Saturday, September 30, 2017

Year A, Proper 21, Philipians 2.1-13, Matt 21.23-32, According to your steadfast love

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.  (Psalm 25.6)
So David wrote, and for good reason.
If judged by his own actions, he was both an adulterer and a murderer.  Not to mention his warlike manner that expanded Israel to its greatest geographical area in history.
The name David means “beloved”, and more specifically, beloved of God.
And this was David’s prayer, that he would be remembered by God, not for his sins, but for the sake of the goodness of the Lord, and according to God’s love.
Today’s lessons speak a harsh word of judgment.
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.”
And then, in our Gospel lesson Jesus declares:
“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
Hard words for the devout religious people to hear.
Even the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
The most notorious of sinners have an advantage.
Did you ever consider that?
They have an advantage in that they recognize their need for forgiveness.
The righteous, on the other hand, are often far too comfortable in their own skin, and do not realize that they too need forgiveness.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
Lots of memories are flooding through my mind this week following my father’s death.
Some good, some not so good.
I am the middle child.  And growing up, I was sort of the black sheep of our family.  Growing up, even my siblings will tell you that my oldest brother could do no wrong and that my youngest brother was given a somewhat favored status, but I was the one who was branded.
Part of this stems from an incident during the summer in between fourth and fifth grade when we lived in Irene, SD.
I had gone to Yankton, SD to go shopping with our neighbors, my best friend Jimmy Flynn and his mother.
And I had something to prove.  I was new to the town and wanted to prove that I was not some goody two shoes son of a preacher man.
So while we were in White Drug I determined that I would steal something, anything, just to prove that I could.  It ended up being a birthday card for my brother.
I stealthily put it in my coat, and we proceeded to walk out of the store.
“Young man”, the manager of the store called out, “I need to talk with you.  You have something to show me?”
I quickly offered to pay for the item, was told that it was too late for that, and in short order was loaded into the back of a police cruiser for the ride downtown, during which they even read me  my Miranda Rights.
My mom was called to come get me.
She was not a happy camper.  And by the time she had driven the thirty miles to Yankton, she was livid. 
All the way home I heard about what a disgrace I had become to my family, including her fears that because of what I had done, my father’s job as a pastor would be compromised and we’d have to move.  On and on she went.
My dad waited to react.
A few days later, when the summons to appear in court arrived, he called me up to church for a talking to.
“David”, he began, “how long would it take for me to drive a nail into the top of this desk,” as he pointed to his brand new walnut desk.
“A minute or so.”
“And how long would it take to repair the damage done?”
“Oh, maybe an hour,” Was my response.
“But it would never be like new, again, would it?” he continued.
He went on to say that in that moment in White Drug I had done irreparable harm to my character, that from that point forward I would always be a criminal.
Years later, after I had grown up, I tried to talk with him about how hard those words were to hear as a young boy, and all he had to say was “At least you remembered them.”
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
And then, when I was beginning my ministry in Thompson Falls another incident happened.
Dad and I hunted together during those years.
Like so many hunters, we had an attitude that what happened in the woods, stayed in the woods.  If we had the opportunity to shoot a deer, we would, even if it meant the other person had to tag it.  Our goal was simply to fill each tag, however that might happen.
That year, the previous week, we had a hunting companion, Chris, who had shot a deer even though he had already filled his tag, and so Dad tagged it.
The next week, Dad was out hunting by himself, as I worked in the office, and he came across a couple of nice bucks.  He said he thought they were elk, claiming he couldn’t see the antlers.  At any rate he shot one.
When he showed up at my office, he told me “He had Chris’s problem.”  I agreed to go out and tag the buck and bring it home.
What Dad didn’t tell me was that he had stopped at the check station on the way in and they had inquired quite extensively about whether he had shot anything.  Turns out he had a couple of specks of blood on his face.
So when the two of us returned to town with a nice buck in the back, the game warden was ready.
I told the game warden that I had “got” the buck shortly after noon.  “But did you “shoot” the buck?”
To make a long story short, later that evening, after we had hung the buck out back, both game wardens showed up at our house to ticket us for cross tagging the animal. 
When we appeared before the judge, Dad had a well rehearsed explanation ready to offer, but the judge cut him short.  “The fine is $125 a piece.  Are you going to pay it or not?”
Dad paid both of our fines.
Ironically I too worried about how this crime would affect my ministry.  Turns out we had more deer to eat that year than any other as members of the congregation were so sympathetic to our getting caught doing what they all did, that they donated meat to us.
At any rate, Dad, the score is even.  We both needed forgiveness.
Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
This is our prayer.
If we are honest, we all have sinned and are subject to God’s judgment.
And in the end there is no sin that is worse than another.  Disobedience is disobedience.
And there was only one who was obedient.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
What we are asking here, is for God to look upon us, and not see us for the sinners that we are, but rather that he look upon us and see in us the Christ.
This is the marvel of God’s grace and the saving work of Christ Jesus.
That when we stand before God, before the throne of judgment, he will see us as his children, and more specifically, he will look into  our eyes and see the eyes of Jesus, the obedient one.
Jesus own righteousness will be ours.
This is what it means to say that we are ‘in Christ’.
It means that the love that the Father has for the Son is a love that is also for us.
It means that Jesus’ righteousness has become our own.
The Orthodox Church remembers the teaching of St Irenaeus in this regard.
Irenaeus’ taught that ‘God became man, that man might become God’.
Though that sounds strange to us, even blasphemous, what it means is that we are so united with Christ that we become one with him, even as he is one with the Father.
I think that the purest proclamation of the Gospel is simply this:
that because you are in Christ, you no longer need forgiveness, for you are judged as Christ, who was found to be obedient even unto death.
Think about that.
Every week we gather for worship, and begin with the confession and forgiveness.  We are reminded of our sinfulness and the need for forgiveness.
And yet, as we live in Christ, we need only remember that.  In Christ, the forgiveness is already granted, there is no more judgment.
You are righteous, because Christ is righteous.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus, according to whom you will be judged.


