Monday, July 22, 2019

Instrument of Peace sermon series # 3

   Remember how it felt to have doubts or be in despair? Maybe it was more like being uncertain about an outcome or endeavor you were working hard on or for a long time? It might have been a loss of strength or energy or motivation for the project, or a loss of relationship or new opportunity at work? The despair could come from the death of a loved one, or a broken relationship or divorce. Even faithful people have experienced what some call the Dark Night of the Soul.

   Our world seems to turn to the negative quickly as well. You may feel a Woe Is Me, and the response around you is pilling on, you think you have a woe, you should see my woe. If you think you have  trouble, you ain't seen nothing yet, see my trouble. We can be competitive in our successes and in our difficulties. It's human nature.

   Even in the sports world, that is supposed to help take our minds off of our doubts and despair, there is doubt and despair. Just a month ago, the press seemed to be ganging  up on the Washington Nationals manager because they were playing so poorly, ready to dump him, ready to criticize his decisions and the one who decided he should be the manager. Well what a difference a month can make. They are playing very well and are the hottest team in the National league. There are some examples of doubt and despair turning around.

   It's easy to jump on the band wagon of despair and doubt. Mob Mentality is very much a real thing. Even reasonable people who have great responsibilities can get swept up in negative thoughts. "Send her back" can make many people move into even more doubt and despair.

   Having faith does not excuse us from this struggle with the dark night of the soul, and St. Francis is no exception. He was in a dark period for almost two years before he was able to break free of the struggle and turn doubt into faith and despair into hope. His dark period was because he was afraid that his success and influence on his faith would dissolve after he was gone. He was afraid that the impoverished people he was relating too would be forgotten as his movement increased in influence. 

   John Wesley had the same fear that the movement to transform people would lose it's momentum and become like a monument to religious zeal, rather then continue to bless others with new found faith and discipleship. He said he was worried the people called Methodists would lose their vitality and have the form of religion without the power.

   God understands our despair and doubt and as we celebrate Christmas in July and sing carols and read scripture, it is to remind us of what the Prophet Isaiah said from exile in Babylon 700 years before Jesus came along. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in pitch-dark land, light has dawned."  Isa 9:2 (CEB).

   Jesus knew our every circumstance, which makes him such a great Savior. His mother's reputation was destroyed when they found she was with child before the marriage. Taxes were imposed and his family had to travel 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the registration and taxation and there was no room for them in the Inn, so Jesus was born in a manger with animals.

   As a young child the King decided to kill all the boys in town, so Joseph and Mary fled with the boy Jesus and they became refugees to Egypt. After Herod's death they went back home. Jesus worked in a carpenter shop, and fulfilled the family obligation of first born, to work until all his siblings were out of the house. So he began his ministry at age 30.

   It went well at first, but as time went on he continued to challenge the way people lived the  faith life in his day. He ended up being betrayed, abused, false accused, condemned to death and crucified. Talk about doubt and despair. Faith and hope came back at the Resurrection.

   Do you remember ever being rescued? Some one came along and helped you to find your way when you were lost? Or someone, a grandchild perhaps, got your phone working again? Do you remember the feeling of the turn around, of renewing your faith? Do you remember a restoring of hope? It usually came by the help from another who was able to turn your despair to hope and your doubt to faith.

   Faith can have two components. One is Faith-trust, accepting who Jesus is as God's Son and a resource for forgiveness and new life. The second is Faith-Belief, where you begin to recognize that what God has to offer you is going to be good. Hope is accepting God's future and provision for your direction and guidance. 

   Jesus said as much in the sermon on the mount, and one of my life shaping passages of scripture, shared by my parents, so often. "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than the birds.

  Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch> ( it was such a shock for me to hear this, because I have tried to be taller for a long time as a teenager.) All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

   If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You' ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met."   (Matt. 6:25-33 Message)

   The secret to turning doubt to faith and despair to hope is in following Jesus's example and seek first what God wants.

   Sister Clare, the leading woman who helped other women follow St. Francis's teachings finally found a way to help Francis out of his doubt. She prepared a feast for him and his brothers to remind him of all that God has provided for him. Like the above passage. Remember the resources of Jesus are available to you. His resurrection shows us that God can overcome every circumstance, including removing the fear associated with death, because there is Resurrection and eternal life.

   Do you remember how good it felt to help someone else? A time you rescued someone, a time you helped another? Did you tutor? or serve a meal, or gather clothes to share with a refugee family? The secret to the Instrument of peace is to SOW again, a small step that turns despair into Hope and doubt to Faith.

   Remember St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, reminds us that Faith and Hope are important, but the greatest of these, is Love.

   I'm reading a book by Alice Connor How to be Human, a book about her ministry with young college students at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. She urges those who are just growing in their faith to "Try It, You'll Like It!" a bold move to do what God shows us to do. Yoda even said this "No Try, Just Do!"

   So as you develop your instrument of peace, do, the sowing of hope and faith. Do reach out to those who are in despair and doubt. Bring rescue and renewal to the very people you know could use the Peace that is proclaimed in this prayer. Get involved in doing good. Correct a wrong. Grow in your faith and understanding, so you will have the right motive and direction to offer faith and hope. The knowledge of God is not to swell your head, but to help swell your heart. "Try It, You'll Like It!"

