Sermon for 1/25/15 Mark 1:14-20

I know this probably doesn’t surprise you, but I’m not much into fishing. It requires two things of me that I just don’t have: the ability to be patient and the ability to be quiet. But, that didn’t stop me from attempting to fish many times. My grandpa, Lyle, was an avid fisherman. He owned a boat and would spend many hours on Lake Texoma fishing away. He took several trips to Canada to fish as well. One of my favorite pictures of Grandpa is of him in a “bucket style” fishing hat, pipe in mouth, reel in hand. So often when I watch “On Golden Pond” the character played by Henry Fonda reminds me of my grandfather. My nannie, Barb, also liked to fish. She fished much more later in her life when she retired and would spend time in Florida with her male friend, Mr. Smith; he fished too.

Mom, in the hopes of passing along some sort of fishing genes or something, would often pack fishing poles when we went camping in the summertime. I desired to always catch “the big one” despite having only my little pathetic Snoopy fishing pole. I am sure all the minnows I threw back are now long dead. My mom still enjoys fishing and she often goes with my brother in law. I enjoy eating fish but that’s about as close as I get anymore to fishing. That doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to give it another try.

Despite my hesitation towards fishing, I’m not sure that I would instantly leave what I was doing to follow some random guy who walked up to my fishing hole and asked me to follow him. As I thought about it, I couldn’t think of many things that I’ve done instantly in my life. I don’t know a lot of people that are instantaneous. And maybe that’s the thing. Out of all of the things we decide to do in our lives, out of all the decisions we make, shouldn’t hanging out with Christ be at least one of the decisions we make in an instant? Shouldn’t be a no-brainer?

I want to be cautious with the language I use, friends. Many times, in many denominations, we hear the word about “choosing” or “finding” Jesus. You may have a friend or family member that says “I know the moment I chose to make Jesus Christ my personal Lord and Savior.” Or, you may get that knock on the door with a very well intentioned evangelist standing on your doorstep with the great question of “have you found Jesus?” My answer to that, by the way, is always “I didn’t know he was lost.”

See, the thing is, we don’t choose Christ. He chooses and has already chosen us. We are claimed in the waters of baptism. We are fed with his body and blood. Our sins were taken away in his death. The only one who had a choice in any of this was Christ. And he chose it freely and with love. And should we ever choose to walk away from Christ, to throw our hands up and say “I’m going at this life thing alone without you!” Christ will still be with us whether we acknowledge it or not. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s a really hopeful promise.

When Jesus called out to Simon and Andrew and then James and John to follow him, they not only chose to, but they chose to do it instantly. And Jesus probably would have gone about his business should they had chosen not to follow him. And really, there were a lot of reasons to not follow Jesus. Simon, Andrew James, and John were fishing. But they weren’t doing it in a leisurely manner, this was their job. Nonetheless, they followed Jesus. And I have to wonder: did they know? Did they know that he was the messiah? Did they know that he would change the world? Did they know that he would love the unloveable? Did they know that he would cure people? Did they know that he would feed the hungry? Did they know that he would be betrayed not only by his friend but theirs as well. Did they know that he would hang on a cross suffering for them and for all of us?

Even if they did know all of that, they followed him anyway. But it’s not like they saw Jesus, and said “he looks like an interesting guy to follow…let’s do it!” No. Jesus called them. I have this theory and I’m willing to entertain the thought that I’m wrong about this. I believe Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, John (and all of the other disciples) because he knew he needed friends. He knew he needed help. He knew he needed a posse. Jesus knew that he shouldn’t go about ministry alone. Jesus doesn’t want to go it alone. And here’s the thing, we shouldn’t go it alone.

There’s something to be said for friendship. There’s something wonderful about being part of a team. Life seems easier when you’re not alone. I believe that Jesus doesn’t expect us to be alone. We may have times when we feel alone or we are physically alone, but that doesn’t mean that we are actually alone. We, of course, always have Christ. But we have those people in our lives that have us always in mind or always in their hearts. If you know or have loved someone that has taken their own life, you probably heard or thought “if only they knew how many people cared for or loved him/her.” We are not meant to do things alone. Even when God created Adam, God saw that Adam shouldn’t be alone. Genesis 2:18 says “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’” And along came Eve.

