Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Borning

Sermon preached Christmas Day

One image we see around Christmas time is of a person opening a book to share a story. Often the storyteller is in a rocking chair and there is a warm fire in a fire place. No fireplace this morning, but I am going to take the unusual step of reading you a story.
“Christmas Baptism” from The Good News From North Haven Michael Lindvall. The story is fiction, set in the fictional town of North Haven, Minnesota – near Mankato. The author knows something of which he speaks. Michael Lindvall grew up in small towns in Minnesota and the UP, and he is a Presbyterian pastor.

The Story (if you want to read the story, put "Michael Lindvall Christmas Baptism" into your search engine, you will find a number of places where it is printed - here is one:

Christians trust and believe that in Jesus, the light of God’s love entered the world in a uniquely powerful way. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We believe that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” We celebrate that at Christmas.
We also trust that this is not simply a past event. In a meditation on Christmas, the fourteenth century German Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart wrote this: Saint Augustine says that his birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me. (Watch For the Light, December 1).
Light and life came into the world in Jesus. God still wants to bring that light and life to birth in the world through you and me, maybe in ways as quiet as standing for a child at baptism. Amen.

Ready or Not

Sermon preached on Christmas Eve

Are you ready? Are all your cards mailed? Are all the light bulbs working on the tree or on your house? Do you still have gifts to wrap or stockings to fill? Are all your groceries purchased? Ready or not, Christmas is here.
“Ready or not.” This is not just a phrase for a children’s game – “ready or not, here I come.” Life often presents itself as “ready or not.” A few years ago, our daughter Sarah, now 20, and I were talking. She asked me what was so great about growing up. I thought for a bit. Driving – but then there is insurance and the possibilities of fender benders. Voting – important but sometimes a challenge and it requires some time and attention if you want to be an informed voter. New responsibilities come with adulthood, some not necessarily easy or enjoyable. I think I finally settled on the accumulation of experiences and the ability to remember past joys as you also experience new ones, that’s part of the joy of becoming an adult. Yet, however we think about becoming adult, ready or not it will come.
With adulthood can come marriage and perhaps children – and children arrive ready or not. I think about my own family. Our son David was born while I was still in seminary, after Julie and I were married a mere eleven months. Julie was working only part-time. And when David came no one was quite yet ready because he was six weeks premature. There we were, parents in our early twenties, just getting by economically, with a premature baby – ready or not. Beth was born in Roseau, arriving smack dab in the middle of a church service. She came, ready or not, and I unexpectedly missed church that day. Sarah was born in Dallas, after I had returned to school. Again, we were not at our economic best, living in a two-bedroom apartment with two children already. But Sarah was born, ready or not. [I guess you might say that Julie and I flunked family planning…. But that might be a TMI moment]
Now today/tonight Julie and I are waiting for the birth of our first grandchild. She will be born to a woman our son dated for awhile, but they are not currently a couple. The circumstances are not ideal, but ready or not, she will arrive.
Life arrives, ready or not for what it may bring our way. I work with a number of couples as they prepare to get married. In fact, I use a pre-marriage inventory with them called “PREPARE.” We do some work together to help strengthen their relationship heading into marriage, and discuss ways to build on those strengths during their marriage. Yet by the end of the wedding service, when I announce that the couple is now married, ready or not, they are married.
Life arrives, ready or not for what it may bring our way. Sometimes what comes to us and at us is difficult. There are times in life when we will be hurt, disappointed, frustrated, and sometimes taken aback. Ready or not, life arrives. Sometimes what comes to us brings serendipitous joy. Last Sunday I preached a sermon which focused on the idea of courage, utilizing the frequently heard biblical phrase, “do not be afraid.” We had a guest youth choir with us and their final song was entitled “Healing Rain” – with a chorus that says, “healing rain is falling down, healing rain is falling down; I’m not afraid; I’m not afraid.” This was not planned. It was not ready-made, but the moment arrived and I was filled with gratitude for its serendipity. Perhaps we should always come to worship ready in some way for serendipitous grace and joy.
Life arrives, ready or not for what it may bring our way. Sometimes it brings joy, sometimes pain. Sometimes we are more ready than others, but ready or not, life happens.
Maybe it is a good thing, then, that the God we know in Jesus arrives into our lives and into the world, ready or not. Actually, there is no maybe about it. That God arrives, ready or not, is good news. It is good news of great joy for all the people.
Here is the good news. God doesn’t wait until the world is just right to arrive into it. God comes into the world again and again even in unlikely times. The people of Jesus, the Jews, were living under Roman occupation in Palestine. When a decree went out from the Emperor, everyone followed because of the power of Rome. Roman citizens were privileged in this society in which many found themselves poor and just getting by. Rome accomplished a great deal, but justice was what the Emperor decided it was, and again more justice was possible for citizens. Perhaps this seems an inopportune time for some new arrival of God, but ready or not, God comes.
