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Thursday, May 23, 2013

May 12, 2013

Gospel: John 17:20-26
1st Reading: Acts 16:16-34
Psalm 97
2nd Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

This coming weekend, I am headed to Synod Assembly, and more significantly for the longest stretch I have been away from my baby since he was born-a whole 48 hours. I am excited to get away. I am planning to take some knitting which I haven’t done in a year and a half. I’ll take a good book. Maybe I’ll get some good sleep. I’ll have 2 whole days of adult time! Freedom!

And I am a little anxious. How will I adjust? How much will I miss him? How will he adjust? Will he cry for his mama? Will he even miss me? How will my husband adjust? Will he know what to feed him? Will he remember to brush his teeth? Will he wake up when the baby cries? I know we’ll all survive, but I am a little bit nervous.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is going away. His disciples are anxious. They are most comfortable with Jesus being right there beside them. Now he’s telling them that isn’t going to be the case. They’ve been working up to this—practicing. Jesus has shown the disciples how to preach, heal, feed, and care for people. They’ve gone off on little trips and done it themselves. Now, like a mother bird, he’s pushing them out of the nest. They are really going to have to fend for themselves.

He is praying for them. This kind of prayer is to give them confidence, as they overhear it. Last week he reminded them that they wouldn’t be alone. They’d have the Advocate—the Holy Spirit, God’s spirit—there with them. Today he reminds them that they have each other. When you are afraid, remember that you have unity with all these others. When you fail, remember it isn’t all up to you—you have people to help you. All of you are working on the same project of love. You all have the same teacher. When you find yourselves arguing and fighting—remember your unity in Christ.

Jesus is about to be arrested, in the Gospel timeline. Part of the reason the authorities want to arrest him is to create fear among the disciples and followers of Jesus so they disperse. They want to discourage this band from continuing all the love and empowerment and healing they’ve been doing. Fear scatters.

But Jesus is reminding them of their unity. They will continue to be united with Jesus, even though they can’t see him, through the Holy Spirit and through the meal they share and the stories they pass on about him. They will be united with all believers, no matter where they may reside, even across the world. People they can’t even see will be praying for them and encouraging them and doing the same work somewhere else, spreading the Gospel in their corner of the world. They will be united with believers of all times, as well. Generations yet unborn will share love and healing and Gospel and will continue the work. We are all united in Jesus Christ.

We get to spy on Jesus’ prayer for us. Did you notice? Today, Jesus is praying for us! Can you feel Jesus’ prayers strengthening you? Did he picture people like you and me? Did he picture our fears and our joys? Did he know what we’d be like? I think he did know because he was human, too. The details don’t matter—we’re all alike. We are human and we are the same. Jesus is still praying for us, that we would see that. We are all afraid on the inside. We all put up walls. And, we are all capable of love and great generosity and tenderness.

We are unified. I really feel this as a mother. I can glance at another mother with a child the age of my child or younger and I feel in an instant her joy, her confusion, her fears, her exhaustion. I glance at a mother with an older child and I see myself, next year or in ten years or as a grandparent. I anticipate with joy and fear what is coming and pray that I am prepared, that I am balanced, that I can forgive myself, that I can learn, that I can let go and that I can hang on. Even those of you who have not been fathers or mothers, have taken on important grandparent roles—you know the unity you feel with these families who have adopted you. We are one humanity, with a lot more in common than we have to divide us.

We gathered at Spirits and Theology this week to talk about what is essential to each of us in worship. Once again, we find that we are all over the place. Some feel the need for traditional worship every week, with the confession, the creed, the organ, the kneeling, the old hymns. Others are excited about different kinds of music and art to help us get in touch with God. Some like the sermon, others like communion, others rely on community and fellowship. Some like fast music, some like slow, others like none at all. Here we are, with all our different preferences, with all our different upbringing, some more open to change, and others holding fast to the old ways. Why do we come to this church?

I’d say it has to be Jesus Christ! Only God could bring together this group of people and make it stick and find an incredibly patient pastor to listen to all the preferences and try to balance all the needs. And also it is the love that you hold for each other. Because you care for each other, you put up with a lot you don’t prefer in worship because others do. You know each other’s story and it unites you. Look around at your neighbors. Is one tapping his toe at a song that drives you nuts? Is one cringing at a part of the creed that makes your heart sing? Is one leaning forward for a word of hope in the children’s message, even though you don’t see anything there for you? We’re all here to find connection with God and everyone has their own path. Yet we need each other for this day to be meaningful.

