Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sandwiches & the Stuff of Life

MARK 5:21-43
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
I’d like to begin by asking one of the deep philosophical questions of our time: 

What is a sandwich?

This may seem like a silly exercise for church, especially when such monumental things are happening all around us in the world. But trust me, it will help us to understand the Gospel reading today. What makes something a sandwich? 

We can’t really have a sandwich unless all of the components are there. Bread and some kind of filling are required. Bread with no filling is just bread. Filling with no bread is just lunchmeat or peanut butter or jelly.

In our gospel reading in Mark, we have a sandwich. We have the story of Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue, at the beginning and the end of the story, like the bread. In the middle we have the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.

It’s a convoluted way for the gospel writer to make a point.  But, it’s Mark’s way of making sure we read both of these stories together. He wanted us to look at them as one story, not two. Each story has it’s own little lesson, but together they send a bigger and more profound message. Mark wants us to take a bite of the whole scripture sandwich, not ingest them separately.

We need to ask, why? Both stories show us the incredible healing power of Jesus Christ. Either one could have shown that on its own. Why read them together? Why make a scriptural sandwich?

When we read these stories together we get a broader picture of who Jesus is and how Jesus works. If we just read the story of Jairus and the healing of his daughter, we see a Jesus who works with the system. We see Jesus helping one of the leaders of the synagogue. Read on it’s own, we might be tempted to think that Jesus comes for all the right people. Those of us who follow the rules and get up, clean up and show up every Sunday.

If we just read the story about the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, we might think that Jesus is just for those who are on the margins. People who are on the margins, unclean or impure as this woman was. Remember, because of her illness, she would not have been permitted to attend synagogue or come into contact with other people. Read on it’s own, read on its own this story might lead us to think Jesus comes for only the desperate and needy, people who are willing to risk everything.

But the stories are not presented independently, but together. That leaves us to wrestle with the question of how do they inform each other. What do a synagogue leader and a hemorrhaging woman have in common?

To help us understand I'd like to tell you another story…

A man named Mr. Cash lives on an exclusive gated property. He grew up rich and is now a CEO of his family’s company. He has house cleaners and cooks who come every day and he tries to pay them well and treat them fairly. The last time he wore jeans he was 22-years-old. He’s never had a pizza delivered to his home—that he knows of.  At 65, he’s a little old to have a gangly 12-year-old with braces, but he loves his daughter fiercely. She came to him late in life and has helped him to see what is really important. He thanks God for her.

One weekend when his wife is away, her fever spikes to 104 and she starts convulsing, he’s in a panic. She doesn’t have a nanny anymore and it’s not really the housekeeper’s job. So he calls their family doctor who tells him to call an ambulance and get to Children’s Hospital. The doctor says she will meet them at the emergency entrance. The ambulance arrives at the house and the EMTs recognize the man from the stories about him in the local paper. They put on their most professional demeanor for Mr. Cash.

Driving toward the hospital, the ambulance passes under the bridge and the driver sees a group of panicked homeless people. Some are trying to wave a car down on the street and others are surrounding a woman and pounding on her chest as they attempt CPR. In the rearview mirror, the girl is moaning and stirring in the back. The ambulance driver slows down. Before Mr. Cash realizes what’s happening, the ambulance stops. The driver is on the radio asking for another vehicle and the other EMT is out of the ambulance and making his way through the crowd to attend to the homeless woman.

At first Mr. Cash is furious. Why are they stopping? His daughter should not have to wait. But he sees this unnamed, anonymous woman lying on the ground and something shifts in his heart. He looks back at his daughter who is delirious with fever and he’s conflicted. He has not choice but to wait until the paramedics are done.

In our story today, we see that the world is made up of many different kinds of people—Jarius, the synagogue leader has a name and a title and has power to control a lot of things in his life, like Mr. Cash. The bleeding woman is unnamed and likely not able to control much of anything, just like the homeless woman.

Yet, life happens both of them.

Have you heard that saying, life happens? It means that all of us have ideas and plans for how our day should go—and then suddenly the car breaks down or a kid gets sick. All of us have these ideas and plans about how our lives should go—but then illness comes or we lose our job.

