Wednesday, April 18, 2018

John 20:19-23 "Just Dance"

         Back in the days when the Beach Boys sang how Midwestern farmers’ daughters and northern girls in general could not hold a candle to the young women who lived in California (that sunshine-y, almost magical place I had never been) and when they crooned about surfer girls (which I never was) in their bikinis (which Imy mother never let me wear) with their undoubtedly long blond California hair (which I never had), back in those days this New Jersey teenaged girl’s favorite movie was “The Endless Summer”.
         The film was a quasi-documentary with dreamy summery theme music and an awesome poster about two young men who navigated all around the world searching for the perfect surfing wave.  The duo traveled a full twelve months, with money apparently no object.  They began in California (of course), swung through Australia and New Zealand, stopped in Hawaii and Tahiti, ending up in Senegal and South Africa. 
         I do not remember exactly where they found their perfect wave, but I do remember one line from the film.  “You should have been here yesterday.”  The surfers were told on several occasions that they had just missed it!  Not long ago, the locals assured them, the weather had been perfect, the beach had been perfect, the water had been perfect, and, most importantly, the waves had been perfect.  You should have been here yesterday!
         I am reminded of that line now that we are post-Easter here in church.  You should have been here on April 1st!  Two weeks ago, it was a perfect morning:  The flowers were perfect, the music was perfect, the message was perfect.  You should have been here on Easter!  We belted out the Hallelujah Chorus.  We breathed in the sweet fragrance of lilies.  Some of us even wore our colorful spring clothes. 
         And most every one of us fairly danced our way out of this very sanctuary – so filled with the news of the resurrection were we!  Derek Hough, Patrick Swayze, and Fred Astaire had nothing on us.  You should have been here on Easter!  It was perfect!
         But here we are – a mere two weeks later – back in own real and exceedingly imperfect world again:  The same old President stirring up the same old bad feelings and fears with his latest tweets, the same old marriage with its myriad problems, the same old job, the same old tangled and complex family issues. Though the church considers Easter not simply a day, but rather a seven-week season, we are hard-pressed to keep up the celebration for even a short time.
         In that regard, we are not unlike the disciples who huddled in an upper room behind locked doors in Jerusalem post-Easter, post-resurrection news.  Like us, in spite of the women’s cries of “He is risen”, the only dance the little band of followers were capable of was a dance of quiet desperation. 
         Lutheran pastor William Flippin describes the scene this way:  I can imagine them sweating profusely and can even see some occasionally checking the doorknob to see that it was locked. Other disciples might have been looking out of a peephole or a window because…they were now fugitives because their beloved leader, Jesus, has been executed…by the means of crucifixion.
         The disciples fear the Roman and religious authorities that murdered Jesus would possibly murder them for being associated with this radical, itinerant preacher from Galilee. Their messianic hopes have dissolved into mere survival, coupled by utter confusion and calamity.” 
         What had they been thinking these past three years?  Not only did they fear for their own skins now, but they must also have concluded that they had been duped.  Here they had given three years of their lives – left homes and families and, if not well-paying, at least reasonably steady incomes - to follow this man who had turned out to be a fraud. 
         Jesus’ words had been so revolutionary.  The disciples had been swept in, convinced that he was the Messiah who would lead all of Israel in a complete overthrow of the oppressive Roman imperialist domination system.  This charismatic preacher, along with his fervent hope for a better world, had been little more than a charlatan.    
         Now all they had to show for their efforts was a dead rabbi, a stolen body, a cockamamie story from a couple of women, Jerusalem in an uproar, and, worst of all, them fearing for their own lives.  Thanks a lot, Jesus!  No wonder they huddled, sweating in the heat, behind locked doors. 
         It was in the midst of that wretched scene, of course, that the Risen Christ showed up.  The locked door did not keep him out.  Nothing could keep him out. 
