Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Galatians 1:11-24, "You're paying to much for your whistle", Ordinary 6, 2013

 How many of us can remember the first thing we either bought with our own money or earned somehow? It was a "must have" and we worked and toiled, mowing, raking, shoveling or delivering ourselves to death just to earn enough money to buy that "must have." Mine was an Optimus Prime Transformers figure complete with the Autobot battle trailer. So often those things we worked for so hard as children to buy just simply didn't amount to what we expected them to be, in fact often they're cheep and break easily and then we're left holding nothing that cost us everything. One of my favorite all time movies is "A Christmas Story". We've all seen it I'm sure. It's the movie with the Ralphie and all he wants for Christmas is a Red Rider BB Gun. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Ralphie is eagerly awaiting his special Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to arrive in the mail. After downing buckets of Ovaltine and waiting in agony for 6 long weeks the secret decoder ring arrives in the mail. As soon as he gets it he turns on the radio and listens to the Little Orphan Annie broadcast. Towards the end of the broadcast the anticipation builds, the secret code is given and Ralphie rushes to the bathroom (the only place a 8 year old boy can have any privacy of course) and reads the decoded message. The message of course was not one of intrigue or suspense, but an advertisement that simply read, "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!" Not what little Ralphie had expected it to be :(. Many of us know this same feeling of waiting so eagerly to achieve something or to buy something we are certain will make us happy only to be disappointed. My Transformer broke not to long after buying it. This seems to be the case with most of the "must have" items children long for...BB Guns jam...action figures lose their pieces and Barbie Doll heads pop off...and we never get what we expect.

Ben Franklin shared a story similar to this from when he was a boy. He tells of a whistle that he would pass in the store front window in town. Everyday he would pass by and long for that whistle. He decided that he would work, and work hard, and save ever penny he earned in order to someday purchase the whistle. Well the day came he had earned enough money to buy the whistle. He went into the store a purchased it and was as happy as could be, but it wasn't long before he realized that the whistle was not worth what he had paid for it, he had essentially paid to much for his whistle. The whistle was a waste of money, but the lesson he had learned was not. He learned that often the things we long for in life aren't worth the price we pay to obtain them. So for the duration of his life he would look upon his friends and colleagues who strove, longed for and even lusted after power, prestige and success and would simply remark, "My friends, you are paying to much for your whistle." I'm wondering this week how much are we paying for our lives "whistles"?

The first rule in Econ 101 is simple, you cannot yield a profit without first making the risk of investment. Some investments are risker than other's, but unless you invest you get no profit. In many ways it's the old saying, "you reap what you sow" and it extends into all area's of life. You want the best lawn on the block? Start feeding, seeding and mulching your way to front lawn glory! Want to get into Harvard or Yale or any good college? Start studying extra, research topics and pay attention in class. Want a healthy marriage and family life? Spend time with your wife and kids. By prepared to play catch when you'd rather watch the game, be ready to spend money on things you don't think the family needs and be at peace with the fact that you'll be reading "Good Night Moon" ten times a night for the next 12 years. It comes down to one simple statement...Life costs. The question is are you investing in the right things?

In our passage this week Saint Paul remarks on the whistle in his life that ultimately cost to much. It was a whistle of piety, discipline and self-righteousness that he had invested his life in. Paul was a devote and radically committed Jew. He felt that everyone should be as devote as him. He also invested in his Roman Citizenship and his Jerusalem Hierarchal political correctness and if you did not agree with this, if you did not commit yourself to this type of Judaism that he did, than you deserved death. Paul was a Jewish Terrorist. His world view of absolutism wasn't much different than the Islamist extremist the world deals with today. Paul was willing to kill innocent people to further what he considered the cause of God. In a way this was a good thing though. It demonstrates that God can use anyone, even religiously motivated terrorist, like Saul of Tarsus, like Islamic extremist to spread his message of love and acceptance.  This was the nature and character of Paul...Until...until Jesus. Paul testifies to an experience that causes him to realize that he was paying to much for his whistle. He realized that his radical form of Judaism and his devote Torah Fundamentalism was worthless...that is without the breath of God.

