Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More than just a smile and nod

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Lent 5C.  17 March 2013.

The Very Revd Alexander D. MacPhail

 

Isaiah 43.16-21

 

            There are things you can say with poetry that you cannot say with prose.  That may be obvious, but I mention it because it is a truth that is often overlooked—that how something is communicated is often just as important as what is being said.  In fact, sometimes, communication has much more to do with the style or manner of a person's being. 

 

            I remember when I was a hospital chaplain, I was told by my supervisor that he had had a chaplain student who got rave reviews from everyone in the hospital.  He said everywhere this guy went, people loved him: doctors, nurses, patients, orderlies.  It was like the guy walked on water; and they said, "You need to get more chaplains like this guy!"  And it confused the supervisor to no end, because when they would sit down together it was plainly obvious that the guy was…well…not really the sharpest knife in the drawer.

 

            So, the supervisor went out and watched how he interacted with people, and came to find out that all he did was sit there, or stand, with a goofy kind of smile on his face and nod his head.  And if someone said something meaningful, he'd just change his face a little bit.

 

            The communication was really simple, if you think about what the chaplain was really getting across.  He was saying, "I'm here.  I like you.  Things are gonna be okay."  The smile and nodding were real and authentic.  And people—especially in desperate situations, like being in a hospital—need to see the smile, and the nod, and feel like it's going to be all right.

 

            Sometimes it seems to cynical people as if that's all that religion is, just a benign, simple smile and nod to what is actually a very complicated life.   I know it can feel that way.  The great Anglican theologian and parish priest, the Rev. John Stott, said that some folks don't believe because they don't think God or Christianity is big enough to handle what they are going through. 

 

            I have to say that I can understand that.  But it's not just a question of whether or not the Faith is big enough to accommodate real life experiences—it's about relevance, too.  The young man and woman may come from a K-12 background in the church, and head off to the military or college and encounter situations never dreamt of in Sunday school.  They may know about Canaanites and Pharisees and the names of the Twelve Apostles, but what does that mean when they're 25 years old and meeting new people out at a bar with friends?

 

            The young couple gets married.  All the stories in the Bible about Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph talk of marriage and fidelity and children; but they don't talk about the darker subjects of how commitment and love go through phases of disinterest and disagreement. 

 

            The Christian marriage, as we understand it in the Episcopal Church, symbolizes the mystical union that is between Christ and his Church.  That the same passionate and all-caring love that Christ has for us, is represented in the love of a husband and wife.  But!  We who are married know that there are times that that ideal is an impossible standard.  Love may remain, but may pass through phases when communication is awkward or impolite.     

 

            The young husband and woman move to another city to start a new life.  He has a job; she is having their first child.  Nothing in the Bible or any religion speaks of the awkwardness of packing boxes, and leaving friends—possibly family.  They move into a new area without any of the village structures assumed in first century Palestine.  The Bible is silent—seemingly irrelevant.

 

            They join their local parish, or at least—hopefully—visit a church, and there are nice people there.  A young new family at a church these days is going to get a lot of attention, and hopes that they'll stay.  Let's say they decide to stay.  They have the baby.  Nothing prepares them for that first year with a baby.  The crying, the sleepless nights.  Nothing in the Bible or in Christianity talks about the sudden transition from being a couple to being parents.  Some people pass through it evenly and elegantly, and adapt to their new roles with peace and joy and love; and some couples struggle with a loss of time to themselves, a loss of freedom to do what they want, and spend money as they'd like, and there is a darkness to that. 

 

            The Bible and Christianity are silent.  And you come to church and there is Mary and Joseph, Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Moses and Sephora, and not a word about the challenges of being a real family.

 

            At times, it seems as if the Church has reduced the complexity of the human experience to birth, marriage, sickness, and death.  And offers us the benign smile and nod of baptism, matrimony, unction, and burial. 

 

            I noticed the silence of the Bible for the first time when I was a teenager.  There is nothing in the Bible on how to handle the first stirrings of puberty and all the hormonal changes that comes with it.  All you get is David and Bathsheba and the sin of lust, and the horror that comes with that, but it doesn't really help you along.

 

            The silence is deafening on all sorts of matters.  Handling the situation at work where the person will not listen to you, or believe you.  How to be with the person who has a problem with addiction, or even if you yourself are battling addiction.  The soldier who comes back from war having seen unimaginable things and can't talk about it—or really anything else—with someone who wasn't there.

