Sermon on the Mount: The Golden Rule

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My sister-in-law has been staying with us all week while she completed a training here in Des Moines for her work place.  It was really nice to come home in the evenings and to be with not only my husband, but both of his siblings every evening.  We relaxed, had nice meals together, caught up on what was going on in each other’s lives and played a lot of cards.

One of our go-to games is pinochle.  You play the game with a deck made up of only 9’s through Aces, but we play with four of every single card.   There is a bid phase, a meld phase, and then a playing phase.  It’s kind of a complicated game, but once you get the hang of it, it goes fairly quickly.

Like any card game, there are endless variations on the rules.  And the thing about pinochle is that whenever we play at my sister-in-law’s house, we play with a different set of rules than when we play at their dad’s house.  In one case, a four of a kind can earn you anywhere from 40-100 points, and in the other, it’s worth absolutely nothing.  When I looked down at my hand about halfway through the game and saw four Kings of Hearts, I suddenly wished that we were playing at her house instead.

But, the house rules prevail.

A couple of weeks ago as we gathered here to explore the Sermon on the Mount, we talked about the laws of the Hebrew Scriptures, as explained by Jesus.  He took some of those well-known laws from the Ten Commandments and actually made them harder… in the end, reminding us that our aim is to be perfect, to be complete in our love.  Jesus puts his own spin or variation on them.

Now, the difference between a rule and a law is hard to distinguish.  Laws are official, because they are created and enforced by the political structure of the time – whether it is a democracy, like the United States today, or a theocracy, like the early Jewish monarchy and they have official consequences.    But rules, are standards of behavior that guide our actions and tend to be dictated by the community or environment or home that you are in.  There are consequences for rules, too, but they tend to be less severe – like a loss of privilege or opportunity.

In the case of a card game, you could think about the law being the standard way a game is played. In the game we were play, for example, a Queen of Spades and a Jack of Diamonds is a what is known as a pinochle and that is same everywhere you play the game.   But the variations, the house rules, vary and tell you a little bit about what that particular community values about the game itself.

Much of the Sermon on the Mount is made up of these “house rules.”  Jesus describes for us how it is that we play this game of life as people who are part of the Kingdom of God.  He lays out the variations that are going to guide our life and our relationships if we want to be part of this community.  These aren’t formal laws with defined consequences, but rather describe the standards that we should aspire to embody if we are going to be part of God’s Kingdom.

And the section of the sermon that we focus on this morning is no different.  When it comes to relationships, when it comes to how we live together in community, Jesus lifts up this idea of reciprocal relationship… that you should give what you want to get.

He talks about this in terms of judgment:  Don’t judge so you won’t be judged.

He talks about it in terms of seeking:  That just as you expect to get the things you need from your earthly parent, so your heavenly parent will give you good things.

And he talks about this in how we treat one another in general: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

 

Now, Christianity isn’t the only community to have ever expressed this rule.

In the Hindu faith we hear: This is the sum of duty:  do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain. (The Mahabharata)

In Buddhism: Hurt not others with that which pains yourself. (Udana-Varga)

Islam teaches: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself. (Hadith)

Confucius says: What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to others.

And as a contemporary of Jesus, Seneca taught: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters.

What is interesting is that in many of these other cultural and religious expressions of this idea, the rule is usually expressed in the negative.  Don’t treat others how you wouldn’t want to be treated.  It is about refraining and restraint.   And the section on judgment certainly fits that kind of characteristic when it encourages us to not point out the specks in our neighbors eye – to refrain from judging.  But Jesus also expresses this rule in the positive light – Treat others the way you want to be treated.  As MacDonald and Farstad write in their commentary on this passage, Jesus “goes beyond passive restraint to active benevolence.  Christianity is not simply a matter of abstinence from sin; it is positive goodness.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments).

