Monday, November 30, 2009

November 29, 2009 - "Hope Changes the World" - Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

Hope changes the world.

Hope is a terrific energy … positive and empowering … hopeful people change their world … that world may be as large as India and the hope as powerful as Gandhi’s vision of a nation free of British control.
That world may be as large as the Berlin Wall, and the hope may be as powerful as a message, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!
That world may be as large as South Africa and the hope may be as powerful as Nelson Mandela’s dream of a people, white and black, freed from Apartheid.
That world may be as small as your home and the hope as powerful as a love that will not give up on a loved one who’s lost her way …
That world might be where you work … and the hope as powerful as a dream for fair wages and decent benefits …
That world might be where you worship … and the hope as powerful as a dream to go Nicaragua … or to craft an a new worship service the whole family can attend, including dogs!

Hope changes the world.
Hope is a terrific energy.

Today …
Light one candle for hope.
One candle?
How about a million?
Maybe a billion?
All over the world today, Christians are about the good work of hope …

Hope is energizing.
Hope is powerful.
Hope is always real.

No matter how daunting the challenge,
No matter how great the crisis,
No matter how serious the problem!

Hope sees light when darkness abounds.
Hope believes when vision fails.
Hope stands firm when fear stalks the soul.

Hope is a theological category.
A spiritual energy.
Hope is a God-thing!
Because God is about the big picture … the long haul … the whole shebang … the Alpha and the Omega!
And you and I have a chance go be a part of that … to live the power of hope for a world that’s gets stuck in a short-term panic … God stabilizes us, steadies us – lest we become frantic day-traders, buying and selling our lives, moment-by-moment … to live in the moment is to live unpredictably … to live in God is to live in hope!

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I’ve made.
There will be a time when justice prevails and righteousness abounds … when the people will be safe and sound.

So don’t give up! says God!
Never give up, because the days are surely coming!

But hope is never a cakewalk.

Just this weekend, the world’s financial markets are taking another big hit as Dubai stands on the verge of loan default – tens of billions of borrowed dollars and every other currency – to build lavishly in Dubai and all around the world, including the new City Center in Las Vegas … but declining oil revenues and a world recession threatens Dubai’s financial stability.
First, it was the mortgage industry.
Then the banking industry.

What did Jeremiah say? Distress among the nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

But crisis is a chance to hear God all over again!
When we’ve got the world by the tail, we tend to listen to ourselves and pat ourselves on the back.
But when things change, the sea roars, and things get crazy, we have a chance to listen to God!
In the midst of the financial upheaval, is God asking us some questions?

Have we lived over the top?
Have the nations of the world entangled themselves in a web of exotic financial transactions?
Have we lived beyond our means?

Have we put too many of our eggs in the wrong basket?
Lavish rather than loving?
Expensive rather than essential?
Impressive rather than modest?
Big instead of better?

Did we ignore the warning signs?
Did we put on blinders and keep on spending?
Did we forget the essentials?

Were we content to have our business leaders and politicians tickle our ears and promise us the moon? And no one will ever have to pay for it?

Where was the church in all of this the last 50 years?
Were churches too busy building their own empires to take notice of what was happening?
Were too many Christians scrambling to get to the top of the heap?
Did we turn Jesus into a formula for success?
Did we forget the essentials of life and family and faith?
Maybe we did.
And maybe God is helping us correct the course of the times.
Maybe God is helping us reconnect to what endures.
Maybe God is helping us find real hope again!

Jesus dares to say:
When it’s dark, look for the light.
When fear rises up, look for your redemption.
When things get crazy, stand up, says Jesus, and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!

Jesus tells a parable … a simple image of trees … when trees sprout leaves, you know it’s summer … simple and basic … when things seem crazy, the kingdom of God is near.

And then Jesus cuts to the chase … 
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

That’s about as powerful as you can get.
What endures? What lasts? What stands the test of time?
The Word of Christ:
Love God with all of your heart, soul and strength and mind; love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Love one another as I have loved you.
There is no greater love than this: but to lay down one’s life for another.

Jesus invites us to put our money on the winning horse!
To set our sail to catch the wind of the Holy Spirit.
To anchor our life in the essentials!

As of late, we’ve all learned a little bit about essentials.
What counts and what doesn’t.
What’s real and what isn’t.

