Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In This Corner...

To save you all a little bit of heartache, I'm going to post just sermons for a least until I hit 50 pounds, and then I'll post pics :)

If you’re like the rest of the world, those 33 Chilean miners buried underground for 69 days, captured at the very least your attention, if not your entire heart. After hearing all their stories, you feel like you almost know them...The beautiful ones: of babies been born in hope while their daddies sang lullabies to them from underground; the comical ones—of wives and mistresses fighting over who had rights to see their loved one first (the wife probably wanting to say more than “I love you”). As we heard more about them, those men began to symbolize for the entire world, what it meant to survive in hope; what it meant to fight to stay alive. In just a few short months they’ve already become legendary...because those men actually lived through what we all sometimes feel—that overwhelming, heavy, oppressive darkness—but instead of giving in, like we all sometimes want to do...instead of letting that darkness swallow them whole, they practiced their faith, they prayed each morning, they communed with each other, and they wrestled...they wrestled with God.

Just an hour after being extracted from the mine, freed miner Mario Sepulveda said, "I was with God and I was with the Devil, they both fought me but God won.” I wonder if Mario knew that thousands of years ago, his great-great-grandfather Jacob, whispered those same words. That thousands of years ago, there too was a man who met God in the darkness of a mine...who wrestled with God...

Let me tell you a little bit about this our first fore-wrestler Jacob, a guy you should have learned about in Sunday School—someone from your own family tree; someone who makes me think our branches should be a little better pruned. Jacob, was a wrestler from before he was even born. He and his big brother Esau would play tag in their mama’s belly, constantly trying to get the upper hand on each other, and on the day they were born, he was trying as hard as he could to pull Esau back in, so that he would go first. Those early escapades led him down a slippery slope; as time went on, he lived up to his name (Jacob indeed means liar, swindler, deceiver) when he stole his brother Esau’s inheritance by lying to his dying father; he then went on to marry two sisters, one who he loved, one who he didn’t and had 13 children with them and two of their slaves; he was shrewd, building up his own flock of sheep and goats, while making sure his father-in-law got the smaller, sickly, and weaker ones.

And so finally after living dishonestly for almost two decades and after getting all that he had ever wanted—wives, money, children, livestock, he decided it was time to listen to God and head back home, to face the wrath of the brother he cheated, and to live in the land that he had inherited.

So, he cries out to God—oh God please deliver me; save me from my brother who probably wants to kill me and then I will faithfully serve you; I know I’m not worthy, but you did promise that you would watch out for me, that you would always do good for me, so let me live, and I’ll give you what I owe.

And God answers, but not in a nice—of course I’ll always love you, come on home—kind of way. Instead there’s a reprisal of his early years, and there’s an all night long drag down fight; they wrestle together, and pull each other’s hair and knock each other down. Jacob even seems to be winning at one point, and to show his power this strange being strikes him, dislocating his hip. And as dawn draws near, this man, or angel, or maybe even God, tries to get away, but Jacob grabs him and won’t let go. He pulls his hand behind his back and demands that he be blessed—demands that he be smiled upon—demands that the man in front of him looks into his eyes, sees him for all the crap that he’s done and call him his child anyway.

And the man does just that—Yes, the man says, You are blessed. And furthermore, Your name is no longer Jacob—the one who steals, and lies, and deceives, but your name is Israel—because tonight you wrestled with God, tonight you looked into God’s eyes, tonight you held on for dear life, tonight you saw God face to face and you survived.

And Jacob—Israel, for his name was the not the only thing changed. His body was too. And each time he took a step and felt the pain radiate down his leg, he remembered; he remembered the promise of God—a promise that came through a knock-down, drag-out fight; a promise that blessed him body and soul for always.

You know what though, You and me; us and Mario—we’re still in this struggle; we’re still wrestling with God each and every night. We’re still living in this world where the darkness seems oppressive and the light dim. We’re still living when we wonder if God’s face will ever be made known; or if God’s left the building a long, long time ago. We’re still living lives that simply to not reflect the grace of a God who claims to love us; and we’ve been hurt too deeply, too many times, and continuing the fight is simply too exhausting.

But, please, what we can’t do, is leave the fight. We cannot leave God alone, on our mantle in a nice, safe, neat little box. We can and pretend that the wrestling with what God wants, what God needs from us, what God desires of us is over. We cannot let go. can’t let go that easily. We have to keep wrestling; we have to keep believing that we have fight left in us—that even though we’re just a small, country church, 35 strong, we indeed have something to offer the God of the world.

We have to keep fighting, holding on to God, demanding for God to bless us, demanding that we will not let go until God looks us squarely in the eye and says “I don’t care what you’ve done, or haven’t done, you are my child; you have wrestled with me and you will live.”

The thing is we won’t walk away unscathed; we’ll develop a limp that sends fire up our bodies with every step because facing God is far from easy; but we will walk away, and having seen God, having wrestled and demanded our blessing, we will absolutely never be the same. Having seen God, we’ll will tell the story of how our name was changed…having seen God we’ll remember the words of our brother Mario—Both the devil and God fought me in there. And God won. God took me by my best hand…the hand of God and I held on to him. I never thought for one moment that God wouldn’t get me out of here.” Never…never think for one moment that after all this wrestling is over, God will not get you out of here. Because when the night ends and the morning begins, God will take you by your best hand, and you will live.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lookin' Kind of Fuzzy?

