Sunday, June 28, 2009

June 28, 2009 - "Sadness"

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

A lot of folks feel sad this week … with the death of three celebrities … Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson … there’s a public for sadness for their fans, and a deep sadness for their families and friends.

When was the last time you felt sad?

Sadness is very much a part of the human condition.

Sadness is found on almost every page of the Bible.

God feels sadness …
And we’re created in God’s image …
So we feel sadness, too.

And, I hope, by the time I finish this message, we’ll know that it’s okay to be sad. More than okay. It’s important that we embrace this part of life!

We begin with our story today …
King Saul is dead …
Jonathan the beloved son is dead …
Defeated at the hands of the Philistines …
Who now will be king?

Word is brought to David.
A mercenary brings Saul’s crown and armlet to David … and tells the tale of how Saul died.
When others might have expected David to rub his hands and smile with relief, David is anything but happy.
While the mercenary expected a reward, he’s summarily executed.
This is a dirty business, and David wants nothing to do with it.
David tears his clothing in a sign of grief.
He weeps and he fasts for the day.
There is no joy for David in the death of Saul.
No dancing over the grave of his enemy.
No glee in David’s camp.

David loved Saul, and utterly respected Saul’s position as the king of Israel.
Though Saul tried to kill David several times, David refrained from retaliation.
Twice, David had Saul in his sights.
Twice, God delivered Saul into David’s hands.
Twice, David could have killed Saul.
Twice, David refused.
This move was up to God.
Somewhere, somehow,
At a point in time determined by God, and not by David.

It is said in the Scriptures that David is a man after God’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]!
David loves deeply.
David practices loyalty.
Deep opens his heart to sadness.
David is a man after God’s own heart!

Upon hearing the news …
David is cast down with grief.
David pens a poem, a eulogy … forgetting the broken parts of Saul’s life – remembering only the best, the highest of Israel’s once and former king.
David’s heart is heavy.
Heavy with

Sadness is found on nearly page of the Bible.

God is filled with sadness when humankind chooses the dark road [Genesis 6:6].
Abraham and Sarah lament when they have no children.
Jacob and Esau fight, and their father is heartbroken.
Moses is saddened by the plight of his people in Egypt.
And throughout the long journey, Moses would feel sadness time and again as God’s people prove unworthy of their newfound freedom …
The prophets were filled with sorrow … read Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos – their hearts are crushed; their spirits brought low – their tears flow profusely for what might have been, but for the loss of vision and a cowardly heart, God’s people fail the mission.
The Psalmist writes again and again about defeat and setback, disappointment and failure.
Jesus comes over the brow of the hill and there before him spreads the City of David, Jerusalem the Golden, and Jesus weeps for the city … Jesus knows what’s coming … Jesus knows he cannot stop it … for the ways of the powerful are powerful indeed, and they’re not about to listen to an itinerant preacher from Galilee.
When confronted with hardness of heart in his own people, Jesus is grieved [Mark 3:5].
Jesus says to the disciples, Now my soul is troubled [John 12:27].
When Jesus arrives in Bethany, and sees Mary’s sorrow for her brother’s death, Jesus weeps.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as the night closes in upon him, Jesus says, I am deeply grieved [Mark 14:34].

What did Isaiah say of him?
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed [Isaiah 53:3-5].

The man of sorrows …
Who weeps for the world …

Because he cares deeply.
And loves profoundly.

To care and to love …
We open our lives to sadness.

A child loves a dog,
And they grow up together,
But faster is the clock for the dog.
Even as the child is still young,
The dog grows old.
It’s lush black coat speckled with grey.
It’s eyes droop and the walk slows.
And then a day in time
When the beloved dog lies down,
One last wag of the tail … one final breath … the eyes turn to another world.
The child weeps inconsolably.
And so Mom and Dad.
How we love them,
These marvelous critters of God.

Children learn early on that life,
With all of its joys and pleasures, has
Sadness, too …
And important lesson to learn.
For sadness is a part of our human dignity.
Though we’re not the only species to grieve.
Elephants weep.
Dogs mourn.
A duck stands on the roadside,
Nudging the body of its bloodied mate,
Just killed by a passing car.

To live is to love.
To love is to risk our soul.
To care, is to put ourselves at the mercy of life and death.
To care, is to open the soul to disappointment.

We cannot and we must not bury this part of our life.
Though we Americans give it our best shot.

We are a happy, clappy, sappy people, and sorrow and grief are not our cup of tea.

