Pastor April's Sermon - Jonah and saying yes to the call - 7/24/16

INTRO

So, on Friday morning, many of you received an email sharing the news that as of this week, I have been reappointed to serve as the Senior Pastor at Hilliard UMC starting October 1.

 

Pastoral change is normal in the UMC… many of you have seen lots of pastors come and go  - and our leadership team has been preparing for such a transition – expecting that it would come at some point in the future.  But the timing of this transition has caught us all a bit by surprise.  My 2-month leave that was scheduled long before we knew about this transition was scheduled to begin on August 1st which has just further expedited the timeline of how it will all take place.

 

I’ll share a bit more in my sermon today about the back story of how this came to pass and why I said yes to the call.

But I want to begin by acknowledging the collective emotion that is in the room -

Anytime there is change -  particularly with a pastoral change – there are emotions that come with it - whether its sadness or frustration – or perhaps joy – that I’m finally gone – regardless – change is difficult for all of us.  So whatever you are feeling – it’s OK.  You don’t need to try and make yourself feel something you aren’t.  Someone I talked to earlier this week said to me – I know that as a Christian I should be feeling happy for you, but right now, I’m mad about how this impacts me.  So, I’’m sorry.  I appreciated the honesty.

 

Amy will share some things in a moment about her hopes for this transition and what you can expect.  But I will say that today as we gather for worship – I hope you will hear two things.

  1. My deep gratitude for the ways that this church has uniquely shaped and formed me and my family
  2. And more importantly – a renewed reminder of the incredibly important call this church will continue to follow in the days ahead shaping the lives of people in this community but also speaking a crucial and needed voice into a world desperately in need of hope. You represent that hope in every way imaginable.  And it has been a privilege to journey with you for these 6 years.

But we still have 2 Sundays to be together.  And I’m planning to delight in every moment of them.

 

SERMON

About a year ago, I was asked to fill out my annual pastor profile.  It’s a form we fill out each year to communicate with the conference and the District Superintendent about how things are going in our appointment and whether we anticipate a need for things to change in the near future.

 

The first question was always the same.

 

Do you anticipate requesting a move this year?

 

No.  I replied.

 

Many of the next questions were ones I had seen before –

Where have you seen the Spirit move in your ministry?

What are your plans for the church in the coming year?

 

But then came a question that I hadn’t seen before.

 

What is your ideal appointment and where are you feeling called to serve in the future?

 

I knew the answer to the first part of the question right away.

 

Where is your ideal appointment?

 

It’s where I am! It’s Summit.  It’s this place, which, excuse me if I’m bias is one of the coolest churches in the West Ohio conference – and not just cool because we play Harry Potter and Star Wars theme music on a Sunday morning –

Or have an awesome Freedom School or a rainbow painted bathtub or super fun outdoor worship on the 4th of July weekend.

 

but in all the ways that really matter when it comes to what it means to be a church.

 

Six and a half years ago, on the Sunday before my introduction at Summit, I came to visit this special place.  I knew I was coming to be the new pastor of this church but you didn’t know it yet.  And I was on maternity leave from my other appointment so I had a Sunday off and I wanted the chance to see what this Summit place was all about.

I was, of course, warmly greeted by Naomi and many others.

The setup was informal and relaxed.

The music was, of course, amazing.

Cindy Turvy gave an epic reading of Scripture that day in an angel winged costume.

But the part that really got me –

The moment in the service when I knew that I was going to fall in love with this place and be changed forever came

when the Sermon began, two pilgrim were sitting on the front row – Nathan Proctor and Robert Van DePetti.

And as Grayson preached his sermon they would shout out.  Allelujah!  Praise the Lord.  Nearly always at appropriate times.  But in ways that in the church where I was serving at the time would have made people very very uncomfortable.

And each time they shouted out – I looked around the room to see how people were reacting.  And I realized that no one seemed to mind.  No one seemed to do anything when they spoke except smile.

 

These precious souls – Now saints in heaven – were a welcome part of the community – had been for years I later learned.

 

All were welcome.  It wasn’t just words on a page, it was the lived reality then and it is the lived reality now.

 

It’s the reason why bruised and battered spirits find their home in this place, when they have often felt unwelcome in the church.

 

It’s the reason why members of the LGBTQ community find this to be a place of safety.

 

It’s the reason why Tony and Bobby can play their harmonicas and kids can come and share their artwork.

 

It’s the reason why people who do not claim Christianity as their primary faith expression can be a part of this community.

 

Because all are welcome.  As they are.  With their wounds and their beautiful giftedness.  All are welcome and all can be a part of what God is doing in this place.

 

When I came to be your pastor, I can confess to you – that I thought I knew some things about what that meant.  I thought I had some things to bring to the table and offer you – and that was true to some degree – but what I learned – probably too slowly.

 

Was that I was also welcome.  As I was.  Imperfect.  Flawed.  A pastor who made plenty of mistakes.  Even caused you some pain along the way.

 

I was welcome in this place.  With who I was.  I could be who I really was.  Accepted fully.

 

And this foundation of acceptance – is what allowed all of us – to be able to truly grow together - in our faith and as a community.  We are safe and we are free – to grow where the Spirit leads us.

 

So, it was an easy question to answer.  I’m serving in my ideal appointment.

 

But where am I called?

 

At the time I was answering that second question, I had been sensing this nagging feeling in the background of my prayers – that quite frankly I had tried not to pay much attention to.

 

The feeling was hard to put words to – but I knew it was a call to teach and preach and share the Gospel – the Gospel that had become more fully ingrained in my heart and spirit during my years at Summit – to a people who might not already be where this church was.

 

Here – I can step into the pulpit each week and share my heart and spirit without much fear that you are going to take offense to the words I speak – about inclusion or about justice – or even about white privilege –

 

But I sensed there were a lot of places where that wouldn’t be the case – where such a message wasn’t already woven into the DNA of a community.  Places that weren’t as diverse as this place and places that were not sure they were ready to REALLY be open to all people.

 

And so I reluctantly wrote down the honest answer to that question -

I think I’m being called to the suburbs – to preach the good news and to help a more moderate church find its ability to do the work of the Gospel in the context where God has placed them.

 

 

We’ve been talking these past few months about the Enneagram.

 

This amazing tool that we’ve been given that expresses the longings that we all have as humans.  The need to help, the need to be happy, the need to be an individual, the need to achieve, and as we look at today’s number – Number 9 – the need to avoid.

 

Now, most of us tend to have a particular place on the Enneagram that becomes our default place.  A place that drives our behavior more often than not.

I’m a type 3 – an achiever.  I’m often driven by the deep desire in the pit of my stomach to accomplish my goals and to have everyone tell me how great I looked while doing it.  But you’ll also notice that there are lines that connect the various numbers to each other.

One of the cool things that those who built this also knew is that some of these types are very connected to the others.

 

As a 3, I’m connected to the 6 and the 9.  And they are related to how I work at my best and at my worst.

 

At my best, I take on some of the great qualities of a six – I become more collaborative and willing to work as a team – to share the end goals with others and to be content to be a part of something bigger than me.

 

But at my worst, I take on some of the not so great qualities of a nine.

I avoid what I know I should be doing.  I see it right in front of me but it feels too daunting so I just pretend that it isn’t there.  I know what I must do but I do nothing.

 

The 9 is the peacemaker – their desire is to not rock the boat.  Change is hard.  Avoidance feels easier.  9’s have incredible skill in bringing a sense of steadiness and consistency and calm to a moment.

