Friday, October 31, 2014

the journey with

Deuteronomy 34:1-12 
There is no denying the fact that we live in an instant gratification, results oriented society.  Our stomach grumbles so we must eat now!  This is why there is a fast food restaurant on nearly every corner.   We get upset when politicians take too long to keep their campaign promises.  What do you mean you haven’t solved all the world’s problems in your first six months in office? What are we paying you for anyway?   We fall victim to get rich quick schemes because we want our money to grow faster so we can retire early.   We take diet pills and drink really horrible smoothies that taste like dirt so that we can lose weight faster.   And if we don’t lose 10 pounds in the first week we are off to some other fad diet.  We live in a world where we want what we want, we want it now and we don’t really want to have to work to get it.  Or maybe we have worked really hard at our jobs, at church or with our families and we get frustrated when things don’t turn out the way we expect or get the appreciation we think we deserve.  What do you mean I have worked this hard and now I have been over looked for a promotion?  I did all this work, and no one even said a measly thank you! It’s not fair!
The church doesn’t escape this part of our culture.  Often times, we only want to do things if we think it will get measurable results like an instant boost in attendance, membership and giving.  We have charities we support but we want to see pictures and hear stories of how they use our money.  We give our time, energy and money but when we don’t see instant results we begin to question…what’s the point?   We want to know how our actions will have an impact.  It is a natural thing to feel this way. 
I know I get frustrated sometimes when I show up for a mission event and they don’t have something specific planned for me to do.  I want to be able to see the results of my efforts as much as anybody else.  Even when I know the point is to just be present with someone I feel like I should be doing something- what can I do to help?  Can I bring you dinner?  Can I help clean your house?  Even prayer sometimes turns into something I can “do” for someone else.   We don’t feel right if we aren't busy and getting results- even if that result is just a thank you or a smile.
Knowing that we live in a culture and a church that feels this way and encourages us to feel this way and knowing that it is easy for me to get caught up in this I was a little put aback to read our scripture for today. 
God sends Moses to the highest peak in the mountains between the wilderness and the Promised Land.  It is a sight for sore eyes!  You can almost imagine what Moses saw. The barren land behind him where they had to depend on God for every meal and in front of him lush green valleys full of date trees, olive trees, pomegranates, Almonds,   grapes… my mouth waters just thinking about it.  Instead of dry parched land he sees rivers and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.  He is standing on a mountain in what is now modern day Jordan and is able to see every mile of what we now know of as Israel.  He can see a whole country from his vantage point- his country for his nation!   This is perfection; the land flowing with milk and honey.  Then God says the kicker… Thanks for getting our people here but you can’t have it. 
What do you mean I can’t go in?  I would be so angry at God if I were Moses.  I would think…I have worked so hard to get these complaining, aggravating and rough necked people here and now you’re telling me I can’t actually go in? I have spent 120 years following you and doing what you tell me to do and now my pay check’s going to bounce?  This isn’t fair!   I just want to taste one grape, one drop of honey then I will know that it has all been worth it. 
But this isn’t a surprise to Moses.  If I had remembered what came before I wouldn’t have been surprised either.  Moses is told 40 years earlier that he will never enter the Promised Land.  If you remember, they had already arrived at this place once, 40 years earlier.  They sent in spies to scope out the land and yet they didn’t trust God enough to deliver them so God sends the Israelite people back into the wilderness for 40 more years.  Moses knew all along that he would never taste the honey, never walk on lush green pastures, never swim in the rivers of the Promised Land and yet he continued to lead the people of God anyway.   Maybe he thought God would change his mind.  Maybe he thought if I lead them well enough, if I don’t mess up any more, if they start doing what God wants then I will be allowed in.  Maybe Moses was thinking this but I think Moses probably understood what we struggle so hard to comprehend… it isn’t about the results it is about the journey,  it is about following God, loving people, and living into the life that God has so graciously given us. 
This is not an easy thing to understand.  When we go to the local soup kitchen to serve dinner for example… it isn’t about serving dinner.  Yes, it is about providing a service to people who are hungry but it is more than that.  It is about spending time with people who may never feel valued and all of a sudden they see your love for them and Christ in your presence and that you genuinely care about them and recognize that they are valued then their world is changed.  We may not see it.  We may fuss because it is the same people coming in day after day, year after year.  We may think- what’s good does this really do if they still need these services? Their life situation may not have changed but being loved despite their life conditions is heart and soul changing…Sending pencils to students or thank you notes to teachers at the Elementary school may not result in visitors in our church.  We may never even know if they get them but the simple act of freely and unselfishly doing something kind and loving changes not only the receiver of the gift but the giver as well.  
When I go to Venezuela, there are days when I “do” stuff like paint in the clinic or take them things that they cannot find in the stores like Ibuprofen and laundry detergent and yes, I can look at those things and say… look at all the good we did… but I often find that the ministry really happens in the car on the way to the children’s home, at the lunch table or while trying to learn Spanish and teach English with my new friends.  This is when real ministry happens- I may never see some of them again but in our time I saw Christ in their lives and I hope and pray they saw Christ in mine. 
I imagine Moses did cry out “It’s not fair” to God and when that didn’t work, maybe he then tried to use the dependence card.  Lord, you know how easily distracted they are.  We both know they are going to struggle when they get to the Promised Land.  They need me Lord!  How will they ever survive without me? But this wasn’t going to work either.  At some point Moses had to learn to trust God and trust the Israelite people to use what they had learned.  Joshua was going to be their leader now and no, he was no Moses but it was time for new leadership in a new world and time to trust that God will go with them even when Moses can’t.  Maybe they would squander all that Moses felt like he had created.  Maybe they would waste all the gifts God was giving them in this new paradise.  Maybe they would but maybe it was time to let them do it own their own anyway. 
Our missionary and I talked recently about how to gauge whether or not we had made an impact on the lives of people we meet on mission trips or even while serving in our own community.  Sometimes it is easy- we see a ditch that has been dug, a wall that has been built or cans of food donated.  But often times we are simply planting seeds.  Burying the love of Christ deep in a person’s soul for someone else to water and God to harvest at a much later date. 
Sometimes people resent the fact that what we build doesn’t get used in the way it was intend to be used or we feel that the gift is being abused or the giver taken advantage of and for some that is extremely frustrating.  But our job as Christians, as peopling caring for God’s people is not to dictate their faith or how they use the gifts they have been given but to simply give the gift.  And there is joy in the giving, just knowing that you have shared God’s love with someone else.  Moses is the ultimate missionary.  He spent his life proclaiming the word and will of God to people desperate to know God better.  He spent years walking beside them, going through the wilderness with them, teaching, guiding, shaping and loving a people who at times didn’t really want his kind of love.  But because he walked those 40 years just like they did; He was hungry when they were hungry, thirsty when they were thirsty and tired when they were tired, he could understand their misery.  He walked alongside those he intended to help showing love and compassion not only in the easy times when manna and quail were plentiful but when the desert sun dried their throats and their feet became blistered on the sun scorched earth.  And when it was time for his life to end, he put his faith in God that the work he had begun would be continued through Joshua in new ways he may have never imagined. 
God is not calling us to a check list of obligations that need to be accomplished.  God is calling us to a lifelong commitment to be his missionaries in this world- to walk with those who desperately need a relationship with Christ.  Not just to show up and offer assistance and doing thing for “those people” but to live, work and play with them; building relationships with people whose only contact with Christ may be through you and who need to know they are loved by Christ as much as we do.   
Like Moses there may never be a tangible reward for this life of ministry but the joy comes in serving, in knowing you are living life the way God intended for you to live it, and trusting that God can do amazing things in and through us if only we are willing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Who does he think he is?

