Unrest: Mounting Responsibilities

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 25:14-30

This Sunday is Palm Sunday!  Huzzah!  Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem!!!

But I won’t be preaching on that text…where would the fun in that be?  Although…I do have a really great sermon on the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem…everyone needs to hear at least one sermon on a donkey in their life…if you’re interested in that one check back with me on Sunday, April 13, 2014.

*super early sermon planning – awesome*

The text for this week is the Parable of the Talents – easily one of my favorite parables; although, it is a rough one.  The first time I heard it I was absolutely captured by the thought that Jesus could turn to me and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I remember one of my youth pastors (now we are colleagues – woah!) growing up teaching on this parable.  Alex spoke with such conviction about this parable – to use what we are (what I am!) given by God to the fullest – each and every day – so that we are (I am!) counted among the faithful at the time of judgment.

This message wasn’t to scare us into service – like you better do this or Jesus will getcha!  No.  That wasn’t the message…there were other organizations in town that played that tune.  One even had an event each year called “Hellbound”…imagine a haunted house scenario that groups would proceed through but each “room” was a different spectacle of someone that had unfortunately met his or her demise and didn’t know Christ; therefore, they were Hellbound.  Everything from drive-by shootings to car accidents to substance abuse to suicide to the steps of an abortion clinic.

Rough.Stuff.

Not my cup of…coffee.  (I don’t drink tea.)

We have talents so we can use them to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom on earth.  Not a use ’em or lose ’em mentality.  Not a use ’em or else mentality.  But a use them because God gave them and I am so overwhelmed and excited to receive them that I can’t do anything else!  That kind of mentality.

Each talent we receive from God is an opportunity – an opportunity to act, an opportunity to respond.  And I think the last thing that God wants is for these talents, these opportunities, to be missed.  If we miss them, then they are gone…and that negligence and carelessness is what will keep us from among the faithful.

I think what frightens folks – I know at times it frightens me – is that we receive a talent and that introduces us to an opportunity, but we are hesitant to get started – to jump in with both feet – because we can’t see the end result…where in the world will this take us??  I am sure if God wanted us to know that immediately, God would tell us upon our receipt of the talent.  That we don’t know is evidence that God wants us to trust – to trust God to do what God does – that God gives generously and rewards greatly and invites us to come along in faith.  We don’t know where our feet are going or on what they will land, but God does, and that assurance should be our motivation to get out there, to carpe diem it up, to get dirt under our fingernails, and to serve so as to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Reflection: What talents has God given me?  Am I athletic, an effective communicator, a good listener, an artist, a musician, a dancer, a financer, a hair dresser, a gentle hand, a kind heart, a candlestick maker?  If I struggle to identify my talents, who can I talk to in order to discern them?  How can I use my talents for God’s purposes?  How is God calling me to use my talents?  If I am resisting the opportunities that my talents present me, how can I start to engage them?  Who can hold me accountable to employing my talents?

Prayer: Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.  Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love.  Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.  Amen.*

*”Take My Life, and Let It Be” from The United Methodist Hymnal Book of Worship, 399.

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Unrest: Hearing Shame

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Lamentations 1:11c-22

This Sunday marks our downhill descent towards Easter.  It’s week five of Lent.  We are drawing that much closer to Calvary.  As Jesus drew closer to Calvary his circumstances became more and more perilous with opposition mounting against him – it seemed – at every turn.

In the midst of Unrest I feel that opposition has been mounting against us as well.  We have explored injustices against God and injustices against our neighbor.  We are all guilty of both.  Romans 3:23 confirms that all have fallen short of God’s glory because of our sin.  Romans 6:23 states that the wages of sin is death.

For all the wrong we have done…for all the wrong we will ever do…the weight of that shame is crushing.

Daughter Zion explores that shame in the lament selected this week for the Scripture passage.  She is laid waste as consequence for her sin.  She is alone.  She is mourning.  She is longing for justice…even though justice may not bring her the comfort she desires.  Nevertheless, she spells it out.  She lays it all on the table.  She is vulnerable.  She expectantly awaits healing.

I believe Daughter Zion has an important lesson to offer us in her lament: to take care to spell out all the wrong in our lives – against both God and neighbor.  It’s important to name these wrongs – these sins – because we live in a culture that has perennial amnesia and blind eye towards sin.

Personal sin.  Communal sin.

It’s like we are immune to it…it happens and we shrug it off…no big deal.  Or it happens…but everyone else is doing it…no big deal.

Wrong.  It is a big deal.

The sin and the shame that accompanies it should be so much that we are crushed under its weight…that we find ourselves in a state of great loss…grasping at straws, grasping to stand before our God and ask forgiveness. But how do we know what to ask or seek forgiveness for if we refrain from consciously and intentionally exploring how we have wronged God and neighbor?

