Thursday, March 4, 2010

Praying and Patiently (maybe) waiting.

I suppose it's very appropriate that we are in the season of Lent, and that we are encouraged to be in deep prayer and reflection at this time in the church year. As we pray and journey towards Holy Week, towards Good Friday and then the joy of Easter, I also await and journey in my own life and candidacy process.

As an assigned candidate for ordained ministry in the ELCA, I'm waiting to find out which Synod I will have my first call in. I was assigned to Region 7, the region which spans from SE Pennsylvania, to NE Penn, NJ, NY, and New England. I was overjoyed at the prospect of being closer to home again, at being able to drive home at holidays rather then fly. So now I wait, until March 14th, when the Bishops from Region 7 gather together with us, interview us (speed dating basically) and then make their decision by the close of the day.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't anxious. I want to know where my life is headed, I want to begin to anticipate the environment that I will be a pastor within. I'm being human, and needy. I want to be able to start viewing my future, and mostly I want to go where I want to be. And this is the hardest part, and a good lesson for me. As the song goes, "you don't always get what you want," and that is possible in this case. It's possible that God has a different plan for me then what I have in mind, and it's most likely the truth. I feel called to Metro NY, I think my gifts will be well used in urban ministry there, and that is what I am keep in prayer. I'm praying that I will be sent where I am needed, and that I will be able to get over my own wants and desires, and see that I was placed exactly where I was meant to be.

So please, keep me in prayer on this journey, and I will keep you up to date.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The best of intentions.

I always promise to write in here, and then life, or class comes in and bam! no more posts. So once again, I'm attempting to begin actively blogging the last 80 days of Seminary! Woot! 80 days! 80! (does a little jump for joy).

As sad as it potentially could be, I'm overjoyed at the prospect of being done with school, being able to leave the paper writing behind, the stress of reading thousands of pages of academic books in a month, and being worried about the future behind. It's getting close, and as it does, I find myself caring less and less about what is going on around me. I just can't seem to invest myself in the community life anymore. Sure, I've got friends which I spend plenty of time with and talk through the future, argue over interpretations of theology, and laugh at the ridiculousness that is our classmates, but I just don't see the point in developing deeper ties to people I don't know well. It seems pointless, or maybe is just too much work for me right now. It would take effort to invest myself in someone else, and I'm too invested in getting myself out of here for now. And maybe that's how all seniors feel, so I'm not alone... However, I will say that at some time, I'll miss this place, maybe just not right away, and maybe not the assignments ever.

So through my intentions, and to savor as much as I can, and also to grieve as I have to, I hope to write more in here. To just throw it out there, mostly as an expression, but welcoming of all thoughts and encouragement as I prepare yet again, to leave a place.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Last sermon at Salem.

Today was a sad day for me. It was the last day of my internship. This year has been a blessing, the people at Salem have been joyous, welcoming, and have taught me a great deal. They will forever be in my prayers and heart.

My last sermon for my internship was this....

Gospel: John 6: 56-69
main text: Ephesians 6:10-20

May the words of my lips and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.

Let us pray,
Triumphant God, wrap us in your love, use us in your mission, draw us together in unity, so that we may declare your radical Gospel with boldness. Amen.

As I read the text from Ephesians for today, it reminded me of a field trip I took in Junior high School. We had been studying the Medieval times, and the teachers decided a great way to make history fun, as well as to allow us to see the practices in person, was to take us to a place called, Medieval times. There was to be jousting, and knights in full armor, a ‘king’ of the event, servants, and food that was served without silverware.

As the festival began, depending on where you were sitting you were given the color of a knight to cheer for. I had the green knight. I remember thinking how awesome it would be to try on a suit of armor, to walk around impenetrable, to fight gallantly for ones kingdom, to slay dragons like I’ve heard of in stories.

Like many of us, as a young person, I romanticized that period of history. Thinking about kings, queens, princes, princesses, noble knights set out on dangerous missions. Their armor began to define who they were, their job, their title, their soul. These pieces of intricately laced together metal pieces, began to become a person. Their armor began to define them on one side of a fight, and usually that side was the good side. The strong protective side.

