Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Promise NOT a Threat

1 Thess 5:1-11
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
November 16, 2014

There are references in the passage from 1 Thessalonians that are often heard as threats rather than promises.

I don’t know if any of you went to see the movie, “left behind’. If you did the premise for the movie comes from this passage. If you didn’t, let me just say, it is this passage of scripture that people like to use to scare the hell out of people. Literally, that is what they think they are doing. Scaring people inot following God.

But I want to propose that scaring the hell out of people is not the same as leading people into a life of godliness and freedom.

Scaring people by saying: if you don’t get yourself right before God you will miss God’s coming. Or God will come like a thief in the night, like an evil person who will come and rob you of all your happiness and security. Or, you better watch out, or you will be left behind.
These threats are NOT what I believe this passage or any passage in the scriptures is about.

But it is often the way these passages are interpreted. And because of that we often worry that we will get left behind, or that God will sneak up on us and get us when we aren’t ready.
I was certainly taught this as a young person.
It has become a pervasive way of talking about and thinking about our relationship with God.
I think it is important for me to tell you that as UM’s we do not hold to this interpretation of scriptures. We do not affirm a sudden coming of God in the clouds that will whisk away all those who are saved and leave behind to a terrible judgment those who are not.
This teaching, called Rapture theology, is not affirmed by the United Methodist Church nor is it taught in the bible. I don’t have the time to explain all of this to you, but if you are interested I would be glad to sit with you and discuss this. Like I said, I was thoroughly taught this theology and have learned how destructive it is to one’s faith and one’s relationship with God and humanity.

To help us hear what it is this passage does say I want to read from The Message version of the scriptures.
I will read a little at a time and explore what is being said.
I love this interpretation.

I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.
So if this is all you would read of the passage, it does sound scary. Is does sound as if God has it out for us. And is going to sneak up and destroy everything that is making our life worthwhile.
Except, the writer isn’t talking about people who really have it made. Who really are living the dream. This is a tongue in cheek way of saying: we all walk around like we have it made, we all walk around as if nothing surprising or eventful will ever happen to us.
We don’t expect God to show up and if we do we are sure God will be just fine with everything.

The reflection in the bulletin says it very well:

It is so easy, God, to become complacent and comfortable, at ease in the social and political environment, adapting and adopting the behaviors and priorities of the world. It is so easy thinking we are living the dream, thinking that we have it made.
So the writer goes on:
But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. How could you be taken off guard by any of this? If you are really living your life as God’s people, you will be expecting God’s return, seeing God’s return every day in all sorts of places.
We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

Does this sound threatening to you? or life giving? permission giving to live your life freely, fully, aware and in an attitude of excitement and expectation of what God will do in you and through you.
Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation.
What does it look like, feel like to be dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation? Does it look somber, fear-filled,
Or is it more like wrapping ourselves in a warm cherished hand sewn quilt to shelter us from the biting cold wind of terror?
Yes, I think it is.
Is it like putting on a shield of iron to give us courage to face those who would destroy God’s kingdom?
Yes, I think it is that, too.

Is wearing faith, hope and love what we do when we dress ourselves with the traditions and teachings and prayers of the Christian community? So that we know who we are and whose we are So that we can live honorably not as those who dwell in darkness?
Yes, it is that, too.

But unlike quilts and shields and traditional garments putting on faith, hope and love is more than a surface covering. Wearing faith, hope and love, is the same as putting on Christ. And putting on Christ is transformative. It isn’t something we simply wrap ourselves in.
To truly clothe ourselves in faith, hope and love, in Christ, means that we allow Christ to completely indwell us to the inner depths of our heart.

You see putting on Christ is not about simply becoming a necer person or a better spouse or a more equatible employer or even a better worker.
Putting on Christ is becoming a radically different person.

When we put on hope, faith and love and start walking around in the light. Fear doesn’t have a chance. We are so transformed that we see the world as if it were under an open sky.
We see the world as if it has the possibility of hope, faith and love as a way of being. We don’t see it as a place that needs to be blown up or destroyed. And we certainly don’t see it as a place we need to be raptured out of.

No, instead we see the world as a place where we want to live deeply, appreciatively and radically changed so that others can experience the full grace, dignity and love of God.
So in our reflections we prayed: 
Help us trust in your mercy that we might infiltrate the world with your ways. Help us do all we can, and be all we are able to be, expecting your presence among us and the fullness of your realm on Earth. Amen.

or as the writer of Thessalonians wrote:
God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.

This passage isn’t about, beam me up Scottie, get me out of this mess. It is about keeping on keeping on so that the faith, hope and love of God through Christ and in the power of the Spirit will become a part of the very fabric of our lives. Of our neighbors lives.
So that no one will be left behind. Left behind, left out of the knowledge of the love of God.

