Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Parable about Talent

I have always been intrigued by the story of Matthew 25:14-30, or the Parable of the Talents.. Talents, the possession and dispersion of those talents, the blessings of those gifts take the central role in our story about these three servants and their master.

In this story, Jesus tells us of a man, going off on an extended trip, and in this story, the man is clearly meant to represent God the Father. God calls his servants together and gave each their share of talent - one he gave five thousand dollars, another two thousand, and third one thousand, The first servant went to work and doubled his master's investment. The second did the same. 

But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his talents. This is what we’re all told to do with our money. Right? Save, save, save!

Long story short, the master comes back and rewards the two who took a risk with their talents. The other guy, well, God gets a little angry with him. “You wasted your talent!” God says. 'That's a terrible way to live! It's criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?
Talents, the possession and dispersion of those talents, the blessings of those gifts take the central role in our story about these three servants and their master. A talent has always been a tricky subject.

But God shows a clear preference in this situation for the servants who are willing to risk their talents for the glory of God. Talent, at its core, contains an element of risk, a willingness to lose, an acceptance of the potential for ridicule. Not each person received the same amount of “talent”. Each person had a certain amount of talent, some greater than others. Some abilities, those gifts shine more clearly, more obviously – they are lights that draw others to their flame. Some of us are blessed with extraordinary amounts of talents, while others maybe not so much. 

But God’s reaction to each person is the same, regardless of amount; “what did you do with the gift I have given you?” though the first two servants received different amounts – God rejoiced that those talents were used, that the servants where willing to put themselves at risk in order to serve God.

Using our talent is a risk. It means exposing ourselves to losing, to the judgment of others. Talent means some people may not like you so much. Talent, very often, means failure.

Michael Jordan is one of the most famous basketball players on earth. Most people wouldn't believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn't let this setback stop him from playing the game and he has stated, "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Talent, sometimes, means, losing first.

Using our talent is a risk. It means exposing ourselves to losing, to the judgment of others. Talent means some people may not like you so much. Talent, very often, means failure.

When I was 12, we moved to a new town and joined a church which for the first time had one of these strange, wonderful people who planned the music. This was our first church with a choir!  And within two weeks Mrs. Marjorie Faris knew I played the flute. At 12 – it wasn’t so good, the sound, and I was playing on my aunts ancient Bundy with a broken key – but Marj didn’t seem to care. You see, there was this part in this song and she  needed someone who played the flute. I don’t know to this day who the rat in my family was who volunteered me, though I have my guesses.

I practiced, dutifully, but I didn’t want to play in church. Not really. I was worried. What would these people think? Would the entire congregation be staring at me while I played? What if I played the wrong note? What if I got up and not sound came out at all. What if I raised my arms and my pants fell off in front of everyone? What if Marj wanted me to do it again?

I was terrified to play my flute in front of all those people. I had all those worries. I didn’t particularly like people looking at me, judging me, noticing me. I didn’t want to stand out in this new place. Finally, I told my Mom I wanted to quit. I was not playing my flute in church. Nuh uh. Not going to happen. In fact, I told my Mom, I’ll just quit playing music all together! Then I’ll never have to get up in front of people in church again!
Well, my mother quelled me with one “mom” look. “Elizabeth,” she said. “God gave you a gift, and God expects you to use it. You are playing in church.”

Which was the point all along anyway. God gave you a gift, and God expects you to use it.
What my twelve year old self missed was that my talent wasn’t about me at all. It feels like they are – our talents are after all wrapped inside our skin. It’s our face through which the sounds emerge, our hands that manipulate the material, our minds which analyze and dissect.

Talent is about the one who made us. All our skills, our gifts, our blessings are merely gifts from God. God expects us to use them. So what, if you can write the most beautiful poetry or even terrible poetry – if you never read it to anyone, what’s the point? So what, if you can lead people into battle at work, if you do not lead God’s people through the church?

Using our Talent is a risk. We might be rejected. We might get hurt, people might judge us. Some people might even like us (which may be more dangerous than the rest).

But God gives us gifts, and they are wasted unless we are willing to use them the way God intended.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sundays with Jesus

Tuesdays with Morrie is a 1997 non-fiction novel by American writer Mitch Albom. Mitch Albom, the book's narrator, recalls his graduation from Brandeis University in the spring of 1979. After he has received his diploma, Mitch approaches his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz, and presents him with a monogrammed briefcase. He promises Morrie, who is crying, that he will keep in touch, though as life continues, Mitch begins to forget about this favorite teacher. Years after Mitch's graduation from Brandeis, Morrie has been diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating disease, which slowly shuts down a person’s body, but leaves their mind intact.