         What did the disciples think – they who knew they were little more than a ragtag bunch of nobodies, they who realized they were merely cowards, they who wondered now if they had lost their souls when they had chosen to save their skins on that black day of crucifixion?  Did they feel ashamed?  Did they fear Jesus’ presence? 
         Who knows?  The Gospel writer does not tell us because maybe the Gospel writer knew it really did not matter how the disciples initially felt.
         What mattered was that Jesus showed them his wounds and scars.  What mattered was that Jesus was not angry with them.  What mattered was that he did not yell at them and tell them they were the poorest excuse for human beings that he had ever seen. What mattered was that he did not condemn them or belittle them or berate them. 
         What mattered was that he offered them the age-old Jewish greeting of love and reconciliation:  “Peace be with you.”  Shalom. Peace.  Do not be afraid.  Everything is going to be all right.  You are not alone.  I am here to dance with you.
         And then to prove his point, the Risen Christ took a deep cleansing breath and exhaled.  He breathed the Holy Spirit upon all of the men and women gathered in that stifling hot upper room. 
         And suddenly the air felt cool and clean again, and there was the faintest odor of lilies.  For an instant, they were sure they heard music, and the stories of King David long ago dancing with wild abandon before God flitted across their minds.  They could not help it, but their feet started tapping just a little bit too.  It was perfect!
         And then Jesus sent them out into the world to continue to dance the work that he had begun with them – to offer forgiveness, to preach reconciliation, to be peacemakers, to welcome the unwelcome, to heal, and, most of all, to love – all the time, of course, trusting that they were not alone in their ministry.  After all, they had been filled with the Holy Spirit, and so with the rhythm of the dance that Jesus offered them also came the pulsing beat of power and purpose. 
         In breathing upon them the Holy Spirit and sending them forth into the world, Jesus told them it was their time to dance – dances of freedom, dances of justice, dances of hope.  He told them:  “Dance, dance, wherever you may be.  I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.  I’ll lead you all wherever you may be.  I’ll lead you all in the dance, said he.”
         From wallflowers to dancers, from hopelessness to joy:  Suddenly the disciples had something to live for again.  They had peace.  They had power.  They had purpose.  In short, they had every reason in the world to dare to dance again.
         And so it is with us.  We too have every reason in the world to dare to dance post-Easter.  We too have every reason for our feet to start tapping.  Here are just three reasons.
          First, just as Jesus met the disciples where they were – huddled in a dark and fear-filled upper room down some back alley in the Holy City, so Jesus meets us wherever we are too – in whatever dark and fear-filled room down whatever back alley of our lives we have decided to hang out in.  And he is already extending his hand, pulling us to our feet, declaring that we shall be wallflowers, sitting on the sidelines in doubt and fear, no longer, daring us to dance again.
        One blogger I read this past week wrote:  “You can depend on the fact that when you begin to doubt and fear – whether this week, or next week, or a decade from now — the risen Christ will not stay away from you. You can put as many locks and dead bolts on the door as you like, but the risen Christ will come to you anyway. Your doubts will not keep him at bay.
         Into our bomb shelters, into our doubts and disbelief, just when we’re sure that this time, the sky is really falling: the Risen Christ appears to us. He walks right into the midst of us: with arms outstretched, bearer of peace, vanquisher of death, the champion of heaven.  He promises to come and to come again, one more time, and another time after that, as many times as it takes.  As long as you and I have need, he comes.”  Even in doubt, even in fear, he comes – and invites us to dare to dance.  And isn’t that a reason to accept the invitation?
         Second, – or perhaps it is a corollary to that first reason to dare to dance again  - the Risen Christ will always find us.  A locked door will not keep him out.  As Episcopal priest Michael Marsh proclaims:  “Jesus’ tomb is open and empty but the disciples’ house is closed and the doors locked tight. The house has become their tomb. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear.
         The disciples have separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith have been closed…They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness…They have locked themselves in. The doors of our tombs are always locked from the inside.” 
