Monday, July 23, 2012

Let Love Overtake You


“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” 
Psalm 136:26


Just the other day my daughter called me outside to ask me to help her with some sidewalk chalk. She wanted to write the phrase “Let LOVE Overtake You!” in big letters, and thought it might take her too long unassisted. How could I resist? Not only that, how could I agree with the value of her impassioned plea without joining in? Suddenly, I am reminded of the Vision Statement for the church. First Presbyterian is “A Place to Experience, Express, and Explore the Love of God.” In Psalm 136, each of the 26 verses end with, “His love endures forever.” Love is of God. The Psalmist speaks of the way the love of God has been experienced by the Israelites over and over again in the good creation we all enjoy, in God’s sustaining presence in the wilderness, and through victory over those who would enslave them. In all of these things, God’s love is the active force. And so it is for us as a community of believers. We are a gathering of souls that exist not because of this program or that, but because we believe that God is both active and present. We believe that in our worship and life together that we might find a deeper understanding of the God who is with us in all things. And so, as we look to the events of the church, let us not be moved by obligation. Let us be moved by the Spirit of God. Let us be overtaken, overrun, and consumed by the love of God, which endures forever. In this hope I stand with you.

Grace and Peace,
Zach

Building or Being Built?

Sermon Delivered July 21, 2012 
2 Samuel 7:1-14
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34

Earlier this Summer, my daughter and I participated in what has become somewhat of a tradition – the annual building of a drip castle. If you have never built one of these it is the careful result of filling your hands with wet sand and letting it slide through – little by little – to create larger structures. Usually there is some kind of hard packed base, and usually there are portions that break off due to their height and weight becoming out of balance.

But, with enough patience or persistence – which ever characteristic suites you best – you can eventually come up with something quite unique! The most unique thing about it is that it never comes out the way you have in mind, and it always ends up as the result of participating with forces beyond your control. That seems to me to be a lot like who we are and what we do in the church. In fact, this tension between building something unique for God and becoming something unique by God’s grace seems to me to be the central issue of our texts today.

It makes me wonder, what makes us who we are as a people of God? Are we a people who have a building dedicated to God? Are we a people who are building something dedicated to God? Or, are we a people who are being built into something to glorify God? We are in a crucial time as we seek a new Choir Director, and I think it is highly providential that God picked this time to inspire the Session to offer a new Vision Statement. The idea behind this statement is to compliment our Mission Statement with a description of the way we both see ourselves and want to be seen by others. The statement says that we are “A Place to Experience, Explore, and Express the Love of God.”

In thinking about that statement and the previous question, “what makes us who we are as a people of God,” I am reminded that Presbyterians Today recently sent out an email asking for a picture that shows the mission of our congregation in a single photograph. So, what would be in that picture? [Members gave responses such as: the building, the choir, the organ, the basket ministry, relationships, and our connection with presbytery.]

All of these are good and wonderful things. In a recent conversation with someone about our congregation they said, “Wow! What an active church, especially for so few members!” Boom. There’s that tension – the tension of living into the identity of the category of a small church.

When we own that category – small church, average attendance of 60 – we tend to focus on the anxiety of scarcity. That’s why we have a separate building fund. We have maintained that fund because it is a commonly held belief in this congregation that people will be more generous when there is a tangible result. That is why the pledges for the building fund, though a smaller total, tend to outpace the pledges for the general fund – both in our commitments to give and in our giving.

I’m not saying that this is bad. If it were not for the building fund we would not be able to do badly needed repairs like repainting the ceiling in the sanctuary or fixing the air conditioner motor that barely made it through last Sunday’s service. What I am saying is that I believe that the church can and will find ways to be faithful in its response to God’s grace – and this congregation is no exception.

And so the tension we must embrace is a tension no less than that of King David, whose desire to build a house for God was corrected by the One who would build David into a house – even though that promise would not be fulfilled in David’s lifetime. As Christians, we can hardly hear that the One through whom God will fulfill this promise will be “a son to God” who will be “punished with blows inflicted by human beings” without thinking of Jesus.

