Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mercy Sakes!

Matthew 18:15-20

In my summer reading and reflection I have focused a bit on the themes of reconciliation, forgiveness and the health of faith communities. I had two main reasons for doing that. One is the larger picture of my work as the Chair of both the Christian Unity Commission for the Reformed Church in America and the Chair of the team assigned to promote the adoption of the Belhar Confession for the Reformed Church. The Belhar Confession, as I hope you know is the confession of faith written by the Reformed Churches in South Africa as they worked through the terrible and violent struggle of institutional racism in their country. You will be hearing a lot more about this throughout the year – this is a confession all about the reconciliation of people who have been in conflict and conflict is a gross understatement in this case – it’s a beautiful story and witness to the power of the gospel to heal division and if we adopt it – this will be the first confession we will have adopted in 400 years. Friends think about that – little Pultneyville will be leading the whole church in this historic endeavor!

And, quite candidly and as we all know, little Pultneyville needs this confession and the healing witness of its message of reconciliation - so I will try to share some thoughts throughout the fall on the theme – since its not only what we need in little Pultneyville – but what we all need in so many parts of our lives.

Let me begin by sharing a story I found – it happened back in March.

March is the time of year in New England when hints of spring tease the romantic spirit. A time when winter’s darkness and dreariness begin to yield to new life. When crocuses and daffodil shoots start stretching through what’s left of the snow. And the birds you haven’t heard for months commence the singing of songs silenced by old Jack Frost and the heart is ripe for promise.

Well maybe. Yankees are a cautious bunch. Too many false springs. One too many an unkind show of winter’s last gasp after you have seeded and spring cleaned.

It’s the mission of the poet and even the preacher/theologian to crack the shell of native suspicion. That’s why this story grabbed me. There is a powerful message in here somewhere of Gospel to life proportions – yet one that makes me wary as all get-out.

A 62 year old man shot and killed his wife. Despondent over his younger wife’s flagrant unfaithfulness – not to mention her flaunting it in his face – this man took her life. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when his only child – a gifted high school senior – fled their home to escape the treats of his mother and her lover.

Alone and unable to speak but a few words of English – the slight and grieving man sought to take his own life to no avail. Jail – indictment and trial soon followed.

But here is where the climate of this all too familiar type of story changes. FAMILY OF VICTIM WINS MERCY FOR KILLER was the headline. For the first time in the experience of the trail judge – every member of the victim’s family came to court to plead for mercy for her slayer.

With open arms we’ll take him back they told the prosecutor. We want justice in the form of mercy, they told the court. And it happened – the man was released to the custody of his wife’s family.

Mercy sakes! Here is a story of biblical proportions – a testimony to new life for us to consider at the transition time of Labor Day weekend’s rituals and the battening down of the hatches for winter.

Stories of infidelity – anger and violence are all too common – seldom followed by stories of mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and new life.

Our lesson from the gospel sprung up to me as a stunning surprise – in light of my summer assignment. What we have before us is a passage I did not choose. This – my friends is the lectionary assigned to this Sunday – and - as is quite often the case – the lectionary has its own power – the way the assigned reading falls upon us in our given situations is often profound and needs no more than for the passage to be read – the application is right in front of our noses. So I will just poke about it a little this morning and then allow you to finish the sermon throughout your week.

Now first off – remember this is Matthew writing to us here not Mark or Luke or John for that matter – they don’t tell us this part. It’s Matthew who was himself a converted scoundrel. And he is writing to people who are trying to live together in a whole new way – as a church. We tend to hear stuff about how to live as a church with a bit of blah – blah – blah in the background – but this was urgent stuff for his listeners – they were trying to piece together all they were learning about the teachings of Jesus and trying to take it seriously and figure out how to live in this new way.

Now let me pause here. Friends – I really think we – little Pultneyville – need to put ourselves back in that place. Imagine taking hold of this Jesus story brand new – I challenge you not to simply follow your old patterns – your old ways – but to persistently think of the very lifestyle Jesus calls you to and figure out from there how you will respond to the things that happen to you.

Let me give you a painful personal example and I realize it may sound petty. While on vacation I read one of the more thought provoking and insightful books I have come across in a few years. It’s called The Shack and I have chosen not to use it in illustration yet because it has some real O Henry sorts of twists in it and I really want us all to read it before we talk about it. But let’s just say that it’s all about rethinking how we live as people of Jesus in the world. So – I have just come off a morning of gentle profound reading of this book challenging me to rethink my approach to mercy, forgiveness, etc. Donna and I have gotten ourselves out into a couple of kayaks on Saranac Lake. To contain our dear one and half year old black lab – Donna has locked her in MY car. Not unusual – since she often stays in my car when we travel. Well this time apparently our water dog was pretty miffed that we would go out on the lake with out her.

I returned from our leisurely cruise to release her from captivity to discover the wonderful leather upholstery of my driver side door shredded. I just stood there staring at her adorable face pressed against the window – not a clue that I am going to strangle this dog and/or the woman who put her in MY car. But the power of the story I had been reading saved their lives. In all seriousness – it really did affect me. With the story on my mind – it transformed the way I was living into this experience. Oh I was angry – no story is going to keep us from emotions – and there was nothing Ok about what Donna and Maya had done to my car - but it deeply affected how I saw myself living into this experience before me.

What Matthew places before us are the words of Jesus to a community of people who in a new way are structuring themselves around Christ’s living and abiding presence among them. Even though it sounds like Matthew gives them a three step procedure from some church manual on discipline (and the Lord knows we have lived through enough of that!) the punch line – where the Master is at his best is about the binding and losing of sins and sinners – its not ultimately about justice – its not ultimately about trials and judgments –its about the forming and forging of a community – its about love and love is about mercy. The words of Jesus take us to restoration and reconciliation not retaliation.

The renewal within one family in New England might well be the model for renewal within the family of the church – who as we know – is no stranger to its own kind of brokenness.

I deeply encourage you to listen to the words we will sing in our concluding hymn this morning.

For by the life and death of Jesus, God’s

Mighty Spirit, now as then

Can make a world of difference, as

Faith and hope are born again.

Then let us with the Spirit’s daring, step from

The past and leave behind

Our disappointment, guilt and grieving,

Seeking new paths and sure to find.

Christ is alive and goes before us to show

And share what love can do.

This is a day of new beginnings; our God

is making all things new.

Truth be told sin – to use that old church word – as terrible as it is, sin is not the worst possibility. Sin is compounded when followed by what is usually – tragically – left in its path – separation – rancor – reprisal. What tragedy this family knew – they could never replace the life

that was taken from them. But they were able to GIVE new life through their forgiveness. And that – I believe is what Jesus meant. They loosed a sin on earth that it might be loosed in heaven.

The rest of this sermon is yours for the making. Amen.

