Sunday, June 17, 2012

Becoming the Kingdom of God -- a call to pilgrimage

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, June 6, 2012
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?” 

There are basically three types of journeys. The difference among them is not the destination but why we take the trip.

First, there’s tourism. The purpose of tourism is to consume. We collect stories and photographs and experiences that we can remember and share with others. Maybe we relax and recharge our batteries a bit, but when it’s all over, both we and what we visited are pretty much the same as they were before.

Second, there is mission. We may collect stories and photographs and experiences, here, too … but that’s not the point. Mission is outer-directed. We are there to work, to make a piece of the world a better place. To change people’s lives for the better. When we are done, the place we have visited is not the same.

Finally, there is pilgrimage. Here, we may collect stories and photographs and experiences. We may also work to make a piece of the world a better place. But the purpose of pilgrimage is for us to be changed. As pilgrims, our goal is for us to be changed as human beings. When we are done, we are different forever.

Now a journey doesn’t have to be a trip somewhere far away. A friendship is a journey. Opening a book can be a journey. Even a two-minute encounter on the street can be a journey. What kind of journey it is depends on us. Do we approach it as a tourist, as a missioner, or as a pilgrim? Are we interested in being entertained or recharged or collecting experiences? Are we interested in making a difference for the good? Or are we interested in being changed forever?

Our life together as the Church is a journey. And this morning, we hear the destination is this mysterious thing called the Kingdom of God. That is our destiny. A world where God is at the center and the life of all creation is in harmony with the divine.

But what kind of journey is it?

Jesus gives us clues in parables. And he talks about seeds.

 Now before these parables that we heard this morning, Jesus told another parable about seeds just before this in Mark's Gospel. But this one he explained. He said that the seed is the word of God, the living wisdom of God, the very essence of God. And what we are is the ground.

And then he told the parables we hear this morning.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground – remember, the ground is us -- , and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground – remember, the ground is us – when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

The kingdom of God is not something we go and look at. The kingdom of God is not even something we build with our hands. The Kingdom of God is something we become. The Kingdom of God happens when God’s word takes root in deep inside us and in ways we don’t even know how changes us so that individually and together we become it. The Kingdom of God is something we become.

When we come together in Jesus’ name, we may get entertained and recharged and leave with some good stories to tell. And that is good, but that is not the point. We may engage in service and make a difference in the world for the good, and that is certainly good, but that is not the point.

Jesus tells us that as the Body of Christ, we are pilgrims. We are here to let God’s word in scripture, in worship, in relationship be planted deep in our hearts and change who we are. To have the kingdom of God happen in and through us.

 Of the parables we heard this morning, the parable of the mustard seed is perhaps most instructive. Jesus tells us that the word that takes root in us doesn’t need to be huge--in fact it can be really small--but if we are receptive, fertile ground, it will become something that will not just change who we are, it will change and bring love to all creation … shelter for the homeless birds of the air in need of shade.

The smallest word, planted in us, can change our lives and change the world.

About a dozen years ago, I got on an airport shuttle in New York and sat across from a young woman mostly because she was wearing a t-shirt that said, “My economy went global and all I got was this stupid T-shirt.”

The shirt was a great conversation starter, so we started talking. I was a college chaplain, and she was just out of college and really wanted to make a difference in the world. And she asked me what advice I had for her. And I shared with her what I had learned.

Keep your overhead low.

Basically, the lower we can keep your standard of living, the freer we will be to do amazing things. Because once we have a standard of living, we basically become hostage to it and we have to earn enough to keep it up. But if we don’t need much, we’re free to do just about anything.

We parted at the airport, and I thought that was it. And it was ... until a few months ago, when I got this email from that same young woman. 12 years later, she tracked me down. Google is an amazing thing! She wrote:
I'm emailing to thank you for a piece of advice that you gave me. We were discussing social justice, and how to make place for it in modern lives, and you told me something very simple that I somehow had the sense to take to heart: Keep your overhead low. 

