Monday, February 22, 2016

Feb 21, 2016 Sermon: "The Fifth Stage"

Stephen Baldwin
OT: Psalm 27
NT: Luke 13.31-35

                Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a Swiss psychiatrist who worked with terminally ill patients.  She became one of the world’s leading experts on death and developed what we now call the “Five Stages of Grief.”  They apply to grief of all sorts—grief over death, pain, hurt, regret.  These are the five stages. 
                Denial.  This isn’t really happening.  I’ll pinch myself, wake up, and realize this has all been a terrible dream.
Anger.  Frustration boils over.  We lash out, we kick and scream and fight. 
Bargaining.  As if we are lawyers in a negotiation, we try and bargain with God.  If this will all just go away, then we promise to be better people and live a better life. 
Depression.   We give up.  We say, “What’s the point?” 
Acceptance.  We somehow finally realize that despite how messed up things are, it will be alright. 
When you grieve, you don’t go through these stages in some simple, sequential order.  You’re not in denial for a day, angry for a day, and so on.  You bounce back and forth between these stages for months if not years. 
                Jesus was human too.  He grieved like we do.  By today’s reading, I think he had completed his stages of grief by arriving at acceptance.  He didn’t like Herod, he wasn’t satisfied with his disciples commitment, and he had to be beyond anxious about what surely awaited him in Jerusalem…but he accepted it.  He accepted all of it. 
                Do you ever feel like Herod is out to get you?  Do you ever wonder if even those closest to you understand you?  Do you ever get tired of the rat race of conflict? 
                Jesus teaches us that peace is not the absence of conflict but the acceptance of it.  He found peace by accepting his situation, and we can too.  Amen. 

Feb 14, 2016 Sermon: "Into the Wilderness"

Stephen Baldwin
OT: Deuteronomy 26.1-11
NT: Luke 4.1-13

            If you were to go on a wilderness excursion for 40 days and 40 nights, what would you take?  What items would you put in your backpack?  Tent.  Layers of clothing.  Toothbrush.  Toilet paper.  Water bottle.  Cooking utensils.  Bug spray.  Sunscreen.  Knife.  Food? 
Luke says Jesus didn’t take any food.  That could’ve just meant he was observing a Jewish fast, which means he could eat after the sun goes down.  But I think food would be the first thing I’d pack…and lots of it.  So if Jesus didn’t take any food—or at least mot much, what else did he not take?  Layers, toothbrush, toilet paper, water bottle, utensils, sunscreen?  Doesn’t sound like it.  I don’t think he carried a pack at all, because he only took one thing with him.  Luke says he was full of the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit that convinced him to go in the wilderness in the first place. 
            Lent began this week on Ash Wednesday.  Most Christians don’t have a clue what Lent is, much less know how to act during it.  It has become popular to give something like chocolate or social media up for Lent.  I’ve always thought that concept was a little silly, because how much lighter is your load going to be if you give up just one thing for 40 days? 
            Lent is supposed to hurt.  It’s supposed to be a time of sacrifice.  Jesus lived in the desert for 40 days without a pack.  He didn’t just give up one thing; he set down his whole life.  
             Does he want us to quit our jobs and go live in the woods?  I don’t think so.  But Lent is supposed to hurt a little.  He wants us to learn that we’ve come to rely too much on things that don’t matter and rely too little on the Holy Spirit that does matter. 
            So this Lent you may want to give something up.  Fine.  But make it something that matters.  Something that hurts a little.  Or instead you may want to do something positive for the world.   Great.  Make it something that matters. 

            Whatever you choose to do or not do this Lent, remember that you don’t need all those things on which you’ve come to rely so heavily.  They just weigh you down.  All we really need, we have…and it comes as a gift of God.  Amen. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Feb 7, 2016 Sermon: "Lost in a Cloud"

