Manuscript – Welcome |:| Genesis 18:1-8

Calvary Baptist Church – Denver |:| October 2, 2016 

One of my favorite memories to share about my grandmother, my Nonnie Belle, is how we would go over to her house when I was a child and she would just “whip” something up. This was not unusual for my grandmother to do, shower their loved ones with food and comfort. Nonnie Belle was a good southern woman so whipping up food for us would include dumplings made from scratch, cooked greens, and spareribs. Topped off with whatever pie she had made that morning, or my favorite her chocolate chip cookies. With these stories I share how my grandmother embodied the welcoming grace of God for me; she still does.

When I was in Bible college in Canada we had gone to my friend Amanda’s house for one of our breaks and upon our arrival we were all hugged and welcomed into the Drebert house has if we had been there countless times before. Amanda’s mom, Momma Drebert, taught me a different kind of hospitality; unlike southern hospitality where the guest comes in, sits, and is waited on fore all things had been thought of and prepared in advance as is expected of a proper southern host. Momma Drebert taught me that hospitality can mean welcoming friends of her daughters, whom she had never met, into her home and inviting us to join her completing dinner. I remember her telling us, “in this house we are all family and we all join in preparing for a meal.” It wasn’t in a chore capacity but a deeply warm invitation to take part in their family.

My Junior year of college I joined a group from my church on a trip to India; during our time in Jammu we were visiting a temple on the outskirts of town when we walked out of the temple we were greeted by a Baltic family. They graciously introduced themselves and answered questions we had about the village and the temple. As we were talking with them the husband invited our team of nine into their one room home. We found ourselves sitting shoulder to shoulder on the floor as they made us balti tea, a version of chai tea but with salted water. This family had invited strangers into their home with great ease and excitement and offered us a staple in their day, the simple-ness of tea.

Stories in Scripture call forth from my imagination the vivid hospitality of the woman with the alabaster jar, Ruth and Naomi, Zacchaeus, the woman who feeds Elijah.

God uses unexpected people who teach us the unexpected nature of hospitality in random corners and surprising courses in Scripture, and Abraham, in our text, today is no different. Abraham’s posture was not one that should have lent itself to hospitality and grace filled welcome. Before the text we read today we learn that Abraham had been circumcised as a grown man – an age where he was well aware of the pain of taking on the sign of covenant with God. What we consider relatively minor surgery today was not so minor in Abraham’s day. As he sat in the heat of day, we are told he looked out, possibly in a daze as he ponders how God will fulfill the recent promise of children mothered by Sarah.

If you have ever experienced a summer day in Georgia, Florida, Texas – really any coastal or bayou city – you know that in the heat of the day your mind can wonder and create vivid images of your dreams as the heat creates a haze filled mind.

Abraham sits recovering from the previous day’s events in the heat of the day when he looks up and sees three strangers coming his way. It would have been understandable had Abraham dismissed them as an exhausted daydream; his posture was certainly not that conditioned to readily welcome strangers into his tent.

Yet Abe jumps up and moves with haste to greet these three strangers. As they are face to face he humbly invites them to extend grace and stay. Healing and exhausted, Abraham moves to Sarah and instructs for three cakes, to servants he instructs the preparation of his best calf he brought in. We hear of a posture of lavish welcome from Abraham to these three passersby.

These strangers appear seemingly out of nowhere; at least the text does not note it. They come into the tent, settle in and are willing to enter into Abe’s world for a period of time. This section and those following in Genesis focused on the importance of welcoming and moving towards Spirit guided hospitality.

Since Bible College I’ve come to see in scripture a difference between hospitality described in stories like our text today and what our culture has come to know as hospitality. Often when someone is described as hospitable today we mean someone who has a willingness to host, feed, and entertain guests – often with people they know. But if they do this with people they don’t know there is a sense of great awe. It is not a normal practice for us today. The key thing I noticed about biblical hospitality is it often happened between strangers, not those people already knew and were comfortable with. In examining the original meaning of the word hospitality I learned there isn’t an exact translation. From the Greek translation of Scripture the term we know as hospitality is a combination of two words; Philao, meaning brotherly love, and Xenos, meaning stranger or immigrant. Essentially biblical hospitality means love the stranger in the way you would love your own brother … a little deeper and challenging than our cultural expression of hospitality.

Our cultural hospitality is rooted in biblical hospitality; acknowledging it is more common to welcome those we know or friends of a friend –yet welcoming them; hosting them and serving them. This is certainly a branch of God’s welcoming nature created in us.

A nature expressed in this community of faith quite well; when people worship with us the first time and are genuinely welcomed through our greeters, our bread makers, and conversations held in the Narthex as an extension of worship. Calvary you welcome people well. It is one of the main things I hear from people experiencing our community for the first time. I’ve also heard you all ask us pastors if we know where a newcomer has been if you haven’t seen them in a few weeks or if there are ways to connect to each other to make sure you all are doing well.

It makes sense then, why the theme of welcoming underpinned so many of the conversations and writings the Vision 20/20 team heard from us. We are grounded in a welcoming Spirit and wish to grow in this spiritual practice. The beauty of the Spirit is She knows how to draw us into the vibrancy of spiritual growth by tapping into a natural rhythm already pulsing in our beings. Taking those rhythms and breathing courage and hope into us as we are able to receive it.

You see Abraham was not always a man with a posture of hospitality; remember this is the guy who out of fear for his own life pretended his wife Sarah was his sister and it resulted in her being in Pharaoh’s chambers for the night. He wasn’t perfect. He was a man who knew what it was to operate from fear and how to escape risk. We, too, know how to operate from fear and how to seek opportunities to avoid risk – hopefully not in the ways Abraham did … but we have our own Abraham moments, for we are living this life of discipleship and learning to dance with the Spirit more every day.

One of the ways we grow in our welcoming nature is to welcome the spirit of grace into our lives and relationships. Abraham grew in his relationship with God and found himself in a posture ready to receive the stranger, as he was guided by grace. As we move with the Spirit we are invited to practice this readiness; a readiness of looking for the stranger and being willing to invite them into our shared life together, whether it is convenient or not – and it will likely be less convenient than not.

This posture of learning who they are, and reciprocating with sharing our stories with them – creating holy ground between us as we learn the Divine reflection in them and them learning It in us. A shift from asking or expecting the stranger to join us by assimilating to our ways of life, and shifting to a synergistic connection – co-creating a new way of life together. The posture we glean from Abraham is that of being grounded in the unknown and discomfort in sharing life together. A life of hospitality is a beautiful hot mess of grace … grace binding our souls together as we stumble through the pains of coming to be community. Hospitality as we see it in Scripture is that of losing our individual focus for the focus of the Spirit of God, a focus on the wellbeing of the whole.

Calvary, we are capable of moving into this deeper sense of welcome. A desire clearly expressed by you all in our congregational and the passions and perspectives relational meetings. This is a desire that entwines with the hope of connecting across generational lines, opening pathways to know and align our spiritual gifts, allowing for trust to be built for the risk of spiritual formation to take place, and committing to doing this love bound covenant work of church.

Moving from discernment into implementation is always tricky. The process of discernment is tiresome and builds an anticipation that can be frustrating and slow. Take heart, the steps into and exploring what we have discerned together is one of humble courage. When it comes to our responding to the Spirits nudgings to search more branches of welcome progressively embrace the examples of biblical hospitality.

When we don’t wish to live out this kinship love of the stranger, when this work is too raw and exhausting … rest in the grace of those who have made the way for us.

In times when I simply forget I am made in the Divine’s image which means I get to co-create the beauty of hospitality through the magnificent and the mundane, I lean into the embrace of my childhood memories of Nonnie Belle inviting us in with a lavish banquet of a common meal; I draw breath from knowing what it felt like to be invited to share in family practices by Momma Drebert; I dance with gratitude as I recall how I felt when a stranger welcomed into a Baltic family’s home.

The Spirit is one of abundance and has bestowed upon hospitality in an array of avenues. Draw strength from your personal experiences as we sink our roots into the Spirit’s calling and live into a hospitality where we build with the once stranger now neighbor, in how we do worship, structure our practices, share our meals, tell our stories, and develop our culture– a hospitality based in Being the Church.

A favorite author of mine, Enuma Okoro, discusses this weird and uncomfortable call to hospitality in this way – “try to live into the absurdity of church. Really it’s not normal. We do not naturally group ourselves with strangers who are different from us in so many visible and not so visible ways. We do not readily give up the things we want in order to provide for people we don’t know or even necessarily like. We do not give our time, resources, and privacy to just anyone. But that’s what church calls us to do and that’s why I have such a hard time with it.”

As we grow in what it means to be a congregation of welcome, know this – it will be beautiful, it will be messy, it will be hard and frustrating, it will be joyous and life-giving, it will be sacrificial, it will be humbling … it will be standing on holy ground for we are moving where the Spirit leads us.

Abraham stood on holy ground with three divine strangers, offering his spirit of readiness and allowing his healing to not keep him from welcoming them. We shall stand on holy ground as we move with the Spirit and further into this thing of loving the stranger in a KINdom way – as bumping of a journey it will be it will be a grace filled one.

Amen.

 

 

Manuscript – A Full Bodied Faith

Colossians 1:15-28 |:| A Full Bodied Faith

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; July 17, 2016

Why do we come to worship? The answer can be found in our text for today. The hymnic structure of Colossians teaches us of the cosmic Christ. The Christ born before all things; Christ whom all things were and are created through; Christ where all order is held within; Christ who contains all powers – earthly and angelic – in His lordship. Paul reminds us we are redeemed and reconciled through Christ.

We learn from Jewish wisdom and in the language of our text today that the universe was ordered by a benevolent God, and with humanity also being created in this manner, we possess within ourselves the capacity to sense and locate the “divine order.” Paul identifies the activity of the church as completing this mission in Christ for the entire world.

This knowledge of Christ and mission of the church pushes us beyond our doors and embraces the Christian experience in proclaiming the gospel as the fruit of faith, hope and love of their community. Given that Christ is the very structure of creation, to live in accordance with his gospel is to follow the grain of the universe. Thus, living in harmony with the gospel produces good works that bear witness to the divine order of all things in heaven and on earth.

We are joined together, all of us this sanctuary, to all created through the mystery of the cosmic Christ. So with this examination of our text, why do we come to worship? We come to worship to proclaim Christ. Seems simple enough, no? It would be if we all understood Christ the same way.

In the book “ A Generous Orthodoxy” Brian McLaren recalls the seven Jesus’ he has known in his life. McLaren recalls the Conservative Protestant Jesus, Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus, Roman Catholic Jesus, then how he understood the Eastern Orthodox Jesus, Liberal Protestant Jesus, and to the Anabaptist Jesus, and Liberation Theology Jesus.

It makes sense how McLaren has experienced seven understandings of Jesus and his teachings – when we grow in theology, are shaped by experiences, and are impacted by people in our lives our understanding of Jesus develops and shifts. I know for myself I have known the Roman Catholic Jesus, the Conservative Protestant Jesus, the Mennonite Jesus, and the Liberal Protestant Jesus – to name a few. Pieces of all of these understandings of Jesus have shaped how I engage my faith. Those of us here have a variety of understandings of Jesus.

Paul was writing to the Colossians from his understanding. In his book McLaren illustrates the complexity of proclaiming Christ, all the while reminding us the purpose of the church is to proclaim Christ, whatever that particular church understands Christ to be, it is meant to be proclaimed. That, too, can be complex, given our human need for certitude against the philosophical claim that all belief is relative and therefore subject to our individual whims or conceptions of the truth.

If we are to proclaim Christ and have varying understandings of Christ how can we come together to worship? How are we to come together as the Body of Christ when we don’t agree on all things? If I look around this country I can see how the Body of Christ is disjointed. What hope do we have to be reconciled?

According to Colossians this isn’t the first time the Body of Christ has been out of harmony. In verses 21 – 23 we learn the Colossians were estranged and hostile in mind – they were then reconciled by the Cosmic Christ. They were moved toward right relationships with early Believers through Christ. Sounds nice. Christ reconciles us and all is well, so what do we have to do … leave it to Christ and sit back?

Paul shares how his own experience has been a full body experience; recalling how he has suffered in his own flesh for the sake of proclaiming Christ and living out the gospel. Paul states how God commissions all of us to make the Word fully known, sharing the mystery has been revealed to the saints. That because Christ lives in us we are to use our full selves to live into the divine order issued by a benevolent God.

The work of the gospel includes being reconciled with ourselves to God; meaning we learn who we are. We work to learn our biases, wounds, gifts, privileges, talents. This can be hard, even painful work. Being conscious to all we are includes naming those who have harmed us, living through the cyclical emotions of healing, and moving to a place where those who harm us no longer have power over who we know ourselves to be.

The work of consciousness is a lifelong process as we continue to learn more of who we are and heal. It also means we don’t ignore or dismiss our skills or talents. The Body of Christ needs our skills and talents which can frighten us, because the spirit of God moving through us can surprise us in doing more than we could have ever imagined. Being reconciled within ourselves with God does not leave any portion of ourselves out – our full bodies are included in this journey.

Living into the divine order of a benevolent God includes pausing long enough to hear where those who disagree with us and where they are coming from. This can seem exasperatingly slow, pointless, or manipulative … perhaps that is only my experience.

If I’m being candid the work of learning how those who believe differently have come to their beliefs, and genuinely hear them, takes time because I need to listen and not be in a posture to wait to speak or wait for them to only finish. I need to hear them with the intention to understand them; that means more than one conversation. That means not limiting these conversations to a slot in my calendars but being guided by the openness of reconciliation.

It can feel pointless to me because at times I wonder why listening matters when there are people without adequate food, housing, income, or human rights. Listening can feel so trivial, but then I remember I perpetuate the “us/them” mentality that has aided the Body of Christ continuing to be disjointed when I don’t listen.

If I’m being transparent in these experiences of learning how others have come to their understandings of Jesus I have to check my motives; am I genuinely wanting to learn and find common ground OR am I waiting to prove my point and show how they are wrong?

Reconciling with other people is not easy or quick. It places our full selves on the line and takes all of you. Reconciliation does not mean we will agree fully with those we listen to; it does not mean during the process that those we hope to reconcile with will be open to dialogue; it can mean that common ground is found; and relationships replace the labels we give ourselves and others.   

If it were solely up to us this work of reconciliation would not happen. As Paul reminds us it is not us who does this work, but we who continue the work with Christ. It is Christ who moves through us as the head of the Body to reconcile all of us to him and to one another.

This work is exhausting and maddening more often than not. I mean look at the world, everyday we see how terrible things are! Acts of terror, shootings of cops and civilians, people who are homeless, people controlled by addiction, a society only known by labels. In an election year that intensifies our labels this work is terribly hard but remarkably necessary.

In a society that shares information in 140 characters, through likes, shares, and follows we need to reset ourselves to engage the slow work of learning others beyond the labels we see them to be  from one comment or post or conversation overheard passing through the narthex.

If we only see others as a label we miss who they are, we open ourselves to defend our fears and insecurities because labels can place us on the defensive. A benevolent God created the first of creation, the one who lived life – flesh and bones, sweat and tears – and taught us how to hear where others were coming from. Christ taught the disciples through word and deed.

