Monday, November 22, 2010

The Summit “Unplugged”

Have you ever felt like you were part of something incredible, but couldn’t put it into words? Your fear was that no one would dare understand your excitement once you started down the precarious path of trying to use the shallow reservoir of vocabulary at your disposal. Well, that’s me.

This weekend our church planned and enacted a Sunday worship entitled “Unplugged.” I dubbed it The Summit “In the Round.” It was special in the most simplistic way. The cross was placed in the center of our worship space and an altar was created with rock stacked around the base of the cross. The chairs were arranged in a circle extending outward making room for each additional row. The band, well, they were the unplugged part—except for our base player. As it seems, acoustic base are not that popular. See, I told you it doesn’t seem so exciting by my description. But, maybe it wasn’t the room, or the music?

Maybe the excitement was drawn from the people that flocked to The Summit’s service to worship and remove part of the dense baggage that the world has given them all week? Maybe it was watching their face when they seemed to get that I was emotional vested in what I sharing? Maybe, it was the single moment that they voiced to their own inner conscious, “Hey, God does love me!” Maybe it was none of these things?

I wonder, if not for a second, the feelings I experienced were part of the same gift that I wanted others to feel through my words. Maybe it had nothing to do with the room semiotics, or the semiotics of what I was saying, but maybe, just maybe, it was feelings drawn from listening to God. I wonder to myself, as my excitement grows stronger, could it be as simple as that? Could my excitement be contributed to affirmation -that my small steps were somehow coming closer to the large cosmic steps that God makes on multi-dimensional levels? I wonder that in a lesser than life-threatening way is what I was feeling just as important as Abraham walking Isaac to the scene of obedience on Mount Moriah? I got to think it was different.

Maybe it wasn’t the room, the congregation, the band, or my ability to say a word in honor of the Messiah and a cross. Maybe it was the children and the way they circled together and sang, for the adults, “Sanctuary?” Maybe that’s it! What if everything I was feeling could not be contributed to a single act, but rather, everything that took place on that Sunday—beginning with my walking in my office door and lifted the screen on my much-coveted MacBook Pro to the private after-service conversation of a dear friend that wanted to make sure that I was not getting burned out! Probably more than anything, it was the culmination of events, one building on the next, until the serene God that was present in the room even before we arrived made the congregation aware that God was in our amidst. And yes, in tune with Luke, the cross was just the center of it all. Maybe that’s why I’m excited?

I love my church.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What's In Your Closet?

Luke 13:10-17 (NRSV)

10On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

What’s in your closet? I know this has the sound and familiarity of the popular Capital One commercial that speaks to the added pressures of the credit card industry and their attempts to prey on our need to belong to this group and that group. But, since this speaks to our message today…I’ll ask the question another way. What’s in our closet that would segregate us from those that have seemingly already accepted us?

What is the one thing that is buried so deep in that dark dusty closet that we’ve made a solemn vow to never reveal the events or the issues or the implications that surround it?

We spend so much time, money and effort trying to fit in to the crowd, that no matter what we do, they “The Crowd” will never truly accept us. So, we go through life being less than honest with them and ourselves, but especially to God.

But we don’t have to continue to degrade ourselves. We don’t have to continue to deplete the person God created. We are unique individuals and we were created for a purpose.

Our narrative today speaks to the injustice of the marginalized. Our character today was a woman that understood the particulars of a man’s world. Reveled in verse 12, Luke speaks to the distance that she, our woman, had to travel to become a part of those that had gathered, the men. Interestingly, the scripture doesn’t say that, but the culture of the temple life does.

Luke revealed to us that Jesus called her forward. Either this could mean she was in the back of the room and he asked her to join the men up front, or it could mean that our female character was in the rear of the crowd that had gathered to hear Jesus teach. Either predicament placed the woman outside the circle of any religious assembly—the circle that everyone would have liked to be a part.

And, we haven’t even begun to talk about Luke’s description of our character, the fact that she ‘s not mentioned by name but by disability. How would you like to be called the “crippled woman,” and not just physically but spiritually? It seems as if the only acceptance she found up till now was Satan’s hold on her for eighteen years.

Can you remember the times when you felt alienated from the group? Whatever the reason? Our lives scream out for people to accept us. Our life, our stuff and our devotion cries that we are less than perfect and everyone else holds the key to happiness.

Our youth pressure parents to purchase certain jeans, shoes and phones so that they won’t be made fun of in the different groups at school. When they start to drive they feel as if they deserve a certain make or model car so that they can make a great first impression of wealth.

While in high school they are recognize as being popular, or not. Athletic, or not. Smart, or not. They may or may not become exposed to a physically challenged student challenging them yet again.

In college, we sometimes pledge ourselves with sororities or fraternities so that we can assure ourselves of being a part of a group, but sadly even in social intentional groups there are those that are marginalized.

When we get married, if were lucky to have dated the perfect husband or wife, when it comes time to buy our first home we extend ourselves financially because we think we have to have a house as nice as our mom and dad’s because it will define us as being successful, putting us in yet another group.

I assure you we have all felt the sting of being marginalized in one form or the other. Maybe not like the woman in our scripture, but in a sad way, even greater. She probably knew what others thought of her. We go through life wearing many different masks trying to belong here and there.

She might have ushered everyone to the front of the room knowing where her place was. Because of her deformity all she could do is listen anyhow. So, she sat in the back waiting for nothing other than to be healed.

