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What I said yesterday…

“Misguided Hubris, Misunderstood Guilt”

Sermon Delivered by The Rev. Andrew Pomerville at The Peoples Church of East Lansing – Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:27-32 – November 13, 2016

http://thepeopleschurch.com/sermon/message/misguided-hubris-misunderstood-guilt

And who are we this morning? Are we the righteous? Or are we sinners in need of forgiveness?

For some this week has been filled with anger, fear, hurt and paranoia.

For others, this week has been filled with celebration, jubilance, hope, and confusion at the actions of one’s neighbors.

For all, it has been a week of intensity and division.

Quite literally, our country is divided down the middle. We are Split.

Granted, I have experienced fewer presidential elections than some of you, and I can finally say that I have experienced more presidential elections than some of you in this room.

And in my limited experience, I can say that I have not felt this type of concern, anxiety, and worry in the face of a presidential election.

To be fair, we have had a heightened sense of engagement and apathy towards our two major political party candidates for president this year.  And if you can make sense of that paradoxical dichotomy, I applaud you.

So on one hand, it should be no surprise to us that our streets erupted in protest.

Social media is crumbling with sore winners, and sore losers, and a general worry has come about what we will experience next for the seat of government and the many citizens who are to be affected by what is to come in the next days, weeks, and years ahead.

Yet this week has created something new for me as a pastor.

Yes, I have experienced victory and defeat in politics before this week, and yes I have seen candidates that I abhor be elected to high office, and other candidates that I’ve admired and promoted finding themselves finishing second or first.

Yet this time, this week, this period, feels markedly different, and each time I have tried to say that out loud, I have found myself chided and chastised by family, by friends, and especially by my sisters and brothers in the clergy – that I’m creating a mountain out of a molehill, that I’m fueling the fire of protest, or that I am far too lukewarm and not passionate enough to speak to people that need a word.

I spoke to friends online, my first mistake I’m sure, saying that “you as pastors…” and I’m speaking to brothers and sisters across this country, “…You have an opportunity to speak up this week and say something that matters.  To inspire, to guide, to help provide hope and inspiration.  This week means something!”

What I got back from some of my clergy colleagues was a bit of condescension.  I was patted on the head and told “Oh Andrew, every week is a week to bring the Gospel.  Every week has context.  This week is the same, for Jesus Christ is the same.  Don’t blow it out of proportion.”

(An aside) – And I de-friended that person.  (Laughter from the Congregation)

And yet, there are those on the other side who have condemned me this week.  I have been challenged by members of our own community saying “If you do not say ‘x’, ‘y’, or ‘z’, you will not see me darken the doors of this church again.  Do not squander your opportunity, stand and speak.”

Each side seems to have expectations about today’s sermon and today’s church.

I hear them saying “Speak and lead!”

I can’t help but echo the words of Isaiah that Pastor Drew offered from chapter 6 here today, to feel a bit of empathy for that would-be prophet.

He cries out upon hearing the voice of God to say something. He says “Woe is me!  For I am full of unclean lips!  And I’m surrounded by a people of unclean lips.  What am I supposed to say?”

This call should not be limited to nor relegated to clergy people alone.

We are all being called upon to speak, to cry out words of our Lord. But I admit to you, I am afraid.

I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.

I am afraid of not speaking loudly enough for those who cannot speak for themselves.

I am afraid that I might say something that will further ostracize and condemn or scare my brothers and sisters away from this congregation – away from the church of Jesus Christ – away from the gospel of our Lord.

I am afraid that I won’t say enough and I’m afraid that I’ll say too much.

And I’m especially afraid of that lukewarm apathy in between.

And I am afraid of what comes next.

My friends, we stand at one of the most important moments in the history of The Peoples Church.

For we are not just another church, another city, after just another election.

We are a church that can, and should, lead.

We are a church that, like Isaiah, has been called, but like the prophet, we have to admit that we are also full of sin and unclean lips.