So here's what that piece of advice has let me do: 
-Travel the world for six months -Maintain financial independence 
-Build a career reporting on poverty and low-wage work 
-Learn Spanish 
-Write a book on food and class – coming out this month* 

 I'm emailing because I was recently asked what was the best piece of advice I had received, and how I'd managed to build such an unusual and meaningful career. And I realized that, really, both answers were rooted in that conversation I'd had on the bus with you. I stayed in a cheap apartment even when my income rose -- and was able to withstand changing jobs so that I could keep doing work I loved. A cheap apartment meant I could save money to travel, and that finding a subletter was easy—and gave me enough perspective to do better work writing about poverty and opportunity here at home. And it meant that I could accept a tiny book advance to do an amazing project. 

 In its own way, that conversation has meant the world to me. I'm incredibly grateful to have had it. 

I wasn’t giving her any great wisdom from me. In fact, I wonder how much my life would be different and better if I’d taken it to heart as much as she has. Really, what I was saying was straight from scripture. There is an ethic of enoughness that runs throughout the Bible. All I did was tell the story of the rich young ruler in another way.

So, two lessons from this. First, be careful what you say to someone on a bus. Or, maybe, really, be fearless in what you say to someone on a bus, because God is always at work! But the second lesson is that when we let the Word of God take root in us, amazing things happen, our lives become extraordinary, and we become, even just a little, the Kingdom of God. It really works.

We are pilgrims. And God draws us here together because God loves us dearly as we are but loves us too much just to leave us that way. Because God longs to have God’s love take root in our heart and for us to become fully alive, for our lives to be extraordinary.

We are here as pilgrims to let God’s word take root in our heart and become the Kingdom of God. To be the ground that those mustard seeds are planted in and from which amazing trees sprout.

So how do we do it? That’s the adventure, isn’t it?

And this morning, I want to challenge us to embrace this call to pilgrimage in two specific ways. First as a Cathedral community.

This summer we are holding house meetings in 13 of our parishioners’ homes. The meetings are for us to answer one question together, “What are the core values we believe Jesus dreams for us to live out as Christ Church Cathedral?” Put another way … “What are the mustard seeds for Christ Church Cathedral?”

Naming the values Jesus dreams for us to embrace and embody is identifying what that word of God is for us. It is naming the seeds that will become the great tree. And when we have them we will not just stick them in our pocket. We will look at how we can be fertile ground to embrace them, and we will ask God to use them to bless and challenge and change us as we become the Cathedral God dreams for us to be.

So if you haven’t signed up for one of these meetings, do it today. (You can click here and do it right now!) Whether you’ve been here 50 years or 50 minutes. Sign up. If they fill up, we’ll schedule more. This is about the Kingdom of God coming into being and there is nothing more exciting than that.

Can we do this? Can we do this together? Can I get an AMEN?

The second way I want to challenge us to embrace this call to pilgrimage is individually in our lives.

The Word of God comes in many forms, but our primary source for God’s life-changing wisdom is the Bible. If God’s word is going to take root in us, we have to spend time with it. We have to read it. We have to pray with it on our hearts. We have to ask God, how are you loving and shaping me through it?

So this week … let’s do just that. In your service leaflet is a piece of paper with the Gospel reading for next week (click here to download). This week, every day, take at least 10 minutes … just 10 minutes … I don’t care how busy you are, you can spend 10 minutes a day … take 10 minutes and read next week’s Gospel and then sit in prayer with it on your heart.

 If you need some help, you’ll find some questions to sit with printed below the reading, but this isn’t about figuring it out with our brains it is about reaching out with our hearts and saying “God, what Word would you have take root in me?” “Jesus, what message of love do you have for me?” “Jesus, what is your call on my life that this story is helping me hear?” 10 minutes a day, and then next week, we’re going to talk about what we noticed.

Can we do this? Can we do this together? Can I get an AMEN?

This is important. This is important because each of us and all of us are deeply beloved by God … and God wants us for God’s own. And so God is inviting us down the pilgrim’s path. To let God’s love be the center of all we are as a Cathedral and as human beings. To let the Kingdom of God come into being through us.

And as we are open to it. As we embrace this journey as pilgrims and let God’s loving Word take root in our lives and in the life of this Cathedral, amazing things will happen, our lives will become extraordinary, and we will become the Kingdom of God. AMEN.

