Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Make Me Mindful, A new Christmas Mantra

Isaiah 64:1-9
Chatfield UMC
Advent 1, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Since June 11, we have been living in what is called either Ordinary Time or the Season after Pentecost. During all those weeks, though we may not have always noticed, the scriptures have focused on the work of the Holy Spirit and on our roles, our tasks, our calling to be faithful disciples. But, as often revealed in both the readings as well as our lives, we discover that we can’t do it – we can’t save the world, much less ourselves.
And so, we begin (again!) that strange journey called Advent. It’s like a two-sided coin. On one side is that familiar path to Bethlehem, the star shining down on the manger. We need to hear and live that side again, remembering the promise that was kept.
But we also need to look at that other side, the one that is shiny because it hasn’t been used much. We need this season of Advent of waiting for the coming one, because it reminds us that ultimately God will come (when, where, how – we don’t know) to bring God’s hopes and plan for creation and us to fulfillment in justice as well as in power. 
Advent’s prophet, Isaiah, takes us back to when this coin was first being forged. He writes to those who have returned from exile, only to discover that restoring a nation, a community, a faith is long, hard, and even depressing work. They have begun to look for one who will bring hope into their despair; they long for God’s presence in their emptiness, a way of doing right and being just in a world they don’t recognize.

Two times in this passage Isaiah longs for God saying: O that you would. O, God, that you would rend the heavens and come down. Why? So that the name of God would be known to even God’s enemies. That the nations would tremble before God.
Isaiah knows that God could do this if God wanted to. Because God has done it in the past. God has led the people through the wilderness, given them bread to eat and water to drink. God has established a nation of Israel that would often be prosperous and righteous. God has provided rain and crops in their due season, fruit of the vine, and wheat of the fields.
Isaiah knows that God has done all of this and more. God has been present. Even though right now it doesn’t feel as if God is paying any attention to the people of Israel.

And why should God be paying attention; the nation is in the midst of rebellion and sin and mayhem.

When I was a child in Sunday school and Awana clubs the words in these verses were some of the scripture we had to learn to get rewards. Imagine a little child of 8 or 9 learning Isaiah 64: 6 in the King James But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Not just because the vocabulary is way beyond a child’s comprehension, but because of the message. You are all dirty rotten scoundrels and you should all just be blown away like a leaf in the wind.
Talk about bullying. Using God as a negative source of power.
Isaiah’s intent wasn’t to shame little children into being so scared of God that they prayed a Jesus prayer at the end of the lesson. Isaiah’s words were intended for the people to remember all that they had seen of God and all that they were trying to do that simply wasn’t enough to make their lives better. Isaiah wanted the people to be as Jesus asks us: to be woke, awake. Aware. That it is only when God is seen working among us can there be change that is available to everyone. Even the adversaries of God.
When we look only to our own resources we are not able to do as much as when we look to God for the ways of right living.

The second time Isaiah longs for God’s presence he writes: Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.
We are using a new translation of Scripture in our Sunday readings and I am really liking the way the translators take scripture and make it more impactful than it already is.
And this passage is one of those examples:
Oh, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.

What would it be like to be found of God going right? What would it be like to be mindful of God in our ways?

Mindfulness is a concept that permeates Buddhism and other Eastern religious practices. And Christians are not always sure what to do with this. But I think it is at the root of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. How often does Jesus and the prophets call us to be awake! To pay attention! This is what mindfulness is. .  Being mindful means to deeply pay attention. To deeply open your inner being up to awareness.  And I believe if we are mindful of even the little things, we will be mindful of the big things as well.

This is the wakefulness; the mindfulness, Jesus is asking us to be in the Gospel text. Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! It isn’t a look out. Look out for the bad things happening in the world.
It is a call to see deeply the ordinary things life reveals to us.

Using a simple example of a fig tree and what it shows us about the seasons, Jesus teaches us to be mindful: He says: “You know that summer is near when the leaves begin to come out on a fig tree.” That’s it. It isn’t difficult or rocket science. It isn’t being cautionary or cynical. It isn’t being suspicious or distrusting.

It is just staying aware. If you pay attention, you don’t really need a calendar to tell you when summer is coming. You know that summer is near when the crops begin to emerge from the ground. In the same way: You know that autumn is near when the flowers begin to bloom in the ditches.
You know that harvest season is coming when the corn turns brown.
You know spring is near when the hills begin to get that green haze.
You know that Christmas is coming when you hear the music in the malls. No, that isn’t mindfulness that is simply annoying.

