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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Can You Hear Me Now?


 
Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23
One of the things that my family enjoys doing together is attending college football in the fall. My daughter Sydney is probably already counting down the days. A scene that comes to mind when I think of today’s scripture happened to us in College Station before an Aggie game. In the pre-game busyness with thousands of people gathering outside the stadium, a brave student had positioned himself atop a post and was loudly proclaiming his religious beliefs. Few if any in the crowd paid attention – my immediate assumption is that he was condemning our pre-game activity or even football – so along with the crowd, I moved on to my tailgating, not hearing a word this man said.
To some – the young man on the post was the sower from the parable, spreading seeds as broadly as possible without concern that the soil was appropriate to receive his message. I would have been the rocky ground that did not receive the seed. Ouch! How often do we feel like this man on the stump with nobody listening or like the crowd trying to hear the right story in Jesus’ parable from a boat? Yet even in the muck and distraction, this is how and who Jesus shares his story with.
 
Throwing seed out across the entire crowd is not how we prepare crops today or how we send a message. Crops are carefully tilled in rows of fertilized, watered soil. When we prepare a message and want to reach people today, we tend to do extensive preparation. For example if we are trying to recruit people for VBS, a class or a new outreach of the church – we wouldn’t just yell into the congregation. We would pick the best medium for our message, consider the target audience – do we need to send it via hard copy newsletter or email, posters on the foyer bulletin board/ easel or fancy video on a monitor, webpage updates or Facebook, a phone call or a Text or even a Tweet or Snap.

Then if we hit the right medium, what does it take for people to listen to us? First we have to catch their attention. In the parable, we have Jesus in a crowd. It was so large that he moved to a boat so that they could hear. I have some trouble still imagining how the crowd would have heard over waves, restless bodies around them and with no amplification at all. Telling a parable in that setting would be hard enough even with modern conveniences to amplify voices. Jesus is said to have told parables sitting with the crowd around him. The distractions would have been many around the boat.

Likewise, there are many things competing for our attention in the world today. The average working American receives 121 emails per day. In 2013 (Kenneth Burke Text Request), the average number of texts sent and received per day by American adults 18 to 45 was 85 – this means that on average two years ago there were 561 billion text messages in America per month! And these are just two of the ways we receive information. Ed Crow Marketing estimates that Americans are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day. The amount of information to process and what to choose to pay attention to is astounding. Then what do we embrace and take action on?
 
How do we grab attention – a tickler or teaser? Without a cool story – have I already lost you here? The online story that says – “you won’t believe what happens when…” The catchy headlines on the magazine cover to pull you into the issue. In a world that is accustomed to this dazzle, do we lose the thread more easily? So we succeed in catching attention. But is it enough – are we listening? Are we truly invested if the message is not what we expect, takes too long or simply isn’t catchy?

We hear so much today about Fake News. How is it possible for a person to create a company whose whole purpose is selling advertising by attaching it to news that people want to hear? Are we so driven by fear that we will lose control or that what we think of as bad will happen that we would rather only hear good – even if it is a lie? This adds a whole other complexity in listening. I tend to be skeptical enough – now that is multiplied. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t - has someone measured or gauged my habits to feed me what they assume I want to hear?

This isn’t as unique to our day and age as we might think. In translating the New Testament from its original Greek, there are many version to select from. My seminary professor went into elaborate detail on the authenticity and research put into which bible manuscripts have been discovered across time, and how do we determine which of those are real! Over time, scholars have agreed on which are more likely those closest to what the original author intended. My professor did say that sometimes it just comes down to a judgement call when two seemingly reliable sources have differing translations. Her advice was to take the one that is more challenging. – the translation that makes it harder on us. She justified this by saying that the early copyists would have seen what they thought surely must be an error and corrected a word or even just one letter giving us sometimes drastically different meanings in scripture. She said that Jesus parables specifically were challenging and usually not what the listener expected Jesus would say, not involving the accepted crowd or ending the way that was culturally correct. In his own home town Jesus was not heard because the lens through which people heard him was that of familiarity – they expected to hear one thing so didn’t really listen or even begin to understand.

