Vision Meeting

We’re having a Visioning meeting at Point Hope UMC Saturday from 9 am – noon.  God led me to call it that based on the Acts 2:17 verse that’s echoing the Joel 2:28 verse.

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”

It’s not supposed to be intimidating at all.  I hope it will be fun.  I, in fact, promise it will be fun!  You can come dressed however you want.  There will be snacks and other goodies.  It may not even take the full time.  We’ll see how the Spirit leads.  This is meant to start a conversation that will be ongoing as our broader story is still unfolding.  In terms of story, we have to know where we have come from in order to fully know where we are and where we’re going.  So one of the things we will do as a church at this Visioning meeting is create a timeline that will tell our story and we will leave it up so that people who can’t be there on Saturday, can also add to it.  All are invited.  I don’t want it to be an exclusive thing at all.  If you’re excited about the possibilities, you’re invited.  If you want to dream God-sized dreams, you’re invited.  If you want to bring the love of Christ to the world outside of the church walls, you’re invited.  If you want to foster a deeper sense of community right here at Point Hope, you’re invited.  It doesn’t matter if you have crazy outreach ideas, or if you’re a numbers and bottom line person, or if you’re a pragmatic realist, you’re invited.

Any time we come together as the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit is there in our midst inspiring creativity, collaboration, and collective action inspired by the Word made flesh.  As Rich Mullins says, “A faith that moves mountains is a faith that expands horizons, it does not bring us into a smaller world full of easy answers, but into a larger one where there is room for wonder.”  Let’s wonder together.  Let’s dream dreams together.  Again, don’t worry if you can’t be there on Saturday, there will be places for you to give your feedback as well!  If you can make it, I promise, you will not regret it.

I am praying for our whole big “c” Church to have a Great Awakening.  We, now more than ever, need to seek God in prayer, knowing and trusting that God will answer.  We all need to be like the father in Mark 9, “Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out,“I believe; help my unbelief!” We need to believe in God, all things are possible.  God is going to be faithful and true and if we believe who knows how God will work through us.  Let these words from Ephesians be an encouragement to you as you face challenges near and far, journey through mountaintops and valleys.

Ephesians 3:14-20, “14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Chosen to Share the Good News

Romans 10:5-15 (NRSV)

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The title of this sermon in the Chosen series is “Chosen to share the Good News.”  Before we can understand the Good News, we have to understand how good that news is.

Have you ever fallen victim to autocorrect?  It’s one thing to do it on your computer, but it’s an entirely different thing to do it on your phone.  For sure.  For example, your phones may auto-correct my name and give you the choices of “Marcie or Nancy.”

Mom to son: “Where are you?”
Son: “I’m having a little seizure.”
Mom: “Oh no! I’m calling 911 right now!”
Son: “No, mom! I meant I’m having a Little Caesar’s — I’m eating pizza!”

Guy to Friend: “How was the date?”
Friend: “Awesome! I killed her at the end.”
Guy: “That bad, eh?”
Friend: “No, I meant I kissed her. Stupid auto-correct!”

For any of us who have smart phones, we’ve been there.  One auto-corrected word can mean the difference between a great date or a life in prison!

The context for our passage in Romans is that Paul’s writing to a Roman church that’s struggling with a language disconnect between the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians.  You see, the Jewish Christians recently came back to Rome after being expelled by the emperor, Claudius and the Gentile Christians outnumbered them in the small house churches throughout the city.  Not only was miscommunication rampant and Paul wanted them to use a particular language and stop talking past each other.  Language is important.  Words are important.  They are powerful.  I used to have a button that had these words in big letters, “Button Your Lip” and in smaller letters, “Be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  Words can wound.  Words can show love.  Words can bring devastation.  Words can give life.  So it’s ever more important that Paul bridges the gap and gives the Roman Christians – Jews and gentiles alike – a common language.

I was with colleagues sharing a meal and someone asked me to explain the word “shade” because I had just used it in conversation.  Maybe I’ve been hanging with college students too long, but I thought “shade” had entered the mainstream because it was on primetime television.  By the way, I had to look up the word “fleek.”  I’m glad he asked me about it because that told me he was trying to understand.  We all have insider and outsider language.  We have generational language.  We have “church” language.  We often don’t notice it until someone brings it to our attention because they feel excluded. I can attest, it’s frustrating, when people don’t understand us, when we can’t explain effectively what we think clearly or we can’t find the right word.  Whether because we get tongue-tied or we’re fighting for the speaking stick, I think I’ll human beings yearn to be understood.

