What does life look like post graduation from graduate school? I am about to find out!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night Before Christmas

Christmas is almost here. In just a few short hours, we will enter into the period of Christmas where the Christ child has been born and delivered. Let's think about that for a minute. A little baby, born in a manger among oxen and sheep, will become Jesus Christ, a leader of all humanity. Everything about that story is simply humbling and miraculous. We often forget or intentionally ignore these aspects of the story. Jesus could have come as a mighty monarch or a powerful dictator but instead, Jesus came as a tiny, defenseless baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger among livestock. From such humble origins born of an unwed pregnant teenager (which back then was even more of a scandal than it is now) and yet, look at what that baby became.
I think it is best that we remember those humble origins more often. Too often, Christianity acts so triumphalist and powerful that we seem to have forgotten that our very faith came about from a baby born in a stable, not a mighty and powerful ruler. It is best that we realize this and keep it at the forefront during this time of year. There is no "war on Christmas". Christianity was never intended to be the dominant religion anyway. Our origins started with a baby in a manger among livestock. It really doesn't get any more humble than that.
On the other hand, what about that baby's mother? What did she have to say about the whole situation? I've been thinking a lot lately about Mary and her story and how we almost never hear from her. She has almost no lines and seems to only be a bit player in her own story. I think Mary really needs to be returned to the forefront of the Christmas story. She is, after all, the mother of Jesus. Without her, there would have never been a Jesus. When we marginalize Mary, we implicitly marginalize her role in the Christmas story, that of nurturer and comforter. We essentially say that what she did is unimportant and therefore doesn't need to be told. We make her invisible, much like women throughout history have been made invisible. When we silence Mary, we silence women. When we silence women, we marginalize or make irrelevant their roles in the life cycle. We tell them that they are not important and that their contributions are not worth mentioning. This does a disservice to all as there are many valuable and important contributions that women make and have made in the history of our world. How much richer our lives would be if we would simply acknowledge those contributions and allow all women to have a voice and to make contributions. Sadly, we don't. Even in the year 2012, we still have much work to be done on that front. In many families, women are still taught to be submissive and any money the family has goes toward the men of the family and their upbringing while the women are left to fend for themselves. In many parts of the world, women have no voice, no vote and no power and to speak up is to risk death. Even in our own United States, women still struggle to be seen as equals in many different aspects of society. It seems like things really haven't changed all that much since Mary's time. We are still marginalizing and silencing women and their roles. We are still saying that their parts aren't important. We don't give them a voice and we don't give them a role. What does that say about us? Perhaps it is time for us to finally allow Mary to have a major part in the Christmas story? Instead of letting Joseph and the angels have all the good lines, maybe it is time for us to allow Mary to speak up. What must have been going through her head when she found out that she was going to birth Jesus? What were her thoughts when she stared down at her newborn baby? What was she thinking when the angels shone down upon them? Wonder, excitement, nervousness? All of the above? Isn't it time we find out? Isn't it time we allow Mary to have a part? She has a lot to say if only we are willing to listen!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Will Wait

 We've entered the season of Advent. A time of waiting. Waiting for the coming of Jesus into our lives and into our world. For many of us, the waiting is the hardest part of the whole thing. We don't want to wait for anything. We want it now. I, too, am guilty of this. I freely admit that I am an instant gratification type of guy. It's why I was so hesitant to learn how to cook and always preferred fast food because I hated waiting. I don't even like to wait for water for boil when I'm making pasta. I sincerely don't like to wait. Did I mention I'm a Type A?!
What I've learned, though, is that it is a very important quality to learn how to wait. It is very important to learn how to bide your time. It is through our waiting that we can best hear the voice of God in our lives. We hear God whenever we wait for something that we really want, like our wedding day or Christmas morning. It is in the waiting that allows us the opportunity and the privilege of experiencing God's presence. In the silence and the stillness, there is God.
What does this mean for those who are still waiting? Waiting for peace? Waiting for understanding? Waiting for love? Waiting for change? What does their life look like? Does this mean that they should continue to wait in hopes that God will speak to them in their waiting? I wouldn't say that. God is also there with us when we get tired of waiting and start actually doing. God is with the protesters, the grieving parents, the lobbyists, the broken-hearted and the rejected. God is always with us wherever we go. God's voice can be heard in the midst of waiting or in the midst of action. You can't keep God out, no matter what others might do to suggest otherwise.
I don't want to diverge into a discussion of politics on here as I think that is something that is best left off of this space but over the last few days, I've been hearing a lot about how the shooting in Connecticut this past weekend happened because we have pushed God out of our schools and we are being punished for that decision. What most rankles me about that statement is that it limits God. It says that God cannot be in the school because our society has pushed God out of our schools. I don't think that's how God works. God can be anywhere God wants to be. That's just God's nature. God was in the school house that day with the children as they were crying. God was with the teachers as they were comforting the children. God was with the parents as they mourned the loss of so many young lives. To say that God couldn't be in the schoolhouse because God's no longer allowed there is insulting to God and offensive to all who believe in God. God can't be contained by our rules. God goes where God wants.
In this season of Advent, we wait. Some wait for peace for their troubled hearts. Others wait for love because they have never experienced it. Some wait for change because they are tired of living with the status quo. Still, others wait for understanding because they are tired of not being understood. What joy it is on Christmas Day when we no longer have to wait anymore. The wait is over. Jesus has finally come. He understands, loves, changes and brings peace. The wait was worth it. Let's remember that as we journey forth over this next week. The wait may be long. It may be difficult but at the end of the day, it is worth it. God is always with us, in our waiting and in our not-waiting. Jesus is the one we wait for and his coming provides us with all the desires of our deepest hearts. Are you willing to wait for Jesus? Are you willing to listen for God in the waiting? Are you willing to wait with me? Do You Hear What I Hear? It's God. Listen, you might just hear it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Way to Peace?

