Sermon for 7/27; Romans 8:26-39

As a Pastor, I often get asked “what is your favorite hymn?” That’s like asking “which one is your favorite kid?” Okay, well, maybe for me that’s not too far of a stretch. But, in reality, I have so many favorite hymns that to pick one would really be torture. I often joke that when I pass away (which, God willing will be many many years from now) that we will need to have a hymn sing as part of my funeral because there are just too many good ones to choose from.

However, that is not the case for scripture. At this point in time in my life, my favorite passage in scripture is included in today’s readings: Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Friends, there is a lot of good scripture that you should commit to memory. This is one that I have committed to memory because it is filled with the overwhelming grace that we all receive.

And here’s the thing, you know I love preaching about grace. Or, at least I hope you know that by now. I want anyone and everyone to know what an amazing and wonderful gift this grace from God can be. But at the same time, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why this grace would be given to me as well. It’s as if I think my Bible needs an asterisks. “Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus….asterisks, except for you, Jealaine.”

And this struggle isn’t new for me. I think what it boils down to is this: self forgiveness. I have sin in my life, just like you do. And my sin is ugly and it is usually coated in a nice thick layer of shame. And so I engage in a vicious cycle of thinking that goes something like this: Romans 8 tells me that nothing will separate me from God’s love. That means that God forgives me of my sins. Well, that’s just ridiculous; if I can’t forgive myself, how in the world can God forgive me?” And there, right there, what I am essentially saying is “if I can’t love me, how is it possible that God would love me?”

I’m hesitant, almost afraid to say this, but I fear that my illogical, circular thinking is familiar to some of you as well. And maybe your brain doesn’t function like mine and so you haven’t had those exact thoughts. But maybe you’ve had these thoughts or said these things instead. “I can’t come to church, the whole place will crash around me.” Or “I’ve been in here for a few moments and things are okay but I wouldn’t stand too close to me.” Or you know someone who used to be a frequent attender (like 3 out of 4 Sundays or something) and now they don’t want to return because their absence is so long. They’ll say “I can’t go back now, I’ve been gone too long.”

Now, I admit, I’ve only skimmed through our constitution and bylaws and no where did I find that it says “if you are gone for X amount of weeks, you can no longer come to church.” I’ve also had people say that they don’t want to come up to church or come up when we have communion. “I don’t deserve it” they’ll say. And to that, I say “none of us do. That’s why eating the bread and drinking the wine is so offensive. We did nothing for this gift. We can’t pay off this gift or repay this gift. It was and is given to us for free. That’s really offensive.” But it is because communion is a tangible reminder of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness, that is why we should come to the table, eagerly, as often as possible. Even if as often as possible means every week. I’m just going to let the thought that we should have communion every week just sit here for a moment and let it sink in.

Anyway, all of these thoughts and ideas are versions of “if I can’t love me, how can God possibly love me?” Sure, the words are a little different, but the base feeling is ultimately the same. What in the world is in our DNA that gets in the way of us believing that we would be loved and forgiven despite anything and everything we have done? I want you to take a moment. Close your eyes if you have to. Now think. Think about the thing that troubles you the most. Think about whatever sin you have that is the heaviest. Think about whatever sin you have that makes you feel ashamed. Think about whatever sin you have that if people found out about this, you would hide or run away. I’ve got mine, right here, in the front of my head. Is yours in your head? Does it have a face or a name? I hope you can see that sin clearly.

Now, I want you to take your index finger and draw a cross on your forehead and repeat after me. “God loves me and I am forgiven.” Let’s do that one more time because this may be a new concept to some of you and it may be hard to believe. So, once again, take an index finger, trace a cross on your forehead and out loud repeat after me, “God loves me and I am forgiven.” We are now going to offer this same forgiveness to one another. Turn to someone next to you, please ask permission to touch them, even if it is a family member, and trace the sign of the cross on their forehead and repeat “God loves you and God forgives you.” This is a fantastic thing to remind ourselves of over and over and over again, brothers and sisters. That cross was traced on your forehead in baptism and your sin no longer has power over you.

Repeat after me, “my sin no longer has power over me.” Do that again but louder. Let’s try another affirmation “God loves me for me.” I want the people in Goose Lake to hear us. Are you starting to understand that when Jesus tells you that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that he really means nothing. There is no asterisks in your life or mine for that matter. You are forgiven so start acting like it. The time has come for you to cut loose the chains of bondage that have been keeping you a prisoner to your sin. God’s grace is for you. God’s love is for you. God’s forgiveness is for you. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Shout this good news from the rooftops, tell anyone who will listen this amazing news. But first and foremost, tell it to yourself. And keep repeating it until you believe it.

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Sermon for 7/13/14 Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

I may be younger than a lot of you and I realize I have a lot of learning yet to do in my life but one thing I know for sure: I am smarter than to give a sermon about seeds and growing seeds to a group of people that knows way more than I ever will about seed growing and seed sowing. I don’t even to pretend to know a lot. So, you can rest easy knowing that pastor is not going to try and stumble her way through a lecture or sermon on how to grow things. I also refuse to give a sermon about this text and say “see that, you should be good soil…why aren’t you good soil?” I refuse to make this into a how-to or into a guilt ridden session of shouldda/couldda/wouldda. So if I’m not going to preach on how to sew seeds and I am not going to give you a bunch of guilt about what kind of soil you are, what in the world are we going to talk about today, pastor? Good questions, friends…all good questions.

