Wednesday, October 24, 2012

real greatness

Mark 10: 35-45

Have you ever heard the phrase: Be careful what you wish for- it might come true?  I have heard this all my life from my parents.  As a teenager many times when I said I wanted something or wished something would happen my parents would quote this to me- they had the wisdom and forethought my undeveloped mind and inexperienced life didn’t and the ability to see through their own experiences to the consequences of my wishes and choices.
This is the gist of what I see Jesus telling James and John.   Here we have these two brothers who were the second two people called by Jesus to be disciples, part of Jesus’ inner circle, and they keep hearing Jesus tell them he is the Son of God and how he will be coming into his Kingdom.  They are beginning to fully realize that they are among greatness.  As many of us do when we drop names of powerful people we know, we are trying to show how important we are just by association- James and John want to be great too- just by knowing Jesus so intimately. 
Jesus responds by telling them- you have no idea what you are asking for- be careful what you wish for. Jesus knows what is coming, but they don’t. 

James and John wanted to be “great” but they didn’t really understand what they were asking for.  Great sometimes only looks great- from a distance- Ask Tiger Woods- no doubt one of the greatest golfers of all time- certainly of this generation.  Ask John Edwards about his desire for greatness in the political world and if it was worth the damage it did to his family.  Ask Rupert Murdock about his rise to greatness in the News Industry.  Ask Johnny Cash or Marilyn Monroe what it’s like to be great- I bet they would all tell you, greatness is not as great as it seems.  These people risked it all in the pursuit of a false sense of greatness- they let their egos cloud their judgment and their delusions of grandeur lead them to feel invincible and make poor decisions.  They fell from greatness in front of our very eyes- into humiliation and shame and others lost their lives in that pursuit. We see these people as flawed human beings with tragic stories but it we are much more like them than we are different.   
Many of us want what they want- money, acceptance, love, power and recognition- society’s definition of greatness- maybe not on the same scale that they sought it but greatness none the less.  Is it worth it?  Each of these people sought greatness on their own merit, hard work and determination and sometimes in scandalous ways that in the end forced them to lose everything in the fall. The problem with this type of greatness is it always comes at a price.  

Jesus asks James and John: “are you willing to pay the price?” Are you willing to drink the cup I will drink and be baptized with the Baptism that I am baptized with?  James and John are not that much different than us- this one story shows us that they are flawed, arrogant, ambitious, short-sighted and Jesus chose them anyway (Barclay).   They immediately without giving it a second thought say yes- we are able. They had no idea what they were asking for.
James and John were under the same delusion many people are today about greatness being equated with power, wealth and influence.  People in Biblical times often saw a king or emperor in this way- they had people waiting on them hand and foot, armies to fight for them, more possessions than they could count and sitting in a throne surrounded by a court with whom to share this greatness by association.  Many people of that time also thought of the king as a god or at least God’s representative on earth ( so we can see why they were confused.

Jesus takes these flawed disciples and tries to teach them and us that this misguided image of greatness is distorted and inaccurate- it’s not all fine wine and expensive things and people loving you all the time.  These things fall away- it’s only a delusion. Jesus reminds them that these people who seem so great- are actually not great people- they are tyrants, in power often times by force and use force and manipulation to maintain their false sense of security and power.   This is not who we should aspire to be.
Jesus uses this opportunity among many to try and correct this misconception about greatness.  He teaches us that greatness comes not in having power over others, the size of our paycheck, the number of degrees on our wall, or the number of championships we win.  Greatness comes in our willingness to humble ourselves in service for others. 

Jesus is our role model for greatness and he shows us this by his own willingness to humble himself and sacrifice his life for us.  He also chose flawed disciples to show us that we all have the ability to be great- as long as we are willing to be in service to others and put others needs before our own. 
Few people remember who won a little league game a few years ago but we will never forget the stories of sportsmanship and sacrifice.  A few years ago during a baseball game a player with downs syndrome is put in the game- bottom of the ninth inning instead of just striking him out the opposing team’s pitcher steps closer to the plate and lobs it softly to make it easier to hit-  He hit a ground ball but the short stop missed it on purpose, allowing it to roll into center field.  The Center fielder picked it up and threw it over the head of the first baseman allowing him to run to second.  The first baseman overthrew it again- allowing him to run to third and eventually score a run for his team.   This team risked losing the game so that a person with a disability would get the chance to feel the success of hitting the ball and scoring a run. Or the team that carries a competitor around the bases after being hurt simply because she deserved it- these are examples selflessness trumping greatness.

One of the most beautiful images of how Jesus taught this is through the foot washing during the last supper.  We see this as antiquated now and maybe it doesn’t hold the same power today as it did 2000 years ago but Jesus, the master and teacher, is cleaning the dirty, callused, smelly feet of his students. It is the equivalent of a CEO coming to the home of his lowest paid employee to clean their toilet.
These are gestures of humility that we should continue to emulate.

 All too often we, like the disciples get so caught up in who’s the greatest and which church is the best that we forget that instead of sitting in our warm, comfortable pews we should be trying to outdo one another in service and kindness- If you are going to compete-compete with other people and churches not on who has the nicer things or prettiest church but who can out serve the other- who can love the ”least of these” the most, who’s willing to sacrifice the most to for the greater good?    
Our faith is not a race to the finish line or a competition to see who has the best programs it’s about who can love the deepest and care the most for those in this world, who are uncared for and unloved.  It’s about aiming not for the riches of this world but for speaking for those who don’t have a voice to speak for themselves and caring for those who can’t care for themselves.  Any other desire for any other form of greatness is artificial and filled with opportunity to fail.  If your greatness comes from serving Christ and our neighbor there is nowhere to go but up.

Often times when we are in service like this we are bothered because there is no external reward for this selfless ness and good behavior.  There are not enough ata boys and thanks yous.  We forget that as Christians we are called to be imitators of Christ and the reward is not for us.  It is to bring Glory to God- not ourselves.  Jesus didn’t serve others and die on the cross because he was going to be rewarded.  He did it simply because he loves us and because he knew it would bring Glory to God. 
We need to follow this example- Do for others simply because we love them, love Jesus and want what is best for the kingdom of God here on earth.  This is greatness and yes it sometimes comes at a price but we do it because Christ loved us first- not to earn a place in heaven, not to earn accolades, not to be great on our own merit but because God is Great.  It is hard work to love in this way- Jesus gave his life for this love and James who was called James the Greater was also martyred for this love- the greatness is the legacy of those who have served before us and seen in the lives changed through this love. 

God calls us to care for this earthly kingdom as our home, our mission field and all those who inhabit it to share the love of Christ and make all people feel welcome and safe in a world of uncertainty, fear and chaos.
Jesus chose 12 flawed people to continue his mission here on earth and to build the Christian faith through them- he continues to choose us to do the same things today- What are we doing to further the kingdom of God?  Jesus calls us to a life of service and maybe we won’t be martyred for our faith as James and Many of the other Apostles were but we are still commissioned to spread the love of God to others- through our words and our actions.  This often times means taking risks- speaking to someone about Christ and facing ridicule and rejection, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and getting our hands dirty and sometimes our hearts broken when we share in the plight of others. 

