Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sermon for Aug 3, 2008 Matthew 14:13-21

August 3, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21
Sermon Title: "What I Believe..."
Rev. G
Every pastor, every theologian has a core group of Scriptures that shapes their faith. This Scripture is one of those for me.
It should be no surprise to anyone that this story of Jesus breaking bread and showing radical hospitality, of Jesus being outside with people has become foundational to what I hold dear.
If you recall last week message, I truly believe that God is able to take little and make much. My belief in this is so great that it makes it difficult to attend meetings where everything is boiled down to the number of people we have in attendance and the funds in our account.
To the rest of the world those numbers may seem small. For a Fortune 500 company it would be time to close up shop and sell our property to the highest bidder.
But we are not the rest of the world. We are not corporate America or a social club. We are the Church. The Body of Christ. The living presence of God in the community.
And the God we worship, the God we believe in, is the very one who was present that early evening, when Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 20,000 people.
This story, in my mind, is not only very true, but it is very real.
Why do I believe this? First of all, it is the only miracle to appear in all 4 Gospels, the writers making sure we hear what is being said.
Why do I believe this? Because I have witnessed it in my life: at seminary when a meal designed for 8 students fed almost twenty and ended with more food then it began with. At camp when 25 people were fed with 21 boxed lunches with left over milk, meat, cheese, and fruit to spare.
Why do I believe this way? Because I’ve seen this miracle happen again and again at our church. In 2006 when a $1,000 VBS program cost only $300. How our Block Party began with a $0 budget and ended up donating a van full of left-over food to Mel Trotter’s Ministry.
I believe in this scripture to the very core of my being, and yet I am always amazed whenever I see it become true again and again. It teaches us of how God is able to take little and make much...
...And yet there are other morsels of truth to this story that we miss if we are not careful.
For you see, this story does not take place in a vacuum or in the spirit of celebration. Instead, this miraculous feeding takes place in the midst of loss, sadness and the cruelty of death.
To fully understand this story, we have to look at what happens before hand. In Matthew 14:1-12 we are told that John the Baptist has been killed by Herod; his head presented on a plate.
Herod next sets his sights on Jesus, assuming he is John raised from the dead. Meanwhile, Johns followers bury his body and tell Jesus the news.
It is here that today’s Scripture begins. Jesus is told of John’s death. He’s aware that Herod feels threatened by him. And Jesus’ response is all too human, showing us his frail side: he withdraws to a place where he could be alone.
This is, in fact a common response for Jesus anytime he feels threatened. When John was arrested, Jesus wandererd off to be by himself. When the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus, he again sought refuge in a solitary location.
This demonstrated to us the very real, vulnerable side of Jesus. This need to run away, get away and sequester himself from it all.
We can only guess why Jesus wants to be alone this time.
Perhaps he wants to privately mourn his co-worker.
Perhaps the news of John’s untimely death has brought to his mind the reality of his own: Jesus’ reaction like that of a cancer patient who’s told their roommate just died from the same cancer they share.
Perhaps he is also feeling fearful and anxious about what will happen to him. After all both he and John were speaking about the same truth.
John’s murder was an unkind reminder that you can’t speak about the Kingdom of God without the earthly king punishing you for it. Does this mean Jesus will die for his beliefs as well?
In this all-too-real sense of loss, death and fear, Jesus removes himself to be alone. But the crowd does not allow him his space: hey follow him.
When Jesus sets his eyes on the sick and needy, he is so moved with compassion that he sets aside his own needs and goes about curing their woes.
Eventually night comes and the people are hungry. The disciples offer to send them away, but Jesus says "No: you give them something to eat." And with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish, he does not blink, he does not fret, he doesn’t declare defeat.
But instead, he tells all those lost, all those sick, all those lonely people to sit on the green grass; he takes what little he has, he looks up to the heaven...
...And he gives thanks to God by blessing it.
The disciples take the blessed and broken bread and fish, and pass out it out until not only has everyone eaten their fill but there are leftovers.
This is what I believe to be the power of the story: that in the midst of John’s supremely cruel death, in the midst of political unrest, in the midst of Jesus’s great fear about the future, he still found the ability to look towards heaven and to give God thanks.
Jesus did not give in to his fear. He didn’t look at what little they had and proclaimed defeat.
But Jesus looked at who he was, at what they did have. He looked at the people, he looked at the lonely place they were at, and he managed to find a way to give thanks.
Is that not a testimony to hold onto?
A miracle in the dessert; plenty in the midst of death and loss.
But even more then that: for me, this is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry. Through what has happened to John, Jesus gets a glimpse of what will happen to him.
Jesus could have taken what Herod did to John as as a threat to his life, as a reason to leave, and decide there and then that his ministry was done.
He could have said "That’s it, no more. The party’s over."
Jesus could have wandered away into the wilderness and when the people followed him, he could have been moved by hatred and fear and said "Enough of you all: go away, leave me alone."
In the shadow of the death of his friend and the foretelling of what was to come, Jesus could have turned his back on the people, he could he turned his back on the disciples, he could have turned his back on God, and left them all behind.
He did not have to heal them that day or any other. He didn’t have to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven. He could have left them all to starve by themselves in that wilderness.
Jesus could have walked away from it all, wandered into the next town, settled down anonymously, spent the rest of his life as a carpenter, find himself a nice Jewish wife, raise a household of children.
He could have lived out his days, attending the weddings of his sons and daughter, welcomed grandchildren onto his knee, grown old and grey and died of old age, in his bed, surrounded by generations of his seed.
Jesus could have permanently walked away. But he didn’t.
For somehow in the midst of loss, and death, fear and loneliness, Jesus found a way to look towards heaven and give thanks.
Somehow Jesus found the audacity to think "So, they punished John for telling people about the Kingdom of Heaven. Well let me show them what the Kingdom of Heaven is like."
And in that wilderness, surrounded by thousands of folk, Jesus took the bread, he looked up towards heaven, he blessed it, and fed them.
Jesus gave thanks, and it wasn’t just a simple action but a bold declaration that said "I am still here and God is still working."
And that act of radical thankfulness not only spoke to the people back then, but to all of the gospel writers and to all of us today. For just as Jesus was all too human and vulnerable at that moment, so are we at various times in our lives.
We have all faced threats of various kinds. Threats that come from the outside. Threats from people who don’t like who we are, don’t like what we have to say, don’t like how we think.
We’re all faced with threats of scarcity. How to make our groceries stretch. How to pay our bills. How to fix the car. How to care for our children.
We are all faced with threats we seemingly have no control over. Threats of our health. Threats to our sanity. Threats from leaders and governments that are foolishly run or wish to do us harm.
And sometimes those threats, those fears make us want to run away. To hide out. To forget everything we have learned and all that we have known.
To turn our back on everyone, and to turn our back on God.
Sometimes temporarily running away can be the healthy thing to do. Sometimes, like Jesus, we just need to get away from whatever is bothering us and to spend some time alone, with God.
But there also comes the time when we have to reenter life, and we have to make a choice: Do we run away permantely?
Or do we stop, look around, and find the courage to look up to the heavens and give thanks and blessing to God for what we have?
Because the truth of the matter is that running away will never be the final answer.
But finding the courage to look at what we have, finding the courage to look towards heaven and seek out God, well that is that start of new hopes and new beginnings.
That is that start in becoming your own hero and a way of declaring "in the midst of it all, and through the help of God, I’m still here."
I believe that Jesus had the chance and good reason to leave it all behind. But somehow, in someway he the courage to continue being who God called him to be.
And he demonstrated to himself and to everyone else around that through God what may seem like a little can indeed become much.
But first he had to look up towards the heavens.
And then he gave thanks.
May you find the courage this week to give thanks as well.
All glory and honor be to the father that meets us in our lonely place, to the Son who feeds us when we are hungry and to the Spirit that multiplies what little we have.

