Sunday, March 25, 2012

It's Not About God..., Mountain View United, Aurora, CO, 3/25/2012, by Rev Steven R. Mitchell

It’s Not About God…
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/25/2012
Based on Jeremiah 31:31-34

“The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant…” This message was delivered from God, by Jeremiah. The actual reading says, “The time is coming when I will make a brand-new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” who were living as captives of the Babylonian Empire. I have chosen to broaden this declarative by not directing “who” this promise is being made to.
Jeremiah is giving this new promise to a people, whose understanding of their captivity is a direct result of their disobedience, their turning away from the God who brought them up out of Egypt, a turning away from the God who gave them the “law” in which to live by, a turning away from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As a people who live on this side of the Cross, a resurrection peoples, rarely do we interpret disasters or attacks upon our nation by foreign entities as “judgments” from God. So what importance do books like Jeremiah have for folks like us?
In last week’s reflection based on the book of Numbers, I bought out the idea of “trust”, which develops by acting in faith. This week the theme is “hope”. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord…” this statement is talking about the future, a future that consists of a new covenant. Again, as a people who live on this side of the Cross, what does this have to do with us? Isn’t the cross the fulfillment of that new covenant? I don’t think it is. I think that we are still waiting for this new covenant to come to fruition.
The Epistle reading for this week comes out of Hebrews, where it speaks about Jesus as being appointed as the “High Priest”, yet I when I read this promise from God, I think we would be better informed about what this promise entails if we were to read Paul’s message to the church in Corinth as written in 1 Corinthians 13, which is more commonly referred to as the “Love” chapter.
I view what this promised covenant means through these words:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
God tells us that this new covenant will be placed within our hearts, no longer having the need to teach one another, for we shall all know God, from the least to the greatest and God will forgive us of our iniquity and remember our sin no more. These are powerful words! What is happening with this new covenant isn’t just another set of new rules to follow, rules that are placed on a tablet that we can go to, read, and know about, rather, the day is coming when the law will be engraved in our hearts and displayed in our lives. No longer will we know about God – all the right words, all the right theology. The days are surely coming when we, from the least to the greatest, will know God – with all the intimacy that is entailed with personal knowledge. Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol. 2, Richard Floyd, pg 124
This new covenant is best compared to that of a couple who are totally in love with one another. Their minds are filled throughout the entire day about the other. Thoughts of what their beloved has said to them, thoughts about what they will be doing in the future together, thoughts that are totally focused on the other. Their actions will be loving actions toward their beloved, working for the betterment of the one their love is focused upon. They are in a state of being where their heart is totally open and focused with their beloved. This is an example of an intimate relationship.
Now let me take us into the other direction for deeper contemplation. Consider an intense relationship between two people, locked in a degenerating fight for power and recognition. The law of love, as written in the Ten Commandments, is easily forgotten in the heat of the struggle. But if that law were written on their hearts through the agency of the Holy Spirit, they would be filled with enough positive sense of self and enough fulfilling goodwill that they would not have to fight to steal it from the other, but could give love to the other from the overabundance in their hearts.
Consider religious prejudges, whether between Christians or those of other faiths. When people of a particular religious outlook see themselves as having a lock on the truth and are convinced of their own virtue and of the others apostasy, their self-righteousness leads to hurt and divisiveness. If the law of God were written on the hearts of all concerned, a new day of peace and freedom would dawn.
Consider ways that Western humans currently exploit the creation. We walk as if our trampling of fragile vegetation has no value within our eco-system. Through a ravenous consuming lifestyle, we overuse the earth, leading to global warming, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the general fouling of our planet, which is home to us. We violate the law of God given in Genesis to “till the garden and keep it.”
What would it be like if God wrote the law on our hearts so that we would live within the creation, not above it, so that we would cherish our neighbors, the birds, animals, and fish? What would this creation look like if we lived with restraint and humility, living for the whole creation, not just for our singular, insular selves and our own narrow corner of creation?
Here at the end of the season of lent, this passage begs us to explore the ways that we need the law of love to be written on our hearts. Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol. 2, pg 127, Woody Bartlett As we continue living our lives on this side of the Cross, Jeremiah is telling us through this promise, “it isn’t knowing about God”, that will help us live in the love that we have seen exhibited through Jesus, it is in “knowing God”! It is “this knowledge” of God that moves us from reading the outside tablet, to “knowing” this promise found on the inside tablet that we call the “heart”. It doesn’t happen with the head, it comes from the heart. As we develop our trust in God’s leading, we walk with the hope that, “The time is coming when God will make a brand-new covenant…” A covenant that will be laid deep within all of humanities hearts. Amen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Beware of Short Cuts, Mountain View United, Aurora, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Beware of Short Cuts
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/18/2012
Based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