*The young woman's name was Tracie McMillan, and the book she has just published is called The American Way of Eating: Undercover at WalMart, Applebees, the Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. It's an entertaining, insightful and important book. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Pentecost Sermon

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows  at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 27, 2012 
Good morning Saints!

It is so good to be in this place in this pulpit.  I bring you greetings on behalf of Bishop Jeffrey Lee and the good people of the Diocese of Chicago where I am privileged to serve on Bishop Lee’s Executive Team.  I want to thank my good friend Mike for inviting me into the life of this incredible cathedral congregation on this richly, spirit-filled day.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well here at Christ Church and it is sweet indeed.  On a personal note, I need to tell you that this sanctuary is especially sacred to me as a place that I have prayed and worshipped in at some crucial times in my early adulthood.  In the ways that Cathedrals can, it provided a welcoming and beautiful space for me to reflect on my baptism at the age of 22, to discern my vocation to priesthood, and it has been the place I considered a spiritual home whenever I’ve visited St. Louis over the years.  So 23 years after my visit here I finally get to say thank you for that gift of Cathedral hospitality.

So on this feast of Pentecost when we share some of the most important stories of the church I want to state the obvious.  Stories matter.  Recently, author and church historian/church chronicler, Diana Butler Bass reminded me that we become the stories we tell ourselves.  Stories have incredible power to shape us.  They form us, and help define us.  They inform our identity.  They connect us and help create an “us” out of individual narratives.  And because the stories we omit have power to shape us in their absence, it is important that we know and tell the fullness of our individual and collective stories.

United Church of Christ Pastor Lillian Daniel tells the story of her parents who had a vast collection of vases.  She was a military brat and her family lived in lots of places and her father served in locations all around the world.  She kind of took the vases for granted till one day, once she had grown up, she summoned the courage to ask her mother about a vase that was in the back of their curio cabinet.  This vase had clearly been broken and was quite poorly pieced and glued back together.  It seemed to have taken a lot of effort and the results of those efforts were not at all pretty.  She wondered for years what that marred and damaged thing was doing messing up the view of the other beautiful objects in the curio.

But when she asked her mother about it, she told her that she held on to it because it was the most precious vase in their entire collection.  Supposing that it had immense value because of its materials, Lillian assumed that it could no longer be worth much in its current state.  But her mother went on to tell the story of how it was when Lillian was just a toddler that her father had come home from Japan.  He had found this beautiful vase during his travels and had carried it in his arms on the ocean liner across the Pacific, on a plane and then rail to their home. 

When he arrived home and started to present the vase to her mother, little Lillian came running toward him shouting “Daddy!” and he was so glad to see her that without thinking, he dropped everything he was holding in order to pick her up.  So the vase crashed to the floor and broken into dozens of pieces.  As a toddler Lillian saw what happened and began to cry thinking she was the cause.  But her father said to her—nothing is more important than you.  And he was willing to drop what others would have seen as quite valuable and precious to pick up and hold his most valuable and precious daughter.  So her mother glued the vase back together as best she could as a reminder of what’s really important.

Lillian never looked at that vase the same way again.  And that story forever changed her understanding of her own belovedness.  And for a good chunk of her life, that story went untold, tucked in the back of the curio cabinet.

All of us have stories like that too.  Significant stories about who we are that for one reason or another we have not told or sufficiently heard.  And you can see how it happens, life is busy and full and with all that comes at us on any given day—the news, the internet, family situations, friendships, work, looking for work, health issues, all the stories that we hear—we are constantly, quietly, making decisions about which stories we will really listen to and allow the privilege of taking up the precious real estate of our hearts.

So today we are given to hear the story about the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I love that fantastical telling of the Pentecost event in the book of Acts.  Where people had gathered together from an incredible display of nations to celebrate the giving of the Torah—the law of Moses—to the Jewish community. Jewish sages point out that they are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that they receive it every day, but it was first given at this time so it was quite a significant holy day and festival.  Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.  So folks had gathered from across the diaspora for this special day and what happened to them and the Jesus followers was unlike anything they had ever experienced before.  They could listen and understand.  Those who were gathered on that day when the Spirit blew through were given the ability to speak and understand in languages not previously known to them.