One night, Mitch is flipping the channels on his television and recognizes Morrie's voice. Morrie is being featured on the television program "Nightline" in the first of three interviews with Ted Koppel, Following Morrie's television appearance, Mitch contacts his beloved professor and travels from his home in Detroit to Morrie's home in West Newton, Massachusetts to visit with him.

Following their first Tuesday together, Mitch returns regularly every Tuesday to listen to Morrie's lessons on "The Meaning of Life." In his lessons, Morrie advises Mitch to reject the popular culture in favor of creating his own. The individualistic culture Morrie encourages Mitch to create for himself is a culture founded on love, acceptance, and human goodness, a culture that upholds a set of ethical values unlike the mores that popular culture endorses.

The book covers many issues common to modern Americans – the downsides of aging and disease. The difficulty of maintaining meaningful relationships despite the separation of time and distance – the search for a meaningful existence.

But to say that Tuesdays with Morrie is a book about ALS victims, or the search for ones self and the great meaning of life and existence is to somewhat miss the point. In the search for these questions and answers, Mitch learns a more important lesson than just the ones imparted by his mentor Morrie. Though the answers Mitch receives are meaningful, though the ideas Morrie presents help Mitch to order his life, it’s not the ideas in and of themselves that are important.

It’s the conversation.

The book is essentially a story about two men learning to trust one another, to find themselves by finding the strengths of the other. The story is about the conversation.

There is something magical that happens in conversation. I don’t mean the ‘hey, how are you’s” “Fine” kind of conversations. I’m talking about the times when a group of people are honest about where they are in this world and where they hope to go. When a group of people can be honest with one another, when they can explore the great questions together, when the questions and the answers are given equal weight and equal value – That’s the magic time. That’s the magic hour.

It’s about the conversation.

And so, We turn to Paul. Paul writes this letter to the church in Rome, who were not yet suffering the worst of persecution.  These Christians are in fact about as close to modern American Christians as we can find.
Romans 14 is a passage that seems, on its face, to be about food, and while I could take this opportunity to extol the benefits of a vegetarian diet, or to explain the various social, ethical, and environmental benefits I find in the world of vegetarian cuisine – Paul is really talking about food.

Like most of what Paul talks about, the food argument is a symbol, a place holder, a sign pointing to a different reality.  So, when Paul talks about those who are weak and those who are strong in faith, when he mentions those who are eating everything and those who eat almost nothing, what Paul is really talking about is not those specific issues in themselves.

Paul wants the Roman Christians to know that life is about conversation. None of them were 100% correct all the time. None of them had all the answers. No one Roman, No one Jew, No one Christian is all the time in the right. Once the Romans were able to acknowledge the truth in one another, after these Baby Christians recognized that  Each person must have their own convictions.” Then and only then would they, as a community, be able to truly worship God. Only after they truly welcomed each voice into the conversation would they be able to appreciate that Jesus was at the center of each persons life.

Christian Education, the church, is at its best when we welcome each voice into the conversation. Christian Education, at its root, is about the discussion – about the ability to have honest, open communications with each other. It’s not about facts, it’s not about the “I know and can quote 157 Bible verses from heart”. That’s not what Christian Education is about at its heart.

I’m not saying that the information, the facts, aren’t helpful. They are. Knowing, for example, that Paul was a Jew born in the Roman Empire helps give me information which aids in understanding his message. Knowing that Abraham came before Isaac and Ishmael gives me tools to understand the current Jewish and Islamic tension. The facts are helpful.

But it’s about the conversation. The facts serve the conversations, the Bible verses serve the conversation. Because, like with Morrie and Mitch, like Paul and his Roman Christians, it’s about learning to know one another, to create relationships.

At its best, Christian education is about the Conversation with each other, and the conversation with God.
Mitch made an incredible commitment, flying from Chicago to Boston each week, just to talk with Morrie his mentor. Think about that – a cross country flight, each week, just to learn more about each other, to be honest with each other.

Sundays are our chance to talk with God and with Each other. It’s our chance for “Sundays with Jesus”.  This is our chance, Sunday morning, Wednesday evening, to really talk, to be honest about where we are, to be open to every voice – whether they have 70 years of Bible learning or not, whether they are conservative or liberal, whether they are literalist or don’t know what that means – Sundays are about every voice, all voices. It’s about learning to understand where you are.

Christian Education is about the conversation. It’s our Sunday with Jesus.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Presbyterian Heritage Sunday

Today in church, we celebrated Presbyterian Heritage Sunday. This morning, Presbyterian churches across the country took a minute to sit back and remember who we are, who we as Presbyterians claim to be, and what we have done for the world and in the world.

All of which leaves this a prime Sunday for some Presbyterian jokes. Now, perusing the internet, there aren’t as many Presbyterian jokes as one might think – most seem to be reserved for the Catholics and the Baptists, but I’ve put together a few of my favorites. So here goes:

What is a Presbyterian? A Presbyterian is a Baptist who likes to drink but doesn't have enough money to be Episcopalian.

During a Presbyterian worship service a man began to be moved by the Spirit.
Out loud he said "Amen!" People around him were a little disturbed.
Then louder he said, "Hallelujah!" A few more people were becoming disturbed.
Louder still he shouted "Praise Jesus!"
An usher moved quickly down the aisle. He bent over and whispered to the man, "Sir! Control yourself!"
The man exclaimed, "I can't help it. I got religion!!!"
To which the usher responded, "Well you didn't get it here!"

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
10. 9 to form a committee and 1 to change the bulb.

All great jokes, and they all highlight a sense of the priorities we might find in our Presbyterian congegations. Presbyterians greatest strength is our sense of community. More than anyone else, Presbyterians are all about community. From the local church, to our Presbytery regions, to our national General Assembly, Presbyterians go out of their way to be in community with one another – for better or worse, to be a family.

I’ve always thought of Hebrews 12 as kind of the Presbyterian identifier. More than another other Bible excerpt, this passage tells us who we are as a community of believers. The author of Hebrews, who some scholars believe was a female Jew, has just recited a litany of Isreal’s past, of heroes important to the Jewish faith – people like Abraham and Jacob, Abel, Enoch, even the prostitute Rahab.

According to the author of Hebrews, each of these people bring something unique to their community.
The people who have gone before, the people who are with her community now, those who share with her in this newly formed Christian faith, all of them make up her cloud of witnesses. These heroes of the faith are the bystanders along the race of her life – cheering her on to the finish line where God calls her to be.

The author Hebrews, reminds her community that each individual brings something unique to the party. Each person’s background, each voice brings something special to their family. For her, it’s the differences that make her group stronger.

To put it another way, Presbyterians are like a large scale version of the Breakfast Club. The breakfast club is one of the quintessential bad 80s movies we all love. The plot follows five students at a fictional Shermer High School in the suburbs as Chicago as they report for Saturday detention. While not complete strangers, the five teenagers are each from a different clique or social group.

The five students, who seem to have nothing in common at first, come together it seems, only to be harassed by the antagonistic principal,  who orders them not to speak or move from their seats They are forced to remain together, despite their protests, in a locked library. In fact, The principal leaves them mostly unsupervised, returning only occasionally to check on them. The students pass the hours in a variety of ways. mostly of the movie arguing and fighting with each other. The students call each other names and belittle one another.

Through this argument and disagreement, they also discover some eerie similarities. These students who are seemingly so different discover that they all have strained relationships with their parents and are afraid of making the same mistakes as the adults around them. In the end, this divergent group of thinkers make out their own unique little group – strange, quirky and unusual – but all together a club that’s special only to them. Like a big dysfunctional family, the breakfast club disagrees, but end up loving each other anyway.

This is our Presbyterian legacy, what makes us unique. We accept different viewpoints, we seek out people from different places, with different stories, with unique backgrounds. We are community who comes to support one another, to be witnesses for each other in midst of struggle and strife.

For better or worse we are family. That’s what makes us unique. We say, that in the end, if all we can be as a church is a cloud of witnesses for each other than that is enough. For Presbtyerian being a community is the highest calling. We are unique, we are each of us different. It is through the combination of our voices, through the harmony of our lives that we become stronger, in our faith, in our life, in our walk with God.

We are Family. We are Presbyterians.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

God Loves a Loser

Americans don’t really like losers. I mean, that’s probably a pretty obvious statement. Our society doesn’t like people who lose - and we don’t like losing very much ourselves. American lives are, to quote Charlie Sheen, about winning.