The Golden Rules that Jesus give us are proactive.  They invite us to take a situation and to pour God’s mercy, love, and grace into every aspect.  We should look upon every encounter with others and ask in every circumstance – how would I want to be treated in the midst of this.  And then, we are supposed to do it.  Not just think about it, but do it!  William Barclay notes that this law invites us to go out of our way to help others, and it is something that “only love can compel us to do.  The attitude which says, ‘I must do no harm to people,’ is quite different from the attitude which says, ‘I must do my best to help people.’” (The Gospel of Matthew: Volume 1)

And Jesus calls us to do our best to love all people, whether or not they deserve it.

Think about even the “law of retaliation” that comes earlier in chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus reminds us that the reciprocal nature of our relationships in the past has been about an eye for an eye.  We give back what we have been given.  But Jesus challenges us to be proactive in our love… that if we are slapped on one cheek, to turn the other to them as well.  If we are sued for our shirt, we should give them our coat also.  In many ways, we are being asked to love first and ask questions later!

The world that we live in today is starkly divided.   There is a lot of pain and disagreement and conflict that is not only reflected in national politics, but it often takes its root in our homes and families and churches, too.  When I was in Chicago a few weeks ago, one of my colleagues shared that their family has cancelled their annual reunion because they have such differing political views they can’t be in the same room together any longer.    Our larger United Methodist Church is so divided about whether and how we will welcome people of varying sexual orientations that we are in a season of deep discernment about if we can even remain a united church and what it might look like if we did.   I experience this in my own family, too.

And maybe that is why a commentary piece from foxnews.com really hit home with me.  The author describes how she and her husband find a way to live together in the midst of their disagreements and I’ll share the article to our church facebook page if you are interested in reading it.  What struck me about the piece, and why I share it today, is that it lifts up that you have to start with love.  You have to start with the Golden Rule.  You have to start in a place of generosity and mercy and kindness, treating those who radically disagree with you with the same respect and graciousness that you would hope to receive back.

Jennifer Dukes Lee calls us to resist trying to be right and to not judge others by putting them in boxes.  She calls us to think before we speak and to ask if what we say is True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind.  And she tells us that when we truly live in these ways, when we let love define what we do, that we can show the world that it is possible to live in the midst of diversity, if we put others first.  (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/16/trump-or-never-trump-what-to-do-when-cant-agree-with-people-love.html)

In this season of our national and state and home life, we need to  remember the house rules that define who we are as people of faith.  The rule of love and compassion.  The rule that invites us to put others first.  The rule that leads us to treat any person we meet the way we would want to be treated… whether they deserve it or not.

Never Go Hungry

We are gathered here tonight, as one community of faith, to give thanks.

Throughout this month, I’ve been preaching about gratitude and giving thanks and one of the things that we have highlighted is that God wants us to give thanks for the differences among us.  It is only by being grateful for someone you disagree with that you can ever move beyond those differences into community.

And our three churches probably don’t agree on everything.  I think that’s a good thing.  We all play a different role in this great big body of Christ.  And we choose to view one another not as competitors, but as partners in the amazing mission and ministry of God in this world. 

For that, I’m grateful.

 

We choose to gather around this time of year in particular because of our national celebration of Thanksgiving. 

While the fuller history of this gathering is far more checkered and controversial, one thing is certain… there were at least three days of community and peace between the pilgrims at Plymouth and the Wampanoag Nation (Wahmp – uh nahg).  The colonists had barely survived the first winter and it was only through the charity and hospitality of these Wampanoag  people that this feast occurred.   They made sure that they would not go hungry.

Our scriptures call us back to an earlier time of Thanksgiving, however. 

Gary Roth draws the connection between the early pilgrims, dependent upon the mercy of the native peoples and the Israelites, who were utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of God.

As our text from Deuteronomy reminds us – “My father was a wandering Aramean…”  The Israelites were brutally oppressed in Egypt, and God heard their cries of distress.  They were led out of the land of Egypt, sustained by daily bread from heaven, and eventually came to the land promised to them by the Lord.  God made sure that they would not go hungry.

