Sunday, June 23, 2019

June 23, 2016 - "Taming the Wild Soul" - Palms Westminster

1 Kings 19.1-8; Luke 8.26-33

Two stories of salvation … 
A prophet wild and wonderful … 
A man of the tombs, lost and violent …

The work of God.

Have you ever thought about how hard it must be to be God?

Years ago, reading a book about God … 
Pondering the many stories of the Bible.
How hard it is to be God.

For the first time in my life, I wept for God.
The burdens God carries.
The sorrows of God’s heart.

Because God took a chance creating us.
The flowers and the trees are all good, and give delight to the heart of God.
The soaring mountains and the roaring sea are a pleasure for the eyes of God.
The whole of the universe … billions of years old … distances so vast we cannot comprehend them … 
All of it good, all of it pleasing to God.

And, then, there’s us - the strangest of all God’s creatures … we are dirt and dust, like everything else, and unlike everything else, we are the breath of God.

The Psalmist says: We are created just a little less than the angels.

And speaking of angels, I have often thought of them watching God create the heavens and earth, cheering God on, smiling and celebrating the glories of God’s majesty and the wonders of creation.

And then God said: Let us create humankind in our image.

Did the angels hold their breath?
Wondering about the final drama of creation?
Did the angels offer a word of caution to God?
O God, it won’t work.
Are you sure about this?
Combing dirt and divinity?

What a strange amalgam we are.
The breath of God wrapped up in flesh and bone.
We’re full of will and energy.
We’re finite and mortal, with longings for eternity. 
We dream and desire, yet we’re given to death.
The breath of God within us, yet dust to dust we are.

Created by God to care for the Garden.
Yet so easily misled by the Serpent.

God gave us everything in the Garden.
With the exception of one tree … the Tree of final knowledge, the knowledge of good, and evil.
A tree that belongs exclusively to God.
A tree only God can tend.

But Adam and Eve weren’t satisfied.
They wanted to be like God; they wanted final knowledge.

This one tree.
This luscious fruit.
So Adam and Eve took the fruit, to be like God, and in that desperate moment, the very nature of creation was changed.

Where there was light, there is darkness now.
Where there was hope, there is despair.
Where there was life, there is fear.
Where there was love, there is hatred and blame, scheming and greed, violence and murder and war …

As the story unfolds in the Book of Genesis, we learn that God had second thoughts about everything, and like the song from the musical, South Pacific:

Gonna wash this man right outa my hair …
Don’t try to patch it up.
Tear it up, tear it up!
Wash him out, dry him out.
Push him out, fly him out.
Cancel and let him go.
I’m gonna wash that man right outa my hair

The flood, the earth destroyed, but for an ark.
Noah and his family, the animals, two-by-two … saved for another day … when the flood is over, Noah and his family start all over … but it doesn’t take long for the whole thing to fall apart, all over again … the flood created a mess, and it didn’t solve the problem.

Now, what am to do? asks God.
What am I to do?

From the prophet Hosea, these very words:

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
      What shall I do with you, O Judah?
      Your love is like a morning cloud,
      like the dew that goes away early.

It’s not easy being God.
And though we often say to ourselves, If I were God, here’s what I would do.

But we’re not God, though a little bit like God.
We have wild souls.
We are given to all sorts of dark thoughts and mean deeds.
Put us in a mob, and it’s a mess.
The mob cries for death and war.
Crucify him, crucify him, the mob cries.

What is God to do?

The story of Elijah has alway intrigued me.
Elijah, the prophet of God.
Impetuous, impatient, given to violence.

He loves fire and blood.
And sees to the death of all the false prophets: 450 prophets of Baal; 400 prophets Ashera … all killed, dead and gone.

Victory turns unexpectedly to fear.
Queen Jezebel issues a death sentence for Elijah, and Elijah flees for his life into the wilderness, there to be fed by an angle, to find a cave, and there to hide … Elijah no longer the victor, but now the hunted; he’s bitter, full of self-pity: I’m the only one left, he says … the only one who is faithful. Nobody cares but me.

