Majestic Ordinariness – a message from Fifth Sunday of Epiphany, Year B, February 4, 2018

“Majestic Ordinariness”

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany, Year B, February 4, 2018

Isaiah 40:21-31    Psalm 147:1-11, 20c     Mark 1:29-39

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          Has your ax struck honey lately?  Has your ax struck honey?  In Slovenia, to recognize a streak of luck, you say, “Your ax has struck honey!”  This is a cultural expression that has roots in the bee keeping tradition of that country.  Honey, throughout history, was a valuable commodity.  Finding a load of honey while chopping into a tree was like striking gold, liquid gold.  For some reason, this old saying has stuck (maybe because it has to do with honey).  This saying expresses good fortune, good luck.  But telling someone you hope their ax strikes honey has nothing to do with axes or honey, anymore, but the truth expressed, the sentiment shared, the good will behind words, still gets expressed through this image.

As we read scriptures this morning, they are filled with images that seek to express God’s truth.  We are not the original, historic audience who heard these words in Hebrew, or read these words in Greek.  Many of the metaphors and stories used to express God’s relationship with us don’t make sense to us like they would have with those first generations steeped in the near east, Semitic culture.  But we can still learn larger truths shared in these scriptures as the Holy Spirit reveals layer upon layer as our faith grows and deepens.

What is happening in this text from Mark?  What is the storyline?  They leave the synagogue after Jesus heals someone there and the people are astounded that he teaches as one with authority and not as the scribes.  So here, they have just left the synagogue and they go to the house of Simon and Andrew, where Simon’s mother in law is in bed with a fever.  Like our Slovenian phrase reminds us, this text in Mark has lots of cultural, historical aspects that North American Christians may not catch or be able to relate to.  Here’s Simon, for example, and presumably his wife, living with her parents, and, Simon’s brother, Andrew.  Those are just the ones we know about!  Most Americans do not live in multi-generation households.  Most American families seem spread out even living in other parts of the country.  This is just one example to show that we don’t have a grasp of all the cultural norms, of things like the society of honor and shame that Simon and Andrew lived in.  Which means, as social violations take place right and left in this passage, we may or may not notice them.

But the plot goes on as Simon’s mother-in-law, who goes unnamed, is unable to serve them because she is ill.  Jesus enters her room and takes her by the hand, which violates purity laws, gender restrictions, and other layers of societal norms.  Yet he lifts her up and her fever leaves.  Her getting up and serving them has less to do with submissive behavior and more to do with being restored to community.  Her humble service is an expression, a symbol, of what we’re all called to embody as disciples.  Receiving God’s grace and responding in joyful service.  Oh, and Jesus heals her on the Sabbath.  Another violation of human interpretation of the law.

As the story continues, all the people wait until the sun goes down and the Sabbath is over, then they come to the house seeking healing.  All who were sick come, the whole town shows up at the door.  Jesus heals many, and there are many demons cast out, not permitted to speak because they know Jesus.  That is a very powerful image, if you really explore this as a metaphor.  There are things in our lives that we can release to Christ, and when we truly give them over, they are removed, gone, not because we don’t remember them, but because God’s power and presence becomes the new focus.

This story has lots of drama, action all around, much of it outside the church.  They left the synagogue, they were acting outside the bounds of the law.  Yet God is working and lives are transformed, more so outside the church and it’s structure than inside, because Jesus, God with us, shares the presence of God.  That Presence is where people resonate toward, as they gather not only around the door of the house, but the whole town is coming to Jesus.  It was probably pretty exciting!  The disciples were on the ground floor of this popular opportunity!  This town could become famous as a global center for healing!  People could make a fortune!  Their luck was running high with Jesus coming to them!

But a busy storyline with healing the crowds is not the only action taking place.  “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”  On this verse, the entire story shifts.  This prayerful action becomes pivotal.

Later today I head to Spokane because early Monday morning I catch an airplane for New York State.  On the west shore of the Hudson River there’s an Episcopal Retreat Center called Holy Cross Monastery and the community there is hosting a Centering Prayer Retreat put together by Thomas Keating’s Contemplative Outreach organization.  I’ve never been to a retreat like this.  A few years ago, when someone would tell me they were travelling to go on a Centering Prayer retreat, I would wonder, “Why on earth would you fly on an airplane and go so far away just to sit in silence, especially with people you don’t know?  I just didn’t get it.”

Centering Prayer does involve sitting in silence, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.  In some ways, it seems like you’re not doing anything, just sitting there.  But by slowing your body down so it’s still, that’s when you notice that your mind doesn’t slow down.  We are constantly thinking, and these thoughts are often ego based as we try and make sense in our minds of the world around us, constantly judging as to whether things are good or bad.  Centering Prayer is a spiritual discipline, that since ancient times, helps people to become aware of their thinking, not only recognize we have thoughts, but learning to release them, to not necessarily let those thoughts define you.

Centering Prayer teaches the art of letting go.  It sounds simple, sitting there in silence.  But it is much harder to learn than one would expect, and often the struggle involved sends people running the other way.  But finding a quiet place, not only in our surroundings, but in our inner life, is at the very heart of the Gospel and as our biblical witness shows us this morning, this is a core teaching and practice of the ministry of Jesus.

