Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do you miss it?

Do you miss it? Questions like this were asked by a number of people referencing Caitlyn’s entrance into the church on Sunday for the Eucharist. Excited to see her father, Marshall, across the room, Caitlyn went running across the sanctuary yelling “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” No doubt those who asked remembered when we first arrived at St. Alban’s and David’s pronouncements at the same time of “That’s my dad!”

I must confess that at first blanche I had not given it much thought, but after some quick reflection, I realized that there was a fantastic lesson in the exuberance and love expressed by some of our littlest members. You and I as His disciples are told by Jesus to think of ourselves as able to go to our Father in heaven and call Him “Abba!” Abba, of course, is the Hebrew word most akin to Daddy. It connotes both a close relationship and an innocence of worldly demands. It is a secure if informal relationship, full of trust and joy.

No doubt many of us are comfortable with think of God as our Savior. Those a bit further in the walk with Christ and further down the path of His sanctification might even be able to think of Him as Lord and as Teacher and as other important roles in our lives, but how many of us would ever be comfortable thinking of Him as Daddy? For those among us who suffered at the hands of abusive or incompetent fathers, such a relationship might seem impossible. And were it left up to us, we would be correct.

Thankfully and mercifully, He began the work in us to make such a relationship possible. When we were enemies and haters of Him, He still died for us. When we unwilling to seek forgiveness or to grant forgiveness to others, He came among us to teach us of our need of forgiveness and the need for us to forgive. When we were incapable of loving others as He so loved His people, He came down to heaven to show us Himself both His love and the cost of our hard hearts. And when we thought ourselves wise and informed, He taught us that we should all come to Him like a young child.

The same enthusiasm, the same utter trust, the same peace and contentment with which our little ones approach their parents ought to be reflective of how we approach Him when we gather in worship. Like children choirs who sing loudly and enthusiastically, even if they are a bit out of tune, we should sing joyfully to Him, knowing He loves our joyful noise! Like little children with needs and wants who never give up asking, we should also be going to Him in prayer certain and trusting in the knowledge that He will give us precisely what we need without mistakes. And like little ones who run to fathers confidently and innocently celebrating “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” we should approach Him with the same confidence, the same closeness, the same utter trust and love, knowing that only He ever truly loved us at those times we were most unlovable, knowing that He sealed that relationship with the blood of His Son to make that cry of celebration, and that wonderful relationship, possible for all eternity!

Christ’s Peace,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Love and evil . . .

A couple nights ago, I found myself, as is usually the case after the kids have gone to bed, watching ABC Nightline. What made the discussion on the show interesting and worth commenting, at least in my estimation, was the problems and lack of perceived solutions. Given my initial thoughts and tenor about the show, you might think that the show was groundbreaking; truthfully, however, I found it rather more heartbreaking. For those who are interested in watching the segment, it can be found here: http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/view-whoopi-goldberg-11809448 .

No, that is not a mistaken link, at least if Whoopi Goldberg still comes up. The interview that I found myself captivated by and broken for was Whoopi's interview with Diane Sawyer. Now, Whoopi is not a figure with whom we typically associate the words tragic and pity. She is, by human standards, very successful. Prior to launching her career in acting, she was a very accomplished comedienne. Today, she is probably more famous for her gig as one of the four hosts of the View. And, while I am dealing with her career, I loved her in the roles of Guinan (Star Trek: Next Generation), Sister Mary Clarence (Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit), and as Oda May (Ghost). By any normal standard, she is wealthy. She is famous. And, unlike so many of her fellow actors and actresses, Whoopi has managed to keep a great deal of her private life out of the public eye. Unlike so many of the rich and famous, we don't hear of her breakups, her car wrecks, destructive behaviors, and the like. In my mind, that is what made her comments all the more lamentable.

One of her comments got me so worked up was Whoopie's discussion about contemporary culture. She makes the claim during in the interview, and Diane agrees during the segment, that there seems to be more evil in the world today than in the past. People, in her mind, seem to have less tolerance of each other and are quick to pounce on one another. Politics is simply an obvious expression of that changed attitude. What's even worse, from Whoopi's perspective, is that we glorify the attacks and evil. Movies like Mean Girls; shows like Jersey Shore, Big Brother, and Survivor, and some books glorify people being mean to other people. That promotion and glorification, Whoopi noted, just creates a spiral of bad behavior. And there is nothing that can be done about it. Americans love to watch it, read it, and read about it, so the powers that be will keep putting it out there in order to make more and more money. Of course, her real frustration revolved around the fact that nothing can be done about it. Unless people quit buying it or watching it, there is no way to reign it in. So, in her mind, the evil will continue to spiral out of control, and evil will seem to get worse.

The other comment which really made me wish that she had paid attention to the lines of her co-workers in the Sister Acts was her lament about her mother's death. In a nutshell, Whoopie explained how much she missed her mother. As she praised her mother and discussed the lessons of her youth, Whoopie lamented that she will never be loved like that ever again. The world is too evil and too selfish. Her mom's death meant, in her mind, that she'll never be loved the way in which she craves to be loved, to be accepted, and to be held. How sad, I thought, that she has either not heard or simply chosen to reject Christ Jesus. Had she met Him, much of her worry could easily be placed aside and given over to Him while she got about using her talents, gifts, and platform the way He intended. Here's praying that one day, someone will reach her with the message of His love and hope, that one day, she may feel even more loved by her Father in heaven than she was by her mother on earth, and that one day, she will learn that evil has already been conquered by the only One who could make things right: Christ Jesus!



