A Rhythm to die for

rhythm1bannerGod spoke. In Genesis 1, God spoke the world into existence and into order. And it’s written in verse – it is a poem. Which means it has rhythm.

There’s a pattern, an order, to creation, whether you believe it was 7 literal 24 hour days or billions of years folded into a story that expresses A rhythm with which the world was created in literary language accessible by the cultures in which it was written.

God spoke, God created. God had, and has, rhythm.

If God spoke with a rhythm, maybe God rapped the world into existence.

Yes; God has better rhythm than you do. I know God has better rhythm than I do.

We see, we hear, we feel, we experience rhythm all around us and in us. Our hearts beat and we breathe in rhythm. When our hearts or our breath get out of rhythm, doctors get concerned.

There is a rhythm to the world, and there are rhythms to the world. Some of our rhythms are chosen, some happen to us, and some happen around us and invite us, or compel us, to enter, to join, to clap along.

For the next 5 weeks, I strongly encourage you to consider rhythm – the rhythms of your life, the rhythms of God’s creation, and the rhythms you’ve chosen and those you’ve fallen into.

One rhythm we’ve all chosen, as baptized Christians, and that has been chosen for us as beings created by God, is birth, death, and resurrection.

It is the circle of life! I suppose it is more a spiral than a circle, because it doesn’t actually go back to where it started, but a spiral represents a rhythm better than a circle does. Take a circle, and look at it from the side, you simply get a line. But a spiral, you get a waveform. Wave-forms have rhythm.

I learned recently that I run faster when I listen to music than when I listen to podcasts. Which was kinda frustrating, because I’ve got some awesome podcasts that I love listening to. But the rhythm of music – not necessarily fast rhythm, but rhythm, keeps my pace going better than listening to spoken words.

Rhythm takes us places.

God has a rhythm, and God is taking us somewhere. Where is God taking us, you might ask? Let’s go back to Genesis and see.

God spoke, creation happened. God formed, humans were shaped. God breathed, humans came to life. God invited humans to partner in caring for creation. One word for this is stewardship – God partners with us to take care of this vast beautiful world God created. God blesses us with abilities, with drives, with desires, with interests, all of which can be put to use in partnership with God.

And our abilities, drives, desires, and interests can be put to use otherwise, too; in opposition to God’s dreams for creation, and sometimes not so obviously in opposition to God, but out of line with God’s dreams. Out of beat with God’s rhythm.

By the time we get to Genesis 9, the rhythm that God intended to be beautiful music had become a cacophony. Humans living by their own beat, seeking only their own interests.

When we either give up on syncing with God’s rhythm, or go a step further and try to set our own rhythm against God’s, we get to where the world was in Noah’s day. Genesis says God was ready to start humanity over – with Noah and his faith. Humanity 2.0.

Noah, Gensis tells us, “God approved of Noah.” As the KJV put it and the statler brothers sang it, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”

Maybe, in today’s terms, God gave humanity a reboot. And God did it through water.

God’s rhythm, the rhythm of creation, with Noah becomes the rhythm of covenant. Covenant begins here, and never ends.Covenant translates a variety of ways, but covenants with God always include God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. God is faithful, and God keeps promises.

So, in Genesis 9, we find the first instance of the word covenant. This isn’t the first instance of God making promises, but this is where the writer first inserted the word covenant.

For today; for our series on “Rhythm,” this is a really good place to start, then. Humanity 2.0; God has rebooted humanity, saving Noah and his family from the flood. Now, God promises the erath will never again be flooded. And the rainbow is offered as a reminder for us of God’s promise.

But look again: the story didn’t tell us the rainbow is a reminder for us. Genesis says it is a reminder to God. Here are those words again; chapter 9, verses 13-17.

13 I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures. Floodwaters will never again destroy all creatures. 16 The bow will be in the clouds, and upon seeing it I will remember the enduring covenant between God and every living being of all the earth’s creatures.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the symbol of the covenant that I have set up between me and all creatures on earth.”

You might not think God needs a reminder. But let me remind you of this: the Bible wasn’t written with all the “absolute” or “omni” ideas you and I might have about God.

And however powerful the God of the Bible – our God – is; the Bible’s real message; if there is one overarching theme that rules this masterful collection of texts, it is this:

God prefers relationship over the exercise of power.

This story, the flood story, may not be the best illustration of this point, but, it does end with God establishing a covenant with us – with humans, and, in fact, with all living creatures, it says. So, yes, there is the crushing, overwhelming power of flooding waters, and then there’s the promise, the covenant, and the reminder – a reminder for God – never to use that kind of power again.

God isn’t going to get God’s way anymore by the exercise of power.

We see this most cleary in Jesus, of course, where Jesus refuses to return hate for hate, or powere for power, and it costs him his life. Which turns out to be the move we all needed to find victory over sin and death.

To win by losing

To live by dying

There’s rhythm for you!

