February 25, 2010

Sermon 2/21/2010


SERMON FOR LENT 1 C
FEBRUARY 21, 2010
MICHAEL COFFEY

Texts: Luke 4:1-13


(Sanctuary is decorated with barren, dry branches
and sand in the baptismal font)

Welcome to the wilderness.

You are hungry and thirsty, and you get no relief.
(A chalice is carried from the altar to the font,
and is poured out. It is filled with sand that falls into the font,
which also contains sand.)

You are dried up, and you get no rain.
(A handful of sand is lifted from the font
and slowly slips through the fingers.)

You are broken, and you keep losing parts of yourself.
(A dry branch is carried and pieces snapped off.
Each piece is handed to someone until they are gone.)

And the Spirit brought you to this.
Welcome to the wilderness.
The Spirit brought you here.

As hard as it is to imagine it,
the Spirit guided Jesus directly from his baptism to the wilderness,
to hunger and thirst, and to dryness,
and to know our broken humanity with all its temptations.
It was the same pattern as God working through his chosen people Israel,
Spirit-led directly from the Exodus liberation,
into the wilderness wandering and texting for 40 years.
And as much as it doesn’t fit our neat and clean theologies
about God’s gentle love and comforting presence,
the most startling word is spoken today about how God works:
The Spirit drives us into the wilderness
when we need to go there.

The wilderness is when and where you feel and touch and fear
that you are hungry and thirsty,
that you are dry inside,
that you are a broken man, a broken woman,
and part of a broken world.
And when you feel and touch and fear it,
it doesn’t just go away,
it lingers, and it takes you deeper,
and it makes you confront an awful lot about yourself,
and your faith, and your assumptions,
and all your false securities.
And even though it isn’t at all obvious at the time,
like the story of Jesus,
the Spirit takes us to these places,
because we need to go.

The temptations Jesus faced came directly from his wilderness time.
He is tempted to act both out of his great weakness,
and out of his great strength.
He was hungry and thirsty, feeling weak and needy,
so get what you need however you can get it.
He was given the name Son of God and anointed king,
so wield that sword and that political power for yourself.
He knew God loved him and called him to do great things,
so make God prove himself to you.
His temptations came when he was weak from the wilderness
and his strength could be used in all the wrong ways.
What was revealed to Jesus in his Spirit-led, necessary wilderness time
is the same thing that is revealed to us in our necessary wilderness time:
clarity.

Your hunger and thirst will tempt you.
Your dryness will tempt you.
Your brokenness will tempt you.
Until we get clarity on the one true thing,
everything else will be a temptation to us:
Our hunger and thirst is for God alone.
Even if we don’t believe it or understand it
or know how to name it:
our hunger and thirst is for God alone,
and we have to confront everything
in our weakness and in our strength
that gets in the way.
Welcome to the wilderness.
The Spirit brought you here because you need it.

Sometimes, actual time in the wilderness
is our very powerful and transforming Spirit-led experience.
Many of us have known the incredible force of nature
and how it makes us see and learn and grow and contemplate.
I read a story in a book called Soulcraft.
It’s partly about wilderness encounters and how they transform.
A woman, June, went into the wilderness with a group.
June was a psychotherapist. Her mother had died when she was 10.
She was terrified her whole life of bats.
While they were out enjoying the campfire,
a young bat landed on her.
It never flew into any of the other 15 people there, just her.
It got tangled several times in her shawl and in her hair.

June went off for a few days of solitude and fasting in the wilderness.
During that time, bats kept coming to her.
She realized this must be some kind of meaningful encounter.
At sunset, when two bats came to her,
she shouted out how afraid she was of them,
and asked what they wanted to tell her.
Suddenly, she became painfully aware of how she had felt,
ever since childhood, like a victim.
She felt like a victim of other people
and of circumstances she couldn’tcontrol.
This drove her to dive deeper into her own pain,
and inevitably, to allow herself to contemplate
the terrible pain and grief of her mother’s death.
And just like the young bat getting tangled in her clothes and hair,
she realized she had let her pain at being abandoned and orphaned
get her tangled in others, and caught and stuck in her life.

June was driven to the wilderness
so she could know her weakness and her strength,
and no longer act out of either thoughtlessly or harmfully.
The wilderness drove her to her own pain and fear,
and before it got better it got worse,
and then she had clarity.

