Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sermon December 31, 2006

I filled the pulpit of the Center Moreland Charge this past week and survived three services. I preached on Colossians 3:12-17 from The Message.

Below is the text of my sermon:

Today we are standing on the edge of 2007.

I’ve started coining the phrase “Not my favorite year” for the year of the 2006. I’m sure some of you will agree. We have all encountered some “touch stuff” and we have shared grief over deaths and illnesses.

For me 2006 was the first full year that I lived away from home; from my family, friends, and all that I was comfortable with. In Ohio, I’ve had to find new friends, and in a way new family. I spent the entire year trying to find new comfort zones, those places where I could go to feel the safest. I haven’t quite accomplished the level of comfort that I feel when I’m here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with the people I’ve known my whole life, but I’m adjusting.

What I have taken away from 2006 is the new way in which I have learned to converse with God. I have always been a child of nature. Walking through the woods, counting the days until I would get to go to camp, or even staring out the window as the car drives down the road. This year, I’ve learned that my love of nature and my love of God are very similar, and I’ve developed a relationship with God in the outdoors in the glory of all that God has created.

So 2006 wasn’t all bad.

There have been joys of recoveries and births to accompany the sorrow that we felt from deaths and illnesses. In January I began seminary and started to learn what it means to be called by God into a life of ministry. My Aunt Til Weaver turned 100 years old in June, that’s surely something to celebrate!

So, what do we do with all the emotions we have felt over the last 12 months? You’ve all had different experiences, some better and some far worse than mine. What do people normally do on New Year’s Eve?

They make resolutions: This year I will lose weights. I want to get a better job, or work towards a promotion. This year I will spend more time with my family. I will stay in touch with friends and write more letters.

These are all good resolutions, but what happens to them? By Valentine’s Day they are usually broken and forgotten. This year I propose that we make RESOLUTIONS TO KEEP!

This means several things: making realistic resolutions that are not outside of our capabilities, holding each other accountable, and asking God for help.

I think the words of Colossians are an excellent place to start!

This letter was written to the Colossians as a kind of a pep talk. They were already practicing Christians, so they are being commended for their efforts thus far and are given further instructions as Christians.

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.” This is kind of like the “What not to Wear” of the New Testament. If you aren’t familiar with the popular TV show on the Learning Channel, the two hosts approach an unsuspecting victim who has been identified by their friends as a bad dresser. The basis of the show is not to make fun of the person or belittle the way they dress, but to help them dress in a more attractive way and feel better about themselves. The hosts lay out outfits and set ground rules before a two day shopping trip.

This Colossians are instructed to dress in: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline.

Can this “wardrobe” as it’s called be our New Year’s Resolutions? Can we dress this way every day in our New Life of 2007? What would it mean to dress in the wardrobe that God has laid out for us?

First we should look at compassion: Compassion can be described as a feeling of deep sympathy for another one who is stricken by misfortune, followed by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Mercy and tenderness are also words that are associated with compassion. Compassion as defined by this way is something that most of us posses, we feel sympathy for others and almost always have a desire to alleviate their suffering.

I want to take this instruction one step further, to wear compassion in your wardrobe you must also take actions on your feelings. While all suffering cannot be alleviated, as we wear compassion, we must evaluate our situations and take action in the best ways that are possible. This may include going into paces that are undesirable such as a strangers home or a hospital, but it is what God has laid out for us and we must wear it.

The next act of Kindness goes hand in hand with Compassion.

Kindness is something that has struck me as I have spent time in the city of Columbus over the past year. It is a fairly large city, the 15th largest in the country and while working in retail at the beginning of the year I came across many people who I would call grumpy and unpleasant. The traffic in the city isn’t always tolerable and often grocery stores and the malls are crowded. But, amongst the hubbub of city life, and the negative words of others, there is an extreme amount of kindness that takes place. There are countless numbers of programs for the homeless, including soup kitchens and free stores. And for every unfortunate event on the evening news there is always a report of outreach taking place in the community.

Outside of city life, here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I feel that compassion and kindness is something that we do very well. But we can always be doing better. Push beyond your comfort zones for 2007 and begin new journeys of kindness, I promise that your wardrobe will look richer than any that you could buy in the city.

This semester in my early church history class I became familiar with a group of people called the desert elders. They existed mostly in Egypt in the 4th century when Christianity was becoming accepted and the Church leaders were being placed into a public form of leadership. They mostly objected to the way of life Christians were forming in the city and retreated to the desert for solitude and communion with God. This movement contributed to what we now call monasticism.

The desert elders lived an ascetic life and had several practices that they thought necessary for Salvation and an authentic life with God. Humility was one of them.

