Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sermon for Christmas Eve '08

Dec 24, 2008
Scripture: John 1:1-5, 14-18
Sermon Title: "Magnificent Simplicity"
Rev. G
A few weeks ago on NPR they were discussing our country’s current financial state. With things being the way they are, they assumed people will cut back this Christmas with less parties, less food, less presents under the tree.
They interviewed a pastor on what good news he would share with people in regards to Christmas and the economy. His response was inspirational: look towards the manger. The manger, he said, is the stripped down reality of life.
The manger is where the bare minimum of what is needed exists. It was just Joseph and Mary- that is how Christ came into the world.
In essence, what the pastor was saying is that we can stop looking at Wall Street for where hope for the world will come and instead look at the magnificent simplicity of the manger.
That radio interview got me thinking about humbleness and simplicity. I recalled a story I had read years ago of a Christmas day celebrated by a small family living in a little house in the big woods. It’s a story told by Laurie Ingalls Wilder.
As the story goes, Christmas was coming. The Little House in Wisconsin was buried in snow, so much so that when Pa opened the door, the snow was as high as Laura’s head. Pa shoveled a path to the barn, checking to make sure the animals were safe. Laura and her sister stood on chairs by the window watching the snow glitter on the trees.
All that week Pa worked on three pieces of wood, whittling away, carefully, patiently using his jack-knife to create flowers and circles, crescent moons and a star. It was a bracket he was making for Ma, and when he was done, he hung it up on the wall, where Ma placed her collection of figurines.
Ma kept busy, cooking and baking good things for Christmas: salt-rising bread, Swedish crackers, baked beans with salt pork and molasses, vinegar pies, dried-apple pies, a big jar filled with cookies.
Ma boiled molasses and sugar together creating a thick syrup. Pa brought in pails full of fresh snow and they showed the girls how to pour the syrup on the snow, which hardened and became candy. They could each have one piece but the rest would be saved for Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve the ringing of sleigh bells signaled the arrival of Aunt Eliza, Uncle Peter, and their three cousins, wrapped in coats and mufflers and shawls.
The little house in the Big Woods was now filled with activity. Their dogs leapt and yipped in the snow. The children went outside, playing a game in which they stood atop a tree stump, fell in the snow, then gently got out, making five holes in the snow shaped exactly like them.
The children played until it was bedtime. They hung their stockings by the fireplace, said their prayers and went to bed. As the firelight threw dancing shadows on the walls, the adults talked as Pa took out his fiddle and played "Red Heifer" and "Arkansas Dream".
The girls slept in one bed on the floor, Peter had the trundle bed. Aunt and Uncle slept in the big bed, Ma and Pa slept in a bed made on the attic floor.
In the morning the children woke at the same time, looked at each other, then rushed to their stockings. There was something in there! Santa had come! Dressed in their red flannels they shouted to see what they got.
In each stocking was pair of bright red-mittens and a long piece of candy cane with decorative notches. They were so happy they could barely speak.
Laura, the youngest of everyone, received a special gift: a rag doll with black button eyes, penciled eyebrows and curly hair made out of yarn. Laura was speechless. "Did you ever see such big eyes?" the adults said.
Laura sat on the bed and held the doll. After some prodding by her parents, Laura let each child hold her new doll, but was thankful when it was back in her arms.
The adults exchanged gifts. Aunt Eliza gave Ma a red apple stuck full of cloves. Ma gave Aunt Eliza a needle-book she had made.
Then cousin Peter and the men stepped outside to do the chores, the girls and women set the table and made pancakes shaped like little men.
It was too cold to play outside, so the children tried on and admired each other’s mittens, took small licks of their candy canes, laid on the floor and looked at their picture Bible.
Then it was time for the Christmas dinner. Plates were kept full with food. Afterwards the Aunt and Uncle and cousins prepared for the ride home. They wore their new mittens. Baked potatoes were placed in their pockets to keep them warm, hot irons were placed at their feet in the sled.
In just a short while the merry sound of bells were gone, and Christmas was over, but what a happy Christmas it had been!
It’s been over 25 years since I read that story, but for some reason it lodged in my brain. I think one reason is just how perplexed I was at what a big fuss the kids made over so little.
Mittens and a piece of candy? Are you for real? That would never have flown in my house.
And yet, I have always remembered that story, and after rereading it I understand why: it was about what Christmas is truly about: family, time spent together, humbleness, making the most of what you have, being thankful.
As an adult I admire the story even more: the images of cooking together, Pa’s patience as he created Ma’s gift, everyone sharing chores, sharing space, sharing the moment together and not going off into their own private rooms.
How magnificently simple the story is, and how much we can learn from it. Perhaps we can even benefit from going back (just a little bit) to a way of life in which things were simpler, and love was not expressed by hundreds of dollars in gifts but by hundreds of minutes spent in relationship, in time together, in creating memories.
The economy may not allow us to express our love for one another through financial means, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find other ways to express our love.
And for guidance, all we have to do is look towards the manger, all we have to do is go back to the beginning of time, all we have to do is begin embracing the words of John, Chapter 1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
Magnificently simple: In the beginning.
And what existed before the beginning? Nothing. Nothing but God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit living as a perfect trinity. But God has a desire for more. And so, as Genesis 1 states, God speaks "Let there be light". And there is light.
With Jesus and the Spirit present, God speaks out over the chaos of nothingness and begins the process of creating life and the world. God separates the light from the dark, God makes the heavens and the sky, sea and land, vegetation and fruit, sun and moon, God makes sea creatures, land animals, birds of the air, humans.
God takes a moment of chaotic nothingness and brings new life, new possibilities, and God calls it good.
Read the biblical narrative and you’ll hear how this happens again and again. God takes childless Abraham and Sarah and makes them the family that blesses all families. God works through Jacob’s messes, the problems his son Joseph faces, the slavery of the Israelites and brings new beginnings and new hope for the world.
And in the perfect fullness of time, when all Joseph and Mary had was a stable for shelter, God enters into human history as baby Jesus. As John states "...the Word became flesh and lived amongst us...From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace."
God does the most amazing thing: he transcends time and space and comes to us in the fragile, simple, lovely form of a baby boy. In that action God invites us to know him in a way previously unheard of before.
By becoming flesh and making himself known in the magnificent simplicity of a stable, God enters into human history, bringing with him a light that shines and puts darkness into the past tense.
In the magnificent simplicity of the stable God
becomes even more bound to us by becoming one of us, now able to identify with every aspect of life: joy and pain, suffering and loss, love and friendship, grief and death.
Perhaps most radical of all is how God chooses to come to us. Not as the son of a prince or a politician, not to a rich or well educated family. But a family that has nothing.
God gives up the magnificent otherworldliness of the heavens for the magnificent simplicity of the every day, to a man who makes a living with his hands, a young mother full of hope for her son..
Jesus who is God, who was with God when God created everything, is born in the midst of nothing. In a manger, stripped of all worldly possessions. Just the bare essentials: Mom, Dad, and God.
Not the internet, not a Wii or Guitar Hero, not even mittens and a candy cane.
Jesus, enters into the world humble, meek and mild. And we are the better for it.
By having the Word enter into our lives through the manger, we can hear, experience, and know God in ways never before possible; we are given an intimate access to the cosmic God who can be no stranger to us.
From that manger came the most profound hope. From that manger came truth and light, salvation and new life.
From the magnificent simplicity of the manger came the greatest person who ever walked the earth, bearing the greatest gift we could ever ask for: grace upon grace.
So, in the midst of all the economy is doing, in the midst of all we as a church, state and nation have been through, what we should remember this Christmas, and the Christmases to come is that the Good News is not about a multitude of gifts we can or can not afford.
As demonstrated by the manger, and seen in the Little House in the Big Woods, the Good News is that what matters most is the love we have for one another, the time we spend together and the light we bring into one another’s world.
The Good News is that in the magnificent simplicity of the manger God for once and for all showed that he can work even when there seems to be nothing to work with.
The good news is that even when it seems all is lost, God finds a way to make us found.
The good news is that even when the world around us appears at its darkest, God through the gift of Jesus Christ, is shining a light so bright it will guide us all home.
Christmas can’t be ruined because we can’t afford the most expensive things, but is enhanced by what we do have: the gifts of love, the gifts of time, the gifts of relationships.
The Good News is that God created the world out of nothing, and then, through the magnificent simplicity of the manger, God brought redemption to the world he had created.
Stripped of everything the manger welcomed new life, a New Light, the living Word. And grace upon grace blesses the world even until today.
Until that day when we return home with the sound of sleigh bells signaling our departure, may we continue to give God our praise, may the Spirit guide our steps and may the grace of baby Jesus radiate within and out of our hearts.

"Unbinding the Gsopel" by Martha Grace Reese

Two weeks ago I finished "Unbinding the Gospel- Real Life Evangelism" by Martha Grace Reese. I was happy to find it only took three hours to read )perfect to break up into three days or a week of relaxing work reading. Reese's energy is infectious, she uses research, great quotes and statistics to discuss the "E" word.

Bravo to page 106 in which she explores the Holy and the Practical: "We have to hold the opposites together. it's All Mystery. It's All Practicality. All the time."

Good book. I plan to be part of a study group that will be using this book for the next 6 weeks. Maybe I'll tell you later how it went.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wanderings for the Christmas Week

Good afternoon everyone. I pray you are all safe and warm and have weathered the storm.

This Sunday (tomorrow) is our Blue Christmas service. It is a time in which we acknowledge, through liturgy and the retelling of the Christmas story, the grief that we have in our life, and by giving that grief a voice, begin or continue the process of silencing the power of grief over us.

BCUCC has been offering the Blue Christmas service for well over six years. This is my fourth time in leading one, and it has always been a positive experience.

