Sunday, July 24, 2011

Psalm 105 - Just Making Memories Grounded in God

Sermon - Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Topic: Just making memories grounded in God - give thanks. Call on God’s name. make known God’s deeds, sing, and tell of God’s wonderful works.
Today will last 86,400 seconds. How many of those seconds will you remember? It’s likely very few.  
Yet, without memories, who are we?
It’s interesting to think about how are memories made?

In our family we use a nice concept pasted down from Trasie’s parents.  Whenever anything doesn’t go according to plan...which is a lot in life....we say: “Just making memories”
When you’re on a road trip, and you realize you’re driving the wrong way and are hours from your destination - Just making memories.
When you get stood up for a date...just making memories.
When you stub your toe while trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and find out you broke it! Just making memories.
When I got beat up in the sixth grade in a fight that I instigated...Just making memories..ouch.
Memories come from joyous moments -  like the birth of a child.  Getting that first job.  
Memories come from unusual occasions - Like when it rained this summer. June 30.  It rained hard and we danced!  Just making memories
Memories come from tragedy. The loss of a loved one. A terrible fight.   The falling of the twin towers.   
Memories shape us into who we are and what we are about. Just making memories.

(this exegesis draws upon Texts for Preaching, Brueggemann, Cousar, et. al. pp 419-420)
The Psalm 105 calls anyone who reads it to an act of passionate remembering.  The remembering, however is not an act of nostagia - it’s not a Garison Keilor monologue.  It is a remembering in such a way to define the present in a way different maybe from how we are currently defining it, because it is a present grounded in God; because the memories are grounded in God. It is a remembering that invites the community to a future that is given only by God who is being remembered.  

It is  written for a community - Israel - who had been rescued, chosen, redeemed.  But, those wonderful things... were a long time ago. Israel was forgetful.   This psalm is trying to help that  community, “which cannot remember anything important,” to claim its true identity, its true self.  Remembrance is crucial in any biblical community of faith.  When we forget what God has done for us - not only in our lives as individuals - that time when you first fell on your knees and sang amazing grace; but also our lives as a faith community - Westminster Presbyterian Church; When we forget what God has done for us:  We can slip into a pattern of self-sufficiency, even apathy or worse despair?

When we forget God, we become anxious, fearful, and unstable.   If we don’t seem to care about the past of this community of faith, its past gifts and miracles--or if we forget them... will we not “surely misunderstand, misread, and misconstrue the present?”

And really we are quick to forget.  How many seconds of today will we remember?  This psalm is seeking to battle for a concrete past and at the same time advocate for a different present.  It is calling for the redeeming of our memories, so that our present may be filled with hope.  God - Yahweh - so central and prevalent in the past.. appears to be irrelevant for these people of Israel... So the Psalm calls them to remember: “Deeds...wonderous works...miracles...judgements.”

Yahweh is our God.  In our very identity we are partners with God in covenant, God has made covenant, abiding, persistent, which is the overriding reality of our life. This covenant, to which we are bound, defines the relationship between GOd and God’s people. This is a promise that God will never leave us in our darkest hour. That we are in the care of God’s arms. And that God will help us to resist temptations.
So that we might remember...and be made free to be a blessing for others in our lives.

How do we remember God?  How do we remember God’s presence with us at this present moment?
At every moment...  We are a forgetful people.

As I thought about this passage, I thought about how memories are made. We have memories in our minds, yes. But we also hold memories in our hearts...those deepest sentiments of both joy and pain.
And we hold memories in our riding a bike, or brushing our teeth.  Memories are present with us in different ways...and I think this Psalm invites us to capture memories in our minds, hearts, and bodies where God is at the center....

The psalm begins in “an enthusiastic summons to thank and praise.“ The first few verses simply repeat and reiterate in various ways the central act of Israel’s life: praise, and gratitude.  It says: “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.” Habitual and genuine acts that make memories.  

Give thanks -   If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank You’, that would suffice. said Meister Eckhart.  Wake up and say thank you.  Leave the house say thank you. Get to where your going, say thank you.  Get home, say thank you. Go to bed say thank you. Memories of thanksgiving are formed.  

THe next phrase says call on his name - We do this quite well in our society. We call on God’s name a lot. What about when someone does something unbelievable. Oh. My. God!  And you remember that stubbing the toe episode in the middle of the night: Jesus. Christ!  I was trying to think of how calling on the name of God can be a positive practice: Not like calling to a pet in the evening before locking up the house...?  Jesus.
What about calling on the name of God like calling on the name of someone we love who is somewhere in a large crowd and we spot them but they don’t see us, so we’re trying to get their attention: God!
Or it could just be, Holy Spirit, come and fill this place!  We can work on that one.  

The next section: make know God’s deeds among the people.  This is evangelizing.  This is witnessing, this is testimony. Each and every moment, we can make known God’s deeds, by sharing love.  By working for justice. By living upright lives.  A saying attributed to St. Francis goes: “Preach the gospel constantly, use words if necessary.” Making known God’s deeds is about walking the walk. How do our actions show love.

The next ones are sing. Sing!  Sing!  The wonder and gift of song.  If I’m not in a good place, I can sing.  
African american slaves gave the world a gift of songs that were sung from a place of oppression in order to lift their spirits -
“I'm gonna sing, sing, sing,
I'm gonna shout, shout, shout,
I'm gonna sing, I'm gonna shout
Praise the Lord
When those gates are open wide,
I'm gonna sit at Jesus' side
I'm gonna sing, I'm gonna shout
Praise the Lord”

I’ve got this great image, when I called Monica and she answered and her radio was blaring..Sorry Chester, I was just jamming out to a WOW CD.  WOW is a compilation of christian music.   There are so many good Praise songs out there now. There are old hymns we remember.  There’s the doxology. which is basically what we’re trying to get at here.  Praising God. A Dios al padre celestial.  
songs make memories...

And the last tell. The people of Israel were commanded to tell the story of God’s redemption in their lives.  Over and Over.  Passover Feasts. Tell the story. We repeat the story as we celebrate Communion.  Jesus’ life, Death, and resurrection. It’s vital that we tell our own stories.  Whenever we can.  How has God redeemed you? How has God brought you up and set you free?  Look for an opportunity this week to tell your story of how God has been part of your life....   

The Psalm gives us good practices for just making memories grounded in God:  Thanksgiving, Calling on the name, making known deeds, Singing, Telling our stories. Our memories are redeemed, and our present reality transformed.

Just making memories grounded in God:
“Israel remembers in order to hope.”  We remember in order to Hope.
“Israel praises in order to imagine.” We praise in order to imagine!
“Israel learns” and we learn “that the truth of life consists not in security and achievement and power,
but in miracles remembered, in promises trusted, and a future that is given.”

By Just making memories grounded in God we become a  more present people, and in that presence we can rest in the assurance of that given future.  A given future full of old promises:  “Land...portion...inheritance.”  
With redeemed memories we remember God’s promises and we can “move beyond wilderness to land,
beyond exile to homecoming, beyond death to life, beyond marginality to well-being.  God intends that none shall live as displaced persons, none shall live without belonging in full membership.  And chosen people of God that belonging comes by just making memories grounded in God.  

I was with Sidney Brown before he died.  He had been suffering from memory loss for a long time.  
He didn’t know who I or anyone else really was.  As he lay there on his couch, fading away, did he know who he was?  I prayed with him before I left, and then began to recite the words of the Our Father.  His mouth began to move, and words were uttered as he joined me in saying that prayer:  He remembered so little, but somehow, in his mind, heart, body...he remembered. Who he was and whose he was.

That was just making a powerful memory grounded in God. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Israel Palma - Que Descanse en Paz Siervo de Dios

I just received word from Pastor Daniel Izquierdo, with whom I did a pulpit exchange Sept 2010, that Israel Palma, one of the faithful, died at the age of 80, "after the long illness that was consuming his body but not his spiritual strength," says Rev. Izquierdo.

Israel Palma was one of the seven who consistently and faithfully attended the Presbyterian Reformed Church in San Antonio de Los BaƱos during the years of religious discouragement (1960s-90s) in that country.  He gathered with the other six week after week to read scripture, sing, pray, and ensure that there was a Reformed witness in that town.  Because of his courage and strength, there is to this day.
  He spent his career as a proud bee-keeper.  He and his wife, a Catholic, modeled tolerance in that differences of specific doctrines would not trump their love.