Our obsession with armor has not ended. We think about and create it even today, from bullet proof vests, to the armor that we use and send out to our troops in foreign wars. We want to protect our selves as much as possible.

But this extends further then just physical protection as well. We as people who are hurt by words and actions, by choices, and emotions, we want to protect ourselves from people too. We want armor and shields to cover us, so that we don’t have to be hurt, feel pain or discomfort from the words and actions of others. We want to be protected from the mean insults that others can lob at us. We want protection from the pain of self-consciousness, from the demoralizing of acts of racism, sexism, ageism, or classism. We don’t want to be hurt by rejection.

We think about war in many forms, we express it in songs, we watch it in movies, cartoons show illustrations of heavily armed machines fighting one another, of fighting against evil. Fights of good versus evil are present in our literature, movies, songs, stories, minds, politics, social causes, language and lives.

We live in a culture now, that is dominated by the thought that to make change, we must wage a battle. We must fight strong handedly against others, in order to change our current situations.

We have created only two sides in our battle, the good side and the bad side. If it’s bad, we fight against it, and always believe that we are on the good side.

This Ephesians text is something radical, it’s not advocating war, it’s not preparing us to wage a war, it is not telling us to use faith as a weapon, as some may advocate. Instead it is referring us to put on the armor of God to stand up for justice. To strive for peace. This isn’t a physical fight, this isn’t a fight that is easily won, but this is the mission that God is striving for.

The section of Ephesians is drawing from a passage from Isaiah ch59. In the Isaiah text, God is the one putting on the armor, God is the one wearing the breastplate of righteousness, God is wielding the sword of the Word. God is the one who is striving for justice, alone.

But here, in this text, we are asked to join that mission. To put on the armor ourselves. To place upon our heads the helmet of salvation, to wrap around our waist the belt of truth, to hold the shield of faith tight, to grasp the sword of the Word of God, and to walk in shoes of peace. We are asked to suit up, and help in the mission of God.

We aren’t asked to help slaughter enemies. We aren’t asked to close ourselves off in our protective suits. We are instead asked to fight in an entirely new way. With our radical fashion, we are asked to walk in the Gospel of peace, to hold tight to our faith, to surround ourselves in truth and righteousness, to know that our minds are safe in the promises of salvation, and to keep the Word of God at our side. We are asked to open ourselves up to the Spirit, and to share ourselves with others. We are given an opportunity to help penetrate injustices’, to help invoke change in society, to help end pain and rejection. We are given an opportunity to show the love that God has offered to us with others.

It is love that we are putting on, it is love that we are wearing from God. God has wrapped us in it, and now we have the power to go out and share it with one another. While the world is calling for war, while people want to fight, God comes to conquer, triumphantly through the peace of Christ. He doesn’t slay his enemies like they were dragons, instead he loves them. He radically changes them. His enemies are not people, but instead are hatred and sin and fear. They are not our earthly brothers and sisters, but are injustice and pain. And these are conquered by the risen Christ.

But that’s difficult to understand for us. We have a hard time seeing love conquer evil without a real fight, without having to draw swords and strike the enemy down. We want God to punish our enemies, so it’s hard to understand a God that brings enemies into our family, and takes suffering upon himself. It’s hard to understand a God that would offer his body as a life-giving bread, to all those who listen. Even the disciples would agree, as we heard in the Gospel for today. They have heard the words of Jesus and say that his teaching is difficult, and ask who can accept it?

Because of hearing this message of ultimate love, of ultimate sacrifice, many of his disciples turned back, and no longer went with him. They couldn’t understand this radical approach to love, so they left. And so Jesus turned to the twelve, and asked, “Do you also wish to go?”
Peter answered him, “But Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter and the twelve knew that these were difficult words that Jesus was offering, but they also knew that this was the only place they could receive the grace of God, the bread of life.