Here is the good news. God doesn’t wait until we have it all together in our lives to arrive. God comes to us again and again. There is a question that I get asked from time to time, yet it never ceases to amaze me. “Do you have a dress code at your church?” Somehow the church, many churches, have given the impression that God will touch your life only after you have gotten it together enough to show up in church properly attired. When you manage to be good enough, then God will come into your life. I understand how such a message has been sent by churches, but the heart of Christian faith, and the heart of the Christmas story is that God comes into our lives, ready or not. We don’t have to be “ready” for God to touch us and teach us, love us and lift us, to inspire and enfold us. Remember the story. Mary and Joseph were not married when Jesus was born, at least according to Luke. Jesus arrived, ready or not. The shepherds were minding their own business that night, tending to the task at hand. Jesus arrived, ready or not. Angels announced the birth to the shepherds, catching them completely off guard. In the arrival of Jesus, we trust that God arrived into our world in a new way.
So God arrives into our lives and into our world, ready or not. And there is more to the good news. God is not arriving into our unmade lives and unkempt world just to catch us doing wrong, messing up, so we can then be taken to the proverbial wood shed. God arrives into the world longing for peace and good will, working toward peace and good will. God arrives in small quiet ways. God arrives in mangers and at the margins, rather than in palaces and places of prominence.
Reflecting on Christian faith, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote: The essence of Christianity is the appeal to the life of Christ as the revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world. The record is fragmentary, inconsistent and uncertain… But there can be no doubt as to what elements in the record have evoked a response from all that is best in human nature. The Mother, the Child, the bare manger. The lowly man, homeless and self-forgetful, with his message of peace, love, and sympathy: the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair: and the whole with the authority of supreme victory. (The Adventure of Ideas, 167; quoted in Jackson, A Theology For Ministry, 104)
While God’s arrival indeed can shake us up and can turn the world upside down – who would remember that Pilate was Rome’s man in Palestine were it not for the story of Jesus, and while God’s Spirit will point to those places in our lives that are less than loving, God’s intent is always peace and goodwill. God arrives in our lives, ready or not, to accompany us, to walk with us, to love us and lift us, to heal us and free us, to inspire and enfold us, to bring us joy.
A woman tells the story of her daughter Jessica. Jessica’s early life involved moving a lot as her parents had careers in government service. She and her brother were very glad when her parents decided to settle in a community in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. Jessica’s parents found a Catholic church they felt at home in.
One of the traditions in this church was an annual Christmas pageant with angels, shepherds, wise men, an innkeeper, Mary and Joseph, and often a real live baby for Jesus. The program was presented by the sixth graders. The parish education director, Sister Margie, felt that one day, when she was in sixth grade, Jessica would make a fine Mary. She encouraged Jessica along the way, and Jessica had her heart set on doing this when she was old enough.
In October of Jessica’s sixth grade year, as the school was beginning preparations for that year’s pageant, Sister Margie asked Jessica’s mother if she might have a word with her. There was a note of concern, even panic in Sister Margie’s voice. Speaking in almost a whisper, in order to avoid any controversy, Sister Margie told Jessica’s mother what a lovely, tall, young woman Jessica had become – with an emphasis on tall. Jessica now towered about six inches over the boy who had his heart set on playing Joseph in the pageant. Margie: Mary must carry the baby Jesus on one arm and take Joseph’s elbow for support as they walk the length of the aisle and make their entrance accompanied by the choir of angels. I just don’t know how that will look with her being so much taller than he.
Jessica’s mother was worried. She understood Sister Margie’s concern. She also knew how much her daughter had been anticipating this pageant and her role as Mary. Jessica approached her mother and Sister Margie. Try as they might to keep the conversation quiet, Jessica had heard every word. She swallowed hard, spoke sweetly yet firmly. Excuse me, Sister. If it didn’t make any difference to Joseph if Mary was pregnant when he married her – do you think it mattered to him if she was taller than him? The pageant went off without a hitch. (from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic, 67-68)
We spend a lot of time in our lives trying to make them just right so that God might care and arrive in our lives in a special way, we try to be perfectly ready so God might approve of us – our Sunday best, Mary just a little shorter than Joseph, work and play well with others. Nothing wrong with wanting to be a little better, but know this; hear this good news today/tonight - - - God arrives ready or not. We need the love, courage and peace of God, not after we are “ready” – whatever that might mean, but to help us live our lives right now, even if they are a little unkempt and out of order. We need to the love, courage and peace of God to help us move the world along a little bit – toward freedom, justice, healing, release, light and life, comfort, repairing the world. Now is the time in our lives when we need the love of God “a love that embraces the dark night and the joyful dawn” (Bruce Epperly). Now is the time when we need God to touch us and teach us, love us and lift us, to inspire and enfold us, to heal us and free us.. Now is the time, ready or not.
Christmas time is here, ready or not. God continues to be born, ready or not. Good news. Great joy. Glory to God. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Midnight Clear as Mud

