Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In the Spirit, Unity is Created out of Diversity

Today is the birthday of the church – we all have birthdays…some of us also celebrate Adoption Days…and some of us celebrate the anniversary of our baptism. And today we are reminded of our baptismal covenant with the beautiful colors and sounds that God created. Paul taught the Corinthians the baptismal tradition:
Galatians 3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Today is the Day of Pentecost, the day that the Holy Spirit rained down on the disciples. It was a bright day full of great power – the colors of fire and the sound of wind; a day when God’s hand opened and poured gifts on ordinary people, scared people, wondering people. Gifts came raining down from heaven, and caused ordinary disciples to do things they never imagined that they would do. So what do we do to make this day special? Some wear red – a bright powerful color – to recapture the passion, the excitement of that day long ago. Some recapture the energy by hearing the readings in different languages, or wave colorful streamers or offer special music.
What can we do to help us experience what it was like on that day? One minute the disciples are inside the house, together – the next they are outside – with tongues of fire dancing on their heads and the word of God dancing on their lips. I think it looked like that when the apostles first received the gifts of the Spirit: a rainbow of color and sound.
Gifts of the Spirit - that’s what Paul talks about in our lesson from first Corinthians.
"There are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit," he tells them. "There are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone."

That Holy Spirit that fell down on the believers on Pentecost kept falling on Christians – even amidst the paganist lifestyle of Corinth – giving them a variety of gifts. And the Holy Spirit that fell on Pentecost – and that fell on the Corinthians – also falls on us, here and now, and gives to us a variety, a rainbow of gifts.
Except that with the Corinthians, there was a problem. And we get an idea of the problem as we read Paul’s letter, when he tells them:
"To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."
It seems that the Christians in Corinth were acting as individuals - they were proud of their gifts, and they used them to compete with each other, to try to figure out who was better. They thought that the gifts they had received were for their own benefit only, and not for the sake of one another – for the common good, as Paul writes. So what was supposed to be a good thing turned out to be the cause of pride and arguing and division. There are many gifts – Paul reminds us – but only one Lord, only one God – and our many gifts are be used for one another’s sake, for the "common good".
The common good – we hear this phrase sometimes, in a political way, and in fact, Paul is borrowing it from the political life of his own day. But what does it mean?
Martin Luther said "One does not live for self alone but lives also for all others on earth, nay, rather, lives only for others and not for oneself."

The mission statement for Protestants for the Common Good states that the group acts for social justice and the common good as essential to the Christian faith, educating and mobilizing people of faith to become effective participants in political democracy."

And as MLK Jr. reflected, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be."

A good description of "the common good" is there are some things that are just good for me, but there are also things that are good for us, for all of us, that make our community better – more beautiful, more just. Paul writes that the many varieties of spiritual gifts given to us as Christians are not simply for our own benefit, but to share with one another. Then he recites a list of gifts: wisdom and knowledge, healing and miracles and tongues – not in an attempt to limit our minds about God’s gifts, but to expand them. There are probably many more gifts than these listed: gifts of listening as well as speaking, gifts of compassion and mercy, gifts of hospitality. Paul wants to open our minds to the many gifts that the Spirit is giving to us – and to those around us. For I think the people of Corinth had a limited vision of both God’s gifts – and of who could have them.
NRS Romans 12:4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

We face two challenges when we think about the gifts of the Spirit. The first is selfish pride and the temptation to think of ourselves as better than someone else. And the second is the temptation to think that we don’t have any gifts, that what we do isn’t valuable, that we are useless.
Perhaps it’s either because we are too young or too old…
Perhaps because we think we are too small and insignificant...
Perhaps it is because others put us down, and tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about…
Sometimes we're tempted to just give up, because others are ignoring us…
then we don’t think we have a contribution to make.
Today is Hunger Sunday here at Holy Trinity. We have traditionally been generous with our contributions to the Food Pantries and our monetary collections for ELCA World Hunger continue to rise. What other ways might we use our gifts to help diminish hunger? Do these statistics seem overwhelming?
Worldwide, more than 1 billion people currently live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1 per day. Among this group of poor people, many have problems obtaining adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. As a result, 820 million people in the developing world are undernourished.

Well, when youth at All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine set out to raise $100,000 for a local food pantry, many thought the amount was a tad idealistic. BUT when the youth raised $71,000 earlier this year, people were impressed but thought that would be the limit. But the energy and idealism of the youth prevailed—before Easter, they had raised more than $106,000. The All Saints youth banded together with local high schools and several area congregations to form Youth Hunger Opposition in Palatine, the organization that actually raised the money. But as the YHOP Web site says, “an ongoing problem needs ongoing effort.” The ongoing problem is there isn't enough food…enough bread…for the people who are hungry.
How might we use our unique gifts to help end hunger? What unique giftabilities exist within Holy Trinity? We have the gift of a well-equipped kitchen….the gift of multiple generations who have cared well for each other…the gift of education…the gift of music…How might we share these gifts with those outside Holy Trinity? How might we bring others into this loving family? What would it look like if we invited strangers to learn to cook with us in our kitchen? Or offer meals for those busy families on their way home? Or prepare meals for the people who live out in the woods in Morton Grove? Or prepare & share meals and pray with our brothers and sisters who are homebound?
We share our gifts with our brothers and sisters because as believers we have become one body in baptism:
1 Corinthians 10:17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

