Saturday, August 23, 2008

Where Do You Fit In.

Romans 12:1-8
Tears, words of frustrations, confusion, a since of betrayal, feelings of wanting to return back to the way it use to be, anger, self- doubt, nervousness, anxiety, a sense of abandonment, that awkward feeling of not know what to say, trying to be supportive but only making things worse, a longing and deep desire to just return to the ways things once were. That was the climate around the house the last week or so. All of which revolved around the first day of school. Not just the first day back after the summer break, but the first day in a NEW school. A school where everything is different, not one familiar voice, familiar face, or even familiar surroundings, nothing is like you imagined. We as adults forget, that it can be a traumatic and scary thing, to start a new school.
Parenting is not easy. Especially when you see your kids hurting or anxious and there is nothing really you can do about it. I wished I would have had some vocational tech training classes or something before I had kids. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a whole lot less trouble to my parents, I promise. It’s tough. Life is tough. While parenting is full of many great rewards, it still is a tough job.
During the week I was hit with the line: “You have no idea how I feel.” Spoken so true. We really don’t have an idea what another person feels. I can sympathize though. At fourteen years old, I went form a very small, very expensive private school that I attended for seven years, to a very large, predominately African American public school. I was transposed from a place where I was popular, well liked, and very comfortable to something so different. I literally felt like I had walked out of one world on to another planet. So I could in a small way remember that uneasiness, sick feeling you have in your stomach that first day. I also had the past experience of knowing that I could find true friends in both worlds. The key was just being myself, not letting race, social classes, backgrounds, family structure, religion or anything else stand in the way of forging new friendships. These new friendships that would last a lifetime shaped me into a better person. Before I could find my place in the new environment, I had to know exactly who I was and where I fit in.

That is exactly what Paul is writing to us this morning. The church in Rome was a new group of Christians. They were trying desperately to figure out just who Jesus Christ was. They were learning what it was like to live as Jesus’ disciples. To live a life of faith. They desperately wanted to be faithful but really just didn’t know how. Paul had the task of not only shaping their theology but also their attitudes towards one another. The church was made up of folks who did not necessarily all socialize together. They were made up of folks from every part of town. The only thing that brought them together was the common bond of Christ love. It is easy to explain to others who Christ is, but harder to explain just how the church works and functions.

Paul uses the analogy of the church being the body of Christ. It is one body, but has many different parts. Each part is vital to the overall health and well being of the whole. Each part has a vital function, which no other part can perform. With the church being the true object in the equation, let us examine it further. Suppose you have a terrible sore throat, it causes great pain when you swallow. Now the heart doesn’t say to the throat, “it is your problem, I am beating just fine.” The lungs don’t say, “a sore throat doesn’t affect me, I providing all the oxygen to everyone, so talk to the brain.” Now the throat because of great pain can not function properly. It directly affects the food that is consumed. The throat pain affects the brain and the emotional effects of the body. The way we interact with others when we are well and when we are sick are drastically different. Less food means less energy. Less fuel or energy to our cellular system that fights disease. This affects our entire immune system. If the throat goes on untreated, you can see how the entire body is affected. Each vital organ knows its own specific function and it place in the entire body function. If the throat refused to work, it directly affects the heart, lungs, all the way down to a singular cell.

This is clear when we think of our church as untied as one body. Christ’s’ body. God has given each of us some unique and powerful gift. God intended on us to use it in the overall function of the church. Paul reminds us that the gifts given to us by God are not of our own. They are a gift, which means no gift is greater or more important than the next gift. While we might feel we are not valued or posses Godly gifts, we do. Each gift is vital for the overall function of the entire body. You are vital for the overall function of Christ’s body. You are responsible for the health and welfare of Christ’s church. If we don’t use our gifts we loose them, or they become nonfunctional.

