Sermon: Groans and Sighs

Mildorfer, Joseph Ignaz
Mildorfer, Joseph Ignaz
Acts 2: 1-13
Romans 8: 22 – 28

Paul says, “We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly, while we wait…”

Here is a text that seems easy to relate to…Don’t we spend a lot of our time, groaning inwardly, especially when we are waiting for something? Waiting for the light to change, waiting for payday, waiting for a job opportunity, waiting for test results, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting for the bus to come..

We often moan and groan with frustration and complaint…just getting out of bed some days, sets me groaning…hitting Westwood at the wrong time of day and seeing a line of cars as far as I can see…makes me groan…getting home late knowing I need to walk in the door and start dinner, or drive someone somewhere, or make calls, groan..groan…groan…the list never seems to end…

Paul says, “the whole of creation has been groaning…” and there are so many things happening in the world right now that it seems that the whole world is still groaning…the earthquakes in Nepal…the tornados in the mid-west…the terrible, relentless droughts in California and other parts of our country, and all around the world…

The earth is groaning from pollution, changing climate patterns, our reckless depletion of resources…it can be overwhelming, and like every generation before us…it seems as if all we know and understand is coming to an end.

How do we have faith in the face of all the turmoil and chaos we see in the world today?

Paul reminds us that even in the midst of all our worldly groaning, There is Hope.

Paul says, “For in hope, we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Paul says it’s hard to hope in what we see because it is easy to be overwhelmed by the vastness of ‘The big Picture” the list of things “going wrong”, the things “beyond our control”, It makes us feel defeated and inadequate.

That is why Jesus had the disciples wait together. United…together – listening with their hearts for the sighing of the Spirit in a place too deep for words.

When we consider that in those days, news only spread through word of mouth, it continues to astound me how Jesus’ message spread out into the world…think about it, the Good News of the Word made flesh travelled only by word of mouth…the Holy Spirit speaking through those earliest disciples…sharing the message of God’s deeds of power and spreading the Good news to people through the ages.

Today, we have instantaneous methods of communication that connect the entire world and yet the Good News about God at work in the world, too often seems to get pretty garbled.

We need to listen carefully, to hear the sighing of the Spirit at work these days amid all the media noise, amid the rumbling of our doubts and fears, amid the noisy gongs and the clanging cymbals…that still, small voice is often silenced by our own weary groaning.

After yet another tragic and suspicious death of a young black man in police custody, Baltimore is groaning under the weight of years of oppression, prejudice, bitter hatred, resentment, and grinding poverty.

We are all aware of the riots and violence that continue to erupt in that city and it seems an unlikely place to find a message of hope or a place where we would expect to discover the Holy Spirit at work…but I think we would be wrong….

The following interview took place on the *Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore this past week. He went to Baltimore and sat down with 5 gang members to talk with them about what’s happening in their city.

They had been in the news because they had declared a truce and were working together to end the violence. The young men belonged to the Bloods, the Crips, and the Black Gorilla Gang. For the interview, they were all sharing a meal together in a local diner. Rather than paraphrase their discussion, I have a volunteer that is going to re-enact the Interview with me.

I want you to listen for the sighing of the Spirit between the lines….

I: So, You guys have called a truce or a treaty?

We didn’t have a truce or a treaty…we just had men respecting men, coming together. We’re making sure there is no looting. We were walking down the street together, and one of the Blood homeys stepped on my shoe..and I said, “you know, three days ago, I would have punched you in the mouth for that.” And he smiled. He knew…we were good…

I: Three days from now, when things go back to normal, you can punch him in the mouth again…

…no…we’re good, he’s good, it’s forever now, right?…we can’t speak for anyone anywhere else but this is it for us here…from now on.

Let me explain what’s happening here…there is only so far into a corner you can push me before I push back..how would you like living in the hood getting pushed….if you’re in a million dollar house, you can’t relate. Just like I can’t relate to property taxes…I never owned property…and you get to call a lawyer to push back..