In the past I have overestimated and overstated the role of this church in the history of our community. And in particular I point to the terribly discriminatory practices in East Lansing towards renting and letting people own houses – people of color and the laws that were created in this town make it impossible for them to live side by side with their neighbors.

Because I’ve been told that this church was on the forefront, cutting edge, right there-fighting that battle, speaking out for people who might otherwise not have a voice.

And I’ve been challenged on that and told to look at history a little bit closer.

No, we weren’t fighting to keep those laws in place.

And, yes there were members of this church who stood up and passionately spoke for things that mattered.

But as a congregation, we largely during that time period, let others lead us.

We waited.

And when we knew that history was on our side we went the right direction.

For that we have unclean lips.

There have been moments in my own ministry where I have waited because I am afraid of offending one side or the other.

Because I’m worried that I am going to do too much.

But just like Isaiah, the fire of the Holy Spirit has touched my lips and your lips and we are made pure so that we are able to speak with the confidence of a people who know that we may have made mistakes in the past but praise be to God that we have been forgiven.  Therefore, go speak into a world with forgiveness, with love, and with hope!

Bring people together, speak with the unity of the Holy Spirit, and we can help create that kingdom of God now and always.

So, my friends, be the church that speaks.

Be the church that acts.

Be the church that leads with confidence, grace, and compassion.

Stand up brothers and sisters and acknowledge the pain of those who wonder what tomorrow will resemble for their families and for their friends!

Stand up for those who worry they will be persecuted because of their faith, because of their gender, because of their sexuality, because of their race, because of their country of origin that they came from them and prove to them that no, our God calls us to love all people, now and forever more.

The only borders that we should be promoting are the welcoming borders of the kingdom of God which is open to all.

The only language that we should be promoting above another language is the language of Jesus Christ, rooted in love and passion and mercy for all people in all places and in all times.

And the only culture that we should be promoting is the culture of the body of Jesus Christ that has a variety of parts and a variety of people and pieces, and yet, still functions under the Lordship of Jesus; our true ruler, our true king, our true guide.

Look at our New Testament passage today. We must be reminded of Jesus’ decision to sit, to dwell, with the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the most marginalized members of his society.

And he was condemned for doing it by people who were able to look at those poor, those who were disadvantaged, those who were different, those who were deemed to be the dredges of society and the problem for all of the woes for Israel.

Jesus was condemned for being with them.

He was on the side that was right.

We put our faith, and our hope, and our trust in things all the time that let us down.

We have overstated the role of our government, of our president, of our governor, even of our city council and school board.

Friends, the true and ultimate authority that we should place before us now and always is that of Jesus Christ, a Jesus who calls us to unity.

Therefore, go out, and against all odds, seek to unify.

For those of you who are so upset over the result of the elections, I challenge you; go to your brothers and sisters, who voted for Mr. Trump, embrace them, love them, listen to their stories.

Do not damn them now before they have a chance to respond.

And to those who voted for Mr. Trump who can’t seem to understand why there is such paranoia, why there are protests in the street, and why –and as I heard even this morning  – “children are behaving so childishly and if only they’d grow up and realize that democracy has winners and losers.” I challenge you to listen to those people who are protesting, hear why they are afraid.

Do not correct them.

Do not ask them to change.

Break bread with them, share a cup with them, and love them as your neighbors.

For if we can not do this as a church, then what hope do we have for the rest of the world?

I fear that we have talked too many times together about unity. Well now is a time we can actually do something about it.

Go out into this world.

Speak passionately.

Love with reckless abandon.

Shy away from the condemnation that seems to be coming from both sides.

Yes, we are upset.

Yes, we are excited.

Yes, people are happy and yes, people are mourning.

Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, and is the same today, and will be the same tomorrow.

Make sure you put a “C” for Christian before you put a “D” for democrat or “R” for republican.  

And make sure that we are confident that Jesus Christ has not abandoned us, our church, our city, our nation, or our world.