Surely Paul, a devout Jew, understood that Jesus was both punished and raised from punishment in order to fulfill the promise of a kingdom without end. And this kingdom has a purpose that is seen and demonstrated when those who are separated come together in a way that puts hostility itself to death! How can we do this? I once had a dear friend speak of another group of people whom she felt hurt and offended by. She said, “Just do not expect me to love them or accept them!”

All of us – except for children who have not been harmed by others – have people or groups of people that we are at odds with. How can we put hostility – the uncontrollable anger that is connected to our sense of right and wrong – to death? Is it the right thing to do? Is it possible? Yes and no.

No, it is not right to leave the innocent at risk. No, it is not possible for us to turn off certain emotions and keep other emotions. Yes, it is good and right to let go of judgments and preconceptions that lead us to behaviors that define and limit the grace of God to our understanding and experiences. Yes, it is possible for God to end hostilities between individuals and groups – but only God can do this.

Only when we allow ourselves to see ourselves as a part of the fabric of the church do we actually become the church. Only when we look to Christ as that solid base can our lives become the sand that is transformed from ordinary to extraordinary!

The thing is – whether we allow ourselves to be joined with something larger than ourselves or not – whether we are the sand that makes up the castle or just sand on the beach, we are still involved in God’s active presence. And whether we are passively protecting the dunes or actively beautifying the landscape by demonstrating a new quality of life, the waves will one day come and take us all.

And that’s a good thing, because – like it or not – none of us in this room happen to be God. Yet all of us are being built into a spiritual dwelling place for God. All of us are a part of the work of the One who knows that our needs – and the needs of others – are without end.

And so Jesus steps out of the boat and looks on the needy with compassion – and that includes you and me. And yet we, as Christ’s disciples – hungry and tired and feeling like our resources are near their end – must step out with him.

This is a place, I must confess, where the metaphors all get a little confused. Are we in the boat or the crowd? Are we sheep or shepherd? Are we to be as Christ or just Christ-like? Are we a people with a building dedicated to God, a people building a kingdom for God, or a people being built into a house for God? The answer is, of course, yes! Yes, we are all of these things and more, because we are in participation with the will of God – which is well beyond our control.

The beautiful thing about that is that we can expect to see hostility come to an end between those who are committed to being built into a house for God. When we all decide to put our differences down at the foot of the cross, the hostility that goes with them is put to death. And when hostility is put to death, peace and unity that are unbound arise from its grave.

I saw this happen once. In 1997 I served as the Assistant Director of Camp Cherokee. One of our campers one week was a girl who was a refugee from an African nation that was being torn apart by civil war (I’ve long since forgotten where). She taught us this song:

Building up the temple,
Building up the temple,
Building up the temple of the Lord, of the Lord.

Boys come and help us,
Girls come and help us - building up the temple of the Lord.

God has given me, eyes to see...
God has given me, mouth to sing...
God has given me, arms to build...

Building up the temple,
Building up the temple,
Building up the temple of the Lord, of the Lord

And so this song was sent to a group of privileged American children by way of a young girl fleeing violence and hostility, and hostility was put to death. And God did this so that I would know that it can be done. And God did this so that you would know that it could be done. And if God can do this through a 10 year old girl, just imagine what God can do through you – you who are like wet sand in the hands of someone who is doing things far greater than you can imagine!

By the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, all are invited to become as one! All are encouraged to know that God’s love is not only enough, but truly the only thing which sustains us as a people of faith and as followers of Christ! Truly, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Truly, they (those who are not here by choice or by exclusion) are a part of it, too.

So, as we follow the Good Shepherd, let us continue to be built (as we have for almost 137 years) into a home for faith where all might find a place to experience, explore, and express the love of God. And, Beloved of God, there is nothing scarce or limited about that! Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Expectations

Sermon Delivered July 15, 2012
2 Samuel 6:1-5
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:1-13

Our readings today have a lot of expectations in them, both implied and obvious. The idea of expectations reminds me of a joke about opinions. Opinions (or expectations) are like arm pits – we all have them, and some of them stink! It’s true. Hard to believe – I know – but not everything that I want or expect to happen is going to happen. Not everything that I expect to happen, even the things that should happen – good things, great things – are the right thing or even the likely thing to happen.