Worship planning takes a lot of things into consideration. We begin with the scripture—God’s word for the Sunday always comes first. The past is always a consideration. We’ve been handed a way of structuring worship in which we come together, prepare ourselves to receive God’s word, listen, share our material possessions, eat a miracle, praise God, and go out renewed. This way of worship has built into it a lot of flexibility so that we can make it fit our time and place. Those disciples of the past prayed for us and thought about how to shape worship so that it would stand the test of time.

The present day culture and circumstances are a consideration. Our prayers and language reflect the times in which we live. Our music has to speak to people today. The sermon is written fresh each week so that it addresses the needs of the community today.

And in our worship we pray also for those who are not here, those who believe who cannot be physically present, those who have been hurt by the church and yet long for connection with God, those who will come after us and give thanks that we thought to prepare the church for them so that the Gospel will continue to be spread and love will be spread and our unity will be remembered and give strength to them. It is also about the future, because God is drawing us into God’s vision. God is pushing us out of the nest, so we can have new experiences and grow.

This prayer about unity says, “It isn’t about you. It is about Christ.” It says to put away our differences—they are not important. We need to do all we can to find the common ground. Look at Paul and Silas, using their powers to free a slave girl—to share the gift of freedom with someone of so little significance. They didn’t say, “You’re not like us—go away!” They said, “We’ve been slaves to sin, she’s a slave like we were. Let us share the good news of freedom in Christ.” They freed the slave owners from their role exploiting this girl, although they didn’t get any thanks for it. Then, notice how their prayers and songs encourage the other prisoners. They are united in that moment of holiness. Notice how they don’t run when the walls of the prison come down. Instead they wait and share the good news with their jailer. They are living their life in unity with those around them rather than their own desires. Because of that witness, many are drawn in by their message and their lives and begin to believe.

This day, Mother’s Day, our mother is pushing us out of the nest, not because she doesn’t love us, but because she does. It is for our own good. We may be afraid, but if she doesn’t do it, we will never fly. Put your own fears aside for a moment to say goodbye to all that you’ve known. And prepare yourself for the future that God has in store where we rely on the power of God, where we are loving in all things, and where we rely on each other and our unity in order to bring freedom to those in fear.

God came into our world a baby bird, in Jesus Christ. He soared through the land, sharing the good news of unity and love. He lived in unity and love with all he met. That was threatening to many, so they threatened him. But he didn’t let them stop him. They shot that bird down and he fell so far and lay so still. But he rose up again, and took all of us soaring with him, to share that life, that unity, that love. If anyone could say, we are different, it would be God to us. Instead, he became like us, called us brothers and sisters, so that we would be like him, for all time, washed, claimed, united, and loved.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

May 5, 2013

Gospel: John 14:23-29
1st Reading: Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
2nd Reading: Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

The current mission statement of our congregation goes like this: “Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God (Micah 6) Trusting in God’s love and grace, King of Kings affirms the gifts of all God’s children, honors the wisdom of all generations, is a safe, caring community where you’re freed to be yourself, joyfully welcomes new ideas and encourages creativity, provides opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, reaches out boldly in response to the needs of each other, the community, and the world, joyfully reflects faith in Christ through lives of stewardship and discipleship, looks to the future with hope and meets the challenges before us with courage.” I’ve been interested in working on our church’s mission statement for several years now. Lately, some of you who were there for the process of writing the church’s current mission statement have asked me why we should write a new one.

Let me start by saying that this mission statement is beautiful and includes so much of what any church would want in their mission statement. From what I understand, a lot of prayer and effort went into making sure that the Holy Spirit as well as all the voices in the congregation were participants in the process of writing the current mission statement.

Yet, I still believe that there is something to gain from working on a new one. A Mission statement is about God’s vision for our congregation. And the way we tap into God’s vision for the congregation is through prayer, conversation, and Bible Study. Once we are grounded in prayer, conversation and Bible Study, God speaks God’s vision to us. It is a collective vision that we all contribute to. It emerges a little bit at a time rather than fully formed. We each only catch a glimpse of God’s vision, but we share that with each other and eventually we get more of a complete vision that speaks to our hearts about where God is calling us as a congregation.

