Sunday, October 30, 2011

Living the Faith

Today we lived in faith after a night of horrific weather. We held worship, where some had power and some not. Where some walked icy places to get there. And we had a confirmand who had brought her family from lots of places and called people who used to come to the church to COME! Come and celebrate this part of her journey. And they did. And we did. With moving worship, with youth helping at every point and with a potluck afterwards where we can sit and share and grow in our connections. I used the Reformation Day texts. Here is my sermon and my stole which was an illustration as we considered the texts and the day.

When I was baptized it didn’t happen in church. It took place in a gym because the church wasn’t built yet.  And my godmother who flew in for it almost lost her job because right after the baptism the blizzard started and she got snowed in for two weeks. No one remembers other details but they all remember that story of how it started for me. We all have a story to tell that starts as God’s work in our baptism and continues in each of our lives as we follow Jesus. It starts with ordinary water and some words, but through them God does amazing things. The stole I’m wearing tells this story of God and me. Made of bits of neckties and scarves given to me by people connected to my journey of faith. A story told by bits of ordinary stuff drawn together by a few threads and the work of the Spirit.  God used those little bits and those people to speak of what God has been up to and is still doing. It reminds me of God’s work in me, and of all the people whose faith has shaped mine. At the bottom are the blue parts- reminding me of baptism, when I was claimed as God’s child. The black parts remind me of times I was really scared or unsure. The bright ones remind me of love, laughter and joy. The dove reminds me that through the Holy Spirit God lives in me, giving me this faith and the gifts and strength to be who God created me to be. As it travels from one end to the other- I come back to baptism. In all of those times, I’ve learned more about what it means to say “I believe.” This is the story of each day and our whole lives. As we’re still learning on journeys made up of ordinary stuff that doesn’t seem like much but when you stand back and look, you see its become beautiful. Drawn together by a few threads and the work of the Spirit.  

The threads are lessons in the faith like those we hear told today and the ones lived in the stories of people we meet who make it real.  Like the person who said even though I’d made a really big mistake, I was forgiven by God. Or the person who said whenever he wasn’t sure what to do, he found the answer by coming to church, where God is our refuge and strength. I got picked up, dusted off and reminded not to get too caught up in what I do, not to be defined by my stuff and not to think I can have all the answers. Because we’re justified by God’s grace not our score sheet.  People believed in God’s work in me when I had doubts. People prayed with me and studied with me, helping me really live in God’s word. They shared what it means to live faith. So I share too because this is what it means to affirm our faith. It happens on lots of other days besides “Confirmation Day.” Telling the stories makes the Word real. While each of you isn’t wearing a stole today, each of you is wearing the story of God’s work in your lives as the baptized, drawn together by a few threads and work of the Spirit. Stories that proclaim that only God’s grace, only God’s word and only the faith God gives provide us salvation and life. We have God’s promise that they do.  This is true on big days and ordinary ones.
Today is a BIG day in the life of the Lutheran church. We Lutherans are sentimentally connected to this day when Martin Luther took a big step that brought about major change in the church. Today is also a big sentimental day for Courtney. She was baptized on this date and now today on her baptismal anniversary she’ll affirm the faith God began in her baptism. Big events. Times it is easy to proclaim our faith. But we know there are lots of other days, with ups and downs. Times we think now is not as good because it looks different or feels smaller. Times we feel overwhelmed. Times we see chaos in nature and in our world events and wonder if there really will be a brighter day.  We question our church, our relationships and what we hold true. In these other times we can feel  like someone came along and cut the threads. We feel dis-connected from God and each other.

This is when proclaiming faith to each other really matters. When it reminds us what we need to hear. As we continue to live in God’s word, we should return again and again to remember what it means to follow Jesus. To hear, learn, grow, practice and use what we learn so it becomes a habit. So we get used to responding to the events in our lives and the world around us in a certain way.  In faith. In our baptism we share in what really matters-Christ claiming us, forgiving us and overcoming all in the work of the cross. This is what we can count on, the place we can see refuge and strength, our anchor in the storm. Each day we’re learning , because everyone we meet and everything we face means having to think about its relationship to what we have learned and are still learning about God and the work of Christ.  We need to practice this life of faith. In telling again and again what it means, and in continually reaching out, to reconnect each other, to pull on the threads that draw us back. To reveal God who meets us in these places, honest and real, and who reminds us of our relationships, grace and good news.  Living and remembering our stories together is how God gives us a different way of responding to threats in our lives so we can stop focusing on our worries and to-do lists, where we end up exhausted and tapped out. Living in faith is remembering God’s love for us, and receiving the power to live and to trust God. Reminding each other- Yes! This is what God has done, this is what I believe and this is what I proclaim!
We proclaim it this day as we add another part to Courtney’s story, ours and God’s.  Today as we again speak our faith, may we give thanks to God for the ways we have in all times and places journeyed with God, held together by the threads of our faith and the work of the Spirit.  And may we trust and follow Christ in all our journeys yet to be discovered.  This is us living the faith. AMEN.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love is the Whole Point

When the kids were little, I’d tell them to do something, “Go brush your teeth.”  And then I’d tell them again…and again. In between reminders, they’d come and keep asking things- “Mom, Mom…” followed by a question- “do I have to put water on the brush first, what if I don’t rinse? You said 2 minutes but I have homework..” Sorting out how much I REALLY meant what I asked. Trying to distract me from expecting it. Question after question. Sometimes they must’ve seen me cringe or hear my exasperation as I heard, “Mom, Mom…” and I said NOW WHAT? They’d reply, “I love you” and run off. So much energy used up avoiding what I asked. All I really wanted them to do was something that was good for them, because I loved them. Today we pick up the gospel when Jesus has already encountered the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees all attempting to derail and discredit his teaching about what God means in the laws given to the people. Now they send in the EXPERT. He’s the guy who knows all 631 laws and everything the rabbis have said about them. Because somewhere between Mount Sinai and that day, all the questions led to new laws beyond the first Ten. Following every little detail would be impossible SO with 631 laws, “tell me which ones are the important ones, Teacher.” The EXPERT hoped to win on a technicality. But Jesus reorients it all. He says it’s all important, because it comes down to orienting our lives to God and each other in love. Way back when God liberated the people of Israel, God reminded them why, and then gave the commandments with these words- “Because I am holy, YOU are to be holy.” The law was a gift to guide us to live as we’re made. To be holy- to reflect God’s love. Because God desires that all people flourish and have abundant life because God loves us- it’s all about love. And we need to know how to love.
 We question and we try going through the motions. Like a man who knew how much his beloved loved roses. When they’d dated, he bought her a dozen roses- a splurge, but she delighted in them and their love grew. So he kept it up week after week. Then he found a florist who had a deal- a dozen roses for three dollars- how could you go wrong? The roses were confiscated in drug raids. Distributors from Colombia would hide packets of cocaine in them. After the big drug bust, law enforcement could care less where the flowers ended up. Week after week, roses. She had no idea. When money got tight she told him that she adored the roses, but they were an extravagance she could forgo to meet their needs- hers and his. He made the mistake of blurting out-“BUT THEY ONLY COST THREE DOLLARS!”   Oops. Now from her perspective they were no longer a loving gesture- but a throwaway. He wondered why she didn’t appreciate his effort however flawed. After all, hadn’t he mastered the “give your wife nice things” law?  It’s easy to get love wrong.
We struggle with just how far God expects us to go and what’s good enough.  Being holy is being distinct from our world, yet it’s hard to maintain this attitude when our culture tells us that there are people and things we can cross of the list. There have to be limits-ways we try to make God’s law fit ours. Times when saying “I love you” from a distance without offering more ought to count. It shows up in our questions: Should we really invest in a program if we don’t get anything back- if it doesn’t add to our membership rolls? Should we bother if people aren’t responsible enough, or don’t love us back in the way we want? When we’re asked to do more for ALL of our neighbors-How far do we really have to go, God?  ALL feels too hard and we don’t wanna. We wrestle with questions and yet sometimes realize we’ve pushed the limit with the Holy One and hope saying “I love you” is enough. God is holy and we are different. This is our history.
It’s a good thing God is different. God’s role in the relationship shows God liberates Israel even while knowing there’s a golden calf just on the other side of that mountain. God redeems people who find any reason to try to turn off the voice of the prophets and Jesus himself. God forgives even when we walk away from the truth we find so different from us that calls us to eat less so others can eat, even “the lazy ones.” To care for people who are sick and disabled even when their condition is self-created. To reach out and love people who won’t show us the love, gratitude or affirmation of our actions we desire. To keep loving even when the world will despise or ridicule us for doing so. This is God’s love. That same love that tells us-You may think others are too different from you and unworthy. They may be different from you, but you are all the same kind of different from me. Yet I love you all.” The whole point of God’s framework for our lives is rooted in this love.
We can’t just memorize it or go through the motions of what looks good. That’s like a throwaway “I love you” or castaway roses- we know how we’d feel. And we can’t require an emotional connection in order to offer love.  God’s love is cycle of being that says that “loving all of our neighbors is loving God” AND “loving God means ordering our lives in God’s arrangement so all of our neighbors are loved.” No matter what. This is Jesus’example. He endured the tedious questions and rejection of His message, and walked with the failed attempts of those wanting to follow who find they can’t. And in the midst of it all, embodies the real HOPE of the gospel- God’s love for us all is SO BIG  it goes to the cross to promise forgiveness again and again. Forgiveness for those we think have fallen short, for us when we fail to see our limits, and for the times we suddenly grasp just how far off base we really are. Forgiveness: Christ’s body and blood- FOR ALL. That’s a whole lotta love. May we again see signs of God’s love, and stand in awe. Then be empowered to go forth and live God’s message in the world that LOVE really IS the whole point.