The Art of Letting Go is something that most people resist.  Looking at others, even across cultures, such as St. Francis of Assisi, or people close to the land such as Native Americans, and Jesus himself as he tells the disciples that they can’t stay but must also travel to the other villages, we see that by holding nothing, you are connected to the whole.  By letting go of the small, you are included in that which is larger.  That’s why, for example, for indigenous cultures, private property makes little sense.  They share all the land, and it’s God who owns it anyway.

Today as we ordain and install church officers, ruling elders and deacons, it strikes me that as we ask the Constitutional Questions from the Presbyterian Book of Order, we are lifting up the doctrinal history of our denomination.  Questions like, “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?”  Questions like this along with the other ordination questions have their place.

But they use words to try and express our trust and faith in Christ, our experience of the power of God in our lives, and our desire to humbly serve in response to God’s goodness and grace.  Yet words are limited, and simply by being words they cannot express the Majesty of God or miracles we often overlook in ordinary life.  Ordaining and installing church officers to the structure of institutional religion tries to give shape and order to something that has no walls, no boundaries, the very mystery of God.  Indeed, trying to put into words that which is beyond words, to limit by our thoughts that which is beyond thought, to explain through doctrine that which is beyond explanation; this leads us back to very model Jesus gives us here.  Silence.  Prayer.  A deserted place helping us become aware of our connection to Presence.

But this is hard work.  We much prefer our doctrines, our measurable lists, our questions, and we go out of our way to maintain institutions and the structures and facilities around us.  Yet Jesus is outside the synagogue, not held captive by interpretations of legal codes or cultural contexts that are historically conditioned, and not boxed in by the mixed motives of people who would use him, ultimately, for their own purposes, security, or advancement.

A while back, Dave Sturgis shared a quote with me, a guiding principle that I’ve kept on a piece of paper on my desk in the church office ever since.  The quote says, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Jesus could have set up shop.  His ministry could have made them all very wealthy.  He would not have needed to travel around because people would come to him, just like they wrapped around that house in the evening after Sabbath was over.  Word was getting out, his popularity was increasing, yet at the very beginning of his ministry here, Jesus recognizes that “creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Jesus, the Christ, embodies the contemplative stance: spending time in prayer, simply being in God’s Presence, quieting that monkey mind which swings from thought to thought as our ego scrambles for control and grasps for predictability.  In Christ, our heart and mind join together as a new creation.  Our ego is invited to wholeness and health, becoming translucent so the light of love can shine through it, and not be limited by it.  Letting go of all things is so important that Jesus gets up while its still dark to make sure this prayer happens.

As Jesus lives in a contemplative stance, as he prays experientially with the Presence of God; he lives to courageously let go of certainties.  This shows us the other side of prayer.  Jesus takes action.  Jesus engages in living his life in the world, in sharing God’s kingdom with others.  But he does this by grounding himself in silent prayer.  This scene is pivotal because it is rooted in that deserted place, in that time of connection with God that is uninterrupted.  From that quiet prayer, that still foundation, where all other voices are silenced, Christ takes action and builds a ministry of humble service.  By letting go, Jesus brings wholeness.  Through giving up what seemed certain and secure, a vision of success, Jesus gives God consent to take action, and God shapes the activity of his life in creative ways that could not be contained.

What’s your struggle?  What demons are you wrestling with in your life?  What would have you lining up at the door along with the entire village?  Curiosity?  Casual interest?  Social obligation?  Entertainment?  Tradition?  Everyone showed up, and many, not all, were healed.  What healing do you seek?  Are you interested?  What is the door between you and your experience of the living Christ?  Are you willing to enter the darkness?  Are you willing to let go, even of the illusion of certainty?

Authentic transformation links contemplation with action.  This is how Christ changes the world.  Humble service expresses and shares our trust, expands the light, and puts love into action so that others may also enter the darkness of a deserted place to become fully awake and aware of their connection to a larger whole.

May God bless our deacons and elders as they lead the way, and may God help all of us in this journey of transformation, sharing the majesty and glory of God through our ordinary, daily living and humble service.  Pray without ceasing, preach the gospel (if necessary, use words), and may God be glorified, now and forever.  Amen.

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“Love Builds Up,” a Message/sermon from the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, January 28, 2018

“Love Builds Up”

Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, Year B, January 28, 2018

Psalm 111  1 Corinthians 8:1-13     Mark 1:21-28

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          Today I’m going to show lots of pictures from the Sabbatical during the potluck and after the Annual Meeting.  Shawna and I have over 2500 photos, and it was a lot of work, literally hours and hours, days and days, involved with organizing, filing, and thinning the picture selections to make a presentation that is exhaustive but not exhausting.  Finding photos that tell the story without overwhelming people with details is tough when there is so much behind each photo, so many stories to tell, and even more things that took place that never got a picture.

For example, I have some photos that show the Royal Mile in Scotland, which is an old part of Edinburgh, about a mile long stretch between the Queen’s Palace and the Castle on the hill.  Lots of shops, restaurants, churches; places that feature historic figures like John Knox from the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, to contemporary, popular people such as J.K Rowling and the café where she wrote many of the scenes for the Harry Potter series, taking names of characters off the tombstones in the church graveyard next door, a Presbyterian Church by the way.  But as impressive as the Royal Mile is, and as fun as our tour in Edinburgh with our friend, Ali, was, my pictures don’t show it all.

