EVERLASTING COVENANT

September 18, 2016

 

Union Ave

This scripture passage shows us a VERY different side of Jesus than we usually see. We believe that Jesus was ever so kind, giving, loving, and tender-hearted. He was an excellent teacher. He saw the needs of almost everyone he met. He was always trying to help the people around him understand how they could be nurtured, encouraged, challenged and certainly always loved by God.

There is another tale in our Gospels about Jesus getting so outraged that he turned over the money changers tables in the Temple. But we do not often see or hear about him being mad like that.

By and large, we think of Jesus as being mild mannered, easy going, incredibly tender and absolutely full of mercy.

This story today, however, shows us that Jesus can be VERY sarcastic, extremely teasing and/or celebrating a tongue-in-cheek moment! But that just may be the only way to get through to some folks.

Probably the most important and revealing sentences of this passage are:
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

Money is NOT long lasting. We know that for sure – we cannot take it with us! Jesus came to teach us about the everlasting covenant of God that will always sustain us and that we WILL take with us! The love that God fills and surrounds us with is eternal. It will not provide us with expertise for every little detail … it will not give us major opportunities to get power and prestige … it will not bring us a steady income and huge financial resources … but the covenant of God which is everlasting will keep us focused on the truth … will help us understand and care for the pain of our friends, families and neighbors … will sustain us when we have to face the incredible hardships that living in this world pose.

What Jesus is most concerned about is: how a little bit of dishonesty can grow and grow and grow… and take over our lives. We all know we are not perfect … and unfortunately God has made us that way. But God also forgives us over and over WHEN we admit to our stupid failings. Thus, this passage is not about that.

It is about how a little bit of dishonesty can easily grow to take us over. When we begin to taste what money can provide – comfort, power, prestige – it can very easily consume our whole life. Not only can it destroy our relationships of love with others, but it can become a painful tumor within us that continues to be fed until it consumes us.

This parable of Jesus is not just about money … but more importantly about power. He was speaking about leaders – undoubtedly religious leaders – who were very consumed with their desire to be incredibly important and maintain power over others.

And this is what Jesus was railing against when he so desired his followers to understand the OTHER covenant …the everlasting covenant … the covenant that would never come and go … the covenant that would not feed our power and prestige … but the covenant that would ALWAYS give us the strength and love and understanding to lead our lives well. This is the Covenant that God has made with us.

A covenant is an agreement made between two parties. Often times this is between two ‘equal’ parties or partners. The everlasting covenant we have with God is definitely NOT between two ‘equal’ parties. What God has promised us is definitely not what we are able to promise God.

God gives us sustenance, companionship, love, continual forgiveness, challenge, inspiration to serve, incentive to grow. Our portion of the covenant is very, very different. It is merely to listen, to ask for help and guidance, to seek assurance, to beg forgiveness continually.
So, no we are NOT equal partners in this covenant.

However, those in this scripture today who believe they can be ‘in charge’ of others and thus increase their power and prestige have absolutely no need of God. They believe they are their own gods … and with their increasing dishonesty can become ever so much more powerful in every way possible.

That desire for power and prestige – whether it be through money or
mere overbearing of opinions – is definitely like cancer. Unfortunately, it grows in ways that often cannot be controlled. And there is no covenant related to people who have this need and desire. They only have themselves … they only want to build their own power. They have absolutely no need of others.

The covenant of God makes us realize we are human and always in need of the love that will forgive us, sustain us, challenge us, grow us, and cause us to find more and more ways to be in the community of humanity in this world.

May we continue to seek and live within this everlasting covenant that God provides for all of us.

LISTENING FOR GOD

August 28, 2016

Union Avenue

A few weeks ago at one of our Urban Mission Inn dinners, a couple of us realized we were sitting at a table with a brother and a sister. And we marveled because they were so absolutely endearing to each other. They were acting very respectful and loving. It made us smile and honestly wonder about our own siblings and the other families we know well. But then – after a bit – we saw some sibling rivalry and discord. This, too, made us laugh and undoubtedly relax in assurance that we do understand normalcy in families!

