Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Random musings from New Wilmington Mission Conference, 2014…


I really wanted to take pictures this week, but I didn’t out of respect for God’s work. 

So, you will just have to imagine it…

750+ people gathered under an outdoor amphitheater, arms wrapped around each other singing, “The Spirit of the Lord is in this place” as the sun is setting across the lake.  Picture voices lifted high singing the Doxology loud enough to be heard all the way to heaven, under bright blue skies with the flags of the nations blowing in the breeze overhead.

It has been an interesting week. There is always a bit of the magic of the Holy Spirit breezing its way through the New Wilmington Mission Conference.  There is a bit of magic of the Spirit in the time of preparation leading up to it. And, this year, I admit, there was more than my fair share of frustration by things that were completely out of my control that left me angry and frustrated and on the verge of tears I refused to shed a few times.

I knew those things were out of my control.  I knew there wasn’t a thing I could do to change them and I didn’t know why I was so upset about things so stupid they defied all reason.  I still don’t, but perhaps that is part of the story, unwinding, unraveling, untangling, the pieces of the past in order to be free to embrace what the future may bring.

A few highlights from my week…
…reconnecting with old friends and co-workers, sharing stories, love and laughter…

…making new friends and learning about their work and their callings…

…The fun of watching the junior high kids learn that part of mission is working in groups and the whole group has to work together to accomplish the goal, passing a washer on a string around the circle without using your hands.  We also have to work closely in partnership and pray together as they helped each other make prayer bracelets.  And finally to remember that God’s eye is always on them as individually they made God’s eyes to take with them.  The looks on their faces as they problem solved, the leaders that emerged, the seriousness they took each other’s prayer concerns and their focus as they made their God’s eyes.

…What a joy to watch the youngest of eight children in his family, who had only relocated to the US in the last couple of weeks, emerge from the shadows and take the lead as he told the boys in his group, “You don’t know how to play football the African way” then proceed to show them how, as he directed the other boys to be the cattle in the cattle camp, and they did just what he said, lowing and mooing their way around the room.  A box full of scarves became lauas as the girls dressed each other in native South Sudanese styles as they laughed and paraded around the room learning through play acting about life in a far off land.

…I love the sound of students coming up the stairs laughing, talking, so full of life and of hope. I love hearing their stories of how their lives have been transformed this week. I won’t soon forget the girl who told me she learned to forgive. In the past if someone wronged her she just shut them out of her life, now she knows she has to forgive and continue to be a part of their lives.

Another said one of the best things he learned this week was to never give up, even when the going is rough, keep going.

I showed a video of a teenage girl from South Sudan explaining what it was to run during the recent outbreak of fighting there.  The video was clips of her going through her day in a refugee camp. Tears poured down her face as she said “I just want to go home. I just want to know where my family is. I just want to know if they are alive or dead.” As the video closed I looked across the room to see a bunch of rough and tough high school boys with tears shining in their eyes and on their faces. Not one was embarrassed by them.  They quietly left the room, visibly touched by her story. If nothing else happens this week, I pray they leave with a new or renewed appreciation of the lives they are blessed with.

I didn’t know I was working with the high school kids until I got there. I wasn’t prepared to teach them.  And, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the ways they touched my heart and my life.  

…I am so full of gratitude for meeting people I consider heroes and find myself, discussing ice cream flavors with one of the greatest theologians of our time.  

…Standing in the kitchen sharing paper plates as one of the greatest missiologists of our times, quietly says “no, take more” as he hands me plates and silverware to share with my house mates.

…I am in awe of his words that told me that something I said had inspired him, as he said he would never forget the Homeless Jesus story or the pot that never was empty until the last one was fed at the Church on the Slab. We spent some time earlier in the day having a conversation about just general things, their plans, where they would travel next, what I was doing, and some time just sitting in silence enjoying a beautiful day that was a gift from God.

I love the laughter that came during the week as we spotted each other and he would ask, “Have you seen my wife”? , in his beautiful Scottish brogue. We all laughed over and over after I told them I thought if they were birds he would be the Wise Old Owl, patiently sitting and waiting, saying “where? Where? Where is my wife?” and she would be the humming bird, flitting all over the place.

….I thought it was the worst presentation ever!  The person doing the singing before the introduction, ran 15 minutes over schedule forcing me to cram my 30 minute presentation down to about 10 – videos, slides and all. Then the videos didn’t work and the person running the slides didn’t have the script so the slides ended up running out of sync.  The sound system wasn’t loud enough to play the music… You name it. It went wrong!  I just wanted a “do over”!  Of, course, I can’t have that. So, I have been feeling a bit, discombobulated about that.  I felt like I didn’t do justice to God’s story and I felt bad about that. I want to honor God.

As we left the lecture hall a few people said, nice job, more out of politeness than because I did a good job, I thought. The next morning, several stopped me and genuinely said, I want you to know your story inspired me to not give up when the road is hard. 