Sermon preached December 18, 2011

Texts: Luke 1:26-38
Biblical interpretation is fascinating. Years ago, when my journey of faith included tuning in to radio evangelists, I recall a story Pat Robertson related about the use of the Bible. Someone had shared with him that they were looking for a new car and decided to open their Bible at random to see if there was any guidance for their decision. The text was open to a page where they found the word “ford” and considered this divine, Biblical guidance for their car buying decision. The word “ford” is found in Genesis 32:22 where it refers to a river crossing and not an automobile, unless Jacob was the original Henry Ford. Yet Pat Robertson celebrated the guidance of the Spirit in that way of using the Bible. The Bible obviously offers clear, unambiguous answers to all of life’s questions.
I don’t happen to care for that method of using the Bible or that way of understanding it, and in all honesty that story was part of my road to questioning some of my understandings of the Christian faith at that time. I mean what chance would Chevy or Buick or Toyota or Honda have?
But perhaps I have been too hasty. Last Sunday during confirmation, Moses was the focus of our discussion. As a pure aside, I mentioned that the first two books of the Bible were really quite interesting, filled with captivating stories. I mentioned that when you got to the third book, Leviticus, that was a different story. Don’t tackle Leviticus early on in your Bible reading. Just to make the point I opened my Bible to Leviticus and read a bit. It opened to chapter 13. “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’.” Not exactly the most inspirational passage from Scripture you could find. But then this random opening became revelatory as my eyes wandered up the page. Could the Spirit be at work in this way? Just a few verses earlier were words that applied directly to me. Leviticus 13:40: If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean. Wow – words for my life. I was inspired and even wondered if we might change some of our web site. (show slide)
For some it seems, Christian faith and life, following God through following Jesus, is always clear. There are no gray areas, little in life that is shadowed in mist and mystery. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said to his friend and fellow philosopher Bertrand Russell, “You think the world is what it looks like in fine weather and noon-day. I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one first awakes from a deep sleep” (Paul Kuntz, “Whitehead and Russell” Process Studies, 1988. Also Jerome Kagan, An Argument for Mind, 247-248). For some Christians, the life of faith provides fine weather and noon day light for their lives.
My experience as a person of faith is much more like early morning when one first wakes from a deep sleep. I see the world as wonderfully, mysteriously, sometimes bafflingly complex. The world is sometimes as foggy as the view from my office was so often this week. While my faith helps me navigate life in this world, and sometimes simplifies, it often does just the opposite. Looking at the world with the eyes of faith helps me see more deeply the wonder, beauty, mystery, bafflement of the world. God often speaks not through a megaphone, loud and clear. God’s voice is most often a whispered word. As I shared last Sunday, I think God’s direction might often entail a range of options, not just a single choice, and that our relationship with God is like the back and forth, give and take of a dance. Perhaps that makes my Christian understanding of life midnight clear as mud.
The world is complex, and our faith helps us see more deeply into that complexity, sometimes offering the clear light of the noon day, but often deepening the mists and mysteries. If this is so, the perhaps in a complex world, even we people of faith can be perplexed. To affirm that God is up to something, as we do during Advent, and to affirm that God is still up to something as we have been exploring this Advent, does not mean we will not sometimes be perplexed in our life and journey of faith.
If we, even as people of faith sometimes feel perplexed in a complex world, we are not alone. An angel appears to Mary. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” You would think angels would bring a lot of light and clarity. So what is Mary’s response? “She was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” The angel continues on, announcing that she is going to conceive and bear a son, whom she should name Jesus. And her response? “How can this be?” Perplexity.
Reading this story again I am reminded of a short poem about Mary.
Nazareth Rosario Castellanos

