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Musings Sermon Starter

Into the Wilderness

Image of small camper trailer parked at a wooded campsite. Camper is white on top and turquoise on the bottom.

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time on something only to have it prove fruitless? This has been my week. Between my risk for COVID and a stress fracture, it has been weeks since I’ve been able to go anywhere. Also, my primary coping mechanism for stress has been fitness walking (think 4 mph for 4-5 miles) and that is also off the table for the foreseeable future. So what ate up all my time this week? The search for a small camper, and by small I mean under 2000 lbs that our Jeep Renegade can pull. It seems I am not the only one with this great idea. In fact, I am very late to this game; there is nothing available in used models that fit in our budget. Yet, I kept searching and will probably keep searching because you never know.

It occurred to me that if I were as diligent in my pursuit of spiritual things as I have been in pursuit of a camper, maybe my time would be better spent. Yet, it is very difficult to sustain energy for something that cannot be seen and only sometimes can be felt. Usually, we don’t recognize an encounter with the Holy until we are looking back. It makes me wonder when Abraham and Sarah knew that they had made a covenant with God. Did they know it in the moment or did they realize later what compelled Abraham to pack up and move? I’m guessing that awareness of just who was guiding them and why came slowly, though there is no way to tell in the story.

I also think of Peter. It’s likely that Peter’s awareness of Jesus’ divinity flickered in and out. He saw Jesus do amazing things. He even tried to do some of them himself (walking on water). It’s clear that Peter loved Jesus and sometimes recognized him as the Messiah. Other times, though, not so much. Peter didn’t like when Jesus talked about how he was going to die and rise again. Did he invite Jesus to run away and never return to Jerusalem to avoid death? Who knows? We do know that Jesus called him “Satan” for focusing on human things.

It’s the human things that get in our way most often. If we focus on these kinds of things – our self-focused wants and desires – we don’t have to focus on divine things. These divine things are much harder – loving our neighbors, taking our cross, following Jesus. I mean, Jesus is talking about losing life for his sake, for the sake of the gospel. That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? And, yet, isn’t there something very powerful in this mystery?

Are we able to deny ourselves? What is that cross that Jesus said we had to take up in order to follow him? Sometimes, I am able to deny my self-focused wants and desires for the sake of others. Not always, though. I think of the hours I spent looking for a camper this week to no avail, knowing I will keep looking. I don’t think anyone or anything suffered because I was focused on my own desires, this time. At other times in my life, though, others have suffered because I was consumed by my own wants.

As for the taking up of my own cross, this is often harder. While I am not entirely sure what Jesus meant by this, I hear it as carrying that which gets in the way of our relationship with God, that which diminishes or devalues us. We each have a weakness (or many) that hinder our relationship with God and, if left unchecked, become full-on sinfulness. The good news is that whatever the cross we carry, we have help. In the best of circumstances the community, the church, can help us carry it. We can say that Jesus helps us carry our crosses, though sometimes we need more tangible help than that.

How are we, as the people of God, the body of Christ, the church, focusing on divine things rather than human things? How are we making cross-carrying easier for our neighbors? Have we done enough to recognize and celebrate and honor God at work in the world – in, through, among, and around us? Are we more focused on ourselves as a church than we are on ourselves as the body of Christ called to love our neighbors as ourselves, bring healing to what we have broken in the world?

I have more questions than answers this week. Maybe this is why it is easier to focus on searching for a camper than it is on seeking God’s holy ways. Following Jesus, seeking God, bringing loving-kindness into the world, is not for the faint of heart. May we awaken more fully to the covenant of Love that binds us one to another and enables us to find life in the wilderness, the barren places, amidst the chaos.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2021 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  • Psalm 22:23-31  • Romans 4:13-25  • Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

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Poetry

A Confessional Prayer

image of four wild horse running with a rainbow in the background

Holy One, you are like no other god—a lesson you have tried to teach us again and again. Though Abraham expected you to need the sacrifice of Isaac, you did not. You ask us to unbind ourselves from the pain-filled destructive ways of old. You ask us to rid ourselves of our ties to racism and white supremacy, to xenophobia, and to fears that prevent us from seeing you in ourselves and in our neighbors. Forgive us for the ways we cling to outdated understandings and traditions that no longer hold meaning. Forgive us and call us into your presence once more.

