Monday, April 28, 2008

Reader's Digest Condensed Sermon

Many people found comfort in my sermon yesterday. Here's more or less what I preached, the Holy Spirit has a way of revising my "script" on the fly while I'm in the pulpit. The Gospel text is John 14, which comes just before Judas betrays Jesus, but after the Last Supper. Also included is Psalm 68 vs 8-20; a song of praise to God which remembers how God delivered and saved the people.

Come and listen, all you who fear God
And I will tell you what the Almighty
Has done for me Psalm 66:16

In my family history
THursday, May 1 is a day to praise God and do a dance of joy
28 yrs ago on May 1
my dad came home from Magee rehabilitation hospital
after being institutionalized in 3 different hospitals
for a total of 23 weeks…
or 5 1/2 months November 79 to May 1980

For the first 12 weeks, he was hospitalized in NYC
And my mom stayed at her parent’s house
To take the bus ride to the hospital everyday
And be at dad’s bedside as doctors and nurses cared for him

My sister and I needed to attend
Elementary school, 70 miles south during the week
We were not orphaned during this time
Mom’s parents took care of us
Grandma and Pop-pop

The psalmist this morning in verses 9 and 10
speaks of God testing the religious community
I admit my dad’s paralysis has been trying
As a family, we have been through fire and water
The fire of infection racking his body
And the watery tears shed as we came to terms
With his physical limitations

Each family here this morning
knows something of facing trying times
the problems we face are widespread in our country
every week somewhere a family
Hears the diagnosis…cancer
Faces a life changing medical condition
Wonders how to pay the bills
Grieves the death of a friend
Aches with loneliness after losing a spouse
or faces problematic relationships with
Children or parents

For some these trying times
Can be viewed as
As a trap or snare that holds them captive
Like a horse that has been captured
And then trained
To wear a bit, bridle and saddle
The trying time is a heavy burden
Slowly wearing them down
Breaking your will
Forcing you to do something
To change direction and do things you’d rather avoid

Others see the trying times as a prison
Locking you in a tiny space
Isolating you from others
Limiting your ability to move
Making God seem super far way
As if god was unknown

And so we grope around
in the dark, dank prison looking for God
hoping that God is nearby
because we recall the scriptures
“In him we live and move and have our being”

Our God is not unknown
Our God is revealed daily through actions
Like love and forgiveness in a community
Which is reflecting the love God the father
has shown in God the Son

This morning we can acknowledge
we’ve made it through these trials
Because God has brought us
Out of the prison, snare or trap
To the wide open space

God has lead us out to
A place where we can look back
And acknowledge, yuck…that was a rough time
As well as look to the future and have hope
We have hope because of Christ’s promises
“Because I live, you will live also”

The first disciples didn’t understand Jesus
And his words preparing them for his death
“I will not leave you orphaned;
I am coming to you”

Jesus knows the challenges
we face in our lives
Jesus felt the tugs of temptation
And the pains of being human

Therefore Christ wanted to comfort his disciples
Remind them that he will return
And to reassure them that he would give them
What they needed to have in order
To continue the ministry he started
A ministry of love and faithfulness

Part of the way Christ provides for us is by
Inviting us to remember we worship a triune God
And how strong the ties
between God the Father and God the Son
especially how these bonds are discussed in John’s Gospel

The trials and challenges
We face in our lives
Require assistance to get through
Things like
Changing careers
Illness and injury
Arguments with family or friends
Addictions and divorce

Maybe you recall hearing about
Derek Redmond a young British runner,
one who had sky rocketed to fame
by shattering his country’s 400-meter record at age 19.
But then an Achilles tendon injury
forced him to withdraw from the 1988 Olympic Games

When the Summer Olympics arrived in Barcelona in 1992,
Derek Redmond was absolutely aching for a medal.
On the day of the 400-meter race,
65,000 fans streamed into the stadium,
anxious to witness one of sports’ most thrilling events.
High in the stands is Derek’s father, Jim,
a faithful witness to every one of his son’s world competitions.

The race begins and Derek breaks
through the pack to seize the lead.
Heading down the backstretch,
only 175 meters from the finish line,
Derek is a shoo-in to win this semifinal heat
and qualify for the Olympic finals.

But then Derek hears a pop.
It’s his right hamstring.
He pulls up lame, looking as if he has been shot.
His leg quivering,

Derek begins to hop on the other leg,
and then he slows down and falls to the track.
Medical personnel run toward him
as he sprawls on the ground, holding his right hamstring.

