Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sermon from January 25, 2009 Jonah 3:1-10

Note: inspired by "Unbinding the Gospel" I've been preaching a new way: no manuscript. What you have here is the sermon as written, but not as presented. When I gave the sermon on Sunday I removed all references to Pres. Obama and George Washington. The result was a funnier, more personal, intimate message of hope. Still, enjoy what is here. Pastor George

January 25, 2009
Scripture: Jonah 3:1-10
Sermon Title: "Who Knows?"
Rev. George N. Miller
Tuesday we inaugurated our 44th President and though it was a time of celebration, President Obama grounded us in reality. Admitting we are in the midst of crisis he called us to reaffirm our enduring spirit, reminding us that our country was born when things were most in doubt.
Obama stated that we are in the winter of our hardship. The same can be said for our church. Though we are celebrating our 85th Anniversary, we’re facing the reality that this could be our last year.
We heard it from trustees last week: if things continue as is, there is only enough money to carry us for 38 more weeks. That’s 266 days.
Which means on October 18, 2009 we will either close our doors or go to part time ministry.
Indeed, we have a task before us, indeed there are gathering clouds. What are we to do?
First, let me tell you what we should not do, and I’ll do that by sharing a story. 5 years ago I joined a volleyball league and was placed on a team.
There was Brian who felt he wasn’t good enough, Scott who got the giggles, Court who sporadically showed up, and our captain Rhonda, who’s one goal was to kick the ball over the net.
We played together but never acted like a team. There was barely any volleying, no set ups, no one two three spike!, and anytime we were behind they acted as if we had already lost, which upset me because in volleyball comebacks do happen.
This came to a head during one game. We were playing to 15. We had 1 point, they had 14. The ball is served: it goes over the net, it goes to the back row, I go to bump it, Rhonda runs over, she swings her foot. She kicks it. It goes off court. We lose 15-1.
Rhonda blew it off: "We were going to lose anyway." Obviously, she didn’t believe in come-backs. Obviously, she had no faith in the team. Obviously, after that season, we dissolved and never played again.
"We were going to lose anyway" were the words of our team captain. Those words still volley in my head even today.
Our captain had zero faith in what we could do, and decided we were going to lose the game.
Good thing she wasn’t George Washington, good thing she wasn’t the King of Nineveh or today’s story would have ended completely different.
Today’s Scripture is from book of Jonah, a fun, quick read about a man called by God to "Go to the great city of Nineveh and cry out against it."
Jonah refuses to do as God commands. After all, he is Jew, and Nineveh, nicknamed "The City of Blood" was their enemy. There is no way Jonah will go there, so he flees in the opposite direction.
But as Psalm 139 reminds us, one can’t hide from God. After a series of incidents involving a storm, some scared sailors and a large fish, God gives Jonah a second chance and tells him "Go to Nineveh and give them the message I tell you."
Jonah obeys and enters the city crying out "40 days and the city will be destroyed."
And what do the people do? Do they kick the volleyball with their feet and lose the game? No. They face the challenge and volley the ball into the air, doing whatever they can to change the situation: they fast, they grieve, they put on sackcloth.
And their team captain, the King, follows their lead, removing his robes, putting on sackcloth, and sitting in ashes.
Knowing they are facing a legitimate crises, he makes a proclamation: "All people, all animals shall not eat or drink; they shall put on sackcloth, cry to God and turn from their evil ways."
"And who knows?," he says, "God may change his mind and we may not lose this game."
"Who knows?" The King says. How is that for leadership. How is that for faith?
Faced with certain doom the King acts on the chance that perhaps, just perhaps if they did signs of obedience, God would change God’s mind.
Instead of letting Jonah’s message sap their confidence, they faced the challenge with courage. And guess what- God changes his mind.
Why? Because God is full of grace, abundant in love, and concerned for the inhabitants of the city.
"Who knows?" the King says, a statement about the possibility and uncertainty that comes in life.
"Who knows" the King says, and it makes all the difference.
"Who knows," the King proclaims and the people and their animals live to see another day.
Who knows indeed.
What a funny story this is. Look at what we’re told: that upon the words of one man, a whole city cries out to God. Not just the people, but also the animals.
Could you just imagine it? Old people and babies, dogs and cats, chickens clucking, roosters cock-a-doodle-doodling, and cows mooing all while wearing potato sacks.
With only 40 days before certain doom, they found a way to turn it all around.
Makes you wonder: if they could do that in 40 days, imagine what we can do in 40 weeks?
I stated before that we have 266 days before we will have to close our doors or change the direction of our ministry. That is the reality of the winter we are in.
How do you respond when you hear this information?
Perhaps like Rhonda, some will say "We’re going to lose anyway. Lets just kick the ball over the net and call it game over."
Perhaps there are those, like the King who’ll hear the news differently.
Instead of hearing 38 weeks as a threat, they’ll hear it as an opportunity to put their trust in God, in one another and to volley that ball over the net, knowing that with every serve, every bump, every spike, it’s still anyone’s game.
There are those who will hear 38 weeks and say it’s not enough time to bring new life into our church.
And there’ll be others who’ll realize 38 weeks is the equivalent of 9 months: how long it takes to have a baby and usher in new life.
Friends and family of Burlingame Congregational UCC, what we have here is an opportunity. This is one of those moments people read about, that people talk about, the moment in the movie where the music swells and people get on their feet.
This is our Valley Forge, this is our Red Sea, this is our moment in Nineveh. This is our chance to step up in faith and say "Who Knows".
After all, if the wicked Ninevites understood the power of God’s Word and responded faithfully, how much more can we, as believers of God, do?
If God can forgive and save the most unlikely of people, what can and will God do for us?
This is the chance for us to find out just who we really are, to reach and cry out to God, to seek Jesus in ways we never have before.
What can we do? I suggest three things. The first is to work together as a team. To do so means people need to show up. Pull out your Buzzings, look at your Bulletin. You’ll see that every week we have events going on and they’ll only succeed with your help and your presence.
Our weekday Bible Study is the biggest it’s ever been, but we can still use more people. Christian Ed’s field trip was a large success, but it would have been even more successful if you were there.
Priscilla Circle, Women’s Fellowship will only grow with your presence. And now that Men’s Breakfast has changed days there’s no reason more men can’t attend.
We don’t need any more programming, we just need people to show up for what we do have. And who knows: perhaps God will respond and speak to us in ways not yet imagined.
What can we do? We can return to the source of our knowledge about God and Christ: the Bible. This is our tool, our source of inspiration and hope for over 2,00 years. The more we know about it, the more we will know about God, our selves and what God is calling us to do.
And finally, we need to embrace the basics of Christian life: prayer. We can start by each and every one of us taking time out to simply pull up that empty chair, imagine Jesus is sitting right next to us, and to talk. Talk about our church, talk about our lives, talk about you need to talk about.
If you don’t know what to say, you can say "Help." If God has been good, say "Thank you." And when words don’t come, laugh, or cry.
"Who knows?" the King of Nineveh states, and we need to embrace his way of thinking.
For too long we have been a church that has rested in our own stability. Now is the time for us to make the radical jump into God’s arms.
We need to be like the disciples who are willing to follow when Jesus walks past and says "come with me.".
We need to be like Philip: willing to go and get our friends sitting under their fig trees.
We need to be like the thief on the cross: admitting our own sin and claiming Jesus as Lord.
And by fellowshipping together, by embracing the Word, by living a life of prayer, we can reclaim the message we have been called by God to give: that we are family and friends in Christ, sharing God’s abundant grace and love.
And who knows? Perhaps the volleyball will stay up in the air. Perhaps we can create a new movement that motivates others and brings about change.
Because its not about us, it is about the grace of God that God has to offers to everyone.
We are not doing this alone: we are doing it with, for and by Christ, guided by the Spirit, listening to God. And it will be through God that we will succeed and stay open or we will close down.
But let us not forget who our God is. Our God is the one who parted the Red Sea waters when the Israelites were facing certain death.
Our God brought new life into Elizabeth and Sarah when they were too old to bear children.
Our Lord fed 5,000 with some bread and fish.
And our God saved the Ninevites from certain doom all because they were willing to say "who knows?"
Who knows indeed.
We have the tools, we have the gifts, the worst we can do is try.
Let us embrace the reality of the next 38 weeks as an opportunity to cry out to God, to reclaim just who we have been called to be, and trust that God will do what God will do.
Let us embrace the next 38 weeks as a chance to grow and to better know the God who calls us, the Christ who abundantly loves us so and the Spirit that empowers us to keep the volleyballs of life up and in the air.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wanderings for Feb 1, 2009

