Category Archives: Faith

Sermons

This past Sunday was the first time that I led the service at our new church home. Pastor Mike took a much-earned day off, and our other Associate pastor was gone for the weekend, so I was entrusted with the Sunday morning gathering. Other than leaving out the greeting time at the beginning of the service and forgetting to invite the children to Children’s Church midway through the service, things seemed to go well.

I preached a little too long, as well, which has less ramifications now that we are on our summer schedule of only one service. I think I have done a pretty good job of adjusting from the almost-hour-long sermons in L.A. to the much shorter format here, but it seems I still need to pay close attention to how much material I plan to share.

We are preaching through the book of Isaiah right now, and I was given the second chapter to preach from this past week. Isaiah two is actually the text I preached my very first sermon from in a little house church back in Chicago. I can remember sitting in a stuffy apartment with a small gathering of folks form the neighborhood with my Bible open on my lap. There were no microphones or stage and and while I remember feeling a bit nervous, I can also remember that it felt right to open the scriptures and speak about them to people that I loved.

That first sermon emphasized the beginning of Isaiah two: visions of plowshares replacing swords and all nations gathering together in one reconciled place. That word was especially significant for a community that knew a great deal about violence and was made up of people from all over the world. This pas Sunday, I preached the second part of the chapter that speaks to the fullness of the people of God: a fullness of power, wealth, and idols. And it offers a sober vision of every high and lofty thing being brought low, and every idol being cast aside at the end. It raises the question of where our allegiance is at present and where the paths we are taking now ultimately lead. It challenges us to consider what we truly worship. As a community that has so recently come face to face with the the fact that this life ends, this was a good word for us.

Living with the end in mind

Tonight our church family will gather to remember and celebrate God’s grace and goodness in the life of Dale Harper, a dear member of our congregation I have known for most of my life. We will also gather together to declare our confidence in God’s saving mercy and the truth of his promises of resurrection and eternal life. We will certainly cry and most likely laugh a great deal as we celebrate a life so well-lived: a life so fully devoted to loving God and neighbor.

Yesterday I sat down for a bit to work on my sermon for Sunday, and I was struck by how fitting the text is for where our community finds itself this week. The second chapter of Isaiah makes some pretty bold and profound statements about the different things we can pursue in life and where our allegiances and confidences will ultimately lead us. I won’t preach the sermon here, but let’s just say caves filled with bat and mole dung play a big part…

Since moving up here, what always struck me about my time spent with Dale was that it was as if he had already been given his eternal eyes, so to speak. The things he was excited for and committed to and anticipating were so clearly the places where God’s spirit was moving and working around him. It was like a veil of sorts had been lifted and he was able to plainly see what God was doing: and he wanted to be a part of it.

We all talk about wanting to “join God’s work” or “follow God’s spirit”, and most of us struggle most of the time to genuinely know and sense and follow where we see God lead. Dale had such clear vision, it seemed to me. He had been given eyes to see. The fruits of his eternal life were already being made manifest in our midst.

Dale’s life offers the opposing witness to the judgments found in Isaiah two. Dale did not waste himself on pursuits that lead to dark caves or treasures that end up covered in dung. Dale knew what the good stuff was. Dale knew what it meant to accept the prophet’s invitation and “come…and walk in the light of the Lord.”

I praise God for Dale and all that he was in our life together. I praise God for the witness Dale was, in sickness and in health. I praise God for Dale’s healing, which is now complete.

I will remember Dale with a lot of joy and thanksgiving in my heart. And I will miss him.

For Dale

“May the angels lead you into paradise: may the martyrs receive you at your coming, and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem. May the choir of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest.”

Default

I am almost always eligible for the carpool lane. With three babies four and under, I have grown accustomed to traveling in groups, and when I am on the freeway or coming up an on-ramp, I barely even think before moving myself into whatever carpool lane is available.

Since beginning my job here in Shoreline, however, I now find myself occasionally on the road by myself driving to a hospital visit or a lunch meeting. And I am constantly having to resist the urge to drive in the carpool lanes when I am in fact driving solo. I remember one night in particular where I moved into the carpool lanes and stayed there the entire drive, never once realizing that I did not belong there and luckily not winning the attention of any police officers or vigilant drivers just waiting to dial 764-HERO.

Just today I found myself inching toward the carpool lane and had to stop myself. And I was struck by how my identity as someone who, for years now, almost always has babies in tow, is just sort of assumed. My default setting is “carpool”.

I was thinking recently about the ways we can get stuck just going through the motions, assuming that the things we believe define us are indeed central in our life. I know that I have certain understandings of who I am and what shapes my identity, and I can go days or weeks just assuming these things are true and evident in my life. And then one day I look around and realize that that single, shaping force in my life that I care so much about has been ignored or squelched or tossed out the window altogether and has no actual bearing on my day to day. And it’s like realizing I am in the carpool lane with a bunch of empty carseats behind me.

Connected

This headline caught my eye this morning:

South Africans head to the polls tomorrow in the fourth elections since the end of apartheid in 1994. More than 23 million people have registered to vote in what is being billed as one of most important elections in the country’s history. 

