Monday, September 11, 2017

Whose Side, Which Side?

Exodus 12, The Passover
Chatfield UMC
September 10, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

This particular story of the scriptures is called the story of the Passover. It is an ancient story that is one of the central stories of the Jewish faith. It is a story about how the gods of ancient times did not have the power of the God of Moses.
It is a story about how the God of Moses, frees people from oppression. Frees people from their plight of being controlled by evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.

It is NOT a story about a vindictive god who sends plagues and death to punish.

It is about how if you chose to support a system that oppresses others, abuses power, builds edifices to your own glory you could lose your first born to disaster, you will decimate the land and create environmental chaos, your livelihood, that you thought was so secure, will be threatened, whether by economic collapse, environmental disasters or family dysfunction.

This is a story about liberation from oppression, enslavement and injustice.

And it is a story that asks the question of us: do we want to be on the side of the powerful or the side of the liberated?

And of course, we will say, we want to be on the side of the liberated. NO way would we want to be the cause of environmental destruction and plagues of locusts. We recycle, we buy energy efficient light bulbs and appliances, we would do more if we could.
And, hopefully, we recognize that we are a part of the degradation of the world’s ecology. We hopefully, recognize that every time we drive our car or truck, we are complicit in the increased intensity of the storms we are seeing. And knowing that we can be more careful about the ways we consume fossil fuel. We can be more careful to live simply so that others can simply live.

And we can be careful about the ways we talk about these natural disasters. It is not one thing or the other. It is everything together. It is not God subjecting certain places in the world to judgement for whatever reason, even the reason of building along the ocean shore. Even though that does seem a bit foolhardy.
I remember traveling coastal Florida where everyone builds their homes on 10-12 stilts and wondering, why would you risk so much for that? It seemed foolhardy to me. But then I couldn’t afford it anyway so who knows what I would do if I could????
But people aren’t getting punished by God or what they deserve for building near the ocean, they are simply accepting the risks.
Just as those who chose not to evacuate are not being punished by God.

I was asked this week if I thought the increase in natural disasters, the earthquakes, the floods, the fires, the hurricanes, was a sign of the return of Jesus? Apparently, there is that concern among some people. That we are in the end times. That this all means that Jesus is coming back soon. That God is getting ready to come and destroy it all for the sake of God’s coming?

And I said, well no, not in that way. God is coming, Jesus is coming back but not in that vengeful, judging way.
The hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes are causing Jesus to come back, but not to destroy the earth, but to heal the earth. Every time we read a story of someone going out of their way to help a victim rebuild their lives, or get out of the way of danger, or of rescue, we are seeing the hands and feet of Jesus. We are seeing the coming of Jesus among us. This is how Jesus comes back and this is how liberation works. This is how we stand up to evil. By being the hands and feet of Jesus.

We want to be on the side of the liberated. We don’t want to be on the side of evil and oppression.
We don’t want to sacrifice our first born just to prove that some god doesn’t have power over us.
That is what was at stake in the Passover story. Whose god is stronger. The god of the powerful or the God of the oppressed.

And this is where it gets really tricky. We want to be on the side of God, the God of Moses. But that means we have to be on the side of the oppressed. Which means our own needs must be looked at through the lens of the needs of the community. The whole community. Not just those who have the power but those who are at the mercy of the systems.

I was so thrilled when the school referendum passed this last year. You know, it is hard for me because I don’t pay taxes so I don’t want to and I really can’t advocate for passing of anything that impacts tax bills. However, I was on the planning commission and it was clear to me that in order for our children to have the best environment for learning, upgrades needed to be done. The school was in dire need of modernization and efficiency.
But, I know, that that means people without children will have to pay more without getting ‘anything back’. Except for a better educated citizenship and more educated people who will take care of us in our old age. Except for better property values when our school system is one of the top ones in the area. Except for the satisfaction of seeing how you have been a part of the lives of our little ones as they grow into the person God created them to be.
How easy is it to sacrifice our children without even realizing we are doing it. To think of our own needs because we no longer have children. To concern ourselves with our own bottom line because we want a better car or house or coffee or tickets to a game…
And now we are waiting with baited breath to see if children who have been here most of their lives will be abandoned by their homeland and set back to a place they never knew.
The scriptures are very clear, we are to be on the side of the oppressed. We are to be those who give aid and safety to the sojourner to the immigrant to the stranger among us.

You know that is how it was in Egypt before. The Hebrew people were welcomed into the land. They became the farmers, the builders, the engineers… But then the powers that be became frightened of the Hebrew people. They were worried that they would become too many. Would take over or something like that.
The Hebrew people are the ones who were building the infrastructure of the Pharaoh’s empire. The houses, graves and streets, working in the fields, growing the crops. Much like immigrants in America today. They were the ones keeping the economy growing and keeping food on the tables.
And yet, the Pharaoh, in all his power was afraid of them.
And oppressed them greatly.

And God rescued the Hebrew people out of the hands of their oppressor.

