Tuesday, September 29, 2009

September 27, 2009 - "Sorrow to Gladness"

Esther - chapter 8 & 9

The Bible celebrates the work of God:

God says, Let it be, and it is.

Creation and all of its creatures, sun, moon and stars …

The call of Sarah and Abraham …

The promise of a child …

Deliverance from Egypt …

Guidance in the wilderness: manna in the morning, water from the rock …

Through the sea to the Promised Land …

Jericho conquered and enemies defeated …

Judges and prophets, kings and queens …

God at work,

God at work,

God at work.

But … Esther strikes a startling note …

God never shows up … not even once!

Just Esther and her Uncle Mordecia … and the people held captive in a faraway land.

Ahasuerus, the king of Persia … vain and powerful … proud and willful …

And Haman, a sniveling snot, hateful of the Jews.

Our story begins with a party … Ahasuerus, in all of his pomp and power, throws a wild party …

The Bible reads:

The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were present, while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty for many days, one hundred eighty days in all.

When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.

When the king is thoroughly potted, he calls for his queen, queen Vashti … the king wants to show off his eye-candy … but to everyone’s surprise, Vashti tells the king to take a hike.

The king is embarrassed.

The officials incensed.

The guests shocked.

The king and his officials huddle … this is a crisis of state.

If the women of the empire hear that Vashti refused the king, it’s going to go down bad for men everywhere.

So, Vasthi is dumped … never again to enter the king’s chambers … she’s history, because she refused the king … she’s lucky she didn’t lose her head.

Now what?

What’s a king to do without a queen?

A king needs a queen …

A little eye-candy to decorate the palace …

A pretty little thing hanging on his arm …

A trophy wife to show the boys at the country club …

Look, this is not a pretty picture …

It’s gross, sickening and silly.

Power without restraint.

Wealth without purpose.

Bloated egos and huge expense accounts.

Life at the top of the heap …

Everything big …

Big appetites, big egos, big parties, big homes, the bigger the better …

What’s a king to do when he needs a queen?

Well, of course … announce a beauty pageant …

All lovely young ladies apply here.

If accepted, you’ll be given an extreme makeover …

You’ll be coddled and doted upon …

You’ll be exercised, bathed and perfumed …

You’ll be taught how to walk and talk and think like a queen … ah, well, ah, excuse, me … you’ll be taught to walk like queen … but ease up on the talking – the king isn’t interested … and forget about thinking – the king couldn’t care less.

All the king wants is a little eye candy.

So the young ladies of the land send in their applications … sounds like reality TV, doesn’t it? With high hopes of being chosen by the king to be the next queen of Persia.

For a moment, the story shifts to Mordecai and his beautiful niece, Esther … her parents died early on, so Mordecai adopted Esther and raised her as his own daughter.

She’s an eye-full, that’s for sure.

And when the girls of the realm are gathered, Esther is among them.

For a whole year, the girls are preened and prepped:

Six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.

And then the moment … drum roll please …

The most eligible bachelor in the realm calls for the pageant to begin… everyone dressed fit to kill … the girls can wear anything they want from the finest wardrobes of the palace … they’ve prepared mincing and posing for 12 long months … now the moment is here:

Who’s going to be sent home?

Who’s going to get the red rose?

One by one, the girls pay a visit to the king.

One by one, they’re sent packing … whisked away in a cheap chariot … they can keep the perfume and the clothes.

Now it’s Esther’s turn.

She catches the king’s eye.

He’s smitten by her.

Esther gets the rose.

The little Jewish girl, an orphan and a captive in a strange land, becomes the queen of Persia.

In the meantime, Mordecai discovers an assassination plot to kill the king … Mordecai spills the beans and wins the king’s affection.

But Mordecai gets crossways with a top official in the palace … Mordecai refuses to bow and scrape before Haman … the sniveling snot … Haman is incensed … his pride wounded … his ego yelling for blood.

Haman manipulates the king into signing a death order for the Jews throughout the kingdom - every last one of them … Kill ‘em all!

Well, that’s one way of taking care of it …

Is anything here done reasonably?

It’s all over the top.

Power gone mad.

A party that lasts 180 days.

Thousands to die for one man’s pride.

The Jews hear of the order and are frightened out of their wits … what can they do? … their captors hold all the cards … the “Golden Rule” – you know what that means, don’t ya’? Those with all the gold, make all the rules!

