Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dreaming - as a Lenten discipline

Because I believe that dreaming dreams and taking risks is important to who we are as people of faith I am sharing the following sermon - it was shared with the Trinity United Methodist Congregation on March 8th, 2015.  (Since I write for the ear, please excuse the punctuation.)

Luke 9:1-6   Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. 2 He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. 3 He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 6 They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

This afternoon I am heading to Ames – for a Board of Ordained Ministry meeting. Our task for the next three days is to spend time with and interview candidates for ordination.

These are folks who have responded to God’s call and claim on their lives, and they trust that God has called them to be pastors in the United Methodist Church. They have been affirmed by their home congregations, they have completed psychiatric assessments and background checks and have been approved by their district committees on ordained ministry, they have pursued and completed their educational requirements, and are prepared to enter into covenant with the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church to take their baptism vows one step farther – as ordained clergy.

When the Bishop lays his hands upon the head of those being ordained – this is the blessing that is prayed over the person…   
June, 2010 ~ my ordination as Elder in the UMC

_____, take authority as an elder
to preach the Word of God,
to administer the Holy Sacraments
and to order the life of the Church,
in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

My ordination was a holy moment in my life. More than an accomplishment – it was and still is a confirmation of God’s presence and activity in the world.

Under the authority of our Bishop, Julian Trimble, and the appointive cabinet I have been appointed to Trinity United Methodist Church to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments, to order, administer and arrange our life together as a church – and to serve in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is in many ways this same ordination authority that Jesus sent the 12 out under…to go out into villages large and small – two by two – to preach, teach and heal in God’s name.

And it is the same authority that John Wesley received as a young man, where after a short stint as an associate pastor alongside his Father, Wesley was called to serve as a teacher and tutor of young students at Lincoln’s College – part of Oxford.

In 1732, the British established their first new colony in 5 decades…the called the colony Georgia and the city of Savannah was founded. John and Charles Wesley, who had already formed a group called the Methodists, a group based on holiness of heart and life – a life formed around prayer, study of scripture, participating in the sacraments AND actively reaching out to the least and the lost of Oxford England, were recruited to take a risk – and volunteer to serve as pastors and evangelists…

They boarded a ship headed for Georgia and the city of Savannah. In their minds they imagined a grand adventure – heading across the vast ocean to the new world – and once there they would meet Indians – wild savages – and bringing them to know and love God through the power of the gospel message.

Of course, we know not everything always goes as planned…the little ocean voyage – was a mess…

And by the time their ship was tossed too an through by the third storm of the season – the mainsail was in tatters, the crew was even afraid for their lives – and John and Charles’ voices joined the others in sobbing for the winds to stop – and begging God to save them from a watery grave.

All aboard thought they were doomed, except this group of Moravian settlers – who down in the corner of the hold, sang hymns, recited psalms and gave praise to God for their lives and their salvation.

It was humbling to John…here was this exceedingly well educated Oxford professor – and he knew that more than anything he wanted – he NEEDED - what they had…

Once on shore Charles became the personal secretary to the governor and John was appointed to the parish of Savannah –where he set about to order their lives together – he met a young woman, Sophie Hopkey – he fell in love - and while she was in love with him – she was even more ready and eager to be married, but John wasn’t quite sure what to do about marriage – he waited too long – and Sophie married another – heartbroken – John did something really wrong - he used his role as a clergy man to attempt to avenge his broken heart – by refusing to serve Sophie and her husband communion… they brought him up on charges – and out of fear of being arrested John slipped away in the dead of night

John Wesley returned to England… dusting off the experiences of the new world …but truth be told, he was also heart broken…not only for the loss of Sophey, but because he realized that throughout his life John knew in his head about God – but he still didn’t trust God with his heart…he wasn’t all in…he was afraid. Very afraid.

For all the risk taking the John did –he forgot to trust in God…he was still trying to be in control – he struggled to let God be God – he had this crazy idea that HE was in charge…

In the midst of his pain, in the midst of his suffering – God was there… just as in the midst of our pain…in the midst of our suffering…God is here…and here..and there…

The difference between half way Christians and folks who are all in – is a willingness to let God be God – and to trust that God is with us – even, to the end of the age.

I have known my share of suffering – and together, you and I, have walked in and through some tough times. I know that there is nothing I can do to fix things so that you don’t have to suffer – but I do not have to leave anyone alone in their pain, their hurts, their grief. Ahhhh – but to share in one anothers joy. THAT is what it means to be the body of Christ – Christ present in the midst of the ordinary moments of life.