All of my ministry, I have given people permission to be sad.
Sadness is a part of our journey.
Folks come to me six weeks after the death of a spouse and say to me, “I should be doing better by now. What’s wrong with me?”
My response: “Don’t underestimate the severity of your loss.”
Sadness is not a clinical condition needing therapy or medication.
Sadness is holy.
Sadness is found in God.
Sadness is critical to our humanity.

Some societies recognize an official period of mourning for as long as seven years.
Those of you who’ve lost a child, or a spouse, know the duration of sadness.
It never really goes away, does it?
It recedes in time,
But a smell, a sound, the face of stranger,
And it all comes rushing back …
Our soul is overwhelmed …
There are still more tears to be shed.

It’s okay to be sad. It doesn’t feel very good, but it’s not a bad thing. Sadness is the counterpart of love.
To have loved anything, a blanket, a bike, a bowling ball – when it’s gone, something of our own soul goes with it.

To deny sadness is to rip huge chapters out of the book of our life.
To repress sadness damages our soul.

Remember, Jesus was a man of sorrows.
And he’s the Son of God.
And David was a man of sadness.
And he was a man after God’s own heart.

All great people are people of sadness.
The folks who change our world …
Who confront and change the way we think …
Who challenge the human condition, and do something about it.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of great sadness, and out of that profound sadness, Lincoln led us through the darkest hour.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of sadness – when he looked at the human condition … the villainy of racism, the awful legacy of lynchings … the denial of basic rights and opportunity … and how both the oppressed and the oppressor suffer.

His namesake, the great Reformer, Martin Luther, was a man of sadness.
A monk teaching other monks with Paul’s letter to the Romans, and when Luther looked through the words of Scripture at the Medieval Church, Luther was overwhelmed with sadness – Luther saw clearly what might have been, and wasn’t … and the terrible price people were paying because the church had failed the very Christ it claimed to love.

William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was a man of sadness when he saw London’s poor and how they and their children suffered.

Gandhi was a man of sadness when he looked at his people in India under the iron fist of British rule.

Mother Teresa was a woman of great sadness when she looked at the dying lying in the gutters of Calcutta, their bodies stacked like cordwood in the morning.

Every missionary I’ve ever known is filled with sadness.

I sometimes wonder if our capacity for sadness is diminished, being the happy, clappy people we are.
We don’t like sadness.
We treat it as a medical condition.
We call it depression.
There is such a thing as depression, but we’re way too afraid of it, and we misdiagnose sadness all the time.
People who are depressives are depressed all the more by the pretended happiness of our culture.
People in grief hide their sorrow from co-workers and friends.
Those of you who’ve lost a spouse know how quickly old friends stop calling, and how rare is the invitation to dinner.
We don’t deal well with grief.

And I wonder … what do we lose when we deny our sorrows?
At what price do we chase the chimera of happiness?

We drug ourselves to be happy and then drug ourselves to sleep.
We drug our children so they can get along in school.
And then we wonder why substance abuse is so high.

At what price do we chase the phantom of happiness?

Religion in America has deteriorated into a feel-good, happy, clappy, therapy session.

Jesus said, I came to set a fire.
We’re turned his fire into a warm feeling.

Preachers preach endlessly about happiness …
How to find it,
How to manage it,
How to keep it,
How to get more of it.

There was a movement some years ago – laughing Christians … well, I like to laugh just like anyone else does, but I wonder – how sincere can the laughter be without the gift of tears?
How real can our joy be, if we turn our backs on sorrow?
How deep can our love go, if we refuse to be sad?

Instead of laughing Christians, it might be good to have weeping Christians … seems that Jesus wept a fair amount … and maybe he’s on to something – something powerful and something soul-cleansing, something godly and something good.

I think of David …
Folks around him might have said, “David, kick up your heels; the wicked witch of the north is dead.”
But no dancing for David.
David was a man after God’s own heart.
David was a man who let the waves of sadness wash over him.

There is much to grieve in this old world of ours.
And if we have a heart for God, we will be women and men of sorrow – divine sorrow, godly sorrow, the sorrow of a deep compassion and a deep love.
In every dimension of life.
We will not hide our tears:
For the child we can no longer touch,
The spouse we can no longer kiss,
The friend with whom we can no longer play cards.

A man began to weep for a wife who had died 15 years earlier; he said to me, “Pardon me; I didn’t mean to break down.”
And what I said next came from heaven.
I said, “John, you’re not breaking down, you’re breaking open.”

To be sad is to be open.
And maybe we American are afraid of that.
Afraid of being open.