They fail to show, for example, the people sitting along the sidewalk with cups and cans held out for spare change.  It seems many of them are women, a few men, with darker colored skin, like they were not born in Scotland, and they are really struggling.  The pictures fail to show the man who was drunk or on drugs, relieving himself as he walked along, pretty much blitzed and he seemed very agitated.  They fail to show women carrying purses holding their bags strapped over their shoulders and clutched by their hands so they are not targeted by purse snatchers.  In London, we actually saw a robbery take place just ahead of us as two people on a motorcycle came up on the sidewalk, stole a woman’s parcel, then took off.

But those are Big City problems!  Glad we don’t have those kinds of problems here: theft, addictions, homelessness, refugees, poverty, despair, violence.  We are so blessed to be surrounded by beautiful nature, lovely homes, food on the table, grocery stores with stocked shelves, bank accounts, cars and trucks, families and friends.  We can be proud of the responsible lives we lead, of the success we’ve built around us.  Do we deserve it?  Probably not, but there’s nothing like comfort and security to help you feel great!

We spend a lot of energy being respectable, defending ourselves, of projecting the world’s woes towards other people, thinking it’s their fault things are so screwed up.  But what if our pride gets the best of us, and actually contributes to the pain, violence, and suffering in the world?  What if our way of life simply reinforces our resistance to enter into suffering?  What if we, ourselves, limit our experience of the fullness of life?

We’re pretty good at inoculating ourselves.  Since the only thing that can challenge our human pride is our own broken heart, it really takes a lot to get past our strong defenses, to get our attention, let alone bring about action or change.  In France, there was a woman outside the big Cathedral we visited and I put some money in her cup.  I have no idea what language she was speaking, but she was very thankful that I’d shared some coins.  I gave her a couple Euros, not just the little stuff, it was a healthy amount to give away.  Usually I don’t give cash because people tend to take it and buy drugs or alcohol, just feed their addictions.  Maybe that’s what she did, I have no idea.  I don’t who she is or what language she was speaking.  Maybe it was French, I couldn’t really tell.

For some reason I just looked like a soft target, pretty much the whole trip.  I had one guy come up to me, not to Shawna or our friends, but me, in a cross walk, speaking some language I didn’t know, asking for money, supposedly for food.  He was an older man, had a leg deformity and a limp, so he used a cane.  I gave him a couple Euros too.  None of that stuff is in the slide show.  Big City problems, out there, didn’t make the photo album.

Why do these people ask for money?  What happened in their life to get them to the point where they thought it was okay to target tourists for spare change?  Are they mentally ill?  Do they have addictions?  Is there someone extorting money from them, like a bad pimp ready to beat them up?  Is there no social safety net to help?  Are they just looking for extra income, or found a way to make a good living off suckers like me?  I have no idea!  I don’t know them, I will never see them again, and we don’t even speak the same language.  In some ways, I wish I could write them off.

Maybe I was a soft target because I would make eye contact, look at them, and wonder, “Who are they?  What’s their story?”  Sometimes, I think about them, and wonder if I didn’t give enough.  I should have paid them, given them more for ‘snapping me out’ of a tourist daze, for reminding me that reality is more complicated and layered than our typical binary mode of thinking and values of a leisure culture tend to encourage.  When I’m feeling more compassionate, as I think about these people with their struggles, in my mind I call them, “brother” or “sister.”  I hope their lives are improving and God is being revealed more and more.  I also hope that same thing for myself, not so much in a materialistic way, but in the depths of love, a love that builds up, that recognizes through the heart Christ in our midst, honoring God in all things.  But it’s an honest to goodness struggle.

In Mark’s Gospel the very first thing Jesus does when his ministry begins, as his disciples follow, involves casting out demons.  In the synagogue, a man with an “unclean spirit” has convulsions and screams as the demon comes out.  In the dialogue, the demon uses plural language, wondering, “What have you to do with us, Jesus?”  The passage, with all it’s drama, shows us what Christ continues to do: reveal the fullness of God’s love and how it creates an abundant life rather than a diminished life, a stronger community, rather than a troubled world.  Love builds up.  When this man is healed he is restored to society, so this has to do with social justice.  When this man is healed, his family is delivered from shame, so this has to do with healed relationships.  When this man is healed, the people are amazed and Jesus establishes authority as a religious leader who doesn’t just talk about God like the prideful and powerful scribes, but lives to reveal God through compassionate action, so this has to do with the power of the living Christ revealed.  In other words, there are layers of what this passage reveals, and it has to do with lots of things.

Notice the demon, for example, the unclean spirit, whatever it is that has this man captured, doesn’t come out easily.  The man goes through convulsions, the man screams and shouts.  I imagine it got pretty ugly, kind of scary, certainly unnerving, and yet leads to healing and wholeness.  Jesus heals the man, and silences whatever it is that is resisting this.  It is removed.

We can link that demon in Mark with all sorts of things in our world.  Addictions, greed, violence, whatever the title for the vice may be, most of the time we think those demons don’t live in us!  (And they are plural)!

Yet, if we think the demons only belong to others, and we are somehow except from this type of spiritual struggle, this wrestling of our inner natures, then we are setting ourselves up for the very pride mentioned earlier.  Paul uses the word “knowledge” in 1 Corinthians.  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  Knowledge, without humility, is very dangerous, toxic to our own soul and to those around, very hazardous.