Jesus didn’t ignore those who tried to prove him wrong, but spoke to them in truth and through story. When those who questioned him about his teachings he shared what it was to follow his teachings; if they didn’t want to follow he didn’t scorn them but let them on their way; if they did want to follow he shared life with them. More often than not Jesus called out injustice by bringing truth to the oppressors through questions rather than a diatribe to show how he was right.

We can learn from the full bodied faith of Jesus in ways to continue the work of the gospel. In ways to Proclaim Christ. If we don’t know who we are we miss out on the wholeness God is drawing forth from us. If we don’t work to learn how those who understand Jesus differently than us, we hear their beliefs and concerns as agendas, as opposition policy, as ignorant or pompous ideologies. Not all of us are ready for reconciliation with ourselves or others. That makes sense for this work draws out the pains and beauty in us and those we encounter.

All of this comes back to the purpose of why we worship. We worship to proclaim Christ. Fore you see the church of Jesus Christ does not exist for us. We, the Church of Jesus Christ exist for one reason: to proclaim Christ, the firstborn of all creation! This can scare some because it might sound exclusionary, but as our Colossians text enlightens us with repetitive language of all being included, and of earth and heaven taking part, we see the breadth and depth of how all of creation are included and invited into redemption through Christ.

This expansion of the baptismal formula found in Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 emphasizes worldwide community that surpasses all divisions based on ethnicity, gender, social class, or nationality. The reconciliation of the Body of Christ does not mean we erase our unique identities but rather that our differences no longer divide us but unite us in the beauty of God’s diverse image. This is possible because we are held together in the oneness of Christ.

We come to this place to worship Christ. We worship Christ because we are held together in Him, reconciled to all through Him. We leave this sanctuary to continue the gospel work of reconciliation. This is not passive work but work requiring all of ourselves – a Full Bodied Faith. Practicing the work of reconciling ourselves to God and to others. Practicing because we listen, learn, and  relearn about how we are healing and being brought to right relationships with those alike and different than us.

Support each other in this work. Learn each other’s stories. Allow those around you and yourselves to be more than societal labels. Ground your life in proclaiming Christ – in worship in this sanctuary and worship beyond these walls.

Leave here today and think about who you can engage this gospel work with. It could be someone in this congregation; a neighbor; a co-worker; it could even be a member of your family. As you take this step think of all you are bringing to the conversation – how does your body feel, what is running through your mind, are you open to the conversation.

Learning about who you are when you go to make this step will aid you in the work of reconciling yourself with God. The conversation might not be fun but remember the work of the gospel will try us and frustrate us, but Christ is holding you in the power of a benevolent God.

Learn who they are and where they come from. Realize reconciliation won’t happen after one conversation, but that it is a process. That their story teaches you how Christ is working in their lives. Turn to those you trust to encourage and support you in continuing the work of gospel reconciliation.

Through it all proclaim the Jesus you have come to understand. We proclaim Jesus and trust in the reconciling power of Christ. We can’t wait for all us to agree on our understanding of Christ before we worship Him together. It is through each conversation we worship Christ and we worship Christ proclaiming Him in this diverse body of believers.

Go. Listen. Learn. Be reconciled.

Amen.

 

Manuscript – Feast of Forgiveness

Joshua 5 and Luke 15 |:| Feast of Forgiveness

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; Mar 6 2016

Communion is one the greatest sacraments to me. It is constant. It is abundant. It is welcoming. It is a feast of the most pure nature. Communion reminds me we are forgiven and invited – perpetually received regardless of what has been before. Today’s readings both contain feasts that resemble the feast we will share in today.

The Old Testament reading from Joshua is significant – you see there had been no observance of the Passover feast during the 40 years in the wilderness. They had been nourished off of manna and quail.

The Lord had sustained the Israelites with food that was plenty for all to eat – no more and no less. As they journeyed through the wilderness they were fed with food that was not proper for observing the Passover meal.

The first generation to experience the first Passover had since died in the wilderness and now the next generation was being welcomed into the fold of practicing the Passover feast.

Before entering the land of Canna Joshua – the leader following Moses’ leadership – gathered the Israelites to make covenant with the Lord. Tradition had it that men had to be circumcised to observe the Passover and in order to set themselves apart from those outside the Israelite covenants with the Lord.

Joshua knew that having escaped the enslavement of the Egyptians and the Israelites wandering in the wilderness they would need to enter a covenant with the Lord before they were settled in Canna and opened themselves to temptation by the Canaanite gods.

The Israelites partake in the feast of Passover and the manna stops. The feast of their ancestors had been brought to life once again. The remembrance of God’s provision and forgiveness had been observed once again.

The New Testament reading is one of three stories offered to the Pharisees and Scribes about God’s character. The Pharisees and Scribes were questioning why Jesus was eating and associating with such Law breaking Jews, tax collectors, and prostitutes.

The first of the three parables offered to their inquiries is the story of the lost sheep and leaving the 99 sheep to find the one. The second parable in this sequence is the one of the woman losing her final coin.

Then we get to the parable read today – the one most notably known as the Prodigal Son. The feast found in this text is one that often makes many readers uncomfortable, because it’s a feast that throws all social norms of the time on their heads.

The youngest son, the one who left his father and squandered his inheritance returns and out of great celebration for having his son the father throws the best of feasts in his honor.

The older brother who stayed and worked as was proper in those times comes upon the party and is deeply angered by his father’s actions. The father offers the same care and love for both of his sons – and invites the older brother to see this and partake in it. In each of the parables the character of God is revealed to be of utmost grace and lavish welcome.

Both of these feasts bring us to the feast we celebrate around this table today. From the feast of Passover to the practice of communion we are reminded that we serve a prodigal God – one whose character is lavishing its children with feasts far beyond imagination.

A prodigal God who receives our repentance – the metanoia Anne discussed in her sermon last week – is received with reckless extravagance of love and grace. When we return to God after confession and repentance we are met with full welcome;

as we see the Israelites welcomed to a new covenant with God and as we see both the younger son welcomed home and the elder son welcomed to experience the generosity of their father.

So why on earth are these stories found as our lectionary texts this fourth Sunday of Lent? They aren’t ones of Jesus journey to the cross or of his temptation.

They almost seem out of place – until one realizes that during our self-examination we need to be reminded of the character of God. This is the first year that I have heard and read that Lent is a joyous season to some perspectives.

For many years I had seen this 40-day season of introspection as one dawned with sackcloth and ashes, doused with the aroma of guilt, and covered with the hues of darkness.

Joy is not how I have described Lent but this year I can see the joy of this season. The season of lent calls us to look at how we are disjointed from those around us, within ourselves, and to God.

This examination can bring to awareness some aspects of self which are not pleasant and when action is called to bring those relationships into wholeness it can be quite difficult and not enjoyable – thus we can find ourselves caught in the darkness of the season and guided by guilt.

At other times we may not observe the season of Lent at all because we do not wish to experience this soul-searching. It is not an easy task to see how we are out of balance; to acknowledge what sins we have done towards others, to God, or to ourselves.

It makes sense why the season of Lent is not seen by all as a joyous one. Yet in Living Lent this year I have come to see that when we repent – when we experience metanoia – we are not met by the punishments or harshness of God.

We are enveloped in the grace and love of God; and for some of us that is even harder to handle or imagine than receiving punishment from God.

We aren’t told how the younger brother responded to his father’s lavish welcome but I could imagine a desire would have been to spend the party apologizing to everyone, asking his father to stop celebrating, naming that he was not worthy of such love, and that he deserved to be a servant of his father rather than his child.

For some it would be understandable to feel the younger son needed to feel as though he out to earn the welcome back into his father’s graces.

Perhaps the younger son was so overwhelmed by this extravagant love that he was speechless and merely wandered throughout the party as though walking through a dream he would soon wake up from and be met with the reality of being his father’s servant.  

Who knows, the younger son might have hit rock bottom so hard that the love of his father was the only balm to heal his drifting and estrangement and allowed the welcome to take place and respond with deep thanks.

We are also left hanging with the older brother’s response to the father inviting him into the party. Jesus was a wise and cleaver teacher; he likely does this so that the ones who asked the original question – the Pharisees and Scribes – would have known the question was for them.

Would they stick to the Law or would they realize the character of God is larger than legalism and begin eating with and living community with those who are not suitable according to the Law?

You see I have been the older brother when I observe the season of Lent. There is no joy or celebrating. There is no asking God to give me a party of the meager level of a goat, let alone one of a fatted calf. There has been mere observance and obedience.

I can honestly say I have never experienced Lent as the prodigal father does. I forget that repentance does not mean we stay in the fragmentation of confession. Repentance means we move into pardon and assurance that is the extensiveness of God’s love and grace.

Lent is a season of looking at our lives and being invited to be honest about our relationships and how we are choosing to live life – this can certainly bring up pain and feelings of guilt. This year, though, we shall move past the older brother’s observance and move into the younger brother’s – allowing God to be the prodigal parent God has always been.

God has always been the prodigal parent but just as the prodigal father we are left with an open ended question of whether we are ready to receive the extravagant grace of God.

Collectively we are invited to see Lent as a joyous season that brings us through these 40 days that mirror Jesus’ time in the desert being tempted, through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday to the breaking of dawn on Easter morning.

Knowing that we are Easter people allows us to examine and confess without a crippling fear. Easter is not here yet, and that is a beautiful thing; it gives us time to experience the contemplation of Lent and enter into the forgiveness and feast of God’s response.

Today we are met with God’s feast once again. We remember that manna and quail were a stopgap for the Israelites until they could feast on the land once more.

Once the Israelites had bickered their way through the wilderness they came to the promise land and feasted on food from the land. They recalled what they had escaped, the provisions the Lord made, and covenanted with each other and God as they observed the practice of Passover.

They had made it through the 40 years of wandering and were met with the feast God had promised. We are invited to partake in communion today, as it is a feast day in our 40 days of Lent.

Whatever we abstain from or choose to take on in these 40 days takes a backseat to the feast today. Sundays we are reminded that even during the 40 days of self-examination we are met with Joy on Sundays. Repentance is met with pardon and absolution – with the joyous welcome of God’s extravagant love and grace.

The texts today reveal that God is not one of punishment but of restoration and prodigal forgiveness. It can be hard to believe that we worship a God that does not meet us with guilt but receives the feelings of guilt we might have, embraces us, and reminds us that we are beloved children of God and are forgiven for believing anything else.

In a world where if a person gets food it means others go hungry, where if one has more than others have less, it can be hard to understand how the younger son getting the fatten calf party does not mean the older son does not.

It means that the older son is invited to share in the celebration and if he had asked his father, he too, would have had the celebration. When a person is forgiven it does not mean the rest of us receive less grace or love from God.

In the Kingdom of God our understanding of supply is turned on its head. You see, when one is forgiven it means there is more grace to be given. When one is brought back to whole relationships it does not mean another relationship must break; it means more of us are invited into healing and mercy.

So as we come to the table today see this Lenten season as a joyous experience of being met by a God that runs to meet you as you begin to repent; a God who stops you midsentence and says you are loved, you are forgiven, be at peace; a God who dismisses cultural norms and invites all to share in the feast.

The God who welcomes you to this feast is a prodigal God.

God whose love surpasses our understanding; a love that gives us courage to believe we are more than enough; a love that call us by name and gives us strength to bring justice to the world around us.

A love that has us feasting with our enemies, where there is more than enough, and where we are greeted with forgiveness and wisdom to live more fully into God’s grace.

Lent is a 40-day season we observe as a church, but hopefully it is a practice we will continue the whole year. Just as much as we are Easter people let us be Lenten people who know that introspection and confession moves us to be encircled by a God who has loved us since before we were born and has never left us.

Lent as a joyous season is a new perspective to me, perhaps new for you, and one that is captured in fullness on this feast of communion Sunday.

The question the father poses to the elder son is the question we are asked today – will we go inside and join the party, knowing God’s love for another is the same love God has for us, or will we stay outside not ready to receive the truth that God’s love for others overflows with love for us as well. What will your answer be this feast day?

Manuscript – Covenant of Newness

Revelation 21: 1-6 |:| Covenant of Newness

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; April 24, 2016

A text that is quite robust in a mere six verses is our lesson for today. Revelation 21 is often read at funerals and it makes sense; it is a message of hope during great times of despair. So why is it part of the lectionary texts on the fifth Sunday of Eastertide? It appears this text captures what was started with the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as it is connected to the new heaven and new earth.

We learn God is the beginning and the end in Revelation 21. The text also nods to the fact that God is present for all in between. As God’s creation we are not left without the presence of God. It is not as though God created the world and is waiting to engage it when the final times are upon creation.

If we only look at this text as a proclamation of eschatological theology – that is a church nerd word for the end of times – we lose the ability to see what God is doing with and through us today. Knowing this book is the written account of the revelation given to John, we can open ourselves to glean wisdom on how this text meets us today and what revelation it offers us.

In moving to see this text beyond an end times view we can see how the new heaven and new earth were inaugurated with Christ’s resurrection. Prior to Revelation the creation of heaven and earth are noted in the first book of the Bible – but Shalom was broken and humanity and God were in a journey of connecting once again in wholeness.

With Revelation we are returned to the creation story but with a difference of Christ. With the life, death, and resurrection of Christ we are given a new example to follow – humanity no longer has to refer back to Adam for an example of how God creates and how humanity is connected to God.

With Christ we see how creation has been radically renewed. God is the beginning and the end and present for everything in between. With Christ we are invited to see the new heaven in glimpses around us. When we see heaven as the space where humanity is with God and united with God, we join Christ and the disciples before us in continuing to usher in the new heaven a bit more.

The baptisms today are examples of the creation made new. We witnessed a piece of the newness of heaven with the four baptisms today as they were buried with Christ through water and raised to walk in newness of life. Baptisms are not the magic moment where all is made right but rather it is when we witness a piece of heaven’s wholeness here in our presence. These pieces of heaven moments are invitations for us to recall our creativity and go forth from the walls of the church and bring newness to other areas of our lives.

In Baptisms and communion God meets us in the parousia – meaning God meets us in the here and the not yet. In addition to Baptism and communion the Spirit of God brings newness to us in those moments of life when our soul ignites with the Spirit of God.

Those times when a child is blissfully happy and their happiness captures your full attention and draws you in so much that you find yourself with a cheeky grin and have lost view of your surroundings. Those times when the time and place align for us to live out our passions; in those unexpected ways when our passions come to life and its excitement ground you in who you are and who you have been created to be. Those times in life when our pain and sorrows begin to heal; when our mind/body/soul find peace and move us to a space of healing so we can breathe a bit deeper and laugh a bit longer.

In these moments we are witness to glimpses of new heaven as our souls thrive in unison with God’s Spirit. God is the beginning and the end, and present for everything in between.

On Sundays we find ourselves reminded of the thin spaces in life – the thin spaces between heaven and earth of Genesis and the new heaven and earth that have begun in the Revelation to John. The thin space where our voices join the communion of saints who have gone before us. The thin spaces where we gather to worship God; a space where hope lives a little stronger.

Sundays aren’t the only time and place for us to experience the thin spaces we live; Sundays can be where we acknowledge it through the shared worship experience. These thin spaces where the new heaven isn’t at the end of times but practically here – practically touchable.

What if we lived into the creative spirit of God and lived into the newness that has been started with the resurrection of Christ?

Living into these thin spaces where we are invited to create with God. Risking to believe that we are not meant to wait until the apocalypse to witness and experience glimpses of this new heaven and earth.

Believing that we can create with God to transform the world around us is scary because what if it takes longer than we think or looks different than we were expecting. What if we create and it calls us to a new way of living? Being transformed by God and working with God’s Spirit to change the world is scary.

Not to mention, life is already exhausting and hard to get through  – some days all we can manage is to make it through; so where are we to get the energy to live into the newness brought forth by the Alpha and Omega?

We get it from each other. I was reminded of this repeatedly this week as I saw people quoting the brilliant words of Prince – “We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”

That is what we do; we get through this thing called life together. The choice of how we get through it is up to us. We can get through this thing called life by coexisting with each other and waiting for the end times to bring something new. We can also get through it by caring for each other as we remind one another that God brings newness to us daily.

So we either drudge our way to get through this thing called life or we live transformed and get through this thing called life by creating newness with God. In pondering the newness of God’s creating I have had to ask myself, where is God inviting me to create newness in the world around me?

I’m a pastor in a time when people question the future of the church. This could stifle me or hinder me from believing in the future of what the church will be. It doesn’t though. It actually excites me for thinking creatively around what missions and ministries can become as we find new or renewed ways of living out the Gospel message.

Think about, the church gets to face the reality of neighbors who are spiritual but not religious, who are of no religion, who aren’t sure what the church can mean for them in a high stressed, fast paced world.

How can we learn their stories, learn who they are? How can we share our story as a church and the story of Christ with them in a way that is conversational and inviting? There is no rule book or instruction manual for how the church will be in the years to come and that is mighty exciting, because it requires me to lean in to the Spirit and say lets live this covenant of newness to unknown boundaries.

Internally God is creating newness of replanting roots in a city I thought I had already completed all chapters with. In moving back to Denver after 15 years away I have found that God is creating a new desire to learn this city, its people, and develop relationships where I am known in return.

Allowing that spirit for roots to be deep and strong requires me to invest in the pains and joys of this city and my neighbors. God is calling me to know their names and know how we live together and care for each other. The newness of not knowing how long I will be in this city and thankful the end isn’t what I am meant to think about; rather to sink deep into the soil of the city where I was born and have been drawn back to. A newness of claiming a city as my home and it claiming me as one of its own. God is the beginning and the end, and present for everything in between.

As you think about your life where have you been hesitant or afraid to allow the newness of God’s Spirit take hold? Accepting that a chapter in life closing, following through on a new job or degree opportunity, saying no to people so you can care for yourself, allowing those around you to help you out, minimizing the busyness of life to allow time for family and community, joining family and friends to broaden your comfort zone and use creativity to bring justice to this city.

The new heaven and new earth are brought about with the transformative life of God incarnate. And God could continue to create without us, ushering in these new realms of wholeness – of shalom – but as God came to earth to engage humanity anew God stirs within us a creativity that allows us to bring newness to the world and lives around us.

This is a remarkable truth about the God we serve. A scary truth because it means we serve a God who wants an intimate relationship with us. God seeks a partnership with us – blemishes, doubt, fears and all. Just as God did not wait to begin creating the new heaven and new earth, God does not wait for you to be perfect to create newness in the world with us.

As a church, as disciples are do we believe that we have the power to create new beauty, hope, and love in a world that often tells a different story? Do we actually believe this story enough to live it with our lives?

Revelation 21 is an Easter proclamation that names that with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth were ushered in. It is a proclamation for us today because we serve a creative God and through the creativity God brings newness to us and in all we do are called to bring newness around us.

Claim the thin spaces you live in. Rejoice in Revelation 21 as it tells of when the seas that keep heaven and earth apart will be no more and the thin spaces of God’s promised newness will bring forth the culmination of a new heaven and new earth.

We are strengthened by the teachings and life of Christ, reminded by baptism of being made new, and get through this thing called life by risking to believe in a hope that tells us we create newness – a newness that casts sorrow, pain, injustice to where they have no voice, no power in the here and now as we await the fullness of the not yet.

We are Easter people and as such we covenant with God to bring heaven and earth closer together.

What newness is God stirring within you to create and make a reality in the world around you? The new heaven and earth have been ushered in – are you willing to live in the thin spaces and meet God’s creative spirit to continue the work?

The risk of responding to the newness God is creating is a risk worth taking. God is the beginning and the end, and present for the newness you will create in the in between.

Manuscript – Home By Another Way

Matthew 2: 1-12 |:| Home By Another Way

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; January 3, 2016

Epiphany is three days from now but we celebrate it today in worship. The day when the wise ones and their caravans finally reached Jesus after Herod instructed them to find out where this King of the Jews they were asking about was and bring the information back to him. It is interesting seeing how these foreigners came to the king who claimed to be King of the Jews asking where this new King of the Jews was to be born. Herod, naturally nervous since he had no plans of giving up his title as King of the Jews – let alone to someone who was not his heir, sought council for where this child was to be born. Once the high priests and scribes told him he instructed the wise ones where to find him so he could go and worship him.

So with the rising of the star these wise ones – knowing how to study stars – made their way to Bethlehem. Their journey was likely weeks to months long and as they followed the star they came to Jesus who was likely a year or two old. In meeting this child they had responded in an unlikely manner for people who were not Jewish or of the worshiping kind. These wise ones knelt down and worshiped this child. The text notes that they gave Jesus gifts.

The[se] gifts of the magi are symbolic, even sacramental, offerings signaling that disciples of Jesus are called to participate in this infinite generosity by giving themselves to God and others freely.

These wise ones find the Christ child with the help of the star they followed and once they meet the Word made flesh know he is worthy to be worshiped.

Before departing the magi receive a dream informing them not to return to Herod with the location of Jesus. Trusting this dream the wise ones leave Jesus by another way. Those who were not likely to be ones to worship Christ were the exact ones who did. They offered him their gifts and knew they had met the one named King of the Jews. The magi didn’t return to Herod and in doing so kept Jesus safe. They kept him safe by going home another way.

In life we often have moments where we are met with an initial moment of wonder and we are given the choice to follow that wonder or to dismiss it as just another star in the sky. If we do choose to follow our wonder, we too can find our way to the manger.  We, like the wise ones, are unlikely worshipers of the Christ child. Sure we aren’t magi from an unexpected land but we are wayward followers – imperfect, fallible, doubt-filled, fearful – yet we know that being all of those things and many more we are still welcomed followers of the Christ child.

Here’s what I think is significant from this story – the wise ones are impacted by their experience with the Christ so much so that when they have a dream to not return to Herod they follow it. They are transformed to the point they have to go home another way. That’s what happens when one experiences Jesus – they are transformed to the point they can’t go back the way they came.

Each year we read the Epiphany text and can think we have the story down – that there is nothing more for us here. Yet what we are reminded of is that our lives are continual journeys of being drawn to the manger to meet the Christ child once more. Seeking the wisdom of Jesus is a practice that never ends.

Those who have visited the manger many times as a matter of rote habit could be invited to rediscover the promise held in honest seeking, for surely even the more well-schooled Christian needs regular reminding that no one is above another, that no one has a corner on the complete truth, and that even the baptized travel a path with many distractions, some leading to disastrous ends with pious-sounding names.

Regardless of how we come by the manger we come with the prompting of God. At times we may have no idea who lies in the manger. Other times we have mistaken ideas about the child in swaddling clothes.

Nevertheless, all are present due to seeking, and our finding. … The magi’s journey to Bethlehem exposes God’s intention to welcome everyone “into the joy of [God’s] home not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens, and remarkably, on earth as well.

