Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy Days

Sometime in the 1970s, I remember watching the TV show "Happy Days" and wondering aloud, what made the 1950s happy days. My mother remarked, that I would look upon the 80s as "Happy Days" one day.

I remember at the time kind of scoff at such a notion.

But, Mom was right.

This evening, as Daniel and I were heading to dinner, we stumbled upon a satellite station that played 80s music...actually to be more exact, it was playing an episode of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, from June of 1984.

Hearing all of those old tunes, had me going back to that summer of 1984 when I was 14, soon to be 15. It was a very good summer. I remember watching the '84 Summer Olympics and that was the year that Michael Jackson seemed to be everywhere. Good times indeed.

Twenty-five years later, I'm 39 soon to be 40. I'm now a middle aged man, some of those bands I listened to in '84 are no longer playing and Michael Jackson is sadly no longer with us.

Those days of my youth were good days, but they weren't all good. My freshman year in high school was difficult. My mother spent several weeks in the hospital dealing with heart failure.

I'm thinking about how some congregations view their golden past, their happy days. They look back at those days with fondness and like me listening to an old American Top 40 broadcast, almost long to be back in those days when life was simpler.

But the thing is, I doubt it was that simple. I have to think that there were rough patches in those golden years as well as good days.

And the thing is, sometimes we get so wrapped up in our pasts, that we don't see what is ahead of us, which might be even better than what we left behind.

Congregations want to relieve those old days. They want it to be 1958 again when the pews were full. But we can't go back in time, and as much as I would love to go back to 1984 for a little while, I can't. Time only goes forward and that's a good thing.

A Disciples congregation in Nashville has put together a video that see what the church will look like 10 years from now. They are not looking at the past, but heading forward.

A friend commented that being in your 40s is pretty cool. Again, I feel like scoffing, but then I was wrong before.

The life before us can be pretty good, if we allow it to be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prayin' by iPhone

I love my iPhone.

Yes, this is coming from a "Machead," but the specific reason I like my iPhone is because it has helped my prayer life.

Something tells me Steve Jobs didn't account for that.

About a month ago, I stumbled upon the website Pray As You Go, a British Jesuit concern that produces daily podcasts. Each episode contains a song and a reading of scripture and time to reflect on the words. I started doing this and later realized that I was doing the Lectio Divinia without realizing it.

Maybe what I like about it, is that helped me realize that prayer is not always about words, but about being quiet and listening to God.

What is so fascinating about this is how these Brits have been able to meld modern 21st century technology to an ancient spiritual practice. Pray As You Go has a worldwide following and I don't doubt that it has helped rekindle the prayer lives of countless folk.

Give it a try.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sunday Sermon- June 7, 2008

“Come to the Table”
Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17
June 7, 2009
Trinity Sunday
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

A few months ago, my partner Daniel and I were invited to have high tea. A friend of mine this in an auction and she invited serveral of her friends to the event, including me.

I was not looking forward to it.

I had this fear that I would have to learn to how have tea. I was scared that I would not hold the tea cup in the right way and that I would make a fool of myself.

Well, the day came and Daniel and I went to a suburban house in Richfield. A woman in her 50s or 60s came to the door dressed quite nicely. We went in and sat down at a table that was adorned with nice china. It was all nice, but I was nervous. Finally, it was time for the tea and the cookies. But instead of worrying about if I had to have my pinky up or not, what happened was rather surprising. The circle of friends gathered and started sharing what was going on in their lives. My fears subsided as I realized there was less concern about getting things right than there was about the relationships that were happening at that moment.

The Sunday after Pentecost is called Trinity Sunday, when we focus on God as the Three in One: God the Father or Creator, God the Son or the Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit or Sustainer. This Sunday is an interesting Sunday for those of us who belong to this tradition in Christianity called the Disciples of Christ. Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of what became the Disciples, did not focus on the Trinity. The reason was that there was no mention of it in the Bible. Since we were a people of the book, it made no sense to spend time in a concept that was not mentioned in the Bible.

And he is right of course, if you read the Bible, especially the New Testament, you will not find the word, “trinity.” The concept of Trinity is not a biblical per se, it’s a doctrinal statement that came later in the life of the Chrisitianity. So, since it was considered a doctrine, and we Disciples tend to be non-doctrinal, the Trinity doesn’t get talked about a whole lot among Disciples.

Now, one doesn’t have to believe in the Trinity to be a good Christian. However, it is a way to think about the nature of God, a way to explain God. There are a lot of different ways to try to describe God and the Trinity is one of those ways. The Trinity also reminds us how we are to be church, how we are to be God’s children in the world. For some reason, the Trinity has me thinking of food and tea, tables, mission and grace.

In the John text, we introduced to Nicodemus. We find out that he is a Pharisee and is intriguied by Jesus. He comes to visit Jesus under the cover of darkness to find out more about this man. I can imagine him walking down the streets at night, trying to make sure no one sees him and then going to a door on a side street and knocking the door. One of the disciples opens the door and leads him to a room where Jesus is sitting with tea or coffee at the waiting. Nicodemus sits and the two converse among many, many cups of tea. Nicodemus was well versed in the law and believed he had done all the right things. But Jesus starts talking about being “born again” and about how being born of water and Spirit. Jesus tells Nicodemus that it is not about one has done for God, but what God has done for us; how God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus to live among us.

What happens during this late night visit is the beginning of a relationship. Nicodemus is captivated by this man named Jesus, and begins to get closer to him. We later see the Pharisee stand up for Jesus and after the crucifixion works with others to find proper burial place for Jesus.