Good afternoon everyone. I want to thank everyone for the grace and love you demonstrated on Sunday. I pray that everyone has been thinking about Sunday's message, "Who Knows?" as opposed to "Who cares" as we experienced in the faithful words and actions of the King and people of Nineveh in Jonah 3:1-10. This Sunday I do not preach as it is Women's Sunday, but we will all have the opportunity to hear Tammy Scott give her first sermon. I still recall the first time I ever preached, and Mom took me out for lunch (that photo stands in my office). Let us all pray and support Tammy. This Sunday's scripture, from what I understand, is Feb 1, Mark 1:21-28- where Jesus encounters a man with an unclean (evil) spirit. Would you like to have some with fun this? Well then, go ahead and read it. Take your time. I'll wait....... Read it? Ok, now, let's try an exercise. Reread it, but now give the man with the unclean spirit a different voice. How does an evil spirit sound? Loud, fast, broken up, sporadic, hissing, laughing, crying? Or slick and smooth, overly polite? Then reread how Jesus speaks. Does he speak all polite? Or soft? Or does Jesus shout? One Biblical translation has Jesus say "Shut up!" Can you imagine Jesus saying "shut up?" Play with the voice of Jesus. Imagine how one speaking in authority would sound. Who has authority in your life? Do they yell, raise their voice, use lots of words, little words. Then play with the voices of the people who witness this happen. How can or does their voice change. Also notice that when Jesus encouters evil, he does not stay silent. Do we? Or do we find a way to speak to it or about it? I hope this gives you a chance to let the Scripture come alive, to hear it in a new way, and in doing so to encounter Jesus, evil and humanity in a new way, thus allowing ourselves to encounter our own self in a new way. Be safe this weekend, and stay blessed. Peace, Pastor George

Friday, January 23, 2009

"He Thirst"

We had a Bluegrass Gospel group sing at church a few weeks ago. They had one song called "He Thirst" that had a cool lyric that got me thinking, as Creation-based as I am:
"He said 'I thirst', yet he made the river. he said 'I Thirst' yet he made the sea. In His great thrist he brought water to me."


Monday, January 19, 2009

"Little House in the Big Woods"

Just reread "Little House in the Big Woods." Last time I read it I was ?12? maybe. After a slew of trashy vampire romance/comedies, I knew I needed something more traditional, and boy was it.

The first few chapters are all about cooking and preparing foods, and for anyone who likes to cook, it is a good read. To hear Laura describe what life was like, the work, the play, the stories her Pa would tell, the discipline, their simple but loving Christmas, hunting in the woods, going to town for the first time, seeing pebbles on the beach, it's all beutifully simple.

What surprised me towards the end of the book is the ecotheology that emerges. The family lives off the land, hunting and trapping and planting, and killing animals is part of life, and Laura loves eating bear and deer and hog, but also worries about does and their babies. The family doesn't eat meat in the spring or summer, allowing the animals to grow and live.

In the last chapter, Pa goes out to hunt, but comes across a magnificent buck that he just can't kill. Knowing he has a family at home that would like some meat, he promises to shoot next time. But a bear comes along, and looks so magnificent in the moonlight Pa forgets all about his gun, then a doe and her fawn come and Pa does not shoot them either, of which Laura is thankful. This book so perfectly balances the cycle of life and the need for all God's creatures to survive and live together, and although Pa hunts and Laura loves to eat the meat, they have a respect and admiration for the creatures they depend on.

Then, at the very end of the book, the author does something unexpected: she almost ventures into quantum physics in regards to time. Pa plays "Auld Lang Syne" and Laura asks what that means. "They are the days of long ago" he responds, "Go to sleep, now."

But Laura stays awake. She listens to Pa's fiddle, the sound of the wind in the Big Woods, she looks at M in her chair, knitting, the firelight glistening in Pa's beard and thinks to herself "This is now."

Then it continues "She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago."


Misc. Quotes

For the last few months I've been jotting down quotes from various shows/movies. Instead of letting them sit around as loose pieced of paper, I thought I'd enter them into the cyber world of my blog.

From the film "Employee of the Month"
Grandma tells main character as he prepares for his first date: "Plant the seed of love: no kissing."

When slacker character is about to give up, these words of encouragement are spoken "Do it for yourself, do it for your pride."

Then later (i forget the context, but it sounded so poetic) "I can't do this alone. I need you. Please come home." (I think it's during the final bagging contest. Such a silly film, but a good one).

From "Epic Movie" : "I'm not running anymore. We may not have the numbers she has, or the strength, but we have something else: the strength of family." This is spoken by Peter the Heroic, a group of orphans about to battle the evil Snow Witch.