It’s through the eyes and ears of the heart, especially a broken heart, where we are encouraged as we wrestle and convulse and scream out in struggle for the pain of life’s suffering to stop.

One man shared on a radio show the other day about his adult daughter having complications during pregnancy, and she delivered twins a few months early and eventually one of the babies died.  His pain as a grandfather ran so deep that his thoughts turned suicidal.  It surprised him because he doesn’t usually think like that.  He was ready to jump from a tall building, ready to crash his car into trees or poles.  One thought after another kept invading his mind.  He didn’t act on any of these impulses, and he said he did not want to die.  He just wanted the pain to come to an end, a pain and suffering that ran deeper than he could control.  He was ‘out of his mind,’ and in uncharted waters.  Being a very stoic white, middle class, older man, it wasn’t until about a week later when he finally talked with his wife about this, and she said she had the similar feelings, the same struggles, just to stay alive in the face of deep pain, finding strength to go on somehow.

Friends, we can domesticate Jesus and the Gospel story.  Or, as Christians, we can recognize the Living Christ in our midst going about the gut wrenching, heart shaping work of God in our own lives.  Through our own struggles and pain, tearing down our prideful arrogance, we can let those demons go.  But they only go kicking and screaming.

Through life’s struggle, the authority of Jesus, the Christ, is building our world on the foundation and solid rock of God’s love.  God’s work is wonderful, full of honor and majesty, reminding us that there are no beggars, only brothers and sisters in Christ worthy of redemption.  There is no “them,” only “us,” created beings united and bound together in our humanity by the infinite and intimate love of God.  God is with us, appealing to our better natures, calling us to make a difference in this world.  As love builds up, may we too be amazed at what God is doing in our midst, and let God heal us and our world by breaking our hearts wide open, and filling that space with love, peace, justice, and compassion, so we may show who this Jesus is whom we follow.

God be glorified, now & forever.  Amen.

“The Kingdom of God has Come Near,” a Message from the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 21, 2018

“The Kingdom of God has Come Near”

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, January 21, 2018

Jonah 3:1-5, 10    1 Corinthians 7:29-31   Mark 1:14-20

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          In Assisi Italy one of the people we learned more about is Clare.  Saint Clare.  As a young woman, the daughter of aristocracy, one night it was arranged that she would sneak out of the house and meet with St. Francis, and they cut her hair and she joined the movement as Sister Clare.  Today, in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, there is a piece of art from the 13th century that portrays eight stories or scenes of her life.  Looking at this movement, one gets a sense of the power and energy that must have been present in her life, in her context, that would so capture her as to have her turn her back on wealth, prestige, material security, and comfort, and instead embrace a movement that focused on poverty, peace, and prayer.  It seems that the only explanation for this transformation points us to none other than the infinite love of God.  God’s love is at the core of her conversion experience, and the source of her joy which shaped her ministry for the rest of her life.

Here is a prayer from a booklet I picked up in Assisi, attributed to Clare, and called, To Love the Lord.  She says, “Oh Lord my joy, before you I place my eyes, my soul, my heart.  You who gave everything for love of me, transform me into You, and give me the gift to taste the hidden sweetness that until now you have reserved for your friends, so that I can love You with all my heart.”

And in the theme of Epiphany, of celebrating God with us, here is another one called, Rejoice in the Lord.  She prays, “May I always rejoice in You, oh Lord and never allow a cloud of bitterness to surround me!  Teach me to keep my eyes on You, Who are the mirror of eternity – that which does not change and remains for ever; may my soul rest in the splendor of your glory, and may my heart remain in You, because to see You is to see the Father.  You who made yourself like me, make me like you and may my life be open to the joy of loving and being loved.”

These two prayers parallel our readings this morning as we Jonah and Paul and those first disciples realizing, recognizing, experiencing, and living the fact that God is before them and they are called to claim and share this love.  Jonah is angry about this, and annoyed that God is so loving because it violates his learned hatred and bitterness towards the Assyrians, especially those living in the capital city of Nineveh.  Paul the Apostle is giving a teaching to a conflicted church in Corinth and supposedly he has the assumption that Jesus is coming back immediately, that life as we know it will not last because at any moment the fullness of God’s kingdom will overturn everything we take as normal.  As Jesus calls those first disciples in Mark, Simon and Andrew, James and John all leave their fishing, their families, their obligations, and their identities as fishermen to follow Jesus and share with people a message of hope and joy.

Through the stories, even the imperfections, the cultural shocks, and unbelievable outcomes; these stories are intended to communicate something deeper than their own plots or storylines.  They point to something existential, they try and describe with words something indescribable, but something that can only be lived and experienced and shared obliquely like Clare praying her joy in living God’s unbounded love.

Jonah is defined as a Prophet who does his duty, even though he is reluctant and not inspired to follow God’s directions.  Remember, this is the literary narrative that has him getting swallowed by a great fish and three days later getting spat out on the shore.  Someone once described this crazy book of Jonah by saying that the part of story where Jonah gets swallowed by a giant fish was actually the most believable part.  The rest of the story is hilarious in how absurd things turn out, like the entire city of Nineveh, including it’s king, repenting from their evil ways.  Unbelievable, and anything but literal.  Yet very powerful as it points to existential reality that the power of God’s love is beyond human limitations, political boundaries, hatreds, ethnic conflicts, and entrenched histories of violence.  God’s love renews, restores, redeems, and it doesn’t take much in the way of cooperation for this power to work like a catalyst, changing the entire mix of life on earth.