Descending to the cave where the Archangel
made his announcement, I think
of Mary, chosen vase.

Like any cup, easily broken;
like all vessels, too small
for the destiny she must contain.

Being perplexed sometimes in a complex world is a reasonable response, even for people of faith. Sometimes we are simply unsure of God’s whispered word. The Bible isn’t really meant to be a sanctified Ouiju board. It stories are rich and complex and the lessons sometimes shrouded in the mystery and complexity of the human story. God is up to something in our lives, our church, our world. We know something of the general direction. When God is up to something, it is good news – freedom, justice, healing, release, light and life, comfort, repairing the world. Yet in any moment we may be perplexed by uncertainty. Mary sure seems to be, at least for a time. What kind of greeting is she receiving? How can it be that she should conceive a child? We do well as people of faith to keep near the center of our faith the virtue of humility, that sense that sometimes we may miss the whispered word of God in a complex world filled with numerous voices and noises. The heart of our faith is certainty about God’s love for the world and for us, God’s grace toward the world and toward us, but that leaves a lot of room for mists and mysteries and perplexity. The heart of religion is not certainty, but openness to the mystery of God whose nature is creative-responsive love.
Yet there may also be times when our perplexity is not lack of clarity, but lack of a sense that we have what we need to truly follow God’s direction. Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing are not the same. We may know pretty well where God wants us to go, and not really want to go there. “Freedom, justice, healing, release, light and life, comfort, repairing the world” can sound nice, but the road is not always an easy one. Mary felt this kind of perplexity, too, at least for a while. How can this be?
So if our faith does not necessarily make everything clear and easy in a complex world, if being a person of faith can also mean being perplexed, what good is faith? In a word – courage. “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid. Mary may be perplexed, but in the end she is courageous. Assured of God’s presence she responds in her perplexity “Let it be with me according to your word.” Courage.
Courage does not mean never being perplexed. Courage does not mean never feeling fear. I am particularly fond of Parker Palmer’s understanding of the biblical phrase, “do not be afraid.” As one who is no stranger to fear, I have had to read those words with care so as not to twist them into a discouraging counsel of perfection. “Do not be afraid” does not mean we cannot have fear…. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have…. We have place of fear inside us, but we have other places as well – places with names like trust and hope and faith. (Let Your Life Speak, 93-94). We have fear, we do not have to be fear. We experience fear inside, but as people of faith we also know trust and hope. And when we live from places of faith and trust and hope, we live with courage. Theologian Paul Tillich says that “faith is the experience of this power” called courage (The Courage To Be, 172).
Perplexed but courageous, the way of following Jesus, the way of Christian faith. Midnight clear as mud.
Sometimes that may entail extraordinary courage. I think of people of faith like Bishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have told their stories before. I think of another German pastor whose story of courage is perhaps less well-known. Martin Niemoller was born in Germany in 1892. Born a pastor’s son, Niemoller was a proud German, a decorated World War I veteran. Like many Protestant pastors in Germany following World War I, Niemoller was a national conservative, and he welcomed Hitler’s initial political success, believing it would lead to a revival of the German state and people. But Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies eventually turned Niemoller against the regime. He was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1938-1945. A post-war visit to one of the camps where he was imprisoned, Dachau, inspired Niemoller to pen his most famous lines. First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me. Niemoller’s words can be found in the United States Holocaust Museum. Extraordinary courage. God is with us. Do not be afraid.
But just as important, maybe even more important, is the ordinary courage needed every day. It takes courage to get up some mornings when life is particularly perplexing or distressing. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage to live each day when the world is sometimes midnight clear as mud. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage care for those near to us who suffer. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage to parent. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage to speak truth lovingly. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage to try and be the church today, when we could simply do something different or when the name of Jesus is used to promote exclusion. God is with us. Do not be afraid. Following God’s direction of freedom, justice, healing, release, light and life, comfort, repairing the world takes courage, especially when the way forward may be perplexing. God is with us. Do not be afraid. It takes courage to hold within the fragility of our lives the very light and love of God, to nurture it, to give birth to Jesus in our own lives, like Mary. But it is what God is up to in us, too. God is with us. Do not be afraid. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Do You Wanna Dance?