Charlotte, from "Sex and the City" watches a documentary on Elizabeth Taylor, and is motivated when Taylor states, after her surgery "Now is the time for guts and glory."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sermon for Jan 18, 2009 Psalm 139

Jan 18, 2009
Scripture: Psalm 139: 1-18
Sermon Title: "The Inescapable God"
Rev. George N. Miller
Once there was a female pastor who was asked to come and to pray with a man’s mother. The woman was lying in bed with her head propped up on 2 pillows. An empty chair sat beside her.
"I guess you were expecting me," the pastor said. "No," responded the mother, in a frail voice, "Who are you?"
The pastor introduced herself and said "I saw the empty chair and figured you knew I was coming."
"Oh yes, the chair," said the old woman, with a smile. "Would you mind closing the door?"
The mother began her story. "I’ve never told anyone this, not even my son. But all my life I never knew how to pray. I’ve heard pastors talk about it, but it went right over my head, so I abandoned any attempt at it."
The old woman coughed and continued, "Then one day a friend said to me ‘Prayer is just a simple matter of having a talk with Jesus. Here’s what ya do: place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith, see Jesus on the chair. Then just speak to Jesus in the same way we are doing right now.’
"So I tried it, and I’ve liked it so much that I do it every the day. I’m careful though, I don’t want my son to see me and think I’m crazy."
The pastor was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old lady to continue her journey. She prayed with her, anointed her with oil and returned to church.
Two days later the son called to say his mother had died that. "Did she die in peace?" the pastor asked.
"Yes," said the son, "When I left the house for the store Mom told me she loved me and kissed me on the cheeks. When I got back, I found her. But there was something strange about her death: Apparently, just before Mom died, she leaned over and rested her head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?"
The pastor wiped a tear from her eye and said "I wish we could all go like that."
...This is a story which works on many different levels. On the surface, it’s about prayer, on another level it is about presence.
Presence is an important part of ministry. Perhaps more so then administration, more then preaching, ministry is about the ability to be present to another person.
Being present says "I love you," being present says "You matter and are a person of worth."
Unfortunately, there are far too may people in our world who are alone or feel alone, and sometimes they take drastic steps to make that aloneness real.
What we’ve heard today is a Scripture challenging the notion that anyone is ever truly alone.
Psalm 139 is called a song of "most personal expression." It portrays human experience in all its dimensions, stating that no matter what or where, God is present in our lives, and knows us.
This Psalmist asks God "Where can I go from your spirit?...If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even then your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast."
This is a song about knowledge, that the God who made us wonderfully, who knew us even when we were yet unformed, continues to know us at all times, no matter where we are.
For some people, this Psalm is comforting. To know that God will always be there for them: just pull up a chair and begin a conversation!
For some, this song can be a bit scary. For those, such as myself, who have been stalked, or have been abused, there can be something ominous about this image of someone who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake.
But I believe that this is not a Psalm of fear, but of comfort, because God is not looking to hurt or abuse us, but to know and love us, to be present in a way no one else can be.
I believe this Psalm is God’s way of saying "No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, I am right there with you."
For further clarity, let’s look at the story of Jesus and Nathanael in the Gospel of John 1:43 -49. I invite you to turn to your Bibles and read along.
[Read the Scripture]
This is a call narrative, beginning with Jesus on the town, where he meets Philip who recognizes Jesus as the one the prophets had talked about.
Full of excitement he goes to find Nathanael. But where is he? Is he hanging with the guys? Is he smooching with a squeeze? No, instead, Nathanael is a under a fig tree, where we can assume he is alone.
When hearing the news about finding the One, Nathanael is non-plussed, simply replying: "Can anything good come out of such a hick town?"
When Nathanael sets eyes on Jesus and is greeted with a compliment, the only thing he can say is "You don’t know me."
To which Jesus responds with a poetic line of knowledge and presence, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."
..."I saw you under the fig tree..."
Let’s meditate on that thought for a moment. I think this is a profound statement for us to hear today, at a time in which we are wrestling with worries about snow, economics, and our futures.
When Philip met Jesus he was out with his friends. But Nathanael was under a fig tree, alone.
What’s up with Nathanael? Why wasn’t he out with the guys? Or with a significant other?
Perhaps Nathanael was a busy man taking a much needed break, but I don’t sense that. His words have an air of cynicism that can only come from loneliness and disappointment.
His words strike me as someone guarded and wounded who has found it easier to be in his own company then to be in the company of others.
Or perhaps, like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, he was someone who was never invited to play in other peoples games.
"How did you get to know me?" he asks, and Jesus states, in what I believe would be a loving voice: "I saw you under the fig tree."
Think about that statement, think about that image.
Doesn’t it sound like one of profound sadness and loneliness, where one is alone, feeling left out?
Have you ever had a fig tree moment? A time in your life when you felt abandoned or forsaken? I certainly have. It was June of 1982.
I was graduating from 6th grade. People were having and going to parties. The only party I was invited to was for a girl named Ingrid, a chunky girl with glasses who wore fancy barretts.
One Saturday I was playing ball with Scott and Matt. After a while, Scott abruptly said, "Well, I gotta go: I’m having a party this afternoon, and its going to be a great one. We’re having ice cream and watermelon and everyone’s coming."
That was the first time I had heard of the party. Matt was invited. So was our neighbor Dawn. But I wasn’t. So that afternoon I spent alone, while everyone else I knew was in Scott’s backyard, having a great time.
I was under a fig tree, and as if that wasn’t enough, I added insult to the injury by walking past his house. Sure enough, I could smell BBQ, the pool was full of kids, jumping in and climbing out, and I was alone, standing on the street.
That moment will always stay with me, and has shaped me in more ways then I can imagine.
Because of that moment I get a thrill when invited somewhere because it means I’m worthy enough to be invited. And I feel hurt when someone has a party and I didn’t make the list.
I wonder how different things may have been if I knew about Psalm 139? I wonder if that would have provided me with a different set of eyes.
That was my fig tree moment. When was yours?
When did you feel all alone in the world? When did you feel that no one cared if you were alive? Was there a time in which you felt like you’d be better off dead?
We all have. Those feelings are natural, and they are real. The Bible is full of stories of people who have their own fig tree moment.
Hagar who runs away into the wilderness. Jacob who has only a rock to rest his head. Gideon as he cleans a wine press. Mary Magdalene who comes to the garden alone. Nathanael, as he sits under the fig tree wondering what for.
But they were not alone, where they? For Hagar is met by God who promises to care for her and her offspring. Jacob has a dream of angels and God pledges to be with him wherever he goes.
The Lord calls Gideon to be a mighty warrior. Mary hears the voice of her resurrected savior.
And Nathanael meets the Messiah, who lets him know just who he is. Continue reading, and hear how Nathanael makes an excited proclamation, and shortly afterward, the disciples attend a wedding in which Jesus performs his first miracle.
Psalm 139 makes the claim that no matter what, no matter where, we are not alone; God is present with us.
John 1 illustrates that statement for us, taking us under a fig tree where a disallusioned man sits, unaware that the Son of God was present and seeing him as well.
This is a testimony indeed. A celebration that no matter what, we are not alone.
In these two scriptures God speaks to us saying, "You may go through so much pain. People will disappoint you, economics will go belly up, and at times you’ll have to fight to stay alive. But you are not alone. I am with you."
"I know your hurts, I know you pains. I have seen every single fig tree you have ever had to sit under, and I was with you."
"I saw you when you sat in the front of the bus and refused to move because you were so tired."
"I saw you when you lost everything you had and was sleeping under the 196 underpass."
"I saw you when you had the miscarriage that no one else knows about or wants to talk about."
"I saw you the day you went to the doctor and the prognosis was not good."
"I saw you the moment you came home from the funeral and realized you were officially now a widow or widower."
"I saw you all those days when you could not get out of bed because the pain was so great."
"I saw you on the day you were born, and when it is your time to die, I will be there to greet you into my kingdom, where pain, and hunger, and sorrow and sadness will be no more."
All those moments of sitting under the fig tree, feeling alone, wondering what for and how so, God was there, present, even when you did not realize it.
And God has been working on ways to get you up and out from under that tree.
There will be times in our lives in which we will be, and we will feel alone. Perhaps we can be like the Mother in the beginning of the sermon, able to locate Jesus by pulling up a chair and inviting him to sit and talk for awhile.
Perhaps we can remember the words of Psalm 139 to remind ourselves there ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough, ain’t no valley low enough to keep us away from God.
We can recall Jesus’ words to Nathanael and know that when we have a fig tree moment, God through Christ is right there, seeing us, knowing us.
In Jesus, we are completely known. And through Jesus we are invited to rejoin the human world, taking part in fellowship, sharing both the good times and the bad with those around him.
All thanks and praise be to God who has searched us and known us, to the Spirit that will never leave us and for Jesus who knows us by name.

