early in the Church’s history. Since we know these windows were purchased in the 20s, this shows us that our congregation has always been an integrated congregation.

Ida Davis – This window was given by her daughter. She was active early member of our congregation.

Isabella Ford – This window was given by her husband. He was apparently not very social (being described as being “no mixer”), but well thought of by others.

Abbie Tibbett –- She was an active early member of the church. She is remember as having “never missed a meeting”
George Shea – Mr. Shea was an active member of the church. His son who donated the window was a doctor.

Everett & Warren Hatch – They were Father and Son, they were “friends” of the Church. The window was given in their memory by their daughter and sister.

Harvey Hanson – The window along the stairwell leading to the balcony given by his mother. Harvey was a physically disabled Harvard graduate; remembered as being quite brilliant. He contributed to the building of the Church by spending hours cleaning used bricks to be used for the foundation. The house he and his mother lived in was willed to the Church.

Sunday school window – The window in the coatroom was donated by money raised by the Sunday School.

Edna Gardiner – There was once a round window behind the pulpit. It was given by her son, the president of the Central Trust Company. Edna donated the first $1,000 to the building fund. When we built the education wing it was donated to the Wolfboro, NH Church of the Nazarene.

Each week we worship, we pray, we draw closer to God, basking in the light shone through these faith journeys of these saints who have gone one before, who light our way and show us how a race well run looks.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by, so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, let us run with perseverance the race God has set before us.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 - Paul says: "Read your Bible and Do your Devotions"