Every Epiphany we are invited to remember that we are on a continual journey of meeting the Christ child. Whether we initially met the Christ child during our own childhood or have recently come to know him, we are perpetually invited to move farther in our wonder and follow the steps of the Spirit’s leading.

With each nudge or wonderment from God we are invited back to the manger. Our stay at the manger might be long or short but the outcome will be up to us – will we allow ourselves to be transformed once again by the meeting of the Christ child or will we return the way we came and wait until the next nudge or wonderment comes along.

During Advent we have been reminded that God came to teach us the greatest of commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself – so this Epiphany as we stand in the manger we can ask ourselves what is God teaching us about where we can grown with these two commandments.

Having just made our way through Advent we know that life is more than just what we want or a self focused life – that at the core this life of following Christ is Hope during our despair, Peace through our turmoil, Joy in the midst of our sorrow, and Love undergirding it all. So what might the nudges be that God is stirring inside of you this Epiphany?

I’ve heard many of us bond over how busy our lives have become. With our lives being this busy we forget to take time to study, meditate, explore new thoughts. God might be placing wonder about how you will take on the activity of reading scripture throughout the week and exploring portions of scripture you haven’t read in awhile or perhaps ever. Reading scripture reminds us that for millennia people have been sharing the stories of their faith with the next generation and it connects us to those around the world who read the same Holy Scriptures we do. These are more than stories that pertain to our time together on Sunday morning and might be what God is drawing you towards this Epiphany. Life can be so full with meaningful activities that require us to be at this place or that place at a specific time that taking time for studying Scripture is easily pushed to the next day or not done at all.

Perhaps life is so hectic and nonstop that God is nudging you towards meditation or a form of prayer that allows you to slowdown and refocus yourself throughout the day. It might be that contemplative prayer or meditation, taking 10 – 30 minutes a day to focus on God or to intentionally pose a question and open your mind to the Spirit’s leading on possible clarity, might be what you find Jesus inviting you to leave the manger with this time. It could be finding a template of a desk labyrinth and when the day gets stressful tracing the labyrinth with your fingers and centering your mind on a phrase or a thought. It could even be that driving is one of your most stressful times during the day and rather than listening to the radio you take that time to pray. Meditation and prayer can guide us through discernment on what God is drawing us to or give us the strength to make it through the difficult times in life.

It could be that what you’ll find in the meeting of Christ in the manger this year round is that you need to connect with community. That might be found in joining a Church School class or participating in the next round of GPS groups. Taking the connections you have made with those around you during worship to a new place. You might find that community is needed with people at work or in your neighborhoods – those who you haven’t gotten to know very well, taking time to have conversations with them, getting to know them and how to share more of life with them. We are not meant to go through life by ourselves. Sharing the ups and downs of life with those around us allows for God to work through those in our lives to meet our needs and learn from one another.

As we examine what God is drawing us towards and remembering that loving God and loving others calls us to meet the injustices in life and throughout the world with action you could find that joining our Monthly Mission Partners in their service opportunities or finding regular ways to serve with our Congregational Mission Partners is how to engage the city around you. Serving with our MMPs or CMPs are ways that allow us to hear the stories of those who are in different stages or seasons of life, getting to know what they need and learning from their experiences so that we can join them in changing systems and resources so that they can have their basic needs met and thrive in all areas of life.

God uses simple ways of nudging us towards a new season of discipleship or drawing us into deeper wonder of what God has in store for us next. For the magi it was the stars they were already used to studying and following. For us it could be a gut instinct or a conversation with family or friends. God uses what is familiar to us to guide us further in discipleship so that we can trust it is the Spirit leading. Sometimes it takes us time to believe we are following the healthiest path for us at this time in life, so just as the star stayed and guided the wise ones God stays with us guiding us.

For us it can be helpful to remember that meeting Christ is not a royal welcome as we know them to be, the journey of being a worshiper of Christ is not one that is filled with glitz or glamour but rather one where we kneel in the muck of a manger and give of our gifts and selves, it can be easier to go home the way we came – because it does not require us to change or take risks, but it leads us away from the ways of connecting with the transformation we are invited to experience.

Christ never forces us to take the other way, merely invites us. The love of Christ guides us to continue to experience God in new ways. What is God nudging you toward? What are your wonderments about and what are they leading you to? Once you have experienced the Christ child you don’t leave the same. Even if you are not ready to go home by another way you know what you have experienced and that something is different in your world. It might be a while before you are ready to journey back to the manger and experience all Christ has for you this time round. The journey of discipleship is the journey of continually meeting the Christ child and realizing the Word made flesh has welcomed us to do work with God.

We are not told what happened to the magi – to the wise ones – when they met Jesus. All we are told is that in meeting him they came to worship him and ensure he was kept safe by not returning to Herod. None of us may know what the other experiences when they meet Jesus in the manger this year, nor do we need to. All we need to be willing to do is journey with each other to go home by another way. To encourage and support each other for what God is calling us towards this season.

Every epiphany we are reminded that on this life long journey of following the teachings and ways of the Christ child we come back to the manger for the chance to worship God through our generosity and leave the manger by another way and reach home once more. This Epiphany we read this story once again and get to see if the nudges and wonderings God has been guiding in our lives are just another star in the sky or one that leads us to meet the transformative Christ child then going home by another way.

A modern wise one known as James Taylor wrote a song called home by another way and Kevin’s playing it will be our musical meditation as we continue in worship.

On Epiphany, Leo the Great wrote, “A star with new brilliance appeared to three wise men in the East” that “was brighter and more beautiful than others” attracting the “eyes and hearts of those looking on.” The determination of the magi to “follow the lead of this heavenly light” expressed a willingness to be “led by the splendor of grace to knowledge of the truth.” In this way, “they adore the Word in flesh, wisdom in infancy, strength in weakness, and the Lord of majesty in the reality of a man.”

With it being a new calendar year many are examining what they hope to have happen in 2016, resolutions and what have you. These are well and good and for those that are kept a positive addition to your lives.

The wise ones could have thought they just met one of many royal children or that the following of the star was nothing more than a false lead that led them to meet a random child. The magi having been given word from Herod risked punishment from the ruler if they disobeyed him. They could have returned to Herod out of fear or uncertainty but rather they leaned into their experience of meeting the Christ child and journeyed another way home.

Manuscript – Mary’s Magnificat

Luke 1: 46-55 |:| Mary’s Magnificat 

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver |:| December 04, 2015

Preaching on peace is never an easy task. Preaching on peace after the past month in the world felt trite in many ways this time. The list of the violence and injustice in the world – in our own state – is longer than I can manage to utter.

Feeling small and insignificant is an understatement for how I felt in preparing for this Sunday. There has been very little quiet or tranquility, serenity, or freedom from violence in the world – so how am I to stand in front of you this morning and preach on peace?

That’s the victory of agitation’s and conflict’s noise though, isn’t it? When the disunities of the world silence the voices and beliefs of peace they have taken hold and peace has lost its messengers and delivers.

These disunities almost had me beat this week. Really multiple times in the past year … but then something happens and it losses once again.

Music. Music happens! The melodies, the rhythms, harmonies, movements, tempos, verses … the choruses – they speak to my heart and soul, translating the truth of peace to my struggling mind.

This week there have been two songs that have been my anthem and my cradle as the news continued to proclaim the pains of the world. Oddly enough the two songs were not from Adele’s new album 25, shocking news to my colleagues who have heard me listen to that album on repeat – sorry Kev.

No the song came from one of my favorite bands – Over the Rhine and during Advent they are my prophets. I was listening to their music and “New Redemption Song” came on and my heart was reminded that during Advent we wait and we proclaim the greatest of redemption songs – not the one that will be proclaimed by political divides or our dogmas or the world’s mistruth of fear leading fear, but the one ushered in by an innocent child whose mother proclaimed the true redemption song before he was born.

