Wednesday, July 23, 2008

One cloudy day

In honor of the clouds and rain we're experiencing in southwestern CT (finally!) here's some wonderfully dark humor:

A truly desperate preacher

from the Indy Star:

Kokomo pastor crashes motorcycle in church

I heard this one on NPR during the half hour 'return' that they do, usually pointing out some short story about the crazy things people do. A pastor wanted to illustrate unity by showing his oneness with his dirt bike. And the thing got away from him during the third worship service in which he had used this unique illustration. Turned out no one was injured because, as in most congregations, attendees were seated a few rows back from the front. The pastor injured his wrist, some front pews, and probably his pride but not the opinion of his congregation. Read some of the comments below the article.

I guess it was a good thing he wasn't a wood-chopping enthusiast or a race car driver.

Monday, July 21, 2008

God loves us like crazy cakes

Genesis 28: 10-19a; Romans 8: 12-25
****** Congregational Church, Bridgeport, CT
July 20, 2008

It’s a story that’s so not so unusual anymore. A baby girl is born in China. An American woman travels to China so she can meet this baby girl and become her mother. Other families travel to China as well to meet their new daughter, in some cases, their new son. The baby girl and the American woman look at each other, one with big, dark brown eyes, and the other with blue eyes. The American woman whispers to her new daughter, “I love you like crazy cakes”. She wonders how such a perfect match could be made from so far away.

When they come home on the plane, there were aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and friends waiting to meet the newest addition to the family. The baby girl cried when others would hold her but would stop when they brought her back to her new mother. There was a room full of toys and stuffed animals and a new crib to welcome the baby girl to her new home. More friends came to visit. More flowers and cards and gifts came to welcome the baby girl. But the mother and the baby both looked forward to bedtime, when it was just the two of them, and the new mother would rock her new baby girl to sleep.

She holds her baby tightly, kisses her and cries; cries for her Chinese mother who could not hold her, who could not keep her. The new mother prays that she and her daughter will always remember this special woman and hope that she would know that her little one was happy and safe and loved.

The story is from a children’s book entitled “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes” by Rose Lewis. The author tells her own story of how her baby girl came to live with her from China. It is almost like a fairy tale, where the one sought and the one seeking find each other in an almost miraculous way, where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the one sought and the one seeking because both have been seeking, both have been found.

But not all adoption stories are so blissful. In some cases children do not attach or bond themselves readily to their new parents, no matter how much they are wanted, no matter how much they are sought after. They are afraid that they will be abandoned again. They have difficulty trusting anyone. They believe that they don’t really belong, that they aren’t anyone’s son or daughter. They act out their anger with their parents, their siblings, their teachers, with anyone they might feel tempted to be close to. It can leave parents at their wits end, knowing they have done everything to tell their child that they love them and that they are wanted.

But we can’t give back our children, nor do we really want to. All any parent can do, when their child is in pain, whether adopted or not, is to love that child even when they don’t deserve it; especially when they don’t deserve it.

It is this grace that God offers us, each one of us adopted as God’s child, as the apostle Paul puts it. Now, you may think it strange that God would adopt us when God, in a mystery yet to be made known to us, created us in the first place.

It is we who have not always behaved as though we were God’s children. It is as though we did not bond or attach to God in any way that was meaningful. Even though we may be baptized and in this way, attached and bonded to God, it is we who try to find meaning of some kind in that baptism. When we sin, when we believe ourselves to be different from God, that we are somehow separate from God and God’s love and power to heal, when we behave in such a way as to think we don’t deserve love, it is especially then that God does love us and adopts us, chooses us once more to be children of love and grace.

Adoption is more prevalent in our country today than ever before. According to the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute there are over 1.5 million adopted children in the U.S.: over 2% of all children.

58% of Americans know someone who has been adopted, has adopted a child, or has relinquished a child for adoption. How many of us here are acquainted with adoption in some manner?

In 1992, the last year for which reliable data was available, there were 127,441 adoptions in the U.S. Some of these adoptions come about through foster care by foster parents, relatives, or adults to whom children have no prior relationship. Stepparents can adopt their stepchildren. A private adoption can be handled through an agency or independently, usually with a lawyer’s assistance. After World War II international and transcultural adoptions increased. Many were European and Japanese war orphans. Additional adoptions followed after the civil war in Greece, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Desperate poverty and social upheaval have also been factors in countries allowing their children to be adopted abroad, such as Africa, Latin America, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe. In China, the abandonment of infant girls and overcrowded orphanages has encouraged many eager parents to adopt there. Between 1971 and 2001 U.S. citizens adopted 265,677 children from other countries, mostly from Asia.

Adoption is truly an act of grace. For whatever reason a mother or both parents are unable to care for a child, another mother, sometimes a lesbian couple, another father, sometimes a gay couple, or a heterosexual couple choose that child and say, “We will care for you. We will accept you as our child. We will love you your whole life long.” Imagine being abandoned by the world, orphaned from the family and perhaps country of your birth; then redemption comes in the form of an open heart of one who also felt lost until they found you.

It is like one of the slogans of the Still Speaking campaign that makes a wonderful welcome on the front of a church’s bulletin: No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. We adopt each other and anyone who would come here seeking Christ and a deeper relationship with him. There are some who have suffered abandonment from the world, who have been orphaned from their family of faith, yet they desperately want to belong to a community that accepts them as they are, who would adopt them as they are, just as we have been adopted into this family of faith.