Healthy congregations are like families. At times they can be THE most loving, supportive, encouraging, helpful, and definitely mission oriented. At other times they can be the most contentious, rift building places that turn people away and off! How do we make sure we can be the former and not the latter? How can we keep the even and loving keel? How can we ALWAYS be listening for God? And how can we be speaking the words from God that will build, stretch, create and transform this world to be ever so much more God-like?

There is an “in-between” place that families and congregations need. Gooey with love vs. contentious are not the only spectrums. Another one is absolute inertia. This is when we want to be a part of a community … to listen … to receive appreciation … to accept what we are given … but with absolutely no investment. This will neither build a community, nor will it build us!

The energy of being contentious and knowing what we want and how to get it – is good … when it is tempered. It is very important that we know ourselves, what we believe, how we should be involved with others, and how to share. We step over the line when we forget that EVERYONE has that right and privilege and not one of us has the only or best way.

Community – true community – is understanding that every person is unique … every person has the right to believe as they do … every person acts differently from anyone else … and every person has been created this way by the God who can hold us all together!

What we cannot do is bully each other and claim that one person knows all … or that one way is THE BEST and ONLY way. Community – and the family of God – means listening to the incredible variety of thoughts, ways to understand issues, ways to serve, and ways to be in ministry … and then either staying with where we have stood in the past or being able to change because of the challenge of another person. But listening respectfully and sharing fully is very important for a true and rich community that can serve well.

Fear in our world has grown way, way too much in the recent years. I was a hitch-hiker in earlier days … and I picked up hitch-hikers. I do not do that today. People my grandmothers age have told me they would put food on their back porches for homeless people to come by and eat … every day. I seriously doubt that many folks do that anymore. With the mass murders all around the world, the incredible use of mind-boggling drugs, the increase of threats and stealing … how can we honestly “show hospitality to strangers”? How do we know – how do we trust – how can we rely that being hospitable is safe?

Very unfortunately, that fear has seeped into our church communities as well. We are afraid of truly revealing who we are to each other – because ‘what if someone won’t like us?’ … or what if I cannot go along with the beliefs of another … or what if I get angry over what that other person says. That is the fear we can release IF and WHEN we are honestly listening to God.

As our scripture says: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ Well, yes, there are a myriad of things that people can and are doing to others – but ultimately living with the assurance that we are listening to, feeling the spirit of, allowing the love of God to capture us, empower us, enliven us … there is honestly nothing that another can do to ruin us.

Within the life of our congregational community we need to share what inspires and challenges us about our worship. Sunday morning services are NOT about respectability or ways that we have always done things. Worship needs to be about our love and imitation of Jesus who was fully alive, creative, loving and challenging. Jesus was NOT afraid …so let’s not be afraid to think about how to enliven, change and grow our worship experiences to feed us ever so much more – because all of this would be good listening to God!

And after worship, we always have time for a bit of fellowship with each other. Perhaps it would be good to look around and try to get to know some people who are NOT your best friends. Perhaps strike up conversations that will challenge and grow you. Again, try NOT to continue to live in the fear that we might not agree with others, or they might not agree with us. THAT does not matter. The growth is to hear different views and know there is NOT just one way. That is honestly listening to God!

And then we will be even more ready to re-invest seriously in ministry … where we can show hospitality to strangers … where we can extend ourselves to those who are fraught with some sort of prisons in their lives … and to those who are in seriously non-functioning relationships.

God gives us an amazing amount of power to listen – to heal – to love – to care for the hurting of this world … when we release ourselves from the fear of being known and allowing ourselves to know others.

Diversity is God made … God given … and God inspired. May we open ourselves to listen to the amazing diversity that God has created in this world!

GOD’S TIMING

August 21, 2016

Union Avenue

The world is constantly changing … every day … in every corner … with every person being born and every new idea being created. And yet, I would imagine that there have ALWAYS been individuals who fight that change every step of the way. It is ever so much more comfortable and easy to KNOW assuredly that what we did yesterday, last year, 10 years ago can be repeated and we do not need to alter our ways – just because of the evolving world around us.