There are people whose entire careers are dedicated to avoiding loss. It’s not called “not losing” of course – we call it risk management or “shrink avoidance” or industrial security. Or, as I’ve come to appreciate – insurance adjusting. Some people will spend their entire lives calculating risk vs. reward. In other words – if we try this, what’s our chance at losing?

Our societies avoidance of losing goes beyond the business sector, however. Ask one of our teenagers about the last time they “lost” a video game? It actually can’t be done. Video game producers have taken the chance of losing out of games entirely. You can quit, sure. You can just stop playing the game. But you can’t lose. And if, by chance, you do almost lose (that is, the game gets too hard) there are a number of websites and books poised to help you win by revealing the games secrets. It’s is virtually impossible to actually lose a video game.

All of this is because Americans don’t like losers. When people lose, we avoid them, we degrade them. Our society is structured so that we can always be winners.

This winning obsession is not so bad, except for when we turn to the Bible. God’s redemption story is all about people who are screw ups, who make mistakes, who – in essence – are losers. God loves the loser.

And nobody is a bigger loser than Stephen. Stephen is known for many things – perhaps Stephen’s most famous for instituting a vital ministry in Jerusalem dedicated to caring for the poor in money and spirit. Stephen was one of the first Christian mission workers – a losing cause to be sure. How could one person possibly feed all of the hungry in the world?

I guess you could say that Stephen was a sucker for a lost cause. And so, when the chief priest’s bring him in front of the court – when all they want is for Stephen to say, “you know what? Maybe I didn’t really mean that the way it sounded.” Which would have been the risk conscious way to respond– As soon as the Chief Priest appears, there’s a sense this situation isn’t going to work out well for poor Stephen.

And in the end, as the reader knows must happen, Stephen loses. I don’t know that there is a definition of winning in the world that includes being stoned to death by an angry mob. Angry mobs are usually a sign that someone’s not on the right strategy. And Stephen, from a risk vs. reward perspective, was definitely not on the right track. In the end, he lost. Stephen dies, beaten, bleeding, dragged down a street by his friends and neighbors.

God’s redemption story is all about people who are screw ups, who make mistakes, who – in essence – are losers. God loves the loser.
Which leaves us, the church, somewhere in the middle. We in limbo between a society that preaches safety – personal, financial, emotional, psychological safety – and a God who says “Risk everything. Take a chance at losing.” It’s a choice, between a society of winners and a God of losers.

Many of you may have been following the rapture story this week. Harold Camping, an evangelical radio host and “pastor”, had decided he could calculate the exact date – and time – of the rapture using both biblical and archealogical evidence, despite there being almost no reference to a rapture in the Bible (It’s 1 Thess 4, if your interested) and literally thousands of scholars contradicting his assumptions.

Mr. Camping was convinced.

So, His church promptly went out and put up bill boards. Behold, the judgment day is here – they said – be prepared. Like a weird town crier, this church declared
The Rapture is coming! And They stuck by their account. May 21st, 6pm. Kiss your loved ones goodbye – cause the rapture is upon us.

Now, looking around this morning, I’m going to boldly predict that the rapture didn’t happen. Or, it did – and we were all left behind, in which case this should have been a different blog post.

It’s easy to poke fun, to ridicule the idea and the people who have it. The jokes almost write themselves.

And yet, the rapture believers persisted. The whole world – literally – was laughing at them, ridiculing them. And yet they stood by their belief, perhaps misguided, they stood up for what they believed to be true.

I wonder how willing we are to do the same. I wonder how many times in a day we diminish or downplay our faith. How many times do we hide or disguise what we believe to make others comfortable, so others won’t lump us in with the losers like this doomsday cults or the idiots who handle snakes.

Are we really that afraid of risk?

Are we really that afraid of being called names?

We don’t even believe anything that radical, really. We’re Mainline Protestants! Our church reflects the mainstream of religious belief. Few of us are declaring rapture. Yet, we hide.

It is safer to hide then it is to venture out into the world.

We are less likely to lose if we stay inside our four walls.

But it not losing actually winning?

Stephen lost.

Stephen lost big time.

We won’t lose if we don’t play the game.

God loves the loser.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


In Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court”, we hear the story of Hank Morgan  a 19th-century resident of Hartford, Connecticut who, after a blow to the head, awakens to find himself inexplicably transported back in time to early medieval England at the time of the legendary King Arthur.

