Monday, April 26, 2010

April 25, 2010 - "Inborn Beauties"

Title from a James Russell Lowell Poem, "King Retro," stanza 30.

Psalm 23 & Revelation 7:9-17

I love the 23rd Psalm.
It’s filled with beauty.
Beauty longing to be born within us.
An inborn beauty.
To shape our soul and bend our mind.
To the things of God.

Let’s get right to it, shall we?

The LORD is my shepherd …
A gracious and gentle image … or is it?
I don’t think there’s anything gentle about a shepherd … let’s think back to ancient Palestine, and what a shepherd does.

In the rough and tumble countryside, keeping watch over a flock of sheep …
A lot of work to be a shepherd.
Danger at every turn.

Predators skulk around, looking for a meal.
Bad water to sicken and kill a sheep.
Dangerous paths and rocky cliffs – one slip away from a broken leg or sudden death.

Birth in the springtime and springtime sheering.
Dealing with brokers to sell the sheep for the Temple sacrifices.
And always the constant search for good grass and safe places.
A lot of work to run a business and tend a herd of sheep.

Which reminds me –
A teacher asked little Johnnie:
"If there are twenty sheep in a field, and one gets out through a hole in the fence, how many sheep are left in the field?"
Johnny answered: “None!”
"Johnny,” said the teacher, “there are still nineteen sheep left in the field. Obviously you don't know arithmetic."
"Sorry, teacher, but I do know arithmetic. Obviously you don't know sheep."

I think shepherds are a tough lot … I don’t think we’d want to mess with a shepherd.

The Psalmist wants us to know that the LORD God is tough enough for the job.
God has muscles and God has experience.
God is up to the task.
The LORD God is no wimp, says the Psalmist.
The LORD is my shepherd, says he.

Here, in my hand.
An olive-wood carving … a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders … a stout rod in his hand, sturdy legs, calloused hands and dirty feet … a man accustomed to stones and thorns, harsh winds and a hot sun …

The LORD is my shepherd! I shall not want.

But if the LORD is our shepherd, what does that make us?
I think there’s a bit of a wink in the poet’s words.
If the Lord is our shepherd … we’re the sheep.
And sheep ain’t the smartest critters to be found.

But so it is, as the Psalmist intends.
With a bit of a wink and a wry smile.
Maybe we are like sheep.
We bleat when we’re hungry.
And bawl when we’re tired.
We wander off nibbling our grass.
We’re vulnerable to predators.
We get into trouble and we need to be saved.

The Psalm offers no compliment by comparing us to sheep.
We might learn something here.
Call it humility.
Maybe we’re not the smartest critter around, after all.
Maybe we need more care than we think.
Maybe we get lost more often then we know.
And we don’t even know half the time that God is leading us, guiding us, guarding us …
Bedding us down for the night in green pastures.
Taking us to good water.
Leading us along safe paths.

The Psalmist adds, for his name’s sake.
Interesting – not for our sake, but the shepherd’s sake.

The shepherd is in business.
Every sheep a shekel.
No loss can be written off.
Good milk and fine wool are highly prized.
The shepherd has a reputation to maintain.
A business to keep up.

It’s not about us.
It’s all about the shepherd.

Getting that straight is a bit of challenge for the sheep.
That it should be about God and not us!

To move from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.
To lift our eyes from the grass and the water to see what’s really at stake.
To love God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
To know that we exist for the honor and the glory of God.
The creator who fashioned us.
The artist who formed us out of the dust of the earth.
Who gives us our breath.
Our daily bread.
For his name’s sake!

The Psalm changes pace at this point … from green pastures and still water …
To danger and darkness.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley … the valley of the shadow of death.

Shepherds and their herds lived in tough places.
The best places were for wheat and barley and olives and dates … you don’t put sheep and goats on farmland …
But in the rough and tumble countryside of Palestine … narrow cuts and twisted canyons, sparse grass and hidden water … lots of shadows and dark places.