Halloween: H2O

Last night I watched the 1998 film "Halloween: H2O" which came as a response to the popularity of the "Scream" films. It's a fun flick, obviously from the late 90's. It takes its time to establish the story then once Michael Meyers begins killing, they happen quick and about 4 people die within a limited amount of time.

What makes this film unique is Jamie Lee Curtis' role of Laurie Strode, Michael's sister. Even after 20 years she still is his "victim", having nightmares of him, making her and her son live a life shaped by fear and the possibility that Michael may come back to kill her.

Laurie has made herself a prisoner, living behind a security-guarded gate.

But then one Halloween night Michael does come back for her. After a truly suspenseful moment when he chases her son and girlfriend, Laurie places them in a van and tells them to drive away. They resist at first, but then Laurie convinces them to leave.

Then she takes matters into her own hands: she destroys the gate so it can not be opened. She steps into the building, breaks the glass protecting the fire ax and sets about, in her own way, on her own terms, to hunt down Michael Meyers, her own personal monster.

This is one film finale in which its not about a woman being a victim, but a woman deciding against all else, not to be a victim, Laurie fights Michael and even when the police come and tell her Michael is dead, Laurie knows enough it is not true. And perhaps for one of the first time in a modern slasher horror films, the ending is a definite end, where monster and intended victim face off, both equal, both vulnerable.

Is this the greatest horror film? No. But I would recommend this film for anyone who has ever been victimized, for anyone who has felt their freedom taken away. for anyone who is tired if living in fear, even if it means facing your fear and possibly dying.

The power of the movie is that Laurie decides, live or die, she is going to do it her way.

Amen, sister.

Chez Moi

Last week I finished the book Chez Moi by French author Agnes Desarthe. It's a bit like foreign films: slow, relaxed pace, portraying people as they are: both good and bad, asking us not to judge but to accept their humanity. About a woman with a "past" who opens up a small restaurant in France, this is the kind of book you enjoy if you know anything about cooking and the love, mystery that goes into making dishes for others to eat.

There are two parts of the books that spoke to me. The main character, Myriam, recounts the days after her act of sin, when she wandered town with her suitcase. As she recalls "I was petrified with shame for my very existence and for doing what I had done. I was unrecognizable, even to myself. There was nowhere I could put myself, nowhere to sleep. I felt like a hunted animal." (pp 83-84). Later, on page 239-240 she talks about how humans are on the fringes of the food chain, and how the big predators (the ones who do not get eaten) should hold a council together. There would be lions, crocodiles, killer whales, tigers, bears. Humans would be the honorary member and the "herbivorous pachyderm", Professor Elephant, would be the mediator.

Which, now as I write, helps me understand a bit more what I consider the soul of the book. Pages 200-201 where Myriam feels as if her friends are creating a new world for her and she is afraid. She refers to Alice in Wonderland, noting that Alice had a bottle that said DRINK Me and a cake that read EAT ME. Alice drinks and she's stretched like a sapling. "Too small, too big, my life keeps changing proportions and I'm never the right size for what I'm trying to do." She wishes she could live her life not feeling too exposed or too cramped. Like Alice, Myriam feels she is never the right size.

Originally, Chez Moi was titled "Eat Me" which the American publishes felt too vulgar, but it fits the feelings Myriam experiences.

This is not a book I would recommend to everyone. It starts off fast, the mystery of her sin takes time to establish and then quickly glanced at, the characters a bit too gloomy and the ending comes quick and resolves everything right away. But there is also mystery and space to fill in with the reader's imagination. And there is Myriam's love for cooking and for her little restaurant that lives off of the page.

If you like to cook, if you like tails of redemption and forgiveness, then this is a good, but not great, read.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sermon for July 27, 2008 Matthew 13:31-52

