Hope This Way

hope st

Proper 11 / July 20, 2014

19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  (Romans 8)

 

The epistle reading for this week is timely….very timely for our world and time. A world where in the same few weeks we find out that 50,000+ children (some say more than 80,000) have fled danger/poverty for safety/opportunity only to find that they are not welcome and are at the center of a political fire storm. A world where a passenger plane is shot down killing over 270 people by a covert operation in the middle of a civil war that can only get worse before it gets better. A world where  two countries that have fought for two millennia over dirt are at it once again with both sides breaking peace, pointing fingers, pulling triggers, and burying the dead.  And a time when it feels natural to be nervous about the sky falling in on top of us. Yes – these ancient words are timely indeed.

Every new news story reporting death and disaster makes me hurt inside.  But this reality is not about me at all. It is about a world in trouble. The description of Paul is that the reality of experiencing conflict, destruction, death, are like groans from deep inside that produce pain, convulsion, stress in our bodies and on our community.  All of creation is groaning and by groaning I mean lashing out at anybody that gets in the way of “getting everything we can” and/or “having it our way” always. The root of the destruction in our world that kills others and controls others is our own selfishness. We really think that the world is ours and if it seems to be different than what we want we will just lash out and take back possession of what is ours. This seems to be especially true if we think that we have a God given mandate to do so. This is the real world that we live in and I hate the way things are.

By now I know that I can’t stop countries from fighting over dirt or acting secretly to over throw another government. Nor can I stop people claiming to be Christians from taking arms against the vulnerable and/or placing political ambitions above their theological convictions ( if they have any). I can’t make the mentally ill act rationally and I can’t make the mentally fit act faithfully. Just saying that out loud helps me to realize that as I am at the end of myself in world matters, I may be at the beginning of a good place in me where God matters.  All I can do is hope.  And our hope in God saves us.

That is not a psycho-babble answer to help us keep calm. It is the medicine for our internal groaning that is fueled by selfish desire and demands that control our behavior and reek destruction on others. Patiently we allow God to replace our aches, pains, worries, fears, anxieties, cravings, addictions, etc, with hope rooted in His presence and redeeming purposes in our world. However, this hope is not passive, private, or personal. It is hope that belongs in the world and we are God’s good stewards letting hope loose in all we do. While the world acts out in its groaning and gasping from sin, we are confident that God is bringing something into our midst that will change it all.  We can’t always (usually?) see it happening, but it is happening. Believe that!

While we wait… let’s do something faithfully active to show hope in our world. Hope should not be hidden in our hearts. It should be out in the open. Hope out in the open shapes our response when tempted to politicize a tragedy or act radically for selfish purposes. We can either get busy groaning in the pain of the world or get busy working for the redemption of others. We are not saviors. We are sons/daughters of God, settlers of His kingdom, and  servants to all. Sitting quietly in our faith is not God’s plan. (Nor is acting in religious jihad over a changing culture.) His plan is to meet us in our pain and confusion so we can reject the temptation to go it alone and try to save ourselves. But while we wait for things to be fulfilled by God, we are on the move dispensing the sounds and sights of a new reality. A reality that is replacing groans with glee.

Let your hope out and see God save us and others.

“What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”  (Nicholas Thomas Wright)

 

 

 

 

PSSSTTT…Let Me Tell You Something I Just Heard

world pop day

Proper 10 – July 13, 2014

Then he (Jesus) told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.  As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”                              (Matthew 13:3-9)

 

This week I attempted to try on Matthew 13 like a new shirt. That is, after hearing and/or preaching this text over the last 20 years I hoped and prayed that I could hear it in a new way. After all, the text itself calls on those with ears to hear what he is saying and this parable tells us a lot about seeds, soil, birds, rocks, weeds, and farming in general. It seems funny to me that someone who was a carpenter by trade is telling a farming story to a group of people whose lives revolved around fishing while religious leaders most adept at reading and slaughtering sheep listen in. Thank goodness God helped me hear more than that in this story.

Most of the time when I have preached this parable I have attempted to explain just how we (Christians) should be making sure that the soil of our heart is clean and ready for the seed of the gospel. I imagine I have given some explicit examples on things that cannot be in the soil of our heart lest they keep the seed from taking root or give way to weeds that choke out the seeds. I think I remember even preaching about possible birds (temptations) that eat the seeds that God has sown in our heart.  If memory serves me correct I think I have even tried to cast a vision of where the church could invest effort based on a soil assessment of the community. My prayer is that these little warnings or life lessons have been helpful to someone along the way, but I am not sure.

Perhaps there is a greater truth at play here.

It seems to me that we are not the farmers of the dirt in this parable. Nor are we to act as bird hunters protecting the seeds or root scientists trying to insure proper planting or root fertilization. While the church should be active in preserving and protecting the gospel in hopes that it takes deep root in the hearts and lives of people that is not our primary role as believers.  Our focus is really not on the soil/dirt at all. The focus of this text is on the seed, but not on what limits or threatens the seed that God is sowing. That is His focus and He has been doing it well for along time. God is the one – the only One – who can produce, protect, and preserve our faith in the midst of great trials and suffering. Our focus is on this seed (the gospel) that being planted everywhere. Following the metaphor then we can say safely that God is sowing seed in every dirt patch, bird yard, and rocky road that He sees and He sees them all! By celebrating this good seed we are glorifying this champion sower who freely gives Himself to the entire world.