Life happens to both Jarius and the unnamed woman. They end up on their knees before Jesus. Both of them end up saying to Jesus, I can’t take this. I can’t do this on my own. I can’t live like this. Jesus have mercy upon me.

Jarius comes to Jesus the way he does other things—by following the rules. He comes to Jesus and begs for help. He defers to Jesus authority and asks Jesus to lay his hands upon his beloved daughter. Jesus agrees and intentionally heals the sick girl.

The unnamed woman does it the way she does things—reaching out in desperation to whatever is available. Remember, because of her illness she is unclean and should be isolated. But, she sneaks into the crowd, making everyone she touches unclean and unfit to be in the presence of a rabbi. Then she touches the rabbi himself with her impure hand—rendering him unclean.

And she is healed presumably without Jesus even intending it. She takes the healing with her own hands.  She pulls on Jesus cloak and Jesus says, who touched me? I felt the power go out of me. She took her healing from Jesus.

Taken together—these stories show us that life has a way of bringing all of us to our knees. It doesn’t matter if we have a lot of money or none. It doesn’t matter if we have a huge house or live on the street.

If we are reflective and compassionate people—as I know you are, something in life will break our hearts. Something will bring us to the feet of Jesus as we reach out for mercy. We may be there for our selves like the bleeding woman, or we may be for someone else, like Jarius. It may be the love of a child who suffers. It may be a photo from a concentration camp in WWII. It may be a news story about people dying in Sudan or Charleston or in our own family.

Pure or impure. Clean or unclean. Powerful or poor. We are all equal at the feet of Christ. We all need mercy. There is something humbling about this realization. There is something profound in realizing that all of us are in the same boat.

This story sandwich shows us that Jesus is there for each of us. Jesus’ healing power is available to us however we happen to be. If we are rich or poor, male or female, pure or impure, Jesus is with us and Jesus is for us.  We can reach out to Jesus.

The good news of the Gospel is this. There is enough Jesus for all of us. Jesus’ love and God’s promises aren’t limited to an important few, but are available to a surprising many. Jesus responds to the people who reach out in faith, love God and love their neighbor.

We see this over and over again in Jesus’ actions and Jesus’ stories--Jarius and the unnamed woman, the prodigal son, the adulterous woman about to be stoned, the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus ate with regularly.

This story sandwich is important because it shows us that none of us is entitled to be in the presence of God on our own merit. As the Apostle Paul says, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. It is only by God’s amazing grace that we are here. It is only because of the faith of Christ that we can claim any righteousness for ourselves. At the feet of Jesus, we are all needy, desperate people. When we realize this, we truly understand the goodness of God.

When we realize this our hearts open in gratitude and worship.

What a wonderful thing to worship a God who says, I know you. I love you. I forgive you.

What an honor it is to be in a relationship with a God who puts a hand under our chin, lifts us to our feet and tells us to get up, go in peace.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are a testament to the great love God has for us. The gift of grace is available to all, clean or unclean, man or woman, powerful or powerless.  That gift of grace is available to you and to me.

Neither of us deserve it, but God gives it anyway. Thanks be to God.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Crossing in the Storm

MARK 4:35-41
35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Storms frighten and fascinate me. When I hear about tornadoes, I’m one of those people who watches the news and goes on the internet to see them. I like to watch the footage of tornados racing across fields, awed by their power. But I don’t like to watch the footage of destruction.  Seeing homes and cars and trees destroyed by a storm hits a little too close to home for me.

When my youngest daughter was an infant, we had a bad storm hit near our home. I have vivid memories of the rain cutting sideways across the screen in the window. Tree branches were falling and those that were still attached were waving menacingly at odd angles while I sat in the rocking chair feeding my baby.

As the roar of the wind escalated, the light and rumble from the storm bounced around the nursery. The electricity cut out and I carried Abby to the dark, dank basement. I was alone with a baby. I realized that I was in charge of protecting another life. It was my job to keep her safe against something over which I had no control. It suddenly seemed overwhelming. I held her tight and tried not to cry, realizing there was nothing that I could do. My daughter was oblivious.