July 27, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 13:31-52
Sermon Title:"Baking Bread with Lucy and Ethel"
Rev. G
Today we hear a variety of parables from Jesus regarding the Kingdom of Heaven, a concept that means different things to different people. There are those who see it as another way of saying the word "heaven" and where we will go when we die.
There are others, the UCC included, who say the Kingdom of Heaven is a political and social concept that has the ability to break into our world and create a new way.
To make things even more complicated, many in the UCC say the Kingdom of Heaven is something that is "already, and not yet." What this means is that there are places and times in which we see God’s Kingdom in action and times and places in which we don’t.
An example would be our Block Party, where all are welcomed and allowed to gather with food, fellowship and fun. Others will point to our food pantry, UCOM and Pilgrim Manor as places in which the Kingdom has become present.
The not yet part comes in all the acts of oppression, neglect and abuse that still happens. The not yet part is not about negativity, but hopeful expectation that one day there will be freedom for all and the hungry and homeless no longer wander the streets.
I personally think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a spirit of gratefulness and spiritual blessedness that works to transform us, reshape us and open us up to new ways of life. And I believe that we all can play a part in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven about through our actions and way of life.
I look around at our world, our community, where I live and can point out where the Kingdom of God already exists, and where the Kingdom is not yet.
So, today we hear a variety of parables about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Jesus uses images of fields, coins and fish to teach his lessons. Each parable is unique and uses the ordinary to talk about the extraordinary and unexpected.
It should be no surprise to anyone that the image that stuck out to me the most is the woman making bread. And I can’t help but to think back to the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy and Ethel bake bread.
Regardless if you saw the show on first run or repeats, you know this episode. It’s the men verses the women: Lucy and Ethel bet Ricky and Fred $50 that they can live like people back in 1890. The losing team is the first to slip up and use a modern convenience
The chaos ensues. They wear period clothes. Ethel spends $23 trying to turn milk into butter before realizing she’s supposed to use cream. Ricky rides a horse to work and takes a bath in a copper tub placed in the kitchen
And Lucy makes bread. She misreads the ingredients and puts 13 cloves of yeast into the flour, not realizing she only needs three. She lets the dough rise. And it rises, and rises, and when it begins to spill out of the bowl, Lucy tries to put it into a bigger bowl, but that doesn’t work.
Eventually Lucy puts this pile of growing dough onto a cookie sheet and pops it into the oven. Later, when she walks back into the kitchen she notices the over door is slightly ajar. Curious, Lucy walks over and opens the oven door... and out comes this enormous loaf of bread: one foot, three feet, five feet, eighteen feet of bread! comes barreling out of the oven, pinning her against the kitchen sink.
Eventually, both teams admit defeat. To celebrate Lucy brings out a slice of bread that’s 2 foot by six inches and topped with Ethel’s 23 dollar butter. The episode ends with the four of them taking a bite out of the bread all at once.
Extravagant and unexpected indeed. Not to mention a wonderful secular image of communion and today’s parable.
Though this particular parable is just one sentence long it contains so much information about the Kingdom of God. Three of the things I’d like to talk about today is how the parable contains images of work and rest, how it reveals the mysterious, surprising nature of God’s kingdom, and the over-all image of abundance
Chapter 13, verse 33 reads: "The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman takes and hides in with three measures of four until all was leavened." First, let’s talk about work and rest.
I don’t know how many of you have ever made bread, but that was a winter time tradition in my home. Because my Mom loved to give gifts, but didn’t have the money, she and I would make homemade bread to give out as Christmas presents to my teachers, the school bus driver, the mail man, whoever.
Making homemade bread has to be one of life’s most enjoyable experiences. We worked from the dining room table. Mixed in the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Then heated up butter, milk and water, poured it into the batter, stirred it around, added some more flour, covered it, let it sit.
10 minutes later roll it out. The texture of the dough between your fingers. The physical release of kneading, punching and rolling out the dough. The flowering of the rolling pin and table. The shaping of the bread and the pinching of the seams to make it all hold together.
Like riding a bike it is something you never forget how to do.
And the smell of a home warmed by the baking of fresh bread! Perhaps the most beloved smell of all.
So making bread requires work, after all the ingredients won’t mix themselves. You have to bring them together.
The yeast introduced to the flour and stirred about. That means using a spoon, utilizing your triceps, biceps, shoulders. It means being willing to get flour on you, getting dirty, dedicating time and focus to the task. It means being in the kitchen where its hot and you may break into a sweat.
It’s true that the dough won’t mix itself. But for the yeast to accomplish its goal you need to step back. And here’s where the rest comes in. In order for the dough to rise, you have to cover it, put it in a good location, and give it time to do its thang. 10 minutes, twenty minutes, thirty, forty and the yeast begins to work its wonders and rise the dough.
This is like the Kingdom of God. That often times for it to break into our world and become a reality, we must be willing to do some of the work, we must be able to find a way to combine the right ingredients, and it requires time, triceps and getting a bit messy.
But then we have to step back, and watch and trust that God will do what God needs to do.
This becomes a time of rest, of creating breathing room for the mystery and will of God to work without our intervention, on Gods own time, in Gods own way.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman baking bread because for it to become realized it requires that we be willing to work, but we also be willing to rest. Second, the Kingdom of God also holds a hint of mystery.
Note that the woman hides the yeast. It is secretly placed in with the flour. It sounds like a covert operation. A person not paying attention will look at the flour and think its just this powdery concoction that’s bland and boring. But something happens. Over time the yeast causes the flour to rise and the dough to grow.
Anyone who has made homemade bread is aware of this mystery.
After you roll it into its shape, you place the dough into a greased pan and cover it, letting it sit for about 45 minutes. Come back, and what happens? The dough is suddenly half its size!
How does it do that? What are the magical properties of yeast? How does something that begins small, dry and in a tiny packet all of a sudden grow and expand? How does something so seemingly insignificant create such a noticeable change?
This can also be said about God’s kingdom. Shoot, its something we can’t ordinarily see. It’s not like an office building or a castle that you can touch. Its something some people doubt exists or debate about. Others spend there whole life looking for it or waiting for it to happen.
And like the magical way the yeast expands the dough, its always fun to watch how the Kingdom of Heaven is slowly, spiritually, almost magically revealed to people. As a pastor I get to witness this all the time. The Kingdom becomes real through a scripture, or song, a sermon preached or the testimonies of another.
The parable shows us the kingdom of heaven as a place of surprising mystery that we assist in creating through work and rest. Finally, its also a place of absurd abundance.
We are told the woman hides the yeast in three measures of flour. Don’t make the mistake and think three measures is equal to three cups: it is more like 50 pounds of flour.
This means that like in "I Love Lucy", the bread that comes out of this woman’s oven will be enough to feed over 100-150. That’s a lot of bread!
This amount of flour used symbolizes the abundance that exists in Gods kingdom. It reminds us of how God desires to feed and care for us all, giving us not only what we need to be happy, but an abundance of it.
And because the woman is making so much bread, we can’t help but to think of the Kingdom being a festive occasion: glorious communion where every one can gather and eat.
As members of the UCC, we can believe that the Kingdom is already here, making itself known to us, but we can also say that it is not yet fully here since there are still so may people who are hungry for God.
The good news is that we, as Christians, are like that woman. We already have the ingredients needed, the symbolic yeast and flour. Although we may not always know what the yeast will be.
Could it be the way we great someone before worship or downstairs in the Fellowship Hall? Could it be during the passing of the peace? Vacation Bible School, worship at Lamar, the Block Party, the meals we serve all have ways of acting in other people’s life the way that yeast does.
Nor will we ever know what the spiritual yeast is that can causes the flour in our own soul to grow. For some it may be the moment of baptism. For others the taking of communion. A lesson learned at Sunday school, a new hymn sung or a children’s message heard.
The yeast that enters into our souls and transforms us can come in so many forms. An e-mail received, a scripture read, a prayer shared.
It can even come in the form of a health crises, a dire situation, a journey we did not expect to take, or the person we reach out to who we discover is reaching right back.
Because the Kingdom of God is already here, and still on its way, every moment we live is a yeast moment. Every encounter, every experience, every step in creation, becomes a chance when the goodness of God and the secret of the kingdom is hidden, planted, into the flour of our being or the beings of others.
Although it may seem hidden at first, there it is, waiting to grow. And through a combination of work and rest, mystery and abundance, it begins to change and expand until what at first seemed simple and ordinary becomes extraordinary and delicious.
Like Lucy’s 18 foot loaf of bread the kingdom of God pushes out of the limited constraints we can imagine, expanding and moving, able to feed 2 of us, 4 of us, 150 and beyond in a banquet of God’s’s goodness.
In conclusion, we are all that woman. We all have the ability to mix yeast with flour. With and through God we all have the ability to assist making the kingdom of God more present and to make it more real.
May God bless you day with his unexpected surprises, may you grow to know Jesus as the bread of life and may the mystery of the Spirit be a source of abundant joy.
Amen and amen.

