Monday, December 28, 2015

Of Holy Families

Luke 2:41-52
December 27, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Now here is the thing about twelve year old boys (and girls) they are apt to do things which worry us.
How could the precious infant in the manger, remember him the one whom shepherd adored. How could he grow up into a child who would worry his parents so.
Well, because he is twelve. And as anyone who has lived with a twelve year old knows, they tend to get lost in their own world and forget that someone might be worried about them.
I think every person who has been twelve years old has a story to tell about worrying their parents. When I was twelve my mother often left me in charge of the 3 younger children in my family, while she went off to work. I was also the one who took my bicycle to the grocery store, across a highway, to buy whatever it was mom needed for the day. I didn’t think anything of it. Money in hand I would take my blue Schwinn out of the garage and ride on down to the store, buy whatever was son the list, greet the meat cutters and the cashiers who became my friends, put the groceries in my sturdy wire saddle baskets (do you remember those?) and rode home. Nothing to it. But I bet my mother always breathed a sigh of relief when I walked into the kitchen and dumped the groceries on the table.
Because  you never know what might distract a 12 year old, especially when they are crossing a busy street.
And I know she breathed a sigh of relief when she returned home from work and saw that all three of us were still in one piece, because this particular 12 year old liked to become engrossed in a book.
It is what 12 years olds do. And so we shouldn’t be surprised when the 12 year old son of Mary and Joseph, and son of God get engrossed in conversation in the temple.

As a matter of fact, maybe on the Sunday after Christmas this is the best passage of all to read. Because sometime during the holiday I would bet that somewhere a 12 year old did something to worry parents, aunts, uncles, grandparent. And if not a 12 year old then maybe a 2 year old or a 6 six year old or an 18 year old.

And I bet somewhere in the last few days a mom or dad got distracted and lost track of exactly where their children were. Well, how about that, Jesus’ family, that so called perfect holy Family it just like us. Distracted, not always able to keep track of their children, with sons (and daughters) who cause them worry and seem to be more concerned for their own agenda than the family’s.

They are just like us.  A family who has difficulty being together, who knows pain and separation, and who lives each day with concerns about paying bills, going to work, putting food on the table.

Jesus came as one of us with the same trials and tribulations and distractions as we face each day. Even as a twelve year old boy.

On this Sunday after Christmas, that is good news.

God with us is just like us.

I find this comforting as I head into another year.

Today or tomorrow we will be tempted or compelled to make new year resolutions.
I hope one of the resolutions you make in the midst of all these others is this: that you will see in your life the life of God at work.

I hope that you will see in your humanness the creative hand of God. And as you see in your humanness the creative hand of God, you will be able to see the creative hand of God even in those 12 year olds, or any person of any age who worry you so.

And I know this will be hard because most of the time we are not worried about children who are in church debating theological points with the pastor. Most things that cause us to worry are hard difficult things, staying out past curfew, that smell of smoke on their clothing, that glazed look in their eyes, that six pack in the trash on Monday, those grades that are just not quite up to potential
And like Mary and Joseph the first words out of our mouths will usually be: Child why are you treating us this way. Look! We are worried about you!

But after that, no matter what it is you are dealing with, resolve to see in that child somewhere the image of the child of God that they are.
That is what it means to be holy. Seeing the Godness in those, even yourself, who make you worried. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Same Song, Same Verse: at little bit louder and a little bit worse

Malachi 3: 1-4
Advent 2, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

One of the discouraging things about studying the bible is that it seems the human race never learns from the past. From the beginnings of Genesis all the way through the stories become repetitive.
First, we hear God’s promises, follow me and you will be a blessing to the nations. Set your eyes on my glory and you will be a light shining in the darkness. Keep your feet on my paths and you will be a leader of justice and truth.

Then we get all excited. Yes, God, we say, absolutely yes. This is the way I want to live my life. I will follow you to the ends of the earth and back. You will be my God forever and ever. My life will be a blessing for all who meet me. They will know that you are God because they will be able to see your glory through my life.

It is all so good. God is pleased with our sacrifices, our way of living, our way of being. It is all so good. Except, well, look over there, something shiny and bright catches our eye. It is pleasing to the eye. We will just touch it to see how it feels. We will just look at it once in awhile to make sure it is still there. We are sure it will taste good, too. A little bite, it won’t hurt. Well, now that we have started we might as well finish it. We wonder if there are any more somewhere. So we wander off the pathway that we had started on to find out where they might be.

We look over our shoulders and we see the light of God beckoning us back. But the search for more of the shiny and bright is just too tempting. And we wander deeper into the wilderness.

Then, then, we realize we are lost, in darkness. The shiny bright thing is no longer satisfying. As a matter of fact, it tastes bitter and yet it has become addictive. We want to stop tasting it but we can’t.
Everything we touch crumbles. Our relationships are not healthy. Our lives are not blessing anyone. We want to get back to the right path but there are too many hills, we can’t see over them to know how to get back to the right path.

And worst of all, it seems that we haven’t seen God for a long, long time.

It is all just a mess. A Chaotic mess.

This is the human story that is told over and over and over again in scriptures. Our story.

And here is the astounding thing about this story. And I never get tired of reading and studying this: A Chaotic mess is not the end of the story. It is never the end of the story.
And I know you all know this. You have all experienced this in your own life. I know that I am not telling you anything you haven’t already heard.

Yet, I am trusting that you are like me: You all have to hear that this is not the end, that chaos is never the end so that you can believe it for yourself. You have to keep hearing the story in order to know how to live the story.
If you have ever been in bible study with me you know that I can get pretty excited about this.

Into our chaos, our complete and utter chaos, God comes. And not just a passive god. Not just a god who shows up and hopes for the best. Not just a god who says, there there now, it is all ok. It will be all right. No definitely not a passive god.

Malachi rightly asks: Who can withstand the coming of God? Who can endure God’s presence?
I imagine, The God who comes into the story of our utter chaos, Our God, is a little like Rosie the Riveter. She is going to get the job done. She is going to win this war against the principalities of darkness and wilderness.
She is going to roll up her sleeves and get out the washboard and the good strong soap and set her strength to thoroughly clean up this mess.

We aren’t going to be gently nudged along to the right pathway. Our God is going to take that washboard and scrub away the hills that are obstructing our paths, through God’s righteous cleansing, every mountain will be made low and all the rough places will be made smooth. We will be able to see clearly the way of God again.

And it isn’t enough just to make the way plain. It isn’t enough that we can see the path. No, Our God is going to purify us so that the bright and shiny objects no longer tempt us. The bitter taste no longer entices us. The things that bind our will and enslave our hearts no longer have any hold.

Our God kneels down and washes all traces of the dirt and dust and chaos from between our toes. Our God, stands alongside and scrubs out our ears so that we can once again, hear the voice of God speak the promises of God.
God purifies us.

But even that isn’t enough.

There is something in this passage of Malachi that is so utterly astonishing that it takes my breath away.
Not only does God purify us. God purifies us so thoroughly that we, little old us, fallible and prone to wander us, can offer to God our sacrifice of praise again.

You see when we are living in utter chaos, and we try to act like we are some kind of holy being by, well going to church or giving money or looking good on the outside, God gets pretty upset. God says you can sacrifice anything and everything and it will be worse than nothing. God says all of that stuff stinks in my nostrils.

So God, who is always willing to do all the work on our behalf, purifies us so thoroughly that our lives become beautiful sacrifices of praise. A fragrant offering, rising up to the heavens so that even the angels, themselves sigh at the wonder of it.
Well, metaphorically anyway.

This is how the story always ends every single time, with God doing all the work over and over and over again to bring us back to the beginning. To a new life. Each and every day of our lives.
There is never, ever the threat that the end will be chaos. The end will always be salvation. Always and forever.

Monday, November 16, 2015

It is Routine It is all Routine

Mark 13:1–8
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield UMC
November 15, 2015

Mark 13:1-8 from The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

As he walked away from the Temple, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, look at that stonework! Those buildings!”

Jesus said, “You’re impressed by this grandiose architecture? There’s not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble.”

Later, as he was sitting on Mount Olives in full view of the Temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew got him off by himself and asked, “Tell us, when is this going to happen? What sign will we get that things are coming to a head?”

Jesus began, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I’m the One.’ They will deceive a lot of people. When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. But these things are nothing compared to what’s coming.

This is routine history, and no sign of the end.

A whole industry has been built upon the idea that we are living in the end times. That suddenly this whole enterprise will go up in smoke and only those who are true followers of Jesus will be raptured into the heavens to reign with him forever. There is a whole industry, a whole theology, a whole lie built upon this shaky foundation.

I know a lot about this idea because it was a part of my theological/biblical training many years ago. I, for a long time, was around people who lived their lives waiting for the coming of Jesus, watching for signs of the end times, and interpreting every new disaster as indication that we were on the brink of the end.
You have seen or heard of the bumper stickers: Warning: At any moment this car may be driverless because of the Rapture. Or the one more to the point: Are you Rapture Ready?
This idea/theology/false teaching is what has created the great divide among Christians about care of the earth. If it is all going to burn up, why worry about preserving it. About the way the US conducts relationships in the Middle East. God is always on the side of the Jew and unless the Jews control Jerusalem Jesus can’t come back. About who is or who isn’t part of God’s kingdom. 
To get a sense of how divisive this is people will tell you that if they should be raptured while driving a car or flying an airplane, the casualties that result will just be collateral damage and the persons who die were gross sinners anyway so it doesn’t matter. They weren’t part of God’s Kin-dom anyway.