God created us to be in relationship. I think that bears repeating. God created us to be in relationship; not only in relationship with one another, but also in relationship with Christ and with God. Now, I’m not telling you “never be alone.” In fact, there are several stories where Christ goes away from his friends to pray and to rest. I believe that Christ was probably an introvert. There are times when it is good to be alone, to rest, to recharge, to regroup. But, we are ultimately created to be in relationship with one another. Christ started his ministry to the world around him by doing one simple thing: calling to his friends and basically saying “hey, do you want to come on an adventure with me?”

Christ calls to us. Sometimes we recognize it, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we run from it. But, Christ will always and does always call to us. Maybe Christ is calling us into new relationships. Maybe Christ is calling us into new ministries. Maybe Christ is calling us into something unknown but the promise of “I’m already there, waiting for you” lingers in the air. The question is, friends, when Christ calls, how will we respond? Christ’s ministry was not just a one time thing. Christ’s ministry continues. It continues in this place and all throughout the world. When Christ calls to us, how shall we respond?

When Christ called to Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, did they say “we’re going to have a committee meeting to decide whether or not to do that and then we have to vote. But first, we have to vote to vote.” Nope. They just went–immediately. Now I agree that we have processes and procedures in place for a reason. But, at the same time, we shouldn’t get in the way of Christ. Often when Christ calls, we make a lot of excuses: time, money, resources, our other family, friends, our jobs, even our faith. What it comes down to, though, is the only thing stopping us from answering when Christ calls is us.

I’m not asking you to abandon your jobs, or your family, or your friends, or your boats and nets. What I am asking you to do is to be open to Christ calling you into something better. Be open to Christ calling you into something different. Be open to Christ calling you into something amazing. Christ said yes to you immediately. The least we can do when called is listen.

Sermon for 1/18/15 John 1:43-51 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

Sometimes when you get thrust into a new situation, you’re often given 2 choices: operate by what you do know or operate by what you don’t know. As I finished up my first year of ministry with you all, I realized one thing: I don’t know what I don’t know. What I did know for sure is that I didn’t know a lot about the past in this place, but what I did know made me queasy, at best. So I want to start by being honest. I know that you’ve been hurt in the past. I also know that when I make broad statements like that that not everyone will feel the same way. I know that there are people in this place who love and miss previous leadership. But, I also know that there are people in this place who were hurt by previous leadership.

After I left my initial interview to be your pastor, I called Chris and talked it through with him. And after going on and on and on about the interview, I said, “they just so badly want the chance to be loved and I so badly want the chance to be the one to love them.” In our last year together, several of you have told me that you thought you were the problem; you thought you were unlovable; you thought you were dysfunctional. Maybe you even thought “can anything good come out of Elvira Zion?” If you weren’t at last week’s annual meeting, or if you haven’t gotten a chance to read my annual report letter, I want us to spend this next year together thinking about one central question: “why Elvira Zion?”

I want us to ponder what makes us different; what makes us unique; why people would want to make the drive to come out here. As I said last week, we’re more than just a cute, quiet, little country church. Do we have the band, lights, contemporary music, and some hipster-like pastor? Nope, but that may not be our call. Do we have the hand waving, dancing, 3 hour long service? Nope, but that also may not be our call. As I’ve thought about this text, the two phrases that keep coming back to me over and over are found in verse 46 “‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’” and “Come and see.”

Come and see. These seem like really simple instructions. In fact, we use this phrase so much that it almost has lost its effectiveness. “Come and see” the new cars, our new garden, the pool, this great movie, and on and on. Come and see. When we say “come and see” we put the owness on the person we are talking to. We say “come and see” as the invitation, but we really leave it up to the other person to take us up on that offer. And I know many of you have said “Pastor, we’ve been talking to people, we’ve been inviting them, we’ve been telling them about what’s going on here.” You’ve probably even said “come and see.”

If you have been a member of this church since you came out of the womb, you probably think someone being scared or apprehensive to come to church may seem a bit strange. But trust me when I tell you that there are people in this world, in this country, even in this county that so badly long for a relationship not only with Christ, but for a relationship with other people that are Christian and they are intimidated. Somewhere along the way these people have been told that they are not worthy to set foot in a church. I’ve got news for them, and for all of us, friends. None of us are worthy to set foot in this church or any other church for that matter.

“Come and see” isn’t just an invitation, it’s how we share the story of Christ. It’s how the story of Christ was shared with us. Our faith is a faith of an oral tradition. We hear the Gospel being read, we hear the story of Christ being sung in songs and then we share these stories with others. “Come and see” should also be followed by “come and hear” and “come and taste” and of course, “come and be changed.” But that invitation isn’t just for those who have never been to church, that invitation is for us every single week after week.