Church is changing. Right now there is an incredible shift in mainline church. Sunday worship attendance is reduced in most congregations. Age of members is shifting. Ability to be heavily involved within the life of congregations has changed. This, however, does NOT mean that the church is dying. It only means the church is changing and we all need to embrace that, let go of some of the ‘former ways we did everything’ and look for the new ways to BE church. And our best example to follow is Jesus!

Jesus broke the rules of his faith and religious community so, so many times. He allowed women to travel with him … and to serve with him. This seeps into our scriptures so we can be assured that it probably happened ever so much more than we have read. Jesus also touched people who were unclean and ill. This definitely was not allowed in his time. He touched a leper, a dead boy, a women who was hemorrhaging …oh my!!! And in this morning’s passage he healed someone on the sabbath which obviously infuriated the leader of the synagogue.

But very thankfully, what Jesus has taught us over and over and over is nothing about rules … but much more importantly how we are to care for God’s people in this world. THIS is the heart of our faith.

The Jewish tradition of sabbath is a great idea. I honestly try – some weeks – to take a day in which I rest, read, recoup. It is a very helpful and enlivening possibility. When I was growing up, Christians lived the sabbath on Sundays. Very few stores were open … there were never baseball games, soccer games, or even football games. We went to church, had family dinners and rested. Those of you who are in your 30s and 20s and younger cannot even fathom those days. Life has changed. Now we often have competing sports events with worship … there are meetings and classes and any number of events held on Sunday mornings … probably none of which we are going to be able to change or go back to the ‘old way of respecting Sunday morning church’.

None of this needs to ruin who we are as God’s people … what we need to be doing as the faithful … and how we can continue to be church! God’s timing is not about any of our rules, schedules, timelines, or getting all of our activities done correctly. God’s timing is all about serving the people we meet who are in need. And that is what God would have US be about! Jesus taught all of us this by involving women in his work, touching unclean people, and breaking the sabbath laws. In all of those instances Jesus did not abide by the rules … but was abiding by the aches of people who were presenting themselves to him and who needed him.

So, how can we move our lives so that we can follow Jesus and his example? Our Outreach team is reorganizing itself and will be challenging every one of us to get involved in their ministry this year. One of our new XPLOR residents is going to be helping challenge and invite us into this work. If we all are the faithful of this community, we can let go of many of the ‘shoulds’ of the past and reconsider how we can simply aid … feed … assist … love … care for … the people who need us within our community and then extending beyond into this hurting neighborhood and world. THAT is church. THAT is what Jesus has inspired and challenged us to do. And that will be the timing that God needs us to be conscious and caring of.

Let me name some of the ways we might get going:
every week we take non-perishable food to Memorial Boulevard Christian Church. That congregation is located in a much more desperate and challenging place than we are. They serve meals to the homeless; they give out food to the street people; they have built showers for folks to use during the day. If every one of us brought two items of food every Sunday and put it in our baskets, we would be helping in a significant way many people who are living on the streets of St. Louis.
we have been nurturing young people and adults for several years through our Urban Mission Inn and the XPLOR program. We have now completed the major season of the Inn and had wonderful connection with these young people and our congregation….but our new XPLOR residents are about to arrive. Consider, please, being a very special friend to one of them – inviting them to your home for dinner, taking them out to places in St. Louis, encouraging them and talking to them weekly ….helping nurture them as they discern where and what their lives are leading.
soon (actually THIS Thursday) we will re-begin our Thursday morning handing out of donuts on Union Blvd. This has been an awesome way to share with people that we are alive and well at Union Avenue. Consider joining that donut brigade just to wave and share a happy day with people driving and walking by.
we were challenged several weeks ago by one of the staff at Doorways. He suggested that volunteers could play games, help with food, tend to the people living at Doorways – all of whom are living with HIV or AIDS.
Westminster, Pilgrim and Union Avenue are searching for ways to become much more involved within this neighborhood – whether it is having conversations to help draw together the north and south … whether to become a tutor at Soldan High School … or a myriad of other ways we might get INTO this neighborhood rather than just residing and worshipping here.