As Over the Rhine’s husband and wife duo – Karen and Linford – began strumming the guitar and playing the piano keys my soul was stung with pause… Then with full band of bass, drums, and electric guitar Karen hauntingly begins to petition what my heart needed to be reminded of and my head needed space to be believe in hope.

She sang:

Lord, we need a new redemption song –

Lord, we’ve tried, it just seems to come out wrong – Won’t You help us please, help us just to sing along –

A new redemption song, … –

Lord, we need a new redemption day –

All our worries keep getting in the way –

Won’t You help us please, help us find the words to pray – To bring redemption day, …

Over the Rhine captured the words I had lost or more so didn’t know how to speak because none of the ones I mustered up this week seemed right. Yet these lyrics gave me the words I needed. “Won’t You help us please, help us find the words to pray”, could not be more accurate in a week so filled with death. Words escaped me and those I heard on the news this week were not ones that offered comfort, but music did.

The combination of words and instruments allowed my soul to be stung with pause long enough for the breadth of truth to fill my soul and remind me that peace resides in each of us.

As people made in the image of God – an image that is Hope, Peace, Joy, Love – we hold all these truths within our very beings. In times when the world seems so bleak and dark we can forget these truths and that we are, in fact, the prophets and forbearers of them here and now.

What music has reminded you that you are the Beloved Children of God who have the power to bring forth light and truth? What song or poem gave you the words to spark the strength to believe in the Advent story for one more day?

The other song was the Magnificat – Mary’s song. Maia did a fantastic job of reading that song just a bit ago. Hard to image that Mary was close to Maia’s age and proclaiming that she was actively participating in God’s transformation in the World.

Mary’s words are not futuristic or passive – notice how the words translate into past tense, not meaning these aspects have come and been completed but rather that they have started and Mary is joining in.

As I read Mary’s song I found words for all that I had forgotten to be true. I forgot that even in my inability to maintain hope it still abides, that God’s loving kindness endures when my kindness has stopped, that the truth that happens around this table can happen around any table if given the chance.

I am given hope that even for Mary normal prose was not sufficient for expressing her belief and dedication to God. She turned to poetry – she turned to song. She turned to the words of prophets and leaders who had gone before her to help her name all she was feeling and experiencing.

I can imagine in the early church this being a central canticle as they gathered to worship. I was speaking with a fellow pastor and friend of mine, Leah Davis, this week. I asked her what she thought of the Magnificat and she said she likes to think of this as Jesus’ lullaby.

She says she thinks about how Mary sang this song around the house and how it shaped the family. In Mary’s song she magnifies the Lord by naming her faith, allowing her past and present to shape her beliefs, and is the first prophet in Luke’s Gospel as she names who Christ will be and that she will be one of God’s devoted followers for generations to come.

When our hearts and souls need more than regular prose they find voice in poetry and song. Mary proclaims that regardless of what the world said of her situation as a pregnant and unmarried young lady and doubting that she was carrying the Messiah she allowed her soul to sing and magnify the Lord.

Draw strength from this teenage mother-to-be when our lives seem so unpredictable and filled with chaos, draw her words to your lips and proclaim all the faith you have and magnify God.

It’s beyond fitting that our Advent theme this year is “Sing We Now of Christmas” and are giving way to hymns and carols to tell the story of Advent. I don’t know about you but I need to be reminded that Hope is the foundation that allows me to proclaim Peace.

This week, as in many weeks of my life, music has been the vehicle by which I have been reminded of the words I need to say. Music has given me voice and has given me a tool to tangibly bring peace to a world that is hurting.

Taking time this week to read how music impacts people I resonated with the words of Omar Akram, Grammy award-winning composer and recording artist, when he said:

Music can positively affect people on many different levels. It can be a tool to communicate culture and a remedy for suffering… I’ve learned to meld cultures and bring in instruments from around the world without hesitation. Embrace the culture you are from. It’s who you are and it is a part of what makes you unique. In some ways, you can promote diplomacy through music, but it’s important to understand that diplomacy does not always have to be political. Don’t be afraid of who you are and where you are from. When you keep an open mind and an open heart to the many cultures of the world, you can turn your musical instrument into an instrument of peace.

Mary’s song reminds us how this can happen in our world today. We are Beloved Children of God and hope our foundation and peace our proclamation. We cross cultural, ethnic, religious, economic boundaries and are unified in the song of Advent. Singing God’s song of Love is our response to violence – and what a mighty response it is. Much like Mary our words are not passive but actively joining in the work of peace in a world filled with the noise of violence.

Mary’s Magnificat recognizes that she is part of God’s redemptive work in the world. She sings with conviction that those with pride will be humbled, world leaders will no longer act as gods, those who are dismissed and marginalized will be elevated with dignity, the hungry fed, and the rich brought to balance.

These are not weak statements, especially for someone who had no societal power. When it feels as if there is nothing we can do in our lives to bring forth peace we can say Mary’s words with the conviction that they our words, our song.

In a world that can seem as though no action is big enough to bring about change. When life is filled with terrorism, racism, classism, and more –ism’s than we can express, it can feel pointless to even try.

In these days let us remember that today is the day to bring forth God’s kingdom of peace a bit more. The poetry of John O’Donohue reminds us that a day when history is made is never known when it is happening. It could simply have been when a teenage girl magnifies her belief to God in song. It could be when we lean into hope and peace and bring for liberation. Listen to his words –

No one knew the name of this day;

Born quietly from deepest night,

It hid its face in light,

Demanded nothing for itself,

Opened out to offer each of us

A field of brightness that traveled ahead,

Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps

And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;

It dwells within the silence with elegance

To create a space for all our words,

Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place

Where the Eucharist of the ordinary happens,

Transforming our broken fragments

Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.

Somewhere in us a dignity presides

That is more gracious than the smallness

That fuels us with fear and force,

A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.

So at the end of this day, we give thanks

For being betrothed to the unknown

And for the secret work

Through which the mind of the day

And wisdom of the soul become one.

-161

No day is too far gone to make history. As we sing our way through Advent, may we be reminded that peace is possible within each and everyone of us. When we don’t know the words to say music can be our unifying tool to allow peace to break through the pain and hardships of the world.

Each of our lives is a living song that God has created to be played in the world. When we forget that we are playing God’s song we can be grateful that Spirit brings along others to help us remember and once again our song gets loud enough for us to hear.

We are bearers of God’s image – beings filled with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love – and the song God has for each of us is the way we transform the world, with action and proclamation. We need a new redemption song and the one God has for us is exactly it! We need a new redemption day and the inner history of today is it. Whether they are words of your own or leaning on the words of others, let us sing and declare that Emmanuel has been, is present, and will continue to come.

So as we wait this Advent season may our communal song find its crescendo as we find the strength to be the prophets of God’s peace once more.

Amen.

Manuscript – Wonder with Abandon

John 12:20-33 |:| Wonder with Abandon

Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; March 22, 2015 @ 10:30a

Worry is the roadblock to the life and imagination that comes from wonder. Worry is a common response to life’s events, I’d venture to say worry will forever be part of our lives. It’s how we respond to worry that can be a spiritual practice for us. Worry can be brought on by many things – unexpected news, a test or project coming up, a doctors visit, a meeting with a boss, an interview – and the list goes on and is unique to each of us.

What makes you worry might not be the things that make me worry, nonetheless worry is present in our lives. It creates in us tunnel vision and can lead us to a thought process that does not allow us to think creatively about our situation. I’m willing to say that teaching ourselves to practice wonder is the remedy for reducing the hold worry has on us.

This past week I spent a good bit of time in Chicago. To begin I was there for the pre-trip visit for our upcoming summer trip with Center for Student Missions. Then I remained in the city for the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference. In both there was a great deal of wonder that I was caught up in.