Friday, September 29, 2017

In Memoriam: Dad's Will and Testament

"And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them."  2 Corinthians 5:15

I rise early in the morning, as I always do, yet this morning is different.  The night light glows softly in dad's room, a witness to he who once was there, but now is gone.

Dad was growing lonely over the last two years since Mom died, and having heard of it I offered him the opportunity to come and live with us.  He was deeply moved, and he moved.  Such a short while we had him, and yet for ninety four years he was ours.

There were moments of joy this last month.  Seeing him attempt to teach his great grandson how to count to five on his fingers.  A little soon for that, Dad, but then is it ever too soon to learn?  "I hope one day he'll come to me as he comes to you." was Dad's response on seeing Jasper run to my arms last summer during a visit.  This last month Jasper did, and he would give Grandpa kisses.  Precious.

Dad accompanied us to church each Sunday.  His desire was to support as he was able our efforts to redevelop the little congregation in Otis Orchards.  A humorous moment came during one coffee hour when he sat down next to one of our parishioners, a retired pastor as well, who is legally blind.  "I'm blind," Jim had said to Dad, "I can't see you!"  "Well I'm deaf," Dad responded, "I can't hear you!"  Immediately I thought of the three monkeys:  See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.  I guess it was for me to do the later.

Our evening meals together were both a joy and a challenge.  Dad took forever to eat.  "One should take time to relish the food."  It was hard with my busy schedule to remain at the table till he was done.  "I eat faster than you, Dad."  "You have twice as many teeth as I do!"  And then the last evening, "I enjoy your cooking twice as much as you two do."  

There will be many things we will miss.  Many stories to tell.  Like the  time Dad and I got arrested together.  Yes, you heard that right.  Turns out Montana gets down right anal about who shoots a deer and who tags it.  Let's just say, Dad was many things, but definitely was not a good crook.  Though he did pay both our fines.

But more important than any of those experiences, he had a legacy to share.  For me Dad set a standard for faithfulness in ministry.  He was a pastor, and in particular, a rural pastor.  Our theology differed, he was more of a pietist than I, but a devoted pastor.  There were times I would criticize him for being so devoted to being a pastor that he had a hard time just being a Dad.  But being a pastor was so much a part of who he was that he simply could not separate himself from it.  

