Sermon: January 29, 2017 – “Faith to Take the Next Step”

“Faith to Take the Next Step”

Text: Hebrews 11: 1, 8-9

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

I think I have mentioned before that while I was growing up I spent a number of summers at a campground just west of Boulder, Colorado. My dad was going to summer school at the University of Colorado in Boulder in pursuit of his PhD in physics. For about 5 or 6 summers in a row various members of the family spent the summer at this wonderful campground. It was called Eldorado Springs, and later, after we stopped going there, it became a State Park, called Eldorado Canyon State Park. It is still a great place.

When I was about 9 or 10 a couple of bicyclists came through Eldorado and spent a few days camping there. I was enthralled. Not only had these two guys arrived on bikes from California, they were the coolest guys ever. If I remember right, their names were even cool; they were Brady and Derrick and they had ridden their road bikes all the way from California. They showed me their bikes; they showed me their packs that went on the bikes; they showed me their nylon tents and down sleeping bags that rolled up into practically nothing and they showed me how everything they needed for an extended camping trip they could carry on their bikes. This made an impression on me that was indescribable. I decided that summer that I was also going to get a road bike and that I was also going on an extended trip of some kind.

When I returned home for school that fall I began to research where I might find a bicycle like the one I had seen. There wasn’t even a bike shop in LeMars, Iowa and so the only place to look that was handy was the Sears & Roebuck catalog. I looked up a bicycle in the catalog, but the one I thought I wanted just had a description, but no photo to go along with it. There was a photo of a slightly less expensive and probably more popular bike along with a description of that bike in the catalog and then under that was another entry, and the description of the bike began by saying it was similar to the photo above, but it had some significant differences. A few of those differences were very important to me and I knew what they were and what they meant. One item that was in the description was center-pull handbrakes, I wanted that and knew what it was; another item in the description was 27 inch alloy wheels, I knew what that was and wanted that as well. The description of the bike in the catalog also said it was made in Austria, which I considered to be a good thing, and it had an alloy frame, which meant it was lightweight and that also was very important. The last item in the description said “color” and there was a colon after the word color, and then it said magenta.

What? Magenta? What color is magenta? I wasn’t at all certain about this magenta business.

Now, it is important that you understand I had been looking at this catalog for well over a year. Almost every day I would go get it and read the description and dream about the day I would have enough money to actually place this order. I had been working a paper route delivering papers for over a year as well. On Saturday morning, once a month, I would go to the local newspaper office and settle my account. Then I would take a dollar or maybe a $1.50 out of my earnings for spending money and I would put the rest in a savings account-usually it was about 5 or 6 dollars for a month’s work of delivering papers.  The bicycle I had become fixated on in the Sears & Roebuck catalog cost $80; at $5 a month, it would have taken me 16 months to get there. If I remember right, there were a few snowstorms where I earned some extra money shoveling snow, some birthday money, and a few things here and there, so I managed to be ready to order the bike after about one year of working and saving. But I still wasn’t at all sure about this magenta thing.

I had asked my parents and almost everyone I knew what color magenta was. Some said it was purple; I couldn’t be seen on a purple bike. I had visions of purple fairies and unicorns and so on painted on the bike along with the magenta color. Others said it was more like a wine color, or burgundy. I looked up magenta in the dictionary. I would find other photos of things and bring them to my parents and ask, is this magenta, how about this one, or is it this one?

To order a bike from Sears with $80 of your own money that you have been working for a year trying to save and not know for sure what color it is going to be was a step of faith. For almost a year I had been asking almost everyone I met on the street what color magenta was and no seemed to know for sure. But I ordered it anyway. Magenta was a great color for this bike; it was awesome.

Of course now, with the internet and digital photos and just information overload everywhere you look, the idea of ordering something without an accurate photo can seem really absurd. But in LeMars, Iowa in what was probably 1967 or 1968 that was the fact of the matter. You ordered from Sears on the basis of a written description; a few things had actual photos, many of them black & white, and an even fewer number of items had color pictures. At least I was spared the frustration of having the bike I wanted listed with the color as magenta, along with a black & white photo.

I am taking a little time with this story because I remember it so well. And it was really hard for me to withdraw that $80 from my savings account and order that bike. I’m very glad I did and it was a great bike and I have tons of great memories and I did take my extended camping trip and it’s all good. But it was still hard before I knew any of what I know now.

