Sunday, February 28, 2010


Genesis 15: 1 - 18; Psalm 27; Luke 13: 31 - 35

Do you remember a real high in your faith walk? Maybe it was time when you were having a hard time in your life but you felt completely at peace in God? When you trusted that, however things turned out, everything was going to be ok because you knew in your heart that God had things under control?

Do you remember a time when you didn’t feel this way?

I’ve had a lot of difficult times in my life, and sometimes I had inner peace, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I trusted God and sometimes I didn’t. And that’s the truth about the faith journey. We don’t always have the same high level of trust in our Lord and Savior. There are times of great intimacy and we want them to never end. We want to always feel like our faith is fresh and new and front and center, but these times don’t usually last forever. When we have them, it is because of grace. And likewise, when we feel distant from God, or we wonder if God has forgotten us, or we can’t seem to find any real enjoyment in prayer and church, believe it or not, those are times of grace as well. It’s at those times, that our faith muscles and our hope muscles can be developed and strengthened. It’s a bit like a really good work out. I checked with Dorian, one of our high school football players – and he verified that it’s true: A good workout causes small tears in your muscles, so that when they heal, they are stronger.

So whether you are enjoying the great grace of God’s consoling presence, or whether you are in the desert and do not feel God’s presence – know that, either way, you are journeying towards the heart of God. If you’ve ever walked a labyrinth, you will have had a physical experience of this. In most labyrinths, the path takes you towards the center, and then far from the center, and in the final round, just before you enter the center, the path takes you the furthest away yet, all the way out to the perimeter….and around, and then in to the center. So however close you are, or far away you are, you are, in actuality, not lost, but getting ever closer to the center, the heart of God.

I have not read Mother Teresa’s book, but apparently this was her experience. Much of her life took place in interior spiritual desert, without any felt sense of God’s presence. And yet, look at her life! She lived and served and loved the poor in utter faith and abandonment to God. That is walking the path of faith.

Abram is known as the icon of faith. He was a prosperous man, a wealthy man, an old man - when God asked him to pull up stakes and leave for unknown places. And he did! He gathered up his family and as much of his wealth as he could take - and followed. He and God regularly talked and enjoyed great closeness. “The word of the Lord came to Abram: Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield and your reward shall be very great….” And yet, he walked mostly in darkness – not knowing where God was taking him, or why.

In the reading this morning, he finally argued: “OK, I’ve followed you. I’ve done everything you asked. But I don’t get it. You promised an heir. And I don’t have an heir, other than my slave. And I’m getting ready to die. So, God, what’s going on?”

And in return, God gave him an astronomy lesson! “Look at the stars….that’s going to be the number of your offspring.” It’s a promise that is so over the top - it’s of such abundance that it is overwhelming.

But Abram had asked to know… and now, instead of keeping him in the dark – God revealed more to him. In the portions of the reading that have been left out, verses 12 – 17, God revealed to Abram what would happen with this offspring, probably far more than Abram wanted to know. It was knowledge that would leave him wounded for the rest of his life….

“12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 13Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; 14but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16And they shall come back here in the fourth generation;”

Be careful what you ask for! As a German child, Corrie ten Boom’s parents took in Jews and hid them during the holocaust. They were eventually arrested and sent to Buchenwald. Out of her entire family, only Corrie came out alive. When they were boarding the train that would take them to Buchenwald, Corrie asked her father why God would allow something like this to happen. They were good people and had done only good on God’s behalf. Corrie wrote later that her father set down the very heavy suitcase that he was carrying, and told her to pick it up. Corrie, being a young girl, could not lift it. That, her father said, is like the knowledge that God has and that we do not. There are things that are simply too heavy, too much for us to bear, and so God carries them. Our job is simply is to continue walking alongside of him and trust.

Sometimes God lets us in on the big picture – as he did Abram – and sometimes he doesn’t - as in most of the time. And like Corrie’s wise father told her, and as the Psalmist verifies, and as countless people of faith throughout the centuries have tested out, our job is to wait patiently and trust.