That legacy, though, was all about the faith and there was nothing that concerned him more than passing on that faith to his children and grandchildren.  And were Dad here this morning to share, there would be two words that captured his own faith which he would share.  "Covenant" and "Testament", these words were the foundation of his theology and faith.  

The scripture, he would say, was organized around those two words.  The Covenant with Israel, and the Covenant that is ours in Christ Jesus.  The Old and the New Testament.  At the heart of his theology was the covenant that God had made with us, a covenant that is a promise, first from God to us, and equally important for Dad, a promise we in turn make to God.  God will forever remain faithful to his part of the deal, and the only question is whether we will respond in faithfulness.

Dad somewhat surprised me in that he was very honored to participate in the Bar Mitzvahs for both William and Aaron.  With the yamaka on his head he read his portion of the service and honored their accomplishment.  In Dad's theology, they were and are living out the covenant God made with Israel.  That is sufficient, for the promises God made with Israel are God's promises, and God does not abandon those promises.  We, as Christians, lived under the new covenant, and his desire was that the rest of his family would embrace that covenant.

And then there is the Testament.  As in the last will and testament.  The scriptures outline for Dad the inheritance that is ours, as a testament.  As God's children we are heirs.  There is an estate that Christ has passed on to us, through his death and resurrection.  That which was Christ's, is now ours.  Christ's life, death, and resurrection bear witness to this, a testimony.

There were times that Dad's theology leaned toward a legalism.  "You must do this, that you might be saved."  Dad was definitely concerned that we all one day might be in heaven together.  He was concerned that we lived up to our end of the covenant and were ready to receive the inheritance God has promised to his children.  And both those terms, covenant and testimony are legal terms.  But to brand Dad a legalist would be unfair to  his understanding of the covenant and testimony of Jesus.

It was, is, and always will be about the love of God that is freely given.  A love that invites a response, but a love indeed.  He so loved us that he "died for all".  He died for us, that we might live for him.  This is the witness of Dad's favorite biblical verse quoted above.  Its about a gift freely given, but a gift that invites a response.  

God's covenant with us is that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours  in Christ Jesus.  And this love invites a loving response, that we might love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. 
The light still softly glows in the next room.  An empty room now.  We had hoped for many more months, perhaps even years, with Dad.  It was likely his heart that failed in the end, not surprising for one with his medical history.  And yet though his heart failed, neither God's love for him, or his love for God, failed.  One of my favorite verses which speaks to the covenant and testimony of God is from Romans, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable."  Dad rests now in that promise and grace.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Year A, Proper 20, Jonah 3.10-4.11, Matthew 20.1-16 “Offensive Grace”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T'was blind but now I see…

We sing that song, but often we live to another tune:

Offensive Grace, how hard to take,
That saved a wretch like them.
For we did good, and they did not
How can they fair the same?

Grace seems so unfair.
It is simply not right, or just.  And it runs counter to everything we believe in.
One of my seminary professors related an experience that he had while he served in the parish.
One day, while he was visiting a parishioner in the hospital, a man in the room across the hall called him in.
Jim knew this man, he was the husband of a prominent member of the Baptist church in town.  But unlike his wife, who was extremely devout and faithful throughout her life, this man had never darkened the door of the church.
But now he was dying.
Over the course of his conversations with Jim, one thing led to another and before it all was over he had confessed his sins, asked Jim to baptize him, which Jim did, and then he subsequently died.
His wife was livid.
She had tried throughout her life to get her husband to go to church, but he had refused.
All the while she was living her life, faithfully, doing all that Christians should do, her husband just did his own thing.
When Jim forgave him, when Jim baptized him,  it just seemed totally unfair to her. 
Her husband had merely repented on his death bed, and was saved. 
It just didn’t seem fair or just.