Folks, a bit of background to what I am about to post. Yesterday, for my final Reformed Worship class I preached the following sermon about peace. In light of the shooting in Connecticut this morning, it feels even more timely and relevant so I thought I should share it with others. I just will never understand people and their ways sometimes. I hope and pray that God will work in our lives to make a better world where things like this don't happen ever.
PS: The Scripture text was Phillippians 4:4-7

What does peace look like? What does peace feel like? If you were to attempt to draw a picture of peace, what would you draw? If peace were a person, what would it wear? Where would it live? What kind of car would it drive?
These might seem like rather silly questions and to a certain extent, they are. However, I think it is important for us to attempt to visualize what peace actually looks like and feels like. Then, I think we can get a better sense of what this passage from Philippians is referring to. “The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.”
Let’s let that sink in for a minute. “The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” Obviously, Paul lived in a much different, less tumultuous time.After all, peace doesn’t even seem to exist in our world as it is today. Try saying this phrase to a mother whose son has just been murdered in a random act of violence. Try saying it to a woman whose husband just died in Afghanistan. Try saying it to the father whose daughter will be spending the next year of her life in the hospital with a rare, untreatable form of cancer. Or how about saying it to the husband whose wife died unexpectedly leaving behind four children for him to raise alone? Where is their peace?
We turn on our televisions and we see the images of war and violence and man’s inhumanity to man everywhere we look. Another violent shooting in Oregon. Another mugging in Chicago. Another teenager in Texas that has taken his own life because of bullying and abuse. It’s easy to see why it becomes increasingly hard to believe that God’s peace is anywhere to be found, let alone in our hearts.
Again, I say to you: what does peace feel like? Is it the warmth of a mother’s hand as she holds her newborn baby for the first time? Is it the touch of a child’s face against our skin as we bathe them? Does it feel like dog hair after a good, brisk run with our dogs in the park? Can that really be peace? Or the look in a doctor’s eyes as he tells the young couple that yes, they are pregnant? Is that what peace feels like?
Sister Joan Chittister once said that “Peace is the sign of a disarmed heart”. That’s a pretty great way to put it, if you ask me. What I interpret her to mean is that peace means that we have lowered our defenses and allowed others to open us up to the gifts that they bring us.  Every time we allow ourselves to open up to others, we allow the peace of God into our hearts and our minds.
The Greek word “Eirene” means peace. It can be translated as “peace between individuals i.e. harmony or concord.” It’s also where we get our English word eirenic which means “to promote or conciliate peace.” Makes me wonder if one could be an ironic eirenic? While the word “eirene” can mean this kind of peace, it can also refer to the “way that leads to peace”. Famed anti-war activist A.J. Muste once said, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
If you were to draw a picture of peace, what would you draw? Anti-war protests? A Palestinian and a Jew having a meal together? People united around the communion table? Could all those be what peace might look like? “Peace is the way.”
So, having said all that, what does this passage say to us now? “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds forever.”  What it says to me is that when we allow God’s peace into our hearts and our minds, we will feel some sense of contentment: with ourselves, with others, with the world. Wars may rage, rivers may run, people may kill but God’s peace always provides. It means we should get out of our houses and meet the new neighbors, even though their ways may seem strange and foreign to us. It means we should comfort the crying kid on the street corner even though he smells bad and might try to mug us. It means we should open our homes and our hearts to those who we don’t like. It even means that we are called to love Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson, horrifying as that may seem to some of us! When we do these things, when we embrace the stranger and break bread with the outcast and share our joys with the single mom on welfare, then we have truly understood God’s peace and have begun to fully embody it.
If peace were a person, what would it wear? Where would it live? Would it wear the latest fashions and live in the nicest house in the Hamptons? Or would it wear the rattiest clothes and live in a one bedroom, bug-infested apartment in Harlem? Or perhaps something in between: some Old Navy and J. Crew outfits living in the middle of Oklahoma, perhaps? Maybe all three of these? What kind of car would peace drive? A Hybrid Prius? A beat-up pickup truck? A Ferrari, even?
The answer is: all of the above. Anywhere where people strive to embody the peace of God, the peace that surpasses understanding, there is where peace is. It can happen in the Hamptons or Harlem and even Oklahoma. Peace can and does happen everywhere. That’s the real beauty and the real joy of our lives. And it is worth remembering at all times and in all places. “There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way”. Let’s be the peace. Let’s remember to always live into God’s peace, whatever that may look like. Holding hands with a stranger. Having dinner with your mortal enemy. Promising to watch over and protect a single mother’s new born baby. When you do any or all of these things, you fully embody God’s peace. Peace be with You. Amen!