Attack of the Theater People

In my attempt to read even 1/4 of the books of good friend, CoffeePastor, I recently finished a fun, frivolous read called "Attack of the Theater People" by Marc Acito. It has one of the greatest book covers ever. Set in the 1980's, it follows the adventures of Edward Zanni who is kicked out of Juliard for being "too jazz-hands". Living on little-to-no-cash, Edward and his theater-geek friends have a series of mishaps, from putting together a radical version of "The Music Man" with a deaf leading man and blind leading lady, to trying to incriminate a stockbroker for insider training.

The writing is OK. Its hard to tell if the author intentionally made Edward seem so "oh my God! It's all about me and how dreadfully fabulous my life is" or if this is the author's real voice. As with any book, no matter how trivial, there is a scene with real heart where everything slows down and comes together.

Edward and his friend Paula sneak into a matinee to see Barbara Cook sing. During the concert he realizes Barbara is everything they say you're not supposed to be: fat, breaking down the fourth wall between audience and actor, raw and "jazz hands."

"Look at her," Paula says "Who gives a s&%t if she's fat? Look at what she can do. She doesn't let it stop her. It's like Marcus says-if you're an artist create art. Don't sit around waiting for someone to give you permission."

As an encore, Barbara sings without a microphone, her voice fills the hall and her face breaks into a smile that says "let me show you how we did it in the old days." Edward describes her as if she is singing directly to the people, both blessing them and offering a word of prayer.

After the concert, Edward and his friend leave the hall and are greeted by the honking horns of too many cars stuck in traffic. Edward notices that there is an ambulance trying to get through but can't. Edward breaks out of his self and realizes there is someone in that ambulance, that someones life hangs on the line and says "We've got to help."

"What can we do?" Paula asks.

Edward looks at the cars and says "We'll get them to move a steps." And one by one Edward and Paula convince each car to move four inches one way, three inches back, five inches to the side, until a space clears and the ambulance is bale to make its way through.

None of the drivers hesitates and all of them do as Edward and Paula ask.

Pretty powerful stuff, even if it lasts for all but two pages before the silliness resumes. But it creates the heart of the novel and the turning point for out narrator.

Would I recommend the book? For a summer read yes.

Wanderings for the week of July 21, 2008

Good morning everyone.

This Sunday we continue with the parables of Jesus, reading Matthew 13:31-35, 44-53

I will focus only on (surprise, surprise) vs. 33 which is about the woman baking bread.

Jesus' parables are always interesting because the defy convention and our expectations.

Here Jesus surprises us in a few ways. First, the kingdom of heaven is like a woman who hides yeast in three measures of flour. To place a woman into a role that brings about the Kingdom goes against so much hetero-patriarchal understandings of Jesus' and our time.

Second, if you recall from the Old Testament, yeast was used as a symbol for evil and corruption. Remember, the escaping slaves were told to make unleavened bread for their Passover meal.

Thomas G. Long writes all about this. He writes that back then, to say "yeast leavens the loaf" was the same as saying "one bad apples spoils the bunch." Yet Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a woman who hides yeast in the flour. It is as if Jesus is turning the notion or corruption on its head. Its as if Jesus is saying the kingdom of heaven is a hidden force that works silently to corrupt our world.

Long recalls that there was once a country song that featured the lyrics "You're gonna ruin my bad reputation." This is how he interprets this scripture. That the ways of the world work in one way, but God's kingdom pervades the world, corrupts it in Gods way, and transforms the bland flour of our life into the joyous bread of our life.

I like Long's use of he country song and I wonder what other expressions could be used to explain this parable.

I hope all is well and you enjoy this beautiful, restful week.