We are continuing to look at the second letter Paul wrote to Timothy, a young follower of Christ, to whom Paul is entrusting the future of the Church. Paul himself is in prison and has been sentenced to death, awaiting  his execution. Paul sees his demise in the not too distant future. He is doing what he can to invest in Timothy as a way of equipping the next generation to carry on the faith and assure that the truth of the Gospel will continue to spread. As Paul is doing what he can to assure the Faith and the Church will be able to continue into the future. Timothy, in many ways, is representative of the next generation. If Timothy can take on the responsibility to carry on the work of the first generation of Christians into the second, Paul will know that the work he and the other apostles began will carry on for one more generation.
Paul is equipping Timothy for the betterment of the Church. Timothy and his peers are the ones who will preserve the truth of the Gospel to the next generation. Paul wants to preserve the Church but he is very well aware of her shortcomings. At this time in the history of the Church, the church is facing struggles from within as well as from without.  At this point in his letter Paul is most concerned with a contingency of people who are going around teaching things that are contrary to the teachings of Paul and the apostles; contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are embellishing on the gospel and making it “new”; making it into something which is contrary to the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul is warning Timothy to not turn from the truth of the Gospel he learned as a child and follow this “new” gospel. He is calling for Timothy to stick to the good “old” gospel that he learned from his mother and his grandmother, who learned it from Paul and the apostles.
Here, Paul does this by pointing Timothy to Scripture, telling him that all Scripture is inspired. The word which is commonly translated “inspired” here, in the original language, literally means “God-breathed.”   Being God-breathed is what humans are. This is what God did for the first human at creation; God breathed God’s own life into us. Scripture being God breathed means that God breathes God’s own life into the words which were written and they become something more than mere words.
Now to be completely truthful when Paul said “scripture”, he was not exactly referring to what we mean when we say “scripture.” Those of us who live in the modern world who have nice little bound Bibles like the one I read from this morning, which we know to be God’s holy Scripture, we must all realized that Paul did not have this (holding up my Bible). Paul did not have a Bible. I mean I picked this up and turned to this letter which Paul wrote to Timothy. Paul is still in the process of writing what would later become the book of 2 Timothy. Paul could not at the time he was putting ink to paper (or velum or what ever it was they used), he could not have been referring to the New Testament as we know it. The only scripture Paul would have had, at the time, and the only scripture to which he could have been referring, was the OT Scriptures.
Paul is telling Timothy that all the Scripture with which he grew up, the Law, the Writings and the Prophets were “God-breathed.”  Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not implying that the New Testament is any less Scripture than the Old Testament. In fact, neither Paul, the apostles or even Jesus Christ saw the Gospel as separate from the OT, but instead saw the Gospel as a continuation. Because the Gospel, which had not been formally written down, (there was no NT as we know it today) was considered a part of the OT story, it was not something separate. Therefore, God-breathed included the truth of the gospel; that is the life, death, resurrection and salvific mission of Jesus Christ. The truth gospel is not limited simply to the books the four Gospel writers penned, but extends to all of the NT scriptures. So, although Paul was not literally speaking of the Old and New Testaments, as we know them today, we can understand that Paul’s statement refers to the truth of the Gospel which can be found in the entirety of the Scriptures.
So Paul tells us that the Scriptures are God breathed, filled with the spirit of God, he also tells us that they are useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training. Paul gives us here a list of what scripture does. This is not a list of what we can do with scripture. Too often we look at this passage and think that Paul is telling us that Scripture is a tool which we can use. But Scripture is not ours to use. Scripture does not belong to us, it is not something we can ever possess. Scripture is God’s and it belongs solely to God. Paul is not telling us how we can use Scripture. Paul is telling us how scripture shapes and forms us, what Scripture does for us, not what we can do with Scripture.
Paul tells us that Scripture teaches, reproofs, corrects and trains. Scripture teaches us, it gives us a sound understanding of the gospel, the story of God’s love for humanity and the extent to which God will go to show God’s love for us, climaxing in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is also reproofs us, that is scripture shows false teaching for what it is. False teaching is any teaching, which strays from, or claims to add to the gospel.  Scripture corrects us. It instructs us in proper behavior as Christians, and shows us when our words, actions or attitudes do not reflect those of Jesus Christ or speak contrary to the character of God. They show us how God calls for us to live. It straightens us out and improves who we are as Christians.  And lastly, it trains, it educates us. We are its pupils, and from it we learn who we are, we learn who God is and we learn about our relationship with God and how best to work that relationship out.
