Monday, July 30, 2012

Named with Love

I decided to forgo the gospel reading this week in favor of the second lesson, Ephesians 3:14-20.  There is just something so basic about the letter to the Ephesians - talking about the basics of faith - and especially in this passage - how great God's love is for us.  So maybe I'll stick with Ephesians for a bit this summer and preach on some of the basics of faith. It also means that I get to avoid 5 weeks of bread.


Are any of you named after someone?  Bob is named after his grandpa, my dad’s great aunt Suzie believed I was named after her because we shared the ever so common middle name of Elizabeth.  There is a lot in a name, and a whole new dynamic is added when you are named after someone.  If you are named after someone it is often a parent or a grandparent – possibly one of your parent’s favorite aunts or one of their siblings who died young.  You could be named after someone famous or a teacher who made a difference your parent’s life.   Sometimes being named after someone means you are named after a book or movie character.  Or possibly a biblical character – even if you spell your name differently. 

And as much as we are named by our parents we are also named by God.  During baptism we are claimed as daughters and sons of God.  We are baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit and we are named with Christ or as today’s reading from Ephesians says – it is from the Father that every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.  We are named after God and we are named by God. 

But what does that mean?  Well if we continue reading in Ephesians it says that Christ dwells in our hearts, as we are rooted and grounded in love.   Christ dwells in our hearts – Christ lives in us!  Christ is part of us!  And through Christ, we are rooted and grounded in love.  To me at least to be rooted and grounded in love means that no matter what we do, no matter where we stray, no matter how far from God we seem to get, we are still at our very core loved!  We are still love by God throughout our whole lives. We are loved by God regardless of what we do because God is love.

These words can be very comforting but they can also be overwhelming.  Paul goes on to write in Ephesians – I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 

I’m overwhelmed just reading that.  Just that description of God’s love having breadth and length and height and depth makes it seem HUGE!!!

It is something that we can probably never understand, never comprehend, not matter how hard Paul prayed for us, no matter how much we pray that for ourselves.  Because really God’s love for us is beyond understanding. 

It is a love much like when our parents named us with love – carefully they picked out a name that was meaningful to them, often after someone else they loved.  It was not a name based on who you were already, some quality that you already had, but something or more likely someone they hoped you would be.  And it is with that same type of love that God has for us, one that gives us a name before we are even born.  But it is a love that is even greater – one that is not restricted by human understanding, one that has breadth and length and height and depth.  A love that was given to us before we were born, a love that loves us even when we screw up, regardless of how much we screw up, a love so great it is beyond measure. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Events Changes Preaching

Below is the sermon that I wrote on Thursday - it is not the sermon I preached yesterday.  I didn't preach it because I woke up on Friday and heard the news about Aurora, Colorado.  This shooting has struck closer to home for me that pretty much any mass shooting since Columbine, primarily because I would have been at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises if I hadn't promised Bob I would see it with him next week when he returns to the States.  

So instead of this sermon, based on the gospel - Mark 6:30-34, 53-56, well specifically verse 31 when Jesus says: "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." - I spoke from the heart - that on Friday, just like on Good Friday, it was hard to see God but I know that Jesus was there. But on Good Friday we know that Sunday is coming, that God will reign gloriously, and even on some days it is much harder to see God but we know Sunday is on coming and God will reign gloriously.  

Enjoy my original sermon.

We live in a busy society.  We are constantly on the go.  It is almost a badge of honor to be so busy that you have to schedule time with family and friends 2 to 3 weeks outs.  It is completely normal today that families eat in shifts, that couples can go days without seeing each other more than a few minutes before they fall asleep at night. And when we do have time to rest, to relax, we spend that time in front of a television or a computer, not wanting to think for ourselves, and we still check our email and facebook accounts a few times to make sure we aren’t missing anything too important.  We are constantly on the go.  We are working hard in order to achieve the American dream, but unfortunately we often work so hard to achieve the dream, that we aren’t able to actually spend much time enjoying it. 

I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.  I’m constantly on facebook, I check my email multiple times a day, including on my days off and would not consider getting a phone that does not have the ability to check both those plus text messaging capabilities.
But overall this is a hard way to live.  We as a society are burned out and we need to here Jesus’ words from today’s gospel: Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile. 

Come and rest!  This is what Jesus wanted for his disciples and this is what Jesus wants for us.  Rest is a wonderful thing – it allows us to be rejuvenated, it allows us to fill our cups, our soul, so that we can then go and serve and give freely to others.  And there are many ways we can find rest – we can unplug, we can disconnect, we can go run into the woods for a day or a week, we can go on vacation. 

And just coming back from a two week vacation, I have many stories to tell you about the places Bob and I went, the wonderful food that we ate, and the people we encountered, but above all that, I cannot thank you, the people of Bethlehem enough for gifting me the ability to get away for two weeks during which time I checked my email only 3 times – basically to clean out junk mail – because I read only 2 emails and wrote only 1.  And I’m excited to be back.  I’m excited to start really planning for the fall, I’m excited to spend more time with you all as we continue to grow in our faith and figure out what God’s purpose is for this congregation. 

But you don’t need to go on a 2 week vacation in order to get rest.  You just need to take a Sabbath. The 3rd commandment is: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but that does not mean go to worship – it means take time to rest, take time for yourself and to spend that time listening to God.  It is so hard for us to unplug for a full day – but hopefully we can help one another rest for an hour or so each Sunday because that is what we are able to do when we come to worship.  During worship we have an hour to silence our cell phones, to avoid emails, to listen to God and give up to God our daily cares and concerns.  During worship we have an hour to sit with our families, to sing with them and pray with them and for them.  During worship we have an hour to rest. 