That is not a bad thing. It is not necessarily a good thing, either. It’s just the way things work. Even the Rolling Stones knew it. Mick Jagger sang [though I will not as I do not have the moves like Jagger], “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you’ll find you get what you need!” That’s true, but I’m not sure that it’s the best theology. At least, it’s not a complete witness. It’s still pretty dependent on me and my actions.

That's a lot to expect of me, and probably not enough of an expectation of the active presence of God. Fortunately our scripture readings have a little bit more to say about that. The whole procession of the Ark of the Covenant is filled with expectations that are being broken and fulfilled together. Safeguards are taken to ensure the Ark’s transport. They have a new cart, a host family, and a parade of lavish excess to honor God and inspire the people. David is dancing like a fool and leading all of Israel in what seems like the original flash mob.

For those who do not know what a flash mob is, it is kind of like a dance group that shows up unannounced in a public place to do a routine like one you might see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There was a really funny commercial a while back demonstrating our need for a particular phone company's faster than thought services by showing a flash mob dancer who did not get the last minute updated start time. So he throws off his coat to reveal his uniform and starts dancing while everyone just looks at him. He ends with the proclamation, “We are...!” Which only adds insult to the injury of his solo performance. The result is an epic flash mob fail – expectations unmet, broken, and shattered – the end.

The funny thing is, if you read further into the uncomfortable space after David begins to dance, you find that David’s expectations are also unmet. Uzzah – driving the special, new cart with his brother Ahio – tries to steady the Ark when the Oxen stumble, and God strikes him dead.

What? Party over. Special dance moves overshadowed. Expectations unmet. David then chooses Obed-edom’s house to stash the Ark, because he sure isn’t taking that puppy home. It does make me wonder. How were these host families chosen? Were they war heroes? Were they allies? Did they draw straws or cast lots?

I guess it really doesn’t matter. They were called, and they came. Obed-edom was blessed while Uzah’s father, Abinadad, mourned. David realized that the Ark was not only a source of suffering but also blessing, and he brought it home – dancing even more wildly this time in a linen Ephod. If you don’t know what that is, I can tell you that I am much more comfortable (and so are you) to stand before you in a linen Alb than an Ephod.

Saul’s daughter, Michal, confronts him about this very issue, telling him he is an embarrassment to the crown and to his people. Kings do not behave in such a way as this. No one will respect him. David tells her that he is not doing it for anyone else. He is doing it for God, and not only that, but he will “make himself yet more contemptible than this” to glorify God.

Suddenly I am reminded of the bold preacher who once had this conversation at the door. The congregant said, “Pastor, I really didn’t get anything out of worship today.” The preacher replied, “Good! We weren’t worshiping you!”

As confrontational as that sounds, it is the reality we must face every Sunday. We all have expectations of the service. When little things don’t happen the way we want them to it distracts us. We loose focus. We forget that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. That is why you came here in the first place, right?

Each of us walks through those doors with different experiences, but the same expectation. We expect God to be here. We expect to find meaning for the difficulties we face or to give thanks for the blessings we have received! We expect healing, wholeness, and transformation. Maybe you don’t realize that is what you are doing.

Maybe those words – healing, wholeness, and transformation – make you feel like the freshman student who just walked into the wrong class (been there, done that). Maybe you are just here because it is what you normally do. Maybe you’ve never thought about it, and you are here because this is your family of faith, the community in which you experience and express love and forgiveness.

All of these are OK, as long as we do not forget about the One who called us together and the claim upon our lives as adopted children of God through Jesus Christ. Curious word, that is - adopted. Paul uses that in our text today and also in his letter to the Romans. The thing I think most interesting about it is not what we stand to inherit but the fact that adoption requires us to be – at some point – orphaned. To receive God's grace requires us to be in a state of need.