We get this backwards: many of us – more when we were younger and less as we age – go in terms of “dying to live;” we do extreme things, act in extreme ways, push ourselves to, or beyond, reasonable limits, for the rush, the hit, the high of risking life.

And our bodies, and our minds, like the rush, the hit, the high, so we do it again. But this time it takes more to get the same hit.

God’s rhythm may be opposite ours, but God invites us to learn to live according to God’s rhythm.

And, for today’s scripture readings, it starts with water.

The water Noah and his family were saved from, and the water Jesus was baptized in.

The water you were baptized in.

Did you ever stop to think that some of the water used in your baptism might have been some of the same water that Jesus was baptized in?

How about this: some of the water used in your baptism was involved in the flood!

About 7 weeks ago we gave everyone who worshiped here in either service a rubber ducky to help remember their baptism.

For many of you, that would have been like mine; when you were too young actually to remember it. I was baptized at Hillside Methodist Church in Medford, MA, when I was somewhere between 1 and 3. That morning, the congregation said this for me:

With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of christ that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.

Consider that a version of “And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

The words we say today when someone is baptized, you might recall, are

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
    and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
      with a community of love and forgiveness,
    that they may grow in their trust of God,
    and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
    that they may be true disciples
      who walk in the way that leads to life.

This is our way of conveying to those baptized that they are God’s beloved children.

Who said these words, or words like them for you? Have you ever thanked them? Have you ever thanked God for them; for the promises they made, for the help, and advice, and direction, and example, and prayers they offered?

We would all do well to make giving thanks a bigger part of the rhythm of our lives.

God’s rhythm includes giving thanks. But for today, I want to focus on the rhythm of life, death, and resurrection. We see it in the gospel reading, though that reading is only 7 verses.

Jesus, living, goes into the water of baptism, which symbolizes death. He comes up out of the water, dead to who he was before, and alive to God and God’s call on his life. Life, death, and resurrection.

And it doesn’t end there: At once the Spirit forced Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among the wild animals, and the angels took care of him.

Maybe we imagine that resurrection life is sitting on clouds strumming harps or standing around a throne singing praises, but resurrection life has already begun! Resurrection life includes temptation.

But it includes, also, the ability to withstand temptation. Resisting temptation is breaking one rhythm and taking up another.

Jesus was being tempted, and where was he? In the wilderness, yes, but Mark points out that he was “among the wild animals.” Jesus was surrounded by creatures that were also included in God’s covenant with Noah. God remembered!

And there, surrounded by his fellow creatures with whom God made that first covenant, Jesus had the angels take care of him.

And then the reading (and all of the scriptures for our worship services during Lent are from the  lectionary) ends ends with this: After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

So, it seems there is a rhythm, life, death, resurrection (which is life again), death (resisting temptation), and resurrection again. In one sense, there is one resurrection. But in a very important sense for us, especially as we start lent, there is a rhythm of resurrection. Resurrection comes to us again and again!

So you have been baptized. You have, then, died to yourself, and been raised alive to God. That’s what fellow UM Pastor Adam Webber highlighted when he explained to a couple thousand of us at the UMC of Rez LI last year, when he said that he told people when they joined the church: “At the moment when you join the church, that’s when what the church does stops being about you!”

Which sounds really refreshing until we consider how easily we fall into talk about what we think the church ought to do for us.

That’s not what we’re resurrected for! “What’s in it for us” is the way of thinking we get to die to, and be resurrected from!

And it helps to remember all those people who made promises for us when we were baptized. So we can go on making promises to people who are baptized today.

It’s part of God’s rhythm. It is life, and death, and resurrection.

It is a rhythm we were created for, and a rhythm we are invited to live into – especially during this season of Lent.

So, I invite you every day this week, or even every day from now to Easter, specifically to remember your baptism. Who made promises? For whom have you made promises since?

What promises did God make to you in your baptism? Never to leave you. To love you always – not in spite of – but always. To take away the power of sin and temptation and death.

What do you need to die to?

What does your resurrection life look like? Now? After Easter? There’s no need to make it wait until after your physical death. The victory is already won!

We opened this service with “When we all get to heaven.” Sometimes, I have to tell you, I don’t much like that song. It’s not that I don’t look forward to spending eternity in God’s presence. No, quite the opposite: nowhere do I find in scripture that living in God’s presence is something we have to wait for.

In fact, several biblical scholars have pointed out that “heaven” isn’t someplace “up” there – we don’t believe in a flat, three-tiered universe. No: “heaven” is where God is present, where God resides.

It’s not that we’ll make heaven a place on earth; it is that in Jesus, God already has! So, when we all get to heaven is already here, in a sense!

May you live into the presence of God and God’s promises here and now!

Thoughts and Prayers

ringing-icon-on-a-mobile-phone-showing-smartphone-call_fkJ4m7vd.jpgOver the years, I have gotten to the place where I don’t blog in a reactionary way as I once did. But the school shooting in Florida last week has gotten me thinking.