HMD 9.7.08

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rectory and view. Church of the Ascension, Upper Sarnac Lake.
The awesome view from the Rectory we lived in at the Church of the Ascension at Upper Saranac Lake NY. Thanks folks for another great summer!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Here is the sermon preached August 17, 2008 at the Church of the Ascension in Upper Saranac Lake New York. I will be preaching there again this coming Sunday August 24th as well.

Summer Theology 101

1. "Where Is God?"

2. "What Does God Do?"

Psalm 139

Phillipians 4:10-14

This morning I have two simple questions for you - they're simple only in how they're worded - they're as complex in their answer as each of us is complex. They're questions that I would encourage you to lift up with thoughtful imagination - as if you were running to lift a kite into the air. And if I lose you to even one of those thoughts - and you don't return back to planet earth for the duration of this whole sermon - thinking about these two questions will more than justify your "drift time".

So here's our questions:

1. Where is God in your life?

2. What does God do in your life?

Now set your mental kites flying while I explain.

First; where is God in your life? Social scientists are beginning to recognize that there is a very basic sense in the human spirit which acknowledges and even seeks out a "higher power". After all the arguments of the steadfast atheist - that he or she is it - that this is it - that my here and now and who is all there is - that what I can now touch and taste and smell is the full extent of life - when the atheist has fallen back into his or her chair breathless from making the point - there around in the corner of his or her mind are still those nagging questions - those powerful realities - of who created, of what created the stars in the sky - the fingers of a newborn baby - the delight of human love - and the frightening questions of what happens past the dark doorway of death. I believe the only difference between the thoughts of the atheist and a person of faith is the degree to which these questions are answered such as: where is God in your life?

A person who is convinced that God is not in their life or for that matter that God doesn't exist at all - still lives with the constant prick of the question - through all the experiences in life and let me be clear - I'm not talking about this view negatively. I respect other people's opinions and beliefs - and in fact - believe many atheistic thinkers where created by some very genuine responses to religious people. Contrary to a great deal of religious paranoia about things like teaching evolution in the classroom or school prayer - these are not the primary instigators of a person believing that God is nowhere. These sorts of thoughts are more commonly planted by dysfunctional religious practice. Things like claiming God is the creator of the earth and then watching God's created beings treat this creation like a trash heap. This sort of thing comes from watching those who claim to be religious and specifically claim to follow a God of love - act with bitterness and hatred. It comes from observing those who follow a compassionate savior, judging and criticizing the behavior of others - as if they were chosen as judge and jury on behalf of that savior. In other words - those of us who claim God is . . . somewhere and somehow hold an awesome responsibility to live lives consistent with our claim. And that those who claim to believe that God is not - have likely come to their answer because of the bad press so called "believers" have lived out in their lives. But even here I believe the door isn't completely shut but I warn - it also doesn't open wider simply by words - but by the witness of faithful lives.

Where is God in your life? Most of us gathered here obviously believe God is present somewhere within the universe of our lives. But where?

For some this is so very personal and for some this is so very abstract - again - one way isn't necessarily better than the other - they're just different in perspective. But where or how was it - or is it - that God has felt most real to you in your life?

There have been a number of occasions in my life where I have felt God quite present. I'd like to share one simple and quite innocent remembrance in order to set our kites flying a little higher.

It was a beautiful summer day when I was about 15 - full of idealism and still a little unsure of who I really was. That day I had just had my fill of my parents who didn't know anything [just the way I don't know anything these days]. We were camping for two weeks which for most families is a bit beyond the limit - and so after having had enough I decided to take the day and go for a hike. I needed my "space" and Mom and Dad didn't object [obviously they needed space from me as well]. In retrospect they were probably relieved! [not that I wasn't a model child mind you]. As I hiked I mulled over my annoyance - my anger - my frustration. The walking seemed to pump it all up with the physical exhaustion of climbing which that caught up with the mental exhaustion of my emotional churning.

I had already come to know those Catskill Mountain trails as old friends so that when mind and body began to rebel - I found a favorite ledge called Artist's Rock and there I dropped my day pack - leaned against a large boulder - sipped some water from my water bottle and drank in the absolutely gorgeous panoramic view which that ledge opened to me beyond the trees. I looked out to see other majestic mountains - the Hudson River snaking through the valley - small villages of homes which looked like they came from a Monopoly set. The sun was bright and the breeze was warm. My body began to relax. My mind began to let go of the small things which had been cluttering it. Slowly the thoughts began to progress - remorse - "I really do love Mom and Dad - even those two brothers [dumb as they are]." I began to let all of that go [any of this sound familiar?]. As I emptied myself [unintentional as it was] new thoughts began to emerge. I thought: "My God, how awesome this world is."

I meant that literally: "My God - God who I had known - my God - creator of beauty - you made all of this."

I began to think about my thoughts: I always knew I believed in God - but I hadn't been thinking about it too much - too busy piecing an adolescent life together - but that afternoon - I was conscious of how solidly I believed God is.

In the gift of that beautiful view - which had inspired artists for generations before me - and in the gift of being alone - my thoughts drifted into prayer - prayer that was deeper than particular words - prayer that became communion - God was present - not physically - like the angel who wrestled with Jacob by the brook and not just present as a distant creator - the master artist of this glorious canvas before my eyes. God was present in a real and personal and unexplainable way - I knew God was there. I felt heard and known - kept and comforted. I knew then - God was and is and ever shall be present in my life.

This is what the Psalmist wanted us to know. He or she was trying to express this kind of experience of God - not to convince someone who would later read this poem - but simply because it was an experience to be told - to be shared. I think it's why Allison chose this Psalm.

"Where ever I go - O Lord - you know me - sitting - sleeping - arguing - hiking - crying - praying - you are there - you created me - you walk with me through the dark times - and through the pleasant places. It's an awesome thought. You - O God - not only exist - but you are active in my life.

Our question: where is God in your life?

Our second question: what does God do in your life and mine is? - by it's nature - dependent upon the answer to our first question. Only as we recognize God as present. When our eyes and hearts recognize God's presence - then we can see God's activity.

Come back to that mountain ledge. I slowly began to physically feel uncomfortable. The rock backrest began to feel like rock - my hindquarters began to feel numb from the hard seat. It was clearly time to get up and move. So I did. The walking felt good. My thoughts had changed. There was this strange eagerness to see my family again. The other - deeper thoughts - which weighed on my teenage mind - began to lighten. I felt better about myself. Some of the worry and doubts receded. I felt a bit like the Apostle Paul when he wrote [also Allison's choice] in his letter to the Phillipians 4:13: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me". He knew what tough times were like - and he knew what being in the presence of God was like - and Paul knew that even the toughest of times and circumstances would not hold back the power of life which we come to know through God's presence - especially God's presence in the person and spirit of Jesus.

Where is God in your life?

What does God do in your life?