We also end up in the metaphorical wilderness
when we must confront our own weakness and pain,
and our own misused power and strength,
because we can no longer hide from it or deny it.
I saw Tiger Woods’ apology speech the other day on television.
If you believe he was sincere,
then you can see that he has been driven into the wilderness.
He has been forced to confront his weakness and his strength,
his failure and the pain he has caused others.
I started to get the sense that he understood,
that as painful a time as this was for him and his family,
he needed to go into this wilderness.
He needed to confront who he was,
what he was doing,
what he was truly longing for,
and why he was searching in all the wrong ways.
And it might just be,
that if he stays in the wilderness long enough,
before the lure of fame and wealth and power grab him again,
it might just be that he will find clarity.

Jesus goes into the wilderness to know his own weakness,
his own strength,
his own dryness,
his own hunger and thirst,
his own connection to the brokenness of humanity.
And none of it threw him off track.
He found the clarity he knew and needed to affirm:
God was with him in the wilderness,
and God was all he truly hungered to know.
The Spirit had driven him to testing and toughness
for a reason and a purpose.
He could now follow his calling
and not be tripped up by his own human weakness,
and not be trapped by his own strength.
He could live with clarity in the one true thing:
God is all we truly long for and need,
and God is with us in the wilderness of life,
as well as the green garden and the urban landscape.

Jesus could not fully face his calling to be faithful to God,
until he faced all other options
and saw them for the illusions they are.
That is his testing.
That is our testing.
We get lured in by so many other options
that feel like the security and the help and the love we need.
But the sad thing that we all know now and again:
These false alternatives leave us even hungrier and thirstier,
even dryer,
even more broken.

The hardest thing to hear in this text
is that this wilderness time
which is so fraught with fear and risk and pain,
is Spirit-led.
We are tempted to think any deeper encounter with our own pain,
any physical trial or experience of our limits,
should be minimized and quickly comforted.
But wilderness time is all about going deeper,
and living with the hunger longer,
and naming and feeling our pain before healing it.

Confront those,
learn to accept and understand those,
find the proper place for those in your life,
and temptation will not grip you in the same way.
To be sure,
we are not Jesus and do not do this wilderness work perfectly.
But we do follow Jesus in his way,
and we have guidance and mercy and love to do it through him,
and in the infinite grace and endless embrace
of our wilderness God.
And with God’s own guiding Spirit,
we do find that clarity:
we do come to know the one thing we hunger and thirst for:
communion with God.
And look what God brings us: bread, wine, grace, mercy.
Welcome to the wilderness,
and welcome to the food that feeds us all along the way.

February 19, 2010

Sermon 2/17/2010


Sermon for Ash Wednesday
February 17, 2010
Michael Coffey


The message from Jesus and Isaiah
is direct, and strong, and clear:
We dare not fool ourselves
with our religion.
We dare not let our rituals and prayers and doctrines
feed our self-absorption,
diminish our wavering compassion,
or turn us away from human need.
Jesus tells us in Matthew: do our religious ritual and devotion
without need for recognition or status.
Isaiah tells us that the only fasting and humbling thing
that God is interested in
is to care for human need.
We dare not fool ourselves
with our religion.

And yet, we do.
We let all the trappings of religion
become something about us and for us.
In the more obvious forms,
we end up with Christianity that is self-righteous,
or judgmental,
or a way to get material success and status,
or merely a means to heavenly glory for the self.
In the more subtle forms,
we start believing in our own humbleness,
or count up our good deeds and feel satisfied,
or become proud about our past and don’t see the present.

So, that’s just the way it is with us, with all people.
Our religious life is always a potential
for getting it wrong,
and moving ourselves to the center,
and finding excuses for ignoring injustice and great need,
and pushing God away, instead of drawing nearer to the mystery.

And yet,
our religious life done well,
and thoughtfully,
and open to self-critique and repentance,
is also a means to escaping our ego-driven needs,
and to renewal of life
and to fresh starts.

The Ash Wednesday ritual
has the means of renewing us.
Because the only thing that really speaks truth to us,
and resets our clocks,
and re-orients our compasses,
is the cold, hard truth:
You are dust.
It’s where you came from.
It’s where you going to.
Why do you keep running from it?
Why do you keep denying it?
Why are you so afraid of it?

To be sure,
this is a brutal ritual of honesty.
We don’t do it lightly or comfortably.
But we also don’t do it to be cruel,
or overly dark,
or merely morbid.
This marking with ashes in repentance and mortality
has been done throughout the ages
because it is the only truth powerful enough
to awaken us to the true life God has given us to live.
It was an entry point
for those about to be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection:
It said: you have to die before you can truly live.

