Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Open Hearts, Open Doors

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Chatfield UMC
June 14, 2015
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Last week we touched very briefly on the beginnings of the monarchy in Israel. Before there were kings in Israel there were Priests and Judges. Moses, for example was a Judge, Deborah was a judge. These people helped mediate disputes, made sure there was some order in a very loosely knit society and were often military leaders. Judges were also prophets. They spoke the word of God into the lives of the people of Israel. When Israel forgot who their God was and began following other destructive paths, the judges would call the people back to their rightful worship.
Before the times of the kings, Israel was primarily a loose confederation of tribes connected by religion not politics.

Israel was primarily a society formed and held together by a faith in one God.

I think this is why God was not happy with their desire to have a king. While Israel was not particularly holy in their actions during the time of the Judges, it was very clear to them that the reason they stayed together was because of their shared belief in the God of Abraham and Sarah.

Now along comes a request for a monarchy. Give us a king. Samuel, the judge, priest and prophet tries to talk the people out of this request.
You are going to regret this, he tells them.
A King will take this thing that you have got going and change it so drastically you won’t know who you are anymore.
You are the people of God, the children of God. God is now your ultimate authority. When you go astray, God brings you back with the Word of God spoken by the prophets and priests and judges. With a King you will become a people subject to another authority. You will have to decide, will I follow God or will I follow the King?
You will have to pay taxes and if you don’t follow the king the way the king wants you will have to pay more taxes. Your children will be conscripted into service to the king. Even your servants, even your servants will be taken from you and given to the king’s service.

You will no longer be only the children of God, you will become subjects to a king.
Your loyalties will be divided.

But the people wouldn’t listen. They saw kings in other lands and wanted what their neighbors had. Remember what happened in the Garden of Eden with that darned fruit? The man and woman saw the fruit and saw that it was pleasing to the eye, it looked so good, surely it would be just what they needed to eat….

The people of Israel saw the kings in other lands, it looked so good, surely it would be just what they needed to become a great nation…

Sometimes we talk with chagrin about walking around with blinders on. Like that is a bad thing. But sometimes we need blinders, to keep our eyes from wandering into those places they should not go.

We don’t sing, Open my eyes that I may see everything in the world so that I can decide what is best for me, so that I can see those things that others have so that I can want them too. No, we sing, Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou has for me.
Open my eyes so that I can see truth.

Open my eyes so that I can keep my eye on you, God.

Throughout the stories in the bible, this will be a reoccurring theme. How do we see? What do we see? What do we do with what we see?

How do we see? Are we seeing with the eyes of God? Are we seeing ways to increase our own status or are we seeing the ways we can live within the center of God’s desires. The first King of Israel, Saul, ended up seeing the ways he could increase his own honor and status. Saul did not rely on God to direct his life. Saul did what most of us do: followed God just enough to look good but not enough to completely give it all to God, literally.
If you read the story, it is almost comical. Saul was commanded to conquer a nation and destroy all the animals and livestock. In other words, Saul was not to get rich from the spoils of war. But the honor and gain were to tempting to Saul. Seeing all the fine animals and livestock, Saul kept them alive.
When Samuel confronted Saul he said: O Samuel, I just meant to keep them so that I could sacrifice them to God. They are such fine animals. It is a shame to not give God a proper sacrifice with them.

But God had not asked for sacrifice. God had asked for obedience. Open my eyes that I may see, truth. Open my ears that I may hear, only the truth not some made up version of the truth. Open my ears that I may hear only what gives glory to God, not what brings glory to me. No matter how well I can justify it.

Oh God, I am doing it for you as a sacrifice. No, I didn’t ask for a sacrifice. I asked only for obedience.

Well, since that king didn’t work out it was time to find a new king. So of course you are going to look for the newest model with the best features. Tall, dark, handsome. The eldest son of a prominent family.

Well, no actually, how about David. Who is so insignificant that he is out in the field tending the sheep instead of at the house greeting the prophet.