Scripture is that which guides and directs us, it is through scriptures God is able to speak to the Church and show us what it means to live as we were meant to live; what it means to be who we were created to be. God calls to us, and draws us close to God’s self through scripture, and it is scripture which introduces us to the truth of the gospel and truly allows us to see the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that is an act of desperate love of God for humanity. A love which is calling to us, begging for us to turn from the bent broken ways we are living, and turn to God, to love and be loved in return.
Paul establishes Scripture as that which holds the truth of Jesus Christ, the truth of the love of God, as that which calls us back to the created order. It is, also, that which calls for us to proclaim the message of the gospel. Paul is telling Timothy, “you know the truth, you need to share it.”  The fact of the matter is Timothy would not have known the gospel had it not been proclaimed to him. He would not have come to the Faith, if his mother and grandmother had not proclaimed the message to him in the first place. They would not have known if the apostles and Paul had not proclaimed the message to them. The only way anyone else will know is if someone who knows goes out and tells them!  Paul is calling for Timothy to go do for others what was done for him. That is proclaiming the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul sees Timothy as the future of the Church and God has called Timothy to live a life of proclamation.  It is not merely Paul is who is intrusting Timothy with the future of the Church but it is God who is entrusting Timothy with the future of the Church. As the lives of the first apostles expire it is up to the newer, younger Christians of the next generation to take up the mantle and proclaim the truth so that future generations may know as they know. God has set this task before you, go out and do what it is God is calling for you to do.
Paul reminds us that God has given us scripture. God had spoken through humans and they have written scriptures and God breathed God’s own life into those words and God uses the words of mere human beings to speak, to teach, to guide and direct the people of God. God has given us this gift and too often we don’t allow it to work in us and through us to change us and remake us.
I would guess that most of us have at least one Bible (if you don’t come to me after service and we will do what we can to remedy that). Yet, it is far too frequently we forget that God has given us scripture, not so we can have it on our shelf and pull it out and use it when we see fit. Scripture is not something we use, it is something God has given us scripture to shape us, change us. Through Scripture, is one of the many ways, God chooses to transform us, so we can be the people God created us to be. But in order for that to happen we need read it , and study it and allow God to breath through the words on the page and into our very souls, filling us with who Gods is, changing us through words, changing us through The Word. Unless we are reading, participating, in scriptures, it is just another book which rests on our self, collecting dust, which we say we should to get around reading at some point in our lives. But, it is not merely through opening it and reading it that God moves, it is by allowing scripture to open us. When we come to scripture ready to hear God, ready to receive God ready to participate in what God chooses to do in us and through us, then God breaths through mere human words and transforms us, and brings us to life through something which prior to the moment in which God moved was nothing more than ink and page.
But this is not merely about us. It is not simply about us knowing and being known by God through scripture but it is God calling us to move beyond ourselves and take the one whom we know, into the world and introduce others to the one whom we love, the one who loves us and the one who loves through us. We are transformed and changed by God and in turn we are called to proclaim the one who transforms and changes us, to the world around us with words and with lives which speak the love of God to those around us.
The church is always one generation from extinction. If this generation does not leave a gospel legacy for the next generation, there will be no church when we die. This is the simple fact. We gather here as the Church, we are known by God, we strive to understand who God is. But unless we actively seek to pass the truth of the gospel on, there will be no others when we like Paul find ourselves at the end of our lives.
Paul is calling to us from his jail cell this morning. Paul sees the end of Church. Paul sees how this could all die, as those who know and believe die and Paul is telling us, just as he is telling Timothy here, two very important things. First he is telling us to be people who are shaped and transformed by scripture. He is telling us that all scripture should participate in who we are as the people of God. We need to be people of the Word, living in the word, allowing the very breath of God to be breathed in us daily as we allow our lives to be shaped and transformed by scripture.
In short Paul is telling us, as so many pastors, Sunday school teachers and wise Christians have told us before, read you Bible.  But not just read it to read it. Don’t just read it to put a check in the check box in your list of Spiritual things you need to do today, but read Scripture because through it God speaks, teaches, corrects and changes us, infusing us with the very life of God. Paul is telling us to do our devotions. To read our Bibles first thing in the morning, on our lunch breaks, or last thing at night. Paul is telling us to dwell in the Scriptures, to live there so that through Scripture God will not only speak but shape, transform and remake us from the bent broken people we are into the holy people God created us to be.