It’s much like the words Jesus spoke to his followers:
If you want to follow me,
you have to die to yourself,
and then you will really live.
If you want to follow me,
take up your cross,
embrace your own journey of suffering and death,
and then, strangely enough,
you will be free to live.

The heart of the spiritual journey
which Lent is always calling us back to
is to go through an encounter with our mortality
so we can live with true humility.
It is a journey packed with wisdom,
knowing that what renews us in mercy and compassion,
and leads us to acts of love and seeking justice,
is an encounter with our own humanity.
It is our true, small, fearful humanity
that unites us with all others
and awakens us to hear and see
the suffering and hunger and tears of others.

Once we face what we are so afraid of
in being human,
and we discover that in God
none of our fears are really so fearful,
we find a new and living energy in us
that seeks to give life to others.

That’s the strangeness of it all.
This deep, rough encounter with mortality and humility
leads to true life, and renewed love for others.
We can wish it were easier,
or the path we have to take was smoother and straighter.
But only when we enter the reality of ourselves,
our true humanness,
our true small and mortal selves,
can we find life itself.

Then the Word of God in the prophet
becomes obvious and joyful and empowering to us:

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.


What we all are seeking,
in many different ways,
is a true, integrated spirituality
where we can live life fully
and find purpose and meaning
in giving our lives for the world’s good.

Often we feel far from that kind of spirituality,
and we feel the pain and lostness
of our more ego-driven selves.

The remedy to this religious and moral dilemma,
in the long tradition of religious ritual and practice,
is to take the journey of humble mortality
so deeply and seriously,
that there is nothing left in you to focus on,
to feed,
or to fool.

The spiritual disciplines of fasting, praying, and giving to the poor,
when we don’t turn them into self-serving practices,
help empty us and turn us outward to others.
And let’s face it.
We are really in need of emptying ourselves,
We are too full and too satisfied.

We are here, I think,
really and honestly,
not so much to fill up,
because we are a people already filled up.
We are here to empty ourselves,
emptied by utter truth and daring honesty,
emptied by the strange grace that is our mortality,
so we can be filled by God’s compassion for others,
filled by the new life of Christ
that only comes through death and resurrection.

Sermon 2/14/2010

SERMON FOR TRANSFIGURATION C
February 14, 2010
MICHAEL COFFEY

Texts: Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36


I’m not sure what the word should be for today.
Is it transfiguration?
Or disfiguration?
Are they the same thing?
Which one reveals God to us?
Transfigure:
to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to :
transform outwardly and usually for the better;
to change the appearance of a person or thing very much,
usually in a very positive and often spiritual way
Example: As she gazed down at the baby,
her face was transfigured with tenderness.

Disfigure:
to spoil the appearance of something or someone completely,
especially their face
to impair (as in beauty) by deep and persistent injuries
Example: She was horribly disfigured by burns.

Transfiguration is a curious Sunday to me.
Aside from the weird and wonderful details of the story,
what does it help us see?
Jesus is really a glowing figure underneath all that human skin?
Peter was almost always out of his mind?
Moses and Elijah appear as a great dramatic ending,
like the conclusion to the Star Wars trilogy
when the ghostly Yoda and Darth Vader and Obi Wan
show up to make everything better?


Maybe, except this isn’t the ending.
It’s just the middle.
And things might glow for a minute,
but they don’t stay that way.
Moses and Elijah disappear,
and Jesus is again all alone.
And things aren’t getting better.

This transfiguration story comes right after
Jesus has been telling his friends and followers
that this gravy train isn’t going on forever.
He was going to have to pay the full price
for his unwavering devotion to God and God’s reign among us.
He would be rejected in Jerusalem
and suffer, and die,
and then be raised to some new, life-giving existence.
The problem is,
nobody much cares for Jesus’ thoughts on the matter.
They all dismiss it as some kind of messianic histrionics.

Jesus is absolutely alone in facing his journey.
So he goes up on the mountain to pray,
and brings a few friends with him.
He is praying, no doubt,
that even if no one is going to encourage and support him,
he may have the strength to live the path God has given him.
While he is praying,
two of his great ancestors appear to him,
and talk with him about his God-given path.
The text says the spoke about his “departure”
and the word in Greek is really “exodus.”
That’s a rich biblical word filled with meanings
of redemption that comes through great struggle.