So can you imagine what it felt like for Abraham? Look again at the text I read a few minutes ago from Hebrews:  

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

Abraham took off for a land that he didn’t even know where it was. He set out without knowing where he was going; he set out without a single picture of the land, he set without even a written description of the land. And when Abraham set out, it wasn’t just $80 worth; it was everything. It was his whole life. It was his family, it was all of his belongings, it was all of his animals, it was everything he owned and everyone he cared about. Abraham went all in for a place he knew nothing about. I don’t think he even knew what color it was. And I was worried about magenta.

You know, as I look at life today, it seems we can find out about almost anything. We can Google almost anything and get a description and a picture and it will probably be in color and high-definition. There are fewer and fewer things that simply require faith.

But what if you were called on to take a step of faith? Do we have the spiritual tools to discern what a step of faith looks like? Do we have the spiritual discipline to calm our anxiety and overcome our fears? Do we have the courage, the resolve, the spiritual maturity required to take the next step when our faith calls us forward? In this time of so much certainty, so much information, so many sources, do we have the faith to take the next step when all the information we really have is our faith? Do we have the faith to trust and believe even when perhaps our information says we should not?

There have been a few times in my life when I stepped out in faith. Even though not every time I did so turned out exactly like I had planned, I’m still glad I did. Far and away the most common outcome has been beyond my wildest imaginations; almost always, when I step out in faith, the world and the universe responds.  And I know I was the only kid in LeMars, Iowa with a 10-speed road bike that was magenta!

Go in peace, and go in faith. Amen.

Sermon: January 22, 2017 – Knowing You are Right”

“Knowing You are Right”

Text: Matthew 15: 21-28

 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

I guess I have a little confession to make. Chances are, if you think about it, many of you would have to make the same confession, but I’ll leave that up to you. The thing is, that I’m likely to assume that what I think and what I believe is the correct position. Throughout my entire life, most of the time, I have been right. I don’t think this is really an ego thing, it just is what I have experienced.

I have always done well in school. I graduated with honors from both institutions for my advanced degrees, once for my BFA and again for my MDIV degree. I often have the experience of seeking the advice or counsel of someone who is supposed to be an expert in a particular field, and then after visiting with them for a few minutes, I get the feeling that I know at least as much about their supposed field of expertise as they do; perhaps more. I know a lot of things. I have had the benefit of a good education, exposure to a lot of different cultures, I have traveled in different parts of the country and around the world. All of these things combine to create a situation where I feel like I am well rounded and have solid opinions on any number of topics.

I don’t want to go overboard here. There have been lots of times when I have been wrong. But what’s really interesting, is that in a lot of those situations that I can remember, I’m so glad that I was wrong! It is a great thing to discover the up side of being wrong!

For example, when the first digital cameras came out I was not a fan. I didn’t expect digital photography to ever turn into anything. I thought it was a passing fad. For a long time I felt that if you were a real photographer, you shot film. There just wasn’t any possibility that a computer image could rival what a properly exposed transparency could produce in terms of color saturation, sharpness and clarity. I just didn’t think it was possible. I resisted changing from film to digital for quite a long time.

My first exposure (pun intended) to digital photography was when we decided to purchase a fairly inexpensive point and shoot digital camera for Heidi. At this point digital cameras had been out for quite some time and had already improved way beyond what I ever expected them to become. So we purchased a small, convenient, easy to use digital camera for Heidi. If I remember correctly, it was an Olympus, but that doesn’t matter.

Shortly after our purchase we went on vacation to the New England states in October to witness the fall color that is there that time of year. We went to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and then went on up north into Maine and visited Acadia National Park. During this trip, I carried all my film photography gear in a large backpack. I was also carrying with me about 50 rolls of film that represented quite an investment and I also carried prepaid mailers with me for the processing. When I would finish a roll of film I would put it in one of these mailers and send it off. That way, by the time we got home, some of my transparencies were already beginning to arrive and I could look at my photos.

The short story about this trip is that I went to a significant amount of effort and expense to produce some of the best images I could of the magnificent fall color of the New England states in October. All this time Heidi kept her little Olympus in her pocket and when something interesting popped up, she would point the camera in that direction and shoot a picture.

