I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Colossians 2:6-19

Brian McLaren, in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy, writes about the seven Jesus’ he has found throughout his Christian Journey.  He first met the “Conservative Protestant Jesus,” who was born to die for his sin, but there was something missing because it seemed to individualistic and legalistic.  So, he kept searching.  He then found the “Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus,” who was present and personal, full of life and energy, yet this Jesus didn’t seem to have much concern for the world or the church’s history.  So, he kept searching.  He then found the “Roman Catholic Jesus,” who was steeped in tradition and full of compassion, but this Jesus seemed too exclusive.  So, he kept searching.  This led him to find the “Eastern Orthodox Jesus,” who was full of mystery and the Trinity,” which led him to the “Liberal Protestant Jesus,” who focused on social justice, which led him to the “Anabaptist Jesus,” who was a pacifist and full of peace, which led to the “Liberation Theology Jesus,” who fought against global injustice for the poor and oppressed.  Sometimes this Christian Journey is really confusing.  Which Jesus is the right Jesus?

Bono is apparently on this same search party in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”  He writes, “I have climbed highest mountains, I have run through the fields, only to be with you.  I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls, only to be with you, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for . . . I have burned with desire, I have held the hand of the devil . . .”  This is a man on a mission.  He even goes so far to say offer a sinner’s prayer saying, “You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, you know I believe it, but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  Many of us have stories like this—searching for the right Jesus, at least, it seems that so many have such a strong opinion about the one they’ve found.

Maybe you’re not searching for Jesus so much as a renewed passion for faith in Christ.  You have experienced the honeymoon of conversion, where your cup runneth over, and you feel that God is with you, but now it’s hard to remember how God called you here in the first place.  CS Lewis writes about this experience in The Screwtape Letters, which is a collection of letters written from an elder demon, Screwtape, to a demon-in-training, Wormwood.  In order for Wormwood to climb hellish corporate ladder, he must convince his patient to turn his back on God.  About half way through the book, Wormwood is doing a fine job:

 My dear Wormwood, obviously you are making excellent progress . . . I am almost glad to hear that [your patient] is still a churchgoer and a communicant.  I know there are dangers in this; but anything is better than that he should realize the break he has made with the first month of his Christian life.  As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian, he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements, but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago . . . a few weeks ago you had to tempt him with inattention in his prayers: but now, you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart . . . You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness, but do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy, God . . . Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.

 Later Wormwood begins to slip up.  Screwtape writes, “My dear Wormwood, the most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion.  No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!  This is very bad.”

The great prophet Elijah came to a point in his ministry when he felt alone and abandoned by God.  He was fasting for 40 days and 40 night, sleeping in a cave.  God came to him and asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Elijah answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”  Times are rough for Elijah.  I find hope that this great prophet, too, went through struggles.  God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about the pass by.”  Then there was a great wind which split rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire there was the sound of silence, or a still, small voice.

This was the problem with the Colossian church.  They were being led away from faith by philosophies and the elements of the world.  They were searching for Christ in creation, whether it be rock and trees or philosophical thought.  You see, the Colossians had it backwards.  They were finding philosophies which worked for them, and then mapping faith onto it.  It’s like saying, “I agree with the Republicans, therefore Jesus must be a Republican,” or “I love worship when I leave with a warm, fuzzy feeling, therefore Jesus came that we might have warm, fuzzy feelings.”  What Brian McLauren discovered is that all of these different Jesuses that he was discovering wasn’t really Jesus at all.  He was simply looking at the bottom of a well.  He was really looking into a mirror.  He was conforming Jesus into his own image instead of being conformed to Christ.  Christianity is not about finding the right Jesus, it is about realizing that you have already been found by Christ.  If you continue to search for a Jesus who suits you, you will never find him because faith lifts our eyes to God and our arms to each other.  It’s not about me. Paul writes,

“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every rule and authority . . . when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