         And yet, Jesus manages to break through those doors.  He is in the business of unlocking locks and unsealing tombs – even ours, even today.  And when he finds us hidden away, Jesus offers us peace to overcome the fears we carry – the fears of mass shootings, of the impact of trade wars and tariffs, of a military response to Russia and Syria, of an unpredictable President. Jesus offers us shalom – wholeness and healing for our fraught relationships – with our families, with our coworkers, with our neighbors.  
         When the time comes – as it always does – to live the resurrection – to live the hope and promise of new life and personal transformation – and instead we want to stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads and close out the world and lock ourselves away, Jesus finds us.  He will not let us imprison ourselves in that way.  He invites us to dare to dance.  And isn’t that a reason to accept the invitation?
         Third, a final reason to dare to dance again is the realization that the Risen Christ seldom comes to individuals (Mary in the garden being the sole exception).  The Risen Christ comes to people who are committed to gathering together in community – and that would be the church. 
         The breath of the Risen Christ  - the Holy Spirit – swirls around here – right here in this place – empowering us for ministry, giving us a purpose great than ourselves, sending us forth not only on big excursions like to Maine Seacoast Mission, but also sending us forth simply to our homes and jobs where we re called to embody, with God’s help of course, all that Jesus was and all that he stood for. 
Jesus says that we are better off daring to dance as a church family than daring to dance alone.  And isn’t that a reason to accept the invitation?
         So - yes – you should have been here on Easter – because it was perfect.  However, it is even better that you are here today to feel the rhythm and to get your feet tapping, so that you will dare to dance again – as Easter people – in his name.




Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:13-35

         A pastor was once giving a children’s sermon on Easter Sunday, and, as one might expect, she had more than the usual number of little ones gathered about her on the chancel steps at the front of the church.  She was telling the story of Easter with immense drama and flair – knowing that she would probably not see some of these children again until Christmas Eve. 
         She began with the three women making their way to the cemetery as the first hint of dawn spread its rosy fingers across the Eastern horizon.  The children listened intently.  She then went on to tell how the women found the tomb in the garden amidst the dew-laden lilies and daffodils.  The children were in her thrall.  As she continued the story, she asked the children to imagine being one of the women who saw that the enormous stone across the tomb entrance had been rolled away, revealing the darkened interior. The children were silent.  Their eyes were as big as saucers, hanging on the pastor’s every word. 
         She then paused dramatically before asking them the pivotal and climactic question:  “And when the women peeked inside the tomb, what do you suppose they saw?”
         One little girl, attired in her brand new white dress with its pink satin bow, her Easter bonnet tied coquettishly around her chin, could hardly contain her excitement.  The pastor repeated the question for added emphasis:  “And when the women peeked inside the tomb, what do you suppose they saw?”
         The little girl excitedly blurted out, loud enough for the entire congregation to hear, “Jelly beans?”
         Well, we who are wise to this story know that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome did not find jellybeans when they came to the tomb that first Easter morning.  However, they knew full well what they would find:  a corpse hastily laid on a cold rock shelf, Jesus’ body – broken and torn - that had not been properly prepared for burial due to the taboo on doing any sort of work – particularly touching a dead body – on the Sabbath. 
         And so, because of an ancient Jewish religious ritual that the Pharisees enforced, the three of them had now come to the garden cemetery in the darkest hour just before dawn, carrying their baskets filled with spices – myrrh and aloe, cedar, rose, and lavender – common embalming ingredients in the ancient world.  They had come to offer their final gift of love and respect with the rising sun. They had come to weep one last time and to say goodbye forever.  They knew the rock closing off the entrance to the tomb would be a problem, but, well, they would cross that bridge when they came to it. 
         Of course, we who are wise to this story know that the stone was not an issue.  Nor did the women find a corpse.  In fact, they found nothing – nothing except emptiness and an even darker dark than they had known before. 
         They found only some guy dressed in white whom they did not know sitting where Jesus’ body should have been lying, some guy spouting a tale that he was gone, that he was raised, that he had hightailed it off the Galilee.  In short, the three women only found an empty tomb.  And they were so torn between terror and amazement that they ran away and told no one. 