Wanderings for the week ending Jan 18, 2009

Good afternoon everyone. Well it certainly looks like we will have snow for tomorrow's CE sledding trip.

This Sunday we will read from Psalm 139, a song that celebrates God for knowing and being with us wherever we are.

One of the theological claims of the Psalm is that people are not mass-produced beings, but custom made individuals.

I came across a story retold by James Limburg, about a young Rabbi named Zusya who was discouraged about his perceived failures and weaknesses.

One day, an older, wiser rabbi said to him, "When you die and get to heaven, God is not going to say to you, 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' No, God will say, 'Why weren't you more like Zusya?' So why don't you stop trying to be Moses, and start being the Zusya God created you to be."

May we all embrace who we are and not who we think we should be.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Jan 11, 2009 experimental sermon Mark 1:4-13

Jan 11, 2009
Scripture: Mark 1:4-13
Sermon Title: "Where Wild Beasts Wait"
Rev. G

note: this sermon is an experiment in which members of the congregation are asked to act out three scenes from the Gospel of Mark: chapter 1, 15 and 6.

As we glide out of the Christmas Season, we glide into stories about Jesus found in Mark’s Gospel.
Currently, I’m reading the book "Provoking the Gospel of Mark" which encourages preachers to honor the surprises, risks and rhythms found in the Gospel. The author of the book works with the assumption that when it comes to sacred scripture we should wrestle with it the same way Israel wrestled with God.
Said to be the first of the four Gospels written, Mark was composed nearly 40 years after Jesus’ death. The Temple has been destroyed, mass unrest exists. Most Christians are lower-middle class to poor and those caught practicing this new form of religion can be arrested, tortured, killed.
This is not a time a time of peace or play, and it shows in Mark’s writing, a fast moving, rowdy story in which things happen quickly and Mark trying to say as much as he can in as few a words as possible. He limits the amount of stories Jesus says, focusing instead on what it is Jesus does.
The Gospel of Mark is a jagged piece of writing, with abrupt starts and stops, featuring stories inside of stories, confusing geography, and an original ending that leaves the reader hanging.
Turn to Mark for answers and you’ll get more questions. Turn to Mark for clarity, you’ll get a fogged up window. Expect Mark to spoon feed you faith and instead you’ll get a serving of foods you may not like.
Mark’s gospel has not been housebroken; it takes risks, doesn’t know now to behave. So, in the spirit of Mark, today will be a day of risks. Today is not about me giving a sermon and everyone else listening. Today does not have a clear message or a feel good bow at the end.
Instead, today is about us encountering the Bible in a different way, encountering the ministry of Christ in a new way, and encountering ourselves in a way we have not done before.
First I need a volunteer...You’re going to be Jesus. Put on this lovely robe so we know who you are.
Next, I need three people with big smiles. You have two parts today: first you’ll going be angels.
And for everyone else who didn’t volunteer, that’s Ok. There are parts for you as well: you’re going to create a zoo of animals noises. So, to begin, let’s have everyone move up closer.
Now, people over here, you’re going to be ravenous lions. Let me hear your best "roar!"
People over here: you’re birds of prey waiting to eat. Let me hear you "Caw! Caw!"
You over here are wild dogs. Not nice house pets, I’m talking hungry, mangy mutts with menacing teeth. Give me your best growl.
And over here, we have snakes; slithering, hissing, venomous snakes. Let me hear you hiss.
And our 3 angels: let’s see you put on your wings.
Very good. Now, let all of us step into the ragged, violent world that is Mark’s.
Mark begins by telling us that John the Baptist is preaching words of repentance and forgiveness of sins, baptizing people in the Jordan River.
Jesus arrives. He’s baptized and wow!-he sees the heavens rip apart. Then, Wow!-the Spirit like a dove comes down upon him and a voice: "You are my son, my beloved. In you I am well pleased."
And just like that! the spirit whisks Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where he is with wild animals and tempted by Satan.
If you recall, the wilderness is full of symbolism. It’s a place of loneliness and solitude. It can be a dangerous place in which demonic and holy battle it out.
Here’s where everyone comes in. Jesus: you’re alone in the wilderness, by yourself. Close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you.
Lions: let me hear you start roaring. Birds start cawing. Dogs: growling. Snakes: hissing.
Keep going, keep going [Pastor gathers angels, gives them baskets of food and drink and motions to them to smile]. Now Jesus, open up your eyes.
The angels, Mark tells us, took care of Jesus.
People: how did you feel making all those noises?
Angels: how did you feel knowing you were feeding Jesus?
Jesus, what was it like to hear all that noise? How was it to see the angels before you?
Next scene: the crucifixion. Jesus, walk over here with me. Angels-take your wings off and sit this one out.
People, good news. This time you don’t have to act like wild beasts. But there’s bad news: you’ll have to act like wild
People over here, shout "Save yourself". People over here say "He can’t even save himself."
Jesus, you have one line "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me."
Mark 15 tells us that after a mock trial in which Jesus was struck and spit on, they led him out to the place called Golgotha, a wilderness of sorts on the outskirts of town.
They gave him wine mixed with myrrh to drink, he would not take it. They stripped him of his clothes and gambled for it.
Sorry Jesus, I need your robe. [Take robe] Now I need you to close your eyes. Put out your hands.
They hung him between two bandits. And the people began to yell out to Jesus, shaking their heads, mocking him. People, say your lines....
And with a loud voice Jesus opened his eyes and cried out.....
After someone attempted to give Jesus a sip of vinegar, he cried out again, took his last breath and died.
Let’s all take a deep breath. Jesus, how did it feel to hear those words? How did it feel to say those words?
People, how did it feel to say those words?
Which was it harder to play: the wild beasts in the wilderness or the people who mocked Jesus in the outskirts of the city?
My former angels: how did it feel having to sit this one out, knowing this was nothing you could do?
The Gospel of Mark asks that we balance these two truths together. That Jesus could be in the wilderness for forty days amongst wild animals and is tended to by angels, but he will die in the outskirts of town surrounded by wild people yelling at him, with no angels to be found.
The Gospel of Mark asks us to believe that the God who spoke at his baptism could be silent when Jesus needs him most.
But there is one more story we need to share today. It is also a wilderness story.
Jesus, I need you to come here. My three angels, I will need your help, except now you’re disciples.
People, you have two words. "We’re hungry."
Disciples, you are to tell Jesus "They’re hungry."
Jesus, this time you get to make up your own lines. Ready?
In Mark 6 Jesus said to the disciples, come with me, let’s go into the wilderness so we can get some rest. They found a place in the desert to stop.
But the people followed them, and when Jesus looked upon them he was moved with compassion. So he taught them until it got very late. The people said...[point to the congregation] "We’re hungry."
The disciples came to Jesus and said [point to the disciples] "They’re hungry."
There were over 5,00 people. Jesus said "You feed them."
The disciples asked "With what? We have only five loaves and two fish."
Jesus ordered the people to sit down on the green grass.
Oh, and Jesus, before I forget, let me give you back your beautiful robe.
He took the bread, looked up to heaven and gave thanks. (Give Jesus bread to lift up)
Jesus, please say thanks with whatever words you wish.
And after giving thanks he gave the disciples the bread and fish to share with the people,[Give little cups with Swedish fish and crackers to the disciples to give to the people] and there was enough for everyone to eat.
Jesus, how did it feel to look out at the people and know they were hungry?
How was it knowing they were the same people who were yelling at you before?
Disciples, how did it feel to serve the people?
People: how did it feel to be fed?
Now why did we do this? This exercise is meant to make us think and to wrestle with the stories we read in the Bible. And it’s meant to make us ask questions, like "How can it be?"
How can it be that the one who is baptized and called the Beloved Son and is cared for by angels in the wilderness is the same one who is taken to the outskirts of the city where he will be crucified, ridiculed and feel forsaken by God?
How can it be that he is also the one who meets us in the wilderness and feeds us as we sit on the green grass?
The Gospel of Mark does not make things easy. It provokes more questions then is supplies answers. But in-between these questions and jagged bits of hopelessness, loss dreams and neglect are images of hope, promise, care and green, green grass.
And it is that In-between in which we live, and wrestle, wondering, and questioning, growing and being shaped by God.
How do we combine them with the middle, how do we hold onto the middle, how do we share the middle?
May God find a way to speak to you, may the Spirit comfort you and Christ lead you. Amen.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dead Sexy

Just finished the first read for the new year: "Dead Sexy" by Tate Hallaway, featuring one of my favorite heroines: Garnet Lacey, a modern witch who has the goddess Lilith living inside her and is dating a vampire named Sebastian. This is book two in the series, although I've read it out of order. I still feel the third book (which I read first) is the best.

Here Garnet is dealing with her ex-boyfriend Parrish who is also a vampire and an FBI agent named Dominguez and the fact that someone is turning people into zombies. As usual, the story is so crazy and out there, and yet "Garnet" tells it all so matter of fact that it becomes part of the fun. Not as heavy-handed as the first book or as light and fun as the third, "Dead Sexy" deals a lot with issues of grief.

Spoiler alert: due to certain twists, Parrish must make it look like, and act like he is dead, which he does by being shot at. On pages 238-239, knowing she may not see Parrish again, Garnet tells Sebastian she is sad, and Sebastian tells her she must grieve. She thinks of others in her life who have died, and realizes that as ridiculous as it may seem, she needs to have a wake for Parrish. She writes an obituary for Parrish, then she writes a "remembrance" notice for each of her friends who had died. Soon she is recounting bits of details-twinkling eyes, salt and peppers hair- that leads to other things she wanted to remember like homemade bread and hand-sown belly-dancing dresses. Garnet writes stream-of-conscious poetic images of each person and realizes she should have done it sooner.

After the wake and a scene of zombie attack (to keep things fun), Garnet realizes there is something else she needs to do. She takes the broken necklace of one of her dear friends who has died, and stands out by the lake. Letting her fingers touch the beads one last time, she asks Sebastian to throw it into the heart of the lake. "I cried all the way home, but they were tears of letting go." (pg. 287)

I can't believe a silly, fun book about vampires, zombies and Wiccans could have at the heart of it a story about a woman learning how to grieve, let go, move on, and let someone into her life, thus moving on.