Keep those kites flying - those hearts open - those minds thinking - those spiritspraying - and may your landing be graceful, comforting and empowering. Amen.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Sundays of August 17 and 24 I have been invited to be the guest preacher at the Church of the Ascension in Upper Saranac Lake. Its one of the most beautiful spots in the Adirondacks. plans are to spend part of each day writing. My thanks to folks here for their warm and welcoming hospitality. I hope to have each sermon posted by the following Monday of Tuesday stay tuned.

“You Can’t Make Me”

Matthew 28: 16-20

The Commissioning of the Disciples

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’* Matthew 28:16-20

This is a true story. When I was in college my parent’s life together seemed to fall apart at the seams. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and then months latter the oil company my father worked for was bought out by a less than reputable consortium of men in dark glasses and black limousines – now you do the figuring of who they were and remember it was New Jersey!

Dad found himself in a moral dilemma in which he knew he couldn’t work with the new owners and yet he had a good job and this just wasn’t the best time to make a change with a wife needing medical insurance and his undivided attention. To this day I feel badly that I was as un-involved in providing support to them living in Michigan at the time.

It didn’t take Dad long to realize he would have to leave the company. One lunch time after giving notice and the previous employer not wanting him around a minute longer Dad took a walk up the street to an old friend who ran an insurance company. The old friend though well of my Dad and offered him what he could – a sales job at the bottom rung. Dad had to take it. Two kids still at home a sick wife and a kid in college – a father has to do what he can and he did.

The company he went to work for thought of itself as THE ROCK in people’s lives and had a highly social scientifically engineered way to convince people that they really needed them as the ROK in their lives – there was sales training that at times felt like corporate brain washing. Dad endured it with grace and clear perspective and he went on to quickly re-climb the ladder and was a great success.

Years latter when I would struggle with vocational challenges I asked Dad to tell me about his journey and the key to his success. He took his time to reflect on how he always believed that his work must be shaped ultimately by his faith more than the company line or the bottom line. He talked about how rewarding it was to sell a family the right type and amount of insurance. He told me of a most memorable occasion when a family he had sold a policy to had lost her husband – he was the sole bread winner and she would be financially lost with out his income. He said: “Son – I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was to drive to that woman’s home and to hand her a check that will provide for her with the loss of her husband. That’s what your work should be all about – you need to have a higher purpose than a paycheck.”

Now I know I should have saved this illustration for Father’s Day but I was thinking about that need for a higher purpose as I listened again to the Great Commission of Jesus: Go and do...he says. You have a purpose. Unfortunately the Christian Church has often taken this commission as a sales talk – purpose is lost as productivity is emphasized.

Let’s put this commission in perspective. In some ways we have our festivals backwards. Last week we celebrated Pentecost – the day Jesus sent us the empowerment to be his disciples in the world. And now this week were turned back to the last of the resurrection appearance stories of Jesus – before the Holy Spirit descends upon those frightened and anxious followers. Now I figure the reason the stories are set in the common lectionary this way is that following Pentecost the church has now experienced the third party of what we call the Trinity and that is what this Sunday is designated as; Trinity Sunday . This is the time when the church recognizes that we experience God in three different ways – as Creator or what we traditionally call Father and as Redeemer or what who we know as Jesus the Son and now the sanctifier or what we know to be the Holy Spirit. The church in its teaching through the ages has found this description to be essential to how it tells about God – and we can all appreciate that.

But this morning our story takes us to the commission – before the empowerment has come. Its like the your boss explaining your new job to you – and before she explains how to do it or before you get the training.

The commission is to Go out into the world and make disciples and to baptize them. Now that always sounded like a bad translation to me – perhaps because of the work make. The way we use that word in common language is to force some one to do something – like some school yard bully making the kid at the edge of the play ground to give up his lunch money. I don’t know about you but I’m not all that receptive to having anyone make me do anything. Its not very invitational to say the least. So what’s the point of what Jesus is saying to his new disciples then and now? Well I don’t think it’s to go out like they did on the Crusades and accumulate a large baptismal role or to forcible convert the neighboring heathen. In fact – I was helped when I finally traipsed back over to my office here in the church to dust off my Greek Bible to discover for the first time that the word make isn’t there. I don’t just mean there is another word in it place – as if we just translated it wrong – the words in the original don’t flow as nicely but what they say – literally is going there, disciple ye al the nations. Now you might think this is just a little bit of exegetical nit picking but in this one absent word I find the basis for a clearer understanding of what Jesus intends our whole purpose to be about. Consider this translation: Jesus says to us: All the authority – all the backing you need I give to you on behalf of the Lord of the Universe….there for go and help people live the life I have offered you.. to do that you will need to disciple them – that is you will need to prepare them and their children for baptism – the being of the journey and to do that you will need to teach them my teachings.

Now that translation would give my former Greek professor’s cardiac arrest – but I think it’s an important distinction. We don’t bring people into the life by try to make them believe. We bring people into the life we have come to know in Christ by invitation.

Allow me to go back to my father’s instruction to me; imagine a salesperson who is so intent on their quota – on accumulating a large sales record – now lets give them the benefit of the doubt – lets agree that they really believe that what they have to sell is truly important to people – they believe that the world will – in fact – be a better place if everyone has a big life insurance policy – so with all the passion and fervor of an evangelist on a mission they go out and sell tirelessly and unrelentingly – they preach a sales pitch of such urgency and instill such fear that each client begs for him to sell them the premium policy. Friends – sadly this is what the church has done through the ages – and this is what the church in many places still does – with the most sincere passion a` times – it goes out into the world with fear on its breath – urgently making disciples of anyone they can find – anywhere they can find them.

Imagine instead that you come to know – as you probably already do that the life Jesus calls us to is one filled with grace and love – acceptance and forgiveness – that this life speaks to your deepest needs and answers your deepest question – that this life gives purpose and meaning to your life. Now imagine that you love the people of this world – as I also know you do – so what do you do with this life that means so much to you? You share it – right? You offer it. I mean if it’s as good as you believe it is – well then it really ought to sell itself – and you know what – it does. We don’t have to make people be disciples – we simply share what has first been offered to us.

This anxious world with its end times prophets and worrisome evangelical urgency may accumulate followers – but have they in the process full embraced the grace and the acceptance this new life offers?

I had a woman say to me recently about funerals; I don’t know how you preachers do it – you get up there and tell everyone about the person who has dies and that they are going to heaven – when you know a lot of those people really didn’t have Jesus Christ as their personal savior. I replied to her – I don’t have to worry about that – that’s God’s work – the saving – my work it to share the Good news God has given me.

Friends – if we are ever looking for a purpose in these lives of ours – if we love the people of this world as much as we believe we do – and if we have - something to share with them – we have a purpose - we have a commission.

So lets not try and make anybody do anything – lets just share what we know and see what God can do.