But God would say:
“Fear not.”

“I am a God of many sorrows.”
“My son is a Savior of many sorrows.”
David, a man after God’s own heart knew the travails of sadness.

It’s okay to be sad.

Sad about many things:
I’m often say about the church of Jesus Christ and its failure to really make a difference in this land of ours.
I’m sad about all those Christians who cry and fuss about so-called “family values,” and shout and scream about abortion and homosexuals – I’m sad, because in my eyes, it’s a sham, a cover up, a clever smoke screen, while the real values of our faith – love and compassion, justice and mercy, openness and welcome, are ignored …
I’m saddened by corporate greed and the transfer of wealth from the pockets of the many to the pockets of the few.
I’m sad that war and the rumors of war have fueled our imagination and national character far too long.
I’m sad that we tolerate the suffering of our nation’s children, workplace discrimination and injustice.
I’m sad that 62% of our bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, and 78% of those families have coverage, but the coverage isn’t good enough.
I grieve for things like this.

I grieve for the Presbyterian Church – that after more than 30 years of debate, a good deal of it vicious and mean-spirited, we still can’t open the doors to gays and lesbians.

I am sad that we have lost our voice.
The convicted voice of a Martin Luther or a John Calvin.
The soaring voice of a William Sloan Coffin.

That in place of Christ, we substitute a pale version of life defined by simple prescriptions and easy slogans.
We fixate ourselves on happy music, happy preaching, happy games and happy fellowship, and we put on a happy face.
Are we fiddling while Rome burns?

People of God, servants of Christ,
it’s okay to be sad.
Sad for the sin in our lives.
Sad for the sin of our world.

If we’re not sad about such things,
We have to ask ourselves some serious questions:
What is Christ to us if we’re not moved and saddened by the things that moved and saddened Christ?
Christ said, “Take up your cross and follow me!”
He didn’t say, “Sit back in your easy chair and curl up with a happy pillow.”
Sadness is a vital component of a living, loving faith.
Sadness is our dignity.
Sadness is a partner to love!
And only in sadness, faithful and true, can we find the joy of Christ!

A great man like David … knew when to tear his clothes and weep …
For he was a man after God’s own heart!

Be not afraid of tears.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 21, 2009 - "Take It Off"

1 Samuel 17:32-49

Are you wearing someone else’s armor?
And if you are, we’ve got a problem!
Wearing someone else’s armor never works.

At the heart of every psychological theory: we’ve all been given lots of armor - given to us by parents, grandparents, teachers and preachers … culture and country.
It’s nice armor … bright and shiny, mostly … maybe a few dents here and there, a little tarnished perhaps, but it’s wearable … and it’s given to us in good faith … mostly …
But only one problem with someone else’s armor …
It doesn’t fit us.
It’s not our armor …
It’s not our life.
It trips us up.
Like David, we can’t walk in it!

A lot of people are stumbling through life, because they’re wearing someone else’s armor.
Deep-seated attitudes – behavior patterns … handed down to us by our parents, teachers, and preachers, history and culture … who knows where it all comes from, but it doesn’t fit.
It trips us up!
Maybe it fit them all right.
And maybe it didn’t!

Maybe the armor given to us by our parents was given to them, too … who knows how many generations have worn it, passing it on to their children and great-grandchildren … like DNA.

Every Easter, the Watkins family ate a wonderful meal that featured a baked ham. One Easter, as Marge was preparing the ham in the traditional way by cutting off the end before she put it in the baking pan, her young daughter asked, "Mom, why do you always cut off the end of the ham?"
Marge replied, "Well, I don't really know. My mother always did it that way, let's go ask her why."
So into the living room they went where the family was gathering for Easter.
When they asked Grandma, she said, "I did it that way because my mother always did it that way".
Fortunately Great Grandma was still with them and she was there, too. So they asked her, and she said, "Well, my mother always did it that way......... but come to think about it, I think she did it because her pan was so small."

Here, says Saul, wear my armor.

David gives it a good try.
He puts on Saul’s armor … but Saul was a big man.
David stumbled around in Saul’s heavy armor.

I can only imagine what David looked like:
A child playing dress up …
Putting on dad’s shirt … or mom’s shoes … way too big …

Saul’s armor was way too big …
It wasn’t David.
And that’s point.
No one else is you.
And you are no one else.
You are unique.
Every one of us – utterly unique.
We have to find our own armor.

And for David, it wasn’t even a matter of armor.
David was a shepherd boy!