And these Israelites were called to give thanks and to remember that the land and everything it produced was a gift from God. 

The first fruits of the land were set aside as an offering of thanks and the people were called to celebrate their blessings and to share them with all.

 

We, too, are utterly dependent upon God. 

And we, too, have been blessed. 

As Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, those Israelites wandering in the desert relied upon manna, bread from heaven to sustain them daily. 

We like to imagine that we are self-sufficient and don’t need anyone’s help, but that simply is not true.

Every breath of air that fills our lungs is a gift from God.

Every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that nurtures our crops is a gift from God.

Every grain of wheat is a gift from God.

And so is the bread of life… the love and mercy of God… the incarnation and death and resurrection of Jesus that provided the gift that none of us could even imagine… true life, eternal life, life with God.

Because of God, we will never go spiritually hungry.  And so we must give thanks.

 

The question is, what does a thankful life look like?

What does it mean to live in gratitude, knowing that is only by God’s grace we are sustained?

In Deuteronomy, we discover that one way to live in gratitude is to pay the gift forward again and again. 

The Israelites remembered that their father was a wandering Aramean… and then they looked out at the immigrants and refugees who were among them and shared the first fruits with those in need. 

The book of Leviticus is full of instructions to leave the gleanings of the harvest and the edges of the field for those who were in need.

We live out our thanksgiving by making sure that others have enough.

Enough food.

Enough water.

Enough grace.

Enough love.

Whether it is spiritual or physical bread… God invites us to share it with others as a mark of our gratitude.

 

Talk about the DMARC / CWS offering for the Karin people… A Christian community from Myanmar/Burma that has found a home and a refuge here in the greater Des Moines area. 

We can give thanks today by sharing God’s love and mercy and physical sustenance with these immigrants and refugees in our community. We can make sure that they will never go hungry.

But we also are challenged to think about sustaining gifts that go beyond immediate needs and create life-sustaining conditions.  So the CWS offering will go to help the communities in Myanmar that are most at risk so that they don’t have to flee their homeland in the first place.

 

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all of our blessings.

And let us never cease to pass them on to others.  

Amen.

Home. #umcgc

Each evening, when deliberations are done, it’s time to head home.

While for most delegates, that has been to a hotel room, sometimes shared with one other person, I am sharing a home with a small group of folks.

We found a place through AirBnB not too far from the convention center. It is a Victorian, in a lovely neighborhood, close to stores and transportation.

And it has been amazing to have a home to come home to.

In college, I lived in intentional community with folks through our “theme house” system. We shared interests and ideals along with milk and bathrooms. Common spaces were where ideas were freely exchanged, debate was encouraged, and at the end of the day we had to figure out how to get along because for the most part we were stuck with each other.

Our living arrangement these two weeks is temporary, but we do have relationship with each other. And it has been wonderful to have common space to reflect and process what each day has brought… And sometimes talk about anything but.

The conveniences of a house are nice… But home really is about who you share it with… And for those folks these past two weeks, I am grateful.

Look. See. Live. #growrule

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As part of my Lenten disciplines, I’m using a tool from The Society of Saint John the Evangelist called “Growing a Rule of Life.”

As Marjorie Thompson writes:

Certain kinds of plants need support in order to grow properly. Tomatoes need stakes, and beans must attach themselves to suspended strings… human beings are much like these plants… we need structure in order to have enough space, air, and light to flourish. Structure gives us the freedom to grow as we are meant to.

And a rule of life is just that kind of structure and support.  There have been times in my life when I have practiced this kind of rule of life: a college covenant discipleship group comes to mind.  But it has been a while since I have formed one and I’m looking forward to this season of structured discernment.

 

Today’s question from SSJE asks: How might the rhythms you observe in nature inform the way you live?