But we need more than an hour a week or every other week to rest.  So let’s spend some time brainstorming together.  What is one thing you can give up to help you rest? – one thing you can do less often, one thing you can do away with this week in order to have time to rest. 

And what is one thing you can do in order to rest?  One way you can spend time by yourself, or with family or friends  in order to realized that you are blessed by God in so many ways and you can go to bed at night content and grateful. 

And one more question, what is one thing you can do to help someone else rest – that single mom that you know who is constantly running around being superwoman, your co-worker who is always there before you, leave after you and never eats lunch, the older woman that you know that is a fulltime caretaker of her ailing husband – what can you do to help them rest, to help them take a Sabbath, even if only for an hour.
See Jesus did not just say – hey I need to get away for awhile, but he invited others into that rest.  So yes take a Sabbath, enjoy some time to just be, either by yourself or with those whom you love most, but also invite others to take rest too.  

Monday, July 2, 2012

I said Vagina in Church

Yep I did, multiple times too.  Along with the words penis, testicles, uterus and sex.  

This was in response to the gospel Mark 5:21-43.


There is so much in today’s gospel.  There are crowds, religious leaders, statements about faith, people mourning a death with weeping and wailing.  And two women are healed – one who has been bleeding for 12 years as she touched Jesus’ robes and the other a dead 12 year old girl who was healed when Jesus touched her.  And I think in this entire story it boils down to two things – touch and sex.  Maybe not sex but sexuality and the taboos that goes along with it. 

There are two main points of touch in today’s gospel.  First an unwanted touch when the woman touched Jesus.  She would have been an outcast, unclean, and therefore anything and anyone she touched would also be made unclean.  The second point of touch was when Jesus took the hand of the dead girl and told her to get up.  This touch would again make Jesus unclean, ritually and socially impure.  And yet there is so much in a touch.  A touch can convey love, joy, fear, comfort, gratitude, anger, sympathy.  A touch can be welcomed, whether a formal handshake or a pat on the back from a colleague.  A touch can be awkward – most of us have probably experienced that touch of the arm that just lasted too long or the hug from some well-meaning person that you did not feel comfortable enough hugging.  And a touch can be dangerous.  It doesn’t take long to find examples of touch gone horribly bad in the news today.  Jerry Sandusky was just sentenced on 45 counts related to sexual abuse of boys. 

Most of the time when touch crosses that line from awkward to wrong, bad or dangerous is because of power.  The person offering the touch wants to be in power and control of the other.  And in many ways is a form of abuse.

Which leads me to the second thing that today’s gospel is about at the core – sex and the taboos related to sex and sexuality.  Yep I just said sex in church and guess what I’m going to say it again a few times.  There were a lot of taboos about sex in Jesus’ time, including that menstruating women were not supposed to be in public as they were considered unclean.  And so here is this woman who has been hemorrhaging from her, let’s face it, vagina for 12 years.  She had been menstruating for 12 years.  She would not just have been considered unclean but an outcast, people probably thought she was possessed or evil or even a witch.  But you probably stopped listening a few minutes ago because I just said vagina in church. 

See we have many taboos around sexuality today, including the use of the medically acceptable terms for our anatomy when it comes to our sexual organs.  It is okay to say heart, arm, lungs, even gall bladder, but words like vagina, penis, testicles and uterus are no-nos.  Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was just barred from speaking in on state house floor because she said vagina in a debate about abortion. 

However when these taboos exist we are allowing those who want to use touch, especially bad touch, to have power and control over another to have that power because we take away the voice of the other.  When it is consider a taboo to use words like vagina, penis, testicles or uterus, those who have been sexually abused are at lost for words to report it because instead of having the clear words to describe what happen they have to rely on phrases like “she touched my hoo-hoo” .  When we do not talk about sex in ways that allow people to know what is generally socially acceptable in a relationship, women, who have been raped, especially by a spouse, boyfriend or acquaintance, feel powerless to report it, maybe it was something that she did, or it is just something in their own psyche that made them feel violated.  When we have taboos about sex and sexuality, people experiment thinking they are doing something that is rebellious.  I personally believe this is a big reason for such a high percentage of sexually active teenagers and why the Fifty Shades of Grey book series is so popular.  When we are afraid to say words like vagina, penis, testicles, uterus people who have diseases that affect those organs, whether uterine or testicular cancer, endometriosis or erectile dysfunction are not able to talk about what their disease.  I’m not saying that we need to go back to the hippie era of free love, but that we should have freedom of speech in order to bring about equality and care for others.  And we do that by breaking down those taboos.

Because  Jesus broke the taboos of his day.  He allowed an unclean woman to touch him, and then he went and touched a dead girl.  He was not going to allow the taboos of the day to keep him from doing ministry, from loving those in need, from caring for the sick. And he did this ministry through touch. 

We should not allow the taboos of our day to keep us from doing God’s ministry.  We should not allow the taboos about sexuality and sex in our society keep us from doing ministry in this world.  God’s ministry for us in this world includes educating ourselves and our children about the great gift from God we have been given in the form of our bodies including our sexual organs even if it is uncomfortable to talk about at times.  God’s ministry for us in this world includes standing up and saying that abuse is wrong in all its forms including child abuse, sexual abuse and rape.  God’s ministry for us in this world includes saying that sex is a wonderful thing but it should never make you feel violated and if you feel violate as a result of sex it is not your fault.  God’s ministry for us in this world includes saying that touch is a wonderful thing but it should never make you feel violated and if you feel violate as a result of someone’s touch it is not your fault.  Because we too are called to break down those taboos in our society, to talk openly and honestly about sexuality, our bodies and general touch so that we can love those in need, care for those who are sick, especially those who have been abused, and hopefully through being open to talking about sexuality, our bodies and touch it will prevent that abuse from happening.  So that we can give power to others, maybe not through touch, but through our words.