May 30, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 9:42 am

The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights….  And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.  Genesis 7:12,24

A number of years ago in the Peanuts comic strip, it rained and rained.  Charlie Brown stood outside, soaking wet.  And he looked up to the heavens with baseball and ballglove in his hands.  As loud as he could, he shouted, “Rain, rain, go away!  Come again another day!”  But still it poured.

The spring flooding we have received in our portion of the Midwest this year hasn’t been as bad as some other years; but there have been more tornados - many of the deadly - associated with many of these storms.  At times I have wished we could stand outside and yell at the clouds and make them stop raining.

The rains that came during the time of Noah were attributed to human corruption that led God to seek to wash away the evil with a flood.  Nowadays we tend to frown upon the suggestion that God tosses around curses when things aren’t going as God had planned.  Yet I suspect there is some sense in which God permits the consequences of human greed and apathy to flood the earth.  I believe the weather is affected to a greater extent than we usually wish to acknowledge by our practices of extracting as much energy as we can from the earth to supply our insatiable appetites for protection and comfort and speed. 

But in the end, the God who permits storms to damage the earth is also the God who tells Noah to build an ark.  The God who is unhappy with many of the decisions that we humans make is also the God who feels the pain of our condition.  The God who curses, if you will, is also the God who rescues humankind and provides for a fresh start.

We may not be able to shout (or pray) away the storms from our lives.  But we are able to place our trust in the One who created heaven and earth, and we are able to turn our lives toward compassion for others.  When we do so, then we find that we are yet embraced and nurtured by God’s promise of new life.

May 25, 2008

Overtaken

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 8:56 am

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.  Matthew 6:34

Once when I was a volunteer chaplain in Quincy, Illinois, two different patients arrived in the ICU, having recently suffered heart attacks.

As I met with the woman, she told me straight out that she was worried.  She asked me to tell her a story about heaven.  So I told her the story of the people who didn’t have elbows, but who lived on a lush island filled with the most delicious foods.  It was hell for them if they tried only to feed themselves, but it became heaven for them when they learned to feed one another.  After I told the story, she immediately called for the nurse and asked if she could have ice cream.

As I met with the man in the ICU, he refused to look me in the eye.  I suggested that having a heart attack must have been a pretty frightening experience.  All he would say was, “I’m not scared.”  I wondered if he was a bit uptight being attached to so much medical equipment in a dark, dreary intensive care unit.  He forced himself to say, ”If I die, I’m going to heaven, so I shouldn’t be worried.”  And with that he used every bit of will power he had to keep from showing any signs of emotion.

A couple of days later, I saw both of their pictures and both of their names on the obituary page.  I remembered my last vision of each of them: him, holding his mouth and eyes closed, working hard to appear calm; her, eagerly slurping a chocolate milk shake.

I don’t want to suggest that either of them had a better death than the other.  But I don’t think Jesus means it is a sin to worry.  Worry is a sign of caring, and we need more caring people in our world.  Lack of worry can be a sign of apathy.

Perhaps Jesus means that it is a sin to let worry rule your life.  When we let our lives get overtaken by worry, we lose our lives trying to save them.  But when we live, in spite of our worries, we experience that gracious Presence that’s been sustaining us all along.

May 16, 2008

The Name of God

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 4:12 pm

“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew 28:19b

The first name ascribed to God in the Bible is YHWH, a Hebrew word meaning “I AM WHO I AM” (See Exodus 3).  I understand that to be an UN-name.  That is, this name is proclaiming that there is no name by which the utterly free God can be trapped.

In the New Testament, we get a new formula for the name of God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  This has caused all sorts of anguish through the generations, as outsiders have accused Christians of having three different gods.  It has also caused all sorts of creative attempts at explanation:  Ice, Water, and Steam all bear the same chemical form and hence are one, though they occur in three distinct ways; A clock in a tower has different faces on each side, but one and the same set of workings on the inside; If you poke your finger into the pointy end of a peeled banana, it breaks into three long, but relatively equal parts, though it is still one banana; etc.  Many explanations are provided to help folks to uplift this formula as God’s name.