So, which side will we chose? The side of the powerful or the side of the oppressed? Will we work to oppose evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves? Will we align ourselves with Jesus who took on the call to
Liberate the captive, to free the oppressed, to give recovery of sight to the blind and to proclaim that all can live in the freedom of God’s kindom. On earth as it is in heaven.

Which side?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Transforming into the Person we are called to be

Romans 12:1-8
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
August 27, 2017
Chatfield UMC

Because of our conditioning and our MN nicenesss there is a piece of this scripture that we zero in on and if these words become the focus of this scripture then we will miss the importance of the rest of the scripture.

Listen again:
 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

It’s that verse: Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. That is like the most Midwestern verse of the bible don’t you think?
We who are taught from our childhood that we are less than, not worth much, just barely talented…
We hear the messages in our heads don’t we:
Who do you think you are?
Do you think the world revolves around you?
You aren’t the center of the universe you know.

And then our beloved scriptures join in on the chorus:
Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.

Thanks Paul. That was helpful.

If that becomes the verse we focus on in this passage and if this is the attitude by which we approach our Christian life we will be forever stuck in a grace less, and powerless life. And that is never ever what God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit has planned for us. NEVER.

There is another word, WORD, one Word in this verse that is more important and central to our lives than these words of seeming belittlement.
And if we listen to this word and become what this word asks of us we won’t have to worry about becoming too big for our britches. We will live lives that are balanced between proper humility and proper empowerment. We will live lives that will be well pleasing to God and of service to our neighbors. And we will be balanced in our own hearts and souls.

So that magical word is: Transformed. Actually, two words: Be Transformed.
Be Transformed.

Out of your personal degradation, your personal bullying. All that old inner messages that tells you that you are not good enough, bright enough, brave enough.

Be transformed into that person God says you are, right here right now.
The person who has a gift that can be powerful in ministry.

Be transformed in your own mind to renewal. To seeing yourself as God sees you. As someone worth dying for. As someone worth living for. As someone worth gifting with the power of the holy spirit.

Be transformed so that you can discover the gift that God’s grace has given you. No matter what it is: if it is hospitality, by hospitable as Jesus would be hospitable.
If it is teaching, teach as if the person you are teaching might someday discover the cure for cancer or the way to peace
If your gift from God is serving, then serve as if each person you serve is the person of Jesus.
If it is encouragement, then encourage until everyone you meet believes that they are capable to the most brilliant and difficult and life changing action they could ever imagine.

Be transformed, in other words, so that your life reflects the life that God has already given you. A life of abundance and grace and love and devotion and LOVE.

Be transformed as Peter was transformed. From a doubting, betraying, head strong, ordinary fisherman into the Rock on which the church of Jesus the Christ was built. What if Peter had said: I am only a fisherman. I have no education, no credentials, no amazing gifts, God, use someone else more qualified. I’m sure there is some professional who can build your church. I’ll just stay home and catch fish.

God saw in Peter a gift of love and devotion and even head strong devotion to the work of Jesus the Christ and said to Peter, it is just what I need. Be transformed. Build my church.

Did Peter get it right every time. ABSOLUTELY NOT. Oh my no. He had to be taught over and over and over again just how much he needed to be transformed, daily, moment by moment as he learned to love people he didn’t think would be lovable. But I bet he sat at his bed every night amazed, amazed at how God was transforming his life. Amazed at how God was bringing into his life people he never imagined he could love. Amazed at how God’s work was spreading throughout the world just by the faithful words and works of Jesus followers.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to see that transformation of the world as the words of Jesus became known and practiced?
As people learned that they were worthy of the life death and resurrection of God’s own son, Jesus the Christ.
As people learned that there were worthy of forgiveness, grace and love.
As people who didn’t know they could eat together at the same table, ate with joy and inclusion?
As people who didn’t know they could leave behind destructive ways of living learn how to live lives that were hope filled?
As people who thought the only thing controlling their lives was a crooked and corrupt political system learned that they actually lived in the kindom of God which is ruled by justice, mercy and grace and love?
As people learned that living out of justice and mercy and grace and love could transform not only their own lives but the lives of their neighbors, their neighborhood, their community?

As people learned that they are not the center of the universe but they are the center of God’s heart.

Wouldn’t it be amazing: Well it is amazing! Right here right now!
As we learn that we are not the center of the universe but we are the center of God’s heart.

It is amazing. That we still have the courage to bring children to this fount and declare together that we will resist evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.
That we will expect this child to grow into a person who will bear the light of Christ in the world.
That we will gather around the table and eat together even when we don’t agree
That we will fling open our doors to whomever dares enter and say to them, you are the center of God’s heart and we will learn to love you just as God loves us.