It is also an unselfish gift. The body was not designed for one organ to do it all. Paul reminds us that each person only posses one or two gifts. It is the collaboration of these diverse gifts that make it work. This time of discernment we are experiencing should help us all clarify exactly where we fit in. We are reminded that if we are one member of a larger body, so are the other churches in our area. We must rejoice in their effectiveness on the lives of others, simply because they are a part of the same body, Christ’s body.
So let us continue to discovering where we fit in God’s plan. In prayer, we will hear Christ words of instructions. In worship we will recognize that the gifts and blessing we hold are uniquely given to us by our Lord. In studying God’s word, we will find clarity in the function of our congregation. In service to others, we will experience the affects we have on the lives of others. And through it all, while it will be tough, we will know exactly where to fit in.

Tears, words of frustrations, confusion, a since of betrayal, feelings of wanting to return back to the way it use to be, anger, self- doubt, nervousness, anxiety, a sense of abandonment, that awkward feeling of not know what to say, trying to be supportive but only making things worse, a longing and deep desire to just return to the ways things once were. Through it all Christ love will bind us together forever. Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I stared at the blinking cursor what seemed like hours, recalling my life and the illustration I would use for this scripture and sermon. I had what was the opposite of writers block. There were just too many. Countless of times I had been terrified by life, knocked down by the winds of change, and beat up by the rocking of the stress in my life and Jesus was there to rescue me. I recalled by training as a lifeguard and how they stressed the most important thing is to hold on tight to your victim, let them know you where in charge, because if they feel secure and safe they will not fight you. They will relax and allow you to pull them to safety. Jesus has been there and done that to me. Just at that moment when I was scared, tired, and ready to given it, I found myself secure in those whom Jesus sent to save me. Pulled me out of the water, dried me off, warmed by chilling body, and sent me on my way. I am sure some of us here this morning can identify without having to share the details or specifics of our life. We all share in the fact that somewhere, somehow, through someone Christ was there for us. So for many reason this is one of my favorite stories of Jesus.

Jesus had feed the thousands, preached all day in the hot sun, retreated to a quite place to pray. He had sent the disciples on ahead in the boat. Each gospel tells this story with different details but the facts were the same. The wind picks up. If you have ever been in a boat, when the wind or a storm picks up, you realize in an instant you really have no control. You are at the mercy of nature. The next fact was these fishermen, the guys that make a living on the seas, were scared. They knew exactly how dangerous the situation was. Then they spot Jesus. But at first they think he is a ghost and are scared. The scripture tells us of their fear, but we are not sure what they are exactly afraid of. Are they afraid that Jesus is an evil spirit? In those days, people believed that the evil spirits and demons lived under the seas. Were they afraid that Jesus was going to drown? They were going to watch their friend perish in the water. Or were they afraid that Jesus possessed a power greater than the nature order of our world. A human being can not walk on water. The reasoning behind their fear is so unimportant because each of us have different fears, don’t we.
Peter calls out. Jesus answers, “take courage, it is I, don’t be afraid.”
Peter tests Jesus. “If it is you, tell me to come to you.”
Jesus says, “Come.” And Peter did.

Here where it becomes tricky. Peter follows Jesus request. Jesus did not forced Peter out of the boat. Peter out of love, devotion, commitment, forgets his own situation or fear and follows Jesus. Peter totally forgets his own fear, and focuses on Jesus. Did I say, Peter takes his focus off of his own situation, his own predicament, his own fear, his own self and focuses on Jesus’ instructions? Peter risks it all when he placed his foot from the rocking but secure solid bottom of the boat on to water. When Peter’s attention, focus, and concentration was on our Savior, he walked on water. But the second, moment, blink of an eye he took his attention away form Jesus, Peter began to sink like a rock. (All pun intended as Peters name was changed to Rock) Remember normal people do not walk or water of defy the laws of nature.