David’s skills were more than enough to meet the demands of the day …
Skills acquired in the field … protecting the flock against lions and bears …
The tools of his trade – a sturdy staff, and a sling …

David was able to meet Goliath on the field of battle, and with one quick fling of the sling, the stone sailed true and fast and hit Goliath hard, a killing blow to the forehead.
In a moment, it was over.
Goliath was dead.
David victorious.

Not with Saul’s armor.
But with the skills and tools David had grown up with.

All of us are like David.
We have skills and abilities utterly unique to who we are and our own personal history.
But there are plenty Saul’s around who tell us:
“Not good enough.”
“You need my armor.”
“Here, try it on.”

And we give it good try.
But we stumble around in someone else’s armor.

In the new film, “The Proposal,” the young man has a rich and powerful family in Alaska, and a father who wants him to wear the father’s armor.
But the young man goes to New York – he wants to be a writer.
What a struggle for the father who can’t see it that way.
What a struggle for the son who has to say no to his father’s armor.
I’ll not tell you how it turns out, but the point of the story is right on the money: we can’t wear anyone else’s armor.

How proud Saul must have been to give David his armor.
Many a parent falls prey to the temptation to live their lives all over again through their children … I think every parent does it, a little bit, and maybe a whole lot, now and then.
Here, wear my armor.
David tried, and I bet some of you have tried for a long time to wear the armor given to you by your family, by a good professor, or some deep seated emotion that told you, “This is who you are, and if you’re not, you better get with it.”
But whatever the source: someone else’s armor never fits.
David had the courage to take it off. To take it all off.
I wonder if Saul was humiliated when David shed the armor and said, “Thanks but no thanks. I’m a shepherd boy, and God has been preparing me for this moment since I was born.”

In my first year of seminary, Dr. John Piet, a brilliant man, two Ph.D’s from Columbia, 25 years on the mission field in India – a man who knew more Bible than I’ll ever know – taught an introductory course to all first-year students.

In one lecture, a moment that remains with me to this very day:
He said, “God has been preparing you for this calling from the moment of your conception. Look into your heart – what are the things you love, the things that light your fire and excite your imagination? What do you love to do and what do you love to talk about?”
“Here are the clues,” he said, “to your calling.”

Dr. Piet was well aware of a certain tendency … called “self-denial.”
Now, there’s plenty in the Bible about self-denial.
Putting God and others first.
But self-denial has been poorly handled much of the time.

If a young seminarian wanted to do rural ministry, self-denial meant that she ought to do inner-city work.
And if young seminarian wanted to go to the mission field, self-denial meant that he ought to take a pastorate here in the states.
And be miserable!

Dr. Piet helped us all learn how defective that kind of thinking is … he helped us learn the real meaning of self-denial –
Denying the false selves that others create for us.
Denying the false selves that come to us from our culture … from our religion … from sin.
You see, Satan doesn’t want us to discover who we really are.
Satan wants us to live someone else’s dream,
Someone else’s values …
Satan wants us to wear someone else’s armor, because then we keep tripping over it, we’re off balance; nothing every quite fits; nothing ever really works.
If Satan can get us to put on someone else’s armor, Satan wins – not that we become hideous and horrible people – not at all.
Lots of folks go through life wearing someone else’s armor.
The girl who wanted to be a philosopher, but family and culture said: “On no. You’re a woman. You have to be mother and homemaker.”
The boy who wanted to write poetry, but family and culture said, “Oh no, you have to go out and make a living; you have to be successful – big house, fast car.”
And the girl and boy do it all.
But I wonder:
Could that young woman have been an Einstein?
Could that young man have been a Sandburg?

Folks who wear Saul’s armor can be successful.
But the soul is lost.
Something never quite right about it all.
A sadness about their life.
Because no one ever said to them, “It’s okay - take it off. Take it all off.”
“You don’t have to wear your father’s armor.”
“You don’t have to live your mother’s ideas.”
“You don’t have to be anyone else, but you!”
“Find who you are, and you will find God.”

American culture is filled with Saul’s armor.
Walk into a bookstore – what do you find, but a thousand books written by Saul – “Here’s my armor. You have to wear it if you want to defeat Goliath.”
Self-help books.
Leadership books.
Books about money and investing.
A million books – “Here’s my armor.”

We buy the book.
Attend the seminar.
Try on the armor.
Some of it fits, sort of okay, so we think, “Okay, this will be the new me.”
We walk around in it.
We look at ourselves in the mirror.
Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

Who knows?
The boss may like it, and we’ll get that promotion.
The professor might give you an A.
Dad would be proud.
Mom delighted.