As difficult as it is to understand, Christ is the armor of God. Christ is the ultimate conqueror. For Christ is the one who conquers the power of death and the grave, Christ is the one that takes our sins, takes our pain, and gives us eternal life. Christ is the one that offers up his own body, to save us. Christ is the one that pierces our hearts and minds with the Gospel of peace, grace and life.

It is in unity that we put on Christ, the armor of God. It is in unity that we can strive for justice and peace through the Word of God. Christ will win this battle, for he has already given his life so that we may receive eternal life.

In the armor of Christ, we stand together, we gather side by side, as brothers and sisters, whether we agree or disagree, whether we are similar or different, whether we understand the gift of salvation or are just learning about it’s power. We stand together, united, and receive the body of Christ, we receive the words of love from God, we receive the gift of salvation. We stand together, in prayer, that we may understand the words of Christ, that we may help to spread his love to all the world, whether they be our enemies or our closest friends.

The letter to Ephesians is concluded with this passage. They are left with an encouragement to put on the armor of God, to stand firm, and to pray in the Spirit. Pray for the saints, and those gone before them, and to pray for the leaders of the church that they me deliver with boldness the Gospel.

This encouragement is just as appropriate for us today. As my last Sunday with you here at Salem, I encourage you to put on the armor of God, that is Christ. To wrap your selves in the love that is the Gospel. To stand together, unified, as brothers and sisters of faith.

Don’t allow small things to come between you, but remember the big things. Remember that the love of Christ is what conquers all, remember that you have been called to stand beside each other, to work together for the mission of God. And in doing so, never forget to pray for yourselves, your mission, your leaders, and those gone before you. For it is Christ who has the words of eternal life, and Christ who gives you them to you freely. Fill yourselves with the bread of life and cup of salvation, wrap yourselves in the armor that is Christ, and you will show others the love of Christ, you will make change, in the lives of others, in the world, and within yourselves.

Also pray for those who speak the words of God. Pray that they may declare the boldness of the Gospel, the radical and life changing Gospel of love and that the Spirit may empower them through this difficult task.

May we strive with boldness to spread the Gospel, to declare the words of God’s love, to share with others the radical life changing bread of salvation. And may we remember that the love of Christ conquers all. Amen.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

New things.

So here I am, 6 weeks from the end of my internship at Salem. I'm sad. That's the main feeling right now. I'm sad to be leaving such a terrific congregation, such terrific people, and a wonderful supervisor. I'm comfortable in my duties, enjoy the challenges, and love Minneapolis. It's going to be sad to begin to say goodbye, and to move back to philly for my last year.

I guess this is a learning as well, how to gracefully and greatfully leave a place that you have so much invested in. *sigh*

I think it would be great to do ministry in the cities again one day. We'll see what happens. :)

In other news, I got a new tattoo on saturday, and I love it. I've been planning out tattoos for three years now, practically the minute after I got my last one, so it was definitely time. I'm pleased with the colors and the design, and can't wait for the next, hopefully it won't be in three years. :)

Blessings and Peace!

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Losing heads to peer pressure.

Sermon for Pentecost 6B
Mark 6:14-29 – The beheading of John the Baptist.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you ever done something that you didn’t really want to do, in order to impress some friends, of even to get the attention of that pretty girl or good looking guy?

For many people this has happened more then once, we have come up against peer pressure, and peer pressure has won.

A friend of mine told me once this great anecdote from his life, about peer pressure. His name is Paul. He grew up in the country, on a dairy farm. As Paul and his friends became teenagers, they began to look for things to do as a group during Friday evenings. So this particular Friday evening, they could think of nothing to do, so one of his friends suggested they tip a cow. Paul wasn’t really keen on the idea, since he knew that they could get in trouble, and also that cows get pretty darn angry if you wake them up, and can charge. So they pestered him for a while, so finally he gave in, and said that he would do it, as long as they tipped on of his cows, this way at least he knew the cow they were tipping. They snuck onto his farm after the sun went down, and Paul directed them to this old cow. He figured she was the lightest, and most likely the slowest, so she would be easy to tip, and wouldn’t catch up with them too quickly.