 

            There are situations and circumstances, not envisioned by the Bible, but filled with uniquely painful choices.  Whether or not to put mother in a nursing home, or take away dad's driver's license, or talk to the parents of a bully, or discipline a child who is not your own.  And there is darkness and temptation that can weasel into those decisions.

           

            Bad dreams, nightmares about parents and children, unresolved attachments to former flames, temptation to seemingly innocent circumstances that aren't innocent at all.  Darkness.  Darkness.  And from the Bible, silence.  (Pause.)

 

            And please understand that I'm one of the Bible's best friends—we get together almost everyday; and we talk almost all the time.  And I love God more than I can possibly say.  We go way back.  I mean…waaaaay back.

 

            And I think the Bible knows that this is a problem.  Seriously.  I think the Bible knows that it can come across as a na├»ve smile and nod to our complicated existence.  That's why I said, in the very first sentence, that there are things you can say with poetry that you cannot say with prose. 

 

            The fact of the matter is that the Bible becomes more expansive in places where it may even wish to become more specific.  And that is because sometimes talking about things with the full force of honesty and insight can be like shining a floodlight on what feels like a very embarrassing place.

 

            The Hebrew people found themselves in exile.  It was embarrassing.  God had given them the land; and God had taken it away.  God did not take away his love or his promises, but—understood biblically—they were being punished. 

 

            And so the prophet writes, "Thus says the Lord who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick…"

 

            That might not sound like poetry to you, but it is.  Isaiah gives in those few lines a thumbnail version of the Exodus, when God held back the Red Sea for the Hebrew people, and when Pharaoh and his army came after them, God brought the waters back in and drown them all.  It's a reminder that God did that.

 

            "Thus says the Lord" who did that, "Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness…"  Do not remember the former things…  A new thing springs forth, do you not perceive it? 

 

            You can say things with poetry you cannot say with prose.

 

            You cannot sing a happy song to a crying person.  Isaiah knew that.  The people were crying, and Isaiah reminds them of God's faithfulness then, and pushes that forward to now, and the future.

 

            It's not a simple smile and nod, nor is it a five year plan.  It is a reminder that the same God who said "I will be with you" to Moses at the burning bush will continue to be with us.

 

            "Do not consider the former things."  What former things?  The stuff of the nightmares.  The slavery in Egypt.  The disobedience in Jerusalem, when the Temple was forming Altars to the Assyrian fertility gods, embarrassing—trying to show Assyria that they're cool with that.  Letting people be sold as prostitutes in the Temple to perform ritual acts that I dare not speak of even to this day from the pulpit. 

 

            Don't laugh at them.  We've got our own stuff, too.  All we, like sheep, have gone astray at one time or another.  And even when we went astray out of pure honest to goodness ignorance…well… embarrassing, of course.  Lamentable.  Not our best moment.

 

            But, "do not consider the former things."  Let them go.  With God, the past only matters if it blesses you with a warning or happiness.  But if it only makes you ashamed and fearful…let it go, let it go.

 

            This Faith is not too small for the complexities of life.  God is not just some chaplain's weak smile and nod.  But you have to let the Holy Spirit and the Bible and all that you have learned about the goodness and faithfulness of God sink into you at least as deeply as your darkness.  You have to trust that God can and will be with you, even in the darkness.

 

            You have to come back to Jacob's well without a ladle and without any sign of the Savior's face, and just sit there for a moment.  Because, and I know this from my own life, when you ask for a drink from the man who has the living water, he will give it to you.                     

 

-o0o-


Monday, March 11, 2013

The pious ones



Lent 4C10 March 2013.[1]

 


            I want to tell you about a group of people called "the separated ones," or "the pious ones."  They were a group of Jewish people who came into existence after the Babylonian exile.  The exile lasted for roughly fifty years, from 597 to 539 in the years before Jesus was born.

 

            The exile was understood by the Jewish people to be the direct result of infidelity to God.  If you are a devout Jew or Christian, that is how you understand it spiritually.  If you are telling the history from a purely secular standpoint, there was a power struggle between Egypt and Syria for control of Palestine, and Syria won.