Practicing true humility is not easy. For the desert elders it was a life long experience and not something that could be mastered. Humility begins by letting go of the agendas we have set for our lives and allowing God to work through us. We should not take anything as a status symbol that would set us higher than others. Every act and ever words is a new opportunity to embody humility. Humility is a way of seeing that includes the horizon of the needs of others and the community that surrounds us.

Along with humility the desert elders also believed in a discipline, one which consists of patience. In our fast moving society we hardly encounter those who have patience. In my daily life I surely don’t have patience, I am always looking for the next thing and can hardly concentrate on the task at hand. Waiting to open presents from loved ones this week was excruciating. However, through the desert elders I am learning to practice patience in my faith life. Patience is no simply just the passing of time, but is an understanding of time itself, in God’s time is when the work of faith is taking place.

One of the things that the desert elders are famous for are their sayings, which were most likely preserved in writing after on of the elders spoke wisdom for a pilgrim on a particular subject. The sayings usually begin with someone asking for a word from a certain elder and what follows is the desert wisdom of the elder. One of the sayings is as follows. “Abba Ammonas once went to cross the river and found the ferry untended and seated himself nearby it. Just then another boat arrived at the place and embarked the people waiting there in order to take them across. And they said to him, ‘You come too, Abba, and cross over with us.’ But he said, ‘I will only board the public ferry.’ He had a bundle of palm leaves and sat plaiting a rope and then undoing it until the ferry was made ready. And he went across. Then the brothers bowed low before him and said, ‘Why do you do this?’ And the elder said to them, “That I may not always be dwelling on my thought.’”

Could you imagine in today’s world waiting for one form of transportation when there was another readily waiting? Can we change how we act when faced with impatience and how would that affect those around us who see our patience in both everyday life as well as with our faith?

It is the 5th aspect of our wardrobe- quiet strength, that we can face impatience. While at my parents’ house over vacation I checked a book out of the Tunkhannock Public Library. It is the story of a woman who in the face of addiction and almost certain death from her unhealthy living habits changed her life around at the age of 40 and began climbing mountains. She didn’t climb the little piddly mountains that we find around here, she went for the big guns, starting with Mount Kilimanjaro and eventually ending up on Everest.

While not raised in a Christian home, she met God in a facility for people with eating disorders. She was asked to turn her disorder over to God but she was not sure what to do. So perhaps in the only ways she knew how she took a bubble bath, lit some candles, and turned her life over to God.

What can be taken away from this story is not the amazing physical feats that she accomplished on the mountains, or her ability to overcome such obstacles in her addiction ruled life, but in the way that she did it. When she was on the mountain she would enter what she called her “Go Mode” and she would recite what became her prayer. “God’s love, God’s strength, God’s will, I can.”

The instructions do not end with these 5 new pieces of wardrobe. Everyone has an “all purpose” piece in the closet that they wear all the time. For me it is my Keen sandals. I wear them with everything, jeans, skirts, dress and shorts. I even wear them in the winter, sometimes with wool socks. We are instructed to wear LOVE as our all-purpose garment.

Now that we are dressed in our new wardrobe, where do we go and what do we do? We form a community…allowing the “Peace of Christ to keep us in tune with each other.” We are not to go off and do our own thing, this is where our humility hat comes in. And we must cultivate thankfulness. This can be our community garden, where we wear our compassion overalls, and our kindness gloves, along with our quiet strength for a jacket, and LOVE can be our garden clogs.

Let the word of Christ have the run of the house! Give it plenty of room. I know in some houses other things have the run: pets can often run a house, my husband and my schedule often reflects that of the TV Guide, and sometimes it can feel like your children are running your house. Make more room for the message of Christ and perhaps those other things will not seem overwhelming.

AND SING! Sing your hearts out to God. My friend Beth in Ohio can write a song at the drop of a hat, she of the uses my name in silly rhymes to sing about what I am doing at a particular moment. But truly her gift and her passion is singing for God. Most of us don’t sing nearly as well as she does, but God doesn’t’ care what we sound like, as long as we are singing!

Every detail of our lives should be done in the name of Christ, our words and our actions. And we must always remember to be thankful to God every step of the way.
This might be a longer list of resolutions than you would have liked and you are probably asking me how you are suppose to have time to make sure they are all being accomplished, but let’s review.

Resolutions number one: Combine Kindness, Compassion, and Humility and it all comes down to Loving Others.

Resolution number two: Patience and gentle strength are about LOVING GOD and allowing God to work in your life.

Resolution number three: Always be thankful and sing to God, the actions of your whole life should be in the name of Christ.

Three things are not that difficult. We must ask for each other’s help, as well as God’s. And in 2007 when we are faced with illnesses and deaths and obstacles that seem uncontrollable, we must have the patience to know we are in God’s hands. Saying every step of the way;

“God’s Love, God’s Strength, God’s will, I can.”

1 comment:

Mary Ann said...

Chrissy you rock!