But change is not their preferred place.

 

Our hero today is Jonah – who was very likely a 9.

I’ll let Sharon tell us the story.

 

Jonah 1

 

Thoughts

 

Jonah was a peace loving follower of God – the last thing in the world he wanted to do was to go to Ninevah and preach the Gospel.

He had imagined all these terrible things about the people there.  He had heard the rumors.  But if you keep reading – when he finally decided to follow the call – he found that the Ninevites were actually incredibly receptive to the message.  His fears were unfounded.

 

It wasn’t about him.  And whether he was ready.  It was about the Ninevites and the fact that they were ready to hear a word from the Lord.

 

Now, let me be clear that I am not equating my move to Hilliard UMC to Ninevah.  I am in no way suggesting that they are heathens in the suburbs just waiting to hear a word from God.

 

But I do relate to what Jonah had to learn – that it wasn’t about him.  Or whether he was ready to go.  Whether he was comfortable with the journey or not.

 

What mattered was that he was being sent.

 

Was he ready to go with a willing heart?

 

All of us here wrestle with that very question all the time.

 

And my move to the suburbs to join God’s people in Hilliard on their own journey does not change the unique call that God has on this place.

 

To be the church – to share the Gospel – to welcome ALL people.

 

To connect the ideals of justice

 

Saying yes to the call often involves a cost – and takes us out of our comfort zone.

And I need to be fully honest with you about how that looked for me.  Because it might be easy to think that the big bad conference office came and snatched your pastor out of her with only a weeks notice.

 

That could be a story you could tell.

 

But I think that would avoid the larger truth of what really happened.

 

In May, I learned that Hilliard’s pastor was leaving.  He had been appointed a District Superintendent late in the year when the current DS had responded to a call to return to VA.

 

And the pit in my stomach deepened and that call I had felt earlier in the year rose in my chest.  I had just seen my DS.  I had just told her – I don’t want to move.

 

But something told me I needed to pray.

 

I cried most of the night.  I met with my spiritual director and when I saw my DS the next day at a lunch that had already been on the schedule.  I told her that I wanted her to consider me.

 

Then I heard nothing for a while.

 

In June, I had a further conversation about it with my DS – but was still given an indication that I was staying at Summit.  Probably for a couple of years.  So we began making plans for the coming future.

 

Until a call 2 weeks ago…

 

Would I go?

 

You need to know that I could have said no.

 

I could have stayed here in my ideal appointment – in this church where I love all of you so much and where I am comfortable.  Where we still have work to do together –

It’s terrible timing.  It’s too fast.  It doesn’t give a chance to properly say goodbye.

 

But I think it’s the call.

 

And while it broke my heart, I knew that I needed to say yes.

 

I hope you will understand.

You may not like the way it is happening.  And trust me – I don’t either.

 

But I hope you will see God’s hand in it.

Because my deepest belief is that if I’m being called to Hilliard then someone else is being called here to Summit.

 

Someone God has uniquely prepared for this time and season and someone who you will accept the way you have accepted me and the other pastors who have come before me.

 

Someone who will walk with you and lead you so that together you will continue to lead into that call as a church.

 

I won’t be that person in the same way I’ve been.  I won’t be here to do baptisms and weddings and funerals – but I will – with all my heart – continue to pray for this church and the extraordinary people and the extraordinary call that God has for you.

I will pray for you and your next pastor, who, though they have not been named  - will likely begin here within the next two months.

 

As we walk through the days of transition ahead of both of us – may we hear anew the call and do our best to not avoid it.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Pastor Robb's Sermon - 7/17

Learning Healthy Helping Sermon - Luke 10:38-42 As Bailey mentioned, the Enneagram personality type were exploring

today is number 2 - commonly called “The Helper.” While this summer has

been about looking at the unique inner journeys and powerful

transformations God can take us through for each of our personalities, this

type is also one that many people can relate to some of the key aspects of

- especially what we saw with Martha in the scripture today. We’re all likely

to believe strongly in the value of service as part of our walk with God -

Jesus himself said he came not to be served, but to serve - but serving, or

helping, and all of our expectations and feelings around it can get pretty

complicated pretty quickly.

Today we’ve met characters, C3PO and Martha, who are trying very

hard in their circumstances to do the right thing and be helpful, and are

getting pretty stressed about whether other characters with other things on

their mind, R2D2 and Mary, might be messing everything up. We also met

Amos McGee, who seems to have found a peace and contentment in his

helping identity that makes him effective in his work, and comfortable when

things don’t work out the way he’s used to or the way he might prefer.

When we see these characters held up next to each other this way,

probably a lot of us can remember times we’ve felt like C3PO or Martha,

and wonder what it takes to feel more like Amos more often. This might be

because the Helper is our core personality type, or those of us with other

personalities might just have a particular project or relationship in mind

where we’re in a helping, serving, or supporting position and we’ve ended

up feeling stressed out or stretched thin.

I really want to make sure we consider these issues deeply and

carefully, though, and invite God to move and begin to shape us in some

potentially unexpected ways this morning. On first pass, I think we’re prone

to reading this scripture and picture Martha running around a kitchen or

dining room huffing and puffing, and Jesus’ words to her when she asks

about Mary are about not being so worried about something that doesn’t

need to be as perfect as she thinks... or that busyness is keeping her from

connecting with God in the way that she should... or sometimes the feminist

in us sees this as Jesus not just keeping women in the kitchen but giving

them a prominent place as disciple usually reserved for men.

These are all good lessons, but I think if they stay on the surface,

there’s also a danger of getting into new traps. I think we always need

something more than just the admonition - “Don’t feel worried.” And while

staying rooted with God and overcoming mere busyness are important, I

also don’t think that God is looking for us to only pray or read the Bible and

never do service in our life of faith, or just doesn’t really like Helper

personalities. And lastly, reading this passage through our evaluation of

how liberated Martha was or wasn’t may actually betray some patriarchal

assumptions we’re making about her in the first place. There’s things going

on in this passage that I think show God us wants to look even deeper

within ourselves on issues that impact how we serve and the expectations

we put on ourselves and others in a lot of circumstances.

First, let’s go deeper than just seeing this verse as an encouragement

to not feel worried about or get overly busy with tasks that only we think are

that important. Luke is actually trying to make this story a helpful lynch pin

for how we understand all kinds of service - even and especially that which

we’d think of as most important and valuable. For instance, the word to

describe what Martha is doing in this story, diakonia, is sometimes used to

mean something like table service, but is also where we get the word

“deacon” and was used by the early church to refer to all sorts of important

ministry. We don’t have to read this story and see Martha trying to get

Mary to steam a bunch of doilies or fold all the napkins into swans - it could

just as easily be referring to Martha organizing the care of sick people who

had come to have Jesus heal them, or recruiting people to come listen to

Jesus’ teaching, or managing the financial gifts that would be shared with

the poor, or getting a delegation of disciples ready to appeal to the

Pharisees or other powerful people who would be coming by about

injustices that needed to be addressed. This story speaks to us if we relate

to any of those things too, and also tells us we need perspective about how

we can help and serve healthily in every setting, including those that are

often seen as more of a big deal.

Here’s the thing, 2s on the Enneagram, Helper personalities are

wonderfully gifted both practically and relationally. They recognize what’s

needed in situations, can respond confidently, and are good at setting their

own agendas aside so they don’t get in the way of the bigger context.