Stephen Baldwin
NT: Luke 9
Lost in a Cloud

            Have you ever woken up, all snug in your bed on a cold wintry morning, perfectly content after a good night’s sleep, secretly wishing you could stay right there all day long?  You know you can’t, because of work or kids or doctor’s appointments or chores, but you want to hold onto that moment as long as possible.  Before you go out into the cold and chaos of the world, you want to savor the warm sensibility of your bed.  Have you ever felt that way? 
            I imagine that’s precisely how Peter, James, and John felt on the mountain in today’s reading.  They had left the chaotic crowds in the valley below and gone with Jesus up on the mountain for some R&R.  After sitting down to pray, they’d fallen asleep…or nearly fallen asleep, the text isn’t crystal clear.  It was no wonder they were tired.  They’d been working double shifts for months on end, traveling the countryside with Jesus, helping every widow and orphan along the way. 
            Like we’re want to do when we straddle wake and sleep, the line between dreams and reality grows dangerously thin.  Are they dreaming?  Are they awake?  Can this be?  Do they really see their teacher Jesus, glowing and shrouded in white, surrounded by the two greatest Jewish men to ever live? 
“Is that….no.  It can’t be,” I imagine Peter saying.
“You know, I think that’s Moses,” says James.
“And Elijah!” John adds.
Like someone lying in a warm bed on a cold morning, they just sat there, lost in the
moment.  They watched the three men, Jesus (their rabbi, who said he was the son of God but they weren’t totally convinced, not yet anyway), Moses (who brought God’s law to the people years ago and was basically the Jewish George Washington—the original founding father), and Elijah (God’s most famous prophet who had been whisked away to heaven without explanation generations ago).  It had to be surreal.  On this Super Bowl Sunday, it would be like throwing a football around in your backyard with Joe Montana & Johnny Unitas.  I imagine the disciples rubbing their eyes, pinching each other to see if this was all a dream. 
            Moses and Elijah began to vanish from sight, and Peter cries, “They don’t have to leave!  We’ll set up tents so they can stay.”  Peter wanted to stay.  He wanted to hold onto that moment--tightly, rather than descend the mountain into the chaotic crowds which surely awaited them. 
            Suddenly, the weather changed, which you know can happen quickly on ridge tops and mountains.  A cloud of fog envelopes them, and a voice cried out, “This is my son.  Listen to him!”  Surely, they must have rubbed their ears, still wondering if this surreal day was a dream. 
As quickly as the cloud came, it vanished.  Moses and Elijah vanished too, and only Jesus was left with his disciples.  He never responded to Peter’s offer to put up tents, perhaps because he didn’t plan to stay long.  The next day, they went back down the mountain.  R&R was over.  As soon as they came down, the crowds met them, bringing their diseased and dismembered for Jesus’ healing touch.  No one spoke of yesterday’s events, for Jesus had told them to keep quiet. 
            And it’s no wonder.  Who would’ve believed them?  Moses had been dead for hundreds of years!  Elijah was taken up by God in a cloud, and the Jewish priests taught that he would only return in preparation for the messiah!  It would’ve been the perfect chance for Jesus to prove he was the son of God, as the fulfillment of the law Moses brought and the prophecy Elijah gave so many years ago, but he told them not to say a word.  And they didn’t. 
            Have you ever woken up, all snug in your bed on a cold wintry morning, perfectly content after a good night’s sleep, secretly wishing you could stay right there all day long?  Before you go out into the cold and chaos of the world, you want to savor the warm sensibility of your bed.  What a wonderful feeling that is for us, and what a wonderful feeling it must have been on the mountaintop for Jesus.  He stayed for another day, perhaps to pray a little more and rest a bit…but mostly to savor the moment.   
When the time came to go back, no sooner had the crowd come into sight than a man came begging for help.  He said he asked the disciples to heal his daughter, but they failed. 
            “You faithless and perverse generation!” Jesus barks.  “How much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”  If the disciples had been scared by the voice from the clouds, this side of Jesus must have terrified them.  Who is he angry with?  Is he angry at the man for bothering him…the disciples for failing to help the child before…or at the whole lot of them for all their begging and pleading and misunderstanding?   Whatever the reason, it’s not enough to keep him from doing what he does.  He heals the child. 
            Mountaintop experiences are supposed to provide clarity.  When you see everyone and everything from above, it’s supposed to make it all clear.  Today we’ll all watch the Super Bowl from the comfort of our couches and cameras over top the field, and we’ll be able to see exactly where Peyton Manning should throw the ball and where Cam Newton’s running holes are.  But if you’ve ever played on the field, you know that it’s not that clear when you’re in the thick of it. 
            Neither is life.  Sometimes even on mountaintops, the fog of life clouds our vision.  We can’t see clearly.  Peter, James, and John could see Christ’s glory on the mountain, which simply means they could see God’s presence in him as if he was glowing.   If only for a day, they could see it.  But as quickly as it appeared, it vanished.  What were they to make of it?  What are we to make of it?  What does transfiguration mean for us?   
            My favorite preacher, present company excluded—Barbara Brown Taylor—says it means this: “Today you have heard a story you can take with you when you go.  It tells you that no one has to go up the mountain alone.  It tells you that sometimes things get really scary before they get holy.  Above all, it tells you that there is someone standing in the center of the cloud with you, shining so brightly that you may never be able to wrap your mind around him, but who is worth listening to all the same--because he is God's beloved, and you are his, and whatever comes next, you are up to it.”  Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jan 31, 2016 Sermon: "Unity vs Uniformity"

