Don’t Like the ‘Kingdom’ in Kingdom of God?

Some people don’t like the term ‘Kingdom of God.’  I guess it reminds them of feudalism, caste systems, and ruthless kings. Normally I’m on board with reclaiming language to bring about its intended meaning rather than avoiding it, but today I will indulge this kingdom aversion with a small revelation I had this morning.

For whatever reason we have spots in our yard where grass has refused to grow. That, combined with other areas of foreign vegetation, it seems as though we have been losing our yard. It’s been my intention this spring to gain our yard back. I’ve been planting seed, I’ve been tending to plants and trees, and generally I’m keeping a lookout. 

Now since Jesus seemed to prefer agricultural illustrations even more then military ones, I thought this was a great visual for how we should view the kingdom of God.  It is the work of reclaiming ground, and every green blade that stands on barren dirt is a sign of life and hope.  In fact, just a few blades in a dead spot can really alter the landscape.

So let’s gain God’s yard back…or advance His kingdom territory… whichever you prefer.  Is there really any other purpose we have?

Are You Different?

I’m having an awesome time on retreat with colleagues.  Many of them are different than me, and that makes it super interesting.  But the more conversation that occurs, the more I find not difference but rather similarity.  Well, maybe not similarity but commonality.   Or maybe it’s just true community.

Commonality is more present than you realize.  There is always something to connect on with another person, and every person is worth connecting with.  Don’t let your chance go by.  You’re not that dissimilar.

Are You Bitter? Better to Drop It.

One thing I’ve noticed about my two-year old son is that he has a short memory.  It’s meltdown one minute, laughter the next.  It’s a sick little game this one plays…and he doesn’t even consider the peaks and valleys he sends my emotions into.  But this short memory serves him well when I’m being less-than-noble.  Sometimes parents suck –that’s just the way it goes.  If he held onto every disappointment, every notice that I wasn’t there, or each time he wanted me to put my phone down to play, I’d be dead last for the Father of the Year award.  But each time he sees me, he runs into my arms as if I’d been gone an eternity, or like I’m actually somebody important.  The love is overwhelming.

But for some reason our memories tend to grow with, and then outgrow, our bodies.

Let’s be honest, adults.  Sometimes we like to be mad about something or someone.  I don’t know…maybe it brings a little spice into an otherwise dull season; maybe it’s the one thing we have in common with that allusive friendship that just can’t seem to get any deeper.  Whatever the reason, is that grudge adding to your life?  I suspect just the opposite.  Bitterness can be a sort of identity theft.  It can lock you away and parade around as the real you.

So better to drop it.  The other person or that situation may not change, but you can.

Easter Hangover?

Depending on your amount of church over the weekend, you might feel a little “churched” out.  I spoke to some recently who were in church for services Thursday through Sunday, sometimes at multiple services per day.  If you went all out, beginning with Ash Wednesday, sacrificing something more potent than chocolate during Lent, and worshiped on all of the Holy Days just before Easter, the build-up was palpable.

But Easter isn’t the end.  It’s the beginning.

When Jesus was dying on the cross and exclaimed, “It is finished,” he wasn’t talking about the entire story.  The story isn’t over…it’s being lived out even today.

Don’t view Easter as a landing; view it as a fresh wind that takes us to new heights.  Today is the first day of a lived-out Easter.  Where is God calling you to go?  Who is God calling you to be?

Sermon in Review: Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday Service

Date:  4/17/14

“The Outer Robe of Our Hearts”

John 13:1-17

Many of you know that I’m an avid sports enthusiast, particularly a Cleveland sports enthusiast.  This means of course I’m also a miserable person.  But that didn’t stop me from gushing over the sight of a high level executive of one of our professional teams in this very church.  I admit I was a little star struck.  I became a giddy school girl as I wondered how I would introduce myself.  But I didn’t introduce myself; the reason being that he was in street clothes.  He was with family…he probably didn’t want his celebrity to be called out for all to see.  His attire reminded me that despite being on TV and subject of the news, he was just a guy.  The contrast between the guy that I saw in church and the guy that I saw on TV was noticeable.

Sometimes when I talk with someone who attends the 11:00 service during the week out in the community, they remark how different I seem without my robe on.

In our Scripture today, the disciples were surprised by a man that they have come to respect, look up to, and also claim as Messiah.  Jesus undignified himself in front of them by taking off his outer robe…during dinner no less!  Now we know that this was no mere man, but isn’t to forget the importance of understanding Christ’s humanity.  Jesus, though, could have proven his humanity in any number of ways and did…but this was as step further.  He made himself to be a man of the lowest stature –a servant.  And after wrapping a towel around his waist, he began to wash the dirty feet of the disciples.  The scene was so contrary to Peter’s frame of understanding that he refused to let Jesus touch his toes.