All this risk is worth it though……because it is a way of thanking God for loving us-something he didn’t have to do- something we don’t deserve but he loves us anyway. God cares for us anyway, provides for us, blesses us and hears our prayers not for what God gets in return but just because he loves.
Gracious and loving God, you selflessly gave up your son on the Cross at Calvary because you love us.  You have loved us from the beginning of time- even when we are arrogant and selfish you love us anyway- We know we don’t need to do anything to earn your love- your grace is ever present but Lord we want to serve you and do good works in your name in response to your ever present love- help us to open our eyes to those in need and love those who can’t possibly love us or repay us for our service. ----Amen

Sunday, October 7, 2012

life isn't fair

Job 1:1, 2: 1-10

The book of Job starts out as many of our modern day fairy tales- There once was a man from Nantucket or Once upon a time….  Job is a story that contains a lot of truth about who God, even if it is not a historical book.  It teaches morals and values, and gives us a window into a world full of suffering.  This book is an attempt to explain something that is very difficult to understand- Why is there suffering in this world?  Why do bad things happen to good people? 
Our scripture today picks up in Chapter 2- Job is a righteous man who is blameless in God’s sight.  He is wealthy with animals, servants, a big family and prestige.  All of a sudden that comes to an end.  Several events happen where his servants, animals and children all die.  If that isn’t bad enough Job gets sick.  His body is covered in lesions and a wife who is none too happy that she is suffering too and blames God for this catastrophe on her life and thinks- We’d be better off dead!
Later on in the story we read of Job’s friends who decide Job must have done something to deserve this punishment from God.  We often feel this way.  If something bad happens it must be because we deserve it.  This is especially true when the “something bad” is happening to someone else.  Even when we don’t know what it is- we assume that they must have done something to deserve this suffering. 
This isn’t the way life works though- Life isn’t fair. 
Some people seem to get away with everything, sometimes the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and sometimes, bad things happen for seemingly no reason at all.  We hear stories of tornadoes which destroy entire towns randomly missing some homes and demolishing others.  There is no rhyme or reason for this- there is no reason why some people lose everything and others lose nothing- Life isn’t fair.
The description of Job in the first verse we read today is not just a description of Job’s character- Job is blameless and upright, feared God and turned away from evil.  This isn’t just saying that Job was a good man who was nice to people and tried to do the right thing.  It is saying that Job’s faith was strong- his faith in God was his grounding and foundation in all that he did.  Through all his suffering this did not change.  Later on in the story we read that Job argued with God, cried out to God, and he even got angry with God from time to time but his faith in God never wavered. 
Sometimes people see God as a fair weather friend.  They are all about loving and worshiping God as long as everything is going their way- as soon as things stop going their way they begin to question God.  He was fair and just as long as I got what I want- but now- I’m not so sure.  (NIV)
Prosperity and a fun life are not what God promises us – if that were so the only reason to have faith would be to see what we would get out of it.(NIV)  When we have this attitude we quickly forget that God is there- all the time- during the good times and bad.
At the beginning of Job- he is a blessed man.  He has status, family, wealth, why wouldn’t he praise God?  We are held in suspense as we wait to see if Job will pass this test- What is his response?  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Pain and suffering are real but our relationship with God deepens as we rely on God more and ourselves less.  Sometimes this means facing the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around us and we are not in control.  It is hard to make sense of it all when you see a child confined to a wheel chair or dying from starvation, when you meet an elderly person who is ready for this life to be over or a woman living with an abusive spouse. (WBC, Williams Arnold-GP)
It doesn’t make sense.  It is something we will probably never understand but what we do understand is we serve a God who loves us, is willing to be in that pain with us, willing to hear our cries, and willing to send people into this world of hurt and pain to comfort and love those who feel discarded and abandoned. 
Life isn’t fair- hard times will come.  We may get sick, lose a loved one, lose our job, watch a loved one suffer, lose our home to storms of nature or storms of government- bad times will come- it is almost guaranteed but it is faith in God and support from those God sends into our lives that will get you through.  God doesn’t cause these things to happen- it is part of living in a messed up- human world. 
God didn’t cause Job’s suffering, and doesn’t cause a tornado to destroy a home but God sends God’s people to respond.  Volunteers who feed rescue workers and help rebuild homes and those who offer a shoulder to cry on, a word of hospitality and the love of Christ to those who need it. 
That is one of the reasons we take communion – to remind ourselves that this is why Jesus came.  Jesus understands our pains.  He experienced hunger, abandonment of friends, public ridicule, watched loved ones grieve over the loss of family, watched his family morn over him as he was tortured and hung on the cross.  No matter how bad it gets we are not alone. 
God sent his son to comfort those who no one else cares about and that call continues to us today.  Today our eyes are open to the injustices in our world- we see it every time we turn on the news.  We know that life isn’t fair. Just as Jesus came to remind us of God’s never failing love God sends us into the world to share God’s love with the those who don’t know it who are weak, weary, lonely and hurting.
 God doesn’t send pain into our lives.  He doesn’t want us to suffer- Just has he didn’t want Jesus to have to suffer- but this is a messed up world and pain is all around us.  Where God abounds is in how we as Christians respond to that pain.  Where is the pain in our community?  Where is the pain in this world?  How is God calling us to respond?  (Why-Adam Hamilton)
Are we to throw up our hands in defeat or say –oh well, it’s not my problem?  No, God is calling us to do something about it!  Today is World Communion Sunday- it is a chance to remember this together- all denominations, all countries, all people-we come to the Lord’s Table together- we are in this together.   It is not just about me, or you, or even this town, or country- we are all in this together- called to experience the saving grace of Christ together and called to serve together. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

walking the walk

James 1:17-27

We see our reflection all the time- we look at ourselves in the mirror we see our reflection in doors, windows, and sometimes even a mud puddle.  We want to make sure we look good; our cow lick is brushed down, our clothes are straight, our make-up is even, and to all the men- make sure you didn’t miss a spot shaving.  But how much effort do we put into sharing with others an adequate reflection of Christ in our life- sharing what’s on the inside.  Our inner beauty is vastly more important than our external beauty.

 We put a lot of time and energy into looking good on the outside- choosing the right outfit, the perfect shade of lipstick, anti-wrinkle cream etc. and we make a point to tell people- you look beautiful today! And a myriad of other complements about external beauty.  

We are a beauty obsessed culture.  All but one pop culture magazine I saw this week had something about beauty on the cover.  Who’s too fat, who’s too skinny, who looks best without makeup?

We forget very quickly that what God sees as beautiful is not what is on the outside- but the things that make the soul beautiful; being quick to listen, slow to anger, ridding ourselves not of wrinkles but wickedness, adding love and kindness not lotion and cucumber slices to our daily beauty routine.  Taking time to hear and do the word of God- this is what makes us beautiful.

Our scripture lesson today goes on to remind us that we can’t just be hearers of the Word, we have to be doers as well.  This is akin to expecting to get skinny by reading a fitness magazine; going to the gym and watching others work out while eating ice cream and never putting tennis shoes on. 

We have access to more information than we could ever dream about fitness and healthy diets and there is a new skin care product coming on the market nearly daily--- we have the information but at some point you have to put it into action.  I know I should eat my fruits and veggies—but that cheeseburger just looks too good!