God pays Elijah a visit … No Elijah, you’re not the only one … I have faithful people all over the place … so get a hold of yourself, take a deep breath, and pay attention.

There was a great wind, so strong it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks, but God wasn’t in the wind.

Then an earthquake, and God wasn’t in earthquake, either.

Then a fire, and God wasn’t in the fire.

Then, after all that noise, all that violence, all that raw power … there was silence … sheer silence, unnerving, disturbing … a deep quiet … and therein was God.

Elijah wrapped his mantle around his face … humbled and saved … his wild soul tamed.

By the cave, in the wilderness, Elijah learns something about life: violence leads nowhere, blood spilled, even in the name of God, is not the way to life … the way of the sword is the way of death … Jesus himself said: those who live by the sword die by the sword.

Elijah was tamed that day by the great love of God, tempered a bit, revived and commissioned again … because work needed to be done … his wild soul needed to be tamed.

The second tale we tell is the man of the tombs, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee … and why Jesus is there at that moment, only God knows for sure, but this much we know, it’s the love of God at work … in a man wild and willful, full of demons … a legion of demons, cursing and screaming.

The man rushes to Jesus and cries out in protest … with mercy and kindness, Jesus sets the man free … to return to his home, no longer a wild man, but a man restored to his senses … with a story to tell of Jesus and his goodness … a story to tell to the nations.

Across the pages of Scripture, dramatic stories to highlight the plight of humanity - and the mercy of God …

To keep the story going … the story of life, hope and goodness … there is work to be done, but not the work of a sword, but the work of mercy and peace.

It’s never easy to do the work of God … and in Christ we see the final outworking of what that means … not a sword, but a cross … Jesus takes upon himself the sins of the world, the sorrows of humankind, not by violence, but with mercy.

All of us here today are beneficiaries of that story … here we are, creatures of dirt and divinity … each us, by the Holy Spirit, souls tamed by the love of God, brought close to Christ and close to one another in the great fellowship of faith.

Elijah was recommissioned that day with work to be done … the man of the tombs was sent back home to share his story.

Souls tamed by the mercy of God.

I doubt if any of us here are quite as wild as Elijah … I’m quite sure none of us here are as the man of the tombs.

But each of us in our way has a soul given to the darker side of things … in each of us, there is something of Elijah, in each of us, something of the man of the tombs.

The Holy Spirit comes to us, with the love of Christ, gently and purposefully, to tame our souls, that we might tame the world.

To the glory of God, and for the healing of the nations. Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"Trinity Sunday" - Palms Westminster Presbyterian Church

Proverbs 8.1-8; John 16.12-15

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Grace, mercy and peace.
Faith, hope and love.
Guilt, grace, and gratitude.

The widow, the orphan, the alien.

Morning, noon and night.
Past, present and future.
Height, width and depth.
On your mark, get set, go.
Three coins in the fountain.
The Three Stooges and the Three Musketeers.
And a three-point sermon.

Huey, Dewey and Louie.
The three little pigs.
Goldie Locks and the Three Bears.
Porridge, too hot, too cold, and just right.
Month, day, year.

Three temptations in the wilderness.
Three crosses on a hill …
Jesus with Elijah and Moses.
Peter, James and John.
The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost boy.
Noah had three sons.
And then there were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
And we three kings of orient are.
A priest, a rabbi and a minister, too.
Lots of things come in threes, it seems.

Today is Trinity Sunday … a celebration of the majesty and goodness of God … 
The Three-in-One God, God in Three Persons.
The God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who both send to us the Spirit of Truth, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, 

It’s Trinity Sunday, dear People of God.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life.

What does the Trinity give to us?

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

We live in a God-hallowed world, a world created by the loving word of God, declared good by the word of God … all the creatures of this earth … great and small … the very life of every human being … all of it, good, all of it, sacred, all of it, from the hand and heart of God.