The Apostle Paul with his assumptions of the imminent return of Christ teaches something even though his understanding of timing has its limitations.  What he is showing is how our roles, our identities, everything that we have come to know or understand about who we are in relation to everything else; these all fall away.  No title, no role, no position, nothing is able to capture the fullness of who we are as created beings claimed by the intimate and eternal love of God.  As he says, “For the present form of this world is passing away,” Paul is glimpsing the truth that the finite fades, and most aspects of our experience involves the finite, the limited, the temporary, that which is not capable of lasting beyond it’s own context.  Nothing has any eternity to it, except the existential reality of God’s infinite, intimate love.  Paul the mystic is dealing with a conflicted church that just doesn’t get it.  They are arguing over things that really are not ultimate, and he has seen and experienced the Risen Christ, putting everything else in a sort of perspective that can only highlight the unitive power of God’s love.

In Mark’s Gospel, Zebedee probably wondered what in the world had come over his sons.  He may have been shocked, saddened, and insulted that his own boys had left their trained livelihood, their social obligations for family, only to follow a rabbi into an uncertain future.  Perhaps he was proud they were getting into religious life, but we really don’t know about his response.  What we do know is the message Jesus shares says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”  The verbs involved, for “fulfilled” and “come near” are in the Greek perfect tense, which means they have already happened and we are living in the effect of this action.  Because of what God has done, of what God has already competed in our sense of time, the result can be repentance.

The other day as Shawna was studying about techniques for teaching skiing she came across something that sounds obvious but isn’t always so clear in practice.  As a ski instructor, this lesson suggests, you don’t want to necessarily teach someone a totally new skill, to have them do something in an entirely new way.  Rather, you want to focus on what it is they are already doing, and help shape that practice into something even more refined and helpful.  You want to build on their strengths, even while you’re sharing practices that help them blossom into a whole new level of ability.

This is the idea behind Mark’s version of repenting.  The typical understanding we’re likely most familiar with is the Hebrew notion of repent as ‘turn around.’  Christianity tends to link this turning with moralism, so not only is repentance a turning, but it involves our concepts of ethics, even guilt.  In verse 15, however, the Greek word involves less a turning, and more of an adjustment to perception.  In Greek, repent means ‘change your way of thinking.’  Jesus is inviting them to wrap their minds around a new reality.  We too, are invited to wrap our minds around a new reality that is good news.  God’s Presence, which is already here, can change our whole reality.  We are invited to see, to experience, to claim this existential reality, and to trust this new way of being, both conceptually and in practice.

Claiming God’s love, trusting God’s invitation to live with a new way of thinking, one that perceives reality through the unity of mind and heart, disciples are called to follow the Risen Christ into the depths and breadth of God’s expansive, inclusive, unbounded love.  May we heed the call, trusting the goodness of this news, so our lives and our world are transformed through God with us, as we are loving and being loved.  Glory be to God!  Amen.

“Depth of Love,” a Message for Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 14, 2018

“Depth of Love”

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, January 14, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20          Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18    John 1:43-51

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

(Note to the reader of the blog: the quotes in blue were not read during the sermon teaching.  They are simply there for extra reflection.)

I hope you paid attention while we read those passages.  Not only listening in a cognitive sense, but inviting perception of the heart.  These three passages are some of the most important, foundational, life-changing passages of the entire Bible.  For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, these three passages from the Bible, with God’s help, can change your life.

They reveal a depth of love through the stories of Eli and Samuel, of Jesus and Nathaniel; a care expressed through the Psalmist’s celebration of God’s intentionality and purpose in creation; and a calling echoing through the ages to disciples following the Jesus Way into deeper relationship and unity with God, and with all others.

Sometimes, like with Samuel, it takes us a while to recognize God’s Presence, and to receive God on God’s terms.  Sometimes, like Eli, we become complicit with the injustice of the world, and need reminded that God wants more than just words and ritual, but actions that help grace become tangible.  As John writes the Gospel message, we’re reminded that love and relationship give shape to life and ministry.

Today is also part of Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, and as the choral anthem helped express, God’s deep love is at the core of what energizes generations of people toward a larger vision of a just society based on equality, right relationship, fairness, and integrity, among other qualities.

I have a few quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which I found online and I’ll share a few.  I have pages of them here, but we’ll just take a sample, and then we’ll take a closer look at his last sermon preached April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.  Here are a few highlights from various speeches and sermons: (and I’ll quote directly, as it was presented in the 1960’s, so some of it is not gender-inclusive language)

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

Martin Luther King Jr.‘Strength to Love,’ 1963

The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.

Martin Luther King Jr.‘Strength to Love,’ 1963

From A Christmas Sermon for Peace, preached on Dec 24, 1967

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.

From a bit earlier, on December 11, 1964

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Martin Luther King Jr.Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

The church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Martin Luther King Jr.Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 1963

Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

Martin Luther King Jr.Speech at Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963

I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

Martin Luther King Jr.Speech in Detroit, June 23, 1963

…And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.