I often find myself remembering these words from the Scripture: Humans look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.

We don’t know what David looked like. He was probably ordinary and sunburned and a bit ragged around the edges considering he was a shepherd.
He certainly wasn’t what one would expect for the leader of a great nation. He hadn’t had any training in the military, in politics, in diplomacy. Yet, he was God’s choice for this moment in history.

Now we all know that David will not be perfect.  He will break all sorts of commandments, he will murder, he will commit adultery. He will even worship idols.
Yet, even in this, humans look at the outward appearance, at outward behaviors, at outward ways of doing things and we see sin and ugliness and waywardness and we wonder…We see David as a sinner and wonder how could he be, as the scriptures say, the apple of God’s heart??

Because God looks at the heart. As much as David was a sinner, David was also a man whose heart was turned to God. And that makes all the difference in the world.
Even in the midst of his sin, David knew to cry out to God and reach out to God. His heart was never hardened, never far from the heart of God.

And here’s the thing: if we didn’t have the full story in our bible we wouldn’t know the story. Fully. We would only know David the sinner, great king but great sinner.
Someone we would have a hard time respecting. Someone we would not want to call a man of God.

How would our story be changed if David’s story was no longer part of our story because we wrote him off as a sinner not worth talking about? Or as a person that we loved to gossip about?

Thankfully, God has given us the full story and assured us that David, like all other sinners, can be the apple of God’s heart.

Food shelf….(how will we welcome those who come to the new food shelf? Will we judge by their clothing? their car? their family? Will we judge who is worthy? Or will we treat all as children of God? Giving freely so that all can freely know the love of God and honor they have in the eyes of God.)

Let us keep our hearts close to the heart of God so that we can see with the eyes of truth. So that we can see God’s people, God’s heart.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Filling Us With Forgiveness

Isaiah 6:1-8
John 3:1-17
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

There was a meeting room I used to frequent. It was in a school district’s main office building. It was the room in which we wrote policy and procedures, decided on granting guidelines and determined how to run a non profit arm of the Osseo School system. In other words, I spent many hours in that room in meetings that were intense. I functioned in those meetings as a community member from the faith community. In other words, I was a pastor as well as a community member. This becomes important in the story.

In an effort to be energy efficient a lighting system was installed in that room that didn’t work very well.
It is set up so that as the sensors detect movement the lights go on. As long as movement in detected in the room the lights stay on.

However, there was a small glitch in the system, you had to move a lot in the room in order for the lights to stay on. Now if you have been at meetings you know that the longer the meeting goes the less animated the people around the table become. And these were long, long, intense meetings. Not boring, just long and intense. We got a lot of good work done at those meetings. But they were long. And we didn’t move around a lot. 

So as we were in the midst of making decisions and forming policy in this room, the lights would go out. In a room without windows, in the middle of a building. We would suddenly, without warming be plunged into darkness. Over and over and over again. The only way to keep the lights on was to move. But you could never anticipate when the lights would go out.
So I developed a techinique of every once in while, waving my arms above my head which worked very well. The lights stayed on. But this technique must also have looked somewhat pastoral or liturguical  because inevitably someone would say,
“Oh oh she is getting the attention of her ‘boss’ we’d better watch out.”
We’d better watch out. God might be showing up.

It seems no one wants to be in that room when the holy God comes calling. What about it? Does the idea of standing in the presence of the Holy God have you shivering in your boots

The beginnings of this passage of Isaiah is awesome:
I saw the Lord High and lifted up and his train filled the temple. royal robes acres of royal robes, gold shining robes miles and miles filling every corner.

Sephardim with their eyes and feet covered, great wings sweeping upward to fly, great heavenly beings bent low in adoration, in fear,
Great heavenly voices echoing off the chambers of the deep, shattering the stars in their courses whispers sounding louder than the greatest noise of a hurricane,
Shouts beyond the hearing, crying Holy     Holy     Holy
The whole earth is filled with God’s glory.

Earthquakes and tremblings, thundering and lightening. No one, no one can stand. No one no one can look..