If you’re not coming here expecting to hear the Gospel, expecting to be fed, expecting to be forgiven, expecting to be changed, then we need to do two things: we need to address your expectations and I need to do a better job of making sure that you are getting those things week after week. Can anything good come out of Elvira Zion? Yes. Can anything good come out of Faith in Andover, or Immanuel in Camanche, or St. Pauls, Zion, Chauncy, or St. John’s in Clinton? Yes. Can anything good come out of First Baptist or out of St. Luke’s Methodist, or Prince of Peace Catholic church? Yes. Do you want to know why? It has nothing to do with the people in the building. It has everything to do with God and what God is doing in those places. God is just as much at work in those places as God is at work here.

And by no means is this place perfect. I am the first to admit that I am a sinner, in need of God’s redeeming. You all fill these pews and you sometimes bring the weight of the world with you. Perhaps you worry that people are judging you “what are they doing here?” Perhaps you are worried that people will find out that you work really hard to put on a good show on Sunday, but the other 6 days of the week you barely function. The Christ we come here to worship hung out with prostitutes, lepers, the diseased, adulterers, the outcast, and as he hung on the cross, he hung next to robbers. What makes us think that we need to be perfect in order to present ourselves to Christ?

Christ knows the “real” us. Christ knows the woman whose perfectionist tendencies just about drive her mad on a daily basis. Christ knows the man who feels like he is failing as a dad, despite everything he tries to do. Christ knows the married couple that barely speak to one another at home, yet come here and share a pew. Christ knows the widow who still hasn’t slept on the “other” side of the bed but tells everyone he or she is doing “quite well, thank you.” Christ knows the teen who is bullied and criticized yet goes back for more because they just want to be accepted and have friends.

There is this great hymn called “The Summons” and there is a line in there that I just love. It says “will you love the you you hide if I but call your name?” And I think that is all Christ is asking of us: love the you you hide. So while we ask “can anything good come out of Elvira Zion” perhaps the better question is “can anything good come out of me?” Maybe you’ve had your share of cracks and weaknesses, but you are not shattered and you certainly aren’t broken.  I’ve said this before, this is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

If you would, please allow me a moment to speak to your heart. Allow me a moment to speak to you as someone who loves you. You there, you that are hurting. Come and see. You there, you that mourns so much that there are days you can barely breathe. Come and taste. You there, you who is ashamed of your past, by what you have done to yourself, to your spouse, or to your family; come and drink. You there, you who try so hard to make everything perfect and right but then chastise yourself; you, come and be healed. You there, you who abuse yourself with your words, your self harm, your constant critique of yourself; you, come and be welcomed–just as you are: perfect in God’s eyes. You there, you who sits near someone who you love but really just don’t like; come and see and experience what life giving love feels like at the foot of the cross.

We are all broken. Can anything good come out of us? God created us. God filled us with good things. God filled us with good things! Can anything good come out of us? Yes. Can anything good come out of Elvira Zion? Yes. Come and see.

Sermon for 1/11/15 Mark 1:4-11 Baptism of Christ

Last week, I talked a bit about New Year’s resolutions. I also talked a bit about how easily we give up on those resolutions. Remember, I shared that the average New Year’s resolution only lasts about 2 weeks, so we’re getting close to a breaking point. Of course, I thought a lot about resolutions this week. I have been inundated by typical commercials that show right after the New Year holiday: diet commercials, commercials for discounted gym equipment, and commercials for botox (and other beauty products). I’ve also seen stories on the morning news stations on how to keep those resolutions. There have been stories like “how to save $20 this month with just these 5 easy steps” or “what you can do now to take the first step towards an organized life.” And even if I didn’t watch television (or listen to the radio) when I log onto the internet (especially Facebook) I see more ads that target the same products. As hard as I try, I can’t escape the insanity. And I get it, I really do. The business of “bettering” people must be a good money maker. After all, it is estimated that women spend $15,000 in their lifetime on beauty products. Men, you’re not that far behind with an estimated $12,000 (and that doesn’t count the creams you use when you think we’re not looking).

