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Monthly Archives: June 2019

Your Story Needs to be Told (June 23, 2019)

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

While on sabbatical last year we spent a few days in Paris. We wandered over to a classic French sidewalk café, and wanting a full “Paris” experience, I ventured into an area about which I know nothing: French cuisine. So I ordered a grade AAAAA sausage that was advertised as unique to France. This ought to be great!

The server, however, upon hearing my order, frowned. “I don’t recommend that for tourists,” she said with significant emphasis. “Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m feeling brave.” “No,” she said again. “This is not good for tourists. It is very strong.” “Good!” says the naive tourist, who, ironically, was on a sabbatical the theme of which is “Listening.”

She brought the unique French sausage, called “andouillette” (“ahn-dwee-yet”), and I quickly admitted she was right about the strong odor. Well, more than strong. It was revolting. But I’m in France, so, I took a bite–after all, it couldn’t taste worse than it smelled.

Oh, was I wrong. Now, to my credit, I did swallow a bite. And kept it down. But then I made the mistake of pulling out my phone and Googling it. There’s a reason for the horrendous smell. It’s made of all kinds of meat from various parts of animal intestines. Including the colon. Hence, the indescribable taste.

I tell you that story not because of the particular significance of it as a story, but because of the significance of stories in general. Stories have the power to connect people. When we hear a story, almost always we discover ways that our own stories can connect to it. If you’ve been to Paris, there’s that intersection between our stories. If you’ve sat at a sidewalk café, you can connect there. If you’ve eaten anything strange or disgusting, you’ve got that connection. When someone tells a story, there are almost always parts that our own story has an intersection with. It’s the nature of stories.

Which is why I believe this gospel text ends the way it does. We usually get all caught up with this strange story and miss the ending. There’s a lot going on. A man possessed by thousands of demons, uncontrollable and living among the tombs of the dead; the casting of the demons into the pigs and their destruction in the lake; the pig farmers demanding that Jesus leave their town. There’s so much there that we don’t always hear the end.

This man who has been saved by Jesus is sane and calm. And he begs that he could now follow Jesus. Isn’t that what we would think to be the best outcome possible? Another disciple! Isn’t that what we hope for everyone? That all would want to follow Jesus? Isn’t that the ultimate positive ending?

But it’s not what happens. The man begs to follow Jesus, and Jesus says, “no.” Have you ever noticed that? Instead, Jesus instructs him to go home and tell his story. Share his experience of this encounter with God. Because stories connect people. Can you even begin to imagine hearing him tell this story from his own perspective? His experience? His encounter with God?

So Jesus invites this man to share his.

Notice Jesus tells him just to tell his story, not to expect a particular outcome. He doesn’t need to convince anyone of anything, he doesn’t need to coerce a particular faith response, he doesn’t need to demand some kind of commitment to Jesus. Just tell your story. Just share your experience. There’s a bond, a connection, an intersection when people share their own stories. Something more profound than intellectual agreement. There’s a deeper connection—soul to soul.

As beings created in the image of God, of course we’ve had encounters with God. We all have God stories to tell. We just don’t tell them. Why don’t we? Maybe because we discount our own stories ourselves. Or maybe we think we’re the only ones who’ve had an experience like that. Or maybe because we’re afraid no one will believe us. Maybe because we think our story isn’t mystical enough. Or maybe because we think the only reason anyone would tell a God story would be if they’re trying to convert somebody.

No. Like this formerly demon-possessed man, we have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories about our journeys from sickness to health, from chaos to peace, from oppression to value, from death to life, from bondage to freedom. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of times we’ve experienced grace, forgiveness, compassion, holiness in unexplainable ways. We have those stories and they need to be told.

We have stories of encounters with God, with a creator, with the divine, with the living Christ. We have those stories and they need to be told.

Our stories are unique to each of us, which means that unless we tell our stories, the world is deprived of that unique connection to another way God meets us. We need to tell our stories because the world needs to hear them and connect to them and know something more about the God who loves them.

The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with [Jesus]; but Jesus sent him away, saying “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

What has God done for you? What is your God story? We have those stories and they need to be told.

One of my God stories is posted on my sermon blog, http://www.pastorrobmoss.wordpress.com. The web address can be founds in the announcement sheet. You’re invited to read it there!

(One of my God stories is posted here, but due to time constraints wasn’t part of the oral presentation of this message).

I have a clinical diagnosis of depression. This results in a chronic vulnerability to circumstances and stress that can leave me with no energy or desire to deal with it all. It flares up occasionally, but with medication and therapy I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms to keep me relatively healthy.

