Saturday, October 25, 2014

Whatever You Do

What a day.  I’m in between things at the moment.  Waiting for the next thing.  But not waiting, filling the time.  Using the time.  We had men’s group this morning - way, way too early, frankly.  But these guys like it.  A small group of men who gather to share and listen and know each other a little bit more.  To have the sense that they are not alone in the universe.  I guess early morning is a good time for that.  

Then I have a funeral this afternoon.  A special woman, a part of the life of the church, fought cancer for a while, finally won.  Yeah, I said won.  By holding fast to her faith into eternity, I think she has won what most of us long for and pray for.  I have finished the race, I have kept the faith, wrote St. Paul.  So, a celebration this afternoon, sad to be sure, sad for us who remain, who still run, who still fight, but a celebration nonetheless.

Then a few hours later, I turn back a few pages in the United Methodist Ritual book and perform a wedding.  It has always fascinated me that the wedding and the funeral services sit side by side in my little book. Something theological about that.  But I won’t go into it now.  Maybe someday.  Certainly Emily and Marco wouldn’t want a reflection on mortality this afternoon.  They are thinking about eternity.  They are thinking about love as an act of will, of life together, of hope and joy and facing the future hand in hand, which is the only way any of us can face the future.  Holding on.  To someone, to everyone, to the One who made us and the One who saves us and the One who sustains us.  It is always better to go forward holding on, and not only to God.  There are those around us who sustain us, who save us.  There is a community, there are covenants made that make us who we are.  So we go into the unknown confident in love, confident in hope, even when the way is clouded, even when the hands by which we hold on are numb and uncertain.  We go on because of those who sustain us even when we don’t know it, or forget it, or take it for granted, or even try to deny it.  But they are there, sustaining, praying, loving us.  So we go on.

Woven into this busy day is a marker that startles me.  My son, Rhys, who I sometimes still see as the sleepy eyed but curious tiny little bundle I received into my arms at Chicago O”Hare Airport, turns 21 today.  Twenty-one!  How in the world did that happen?  Must be one of those time warp things we read about in the science fiction novels.  That’s the only explanation.  Otherwise it would mean admitting that I’m ... well, old.

In between all these things is my usual preparation for Sunday morning.  Which is always both a physical and a spiritual process.  Reading and writing, planning and organizing.  But also praying and meditating, listening and wanting.  Being present in this moment, in preparation for another moment, a worship moment the next day.  Alive to the Spirit as much as I can be.  Alive to the world in which the Spirit works and the community the Spirit shapes.  
So...what a day!  

Actually, its not a day, it’s a week.  It’s a month.  It’s a life, might as well admit it.  It’s not just today, it’s every day.  It’s not just me it’s you as well.  We are all of us engaged in days like this; overwhelming days, head-spinning days, troubling days, exciting days.  There are days we want to hold on to forever and days we want to see the back of as soon as possible, days we hope we never forget and days we don’t want to remember.  Our lives are made up of days that make us wish for the boring, mundane, make no demand, just kind of drift along days that seem too few and far between.

So, what does our faith say we should do on those days?  What does Jesus require of us on such days?  What actions and what choices?  What demons do we exorcize and what angels do we heed?  
Actually, I’m beginning to suspect that maybe it isn’t so much the what, but the how that really matters.  Don’t shoot me. I don’t mean, as some do, that there is no such thing as sin.  Yes, there are always right things and wrong things to do.  But I think when walking through this life, the wake we leave has less to do with the specific actions and more to do with the attitude we bring to those actions.  The how seems to make more of an impact than the what.  At least that’s what it seems to me Paul is saying in our text for this week.

Colossians 3:12-17   12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

Clothe yourselves, writes Paul.  Wrap yourselves in these things.  Put on.  He writes a lot about the discipline of making sure you are properly attired as a follower of Christ. You could argue, I suppose, that the list that he provides for us here is about doing, about actions.  But I would argue that it is more about attitude.  Take look at the words - compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  And then once he states them, lays them out for us, he then describes them again.  Bear with one another, forgive one another, get over stuff, let it go.