We all have a tendency to do or to be like Paul was...investing in the wrong things, over paying for our whistle and underpaying where it counts most. Some of us do this to the extent that it cost us our lives, our families and our friends. we invest in careers, financial goals and success to the point where we lose what really matters. One of my favorite songs is "The cats in the cradle". This is a story about a father who invest in all the wrong things and ignores the pleading of his son to play catch, come to games, and attend graduation. Then when the son is older he has not time for his dad and then the cycle repeats with his son. The man in the song has paid to much for his whistle and has failed to invest in what matters. The beauty of Saint Paul's Damascus road conversion is that he got it. He realizes that he is paying way to much for his whistle and is willing to throw his whistle away in exchange for a crown. Not a beautiful shiny crown of gold, but one made of thorns, not one of glory, but one of suffering and hard work.

The only thing worth investing our lives in is God and others and Saint Paul explains to his first century audience as well as us 21st century folks that it is only by the divine love and grace of God that we are able to do this. So this week the scripture invite us to use the grace divine to transform our lives and stop paying to much for life's pretty whistles and start investing in what matters. Amen

In Christ,
Pastor Josh

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Romans 5:1-11, "The Goodhearts", Trinity Sunday 2013

Please view this video prior to reading this entry.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" that was what the "great OZ" said as he was exposed for the charlatan that he was. Oz the Great turned out to be nothing but a little man posing as a great wizard all in an attempt to persuade, manipulate and be feared by the inhabitants of OZ, and it worked! The people where terrified and had it not been for toe toe... Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scare Crow would have been amongst the terrified. The truth is we have always been a bit uncomfortable, to say the least, around the divine or what we perceive as divine. Ever since the dawn of humanity we have been terrified, enamored with and even suspicious of dieties. Just take Adam and Eve for example. They had it all, yet they were suspicious and doubted the divine plan of God. The ark is another good example of us humans making sure that there was sufficient space between us and the divine. The Ark was so holy, so sacred that it was believed that if someone not holy touched it they would die. Even the holy, the "set apart" where not allowed to look into the ark because it was the very place where the very presence of God was and to see or to experience that was just to much. Even Moses was only able to look as God's back and then when he came down the mountain he shone so bright from his divine encounter that the people told him to literally, "put a hat on!" The elaborate and complicated hierarchy of access in Temple worship is another great example. Only certain people had access to certain area's of the temple and only one person could truly stand in the presence of God. There was the outer court also known as the court of Gentiles where non jews could come and enter, but that was as far as they could go. There was the Court of Women where women could come and bring their sacrifices, talk to the priests and observe certain rituals. There was the court of Israelites, a court reserved for only Jewish men who where ritually pure. Then there was the court of priest where sacrifices where made and only the Sons of Levi could enter. Then there was the "holy of holies". This was the most sacred place, here the real presence of God was located and only the ritually pure and ceremonially sanctified high priest, a descendant from the direct line of Aaron, could enter once a year. Whats all this amount to? LIMITED ACCESS TO GOD...until Jesus showed up.

The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) bare witness to an event that changed all this. The hour upon which Christ gave himself up and died the temple veil was torn. The temple veil was a thick purple and blue and gold piece of material that separated the presence of the living God from humanity. The veil being torn was a symbolic gesture that demonstrated that the gap between God and humans was now bridged because of Jesus Christ, our only Lord and savior and mediator to God the Father. That amounts to TOTAL ACCESS TO GOD! Paul, the author of this weeks passage,  was a God fearing Jew and devote, zealous and even fanatical pharisee (at first...till he met Jesus) but had no access to the real presence of God. Despite all his knowledge and zeal for the law he was still shut out of the presence of God. In our passage this morning Paul rejoices in the fact that because of Jesus he and the people he is writing to now have complete access to the presence of God. In fact all of humanity now has access to God and have been justified by faith, the faithfulness of Jesus that is, and can know and worship God almighty! We have been invited into relationship with God through Jesus and can know God personally.