There is so much packed into this short Gospel reading from Mark. It’s a story about nature’s storms and Jesus’ power, about boundaries and change, about faith and fear. It’s about a form of ministry that calls the disciples to go to new and even dangerous places. They are not just in a boat on the sea. They are on a journey. Jesus is taking them places so totally different that it threatens to overwhelm them.

My old house withstood the storm that day—minus a few shingles. The fieldstone foundation had again outlasted the rain and wind. The hand-hewn beams that still look like tree trunks stayed strong as they had for over 100 years. I thank God for the hands that created my sturdy home.

The scene outside was different, though. There, the trees were twisted and broken, power lines were down, the road was blocked.  It took three or four days for the electricity to come back.

That experience changed how I view storms. It’s the dividing line between the then and now. Now I watch the color of the sky and eye the rain suspiciously. When the rain goes sideways, I suddenly remember some laundry I have to do in the basement. I call the kids down from their upstairs bedrooms despite their eye rolls.

This week, when the storm looked bad. I went to get my daughter—the very same one that I held in the basement 17 years ago.

“The storm is bad, c’mon downstairs,” I said, noticing her blinds were all down and closed. The drone of the box fan in her room made it hard to hear the wind.

She looked at me over the top of her computer. “Is it really that bad or are you just doing your mom worrying?”

Just then emergency message on my phone blared a tornado warning that said TAKE SHELTER NOW.  See, I said, pointing to my phone. She sighed, closed her computer and followed me downstairs. She can't understand why I worry. Her time of storms hasn't come.

You have probably had one of these life events—or storms, one that was likely worse than my experience.  Something that has happened to you that changed how you see yourself and the world. It might be something medical like cancer or leukemia or something relational like trouble in a marriage or with kids or something personal like addiction or adultery.

Suddenly the seas are choppy and the wind howls.  Jesus seems to be asleep at the wheel while we cry in fear and worry.

We shout to Jesus above the wind, Don’t you care? It’s scary down here in the storm.

But in the midst of it Jesus says, Peace, be still. Maybe he’s not just talking to the wind. Maybe he’s talking about our hearts, too, reminding us of his incredible power to bring peace.
When these life storms hit there is a before and after. They become a boundary. Before I had cancer….After my miscarriage…Before I stopped drinking… After she died…Before I divorced

And in many ways, that’s what storms are in nature—boundaries. We can watch the storm line approach on the radar on TV or on aphone. The hot air and cool air are fighting it out on either side of the line.

We know that the air in front of the storm is usually hot and humid. Once the storm passes the air is cool and the humidity breaks.  Storms discharge pent up energy and stabilize the atmosphere.

In the Gospel the disciples encounter a storm literally, but their work with Jesus is causing storms as well. They are charging the air with new way of following God. Jesus and his disciples blow in to a town like a wind and suddenly strange things happen. People are healed, outsiders are in, and crowds are energized.

In the Gospel today, Jesus gets in the boat and says let’s go to the other side. Most of us hear that without a second thought. But crossing the sea to the other side was crossing a huge boundary.

Dr. John Ortberg in his book, Who Is This Man? explains why going to the other side is a big deal:

The "other side" is something of a technical term. Jesus is not talking just about geography. The other side of the lake was the region of Decapolis, the "ten cities." This was largely enemy territory. Its inhabitants were pagan people.

There was a rabbinic tradition about “the other side” in Jesus’ day. It said that Decapolis – the “other side” – is where the seven nations of Canaan settled. It was filled with pagan temples…The Jews regarded the other side as the place where Satan lived. It was dark, evil, oppressive, and demonic. No one would go to the other side—especially no rabbi…

Yet, Jesus says, "Let's go over to the other side." The disciples were probably puzzled wondering why he would want to go there? Jesus is for their side, our side, not the other side.

Even if they had questions, the disciples are obedient and begin to cross over when a storm comes. . They are headed for pagan lands when suddenly a storm blows in and their boat is threatening to sink. All the while, Jesus is asleep.