These are great characteristics and it’s a good thing when we have a little 2

in us this way when we serve if we’re a different personality. However, we

can also get fixated on needing to be needed in an unhealthy way, or letting

our own or other people’s expectations entangle our service and

compromise what is really best for us and the situation we’re in.

The apparent tension between Mary and Martha shows us two

foundational temptations for us when we seek to serve, and both are

related to rushing and having imposed expectations.

In Martha we see her operating out of her own preferred expectations

of service, or perhaps assumptions she made about what other people

would expect of her, and her feeling that she was serving and being

selfless the right way kept her from stopping to consider if there were other

options for her to serve that would actually be better for her, and made her

turn those expectations on Mary without considering if another option was

best for her sister.

On the other side of the coin, Mary could have felt that pressure from

Martha, and in trying to seek affirmation from her sister through serving, run

after something that seemed more popular, or urgent, or likely to get

recognition, instead of pursuing what fit her calling and personality best.

This has implications for us in all types of serving, from small tasks

and interpersonal relationships, to how we respond to big national or

international issues and wonder what we can do. You may have situations

you are dealing with pop to mind where the pressure of expectations has

caused you to approach helping in a way that ended up being draining or

not very effective. Or maybe you can think of a time when you were

serving in a way that was very important to you, and you caused some

conflict by telling other people that they had to serve exactly like you too.

It’s worth noticing that Jesus did not chide Martha for her service, or

even tell her to stop. Instead he was concerned about how she was taking

on certain expectations and then also imposing them on someone else. It

is common for us to think about serving or helping as limiting ourselves or

putting ourselves under other people’s control, but I think this story shows

God intends service to actually be freeing and empowering as it takes a

central part in our life of faith. The Apostle Paul summarized this really

straightforwardly in his encouragement to the early church in Galatia: “You

are called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge anyone’s

selfishness, but serve one another in love.”

Again, hopefully God is finding ways to give all of us encouragement

and guidance about this in our daily lives and relationships, but I do want to

take a moment to reflect on one way this might apply to all of us. Right

now, we are seeing very clearly all around us heartbreaking, significant and

complicated social problems that I imagine we all feel like anyone and

everyone should try to do something to change, but I imagine a lot of us

also feel very overwhelmed about what we can and should actually do in

our own contexts. I think we can take this story about Mary and Martha,

and be encouraged out of two traps we might fall into as we try to respond:

First, we should not allow our current busyness to be an excuse not

to discern if God wants us to take up a new way of serving that is most

needed or where God is especially moving.

Second, we should not chase after a way of serving that seems the

most urgent in the moment, or will get the most recognition or approval

from other people who are serving in their own way. Nor should we allow

ourselves to be pressured by people who want our service to look exactly

like theirs in order to be seen as valid or valuable. And if we’re in the

position to encourage other people’s service, we should be very careful to

make sure we’re helping them serve best how they are called, and not

making others look like copies of us.

And this is why Mary’s model of sitting at the feet of Jesus is so

important. This takes intentional discernment and wanting to be steered

more by God’s callings and giftings than our own or others’ expectations or

preferences. I have been wrestling with my own tendencies towards both

of these traps a lot lately, and probably will be for awhile, but I hope we can

be a community where we do that together in God’s presence.

And our Amos McGee story today actually gives us a fun example of

this type of mutually serving and affirming community. There’s no worry

from anyone about only being served or always being seen as the one that

can help and never needs anything. There’s no pressure that service look

a certain way other than how what someone can do fits what’s needed, but

still a great desire to mutually help and empower each other out of love and

not just stand on the sidelines. I think C3PO and Martha would have been

blessed by this - released from the stress of pressures and more opened

up to seeing their abilities and purposes used in new ways that enabled

better connection with R2D2 and Mary.

And I hope we can bless each other with God’s help like this, too.

Might we uphold and encourage each other when we’re feeling stressed or

know we’re causing others stress as we try to serve and help in our

personal lives. Might we find together the particular call God has for us to

contribute to transforming even the biggest and most complex injustices we

see around us. And, to be honest, as we enter Fall and Pastor April’s

sabbatical when there will be a lot of ways for all of us to serve and help to

look at - may we be a community that doesn’t follow our own preferences

or other people’s pressuring, but steps up in following God’s callings and

giftings to do what is needed and be a loving and mutually empowering

church. And if people are worried or self-conscious, I feel like I can be the

elephant so you can be Amos or the penguin, or the tortoise or the mouse

or whoever.

Freedom School Sunday 7-10

Friends, It is good to be here together on a Sunday morning after the difficult week that we have had in this nation.

 

To the families and scholars and staff, I am so thankful that you are here.

 

As you heard earlier – Harambee means “let’s come together.”

 

And today, more than ever it feels important to come together across our diversity and find places where we can work together toward a different future for our community, for our country and for our world.

 

But I want to be clear that coming together means more than just being together and holding hands for a moment during a time of grief and singing Kumbaya.

Those moments are nice – but to come together must take us another step further.

 

The Scripture that Paris just read to us was originally a letter.  It was written to one of the earliest Christian churches during a time of chaos and violence and deep division.

 

Most of the early Christians were Jewish.  They lived under occupation of the Roman Empire.  They were the minority – an oppressed group of people who were treated by outsiders as if their lives did not matter.

 

People who were not Jewish were referred to as Gentiles.  This group would have included a lot of different people, including Roman citizens and people of other ethnicities and cultural heritage.  Some might have also been part of a minority group but many Gentiles enjoyed significantly more privilege than Jews did in the Roman empire.  There was a difference in power.  A difference in privilege.

 

But when the early church was founded, it was clear that the distinct barriers that had kept one group in their place, isolated and often dehumanized – that Jesus had called for these barriers to go.  The Christian church would be one that would begin with the oppressed Jewish community but it would then go out to include others – the Gentiles.  The people of power and privilege as well.

 

And the New Testament is filled with all the evidence that shows us how challenging this was. The author of the letter to the Ephesians writes to a church who is struggling to figure out how to live in community with one another.  Struggling to know how to come together.  Not only across all the cultural differences but also across differences in power and privilege.

 

Which makes the words today particularly powerful.  You are one group.  The wall of hatred that has divided is gone.  And a pathway to peace has been made.  So, therefore, conduct yourselves with gentleness, humility and patience.  Accept each other with love.  And make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit.

 

These words were written to both the Jews and the Gentiles in that early church.  They would have heard them differently.

For the Jews to accept the Gentiles in love – to make an effort – meant that they had to be willing to accept that God might be opening a door for relationship with people that they had previously despised.  People who had possibly benefited from their oppression.  People who had enjoyed power and privilege.  They had to accept that God might be calling them to love and be gracious to the Gentiles.

 

But the call to the Gentiles was possibly even greater.

For the Gentiles – those who had enjoyed power and privilege are asked to clothe themselves in humility.  To accept fully the people in love – to make an effort to preserve the unity with an oppressed group meant that they would have to be willing to lay down some of that power and privilege – to place themselves in solidarity.  To listen fully to the stories of their brothers and sisters in bondage.  And if they were truly unified – to do whatever they could to lift up their fellow Jews and to work for justice.

 

The coming together would require some shedding of previous notions and a true willingness to remove the barriers of power and privilege that had kept the groups so well separated before.

 

As we read this Scripture on a week like we have had in the US.  After a year like we have had in 2016, it seems as if we could substitute the words Jews and Gentiles for Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Christians, and Civilians of Color and the Police.

 

The world we live in wants to pin us against each other, but the call of the Gospel is indeed to come together.