         It is a lousy ending to the story – no doubt about it. Could not the Gospel writer of Mark have done a bit better than that?  
         It was such a lousy ending, in fact, that an editor years later, when this resurrection business was perhaps somewhat better understood, added on a few more verses about Jesus meeting up with his disciples again. However, any way you read this particular Gospel narrative – with or without the second, later ending, you have got to figure that the women must have told their story to someone – or else we would not be continuing to tell their same story year after year, Easter after Easter.
         However, it is little wonder that the women ran away, their lips sealed.  I mean, there are so many explanations for an empty tomb – and the least likely would have been that Jesus had come back to life again. 
         Was it not in the 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” that director Martin Scorsese speculated that Jesus never actually died on the cross but was rescued by his guardian angel, got married, and lived peacefully to a ripe old age?  That caused a flap in the orthodox Christian world! 
         And then there was the possibility of grave robbers.  It was not uncommon for peasants to make a little extra cash on the side by stripping dead people of any and all worldly possessions they may have tried to take with them – and even absconding with the body itself.  
         And what about the disciples themselves hiding Jesus’ body in the hopes of duping the public into believing that Jesus had indeed returned from the dead and this time really would lead the much anticipated political revolution?
         In addition, scholars of ancient Roman history and cultural practices wonder about the likelihood of Jesus’s body being placed in a tomb in the first place.  It would certainly have been uncharacteristic of the fate of other crucifixion victims. 
         Biblical historian Bart Ehrman notes that it was against Roman practices for criminals to be given decent burials.  Their bodies were left to rot on the crosses as part of their punishment and as a reminder to those living that it was dangerously foolish to cross the Roman governor.  Sometimes all that was left were weathered bones.  Sometimes vultures or dogs or wild beasts ate the carcasses, waiting in the wings until nightfall to pull the parts they could get at to the ground and feast on the rotten remains. 
         Ehrman goes on to say that, if criminals such as Jesus were buried, the Romans took care of it, eventually shoveling them into shallow common graves like first century Holocaust victims. There in peace the worms and insects could finish the work begun by the hot desert sun. 
         And as far as the story of Joseph of Arimathea asking a favor of Pilate and obtaining permission to take Jesus’ body for a proper burial?  Well, Pilate was not exactly known for being a sympathetic ruler and bestowing his kindness for nothing in return. 
         In fact, the first century historian Philo, In describing Pilate's personality, writes that Pilate had "vindictiveness and furious temper", and was "naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness".
         Referring to Pilate's governance, Philo further describes "his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity."  Not someone likely to agree to a proper burial for a two-bit Jewish criminal that he had washed his hands of a few days before.
         So where does all this leave us on Easter morning?  After all, this is the day of the empty tomb.  This is the day that is supposed to have us all belting out the Hallelujah Chorus and believing wholeheartedly in Jesus’ resurrection. But on the basis of some guy dressed in white and three women who were too afraid to tell anyone their outlandish story?  Come on!
         The empty tomb is traditionally the symbol of the resurrection – but the evidence is so flimsy.  Where does all this leave us on Easter morning?
         Resurrection is indeed central to the Christian faith.   That much we know.  After all, without it, Jesus would have been just a footnote in Jewish history, his followers a small sect within Judaism that likely would have died out over time.  Most assuredly, it was the disciples’ belief in resurrection that changed everything.  However, that belief had little to do with the empty tomb.
         And so, I would submit that those of you who come to church only on this Sunday – but are serious about this resurrection business - ought to hang around for the next few Sundays at least.  Because, you see, what made the difference was not the empty tomb of Easter.
     What made the difference were stories like the two old men in the video.  Decades later, they remembered – maybe not what they had for lunch that day but forever how their hearts had burned inside of them when they had met Jesus on the road, and he had shared a meal with them. 