Now that is the lesson in it’s self. That no matter what the winds of life throw at us, if we keep our attention fixed upon our Savior Jesus Christ, things will work out. I think we can all agree on that fact but if we really look at this story it is more that Peter’s water aerobics.
Peter had the ability to suppress his fear enough to follow Jesus directions. Peter had the confidence, love, respect, devotion, courage, and craziness to do exactly what Jesus called him to do. He did not rationalize it. He did not call a meeting of the rest of the group, make a motion, look at a budget, and take a vote or a poll to see what the rest group wanted to do or waited until things calmed down a little. He just heard Jesus’ voice and did it. He reacted out of his love and devotion to God. He risked it all, his future, his own personal safety, and his position in the group to follow Jesus’ voice. It was Peter that took that chance, the one whom Jesus would use to build the church. As the church that again is another lesson to us all.

But that’s not all.
When Peter risked it all, when he followed Jesus voice, stepped out of that boat something bigger happened that often gets overlooked. As the wind rushed violently against the boat, in the midst of the storm when everything was chaotic, when fear was the theme of the hour, when Peter stepped out, he received the greatest reward of all. Something the others would never get to experience. For a brief moment, Peter got to feel what it was like to live in Jesus world. When he risked it all and got out of that boat, he stepped in to heaven. He felt was it was like to live in the Holy place where God reigns, the place where our environmental laws of nature do not apply. Because of his risk, because of Jesus’ love for Peter, Peter got to experience what it was like in Jesus’ realm. Peter got a small taste of God’s blessings and ultimate glory. Those who stayed in the boat, only got to watch from the sidelines, but Peter got to live it. He got to feel it, taste it, understand it, and personally experience it. Those that stayed in the boat only witnessed it, which was also important.

When Jesus and Peter returned to the boat, the fear was gone. The storm was over, the uncertainly had subsided, and they worshipped Jesus. They sang praises to God for His goodness, his holiness, for saving them from the whatever. They told of their witness and worshipped exactly who Jesus was, “The son of God.” I can only imagine what the rest of that trip was like. I am sure it was full of laughter, praise, joy, excitement, and enthusiasm without the slightest inclination of fear. I know they now felt secure and safe, ready to do whatever Jesus asked of them.

I am not sure exactly where you place yourself in this story. We all need people like Peter to risk it all, to step out of the comfort zone, to risk it all for Jesus. The rational thing to do in times of fear, uncertainty, and chaos is to hang on tight to the boat. The boat is the object of security in this story, isn’t it? When on water, the only thing that floats well is a boat, especially during high winds. I know if I am drowning in a storm and I am cold, sacred, tired, feeling alone and abandoned the first and only thing I want to see is a boat. But Jesus says if you truly love me, if you are committed to me and my ministry, if you want to experience something more that just survival, if you hear my voice, get out of that boat, there is where you will experience the full capacity of my love for you. I want to stay where I’m at, Jesus says get out of that boat! Where are you?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I have shameful admitted that I grew up a wrestling fan and my childhood dream was to entertain people by putting on spandex tights and entering into the squared circle. (That is the ring for you non wrestling fans out there)

When ever things got serious, when a story line of a feud was over, you must end in it very dramatic fashion. It almost always ended in a Main event, - last match of the night- No DQ- no disqualification, anything goes, Cage match- revenge without outside interference. Nine out of ten times the good guy would get his revenge on the villain or bad guy. Every fans frustration that had been built up for months would come to an end in that one last match.

While this Main Event, No DQ, cage match was set something different happened. Jacob was caught in the middle. He was caught between his brother and twin Esau. Remember Esau the brother from which Jacob scamming with his mother stole his birthright. On the other side was Laban whom Jacob had pretty much had stolen his wife. And our evil villain Jacob was caught in the middle. He was going to get what was due. Caught like a deer in the headlights. Not knowing what to do, Jacob sends gifts to his brother and plans his escape route. This is so good I couldn't’t make this stuff up, drama, revenge, restitution, climatic, suspenseful and violence all about to be unleashed.