The Holy Spirit gave each of the believers an ability that was needed on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was filled with visitors from many nations, and God wanted to reach out to every one of them. By giving the believers the ability to speak in the languages of the visitors, God was able to reach all of the people with the Word of life in their own tongue.
No one believer was given the ability to speak all of the languages. Each of the believers had an individual ability to do their part. God’s intention was much bigger than the ability that was given to any one believer. All of the believers together were given every ability that was needed to fulfill the intention of God. God still gives to the community of believers every ability that is needed to fulfill God’s intention to reach the whole world.
Catholic priest and spiritual author, Henry Nouwen suggested the imagery of a mosaic. How one stone by itself doesn't look like much but when you place a whole bunch together you can make a mosaic. That as a church the mosaic we make up is the face of Christ. When people aren't using their gifts or joining the community then it takes away from the fullness of the picture and Christ's face isn't complete. The mosaic needs each of the stones to be complete in Christ.
What are the giftabilities that God has given to you? What giftabilities has God given to others in this community of faith? We will later sing these words…
"Let us be united…let our song be heard…we all are one in mission we all are one in call…our varied gifts united by Christ the Lord of all".

As you sing the words, consider that we are all one in mission. What is our mission? We are all one in call. Where is God calling you? Where is God calling Holy Trinity?
Often when we consider the gifts of the spirit we forget what OUR common good is. For us who gather here today, and for the apostles who gathered on that first Pentecost: Our common good is the common mission of going out into the world, and sharing the love of God in word and deed. Our common good is to share – not just with one another – but with our neighbors and with strangers, with friends and with enemies – the hope that is in us. Our common good is to share God's wide and forgiving love -- and do it with words and deeds of mercy and justice.
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

We have a beautiful gospel, a story of a God who loves us each in all of our variety, who came to heal us and forgive us and to share his life with us, and to die for us. We have a beautiful gospel of a God who took a small band of ordinary people – gave them a mission, gave them gifts, and made them into a Church. And in this Church, even one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, from the richest to the poorest, has gifts to share – with us, and with the world. For it is in the Spirit that unity is created out of our diversity. And that is beautiful music.
Gracious God, thank you for creating each of us uniquely in our baptism and gifting us with your love. Help us to be active in the world .. to sing out… to share our gifts…to feed the hungry… to empower the oppressed…with all God's people…
And we sing Glory Glory Hallelujah!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Faith Journey Continues…

Preached on Sunday May 4 2008 to Confirmands of Holy Trinity - Glenview.

Confirmation can mean different things to different people. Some expect a sort of graduation – a milestone of sorts. Some expect to "feel differently" upon being confirmed.

Remember how you felt when:

you were just a little child, you were baptized?

Then a few years ago, when you received your First Holy Communion?

Last year when you studied the Old Testament with Intern Dirk?

This year when you have learned about Luther's Small Catechism?

It seems more like a life long journey than a destination. The journey began when you met Christ. Unlike other things you will do, faith does not have a graduation or a point when you have learned & achieved everything. This is not the end or the destination of exploring your faith for your journey continues…

All these things happen to you with all of your church family around - supporting, participating, caring for you. Sometimes you may have felt like you were doing this alone, but there were many people around for you.

KJV Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

There are different ways to witness the glory of God…some people witness through the Word…some are touched by tradition…some are motivated by music….some find the power of God in the people around them. This community cares about you like God loves you as one of God's own…that is what the Christian community does. It's the great commandment…to love each other as Jesus has loved us.

NRS Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

We have prayed the Lord's Prayer together…in Spanish…German - even in Latin but definitely better when we hold hands!

Our Father in heaven…Your kingdom come…Your will be done…

We shared meals together…on Wednesday nights during Lent, in class upstairs, in worship we share Holy Communion. I learned that you really like to use baked bread for communion – that gives new meaning to the petition "Give us today our daily bread". Your favorite – the bread of Holy Communion…

NRS Matthew 26:26While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

We forgave each other….we found out what it feels like to ask for forgiveness and then to forgive someone. We wrote down our sins and even dared to share them with each other.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those against us…

NRS Matthew 18:33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

We shared the challenges that we faced…things from school, friends, family, sports, church…feelings…relationships…homework…school trips…new bikes.

Save us from the time of trial…And deliver us from evil…

And we prayed to God…the Creator, our God – the God that we share with each other.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

You have shared your faith…

NRS Matthew 28:19 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

We've shared our highs and our lows…acted out skits about how to pray and how to tell a sinner from a saint.

We've worshipped together…on Sundays…you have been acolytes and readers and prayer leaders and singers…on Wednesday nights in the snow during Lent…and last Sunday you lead an awesome worship!

I learned that you love to hear and tell the stories from the Old Testament and from the New Testament….You selected the readings for the youth service last week. Very significant stories about creation, God's love for us, God's covenant with Noah and the story from John about Jesus walking on the water. You liked this story because it spoke to you of how faith in Christ can get you through anything...

NRS John 6:18 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

As Jesus journeyed in his life, so will you. Just as Peter and Thomas doubted and questioned, so will you. Like Mary Magdalene, Paul, and those who believed with all their hearts, so will you. Your faith may falter like the disciples…sometimes strong, sometimes questioning. And when you face some rough times ahead, you will know that God is always here for you…and so is your church family.

Today you will read notes from people here in the HTLC family of faith…notes of support and you may learn that many of us are still on our faith journey…still learning…sometimes questioning. Our stories are all a little different but the one thing we do share is Christ. As you keep learning and exploring your faith, remember that the journey continues…and as you journey, you are cared for and cared about by the people here in this community of HTLC.

We are all called to walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love.

AND the best news of all, Christ is with us on the journey!

NRS Matthew 28:20 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."