Two things stand out in my mind as a read this passage. One is relationship and the other is justification. One literally opens the door for the other. Because we have been justified by faith we can now have relationship with God. The founder of Methodism John Wesley saw the importance of experiencing justifying grace through faith. He had is own justifying moment, a moment he refers to as "assurance", the assurance of his salvation. This moment happen at a bible study on Alders-gate in London over 300 years ago. Take a look at this dramatic recounting of that important day

Does your heart bear witness to the spirit of God within you. Are you assured that you have been freely justified from your sins and can know experience the saving grace known as sanctification? If not all you need to do is have faith and through that faith you will be able to experience a relationship with God unlike any seen sense before the fall!

This Sunday is also Trinity Sunday. There are lots of questions about the Trinity. What does it mean? How does it work? Is there really three people living in God's head? Which leads me to one of the funniest, yet most sincere questions about the Trinity that I have ever heard, "Is God scytzo?" Thats a good question. Perhaps God is. God came once as a poor, oppressed and impoverished minority, whats to stop God from wholly identifying with one of our societies most marginalized  and misunderstood populations, the mentally ill? The simple end of it is that the Trinity and all it's persons exist in perfect relationship towards each other. They all submit freely, they all support each other and they all treat each other with divine respect. The Trinity exemplifies the way that we ought to relate to each other and ultimately towards God and without the justification and forgiveness of sins that are provided to us through faith in and the  faithfulness of Jesus Christ we could not.

To put this all very simply, justification is what happens when Jesus becomes the heart of your life. Recently the Cleveland Clinic, the nations premiere free health care clinic, put together a video that asks, "what is inside the heart of a person and how would you react if you knew what was going on?" Take a look

The veil was torn, the curse was broken so that Jesus could transform our hearts. Transformation means letting God justify you by accepting his free gift of forgiveness and experience the assurance that you have been forgiven. You could have been a Christian your whole life, gone to church every time the door was open and still not know what this is like. John Wesley did. He was an ordained Elder in the Church of England for 20 years before he felt God's justifying grace and experienced assurance of faith  and salvation. Do you need to have your heart warmed and transformed into one of the "Good hearts of God?" If so simply believe.

In Christ,
Pastor Josh

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Revelation 22:12-21, "The Circle of Life", Easter 7, Mothers Day, 2013

Do you remember the popular and even famous Lion King ballad, "The Circle of Life" by Sir Elton John? It's one of the most memorable moments of the movie. What parent hasn't hear this song or even sang along to this song. I was 13 when the Lion King came out, maybe a bit to old to be still watching Disney Movies....but are we ever told for Disney Movies ;). The "Circle of Life" song like the Lion King movie is a "feel good" song. We get a certain comfort from considering the reality of this "circle" i.e birth-life-death. As much as we hate death there is a certain comfort that arises out of it's inevitability, death is the great equalizer, none of us, no matter how rich or powerful can escape death. In time we all die, one generation gives way to another and so the circle be un broken.

Our passage brought to us by the John the Revelator takes a revolutionary spin on the circle of life. Instead of a circle which spins from birth to life to death, Johns circle un ravels and and spins wildly out of control as the circle is broken when death is removed from the equation. Instead of death the circle breaks open and veers down a straight path that is eternal life. It speaks of the possibility and the new reality of a life without death. This is a promise made from God and "of the Lamb" that all who put their faith in the Lamb will experience new life and will be part of the new creation.

This time of year is a good time to consider new life and new creation, after all it's spring. Everywhere we look we see signs of newness. We see new buds, new flowers, on the farm theres new live stock and new crops being planted and growing. It's a marvelous time and even a mysterious time, because even science and all it's abilities can empirically explain why leaves return, why flowers bud and why seeds germinate anymore than it can empirically disprove or prove God's exsistance. This is the beauty of faith... the beauty of new creation....mystery. The thing about the mystery of new life is that it takes sacrifice, even the sacrifice of death in order for it to take hold. Tree's must die and their leaves float away, seeds must fall to the earth and wither and die, even Solomon when they spawn they die. All this happens in order for new life to begin.

When I was a child I would sneak out of bed down the hall or stairs and yell out to my mom, "Mom!...Mom!" And she would respond "yes sweet heart?" and the I would say, "Just checking". My kids do the same thing (really just Gabe) only it's a little different. After putting him to bed, he'll come down the hallway and complain about this, or complain about that. I don't think anything is really wrong, what I do think is that he just wants to make sure we're still there, that we still care and if he needs us...we are right here. I think it's more about making sure that no matter what he still has the undivided attention of his mother, because it's not me he asks for or runs to, it's not me he says, "hug and kiss" to, it's his mother.