I: Have you stopped somebody from doing something?

Sure! The people that came weren’t even from around here…it was little kids, high school and middle school, coming here doing stuff.

We were standing in front of a store protecting it, and the police pulled up in a tank they jumped out with their assault rifles….they jumped out and pointed their guns and out of nowhere I got hit with a percussion grenade…they threw it right at us and we were protecting the store!

I got holes all up the side of my favorite jacket. So we ran away through the alley, checked through the projects, made sure everyone was ok…and then we went back and linked arms and made sure that nobody got in that store.

I: Anything else?

They set one police car on fire and we stopped them from setting another police car on fire.

I: Would you guys ever meet with the police?

Oh, we talk to the police…they ask if we’re good, if we need water…they bring us food sometimes.

I: What is the most surprising thing that has come out of this?

All the positive people coming together. We was all together for one common cause. It was beautiful.

I: Do you guys have hope?

Of course. Of course we have hope…What else do we got?

That’s the only thing you have to have if you want to progress.

I: Any other thing you want to say? Anything you want to say to the people listening?

I want everyone to keep the hope and stay peaceful…don’t give up…keep the hope.

[End interview – Interviewer sit]

“I want everyone to keep the hope and stay peaceful…don’t give up…keep the hope.”

Can you hear the sigh? Can you hear the sigh of the Spirit interceding in a place too deep for words?

How can we not see this as the spirit of God at work in this world?

When we hear a message of hope, that’s Jesus. When we hear a message of peace, that’s Jesus. When we hear of sworn enemies reaching out to each other with respect and joining together in a common purpose to bring justice and stop violence…who does that sound like?? Doesn’t that sound like people united as one mind, in Christ???

That’s where I see the God’s spirit at work in this world..when out of the midst of hate, riots, and, oppression, there comes a message of justice, respect, compassion and unity…a message of hope and peace…

I would go so far as to say that can ONLY be God’s Spirit at work!

Jesus tells us again and again to wake up! To awaken Spiritually to the world. To awaken to the Spirit in action IN the world.

Watching these feuding gang members lay down their swords and take up the plowshares of peace, watching them setting aside blood feuds, bitter history, and violence as their way of life, ….and become peacemakers…

….filled… me… with… HOPE!

Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

Paul says that we and creation are Groaning, groaning in labor pains…we need to remember that the pain and groaning in labor leads to new life, it leads to giving birth to something new… the groaning and moaning of labor, eventually gives way to sighing with relief and sighing with delight when your beautiful baby is laid in your arms.

We need to listen in the midst of all the chaos and noise for that sighing of Spirit in our lives…

The sigh of relief to have made it through another day.

The sigh of satisfaction in a job well done.

The sigh of contentment with having enough.

The sigh of basking in the sun or resting in the cool shade.

The sighing whisper of cooling rain on hot pavement.

The sigh of the Spirit at work in the world.

Giving birth to something new…something we can’t see yet…

Something we must wait for with patience, trusting in God.

We must wait… United…together – listening with our hearts for the sighing of the Spirit in a place too deep for words.

And everyone needs to keep the hope and stay peaceful,

…don’t give up…

Keep the Hope.

Let us pray,

God of love, who sent Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to rule our hearts, let us be your instruments of peace. Fill us with the Holy Spirit, fill us with love divine, unite us in your Spirit and purpose.

*The Nightly Show with Larry (Week of May 20, 2015) This is transcribed verbatim from Larry Wilmore’s Interview with members of the Bloods, Crips, and Black Gorilla Gang. A few lines of the segment, such as when they were ordering food, were deliberately omitted for time constraints.

If you are interested, this is the link for interview segment – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrKEFF3sLfk

Sermon: The True Vine

192

Matt 28: 16 – 20
John 15: 1 – 11

On the day that is to be his last physical day on earth, Jesus gathers his disciples on a mountaintop. We are reminded of another mountaintop gathering where Jesus’ light shone bright and blinding. Do you think the disciples might be glancing around hoping to glimpse Elijah and Moses?

When the disciples see Jesus, they worship him, but some doubted. Do they still doubt Jesus? or do they doubt their ability to follow Jesus? Do they doubt their own hearts?

Do they doubt their strength and courage to follow Jesus when Jesus isn’t there, especially knowing how hard it was to follow Jesus when he was there?

This mountaintop gathering feels like an ending and I wonder if the disciples are hoping that they are going to get to leave the problems of the world behind and just go with Jesus…do they doubt their ability to carry on?

Doubt is such a part of faith. Don’t we wrestle with doubt? Don’t we doubt our ability to serve when we worry about not having enough people or not having enough money or not having enough committees or commitment…aren’t we wrestling right now with our doubt about our ability to go on?

Jesus’ answer to all our doubt and fear is “Go. Go and make disciples. Baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach others to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Jesus answer to doubt is, Go out into the world and make a difference. Go, out into the world and live according to God’s Word. Jesus final instruction as he is leaving his disciples is…GO!

I think of poor Thomas, who earlier has said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going…how can we possibly know where we should go…there are so many roads to travel…so many different directions…can you be more specific? We need a road map!

Well, Jesus did leave us a road map…Jesus says, “follow me.” So we need to look at the places that Jesus went, in order to see where Jesus wants us to go.

Jesus went to the people on the edges, the fringes, the uncomfortable people…He pushed his way through the thronging crowds to reach out to the invisible cripple begging by the gate. Jesus had lunch with the hated tax man hiding from the crowd in a tree.

Jesus pushed his way through cultural barriers to reach out to the shunned and lonely woman by the well. He reached out to touch and heal the bent and broken woman ignored in the midst of her faith community. Jesus even reached across racial prejudices to heal the daughter of an enemy Caananite woman.

Jesus fed, first his own people,…and then fed the gentiles who came flocking after him. Jesus went into the heart of a predatory and corrupted Temple system and a corrupt and oppressive political system and spoke truth and demanded justice according to God’s laws and commandments. There are so many roads to travel when Jesus says, “Go.”

The disciples doubt and Jesus says, “just go…go out – in my name…go out knowing I am the True Vine and you are the branches.” Go out rooted and moving, rooted in Jesus, the Word made flesh, rooted in Jesus who sustains and nourishes.

Go – rooted and on the move – rooted in Jesus, the True Vine, where we draw sustenance and strength, on the move – like a vine, stretching, reaching out – grabbing hold of each other and those around us –

On the move, reaching out to the community, to our neighbors, to those right here in our own church that need strength, that need community, that need love, that need to unite through the Spirit that lifts and nourishes and sustains us all. On the move, Reaching out, grabbing hold, interconnected, intertwined…

Go out knowing that God is the Vinegrower.

Trust in God to prune away what is dead and withered, to prune away what is exhausting and unhealthy. We need to trust God to prune away what isn’t working in our own lives and in our lives together. We need to trust God to shape and guide our growth. We need to trust that God will bring new life where we can only see death and defeat.

Discerning how to follow Jesus, is not about finding a mission or ministry, or moving to a new building, or deciding whether or not to close. Discernment is about opening our connections to God, the Vinegrower, and strengthening our connection and attachment to Jesus, the one True Vine.

Discernment means, NOT being Martha, who was anxious and troubled about many things, but being Mary, who set everything else aside and sat at Jesus feet to immerse herself in God’s Word.

Discernment and prayer is how we become more deeply Rooted in Jesus and more awake to the direction in which God is leading us. Discernment means listening for where our ideas and positive energy are coalescing –

..watching for where our energy levels start to rise and watching for where our energy starts to wane… observing those high and low energy areas in our lives, points us toward where we are being led to invest our time, our energy, and our resources.

It is time for us, as Jesus’ disciples, to go out, rooted in Jesus and moving where we feel God is leading us. Trusting in God to shape our future.

Jesus leaves all his disciples across all ages, this final instruction, – to remember, to remember “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus instructs us to remember, that even crucifixion, even death, as final as it seemed …was not an ending…but a new beginning.

Jesus says, remember, it is in traveling with Jesus, that failure, defeat, and even death, becomes a way through to new life…where we can discover Jesus’ joy in us so that our joy may be complete.

Sermon: A Virtuous Woman

Woman-Praying-study-for-via-dolorosa_-1927_-Chalk-drawings-on-paper

Proverbs: 31: 10 – 31

The first time I read this passage, I thought, wow…what an amazing portrait of a woman, how wonderful, what a paragon of virtue…

The second time I read this…I starting getting TICKED OFF!

By the third time through, I decided that I didn’t like her very much at all…she not only makes clothes for the household but she also makes covers for all the beds?

Oh, come on now…why doesn’t it mention those crabby days of exhaustion when nothing is going right, and your to do list is getting longer, not shorter, and night comes and you don’t feel you accomplished one darn thing that made the day worthwhile?

This beautiful Ode to a Capable Wife suddenly started sounding to me like the commercials on TV that say to us, that we are supposed to do it all….AND look beautiful in Calvin Klein jeans while we are doing it.

So, I got up and went for a walk.

And then I looked at the passage, one…more… time…and I thought, how does she do it all? How can we do it all? Not just Moms, all of us, any of us, each one of us? Mom, Dad, daughter, son, student, teacher, employee, boss, neighbor, friend..

How can we do it all, and do it all well? How can we have it all? How do we do all we need to do on any given, busy, overloaded day? Well, let’s see what we can learn from the Virtuous Woman.

“She does good, not harm.” This is almost too simple. We all know that doing good, makes us feel good. This is why we are having conversations with each other about doing more as a faith family out in our community. But sometimes it’s also just the simple things.

There are studies that show that if you simply smile at other people, you not only boost their morale, the act of smiling, the act of using those particular muscles in that particular way, releases endorphins in your brain, and make you feel good as well. So simply smiling, is an important way to help, not only yourself, but others, to have a better day.

“The Virtuous woman rises while still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls“…AH HA!! THAT’s the secret…she has servant girls! She has help!!!

Ah, ha….She has help.

We may not have servant girls available to help us…but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help to be found. Asking for help is something too many of us have trouble doing.

Asking for help might mean we’re a failure..or it might mean something doesn’t get done exactly the way we would do it…but it does mean that something gets done, and it means we didn’t have to do it.

AND it reminds us that we don’t have to carry our burdens alone.

“The Virtuous woman girds herself with strength and makes her arms strong.”
I almost wanted to skip this one…this sounds like exercise to me. Something my expanding girth reminds me I need to start paying a little more attention to. The Virtuous Woman girds herself with strength, she wraps herself up in strength, she takes good care of herself and makes herself strong.

We know that eating in a more healthy way, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, getting out in the beauty of creation to walk, bike, skip, hop, run, meander, sit in the shade, drink in the sky…all help us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Taking time for ourselves, to care for ourselves, gives us the strength to take care of others. When we wear ourselves ragged, we have nothing left to give. Jesus used to go off by himself to spend time in prayer to refresh his Spirit and recharge his batteries. He would send the disciples on ahead so that he could spend some time alone. Resting in God is one of the ways we can replenish ourselves for all we wrestle with in our busy lives.

What else?

“She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out to the needy…she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”

One of the best things we can give one another is kind words. Positive feedback…Words of praise! I love this image of having “the teaching of kindness always on our tongues.” Are you quick to complement or complain?

Sometimes we get stuck looking at the big problems in our society…like homelessness…we follow our politicians, write letters to government, support programs with donations…but we will hurry past the homeless person who sits begging on the sidewalk.

We may not always carry cash with us to hand out everywhere we go…but can’t we always have a “kind word waiting on our tongues?”