I've decided that since Christianity as a whole is really just re-saying over and over again what Jesus said, I'm not going to feel guilty for reading columns that spark my imagination, give me an idea, and then send me on my way.  For cryin' our loud, if our dear gospel writers could copy from each other, and embellish a little now and then, I think Working Preacher will simply have to forgive my using of their ideas.  So, here is credit where credit is due...again...Mr. David Lose, thank you for the cataact image, which actually you stole from someone else.  The stuff about Jesus, however, is all original...

For the longest time my mom couldn’t see anything; she even gave up shopping (which at the time was one of her favorite pastimes), because she couldn’t read the prices on any of the clothes. She wouldn’t drive past dark, because all the cars would get those little “angel lights” around the headlights, and she couldn’t tell if they were 100 yards away or just around the corner—well, that and because everyone else refused to be in the car with her. She had to hold things at the oddest angle to try and make the words or pictures visible through the patches that were clouding her vision.

For those of you who’ve had cataracts, you probably know what I’m talking about…and for those of you, who’ve had it removed, you probably know just as deeply what she’s felt since her surgery. Seriously, she’s almost like a brand new person. I remember just after her vision became clearer, she said she never realized how much not being able to see affects you—how much it changes how you interact with the world, how much it makes you…well, cranky. And since then she walks around with this new kind of sight—she reminds me of Mary, from my much quoted favorite scene from Little House on the Prairie when she gets her new glasses—“Pa, look at the leaves. Pa, just look at those leaves.”

We’ve talked a lot about why worship is a central part of being a Jesus follower—and here’s another one: you come to worship, to cut away all of that gritty, nasty film that clouds your vision. You come to worship for cataracts surgery…seriously. Let me take a little guess about how your week works. You wake up on a Monday morning, you either get ready to go to work, to go to school, to stay home with kids, or to do whatever you have planned for the day. You most likely have lists of things you need to accomplish, of places you need to go, of things you need to do.

You’ll do those things, go those places; you’ll eat some meals, talk to some people—you’ll work hard, maybe watch a little tv, get a little frustrated with your partner or your children; you’ll do a load of laundry, a few dishes, brush your teeth, go to bed, and wake up again on Tuesday. Is that kind of right?

And I’m wondering, where did you see Jesus? Because I’m a pastor…I’m guessing by virtue of my job, I think about these things a little more than you do, and I didn’t see him at all. Now, I believe with my entire being that even though I didn’t see him, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t there. I believe with my entire being that God IS active in our world.

I believe that God heals you every single day—that you are like those 10 lepers—simply doing your job (by the way—lepers jobs were to call out for people to have mercy on them—hence the calling our for Jesus to have mercy)…so you are doing your job, and someone tells you to do something or something happens like well…like Jesus saying, go show yourself to the priest…and more often than not, you’ll do just that. All those 10 lepers did…they did what they were told to do. The difference…the difference is that nine of those guys still had cataracts. Nine of those guys did what they were told to do, and their eyes still couldn’t see. But, one of them…one of them had surgery right there…right in the middle of nowhere, and when he looked up…he saw the green leaves and the blue sky and the clear skin and you know what else he saw? He saw Jesus. And I guess when you see Jesus, your body simply knows what to do, and it falls flat in front of him, and says Jesus’ favorite prayer—thank you, thank you, thank you.

So, you come to worship: one…to be reminded that indeed your vision is cloudy (I think we like to pretend it’s not). And two…we come here to let God remove that nasty film. And for those of you who’ve had eye surgery, you know it’s not the most pleasant thing—there might indeed be times where cutting away that layer of cloudiness hurts a bit—where you thought you were functioning just fine with a nice little veil between you and the world.

There might be times when you will hold onto that film for dear life, because you really like holding things at odd angles and making up what you actually see. And afterwards, it might even take awhile to get your balance, to re-orient yourself into a new way of seeing…because not having to squint at the world takes some getting used to, not having .

But, imagine, then…imagine what you will see. Because if we truly believe that God IS active; if we truly believe that God heals us, meets us on the way between Samaria and Galilee, between Lee and Dekalb, between Chicago and Rochelle; if we truly believe that, then I would imagine, cataracts surgery the good ol’ Jesus follower way…actually lets us see Jesus. That sounds pretty fabulous to me. That even though on Monday, I’ll still get up, argue with my spouse, go grocery shopping, make dinner, and put the kids to bed. I’ll still do the same things I’ve always done…but, instead of going through my day cloudy and blinded, I will see Jesus. I will hear him speaking in places where before I’d just hear noise--from little girls saying ‘you know there’s this God who will heal you;’ from grandmothers who pass on their faith through old warn baptismal gowns;’ from siblings who faithfully struggle with how best to help their mother; from little 3rd graders who are so excited to meet a brand new teacher. With that film gone—you will see Jesus.

Now there are some weeks, where the film might become so thick by Sunday evening, you don’t even make it to Monday. Sometimes I can’t even make it out those doors. But, that’s okay too. Because that’s why you keep coming back here…so we can remind each other. So, that we can hear anew in the Word where God has been active and promises to continue to be. So that we can walk by that font, and wash our eyes clean with the miraculous waters of baptism. We come back here so we can eat Jesus and be transformed from the inside out; so we can greet our brothers and sisters in peace and see that Jesus stands among us.

So, shut your eyes for a moment, feel that film fall away. Open them. Now healed ones…it’s up to you…are you going to keep going on as you’ve always gone…or are you going to fall flat on your face in front of Jesus, and whisper one of his favorite prayers--thank you, thank you, thank you. And then how about going out into the world, where the leaves might just be a crisp new shade of green, and where you pretty much want to tell everyone what God has done. And remember if Jesus starts to get a little fuzzy after awhile—remember he is indeed still there…and then get yourself back here, because your surgery is scheduled for 10:30 each and every Sunday.