 

Marshawn  -

 

And I stand here as a person of privilege.  Who has directly and indirectly benefited in my life from the systematic racism against people of color in our nation.

 

So, we people of privilege must name that – but then we also must do whatever we can – to utilize our positions to lift up our brothers and sisters.  To listen to their stories and to give them a voice to share what is real.

 

So, in such a time as this – I felt more than anything – you needed to hear the voices of our scholars.  Voices of our young people processing the events of this week – reflecting on the heartbreak and hurt and calling us anew to think about the work we must do – whether we come from a place of privilege or not – to come together – to work together to live into the call we have received from God.

Pastor April's Sermon - No Pain, No Gains - 7/03

So, for the past few weeks we have been in a series focused on the Hero’s Journey.  We’ve been looking at a number of Bible characters and characters from children’s storybooks and movies and how their personal adventures and journeys lead them on a journey where they learn new things about themselves – and those discoveries help them to become transformed from the inside out.  

We’ve been using the Enneagram to talk about the different ways that we work through the longings and needs that are a part of being human.  The need to be successful, happy, safe, helpful, etc.

Each of us has a tendency to let certain needs drive our behavior more of the time and so the people whose lives we will explore today were both likely 7’s on the Enneagram.  King Solomon and St. Francis.

 

7’s have the need to be happy.  The type is called the Enthusiast because 7’s often have lots of things going at the same time.  They are driven by the desire to find contentment and enjoyment of life

 

We are going to start with some scripture from King Solomon.  Solomon, who was the son of King David, lived in Israel in the 10th century BCE and reigned for 40 years.

According to the Hebrew scriptures - Solomon built up the Kingdom to its wealthiest, most powerful and prosperous state of all time.

 

The first temple was completed during his reign along with many other building projects.

He was known for the excess that he had – 700 wives and 300 concubines,

And Scripture says he collected tribute in one year alone of 40,000 pounds of gold.

 

And yet we see in Solomon’s writings – the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes – this understanding that the material possessions and power are not really where lives real value is.

 

The first lines in the book of Ecclesiastes read –

Meaningless!  Meaningless!  Everything is meaningless!

 

And so Solomon is this interesting case of a person who both understood that happiness and meaning wasn’t to be found in the possessions and power and status of this Earth and yet – he spent most of his time and energy accumulating and seeking more of these same meaningless things –

 

So we start with a brief Scripture from Ecclesiastes 9 that Gina is going to reflect on

 

SCRIPTURE

 

I really appreciate hearing about Solomon because I think his struggle is so deeply relevant.

 

He wanted so much to find a place of contentment and happiness and peace.

 

And I think he knew that the stuff wouldn’t bring him the happiness that he sought.

 

And I wonder if he was ever able to discover that which he longed for most.

 

Whether he ever learned to appreciate the moment and the present and just be.

 

To not try and acquire but just to allow what is happening now – to be the gift by which God is speaking to us.

 

Kollum art – tell story.

 

I want to read you a story of one of the great saints of the church who has been and continues to teach me about this journey of appreciating and finding joy in the simplest of things.

 

In creation.  In beauty.

In kindness to others.

 

 

What do we see in his life that can help us to simply live and enjoy our own lives?

 

summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church summit methodist church 13606672_10153717536047338_109434387314420385_n

Sammi Bickerdt's Sermon - June 19th - Finding freedom and humility

Children’s Time: How many of you have seen Harry Potter?

Do you remember who Harry’s friends are?

The part of the movie we are gonna watch is from the last book, The Deathly Hollows. In the scene, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are out looking for pieces of Voldemort, called horcruxes, and he is an evil wizard who is trying to kill Harry. They are trying to find horcruxes because they will stop Voldemort from hurting Harry. But Voldemort has made sure they aren’t easy to find and guarded them with all sorts of dark magic. Harry, Hermione, and Ron are running away from Voldemort and trying to find the horcruxes in secret but it is really hard and dangerous to find them. While camping, they are getting tired and frustrated because they can’t seem to find one of the pieces. Hermione and Harry are excited because they think they have a lead but Ron is fed up.

(Watch movie)

Ron get really upset in this part of the movie because he thought finding the horcruxes would be easier than it was turning out to be. He is upset because it is really dangerous and it scares him.

What are some things that you think are scary?

Part of why Ron is so upset and scared is because he doesn’t know what is going to happen and he can’t see what will happen next. Because he didn’t know what would happen he ran away.

Part of what makes things scary is because we don’t understand them or know what they are. And this makes s want to run away.

Ron is pretty cool though so eventually he comes back to find Harry and Hermione. He eventually decides to face his fears. Ron decides in the end to be brave for his friends. Ron’s bravery is because of his friends.

What makes you brave?

 

We all experience the power of God’s grace through the witness of Jesus Christ. And this power allows us to act as a light. As we leave this place remember that you are a light in the world and shed it in all the spaces you enter. Amen.

 

Scripture

The Investigator, that is the name given to type 5 of the enneagram. The investigator is described as independent, inventive, and innovative. They are also described by their preoccupation with thoughts and imagination. Investigators are generally highly cerebral or thinking types. They love to learn and gather knowledge. When they discover a niche interest, they often try to master it or learn everything possible about it. The investigator gathers knowledge for a couple of reasons: one reason is motivated by the desire to be helpful or useful. By being competent in a subject, they are more likely to be useful in relation to that subject. The second reason investigators like to learn is connected to their shadow side or direction of stress. They also love to learn as a way of distracting or disconnecting from the problems they may be facing. In other words, when investigators are healthy, they want to share their buckets of knowledge, when they are stressed, they want to hold onto it and live in it as a way to distract or disconnect from the issues plaguing them.

Thomas, like Ron, shows symptoms of a stressed out investigator in John 20. The first thing we learn from these verses is Thomas’ absence when Jesus appeared the first couple times in this chapter. Verses 19-23, describe Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples on the first day of the week. This story describes the disciples huddled up in a dark room hiding from Jewish authorities. Then all of a sudden Jesus shows up, ironically, shows the disciples his wounds, and sends them out to do his ministry before leaving them to their hiding once again. It makes you wander, where was Thomas that first day? The Jewish authorities were after him and all his friends and they were hiding out in a house. Why wasn’t Thomas with them? Did he have an important meeting to attend to? Maybe. Though we don’t have evidence of his whereabouts, we can imagine he was probably off trying to makes sense of the things he witnessed that week prior. His whole world, all that he had come to know and understand about the his savior was turned on its head. If we think of him as an investigator, he was probably trying to hold onto what he knew. Or at least, trying to figure out what pieces of his knowledge were left. We can imagine Thomas felt pretty helpless when Jesus died. He put all his efforts into following, learning, and practicing the life of his savior, a guy he thought would lead them to victory. A guy who was supposed to free his people from the oppression of the empire. He put all his resources on the hopes that Jesus would change things. And now, he has watched his king die.

When he finally gets back with the other disciples, they have probably been aware of the anxiety Thomas had around Jesus’ death and they were pretty excited to tell him about their little run in with Jesus. Thomas, after witnessing Jesus’ death, and living in his anger and sadness for several days, responds in such a way that many of us can probably relate to. He wants proof! He had so many ideas about how following Jesus would turn out and none of them probably ended with a miraculous return from death. He probably didn’t even think death would be in the picture! Or if it was, it would have been the other guys. Thomas wanted proof before he could accept what they were telling him.