Exodus 17:1-7/ Matthew 21:23-32

I am a little embarrassed to say that one of my favorite TV shows right now is the Big Bang Theory.  Here we have this group of really intelligent scientists who can solve the most complicated mathematical equations but yet struggle to carry on a conversation with Penny, the aspiring actress/waitress next door.  They understand the intricacies of science but yet can’t understand sarcasm or how to tell a joke and yet somehow the most socially inept of them all becomes their leader and of course, hilarity ensues. 
Sheldon is super smart but he is also the most difficult to get along with and the most out of tune with the real world, and yet, he is captain of this crew.  Who does he think he is?  How did get this position of authority?  Why do the others follow him?  You would think eventually they would all get tired of him putting them down, belittling them, stirring up trouble and manipulating them to do what he wants and leave.  But they don’t. 
The temple priests are wondering the same thing about Jesus.  Who does he think he is?  The scripture right before this is the day Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  The Jewish people are singing and dancing in the streets as he arrives into town calling him King and the first place he goes is into the temple, stirring up trouble.  This is the day he throws all the money changers out of the temple turning over tables and causing a huge disruption to normal temple life. 
So, when the priests find him teaching in the synagogue the next day they decide to ask him- Who do you think you are?  What gives you the right to come in here and cause all this trouble?  Why are you all of a sudden in charge around here- your invading our territory?   They knew who Jesus was of course.  This isn't the first time they have heard of him. 
This is the first time the Gospel writer of Matthew brings Jesus to Jerusalem but his reputation precedes him.  This is the unlearned man who teaches with authority and wisdom like he knows the scriptures and their meanings by heart.  This is the man who eats with the untouchables of society and heals the sick.  And this is the man who has gained enormous popularity among the people. 
Who does he think he is?  When the priests ask him he immediately proves his authority, not by showing a credential or offering a list of miracles or references, he turns the tables and puts them on the spot. The priests were the ones who were supposed to be in charge.  They are the most learned, well versed religious people in the temple and part of their job was to flesh out all these false prophets who claimed authority so, of all people, they should be the ones who can figure it out. (Feasting on the Word) 
So Jesus asks them a question.  Not about the law, not about scripture, not about him but about John the Baptist. How did John get his authority?  Who was John the Baptist?  This seems to come out of nowhere but they will soon know the connection. 
It would be like asking Sheldon why Penny is mad or how he’d hurt someone’s feelings. He knows lots of information but he doesn't experience empathy and struggles with relationships so he has no way of knowing about other people’s feelings.
The priests knew lots of things about God but this is the one question which they can’t seem to find the answer.  John was one of them, born into the family of priests, given authority the same way they had received their authority from God but they didn't want to claim him because they all thought he was crazy.  They thought he was a fake but because so many others thought he was a prophet, they were afraid of losing their own authority if they denied he was from God- so they did nothing, they refused to take a side.  They couldn't or wouldn't answer the question- Who was John the Baptist?
Since they can’t seem to come up with the correct answer, Jesus being the smart-alack that he is says; then I won’t answer your question either. 
Instead he asks them another question, he tells them a parable that they will certainly know the answer to.    Who is the son that does his father’s will?  The one who gives lip service or the one who does what is asked?  Of course the one who believes is the one who acts.  So once again the tables are turned and it is no longer the authority of Jesus or John the Baptist which is on the line, but theirs. Who do they think they are?  
They had spent their whole lives learning about God but didn't have a personal relationship with God.  They had spent all their time learning but not doing, seeing but not believing, and putting everyone else down for not knowing enough when God was right in front of their eyes. 
We can often be critical of the priests because we know the story.  We know that Jesus is God, we know that John the Baptist was a prophet foretold in the Old Testament, and we know how Jesus loves to take what we think is real and turn it upside down. 
Jesus wants us to see ourselves in these two sons and in the stories of the priests. He wants us to ask ourselves the same question asked of him… Who do we think we are? Are we the person who has a lot of knowledge, talks a good game, recites scripture and claims a Christian faith but then does nothing? Or do we want to be the one who believes enough to act whether or not they know all the right words to say, come from the right family or attend the right church? 
Maya Angelou a now famous writer known as much for her difficult childhood as her poetry and prose was once asked what her greatest accomplishment was.  Her response captures what Jesus is teaching us in this parable.  “I'm grateful to be a practicing Christian. I'm always amazed when people say, "I'm a Christian." I think, "Already?" It's an ongoing process.”  (2002 Palm Beach Post Interview)
Our faith is not something we can accomplish.  It is something that we strive for and work towards; it is in the actions of trying to do the will of God, living, being, working, giving, that we become not just the person who claims faith but the person who is faithful and practices the skills which we hope will bring us in line with the will of God.
The Jewish priests didn't start out this way.  They came from the line of Aaron who was there in the beginning with Moses.  He and the Israelite people, even though they complained, still followed.  Even though they tested God and Moses, they continued to do the work of faith, which for them was stepping into the desert, practicing their faith and learning to trust God more and more with each step they took.  They may have whined and complained a lot but their actions showed their true faith.
Do our actions show our true faith?  Are we giving lip service to God who deserves our faithful actions? 
I think that in the very last episode of The Big Bang Theory, Penny, the ditsy blond with barely a High School diploma, will be the one who solves the problem of String Theory which has plagued Sheldon, the brilliant PhD from the beginning.  It will be something so simple and clear, that has been right in front of his nose the whole time but one he just refused to acknowledge.      
In these stories, Jesus tells us and the priests that the answer we are looking for is right in front of us.  It isn't about how much we know or whether this is your first day in church or 1,000th.  It is about being willing to recognize the authority of Christ and follow his example to love, heal and care for others.  It is about being willing to step into the wilderness of life, knowing that God will provide and be willing to take that next step of faith.  
The word of hope in this scripture comes as Jesus is debriefing them on the correct answer the priests have just giving him.  “I assure you the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you.” 
This may not sound very hopeful to some but these are his examples of people who turned their lives around after accepting the word of God spoken through John, following the example seen in the life of Jesus and told in the scriptures.  They are the ones who know God in this life, and know where Jesus and John get their authority.  In Jesus mind as he tells the parable of the two sons.  They are the ones who said they don’t believe yet have changed their minds and are doing the will of God. 
Jesus tells the priests that these misfits will enter the kingdom first, not because of some preferential treatment but because of their willingness to step out in faith and do God’s will; they in fact see God in their actions and experience the kingdom of God in the here and now.  We don’t have to wait to experience the kingdom of God.  We don’t have to die to meet Jesus.  As we live our lives in service of Christ, as we care for others and show mercy and compassion- this is where God’s Kingdom touches the earth.
Those who believe but don’t act will just have to wait and see but the people who act on their faith don’t have to wait, they see Jesus in the here and now and so can we.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Desperate times/ desperate measures