At the very same moment,
there is a stir at the top of the stands.
Jim Redmond, seeing his son in trouble,
begins to race down from the top row.

He has no right or credential or permission
to be on the track,
but all he can think about is getting to his son,

to help him up.
He is absolutely single-minded about this,
and isn’t going to be stopped by anyone.

On the track, Derek realizes that his dream
of an Olympic medal is gone.
He is alone.
The other runners streak across the finish line,
He is orphaned, as it were,

a lonely figure on the track, friendless, parentless and alone.

Tears pour down Derek’s face,
and all he can think is, “I don’t want to take a DNF.”
A Did-Not-Finish was not even part of his vocabulary.

When the medical crew arrives with a stretcher,
Derek tells them, “No, there’s no way I’m getting on that stretcher.
I’m going to finish my race.”
And so he lifts himself to his feet,
ever so slowly and carefully,
and he starts hobbling down the track.

Suddenly, the crowd realizes that Derek
isn’t dropping out of the race.
He isn’t limping off the track in defeat,
but is actually continuing on one leg,
in a fiercely determined effort to make it to the finish line.
One painful step at a time,

each one a little slower and more agonizing than the one before,
Derek limps onward, and the crowd begins to cheer for him.
The fans rise to their feet and their cries grow louder and louder,
building into a thundering roar.

At that moment, Jim Redmond
reaches the bottom of the stands, vaults over the railing,

dodges a security guard, and runs out to his son
with two security people running after him.

“That’s my son out there,”
he yells back at his pursuers, “and I’m going to help him.”

Jim reaches his son at the final curve,
about 120 meters from the finish line,
and wraps his arm around his waist.
“I’m here, son,” Jim says gently, hugging his boy.
“We’ll finish together.”

Together, arm in arm, father and son struggle
toward the finish line with 65,000 people cheering, clapping and crying.

Just a few steps from the end, with the crowd in an absolute frenzy,
Jim releases the grip he has on his son
so that Derek can cross the finish line by himself.

Derek faced a tough challenge that day in 1992
But he didn’t go through it alone
The fans in the stands and his father
Reached out to him, and helped him finish the race

Paul calls the life of discipleship a race
And so when you’ve metaphorically felt your hamstring tear
Recall the psalms
And how many of them describe God’s saving actions

Today we hear that God is the one “keeping our feet from slipping”
It is a phrase that I love

Because there are days
When it feels as if the rug
Has been yanked out from under our feet
And I love the idea of God
Placing our feet back underneath us
So we don’t land on our bumpters

But there are days when we do land
On our bumpters

Some days, the trial has gotten the better of us
We’ve made a poor decision
We uttered words we wish to take back
We feel despair and hope has left the building

And on these days…God the Son comes to us
Filled with guilt…we cry out Lord have mercy
Filled with grief…we cry out Lord save me

Before the words leave our lips
Christ is moving to us to bind up our wounds

This is what Jesus meant by promising
To send an advocate, a helper, and a comforter to be with us
Christ knew we needed help

for the challenges and trials we face
Christ knows we need someone
With us until the end of the race

Just as Derek needed his dad
To get close to the finish line

Blessed be God
Who has not rejected our prayers
Nor withheld divine steadfast love from us

Blessed be God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Who has seen us safely through
The trials of life and promises to bring us
To life everlasting.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Women need sisters

This came to me via eMail today, and I thought it was important to share with a wider community.

A young wife sat on a sofa on a hot humid day, drinking iced tea and visiting with her Mother. As they talked about life, about marriage, about the responsibilities of life and the obligations of adulthood, the mother clinked the ice cubes in her glass thoughtfully and turned a clear, sober glance upon her daughter.

'Don't forget your Sisters,' she advised, swirling the tea leaves to the bottom of her glass. 'They'll be more important as you get older. No matter how much you love your husband, no matter how much you love the children you may have, you are still going to need Sisters. Remember to go places with them now and then; do things with them.'

'Remember that 'Sisters' means ALL the women...Your girlfriends, your daughters, and all your other women relatives too. 'You'll need other women. Women always do.'

What a funny piece of advice!' the young woman thought. Haven't I just gotten married? Haven't I just joined the couple-world? I'm now a married woman, for goodness sake! A grownup! Surely my husband and the family we may start will be all I need to make my life worthwhile!'

