Sunday, October 30, 2022

10.30.22 "Looking to See" - Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena

Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4; Luke 19.1-10

Have you ever gone looking for something … a pair of glasses, a book for some nighttime reading … that favorite pen of yours … “It was right here,” you declare, so you keep on looking, going back to the same places you looked at 10 minutes ago, “It’s got to be here, I know it is.” 

So you keep on looking, and lo and behold, all of sudden, there it is - on the shelf by the TV … as if by magic, it appears … but you know, we all know, it was always there … it was there when you started looking, it was there when you passed it by the third time … it was there waiting for you to see it.

We can look, but not always see … 

Or …

We see what we want to see … 

In the same field, a farmer will notice the crop, geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, hikers a pathway to adventure. We may all look at the same thing … but it does not follow we’ll all see the same things.

When my children traveled, I always told them: 

Use all your senses ... use your eyes to really see the landscape ... use your nose to smell the food, the odors of the city, the aroma of a country field in the hot sun of an August afternoon …

Use your hands to feel the rough stones of an ancient wall ... use your ears to listen to the sounds of life - a bird in the early morning singing to greet the sun, a dog barking in the distance ... someone opening up their shop, getting ready for the day ... 

And taste the food ... it's complexity, familiar flavors and strange seasonings ... things that you'll want to eat again, and things that you'd rather forget ... use all your senses ... 

In the movie, “Avatar,” the indigenous people of Pandora say to one another, when it’s important, when it counts, “I see you!”

Today’s story is all about seeing … 

Zacchaeus is out and about and notices the crowds … being a man of importance, he’d like to know

what’s going on …  

Being a man of short stature, the crowds were a bit too much for him … being a resourceful man, he spots a sycamore tree and finds just the right branch to stand upon, to see Jesus.

What's extraordinary in the story is not Zacchaeus climbing a tree to see Jesus … but Jesus who stops beneath the tree to see Zacchaeus.

If Jesus hadn't stopped, Zacchaeus might have gone home afterward with nary a thought about it ... just another "interesting" moment in Jericho ... which might have made a good sermon title, "An Interesting Moment in Jericho" ... 

When Jesus stops, the situation changes dramatically ... Jesus takes command of the moment ... Jesus “sees” Zacchaeus, tells him to come down, and be quick about it. 

What’s a tax collector to do?

I’m fond of this story for many reasons … Zacchaeus is a plucky fellow … he’s not likely to have many friends … as was noted last week, tax collectors are no one’s favorite - they’re grifters, so to speak … and he’s no ordinary tax collector; he’s a chief tax collector, and he’s rich.

Zaccaeus sits on top of a pyramid … other tax collectors working for him, with the armed might of Rome backing them up … if you owed $10.00 in taxes, you might be asked for $20 … the soldier beside the tax collector made sure there were no complaints … 

A nifty arrangement, but one likely to create a lot of grudges and even some enemies.

Jesus stops at the foot of the tree and says, Hurry and come down.

Hurry … because Jesus doesn’t have a lot of time … he’s taking a break on a journey to Jerusalem, and says, I must stay at your house today.

To our eyes, it doesn’t make any sense.

Does Jesus know Zacchaeus?

Does Zacchaeus know Jesus?

It’s a happenstance moment … we might well call it “a moment of grace” … God seems to know things about us that are mostly shades and shadows to us … there is no darkness for God … the night is as light as day, says the Psalmist.

Zacchaeus hurries down, pleased as punch. 

He doesn’t have friends in town … 

No one invites him to their backyard parties … 

No one comes to his home. 

The crowd grows restless … What’s the big idea? Zacchaeus is a bum, a sinner. Don’t we have fine upstanding citizens here? Important people? Jesus needs to see them, not waste his time with this cheap little crook.

Jesus says to Zacchaeus, You are a child of God; lots of folks may not think so, but I know so … 

All these people waiting to see if I’ll come to their home, so they can add me to their social register.

But I’m going to your home Zacchaeus. 

I know I’ll be well received.

Several things happen now in quick order … Zacchaeus makes wild promises … about putting things right … repaying what he’s extorted … giving to the poor.

Wow … did he follow through on any of this?

We don’t know, but Jesus says to him, Today, salvation has come to your home.

Last week, I said, “I can’t tell anyone how to find God” because it’s not our business to find God; no one can; no one finds God … in the same way a child finds a toy under the bed.