Don't forget that tomorrow night is our Christmas Pageant which Jenny Powers and the children (and adults) of our Sunday School have worked hard on putting together. They will be followed by a mini-Christmas concert put on by the West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus, followed by fellowship and a special visit by a red-suited jolly ole' soul.

This week's scripture reflection is actually for the Christmas Eve reading: John 1:1-18, one of the most exquisite pieces of poetry you will find anywhere, any where.

Here, John makes the statement: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

The word Word is a word that John uses for Jesus. When he wrote his Gospel, John was looking for a way to present Christianity to Jews and to Greeks, and he realized that both cultures placed an important emphasis on the Word.

For Jews, words were not just mere sounds: words actually did something, the spoken word was, as William Barclay writes, "fearfully alive...it was a unit of energy charged with power. It flies like a bullet..." Hence, God creates in Genesis 1 by using words, Jacob steals blessings and birthrights by using words.

For the Greeks, the concept of word was just as powerful. The word for word in Greek is Logos. It means word, but is also means reason. Thus, the word of God also meant the wisdom of God, and Greeks were very big on wisdom. That is how many of them experienced Jesus: not as a miracle maker, but as the walking embodiment of God's wisdom and reason.

And for the Jews, wisdom and reason were important as well. Look at the Proverbs. In Proverbs 8 you will find an ode by Wisdom, in which Wisdom states that before the world was created, Wisdom was there, that Wisdom was present when God created established the heavens and drew a circle on the face of the deep.

When John refers to Jesus as the Word, he hits payday: a perfect way to explain just who Jesus is to two cultures who come from different religious backgrounds who can both share an appreciation and understanding of the power of words and the sovereignty of wisdom and reason.

How have you experienced Jesus Christ as a word in your life? How has Jesus Christ made himself know to you through wisdom and reason? How has the words of the Word penetrated your soul like a bullet of life giving energy.

I invite us to ponder this during the Christmas season.

Joyfully yours,
Pastor G
p.s. to make things even more illuminated, did you know that in the Old Testament, Logos/Wisdom was referred to as a female?

Sermon for Dec 14, 2008, Psalm 126

Dec 14, 2008
Scripture: Psalm 126
Sermon Title: "Restore!"
Rev. G
Hear now this story from Elie Wiesel, a well-known survivor of the Holocaust:
In Eastern Europe during the time of WWII there was a caretaker of a synagogue. It was his custom to prepare the place for worship each morning, then he would step up front and address the Lord in a strong, proud voice: "I have come to inform you, Master of the Universe, that we are here!"
After he said that, service would begin.
Then came the first massacre of the Jews, followed by others. Somehow the caretaker escaped.
He continued to run to the synagogue each morning, preparing the place for worship, and he would pound his fist on the lectern and announce "You see Lord, we are still here."
The morning after the last massacre, he did what he always did, sweeping, cleaning, and preparing the synagogue for worship.
He was the last living Jew in town. All the others were in concentration camps or had been killed.
Alone, in the deserted synagogue, he stood in the front, stretched out his hands in prayer and whispered, "Master of the Universe, you see? I am still here!"
He stopped, then continued in a sad, quite voice, "But you Lord, where are you?" (Limburg, p.148)
Have you ever felt like that caretaker? Like the world as you know it is disappearing around you?
That the people you know, love and grew up are gone?
That the only one left is you and God, and even God seems to be absent?
Have you ever found yourself asking those questions? Where are you, Lord? Why did you allow this to happen, Lord? Have you forgotten all about me and my family, Lord?
There’s a lot of people saying that in our country right now. A lot of people saying that in our state.
A lot of people sitting right here today who are thinking that.
We are not living during good times. Listen to the words being used: Recession. Depression. Bankruptcy.
On the eve of the New Year and we truly do not know where we will be. Our great nation may lose its footing and like Jack and Jill we could come tumbling down, breaking more then our crown.
What’s happening to our lending institutions?
What has happened to our world of academia?
What has happened to such assured businesses as GM, Ford, and the Gap?
How is it that Studio 28 is no longer open and operating? That Classic Chrysler has said goodbye?
How is it that unemployment is at a 25 year high?
How is it that we can each look around and name at least 10 people who are not here because either they have stopped coming, are too ill to come or have died?
It is as if we as a nation, a state, a church have been lifted up from an oasis of possibility and plenty and dropped down in an arid land in which the riverbeds have dried up and once fertile lands are now barren and brown.
"Master of the Universe, I have come to inform you that we are here!"
"You see Lord, we are still here."
"Master of the Universe, you see? A few of us are still here! But you Lord, where are you?"
In many ways, we are just like the people who first sang the words of Psalm 126. Like them, we are able to recall the good times, weep for what we do not have, and thirst for what we hope lies ahead in the future.
We, like the singers of Psalm 126, are a nation, a state, a church, that is living in the in-between.
And the word we need to hear, the word we need to shout, and the word we need to remind God about today is "Restore!"
Say it with me: "Restore!"
Psalm 126 is a deceptive song. It’s filled with words of jubilation and joy: mouths filled with laughter, tongues shout for joy, people recalling how they rejoiced when God did great things for them.
But don’t let it fool you. The first half of the Psalm is about a distant memory of what has happened and what God has done before.
But between verse three and four there is a pause, There is anticipation.
Then they say "Restore our fortune, O Lord, like the watercourses of Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves."
Did you hear that? Can you hear the sorrow and sense of loss that is currently taking place?
Good times may have once been the norm, but now the people are weeping. Their life is like the arid land of Negeb.
The Negeb is a dessert region that experienced long summer drought. Dried up riverbeds, like old bones, crisscrossed the land, ghosts of their former selves.
In the Negeb lays no hint of water, the land dusty and brown. Only nomads and camels could sustain life there.
That is how the people feel. Dried, barren. It’s as if God has forsaken them and they are left lost and alone.
All they have with them are the memories their parents and grandparents shared about the wonderful things the Lord used to do.
All they have left are a collection of stories and scripture proclaiming the miracles that had happened long ago.
Now? Now all they have is their ability to recall. Now all they have is their ability to call upon the Lord "Restore" they say, "Restore."
Now all they have is their tears, and their ability to weep in their sorrow...
...Tears are a funny thing. As Americans we don’t like to cry. Not in public, not as men. As Americans we get uncomfortable when someone breaks down into tears. We either distance ourselves or talk the tears away or get them to shut up or say "stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about."
But tears are seen as something different in the Bible. Tears are seen as means of transformation and restoration..
Joseph is reunited with the brothers who once harmed him, and after weeping so loudly everyone can hear, he finds a way to forgive them and invites them to escape the famine and come live with him.
The Israelites are enslaved to the Egyptians and in their broken down state they cry to the Lord and God sends them Moses as a deliverer.
The people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and cry out to God, and when God sees how turned from their wicked ways, he changes his mind about wiping them out.
Jesus, upon finding out his good friend Lazarus is dead, weeps over his death and then goes about restoring him to new life.
And it is while Mary Magdalen stands in the garden weeping that the resurrected Christ speaks to her and calls out her name.
Restored. Restored. Restored. Restored.
So that’s what the people of Psalm 126 do: they weep. They cry. They moan. They imagine that their tears are seeds that they can plant.
They weep, in hopes and anticipation that God will restore them, just as God has done before, just as they believe God will do again and again.
For the good news is that as dry and arid as the Negeb may be, it doesn’t stay that way. For after the long summer drought, the winter rains begin.
And they are not just a drip here and a drop there. But the rains come down in an abundance, filling the dry river beds.
Suddenly they are now filled with fresh, running water. Water that courses through the country side, water that causes vegetation to grow, flowers to bloom; water that gives drink to the people, animals and birds of the air.
Water that makes the once barren land green and lush and wonderful.
No matter how long and dry the summer is, the promise of God’s restoration continues to come true. No matter how difficult things become, God has not forgotten, nor has God forsaken.
But we are not to sit by and take on a passive role. We are not to sit by and take on the role of victim.
But we are to find ways to survive. We are to find ways to escape the oncoming problems.
We are to find ways to continue worshiping God, stepping into his sanctuary, doing his work.
We are to continue to tell the Lord "See, we are still here."
We are to continue holding God accountable and asking "But where are you?"
And we are to continue lifting up the words of Psalm 126.
Restore, we call to God.
Restore, we cry out to the heavens, to remind God of what he has done in the past.
Restore our country we cry out with tears in our tears.
Restore our state we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our economy we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our schools we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our local businesses, restore our jobs we cry out with tears in out eyes.
Restore our broken relationships, restore our homes, restore our family we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our church, we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore Your church, we cry out with tears in our eyes.
As you restored our brother Joseph, as you restored our cousins the israelites, as you restored our friend Lazarus, as you restored the crucified Christ, restore us now, oh God, restore.
And maybe, just maybe, the more we humble ourselves, and the more we call upon God to restore us, the more we will find ourselves restored.
Perhaps the more we call upon God to restore us, the sooner we may find ourselves coming home carrying sheaves of glory, the more we will shout with joy.
Thanks be to God who does remember us and has not forsaken us, to the Spirit that fills our mouth with laughter and our tongue with song and for Jesus Christ who was born, crucified and resurrected so we may all celebrate the promise of eternal restoration.
Restore oh Lord, restore!

"Tall, Dark and Dead" by Tate Hallaway

Just finished reading "Tall, Dark & Dead" by Tate Hallaway. It is book one in the Garnet Lacey series. Months ago I had read book three, not knowing it was part of a series. Although I like Garnet and find her character refreshing, I found this book to be a bit of a drag, and I'm slightly resistant to read book 2 (but I know I will). I found this book to be a bit darker, more violent, more of an author trying to find her footing (like the book "One for the Money"), yet I can't help but to like the characters, the set-up, the dialogue.