 

            Much of the Old Testament is about the Babylonian exile.  And the reason for that is because after the Exodus it was understood that the land of Israel was given to the Hebrew people.  So when King Nebuchadnezzar of Syria began to invade, the Hebrew people began to understand this—thanks to the prophets—as a result of their failure to remain obedient to God. 

 

            Moses had made clear—obey God, the God who gave you this land, and God will be with you, and protect you.  Follow your own paths, and God will not protect you.  It was a very simple theology—in that regard. 

 

            So when King Nebuchadnezzar began deporting Jews to Babylon, and seizing lands, and threatening to topple the King of Judah and conquer Jerusalem, you can understand that this was a very traumatic set of circumstances.

 

            Some of our most beautiful, yet mournful biblical poetry comes from this time.  Some of the deepest biblical prayers of repentance come from the exile.  And for fifty years, those Jews who had been deported and kept in exile struggled to make sense of it all.  The only way they could wrap their heads around it was to believe that their disobedience was the issue. 

 

            So when King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia, he sent the exiles back to Israel, and the exiles understood this to be God answering their prayers.  They came back home to Israel, rebuilt the Temple that had been destroyed, and strove to show God that they had learned their lesson.

 

            One of the groups of people who emerged from this history is the Chasidim, "the pious, or separated ones", who felt that "learning their lesson" meant that what caused the exile would never be allowed to happen again.  And part of what caused the exile—in their minds—was the intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews.  That was only part of it, but it was part of it.  The "separated ones" where to be separated from the non-Jews.  They would not marry non-Jews; they would not even talk with non-Jews.

 

            Now, this makes a lot of sense.  And you will see this kind of mentality whenever something traumatic happens.  For instance, you eat some food that disagrees with you, and never mind that it was just a bad batch of lettuce—no more salad for awhile.  It's a natural reaction, but it's not always a thoughtful reaction. 

 

            Sometimes people take these things to the Nth degree.  Better safe than sorry, right?  After September 11th, many people have become suspicious of Muslims.  Even though the radical Muslims are a tiny minority, people see someone in a burka, or with a beard, and the thought goes through their minds, "What are they going to do?" 

 

            Better safe, than sorry, right?  So you can see how the Chasidim won a lot of followers.  After all, they had learned the lessons of the exile.  "We should follow them, we should listen them, they are going to keep us from being exiled again."

 

            But whenever you've got a lot of followers, there is always a danger.  Especially if people are following because of some extreme position.  The danger is to become so extreme that you begin to get really arrogant and you start to dehumanize the people who don't agree with you.

 

            Instead of thoughtful responses to change, you become reactionary, reflexive, so convinced that you are right and those who disagree are wrong, that the world begins to shrink.  You become friends only with people who think exactly like you.  You don't change anything. 

 

            You don't think of any innovation as good.  Change is bad.  Old is good.  And that's how "the pious ones" became.

 

            They began to impose very strict rules on people, to keep them loyal and to keep them in line.  Their motives—which had initially been pretty good—Avoid another exile, Be faithful to God—had become perverted by this extreme conservatism so that they were more concerned with power and self-preservation than with their original goals.

 

            The result of this became the belief that they were the true possessors of God's truth—they were "the pious ones, the separated."  Cream rises.  They were the cream of God's chosen people, and of all people—so the power, the position, all of it was just part of being true to their call.  They were the faithful. 

 

            We don't call them "the pious ones."  We call them the Pharisees.  I would have started out by calling them that—but if I had just said "Pharisee," you might have registered the word "hypocrite."  What I set out to communicate was that the Pharisees didn't just emerge from nothing.  Their existence was an answer to a problem.

 

            In fact, there are some scholars who have suggested that the populist version of Judaism they taught actually laid the groundwork for Christianity.  There were other groups of Jews, you see.  You had the Herodians, who, as their name suggests, were perfectly happy with Roman governance.  You had the Zealots who were militantly opposed to Roman occupation.  The Zealots wanted to drive Rome out of Israel by force. 

 

            But then you have the Pharisees who were actually quite moderate politically.  They were willing to tolerate Roman occupation as long as they could promote their populist version of Judaism.  And what I mean by "populist version" is that they not only taught strict adherence to the Torah, but they added other traditions on top of that.  The result was a very distinct culture that was okay with secular Roman rule, but unequivocally faithful to traditional Jewish customs.  What I am trying to say is that if you or I had been alive at the time of Jesus, we would probably have been Pharisees. 