In her 2013 Commencement Address at Harvard Oprah Winfrey shares, “I have to say that the single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people, was that there is a common denominator in our human experience. Most of us, I tell you we don’t want to be divided. What we want, the common denominator that I found in every single interview, is we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I have done over 35,000 interviews in my career and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question “Was that okay?” I heard it from President Bush, I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crimes. I even heard it from Beyonce and all of her Beyonceness. She finishes performing, hands me the microphone and says, “Was that okay?” Friends and family, yours, enemies, strangers in every argument in every encounter, every exchange I will tell you, they all want to know one thing: was that okay? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?”

Paul wants everyone on the same page to limit the misunderstandings and he reminds everyone in Romans chapters 1-3 that all of them are under slavery to sin and death, much more than slavery to a Verizon or Sprint contract, and all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In chapter 4 Paul talks about God’s covenant with Abraham that he may have descendants as the stars all over the world, drawing all nations to God, and through Moses gave Israel the law as to set God’s children apart.  In chapters 5-8, Paul points out that Israel had a problem keeping the law.  If you ever glanced at the Old Testament, you know it’s a constant spin cycle of the people disobeying God, God giving them multiple chances to turn back sending various prophets, they end up being in exile, and after a period of time God welcomes the people back.  And then it repeats and repeats.  Paul is making the case that the law wasn’t the ultimate solution to the world’s problems.  Paul says very rightly, that the law only pointed out how sinful we are not how to get out from it.  The law itself won’t save us, only faith in Christ and he points out the lineage of Christ that he was a good Jew as the bridge.  What Paul has been doing the entire time in Romans has been giving them a common language and that link was Jesus.

This is not to say, we fall into the pit of sinfulness or we don’t have to follow God’s commands, after all in Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  Paul never denies obedience to the law, but just checking off a set of rules is not what it’s all about.  The “righteousness of faith” he’s talking about, acknowledges that God came to earth, Emmanuel, to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  The fact that God sent God’s son Jesus to be one with us and because of his sacrifice our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life is really Good News.  Faith isn’t merely a set of rules, it’s a way of life.  Instead of auto-correct, it’s Christ-corrected as the Holy Spirit guides us in walking the way of Christ and it’s not just about being personally Christ-connected, but it’s sharing the Good News of Jesus with the whole world that the Great God of the Universe would pay attention to someone as insignificant as me and that that very God pursues me with an abundant love and wants a relationship with me is crazy, beautiful news.  Why wouldn’t I want to serve that kind of God?  The One who walks with us every step of the way.  The One who gives us nudges or God-things so we can tangibly see.  I’ll follow that God and seek to walk in the way of Jesus, knowing that grace can’t be earned, only trusted and believed in.

In verses 14 and 15 a series of 4 questions are asked, “14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We have to share Jesus with the world.  God’s grace is not something we hoard because it’s a limited supply, it’s unending, unstoppable, and unlimited.  We all have a story of Christ’s redemption.  We may have several stories.  We have to know our story in order to share it and more yet, we have to be willing to claim our story, all the highs and all the lows, in order to risk being vulnerable enough to share it.

Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn’t mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose.  It’s a good calling, then, to speak a better story.  How brightly a better story shines.  How easily the world looks to it in wonder.  How grateful are we to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.”  Many of y’all have told me that what you remember most about my sermons are the stories.  Stories have a way of piercing through all of the layers that we wear as armor to the soul.

Earlier in her Commencement address Oprah says, “As you heard this morning I was in the Miss Fire Prevention contest. That was when I was 16 years old in Nashville, Tennessee, and you had the requirement of having to have red hair in order to win up until the year that I entered. So they were doing the question and answer period because I knew I wasn’t going to win under the swimsuit competition. So during the question and answer period the question came “Why, young lady, what would you like to be when you grow up?” And by the time they got to me all the good answers were gone. So I had seen Barbara Walters on the “Today Show” that morning so I answered, “I would like to be a journalist. I would like to tell other people’s stories in a way that makes a difference in their lives and the world.”  And she sure did.

Mary Oliver writes, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What will you do with your one wild and precious life?  Do you know yet?  Have you been living it?

Brennan Manning writes, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”  It doesn’t have to be a perfect, beautiful image, carefully curated for social media consumption, but it has to be your one, true, authentic story.  If it’s fake, like those fake bags or watches, the world is going to know.  The world needs real Jesus followers, not afraid to get dirty, followers of Jesus, who sat with tax collectors and prostitutes and again and again choose the least of these:  the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the paralyzed.  God can redeem all of your story.  God can redeem even the parts that you don’t want the world to see and give you the courage, peace, confidence and love for you to boldly proclaim it because you know who you are and more importantly Whose you are.

I kept thinking about the Matthew West song “Do Something” as I wrote this sermon.

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

Have we done something?  Are we actively making the world a better place?  Are we actively helping people?  God calls us each to spread all the good we can in the world.  N. T. Wright says, “God is putting the world right, so God puts people right, so that they might be his right-putting people.” We have to show the world the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It’s not just good, it’s great.  We are set apart to share the beautiful, life giving Good News of Jesus Christ.  I’ll end with a passage from Colossians that is my prayer for you all.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NRSV)

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Amen and amen.