The God of Creation … who gives to us this world as our world, and commands us to care for it, to tend the garden, to oversee and guard its life.

The whole of the Creation Story is our mandate to pay attention to the earth … to love it as a precious gift from God, something to be cherished and preserved, guarded and maintained, honored and loved … God created us to be stewards, caretakers, of sea and sky, earth and air, and all the creatures, great and small.

Let there be no doubt that the God of Creation calls us to pay attention to what’s going on these days … human pride and greed fill the air with carbon dioxide … the oceans with plastics and pesticides … threatening the wellbeing of animals and humans all across the globe … even as Wall Street cheers its obscene profits and wallows in its wealth … at the price of destroying God’s good earth.

Some would say: “We can’t destroy God’s earth.”
Oh, yes, we can … we have that kind of power, because it’s the power God gives to us, to use, for good, or for ill. 
Don’t be fooled by the false prophets who proclaim peace when there is no peace.

Some would say: “God will never allow that.”
Well, that’s what the folks of Jerusalem said even as Nebuchadnezzar pounded down the city gates and hauled the people off to captivity. 
Again, false prophets … false prophets proclaim false security, lulling the people into irresponsibility, believing in their own privilege rather than taking up their responsibilities.

Whatever God’s ways are, we are fools to think that God will never allow the consequences of our foolish behavior to come to pass … 

Whatever God’s purposes may be, they include this earth … and woe to those who would so casually use the earth for their own advantage, their own momentary gain, at the expense of the polar bear and the elephant.

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our LORD, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.

The God of Creation is also the God of Covenant … the God who comes close to us, who takes up our cause, walks with us, talks with us … and bears our burdens.

The whole of the Judeo-Christian Story is centered in a God who addresses us with compassion and mercy … who pays a visit to Abram and Sarai, to create a new family upon the face of the earth … and when things go awry, and the family ends up in Egypt, enslaved by the proud and the powerful, God hears their cry and set’s the captive free.

We celebrate the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ our LORD, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary … the God who becomes a human being; the human being who is God …

To seal the bond of love … to show us the way of life.

He is our Savior … doing what we couldn’t do, and doing it for all of humanity, because God’s love is for all the world.

He is our Teacher … revealing to us the ways of life … three years of eloquent teaching and three years of courage … challenging the proud and the powerful, overturning their tables and confounding their expectations … those rich and powerful people expected Jesus to be on their side, and when Jesus choose the side of the poor and the oppressed, the powerful people of Jerusalem got angry, roused a mob, arrested Jesus, took him to Pilate, forced Pilate’s hand for the death sentence … that’s how the rich and the powerful dealt with Jesus.

But in all of that, the work of God … what it means to live life, the life of God … sometimes full of danger … not always easy, choosing the right and resisting lies and deceptions.

Throughout the ages, women and men have heeded the call of Christ, the call to courage, to withstand the onslaught of lies and bigotry … many Christians have suffered and died as their LORD did … it doesn’t always end easily, but it always ends well … for no matter what, in life and in death, ’tis better to have served Christ and lost the world, than to gain one’s life and lose one’s soul

To believe in Jesus Christ is to follow in his footsteps … and no time has ever been more important than now for the church of Jesus Christ to give ear to his teaching, and to embrace his way of life … to set before the world an example of grace, mercy and peace; faith, hope and love; kindness, care and compassion.

In Christ, we belong to God, and in Christ, God gives to us life … life enduring, life always … life incorruptible … life everlasting …

I believe in Jesus Christ …

And I believe in the Holy Spirit … the deep and powerful presence of the Father and the Son … in the life of the church, in your life and in mine, here and now, in this place, and forever … the life of God - in a flower blooming, a bird singing, a whale breaching … the life of God in a child crying, a mother weeping, a father in despair … the life of God in a politician who tells the truth, a minister who preaches the whole counsel of God, a teacher who inspires a child to reach for the stars … the life of God in a kindly hand upon your shoulder, a gentle word to bring comfort, a smile to brighten someone’s day … all of it, and more, the life of God, the Holy Spirit.