Exodus 1:8-2:10/  Romans 12: 1-8
Jacob is desperate.  His family is starving in their home country and there seems to be no end in sight to the poverty that surrounds them.  What crops they can grow, no one is buying, and the rain won’t seem to come. The crops, the livestock, everything they need to live is wasting away right in front of their eyes.  The only way to survive is to ask for help.  So, they travel to a nearby country which has plenty of resources to share.  They are welcomed at first because a family member helped pave their way and because they are willing to do the work the people in the new country don’t seem to want to do.  They work hard in this new place, helping their new countrymen and women keep food on the table, and clothes on their backs, they cook and clean, work in the fields and garment shops, take out the garbage, build homes and help the economy of the new country grow.  They are an asset in this new place and life seems like it will all work out. 
As generations pass, Jacob’s family grows larger and larger but their ally in the government is long gone and the countrymen and women begin to fear Jacob’s family.  What if they are secretly terrorists, plotting with their enemies, eager to fight against them from the inside if there is a war?  What if there is another famine and there isn’t enough resources for everyone? We don’t have enough doctors and midwives as it is- how are we supposed to keep up with all their children?  Instead of welcoming them as equal citizens and teaching them to care and provide for themselves in this new place- they are treated as less than human and with fear and disdain.
The country is torn- they like that Jacob’s ancestors work so hard and do all the jobs no-one else wants to do.  They like what they contribute to society but yet at the same time they are afraid.  They want them to stay but only on their conditions and only if they can oppress them and beat them down so that they know their place.  They don’t want them to get any grand ideas that they might have a say in how this country is run, how they are treated or that they may be able to change things. So the new country decides to put laws in place that oppress Jacob’s family.  Families are separated because husbands are forced to work in other cities away from their wives and children.  They are humiliated, grossly underpaid for their backbreaking work, beaten by their bosses while the authorities look the other way or join in, some are even killed. 
Trials, tribulations and oppression only make Jacob’s family stronger. But new threats emerge.  No longer do they only have to fear the abuse and neglect of the adults, but now they fear for their children too.  The government has given its citizens free reign to murder their children without any reason- other than their race.  Even the ones who are healthy and will work hard in this new land are killed – thrown into the river to drown. 
Mothers pray desperately to have daughters- hopeful that they will be spared.  One mother’s prayer isn’t answered though and she gives birth to a son.  She sees him and loves him but knows his future is dim.  She cherishes every moment she has with him until she can no longer hide him.  The gangs will be after him soon.  They will ransack their home looking for the illegal and now vocal baby.  She is desperate and while she knows she can’t bear to watch her son die, she hopes and prays that someone in another country or land will find him, and love him as much as she does.  So, she places him in a basket and teary eyed- sends him into an unknown fate.  Praying earnestly for a future that she knows he can’t get there. 
Maybe it seems like I have just re-told our Old Testament lesson through a more generic/ modern lens and I have; but this is a story that happens over and over around the world every day.  People from one country flee to another because of religious persecution, poverty and violence. People flee not only wars of international significance but drug and gang wars that spread well beyond their local community.  In some places they are fleeing groups of citizens who claim religious superiority and vow to kills those who don’t believe the same way- leave, convert or die is the mantra.
Others seek an escape from poverty resulting from unequal international trade.  Maybe the only job someone can find in their home land is working long days for little to no pay making cheap clothing in sweatshops, or they lost the family farm which provided for them for generations because now it is cheaper to buy corn from another country than to grow it themselves.    Some emigrate as refugees, in need of asylum but others, escape secretly in the dark of night seeking safety, believing that anywhere is better than their current situation.  Many are willing to risk their own lives for safety and the opportunity for a better life.   
You can hear the modern day parallels of the global immigrant in our story of the beginning of Moses’ life.  His ancestors- the Israelites, decedents of Jacob, sought refuge in Egypt during a time of famine and poverty.  They too did the work that Egyptians didn’t want to do.  Contributing to society but hated because of their race and their religion. Today’s immigrants around the world continue to do the jobs the people in their host country don’t want-the hot, dirty, backbreaking and humiliating jobs. They are often underpaid and mistreated because their bosses know they don’t have a voice to speak.  While immigrants only make up a small percentage of the population in any country- 13% here in the US- many still fear them.  Instead of embracing their culture and the positive things they can add to society they are feared, labeled, oppressed and subjected to years of fear and uncertainty. 
The story of Moses has a happy ending.  Moses’ mother’s prayers are answered.  He is found by a woman who goes against her own father and the rule of the land to willingly take him in, adopt him into her family and raise him as her son.  It could have ended differently. Pharaoh’s daughter could have been just as cold hearted as her father and simply turned the basket over allowing the infant Moses to drown. 
Recently it has been all over the news about unaccompanied minors seeking refuge in our country… Mothers desperate to be reunited with their children or desperate to help their children escape the known violence and poverty in their home countries…I can only imagine the torment, pain and pure desperation these families feel when they place the fate of their children in the hands of strangers. 
Who will they find when they reach our shores?  Will they find people willing to welcome them in and love them as their own or, people who simply want to turn their baskets over as they are forced to return to the places where they are escaping poverty, persecution and certain death?
I fully acknowledge that the problems we face in this world are multilayered and difficult.  It is often overwhelming to even contemplate how this world could or should be different.  Maybe, you like me, hear these stories and think it is too big of a problem for me to make a difference but we are called by God to make this world a better place, to help usher in God’s Kingdom in this world. Maybe you are called to be a missionary- to help make other countries safer and help reduce the poverty and violence they experience.  Or are you called to become a foster parent to children in this community taking in a child who needs a warm, loving and stable home?  Maybe you are called to offer respite or emergency housing to foster children a few days a month. Maybe you are called to speak on behalf of a child- helping the courts decide what is best- through the Guardian ad’litem program.  Or are you called to write your congressperson to influence the decisions our government makes?  Maybe you are called to speak for those who don’t have a voice in our system to advocate for humane treatment of all people, no matter their race or nationality.  Me are all called to pay those who work for us a living wage and to treat all those we encounter not as “others” but as God’s children, created in God’s image, just like you. 
Our scripture from Romans today reminds us to not be conformed to the patterns of this world.  The status quo is not how it should be.  It may be uncomfortable or unpopular to do what is right but it is our sacrifice to listen and follow God’s will- whatever that may mean to you.  There is no “us” and “them” there are no people who are “better” and some who are “less”.  We are all part of the body of Christ, equally valued, equally useful, even though we act and look differently.  And when one part of the body of Christ cries out in pain- we all are affected.   How can we seek to mend the broken heart of Christ, our broken heart? Through love, mercy and compassion.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


