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.