Hank is ridiculed at King Arthur's court for his strange appearance and dress, but quickly turns the situation around by banking on his knowledge of history. You see, he’d learned all about King Arthur’s courts and times during his school years.

Throughout the story, Hank is always muttering under his breath about the poor, ignorant people of King Arthur’s time. Don’t they know how superior life would be with modern conveniences? If only, Hank thought, they would do things my way. Wouldn’t their life be grand?

These poor simpletons don’t know what they’re missing. Hank believed he had all the answers, knew exactly the right path. And he was more than willing to take over. Hank believed his ideas were better, smarter, and the absolute correct truth.

Hank’s sin is a lot like our sin. Modern American’s identify with Hank because Americans are Hank. We may not be from Connecticut, or Yankees for that matter, but all of those, deep inside are like Hank.

You see, Americans live their lives like we’re in a giant Holiday Inn Express commercial. You know the one where the person is suddenly able to perform Brain Surgery. When everyone questions their knew found expertise -  “Don’t worry” they say, “I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

In our culture, everyone’s an expert. On everything. We’re all smarter than the University’s football coach “I never would have called that play.” We’re smarter than the judges on American idol. We’re know more about Dancing than Carrie Ann Inaba (whether we’ve ever danced or not). We know better how to run the world. President Obama (or Bush, take your pick) is an idiot. Why doesn’t he do… ..

Americans are all experts. Wouldn’t it just be better if everyone agreed with me? Wouldn’t everything be better if everyone would just do why I want? I know what’s best, I know what’s absolutely right. Americans all experts.

Hidden in the midst of all that expertness is the idea that our own, individual perspective on the world is supreme. Our world of the world is THE world view to have. Surely, we think, everyone must agree with me!

But God didn’t create us to be the same. God didn’t create us all to be alike, to be copies of each other. God wants us to celebrate our diversity!

We need diverse voices in the church, and in all our communities. Stories about the Holy Spirit are usually stories about how much God loves diversity, and how God gives more and more people the ability to speak.  In this gathering, the church, we need many voices. We need all of your voices.

Presbyterians have always believed in more than one idea. More than one perspective. Presbyterians usually go for the more understandable kind of diversity. The New Testament kind, I guess. We ask for the Holy Spirit to gather us together and to make this diverse group of people into a community.

It’s certainly tempting to try to be the masters of our own little universes. Sometimes we try to arrange our lives so that we will be like that single, solitary, self-sufficient monarch on a throne issuing orders that must be followed. Or we try to arrange our lives so that we just won’t need any kind of help from anybody. Or we get scared of the profound differences between us and our neighbors, and we try to control our neighborhoods or our workplaces or our churches so that we won’t have to be frustrated by the differences between us. It’s harder to work with differences. It’s harder to teach across a language barrier; to get along with new neighbors of a different culture; to understand the attitudes of someone from another economic class. It’s harder to understand our own children who are from another generation and raised in a totally different situation than we were. 

So this Ash Wednesday – let’s do something radical. Let’s repent of our sameness, of our expertness. Let’s accept more than one idea. Let’s acknowledge the Godliness of one another. Let’s repent of our “having to be right.” Let’s admit that sometimes We are wrong.

And then, let’s let God, be God.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Every Generation has a super annoyingly bad, but oh so good song which typifies their ethos, the mood of that generation.

For the 60s -    Wipeout.  In the 70s, it was Freebird. 
For the 90s, it was the Macarana
But for the 80s, it was a super bad, yet super good all - acapella song sensation. It went a little something like this:

After one particularly bad week as a camp counselor, one person revived Bobby McFarins. You see this week at camp my Co Counselor and I had been responsible for 15, 4 and 5th graders. Of those 15 children, 8 were on ADD medications and an additional 2 children needed them, but their parents must have decided camp would be a good week to take off from there meds. Those 4 children delighted in fun games like, “Let’s throw Liz’s backpack in the campfire,” and “Ring around the top bunks of the cabin.” And then, that week, there was Amy. Amy was allergic to everything. Literally. Her allergies included wheat, grass, bees, peanut butter, chlorinated water, and milk. So, wouldn’t you know it, Amy gets stung by a bee. At camp. In front of everyone. And then screaming and running out of the dining hall, directly into BE, my co-counselors arms, who preceeded to hoist her over his head and run to the camp truck, jump and the back. And yell, “GO! Go! Go! GO!”