         There are other stories like that one in all the Gospel narratives.  There is the story of Jesus cooking breakfast on a beach, of Jesus confronting Mary Magdalene in the cemetery garden and her mistaking him at first for the gardener, of Jesus allowing Thomas to touch his scarred hands and wounded side.  Even that later editor of Mark’s Gospel eventually comes round to a story – albeit short on details - about Jesus appearing to his followers, those stubborn men of little faith.
         It was not the empty tomb that caused them – or causes us - to believe in his resurrection – or to toss it aside as a fanciful tale.  It is those experiences of Jesus appearing to those who loved him that make all the difference. 
         It was visions of Jesus alive again – not the empty tomb - that inspired Jesus’ followers to know – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that he had been raised from the dead, that he was alive. The two old men said it themselves:  Their hearts burned inside of them.  Their lives were changed forever.
         The guy in white at the tomb told the three women to tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee, where his ministry began.  Maybe that is what we should do as well: Return to the beginning and see the life of Jesus unfolding with new eyes. 
         As Lutheran pastor Jonathan Davies writes, we see Jesus “caring for the sick, and sitting with the people no one else wants to sit with, and loving the people who hate and betray him. And when we realize those things are still happening today, then all of sudden we have something say about the resurrected Christ in the world today.”  He is risen! He is alive!  He is here!
         And every time we do something, no matter how small, to welcome the refugee, to readjust the off-kilter balance between affluence and poverty, to heal the rift between us and the ones we are unable to forgive, every time we do something that leaves our hearts burning within us because we know we could not have done what we did just on our own, well, there you have it:  He is risen!
     From death to life, from war to peace, from hopelessness to joy:  I believe all those pie-in-the-sky things are possible even when so much in our world tries to prove to me otherwise.  From death to life, from war to peace, from hopelessness to joy:  I believe those glimpses of God’s dream for the world have happened and will continue to happen. 
         Call me gullible, but I will keep belting out the Hallelujah Chorus annually – even though I have never had a vision like those early disciples.  I have never breakfasted with Jesus nor heard him speak outright to me nor touched him.
          In that regard, I am a pretty ordinary person.  However, I am also darn sure that I have been touched by him - if only by being touched by all that he stood for. 
         I have seen him in the face of a wheelchair-bound man who beamed as he waved goodbye to a few of us who had built him a handicap ramp in Tennessee. I have witnessed him breaking bread in soup kitchens in Portland, and I have watched him picking up weekend groceries at the food pantry at Maine Seacoast Mission.  I have even felt his presence once in a while here in church.
        And on that perhaps flimsy basis alone, I will keep telling this story – year after year, Easter after Easter.  Not so much the empty tomb part as the times I have sensed something bigger than myself holding me up, giving me courage and strength that I never really thought I had, leading me – when I actually let him lead me - on a way laced with compassion and justice and reconciliation and inclusion. 
         It may not be much.  It may not be enough for some of you sitting here this morning, but for me, for now, it is enough to be able to say.  He is risen!  He lives!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia – and amen.






Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Romans 12:2-12 "Many Voices"

         If you were to drive the highways and byways of the Deep South here in the United States – you know:  tobacco country, the Bible Belt – you would likely come across large billboards sprouting up out of the earth, injecting themselves into the roadside landscape.  However, you will not see the ruggedly handsome Marlboro Man in his Stetson hat anymore because you can no longer advertise cigarettes and tobacco so blatantly.  However, you can still hawk religion. 
         And so you are quite likely to come across a billboard like this:  A solid black background and stark white letters that read, perhaps, “We have to talk” with the messenger being God herself – or probably himself since you are in the Deep South after all. 
         Imagine:  God proclaiming that we have to talk.  Would that it could be so simple!  As Methodist pastor Charles Reeb noted, “I mean, wouldn't it be nice if, when we were ever confused about something, all we would have to do is look at a billboard and find the answer or look up into the sky and there would be something written in the clouds? Or what about the radio? That would be great!  We could just tune in … and God's voice would break in for each of us and say,  ‘This is what I want you to do.’  A lot of us would love to hear from God in such a clear way.”