Full text of Oprah’s Commencement Speech:  http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/05/winfreys-commencement-address/

 

The Story of Esther

So we’re sticking with our theme of stories – those of Biblical characters and stories from our community.  I would like to tell you the story of Esther.  It begins with a party lasting for seven days.  In Esther chapter 1: 8-9 it reads, “Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.  Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.”  Can you imagine a party lasting for seven days?  It would be like Mardi Gras to the extreme.  Or if you saw the movie version of The Great Gatsby or even previews, it would be like morning never comes.  The party never ends.  On the seventh day, the King, who was in “high spirits” from wine orders Queen Vashti  to make an appearance so they can behold her beauty, she’s his centerpiece after all.  But Queen Vashti refuses to come.  The text doesn’t say why she didn’t come.  Maybe she didn’t feel like it, maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king, maybe she thought ‘I’m the Queen,’ how dare the King request me.  We’re not sure.  As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King,  he was furious.  Angry at her refusal to obey, the King asked his wise men what should be done.  One of them said it would set a bad precedent.  Esther 1:16-17, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the provinces.  For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands.”  So Queen Vashti got deposed and at the end of chapter 1 the King sent letters to all the royal provinces, in their own language, “declaring that every man should be master in his own house.”  It begs the question, was he that threatened?  That’s neither here nor there.

Okay so how did Esther arrive on the scene?  While the king was having second thoughts for having Vashti banned, his servants encouraged him to gather “beautiful young virgins” from every province in the kingdom and let “cosmetic treatments be given them.  And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.”  The king thought this was a very good idea.

I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale here.   Esther was the most beautiful, fairest in the land.   There was a Jewish man named Mordecai, and he had brought up Esther as his own daughter because she was an orphan.  And so of course, she ended up with the king.  I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem Esther underwent and the king actually choosing her.  I feel like I’m telling the plot of Pretty Woman at this point.   Anyway, the king made her queen instead of Vashti and gave a banquet in Esther’s honor.

And they lived happily ever after?

They may not if Evy had had her way.  The fam had all piled on top of the bed before the kids had to go to swimming and Evy was playing Barbies.  Apparently Ariel was married to Prince Charming, but he was dancing with Cinderella.  She had Prince Charming and Cinderella and I was Ariel, and I was to break them up from dancing.  Random.  The girl has an extensive imagination.

Back to the story, what happens after happily after?  Things get real.

Shortly thereafter, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king.  Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it.  Mordecai was given credit for unfurling the plot and the two treasonous guards were hung on the gallows. 

Now you should be hearing villainous music and lots of bass and minor notes because I’m about to introduce the character of Haman.  It says the king “advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him.  All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down.”  But Mordecai refused, because he was a Jew, who would bow to no one except God.  This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making a plan to exterminate the Jews from the Persian empire.  Haman uses his influence on the king and makes the king a pawn in his chess game against Mordecai, saying the Jews don’t keep the same laws.  So the king agrees.  Esther 3:13, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day,  the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”

When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth.  When Esther finds about this she is obviously distressed because she is a Jew and from the beginning Mordecai told her to be silent about her heritage in the palace.  Mordecai sends this reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your family will perish.  Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”   

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzVR09ujdDc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxNrhJJlnk4

What ensues is some palace intrigue. 

Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her otherwise she could be put to death.  And she had not been called in to see the king in 30 days, so she, her maid-servants, and all of the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up enough courage to enter the king’s presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her.  He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.

Cue villainous laughter, Haman was already ordering gallows to be constructed to hang Mordecai.  At the same time, Esther 6:1 says, “On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king” and he remembers that Mordecai had saved him from the previous assassination attempt and the king realizes he had not rewarded Mordecai.

Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman thought the king meant himself, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” The king thought this was appropriate, and asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way, to honor him for previously uncovering the plot against the king.  After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief.  His wife said to him, “You will surely come to ruin!”

Esther 7:1-10

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”[a] Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”

Haman then pleaded with Esther to save his life. Seeing Haman on Esther’s couch begging, the king became further enraged and had him hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and gave the Jews the right to defend themselves against any enemy.  This precipitated a series of reprisals by the Jews against their enemies. This fight began on the 13th of Adar, the date the Jews were originally slated to be exterminated.

So it was a happy ending for God’s people.  Jewish people still today celebrate Purim in remembrance of their deliverance.

So how do we relate to the story of Esther?  Did God place us exactly where we are now, in this time, and in this place “for such a time as this?”  How can we stand up on behalf of the marginalized in our own lives speaking truth to power?  In what ways are we challenged by the story?  How is Esther’s story intersecting with your life right now?