Pollsters are finding an unexpected happiness emerging in these hard times …

Families can no longer afford a fast and furious life style, so they’re spending more time together at home, around the dinner table. Folks are cooking more and eating out less; folks are playing games together, going for walks, and reading books; folks are wearing last year’s clothing, and guess what, the world hasn’t come to an end!
Families are discovering the joy of being families.
Rediscovering simpler pleasures and the smaller things of life.
A principle call SEA … S E A … Savor, Enjoy and Appreciate good things.

Jesus adds: Be on guard!
Because threats are real!

Dear friends, Islamic terrorists are real, but they’re not a threat to America.
Terrorists might blow up a building, but that’s all they can do.
Terrorists might take 3000 lives in a heartbeat, and that’s a terrible thing, but every day, 115 Americans die in auto accidents. That’s nearly 50,000 a year.
Every year, 32,000 Americans are killed in gun violence.
It’s estimated that 18,000 Americans die every year because they are uninsured and can’t get proper health care.

The real threats are never “out there somewhere.”
The threats are within.
The lack of moral courage.
The loss of compassion.
A shrunken social vision.
Impatience and greed.
Anger and envy.
Pride and jealousy.
Desire and ill-will.
These are the real threats to life.

Spiritual threats are far more dangerous to the world than a terrorist with a gun!
Sure, let’s be vigilant, and let’s do what we can to ease the world of terrorism … but let’s keep our sanity, and let’s keep our balance … shut your ears to the peddlers of fear and tune your heart to the purveyors of hope!

Two recent films portray the end of the world … if you wanna see spectacular special effects, go see “2012” – as the story goes, unusually intense solar flares bombard the earth with neutrons, heating up the earth’s core like a microwave oven, destabilizing the earth’s crust – the continents begin to slide around … you can watch the world come to an end … Randy’s giant donut rolling down the street, while LA slides off the continent into the ocean … Washington D.C. swept away in a tidal wave and the whole world engulfed … the story asks: when the chips are down, how will we behave?
The second film:
“The Road” tells a post-apocalyptic tale of father and son in a brutal world where starving gangs have turned to cannibalism.
The little boy says to the Dad, We’re the good guys, aren’t we?
Dad says, Yes we are, because we carry the fire, here, in our hearts.
Will we ever eat people? the little boy asks.
Never, says the father.

When the chips are down, to behave spiritually … when the chips are down, to give ourselves to great causes and heroic measures …
We’re the good guys, aren’t we?
Because we have the fire, right here, the fire of God’s love, the fire of Christ, the fire of hope!
And we don’t eat people.

What a metaphor of the world … eating one another … the powerful eat the weak; the overlords eat the slaves;; big nations devour little nations … predator gangs prey upon widows and shop-keepers … slavery in our world as never before; the horrors of the international sex trade … conglomerates eat up the competition; industrial farms gobble up the family farm.
And on the most basic levels of life:
Christians devour one another in heated debates and fierce battles about doctrine and dogma, who’s in and who’s out, and how the world was created. After feasting on one another, we wipe our mouths with the napkin of prayer and turn to God and sing, “How Great Thou Art!” and get all teary-eyed!
Christians can get real hateful with one another … say nasty things; write terrible emails; get uppity and snotty … refuse to forgive; never turn the other cheek; nurse a grudge and find fault with glee!
We eat one another regularly!
Or as Paul says: The whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another [Galatians 5:14-15].

So be on your guard, says Jesus.
Don’t ever waste a moment in hopeless living!
Look for the open door,
Search for the opportunity,
Seek out a chance to bless someone’s life.
Christian brothers and sisters, search your heart and if you find any anger in it, get rid of it … any pride, junk it … negativity and the spirit of complaint, kick it out … any bitterness, chase it away it … a long-held grudge, give it to Christ … and if you’ve hurt someone, go to them and work it out … hug a friend and tell them how great they are; put a smile on someone’s face today; plant the seed of hope everywhere you go.

Hope makes the difference!
Our hope in Christ.
Today, light one candle for hope!
Light a million candles for hope!
Hope changes the world!

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009 - Christ!

2 Samuel 23:1-7; Palm 132:1-18; Revelation 4b-8; John 18:33-37

2 Samuel 23:1-7

It’s the end of the year.
The last Sunday.
Good Night Irene!

“But, wait a minute, preacher. It’s just the end of November – we have a whole month to go before the end of the year.”