But she listened to her Mother. She kept contact with her Sisters and made more women friends each year. As the years tumbled by, one after another, she gradually came to understand that her Mom really knew what she was talking about. As time and nature work their changes and their mysteries upon a woman, sisters are the mainstays of her life.

After more than 50 years of living in this world, here is what I've learned:


Time passes.
Life happens.
Distance separates.
Children grow up.
Jobs come and go.
Love waxes and wanes.
Men don't do what they're supposed to do.
Hearts break.
Parents die.
Colleagues forget favors.
Careers end.

Sisters are there, no matter how much time and how many miles are between you. A girl friend is never farther away than needing her can reach. When you have to walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it by yourself, the women in your life will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you, pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's' end.

Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you....Or come in and carry you out.

Girlfriends, daughters, granddaughters, daughters-in-law, sisters, sisters-in-law, Mothers,
Grandmothers, aunties, nieces, cousins, and extended family, all bless our life!

The world wouldn't be the same without women, and neither would I. When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead. Nor did we know how much we would need each other.

Every day, we need each other still. Pass this on to all the women who help make your life meaningful.

Happy days!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tribute to Kevin Schultz

Shock, pure utter shock. On April 11, 2008, my friend and seminary classmate Kevin Schultz died of complications of pneumonia. Kevin was a creative genius, more secure in what God was calling him to do than the rest of us. He was called to be a lay leader, specializing in liturgy and stewardship. He had no calling to be an ordained pastor, and even though he had the skills to be an excellent parish pastor, he would look ya in the eye and say "Nope, I'm called to do this." Whenever I need a laugh, I recall the way he revised Daniel 3, the three men in the fiery furnace. His coaching allowed normally serious seminary students to let loose and talk in silly voices to play the different parts...including some as musical instruments.

So now I cling to the resurrection promise and pray for God to comfort Kevin's family by swirling in the empty void where he once stood; making them feel whole. Blessed are you O' God of Israel, you have come to your people to set them free. Indeed you have set us free from death, strengthen our faith and trust in the promise of Christ "I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me even though they die will live" Strengthen us in our trust so that this promise is sweet sugar to remove the bitter taste of grief. Amen

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stains on the Carpet

Back in December 1994, a buddy from the USAF proudly purchased a case of pears from a high school student trying to raise money for a class trip. He carefully brought the box home, and placed it in the corner of his room. Later in the evening, he tossed some clothes on top of the box, and then added the incoming Christmas presents. In two short days, he forgot all about the box of 48 pears.

Fast forward, it is now May 1995 and the pears have been sitting under a pile of clothes for 5 months. My buddy had been transfered to a new job at Cape Canaveral Air Station. While he started packing up his apartment, he noticed an unusual odor from the corner of his room. He moved the clothes and found...the box of pears. Much too his dismay, he learned that pears when rotting get rather juicy. The juice of the pears changed the light blue carpet into a swirling pattern of reddish brown, orange, and purple.

Nothing could remove the stain. Not Resolve, the Bissel spot lifter, even the professional carpet cleaner guy threw his hands in the air and said "It's a permanent stain, there is nothing a can do." So my buddy attempted to dye the carpet, no luck. The fibers wouldn't hold the new color.

Our daily sins are rotting pear juice. They stain our lives, and make us less than perfect. Yet unlike the carpet, there is something to remove our stain. The blood of Christ. In it we are washed clean and appear before God unblemished.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My Life in Boxes

Two weeks ago, I closed on a house. After a few minor fixes, the process of moving began. It's amazing, humbling, and discouraging to see how much stuff I've been lugging around with me over the years.

I'm reminded on Matthew 19, when a young man asks Jesus, "What good deed must I do to get eternal life?" 16Then someone came to him and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" 17And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 20The young man said to him, "I have kept all these; what do I still lack?" 21Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

By the world's standards, I am rich: a solid floor, walls, roof, indoor plumbing, running water, appliances for cooking, a car, a house for my car (aka a garage) This passage from Matthew drives me to my knees in shame at what I have when others have so little. So I confess, and ask Jesus for help in making wise decisions that make the world a better place. Simple acts like donating clothes I haven't worn in years that are in good shape, fixing things rather than buying new are small steps of a bigger transformation.

This Easter Season and season after Pentecost, I'm learning more about simple living and striving to adopt their methods. Their slogan: Live Simply so others may simply live.