Our inner beauty is the same way- God gave us all the information we need- the Bible and there are more books about the Bible than we could ever read.  We teach children from an early age the song “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path” but we have to read it, learn about it, talk about it with others, understand it, and do it!  It doesn’t matter where the light is shining if we never intend to take a step off the porch.  

Just like those fitness magazines- religion is worthless if we don’t put what we learn in church and read about in the Bible into action! The word of God has the Power to Save!!!!!  If we use it.

I am sure many of us have taken a CPR class at some point.  We spend a few hours in class, read a book, watch a video, listen to someone talk about it then practice on each other or a plastic manikin, and at the end we get a nice little card.  It’s all good information to have- if we are willing to use it.  CPR saves lives.  The American heart association states that CPR can double or triple a person’s chance for surviving a sudden cardiac arrest.  Taking a CPR class is no use though if we don’t do anything with the information we learn.  Many people still feel reluctant to use CPR in the real world though- even when they have passed the class.  They worry about taking charge-I don’t think I know it well enough, maybe someone else will help. What if I do it wrong? Do I really want to help THAT person? What if they don’t want to be saved?  But, doing nothing means this person will die. 

Yet, some of us do this.  We are willing to come to church, listen to scripture, talk about it in Sunday school, sing about it, practice the teachings with others in the church and claim it’s lifesaving power for ourselves but when it comes to using what we have learned to save someone else’s life outside the church, we fail to follow through with the doing part.  We have the knowledge and information necessary to save lives but are we willing to share it with others?  Do we worry-  What if they ask me a question I can’t answer? Maybe someone else will do it.  Do I really want to save THAT person? Maybe they don’t want to be saved? What is preventing you from sharing the lifesaving power of the Word of God with others? 

James reassures us in this passage though that we will be blessed in the doing!  Maybe it is sharing your faith with a stranger, inviting someone to worship or Bible study, maybe it is doing kindness and giving selflessly to someone in need- You will be blessed.  I have often heard when people return from a mission trip, seeking to do the will of God, that they often feel like they were blessed more than those they intended to help. 

God just wants us to try.  Take what He has given us and use it, do something with it.  You don’t have to lace up and go from couch potato to marathoner in a day- take a baby step- start with walking around the block. Just step off the porch and see where the light of God’s word is leading you. He won’t ask you to do something without equipping you.  Let other’s see your inner beauty- the place in your soul where God reigns by doing the Word of God- share your inner beauty secret with others. Have the image you see in the mirror be an accurate reflection of Christ in this world.


As you come forward in a few minutes for communion.  I invite you to take a moment and pause at the alter for prayer.  Reflect on your own life- Can others see Christ in my doing?  Is my life an adequate appreciation of the Sacrifice Christ made for me?  Someone took the time to share Christ with me and save my life- am I willing to share that lifesaving information with someone else who needs it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Keeping it in perspective

Zoom by Istvan Banyai was shared with the congregation.

As we make our Way through this children’s book it is amazing how our perspective changes as we gain knowledge.  Nothing is truly how it appears.  As a child our point of view is very narrow and self-focused.  It’s all about ME!  As we grow in our knowledge and experience that image begins to encompass more people- our family, friends, and then grows to our community, state, country and for some it will eventually be global. 

But even the smartest, well- traveled, well educated, people still have a very limited view of the world.  

It is impossible to see and know what God sees and knows.

We often quote scripture like Jeremiah 29:11 as a verse of comfort and encouragement “’ For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  And while this is true it is not just about us as individuals.  This passage was intended not to encourage individuals but meant as an encouragement for a nation that after 70 years of exile would finally be able to come home to this prosperous future God had planned for them.  It is intended to offer hope to people in despair but maybe not to individuals.

God’s intention is not for us as individuals to have a life that is fun, carefree and full of wealth and riches but it is for us to be fulfilled in Him!  The plan for God is much larger than our wants and our needs.  We just can’t always see the bigger picture. 

As we read the Bible we repeatedly see the people with the deepest faith and most connection with God suffer the most.

Hebrews 11 gives us a quick glimpse into the history of some of those people.

These, our ancestors, and those since are part of God’s plan.  They were loved by God but to most everyone else’s standards- they should have been miserable and crying out to God begging him to make it stop! But they were people of great faith because they believed in God, trusted in him, and were able to see that they were part of something bigger than their current circumstances. 

God is too great to fit in any box we create to put him in.  As soon as we think we have him figured out we learn something new or he changes our perspective to see things in a different way.  We as humans usually suffer from being able to see from only one vantage point.  We either can’t see the forest for the trees or we can’t see the individual trees because we’re too focused on the forest.

God is able to have it all- God is able in one moment to not only keep the world turning and this plan for the future of every generation from the beginning of time to the end but is also hearing our prayers, concerned about our daily lives, caring for us, providing for us, loving us.  He knows every star in the sky and every grain of sand on the beach.  He sees each one of us, knows each one of us by name!

Jeremiah 1:5 tells us “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

What an awesome God we worship and Serve!  He is the God of the past, present and future- isn’t it amazing to know that God knows each child even before they are born and knows not only the past but also knows what the generations to come will be like.

We have hope in a God who loves us, a God who does have a plan.  This world is not chaos and haphazard and even when it feels like our plans are not working out as we would like- we can trust that as long as we have a heart for God and a desire to live our lives fully with him, we are part of that plan and God is using us for the betterment of and fulfillment of his promises to us.  He hears our prayers, he knows what we need in this life and he knows how to give us a peak at the future that waits for us.  Even in the darkest days in Him we can see the light of a better tomorrow and rewards that are greater than we can ever imagine.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