John 8: 2-11/ Psalm 103: 1-14

Forgiveness.  That is probably the hardest thing we are called to do as Christians.  However it is one of the most important parts of our faith journey.  Forgiveness is what allows us to be a full member of the family of God and what allows us to experience the healing power of Jesus and share in the wholeness we desire most, as followers of Christ.
Christians want, more than anything to be in a full, unencumbered, unadulterated and all-encompassing relationship with Christ.  That is what makes the idea of heaven so wonderful- not that there are streets of gold and mansions or the weather is always perfect and everyone is kind but that we can finally see Jesus and be uninhibited in our relationship with him.  If all we want is a nice house we can get that here- plenty of people live in big houses.  If all we want is good weather- move to the tropics.  No- it is the relationship with Christ which we need most.
We struggle to experience that relationship fully in this life because of sin; our own and the sin of others.  People do us wrong, we feel betrayed and our feelings are hurt because we feel we are being taken advantage of.  People make mistakes, make poor choices and the people we love are hurt, families are divided, hearts are broken, and the pain is all too real. 
Then there are the pains we cause.  It isn’t just that we have to put up with the faults of others, we sin too.  We cause pain, we do things to hurt others and ourselves.  We make mistakes- sometimes on purpose, sometimes not but either way we let people down.  We let ourselves down.  We know we can do better but we fail.  Not only do we lose trust in others but we lose trust in ourselves.  Not only do others struggle to live up to our expectations but we fail to live up to our own.
Even the Apostle Paul famously says “I do what I do not want to do.”  Even he, struggled to live up to the standard he had set for himself.
Then there are the parts of life that cause us pain.  We get angry at God because someone gets sick, we age and our bodies won’t do what we want them to do, a natural disaster destroys our homes or the company we work for goes out of business.  The pain is real; the realities of the world and the choices people make have consequences.  We try to forgive and forget but that is a whole lot easier said than done.    
On Facebook this week, I asked why forgiveness is so hard and if anyone had been truly successful.  While a few had some good strategies for working on this most did not feel they were very good at forgiving themselves or others. 
I was able to relate with one friend of mine who talked about how sometimes she thinks she has been able to let something go- she thinks she has forgiven someone or some wrong in her life but when a similar situation arises that requires her to trust and act freely- the feelings of pain quickly surface all over again. Maybe we bury the feelings without really dealing with them. We think- out of sight, out of mind, which may work- until we are reminded of it again and it all comes flooding back into our minds. 
Or sometimes we think it is just easier to not forgive.  We believe that remembering an old pain and betrayal somehow protects us from being hurt again. Sometimes we think that somehow the person that hurt us is affected by our negative feelings when in all actuality the only person we are hurting is ourselves.  The anger eats at us from the inside and we are never really able to heal as long as we hold on to these pains.
It is a lot like picking at a scab.  I know that is kind of a gross analogy but it is something we have all experienced.  We ask God to heal us, help us forgive others and forgive us when we have wronged and so the scab begins to form. 
But then we think about it, we dwell on it, we wonder what if, we look at the friends we have lost, the damage to our bank accounts, we worry about what future damage will be done and how long we will have to live with the consequences and as we do that we are picking, picking, picking at the emotional scabs and the wound is re-opened and the healing that Christ offers struggles to take root because we won’t leave it alone. 
Jesus calls us to let it go- and let it heal, and as most parents do, God tells us, her children, to stop picking at it.  There is work involved in that.  It takes a lot of self-discipline and effort to acknowledge and address the source of the pain and if necessary, leave the person or situation that is causing the injury. 
This is the only way to work on rebuilding your life and giving new relationships a fresh start.  This begins with prayer, being honest with ourselves and with God about our role in the choices we make, and being willing to truly give it over to God so that healing and wholeness can result.  Not giving it to God for a moment and then taking it back but leaving it at the foot of the cross and walking away.
The good news is that forgiveness is readily available to us and God is ready and willing to help us on our journey to forgive others.  Our Psalm today reminds us that God is able to remove our sins from us- as far as the east is from the west, that God forgives your iniquities and redeems your life from the pit.  We don’t have to wallow in self-pity or shrink away in the corner afraid or ashamed. God gives us strength and courage and we are reassured that God understands our humanity and deals with us not as we deserve but with love and mercy.  God loves us and is willing to have patience with us and compassion for us.
Our gospel lesson is an example of the beauty of God’s love and willingness to forgive.  The woman in our story, has obviously committed a sin.  She and her partner have caused harm to their families and the community where they live.  There will be consequences for the choices they have made but the Scribes and the Pharisees want to be the ones to dole out this punishment so they bring her to the Temple to be judged and sentenced.  While “this woman” may have just seemed like another sinner to the Jewish leaders, Jesus sees her as much more than that.  The accusers may have never even known her name, but Jesus sees her, sees her heart and has compassion for her.   
As Jesus thinks and writes, the tension grows, the men insist that Jesus pass judgment and he does.  Barclay says that one of the things people suspect Jesus may have been writing in the sand are the sins of each of the men accusing the woman that day.  Whether or not that is true, Jesus does call them to self-reflect- take the log out of their own eyes before attempting remove the speck from this woman’s eye.  As they do, they realize they are just like her.  They have all sinned, they have all had the desires that she had, whether they acted on them or not, they have all had challenges and faults that deserved judgment.  In their quest to insist that Jesus pass judgment on her, they themselves are judged. 
Wrapped up in this one story, Jesus expresses many of the little tidbits of direction we are given throughout the New Testament.  We are told to do unto others as we would have them do to us.  If we wish for others to show us mercy when we mess up, we have to be willing to show others mercy when they mess up.  We pray each week- forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  We pray for God to pardon, forget and wipe our slate clean and we are to do the same.  We pray that God will have a short term memory when it comes to our short comings and long term memory when it comes to the things we do well.  We want God to have mercy on us and we see, believe and trust that the love and compassion God has for us is true and unwavering but this does not come without responsibility.  As with the woman caught in adultery, she wasn’t just simply forgiven.  The forgiveness Jesus extends to her is only the beginning.  He instructs her to go and do not sin again. 
Use the opportunity God gives you for a fresh start.  Make amends where necessary but begin again, in a new life with Christ.  Allow God to heal your wounds, accept the wholeness we find in Christ and live accordingly. 
God knows we aren’t perfect and that although we try we will most likely mess up again but with repentance God will be there with open arms and the opportunity for continued healing.  Extend that same grace which you receive from Christ to yourself and to others.  Ask Christ to help you forgive and heal your broken relationships, broken hearts and broken trust so that nothing can stand in the way of living a full, loving and healed life.   Amen
Go into the world, knowing you are loved and forgiven and sharing that same love you receive from Christ with all you encounter.  It will be worth the risk to experience full healing.