I imagine that Jesus is getting comfort, reassurance,
and encouragement to continue on his path,
even if it feels like he is alone in doing it,
because the ancestors themselves
have walked their own God-given path,
and they know now better than anyone:
When God gives you the path to walk, God walks it with you.

It is during this prayer and this appearance of the great faith ancestors
that Jesus’ appearance changes and his clothes become dazzling.
Peter, seeing all of this wonderment,
starts to freak out, and then seems to think:
We did it! The kingdom is here!
Jesus’ was wrong!
We don’t have to go to Jerusalem and face suffering and death!
It came so quickly and easily!
That’s why Peter talks about building three shelters or booths.
In Jewish tradition,
one of the three great holidays is the Feast of Booths.
Today it is called Sukkot,
and has been observed faithfully for thousands of years.
Jewish families build a shelter outside their house,
and set up a living space in it,
and spend a week celebrating in it.
It is both a celebration of harvest and the abundance of the earth,
and of the time the Hebrew people spent wandering in the wilderness.
Well, the key thing about this Feast of Booths is
it became a symbol of the messianic age,
a symbol of the day when the celebration would not end.
So Peter is ready to build those shelters,
set up the celebration,
and bypass the whole Jerusalem problem entirely.
And then like a dream upon waking,
it all fades away.
And the voice from heaven says:
Listen to him! He is my chosen one! He was right all along!

After this, it seems the issue is not really transfiguration,
but disfiguration.
If those disciples are going to keep looking at Jesus’ face,
they will soon see the disfiguring of a man,
the anguish of his faithful path followed,
the tension of pain,
the scare of doubt,
and then the unsettling peacefulness of death.
The real question for them
after seeing God shining in Jesus on the mountain is:
Could they see God shining in him then, in suffering and death?
Could they see God in Jesus’ disfiguration,
and not merely his transfiguration?
Could they, as the voice from heaven said,
Listen to him, and believe him,
and even, maybe, if they have a bit of Jesus’ own courage and faith,
even follow him,
by taking up their own God-given path and really living it?

There is our great need:
In seeing Jesus’ glory hidden in his disfiguration,
all the result of his faithful taking up his own God-given path,
can we know the God who walks with us
when we follow our own God-given path?
Is there glory only in all that glows and is easy?
Or is there glory in walking the path that even disfigures,
the path that costs, and requires sacrifice,
and demands more trust in God
than we ever thought we would need to have?

Our house in San Antonio is close to Fort Sam Houston,
which houses the Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC.
BAMC has probably the world’s top burn center,
and many soldiers badly burned in Iraq and Afghanistan
from bombs and other horrors of war
end up there for treatment.
Austin Highway is nearby my house and Ft. Sam.
A lot of military personnel can be seen in the area at lunch time.
I have on several occasions been eating lunch in that area,
and seen soldiers who obviously are burn patients at BAMC.
Some have lost limbs,
some have faces so disfigured by burns
that it is literally painful to look at them.
I have at times watched a soldier who has suffered so much
walk through the line at Panda Express,
and struggle to carry a tray because his fingers are gone.
I have seen him get a drink,
sit down, and eat.
And I have been stunned.
stunned, that in the midst of such disfiguration,
someone can continue to carry on.
I was humbled by someone who could
face the pain and rejection and disability,
and carry on with life’s daily walk with grace and dignity.
I was haunted that someone like this could
even know how it is that God is walking with him,
and muster a grace-filled, disfigured smile that glowed.
It has been for me a sure sign of the glory of God
hidden right in front of my face.

Christian faith is the faith to see God hidden among us,
hidden in the disfigured faces of ourselves and others,
hidden in the grasped hand of a loved one dying,
hidden in the doubt that permeates all of life.
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration
and the story of Moses and the glory of God shining on him
get close to the heart of mystery.
It’s a bit like particle physics, I think:
it seems the closer you get to it,
the less you seem to be able to touch it and understand it.
In both stories, Jesus and Moses,
getting close to the mystery, the glory of God,
God’s heaviness as the Hebrew translates,
is dangerous and fraught with death.
And instead of a full blown, unfiltered encounter with God,
we get a glimpse,
and we mostly get God hidden among us.
This was Luther’s great insight into the way we know God:
we only know God hidden in the cross of Christ,
and that is all the glory we’re going to get in this life.
if you can’t see God’s glory in Jesus’ passion and death,
you can’t see it anywhere,
but if you can see it there,
you can see it everywhere.