Sermon preached December 11, 2011

Texts: John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4

From there to here, from here to there – I like to take different routes if I can. For the seven years we lived in Dallas, Texas, and travelled to Minnesota at least twice a year, we found some different routes. The most direct route from Duluth to Dallas is I-35 – goes right there and interesting enough for interstate. But maybe you want to take US 75 north to Tulsa, go through Joplin and then into Kansas City. Or you could stay on US 71 south out of Joplin and into northwest Arkansas – very pretty. We may have even taken US 75 south through parts of Kansas. Most of the time these other ways had their new discoveries. I have some vague shadowy memories of a few quaint small towns that we would not have seen had we always traveled the interstate. And even if you are on the interstate, you get to choose between the by-pass and taking it right through the city. In other places we lived, I liked to try some new ways to get from there to here, and here to there.
Sometimes this has not served me well. Ignoring the bypass isn’t always a good idea. I also remember one time when we lived in Roseau and we were traveling to Duluth across MN 11 towards International Falls and I thought taking Highway 65 south might be kind of interesting. I think part of it became dirt road on the Nett Lake Reservation, and Julie was not real happy with this new way of going.
Maybe the tried and true ways serve a person well, but we have to admit that there is more than one way to get from there to here and from here to there. Hold that thought in the back of your mind for just a bit.
We are now into the third week of Advent, that four-week period before Christmas. One way to think about the season of Advent is to think about it as a season in which we say, “God is up to something.” God is up to something, so we best pay attention. God is up to something, so we should stay awake. God is up to something, so we should so we should be alert. In Advent we affirm that God was up to something in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This Advent we are thinking together about what it might mean to affirm that God is up to something now. To ask about the meaning of “God is up to something” is to move into a discussion of “the will of God.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the phrase “the will of God” it feels like it should be capitalized, pronounced in a lower octave – THE WILL OF GOD. There seems to be an emphasis on the – implying singularity. The will of God is one thing and one thing only.
Such resonances are reinforced by certain Biblical passages. In Matthew 7, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The will of God – the narrow gate traveled by few and hard to find – kind of like Minnesota 65 north of Togo. Interestingly, in the parallel passage in Luke, the verse is much shorter, and is paired with a very different verse (Luke 13:24, 29): “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” But then just a bit later, Jesus says, “Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” You need a bigger door for that, a broad gate, a wide highway.
And here we get back to Advent. Many Advent texts refer to a wide highway. Isaiah 40:3-5: A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Sounds like quite a highway project, doesn’t it? And when we hear these words from Isaiah, we think of one figure who makes a regular Advent appearance – John the Baptist.
So maybe in Advent, this season when we affirm that God is up to something, something we associate with the “will of God” – maybe Advent with its images of wide highways and flocks of people from north, south, east, west, and all nations – maybe Advent is suggesting to us that what God is up to is taking us in a certain direction, and if direction is a good way to talk about what God is up to, let’s remember that there is often more than one way to get from there to here and from here to there. You can bring that thought back now. God is up to something, and what God is up to is to move us, our church, our world in a certain direction.
If what God is up to is a certain direction, then following God through following Jesus may be something like a dance. That is just the image Marjorie Suchocki uses in a book some of us read last spring, In God’s Presence. Imagine with me the dynamics of relationship between God and the world. Think of it as a dance, whereby in every moment of existence God touches the world with guidance toward its communal good in that time and place and that just as the world receives energy from God it also returns its own energy to God. God gives to the world and receives from the world; the world receives from God and gives to God (24).