What this all comes down to is this, somewhere along the way, we somehow got the idea into our heads that we are not good enough. Now, I may not necessarily be talking about you, but I’m speaking of the whole of society. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we’re not skinny or fit enough. Enter in Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast, Nurti-System, the gym, Jane Fonda, and Richard Simmons. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we’re not pretty enough or that we don’t look young enough. Enter in Botox, miracle creams, Clinique brand stuff, “maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Mabeline,” and of course, Rogaine! And if none of this works and you still can’t cure what ails you, don’t worry, there is some kind of drug out there for you–as seen advertised on television. Of course, the side effects of the medication could be: dizziness, sleepiness, dry mouth, constipation, frequent urination, infrequent urination, weight gain, weight loss, confusion, suicidal thoughts, and death. And here’s what all of these products are telling you: you’re not good enough. You are not enough just the way that God made you. You are imperfect. You are flawed.

And maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but I rely so much on the approval of other people. You all know that I love social media; things like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Here is the beauty of social media and why people like it: they offer affirmation. On Facebook if you say something, post something, or have a picture that people enjoy they can click the “thumbs up” button to “like it”: affirmation. On Twitter, if you say something people like, not only can they repeat what you’ve said to their followers, but they can also give what you’ve said “a star”: affirmation. On Instagram if people like your picture they will give it a simple tap and then you get a “heart”: affirmation. On Pinterest, people can look at what you like and then re-pin it which serves as affirmation. No matter where I go on social media, I can get a little affirmation. Just one thumbs up, one heart, one star, one re-pin and it’s like I’ve gotten a hit of my favorite drug.

How in the world is the church supposed to compete with all of this? We have television, radio, and print ads telling us that we’re not enough. And then we have social media giving us just little small hits of affirmation. We’re in this weird sado-masochistic relationship with everything around us. How can we quiet everything around us long enough to hear the promises that God makes to us? How can we cut through everything that tells us we’re not enough. I don’t know about you, but I long to hear “you are good enough” or even “you are beautiful.” It gets harder and harder the older we get to hear those things, even if they’re being said to us, and it has nothing to do with hearing. As we get older, the voices in our heads get louder. The tapes we play constantly in  our heads that tell us we’re not enough are on full volume and repeat day after day. What are we to do?

All we need is a moment. All we need is just a few seconds. Just a few ticks of the clock to remind us of who we are and who we belong to. In our baptism, God gives us the stamp of approval, so to speak. Because it doesn’t matter what society tells us we are or are not. It doesn’t matter what we see in the mirror. It doesn’t matter what the number on the scale tells us. It doesn’t matter how many likes, or hearts, or stars we’ve received. We have all already received the only affirmation we need and really, the only affirmation we need to remember. We have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.

When the noise gets to be too much. When the tape in your head gets to be too loud. When the voices of negativity start making a little too much sense, you have a built in mute button. (trace cross on forehead) This is your mute button. Because no matter what, this is your core identity. (trace cross on forehead) You have already been called and claimed by the one person that means the most: God. Not only have you been called and claimed by God, but you were created in God’s image! This means that God crafted you by using the best possible template. And I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: God don’t make no junk.

So you’ve got a few wrinkles? God was with you when you worried yourself into those wrinkles. So your hair may not be as thick as you’d like it to; God had a hand on your shoulder every time you were stressed and tearing it out. Maybe you’re a little thicker in the mid-section than you’d like to be. God still was with you as you took celebratory bites and as you were comfort eating as well. If God drove a car, there wouldn’t be enough room on the bumper for all of the stickers needed to brag about us. What God says to Jesus on the day of his baptism is the same thing that is said to us on the day we are baptised: you are God’s beloved. With you, God is well pleased.

Every time you take the opportunity to remind yourself of God’s stamp of approval (trace cross on forehead) the noise gets less and less. Every time you take the opportunity to remind yourself of God’s stamp of approval (trace cross on forehead) the power that we give to the people and products that tell us we’re not awesome goes away. And every single time you take the opportunity to remind yourself of God’s stamp of approval (trace cross on forehead) the sin that has a hold of us loosens its grip and is washed away. You are amazing. You are enough. You are beautiful. You are beloved. But, don’t take my word for it. Feel it for yourself. (Trace cross on forehead)

Sermon for 1/4/15 John 1:1-18 (2nd Sunday of Christmas)

The new year has come around once again and with it, promises of something new. Maybe with the turning of the calendar you exhaled thinking, wishing, hoping, even praying that 2015 will be better than 2014. Maybe as you turned the calendar you were excited, full of anticipation, even giddy because 2015 is the year something big is going to happen for you. Maybe you fell someplace in between those two sentiments. I did a bit of research on resolutions and wanted to know some of the most popular resolutions made as the clock turns from 11:59 to midnight on December 31.