But you’re stumbling.
Because it doesn’t fit.
It’s not you!

Religion can be a terrible Saul.
Religion has rooms full of Saul’s armor, all bright and shiny.
Just waiting for you.
We’ll tell you how to do it.
What to say.
What to think.
How to live.
We’ll shove you into Saul’s armor.
And everyone will cheer.
Hugs and hallelujahs.
And it’ll feel good for awhile.
But in the end, it doesn’t fit.
It doesn’t work.

David gives it a try.
How many here have tried to wear Saul’s armor?
Someone else’s ideas?

How many here this morning still have Saul’s armor on?
Hot and clumsy.
Hard and heavy.

But David takes it off. Takes it all off.
And so can we.
We can do it here and now!
I’ll be me.
What God made me to be.

More than anything, God wants us to discover the good work of who you are – God wants you to discover you.
You are just right for the tasks at hand.
Your life fits perfectly the world around you.
You are you, and that’s more than enough!

David doesn’t need Saul’s armor.

With the skills of his youth, and the tools of his trade, David runs toward Goliath … shouting, You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand.

Dear friends, I’ve tried to wear Saul’s armor a time or two.
So have you.
But let’s take it off today. Let’s take it all off.
It’s never too late!
Find who you are, and you will find God!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 14, 2009 - "Looks"

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

The LORD said to Samuel, How long will you grieve over Saul?
There’s work to be done.
Let’s get on with it!
Don’t get stuck in regret.
Move on to the future!

Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t have regret?
Is there anyone here who doesn’t make a trip back to some moment in time, and you think to yourself, “If only I had made another choice.”

Gone to another school.
Taken another job.
Married someone else.
If only I had done differently …
If only, if only, if only …

But things happen, don’t they?
We make the wrong choice.
Or maybe we fail to act.

God’s choice didn’t work out with Saul.
Sometimes the people God chooses fail badly.

Ever put your trust in someone!
You say to yourself, “I’ll trust Susie to do this.”
She’ll get it done.
But Susie doesn’t get it done.
It never gets done.
Or it’s done poorly, and now you look bad.
And maybe Susie even went behind your back …
Gossip …
Betrayal …
Who knows what else …

And now you could kick yourself around the block a few times, “Why did I trust Susie?”
“If only I had chosen Sally, instead.”
“But, noooo, I had to pick Susie … was I dumb or what?”

Ever been there?
Of course …

And sometimes even in darker ways …
Our own behavior …
A moment of irresponsibility …
Too much to drink …
A couple of joints …
A snort or two at the party …

Or a shady deal …

A friend of mine, a good and decent man …
Went to jail for a few years …
Fraudulent deal …
He said to me, “I knew it at the time. Why I did it, I don’t know. I just did it.”
He lost a fortune, but his family stood by him.
His wife waited for him while he paid his debt to society.
He children loved him even in his failure and shame.

They’ve since put life back together again.
But there’s no undoing the facts.
We can only get on with the future.

And that’s the point.
Who hasn’t messed up a time or two?
Who hasn’t been messed up by someone else’s bad behavior?

Life isn’t very neat.
Life isn’t very clean.

We all make errors.
Sometimes really stupid ones.
We all sin.
We all mess up.
We hurt one another.

But last week, we celebrated Communion.
When you came forward to receive the bread and drink, the servers said to you, “You guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out.

That’s what the angel said to Isaiah.
That’s what the angel says to us, too:
Your guilt has departed, and your sin is blotted out.

Let the past be the past.
Press on from here.
There’s work to be done.
And you can still do it.
Don’t get stuck in regret.
Move on to the future.

That’s what my friend did.
Because there’s always a future, no matter the past.
No matter what you did.
Or someone else did to you.

Don’t get stuck in regret.
Move on to the future.

Samuel is told by God to Bethlehem, to the House of Jesse, and there Samuel will find the next king of Israel.

Samuel says to God, How can I do this?
If Saul finds out, he’ll be furious.
I’ll be toast.

It’s hard to move on, isn’t it?

A million reasons for staying the course, and most of the time it’s good to stay the course, but we have to know when to “hold our cards, and we have to know when to fold “em.”

It’s good to stay the course.
Who likes a quitter?
But sometimes we just need to move on.

We need to make that fateful decision.
It’s been rolling around inside of us for months, maybe even for years.
We’ve prayed about it, thought about it, talked about it.