If I told you today to get busy and find God, I’d be doing you a disservice … putting a burden on you, an impossible burden.

Truth be told, we don’t find God … … 

That’s God’s business … this is what God does, all the time … finds us, sees us … stops beneath the tree we’ve climbed … Jesus might have walked on by, and that would have been the end of the story.

But Jesus stops … this much can be said: Zacchaeus made an effort to see something … that’s a critical piece of the story … to be here today, is that kind of an effort … if you’re tuned in via YouTube, it’s that kind of an effort.

A prayer, a plea, a promise, a moan or groan - the smallest effort is noticed by God … 

Don’t be surprised if God pays you a visit.

To God be the glory.

Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

10.23.22 "Looking Within" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

Joel 2.23-32; Luke 18.9-14 

Good morning and God’s Peace to you … 

Today, the second sermon in a three-part series about looking … last week, looking ahead … next week, looking to see … and today, looking within.

Within ourselves … to find something of God … there’s a whole lot to God … we can find God in a whole lotta ways … in the highest mountains, the deepest seas, the sacred traditions of religions all around the world … in our daily walk with life … the laughter of a child, the cry of gull on the morning tide … and in those moments, occasional and often unexpected, when we pay attention to God …  

And by attention, I mean something more than asking God for something …

Although that’s part of it … we all ask God for something, much of the time, if and when we pray …

I pray God will keep my children, my granddaughter, my wife … I pray God will give me strength, strength of soul and body, mind and heart, to continue in my work - to be the interim minister for this remarkable church … I pray for friends, family members … I pray for our President and Vice President … I pray for the nation … for the people of Ukraine.

The LORD’s prayer includes personal requests: give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our debts … deliver us from evil … provisions for body and soul …  

In the gospel reading today, two men go to the temple to pray.

One man, the religious leader, is frightened … he’s afraid of the truth … maybe he’s afraid of God, too … maybe someone taught him to be afraid … so he pretends … he pretends to be higher than “that man over there.”

A dangerous move … “that man over there” … 

Have any of us done that?

I’m quite sure we all have …

It’s a dangerous game to look at others so we don’t have to look too closely at ourselves. By comparison to some, I look pretty darn good … but in just such a move, love cannot abide … I really can’t the other … but blinded by myself.

Perhaps the other man is comparing himself, too … to the religious leader, despairing of ever being so good. 

Who are these people?

Jesus chooses well the character of his little tale of two men … a religious leader, a man of importance … well-dressed, I’m sure … respected in the community … people consult him with personal matters, legal questions, and all sorts of things.

The other man, a tax collector, an enforcer, with Roman soldiers to back him up … he collects more than he should, pays off the Romans, and keeps the rest … he’s very well off … with a troubled conscience.

The one boasts … but it sounds hollow, doesn’t it?

The other beats his breast … and Jesus says that man went home justified … 

We don’t know how the story ends for either of them … after all, it’s a just story … of two men in prayer … one boasting, because he’s afraid to look within … the other, beating his breast, because he has dared to look within.

Yet, that inward look is essential … 

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m both of them … boasting on Monday, beating my breast on Friday … and sometimes both in one day.

None of us are as good as we think we are when the sun shines bright on our work … and none of us are as bad as we think we are when the clouds of doubt and despair hang heavy upon our soul. 

In our success, and in our failure, we are what we are … complicated human beings, mostly trying our best to be our best … working hard to make a living, and working hard to make a life. 

But of the two men in prayer, Jesus affirms the one who beats his breast and pleads for God’s mercy … it is well that we pay attention to this man … this man walks the healing road … the road that leads to God … 

We don’t know how the story turns out … did the tax collector change his life? We don’t know … 

Jesus is clear - looking within ourselves may sometimes shock us - evil thoughts and bitter memories … the ill we’ve wished upon others, the lust and desires of our basest instincts … yes, it’s all there, isn’t it? … along with our goodness and tenderness, our skills and abilities, our love and gratitude … 

The look within may frighten us, but it’s the beginning of spiritual enlightenment … the look within is the road to God.

I cannot tell you how to find God. No one can.

It’s more mystery than method … more accident than design. 

Years ago, at Louisville Theological Seminary … late summer, early fall … from the window of my room, I was able to watch a child chasing cottonwood fluff … fluff blowing in the wind … the child chasing it, running hither, thither and yon, having a good time, and every time her hot little fist closed over a piece of the fluff, the fluff turned into a soggy little blob that fell to the ground when released from her hand.