HMD 5.18, 2008

Sunday, January 14, 2007

“The Gift to Go”

Genesis 12:1-9

Picture yourself on a journey. Perhaps you’re on the deck of cruise ship. You hear the water wash against the bow like friendly hands gently pushing you off and away onto a vast blue plain – well wishers and workmen become distant undistinguishable characters and the land you called home only holds shape and definition in memory – which fades quickly – the smells of your wood fire or the endlessly filled cat box are hard to re-imagine. Or perhaps less romantically, you board a train or drive away in a car or zoom up and away in the cramped confines of a jetliner. As you feel your back pressed against your seat upon take off you feel your life catapulted from familiar to unknown. Perhaps you watch out the window of your car - through rain drops and tears you watch trees and sign posts snap past and through the blur of it all – and the familiar turns to the unknown or yet to be known.
The train had just started to lurch forward and I settled down onto the hard aqua blue vinyl which would be my place for three days. I looked over to my beloved and saw the look of utter amazement – which at other times in our married life was something to look forward to - this time it originated in something quite different – something born out of disbelief sprinkled with exasperation and Sarah-like devotion. The berth included two tiers of side by side bunks of that same blue vinyl – shared by bunk mates so very foreign to us – different smells, different languages, and different food – we were so not home. She had caught sight of the stainless steel hole in the train floor and looked at me with more disbelief.
As we pulled from the station – the car rocked and lurched some more – we looked at each other – words were unnecessary and unsuccessful to anyone else – so we sat and looked through scratched Plexiglas at a world beyond anything we had ever imagined. There was nothing in our heads that could have prepared us for the wonderful gift of culture shock India. I had studied her for a year and yet met her as one totally unprepared. I watched people cooking on fires and living in tents, children and cows, camels and three wheeled auto rickshaws and workers carrying everything from clay blocks and five gallon pails and piles of cow dung on their heads and I knew - like Dorothy - that I wasn’t in Kansas any more. We never moved very fast for those three days and I watched sunsets on piles of huts and open savannahs and felt home so very very far away. I began to understand why adventurers for thousands of years had gone to India to loose themselves and find themselves – some like the folks we met in Goa – American refugees of the sixties – never to return home.
India was so perfect for us just because it is so absolutely different. We had set out on our sabbatical journey to have adventure and to rediscover ourselves and our marriage and our call to ministry. It was heading on thirty years for our marriage – the nest had recently emptied and a quarter century of ministry was soon to be passed. We had become so pleasantly settled in the Mayberry we call home among the friends who had become like family and in all of it – its so easy to forget who you are or who you were or who you dreamed to be and no amount of therapy or prayer (blasphemous as that may sound) no midlife crisis-like behavior was going to open those to us as long as we stayed in the thick and thin of it at home. We had to escape – run – get away – separate ourselves from all those precious things that made us who we are so that we could see ourselves – rediscover ourselves. As Donna Schaper in her book Sabbath Keeping reminds us – we needed to take ourselves off the easel and gain perspective on who we have become.
I think that’s at least a bit of what was going on in old Abram as we meet him this morning. Seventy-five years in any place is long enough to forget who you are and were and where destined to be. The Lord says; Lech, lecha …go or go forth or go your own way or get thee out depending on how you choose to translate it. The 13th Century Jewish text of Zohar translates it; go to yourself, know yourself, fulfill yourself. Hmmmm…could it be that this nationalist text also speaks to us of personal formation and transformation? Could it be that what Abraham and Sarah experienced was something akin to what Vaclav Hovel described as: islands of meaning in the ocean of our struggling, the meaning of lanterns whose light is cast into the darkness of our life’s journey, illuminating all the many meanings of its direction?
You know the old couple’s story – that’s the nice thing about a group like this – you know it all already; the bareness, the futility, the settling for what is and laying to rest the dreams of what had been hoped for. You know the still small voice that says go and how they go – it’s as simple as that. And amazingly the result is the legacy of three of the world’s great religions. All from the word go.
In their going Abraham and Sarah leave home and more important to the story (and hopefully my point). They leave most of what had given them their identity – their home- their nation and culture, their family - until its just the two of them on the road – two old soul mates rediscovering their own truest – deepest selves – no work or family or history to define them. Perhaps it’s true that leaving home is a valuable, fruitful loss.
For Donna and me our sabbatical journey was an opportunity to regain perspective. It’s perhaps in God’s humor that we have a son who is preparing for ministry – I wonder if any of you out east here heard the shriek of noooooooo coming out of the west winds when Kyle shared his plans with us! It’s been quite interesting to watch a new generation go through these early stages of the journey – testing his call – sugar coating it with idealism and passion and an amazing sincerity.
Those of you – who, like Donna and myself have been at this a while tend to forget what those days where like – we are sometimes in need of perspective. I figure that’s the first gift our story offers us this morning. A sabbatical journey offers us space to separate – go away and to go to ourselves – to get to know ourselves – to fulfill ourselves.

As God sends Abraham and Sarah off from the confines of Haran – God sends them with a purpose. God wants to do something with their old world and chooses them – calls them to be a blessing - calls them to ministry - in as much as ministry is service to the world. Blessing the world not in some silly pious way that the word is often used – but in the sense of transforming the world – shaping it – affecting it – helping it to be more like God had always dreamed it to be. And if we find that it’s been a long time since we thought about our ministry that way – perhaps we need to get away.
Our purpose in life gets so crusted over with cynicism, so deflated with the mundane, so diluted with personal politics – it becomes so difficult to recover it – or to find that passion without which we would never have started on this journey in the first place. So if we find ourselves with a sense of purpose frayed and worn about the edges – perhaps its time to step back – any way we can – gain perspective on who we are – and recover the purpose of these sacred journeys of ours.
In his book The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner writes:
Life itself can be thought of as an alphabet by which God graciously makes known his presence and purpose and power among us. Like the Hebrew alphabet, the alphabet of grace has no vowels, and in that sense his words are always veiled, subtle, cryptic, so that it is left to us to delve their meaning, to fill in the vowels for ourselves by the means of all the faith and imagination we can muster. God speaks to us in such a way, presumably, not because he chooses to be obscure but because, unlike a dictionary word whose meaning is fixed, the meaning of an incarnate word is the meaning it has for the one it is spoken to, the meaning that becomes clear and effective in our lives only when we ferret it out for ourselves.

When God calls Abraham to go the word is the imperative of halaka – the word for walk. God says; go get walking - journey – go on pilgrimage. And the text says that Abraham journeyed on in stages. Its interesting by the way that the landscape they cover is really a preview for all of the people of God’s journey to come…Canaan, Shecham, Bethel…. We also journey in stages. I don’t know about you but our life story is told and defined by the churches we have served. When we tell most of our story we say back when we were in Hudson or Holland or Philadelphia….. We journey by stages – chapters and each has its impact upon us as we pass by giant oaks and hillsides and lustful monarchs, and whining brother-in-laws…. All of it makes who we are – the journey defines us – even when we’re not much paying attention to it.

