Archive for August, 2009

The Measure of our Days

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

The Measure of our Days
Ephesians 5:8-20
August 16, 2009
Mary Hammond

I am walking our dog, Irie, early in the mornings during the heat of August. It’s quiet, beautiful, serene, and buggy. As I get closer and closer to the cemetery on Morgan Street, it seems like my perspiration attracts every form of bug. I swat at them, particularly when their small bodies feel reminiscent of a sting or pinprick.

On Tuesday, I inadvertently killed a black and brown moth. I wasn’t thinking about bugs. At that moment, I had no sense of the strength and power of my left hand, up against a little moth on my right hand. I swatted away, expecting in the back of my mind that the moth would fly away as other bugs had. This time, though, I swatted too hard. And the moth fell to the ground, lifeless, before my feet.

I stopped. I bent down. I turned the moth over, gently. “Maybe it just landed upside down,” I hoped. But no, I had killed it. I hadn’t meant to. I just was completely inattentive to my own strength and power.

This brief collision between myself and nature got me thinking about a lot of other things. The next image that came to mind was that of predator drones–those pilotless weapons of death our government sends in our name into the mountains of Pakistan and Afganistan. Our strength and power, our mastery of the skies, must feel a lot like my hand on that little moth to the rural family celebrating a wedding in Pakistan or the laborer in the fields of Afganistan, hearing that dreaded sound.

Then, my thoughts moved toward the dechurched, those who have left the church and/or lost their faith due to significant wounding in the church. The ones who rejected them, marginalized them, judged them, or ignored them–those who failed to offer compassion in a moment of crisis—did they know the strength and power of love withheld? Did they have any idea that their actions could lead those whom Jesus called his ‘little ones’ to lose faith in him?

I flipped these thoughts around in my mind and pondered the saints in my life, both those who are still living and those who have gone before me. They were not intoxicated with their own strength and power, yet they had it, and they used it–for good, for God; for reconciliation, redemption, and release. Their strength and power ushered from ruach, the spirit of the living God, joined with their own spirit–both at work in ways beyond any they could ever ask, imagine, or think. Our text from Ephesians says it this way,

Since you have become the Lord’s people, you are in the light.
So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is the
light that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness,
righteousness, and truth. Try to learn what pleases the Lord…
’Wake up, sleeper, and rise from death, and Christ will shine on
you’” (Ephesians 5:8b-10,14b, GNB).

If we live in the light, our lives must radiate light. We all radiate something, all the time, wherever we go.

Steve and I live in an old house, and this faith community inhabits an old church building. Both have radiators. In the winter, there are more reasons to serve as church greeter than to simply be helpful to others. The other reason is to get the prime spot next to the heater on a cold day. It’s a great place to stand, believe me!

I want you to do a little exercise with me. Repeat after me, then take a moment of silence to reflect on what you just said. There will be three different statements. If you don’t feel you can participate, just listen.

I am a radiator of God’s light (repeat, then silence).
We are radiators of God’s light (repeat, then silence).
Peace Community Church radiates God’s light in the world (repeat, then silence).

What happened for you as you joined in this exercise? [Congregational response].

Many years ago, Steve and I spent time counseling a gay couple. Both of them seemed to be seeking some spiritual grounding. Both of them bore the marks of significant wounds in the church. Rob (not his real name) said to us one day, “You know, the church is so good at saying what not to do, but it would help people so much more if the church focused on what to do.”

The author of Ephesians laces together practical instructions for the nascent church that combine “do’s” and “don’ts” in one seamless narrative–what to radiate, and what not to radiate. Do live in the light and develop a lifestyle befitting of the light. Do harvest goodness, truth, and justice. Do live in wisdom. Do make the most of your time and opportunities. Do seek to discover the will of God for your life. Do fill yourselves to overflowing with the wine of the spirit. Do overflow with songs of praise in your hearts to the Lord and thanksgiving.

Don’t do things that would be considered shameful if exposed in the light. Don’t harvest immorality, greed, or indecency. Don’t live in ignorance. Don’t be foolish. Don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to ruin.

If we consider those who have radiated the love of Christ to us, it is not hard to identify the marks of God’s Spirit in their lives. If we consider those who are on dangerous paths, harmful to themselves and others, we see so clearly that which the author of Ephesians warns against.