Time to move.
Time to get on with our life.
Time to let some things go.
Sell ‘em on eBay …
Give ‘em to Good Will …
It’s time to move on.

“But pastor,” you say, “what if I’m making a mistake? What happens then? I may not like where I am right now, but at least I know where I am.”

Well, we all know the truth about life:
There are no guarantees, are there?

The Bible says of God:
The LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

No guarantees
Not even for God.

But don’t get stuck in regret.
Move on to the future.

God says to Samuel, Throw a party. You don’t have to tell anyone what you’re doing. Just go there and have a good time, and I’ll show you the one who will be the future king.

When Samuel arrives, the town is abuzz with rumor.
No one was happy about his visit.
This whole political thing with Saul and Samuel was more than they bargained for.
This tiny little town just wanted to be left alone.
But here comes Samuel, one of the big guns.
And Saul may likely follow him.
And who knows what kind of trouble they’ll cause us.
Do you come peaceably? They ask.
I come in peace, says Samuel. Let’s have a party.
A sacred party.
Sanctify yourselves and come with me.

Samuel made a special effort to invite Jesse and his boys.
And now the party begins.

Samuel thinks to himself,
Wow, a look at all the fine men here … surely one of them is the next king of Israel.
But God kept saying, Nope, not yet.
One by one, seven sons of Jesse, on parade.
Sort of like a Ms. California beauty pageant!
Only it’s a bunch of guys: Look at those muscles. Goodness, he’s tall. What a hunk! He’d make a good king … Surely one of them.
But God said, Nope, not yet.

Come on LORD.
These are all good men … they’ll be just fine.
Can’t be any worse that your first choice.
Maybe a whole lot better.
I wonder if Samuel said to God, “Look God, you don’t have the best track record here.”

But the LORD said, I see things differently.

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Samuel asks Jesse, Any more sons?

Well, now that you ask, there IS one more, the youngest …
Oh, he’s not much.
He’s out tending the sheep … out in left field.
Someone needed to stay home and keep an eye on things.

Samuel says, Send for him. I want to see him, too. We can’t have the party until HE’S here.

I like this part story …
Sort of like the lost sheep story told by Jesus.
99 sheep – all good.
But one is missing … and that’s the one I’ll go and find.
Jesus always paid special attention to the folks out in left field.
The woman at the well.
Zacchaeus up a tree.
Blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road.
The thief on the cross.
No one left out.
No one overlooked.
Especially, the least of these.
The one least likely to succeed.
The one who doesn’t have it all.

Not the prom queen, nor the captain of the football team.
Not even the valedictorian …
Yup, there’s one more son – he’s out in left field.

I have a friend.
She’s a prayer warrior.
When she prays, she really prays, and God is there.
Her prayers rise out of the deep places of her heart.
She talks to God!

When I first met her, oh my – she was a left-field kind of person:
The usual markers were missing.
That’s what my eyes saw.
But my eyes deceived me.

Sort of like Susan Boyle and her appearance on “Britain Has Talent.”

Not one of the judges had any confidence when they saw Susan Boyle step out on to the stage – “she’s just a frumpy spinster from nowhere. Who does she think she is anyhow? She doesn’t have a chance. Who let her on the show?”
All the beautiful people said, “I don’t think so.”

Well, we know the rest of the story.
The music began …
Susan Boyle opened her mouth …
And she began to sing.

In a heartbeat, the judges were blown away.
The audience was cheering.
Tears in many an eye.

Everyone was caught in the same trap.
The trap of the eye.
The eye was deceived.
Everyone prayed a little prayer of repentance:
Oh LORD, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I judged Susan Boyle by her looks.
I’m sorry, LORD. It’ll not happen again.

Several things for us this morning …

Don’t get stuck in regret … move on to the future.
There are a millions reasons not to move, but move on any way.
Be careful of your eyes … they don’t tell the whole story.
Be sure to include the guy or the gal out in left field.

Amen and Amen!

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 7, 2009 - "Crisis"

Isaiah 6:1-8

The unexpected sorrow …
The change of course that no one wanted …
The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray …

Crisis comes a-calling … everything we’d planned on has to change …

These days, financial crisis … mortgage melt down … CEO’s going to jail for all kinds of schemes and scams … credit card companies jacking up interest rates, and banks closing …

Someone said to me the other day, “I’m worried about my bank closing.”
I said, “Don’t worry. If your bank is closed, just use the ATM!”

Speaking of banks, you know how a banker defines optimism? Ironing five white shirts on Sunday!