A journey can be a frightening thing. On a mission trip in South America one time I noticed the most startling thing a few days into the trip; a few of my traveling companions got to acting so terribly squirrelly– kind of edgy – impatient – controlling. At one point all hell broke lose among some of the adult leaders. I figured they had all gotten malaria or something. When we got back from the trip I was debriefing with a wise friend who pointed out that the displacement of travel is just that – we become out of our place and that’s uncomfortable and unsettling and can be to some down right frightening. I can’t imagine how frightening it was for Sarah and Abraham to leave everything for a voice in your head. Sometimes we wonder what was that voice that called me into this life and onto this journey. And sometimes it’s so frightening that we are afraid to make a move and we freeze in place shuddering at the thought of what might happen next.
To the fear and anxiety of Abraham and Sarah’s displacement The Lord offers a promise; I will bless you. It’s a covenantal sort of thing – a holy partnership. God calls and God provides. Of course some have from time to time taken blessing to mean something akin to special privilege and power. Go there at your own peril. What we can depend on is provision – care and guidance. Trace their journey and see how the one who called them also provides for them – even when they screw up from time to time.
So I leave you with this call: Go…get thee out…go your own way…get walking…. to go to yourselves – to get to know yourselves – to fulfill yourselves.

And enjoy the journey.

Now to the King eternal,
Immortal, invisible, the only God,
Be honor and glory for ever and ever.

Freedom in Ministry Conference
The Warwick Center
Warwick, New York
January 14, 2007
Freedom In Ministry
January 14, 2007
The Warwick Center

The Approach to God

The Call to Worship -- Psalm 97
L: Our God is the true ruler of this earth.
Let the earth rejoice in God!
P: Peace and grace are the foundation of God's earth! God lightens the earth so we may see!
L: The heavens proclaim God's glory!
All other gods bow down before our true God!
P: Light dawns for the faithful!
Joy dawns for the upright of heart!
U: Rejoice in grace, saints of God!
Give thanks to God's most holy name!
Rejoice! Again we say, rejoice!
* The Hymn: “We Have Come at Christ’s Own Bidding”
* The Salutation -- from Jude 1-2
L: To those who are called,
who are beloved in God the Father
and kept safe for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be yours
in abundance.

The Call to Confession
L: God’s Word assures us:
If we say that we have no sin,
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins,
he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
In humility and faith let us confess our sin to God.
The Prayer of Confession -- Unison
Awesome and compassionate God,
you have loved us with unfailing, self-giving mercy,
but we have not loved you.
You constantly call us, but we do not listen.
You ask us to love, but we walk away from neighbors in need,
wrapped in our own concerns.
We condone evil, prejudice, warfare, and greed.
God of grace, as you come to us in mercy,
we repent in spirit and in truth,
admit our sin, and gratefully receive your forgiveness
through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
The Words of Assurance
L: Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.
P: If anyone is in Christ, they become a new person altogether – the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.
L: Friends, believe the Good News!
P: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
The Law of God
As God’s own people, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Be always ready to forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be loving, and never forget to be thankful for what God has done for you.

The Word of God
* The Hymn: “Will You Come and Follow Me”
The Lesson
Genesis 12:1-9
L: The Word of the Lord.
P: Thanks be to God.
The Sermon: “The Gift To Go”
The Response -- from I Timothy 1:17
L: Now to the King eternal,
immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honor and glory for ever and ever.
P: Amen.
* The Hymn: “As We Gather at Your Table”
The Meaning of the Sacrament and Invitation
The Communion Prayer
L: The Lord be with you.
P: And also with you.
L: Lift up your hearts!
P: We lift them up to the Lord.
L: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: For it is holy and right to do so!
The Sanctus
Together we proclaim the mystery of the faith:
U: Christ has died!
Christ is risen!
Christ will come again!
The Communion