building community

Ephesians 4:25- 5:2
I had been a member at a pervious church I attended for about 6 months when I participated in my first Administrative Council Meeting.  The church had been going through some struggles at the time and although I knew some of what was going on I was coming in on the tail end of quite a bit of drama.  About 25% of the church’s regular attendees had already left and we needed to make some huge adjustments to the budget and worship schedules.  There were still a lot of hurt feelings in the church and in that meeting.  A few people were tossing around accusations and accusatory questions aimed directly at people who were trying to do their best and suggest solutions to the issues at hand.  People were angry but not necessarily at the people in the meeting or even over the issues being discussed.  They were just angry.  Their anger had been building up over months and possibly years and had not been dealt with appropriately so they exploded.  I distinctly remember calling my Mom in tears that night wondering how church people could act so ugly towards one another.   People who confessed to be Christians weren’t acting so Christ like. 
Anger is often like this.  Our feelings are hurt, sometimes repeatedly, and sometimes the offender doesn’t even realize what they said was so hurtful.  But we fail to address it in a healthy way and over time the pressure builds, we complain to others, gossip begins and results in more anxiety and hurt. The devil is working his way into our life and maybe the life of the church.  So he eggs us on, we relive negative conversations over and over again in our minds, and the anger starts to boil and the bitterness begins.  We get ourselves so worked up over what may have been something relatively unimportant in the beginning until one day someone says something with just the slightest sound of sarcasm and we explode.  Like the pressurized canning pot without a vent our top explodes and hot boiling water and emotions scold everyone in the room.
Sometimes that is the end of it- you got it off your chest, now it is time to move on.  Sometimes it is not.  People begin to take sides, other peoples’ feelings are hurt and before we know it a church is divided, a family is divided, and the devil has won- destruction and mistrust have replaced the unity, love and forgiveness we find in Christ. 
This part of the letter to the Ephesians is aimed at stopping this before it starts. It is in essence the 10 commandments rewritten for a new audience.  Many of the new Christians were not trained in the Jewish tradition and may not know much about Moses and the 10 commandments and many of the others had forgotten the “why” behind them.  Paul wanted to remind them that the church is a community.  We aren’t just in this for ourselves.  Life in Christ is not about an individual doing what is right for themselves it is about doing what is right within relationships, church and community.(Good Pastor)
Great faith is only found in a community of believers.  We need people around us to teach us, observe the faith of others and to test our own beliefs.  Faith was not intended to be lived out in a vacuum. We weren’t designed to do it alone.  In order for us to grow and mature in our faith we can’t simply watch others.  We have to put our faith into action and practice what we learn in church and from our community of believers.  (Homiletics)  It is much like a corn field.  If we want corn to produce fruit we must plant it in groups.  One stalk planted may grow but without other stalks of corn nearby it will never produce fruit.  We need each other to mature and produce Fruits of the Spirit.
God knew this when he gave us the 10 commandments but over the years they have become distorted.  We began to look at them as a list of “Shall Not’s” for individuals.  But all along they were intended to help us to live together more effectively as a community.  So Paul essentially rewrites them as a list of things to do and then offers an explanation and reasons for living this way.
Paul goes through his suggestions step by step.  These suggestions weren’t just to make life more pleasant but to help us survive when things get tough.  If we are honest with each other in a loving and positive way feelings that are hurt can be mended and misunderstandings corrected before bitterness and division sets in. 
Anger is not always a bad thing.  It is often necessary to fight injustice and abuse.  Where would we be if Civil Rights activists hadn’t been angry about the way African Americans were being treated?  Women would have never been allowed to vote if people hadn’t gotten angry.  Fair wage laws would never have been established if people had not gotten angry.  Anger is a good thing when fighting the injustices of our time but not when it is used to belittle and teardown a child of God.  What Paul tells us is to not let anger cause us to sin.  (Barclay)  We see a couple examples in the Bible of Jesus being angry.  Each time though he is trying to correct a wrong against God. He is trying to build up God’s kingdom.  The people he became angry towards were dishonest and taking advantage of all those they encountered and preventing many from worshiping God.
It is often suggested to newlyweds to not go to bed angry.  Although this might result in some sleepless nights it is not bad advice.  I will take a moment to pick on Women- since I am one- I am sure most of the men in this room at some point and time asked your spouse “What’s wrong”  and what is often the answer?      Nothing.  I think it is because at some point we are told that anger is not attractive and we are just too emotional and make a big deal out of nothing.  So we don’t say anything.  We allow emotions to pile up and pile up and then one day- Ka-boom!  It explodes over something silly like laundry baskets. 
Then comes Paul’s point about unwholesome talk.  Once all that anger and bitterness builds up it is really hard to not say something mean and degrading.  This is not only harmful for a marriage but any relationship.  It is hard to not take the anger personally when personal attacks are being made and names called.  Sometimes this is not done out of anger at all.  We purposefully try to tear others down to make ourselves look better.  We attempt to build up our own self esteem by cutting others down.  When we do this to individuals within a community it is like chipping away at the foundation holding it all together.  Eventually it will begin to loose its strength and the walls will start crumbling.
Once this hurt happens, it is hard to make amends and move forward.  Healing and wholeness take a much longer time to create than the hurt feelings and the anger.  It is much easier to be mad at someone or insist we get our way than to talk to them about differences and reach understanding.  It is much harder to put away our pride, recognize we were in the wrong and say “I’m sorry. “  It is much easier to tear down a wall than fix the foundation.  This issue is reflected in a lot of marriages today.  It is much easier to divorce and stay mad at someone than it is to fix what is wrong and make the relationship stronger.  We need to think before we speak.  How is what we are about to say or do affect this person?  Is it going to tear them down or build them up? Is it going to build community or create division?
Paul knows that it is not enough to tell us what to do and not to do.  So, he gives us an example to imitate.  We imitate others all the time in how we dress, what kind of car we want to buy, the types of careers we have, even the types of food we buy.   I am sure several people here are like me and at some point have said “I am becoming my Mother!”  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and God gave us a great person to imitate- Jesus Christ.  (Good Preacher)
Every week we recite the “Lord’s Prayer” in worship.  Do we ever really stop and think about what we are saying?  Whether you prefer “Forgive us our trespasses, Forgive us our debts or Forgive us our sins it all has the same meaning.  We desire to imitate God by forgiving others of their wrongdoing against us because every day of our lives in some way or another we sin against God and through Jesus Christ he has forgiven us.  Shouldn’t we at least attempt to do what we pledge and imitate Christ? 
When we call ourselves Christians we are claiming to be of Christ.  We are a reflection of what Jesus stood for and the kindness, love and compassion of God! This is not just an inward choice or actions we do in secret.  We live within the context of the church and the communities we live in.  We are being watched.  People look at us to get a glimpse of God.  Are we providing an accurate reflection through our attempt to imitate Christ?  When we speak with kindness, compassion and love people see Jesus.  Too often though we speak with hate, bitterness, disdain and judgment which distort the image of God.
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted to have said “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”  What a powerful statement and one that probably resonates with a lot of non-believers.   It is impossible to completely be like Christ but it is important that we as Christians are aware of how unlike him we are and make a valiant effort to do better. 
The church is struggling.  Not just this church but the Church as a whole.  People see how Christians act and they quickly decide- I don’t want to have anything to do with that.  Some who have attended church all their lives leave because their feelings are hurt or they don’t like the way things are done.  Some move on to other churches, some don’t ever go back.  Forgiveness is hard when you don’t feel it’s justified or when you can’t see the good in others through the veil of anger.  Maybe it is a problem of public perception.  People see one or two self-proclaimed Christians acting foolishly and using words and actions that tear down instead of buildup and decide that is what all Christians must be like. 
Who would buy a car that always backfires, blows smoke and overheats all the time? Just because the owner says it is a good car?  If we want to share the love of Christ with others we need to be willing to work on it and attempt to fix the parts that overheat or at least be good at singing the praises of the ”great mechanic” that is willing to fix us at no charge.
We need to take responsibility for our own actions, our own words, our own Christian persona.  Be imitators of God! Live a life of love, just as Christ loves us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