In the meantime, some of the fluff landed on the child’s head, and there it was … soft, white, gentle … Be still, and know that I am God.  

You may hear God today in the sounds of music … in the words of Scripture … even in this sermon … 

Maybe in a moment of prayer … a quiet moment later this afternoon … this coming week, who knows? … at work, or stuck on the 210 … a memory comes our way … something tender and sweet, good and profound, maybe something hard and demanding … a flood of thanksgiving … maybe a wave of guilt … it might well be the presence of God, plowing the soil of our soul … inviting us to look within, to see ourselves as honestly as we can … 

So we can love all the more, that neither pride nor despair would diminish our care.

Maybe today our soul will sing: to God I belong, forever and a day … 

I have strength for the journey … 

I will make it by-and-by … 

and so will my neighbor … 

and all whom I love.

It is well … it is well with my soul.

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, October 16, 2022

10.16.22 "Looking Ahead!" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

Jeremiah 31.27-34; Luke 18.1-8

When we lived in northern Wisconsin, I owned an 18-ft white fiberglass canoe … it was a beauty … a lot of fun … lake fishing … running the rivers … 

We had some decent white water, and I’d go out with a friend for the day … 

We knew the rivers, changing depth of water, whether we had rain recently, or not; winter run-off … on the quite stretches of the river, we’d relax … let the current take us … when approaching some serious water, we’d beach the canoe, walk ahead to look ahead, to see if we could scope out a safe way through the rapids … without damaging the canoe, or capsizing … 

Looking ahead proved helpful, but not entirely so … there was no way of really knowing until we were on the water … and then, it was a lot of quick thinking and fast paddling … 

What lies ahead for any of us?

That’s the direction we’re headed in … no one is going backward … forward is the only option …  

And so we come to Jeremiah … writing to people in tough times … encouraging them to look ahead … look ahead for the better day … be a wild-eyed optimist - not foolishly so, but faithfully so, because God is the future God .. from the future, God touches the present … from the future, God speaks to us … from the future, Christ beckons - to put our hand to the plow and not look back! Onward to the future.

Jeremiah writes:

In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

What in the world is Jeremiah talking about?

Let’s do some work … you’ve heard the commandment, wherein the LORD God says: for the iniquity of the parents, I will punish the children, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me.

Which is to say, the failure of one generation has consequences for generations to follow … history makes it clear: we pay the debts of those who came before us … we know that to be true!

But such thinking became a handy excuse … an excuse to do nothing: blame it on the past - it’s my parent’s fault … I had lousy teachers … the times were against me … I didn’t get fair breaks … any or all of that may be true, but is that the whole story?

It became a cliche: The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.  

Jeremiah says, Nope, you can’t say that. What another generation did, or failed to do, is no excuse for you to do nothing. And don’t get smart about it; you’ll leave your own mess for another generation to clean up. You can always do something, because the future is open!

We’ve got possibilities … always, possibilities … always a way through … whatever the moment, whatever the limits, whatever the difficulties, we can find our way through.

A friend of mine recently asked of my study group: “What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years?”

One of the members replied, “You’re assuming we’ll still be here!” 

And we laughed. And we agreed … being on the older side of things, the future is a whole lot shorter for us than our past. 

Yet, as the poet, Langston Hughes said: “Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

In our youth, we can hardly wait to grow up.

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, 

Healthy, free, the world before me, 

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

School, graduation, a driver’s license, a diploma … a job … marriage and family … we work hard to make a living, we work hard to make a life … and then, one day, the clock ticks loud … calendar pages fall like autumn leaves … we face the inevitable end of our lives.

The Christian Faith encompasses all of life … the Christian Faith climbs the highest mountains, and plumbs the deepest graves … with good reason, we say of Christ, crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell. In dealing with the worst, Christ has the right to talk about the best!

Death does not have the final word … death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD … as the poet says, Death, be not proud!

A little girl asked her mother, “Will my Grampa be in heaven?” 

Her grampa had just died.

Her mother, a theologian … quickly realized a theological lecture would not do, so the mother simply said to her daughter, “Everyone you love will be there.”

My theology professor, a man of learning and wisdom, fluent in many languages, a scholar of renown, an expert canoeist, said in a lecture, “I’ll be canoeing in heaven.”