Well, it depends on what calendar we’re using.
In church, we use the liturgical calendar … a calendar that begins with the first Sunday in Advent – and that’ll be next week Sunday, by the way.
That’s how the church year begins – with Advent – longing, hope, dreams – but that’s next week.
Today, the end of the year.
The last Sunday.
Christ the King Sunday.
Or, The Reign of Christ Sunday.
Whatever it’s called, it’s all about Christ.
Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end …
What began a year ago, Advent, 2008, ends today, with Christ the King Sunday …

Along the way, what have we learned?

Our first reading today, the last words of David.
He looks back on his life … and what has David learned?
David says with confidence, as he looks back:
One who rules justly is like the light of morning, the sun rising on a cloudless morning … gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

What have we learned in the last 12 months?
Looking at David and Solomon, all that palace intrigue and betrayal, more adultery than you can throw a stick at – a potpourri of sins.
Human beings are a motley crew … we rise to the heights and we sink to the depths … we are selfish beyond belief, and we are utterly selfless … we’re wise and we’re foolish … we’re grand and we’re dastardly … we’re the best of the race and the worst of the lot … we are saints, and we are sinners, all in the same day … and our hope is in the LORD.

David says that God has made an everlasting covenant with him … and that means us, too … because we are all children of David … through Christ, we are part of David’s family, and God’s promises to David, are God’s promises to us … 
An everlasting covenant.
To love us always.
To help us, and to guide us.
To forgive our sins, and to restore us when we fall.
To rebuke our pride, and to take us by hand when we’re lost.
To temper our power with grace, and to bless our weakness with strength.
To give us a second chance, a third chance, and a fourth chance … a fresh start … ten thousand times.
Such is the covenant of God.

What have we learned?
We’ve learned that evil is real.
The team for Canines @ Covenant has learned some of that this past week … some hideous emails have been sent to us, and everyone of them written by “christians” – I have learned over the years, there is no greater darkness than the darkness of religion run amok, and no greater meanness than a mean-spirited “christian.”
The world literally has cheered us on - dozens of emails and phone calls from churches and pastors and people in all walks of life have added to the chorus of congratulations. Canines @ Covenant has struck a deep and responsive chord for so many, and what a wonder it’s been.

I’ve told the team – don’t bother replying to such mean-spirited folk.
Pray for them.
Their hearts are heavy and their souls burdened.
They’re strangers to the joy of Christ, though they claim his name.
Laughter has long been absent in their lives.
A peculiar Christianity they have – a snarl on their face and a readiness to attack.
Is this way of Christ?
So we pray for them.
Because they are dangerous!

David says of them: they cannot be picked up with the hand – full of thorns, they prick you and you will bleed … you can only use iron, and they burn quickly when thrown into the fire, because they’re dry and brittle … life has gone out of them a long time ago …
So we pray for them.

What have we learned?

The hope of David – God.
Always God … God in the morning and God in the evening, and God at suppertime.

What have learned?
We have learned to more aware of our sinfulness.
We have learned to be more reliant on God’s grace.
We have learned that love and justice prevail … but, what a struggle sometimes, along the way.
We have learned to make decisions … to follow the ways of justice and to open wide the doors of our heart … we have learned that some abhor justice, because justice means change; we have learned that personal comfort is a great temptation … we have learned that Jesus doesn’t call us to be comfortable, but to be pioneers – hit the trail into the unknown, forge new ways to think and love and serve … pioneers - who pick up, pack up, and leave behind all the familiar stuff – taking along for the journey the essentials, the things that count – but leaving the rest behind.
We have learned to be brave.
We have learned:
Never give up.
Don’t run away.
Stay focused on God.
Be of good cheer.
Try something new.
Think out of the box.
Be centered in Christ.
And loyal to another.
That’s what we’ve learned. Amen and Amen!

On to the second reading:

Third reading: Revelation 1:4-8

What have learned?

To live in between … between the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end … between creation and the end of time … ten thousand years … or millions, or billions … makes no difference … we live in between, and Christ in the center!

In a good world created by God …
A good world put into our hands, with a commission – to care for the world and all of its creatures with a godly love.
No creature posses a greater responsibility that we possess.
We have enormous powers – to build up and to tear down …
We alone can engineer a suicide gene and splice it into the DNA of corn and wheat, so that farmers around the world cannot save harvested seed for next year’s planting, as farmers have always done, but have to buy new seed every year from Monsanto, because the harvested seed is infertile and can only be used in feed-lots or in food production.
We alone can create weapons of mass destruction.
We alone can alter the face of the planet.

