Tag Archives: Fear

Alternatives

A Sermon for 15 October 2017

A reading from Exodus 32:1-14.  Listen for God’s word to us as we hear one more Sunday about the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt.  Listen.

“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”  Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron.  He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.”  They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.  The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once!  Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”  The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.  10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”  11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?  12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’  Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.  13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”  14 And the Lord changed the LORD’s mind about the disaster that the LORD planned to bring on the people.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Have you ever seen one of those stage plays where the audience is involved in picking the ending?  Usually something like a murder mystery, the actors have rehearsed all sorts of ways to finish the plot.  Was it Ms. Scarlett in the Library with the wrench?  Or Mr. Green in the Kitchen with the lead pipe?  Once the audience chooses which way it will go, the actors spring back into action, as if never missing a beat, to show how the story unfolds.  It never goes quite the same way twice.  Alternate endings are possible depending on the will of the people.

We forgot we have the power, in pretty much every situation, to influence how things will unfold.  So often we feel as if only one way is possible in the story of our lives; but it is not so.  Fear often holds us back.  Literally moving us out of the higher realms of our brain’s ability to imagine alternate endings.  Fear leaves us operating out of what’s often referred to as our “Lizard brain” – the oldest part of our brains that develops first in the womb.  It’s an important part of who we are so we can instinctually act when our lives really are in danger.  But allowing ourselves to daily live out of our lowest, lizard brains is the last thing needed from human beings by this planet.  God gifted us with frontal lobes, the most complex part of the human brain where impulse control, consideration of actions’ effect on others, even reasoning about consequences can take place.  The goal is to use the amazing heads we’ve been given so that we can envision possibility number one.  Or possibility number two.  And even possibility number three, four, five, six, and seven.  Endless alternative options in any given situation.

I wish the Israelites at Sinai would have taken some collective deep breaths.  To move from operating out of their lizard brains into the higher realms of conscious ability.  If we’ve ever given up something we really love for Lent, then we might understand how long 40 days can feel.  Moses, the one who has guided them miraculously into freedom, and God, the One who has been present to them all the way, convene forty days on the mountain.  And the people below panic.  They’ve just been given the commands of God for how they can live connected rightly to God and each other.  In awe they saw the thick cloud envelop the mountain.  They heard the thunder roll and witnessed the lightening flash.  They heard command number one:  have NO OTHER GOD’s before me.  And command number two:  MAKE NO IDOLS!  The either have really short memories, or refused to listen in the first place.  Maybe it even shows that the commands of God foreshadowed what anyone studying human behavior could guess would happen.

Afraid Moses had been torn to pieces by some wild animal on that mountain, or maybe convinced the ole’ fool at last was smothered by the thick cloud of God; the people demand brother Aaron do something concrete in their midst.  They want something tangible to show them the way.  Impatient with the wait.  Anger certainly on the rise.  And afraid they’ve been abandoned.  They beg for a god to be made that can lead them out of that harsh desert.  The salt in the wound is that even as Aaron collects all their gold for the calf, God had been describing to Moses a sanctuary where a LORD who seems to be passionately in love with the people could dwell among them forever.  According to Exodus 25, step one was to begin with “an offering; for all whose hearts prompt them to give.”  Specifically, it would be an offering to God of “gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns.  Fine linen, goat’s hair, tanned rams’ skins, (and) fine leather; acacia wood, oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; onyx stones and gems to be set in the ephod and for the breast piece” (Exodus 25:2-7).  God wants the finest of all they have for a sanctuary in which the people would be able to lift up their hearts in gratitude to God.  Meanwhile . . . the people circle Aaron to demand some new deity immediately!

Tragic.  So tragic when our fear demands our one and only imaginable way.

How else might the story unfold?  If the people hadn’t let their fear get the best of them, if they could have held on just a bit longer; what other options might had they imagined together?