The group of young men, quietly creeped up beside her, pushed with all their might, and knocked her right over. As they ran away, Paul glanced back to see that the cow hadn’t gotten back up, that she wasn’t even trying to stand again. He watched for a minute or two, and realized something was wrong. He went back to her, and realized that they had given this poor old cow a heart attack, and she was now dead.

Now of course they had to cover their tracks. So they decided to take the tractor, push her body off the bank, into the river that ran along the local farm properties, and play it off as if they had never been there.

Two days later, Paul's dad sat him down for a talk, he wanted to discuss becoming responsible, and owning his own cow. His dad told him he would give him a cow for a fraction of the cost, only a couple hundred of dollars, and that Paul could start the beginning of his own dairy farm. Paul was excited that his dad seemed to trust him and jumped at the opportunity. His dad took his money, and told Paul that he could buy the old cow that he had killed earlier this week. Turns out that the neighbors had called to say that her body had washed up on their property. Paul's dad instructed him to go pick up his new cow.

Paul was mindful of ever lying to his father, or tipping cows again.

My friend Paul, caught himself up in peer pressure, and had to deal with the consequences of guilt and of course his father’s punishment.

Herod’s story takes this peer pressure to the next level. Herod wanted to make himself look real good in front of his friends. He needed them to know that he was true to his word, but also that he was a powerful man. He hosted this party in honor of himself. And he intended to make sure it was impressive. I can picture the banquet hall full of luxuries, exotic foods, beautiful music, and a dance that was so moving, the king offered even half his kingdom as a gift to his step-daughter, the dancer.

Now here is where we need some background information. As the Gospel recalls, Herod wasn’t quite sure how he felt about John. He saw that he was a man of God, and was fascinated at the things he had to say and the ministry that he cultivated, but he was also threatened by him. Herod couldn’t allow John to continue to spread the message that his marriage was unacceptable to God, but he also didn’t want to go to the extreme that his new wife wished he would. Whereas Herodias wanted John dead from the beginning, Herod was willing to keep him imprisoned, so that he did not harm this man of God, but so that his reputation wasn’t challenged either.

As we look back at the banquet. Herod offers his step daughter whatever she wants, he does so out of joy for her dancing talent. She being the teenager that she is, she doesn’t really know what to ask for, so she goes to her mom for ideas.

Instead of telling her daughter to ask for something that could help her in the long run, such as a piece of land, or power over an area of the kingdom, Herodias can only think about her own anger. Herodias is so consumed with her anger for John that she can’t even think about the welfare of her child, who has no legitimate claim to the kingdom of Herod.

Her daughter does as her mother says, and even tries to please her mother more, by requesting John’s head upon a platter and presenting it to her mother. This gruesome tale then comes right back to Herod.

As he sits in front of friends and guests, he seems to have no choice. He is so caught up in his need to impress people, that he doesn’t want to tell his step daughter no. Also, not killing John, after the public knew that John was speaking against Herod and his marriage, would have made Herod look weak.

Herod allowed John to suffer, so that his company would not be disappointed and he would remain powerfully feared and honored. John suffered for a tyrant, a tyrant who exercised his ultimate power, the power to banish people to the grave.

Like there were for Herod, there are many powers that we struggle with in life. We struggle to remain true to ourselves, but then also to succeed in life by society standards, and to make impressions on friends, co-workers, and even strangers.

Pressure is on us from all areas of life. We are pressured to take care of family, to provide a safe place for them to live and to provide for their needs. We are pressured as a society to succeed financially, even in this struggling economy. We are pressured to look as if we handle tragedy and pain like it’s no big deal. There is pressure for us to go along with what society raises up as ‘cool’ or acceptable for people our age.

Don’t we often back our selves into corners, and do what is socially acceptable? Don’t we all walk past things in life sometimes? Walk past moments where we see blatant racism? Walk past situations where we suspect abuse? Walk away from things and people that if we get involved with it could become messy for us? Even though we know it’s wrong? Instead of reaching out to people who are seen as ‘undesirable’ by society standards, we move on, cutting them off from love, grace and compassion.