seek what endures

John 6: 24-35
As I watch the Olympics this week over and over again we see records broken.  The athletes who were once on top of their sport- lose their place on the medal stand and are replaced by the next generation.  Very few people outside the sport even remember who last held most records yet these athletes work so hard for this moment- they eat, drink and sleep their sport for years just for the chance to compete for this awesome but fleeting moment in the spotlight of the Olympics.
Many people work just as hard in the business world.  They are willing to work endless hours so they can have a big fancy title, a little prestige, power, and a big paycheck.   Many people are hoping for that next big promotion or raise which sometimes comes at the expense of their family, friends and integrity. 
We put so much time, energy and effort into things that don’t last. 
Apple will always come out with a new gadget just a few months after you bought what we thought was the latest and greatest.  The most luxurious car will still breakdown.  The most expensive clothes will go out of style.  World records will be broken and no matter how hard celebrities fight it- they will still grow old and someone younger and cuter will be waiting in the wings to take their place.
Jesus tells us “Do not work for the food that parishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life which only the Son of Man will give you”
We get so caught up in the rat race that we forget that without belief in Christ we are just stuck on the hamster wheel working hard but going nowhere.
The crowd asked Jesus how they could do the works of God- Jewish tradition was founded on works and culturally that is what they understood.  For example they knew what sacrifice was required for which sin.  They knew they were supposed to bathe a certain way before entering the temple.  They had a list of Do this…Do that…don’t do that.  Like many of us many got so caught up in the doing that they lost track of why they were doing these things in the first place.  It often became more about their own place in society and less about bringing Glory to God.
When Jesus said the only work was to believe- I can just see the look of confusion in their eyes.  They didn’t get it!  So again, they asked Jesus to do something.   Hadn’t he already proved himself enough?   The problem is that there were never really enough good deeds.  It wouldn’t have mattered how many people Jesus healed or how many demons he cast out or how many people he could feed with a single dinner roll- it would never be enough for some people to believe in Him.
Jesus tells them that the only work required is faith.  This is not used as a noun. Faith is not something John suggests we acquire or own but as a verb.(homiletics  8/4/12)  Faith is something we do.  We live faith.  We grow faith, we long for faith to be stronger, more caring, more loving.  We do good works not for our own salvation but to be a reflection of the love of God and bring Glory to His name.  It is always something we need more of.   John Wesley stressed this same thought by saying “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can”.  This may seem  on the surface contrary to what Jesus is teaching us about the value of money and possessions in this passage but it is not. He wasn’t telling us to work so hard that we neglect our faith or our families in order to make more money. Nor was he telling us to have big savings accounts.  He meant this to mean that we should earn a living, but spend as little of it as possible so that we will have more to give to those less fortunate.  Thus making our faith a verb- and living it boldly every chance we have.   
Jesus gives the crowd the answer to their questions. And Jesus is our answer to getting off the proverbial hamster wheel of life. 
Jesus said “I am the bread of life- whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”
We have to find that balance in life.  Discover what is really important.  Glory fades. There will always be someone smarter and better looking, better technology, and a fancier car- but what happens when this life ends and your prize possessions are taking up space in a landfill.  What happens when we do what the man in Australia did last week and put his 15,000 dollars in the oven?  Never imagining his wife might actually cook something.(Huffington post 7/26/12)  It is just paper- it burns, melts, is easily destroyed.
It is all for nothing without the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.   God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ … and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1: 3-4)  Why does it matter what we possess in this life if we have something absolutely wonderful waiting for us in Eternal Life with Christ. 
Just as in Biblical times this concept is comforting to those who have little and scary for those who have much. It is time we take inventory of what is important to us and place our trust in Christ instead of our pocket books.  Even Spike Lee agreed with this when he told Charlie Rose that the most important lesson in life is that Money isn’t everything.  Even people who seem to have everything take their own life.
As we come forward in a few minutes for communion remember to be grateful for our salvation through Jesus Christ.  Whether we have little or a lot; Trust that Jesus Christ is the bread of life and through faith in him well will have all we need. Our only work is to believe in Him.
 The bread and juice on this table may nourish the body but faith in God nourishes the soul. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