Mordecai approaches Esther …

Esther, Esther, can you do something?

Esther replies, Mordecai, you know the deal … I’m the queen, and that and five bucks gets me a caramel latte at the local coffee shop … if anyone goes into the palace unbidden, they can die, just like that. Just like that! No one goes to the king unbidden.

But Mordecai says, Don’t think for a moment you’re going to be safe. When the hammer falls, you, too, will die. Help may yet come to the Jews from some other source, but it’ll be too late for you Esther, too late for you and your family.

Every time I read this story, I’m reminded of Pastor Martin Niemoller who lived through the Nazi Holocaust … Pastor Niemoller protested and paid a price for it, and when the war was finally over, he wrote a poem:

When the Nazis came for the communists,

I remained silent;

I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,

I did not speak out;

I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,

there was no one left to speak out.

In my mind’s eye, I see Esther pacing the floor, brow furrowed, deep in anguished thought …

What shall I do?

Should I take a chance? Am I a fool to try, or a worse fool to remain silent?

Ever been there?

An ethical dilemma on your shoulders?

A young truck driver told by his boss to dump toxic waste in a nearby stream late at night …

An HR VP told by the higher-ups to fire 400 people, and do it now … and if she does it now, there’ll be a fat Christmas bonus for her …

An accountant who sees the books being cooked …

A scientist who knows the toxic compounds being used in food products …

A farmer trapped - between paying fruit pickers a decent wage and the giant buyer who pays pennies on the dollar …

Ever been in an ethical dilemma?

Tough, isn’t it?

Do I keep my mouth shut and do I what I’m told?

What about my family?

My future?

My children?

Hey, I need the job.

I’m glad to have a job.

I’ll close my eyes to what’s going on.

Or will I?

Is there something more important here than me?

More important than my family?

My security?

My world?

Big questions, aren’t they?

You pace the floor, your nights are troubled, your stomach churns … you can’t think of anything else … your turn it over in your mind a thousand different ways – you try to get on with your life, but you can’t … you try to forget it, but it snaps back at ya’ …

You have to decide …

Esther, Esther, what will you do?

I can hear her thoughts, can’t you?

The people … who are they?

Who do they think they are?

Maybe they don’t deserve it.

Look at ‘em … look at me.

I live in luxury; they live on the edge.

I’m beautiful; they’re not.

I’m on top of the heap, someone has to be on the bottom.

I’ve got it, and they don’t.

Good for me, and too bad for them.

Esther, Esther, what will you do?

I can see her, can’t you?

There she stands … in the middle of the room … alone.

Head down.

A deep, deep, breath taken.

Esther looks up …

Eyes determined …

Mouth set …

Resolve - written all over her face.

She’s made the decision - at last.

She walks to the window of her room … overlooking the palace courtyard … across from the gate, where Mordecai sits in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the fate of his people.

His people … my people.

Esther’s going to do it!

She’s going to do it, and she’s going to do it right!

For the people … the people, yes … the people.

Maybe I’m safe, but they’re not.

Maybe I’d make it, but they won’t.

It isn’t about me … it’s about the people … the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker … the kid flipping burgers at In n Out, the gal pushing the vacuum cleaner in the hallway of my hotel room … the bartender in the nightclub … the man on the corner hoping for a buck … folks on the bus and folks on the sidewalk … folks in Beverly Hills and folks in east LA … the haves and the have-nots … the rich and the poor … the most and the least …

Think of the world in which we live … the people, yes, the people …

Esther cannot separate herself from the people.

What she does, she does for them.

The courage of compassion … to see a need and fill it … to risk ourselves for the greater good …

The courage of Martin Luther in Germany defying Pope and Emperor, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in an Alabama jail.

The courage of Albert Schweitzer in Africa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi prison.

The courage of Carl Sandburg, to write for the people who worked in the horrible factories of Chicago … to make the steel, to butcher the meat and load the trucks … children, 12-hour days, seven days a week … women on the streets … men desperate for work …

Courage to see the world.

Your courage and my courage.

Now, let me get back to the earlier comment about the Book of Esther … God doesn’t show up in this little book … nary a mention of God … why?

Because there comes a when God says, You know what you need to do … you don’t need anything more from me; I’ve given you everything you need. You know what you have to do!

Esther had everything she needed from God … the rest is up to Esther … God will not decide for us; God will not kick us in the butt or grab us by the ear … God steps away, and we’re left on our own!