I had a professor in college, his name was Dr. Bob Bohlken and Dr. Bob was passionate about the way that humans listen and hear things. I have often said that we may hear things but we don’t listen. I am guilty of this. I have often agreed to things I don’t remember agreeing to because I wasn’t really listening. I heard whatever the person said, but I didn’t engage in what is called “active listening.” It is an easy habit to get into, honestly. I find myself doing this with people I am in conversation with a lot. So, sadly, Chris is usually my biggest victim. And it’s not his fault, right? I totally own this not being present in the conversation attitude that grips me all too often.

And I know I had my moments as a teenager where my parents probably said something important and I replied with the standard “okay mom” or “okay dad.” I don’t think I very often responded with “whatever” because if I did, I’m sure it was only once–if you know what I mean. And now there are like 9 things at once that try and take my attention so that I am (sadly) becoming all too accustomed to hearing but not really listening. In fact, if you tell me something on a Sunday morning, most likely you will see me write it down right away or I will ask you “will you call me on Monday or email me that information later?” The main reason is not because I’m not listening to you but because on Sunday morning I always have about a dozen things running through my head at once. “Don’t forget to pray for this person. Did you remember the offering plates? Who is accolyting? Keep the fly out of the communion wine. Do we have ushers?” All of this is going on in my head. It’s what keeps me going and I’ve gotten used to it over the years. It’s actually quite comforting as someone with ADHD for my brain to function this way. One of the things that I am nervous about on vacation is that my brain is going to get a rest and won’t know what to do with itself.

And in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say, almost plead, “let anyone with ears listen!” Exclamation mark. Not period. This was a serious and emphatic Jesus. Not necessarily the laid back Jesus we might hear from in other stories. I think if this story were to be re-written in our time, this is what Jesus would say “okay people, turn off the televisions, power down your cell phones, put down those electronic gadgets, get rid of any outside distractions and listen to me. No I mean REALLY LISTEN!” I don’t want to imply that Jesus would be angry but I think he probably would have done whatever needed to be done to gain our attention so that we would really be listening to him and not just hearing him.

I think it is important for us to remember that those who were gathered around Jesus were hearing these parables. They weren’t reading them like we do now. The stories of Jesus, the Gospel, was first spread orally. These stories of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, the healings and teachings of Jesus were spread from person to person by word of mouth like a wonderful rumor. But the habit of not engaging in active listening isn’t new, friends. There was a reason that Jesus said “let anyone with ears listen!” Considering that I have never met anyone without ears, what Jesus was saying was pretty important. And if we’re going to be honest with ourselves and with Jesus, we need to be reminded to listen and listen closely every once in a while.

It’s so important that we are able to hear God’s Word, right? Have you ever stopped to think about the amount of things you listen to in a given day? Even as I was writing this sermon, I had music playing in the background. Just stop a moment to think about the things you listen to in a day: the radio, your spouse, your children, your co-workers and your boss (if you have those things), the television, voicemail, and on and on and on. In fact, when I started thinking about it, the only time I really am in complete silence is when I finally lay down at night and by then, I’m just too tired to listen.

God’s word is the seeds that want to be sown in all of us. And there are things that get in the way of this happening. And you know what? It’s alright. I bet you didn’t expect me to say that, did you? Did pastor really just say that it’s okay when things get in the way of us hearing the Word of God? Yes. Yes I did. Because I get it. I really do. Life gets busy. We don’t wake up in the morning and say to ourselves “you know what, I think I am going to avoid listening to the Word of God at all costs.”

Now I know that there are those of you who make time for reading your daily devotionals or maybe you read your Bible every day and I tip my hat to you. But for the majority of people–not just our members here, but my guess is for most Americans, the idea of making time for one more thing in their already busy schedule is overwhelming. Can you imagine though, how crazy you might become if you forgot to eat, if you forgot to drink, if you forgot to sleep, if you forgot to engage in regular bathing habits. Let’s just start at the basic. If you forgot or more accurately, if you didn’t make time to eat or drink what would happen? You die, right? If you don’t make time to sleep, eventually your body would force you to sleep–to shut down. So guess what happens when we don’t make time to listen to the Word of God or don’t make time to listen to God speaking to us.

I don’t expect you to leave here and think “Thanks to Pastor’s sermon, I am now going to get up before the sun rises and read 5 chapters from the Bible every morning.” Nope. I don’t expect that of you. But what I am doing is inviting you into more purposeful listening. Next time you are in the car alone, turn off the radio. Next time you go see what show is on the television next, maybe turn it off instead. Take a sabbath from your cell phone. Yes, that’s right. I said it. Turn off your cell phone. Even if it’s just for one hour. You have voice mail for a reason.