 

I was struck today by the snow falling outside of my window.  During this time of year, it seems like we find ourselves in an endless cycle of snow, melting/slush/dirty heaps of snow, and then it snows once again.

This morning, we gathered for Community Ashes at a local coffee shop.  We gathered to remember our common humanity and sinfulness. We gathered in solidarity with those across this world who are suffering and mourning.  And when I pulled up to the coffee shop at 6:20 am… there was that gross, dirty snow all along the sides of the road.  I pulled out the supplies and we began to impose the dark, sooty, ashes – signs of our mortality and repentance – upon one another’s foreheads.

Then a snow flake fell.

And another.

And before long, the whole world outside the window was blanketed in silent, fluffy, pristine snow.

 

On the very day we echo the words of Psalm 51, pure white snow fell from the sky.

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!

Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;

wash me and I will be whiter than snow.

 

I am a human being, like any other human being. Though I strive for perfection and seek to become more and more like Christ, I have a long way to go.

Just like nature spoke aloud today that fresh snow or bright sunlight will take away the grime, so my life needs God’s mercy and the joy of salvation to cover my mistakes, to melt away my imperfections, to renew my spirit. Over and over again.

 

Tables and Holy Experiences

I have a sense of my first Maundy Thursday service, but I can’t quite place where it falls in my history.  I was not a child, but not yet fully grown.  Perhaps it was high school, or maybe somewhere in my college years.  I have a sense of a fellowship area, a place not just for worship, but for eating and laughing as well.  Classmates and adult leaders alike are present as we strip off our socks, giggle about stinky feet and toe lint, and form a line to wash one another’s feet.

When I began serving in a congregation and had the opportunity to craft the service for my people, that sense of communal life was an important sense memory to hold on to.  So we gathered around tables in our fellowship hall and worshiped with food on the table, candles lit, everything set as it might be for honored guests.  There were dates and figs and olives, bread and apples, glasses of grape juice and almonds.  It wasn’t meant to be authentic.  Or a seder meal. It was meant to nourish your soul and invite you in to an experience of the table. We worshipped with prayer and singing, celebrated the great thanksgiving, washed one another’s hands, and feasted with laughter and stories and finger food.

There is immense joy and comfort in the Maundy Thursday celebration.  As Jesus ate and drank with the disciples, he knew what was coming, but perhaps that only made the stories longer and the fellowship more sweet.  It was a time to teach them, to be with them, to love them just as they were…. knowing fully that in mere hours they would fall away one by one.  He knew they would fail, and yet he washed their feet.  He knelt before them.  He showed utter devotion and compassion.  He left them with words and memories that may have seemed normal in the space of that moment, but would become so much more in the reality of their betrayal and his death and resurrection.

We cannot be bystanders to that kind of experience.  We must dive into it.  We must sit at table with friends and family and strangers and break bread.  We must feel the cool water rush over our skin and the warmth of another human body as we slowly and deliberately and carefully take the time to wipe and dry away their fingers or toes.  If we are going to sing “let us break bread together,” then we must take the bread and feel the crust and one by one tear off a section and give it to our neighbor. 

Okay, maybe “must” isn’t the right word.  But when we do, when we let ourselves be transported in worship and word and action and song from our day to day hustle and bustle of life to another physical/spiritual/emotion place… then we do encounter the holy.

This year, in a new church, I dug through my files and found the service that had sustained me all those years.  With some flexible space at the front of our sanctuary (due to a few rows of pews being replaced by chairs) we made room for tables and gathered in that holy ground for some fellowship.

I watched as one or two couples reluctantly took their places at the round tables.  They were longing for the comfort of the pew. The experience of sitting back at watching from a far. The distance. We don’t realize it is there at first, but it is when we are ten rows back with all of those wooden seats between us and the front.

But they sat down. And participated. And the moment took over. 

As we pulled ourselves back together as a large group from table conversation and we were about to pray our prayer of thanksgiving following the meal, one of those women raised her hand. 