We have learned that Christians have a unique role to play … we have to be watchdogs and whistle-blowers, like the ancient prophets who called kings to account and pointed a finger at religious pomp and priestly power and called it false!
Like those early prophets, we have learned to stand on the ramparts of history and sound the alarm … to be vigilant and watchful … guardians of God’s creation and defenders of the widow, the orphan and the alien.

We’ve learned about Jesus and what it means to follow him.
We have learned that cross-bearing is no easy task.
Following Christ requires decisions and sacrifice that may set us at odds with the values of our culture … we have learned that the world rejects Jesus and rejects those who follow him, because Jesus is the truth, a shining and loving truth, and the world is filled with lies.
Jesus is grace while the world is harsh.
Jesus tells us to give, but the world tells us to take.
Jesus calls us to serve, as the world tells us that we’re number one.
Jesus invites us to be not afraid, while the world instills terrible fears in our soul.
Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of God, but the world dreams of wealth and power and war and domination and control.
The story is played out again and again:
The enemies of Jesus are dressed in the robes of religion and empire.
Pilate’s judgment is always the same: to the cross, to the cross, to the cross you must go.

What have we learned?
We have learned to put our lives into the hands of God … because God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.
We have learned that life can be very hard … sorrow comes our way … sin rears its ugly head more often then we care to admit … reversals of fortune and brutal tragedy.
But we’ve learned, as well, that grace abounds, and so does mercy … and there is no greater power than the power of love.

What have we learned?
We have learned that the world is full of good people who strive for a better world … who seek justice and live kindness … who love deeply and forgive quickly …
Good people, who call our attention to the best in ourselves … who inspire us to greatness and remind us that we can always start over again … we have learned: defeat is never final, failure doesn’t have the last word; tomorrow holds new opportunities, and with God, all things are possible.

We have learned the gospel:
1.    We are loved more deeply than we could ever imagine and more than we will ever know.
2.    Our sins, though they be many, are as if they never were.
3.    Even now, God sends the Holy Spirit to bind our lives to Christ and to one another.
4.    And when we die, we shall be with Christ forever!

We’ve learned a lot, haven’t we? Amen and Amen!

Fourth Reading: John 18:33-38

What have we learned?

We’ve learned to be the church, the church of Jesus Christ.
Distinctive and determined.
For we, like Christ, are not strictly of this world.
Not that we’re against the world, or disdainful of the world.

We’re in the world, as it should be, but we’re not of the world.
Our values are determined by God.
Our faith is driven by the Holy Spirit.
We work with Scripture, and we delve into our history.
We ask again and again the basic questions:
Who are we in Christ?
What does God want of us?
What does it mean to do justice?
To love kindness?
To walk humbly with God.

We’ve learned to ask good questions.

The little child who asks “Why?” is a good model for us.
When we’re asking questions, we’re on safe ground.
Though the ground may shake beneath us.
To live well is to probe deeply.
To ask many questions.
The way of Christ is very much a way of questions!

We’ve learned about prayer.
About loving one another.
Having fun together.

We’ve eaten together and laughed and cried together.
We’ve worked hard and we loved much.

We’ve wondered how it’s going to work out.
We’ve put together a very fine Designated Pastor Nominating Committee, and our good friend, Sandra Mader, is the representative from the Committee on Ministry.
I have every confidence that they will work well together, take their time, and do what’s necessary to find Covenant’s next pastor.

We’ve learned some very important things:
Everything that needs to happen at Covenant can happen right now … there is no need to wait for another day.
We’ve learned that all of us are the church … not the pastor, not the Deacons or the Session … every one of us has a calling, a task, a responsibility. We are the church, each and every one of us.
We’ve learned that times have changed profoundly.
When families moved to Westchester in the late Forties and early Fifties, they looked for two things … anyone wanna guess?
That’s right, schools and churches.
Today, when people move to Westchester, they still look for schools, and if they choose a parochial school, they’re likely to attend that church … but without children, or if they send their children to the public schools, finding a church is way down on the list, and maybe not even on the list at all.
Times have seriously changed!

In a world so different than it was 50 years ago, it’s up to us to find new ways of telling the story and relating to people.