What Jesus was saying to the disciples was important, crucial even. That hasn’t stopped. Jesus is speaking to us and it is to us to listen. Give yourself that opportunity.

Sermon for 7/6/14 Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

Many of you may have heard (or perhaps you saw in the last newsletter) that I have some vacation scheduled for later this month. After 10 years of marriage, Chris and I are taking a cruise. We’re heading to Alaska for a glorious 7 day cruise. And as people have found out about our cruise, of course they’re curious what we’re most excited about; the excursions, the food, the scenery. People seem a bit disappointed when I tell them “what we’re most excited about is sleep. Eight hours (or more) of uninterrupted sleep. I. Can’t. Wait!! I don’t know whether that is a common feeling for new(er) parents, or people of our age, or if it points to the stress in our lives that we’re both so excited about sleep. So, when Jesus tells us today to come to him, all of us that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and that he will give us rest, that sounds awesome to me. I would like this passage even more if it said “come to me, all of you that are weary and I will give you a hammock and a massage.” That sounds like perfection to me.

And really, we should be resting in Jesus at all times, right? Not just when things are tough. At all times and in all places we should praise and rely on God, which sounds easy in theory. When I visit people in their homes or at hospitals or even when I just visit with people who are going through a difficult time we sometimes talk about how people without faith do “it.” How do people without faith navigate the waters of losing someone they love? How do people without faith go through chemotherapy and remain hopeful? How do people who are going through divorce manage without faith? And it’s easy for us to almost take pity on those people who don’t know God or don’t know the healing power of Christ because we’re here–in church, waiting to be literally fed. But, we too, the people of God, go through some difficult times that may even seem impossible.

Let’s go ahead and take a little survey–how many of you have NEVER had to go through a difficult time? Anyone? That’s what I thought. We have all had our shares of difficulty. Some of you may feel like you have had more than your fair share of difficulties. No one ever said life was easy. Sometimes it may feel like we’re not carrying heavy burdens but that we’re carrying immense burdens. These are the kinds of burdens that make you want to pull the covers up over your head and stay there until the storm passes. I dread to say it, but I think we have all experienced these kinds of burdens or at least know someone who has. And yes, sometimes in those places of great darkness, when hope seems impossible, feeling/seeing/knowing God can get complicated. I mean, you know God is with you, but at the same time, God has never felt so far away. I call these “wilderness periods.”

A wilderness period and what it feels like changes from person to person. My wilderness times will not be the same as yours. Before becoming your pastor, I went through a bit of a wilderness period. I wondered if God really did have a call for me. I wondered if there really was a church that wanted me as their pastor. More than once, I thought God really had forgotten about me. I was angry with God. I went through wilderness times while trying to have a baby and being so unsucessful time after time. I continue to struggle with wilderness periods, at times, with my own battles with anxiety and depression. And why do I mention these things, friends? I want to talk about these battles,even if they are my own private battles for a few reasons: 1) I am not ashamed of any of this. I am beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image and God didn’t screw up while making me. 2) I want people to know, all of you included, that you’re never alone. Even if you feel like no one has gone through what you’ve been through, perhaps you might gain a little bit of hope in knowing we all have had our fair share of battles.

But, what the Gospel says next seems almost like a cruel joke. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest in your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” So wait…Jesus, I’m having a bit of difficulty handling my own crap and now you want me to yoke myself to you even though you’re telling me that it’s easy and light? No thanks. I feel like this text is similar to agreeing to help a friend move a television and then you end up helping them move around the entire living room. We may walk away thinking “that is not at all what I thought it was going to be.” And a life in Christ is the same way–it’s nothing like we think it’s going to be.

It’s not very often that we are physically reminded that we are yoked to Jesus. I heard this same text at ordination and I take it very seriously. When my stoll was placed around me, it was to be a reminded that Jesus is accompanying me through this journey to serve God and God’s people. It is a reminder to me, all the time (whether I am wearing my stoll or not) that your worries are my worries, your grief is my grief, your joy is my joy, and your love is my love. I am yoked to Jesus, you are yoked to Jesus, we are yoked together. Jesus knows your every pain and joy because he is present in your lives at every waking moment. And is it okay to doubt that presence? You bet. Doubting God’s presence in your life does not make you a bad Christian–it makes you human.

But what do we do in those times when even though we know we are yoked to Christ that it still is hard to believe that he is there? I think we admit it in prayer; “look God, I’m having trouble hearing or seeing you, or believing that you know I’m going through this crappy situation. I know you’re there, but if you could just make yourself known a little bit more, I’d appreciate it.” How many times have I said that God is big enough to handle your anger? God will not ever EVER abandon you. I know it’s hard to imagine, but we can never do anything to make God wash God’s hands of us. God is never going to label any of us a “lost cause” no matter how we label one another.

And if you’re having trouble still with feeling like Christ is with you, there is one easy way to be reminded: look at the first words of verses 28 and 29. Jesus invites us, “come. Take.” These are the words we hear at the table. Come, take and eat, take and drink. Be reminded that you are not alone. Jesus, who helps you carry your burdens, invites you to rest. Think about taking him up on that offer.