Ever-patient God, you hear our cries of “How long, O Lord, how long?” and you wait for us to change our ways. You are present with us in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in war. Yet, we mistake your presence for your blessing. Moreover, we want you to fix what we have broken. Instead, you provide us with all that we need for healing, for peace, for abundant life—not just for ourselves but for all. Have mercy on us when we fail to take responsibility for our sins of destruction, dehumanization, and divisions. Have mercy on us and awaken us to the possibilities of life in your Spirit.

God of life and love, do you ever grow tired of waiting for us to turn to you? How many times must you set us free from ourselves? How many times do you need to put your Love on full display before we see how precious we are, before we recognize you in all peoples? You have demonstrated the saving power of your Love again and again. You tell us that we are free from sin and ask us to serve righteousness. And still we persist in causing harm, often in your name. Call us once more to live as you taught—loving our neighbors as ourselves. Call us and awaken us to the power of Love.

Steadfast God, we are tangled up in so much that is not good for us. The knots of fear tighten when those who should lead speak only to divide. The ropes of self-righteousness wrap ever-tightly every time we fail to consider what our actions might mean for our neighbors. We say we want to be disentangled, even while reaching for new cords to bind ourselves to some other false prophet or punitive god of our own making. So many people around us are in need of water, of hope, of renewal, of release, of reparation, and we tend to think that your Living Water is meant only for us. Fill us with your grace that we may free ourselves of all that binds us to brokenness. Fill us and empower us to be agents of healing, hope, and Love.

Amen.

If you are in need of sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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Categories
Bidding Prayer liturgy

Bidding Prayer for the Wilderness Journey

Come, let us pray for all those who worship the One who created all that is and loves the whole of the Cosmos.
(silence or time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns
Ever-present, Creator God, hear our prayers for all your people, those who gather in the name of Christ and those who worship by another name. Unite us in our desire to love and serve you by loving and serving all our neighbors. Make us mindful that we are your people and our siblings are numerous. In these days of change, conflict, and war, you call us to leave behind what we have known, and journey to strange places whose customs we have yet to learn or create. Grant us the trust of Abram and the courage of Sarai that we may all follow you into new and life-sustaining ways.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ and our sister denominations throughout the world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of all times and places, hear our prayers for the United Church of Christ and those who lead it. May we hear your call as clearly as Abram did and be willing to leave behind that which no longer serves. May our commitment to following you outweigh our love affair with the past. Grant us the temerity of Nicodemus to come to you, as with the yearning of our hearts. Open us to your call to life and love in new ways, paving the way for change, for growth, for the deepening of our covenant with you and with one another.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all the peoples of this world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Patient and merciful God, hear our prayers for all the peoples of the world. We lift up to those near and far who do not know they are loved and valued. We acknowledge the ways we have participated in systems of oppression that have caused pain to our neighbors. Teach us your ways of mercy and grace that we may join with protesters rather than complain about the disruption to our days. As we journey through the Lenten wilderness, increase our awareness of the needs of others, especially those who remain willfully unseen. Remind us once more that your love is for the whole of the Cosmos and we are to leave no one out.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for this nation and those who lead it.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of our ancestors and God of all our days, hear our prayers for this country and all who live within its borders. In this season of political choosing, be present with us, enveloping us with your mercy and your love. As we participate in primary elections, guide us with your wisdom. Your Spirit blows where it wills, and so it should be with our lives. Let us not resist the power of your Spirit. Rather, let us resist those who would lead us away from justice, compassion, and equity for all those who call this country home. May we seek leaders who will care for the vulnerable among us more than they care for wealth or power.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Healing and compassionate God, hear us as we pray for those who need healing in body, mind, or spirit. We especially lift up those who are wrongfully imprisoned or unjustly sentenced, especially those who are on death row. As we pray for those who struggle with the broken places in their lives, fill us with your compassion that our prayerful words may lead to acts of welcome and inclusion for those the world has pushed to the edges. May your Wisdom guide us to be the Body of Christ needed in the world today.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
strong>My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those who grieve and suffer the pain of loss.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of love and joy, hear us as we pray for those who are grieving. We pray for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants who, like Abram and Sarai, have left all that they have known to seek a life of safety and peace. We pray for those like Nicodemus who are lost under the cover of night and desperately want new life. As we examine the barren places in our own lives, we come to you, trusting that you are a God of hope and wholeness. Be at work in us and among us that we may be your healing body where grief, sadness, and loss can be held until new life becomes possible.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all that we have and all that we are.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Generous and forgiving God, hear us as we give thanks for our lives. We often fail to express our gratitude for all that you have given us, focusing overly much on what we do not have or cannot do. As we travel this road to Jerusalem with you, shift our focus to your abundance, your love and grace, that is all around us. Jesus went into the desert with your words of “Beloved” echoing in his spirit; he did not go alone. Open us anew to your presence and our belovedness. We are agents of Love and Grace here and now, and we are grateful for your Love, mercy, and forgiveness which leads us through the wild places into the fullness of life with you.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2020
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

