Monday, April 23, 2018

Faith5: Talk with your children -- talk with one another

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
John 10:10b-18
            The first theologians I ever knew – were my parents.
            They didn’t use big words like “justification” or “hermeneutics” but they said things to me that even they probably don’t know – influenced me – and what I believe. 
            I don’t know if that makes you hopeful – or nervous.

            Take my mom, for example. 
            When we were in junior high, our congregation built a new sanctuary!  It was larger and impressive.  And it had a balcony! 
            Not like our choir loft here, but a balcony that went almost all the way around the church. 
            We were excited!  But, our mom wouldn’t let us sit up there. 
            She said (and I apologize to the choir here) that “the balcony was for spectators, not participants.”

            Hmmmm.  You mean worship is something I am supposed to PARTICIPATE in?  You mean I am supposed to engage in worship? 
            You mean worshipping God is ACTIVE?  Theology.

            Or my dad. 
            I don’t remember the occasion now, but sometime after a local tragedy, when people were talking about those who didn’t die and saying that “God was with them,” my dad said,
            “what about the people who died?  Wasn’t God with them, too?  What about people who get sick and DON’T recover?  Isn’t God with them too?  Is God only with us with things are going well?”

            Theology.  God-Talk.  That’s the third step of the faith 5. 
            Two weeks ago we learned the first step.
            Sharing with each other our highs and our lows, our joys and our sorrows, being vulnerable and creating deeper relationships of trust:  in our families, with our friends, in our congregation. 
            Last week we learned the second step:  READ. 
            Read scripture together.  A verse a day, a story a week, whatever, whatever works for you, for your family. 
            And we even shared some scripture. 

            I think that today’s step, TALK, is the hardest--  at least for a sermon – I mean, to TALK about TALKING.
             That just sounds boring! 
            I don’t want to talking about talking. 
            But what the third step is about is how we learn to connect God to our lives, to  share how God is in our lives, and to learn to do that – it’s spiritual dynamite. 
            And we do that by sharing a particular scripture, and how it connects to our lives.

            In Rich Melheim’s instructions about the Faith 5, he asks families in particular to try to tie their own highs and lows of the day to the verse or story that they read. 
            And I’ll be honest:  That’s hard.  You might not be able to do it all of the time, or even most of the time, at first. 
            But even though you can’t tie the verse to your daily highs and lows, you can still “talk about it.”, using the words from Deuteronomy 6.    “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home.              Talk about them when you are away.  Talk about them when you lie down.  Talk about them when you rise.   Talk about them.”
            Sometimes you will be able to connect them with your day. 
            Other times you may not.  But talk about them. 
            Tell your children and your grandchildren what you think, what you feel, what you believe.  Ask them the same. 

            I was so inspired by the people who shared their favorite verses and stories last week that I asked the same thing at our council meeting on Monday night. 
            What’s your favorite Bible verse and what does it mean to you?  And you know what, a few of us shared as well. 
            One woman shared the verse from the Book of Esther, “who knows but that you have come to your position for such a time as this?”         She wondered the same thing about herself, and about our congregation. 
            One man shared about learning just how blessed he was in comparison with most of the world, and it changed how he read the scriptures about giving, and about money, and about what true wealth really was.
            It changed how he saw himself and the world. 
            And as I listened, I thought that I would like more of us to be able to do this:  do know and be able to share with one another scripture and God-talk.  Theology. 

            So it’s for families, for our children, but not just for them. 
            It’s for the strength of our congregation, as well. 
            The people of Israel needed those instructions from God because they lived in a world where their neighbors did not know the Lord, know Yahweh, where they lived by different, more brutal values,
            and where it would be a challenge for them to remain faithful to the way of their God, who called them to remember the poor, and to protect the vulnerable, to feed the hungry. 
            So he called on them to know the Word, to recite it, and to talk about it…..
            so, that, again, we will know who and whose we are… so that we will know and recognize God’s presence ... And what is our purpose in life      

            Bringing Scripture and our lives together:  That’s theology. 
            And it’s powerful when we can talk TOGETHER, and strengthen and encourage one another.  It’s not an easy world we live in. 
            It wasn’t an easy world for the first Christians, either. 
            And so Jesus called himself, the Good Shepherd, the one who laid down his life for the sheep, and also – in the verse just before it, the one who gives us abundant life.   
            But here’s a theological question:  What does abundant life look like? 

            You know, we usually separate these two verses.  We hear one of them, about abundant life, on one Sunday, and one of them, about the Good Shepherd, on another Sunday. 
            But what if we heard them together.
             I came that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. 
            The Good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  What does abundant life look like? 
            What will you tell your children?  What will your children tell you?

            Our culture is willing to tell us a lot about what abundant life looks like
            It looks like being rich.  It looks like being successful. 
            It looks like being popular.  It looks like being thin.  It looks like having a lot of “stuff
            And our culture tells us that we are not “enough.”   (good enough – young enough – old enough – we need to be and have MORE)
            Because – you know – it wants to sell us stuff.  But what does God say?  What does abundant life look like?  (Ask for responses.)

            We have abundant life simply because the good shepherd laid down his life for us
            And he laid down his life for us because he loves us – just as we are. 
            He didn’t lay down his life so that he could love us, but because he already does. 
            We are already beloved, and that measure – that’s the only one that matters – not anything else the world tells us. 
            Just the shepherd’s voice.   

            TALK.  Talk to your children.  Listen to them. 
            Listen to the word, and the voice of the shepherd. 
            It’s a matter of life and death. 
            It’s a matter of love..  For all of us, young and old and everyone in between, God’s people.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Faith5: Reading the Word -- keeping it in our Hearts

Hebrews 4:11-13
Psalm 119:105
Luke 24:36b-48
            How did you learn about the Bible?
             How did you learn the stories of the Bible?  From Sunday School? From your parents?  From worship? 

            As for me, I remember going to church every Sunday, where the readings were printed on the back of the bulletin.
             I was fascinated by this, and even got the connection once in awhile that sometimes  one week’s readings followed exactly the readings from the week before.
             It made me think that if I cut and pasted the bulletin readings for long enough, I might be able to make my own Bible!  How cool would that be!

            But really, what I remember most about learning the Bible stories is how my dad sat down with us at the end of the day, and,
            right before prayer time, would read a little story from a book called, “The Bible in pictures for Little Eyes”
            When I was in college I came across a copy of this book, and I had to buy it, because it brought back so many memories. 

            It was such a simple book.
             Just one small picture of a Bible story, a few words, and 2 or three questions. 
            You didn’t even have to know how to read.  You could look at the pictures and answer the questions.
            Even better, it was time we got to spend with our dad.

            How did you learn about the Bible? 
            How are your children and grandchildren learning those stories? 

            Last week we learned the first step in the Faith5, Sharing highs and lows.
            We learned that it is so important to cement relationships of trust, in families, among friends, and in the church. 
            So we start by sharing the small and big things of our day,
            the good things and the hard things, and we trust that God is in all of it –- that God is in our highs and in our lows, with us always.

            This week’s step is “Read”. 
            The next thing we do together is to read the word of God
            We learn Bible stories and Bible verses that will help us know who God is for us and who we are. 
            And every day of our lives, we need those reminders – when we’re children – and after we grow up. 

            Do any of you have a Bible verse or a Bible story that is very important to you, that is comforting or challenging or helps you when you are having hard times? 
            (Several people Answered with verses that were meaningful in their lives.)
            Why is this verse or story important to you?
             One of my favorite Bible stories is the one about Peter walking on water – and that tells me that sometimes I have to take a risk – get out of the boat.
            – have an adventure – but it also tells me about the God who – when I fail – when I am drowning – will grab my hand – and lift me out of the deep waters.    
            And you know what?  I need to hear that message.

            We need to have scripture passages in our heads and hearts because of who we are and because of the world we live in. 
            The world has a lot of goodness and beauty in it, but a lot of danger and evil too. 
            There are pitfalls and temptations for our children – and for us, as well.    
            There are so many messages – words and pictures – that  glorify violence,
             that tell us that we must meet an impossible standard of beauty to be loved, and that we’re only valuable if we’re wealthy or successful or popular.
            Children  (and adults) see advertising that makes them dislike their bodies, and feel ashamed of them, because they are not perfect.      
            So knowing scripture – is so critical – and being immersed in the message of God love and forgiveness as much as possible…. This is our true identity. That’s part of what the text from Hebrews is about – the word of God is
            a two-edged sword, that holds us accountable to God – and convicts the heart both about what is wrong – in us and in the world – and about God’s love for us in the middle of everything.

            It’s true, though, that not every part of the Bible is equally easy to understand. 
            There are some stories that are clear, and others that we can spend our lives studying and never totally figure out. 
            And it’s okay to start with the basics – the story of God’s creation – the life of Jesus, and his death and resurrection, Abraham and Jacob and Moses (the prince of Egypt!).  
             It’s good to read with others – your family, your friends, for example – because in sharing – we witness to one another about our faith, encourage each other when we doubt – and learn more together than we would alone.  
            …. But that’s for next week.

            Sharing scripture together with your family will ground your children in their faith and will give them a different imagination – about who they are, who God is
            – and what it means to be God’s person in the world.   
            They might be inspired by God’s word to organized against hunger, to pray for their friends, or their enemies, to stand up against bullies.. 

            But you know, knowing scripture is not just for our children. 
            And it’s not just for childhood.  It is for our whole lives, and it benefits all ages.
            I still remember when my dad first went to the nursing home.  It was temporary at first, complications from his Parkinsons, and memory loss.  
             I used to visit him. 
            Sometimes he was pretty positive and other times he was confused and depressed. 
            One time he was going back and forth, trying to convince himself…. “Worrying never did any good”, he said.
             I agreed.
             But then suddenly he started saying, “The wages of sin is death.”  I tried to reason with him. 
            I tried to change the subject. 
            I sang – because sometimes singing worked.
            But he just kept repeating, again and again, “The wages of sin is death….” 
            I know that was true, but it was only half of the truth. 
            He seemed depressed and that he was judging himself.  “The wages of sin is death.”

            Suddenly I remembered something. 
            “But dad, I said, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  He smiled. 

            Don’t we all want our children and our grandchildren to know that the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord?     Don’t we want to know it ourselves?  To have confidence, to  know and to remind each other of the best, most truthful things in life? 

            Tell them.  Share them.  Because when we share scripture with our children, we are learning it again for ourselves.