I had a similar experience.
Alison was a 15 year old girl who was severely injured in an automobile accident.
I had baptized her in the emergency room before she died, and during her funeral preached about how, though she didn’t wake up to the alarm that went off in her room the next morning, she did wake up to the bright light of heaven.
The next week we had a youth group meeting and her classmates had a lot of questions.
“Did she even know you baptized her?”
“How do you know she went to heaven?”
And most telling of all: “If you don’t have to do anything to be saved, why are we in confirmation and going to church, and all that stuff?”
As much they cared about Alison, they too felt this matter of grace was a bit unfair. 
The grace of God is offensive.
God’s good favor should be reserved for those who deserve it, should it not?
Why would God reward those who are not obedient?
Why would God be merciful to those who have not lived faithful and upright lives?
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”
Early in the morning he hired workers.
And then throughout the day he returned to the market place, and whenever he found workers standing idle because they had not found work, he sent them to his vineyard.  This continued from dawn until sundown.
At the end of the day, when the workers were paid, each received a day’s wage, from the first hired until the last.
Those who had worked the longest, and had received the normal day’s wage, were outraged that those who had been hired at the end of the day received the same.
Grace is offensive.
The thing about this parable, and what it points out, is that God’s grace provides for each according to their need, not according to their labor.
Each worker, needed a day’s wage to feed his/her family, and so that is what they received. 
All sorts of questions could be posed.
Such grace is not sustainable.  Imagine what would happen if workers realized that if they waited to show up until late in the day, they would still receive the same pay.  Wouldn’t everyone wait?
I mean, really, why get up at dawn to work through the day, if you can work the last hour of the day, and still get paid?
“Are you envious because I am generous?” God asks.
Well, yes we are.
God’s grace provides what we need, not what we deserve.

Sometimes life is that way.
I have four children.  Part of me wanted from the beginning to treat them all the same.  But it didn’t always work out that way.
Cars, for example, buying them cars.
One of my sons was an avid golfer, and after taking him to and from the golf course every day, for quite a while, I decided to buy him a car, an older used vehicle, but a car.
And when he went off to New Mexico State, it just made life that much easier for all of us.
My oldest daughter needed a car when she started student teaching.  And so I bought one for her.
But my youngest two went to the University of Idaho, and their studies did not require them to drive anywhere, so they didn’t get a car.  I did provide Jens with a car for a while, but Brita never needed a car. 
Was I unjust to my kids?  Or was I gracious in providing for each as they had a need?
God’s grace provides what we need, not what we deserve.
Sent by God to warn the people of Israel’s archenemy Nineveh of the judgment that was to come.
He didn’t want to go. 
He wanted God to destroy the Ninevites.
So we went the other way, setting sail for Spain.
But God wouldn’t have it.  And we have the whole story of how God caused Jonah to be thrown overboard, sent a large fish to swallow him up and take him back to Israel, and then once again God sent Jonah to Nineveh. 
So this time Jonah went, warned the Ninevites, they repented, and God saved them.  And Jonah was pissed.
“That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.”
God responds:
“And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Jonah undoubtedly would have like to sing a song like “God Bless America”,
And a second one, which basically would be “And may God damn our enemies.”
And for Jonah, nothing was more angering than the fact that God would show grace and mercy toward Israel’s enemies.
“And should I not be concerned about North Korea, that great country, in which there are more than twenty five million persons, and also many animals?”
Should God be gracious to our enemies?
God is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
Does that apply to North Korea?
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,”
Those are the words of Donald Trump at the United Nations the other day.
They represent a common human sentiment.
Many a nation has sought to destroy, even ‘totally destroy’, their enemies.
Yet God’s grace is offensive.
“And should I not be concerned about North Korea, that great country, in which there are more than twenty five million persons, and also many animals?”

This is the thing.
North Korea may not deserve God’s grace and mercy, but God’s grace and mercy has never been about what we, or they, deserve. 
Actually, that is a good thing, because if we are totally honest, we do not deserve God’s grace and mercy any more than anyone else.
It’s easy to look at others and conclude that they, and the lifestyle they have lived, do not deserve any reward whatsoever from God.
It’s human nature to believe that salvation is a reward for the righteous.
But to fully understand God’s grace and mercy, we have to first be honest about ourselves.
And if I’m honest, I have to say that “I don’t deserve it.”
For me, this never became clearer than when I was forced to face the reality of my alcoholism.
At the end of my drinking I was consuming, on average, ten fluid ounces of Scotch a night.  That was the average.  And depending on how you count it, that’s 7 to 10 “drinks” a night, though if you had asked me, I would have claimed to be having “only a couple of drinks”.
It had become more important to me than anything else.  More important than my wife, my children, and yes, my ministry.
And it nearly cost me my life, let alone, the disgrace I experienced. 
It was then, that I discovered the grace of God like I had never discovered it before.
It was then that I experienced God as a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.
God responded to my sins, not by punishing me, but by showing grace and mercy in so many ways.
It is good to remember that, whenever I think that others do not deserve what the Lord offers.
It is good to remember that when I think of ‘totally destroying’ our enemies.
It is good to remember that when I look at my neighbor and conclude that they have received far more than they deserve.
Martin Luther’s last words are reported to have been,
“We are beggars, this is true!”
And yes, indeed we are.
We are all beggars.