Have you wondered what she might have been thinking as Jesus called her forward…within the circle of people? Then without notice she heard something about freeing her from her infirmity, and just at that point she felt the warmth of a Savior’s hand.

Before she knew it…color filled the room and the weight of her chest was lifted as she began to see the faces of those around her for the first time. She noticed her breathing was better because she found herself standing upright and her diaphragm was free of the weight of her ribs. Her vision became better and she realized that she no longer needed to support herself from toppling over because of the imbalanced weight of her body. She was not the same.

Through this healing she felt for the first time in her life like she truly belonged. In Jesus’ voice and in his touch she was no longer on the outside looking in. She experienced a God that freed her from the painful grip that had once seized her.

This is not just a healing story, it is our story. It’s the promise of the healing kingdom for all who are demeaned, denied and oppressed by religious and social restrictions. It is the story that is set up for the last, before those that think they are to be first. It is the message of Jesus’ love for those marginalized that have forgotten what true love feels like. So, Jesus trades our dark dusty closet for the key to the kingdom.

It doesn’t matter what’s in your closet.

This is a story for you and me.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 16, 2010

David 1, Goliath 0

1 Samuel 17

There is an obvious problem in today’s OT story. There is something that is tormenting Israel, King Saul, and God. Armies of both the Israelites and the Philistines are assembled in the heat of the day and echoing through the region is blasphemy calling out to the God of Israel. Israel’s army shuttered at the thought of what lies before them, so they wait and pray. What was before them was a giant.

It is the giants in our life that trouble us. Everyone has them! When I was in school it was the next assignment. When I played ball it was the next game. Now that I’m an adult it is the next month’s bills; the next child’s dental appointment, or the time waiting for my children to return home safely when they’re gone with friends. Goliath seems to morph into the looming of college. I was officiating a wedding last week, and I was introduced to a friends mother. She listed the giants in her life that she had defeated…she said, “I made it through college and the orthodontist.” Not bad now that I think about it.

We all have giants that call out blasphemies against that which we hold dear. Then they manage to squirm their way between the person we want to be and God. They instill doubt and deceit. Doubt in thinking that we are not good enough to overcome or strong enough to endure. Deceit in thinking this is the way things are…this is the life God wants for us. Don’t be fooled!

What do we do when these giants seem too large…too powerful to overcome?

I had a salesman friend that would listen to motivational tape after tape. He had them downloaded on his iPod so that he could exercise in the morning and listen to them before work. He said that they really “psyched” him up for his day. Not too long ago I read somewhere that we don’t need to be “psyched up,” but rather what we need is to be “powered up.” I agree, I don’t think our success in defeating the giants in our life hinges on our being “psyched up.” However, I think our giants are defeated when we are “powered up” with the Holy Spirit.

Why do we think we are called to maneuver through this world defeating the giants in our life by ourselves? Does relying on God means something other than relying on God? In my life I have managed to botch just about everything that I have ever tried to do “by myself.” I didn’t go to seminary “by myself”…I took a whole church with me that prayed and financially supported me. That was God! Did I take test or write papers to the point of even passing classes “by myself.” Nope, that was God as well! I graduated and as I reached for my diploma my friends and family fought back the tears, then I couldn’t walk off the stage for the dust where a falling Goliath slammed into the floor. That was certainly God! No way am I responsible for any of these blessing “by myself.” I am singing the Doxology!

The story of David and Goliath offer an example of what one can do with the help of God. Our story is about a young anointed David following God’s will for the sake of Israel.

We recognize that David is following his father’s orders to carry an “ephah of parched grain” and “ten loaves” to the camp of his older brothers. He left his duties at home to do what his father had commanded. Once David was at the battlefield he was captured by the excitement generated by the two armies. It was then and there that David heard Goliath spewed threats toward the Israelites. Our scripture claims, “Saul and all of Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (vs. 11).

Goliath was a mammoth of a man. He stood, according to the Harper Collins Study Bible, roughly 6’ 9’’ tall. Goliath was a very large believable figure but not a fairy-tale monster. He was experienced in the acts of war; a “champion” as it would seem. He was suited in the finest protective armor that had spoiled many competitors’ confrontations.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…Saul was having difficulty deciding who David was as it seems. This proves odd, because in the previous chapter Saul hired David as an “armor-bearer.”

Saul tries to discourage David from fighting, but understands that his attempt to discourage this courageous youth would be futile. So, King Saul attempts to equip David with the necessities of warfare.

This is my favorite part. In the reflection of this text, I see this mimicking today’s church. King Saul wanted David to wear armor designed for battle, because that is the way it is done. Surprisingly, the institution expects others to do what they always done to perpetuate the institution. David’s essence understands that to defeat the Goliath giant while doing thing as they’ve always been done will lead to certain failure. David’s temperament is…his God is worth his best effort.

Two weeks ago I told you…if you are serious about you faith then act like! Last week we talked about change …doing things differently means invoking real change, because what we’ve been doing isn’t working. David was committed. Are we?

This leads me to another point in our story. Once David decided to fight he ran headlong toward his foe. This set Goliath on his heels for David to launch a devastating blow to the Philistine army. David conquered his Goliath, and you can too with God’s help. Each morning before you get dress the only armor you need to conquer the Goliath for that day is the Holy Spirit.

You like apples? How about them apples?