Garnet is a practicing Witch who has the goddess Lilith living inside of her. She works at an occult bookstore in Madison, WI. She has a cat who is allergic to magic, her ex-boyfriend is a vampire who is now working as a hustler, her new boyfriend Sebastian is an older vampire who is also a witch, has a wife who is dead but not dead, a son who is half vampire/half human and owns a house with a very territorial poltergeist.

Oh, and the Vatican has priests and a bad-ass nun hot on their tail seeking after a formula Sebastian has created that allows vampires to be in the sun.

Oh, it all sounds so confusing, but it's not. Author Hallway just let's it all unfold as if it is every day stuff, which for her heroine Garnet it is.

For a book this cheesy and trying to be fun, it has a few moments that make you think and offers up some spiritual scholarship. Garnet has no problem with the fact that Sebastian is a vampire, but is uncomfortable knowing that he is richer then rich. (p 110) The book can be seen as anti-Catholic. There is reference to Exodus that reads "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live" which Garnet claims is actually supposed to read "Thou shall not support a witch in her livelihood" or "Don't give a fortune teller your dime." (p 58)

By page 181 Garnet and Sebastian are being hunted by the Vatican. Garnet has been hunted before, in fact the Vatican had killed her friends. Garnet acknowledges that in the past she packed up everything and fled, that she could "cut my losses and run at this point," but she decides not to this time. After what has happened with her and Sebastian and her friends who help them, she realizes there has been some deep bonding, and if she fled for her life she would also be leaving her life behind. She feels that now she has something greater to lose their her own life, thus moving from victim to victor/heroine.

Page 221 raises the question of magic and if Christians have their own brand of magic, they just don't call it that. Garnet refers to the images of vampire hunting that involves holy water, crosses and stakes made with the same wood as the Cross. Towards the book's end there is also a lot of Goddess talk and comparing the Catholic image of Mary with Goddesses.

Finally, the book ends with the message that love is healing, and that love can heal that which we don't even know is broken.

"Tall, Dark and Read" is not the best of the Garnet books, it drags and is longer then needed, but it is original, funny, sexy and does get one thinking about their own views of God, religion, spirituality, love and mysterious/magical aspects of life. Still way better then "Twilight"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wanderings for week of Dec 9-14, 2008

Good afternoon everyone. Is it me, or does it seem forever since we last sat down to share a Wanderings? And this is the right season, since it is the Christmas song "I Wonder as I Wander" that gave this weekly e-mail its name.
This Sunday's sermon is Psalm 126. If you have you Bible close by, take a look at it.
Look at the words of joy this Psalm uses:like those who dream mouths was filled with laughter, tongue with shouts of joy, The Lord has done great things, we rejoiced, reap with shouts of joy, come home with shouts of joy
sounds happy, doesn't it? But also look at the words of sorrow:those who sow in tears, those who go out weeping
Then take a look at verse 1 and 4: they ask God to restore. You can only be restored after something has been lost.
In verse 1 the Lord had restored their fortunes, which means that they had once fallen upon hard times.
In verse 4 they ask God to restore their fortunes like the rivers of Negeb. Negeb was a dessert in which the rivers became dry, but in the winter there was rainfall that filled the empty river beds and turned the dry dessert into a blooming oasis.
Restore us, the people ask God, as you restore the dry riverbed. Restore us, the people say to God, like how the dessert looks after the winter rain.
This Psalm sounds like a joyful celebration of God, but it is steeped in a historical moment in which the people are not experiencing many blessings, and they are inviting God to restore their fortunes the way God has done before, they are inviting God to use their tears and sorrow as tears to plant a spiritual crop that will bring them shouts of joy and fulfillment of dreams.
Can you relate to this Psalm today? If so, how? Can the state and the country relate to this Psalm? If so, how? What are the ways you seek restoration through the Lord? What have your tears been planting? What joyful things can you imagine reaping from your tears if you hand them over to God?
May we all be blessed this week. May we all continue to grow in God's love.
Peace, Pastor G

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Dead Over Heels" and "No More Playas"

"Dead Over Heels" by Mary Janice Davidson. Fun, fun, fun. I say that three times becuase it contains three novellas, dealing with vampires celebrating theirt honeymoon and solving a crime in New York, a mermaid who rescues a survival expert who knows nothing about survival, and a werewolf who goes on a speed dating spress, trying to marry before she turns thirty. There's plenty of shoes, jokes and romance to keep one amused. A quick, happy read, perfect for someone who's very busy and needs some time just to relax and not think too hard.

"No More Playas" by Branda Jackson: A trudge to get through. Don't let the cover photo, nor the back summary fool you. The author tries to have it all ways: present celibate, moral woman to look up to, but scenes of hot sex, while playing on what celibatre may or may not mean. And the two main characters, Lance and Asia are so boring. The book only picks up and is good when it focuses on Lance's sister and her romance with the PI she hires. What the book does right, for a short time, is focus on the sister, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and how her abuser took away from her the chance to see love making as healing, not hurful. And Jacskson explores some side affects of abuse.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sermon fro Dec 7, 2008

Dec 7, 2008
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-11
Sermon Title: "Comfort and Joy"
Rev. George
It’s the Christmas season. Advent has begun. Time to give gifts, eat delicious food, and sing songs like "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night".
How about "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," a good wholesome, innocent song: "You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you’re...sleeping. He, uh, knows when you’re...awake...he knows if you’ve been bad. Or good...So be good for ...goodness sake."
Ooh, that song is just a little bit creepy. Could be the tag line for the latest horror film,
That’s OK, we can watch a movie. I know a good one for the whole family: "Wizard of Oz." See, Dorothy gets caught in a tornado and her house lands on top of a witch and kills her...and then she travels with three strange men to the Wizard who tells her to kill the Wicked Witch of the West... which Dorothy does by pouring water on the witch who cries out in pain "it burns, it burns" as she is melting away...
Ok, maybe not the best thing to do. We could watch "Bambi." No, there’s the whole Mom thing. What about "Lion King"? Oh, no, the Dad thing.
Well, how ‘bout I sing a lullaby? Nothing’s more relaxing then a good old fashioned lullaby.
"Rock abye baby on a tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall...and down will come baby...cradle and..all."
Maybe we shouldn’t do anything?
Isn’t it interesting how there are songs, stories and movies that have become such a part of our mass culture we don’t actually hear what’s going on? We’re so used to the story that we have become numb to the finer plot points.
It’s usually not until we have children that we realize, just how offensive or scary some of the things we sing, watch and read really are.
Case in point would be some of the stories in the bible. Like Noah’s ark: how God wipes everyone and every living thing off of the earth except for one family and two of each animal.
Or Passover. The first born child of the Egyptians dies and during the crossing of the Red Sea all the Egyptian soldiers, horses and carriages perish in the water.
Or the parables of Jesus. The first will be last, or those who work in the field for an hour will get the same pay as those who worked all day.
Or the fact that Jesus is crucified on a cross.
Offensive, all of them, if you really stop and think about it. Which doesn’t always happen.
Historically, Christianity was viewed as an offensive religion. After all, the teachings of Jesus were radical enough to have him killed.
The earliest Christians were jailed and persecuted, one reason was that people thought that communion was an actual act of cannibalism.
The Pilgrims left their home to practice their version of Christianity. And in communists nations Christians have to meet in private out of fear of being arrested or publicly humiliated.
But for us who have always lived in America, who have always been Christians, who have been raised on the stories of Noah’s ark, the Red Sea and Easter, we can fall victim to numbness and become forgetful of just what the messages are that we are hearing.
Until we are placed in a situation in which we have no other choice but to come face to face with the radical offensiveness of our religion, as it so happened here two weeks ago.
On November 23, we decorated the sanctuary, putting up the tree, stringing up the lights. It came time to hang up the paraments: the banners that hang on the back wall.
But there was a disagreement. The wall hangings were the right color of the season: purple. But the graphics appeared wrong.
Instead of symbols of Advent, there were images of Lent: a crown of thorns and a set of nails. As one person stated they found the images to be offensive for the Advent season.
I was struck by this person’s passion on the subject and the word they used: offensive. After all, offensive is a strong word, therefor offensive was the word I could not get out of my head.
Here we are celebrating the season of Advent, which is the joyful waiting for the arrival of baby Jesus, and today we have a scripture exclaiming "Comfort, O comfort my people."
And yet we have wall paraments featuring nails and thorns: far from images of comfort, definitely graphics that can be seen as offensive.
But yet, as Christians, the truth is that the baby who is born Christmas day is the same one who will grow up to be nailed to a cross, and as offensive as that fact is, we can not run away from it, or act as if it not part of the story.
But seeing the nails and crown of thorns does not provide the comfort we seek and celebrate this season, or does it?
After all, how can you speak words of comfort to someone until they have first gone through a time of trial and a time of pain?
If you are like me, you may be fascinated by the diversity that exists Christianity, and perhaps you may feel, as I do, that when it comes to the suffering of Christ, there appears to be three branches Christianity.
There’s the first branch that seems to be very up-front and in your face about it. You walk into their church and the first thing you’ll see is a crucifix with a very gaunt, pained looking Jesus on it.
Everywhere you look is suffering. Stained glass windows show Jesus on the cross, or his dead body being cradled in his mother’s arms.
Some churches feature a permanent display of what they call the stations of the cross which plainly show all the indignities Jesus went through.
Other churches will sing songs all about the blood of Christ: being washed in his blood, being made clean in his blood. No sermon would ever be given, no bible study every shared in which the blood or crucifixion wasn’t highlighted.
Then there’s the second branch of Christianity. hey focus more on the life of Jesus: his teachings, his friendships, his acts of social justice.
Look around that church and you won’t see any image of suffering. Instead you may spot Jesus walking on water, or welcoming children or images of modern day scholars and theologians.
Instead of displaying Christ on the cross, they display an empty cross, symbolizing Christ’s’ resurrection. Sit through a whole service and you may not hear the words sin, suffering or the cross.
This branch may do everything to avoid the suffering of Christ, using instead feel good platitudes and thoughts of positive imagery.
But if all you do is focus on suffering then you forget the joy that comes with being alive, but if all you do is focus on the joy, you become blind to the suffering of the world and the suffering of yourself.
Then there is the third branch, which finds that happy medium in between.
Jesus in embraced as a joyful teacher who shared meals, told stories, built relationships, smiled and had a good laugh. But he is also acknowledged as being punished for his beliefs and willing to die for us.
This is where through the ministry of Jesus the congregation becomes thankful for what they have but also see with new eyes the suffering and injustices that they and others endure.
This is a church that is able to confront the harsh reality of human sin, to stare in the face of the suffering Christ, but can recall that on Easter morning, God’s love conquers all, and we are forgiven, beloved children of God, through Christ.
The third branch of Christianity is able to fully and joyfully embrace the words of "Comfort, O comfort my people" because they have dealt openly and honestly with the painful realities of life that not all is fair and comfortable.
That the one who will be born in a manger is the same one who will die for us on the cross.
"Comfort, O comfort", are the words we hear the prophet share with the people.
These are ageless words, tempered with tears and sighs too deep for words.
The people have faced long, long years of hardships. They have lost everything they know, endured suffering, humiliation and great pain.
"Comfort, O comfort my people" are words that come after decades of wondering who they are, where God has been and if God still loves them.
And it is the words that we as Christians listen to as we await the coming of the Messiah.
But, as stated before, words of comfort can only be offered when an ordeal has been faced or after the worst is long over.
And comfort is what I wish to share with you today, and comfort is what God offers to us to take away the offensive sting of reality.
For although our paraments connect the offensive nature of Lent with the joyful message of Advent, there is a part of the story we have just barely touched upon today.
For in the midst of all that is offensive, there is ultimately hope.
As offensive the story of Noah’s’s ark can be, the outcome is the comforting gift of the rainbow and the giving of the covenant between God and his people.
As offensive as the Passover story is, the outcome is the comforting freedom of God’s people in which they are lead to a new land where they are free to become who God has called them to be.
And as offensive as the nails and crown of thorns seem, the comforting outcome is that on Easter morning, the tomb is found empty and the truth is discovered the Jesus Christ as been resurrected.
Through his unselfish action son the cross, our sins are wiped away, death has lost its controlling sting over us, and God proves that it is he, not politics, not principalities, nor the sinful desires of men and women, that have the final say.
On that resurrection day, when the tomb is found empty, it is Christ who provides Mary Magdalen ultimate comfort when he speaks her name.
Later he gives the comforting gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciple as they fearfully hid in the upper room..
The crucifixion proves to be the ultimate offense, but the resurrection proves to be the ultimate source of comfort.
So today and for the rest of this season, I invite you to start thinking about your faith and what Christianity means to you.
The offensive and revolutionary message that when Emmanuel, God with Us, came to earth, it wasn’t in a place of royalty or household of riches, but it was to a scared, unwed pregnant girl.
The offensive part that Jesus did not rise to a position of prestige or political greatness, but instead walked with us, shared in our sufferings and faced all the hardships we had to endure.
I invite you to realize that the baby who is born on Christmas day is the same man who will free us from the bondage of sin by dying for us on the cross, and is the same one who will speak words of comfort and peace on Easter morn.
These realities of Jesus are not separate, they are not divisible, they are forever connected, forever real.
Offensive and comfortable, suffering and joy.
And he did all of this to show us just how radical God’s love is for us, to show us just how far God will go for each and every one of his children.
All thanks be to the Spirit that has been bestowed upon us, to God who gathers us like lambs into his loving arms, and for Jesus Christ, who is the reason for the season.
Amen and amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Prom Night and Saw V