So we dance with God. God offers guidance, a whispered word, moment to moment in our lives. And maybe the guidance is sometimes a range of options. Maybe sometimes the will of God feels like God leaving us with options. Another theologian Paul Tillich suggests this. The Lord from whom you derive a word wants you to decide for yourselves. He does not offer you a safe way. (The New Being, 119) This can be misunderstood, but there is wisdom here. God takes a step, we respond to God’s movement, and maybe there is range of positive responses, though some may be better than others. Sometimes the range may be very narrow, and sometimes we ignore God’s whispered word all together. We act, then God moves again, even if we have moved awkwardly, God adjusts – still trying to teach us to move with the unforced rhythms of grace. Sometimes we have to call God’s response forgiveness when we have stepped badly.
God is up to something – a direction, and the image of a dancing God is helpful. But we know something more. We can say something more about this direction. We know where this dance is headed. God dances in the direction of light, good news, healing the broken hearted, freedom, comforting those who mourn, repair. When God’s Spirit is dancing, when God is up to something, it is good news – freedom, justice, healing, release, light and life, comfort, repairing the world. All day long God is working for good in the world.
God is up to something in each of our lives. When we open ourselves more fully to dancing with God there is healing, there is comfort, there is courage, there is care. When we open ourselves more fully to dancing with God we join in God’s work to bring hope, healing, comfort, justice, freedom and repair to others and to the world.
When you think about your life and God being up to something, don’t get weighed down by a notion of the will of God for your life as some one thing that you just have to discover or be lost. God’s will for your life is a direction – freedom, comfort, healing, helping God repair the world. There are all kinds of ways you can do that. Part of joining what God is up to is finding where your gifts and skills and passions are and using them well. God’s whispered word is often heard in the deep places inside us.
God is up to something in our church community. Sara Miles, who many of us have read this fall, shares some insights offered by the pastor for care at her church, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Being in the presence of someone’s suffering for which you can do nothing provokes an almost universal reaction: the desire to run away as fast as possible. It is frightening to be with someone who is suffering and to feel helpless in the face of anguish and uncertainty. Being part of a pastoral care community means learning to be with those who are suffering even when you feel helpless. I believe we are not helpless. We can be beacons of hope and light for one another, holding the faith that God is at work even when we can’t see how. Just knowing you are not alone makes all the difference in the world. (Jesus Freak, 80-81)
I think God is up to quite a bit in our church community, but those words describe for me one thing God is up to here, one direction God’s dance is taking – deepening our sense of being a caring community together. We can be beacons of hope and light for one another. Not long ago I had someone in my office sharing some anxiety and fear about life, and one of my replies to this person was “You are not alone. God is here. We are here with you. We are here for you.” And we are. Dancing with God we are continuing to find ways to care with and about each other.
God is up to something in moving us to engage in God’s work in the world – the work of justice and healing and repair. We are doing that work with Ruby’s Pantry. We are doing that work as we mentor. We will be doing that work as we engage in the Imagine No Malaria campaign. We are doing that work as we offer the hospitality of our building to others. In recent days we offered the Hmong community a gathering place for the celebration of their new year. We provided space for the Kiwanis to share breakfast with Santa. We were the site of a record-breaking drive for Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. Where might God be calling us next? There is not an easy answer to that. We will need to ask about our gifts and skills and energy and talents and see what opportunities may present themselves. We know the direction that dancing with God will take us, but there may be a variety of good next steps.
So let me end this morning by playing a part of a seasonal song.
The Beach Boys, “Do You Wanna Dance?”
At Advent we say that God is still up to something – a dance, a dance toward light, good news, healing the broken hearted, freedom, justice, comforting those who mourn, repairing the world. So maybe a good Advent question is “Do you wanna dance?”