 

            There was another group of Jews that was the "priestly class" called the Sadducees.  You had to be born a Sadducee.  You had to be able to trace your Sadducee ancestry all the way back to be a Temple priest, and of course, you had to be a man.  By contrast, the Pharisees were very democratic.  They were the ones who taught and preached the Torah.  They were the faithful ones. 

 

            So when the Pharisees come up in the Gospels, and you feel like shouting boo/hiss, like they're the villain in some old fashioned melodrama, hold on a second.  These folks were moderate, democratic, thoughtful, reflective, very conservative, but understandably so. 

 

            So when people who were not Pharisees, but rather notorious sinners, came to Jesus to hear him, the Pharisees reacted.  These are the people who caused the exile—these are the unfaithful ones. 

 

            And Jesus responds with a story about a Father who had two sons.  There was the son who wanted to have nothing to do with his father's land—no desire to keep the farm going.  So he tells his father, "I've had it.  Give me my inheritance, and cut me loose."  So the Father lets the son go, and the son squanders all his inheritance on wine and women.  After losing all his money there was a famine in the land, and the son could not make his way, so he decides to come home with his tail between his legs.  And when he does his Father runs out to meet him.  He throws a party.  Kills the fatted calf, and everyone comes and celebrates. 

 

            But then there was the other son.  The other son had been faithful.  He stayed on the farm, and kept to his father's rules, and was a good boy.  And when he sees that the Father rejoices over the other son's return, the faithful son sees red.  It doesn't add up. 

 

            The Torah says, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known."[2]

 

            It seems like God changed the rules.  And that's the problem.  God said, "Stay faithful, don't do this, don't do that."  And the people who listened and stayed faithful—what is their reward?  They get invited to go celebrate the return of those who messed up. 

           

            The parable was told to the Pharisees who were grumbling about Jesus consorting with prodigal sons.  He was as good as saying "All your faithfulness, all your little rules that you have created to stay faithful…well…good for you.  But not everyone can handle that.  God's got faithful ones and he's got unfaithful ones.  He's got people who think they've got it all figured out.  And he's got people who are trying to put their lives together with paper clips and bubble gum.  And he loves them both, because they're both his sons."

 

            The bottom line of the relationship has nothing to do—really—with obedience.  The obedience is great, of course.  Obeying the laws of God will mean living a better life.  It is how God intends the human life to be led.  But that's not the bottom line.  The bottom line is that he's the daddy and we're the children.  And there is no child of God who has ever gone so far from him that he won't take them back.       

 

            So you see, it's not that one of the sons is a prodigal.  The father is the prodigal.  The father is the one who willingly lets the son do what the son wants to do, and then wastefully rejoices when the son "comes to himself" and realizes what he has done.

 

            God throws open the doors, and puts a robe on his son's shoulders and a ring on his finger.  Why?  Because he's his son.  And the other son, the faithful one: you come, too.  Come on.  Loosen up.  We have to celebrate.  The younger one was dead and has come back to life.  Now he knows who he is.  Now maybe he will be a faithful son, like you.

 

            But it's still hard to go to the party, isn't it?  Can you go to this party and eat some meat from the fatted calf and drink the wine?  Look at that ring on his finger and the robe.  Doesn't he irritate you a little bit? 

 

            No?  Then, look at the brother.  Look at that frown on his face.  Look at the self-righteous sulk.   Look at his old robe and sandals.  No ring on his finger.  His hands are dry and calloused.  No plate in his hands, no wine.  Doesn't he irritate you a little bit?

 

            The younger son shouldn't have done what he did.  The elder son shouldn't have done what he did.  How can it be okay and not okay?  This is not how life is supposed to be, you know?  You're supposed to have winners and losers.  The pious ones and the faithless. 

 

            I remember hearing a preacher say "If you're okay with this story, there is something wrong with you.  But if you're not okay with this story, there is something wrong with you." 

 

-o0o-



[1] Adapted from Lent 4C14 March 2010.  I wrote this sermon with some trepidation, because the modern day Hasidic Jews are not the Chasidim that Christians understand to have been the Pharisees.  What we know about the Pharisees is mostly from St. Paul and the Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).  As part of my preparation I consulted with my New Testament professor from seminary, and a Rabbi in Winchester, wanting to be as historically accurate as possible.  To my surprise, in attendance at St. Andrew's (on the original date I gave this sermon) was a retired professor from General Theological Seminary, who was very enthusiastic about the sermon, so perhaps--to use an old golf metaphor—"I hit it close."  I still have some concerns; one should never get too comfortable with incomplete history. 