Ok, that’s not exactly right. The Parkland High school shooting has gotten me praying and thinking – trying to find something to do besides praying and thinking. yes, I have been praying and thinking about what do to beyond praying and thinking.

And then, wouldn’t you know it, I hear a cell phone notification tone during Young Disciples Time at our 8:30 am worship service. It wasn’t too loud; actually, not really loud enough to be distracting.

But loud enough to get me thinking.

You see, I was already determined to focus the pastoral prayer that morning on inviting God to challenge us, God’s people, followers of Jesus, to do something as a response to the incredible rise of school shootings.

We need to pray, this is beyond question. But it seems that at times like this – especially as there are SO MANY times like this! – to say we should pray can become a cop out.

“Well, I’ve prayed, I don’t know what else I can do!” we might be tempted to say.

And then the notification tone. Which, of course, made me check my phone. It wasn’t on silent!  I quickly, simply, silently, switched it to silent.

I did not pray and ask God to silence my phone.

That would have been missing the point entirely of God having created us in God’s own image and calling us into partnership for stewarding creation.

I can, of course, pray and ask God to help me remember to silence my phone. But it makes little sense to leave such a thing to making a request of God when there is something I can do.

So: I don’t know exactly what we are going to do as Americans about the tragedy of school shootings, but I know prayer can’t be all we do.

We must at least remember, as we pray, that prayer is communication between us and God.

We talk, God listens.

God talks, we listen.

Not always necessarily in this order.  ( we who recognize prevenient grace would likely have to admit that some of the times we pray we pray in response to the Holy Spirit’s urging.)

When we dare pray about school shootings, I feel pretty confident God is going to answer us.

Are we ready to hear what God has to say? I don’t know for sure. But I do know that if by “praying” I mean “tell God how bothered you are about ______ and leave it up to God to fix it,” I’ve not actually come to grips with what prayer is.

Overwhelmed: Heed the voice of youth

the series finale!overwhelmed4forworship

Here’s a question I wish someone would have asked Jesus in any of the gospels: “In the resurrection, what age will I be?”

Like: can I have the knees of Steve in his 20s but the insight of Steve in his 50s? And PLEASE, the metabolism of 19 year old Steve? Hair color: yeah, I don’t care; I’m ok with this washed-out gray-brown. (and if you don’t see any brown any more, just don’t tell me.”

There are a lot of people lately who feel compelled to keep before us that at the Wedding Banquet for the Lamb, imagined in Revelation and some of Jesus’ teachings, the tables will be filled with people who “don’t look like us.” Mike Ramsdell pointed out a week ago that the “geographic center” of United Methodism is in Rwanda.

We are reminded that however divided the kingdoms of this world are by race or class or culture, the Kingdom of God is beautifully, gloriously diverse!

But even that picture, the images most of us conjure, I’m afraid, are limited to diversity of hue of skin, hairstyles, and clothing variances.

I wonder how many of us imagine the wide age diversity?

What age do you want to be in the resurrection? Have you ever given it any thought? Does it matter to you?

We are tackling the Book of Job under the heading of “overwhelmed.” I think it is fair to say that Job was overwhelmed, and that, perhaps, we can learn something from his story that can help us deal with feeling overwhelmed.

One of Job’s problems, I suggested in week 2 of this series, was that he thought his world was the world. In his world, life had always worked in this way: you work hard, you get paid. You slack, you don’t. Of course, this wasn’t just work and pay; Job had read this way onto life itself: if you try your best, if you do good, you would be rewarded with good things and happiness.

Job HAD a good life; he had his best life now! He had lived well!  He is introduced, you remember, this way, Job “was honest, a person of absolute integrity; he feared God and avoided evil.” (1:1)

Then there’s this bet in heaven where the satan accuses God of protecting Job, playing favorites with Job. So God lets the Satan take away all his possessions. Job doesn’t flinch, the satan goes back to God, God allows him to inflict Job with sores, head to toe.

Then we get 28 chapters of back and forth between Job and 3 of his friends: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. After sitting silently with him for 7 days and nights. In Jewish tradition, and a tradition we would do well to adopt, they didn’t speak to Job, the one grieving, until he spoke to them. Then, in turn, they each tell Job he has done something to deserve this, to bring it on himself. And to each, Job insists he hasn’t.

Job and his friends have, to this point, existed in the same world; the world where right behavior is blessed and wrong behavior is cursed. It only remained to learn – or for Job to admit – what the wrong behavior was.

But these things hadn’t happened to Job because he had done anything wrong!

After several back-and-forths with his friends, the story starts to take a different turn. Job turns nostalgic in chapter 29:

Oh, that life was like it used to be,
  like days when God watched over me;
when his lamp shone on my head,
  I walked by his light in the dark;
when I was in my prime;
  when God’s counsel was in my tent;
when the Almighty was with me,
  my children around me;(2-5)

And chapter 30 takes a turn that I, honestly, didn’t see coming:

But now those younger than I mock me,
   whose fathers I refused to put beside my sheepdogs.