Then comes the outer garment.  Clothe yourself with love.  No wait, “above all, clothe yourself with love.”  Above all.  The crown, the cap, the overcoat, the fur wrap, the orange jumpsuit, the helmet that you lead with, the walker that you ambulate with, the steel toed boots you work with, above all lead with love.  A new commandment I give to you, love one another as I have loved you.  He said that, Jesus.  On his way out the door.  Before climbing the hill and hoisting himself on the cross.  Love one another.  As I have loved.  Above all.

So, whatever you do.  Love is an act, certainly, but more than that it is an approach.  It is an attitude.  It is a way of being in the world.  It is a uniform that we wear.  See how those Christians love one another.  That’s what folks are supposed to say about us.  Not see how judgmental, not see how closed minded, not see how hard-hearted.  But see how they love.

Whatever you do.  Whatever.  Not just the big stuff.  Not just the planned and organized and mission and outreach stuff.  But whatever you do.  Not just the happy or sad ritual stuff, the weddings and funerals, the small group gatherings and the monumental birthday celebrations.  But whatever.

Great word “whatever.”  It can have all sorts of attitude if you want it to.  My daughter Maddie can whatever with the best of them.  Rhys does it with a sigh, La Donna with a raise eyebrow.  Whatever.  But when Paul says it here in Colossians it feels different.  It doesn’t feel like a dismissal or a reprimand.  No, it feels like an invitation.  Like an opportunity.  The door has been flung wide open.  You don’t have to wonder if this little thing would matter all that much in the greater scheme of things.  “Whatever” gives you permission to do it in love.  You don’t have to feel as though your little moment won’t amount to anything in the face of a difficult moment.  “Whatever” says that your love is just as transforming as anyone’s.  It’s an invitation.  To love.  Or, as Paul says, to sing.  Join in the song of loving.  The song of praising.  The song of thanksgiving.  Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God, because of the love in your heart.  

And whatever you do ... do it with love like His.  Whatever.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

You that Are Weary

Bishop Robert H. Spain, retired from his office as Bishop of the Louisville Episcopal Area and now is chaplain with the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.  He has been a teacher and speaker for clergy workshops and continuing education events.  He was known to quote the baseball manager Casey Stengel who supposedly said “there are two kinds of baseball managers: those who have been fired and those who will be fired.”  Bishop Spain then went on to address the clergy (and sometimes laity) in his care and say that there are two kinds of Christians: those who have lost their passion for the Lord and those who will.  “We all,” the Bishop would pronounce, “suffer some periods of spiritual dryness.”

Surely not, we think.  We can sustain this, can’t we?  It isn’t that hard.  Just love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  It can’t be that hard, surely.  Just believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.  A piece of cake.  I mean even when we understand that to believe is not to hold  intellectual assent to a concept somewhat detached from where we live and breathe, but that the belief that saves us is investing our whole self in living the life that Jesus invites us to live - even then, it can’t be that hard, can it?  Just, as James reminded us just last week, let the Word become implanted in us because it has the power to save us.  A walk in the park, wouldn’t you say?  Except that the ground in which that Word is planted is our souls which have a tendency to be overgrown with busyness, and responsibilities, and plans and strategies, not to mention will swings of mood and intent and then it is all overseen by a will that is shaking in its boots on a regular basis. 

Two kinds of Christians: those who have lost their passion for the Lord, and those who will.  Sometimes the walk of faith is a autumnal stroll through the beauty of the leaves and the crispness of the air, it just makes us glad to be alive.  Sometimes it is a slog through a soaking drizzle that chills to the bone and seems an uphill incline that wears on muscles we hadn’t stretched enough before we began.  Sometimes carrying the gifts and responsibilities is a joy  that fills our heart, sometimes it is a burden we dread with every passing moment.  Sometimes we feel surrounded by a Presence that lifts us with every step of our journey, sometimes it is an aloneness that consumes us until we feel hollow inside, empty, drained.  Sometimes we know our redeemer lives, other times death seems to be final word.  Sometimes ...  Two kinds of Christians.  Have lost, will lose.  Which are you?