Crisis … our passage this morning from Isaiah is a series of crises … filled with spiritual guidance …

There are four crises here … maybe more, but I count four …

The first is a political crisis … in the year that King Uzziah died … and a good king he was … guided Judah through thick and thin for 52 years – that’s a long time; a couple of generations – King Uzziah is all they knew … but nothing lasts forever, does it? … not even a good king.
But as Judah mourns, wondering what to do, Isaiah sees a vision of God, sitting on a throne, high and lofty … the eternal king!

The first spiritual lesson – to see God above when things are dicey below …

“But pastor,” you say, “how do we do that? How do we see God above when things are dicey?”

Good question … how did Isaiah do it?
I think Isaiah was used to looking for God … Isaiah did it regularly … Isaiah trained his heart and mind; conditioned his soul – to look for God, and the promise of God is clear – “Look for me, and you will find me” [Proverbs 8:17; Jeremiah 29:13].

When I lived in northern Michigan, a springtime rite – the search for Morel mushrooms … slice it, dice it, cook and bake it – an incredible culinary adventure … but you had to find them first!

I went out with an experienced Morel hunter – tromping through the woods, looking here, looking there … he knew what to look for, and his eye was trained – he saw the Morels long before I did … he had trained himself over the years to find them.

Seeing God is a matter of practice and persistence … and like a good Morel hunter, coming home empty handed now and then – there are times, when we try with all our might, and we still can’t see God … but don’t give up; disappointment is part of the process.
In time, the Morel hunter learns how to do it, and they come home most of the time with a bag full of Morels.

Learning how to see God … a skill acquired over the years … learned from others, and practiced when times are good, and when times are hard.

Isaiah trained himself to see God above when things below were a dicey.

We can do the same … it takes times, persistence, a willingness to come home now and then empty-handed … a basic devotion to the great spiritual disciplines of faith: Bible reading and study, prayer and reflection, good reading and diligence in the life of the church - in time, we learn how to see God above when things below are dicey.

This is one of our gifts to the world … to see God high and lifted up when things are low-down and dirty.
We train ourselves to do this … and we help others do it … just like good Morel hunters in Northern Michigan!

The second crisis: a spiritual crisis – because God is really big!
So big, that only the hem of God’s robe can fit into the temple, which was pretty big; it was a big temple, but miniscule compared to God!

Isaiah says, What with all the singing of the seraphim, creatures of flame, the whole place was shaking … and the temple was filled with smoke.

How big is God?
How big is your God?

J. B. Phillips wrote a book some years ago, “You’re God is Too Small” – and he’s right … most of the time, our god is too small, way too small …
I like a god all packaged up – neat and clean!
Don’t you?
I think we Christians do this a lot to God.

We put God in a box.
We write our creeds and publish our theologies, and we’ve got it all figured out.
Believe this, and you’ll be saved.
Do this, and you will live.

One of my heroes of the faith, Harry Emerson Fosdick, wrote this piece of wisdom: I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.

I think we waste a lot of time with small ideas.
A candle when we could have the sun.
Pictures of Big Bear when we could be there in two hours.
A can of hash when we could have a steak instead.

Humankind is shaped by big ideas.
Big ideas that demand big things of us …
And the church is shaped best of all by a big God!
A God who shakes things up now and then.

A God so big we have to be big.
Bigger than we were yesterday!
Not always fun when the thresholds shake and the place is filled with smoke … sounds like a bad earthquake.
Religion needs a good earthquake now then; knock a few things off the shelves – smash a few things; move the furniture – turn a few tables!
A good shaking up now and then, from a really big God, a God too big for the commonplace … too big for our creeds and our confessions; too big for our conventional wisdom and bigger than our habits … bigger than our ideas and bigger than what we usually expect … a God so big that even the Crystal Cathedral could hold only the hem of God’s robe.
That’s the kind of God we need … that’s the kind of God we have … and THAT God will give us a good shaking now then …

The third crisis: an emotional crisis.
Woe is me! says Isaiah. I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.

When Isaiah sees God, Isaiah sees the stains on his own soul.
When Isaiah sees purity and goodness, faithfulness and love, Isaiah recognizes his own sad state … Woe is me.

I think of Peter in the New Testament, when he and the other fishermen are told by Jesus to put out into deep water and let down the nets … Peter objects – “We just came in from a long night of fishing, without a fish to show for it, and you want us to go out again, in daylight, when no one goes fishing?”
So they put out into deep water and let down the nets, and they catch such a huge number of fish, the nets were breaking; they call for their partners in the other boat, and both boats are soon filled with so many fish, the boats are in danger of sinking.
When Peter sees this display of grace, he falls at the feet of Jesus and says, Go away from me, LORD, for I am a sinful man.