This is a short clip of one of my visits with him.  His daily practice was to read from a devotional, "Su Voz", and read from the Psalms. One verse from the Psalm he would write out and recite in English  This Psalm, 73:26, gave him strength as cancer ate away at his body: "My mind and body may grow weak, but God is my strength; he is all I ever need."  And see that warm smile and laughter at the end of the video..! (And notice the cigars...of which he gave me a few ;))!

I am so thankful to have met him, as his faith was one to be revered.   

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oil on the Rock

Genesis 28:10-19a

This morning’s topic is about recognizing God in our lives, and upon recognizing declaring, how awesome is this place.

Ruby Gene, now that she’s two and a half, knows well how to tell things apart.  
She knows that some things function for specific purposes, and for that purpose alone.
She knows that bracelets don’t go on ears.  
She knows that her hat doesn’t go on brinca’s head.
She knows her daddy shouldn’t use a sock to blow his nose.
She knows shoes go on feet, gloves go on hands, and diapers go on bottoms.  

Ruby knows what pillows are; she has a Dora pillow, and she has an owl pillow that I named Bury (playing on her name).  
So yesterday, I had to experiment,
in light of this passage, I had to try a rock.
I selected this one (show it)
brought it inside, and promptly lied down...and rested my head on it.  
And I asked, Ruby, do you like my pillow.  She went nuts.  
Esta no es almuada.  Papi. No!  
She pulled my hair as she lifted my head several times.
Then she went into the other room to get a real pillow and she said, here daddy, here. Esta es una almuada!  

Oh if only she could have seen Jacob out in the middle of nowhere using a rock as a pillow.  Esta no es almuada Jacob!  Jacob, evidently, had more to his imagination than a 2 year old.  

Jacob saw a rock, and said, that will make a great pillow!  Maybe not a great pillow, but a pillow none the less.
He was exhausted.#  He had left Beersheba a fugitive, fleeing for his life after deceiving his brother, Esau. He’s stumbling toward Haran. a vagabond, somewhere between a conflict-ridden past and an uncertain future. Far from his homeland; at the center of no man’s land.  The sun was setting there in that nondescript place. That rock looked like a good pillow to Jacob.

Many of us can relate to sleeping on a rock pillow.  Certainly many of us have questioned actions of our past
decisions we made; things we’ve done; We were sleeping on a rock pillow.
And what about our futures?  How many of us have had feelings of uncertainty about the future?

And yet we run run run, trying to get somewhere, but where? It’s exhausting, and rocks look like good pillows after a long day of running to no where right? Some of us may be sleeping on rock pillows right now.
And where is God? Do we see God?

The sun is setting on Jacob’s life that was. He falls asleep on his rock pillow....he dreams.  

He dreams of a ladder that reaches to heaven with angels of God going up and down on it.
A stairway to heaven connecting heaven and earth.  Jacob dreams and God speaks!

God speaks to Jacob where he is; God is not distant and far away, God is immanent, close, present. God speaks, and reminds Jacob of the promises God made to Abraham and Isaac and now to Jacob. God speaks when Jacob is most vulnerable, and reminds Jacob that God is his God.

God speaks and transforms a desperate man into a purpose filled man.  God speaks and tells Jacob his future is one in which his life will not be governed by self-interest, but rather he and his off-spring are to be a blessing for all people.  

Jacob hears God speak:  Then he wakes up.  The place has changed.  Jacob is a changed man.  

Jacob wakes up from his dream, And says, God was here the whole time, I just didn’t see it.  
His once bleak desolate world has all of a sudden become AWESOME! How awesome is this place!  

So, Jacob’s not through with that rock. Jacob, sees that rock.  That rock that he made into a pillow.
And he says, that Rock is going to mark that God has been here. He pours oil on it. And names the place, Bethel - house of God.  

I love the imagination of Jacob. Taking something so ordinary. A rock, and seeing a pillow.
Taking something so ordinary, a rock, and seeing an alter for God.

So much of what we see depends on how we see the world.  So much of what we see depends on how much of God we recognize in the world. Our imaginations can be holy. As we see what is, and yet, recognize that God is.   

Is that just a rock, or is it a pillow? Is that just a rock or is it an alter? Is this just a desolate place, or is it a place where we can find God? Is my life without purpose, or is it a life purposed for God?

