Thursday, January 31, 2013

Are You Going to Answer That?

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Here we are in a society that is more connected than ever before. Already this morning, I have read news from around the world, polished off my work communications from various team updates in e-mail, confirmed a doctor appointment and checked out the latest social news from friends on Facebook. It is only 9:30, but I have sent and received texts as well as making a couple of calls. We reach out with the touch of a button or even with a verbal prompt through blue tooth while driving. Yet, ask anyone how they hear God's call in their life - very few of us seem to be blessed with a sense of clarity in this.

The words of Jeremiah are familiar but frightening if we really ponder them closely. "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you." God had something in mind for Jeremiah. Does God have something in mind for us? Even if it isn't this same grandiose message from a voice to pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to build, how do we listen to God? How do we know that we are following the direction  in our lives that we are called to follow? How do we even know that there is an intended direction?

Let's just start right now with - I don't have the answers to these questions, but they are worth pondering! I think that a good hint from minds greater than mine is the positioning of scripture with other texts in the recommended lectionary that so many of our churches use. It is helpful to me to see this story of Jeremiah's call partnered with I Corinthians texts about how of all the gifts, the greatest is love. No matter what gifts we have, if they are not partnered with love, they are worthless.

So, am I followng a call? Am I listening to God in my daily life? Is God involved? I believe that we are all called to use our gifts, and the how is the hint of love overriding. How do we listen? I sometimes think that it must have been easier back in the day when God spoke from a burning bush or when obvious voices helped out by telling prophets what to do. But,then I look at Jesus with the disciples in Mark. He spoke to them in parables. Stories so that they had to listen and use their brains to know what was beng said to them. And, even they didn't always get it!

So, we need to be listening. Pay Attention NOW! God knows each of us intimately but does not take away the free will to live our lives as we want - mistakes, triumphs, bigotry, love, service, egocentricity, fear, confidence, all of it. To me this is comforting and frightening. I can't hide from God, yet the comfort is that I don't have to. Take praying in front of people - We get nervous when asked to do this depending upon who we are in front of. Yet - we have the words. God hasn't literally touched our mouths like Jeremiah, but the Holy Spirit is woven around and through us in such a way that the words don't matter - the intent does. My most clumsy of words are sometimes the most moving and powerful because they are genuine.

But, you might say - you haven't said how we will know or even if God has a direction for us. I believe that God has an overall plan for us - but I do not believe that that plan is specific like we picture a step-by-step project plan. God doesn't dictate our every step or task but has an overriding goal. A goal for us to be in relationship with each other and with God. The plan is the furtherance of that relationship. The Holy Spirit is the thread by which we are woven together in a complex mystery of life, using our gifts to support one another and bring comfort and joy to all in their daily lives.

For each how we hear the call upon our lives is different. We may study, we may pray, we may exercise, we may enjoy nature, we may work with others. Often for me, God's call comes through the words of others no matter their intent. God speaks to us throughout our lives in many ways. Look with new eyes - let love guide our direction with confidence. Answer the call.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Preaching to the Home Team

Luke 4:14-21

I am a frequent user of Facebook, but it has one major drawback (Same is true of blogging!). The message is generic to all your 'friends' at once. Let's face it, we wear many different hats. I am a mom, a wife, a volunteer, an associate pastor, a friend, ... the list goes on. In telling the same story, we would use different words depending upon which of these hats we were wearing at any given time.On Facebook, we only get one shot at phrasing things, and if our peers and our parents, our co-workers and our boss, our children and ... well you get the idea. If the different audiences see it.

There is always that awkward moment when we realize we have said things in a way that we wish we could rephrase for the current listener. The internet doesn't give us that capability. Each person will read something and pickup a different nuance. Yet the same is true when we hear things taught, spoken and preached.

In this Luke text, Jesus has begun his ministries, although Luke doesn't give us detail before now. Luke just says Jesus had been preaching and was praised by everyone. Jesus gets up and cooperatively reads the Isaiah text, but then he sits down. All eyes turn expectantly for more. They get a one-liner. "Today this scripture has been fulfilled."

Ummm, we have heard great things, but we are a 'show me' people. Today's text ends with this line at a point that seems like an awkward break midway through the story. Yet, perhaps this will help us with the emphasis that this was Jesus' message. It didn't need more. He is here in our midst now. He doesn't need more. The expected has been fulfilled.

We too often try to grandstand or fill with words the simple that can't be described. We try to glorify God with big mysterious words. We try to be a better self for an audience we want to impress. We don't have to be someone different to fill the bill. We don't have to do better for one audience versus another. And, Jesus was human in our midst without any grandstanding. The simple truth of this is fulfilled - the Spirit of the Lord annointed Jesus who came in our midst. The Holy Spirit remains in our midst.

When we pray, study and talk, we shouldn't have to find special words to talk about God. God knows our thoughts and hearts. God is with us in our homes and home towns. We don't have to go into a church and invite God into our midst - God is already there! Here! Now! Our lives and everyday words don't have to be dressed up.

Too many of us spend way too much time trying to measure up, to be good enough - not just for the Jones or the expectations of our friends, but for God too. Even when our words mess up, God is working through us. God's message will get out! We hear in Corinthians more about the many gifts. We all have them, and even if we aren't intentionally directing them to God's service, the Holy Spirit can and does use each of us.

We speak to one another every day. Think less of the audience and how you want to be perceived and more of the message and what you want to spread in the world and at home. Respect, gentleness, service - these are the things that Jesus taught us to spread rather than the messages one might expect of kingliness, grandeur at a remove from the dirt of the everyday. Take care with words and actions to serve and further the kingdom in our everyday together but not to try to clear a bar or fill a scorecard of needed actions.

The message is fulfilled, take heart, God is with us today.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gallons of Wine

John 2:1-11
And on the third day, Jesus changed water into wine. Woo-hoo, time for a drink. But, but, but - the pastor in me says. This is just wrong. Why in the world is Jesus' first miracle in the Gospel of John about wine and saving face for a couple at a wedding feast. This isn't life or death, this isn't a healing or the radically anti-norm social statement that I have come to expect from Jesus. This is just an embarassment of lack of proper planning for the family of the bride.

However, after discussion with several friends and a Wednesday morning Bible study, I wonder. Is that not the point? Isn't the point that Jesus does work in the mundane and the everyday. Jesus can work with old vessels to bring joy to our everyday lives. No matter the setting. One of love where the snitty politics of social setting threaten to ruin the day and send the party away from us. A seemingly unimportant miracle is not only loaded with symbolism about the coming resurrection on the third day, but is also a reminder to us to find joy in the everyday normal routines of our lives. Let Jesus' miracles in.

We are not good at this. I am top of the heap of cynics often expecting the worst so that I will be happily surprised. Can we change our lives as we begin a new year? Can we begin to expect the miracle in the everyday? How about just looking for the joy. Whether we celebrate with parties and wine or in another way - how do we bring the joy of Jesus into our lives?

How do we bring joy into our worship? I think that joy is one of the last adjectives that many would think of when they ponder or describe Sunday morning worship. Yet, we claim "It is our greatest joy to worship God!" How can we claim this and then come in a somberly sit in pews in silence. Many worship differently, and more power to you. Maybe you have it right. Regardless, there is still something to be said for letting more joy in - the joyful feast should be a happy celebration of resurrection and Jesus' sacrifice for us.

As a Presbyterian in a traditional setting, perhaps I have the furthest to go in adding joy. But I am up to the challenge. If Jesus can 'waste his time' on a miracle to guarantee the party goes on no matter what vessels he has to use, then surely we can bring at least a little more joy into our daily lives and into our worship lives.

Look for the miracle, expect it, take joy in it!