That incredible moment when we can’t defer any further to God – no more questions to ask, no more data to gather, no more Bible studies and no more prayers … all the grace we need has been given; all the love we desire is ours …

The rest is up to us!

With a deep breath and firm resolve, Esther puts on her royal robes and goes to the palace. The king sees her and says to her, Whatever you want, Esther, it’s yours.

Esther’s story ends well.

But not every story ends so well, does it?

We know that.

So does Esther.

It’s must never be the outcome that determines our action.

It’s the need.

It’s the moment.

It’s the people.

Today, tomorrow … the world out there.

You’ll meet it on the road.

You’ll read it on your computer.

You’ll hear it on the evening news …

You care, don’t you?

Of course you care.

Because you know Christ.

You ARE the people, and THEY are you.

Every man, woman and child is you.

And you are everyone!

That’s what it means to be alive!

To be a human being.

That’s what it means to be in Christ.

You care, don’t you?

Of course you do!

Now let’s put on our royal robes and go see the king!

Let’s take a chance … let’s go for the people … let’s see what happens … it may turn out better than we expect!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Finding Wisdom Everywhere

Proverbs 1:20-33

Wisdom is found everywhere!
Over hill and dale, and all around the town:
A busy street.
A crowded intersection.
At the city gates.

Available to all …
Without price.
Without chage.

Wisdom cries out:
Be smart.
Be wise.
Don’t be a simpleton.

With a sharp reproof to scoffers …
Naysayers and complainers …
And to the fool who refuses to learn!

And a warning …
Ya’ better do it now, because there will come a crisis, and then it’ll be too late …
Simpletons and fools will suffer.
Scoffers will find no solace.
But the wise will be secure!

So we might well ask this morning, “What’s wisdom?”

There’s a ton of stuff out there that claims to be wisdom.
Talk radio and TV evangelists … pundits and politicians …
Far-right, far-left, and just plain far out …
How in the world do we sort it all out?
How do we decide?
What’s wisdom, and what’s foolishness?

The truth be told:
Not all that glitters is gold.
Not everything that purports to be wisdom is wise.
But sorting it out isn’t easy.

Proverbs reminds us:
Scoffers and fools are influential.
Their words carry weight.
Folks are taken in by the silver-tongued every day.
Paul the Apostle confronts this matter in 2 Corinthians … Paul speaks of the “super-apostle” – slick words and good shows impressed the Corinthians with a false gospel.
P.T. Barnum said it well: a sucker is born every minute.

And sometimes I get the feeling that American Christians can really be suckers … we fail to be discerning …
Too often the dross, and not the gold.
Too often the chaff, and not the wheat.

Sometimes I get the feeling that American Christianity lacks maturity – the capacity to think clearly and critically …

Dr. Harley Swiggum recognized this in the late fifties when he was called to Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin for adult education.
Bethel Lutheran was a huge congregation – full of influential people, good people, strong people, who loved the LORD.
But “they were defenseless,” said Swiggum.
“Defenseless against the slick talker and the good show. Like sheep, they could easily be led astray.”
Swiggum said, “There’s only one sure way to sort it all out – know the Bible … know it through and through, how it works and what it says, and to study it well for one’s entire life.”
And so Dr. Swiggum developed the Bethel Bible Series, to help folks get wisdom … so they can sort it all out; sit in a pew on Sunday morning and listen responsibly to the reading of Scripture and to the preacher – so they can say the prayers and sing the hymns knowingly, intelligently … and listen to a TV preacher or a History Channel special about finding Noah’s Ark, and be able discern the tawdry from the truth; the real from the unreal; fact from fiction.

I’ve been paying attention to sermons for a long time.
In seminary, I worked in the library – I reshelved books returned by students and pastors … I decided to look at what pastors were reading, and even as a first-year student, I was shocked and disturbed – so much of it was just plain schlock … syrupy spirituality, mediocre moralisms, simpleton ideas and shallow commitments.

The writer to the Hebrews touches upon this very thing – simpleton thinking, always a danger for God’s people – to settle for the simple rather than the sublime … to shy away from the big stuff and go for the small ideas …

In the image of Hebrews, too many Christians are still drinking infant’s milk instead of eating solid food.
Get on with it, says the writer to the Hebrews.
Quit laying the same foundation over and over again – there’s more to this Christian life than conversion and theological ideas.