I don’t know where this is coming from – at least not in the text. No one younger than Job has mocked him. NO one younger than Job has been mentioned.

But, I suppose, that sense does sometimes come following nostalgia. For instance, some of you might have felt this way:

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, and tyrannize their teachers.”

Do you know who said this? This gets really fun. It has many times been attributed to Socrates, but really only dates back to 1908. We’ve been despairing our youth for a long time – and attributing it even longer!

Or this: “Even as I said it, I knew the phrase, ‘to make a living’ could have absolutely no meaning to these children of the affluent society.”

Sounds about right today – except Ernest Fladell of Life Magazine said it in 1968. Of the baby boomers. For those following along at home, baby boomers are between 55 and 73 now.

We have a long history of thinking nostalgic and somehow then turning that around on younger people.

Here’s the deal: since this is nothing new, I don’t intend to come down hard on anyone for it. But, you know, there’s this thing that once you know about something, you’ve lost the excuse of, “Oh, I didn’t realize I was doing that.”

Here’s the deal this makes for today: the next turn in the Book of Job is the introduction of Elihu; Elihu is a 4th friend, one who we hadn’t met before chapter 32. You heard that introduction just before I started. I’ll recap the end of what was read, and take it a little further:

Elihu had waited while Job spoke, for they were older than he. When Elihu saw that there had been no response in the speeches of the three men, he became very angry.

Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite said:
I’m young and you’re old,
   so I held back, afraid to express my opinion to you.
I thought, Let days speak;
   let multiple years make wisdom known.
But the spirit in a person,
   the Almighty’s breath, gives understanding.
The advanced in days aren’t wise;
   the old don’t understand what’s right.
Therefore, I say: “Listen to me;
   I’ll state my view, even I.”
Look, I waited while you spoke,
   listened while you reasoned,
   while you searched for words.
I was attentive to you,
   but you offered no rebuke to Job,
   no answer from you for his words.

Folks: we’ve got a generational thing going on here! But it isn’t really about old versus young or young versus old. It is, I am convinced, another angle on my contention that “your world isn’t the world.”

How much of your experience of the world today is controlled or limited by your age, by your stage in life?

The temptation, at least as I experience it, is to think that we accumulate perspectives rather than replacing them. Let me try to unpack that.

This past Monday I was at South Euless Elementary. I mentor a 5th grade boy – which, in our case, means I meet with him at lunch. He sat down, and unpacked his bag. A honey bun, veggie chips, a salami sandwich, and a banana. And he proceeds to eat them in that order. I commented on his eating the honey bun first. (I wasn’t correcting him; I’ve sat with this guy at enough lunches to know that he’s going to eat everything.

I ask if he is going to eat things in that order. Had he considered, I wondered aloud, mixing, say, bites of sandwich in between crunching the chips?

No, way, he told me. Back to his honey bun.

I laughed inside. I remember when I ate that way! Divide and conquer. Then, years later, I was into the “mix it all up stage.” Now, I can go either way. Honestly, I usually eat all my veggies first. Not ‘cause I like ‘em, but ‘cause I know I need to eat them, and I want to get them out of the way before the good stuff.

My first tendency, though, was to correct this 5th grader; to invite him to the wily and daring world of intermixing the different parts of his meal.

Because I used to eat that way, and now I eat this way. So this way must be better, right?

Not. At. All.

I have replaced the perspective I had in 5th grade about eating the various parts of a meal. But I can still remember it, but it takes a bit of an effort not only to remember it but to value it. It is a different perspective than mine, but not a worse (or a better) one.

If we aren’t careful, we run the risk, as we grow older, of deluding ourselves into thinking we have collected perspectives and that this makes our current perspective the best one of all those we’ve been through.

Not. necessarily, true.

For instance: Job had YEARS of ‘proof’ that his perspective that good is rewarded (or blessed) and bad is punished (or cursed). But now, his kids all grown, he’s faced with a life that doesn’t actually work according to that perspective.

And Elihu, who now offers a different perspective, happens to be younger. Younger enough, it seems, not to be so set in his ways.

Which is a misnomer if ever there was one.

The ways you and I get “set in” as we age aren’t our ways; they are those, if we aren’t careful, of the generations that have gone before us. Like in Baby Boomers today lamenting about the laziness and fragility of millennials – sometimes using the EXACT SAME language their parents and grandparents used to lament about them!

I wonder how different it might look if we remembered how we felt hearing our parents – or other elders – pontificate about how things were “back in their day” before we started pontificating today?

Elihu offers a different perspective than Job’s other friends, and the only difference we are offered as a possible explanation is that he is younger.

I am pretty sure the Bible is trying to tell us something here.

A friend of mine served on the Board for United Methodist Communications as a youth. We haven’t done a stellar job of this, but did you know we, as a UMC, are required to have youth representation on every committee? Young people, I promise to improve this.