He explained: “I believe all the good things God has given to us here and now will be there, too.”

In heaven, we’ll still be human beings … we will love what we’ve always loved … our children, our flowers, good food, a shelf of books, and some stories to tell - all the things that enrich our lives and give us depth of character.

We look ahead for the new day:

In politics, we look for new solutions to ancient problems … new answers to primordial questions … new technology to improve how we live with one another and manage the world in which we live. 

In religion, we look for God’s presence - in new forms and places … we discover, God is God, always and forever, but always in surprising ways … God makes sturdy clothing for Adam and Eve on their way out of the Garden … God parts the Sea so the people of Israel can head for the Promised Land … God sends manna in the morning, and quail at night … God is the cloud leading the way, the pillar of fire guarding the night … God born in Bethlehem and dying on Calvary, God in the tomb, and God raised from the dead … God always on the road, here and there and in between … God of love, God of hope, God of life, God of death, God of the resurrection and the life everlasting.

In the days of our life, from the first breath to the last, to be those who look ahead … to the bright sun of Christ, to the work that must be done while the day is upon us … to be informed by the news, and transformed by the good news … to put our hands to the plow, and not look back … to make Christ our priority …  

To look ahead … 

In the short run, so we can be faithful.

In the long run, so we can hopeful.

Pete Seeger said it well:

I can see a new day

A new day soon to be

When the storm clouds are all passed

And the sun shines on a world that is free … Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 9, 2022

10.9.22 "Truth & Lies" Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA

Jeremiah 29.1, 4-9; 2 Timothy 2.8-15

A good friend cancelled his cable network … he said: “too much propaganda, everywhere!”

Another friend told me, “I’ve cut way back on my reading … too disturbing, too frightening.”

Someone else said, “I don’t wanna hear anymore about climate change, stolen elections, or whatever. I don’t know what to think.”

None of it’s easy … all of it demanding … confusion is real … who knows how to sort it all out!

Like looking in your cupboard late at night, when all you want is a bowl of cereal, and there isn’t any, so you decide to make a late-night run to your all-night grocery store, to get a box of cereal … and there you are, in the cereal aisle … hundreds of brands, hundreds of boxes … fruit or no fruit, sweet or not-so-sweet, gluten-free, organic, extra vitamins … and all you want is a late-night snack.

The times in which we live … floods of information … claims and counter-claims …

What’s the truth, what are the lies?

Is there anyway of sorting it out?

Important questions come our way every day … 

Big questions - what does it mean to be a Christian? What kind of nation shall we be? Who ya’ gonna vote for? Who do you believe? Who do you trust?

Is there anyway of working our way through it all?  

I believe there is … some basic elements help me … and maybe can help you, too … and for that, our reading this morning from Jeremiah.

The book of Jeremiah has always meant a great deal to me!

Jeremiah was my “first love” in seminary.

I was attracted to Jeremiah’s honesty - he doesn’t sugarcoat the situation … he tells the truth, and it’s a hard truth now and then.

Nor does he sugarcoat his own confusion and discouragement … Jeremiah has no pleasure in telling the truth … no pleasure in confronting those who tell the big lies … no pleasure at all … Jeremiah finally gets angry at God, angry for calling  him to these tasks … he’d rather be left alone, cancel his cable subscription, and he doesn’t wanna go to the cereal aisle anymore.

Jeremiah is honest to the core, serious about life … reluctantly, Jeremiah takes up the task to offer counsel to God’s people in a time of distress and dislocation.

It’s the Babylonian Captivity, the great upheaval … Judah has been defeated … crushed by the superior power of Babylon … farmers and merchants allowed to stay in the land, but leaders and teachers removed, bankers and politicians, kings and queens, taken to Babylon in chains … a brilliant strategy, to smash resistance, to keep an eye on the troublemakers … it was a terrible defeat for Judah.

Psalm 137 was written in those terrible days:

By the rivers of Babylon - there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps … how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

The Psalm ends with some of the most bitter words imaginable:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator. Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

No wonder the captives in Babylon were ready to believe a lie!

“A lie?” you ask.

Yes, desperate times create spiritual and emotional vulnerability; people are ready to believe just about anything that offers some form of escape … and there are always folks ready and able to tell a lie or two, charlatans, flimflam artists, hungry politicians; irresponsible preachers.