And so in the midst of grace and mercy and blessing and cursing we find what we expect – Uzzah must die in the service of the Ark of the Covenant. In the rejection of Jesus in our Gospel text we find what we expect – Jesus can do nothing to help those who do not want his help. Not only that, but their rejection spurs him on to send out his disciples as vulnerable prophets to be blessed and cursed, to heal and to protest against disbelief. Isn’t that what we expect, that God uses suffering and adversity to prove our need of grace?

Maybe, but I do not think the God who plans to “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” needs suffering to prove that we are chosen, holy, and beloved. I think suffering simply is. Suffering is part of living as limited creatures, and God was every bit as present for Uzzah’s family as God was for Obed-Edom’s. And God is every bit as present in the crack house down the street as God is in this sanctuary. God is present when expectations are met, for good or for ill, and God is present when expectations are not met, for good or for ill.

And so it comes down to this – who are you in the Gospel reading that we have shared? What do you expect out of Jesus? What do you expect out of God? How do our expectations impact God’s power to heal and transform?

According to the text, seeing Jesus as only the son of Joseph limits our understanding of who and what Jesus is about. At the same time, thinking of Jesus as an unlimited Superhuman is also misleading. Jesus performs miracles in community, not on a stage but rather in the context of relationships. But even with the limitations of free will and acceptance, Jesus still heals. Somebody is always in need, and so Jesus always offers healing.

Not only that, Jesus expects us to become vulnerable so that we can offer healing and forgiveness and receive the same transformation that we are offering others. Ask anyone who has served dinners for meals on wheels, or spent hours on end sorting materials for our basket ministry, or made meals for students at the Wesley, or sung anthems, or read liturgy, or ushered, or any number of private and personal witnesses that come from the lives of those sitting to your left and your right, and I bet you will find that (most of the time) they get more out of it than they put into it.

In the very least, our service to others in the name of Christ is a labor of love, and love transforms everything it touches – not into mushy, gushy butterflies and bunnies – but into a life of awareness. Love transforms your life into a life filled with the expectation that God is working to redeem all things, and you and I are a part of that project.

And at the end of the day, we who are sent out to love in Christ’s name must know that we cannot expect everyone to love us back. Some say that no one, except Jesus, knew this better than Mother Theresa of Calcutta. These words are painted on the wall in her home for children - based on the Paradoxical 10 Commandments by Kent M. Keith.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Beloved of God, through Jesus Christ you are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. You may expect God to be present in all things. You may even be expected to offer God’s presence in some things. In all things, know that God is with you, transforming you and fashioning you into that which God had in mind for you from the beginning. That is my expectation, and I pray that it might be yours as well, and to God be the glory in this and all things. Amen.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Can’t Stop

Sermon Delivered July 8, 2012 – Pentecost (6B) 
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Acts 5:27-42
Luke 2:1-15

There are some things in this life that you just can’t stop. We like to think that we can control and channel the elements of nature - and to some extent we always have. Crops have used the power of the sun and rain to feed our families. Winds have been harnessed to blow ships through the sea and air for centuries. We have even used the gravitational pull of the earth to balance out the thrust and and extension of our hand into the depths of space.

We can do all of these things. We have done all of these things, and we will do more. But we still can’t stop the tide. We can use inertia, but we cannot change the fact that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Likewise, we can not always predict the reaction we are going to illicit!

When it works the way we want it to we call that a job well done. When the reaction exceeds our expectations we might even call it providence or grace. And when things happen that we do not want or like, well, we call that a lot of different things - some of which I won’t say from a pulpit.

As a community of Christ’s followers, however, we come together to be assured that, no matter what, God is involved in our lives. God is not involved because we are God’s favorite. (Incidentally, a mentor of mine once showed up at a church retreat wearing a t-shirt that said, “Jesus Loves You - But I’m His Favorite” as a joke.) God is involved because that is who and what God is - involved!

Involvement - I have heard it said that the current generation of 20-30 somethings is the most involved generation in their community since the World War II generation. Community involvement, for many of them, is not simply something to do for a merit badge. It is a way of life.