Are we listening to each other? When we have conversations with a close friend we haven’t seen in a while, are we both so excited to share our news that we simply don’t hear what our friend has to say. Recently I got a call from a close friend while on Bluetooth with a passenger in the car. After the conversation ended, the passenger in my car remarked that on the phone we were both talking over each other so much that he didn’t understand how we heard anything that the other was saying. Whether the distraction is a crowd and boats or technology and information overload, how well do we listen?

As I was preparing this sermon, I was reading through my commentary to see what others had to say about the parable. I was almost to the end of one that had suggestions on how to preach the message. I had switched over to skimming toward the end – you know once you think you know what something says and are done with it. And, I knew that I was not taking the same approach. That simply wasn’t what this parable said to me. Then, my eye caught the credit at the end. It was by a friend and mentor who is now president of Austin Theological Seminary, The Reverend Ted Wardlaw. I paused, went back and read the whole article more closely – still chose to take a different approach, but based on who had written it, I took it more seriously. Who do we listen to more? Is it only the people we agree with – are we in the bubbles that you hear so much about in media? The algorithms in social media that feed back to us what we already agree with reinforce that we already know what we need to and that we are correct in our beliefs. Do we read the bible this way – picking and choosing our favorite verses that reinforce the beliefs we hold dear, or do we read the verses that challenge or even condemn us?

How do we share our stories and hear God’s story, Jesus’ story in the distracting muddle of our world? Listening is hard, important work. We have to take care to not be taken in by the hucksters. It is a careful balance of staying informed and using our brains in our faith while expecting the unexpected from our extraordinary God. We must remember that God is with us in the midst – we need to look one another in the eye, pause to listen, question in love not cynicism. Hear one another. Hear without an agenda, loosen pre-conceived notions, really listen even when you disagree.

 Despite all to overcome this is a story of hope – a call to action. Even the few can make a huge difference. This story is positioned between two other instances of Jesus not being received, discipleship being rejected. Yet this doesn’t deter Jesus from continuing to tell his story. There were false prophets and people out to make money at the expense of others from the earliest of times. Jesus doesn’t end with the idea that 2/3 of the seed will die quickly or not be received. Jesus instead tells a story that ends with abundance. The soil that does produce the harvest would normally have produced sevenfold is said in this parable to have produce 30, 70 even 100 fold. This was amazing abundance – extravagant bounty. So, keep sharing the story, hold onto hope. God can and will work miracles beyond our careful analysis, dreary projections and expectation. God is far more powerful than a cell network that measures grids and carefully tries to connect the world. This table is much more amazing than a cell network and has been connecting people to God’s story for centuries. At the table of God, in the amazing mystery of God’s love, we are all connected and share the feast.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Bring a Sword

Well, the Lenten sermon series was not named the Tough Sayings of Jesus because it was simple. This is probably one that I struggle the most with because of my more pacifist nature. I wouldn't say I am exactly conflict avoidance oriented, but I think that often there are peaceful ways to co-exist with those with whom we have major disagreements. I follow a Christ who said to turn the other check. I have heard the lesson to turn swords into plowshares. What about worshipping the Prince of Peace? How can the Matthew 10:34 text be so contrary to everything I have come to believe about Jesus and God?

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

I am adamantly opposed to the idea of some Old Testament God who was different until Jesus came along and tamed things. And, wait this is Jesus talking!! Perhaps this text is challenging in the very face of the idea that our God is not tame, predictable, or always peaceful. Christianity does bring peace and comfort to those who need solace, but I think for many of us who are too comfortable - what it brings is the opposite. I have preached many a sermon where I have looked at congregants afterward and said, "If you are comfortable as you leave the sanctuary today, I haven't done my job - or you just weren't listening.

And, I don't exclude myself from that message. I think that the best example for me is the bullies in our schools, offices and larger communities today. How often do they railroad those who are weaker, make people feel stupid or create a sense that someone is not worthy? How often do we overlook bully tactics and not stand up to them in order to not 'rock the boat'?

Society is so polarized today that we don't sit and truly listen to one another. We don't take the time to disagree in a civil fashion. We resort to 'us and them' with one side obviously evil and wrong. And, in doing so we lose so much. Yet, who is the voice for the marginalized, for the one being bullied? Too often it is easier to not get involved. When is it my Christian responsibility to stand up and be the champion  - to pull out my sword?

The sword does not have to be a literal physical weapon or a remote fluffy metaphor. In some cases the written or spoken word is the most powerful sword. Our society today could use some pruning work with these swords. Jesus is calling us to just that - calling each of us to weld our swords. No, I am not creating a special topiary for elite. I am talking about beginning to hold people accountable to how they treat others. This bully-type behavior crosses demographics and starts innocently. Unfortunately rich and poor alike as well as everyone in the middle are susceptible to such behavior. It begins with just one little instance that seems minor enough that we can tolerate it. One little thing that doesn't seem to do too much harm. That doesn't impact me or my family directly. We can tolerate that. Until it grows, until it spreads. Until, we can't. Perhaps we have turned a blind eye for too long on the tiny instances to the point where abuses have mounted up out of control.

I have read many books on the Holocaust that from my perspective read years after the event make me wonder how the people couldn't have seen what was going on, how one little freedom or right or privilege at a time was taken away. How could THEY have stood by and watched while the atrocities mounted? One bit at a time until it was a steamroller with too much power to stop. But who is this THEY who allow this to happen?

We, we are THEY. WE are in this together putting Christ above family, called to a higher relationship. We are called to action to write, speak and act for the integrity and respect for all peoples. This is not easy - I guarantee that few of us are completely non-biased to a group that we have a blind eye regarding. As we go about our lives through this season of Lent, take a look at the people you come into contact within your routine, in your commute or neighborhoods, even those we see on news. Whose voice is being suppressed? How am I called to not keep the peace but rock the boat? Respect and love of neighbor demands that we not always lead with peace. When are we as Christians obligated to draw our swords?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Get Behind Me Satan

Matthew 16:21-28

At Preston Hollow PC, this Lent, we are studying together some of the tough sayings of Jesus. We began with the saying "Get Behind Me Satan". This blog includes my thoughts on this passage as seen in Matthew's gospel. This statement was addressed from Jesus to Peter and the disciples immediately after the first passion prediction. I found particular insight and value in these challenging words on two fronts. I struggle with how I envision Satan, and how can Peter go so quickly from being the rock of the church, the very foundation, to a stumbling block in the way of Jesus?

I personally don't believe in a Satan that is personified. I can't because that would place a secondary god-like figure in opposition to God. To me the entity of Satan is those who stand in Jesus' way. It takes the Greek satana interpreted as adversary. But perhaps this is where the text gets 'tough' for me. Are we all in the role of satana alongside Peter? I tend to think maybe, or even likely, we are. When we are the best intentioned we use the scripture to justify conclusions we have already reached in our lives. When we think we have it all figured out, we stand the most between the least of these and the Word.

But if Satan is perceived as evil embodied, isn't this too strong a description for us or for Peter when we are in the way? I think I am in the way far too often and cringe to think that I am satanic rather than a true disciple of Christ. So I turn to Peter.

How often are we off charging down a path we have determined and not following Christ and what Jesus would have us do in the world today? How often is my way easier or less embarrassing? I truly think that Peter spoke out of care for Jesus. But maybe he also spoke out of fear - what do you mean you have to suffer? I chose to follow you; this isn't where I thought the messiah would lead me!

Our challenge is to follow Jesus and not put ourselves out front. How can I work in this Lenten season to step aside from the driver seat long enough to see who I am following? How can we follow Jesus more authentically without our own agendas?

God is capable of things beyond our wildest imaginings - even working in spite of us, in spite of all our good intentions and things we have 'figured out'. Our God is an amazing God - one who doesn't excuse us but will continue to work alongside us and will continue to rebuke and challenge us when we sell Christianity short or try to make it about us. As we journey in Lent we must remember who it is we follow. Amen.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Room for a Miracle?


Mark 7:24-37

24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 I haven’t always been a pastor. When I first told people that I felt called to ministry, the responses were varied. Some people just started to avoid me, others felt an invitation to a new friendship. Long-time friends who had worked many a late-night with me started apologizing for cussing in front of me. At my MBA reunion with all the talk of who was climbing the business ladder to success fastest, who had the right salaries, I could stop a conversation the fastest when I answered the question – 'What are you doing now?' with my answer - “I’ve gone back to graduate school to be a minister.” – silence, uncomfortable looks, time to refresh our drinks….

 Mark's gospel presents people as real. They aren’t sugar coated. Disciples make mistakes or just don’t get it when taught by Jesus. All people in Mark’s gospel are presented as they are. And, this includes Jesus. If we see Jesus as human among us, then to be truly like us, he wasn’t some superhuman with no mistakes and no growth. Here Jesus makes a mistake – how insulting to call a little girl a dog? The Greek words aren’t the same as girl and dog but use belittling terminology for little girl and little girl dog. Dogs would not have been beloved pets but mongrels that were in the way, scavengers, most often to be kicked out of the way at important gatherings.

 But then Jesus listens when the woman responds. Jesus grows and moves toward making space for people. How does Jesus respond to the outsider? A SyroPhoenician woman? Not only is she from a country that would have been shunned and avoided, she is also described as Greek. This would have meant she was not Jewish. And, of course, she is - a SHE which would have made her considered unimportant in that day and time.

 So much of the bible is tied to context of what was going on in that culture, but Mark makes it easier to tie to our own culture. If you look at examples in Mark, the family and disciples often don’t understand what Jesus is saying or teaching. It is time after time the downtrodden or outcast who catches on and gets it. The religious experts, rabbis, disciples and the family are not presented in the best of lights by Mark. They are not open to others. They don’t make space especially not space for those outside their immediate circles of what and who is acceptable.

 Take a look at our world today. What has dominated our news this week? The latest Donald Trump quote, football scores, VMA winners. Yet, my friend Kerrybett Dodson who flies internationally brought home a different story and newspaper for her family. I’d like to share her words with you:

 “This is the truth of what's happening, whether America knows or not. Yesterday, on the front page of nearly every European newspaper, was the most gut wrenching photograph I've ever seen. It's the body of a precious toddler, 3 years old, washed up on a beach in Turkey. His name was Aylan, and he was a refugee from Syria.”

Aylan’s story has now gone viral on the internet, but it was not news we wanted to see. Kerrybett took the UK paper home for her high school son to see. She said that they both cried but, they had to see it no matter how terrible and heartbreaking it was. Kerrybett describes this as a picture we have to see. She continues: “This is the world, and what is happening in it. It speaks volumes about the human race, politics, policies, and what we can live with. As a Christian, I look to verses like Philippians 2:4. "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take interest in others, too." We are to look out for our brothers, everyone we share this planet with. We must.”

 Since she wrote this, we have had more in our news about the tragedies impacting misplaced families, Syrian immigrants. Social media shrinks our world. In this case, it made it almost impossible to ignore. Yet, a brief scroll of our news yesterday tended to place the immigration crisis second or third in importance. News is reported by what gets attention, our responses. How do we respond? How do we not feel numb and helpless when faced with atrocities about which we feel unable to impact?

 Our Christian faith calls us to action. What are we called to in our world today? Look at the people directly in front of you. Start with them. Despite his first instinct being that the woman at his feet wasn’t in his circle, Jesus opens up and responds with a miracle. Jesus on hearing the words of the foreign outcast woman realizes that this is indeed what God is about. Such response is no less what we are called to – open up and listen to the outcast and ostracized around us.