However, during one of the worst episodes, I found myself feeling that I was simply in a free-fall. Down and down and down in what seemed like a bottomless pit with nothing to slow it down or stop it. It was terrifying. All of the things that I’d been able to use previously to use to stop or at least slow the sense of falling were either not working or out of reach. My intelligence, my humor, my resilience, my theology, even my faith made no difference whatsoever. There was nothing in my life but falling. Trite expressions like “trust God” or “put your faith in God” were meaningless. It’s not that I did or didn’t believe in God, it’s that I simply didn’t care if there was a God or not. I didn’t have the resources available to me to sort that out.

And so I fell. Deeper and darker into the pit with nothing to grab or push against or hold. But it was in the midst of this darkness that I came to a realization that somehow I was no longer falling. It wasn’t a sudden realization, but a slowly dawning awareness. Rather than falling, I had the impression of being held. In this, my most vulnerable, helpless state, I was being held–kept from falling, if you will. This had nothing to do with me, it was nothing I did. It was  happening in spite of me. I was being held. I was safe. The darkness would end. The falling would stop.

Whatever it was that was holding me is what I call God. I can trust this God because this God came to me when I could do absolutely nothing for myself. What has emerged in this journey, and what I’m now able to articulate is that this God apparently finds me worthwhile, valuable, and lovable. I’m worth the effort to this God.

Many others were part of my “being held,” it’s true. I wasn’t alone, but had people in my life that were very caring and connected. That connection, that care, that compassion is the very nature of this God who found me, came to me, and held me. This is a God I can trust. This is the God Jesus talks about and reveals for me. Nothing has been the same since.

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Posted by on June 21, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Holy Trinity, Hamilton, Fathers’ Day, and the Pride Parade (June 16, 2019)

Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. This doctrinal description of one God existing as three Persons is unique among all religions that proclaim one God. It is so unique, so novel, that even Christians don’t really get it.

Yet, the purpose is to help us know something about this indescribable God. Let’s look at it this way:

I’m going to read two partial reviews of the hit Broadway musical, “Hamilton”:

“The singular genius of Hamilton, the greatest musical ever written, is that it recognizes that the American Revolution did not end with Yorktown, but is ongoing, even today, and that there are Founders of America being born even as we speak” (DC Theatre Scene).

Do you get a sense of this musical from that review? Or try this one:

“Is Hamilton overhyped? The musical created by some guy from Puerto Rico about a treasury secretary in the 1700s set to hip-hop sounds a little strange. . . .” (Dallas Observer).

Do you get a different sense of it? Different, but you still get some idea of what this musical is about.

The doctrine of the Trinity is like that. It’s like the review of a play. You probably hear about the play or read a review first, and from that you get a sense of what the play is about, what it’s like. But the review is not the play. You have to go to the play; you have to experience a performance of Hamilton yourself. Then, perhaps, when you go back and look at the reviews, you can see how they make sense.

You can know everything about a review that describes a musical, but it’s more important to know the musical that is being described in the review.

You can know everything about a doctrine that describes God, but it is more important to know the God who is described in this doctrine.

Many of us as kids heard about or were taught this doctrine of the Trinity, which hopefully reveals something about the God being described. From my experience with the God described as Three-in-One, here’s where the doctrine of the Trinity makes sense: God exists as relational community. The nature of God is relational. “Three-in-one” is describing a relationship. The nature of God is intimate, sharing, self-giving, mutual—those things that become real in relationships. That’s who God is. And the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to describe that.

What’s more, because we are created in the image of this “three-in-one” relational God, God is experienced most fully by us through relationships. We are relationship creatures. We are empowered by relationships and sustained by relationships. We know one another—and therefore ourselves—through our relationships. We exist most fully in the relationships of a community. We live in communities of all kinds: American community, Colorado community, a school community, communities created by hobbies or passions, family communities. Any group of people where we are able to share ourselves, support each another, encourage one another reveals through those relationships the image of God—the God who is relational community: a holy Trinity.

There are various degrees of experiencing God as community. I took sailing classes last summer during my sabbatical, and was part of that community. Based on a common interest (for some a definite passion) in sailing, it was fun. We had that in common and therefore there was a real sense of community. Not the people I would turn to in a crisis, but a sense of community to be sure. I got a little glimpse of God in those relationships.

On the other hand, I’ve experienced profound support and encouragement here at times. When I’ve been in crisis mode, there are people in this church who have expressed more love and genuine care than I knew existed. That sense of being held by a community when you can’t hold yourself is an astonishing experience of God.

The more authentic we can be in a community, the more we can be loved for who we are in a community, the more we can give and receive support in a community — the more we are experiencing God, who is, as Trinity, the creator of community.

So it matters that as a church community, we reflect and reveal the image of God—as community. And the more fully and deeply we experience authentic relationships in community, the more fully and deeply we are experiencing God.