We deny people human rights all the time. Whether it gets attention in the media as the case of the two reporters that are imprisoned in North Korea or it is just known between the two people, such as when a child dismisses the feelings of another child in school because if they spoke to them or didn’t make fun of them, they wouldn’t be cool anymore.

The power of peers and society surrounds us like a tyrant, it threatens to remove us from power and prestige, if we don’t conform with it. So instead we cut other people out from the grace that is given to them. We choose to treat others poorly, so that we are not the ones that are treated like John the Baptist. Instead of sticking up for what we see is right, for living life as Jesus Christ has shown us through his life, we are scared to go against the pressures of society. We let the power of the tyrant rule our lives.

But there is good news in this story of John’s death. For the tyrant’s power has no hold over the power of resurrection!

When Herod heard of the teachings of Jesus, he automatically thought that John had risen from the dead. That death had no hold over this man of God. That must have terrified Herod, as well as comforted him.

He would be scared because it was possible for this man of God to come back and preach against him once again, but also Herod could be relieved as not having felt like he completely destroyed John. He seems to comfort himself with the idea of John being alive again, and that his actions in front of his friends, had no real consequences.

Herod is of course mistaken, and John was not the one responsible for the amazing acts that were being reported. However, there would be a resurrection. A resurrection that would strip power from the tyrants of the world. A resurrection that would strip power from death and the grave itself. A resurrection that would give life to people for all the ages past and all the ages in the future. A resurrection that was a promise of grace and love.

Jesus’ resurrection still has the power to transform the negative powers in our lives today. Jesus has triumphed over sin and death for us. His life, death and resurrection release us from the powers of society; they enable us to live within the grace of God, to be loved children of God, instead of tyrants to ourselves and others.
It was through another gruesome act that God’s love trumped all the abuses of power and reached out to embrace a suffering world. God reached out to you, through the pain of the cross to save you from the powers of the world, to show you that you and I are loved children of God.

We act out of that unconditional love, to break the tyrant like powers of the world that crush people’s hope and souls. We act out of God’s unconditional love when we take the time to care for the repressed people of society. We act out of that unconditional love when we participate in volunteer agencies and relief organizations, such as Lutheran World relief or the Heifer Project. When we volunteer our time at places such as “feed my starving children,” or even the summer VBS program here at Salem, we share that unconditional love, and help to change the lives of people through the transforming power of a resurrected Christ.

It is through that love and grace that we are invited to the banquet everyday. This is not the banquet of Herod which is full of self aggrandizement or where we will be offered half of a fractured kingdom, but instead, this is the banquet of Christ, were we are given life and love, and given the whole kingdom of God.

The message of the banquet of Christ cannot be stopped. The love of Christ will invade all parts of the world, all places full of tyrant’s power, and fills us with a life giving love, a power over the grave. Amen.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Stormy Seas a Comin'

Here is my sermon for Pentecost 3B.
Mark 4:35-41

Almighty God, Calm the storms in our hearts and minds so that we may hear your words for us, that we may know of your love and grace. Amen.

In High School, I was part of a class that went on a canoe trip each year. As part of the requirements, we were to be paired up with someone, and work as a team. For those who didn’t know how to canoe, they were taught in the indoor school pool, and this would be their first big outing onto a river. I was paired with a girl named Erin. Now Erin was about 5’2, and had never canoed before in her life. She was jittery, and I kept telling her to just be calm. As the experienced canoeist, I took the back. I explained to her again how we needed to work as a team, she needed to watch for things coming up ahead, and tell me how to steer us. We were towards the end of the boats that were launched into the river that day. Erin kept talking about how she didn’t want to tip in, because she was terrified of it, and how I needed to make sure not to tip us. I assured her that I had never intentionally tipped a canoe before and we would be fine, she just needed to sit still.