I have to say I’m with Peter on this one.  During my time as a pastor I’ve been invited to many dinners; and something like this would be a sure-fire way to never be invited to dinner again (and probably to lose my job).  What in the world is Jesus doing?

Nationally recognized author and speaker Brene Brown, who is a researcher and social worker, sat down with thousands of people that would describe life as going well and those who would say it’s not going so well.  She said that all of it hinged on connection for people.  The vehicle, she explains (and this is my paraphrase), for connection is vulnerability.  You have to let people really see who you are in order for them to connect with you and in turn you connect with them.  The aversion to vulnerability leaves people disconnected.  And the consequence of disconnection, she explains from her research, is shame.

And so it actually should be no surprise, then, that Jesus was unashamed in his vulnerable act of disrobing himself.  He was illustrating what it takes to connect.  Connect with one another and especially connect with God in relationship.  Did you catch what Jesus said to Peter after dismissing the idea of washing his feet?

“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”   The word “share” (meros in the Greek) signifies a connection, a fellowship.  As scholar Gail O’Day says, the word “share” means to share his home –that is, the Father’s home.  Like family.  In other words, if you don’t allow this vulnerability, Peter, you will remain disconnected from me.

I have to admit, I might have been the ones in Brene Brown’s research – not wanting to be disconnected but too ashamed to be vulnerable enough to allow connection to happen.  What is it about this world that not only refuses to be vulnerable but adds layer upon layer of façade to ensure authenticity never happens?

After Christmas, in the season of Epiphany, the pastors preached a theme of sermons called The Real World, which played off of the idea of Reality Television.  There’s a great deal of irony is the name “Reality Television.”  It was supposed to be about people who weren’t actors living unscripted lives, but that’s definitely not the case.  And even if it were, something happens when someone is placed in front of a camera to cause them to stop being themselves.

But the truth is, we don’t even need a camera to act out a façade, do we?  It’s one thing to hide all the negative stuff: our sins, our fears, our doubts, our confusion, our depression, our marital problems, our family dysfunction, our addiction, our grief.  But it’s even common for us to hide our joy, our celebration, our love for fear of revealing too much of ourselves.

This is not the way of Christ.  For as we come to accept the amazing love of God in Jesus Christ, that connection in relationship is so strong that vulnerability is just a way of life and character.

These last couple of cold, snowy days have been an annoying reminder that this was a hard, long winter (as if we needed one!).  But Spring is breaking through.  Last weekend, when it was warm and sunny, brought so many people out of hibernation.  Walkers, joggers, and runners all took to the streets and pathways.  The sound of a lawnmower was music to my ears.  I decided to do some yard work myself.  When I was in the front yard picking up sticks, I was surprised by a funny, little thing.  One of my neighbors, a school-aged girl swung open the front door, stepped out, and in an expression of pure, unashamed joy shouted: “It’s wonderful outside!”  It was so cute.

Friends, through the example of Christ we are called to be an authentic people in good times and in bad.  That authenticity leads to vulnerability, which can be a scary thing.  But please don’t let our fear of vulnerability lead us to say as Peter did to Christ: “You will never wash my feet.”  But let us take off the outer robe of our hearts to let God in.  Our connection with God…our relationship with God…depends on it.

Frustrated With the Unholy?

In the wake of all that is holy, I have grown impatient with the holiness’s obstacles.  Sure, you can find God in any thing…any situation.  But there are also things that distract us from God and they need to be removed.  I’m pretty sure that was the meaning behind Jesus’ “pluck out your eye” talk.  Truth is, plucking out the unholy is not as easy as Jesus puts it (though he is talking about plucking out an eye, so maybe he’s not insinuating it to be easy at all).

Easy or not, the whole pruning process takes patience.  Patient with the unholy?  Yes.  Because, as my friend revealed to me today, God is patient with me.

Feel Like You’re Not Heard?

I used to have a real issue with wanting to be heard.  I actually wasn’t heard, really.  I felt not valid…unworthy. 

My solution was to be louder in a figurative sense.  I would go for quantity when it came to opinions.  Tell it like it is.  Yes, that would get me heard for sure.  Except it didn’t. 

It turns out that not only is what I say important in being heard, it’s also the timing…knowing when to say it and when not to say it.  And timing requires listening…not for the short pause your counterpart creates in sucking air between sentences so that you can break in with your verbal insecurity.  But listening so that what you say is spoken truth into a persons life. 

In other words, if you want to be heard… start hearing.