Now I realize this would, could, can be an exhaustive process.  I realize there are sins in my own life that happened and at this point I cannot recall them so as to list them all out: A….B….C….

But, I am conscious of my sin.  I am conscious of societal and systemic sin.

And even more so, I am conscious of God’s grace that is greater than all sin.

If I or any person were to enter into the vulnerable place of exploring our sin and shame before God, then I believe we also need to enter into the vulnerable place of receiving God’s grace.  God’s grace is the justice God extends to fallen humanity – fallen you and fallen me.

God’s grace, at times, is hard to receive, especially if we feel we are undeserving of such a magnanimous gift because of our sin.  Yet, God continues to give “grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin!”*  God gives grace and God’s grace readies us to receive grace – wholly and perfectly.

Earlier we read Romans 3:23 and 6:23…but we cannot stop reading there…just like we cannot stop and wallow in our sin and shame.

  • “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory –> but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
  • “The wages that sin pays are death –> but God’s gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23-24).

Our promise, our guarantee,  our salvation is that God is eternally moving us towards eternity – free of sin and shame – through the power of God’s amazing grace.

PrayerO God, just as we look into a mirror to see any soiled spots on our face, so let us look to you in order to understand the things we have done amiss.  We are like a reed shaken in the wind; we are inexpressibly weak.  Leave us not to ourselves, but dwell in our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions.  Amen.**

*”Grace Greater than Our Sin” United Methodist Hymnal, 365.

** “For Guidance” United Methodist Hymnal, 366.

Unrest: Injustices

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Zephaniah 3:1-13

This week the attention in our Unrest sermon series focuses on injustices:

  • Injustices towards God
  • Injustices towards neighbor

As I marinate on injustices and how to resist inflicting them on God and neighbor, I give great thanks that I am Wesleyan and have a wonderful Wesleyan way to guide me (and us!) towards love and care of God and neighbor.

Shall we take a walk down memory lane?  It was 1739 and folks approached John Wesley in London seeking guidance, reflection, and direction in their spiritual lives.  John agreed to meet with them, to direct them, and as other people heard of this opportunity, they wanted to join as well!  The group swelled to a size that John couldn’t continue with one large group and provide the level of guidance they desired.  And *boom* small groups in the Methodist tradition were born!  John called these smaller groups Methodist Societies.

A Methodist Society is “a company of [people – Wesley wrote men – forgive me JDubb but I’m moving towards inclusivity] having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2008, Paragraph 103).  Within each Methodist Society – which were organized geographically – were again smaller groups of folk known as classes that met regularly to answer the deep, vulnerable, probing question “how is it with your soul?”

These historical Methodist societies have evolved into what we know today as local United Methodist churches (and other churches in the pan-Methodist tradition).  Persons who desired admission into these historical societies needed only “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins” (BOD 2008, Paragraph 103).

That sounds like one of the reasons that persons still seek out community in our local churches today!

But wait…there’s more!

Admission to the society was based on “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved of their sins.”  But then there were (and are) guidelines for how persons in the society would act towards one another – towards their neighbor – and ultimately towards their God.

*drum roll*

The General Rules were given as guidelines for the early Methodist societies – how they would live and be and thrive together in community.  Simply stated The General Rules:

  1. Do no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind
  2. Do good
  3. Attend upon all the ordinances of God – participating in public worship, engaging the ministry of read and spoken Word of God, Holy Communion, private and public prayer, study and meditation of Scripture, fasting.

(They are completely outlined in the BOD, paragraph 103.  Fun times.  Seriously.)

Our neighbors experience injustice at our hands when we do harm, neglect good, and disregard the means of grace through which we encounter God and learn how God wants us to care for others.

One author has recast the third General Rule as “stay in love with God.”  But saying “stay in love with God” sounds so cloistered to me.  We are meant to be in community, not tucked away in our own little spiritual domains.  True, we need that quiet time, to work out our salvation personally, but we equally need the time that we work out our salvation in community – with our neighbors – those known and those we have yet to meet.

We would probably excel at doing no harm if left all by ourselves, but can we really do good if the only good we are doing is for ourselves?  I don’t think that is goodness…I think that’s self-centeredness and when we are navel-gazers then we aren’t attending to the greatest commandment – to love God with all that we are and with all that we have and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Do no harm – do good – attend upon the ordinances of God.  The General Rules center us in holy living.  Wesley believes holy living leads us towards true happiness – and the unity of holiness and happiness is the mark of the Christian life.  I believe we are called to manifest the unity of holiness and happiness in community, and doing so will keep us from inflicting injustices upon God and neighbor.

Reflection: How is it with your soul?  How are you living into and living out The General Rules? In what areas do you excel?  What areas are growing edges?  How can you come alongside others in accountability as together you live and thrive together in community?  How can others come alongside you?