Build up hope. Build up hope. Be transformative. Be as Christ to your neighbor.
Do you know what the scriptures really say about what happens when the fullness of God comes to the world: It is in Isaiah 11: 9
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
    the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
    a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

This is the coming of God that we await, this is the coming of God in which we participate.   This I do believe.

"Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group."

Monday, November 3, 2014

All Saints Day 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Revelation 7:9-17
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ 11And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’ 14I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then the elder said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. 16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Who are these, robed in white and where have they come from?

We see them almost everyday as we drive the freeways, highways and byways of our city. Small crosses by the side of the road, a teddy bear being slowly decayed by the weather, a wreath of artificial flowers being blown about by the wind of the passing trucks. Memorials.
Remembrances of someone who was killed in a motor vehicle accident. A mother and her child, a teenager, a father, a son, a daughter. Gone through a careless act of speed, inattention or intoxication.

Gone but remembered.
Do you know that these roadside memorials are universal? In every place I have traveled crosses or flowers sit on the sides of roadways as a remembrance. I have seen them in Chile, way out in the desert, in Jamaica, Palestine/Israel…

Especially chilling are those recent ones where the skid and crime scene paint marks of the accident are still visible. You know in seeing that, not only has someone died there, someone has recently died there.

We must be careful that these roadside memorials do not become so much a part of the landscape that we forget what they can remind us of: life ends.
How staggering; yet necessary is this message to us who are so intent on living, Life ends.

Not to dwell on this in a morbid way but in a life giving way.
It is good for us to contemplate death once in a while.
To contemplate, to consider our own death. 
For what we believe about the end of our lives has a great deal to do with how we live our lives.

We sing today of that great cloud of witness that surround us. That witness to us of life and death abundant. That great multitude robed in white from every nation and tribe. Who surround us with remembrances of their love, their convictions of living and their belief that this living and dying that we do is worth it if we see God in the midst of our lives.

But this can be a real challenge for us can’t it? For how can we speak of this? We live in a scientific age that demands we speak only of those things we know through scientific study and experience. In order to prove this is true, we need to set up a research group, develop a control group to study and conduct experiments, or at the very least we must put out a survey.
But the very nature of death gives us none of these options. Death can only be spoken about in the language of our Faith.

And for some of us the language that we have learned about faith and dying is not very comforting or hopeful.
For we have been taught that in the end we will meet God and God will judge us according to our sins verses our good works.

Now this wouldn’t be so bad if we were truly constantly and always saints. Or at the very least. Gandhi’s or Joan of Arc’s or Mother Teresa’s.

We are invited by this text to learn a new language. To be taught the truth about God, about faith, about ourselves; so that we can have the language of grace not condemnation and damnation to talk about our life and our death.

How did these white robed saints from all corners of the earth from every tribe and nations get to be the great cloud of witnesses?

Remember the story of Lazarus? The friend of Jesus who had been in a tomb for three days? Remember what Jesus did when he got to the tomb even though he was warned of the stink of the grave?
He walked up to the tomb, ordered the stone rolled away and He called out:
Lazarus come forth! Lazarus come forth!

Now notice, Jesus didn’t ask God, is it all right for Lazarus to be raised? Has Lazarus been good enough for this miracle? Does his good deeds out weigh his bad. Jesus simply and miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead. Showing to all those standing around the power and love of God.

No where in any of the Gospel stories does Jesus weigh the goodness of the people he helps.  No where!  People are healed, released from oppression and bondage and forgiven of their sins simply because God loved them. Even those who the law condemned.  For God so loved the world...

Hear of it in this way.
Today we will celebrate together the Holy Meal of God, the communion service.
We have not divided this room into those who are worthy of the supper and those who are not. You will not be asked to prove that you have done just enough good during the week before you are served the bread and cup.

We will not say in the invitation: Those who count themselves worthy of this meal can come forward, the rest of you stay in your seats. (I have been in some churches where this is the practice)

On the contrary, the invitation is without restriction. Come, come, all who desire to learn more and experience more the Grace of God. This meal is available to each one of you. The food of Christ, the Grace of God and the Power of the Holy Spirit is for each one of you. No one is forbidden. No one is left standing by the side of the road. No one is turned away hungry. 
This is the language of our faith.
Or hear it this way: from the words of Brian at the Story People  The funny thing is you were invited from the very beginning & maybe you forgot. Or listened to someone else who forgot.
But, just so you know, we're going to keep inviting you, again & again, until you remember. So, you might as well jump in now with us & start living before it gets out of hand.
At this table we know the already but not yet fully realized promise of God which we read in Revelation 7:
Who are these robed in white? They are the ones who will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; 17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and Christ will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
This love and grace and freely given forgiveness and wholeness of God is the true language of our faith. So that when we speak about death we can speak truthfully about gates being flung wide open,
for just as we are freely invited to this table, God eagerly waits for us to gather at the table of that great eternal banquet.

Who are these robed in white gathered from all corners of the world? They are you and me who eat freely from God’s table.