January 4, 2009 Sermon

January 4, 2009
Scripture: Ephesians 1:1-14
Sermon Title: "God’s Good Pleasure"
Rev. G
Today’s scripture is taken from the first fourteen verses of Ephesians. As one person wrote, it’s an exuberant benediction giving thanks to God for all that God has planned to do, has done and will do.
And what a collection of verses these are: there is exuberance all over; in the words blessed and grace which are used three time, the phrase "good pleasure" which is said twice, and words such as love and wisdom that are peppered throughout.
Could there be a better way to begin 2009?
Today’s sermon is designed as a combination of education and celebration, aimed to fill us with a sense of inspiration that will result in motivation.
For the educational part, lets talk about what scholars have to say about the book of Ephesians.
Most Bibles label this as a letter from Paul to a church in Ephesus. But modern scholarship has concluded that this letter most likely was not written by Paul. How could this be, we may ask, since the author claims to be Paul?
To explain, back when this was written, there was no such thing as intellectual property. Copyrights and patents did not exist. Which meant a few things happened with written work.
Some authors signed their name, other chose to leave their writings anonymous. Then there were those who were students of an author, and when he died they would write in his name. This wasn’t seen as lying, but a sign of respect and a way to continue their teacher’s traditions and wisdom.
These were acceptable practices back then, but for us, it can make Biblical scholarship a bit tricky.
In studying the use of language and historical references, scholars believe Ephesians was written by one of Paul’s students. For one thing the use of words is noticeably different from the words in Paul’s other letters.
Second, this letter assumes a large, organized church, whereas Paul was often writing to small, intimate church houses.
So, if we accept the theory that it was not Paul, but a student, writing the letter, what was going on during the time the letter was written?
Scholars say it was written after Jerusalem has fallen to the Romans. The Temple has been destroyed for a second time, and the Jews were trying to redefine what it meant to be Jewish.
Some Jews find the answer in Christ while at the same time Non-Jews are also discovering Christ, and these people from vastly different beliefs and practices are coming together as Christians.
In other words, this letter was written during a true time of chaos.
And what does this student of Paul do? Does he throw up his hands and say "This is crazy, it makes no sense"? Does he say "That’s it, the Romans have won, life as we know it is over"?
No, he writes this exuberant letter in which the first thing he says after the greeting is "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places."
Did you hear that? With the Temple in ruins, with Roman guards patrolling the streets, with worshipers of all walks of life gathering, he says "Blessed be the God."
And does he say God has blessed us in Christ with a little bit of spiritual blessing? No.
Does he say God has blessed us with some spiritual blessing? No.
He says "God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing."
Every. Not a little. Not some. But every.
And he goes on for 10 more lines, and 5 more chapters gushing on and on about how good God is, what life in Christ has done for us, and how we should respond.
With foreign occupation, a destroyed Temple and a chaotic congregation, what blessings could God have possibly given? Paul’s student rapidly lists the reasons:
That even before the world was created God had a plan for us, with the means of redemption already in place.
That even though we already belong to God, God has reinforced his love by adopting us through Jesus Christ.
That through the blood of Christ, God has freely given us grace, lavishing us with forgiveness of our trespasses.
That with wisdom and insight, God in his mysterious ways has gathered us together.
And what does God ask us? That we might live to praise his name.
Life, as the Paulist writer states, may be chaotic right now, but as long as we know we have been adopted by God through Christ, we have grace, forgiveness and redemption.
And for that we should give thanks. Can I get an amen?
On New Year’s Eve I heard an interview with one of my heros, Maya Angelou. She was asked what was the most important life lesson she learned.
Maya responded "The most important lesson I learned, the most important lesson anyone can learn is gratitude. To say "thank you.""Thank you," she lyrically repeated. "Some people will ask for modesty. But modesty is like a magnet people wear that easily falls off. Instead, I say to pray for and to seek humility. To be thankful for your ancestors."
Then she began her own exuberant benediction: "If you are a European-American, and your ancestors were Pilgrims who fled to escape persecution say "thank you.""Thank you. For everything you gave up and everything you went through.""If you are Asian-American and your ancestors came here hundreds of years ago to help build the railroad, some of them leaving their spouses behind for decades, say "thank you.""Thank you. For working in the sweat shops and steam shops of New York.""If you are African-American and your ancestors were brought here on a slave ship laying head to foot, say "thank you."
"Thank you."
Dr. Angelou continued, "And I, in response, realizing and knowing what all my ancestors did and went through, can’t help but to ask what I can do for the people who are to come after me."
I was so moved to tears by her lesson of thankfulness. As Dr. Maya Angelou states: gratitude is life’s most important lesson.
Paul’s student also embraces a spirit of gratitude, reminding us that we are to bless God who has blessed us in Christ, giving us grace, redemption, and forgiveness, asking that we live for the praise of his glory, treating each other and ourselves with a bit more kindness and love.
It has been God’s good pleasure the writer states, not just once, but twice. So, for a moment, let’s forget about the economy, or job market, let’s set aside health and family issues, and let me ask: what has been God’s good pleasure for you?
I was reminded of this on New Year’s Day when I came though a collection of photos from over the past four years.
From a material viewpoint, I see just how much I have been blessed. A TV given by a friend, a dining room table given by my landlord, dishes given by a classmate, a couch given to me by the Maniscalcos, a recliner given by a neighbor, a bedroom set purchased by my Mom.
I couldn’t help but to be reminded of all that God has done for me socially. My running, karaoke and linedancing friends. The friends I have living in 10 states.
My cat, who I can’t picture life without, and the cat toys and furniture people of the church have given. Thank you.
I can’t help but to be reminded of the ways God has blessed me. Relatively good health, an education, a calling.
Once upon a time I lived in a studio apartment with a shower that didn’t work and a bathtub that had to be filled with water heated on the stove. Now I can look outside my door and see a lake and trees and children playing. I have a stocked pantry and a full wardrobe.
Shoot, I am thankful that I have two feet, two eyes, two hands and a heart that still beats.
All that other stuff that I worry about, that day to day stuff that is real and can wear one down, thinking about what I don’t have? In the big scheme of life, it’s all secondary.
Because what I do have, what God has given me is by far greater, and there is still a whole future waiting out there to be revealed and to be discovered.
So, I give thanks. I give thanks to God for the gifts he has given and the gifts yet to be.
"Thank you," as Dr. Maya Angelou would say, "Thank you."
And us? What can we do? We can take a lesson from Ephesians and from Dr. Angelou and show our gratitude to God and our ancestors for the ways God has shared his good pleasure.
We can start by saying to God, who created the world with a plan set in place for all of us, thank you.
Thank you.
To Abraham and Sarah for accepting God’s call, leaving behind all they knew so they could be a blessing to the rest of the world, thank you.
Thank you.
To Moses who helped free the Israelites, who gave us the Law and Commandments, who didn’t give up on the people even when they gave up on him and God, thank you.
Thank you.
To Mary and Elizabeth who accepted God’s call to bear children, bringing Jesus and John into the world even though it meant great pain for them, thank you.
Thank you.