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Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Delightfully Gifted

“Fear not,” God said to Abram just before drowning him in Grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus to the disciples right before walloping them with a truth beyond their capacity to receive it. When these words appear in scripture, it’s often too late to prevent fear from grabbing hold, like when angels show up and fear steals the breath from the unsuspecting human. Yet, when God says these words to Abram or Jesus says them to the disciples, it isn’t because the hearers are so afraid they cannot breath. It’s just the opposite. It’s a warning to take a breath because some sacred gift is going to temporarily paralyze your lungs and you might not know why.

In Abram’s case, God was preparing him to receive a promise so enormous Abram couldn’t really comprehend it. Of course, Abram believed that God would give him children so that the promise would be fulfilled, but how could he begin to fathom the enormity of the promise. At any rate, it was that belief, that faith, that made Abram righteous. I wonder at what point he resumed breathing at a normal rate. I mean, seriously, how daunting would it be to know that God had plans to make your descendants more numerous than the stars?

Generations and generations later, Jesus does something similar to his disciples. “Fear not,” he says. I hope they took a deep breath in that moment because what comes next is startling to say the very least. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be afraid because God delighted in giving them the Kingdom*. Yes, it had already happened and it continues to happen. God has already bestowed the Kingdom on God’s people and continues to delight in doing so. The action is past, or so the use of the aorist active indicative tense (eudokesen) implies in the Greek. It also means there is significance in the action. I take this to mean that the Kingdom has been given, continues to be given, and God’s delight has no end. I don’t think the disciples heard this when Jesus said it any better than we hear it now. When it hits you, the truth is enough to stop your heart and your lungs from functioning, at least for a moment or two.

God created a covenant with Abram and wrapped it in grace. Abram trusted God and Abram was righteous. Then Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the Kingdom and God delighted in the giving. This truth is blanketed with so many layers of grace that you and I are included. It has to be, because unlike Abram, the disciples missed the message. They didn’t hear it or trust it; they didn’t reach Abram’s level of righteousness. Sadly, neither do we.

This delightful gift of the Kingdom to the people of God is one that we human beings have tried to put so many limits and conditions on who gets in. How have we missed the fact that the Realm is God’s to give as God sees fit. And, at least according to Luke, it’s a done deal. It’s been given. Maybe the delighted giving was part of the covenant God made with Abram. Maybe it was just expanded in Jesus. When will we figure out that God delights in us, especially when we try to live in Love (which is what the Kingdom of God is all about).

Now the problem is, of course, that if all faithful people are supposed to have been gifted with the Kingdom, why isn’t the world in better shape? Bottom line? We don’t believe it. We don’t trust it. It’s like it was too easy. God just handed over the Kingdom without strings attached? Nope, that can’t be it, can it? Surely we have to be good and perfect and follow all the rules? Only a few people are good enough to inherit the Realm, right?