 It is not about finding the right Jesus, it is realizing that you have been found by Jesus, the one who forgives and redeems and gives life.  If we believe in this forgiveness and this life, and provide to others forgiveness and life, then how could you have found the wrong Jesus?  If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, I have a suggestion.  After God reveals himself to Elijah, God asks, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”  Elijah responds with the same grievance as before.  So God says, “Go down the mountain and serve.”  So . . . go down the mountain and serve.  Go and forgive someone.  Go and do something life-giving for someone in need . . . let me know how it goes.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Guns in Church

Recently Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed House Bill no. 1272 into law, which allows concealed firearms in places of worship.  I can’t say it any better, so I’m going to offer the words of Bishop William Hutchinson:

“Besides the atmosphere of a citadel for worship, the other objections I have are purely theological.  Haven’t we been taught to believe that ‘perfect love casts out fear?’  Hasn’t the one who told Peter in the garden to put up his sword because those who live by the sword will also die by the sword saved us . . . And don’t we believe that abundance of life in Christ is not dependent on our security from those who threaten to kill us?  Isn’t that the message Jesus gave when he willingly gave himself to crucifixion rather than call down the legions of angels to protect and secure his life . . . If I’m gunned down in church, then maybe that’s the most blessed place I could be when I go to meet my maker . . . I’m not going to go to worship with all my false protection out of fear of some imagined enemy that never shows up!”

Scott Bader-Saye in Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear writes,

“On Tuesday, August 16, 2005, Brother Roger, the founder and prior of a religious community in Taize, France, was stabbed to death during a prayer service.  As the worshipers sang and the brothers kneeled, a mentally unstable Romanian woman, Luminita Solcan, emerged from the congregation and murdered the ninety-year-old Brother Roger in his wheelchair . . . Would the community’s spirit be broken?  And practically, would Taize restrict access to the Brother?  ‘Nothing at Taize has changed.  There is no security,’ said Brother Jean-Marie. . . NO SECURITY?  The founder of the community has just been stabbed to death during worship by a woman who carried in a knife for this very purpose.  Surely some metal detectors would be in order?  But parables do not exist to reinforce our assumptions about caution and common sense.  They put us face to face with God’s profound grace and urge us to take the profound risk of loving the other as God does.

Like any good parable, the life of the brothers stretches our imaginations, and by simply returning to their open, hospitable life of trust, they make possible a response to evil that many of us would have thought impossible . . . The Taize community . . . exists not for self-preservation, but to give the world a taste of God’s kingdom.”

I’ve heard some interesting rationals for why guns in church is a good idea, ranging from “Don’t you wear your seatbelt?” to “Jesus is a warrior, and He calls us to defend his children.”  My prayer is that we crucify the temptation to conform to a world where fear teaches us that self-perservation and security is ultimite concern because this ethic lives counter to the resurrection.  As Christians, it has been revealed to us that death is not the end of the story; therefore what is there to fear?  Sacrificing trust for sake of security is not a price I’m willing to pay.  Allowing guns in church means that we have taken our faith from the hands of God and placed them in the hands of marksmen . . . or anyone with a permit and eight hours of training.

In the Name of Love–Colossians 1:15-20

Over the next six weeks we will experience the Christian journey through the words of scripture and the music of U2.  Colossians 1:15-20 is an appropriate place to start because it’s a song, at least, most scholars think this is an early hymn about Christ.  This song orients a cosmic context for the work of Christ, bringing us back to the beginning of creation itself.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation . . .”        

Christ is not made in the image of God.  Christ is the image of God.  As Genesis 1 says, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept across the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light!”  The vehicle through which God created was the Word.  God did not snap his fingers or clap his hands; rather God spoke light into being.  We talk about Christ being the Word made flesh.  This word of life, of possibility, this word that permits things to be is what took on flesh and walked among us, showing us who God is. 

And this makes perfect sense to the theoretical physicist.  Did you know there is a theory called Superstring Theory which basically states that all matter is the result of the vibration of tiny strings?  The difference between a tree and a car and a baby and a mountain is vibration.  So God speaking creation into existence makes perfect sense to those studying the edges of science.  Isn’t that incredible?  It’s as if when God looks at the world, God is looking at a symphony, a symphony which began with the word, a symphony which grew in strength and beauty to the point that death was defeated in the Resurrection, a symphony still being played today in which we are called to make beautiful music.