We are radiators. There is no way to get around this. If we live on this earth, our lives radiate something—and what we radiate becomes a teacher to those around us.

Last week, I had an amazing experience with our grandchild, Sofia, illustrating this simple truth. Sofia has mastered this great pointing method to communicate her desires. In this instance, she was pointing insistently at the recycle items on our kitchen counter.

Our daughter, Rachel, offered some parental interpretation. She commented, “Oh, Sofia loves to help take out the recycling at our house. She wants to do that here.”

So, I picked up the one plastic bottle and the one aluminum can, handed them to Sofia, then picked up the baby. We opened the kitchen door, and I said, unthinkingly, “This is how we recycle the plastic.” I took the bottle from Sofia’s hand and threw it across the basement stairs to land in the green wastebasket.

Before I knew it, I saw the aluminum can whiz by and clatter down the stairs, as Sofia made a toddler’s proud attempt to imitate her grandma’s action. Clatter, clatter, clatter, down the can went. Sofia had done a great job imitating me!

“You should have done the aluminum first!” Rachel called out from the kitchen. She was right. The aluminum cans go in a plastic bag behind the door. Nothing is randomly thrown down the basement stairs for recycling.

Since Sofia forgets nothing she has observed, I now have to re-teach the recycling locations, start with the aluminum, and find a way to help her throw the plastic in the wastebasket–maybe do it together!

There is more to the story of the brown and black moth. This morning, as I was drying my hair in the bathroom, what should I see but a brown and black moth, flying around the mirror? It sounds impossibly coincidental, but I don’t think it was. I am leaving for a week of silence and Spiritual Direction this afternoon, and my Director tells me there is always a sign that comes before one goes on such retreat.

The moth flew behind part of the mirror. “Oh, my goodness!” I thought. “I have the power to free this moth from the confines of this bathroom!” I hurriedly dressed, found a little container, and trapped the moth with my hand. I ran downstairs and took it outside. It stayed on my hand–“Go, little moth, go!” I said. I thought about blowing it off my hand, but remembered the power of my bigness next to the moth’s smallness earlier this week on my walk. Once more, I said, “Go,” and off it flew.

These are profound lessons, realizing the power of what we do, thinkingly and unthinkingly, in the macro sense on the global stage of conflict and war, or in the micro sense, walking the dog or drying one’s hair.

We are going to meditate on being radiators one more time. I invite you to think back over the past week, and identify just one circumstance in which you had a difficult time radiating the light of Christ.

Invite Jesus into that situation. Notice his presence. Sense his nearness. Then, just be present with him, with the circumstance, with yourself, with the Spirit, with God.

I am no author of what will happen as you do this. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to laugh, laugh. If you need to write something down, write it down. If you need to be silent, be silent. If you need to do something different when you go home, do it. Whatever needs to be—just be present right now, in this moment . After awhile, I will close this time in prayer.

Exhibit 1

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Exhibit 1
Acts 4:5-22, 1 John 3:16-24
August 2, 2009
Steve Hammond

The words are jarring. “We can’t stop talking about what we have seen and heard.” They are jarring words because of who is saying them, the disciples of Jesus.

How could anybody who has ever read the Gospels imagine these people would have become such great and courageous witnesses of Jesus? You remember these guys. They were the ones who left Jesus to hang out to dry when he needed them most. Instead of staying with him, they ran for their lives.

And their faith wasn’t any stronger than their courage. When they were warned by the council to keep their mouths shut about you figure they would go along with them. That’s because way too often in the gospel stories they seem to be like those who Jesus said “didn’t have eyes to see or ears to hear.”

But they did start hearing and seeing something. We often dismiss what the disciples believed as the result of a pre-scientific mind set that is easily manipulated and allows for such things as miracles and resurrection. But these were people who were not exactly willing to believe everything Jesus said and did. Just read the story. There was not much they were willing to take on faith, including miracles and resurrection.

Their jaws dropped when they saw Jesus heal people. When Jesus said he was going to be raised from the dead they just ignored him. When the women said they had seen Jesus alive, Peter and John and the rest of the guys assumed the women had gone a bit hysterical.