“We should do it like this every time,” she said.

Not every Maundy Thursday… she meant every time we break bread together and celebrate the Lord’s supper. 

“We might have to get rid of the rest of the pews,” I gently responded with a smile.

I’m not sure what is next or what the path forward might be, but experiencing one another and God and the divine mystery in that holy space opened up a world of possibilities about what it could mean for us to worship that has little to do with pews or hymn books or standard orders of worship.

I have been blessed to be a part of amazing worshipping experiences that grew organically from a community of faithful people.  Some were traditional and some were emergent.  But each was an outside of the box opportunity to personally and communally encounter God with sight and sound and smell and touch and taste.  Each gave me the space to be fully present in mind, body, and spirit.  What better way to worship the one who created us, inside and out?

An Examen for Ministry #NaBloPoMo

Too often, we simply don’t stop to ask questions, to examine our lives.

We do things without thinking about the consequences or implications.

We do it because we always have.

We do it because everyone else is.

We do it because it seems like the best option in the moment.

And we do it in ministry, too.

An unexamined life is not worth living (Plato, quoting Socrates)

Well, maybe, unexamined ministry is not worth doing.

We should always be mindful of the implications of our words and actions.

We should take time to pause, reflect, and see if we really are acting according to our values and goals.

 

I really started thinking about this after having a dialogue with Rev. Bill Cotton on Monday of this week.  We were out at Taproot Garden for “Organic Ministry.”  One of the big themes of our classes is that we need to pay attention… to the soil, to the water, to the microorganisms, to the weeds, to everything!  It’s all related. And what happens to one has implications to everything else.

One of our guides for “Organic Ministry,” Tim Diebel,  shared with us the nautical terming “kedging.”  When you run aground with your boat, it is a method for getting back to where you want to be.  You throw or take your anchor to where you actually WANT to be, and then you winch yourself there. Taking time to examine your life (ministry) is like asking if we have gone off course and tossing the anchor into deeper waters.

The next morning, I sat down with a congregation member who is concerned about the potential addition of lazer tag to our nearby UMC camp.  As she paused to reflect upon values and goals, she is troubled that in a culture of so much violence, so many deaths of children via firearms (7 every day), as we prepare for a day of praying for peace and the end of gun violence as a conference, we want to install a recreational option at camp where we give kids toy weapons to point at each other for fun. And her words hit me like a ton of bricks. We had taken our youth to play lazer tag at a local business and hadn’t even paused to wonder about the underlying messages, the glorification of violence… it was simply for fun.  We just didn’t think about it.

So we are now talking about the values of our ministry and whether or not this type of activity is in line with the ends God has in mind for us.

Then, in Covenant Bible Study, we were exploring Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and I kept running into the idea that freedom means everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. The only way we can live into the freedom of Christ is to ask, in every situation, if what I’m doing is beneficial for myself AND for the community/world.

 

 

So here are four questions that I want to start incorporating into “an examen for ministry” in my church.

 

Could this be a bridge?

Is this ministry/event/class for insiders of the church only? What are the possibilities for transforming it into a “bridge event”? There are so many things we do as a church without every imagining they could be bridges for us to go to the community or the community to come to us.  For example: we have a Veteran’s lunch coming up: we have always done this special lunch after church for our veterans to thank them for their service. What would happen if we sent invites to local American Legion or VFW groups and invited them to come for a free meal so we could stay thank-you?

 

Who could this impact?

Who could this ministry/event/class impact? How do we reach them? What would it look like if every ministry in the church asked this question?  If they thought outside their current make-up to share what they have experienced with others?  We get so comfortable with our groups we often don’t think to expand.  Or maybe we do, but we neglect asking how to reach them.  We need to be reminded that what we are doing isn’t reaching them… or they would be there.  Do we change how we promote something? Do we change the event itself – day, time, format? For example: we have a monthly senior fellowship that hasn’t been able to get newly retired folks to attend.  One of the realities is some of these newly retired are the children of active attenders! We are starting to imagine how the event might need to change so all feel welcome.

