Tuesday, February 26, 2013

what are you scared of?

Psalm 27

What is it about the dark that is so scary?

I was visiting a friend recently who has a young child.  Scattered around the house, at least one in every room, were small night lights to keep the darkness at bay, provide comfort for the child and to help the parents navigate a dark house in the middle of the night. 
We learn from a young age to be fearful of the dark.  Children often cry when put in a dark room to sleep and some children will not enter a room without the lights on. When my sister was a teenager, one night while my family was at church for Wednesday night choir practice, thought she saw something walk by a window.  Her immediate response was to run around and turn every light in the house on.  Somehow the light would protect her from whatever she thought she saw. 
Even some adults are afraid of the dark.  Even if we have grown accustomed to a dark house at night we are put on edge by just the idea of walking down a dark street or ally- even when we know it is a safe neighborhood. 
Horror movies teach us that as long as it is daytime and the lights are on, everything is safe.  It’s when the night comes and the lights go out when those things worthy of fear come to reality.  Ghosts and the boogie man only come out at night.  We fear what is unknown, unseen and undetectable.  Darkness exacerbates that fear. 
Maybe your fears are less ambiguous than just the darkness.   Children who are scared of the dark cannot be reasoned with.  As adults sometimes we can talk ourselves out of being afraid or build up our courage enough to check out the noise coming from the dark basement despite our fears.  But some fears are very real and justified and cannot be easily dismissed and brushed aside. 
Many of you have children who live far away from home; many miles away from your ability to protect them -no matter how old they are- you still worry.  We are sometimes afraid to send children to school, especially immediately following a tragic school shooting.  Some of you have children and grandchildren who are deployed overseas in the military.  We worry about driving home in bad weather.  We worry as we wait on test results from the doctor.  We fear we won’t have enough money to pay the bills.
Whatever your life situation is, fear is often very real.  As Christians we sometimes take those fears and attempt to address them with easy answers- We say things like Trust God, just pray about it, God will make it right and sometimes these quick answers make us question our feelings, and make us feel our fears are irrational.
We claim with a loud voice that Christ is our savior and we will spend eternal life with him in heaven but  what we want is to be saved right there in that moment- not just in the afterlife.  We need a savior-now! 
When the car breaks down on a snowy night we need a savior of our souls but we also need a physical savior to get us out of the situation.  When the power goes out we need light and heat.  When a family member is in a war zone yes, we want them to have eternal salvation but we also pray for their safety now.  When we’re waiting for the test results or the surgery to be scheduled- we want to be saved-now.
We hear these same concerns as we read this Psalm.  It speaks to us of the fear of enemies and adversaries.  Although we may not have an actual physical enemy we each have our own personal adversaries and challenges.   Although there is trust in God and God’s ability to save right then- there is also confidence in eternal salvation.  The psalms teach us how to pray honestly about our fears and uncertainties.  The writer of this Psalm shows us it is possible to cry out for help and offer trust and praise at the same time. 
The Psalmist remembers times when God has answered his prayers; times when God indeed did come to the rescue.  This gives him courage to face his new fears and confidence that God will once again come through. 
We gain this courage through worship.  As we sing songs, hear scripture read and proclaimed, as we fellowship with our church family we gain strength.  Worship happens here on Sunday mornings but it also happens throughout the week.  Maybe it is hearing a sermon on the radio while you drive or an especially meaningful song you hear as you straighten up the house.  Many of you enjoy spending time in nature so maybe your worship is in the flower that blooms out of season and beckons God’s promise of new life or simply the sounds of birds in your yard.  Each of these is a sound reminder to worship God not just on Sunday mornings but throughout the week. 
We gain courage through prayer.  Sometimes just saying your problems out loud gives you a new perspective.  Talking with God often sheds light on other areas of your life where you can draw strength.  Or maybe it is gathering with friends to pray.  There is strength and courage in simply knowing that there are others on your side and praying for you.  Although this psalm is an individual prayer- my light, my salvation; many are communal prayers for and with the community. 
We gain courage through service.  When we strive to help others we see the world through different eyes.  We appreciate the gifts we have and recognize how God has answered our prayers and how much we are truly blessed when we see how others struggle.  When our decision for the evening is where to go for dinner and the person we are helping simply wishes there was something to eat- it puts problems in perspective.
We gain courage from sharing the love of God with others.  As we tell others about God’s love and share our story of salvation- times in our lives when we can look back and know- God was there- God changed the circumstances in life to where a negative outcome was not a solution or just in the nick of time showed me a more positive way.  Telling our stories reminds us that God is trustworthy and will come again.
Fear is real but when we look through life there are times when we can point out when God was there.  We know that God sent Christ to be the light in the darkness.  There is no reason to live in our fear.  Fear is real but we can trust in a God who hears our prayers, cares about us, answers our prayers and who has a good track record of coming through in the past.  We know we have eternal salvation through Jesus Christ but we also know we have a God who saves right here and now.  We have a God who makes all things work towards the good and can turn even the darkest situation into one of joy. 
We may not have all the answers to why bad things happen, why there is reason for fear, and why it sometimes seems God is absent but when we put our trust in God we can see the light at the end, we can see the hope that faith brings. 
As we travel through this period of Lent we purposefully put ourselves in a place where we are aware of the darkness of life.  We reflect on our own faith, our relationship with Christ, and we project that faith to the rest of the world.  We acknowledge the darkness but we also acknowledge the dawn to come, the rising of the light of the world- Jesus Christ with whom there is no more need of fear and with whom shines light on all who seek to live in a relationship with him. 
This doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen but with Christ we have the courage to face whatever comes our way and to go into the darkness of life with confidence that we have a God who loves us and will bring us out on the other side; A God who gives us the courage and strength to wait trusting that we will see the goodness of the Lord in this life.
Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage.   Whom shall you fear?-wait for the Lord!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Truth, you can't handle it.