 

[2] Deuteronomy 11:26-28

 

 

 

Monday, March 4, 2013

The fire of God

Lent 3C.  3 March 2013.

 

Exodus 3.1-15

 

            I have long been intrigued by the story of Moses and the burning bush.  What fascinates me is how God chooses to manifest himself.  The bush that burns and is not consumed.  I have seen it depicted in art in various ways.  In one way it was shown as a glowing shrub, where the fire is more like smoldering embers inside the bush, and the light of the fire emanates out, like a light bulb.  In another depiction it's been represented as if each little leaf has a flame on it, like a candelabra. 

 

            In preparation for this sermon, I actually looked it up on YouTube, and there was a video that depicted a very large bush that was burning in what seemed like it was almost out of control.  Occasionally a flare would shoot out, and Moses was terrified.

 

            That's another question.  How was Moses during all of this.  Exodus does not record anything about his emotional state.  I'm sure he was puzzled, but was he also afraid, amused, what?

 

            Does it matter?  Well, I don't know.  The burning bush defies all categories of existence.  It is neither alive nor dead, attractive or grotesque, natural or unnatural.  I mean, it's unnatural in that it is not consumed, but it is still a bush and fire—very common elements of existence.  It is both ordinary and extraordinary. 

 

            It simply is.  It stands there and burns, yet is not consumed.  Like God: it is what it is.  It is becoming what it is becoming; which, of course, is what God reveals is his Name.  He is pure, holy, existence—fully aware of all things, and at this point in the narrative of the people of God, he is expressing compassion for his people, by calling Moses to lead the people out of their slavery in Egypt.

 

            If you were going to make up a story about God calling someone to do this, would you write it the same way.  Probably not.  You and I would probably want something with a little more pageantry and glamour.  God appearing in more majestic and embodied ways—like a ray of sunlight that intensifies and fully confirms that this is truly God.  But instead, it's a bush that burns and is not consumed.

 

            There are other stories of fires that burn and don't consume in the Bible.  They come after this story.  The fire that alights on the Apostles at Pentecost.  The call of Isaiah, when the angel takes the tongs and with a live coal touches Isaiah's lips and cleanses him from evil words.  The fire always burns, but doesn't consume.  Are these stories meant to footnote the burning bush?  I don't know. 

 

            What also strikes me about this story is how Moses is really just going about his life.  If you start reading at the beginning of the book, you discover that Moses has just killed an Egyptian for having mistreated one of his kinsman.  Moses becomes convinced that he is marked man, and flees to Midian, which is an area outside of Egypt, settled mostly by nomadic Hebrew people.  His wife's father is the elder of the community, so for something to do, he begins working as a shepherd for his father-in-law.

 

            So he was a shepherd, keeping watch over his flock, and lo, the angel of the Lord…!  Sounds like Christmas, doesn't it?  Well, why not.  There is something about shepherds out the wilderness.  Lots of time to think and pray.  Watching over and defending animals who are unable to look after themselves and who need to see and hear the presence of someone who cares.  That God should come to them is no surprise to us who know the story, but shepherds were considered little more than babysitters. 

 

            Moses is just going on about his life, nothing special.  We do it all the time.  Just going on about your life.  A cup of coffee, a drive to town, a visit to the store.  And your mind is, where?  Nowhere, and everywhere. 

 

            Some years ago I saw an amazing documentary on PBS called the Human Spark.  Did any of you see it?  It was hosted by Alan Alda.  The documentary was investigating the question of what makes human beings unique from all the other animals.  There are so many animals with similar traits.  Animals have empathy for each other.  When an elephant experiences violence or sees another elephant killed, the surviving elephants will remember exactly where that elephant died for the rest of their lives.  Did you know that?  And they look after each other—as many animal species do—in ways that are almost human.

 

            But the documentary the Human Spark was trying to discover that spark of humanity—that element of our being that is uniquely human.  And one of the tests they conducted was about brain activity.  They hooked up subjects to an electroencephalography device, an EEG, and they showed the subjects a series of words.  Between each of the words the screen was blank, except for two lines, drawn like cross hairs on a rifle scope. 