Wonderment about what the trip will hold for our 9th & 10th graders, about what the organizations we will serve with are doing to address the needs and concerns of their neighborhoods, about how God will breathe into our group and birth new relationships and dynamics. As the leader of the trip it can be easy to go to all the areas where worry knocks and to follow it down it’s limited perspective and options.

Will the students be safe, will they make good choices, will the leaders facilitate and guide well, have I ensured our getting there and getting back is taken care of, will we fundraise enough, was this a good idea … and in full disclosure those thoughts existed but thankfully they were noted and mentally checked off without removing the wonder I had around the trip to come.

At the conference we talked about church being in the public – meeting the concerns of our cities with the physical representation of God’s love and peace; we talked about the dangerous work of meeting students in their most vulnerable places and the risk of not responding in healthy/life-giving ways but the beauty it can hold when we realize we are on holy ground with our students when we do care for them well; we talked about needing to have the tough and awkward conversations in our churches more regularly so that they become easier to have; we talked about the need to learn what our context is and engage it more openly and without reservations. As I sat at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago my mind dared to dream of how we as a community here are doing those things, could be doing those things differently, need to be doing those things to begin with.

This work of living life together can produce plenty of opportunities to worry – do we have enough resources to fund our financial plans for our ministries, staff, and building; what will a change to the by-laws do and will this new ministry plan work; what will the feasibility team find out as they look into an offer on our property; are we living out our vision and mission for the church; do we have people to serve with our MMP’s and CMP’s; what will this new staff team be like – there is certainly plenty for us to worry about in doing this thing called life together, but I know I can’t imagine not doing it together. The blessings and joys of facing these experiences together allows for us to keep one another from the restrictive perspective that worry keeps us in and to come together to live into the vastness of God’s wonder and dream together the work we can continue to live out.

In our Gospel text today we see Jesus state that he is to die and declares what is required of those who wish to follow him. Jesus uses the image of how wheat has to die in order to give new life – by returning to the ground so that seeds can be planted to grow more wheat. It has to die in its current form to bring about new life.

In this text we see Jesus speaking to both disciple and gentile together – I can only imagine what they must have felt when they hear this prophet, priest, pastor of theirs state that he is to die and in order for them to follow him they must die to this life as well. Talk about news that provoke worry … but it can also provoke wonder.

As this group of disciples and gentiles wrestled with what this meant for their lives they had the choice to walk down the road of worry – faced with a limited mindset of what this meant for them or they could lean into the breadth of wonder and run with the ideas of what this could mean for them. The text then shares with us that a loud noise was heard by the crowds – some hearing it as a divine voice and others calling it thunder.

Jesus notes to those listening that the voice confirming his words was not for his benefit but for theirs. In our own lives when we are faced with decisions, experiences, instances that can produce worry wouldn’t it be grand if we heard the audible voice of God confirming the right option … or maybe hearing an audible voice from the Divine would just be something that provoke more worry.

In these moments of being presented with worry it sometimes feels like we need permission to wonder. Permission to know that by wondering we are not taking it any less serious but equally, and in some cases more so, when we free ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and grandly wonder.

As children we are taught that imagination is a great thing to have and we want to have our children creating stories and pretending they are doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers, pastors …, poets, artists. We give them permission to view their lives from an unending journey of wonder. As we grow up though we are told that wonder has its place but that reality has no time for the naiveté of imagination.

Not surprising that the enlightenments impact of the mind being superior to the heart or that rational is stronger than the spiritual has stuck around. It’s not that we don’t believe in imagination but have limited its reach and so when worry enters our experience is to lean to our minds to go through things from a what-information-is-present approach rather than stepping forward into our mind’s creative passageways to wonder our way through worry.

If this is how worry can limit our responses in our own individual lives it is understandable that it is what can happen in our institutions or systemic issues. What if we allowed ourselves to wonder about ending homelessness and found ways to not be stopped by the moments of worry but to be amazed at the creativity we can come up with to begin ending this systematic issue.

Some of you may have seen that the state of Utah has been giving free homes to people who are homeless in their state since 2005, and that it has saved the state money and reduced homelessness by 74%. That approach comes from the practice of wonder. Friends, how could we wonder about addressing the concerns of our very community with wonder instead of worry.

Our text tells us that we need to die to this life in order to live – what parts of our lives need to die in order to live out God’s Kingdom here on earth. Perhaps one of the things we need to have die is the holds worry can have on our lives. I don’t mean to say that we will be void of worry in but that the holds it has on our abilities to look broader and with the wonderment of the Holy Spirit will be less so.

If we could recapture the encouragement we give our children about dreaming & imagining about their lives & continue it in our youth and adult lives think of how the Kingdom of God could break through in new ways. What institutions in our lives need to die so that they don’t keep people from living out their beloved-ness?

To name a few, systemic poverty driven by capitalism. A healthcare system that doesn’t offer all persons, regardless of their socioeconomic status, holistic approaches to care. Politics fueled by finances rather than the voice and needs of the people. Institutional racism driven by the belief that we have solved racism in this country.

There are plenty of the things in our world that do not allow people to be treated with dignity or have their humanity honored. How do we let them die so that the worry of what might happen without them doesn’t keep us from deconstructing them? Leaning into the bonds of worry is easier and more predictable than leaning into wonder.

When we allow ourselves to be astonished by how we can respond to dilemmas, uncertainties, big decisions we risk the unknown of what could come about. Isn’t it worth the risk though? Studies show that when we allow ourselves to use our imagination our ability to empathize with others increases, it can enhance our memory, it can be a portal to self-discovery. Socrates said wisdom begins with wonder – oh to deepen our wisdom.

Think about what might have happened if the disciples had been consumed by worry – we might not have had the first church in Acts. Talk about a community built on wonder and thinking creatively about meeting the needs of their neighbors.

We today are not so different than those we read of in John’s gospel. We are reminded of Christ’s death as we are just a week away from Palm Sunday and Holy Week. We are also reminded that there are aspects of our individual, communal, and societal lives that need to die so that we can truly live. The question is whether we will allow death to happen or if we will keep new life of God’s Kingdom from coming to be.

In this season of lent as we continue to yearn towards Easter and move from one piece of life to another, perhaps we take on the spiritual practice of wonderment. When faced with a work or school dilemma dream about what the unexpected options might be, what options seem implausible then think of ways they could in fact be possible.

When we see people in need and are met with emotions of not being able to do anything big enough to make a systematic change allow yourself to ask what would it look like to eradicate this issue, who would be needed to make it happen, and who is willing to dream aloud with you.

When met with pain in our lives or in the lives of those we love and worry sets in take a deep, deep breath and think of something that brings you joy and how it could bring joy those hurting – then go and do it.

At dinner with family and friends speak aloud your dreams and imagine together what it would be like for them to be reality. When tucking in your children or grandchildren make up stories with them – tap into your imagination and create worlds of splendor. As you witness injustice lean into wonder and make whatever difference you can so that with each time you build upon the wonder and reach new levels of transformative action.

Allow the spiritual practice of wonder to move you from worry into action that builds the Kingdom of God. May the unjust systems in our world die to prophetic proclamation of peace incarnate.

Ravi Zacharias, author & poet, said “wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light, you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood, but finds its key there. It is a journey like walk through the woods over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions while the voice of direction leads, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.”

Let us allow the Spirit to direct us around the hindrances that keep us from wonder so that we might see the light of new creations. May the tunnel vision of worry die to the plethora of possibilities sparked by wonderment. Calvary, what could this communal life we live be like if we encouraged one another to use our imaginations, dream on a regular basis, and wonder ourselves into spiritual resurrection.

It’s a risky thing to wonder but what a great risk … may we begin today.

Amen