Mindfulness isn’t some deep psychological mystical experience.
But it is deep awareness.

Mindfulness is being deeply aware and able to see beyond the ordinary into the patterns of life that are around us constantly. To see the hand of the creator who is ordering our days. Who is present even when we feel the divine is absent.

And in our lives, it is easy to be distracted instead of mindful.
And so we need to pray with Isaiah: “O Lord, that you would find us doing right, that we would be mindful of you in our ways.”

I think this would be a wonderful mantra for the Advent season. You know the catchy phrase: Put Christ back into Christmas.
How about this instead: Make me mindful of you, O God?

For after all, didn’t Jesus keep pointing us back to God? Not himself. But God. I and the Father are one, Jesus said. What you see me doing is just exactly what God would do if God were here.
The best way to put Christ back into Christmas is to be mindful of God in our ways.

Make me mindful of you O God.

In the trees as they are silhouetted against the winter sky.
In the laughter of the children in the store.
In the crying of the children in the stores.
In the desire to fulfill the expectations of the season.
Make me mindful of you O God.

In the headlines that remind us that there is chaos in our midst
In the chaos of the parking lots at the malls.
In the complicated relationships’ we all must negotiate.
In the sweet words of love from our loved ones.
Make me mindful of you O God.

I have some craft tables in the back for you to create your own mindfulness ornament.
Or you can just take one that isn’t embellished. Or you can invite a child to help you fancy up one for your home. Whatever, just be sure to take one home with you to help you in your journey into Advent.
For this is always what Jesus calls toward, in everything we do, including
In the eating of this bread and the sharing of this cup

Make us mindful of you O God.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Click on the Links for the Music

Thanksgiving 2017
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

The hymn numbers are from the UMC Hymnal and the Faith We Sing hymnals of the United Methodist Church

ONE:    Your God is bringing you into a good land, with streams and rivers and springs of water,
TWO:   a land which will produce great amounts of food for everyone.

ONE:    No one will ever be hungry or ever be in need.
TWO:   The earth will provide enough minerals and resources for everything we could ever imagine.

ONE:    And you will give thanks to God for all that God has given you. (Pause.)
TWO:   Make certain that you do not forget God. When you have all these wonderful things at your disposal, use them in ways that are pleasing to God. (Pause.)

ONE:    Do not become proud and forget God, and all that God has done. (Pause.)
TWO:   You were once slaves (brief pause). God brought you into freedom, gave you water in the desert, and fed you when you had nothing to eat. (Pause.)

ONE:    Do not say to yourselves “we have done it all ourselves. Everything we have, we earned with our own hands and hard work.” (Pause.)
TWO:   No. Everything you have is a gift from God. Everything. (Actors exit.)

This is an unusual weekend following Thanksgiving. This year is not the 1st Sunday of Advent. So while the rest of the world is already caught up in the Christmas season, we in the church have an opportunity for one more Sunday to be firmly in the Harvest Season. The season of Thanksgiving.

The season when we still believe that everything is a gift from God…
Next month, everything will be a gift. But it will come from grand parents, uncles, cousins, parents, partners and even people you don’t particularly like.

It will be hard to say everything is a gift from God next month because our gifts will all come with gift tags and the name of the giver will be clearly seen.

You know I’m being facetious, right? Even next month, everything is a gift from God. But it kind of all gets eclipsed in the amazing abundance and complications of the season.

So it is good that we pause, right now, after the Turkey and Black Friday. After the chaos of a meal, and the coming chaos of a season, to remember, to Give Thanks. With a Grateful Heart

I love the words of this song. Let the let the weak say I am strong poor say I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us. All of us are weak and strong, rich and poor. And it is so important isn’t it, that those of us who can give gifts to anonymous people because we are willing to share our abundance with others, it is good for us to be reminded that even the poor are rich and the weak are strong when their hope and confidence is in God.

That it isn’t our gifting that is the important thing, it is our hearts being thankful to God for the abundance we have, for the ability we have to give. That it isn’t our giving that makes us powerful or well off, it is the heart that God gives us to be people who want to share with others. People who want to say thanks back to God by being those who give generously.
I love that we are anxious every year to get the mitten tags to guide us in our giving to those who have little. I love that we are generous with our giving.
I love it because it shows our hearts turned toward God and neighbor.

It is our God who makes us good and generous and grace filled. Because we remember that God has been good and generous and grace filled toward us.