Music is such a powerful tool in the church.  Fill in the blank.  “Amazing Grace how . . .”  “Hark the Herald Angels sing, glory to . . .” Music helps us communicate theology, memorize scripture, gather a community, heal wounds . . .  It helps us communicate theology.  “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is one of most theologically rich songs sung across denominational lines, and I am proud to say that it is a Charles Wesley hymn.  The second verse sings, “Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord; late in time behold him come, offspring of a virgin’s womb.  Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.  Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.”  Music helps us memorize scripture.  Can you recite Psalm 91?  Maybe not.  Can you sing “On Eagle’s Wings?” Music brings us together.  It heals our wounds. . . . but this is music at its best.  The symphony of God has not always been a joyful tune.

Let there be light, and there was light, and it was good.  When creation comes to a relative close, God proclaims the understatement of the millennium, “It was very good.”  Soon thereafter humanity turns its back on God and prefers the self over what God provides.  We eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because we decide that trusting ourselves is preferable to trusting God.  The beautiful song God composed is now a lament as God fashions clothing for these new garden exiles.  This lament is the same tune God sings when his people are in captivity in Egypt, in exile in Babylon, and while Christ hangs on the cross.  Of course, it’s not all sorrowful.  God sings a joyful song when he gives Moses the stone tablets, this law that reveals how God desires us to live as a community.  God sings praise in the holies of holies of the newly constructed Temple.  Gods shouts to the heavens when his people return from exile to once again worship him in Jerusalem.  God cries a song of hope when Jesus is born, and creation begins to tremble, because for thousands of years, the cosmos has been groaning, waiting, for God’s definitive mark on all that is.

Colossians 1:16 says, “For in him all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rules or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.”  Creation was in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ—all creation, the visible and invisible and thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers.  Creation is in Christ and through Christ.  Proverbs 8 (beginning with verse 22) tells this story beautifully:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

The first of his acts of long ago

Ages ago I was set up,

At the first, before the beginning of the earth.

When there were no depths I was brought forth

When there were no springs abounding with water.

Before the mountains had been shaped,

Before the hills, I was brought forth

When he had not yet made earth and fields

Or the world’s first bits of soil

When he established the heavens, I was there

When he drew a circle on the face of the deep

When he made firm the skies above

When he established the foundations of the deep

When he assigned to the sea its limit

So that the waters might not transgress his command

When he marked out the foundations of the earth

Then I was beside him, like a master worker

And I was daily his delight

Rejoicing before him always

Rejoicing in his inhabited world

And delighting in the human race.

And now, my children, listen to me:

Happy are those who keep my ways

Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

Happy is the one who listens to me,

Watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors

For whoever finds me finds life

And obtains favor from the Lord

But those who miss me injure themselves;

All who hate me love death

“Pride—In the Name of Love” is a simple song, much like “In Christ, through Christ, for Christ,” is a simple saying, yet both are heavy and full of meaning.  There’s one line in particular that intrigues me.  “One man betrayed with a kiss.”  Does this mean that one man was betrayed with a kiss in the name of love?  Does it mean that one man did betray with a kiss in the name of love?  It’s a simple line, but it sends the mind spinning.  The moment Christ was betrayed, God’s creation song finds a minor key and it sounds like the song is going to end in sorrow.  But just when we think the baton is going to drop, the stone is rolled away and Christ is resurrected and the song becomes joyful, playing a melody as beautiful and when God first spoke life into existence.

Here is the mystery.  Creation is in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ.  This hymn from Colossians suggests that creation didn’t end on the sixth day or the seventh day; rather resurrection was the exclamation point on God’s masterpiece.  Now, for a moment, I’m going to ask you to use your holy imagination.  Imagine observing creation.  Each day you see something new, something that has never been: light, the waters above and below, the earth, the sun and moon and stars, creatures of the sea and land and then humanity.  On this sixth day: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  Now before the sun sets on the sixth day, imagine the whole of Israel’s story taking place: The covenant with Abraham, Egyptian captivity, the Law with Moses, Joshua and the Promised Land, David and Solomon and the Temple, the Babylonian captivity, the restoration of the Temple, Roman occupation, the birth and life of Jesus, the word made flesh.  Now imagine “one man betrayed with a kiss,” and Jesus is hung on the cross, saying, “It is finished!”  His friends take his body, and place it in a garden tomb . . . there was an evening and there was a morning, the sixth day.  Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done and he rested [in the tomb].  On the first day of the week, before the sun had risen, the stone was rolled away, and Christ was alive!