Faith always adapts to the new environment … I salute you, because you have been working hard to be a church for the 21st Century … a church for a very new Westchester.
Because it’s 2009 and soon to be 2010 – goodness, already, the first decade of the 21st Century.

I am very proud of you.
You are a sweet and kind congregation.
You are devoted to God and centered in Christ.
You are serious about justice.
And you’re real with love.
And you dare to think!
Covenant Presbyterian Church, Covenant on the Corner, you are a faithful congregation.

To God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 15, 2009 - "Ultimate Concern"

Hebrews 10:11-25

Love is the ultimate concern that flows through the pages of Scripture … love is the bedrock of the story … love is what it’s all about.

Faith, hope and love … and the greatest of these is love.

When a young man asks Jesus what’s most important, Jesus replies: love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself … on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Owe no one anything except love, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Let love be genuine … love one another with mutual affection.

Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.

For God so loved the world … loved it enough to give the beloved son … God’s lamb … to take away the sin of the world.

There is no greater love than this, then to lay down one’s life for another.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 

When it comes to love, kids see it for what it is … here’s something I picked up from the internet – kids and love:

"The person is thinking: Yeah, I really do love him. But I hope he showers at least once a day." (Michelle, 9)

"You learn it right on the spot when the gooshy feelings get the best of you." (Doug, 7)

"It might help to watch soap operas all day." (Carin, 9)

"It's never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over you...That's why I stopped doing it." (Jean, 10)

"Spend most of your time loving instead of going to work." (Tom, 7)

"Don't forget your wife's name...That will mess up the love." (Roger, 8)

"Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the garbage." (Randy, 8)

At the heart of the Bible, God’s love for us …
And the hope of the Bible, that we might love God, and never be afraid, and love one another with the kind of love God has for us.

Love is always an action word … an ethical word … love rolls up its sleeves and gets its hands dirty.

How do we know that God loves us?
Because God said so?
Because God did so.

God did something about the problem of sin …
God met it head-on, battled with it, died with it on Calvary’s cross … to pay the ultimate price – to undo the damages of sin and recalibrate the universe.
This was no easy thing for God.
Compared to the cross, creation was a breeze.
It was no big deal to create the world.
God said, Let it be!” and it was so … boom, boom, boom, just like that.
But sin required something more … a whole lot more of God … no easy words here, but life on the line … from birth to death and everything in between … Jesus, born of Mary – a little boy, a precocious 12-year old in the temple … and a very ordinary life, the son of Mary and Joseph, until it was time, time for the young rabbi to begin his work.
Time to preach the kingdom of God.
Time to heal and time to love.
Time to forgive and time to give hope.
Time to confront and time to challenge.
Time to overturn a few tables.
Time to take up a cross and carry it to Calvary.
Time to suffer … and time to die.

This was no easy thing for God.
Jesus anguished in the garden.
Jesus cried out on the cross.
This was no cakewalk.
This was hard.
Bloody hard.
Terribly hard.
To die for the sins of the world.
To offer a sacrifice, once for all … a sacrifice, so pure, so good, that it would cover the world with grace … big enough for everyone … deep enough to reach the gates of hell … good enough to reach the gates of heaven … tough enough to face whatever hell would throw at it … strong enough to conquer the human heart.

God at work on Calvary’s cross and in the tomb, going to hell and back again, and then, for us, God at work - in our hearts and minds.

God inscribes the words of love in the deep places of our life – in heart and mind, God writes the covenant upon us – You belong to me, and I belong to you … a tattoo on our soul … and nothing can ever separate you from my love, and my love will hold you forever … every day and every night – in hardship and in joy … God’s love holds us!

So, we have this relationship with God …
Connected to God, and God connected to us … and the connection is love …

So be brave, says the writer to the Hebrews … be brave, be bold … don’t be afraid of God … enter into God’s presence with confidence … because of Christ …

And then two guidelines:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

And …

Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Two remarkable guidelines …

First of all:
Hang on to your hope!
BECAUSE - God is faithful.

It wouldn’t be enough to just say, “Hang on to your hope.”
We’re not strong enough, big enough, or smart enough.
Real hope is not just a human thing.
It’s a God thing.
It has to be.
Because the human thing is too crazy.