I rented "Prom Night", remake of the 80's horror film. It may have looked stylish, but it was a worthless piece of film. Why: because the main character remains a victim throughout the entire film. When trapped by the killer she shouts "leave me alone" instead of picking up the phone and calling for help. Everyone around her dies, she screams, she cries, and except for a brief scene she does nothing to fight off her attacker. Her salvation comes in the form of a police officer with a loaded bullet. Horror films should always have a sense of catharsis. This does not. Not worth anyone time.

Oh, and "Saw V"? Worthless, pointless and stupid. Note to producers: stop making them. You should've stopped with part 3.

One for the Money

Just finished reading Janet Evanovich's "One for the Money", the first in the Stephanie Plum series. I learned something about myself: I can't read action/adventure mysteries about a broke woman who's being stalked by a rapist while I myself am working 11 days straight and worried about the economy.

I enjoyed the book, although the characters are stereotypical and it took a while for me to get where it was going, but once the story line became clear I settled in and relaxed.

Evanovich balances humour with scenes of intense violence, which the violence surprised me since the book was designed to be a light, fun read. I'd be interested in reading the other books and I have been assured they are not as dark as this one.

The "soul" part arrived on page 268 when Stephanie is invited home for some stuffed shells. Stephanie admits home much she wanted to eat her mother's cooking. "More than good sex, a fast car, a cool night, or eyebrows. I wanted to feel unconditionally safe. I wanted my mom to cluck around me, filling my milk glass, relieving me of the most mundane responsibilities. I wanted to spend a few hours cluttered with awful overstuffed furniture and oppressive cooking smells. 'Stuffed shells would be good.'"

Except for the notion of "awful overstuffed furniture" that paragraph reminds me of Psalm 23.

We can all benefit from a good home cooked meal from time to time.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hosea 14 for Dec 2008

Hosea 14
by Rev. George Miller
Dear God,
They say that we entering into the Advent Season. For Christians this means waiting for the birth of your Son, Jesus, Emmanuel, which means "God With Us."
It’s supposed to be a time of joyful waiting, the kind that makes you want to hold your breathe, hold out your hopes, and hold up your heart. The kind of waiting that says "Something good is going to happen." The kind of waiting that makes what ever you are going through seem that much more bearable.
As Christians we are waiting for the birth of Emmanuel because we know who he is. He is the one who sat down at the table and ate with all people. He let a woman of questionable background weep over him and clean his feet. He spoke up for a woman and saved her from a crowd bent on "adulteress-bashing". He called a tax collector down from a tree so they could share a meal together. He dared to tell stories in which outcasts where seen in a positive light. He met an oft-married woman at a well, he touched men with skin lesions, he healed people’s daughters and he healed their sons, and he invited all the children to come to him. And as Scripture reports, he never, not once, spoke out against gays or lesbians or bisexuals or transgendered folk.
God, this is how I know your Son. This is who I know your Son to be. Not as others say, not as others claim: full of hate and discrimination. No, I see you Son as the reflection of love and justice, mercy and acceptance, safety and wholeness. This is the Son I am waiting for.
And God, I pray that when he arrives, he doesn’t make himself known just in the manger, or amidst our gifts or Christmas dinner. But that he arrives as well in our hearts, and that he continues to reveal himself more and more to your children. That this year when Emmanuel arrives, he is seen by others in our faces, he is seen in our relationships, he is seen in our families, he is seen in the vows that we share and the promises that we keep.
May this Emmanuel be the one who is known in the courts and classroom, in the halls of government and the strangers on the street. May your Son reveal himself more and more to your people, so that the ways of your kingdom, and not the false ways of the world, watch over the land.
For as Paul writes in Galatians 3:28 "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ."
That is who I await for this Advent, that would be the best Christmas present of them all. That we, as members of the LGBT community are not seen as less-then, or targets of hate, or mere lifestyle choices to be decided upon by law or popular vote. But that we too are included in the ideal of becoming one: that we are worthy of respect, worthy of safety, and worthy of love.
So this Advent, we wait Lord, we wait. Do not forget us, your people.

Sermon for Nov 9, 2008 (this one is out of order)