On Sunday morning, during worship, Sausage – that nickname is a story in and of itself - Sausage decided to lift everyone’s spirits by playing Don’t Worry, be Happy. And the song worked. We had been dropping into worship, tired, exhausted, stressed. Then Sausage played the song. You almost can’t help it. You hear the song, and it just makes you want to dance. Don’t Worry – Be happy! We screamed. We laughed. Don’t Worry, Be Happy became our theme song for the summer.

We Worry about good things, like our family and friends. We pray for our family’s health and hope our children do well and are successful. We anxiously wonder about the latest chemo treatment and it’s effectiveness. We agonize over the latest utility bill and worry how our friends who lost their jobs deal with the rise in gas prices. Worry can be good when it spurs us to action or to change a situation. Worrying about a test can cause us to study. When anxiety can cause us to prepare for an upcoming event by positing different scenarios, that can be good.

But worry can also be very bad. You know those people, who we call worryworts? The ones who can never seem to really enjoy anything because they are always think about what might happen?  Worry can be bad when it leads to constant anxiety or fear, when it consists of continually repeating the same cycle of thought over and over again – when nothing or no one can help ease your mind. Worry become problematic when it begins to consume or thoughts and or minds, when worrying is what we do best.

We worry most often about the things over which we have no control.  Am I going to get into heaven or not? When will the oil prices be lower? Will our flight leave on time and what am I going to do if it doesn’t? Worry at its core is about control.

In the Sermon on the Mount,  Jesus spok on the dangers of serving two masters – You can not serve both God and something else. It’s that simple, Jesus has been saying. You can not serve God and money. You can not serve God and Caesar. You can not serve God and worry.

Worry, Jesus says, is about control. About trust. Look, Jesus says, at the birds of the air? They don’t farm, they don’t stockpile. The birds don’t run to Food City at the first sign of bad weather. But the birds are fed.

The sermon goes on. Look at the flowers, the way they grow here and there. The weeds, the way they grow into the crack of your sidewalk – even when you don’t want them too. The beauty of the fields of wildflowers – If God takes care of them, Jesus says, won’t God take care of you also?

And then, the most condemning statements. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And the last, the dagger that always catches us - Can anyone of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life? Can anyone of us, by worrying change the outcome of God’s plan? Worry accomplishes very little. Worrying is at its worst when we have no control over the situations of our lives.

But I can’t help how I feel,  You might be thinking. Anxiety just happens – talk about not having control! I can’t stop worrying any more than I can stop breathing!

No, we can’t all of the sudden stop stressing about the oil prices rising, or the inevitability of hard times in our lives. We can’t just stop making the negativity spiral through our thoughts. Sometimes the stress will overwhelm us. It’s just going to happen.

We do have choice, though, about where we focus out attention. We can make a choice not to increase our anxiety through focusing on the worst possible outcomes. We can make a choice to remember that God loves us, and cares for us. God will provide. We have choice, to Let Go our control, and Let God provide. Let Go, and Let God.

Yes, it is possible that tomorrow will see yet more escalation in the Middle East. It’s probably inevitable. And yes, that means rising gas prices and food prices. But we will not starve. We will not be shut it to our homes with no means of transportation. The turmoil will continue – but when you turn on the news, and the anxiety starts to rise? That’s a good time to Let Go – and Let God.

We could go on with scenarios until the end of time.   Disease and Famine and Heartbreaks are a part of this life. But nothing, not one thing, can separate us from the Love of God who cares about each one of us, who knows the number of hairs on our head. Nothing in this world, not life nor death, nor any human creation can prevent God from providing for us. It may not look the way we want. But God knows what we need more than we do.

So, we have a choice. We can choose to hold on to the worry and the anxiety, to focus on the worst possible outcome. Or we can choose to trust that God will provide. Brothers and Sisters, God will provide. It’s time we Let Go of our white knuckled control, and Let God take the reigns. It’s time to Let Go, and Let God. Amen

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rhetorical Mud Wrestling

We have been offered a startling amount of proof recently about our world’s brokenness.  The news seems to be exceptionally worse, the disasters and catastrophes inextricably larger in scope and sheer destructive power. The victims even seem more innocent and more tragic that normal.