Don’t we always have a smile ready to be released into the world? We are not just called to open our wallets. We are called to open our hearts and reach out our hands to the poor with a generosity of spirit, time, patience, love, and grace.

What is one of the most crucial things that the Virtuous Woman does to help her get through?

Here it is…in the midst of managing her household, providing food, buying fields, planting vineyards, working the distaff and spindle to weave and make clothes and linens and fine coverings…she does one critical thing to keep going….

SHE LAUGHS!!

In the midst of all the demands, the chaos, the responsibilities, the endless tasks…she laughs and “her children rise up and call her happy, her husband too!!” After all, laughter is the best medicine!

Again, studies have proven that frequent, prolonged laughter, releases good, mood lifting chemicals in our bodies, laughter reduces our blood pressure, and laughter helps us regain our perspective on life.

One great source of laughter that also often offers a change of perspective is to remember to stop now and then and look at the world through the eyes of the children around us.

After the Memorial service yesterday, one of the little girls ran up to me as we were all getting into our cars to drive to the cemetery. She looked very worried and she said to me, “Our car doesn’t have a yellow flag on it!”

I told her she didn’t need one, that the cars in front with the yellow flags would lead us to where we are going and we would all follow. She went running back to her Mom, all smiles, shouting excitedly, we don’t need a flag, we’re playing follow the leader!

When we got to the cemetery, there was a bagpiper playing, and when he finished, the youngest kids were gathering around him with wide eyes looking at his pipes and his kilt and other paraphernalia. One of the boys looked up at him with great admiration and wonder and said, “Is that a pirate hat? Are you a pirate?”

The world is a surprising place when, now and then, we look at it through someone else’s eyes…and when we remember to play.

Our Ode to a Virtuous woman concludes with one last, and perhaps, most important coping mechanism.

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, is to be praised.” A woman, a person, who fears the Lord, who stands in awe of God, who is overwhelmed and awestruck by the wonders of life and the daily mystery and blessing of living in God’s created world, is to be praised.”

The number one way to get through all that life throws at us, is to live each day awestruck with the wonders of life and the daily mystery and blessings of God’s creation. The number one way to get through is with faith in God. Our faith is the rock and foundation upon which we can firmly plant our feet when all around us seems to be turning to quicksand.

Our faith is our lifeline to grab hold of when we feel we are going under for the third time. Our faith is the shelter we can take refuge in when the winds of chaos are howling at our door.

As concerned adults, parents or not, we sometimes worry that children don’t understand the world, that they are too plugged in, too overscheduled, too over-stimulated, too independent, too…”fill in the blank.”

So, I will leave you with one more story from the service yesterday.

One of the teenage granddaughter’s of the woman who died wrote a remembrance that was read to us. She said that she will miss hearing her Gramma upstairs sweetly singing all her favorite hymns …when her Gramma thought she wasn’t listening.

This is something to keep in mind, not just for parents, there are all kinds of children all around us…the children of this church, for example.

We might think children don’t listen…but they do..we might think they aren’t watching…but they are…even when we don’t know it.

Children learn from us by watching what we do…”Do what I say, not what I do, doesn’t cut it.” Children can see us pretty clearly…maybe more clearly than is comfortable…

What is it we want them to “monkey see, monkey do” when they watch us, when we think they aren’t looking?

We enjoy seeing the world through the eyes of children, but never forget, they stop every now and then and look at the world through our eyes….

What will they see? What are we teaching them by how we live our lives?

No pressure!!

Here’s the Mother’s Day message for all of you today…

God asks us to do the best we can do on any given day.
God knows some days are better than others.
God knows some days, we are glad to see the day come to an end.

And God knows, some days, some days, some glorious days, we get to shine.

The best thing about any day, is that God our Mother,
knows us and loves us.

God, our Mother, forgives and cherishes us.
God, our Mother, laughs and weeps with us.

The best thing about any day, is that God our Mother,
is always here for us.

So, have you reached out and thanked your Mother today?

Happy Mother’s Day!