         Now, I do not mean to sound snarky or cynical.  After all, I do believe that God (or Spirit or Ultimate Being, whatever you call this sacred and eternal presence) that God still speaks in our world, mostly about God’s dream for the world – though certainly not on billboards or the radio or by skywriting or even tapping us individually on the shoulder with a personalized message. 
         I believe instead that God speaks to us through the Gospel’s call for compassion and justice and reconciliation and radical hospitality that we believe was characterized best in the person and ministry of Jesus.  More than that, I believe that that same Gospel message has been etched onto the minds and hearts of all of us sitting here this morning, we who still call ourselves Christian in an ever more secularized world.  However, because of this world that we live in and the strong messages it sends, I also believe that the voice of Jesus is not the only voice we hear. 
         I would submit that all of us have competing voices in our heads insisting on what is right and wrong, good and bad, black and white.  And many of them are really seductive too. 
         A confusing cacophony of sound: Part of being human, I guess, at least in this complex day and age.  Life never seems simple because in those ethically and morally challenging situations that we all face everyday when we most need to hear the voice of God, the voice of the Gospel, the voice of Jesus, it is precisely at that moment that those other voices become a rich crescendo swirling about us. 
         And too often their endless chatter drowns out the voice we need most to hear above all the other voices:  “Blessed are the merciful”. “Feed my sheep”. “Love one another”.  If only we could clearly and distinctly hear that voice, surely we would know where our commitment lies, what we ought to be doing, where our life should lead us.
         There was a young man who won tickets to the Super Bowl, and he was understandably excited.  However, his excitement lessened when he arrived at the game and realized that his seat was in the back of the stadium and all the way up at the top.  He was in the nosebleed section, no doubt about it.
          However, when the game started, this young man looked through his binoculars and saw an open seat, down in front, next to the field, right on the 50 yard line.
He immediately raced down the stairs and approached the man sitting next to the empty seat and asked if it was taken.  The man replied, “No.”
         The young man was so surprised.  So he asked, “How could someone pass up a seat like this?” 
         The older gentleman responded, “That’s my wife’s seat.  We’ve been to every Super Bowl together since the day we were married, but she has passed away.” 
         The young man looked at the older gentleman and said, “Oh, man, I’m sorry to hear that.  But, couldn’t you find a friend or a relative to come with you and at least use the seat?”
         “No,” the older gentleman sadly said, “I wish, but they’re all at the funeral.”
         With all those voices swirling about in our heads, competing for our attention, telling us what our priorities should be and how we ought to live our lives and what path we should follow, how do we distinguish between them? How do we figure out where our commitment lies and what we should do?  Super Bowl? Or funeral?  Sharing?  Or keeping?  Arming our teachers?  Or controlling our guns?
         Where is the voice of God, the voice of the Gospel, the voice of Jesus in all this?  And why is it not clear? 
         It reminds me of a story I heard about how the news of the Battle of Waterloo reached England.  The report from the battle was apparently first carried by sailing ship to the southern coast and then by signal flags from church spire to church spire all the way to London. And when the report was received at Westminster Abbey, the flags on the church began to spell out the message, "Wellington…..defeated…."
         However, before the message could be completed, a heavy pea soup fog rolled in.  Can you picture how, with that heavy fog, a heavy blanket of gloom covered the hearts of the people? Welington…..defeated….” 
         However, when the mist lifted, it became clear that the signal flags of the Abbey had really spelled out a different message – this one triumphant. "Wellington…defeated….,the enemy!"
         Similarly, how do we know when all those other competing voices are fogging our minds, so that the true message that we ought to hear is hidden – or only partially known?  It is an age-old question.  It is a question that the congregations in many of the churches the Apostle Paul founded wrestled with.  And so, perhaps in response, Paul penned the passage we just read that comes from his letter to the church folk in Rome. 
