Monday, August 24, 2015

Happy 3rd Birthday

Three years ago today, I was riding back from Fargo with a pastor. He'd taken me to go see my father-in-law who'd ended up in the hospital with cancer that he'd just a month earlier been diagnosed with. On this trip back home, the pastor was talking about how he still had to write a sermon for that Sunday. Jokingly, I offered to do write it for him. His response? "I'd love to see what you'd come up with."

Of course, I did not write his sermon for him, but that evening, after getting home, I decided to see what I could come up with. And Sermons from a Psycho was born.

It's been an interesting journey these past 3 years. I went from being a non-church going member of the UCC church to an almost-always present member of the ELCA church. I went from writing smut stories to now having over 400 "sermons" (only a few of which could actually be considered semi-preachable sermons). I have gone from someone who distrusts pastors to having two trusted pastors in my life who are continuously challenging me to grow. I have gone from not being active in a church to being a Sunday School teacher, the webmistress of the church website, helping with other things around the church, and have even had the opportunity and blessing to preach. I have gone from not understanding the importance of church, of fellowship, of worship, etc. to these things being a vital part of my daily life.

And it's all because of one silly little challenge that I couldn't let go unmet.

Thank you, God for bringing people into my life to challenge, guide, teach, and care about me. Thank you for bringing people into my life who have helped me develop a love for you and your church. Thank you for blessing me and guiding me in writing these "sermons".

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Older and Wiser

Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

How many of you have heard the expression "older and wiser"?

How many of you agree with that expression?

I remember as a teenager and young adult, hearing that phrase and not believing it. Sure, there might have been one or two who fit the phrase, but in general, most "old" people were not very wise at all. It wasn't until I got a little older - and perhaps a bit wiser - that I understood the true meaning behind being "older and wiser." It wasn't until I got a little older that I learned the importance of it.

All of our readings today deal with two concepts - age, and wisdom. But the age that is spoken about is not physical age. Instead, it is our maturity - emotional and spiritual maturity.

In our text from Ephesians from a few weeks ago, we were told we will grow up (or, as some translations say it, we must grow up). In our text from Proverbs this morning, we see a similar statement when we're told "lay aside immaturity and live and walk in the way of insight." In our Psalm, we're referred to as children - "Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD."

Both insight and fear of the Lord are pieces of wisdom.

The first verse of our Proverbs reading this morning says "Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars." The first time I read this text, I was immediately curious about those seven pillars. What do they refer to? What are these seven pillars? How can I be wise? Obviously, the secret to wisdom must be those seven pillars.

I began scouring the internet trying to find the answer - trying to gain the knowledge of what wisdom is. (This is the reason I am rather late in writing this sermon.) What I found - no one is entirely certain what these seven pillars are. But even though there was no clear cut answer, I did find some information which seems to make sense.

First - there is the number seven. This number is generally used in the Bible to express completeness or divine perfection. In numerology, this number is associated also with truth (or with being a seeker of truth). When we consider Truth from a biblical standpoint, we are not simply referring to knowledge. Truth in the Bible is more than this. It is more than just knowing what the Bible says - what God says. It is the utilization of this knowledge. In John 14:6, we hear Jesus say that he is "the way, the truth, and the life." This truth that Christ is - that God is - is wisdom, and is something we should seek.

But how? How do we grow up? How do we lay aside immaturity, and be wise?

Several sources I found point to James 3:17: "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy."

Using this verse, the pillars would be to be pure, peaceable, gentle, not stubborn, compassionate, humble, and sincere.

Several other sources cite the previous chapter of Proverbs - chapter 8, verses 12-14: "I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power."

Using these verses, the pillars would be: prudence, knowledge, fear of the Lord, counsel, sound judgement, understanding, and power.

I see wisdom as a combination of all of these. Wisdom is to take the knowledge we know and use that knowledge in a way which is beneficial to others and serves God.

One of the wisest people I know - a person whom I go to quite often whenever I find myself troubled by a problem in my own life - has several of these traits. He is a good, upright man. Yes, naturally a sinner - he's human after all. But he tries to make the "right" decisions in life. He is a peaceable person, gentle and kind. Humble and sincere. He can be stubborn, but only when he truly is in the right and I am in the wrong. If and when the other happens, and I am in the right, he is willing to concede rather than argue just for the sake of "being right." He gives good counsel, based on truth and knowledge. He tells it how it is but with kindness and understanding.

