Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Altering the Evermore

To follow is part of a talk I gave to an inter-spiritual community on transforming the future through small acts of love, touching on an explanation of Christology.

Altering the Evermore:
Transforming a future we will never see in ways we cannot imagine

Sometimes it seems we exist in a void. The world is so immense nothing we do seems to matter. The amazing thing is that sometimes the slightest actions we take can transform someone’s life in a way we never could have imagined. We impact the future in dramatic ways simply by living with a vision and purpose, and trusting in those who will carry on. This evening I will share uplifting stories of ordinary but transformative people and we will discuss how to live meaningful, authentic lives, both as individuals and as a community, in order to create a future that is more loving, more just and more compassionate.  

Image result for pink begoniaOn our altar tonight is a plant, a begonia to be specific. I had hoped it would magically bloom overnight, but no luck. When it blooms it is bright pink. This plant started as a little clipping in a glass jar, given to me by my friend Sarah when I left Dallas to come to Colorado. She is a clergy in the United Church of Christ, and before she moved to Dallas, she was in Illinois serving a church there. When she left Illinois, a member of her congregation gave her a glass jar with a few begonia clippings in it. She explained the clippings were from the plant that was planted by her aunt, many generations removed. The begonia had been planted about 1885. For 125 years, clippings were given to community members who were leaving, a symbol that when you leave, you take a piece of the place with you.  

The woman who planted that first begonia could not have known how the plant would spread around the world, how small clippings of it could be such an amazing symbol of friendship and interconnectedness. The year she planted it, the Statue of Liberty arrived in NY. For as long as that has been symbolic of this nation, this plant has been spreading through acts of friendship. Such a simple act, planting and clipping, provided a means to communicate and relate across boundaries of time and space. Receiving clippings from it meant the world to me. 

So often it is the little things we do that have a profound effect on the lives of others and the future. As a Christian clergy, one of the most sacred acts I lead is dipping a piece of bread into a cup of juice.

Several days a week I join a United Methodist group in serving sack lunches and communion to the homeless and hungry in the city park. We don’t force communion on anyone, but simply have it available. As United Methodists, we believe it is God’s table, not our table, and all are welcome. There are no statements of faith, no stipulations or regulations put upon the United Methodist communion table when it is lived out to its truest sense. The words we say are “take this as a reminder of God’s blessings in your life”. No broken body or blood language, just blessings.

So on Tuesday, a man in his 30’s came for lunch and we offered him communion. He said,” I can’t, I’m not baptized. I was raised that you can’t take communion if you are not baptized.” Someone nudged the clergy in charge that day and said, “um, man, you can do that”. The pastor jumped up and said, “I can. Hey man, do you want to be baptized?” The guy froze. For all the times he had obviously been turned away from the communion table for not being baptized, it was pretty clear no one had actually offered to baptize him. The pastor talked to him for a few minutes, and then took a bottle of water, and baptized the guy. And then he walked up to the communion table for the first time and took part in a ritual that was started over 2,000 years ago by a man having dinner with his friends.

Now, by being baptized, this young man was not any more blessed by God than he was before, he was not any more protected, or loved. But something magical happened. He felt more loved, he felt more blessed, he felt more accepted by the community of faith. Because of a bottle of water and a piece of bread dipped in juice. Simple, everyday things changing the way someone feels about themselves and their relationship with the divine.  

There are many views of Jesus. The official terminology is Christology. If you believe that Jesus was the literal son of God who worked miracles and ascended into heaven then you have a high Christology. If you believe Jesus was a super cool guy who modeled abundant love and justice, then you have a low Christology. 

But Jesus really didn’t care what anyone believed, Jesus cared what people did. Jesus never asked if someone adhered to the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, because all that was developed hundreds of years after his death.  Jesus cared what you did. Jesus knew that little actions: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, loving the unloved, were the things that changed the world. One person at a time.  