And yet, we still have many of the same problems we have always had. Robert Lupton, a community organizer and a long time advocate for the poor, writes about this issue in his book, Toxic Charity. He argues that – for all of our charitable giving, government programing, and corporate philanthropy – things are getting worse. Why? Primarily because our efforts are not geared toward being in relationship with those in need. Even those of us who work to build others up can get caught up in the trap of seeing chronic needs as a crisis. And when we try to treat chronic needs as a crisis, we simply feed the chronic need until we have created a monster that has the potential to harm us both.

It’s funny how kids can see right through things like this. In 2006 I took a group of youth on a mission trip to Belize. One evening I was walking back to the hotel with a kid named David. A beggar came to him, and David gave the guy a dollar. I told him that I admired his generosity and he replied dryly, as only a 16 year old can, “Yeah, I think I just solved poverty in Belize.” The thing is, he knew that he had given the dollar for his own comfort. Even so, he did feel that it was the right thing to do. He felt compelled to do something – and so he did.

All of us are faced with choices that we feel we have to do something about. In our congregation, we adopted a policy for social assistance a little over a year ago. The Session – realizing that we have some serious limitations and real obligations – agreed that we, as a congregation, would not give money directly to anyone. Members may still do as they feel compelled to, but we do not give money to individuals. We may offer limited assistance by paying for an emergency need, but our primary efforts go toward doing what we know we can do well.

So, we set up an emergency food bag ministry, and we focused our efforts on collecting peanut butter and making gift baskets. The peanut butter goes to families in need through the United Christian Outreach, an organization that members of our congregation helped charter and still support as volunteer labor. Some might argue that the UCO would make better use of a dollar than a jar of peanut butter. This congregation has repeatedly affirmed the value of the relationships that we share with others by physically picking up a jar of peanut butter with someone else in mind.

The gift baskets work in much the same way, only on a grander scale. It may seem a silly thing to give gifts when people need their utilities to be paid. It may seem a silly thing when there are mouths to be fed. It may even seem like all we are doing is perpetuating the greed that has taken over the season of Christmas. It may seem that way to some, but not to those whom I have met who have received these baskets. It was not silly to the woman who broke down crying last year in the Abundance Room because she did not believe that anyone cared about her or her family. It is not silly to the family who returns every year – former clients who now return as volunteer shoppers to assist others. It is not silly to the social workers who take car loads of presents to build up confidence and encourage struggling clients. No – this basket ministry is serious stuff! This basket ministry is an announcement of the Kingdom of God.

And so, today, we are celebrating Christmas in July to prepare for and begin the work of our C.U.P.S. elves! Sure, it is a little gimicky. Businesses and congregations have been using this tag line to drum up funds in a slow part of the year since the 1940‘s when the movie with the same title debuted. But it is also fun! Christmas is a time of great joy. And although there are some that find the idea of playing Christmas music out of season an apostasy – the real issue is about reverence to God. Even during the actual season of Christmas we must ask ourselves if we are worshiping our hopes or the one who gives us a reason to be hopeful.

Culturally, most people agree – or at least want to believe – that Christmas is a time when everyone has permission to express and to experience good will toward one another. The reality is that there is never a time when everyone is nice to everyone, and so Christmas is also a time of great sadness and depression for those whose expectations go unmet. I wish I could put a stop to that – but we all know that I can’t.

I would probably be elected Supreme Chancellor if I could! That is what the people had in mind with David. Here is the one who led us in battle! Here is the one who took care of us like a shepherd! Let’s make him our King! And so they did, and David’s name became great, not because of the things he did, but because of what the Lord did through him.

David on his own – following his own desires – made some pretty bad choices. But David following God built a city and a people. The city of David – which Luke’s gospel claims as Bethlehem – was not connected to Jerusalem. It was outside of the power and control of the city gates. It was in the same way that the Christ child came into the world – resting in a manger.

I never realized how terribly incredible this story is until I had my own children, and I mean that in every sense of the words used – terrible and without credibility. What a miracle that a newborn might be exposed and delivered in a stable – placed in a food trough for animals – and still survive! But I guess there are some things that just cannot be stopped.