Descriptions of investigators describe their ability to become very fixated on their subject of interest. When an investigator becomes fixated on something, they tend to lose a sense of perspective. Their reality becomes colored by the subject of their focus. Thomas has become so fixated on his understanding of who Jesus was supposed to be to him, he is unwilling to recognize what the disciples are telling him. Not only that, he is probably scared of what their suggesting. If we consider Thomas’ perspective, he probably is already thinking that Jesus has let him down according to his understanding of who Jesus was supposed to be. Thomas’ belief in Jesus is tied to his image of him and it is scary to consider that Jesus may be back and may let him down again.

Investigators often have a hard time trusting people. When they begin to trust it can be very damaging to have that trust to shaken. Thomas felt his trust was broken in these moments and he probably couldn’t make sense of what the disciples were telling him because he was scared that Jesus would betray his trust again. Thomas was scared to act on what the disciples were saying but instead wanted to see it for himself.

Investigators love to observe the world. They love to watch and discover the way things work. When investigators get too involved in observation, they often overlook the value of participation. When they are healthy, investigators are able to take the things they observed to participate in the world in unique and creative ways.

A week later, Thomas and the other disciples are hanging out again, and Jesus returns again. This time, he wants to talk to Thomas. Without hesitation, Jesus looks at him and tells him to touch his wounds. Thomas in amazement at the sight of Jesus simply says, “My Lord and My God!” In the end, it doesn’t say Thomas ever ends up touching Jesus’ wounds. His big talk of needing to put his hand on the marks on his hands and chest were only a distraction from what Thomas’ real issue was, his lack of faith. His fixation on the man he thought Jesus was and the wounds Jesus carried were simply a distraction from his real fear in his unwillingness to believe.

Expectations and reality do not often exactly line up. Generally, reality is not far removed from our expectations, especially if we know what we are doing, have done it before, or have learned about it. Reality becomes scary when our expectations are so far removed that we can’t seem to get a grasp on reality. When we have a hard time comprehending something, we become fearful of what it means or represents. Both Thomas and Ron Weasley are scared because their expectations and the reality of their situations are so far removed from each other that they can’t make sense of what is next.

In response, they make the choice to retreat. They no longer wish to participate in the events they are a part of. Fear has a way of keeping us safe but it also has a way of hindering us from action. When we can’t seem to make sense of something our bravery is hidden in the shadow of our uncertainty. Paralyzed by the fogginess of our reality we retreat into our minds to try and gather the pieces of our knowledge that help us to understand the reality that our world has been broken.

In the end of the scripture, Jesus says, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Jesus is not saying that it is a bad thing to desire to see what is next or have clarity on where we’re going. He is simply stating that our ability to have faith that Jesus is present, even when we can’t seem to see it in front of us will sustain our happiness.

A couple days ago, I had a conversation with one of the many brilliant children at Summit about our fears. During this conversation we talked about being afraid of the dark. During this conversation, he told me that when it is light, his fears of the dark are so small, they are the size of a little pea. But when it is dark the fear grows so big it fills the entire church! As someone who grew up being afraid of the dark, I understand that feeling. Then we talked about how even a little light, like a night light or book light, helps to take the monstrous fear and shrink it back down.

In the movie version of Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says to Harry at one point, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Fear of the dark is something we all know. It is fear of unknowing, it is fear of uncertainty; it is fear of a lack of guidance. Dumbledore’s wise words are speaking to our ability to have faith. When we remember that the source of our happiness is not tied solely to what we can see but also to our ability to have faith in the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are able to shed light on the fear of the unknown.

Like a night light helps to dissipate the darkness, our faith helps to dissipate our fears and uncertainty. Maybe not fully, but enough to sustain us and keep us moving forward. So I may want to change up Dumbledore’s words a little; “Faith can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” When we remember that our faith is capable of fueling our bravery, we are able to act in ways that may seem beyond our understanding or known limits. When we remember that faith is powerful and sustaining, we are able to not only observe the world around us, we are able to fully participate and shed light into the darkness.

 

Pastor April's Sermon - June 12th - Need To Succeed

CHILDREN’S MOMENT:  

The movie is about a little girl named Riley and the emotions that live in her head.

Let’s meet them.

 

FIRST SERIES OF CLIPS.

Intro to Emotions

 

 

Memories and Personalities

 

 

 

Riley’s life is relatively happy until her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and Riley seems to have a hard time adjusting.

 

What emotions do you think you might be feeling if you had to move to a brand new place far away from all of your friends?

 

So, one of the things that we can sometimes have a problem with is being able to show our feelings.  So, I want you during this service to help me by choosing a couple of the emotions.  It might be disgust or fear or joy.

 

And put the sticker on the page of whatever emotion you have chosen and then draw us a picture of something that makes you feel that emotion.

 

We’ll show those at the end.

 

SERMON TIME:

 

So, let’s return to our story of the Emotions inside Riley’s head.

 

Most of the time, Joy is in control and tries really hard to keep Riley Happy –

 

Let’s see what happens on the first day of school for Riley.

 

SECOND SERIES OF CLIPS

First Day of School 

 

(I think the first one let’s stop around 1:38 – where Joy says, it’ll turn into a good day, a good week, a good year, and a good life)

 

(Then the next one would be about the 3:00 to the 5:00 mark until they get sucked into the tube)

 

 

More than anything, Joy really wants Riley to have a good first day of school.

So, she tried to keep sadness in the circle – she tried to keep Riley happy by keeping the sadness away.

 

Does it work?

 

We can’t become happy by pretending that we aren’t sad about something.

 

So in the movie – Joy and Sadness go through a long journey to finally find a way back to headquarters – just in time to help Riley realize how she is feeling so she can go home to her parents and tell them how she’s really feeling.

Which is sad –

 

LAST CLIP

Owning the Feelings 

 

– starting about 38 seconds in where she starts to cry and is honest about missing Minnesota

 

In the end, Joy learns that she has to be honest about how Riley is really feeling.  It won’t always be happy.  In fact, sometimes the sadness and the happiness go together.

 

What begins with deception as a means to accomplish her goal ends with the invitation to be honest.

 

Our series this summer is based in part on the Enneagram – a set of 9 different typologies and personality types that encompass the whole of our needs as humans.

 

This week we focus on type 3 – the Achiever.

Which – this will come as a shock to those of you who know me – is the type that I am.

 

For 3’s it is really important to achieve our goals.  And whether our goals are worthy or self-serving – we are often willing to deceive, cover up, and smooth over the truth in order to experience success.

 

Threes have a hard time facing defeat and an even harder time learning to be honest with themselves about the truth of how they are feeling.  We are really good at putting on a brave face and convincing others that we’ve got it all together.   And we are known for Taking control of a situation so that it works out the way we want it to.

 

When I saw this movie the first time, I really identified with JOY – since I behave like her an awful lot.  Good intentions – but willing to cover over the reality of the situation so that things will happen the way I want to.

 

And our biblical hero today struggled with the same thing.

Genesis 25: 21-34

So, our biblical character today is Jacob.  Now, Jacob is a twin.  When he was born, his brother Esau was born first and the bible tells us that when Esau came out, Jacob was grasping onto his heel.

 

Esau was a hunter, he was big and hairy and spent his time out in the wilderness hunting for game.

Jacob preferred to stay closer to camp and spend time with his mother.

 

The name Jacob means – deceiver.  And it turns out that early on Jacob lives up to this name.

 

There is one day where Esau comes back and Jacob has been cooking a stew and Esau is hungry so he comes up to his brother and says – hey, can I have some of your stew?  Seems like a reasonable question.

