June 25, 2017 – “Relational”

Today’s text is from Psalm 100.

There’s a saying about future events that says, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” It’s a nice way of putting off possible future events until they finally crop up in the present.

It’s an easy way of skirting around issues until reality demands they be dealt with. But what happens when you finally get to that proverbial bridge and it turns out it’s not a bridge at all? What happens if it’s a mountain instead? Or a valley? What happens when even your worst case scenario couldn’t prepare you for what lies ahead?

This is what happened to famed explores Lewis and Clark. As they looked for water passage to the Pacific they simply assumed there would be enough rivers to complete the job.

Certainly there’d be literal bridges to cross – places where they would have to portage to go from river to river, but their future seemed perfectly mapped out: Simply bounce from river to river until they hit the Pacific Ocean.

There was just one problem with this nicely laid out plan: The Rocky Mountains. They had prepared for a future that involved traveling up rivers – not crossing mountain ranges. The bridge they now had to cross was different than they had ever imagined.

The problems that they now faced unimaginable; the solutions they needed were unheard of; nothing could prepare them for this change in plans, this obstacle they now faced, this bridge they were now crossing was not a bridge, but a mountain.

They had no idea what paths, roads, challenges, walls, traps, lay ahead. They could face certain death. Or it could be easy. Crossing this bridge they had now come to meant literally not knowing what was coming with each step. It would mean finding answers that didn’t yet exist to problems no one had ever seen before.

And yet they crossed this bridge, created the path, and dove into an unknown future day after day because they trusted one another: Together they forged a relationship that did not fail even when everything else did. A relationship that literally carried them from the Missouri to the Pacific.

Because sometimes this is all we have. Sometimes this is all we can hold on to. The reality that we are made in the image of God. That we are God’s children. That God’s love for us endures forever and does not fail. Sometimes all we have in this life is this reality – this relationship.

Now, it will seem at times we have failed to follow through on our end. At times it will seem like we have failed as God’s children. At times it will seem that there’s no way that God could possible love us. At times the world will tell us that there’s no way that God loves us or has saved us or claims us as God’s own.

But this is a promise – this is a reality – that God does not break. For God is in this journey with you for the long haul. God isn’t giving up. God isn’t backing down from a challenge. God isn’t going to quit. God isn’t going to disown us based on what we have or haven’t done or will do or for who we are.

Because you’re a child of God. And at the end of the day this is all that matters. That you are made in the image of God – forever marked and sealed by the Holy Spirit. That no matter where life takes us – because life is going to take us in directions we never thought possible or probable – life is going to take us across bridges we don’t want to cross, through valleys we don’t want to go, and across mountaintops that seem desolate and deadly.

Yet, through it all we can trust, we can have hope, we can have faith, we can live in love. For through God the Father you have been created, God the Son you have been saved, and God the Holy Spirit given faith.

And as you continue on this journey – into the unknown that is life – we can know that God is with us. Because God has made you, loves you, and is with you forever.

June 18, 2017 – “90°”

Today’s text is from Psalm 30.

The U.S. Open is happening just up the road in Erin this weekend. Golf is a frustrating game. You can hack, and chip, and biff putts up and down the course, but it’s that one shot that keeps you coming back for more.

It’s that once in a lifetime putt you sink over a swell and around a curve. It’s that shot of a lifetime that clears a bank of trees and bunkers and water all at once. It’s the feel of the ball off the club head and knowing that you hit it perfect.

But out of nowhere the ball will lip out of the cup, you’ll shank a drive, you’ll hit an approach fat. It doesn’t take much for everything to change.

It doesn’t take much for a good day to become a bad one; it doesn’t take much for the path ahead of you to take a 90 degree turn and veer you into the woods. The woods of desolation, despair, and hopelessness. A 90 degree change in direction that forever changes your life.

These sudden changes in direction have been happening a lot recently. We’ve seen violence beget violence. Hatred beget hatred. We’ve seen political discourage break down. We’ve seen people take 90 degree turns away from one another and walk in opposite directions.

This 30th Psalm says that with the morning comes rejoicing. That God will take our wailing and turn it into dancing; will take our despair and clothe us with joy. But to be honest it doesn’t quite feel like we’re there yet. As a society, as a world, it doesn’t feel like we can rejoice and sing and dance.

How can we dance and sing when our political leaders are gunned down out of hatred and anger? How can we rejoice and be clothed with joy when the memories of 9 brothers and sisters in Christ who were killed in Charleston, South Carolina two years ago still painful sit in our collective minds?

When injustice still reigns for People of Color, minorities, immigrants, those who are considered less than and feared simply because we cannot love?

It’s easy to distance ourselves from these events. It’s easy to watch as the life of a family, a community, a people takes a 90 degree turn into the darkness as we continue on our way. It’s easy to stand by, sit back, and simply offer prayers in the wake of tragic events – events that yank people off the journey of life and throw them into grief, despair, and death.

But as a people of God we are called to be courageous, bold, and live in that darkness with our fellow brothers and sisters. For what good is it to race ahead to the finish line of eternal life if we pass by those who needed our help? How can we shine the light of Christ in the world when we don’t dare fight for change and so that others can once again join us on the path of hope and joy?