On the way back from pizza tonight a beautiful, quiet, soft spoken lady from Malawi, told me I had inspired her to become a missionary. ME??? No way! She quietly said, no you.  Your story inspired me. I want to go to my country and be a missionary and go and help others.

Hmmmm…. From the worst presentation ever … people were inspired to not give up… eating ice cream alongside of one of the greatest missiologists of our time, I learn he was touched and will never forget a story I told about Homeless Jesus and the pot that was never empty until  the last person had been fed.

The worst presentation ever, inspired the lady from Malawi to become a missionary…

God does answer our prayers. He DID take my words and send them to where He intended them to go and he did use them to do His will, not mine and even though I never doubt God’s amazing power to make things happen in his time, his way and through his spirit, I still sit and shake my head in wonder and in awe, that He can use what I thought was so bad, to do something so inspiring for me.
I came, every step of the way, wondering why I was coming, but I took each step in faith and kept walking towards the goal of coming to this conference, not even really understanding why.  I just kept walking. And here I find the answers – confirmation that my work is not done. It may not be what I planned but it will certainly be what God plans and I have to rest assured in that.  Assured by the words of great people who inspire me and defended me and encouraged me to keep going where God is working and to keep telling the stories.

Who knows?  Maybe I really will meet Stan one day… and that my friends is a story for another time.

Thanks be to God!


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Changes - 3 part sermon series...



Following is a three-part sermon series I preached on “change”… I’ve never done a sermon series and I’ve never preached three weeks in a row at the same church. What a blessing it was to be able to stretch my wings and fly a little further than I thought I could.  Ever grateful to Lucia and 1st Presbyterian Church in Bridgeport for having faith that I could do it and the opportunity to try. More than humbled by people’s positive responses and grateful beyond all words that God provided the words and inspirations…

June 8, 2014, Bridgeport, TX
The Spirit of Change

Silent Prayer and Meditation

“Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”   N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Let us pray:
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.

1Corinthians 12:3b-13
3bNo one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

This is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.


“Pentecost, coming in late May or early June, was likely a very beautiful day, without even a stray cloud in the blue sky. The Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost, was a joyous celebration of the spring harvest. Jewish people from all over Israel and many foreign lands came to Jerusalem. Peter and the rest of the disciples were at the Temple bright and early. The day was probably very still, since Jerusalem summers are not windy. The huge crowd at the Temple by 8 or 9 a.m. expected nothing unusual. The story continues as we  

Listen for the word of the Lord…

Acts 2:1-8, 38-40
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

This is the word of the Lord.    Thanks be to God

SERMON…

Pentecost didn't end when the wind died down and the flames evaporated into the air. It went on. It affected a man like Paul, striking him to the ground on the Road to Damascus and blinding him for three days and nights. It gave a man like Peter courage, converting him from betrayer to preacher. The Spirit inspired women like Phoebe to move from silence to bold speech for Christ.”  http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Touched-by-Christs-Spirit-Alyce-McKenzie-06-06-2011

When I think about that first Pentecost, it seems to me, it was all about change.  Change for the people who repented and were baptized and for those who didn’t believe and refused to change, their lives also had to be affected by what they saw and experienced that day.

Take a moment and picture yourself there. It is an ordinary day. People are going about their ordinary lives and business. Lots of people had come from all over to celebrate the 50th day after Passover – Shavuot –the Festival of Weeks – which began with the bringing a sheaf of wheat to be offered to God and ended with the offering of an unleavened loaf of bread, in a tradition that tied back to ancient times, the time of Moses, to mark the end of the spring harvest.

Can’t you just picture it? The markets and streets are crowded with people who had come to celebrate. The disciples are gathered in an upper room, along with others totaling 120 persons, we are told, when all of a sudden there came a sound from heaven, a rushing wind and divided tongues of fire rested on their heads.  “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability to speak” (Acts 2:4). And the people rushed to see what was going on. And were amazed when each of them heard talking in their native tongues.  Whether you heard the winds and saw the flames and heard Peter preaching, or closed your heart and your mind to the happenings you had to be irrevocably changed.

That day, the Holy Spirit changed the lives of the disciples by resting on their heads and blessing them with gifts, the lives of those baptized were changed and the church was born.

Of course,  some members of the crowds that came rushing to see what happened needed a “rational” explanation so someone came up with the theory they must have been drunk on the new wine which prompted Peter to stand up, be the voice of reason and wisdom, and begin to preach, telling them they needed to repent and be baptized.  

Repentance and baptism don’t come without great change.  John Calvin tells us “…repentance is NOT… merely sorrow, remorse, or regret.  It is not sadness you feel over events in your life, although those feelings concerning your life's circumstances can BRING YOU to repentance.  …  Repentance is a change of heart. … Repentance must be accompanied with FAITH in Jesus Christ … “

He goes on to say “It is at baptism that we are begotten as children of God through the receiving of the Holy Spirit with the laying on of hands. … Baptism also symbolizes the washing away of our sins. …Baptism is the means by which one becomes a member of the Body of Christ--of His Church. (http://www.truthontheweb.org/baptism.htm)

Repentance and baptism were the great changes that day in the lives of many that were gathered there.  Just imagine the great changes that took place that day.  The crowds gathered and listened as Peter stood before them preaching and teaching, pleading with them to listen, reminding them of the words of the Old Testament... Joel and David.  The people listened and were cut to the heart.  He gave them hope in the words from verse 39  - “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  3,000 lives were changed that day as they came forth to repent and be baptized.

We hear the words of our first scripture reading today. In 1Corinthians Paul tells us each of us are given different gifts as the Spirit chooses.  Change is an opportunity for each of us to examine the gifts that we have received.  It is a time to reach into our hearts and out to God, to take time for prayer and discernment, not only for what change means to us as individuals, but what that change means to us as the body of Christ.
Pentecost is about change.  Losing a pastor is about change.  Life is about change. And, we all react differently to change.  Some of us approach it with fear, we like everything to stay the same.  We just want to hide under the covers until life settles again.  Others approach change with excitement and anticipation, ready to jump right in and embrace the new.  Whatever our approach to change, change offer us opportunities for new beginnings and opportunities to grow in ways you never imagined.  Change as a verb means to take the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.  As a noun it means a transformation or modification; alteration

In times of change we need to listen to the voices that have been given the gift of wisdom.  Just as Peter stood before the crowds gathered on that first Pentecost and addressed them with words of wisdom that calmed them.  We too, must listen to our leaders to bring calm to what is frightening and chaotic in our lives and trust they have the wisdom to guide us from chaos to calm.

Others have been given the gift of knowledge.  They will guide us through the unknown to the known with the knowledge they have been blessed with.  We have to know in our hearts that though the changes may not be what we want and done the way we want, those with the gift of knowledge will guide us through the systems and policies and procedures and paperwork and whatever else is necessary to make a smooth transition to the known through the unknown.

Those of you who have been blessed with the spirit of faith have one of the most important jobs in times of change.  Yours is to cling to that faith and to lift others up when theirs falters.   Charles Wesley - “Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, and looks to God alone; Laughs at impossibilities, and cries it shall be done.”  Those of you with the gift of faith must help those of us who falter to remember these words. Remind us, please, “Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees, and looks to God alone; Laughs at impossibilities, and cries it shall be done.” 

For those with the gift of healing, you too are blessed and have an important job to do during times of change.  Any time there is change all the broken bits begin to come forth and hurt.  The minor irritations become not splinters in someone else’s eye, but logs. There is great opportunity for finger pointing and name calling and feelings to be scarred and damaged.  As one with the gift of healing, your job is to help smooth those broken bits. Turn the log back to a splinter and whittle it down until it is gone all together.

There are times when each of us needs to turn to the one who is blessed with the gifts of working miracles.  For I believe, sometimes it takes a miracle to make it from the chaos of the unknown to the beautiful future God has waiting for us, with a minimal amount of pain, heartache and brokenness. Healers don’t just heal physical needs and pain, they have the ability to heal the psychological as well as the spiritual.

Change is also when we need to listen and to rely on those who can prophesy and see the future.   Those I know with the gift of prophesy have this amazing ability to see beyond the past and grasp a glimpse of the amazing future God has in store for each of us.  Change is a time to throw our arms wide, raise our faces and our voices to heaven and cry out, “Now what, God?  What do you want?  What direction do you want us to go? What old things do we hang on to? What do we need to get rid of?”  It is a time to listen to those with the gift to prophesy.

And combine their prophesies with those with the gift of discernment.  The ones who can lead us through the myriad of decisions that must be made with their ears tuned to God that will help us discern what is God’s will and what is our own will.

It is a time to listen to the ones who can speak the tongues – the language of change and interpret it for the rest of us.  There is a whole new language spoken in times of change. Words and meanings that are foreign to us. Especially in time of changing pastors. The Presbytery has its own language and meanings and interpretations that are foreign to most of us. God has provided the bridge through those that know and understand and can break it down into things we can understand.

Just as on Pentecost, each will hear in their own language and be amazed. Change is different for each of us. How we handle it. How we react. How we interpret what is being said to us.  But change is the opportunity to grow and learn and develop and be pushed or pulled, willingly or not, into the body of Christ as the Spirit wills. Socrates once said “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new”.  Change is never easy. We fight to hold on. We fight to let go. 

The one thing we can be certain of is that our God, who is our source of all energy, will be with us in our struggles to hold on. He will be with us and hold us when we fight.  He will be there to catch us when we finally let go.  We will never be left alone when we open our hearts and our minds to embrace change and like the 3,000 people who gathered on that first Pentecost, feel the breath of heaven, are touched by the flames of the Holy Spirit and have our lives irrevocably changed.

And to the one who breaths the winds of changes and sends the flames of the Holy Spirit, we give you all honor and glory.

Let us pray.  Lord we come before you with our various reactions to the changes that happen in our lives.  Comfort those of us who want to hide, celebrate change with

Moment for Silent Reflection
Change always comes bearing gifts. ~Price Pritchett

July 15, 2014 – Bridgeport, TX
And God Said…

Silent prayer and Meditation

But for me the sweetest contact with God has no form. I close my eyes, look within; and enter a deep, soft silence. The infinity of God’s creation embraces me. Michael Jackson

And let us pray…
God of all glory, on this first day you began creation, bringing light out of darkness.
On this first day you began your new creation, raising Jesus Christ out of the darkness of death.
On this Lord’s Day grant that we, the people you create by water and the Spirit, may be joined with all your works in praising you for your great glory.
Through Jesus Christ, in union with the Holy Spirit, we praise you now and forever. Open our hearts and our minds to the words you have for us today.  Amen.

Introduction to scripture:
The title found in the English translation of the Bible, “Genesis,” is actually derived from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) rendering of Genesis 2:4, “This is the book of the generations [literally, “the genesis”] of heaven and earth.(1) As the title indicates, this first book of the Bible is the book of origins: the origin of the world, of the human race,

From the very outset (Genesis 1) God presents Himself as the sovereign and majestic Creator. Man is revealed to be the creation of God, made in the image of his Creator (Gen. 1:27); created for fellowship with God (Gen. 3:8a,9); and accountable to God (Gen. 2:16-17.)

The Voice is a new Bible translation that reads like a story.   It says…

Out of nowhere, time, space, and all the living whirl forth as God speaks the universe into existence. With the utterance of His voice, creation takes form, chaos yields to order, light eclipses darkness, and emptiness fills with life.

We begin at the beginning with a formless void as we make our way through God’s word for us today, we find ourselves ending the first week of beginnings with a beautiful creation wrought out of change.

Listen for the Word of the Lord

First Reading Genesis 1:1-2:4a
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the 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. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.

SERMON

And God said, “Let there be change and he say that it was good”.  The more I read and the more I studied and the more I looked into our reading for today, the more I discovered there was change.  We might see change as a bad thing, sometimes, but I am convinced God says it is good.  Last week we talked about Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit blowing the winds of change and bestowing the blessings of gifts of the Spirit on us.  We talked about how to use those blessed with the gifts during our times of change.  I have been led to continue that theme of change today.

Type creation on a google image search and there are thousands of images depicting light bursting through darkness, animals, trees, plants, flowers, etc. There are images of water, sun, moon, stars and sky. There are images of hands holding glowing globes. The one thing I notice they all had in common was movement.  Not one of those images depicted stillness.

Let’s think about that for a moment.  In the beginning God said and it was so. God created….creation involves movement. It involves change. Creation cannot happen without either one. In the beginning…God created...He moved. He changed and he built this incredible new world we call home.  God said...God made…God created…God blessed…and God saw that it was good.

I invite you to open your Bibles or use your bulleting to follow along as we walk through the story…

One commentary says that God’s work follows a perfectly symmetrical pattern. In the first three days he created the three earthly realms…day and night, sky and seas, land and plants.  Creation is understood as making or bring into existence all things out of nothing. As ordering, imposing design on formless and chaos.  If we look at Psalm 104:5-9 we will find the Biblical view of creation as the establishment of order and restraint.   Let’s keep those thoughts in mind as we look at the scriptures for today.  I am reading from The Message as we hear the words to the Psalm:

104 1-14 O my soul, bless God! God, my God, how great you are!
Begins the Psalm and continues with…    
You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors. You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; Then you roared and the water ran away— your thunder crash put it to flight. Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded. You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills.

This version brings strength, power, creativity and majesty to my mind.  It paints a beautiful picture of the beginnings of our world, our beginnings, our genesis.

The Message also has an interesting start to our story:
1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

On the first day, God took this formless, bottomless emptiness, waved his hands and His winds blew over the earth and He said “Let there be light” and then separated the light from the dark.    Notice the pattern here. Each day begins with God’s command “and God said”. As we shall see, each day brings change and each day God says that change is good.  Each day he takes time to notice the change. At the end of the day there is evening, a time for rest, and morning, a time for new beginnings, before moving forward. 

That is a pattern that I think serves us well as we move through the changes in our lives.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time seeing change as good, and most of the time I go charging head first into it and on to the next change without taking time to stop and enjoy periods of rest following a change; to take time to reflect and to see the change really is good.

The second day God commanded change when he created the night and the day.  Symbolic of the ending of one period in our lives and the beginning of another. How often do we see change as a time of darkness?  How often do we notice the brightness of a new day that comes with coming out of that darkness and breaking forth into the light that comes?  Day begins at dawn when each new creative process takes place.  The dawn of a new day, period of time, stage of life. If we look back, we only see the darkness, if we look forward we find the light.

Picture a sunrise.  You sit waiting as the darkness fades away and the sky begins to lighten around the edges and then bursts into this brilliant light.  Change.  We’ve moved through the darkness.  We’ve burst through into something new and glorious, created by God.