That’s the foundation of who we are as a congregation. We are a community created by the God who is community. It’s our nature to be authentic and real and supportive and unconditional in our love—the most significant aspects of relationships in a community. So it’s what we strive to reveal and to be. A community where you can be who you are, where you don’t have to be alone in your pain, where you can be encouraged and loved, where you can find kindness and forgiveness and grace. In other words, a community where you experience God.

On this Father’s Day we recognize the importance of supportive, caring relationships. And on this day of Denver’s Pride Parade, we recognize that everyone is worthy of that kind of loving, supportive, community.

As I experience God in that way—through loving, caring, genuine relationships—the doctrine of the Holy Trinity begins to make sense. One God who is three persons: a community. A Holy Trinity.

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Same Spirit, Same Purpose (June 9, 2019)

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there on that Pentecost day to witness all this? If you had been part of the crowd in Jerusalem who had come for this big harvest festival, what would you think if, over the din of the

crowd noise, you heard the sound like the rush of a violent wind? How would you feel if you saw these tongues as of fire resting on each of those disciples? Have you ever wondered if you had been there, would you have been able to hear these disciples speaking in English (or whatever your first language is)? What would your reaction have been to all this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? What one word would you use to describe how you’d feel in this experience: Excited? Frightened? Amazed? Astonished? Perplexed? . . .

To see the movement of the Holy Spirit in such stark and powerful ways had to be inspiring, faith-building, motivating, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not for everyone. Some were simply confused. Others thought these disciples had been drinking. Some sneered and made fun of them. And still others just wondered what this all meant.

Today, on this Pentecost day, I’m interested in these, the ones who were skeptical or wrote off the events of that Pentecost day. Wind, fire, language, and prophecy should be enough for anyone. Anyone who witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in such dramatic ways should be convinced that God was doing something pretty special and would want to be part of that.

But some weren’t. I’m wondering why not? Why wouldn’t all this described in Acts 2 be enough for them to jump on board with what God was apparently doing there?

I find myself having more empathy with these lately. That’s because I’ve come to believe we’re in a similar situation. God is up to something pretty significant.

Our reactions are strikingly parallel to those of the people in Acts 2. Some of us are excited, amazed, and astonished! Others of us are skeptical, confused, and maybe even frightened. We are, at the same time, ready to jump on board, and wondering “What’s really going on?” If we were in Jerusalem on that day, I think we’d fit right in with the crowds.

There’s an outpouring of the Holy Spirit here lately. Expressions of love and compassion are rising more frequently among us. There’s a renewing energy and sense of optimism. Some of you have noticed it. Don’t just sneer and write this off. This is the stuff of Pentecost.

Two specifics in attitude: 1. We’re beginning a capital campaign to tackle some facility issues that have dogged us for decades, e.g., elevator, landscaping, lighting, cooling, parking, and more. Even before it has begun we’re entering into it with enthusiasm and generosity. Money is coming in already that we had no idea was there. We just got a $50,000 check this week. I’m not one who says “if you have enough faith, you can make God do whatever you want.” No, it’s not that. This is not something we’ve contrived or earned or believed in or created. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is blowing through us.

2. Have you noticed a difference in the way we’ve been looking to the future of our ministry? Rather than panicking, feeling like we have to do something so the doors don’t close, we, for instance, recognized at our congregational meeting a few weeks ago that the warmth and love on the inside isn’t being well projected on the outside, and so we spent several minutes having fun tossing around possible new names for this congregation that better convey who we actually are. It’s the Day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit is allowing us to hear good news in new languages.

Some of us are experiencing excitement and amazement at this outpouring of the Spirit. Others of us aren’t paying any attention at all and so are probably skeptical. Still others are cautious and afraid of what this means. But as Peter said in Acts, “Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

We are witnessing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit among us. Pay attention—this is not of our making. It is simply a gift from God. If any of you wonder how to describe or understand the Holy Spirit, you really can’t. But what’s happening among us isn’t a bad way to begin. The Spirit is beyond our control, for reasons that cannot always be explained, the Holy Spirit of God is once again blowing, moving, firing up in us, among us, and around us. And the revealing of Christ’s love, compassion, generosity, and grace are the result.

There’s so much in this text, but one aspect of all this is vital. In Acts 2, this outpouring of the Spirit was experienced by the disciples, but it wasn’t only for their sake. It was also for the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost Festival. The wind, the fire, the languages were all to help reveal God’s love in Christ for all those people gathered.

What we’re experiencing is an outpouring of the same Holy Spirit, and even some of our reactions are the same as those gathered. The means of the Spirit’s movement is different, but the purpose is the same. We are experiencing the Holy Spirit, but not just for our own sakes. The Spirit is moving among us for the sake of the crowds gathered in our neighborhoods and communities who need a sign of compassion, love, and mercy.

The Holy Spirit is here, and her power is real. Anything can happen as Christ is revealed. Something very good is going on around here.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2019 in Sermon

 
 
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