Matthew 11:28-30  "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." 

Just three verses that try to combat the two kinds of Christians scenario.  All you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.  What surprises me is how often we won’t admit our weariness, we won’t confess to our burdens.  Some of it is because we know too much.  We know someone who has it worse.  We know someone who is struggling more than we are struggling, dealing with more life and death issues, facing insurmountable odds, carrying monumental burdens.  So, we feel that there is something wrong with us if we struggle with something that seems relatively simpler, or easier than what we see in others.  We are embarrassed that we feel like the minor thing, the self-doubts, the rejection, the emptiness is worth calling suffering when there are those around us dying, literally dying from disease or war or terrorism or violence of various kinds.  We don’t even think we are able to claim weariness, because we haven’t suffered like others have suffered.  We aren’t ready to claim we carry a burden when others seem weighed down by unimaginable suffering.

And yet, our pain is our pain.  Our burdens are real, our suffering is real.  And we are weary.  It might not be the struggle to survive, like it is for some in this world.  But it is real and it is our hurt, denial won’t make it any better, won’t wash away the tiredness, won’t lighten the burden.  We, like others - whose circumstances might be worse - need to admit we need a savior.

That’s what’s behind this passage. An admission, that the burdens we carry can’t be carried alone.  That the weariness that seeps into our bones won’t go away because we try a little harder or have another cup of coffee.  We can’t do this, we can’t save ourselves, despite what our culture tells us.  We need a savior, one who will save us even from ourselves.

If you go back in the chapter and read what leads Jesus to make this invitation, you’ll see that the burden he refers to is the burden of the law.  The burden of pharisee-ism.  The burden of a religion that has lost its heart and continues to strain under the detail of rules and traditions.  Jesus wants to set us free from that.  From heartless religion.  To bring us into a living, sustain, strengthening faith.

He wants to give us rest.  But not rest as in taking a nap. (Though Maddie home from college would testify that a god nap can be a wonderful thing.)  This is the kind of rest that comes from being where you belong.  It comes from fitting in, being in the right place, doing what you were created to do, fulfilling the dreams you didn’t even know you had.  This rest is an active rest, a moving rest, a rest because you are following the one who knows you better than you know yourself.  Not a lethargic, drowsy, let the world go away kind of rest.  But a building, serving, peacemaking rest.  Because your heart is settled, your identity is known to you and to those around you, you are at rest because you are.  In God you are.  In relationship you are.  Internally, in your own heart and soul you are.

No, that wasn’t Yoda talking backwards.  That was an affirmation of identity. You are.  But wait, you say, this rest how do we get it, what do we do?  Take the yoke.

Slow down there, Sparky.  Take a yoke?  I know we aren’t in the same agricultural environment as the folks in Jesus’ day, but we know what a yoke is.  It is work, back-breaking, sweat-producing, dawn to dusk kind of work.  That doesn’t sound like rest.  It sounds like the opposite of rest.  Yeah, ok, Jesus is nice about it, with that I am gentle and humble of heart.  Which means, I guess, he won’t use the whip on us.  He won’t use the goad.  He’ll be nice and friendly while he straps us in to this instrument of hard labor.

My yoke is easy.  Compared to what?  Easy means, in this context, that it is made for us.  There were two kinds of yokes available in those days.  There was the off the rack yoke that you’d pick up a Wal-mart or the first century middle Eastern equivalent.  It was an uneasy yoke, it would sometimes rub in the wrong places, it wounded the animal even as it enabled them to work.  It chafed, it bruised, it was like walking miles in shoes that don’t fit.  The skin would be rubbed raw by a yoke that was uneasy. 

An easy yoke, by contrast, as custom made.  It was made for a specific animal with specific measurement.  It fit right. It enabled the beast to do the job it was called to do, and even more by enhancing the natural strength.  My yoke is easy, Jesus says, meaning it fits us.  It is the work we were made to do.  It was the job of service that our heart desires.  The burden is light, because it doesn’t feel like a burden.  When we labor out of love it doesn’t feel like labor.  When we serve with joy it doesn’t feel like service, it feels like giving and receiving a gift.  We are doing what we were created to do.  We are fulfilling our heart’s desire, even when we didn’t know anything about it.

We are weary, Jesus says, because we are doing the wrong things.  Or working with wrong assumptions.  Or trying to justify or identify or to prove ourselves.  When our self is already proved by his love.  We can rest, secure in that love.  Secure in our identity as a child of God.  We can find rest, even as we become more active than we have ever been.  More productive than we thought we could be.  Because we are yoked to Christ, and want nothing more than to serve Him in love.  Rest in that.  Rest in Him.  Rest.  A third kind of Christian, one who is at rest in Christ.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Looking in the Mirror

Came home to a quiet house.  Well, as quiet as it can be with the crazy dogs and the senile cat.  But once the yelling was satisfied with another dish of food and the wagging and barking and jumping was satisfied with a little attention and a quick walk to the mailbox, it got quiet.

Quiet can be good.  I like quiet.  There are days when I long for quiet and days when I go and seek quiet.  Be still and know that I am God is one of my favorite verses.  (Psalm 46:10 for those who have to go look it up!)  La Donna is off at the UMW Annual meeting.  The kids are off in school.  I just came back from a rather intense retreat that I was leading.  You’d think I wanted quiet.  You’d think quiet would be first on the agenda.  But it wasn’t.

I had a quiet drive home.  Quieter than I wanted.  And came home to a quiet house.  And I felt a little lost.  Yeah, there was no one to tell me what to do.  No one to make me perform a task I didn’t want to perform, No one demanding anything from me.  No one.  Just me.  No one to boss me.  No one to greet me.  No one to ask me questions I didn’t want to answer.  No one to hear the stories I wanted to tell.

Like I said, sometimes I love that.  Sometimes the quiet is just perfect for me.  So, don’t feel sorry for me.  That isn’t the point of this reflection.  Besides there are those out there, some reading this letter for whom that is their daily existence.  And I’m sure there are days they are glad of that, but there are also days when the quiet weighs heavy upon them.  

Reflecting is one of those things that happens in the quiet.  Reflecting is also one of those good things, most of the time.  Sometimes all that is reflected is the emptiness.  Sometimes all that is reflected is the lack of answers, the lack of direction, the lack of hope.  Sometimes reflection doesn’t help.  Because it doesn’t stick.

At least that’s what James thinks.  That’s what it seems like he is saying, at least in part.  Reflections only bounce back what is in front of them.  And they don’t stick.  They don’t provide enough just in themselves.  Not enough direction and hope.  Not enough Presence.  

James 1:19-27  You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;  20 for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.  21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.  22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.  23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror;  24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-- they will be blessed in their doing.  26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.  27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 

Like those who look in a mirror.  James is an odd duck, don’t you think?  Well, Martin Luther sure did.  He thought James was dangerous stuff.  He thought that James was an “epistle of straw” because of all this hearing and doing stuff.  See, Luther was afraid that we would read the Letter of James and come away with the feeling that it was all about doing.  That our faith consisted of acts like caring for widows and orphans in their distress.  That our calling was to keep ourselves unstained from the world, meaning that we lived purely, that we kept our promises, that we respected one another, that we learned to live in community, that we guarded our emotions and that we turned away from that which would deceive us.  Luther thought that was bad.
Well, no, to be honest Luther didn’t think that was bad.  Forgive me those who might have strains of Lutheran history in their bloodstream.  Of course I know that Luther was all for any and all those acts of faith.  Did them himself on a regular basis.  No, it wasn’t the acts that worried Luther, it was the belief that those acts were what saved you.

Which, frankly, made me wonder if he read the Letter in the first place.  I mean, this is just chapter one and here we have it in black and white: The implanted word that has the power to save your souls.  The implanted Word?  What in the world?  Or beyond the world?  