The Response to God
Our Prayers
* The Hymn: “The Servant Song”
* The Benediction

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

“….and justice for all.”
Luke 4:14-21

Do you know the sort of hush that comes upon a room when a significant speaker steps to the podium? While the average person may feel uncomfortable with the undivided attention the seasoned speaker knows how to use the first moment or two to intimately connect with his or her listeners. There is dynamism in those brief and silent moments. The people gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth that day quite likely felt an experience just that. Little did they know however that they were really sitting in the presence of God. That’s quite a thought – isn’t it? They see a man who looks like most of them – in fact quite like most of them since this being a synagogue those in attendance – at least in the front rows – would have been men – just like Jesus. In fact they were familiar with him – most had watched him grow up in the same neighborhood as they did or perhaps they were even closer – playmates perhaps – perhaps in that same courtyard outside the synagogue. They look and study him in the rich moment of anticipation and wonder. They wonder what he’ll say – does he have anything to say – will he sound as foolish as they know they might – if they were rising to speak?
While the words spoken are the same for everyone in attendance – each hears them with their own set of ears through the filters of their particular experiences. I spent a little time this week considering the variety of ways these words might have been heard.
At the most basic – unfiltered level – what some heard was a scripture reading – old familiar words of a familiar prophet. Isaiah was one of the favorites of the Rabbis. His prophecies of all the world gathering in a peaceable kingdom – gathering on God’s holy mountain – being a light to the nations – God sending a suffering servant messiah. Israel’s faith is woven from the fabric of his words. These words – which Jesus reads are from what we call Isaiah 61 – a prophecy of justice. The justice however is what is promised to Israel. The context is found in the return from a devastating national exile. The promise is that their imprisonment and their suffering – the exploitation they experienced - these are the things which shall find justice – they will be the captives who find release. This is national rhetoric if you will – it was the rallying cry of the oppressed as much as our national pledge came out of our struggle for freedom. We say …and justice for all and we mean first of all – justice for ourselves and for those who live in our national bounds – then perhaps our thoughts move outward even further. The same would have held true for the people listening to Jesus in the synagogue. These were their words of liberation and justice. And if Jesus would have stopped there everyone would have gone home as please as could be with their hometown boy.
Jesus finishes his reading from the sacred scroll – rolls it reverently back up and ceremoniously hands it to the attendant. Then in another of those pregnant pauses he sits and – then – while all eyes are on him and minds are playing back the scene - in anything but an after thought – he adds these words: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Everyone does a mental double take. Some who have been listening figure he means it like most of the other preachers they have heard read this text and relegate it to the expected – just church words is all – nothing to them – there never is. It’s not much different if he had just read a poem or some other prose – meant to lift one’s spirits – perhaps sprinkle a little beauty but nothing much is meant by it.
Others think a bit more deeply and see it as something akin to nationalistic rhetoric. Yes… they think to themselves – the promises to exiled Israel will be true for us. Our day is coming – right on Jesus. That’s our boy – Joseph’s boy – he knows – he’s one of us.
Still others – I imagine – pause in their assessment a little longer – take a critical moment before deciding to nod their heads. Did he say; in your hearing? That might mean something quite different – could it be that Joseph’s son figures that the promises to Israel come though him? They move to the edge of their seats – turn a careful ear to see if he might say something more.
One last group listening – probably in the back of the room or listening in the women’s gallery – or perhaps from open windows – these are the disposed and marginalized ones. These are the ones who because of social standing, and gender and economic position hear these words of hope and promise for what they truly are – or what they at least desperately hope they are – words of a purer justice. Like the African American chant of our generation hope simmers in their heads as they hear these words and the refrain echoes in their hearts we’re gonna at last … free at last. They also move to the edge of their seats and around windowsills and pillars – they are eager to hear more – and how this will come true.
At this point most everyone is pretty pleasant – polite words about the home town boy. Some issue somewhat typical back handed comments – to the effect of; so this is what Joseph’s boy has been up to not wanting to give too much praise. The mood in general is mild amazement – as if everyone has figured something more has just happened but they have no idea what.
It’s too bad that we don’t usually read further into this story – most lectionaries leave it here and allow it to remain pleasant church words.
But let’s venture out a little further this morning and explore where Jesus was taking them and takes us. I figure Jesus baits them on a bit – he hears their back handed compliments and their naive assessments and decides the lesson isn’t quite done. Let me read the next part for you: 23He said to them, ‘
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers
* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’
Now remember what I said at the beginning about the origins of these words – how they were from the prophet Isaiah after the exile in Babylon – that they were words of hope and restoration for Israel. What Jesus has just done here is to remind them of what they don’t want to remember – that God’s gracious justice is for all… for everyone. The widow of Zarapath – Naanman the Syrian – neither of these belonged to the Jews – they were the outsiders – and both received God’s favor. You see what Jesus is doing here? Now it’s clear what Jesus is getting at – what is fulfilled in their hearing is justice alright – but justice for more than just a select and chosen few. It’s no wonder we read next:
28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
In our case study of South Africa and the confession we call Belhar we are reminded that White Reformed Christians like most of us found it as difficult as those original listeners to Jesus to accept that God’s justice is for all. That – to quote the Belhar:
God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged and that He calls his Church to follow Him in this; that He brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry; that He frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind; that He supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly; that for Him pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering; that He wishes to teach His people to do what is good and to seek the right;
We might do well to sit here a few moments so that we might be sure that we don’t make the same mistake. Honesty – Gospel truth challenges us to ask ourselves how we interpret the thought or the phase…and justice for all.
Have you heard of Muhammad Yunus? Considering his name and nationality it’s quite likely he probably doesn’t consider himself a Christian but he’s living out this Christ-like commission and the Nobel Committee on Friday recognized that by awarding him this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. He’s neither a diplomat nor a public figure really. He’s an economist who in 1976 reached into his own pocket to give his first loan of $27.00, to 42 villagers living near Chittagong University where he said he was teaching “elegant theories of economics.” The borrowers invested the money and repaid him in full, though they had no collateral and signed nothing. He said he asked himself that day, “If you can make so many people happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn’t you do more of it. From that experience Muhammad Yunus created Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. It has been a leader in micro credit - a program of lending money to the poorest people in the world so that they might have a safe and honest way to borrow money and move themselves out of poverty. His bank is dedicated to helping the poorest people. Loans are as small as $12.00 and the money is used to purchase milk cows or bamboo to construct stools or yarn to weave stoles. His bank’s long term goal is – and I quote: to eliminate poverty in the world. And he began with $27. (the New York Times 10.14.06)
So I guess we’re left with the question – not whether we each have $27 but do we have the will to join in proclaiming Good News to the poor and to care about justice for all.
The Gospel calls us to a ministry of justice not for ourselves but for others – justice isn’t a personal nor a national issue – it’s a world issue – a world so loved by God and entrusted into our care. Amen.

Harold Delhagen
Muhammad Yunus Posted by Picasa
Referenced article:
Peace Prize to Pioneer of Loans to Poor No Bank Would Touch
The New York Times
Published: October 14, 2006
A Bangladeshi economist, Muhammad Yunus, and the bank he founded 30 years ago won the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for pioneering work in giving tiny loans to millions of poor people no commercial bank would touch — destitute widows and abandoned wives, landless laborers and rickshaw drivers, sweepers and beggars.

Rafiqur Rahman/Reuters
Muhammad Yunus spoke to reporters Thursday with his wife Afrozi in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Nobel Committee praised Mr. Yunus, 66, and the Grameen Bank for making microcredit, as the loans are called, a practical solution to combating rural poverty in Bangladesh and inspiring similar schemes across the developing world.
“Microcredit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions,” the committee said in announcing the prize.
Mr. Yunus has long been an influential champion of the idea that even the most impoverished people have the drive and creativity to build small businesses with loans as small as $12, and Grameen Bank has dedicated itself to helping the poorest of the poor.
The borrowers used the money to buy milk-giving cows, or bamboo to craft stools, or yarn to weave into stoles, or incense to sell in stalls, among myriad other money-making schemes.
Reached in Dhaka, Bangladesh, by telephone yesterday, Mr. Yunus recalled the day in 1976 when he reached into his own pocket to give his first loan, $27, to 42 villagers living near Chittagong University where he said he was then teaching “elegant theories of economics.” The borrowers invested the money and repaid him in full, though they had no collateral and signed nothing.
He said he asked himself that day, “If you can make so many people so happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn’t you do more of it?”
Still, over the years, Mr. Yunus faced skeptics and detractors, as it became clear that microcredit loans, alluring as they were, were not by themselves a panacea for poverty.
Some in the microfinance business have questioned the Grameen Bank’s focus on serving the poorest, arguing the industry would grow faster and have more impact if it aimed at a wider pool of borrowers, including those struggling just above the poverty line.
Others have sometimes criticized what they see as Grameen’s unconventional accounting practices (which Mr. Yunus said yesterday were fully transparent) — or maintained that Grameen should have been more of a leader in combining microcredit with health and education services, or in lending to poor people who need money not to start businesses, but to pay their bills, or cover their children’s school fees.
But in interviews yesterday, Mr. Yunus’s skeptics and fans alike credited him and Grameen with helping to fundamentally change the way the world saw the potential of poor people and to popularize the movement to provide financial services to the poor.
“Yunus was one of the early visionaries who believed in the idea of poor people as viable, worthy, attractive clients for loans,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, who heads the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, a research institution supported by microfinance donors. “That simple notion has put in motion a huge range of imitators and innovators who have taken that idea and run with it, improved on it, expanded it.”
Or, as the Nobel committee put it: “Yunus’s long-term vision is to eliminate poverty in the world. That vision cannot be realized by means of microcredit alone. But Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank have shown that, in the continuing effort to achieve it, microcredit must play a major part.”
The prize was another that fell under a broader definition of peace, awarded by the committee not for traditional conflict resolution, but rather development work, and followed the 2004 award to a Kenyan environmentalist, Wangari Maathai.
Indeed, in the decades since Mr. Yunus’s first loan, microcredit has become one of the most popular antipoverty strategies in the world. Last year, more than 100 million people received small loans from more than 3,100 institutions in 130 countries, according to Microcredit Summit, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group that Mr. Yunus helped found. The average loan from Grameen Bank was $130.
Over the years, the movement to provide financial services to the poor has become more capacious, stressing the need for services beyond loans — for safe places to save small amounts of money, for crop and life insurance, for inexpensive ways to transfer money earned in distant cities and foreign countries to families back home.

