Wednesday, January 30, 2013

You just don't know.

My wife called me last night from Robertson County, TX.  It's one of those big counties that are flat.  The OSR runs through it, and in it's Central Texas way, it's beautiful.  Grasslands, those copses of the gnarled trees (what kind of tree they are escapes me at this moment).  She called to tell me that deep on the horizon a storm is rolling in.  I love storms.  Tornados?  No.  Hurricanes?  No.  Big, old-fashioned thunderstorm with rain, lightning, thunder, and not too much wind?  Yes.  The sun was setting in a pink sky, and on the horizon was the deep black clouds dancing with the lightning.  She dedicated it to me.  I wished I could have seen it.  This morning, she posted a picture of the sunrise.  Beautful, tranquil, exact opposite of the violent thunderstorm.

I'm not attracted to violence, but the majesty of the storm.  The majesty of the quiet dawn the next morning.  I'm attracted to the vastness of the ocean too.  I'm a spiritual person, but haven't cultivated it well lately, but I feel closer to the divine with weather and nature.  Man, as far as I'm concerned, will never tame the thunderstorm, nor control the sea.  That alone is for the holy; and for us to wonder. 

I'm a bit reflective this week.  The day before we closed on our house, which is was a surreal process in itself, we found out that my wife's Nana died in her sleep.  Her passing is why my wife is in Texas this week.  I'm single parenting it this week, which is more difficult than I imagined; and that's coming from a three year stay at home dad.  Hats off to the single parents who may stumble upon this blog.  I haven't handled my stress too well this week as a result of all the ups and downs, but I keep hearing the old African-American Spiritual:

Wade in the water....
wade in the water children....
wade in the water....
God's a-gonna trouble the water.

My waters are troubled.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sin, an Exposition.

After a lengthy conversation with my wife, I started questioning my definition of sin.  You see, my typical concept of sin is any action/behavior that separates one from God.  There's numerous sins laid out in the Bible, along with abominations, ten commandments, the seven deadly sins, etc....  We, as a society, have even laid out what is considered sinful or not and much of it differs amongst Christians.  Is divorce an abomination as defined Biblically?  Is is still ok to have slaves?  What about what does it truly and honestly mean for a man to be the head of their household?  I'm, actually, not about to attempt to answer those questions.  In the words of Bill Leonard, "but I digress."  I started to think about my previously mentioned definition of sin, I still think it's a good definition, but falls short under my own scrutiny.  Then I also remembered this quote from my theology instructor:  "Working with the poor is tough because they smell of our sin." --E. Frank Tupper.  Which, in turn, made me think.

I feel that humanity is made in the image of God, Imago Dei.  This is what separates us from all the rest of creation.  If we all have this inherent divine image, then why isn't sin also anything that crushes/diminishes/belittles the Imago Dei in others?  Actually, I think it is.  That's why poor people smell of our sin.  It's not only actions that can hurt the spirit of others, it's inaction.  It's laws, lack of laws, doing the wrong thing, sitting silent and not doing what ought to be done.  It's denying humanity to others because a portion of that humanity is the shared divine.  It's sin.  By all means, this isn't truly an "exposition."  It's a thought that sprouted into an idea, and needed to be placed outside of my imagination.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sermon from December 30th.

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of preaching at both traditional services at Keith Memorial UMC in Athens, TN.  For those of you who may or may not be interested, I’ve posted the scripture and manuscript below.  The Scripture is NRSV, and I did quote an article from the Huffington Post, but since I wasn’t “publishing” or turning this in for a grade, I didn’t include the reference in a footnote.  So, apologies to the original author, I’m not plagiarizing...really, I’m not.

Colossians 3.12-17.
God’s Chosen Ones

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NRSV)

Here we are.  Five days after Christmas Day.  The hustle and bustle is over, we’re in recovery.  Eating too much, reaching our thresh-hold of togetherness.  Missing those who just didn’t “come-in” this year.  The holidays bring a range of emotion for all of us, some good and some bad.   The point is, though, is that once again we celebrated the birth of our risen Lord and savior.  Before we head forward, let’s look back over the past few weeks of the church calendar.
We celebrated Advent, we “prepared our hearts and minds” for the coming Lord; and I think this article in the Huffington Post sums it up best:

“During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation, and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth...The mood is somber as December moves toward deeper darkness, and the night lengthens.  The world awaits, and it is time to prepare for the arrival of God’s kingdom.  It is not Christmas.  It is Advent.  Churches are not merry.  There is a muted sense of hope and expectation.  Christians recollect God’s ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together.  The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing.  Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born.  The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression.”

As the author here points out, THAT is Advent, not Christmas.  According to ancient Christmas tradition, the season of Christmas begins with Christmas Eve, moves rejoice-fully into Christmas day, and then on into the twelve days following Christmas.  This is Christmas.  We’re now IN the Christmas season.  Hallejuia for unto us a savior is born.  The promised Messiah.  The Son of God.  Immanuel.  God in the flesh.  Jesus the Christ.  THIS.  This birth signifies the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of salvation.  The promise completed on the cross of Christ, and for all of this, because of all of this, we. are. a. chosen. people.

Now, I would like to move back to the text for today.  In Paul’s letter, he is writing  to the Christian church of Colossus and is encouraging the people there to share the letter with their sister church.  He calls them a chosen people.  People chosen by and promised to, by God, and we too claim that promise and chosen-ness.  By claiming this promise and chosen-ness, we are also recipients of Paul’s message and should take to heart the message laid out within.  
Honestly, I don’t know what was going on in Colossus for Paul to claim his authority; but I want to point out something going on here, today.  Our social, political and religious environment is a powder keg, every major event creates a further divide in our country.  Headlines about the fiscal cliff and the Newtown tragedy, on top of multiple issues this past year keeps creating divisiveness.  All I want to say is that I have read, I have heard, and I have witnessed much anger and hate being spewed from both sides of the issues...and a lot of the nastiness and anger spewing forth has been by people who have claimed God’s promise and are CHOSEN.  
So, coming back to our text:  Paul writes of five virtues we should extol in our daily lives:  compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Not only should we live out these virtues, but we should clothe ourselves in them.  Take a second to consider what it means to clothe yourself in something.  I am standing here clothed in__________________.  Up close, you may be able to see that I have hazel eyes, a scar on my cheek, receding hairline.  Step back further and while you can’t tell the color of my eyes, you can tell my hair is brown, I have facial hair, and that I may or may not be smiling.  Step further back and my facial features get blurred.  Keep stepping back and eventually, you pretty much can’t figure out much about me at all, but you can still tell that I have on black/brown/gray pants and a _______shirt, and a tie. That’s it.  That’s what I’m clothed in and from afar you figure that out, but not much more.  So, as a chosen person, from afar, before any one can figure out anything else about me, others should know that I am a person who is compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient.  I mean, they should right? I call myself a who is called to preach every now and then and who has served three times as a youth leader in a church, including this church.  Which means, up close, you should...THAT MUCH MORE, be able to perceive the compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  In turn, as chosen people, who claim Jesus as our savior, from afar, others should know that we are a people who are compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient.  That’s a standard we should live up to day in and day out.  Nigh near impossible but that’s our benchmark.  All the time, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
A good friend of Candice, Annabel, and mine recently “claimed his promise of eternal life” early in December.  Rev. Dr. Al Lynch.  We had the pleasure of knowing him for about two years.  I went to work for him and his church as Director of Youth Ministries when I wanted to get out of the house a little more, but still maintain being a stay-at-home-father.  He let me bring Annabel, at the time a year and half old, to the interview.  Essentially he spent the interview chatting with the baby, smiling, and off-handedly asking why someone with two master degrees was looking for part-time work.  He said you’re overqualified and we can’t pay you.  Al, though, had this magnetism with people.  You could lay your problem on his plate and he would make you feel like the only person in the world.  He listened, prayed, and gave you love in return.  It was about people with him, and about relationship with others.  Every conversation I had with the man he ended with, “I love you.”  I love you.  The thing is, he meant it.  His love for the Lord, and what God had done for him in his life erupted forth in his interactions with people, and you could feel it from afar.  He was chosen by God.  One of God’s chosen people, and he chose to believe in the word of God,  he chose to be a follower of Christ and he clothed himself in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  He did.  And for that, I loved that man in return.
I’ve been a bit out of touch with the news the past few months, readjusting to working full-time again.  Therefore, I don’t remember if our “holiday season” was kicked off by what one Facebooker said as, “only in America can we sit around the table with family counting our blessings one day, and trample others to death the following day for the newest must have gadget at Wal-Mart.”  Kindness?  Compassion?  Or just a lack of patience for the doorbusters.  We’re chosen to be better than that.  We’re chosen to bear with one another and forgive one another, just as the Lord has forgiven us.  We’re chosen to, above all, clothe ourselves in love.
Do we clothe ourselves in enough love?  It’s about relationship with others, and ultimately with God, this whole clothing ourselves with love thing.  Every story in the Bible can boil down to right relationships amongst each other and with the holy.  Maybe you feel a bit uncomfortable, like me, when you think and reflect whether you clothe yourself in Paul’s five virtues.  I daresay that my mentor friend always, always, always bore compassion, but as a whole he sure did lead by example with his abundant love.
Paul does say here in his letter to the Colossians that above all we should clothe ourselves with love, which binds everything in perfect harmony.  He writes that love binds everything in harmony, which leads to us being open to allow the peace of Christ to dwell in our hearts.  Now this.  This is a nice feeling.  Love, love that binds everything in perfect harmony and ushers in peace.  Not just any peace, but the peace of Christ dwelling within us.  
We’ve prepared for thirty days for Christmas.  We prepared with shopping, cooking, planning, reflection, prayer, singing, and programs.  Now.  Now that the preparation is over we can continue to Rejoice, rejoice, O Come, O Come Emanuel....  For unto us a savior was born....  When I preach, I speak primarily to myself.  Therefore, I know for a fact that I need to be more compassionate, more kind, more humble,  more meek, and more patient.  I know for a fact, that I need to clothe myself in a few more layers of love.  I know it, I know it, I know it, but I also know that I can forgive others just as Christ forgives me; and sometimes, just sometimes, I need to even allow myself a little room for self-forgiveness.
I feel like I’m going long so I’ll try to wrap this up.  We’re celebrating Christmas, because God is loving enough to give us the means to “get right with God.”  We’re celebrating Christmas because just as the nights are getting longer, soon they’ll be getting shorter and before you know it we’ll be celebrating Easter:  The complete fulfillment of God’s covenant with humanity.  And with that we move forth consciously aware that we are a chosen people.  A chosen people who should be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; and utmost in love, enabling the peace of Christ to dwell within us. We now move forth with gratitude in our hearts, singing hymns and psalms giving glory to God, for God loves us and we rejoice in his overabundant love and grace; and as God’s chosen ones, we should be so filled with God’s love and grace that it flows out of us like an erupting volcano and we cover everyone in our path from afar and close by with the love of God and the love of God’s chosen people.
We’re chosen.  Chosen to receive the gift of God’s relentless love, the gift of God’s unfailing grace, and God’s ultimate gift of salvation.  As such, we are called to clothe ourselves in love, a love that mimics God’s overabundance.  2013 will bring some tough issues in our lives, just like 2012 did and every year does.  When these tough issues arise; and you dig your feet in feeling like your in an “us vs. them” battle.  Is it your love that shines?  We claim to be a chosen people.  Is what we think we are clothing ourselves in what really shows?