There’s some powerful stuff going on here … 
Both Isaiah and Peter meet their match and then some in the glory and grace of God.
Isaiah and Peter – powerful men who need to be tamed by the power of God.
Proud men who need to spend time on their knees, humbled by the goodness of God.
Good men, who need to see the stains on their souls, the grip of sin in their lives … lest they become puffed up with themselves!

There’s something important here for us …
A lesson to be learned …
We live in a culture where folks are mighty puffed up with themselves.
“Everyone else has issues, but I don’t.”
“If only folks would get outta my way so I could be happy.”
We are culture that deflects responsibility … and loves to blame someone else!

No, not me; oh no; never me!
It’s my boss, my spouse, my parents, my children, my teachers, my co-workers, my neighbors – but it’s not me, LORD.
It’s circumstances beyond my control … my DNA … a bad time in the womb … and my Irish ancestry … but it’s not me, LORD.
It’s the color of my hair, the shape of my nose – my dog ate my homework, and apparently Martians are in charge of my bank account, but it’s not me, LORD … no, never me.

I think we might do well to spend some time with Isaiah and his woe is me … I am a man of unclean lips.
Please note - Isaiah beings with himself first: I am a man of unclean lips.
And only then does he speak of others who share the same malady.
Isaiah doesn’t shift the blame.
Isaiah begins with himself measured in the grace of God, and that’s always a good place to begin. Not easy; but good!

Sure, I’d rather begin with others …
Let’s see, how can I fix Donna?
Or my children?
Or the folks I work with?
If they’d only listen to me.

But that’s not how it goes, if we really want to make a difference!
We start with ourselves!
We stay with ourselves, and we stay on our case.
Because it takes a lifetime and then some to work out the kinks and fulfill our destiny.
We don’t have time to work on others.
There’s plenty of work to be done on our own lives.
And if we have any hope of changing the world, we do it by changing ourselves …

And with that, one of the seraphim, one of the burning creatures of God, flies to the altar and grabs a burning coal with a pair of tongs … the fire of God – and touches Isaiah’s lips – and with that, the declaration needed by every human being: Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out!

The gift of life from God above.
The healing of the soul.
The sad darkness within dispelled with light.
That’s what we just did in the LORD's Supper – the love of Christ touched our hearts – the burning coals of God’s grace … your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out!

The last crisis – a vocational crisis.
God asks, Whom shall I send?”
Unfair question!

But there’s always one more piece to the puzzle …
Yes, I’m forgiven, but now what?
What comes next?

Whom shall I send?

I’ve got a good idea God.
Send Willie.
Send Shari.
Or how about Leslie, or Stafford?

Yeah, send them, LORD.
They’ll do a good job for you.
I know they will.
Send them.

Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?

Isaiah looks around, and there’s no one around.
Willie isn’t there, or Shari.
Neither Leslie nor Safford.
Just Isaiah.
Just you.
Just me.

This is a personal calling from God.
We can’t deflect it.
We can’t nominate anyone else.

It’s a call that comes to each of us.
Yes, to each of us! No one in this place is exempt!
To Abraham and Sarah in Haran.
To Moses in Egypt.
To Isaiah in Judah.
To the fishermen in their boats.
And Paul on the Damascus Road.

To everyone who even comes close to God.
God is a calling God.
A God who says, Whom shall I send?

And there’s no one there but you and me to answer.

God does it that way.
Just you and me … puts us on the spot.

Isaiah echoes the faithful words of a real giant – a man on his way – growing in the love of God – Here I am; send me.”

The word “vocation” - from the Latin - from which we get the word “vocal” – voice – a vocation is the voice of God calling us, and everyone in this place hears this call.
Many of us heard it in Sunday School when we were children.
Maybe you heard it ten years ago, or just last week.
Maybe you’re hearing it right, for the first time in your life, or maybe for the umpteenth time …

Here I am; send me!

Well, there ya’ have it: four crises: four lessons.

To see God above when things are dicey below.
A big God always shakes things up, and it’s okay.
The love of God reveals things we’re not proud of, but with the burning coals of God’s love, our guilt is sent packing and our sin is no more.
The call of God comes to us … personal and deep … and there’s only one answer to satisfy the soul: Here I am; send me.

Amen and Amen!