Not everyone jumps on the Jesus train, which is fine. Everyone needs to find their own path, the spirituality that connects with their soul. Of all the philosophers and the prophets and the theologians, most agree on a few basic concepts. We are all interconnected. When one suffers, all suffer. We should do all we can to alleviate the suffering of others. We should love one another, feed one another, protect the innocent and welcome the marginalized. We don’t have to do this in the name of anyone, or to convert anyone, but out of love for our fellow humans.

As we enter our time of meditation, perhaps you want to use this as a time to reflect on the people in your life whose actions, large or small, had a dramatic impact on your life. Maybe there were teachers who guided you down path you may not have seen for yourself.  Maybe there was a neighbor who showed you great kindness and gave you a sense of value the propelled you through a difficult time. Maybe this is a time to contemplate the simple ways in which you can change someone’s life. A neighbor you can be in relationship with, a stranger you can hand a sandwich to. Who are you thankful for, and who will be thankful for you?

Image result for shells into bellsAs we enter into and eventually leave our time of meditation, I will be ringing this bell. This bell is another object of a future transformed in unimaginable ways. This bell started its life as a landmine in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rogue. As Cambodia began to rebuild following freedom from this tyranny, someone had the idea to take the metals that once devastated the region, employ the people in foundries, melt the metal and turn it into a symbol of peace, selling it around the world to raise money for the villages. The program is called Shells Into Bells. Do you think the government officials who ordered this landmine to be made and used against innocent people ever could have imagined it would be used as a bell to signify a time of meditation in an inter-spiritual church in Colorado?

*Meditation Time*

As we gently come out of this meditation time, what were you reflecting on? It’s difficult to meditate while leading a meditation because practical thoughts of time and noises keep popping up, but as I was sitting here, I began to think about the evening sunlight streaming through these amazing stained glass windows. The same sun has streamed through these same windows for over one hundred years, but for all that consistency there has been so much change. I thought about what the people a hundred years ago would think of us? Honestly, they would be horrified! If nothing else, they would be horrified that there is a woman up here being called Pastor and showing some ankle!

*Time of Sharing*

As we leave this sacred place, remember that as much as you have been blessed through the people in your stories, you are a great blessing to others. Live every day with the intention to share love and be in relationship so that in 50 years, people will be sitting here, in the evening sunlight, sharing stories of the ways you all blessed their lives. If we live with recognition of our interconnectedness, not just with the now, but with the past and the future, we truly can make dramatic strides towards a more just, more loving and more compassionate world.

Jesus was a Problem Child (Luke 2:41-53)

Excerpts of Children's Sabbath sermon based on Luke 2: 41-53

Saint Patrick admitted he was a troublemaking young British boy in dangerous times when he was captured and taken into slavery in Ireland at the age of sixteen. He recounted later in life that during his imprisonment, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning home, he joined the church in Gaul and studied to be a priest. In 432, he felt the pull to return to Ireland and be in ministry and relationship with those who had held him captive.  Would we know of St. Patrick if not for his actions as a child?  

Image result for st patrickAs a boy Saint Nicholas survived the death of his parents. They were very wealthy and after inheriting their money, moved by the spirit of God, he went out into the community in secret during the night giving it away to those in need. At the tender age of thirteen, he became the Bishop of Myra. And as his legend spread, he became the immortal Santa Claus.
Joan of Arc began her spiritual life in 1425 with visions and voices at the tender age of 13. She saw angels, female saints that had come before her, and others that gave her counsel as she led French armies to many victories before being captured and martyred.

Image result for st bernadette of lourdesSaint Bernadette was a young child when she was out gathering firewood at a grotto in Lourdes, France when a woman appeared out of thin air. That woman was an apparition of the Virgin Mary, who went on to appear to her eighteen times and today that grotto, discovered by a child, is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world.