All those different languages—the sound of a rushing wind, early in the morning—something incredible happened.  No one will truly understand the events of that day—just as no one will truly understand the mechanics of Jesus’ resurrection.  But whether they understood it or not, what happened became an essential story for that community—so important that we tell it to this very day.  And we need this story because it helps us believe that it is possible, despite diversity of experience, belief, and language, for a group of people to hear and understand each other.  In our deeply polarized world, we need to be shaped by this story.

The gift of Pentecost—the gift of the Holy Spirit is not stuck in time and relegated to that unique event—the gift of Pentecost—the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given to each and every one of us.  And this is the day that we remember, in case we have forgotten, to take it off the shelf in the back of the curio cabinet, unwrap this gift and use it for dwelling in God’s love and community.

We must know our stories—as fully as we are able because the stories we tell matter greatly.  They will matter to Eden and Benjamin who you will baptize today.  They won’t remember this amazing day on their own—they will need you all to tell the story of how you blessed water, prayed for them, showered them with living water, and proclaimed them as God’s beloved children forever and always.  The story you tell them about this day, about this congregation, about this event, will help shape who they become.  And Eden and Benjamin will forever be part of the story of this congregation.

And so on this day when we willingly call forth the Spirit to blow upon us and shape us and break down walls of misunderstanding—on this day I invite you to tell your story and to tell the full truth about it. The world desperately needs communities that can tell the full truth of who they are—to one another and to the world.  And that means sometimes telling the more difficult stories too because they are part of who we are.  Tell the story that yes, our church is dying in many places but it is waiting to rise up in others.  Tell the story that yes, it isn’t always easy to disagree and stay in relationship, but we work at it because that is the way we build the community of friends that Christ calls us to be.  Be the church that tells the truth that living in true diversity is hard and takes intentionality and is so very worth it.  Tell the story that the Holy Spirit is not just tucked away and brought out on special occasions but running rampant through this place lighting fires of creativity and ministry and inspiring hope for a city where hope can be in short supply.  The work of transformation and building a diverse, beloved community that God is doing here is a story that never gets old.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A sermon for the ordination of Jon Stratton to the Sacred Order of Deacons

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

“…in the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.” Amen. 

OK, let’s get one thing out of the way real quick.

Jon, you are not called to be a deacon. You know it. I know it. We all know it.

And because of that, there is a little dance … a little fiction we will be perpetuating here in a few minutes when Bishop Smith asks you if you are “truly called by God and God’s church to the life and work of a deacon” and you say “I believe I am so called.”

You and the church have discerned a call to ministry for you and we all know that call is to priesthood. And so what we do here this night is a little odd and probably more than anything serves to confuse people into thinking that a deacon is another word for priest in training instead of a wholly separate order with different skills required and responsibilities conferred.

But this isn’t going to be a rant against the transitional diaconate. Because I actually do think God can take this strange, vestigial … and somewhat purgatorial stage of ministry … and use it for great good in you and in the Church. But if that is going to happen, really what it comes down to is this. Will you let the charge you receive and the vows you take this night bind you. Will you say what you mean and live what you say this night. And will we, gathered here to witness and bless this event, live what we have already said this night and uphold you in this ministry.

So if we’re going to do it, let’s not cross our fingers and toes when we say these words. Let’s really do it. So let’s take a look at it, shall we? Everyone turn to page 8 and let’s see what this deacon thing is all about. Got it. Good. This is the examination and vows for a deacon. Basically, it’s the covenant we as Christ’s body the church and Jon are making with each other. So let’s make sure we’re reading the fine print here. In fact, let’s read it out loud together … those first two paragraphs.

My brother, every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. 

As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them. You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world. You are to assist the bishop and priests in public worship and in the ministration of God’s Word and Sacraments, and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time. At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself. 

The most important statement is the very first one. Every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ, serving God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 Following Jesus. That is what we are all about. All of us. There is no other purpose for the church. We are to follow Jesus, serving God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of us and all of us.

Jon, your ordination is not about taking on that call. You and all of us who are baptized did that in baptism. Ordination is the church and you affirming that you have been gifted for leadership in helping each and all of us live into this call. You are to lead us in following Jesus. That is your job. That is your joy.

And we follow Jesus by trying to be like Jesus. The Gospel we just heard reminds us that following Jesus is about servanthood. And Jesus also tells us that the Christ is deeply present in the world’s most vulnerable. The poor. The weak. The sick. The lonely.  We are all to serve one another but particularly to be conscious of and seek and serve Christ in those poor, weak, sick and lonely.

Now there is plenty of this kind of service going on in the world, and there is no shortage of leaders in it. In the U.S. alone, there are more than one and a half million nonprofit organizations, many of them dedicated to serving the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

Globally there is literally an aid and development industrial complex that tries to shift billions of dollars of resources and the force of political will toward helping the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

Joining that is not what this is about. In fact, we as the church completely run off the rails when we think becoming a part of that is what we are about.

You are not being ordained tonight as the executive director of a nonprofit. No political or social agenda, no matter how deeply held it may be, should be at the heart of what we do and who we are. You are not being ordained tonight to lead us in serving all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. You are being ordained as a minister in Christ’s body, the Church. And that means you are being ordained tonight to lead us in the name of Jesus Christ, to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

The heart of what we do, the center from which everything we say and do needs to spring is our call to follow Jesus Christ and nothing else. That’s the whole ballgame. And that is what you are leading us in. Following Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. And because of that you and all of us are going to do this differently than the rest of the world.

Because as the Body of Christ, we don’t just feed and clothe and counsel people. We “make Christ and his redemptive love known.” We don’t just visit the sick and in prison, and give the thirsty a drink of water, we proclaim that ‘in serving the helpless we are serving Christ himself.”

As the Body of Christ, we have a different standard. It isn’t the metric of meals served and people housed. It is how effectively have we “let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And keeping that focus – keeping your eyes and ours continually fixed on Jesus – that will be the biggest challenge of the rest of your life. Because, Jon, the world and the church will tempt you and all of us to care more about just about anything else than that. If your experience of ordained ministry is like mine and just about everyone I know, the only line of this charge you will be regularly held accountable for is “and you are to carry out other duties assigned to you from time to time.”

There is only one inoculation against this that I know of. And it’s right there front and center on the page before us.

You are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them, and to model your life upon them.

Being faithful in prayer, in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and letting both be THE guiding force in your life. If you are going to be the servant leader that we desperately need to help us follow Jesus more closely, praying and reading and reflecting on scripture EVERY DAY must be the only non-negotiable thing in your life. Because if you do it, it will have ripple effects of transformation in the church because you will lead us into it, too. And if you don’t, it will have ripple effects in Christ’s body just as powerful the other way.

About 80 years ago, the Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the eve of the Lambeth Conference. She could have written it today. And in a time where we are spending so much time anxiously fretting about church structure and cultural relevance, it is probably the most important text on Christian leadership we can consider. She writes about the priesthood, and since that’s where you’re headed, I think we can use it here, but really it applies to the diaconate, too. Here’s part of what she says:

The real failures, difficulties and weaknesses of the Church are spiritual and can only be remedied by spiritual effort and sacrifice. Her deepest need is a renewal, first in the clergy, and through them in the laity; of the great Christian tradition of the inner life. The Church wants not more consecrated philanthropists, but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be tools and channels of the Spirit of God, and this she cannot have until Communion with God is recognized as the first duty of the priest. …

God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice, and love can, by his own spirit of adoring worship, help us to apprehend Him…. The future of organized Christianity hinges not on the triumph of this or that type of churchman’s theology or doctrine, but on the interior spirit of poverty, chastity and obedience of the ordained. However difficult and apparently unrewarding, care for the interior spirit is the first duty of every priest. Divine renewal can only come through those whose roots are in the world of prayer.

Jon, would you please stand.

You are ordained tonight not to make us a more effective organization or to increase our average Sunday attendance or even to help us serve the poor. You are ordained this night to lead us in loving and following Jesus. To lead us in laying down our lives in love of a God who became one of us in Jesus the Christ and laid down his life on the cross.

And I need you to listen to me because it is really this simple. You are gifted enough that just on your own talents, you will be able to accomplish those “other duties as assigned” well enough that people will view you as a successful deacon or priest whether you pray and read scripture or not. And that temptation will be seductive. But if all you rely on is your own bag of tricks – and it’s a deep one, so it will be tempting – but if you just rely on that, you will never, never lead us into the kind of relationship with Christ that we need and which we crave. It will never, never, ever happen.

But if you every day without fail, spend time in prayer and scripture study. If you let your life be shaped by them. If you lead us by example in cultivating the inner life of communion with Christ that helps us not just serve all people but in the name of Jesus Christ serve all people. Well, then there is no limit to the transformation of hearts and the church that God’s Spirit can effect through you.

Jon, mean and live what you hear and say this night. Study the Holy Scriptures. Seek nourishment from them. Model your life upon them. Be faithful in prayer and reading and study of scripture. Lead us into following Jesus.

Would the rest of you please stand.

We have pledged to uphold Jon in this ministry. And the best way we can do this is every time we see him asking him three questions. The first two are these:

*Have you spent time in prayer today, Jon?
*Have you read your Bible today, Jon?

Be fearless and relentless in asking him those questions. He needs us to ask him those questions. And don’t be surprised if he asks them right back to you, because that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Because if he answers yes to those questions, we can ask him a third question, and he will be able to answer that, too. That third question is:

 Jon, can you show me Jesus?

His answer will change our life, because we will be able to see it changing his.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Are you Friends with God on Facebook? NO you aren't! - A Sermon Preached by Ven. Mark Sluss on 6/3/2012

Facebook now lets you place the different people in your life into different categories. You can define people as friends or family, or whatever you choose. I myself have created categories for co-workers, and close friends. Close Friends is where I put those people I define as chosen family. We build relationships all around ourselves, and it seems that social media and the world would have us parse out the community around us into categories, denoting who is most important to each of us? I belong to a group on Facebook for my fraternity brothers, and I know within my fraternity brothers, that we were taught and espoused a brotherhood where we were to care and to defend those who would call upon us simply because of going through a ritual together. But even in that situation we parsed each other out. Were we in the same pledge class, were we initiated together? Were we big and little brothers; are we Alumni or Undergraduates? Laying claim to those categories that would give one relationship more prestige or specialness than another But how do we classify the humanity outside of our front doors? And how do I classify those friends and family who don’t have computers or who aren’t on Facebook, or who are known only to God. I come from a very large family, (Just ask my mom), when you count together the cousins and aunts and uncles on her side along with the cousins and aunts and uncles on dad’s side we really get up there. At my grandmother’s funeral this past January, the game amongst us cousins was “who is that? And how are we related?” Our little branch of the family moved to Missouri in 1979, and we seemed to lose track of some of our family we left behind. At the funeral it was of course great to reconnect and the old saying “it’s a shame we have to get back together under these circumstances, was constantly thrown back and forth”. Simply being related to someone is no longer an automatic in. In Facebook world, it will get you in the Family category, but I may block you, if you try to get me to play Farmville it doesn’t mean that I don’t love and support you, it just means I hate Farmville. But that’s the way it is in our modern world, people are on the move. Being born and raised and living and working and eventually dying in the same community as your family is very rare these days. For me at least, it seems that this disconnection from community relationships where the community is tied up in our successes and, we are our involved in their successes is lost. It has somehow lessened the experience of our living together.