I get the uneasy feeling that the larger a congregation grows, the more likely it is to feed on milk rather than solid food.
Folks want to hear about heaven, but they don’t want to hear about earth.
I get the uneasy feeling, because I’ve been there, that in the larger congregations, there’s tremendous pressure on pastors to offer milk, and even that watered down, rather than solid food.

This is a problem for God’s people.
In the second letter to Timothy, the apostle writes:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths [2 Timothy 4:1-4].

Maybe even in smaller congregations.
Maybe ever here at Covenant on the Corner.
Reluctance to tackle the big stuff and go for the small ideas.
Talk about Christ, but keep it spiritual.
Talk about faith, but keep it personal.
Talk about God, but keep it private.

The Southern Presbyterian Church formed in the heat of the days leading up to the Civil War – in the course of time, our Southern brothers and sisters developed an interesting doctrine: the spirituality of the church – that pastors should only preach spiritual things, whatever that really means?
In fact, what it means: leave me alone. Talk about heaven, but don’t talk about earth!

Can you see why the Southern Presbyterians developed such a doctrine?
Because their reality was so painful.

They lived in a world of slavery – life was good because life was bad for thousands of slaves working the in the hot cotton fields, lugging heavy bales onto paddle boats, and if you were a young slave girl, beckoned to the master’s bedroom.

It took the Southern Presbyterian Church a hundred years to work it all out … and to this very day, though North and South are now one church again, the doctrine of the spirituality of the church still holds sway in parts of our denomination, and for many conservatives, they want to keep it that way … preach doctrine, preach conversion, preach heaven, but don’t preach the world to us, don’t challenge the way we live, because life is good for us, and we don’t want to hear how bad it is for millions working in sweat shops around the world and just around the corner … the shirts we wear and the skirts we buy and the food we eat are cheap because someone, somewhere, pays the price with sweat, blood and tears.
Don’t preach the world to us preacher.
Just preach heaven.

How do we sort it all out?

The accurate from the inaccurate; the false from the true … the fabricated from the factual?
Here’s where Proverbs is helpful … more than helpful … vital …

To us who claim the name of Christ … we’re Christians … followers of the way …
It’s vital for us, don’t ya’ think, that we deal with truth?
Jesus said, I’m the way, the truth and the life

Remember the courtroom scene when Jesus stands before Pilate?
Pilate asks: “What’s truth?” and Jesus remains silent.
Why? Why the silence?
Because truth IS Jesus.
Jesus standing there in front of Pilate.
Truth is not a maxim, a principle, or an idea.
Truth is flesh and blood, and love.
Truth takes up a cross.
Truth challenge the powers and the principalities.
Truth refuses to answer Pilate, because Pilate already has his own version of the truth – and for Pilate, it’s all about power and prestige … for Pilate, it’s the golden rule … those with all the gold make all the rules!

Get the picture?
Here’s Pilate, wearing expensive clothing, hair well-done, in a well-appointed palace, surrounded by Imperial Guards with shiny weapons, servants attending to Pilate’s every need, fine food and drink … the lap of luxury … and then Jesus, hands bound with tough leather straps, blood seeping through his tattered robe, hair tangled with spit and sweat … already half-way to death …

You’re standing there, in a shadowy corner – you’re a witness to this encounter – there you are, ten feet away: watching a Jewish prophet from Galilee hours away from death, and mighty Pilate in his palace … and you ask yourself, “Who’s telling the truth?”

How might you answer?

Come one now, tell yourself the truth.

Might you not be inclined to go with Pilate?
Rather than this beaten and tattered man swaying unsteadily on his bloody feet.
Pilate questions him with an imperious voice.
Jesus is horse from thirst, his mouth swollen from the fists that easily found their mark.

Who might you choose?

I posted this to Facebook the other day, and got some interesting replies …
One friend suggested that since we’re now on this side of it all, we can easily choose Jesus.
But I wonder …
I wonder if it’s all so easy.

Think of it as metaphor … Pilate’s pomp on the one hand … the scruffy figure in tattered robe on the other …

In the book of James, the question surfaces about church visitors – those who show up in fine dress are given the best pews in the church, and the man who shows up in shabby dress is told to stand in the lobby or take the folding chair off to the side.