Pastor Jeff

Monday, July 15, 2019

Prayer of St. Francis, Part Two

   Prayer of St. Francis, Part Two:  Hatred to Love & Injury to Pardon

   Do you think revenge feels good? Have you wanted to seek revenge because someone injured you in some way, or you felt the Hatred toward you for any reason?

   Maybe you felt that way because of the injury caused by a co-worker, a team mate, spouse, family, neighbor or acquaintance? Sometimes the hurt can be awful, sometimes it’s physical, but often in today’s world, It’s emotional or psychological in nature. Maybe you have been fortunate, give thanks to God for that escape. But there is so much evidence of hatred and injury around us, we can’t help but notice or identify with those who are going through this injury and hate.

   This week the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent out a fund raising letter and a map identifying by state 1,020 hate groups in our country. The hate groups are varied like Ku Klux Klan, or Neo-Nazi or White Nationalists. All identifying a group of people as the object of their hate. The reason could be skin color, country of origin and in some cases religious affiliation. Tweets that hurt are also in this group.

   But you can understand why we have an urge for revenge or retribution can’t you? A survey of recent very popular movies contain something about revenge. Whether it be a Liam Neeson movie because someone was Taken. A Jason Bourne movie, or even the comic book heroes of the Avengers. We are surrounded by the encouragement to seek revenge and the good feelings that revenge can bring to us.

   No wonder it is so hard to practice our faith against these odds. But Jesus says in the scripture read today from Matthew 5: 28-39  Turn the other cheek, Love your enemies, if they should sue you for your shirt, give them you coat as well. If they demand one mile, give them two. If they ask to borrow, lend to them. Forgive the one who has hurt you, remember God has forgiven you.

   This is so hard to do. We will need to work extremely hard to overcome the undertow that the world we live in has created.

   St. Francis can help us a little bit here. His desire was driven by his complete motivation to become like Jesus. He wanted to be filled with God’s love, and he felt he could see and hear God speak to him about that love in the whole world around him. Nature particularly reflected God’s care for us. That’s one of the reasons for starting our worship this morning with a visual invocation of pictures, to remind us of God as we worship, so that we may be filled with that love as well. We want to turn hatred into love, to turn injury into pardon.

   Have you ever tried turning the other cheek? How did that go? Have you offered forgiveness in a dramatic way for the injury or hatred you experience? Have you gone out of your way to pardon or help repair an injury? Even if it wasn’t your fault? One of the great things about this church is it’s mission commitment, and like this past week, the volunteers who served meals at the County Women’s Shelter, were offering a pardon blessing to help people work through some injury.

   We want to find ways to be Instruments of Peace. We want to develop our inner conscience to be able to offer Peace to those who desperately need it. We want to develop the power within us to share by our actions and words, the full benefit of the Instrument of Peace, all of it.

   This is going to be very hard to do. The majority of culture, seems to want to work against this very Christ like task. And for some who claim the name of Jesus, we can become a part of the injury, our negligence can be the very reason for the injury, or the feeling of hatred. And some who call themselves Christian have done the most damage.

   We need to ask for the help of the Holy Spirit so that we can develop the fortitude to show Christ like love and be the instruments of peace, our world so desperately needs. That comes with a deep commitment to grow in our faith, to become even more familiar with God’s help, the teachings of Jesus and the fruits of the Spirit, so that we can be the channel of healing and peace. One of the avenues to develop our strength for peace, is growing more intentional in our prayer life. That’s why we did the Presence Prayer idea, as a part of our worship this morning. We should look for ways to be present with God in prayer, and to stretch the time in praying to sense that help from the Spirit.

   St. Francis wanted to be so much like Jesus that he devoted time to hear from God. And what he heard led him to help others.

   There once was a feud between the Mayor of Assissi and the Bishop, the reason was never quite clear. You see even in the 1200 there were challenges between church and state. The mayor withdrew from the church and withdrew certain resources for the church. The Bishop responded by excommunicating the Mayor and praying against him. It was very public and very nasty.

   So St. Francis added a new verse to his Canticle for the Sun, that specifically addressed the feud and taught it to the friars in his order. He then persuaded or tricked, the Mayor and the Bishop to be in the same place. The friars then broke into song, and the feuding heard the voice of God and reason and peace in the song. They put aside their injury and offered pardon, restoring a much needed sense of peace to Assissi.

   One of the words of wisdom in our section of the prayer today is the three letter word between hatred and love. The word is “sow”. This word will remind us that sometimes the outcome of love starts with a tiny seed, sown to begin to work toward resolving the injury and the hatred that exists. We want everything to be so instant and fast. We think delivery of our order by tomorrow, seems to take too long. We just want instant everything. I bought an Apple Mac Mini the other day, they upgraded that computer for the first time since 2012. I was in the middle of transferring the files when the screen said one hour and 48 minutes to completion of the transfer. Wow, I can’t wait that long…. But we must.