Monday, October 4, 2010

Back into the valleys

This past Saturday, courtesy of George and Annette being out of town and not wanting their tickets to go to waste, Karen and I were able to attend the Quad-Cities Symphony. I think the last time she and I had made it to a Symphony was PK, as in pre-kids. As I was listening to the work of Beethoven, in particular, I was reminded just how magnificent a composer God truly is. You may wonder what Beethoven has to do with God or what classical music has to do with our readings this week, but I found both to be magnificent as I made my way through the week.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I have felt more called to preach on the Gospel lessons. Given the lively discussions in Bible Study, in the office, over the phone or by e-mail, I think I did a fair job discerning our needs as a congregation. This week, however, we are sort of forced to move on by the selections of Scripture. As a couple people asked, not in these words exactly, but are we not in danger of slipping into triumphalism which can cause others to miss the Good News of Christ. By this they meant that our focus on the eternal perspectives, the call of God on all our lives, our double share inheritances as His adopted children, His demand that we do everything to His glory might seem to ignore the real world around us where people have lost jobs, people are beaten and murdered, where cancer and other diseases run rampant, where relationships fail, and things are simply overwhelming. Truthfully, the criticism would have been valid, particularly for anyone who has just joined us or just visited a couple times. Over the past few weeks we have not looked very much as the vicissitudes of life. Fortunately for us, our Father in heaven moves us along like a magnificent composer as we study His Word. Just like Beethoven, who works lead us through good times and joy through anger and sadness and back again to joy, God leads us through the peaks and valleys of life. And few readings speak more to the valleys in life than our Old Testament selections this week. But, God does not leave us in the valleys. Though He acknowledges the hurt, the anger, the pain, the suffering we often experience in this world, He reminds us of the joy to which we are called, the hope which only He can provide.
Both our selection from Lamentations and the Psalm speak to the bitterness of life. The author of these selections points out just how far Jerusalem has fallen. The city that was the jewel of the world during Solomon’s reign, is now the butt of jokes. Her people have been carried off into slavery, her allies deserted her in her greatest hour of need, no one pilgrimages to the city, her enemies mock her with impunity, there is no singing, there is no laughter. Has there ever been a tragedy like this? You and I have nothing with which to compare it, at least on this scale. The destruction of the Twin Towers, for all the trauma that it caused, did not cause DC to be razed or us to be carried off into slavery. We are here, so to speak, to fight another day. And, unless we spent some time travelling to NYC, we might not even realize how much even the skyline of that city has changed.
Of course, the author of Lamentations reminds us why this has happened. “The Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her sins.” God’s judgment is upon Jerusalem, just as He promised. When given the choice to love and serve only Him, Israel has rejected Him over and over again in lieu of false idols. When given chance after chance to repent and return to the Lord, Israel has chosen to seek her own destiny. And, in faithful observance of the Covenant which He made with Israel, God allows His bride to be kicked out of the Land, to be sold into slavery, to be mocked and ridiculed. Her people are gone, her treasures are gone, and, seemingly, even her God has deserted her.
Perhaps we can relate to that frustration, that anger, and that desperation. Many of us here have any number of events which have caused us to wonder where God was in our life. Jobs have been lost, relationships have ended, lives have been taken all too soon, diseases have robbed us of some of our dignity—heck, we have been reduced to praying for some whose only chance at life means that someone else must die to provide organs. Life is sometimes far too bitter.
Not surprisingly, in the midst of this anger, this grief, this desolation, God reminds us that He is in charge. As bad as the authors’ grief and anger are, they are not without hope. The Psalmist, in particular in this week’s selection, reminds God to deal with His enemies. Though life seems anything but promising, the author calls upon God to judge justly those who have destroyed Jerusalem. Those who have betrayed her need to be taught that they betrayed God! Those who killed Israel’s babes need to experience what they inflicted upon His people!
Significantly, the authors trust God to judge and repay evil for evil. The authors are angry; they cry out for justice. But they also remember that God is in charge. Only He can truly repay suffering. Only He can truly judge without error. Only He is powerful enough to accomplish his purpose. In life, you and I are often impotent to solve the vicissitudes of life. We might rail against the murder of a Big Paul, but how do we truly atone for his death and the loss in that homeless community. You and I might have to choke out prayers for Bin Laden because of the 9-11 attacks, but how can we make right the death, the destruction, and the loss of innocence that accompanied the attacks. You and I might give thanks for successful organ transplants, until we realize that another family is grieving the death of a loved one in the midst of our thanksgiving. On and on the list goes, but against Him only have they truly sinned. In fact, this past week in our parish life was filled with far too many sermon illustrations of anger, grief, impotence and struggle. Those of you who had cause know of which I speak. How do we, you and I, make it right? How do we, you and I, fix what has gone wrong on your life? The truth is, we can’t. Only He can. And to prove to us He can accomplish all things, He raised His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead. The empty tomb stands as a bold reminder of His unlimited power and His unmatched compassion. His grace can accomplish all things not only in our lives but in the lives of those around us.
You might have heard it said that such readings are beneath God or beneath Christians. Some may go as far to say that they are certain such passages were not inspired by God or are unfit to be read in Christian worship. And yet each one of us is reminded throughout the Bible, the Old Testament and the New, that we should pray for God’s just judgment. Who wants to be here when heaven awaits? Who wants these diseased and sore bodies when the New Created bodies are waiting for us? Who wants these crumbs when we are promised a feast? The martyrs’ cry goes up “how long?” And we ourselves often pray to Him to come again, perhaps forgetting the revelation that His return will be a Day of joy and celebration for His children and a Day of anguish and lament for those who reject Him. Yes, in many ways, 2 Thessalonians and much of Revelation echo the cry of Psalm 137. Pray that the Day of His return finds the whole world waiting in anticipation and not at enmity with His love or His power, anxious to participate in those choirs and choruses which sing His praises into eternity!