That we will believe and have the courage the believe that our own lives are being transformed into a better version of who we are through the love and grace of God in our lives as a community of God.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Shattering Our Expectations

Shattering our Expectations
Genesis 31
Chatfield UMC
August 6, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

I’m going to back this story up a little bit to when Jacob leaves his wives father’s home.
The family of Jacob, Leah and Rachel has lived long and prospered in the land of Haran. Some people would say it is because Jacob was such a good man. That he was God’s man. That is why his wealth increased and his family was doing so well. Some people would say that this was God blessing Jacob. But the bible doesn’t say that. The bible is clear that Jacob is wealthy and prosperous because he is a conniver.

His prosperity came to him as a result of tricking his father in law and being just a little-more-clever in the ways of livestock breeding.

Those of you who breed animals will understand what Jacob did to gain his fortune. He made some fences and when the animals of his father-in-law, Laban, came to the water troughs to breed he separated the weaker from the stronger. And he kept the stronger ones, while he sent the weaker ones back to Laban’s flocks. The resulting livestock was the strongest and the most colorful so that Jacob could sort out his livestock from the others.
In some ways, Laban got what he deserved. He put his sons in charge of his flocks who must not have been watching out for their father’s animals. He, obviously, wasn’t watching to his own flocks. He wasn’t managing the farm very well.
But instead of working with Jacob and helping his sons learn the trade, Laban got mad. And Jacob saw that Laban was mad.

So, self-centered Jacob decided it was time to go home.

He gets up in the middle of the night, and the bible says: Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram, to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 31)
They take off without saying a single goodbye to Grandfather Laban.

Now those of us who are grandparents can understand how Laban must have felt. Besides losing a bunch of livestock and household goods, his grandchildren have been taken from him. It is our greatest fear as grandparents that our grandchildren would be taken from us.

We would expect that someone as powerful as Laban would have demanded that Jacob return or at least give him back his grandchildren and daughters. And here is where these stories have their meaning.

Because in the midst of our expectations about how the story is supposed to go, our expectations are always shattered.
Because even conniving, sinful and prideful egotistical people like Jacob and Laban can hear God.

As Laban is pursuing Jacob to get his revenge, Laban hears a message from God: ‘let Jacob and his family go. Do not harm them, do not hinder them.
And this angry, conniving, self-centered man heeds this message from God.

I wonder what Jacob thought when Laban sets up an altar of stones and swears his protection and blessing over Jacob’s family? He has been worried that his fatherinlaw was going to come and snatch his wives and children and take them back to Haran. But instead he gets a blessing from Laban and an altar in the wilderness.
We read in the text that early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home

This is where we get the beautiful words of the Jewish Mizpah. Laban says to Jacob in a moment that must have broken his heart: “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”

From shattered expectations to renewed hope and family solidarity. I wonder if there is a lesson here for us?

I read an interesting piece this week about expectations within families. 

We have always heard that the two major threats to married life are sex and money. But, a marriage therapist said, no, those are only the symptoms. The underlying problem he said is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations.

You see we are taught, through social media and books and movies that families are places of peace and tranquility. That if we are really meant to be together as a family then supper will always be on the table when everyone gets home from work, the kids will always use polite words when speaking to their parents and other adults, there will always be enough money for all the necessities, and family vacations will renew and relax everyone.

When the reality is this: PPT

Unmade beds, toys scattered all over the house, dinner late or not at all, screaming kids, or parents in the car on the way to church, of all places…

This isn’t what we signed up for and not what we expected. And so we find ourselves frustrated.
With life, with ourselves, with each other.

One of the great thing about these biblical stories is this: families have always been full of unmet expectations. Always, even those biblical stories about people we think of as biblical heroes. As role models.

They are all, ALL, a bunch of self-centered, conniving, sinful, ungodly people who more often than not do not meet anyone’s expectations of holy living.
Until they start listening to God. Then, their behaviors begin to change into expectations of godly living. Then mean and angry men like Laban can say beautiful words that have been immortalized: May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”

Ok, so does that mean that when we start listening to God and living out of God’s way the toys will get picked up, supper will be on time and our children will be angels. And we will always have only blessed things coming out of our mouths.

Well, wouldn’t that be nice.

No, of course not. We will still live with chaos. But…when we start listening to God, who will always say to us, love one another as I have loved you. Even in the midst of chaos, anger and frustration. When we listen to God, our frustration can be turned into an opportunity to see the good in our lives. So that we can start expecting the best not the worst.

When we start listening to this message from God, daily, moment by moment, the toys laying around the room reminds us that our children are well off.
The supper that is late reminds us that we have food when others don’t and that we are necessary for the survival of the household.
The screaming child reminds us that this little being is dependent on us for their well-being and that is a tremendous gift from God.
The chaos of our lives reminds us that we are people who need God’s words in our lives to find balance and meaning and purpose. We are not self-sufficient. We are not without the need of a savior. We are not on our own with no safety net.
We are God’s child.
We are given opportunity to listen to someone greater than us who can teach us to go beyond our limited abilities and thrive as a person of God.

It is not all up to us. And shattering that expectation most of all can free us to live a life that is truly free. Free to love each other as God loves us.

(Thoughts about marriage and expectations from