That is the testimony of the Apostles in the book of Acts – religious practice and doctrine cannot stop the will of God. The Apostles had been healing people in the name of Jesus, and it made the religious authorities look bad. So they had the Apostles jailed. The next morning the Apostles show up again, full of the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders don’t even ask how they got out. They only see what they want to see, and they say, “Hey – didn’t we tell you to knock that off? You’re making us look guilty. Stop it.”

The Apostles tell them that they will only follow the will of God, and the authorities want to kill them – that is until a scholar steps forward who seems to know a little about the vanity of chasing after the wind. Gamaliel reminds them that if this is of God, they cannot stop it from happening.

And so it was with Shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night when the angel of the Lord appeared with a heavenly host to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God. After such an event they could hardly say anything other than, “Let’s go see.”

That’s the thing about an experience of God. One can hardly encountered the Divine and come away unchanged. One can hardly encounter the Divine without reacting in some way. One can hardly encounter the Divine without wanting more. And that’s where it can get scary. Denominations and congregations have been tearing themselves apart from the inside for years over social issues – all because we want a King that will make us feel good about ourselves.

And when it comes down to that, we have a King who suffered rejection so that we might find acceptance. We have a King who came in the most vulnerable way possible, and who invites us to suffer so that others might find acceptance as well.

There are some things we can not stop. People (including you and I) will make choices that are both faithful and selfish. Blessings and disasters will strike the good and the bad alike. And yet – God is involved. God still shows up as a vulnerable gift in a small basket. God still shows up in a congregation that reuses and recycles the abundant resources of a community bent on throwing God’s providence away when it no longer fits or shines.

I think it all boils down to the difference between feeling compelled by the presence of God in our midst and simply acting on our own desires. Following my desires – no matter how pure the motivation may seem – always gratifies me. Feeling compelled attempts to glorify God, and that usually puts me in relationships with others.

It kind of reminds me of a song by David LaMotte about a drop of water falling to the earth and realizing his value as a part of a whole. “The water’s gunna role, from the mountain to the stream. The water’s gunna role, from the river to the sea. We will roll on together ‘till everyone can see – that mighty tidal wave is made, of little bitty drops like me.”

We can not stop the will of God – even though we sometimes get confused between God’s will and our own – because God is still working in and through us. God is establishing God’s kingdom. And when we realize that, we cannot stop moving toward it. At least that is my prayer and my firm belief for you and for me, and to the glory of God. Amen.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Restoration

Sermon Delivered on July 1, 2012 – Season After Pentecost (5B) 
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Acts 5:12-24
Mark 5:21-43 [Dramatic Interpretation]

Restoration is such a positive word! It offers the hope of holding on to what is good while improving the bad and dysfunctional. As a boy I can recall my grandparents restoring an old farmhouse in North Georgia. I had no idea at the time what they must have gone through to raise the sagging wrap-around porch and replace the ancient newspaper they found in the wall with actual insulation.

Restoring that house took them a few years, and I would bet a few more dollars than they expected. I never heard them complain, as it was not their way to do so. All I know is that they enjoyed themselves, and they used the opportunity to create a home of hospitality for others.

Restoring old homes is not uncommon these days – even as our culture becomes more interested in disposable and temporary solutions. People refer to it as flipping homes, and they do it to turn a “quick” profit. There is even a show called Flip That House to tempt you with the idea that someone out there is doing it successfully!

But if any of you have ever tried to restore a house or a car or just about anything you deem worthy of restoration, then you know that it can only be done as a labor of love. How nice it would be if we could do like they do in the insurance commercials! You’ve seen the one – the one where the guy peels off the old wrecked exterior to reveal a new car underneath!

Now, some might present Christian faith in the same light. All you have to do is accept, believe, and confess and “Poof!” you’re just like new – maybe even better! Perhaps it does work that way for some people, but I can tell you that it has never worked that way for me. In fact, I don’t know a lot of people that it has worked that way for.

The reality is – for most of us – that we still carry around our dents and dings. In our scripture today, David, the model of a man after God’s own heart, demands that Saul’s and Jonathan's death be remembered in song. He doesn’t ask for closure – he demands openness. And restoration is offered for Saul in the nation’s ability to claim him as an honored leader, rather than a selfish scoundrel.