Today is Mothers Day. I don't think it's possible to speak of new life and new birth without think about mothers and with out giving our mothers around of applause, after all without them...literally, none of us would be here ;). I am certain that anatomy is not the only reason women are the givers of life, I'm pretty sure it also has something to do with toughness ;). It's not just sleepless nights, restless days and busy mornings our mommy's endure, but it's also the pain, trauma and even the sacrifice of child bearing that makes them tougher than us guys could ever be.

Author and poet John Milton, author of "Paradise Lost", lost his first two wives in child birth. In 17th century England it was not uncommon for a women to die from complications and trauma suffered during labor. Up until the 60's 1 in every 10 women world wide, including in the West, died from complications relating to child bearing. In fact it's becoming an issue in the U.S today. The death rate for women during child birth is double what it was 25 years ago in our country. Birthing is still as dangerous as it was and ever will be. Lucy Baldwin, the wife of British Prime minister Stanley Baldwin (1929-36), helped rise awareness for women's health issues especially relating to pre-Natal, maternity and post maternity. She worked tirelessly to help provide safe and sterile environments for women to deliver their babies as well as hygiene care and breast feeding instruction following delivery. She also championed resources to help women receive proper nutrition during their pregnancies, because a strong mother was more likely to survive birth than a weak mother. She is most famous for her comparison of child birth to that of a man going off to war. she said, "Like in war the women who engages in child birth knows not whether she will return home alive." My wife's grandmother, Junie, who died about 5 years ago gave birth to 13 children and only 10 of them survived to adulthood. Junie delivered all but one of those babies at home on their family farm. I'm sure there were some tough and scary moments during those 13 deliveries, moments were she almost died, but that was just the way of life on the frontier.

Today for the most part child birth is a celebratory moment. We record it, we take pictures of it and post them on face book for our friends and the world to see. Our family and friends...even the pastor all come by the day of or the days following the birth of a new baby. Thats how it is in the West. In the "2/3rds" world, a.ka. the "third world, a.k.a "the rest of the world"thats not so much the case. For example in Sierra Leon it's during the pregnancy that all the friends and family show up to visit. Why? Because in Sierra Leon women have a 50/50 chance of surviving child birth. So why wait until your daughter, sister, cousin, niece, or even mother has delivered their baby to see them...chances are it might be to late. This is a tradition that continues in many other cultures around the world, in fact this is the reason Mary went to see her cousin Elizabeth when she had learned that Elizabeth was with Child. Needless to say giving birth or in other words, creating new life is risky business and requires sacrifice.

The words of Jesus as recorded in the Revelation of John reminds us that the sacrifice has already been made and like in birth it is through blood and water that we are made new, the waters of baptism and the blood of Jesus. John Reveals that Christ is the beginning, he is the end, he is eternal life so that all of us who have faith in Him share in eternal life. The end is no longer death, but eternal life!

Margaret Wise is a children's author who wrote during the middle part of the 20th cenutry. She wrote one of Rowan's favorite books, "Good night Moon" (1942). She also wrote another famous book, "Runaway Bunny" (1947). In this book a little bunny becomes angry with mother Rabbit. 

So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”

“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you, for you are my little bunny.”

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

“I will become a rock,”

“And I will become a mountain climber and I will climb to where you are.”

“I will become a bird and fly away from you.”

“If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

Praise God that through Christ we have a place for us, a place of new life and eternal life out side the circle. And praise God for our mothers who courageously gave, engendered and support life in us.