But the shepherd is right there, beside us, with us … calling us.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me!

A rod to ward off predators.
A staff to guide us when we wander off course.
I will fear no evil, for your rod and your staff comfort me.

I am the good shepherd, says Jesus.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

On this side of Easter.
We look back to the cross.
Our Shepherd walked through the darkest of all places.
Crucified, dead and buried.
He descended into hell.

No greater love than this.
The death of the shepherd for the sheep.
And when the terrible work was done, God raised the Shepherd up on the third day.
And the story goes on.
The shepherd lives.

The Psalm shifts again.
Like a swiftly moving dream.
From rugged countryside to a well-set table.

Welcome home.
Sit on down.
Make yourself comfortable.
Come on in, says God, I see you have had a hard time of it.

There before us, a Table.
The food is ready.
The cup is full.
Generous and overflowing.

But life is not all sweetness and sunshine.
If there are dark places for the sheep, there are enemies for us:
In the presence of my enemies.

Fear and anger.
Grudge-holding and pride.
Hurt feelings and disappointment.
Stubbornness and perversity.
Bitterness of spirit.
Ill-tempers and aggression.
Small-mindedness and intellectual laziness.
Spiritual pride and shallow religion.
Prejudice and bigotry.
Strife and greed.
Wars and rumors of war.
Poverty and pestilence.
Hunger and disease.
And always the last enemy.
The enemy called death!

Plenty of enemies … nearby and close at hand.
The Psalmist is a realist.
Enemies are real.
They rip and tear the soul apart.
They keep us awake at night and forge terrible thoughts in our minds and hideous feelings in our soul.

But … the divine but … the moment of faith:

Pay attention to the Table.
Keep your eyes on Christ.
Look at the Table.
Fix your eyes on God!
The food, the drink.
Keep your eyes on the Table.

We can face tomorrow because we’ve been at the Table today!

The Psalm sweeps us to a glorious conclusion
Goodness and mercy, follow us.
Cleaning up after us … picking up the pieces … putting it all together.
The power of faith, if you will.
The love of God at work in all things for good.

And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD.
My whole life long.

Here and now.
Then and there.

I am with you always, says Jesus.
I will never leave you or forsake you.
I am going on ahead of you to prepare a place for you.
And I shall come again and take you to myself.
You will be with me forever!

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Other Side of Sorrow

Psalm 30 & Revelation 5:11-14

“On the Sunny Side of the Street” … sung by Colleen …

On the sunny side of the street …
That’s where we live …
Because Christ is risen from the dead!

The stone is rolled away.
Death has met its match in the matchless grace of God.
On Easter morning, a new world.
A new world walked outta that dank and dark tomb.
A new world created by the word and work of Jesus Christ.
A new world … the other side of sorrow.
The sunny side of the street.

We join the chorus of gratitude …
Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered.
Worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.

The Psalmist says it well:
MY prayers have been answered favorably.
I’ve been saved.
Made whole, made new.
My life given back to me

Psalm 30 is all about God.
God’s goodness.
God’s faithfulness.
God’s kindness and mercy.
God’s sovereignty.
God’s rule over our lives.
God’s governance within our affairs.
God’s determining will and purpose.
We are not our own, but we belong to God!

Psalm 30 is powerfully honest.
It seems that God takes our Psalmist to the dark side of the street for a while.

This is a very difficult doctrine for us …
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty …
God’s management of our lives for God’s purpose.
That we were created by God for God.
For godly purposes.
For love of God, and for love of neighbor.
Because that’s the best of it.
It’s the only way!
It’s the truth.
And the truth sets us free.

The Psalmist was having a good time of it.
Life was good for the Psalmist.
Everything coming up roses.
Prosperity and safety.
Comfort and security.
Peace and plenty.

But with every gift, the angels hold their breath.
What will we do with God’s good gifts?
The angels know our track record.
And our track record is a mixed bag, isn’t it?
Who in this room hasn’t taken the blessings of God, like a kid sneaking a cooking, and then running away.
Thinking the cookie is ours.