Jesus was weary, he wanted to get away and relax. He probably was human just like you and me in the feeling of being overwhelmed. As Reverend Charlene Han Powell puts it, “Maybe Jesus was even grumpy and sarcastic at this point.” Yet Christianity is all about relationship. Our faith is strongest when it is exercised on behalf of others. In our lives and in this story today, the stranger and outsider has power over us. We can learn from them. They have perspectives that can challenge, enlighten, and move us in new and different ways.


We need to look around us – to our homes, schools, communities and even around the world. Who needs us? How do we use what is at hand to be the body of Christ in the world today? When we go about our daily routine and feel like there isn’t room to pack in any more, when we watch the fluff news or read the easy story, stop. Follow the example of Jesus who just wanted a break but couldn’t escape the crowds. Pause and realize that this is how we honor God in our midst – seeing Him in the eye of a stranger.
 
Start by making space for others in the simplest of ways and grow toward making space for those who are different in oh so many ways – rather than shutting down when we see the different, honor God by walking in the footsteps of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

 Respond with miracles. Praise God – worship God by making space for others. Do you have room for a miracle? Amen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Season of Epiphanies

You never know where that inspiration is going to come from; you never know which random thought or action is going to send you off on a tangent for the whole day. Or, perhaps that tangent is meant to be the main path and (because we resist or don't even see it) we are nudged toward it. In this season of epiphany, surprise, revelation - discovery is the name of the game. Where do we learn astonishing things? The profound? Where do we see Jesus in our lives? Or as Karoline Lewis put it in her Epiphany Expectations article, maybe it isn't about us discovering God but about God discovering us. I think maybe that could be taken further to say God helping us discover ourselves first.

My friend Deirdre Wilson posted to Facebook this morning that the eskimos have 100 words for snow yet there is no word for missing a child. Not one. My heart aches but can come nowhere close to her pain of losing a daughter. There are no words. The Nigerians face slaughter of untold proportions, and we can't even imagine the horror of so many deaths. Yet our media is dominated by football and the horror is barely a byline. There are no words. We gasp at beheadings and terrorists and are quick to point the finger, yet reports recently tell of our own CIA tortures. We barely discuss it and quickly move on. There are no words.

We have mostly put away our Christmas decorations, and in this season, some are still hanging on working to have God being more fully in their lives this year. How do we live up to resolutions and try to be better? Are we doing this for God, or is it a fad? Are we truly looking for something deeper? If Jesus were to come along today and reach out to us to drop everything and follow Him, would we do it?

I think a sad look at our words tells us that we would not. Where are the words? Our actions speak, but our words have power. Look at the power of the French to stand up for freedom of those very words. Millions moved to protect that precious voice. But how are we using that voice in the world today?

So often we try to hide or shut down when words become too hard. God gently follows us no matter what. Jesus came to disciples through the locked doors in love. Muslem leaders lately have given voice that this terrorism is not Islam, not what their faith is meant to be, even suggesting that Mohammed would have reviled the murders of journalists more than he would the satire they had produced.

We are a confused and weak people. We can't put down our trivial to embrace and recognize our weakness. Give us courage to support one another and move this world to a place where no child dies before a parent, no community lives in fear of annihilation and words are support, not weapons.

What is God revealing to us in this season about ourselves? How do our hearts learn to speak? Maybe it's not about the profound but learning to put one foot in front of the other and living day-to-day. Reaching out a hand, being their with one another. Slowly, slowly allowing our hearts to create the words, to learn to speak our pain and vulnerability. To learn to speak in reaching out when that might hurt too. Oh God give us the words! Amen.

In memory of Nicole - whose smile embodied words straight from the heart.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Why?

I am not going to relate this blog to a specific scripture, but instead will worry a bit with the idea of living in the gray areas of our faith. The study group in which I participate had a lively discussion about why Jesus seems so often to answer the questions he is asked with another question or with a parable.