This means that if we people of faith are each going to walk
our God-given path in Jesus’ name,
we had better open our eyes to see God hidden among us.
We had better accept the cross as the full revelation of God’s compassion.
We had better expect disfiguration
more than transfiguration,
and trust all of the healing and renewal
and restoration we truly need,
to God’s own mysterious ways and times.
We had better trust ever more deeply
that if we are walking our own God-given path
God is walking with us.

When we gather at the Lord’s table,
it is a lot like Jesus on that mountaintop.
We gather with Christ himself giving himself to us as sacrificial love.
And we gather with all those
who have walked their God-given path for themselves:
Moses, Elijah, Deborah, Esther,
Peter, Mary, Paul, Chloe,
Janet, Wayne, Sam, and Nancy.
All those ancestors,
our mothers and fathers
and grandmothers and grandfathers,
are standing with us and behind us,
encouraging us and urging us on:
Yes, walk your God-given path,
not the easier path that is so enticing.
Walk the hard path that leads to life,
for God walks with you on that path,
and God’s glory is hidden within you all along the way.

And if we get occasional glimpses of it peeking through
and we feel it and we get it more deeply at times,
it still means we have to get up in the morning,
make the coffee,
feed the cat,
go to work or work at home,
and serve the world in our own God-given way.

February 2, 2010

Sermon 1/31/2010


SERMON FOR EPIPHANY 4 C
JANUARY 31, 2010
MICHAEL COFFEY

Texts: Jeremiah 1:4-10,
1 Corinthians 13,
Luke 4:21-30



Throw Jesus off a cliff.
It just seemed like the thing to do.
When do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
Or more to the point: When do we?
If we don’t admit and explore when and why
we would rather throw Jesus off a cliff
than listen to what he says
then we aren’t going to grow much in faith and faithful living.

Jesus had just given a speech
about how God called him to his mission.
He said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

At first, it sounded good to his neighbors.
Good news! Release! Healing!
Freedom! A time for restoring life to wholeness.
Who wouldn’t want that?
And then someone said:
Isn’t this Joseph’s son?
Isn’t he one of us?
Jesus seems to know what’s going on.
And so Jesus pushes all their buttons.
He says a whole lot of confrontational things.
He turns their feel-good response to him,
into a cliff-hurling reaction of anger.
When do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
Well, I guess, when he kind of asks for it!
I mean, he really pushed them to the edge,
before they wanted to throw him over the edge.

But, he did have a point to make,
and he did need to confront their assumptions and wrong-headed needs.
It seemed that if Jesus was one of them,
then he could be theirs,
give them what they want from him,
be just for them, all about them,
and only them.
So, Jesus just starts confronting them:
He reminds them of the most challenging biblical stories
so they hear it:
This isn’t just about you!
God has always cared about and acted on behalf of
folks outside of the faithful and the chosen!
Sometimes, God even is more concerned about the outsiders
than he is about the insiders.
So, when do people want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
When they realize he isn’t just about themselves.
When they realize they don’t own him and control him.
When he speaks the truth that confronts and not only comforts.
When he pushes people to confront their fear and lack of faith.

I’m going to say it this way today:
Jesus pushes people to grow up.
Jesus is pushing his own people to grow up,
to find maturity in their faith and faithful living,
and realize they don’t own him or possess him,
and God’s activity in the world isn’t only about them or for them.
That crowd realized it and didn’t like it:
Jesus is not our small town boy.
Jesus cannot be domesticated by us.
Jesus will not fulfill our narrow agendas.
When do we want to throw Jesus off a cliff?
When we hear the same message
as individuals or as faith community.
Jesus isn’t just about me.
Jesus is not the possession of the church.
Jesus is God’s gift to the whole world,
and instead of giving in to my immature, self-centered needs,
he is going to slowly, lovingly, and maybe even painfully
draw me out into true, mature faith in God.

For too long,
we church folks have made Jesus into our hometown boy,
our affirmation of our small vision
about ourselves and God’s good news for us.
Jesus in the church became our self-affirmation,
either of church as institution and tradition and powerful force,
or of individuals as believers and the center of God’s attention.
So our belief, talk, and practice
have sometimes left us in exactly the place we wanted to be:
in the easier, immature, self-focused way of life.