Prayer: I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.*

*A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition (The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship, 1989, page 607)

Unrest: Attachment to Former Things

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 46:3-13

PSA: If I could only preach out of one book of the Bible for the rest of my life, it would be the book of Isaiah.  Good stuff.  Snuggle up.

My husband, Andrew, was a state-championship weightlifter in high school and continued lifting through college and post-graduate studies.  He loves it.  And because he loves it, I learned all about it.

In high school weightlifting competitions there are several lifts that the athletes complete: dead lift, clean-n-jerk, snatch, bench press, and others I cannot remember right now.  At the collegiate level the focus is on the clean-n-jerk and the snatch.

The mechanics are (in great generalization):

  • Clean-n-jerk – lift (or clean) the bar from the floor to your collarbone in one fluid motion; pause briefly at your collarbone; then jerk the bar over your head and plant your feet in a half-split position.  
  • Snatch – lift the bar from the floor to over your head in one fluid motion without stopping.  

I remember Andrew’s first competition while at Emory.  He had completed his snatches successfully and was on his last round of clean-n-jerks at his heaviest weight…some number north of 300 pounds.  He was worn out but adrenaline was helping him push through…but on his final lift…he ended up doing a front flip instead…

Andrew moved to clean the bar but his legs gave way under him.  The bar thudded back to the floor with his arms underneath it.  Don’t worry!  He wasn’t injured, but the force of the weight dropping pulled him over the front of the bar into a flip!  I was traumatized…Andrew was laughing.

The judges gave him all 10s for his dismount.

Our Scripture for this week describes how God’s people are being crushed under the weight of idols that they have cast and are carrying.  Isaiah 46:1 reads, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops, their idols are on beasts and cattle; these things you carry are loaded as burdens on weary animals.”  Bel and Nebo are names of Babylonian gods.  The Israelites are deep in the throws of idolatry as they have created figures of these gods to worship, when they are to worship only the one true God!  The prophet Isaiah observes the heavy load these idols present and then the voice of God speaks.

“Listen…Remember…Listen” God says.

God sees the burden of the people and reminds them that because of what God has done they are not to be a people of burden any longer…yet the people have now created opportunity for burden through these idols.

These idols are lifeless but are somehow able to suck the life and vitality from the people who made them.

These idols are dragging down God’s people just as that bar dragged Andrew to the floor.  And just like Andrew, if God’s people don’t recognize what’s happening – and quick! – they, too, will end up on the flat of their backs.

Our relationship with God is crucial, it’s serious, it’s fundamental to who we are.  These attributes can make our relationship seem heavy when in actuality there is a lightness and freedom to this relationship.  This does not mean our relationship is carefree.  In fact, our relationship with God is the most intentional and intimate relationship we will ever share!  God made this so from the time of creation, continued it in the Incarnation of Jesus, and fosters it still today.

When we get mixed up with other things – former things – sin – that’s how and where the weight that drags us down creeps in, but calling on the name of the Lord, repenting, that is where we experience freedom.

God says, “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4b).  Let go of the weight that’s holding you down.  Allow God to bring God’s true intention about in your life.  And then share that freedom with others.

Prayer: Let my people seek their freedom in the wilderness a while, from the aging shrines and structures, from the cloister and the aisle”: so the Son of God has spoken, and the storm clouds are unfurled, for God’s people must be scattered to be servants in the world.  Amen.  (From Let My People Seek Their Freedom, United Methodist Hymnal, 586, vs. 2.)

Unrest: Ignorance and Falsehoods

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 4:17-25

The community at Reeves’ is in for a real treat this weekend (I think) because they will have the privilege of hearing my husband preach!  Yay Andrew!!  I am away this weekend serving as the worship leader for one of the Florida United Methodist Conference’s Confirmation Retreat Weekends.

Translation – lots and LOTS of middle schoolers.

Bring.It.On.

So Andrew is preaching in my absence and it will be awesome.  He “preaches” (not sure if he would classify it that way) weekly to his senior high students at the church he serves in Orlando but on Sunday…he’s headed to “big church”.

Oh yeah.

(Why did we ever call it that?  Hmm…)

Now to the text.  Ephesians is a “chain letter” of sorts.  It begins “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ…” – and after this salutation the letter immediate jumps into the “meat” of the discourse.  Well the “to” – which in this letter is “Ephesus” could very easily have been “to” any settlement in Asia.  This epistle’s message was written in such a way that it could and did apply to fledgling and developing Christian communities all over 1st and 2nd Century CE Christendom.

In our particular passage this week, Paul is calling the community to task on the mixed signals their behaviors are sending.  They are feigning ignorance of the revelation they received in Christ.  When the community encountered Christ their weakness, their wickedness, their waywardness was exposed and they experienced how Christ could heal and make them whole.  For a time their practices and behaviors altered, but now they have returned to their old ways.