To Jesus, God’s living wisdom, who walked with us, shared meals, taught and touched us, who died for us so we may be free from sin and receive the gifts of grace and redemption, thank you.
Thank you.
To Paul and the disciples who bravely spread the Good News of Christ, even when it meant being jailed and dying for their beliefs, thank you.
Thank you.
To the Holy Spirit that moved over the waters of chaos and continues to move through the world today, thank you.
Thank you.
To the original Congregationalists who left home and moved here to worship God, thank you.
Thank you.
To the members of Smith Memorial and Park Church who established our church, thank you.
Thank you.
To the former pastors and members who kept the church open during the Great Depression even as other churches closed down, thank you.
Thank you.
To all adults and children who work to keep our church alive so God’s word can be done and proclaimed, thank you.
Thank you.
And how can we show our thanks to God?
By praising his glory, by gathering every Sunday. We show our thanks when we place our offerings on the altar, when we lift up our voices in song, when we pray together, when we study scripture.
We show our thanks when we reach out through missions, when we open our food pantry, when we assist those in need.
We show thanks when we care for and maintain the Peace Garden, church grounds and property.
We show thanks when we bring our children to church, allowing them to learn the stories and to understand, without a doubt, that God loves them and always will.
And in return, something the Paulist writer understood, something Dr. Angelou knows, something medical science is discovering, the more we find ways to say "Thank you" the more blessed we remain, the more emotional strength we find for difficult times, and the more energized we stay when we feel weak.
The more we find ways to give thanks for God’s good pleasure, the more blessed we feel, the more blessed we behave, and the happier, saner and sturdier we become.
Friends and family in Christ, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
It has been according to and by God’s good pleasure. And in response, let us continue to live, praising his glory forever and ever, amen.

Sermon from 12/28/09

Dec 28, 2008
Scripture: Luke 2:22-40
Sermon Title: "Blessed Wisdom"
Rev. G
One of the most beautiful Christmas songs is "Ava Marie" which invites God to show the meanings of love and contentment. The lyrics go:
"Take my fear replace it with knowledge divine
though I am weak, make me strong.
Each day I’ll be more understanding
each day more patient and peaceful within
and faith will lead me closer to wisdom
let wisdom deliver me closer to Him."
Wisdom: a great theme to end the year with, when the birth of Jesus has been welcomed and we are asked to rediscover who Jesus is to us.
This has been the task for Christians throughout the ages, and as my Professor John Riggs taught me, Christian history is the continued attempt to understand Jesus in new times and places.
Back when people encountered Jesus, they had different responses. Some were indifferent: "Oh, he’s just the carpenter’s son." Others were negative: "He has a demon".
Others had a positive response: Jesus was the answer they had been looking for, fulfilling their expectation about how they would meet God.
Those who were waiting for a prophet called Jesus "the Prophet." Those who were waiting for the anointed one called Jesus "the Christ." Same goes for those who were expecting to meet God in the form of a healer, a shepherd, a meal provider.
Then there were others who were waiting for wisdom, so when Jesus came by they said "Behold the Wisdom of God."
It’s been years since I graduated from seminary, but when I look back, wisdom is one of the top three leassons that has stayed with me, a helpful spiritual lesson for me to learn.
See, before seminary I was the kind of person who placed all my expectations on miracles, who believed everything happened for a reason and God controlled everything. If something bad happened, I immediately moved to the mind set of a victim, whined about, and asked God to fix it.
Either the problem was resolved and viola! a miracle had happened, or the problem grew worse, which meant either God was punishing me, testing me, or perhaps I just didn’t pray hard enough.
At seminary I was exposed to people who thought differently. They didn’t see God as a great puppet master but a relational God who desired social justice and acts of compassion. Miracles were more like pleasant coincedences. The response to bad things happening was because we have free will. They prayed to God to seek peace and understanding.
For me, going to seminary meant going from one extreme to the other. But I learned and one teaching that stuck with me was the ability to experience God, Christ and the Holy Spirit as wisdom.
During class we learned about the roles of wisdom and knowledge in the Bible. How the Jews valued study and knowledge. The New Testament writers, influenced by Greek thought, embraced wisdom, giving it the name Sophia.
After three years of seminary I was able to take the spiritual extreme of where I was when I first began, coupled it with the spiritual extreme of my professors, and developed my own understanding, which arrived somewhere in the middle: a place in which miracles and coincidences coexisted side by side, where the power of God is balanced by the free will of humanity, to an understanding that when problems arose I could pray to God not only for assistance but also for wisdom.
This all came together in May 2005 when my friend Cari asked me to help her move. With her father and two friends we moved tables and chairs, books and potted plants, until only one thing remained: her couch.
It was not a simple, small couch, it was a magnificent couch that took up the length of the wall. We tried to get it out the door, but no luck.
That baby would not get through the door. We pushed and we pulled, we turned and we flipped. We gritted our teeth and we shoved, but no good.
We took her front door off of its hinges. No help. We asked her neighbor to open his door to create extra wiggle room. No wiggle was had. We took the neighbor’s door off the hinges. Nada.
Nearly an hour passed and we did everything we could do to free that couch from her apartment but freedom would not come.
With nothing left to do, we did the one thing we hadn’t done. We prayed. We joined hands, bowed our heads and simply asked God to send us some wisdom to figure out what to do.
After the amen was said, we went back to work. We tilted the couch, we grabbed an end, and somehow, some way, no kidding, the couch came right out of the apartment! A few minutes later it was loaded right onto the truck.
To this day I think about that moment, and if I wasn’t there, I would say it never happened. But it did. But how? We were trying for an hour and did nothing different in those last five minutes but pray. Yet the prayer worked.
Somehow a combination of wisdom, coincidence, miracle and sheer luck all came together to accomplish what needed to be done.
All I know is this: when we stopped trying to do it by ourselves, when we paused for prayer and specifically sought out the wisdom of God, we were able to get the couch out of Cari’s apartment.
And my prayer life would never, ever be the same again.
Wisdom is throughout the Old Testament. People gather to study the Torah. Proverbs 8 states that wisdom was present during the creation. Wisdom is present with the likes of Ezra and Nehemiah when it came time to rebuild the city.
Read the New Testament and wisdom is there too. In fact, in Luke’s Gospel, wisdom is referred to more then in any other gospel, which should not be a suprise since Luke was a highly skilled writer and scholar.
Look at today’s reading. How Simeon is guided by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit reveals to Simeon just who Jesus is. Guided and revealed are just other ways to speak about wisdom.
Look at Anna who is called a prophet and said to be a great age. Prophet and great age are just other ways to hint about wisdom.
Then, to make it clear, Luke tells us the child Jesus "Grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him."
Read a little further, and you’ll come across Jesus at age 12, sitting in the temple, listening and asking, amazing all who hear, and to make sure we get the point, verse 52 restates how Jesus increased in wisdom as he grew older.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, from Simeon, to Anna, to pre-teen Jesus in the temple, we hear just how important wisdom is in the story of Christ.
When it came to Jesus there was something about his presence, his teachings. His memorable sayings such as the blind should not lead the blind, otherwise they might both fall into a pit (Luke 6:39).
Or his memorable aphorisms which did not always make sense at the time, such as "foxes have their holes and birds have their nests but the Son of God has no place to rest his head." (Luke 9:58).
There were his speeches about blessed are you who weep. There was something about the stories he told about beggars being blessed in heaven, in which people began to say as Jesus walked by "Here is the Wisdom of God".
People who met Jesus felt as if God’s wisdom had come down to them and was in their midst. In fact, the earliest records we have of Jesus do not discuss him healing the sick or doing miracles. Instead, the earliest Christian writings were collections of his sayings and his wisdom.
Over time, the followers of Jesus gathered his sayings and stories to not only remember what he said, but to continue the tradition, so when a situation arose, they could try to recall something he said or think of what he would have said.
It is in the collections of Jesus’ wisdom that the earliest memories of Christ exist: what he said, what he taught, the lessons he shared.
These early writings celebrated Jesus’s wisdom, even if his teachings often went against common sense, sounded rather peculiar, or undermined the official view of the world.*
So what does this mean for us? For on thing, it means we have another word to add to our ever expanding vocabulary to describe who Jesus is. Do you see Jesus as: savior, healer, counselor, friend? Now have another word: wisdom.
What does it mean for your prayer and spiritual life? It means that now you have another way to pray to God, inviting Jesus to share with you his wisdom.
It means that when you are faced with a difficult choice or a hopeless situation, you can pray, asking for wisdom on what you should do and how to face your situation.
When loved ones go into the hospital, ask God to instill the medical staff with wisdom. Before the big test or writing a paper, ask God for wisdom.
At church meetings when making a difficult decision, we can ask first for wisdom.
With Jesus being wisdom incarnate, we have another way to worship and experience God, since anything that involves education and acts of discovery can become an act of prayer.
Teach your child how to change a tire: you’re sharing wisdom. Teach a child how to make their bed: wisdom. Teach your child how to bake bread or use the outside grill: you’re sharing wisdom.
Sign up for a new class, learn a new trade, sit down with a loved one and or all by yourself, read the paper, read a book: you are sharing wisdom, you are experiencing God.
Want to experience the divine presence of God? Pick up the Bible, attend a Bible Study, read a book or watch a documentary that explores concepts of the Bible you didn’t know about.
Anytime you embrace, share or seek out wisdom, you are embracing, sharing and seeking out God.
So next time you feel like you’ve become a victim of circumstances or don’t know what to do, take a moment to pray, call upon Jesus who is wisdom, and see what happens.
You may find yourself moving from helpless victim and inactive bystander to an active participant, where like Anna, Simeon, and Jesus you will be guided by the Spirit, opening up doors and conquering things you never thought you could.
Since that day when I helped move the couch, I have found that praying to God for wisdom takes me out of my world, moves me away from my biases and worries, and moves me closer into the realm of God, in which different realities exist, in which wisdom, not fear rules, and the Spirit of God, not the spirit of my ego dominates.
I invite you this week to take some time out, to engage God’s Wisdom in your own Bible study.
Perhaps read Proverbs 8, or Luke 2, study the teachings of Jesus, see where God’s wisdom leads you.
The next time you face a crises, or you face a difficult decision to make, invite God to become a partner in your situation by asking for and seeking God’s Wisdom.
In the words of "Ava Marie", may God take your fear and replace it with knowledge, may each day make you more understanding, patient and peaceful within. May faith lead you closer to wisdom, may wisdom deliver you closer to Him."
* (Note: a large part of this comes, some of it word from word, from "The God of Jesus" by Stephen Patterson, chapter 3, "On The Radical Wisdom of Jesus")