Martin Luther King Jr.Speech in Memphis, April 3, 1968, the day before King was assassinated

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Martin Luther King Jr.Strength to Love, 1963

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

Martin Luther King Jr.Strength to Love, 1963

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr.Strength to Love, 1963 

Now I am skipping over so many quotes, there’s just one after another of amazing sayings from him.  Here’s another one from The Christmas Sermon On Peace, Dec 24, 1967:

Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force… If we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has the right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war.

 

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Martin Luther King Jr.Why We Can’t Wait

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.

Martin Luther King Jr.

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

Martin Luther King Jr.

If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King Jr.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Segregation is the adultery of an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.

Martin Luther King Jr.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Martin Luther King Jr.

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

In “Strength to Love” he says,

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

 

That is likely at the core of Jesus calling Nathanael, recognizing a deep dedication and love of God, yet in peaceful, just, and non-deceitful actions.

 

One who condones evils is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values — that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)“Strength to Love”

Results from Poor Man’s College:

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Results from Contributed Quotations:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do not condemn the man that cannot think or act as fast as you can, because there was a time when you could not do things as well as you can today.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

We must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

These are some amazing quotes, and there are a lot more out there.  But I want to take a more focused look at the sermon he preached the night before he died.  I’m not going to preach it or read all of it, but some of it.  It’s titled, “I See The Promised Land,” and some have popularly titled it, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  He’s preaching in Memphis, Tennessee and he’s there in support of a labor strike by the city sanitation workers who have been treated unfairly by city policy.  Dr. King is encouraging the black community to come together and start a wider economic boycott, avoiding products created by industries with unfair labor practices.  As a collective, it’s hoped that this non-violent form of activism creates pressure so the leaders of these affected industries will pressure the city to change it’s policies and give the sanitation workers the justice they seek.

I See The Promised Land               popularly titled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968

Memphis, Tennessee

He starts out thanking people for the nice introduction.  Then he says, “I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning.  You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.  Something is happening in Memphis, something is happening in our world.

I’m going to abbreviate parts of his speech here:  …If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?”– I would take my mental flight by Egypt[…]across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.  I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus.  […]

But I wouldn’t stop there.  I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire […], through various emperors and leaders.  But I wouldn’t stop there.

And he goes on to mention lots of different time periods, with their contributions toward human society, but how he wouldn’t stop until he reached the second half of the 20th century. 

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.”  Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up.  The nation is sick.  Trouble is in the land.  Confusion all around.  That’s a strange statement.  But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.  And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding–something is happening in our world.  The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled […] –the cry is always the same–“We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.  That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that he’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

Then he goes on about specifics regarding the strike and the dynamics of the sanitation worker’s struggle with the city.  It’s an example of a local situation having echoes or ripples to a larger struggle that humanity as a species is dealing with.  Then he goes on to talk about not what they’re against, but what they’re for, saying…

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody.  We are saying that we are determined to be men.  We are determined to be people.  We are saying that we are God’s children.  And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history?  It means that we’ve got to stay together.  We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity.

 

 

 

 

I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us, the pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane.  And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with the plane, we had to check out everything carefully.  And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say that threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy, tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

http://www.ucc.org/sacred-conversation_dr-kings-last-sermon

 

(long PAUSE for silence)

 

The deep love of God sets you free, free to live in great unity of heart-filled Presence.  God actively comes to us, calling us forward to greater faithfulness, deeper trust, and humble service.  As Jesus shows us the Way, through non-violent, active healing of the world, the only thing that truly defines us is God’s infinite love.  May we receive the gift, heed the calling, and give God glory both now and forever.  Amen.

“Regenerative Love” A message from Sunday, January 7, 2018

“Regenerative Love”

Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Year B, January 7, 2018

Genesis 1:1-5       Mark 1:4-11

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          Well how are those New Year Resolutions coming along so far?  Did you make any?  Resolutions are one way we try and promise ourselves that we’ll make a concerted effort to live better during the year.  From the typical, “I will lose weight and exercise more,” to the more serious, “I’ll try not to drink as much, or yell at my kids so often,” resolutions have quite a spectrum of intensity and effect.  From self-help to larger, systemic issues, resolutions mostly have good intentions behind them, but very often somewhere along the calendar’s way, the resolutions are broken.  Resolutions frequently don’t have staying power, and people find themselves right back in the struggle or difficulties they were in before, only now with an added sense of defeat.

Usually, when we make resolutions they have something to do with part of our life experience that is already going on, rather than something totally new, seemingly out of nowhere.  Wanting to lose weight, for example, implies that we have materials to work with that we bring into the situation.  We take something we’re already dealing with and try and make it better.

As we read Genesis chapter 1 verse one and two, there are two main possibilities for interpretation as we read about God’s work “In the beginning.”   The way the Hebrew is written, some scholars say, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” in verse one.  In verse two, then, “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.”  This is the way our NRSV pew Bible has it written because the committee that put it together leaned toward this understanding.

Another alternative has other scholars saying the Hebrew is also translated in verse one as, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth,” and then verse two, as a subordinate clause, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.”

This may sound subtle, but the wording, which is probably intentionally chosen by the Hebrew editors long ago to leave room for both interpretations, offers two possible conceptions of the nature of God.  Does God create out of nothing, which is called, ex nihilo, or is it that God creates from what is there?