So, this friend’s name is Alice. At the time I was the Youth Coordinator for the Central Texas Conference, and that meant that sometimes I got the opportunity to take Alice to and from the airport she she could make the UMCOM board meetings.

One time, on the drive home from such a meeting, I asked her how the meeting was.

She was exasperated. They had spent a long time talking about how to reach and better communicate with 18-34 year olds. That’s an important demographic that the church – most churches – have had a lot of trouble connecting with.

Here’s the deal, though: Alice was 18 at the time, and they would never let her talk?

I mean, why get the perspective of an actual 18 year old?

As a church – a church with many more people my age (54) and older than younger – we have a lot of work to do to reach out to, to communicate with, younger people. And I have to admit, I’ve been at meetings – I’ve been part of discussions! – where us older folks talk about what will reach younger folks. Or where men talk about how to reach women, or where white people talk about how to reach other ethnicities.

There are many distinctions or boundaries between the vast diversity of humanity all around us, but they’re all porous. As God’s people, we are called to cross all the boundaries we can – age, gender, ethnicity, worldview, perspective.

Elihu reminds us of one of the echo chambers we fall into most easily, and I want to offer you one of the ways I think God has laid right in front of us that we can – and must – get out of our echo chambers. I almost said “comfort zone,” but I don’t know that we’re really all that comfortable.

If we were really comfortable where we are, with who we are as a congregation, we wouldn’t need a series called “overwhelmed.” Honestly: we are overwhelmed with many things, and in many ways.

Like Elihu speaking to Job, I am closing this series with one obvious step for us to take when we feel overwhelmed. Let us heed the voice of youth.

Here’s one way. Our Preschool. Our Preschool brings about 190 kids onto our campus each week. These kids come with parents. Some of those families have church homes, but some of them don’t.

What can we do to reach out to, to bless these families that trust their kids with the care offered by our church?

So; I don’t know which aged-version of you you expect to “be” in the resurrection, but I think we’ll find ourselves happy there if we heed the voice of youth today.

More Gracious Memory

Young people today are so much better than they used to be.

Ok; let me clarify, or, perhaps, say what I really mean. I am more optimistic about young people today than about when I was the age they are now.

I have awesome and encouraging conversations with people half my age. They are thoughtful, intelligent, and generous. They even seem interesting in what I have to say.

They treat me with respect.

Which is more than I can say for myself when I was the age they are now. At least, that’s how I remember things.

Maybe I should have a more gracious memory of years past.

 

Overwhelmed: God Shows Up!

overwhelmed4forworshipCan you imagine? What it would be like? To walk by God’s side? Will I dance for you? Or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I don’t know if I can even imagine!

What would you do if you had the opportunity to present yourself before God? Can you even imagine?

In the intro to the story of Job, the writer first tells us who Job was. A good man, a wealthy man. A very good man. A very comfortable very good man.

Cut from that scene to this one: the “divine beings” or “children of God,” depending on your translation, came to present themselves before the Lord. Also, the writer tells us, “the satan” comes along with them.

The way it reads “the satan” isn’t one of the “divine beings” or “children of God,” but neither does his presence in that courtroom scene bother or upset anyone. He fits, I suppose, but differently than everyone else.

And, as a reminder, since I haven’t mentioned this since the first sermon in the series, this character in this story is not necessarily “the devil” most of us have come to mind when we hear the word, “Satan.”

First off, this is a very specific character; so much so that he is “The Satan.” Second, and perhaps more importantly, the images we conjure of satan or the devil come less from scripture and more from legend and stories that have been spun long after the canon was closed.

For instance, there’s no indication anywhere in scripture that Satan is red with horns and a pitchfork. Or that Satan, or the devil, is in charge of hell.

And we have learned to read “satan” into places where he isn’t. For instance, the story in Genesis 3 of the serpent, the woman, and the man. No actual mention of Satan, or The Satan.

But we’ve got enough before us this morning we can’t really dig into all that.

It is enough for us that as these beings present themselves to God, one of them brings up a beef with Job.

The one who otherwise doesn’t exactly belong. Look carefully at the language in 1:6 One day the divine beings (or ‘children of God’)  came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary also came among them.

So the Adversary, as the CEB chooses to translate it, comes along with all the others. But the Adversary, in the Hebrew understanding the Adversary is the Accuser, isn’t there to stand in awe of God or to dance or to sing hallelujah. It doesn’t seem he is concerned about whether he’ll be able to speak at all.

He is there to start something. Specifically, to accuse Job’s love of God being a direct result of God’s favor and protection. Here’s how the Message puts it:

“So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart? Why, no one ever had it so good! You pamper him like a pet, make sure nothing bad ever happens to him or his family or his possessions, bless everything he does—he can’t lose!

If the Satan means “the accuser,” well, then, he is certainly living up to his name!

So, ok; stay with me on this for a minute: how does one get to the place where one can, in the presence of God, focus on accusing God and others about what’s wrong?