And God is gracious and merciful to each according to their need.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Year A, Proper 19, Romans 14.1-12, Matthew 18.21-35 Just Let it Go!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“What do you have to do to get to heaven?”
That’s a question many people ask.  And for some people that’s what Christianity is all about.  Everything we do, everything we believe is all focused on this one objective, getting to heaven.
Nothing else matters.
I had a youth director for whom this question was at the forefront of her concerns.  She saw her job as saving the souls of the youth of the congregation.
One Sunday during the children’s sermon she began with that question.
“What do you have to do to get to heaven?”
Immediately, one particularly feisty young boy blurted out:  “Die!”
I could hardly contain my laughter. 
He was right.  The only thing we have to do to get to heaven is die.  God has done the rest.
Faith is not a pathway we must follow to get to heaven, faith is to trust in God in all things, and let it go.  “Got you covered.”  God says.  “Got you covered.”
But does what we do in this life matter?
If it’s not about getting to heaven, what is it about?
What is the point of Christian Ethics?
And does it make sense to talk about Christian Ethics at all?
What we have too often done is to miss the point of Christian Ethics.  We think that Christian Ethics is all about earning a reward and avoiding a punishment.  It’s about heaven and hell.
The truth is much different.
Christian ethics is about our quality of life, not eternal life. 
It’s not about getting to heaven. 
It is about living well now.
What then are we called to do as God’s children?
Jesus was asked by a lawyer, “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?”
Jesus answered him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
It is for this reason that God created us in the beginning.  God wanted, and still wants, only one thing.  And that is to be in a loving relationship with us.  And then, God also desires that we love each other as he first loved us. 
That is the good life that God imagined from the beginning. 
It’s all about creating a loving family.
That’s why we talk about God as our Father, and why we refer to each other as children of God. 
We are bound together by love.
So, you see, the question of Christian Ethics is not “How do I get to heaven?” but rather “What does it mean to love?”
Here’s where the books can and have been written. 
Love is situational.
What is loving in one situation may not be in the next. 
Parents often are faced with this.  Many parents start out with the conviction that they should treat all of their children the same.  And yet each child’s situation may require a different response. 
Love is not a ‘one size fits all’ proposition.
Love always takes into consideration the needs of the person we love, and those needs may vary.
For example, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to challenge someone to do better.
But at other times, what is needed is the assurance that they are good enough, just the way they are.
Both are loving responses.