This creation story, God’s love story with humanity, spans thousands of years.  It is a story which began in Christ.  It was revealed to us through Christ.  It was all done for Christ, so that we, with Christ, might know the love that God has for us.  It was all done in the name of love, through love, and for love so that we might live as resurrection people, embodying God’s ultimate purpose of creation.  Praise Be To God.  Amen.

Hate as Currency

“Hate has become a national currency in America. It is our first and favorite reaction to politics and business. And it will continue to be our favorite emotion so long as the likes of Limbaugh and Olbermann are the heroes we choose”– so says Noah Blumenthal in his article, “We’re Becoming a Nation of Haters,” today on AOL News.

I have found in the day to day, hate is becoming the “currency of America,” or at the very least, there is an unsatiable craving for opinion–passionate opinion. For any given news headline we, as Americans, must have a strong opinion; the more hateful the better.

That’s the thing with hate. Some believe expressing great hate is the same as showing love for that which you don’t hate. If I express passionate hate toward the left, I’m really communicating an intense love of conservatism. In order to show my allegience to the Church, I must really hate Muslims. I must hate LeBron James if I am to be considered a true Clevland fan.

Not so. Hate is kind of like credit cards. Credit cards parade as real money. You can use credit cards as you would cash, but the more you use them, the more debt you accrue. Hate might parade as love or passion or devotion, but it’s simply debt for your soul.

Hate creates enemies, not disciples.  “Love your enemies,” Jesus commands.  Great.  Now what?

To read Noah’s article, click here: http://www.aolnews.com/opinion/article/opinion-were-becoming-a-nation-of-haters/19547053

Sermon podcast now available

Hello Friends,
The sermon podcast from Sunday is now available. Give a friend 10 minutes: http://www.broadmoorumc.org/Podcast/Podcast.html

Freedom, For Christ's Sake–Galatians 5

On Monday I typically post my sermon manuscript, hoping to perpetuate the illusion that first thing Monday morning I am able to quickly produce what for me is a week’s worth of thought and prayer.  In order to keep this up, I need to type a sermon manuscript each and every week.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a manuscript for Sunday, and so goes the grand illusion.

. . . But for fun . . .

There’s nothing more American than . . . apple pie? baseball? freedom?  I would say that there’s nothing more American than Weight Watchers.  Think about it.  It incorporates so much of what makes this nation great: Free Enterprise, Freedom, Community, and Apple Pie (albeit made with Splenda and fat free ice cream).  The thing I love about weight watchers is that in lieu of providing a list of do’s and don’ts, they teach value.  A list of what not to eat would not work for me; however providing me with food’s value gives me freedom to eat they way my body needs me to eat.

That’s the thing.  Value offers freedom, or at least as Paul suggests in Galatians 5, Christian freedom reveals value, our value as a child of God.  When we live in love, patience, kindness, generosity, there is no need for a Law.  Law is great at giving boundaries, but the Law can’t figure out how to teach value.  As Paul says, “There is no Law against such things.”  This is one of the most profound sayings from Paul’s pen.

Sometimes we have a strange notion of freedom in my country ’tis of thee.  I’ve heard it said that freedom is about doing what I want, where I want, when I want, with the stuff I want.  As Paul says, “Don’t let your freedom be an opportunity for self indulgence.”  To quote my friend, Dr. James Howell, “If freedom is simply a means of self indulgence, then our service men and women giving their lives for this country are paying much too high a price.”

Christ came so that we might be free, free from the self, free from solitary confinement.  Christ frees us from the self, but for each other.  We are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to each other to live in love.  May you be free in the name of Christ.