Everybody knows what is coming, but sure enough, the images on Heidi’s camera were in almost every way, just as good, if not sometimes better, than the ones I had labored over. That was a wake-up call about how wrong I was about digital photography. Since that time I have abandoned film and educated myself about digital photography to a certain degree. There is still much I don’t know and the technology changes so fast, it is hard to stay current. But the point is that I’m having so much more fun and significantly better results now than I ever did shooting film. I’m so glad I was wrong!

I could tell a lot of stories about how wrong I have been about any number of things in my life. But here’s what I think we should think about. When you believe you are right, and all of us do, all the time, then it is very difficult for us to receive any new information about that topic. When we assume we are correct, it is very difficult to actually listen to an alternative position. In most cases, I think the new information comes to us by accident; sort of like what happened to me on our New England trip.

For example, almost everyone I know who has had a significant change of opinion about marriage equality or LGBT rights has discovered that someone close to them that they have known for years has recently come out of the closet. This new information comes to them by accident, and it changes how they think about a particular topic.

Part of this is just human nature and I think it is a condition from which we all suffer to some degree. But I also think it is getting worse. It seems easier today than ever before to insulate ourselves from any dissenting opinions or information. Consider what has happened to our news industry. We used to simply watch the news on a local channel and they reported what had happened that day. The news wasn’t entertainment, it was the news. But all that has changed, we now have cable news networks that run news 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Further, we have cable news networks that cater to a particular mindset and particular opinions about how the world works. In other words, we only hear news that agrees with what we already think. There isn’t any new information we are likely to receive.

Social media has also become a great insulator of dissenting information. We can log onto Facebook and scroll through the opinions and information presented there and most of us will ignore anything we don’t agree with. If it gets a little irritating, which for me it often does, it is very easy to unfriend someone or request that we no longer get posts like that.

In our social circles we also tend to hang out with those who think like we do or believe the same things. It has become very easy for us to never have a single instance where what we think or what we believe is ever challenged.

So this leads me to my basic question for today. What are we missing when we are never presented with new information or a new idea? In almost every situation I can remember when I have had the opportunity to change my mind about something, I’m so glad I did. The process of changing your mind is called growth. Our lives get richer; we have more empathy and compassion; we understand the world around us more completely. So with all these positive aspects that come from a new perspective or new information, why do we resist it so much? Why do we avoid it at almost all costs?

I wanted to get back to the text I read at the beginning. Jesus was pretty certain he was right when this woman confronted him. The disciples were people who Jesus had surrounded himself with that agreed with him. Jesus was insulated a little bit in the environment in which he was functioning. The disciples agreed with Jesus that the woman should be sent away; Jesus told the woman she wasn’t eligible for benefits. She was the wrong nationality or the wrong color or came from the wrong part of the world. She simply wasn’t eligible for benefits. The ministry of Jesus wasn’t going to be wasted on people like her.

But the woman persisted and by some miracle Jesus actually heard her. The daughter was healed. The ministry of Jesus suddenly expanded to include others and not just the Jews.

Where would we be today if Jesus had missed this chance to expand his ministry? Where would we be if Jesus had been so convinced he was right that he could not hear this woman? Where would we be if the advice of those surrounding Jesus had been followed and the woman was sent away? What would we be missing if Jesus had not changed his mind?

To be confronted with a new idea or a new thought is not always the most comfortable thing in the world. But sometimes it is the best thing in the world. What are you missing when you know you are right?

Food for thought.

Amen.

Sermon: January 15, 2017 – “Save us from weak resignation…”

“Save us from weak resignation…”

Text: Micah 6: 8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

This past week I had the opportunity to catch a movie; you may have heard of it or have seen it advertised, perhaps you have even seen the movie yourself. It is called “Hidden Figures” and I think it is one of the best films I have seen in quite a long time.

The film takes place during the early 1960’s at the very beginning of the space race with the Russians. JFK is president and it is before many of the sweeping reforms brought about by the Civil Rights Act, signed by president LBJ in 1964. The film is about 3 different African American women who work for NASA and the contributions they brought to our space program in spite of the barriers that had been set before them.