Are the formless earth and waters pre-existing materials which God uses to shape the world, or does God first create them out of nothing?  If God’s first creative act is to make the earth and water, then creation involves making, bringing something out of nothing.  If the materials are pre-existent and God shapes them, then creation involves ordering, changing chaos by bringing structure and shape.  Perhaps both interpretations are intended at the same time?  Big questions that probe the depths of foundational assumptions!  Big questions that point to our larger explorations of the nature of God, God’s relationship with creation, and with humanity in particular, and our relating with creation, God, and other people.  Big questions that get echoed through the centuries as our physical experience as created beings mingles with the spiritual source of power, restraining chaos, and grounding our relationships.

You’ve heard other big questions, such as, “What is the meaning of life?”  Or, “What is the purpose of a human life?”  Or, “Where is the fullness of life to be found?”  These are questions that we not only ask with our mouth, or our intellect, but with intensity of soul, especially as we experience the chaos, the struggles, or even the intensity of great love.  As Thomas Keating from Contemplative Outreach puts it, “All the great questions of life can be approached, explored and experienced by embarking on the spiritual journey.  However,” he says, “‘first one must become aware that there is even such a thing as a spiritual journey, something beyond beliefs and doctrines’ — an awareness that has been “monumentally” absent in Christianity in the last few centuries.

Many Christians in the last few centuries put faith only in terms of what you believe, and how you come to believe it, and most of this is controlled by the intellect.  Faith becomes a mind game, and as long as you rationally ascent to correct ideas, then you are saved, you’re in the church, and your faith is legitimate.  Doctrines and dogmas become the external rules that need to be followed and obeyed in order to stay faithful and in good standing with the church.  Church tradition has only encouraged this, and you see, for example, the Ten Commandments listed on sculptures in church yards, usually with a bench nearby so one can sit and work on memorizing them.  Rules and doctrines, behaviors and beliefs, these take the focus, while transformative relationship and unconditional inclusion is often kept at arm’s length.  Our brains keep our hearts under lock and key.

Is creation a make and break, where God creates and then disappears into the background to watch people fall, eventually sending Jesus to help sort things out?  Does God use materials at hand, addressing chaos by bringing order, so well that life flourishes and things are called, “good?”  Or, does God begin to create, and that process of creation continues even today?  Not only that, but we are called as co-creators, especially going the Jesus Way to help shape the world into a loving, just, community?  Is the presence and authority of God external to us, something we can step back from and observe or try and mimic?  Or does God live within us, and to find God, we need to go inside?  If that’s the case, are we aware that the only way in is through a crack?  The crack of our heart, a heart wide open?!

This morning we read about the nature of God.  And we’re in a season of Epiphany, where we celebrate God with us, God coming to us, and God bringing order out of chaos, light in the midst of darkness, by entering into creation itself.  We read about Jesus and John as a baptism takes place and all righteousness is fulfilled.  This is a very dynamic scene with motion and dialogue and consequential action, and all these point to something more than static doctrine or intellectual belief.  They point to nothing less than the mystery of the depths of love, as God plunges into the formless void of death itself and rises to life empowered by grace and peace and unity.

Thomas Keating goes on to say, “Christian religion [is] a life to be lived, a relationship with God to be developed and enjoyed.  The most important fruit of … training should be a thorough knowledge, understanding and experience of the spiritual journey in the Christian tradition so … [we] can transmit the Christian life as experience.” (1012 Monastery Road).  (https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/2018-spiritual-journey-online-program?utm_source=CO+Constituents&utm_campaign=83d11c6552-Advent+2017+2&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b11e0b2045-83d11c6552-309612761&mc_cid=83d11c6552&mc_eid=4ab9e291c2)

“First one must become aware that there is even such a thing as a spiritual journey, something beyond beliefs and doctrines.”  The commands of beliefs and doctrines just don’t have the life changing staying power that love commands.  Becoming aware of a spiritual journey invites openness to what God is creating next.

So as we journey into 2018, may God help us all to become more aware, and more open.  Even when this feels chaotic or destabilizing or uncomfortable, which it often does, may our trust of God’s Holy Spirit working over, in, and through the deep voids of chaos, grow all the more, day by day, until we discover, through relationship, a resolve that doesn’t waver or get defeated because it’s grounded in the very essence of God’s loving Presence.  Commissioned by regenerative love, marked as Christ’s own, baptized into dynamic, divine relationship, may our awareness discover the heavens torn open as love pours out to change the world.  And may God be glorified, now and forever.  Amen.

“Living Christmas All Year Long,” a Message on the First Sunday After Christmas

“Living Christmas All Year Long”

First Sunday After Christmas, Year B, December 31, 2017

Galatians 4:4-7    Luke 2:22-40

First Presbyterian Church of Sandpoint, Idaho

Pastor Andy Kennaly

          Today involves several things at once.  It’s Sunday, which is the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day of Resurrection, specifically the First Sunday after Christmas; it’s the last Sunday in 2017, and it’s even New Year’s Eve itself.  Lots of themes overlap when you have these types of dynamics.  The Christmas message of Jesus born, the story we read of the Temple as the little boy, Jesus, is presented, along with calendar things like highlights of 2017 and resolutions looking forward to 2018:  time, and the fullness of time is the overarching theme that seems to encompass all of this.  Paul mentions in Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”  When the fullness of time had come…born to redeem, born to adopt.