We see this same struggle in Jeremiah today:
God is calling him to serve God’s greater vision
of restoring his people to faithfulness.
Jeremiah is understandably fearful and anxious.
And he says it just right:
O Lord, you can’t call me to do this work.
I am only a boy! I’m too afraid.
I’m not ready to grow up and be a man.
In the book of Jeremiah
it isn’t clear if Jeremiah is actually a boy here,
or if he is a young man, who still feels like a boy,
still wants to be a boy, safe and protected from growing up
and facing the hard call of God.
Jeremiah feels like he is only a boy:
afraid to act, fearful of people he can’t control,
unable to trust God with the big things of life and death.
Jeremiah feels like a boy among men,
he cannot act, cannot live out his calling and true self.

We might know this same challenge.
Immaturity is the easy and common path we take out of fear.
Maturity is the hard task of giving up, letting go,
confronting ourselves and accepting the cost of doing what is right.

I can’t count how many times in my life
I have been faced with challenges and hard things
and felt that boy inside say:
No! I’m only a boy!
I need to go back home to safety and security
and feel loved and accepted.
How can I step out into the world,
this hard, challenging, dangerous world?
Let the men and women do that.
Leave us boys and girls at home.

You can hear Paul wresting with this in himself in 1 Corinthians.
He writes about the depth and challenge of loving others.
He isn’t talking about romantic or marital love really,
even though we use this text in weddings all the time.
He is talking about the love of God in Christ,
that we ourselves are called to embody for others
in our actions, words, intentions, and values.
Paul fully admits this is hard to do,
because it is a mature and selfless kind of love.
He says:
When I was a boy, I thought like a boy.
I wanted the world to revolve around me.
I wanted to make a safe nest for myself
where all the answers were easy
and I don’t have to step out into the open air and fly.
But, he says:
When I was a boy, I thought like a boy,
now I’m a man, I live as a man.
I take the risk of loving others and the world for its own sake,
because that is how God’s love in Christ works,
even as it works in me.

Each of us has to wrestle with our tendency
to fall into our own immaturity,
to want to be the center,
to assume the world revolves around us
and will never change or challenge us.
And the church has more often than not
been just as immature and self-focused as we individuals can be.
We want to find a safe, secure, insider community
where things are settled and we can relax
and not face the inevitable change and challenges
that come our way.

Yet we see it in texts like today:
Jesus is not so much for the church
as the one pushing the church beyond itself
to everyone else,
so that the very purpose of creating an insider community
is so there will be no more insiders and outsiders

The church only exists as mission:
mission to the world,
mission beyond itself,
mission to serve and create and live and die,
mission to all those outside.
The church is simply never about itself
but about the world of God’s redeeming
just as Jesus is never about himself
but about living and dying to redeem God’s world.

Whether thinking about ourselves or the church as a community,
we have to face the mature journey
of going beyond ourselves and trusting God’s call
that pushes us out into the world of others.

There’s a movement in all these texts
that I can only describe as a movement away from immaturity
and into maturity:
a movement away from small thinking
and insider mentality
and toward a larger vision,
letting go of the self as our pre-occupation
moving on to our occupation of God’s mission.
It is a movement through fear and mistrust
and into deep joy and trust.
It always hurts and requires losing something
in order to gain something,
because the very issue of the boy, the girl, the immaturity in us
is that we should never lose anything, never give up,
never not be the center of things,
The boy and girl in us
would rather push Jesus away, even off a cliff,
than face this kind of growth and challenge.
Yet, even as we push away,
God in Jesus keeps pushing back for our own good.

Jesus embodies this mature, man or woman faith
in such a way as to transform us in our faith.
He walks through the crowd a fearless and faithful man,
knowing exactly who he is
and doing what he is called to do,
accepting that he may get tossed over the edge
or crucified by Rome,
but he is just going to keep on walking right through…
Stop him or not, he is going to walk that path,
he doesn’t look to your approval or acceptance or good feelings,
he looks to God and the good he is called to do.

It’s the hard, mature faith God always calls his people to live:
we do not possess God,
but God does possess us,
holds us firm,
envelops us in true love and acceptance,
claims us, not as children,
but as men and women,
sons and daughters.

The hardest thing to do is to trust,
trust that you are loved
without being in control of that love.
That is the path of mature faith
mature love,
mature living.
Trusting, letting go, and taking the next unknown step
on this journey of life with God and one another.
And just like Jesus in that crowd,
taking the next step,
and the next step,
and the next step,
walking right through whatever threatens or worries you,
confident and strong
not in yourself,
never in yourself.
In yourself only be satisfied and accepting and humble,
but be confident and strong in God,
and walk right through.