And Jacob says – Uh, sure, but first you need to give me your birthright.

 

A birthright for a bowl of lentil stew.

 

Give me your inheritance and your rights as the first born.

 

And I’ll give you a bowl of lentil stew.

 

It’s a terrible deal, but Jacob the deceiver knows something about his brother.  That he is impulsive and prone to make poor choices particularly when he is starving.

 

And so Esau agrees to give him his birthright and enjoys the stew.

 

Some time later, the deception continues – Jacob’s mother is involved and knowing that their father  Isaac is aging and senile and is ready to share the blessing of the firstborn with Esau,

Jacob covers himself in animal hair and disguises his voice and prepares some supper while Esau is still out hunting, and he comes before his father Isaac and pretends to be Esau and receives the blessing.

 

When Esau returns to the camp and goes before his father and asks for the blessing – it is too late.

 

Esau and Isaac are both furious and Jacob the deceiver decides that he must get out of town.

 

So he flees the area and stops for the night to rest.  He is alone and he is afraid – and this is where our story picks up.

 

Jacob wants more than anything to have been the firstborn.  He wants all the things that come with it – and when he doesn’t have what he really wants – he takes control of the situation.  He sees an opportunity to get what he wants and he goes for it.

 

He’s an achiever.  And he will put on whatever face or costume or hairy fur – in order to get what he is wanting.

 

But I imagine that night that the pain and the stress of  all that had happened was more than Jacob could bear and once again – one of our heroes finds themselves in a place of vulnerability – a place of opening where God can work.

 

SCRIPTURE.

 

(Tracy shares some thoughts)

 

In this moment of vulnerability – where Jacob the deceiver has achieved his goals but is feeling the cost and the isolation that comes with it – God meets him right where he is – helping him to see that even in this place of deception, God can see him.  God sees him and knows him and even so – is able to walk with him.

 

And I wonder in some ways if this is the first time that Jacob is really able to begin being honest about how HE is feeling.

 

And to realize that the road back to wholeness and healing and home again – will be a journey he must take by being honest with himself.

 

Jacob and Joy and Tracy and myself – we have all had to learn the hard way – that if we can be honest with ourselves – particularly in our moments of failure and vulnerability and weakness –

If we can take off the masks and be honest about where we are – how we are feeling.

 

And allow God’s voice to say to us – I’ll be with you ANYWAY –

 

I love you and none of those things ever mattered anyway.

 

It was never about how much you achieved.  That was just your ego talking.

 

My greatest hope and goal for you is that you would know that you are loved just as you are.

 

And maybe as you start to have the courage to be honest about this reality and rest in me -

 

Envy and Growth - Pastor April's Sermon - 5/29

This Weeks Sermon Began with reading the story Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems (click the link to hear the story)  

Last week, we began our new series called the Hero’s Journey.  We’ll be reading stories from the Bible and from some children’s books and movies – and looking at the ways the characters experience profound transformation – often by being taken out of their comfort zone and using the opportunity to learn something new about themselves and about God.

 

Each of these characters struggles with a different part of what it means to be human.  We’re basing this a bit off the ancient typology the Enneagram.  In the Enneagram there are 9 different types and personalities – representing the totality of the true human longings and struggles.  And the Enneagram recognizes that as a part of our ability to meander and journey through this world – many of us find a default place – a pattern in which we find that things work best and we tend to then react and behave from that familiar place.  It doesn’t mean that we aren’t motivated by other longings and needs – but there tends to be a particular need that more often than not – will shape our decisions and our reactions – particularly in moments of stress.

 

Todays characters were likely 4’s on the Enneagram – the Individualist – a person whose primary need is to feel special and set apart from others.  They tend to struggle with constantly comparing themselves with others – often being jealous and feeling that they don’t measure up against what others have to offer.

 

Timi’s going to start off the story of Joseph and offer some reflections.

 

Genesis 37:3-11

 

So, all of us have stories that run in our heads that are often not true.  Part of Joseph’s story was that his place in the family – that his self-understanding, that his worth and role in the family was tied to being special – being special in his father’s eyes and being set apart from his brothers.  In his story, his specialness compared to others is what made him meaningful.

 

And not surprisingly – the brothers had a story running in their heads as well.

As they interacted with their younger and not very self-aware teenage brother – spouting about his dreams and wearing his special coat…

But in their story – Joseph’s special / belovedness meant that they were somehow less than.  Not as beloved or worthy.  And they hated him for it.

 

In both stories – belovedness is contingent.  I’m only beloved if…  I’m better than these brothers.  Or I’m only beloved if the favorite is gone.  There’s a scale with winners or losers.  Either or.   And it is always based on how I compare with someone else.

 

Comparing ourselves to others will always make it harder for us to find connection with that person.  Jealousy always results in disconnection.

 

Now you may know the rest of the story.  When Joseph next heads out to his brothers – they plot to kill this dreamer – but in a moment of grace – they have this thought cross their minds – “maybe we shouldn’t kill our own brother” – so after leaving him in a pit to starve – they end up selling him to a caravan of traders as a slave.

 

That caravan ends up selling him to the Egyptians and eventually Joseph ends up in the house of the Pharaoh.  He is given much responsibility and favor and starts becoming trusted in many ways.  But just when you think his future is looking brighter, the wife of his master attempts to seduce him and when he says no – she sets him up and accuses him of trying to attack her.

 

Joseph ends up in the prisons and he stays there for many years.

 

Again he works his way up – until comes a time where he is able to interpret the dreams of a couple of members of the kings court who are also on the outs.

His interpretations turn out to be true and a few years later when the Pharaoh himself is having dreams – Joseph is called upon to interpret those dreams.

What he tells the pharaoh is that there will come 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine.

 

The pharaoh sees that God is with Joseph and so he puts him in charge of all that is necessary to prepare for this next season and reality.

 

When the years of famine come – Joseph is in charge of distributing all the grain that they stored up during the years of plenty.

 

And his brothers come to Egypt – in search of food.

 

Can you even imagine how he must have been feeling?

To see them – the same brothers who sold him into slavery – but now he is in the power position.

 

And so he isn’t initially so gracious.  The old story returns.  I’m special because I’m different than my brothers.  I’m beloved because I’m better, I have more power…

 

He asks them about their father and about his younger brother Benjamin and then he even puts one of them in prison until they will return with the younger brother.

It takes some time before their father Jacob is willing to let Benjamin go – he doesn’t want to lose another son – but eventually they allow him to go.

 

And there is a very interesting thing that happens here – the brothers – once gripped by envy of Joseph – have a very different relationship with Benjamin.

 

Benjamin is also the special brother – the clear favorite of their father – but this time when they return they are protective of him.  They are even willing to sacrifice themselves so that he would be able to return to their father.  Somehow the experiences of life have changed them and their story looks different.

 

Until finally, Joseph decides to reveal who he really is –

 

Genesis 45:4-18

 

What a difference…

 

A moment of humility

Of mercy

Of grace

 

All the pettiness, all the ego from their earlier interactions is simply absent.

 

And healing –

An incredible moment of vulnerability and honesty – where I think they all finally saw themselves and each other as they truly were.

 

And the window to being able to see this seems to be the brokenness.

 

There’s no comparing themselves to one another.  There is only connecting.

Connecting as brothers who have been through it.

And who can now see how very wrong their stories were – and can see the love that they truly do share.

 

For Leonardo – the moment came when he looked at Sam and realized that Sam was just as broken and scared and alone as he was.  And that what he really needed wasn’t a person to push him down – but a friend in connection.