offer what you have

John 6: 1-21
 This story is obviously important to the life and ministry of Jesus and his followers.  Some version of it is told by all four gospel writers.  Although each version is a little different;  Matthew, Mark and Luke all make a point to mention that this happened directly after the death of John the Baptist which John leaves out.  Matthew and Mark both include the attempt by Peter to walk on water too but Luke and John don’t.   In this version Jesus asks Philip how they are going to feed everyone but in the other three versions the disciples themselves pose the question to Jesus.  (NIV, LASB)
Eye witness testimonies are notoriously flawed.  Everyone sees things from their own perspective.  Time may also play a part in the variations between accounts of Jesus’ miracles and the parables he uses to teach.  I doubt that one of the disciples acted as a secretary.  It is a little silly to imagine one of the disciples following Jesus around with a pen and scroll.   Saying “Master, can you repeat what you just said, my pen ran out of ink”
Sometimes it is easy to get so caught up in the details that we ignore the lessons being taught.  Even though these 4 accounts of the same event in Jesus’ life differ they are remarkably consistent on the important parts. 
Jesus and the disciples came to this spot by the Sea of Galilee to find rest.  We are getting close to the end of Jesus ministry and they were exhausted from all the crowds, traveling, and by many accounts from mourning the loss of their friend, John the Baptist.  It had been a long three years.  Rest was not in the cards though. (NIV, LASB; Barclay) The scripture states that it was near time for the Passover so pilgrims from all over the area would be coming that way to go to Jerusalem. (Barclay, 1976)  Just as soon as they sat down here comes this throng of people wanting to see Jesus.  They had heard about all his miracles and teachings and wanted to see him for themselves.  Instead of getting upset at the crowd for not letting him rest he saw this as a wonderful opportunity, a teaching moment and some versions say he had compassion for them.(NIV LASB)  He knew how hungry they were for leadership, knowledge and faith- Just something to believe in, that he was willing to sacrifice his rest for their salvation. Oh if they only knew how much more he was willing to sacrifice for them.  
Jesus knew there wasn’t a town for miles and nowhere to buy food so in jest- Jesus asks Philip- “where can we find food for all these people?”  What does Philip do?  The same thing we would do if we felt God was asking us to do something impossible- Panic!    He starts making excuses about why it couldn’t be done- No stores for miles, it would cost too much- it just couldn’t be done.   Then, here comes Andrew with this child and a picnic lunch for one.  This was barely enough food for one small boy much less 5,000 men and who knows how many Women and children who weren’t counted. 
Jesus takes what is impossible and makes it possible. (NIV, LASB)
How many times are we like Philip?  We know God is asking us to do something but from our perspective it seems impossible.  Maybe our excuses are like Philip’s- there’s not enough money.  Or maybe the excuses are all our own- I’m too old or too young, I can’t get around like I used too, I’m not smart enough, talented enough, I don’t have enough time, what if they make fun of me, It’s too much of a commitment.  We can all come up with a laundry list of excuses not to do what God is calling us to do.
How often are we Andrew in this story?  We realize that something needs to be done and we have an idea of how to address it but we doubt.  We doubt the quality of the solution, we think the problem is too big, although we hear a solution we are pessimistic about its success so we start looking for ways it will fail. (Homiletics)
When God asks us to do something we quickly forget that he already knows our shortcomings.  He is already aware of our “not enoughs”.  God simply wants us to be the child in this story- Bring God what you have and be willing to share it.(NIV LASB)  That’s all.  When we try to see the big picture it is often too overwhelming so we choose to do nothing. 
Let’s take a problem we hear about repeatedly on the TV.  Children starving in some foreign land.  If someone asked us to fix it we would probably do what Philip and Andrew did- make excuses- it’s too big of a problem for us to tackle.  We wouldn’t even know where to start!
How many commercials do we see every day that tug at our heart strings with images of sad starving children with the commentary- For just a dollar a day you too could make a difference in the life of this child.  And you can- most of these agencies are legitimate and good causes and a dollar a day very well may be all the difference to the child you sponsor but my point is this.  We can all spare a dollar a day- one less coffee, soft drink, quarter pounder with cheese- whatever we spend our money on- we can usually spare a dollar.  But it seems so far out of reach when you say for a donation of $365 you can make a difference.  We get so caught up in how big the investment is that we forget how simple it would be to reach.   Maybe your dollar a day isn’t enough to really make a difference but when you combine it with someone else’s it can make a huge difference. 
Each year there are over 200 million cases of Malaria and it kills over 600,000 people mostly under the age of 5. (nothing but nets)  The primary method of preventing contact with the mosquitoes carrying the disease is a $10 net that covers the sleeping area of a child or family.  (nothingbutnets)  Just since 2006 the year a program called nothing but nets began, deaths from Malaria have decreased 25% (World Health Organization World Malaria Report 2011).   This is a big problem but because people give what they can and combine that with donations from others it is making a difference- Imagine No Malaria is an extension of the nothing but nets program.  It is an effort by the United Methodist Church to take it a step further.  The children at VBS this year will be raising money and combining their small offering with others from around the country to continue to provide bed nets but also education and access to medical treatment.  Watch and see what God can do when we offer what we have- saving lives $10 at a time.  
Not once has God ever asked us to do something on our own (NIV LASB).  We may feel that way sometimes but that is our own problem of perception.  God wants to help.  He puts people in our lives who want to help all we have to do is ask.  But that also requires sacrificing our pride that we can’t control everything, humility acknowledging that we can’t do it all, courage to share a radical idea and sometimes the willingness to take that leap of faith.    What can you offer to God today?  Let him decide how much is enough.
 if we are simply able to bring what we have to the table and offer our meager amounts of talent, time, or resources God can make it into something wonderful. (NIV LASB)
Maybe trying to conquer malaria or the world hunger problem is too big to comprehend but there is much that needs to be done in our own communities.
Maybe you don’t have a lot of talent but you can read to someone who has lost their vision or send cards of encouragement to missionaries or wounded military.  Maybe you can’t see well enough to write but you can call someone who is sick.  Maybe you don’t get around well but you can knit scarves or hats for the homeless.  Maybe you used to teach but your retired- most schools would love volunteers to simply spend an hour a week letting a child read to them or even an hour a month having lunch with a child whose parents work and can’t come visit. 
Maybe you can clip soup labels or box tops for education or collect lose change for a mission project.  And maybe you don’t feel like what you have is enough- it’s enough to touch the life of one person and who knows maybe God is encouraging others to share what you’re passionate about, they are just waiting to hear your idea. 
God doesn’t ask us to give more than we have- He just wants us to be willing to share what we do have.  When Jesus “gave thanks” and broke the bread it doesn’t say he asked God for more- He simply gave thanks for what they did have- and it was enough.
The other part of this miracle is the bread and fish themselves.  Each time I read this story I imagined 5 loaves of bread like you would see at the grocery store the size of a football and 2 fish at least big enough to keep if you were the one fishing.  Not that that isn’t miracle enough but when I read this week that the five loaves were each the size of a dinner roll and 2 fishes probably the size of sardines it made this event even more amazing (Barclay, 1976).  And, it wasn’t that the child’s lunch was just enough- it was more than enough- the scripture doesn’t say that everyone got a bite- it says they all had enough to eat.  And even then, there were 12 baskets of leftovers.  They didn’t even have 12 baskets worth of food to begin with.    Talk about making lemons into lemon-aid- Jesus took a poor boys lunch and made it into a feast!
And if one miracle in one day wasn’t enough- the story continues.   Once again Jesus and the disciples seek rest- Jesus heads into the mountains to be alone and the disciples get in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee.  Again, there is no rest for the weary.  We see them rowing just as hard as they can against the wind, waves and current.  They are almost to shore, beat up and exhausted only a ½ mile or so to go and out of nowhere Jesus appears to them. (Barclay)  I imagine they thought they were seeing things, delusional from being so tired but here comes Jesus walking on the water out to the boat- terrifying his poor friends.  (NIV LASB)
This time, Jesus doesn’t calm the sea, like he did at other times, he is simply present with them.  Offered them words of comfort and before they realized it they arrived right where they wanted to be.  How often are our lives like this.  We are trying desperately to solve life’s problems on our own.  We take full responsibility for something failing or succeeding, we don’t want to burden others with our problems or don’t know how to ask for help.  This scripture encourages us to know that when it feels like we just can’t work any harder, we are too exhausted to go on or the waves get too rough- Jesus is there.  He will show up. Even when we least expect it. 
God doesn’t promise to make things easy.  He doesn’t expect us to give more than we have.  He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own.  He simply wants us to offer what we have, be willing to share it with others and God promises to show up- even at the most unexpected moments- He is there, watching, loving, comforting, supporting and he promises that if we are following his call- he will get you there.
NIV LASB- New International Version- Life Application Study Bible  Zondervan 1991
Barclay, William- Gospel of John Vol. 1
Homiletics Magazine “The monster under Megan’s bed” 7/27/1997