The metaphor still functions ... to whom are we inclined to give the greater weight: a well-dressed CEO or a line-worker?
Perhaps if we were blind, it would be easier, but, then, I suppose, we'd go with the sound of the voice, or something like that.
I think the juxtaposition of Jesus and Pilate, and the well-dressed and the shabby in James 2, suggest that I'm still easily fooled by appearances ... or to put it more personally, to which pastor am I likely to give the greater credence - the pastor of a 15,000 member megachurch or the pastor of a rural parish in Oklahoma?

We’re easily seduced by the very things that mean so little to God …

Size never matters to God.
Listen to what God says to the people of Israel in the wilderness:
It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you [Deuteronomy 7:7].

Power and prestige are of no consequences to God.
Here’s what Paul writes to the Corinthians:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [1 Corinthians 1:26-33].

Gold is nothing more to God than street gravel.
Have you ever wondered why the streets of heaven are paved with gold?
What do we use here to pave our streets, but the cheapest materials we can find? Sand and gravel, because they’re plentiful – they’re everywhere, and that makes sand and gravel cheap.
Heaven’s streets are paved with gold because in God’s kingdom gold is as cheap as sand and gravel. What we use to decorate bathroom fixtures or wear upon our bodies will be nothing more than street material in God’s heaven.
When was the last time any of us wore a piece of gravel as a pendant? Or stored up sand for ourselves?
In heaven, gold will be nothing more than gravel and sand!

How do we sort it all out?

Look to Jesus.
Study the beatitudes.
Ponder the Book of Proverbs.
Feed your soul on good things.
Things that build you up and encourage you to a noble life.
Things that tell the truth and commend you to a life of service and sacrifice.

Pay attention:
Fear-mongers are working over time these days.
Fear mongers warning us about gays and lesbians who “want to destroy our nation and dismantle the family.”
“Muslims are going to take over the world and make us all bow the knee to Allah.”
Jesus Camps and fundamentalist churches harp upon a consistent theme: “nefarious plans are underway to take away our rights, take away our guns, tell us what to eat, and turn us into a socialist state.”
Peddling boogiemen and monsters under the bed and in the closet.
Turn on TV and pay attention to the fear-ads.
Illness is a big fear, “But don’t be afraid, we’ll sell you drugs; and if we have to read the fine print to you about side-effects, we’ll read real fast, even as we play beautiful music and show beautiful people prancing around with health and vigor.”
Home security is a big fear, “But don’t be afraid, we’ll sell you a home alarm system … and you’ll always be safe with us.”
Fear, fear, fear!

Dear Christian friends; pay attention to fear … when fears start to rise, hell draws near.
Fear is Satan’s chief weapon against us … fear is Satan’s medicine to make us sick … sick with trepidation and sick with anxiety.
Ward it off and walk away!

Because Jesus says: “Fear not!”
Don’t be afraid, says Jesus, because it is your Father’s will to give you the kingdom [Luke 12:32].

John writes to his little church:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love [1 John 4:18].

How do we sort it all out?

Trust your own spirit, your own instincts.
What builds up is likely of God!
Even though God will challenge us to the core and push us to the limit, it will feel right.
God always feels right.
When something doesn’t feel right.
That’s a good sign that something is wrong.
That it’s not God, but Satan.
When something agitates without purpose.
When anxiety rises and suspicion grows.
When everyone who’s different begins to look like a threat … when other religions are condemned, when chasms grow deeper and fences grow taller,
A clear sign that we’re dealing with a script from hell.

I close with words from Proverbs:
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you [Proverbs 1:22-23].
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

September 6, 2009 - Ancient Wisdom

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

A board of directors, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hires a new CEO. This new boss is determined to rid the company of all slackers.

On a tour of the facilities, the CEO notices a guy leaning on a wall. The room is full of workers and he thinks this is his chance to show everyone he means business!

The CEO walks up to the guy and asks, "And how much money do you make a week?"

Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, "I make $200.00 a week. Why?"

The CEO then hands the guy $200 in cash and screams, "Here's a week's pay, now GET OUT and don't come back!"

Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asks, "Does anyone want to tell me what that slacker did here?"

With a sheepish grin, one of the other workers mutters.........

"He's the pizza delivery guy!"

We don’t always know the lay of the land, do we?

Sometimes we act before we think … as a friend of mine says: “Ready, fire, aim.”

Been there, done that a few times.

How about you?

The Book of Proverbs understands.