This 30th psalm lets us know what awaits us. That joy and happiness and dancing and rejoicing are and will be ours forever thanks to Jesus Christ. Yet, in this life not all our brothers and sisters have this same opportunity for joy and dancing.

Some of us begin on the golf course of life already on the green – putter in hand and just a foot away from the cup. Not much is required of us to finish the job. But others find themselves 400 yards away on the tee box. Others still are buried in the woods with no sign of the flag stick. And then there are some who have been disqualified before they could even begin because they were considered less than, different, scary, sinful, or so different from ourselves that we simply make our one-foot putt and continue on our way.

But as children of God we are empowered, strengthened, and called to leave our positions of privilege in order to dwell with those who are victims of oppression, violence, and hatred. As children of a God who created everything and loves the world with a love that is unending and never failing we are called to let the Holy Spirit push us out of the nest and join a world in need.

We are called to make that 90 degree turn into the darkness and love those who have been scorned and rejected. For until truth and justice and love reign in this world we have work to do.

For we each have a calling that began in the life of our Lord and Savior who showed us how to tread off the beaten path, how to veer into areas others said he shouldn’t, how to make that 90 degree turn that made others question if he knew what he was doing.

He did. Jesus knew that joy and dancing and rejoicing would one day be here, but that until that day was here for all he had work to do. The work of loving, saving, raising up, dwelling with, sitting in the darkness of violence and hatred so that others would see the light of God.

We have this same opportunity. To veer into the corners of this world where we are needed most. It will take bravery, courage, and a willingness to lean into the Spirit of God, but together we can begin to dismantle the violence and hatred and discrimination that exists in this world. For we are all brothers and sisters under the same love of Jesus Christ – in whom we have our hope and our salvation.

June 11, 2017 – “Help”

Today’s text is from Psalm 13.

How often in your life do you seek perfection? How many times do you try to have all the answers? How many times do you attribute good things coming your way as some sort of payback for past good actions? How many times do we try and hide away all the bad things going on in our lives? How often do we curate our lives to present them in the best way possible to our family, friends, and the world around us?

It seems like society expects perfection. That questions, lack of knowledge, unwillingness to be everything you can possibly be is frowned upon. All we see on TV, radio, advertisements – basically any product that is sold to us is done so on the basis that we are less than and need help. We need to get better. We need to be better. We need to be anything but the authentic version of ourselves.

We’re taught not to cry out for help. We’re taught that men don’t cry, apologizing is a sign of weakness, that diseases must be fought, to never question authority, to see ourselves as in need of stuff and things that make us better.

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? And it’s not just in the secular arena that we’re bombarded by these asinine expectations – we do a pretty good job holding ourselves to unrealistic expectations when it comes to faith and belief.

That’s where the psalms come in. Our thirteenth psalm tonight begins with five questions. Yet it doesn’t begin with praise. It doesn’t begin with worship. It doesn’t begin with the writer expressing unwavering faith and belief to God.

It begins with the opposite. It shoves what’s expected and demanded about belief and faith out the window and begins by calling God out.

It begins with authentic faith. Earthy belief. It begins in the muddy and murky waters of a life that’s been lived, not a life that’s been fabricated and curated. It begins with questions that can’t be explained away with stock theologies and flimsy clichés. It begins with emotions and thoughts and wonderings that are buried deep within the heart and soul.

The very things that society asks us to bury, hide away, put under lock and key. But these are real moments of human pain. They’re authentic expressions of suffering. Because, unfortunately, life isn’t all sunshine and daises like our Sunday School faith might have lead us to believe.

Life is full of the unexpected. The painful. The devastating. The unreal. The mind-boggling-heart-wrenching-gut-punched-take-your-breath-away that leaves us in the fetal position feeling every emotion known to God as life itself seems to implode, explode, and tear apart all at the same time.

But how often do we still put a smile on our face? How often do we say that “everything’s okay”? How often do we ignore the realest parts of our heart and soul in fear of being thought of as less than, weak, or worthless?

If this psalm tells us anything its that God can handle our pain. God can handle our anger. God can handle our questions. It tells us that there’s no need to have a perfect faith – there’s no such thing. It tells us that there’s no need to have theologies that make sense of everything – because where’s the mystery in that? It tells us that it’s okay to yell and scream and cry and call God out on all the oppression, grief, and atrocities that happen to the people of this world.

It tells us that God never abandons us. God never leaves our side. God never stops dwelling with us. Even in the midst of darkest night, deepest valley, or lonely path – God never stops doing what God does best: Loving us with a love that is never failing and never ending.

It is this love that we can trust in. It is this love that we can hope in. For even when everything has been taken away from us – even when the world has crushed us – even when it feels like everything is falling apart – the love of God surrounds us. The love of God frees us. The love of God saves us.

For when all else fails, when it seems that God has forgotten us, when it seems that we have failed in faith and belief and trust – we can know that God’s unfailing love is with us.

This is a gift we can never lose. It is a blessing that we have freely received. It is our hope and our salvation when the walls have caved in, when society has buried us, when the world says we’re not fixable, when there’s no cure, when we’re deemed unlovable.

This day, and always, God is with you. God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. Abundant, overflowing, and never failing.