 

And for Joseph – I think seeing his brothers – just as broken and scared as he was on that day that he was sold into slavery – helped him to realize that more than anything he longed for relationship and love and connection.

 

This is the good news of the Gospel

 

That all of us have fallen short of the glory of God.  And we all stand as sinners in need of a God of grace.

 

And that all of us are also beloved and made in the image of God.

 

Broken AND Beloved.

 

Both.  Always both.

 

And when we can accept this and truly accept this.

 

Then we can get on with it…

 

We can stop comparing ourselves to others and we can be in connection and relationship in ways that bring light and life and joy into the world.

 

So may we find courage from the journeys of our heroes – who learned the power of connection and found the new discovery that God’s belovedness for us is part of who we are – broken and all.

Coming to Peace with Imperfection _ Pastor April's Sermon - 5/22

Peanutscomics  

 

What is Lucy so upset about?

 

Things aren’t going the way she wants them to.

When things aren’t going perfectly - How do you think she feels about herself?

 

What helped her?

 

It’s a rare moment where Lucy realizes that what she really needs is LOVE.

She doesn’t need to be perfect.

 

Assignment –

What does it look like when we aren’t feeling love?

And when we are?

 

STORY OF SAUL – PAUL

 

So, this summer – we are beginning a series that we are calling the HERO’S JOURNEY –

And the series is mostly going to be an opportunity to do some storytelling –storytelling of some of the great hero’s of the bible – and storytelling from books, comics, movies, of some heroes from modern day children’s stories.

And part of what makes a person a hero, particularly for our biblical characters – is that they have some kind of event happen that begins to take them out of their comfort zone – and in so doing – they begin to learn some things about themselves.  And while some of our hero’s will actually take physical journeys as they learn and grow – the real journey is an inward one – where as they learn some challenging things about who they are – and often who God is – they find themselves changed – and so the outward journey looks different.

 

Now, each of our hero’s this summer must face a different but very human part of who they are in order for this growth to happen.  The basis of this comes from a ancient typology called the Enneagram.  In the Enneagram there are 9 different types and personalities – representing the totality of the true human longings and struggles.  And the Enneagram recognizes that as a part of our ability to meander and journey through this world – many of us find a default place – a pattern in which we find that things work best and we tend to then react and behave from that familiar place.  It doesn’t mean that we aren’t motivated by other longings and needs – but there tends to be a particular need that more often than not – will shape our decisions and our reactions – particularly in moments of stress.

Click here for the Enneagram Link

 

 

So over the summer, we will look at heroes who represent each of the 9 typologies – and my hope is that we will see a little bit of ourselves each week – some weeks more than others – and an invitation to go a bit deeper.

 

If you are interested in the Enneagram – you are welcome to take the free test online and see what number you are – we have been exploring these in our Tuesday bible study of which you are invited to join us! (link listed above)

 

So, our first biblical hero is Paul – who at the start of our story today is still named Saul.

 

And one thing you notice about Saul at the start of the story is that he seems very angry.  Saul is a Pharisee, raised in the Jewish tradition.  His father was a Pharisee – and one thing that was incredibly important to the Pharisees was upholding the laws and the traditions.  This was what was right and true – and as you will see in our story today – Saul – or Paul – (Saul was his Hebrew name, Paul was his Roman name) – more than anything wanted others and himself to DO WHAT WAS RIGHT.

And these followers of Jesus – were the epitome of what it meant to degrade and go against the laws that he held so dear.  The claiming of Jesus as the Messiah – that God had become human was beyond blasphemous.  So, with all the zeal and fervor and anger within him – Paul devoted himself to the relentless pursuit of all those who were followers of Jesus – or the WAY.

 

SCRIPTURE

 

If you are a person who struggles and longs to be right.  Not just in your own life – but in the world.  Nothing bothers you more than to see something or someone being done the wrong way.  If this is of paramount importance to you – then you know that nothing is more crushing and humiliating and devastating than the sure realization that you were wrong.  And not jut wrong but very very wrong.

 

As I imagine the pain that Paul must have gone through in his blindness – 3 days of quiet.  Coming to grips at whatever level he could – of just how very wrong he had been.

 

What a journey inward.

 

It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment – where after being literally stopped in his tracks – and told that he was utterly wrong – that what he thought was working toward helping God and restoring his house was actually hurting/harming/persecuting the Lord.

 

He finds himself in the dark, utterly reliant on others for everything.  Utterly reliant on God.

 

One of the things we will find in common as we journey through our series this summer is how often the most important and significant personal change arrives in our lives during moments of vulnerability.  Moments when things are not going the way we want, when we are at our weakest places, and where sometimes, we have literally been knocked off our feet.

 

For it is often in those dark places where we are finally open enough to see the change that needs to happen and to see ourselves and our own patterns and behaviors for what they are – desperate attempts to find meaning and worth – and simply unable to provide what we long for most.

 

In our comic, we see Lucy, who usually exudes such confidence, arrogance, and bossiness – telling others all the things that they are doing wrong and ensuring that things are going the way she wants.  Lucy has the rare moment of recognizing her own longing – and in the word from her brother realizing that above all – what she really longs for – is not perfection – but love.

 

It’s a humbling thing to have to admit that we are wrong – that we are often wrong – that we don’t have it all figured out.  Paul’s fear and perhaps Lucy’s as well – is that if we let down our guard for a minute – if we let anyone off the hook for a bit – if we admit ambiguity and mystery and imperfection – than our own sense of self and worth dissolves.

 

There is no other antidote for this than the humbling and true realization that we are loved regardless.  That our weaknesses are seen by God – and with grace and love that covers us – God is not concerned about those weaknesses – in fact, as Paul will proclaim later in his ministry – God will use these weaknesses to become strengths.

 

But the journey is slow – to recognize that the perfection we long for – will not ultimately fill us with peace.  But only the acceptance and assurance of God’s unconditional love for us

 

What must it have been like to be so sure you were right and then knocked off your feet – told you were utterly wrong.  Told you were persecuting God – and then have this voice say to you – and yet, you, the one who was so wrong – headed in such the wrong direction – I choose YOU – to lead my people to reveal to them my love and to show them the way forward?

 

It is such an extraordinary story of love and forgiveness.  The reminder that the perfection that God seeks in us has nothing to do with our ability to get it right – but everything to do with our willingness to let go and trust God to use what we have – and to ground our hearts in this assurance of unconditional love for us and the world.

 

That’s the thing that changes us.

 

So may you today find yourself surrounded in love.

Though you are not perfect.  And never will be.

 

May you be reminded that this was never the goal – and may it heal the anger in your heart and lead you toward peace and acceptance – for you and for others.

Contagious Joy - Pastor April's Sermon - 5/15

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  The day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the day that we celebrate the birthday of the church.  

A birthday in itself is a chance to pause and remember.  A chance to pause and remember the day in our history that something or someone new was born.

Birthdays give us a chance to remember not only the new thing or the new life that was born, but also to remember the story of the birth.

And the story of the birth always includes moments of great joy and wonder – but also moments of struggle, challenge, pain, and tears

 

Every year on Marcus’ birthday, I am reminded not only of the gift of his life – but also of the 39 hours of labor that preceded that birth.  I am reminded of the 9 months of pregnancy where we prepared for that birth.  And the long year of waiting to conceive – hoping that someday a birth would be possible.

 

A birthday is a chance to remember and celebrate the beauty that emerges from seasons of struggle and waiting – moments of tears and pain.