Mary also appeared to the children at Fatima, in Portugal. The children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta were not afraid to share what they had seen. As a result of their reports, nearly seventy thousand people gathered at the sight and witnessed the “miracle of the sun” in 1917. It was explained as “extraordinary solar activity”, which is believed by many to be proof of the appearance of Mary to these children. Pope John Paul II beatified the children at the altar of the Fatima Sanctuary on May 13, 2000, before an estimated one million people.

Children changing the world….  

Children are pivotal in the bible stories as well.

In the beginning, God tells Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply: God wanted babies.

Joseph, as a child, had visions of the future given to him by God through his dreams. This was the beginning of a deep connection with God that eventually helped Joseph save the people of Israel from drought and starvation.

Moses’ childhood and connections between two worlds helped him understand the pain of oppression and how to be an agent of change. 

Before David became king, he was a shepherd boy who battles the giant Goliath and saves his people, teaching us to have courage to fight that which seems impossible.  

Children of the Bible changing the world….

Jesus was raised in a devout religious family. Every year they traveled about 200 miles with family and friends to the Feast of the Passover. There may have been as many as 200 people in the caravan, and they would all know one another. It would not be strange for children to be traveling with another part of the group. But Jesus was not part of the group. Jesus didn’t want to leave the festival. Jesus wanted to see more of the sights, maybe ride the Ferris Wheel one more time and get some cotton candy that Mary just would not let him have. Jesus knew it was time to go back, but like so many of the young figures in our faith history, Jesus decided to follow where the Spirit led. Jesus was a problem child.

You can imagine the fear and panic when Mary and Joseph realized their beloved, blessed son is missing. They go back, and they search for three days. When they find him, he is in the temple.

Image result for jesus in the temple as a boyInterestingly, he is listening and he is teaching. They are amazed not only at his answers, but at his questions. He is having conversations. The adults are respecting him as a precious, inspired creation of God.

Jesus is found, and they pack up and go home. But despite all the trouble and the fear, Mary treasures the experience, treasured that Jesus felt the spirit drawing him so deeply to the temple that he was willing to get into trouble for it. 

Jesus knew what he was supposed to go home with the caravan. Joan of Arc knew she was not supposed to lead the French army in revolt. Nicolas knew he was not supposed to sneak into people’s homes and leave them gifts. The children at Fatima knew they were not supposed to be seeing a vision of Mary. David was not supposed to beat Goliath, Joseph was not supposed to have visions.

And the disciples did not think Jesus was supposed to bless the little children. Jesus had important work to do, they thought, and children would only get in the way.  But Jesus didn’t outgrow being a problem child. Jesus was going to do things his way.  

As a child Jesus was nurtured in his faith by his parents and other adults who allowed his voice to be heard, allowed him to pursue his passions, and he was treasured even when he caused problems, when following his heart. This is the gift he was given, and the gift he modeled for us.

We need more problem children in the world, problem children of all ages.

Problem children are the ones who change the world, who stand up against the status quo.

Problem children are protesting around the nation on behalf of those who are oppressed by our financial system.

Problem children brought down an oppressive regime in Egypt

Problem children like Steve Jobs drop of out college and take up residence in mom’s garage, changing technology forever

Problem children are pressing to change United Methodist policy on sexuality by speaking out and by marrying same gender couples.

Problem children give up unhappy, but lucrative careers in exchange for happiness and doing good.

Problem children go to church on Sunday when society looks down on faith

Problem children do what is right, even when they know it is technically wrong.

Problem children are embracing a new vision of a missional church that practices what it preaches.

Problem children follow their hearts, just like Jesus and all the others we have talked about today.

We have to nurture the problem children we encounter. Jesus was nurtured in his problematic ways and he changed the world.  

Our children of all ages, including each and every one of us, need to be nurtured. We never know when the craziest idea will be the one that changes thousands of lives for the better. Inside each and every one of us is a problem child stirring against discrimination, oppression, poverty, and the status quo that works for so few people. What can your inner problem child do to change the world?