Secondly, Paul tells us that once we are shaped and changed into the people God is calling us to be, we are to then take what has shaped us and changed us and bring that transformative power to others. We are to live lives which tell others who Jesus is. We are to speak words which tell others who Jesus is. We are to be people who love as Jesus loved, live as Jesus lives and proclaim the truth of the kingdom of God, just as Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. The fact of the matter is being Christian is not just about what Jesus does for us. Being the people of God is not just about how God works for us and in us. We are Christians, we are the people of God, so that we can go out and share the one who we know, the truth of his life, teachings, death and resurrection with a world who is lost and broken without him. We know, are changed and transformed through the love and grace of God because someone told us, no one else will know unless we in turn tell them. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Poem in the Works


We are a people
A called people
Called to differently live
Called to live the love
As seen
In Christ, alone; dying bleeding
Yet living once again
Called to something other, something else
Called bear the load and share the light
Called to bear the light and share the load
But. . .
Some are left fumbling in the dark
know not love
have not the ability to see
 left to bleed
Alone, laying in the road
Not a stranger or Samaritan in sight
Turning the world around them red
From their position they do not, can not know
what it means to rise just once
and never once again
No riches, nothing free
And so all there is 
to fumble, mumble, cry and die
Yet, we are a people called to share and bear and bring light
We wander off into the sun, shining our light
Shining light to those basking in the sun
Do not venture into the dark
Bringing the Light to all but some.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2 Timothy 1:1-14 - Seeing Backward, Moving Forward