While it sounds ludicrous or unlikely, this whole idea has so permeated our culture that it can cause a person to wonder? What if they are right? What if there will be a Rapture and I will be left behind.

Jesus is very clear in this scripture: Watch out for doomsday deceivers. For false prophets. They will lead you astray. They will tell you that horrible things are happening and that there is no hope. Unless you are one of the elect.

But Jesus didn’t come for the elect, Jesus came for the all. For all the world. This whole idea of a certain few knowing the secret code word for eternal glory and peace is not biblical. It is not the Way of Jesus.
Who said: I am the WAY. I have come so that all may have life and have it more abundantly.
And so while faced with the destruction of the temple. For Jesus was right: soon after Jesus’ death the stones of the temple were in ruins. The Romans tore it down in 70 AD.
Jesus saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, the Romans were not going to tolerate the Jewish religion much longer.
But even in the face of that kind of disaster
Jesus says; don’t be frightened, these are just ordinary times on ordinary days.
No sign of the end.

This is good news.

No sign of the end...

When even the very stones of the centerpiece of Jewish life could lie in ruins and the this doesn’t mark the end, just a routine part of life; this is very good news indeed.

Think in your own life, what great stones have fallen in your own journey. Those things that you thought were immovable, indestructible, that would be with you to the end, world without end amen.

Think what great stones have fallen in your journey?
Was it
the moral failure of a beloved mentor,
the early loss of a loved one,
the job that didn’t go where you thought it was going to go,
the betrayal of a friend,
the deteriorating health of your body,
the estrangement of a family member

You would have never believed these stones would ever fall and be destroyed. These circumstances would ever become a part of your routine.
Yet, there they are, lying in heaps around your feet.
Tripping you up, making you to stagger and even fall.

But the end didn’t come, in spite of thinking that it might. It didn’t. You kept on breathing, just barely, but you did, the world kept on living, you even began to enter the dance of the world, small steps at a time, little movements of joy, little movements of happiness.
Eventually you moved out from the rubble of the stones and realized you were dancing enthusiastically.
Oh you still might find yourself back at the pile of stones, but you realize they are there as a part of your story now, not the end of the story, but a part of the story.
And out of that pile of rocks and stones a more perfect story has been created.
One that is deeper and broader and more inclusive than you could ever had thought possible.

I want to show you in pictures something of how this works in our world. In light of Veterans Day I want to show you photos of men and women who have overcome the horrors of war, truly the worst of the worst. Their lives were in rubble around their feet, their hope for the future dashed. Yet out of that rubble they have learned how to BE again, maybe with a limp or an altered way of getting around in the world, but their joy and determination shines in these photos.

By these photos we can see that the stones we encounter are not without their trials and tribulations, Jesus even said: in the world you will have tribulations, but I have come to over come the world.
It is not the end, it is just the routine of living in a world that it full of trials and tribulations.
There is life after death.
There is hope after despair.
There is weeping in the night but joy in the morning.
It is not the end; it is a chance for rebirth.

Go and be reborn. It is the promise of salvation to all who believe. This is the Gospel of Jesus the Christ

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

From the Mountain

Isaiah 65:17–25 and Psalm 48:1–11
Chatfield UMC
October 25, 2015
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Season of Creation Mountain Sunday

What is it like to stand on a mountain? To see over the valleys far in the distance?
We have a unique experience here in Bluff Country. We can drive our roads and have that experience of being at the top of the world, looking out over creation. I love the drive between Fountain and Lanesboro. 

At that one section of road you can look out over the valleys and see the farm fields laid out like a beautiful patchwork quilt.
I have been spending a few Thursdays this fall at Good Earth Village for conferences. The camp is situated on the top but not the topmost part of the bluff so you get a sense of being high up but also being able to look out over higher bluffs. Watching the colors change this year from month to month has been a balm to my soul.

Doesn’t it take your breath away? To take in the grand sweep of the land? We truly do live in a beautiful part of the world. And as beautiful as it is, I often wonder what it would have been like to come up over a hill and see vast expanses of the big woods spread out below.
It is said that a squirrel could travel from treetop to treetop, from here to New York without ever having to come to the earth when the big woods were still intact.

Have you ever had a sense when you were looking out across bluff country of the presence of God? That you could sense the mystery of life?
That you were in a wild world where everything was good, just as it should be, just as it was when God created the scene before you?