peace, Pastor G

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July 20, 2008 sermon

July 20, 2008
Scripture: Romans 8:18-22
Sermon Title: "Creation Groans"
Rev. G
Listen to these words from God about a land that has suffered from pollution of every kind:
(Jeremiah 3:19)
"I thought how I would...give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful heritage of all the nations
And I thought you would call me "My Father"
and would not turn from following me...
(8:18)(but now) my joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
(9:10)Take up weeping and wailing for the mountains,
and lamentations for the pastures of the wilderness,
because they are laid waste so that no one passes through,
and the lowing of cattle is not heard
both the birds of the air and the animals have fled and gone.
(12:4) How long will the land mourn,
and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
the animals and birds are swept away...
(12:10-11) many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard,
they have trampled down my portion,
they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
They have made it a desolation;
desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
but no one lays it to heart.
(14:2-6) (The city) mourns and her gates languish;
they lie in gloom on the ground
and the cry of the city goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water,
they come to the cisterns,
they find no water...
because the ground is cracked...
The farmers are dismayed;
they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the fields forsake her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
The wild donkeys stand on bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage."
Sounds like it could be taken from today’s headlines, couldn’t it?
God has given his people the most beautiful of land, but instead of treating it respectfully, they have went about polluting it.
They’ve polluted the land socially, neglecting the needs of the oppressed and poor. They have polluted the land politically, aligning themselves with countries they have no business with.
They’ve trampled the earth to the point that the birds have fled, the rain has stopped and the donkeys have no more plants to eat.
These aren’t words ripped from the headlines of 2008, or even 1908, but from 2,500 years ago.
The prophet Jeremiah is giving a message to the people condemning them for not appreciating the beautiful world God has blessed them with and for disrespecting the earth and one another.
Sadly, it is a message that we still need to hear today.
I vividly recall a newstory years ago. A gas station exploded in Iraq when a bunch of drunken partiers shot off their guns, hitting a gas tank. A car exploded, killing innocent children, the earth consumed in flames and a mother runs screaming in front of the flames, her hands outstretched.
Creation groans in Illinois where a small town sits on top of 1-3 million gallons of gasoline that has seeped into the ground. When it rains the petroleum rises up and people’s basements smell of fumes. When it gets too dry people’s homes have been known to burst into flames.
Creation groans at my apartment complex when people shoot off fireworks. The sound interrupts the days tranquility and remnants of the rockets float on top of the lake. A small bass comes to lake’s surface to see if its edible food. I wonder what the long-term affects this will have to the water, and what will this mean for the children who swim there all summer long.
These are just three examples Creation suffering.
Its being depleted of its resources. Its body is contaminated; all living and non-living things are suffering from the lifestyle choices of the human creature.
As Paul, in his letter to the Romans, clearly states: Creation is groaning. And if it was groaning back then in his time, image the sound it’s making now.
...But, as always, there is new hope. Over the last 20 years or so there has been a new movement in Christianity, called ecotheology. Eco meaning the environment, theology meaning the study of God.
Ecotheologians will tell you that all of Creation belongs to God, and is a gift given by God to us. Created in God’s image, we have been called to help care for and look after the plants, animals, land and waters.
Ecotheologians will also say that when God created the world, it was not just for the sake just humans, but for the sake of all living things.
And Paul’s letter has helped propel their way of thought. For in Romans 8:18-25 we clearly hear of the symbiotic relationship between humans and non-humans: when one falls, so does the other; when one succeeds, so does the other.
According to Paul, humans and non-humans share the same fate. Which is great news for all when it comes to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the grace we have freely received.
Paul’s logic is simple: because Creation fell with humans, then Creation will also find restoration and rest, just as humans do, through the salvation and grace offered by Jesus Christ.
This is not a radical, hippie tree-hugging thought originating in California, circa the 1960's, but a deeply introspective, spiritual realization produced by the greatest Christian missionary living across the globe, circa the original 60s.
Biblically speaking, the earth and all of Creation has always played a special role in the Scriptures. After all, the Bible begins with the act of Creation. The implication is that not only is it God who created, but that Creation comes from and belongs to God.
Psalm 104 picks up on this theme as it praises God for stretching out the heavens and making springs gush from valleys. The Psalmist goes a step further, making it very clear that God did not just create the world for the sake of humans, but for the animals as well
Night allows the animals of the forest to come creeping out. The springs give drink to every wild animal, trees grow by streams so birds have a place to build their nests, and the mountains become a place for the goats.
And what did God ask from us? To rule and watch over what he created. But we failed in so many ways.
By chapters 3 and 4 of Genesis sin has already crept into our hearts and it is the environment that pays the price.
Figs are pulled from their branches to make clothes. The serpent and ground are cursed. Animals are killed for their hide. Childbirth becomes painful. Brother kills brother, and the earth swallows the spilt blood.
Creation began groaning then, and continues to groan now. What will it take for the groaning to stop? Perhaps an earthquake that will rock the world and swallow all us humans up? Maybe a human deliverer, say an ecologically minded Moses?
Or perhaps the answer has already arrived...
...According to the words of Paul, Jesus Christ is the one to save Creation and stop its groaning.
Ecotheologians embrace this notion. They say that through Christ we enter into the story amazing grace. And this grace is not just extended to us, but to all of Creation.
If we follow the logic of Paul, sin has lead us to mistreat Creation. But in Christ there is restoration, for in Christ that sin is erased, causing our behavior to change.
Think about it: if through Christ our actions towards one another and ourselves change, then it makes sense that so would our actions towards the rest of Creation.
When we realize and accept the grace of Christ, we begin to act more caring and responsible. We become aware of our relationship with God and our relationship with everyone and everything else.
Through our own salvation in Christ comes the possibility of salvation for all living things because the grace we receive is the grace we share, freeing ourselves and all else from the bondage we’ve been in.
For different people, these ecological acts of grace will come in different ways. Some will feel called to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter rather then give their business to a puppy mill.
Others will try to purchase their clothes, furniture and household goods second hand so there is not as much going into landfills.
Some may buy organic and locally grown produce so gas is not wasted in transport and dangerous chemicals don’t seep into the ground. Others may buy free range eggs and chickens knowing the animals had the chance to live life as an animal should: in the sun, standing on grass rather then tethered to a stall or squashed in a cage.
As we continue to respond to Christ’s voice, we will hear with fresh ears the call from God to return to our original roles of being good stewards of the earth.
And we will realize that whenever we plant a garden, put up a birdfeeder, even recycling our papers, we are helping God take care of his glorious Creation
In his letter to the Romans, Paul calls us to be children of Christ, wonderfully inclusive of all living and non-living life. Animals, plants, elements, and other humans are no longer mere objects to be manipulated and discarded. But to be properly and tenderly treated.
Through this grace, Creation has the chance to go back to being good. Wild donkeys will have water to drink, cattle have plenty of grass to eat.
Creation moves from groaning but to praising God with the hills singing for joy and the floods clapping their hands.
The good news is we see this already happening with the Paper-Gators popping up around town. Products coming in less wasteful packaging and the exploration of alternative power.
In conclusion, today’s message began with a rather devastating look at the environment crises. So let’s end with biblical words of hope. Hear now the promise of the earth’s restoration due to the actions and the grace of God and the faithfulness of us, his people.
(Jer 31:7-17) For thus says the Lord
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob
and raise shouts for the chiefs of nations...
They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall be like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance
and the young men and old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow...
And my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Creation may be groaning now, but as each one of us draws closer and closer to Christ, through his grace we can lessen the earth’s burdens and diminish its pain.
What is it Christ is calling you to do today?
All thanks be to God who created our world, the Son who came to save all of it and to the Spirit that refreshes us all, making each of us anew.

July 18, 2008 Wanderings

Greetings everyone. It's Friday. The last day of Little Star VBS. The day before our Block Party.Our Scripture for this Sunday is taken from Romans 8:12-25. It's a letter from Paul that has one of my favorite lines- "For we were not given the spirit of slavery to fall into fear." It also features a theme that I wrote one of my seminary papers about: the groaning of Creation and how, as Paul understands it, Creation and humanity are tied together. When humans sin, the earth suffers. When humans are redeemed, the earth heals. Therefor, the saving acts of Jesus are not just for humans alone, but all things created.Beautiful.Today I wish to take the theme of Creation and share a lesson I was reminded of this week.Many years ago I purchased a plant that does well when it is kept in direct sun. It's an inside plant, so I have tried the best I can to give it that sun, and I guess over the last two years I have taken for granted that it is surviving on my bookshelf facing the sliding door.Well, earlier this week I wanted to try something different. I took the plant and placed it outside on my patio table. It gets shade in the morning, but brilliant, hot, direct sun in the late afternoon. Wouldn't you know it: by the end of day one there was already a new, itty bitty leaf growing. By day two I saw that the leaves were beginning to show stronger reds and yellows in them. By day three, the leaves and stems looked as if they were standing up taller. By today it looks like a completely new, invigorated plant.For the past few years that plant had been hanging on, not getting smaller, but certainly not growing or reaching its full potential. Surviving, was probably the best word to describe what it was doing,Thriving is what it is doing now. And why? Because it was moved. But I did something different. And doing something different made all the difference. It brought new life, new color, new growth.Can I get an "Amen!"Just like this week. For the third year we have being offering Little Star VBS. It has been, by all means, a success, touching the lives of over 20 children over the past two years. This year, Jenny wanted to do something different. Instead of offering it during the day, it was moved to the night. Instead of offering breakfast and lunch, we offered dinner. And instead of just putting up a sign outside, we handed out flyers about it when we canvassed the neighborhood regarding the block party.And the VBS has grown and thrived. Every day we have an abundance of children, and each day a new child arrives. For example, on Monday we had 13 people present, by Wednesday there were 19.We tried something different and it worked. And the children (and as as adults) are growing in Christ, we're filled with new joy and they are really taking to heart what they are learning.I can't help but to wonder what lessons we can learn from this experience. Have we been like my plant, surviving but not reaching our full potential? What will it take for us to branch out, grow new leaves, reclaim our vibrant colors? What changes will it take? And are they changes as simple as the ones involving the plant and VBS?How is God ready to bless us if we allow ourselves better placement in the sun (Son?)Just something to think about.Have a blessed day.Peace, Pastor G