These are just a few of the ways we can serve the needs of others. Your creativity and challenge could elicit ever so many more possibilities. Let’s start talking … sharing … and inspiring each other to truly become involved in the timing of God to reach out and touch, heal, love the hurting people of this world.

Union Avenue

The unknown author of Hebrews was writing this letter to people who were honestly about to give up their Christian faith. Judaism was their heritage but they had become believers in Jesus with some very great hope. However, life was tough and no great miracles were happening to them. So they were honestly thinking they should go back to their heritage.

The author of Hebrews is trying to assure them this would NOT be a good plan and in fact, was helping them understand what are the honest promises of God.

This is truly an important letter for the church to read and take very seriously today. The incredible upheaval of our world, the violence that is ever-present adds to the questioning of many – what does the Christian faith say … how does the Christian faith help … why do we gather as Christian communities if we cannot bring the miracles of hope into this world.

So, truly: WHAT ARE THE PROMISES OF GOD???

The writer believes that faith allows us to endure … endure everything. He starts by talking of incredible miracles – passing through the Red Sea and NOT being drowned … watching the walls of Jericho falling … understanding that a prostitute did not reap hardship or annihilation … and he goes on with many other important stories and names. But then he also reminds his readers about the difficulties and devastations of life before his last great claim about Jesus … who, for the sake of joy – endured the cross, disregarded its shame and is now seated with God.

Is this something we want … can live for … can endure the hardships of life for … even would consider?

When we get to experience miracles I think we celebrate – and celebrate greatly. And those miracles we got to experience would undoubtedly move us to sing praises to God.

But there are moments that we might not call miracles – but very special times when we first meet a newborn child … when our children provide unexpected praises of love … when we are served by others … and when we just experience the richness of a new day and beautiful sunrise or glorious moon. For many of us, these moments bring praise, glory and thanksgiving to God.

And then we try to live through the calamities of what is happening in our world … the massive killings … the hate crimes … the accidents that occur on highways and take lives … the hurting people who are so negative … the frustrations of our work places … the poverty and homelessness that we know is ever-present … the boredom of some days … and the work at trying to figure out what needs to come next in our lives.

How do we make it through all of these big and small frustrations? How can we continue to give God glory and praise and know that we are being loved?

And what can the church of Jesus Christ claim when the miracles are minimal and the atrocities are more overwhelming?

Discouragement within the church is big now … but this is something we share with the early Christians. Defining our faith – and NOT basing it on the great miracles of life – is difficult, but oh so important. The promises of God are that we are never, ever alone. We have each other … we can remember the history of others … but most importantly we have God: the presence of God. And even though we might not experience jubilation or reward or miracle or even words that make sense from God every moment of the day … we can count on the presence and reassurance of God being with us.

Prosperity and blessing do not automatically come to those who are either good or who believe. Unfortunately, this promise has been one of the most devastating of the church in recent times! Faithfulness does not exempt us from hardship …nor does it shove us into total joy. What faith in God does for us, however, is to allow us to know we are never, ever alone. The presence of God is always filling us, challenging us, leading us, helping us get over our own errors as well as forgiving others. The presence and promise of God allows us to see the MUCH bigger perspective of life without getting caught in the little caveats of distress.

The promises of God can be counted on … because they are all about presence … the presence of each other and the presence of the spirit of God that can be trusted. The promises of God are not about events that will make us happy … celebrations that will bring us riches … or miracles that will bring us everlasting joy.

The promises of God are much more long lasting than any of the immediate joys we could name. Additionally, the promises of God include the work and service and love that we take on to surround and fill others. This will not only bring joy to God, but fill us with the everlasting joy of the community of faith that is ever so important.

May we find richness in the promises of God’s presence. May we extend that richness to others as we continue to build our own faithfulness.