In a time when I was feeling a bit troubled about the possible direction of our country, it was helpful to see an accurate depiction of how far we have come. The women in this movie faced almost unbelievable obstacles and discrimination as they worked and did their best in service to their country. It was a good reminder of what we have accomplished in the area of civil rights not to mention computers, space travel, electronics, communication and a host of other advancements that can be traced back to the space program.

It also depicted an era when Dr. Martin Luther King was just beginning to get noticed and the civil rights movement was just gaining a head of steam. As we now celebrate a national holiday in honor of Dr. King tomorrow, that in and of itself is another indication of how far we have come. In a few days we will also witness the peaceful transfer of power from our first African American president to the next one.

I can’t imagine how hopeless the struggle must have seemed in the early 1960’s for Dr. King. How challenging for Martin Luther King it must have been to take on a society and culture steeped in racism and discrimination and segregation. How discouraging it must have been. Instances of police brutality at demonstrations and marches, the intimidation of the show of force with weapons and horses and night sticks; how easy it would be to just stay home. How easy it would be to say we will never win, there will never be any progress.

Of all the quotes and all the things people remember about Martin Luther King, Jr I think the one thing that stands out above all others is that Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream. And he wasn’t afraid to dream and he wasn’t afraid to share his dream. “I have a dream” he would say.

If we are going to honor Dr. King, the best way I can think of to honor this great leader is to follow his example and dream again. We should always be dreaming and we should always dream big.

I have a dream for Lewiston First United Methodist. I have a dream that one day soon the stacks of extra blue chairs in the basement will be needed again on Sunday mornings. I have a dream that one service on Sunday will no longer meet the needs of all the people and we will have services on Saturday night and two or three on Sunday mornings. I have a dream that our social media outreach explodes and we reach thousands every day with posts of meetings and events and ministry opportunities.

I have a dream that our vacant land will no longer sit idle, but it will spring to life. I have a dream of community gardens and growing our own pumpkins, I dream of playgrounds for the Montessori school and skate parks for the teenagers. I have a dream that the ministries of Lewiston First will impact the very fabric of our valley; that we will be feeding the hungry and helping the poor, we will be providing job assistance and career guidance, we will be working for the homeless and the hopeless. We will be the city of light shining on the hill. I have a dream that when an issue of social justice shows up in our community, that we show up as well. I have a dream that as a church we will transform and invigorate our community and beyond. I have a dream that we will expand our work with the Salvation Army, Family Promise, Circles and the YWCA and beyond.

I have a dream that we will connect with the faculty and students of LCSC and word will get around that if you like to think, if you like to be challenged, this is the place to be. I have a dream that we will need a staff to coordinate all that is happening and all that is going on. I have a dream of multiple ministers and working with kids and in education and outreach. I have a dream that when someone gets sick or has surgery that their mailbox is full of cards; their refrigerators are full of soup and casseroles that every day they see someone new or receive a phone call wishing them well. I have a dream of a parking lot filled to capacity and I have a dream that someday we will hear about getting to church early so you have a place to park or a place to sit.

I have a dream that the messages of tolerance and compassion, the messages of social justice and progressive Christianity will be broadcast throughout this valley via social media and our web site. I have a dream that those messages will fall on hungry ears and we will help countless others strengthen their personal spirituality and strengthen their connection to the Divine.

I have a dream that we can ransom Jesus who has been kidnapped and held hostage by the religious right and once again we can define following Jesus as a life of love and light and leadership rather than a life of judgment and self-righteousness.

I have a dream that as a member of Lewiston First, things will be so exciting and so exhilarating that you will not be able to contain yourself so that everywhere you go and everyone you meet will need to hear about the transformative things happening at your church.

I have a dream that our building will be in use during the week for community events and our community connections will be stronger than ever. I have a dream that church leaders from all over the conference will want to come and see what we have done. They will ask us what we did and how we did it; and we will tell them that we had a dream and we dared to dream big.

The movie that I told you about earlier played a familiar news clip when President John F Kennedy announced to world that we would go to the moon by the end of that decade. He went on to say that we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard.

I would lay the same challenge before you; we choose to dream big, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. We will need every single person to dig deep and to show up, to pray hard and talk to your friends. We will need every person to find their place and find a way to contribute what you have to offer.

Yes, I have a dream. But I can’t be the only one. You need to dream with me. We need to dream together. And we need to dream big.

Food for dreaming. Amen.