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July 13, 2008 sermon Matthew 13:1-9

July 13, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9
Rev. G
Have you ever met someone who seems so spiritual, so Christian, it radiates from their very being? Someone so full of life it’s contagious, whose smile has the light of the world?
If so, have you had the chance to sit down and talk with them? I mean really talk? And talking discover that the person’s life has not always been easy, not everyone in their life has been nice, and it seemed as if trouble would last always?
These are the people I’m most impressed with. I am amazed to hear what some people have physically endured. I’m inspired by those who have lost everything and found their way back.
I am astounded at how the spark of life continues to shine in those who have faced the darkest of night. Of those who can proudly sing "This is my story, this is my song" even though they faced the most grueling circumstances you could imagine.
In other words, it is as if they are the most beautiful of flowers, but first they had to make their way up through the muckiest of dirt.
Jesus, in today’s scripture, talks about seeds and soil, referring to a farmer who is sowing his fields.
Some seeds are eaten by birds. Some land among the rocks in which they quickly grow and just as quickly die out. Others fall among the weeds and are choked off from life.
But other seeds fall into good soil, where they strike root and grow and producing a bounty of 30, 60, a 100 fold.
Now that’s some good bounty. That’s some good soil. But what is it that makes soil so good?
I had a chance last month to learn a about gardening and soil when I purchased plants to be placed around my tree. I went to the flower shop off of 28th and asked for plants grew in the shade. The man lead me to red leaf begonias, saying they would do fine. I asked what else I needed and he pointed me to a bag of cow manure.
I’ve never purchased manure before, but I figured he knew best, so I returned home with 8 begonias and 10 pounds of manure and went to work; digging and planting, covering the plants and the tree with the dried-out manure.
And wouldn’t you know it: he was right! The begonias are thriving , their colors popping.
That little tree that just a few months ago was a twig now stands six feet high and sparrows are now sitting in it between trips to the feeder.
The success of the tree and the begonias can be attributed to sheer luck, the amount of care they receive, but also what has been placed in the soil.
Too bad I can’t meet that cow and say thank you, because her poop has sure made the soil good.
Animal manure has been used for centuries as fertilizer. Not only is it cost effective, but it’s rich in nitrogen and other nutrients that help plants to grow. It traps in good bacteria which allows organisms to feed on it, making the ground fertile.
But it does more then that. Manure increases the grounds ability to hold water, lessens wind and water erosion, and improves aeration.
That’s a lot of good stuff that comes from something so stinky.
But there is something else about manure. For it to work best, it can not be fresh. It’s best if the droppings are allowed time to sit, to break down, before being added to the soil.
Now this is probably more then you ever expected to hear about the subject at church. But Jesus teaches us about seeds that grows in good soil.
And the truth is that really good soil, the kind in which you want to grow your plants and trees, is soil enriched with and made better by manure.
Which, when you think about it, makes Jesus’ parable about the sower much more interesting..
Anyone who works the earth can tell you that nature is full of mystery. There’s a lot of waste and death. But nature is designed to take that which is broken down and dead and use it to create new life.
And that good soil is not soil full of sugar and spice and everything nice, but good soil is full of decaying matter, a multitude of organisms, and often times, manure.
I believe this applies to people as well. That when you stop, and think about it, it is not always the good things that happen to us that makes us who we are as Christians. It is usually the bad, difficult, heartbreaking things we’ve encountered that have molded and shaped who we are.
Think about it. Think about who you are and where you are today. Is it so much because of all your successess and happy times that have gotten you here? Or has it been the losses, the struggles, the sacrfices that you have had to make?
Think back to the times when you have felt God’s presence the most, when the words of Jesus struck you the closest. Was it when life was full of all goodness and sugar? Or was it when you when life seemed to be filled with manure and decay?
We have each had our own struggles, our own pain, our own manure.
For me that manure has been living far away from home, dealing with deaths of so many loved ones, financial and professional struggles.
What is the manure you have had to face? Your hurts and pains? The disappointments, feelings of abandonment?
Who has death robbed you off? What are the dreams you have had to leave behind?
I ask these things because often times we try not to think about them. We try to ignore them. They bother us and they stink.
But those aches and pains, those become your own personal manure.
Those are the things that hurt and smell and we wish to run away from at the time, but those become the same elements God breaks down, uses and transforms into the nutrients that make us who we are.
Nutrients that make us suitable for the specific ministry God is calling us too.
Those elements of decay and loss may appear to you as waste, but to God they actually work together to become ground for new life and the fulfillment of purposes you have yet to realize.
God takes all that junk we experience and through the miracle of grace and his love, uses them to build us up. Creating in us soil that is able to weather erosion from the wind because we have faced it before and realized that we can survive.
Soil that is able to hold water because we know enough now of what to keep in and what to let go.
Soil that is good and ready to create a place for God to plant a seed within us, where it can strike roots, grow, and makes its way to the surface.
A seed that is able to say "Despite it all, I am still here."
When we try to hide that loss and pain from God, we are often times prevent the opportunity for God to plant that seed of new beginning we so much can benefit from.
So, in conclusion, when life does not go our way, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves hurt and lonely, feeling like a failure, sometimes the best thing we can do is say "Lord, this is all my stuff that I am going through and been through. I can’t make any sense of it. I don’t like it. It hurts. It stinks.
So I am giving it up to you. Take it from me. Do with it what you must. Break it down. Till it. Use it for your good, turn it into soil that you can plant your seeds, so your kingdom will grow, so something beautiful can emerge.
I know you are real and I am trusting that you can."
And after you say these words, step back because you will be amazed.
Be patient because God will make something grow.
As mysterious and unconventional at it may sound, God will take that manure you have faced, God will take all the manure you have been through, and from there create new life and create new hope.
From there God will create something that makes everyone, including yourself, step back and say "Wow. This is truly God, and this is truly good."
Only the most beautiful flowers and abundant crops come from soil that has been strengthened by all the problems and adversities we have faced.
We may not see it this season, or the next, but it is there, and God is working.
All thanks be to the Master Sower, to the Son who helps plant the seeds and to the Spirit that continues to shower us with joy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wanderings for July 13, 2008 Matthew 12:1-23

Peace and joy to everyone today.