Of course, that does not rule out some complaining and arguing! When you are close to someone, do you always just take their word for it? Of course not. You ask, as Abram did. You plead, as the psalmist does. “Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call, have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say, seek my face. Your face, Lord will I seek. Just don’t hide your face from me!.”

The truth is, we all set out on this journey of faith with the greatest of intentions – to know Christ, to make more room for God, to be an excellent parent, to love more deeply and less conditionally - but as we travel along, those intentions can get bruised and forgotten under the pressures of life. That happened with the Psalmist - in the beginning, he had passionate confidence in the Lord, great intention to trust no matter what, and then, in the space of one verse, it is obvious that he ran into trouble. That he lost his way, and couldn't really find God and had trouble with his original intention to "just trust." What did he do? Well, what he didn't do, is despair. He turned and asked for help. “Show me your way, O Lord. Deliver me.” He acted his way - he talked his way – he prayed his way - into faith and trust. Only this time without the bravado and gung ho confidence that he had had at first. By the end of the psalm, he spoke with greater simplicity and greater wisdom. “O tarry and wait the Lord’s pleasure. Be strong, and he shall comfort your heart. Wait patiently for the Lord.”

This morning, if you are in a place in your journey where it is easy for you to trust and you feel God’s presence close by – say "thank you, thank you, thank you." But, if, this morning, you are in a place in your journey, where it is not so easy to trust, where you are more like Abram and questioning, and like the psalmist and pleading, “where is your face, O God?”…. Say "thank you" and add, "Help me!" As your faith muscles and your hope muscles are being torn, these same muscles are also being made stronger. And believe me, the best course, the safest course to follow when this is happening, is to trust, and wait patiently even - especially at the times when it is hardest to do – and God will comfort you and God will bring you into the land of the living.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Before you were born, I knew you

“Before you were born, I knew you.” Jeremiah spoke truly. Let these words settle into you because they are trustworthy.
Before you were born, God knew you. You were held in God and then God spoke you into being. But you did not depart from God; just as the words I am speaking now go into your heart, but that does not make them ever leave my heart.

And now that God spoke you into this existence, you are here, in these body clothes, with your own particular personality and you’re your own particular experiences, and your own particular questions and responsibilities and needs and wants – and it is as true as ever before. Now that you are born, God knows you – intimately – just as surely as God knew you before you were born. And when you die, when God breathes into you for the last time and then withdraws his breath for the last time, you will return into God’s knowing and you will wake up fully and completely known and loved. Loved as you have been from before, loved as you are now, and loved, as you will be when your stay here is over.

You are never separated or apart from God. And the truly blessed and merciful thing is, you don’t have to wait to die to know this! To know God’s embrace. To know God’s gifting you and commissioning you and sending you out to translate God’s love into your own friendships and family and responsibilities and pleasures.

This was Jeremiah’s experience. This was Paul’s experience as well. though he came to it differently. Because before Paul ever knew God’s grace, he knew God through the commandments, through the law, and he thought he was commissioned and sent by God. He thought God wanted him to keep the faithful safe from harmful influences. And in Paul’s case, the harmful influences were the Christians – who, for Paul, were heretics. He presided over their being driven out of the synagogues and in some cases stoned and killed.

Convinced in his heart that this was God’s will and way, he was literally knocked off his horse, blinded by light, and deeply questioned by the God whom he thought he served. His sincerity saved him. His sincere desire to love and serve God enabled him to immediately recognize God’s touch. It was a touch that permanently altered his consciousness and changed his life.

So instead of persecuting the heretics, he became one! The earliest Christian writings we have are Paul’s letters to the churches that he himself founded. Chapter 13 of the 1st letter to the church at Corinth is probably the best known of all of Paul’s letters. Some sorority chapters read it at every meeting. It is read at almost every wedding. It is beloved by Christians and non-Christians. Why? Because it springs from the same fountain as the opening to the chapter read this morning from Jeremiah. “Before you were born, I knew you. I formed you in your mother’s womb. You are mine. “ And you are beloved. This is your birthright. It is your inheritance. It is your wealth. And it is pure sweet gift. It is Love Mercy that sustains you at every moment, whether you are currently blind to God’s grace or whether you have begun to see through the glass though still darkly.