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tear Down your walls

Ephesians 2: 11-22
Paul wrote this letter to the church at Ephesus and it was intended to be passed around to multiple congregations of believers throughout Asia Minor around 60 AD.  My how times have not changed!  It always amazes me how the teachings in the Bible from so long ago still speak to the challenges of today.
 During the time Paul wrote this letter the church in general was struggling with an Us vs. Them mentality.  The Jewish Christians felt that they were better than the Gentile Christians because of their heritage.  The Jewish Christians believed that because they were part of the original “chosen people of God” they were more important and closer to God.  The Jewish people of the time believed that the sole purpose of the Gentiles was to be fuel for the fires of Hell and that God only loved the Israelites. (Barclay, 1976)
The hatred for the Gentiles was so strong that if a Jew married a Gentile they would actually perform a funeral for the Jew. (Barclay, 1976) Wow!  That is a pretty strong sentiment. The Jewish temple even had a physical wall to ensure the Gentiles did not enter the holy places of worship. Doing so was even punishable by death!(Barclay, 1976)  Hopefully we don’t have the same contempt for our neighbors today but it’s amazing to realize that we still build walls, physical and metaphorical, to keep people out of our lives, out of our churches, and out of our country. 
 Paul addresses this division in this letter to the Ephesians by reminding them and us that through Christ they are all equal and that Christ came to bring unity and salvation to all people.  Yes, the ancestors of Jacob had been chosen by God but they had failed miserably at keeping his commandments.  The Gentile believers through Christ now had just as much right to be children of God as the Jewish.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ had torn down the barriers between the two to form a new Kingdom and to bring peace. 
  As you  know, after World War II, Germany was divided East and West.  The west was organized as a capitalist society much like the American, English and French countries chartered with helping it rebuild.  The East however was organized as a communist society like the country chartered with helping it rebuild- the Soviet Union.  12 years or so after the war ended the East Germans were frustrated by the differences between the economics in the East and West and decided to construct a wall.  It began as a barbed wire fence but over the next 14 years it grew into a well-fortified 12 feet high and 28 mile long wall. (New World Encyclopedia)  The Berlin wall was constructed like many of the personal walls we build in our own lives- out of fear.  East Germany was afraid of the immigration issues, labor inequalities and economic and political freedom of the West.  The Berlin Wall remained for 28 years.  What had once been one Nation, one people, one government was divided as a result of the sin, and hate championed by Nazi Germany. 
 We still use physical walls today to divide.  A couple very controversial fences lie between the US and Mexico as well as the walls and fences that separate Israel from Palestine and North Korea from South Korea.  I won’t pretend to know the political policies and personal fears that create these walls. Sometimes fences make good neighbors- sometimes they don’t.  
One of the walls we build may seem a little more innocent.  We hear all the time that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.  We use church walls to divide us by worship style, politics, race, socioeconomic class; the list goes on and on.
 Sometimes our barriers are not physical. It is a lot less obvious and a lot grayer.  Without even thinking we use words like “us” and “them” and ”those people.”  These words may seem harmless enough when they are used carelessly and without thought.  And they often seem harmless when we use them about someone else-especially when we’re in the majority.    We use words like Those Democrats or Those Republicans, Those rednecks or those hippies.- those whomever fit the situation.
 The simple use of us and them puts up an invisible wall.  Maybe this is part of human nature- each of us trying desperately to find something to be proud of.  We make sweeping generalizations or caricatures of an entire group of people. Stereotypes that are often false are often an attempt to make ourselves feel better about our own short comings. 
 Living and growing up in rural North Carolina I know that not everyone who lives in North Carolina look and act like the cartoon “Snuffy Smith”.  We don’t all live in Mayberry and act like the “Dukes of Hazard”-but this is a stereotype I have heard from others especially when I was their first introduction to someone from North Carolina.  On particular example was my freshman year in college- I met several people from the New England area.  After getting to know them I would hear things like- “I really thought you people acted that way. I thought people from the south were just as stupid as the TV made them out to be.” But still, we do it anyway.  We use stereotypes and prejudgments to put others down and to make ourselves feel better-even when we don’t like it when people who don’t know us do it to us. 
 The Jewish Christians were doing this too.  They had a form of spiritual pride that had been cultivated since Moses lead the Israelites through the wilderness.    They looked down on the gentile believers because they didn’t have the same beliefs, history and religious practices.  We still do this today. We often use tradition as a wall to divide us.  Sure, we will be hospitable as long as they don’t try to change things, or as long as they are willing to do it our way.  Jesus challenges us to not ignore our past but to build new traditions (NIV- Life Application Bible).  You see,  Jesus came to change the future not negate the past.  The past is what made us who we are but the past is not where God wants us to be. 
 Just because it is human nature to put others down in order to lift ourselves up doesn’t mean it is right.  It is also human nature to sin.  This may be a reason for our behaviors but not an excuse to continue them.   Christ challenges us to look toward a future of unity and equality with Him. 
Has the church today become an exclusive club for members only?  Do we require people to pay their dues, dress a certain way and be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed by heart before they are accepted?  How do we make the Gentiles of our time, the outsiders, feel welcomed in our churches?  How do we make them feel unwelcome?  Do we make them feel uncomfortable by assuming they know our sayings, traditions, songs, when to sit, when to stand, when to say what?
When is the last time we welcomed someone into our life, or into the church that was different than ourselves?  When is the last time we really took the time and opportunity to get to know someone who was homeless, a different race, different nationality, different sexual orientation, mentally or physically handicapped or different religion? Not just have pity on them or elevate ourselves in order to help them but really get to know them and let them get to know us? 
It is easy for us to stand on the outside and do mission work and offer handouts to others less fortunate but it is much harder to make ourselves vulnerable and allow them to get to know us. 
Each year The United Methodist Women have a suggested reading list that spans both- fiction and non-fiction and a variety of topics including Missions, Community, Social Action, Spiritual Growth and leadership.  One of the books on last year’s list was a true story titled “Same kind of different as me.”  This story is written by a black man who had escaped the cruel world of slavery and share cropping in Louisiana only to find himself homeless and a wealthy white art dealer from the upper echelon of Texas.    This book walks you through the unlikely friendship of these two very different people and how important it is for both of them to see the other not through the eyes of stereotypes but  as a brother in Christ- loving each other, sharing with each other and helping each other through the difficult times in life.  It is an honest, prejudice recognizing and wall shattering story.  And it shows how much richer life can be when we take the time to share it with others.  (Hall, 2006)
Maybe I am preaching to the choir- maybe I am working on a false assumption and there are no stereotypes here or maybe some of you are thinking “oh she’s not talking to me but this is great!  So and so really needs to hear this”.  I know I have sat in the pew from time to time and thought the same thing.   I am going to go out on a limb though and say that I am probably talking to everyone in this room on some level- I’m even preaching to myself.  We all have our fears, prejudices and bias.  It is one of those things that we all need to be aware of and  work on with God’s help. 
Several cultures throughout Asia use a greeting in which they place their hands together- fingers pointing towards heaven, bow to each other and repeat the word “Namaste” Although there are many translations for this gesture Most people translate this to mean “I bow to the god in you” and in turn “you bow to the god in me”  
We as Christians can learn a lot from this simple greeting.  If we can recognize from the outset that each person we meet is a child of God maybe we would learn to love each other as a brother and sister in Christ.  Start on the common ground of the love and peace of Christ.  This just may result in a change of behavior towards our fellow man- even those very different than us.  Maybe this simple change in perspective would bring about the peace that is in Jesus Christ- even when it is someone we don’t like so much. 
Like President Ronald Ragan is famously quoted   “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!”  Christ is calling each of us to tear down the walls that divide us- the fear, distrust, and anxiety we feel when we attempt to judge others through our own eyes of prejudice instead of the eyes of Christ.   Put aside your fears and trust in God.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 15 2012 the first sermon