Happy Mothers Day,
Pastor Josh

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

John 5:1-9, "Are you hearing voices?", Easter 6, 2013

Ah Spring!!! I love spring, I didn't realize how much I loved it until I spent a winter in Northern Michigan, 40miles north of the 46th parallel (for you non-geo people thats 40 miles closer to the Arctic circle than 2/3 of the Northern Hemisphere). Spring brings rain, flowers, blooms and WARM WEATHER and having spent the last 7 months in clouds, cold and snow...all those things are pretty nice. Along with warmer weather and life, spring brings with it Little Leauge. I think just about every American boy from the last two generations has played Little League baseball at some point. I did and I'm sure many of you did our many of your children have. When kids are real small like mine and are just starting to play the game, like their first or second year of Little League, the focus is basic skill development; i.e throwing, catching, fielding and hitting...and somewhere in all that we teach them to run the bases. My sons just recently had their first day of little league practice. My two older boys have played baseball, or a variation of baseball...t-ball before. It's amazing that still after two years of t-ball my older boys are still working on the basics of throwing and catching, we haven't even introduced hitting yet. As I watched the practice I could hear the voice of the coach instructing them, telling them how to place their feet, how to rotate their arm how to stop a ground ball, and I heard it over and over and over again to the point were if I where the coach I'd have gone nuts!! The goal is repetition and hopefully from that repetition the player learns the mechanics of the game and just naturally stops the ground ball, fields in his glove, transfers it from glove to throwing hand and makes an accurate throw. Eventually they will get there :).

How many of you can still hear the ole ball coaches voice? Maybe you played football or hockey or maybe you ran track or played volley ball, either way coach's voice was a consistant. It was a voice that should have encouraged you and corrected you and made you a better player. Sometimes coach yelled, cussed, and even humiliated us, but in the end we were better players for it and in some cases we are better people. In high school the only sport I was ever good at was football. I had my growth spurt early, so I was about the same size I am now in the 8th grade, minus about 60lbs :). The high school coaching staff thought I was going to be a monster, but unfortunately I stopped growing and never became that big dominate player they hopped I'd be. However I did not quit the game and I was a smart player so I transitioned to a different position and was a playing varsity football my sophomore year on a football team that had close to 60 players. I was never very fast and struggled in speed drills. I had a coach named Craig Curdy who was a small and very obese middle eastern man. I can still hear him yelling at me in Arabic. "Ya-la, Ya-la, Ya-la imshee" which meant "run, run, run faster." There were other things I remember Curdy for, like how he told me to never give up, to always work hard and to be honest and fair. That sophomore year was my first and only year of playing varsity football. I suffered several concussions that season and my doctor told me he would not clear me to play contact sports anymore, but despite that both Coach Curdy and Coach Osborn(our head coach) still invited me to be part of the team and that meant a lot.

Coach Curdy's voice is not the only voice I still hear from my childhood, adolescents, and early adulthood. I still hear the voices of teachers, professors, pastors, priest, employers, and of course parents. I rely on those voices to this day and so do many of you. I rely on the voice of Mr. Kelly, my high school history teacher, who told me to never be ashamed of my faith, even though he did not share it. I rely on the voice of Pastor O, the senior pastor at the mega church I grew up in, who always told the truth, who was always up front and who loved God more than anything. I rely on the voice of Nate Elerton, my youth pastor, who to this day still pastors me, still prays for me, still nurtures my call and encourages me in it even when it starts to become to much. I still listen to the voice of Padre Hill, the Episcopal Priest whom God used to bring me assurance of my faith and whom formed my faith into what it is becoming today. I still hear the voice of Dr. Paul Alexander who taught me that God is not this neatly packed product for us to buy and resale and so therefore neither is faith, it's real, it's organic, it's's personal. I still hear all these voices and they still speak life to me to this day!

Unfortunately not all voices are like those mentioned above, not all voices we still hear encourage and build us up. Many of the voices we still hear everyday are voices of abusive parents, or maladjusted teachers or misguided preachers whose voices tare down, destroy, crush and kill. They are not life giving, not life affirming, not constructive...just down right hateful! In my prior life as a social worker I came a cross many young people who were products of abusive adults who's voice was filled with vile and malice. They never heard a good word about themselves in their entire life. They were always told they were stupid, fat, dumb, a whore or a slut. They were told they would never amount to anything and if a person hears this enough they start to believe it about themselves. Fortunately there are times where the good voices drowned out the ugly ones and these young people made a turn around and become productive people. My wife was abused in many ways as a child especially verbally by her mother. But thankfully she had coaches, pastors, youth pastors and teachers who saw the good in her and nurtured that. I'm not saying she never hears those other voices on certain days, because she does and it's hard for her sometimes, but because of the positive people in her life and their voices she has over come adversity.