 

Our poem from Hafiz captures that beautifully today…  the new life, the new beginnings that emerge from our tears –

 

Take one of my tears,

Throw it into the ocean

And watch the salt in the wounds

Of this earth and men begin to disappear.

 

Take one of my tears

And cradle it in your palm.

Mount a great white camel

And carry my love into every desert,

Paying homage to every Prophet

Who has ever walked in our world.

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

The birthday of the church was certainly a moment where new life and beauty came from a season of struggle and tears.

A Day where out of those tears the disciples began to see and understand – that indeed there was so much More than what they understood before.

 

Now, to place this story in the right context, we need to go back just a bit.

 

The disciples had spent three years walking and learning with Jesus.  Hearing him teach them about the kingdom of God, watching him heal others, reach out to those on the margins, and feeding five thousand with only a few loaves and fish.  At the end of their journey together, Jesus had promised them that though he would return to the Father, and he would no longer be with them in the same physical way – he would send the Spirit.  The Holy spirit would live within them, a counselor, advocate, a Friend – who would remind them of all that Jesus had taught them and would bring them peace – no matter what they faced, so that they could share completely in God’s joy.

 

But the very next day after Jesus spoke these words, he was taken into custody and hung on a cross before all the city.  Executed as a criminal, an undignified and humiliating death.

 

And so we can understand how in their grief – the disciples could not remember the words that Jesus had told them.

 

And they were afraid.

 

And then the extraordinary happened – three days later – Jesus appears again.  He is not dead, but alive.  His appearance is different, but the scars are still there – and even those who initially doubt – come to believe that Jesus is in fact alive!

 

And for 40 days, Jesus remained with them – coming and going from time to time – sometimes appearing inside locked rooms and disappearing just as quickly.  But he was there.  They could see him and touch him again.

 

It must have been so healing and renewing and joyful.

 

But it was only temporary – he told them – he was returning to the Father.

 

Again – he reminded them – that when he left – he would send the Spirit.

 

Wait – he says, in Acts 1 – wait here in Jerusalem – until you are baptized in the Spirit and the promise is given.

 

And then he was gone again.

 

It’s hard to imagine how they must be feeling.  To have lost the physical presence of Jesus – yet again.

 

So, by the time our Scripture begins today – 10 days have passed.

It was the Festival of  Pentecost - the festival of the harvest.

Jews from all throughout the land had gathered in Jerusalem to bring their offerings and to be in celebration.

It would have been a time of great reunion – a time to catch up with others who they hadn’t seen in some time.

And yet – on this day of Pentecost

All the disciples are together in one room.

 

Which tells us that this waiting has been hard – they have needed to be together to support one another.  To cry their tears of sadness and wait together for what could possibly be next.  They aren’t feeling so festive.

 

The words (Act 2: 1-41) seem particularly fitting for this moment –

 

O take one of my tears

And stop weeping only for sadness,

For there is so much More to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Jesus had told them that the Spirit is coming – but they still don’t understand.

 

Until the wind begins to blow and the tongues of fire begin to descend and voices – melodious, joyful voices begin to fill the air – with praises to God – in every language – but they heard them in their own language.

 

By this time, the events transpiring could no longer be confined to one room – they were spilling out onto the busy streets – and people were gathering – people from all over the area – pondering in amazement what it is that they were seeing.

 

What a moment.  A moment of AWE.  And a moment of CONNECTION.  Where across barriers of language and ethnicity – the name of God rang out.

 

And they didn’t understand what was happening – some thought they must be drunk.

 

But then the most unlikely character of all – Peter – emerges above the crowd and begins to speak to the crowd.

Peter – the one who had denied that he even knew Jesus –

Peter – the one who had sliced off the ear of a soldier in a heated fury – the one who had walked on water but then started to sink – the one who wept for shame on the day Jesus died.

 

But this is a different Peter.   A Peter who as the poem says -

 

Has become like the Happy One,

O like the Happy One –

Who now lives Forever

Within me

 

When a drop from my Emerald Sea

Touches your soul’s mouth,

It will dissolve everything but your Joy

And an Eternal Wonder

 

THEN,

The Beloved will gladly hire you

As his minstrel

 

To go traveling about this world,

Letting everyone upon this earth

Hear

The Beautiful Names of God

Resound in a Thousand Chords

 

Peter – now filled with the Holy Spirit – has become a minstrel of sorts – and he stands and explains to the crowd –

 

This moment of AWE and CONNECTION you are experienced isn’t because of alcohol.  It’s because of God.

God’s spirit is here and moving.

Out of the death and tears of Jesus – he rose again.

And he promised that he would generously give us the Spirit.

That we would experience the same kind of peace that King David had – where God would be present with us – through the darkest of moments – through our times of tears – and in whose presence has brought us healing and joy.

 

This is the Spirit of Jesus being given and offered to us – that we might turn toward God anew and experience the new life and JOY being offered to us.

 

And Peter – as he stands before them talking – speaking through the power of the Holy Spirit – is a living breathing example of everything of which he is speaking.

 

For in this moment – something extraordinary has happened to him.

 

Peter was no longer looking AT God – with his limited understanding and his personal striving to try and get it right and his fears of the change that was coming…

 

Peter was now looking out at the world – FROM God.

 

Before – it had been all about following and trying to learn and do what Jesus did.

 

But now, the Spirit of the Living God was IN HIM.

And so – filled with the Holy Spirit - he could see things and understand things in a whole new way – in a way – much more in line with the way God sees the world.

 

And it changed everything.

 

And it seems that this joy that Peter had – this insight and this understanding - it

Was contagious –

For the people’s hearts were convicted –

 

What should we do?

 

Repent, change your minds, receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

 

So that you also – can look out at the world – FROM God.

See the world from God’s point of view.

 

And as the poem says –

Let the wounds

Of every lover of God who kneels in prayer

And comes close to your words

Begin, right now,

To disappear.

 

The joy was spreading – for 3,000 people – were baptized on that day.

 

The church was born – out of tears and struggle – new life was beginning.

The wounds were beginning to disappear.

A people of God – no longer looking out AT God.

 

But now – able to see the world FROM God.

 

So, I have to tell you how thankful I am for this Pentecost story – for this birthday remembrance.

 

As we remember that the story of our church began when broken, frail, disheartened and even fearful individuals – came into contact with the living presence of God – and were brave enough to let go and allow God to work within them.

 

To work within their tears and their struggle so that something new could be born.

 

Something that you and I are now the recipients of, nearly 2,000 years later.

 

It was the call of the church the very first hour of our existence – to bring our full selves – and to allow God to take up residence –

 

This morning – I woke up with this feeling in my chest – this feeling that was familiar – it was a feeling of fear – and dread – and worry –

 

Worry about the future of the denomination that I love – worry about the finances of this local church that has become woven into my heart – and worry about my own family and the struggles we may face –

 

And I heard in the quiet hours of the morning – a still small voice that said –

 

Oh April – these things that bring you fear – they are too big for you to carry alone.  Your small self cannot hold them – so why don’t you let me take it from here?

And stop weeping for sadness –

For there is so much more to this life

Than you now understand.

 

Oh, my friends – that we would have the courage of the saints – to recognize what we have within us.  Our legacy and our story –

 

That we might both listen and yield to that Spirit anew.

 

And that we might become minstrels –

 

Sharing the joy that we have known to a world that more than ever needs to know that they are not alone.

 

And that God is at work among us.