The same Spirit that hovered over the dark waters of a formless void … the Spirit of wisdom … the Spirit of Mary’s Womb, the Spirit of Pentecost, tongues of flame, and the miracle of language … oh, how I love that story … everyone’s tongue, everyone’s language, honored by God … they didn’t have to learn another language to hear the Gospel, because God speaks their tongue, and the Spirit enabled those disciples of the Upper Room to speak the languages of the world.

We live in a city of many languages, and here in Palms Westminster, many tongues … and sometimes, for White People, it’s frustrating, and some folks demand that everyone should speak English … “if ya wanna be an American, speak American, and if you don’t, go back to where ya’ came from.”

Maybe some of you have heard that.

Well, thank God for Pentecost and the Holy Spirit … the Spirit of many languages, the Spirit of every tongue, because God is the God of every tongue, and God honors all the languages of the earth.

Our schools need to be multilingual.
We need to honor every language.
We need to be patient with one another.
And we need to learn some other languages, too.

Whatever the language, God be praised.
Whatever the tongue, Glory to God.

My little granddaughter now lives in Amsterdam, and she’s learning Dutch … and who knows how many other languages to follow … she’ll be multicultural, multilingual, and she’s multiracial, too.

I love how that represents the magnificence of God’s world … a large and glorious world full of diversity and color, tongues and ways of life, a world full of food and music, dress and design … all of it celebrated by God.

Because God is a family, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God is neighborhood, a community, a town.
God is diversity.
God is female and God is male; God is young and God is old.
God is every color and every shape.
And everything in between.
God is light, God is love, God is hope.

I believe in God the Father.
I believe in Jesus Christ the Son.
I believe in the Holy Spirit.

Hallelujah and Amen

Sunday, June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019 "All Shall be Glad" - El Monte Presbyterian Church

Isaiah 35; John 14.15-24

Good Morning, and God’s peace to you.

It’s good to be here with you again.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share with you in the gospel of our LORD Jesus Christ, to think a little bit more about the world in which we live, the challenges and the gifts, the sorrows and the joy, the hurt and the opportunity.

It’s a big world out there … and we’re not so big ourselves … but size doesn’t matter when it comes to the church of Jesus Christ … it’s not the building, it’s the heart … it’s not the money, it’s the faith, it’s not the numbers, but the love.

With you this day, I celebrate your life, just as it is.

You have everything you need, right here, right now.
You have the people to do the work of God.
You have the Holy Spirit to guide.
You have good music, music of the soul, music to bless.
You have a building, a kitchen … you have children eager to hear of God’s love.
You have all that’s needed to be faithful to Christ.
To make a difference.
To be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.

I celebrate you this day.
I give thanks to God for the blessings of God’s peace.
The goodness of God’s love.
The hope that we have.
And the love that binds us together into the fellowship of faith, the company of the saints.

And that’s big.
That’s really big.

When this sermon was coming together, I wanted to think with you a little bit about “bigness” … how God takes the measure of someone’s soul, how God measures the work we do, and how we often use the wrong measuring stick to measure what we think is big.

We live in a world where bigness is worshipped.
Human beings are so easily misled … misled by their eyes.

Remember Adam and Eve?
They looked at the forbidden tree and thought, “That looks good.”
The eye can be misled by glitz and glamour, by power and glory measured by human standards … the fast car, the big house, the expensive yacht … from the Tower of Babel to the Towers of Trump … glitz, glamour, power and wealth.

That was one of the temptations put to Jesus … all the power and glory of the world … and then Devil’s tag line, “To get it, all you have to do is bow down and worship me!” 
And to that, Jesus said a resounding, “No!”

How big is big????
In the kingdom of God.