But I wonder even our most creative explanations don’t miss the possibility that God (and the Church) are still playing the same game started in Exodus - namely, that God is simply too mysterious to be be trapped within any name.

So on Trinity Sunday, maybe we ought not get hung up on questions of the logic behind this identity.  Perhaps, instead, we can celebrate the One who is present around and under and in each and every one of us creatures who have been shaped in that divine and mysterious image.

May 10, 2008

Wind of the Spirit/Breath of the Spirit

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 7:53 pm

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”  Acts 2:2

“… [Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”  John 20:22b

Many of us are aware of the two accounts of creation.  In the first, the universe is created in six days, with human beings created the very last (Gen. 1:1-2:4a).  In the second, the first human is created before there are plants or animals (Gen. 2:4b-24).  They are different stories, each carrying their own bit of spiritual truth.  So each are included in our sacred texts.

Many of us are also aware that there are two different accounts of the birth of Jesus.  In Luke’s gospel, angels tell shepherds to find the family of Jesus keeping the Christ child in a manger in Bethlehem, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2″1-20).  In Matthew’s gospel, Magi from the east follow a star to find the family of Jesus staying with the Christ child in a house in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:18-25).  Each story was judged inspired, so both are included in scriptures though they are different.

Did you also know that there are also two stories of the Holy Spirit coming to give birth to the Church?

In the familiar story in the second chapter of Acts, the Holy Spirit comes as a violent wind on the day of Pentecost.  The disciples are empowered to proclaim the gospel in every tongue so that thousands join to follow the Way of the Christ on that first day.  It is a wild and raucous party, with people thinking that everybody is drunk!

But the less familiar and much, much quieter story is told in John’s gospel.  The disciples are gathered in a locked room.  They encounter the risen Christ, who speaks words of peace to them.  Then the Holy Spirit comes to them as a breath.  They are empowered by this breath to spread acts of forgiveness to the world.

We preachers tend to emphasize the wild, windy Spirit when we want our congregations to be moved to change the world!  But I wonder if the breath of the Spirit might nurture transformations that are just as powerful.  Sometimes it takes a gentle, quiet confidence to provide power.

Whether as Wind or Breath, may the Holy Spirit blow on us to empower us to share the love of the Christ.

May 1, 2008

Up, Up, and Away!

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 12:13 pm

“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  Acts 1:9

In the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm that “[Jesus Christ] ascended into heaven.”  But I admit that the story of Jesus’ ascension makes me want to giggle.  I just read in the i.UCC Daily Devotional (available through i.UCC.org) about a set of statues in the Chartres Cathedral of people looking in the sky, and hanging from the ceiling above them there are two feet, representing Jesus being lifted into the clouds!  This is one of those passages of scripture that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when read literally.  Heaven is not someplace we can get to by flying above the clouds.  Yet I believe this is a profound story of our faith.

Forty days after Easter Sunday, the disciples are asking the risen Jesus if he’s ready now to defeat the Romans and to restore the kingdom of Israel.  Jesus answers by telling them there is no way to know when the kingdom of heaven will arrive, and by promising them the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Then he “disappears,”  and angels come to tell the disciples to quit gawking at the heavens.

This story suggests that the situation in our world isn’t going to get any better if we are always only sitting around waiting for divine intervention.  In fact, the Divine has already intervened!  This has taken many forms, including, but not limited to, these: the act of creation; the rescue from the flood; the exodus from slavery; the return from exile; the intervention of the prophets; the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus; the coming of the Holy Spirit.  The Divine will intervene again, but we are called to tasks other than passively waiting for God to fix things up.

The ascension of Jesus opens us to receive the coming Spirit, and the coming of the Holy Spirit empowers us to be the Church, i.e. to be God’s work of intervening in the world.  The Church is called to intervene for God where the powers of domination, despair, and death - the powers of Rome, if you will - are still trying to assert their control.