Of course, the most popular resolution made usually revolves around personal health. Losing weight, going to the gym (or working out more), eat healthier, stop smoking or stop drinking. After personal health, it seems that the resolution to better our wallets is quite popular. People desire to save money, get a better job, diversify investments, or get out of debt. Then there are other resolutions that have an end goal of a “neater” lifestyle: clean out that closet, donate old clothes, get organized, volunteer more, spend time with family, and on and on. The average new year’s resolution is kept for about 2 weeks. 14 days–that’s it!

Did you make a resolution this year? In years past, not only have I made resolutions, but I’ve resolved that this year I’m really going to keep the resolutions I make. Not like years past, no siree, this year is going to be different. And I don’t have to tell you, friends, what ends up happening year after year after year. And of course, when I fail to keep my resolutions, the inevitable guilt that accompanies that is just terrible. Yes, I did make a resolution this year. I promised myself that I would do a better job at self care. This means that I will take my days off, honor the sabbath, treat myself to the occasional massage, and not be so hard on myself. I think it’s a good goal. I’ll be happy if I last longer than 2 weeks.

On one hand, I love the new year. It’s an opportunity to start fresh. It’s an opportunity to leave the past behind and declare healing and second chances. On the other hand, I hate the new year. It’s full of pressure to keep resolutions. The chance that I will be disappointed or let down (more so by myself than anyone else) is quite large. The uncertainty of what the next 360 days or so will bring is unsettling, at best. Often around this time of year, we hear people saying “keep Christ in Christmas” and maybe what we should be saying instead is “keep Christ in every day.”

Today’s reading from John is interesting because this is the reading that we get every single year on the second Sunday of Christmas (which is today). Unlike some of our other readings year after year, this reading remains the same. Every second Sunday of Christmas you can come to church and you will always hear the Gospel of John (the first chapter) being read. And if you think about it, it comes at a perfect time. When the entire world is making resolutions (that will eventually be forgotten about or broken) or when we struggle to even think about a resolution to make (because that also can be the case) we come to church and are met with something very counter-cultural (which isn’t weird at all–that happens all the time). We are greeted with a reading that serves as a reminder that no matter what resolutions we make (or don’t make), no matter if we keep (or don’t keep) those resolutions, and no matter if we even care about resolutions, one thing remains the same: the saving and redeeming Word of God given to us in and through Christ Jesus.

Just the first three words of today’s reading give me hope. “In the beginning.” In the beginning, before anything else happens. In the beginning before the break of day and the fall of night. In the beginning before I wake. In the beginning before I succeed or fail. In the beginning, at the start, at the center, before everything else there is a promise. The promise is not only Jesus, but the light that accompanies him. The promise is not only light, but that the light will always always overcome darkness. The promise is not only grace, but grace upon grace. Unlike us, God doesn’t make resolutions. As we already talked about before, resolutions have a history of being broken or forgotten. God doesn’t make resolutions because God never breaks a promise. Instead, God gives us a promise and that promise comes in the form of Jesus Christ.

What today’s reading gives me is hope. I know that no matter how this year goes, I won’t be alone. God already has something planned for me, and for you. And yes, it may not always be pleasant or fun, but because of the promise of Jesus Christ, I know that God will be with me and I know that God will be with you, no matter what. I know that no matter how many times I screw up, I will get a second chance. It will be like every day is new year’s day. I will have a chance to start over, start new, and try again. That goes for all of us. The cross gives us a second chance. And then a third. And then a fourth. And then….well, I think you get the point. When scripture says “in the beginning” that means that God has sent Jesus to be with us not only from the beginning of time, but from the beginning of our lives, and at the beginning of each day.

When the world is falling apart around us, when resolutions are failing, when the scales start tipping up instead of going down, when the balance in our bank account doesn’t change, when the clutter starts to pile up, when the jogging shoes sit collecting dust, and when the inevitable guilt settles in surrounding all of this, I want you to just whisper to yourself “in the beginning.” Because in the beginning, God claimed you. In the beginning, God said “I love you.” In the beginning God promises you light that no darkness can overcome. In the beginning, God promises you second chances.

If you must, absolutely must, make a resolution this year, perhaps you can resolve to remember that God loves you. Resolve to remember that you are enough. Make a resolution to love yourself as much as God loves you. Resolve to remember that you are never alone because Christ has been with you since the beginning. Resolve to remember that your sins have no power over you and that God will always, always have the final word and that word is always filled with grace upon grace.