For the last few days, a dear friend of ours has been living a nightmare …
She wrote to me late last night about her brother …

"Rev Tom...John has not been found...his boat was found capsized "washed ashore" on Thursday. He went out Wed. at 5:00 AM…they have called off the search…49, father of 24 & 17 year old sons…his 24 year old is a Captain on a freighter ...this is so not real to us. John is a lover of the ocean and fishing…freak accident as the storm came up quickly and the waves were huge…we "think" he was trying to call for help but did not have a signal per telephone company…family is still searching the islands...his cooler and life jackets were found about 100 yards from the boat...The boat was beaten up pretty badly my older bother told me tonight…Prayers for my 89 year old mother that just realized today that it was John her son...this is her fifth son that she has lost...Peace I pray for...hope all is well your way....thinking of Josh and his new adventure...hello to Donna...prayers please Rev. Tom...Patti"

We need more than our human stuff.
We need God!
Hang on to your hope because of God.
Because God doesn’t give up on any of us.
God doesn’t give up on the world.

All the sorrow and all the sadness … all the hatred, all the war, all the greed … but God doesn’t walk away … God loves the world, and is at work in all things … for good!
That’s what we confess.
That’s our hope.
Not in human resources.
Not in our cleverness.
Not in our science.
But in God.
This is our gift to the world.
This is our ultimate concern: to know God’s love, and to share that love with the world.
Because God’s love is the real hope of the world.

But we can’t do it alone.
I can’t do it alone.
You can’t do it alone.
But we can do it together!

Here’s the second guideline:

We need one another.

The simplest admonition – meet together regularly … in worship and Bible study, in prayer groups and ministry teams, mission trips and justice projects …

The greatest enemy of faith is separation from one another … when the Devil has us running around like chickens with their heads cut off, faith dies … when we’re too tired, too preoccupied, too full of ourselves, to show up here for the sake of one another, faith evaporates in the heat of the day; faith slinks away in the fears of the night.
All that’s left are a few words and the broken fragments of love.

I like how the text puts it to us:
Provoke one another – push hard on another … I think of a good coach who pushes a young athlete to excel … a teacher who sees what a student’s mind could be … a good manager guiding a young salesperson.
We mentor one another.
To be more today that we were yesterday.

The text puts it to us:
Don’t neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some.

The greatest temptation – that we try to follow Christ by ourselves, by our lonesome … all on our own.

But, you see, that’s the very opposite of love, isn’t it?
To try to go it alone with God is to contradict God.
To seek God without a commitment to God’s people – we might as just tell God we’re not interested in God’s family.
But it’s worse than that:
If we turn our backs on one another, we cut ourselves off from the lifeline.
We deny ourselves the privilege and the power of the other person helping us.
And we deny to others the value and gifts of our life for them.
To want God all by ourselves is just plain selfish.

Because God is love.
And the ultimate concern of life is to love …
To love God …
And to love one another as Christ has loved us.

We’re all in this together.
We need one another.
Together we stand, or divided we fall.

We encourage one another, as we see the day approaching.

Because time moves on … history is always fateful.
If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.
Every day takes us one step closer to God.
The inevitable sweep of time.
To the finale!
The end of life, God!
The finale!

With that reality in mind, we press on with the kingdom of God.
Time is precious.
Let’s not waste it.

So we devote ourselves to ultimate things!
Things that count!
Things that shape our life in the highest and best of all possible ways.

We hold on to our confession of hope - because we know in Christ God is utterly faithful.
We hold on to one another in the fellowship of love, to make one another stronger in faith and service.

Our ultimate concern:
To love God with all that we are.
And to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

November 8, 2009 - "My Story"

Hebrews 9:24-28

What’s your story?

Everyone has a story to tell … and every story is important.

I recently read a biography on Carl Sandburg.

One of my favorite poets, but now I know a little more about his life – how hard it was in the early years … how he toiled to perfect his poetry – often against great odds, because his poetry was different – and the critics were harsh – but Sandburg and his wife were a marvelous team, supporting one another in the face of professional hardship and personal sorrows.

Knowing a little more of Sandburg’s story, I have an even deeper appreciation for Sandburg’s poetry.

When I read his Chicago poems, I can hear the clank of steel and I can smell the smoke.

When I read of the people who’s story Sandburg wanted to tell, I can see their toil in sprawling factories, feeding the blast furnaces; I can see miles and miles of railroad cars lurching into Chicago loaded with cattle and hogs, to feed a hungry nation.

Sandburg has a story to tell.

I’m currently reading a Hemingway biography.