Well there is where I went wrong. Erin was so nervous, that she literally could not sit still. She jumped at every little movement around her, she swayed back and forth when she remembered to put her paddle in the water. Then we got to a part of the river where there was faster moving water, and trees that dangled overhead. Being that I was already 6’1 in HS, I of course got lots of branches in the face, lot’s of bugs all over me that fell off the branches, but the worst was listening to Erin scream about the spiders. She couldn’t handle the bugs falling on her, she freaked out, and began to squirm even more. Needless to say, she tipped us.
But that wasn’t the last time we would be in the water that day, Erin caused us to tip about six more times that day. Her fear had overtaken her and she was no longer thinking rationally.

That same fear of the water is tangible in the words of the disciples that we heard from the Gospel of Mark for today. You can almost hear the panic in their tones as they run to Jesus, asking him why he is sleeping while they are going to perish. They fear the storm that has cropped up, and for good reason too.

The location of the water that they disciples were boating on, lies behind a mountain range, and is quite shallow. Although Mark refers to it as a “sea” it’s actually a lake. This lake is well known for the bad storms that come across it. Because of it’s geographical placement, storms come quickly without warning, they are fierce and dangerous, and usually do not last very long. The fishermen would have known all this information, they would have known that this lake was well known for it’s storms, they would have been watching in fear from the moment they stepped on to the boat.

These disciples put no trust in their own knowledge of boats to save them from this storm that popped up. Instead they turn to look for their leader; they turn to look for Jesus awaiting his words, awaiting his commands. Although they had more experience on the water then Jesus, although the fisherman of the bunch had known the dangers of the waters for their whole lives, they turn to the man that they have been following, the man that was raised as a carpenter, and persuaded them to leave their jobs and follow him.

The fear over took them, and they could only panic and run to Jesus. When they find him sleeping calmly, they yell out to him. They accuse him of sleeping while they are perishing. They accuse, because they don’t know what to do, they feel abandoned by their leader, and are not trusting in his previous words, but instead need an action from him now, in this moment. They feel the peril that approaches them through the storm, and they don’t know what to do.

Having spent a good amount of time on the water myself, I know that it is a dangerous place. Storms only increase the danger of being at sea. I’m sure most of us have heard of all the different vessels that have been lost at sea. Stories pop up about the Bermuda triangle, and boats that vanish. We have heard of storms that have torn ships apart, run them aground, and sunk them. People, and all kinds of crafts get lost at sea. The water can often be a dangerous place.

We encounter storms on a regular basis during our lives. Yes, we encounter natural storms like thunderstorms and tornadoes, but we also encounter different kinds of storms. Storms that shake our foundations, storms that change life as we know it.

Storms in our lives come in different ways and at different times. They can be building storms, or can pop up without warning. We come to encounter storms such as death, loss, broken hearts, rejection, pain both physical and emotional. Storms in our lives can be the death of loved ones, struggling with depression, finding knew ways to survive, being turned down for a job because of who you are, feeling alone and separated from those who you love.

Storms cannot always be predicted, sometimes we are influenced by the people that surround us, sometimes people abuse and use us in ways we didn’t see coming. We get lied to by someone that we trusted with everything, and we are suddenly left alone in a mess we didn’t create.

There are times when we don’t deserve the storms of our lives, when we question what’s going on around us.

We like the disciples can wonder where God is during our storm? How can we be left feeling alone, and feeling as if we are perishing, and God not be beside us giving us direction?

As Jesus is awoken by the disciples, he stands up and calls out off the boat, “Peace. Be still.” Three words, and everything is calm. The winds and waves have stopped crashing, the beating hearts have steadied, and the worried minds have relaxed. With three words, the storm and the disciples are calm.

In the Gospel, Mark says that Jesus states these words to the wind and water, but I think they were meant more for the disciples. It wasn’t that Jesus had to physically control the natural elements, he was calming the minds and hearts of the disciples, he was giving them peace and stillness, not the waves. The storm would have passed in it’s own time, but the disciples fears needed to be calmed.

Jesus offers them peace in the midst of turmoil, he offers them calmness in the face of danger.