It seems the Psalmist made a fatal mistake.
A common mistake.

I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’

The ego grows large.
Pride and privilege.
Power and self-confidence.
In all the wrong ways.

The Psalmist begins to think:
I did this.
I’m pretty cool.
I’m really smart.
I’m king of the hill.
I’m safe and secure.

So what? we might ask.
Who cares?
Why would God be concerned about our ego?

Terrible things happen when the soul grows proud.
Once pride takes root, it’s like mint in a garden; no stopping it … pride soon chokes out everything else!
Rich or poor, it makes no difference.
Successful or a flop.
We have our pride, don’t we?
But it’s never good.
It never leads to a good place.

Pride turns the world upside down.
We take instead of give:

Pride has no interest in God.
Pride may wear God on the sleeve,
Or like a cross around the neck.
But in the heart of pride, there’s no room for God!

Because God is truth and God is love.
Pride has a hard time with that.

Pride likes to think we’re self-made.
Pride is always patting itself on the back.
But it only leads to bad places.
We judge and we condemn.
We look down our noses and we make snotty remarks.
We take and we demand.
We scream and we shout.
And we take things:
A mugger takes a watch.
A thief takes a car.
A banker cooks the books.
A nation goes to war.
Pride turns the world upside down!

And we grow lonely in our pride.
Pride isolates.
Pride imprisons.
There is no greater loneliness than a man who believes himself to be self-made.
There is no darker dungeon than a woman locked in her pride.

So why does God care?
Because God loves us.
That’s why God intervenes.
And takes the Psalmist to the dark side of the street.
To shake some sense into him.
To return him to sanity.

The sun sets one day and doesn’t rise the next.
The Psalmist is taken to the dark side of the street.
The man is dismayed.
The man is frightened.
He’s not so tough after all.
He’s not so smart.
He’s just a man, like any other man.
And what he was, was a gift from God.
And the man forget it.
The man forgot all about God.

Now, on the dark side of the street,
In a moment of pure grace, the man turns to God.

He rightly asks, What good would it do, LORD, to destroy me?

It wouldn’t do a bit of good for God to destroy the Psalmist.
God is no destroyer.
Destruction is never God’s purpose.
But only life.
Life abundant, says Jesus.
Life lived for the truth:
Not to be served, but to serve.
Not to take, but to give.
To bring good news to the poor.
Proclaim release to the captives.
Recovery of sight to the blind.
To let the oppressed go free.
To proclaim the year of the LORD's favor (Luke 4:18-19).

Jesus said it well in one of my favorite verses: Luke 12:32 -
Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s will to give you the kingdom!
God is a healer.
God is Savior.
God is merciful and loving.

God’s anger is but for a moment.
God’s favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping there may be, at night.
But joy comes with the morning.

The LORD comes quickly to save the Psalmist.
Like Peter sinking beneath the stormy waves.
The simplest and shortest prayer: LORD, save me!
And the LORD is there, quickly to save!

The Psalmist regains his balance.
Comes to his senses.
Embraces the true purpose of life.
To honor God.
To love God.
To enjoy God.
God at the center.
God in the morning.
God in the evening.
God at suppertime!

To know who we are because we know whose we are.
We are not our own, but we belong.
We belong to a most faithful savior.
And for Christ we live!

On the sunny side of the street. Amen and Amen! 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Clean Up Your Mess - the Rev. Dr. Kikanza Nuri

Rev. Kikanza was a guest in the pulpit of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Sunday, April 11, 2010. You can visit her website by click HERE.