         His conclusion is simple:  Do not conform to the pattern of this world (no surprise there), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.”
         The renewing of your mind:  Paul is saying that it begins in your head – and in your heart.  It begins by listening to all those competing voices - but then putting each one aside when it makes your heart cringe just a bit until the only one left is the one that proclaims…what?  That violence only begets more violence, that the gap between rich and poor is indefensible, that Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus – everyone is held in God’s embrace. 
        However, Paul goes on to say that it is not enough just to think those happy (what we would call) Christian thoughts. Thinking and action need to become one because it is only then that we will be transformed, that we will be Christ-like, that we will be part of God’s dream for the world. It will happen from the inside out.  First, your mind and heart followed by your actions.
         And so it is not enough to sit here on Sunday mornings thinking Christian thoughts and intellectually taking in the Gospel message – though that is an excellent beginning.  In fact, Paul would say that it is only place to begin – and perhaps, I would add, one of the best reasons to be part of a church. 
         However, it is what you will do when you leave here – when your mind has been renewed, as Paul would say.  It is what you will do – the actions you will choose to take - beyond these four walls that ultimately will define you as someone who is following the path of Jesus – or following the way of someone else.  It is not enough to feel transformed here if you continue to be conformed to the spirit of our culture that values personal advancement and rugged individualism over all else. 
         As former President Jimmy Carter once noted:  “"To me faith is not only a noun, but also a verb." (He went on to say), "In Christian tradition, the concept of faith has two interrelated meanings, both implying fidelity: confidence in God and action based on firm belief."
         In this passage, Paul goes on to write about some of those faithful actions – and he gets awfully specific – so listen up:
“…if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.”
         Yikes!  It’s enough to make you turn away from all this Christian business and find an easier way to get by.
         It is like the man who fell off a cliff, and halfway down, he caught hold of a bush. As he hung high above the ground, he shouted, "Is anybody up there?" Silence.
         Again, he shouted, "Is anybody up there?"
         A voice answered, "Yes, this is God."
         The man yelled frantically, "Please help me!"
         There was another moment of silence. Then God said, "Let go of the bush, and I will catch you."
         There was another long silence as the man looked at the ground far below. Then, he yelled, "Is anybody else up there?"
         Surely sometimes we feel like that man hanging halfway down the cliff.  We do not know where to turn.  We hear so many seductive voices blithering in our head. 
         And yet, we still hang in there.  We still hold on to this Christian business as our rock.  You see, once long ago when we were baptized (a baptism that here in this church we re-affirm every year), we committed ourselves to listening above all to the voice of Jesus and so anchoring our lives to something greater than ourselves, greater than the spirit of our culture.  And I pray that we still have faith that we are being transformed – albeit slowly – and that someday will really live out God’s dream for the world.
         You see, I believe that we have what it takes, with the help of God, within us – to be all God meant for us to be.  It is etched on our hearts.  It is a voice in our heads.
         And I would suggest that, deep in our hearts, we know what is right and good because the voice of God, the voice of Jesus never stops proclaiming to us the essence of the Gospel message.  And if we acknowledge all those other voices we hear and one by one let them go, we will only have one voice left to guide us, and it will be the voice we have been yearning to hear all along. 
         And so, we come to the end of this Lenten season when we have been seeking ways to hear that voice – God’s voice – the Spirit’s voice - above all the other voices. We have sought it in silence and scripture.  We have sought it in the nooks and crannies of prayer walls and in the lighting of candles.  Surely we have sought it in song, in the music we have heard – the pianos and oboes and guitars and ukuleles. 
         As your pastor, I hope you have renewed – or even found for the first time – a way (or ways) to connect with God outside of worship.  My prayer is that you will continue to explore what you have discovered beyond Lent and that you will most patiently and intentionally listen for the voice of God, the voice of Jesus, the voice of the Gospel over all the other voices you will most certainly hear – and that you will have the strength and the courage, with God’s help, to act upon it.