Beginnings by Andy Langford and Mark Ralls is the jumping off point and provides some of the illustrations used.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lost and Loved

Luke 15: 11-24/ Jeremiah 31: 1-9

Being lost and found is a pretty common theme throughout the bible.  As children of God, we repeatedly get lost, move away from God and then God seeks us out and leads us back to a relationship with God. 
This week, our biblical characters don’t even know they are lost at first.  Jeremiah has spent his career as a prophet calling the Israelite people back to God.  They are wandering through life, and while they know things are bad they think that’s just life.  They don’t realize that many of their challenges are a result of their rejection of God.  God has been using Jeremiah for years to help them find their way out and remember the blessing of following God and being in a right relationship with God.  The prodigal son also doesn’t realize he’s lost at first.  He’s been given his inheritance early, he is living it up while he is still young and nobody is going to tell him what to do, or how to spend his money or live his life!  He has turned his back on the source of his livelihood and he is living in blissful ignorance. 
When he asked for his inheritance early it was a slap in the face to his father.  One of my clergy mentors, Dr. Stowe once explained it this way.  In those times, asking for inheritance early wasn’t like someone today getting an advance to buy a house or pay off bills.  He was, in essence, telling his father- “I wish you were dead!” This wasn’t some heat of the moment rebellious teenager’s empty threat meant to hurt his father’s feelings.  This request said- you are dead to me and I don’t need or want you in my life.  Imagine how hurt and betrayed the father felt.  He had done everything in his power to provide a good life for his children with everything the son could have ever wanted; extravagant food, nice clothes, a home, servants, security and a wealth which could sustain him and his family.  He was building an inheritance that could provide for them for generations not just so he could squander it away on temporary pleasures and short sited goals. 
Maybe you struggle to relate to these characters.  Maybe you were always the good child who did everything your parent said.  Maybe you never said a cross word or rebelled and sought independence.  Maybe you have never felt betrayed the way this father does.  Maybe your teenager never said those dreadful words- I hate you! Maybe they never ran away from home, stole from you or lied to you.  You may not know that that feels like but God does. 
God has given us all we need to live a happy, healthy life with gifts, grace and the opportunity for a relationship with Jesus Christ.  But, every time we go against what we know is right.  Every time we break a promise to God and each other, every time we purposefully step away from the life God has given us- God feels betrayed.  God weeps every time we decide we are in control and we don’t need God.  Every time we use the gifts God has given us to hurt ourselves and others God’s heart breaks. 
We often, like this son, may not even know what we are doing.  We are seeking after what the world says is so wonderful.    It is the playmate that tells us to steal the candy, they will never miss it, or the co-worker who convinces you to fudge the numbers on our time-sheet and check out early so you can get a head start on the weekend- no one’s going to know! Or the credit card company who so diligently temps us to buy that thing we want but don’t really need- you can pay for it later- it is no big deal- who cares if it will take you years to pay it off!  It is the seduction that leads you to cheat on your spouse or the friend that convinces you to stay at the party a little longer- one more drink won’t hurt. 
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt but it is hard to convince someone of the dangers when they are having so much fun and it seems there are no consequences.  We are traveling down the road, driving around and around in circles and we don’t even know we are lost.  That is how the prodigal son felt, until the money ran out at least.  It was only after hitting rock bottom that he realized he was lost.  When the consequences kick in- that’s when we finally realize we are lost- you get arrested, lose your driver’s license, your job, your spouse, or file for bankruptcy because we can’t pay the credit card bills. It is then that we feel convicted that we have lost our way, maybe we can’t do it on our own after all.  But where do we go from here- all of our bridges have been burned, haven’t they? 
The son, repentant of his mistakes decides to go home; willing to do anything to make it up to his father, unsure if he will even take him back, but he has nowhere else to turn.  To his surprise, the father welcomes him back with open arms.  Although the father was heartbroken by his son’s choices, he never once stopped loving him, and even watched and waited for his return daily and not just waiting but willing to run to him, embrace him and return him to full family status. 
The father never stopped loving his son.  Never stopped watching, waiting and hoping for his son to come home.  It was a choice the son had to make on his own but never the less; the father was more than willing to welcome him back to the family.  God loves us the same way.  Even when we stray, even when we have done things that cause God’s heart to break or feel betrayed- we are still loved.  Even when it seems all our bridges have been burned, God is waiting with open arms to welcome us home. 
The authors of “Beginnings” the bible study used as a jumping off point for this message points out that we don’t know what happened next.  Jesus doesn’t tell us if the son stayed and became a dedicated and loyal member of the family or if once his stomach was full and his needs met he returned to his old habits and rebellious ways.  We don’t know the rest of the story and maybe there is a reason for that.  It doesn’t really matter.  Jesus loves us no more and no less.  Jesus wants us to know that no matter what we do; we are always loved and always have a place in his family if we want it.  God also calls us to love others in the same way.  Even when we feel hurt or betrayed we are not to remove our love and compassion, even if we don’t feel like they deserve it or because we doubt their change of heart is sincere.  We are called to love with the same unconditional love God gives us.  
We love because God loves us and because God’s love does not come with conditions, ulterior motives or even a way for us to earn it or pay it back.  God loves because God is love and we are to do the same- rich or poor, strung out or sober, unemployed or working over- time, Christian or not.  Our only job is to love them the same way Jesus loves us- warts and all.

