Friday, April 30, 2010

my faith

           My faith revolves around three primary principles: growth, relationship and love.
Growth: Like trees, our lives takes on different forms throughout the different seasons of life.  There are seasons of joy and sorrow, and even times of destruction where our very roots are being ripped up along with times of renewal. Trees grow and change as they experience the loss and growth of leaves from a small seed to towering heights. Trees with their seasons of growth changes serve as powerful symbols of our life in Christ, which take on different forms throughout the different seasons. 
            Within each life there will always be growth and change.  Every book one reads and each person one meets impacts who we are. Our ability to reflect upon our Scriptures, traditions, reason, and experiences provide us room for growth. Growth is not limited to our physical size or age and takes place throughout our lives.

              Relationship:  Life must be lived within the context of relationships and can be seen in three parts. 1) Our relationship within the local and global community.  2) Our relationship to a tight knit community of friends and family.  3) Our relationship in the community of God.
·         Local and Global – We live in a community that is both local (directly around us) and global (across seas and continents). How we interact within these two communities is very important. Our individual actions have the ability to impact not only ourselves but those within our community. What we say, buy, and even recycle impacts our local and global community.
·         Friends & Family – Our friends and family, those whom we spend the most time with, help define who we are. They challenge and motivate us. They spark and encourage growth and change within us – and we likewise do the same in them.
·         God – The relationship we have with God builds and strengthens who we are. As Christians this relationship must inform how we interact within the other two communities. The community of God is truly the backbone of how and why relationships flourish. The time we spend developing and cultivating our communion with God will transcend throughout the communities and relationships we are a part of.

            Love: God is Love, and as followers of Christ – being filled with the Spirit, we must live our lives in such a way that love is overflowing. In the life of the Christian, love is the blood running through our veins giving meaning to the previous two principles. Living within relationship is only significant because love is visible throughout. Growth simply has meaning because love provides relevance.
            The relational community of God revolves around love. As stated before, growth and change happen because of those we are in contact with.  The very being of a relationship is providing opportunities to inform and be informed. It is through this understanding that God (being Love) impacts us, which in return impacts those within our communities; friends, families, local and global communities.

            My faith informs all of my life. Because love, God’s love, lives – I will continue to walk in relationship with Him and those he cares about; each day striving to live by the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength – and my neighbors as myself.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