Just as Jacob starts his escape, the bell rings and the fight is on. But his opponent is not Esau or Laban, it is an angel.. It read an fighting angel, not a fighting ninja. Let me pause of a moment here. While we would like to think of angels as: dainty figures we place on cute figurines, angelic voice who sing to us or caregiver in time of need. The Bible gives us a witness that is not so dainty. In Genesis 18, three angels eat enough of forty men. In the New Testament angels routinely scare the living daylights out of people, including the toughest of Roman guards. And in this passage the angel is more than a match for rugged Jacob, a man who has proven he can hold his own in the worst of situations. Rather than picture angels as perfumed, saintly, light- on – their –feet haloed ballerina, we might do better and thinking of them as pumped up, steroids taken, nightclub bouncers, roughnecks, or where I come from rednecks. Guys with one name like Mack, Bulldog, or Bubba.

Either the case angels are God professional movers. They never leave a scene without have changed people, moving them form here to there, from one way of looking at the world to another. Your life is moving in one direction; you encounter an angel, and before you know if you are heading in a completely different way. This angel as he prepares to fight Jacob did not disappoint.

This angel brings all he has to this fight with Jacob. He has too. Jacob was on his way to success, on the fast tract to be king and nothing was going to get in his way. His birth order didn’t. Jacob’s brother didn’t. His father didn’t. His twisted uncle Laban didn’t. So far, Jacob has always grabbed or finessed his way of achieving his goals. At this point in his life he has hit his stride, and he is only going up from here. He had mapped out everything except Jacob did not plan on the encounter with the angel.

In my life I have found two spiritual truths to be true. One is when I feel down, defeated, beat up, bruised, worn out, stressed, and anxious in my spiritual life, God always without fail sends me a situation that picks me up, dust me off, and helps me back on my way. I become stronger, more focused, re energized, and useful. The second is just the opposite. When I feel it is me: I’m the one doing great things, I am the one doing great ministry, I am the one healing, helping, and achieving greatness. God sends me a situation that reminds me, that it ain’t me. It is those times of humility; God knocks me down off my high horse and reminds me that He is the one in control.

In Jacob’s case, the force was of the down to earth variety. An angel wrestles with this can do, win at all cost guy who is at the top of his game and hobbles irreversibly his winning stride. No one looks tough limping on a bad hip. By the end of the encounter, Jacob is mud-drenched, limping, and branded with a new name that could almost certain cause playground teasing: Israel, which translates :one who struggles with God or one who tries hard with God, one who strives with God.

The key to this story is not that Jacob got beat. But that Jacob did not give up. He refused to give in until he received God’s blessing. In many ways, to be part of a faith community is to choose a life of extending the history of Israel, a history struggling with God. It is to choose a life in which we raise questions, wrestle with doubts, with trust, with lifestyles, and with sacrifices called for by our love and compassion for God and another.

We here at FCC have asked that each of you spend forty days, just forty days in prayer, study, worship and service. During this time if there are not aspects of God that scare you just a little then you must have skipped some pages in the Bible. The tricking part is to trust. To trust in God whose blessings are such that they sometimes leave our hip out of socket. There will be times when the journey of faith involves wrestling with God- unanswered questions, unresolved dilemmas, unlit valleys, irreconcilable differences. I tell you this not to discourage you but to let you clearly see the reality that awaits us. In such times, the only hope we have is to cling to God. We must only cling to God because the alternative is to cling to nothing. To do nothing, hold on to the day when one person is left to turn out the lights and close the doors. “I will not let you go” says Jacob, ether from sheer panic or steel resolve we can’t be sure- “unless you bless me.”

And so the angle does. That is what we call the good news. The mysterious stranger in the middle of the night, with the power to wound but also to heal, blessed Jacob, Israel, the one who struggles with God.

There in lies our promise: there will be struggle in our walk with God- dark nights, confusion, feelings forsaken- but there will also be blessing. From the struggle it self emerges a new way of defining blessing and a new way of living: Blessings are not always polished and poised, sweetness and light. In remembering our Savior Jesus Christ sometimes blessings bear the scars of a struggle and walk with a distinguishable limp.
Take are of your self and one another,