In Acts and in Mark’s gospel we find a connection between faith and healing and restoration. We also find religious and civic leaders who just can’t allow themselves to believe that the power of God is active and present and in their midst. Aren’t we like that sometimes? I know I am.

I’m not certain if that is because I don’t understand how God could be magically intervening in one circumstance and not another, or if it is because I don’t want to be restored. Restoration is hard, and it requires letting go of some things. Restoration means transformation and transformation means changing, because even things that are restored to “like new” condition are not the same as they were originally created.

Sometimes a restoration offers improvements on the original – but either way it means becoming something new. Sometimes, I have to admit, I can be just like the religious authorities – doubting that restoration is possible. Though I remain skeptical of miraculous healings, I think there is something crucial in the story of the woman with the hemorrhage that can offer us some hope.

In the dramatic reading we focused on her restoration to community. We imagined what her life must have been like to have been an outcast for the same number of years as the little girl Jesus healed had lived. We did not talk about her specific experience of restoration though. In the text, we find that first “she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” Then she confessed her action in trembling and fear. Only then was her healing complete, as Jesus restored her to community by calling her “Daughter,” and proclaiming her to be healed in the presence of others.

And that puts us in a very difficult place as the Body of Christ. For we, as Christ’s disciples are to do as he did – to such an extent as we can. Faith healing aside – given that we all have differing gifts – Jesus went with people to their homes. Jesus stopped when a person of great need caught his attention. Yet Jesus, God incarnate as he was, did not heal everyone. And yet Jesus, incarnated in the church as the Body of Christ, offers healing to everyone.

Healing of every disease, infirmity, and addiction may not be possible – but restoration is. Restoration is not only possible, but should be the expectation of a community of believers. We are not here to patch and spackle or try to peel away the wreckage. We are here to be transformed into people, and into a community, that offers transformation and restoration. We are not here to be perfect - or even good. We are here to proclaim that in our brokenness God is present. We are here to be the body of Christ, broken and poured out for the world.

I don’t know how you will be broken and poured out, but I do know how we do will be. I know it because I have seen it. I have seen members who have felt called into ministry and become elders on Session after a lifetime of saying, “Nope, not me!” I have seen habitual visitors step forward and claim this community as their own. I have seen our brokenness in the anxiety of our choir as we seek new leadership. This is not because we are afraid that the pretty sounds will go away. It is because sacred music is part of the way that we worship and glorify God! And it is there – in our deepest anxieties of identity and purpose – that God is offering the most profound opportunities for transformation that we can imagine.

And it happens here all the time. I have seen members and friends transform discarded items into treasures that delight the souls of those who have been told that they are not good because they did not get the things that good boys and girls get – or because they could not get for their children what the good parents get for their children.

I’ve seen peanut butter and food bags sustain people who only know how to carve out a sliver of survival from the streets and the woods. I have seen a congregation transformed from guilt over not having funds to assist every needy person into a congregation that knows its limits, is proud of what they can do, and hopes to be able to do more as we grow in faith. I have seen a congregation that stands on the corner today as it has for years past and tells the world to come and reach with us for the hem of Jesus as he passes by – for this is a place to experience, explore, and express the love of God!

That is the new vision statement our Session struggled over for six months. It is a statement of identity to compliment our mission. “A place to experience, express, and explore the love of God” is the way we see ourselves, and it is the way we want to be known in this community.

The thing is – if we take that vision seriously – that does not mean that this physical space is the place to do that. It means that we – even with our brokenness, perhaps especially because of it – are that place. The church, the kirk, the gathering – the church does not stay in a building like some tryst in Vegas. For we are the Body of Christ – broken, blessed, and poured out for the world.

And it is here, at table, that we proclaim the offer of restoration, the promise of transformation, and the opportunity to live as forgiven sinners – constantly in need of the same grace we offer and proclaim. If we listen closely we will hear him say, “Child, get up!” And from our slumber of death we approach this table with a hunger and a thirst that can only be satisfied through words of the One who proclaims that we are healed through faith and restored by the One whose love transforms everything. May it be so with me. May it be so with you. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen.