Sunday, December 4, 2016

It'll take you where you don't want to go

“Advent May Take You Where You Don’t Want to Go”

Highlands Presbyterian Church

December 4, 2016

 

 

This is my version of a story Fred Craddock, the late-great Disciples of Christ preacher once told.

 

The most expensive sports car in the world is the 2016 Lamborghini Aventador SV Coupe. It’s the car pictured on the front of your bulletin. It sells for $522,880. I wanted to see one and so I went to a dealership that had it on display. Imagine my surprise when I saw the price tag on the car. It said it old for $5,228.00, one percent of its value.


Must be some mistake, I said to myself. Too many zeroes left off. Must be a mistake, right? It occurred to me that some buyer would see the mistake and offer the $5,228 for the $522,880 car so I drove in to warn the owner of the mistake so he could prevent a huge loss. But he said there was not a mistake, $5,228 was the price.

It can't be; what's wrong with it? I kicked the tires, checked the odometer (165 miles), searched for evidence of the car having been wrecked or flooded, turned on the ignition and listened. It purred like my cat. Okay, what's the catch?

This car does funny things, the dealer said; it doesn’t always take you where you want to go. Sometimes it takes you instead where you really ought to go. Really? To get this great car for one percent of its value was so tempting. How many owners, I asked? One. Do you have his phone number? Yes. I called and verified the strange truth about the car.

What is it like to have a car like that? Absolutely horrible, he said. You need to know that car doesn’t always take you where you want to go. One Saturday I missed my tee time because I ended up at a nursing home visiting with the residents. One evening I missed dinner with friends because I ended up at the mall ringing the Salvation Army bell for three hours. There was a day when I planned to drive downtown to have coffee with my friends and that car took me to the capitol building where there was a demonstration for justice in Standing Rock.

I wasn’t sure I wanted that car at any price but I was curious whether anyone else had bought it. I drove by the dealership the other day. The car is still on the lot. The price has been marked down to $522.80. Anyone interested?

Advent is like that. If you buy into it, it’ll take you to places you weren’t planning to go. Be careful.

In the coming months, we will be asked to go places we never thought we’d go. But then…this is Highlands and that’s what we do.

This morning’s second Sunday of Advent Gospel reading features John the Baptist. “You brood of vipers!” he screams, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”

For him it was the vipers who fled when they saw the wrath to come. Don’t do it he said. Instead, bear fruit worthy of repentance. That’s what John thought was necessary to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.” John got his reputation from what he wore and what he ate and the shrill honesty of his words. He spoke of wielding an axe to chop down any tree that didn’t produce fruit. They knew him from watching him standing knee deep in the Jordan River as he baptized anyone who wanted to be a part of the movement, anyone who was willing to be a voice crying out in the wilderness.

That’s how he spent that first Advent. Ya see, John knew something about the wrath that was to come and how to get ready for it. He knew two things. One, it was indeed coming and two, his job was to prepare the way of the Lord who would be there to walk through it with him.

Are you using Advent to prepare for the wrath that is to come?

Robin Meyer’s book The Underground Church was written four years ago but he knew, as Jesus followers have always known that QUOTE “in the days ahead, decisions will have to be made about what it means to prepare the way of the Lord” END QUOTE and Advent 2016 is a time for Jesus followers to sort out in their own mind what we will do to bear fruit worthy of our baptism.

Just as the early Christians faced the fear of what the Roman Empire planned for them as Jews and as new Christians, there are those among our brothers and sisters who are fearful of what lies ahead for them. There are people who have healthcare for the first time in their lives who now fear losing it. There are people who have lived here all their lives, having been brought to our country in their infancy by undocumented parents, who fear being deported from the only life they know. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters fear those who would use this opportunity to deprive them of basic human rights. Women fear government sanctioned misogyny.

The fear is well founded. Since November 8th, the Southern Poverty Law Center had documented more than 900 assaults, verbal and physical on gays, lesbians, Muslims, Jews, women and people of color.

How will we react to all of this? Will we flee the wrath that is to come like the brood of vipers John chastised? If not, how will we bear the fruit worthy of our claim to follow Jesus? Robin Meyers says Jesus followers will have to make decisions about which of the Empire’s unjust laws we will disobey to witness to our trust in God. Citing the war in VN and the civil rights movement, he says it’s been half a century since the church was a force for social justice in this country.

Perhaps the time is ripe again.

