The Pastor’s Pen – January 12, 2020

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‘…the story we tell’

January 12, 2020

Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-7, John 12:32

…I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…

I…have known him for a very long time and he is as close as the air I breathe.

…He is the one who really knows me…who really knows me from the inside out.

…He is the one who insists on speaking to me directly…for he seems not to be content with how he is often portrayed by others.

…He is the one who has known me from the beginning, who has walked with me throughout the course of my whole life…as I climbed some of the highest mountains…and, when I insisted on descending to the lowest of the lowlands…just to see for myself what was there…

…He is the one who seems to delight, just in my company, the one who is impatient when I take the easy way out, whenever I settle for less than I know he is pleased with…

…And yet, through all of this…his love never wavers…never grows less intense…

…He never withholds his love or forgiveness…no matter what the cost to him…no matter how often I seem to start my day without even a simple hello sent his way…

*****

        To “witness” something, or to be a witness, is to stand in a place of having knowledge about something or someone…and to be able to share that knowledge with others, with the intent of bringing them into a place of understanding what it is that you know, and perhaps taking your word for it…perhaps believing in your testimony.

When it comes to ‘faith understanding’ in our country today…we are in a crisis.  For the witness of those who truly believe in the new and present guidance of the Holy Spirit is very seldom heard, and even less often believed.  And this is a crisis not solely because the testimony that is shared is not only occasionally mis-heard or misleading, but also because there are many who have chosen to believe in nothing outside of themselves at all.  Or to believe solely in a God who is distant and aloof.  A ‘God’ who is uninvolved and uninterested in what is going on, down here on this piece of rock floating throughout the universe.  So often this particular ‘God’, is really only something to be worn on a bumper sticker, or spoken of at the end of a political speech, or argued about when it comes to questions of individual rights or whether or not there should be prayer in school, or even the mention of God’s name during commencement exercises or on our dollar bills and coins.

This crisis is also found in the hearts and minds of many of our youth…but not in the way, or for the reasons you might think.  And it started a number of years ago, a generation or more ago during the 1960’s, when in a different time and in different circumstances the answers of the generation before ceased to have validity, ceased to be acceptable.  When the words of the ‘adults’, simply stopped working for the youth who were struggling to understand a society that seemed to be wandering around without any particular direction.  God seemed to be really far away to these youth, and even then, most likely uninterested in human affairs.

Today, that same crisis remains.  Because so many adults and youth alike are still unsure of just who God is, still unsure of what God is like.  And unfortunately, this is still the way many adults ‘witness’, or show and share their beliefs to their children.  They share their own doubts, their own confusion and lack of clarity. And, as in times past, that unsure testimony and unclear witness of the parents is still unsatisfactory to the younger generation.  And so, the youth of today continue to seek, continue to look for answers somewhere…and hopefully, continue to wonder just who this ‘God’ we talk about really is.

There is a crisis in the human condition because the testimony and visible witness about the true nature of our God is muted, misunderstood, and often misinformed.  Instead we have too often replaced it with a religion that seeks to take the place of God.  But in truth, it is but a poor shadow, a poor reflection of who God actually is.  For too often we offer up a religious system that only seeks to give answers about God, a faith expression that seeks to lift up a God who seems to be something other than what the Bible and the gospels tell us…and all unfortunately, without actually involving the living God.

Our times are not unique. There have been other times in the human story that were similar, other times when the understanding of our God had been reduced to a set of rules and regulations…other times when the God in whose image we were all created looked nothing like forgiving mercy and love, but rather was understood only as the figurehead of a dominant and powerful religious system.  ‘God’ was the name given as the justification for a system that sought to control people’s behavior, that sought to regulate all human interaction, that sought to keep itself alive through the unjust oppression of the minds and hearts of common folk…those who were children of God, people just like you and me.  Yes…there have been other times like this.

And somewhere I imagine that God finally got to a point where this understanding of the true nature of our loving God was finally just too far away from reality, too far from the truth.  For too many were being hurt by the lies and the misunderstanding, too many were oppressed by the stranglehold of rules and regulations, too many were bound up, unable to fly and to soar in the freedom that was, and is, the true nature of our God. 

And so, God acted…and Jesus came to live amongst us. Jesus came to live here with us to show us the true nature of love, to call us back into awareness of the freedom that is supposed to be found in a relationship with our God…our God of unconditional love and mercy…our God whose primary focus, as expressed through the words of the prophets and affirmed by Jesus was the tireless pursuit of justice for the oppressed and downtrodden.  Jesus came to show us that God is not a set of rules, not a set of ‘right behaviors’, not a controlling force for oppression, but rather a new breath of freedom and hope.

There is a crisis in our nation today, however it is no longer just generational.  For the answers of my generation, and of past generations are just not working for anyone any longer.  So many have now come to see through the emptiness of a God of control, a God of power, a God who belongs only to those who believe in a certain way or fashion.  And as a result, more and more are turning away from pat church-like answers that limit their freedom and that seek to keep them bound up in a box of rigid moral codes that even the ‘High Priests’ of these ‘Power-Faithful’ can’t seem to follow.

There is a crisis in our nation today because the true nature of our God has been distorted in our storytelling…

…the true nature of our God is so seldom truthfully witnessed…so seldom authentically presented and correctly understood.  Our witness as people of faith, is just not doing it. 

Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up…then I shall draw all people unto me’.  Which then starkly asks the question, ‘who is doing the lifting up’?  And ‘what is the message that is being told’?  Is it a message of hope that sets people free…or is it one that still, or even further binds them up in a strait-jacket of rules…of ‘ought’s and should’s’ …of faithful living rules that make it impossible to breathe, or to hope?

…and so, God sent Jesus…oh God, we need him again…teach us Lord how to witness in truth…teach us how to lift up this one who came to set us all free…

*****

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…

This friend came and walked among us to show us the true nature of our God…to teach us that we were created to love…to show and to share that love, in service to others…to participate together in the amazing and wonderful dance that is the true and lasting human story.

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…a friend who cares about me…One who is interested in the everyday walk of my life…who wants to walk along beside me and to open my eyes to the beauty and wonder of each moment…One who seeks to hold and to comfort me when the path is hard or the valley is dark with despair…One who always holds my hand as we cross the difficult times of life.

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…a friend who constantly calls me on to deeper understanding…One who beckons me to come, not to be judged and stricken down for the miss-steps I have surely taken, but rather to show me how better to love as he loves and to care as he cares.  One who tells me to cherish and to hold each child of God before me in deepest reverence and regard, as though they were each Christ himself…for in some way they actually and truly are.

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…one who is truly the source and presence of forgiving love.  Not a God of wrath and power, but of mercy and forgiveness…one who feels our pain, cries with us in darkness, and walks with us always.  A God who accepts me and loves me just as I am. Surely calling me to deeper understanding and a closer reflection of his love, but without the crippling judgment and numbing regulations that have been created by those without clear vision. A God, not of some magical incantation or chant, but one of soft whispers spoken…One who speaks, even in total silence.

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…a God of those who wonder or are unsure…a God of those who do not yet know truth, or who have not heard.  A God with the biggest table, with room for all…with room for every created child of God.  A God of comfort and of grace…a God who is infinitely bigger than every one of our religious ‘boxes’.

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…the one I love. and the one who so loves me.  The one who desires that our telling of his story be done with mercy and forgiveness, with help and hope, with courage, and with strength to oppose those who would distort and control…

This one sent by God…this Jesus is the Lord of love, and the one who seeks our hearts.  The one who finds us where we are, and who calls us as we are

…the same one who calls us today to come…to come and to walk alongside of him.  So that, we might see as he sees, hear as he hears, and speak as he speaks through us that critical message of freedom and hope…

I would like you to meet a dear friend of mine…for he so wants us each to tell our story…and to become his best witness…     

…amen

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