Weekly I volunteer in a first grade classroom at the neighboring elementary school to Reeves.  And each time I am in the classroom one of the students slips into old habits that result in correction and modification into new habits.  Sometimes the student will admit the mishap immediately…other times they play it off or play it down.  The Ephesians…they were playing it off and play it down and Paul as their teacher is bringing them back to a time of behavioral correction and modification for the sake of the gospel.

You can’t say that you have the Good News or that you are people of Good News if your actions are contrary to that Good News.

“You were taught to put away your former life, your old self” Paul says in Ephesians 4:22.  In Christ we have received the truth – what is good and holy and right.  So why would you – why would we – want to drag all that other stuff back out?  And why would we want to feign ignorance to the truth we have received in Christ?

Because that truth can cause unrest.  Because once we know the truth of Christ we cannot remain silent.  Truth stirs unrest and that unrest leads to action and to speech.  We squelch that by reverting to old, comfortable ways…by snuggling up to ignorance and falsehoods.

Sometimes the truth is very obvious and comes to us in likely ways.  And sometimes the truth can present it self to us in unlikely places and from unlikely people.

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And when Christ’s truth confronts us and stirs that unrest, we are reminded to put away those falsehoods, to put away that ignorance, and to be and speak the truth that we are to our neighbors.

Prayer:  Great God of truth, boldly confront the ignorance and falsehoods that we claim as foundation and truth.  Break their hold over us.  Cure our dependency on them.  Deepen our desire for the goodness of your truth, which is pure and steadfast and will not fail.  Bind us up in your truth that it will stir unrest in our lives to be and speak your truth in love to our neighbors.  In your name we pray, Amen.

Unrest: Out of Control

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Jonah 4:1-11

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent and our Lenten Sermon Series at Reeves is entitled Unrest.  Lent is a great season of unrest.  In the life of Jesus this is the time where Jesus came into his own as an authority of  the Word of God.  This is the time he came into his role of as Messiah.

On the Sundays leading up to Easter we will study Scripture passages and scenarios of unrest and my hope is God will reveal to each of us in our own way how God is leading us to lean into and perhaps find comfort in unrest.

So Jonah…the guy that was swallowed by the fish.

Tangent – My husband taught this pericope to his students one night at youth group…the high school boys were all convinced that it was a salmon that swallowed Jonah.  I was convinced that high school boys are weird.

Back on track – Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh.  He runs away and flees into the sea.  A terrible storm erupts and he is tossed overboard to calm the waves.  Jonah is swallowed by a fish, cries out to God in repentance from the belly of the fish, is spat up on dry ground, and makes his way to Nineveh.  He delivers God’s message that the people must repent or they will surely perish…

The Ninevites repent…God spares them…and Jonah…

is ticked.

Twice in the Scripture passage for this week God questions Jonah about the value of the anger.  The questions neither affirm nor condemn the anger.  They ask, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

As one commentator reflects on anger and on the figure of Jonah he writes, “Anger leads to destruction.  If it is repressed or suppressed, it burns the one who contains it; if it is expressed, it burns those to whom it is directed.  Although anger is an inevitable part of the human condition, the divine questioning offers the opportunity to work it through and to work through it.”*

I think it is wise that Jonah sat with his anger for a while.  I recall a song we used to sing in UMYF back in the day, “If I could just sit with you a while, I need you to hold me, moment by moment, till forever passes by.”

I have found myself sitting with a lot of things recently.  Just sitting and it hasn’t been pleasant.  It’s been a place of unrest.

I had a business professor in college – Dr. B! – we can all thank him for rubbing off the word marinate on me.  This is why he would say it: in business classes he would present a concept – for example credit cards – and someone would immediately want to I-ize meaning they’d want to take it to themselves, “so Dr. B. with credit cards I…”  And he would shut them down.  “Quit trying to walk with it!  You’re not ready to walk.  Just marinate.”  In other words, sit with it.

Sit with it.

Jonah sat with his anger.  The text doesn’t reveal if he ever understood that his anger could eventually consume him if he let it run rampant inward or consume others if he let it run rampant outward.  But he took time to sit with it.  I wonder what would happen with my anger, with individual anger, with collective anger if we all just sat with it for a while…if we let God hold us…if we let God make something else of the anger…of us…and then we walked with it?

I think it’s time we take time…that we make time.

That we sit with it.

Prayer: O God, your Scripture teaches that everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Jas 1:19).  Forgive us, Lord, in those moments when we are quick to anger, and invite us to join with Jonah and sit with you.  As we sit with you in that unrest, may we grasp your nearness and may your transformation touch us.  May we experience hope, healing, and revealing through the sitting.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

* Leander E. Keck et al., The New Interpreter’s Bible: Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature, Daniel, and The Twelve Prophets (Volume 7) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 524.