As we move forward in the story, God creates the seas and the sky. He separates the waters, creates a dome and calls it sky.  Water has many meanings in our Christian lives. It is used to represent the word of God, flowing over us.  It is equated with the life giving power of redemption.  Water is the symbol of our baptism. It is a symbol of change.  And God separates the ever moving, ever changing waters from the sky on that second day of creation, sending His healing, cleansing, renewing, refreshing, nourishing and and all life sustaining, ever changing waters to us.

The third day finds us looking at two creative acts as God separates the dry land from the waters. More change. God said, He commanded “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.” and He declares it was good. 

Let’s look at this a little closer.  He provided all that we would need. Plants yielding seeds and trees with fruits of every kind.  All with the power of a seed that renews and restores itself again and again.

Notice the word “seed”.  I have really skipped over this tiny little word in all the times I have read or heard this magnificent story of creation.  What is a seed but change?

It lands where it will or where it is planted. It receives water and nourishment provided by God and bursts forth into a new creation whether it be a flower for our enjoyment, food to sustain and nourish us or grows into a tree that will provide shelter for us.  Hmmm…symbolic of God and all that he provides for us, don’t you think?  But each stage of the process involves change.

And on this third day of creation we find a significant change. Each day, up to this point, God has created without any participation from the earth whatsoever.  But, on this third day, we read the words of God, “The earth brought forth…” The earth began to participate in the changes taking place.

We too must participate in the changes taking place in our lives, in creating something new. God will provide but the decision to move forward is our own.  We can refuse to participate in the changes God orchestrates and remain in our hard shells refusing to change. Or, we have the faith of a mustard seed. As Jesus tells us in both Matthew and Luke, that with the faith of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain or uproot at tree and tell a tree to plant itself in the ocean and it will. We can let God’s water, his word, spread over us, melt that shell and let us burst forth into new life.  The final choice is ours. Do we have the faith of a mustard seed and accept God’s living water, or do we, like the parable of the sower Jesus once told, fall on the rocky place where we can’t grow, in the thorns where we will soon be choked out, or do we fall on the good soil of God’s word and bloom and grow?  Do we participate in change or not?

As we move into the fourth day we learn 6God made the two great lights.

The amplified Bible reads verse 14 as 14 And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs and tokens [of God’s provident care], and [to mark] seasons, days, and years, …. Signs and tokens of God’s provident care.. to mark seasons, days and years...passing of time, changes in seasons.  I find comfort in this reading that reminds me of God’s provident care during all these times of change.

Change is coming again as God continues his creation bringing forth swarms of living creatures, and lets   birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

He populates the realms of the sea and sky and separates the animals into three categories – sky, water and land. Israel’s clean and unclean animals. And he blesses them and again commands participation in change as he charges them to be fruitful and multiply.  WE can’t be fruitful and multiply if we don’t participate in the changes that God is bringing forth in our lives.  We find assurance in his blessing us. And comfort knowing that God will see it as good. And there was day and there was night and there was the fifth day.

And on the sixth day the earth participates again by producing animals as it did on the third day when it produced the plants and brings God’s final and creative climatic act.  Humans. 

God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image.

And as he had throughout the rest of the creation story, he blessed them. He provided for all their needs.  He charged them with participation when he sent them forth to be fruitful and multiply. And he does the same for us today as he did from the very beginning.

Our gospel reading, from Matthew, this morning challenges us to participate.  It charges us, as it did the disciples, the day they met Jesus and he said, “19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” ….  As on the sixth day of creation, when God said, “Be fruitful and multiply”, we are also charged to be fruitful and multiply the kingdom of God. 

We change the dynamics of who we are when we invite people in. Each person adds to the whole and brings something new.  They stir the pot and make things different, just by being who they are.  That can be an exciting breath of fresh air or it can be overwhelming, depending on who we are and how we react to change.  But God said… be fruitful and multiply.  Jesus said “Go and make go and make disciples” and both commands require us to change who we are as individuals and who we are as a congregation and who we are as the kingdom of God. And we can do it.  We can do it secure in the words of our gospel reading, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.  In the beginning, God said.  In the end, Jesus said…

As we move to the seventh and final day we find yet another lesson in the creation story. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested. He rested.  God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.

And so should we.  Change involves hard work. It involves stepping back and letting God be the creator behind the changes we face in our lives. It involves our participation. It is blessed by God and when we have come through times of change the seventh day is our reminder that our work is finished, for this time period, and that we should take time for rest, time to receive God’s blessings and time to revel in his glory.

There is a pattern to this story…”God said…”God called…God made…God blessed and God saw that it was good.  In between each day there is a time of evening, a time to stop and see the changes and to reflect on them.  A time for rest before moving forward.  A time of moving forward into the new day. 

That is our challenge in times of change, not to go rushing forward and trying to hurry up the process.  Jesus followed this same pattern in his ministry as well. If we follow Jesus story from the book of Mark we find it starts with the same words as Genesis, “In the beginning… He moved forward in small steps.  He did what needed to be done, then stepped back, taking time for prayer and discernment before moving forward in his ministry.  He started small, healing one – Simon’s mother in law, then many.  Calls the disciples, Commands the unclean spirits; takes time in the dark of night and the early morning dawn to pray.  He goes forth and multiplies as he goes throughout Galilee and appoints his disciples, provides ford and nourishment, sends out the waters, His word.. His ministry gained momentum, motion and changed as it moved forward to the final climax with his death on the cross and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost which gave birth to the church, a church that is ever changing, ever evolving. 

We too need to follow the patterns for change. Start small, take time for prayer and discernment before moving to the next step.  Listen for God’s word, his call. See what he has in store for us, his creation before moving forward. Then we take up our cross, carry it boldly and proudly, secure in the knowledge that God is with us, That Christ is with us. That we have been blessed by the winds from heaven, the flames of the Sprit that have touched  each of us and blessed us and called us from the comfort of our sameness into the creation of change that God is calling us to be.

And God said, “Let there be change.  God created change.  God made change. God blessed the changes. God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there is morning and there is a new day coming.

And to the creator of all change, be all the glory now, and for ever and ever. Amen.

Let us pray.  God of glory, God of creation, God the mighty orchestrator of change in our lives, let us remember your creativity, let us remember you provide all that we need. You call us to be fruitful and to multiply. Let us remember to find rest in the evening, glory in the dawn of new beginnings and new days. Help us to look forward to the light and not back to the darkness.  Remind us to refresh ourselves in the water of your word and to revel in your glory. Amen

Moment for silent reflection
And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
Libba Bray, The Sweet Far Thing

July 22, 2014 – Bridgeport, TX
Her Story – Making the Pieces Fit –

Silent Prayer and Meditation                                                                  
Silently now I wait for Thee. Ready my God, Thy will to see. Open my eyes, my ears, my heart. Illumine me. Spirit divine.   Clara H. Scott, 1895

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Let us pray.  Almighty God, we come before you with grateful hearts this day. Secure in the words of your scripture that you are with us always. We pray that you open our hearts and our minds for the words you have for each of us this day. Amen.
Introduction to Scripture:

Jeremiah teaches us  God is an intimate God, who is personally involved with all who serve him, not just prophets, and preachers. … He was with Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Paul and many others. King David suggested that this intimacy is an abiding characteristic of God He is with us wherever we go.

Jeremiah is a prophetic book that scars the soul, challenges the conscience, and promises hope to the wounded in body and spirit. It’s principal subject is survival.

The book of Jeremiah was a time of turmoil and upheaval. The country had been invaded and the king’s palace and temple had been destroyed. The ordinary domestic, social and economic life had been shattered. The exile period was a time of immense theological disruption for Judah.  Serious questions emerged. Had God forgotten his people? How could God allow their devastation? Had God turned away? Had God forgotten them?

Jeremiah offers hope.  God had plans for them, plans for good and not disaster. Through Jeremiah, God affirmed he was still in control, still cared for them. We grow weary of waiting in these times of instant everything, but God’s people have always waited on Him. We sometimes feel hopeless and abandoned, but we can trust God’s plan, while it may take and achingly long time to come, it is certain to succeed.

Listen for the word of the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:10-13
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

SERMON

How do we take the words of our Gospel reading and our Old Testament reading and reconcile them with the lessons we have learned about change during the past two weeks?  I admit, I struggled with this this week.

There is a common thread in these two readings. That thread is hope. In our gospel reading we are told that out of our sufferings comes perseverance, character; and character, hope. In Jeremiah, we are told that God has plans to give us hope and a future.

I have been asked to tell you my story so I am going to try to weave that story with the threads of these readings and what we have learned over the past few weeks. Showing you, hopefully they practical applications I have found in my life, encouraging you to look for them in your lives and inspiring you to look to them in the future.

My life changed drastically the day my husband said he wanted a divorce, and for a while I couldn’t see the threads of hope that God was laying out for me. I only saw my suffering and pain. Out of the suffering, one day I realized there was hope for my future. No, my life didn’t turn out the way I planned, but it has been a beautiful tapestry of God’s plans. Had I stayed married, I never would have fulfilled God’s plans for me. I never would have become the person God intended me to be.  I never would have experienced the blessings that I have been bestowed with. 

Jeremiah’s words are the reminder that God has plans, and looking back, I can see how those plans shaped my past, are shaping my present and will shape my future.  And the same can be true for you, for all of us.

My story begins a year or so after my divorce.  I left home one night intending to meet my friend for a drink after work. My car drove itself to a place I had often wondered about as I drove by.  A tiny sign on the side of a road that said “Church on the Slab”, sitting next to a concrete slab in inner city Ft. Worth, on the edge of the homeless district. Stopping that night began one my life’s great adventures. The beginning of some pretty monumental changes.

I learned the words of Paul in our Gospel reading were true. I learned my suffering during those great times of change did produce perseverance. It did build character and it did bring me hope.

Little did I know when my car drove itself to that concrete slab in Ft. Worth that it would be beginning of a lifetime of changes. Looking back, I now know that God was preparing me for what would come next.  The night I arrived at the Church on The Slab, began a 15 year journey for me into the world of the homeless, those living in housing projects and inner city schools, girl’s in gangs, children tossed away by parents who couldn’t care for them and men and women shunned by society because of what they looked like. 