Jeremiah 31:3 says:  I have loved you with a love that lasts forever- how amazing is that!  Holy Communion reminds us of this deep and abiding love.  We are reminded that Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to die so that all eternity could be saved.  This is the symbol of God’s never ending love for us.  Come to the table, remember God’s love, and then go into the world sharing that same love with others.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Life and death

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15/ Luke 23: 32-46
As famously quoted by Benjamin Franklin- “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, but death and taxes.”  And while he was talking specifically about our constitution, he was right. 
Death is a stark realization of life that we cannot avoid.
I remember the first people I ever knew that died, Amy and Suzanne.  I was 11 years old.  Amy was the older sister of one of my best friends and Suzanne was a classmate of mine.  Amy was killed in a tragic car accident on the way home from a school event with her best friend driving.  Just a couple of weeks later, Suzanne died in a house fire unable to escape the thickening smoke around her.   Both were sudden and both rocked my community to its core.  It was a tragedy that I will never forget and they caused us to hold on a little tighter to those we love and to life itself. 
The lessons about death often begin at a very early age but it is something we never really get used to. 
We say things like: they were taken too young, they lived a full life, or we bemoan the life they left behind- all the things they could have accomplished in this life and we grieve for the friends and family who are left behind to carry on without them. 
Death is often painful and heartbreaking so we do our best to avoid it.  We search for things we hope will keep us young and vibrant. Last ditch efforts at extreme and untested medical options that we hope will extend our lives just a little longer.  Death scares us and even though we know it is an inevitable part of life, we still try to deny its existence. 
Some churches try to capitalize on our fear of death.  They use it as a way to coerce people into believing in God.  I guarantee I am not the only one in this room who remembers being at revivals and church events when the preacher would passionately ask… If you die tonight- would you be right with God?  Would you know Jesus? Would you go to heaven?  I have even heard this question asked at funerals.   If you loved this person in this life, give your life to Jesus so you can see them again in the next. 
If all we are waiting for is heaven.  If all that matters is where we go after we die… then what’s the point of living?   If we know that death is coming sooner or later and we know we can’t deny it or avoid it… why not just give up?  Why not sit in a dark corner, bible in hand and wait?
If all we are focused on is what happens after we die, then we have missed the point. 
The Scripture from Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to be born and a time to die but there is a lot that goes on in between!
Our Gospel lesson today has Jesus at the very end of his earthly life; in the midst of excruciating pain, constant ridicule, suffering and eminent death, even the people being executed with him won’t leave him alone but yet, even in these last moments, Jesus has not given up. 
All through the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  Biblical scholars call it the travel narrative because Jesus is constantly making his way to the place that will end his life.  Jesus knows where he is going and why and yet all along the way, with this end in mind, he kept his focus on fulfilling God’s will, not only for his death but for his life as well.  On the way, he ate and drank, celebrated, mourned, laughed and cried.  He healed, taught, counseled, got angry and loved.  He embraced the untouchable, accepted the rejected, prayed and worshiped. 
He lived life to the fullest- even to the very end.  There is a time to die, but it wasn’t yet.  There was still work to do.  Even as he hung on the cross taking his last breaths, he was still doing the work of God- loving, forgiving and understanding our brokenness.
People in churches around the world complain that we are just too old to do anything.  We need new, young people to do all the things we used to do.  We don’t think we can do mission and ministry any more.  But if you are reading this or hearing this- I am sorry to inform you but you aren’t dead yet!  There is still life and blood running through your veins and there is still purpose in your life. 
There is a lot of life to be lived between the time of our birth and the time of our death.  And things may not be as easy as they once were, we may have to modify how we live life.  We may have to use a cane, or get a stronger prescription for our glasses, stop and rest on occasion or we may have to ask other people for help but we are not helpless and there is always a way God can use us, now, just as we are, in the condition we are in.  It may not look like the ministry and missions you did in your youth but God still has work for us to do and still has a plan and a purpose for this church and every one of us sitting in these pews. 
God doesn’t want us to sit back and just wait for death to come.  God wants us to leave this world kicking and screaming, fighting to be in service for Christ just one more day. 
Lord!  Just give me a little more time!  Look- there’s someone I can feed, and another one I can clothe and look!  This one- Please let me tell them how much you love them!  Let me be your servant just a little longer!
This life we have been given is a gift and it isn’t about waiting patiently for death to arrive.  It isn’t about believing the right thing so that we can get into heaven.  Death isn’t about heaven and hell.  If we live our lives in service to Christ, if we sincerely ask God- what do you want from me?  If Jesus is our focus then we have already found heaven- and eternal life with Christ will just be the cherry on top of a life well lived. 
Maybe we should ask that evangelical, revival question.  If you were to die tonight… but not would you go to heaven- but how well will you have lived your life?  Will Jesus say- well done, good and faithful servant?  Or, will he say, eh here’s another “good Christian” who just gave up? 
Although the crucifixion was important, death was not the sole point and purpose of Jesus’ mission on earth.  There was a lot of life packed into his short time on earth.  Maybe we could wonder- how much more Jesus could have done if he had walked the earth just a little longer.  I don’t know who said it but one of my favorite quotes is this “It isn’t about the days in your life but the life in your days that counts.”
Are you living your life to the fullest potential God has created it for?  Are you giving everything you have to the service of Christ or are you just waiting for the end to come; hoping you’ve done just enough to get through the gates of heaven? 
As a parting thought I want to share the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas- written in London shortly after world war II 
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 *This sermon is influenced by "Beginnings an introduction to Christian faith" ch. 4 by Andy Langford and Mark Ralls

Sunday, June 29, 2014

What does God look like?