Frequently in the Bible, God’s prophets had visions of an ideal future, a world where the turmoil of war would cease, a world where the dreams of the past would be realised, a world where God would create peace and harmony throughout creation.

We have been exploring that period when the prophets had these visions through these weeks of the season of creation. We started with Genesis chapter one, with the writers setting down the words of creation in such a way that their hearers felt the comfort of order coming out of the chaos of captivity.
We have walked with the Israelites as they returned to their land from exile and found a land suffering from generations of foreign domination.  Over the years, the land had been abused and exploited by alien peoples. And the city of Zion, the mountain where their God once dwelled in splendour, was a shambles. The prophets reminded them over and over and over again that in the midst of the chaos God was there willing to help them restore order and peace and a sense of place. God says through the prophets: A shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse; I will not let this desolation become complete; still it won’t be the end of the world.
As I have watched Hurricane Patricia as it approaches Mexico. On the radar it is a frightening looking storm. While I shudder to think the damage the storm will do. I also know that UMCOR, we, will be there to help the people restore their land. Through our gifts to UMCOR people in pathways of destruction will find order coming out of the chaos because of the world of God’s people. This is how we become co-creators of God. Restoring order from chaos in the name of God’s work.

The dreams of the prophets are not wishful thinking. There is a return from chaos, land can be fertile again.

It is so easy to become so disheartened at the dire warnings. And become unable to think straight or do anything. As we have reflected in our Seasons of Creation we have to keep looking at all the good that is being done for our environment and planet in order to keep our focus on the creative process and not the chaos.

The people of God coming home from exile needed the same assurances. This is why I love the context of the bible so very much. The people about whom the book is written are living their lives in a relationship with God in very, very similar circumstances as we are.

As we say: The names may be different but the story is the same.

Chaos is created, either human made or naturally and God’s people struggle with faith and beliefs and truth and purpose.
The Word of God reminds us: God is in the business of creating order, hope and restoration out of chaos.

These are our stories.
The opening lines our passages from Isaiah speak of God ‘creating new heavens and a new Earth’.  First, we need to realise that the verb for ‘create’ is the same here as in Genesis One. Creation continues in the present and the future.  God did not create the world a long time ago and then retire.  And also that this is a new heaven and earth with actual cities, villages, mountains and bluff lands and great old forests. Not some far off distant place in eternity. The new creation imagined is a transformation of this creation by removing the curses that plagued the people.

I was with a young clergywoman at the Good Earth Village retreat who spoke so passionately about her love of the book of Isaiah. This is a woman who is going through some pretty catastrophic life changes. She told me on our walk together that she almost missed the fall leaves. But she was walking one day with her head down and smelled the unmistakable smell of fallen leaves being crushed by her boots. And she was able to remember. She was able to remember to pay attention to the creation that is continually being created even while she is in the midst of chaos. No wonder she loves Isaiah. It’s rich poetry and beautiful language which promises over and over again: God is about creating a new place of habitation, a new way of being.
No matter what destructive forces bear down upon us.
Besides the beauty of the bluffs and the wonderful conversation with colleagues, something else happened at the conference last week. I realized that the presenter knew someone from my past. Now, this is a part of my past that was destructive and chaotic. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to recover from the chaos. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be happy again.
Someone whom I respect even said to me: it is rare to recover from such a loss.

But as Brian, the speaker, and I shared about our past experiences and he said to me: aren’t you glad to be rid of these negative influences in your life: I could say with truth and joy, “yes” God brought me out on the other side and created something new.
God restored to me my name, my identity, my passion and my ability to love again.
And brought me here to you where we have been able to create some wonderfully new things.
A ministry of Food that brings health and wellness to the people and especially the children in town who live in hidden poverty.
A place where those with abundance can share with those who have less.
A ministry of caring for the elderly and providing medical equipment to any who need it.
(This medical equipment loan is not just for the elderly. The woman who was in the car accident on Sept 1 is using some of the equipment from our loan closet.)
A community VBS that reaches many, many children and gives them a connection with the faith community.
A ministry of caring for one another through hospitality at funerals and sewing of quilts, bundles of love, and banners.
As we live on God’s holy mountain and see before us all that is being created in God’s holy name, can we envision a new heaven and a new earth?
Can we share with one another the ways God has used us for a creative purpose? Can we share with our own hearts the way God has brought us into a place of wholeness and healing out of our own chaos?
Can we testify to our own beliefs that because God has done new things among us that God will do new things in the land.
That God’s holy mountain, where the whole earth is filled with the glory of God and where no one will hurt or destroy, can be a reality in our lives.
If this seems too utopian, can we at least share with each other those places where we see God creating new places in our lives.

Notice those places where God asks us to pay attention, even it is just walking shuffling through the leaves.