Just this week at least 350 people were killed in Brazil as the result of flooding. An additional 250,000 people were affected by flash floods that affected Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city and an area twice the size of Texas.

The economic news is not improving either. The foreclosure crisis that paralyzed the housing market has only just begun. Approximately 5 million bowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages. 1.2 million Homes are estimated to be repossessed this year alone.

And then there’s the nonsensical tragedies, the ones where we can’t find purpose or meaning. The shooting in Arizona this past week leaves us all on our heels. What would cause a person to do that short of thing? To indiscriminately kill and maim? To end lives, some as young as 9 years old? And perhaps the most pressing question – what can we do to stop it from happening again?

Bad news begets more bad news, begets tragedy. Our world is broken. But it seems just a little bit more broken than usual this week, a little more fragile, and lot more dangerous.

It seems to me, that the human response, the innate gut reaction to tragedy or difficult times goes one of two ways. Either we play the blame game and seek to find someone to blame, or we close off and stop interacting all together only analyzing the ways in which the tragedy affects us personally.

The instinct to Blame, to find someone, anyone who might be at fault, appeared in abundance this week. Minutes after the shooting in Tucson, the blogosphere and punditry had laid the blame at the feet of Right-Wing conspiracy nuts, Sarah Palin, and imagery and language of guns. Other were blaming the Democrats for being mean and unfair, people like leading one liberal commentator to ask for Sarah Palin to be decapitated. At one point there was even a debate over the difference between bull’s-eyes and crosshairs. The Blame Game is an easy one to play – it allows us to feel as if someone is a fault, someone caused this, someone who is evil and despicable and less than human. Blame makes us feel control over any situation and to avoid the real cause of problems.

The second way we see react to tragedy is to focus inwardly, to look only at ourselves. We close off to the world. Hezekiah is a great example of the inward focus tendency. Hezekiah was the king of Judah son of Ahaz mentioned in Jesus’ genology. His kingdom, Judah, was being watched by the evil King Sennacherib of Assyria. Sennacherib had forcibly resettled Israel, the northern country of Galilee with his own Assyrians, removing any native he found there.  And one day, Sennacherib saw a weakness. Hezekiah had been ill, and so he exploited that moment of ill health in order to infiltrate the ministry. Hezekiah immediately sets out to impress his visitors, showing off all his treasures and goodies. Look at my golden camels with diamond eyes – He says – and my room full of money.  Isaiah is the king’s prophet at the time, and Isaiah sees all of this strutting and puffing, which greatly concerns him. Isaiah says to the king “Um…. How much of your treasures did you actually show him? All of it…? hmmm….”

Isaiah then presents a very terrible prophecy. "Hezekiah", he says, "one day that king of Assyria, Sennacherib? He’s going to take all of that awesome stuff you have. And, even more than that, Sennacherib is going to take your family, your sons, and they will become eunuchs. The Assyrian’s are going to take everything.”

And Hezekiah’s response?

“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” Huh? Good? Which part of Eunuch did you not understand?

Hezekiah merely smiled.

“For, he thought, There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

The second way we see react to tragedy is to focus inwardly, to look only at ourselves. We close off to the world. We deal with pain by ignoring its consequences.

I would submit to you that neither of these responses is particularly helpful. Blame and avoidance only end up hurting us more; make the situation more difficult in the end. Pointing fingers at others, or ourselves, deepens the problem we are trying to avoid in the first place.

The Church offers us a third way of coping with the stresses of life, a different kind of witness to tragedy. The church is called to stand in the gap between blame and apathy, between unrelenting vitriolic anger and anxiety. The church marches into the breach caused by the pains of this life with a new, unique kind of witness.

There is a benefit to being very, very old. Through the testament of those who have come before, through the witness of folks like Noah, Abraham, and Moses, through the memories of Deborah, Rahab, and the Psalmists, the church contains the insight of centuries. We have the perspective of those who have gone before us, who have experienced tragedy and heartache and pain and come out the others side to say Hallelujah again.  This is why the church studies the Bible, This is why the church learn studies its history and about Paul’s 3rd missionary journeys.  To gain perspective, and to learn the perseverance of the saints.

The Church offers us a third way of coping with the stresses of life, a different kind of witness to tragedy. The church is called to stand in the gap between blame and apathy, between unrelenting vitriolic anger and anxiety. The church marches into the breach caused by the pains of this life with a new, unique kind of witness.