But within all the complexity of what is loving, and all of the varied situations that we are called to respond in a loving manner, Jesus does give us some guidance.
Two things stand out in our lessons for today.
Never judge.
Always forgive.
On the first one, Paul writes in Romans:
“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
Why shouldn’t we judge our neighbor?
Because we are not their lord, we are not God, and oh, by the way, God has already judged and forgiven them, so let it go.  Just let it go.
Christians have a hard time with this.
We are quick to pass judgment on one another.
This is so much a part of our makeup, that it is almost impossible to avoid it.
In fact, if you think about what I just said, I’m guilty of it.
In saying Christians are often too judgmental I myself have rendered a judgment. 
Well, I can be judgmental.  You can be judgmental.  We all can be judgmental.  That’s a sin we are all guilty of in one way or another.
We form alliances based on our judgments.
Conservative Christians tend to make certain judgments.
Liberal Christians are equally judgmental, just on different issues.
I, for example, have a real hard time with racists, or abusers. 
If a white supremacist showed up at our door, I don’t know that I could welcome them.
And as for someone who sexually abuses children, for example, I’d like to string them up and kill them.  That’s kind of judgmental. 
That said, there is one judgment that we as Christians can rightfully make:
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:22-23)
If we must make a judgment let it be this:
That all have sinned, and there is no distinction, that is, no one’s sin is better or worse than another.
But having said that, we make the declaration that sinful though we all are, we are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Are we sinners?
Yes, but sinners Christ has redeemed.
Never judge.
Always forgive.
Always forgive.  That’s the second key to living a loving life.  Always forgive.
“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
This runs counter to our human nature.
“Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Now that’s a statement that rings true to many of us.
When I was looking up that statement on the internet, just to get it right, I came across another:
“I’m a good enough person to forgive you, but not stupid enough to trust you again.”
I once had a couple come in for marital counseling.
They were there because the husband, while away on a business trip, had been drinking and hooked up with another woman at the bar.
What was interesting was that his wife was willing to forgive him, in part, because she reasoned that his drinking had played a major part in his lack of judgment in that situation.
But, for whatever reason, she desperately wanted to save their marriage and was willing to forgive him.
He wanted a divorce.
The reason he wanted a divorce was that though his wife promised to forgive him, he was convinced she would never again trust him.  And he couldn’t live with that.
Another example:
If someone has sexually abused a child, can we forgive them?  But even if we forgive them, can we ever trust them again to be alone with children?
And if we cannot trust them again, does that mean we have in fact never forgiven them?
This is where the ethics of love gets complicated.
Love entails forgiving.
But love also mandates that we protect the vulnerable from harm.
We have learned the hard way, that though forgiveness is available for all, trust can often never be restored in this life.
Underlying that is a fundamental question:  Is trust something that we give to another, or something that is earned.  And when someone violates that trust, is there anything they can do to restore it?
I do know this.  I would never entrust my children or grandchildren to the care of someone who has abused children before.  I love them too much to subject them to that risk.
And if that’s a sin, I guess all I can do is ask God’s forgiveness, because that’s a sin I’m willing to commit. 
There is another side to forgiveness, though, that is often overlooked.  And that is ‘just let it go.’
Harboring anger, or resentment toward another, bottling it up inside and being consumed by it, is more harmful to our selves than it is to the other person.
It is said that hanging onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
One of the reasons God wants us to forgive those who sin against us, is so that we ourselves will not be destroyed by our resentments and rage.
I learned this first hand five years ago.  Someone in my congregation did something that so enraged me that I turned to my bottle of Scotch and tried to drink the rage away. 
The person who almost died as a result was not the person who harmed me, but me.
Just let it go.
Forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of others.
How often must we forgive?
As often as you need to forgive.
God isn’t asking us to do the impossible.
God’s command to forgive is actually for our own sake.  Our failure to forgive will kill us in the end.  It will destroy the very fabric of our lives.
And that’s the last thing God wants for us.
And so God forgives us all our sins.
And for our sake, encourages us to do likewise.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Year A, Proper 18, Ezekiel 33.7-11 “For why will you die, O House of Israel?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Harvey, Irma, Joses, and Katia
Hurricanes.  Epic hurricanes. 
Harvey drenched the Houston area with more rain than has ever been recorded in our country from a single event in modern history.
Irma that is striking Florida today is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
While we are still reeling in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, Joses, and Katia follow close behind.
All three of them are expected to make landfall this weekend.
Irma in Florida.
Katia in Mexico.
Joses will hit the islands in the Caribbean already hit by Irma, before heading northeast into the Atlantic, luckily sparing Florida.
Meanwhile, at home, our forests are burning.
Sandpoint recorded the worst air quality in the nation this last week, the result of the intense forest fires in the Northwest.