John 4: 3-26/ Exodus 3: 13-15

Have you ever wondered what God looks like?  Maybe you have the image of an old man with a beard who looks kind of like Gandalf the Gray from Lord of The Rings, or a skinny Santa Clause.  Or, maybe you imagine the vision Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as God reaches out to touch the hand of Adam.  We can get a little obsessed in this question.  Genesis tells us that we, humankind, were created in the image of God so God MUST look like us right?  Just wiser and obviously old since God was around at creation billions of years ago. 
People have asked this question at least since the days of Moses.  Moses didn’t see God in human flesh but instead in the vision of a burning bush.  God had never been seen before and God was considered too amazing to look at so God was disguised in things like fire and cloud.  But what was Moses supposed to do- tell everyone a burning bush spoke to him? Crazy!!  He needed evidence so he asked for God’s name.  Moses is told that God’s name is “I Am”. What a powerful testimony to God!  I am, I am what? I am: creator, giver of life, love, justice, compassion, mercy, breath, bread, water, savior.  I am, I exist, I am all you can ever understand and more. 
They had never encountered such an all-encompassing God before.  In Egypt, the Pharaohs were considered gods.  The other religions that surrounded them thought of god as these wooden, stone, or metal creations that never really did anything. There were gods for each community and nation.-- It is awe inspiring to realize that all of a sudden they knew that God cannot be contained or assigned to any one thing.  Think for a moment what that means- God is “I am”  Whatever you can imagine- that is God.  God is no longer this wise old man but everything- omnipresent in all of creation.  It kind of makes me pause to think of God in this way, real and tangible but at the same time distant. 
God made God’s self known to the Israelite people so that they could know that they were no longer second class citizens in Egypt but accepted and included in the bigger plan for God’s world.  God provided them with acceptance, wholeness and meaning, leaders to guide them, food and water to help them survive in difficult times and a way to be in community with God and with each other. 
As time passed people repeatedly forgot and remembered and forgot again this characteristic of God- people began to distance themselves from God. 
Because God is in everything it became easy to overlook God’s presence, take it for granted.  Prophets had become silent, miracles and healing began being attributed to magicians and false teachers.  The people began to experience a collective Attention Deficit Disorder. They needed something to worship and focus their attention on so they focused on the temple and the rules of worship.  Instead of imitating the acceptance they received from God-Only special people were allowed to do special things.  Only people with a specific heritage, skin color, income level, only those who break the socially acceptable rules and wear the right clothes can come to worship and then only after they were willing to pay the tithe.  Sounds a little familiar doesn't it?  Churches all over the world still act that way.  Christians only want to worship with people who look, think and act like them, sin in the same ways that they sin, and follow the same rules that they think are important.  People remembered God’s name but forgot God’s spirit.  God was still the great “I Am” but many people stopped participating in God’s plan and stopped imitating the character of God in their relationships. 
The woman at the well was one of those people who were not accepted in the temple.  She was an outcast.  She was a Samaritan, a half-breed, part Jewish, part Assyrian heritage.  Just by her lineage she was deemed unworthy of the attention of a Jewish person, much less a full-fledged conversation. 
She was a woman which also immediately made her a second class citizen.  Not only was she female but she had also been married 5 times- virtually unheard of in her day and let’s be honest- not exactly honorable in our day- and the man whom she was with now was not her husband.  Not only was she shunned by the Jews but her own people had disowned her.  Her status was so low that she couldn't even go to the well for water in the cool of dawn and dusk as her neighbors did- she was forced to go in the heat of the day instead.
Even in this brief encounter we can see into the brokenness of this woman’s life.  Either she has mourned the death of husbands or been rejected by them.  She is damaged goods- her friends and family have turned their backs on her.  People gossip about her and make her feel small and useless. 
Jesus takes this opportunity to allow us to get a glimpse not only of this woman but of ourselves.  We have all felt rejected at some point in our lives.  We have all felt unworthy of honor and ashamed of our life circumstances.  And, as we get a good look in the mirror in the eyes of this woman, we also see into the heart and soul of God.  Jesus doesn't seem to care who this woman is.  He knows who she is- better than she knows herself and before she has a chance to tell him her story he is telling it for her.  Even if she is all this and more- Jesus, the heart of God, shows her she is worthy and loved.
We believe that Jesus is God incarnate- God made flesh and for the first time people can see God.  They can look into the eyes of Jesus and see the spirit of God.  He isn't some old man sitting on a cloud.  He is present with them, poor, dirty, thirsty and hungry just like you and me and this woman.  God is no longer distant and in this interaction we can see all the things God is. 
As Jesus interacted with the woman at the well and everyone else he encountered, we can see God’s spirit in the life of Jesus.  When we see Jesus, we see “the true nature of God.”  In Jesus we see God made flesh; we see the heart and soul of the great I Am. 
This woman was a nobody.  Everyone it seems Jesus cared about were considered nobodies: sinners, drunkards, adulterers, crooks, hypocrites, lazy, sick and broken, the very people that had been ignored or over looked by society.  As Jesus cared for them, accepted them into his company, ate with them, drank with them, spoke with them and loved them they felt all the things that God intended for us to experience from the beginning, all the things God tried to teach the Israelites by taking the name "I Am" are encompassed in the life and actions of Jesus. 
Jesus never told this woman she was forgiven or healed or accepted.  He just did it.  He welcomed this outcast into his world through conversation, companionship and the statement that she and all her people had been hoping and dreaming would one day come true- He is I Am. The Messiah had come and they too were part God’s plan for this world.  When we come to know Christ, we are called to be like this woman who is overflowing with excitement over who she has just met.  She is so excited she runs back to town- to all those people who have discarded her to proclaim the presence of the Messiah and share with them the same love, forgiveness and mercy she had received.  She has seen the heart of God and she couldn’t contain it any longer. 
When we see the heart of God- God wants us to do the same thing-Allow it to change us and overflow with the living water.  But, maybe this world too has begun to forget who God is.  It has been 2000 years since Jesus walked this earth.  Have our memories begun to fade?  Although we have story after story painting an elaborate picture of the heart of God, we still imagine him as an old man with a long beard.  We argue and discuss what Jesus would have really looked like- blond hair and blue eyes or olive skin with dark eyes and curly hair? 
Has our spiritual ADD finally kicked in?  Have we gotten caught up with the physical, the social and the emotional brokenness that separates us that we have forgotten to look past all that to see the spirit of God in each other?   We half-heartedly throw around the title Christian.  We take it on but don’t acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it. defines the suffix -ian to mean one who has the same meaning and properties as the root word.  As we accept the title of Christian we are claiming that we too have the same meaning and properties as Christ.  That means that the God who is I Am is to be seen and manifest in each one who accepts this title.  That we are to have the same spirit of God in our lives, that when people look at us and spend time with us they too feel the presence of God- the loving, accepting, challenging us to be better, forgiving and merciful God whom we confess. 
What does God look like?  God is still the Great I Am-omnipresent, in all of creation- including you and me.  Jesus, the true spirit of God is seen every time someone acts with the heart of God.  Can people see Jesus in you? As we seek to imitate the life of Jesus, we seek to imitate and show others what God looks like.  Can you accept the challenge to be a little more Christian each day and in every encounter you have with Creation?  It is a journey that only ends when we are made perfect in God’s love.  But it is a journey we can begin again today.