   To sow love where there is hatred, will also be tiny steps and take time. It will be up to us to find small seed like moments to help the love to grow. Prayers for others, words of kindness, efforts to help one another, can all be tiny seeds that will end up growing love and pardon, where there is hatred and injury.

   We need to commit to the large effort on our part to grow in faith like Christ. We need to commit to more prayer, more reading of scripture, especially the Gospels. We need to hang around others who have the same challenge and desire to sow love, like members of a congregation like ours. It will take determination to replace hatred and injury with love and pardon. But we are not alone in this.

Romans 8:31-39 The Message (MSG)
31-39 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

   So I invite you to be an Instrument of Peace. I invite you to live confidently with the Spirit of Christ so that you play a part in turning hatred into love and injury for pardon. You are not alone. We have the example of Christ to follow, we have the story of St. Francis who worked so hard to embody that spirit. We have the confidence of St. Paul that God will provide for us that strength. And we have the words of wisdom in the prayer from a hundred years ago, Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Blessings

Pastor Jeff

Monday, July 8, 2019

Needing an Instrument of Peace


Instrument of Thy Peace Prayer   A Summer Sermon Series 2019

   This summer I thought I would preach a series of sermons on the Prayer credited to St. Francis, known as the “Instrument of Peace” prayer. Listening to the news, reading the papers and the internet, it was quite obvious that we need peace. Even my own family and our church family has been hit by sudden deaths and so we are all deeply in need of peace.

   We have probably all felt a need for comfort and a desire to reduce the stress and noise that surrounds us. A prayer offering peace is much needed.

   St. Francis was only 44 when he died, but he left a huge legacy that has even grown with time. Both Catholic and Protestants admire his teaching and influence. We need the upside-down nature of this prayer, which reflects the upside down Kingdom that Jesus offered us in the sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:1-12 The Message (MSG)  You’re Blessed

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

   Francis was born into a well to do family in Assisi, Italy in 1182/3, records weren’t kept the same way we do. His family had resources because his father was a merchant of cloth, and did pretty well at it, Francis was something of a rascal. He got into some trouble and was rescued with his father’s help. He even joined the army, hoping to become some kind of hero.

   In those days a lot of the battles were between cities, and Francis was captured by the enemy. One strategy at the time was to hold the prisoners for ransom. He was imprisoned for a year, before his father came to pay the ransom to get him out. Francis was becoming more familiar with the challenges of life and not having everything go his way.

   After a conversion experience of sorts, he felt compelled to help the poor around him. He did so by giving away his father’s resources. His father tried to stop that by taking him to a church court, run by the bishop. In the trial before the Bishop, Francis decided that he would disconnect from his family in order to be fully available to God, so he stripped down to nakedness, folded his clothes and gave them back to his father and declared his total dependency on God.

   He really began his ministry when he heard a voice from God saying to him, “Repair my church.”  He began to collect money to repair the building, which was in disrepair, but God spoke to him again about the need to repair his church, not the building. He soon realized that this was a spiritual dimension and began to truly focus on God. To hear from God he became open to the beauty of nature as a sign from God. He connected to all dimension of nature, and in many ways we know him for his love of animals and creation. Even we celebrate a blessing of the animals in early October, to coincide with his death date of Oct. 3 1226.

   We can see how his influence calls us to be mindful of all of Creation.

   This prayer is surely in the Spirit of Jesus, whom St. Francis wanted to emulate, and reflects much of St. Francis teaching. But, the prayer did not come from him. It first appeared in a local church newsletter in France in 1919, as Europe was recovering from World War I. It was much needed then, as it is needed now. The prayer caught the globe by storm and it was shared and spread around the world very quickly.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, I
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

   So, to find peace this summer we begin by looking at ways we need this gift from God. Have you ever felt the need to overcome hate? Has it been directed at you, or have you witnessed it?

   Remember when you were injured, either physically, or emotionally, or found out just how limited your resources are for fixing life’s challenges?

   Remember moments of doubt? Was it doubting your friendship, or doubting your family? Was it even related to doubting that God could help you, or doubting your level of faith to handle the crisis?

   Remember your last moment of despair or sadness? We who have been close to those who suddenly died recently can certainly give a witness to that pain.

   Have you had moments in darkness? Was it not knowing where you were going or because you could not figure out the right choices to make? That depth of darkness can be from a variety of sources. Out of that darkness, you probably began to wish for someone to console you, or needing to be understood, or needing to be loved?

   So you can identify with the need for the Instrument of Peace. You can recognize the desire to have the Spirit of Jesus provide a way to overcome, or reverse or flip right side up what seems so upside down.

   One of the gifts of peace is the work of Jesus to reconcile us to God. As we share in Holy Communion this morning, we remember that Christ is offering us the peace which passes all understanding. In this Bread and Cup, his Body and Blood, we receive the very nature of Christ to find Peace. We taste and swallow and welcome into our being, the Spirit and the presence of the one who is an Instrument Peace.

   I hope you feel this gift today. And come back this summer as we explore more deeply the benefits of each of the phrases in this great prayer. Amen.

Blessings,  Pastor Jeff