Wisdom is to speak the truth in love and kindness. It's knowing when to speak, and when to hold your tongue. It's about knowing the Good News of Christ, and living it. 

Seeing What We Want to See

In the past few days, I've had a few items come across my Facebook feed that struck a chord in me.

The first was a video which spoke about how some people get bent out of shape about how we look when we show up to Church on Sunday morning.

The second was a story posted on a funeral home site of a young lady who passed away much too early from a heroin overdose. 

These two items made me realize just how much emphasis we put on what we see, rather than what is important. It made me realize how we see only what we want to see, rather than the truth.

Which is more important - that someone comes to Church, wants to worship God, wants to embrace and be embraced by the Body of Christ? Or that this person comes shows up in ripped jeans and a dirty tshirt?

Which is the important truth - that a young woman is just a worthless drugged out single mother? Or that this young woman had so much pain and confusion inside her and just needed to be embraced by someone willing to be God's hands?

This habit of not seeing the important and real truth is something many of us are guilty of. When we have a friend who isn't there for us every day like we believe they should be, we get angry and feel this person no longer cares. We refuse to even try to see the truth. Perhaps this person is just simply busy. Perhaps this person has so much stress and pressure on them that they are unable to meet our needs as well. Perhaps this person has slipped into such a deep depression that they're so exhausted trying to keep themselves afloat they just don't have the energy to keep anyone else afloat as well.

We are blind to the truth. It's not even blindness - it's a refusal to even bother to look. We get so self absorbed in our own needs, our own beliefs, or own desires, that we don't look further. We see people's actions, but not the motivations for those actions. We see their appearance, but not the conditions they face that lead to that appearance. We put what is on the outside above and beyond what is on the inside.

We measure a person's worth by what we see with our eyes. And when this "worth" doesn't measure up - we fail to be God's hands for this person.

Stop looking at someone with your human eyes, and instead look at them with godly eyes - with eyes of compassion and love and insight. Get to know people. Learn their story. Love them because of their story - not in spite of it. Reach out to one another regardless of how someone looks, or acts, or lives. Love one another regardless of these things.

Love as Christ loves.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I'm Nobody

***Note: this sermon is unfinished. And is being posted unfinished for a couple reasons. 1) it's Sunday. It should have been done by this morning. 2) I've been overwhelmed by the same feelings discussed in this post and therefore just can't finish it.***

"I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us - don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know."

This is the first stanza of a poem by Emily Dickinson. "I'm nobody." Have you ever thought that, or something similar?

I'm nobody.
I'm unworthy.
God can't use me.
I'm insignificant.
I'm a sinner.
I have nothing to offer.
I'm no better than anyone else.

In our first reading this morning, we get the impression that this is how Elijah is feeling. He cries out to God. "Take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." We aren't told why he feels this way, or why he tells God to take his life. But, I don't think the why is necessarily important.

What is important is the cry to the Lord. How many of you have been given a task to carry out, and you just don't believe you have it in you to do it? Maybe you've been called by God to preach, or to speak in front of a group of people. Maybe you've been called to teach God's word to a group of children. Maybe you've been called to be a comfort and support to a dying family member, or to those who've lost someone.

Whatever it is, you suddenly realize the enormity of that call. You suddenly realize you're not equipped for the task at hand. You fall to your knees in fear and weakness, crying out "Lord, why me? I'm not worthy! I'm nobody! There is surely someone better than me to do this."

The interesting thing about this short text from 1 Kings is that although it is only 5 verses long, it has one very important message wrapped within:

God can take the supposedly insignificant - the nobodies and the nothings - and make them significant. He can take what does not seem like enough and make it more than enough.

When Elijah is in the wilderness, weak and tired, he finds comfort beneath a broom tree - a relatively small tree, that only reaches 10 feet in height, and doesn't provide much shade. And yet, it is enough to give him shelter. God sends an angel to bring Elijah a small cake and some water, twice. This insignificant portion is enough to sustain Elijah for forty days and forty nights. And when Elijah is feeling unworthy of the task ahead of him, God doesn't just let him off the hook. Instead, he strengthens him and makes him able to keep moving forward.

This is what God does with us. When we feel unworthy - when we feel like a nobody - when we feel like we are not enough ... God strengthens us. He makes us enough. When we cry out to him, he feeds us, as often as necessary, to sustain us through the task set before us.

This same notion is reinforced in our Psalm this morning:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
    and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
    so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
    around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
    happy are those who take refuge in him.