Stephen Baldwin
OT: Jeremiah 1.4-10
NT: 1 Cor 12.12-27
Unity vs Uniformity

                 Paul is really working towards something in this passage.  Why do I say that?  Because he makes the same point at least ten times.  Sure, he says it a little bit differently each time, but he’s making the same point over and over.  And if he’s not trying to annoy us, then he must be making a hard point. . 
Since he’s talking in circles, let me just cut to the chase.  I believe he’s saying that there’s a difference between unity and uniformity.   A group of people that show uniformity think alike, talk alike look alike, act alike, pray alike, sin alike.  They are uniform.  Paul says that’s not how a human body works.  A human body is made of all sorts of different parts, and only when those different parts work together can a body do what it was created to do.  And that’s how he wants the body of Christ—the church—to work as well.
If uniformity means sameness, unity means oneness.   A body with unity recognizes the difference between the head and the heart, the hand and the foot, appreciates that difference, and is able to work together as one precisely because it has different parts for different purposes. 
I don’t know about you, but I have absolutely zero interest in being part of a church held together by uniformity.  If we all looked alike, thought alike, and acted alike, we would never learn a single new thing!  We’d never be challenged.  We’d never grow.  That’s not the kind of church I want to be part of. 
I want to be part of a church where people grew up differently, where people read the Bible differently, where people have different skills they’re willing to share with the body for the good of being one!  
Paul makes a point of saying the parts of the body we consider weak are often those most necessary.  You see, in the Corinthian church, which this letter was written to, they were kicking out people they considered weak.  Paul talks about it in chapter eleven if you want to read further.  He says differences among people in the church are not only good, but they are God’s doing!  God made us that way.  Therefore, diversity within the church isn’t just something to be tolerated or allowed on paper or regrettable reality…it is something to be received as a gift from God! 
Do you know how many Christian denominations there are in the US today?  Over 30,000.  We’ve split so many times over so many petty, little disagreements I fear we’ve lost our sense of oneness in Christ.  We’ve confused unity for uniformity, thinking we have to all be exactly alike to be Christians together.   
I was talking to a gentleman not too long ago who was thinking about leaving his church.  “What has you so upset you would consider leaving the church you’ve called home for decades?” I asked him.
“Well, because I disagree with some of their views on things.” 
If you don’t disagree with each other and with me and with your denomination on some issues, then you’re not paying attention.  But we’re not called to sameness.  We’re not called to agree on everything.  We’re called to oneness in Christ. 
Today we welcome new officers who offer their gifts for the body of Christ.  They are not uniform; they are unique individuals with unique gifts to offer the body of Christ.  We thank Leah, Larry, Sandy, Rodger, and Mike for serving the body of the church. 
In a few minutes, we’ll gather around them in prayer.  As we do so, I ask that you remember that you gather around them not out of an obligation to uniformity, but out of a conviction of unity. 
Beside each other will be rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, right-handed and left-handed, young and old, single and married, saint and sinner, disabled and athletic.  And still, together, we are the body of Christ.  We find our unity in a diversity of gifts and a common commitment to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. 

Let God’s unified people say, Amen.