Our passage this week speaks to the power and authority that is found in the voice of Jesus. With his voice he challenges and overcomes preconceived idea's and religious convention and beliefs. Jesus has come to Jerusalem for one of the Jews many annual feast. While the proper and the pious gather near the temple and the city center Jesus is off on the margins. He is out wondering about the area of the sheep gate, where the sick, lame, and unclean gather hoping to be healed in the sheep gate pool. The sheep gate is a place of suffering and loneliness it's where the "in-valids" are. It was said that at a certain time an angel would come and trouble the waters, that is stir them up. If a sick person could get into the water while it was being troubled than it was said that they would be healed of their "in-validness". As Jesus approached the pool his eyes, well really his heart, perceived a man who had been an in-valid for 30 years. He was paralyzed and could not move. Jesus went up to him and asked him, "do you want to be well?"Then man responds, "of course." but he has an excuse for why he's not healed. He says that he cannot get to the waters when they are troubled by the angel because no one is there to help him to the pool. Jesus then responds with his voice, "If you want to be well then get up and walk." and the man does just that. Jesus's voice is a different voice from what the man had become accustom to hearing. It wasn't a voice of judgment or condesecion, a voice the man had grown accompany to. After all the prevailing theology of the day was that he must have done something wrong to have ended up that why. It wasn't a voice of sympathy or a voice of advice, i.e "Oh you poor soul", or "you should go see the Physician or healer." Jesus' voice was one that was unexpected and unpresidented. It was a voice of possibility, a voice that gave the man hope that he could be transformed if he would only act. And it was that voice of possibility, that voice of potential, the potential that he could be everything that God had created him to be that empowered and ultimately healed the man and turned him from "in-valid" into valued person.

Do we head to the voice of possibility for transformation? Or are we stuck, tuned into the empty, lifeless voices that tell us, "you can't do this", "you can't do that." "God doesn't love you." "You will never be anything to anyone." Are those the voices we hear most? Or are you tuned into the practical voices that reminded you to always play it safe, always make smart investments, never over extend yourself...don't swing at the high fast ball. If we regularly listen to those voices instead of listening to the voice of Jesus which offers us infinite possibilities for transformation and healing, then we are not accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. If the paralyzed man had not taken the risk of trying to get up and walk, he would have died there next to that pool, but he didn't he headed the words of Jesus and all the potential they had, potential to make the man whole and well.

There's a story of a young man named Cameron Lyle. He was a champion division three track athlete. One day he was tested for compatibility to become a bone marrow donor. At the time of the test he was told he was a 1 and 1millionth match for someone not related, meaning it was unlikely they would ever use his marrow for someone not in is family. Well the day came when they found that unlikely recipient. He was a young man who would die without the transplant. Now before you think, "this is a no brainer, Kyle has his chance to help someone out here." Let me tell you a bit about bone marrow transplanting and Kyle. It's tough and even tougher on the donor. It leaves the donor virtually incapacitated, unable to lift more that 20lbs over their head. Kyle was a champion hammer thrower, a possible olympic athlete as well as a national champion contender. If Kyle donates his marrow to this other young man he will miss his track season, forfeit his national championship chances and he can forget the olympics. What Kyle did next was remarkable. Kyle chose to forgo all these other things all so he could help in the possibility of making another human whole (possibility because no transplant is guaranteed, there's always the chance of rejection). When asked about his decision he responded with his voice saying, "it was a no-brainer, I had a chance to help out another person, thats more important than track." Kyle's voice that day was like the voice of Jesus' at the Sheep gate, it was filled with possibility, not sympathy, not selfishness, not judgment, but possibility that through his action another person might become whole.

Is your voice filled with possibility that you could be part of healing another person? Do you hear the voice of possibility? So that you can be made whole, be healed and saved? Jesus is calling out to you today the same why he called out to the "in-valid" at the sheep gate, all you need to do is get up and walk and experience all the potential God has created you for.