Nov 9, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 37:1-36
Sermon Title: "Hatefulness to Hopefulness"
Rev. G
We just heard a story of extreme violence and violation done by the children of Israel to a child of Israel. To counter balance it, let us meditate on these words found in 1 John, chapter 2:
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world..." (v: 1-2)
Today, let us, as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, recipients of the Spirit, learn a little bit more about how to walk in the ways of our Lord.
When we last met, Israel was limping towards Canaan and reconciled with his brother Esau. It was a poignant moment in which Israel was able to see the face of God and experience the gift of forgiving love.
Unfortunately, things have not gone smoothly. Sibling rivalry and dysfunction has reemerged in the family.
You would have thought that in his spiritually enlightened state Israel would not make the same mistakes of playing favorites as he and his mother once did.
But family dysfunction is hard to run from, and Israel returns to old habits: he favors Joseph over his other children. It’s a favoritism he doesn’t even try to hide, making Joseph a gorgeous robe with long sleeves.
The brothers grow angry when they see their father’s latest display of affection. "The spoiled brat," they probably say under their breathe.
They hate their brother, and to make it worse, Joseph begins share his dreams of sheafs and stars bowing down to him. It’s clear what the dreams mean, and so they hate him even more.
Then to make it worse, Israel sends Joseph to check on his brothers, and when they see him their hatred comes to a boiling point: "Let’s kill him!"
Viciously they descend, tearing off his robe, casting him into an empty pit, and in an act of indifferent cruelty, they casually share a meal while selling him into slavery.
This is the perfect picture of a family addicted to chaos; the family system at its worse: the father showing favoritism, Joseph the spoiled tattle-tale brat, and the brothers seething in hateful rage.
Is it any surprise that this erupts in unforgivable acts of violence and abuse?
...except I wonder if it was really Joseph they were angry at and they were trying to hurt.
There is a saying that goes "it’s never about what it’s about." And I wonder if that is the case here.
Yes, we’re told the brothers hated Joseph with his beautiful coat and fancy dreams. Yes, they conspired to kill him.
But I don’t believe they were truly angry at Joseph. I believe they were actually angry at their father, and they were angry at God.
First of all, Joseph had no control of his dreams. They came from somewhere, and back then people understood dreams to be a gift from God.
The brothers disliked the content of Joseph’s dreams and the way he shared them, but if dreams were a gift from God, shouldn’t it be God they are angry with?
But how does one take out their anger to God? How does one say "Hey God: I’m mad at you?" if no one ever taught you how to do it?
And if its that hard to speak to God, imagine how much harder it would be to talk to Dad.
Yes, Joseph was an immature tattle-tale, but wasn’t it, in some ways, Dad’s fault? After all he coddled him, favored him, reinforced his behavior.
Wasn’t it Dad who made it blatantly clear that he loved Joseph above everyone else when he gave him that stupid coat?
And wasn’t it Dad who foolishly sent Joseph to go check on his brothers? Didn’t he know just how full of anger they were?
The brothers may have been jealous of Joseph, they may have despised his very being, but I believe it was actually God who they were angry with and their father who they hated and wanted to hurt.
Attacking Joseph was just their unconscious way of doing it
With that being said, let me ask this: what if?
What if the brothers had taken a moment to pause, what if they had taken a moment to pray, and approached the actual targets of their anger?
What if they had collectively approached God with their jealousy, with their questions of why him and not us?
What if they had went directly to their father and told him just how they felt, venting their anger in a safe, healthy way?
They could have let it all out, using prayer, "I" statements and listening ears.
If they had taken their feelings of hate and anger to God and to Israel they probably would not have attacked their brother.
They probably would not have left him crying out for mercy, and they wouldn’t have to listen to their father’s endless cries of grief and mourning.
They could have shown their brother grace and mercy and given the family an opportunity to learn and grow closer to one another.
What if, what if, what if?
The trouble with "what ifs" is that they can never be realized, for what is done is done, and all we can do is move ahead, and learn from the mistakes that have been made.
Today’s story is a story of family dysfunction, of the unmerciful way we treat one another. It is a story as old as time, but it does not have to be a reality for us anymore
For as John writes in his letter, "My little children, you do not have to sin, for we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And in Christ, we do not just have an advocate, but we also have someone to take all of our grievances, to vent all of our feelings, to release all of the hatred and rage we feel for one another.
And this is the Good News that I wish to share with you today: that Jesus Christ has become for us the most fantastic sounding board and intercessor.
After all, he knew what it was like to be human, he knew what it was like to feel emotions, and he knew all to well what it was like to be a victim of others unchecked rage.
In Jesus we have someone who will listen patiently as we pour out our hearts, hearing our every complaint about every injustice we feel.
You know those times when you are so angry? Those times when someone has hurt you so bad?
You can take that to Jesus.
The anger and the resentment you have about your parents? The things they did and did not do that still haunt you?
You can take it to Jesus.
The rivalry you’ve had with your sister or brother? The petty squabbles? The anger at the one who made a name for themself and the anger at the one who dragged the family name through the mud?
You can take it to Jesus.
Oh, you may try to pretend it doesn’t bother you. You may act like it’s all OK. But it’s not.
You can take it to Jesus.
He will listen. He won’t judge. He won’t shame you. He won’t tell you to be quiet.
We can turn to Christ to honestly say what we feel and in doing so, to be freed from the forces and feelings that enslave us, dehumanize others, and separate us from closer union with God.
We turn to Jesus with our anger, our jealousy, our suffering, and he will unload that burden from us.
And the way he does that is by taking it to the cross.
On the cross he bears the burden for us so we can let it go. On the cross all those feelings can be laid out, exposed, where they can be left to die.
And an amazing thing happens: we become free, and are freed to love that person as God in Christ has loved us.
On the cross those feelings don’t just die, but because of the resurrection, they are now transformed into opportunities for growth and healing, where we each have the chance to be heard, and the chance to heal
And then, because the burden of those feelings have died and been transformed, we are empowered to do the hardest task of all: to got the person who as hurt us, to share our honest feelings with them, to ask the things that need to be asked, and to say the things that need to be said.
In closing, anytime we remain quiet and become enslaved to feelings of hatred and jealousy, someone will pay the price. But it does not have to be that way.
Because we can go to Christ with all of our feelings, no matter how dark or scary they are, and he will transform them into opportunities for grace and mercy.
And the more we turn to Christ, the easier it becomes to confront those feelings, preventing us from actions that can hurt another and pull us away from God.
Through the death and resurrection of Christ we are granted the gifts of grace and mercy so we can go out into the world, walk amongst his children, and shamefully reflect back to them the same gifts God has granted to us.
No more does Israel’s children need to be thrown into the pit. No more do others have to be victims of our unchecked hate.
For in Christ, we now have a sure way to walk in the ways of the Lord and to be dressed in coats of righteousness.
In Christ the family is restored into loving closeness, where each person is given the chance to grow into their own individual, with their own unique talents and dreams.
And as John writes, we can walk just as Christ walked, being the face of God for all to see.
Thanks be to God who is Mother and Father almighty, to Jesus the self-giving sibling and to the Spirit who works to renew and transform the family, whatever shape or form they may be.
Amen and amen.