 

Does this fall within our vision frame?

We have been using a tool called a vision frame this past year. Does this support/enhance our vision and mission? Is it in line with the core values of our church? Is it part of our strategy? Will it help us to reach the measures we have set?   Our mission at Immanuel UMC is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Our vision: In Christ, live lives of love, service, and prayer.  Our core values: hospitality, caring community, stewardship, missional outreach, worship/music, and growing in discipleship. Our strategy and measures include the goals we set at charge conference. This one seems fairly obvious… but how often don’t we stop to ask the question. This frame allows us to truly zoom in on our calling from God in this time and place… and it means we won’t do some things so that we can do these things well. This next year, our two main areas of focus will be children and seniors and it means we will shift away resources and attention from other things for this season.

 

What kind of world does this create?

What kind of world/community does this event/ministry/class create or support? What are the implications for the neighborhood; for the generations that follow; for the world?   And this question asks us to think long term about the consequences of any particular ministry.  One of the tensions of ministry is that what might be needed in the short term isn’t always what is best for the long term. Asking this question allows us to weigh options as we seek God’s future. It invites us to think about the values of the world we are implicitly supporting by our actions or inactions. As United Methodists, we have social principles and resolutions because we believe that we can and should have an impact on the world.  The conversation we have begun about lazer tag as staff is one example of how we are starting to wrestle with this question.

 

What questions would you add to this examen?

Keep P.U.S.H.ing!

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My aunt Barb has been diagnosed and treating uterine and ovarian cancer for about two years now. She has been through a few rounds of surgery, chemo, and radiation. Some of it has been successful! Some of the cancer has returned. It has been an up and down journey, but she has had quite a few healthy months in the midst of it all.

Through everything, family and friends have been a huge support and together they have participated in Relay for Life the past two years.

As Team Triple B, their slogan is “Keep PUSHing”

For them, PUSHing means that you Pray Until Something Happens.

 

Pray Until Something Happens.

 

In these past six weeks, we have talked a lot about prayer. We started out by talking about prayer as group activity… something we do together. Pastor Todd talked about prayer as an intimate relationship with our parental God. Trevor invited us to think about prayer as something that is always hard and always necessary – a sweet devotion. Our guest preachers, Pastors Ted and Mara, have led us in a variety of disciplines and continued to stretch our thinking on how we practice prayer.

While I was away on leave, I spent every single morning in prayer. I wish I could say that I always spent every morning in prayer, but as Trevor so eloquently stated in his message, prayer is hard work.

Yet, on my renewal leave, my only real task was to pray. To pray for you. To pray for our ministries. To pray for God to guide me and us. And I read a lot about prayer as well.

One of the things that kept striking me is that we need to pray like we mean it.

We need to pray about those things in this world that we really want to change.

We need to pray until something happens!

 

In our gospel reading, Jesus was walking into Jerusalem and he passed by a fig tree. Even though it was out of season, he looked for fruit and didn’t find any. So he said, “No one will ever again eat your fruit!” The tree withered, dried up, and died within 24 hours.

Jesus prayed… and something happened!

Now, I’m going to be honest… this is a rather strange story that leaves us with all sorts of questions:

Why would Jesus punish the tree when it couldn’t help that it was the wrong season?

The scripture says he was really hungry… so maybe he was just really grouchy, like I often get when I haven’t eaten in a while…

Because, I mean, what kind of Jesus is this that arbitrarily causes things to die?

United Methodists don’t typically buy into the kind of prosperity gospel that says if you pray for what you want, you will get it.

We are fully aware that all kinds of faithful people pray for things like healing and miracles and help and the answers aren’t always what we want.

Maybe that is why even though it is a story mentioned in both Matthew and Mark, most of the cycles of scripture readings pastors use completely ignore this passage. We’d rather Jesus didn’t have this encounter with the fig tree.