Our other reading for today offers an alternative.  “Rejoice in the LORD always,” the Christians of Philippi are instructed.  “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The LORD is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:4-6).  Wow!  If the people could have kept back their fear.  If they could have remained a bit more patient; then imagine the party they could have enjoyed!  They could have sang and danced at the mountain’s edge.  Remembering the LORD God always is near, they could have built a fire as a sign of the fiery column that had led them.  They could have sat down to rehearse with one another the first time God provided for their thirst.  They could have told tales of the remarkable double manna portion waiting them every sixth morning on the desert floor.  They could have taken out a few of the quail feathers and swopped stories of how good it tasted when first they arrived in a rush from Egypt.  And Egypt:  that flight they finally made?!  Aaron might have taken the opportunity to remind them to pour out their requests once again to God.  God heard and acted every time in the past.  What makes them think this time will be any different?  Maybe allow a little gratitude to mingle with their concern just to remember that the One to whom they pray their prayers is nearer than their very own breath.  It would have been a completely different unfolding of their story . . .  it can be a totally alternate way for our own as well.

It’s been a rough go these past few months.  Starting with Harvey, intensifying with Irma, and Maria too.  Finding out in the narthex after worship that a church across town was being shot up.  And just a week later, the most horrendous mass shooting our country has known.  Fires rage out of control in California again.  Now more than ever, an alternate way is needed.  . . .  A heart-felt reflection offered by one of our denomination’s current General Assembly Co-moderators, included these words this week:  “Are these tragedies changing the way we live now?  Are we giving up a Starbucks or two so that we’ll have some loose change to send to a disaster relief organization?  Are we talking in our churches about ways we can do more as congregations?  . . .  How does our faith in God manifest itself in these days?” (https://achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com/2017/10/12/what-a-difference-a-tragedy-makes/).

We can get caught up in the fear – there’s enough of it out there.  We can grow weary and impatient and even angry during such difficulties.  . . .  Or we can turn to God.  Rejoice in all the ways we see the will of God being lived out as neighbor helps neighbor and compassion is given more room to grow.  We can rehearse all the ways we see provisions are being made.  And instead of wringing our hands in worry, we can live in gratitude for the gift of each day – for another opportunity to embody God’s ways among this world.  We have the power to significantly influence the outcome of these days.  How it all unfolds can radically be impacted for good by us.  . . .  Breathe deep, brothers and sisters of Christ.  Through us, let the story unfold another way.

In the name of the life-giving father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Peace Be With You!

A Sermon for 23 April 2017 – 2nd Sunday of Easter

 

A reading from the gospel of John 20:19-31 (NRSV).  And remember, according to the gospel of John’s telling of things, this story takes place the same day Mary Magdalene had been to the tomb then gone and told the others she had seen the Lord.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book.  But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

Brother Roger was an amazing man.  As a young adult, he founded the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé.  He brought this community into being in France while Europe was again under siege in the Second World War.   At the age of twenty-five, Brother Roger started this intentional community on the Christian principles he tenaciously saw in his grandmother during the First World War:  “welcoming those in need and seeking reconciliation among Christians” (Brother Roger of Taizé:  Essential Writings, “Introduction,” p. 13).  You may know something of the Taizé community from songs in our new Glory to God hymnal.  Songs like “Wait for the Lord” based on Psalm 27.  And “My Soul is at Rest” from Psalm 62.  And the round “Prepare the Way of the Lord,” sung during Advent.  And “Stay with Me,” sung during Lent by our very own choir.  The Good Friday song “Jesus Remember Me, When you come into Your Kingdom.”  And the one that may be best known, but perhaps not linked by all to Taizé:  “Ubi Caritas.  Live in charity and steadfast love.  Live in charity; God will dwell with you.”  . . .  Because worship in the Taizé community is all about peace, the community creates these chant-like, repetitive songs often based on the poetry of the Psalms and other scriptural phrases.  A deep commitment to prayers for all the world pervades the community and its worship.  Perhaps that’s why young people from around the globe still flock to the community in France on pilgrimage to be a part of things – even if only for a week.  When the community gathers for daily worship, scripture and silence weave round the simple songs to transport worshippers to a centered quiet.  That calm clearing inside in which the Spirit of God has an opportunity to work.  If we are able to imagine entering that sacred space daily, perhaps we would expect spiritual profundity, like the kind of deep wisdom that exudes from Brother Roger.  Listen to his words about the presence of Christians in the world today.  He writes:  “The peace of your heart makes life beautiful for those around you.  Being wracked with worry has never been a way of living the gospel.  Founding your faith on torment would mean building a house on sand (Mt. 7:26-27).  At every moment, do you hear these words of Jesus the Christ:  ‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.  Let your hearts cease to be troubled and afraid’ (Jn. 14:27)?”  Brother Roger continues:  “This deep-seated peace provides the lightness needed to set out once again, when failure or discouragements weigh on your shoulders” (Ibid., p. 34).