In our Isaiah text, we see that a person is being called by God to a mission. Unlike the quiet setting found in John, this story seems rather frightening. There are angels with several wings that don’t seem like those gentle versions we see on television. We can imagine a loud voice calling the person to do this thing for God. And the person replies that he is not worthy to do carry out God’s mission. And then we have this odd vision of one of these horrid looking angels getting a fiery coal and placing it on the person’s mouth as a sign of his now being made clean by God. Once he was made clean by God, the person in this story can now claim in a strong voice, “here I am! Send me.”

If there is one thing I want you to remember, is that the concept of the Trinity is about seeing God as a God that wants to be in relationship. God is in relationship within God, and God wants to be relationship with all of creation, including humanity.

There is a painting by Andrei Rublev, a Russain artist, that shows what the Trinity is all about and gives a clue into what it means to be church. (show the painting).

Gathered around a table are three figures reprenting the Trinity. You can see the three seated around this table and sharing each others lives. Notice that there is one seat that is open. It’s an ivitation to come and sit with God.

God is not about trying to do the right thing. In some ways, many people are like I was before that tea party, worried that I would do the wrong thing. But God is more interested in having a relationship with us.

Sometimes we are afraid to be in relationship with God. Sometimes we feel that we are not worthy and sometimes we just stay away. But just as God cleaned the writer in Isaiah, we are made clean by God through Jesus Christ. It was through the life death and ressurection that we are made clean and called to do God’s work in the world.

As members of First Christian, we have been in the midst of a study called Ubinding the Gospel and we have been implored to learn to share the good news of Jesus with others. I can imagine, that at times, we might feel not up to the task. We feel ashamed that we are not sharing the gospel with others and feel unclean.

I want to challenge you to see sharing the good news not in the form of a task that one should do, as some boring task of duty, but as engaging in a relationship. It’s about sharing our lives with each other over a cup of coffee. It’s about inviting someone to dinner and seeing how your family and friends are doing. Evangelism isn’t not about trying to accost someone with the good news of God, but it is going out in the world and being in relationship with people; sharing our lives with each other. And since God is part of our lives, we will share that part of our life as well.

I want to read something to you: it’s the mission statement for First Christian. “In response to the grace of God, the mission of First Christian Church is to be a Christ-centered presence, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to witness through service to God’s World.”

We don’t go out and talking about how we encounter God because we have to. We do it in response for what God has done for us. God has in Jesus showed that God loves us. In response that we are loved by God, we can be a presence in the world, being in relationship with our friends and neighbors and even strangers. We seek to get to know people and get to know about their hopes and fears and seek ways to help them and to just be Christ to them. We seek to be in relationship when we serve food to the hungry at St. Stephen’s shelter. Being church is not about a building or committee, or pews or an organ. Those are all nice, but church is about a table,, where the Trinity invites us to come and share our lives and where we are so in love with God that we want to go out and invite others to the table.

And that’s what we do every week, don’t we? We come to this table where we are reminded of God’s love for us. We don’t have to worry if we are worthy, God has already made us worthy, God has made everyone worthy.

I want to leave you with a final image. As many of you know, there was a time long ago, when I was a member of this congregation. I remember the first time I visited this church, Labor Day weekend of 1996. I went to the service and then came home to do some other things. Later that evening, a I heard a knock on the door. There was a man in his 50s with a loaf of bread and a packet. The man was from First Christian and wanted to thank me for visiting. The man was Garry Hesser, who is a member here. I was invited to enter a relationship and decided to take up the invite. I would remember later on having conversations with Garry and Martha Harris over tea as we talked about the nature of God.

God is not calling us to duty; God wants us to be in realtionship with God and with each other. God is about having tea with friends and sharing our lives. We are invited to the Table. Come to the Table. Be yourself. Feel free to invite others. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The painting is called The Trinity, by Andrei Rublev.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Here Am I...Send Me?

I get to preach this Sunday.

The Senior Pastor, Bob, is away so, I'm up at bat. It's interesting that one of the passages that I will preach on is Isaiah 6:1-8, than ends with the words, "Here am I...send me."

Those words are also part of the famous hymn, "Here I Am Lord."

What's fascinating in that passage is how the writer felt "unclean" and not able to do what God was asking of them.

That sounds so familiar.

In the year since I was diagnosed with Aspergers, I've realized there are certain things that I can't do, like be a Senior Pastor. There have been times I've wondered if someone with Aspergers could even be a pastor, but I've decided that God tends to call some strange people to do God's work, so I've decided to stick around.

But then I wonder about other things. First Christian is at an odd place in its history where it is trying to transform itself. We are trying to find ways to see more people enter our doors. I'm always brimming with crazy ideas, and starting an alternative worship service has been in the back of my mind. In some ways, that would be old territory to me, since that's what I did back during the Community of Grace days. But then I remember why Community of Grace didn't do so well...because you need someone that can sell it and be the social butterfly and because of the Aspergers, I am not that. Yeah, put me in front and I can plan a good service, but to tell others about it? That doesn't work out so well.

But then in the Isaiah passage, God asks one of the angels to come by and place a hot coal on the tounge of the writer making him clean and able to say "Here I am, send me." Maybe I just have to trust that God will help me do my task. It might come in the form of someone who is a good with people who can team up with me. Who knows.

It reminds me again, that I just have to be faithful and realize that things are all on me. God can use my skills and gifts (if using Twitter and Facebook can be considered gifts) and can use someone else to use their skills of socializing for God's purpose.

Being an aspie means there will always be things I can't do as well as others. But with God all things are possible and God can use me, the way I am, to fulfill God's purpose.

So, God: Here I am...send me.