Clean Up Your Mess

1:7       The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
10:8     The wise of heart will heed commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. 
14        The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near.
18        Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool. 
21        The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. 
23        Doing wrong is like sport to a fool,  but wise conduct is pleasure to a person of understanding.
12:15   Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.
16        Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.
14:7     Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not find words of knowledge.
8          It is the wisdom of the clever to understand where they go, but the folly of fools misleads 
15:2     The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
14        The mind of one who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. 
17:24   The discerning person looks to wisdom, but the eyes of a fool to the ends of the earth.
28        Even fools who keep silent are considered wise;  when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent
5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’;  and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult  a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell  of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister  has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
 Some Questions to Ponder
1.         Briefly stated, my spiritual goal is :
2.         On a spiritual level, what I yearn for most is :
3.         My biggest spiritual challenge is:
4.         Are there aspects of your life that are holding you back spiritually? 
5.         On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied are you with your spiritual family/community?
6.         Do you wish you had more spiritual companions, or different ones?                
7.         Would you like to see your spiritual group or organization, change in any way?     How?
8.         Which spiritual practices and activities do you do on a regular basis?
9.         Are you nurtured by your practices?
10.       Which of those practices and activities do you wish you had more time for?
11.       Which new ones would you like to integrate into your daily or weekly routine?
12.       What might you do to make room for them in your life? 
13.       When you don’t measure up to your ideal of spiritual behavior, what do you do?
14.       What is one thing you would like to do to take better care of your soul?

When I say goodbye to people, I say “take care”…
Meaning, Be Careful, and Take care of yourself
Good self care includes, rest, exercise and diet
Or at least two out of three
The heart of self-care is soul-care. 
Soulkeeping is the process of attending to the deepest aspects of yourself—
the part of yourself
that is connected to the Mystery we call God and
that is a part of the whole we call Humanity.
Soul.  The deepest place of your being
where you feel great love, immeasurable loss,
deep pain, inexplicable joy. 
The place where you connect to the mystery and with others. 
The container for the essence of one’s self. 
Sustained by one’s values, practices, spiritual disciplines
Soul keeping is the process of soul care —
the care and nurture of one’s soul. 
Good soul care requires attention, intention and discipline
Discipline includes practice

Personal hygiene practices
Bathing, brushing teeth, deodorant
Don’t think about it, just do it
Because if you don’t, you suffer, and
we, who are around you, suffer too

Why take care of your soul?
Because a neglected or wounded soul 
is painful to be around and even worse to have.

Some questions to ponder about your spiritual life in the bulletin

I have identified Ten Disciplines of the Spirit
Ten vital spiritual practices

Ten Spiritual Practices for the care and nurture of your soul
1.            Be still and go deep – engage with the Mystery
2.            Take sabbath rest—give yourself time to restore, go to the well
3.            Live with integrity – clarify your values, align your behavior
4.            Make moments meaningful—sanctify your living
5.            Create your own rituals—honor your life passages
6.            Honor your passion—allow the sparks to grow
7.            Clean up your mess—communicate with courage and compassion
8.            Nurture a generous heart—affirm the abundance of life
9.            Serve with joy—find ways to give to the world
10.            Forgive yourself—be gentle with yourself as you grow

This morning we are focusing on #7 
Clean up your mess
physical, relational and spiritual

Can you
·      Cook in a dirty kitchen
·      Work in a cluttered office
·      Drive in a filthy car
·      Concentrate on just one thing when your mind is racing?
Can you
·      Listen to a sermon when you’ve got errands to run
·      Read a book or watch a TV program surrounded by chaos

Probably can’t.  I cant. 
Sometimes I try to convince myself that I can
But I know I can’t do them as well as I can in an orderly environment

Clean up your mess is a theme on reality TV…
Heard on NPR this week
Having someone do it for you doesn’t help
Each person needs to be in control of how they attend to their messes
Sometimes people cannot get rid of the mess, they can just organize it
Limit it to one room
make pathways in each room
So that you can at least get out in an emergency

Sharpen Your Saw
Popularized by Stephen Covey – First things First
Can’t sharpen a saw in a dirty, disorganized, unsafe setting

Cleaning up your mess as a spiritual practice
Has the same focus.