Ash Wednesday 2013                                     Primary Scripture Psalm 51

 Truth!  You can’t handle the truth!   This famous line from the movie “A Few Good Men” is a poignant point in the movie and has become iconic and comical over the years but what is truth and would we know it if we saw it?
Our daily lives are filled with half-truths, little white lies, fibs and secrets-some relatively harmless it seems, maybe some scandalous.  We hide the truth all the time.  Ask any husband what the appropriate answer is to his wife’s question “does this dress make me look fat?”  Just in case you’re not sure- no matter what the truth is- the answer is always NO! 

People ask us how we are doing and we simply respond “fine” even if we feel exactly the opposite.  Maybe someone is asking you for a favor- Do you mind doing something for me?  Whether we really want to or not, most of the time the response is “sure”.  Maybe these are relatively harmless fibs.  They don’t really do anyone else harm- but sometimes our dishonesty does hurt us.  We feel lonely because we won’t admit we need company.  We feel taken advantage of when we just can’t seem to say “no” to our friends. 
Maybe we even lie to ourselves.  We convince ourselves that we don’t need help.  I can do it on my own.  We don’t want to burden someone else with our problems so we keep them secret.  We are afraid of what someone might say or think of us if we admitted what we were really thinking. We fear rejection- what if I ask for help and they say no or don’t want to be a part of my life anymore.  We don’t feel like our feelings of anger or inadequacy are legitimate so we stuff them away. 

We allow these things in our lives to weigh us down.  We all have baggage.  It is a part of life.  We name them different things- fear, shame, anger, disappointment, loneliness, doubt, illness.  We feel like these things are too heavy for anyone else to carry so we bear the burden alone.  We convince ourselves that we are strong enough to handle it. 
Sometimes we try to distract ourselves we stay busy so we don’t have to think about our problems.  We self-medicate with food or drugs.  We involve ourselves in unhealthy relationships; we talk about other people’s problems and blame others for the problems of the world- just so we don’t have to look in the mirror at ourselves. 

Truth, you can’t handle the truth so we lie, we ignore it, we pretend it’s not there we hide from it.
Psalm 51 reminds us multiple times that we cannot hide- from ourselves or God.  God can see our inner most heart.  God wants honesty, repentance, and for us to trust God with our baggage.  But first, we have to be honest with ourselves.

Lent is a time of personal reflection; a time to search our souls, a time of spring cleaning for our body, minds and spirits. It is a time to admit to ourselves and to God where we need help.  Be honest and open- these secrets not only harm us and our relationships with one another but they harm our relationship with God.  When we hide the truth we are telling God we don’t think God can handle it.  We are telling Jesus Christ that we don’t need his sacrifice, we don’t need the cross, we don’t need him. We are telling even more lies.   When the truth is God is the only one that can handle it.  Christ is the only way to wipe our slate clean, make our burdens lighter and he is willing to do it. 
Lent is not a time to give up trivial things like chocolate or soda just because you feel like you need to give up something.   It is about reflecting on those things that get in the way between you and God. It is about ridding your life of those things that separate you from the love of Christ and prevent you from being fully connected and trusting of him.

 It is about getting rid of the idols in our lives that we put in place of God.  Maybe it is food- instead of dealing with pain- you seek comfort in food- you want that glass of wine at the end of a hard day instead of time alone with God to distress.  Maybe it is the computer or television that distracts you and prevents you from putting quality time into prayer and meditating on the scriptures.  Maybe shopping or eating out puts strain on your finances and causes stress in your life.  Maybe God is calling you to take better care of your body- eat healthier, exercise more. 
Take this season of Lent as a time to be truthful with God and yourself.  Put your baggage at the foot of the cross, leave it at the alter.  Don’t let the crucifixion of Christ be in vein- trust him.  He already knows all your secrets and he loves you anyway- there is nothing you can do or say that will make God stop loving you.  It is a wonderful mystery that we cannot take for granted.  God simply wants us to recognize our own faults, break down the barriers that we put up to try and hide from God and humble ourselves at the foot of the cross- recognizing we need Christ, we need forgiveness and we need him to wash our sins away. 

Some research claims that is takes 30-40 repetitions of a new behavior to make it a habit.  Use these 40 days of Lent to start a new and healthy habit of prayer, meditation, journaling, or reading scripture.  Deepen and strengthen your relationship with God.  Start being honest with yourself and ask God to wash away your sins and guide you to a path of righteousness, love and honesty.