What's the point?

Lamentations 3: 19-24/ John 3:1-15 

A teenager stares confused at his math homework, frustrated at its complexity, slams the book shut and yells… What’s the point!?!   A mother in her 20’s tries her best to console her crying baby.  Leaning her head against the wall she too begins to cry.  Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?
A 50 year old man looks out his office window- long hours and a stressful job separates him from his friends and family.  Sighing, he mumbles, there’s got to be more to life than this! A couple in their 70’s drives home from yet another funeral.  Family and friends keep leaving them behind and they each silently gaze out the window pondering the meaning of life.

What’s the point? What am I supposed to do with my life? What is the meaning of life?   We’ve all asked these questions or ones like them at some point and time or another.  Even joyous moments bring up these feelings- We saved up all year long for this family vacation- for what-to drive 15 hours and stand in line in the hot sun to see a man in a mouse suit? 

There’s got to be more to life than this… we are all searching for  the answer to this universal question…what’s really important?  We aren't alone in our search.  Many people have this void in their lives and we search diligently to find something-anything to fill it.  We fill our time with worry, anxiety, anger and resentment towards others- allowing other things and people we can’t control to occupy our thoughts. If your single- maybe you are looking to find fulfillment in a spouse.  Or if you’re married, maybe you’re looking to find confirmation of your youth and vitality in the arms of another person. Maybe we fill our time with so many small, menial, and pointless chores- over-committing our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from our real problems and giving the appearance of perfection so that we don’t have to look at our own flaws. 
Maybe for you its money- if I only had a little more money, then I would be happy.  We play the lottery, or work long hours for that raise or promotion.  But this too is a moving target.  A professor at USC discovered that “at all levels of income, the typical response is that one needs 20% more to be happy” (Richard Easterlin- Professor of Economics at University of Southern California)
We numb the pain and emptiness of life with endless streams of technology; TV shows we just cannot miss- 280 channels and nothing on.  Or if you’re like me it is the stupid game on my phone that I cannot seem to master- an hour will go by and I won’t even realize it.  The problem is, all these efforts to fill the voids in our lives is like binging on junk food- it fills you up temporarily but it never really satisfies or gives true nourishment, and after a few minutes you are hungry again.  Our priorities have gotten out of order.

We all do it.  We all allow our priorities to get out of whack.  It doesn’t really matter if you are rich or poor, how educated you are or how spiritual you are; we may try our best to focus on what’s important but we get distracted or we realize that focusing on what is not important is much easier than trying to pay attention to what really matters. We allow ourselves to get so caught up in the little things that we don’t have the time or energy for what is really important.
Nicodemus knows this all too well.  He is a well-educated, spiritual, and devout believer in God.  But, he too is searching.  Something is missing from his life, something he has been searching for in the scriptures, in books, in rituals, and rules.  Things he thought were so important but yet something is still missing. He does everything he is supposed to do and yet, he still has not found the one thing that will fill the void in his life. 
Sometimes we think of people who don’t have faith as seekers.  But we are all seekers; even the religious teachers and preachers are seekers.  We are all searching to find the one thing that is most important in this world, remove the distractions and fill that God shaped hole in our hearts. Nicodemus is doing just that, searching, but because he thinks he should know all the answers already, he goes to Jesus under cover of darkness- embarrassed by his ignorance but also determined to find the answer to the meaning of life from this man he knows is from God- Who better to ask how to fill the God shaped hole than the one who is God?

What Jesus tells him is confusing and puzzling to him though- be born again!  How in the world are we supposed to be born again?  Nicodemus is too smart for his own good- but he has book smarts not life smarts so he tries to figure out how this would be physically possible.  I can just imagine Jesus rolling his eyes and saying seriously man, come on Nick- think about what I am saying.  It isn’t a physical re-birth it is a spiritual one.  One that doesn’t just happen once at baptism or conversion; it happens every day, every time we decide to refocus our lives on what is most important: a relationship with Christ.  Jeremiah knows this too.  He tells us in this section from Lamentations that he is on this journey with us.  Even when it seems nothing is going right.  The world is falling apart and we are lost in all the distractions- God is still there; guiding us, loving us, showing us how to be found- by keeping our focus on the most important part of life- our faith.  It is what gives us hope, encouragement, security and strength to get through the all the other parts of life.  

What is the point?  What is the meaning and purpose of life?  What does God want from us?  God wants us to be on the journey to a closer relationship with Christ.  God wants us to be seekers. Even those of us who think we’ve found all the right answers. Sure there will be days when it seems a boulder is in the way.  And days when we get one of those little pesky pebbles in our shoe and it is so annoying it nearly drives us crazy but the more we fill our hearts with the important things.  The more we focus on a relationship with Christ- the more we will want to stay focused on following him and the less necessary and important the distractions in life will seem.  And praise God this isn't a one-time, use it or lose it opportunity!  Because of the endless grace of God we get a chance to start over each day- being reborn in the Holy Spirit, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the big picture, what really matters, to choose our battles and words wisely, read the words of God more closely, to be more Christ focused than the day before, to be in service in love for others more than the day before, to be more welcoming towards the stranger and more generous to the poor, and more patient with others on the road. 
I was reminded of this at least twice this week.  Tuesday night at the High School graduation- we were reminded that while we celebrate achievements- commencement is not the end but the beginning of their journey.  Then again, at Wednesday morning bible study we heard Paul’s words in 2 Timothy about not getting distracted with trivial things: stay focused on the one thing that really matters-Christ. 
We won’t get it right today and we won’t get it right any of the days after but each day we can be further along on the journey and that is what is most important for our lives and to God- that we earnestly try to move forward in our faith and be willing to follow where God is leading.  God is the only thing that will fill that void in our lives and the way we experience that is through a personal relationship with Christ.  But there’s more good news- this isn't a lonely journey.  We are all on it together (this is the point of church)- here to encourage one another, challenge each other to remove the pebbles and walk around the boulders, and cheer each other on as we cross barriers and overcome obstacles to our faith and to lead and assist those newly on the journey to stay fast and true to our commitment to follow Christ. 
That is the meaning of life.  To be on this journey we call faith, focused on the goal of loving God and loving all the others who are on this journey with us.  Are you ready to go?