The false prophets went to work, and said to the people - “It won’t be long; God will come to our rescue and take us all back home.” They all chanted, “Make Judah Great Again! Make Judah Great Again!”

God said to Jeremiah, “Confront the false prophets. Call them out for what they are. They are liars. They are misleading my people. There is no going back. My people have to face the truth; they’ll be in Babylon for awhile. But tell them: they can still make a life for themselves. I am with them, in their exile. I am with them in the hardest part of life. I have not abandoned my people. I will see them through the terror.

Jeremiah and the false prophets both speak of God … but who’s telling the truth?

If I support a woman’s right to choose, and someone else calls me a baby-killer, is there anyway of sorting it out? 

If I support the separation of church and state, and someone says God never intended it that way; God intended Christians to rule, how do we work our way through that? 

When I affirm marriage rites for gays and lesbians, and someone else calls them an abomination, and tells me that I’m a heretic, bound for hell, how do we figure it out? 

Here are some thoughts that help me sort things out.

Lies often revolve around God, country, and family … lies talk about tightening the borders, writing new laws, preserving morality, fighting sin … 

Meanwhile, truth crosses borders … truth says, God so loved the world … truth reminds us to be careful in our judgments and mindful of God’s tremendous grace. 

Lies are quick to pick up the stones, but it’s Jesus who points to something better, and sets the woman free.

Lies tell people to look to the past … truth looks to the future. Jesus says, If you put your hand to the plow, don’t look back.

Lies build on fear and suspicion; truth builds on trust and confidence.

Lies frequently have to do with wealth … who has it, who gets it, who keeps it … truth is generous in nature … truth shares rather than takes … truth is the cup of cold water, rather than the coin of betrayal.

Lies need enemies; truth finds allies and friends.

Lies offer “easy answers" … truth knows, life is complicated.

Lies rattle the saber … truth tells Peter to put his sword away.

Lies have a Golden Calf; truth has The Ten Commandments.

Lies need folks to live in a bubble - one issue, one focus, one purpose … truth welcomes diversity … truth is a like a diamond, with many facets … lies eliminate the need to think; truth demands that we think, and think hard. 

Lies multiply … today’s lie requires another lie tomorrow … truth is steady, truth is consistent. Lies promise the moon; truth reminds us, God never promises us a rose garden.

Why is this important?

Because we’re Christians - followers of Christ, the way, the truth, and the life … it is our task, our responsibility, to know the truth, defend the truth, speak the truth, do the truth. 

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

Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

10.2.22 "Christ" - the Third of three-part series: Creation, Covenant, and Christ

 Psalm 37.1-9; Luke 17.5-10

Today’s sermon is the third in a series called “The Three C’s” - Creation, Covenant, and Christ.

Creation is the beginning … God is the beginning …  

The second C - covenant … covenant is the focused energy of God’s love … the covenant of creation, the covenant with Noah and the earth, the covenant with Sarah and Abraham … and their descendants after them … the Wilderness People set free from slavery … the people of the Promised Land in quest of a home … Mary and Joseph, and the Bethlehem Child, with shepherds from the hills and wise men from the east.

Down through the ages … generation to generation … family to family … blessed to be a blessing … 

The mark of the covenant, circumcision … on the 8th day, the male child, circumcised … blood shed … a way of saying what we all know to be true … life is costly, life demands sacrifice … life requires all that we are, and then some.

When Christ comes, a shift … 

The baptism of Jesus, by John in the Jordan … 

Water used in ancient rituals, but now with Christ, water gains a new focus … it’s no longer blood given, but now, baptism received … 

The covenant remains in place … and grows larger … baptism for all children … baptism for all who hunger and thirst for righteousness … 

The word Christ means “anointed” … 

Upon Jesus rests the mantle of faith, hope, and love - in a dramatic and compelling way … Elijah’s mantle, the call of Moses … the 23rd Psalm, thou anointest my head with oil … 

Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God … Immanuel, God with us …

Christ, the anointed one, the Son of Mary … a human being in all regards, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone -  

Many years ago, I preached a sermon in which I said, “Jesus is the face of God” … 

If we want to see God, we look to Jesus - not a literal picture, for none exists … but to the words of Jesus … the Gospel stories … what he taught, what he did. 

His call to the disciples, his regard for the children, his care for the outcast … a gentle touch to open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf … a gentle word to give hope to the weary, and life to the lost …  

In our reading from Luke this morning, one of the great lessons of life …  comfort and encouragement.

The disciples ask of Jesus, “increase our faith!”

Who hasn’t asked that of God? - Increase my faith! … and that’s ok, but it can be misleading … as if we’re not up to the tasks at hand … we doubt ourselves, we doubt our gifts, we doubt our abilities … and, yes, there’s some humility in all of that … but we have to be careful, lest we overlook what God has already done in our lives, what gifts God has given to us, from the moment of our birth, throughout the years of lives … the gifts of God.

Jesus quickly corrects the disciples - you already have what you need … it may be the size of mustard seed, and if you wanna know the truth, that’s all you need … the gifts of God are just that … small to our eyes … small enough that we might overlook them.

History is filled with the stories of mustard-seed faith turning the world upside down … mustard-seed faith going to work and making a difference … mustard-seed faith brings us here … mustard-seed faith stops to pay attention to a child … mustard-seed faith refuses to take the back seat of the bus … mustard-seed faith offers a prayer for a friend.

Jesus says to us: you have what it takes … don’t worry about it … don’t ask for more, but ask for the eyes to see what you already have … the eyes to see the gifts of God that are uniquely yours, arranged with form and purpose that belongs uniquely to you … you have enough, more than enough, to make it through life … to weather the storms, face the challenges, endure the long hard roads that we must sometimes travel …  

Years ago, living in Michigan, I did a lot of bicycling  … we had access to great trails … state, county and city parks … good bicycling … but on many a day, I rode through two large Jewish cemeteries, just blocks away from our home … huge cemeteries … good roads, not much traffic … safe to bike …

And full of life, in a strange and fascinating way … 

Life engraved on thousands of headstones … words of thanksgiving and love … words of sorrow for children gone too soon … for youth cut short in the brightness of life … words of gratitude for fulness of life and many years … 

The human story … travail and treasure, sorrow and glory, achievement and setback … loss and gain … it’s all there, in a cemetery … and then, what I heard … yes, you heard me right, because in those cemeteries, I heard their voices … 

Don’t worry, not literally, but close … their voices, singing … quietly, “We did it, and so will you” … 

“We endured, we lived, we loved, we died … some of us were cut short in our time … some were endowed with many years; some did well, and some had a rough go of it … there were good times and there were bad times … but we did it … and so will you.”

This is the message of Christ to those disciples.

You have what it takes, and it will take what you have … but go for it … you will make it.

At the center of our faith, Christ … 

Other traditions of faith have their own centers … and God be praised for all of it …

For us here, it’s the Christian story that shapes us … but God uses all the other stories to give life to the world.

Some years back, a mother came to me distressed and fearful - her daughter had fallen in love with a man of the Islamic Faith … and she converted … her mother believed that her daughter was now lost, and would go to hell when she died.

The mother echoed many a Christian sermon - that we’re the only ones going to heaven, with everyone else going to hell.

But I say to you this day: Christ is more than that … the love of God is more than that … we need not fear another faith … but we would do well to look to our own faith, to live that faith as best we can.

I spent time with that mother, encouraging her to embrace the fullness of God’s love for the world … a love at work in all the great traditions of faith … that she and her daughter would always love one another … and never be afraid that one would be lost, and the other be saved … no, it doesn’t work that way … God is the Savor of the world … and what we see in Christ, God has done a thousand times over in every culture, time and place, long before any of us showed up, and long after we’re gone … because God is the God of creation …

God is the God of the covenant …  

And God is the God and Father of the Christ … believe me when I say, this Christ is everywhere … with different names, different images, different meanings … different music, different philosophies and theologies … and finally, and always, the same message.

You have what it takes.

Don’t be afraid.

You are loved.

Say “Yes” as often as you can.

Be kind in your ways.

Overlook the sins of others, and rejoice in goodness when you see it.

Work for justice, and seek peace.

Tell the truth, and bear the sorrows of the world.

Cry with those in distress.

Count your days … don’t get carried away with stuff.

Laugh often at yourself … laugh with others, too.

Have fun along the way.

Don’t overlook your mustard seed.

In the end, you will return to the earth, one way or the other.

In the end, there’s God … kind and loving, good and great.

In the end, your voice will be heard by others,

You will sing to the world, “I did it, and so will you.”

Creation, Covenant, and Christ.

Amen and Amen!