Sunday, February 20, 2011

Children's message

In worship this morning we watched (part of this) with the children's Sunday School question in mind, "who is my neighbor?"  The internet is really slow on the hill this weekend, so we weren't able to finish the video clip.  So for those who saw part and those who saw none yet, here's Sermon Spice's "Set Service."

Thou shalt love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.
The morning message is available at the pastor's blog.

Monday, February 14, 2011

See What? Say Who.

Thoughts on John 3: 1-21

For 2 weeks we’ve heard two powerful healing stories. They're stories that put newly empowered people immediately on the defensive. Local authorities demand they explain themselves.  What happened?  

 To add insult to injury, both the once paralyzed man(from John 5) and the man born blind (from John 9)  are called on the carpet because they were healed on the Sabbath, the holy day, the day of rest.

Here’s what I’ve been wondering this week, 
why do we still refer to them as the “paralytic” and the “blind man”? 

If I’ve been healed, I want to be “the one who can walk.”
I want to be “the one who can see.” 

Are we so focused on dysfunction we can’t quite let it go. 
Labels do seem to linger, don’t they?

Maybe that’s Nicodemus’ problem.  Maybe he and his Council colleagues are so focused on avoiding dysfunction they’re blind, or at least blindfolded, unable to see health and wholeness.

Maybe they really can’t see what’s right in front of them.

Just one, Nicodemus, the teacher who’s supposed to know it all, comes knocking after nightfall.  How embarrassing.  Nicodemus wasn’t exactly living in the era of “lead learners,” after all.

Is he who is supposed to know enough to judge
really creeping in after dark to the house where Jesus invited his first followers to “come and see?” Those followers sought Jesus in the open, in front of God and everyone.  But Nicodemus looks for answers inside, afterhours, when the teacher is alone.

I don’t think he’s using the “royal we,” Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

 Maybe all the leaders of the council really know, on some level, that Jesus is a God-sent, blessed sign, and they just can’t come to grips with what they should do about it.

But I think Nicodemus is part of group of wonderers who are starting to understand their handicapping conditions.  He’s the one brave enough to limp out at night.

Things are different at night. 
In our overly ordered minds,
in the simplest of nursery stories,
day is for wake and work,
night is for sleep and rest.
Even in the age of electricity, these categories guide our expectations,
our body rhythms, our children’s songs and prayers.
Night is time for hopes, and fear, dreams and tears.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Night is when the desperate, foolish, and cruel enter others’ homes.
Night is when firemen are called out.

In her most recent book, Kate Braestrup talks about this prayer’s origin in an era when pneumonia struck at night.  A child might lay down to sleep and not rise up again in the morning.

Night is when it’s quiet on the hospital ward,
just machines ticking and whirring
interrupted by an occasional siren growing nearer,
a few watchful nurses guarding their patients,

Night is when the veils come off,
when lovers whisper,
when voices whisper instead of shout.

Night is when conversations behind closed curtains
plan protests and shake hands on it.

Night is when candles emerge in public squares,
one, two, twenty, hundreds, thousands,
until they become a mass witness to
the Spirit unwilling to tolerate totalitarian regimes.

Night is when fireworks spray human joy across the sky crying,
yes, yes, yes!

Night is when Nicodemus asks all the right questions
and gives all the right answers,
but does get that he gets it.

[He says], "Rabbi, we all know you're a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren't in on it."

 [and Jesus says], "You're absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it's not possible to see what I'm pointing to—to God's kingdom."

Jesus is not telling Nic he has to be born again
so he’ll be able to process it all perfectly in his mind. 
Jesus is telling him he has been born again;
he sees the signs,
he walked to the right door.

Christians have spent decades asking the wrong question,
“Have you been born again?”
as though it were a ticket to the big show
or a get out of jail free card.”

What Jesus wants to know is
“Can you see what I’m doing right before your eyes?”
“Are you going to take up your bedroll and get going with me?”
Because if you can see me, Jesus says, you can see God.
And if you are coming with me, you are on the path home.

Jesus doesn’t ask Nicodemus what he’s looking for,
Jesus doesn’t make him say what he wants. 
Jesus doesn’t ask Nicodemus what he’s done for God lately.

But there is an important question underlying this conversation. 
It’s a question that lingers when Nicodemus goes back out into the night,
a riddle,
how is Nicodemus like the once upon a time paralytic,
like the once blind man?
Answer, we don’t know.
We don’t know,
because we don’t hear
what he says to those waiting for him at home, at work, at school.

The once immoveable man walked out in the light of day
and said to the leaders of the temple, 
“Jesus did it. 
Jesus made me well.

The once blind man dragged not once but twice, to tell his story,
twice given the chance to justify himself
in the face of growing pressure to disown t
he rule breaking, trouble making Jesus,
looks them right in the eyes and says,
“I don’t know what he did to make me see.
 I do know who did it.”

Is Sabbath for rest that atrophies and immobilizes?
Or is Sabbath remind us of the power God intends to heal,
to find feet,
and voices? 

The miracle of the once-blind man isn’t really that his eyes were healed.
 It’s that now he can see. 
Oliver Sacks, the neurologist, writes about patients whose eyesight has been restored, but whose brains can’t process the information now coming to them.  It just doesn’t make sense, the neural pathways are infant, unformed.  They are born again. 
Nicodemus eyes are wide open. Who will he say he has seen?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Brian shared this wonderful poem as the 2-6-11 Call to Worship:

by A. R. Ammons

I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
     over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
          where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
     into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
     far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves