SERMONS

I think that when things get overwhelming in life and the world, there is a three-prong approach that can be helpful for us to utilize. First, we need to give ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings. Second, we need a plan to begin to approach the things we can manage, and to let go of all of the things that we can’t. And the third prong is giving it all to God and Jesus, who intimately knows the suffering and temptations of this world and our lives.

As to giving ourselves and those around us room to have our feelings: My wonderfully imperfect parents did many things right and made plenty of mistakes when we were growing up (as they themselves would admit). When I was young, there wasn’t a lot of room for a complex variety of feelings in our household. We were mostly supposed to be happy, or at least act that way. Nowadays I believe it’s very important to try to give room for myself and others to have our feelings, even when they are messy and uncomfortable.

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Dear people, we cannot let the language of love die out. We cannot let the radical act of loving those whom we deem to be undeserving of our - or perhaps anyone’s love - die out. This is a fire that we need to feed with a holy and diligent fuel, the fuel of Christ’s call to us and Christ’s redeeming work in us that makes it possible for me to go from wanting to kick someone’s you know what to loving them no matter what.

In seeking to follow Christ as Christ’s disciples we are called to learn a new language for living. Today’s gospel lesson illustrates just what a radically different language for living this will be, with Jesus using a present participle invitation (as seen in the original Greek text) “for those who are still listening” to pay close attention. Not those who were listening or those who might someday listen, but for those who are still listening.

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This week’s gospel text offers us Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Also known as the list of “the more trouble you’re experiencing in your life the more that God will be trying to also bless you”) As with many well-known, or at least often-heard scripture texts, it can be easy for us as the reader or hearer to catch the beginning and then semi-tune out because our brains tell us we already know where this is going.

Only I wonder what happens if we approach familiar scripture texts not with foregone conclusions in our brains, but more like the way in which we might watch someone like Andrew Chen, the Olympian figure skater. With Andrew Chen this year, as he kept performing so extraordinarily well on the ice, it began to seem like a foregone conclusion that he would win the gold medal. Yet I don’t think this made anyone who was watching Andrew Chen perform tune out, or only pay half-attention. Instead, we leaned in, as we didn’t want to miss a moment, a turn on the ice, a choice of music or facial expression. What if we approached this story of Jesus and the Beatitudes, and other stories from scripture with such rapt and riveted attention? There’s so much to be seen, observed, mulled over and appreciated!

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Have you ever looked at a task before you and felt like it was insurmountable? Have you ever been on the go from morning until night but felt like you had nothing to show for it?

Maybe it was a school project or multiple school assignments being worked on. Maybe it was getting bills paid or a house cleaned out for a relative who died or trying to help out a relative or friend who is still living. Maybe it was getting your own house or apartment cleaned. Maybe it was all of these things and more…With the winter storm that knocked power out for over 56,000 people in the county where Redeemer, New Paltz is located at the end of last week, I can only imagine how the road crews clearing debris and downed wires, working overtime to restore the power and heat and security (that so many of us take for granted), must have felt as they have looked on mile after mile, road after road, township after township that needed and need attention. Insurmountable. Impossible. No matter how much we do it always seems like there’s more to be done.

When I heard the resounding crash outside our house on Friday afternoon and saw the tree whose branched top had landed on the driveway like a neat cork, cutting off any entrance or exit, I came face to face again with the experience of “insurmountable.” When, hours later, the tree top was gone along with the sound of the neighbor’s chain saw and the neighbor and the parents who had helped us clear a path back to the world, I was struck by my feeling of relief and gratitude, and also how hard it was for me to stick with my feelings of gratitude and not immediately begin worrying about all the debris still left around that will get in the way of mowing in the spring, and the brush that will need cutting and burning and clearing. And the rest of the tree that will still need to be removed by professionals and the cost that will entail.

Insurmountable. Impossible. There I was again.

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I want to thank Pastor Limina Grace and the worship team for inviting me to be with you today. It’s a risk to invite someone to come and speak when you don’t really know what they might say. What if this turns out to be someone who we want to run out of town, like the people wanting to run Jesus off the side of the cliff in his own home town? As I joked in my bio this morning, I guess that I’ll hope I’m far enough away from my home town of Woodstock - where I grew up - to avoid being run out of town like an unwanted prophet.

And interestingly, the prophetic message I feel called to bring to us today is about being prophets and prophetic in our work on social justice matters: That we are all, in fact, called to Christ-centered, prophetic work through Christ-centered communities focused on creating and doing prophetically good works in the world.

You’ve been talking these past weeks about educational inequality, incarceration, economic injustice and unemployment, and medical and mental health. You’ve been considering how God calls us through scripture into reflection and into action. This is a great topic to start the secular new year, and I appreciate how the worship team has framed this series to encourage us to think - not about what may happen - but about what we can make happen. And, of course, we remember that anything good we can make happen is possible only because of the saving grace of Christ working through the cross and resurrection to make of us a resurrection people.

Without God and Christ at center we are but clanging bells, right?

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