I didn’t know at the time that God was working. He was using my time in those neighborhoods, on those streets and in those shelters to teach me strength, courage, perseverance. Giving me skills I would need for the next phase of His plan.

 Each step of that journey was God preparing me for the next journey. Each step gave me skills and lessons that would build me up for what was to come.

There was a pattern to my service in those areas. The same pattern we talked about last week.  Look for what God is doing – the miracles of his creation, participate in that creation, enjoy times of rest and reflection, seeing the changes were good,  don’t look back into the darkness, but forward to the new day. Then, stop to honor God on the Sabbath before moving on to the next step,

There were times at the Slab, where the homeless come to worship and be fed, that I saw miracles. We never ran out of food until the last person had been fed and was full. I saw healings – physical as well as spiritual. I saw warring teenagers start a Bible study and learn from each other. I saw a cripple stand up and walk after healing service. I learned from “Homeless Jesus” who came through the dinner line with a new verse for me each week and come back the next week to ask me what I had learned. I learned the value of a human touch and persistence in building relationships when what I thought was a crumpled pile of overalls turned out to be a man the first night I met him. When I came back to the Slab after being in Ethiopia he had taken over my job of passing out Bibles and inviting people in.  I learned appreciation for creation when a little boy was looking at a star filled sky one night and said “I see Jesus there”. I am sure he did.

I witnessed God’s protection, twice, on the streets of inner city Ft. Worth when bullets went flying into objects around me and not me. And earned the respect of those that had shot the bullets when I didn’t cower in fear. They became my protectors. What they didn’t know, was I didn’t realize those bullets had been shot until I was on my way home and thinking about it later.

I saw and experienced the best and the worst life has to offer on the streets and in the shelters. Each thing I saw and experienced was preparing me for the next step. A journey to Ethiopia to live in a remote village and teach English in an elementary school.  There I learned “Homa Shak E Nah” – Do not be afraid, the Lord is with you. A song sung by the Ethiopians and taught to me by, what seemed, every person in the village. I still carry those words in my heart.  I built on the lessons learned on the streets and in the shelters. Learning the power of relationships and the power of listening and the power of teaching. 

It was with those words, do not be afraid, God is with you,  in my heart and engraved in my soul I took off for South Sudan, one of the most dangerous places in the world. They had just received their independence. They were a brand new country coming out of generations of war. And here I was going to a remote village that the only description I could get of it was a few pictures I could find on the internet and the words “well, it is three days from anywhere”.  Dirt roads, grass huts and church outside, all in a language I didn’t understand, is a far cry from “small town America”.

It was a journey to get there that had taken almost three years. I began mission service through our church, PUCSA, as a Volunteer in Mission in that little village in Ethiopia.  I fell in love with mission. I fell in love with Africa and I had every intention of going back to Ethiopia.  God had other plans.  In the process of driving everyone crazy, asking why I couldn’t go back to Ethiopia, a lone voice called out, “I think I have something better for you” and so began my adventures in South Sudan.

PCUSA has an amazing process that incorporates the patterns of change, along with using the gifts the Holy Spirit bestows up on us in the discernment and placement process.  Answering the call to be a foreign missionary will probably be one of the biggest changes in someone’s life, and the tools for making it happen are right here in the words of scripture. They are there for all of us, no matter how big or small the changes in our lives are.

The heartbreak of not being able to return to Ethiopia, I now know was also one of God’s creations. When I heard the words “I think I have something better for you” spoken by a PCUSA staff member, I now know were God’s words. They were the words that began my journey into South Sudan. 

That new journey began with flying over the remote, desolate lands of South Sudan into a village where I was greeted by the sounds of angels coming down the road singing and beating their drums to welcome me to “three days from anywhere”.  Akobo South Sudan.

A tiny village with one of the worst survival rates in the world. A tiny village where people struggle to survive and eek out a life on hard, dry packed ground in mud huts and pieces of rubbish tied together to build shelter. Where little boys live in cattle camps and girls work hard and children play and there is little to buy in the market. Where men teach their sons and women teach their daughters and hundreds of people gather to worship, many having walked for two hours or more.

They gather outside a church damaged by bullets and the remnants of bombs that left holes in the ceiling. One of those holes is over the top of where the preacher was standing the day of that particular attack.  God was there that day. The bomb stopped in the roof and the preacher and everyone else escaped injury in that church, that day.

I stayed for a brief 6 weeks before the first “great change”, the “powers that be” decided the fighting was too close and I had to leave. I never thought I would have to pull the “I am an American” and I have been told by the government I have to leave card. But that is what happened one day as I stood on the dirt landing strip begging a UN pilot to take me away. His orders were to leave me behind. God stepped in and gave him wings when he told me to get in, he would take me any way.

