Sunday, November 29, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: Scars, chains, and freedom

Advent 1: “Freedom Bound: The Path of Justice”
Jeremiah 33:14-16; I Thess. 3:9-13; Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36

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          All of us could probably agree on one thing this morning, and that is, we are living through some difficult times, in the world, in the life of the church and maybe in our families.  People make comments like, “it is so depressing to watch the news, or read the newspapers.  My heart just aches when I see..... or my heart breaks to think that........, or I wish we could do something about... (fill in the blanks).”  We can easily become overwhelmed, depressed and some of us do, and sometimes we become paralyzed.  Too much information.  Too much violence.  Too many graphic images that linger far too long in our minds. So we turn things off.  We check out.  Our response might be to do nothing.  We become cynical, apathetic, bitter, angry. We might find ourselves crying out, “Where is God in all of this?”  God is where God always is, “waiting in the midst of the pain, to show us the way to new hope, new joy, new life.”.

          ‘The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.’  (Deut. 31:8)”

          The OT prophet, Jeremiah, knew what it was to live through difficult and disruptive times.  His troubled life spanned one of the most troublesome periods in Hebrew history, the decades leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 587BC, followed by the Babylonian exile.  Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for Jeremiah, but he stuck it out, praying, preaching, suffering, writing.  We could say that Jeremiah is our prophet of choice when we find ourselves having to live through difficult times and needing someone trustworthy with good credentials to turn to.  When we need someone to help us know what to think, how to pray, how to live, how to carry on and move forward.  When we cry out to God and ask more questions than we have answers for, Jeremiah could probably say, “been there, done that, survived and even wrote about it.”
          Jeremiah preached doom and judgement, when that was needed, but he also preached hope.  When the people were defeated, destroyed and in a state of despair, he preached words of consolation, and the promise of restoration.  Health and healing, safety and security will come again to the people and the land. A ruler will come from David’s line, a leader who will set things right, make things right!  A ruler whose reign is to be characterized by justice!

          I think we all want to be part of God’s kingdom, working for justice, on the path of justice, marching to freedom, experiencing freedom in Christ.  But then what do we do when we get caught up in the injustices around us, and get discouraged?   How do we move forward?  How do we move toward God and not away from God?  As individuals and in the church?  How do we stay together in community and not leave the community?

          Advent is a time of waiting, but it is not passive waiting.  It is an active waiting. There is energy, some lamenting and suffering, but also hope.  We can in this waiting time, do some reflection, some work to help us live in more caring and just ways with those around us, even in the midst of huge challenges.

I am suggesting 3 things we can do, as individuals and as a faith community, to get us unstuck, to help us move toward God and each other.

1.)  Name the scars from our past.  What in our background, our family history, our DNA has brought pain, brokeness and left us with scars?  Have we acknowledged these events or experiences to ourselves, to anyone?  Has there been healing? Are things buried deep, maybe denied?  Have you lamented what was lost, forgiven those who betrayed you, restored and mended a relationship that was broken?  What still needs attention from the past?
Life of the church: Where are the scars in the life and history of this congregation, or the one you attend?  even in the conference?  We recognize churches leave conferences, congregations split for many different reasons, families move on?    Are their unresolved issues from the past that creep up over the years?  Any in this congregation?  Scars happen because of loss of church facility due to tornado, fire...  Scars happen when church members are violated, pastors violate ethical boundaries, deaths and other tragedies happen to beloved members. Scars happen due to power and control issues, with the laity, the clergy and between families in the church.  If what created the scars has been dealt with in healthy and appropriate ways, handled in the best way possible, it is important to move on, to let go.

2.)  Name the chains of the present.  What is it that keeps us entangled in our own life or the life of our family?  What excess baggage do we carry with us?  Unresolved issues, addictions, bad habits?  Are we struggling with prejudice against a certain person, group, religion or ethnic culture?  (Richard Cohen, viewpoint in DNR...”We all have the same enemy.  It is not Islam.  It is intolerance.”)  Maybe we feel bound by our own fears, anxieties, worries about the future?  Do we need to break free from something or do we need something to be brought back together that has been fractured?  Do we need to confess sin in our life and are afraid to admit it or afraid of what that might mean?
Life in the church: Are there traditions, ways of doing things that need to be dropped?   Attitudes need readjusting? Are there patterns and structure and institutional changes that need to be examined?  And what about all of the things we discern, decide, put down on paper, set on a shelf or file in a computer that no one ever looks at?  How important are documents and guidelines and resolutions for the ongoing work of the church, things that we might never agree on?  Are any of these chains in our present context that are keeping us bound?
(During the season of Advent, we will have chains woven through the visuals before us, chains, symbolizing that there are many things that keep us from walking freely on the road......on the path of justice, the path of mercy, trust and love.  You will have several Sundays to reflect on what chains are keeping you bound and entangled.)

3.)  Name our hopes for the future...steps to take.  We don’t want to dwell and live in the past, but it is good to reflect occasionally on what shaped us, what scars remain and what we learned from them.  We can’t always change everything about our present context or even deal with all of the chains that entangle us, but we can take some small steps to help break the cycles that hurt and destroy us as individuals, as churches, and even in our institutions at other levels.

Steps needed might involve confession, counseling, conversations.
Moving toward God might mean recommitting one’s life in a new way to following Jesus, to regular practices of prayer and Bible study.
Marching to freedom, staying on the path of justice might mean getting involved in some small way in the community with peace and justice concerns.  Giving time, and financial resources to a cause that is close to your heart.  Something you are passionate about!

Name what in your life needs to be embraced and believed!  Do we know in our hearts that we are not alone!  Even when we feel overwhelmed by the needs of the countries around the world, when we see the throngs of refugees on our TV screens in the nightly news, even when we feel anger at mishandling of crimes and recognize the violence and mistrust in our towns and cities.
Life in the church: What hope do we have for our faith community here at PV?  I hope we can continue to have a committed body of believers who will be able to work together, worship together, be missional together in the community and conference, a committed body of believers who can have differences and value the diversity, not be threatened by them.  I hope we can see that our mission extends out into the community, but well beyond this little corner of the globe.  That Jesus is Lord and that God’s justice is coming through the promised Messiah that we wait for this Advent and when Christ returns again.

When we see the pain and suffering in the world and are tempted to walk away and stay away or when we feel the weight of our chains still wrapped around us, may we ask God’s Spirit to awaken in us a discerning heart to what we need to be freed from.

May the Lord strengthen our hearts so that we are willing to stand up, to stand with, be seen and heard in a world that is shaking all around us.  And as we step into the small and large pockets of pain and heartbreaks we live through, may we know and trust that there is where we will meet Jesus, for that is where he has always been.  As we are freed from what keeps us captive, we can live in more caring and just ways..

As the Psalmist says:
“Show me,
Teach me,
Guide me,
O Lord,
In you I put my trust!

Liberating God, as we acknowledge our scars from the past, we also name the chains that we carry, that have weighed us down for too long.  Strengthen our hearts, our souls, and remove from us that which keeps us from moving toward you and our brothers and sisters.  In the name of Christ who carries those chains and lightens our load and gives us freedom and new life.  AMEN.

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