I hope to see you Sunday, if not before.

Freedom, For Christ’s Sake–Galatians 5

On Monday I typically post my sermon manuscript, hoping to perpetuate the illusion that first thing Monday morning I am able to quickly produce what for me is a week’s worth of thought and prayer.  In order to keep this up, I need to type a sermon manuscript each and every week.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a manuscript for Sunday, and so goes the grand illusion.

. . . But for fun . . .

There’s nothing more American than . . . apple pie? baseball? freedom?  I would say that there’s nothing more American than Weight Watchers.  Think about it.  It incorporates so much of what makes this nation great: Free Enterprise, Freedom, Community, and Apple Pie (albeit made with Splenda and fat free ice cream).  The thing I love about weight watchers is that in lieu of providing a list of do’s and don’ts, they teach value.  A list of what not to eat would not work for me; however providing me with food’s value gives me freedom to eat they way my body needs me to eat.

That’s the thing.  Value offers freedom, or at least as Paul suggests in Galatians 5, Christian freedom reveals value, our value as a child of God.  When we live in love, patience, kindness, generosity, there is no need for a Law.  Law is great at giving boundaries, but the Law can’t figure out how to teach value.  As Paul says, “There is no Law against such things.”  This is one of the most profound sayings from Paul’s pen.

Sometimes we have a strange notion of freedom in my country ’tis of thee.  I’ve heard it said that freedom is about doing what I want, where I want, when I want, with the stuff I want.  As Paul says, “Don’t let your freedom be an opportunity for self indulgence.”  To quote my friend, Dr. James Howell, “If freedom is simply a means of self indulgence, then our service men and women giving their lives for this country are paying much too high a price.”

Christ came so that we might be free, free from the self, free from solitary confinement.  Christ frees us from the self, but for each other.  We are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to each other to live in love.  May you be free in the name of Christ.

I hope to see you Sunday, if not before.

Sharing . . . sort of

My three year old daughter, Isabelle, is learning the art of sharing. We try to make a big deal about it when she offers to take turns at the playground, or shares her crackers with a playmate. Recently she’s taken sharing to a whole new level . . . just not in the right direction. This morning I prepared our usual Wednesday morning breakfast for Isabelle and Annaleigh (our one year old)–strawberries and cheese (my wife thinks this is an odd breakfast, but I disagree and digress).

“Here you go, girls, strawberries and cheese.”
“Daddy, I don’t want cheese”
“But this is your breakfast, honey, strawberries and cheese.”
“But Daddy, I don’t want cheese.”
THIS IS YOUR BREAKFAST
DADDY, I DON’T WANT CHEESE

After a few moments I turn to make my own breakfast, Total cereal with a half cup of Fiber One (sometiems Weight Watchers is a drag). With my back turned, I hear, “Daddy, I share with her!” I rejoin the table to see that Annaleigh now has a large lump of cheese in the middle of her plate.

Yes, it’s sharing, but it certainly misses the point. I find that some things don’t change when we get older. How often in the Church, when we go out into the world to provide for our brothers and sisters in need, do we simply get rid of the old, broken, distasteful things in our lives. Sharing is hard enough in our consumer-centric lives, without confusing charity with spring cleaning. The perversion would be to stop sharing all together. Likewise, buying new things for others seems to also be missing the point. It’s time that we take recycling seriously, not cans, bottles, and newspapers (though these items as well), but taking the old, reinventing it, and sharing it to those in need.

Not giving it, but sharing it, which takes much more intentionality and Christian hospitality. Like my friend at the Benedictine Monistary says, “The monk with the keys is a happy monk.” They don’t take a vow of poverty, but they do vow to share what they have, all that they have, with all who are in need.

So, before cleaning out your garage and giving all of your unwanted stuff to the poor so that you can buy all new stuff, maybe we are called to open our homes and our lives to those in need so that we might share the good news and the good things of our lives.