I mean: I think Bart Millard and MercyMe are definitely on to something here: When confronted with the presence of God, how can one not be humbled – humbled to silence, to absolute awe?!

How is it the accuser goes on accusing?

Actually, I know. Because, sometimes, I am he.

I mean, I can be in the midst of a beautiful worship service and get sidetracked by thoughts accusing someone else of doing something, or not doing something, that is distracting or thoughtless or whatever.

And I bet I’m not the only one.

It is, I think, actually pretty arrogant of us to sit here and wonder how someone could possibly stand in God’s presence and not be caught up in awe and wonder.

We do it all the time!

Some of us assume the role of the adversary or the accuser. We have become very good at accusing others of irreverence, disrespect, being inhospitable, dishonesty, cheating; all sorts of things. Whether or not our accusations are true, I am inclined to think that they are motivated more by the darkness we let take residence in ourselves than by the actions or attitudes of others.

Take a look at how quickly you accuse others!

At another church I served once upon a time, I was already seated in the chancel area for the start of the service when a man came in, his 3 small children in tow.

You may not have noticed this, but it is unusual for the father to be the parent bringing kids to church.

Anyway, this man comes in quietly, makes his way around the back and up the outside aisle, forward a few pews, and slipped in as quietly as possible with 3 kids.

Oh, and he was wearing a ball cap.

My first thought was, “please, God, let no one tell him he has to take his hat off in worship.”

This was in the day when I still deaned Sr High camp at GLC every summer. Whenever youth entered the chapel at GL, everyone knew you took off your hat. There was a large table there, front and center, in the narthex, for the hat collection.

All of which comes from 1 Cor 11, where Paul teaches that men ought not have their heads covered in worship. And that women ought to have their heads covered in worship.

In fact, in the church at Corinth, the assumption was women were expected to participate in worship every bit as much as men, but with their heads covered.

So, I know, generally, we don’t wear hats in worship. We have some women who sometimes wear hats in church – and that used to be a thing!

But for a visitor to a worship service, who happens to be wearing a hat, it seems to me the worst thing to do is to stop him right away and correct that behavior.

If not wearing hats is important enough to your church, then work it out over time. But you don’t lead with it.

I am thankful that, as far as I ever learned, no one corrected this young father who wanted to bring his kids to worship.  

We make worship about so many things that it isn’t about! Worship IS about acknowledging the presence of God and coming into that presence in a way that is more intentional, more focused, than the general presence of God we all know we all live in every moment of every day.

Worship is not about hats or flowers or candles or images or electronic equipment or dressing well enough or not dressing to well or having coffee or snacks with you or not having food or drink in the sanctuary (except for communion).

Worship is about recognizing the presence of God and acknowledging God’s goodness, mercy, power, and love; about making some time to focus soak up God’s forgiveness and healing power.

When we enter God’s presence for the purpose of accusing someone else of something, I’m afraid we’ve really lost touch with who God is.

And who does the Satan accuse?

Job. And God.

It would be bad enough if the adversary, or the satan showed up just to accuse Job, but if you’ll notice, he is also accusing God.

He accuses Job of only revering or fearing God because God has this hedge of protection around him.

In so doing, he is also accusing God of protecting – favoring – one person over above others.

Which gives me pause. Because in some of my so-easy-to-hurl accusations about others, I may, indeed, be accusing God of something as well.

Every part of our worship service – even the announcement video! – is intended to support your feeling the presence of God here. We want every part of the service to be something that helps you connect with God’s presence here.

If part of it doesn’t, be patient; don’t be quick to accuse. God is here, and we are all here to worship God.

Take a look at the story from this gospel (Luke 18:9-17) reading this morning. 2 people went up to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector. In prayer, the pharisee thanks God he isn’t like other people – bad people – even like this tax collector here. That’s self-righteousness, and it’s also accusing. The tax collector, on the other hand, prays simply, “God, show mercy on me, a sinner.”

I think the Holy Spirit wants to encourage us through the book of Job to be willing to question God without, maybe, accusing God.

There is a line between questioning God and accusing God, I think. The book of Job indicates that it is ok for us to question God. Some of Job’s questions border on, or maybe they do accuse God. Yet, God shows up. And, in chapters 38 through the end of the chapter, when God is present, Job’s attitude changes. He doesn’t get the answers he wanted. He doesn’t even seem to insist on them. Or remember them.

Rather, it’s like Job moved into an “I can only imagine” frame of mind.

The song, I can only imagine, was written by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard, not long after losing his father. Bart was 18. He was Christian, his dad was a good man of strong faith, but it can be hard to lose a loved one, no matter the age.

Bart says he heard “he’s in a better place now” so many times. Bart didn’t doubt that, but also shared that hearing that “doesn’t really do it for you.”

So the song came, not out of some super-spiritual preachy place, but, from wanting to flesh out the idea  of “I can only imagine…” a phrase that had been on his heart for years.