In the 1970’s, when Mr. Yunus was getting started, the idea that poor people were a good credit risk seemed far-fetched. The United States Agency for International Development had conducted a global survey of banking services in poor communities and found failure after failure, said Jonathan J. Morduch, an economics professor at New York University who co-wrote a book on microcredits.
Many of the lenders then were state-owned banks that gave credit to politically connected elites rather than the poor people they were supposed to serve. And often at election time, vote-seeking politicians pressed the banks to forgive loans wholesale, leaving the institutions in terrible financial shape.
In 1974, Mr. Yunus, trained as an economist at Vanderbilt University, found himself teaching economics at Chittagong University when Bangladesh was struck by famine. “I decided I must do something,” he said. He began working in nearby villages, among them Jobra, where he made his first loan in 1976.
He said he tried to persuade commercial banks to give loans to poor people who had no assets and had always been dependent on local moneylenders. But the bankers only did so when he personally co-signed as a guarantor.
Mr. Yunus’s new model of banking for the poor had several unusual features, Professor Morduch said. Grameen lent to groups of five people, who helped ensure that each member repaid his or her share. It lent not only to farmers, but also to laborers and women who had a knack for crafts and shopkeeping. And it required borrowers to repay their loans in manageable, bite-sized weekly installments.
“He proved the impossible: that the poor were bankable,” Professor Morduch said.
But Mr. Yunus’s approach went beyond giving the poor economic opportunity to seeking deeper social change, said Amartya Sen, who, like Mr. Yunus, is a Bengali, an economist and a Nobel prize winner.
Mr. Sen, a professor at Harvard, noted that Grameen’s loans had gone overwhelmingly to women, giving financial clout to women who had little power in Bangladeshi society and often lived cloistered in their homes.
In the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of Bangladesh, Mr. Yunus’s approach also offered hope and ideas to compete with the allure of fundamentalist Islamic causes.
“It’s a very secular movement,” Professor Sen said, “very egalitarian, market friendly and socially radical.”
Those who have watched Mr. Yunus over the years remarked on his gifts as a salesman — his personal warmth, his talent for telling a story, his sheer ability to charm an audience. Those qualities were very much on display last month when he participated in a panel at a Sheraton hotel in New York during Bill Clinton’s gathering of international do-gooders.
The theme was “Building a Sustainable Future,” and Mr. Yunus told about how Grameen gave loans to beggars. He made hundreds of rich people — many of them looking for causes to support — laugh out loud and also tugged at their heartstrings.
“All we are doing is telling beggars that, well, since you go house to house begging, would you like to take some merchandise with you, some cookies, some candy, something?” he asked a crowd that hooted with delight at this clever notion.
“A typical loan for a beggar is something like $12,” he said. “With $12, she has a basket of merchandise she carries around and goes house to house.”
“Today, we have more than 80,000 beggars in the program,” he said. “Many of them have already quit begging completely.”
At that, the audience erupted in a sustained burst of applause. Mr. Yunus beamed.
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2006

Unity, Reconciliation and Justice
A worship series based upon the Belhar Confession
From the Uniting Reformed Churches in Southern Africa
The Approach to God
The Prelude
The Church Bell
The Introit: “Come All You Servants of the Lord”
The Call to Worship
L: In Christ, the God of heaven has made his home on earth.
P: Christ dwells among us and is one with us.
L: Highest of all creation, he lives among the least.
P: He journeys with the rejected and welcomes the weary.
L: Come now, all who thirst,
P: and drink the water of life.
L: Come now, all who hunger,
P: and be filled with good things.
L: Come now, all who seek,
P: and be warmed by the fire of love.
* The Hymn: No. 434 “Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples”
* The Salutation -- from Isaiah 42:6-8
L: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people;
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
The Prayer of Confession
O God of shalom,
we have built up walls to protect ourselves from our enemies,
but those walls also shut us off from receiving your love.
Break down those walls.
Help us to see that the way to your heart
is through the reconciliation of our own hearts with our enemies.
Bless them and us,
that we may come to grow in love for each other and for you,
through Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Let the worshippers consider their lives in silence.)

The Words of Assurance -- from Psalm 145:13-14
L: The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
P: Thanks be to God.
The Law of God -- from Micah 6:8
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

The Word of God
The Sacrament of Baptism -- Please see insert.
The Children’s Sermon
* The Hymn: No. 405 “What Does the Lord Require?”
The Lesson
Luke 4:14-21 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 62
L: The Word of the Lord.
P: Thanks be to God.
The Sermon: “And Justice For All”
* The Affirmation of Faith
North: We believe that God has revealed himself as the One who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among men;
South: that in a world full of injustice and enmity He is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged and that He calls his Church to follow Him in this;
North: that He brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
South: that He frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
North: that He supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
South: that for Him pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
North: that He wishes to teach His people to do what is good and to seek the right;
South: that the Church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the Church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
Unison: that the Church as the possession of God must stand where He stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the Church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
(paragraph 4 – The Belhar Confession)
The Anthem: “Pillar and Ground of Truth” . . . . . . . . . . . M. Hayes
The Response to God
Presentation of Tithes and Offerings
* The Doxology -- Tune: Nun Danket
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom heav'n and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
* The Prayer of Dedication
O God, most merciful and gracious,
of whose bounty we have all received,
accept this offering of your people.
Remember in your love those who have brought it
and those for whom it is given,
and so follow it with your blessing
that it may promote peace and goodwill among all peoples,
and advance the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Life of the Church
Our Gratitude Expressed
Our Concerns Raised Up
The Church’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . using ‘debts’ and ‘debtors’
* The Hymn: No. 423 “Canto de Esperanza/Song of Hope”
* The Benediction
* The Choral Response: “Come All You Servants of the Lord”
* The Postlude

Pultneyville Reformed Church
7784 Hamilton Street
P.O. Box 94
Pultneyville, NY 14538

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Living the Prayer"