Simeon, a righteous and devout man with the Holy Spirit resting on him, Luke says he was guided by the Spirit to visit the Temple at the very time Jesus was present.  When he sees Jesus, he praises God and says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word.”  Talking about Simeon, Paul Gordon-Chandler describes Simeon’s song, and as he writes about this, he’s helping us focus on that reality of redemption, saying “The entire song [the Nunc dimittis, Lk 2:29-32] is sung with the language of freedom.  In the original Greek text, it has the connotation of releasing a slave.  Simeon is describing his own experience as one of being released.  In the song the word “now” is of utmost importance, emphasizing that an experience of profound liberation happened to him at that moment in time upon seeing the Christ Child.  Simeon’s song is his way of describing how he was finally “released” truly to live.  (Meditation One, Suzanne Guthrie’s Edge of Enclosure http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/christmas1bpresentation.html quoting Paul-Gordon Chandler, Songs in Waiting: Spiritual Reflections on Christ’s Birth quoted from Vicki Black’s Speaking to the Soul: Daily Readings for the Christian Year).

I titled this sermon today, “Living Christmas All Year Long” to capture both that phrase, “the fullness of time” and to challenge the reality that Christmas comes and goes, we celebrate the Prince of Peace and then the rest of the year is steeped in violence, things like that.  Once the decorations are down life goes on as usual.  And this is normal, and even Mary and Joseph got on with life as the movement in this story shows.  They didn’t stay in that manger scene, didn’t reside in Bethlehem, but when they presented Jesus the child at the Temple, they returned to Nazareth where they lived.  The biblical story has movement, and time is one element that God operates in.

Interesting that Simeon is glad he can now die in peace, and the prophet, Anna was also of great age.  These older people spent their lives in prayer and fasting and connect to God through the Holy Spirit.  Here it is and Jesus is a boy, Pentecost hasn’t even taken place, and the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts, minds, and actions of people.

The Christmas miracle is not only for December 25.  Opening our hearts to the living Presence of God, consenting to the action and activity of God in our lives; this is a calling that helps us live Christmas all year long, year after year as we put our hope in God.

Another aspect these two people share is their reaction involves praise.  They both immediately begin to praise God, giving thanks, sharing their joy, sensing release and relief as redemption becomes tangible to their experience.  Two old people with a message to share.  They want people to know what Jesus means and what his life will bring about in the world.  And this is good for us to hear.

David Lose picks up on this as they describe Jesus and what their eyes have seen, and how this message echoing through the ages connects with us.  He says, “Glory and anguish, beauty and sorrow, gladness and opposition.  All these and more will be contained in this child…and indeed in each of our own lives, also.  And that’s just why we need Christmas to last longer than 24 or 48 hours, why we need it not simply to persist into the new year, but to keep us strong throughout the year.  Because this life is wonderful…and difficult.  And God came in Jesus to be with us and for us through all of it: the ups and down, hopes and fears, successes and disappointments, accomplishments to savor and mistakes to regret; all of it.  God is with us and for us…not just some of the time, but all of the time, even when we don’t act as we want, [even when we don’t] live into the identity God has given us, or [even when we don’t] make it to church on a regular basis.”  (http://www.davidlose.net/2017/12/christmas-1-b-christmas-courage/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29)

In 2017 there were over 18 Sundays that I did not preach here.  That is a lot of Sundays.  The Renewal Group and the Worship Committee coordinated for those Sabbatical Sundays and Vacation days, and they did a good job of making sure someone was here to preach every week.  I want to thank them, and assure them that I’ve got it covered for the rest of this year.

That time of Sabbatical was like a bunch of once-in-a-lifetime experiences stuffed together over a span of weeks.  Living through those adventures, the interactions, the learning, and visiting different places and people are now not only memories, but they are embedded or implanted or woven into or integrated into our lives.  This is not only a mental exercise of recalling in our minds thoughts or ideas about times and places.  This also involves finding meaning and allowing the experiences to speak to our hearts and rest in our souls, to find resonance with the action and activity of God and God’s living Presence within us.  The Sabbatical isn’t just a one time thing, but shapes identity in on-going ways.  What has been done cannot be undone, and because God holds it all, even as finite life slips away, eternal qualities remain.  God’s eternal now holds all things together.

I would suggest that as 2018 enters the picture and as Christmas day and the Christmas season begin to slip out of conscious thoughts just like the radio stations have stopped playing songs of the season, perhaps we need to come alongside Simeon and Anna and their life-long practice of waiting on God.

Perhaps we can learn disciplines which help us open our hearts, so we can perceive the world in transformed ways that other people just don’t see.  Joseph and Mary likely walked past hundred of people as they took Jesus the child to the Temple that day, yet Luke only shares the response of two, because they had the heart space and the discipline that trained them to perceive the work of the Spirit, and they lived in the flow of what God is doing as God actively redeems the world.  Living Christmas all year long is a calling.

May God help us heed the call, and through prayer and fasting and other spiritual disciplines, may we receive a heart to perceive the grace, love, and peace of God as a gift that redeems us from the tyranny of slavery to ourselves and all that seeks to hold us down.  As children of God, with the Spirit of God in our hearts, united with God as heirs of the covenant, claimed in the fullness of time, may we praise God that Jesus grew, became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was upon him.  As God’s beloved, blessed and sent to share the news, may we too seek wisdom as we grow our hearts, making room for the newborn Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace.  And may God be glorified now and forever.  Amen.