If only we were all more like Abram. God keeps trying to make of us a holy people and we resist. God keeps telling us to love one another with the same love God has for us, and we don’t trust that. That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples to be careful what they valued and to keep serving those in need around them. It’s too easy to mistake material things and creature comforts as a sign of God’s blessing. The real blessing is that we were made to love and be loved. The real blessing comes when our gratitude informs our daily living. When we serve those whose needs are greater than our own, we catch glimpses of a Realm created and sustained by Love.

Many people have asked why the world seems so filled with violence and hatred these days. The answer is multi-layered. However, a significant piece of the answer is that people do not know that the Kingdom of God has already been gifted to us. People have a hard time finding a place where they belong, where they feel valued and known, where they have a sense of purpose. When we are so stingy with God’s Love as we often are, other things flood in to fill the gaps. Hopelessness, fear, anger, hatred, desperation… to name a few. Communities, identities built around these things have no trouble with injustice and oppression.

What will it take for you and me to trust God’s Love, to trust that we have already been given the Realm and God delighted in the giving and will continue to do so in every generation? What will it take for us to live rightly with God, as Abram did? What will it take for us to love as we are loved by God? The sooner we figure this out, the more possibilities we have in truly building the Kingdom here on earth…

*Fun fact for those interested in such: “Kingdom” in Greek is Basileia which is feminine in form.

RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 with Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or
Genesis 15:1-6 with Psalm 33:12-22 and
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

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Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Can We Be Blameless and Unashamed?

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Have human beings always been so egocentric, so self-focused, often to the point of narcissism? Last week 17 people died in a school at the hands of one gunman. This week some schools are auctioning off guns as fundraiser, one of which is an AR-15 – the gun used in the school shooting in Florida. The worst of this, the school calls itself Christian. How is it that God would want anything to do with raffling/auctioning guns to raise money for schools? How is it that anyone following Christ could think this is a good idea?

Let’s take a moment to consider Abraham. No, Abraham did not own any guns since he walked the earth long before guns were invented. However, Abraham’s story tells us something about what it means to follow God, to live in covenant with the One who created all that is. God called Abram when he was 99 years old. Surely, an old man would have better things to do with his time and energy than pack up all he owned and follow God out in the wilderness. Abram chose to do as God asked, though. Abram changed his name and grabbed hold of the promise God offered. God would give him and Sarah a child, a child who would be the first of many nations, of many kings. To an old man without children, this probably sounded pretty good.

There was a catch, though. Abraham had to agree to walk blameless before God. This is tricky business. Abraham had to avoid sin. He had to think about God, neighbor, Creation, and self, taking care not to bruise, break, or otherwise damage, his relationship with any of them. This was Abrahams part in the covenant. Yes, God would give Abraham and Sarah offspring more numerous than the stars, but Abraham had to agree to walk before God with the intention of honoring God, neighbor, Creation, and self. That’s a significant commitment!

We like to hide under the covenant that God has made with us, like it’s a security blanket keeping us separate from the evils of the world. Jesus is the New Covenant which somehow makes it stronger and better, right? Yes and not exactly. If Abraham had to keep up his end of the covenant, then we, too must keep up our end of the New Covenant. The new one does not negate the old one.

If God covenanted with Noah (and all living flesh) not to destroy the world, then Noah (and all living flesh) were meant to hold up their end of the bargain and not be forces of destruction in Creation, either. This covenant didn’t end with subsequent covenants; each is built on the last. If Abraham had to walk blameless before God to keep his end of the covenant, to ensure that his heirs would give rise to nations and kings, then Abraham’s heirs were meant to do the same. Because we humans are terrible at holding onto and living into God’s covenants, God keeps renewing and reshaping them, but, at no point does the new one negate the previous one.