Truth- God can handle the truth- let him. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Love as a Verb

1 Corinthians 13


This scripture is one of the most well-known and well- loved chapters in the Bible.  We recite it at weddings, it is cross stitched on pillows, painted on walls- it is everywhere.  Some of you may actually have it written on a valentine card this week.  It is a beautiful poem and with it being a poem it can take on personal and varied meanings. 
But, what is love?  We use this word so often these days that it seems like it has lost some of its power.  We say it to our family and friends.  We use it casually to describe things we really like; I love chocolate, I love music, I love baseball.  We even hear it as a term of endearment- hello love!  We even use it in a dismissive way- I recently overheard someone way- I love her to death but…
Some who read this scripture may see this as something they strive to have.  They see love as a noun, something to be given, something to receive and when they read this it is often pulled out of context and seen as a list of qualities to look for in a partner.
When we look at it in context with what we read in the chapter just prior to this one it takes on a little different meaning.  Paul has been talking about the body of Christ and how each member is given specific gifts each of which are equal in value and worthy of honor and respect.  He continues to encourage us to use our gifts towards a better kingdom of God and a better church here on earth. 
Paul then is explaining in this chapter what it means to love and serve others in love.  It is used as a verb not a noun.  Paul is telling the church in Corinth as well as us that simply doing is not enough- it is the attitude of love that makes it a clear reflection of Christ.  The people in the church in Corinth were arguing with one another and an environment of one up man ship.  It wasn’t about love.  It was about being right, looking good in front of their friends, showing off and getting the proverbial gold star.
The church today- 21st Century America often has this same attitude.  We argue and compete over who can be the best at missions, evangelism, memorizing scripture, who has the best bake sales and whose theology is “right”.  We argue within the church- I give my tithe- why can’t everyone else,  I have this job and it is very important, or maybe it is gossip- smiling at one another, giving lip service to being the family of God where everyone is welcome then deny membership or sincere embrace to people who aren’t like us.   We have forgotten that love is a verb.
Recent statistics show that as many as 33% of adults in America consider themselves “spiritual not religious” or not religious at all-who can blame them?  Many of these people believe in God and may be open to Christ but they have seen too many examples of the church acting out of self-righteousness and hate not love that it isn’t appealing to them.
Throughout history Christians and many other religious categories have long used God and religion to justify violence whether it is the crusades of the middles ages, the Spanish inquisition, Emanate domain displacing native Americans, slavery, bombing abortion clinics, violence against homosexuals, burning the Quran and protesting the funerals of fallen American Soldiers.
All of these are done out of a claim of devotion to God and their Christian faith but Paul is telling us this is not what Christianity is supposed to be.  These are not actions of love.  Instead of pleasing God it is a noisy gong and clanging cymbal.  It is giving God a headache.
These may be extreme examples but it is just as annoying to God when we act in the name of Christ for any reason other than love.  Love is the great motivator… some of you may remember the 70’s rock ballad by  Meatloaf  “I would do anything for Love” The only thing he says he won’t do is forget.  How can he possibly forget the woman he loves and how can we possibly forget the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.
We as Christians are lucky- every time we take Holy Communion and I hope every time we are in church and every time we take a breath we remember, we know, at least in part, what it means to be loved by Christ.  Our faith and our experience, our history and trust in God gives us the coping mechanisms to deal with disappointment and hurt feelings.  As the Psalm we said earlier expresses- Even when the world has let us down we know we have hope in a God that loves us. 
Not everyone we encounter in our lives has that experience.  We know we can trust, we know we can believe because God has come through in the past.  When others don’t know of that eternal love it helps to hear about it from those who do.
In this changing and challenging world the stories of those who have experienced the love, provision, compassion and salvation of Christ are necessary to counteract the negative attitudes and the failures of humankind. 
God isn’t going to stop being active but those who don’t know God need to hear your stories.  Children, youth, young adults even older adults need the encouraging words your life story can offer.  They need to hear the stories of what life was like when you were at your lowest and how God and the love of Christ pulled you out of the darkness.  It will offer hope to those who experience pain and fear.  These stories are about recognizing for ourselves that it is God that saves, not our own efforts.  It is a chance to brag on God and share the love of Christ with those who need to hear it most.
We can never love too much, we can never tell our stories of Christ’s love too often.  We can never celebrate Christ’s love too much- Each time we come to the communion table we remember, we rehearse the story, our story about how Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to die for us. 
This type of love that Christ calls us to live is not an easy one.  It is not the romantic love and the warm and fuzzy feelings we may get at Valentines, it is active, risky, difficult and sometimes scary but it is always right and always worth the risk.
Remember the love Christ has shown you.  The times in your life when faith and trust in God got you through and be purposeful and aware of if and how you share that love with others. Whether it is word or deed, be sincere, honest and genuine. 
Love others because God first loved us- even when we don’t deserve it. Love never fails.  Eat the bread, Drink the wine and taste the love of Christ!