Sermon for Nov 23, 2008

Nov 23, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 45:1-15
Sermon Title: "Blessed Forgiveness"
Rev. G
It was a busy day. With so much to do I was heading to the café to work on my sermon when the phone rang.
The conversation was a social one and started pleasant enough but somewhere along the line I began to get a bit edgy: I really had to start work on that week’s message. So I became a bit short and curt.
Didn’t the person on the end of the line know that I had so much stuff to do? Apparently not, because they continued to talk and talk.
Finally, I felt I had no choice but to cut the conversation off, say my goodbyes and go back to work. Which is what I did. So I went inside, ordered my cup of coffee, and sat down to my sermon writing work.
Except I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to focus on the words in the book or the work at hand. I was blocked. I felt ashamed about my behavior.
I was rude on the phone and I was wrong. The consequence was a restless spirit and no matter how hard I tried to read and write my notes, I just couldn’t do. The afternoon had been shot.
I knew what I needed to do: call the person back and apologize for my behavior.
I stepped outside of the café and made the call, nervous about what I had to say. The phone picked up. "Hi: this is George."
"Oh, hello again."
"I’m calling to apologize."
"Apologize? For what?"
"I realized I was very rude to you on the phone and I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry."
"I didn’t notice that you were rude."
"I know that I was and I am sorry for that."
"That is OK. You didn’t need to apologize. I forgive you even though I wasn’t aware you did anything wrong."
"I forgive you." With those three words I smiled and felt as if a weight was lifted off me.
We finished the conversation and I returned to my cup of coffee, my books, able to now focus and get my work done.
That was the day when I learned about the power of forgiveness and the newness it can create...
As Christians, forgiveness is perhaps the trickiest and most difficult of Christ’s teachings to embrace. Feed the poor? Visit the sick? Love God and love your neighbor? Those all make sense and are something we can do.
But to forgive someone? Seventy times seven? Now that’s hard. What if the person has done the unthinkable? What if they intentionally brought us great harm? Hurt us, hurt one of our own? Forgive them? That’s a hard lesson to accept.
But yet, isn’t forgiveness something Jesus himself was able to demonstrate again and again, in his stories, in his actions, even in his final hours when he hung on the cross?
Forgiveness is something we ask from God when we pray the "Our Father". Forgiveness is what we receive every Sunday during the Words of Assurance. And forgiveness is part of what we are singing about when sing "Amazing Grace."
And yet, when we have Bible Studies and group discussions, forgiveness becomes the one theme people seem to wrestle with the most.
Perhaps its because we confuse forgiveness with forgetting. Perhaps because we forget that we can be forgiven although there may still be natural and legal consequences. And I think we forget that often times we forgive more so for our sake: so that we can move on, let go and be transformed...
...More and more psychologists and pastors are learning about just how important forgiveness really is and just how destructive unresolved feelings of guilt and resentment are.
As humans it is part of our nature to make mistakes; to hurt one another. We can’t help it. Every day we say or do something that brings harm to another person, a part of the planet or to ourselves. Most of the time we’re not aware when we’ve trespassed against someone.
But there are times we know we have hurt someone and we know when we have been hurt. And there will be a response when that happens.
When we are hurt we can feel threatened, angry, and out-of-sorts. When we are the ones who have done the hurting we can feel shame, anger, and disappointment in ourselves. None of those are good feelings to carry around.
And if we do not find a way to properly deal with those emotions, what happens? They simmer and stew, working their way into our soul and begin to manifest themselves in unhealthy ways.
Being silent of pretending it never happened doesn’t do a thing. Instead our anger turns into rage. Shame turns into harsh criticism of others. Disappointment turns into isolation.
The inability to forgive and to receive forgiveness destroys friendship and rips families apart as those unvoiced feelings take on the forms of addiction, passive aggressiveness, abusive behavior or spending the rest of one’s life as a walking doormat.
Christ asks us to forgive and seek forgiveness because when we don’t relationships breakdown and life feels stymied and crippled, as opposed to fresh and full of new beginnings.
But do not be fooled: forgiveness is not easy, nor is it a one stop deal. It’s a process, it takes time, and it involves seeing through the eyes of faith.
Today’s scripture is a perfect example of that.
After 20 years Joseph comes face to face with the brothers who once sold him into slavery. During those years Joseph has been a servant, falsely accused of rape, thrown into a prison, and then upon receiving his freedom has risen to the second most powerful position in the land.
But when a famine rips across the earth, his brothers come begging to him for food. All those years of unresolved anger come to a head: what they did to him, what they put him through, so Joseph toys with them a little. He makes them squirm, plays with them like a cat with a mouse.
He’s in the position where he can get full retribution for what they did. If he wants payback he can lock them up, turn them into slaves, have them each executed.
But what good would that do? And how much more would that tear apart and destroy his already broken family.
And his brothers? Life for them has not been easy for them. They have lived a life of emotional and spiritual hell, carrying with them the secret of what they have done, leading their father to believe Joseph is dead, then watching and listening to him grieve every night and day.
So here the brothers stand. The ones who hurt Joseph 20 years ago, and Joseph who has all the power. Where will the story go? Will Joseph use his might to bring about retribution, or will he find a way to bring about healing?
His brother Judah speaks. He tells Joseph about the heartbreak his family has endured, the hard times they have faced, their father’s grief. And to make things right, Judah offers himself up to be a slave. Time may not have changed his sin, but time has clearly changed Judah the man.
And with those words, Joseph is moved. He weeps so loudly that everyone can hear. He reveals to his brothers the truth of who he is. And then he issues them an invite: "come closer to me". Joseph may not have said the words "I forgive you" but it is clear that he does.
It is an amazing scene of reconciliation in which Joseph could sentenced them to death, but instead he shared with them the gift of life.
He could have sent them away starving, but instead he invites them to step closer.
He could have told them to go home and never cross his path again, instead he invites them to come and live with him.
The entire Joseph story becomes a powerful tale of reconciliation and the power of forgiveness in which those who have sinned are redeemed, and the victim finds a way to become a magnificent survivor.
But how is Joseph able to move beyond what they did? First, he had time. Over 20 years to process what had happened. 20 years to think about what they had done.
Second, he is able to honestly confront them with what happened. He acknowledges all the bad that has happened, he doesn’t not sugar coat it. He tells them point blank "You sold me into slavery."
He has said what they all need to hear and admit. They heart of the issue has been confronted. Speaking the sin has it made it real. But speaking the sin has now also taken away its power.
Third, Joseph found a way to see his experience and his life through the eyes of faith. He makes the claim that God was able to find some good in the situation.
In saying this Joseph is better able to come to terms with what he has endured, and in the process he helps his brothers to release their own feelings of anger and distress.
In seeing how the power of God has been able to work through all their mess, Joseph created a newness for he and his family that has negated the pain of the past, redefined the present and has opened the future to new possibilities.
Life, not bitter anger, has won the day. Joseph freed the brothers from their captivity to their sin and shame. And Joseph has moved from being defined by what they did into having what they did just become a part of his story.
So today, we are here to celebrate and embrace the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness we can give to one another, forgiveness we can give to ourselves.
It is a wonderful gift to share, but remember that forgiveness is rarely a one step deal, it is usually a process. Nor does forgiveness mean that you are going to forget: it means that you are not going to let it have power over you.
Christ asks us to forgive so that life, not death, is given a chance to grow and we can create and re-create. For example, once forgiven, I was able to go write my sermon. Once he forgave Joseph had his whole family back.
So today, the Sunday before Advent begins, let us begin the process of forgiveness.
As your pastor I stand before you asking that you forgive me for all the wrong I have done over the past 12 months. For the times I was rude, for the times I was curt.
If there was a sermon I gave or a message I shared that caused you any kind of harm, I am sorry.
For the things I said I would do that I have not done, please forgive me. For dreams I have stepped on or unwanted dreams I have shoved upon you, I am sorry.
For anything I have done that may have brought shame or dishonor, I apologize.
I ask for your forgiveness and another chance to become a better man, a better pastor and a better child of God.
...And now, as we have for the past three years, let us participate in a symbolic ritual of forgiveness.
In your bulletin are little slips of paper saying "please forgive me for" and "I forgive." You are invited to think of who you have been hurt by and who you have hurt. Write down the words that you need to say.
Then you are invited to come forward, light your paper in the dancing flame and offer it up to God as the beginning step of the healing process.
We forgive and ask for forgiveness as much for our sake as for theirs. It allows us to move beyond our traumas, and it allows us to become survivors in Christ
This doesn’t mean there won’t be times we won’t still feel angry or mourn what has happen, but it does mean we have begun the process of letting go, and letting God.
Hopefully you’ll feel a bit lighter, a bit more free. You may feel a greater sense of peace and be able to say "it is well with my soul."
Joseph found a way to forgave his brothers and brought forth new life. Jesus spent his whole career and even died speaking words of forgiveness. May forgiveness be in our hearts today.
Thanks be to God who forgives us again and again, to the Son who healed with his forgiving touch and the Spirit that speaks newness into our lives and into our relationships.
Amen and amen.

Sermon for Nov 16, 2008

Nov 16, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 39:1-23
Sermon: "In One Corner: The Kingdom of Potiphar; in the Other Corner: the Kingdom of God"
Rev. G
Today’s sermon was originally called "The Choices Others Make For us, pt. 2", but as it often happens, another message emerged and a new title has been given: "In One Corner: the Kingdom of Potiphar; in the Other Corner: The Kingdom of God"
The great theologian Shirley Guthrie once wrote that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God was already, but not yet. Which is to say that Jesus has brought the reality of God’s Kingdom down to earth, but the world is still grappling with the powers of darkness.
The concept of something being already present and yet not here can sound confusing. In life we assume things either are or are not. Either it is Sunday or it’s not. Either you are in church or you’re not. Simple, black and white logic.
So why isn’t the Kingdom of God seen in such a logical light? Either it is already here, or it is coming in the unforseen future. Yet Guthrie and other scholars have embraced that Kingdom of God in and for the world is not yet here, but is already here ( p. 283)
How can this possibly be? As a way to describe it, Guthrie uses the end of World War II as an example..
When the Allied Forces landed in Normandy, the decisive battle was fought. After Normandy, it was certain that Nazi Germany was going to lose.
Yet between D-Day and V-Day the Germans continued to fight a number of desperate battles in which many lives were lost and much damage was done, but eventually they surrendered.
It may have been clear to everyone else how the war was going to turn out even if the battles still continued for a while. The Nazi’s may have still invoked terror and killed many innocent lives, but they had lost.
This notion of the Kingdom of God being already and not yet can be seen the same way: evil and hard times may seem to win a battle from time to time, but ultimately God has already won the war.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all the proof of this that we need.
Knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven has already claimed victory over the powers of evil and darkness is supposed to help influence and shape our lives.
The Bible reminds us again and again of this victorious truth, and we gather every Sunday to celebrate and lift up this fact with one another.
So today, we remember a story that takes us from the darkest of pits to the highest heights of forgiveness and light: the Joseph narrative, where Joseph may lose a battle or two but will ultimately will win the war against evil and injustice.
When we last met Joseph, the dreamer had been attacked by his hate-filled brothers and sold into slavery. Today we pick up in Egypt, where Joseph is purchased to work for Potiphar, the captain of the guard.
God is with Joseph, and through diligence and hard work, Joseph is made overseer of all that Potiphar has. The only concern Potiphar is left with is the food he eats.
But no sooner does the blessings come that the corruptions happens. For as Potiphar goes about eating whatever he wants to eat, he leaves his household and his wife in the care of Joseph.
The wife takes one look at her husband’s young, exotic, well-built slave and beckons him to bed.
Joseph says no, but she pursues him, day after day. He declines her offers, understanding them to be an affront against his God.
Some people will read this story as a comedy, others as a morality play, but I read this as a story of abuse of power; sexual abuse, to be exact.
Abuse can be defined when a person in a position of power and authority engages in relationships and behavior with others who have no control, no perceive rights or no ability to resist.
Potiphar’s wife is the one with all the control. She is rich, Joseph is poor; she is free, he is a slave; she is a citizen granted rights and the ability for a fair trial, he as a foreigner with no rights or access to a court of appeals.
He will either do as she says or he will pay the price.
So while Potiphar is off eating or doing whatever it is he does, his wife tries once more to seduce Joseph, this time grabbing onto his clothes and when he breaks away from her, she strips him of his cloak and accuses him of rape.
In addition to her false accusations, she shifts the blame to her husband and uses racial profiling: "The Hebrew you hired has tried to hurt me."
When Potiphar hears this he becomes enraged. How quickly he forgets all that Joseph has done, how quickly he forgets the way Joseph’s godliness has brought favor into his home, how quickly he escalates the mistreatment by sending Joseph directly to jail, with no trial and no chance to defend himself.
Once again choices have been made for Joseph that he did not choose to make, and once again he is thrown into a pit, where he is left to languish, while Potiphar goes back home to his lying wife and his banquet meals.
However, as we are reminded, the Lord is with Joseph, and even when his freedom is taken away, he still prospers.
This is a story about a kingdom, a type of kingdom in which those in power stuff their faces with food while the oppressed and expendables do all the work and bare all the burdens.
This is the type of kingdom in which a good looking, well developed body is not the source of admiration and respect, but seen as something to be dominated and possessed.
This is the type of kingdom in which obedience of God is not celebrated but is met with punishment of the most legal practices.
This is the type of kingdom in which Potiphar and his wife achieved their power. It’s the kingdom in which Joseph and the Israelites becomes enslaved to.
Is this a type of kingdom that still exists today?
Is this the type of kingdom God wants for us, one in which Jesus Christ is Lord over?
How different the kingdom of Potiphar and the Kingdom of God seem to be.
For starters, just look at how food is used. How fortunate that due to the capable hands of Joseph now the only thing Potiphar has to worry about and do is to eat.
He probably had the most lavish meals. He probably gorged on rich delicacies all day, he probably had the finest wine, all while Joseph ran the household for him.
There is no mention that Potiphar shared his meals, no indication that he invited Joseph to come and sup with him, no hint that Potiphar broke bread with others.
But look at what the Bible tells us about God’s Kingdom. When the people of Israel were tired and hungry in the dessert and they cried out to God, what did God send them? Manna from the heavens and water from the rocks!
Want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is like? Turn to the book of Psalms. "The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" as Psalm 23 states. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."
And Jesus? He certainly ate a lot, but rearely alone. He ate with the rich and the poor, those in power and those who are powerless.
He made sure a wedding party had enough wine. He turned a few pieces of fish and bread into an outside picnic. He told stories in which outsiders and undesirables were invited to great feast.
And on the night he was betrayed, he took break and he broke it and he said "This is my body, which is for you"...and in the same way after supper he took the cup and he said "This is the new covenant in my blood."
The kingdom of the Potiphar may be one in which only a few get to eat while every one else slaves away, but in the Kingdom of God, our Lord makes sure we are physically and spiritually fed with food he has prepared and unselfishly served.
The Kingdom of God is already here and not yet.
In the kingdom of Potiphar, abuse and coercion rule the day. The one in power gets to make the demands, strips away one’s right to choose and punishes the innocent when they feel denied of what they see as theirs.
But the Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is something different. God chooses to call rather then coerce. God blesses us with free will rather then make us into robotic automatons. God gives us the ability to say no even though he wants us to answer yes.
God calls Moses through a fiery bush, and each time Moses gives a reason as to why not, God gives a reason as to why. God calls to Samuel not once, but four times before the boy responds.
Even when God engages Israel in a wrestling match, he approaches him as an equal, capable of resistance, and it takes all night for a resolution to appear, with no clear winner.
And when, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls forward Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, they are given the option to continue their fishing expedition or to drop their nets and follow him, becoming fishers of men.
Even when he knows Judas is about to betray him and sell his life away for a few coins, Jesus does not prevent him or take away his right to choose.
The Kingdom of God is not yet but already here.
A final illustration is that in the Kingdom where Potiphar gets to stuff his face and his wife gets to sexually abuse her servants, lies and deceit become the acceptable way of people in power to act, and the innocent are made to pay the consequence. In this story, the innocent Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, where he can not see the son.
How different from the Kingdom of God, in which the Son of God is willing to be falsely accused, to take the place of the guilty, freeing those enslaved to sin so they can embrace freedom and fellowship with one another.
In God’s Kingdom, the Lord takes on the consequence of our sins, so the mourners can rejoice, and the dreamers can dream dreams.
The Kingdom of God is already and not yet; not yet and already.
And it is all thanks to the love of God, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This Kingdom is one in which the Lord is not a tyrant or a dictator, but is instead the risen Christ whose power is self-giving love, who is not out to dominant us, rob us of our choice or out to destroy our reputation and dignity, but has risen to give free life and love to all of God’s people, be they rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, white or black and all shades and cultures in-between.
In God’s kingdom, in which Jesus is Lord, God is forever for and not against us, wanting to lovingly care for and feed us, desiring to call forward our gifts rather then beat us into submission, ruling with justice, mercy and truth, rather then injustice, cruelty and lies.
In closing, I ask you this: which kingdom is it that you long for? Which Kingdom sounds right and desirable to you?
The one where we get to stuff our face while abusing others and acting unjustly or the one in which there is food for all, where each person is called and given the freedom to choose?
Because although one kingdom may appear to win a few battles, it will not ultimately be the one to win the war. But the other Kingdom will rule for ever and ever.
For in Christ we are loosed from whatever our captivity may be, through Christ we are freed from hurting others, and with Christ we encouraged to help others become free from whatever darkness they are in.
Thanks be to God, to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ and for the Magnificent Kingdom they call us into.