So, we come to the New Covenant made in Jesus. This is a covenant made in Love, to show us how to Love one another, and to remind us that death and destruction does not have the last word. What’s our end of this? What must we do to participate in this covenantal promise? We must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Not all that unlike walking blameless or avoiding destruction… We just don’t particularly like that bit. We want to think about how God loves us no matter what. While this true, shouldn’t we be more active in our participating in the Covenant? Why do we expect God’s steadfast love to continue to endure when we aren’t even willing to try a little self-denial?

You know, like realizing that sometimes what is needed for the good of all is more important that what I might want in the moment. I’m not anti-gun. However, not everyone who wants a gun should be able to have one. Not everyone who wants one needs one. Not everyone who owns a gun for sport needs a semi-automatic rifle. And a school, a Christian school at that, who wants to raise money ought to think twice about raffling off AR-15 in this moment (or ever, really). We tend to think that denying ourselves is a bad thing. In many cases, a little self-denial is a good thing, maybe even a life-saving thing.

Self-denial in the age of self-care is not denying who we are and it’s not denying our status as God’s beloved. It simply says that we think about the greater good and make sacrifices accordingly. You know, lack of gun control is a problem in this country. Are you willing to deny yourself the right to have a gun like an AR-15 if that means keeping children in schools safer? Another example, the use of plastic water bottles and drinking straws is a problem globally. Are you willing to deny yourself this convenience and use reusable bottles and straws? You get the idea. Self-denial and carrying one’s cross is the Christian version of walking blameless before God, you know, living where all the world can see without shame and mindful of one’s relationships with God, neighbors, Creation, and self.

Isn’t it time we start putting the needs of the many, particularly the vulnerable among us, ahead of the needs of the few? Denying myself some of the things I want sounds a whole lot better than children dying or contributing even more to the destruction of the planet. I’ll try to be more intentional about carrying the cross of my self-focused tendency if that means I take a couple of blameless steps before God. How ‘bout you? Crosses don’t weigh much when you think about the cost of not picking it up… Death and destruction aren’t supposed to have the last world. Isn’t it time we tip the odds in favor of Love?

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 25, 2018
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

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Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Different God

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When will we stop sacrificing our children to appease unresponsive gods? Our children die on the altars of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed on a daily basis. And the funny thing is the spilling of their blood changes nothing. We continue to blame addicts for their “weakness” and tell ourselves that they are not worth saving. We justify police shooting unarmed black men by telling ourselves that “the system works.” We sit back and let war continue because it is “over there.” We let children go to schools with inadequate resources and wonder why they don’t do well. We restrict access to mental health care, safe housing, and health care and shake our heads when the numbers of homeless individuals continues to rise. How many of our children need to be consumed by these greedy, societal gods before we recognize that there is another way?

We have spent so much time criticizing Abraham’s parenting skills and his “blind faith” that we have failed to learn the lesson of this story. God did not require the sacrifice of Isaac. Other gods of the time demanded child sacrifice to be appeased, but the God of Abraham did not. It’s possible that Abraham believed God needed the sacrifice of Isaac because all the other gods of the time required child sacrifice. Abraham knew it was in the realm of what a god could ask. Yet, God, the one who led Abraham to a new land and promised a glories future, would never require someone to do such a thing. God requires only love and grateful service. Why is it that we think sacrificing our children will change anything? Thousands of years have gone by since God told Abraham that the blood of children was not required. This was not the way of the God of Abraham. And it never would be.

I know some of you are thinking that God sacrificed God’s own child to cleanse the world which would negate the idea that God does not ask for the sacrifice of children. We must then ask ourselves how it is that Jesus ended up being crucified. God didn’t do it. Human beings did. The Temple Authorities and the Roman Authorities colluded to put an end to a treasonous revolutionary before the peasants actually rose up in revolt. Jesus, like so many children before and since, was sacrificed on the altar of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed. Unlike with Isaac, God didn’t intervene to provide another sacrifice. Instead, God transformed death to life to show, once again, that violence and death are not stronger than Love.