Wanderings for week ending Jan11, 2009

Good afternoon everyone. Is it snowy out there or what: a winter wonderland, although for some it may seem more like a wilderness.

Since I have been here the wilderness has been a common topic of my preaching. It's a common topic in the Bible. The wilderness is referred to in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy at least 90 times. In the Old Testament Moses, David and Elijah flee into the wilderness. The wilderness is known as a barren place, a lonely place, a dangerous place. But it is also known as the place from which help from God comes.

The wilderness features prominently in this Sunday's reading. The lectionary suggests we read Mark 1:4-11, but we are also going to read verses 12 and 13. It is the story about John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus and Jesus being driven into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan and was with wild beasts. If you read Mark 1:1-13 you will see just how many times the word wilderness or dessert is mentioned. What is Mark trying to tell us?

And interestingly, the next time the words wilderness/dessert/lonely place appear in such great frequency is Mark 6:30-44- the feeding of the 5,000 men (not to mention women and children). What do you make of that?

Today, I wish to focus on Mark 1:13, where Jesus is with the wild beasts. My mind immediately went to the children's book "Where the Wild Beasts Are." My mind originally thought of danger, danger! I imagined Jesus being in dangerous/treacherous situations with lions and tigers and snakes and wild dogs ready to rip him apart at any time.

So I was surprised to discover that this isn't the only image one can get from verse 13. Some scholars see this as a peaceful scene infused with hope. They say that Jesus being with the wild animals is a reference to the expectation that the Messiah will establish a peaceable kingdom, as stated in Isaiah 11:6-9 which says "The wolf shall live with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid." Other scholars will say this scene reminds us that Jesus is the new Adam, and he is living with the animals as Adam and Eve lived with them in the Garden of Eden. They say Jesus lives peacefully with the animals in the wilderness as anticipation of God's kingdom.

So here we have at least two thoughts: Jesus' time in the wilderness was a dangerous time where he is under constant attack of being killed by wild beasts or it is a peaceful time in which Jesus and the animals live in harmony. Which version fits your understanding today, and is there perhaps a third or fourth or tenth way of understanding verse 13? May you be safe and well today. Blessings, Pastor G

Wanderings for the week of Dec 30, 2008-Jan 4, 2009

Greetings to all, on this, the last day of 2008. Sunday's sermon is Ephesians 1:1-14. If you get a chance, take out your Bible and read it. Have you ever found so much good crammed into so few a lines? The writer is just brimming with the good news that even before time began God had a plan for us, and it was all God's "good pleasure." I am reading from the NRSV version, and not sure which version you have, but I am awed by the "exuberant benediction" that exists in these 14 lines.
Blessed is mentioned 3 times
Good pleasure is stated twice
Grace is mentioned 3 times
love, wisdom and insight and each used once.

I invite you to read this scripture and do two things: think of the ways God had blessed you this year and, for those who long for further scriptural reflection, turn to Nehemiah in the Old Testament, chapter 9, and read a great and concise summary of the story of God's people, before Jesus, and the ways in which God showed them his "good pleausure", wisdom and grace. Blessing to everyone and to everyone, be safe. Peace, Pastor G