 

Yet, the core of the message here… aside from the weird stuff with the fig tree… is repeated over and over again by Jesus.

Ask and it will be given to you.

Seek and you will find.

Knock and the door will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8 and Luke 11:9)

If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains… nothing will be impossible (Mt 17:20)

If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)

If we pray… stuff will happen! Not little stuff… BIG. GIGANTIC. POWERFUL. MOUNTAIN SIZED stuff!

That’s what scripture tells us.

That’s what Jesus keeps reminding us.

Prayer is powerful.

 

There is a important thing to remember in this power of prayer, however.

This power only works when our prayers are aligned with God’s will.

If I started praying for a bigger house today… I probably wouldn’t get it. Because that is not about God… its about me.

As 1 John puts it: If we ask for anything in agreement with God’s will, God listens to us… we know that we have received what we asked from God. (1 John 14-15)

Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for what he wanted… but he ended that prayer: not my will, but yours be done.

What I love about my aunt’s prayer during this time  is that while she has all sorts of hopes and wants and desires for her treatment, their goal is for God’s will to be done.

They are going to Pray Until Something Happens.

That might be good news and healing. It might be deeper relationships.  It might not be the ending they want, but they are open to discovering God’s blessings and God’s answers along the way.

And through it all… they are going to pray.

 

I have found that we don’t hesitate to lift up prayers asking for healing. We are even pretty good at lifting up prayers of gratitude.

But there are things in this world that we are called to do and change and work towards… and we forget to pray about it!

We get so caught up in what we are doing that we forget to ask God to be a part of it. We keep thinking it is all about us.

And when we do so, we forget to tap into the mountain-moving power of prayer that is right there at our fingertips.

 

 

And that is what we need to do.

Last fall, we sat down and spent some time asking God what we were supposed to do here at Immanuel. And out of those conversations as leadership, we set some goals around places we have passion and we felt God was moving. Now… we need to pray about it.

We need to Pray Until Something Happens.

 

One of those goals was that we wanted to increase our visibility in the community… We want get to know our neighbors better… And our goal, our hope, is that those new relationships will mean there are 10% more people here in worship at the end of this year.

But you know what… we haven’t really prayed about it. We haven’t asked God to help us with this work. We’ve been trying to do it on our own.

 

Another goal we set last year was create space for people to serve here at Immanuel. We want to make sure that everyone is connected to some kind of ministry beyond Sunday morning. And one of the pieces of this goal is to encourage new people to embrace God’s gifts in their life and we wanted to find a place for 10 new people to serve on our ministry teams.

But we haven’t been praying about it. We haven’t asked God to help us.

 

And as the Iowa Annual Conference, we have this amazing new goal. As United Methodists, we want to make a significant impact on poverty in our communities and we think we can do something really big by addressing the opportunity gap in education. And so, we are being asked to get involved with an effort to distribute half a million books and to give a million hours of time over the next year. And it is a big and awesome and mountain sized goal and we are just getting started…

So you know what… we had better start praying for it.

 

In fact, we need to start praying for all of these things.

We are going to need God on our side if these things are going to happen.

If the world is going to change… if the kingdom is going to come… if God’s will is to be done, we need to ask for God to be involved.

We need to start praying until something happens.

 

As we leave worship today, you’ll find that there are some tables at the back with three different stations.

Each station relates to one of those goals I lifted up in the message this morning.

And at each station is a prayer card I want to invite you to take with you.

I want us to commit to praying for mountains to move.

I want us to commit to praying every day that God’s will be done in our midst.

 

You don’t have to pray for every single one of them… but pick at least one.

Commit yourself to prayer by name.

If we have at least 50 people here in the church praying for every one of these goals do you think God will hear us. Do you think God will sense we are not only people who care about these things, but we are ready for change. We believe. We have faith that God can make a difference here.