So…

Let’s stop trying to figure out how we are going to help God get His seed to grow the right way. He alone does that and will let us know how we can follow His lead. Our creativity and expertise in fixing people is an unnecessary exercise that probably makes things worse. God sends His gospel, prepares the heart of the sinner, brings to light what conflicts with His righteousness, and makes holy what is so bent and twisted in our heart. God does all of that. We are only witnesses to His work. Our work is never our work. It is always His work that He starts and invites us to witness, celebrate, and respond to His glory.

Instead…

Let’s become seed evangelists and/or revivalists. Let us become so convinced that God is sowing seed everywhere in our world and our job is not to fix the soil or shew away birds. Our job – our only job – is to tell people that God is putting something special into their lives. He is pouring out His grace in the midst of their hopelessness. As seed evangelists we may be telling a brand new story to ears that have never heard it. As seed revivalists we may be telling an old story in a new way to ears that have gone deaf to any news that might be positive. But that is where we stand in this story. We are braggers of the gospel seed shouting good news of great joy that God is at work. He is putting His mercy right down onto their sinful soil. He is casting out our fears by putting in place His glory. He is building His church in the midst of the most rocky, thorny, bird infested, overgrown, acidy soil possible and one day it’s going to make the most beautiful flower, the most abundant garden, the most spectacular tree, the most fruitful vine in all of creation.

Today (July 11, 2014) is world population day (according to World Vision). Out of the 7.04 billion people on earth, 2.2 billion of them are children under 18 and in every one of their lives He is showing up to sow. That is a lot of kids and God is casting a lot of gospel seed at them in every country, every language, and every way possible. That is how big He is and how awesome this seed is.

I am so thankful that God is doing what God always does. Now let us do what we were created/recreated to do. Tell others about the seed.

Whoever has ears, let them hear!

 

Keeping the 4th Happy

Proper 9 / July 6, 2014 –

Happy 4th of July! I’m ready for it. A 4 day work week. Smoked brisket ordered and on the heat at Uncle Mark’s BBQ. Mega fireworks in hand to shoot all over my neighbor’s yard. Lee Greenwood’s “I Love the USA” ready to go on the IPOD. Yard mowed. Hair cut. Swim trunks pressed. It’s gonna be a Happy 4th in Tomball, TX!

We go all out to make the 4th a happy break in our summer. Some of us will travel a great distance, blow a whole pay check on bottle rockets, eat watermelon until we can’t leave the bathroom, and listen to patriotic music that we don’t really know the words of, but try to sing anyway. We do it because it is our nation’s birthday and that is a big deal. It should be. If July the 4th didn’t mean independence for us then we would be planning our tea time selection (Earl Grey) and watching Wimbledon (Gross!). It is good to be American and we should get our party on and make the day as hap-hap-happy as possible. Keeping the 4th happy will be my priority on the 4th so don’t get near me if you don’t want happiness spilled all over you.

It is up to us to keep it happy. Without effort and intentional action it will be just another day. Sure we will likely be off from work and have some insanely rich food which are always good things. The 4th is the 4th and we can do, eat, act anyway we want to. We make it happy or unhappy, memorable or uneventful, “off the hook” or “on the chain” with our 300 million brothers and sisters. We are to remember the 4th of July and keep it happy so that we never forget the incredible blessing it is to be a free people under God. Remembering the sacrifice of those who died for our freedom and keeping freedom alive (and well) in every generation is our honor and duty as a nation – not just one day a year, but every single day.

 But now that I think about it…

Remembering and keeping are not only duties of a patriot. They are actions of the faithful. Not just for high, Holy days like Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, or Pentecost that comes one day a year. Each day is chance to live gratefully/faithfully unto God for caring for us in creation, gathering us in salvation through Christ , and chasing us constantly with His mercy giving us hope, purpose, help, wholeness. If we rest, relax and reward ourselves one day a year for being American, shouldn’t we pause more often and celebrate what being a child of God means to us and our future?

I have an idea. Let’s set aside one day a week from this day forward to rest and be renewed for good, Godly living. Let’s do it on Sunday since most of us are off anyway and usually gather with our friends at church and have a big meal in the middle of the day. Sunday is different in schedule and activity than any other day in our week. We even eat dessert after lunch on that day and carry no guilt over it. It is a day worth living and comes around the corner every 7 days. The only thing missing – it seems to me – is our consideration of what God has done, what God is doing, and what that means for us. Thinking on those things will make us happier than any 4th of July pic-nic we ever plan or attend. Because we live in a land where we are free to gather to express religion and we have a family/cultural tradition that includes the church and Sunday gatherings, all that is missing is the recognition of why we believe and do what we believe and do. In other words, let’s remember and keep what has already been offered to us through American Christian tradition (and a greater faith tradition), but instead of doing it to make us happy, let’s set our purpose higher. Let’s take one day a week and sit down with God, quiet our souls, and ask God to make us ready to keep living for His glory. Instead of being loud and nationwide, let’s be reserved, reflective, and resolved. We will call it the Sabbath and it will be like no other day of the week for us!

Who is in?

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)