No highfalutin’ ideas here … just the basics!

What does it mean to live a good life?

It’s a question I’ve pondered for the last 40 years … not only for my own life, but what with all the funerals I’ve done – around 800 or so … so many families – all wonderfully different, and some distressed by tragedy and dysfunction.

I always ask the adult children: “What did you learn about life from you father, or your mother?”

I’ve heard it all, of course.

Good and bad, and mostly the good:

I’ve learned how to be compassionate.

I’ve learned courage and fortitude.

I’ve learned the power of forgiveness.

My dad taught me all about God.

My mother taught me how to work hard.

Sometimes it gets a little dark.

My mother hurt me.

My father didn’t love me.

They fought all the time.

I remember one poignant moment – three brothers, all in their mid-30s, preparing for their father’s funeral: I asked, “What did you learn about life from your dad?”

Silence … a heavy silence in the room.

Three young men … hunched over in their chairs, hands tightly folded in front of them … heads down … until the elder brother lifted his head and looked at me with steel in his eyes, with a deep sigh, shaking his head, “Not a damn thing Tom; not a damn thing.”

What does it mean to live a good life?

The Book of Proverbs goes to the heart of the matter – basic things …

God the creator… God the divine … the eternal realities … faith, hope and love … faith in God and faith in one another, and faith in ourselves, too.

Hope for a better day, and a better world.

Hope in the face of hardship and frustration.

Because hope doesn’t give up.

And love …

The hardcore kind of love - commitment and service.

Going the whole way and then some.

Taking up the cross and carrying it as far as you can.

Involvement and compassion.

Bravery and courage.

Kindness and mercy.

Restraint and control.

Long listening and careful speaking.

Speaking your convictions, but doing so with humility.

A tender regard for others, especially the down and the out: “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”

One of my all-time favorite poems by D.H. Lawrence says it well:

As we live, we are transmitters of life.

And when we fail to transmit life, life fails to flow through us.


And if, as we work, we can transmit life into our work,

Life, still more life, rushes into us to compensate, to be ready

And we ripple with life through the days.

Even if it is a woman making an apple dumpling, or a man a stool,

If life goes into the pudding, good is the pudding,

Good is the stool,

Content is the woman with fresh life rippling in to her,

Content is the man.

Give, and it shall be given unto you

Is still the truth about life.

But giving life is not so easy.

It doesn’t mean handing it out to some mean fool, or letting the living dead eat you up.

It means kindling the life-quality where it was not,

Even if it’s only in the whiteness of a washed pocket handkerchief.

Kindling the life-quality where it was not.

I’ve know some remarkable people – folks who kindle the life-quality …

I remember Jack Bollema from Grand Rapids Christian High School … I was a sophomore or junior in a history class, and Mr. Bollema, full of energy and faith, stepped to the chalk board and boldly wrote in big letters the word “History” … and then wrote again, in every bigger letters: “HIS Story” …

I’ve never forgotten that moment … the life-quality kindled … the secret of life, if you will: His Story - it’s all about God, everything … every bit of it … sweet and sour; weal and woe; light and dark; life and death … the good, the bad and the ugly … me, and everyone else!

Sure, it’s a hodgepodge, and who can figure it out?

But the Bible reminds us:

You can live in the hodgepodge; you can live it well.

Live with faith, hope and love, no matter what … even when we can’t figure it out!

A friend of mine writes:

… it isn't always the endgame we're after in our little worlds. It's the doing. It's the moments. It's that space between managing life and understanding that time is what it is, and that there is joy in knowing what needs to get done will, simply put, get done. [The Blankie Chronicles]

Faith, hope and love.

That’s what counts; not the storm around us, or even the storm inside of us, but the way we live in the midst of the storm … and along the way, giving shelter to others for whom the storm is too much.

“The Shelter of Each Other” as author Mary Pipher puts it … or as Jesus said it, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Love is a powerful, ethical, word.

Love seeks the welfare of the other, as Dr. Scott Peck put it in the book, The Road Less Travelled.

Love rolls up its sleeves and gets its hands dirty.

Love refuses to roll over and play dead.

Love can’t be bought off.

Love can’t be shut off.

Love can’t be killed.