Sermon: January 8, 2017 – “As I Have Loved You”

“As I Have Loved You”

Text: John 13: 34

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

There is a ladder in my garage that has been with me for quite some time. I don’t exactly remember where we were living when I bought this ladder, but it has seen quite a few projects over the years. The other day I was using this ladder and it occurred to me that if this ladder could talk, it could tell quite a few stories. I wondered to myself if my ladder had noticed that the primary occupant and gotten a little heavier over the years, or did the ladder notice that it took a few seconds longer for me to climb the steps of the ladder.

As I was amusing myself with these fantasy thoughts about my ladder, it dawned on me that my ladder can tell a few stories and it isn’t exactly fantasy. I started to look at my ladder and there are all these bits of paint and stain, there are scuff marks and a dent or two. My ladder does tell stories because it carries with it certain evidence of where it has been and what projects we have worked on together. As I looked at my ladder I could see paint from a house we lived in over 15 years ago, I remember because the color was a bit unique. There were lots of paint drips and smears that I couldn’t identify because I had forgotten.

The interesting thing about my ladder is that it does carry the reminders of almost any project I have been involved in since it was new; and I can’t even remember when that was. That is also an interesting thing about projects, it is almost impossible to do anything without getting some on it on your ladder. There are some of you out there who know exactly what I’m talking about; for you others, you will just have to take our word for it. But there really is evidence of almost every project for the last 15 or 20 years on my ladder. Projects are like that. Especially painting projects; they just get on everything.

Just keep that in mind, because I will want to return to my ladder in a few minutes, but for now I wanted to explore a much more significant topic. This is a personal story and it is intended as a personal story. I’m not wanting anyone to misinterpret anything that I am about to say. I own all of this; but I feel it is so important that I needed to share it with you.

For the past six weeks or so I have been struggling with how to be in relationship with a few of my family members and others that I have grown to know and care for that did not support the same candidate for president that I did. Like I said, this is a personal story; but it may also be your story.

This is a new experience for me. I have had this happen before where some of the family goes one way and I go another; it has never been a big deal. There was one time growing up when I found out that my mother voted one way and my dad voted another and they essentially cancelled each other out! We had some good laughs over that one. But this election is different and I don’t hear anyone laughing. The divisions run deep and it seems everyone has retreated to their own private worlds and surround themselves with only the people who agree with them.

I will tell you that I found the tenor of this campaign troubling on all sides. There were things said and recordings of things said that should never be a part of a dialogue at any time. From my perspective, most of this dialogue was coming from the candidate that I didn’t support. Like I said, this is a personal story. But I have to get through this part for the rest of it to make sense, so please don’t shut down or stop listening. Bear with me.

My personal frustration was that I felt like there were no longer consequences to what anyone said, truth or fiction, racist or bigoted, appropriate or not appropriate, it just didn’t seem to matter. I wanted the rhetoric to stop and I wanted consequences because I was offended.

Ah, there it is. I was offended. I was better than that. I could see clearly where everyone else was obviously in a fog. What is the matter with all these people? Am I the only sane one on the planet?

You know what they call that? They call that being judgmental. There really is a very short list of what Jesus told us to do or not to do and being judgmental is on that list.

Back to my question about how I can be in relationship with these family members and others that are on the other side of the tracks. My answer, like so many others can be found in the words of Jesus that I read a few minutes ago. We need to love each other and we need to love each other as Jesus loved us. That is an important distinction, we need to love as Jesus loved.

You may ask the question; “how did Jesus love?” That is an important question and one worth exploring. Remember when I said that I wanted consequences? When someone said something untrue or simply awful during this campaign, I wanted consequences; I wanted it to matter in a way that made me right and the others wrong. I wanted my position to be validated.

I think the scribes and the priests and the Pharisees felt the same way. Take a look at a few places in scripture where Jesus demonstrates for us how he loves us; he gives us the example.

The first text is John 8: 2-11:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground.When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

We have another example in Luke 7: 36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

There are a lot of other examples. Jesus healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. Jesus healed the Gersaene Demoniac and the locals begged him to leave their town. Jesus spoke with the woman at the well.

When you ask the question of how Jesus loved us, the answer is that Jesus loved without condition and without judgment. Jesus gave us an example to follow rather than an opinion of how we should think or behave. That is what we are called to do as well. The commandment from Jesus is that we are to love as he loved us.