I’ve read plenty of his stuff over the years, but to learn about Hemingway – his growing up years in Chicago, summers in Petoskey, Michigan ...

An ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War 1 – journalism in Europe; living in Paris - his books take on a new meaning for me … as I get to know Hemingway’s story.

What’s your story?

May I tell you my story?

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long;

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

“Blessed Assurance” - written by Fanny Crosby …

One of my childhood memories, singing “Blessed Assurance” in church next to Mom and Dad, just across the aisle from Dan Smies and my Sunday School teacher Burt, and Elmer with the lisp and Mary with the little mole on her chin.

Voices soaring, faith filling the sanctuary, organ and piano cranking it out, “This is my story, this is my song” - “Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine.”

A wonderful hymn of faith, just as it is.

But even greater when we know something about the author.

Fanny Crosby was born blind in 1820 … and blind she would remain for all her years.

Yet grace was found in the darkness.

Ms. Crosby penned more than 8000 poems, thousands of which were set to music and became beloved hymns sung by millions of Christians all around the world to this very day.

In 1858, Fanny married Alexander Van Alstyne, a fellow teacher at the New York Institution of the Blind, a musician and a composer, and he, too, blind.

Their only child, a daughter named Frances, died as an infant.

After Fanny and her husband were married 44 years, he died in 1902.

A preacher said to Fanny one day: "I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when He showered so many other gifts upon you."

She replied quickly, "Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I should be born blind?"

"Why?" asked the surprised pastor.

"Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior!"

We all have two stories to tell.

We have our own personal story, our biography: where we were born, schools attended, work and career, and a fair share of laughter and tears along the way – that’s one story.

Then we have Christ – the other story, the rest of the story, the bigger story – “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

Our personal story is a tiny chapter in a huge, giant, book – and maybe not even a chapter, maybe just a few pages, or even just a footnote … but we’re all there in that story, that great, incredible story, with the likes of Sarah and Abraham, Moses and Miriam, Mary and Joseph and John the Baptist … King Herod and Caesar and Pilate are there, too – Zacchaeus up a tree and the woman at the well; blind Bartimaeus and the man in the tombs … the long march of history, millions of stories, all wrapped up into Christ.

THIS is our story, THIS is our song, praising our Savior all the day long.

If our story grows dark,

The light of Christ shines brighter.

When our story loses its meaning,

The love of Christ arises stronger and clearer.

When our story ends,

The story of Christ goes on.

Yesterday, at the Griffith Observatory, the overwhelming smallness of my story … a tiny blip in a small galaxy in a faraway corner of the universe.

Our story is a very small one, indeed.

But in Christ, our story has eternal meaning.

You see, we don’t need to have a big story.

Because we have a big Savior.

It’s good to know this.

So we don’t make such a fuss about ourselves.

It’s good to know this,

So at every turn in the road, we turn to see Christ standing there.

The man of Galilee … hands outstretched to us.

With bread for the hungry.

Drink for the weary.

Love for the lost.

Grace greater than sin.

THIS is our story, THIS is our song.

For reasons known only to God,

God has brought us to Christ.

God has put Christ inside of us,

And put us inside of Christ.

As the years of our life unfold and flow toward their inevitable end, we grow into Christ, and Christ grows into us – at first, his story is small, small enough to fit into a child’s imagination … and then, one day, his story becomes the main story of our life … and in the end, when our little story comes to the last page, when the book of our life is gently closed, Christ is there!

It’s his story …

It’s history …

Grace and mercy,

Peace and providence,

Hope and courage,

Faith and love,

Salvation and glory.

Bethlehem’s Cradle and Calvary’s Cross.

Three days in the tomb.

The stone rolled away.

Ascension into heaven and the promise to return,

A trumpet blast and the work is finished.

The new heaven and the new earth.

We discover, one day, that we are not own,

But that we belong,

To a faithful Savior.

That we are not our own.

For we were bought with a price.

The life of Christ given for us.

One day we awaken, and discover that we are not our own.

Have never been and never will be.

But always a possession of God!

That’s who we are.

And that’s our story.

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.

Oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 1, 2009 - "Hope"

Isaiah 25:6-8 ~ Revelation 21:8, 1-7

Mary & Jim invited three couples to dinner. All afternoon, Mary and Jim work in the kitchen, their six-year old daughter working with them.

At the table, that night, it was quite a gathering.