Size matters only for vanityvanity, vanity, all is vanity, says the writer of Ecclesiastes … we do well to heed those words, lest we be misled and deceived by our eyes.

Remember when Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem … the disciples oohed and awed over the Temple; they said to Jesus, Look at these big stones and all these large buildings.

Jesus said to them, “Who cares? Who cares how it looks, how big it is, and how rich it is. It isn’t going to endure; it won’t be here for long; it’s all going to be thrown down and destroyed.”

Vanity … is a problem … for the church of Jesus Christ in America.

American christians want to be big.
And when we’re not big, we’re envious.

We talk about that megachurch down the street … how big are its buildings, how many people are in attendance … envy sets in, envy wrecks us … no wonder The Ten Commandments end with envy:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What happens when we envy?

We no longer count our blessings.
We doubt the goodness of God.
We try to copy what others are doing.
We want what they have.
We want a big church, too.

I know … I’ve been there!

I know what envy does to the soul.
A soul impressed with size.
A soul dazzled by success … 

These days, much of the church in America has been led astray by the temptations of wealth and happiness, success and power, big buildings, big crowds … and expensive shoes.

“Expensive shoes?” you say?

Yes, expensive shoes … 

I recently came across an Instagram page called @preachersneakers … featuring celebrity preachers and their expensive sneakers … $2000 … $3000 … and all the accouterments of wealth - expensive clothing, fast cars, private jets, big homes …
Preachers wallowing in their wealth, and they have the gall to tell us:
Wealth proves that we’re right.
Private jets are needed for security reasons.
We’re children of the king and we outta live like kings.
God is big, and we gotta be big, too.

Have you heard that corrupted message???

And, then, they tell us to keep on giving … not to our local church, but to their “ministry” … not to local charities, but to their “mission” work … with silly promises of a “check in the mail,” or “winning the lottery” … or some other divine moment that’ll put money into our pockets.

I remember my first parish, in West Virginia, early 70s … a little tiny town on a muddy creek, beside some rusty railroad tracks, abandoned coal mines all around, poverty neck deep … a little post office in a small general store, where the men gathered to swap tall tales and and tips on coon hunting …

We could watch the postman sorting the mail, slotting it …there were no little doors on the slots - it was open, most everyone could see, and as folks gathered their mail, I saw the religious material … tons of it, flooding this impoverish town with appeals for giving and promises for wealth, health and happiness.

Religious shysters know their business … they know that poor people are vulnerable … they know how to manipulate and use poor people … with wild promises of wealth … these fraudulent preachers, these hucksters of lies, know how to fleece the flock, pick the pocket, take the widow’s two mites.

It’s fraudulent … it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God … nothing to do with Christ …

It was Christ who said to the disciples: travel light … carry no purse, no bag, no sandals … don’t even stop along the way to talk with folks.

As for the religious elite and their expensive clothing, Jesus said: 

They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.

How big is the kingdom of God?

It is big … bigger than we could ever imagine … world without end, without borders and boundaries … limitless and full of love … overflowing with gladness and goodness … compassion and mercy … decency and dedication …

The kingdom of God: 
a home for the homeless, 
a welcome to the despised, 
a gathering place for the lonely, 
a voice for those have been beaten into silence … 

These days, there’s a movement in the Presbyterian Church called Matthew 25 … to become a Matthew 25 Church … 

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

Right here, right now … El Monte, a Matthew 25 church … we have all that’s needed to be the church of Jesus Christ. 

Maybe we only have five loaves of bread and a few fish to share … but Jesus says, “It’s enough, more than enough,” because I will make the difference … 

The creator of the heavens and the earth, to whom all peoples belong, from whom comes all life, the creator takes the five loaves and the few small fish we have, and in the hands of the creator, there is enough, more than enough … the multitude is fed … and when the meal is done, and all are glad, there are even leftovers … plenty to go around, and then some.

That’s how big the kingdom of God is.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!