Ephesians 1: 3-14
 God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  God never changes, and his plan for this world never changes.  The same thing he wanted for the Israelites in the Old Testament is the same thing he wanted from the first Christians and it is the same thing he wants from us today.  He wants to be in relationship with us.  Plain and simple.  He loves us so much that even when we stray he is taking every opportunity possible to offer us the chance to come back to him.  God is wooing us!  God uses every opportunity to remind us that he is there- we just have to recognize and acknowledge his presence and gifts. 
  I grew up in the church.  One not much bigger than this actually.  I was in church every chance I had- and only missed when I was sick.  Even then I watched preaching on TV.  I didn’t want to miss anything-my week just wasn’t right without God.
 When I hit my teenage years I quickly began to lose interest in the church and God.  My plan for my life didn’t include God.  Like most teenagers I was invincible and in control of my life.  I didn’t need this church stuff where people said one thing and did another.  Talked a good game about loving other’s as God loved us then said ugly things about people when we weren’t in church-camouflaging it with a good southern “bless their heart” I didn’t understand.
 I thought Christians were supposed to act like Christ.  So I left the church.  I thought I could do it on my own- have the “American dream” I was going to College, Get a good job, meet a man, get married, have the house and the white picket fence with my 2.2 children (not exactly sure how you have 2/10 of a child) but that was my dream. 
Sure, I went to church when I was obligated to do so and I still believed God existed but I didn’t have a relationship with Him. It all seemed to be going as I had planned.  That is until the last part of my plan when terribly wrong.  After trying for over a year to get pregnant I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  That is also when my marriage began to fall apart.  As it turns out I wasn’t really in control as much as I thought I was and God’s plan for my life was not the same as my naive image of my dream.
 I think of myself as an optimistic realist but all those Disney Fairytales I loved didn’t prepare me for the not so happy ending.   About the time my ex-husband and I started having problems my sister-in-law who was having struggles of her own and I decided to start looking for a church.  At this point I still wasn’t buying the whole God thing but honestly my “savior” complex went into over drive and I thought well if the church can save her, I would be there with her and take all the credit. 
Well, it didn’t, not then anyway.  But it did save me.  I had no idea I even needed saving.  God used my narcissism and do-gooder pride and used it to woo me back to him.  He used my failures and short comings to point out just how much I needed Him.  Although I had walked away from God- He had never walked away from me.  I just hadn’t been paying attention to all the ways he had blessed me and all the gifts and people he was using to try and get my attention.   Once I started attending Trinity UMC in New Bern, I realized I was not in control of my life and more importantly I realized God was and that it was not my plan that mattered.  I needed to submit myself and allow God back into my life.  And so began my journey to be here with you today. 
I don’t know what you think brought you here today.  Maybe you think it is to check out the new preacher, maybe it is because this is where you are every Sunday morning, or maybe you are here for the good lunch. 
Whatever the reason you think you are here today- know that God is who brought you here.  God is calling you, begging you to come home to Him, to be in a deeper, more faithful relationship with him.  To fall in love with God over and over again.  Even if you are here every Sunday in person- that doesn’t mean you are totally hear- We can always improve on our relationship with God.
 Mary John Dye the DS of the old Statesville district says this- every person who steps into a church is there for a reason.  God has led them there for a reason and it is up to us to make them feel welcomed, loved, and cared for and invite them into a relationship with God and the congregation. 
 This scripture talks about Predestination and it is a weighty topic that some people find pretty controversial.  Some people believe that predestination means that only a select few are set apart for salvation and eternal life with Christ.  As I read this scripture I see it in a different way.  The last part of this lesson states that having believed, you are marked.  To me this means that all people who have heard and believe are destined to be children of God.  All people.  Praise God that is all we have to do!
 There is not a test, or a list of qualifications, or a good dead requirement to receive the love and grace of God.  God’s love extends to all people- especially those who make mistakes.  God’s love is for us! You and me, the Imperfect, blemished, self- centered, proud, gossipers, addicts, cheats- whatever word describes our fault of choice.  That is really why we are here right?  
To praise God for loving us anyway and trying to learn ways to do it better, different, learn from our mistakes- as we hear a lot in the Methodist Church- Moving on towards a perfection that we can only find in Christ and we only hope we can get closer to with each mistake we learn from.  One of the things my Mom used to say when I was in my time of separation from the church was that church was AA for sinners.  People who aren’t alcoholics don’t need to go to Alcoholic’s Anonymous and if the people in church weren’t sinners we wouldn’t need to be there either.  This was her way of explaining to me that Christian’s aren’t perfect- just trying to do things right and often times we fail.  I was ok with this once I realized what she meant and people who are outside the church who are non-religious or nominally religious as Adam Hamilton calls them are ok with that too.  As long as we realize it and own up to it instead of being hypocrites about it.  All too often we do just as I perceived my home church to be.  We put on a facade of perfection to the outside world.  Not realizing they are smart enough to see right through us. 
 The other good thing about predestination is that it means there is a plan.   God tells us this throughout the Bible over and over again- that even when our world feels chaotic, he is in control.  We may only see in part but He sees the big picture.  God has a plan for you, me- he even has a plan for this church.  God’s plan is not to double our membership or start a new project-although that may be a result of His plan.  God’s plan is for each one of us to be head over heels in love with Him! 
When you are in love with someone- everyone can tell it- you smile, you blush, you say all the right things about the other person- your giddy with excitement that they love you too!  If we are truly in love with God- there is no way we can disguise it.  God’s plan is that we take that love for him and share it.  I don’t mean just inviting people to church- I mean sharing why you love God with others- helping them to see how they can recognize his love for them too.  He wants us to help others see how God is working in their lives.  Help them to see how God is wooing them.  All he wants is a relationship with them too.
  Think back to when you first started dating your spouse or significant other- How often did he or she do nice things for you- bring you flowers, cook a nice meal, or simply ask to spend quality time getting to know each other.  We tell our friends about these things- We share those stories all the time.  God does these things everyday not just on birthdays and anniversaries.  He sends you flowers, music to serenade you, he provides us with joy and laughter, a shoulder to cry on, and food on the table.   All this in an effort to spend quality time with us, show us his love and bring us into relationship with Him.  Yes, we have the free will to accept or reject this invitation- just as you had the choice to accept your spouse’s invitation for that first date or the marriage proposal.  But you are here today because at some point you said “yes” to God. 
You have at least said yes to getting to know God better.  Maybe you’re not in love with him yet, or maybe you have fallen out of love with God.  The spark may be gone but you hear him calling for you to come back.  Maybe God is using you to be a matchmaker for him. 
In North Carolina 53% of people claim to attend church regularly- this may be a little over reporting since “regular” can be up for interpretation.  I am guessing that some people consider regular to be Christmas and Easter.  But what that tells us is that there are around 47% of the population that doesn’t have a relationship with Christ at all.  What opportunities do we have to share God’s love with others? Again I don’t mean invite them to church- although that is one way to do it- more so invite them to know Christ and fall in love with him too.  Who knows- maybe they knew him a long time ago but have forgotten how much he loves them.  Maybe they have never known him at all.  Help and encourage others and each other to see how God is trying to reach them and foster that relationship with them.  This doesn’t have to be pushy or invasive but just living our love for God out loud may be all it takes to make someone ask- why are you so happy?
I was in love with God as a child but I chose to see the bad side of those who called him friend.  It was more obvious to me than the good stuff.  I fell out of love with God.  I thought I could do it on my own but God was still wooing me.
 My parents would point out all the good things about Christian friends but I thought that was the exception not the rule.   I needed a more painful wake-up call so God put up a roadblock to my plan.  God put my sister-in –law in my life to touch that deep part of my heart that wanted to help her.  God put the people at trinity in my life to show me and remind me of the loving God I had forgotten.  He was wooing me back into a relationship with him.
God brought me to that Methodist Church in New Bern, but it is the love of Christ in that congregation that made me stay.  It was their love and hospitality that took me in, helped me through my divorce and helped me fall in love with God all over again.  God is using you too. To be an instrument of his love and grace and to help those who have forgotten God or have never really known God to begin with.   It’s not about a new program or gimmick to attract people to our church- it’s figuring out how to attract people to Christ- and that is a very personal thing.  But that is all God has ever asked of us- to love him and to share that love with others. It’s both easy and hard at the same time.  But how can we say no?
And as the sayings go- if you build it they will come- if you feed them they will come and if you love them they will come- it’s not about increasing the membership of the church, it’s about introducing people to a relationship with the lover of our soul, Jesus Christ.  Just as in a relationship- your intrigued, you want to learn more about them, you want to spend time with them, spend time with others who know and love them too and gradually or sometimes suddenly you fall in love and you just can’t get enough.  Then people will ask you too “Why are you so happy?”