Let us Pray.

http://thepeopleschurch.com/sermon/message/misguided-hubris-misunderstood-guilt

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Laughing at/with/because of God?

Yes, there are still some upcoming Iceland/Scotland adventures to share. In the meantime, take a look at the teaser for this Sunday.

What do you think, is it ok to laugh at God?

Self-Righteous Seasonal Affective Disorder

I take things far too seriously.

I have a hard time accepting what people tell me and my tendency is to appreciate negative critique tens times more seriously than positive.

Why is that?

What is it about my personality and self worth that makes me focus so much on the harsh comments? Are all people built this way or are others more willing to hear the sunshiney comments before the gloom and doom?Seasonal Affective Disorder Meme

This time of year is tough for me and it shouldn’t come as any surprise. All of my adult life I have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The fact that I know it’s coming doesn’t ever make it better. I know I’m going to feel terrible and then I feel terrible. The prophet in me rejoices as my angst. Honestly, this is the time of year I like to hide in the corner and weep. I just can’t seem to get myself motivated about anything. I’m sad. I’m depressed. I’m wiped out.

The worst is how I treat those around me. I snap at them and nit-pick. I argue, lament, and wallow simultaneously.  I’m a wreck.

And then Advent starts…I’m supposed to somehow pull it all together and preach about “hope” this week.

“Hope…” What a ridiculous concept, eh? What is there to hope for in the face of riots in Ferguson? What is there to hope for when I’m burying  yet another brother, wife, spouse, friend, or child or someone in the congregation? What is there to hope for when all I feel is remorse, distress, and anger?

Yet that is supposed to be the point.

I want to hope in the resurrection…but how?

I want to hope in the love…but where?

I want to hope in hope but it seems like the world is telling me it’s not worth the struggle.

This past week I was in a rough place. I was sad and couldn’t take the seemingly endless string of complaints and critiques from parishioners about decorations, flowers, stirring sticks, and colors. Stuff that is very important to them but felt so utterly irrelevant to me. I was apathetic and then got on my high horse about why they shouldn’t be complaining about these things. Why didn’t they care about hunger, racism. and domestic abuse with the same self-righteous indignation the felt over Christmas trees, colors, and trappings? Why can’t I motivate people to hear the gospel instead of hearing my griping and inconsistencies?

I’m at a loss, folks. This year hurts.

I CRAVE the incarnation. God with us – Emmanuel. I need that. I want that. Why can’t I see or feel that?

Part of the journey in Advent is the approach of Christ. God with us, almost but not yet. We wait for God’s return just as we celebrate Jesus’ birth. That is what I want to remember but can’t seem to shake my feeling of loss, loneliness, and anxiety.

So, I’m asking you. What do you do? How do you believe when there is doubt? How do you love where there is pain? How do you hope when you feel helpless? What is there for us now and how do we enter into what is to come? I welcome your responses and covet your prayers.

Living Everyday Like I’m Running a Yellow Light

yellow lightLast week I listened to a Michigan State Police officer talk about our resting, unaware, unprepared state of mind versus the hyper sensitive, ever vigilant status of people who are constantly cognizant of their surroundings, and thus, are better suited to notice subtle changes, the out of place person or object, or the imminent threat of stress and danger that might be around every corner. The officer likened it to driving.

He asked everyone, “Have you ever run a yellow light?”

Of course, we all answered, some chuckling and stating the obvious that they had run one this morning.

“Well what do you do when you run a yellow light?”

We look for cops!

(There’s always one guy in the room who has to make all the jokes…it’s as though he imagines that if he doesn’t make the joke, the world might stop spinning so it is his job, nay, his duty, to offer an offcolor, uncomfortable, inappropriately times or contextually unnecessary, comment.  That guy. It’s always that guy.)

“Yes!” the officer continued. “You also get your excuses ready for the cop that might catch you! You look to see if there is a car about to pass through the lane, or a child crossing the street, or whoever might be in front of or behind you. You are more aware. You know there is some potential risk involved and you are looking for the danger areas.”