Water, Water, Everywhere–Psalm 77

This is the Word of God for the people of God . . . Interesting that we say that after reading a Psalm: this is the word of God. Psalms began as words about God, words written by kings and priests, composers and artists. One of the things I love about psalms is their honesty. These ancient words are from the heart expressing joy, grief, praise, despair, almost as if we’re reading a diary . . . “You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old and remember the years of long ago . . . Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time . . . it is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

This was written by a troubled soul who was not worried about God’s power or might; rather “it is my grief that the right had of the Most High has changed,” that God has changed his mind, that God has changed his promise. What drags this soul out of despair is a remembrance of what God has done: “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.” (I love that—I will muse on your mighty deeds—who talks like that today. . . hmmm, shame).

These words about God recall the Word of God, the story of God, which brings peace and consolation to the soul. It’s what we do on Sunday mornings, isn’t it? We gather together to remember God’s story, to remember that through faith, our story is incorporated into God’s story of salvation, and as this psalmist muses on God’s mighty deeds, he goes way back to the very beginning and remembers God’s story with water.

“When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.” It was God’s primordial act. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”—God’s gonna trouble the water. Before there was light, there was water. There’s something basic and fundamental about water. It’s one thing on which scientists and theologians agree. If there is to be life, water must be. The converse is also true, that if you want life to cease, then muddy the water. We don’t have time to talk about this today, but I was watching CNN’s live coverage of the oil spill, you know, they have that live video feed in the corner of the screen. It just looked like the earth was bleeding. We have the technology to dig down deep into the earth, but we fail in closing or healing the wound. Should we blame BP or the President or myself for filling my car this morning? At the very least, it should give us pause.

In the beginning, God troubled the waters. God separates the waters and makes dry land, and this wondrous act in Genesis, happens over and over again as God brings order and salvation to the deep, dark places of the world. God separates the waters so the Israelites can cross to the other side. God parts the waters for Elijah and Elisha. Job stands before God while God asks, “Do you contain the sea or walk in its deep recesses? Do you make it snow or hail or rain?” You get the sense that throughout the Old Testament, water is a symbol of chaos, of darkness, something that ultimately God must handle. God holds back the sea, while letting some of the heavenly waters slip through his fingers so that we might have a harvest, so that we might find life.

Jesus, walking along the River Jordan, decides to be baptized, and when he comes out of the water, the Spirit descends and God speaks, and all who were there noticed that something remarkable has just taken place. There are several things that Jesus had to do before his ministry began. One of Jesus’ missions was to redeem Israel’s past, Israel’s story itself. The Gospel of Matthew reveals three episodes of Jesus’ life before his ministry begins. Wise Men from the east, from Babylon come to bow down and offer gifts to this kingly child. Babylon, the great captors of Israel now bow in humility and reverence, as if they are being forgiven. Immediately after, the Holy Family leaves Bethlehem for Egypt. For thousands of years, Egypt has been the land of oppression and slavery in Israel’s narrative. Now it has been transformed. This land has now provided safety to the Christ child. From oppression to protection. Egypt has been redeemed. The captors now forgiven, and the oppressors redeemed. There’s one more job to do. Jesus goes down into the water, the symbol of fear and uncertainty and chaos, and when he comes up with the spirit upon him and God’s voice proclaiming, the great symbol of Chaos has now become something with sacramental value. Chaos has been crucified so that through the waters we might be born into the body of Christ, the way of salvation.

Isn’t this what God is doing with us and the world? God accepts us as we are, but he doesn’t leave us as we are. Whether we are Babylon or Egypt or our lives are chaotically churning, God takes our story and exchanges it for his. God gives us a history, a purpose, a people. This is what the Psalms explain so very well. Human words about God are transformed to be the Word of God, by grace through faith, God’s story becomes our story.