We, as human beings, are so creative. Creatures of the Creator, we create some amazing things: from the wheel to the iPad we see materials in certain forms and creating something new.  But, I think we can sometimes limit ourselves in this process.  Our society has become known as a throw away society.  Items and materials that once were purposed and functioned in a specific way, like a can opener, or a spray nozzle for the watering hose; end up in the trash can after they grow dull, or break. We love our well functioning material, until, until, they no longer work well for us.

As creative as we are, so often we have limited visions, limited imaginations, so often we see a rock, and that is all we see. But Jacob saw a rock, and saw a pillow. Jacob saw a rock, and saw an alter for God.

In the middle fleeing anxiety, Jacob saw God’s presence. In the middle of an unknown future, he saw that he was called to be a blessing for others.    How awesome is this place!  He says.

I love that Jacob pours oil on the rock.  No one is watching him.  He is just there, but he has experienced God in a profound way.  He has to do something. Something to mark the occasion.  

He could have used the rock to give himself a haircut - do any of you do that, get a hair cut when a something big has happened.  Getting a tatoo was not really an option for Jacob - I know some of you do this when you go through something big. But he does have oil, so he pours that oil on the rock, and declares it sacred. Bethel.  The house of God. How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this place.

How awesome is this place?  

I think a lot about this church. This church, the people, and this church the physical building.  When I see the people gathered here, coming by, calling, emailing, do I just see people, or do I see children of God - heirs as Paul calls Christians? When I see this building, do I just see bricks and mortar, or is there something else that is happening here? Do I see God’s sanctuary?  A holy place?

In the 1950s, key leaders of the congregation, iglesia segunda presbyteriana de santa fe (hispana) had a dream, they had a vision. They saw more than just meeting in some space designated to them by people at First Pres.
They saw a place, a building, a gathering of people who would experience God.  They built this building, installed pews, built a chancel; hung a picture on it.  Brick upon brick, the sanctuary, the social hall, the rooms were formed, and given purpose. Dedicated to God.

Can you see past generations of people working hard to make this place special? They had experienced God, and wanted to share that experience by building.

And, since then, many have experienced God in this place.  In the midst of change and transitions, people have experienced God in this place. Through prayers, through gatherings, through Christmas Pageants, and Easter Sundays.  Through music, yes even through session meetings.  God’s presence has been felt has been so many:  

Have you experience God here?

In a hug when you were lonely, in a smile when you were down. In a bible study, or a Spanish Supper?

I have seen God do some amazing things in this community. I have seen people experience healing and wholeness. I have seen people freed from addiction. I have seen lonely people make friends and live out their calling in confidence. I have seen broken relationships restored. Here in this place, among this people, I  see God at work. How awesome is this place!

Right now, this building, which was beautifully and accurately described by Louise Singleton in a recent letter as a dear elderly grandmother who has loved us well and given and given; this beloved building needs some help. The session has approved a 15k capital improvement plan to give the building some help.  So, the session is asking for all of us to pitch in and help out.

Building and grounds care group have identified: Getting a stove and a dish washer, doing some energy improvements, some electric work and some roof repair, and hopefully, a history display to honor and celebrate those who had the vision long ago for this place.

We are quick to discard things in this society that no longer function to meet our needs.  In the 21st century, life has changed, and this church continues to transition, I believe God is present here, and is calling us out of our past, and constantly re purposing us and giving us a future, to witness to the reality of God in the world, and be a blessing to the nations.  So we can exclaim, and future generations can exclaim: How awesome is this place!

I’d like for us to use our imaginations.  If you have experienced God in this place, I’m asking that you give a gift to the capital campaign, as your able, which will be like the oil Jacob poured on the rock. Put some cash or a check in an envelope and mark it Capital campaign - oil for the rock.

That’s what I want to call the campaign - oil for the rock.

I also want to encourage us to recognize God’s presence in many places. ON the communion table, are small rocks.  I want to invite you, when you come up for communion or before you leave, to take one, take it home with you, and carry it with you each and every day, until a time when you say, Hey, God is present here and I didn’t know it! And place that rock there, and leave it, as a reminder that God is present. I’d love for you to email me or call me when you put your rock some place; and to tell me about that experience, we could have running list of where we saw God.     

How awesome is this place.  God is present here, There, in our hearts, Everywhere.

And calls us to a future which is a blessing for the nations.  

Thanks be to God.