Mary turned to their daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”

“I don’t know what to say Mommy,” the girl replied.

“Just say what you hear me say,” Mary answered.

The daughter solemnly bowed her head, took a deep breath and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Welcome to Covenant to on the Corner.

A place of faith and family.

A church with courage and possessed with a godly vision.

A church serious about God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

A church that recognizes the grace of God.

Celebrates love of God.

And lives the hope we have in Christ because God is at work in all things.

Covenant on the Corner –

A good church with a radiant love.

Eager to serve the LORD.

Ready to make good things happen.

A church serious about justice!

When the chips were down, Covenant stood up for fair housing.

And there were a lot of people who didn’t like it.

A lot of people who walked away from Covenant.

But Covenant didn’t back down.

Covenant stood up for what was right.

That any human being could live wherever they wanted in America, in Los Angeles, in Westchester – that race would no longer be a wall in a neighborhood … that real estate covenants barring some would no longer be accepted … because America is the land of the free, and justice is the mission of the church of Jesus Christ.

When the chips were down, Covenant stood up for gays and lesbians in their quest for marriage rights.

Covenant stood up and said No to Proposition 8.

And when Proposition 8 passed, Covenant stood up again in favor of its repeal.

I like that about Covenant.

We understand justice in this place.

We understand what it means to love God’s world.

To embrace a vision greater than the moment.

The vision of Isaiah – that all peoples are included in God’s plan … no one left behind; no one excluded … a place at the table for everyone.

A world without tears.

A world of great love.

A world of ceaseless grace.

Now, let’s honest:

There are always those who scoff at such things.

Pilate scoffed at Jesus.

Felix scoffed at Paul.

The Emperor and the Pope scoffed at Luther.

But Jesus didn’t cave.

And neither did Paul.

And Luther stood his ground.

They believed in a better world.

They fought for God’s vision.

They did God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

Covenant on the Corner:

We are a people not content with things as they are.

Because we dare to believe the gospel.

We believe in God’s vision.

And that’s what we work for.

That’s what hope is.

Hope puts on its gloves and goes to work.

Hope builds God’s world.

Lee and Leslie in Nicaragua.

Willie and Ann with clean water technology.

International Justice Mission … a group of Christian attorneys addressing some of the most shameful problems in our world …

27 million slaves today … more than ever before …

Young children trapped in the international sex trade …

And in third-world countries where men die from disease and war, the theft of widows’ property.

IJM sends in a team of attorneys to investigate and build a case – they use existing laws rarely enforced, and they work with a justice system too often intimidated and bought off, and they’re winning cases …

They’re freeing slaves and helping them find life all over again.

They’re freeing the children caught in the sex trade, and rehabilitating them.

They’re recovering widows’ property …

They’re finding that if they can build just a few cases and win, putting a few high-profile criminals away, the rest of the criminals slink away …

A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake.

Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, he would say, 'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.' Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus.”

We’d all like someone else to be Jesus, wouldn’t we?

You be Jesus.

You take up the cross.

You take the chance.

You sign up.

You volunteer.

Ryan, Bill, Susie, Mary, you be Jesus.

But in a very real way, you see, every one of us has to be Jesus.

His eyes to see the suffering.

His hands and feet to do the work.

His mouth to speak the words of peace.

His heart to love and to help.

Covenant on the Corner has a good and steady track record … we have been Jesus many a time …

But let’s not get uppity on this …

Let’s not rest on our laurels …

Let’s heed well the solemn note of Revelation 21:8 – those who miss the point, who get it wrong, who buy the lie rather than the truth.

The somber warning of verse 8 – you see, all of those people buy the lie …

That God doesn’t count.

That only I count.

That me and myself, my life and my dreams – that’s what counts.

That I can take advantage of the poor and the powerless.

That I can ignore suffering and hardship.

That I can feather my own nest.

And if I’ve got mine, it’s because I’m so smart: I worked for it, it’s mine, and I’ll break my arm patting myself on the back.

Every bit of it is a lie.

And the lie is powerful.

The lie is all around us.

Again and again, the Book of Revelation pleads for us to be vigilant … to never give up and to never give in.

To be brave and faithful.

Because there’s more work to be done.

A world to be embraced.

A gospel to be proclaimed.

Justice to be given.

And peace to be won!

Are you with me on this?

I know that you are.

Because YOU … are Covenant on the Corner.

Amen and Amen!