Deuteronomy 10:17-19
John 17:20-26

The room began to fill with the usual bustle, people moving to seats - they; pat a friend on the shoulder, exchange hushed greetings. Parents come looking flushed and distracted from Sunday morning primping of their children in tow. It’s a familiar scene in most of mainline church USA – except that on this Sunday there’s more variety to the gathering of worshipers. About half of those gathered are white middle class types like us – the others – mostly Korean – about half of them know little if any English. I look to my Korean colleague and wonder how this is going to go – he knows it will be just fine – he’s an old pro at this sort of bi-lingual thing. For me it will be the first since having been called as pastor of this mixed flock.
We stand together. He says the old familiar words of the liturgy in a far less familiar way – Korean. I wait until I am sure he is done before sharing the same words in English. Well, that didn’t go so badly I think to myself in temporary relief.
The organist hits the first few keys to an old familiar hymn – real old – something along the lines of What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Within a few more notes I am, in some wonderful way, transported to heaven itself as I hear the old, old words of faith sung in unison – two very different languages – woven together into one. I see faces filled with joy and passion – souls caught up in something beyond themselves – above themselves. We all seem to know that we have been taken to a new place – a place in the Kingdom of God - even if only for a moment.
Do you know that sort of experience – perhaps – hopefully - some time in worship when the liturgy or the music lifted you to a new and beautiful place? A place where you knew Christ was present – the Spirit was alive and flourishing – doing her thing - bringing life and wholeness and glimpses of the way our Creator has intended. Do you know that experience? In my case it came as I watched the confusion of Babel turned into the songs of heaven as people who come from such distant places unite heart to heart and voice to voice. I thought to myself – this is what heaven must be like – people coming from east and west sitting at one heavenly banquet – singing the same heaven bound songs.
It came time to preach. I had chosen to use as my text this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus – I realized as I stood in that pulpit on that particular Sunday morning I had no idea what that prayer was all about. Oh – I thought I did. The Spirit flew about the room and touched my heart – it felt like a burning coal, I wanted to say out loud with the prophet; Woe is me for I have seen the face of God. I tried to stay with my prepared text but that was useless – I was confronted with something new and real and I would never preach the sermon I prepared – not then and not now (although a seminary professor would probably have given me a passing grade for it) – in a matter of minutes it had become irrelevant – just ideas. Now – however – I caught a glimpse of what Jesus was really praying about.
This morning I am remembering that day long ago and realizing that it really is no more profound than what we have here this morning even if we all do speak the same language and come from about the same or at - least quite similar backgrounds. I look out among us and I see people who outside of these walls would not belong to one another – people who would never fit together socially. I mean let me ask you to split up a minute and have all of the Republicans go to my right and all the Democrats go to my left – Don’t actually do it – I’m kidding - please! I’d hate to start a church fight this morning. But imagine that in a world of such incredible polarization that we can actually be in community together. Look at the headlines of this week and how our two parties position and politic, taking advantage of missteps and misconduct and misfortune. All trying to make political hay over the indiscretions of a wayward congressman. Think of all the things that could divide and separate us? Even those of us who all come from basically the same culture and class.
The Belhar Confession tells us and the world – that as followers of Jesus we believe that this gift of unity is both a gift and an obligation.
Our unity – that which binds us together across culture and ideology and even preference is a gift of the Spirit. Left to ourselves I could never imagine that we would be able to rise beyond that which separates us. In South Africa the divisions between white and black was bound in the iron shackles of theology, and economics and longstanding cultural myths. Left on its own those shackles were unbreakable. The Holy Spirit would not rest – unsettled with such division the Spirit was restless and worked her way into the conscience of some who held power. One such man was Beyers Naude’. Beyers was the son and grandson of powerful leaders in the White Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. Beyer’s father was one of the founders of the most powerful white supremacist groups in South Africa called the Broederbond. Rev. Naude joined his father’s group – a group which promoted violence in order to control the black population of their country until a day in March (21) 1960 when almost 100 children of color were murdered by police in the Township of Sharpsville for protesting pass laws. On that day Rev. Naude decided to relinquish his pastoral credentials with the White Dutch Reformed Church and to remove himself from the power and prestige he held with the Broederbond. He took up the cause of abolishing apartheid in South Africa. Over lunch one day he shared quite casually how dangerous his decision became – death threats and attempts upon his life became routine. He shared how he felt compelled to take a stand against all which separated people in his country. For him the gift of unity – which he lived to see until 2004. That gift came at a great cost. His life witnessed to what extent Christians must take responsibility for the gift of unity.
In Jesus’ prayer for his church he prays that we might be one. He prays that the love and the glory which he has shared with the Father might be shared with those who follow him. The church – that’s you and me - are in a unique place in things. We’re drawn to a special place in the world. We are by Christ’s love drawn into the love of our Creator and Jesus says – we are called to reflect God’s glory in the world. Now as one commentator puts it; this is no reason for triumphalism, but for sober wide-eyed mission. We are called to show Christ to the world. You see it’s not about us – it’s about Christ. What he is praying for is that the gift he gives to us at the cost of his own life is a gift given to share – that’s the heart of real mission. This mission must always have Christ as the reason and the center. It’s not about us nor about us growing or prospering as all sorts of denominational propaganda would have us think. To live out this prayer faithfully we will need to loose ourselves and keep our eye on the gift.
Jesus prays that we will be one – that’s part of the gift – but it’s never an end in itself. Contrary to how most of us feel most of the time about being united – its not given as a gift so we can feel good. As much as I felt the warmth and comfort of the Spirit in that bi-lingual worship service long ago what I have learned is that those feelings simply tell us we are on the right path – but the purpose of our visible unity as the body of Christ – our responsibility in tending the gift is – as Jesus prays; so that the world may know him – that the world might come to know this love which lies at the center of the universe.
We are not called to set aside all that divides us just so we might play nice. We are called to be one and to transcend the boundaries of race and class and petty differences so that Christ will be known to the world.
When I glimpsed a vision of the Kingdom of God that glorious Sabbath morning what I now know is that the Kingdom was not in the warm fuzzies of being nice to one another – that’s just a beautiful by product. The Kingdom of God is in the witness that we made to anyone who would care to notice. We were a place where others could see the power of the Gospel that those who by the world’s standards don’t belong together not only gather in one place – but make commitments – covenants to belong together beyond their differences.
As I look out into this gathering today – I am compelled to ask – are we committed to such a mission or will we allow our petty differences – our preferences – even our own ego needs and need for power to keep us from our mission – from tending the gift? We can understand the high stakes our South African brothers and sisters faced. Now we are left with the uneasy question – are we ready to tend the gift of unity – are we prepared to live the prayer?

HMD 10.8.06

Resistance and Hope, South African essays in honour of Beyers Naude’
Edited by Charles Villa-Vinencio and John W. De Gruchy
Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1985