Doesn't this just cause problems, some asked. Doesn't it add a great potential for misdirection, asked another. And then the opposing view - that this approach just adds to the beautiful mystery and spirituality of our faith. I fall somewhere between the two extremes of responses.

I truly believe that Jesus answered us in parables not to be confusing but to enable and encourage us to use our brains in our faith lives. Rather than just giving cut and dried answers, God expects us to grow through mature reflection, study and wrestling with faith questions.

For me the givens are God's grace and love for all. Beyond that, I take comfort that my faith can change and grow with me. I can be wrong but move on later when I figure it out. I am assured by the grace and forgiveness of God. It is also comfortable to not be expected to be perfect. Cut and dried laws left humans in a lurch because we are incapable of living up to them. Gray area leaves room for change and learning from our errors.

A God that can fit in a box and be defined with a ruler and measures of human ability to communicate is a limited God. A God that so desires to be in relationship with us that the discussion remains open can be frustrating but is so much more. More than the parent who always says "Because I said so..." in answer to the every query.

God demands of us to work it out - and to work it out together. We muddle along, but I think that we learn so much more by the experience. And, we grow closer to one another at the same time as growing closer to God.

If instead of parables, we had been given a list, would the list have been the amazing reading that we have today in the collection of stories that is the Bible? Would it have been relevant across the years to the depth that we find in the many stories and parables Jesus shared?

So how do we live faithfully into the gray? We constantly challenge ourselves with 'why?' and, we hold one another accountable to the 'why?' And, if we ever think that we have it figured out to such a degree that I am right and you are wrong about faith - we need to take a really hard look at our answers. The biggest error of all is imagining that we have it all figured out. And it is a red flag if we are adamant more about another being wrong than the tenets we hold dear.

God is beyond our full comprehension, and I take comfort in that. But I take comfort that God is with us in scripture, through one another and through the Holy Spirit helping us maneuver in the gray of our lives. Each moment is enriched if it is valued and explored with integrity, love and grace for all.