Another way to look at it is these four simple phrases…

Show up – pay attention – cooperate with God – release the outcome

By virtue of my ordination, I am here for a finite amount of time. I do my very best to be present – to show up – and to pay attention. Through conversations here in our space and out in the community - at concerts, in the grocery or at Dairy Queen – I am always, always, always on the look out for God. One of my spiritual disciplines is to strive to see the world with God shaped lenses…we have talked about this before. And the cool thing is that this is something each and every one of us can (and should) do!

It has led me to connect the dots – and to share with you all from time to time some ideas – some of which fly and some don’t… these ideas aren’t about me – or about my desire to upset the apple cart – they are about bringing people and passions together to the glory of God.

For example - by listening to the yearning of your hearts we have a congregational care team that walks alongside members of our faith community with prayer and comfort, we have an after school program that reaches out to the youth of our community, we have Lifetree Café as a safe place for conversations to happen about faith and real life issues. We have a relationship with the schools at times of crisis and we have a voice at the table of the mayor’s food security task force with regards to hunger issues in our community.

For the past three years a group of women in our community have been meeting as a support group for one another – I am honored to call them friends and even more inspired by the work that they do advocating for their adult children who have needs that are beyond my capabilities…I can’t fix things for them, but I have learned so much listening to them and praying along with them.

A little over a month ago, at Lifetree Café – which is, my friends, one of the coolest things we are doing – I had a discussion with a member of our church about a pocket of folks he knows of who were at one time part of a church,

but the church closed – and they are out in the world, without a faith community – he and his wife grieve for them – and for the loss of community they experienced when their former church closed.

When I asked him what his dream was he said it was to find a space where they could meet and share life together…and not that there is anything wrong with our building, but friends – some folks are pretty intimidated by big fine building…and I have to respect this – so, how do we live into God’s call and claim on us to reach out and care for folks who think they aren’t good enough for a fine place like this?

I also have a dream – placed on my heart by the Holy Spirit - as a result of countless conversations with folks who are in life transitions – I dream of a space where folks can live and be part of a community that is focused on transformation. That sounds vague, but what I have heard and seen is that we need safe places for folks to live, work and get healthy – a healing place.

And as these conversations are swirling around – it was brought to our attention that there was an old church building – right across from Kohlman Park –available for sale – at a very reasonable price.

A few of us have walked through the building – and friends - dreams are being dreamed – and I don’t know if this is something that ultimately will come to fruition – or if Trinity United Methodist Church will even be a part of it – I do know that the mayor is very interested in how churches could work together on projects that provide safe places for people to know and experience God and community in new ways…

And from my point of view - what a thrill it is to see the threads of the dreams of so many different folks coming together in a tapestry of hope…

As you pastor, I am called to dream alongside each and every one of the folks in our parish - to affirm and honor your giftedness – to encourage each of you as you prayerfully consider God’s call and claim on your lives…

I am privileged to be able to remind you of how your gifts for teaching and caring for one another combines with your desire to be a part of a community that loves God and loves our neighbors…this is who we are – as United Methodists – as citizens of this community…

Of course, you may do what you like – this is after all your community – and your church – and I release the outcome…but I will not stop dreaming with you – and I promise to continue to visit and pray and talk together about how God can use us to make our community a better place for all God’s children…because you too have been given authority – by virtue of your baptism – the authority to resist evil and injustice in whatever forms it takes…the power to be agents of peace, hope and love in the world…and for this I give thanks.

John Wesley returned home to England – a broken man – and he could have just cashed it all in, returned to Oxford, taught a few classes – and become some obscure, bitter, angry old man. Instead he wrestled with his fears – he confronted his doubts – and he found through prayer, conversations with spiritual friends, and studying the scriptures the one thing – the one thing that he had been missing when he was out on the ocean…


Confidence in God’s love for him –even him.

This is something that sets us apart from other denominations – it is built into our doctrine – our statements about what we believe – we are saved by grace – by faith in a God whose goodness is irrefutable – we should have no doubt about this gift – because it is God’s to give – and he gives it to us with abundance…

As a result of the gift of God’s abundant grace, John Wesley became emboldened – we may joke about it a bit – about John’s conversion experience on May 24, 1738 – when John Wesley wrote in his journal that his heart was strangely warmed by the realization that God loved even him. It’s what we call his Aldersgate experience – but it was just what he needed to be able to dream and risk again…we will talk more about that next week.

Grace – its all about grace – and if you remember nothing else from our message today – know that grace is a gift – it is not deserved…Grace is a reflection not of our goodness – but of the generosity of God. Grace is surprising, overwhelming and amazing! For this gift I give thanks.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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