  1. Remember the ladder? As I was talking about my ladder, one of the things I said is that it is hard to have a project, particularly a painting project, and not get some of it on the ladder. The drips of paint stay on long after the project is completed and they tell a story.

Judgment and being self-righteous are the same way. You cannot paint with the brush of judgment without getting some of it on yourself. You cannot paint with a brush of self-righteousness and not get it on yourself. Judgment and being self-righteous is a messy business and it gets all over you and all over your ladder.

But here is what we really need to think about. For the most part a little bit of paint is harmless. It doesn’t hurt anybody. Remember when I said that my ladder carries the reminders of every project I have done since it was new? My ladder is just a ladder and the paint on my ladder is just paint. When we judge or are self-righteous or we feel hate or contempt or we ostracize others or make fun of them, when we fail to show respect for other human beings we inflict wounds that are far more damaging than a drip of paint.

There are some lyrics to a song written by Paul Simon that I think are far more descriptive of what we do to each other when we judge and when we become self-righteous. The name of the song is “The Boxer” and the lyrics go like this:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains…

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

Go in peace.

Amen.

 

 

Sermon: Jan 1, 2017 – “Everything is New?”

“Everything is New?”

2Corinthians 5: 17

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel a little bit abroad, particularly in the UK and other European countries. I particularly love some of the ancient cathedrals and old churches you can find in that part of the world. Some of the architecture is just amazing and when you consider the age of some of these structures it is even more amazing. There are churches and cathedrals in the UK that are 3 or 4 hundred years old and some ruins that are still standing that are close to 1,000 years old.

If you have gotten to know me a little bit, you may know that I sort of like construction and remodeling; building a house here and there or otherwise being involved in a project. So it shouldn’t surprise you too much if I were to tell you that part of the fun of visiting some of these really old structures in the UK for example, is to look at what has happened since they were built. Just as an example, it is very common to find electric lights and perhaps a restroom in the lobby of a cathedral that was built in the 18th century. Now, you don’t have to be an A student of history to know that during the construction of a cathedral in the mid 1700’s, the workers were not installing electric lights and plumbing for a restroom. This had to come after the fact.

Let me just tell you that remodeling of this type is extremely difficult. So I am always interested to have a look and see if I can figure out what they did and how they did it. This difficulty is also present if you choose to remodel an existing house. There are certain things you can move or eliminate, but there are other things which you cannot. Personally, my most recent remodel situation where I had to work around a lot of existing structure was a house in Clarkston that we lived in right before we moved into the parsonage. All of this is just to say that I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to remodel an existing structure and have that structure maintain most of the original character. Even though the ancient cathedrals in the UK have a few electric lights and a restroom in the lobby, they still look pretty much the way they did in the 18th century. That is truly remarkable if you think about it.

I have also had a bit of experience building houses from scratch. That is, from the foundation forward, everything is new construction. This is much, much easier. New construction is a breeze compared to some of the problems you encounter with a remodel.

So I wanted to get back to this scripture I read a few minutes ago. We can read in the text from Second Corinthians that if anyone or perhaps anything is implied here, is in Christ, there is a new creation. The text goes on to say that everything old has been abandoned or passed away as the scripture says, that means it has died, it is no longer useful, it is dead, and after that death of everything, all things have become new.

I believe it is very important, particularly in this text, for us to consider some historical context. I have mentioned before that the letters of Paul are some of the earliest writings we have in the New Testament. This text from second Corinthians is a good example. When this letter was written, Christianity as a faith tradition was perhaps only 30 or 40 years old. Everything was new. Most of the converts to Christianity were coming from either Greek mythology which was an ancient understanding of things, or from ancient Judaism, which was also old by comparison. It was easy to claim that all the old ideas, the old customs, the old traditions, all the old rituals – all that has passed away and in this new way of thinking, as a Christian, everything was new.

What an enviable position to be in. Imagine starting a new religion where everything can be new and you can make choices about how things are done or how things are understood. It is much easier than trying to modify an old religion. This is why I began this discussion with an emphasis on how difficult it is to remodel an existing structure. There are a lot of challenges associated with a remodel and if you can just begin from scratch, it is much easier.