Nor did the disciples want to have anything to do with the kind of God Jesus talked about. Love your enemies. Welcome the outsider in. Trust God rather than your possessions. Give up on violence. Tear down the walls you build between God, yourselves and others. Forgive, don’t retaliate. Jesus had a long list that pretty much seemed like nonsense to the disciples. And the fact is that for most of the time they were with Jesus they never believed a word of it. Yet, it today’s story we see that they have radically changed. They are new people.

The disciples were finally starting to get it about Jesus. That’s what I love about this story. His resurrection brought things into focus. As Peter says later on in the book of Acts, ‘Jesus went about Israel helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the devil. He was able to do this because God was with him.”

God was with him so much that not even a Roman cross and a borrowed tomb could bring the story to an end. “They killed him, but in three days God had him up and alive, and we saw him,” Peter continued. The disciples saw there was too much life in Jesus for death to get the final word. And his ministry started to make a whole lot more sense to them.

These men and women were now willing to take the risk that Jesus took to bring as much life as they could into this world. They were able to stand before their accusers believing that God really was with them.

They got in trouble, of all things, for healing a crippled man. You would think that religious folk would appreciate such a thing, but these people sure didn’t. But there is more going on here. There were lots of faith healers about in those days, so this was nothing new. But these men who stood before the council were uneducated peasants from up North somewhere. They were actually debating theology with members of the council, the brightest and best trained theological minds in Israel. And the religious leaders knew if they didn’t put a stop to these fishermen and other rabble, they might end up turning the whole world upside down.

Resurrection, though, by definition turns things upside down. And the disciples were going to run with it. Since Jesus was alive and they found themselves coming to life in him, the risk was worth it. They weren’t afraid any more or, at least, their fear didn’t stop them. Jesus was the one who was resurrected, but they were more alive than they had ever been.

And now they were healing others just like Jesus had done, offering the same sign he did, a sign that all kinds of healing can take place in this world.

So they went out and did all kinds of healing. They started with that community in Jerusalem where people threw their bank accounts and lives in with each other, took care of each other, worked together at figuring out how to follow Jesus and bring his life to this world.

It wasn’t easy, and they had a lot to figure out along the way. And they didn’t always get it right. But before too long their churches included Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor. Their women were dreaming dreams and taking leadership in the church along with the young. All kinds of barriers were slowly, and sometimes painfully, being broken down. But they were being broken down just like Jesus broke down the barriers of death. They knew the power of God’s Spirit was in them, the same Spirit that had been in Jesus.

Decades after today’s story the author of 1 John spent some time reflecting on what had happened to all of them. How did they get to where they ended up, especially when you consider where they had started? I mean resurrection did have and impact on them, but it can’t explain everything.

The Holy Spirit did come to them on the day of Pentecost and, of course, that helped. But the Holy Spirit has come to us and were not like that. So it must take even more.

The writer of 1 John says, “You know, all that time Jesus kept telling us about how much God loves us. We didn’t really believe that either any more than we believed anything else he said. But it turns out that Jesus was so very right, after all. God loved us even back then when there wasn’t really much we were contributing to the movement. And that love opened us up to all possibilities of faith and transformation.”

The writer of 1 John is overwhelmed by the fact that the Creator of the universe is a God of love, and we have seen that love unfold in Jesus Christ, love directed toward all people, including those of little courage and faith. This is the same person who wrote that ‘perfect love casts out all fear,’ including what we fear about ourselves.

That writer proclaims that we don’t have to be captive to our worried hearts and debilitating self-criticism and can give up on accusing and condemning ourselves. And the disciples had a lot to accuse and condemn themselves about. We can be driven, instead, by something more life giving and sustaining for ourselves, that powerful and freeing love of God.

We love, the author writes, because God loved us first. And that love is directed outwards. It’s something we put into action, like Jesus put into action, rather than just talking about it. It’s love that shows us how to be there for others in their need, just like God is with us in our need. Who knows where that love can carry us, what we can become? The disciples are Exhibit 1 of what God’s love can make of us.

That love they were so confident in enabled them to risk so much, and not just this one time before the council. They kept doing it. It does make you wonder what we are willing to risk even in a context much less