Wanderings for Nov 16 and 23, 2008

Good afternoon everyone. In the midst of a busy 10 days, I have missed doing the Wanderings. So, today, I'd like to make it up by offering you two Wanderings for the price of one.

Last week we explored Genesis 39:1-23- Joseph's time in Potiphar's house in which he is falsely accused of rape and cast into jail. If you have your Bible available, it would be good to take it out and take a look at this Scripture. Sometimes scholars make the mistake of saying God is not mentioned or talked about in the Joseph narrative. But look how many times God and the Lord is mentioned here: 8 times! We're told the Lord is with Joseph, the Lord blesses the house because of Joseph, Joseph refuses the wife's advances because of God, and even when in jail we are told the Lord is with Joseph and makes whatever he does prosper.

That's a lot of God. Even when Joseph is placed in difficult situations, God has not forgotten him, God is still present. This reminds me of the promise the resurrected Christ gives in Matthew 28:20.

This is good news for us, especially during these times. It is a message that we as members of BCUCC can trust and lean on: that no matter what we go through, God is with us. No matter what our financial situation is, no matter what happens when people leave or members become sick or even die, God is with us, God is working, God is real and God is here.

And in tomorrow's reading, we discover just how present God is in Joseph's life. In Genesis 45:1-15, Joseph and his brother's are reunited, and Joseph has the chance to punish them or to forgive them. Take a look at what Joseph says. He may not come out and say "I forgive you" but it is clear that vengeance and retribution will not motivate his actions.

Listen to what Joseph speaks and notice that what his words do is bring about newness. His words speak about and over the chaos and confusion that have dominated their family, and as a response, a newness is created. Joseph speaks words of faith and with those words he gives them all a chance for a new start, for a new way to live and a new chance for them to be family.

How fitting that Joseph speaks wonderful words of life, since how does Genesis begin? By God speaking over the chaotic waters and bringing forth new life, creation, and a glorious beginning. God's spoken word creates the word, Joseph's spoken word gives the family a whole new chance. And in John 1 we discover that Jesus is the Word.

How wonderful, how amazing, how nice.

Have a blessed weekend and be good to one another.

Pastor G

"Eats, Shoots and Leaves" and "Sexual Abuse: Pastoral Responses"

Over the last three weeks I learned something important: never read two educational books at the same time. I must always balance a fun, frivolous fictional book with an educational read. Reading about punctuation and sexual abuse at the same time was too trying and dragged out the reading experience.

Both books are well written. "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" makes punctuation fun and has a sly, dry British wit. I appreciate what the author has attempted to do. She lays down the rules of punctuation, then says "But everyone has their own views and styles." Basically the book comes down to: know the rules so you know how to break them and why.

Would I read this again? No. But it'll be on my book shelve for reference and I have since caught some of my punctuation mistakes.

"Sexual Abuse: Pastoral Responses" is simple, honest and well-written. It does not shy from the truth or the issue, and uses scripture, in particular the Joseph narrative, to show how forgiving can be healing, moving one from being a victim, to becoming a survivor, from moving the abuse to being the defining moment of one's life, to becoming one of the important times of a person's life.

The book also gives good advice to what a church and church leaders should do in regards to sexual abuse policies and how healing it can be to be talked about from the pulpit.

Good book, I'd recommend it to be read.

ANTM cycle 11, episodes 11 and 12

OK: down to the final two shows. In episode 11, poor Marjorie. She thinks the secret to calming her nerves is to turn to drink. It not only calmed her, but it made her flat, forgettable, and voted off. Now let's talk about Annaleigh and McKey: wow! They keep surprising and surprising me. Annaleigh's jump in the air was brilliant, and McKey was fierce and beautiful. Poor Sam drew a blank, but in the last shot she got it right.

I expected that in episode 12 Sam would be third, McKey second and Annaleigh first. Was I wrong. Annaleigh choked during the commercial, but I think the judges unfairly booted her off. She was getting stronger and stronger each week; she fails once, goodbye! Maybe the judges were recalling that for the first few weeks she didn't do a good job and held that against her, but I cry "unfair!"

So Sam and McKey were left, and they walked the most amazing runway I have seen. Bravo to Jay's design of pink hills and stairs. But let's be honest: neither girl could work it or walk it the way Isis or Sheena or Elina or Annaleigh could have, so for a season that started strong, it ended flatter then Marjorie's drunk personality.

Yeah: McKey did a great job, but can she pull off runway and commercials? Only time will tell. Sam and Anneleigh have a future, Sheena should be seen in ads for jeans pretty soon and I still think Isis will make a name for herself.

With that said, let's see what cycle 12 will bring!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wanderings for the week of November 10-16, 2008

Happy Weekend everyone. This Sunday we are reading Genesis 37:1-36- the tale of how Joseph was attacked by his brothers and sold into slavery. Today I wish to focus on just one verse: 37:25 "Then they sat down to eat..." That verse chills me to the bones. Joseph's brothers are so full of hate/jealousy for their baby brother that they strip him of his robe (for me this is almost a rape scene), then cast him down into a dark, waterless well, where he is screaming and pleading for his life...and they sit down to eat. What kind of sick, twisted act of communion is this? How can anyone eat a meal after doing such grave injustice, while hearing another person, much less their own brother, crying out for help. How have the son's of Israel sunken so low? It makes me think of an article in the GR Press that showed photos of the Auschwitz guards at rest, singing and laughing and even sharing a meal, meanwhile they are right next to where the gas chambers are running at "full tilt." The cruelty of humanity is a horrifying thing, but if there was to be any solace, is a quote from Alice Walker who says the unimaginable suffering that humans invoke upon one another is matched and perhaps even bettered by by the sheer gentleness/kindness also found in humanity. With these thoughts I will let us go, and invite us all to think about what our responses has been to those in pain, especially the pain that we caused ourselves. May Christ be made known to you today not only in the face of others, but in the face you see in the mirror as well. Peace, Pastor G

Thursday, November 6, 2008

sermon for Nov 2, 2008

Nov 2, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 33:1-20
Sermon Title: "Shameless Love"
Rev. G

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to share with you pieces of my life story, remembering the people I love, those I have lost and how they shaped who I am today.
One of those people is my grandfather Herbert Hoover Miller. World War II vet, milk man, and poker player
Grandpa was a man’s man: in photo albums he’s chopping wood, camping, smoking a pipe. He spent his money on beer and cigarettes, had his own refrigerator stocked with spicy foods like mustard and anchovies, and always kept a jar of peppermints by his living room chair.
Grandpa was the chef of the family, making the greatest western omelettes and a seafood casserole filled with fresh shrimp and scallops.
Grandpa was the one who introduced me to fishing. We fished from the dock for snappers, we fished from row boats, motor boats and party boats for flounder and fluke. We’d eat baked chicken prepared the night before, and throw the bones and our empty soda cans into the water.
Too bad that as Grandpa grew older, he became a curmudgeon. He became more glued to the TV, had little tolerance for the noise of children, and had very clear rules on how men behaved.
When I was a child, Grandpa was affectionate, greeting me with a kiss and a hug, and I’d leave his house with a quarter in my hand and a pink peppermint in my mouth.
But once I turned 12, things changed. Grandpa informed me that men shook hands. No more would we kiss hello, but instead greet each other with a good, solid handshake.
A barrier was put upon around not only us, but the other men of the family. I stopped kissing my father good night, I shook Uncle Frankie’s hand.
I remember the day of my Confirmation: the family came over for dinner. Grandpa and Uncle Frankie greeted me with hand shakes, but my Godfather, known as Uncle Pete, came to the house, and when I, like a good young man, stuck out my hand to shake, he instead gave me a big hug and kissed me on the lips.
I was taken aback, embarrassed. Clearly Uncle Pete did not know the rules.
But here is the thing: a year later, Uncle Pete died, four years later so did my grandfather. The last form of physical contact I recall from Uncle Pete was that he shamelessly greeted me with a kiss.
The last form of physical contact I had with Grandpa? I have no idea. Probably looking at him from the front of a hospital bed.
Both men loved me, there was no doubt. But Uncle Pete had no problem expressing his love in a way that Grandpa would have considered shameless.
Love is often about being shameless. Love is often about not following the rules society has laid out before us.
Shameless love is the kind of love God has for us. Shameless love is what we read throughout the Bible. Shameless love is the kind of love we experience through Christ.
One of my professors, Dr. Steve Patterson, wrote a book called "The God of Jesus" which attempts to explore and uncover the historical Jesus.
One of the book’s chapters deals with the very concept of shame, particularly how shame was used in Biblical times to keep people their place.
As Dr. Patterson writes, shame and honor are perhaps the strongest way in which social norms are obeyed. We all know what it is like to be honored, to be told "good job", to be lifted up as an example for all to follow.
We learn what it takes to be honored, and we learn how to avoid feeling shamed.
Act inappropriately? Don’t follow the rules? Make a colossal mistake? Upset the powers that be? The person who does that brings shame upon themself, their family, their local community.
With shame comes feelings of unworthiness, being less-than; being labeled as a fool, a jerk.
Not one of us.
No one wants to feel like that. So, as Dr. Patterson writes, in times when police, lawyers and cops did not fully exist, honor and shame were the ways the community’s life was shaped.
To live honorably is to be a part of the community, to live shamefully is to be separated from the community. And no one wants to be alone, hence no one tries to bring shame.
An example would be that during biblical times Middle Eastern men did not run. Children ran, girls ran; but men? Na-ah: it was seen as shameful and beneath one’s stature to be caught running.
But following God isn’t about doing what society sees as the proper thing. In fact, as we see in biblical stories and the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, following God is often about doing the unpopular, embarrassing and shameful thing.
For weeks now we have been immersed in the Book of Genesis, following the life of Jacob: the deceit, the blessings and the struggles.
When we began Jacob was a tent-dwelling Mama’s-boy who tricked brother and father out of birthright and blessing. We were there when Jacob discovered he was at the Gate of Heaven.
We witnessed Uncle Laban trick him into marrying both his daughters, and last week Jacob wrestled with God, was renamed Israel and given a permanent limp.
Today, we come to the emotional climax of the story. Jacob and his family are heading towards the promised land...and Esau is heading right towards them with an army of 400 men.
Jacob is with his children and their mothers. He’s limping, he’s vulnerable, he has no idea what to expect. Esau once hated his brother so much that he publicly made plans to kill him.
Is Esau’s revenge about come to be?
If this was 20 years ago, Jacob would have run away, but he has changed. He has met, and grown in the Lord. He’s become a lot less self-centered.
He puts the woman and children behind him, and in an act of courageous foolishness, he limps towards his brother, bowing to him along the way. Not just once, or twice, but seven times.
Seven times he limps and bows, limps and bows, taking on the humble, submissive role of servant to his brother. The shameful role.
Jacob is utterly and completely at the mercy of his brother and his army of men.
What will Esau do?..
...Jacob’s shameful action of submission is followed by his brother’s even more shameful response: Esau runs to his brother.
Shamefully, like a child or a girl, Esau runs to Jacob. He doesn’t care that an army of 400 men can see him.
He doesn’t care if people will think that running is beneath a man of his stature.
He pays no mind to social standards and norms.
His brother is home!
Honor has no role here.
The land between them is no longer a barrier.
The decades they spent apart: dissolved.
The rage, the anger, the need for revenge disappears, to be replaced with love, shameless love.
Esau runs towards his limping, bowing brother and embraces him within his arms. He falls upon his neck, he kisses him.
And perhaps in the greatest act of shame, the two brothers weep. Not tiny dots of water appearing in the corner of their eyes, but deep fountains of tears that well up from the pits of their stomachs, erupting from their eyes, their hearts, their souls.
Shameless: from the bowing to the running to the kisses to the tears.
And they did not care.
As one writer states "bitter animosity...is swept away by forgiving love that floods their beings; barriers of fear and hatred fall, permitting the joy of renewed friendship..."1
In their act of shameless reconciliation, life, not death, rules the day, and Jacob makes the wonderful pronouncement to his brother: "...To see your face is like seeing the face of God..."2
And indeed it is God’s face...
Throughout his career, Jacob, as undeserving as he may first appear, continued to experience God in unique and unusual ways. God appears to Jacob in a dream bestowing promises and blessings. God works through the Laban’s deceitful actions. God wrestles with Jacob.
And now, through the actions of Esau, God surprises Jacob once more, by demonstrating just how shamefully full of love God is and how embarrassing God is in his forgiveness.
In Esau’s actions heaven and earth come together, and as one writer stated "In the forgiving brother is something of the blessing God."3
The shameless love of God is revealed, and the brothers are reconciled, forgiven, healed and loved...
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? For as Christians we also know of and worship an aspect of God that became revealed to us in the limping and blessing, in the bowing down and the forgiving4, in the act of shame and the radical embrace of Jesus Christ.
In Jesus was a man who allowed the love of God, not the law of man, to rule his heart and to guide his actions. And Jesus was controversial, he was boundary-breaking, he was shameless.
Jesus, who came to us as a poverty-stricken baby born to a pregnant teen. Jesus, who humbled himself by coming to John the Baptist and submitting himself to be baptized.
Jesus, who was vulnerable and tempted in the wilderness.
Jesus, who unapologetically lead the life of a wandering man, and made known the face of God when he sat with prostitutes and other known sinners, eating dinner and drinking wine while religious leaders criticized and verbally attacked him.
Jesus, the living face of God who reached out and touched the sick, the possessed, those dripping with blood, those who were dead, and those who were considered to be the nobodies of society: women, children, foreigners, those of other faiths.
Jesus, the Son of God, stepped into human history, amidst all of sinfulness, all the political and economic corruption, all the deceit and trickery, not to hatefully wipe us out, not to unleash the wrath of God, not to punish all of us with an army of angels.
But to forgive, to reconcile us back to God, to give us yet another chance to make things right with ourselves, with one another, and with God.
And in the ultimate act of shamelessness, Jesus was willing to die for us on the cross.
As Dr. Patterson writes, crucifixion was the way in which Rome literally shamed a person to death.
Jesus was left helpless, exposed to the elements, animals, people passing by, staked outside of the boundaries of the city.
God’s range of love, mercy and grace went to the extreme extent of showing God’s face on the crucified Christ, where his body was beaten and nailed to a tree...
...but even then, he shamelessly embraced us, for the nails that pierced Christ’s flesh could not prevent his still loving, embarrassing forgiveness. Nor his ability to speak the words "Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing."
As today’s story reminds us, as we see in Esau’s actions, as we experience in the life and death of Jesus, our God is a God so filled with abundant, forgiving love: shameless love.
And joyfully so.
This is not a God who says "let’s shake hands because you are too old to kiss."
This is a God who, as we come limping towards him is willing to foolishly run to us, fall upon our neck, kiss us and weep with joy.
Our God is a God who calls us to forgive our brother and our sister, to let go of our hate, let go of our need for vengeance, and to journey to places we never knew existed within our souls.
To be a Christian, to be the face of God for all the world to see, means for us to be shameless in our love for one another, to be shameless, as God is shameless, in our acts of forgiveness and in our acts of grace.
Thanks be to God who reveals his face is so many ways, to Christ who shamefully lived for God and for humanity, and to the Spirit that brings us together wether we are limping or wether we run.