I visited South Africa in the months leading up to that first historic election in 1994. I remember sitting in the living room in a township where a man who shared seventeen years in prison with Nelson Mandela hosted me and my best friend, Julie, for two nights. He had gathered the young leaders from his community, a passionate group of young men, and while Julie and I had expected to sip tea and ask them questions, we instead faced what we later called “the Inquisition”. The group sat, on the edges of their chairs, one after the other asking us questions about our nation’s foreign policy and our own awareness of what South Africa had endured and continued to endure to that day. It was perhaps the most challenging night of my life.

During our tour we met with religious and political leaders, as well as leaders in the financial sector who were projecting then much of what we see happening in the nation of South Africa now, post-Apartheid. The article highlights “high unemployment, one of the highest crime rates in the world and the highest number of HIV infections globally” as the backdrop for these elections, and I can’t help but remember how my global ignorance and inactivity felt that night in a township living room: the issues and battles are different now, but the overwhelming volume of suffering and loss of life continues.

I have been thinking a great deal lately about God’s global mission, and the scriptures assure us that God’s intention from the beginning is to see all nations blessed. And so I find myself wondering, what exactly does it look like to be partners, participants, servants of that mission? For there is certainly no exemption clause for those who profess allegiance to the Christ! Yet it is all too easy to sit and grow numb and opt for the kind of safe ignorance that a group of young men confronted in me fifteen years ago.

The other morning I lay in a hospital bed watching three different reality TV shows. We don’t have cable, so this was my chance to see firsthand three shows I had heard people talk about. It was alluring, I admit, to enter the intimate space of these peoples’ lives, as choreographed as much of it surely was. And I was reminded of something Dick Staub wrote in his most recent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian:

“Humans sit in front of television sets, passively watching human misery unfold, while just outside their door, down the street, or in an apartment next door, a real person faces the same problem and there is no one to help them because we’re all preoccupied withour favorite characters on reality TV.

When diversion is a way of life, we avoid the very issues to which we shouldbe most attentive. We are diverted from the grim, unpleasant truth that our lives lack meaning withouit God, that consumption does not satisfy, that the differential between wealth and poverty is unjust, that our neighbor is in need, and that the appropriate human response to poeple in need is sleeves-rolled-up service, not simply watching.”

Which takes me back to needs and challenges of South Africa. Part of the good news, in fact the center of the good news, is the truth of what Isaiah speaks in chapter nine: That “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” At first reading, that verse seems to describe “those people”; the ones suffering; the ones living in darkness; the ones I pity or maybe despise. But perhaps the verses instead describe those like me.

Verse five continues: “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be feul for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Battles and bloodshed do not have the final word; not in South Africa where disease and poverty are king, or in those countries where we or any other power wrestles to rule. The final word is that word spoken from the beginning; an unlikely word; a child. And for us to be followers of that Word in our world is not a responsibility we can avoid, deny or reject.

Good news?

I was invited to participate in a blog series hosted by L.A. friend, JR Woodward, exploring how people would describe the gospel, the “good news”, in their given context. My entry will post next week.

JR writes this about the series: In this blog series each of the contributors will be summarizing their understanding of the Good News in 300 to 500 words. Each author is writing their entry as if they were invited by their city newspaper to write an article on the Good News, thus you will find the name of the author’s city newspaper in each entry. This series will challenge us to grow in our ability to share the good news with a variety of people from different perspectives.

The list of contributors and the posting schedule can be found here.

Good Friday

We were in the car earlier when I started to sing: “This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made…” This song had been repeated so much in our house the last few weeks as the kids geared up to sing it in church on Palm Sunday that it runs through my mind without me realizing it.

We talked last night about the significance of Maundy Thursday, and the events we remember on that day. As the kids crawled into their beds, my Mom read the account of Jesus washing his disciples feet and I acted out the story (Mercy was quite disappointed that I did not have a real bowl of water and soap like last time–it was late so I had just grabbed a few wipes instead. I know, kind of lame…). After everyone’s feet (or Jammies, in Aaron’s case) were clean, we continued with the reading and I took some graham cracker and water and we continued the story. Mercy and Aaron were sober about what we were doing up until the moment I broke the graham cracker and they started fighting over who would get more pieces.

Today we have talked about the fact that we are remembering Jesus’ death (not sure how we will act this one out tonight…Mercy suggested I hang on a cross and we could use some ketchup for the blood). This has come up on more than one occasion, so when I started to sing “This is the Day” earlier, I stopped with what felt like a dissonance: really? This is the day the Lord has made? Let us rejoice? Be glad in it?

Last Sunday the kids waved their palms and sang and reminded us of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. And their song reminded us that Jesus’ coming was reason to celebrate: Let us rejoice! And be glad in it!

And as much as Jesus’ death suggested deepest disappointment and denial, the fact remains that indeed he HAD come as king. And the cross, the dissonance brought by blood and suffering, does not undo or deny that. It demonstrates that in all of its seeming contradictions.