If this God showed up in our meeting rooms we would be shivering in our boots.

We duck and cower and cover our heads and say with Isaiah: Woe is me, I am a sinner, I am lost,, I am of no worth. My lips and my people’s lips are so smut-filled I have no hope no future no identity before such a God.

Standing before a holy god, The very idea strikes us with grave fear. We know our sin and know that we stand no chance before holiness.
We read of our sinfulness in the paper every day. We contemplate it as we watch the news. It isn’t just personal sinfulness that we lament, not just our own shortcomings and horrors but the horrors of the world.
What would God want to do with us, we don’t care for the lost or the least or the oppressed. We look out only for our own interests. We speak out only when we are threatened. We stand up only when our household is threatened.

What would God want to do with us. Nothing, nothing.

And here is where most of us leave it.

We are too sinful to be considered by God as worth anything.
Jesus may love us, but everyone else and God thinks we are worthless.
Jesus loves you but a holy God certainly can’t.

Well, good thing God and his angels don’t just sit around filling up a temple with wings and robes. And earthquakes and falling stars.

As Isaiah utters his lament: Woe is me for I am a sinner and my lips are smut filled. An angel is dispatched. Not a bigger earthquake to affirm Isaiah’s sin. Or a tsunami to wipe out Isaiah’s sinfulness. As people claim when earthquakes and natural disasters happen. You heard it when New Orleans was devesated by a hurricane: It was God’s wrath on their sin. Or when a tsunami struck in the south pacific. It was God’s wrath because they are Muslim.
When Isaiah cries out: I am a sinner, I am a worthless sinner.

An angel is dispatched with a burning coal touches the lips of Isaiah and cleanses and cleanses Isaiah from his lostness, Makes clean smut filled lips and hearts.

Julian of Norwich sees it like this:
Sin! What are you? You are nothing... I saw in a vision that God is everything, But sin--I did not see you.
When I saw that God had created everything, I did not see you
When I saw that God does everything that is done, I did not see you.
And when i saw the Lord Jesus christ in my soul, I did not see you.
And so sin, you do not exist.
And I am sure that the people who enjoy sin will find themselves with nothing in their hands when they are done.

Sin that thing which we are sure separates us from a holy god is nothing.

Vision God: you do not see sin
Vision Creation: you do not see sin
Vision God continuing to create: you do not see sin
Vision Christ resurrected in glory: you do not see sin
Vision the Holy Spirit in you: Oh that is harder isn’t it.

Try that again
Vision The Holy Spirit really in you: Spirit Christ dwelling in you, Spirit God filling up your life as God’s train filled the temple into every corner
Feel Spirit God filling you to your finger tips, your toes, the hairs on your head, completely

It is easy to vision sin filling us. Could it be that we treat sin as if it has more power, more truth, more validity than God? Than the work of Christ on the Cross. Than the power of the Holy Spirit within us?

Would you say to the angel that touches your lips with God’s forgiveness and love: that is not enough, I won’t hear you when you say: “your sins are blotted out”

I won’t believe you when you say: Your guilt is gone.

Are you willing to say to the Christ who fills you: What you did for me was not enough
Are you willing to say to the Christ who died for you and lives now in you: My sin is more powerful than your love?

For what does the scripture say: God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, to point fingers at the world and destroy the world, God sent his son into the world so that the world might be saved, so that sin would no longer have the power

God is everything, just as Julian of Norwich wrote. God is everything. Sin is nothing.
So we can stand before the holy God, filled with that holiness to the very core of our being saying able to say with confidence Here am I Lord, send me.

When you are tempted this week to focus on the smut filled lips of your lives, stop, feel the coal of cleansing on your lips. Feel the heat, feel the raw power of forgiveness. Forgiveness that burns away and reduces to ashes the power of sin, Sin, it is nothing.

Allow this Spirit of God to fill you to the very corners of your lives. It is the power of Christ in you. It is the trinity doing its work within you.