Jesus continues on to question the disciples, asking them if they have faith, how come they didn’t trust in this situation. Although he chastises them about their reaction, he still took the time to calm them. He knew that what they needed was peace of mind, they needed to feel safe, and he gave that to them. He brought to them a peace that not only calmed the storm in front of the, but calmed the many storms to come. He brought them a peace that will forever give them salvation, that will forever give them stillness, because he brought them a peace the surpasses all understanding. A peace that is offered in his death on a cross.

There is a great song, with the chorus line of, “Sometimes he calms the storm, and sometimes he calms his child.”

Jesus does this for the disciples. He may have controlled the earthly elements, he may have stopped the waves in their tracks, but he most definitely calmed his people.

God does this for you too. God is there, through it all. The comfort may not always come in the ways we want it to, the storms may not always disappear instantly, but God is with you.

The storms in our lives can come and go, they can stick around and they can reoccur, but through it all, God is there. Even when we think there is no help for us, that we are perishing, we can take comfort in our tiny seed of faith, that we are cared for that we are loved.

Just as Jesus spoke peace to the disciples, so God speaks peace to our lives. Speaks peace to the fears and dangers in our lives. Speaks peace to our worried hearts and minds.

Water can also speak peace to us, remembering God in the waters, we can have peace. Peace from the waters that God used to create the world, Peace from the waters that God used to save our ancestors the Israelites when He parted the Red Sea, waters that God used to baptize his Son Jesus Christ, waters that he uses to baptize us and claim us as his children, to claim that he will be with us always.

So let us take comfort in the fact that God is with us, through the storms through the joys through days and through the years. Let us be calmed by the glorious message that we are children of God, that we are a loved people, that we have been redeemed through the indescribable love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

You are a loved child of God, a child that would not be allow to perish alone in a storm on the seas of life, for God is with you through all you do, through all the trials and through all the struggles. Living and breathing in and around you.

May the Holy Spirit blow peace into the storms of our lives, may Jesus be the calm conductor of our boats on the choppy seas of life, and may God be our guide and companion keeping us close as we worry and fear. Amen

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Weeds of faith.

Pentecost 3B
This is my sermon for:
Mark 4:26-34- Kingdom of God as a mustard seed.

Let us pray.
Holy Creator, you do extraordinary things with little resources, You make the small, mighty, you make the weak, strong. Bless our hearts and our minds to your service, so that we might be extraordinary through you and in your service. Amen.

After reading the Gospel for today, I got interested in mustard. I had always thought of it as a condiment, as an addition to sandwiches, burgers and deviled eggs. I never had really thought about what a mustard plant looked like, or where or how it grew.

I looked it up, and found out some pretty cool stuff.

There are several household uses for Mustard such as: a Food additive, muscle cramp reliever, clears congestion, aids in digestion, odor remover (skunk and smelly foods), can be used as a facial cleanser, household cleaner, muscle relaxer (good in soaking feet, or back aches). The leaves can be eaten, or used in marinating meats.

The mustard plant can grow to a height of eight feet tall. It’s a weedy looking plant, taking over gardens, and practically impossible to remove once it starts growing.

In Jewish law, mustard plants are unclean to keep in the garden.

So why does Jesus use this image of a mustard seed as a mighty plant? They aren’t even the smallest seeds around, although as you can see they are pretty tiny (indicated a jar full of mustard seeds).

This confusing image that is presented is to tell us about the Kingdom of God, so why then does it seem as if Jesus is exaggerating?

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed? The Kingdom of God, that which we are to inherit, is like a small invading plant, that takes over whole gardens, and is basically seen in the farming community as a weed.

When I think of weeds, I think of things that are undesirable. Things that take away from the plants I’ve been intentional about. We try to take out the weeds, we try to separate them from what we desire.

When I think weeds, I think dandelions.

Dandelions are often one of the most hated weeds around. They poke up out of lawns all around the country. It seems as if there is never enough weed repellant to make dandelions disappear. They keep coming back. Ruining lawns we have worked hard to perfectly manicure.

It seems as if we struggle so much to get rid of them so that our situations are perfect that we become consumed by them. But what are the dandelions in your life?