70 years ago, September 1, 1939, German tanks rolled across the frontier into Poland, and so began WW2 – six years later, 45 million people dead, and the horror of all horrors, “the final solution,” the Holocaust - the systematic killing of 6 million Jews, and millions more – Gypsies, gays and lesbians, the mentally and physically challenged … and anyone who dared to raise a question, anyone who followed Jesus rather than Hitler – the real Jesus; not the Jesus of Church and country, but the Jesus of Galilee and Calvary.

The Thousand Year Reich ended in the ashes of Berlin and the suicide of Hitler; the Empire of the Rising Sun ended in a mushroom cloud … the greatest war machine marched too far – the way of all empires, Roman, British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Soviet, or American … guns and bullets and marching soldiers, oh so thrilling, seduce us with a wicked song, until we crash and burn on the rocks of our own power.

This is the way of all empire.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.

Such is the ancient wisdom.

The powers and principalities that would rule over us cannot win the day …

Justice will have its way …

Love will prevail.

As the hymn puts it: This is my father’s world!

A good and godly man or woman lives by the code of love.

No matter the storm howling around us, we live with an eye on God and a hand outstretched to others.

The Book of Proverbs pulls no punches.

It gets to the core of life.

The deepest values – the way we live.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,

And favor is better than silver or gold.

The Hebrew word for “favor” is something like compassion or generous living … to be seen by as others as a person of compassion or generosity – to have the favor of others for the goodness and kindness we live.

If we read the whole of the Proverbs, Solomon celebrates and enjoys material success, too.

For Solomon, it’s not an either/or choice – either to have a good name, or to be wealthy, but to make the right beginning.

When we choose to make a good name for ourselves, the other issues get resolved …

Jesus said it well: Choose first the kingdom of God, and all the other things that you need will fall into place.

Putting it candidly, putting it straight,

What happened with Bernie Madoff?

I don’t know, but I do know that he single-handedly caused untold sorrow for thousands of investors who put their money into his hands.

Was he greedy?

Were the investors greedy?

I don’t know …

But could it have been different?

If he had remembered:

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,

and the rod of anger will fail.

Those who are generous are blessed,

for they share their bread with the poor.

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

or crush the afflicted at the gate;

for the LORD pleads their cause

What about us?

We’re not dealing in billions or millions (if you are, talk to me after the service, would ya’?)

Most of us deal in thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, even a few million now and then … but whether it be 25 cents or 25 million, we begin with our name; that’s what counts, our name.

And the simple truth: we’re all in this together.

Many who are rich would like us to believe that they are different than everyone else, their problems, their challenges, bigger and greater and categorically unique – Not so! says Solomon, one of the wealthiest men to have ever lived.

Because we all have one thing in common, says Solomon – the LORD has made us all

No one is self-made.

No one makes their own way through life … not one dime is ours by work – it’s all by grace, all by divine providence – God’s counsel and God’s decision, God’s will and God’s purpose.

That’s a humbling thought - because the ego wants to believe: “It’s mine, all mine; I’ve worked for it.”

Like a child screaming at a playmate about a toy truck, “It’s mine, and you can’t have it.”

Ever watch a child behave that way?

What do you think when you hear that?

Selfishness in a child is disgusting.

But what about an adult?

I wonder … when God looks in upon us, is this the way we’re behaving sometimes?

“It’s mine, and you can’t have it!”

Is anything really ours?

Is not everything given to us?

Given to us by the hand of God?

We’re all born without a dime, and we’ll all die penniless.

In between, we might be blessed, blessed bounteously by God, but we’re all in the same boat - agrand adventure called life … we are all brothers and sisters, and, yes, there are differences, but the point remains: to those to whom much has been given, much is required [Luke 12:48].

This is why faith in God is so vital.

Real faith … not the cheapened version, the cheapened feel-good, yippie-kai ai, cry-your-eyes-out-for Jesus style religion, but the real thing, empowered by compassion and high-ethics and a life-changing love for justice.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8].

Faith in God saves us from putting our faith anywhere else.

Because nothing else will do.

We put our faith in God!

To keep us balanced and sane.

On the right track and doing the right things.

We’re not easily de-centered when we’re centered in God, though all hell should break loose.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult [Psalm 46].

We may be afraid, but we won’t fear.

We may sweat a little, but we won’t cringe in the dark.

We may lose a lot of sleep, but we won’t lose our hope.

Because of our faith in God …

God, at work in all things, for OUR good …

Because God is good all the time, and

All the time God is good.

That’s the ancient wisdom.

Amen and Amen!