We worship a God like no other. We worship a God who wants only goodness for us. Saving Isaac was a display of God’s difference from other gods. This is not a God who wants torment and torture for the people of God. This is a God who yearns for us to discover our value, our innate holiness, and for us to live in the abundance of grace God provides. Yet, somehow, sparing Isaac was not enough. Resurrecting Jesus was not enough. What will it take for us to turn away from these lesser gods who are destroying us, consuming our children without hindrance?

In Romans, Paul so eloquently reminds us that we are not to be slaves of sin and death. We belong to Christ whose ways lead to eternal life. When Christ’s ways become our ways, the bloodthirsty gods of our day diminish in power and appeal. Yes, they will always be around to tempt us with quick fixes, fragile safety, and fleeting power. However, Christ’s ways bring transformation that truly heals, sanctuary that lovingly protects, and strength that builds rather than destroys.

It’s easier than we think. Jesus tells us, in Matthew’s gospel, that it’s about unwavering, extravagant hospitality. We are to go out of our way to welcome all those we meet. We are to go out of our way to save our children from the dangers of this world. That cold cup of water might be inconvenient to provide in the desert heat, but it’s possible and it is life-saving. Hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed will tell us that it’s okay to continue as we are, but they are known liars. We worship a God like no other, a God of life and love. Is it not time to stop sacrificing our children and start welcoming all one cup of cold water at a time?

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Sharks in the Waters

scuba-diver-1049945Many years ago I became an advanced open water diver. If you’ve never been scuba diving it is the most peaceful, beautiful experience. It’s just you, the sound of your breathing, and all the wonders the ocean has to offer. Two of the reasons I chose to learn to dive are that I am claustrophobic and I am afraid of sharks. You’d think that a person with both these things would avoid diving, right? Yes, except that I cannot tolerate my choices being ruled by fear.

As it turned out, the claustrophobia wasn’t an issue for me because I didn’t feel confined in any way by the gear required for diving. The shark thing was another issue, though. I saw one, once. Now it seems funny, but it didn’t seem amusing then at all.

I was with two other people and we planned a simple dive near Humarock Beach in Massachusetts. The goal was to give us more practice and maybe catch a few lobsters for dinner. We swam out to the rocks where we planned to dive. One person dove down and two of us were still on the surface. My friend was having some difficulty letting herself sink. I was talking her through what she needed to do when I saw a very large dorsal fin about 100 feet behind her. All my calmness vanished. I yanked on the flag line to let the other person know there was a problem and quietly asked my friend who was a total novice if she saw what I saw. She did. The three of us swam as fast as we could to the nearest shore. If anyone had seen us, it was probably pretty entertaining to see three grown women in full scuba gear scramble for the rocky shore. I don’t think that shark knew we were even there. But my thought was that if we were looking for dinner, maybe the shark was, too. When we stopped by the dive shop a little while later, we were informed that it was a basking shark. Absolutely harmless since they have no teeth.

sea-79836I felt foolish for giving into my fear that day. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can keep us safe and prevent us from engaging in harmful activities. However, fear can easily cross from healthy and practical to unhealthy and irrational. A fear of sharks is healthy until it prevents you from swimming in the ocean. A fear that reminds you to be cautious in strange places or with unknown people, is reasonable and smart until it prevents you from going out of your house or making friends with your neighbors. It’s the latter kind of fear that seems to be flowing through the US today. You’ve heard the politicians and seen the way people respond. There’s nothing smart or reasonable about the xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the other nonsense about immigrants, refugees, and People of Color that floods the media.

What concerns me is that people of faith buy into this kind of fear that breeds hatred and violence. What kind of faith do we have when we become so fearful of people who are somehow different from who we understand ourselves to be? Think of Abram. How different would our faith story be if fear had taken over his capacity for reason or his ability to trust in God.

Abram endured visions and a “deep and terrifying darkness” before he entered into a covenant with God that would lead him to unexpected places. Abram would have had every reason to run screaming away. In fact, we don’t know that others did not. Maybe Abram wasn’t the first that God approached with the offer of the covenant that would create a great nation from his offspring. Maybe Abram was simply the first to trust that God would indeed be his shield and that the reward would be great. I have no doubt that Abram was all kinds of anxious as he stepped into the future God offered him. Yet, Abram didn’t let his fear bind him to the dark and terrifying places. He heard the promise God spoke to him out of the depths, through the dark. And his life was transformed.