 

            They told the subjects to concentrate on the words and what they meant, but then when the cross hairs came up, they were meant to focus on them and clear their mind.   Now, the subjects thought that the device was testing their cognition of the words, but in fact, the scientists were more interested in what happened when they were just looking at the cross hairs.  As it turns out, there were more areas of the brain lighting up during the cross hairs than when words appeared on the screen. 

 

            The scientists explained that when you're focusing on something, your brain directs energy to the areas that handle cognition, and shuts off the areas that are responsible for creativity and other functions.  It's not that our brain necessarily stops, but the energies are more directed.  This may explain why you and I have our best ideas in the shower. 

 

            Ever since that documentary, I have been thought about these stories of God coming to people when they are just going on about their lives.  Moses is just going on about his life.  Samuel was trying to fall asleep in the Temple. 

 

            David, also a shepherd, by the way, was keeping the sheep, completely unaware that Samuel had approached Jesse and his sons, looking for a King.  Is that a footnote to Moses?  Maybe.  When Jesus calls the disciples, many of them are just going on about their lives. 

 

            It's what you do, you know?  You go on about your life.  When you get up from this liturgy and enjoy a few sips of coffee, maybe a conversation about this or that.  You're going to go back to your life.  You will drive though town; go to the store; do the laundry; do the dishes; make the bed.  My grandmother had a term for it.  She called it "the vulgarities of living."  Gotta do what you gotta do.

 

            Have you ever seen a burning bush? 

 

            Don't be so quick to say no.  I would probably say no, if my brain was completely in neutral, looking at the crosshairs.  But you've seen a burning bush.  You drive the car and go to the store, and you are unaware that it is firing these little electrical impulses left and right, all over your brain.  The burning bush is lodged up their between your ears!

 

            And it is speaking to you all the time.  Sometimes it's just your own thoughts, of course.  But God, who is who he is, and is becoming who he is becoming, is there at all times, and is calling out to you at all times.

 

            Like a fire that burns, and does not consume you, the living God is constantly imparting knowledge of who he is, and what shall be. 

 

            The great thing about being a church is bringing our burning bushes together, to create a larger fire.  This is something people who claim the distinction of "spiritual, but not religious" miss entirely.  The fire burns brighter and more powerfully when the embers come together, and there can be a deeper engagement and discernment when sensitive people—people like us—gather in the name of the Lord.   The Lord who is who he is, and is becoming what he is becoming.

 

            As I said in my sermon last week, I believe God calls people to do things.  And I believe God calls churches to do things.  I believe we are first called to discernment.  And I'm trying to share the fire that has been burning inside of me for the last several months.  It's a fire that burns and does not consume—it just keeps burning, and it burns with a belief and desire.

 

            I believe that this church is an absolute treasure, not just because we are the only Episcopal parish in Shenandoah County, and because I'm your priest.  I think this church would be a treasure no matter who the rector is, because of who you are as individuals and as a church.

 

            In my conversations, both in public and private with you, it is plainly obvious that there is a deep spirituality here.  I can feel it; and I continue to hear some of our most spiritually sensitive people talking about it.

 

            When someone is hospitalized or is hurting, and I hear about it from someone else, there is genuine concern.  We might not always know how to express it, but there is love there, no matter who is in need.

 

            The fire that burns in me that I believe burns in you, or should burn in you, is how we can offer the peace and joy and love of God we've found to others.  Like Moses, we feel inadequate to the call, but the bush still burns and won't stop burning.

 

            God continues to call this church, and all churches, to remember that God is deeply concerned with all people, and that all should come to know that he loves us to death in Jesus Christ. 

 

            This church is a treasure, and is a holy place, because God loves us and God is holy.  But the fire continues to burn for those who have lost their way—for the sick, the friendless and needy, for the prisoners and captives of poverty and sin—those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death.  The fire continues to burn and does not consume, because the fire is God himself, burning in love, burning with desire that all should find the wholeness and strength and healing and redemption that you and I know in Jesus Christ.

 

            I believe God is calling this church to engage our prayers and thoughtful discernment in how we can be more involved in the sacred calling of God to our local community.  I don't know what it would look like or how it may come about, but the idea and desire burning within me.  And it is not going out.  I hope it is spreading into you, too.

 

 

-o0o-

 

 

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said,

"It is more blessed to give than to receive."  Acts 20.35