Remember the post-Easter disciples, huddled in fear behind locked doors? We could make that choice. But, they didn’t stay huddled in fear; eventually they made a different choice. They set their fear aside and left that room and followed Jesus. Today we find ourselves with the same choice to make. The times have presented this generation of Christians with that same challenge. We should praise God for putting our generation in that position.

Writer E. B. White once said, “I wake up in the morning torn between savoring the world; and saving it. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Yes, savoring or loving the world is our contemplation, our mysticism; saving it is our prophetic work of sacred activism.

Micah, the prophet said we are called to do both… He has shown you, said Micah, “He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The season of Advent is our own opportunity to test the temperature of the waters of Jordan, placing one toe at a time in the icy waters, gathering our courage to let the Holy Spirit nurture us as we prepare for the Christ child to lead us through the wrath that is to come. In the season of Advent, the season of expectation and possibility, the spirit of the coming Christ is looking for fertile ground in which to grow a new shoot out of the old stump.

Advent is like that half-a-million dollar Lamborghini. Like celebrating Advent, it costs little, unless you really buy into it and then it’ll take you places you hadn’t planned to go. It could be worse. That car is still on the lot.

The price has been marked down to $52.28. Anyone interested?




Saturday, December 3, 2016

RESULTS & Compassionate Cheyenne

There are two exciting local movements that have quietly come together in our community. They have the potential to greatly impact public policy and community life in Cheyenne. Both provide opportunities for people, regardless of political or religious affiliation or non-affiliation, to engage in dialogues and actions that make a difference.

The two groups of Cheyenne citizens have been meeting separately for months. The hard work of both has borne fruit. First is the opening of Wyoming’s first RESULTS Chapter in Cheyenne. Second is the formation of Compassionate Cheyenne, aligned with the international Charter for Compassion.

Wyoming was previously one of the few states without a RESULTS Chapter. RESULTS is a grassroots movement of citizens using their voices to influence political decisions aimed at ending poverty and addressing other social issues.

RESULTS volunteers are trained to be skilled advocates. They learn to effectively advise policymakers, urging them to make choices improving access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunities.

Is it possible for a small group of advocates to improve the lives of children planet-wide? Consider the support RESULTS volunteers gave the “Reach Every Mother and Child Act.” A quarter of a century ago, the number of under-five child deaths exceeded 12 million annually. They were dying in the world’s poorest countries of preventable and treatable diseases.

In part because of RESULTS advocacy for cost-effective programs including vaccination, the number of children dying before celebrating a fifth birthday has been halved.  The data show that number can be reduced to zero by 2035.

The Cheyenne RESULTS chapter will also work on local and state social justice issues.

If you’re looking to make a difference, join the Cheyenne RESULTS effort. See http://results.org/ or contact coordinator Ann Erdman at annerdman@hotmail.com.

The second development of interest to those looking for way to become engaged is Compassionate Cheyenne. This movement grew out of an interfaith meeting 18 months ago. A group of clergy and others representing a number of Cheyenne’s faith communities gathered for the purpose of talking, not about what divides us, but what unites us. At the table were a variety of Christians including Episcopalians, Methodists, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, and Presbyterians, as well as Unitarian Universalists, Jews, and Muslims.

Among the list of that which unites us is love of neighbor, hospitality for strangers, and doing unto others as we’d have them do unto us. They found that all of our commonalities, compassion is the common denominator.

This group decided to act. They arrived at an agreement to study the possibility of being a part of the international Charter for Compassion.

Following months of study and dialogue, they drafted at a set of values and mission goals.

Common ground was found with the way Henri Nouwen spoke of compassion. “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

The Compassionate Cheyenne charter and mission has been endorsed by the Cheyenne Interfaith Council, several faith communities and non-profits, as well as dozens of individual Cheyenne citizens. It is a charter of encouragement and support for the significant amount of compassionate work happening every day in Cheyenne.

Fellow Cheyenne-ites in government and non-government agencies are already “doing compassion.” Some are serving churches and other houses of worship. Compassionate work is being done by many different civic organizations. Compassionate Cheyenne has no intention of duplicating or interfering with that work but to support it by focusing on the needs of others from a perspective of compassion. For more information, see http://www.charterforcompassion.org/ or contact coordinator Ed Boenisch at eboenisch@bresnan.net.

These are two exciting new opportunities each of us has to work for the common good of all the people of the community.