I can only imagine reminds us of God’s greatness and goodness, and Job reminds us that when we feel far removed from the goodness, and maybe oppressed, or overlooked by the greatness, God comes to us not angry, but also not necessarily to answer our questions.

But God does come to us. And restores us.

God is here this morning! I don’t know if you’ve felt God’s presence – or if you’ve felt God’s greatness AND god’s goodness, but God is here.

Many Christians most feel God’s presence when we share the sacrament – as we are about to do. When simple elements bread and grape juice become, for us, for us who hunger and thirst for God’s presence, the body and blood of Christ.

May these bring God’s goodness to you this morning!

Overwhelmed: Putting God on Trial

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We are some MESSED UP people!  The good news is that the Bible clearly establishes that we are messed up in the same ways people have always been messed up, and that God both loves us anyway, AND has already done everything necessary to deliver us from our sin and to begin our healing of our messed-up-ness.

What God wants more than anything else is for all of creation to come back into line with the way God dreamed it up and spoke it all into being in the first place.

Scripture seems clear to me that the way God intends to do this is by forming a people. Calling people out of “the world” and forming them together into a people who will live as “a city set on a hill,” “a light on a lampstand.” Maybe the world that God calls us out of is our world, our limited world, you may remember that one of the messages from the Book of Job is that your world is not the world. Peter also wrote about calling us out of the world, in that sense, in 1 Peter 2, and then writes that we are

a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. [Peter says that] You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

We are messed up people, and we are God’s people! We are God’s marketing agency, the plan through which God intends to share this incredibly good, healing, redeeming, saving message with the world!

Once, we hadn’t received mercy. Now, we have received mercy!

Now that we have received mercy, what are we going to do with it?

Will we let God work in us?

We want God to work in the world, right?  Do we have any right to expect God to work in the world if we won’t let God work in us?

I think this is one of the great challenges the Book of Job presents to us. Like Job, most of us seem to be wired to expect God to work in us by punishing us for doing wrong and rewarding us for doing right.

But I think the Book of Job is way ahead of us on this. I think the Book of Job wants to teach us that if we think of God as “punishing for doing wrong and rewarding for doing right, we’ve got our focus on the wrong god.

But, you may think, there is only 1 God. James agrees.

Yet, here we are; regularly challenged in our lives NOT to worship the wrong god. The 1st commandment, “You must have no other gods before me,” presumes not necessarily that there are other gods, but that we God’s people – God’s people who have already seen and experienced the mighty power of God to deliver and save – we have a “bent to idolatry.”

We get God wrong.

If we are honest, we have this tendency to fashion god in the form of a superhero, or, in some cases, a larger, more powerful version of us.

But we didn’t make God in our image, God made us in God’s image.

Idolatry is the most basic challenge of God’s people – idolatry is worshipping that which is not worthy of worship.

OT idols were easier to recognize than some of our idols: I mean, melting down jewelry and forming the shape of a calf and bowing down to it, that’s obvious. What might be less obvious: they called this golden calf Yahweh. AS IF something we create could grasp actual God.

Turning to football or shopping or porn or caffeine or fitness or tobacco or alcohol or social media in an attempt to fill an emptiness inside yourself, well, that’s just not as obvious.

Yet, for us, each of these and many other things tempt us, and, potentially fill, for some of us some of the time, a place in our souls that they were not made to fill.

Sometimes we turn to these things instead of doing the difficult work of healing relationships with each other. Sometimes we turn to them to fill a place in our souls that ought to be reserved for God.

And sometime it isn’t a substance or behavior that we turn to. Sometimes we turn to an image of God we have created, or had created for us.

Like the image of a God who loves people who do well and “strive to keep the commandments” and hates people who don’t keep the commandments. Or don’t try hard enough to keep the commandments.

Throughout this series on Job I am going to keep coming back to this way of understanding the world  and God because I believe this is why the Book of Job is in the bible. Much of the time our lives do work according to the principle of “good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.”

But when your one of those good people, as Job was, and horrific things happen to you, You have to do something else. You have to find a way to see the world differently. Because nothing in the book of Job anywhere indicates that God doesn’t love Job or that God is happy about what Job is going through.

And, hopefully, you learn somewhere in the process, that the God who loves you and delivered you and saved you and is saving you IS greater than the god you had constructed.

To get there, Job put God on trial.

Or tried to, or wanted to, put God on trial. The reading this morning, from Job 10, is some of Job’s pining to face God as if in court. Much of the context of Job’s responses to his friends could be read this way. Here’s another part, from ch, 23:

Look, I go east; he’s not there,
   west, and don’t discover him;
9     north in his activity, and I don’t grasp him;
   he turns south, and I don’t see.
10 Surely he knows my way;
   when he tests me,
   I will emerge as gold.
11 My feet have stayed right in his tracks.
   I have kept his way and not left it,
12     kept the commandments from his lips and not departed,
   valued the words from his mouth more than my food.
13 He is of one mind; who can reverse it?
   What he desires, he does.
14 He carries out what is decreed for me
   and can do many similar things with me. (Job 23:8-14)

Several times in Job’s laments he is openly frustrated at God’s hiddenness.

Have you ever felt like God is hiding from you? You cry out, lament, shout, maybe even kick things, drive too fast or drink too much out of frustration for feeling like God isn’t hearing you.

You aren’t alone. I mean, besides you and Job, you’re not alone. In the book, A History of God, Karen Armstrong writes about  some Jews in Auschwitz put God on trial. They charged God with cruelty and betrayal and, like Job, found no consolation in the stock answers to the problem of evil and suffering especially in the midst of their current obscenity. Finding no justification for God’s silence before human suffering, no extenuating circumstances, they reached a verdict: God is guilty as charged and deserving of death. A Rabbi pronounced the verdict, then, announced that the trial was over, that it was time for the evening prayer.

It’s like the Book of Job in 30 seconds.

Put God on trial, pronounce the verdict, and then move on to evening prayer.

I invite you this morning, to put god on trial, pronounce your verdict, and move on with life.

What you’ll find is what Job found. The god you put on trial is not the God of the bible!

The gods you and I would put on trial are the gods that we have made up – the gods we have crafted in our own image, or the image of some ideal person or superhero.

The God of the bible, on the other hand, won’t fit our definitions or limitations.

Which is why, I suppose, when God appears in the whirlwind in chapter 38 through 41, God doesn’t really make an effort to answer all of Job’s questions. Rather, God has questions of God’s own to be asked.

Interestingly, I think that’s how it works in court. Both ‘sides’ get to ask questions.

But, as I processed this, I have come to believe that even thinking of putting God on trial or taking God to court can be idolatry, if it requires us to have formed an image or likeness of something that is NOT our God and worshiping it.

We want a God who has to answer to us and make us understand everything.

We find we have a God whose coming to us IS an answer.

Wanting to put God on trial means we don’t grasp the relationship that God wants to have with us!

One of the geniuses of Wesleyan Christianity, of which the United Methodist Church is a part, is the understanding that God comes to us first. Even when we think we are coming to God, or when we feel like we want to call God to us, to put God on trial or to thank God or to ask questions of God, we believe that God actually initiates all the contact.

We believe God is Creator; while God spoke the rest of creation into existence, God formed humans, like a potter forms clay. Not only that, but god also breathed life into us. And it’s no accident that breath and spirit are the same word. God breathed spirit into us!

God hears our cry, when we recognize our slavery – our slavery to sin – and God delivers us. God delivers us, leads us, feeds us, and then, after all these things, God gives us commandments. The first of which is “”You must have no other gods before me.”

Any other gods we put before God are what mess us up.

Putting God on trial, or challenging God to answer, are all things, if Job is any indication, that get us to the place of recognizing that The God, our God, isn’t any of those gods.

Our God isn’t so simplistic as “good people prosper, bad people suffer.” Our God isn’t a superhero who swoops in to fix everything you and I and others have messed up.

Our God is the One who formed us, breathed life, breathed spirit, into us, and delivered us before asking or requiring anything of us. Our God is loyal and gracious.

Last April three of us went to Panama on a mission trip. We spent several days in Santiago, Panama, working on and with a church there. We flew in and out of Panama City.

The day we flew home, we ubered to the airport a couple hours early. We found a short line ahead of us – only about 3 people, I think. But there was only one counter agent.

Ok, well, there were 2 counter agents. But the other counter agent was assigned to the Advantage program – premium fliers, whatever that category is called. He was there, but he wasn’t helping.

I suppose he was still doing his job: he was organizing the lanes for his section. You know, those poles with belts that connect them? He was making sure they were straight. So much so, in fact, that he asked one of us to please move because our backpack was infringing on where his line was supposed to be.

In line in front of us was a woman with a child, as I remember it. Waiting in line with small children can be a challenge, so I approached the person who was so meticulously attending to the straightness of his lines, and asked if he could, maybe, help some of the customers in the line that was actually forming.

He told me he had to prepare his area.

I acknowledged that, but said, “There’s no one in your line, and you’ve got it really well prepared for when someone comes. But over here there is a ine that is getting longer, and this woman with a young child could probably use your help.”

I wonder sometimes if we get the idea that God is more concerned with the form of the line, the orderliness of the boundaries, than with the people who are in the line.

In a way, I think this is what Job was pushing up against. The boundaries of “the good life” had been removed, but he was left with an image of God who was more interested in the neatness of the line than the people in the line.

It feels this way sometimes. But let me assure you this morning: God is more interested in and concerned with people – all of whom are created in God’s image – than in the neatness or order of the lines than are drawn.

Because God knows no matter how neatly these external lines are set up, we are messed up inside, and God wants to clean the mess and start the healing. Now.

Take away: What are you making up about God that doesn’t fit the biblical story of God loving all people? What are you willing to do to let go of what you make up about God that you then use against God?