Little did I know it would be almost a year before I was able to return.  But in that year, God expanded his kingdom as I returned to the states for a time of rest and reflection. I was able to travel all over this country speaking and telling God’s story. Learning the power of rest before moving on to the next step of creation.

I was finally able to return to Akobo, One day I was greeted by a man on the road who taught me the power of persistence in prayer. He said, “We prayed every day for ten years for God to send someone to help us. Then He sent you and took you away.  We prayed every day for another year and He sent you back”.  Can you imagine praying for something every day for ten years? 

I still receive skype messages occasionally from a girl I met there. She says they are still praying I will come back.  I had been gone a full year and they kept prayer God would send me back. That my friends is hope!

That is the hope we find in the words of today’s gospel reading, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

They hoped, they prayed, they persevered for ten long years plus one, and God answered their prayers. On the other side of the world, I had spent much of that year fighting to go back. I persevered and was allowed to return, only to discover that God does have plans for us, to give us hope and a future, to prosper and not harm us.

Eight weeks after returning to Akobo and beginning my life there, change came again. I was just getting settled, just earning the trust of the villagers again, beginning to learn their language, beginning to learn and to teach, just beginning to feel at home again, I got malaria. Not once, but twice. The first time wasn’t so bad. The second, knocked me down to almost total unconsciousness for almost two weeks. When I finally had the strength to make it to the dining hall one day, the doctor told me I had to leave. If the malaria got worse he couldn’t treat me.

Once again, God’s divine providence intervened. He provided a plane coming in that was going back empty and I had a personal charter flight that took me away.

It has taken me a while to see that, sometimes, it is in the times of reflection after great changes in our lives, that we find those words are true for us – that God had plan to not bring me to harm. The plane landed when it was supposed to and took me to a place of safety and where I could heal – back to the loving arms of fellow missionaries in Ethiopia.

Those arms have all the voices that the gifts of the Sprit embody. As much as I didn’t want to hear the words, they lovingly and persistently convinced me that sometimes God says no. They talked, they reasoned, they pleaded and they begged and tried to convince me that perhaps Akobo wasn’t the place for me. I wasn’t listening. I will be forever grateful for the persistence of John and Gwen Haspels, Dorothy Hanson, and Michael and Rachel Weller. I will be forever grateful for the PCUSA staff that tried to find another place for me.

I remember Michael’s words as he took me to the airport for that final trip to Juba, “If you don’t get in this time, we all have to accept the answer is no.” And sure enough every time my plane was supposed to leave it rained. It not only rained, it flooded the landing strip and made it impossible to fly to Akobo. When God says no he means no.  A hard lesson to accept.

The people of South Sudan have experienced so many times of change they can’t even count. For them, like many of us, times of change bring us hurt, pain, loss and suffering. For some of us, we reach out with joy for what times of change will bring.  Others want to cower and hide.

The common thread in times of change is hope. If we suffer during times of change, we can rest assured that God has plans for us.  For those of us who greet change with joy, we reach for the change confident in God’s plans.

I suspect, if you take a moment to think back, you will find that times of great change in your lives also produced those things.

If we look back we will find the definition of “change” in our lives. We will be able to see where God through the Holy Spirit, blew his winds of change and altered our future course, made it different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.  We will find that we have been modified, transformed and altered by change.

Using the words from Jeremiah, “when seventy years are complete” – our time of change, God will fulfill his promise.  He knows his plans for us. He will use our changes to prosper us, help us grow, keep us safe and give us hope for a future.  We too can accept the changes in our lives. Secure in the knowledge that God has plans. We can do that secure in the words from Jeremiah, knowing that God has plans for us.

I came back to the states to rest and regroup.  I was offered a new place in Malakal. For some reason, I now know, was God’s plans and his protection, I couldn’t make myself go.  Six weeks after I would have gone to Malakal a new war broke out and all of our mission co-workers were evacuated. So, here I find myself back in the states, longing to go work in the refugee camps, secure in the knowledge that God has different plans for me.

That is a lesson for all of us in times of change. Listen to God. He does have plans. They will lead you on great adventures if you let them. He will be there to love, guide and protect you. He will give you a hope and a future.

Follow the steps of change we’ve talked about. Listen to the voices blessed with the gifts of the Spirit we found on Pentecost.  Follow the patterns of change we found in the creation story.  Watch for God’s creation. Take time to notice the change, reflect on the change, Look forward to the change that is coming, not back to the darkness of what was. Participate in the change. Go forth and multiply, allow new people to come in and change who we are by their presence. Take time to revel in the changes, and to come before him with humbleness and honor and take time to rest in his glory before moving forward to the next change.

My prayer for you is that as you go through this time of change for your church, as you go through times of changes in your personal lives and circumstances that you find the blessings of God as you go forth into the beautiful new creation that God has in store for each of you.

And to the one who is the great orchestrator of creation and change in our lives, we come before you with humble hearts, grateful for the changes that bring us into your new creations and grant us new beginnings, and your words through the scriptures that give us guides and patterns for change. Amen.

Moment for Silent Reflection
Our human compassion binds us to one another – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”  Nelson Mandela