4.11 Thrills, Turn, Peace

Thrills Turn Peace – Ecclesiastes

What do we do after Easter? We’re in somewhat of a loss aren’t we? We feel it after Christmas too. All the preparations and decorations, the pageantry, the excitement, it’s passed. And we’re left with a smaller group of people, feeling awkward because last week was Easter! Some of the joy and excitement are gone.
Perhaps it is a God thing that in our journey through the Old Testament today we are looking at Ecclesiastes. As I have read through the book, and looked over commentaries, read poems, and listened to music, I’ve wondered all week why Ecclesiastes has seemingly been lost. We don’t focus on it too often. We hardly read from it, and rarely speak on it. Perhaps its home should be found each year following Easter, since Ecclesiastes provides room for us – especially in the lulls of life – to find God.
What do you know about Ecclesiastes?
I didn’t know much going into the preparation for this week.
Many have asked why this book is in the Bible. And I even asked myself, why do I have to speak on it! When we “read from Proverbs to Ecclesiastes, it means we’re moving from mainstream Israelite wisdom to the most eccentric of Israel’s sages.
Why Ecclesiastes? A Vietnam War chaplain said that it was the only part of the Bible that his soldiers were willing to hear. Some who suffer from bouts of depression say that reading Ecclesiastes is “like slipping into a warm bath.” For it is comforting to know that even in the experience of total alienation from life, a voice is given within the biblical tradition.
The author of Ecclesiastes addresses the prosperous people who think material possessions will bring them lasting satisfaction. And so it is, that we hear the Byrds sing us Turn! Turn! Turn!
The Author of Ecclesiastes repeatedly uses the phrases “vanity” and “a chasing after wind” throughout the first six chapters. We hear this word Vanity. What is vanity? What do we do with it? Do we just think of the pompous little girls sitting in front of the mirror brushing their hair? Are we to think of that piece of furniture, the one where we so diligently wash our hands after using the porcelain throne?
To understand its use here, we need to look at its roots. The Hebrew word for Vanity literally means “mist, vapor, or breath.” Its use here in this book, is metaphorical and can be understood as “absurdity”, “meaninglessness” and “emptiness.” When we look at Vanity in light of these, within this book, it reflects a total disparity between what we plan for and what actually happens. “Mist, vapor, breath, absurdity, meaninglessness, emptiness.”
Throughout this week I’ve had a song running through my head. The chorus says: “And it’s all Vanity.”
So we have Ecclesiastes, which was written to those who have everything. It’s written to those in a position to collect, horde and even extort. As we read it, it’s pretty clear - it is written to us. It’s all vanity! It’s all nothing. From dust we came and dust we shall return. And none of this stuff, the cars, bikes, iPod, Wii or anything else that has been created…none of it can be taken with us. We can be buried in our Cadillac, but it will travel no more. This book, written long ago, still speaks to us!
No, we may not be able to buy million dollar homes, cars, and watches. But we often do live a life of straining after materials – thinking they will satisfy. Yet we time and time again find our satisfaction is not found in the collection of things – but rather in those relationships which tug at our heart.
Let’s read Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 together.(NRSV)  2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
As we heard in our Gospel text this morning, the disciples thought they were alone. They thought they were left alone, without Jesus. Talk about a bummer day. Do you think they were depressed – their messiah was just crucified? Do you think they had a bad week? Their next gathering, their next Sabbath, it wasn’t one to celebrate! They were sad, they were confused.
But what happens? In the midst of their mourning – Jesus steps in.
When we look at Thomas he’s an easy character to relate to, isn’t he? His friends are all telling him they saw Jesus. That Jesus was with them. And being the realist – like much of us – Thomas didn’t believe them. He’s like: “Unless I can feel his wounds – I won’t believe it’s him!”
Don’t you think you’d react like Thomas? It’s not like we have our experiences and reason for nothing. Thomas was just being rationale, he was being practical. It wasn’t likely that the “REAL” Jesus met with his friends. He didn’t believe it, he was bummed out, and he probably was frustrated. He was thinking the Messiah, the one, the I Am had come to transform their state. Had come to give new life – one of prosperity for the Jews. They saw the promised land just off in the distance before them, and it was stripped away. It was taken from them.
To better understand this book, I would like to read the introduction to Ecclesiastes to you from the Wesley Study Bible.
“The ‘Teacher’ for whom the book of Ecclesiastes is named addresses prosperous people who think material possessions will bring them lasting satisfaction. He argues that nothing “under the sun” is permanent. The wisdom, wealth, and power people strive to acquire are as unreliable as a puff of wind. He challenges those who believe prosperity comes as a reward for righteousness, insisting that ‘under the sun’ there is no strict relation between what we do and how we prosper. Since the results of our work are not permanent and since we cannot take them with us when we die, Ecclesiastes concludes that the best we can do is to enjoy each moment as it comes, finding pleasure in work itself.
Written in a meditative, journaling style, the book meanders from one topic to another. The phrases ‘vanity’ and ‘a chasing after wind’ weave in and out of the first six chapters while the question ‘Who knows?’ dominates the second half of the book. The teacher insists that we mortals cannot know for sure ‘what comes after’ our brief lives ‘under the sun.’ However, the frequently used phrases ‘under the sun,’ ‘on earth,’ and ‘under the sky’ occur in every chapter, hinting that we might make a distinction between what happens in human experience and what happens elsewhere.
Ecclesiastes functions in the biblical canon to balance texts that suggest the consequences of human action are relatively predictable. Although Ecclesiastes argues that retributive justice does not reliably happen ‘under the sun’ he is the first of the Old Testament writers to suggest that God’s judgment might take place somewhere outside of human experience on earth.”
It is so important for us to read Ecclesiastes has a balance for us from the other texts that suggest all of life, all of our actions – are relatively predictable… like the ones that say if we pray this way, we will be blessed. If we act this way, judgment will pass over us. Ecclesiastes provides room for the formula to break down!
Aren’t we glad we have Ecclesiastes; because it provides a balance to this thought? Life isn’t this way. We don’t know why bad stuff happens to good people! A hurricane, Earthquakes, Tornados, sores and cancer – they all remind us that our actions don’t dictate everything. Injustice is played out upon the innocent, not because of the innocent’s actions – but rather because of the sin of the inflictor.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes speaks of seasons and the emptiness of stuff. He speaks to our need for “carpe diem.” Our need to seize the day!
Ecclesiastes 3 reads: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes speaks to the seasons in our lives which we don’t understand. The seasons like today, the Sunday after Easter, it is typically one of the lowest attended of the year. When we come to the impasse of a new season, ones where difficulties are upon us, we are not left out on our own. We are not left in the Old Testament. To be honest, we’re not even left in the New! The joy the Teacher speaks of in Ecclesiastes is not left to random. We, who are called by name – we know joy. We who are called by name – we are not alone! We who walk through the valley of the shadow of death – we know the risen Lord.
Just as skeptical as Thomas was when his friends said they saw the risen Jesus… We too, like Tom are not alone. Jesus has come back to meet us. He has come back to walk with us. As Psalm 23 says – the Shepherd leads, restores, and comforts. In our midst of sorrow, depression, and grief, as the vanity of it all seems too impossible to handle, we are not left alone. We are not left to fend for ourselves. We have an active God – who desires to engage with us – even when we are lost in the woods, fallen asleep next to the tree! Even when we are overwhelmed in the consumeristic vacuum of our society – God is calling us and reminding us that he – the incarnate – loves us and is here for us. He is calling us into his season of peace.
“Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’”

As you go, no matter the season you find yourself in – be reminded that God, the incarnate, loves you and is calling your name, seeking for you to find his peace. Go and Love.