Paul invites you to put on Love’s clothing – so that you will be more easily recognized for who you really are. – a beloved child of God, and a friend of our Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul tells us to put on the clothes of patience and kindness. He encourages us to wear the warmth of endurance and hope and rejoicing in God’s truth.

Just before this, In the 12th chapter of this letter, he named a whole variety of spiritual gifts – gifts that are given by God to build up the whole body – and now he says – as wonderful as these gifts are – gifts of preaching and teaching and healing and administration – as wonderful and good as these gifts are, they are nothing, they are worthless, without Love. Without the continual awareness and thanksgiving that they arise from God and are given solely for the purpose of letting more Love loose in the world.

We are called, commissioned and sent out, each and every one of us, to serve the world God loves so dearly, and to do so undergirded in every moment by Love. We rely on Love. We trust Love. We hope in Love. And Paul insists that this is not something we do. It is something we receive and that flows through us.

I don’t know about any of the working of this congregation at Corinth – except what is contained in Paul’s two letters to them. But from that little bit, it is striking to me how similar they seem to have been to us in our own day and age. They were proud people. They were, for the most part, educated people. They followed Christ, but they retained the cultural norms of their time. When they gathered for the Eucharist, they copied the patterns of every Greek dinner – the wealthy ate in the dining room, with copious amounts of food and wine, and the poor stood waiting in the outer rooms, eating little or nothing at all. They boasted of their spiritual insights and wisdom – and Paul writes to them with some testiness. This isn’t it – he says. You are a new community. You are a community gathered now in Christ – and at the root and heart of your being – your own individual being, but not just that – at the root and heart of your being as church – is this sweet mercy of unending, unearned, sustaining Love that knows you fully.

Once you have grounded yourself in that, all the other decisions about your communal life, and your individual lives will sort itself out. You won’t always agree, Paul says, but in kindness and patience, and by giving up what we would call “black and white thinking” you can make room for difference, and you can discover the enormous energy of the Holy Spirit guiding you into greater and greater faith, and hope and love.

Called, commissioned and sent out – Jeremiah experienced this. Paul and the church in Corinth experienced this. Jesus experienced this. After his baptism, Jesus fasted. He prayed and he lived in solitude for a good length of time. He let himself be fully and completely pulled into God’s orbit. It took time to incorporate this profound awareness that he was God’s heart walking around in human form.

Then, filled with the power of the Spirit, he followed God out of the desert and into the lives of ordinary men and women. He followed God right back to his home town. What harder and more difficult place could there be to claim the fullness of who you really are. To come out of the closet – because of course, each in our own way – we have to do this. Thanks to our gay brothers and sisters for the terminology – but they do not own this experience. It is true of each of us as we shed more and more of our accumulated defenses and coping mechanisms and let the God self within become the self that our partners and our children and our colleagues and our community can see and taste and touch and know. Not easy sometimes. But Jesus led the way close to the beginning of his public life.

And truth be told, he didn’t get a really great reception. Still, he was spoke truth as deeply as he knew how – and entirely in Love. He wasn’t touting himself – though by that point, it was impossible to separate himself from the God who formed, called, commissioned and sent him. Impossible to say where the Word ended and he began. Impossible to untangle the Divine and the Human. And so, Jesus sat in the synagogue among his brothers and sisters, his aunts and uncles, his fellows, and spoke the truth in love.

And eventually, some of those who wanted to throw him off a cliff that day, became followers and fellows and friends in this with God life that he imparted and for which he died and to which he was raised. Praise be to the one God almighty and merciful and everlasting.

“Before you were formed,” God says, “I knew you. I formed you in your mother’s womb. You are mine. And do not say – you are only…..Alice. You are only….a pianist. You are only….an attorney. You are only…..Joe. You are only…..a boy. Do not say this. Because I touch you. I gift you. I commission you. I send you. I uphold you. And I am with you now and forever more.” Amen.