Peace . . .  earlier in the gospel of John – before his resurrection, before his crucifixion, actually right after he washes their feet on that fatal night – Jesus seeks to cultivate peace in his disciples.  He knows what’s about to happen.  And while they don’t understand much of it, certainly they suspected by that time too.  He’s told them already that he will die because of the path he’s following.  AND he’s told them to still their troubled hearts.  Cease any fear!  . . .  At that beautiful final banquet, Jesus prays for his followers.  He does all he can to comfort them.  He wants them to know that “being wracked with worry” is not the way of living the gospel (Ibid.).  He expects the peace of their hearts to make life beautiful for those around them.  . . .

Just as fear is contagious, peace can be as well.  Think about the last time you spent time around someone who was deeply centered.  Not fretting all about, but relaxed in themselves.  Totally calm and attentive only to you.  In their presence, our own blood pressure begins to settle.  We can move more deeply into ourselves.  Breathing all the way into our toes perhaps, because it’s like the fragrance of their peace enters into us.  . . .  That’s the gift Christ seeks to give to his followers.

In the gospel reading before us today, three times Jesus speaks the words:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:19).  Now, it makes sense that he might start his first appearance among them again with such words.  But after their excitement over him, he says it again:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:21).  This time sounding a little bit more like a command than a common greeting connoting God’s blessed shalom.  And again he’ll speak the very same words to troubled Thomas when at last Thomas is present among them all and the Risen Christ again returns with the very same message:  “Peace be with you!” (Jn. 20:26).  . . .  It’s helpful for us to know that three is kinda significant in this part of John’s gospel.  You might remember that three times Peter is going to deny Jesus while he’s being held captive.  Then, upon the third time he shows himself to his followers, three times the Risen Christ will ask Peter if Peter indeed loves him.  And here:  three times the Risen Christ commands:  “Peace be with you!”  . . .  Since his first time at the supper telling them he’s leaving his peace with them until now when the Risen Christ comes again among them, their hearts have known everything else but peace.  How could they cease any troubled and fear-filled spirits during his arrest, execution, and burial?  Jesus told them he was leaving his peace with them and after three days of anything but, he returns pleading:  “Peace be with you!”

Think about the powerful witness peace in them would be.  I mean, when they finally left that locked upper room, what would others be wondering to encounter in them such amazing, abiding peace?  Panic would proclaim to others that nothing extraordinary happened after his death.  Fear would confirm the lies others were telling.  Angst never would lead others to waste any time listening.  Peace in them was the only way.  . . .  Peace that everything was not as expected.  Peace that another Way had been made.  Peace that all he said and did was not in vain.  . . .  Peace would flower to change the world all around them.  The peace of their hearts would make life beautiful for them and for rest of the world forevermore.

Let those with ears to hear, heed.  Peace is the gift we’ve been given.  Peace remaining in us forever.  For Christ is risen!  God miraculously made a Way.  Wouldn’t you agree that we could use a little more peace in this world now?  Peace that begins with us.  Peace that reverberates from us to those all around.  Peace:  inner calm, steady trust, quiet strength no matter the headlines that cry for our attention or the chaos that swirls all about.  The world needs peace today – just like the world around Jesus’ disciples needed peace in the days following his crucifixion and resurrection.  Peace that ripples beyond the boundaries of our souls to bring ease to those around us.

Brothers and sisters of the Risen Christ, blessed are all who have come to believe; for the peace of our hearts now makes life beautiful for all and forever.  Sent out abiding in such peace, the whole world will experience our amazing God!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)