While the officer was using this driving example to talk about being a good, observant witness, I started to hear it in terms of the church. When there is the potential for danger, for stress, for an uncomfortable or unwanted outcome, we are hyper vigilant. We are more aware. We ask better questions. We look ahead and behind. We consider what might happen if we get caught and if we might fail. We are ready and we’re a little bit frightened of what might happen.

And that’s when I’ve seen churches thrive.

When we are trying something a little bit dangerous – a little bit uncomfortable – a little bit risky – we seem more conscious of our surroundings, our context, and our experience.

When we get comfortable we tend to relax and our reflexes are just a bit off. We aren’t as anxious but because of that, we don’t see the semi-truck hurtling down the road toward us. Nope, we’re talking on our phone, playing with the radio, and not paying close attention. We feel safe…and there are few things worse than feeling content and safe.

Contentment is one of the great sins of the church.

We sit back and say, “Yes. This is good enough.”

The gospel is more than “good enough.” It is dangerous and life changing. It is aggravating and difficult to make sense of. It is powerful and unhinged. It is what we so desperately need yet are so resistant to embrace.

When we treat the gospel like our yellow light, I believe we will see the potential and act accordingly.

Post-election hyperbole…

And with that, the Michigan part of the mid-term elections are complete. Let the hyperbole begin via social media.

Because that’s all I saw this morning – people either screaming at one another for their failure to vote correctly or lauding this election as America’s finest hour. One person I truly respect went on a rampage on Facebook talking about how her state is made up of illiterate morons. Another bemoaned the failure of his particularly favored ballot measure and predicted the end of life as he knows it. And yes, there were the inevitable “moving to Canada” comments.

In our increasingly polarized political culture, we seem to go to the extreme with everything. It’s not just an opposing point of view, it’s a the wrong way to think/act/believe and you are demonized for your lack of orthodox uniformity.

On election eve, a group of well meaning folks met up at Dublin Square here in East Lansing to talk about faith and civic polity. How much of our participation in government is (or should be) based on our faith perspective and religious ethic. The group seemed torn on this one. What is the role of our faith community when we look for influence on our political leanings and action? Do we seek that guidance? What does our theological diversity provide in this discussion?

Not sure what I was hoping for this morning but I’m positive I didn’t find it. At the end of the day, I guess I wanted something more, something unifying, something reconciled to hold on to. I’m guessing I was looking in the wrong places, because I still haven’t found it the way I expected it to appear.

Uncomfortable Topic? Sexuality and the Church

There are not many topics, debates, or controversies in Christian culture that receive so much or so little airtime as those that revolve around sexuality.  My experience has generally been one of two extremes related to all areas in this realm – the church avoids the topics like the plague or it spends an inordinate amount of time on this one area.

Issues under the umbrella of sexuality have spilt, divided and caused so much tension between brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  The list of subtopics within this one area of discussion is staggering: gender, marriage, homosexuality, relationships, procreation, contraception, ordination, and much more.  The world around the church talks about, fights over, debates, and argues for and against so many sides within this myriad of issues.

The Peoples Church is no different from society in this way.  We all bring our interpretations, our moral compasses, and our experiences to the table.  How we engage in the conversation is as important as the words we use to express our beliefs, our questions, and our positions related to sexuality and the church.  The council of elders has been discussing these topics for a number of months with the hope that our congregation would engage in healthy, appropriate dialogues with one another under the guidance of our loving and faithful God.

With that motivation in mind, I am responding to the call from the council by offering a three week class during WNL, starting October 15, entitled “Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Bible.”  We’ll take a first look at many of these potentially divisive conversations and engage with one another in a safe, loving community of brothers and sisters in Christ.  We will not agree with one another on every topic and that tension should not be discouraged.  As a multi-denominational church, we need to be willing to dialogue with one another and listen for God’s voice in the words and thoughts found within the one Body of Christ.  Will you join the conversation on October 15?  I’ll look forward to seeing you in the Robertson Room on October 15.