James, tradition has it, was the brother of Jesus.  There is some considerable doubt as to whether that James ever sat down and wrote this letter, but in the book of Acts we see James stepping up to be a leader - some say The Leader - of the fledgling church.  So, I like to imagine that this letter is the result of being the brother of Jesus.  Of listening to all that he was saying who whole life, not just the three years of ministry the Gospels tell us about.  His whole life, well, James’ whole life anyway, since he was the younger brother.  For James whole life he lived in that shadow.  Maybe there was a time when James idolized his big brother Jesus, as is the habit of younger brothers.  Maybe there was a time when James began to resent Jesus and the special treatment he received from his mother who treated him as though he was a special gift from God, from his father who seemed strangely in awe of his eldest son.  Maybe James grumbled about the things Jesus would say, and how his sisters and all the neighborhood kids would flock to listen to every word he said, as though he was some prophet or teacher, for heaven’s sake!  There was that scene in three of the gospels where it says Jesus mother and his brothers came to “see him.”  You know James was leading the pack.  Telling them that Jesus had gone crazy and they needed to go get him help, take him someplace where he wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the whole family. 

James was a doer.  James was faithful.  In Jesus’ story, James got to be the elder brother, but he didn’t come off very well (see Lk 15).  Now it had all changed.  James took a look in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.  So when the resurrected Jesus showed up and said “I need you, bud,” James the doer stepped up.  If you asked him he probably couldn’t have told you why.  He just did.  He just did what he always did.  He was the helpful one, the calm one, the good one, the pure one.  But now there was something else inside of him.  Something took root, some word that made sense, some Word that made life.  And he was still a doer.  But now he was a doer because.  He was still a servant, but now he was a servant because.  He was still pure and good and faithful, but now he was pure and good and faithful because.

Because?  Because of the Word that took root in him.  He looked into the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.  Because what he saw was emptiness.  What he saw was the duty of faithfulness, the burden of purity, the task of service.  What he saw was a void where his motivation, where is soul ought to be.  But when he looked into those eyes, the eyes he knew from his own birth, the eyes that managed to love him even when he didn’t want them to, those eyes that seemed to call for more and now seemed to give more.  When he looked into those eyes it was as if something took root in him, something was planted.  A reason, a purpose, a new beginning, a new soul.  And all that he did he did because of that implanted Word, that hope revived, that soul restored.  It has the power to save your soul.  That’s what he wrote.  Not the works, Luther, the Word implanted.  The works grew out of the salvation, they didn’t earn it.  He needed that Word implanted.

He didn’t earn it, but he had to welcome it.  Welcome it with meekness, with gentleness.  The eighth fruit of the Spirit.  The very essence of God.  Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Welcome the Word with gentleness, not because of our weakness but because of His strength.  

Sometimes quietness is healing and restoring.  Sometimes it is troubling, reflecting the emptiness of a soul.  Sometimes it is a waiting for a Word, needing a hope and a reminder.  Come, Lord Jesus.


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thunder and Smoke

First of all, thank you to those who responded last week to my contemplation about continuing this particular vehicle week by week.  What I especially appreciated were the many comments - on and offline - from those saying that I need to do what is best for me.  That kind of care and support is rare, even in the church where often it is more about making sure I get what I need than what might be best for the community or for others even when it conflicts with what I would prefer.  

This week is an off week for me anyway.  My associate, Chris is preaching this World Communion Sunday, so my inclination is to not be too wordy so as to have time to do other things this lovely, but chilly and quite windy, weekend. But thought a few words of reflection might be useful here.  

First of all, this is a new day.  We are launching a new path and pattern for worship at Aldersgate, reaching back for ancient tradition even while forging new experiences in our Heartbeat service at nine am.  If you are a part of the Aldersgate community and wanting to worship at nine, you are in for a treat.  Trust me on this.  Chris is designing a subtly different experience that you will enjoy.

Secondly, there are still questions about modes of communication that we are trying to address.  What will have the most impact, what will be the most helpful, what will touch the most people?  All these considerations and many others are being examined.  So, I ask for both your input and your patience as we seek to be the community we are longing to be.  I’m hoping very soon to have a means by which you can help shape the future of the Aldersgate Community.  October is long range planning month for us here.  The staff will be on retreat at Epworth Forest on October 20 and 21, then I’m hoping to meet with some interested parties in the remainder of that week to ask some pointed questions and hear some hopes and concerns.  And then from October 26 through the 31st, I will be on my annual planning retreat.  I hope to come back with an outline for 2015.