In this season of thanksgiving and giving we thank God for changed hearts and ask God to continue to give us hearts that are grateful and grace filled.

Change My Heart O God         2152

We are the clay. The scripture says, what clay would say to the potter why did you make me this way? It would be ridiculous. Imagine one of your vases at home, or one of your handmade mugs looking at the potter from the wheel or work bench when it was being made and saying: just what were you thinking making me this way? Couldn’t you have made me bigger or more important more attractive? Or something else all together?

But a real piece of clay, if it could express emotions, would say thank you, thank you for making me useful. In whatever shape or purpose, it was created to be. Because as clay it isn’t worth very much. Just a pile of wet mud. But as a cup or a vase or a plate or a sculpture it is useful and needful and sometimes even precious.

Even when it is cracked or chipped or aged. We need to be reminded often of the old Japanese practice of repairing a damaged piece of pottery with precious metals. Gold, silver. So that the damaged vessel is even more precious than the original.

God is the potter, we are the clay. And if we allow our hearts to be grateful for who and what God has created us to be, we will become like Who said, I and the Father-God are one. Who said, “I am fed by doing the will of the one who sent me and by completing God’s work.” Jesus who said: Not my will but thine be done.

As we learn to live with grateful hearts, we will become like Jesus.
And we begin to see others as the Christ among us.

But it is hard being that Christ like person. Especially around our dinner tables when uncle joe keeps baiting you with those snide remarks. I know that the gatherings around our tables are not always like Norman Rockwell paintings. I know that our neighbors are not always easy to get along with. I know that our co-workers can drive us crazy at times and seem petty and bad tempered.
I know.
I know that one of the pleasures of this season is watching all the feel good movies. Where in the end everything turns out for the best.
I know.
I know seeing Christ in everyone is very, very difficult.
So, it isn’t seeing Christ in everyone that we are striving for. It is seeing Christ in the person right in front of you. The one right beside you.
Not everyone. Just the one. Just the one.
God isn’t asking us to love everyone all the time. Just the one person we are dealing with at the moment. Just the one person we are looking in the eye at the moment.
Universal love is what God is about.
Universal love is what Jesus did on the cross.
What Jesus taught us is to love the one person who is right before us right now.
The Samaritan woman at the well, the sleeping child who needs healing, the beggar who wants to see, the disciple who wants to understand.
Not everyone. Just someone.
The child, the youth, the aged; and so we pray, God, give us a grateful heart with which to love your child.
The one right in front of us.

Being grateful has become a trend right now. There are whole Pinterest boards filled with ways to be more grateful. There are books written and celebrities like Oprah who have made a business out of gratitude. Unlike others who call us to have grateful hearts, to do gratitude journals, to transform our lives through happiness jars; we are given the most perfect gift. The one that doesn’t require a jar, slips of paper or an outlay of expense. We have been given the free gift of God’s holy name planted in our hearts. The breath of God embedded in our being. A name and an identity that gives to us godly knowledge and faith. So that we can see, not just the trials of life but the ways those trials reveal the presence of God. 
We don’t have to do this work of gratefulness alone. The Spirit of God works within us to renew us day by day. The
And so we sing in thanksgiving and preparation for prayer:

Monday, November 20, 2017

Don't Get Let Out of the Car

Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
November 19, 2017

These Kindom of heaven parables sound so harsh. If you don’t keep your lamps full of oil you are going to be shut out. If you don’t put your money in the right place you are going to be called worthless and thrown into outer darkness.
These don’t sound like the Jesus we all know and love and count on to be gracious in the midst of our own failings and stupid choices.

So, those of you with children…have you ever been on a long car ride…the kids are in the back seat hitting and yelling and spilling their juice and it has already been a long day on the road. The kids are really making the trip unbearable and even dangerous because you are so distracted. Have you ever yelled to the back seat…IF YOU DON’T STOP RIGHT THIS MINUTE I AM GOING TO STOP THIS CAR AND YOU WILL HAVE TO WALK THE REST OF THE WAY!

Have you ever made threats like this that you know you could never carry out because you love your children way too much? You would never put them in any danger let along leaving them by the side of the road. But you need to get their attention. So you speak in the language hyperbole. Exaggeration.

Or do you remember how we used to say “you think I am mean now just wait until I really mean it?” Were you really going to beat your child within an inch of their life? Well, hopefully, no. But it was a good way of getting their attention and letting them know you meant business.