I’m a consultant and most of my work
is helping people to clean up their messes
Some messes are physical, some are structural some are interpersonal
I have a belief that the state of your closets and drawers
are a reflection of the state of your mind.
Feng shui is based on that principle
Look at most introductions to feng shui and they will say
Want to de-stress?  De-clutter!
We tend to hold onto stuff
Physical stuff
Emotional stuff
To keep from having to deal with the empty spaces in our lives
But it is only when we create empty space
that God can enter our lives meaningfully
Letting go of stuff
Detaching yourself from your stuff
is hard and important
Create a ceremony
            I release my hold on…
            I release my attachment to …
            Say thank you to each item you release
            Give it to someone who can use it
Limit your junk piles
            To a drawer
            To a box
            To a room – perhaps your garage…
Make cleaning up your mess a habit…a routine…
a spiritual practice
Relationships create the biggest messes
The discipline is in keeping the messes small
and cleaning them up quickly
Most of us value truth telling and try to follow the Golden rule
The problem is truth telling is hard and
The golden rule is usually mis-interpreted…
OT scripture, Proverbs
Talks about the fool--the ungodly person, the unwise person—
Folly and Wisdom are opposite ends of the spectrum.
Antithesis of Wisdom, a moral reprobate
About 11 different words in Hebrew and Greek
All translated by the same English term of fool.
 In the "wisdom" writings therefore an epithet.
Speaks without thinking, caring, taking responsibility
Someone who lacks wisdom and acts senselessly.
Folly is self-defeating, unprofitable behavior.
brutishness, or immature behavior,
understatement for sinfulness.
 dedicated to a life of pleasure and pleasure-seeking
rejecting God's will

By Paul's time a fool for Christ
one who rejects human conventional wisdom
and seeks only God's eternal wisdom.

Bottom line:
You don’t want to be in a relationship with a foolish person
If you already are
Good communication and healthy relationships
require discipline and discernment
requires candor and compassion…
That’s how you keep from making a mess
NT scripture says
            Before going to the temple, make amends with your brother and sister
Short version:  Clean up your mess

To clean up your mess
You must do a couple of things:
Step 4 of the 12-step programs says:
            Make a searching and fearless inventory of people you may have harmed
Step 8
            Become willing to make amends
            Ask for forgiveness
            Make amends
Forgiveness not a pass, but an opportunity to rebuild trust
Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past
The one who forgives, ends the argument
Clarify your intentions
Don’t blame the victims
            If they didn’t get it
            If they misunderstood
            If you hurt their feelings
Spiritual messes are a little harder to clean up
They require that you take some responsibility
They require that you exert some discipline
that you give yourself the time

When life is going well it is easy to nurture a spiritual life
When the line between you and God is clear and open,
don’t even have to think about your spiritual practices
But when your spiritual life is dry
And you need some water from the well of Life
It is nice to already know what to do

When you are on your way to the emergency room
You don’t want to stop and program your GPS
You want to already know several ways to get there
That’s what spiritual discipline is
That’s why you need spiritual practices
And that is why you need to clean up your mess.

Good self care important—
go for two out of three: rest, exercise, nutrition
Heart of self care is soul care
Soul is the space where God resides within you

Soul Keeping
Routine and disciplined use of spiritual practices
I’ve identified ten
Go for One

Take care of yourself, Take care of your soul
And clean up your mess

Sunday, April 4, 2010

April 4, 2010 - Easter - "Yes!"

Luke 24, selections

Think of the world without Easter!


There’d be no Easter bonnets and no baskets filled with jellybeans.
There’d be no chocolate eggs with cream filling.
No cuddly bunnies and purple Peeps.

Oh no, how could it be?

A world without Easter?

Well, we can have a lot of fun, can’t we?
And we should.
Spring is springing and hope is hoping.
Easter Bunnies and chocolate eggs and Purple Peeps – sure, why not?

There is no greater day in the Christian faith than Easter! The day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
New hope and new energy – to meet the challenges of life and to meet them head-on … to look at the darkness and take a deep breath and try all over again … to look for the best and keep on going.