But why, some might wonder?  Why all the planning, all the questions?  Can’t we just take it as it goes?  Just go with the flow?  Week by week figure it out along the way?  Well, we could, and in some ways, we have, the church has for many years.  And it isn’t working any more.  Plus, it seems to me something more is needed for in the very nature of who we are, or who we are called to be.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20  Then God spoke all these words:  2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  3 you shall have no other gods before me.  4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. ... You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.  8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. ...  Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.  13 You shall not murder.  14 You shall not commit adultery.  15 You shall not steal.  16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.  18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,  19 and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die."  20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin." 

That’s the text for this World Communion Sunday.  I can’t wait to hear what Chris will do with it.  But I can’t read these verses without hearing my Hebrew professor from seminary tell us that we have mistranslated this text all along the way.  OK, she admitted, the words work, but it doesn’t really fit the flow.  It doesn’t really fit the spirit of the Exodus event, she argued.

Looking at our confused faces, she sighed in a bit of exasperation.  Look at the first verses she told us.  We looked at the scratchings that the Hebrew language made on our page and puzzled out the words.  God spoke these words, it said, I’m the one who brought you out of Egypt, out of slavery.  The “commandments” begin with an act of redemption.  The law begins with grace.  So why, she asked us, would we assume these are heavy burdens laid on us with wagging fingers and furrowed brows?  God isn’t commanding obedience, God is inviting us into a new way of being with these verses.  We shouldn’t read them as commandments as much as descriptions.

God says I brought you out of slavery, out of bondage so that you can be the people with no other God.  Not the gods of the people around you, not the gods of your own making.  The one who rescued you is the one you can worship.  The one who loved you into freedom is the one you can love.  

So that you can be the people who celebrate that name, who know that name won’t ever let them down.  Because the name is the Presence and the Presence will never leave you.  And because I know that you will need help with these concepts, you can have a rhythm, you can have a pattern and worship and rest will be woven into that pattern.  The pattern will be there to help you be who you were created to be.  The pattern will keep you close to the Presence who is with you always.

And because you live in this Presence and follow this pattern, you honor those who give you life and who lead you.  And you treasure all of life, knowing that it isn’t to be thrown away for any reason.  You honor the covenants that you make between you, covenants of love, covenants of property, covenants of honesty, covenants of communion and community.  Because of the Presence and the pattern you live in peace with your neighbor, you give respect and honor.  That is just who you are.  That is who you were created to be.

This isn’t a law handed down to be slavishly obeyed under threat of punishment or exile.  This is a description of how to fulfill the longings of our hearts.  This is the freedom to be what is within us to be.  This is a gift given to us by the one who loves us more than we can even imagine.  This is us, these ten words.  This defines us, this shapes us, this claims us, this Presence and this pattern.

This is who we are always becoming.  That’s they reason for the vision, the reason for the planning.  How can we better grow to fit the picture that God draws for us here in the book of Exodus?  That’s why we continually ask, how are we doing embracing the Presence and living into the pattern?  And because we struggled and we struggle with both, God send the Son, God put on flesh and dwelt among us, the be the Presence in our midst and the pattern of living.  

How can we embrace the Presence and follow the pattern for our own lives and in our own community.  But also, how can we be the Presence for those who don’t know whose they are yet?  How can we live outwardly the pattern so that others are caught up in the hope of being made new?  Those are the questions we ask on this World Communion Sunday.  There is a world out there, and world that God so loved that he sent ... us.  We need the trumpets and the smoke.  Or do we?  Maybe we just need the Presence and the pattern.  Maybe we just need to live into the picture God draws in Exodus chapter twenty.  Maybe we need to be more like Jesus.  Maybe.

Too wordy?  Yeah, that happens to me all the time.  Sorry.  Trumpets and smoke.  But behind it is a sincere desire to be the church of the Presence in a lonely world, to live the pattern in a lost world.  God spoke all these words.  Let’s live them.