One of our favorite stories from this year’s trick or treating downtown is about a little boy. Paula Bessingpass was handing out little packages of candy corn. Paula asks each child to say “trick or treat’ before giving them their candy. Well, this one little boy looked in her treat bucket and said, “what’s the point of trick or treat? I hate candy corn!’ His mother was not happy with her son and she gave him a sign that he was in trouble for being disrespectful and ungrateful. Suddenly this little guy burst into tears. He knew what he had done was not acceptable and could only react to his mother’s disappointment by crying. Paula felt so bad. She keeps saying, I made a little one cry.

None of us want to make little ones cry. But there are times when we have to get our point across in ways that seem harsh or overstated. 

Jesus, as a person who dearly loves us and is very clear that his message is a vital message for the salvation of the world, speaks in this over the top language to help us understand just how very important our lives are in his work in the world.

It is not enough that we say we love Jesus or that we say that we are Christians or that we practice our faith for our own sakes.
We must be about the work of spreading the work of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the grace of Jesus, the justice of Jesus throughout the community.

You see, the kindom of heaven, the commonwealth of God, is not to be sheltered under a rock. It is not to be hidden away for fear of corrupting or bad influences.
The commonwealth of God is to be invested wildly, with abandon. With risk. Without concern for its safety. Or protection.

You know we are all concerned for the future of the church. For the dwindling numbers in worship. The struggling SS classes. The lack of involvement in church functions.

So, the thing what we shouldn’t do is start protecting the church. Burying its assets for fear that they will get lost somewhere.
What we shouldn’t do is go quietly into that good night.

We should be shouting from the rooftops: we have something here and we want to share it with you.
In a world that is so divided and hurting and disconnected and sad. So very, very sad…When even our heroes are showing their vulnerability and sin, we need to be letting the neighborhood know: there is a place you can come to that will lighten the load. That will give meaning and purpose to all this chaos and disorder.
That will give you a place to belong.
A place to speak about your doubts and your fears and your disillusionment and your grief without always feeling like you are the only one who feels this way.
A place that will let you know that you are beloved by God.

You know for people like us it is hard. Hard to brag about who we are and what we do. Hard to say, we have something better for you.

But think of the ways you tell others about the things in your life that are important to you. Things like your favorite restaurant.
How do you tell others about that? You will ask them, have you tried it? Let me tell you about my favorite thing on the menu. And about the atmosphere. And the wait staff who are always so helpful and friendly. There is nothing so awful as a restaurant with grouchy help, no matter how good the food.
But when it all comes together and you have an experience of great food, conversation and ambience you will want to tell others about it.

I’m in a conversation group with a young man who is passionate about his job. He wants to tell everyone about how important it is for people with cognitive disabilities to be honored and to be engaged in exercise that enhances their abilities. He gets so excited when he talks about the changes he sees in his clients and the advances in exercise for the disabled.
He passion is contagious. And even though none of what he does applies to me directly; it makes my day so much brighter to hear his enthusiasm.
Do you know how many times people come up to me and tell me that the stories they hear about this church encourages them? How what we do makes them believe that the world is a better place?

But what would happen do you think if you all shared these stories. People expect me to tell the stories, to brag and to try to get people to come. It is my job, after all.

But what would happen if you said: let me tell you about confirmation Sunday. Let me tell you how we saw young people committing their lives to the church, in this day and age when no one commits to anything and particularly the church.
Or let me tell you about our baptisms, how the children come up and bless the water and how they know how to take communion because we believe everyone is welcome at the table.

Let me tell you about that, that everyone is welcome here. You don’t have agree with the pastor all the time. You don’t have to agree with each other. You don’t have to be a certain way. You don’t have to even believe all the time.

What if you would take your tiny bit of excitement and instead of hiding it for fear of feeling foolish or like someone who is bragging, what if you would throw it out with abandon to the wind and spoke those words that might change someone’s life?
Notice it doesn’t matter in the parable how much is returned, only that we haven’t hidden what we’ve been given.

It really upsets Jesus when we hide the work of God in the world. It’s kinda like he is yelling at us; saying what do you think you are doing? Don’t make me come down there again.
It won’t be pretty.
Because the message won’t change.

Don’t bury your treasures. Don’t bury the story.
Don’t bury the work of God.

Fling the stories out to all the corners of your world. In the restaurant where you are having coffee. When you are visiting your neighbor. When you are exercising at the gym. When you are out walking your dog.
Wherever. Tell the story.
Let the stories of Jesus go into the world.
Who knows what will come of it.  Just know that you will make Jesus happy.