 

Ghandi once wrote:

If when we plunge our hand into a bowl of water,

Or stir up the fire with the bellows

Or tabulate interminable columns of figures on our book-keeping table,

Or, burnt by the sun, we are plunged in the mud of the rice-field,

Or standing by the smelter’s furnace

We do not fulfill the same religious life as if in prayer in a monastery,

The world will never be saved.

 

We may not share the same faith as Ghandi, but we all believe in the power of prayer. And Ghandi’s words remind us that prayer is not just for the super-religious, and prayer is not only for renewal leave… prayer is something we are supposed to be doing every second of every day of our lives.

 

We should be praying when we work.

We should be praying as we play.

We can be praying as we brush our teeth and drive to work.

We can pray at the dinner table.

We need to be praying everywhere, all the time, about everything.

 

And what I want you to do is take one of these prayer cards this morning and pray your heart out.

Put it on your bathroom mirror and pray it every morning.

Stick it in your car and pray before you get to work.

Take more than one if you want to, and put them wherever they might be a reminder to you.

Bring your prayers to breakfast and take turns each saying your prayer together.

 

Pray… even if your faith is as small as a mustard seed.

Pray that mountains might move.

Pray that kids might learn to read.

Pray that we might meet and grow with new people.

Pray that every person might find a place to connect and serve.

Pray.

Pray Until Something Happens.

Who do you say I am?

I started reading Neil Cole’s Organic Church this morning.

I am highlighting like a fool, but one line caused me to stop and pick up my phone to blog:

Before one speaks about starting or growing churches, one simply must wrestle with this question: “Who is Jesus to you?”

Maybe what struck me so much about this is that less than a month ago, I heard that same phrase. A new pastor took up her post in our community and her first sermon answered this question.

She was inspired by a pastor, retiring from his church who ended his ministry with such a sermon. A parishioner came up after and said: “That was wonderful… Why did you wait so long to share with us who Jesus is?”

As a pastor, I talk about Jesus all the time.

I teach about his life and ministry.

I use big theological words like atonement and justification.

I share what Jesus asks us to do and be.

But, have I ever preached on “who Jesus is to me?”

To me, Jesus is God in the flesh. Immanuel, God-with-us.

One reason I was so excited to be serving at Immanuel UMC is because their very name captures who Jesus is to me.

I shared a few days ago about how much I love being an aunt and getting down on my hands and knees to play with the kids and that is what I feel Jesus has done for me. Jesus comes to us, wherever we are and meets us there. The love I have for them… My willingness to do just about anything for my niblings… is but a pale reflection of the lengths Jesus went to show his love for me. He suffered and died to save me from myself.

And that is because the relationship is always the most important thing with Jesus.

More important than rules or right answers, more important than our histories of successes or failures.

I didn’t earn God’s love… It was there.

I can’t do anything to lose it either.

God-in-the-flesh met me where I was… a young woman, full of plans for my life, naïve, hopeful, everything and nothing figured out…

But that’s not where it ends. It isn’t just a nice feeling of warmth and comfort and safety.  Love means wanting the best for someone, and God’s love saves us.

From ourselves.
From sin.
From false realities.

Love is full of expectation and dreams.

And somehow God kept nudging me to where I needed to be.

Jesus opened my eyes to see the broken of this world: some by their own making, others by the sin of others or our corporate betrayals. And Jesus asked me to love them… like I had been loved.

So what does it mean to be like Jesus? To follow this Jesus?

Jesus asked me to do whatever I could to challenge the things and people and structures that tear us apart. To be willing to put my life or safety on the line to meet another person where they are.

Jesus asks me to be in relationship with others. Because relationships are the center of our faith.

Jesus is God-with-us… He is relationship.

And as the Body of Christ, we are called to follow together. A community of accountability and hope that holds on to God’s expectations and dreams for our world. People who love and challenge one another and who seek to always build new relationships… Especially with those who have none.

That is who Jesus is to me.