We are people with eyes on the front of our heads. I know that sounds like a strange and obvious statement, but it is something that needs to be said in light of how we actually move through this world. None of us actually know what is ahead, we cannot say with any kind of certainty what tomorrow will hold. I have this sermon here written out before me, but there are things, which could prevent me from finishing it, and although it is my intention for you to hear it, you may never. We have intentions, we have plans we act like we know what our tomorrows hold. We have calendars, which mark the days and the years, they tell us the days for as far into the future as our hearts desire.
 My calendar tells me that I will go to the library tomorrow to begin work on next week’s sermon. It tells me that I have plans to hear Carla Sunberg speak on Wednesday and have a meeting directly following that. It says there is an event at Cidra’s school on Thursday evening. It tells me which days I plan to be in the office this week and reminds me of the list of things I need to get done as the weeks progresses. It reminds me at what time I need to pick Stella up from school each day and at what time I should expect Cidra to come home. It tells me that we pray on Saturday morning and then I have Stella’s 10th birthday party that afternoon.
Whether you write it all out on a calendar or keep it in your head, most of us if asked, “What are you doing on Wednesday at 10am,” would speak with some amount of certainty. “I am at work.” “I am in class (I am at school).” “I will be at the doctors.” I will be, I am, we talk as if we know, as if it is a foregone conclusion. But, although I will tell you that I will be at ENC on Wednesday morning. There are any number of things, traumatic and mundane that would keep me from going to hear Carla speak that morning. I DO NOT KNOW what will be. I can not know what will be. I will never know what will be. And neither will you.
We with our eyes looking forward, act like we move through time looking at the path before us, just as we walk down the street, seeing what is ahead and adjusting our path accordingly. But, we with eyes on the front of our head, who walk on this earth looking at the path before us do not actually ever see what is before us. We go forward through our lives walking backward, seeing only the moment in which we currently reside and all those that have already past. We are always, continually, blinded to the moment that is to come. When it comes to life, when it comes to how we actually move through the universe, we move blindly, only seeing what has come and never what is to come. We move blindly forward, looking backwards, seeing what has past, but never able to turn, to grasp what it is which may come.
     Paul, being human just like the rest of us, is in the same boat. He stands on the eternal edge of the unknowable future only able to see what has come and not what is to be. The appeal he was hoping to make when he wrote his first letter to Timothy has come to be, and he lost. His hope of release and his hope of coming to see Timothy once again have been dashed to pieces, as our plans for the future so often are. Paul is once again under house arrest, but unlike before the shadow of the future which looms over him seems to be bleak. Losing his appeal means that execution is the event toward which he is moving.
Paul looks back and he sees the Church he has built. He sees the conversion of Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother, and then of Lois, his mother and then finally that of Timothy. He can remember the joy he knew as each one came to know Christ as Paul himself knows Christ. He can see the seeds of faith which began at Timothy’s conversion and can see how they have grown and blossomed.  Paul wishes he could see it and him once again with his own eyes, but the Roman decree which he holds says it will not be. Paul can remember the laying hands on Timothy at his ordination. He remembers how the spirit, a most precious gift in filled Timothy with power, love and self-discipline.
Paul’s heart is breaking. He cannot turn and see forward, he cannot know what is to be, but he like the rest of us can see the shadows of what will be and rests in the hope of what is to come in Christ Jesus and in Christ Jesus alone. He cannot see, his death or what lies beyond. He does not know what will become of Timothy, what will become of the Church in the years to come but he knows , “in whom [he] has believed, and is persuaded, that God is able, to keep that which [Paul has] committed.”
Paul, like the rest of us cannot see what will be. But always before his eyes is what has come. He sees the faith of those who have committed themselves to God. He sees how that faith has grown and blossomed, how one has become, how two has become more and how more has become many. He sees the power of the Spirit at work in each one, he sees the love given by Christ as it flows through his people and his Church, he sees the self-discipline of Christ’s followers which has led to the planting and growing of Churches from Jerusalem to Rome, in Asia, and Macedonia, in Greece and in the world beyond.
Paul remembers, Paul can see what has been. He can see, every time he prays for Timothy which is often, he is reminded of the tears on Timothy’s face when they last parted. Paul left Timothy there, tears on his face, and perhaps fear seeding in his heart. The weight of Paul’s ministry is being put on Timothy, Paul has all but passed on the mantle. And even as Paul rejoices in Timothy’s faith, he remembers Timothy’s face and sees his tears, sees his grief, his fear, his pain, his sorrow. He sees in Timothy’s face, all the questions that only the future can answer.
What will tomorrow hold? The world around seems so full of chaos. The leaders are not leaders we can trust. The system is broken. The courts are unreliable. There seems to be no justice found there or anywhere. The people of God are divided. Some seem to be following and listening to voices which preach, which teach a gospel foreign to the one we know in Jesus Christ. The moment in which we reside is so fraught with turmoil, confusion, uncertainty. What will tomorrow bring? How will our world change in the next month? The next year? No matter how much we strain our heads to look, to turn, to see, we cannot, way forward which is ever at our backs. All that tomorrows holds will not be revealed until tomorrow becomes today and we may not know what changes are being made until today is yesterday and we can look back and see what has happened more clearly.
Paul has a word for us today, it is the same word he gave to Timothy, who stood in the same place we do today. Our world is just as chaotic, uncertain, full of turmoil and confusion as his was then.  We do not know what is to come, and will not know what is to come, until what is to come becomes what has been done. But Paul says, it is O.K. don’t fear, don’t fret. See what I see, it is the same as what you can see. You can see the faith of those who have come before you. You can see where you have been and how God has brought you through. The same Spirit which is within me is the same gift of God which resides in you. The same power in which has brought us here is the same power which God will continue to grant us into the future. The love of God which has been our life’s blood in the past will continue to be the love that comforts, and surrounds us as we move forward. The self-discipline given to us through the Spirit which has grown our faith, and been the strength on which we have relied thus far will continue to be that for us.
Do not be ashamed. Your faith is your faith, remember your testimony, remember your story, remember where you have been and how God has brought you through. The God of your faith in the past, the God of the faith of all those around you, (your mother, your grandmother) is the faith that will lead you on. Let the past, and all that you have known, in your life, in the life of your parents of the faith, the faith seen in scripture, the faith of those in our community here today. Look to it, hear their testimony and do not be afraid, do not be ashamed. Although we all may know the tears, the uncertainty, the sorrow, the pain, the chaos, of being people who move forward through life, walking blindly backwards, know that what we have seen, what we have known CAN lead us faithfully into the future.
We are weeks from The Head of the Charles, the great international regatta held here on the Charles each Fall. The river will be filled with rowers. In fact almost any day between early Spring through late Fall they can been seen on the river practicing. I love seeing the rowers. I think the sight of them is beautiful. The way they move so quickly, so seamlessly through the water, gliding up and down the river with such ease. I also love the sight of them because they are a visual picture for me of what it is to move through this life, with Christ.
The row boats, they move forward up or down the river, while the rowers are facing backwards. All of the rowers, each and every one of them are backwards. They guide their boats, up or down the river, but never see what is before them. They go forward, always only seeing where they have been . BUT they do not do it alone. There is some in the boat with them, the coxswain. The coxswain, stands before them, and sees the way forward and guides the rowers along the path they must take. Let me tell you, we may be like rowers moving blindly forward, always, only seeing what is behind, but we are not alone in the boat. We have one in the boat with us who can see the way forward, who will guide and direct us through life’s unseen future. We have one who can be trusted, who can be relied upon. Who will tells us the way to go, who will see the obstacles which we cannot and will adjust our path accordingly. If we are the rowers and the boat is the Church, there is one who is within the Church, given to the Church, the gift which has been given to each of us, to all of us, who will guide and direct us. It is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is here with us, although we can only know what we have seen, the Spirit can see that which we cannot see and if we rely on the power, the love and the self-discipline instilled within each of us, within God’s church we will not be lead astray. The one with eyes to see forward, who can see, what we cannot see, will guide and direct us into the future, on this we can rely.
We can join with Paul and say, “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, I am sure that he is able to guard, until that day, what I have entrusted to him.”