Do we struggle to get rid of our racial identifiers, to be equal to others? Throughout the years people have attempted to assimilate into American “culture’ meanwhile losing their own culture.

It often seems that those things which make people unique, are hidden, so that they can appear as if they blend in. People try to hide their family situation, their background, even some of their physical attributes, or talents.

We as people try to appear perfect by society standards that we lose perspective. We look up to become great and tall like that of the cedar. We look up expecting God and Christ to come in a roaring thunderous way. We look up, expecting that perfection can only come dripping in Gold with trumpets blasting on high.

But what if we are looking in the wrong direction? What if instead of looking up for God, we should really be looking down? Looking low on the ground in the common weeds. In the dandelions and mustard plants.

Looking in the humble forms that God appears in our lives. Looking in the weeds for the unexpected. Looking in the scraggly plants that take over gardens, for the unexpected God coming in the form of man, to give up his life to save us all.

We are so busy looking up, that we miss the unexpected in the weeds. We miss the life giving power of the Gospel, invading our lives, taking over our garden like hearts, and not being able to be removed.

We as a society have been consumed by the bigger is better thought for a very long time. American society has adopted a strong consumerist attitude, using up all our resources to make sure we have the newest of things. Looking as if we are big and tall is the image we seek to portray, but what about those dandelions?

So let’s compare cedar trees to weeds for a moment. In the forest, you would get rid of a tree by chopping it down. The size of the tree would mean that it would take more time to remove it, but it can be removed so that it never grows again.

For anyone that has gardened before, or knows a little bit about it, you know that weeds are impossible to get rid of. They can be pulled out, sprayed with weed repellant, covered in wood chips and even mowed over, but they still find a way to come back. They grow in the most inhospitable of places, in the cracks of sidewalks, at the corners of foundations, in planted fields, in urban gardens, and in the wilderness. They grow where they are unwanted, and even despised.

Isn’t this exactly how we should view the kingdom of God?

Maybe this image of the weedy mustard seed is perfect to think about the Kingdom of God. Flourishing from a tiny seed, with little resources, and nothing can stop it. It can be neglected, left aside, unwanted, forgotten, but it will never stop growing. Isn’t the Gospel message exactly the same?

We hear about faith all throughout our lives, often we are busy and in tune with church when we are young, when we are encouraged to attend church by parents or mentors, and for some of us, it fades as we grow. People see the world around them, and think that this God they had grown to know through Sunday school, isn’t what they see around them. They are looking up for something mighty, something profound to come out of the sky, for a great presence. And miss the weeds at their feet. The weeds that pervade their daily lives, that exist in poor conditions, even though all else has left.

The Kingdom of God is of the weeds. It is of the unexpected, disregarded people, the broken and sinful people, the hurt and the weary. The kingdom of God is the pervading weed that is in all our lives, whether we see it creeping into our lives, taking over our gardens and sidewalks, or even if we try to get rid of it. That weed will always be there.

Jesus prepares us for the unexpected. We are the mustard seeds, the Kingdom of God together. We are the undesirable, unclean seed, tiny little seed that gets tossed aside by society standards. We flourish with little resources, and nothing can stop us.

We do not carry the word perfectly, but somehow it keeps flourishing through and in our lives. The message of Christ is in the world, and nothing can stop it.

I’m going to place this pot of mustard seed, out in the narthex, and as the seeds grow and flourish, I want you to watch. To watch for the unexpected. So that each time you see these weeds, or ones out on the street, you think about the Kingdom of God. Think about God being in the unexpected places, in the weeds. And know that you are part of the pervasive Kingdom of God that cannot be stopped, no matter if we are neglected, alone, mourning, scared, or looked down upon. We, as the mighty weeds of God’s kingdom, shall continue to grow and spread the message of God. Let us remember that although we may not have the best of resources, we might not have giant seeds, we have enough to flourish. Let us use our resources to spread the Gospel message, to share with others the invading and life giving power of God.

The cedar trees of the world may be cut down and removed, but the Kingdom of God cannot be cut down or ripped out or removed in any way! Thanks be to God! Amen.

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