And so they wake Jesus, and say, Don’t you care about us?

Do you not care that we are perishing?

Jesus gets up, maybe with a yawn, and rebukes the wind and says to the sea: peace, be still.
And this is what is so challenging about this story. Jesus can command the wind and the sea. Jesus has authority over everything. Jesus is obeyed even by the forces of nature. Saying Jesus Christ is Lord means he has ultimate authority. And Jesus says to us, Come with me, let’s go across to the other side.  

Are you going to say no?

This gospel reading shows us how Jesus uses his ultimate power. He goes to the other side. He goes to the "others." He is mixing things that should not be mixed and a symbolic storm is starting to brew between Jesus and the authorities. Between those who think they have power to make and enforce boundaries and those who have been feeling powerless.

 Jesus is crossing boundaries between people and ideas that have been kept separate by politics, culture and religion. He’s changing the dynamics in his world. He’s challenging the notion of whose lives matter, what people should do with their money and resources, and which values are more important.

We see these same storms in our culture today, too. Boundaries are shifting. For many of us the waters beneath our boats are churning and it’s frightening. Like the warm air and cold air in a storm, we have two opposing forces and ideals. 

On one side, the Baby Boomers are a huge generation who have set the agenda politically, culturally and religiously since the 1960s.

But now we have another big generation—the Millenials, a counterforce with different ideals about what their country and values and even the church should be.  And then you have people like me—the small Generation X--who are somewhere in the middle!

Both sides are flashing with anger and energy about topics like race, money, marriage and religion. Both sides are thundering in the media.

But ultimately, our arguments and storms are about power. Who has it? Who gets to decide which lives matter? Who gets to decide how money and resources get passed around? Who gets to decide the values by which we live?

As Christ’s church, these are questions that Jesus calls us to think about.  Questions that he answered with his actions. Today, we must ask where is God in the storm that we are experiencing? Where is God when bullets are flying in a church? What would Jesus do?

Jesus promises a peace that passes all understanding. But we haven't found that peace and stillness yet.  We haven’t reached the end times that the Bible promises. We haven’t experienced the healing of the nations--or even within our own nations. We are still in the middle of the storm.

By going to the other side, the Gospel reading shows us that Jesus doesn’t abide by the human boundaries that have been drawn by people or governments. Jesus crosses the boundaries that we keep making. 

We keep taking sides. I guess it's our nature. For Jesus there is one side—and it’s God’s. It's not yours or mine. 

I remember sitting on my basement floor during that memorable storm. The cool concrete on the back of my legs grounded me while the storm raged around us. My 4-month old was unfazed. She had no idea why there were tears running down my face.

I hope that I can have that innocent trust in Jesus that my daughter had in me when my personal  storms get bad. I hope that if you are going though a personal storm right now, you can feel safe and secure in the arms of God.

I also hope that as a church, we can call upon Jesus to calm the storms in our world—to work as he did for the peace that passes all understanding. For all people. In all circumstances.

Storms in our lives and in our world are inevitable. The good news is that Christ is with us in the boat. God is not asleep at the wheel, nor have we been abandoned.

The storm may rage, but we have been given a promise.

God loves you, me and this entire world. We will not perish, but have eternal life. 


Be still.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Fires of Change

Last week we celebrated Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit with wind and fire. We explored how wind, breath and spirit are all connected all through the Bible and how living a Godly life includes both inhaling (gathering in) and exhaling (going out).  The OT reading was the famous valley of the dry bones story in which the prophet Ezekiel was commanded by God to prophesy to the breath, to call the wind to give life to the dry bones. Ezekiel's prophesy transformed the bones to living bodies. 

This week we hear from another Old Testament prophet—Isaiah—and the predominent images are of smoke and fire. The familiar words of Holy, Holy, Holy call up memories of music and communion. 

Too often we read this as a ho-hum story from the Bible—the hem of God’s big robe as comforting as a cosmic security blanket, flying angels singing Holy, Holy, Holy and inspiring us to do the same. But, I suspect that Isaiah’s experience was a little different.

Imagine coming to church and suddenly the roof disappears, you look up and get dizzy because you can see so far. Then some huge thing descends from the sky and blankets the entire sanctuary, covering you, too. You push it away from your eyes and notice the seraphs are flying around. Except they are not chubby angels with pink cheeks.

The flying things look more like dragons than toddlers. Seraph means serpent. And a fiery serpent at that. And so these flying things are giant fiery serpents with six wings. 

This creates a slightly different image.  Fiery serpents flying and crying Holy, Holy, Holy so loudly that the whole building shakes while smoke fills the room. It hurts your ears and reverberates in your chest like a bass drum during a parade.

When this happens to Isaiah, he says, "Woe is me." 

That is an understatement.

To make matters worse, a fiery serpent picks up a live coal from the alter and starts coming toward Isaiah with it. There is a plan for those unclean lips. And it doesn't look like a good one. 

Personally, I think by this point I would have passed out in fear. My knees would have given way and I would have collapsed into a puddle in that smoke-filled room. But, this most likely a vision, something like a dream. Or nightmare. In which case I would have wakened myself and gotten a drink of water to try to forget all of the scary images.

But Isaiah stays in it. After the coal touches his lips, he has been purified, his sin blotted out. He senses something has changed.

The the voice of God comes booming in asking "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah says, "Here I Am. Send me." Maybe he's excited that his lips still work.

After all of that terror, Isaiah volunteers to go work for God. And he doesn’t even know what he is volunteering for! God doesn’t reveal what needs to be done. Isaiah is like that annoying kid in college who sits in the front row waving his had to answer the question before the professor finishes asking the question.

In his dramatic vision, Isaiah learns that encountering God changes a person, just as fire changes whatever it comes in contact with. A candle wick, wood and food are all changed by fire. Sometimes they’re consumed as in a forest fire. Sometimes they are made better, like a steak.

In Isaiah’s vision, fiery serpents, smoke and hot coal transform Isaiah from a man of unclean lips to and enthusiastic prophet ready to use his purified lips to speak God’s words to the people of Israel.

Fire plays a big role in the Bible. Most of us think of fire as punishment. In many of our minds 

fire = hell  

In Leviticus, God burns up two priests who didn’t get the recipe right for incense and fire (10:1-2). God responds to their unholy fire by burning them. It also says if a man marries a woman AND her daughter they are all to be burned as punishment (20:14).  Leviticus is all about how to keep and maintain the fire and conduct sacrifices of burnt offerings

In the New Testament, John the Baptist tells us that we must produce good fruit or risk being cut down and thrown into the fire. Jesus himself talks about eternal fire and the fire of Hell.  Fire can represent punishment in the Bible.

But, Isaiah is surrounded by fire and smoke and serpent-y things and he is in the presence of God, not in hell. 

That terrifying vision doesn’t seem to be a form of punishment, but rather a way of expressing God’s power. In the Bible, fire isn’t just about hell. Fire also symbolizes that which is Holy.

Deuteronomy describes God as a consuming fire (4:24). 

When the Israelites encounter God in Moses time, the people see smoke and fire on the mountain. All they can feel is the earth trembling. They are terrified and tell Moses he can be the one to go talk to this fiery, smoky, shaky God, while they hang back a safe distance away. 

"Oh no," they demure. "You go, Moses. We will stay back well away from all that fire and smoke. You go on ahead. Then come back tell us what God says." And so Moses was a the sent one.

One of the rules that God gives Moses is that a continuous fire is to be kept on the alter for the burnt offering to God, a holy fire in a holy place.

So fire can represent punishment or the holiness of God.  But, fire can also be a symbol for change or transformation. God uses a burning bush to call Moses to ministry—but it was Moses who changed, not the bush. God blots out Isaiah’s sin with a coal from the alter fire. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit rests on Jesus’ disciples with tongues as of fire. 

Fire brings change.

Fire brought change to the disciples at Pentecost. Fire brought change for Isaiah. Fire brought change for Moses. But before all of that, says Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham, fire changed humanity.

When humans started applying fire to food, something surprising happened—their brains got bigger. In other words, cooking our food made us smarter. Fire transforms whatever it encounters. Putting our meat over a fire charred the meat and transformed humanity.

Eat a raw steak and your body will expend most of its energy trying to digest it and turn it into energy. Cook the steak first, and you start to unlock the energy before it gets to your stomach. Wrangham says that in our history, all of this extra energy is what allowed the human brain development to explode—giving way to language, religion, and civilization. 

This makes me wonder if that continuous fire on the alter and all of those burnt offerings changed the culture of the Israelites for the better. Remember, they actually ate parts of the offerings. Could it be that following God’s laws and sharing cooked food helped the Israelites transform from a rag tag group of wandering, complaining slaves to a formidable nation?

In many ways, we are still like those Israelites. We still gather around fires. Every week we have candles on the communion table as part of our worship. We light an Advent wreath and put out candles for a Tenebrae service. We dress the sanctuary in the colors of fire for Pentecost. 

We don't have burnt offerings anymore (unless something goes terribly wrong with at the roast beef dinner), but we still eat fired food together regularly. We don’t turn people away from the refreshments at fellowship time provide. We eat lunches and dinners together and hold strawberry and peach festivals. We donate food to those who cannot afford it for themselves.

The bread we break for communion has been transformed by fire, both literally in an oven and symbolically fire of the Holy Spirit. We believe that taking in that bread changes something in us.

Fire has had a transformative effect on this church as well. As many of you will know, the sanctuary was destroyed by fire in the 1980s. Those who were here remember the devastation and pain of watching the church burn or seeing the damage that was done as you drove by afterwards.

The story of the fire is one of the first things that people wanted to share with me when I came here as a pastor. I’ve heard stories of firefighters carrying Bibles and hymnals out of the flames. I’ve heard about how the congregation worshipped in the local synagogue. I’ve seen photos of the Rabbi and the pastor together as you exchanged gifts.

Just as Moses and Isaiah were changed by their encounters with fire, this church has, too. There is no doubt in my mind that the fire transformed the way you think about church.

This congregation is resilient. You know that you can face adversity—lose your building—and still find ways to be God’s church. You know that you can count on each other in difficulty and tragedy. You have an intuitive understanding of a resurrection life—not just from scripture, but from experience.

Like Isaiah, you have faced the terror and devastation of fire. And when it was over and God came calling, you said here we are. Send us. And you continued to be the church, worshipping God, delivering Meals-on-Wheels, working with the Good Samaritan Center, studying and learning together.

 You know that what makes you a church is not the size of the congregation, the programs that you have, or the money in your endowment. What makes you a church is your devotion to Jesus Christ. What makes you a church is the love you have for God and the love you have for your neighbor.

When we came here for the work day a few weeks ago, the fire alarm was beeping. It was telling us that something needed attention.  And do you know that darn thing was beeping for about a week before Martha, the phone company and the alarm company could figure out what was going on. It turns out some wires were crossed.

I think it was appropriate that the alarm was beeping. That alarm was alerting us to something more important than crossed wires. The alarm was reminding us that the Holy Spirit that is at work here.

A change is happening. God is empowering and equipping us to love and serve a changing world in new ways. The wind and the fire of the Holy Spirit are moving in Reunion Church and I hope in your own life.  

And while I’d like to promise that it will be easy and uplifting, Isaiah’s vision – and your own experience—show that God's call upon your life doesn't always come with cherubs and angels.  It may feel more like earthquakes and fiery serpents. Or a cross and crucifixion. 

But the promise is that presence of the Spirit's fire leads us closer to God. It may unsettle us, terrify us or inspire us. However it works, it will change us. We cannot encounter the God of the universe and just walk away the same as we were before. 

I pray that as each of us encounter God we respond with the enthusiasm of Isaiah.

I pray that when the God of fire and wind and love and glory says, "Whom shall I send?" We have an entire roomful of people who put up their hands and say, "Here I am. Send me!"