This morning’s readings are all about visions. Some come in times of trouble, like in Revelation, when you need that hope pulling you forward. Some are more ordinary visions of where to go and what to do next. Jesus is leaving the Disciples with a vision of the future where he will be with them in a different way. They won’t be able to see it with their eyes, but with another kind of vision. He tries to capture their imagination, to help them see through different eyes the presence of God that will continue to be with them. Jesus is trying to paint a picture of what it will be like when he is gone. It isn’t like what they are expecting. They feel abandoned. They feel alone. They feel rejected. But Jesus is showing them to expect something else. Expect God’s presence always with you. Expect peace. Expect to rejoice. Expect us to be reunited.

They probably had trouble remembering Jesus’ vision of peace for the disciples by the time Revelation was written. Christians were being arrested and killed. Families were turning on each other. Into this chaos, John the Revelator receives a vision and shares it with the churches in turmoil.

He saw heaven coming to earth. The presence of God was not confined to a building, but was everywhere, making the city shine. Instead of the kings wreaking havoc on the Christians, they walked peacefully through the city, sharing their light. There were no times of darkness—of suffering, but everything was always and forever bathed in God’s glorious light. Water is abundant. Life is abundant. Healing is abundant. Vegetation in abundant. God is central. The people will see God so clearly. They will walk in God’s light forever. It is truly a picture of world peace.

This vision is to give hope to those who are being persecuted. A vision can help you move forward when you are afraid. It says there is more to this story than what you are seeing right now. There is a bigger plan that you are a part of.

Paul relied on his vision to help him decide where to minister next. He was chased out of city after city as he went preaching the good news. He was shipwrecked twice, arrested and faced many other dangers. You’d think he’d just want to go home. But he had a vision driving him. He knew how miserable his life had been before, when he had been picking on Christians. When he was struck blind on the road, simultaneously he could see all too clearly what he had been doing was wrong. He, suddenly, had vision. He could see with the eyes of God the vision of community that Jesus was teaching. He experienced, first hand, the forgiveness of a community that he had persecuted, because those same Christians welcomed him. I’m not saying they didn’t keep an eye on him. But they fed him and eventually he earned their trust and became the one most eager to spread the good news.

Today, I’m afraid we equate visions with crazy people. Visions can be frightening because we are not used to trying to see with other eyes. In Jesus’ time and until recent times, people were using their imaginations more and using their inner vision. Now we don’t develop that muscle as much because we have TV and movies to tell us what our vision is—taking up much of the visual space in our minds. Yet God is still speaking to us through visions, and we can open ourselves to receive them. At all times, God is moving us forward, through visions, glimpses of the Kingdom, moments when we see through God’s eyes where God is leading us.

You wrote this mission statement 12 years ago. It is a pretty comprehensive statement. Yet, God’s vision for us is always emerging. The world we live in is different than it was when you wrote this. This church is different. The leadership is different. God’s vision for us is based on the world we live in, which has changed. God might be saying new things through the new people all around us, through the circumstances of world events, through the environment.

Let’s say you read the Bible 12 years ago. Should you never read it again? The Bible is God’s living word. The words might not change, but we change. The meanings for our lives change. We see things in there we never saw before because we are different. The same is true when we interpret God’s vision. God’s vision is the same. But we change. We see it differently. We have different eyes and people with different experiences to help us see it more clearly. We have a different context we’re coming from. You’re all 12 years older and wiser. Don’t you think God wants you to look again at God’s vision and see if there is anything helpful there? Maybe the 45% new people who are here who weren’t here last time you interpreted the vision have something to add that you might not have seen.

The goal is not the mission statement, really. It is the process of helping the whole congregation catch the vision again. I was not there for this process. I don’t know what you saw. I only see this end result and it is helpful, but it is only a description and not the experience. I want this congregation to have the chance to be in deep prayer about where God is leading us next. I want us looking for the Holy Spirit everywhere we go. I want us opening our eyes, listening to each other, listening to God, and tapping into a vision so amazing that we will struggle to put it into words.

I am actually following our current mission statement when I advocate working on a new one. It says, “King of Kings joyfully welcomes new ideas and encourages creativity, provides opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, and looks to the future with hope.” That is what writing a mission statement does.

I don’t want to change you from all the nice things this mission statement says that you are and do. I want that fire of God’s vision to re-ignite so that you can live your mission more fully.

So I ask you first to pray and open yourself up to God’s vision. A perfect prayer to begin is “Thy will be done.” A good prayer for congregations. A good prayer for individuals. And be not afraid to see the vision God is putting before us to lead us forward in hope and love.