Tom Long, in his sermon, “Through the Churning Waters,” tells a story of an Episcopal priest who used to love to tell the story about the woman in his congregation who was having terrible difficulty getting over the grief over the loss of her husband. She even went to see her physician and said, “You need to give me a prescription to help me with my melancholy. Every day I go to the cemetery and I put flowers on my husband’s grave, but it doesn’t help. It simply drives me deeper into grief. Give me a prescription to ease my pain.” Her physician said, “Before I give you a prescription, let me give you a suggestion. Instead of placing those flowers on your husband’s grave, why don’t you bring them to the hospital? I have many patients in the hospital who nobody ever visits and if you would visit them and bring them some encouragement in those flowers, it may be that you would bring a little joy into their lives.” Strangely enough, even though she was resistant, she decided to do it and found that this was the turning point for her own healing. As she showed encouragement to others, she was able to drink deeply from the well of God’s own encouragement. See, the Psalms are not just words about God, giving us permission to express our deepest emotions to God. They are not just the Word of God, reminding us of God’s story of salvation. They are words about God, as the Word of God, which guide our words to God and each other.

There are times when the only thing we can say is, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” “Create in me a clean heart, o God, and renew a right spirit within me,” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” These words have not been penned just for your own soul, but so that your words might be living water for your neighbor. For a moment, I’d like to meditate on the words of our closing hymn. Sometimes it’s hard to sing the words and hear the words . . .

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
God, whose word cannot be broken,
formed thee for his own abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

See, the streams of living waters, springing,
From eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters
And all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever will their thirst assuage?
Grace which like the Lord, the give,
Never fails from age to age.

God, through Christ, in the power of the Spirit, forgives the captor, redeems the oppressor, transforms the chaos of the deep into life-giving water, which renarrates Israel’s story as one of salvation and reconciliation. This God who redeems Israel will forgive, redeem, and transform you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ordination!

I must admit that Monday’s Ordination Service is a bit of a blur. During most of those sacred gatherings in our life: weddings, funerals, baptism . . . the Spirit fills us with amazement, literally being, “Out of one’s self,” which tends to muddy the details, leaving us with lingering conviction rather than report of fact. No wonder the day of Pentecost was so strangely recorded. So, in keeping with our ancestors who penned the word, I write to you today as impressionist, not photographer.

As the processional of pomp and pageantry began, I felt like it was my wedding day all over again. I was in my finest attire, smiling at friends and family, waiting to say my vow to my beautiful bride. No wonder we have such powerful wedding imagery when God speaks of beloved Israel.

I sat in awe of Bishop Hutchinson’s sermon. As impressionist, I would not be honoring Bishop Hutchinson’s message with ill-remembered sound bites like, “Well, they first started with the salad,” and “I am a Universalist by hope,” and “God’s not going to stop the march of eternity for our unwillingness to keep up.” With truly anointed sermons, as Hutchinson’s tend to be, I felt as if he were speaking only to me. “Hi, my name is Bill, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.” Funny how I felt the message was just for me with hundreds of other people in the room. No wonder the Gospels record Jesus to have met so many individuals.

Then knelt for the laying of hands. What an honor to have so many saints, by the power of the Spirit, place their hands upon me, yoking me with a mantle of graceful servant leadership, standing in support of the mission to which God appoints me. As I knelt, I wept. I’m not really sure why, but I guess if I must put it into words, I wept because I felt GRACE. I felt the Prevenient Grace of God saying, “I’ve been moving toward this moment before you knew how to move.” I felt the forgiveness of Justifying Grace acknowledging my failures and loving me anyway. I felt the strength of Sanctifying Grace of God saying, “This is a beginning, and I’ll be with you on this journey as you shepherd my people.” So, I wept. What else was I to do? No wonder she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Kneeling at the feet of Christ can be overwhelming.

As I walked back to my seat, I didn’t want anyone to look at me. I was a mess. I don’t cry pretty. As the recessional began, I felt my tears turn into a smile as I felt my soul cry out, “Hi, I’m Matt and I’ll be taking care of you tonight. What can I get you? Now, I might not provide the selection you want, but I can provide a seat at the table for a banquet with the one who supplies the only meal we need.”

Thank you for joining me on this fantastic adventure. I must confess that these last three years of resident ministry have been a blur. Having two children in three years will do that, but as I said before the Annual Conference body Monday afternoon, “Thank you, Broadmoor, for giving me the space and the grace to fail, to learn, and to grow.” I can’t wait to discern how God is calling us to serve together in the Kingdom this next year. May you be a blessing to those whom you meet today. May the peace of Christ be with you.