Can you imagine a world without Easter?

Easter gives us Christmas … without Easter, no one would have cared about the birth of Jesus … and a little town called Bethlehem … the shepherds in the hills watching their flock by night … the wise men from afar.
Without Easter, Jesus would simply be one more man who tried to change the world, but the world killed him instead, as the world often does!
Without Easter, Jesus would be nothing more than just another victim of Empire and Temple … big things crushing people, as big things often do.
Without Easter, Jesus would have been forgotten!
Without Easter, not one of us would be here as we are.
We’d be somewhere, of course.
But who knows where?

But here we are.
Covenant on the Corner … and all around the world.
Singing our hymns and finding ourselves all over again.
Recalibrating our spiritual compass.
Fine tuning our moral sensibilities.
All because of Easter!

Easter is our faith!
Easter is our hope.
Easter is the anchor of our love.

Faith, hope and love.
They abide.
They endure.
They last.
Because Christ is forever!
Christ is real!
Christ is the cornerstone of everything true and everything good.
Christ is the power of all that is decent and kind and generous.

Nothing puny or temporary about the resurrection!

The stone rolled away … a heavy stone … a stone too weighty for our little strength … a stone beyond our meager abilities.
The stone of death.
The power of the final enemy.
Dust to dust, earth to earth, ashes to ashes.
This, and no more!

Who will roll the stone away for us?

God rolls it away.
What impossible for us, is more than possible for God.
The God who brings life out of death.
Who makes nothing into something.

But who expects it?

The women at the tomb - they weren’t looking for a miracle – they were on their way to finish off the burial.
The two men on their way home to Emmaus – they weren’t looking for a miracle - it was all over for them. It was a good run while it lasted, but we bet on the wrong horse!
The disciples who remained in Jerusalem – they weren’t looking for a miracle - Where do we go from here? What’s next?

They had all been with Jesus.
They had heard his words and seen the healings.
But they weren’t looking for a miracle.

When push comes to shove!
When the last bit of dirt is thrown into the grave.
Death is just too much for them.
The might of Rome takes away their Jesus.
Religion, hard and heavy, will not be swayed!
The powers that be have their way.

There will be no change today in the ways of the world.
Power and might remain in Rome.
Religion is as religion does.
Death remains!
There will be no change in the ways of the world.
Give up.
Go home.
Forget about it.

We all came that close to a world without Easter!
A heartbeat away from a stone too heavy to move.

When the women arrive at the tomb, wondering about that hideous stone, they discover it’s been moved and set aside. Angels meet them, and ask them, Why do you seek Jesus in the land of the dead? He’s not here! He is risen. Don’t you remember?

Two men on the road to Emmaus … a third man joins them … they talk … the third man doesn’t know what’s happened … so they tell him, The man Jesus is dead. We had our hopes, but hope died two days ago. We’re on our way home. Nothing more. Nothing more.
They invite the stranger to join for the dinner.
Before either of them can do a thing, the stranger takes the bread and gives thanks and then breaks it … and suddenly their eyes are opened; in a flash, they see Jesus!
In a flash, he’s gone.
Didn’t our hearts burn as he walked with us on the road?
We had no idea.
But it was our LORD Jesus!

They hurry back to Jerusalem, 7 miles on the run, to tell the disciples what they’ve seen.
Only to discover that others have seen him, too.
What’s going on?
Someone tell us, please.
Rumors and reports.
Some have seen him and some haven’t.
Come on now, let’s get a hold of ourselves.
Settle down.

And while they were still talking, Jesus came and stood among them.
Just like that.
Peace be with you! he says.

And the rest is history.
His Story.

The story of a heavy stone.
The story of two men and a stranger.
The story of a confused and uncertain church.

Yet, quite expectedly …
With no one looking for a miracle:
Bewilderment becomes faith.
Confusion becomes hope.
Uncertainty becomes love.

His Story.
Our story!

He is Risen!
He is Risen indeed!

To God be the glory!

Amen and Amen!