It feels to me like we as a nation, if not the whole world, have bound ourselves to Abram’s deep and terrifying darkness and aren’t willing to sit still long enough to hear God saying, “Fear not.” I am convinced that we have no reason to be afraid if we follow Paul’s advice and walk in the way of Christ. If we hold fast to a faith that says, “Fear not. I am with you” and guides us in the way of peace, how can we fail to find a way through all that frightens us? Fear is real but not always based on reality and, in and of itself, fear is seldom a good justification for inaction.

I believe that I shall see  the goodness of God in the land of the living. 
Wait for God; be strong, let your heart take courage; wait for God!

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday in Lent – February 21, 2016
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17–4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Top Photo CC0 image by Steve Howard

Bottom Photo CC0 image by David Mark

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Musings Sermon Starter

A Tough Thought… or Two

By word of warning, this week’s lectionary contains complex theology. Here’s my attempt at distillation…31257464416_ORIG

This week I find myself strangely drawn to Abraham. It’s not his parenting skills I admire for sure. Last week we read how he exhiled one son into the desert because his wife told him to. This week we read how he was prepared to sacrifice his only remaining son, the son for whom he’d waited his entire life. What strikes me about Abraham is his faith. On the one hand his faith seems so simple and uncomplicated, but on the other, Abraham’s faith is deeper and more true than I can really understand. He spent his life responding to God’s call in one way or another.

I’m not a fan of the concept of God setting things up just to test a person’s faith. I just don’t believe God does this to anyone, let alone to people who are clearly faithful. So there has to be another point to this story about Abraham and Isaac. What would make a person willing to sacrifice that which he or she holds most dear?

For Abraham it was trust in God. Whether it was trust that God would provide an alternative sacrifice or trust that God would make sacrificing Isaac worth it, can’t be clearly determined. There is more here than blind trust, though. God and Abraham had a long relationship in which God often asked that Abraham do unusual things while God took care of the impossible. Considering this, it is highly likely that Abraham desired to please God more than he desired anything else. He was not perfect to be sure, but he did seem to strive for righteousness to a degree that modern thinking has a hard time understanding. He would do anything to be “right with God.” For many of us in Mainline Christian traditions, we don’t spend much time thinking about righteousness or just what, exactly, God might be asking of us. The idea of pursuing righteousness or living holy lives does not much trouble the hearts and minds for many Christians. What if we let ourselves be concerned with such things?

Like my response to Abraham this week, I find myself surprised when I read the passage from Romans and nod again and again in agreement. Of course, my understanding of sin may be a bit different than the Apostle Paul’s. Yet, the point he makes about where and how we put ourselves out in the world, how we use our bodies, or allow ourselves to be used, rings true all these centuries later. Should we not endeavor to follow God more deliberately knowing that we are set aside for holy purposes in Christ? I think of all the suffering in the world, all the struggles for power and position, all the hoarding of resources and wonder what would happen in the world if we all took the idea of being enslaved to righteousness with the reward of sanctification a little more seriously.

This concept that we are set aside for a holy purpose resonates with something deep within me. Would I be willing to sacrifice that which I hold most dear if God asked it of me? I want the answer to be, “Yes, of course.” However, I honestly don’t know what I would do. I’m pretty good at telling God that I am willing to serve wherever God may call. Underneath my prayerful words, though, are all the qualifiers and preferences I have about my willingness to serve. I admire Abraham for his trusting pursuit of righteousness. Likewise the Apostle Paul. Realistically, though, I have a ways to go before there is clear evidence of sanctification in my life. Perhaps it’s time to pursue righteousness, a life lived in covenant with God, self, and neighbor, with far more intention and enthusiasm.

We are sanctified. It is time to pursue righteousness.scan0005

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 29, 2014
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42