God hears our cries. He recognizes that we see these failings and weaknesses inside ourselves. And he answers our cries. He provides the nourishment and rest we need to sustain us. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Missed the Boat

 John 6:24-35

Have you ever heard the expression "He missed the boat"?

This phrase is generally used to express one of two things. Either someone has missed out on an opportunity, such as "we thought we had enough time to purchase football tickets, so we waited a few hours. As a result, we missed the boat and couldn't get tickets."

Or, it's used to describe a case where someone just isn't grasping a concept or fact, such as "I was trying to explain why we shouldn't leave the car outside during a hail storm, but he clearly missed the boat, and we ended up with hail damage."

In our Gospel today, this concept of "missing the boat" is something that happens with the crowd. They very much "miss the boat." It begins in a rather literal way - they knew there was only one boat. They saw the disciples get on it without Jesus. They try to find Jesus, and unable to do so, they take boats over to Capernaum where they run into Jesus.

And they start asking questions...

"When did you come here?"
"What must we do to perform the works of God?"
"What sign are you going to give us?"
"What work are you performing?"

The crowd asking these questions is the same crowd from last week's reading - the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

It is the same crowd whom had already witnessed a miracle. And yet here there were asking for a sign. Asking Jesus when he had arrived as he wasn't on the boat with the disciples. Not grasping the reality of what had happened just the day before.

Jesus, recognizing that they had "missed the boat" in regards to what had happened, doesn't exactly answer their questions. His responses do not fit with the questions they asked. Instead, he seems to be answering the questions they should have been asking - the questions which Jesus knew they needed answers to.

"When did you come here?" they asked.
Jesus responds, not be telling him when he arrived, but instead by explaining why they were looking for him, and what they should be working for. “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

They ask him "what must we do to perform the work of God?"
Jesus' answer is to explain the work of God: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

They ask him "“What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 
Jesus doesn't point out that he already gave a sign. Instead, he points out their error in their thinking regarding the manna given: " “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

And when they don't ask, but rather demand, that they be given this bread always, Jesus doesn't say he will do so, but instead explains what - or rather, who - that bread is: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."


How many times have we "missed the boat"? How many times have we asked the wrong questions - not intentionally, but rather just because we haven't grasped the full meaning of what is going on? When we lose someone we love, we ask God why He's taken this person from us. When something bad happens, we ask God why he wasn't there to stop it. Even small things slip by us without us realizing we're asking the wrong questions - we go to church and find out there's communion, which means service will be longer, and we ask why this has to happen on a Sunday when we have so many things to get done before Monday. 

We "miss the boat." We fail to recognize that things happen by God's will, not our own. We fail to recognize that no matter what tragedy is happening, God is there with us through it all. We fail to feel his arms embracing us, giving us comfort and strength. We fail to grab hold of the eternally freeing  experience of receiving the body and blood of Christ - the only true bread that can sustain us. 

And we fail to understand the enormous importance of communion - of unity as the body of Christ. Communion is something very personal to most of us. But, we forget that it is not just a personal experience. It is true communion with one another. When we are given that bread and wine, we are dining together on the body and blood. We are in unity with one another. We are one combined group - one body. In Christ. 

Our text from Ephesians today shows this importance, and yet we often cannot see that importance. We're told we're given people to guide us - that God has given gifts to people to help us. We're given pastors, and teachers, and people to spread the good news of Christ. And we are told that we're each given gifts to use to help others. We're told all of these things are given to us to help us grow up in Christ - to grow in unity with one another. And yet time and again we fail to grasp this concept. Time and again we slip into feeling alone, unneeded, unwelcome, unworthy. Time and again we are unwelcoming, or not seeing a need inside ourselves for another person. Time and again we don't see the gifts in others. We don't see them reaching out to us with these gifts. We don't see these gifts inside ourselves, and therefore don't use them to reach out to others. 

Instead, we miss the boat. We ask the wrong questions. We ask God why things are so wrong in our lives, or in this world. 

This week, I encourage everyone to do two things... 

First, recognize that God has given you gifts to use to help others. And use those gifts. it doesn't matter how insignificant you feel that gift is - it can change someone's life. And it will go a long way into bringing us all into unity with one another. 

Second, recognize the gifts God has given others, and be accepting of those gifts when someone reaches out to you. 

Don't miss the boat. Don't miss out on the opportunities we all have to give and receive a loving hand, a caring word, a needed hug. Don't miss out on the opportunities to give and receive the good news of Christ. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be in unity with one another, helping each other and ourselves grow in Christ.