The reading for this Sunday is a familiar one: the parable of the sower found in the Gospel of Matthew 13:1-23. Just as with last week, this week's sermon will be more pastoral and less prophetic. But in my readings I came across a statement by Thomas G. Long that I thought was timely to share.

As Long writes, this is a parable of the kingdom of God, not about conventional wisdom. Taken as a message to the church, it is not about being "diligent and play the percentages." It is not about results that come in text-book predictions, but about how God calls us to plant the seeds and step back to be pleasantly surprised by the results.

As Long writes "In this parable the great harvest comes unexpectantly and is much more extravagant than could ever have been anticipated." According to the author, it is not that the farmer should congratulate himself for the fact that his hard work has paid off, but he should be astonished at the gifts he has received: a harvest way more lavish then he could ever have anticipated.

Therefor, the church should learn that the great harvest awaits them, and they are too "waste itself" by throwing seeds of grace around like its no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow: and it belongs to God.

How have you planted seeds of grace? And what wonderful, surprising harvests have you been able to stand back and witness?

May God bless you and keep you safe until we meet again,
Pastor G

Warrior Rising

I recently finished the latest in trashy romances I have been reading since the Writer's Strike destrpyed the TV season and reintroduced me to the notion of reading just for the fun of it. Since then, I go to the library, to the new book or trashy romance section and find a book that captures my interest.

The cover and inside pages of "Warrior Rising" by P.C. Cast did just that. What a fun book filled with intelligent imagination and sass. It takes place during the Trojan War. The goddesses have up it up to here with all the fighting. So they transport two modern American women back in time to distract Achilles from the war.

It is fun. Sexy. Humorous. And suprisingly , become a rather powerful ant-war story by the novel's end. There is one interesting theme that plays throughout: whenever Achilles is at an emotional place in which he feels emotionally and physically stressed or fearful he is overtaken by what is called the Beserker. Like the notion of the Hulk, it inhabits him and changes how he looks. It makes Achilles do that which he would not normally do.

One of the modern women, Kat, is a pyschiatrist, so she goes about teaching Achilles how not to let the Beserker posses him and how to have control over it. Some of the methods she uses is must unethical to say the least. But it does play into the question of: are we what we do, and do we all at times have the ability to be "possessed" by a Beserker as well.

And like the Harry Potter series, the books also explores questions of fate and destiny and do we all posses the ability to change the course of our life.

Sermon for July 6, 2008 Matthew 11:16-30

July 6, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 11:16-30
Sermon Title: "The Burden of Christ"
Rev. G
For the past few weeks Jenny and I have been in conversation about the Christian Education program for the new school year.
One thing we talked about was offering a three week series on the Psalms of Thanksgiving: the songs in the Bible that give thanks to God for all that he has done and all he has seen us through. And, if all goes as planned, it will be offered when else?, but around Thanksgiving time.
The Psalms of Thanksgiving are exuberant songs that lift up and celebrate God, inviting all to come into the House of God to with song and praise, to say thank you and to glad.
Trouble is, not everyone feels that way when they enter into the House of God, do they?
The truth is, is that sometimes we feel as though we have nothing thankful for. Some have been trying to make a dollar stretch to cover a gallon of gas.
Others are worrying about relationships or our issues concerning our health.
We would gladly offer God our voice in songs of celebration if only our teeth were not clenched from all the stress we have endured from the week before and the burdens we are expecting to face the moment we leave these doors.
To use an analogy, it is as if we are farmers who are standing before an uncultivated field, and all we can see is acres and acres of rocks, and weeds, and all that dirt.
And although our hands contain seeds of new life and possibility, before we can even plant them, we need to plow that daunting field.
But it goes on for far too long, the task is too burdensome, and we are by ourselves.
Field of dreams? Try more like the field of nightmares.
I wonder how many of us can relate to this image today? How many of us have entered into God’s Holy House with hearts full of burdens and your eyes overwhelmed with what you see before you?
And how many others have allowed those very same reasons to prevent them from coming to church today because they feel they have no praise to give, or they are just too exhausted to add one more item to their already-busy schedule?
When coming to church becomes a burden, one knows that their back is already breaking from too much stress.
So we stand before the field that we know as life, with all its rocks and weeds and dirt.
How do we go about breaking up the clusters of rocks, getting rid of the weeds and turning over all that topsoil so we can plant our seeds and have a chance at some new life?
Do we trudge through it alone baring the burden ourselves?
Do we do our best Scarlet O’HARA impersonation and pretend like it does not exist?
Do we do a half-baked job, creating more damage and work along the way?
Or do we give up before we even begin and declare defeat?
Perhaps it is better to forget about the seeds, turn back around and not even try such a task for the burden is too great and there is no rest in sight.
But there is another way, a better way, a way that ensures we are not facing these monumental tasks alone.
Listen to these words from Matthew 11: "Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in my heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
These are the words of our Savior Jesus Christ, and he is standing beside us, with a yoke that he is ready to share.
Can I get an Amen?
...and suddenly the field doesn’t seem so long, the way does not appear to be so rocky, and the weeds so choking after all...
Now, I ain’t no country boy. I’m from the suburbs. I hear the word yoke and I think you’re talking about that yellow stuff inside of an egg.
But the yoke that Jesus is talking about is something that anyone who grew up around a farm would know plenty about.
A yoke is a tool a farmer uses when he wants to plow the field to get it ready for planting or he has something heavy that needs to be transported.
Back in Jesus’ time the farmers had oxen. Their yoke’s were a two pronged wooden harness that was placed on the animals so they could work as a team in plowing a field or carry a heavy load.
Although a yoke placed limitations on where the oxen could go, it also opened up the possibilities for what they could do together. A task that seemed impossible or a burden that appeared to heavy to be carried, could be accomplished by the two animals working as a team.
And if the farmer was a loving, gentle soul, he made sure of a few things. The first being that the yoke was sturdy and gentle. That it got the work done with the minimum amount of pain to his animals.
He made sure the yoke was designed in such a way so there would be a minimum of chafing, and a minimum of scratching and hurt to the neck and body.
But more then that, a yoke was designed for two beings to share the load, so it did not have to be carried alone.
Together the oxen were able to plow through the field, overturning the dirt, dispelling the rocks and pulling up the weeds that prohibited the growth of good produce.
A yoke did not get rid of the need to work: it made the work more bearable, and it made the burden one carried feel much much lighter.
And that is exactly what Jesus is offering all of us today...
...Are you standing before an unending field where all you see is harsh rocks that will hurt your soles when walked upon?
Are you seeing clusters of weeds that are choking back the goodness you know awaits you?
Are you seeing acres and acres of dirt that will leave you muddied and soiled for the worst?
Do you feel as if you are holding seeds of possibilities, but if only those rocks and weeds were lessened and the dirt could be turned to let in some fresh sun and nutrients?
If you do, then Jesus is standing there, with a yoke in his hand, ready to say: "Let me place this on you. And together we’ll face this field, and together I will help you find rest."
Notice Jesus is not offering a hammock for you to lay in and sip lemonade while he does all the work. And notice he is not wrestling you to the ground to force the yoke upon your neck.
But he is standing there, saying "Come to me, and together we will both bear the burdens you face.
Together we will push apart the rocks, together we will minimize the weeds, together we will stir the earth so new life and new beginnings can come your way."
This is not lazy, victim theology that says "I am so helpless that I can’t do a single thing and Jesus will do everything for me." That kind of theology usually leaves one feeling even more helpless and creates new acres of land to be cleared.
No, this is a sweat of the brow, victor theology. It doesn’t say that there will be no more problems, it doesn’t promise the way will be free from large boulders. It doesn’t say Jesus will solve all of life’s problems with a simple stirring of the earth.
This is not about Jesus taking the burden’s weight and changing what the scale reads; it’s about Jesus working bedside you to make the burden not feel so heavy anymore.
You have financial problems? This isn’t Jesus saying here, put on this yoke with me and they will go away.
This is Jesus saying we’ll get through this together but first you are going to need to cut coupons, cancel your cable and stop drinking $4 machiatos.
This isn’t Jesus saying all of your medical ailments are going to just disappear.
This is Jesus saying let’s surround you with the best doctors and nurses, put you on some good medication, alter your eating habits. And if that does not work, know that I am still right beside you, and I will be there when you take your last breathe, just as I was when you took our first.
This is not Jesus saying I will change your past so all the bad things that happened and all the bad that you done will magically be gone for ever.
He is saying follow and learn how to see your past with a new set of eyes, a new heart of understanding, and a healing sense of forgiveness you can bestow upon those who have hurt you, and the ability to forgive yourself for the hurt you have caused.
This isn’t Jesus saying "Presto, chango! All of your relationship woes are taken care of", but together we can find you the right books, the rights counselors, the right words so you can work this out, and if that’s not possible, at least you can leave the situation as friends.
In other words, this is Jesus not saying "Viola! The field is clear, now plant your seeds."
This is Jesus saying, "Put on this yoke and together we can dislodge these rocks that have been hurting your soul so.
Put on this yoke so together we can loosen up these weeds that are choking you and holding you back so from becoming all that you are.
Put on this yoke so together we can stir up the dirt so we can let in some fresh air and warm sun."
And after we have accepted that yoke, and made our way through the field, we can stop and look back and be amazed how much we have done and how far we have grown.
And those seeds that we have been holding in our hands. We can let go them go so they can find root and they can grow and carry us into the future.
And the next field we encounter will not seem so treacherous. The rocks and the weeds won’t seem so great.
And all of that soil will be seen for what it truly is: fresh opportunities for new growth and fresh beginnings.
Finally, you may be wondering this sounds great. You’re ready for Jesus to place his yoke around you. But how is it done?
Because each field is unique and each farmer is their own person, each will have to find their own way.
Sometimes the best and most effective way, is to simply bow your head before the Lord and say "My burdens have become too great and my shoulders have hurt me so. Come and place your yoke upon me and invite me to work alongside you."
(I myself had to do this earlier this week literally getting down on one knee.)
Sometimes, that humble submission is all it takes, and sometimes that is all Jesus is waiting for.
And eventually we may learn how to do so on a regular basis before the burdens become too worrisome and before our back is an inch from breaking beyond repair.
So, in conclusion, when we stand before our field of nightmares, may we find the humility and the strength to invite Jesus to place his yoke upon us.
Because in Jesus we not only find rest, but we find ourselves before the presence of God, and once in Gods presence we can’t help but to walk in his ways and enter his house with thanksgiving in our hearts.
And when we do, may our hearts be filled with all the fresh flowers and produce that Christ himself has helped us sow.
All praise and honor be to God, the original farmer, the Spirit that refreshes our fields with cool breezes and loving rain and the Son that invites us to share his yoke,
Amen and amen.

Belated Wanderings

Greetings everyone. Last week I had different plans for what the Wanderings would be, but it fell through. Instead, the Wandering reflections for last Sunday's sermon actually comes today.

If you recall, last week (July 6, 2008) we read from Matthew 11:16-28. This was a rich Scripture that prompted not one, but three very separate sermons. The first written sermon was very prophetic. The second very community based. The third sermon was very pastoral, and that was the one preached.

Will the other two sermons see the light of day? Perhaps, perhaps not.

But I am glad that it was the pastoral sermon that was preached, for it is a message I myself have needed to hear and utilize.

Last Sunday's sermon focused on 11:28-30. There is where Jesus says “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in my heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I devoted the rest of the sermon to what a yoke is, and how it allows two beings to work together to face a difficult task and to make a heavy load feel lighter. I also said that when things get too tough, we can bow our heads before Jesus and invite him to place his yoke upon us so together we can share the burden.

I have found myself doing that very thing in the past few days. In fact, this morning, before facing what was going to be a very busy day, I felt that I had no choice but to say these words. And Jesus did indeed place his yoke upon me, and the burden did feel lighter.

But something else happened. The yoke was not just my own, or my own issues. But I came to realize that in sharing the yoke, I was also asked to share the yoke of Jesus and the yoke of others. That yoke has taken me to places today that I could never have foreseen. That yoke took me out of my space, out of my comfort zone, and into other fields that I have not been before.

But the promise of Christ still rang true: the yoke was easy and light. Somehow in sharing those yokes, the strength, the words, the actions that needed to be done were there. And though the yokes were full of sadness and struggle, they have also been a sense of joy.

So I myself have learned a new thing this day: that when we invite Jesus to become part of our own daily struggles, Jesus is also inviting us to be a part of the daily lives of others as well. And in that process we become united in a shared yoke, making the burden a bit more tolerable, helping to shine brighter Jesus' light.

I pray you have had a blessed week so far. And I look forward to seeing as many of your shining faces this Sunday at Lamar Park. Remember worship is at 10:10 followed by a potluck and music from the Swingtones.

Be blessed.

Peace, Pastor G