When we adopt others into our family, we too experience redemption and grace. When we extend the circle to include those who are excluded, our hearts are opened that much more to God’s grace. One of the most powerful adoption stories of grace and redemption that I’ve ever heard was in the movie “Gandhi”. During the terrible Hindu/Muslim riots that occurred after India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi went on a hunger strike to end the violence. As he lay dying, a Hindu man stormed into his presence, crazed with anger and grief. He told Gandhi that a Muslim man had killed his son; he was about so high. The Hindu man, the boy’s father, in his anger and grief, killed a Muslim boy in retaliation. He shouted at Gandhi that he was going to hell. How could he find a way out of hell? Gandhi said he knew a way. He told the Hindu man to find a boy, about so high, the same age as his dead son, but he must be a Muslim boy and he must raise him as a Muslim. This was how he could find a way out of hell.

When we adopt those who are different from us and celebrate their differences and ours, we become something altogether loving and healing and wonderful. This is our hope in Christ; this is what we await for with eager longing, like an orphan child who awaits new parents. We, who do not always behave like children of God with one another and with this earth, await the day when all humankind, when all the earth will realize kinship with itself, when we will know ourselves to be sons and daughters of the One who made us in the divine image and claims us, chooses us even though we don’t deserve it and especially because we don’t deserve it.

Look at Jacob, one of our fathers in the faith. He certainly didn’t deserve the responsibility that God was giving him. He cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and then lied to his father to gain Esau’s blessing. Later in the story he schemes against his father-in-law Laban, running away before he can be discovered. When we read about him in today’s scripture lesson he is on the run from Esau, fearful because Esau has vowed to kill him. Jacob himself has abandoned any sense of loyalty to his family, he has orphaned himself by his behavior, and he is not yet decided that he will adopt the God of his father and his grandfather.

Yet God sends him a vision of a ladder, a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and coming down from heaven. God tells Jacob that the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah will also be extended to him and through him he will bless all the families of the earth. God adopts him as a firstborn son, even though he was a cheat and a liar. God promises to protect him and to be with him always.

When Jacobs wakes from this vision, he realizes that he is never out of God’s presence, that even his sins are done in God’s sight. He knows he is in a holy place. His grandfather, when he was called Abram, traveled there, built an altar as Jacob did and worshipped there, already known as Bethel or Beth-El. You may already know that Bethel means ‘house of God’. But what you may not know is that the God of Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob is the adopted God of Beth-El, El being a Canaanite word for the generic name of God. God adopts the identity of El, adopts Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as heirs of God’s promise and they, in turn, adopt God or El as their God, their only God. Here we have strangers in a strange land being led by God who is a stranger to them, all becoming family, the family through whom all families will be blessed.

How have you, ****** Congregational Church, this ‘house of God’, been blessed by all the families that have been and continue to be a part of this church? How are you a blessing to the families of this community? How can you extend the circle of grace and redemption to others? Who might have difficulty feeling like they would belong here? Whom can you think of in this neighborhood and the surrounding area who might be seeking a family to belong to? For what are you longing in your church, in your city, and in the world?

When we adopt God’s Spirit, God’s love and grace to live in us, we become “Beth-El”, the house of God. We become an extension of God’s love for us, of God’s love for the whole world, the whole earth. God loves us like crazy cakes; we are God’s children, born in blessing, adopted in grace. Adoption has the power to transform lives. As heirs of this life-changing transformation, let us also open our hearts to embrace new sisters and brothers with the love and grace of God. Amen.

Jacob's Ladder

Friday, July 11, 2008

I Want to Believe

If you're going to do a movie about the hidden history of aliens, the conspiracy to cover them up, and the team to uncover it all (take note, Spielberg), this is the paradigm in which to do it. Plus, the best sci-fi score since "Star Trek". I am geeking out all over! Saved from the usual summer blusterbocks at last!

Mulder and Scully together again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

From the Sunday bulletin

Most of our group in front of house #16; yours truly, in front on right.

It was a great trip. It being my third time down there I really don't have any more insights than the ones I have shared here in past years. Only that I really do need to live with less and focus more on the needs of others. And learn Spanish.

During our flight back from Mexico we put together our worship service. Parts had been assigned, i.e., reflections, prayers, Scripture readings, and we put our trust in the Holy Spirit. Jenn, our associate pastor, had already emailed certain worship details to the church secretary for the bulletin.

These are the lyrics from our communion hymn. The last line of the last stanza just about brought tears to my eyes, but getting to bed around 2:30 a.m. may have had something to do with that.

Children of God - words by John Greenleaf Whittier, alt.

Children of God, lift hearts to one another,
where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

For God whom Jesus loved has truly spoken:
the holier worship which Christ deigns to bless
Restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
and feeds the widow and the parentless.

Follow with reverent steps the great example
of Christ whose holy work was doing good;
So shall the wide earth seem a holy temple,
each loving life a psalm of gratitude.

Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangor
of wild war music o'er the earth shall cease;
Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
and in its ashes plant the tree of peace.

That's me adding some embellisment to one of the houses at the dump.