If only there was some way to get some of the moisture from the Gulf States here, we could solve two problems simultaneously.
Well, that’s wishful thinking.
Back to reality.
One of the things about hurricanes is that there are always warnings.
We know when they are coming.
We have a pretty good idea where they are headed.
We have time to prepare.
My sister and brother-in-law live in Florida, and one of the things that struck me when I visited them a few years back is that they had brackets installed on their home so that whenever a hurricane struck they were prepared to cover all their windows with metal panels.
Be prepared.
Head the warnings.
Friday night I was amazed as I watched CNN’s coverage at how some are ignoring the warnings to get out of the storm’s way, choosing rather to just hunker down and ride it out.
Now for some, this makes sense.
My sister Karen lives northeast of Tampa Bay, and my brother Tim lives up toward Daytona Beach, and both are likely far enough north that the storm will likely be more of a nuisance than a threat by the time it reaches them.
But on CNN they were interviewing people in the Florida Keys where the storm will hit hardest that had resolved to stay put.
One replied that they had considered leaving but didn’t know where they could go with their two daughters, AND FIVE DOGS, so they are staying put.
Some of these people who do not heed the warnings will die.  That’s the tragedy.
I have a friend who was talking about the aid that our government will offer to the flood victims from Hurricane Harvey.
His point was that we should help them rebuild.  Yes.
But with one condition:  that they relocate to higher ground.
But we won’t.
Houston will be rebuilt where it is, just like New Orleans was rebuilt.  Never mind that much of New Orleans is below sea level.  Rebuild anyway.
Scientist warn us that climate change is occurring and as the world warms up, the oceans will rise because water expands as it gets warmer, and the warmer water will result in hurricanes intensifying, and in the end, the remarkable storms that we are now seeing will become common place.
But we like ocean front property.
So we build on the beaches anyway.
The thing is, we are far enough away from the gulf that when we hear of one hurricane after another, we can’t help but wonder why people don’t move, don’t they understand that hurricane after hurricane will come.  Don’t they realize that no matter how often they rebuild, it is only a matter of time before one strikes again?
Of course, when they hear of the devastation caused by forest fires, the lives and homes lost, they can’t help but wonder why we want to rebuild our homes in the middle of the forest.  Forest fires happen.  Lightning strikes and tinder dry forests erupt in flames. 
And when the forest becomes a raging inferno standing out in your yard with a garden hose is not going to stop the fire. 
The warnings were there.  Yet time and time again we simply choose to ignore them.
Ezekiel was appointed by God to be a sentinel, a watchman to warn God’s people about what was to come.
Throughout the ages, through God’s Word and the messengers he has sent to us, we have received warning upon warning.
“ turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Those were the words God gave to Israel.
Yet they didn’t listen.
We hear a word of warning and we don’t listen.
Are scientists the sentinels that God has sent to us today to warn us about the effect of our actions upon the world we live in?
Some believe so.
But many more respond in one of two ways:
First we simply deny that what they say is true.  “It’s all just a conspiracy,” we say. 
Or, even if we believe them, we either don’t believe there is anything we can do to avert the disaster, or worse, knowing what we can do, we simply refuse to change our way of life.
If what scientists are telling us about climate change is true, and that our actions are causing it, then the hope is that we can do something to avert the disaster.
The purpose of the warning is not to condemn, but to offer a way out. 
In Ezekiel the prophet writes:
“Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
In Ephesians 4:25-27 Paul warns us:
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
What Paul is warning us about is that if we fail to resolve our differences in a timely fashion we will “make room for the devil”.
Jesus offers us a way of reconciliation in the Gospel lesson for today.
We have received a warning, and offered a way out.
There will be things that make us angry, but we need not let them destroy us, either individually, or as the body of Christ.
One of the questions is when we hear words of warning do we hear them as words of judgment or hope?
When the Bible warns us that our divisions will destroy the Church, the hope is that if we practice forgiveness, our unity may be restored.
This is so simple, really.  With every warning, there is both a judgment and hope.
The warnings that God gives us, are not a condemnation, but a diagnosis.  God tells us what is wrong—and what we can do about it.
The issue for us is will we listen?
And will we act?
Sometimes, though, we simply run from any notion of responsibility.  We play the victim.
Even our theology reinforces this notion.
“We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
Well, to a certain extent this is true.
But the other side to that story is that we are to live responsibly.
Our actions have consequences.  If you want to avoid bad consequences, avoid the bad decisions that bring about those consequences.
“Turn back, turn back, from your evil ways.”
In Romans Paul writes:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Love is a choice.
This is the thing:
There are situations in life that will make us angry.
There are situations in life that will please us.
Of that, we have no control.
But we do have a choice about how we respond to the good and the bad in life.
We can wallow around in our anger and let it consume us.
Or we can choose to love, and to forgive, and be reconciled to one another.
The choice is between that which will kill us, or that which will give us life.
“turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Why will you die, O house of Israel, when God has shown us how to live?