Now, I happen to believe that Jesus never intended to start a new religion. I believe that Jesus had a mission in his sights to reform ancient Judaism and Christianity as a faith tradition never entered the mind of Jesus. Like I said, that is my belief; it doesn’t have to be your belief. But what happened after the execution of Jesus is really interesting. Rather than attempting the rather formidable task of remodeling ancient Judaism, a brand new faith tradition sprung up in its place. The task perhaps was just too big; the people who controlled ancient Judaism were just too powerful; perhaps no one involved in ancient Judaism saw a need for change; whatever the reason, a remodel of ancient Judaism did not take place. As the text states, all things became new.

All this information leads me to the point where I think we need to take a long look at where we are as a church and as a faith tradition right now. It is my belief and understanding that we are in need of some serious remodeling, and I’m not talking about paint or carpet or light fixtures. I’m talking about remodeling of Christianity as a faith tradition and the remodeling of the church in terms of our tradition and our rituals and our customs. But here’s the problem; we can’t just start over. The text that I read a few minutes ago says that all things become new. We can’t do that. We have a faith tradition that is over 2,000 years old. We have an existing structure. There are some things we can move, some things we can relocate, but we cannot just start over. Like an ancient cathedral that needs some electric lights and plumbing for a restroom, we need to figure out how to make the changes we need without destroying the original structure. We need to remodel Christianity to once again make it relevant and appealing to our modern culture, without destroying the framework and the foundation of the faith tradition itself. This is not an easy task.

For example, I think many people would agree that the church exists to minister to the community in which it is a part. In other words, the church is in a community and the church ministers to the people of that community. So what happens to the church if the community that it is in begins to change in dramatic ways? Does the church change with the community? Probably not.

I don’t think anyone would argue that Lewiston is exactly the same as it was in 1950 or 1960; a lot has changed since then and we live in a very different place even though it is still called Lewiston. But has the church changed with the community?

When I speak of the revitalization of our church and the remodeling of our faith tradition certainly this includes some of the physical updates to our building that we are beginning to see. But it also includes some new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching ministry, new ways of governing ourselves and new ideas of what it means to be involved in a church. Many people don’t have the same amount of time to volunteer that they once did is one example. Most families that are living in Lewiston now have both parents that work full-time, they don’t have as many children, but those children are way busier than any of us can imagine and spare time to volunteer at a church just doesn’t exist like it did in 1960. This is just one example of how a community changes around a church, and the church doesn’t necessarily change with it.

We must find new and creative ways to remodel our church structure, our ways of thinking about church and even the very faith tradition we call Christianity, or else what is predicted in our text will actually happen again. Christianity is now what is old. To be in Christ does not mean the same thing that it meant 2,000 years ago. If we are to prevent everything old passing away and all things becoming new, we must undertake some significant remodeling. But as I stressed early on, remodeling is much more difficult than new construction. But this is the task that lies before us. A new year is beginning and our new church is also beginning to take shape.

I wanted to take just a minute and introduce you to an idea that is in response to this difficult task of remodeling our church. This is what I call a prayer calendar; we will be creating a 2017 prayer calendar for anyone who wants one. The idea behind this prayer calendar is that each one of us has special dates in our lives that are more difficult for us than the rest of the year. Someone has referred to these special times as secret anniversaries of the heart; I think that is an accurate and appropriate way of describing these special dates. In my life, March 24th is such an anniversary.

What I would like for everyone to do that wishes to participate is to fill out the form that was included in your bulletin today. The form asks for just a name and a date; we don’t need to know the details. Please put your completed form in the offering plate as it comes around. The idea is that over the next few weeks, all these secret anniversaries of the heart will be collected and transferred to our prayer calendar. Then during all of 2017, as these anniversaries come up, those who wish to will pray for each individual on the calendar on that particular day. It will only take a moment, but the positive energy that comes from the prayers of all of us will help each of us through that particularly difficult day.

Once the prayer calendar is filled in with all the names of everyone that turns in the forms, we will produce these calendars in the office and then make them available to anyone who wants to participate by praying for each individual. We will be asking for a $5 donation to help cover the cost of the calendar, if you choose to participate.

This is just one small way we have begun our remodeling process. There is more to come. Perhaps not all things will become new as the scripture suggests, but some things will pass away, and behold, some things will become new. And that is food for thought. Amen.