Can you imagine for one second if God was on Facebook? How would God categorize God’s friends? How would we know where we fall in God’s profile? By the Way, I’ve checked, aside from a public figure group that someone created, God doesn’t have a Facebook timeline. But categorizing the people in our lives especially our community of faith is not what God has planned for us. If God had a Facebook page we wouldn’t be friends with God, we’d be God’s Sons and Daughters. And God wouldn’t use the block function on us. We are all called to be a part of God’s family. Not a blended family of steps and adopted children, but full members of the family of God, GOD’s Son’s and Daughters. See ever since the rebellion in Eden, God has longed to reconcile humanity back into relationship with God. But it is us, God’s children that refuse to act. God longs for the relationship the way it was. Where humans, walked with God and met with god and related with god. It was the rebellion, the fall that made us hide from god, made us change that relationship from what it was intended. But with the rebellion the damage was done, we had eaten from the tree of knowledge knowing good and evil, and we foolishly believed that we could take over our own lives from the direction that god would have us go. We refuse to let God be God and think we can bend God to us. THAT is sin Sin is that thing which separates us from god, I propose that it isn’t just some deed that we do, (though that is a symptom of sin).

Sin isn’t a laundry list of deeds done, but it is the attitude the personality, and behavior that we know better than god what is best for us. Or even that, we shouldn’t bother god with this matter, we should be able to handle it ourselves. This behavior of separating ourselves is SIN. God’s plans for us are amazing and it is not just the end state that is amazing it’s the path to get there, the learning. I am certain that God delights in watching us on the journey to become the type of person God wants us to be. Theologian Karl Barth said and I paraphrase “God doesn’t wish to be god without us”. I remember the day, I turned and watched my best friend from College’s face as he painstakingly attempted to teach me to water ski. Over and over he dragged me up and down Lake Pomme De Terre in Southwest Missouri, I remember drinking a lot of lake water. But eventually I got up on two skis, for all of maybe 2 minutes, but I was up! The look on his face of pride for my success and joy at seeing how much I was enjoying it, I will never forget the look on his face. Ultimately though water skiing was not for me, the deciding factor was that being pulled across that lake, removed all the sunscreen from my body and developed the worst case of sun poisoning I’ve ever had and spent the next day in our tent away from the sun, moaning in pain. I just decided, I didn’t need to do that again! That is one facet of the type of relationship I think God wants to be apart of our lives, celebrating and being a part of the successes in our lives, and supporting us in our failures. Helping us, and guiding us to achieve those things that would better us and our surrounding communities and loving us when we don’t succeed. God also calls us to be that type of person with each other. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he reminds the Christians there, that they are Children of God and if children of God, heirs and if heirs they are brothers and sisters of Christ. (On Christ’s Facebook we would all be brothers and sisters) How good of a pedigree is that? We are in the best family. And one isn’t above another; we are all brothers and sisters of Christ and children of God.

Christ paid the ransom for our sin in Eden we are reconciled to God, now the only thing holding us back from living up to that relationship is ourselves. When we slip back into that sin of thinking that we know better, when we can do it on our own, when we don’t hand our failures up to god, we need to turn and realize what it is we are doing and remind ourselves that THIS manner of being (on our own), is Sin and is not what God has in mind for us. We are to live together as brothers and sisters, celebrating the common good in our lives, helping each other to meet those successes, not tearing each other down when failures happen. That is what being a Christian is about, there are many factions now that seem to delight in dwindling attendance numbers, or schism in our ranks, or lawsuits lost, property handed over. What weird family dynamic is that? Where is the unconditional love of god in that dynamic?

Being a Christian today is all about relationships. But it takes an action of our own, to form those. Being reconciled to God, being a part of the family takes an action, on our part. We must be born again as Jesus tells Nicodemus, we must be baptized, to accept that reconciliation. Salvation requires action, (I am not being heretical here, Salvation doesn’t come from Actions), but salvation requires an action of turning to Christ, it requires a relationship. Just as the Israelites did with Moses, when they journeyed around the land of Edom, and they began their grumbling against God and Moses, (again thinking they knew better). Then God sent snakes in their midst to torment them. And Moses fashioned a bronze figure of a snake and put it on a pole and whenever the Israelites were bitten they had to look at the serpent on the pole and they were saved. As Jesus teaches Nicodemus, this is what we must do, when we are tormented and stuck thinking that we can do things on our own, we are to turn to the son of man, who is lifted up “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness”. We must turn to Jesus as a reminder of our renewed relationship with God, in order to reset ourselves with in that relationship with god and one another.