Shalom,
Laura

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Change Agent


Romans 12:1-8
Why was Paul writing to the Romans? The Pauline letters make up a large portion of the New Testament. They are letters that Paul wrote to the various communities he had visited offering advice, correction and greetings to the churches he had formed in those locations. This letter to the Romans is thought to have been written from Corinth when he thought he was going to visit Rome and use it as a new base for expanding his ministry into Spain.
Paul was offering advice regarding how a Christian should live. To Paul, a new time had come after Jesus’ resurrection. In this messianic time, The Kingdom of God was begun among us, being worked out by us and was to come. That this had started therefore called upon us to respond by leading changed lives. The old righteousness and wisdom should be completely thrown out – replaced with that of God, the wisdom and righteousness that are given to us not earned. The old ways are the ones where we trust what we have been taught and how we know things are supposed to work. With our own sweat and effort, we can make the changes needed, we can solve the problems. We are to replace that thinking, replace what we think we know with the ways of Christ. True change and wisdom is only found through God not our own efforts at independence and self sufficiency.
We are to be a living sacrifice – instead of dedicating all our efforts for self gain, we to serve and put our efforts toward God. The letter continues that this is our spiritual worship. We are to be transformed so we can discern what is God’s will – what is good, acceptable and perfect. Whoa, a living sacrifice, transformed with a renewed mind and now figuring out what is perfect. Paul has some steep expectations.
Where do we even start with how to follow the guidance of this letter? A huge challenge, but I think as Presbyterians, some of the words here are very comforting. We are not to leave our minds at the door but to renew our minds, discern – or think about what God wants. In the next sentence of this scripture, some form of the word think is used four times with nuances that are tricky to carry from Greek to English. Suffice it to say that Paul is not going to spoon feed us what we should specifically do but expects us to know how to work together as the body of Chris for a transformed community.
How do we begin to do this in society today? I think that there are special gifts in the art of transformation. It often seems easier for them to influence other to action and change. So often these are politicians, movie stars and musicians. But not always.
Does anybody know who Chris Kennedy is? He is a professional golfer in Sarasota Florida. Ring any bells? His wife’s cousin has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS – he accepted the first ice bucket challenge from his golf swing coach and created a video to encourage his relative. This was around July 27 - by Aug 22 the challenge had raised more than $53.3 million! (Editorial note - by Sept 8 had raised over $100 million and climbing) This wasn’t the first challenge relating to cold water – polar bear challenges have been issued for years. What is it about this person’s actions that were different? Chris’ wife’s youtube video meant to encourage a sick relative went crazy – beyond their wildest imaginings. The Muscular Dystrophy Association has its annual fundraiser coming up labor day – last year they raised about 61 million yet they have seen almost that same amount for ALS with ice buckets.
How did this come about? Is it all social media? I think that a big part of it is intention. Chris Kennedy didn’t call it the Kennedy Challenge, nor did he have expectations of his own popularity or gain. What does it mean in modern vernacular for something to go ‘viral’? It means that like a virus, the particular news, story or trend can’t seem to be stopped. Wherever people are connected, it is being passed along. That is what transformation is all about. People use their brains to do something in service of others. Then, through our interconnectedness. Through that unique web of relationships, the transformation becomes possible.
It is no coincidence that Paul continues in the following verses about the importance of the gifts – each person having something to contribute to the whole with none standing any higher or lower in a scale of importance. By ourselves, we are nothing – we are what we are in relation to Christ and we are defined by that relationship and the relationship we have to the body of Christ – to one another.
So here we sit in relationship together and we might conclude that worship is adequate with the liturgy, preaching and music we do together in this room. While that is not wrong, Paul meant so much more. Worship is what happens in community as we live out faith by serving one another outside these walls. It is what we do with the rest of our week. It is all about community as we live out our faith by serving one another to build up the body of Christ. Our worship is not measured by what happens on only Sunday mornings.
It is things like we did yesterday – coming together with our neighbors. Pooling the resources around us, calling upon friends, raising awareness. Improving the lives of the children and families next door – with a vaccination or with just a smile. The Health Fair is definitely one way St. Barnabas worships together.
The challenge is to not just stop there and develop an apathy for what we think we can’t change. When we start to get overwhelmed – and all you have to do these days is pick up a newspaper or watch an update – the solution isn’t to allow ourselves to become numbed. The solution is not to think our voices aren’t important or large enough. I’m only human – what can I do. That is a poor excuse. We are humans created in God’s image and gifted in amazing ways to work together for transformation of the world around us to grow ever into God’s Kingdom exhibited here on earth in our midst.
I am always amazed what happens in churches when push comes to shove. Somehow the impossible often seems to shrink and become manageable. The trick to being a change management expert is to find your strengths – your gifts. Offer them to the whole. You will be amazed at the results. After all – who would have thought that a game of pouring a bucket of ice over your head would result in millions of dollars raised to battle a devastating disease.
In researching texts for a study with young adults, I ran across a book that encourages us to each embrace our quirks, own our weirdness. In the interconnectedness with the world, part of us being open and able to be transformed is that the very things we might belittle or not value are gifts from God and may turn out to be the talent that is needed for the next important change. Being a living sacrifice and transforming our minds means we become the change agents for the world. Each agent tied together in a complex web – through our relations in this group or through our connections at home, or even through the internet. The ALS challenge has gone viral, part of the catch is much like the chain letters of old. Once taken, the person who is facing the challenge doesn’t do so alone but brings in two or three others to join the effort – I challenge you – oh don’t worry, I am not bringing out the ice in the sanctuary, but I am calling us to remember the welcoming waters of our baptisms and to whom we belong. I challenge you to accept with me Paul’s call for us to be transformed and explore where our gifts meet the world’s need today to bring God’s justice to all. Amen.