As I read through this morning’s story concerning the outcry of the Israelites against Moses and God, of being lead out into the wilderness and about the wisdom in following Moses and God, I am reminded of a particular road trip that I and my three children were on as we traveled from their mothers home in Colorado to mine in Washington state.
It was customary in the early years of my children’s lives, to pick them up from their mother on Memorial Day weekend and take them back to Washington state for the summer months, allowing their mother a break from parenting and giving me the opportunity to have a longer period of time with my children, sharing in some of those experiences of being a single parent as opposed to just being the “week-end warrior” style of dad.
As a way of trying to make the long two day trek from Colorado to Washington, I would often try to take differing routes when possible. On this particular journey, I had mapped out our path along I-70 over to Georgetown, turning onto US HWY 40, up through Granby and Steamboat Springs in order to have a mountain scenic view, then on through Vernal, Utah. From Vernal, we traveled on toward Heber City, which would lead us onto I-80 taking us through Park City on into Salt Lake City to I-15, which would lead us to connect with I-84, taking us through the lower part of Idaho, through Boise and through the upper part of Oregon. As we neared the Columbia River, we would then take I-82, which would cross over the Columbia and take us up through the lower wine country of Washington State, through Yakima, Washington and finally home to Kittitas, Washington.
What I have just described was the route that most normal people would take, if using highway 40. Since the first day’s drive was going to be overly long by taking that route, I noted on the map, an alternate route near Heber City, that would take us directly up and over the mountains, dropping us almost directly into Salt Lake City. As a group, my children and I had consensus to take this shorter, alternate route. Not the best choice I’ve ever presented.
We started out on a great two lane black topped road, which after about twenty miles or so, became a two lane dirt county road. Another twenty miles or so, this two lane dirt road, narrowed down into a single lane road; still it was a good road, but our road speed however had been dramatically reduced. Not only were we now on a single lane road, but I began to realize that we had not encountered any oncoming traffic since we started on this unmarked road. As we continued our clime in altitude, the single lane road started to deteriorate into what is best described as a cow path!
By this time, my oldest daughter, Bobbie Jo, began questioning our decision of taking this route and asked if we shouldn’t turn around and go back down, which would mean doubling the time lost to that of almost three hours; remember the reason for this alternate route was to cut off travel time. I had already considered the option of turning back, but the truth of the situation was there was no place to safely turn around, so we had to stay on this course.
As we neared the summit of the mountain path, the road became very muddy, with pools of water standing in the potholes, and snow lining the edge of the path; our speed reduced to a roaring 20 mph at tops! I was really beginning to become worried that we might not make it beyond this point and that maybe the best course of action would be to start backing the car down the last twenty miles of road to a point where I could possibly turn around.
Let me say, that even with the anxiety building at this point, the scenery on this road was breath taking, with vistas beyond belief, and all sorts of wildlife alongside this questionable path. As we reached the top, we were starting to lose the sunlight, another concern for me. Then the miracle happened, we came face to face with another car! They were headed down the path we had just come from and at that point I regained hope that there truly was a road on the other side, as the map had indicated. After a few miles of descent, the snow receded from the edge of the pathway. A few more miles down the drive, the road began to widen, eventually we were back on a two lane dirt road, which lead us onto a blacktopped road, and eventually onto a city street. We had made it to one of the suburbs of Salt Lake City, about three hours later than had we stayed on the main highway.
Today’s lesson focuses on “trust” and “belief”. These are not two words with the same meaning. I believed the road map when it showed me that there was an alternative road to Salt Lake City. However, my trust in my discussion to take that route was greatly tested. This is what was going on with the Israelites in their relationship with Moses and with God. They believed in God, but at this point of their journey, their trust in Moses wisdom, and their trust in God was being greatly tested. So much so, that they were crying out against God.
How often are we as a faith community, guilty of this same situation? How often when as a group, embark on a specific program that we believe God has shown us, and then when we hit that first hick-up, that first obstacle on the road, begin to wonder whether we have made a right choice, often times becoming so panicked or disappointed because it isn’t going smoothly and turn back to the old ways, not following through, giving the needed time to experience the anticipated results that come at the end the chosen course? We believed in the project, but we failed to trust the journey that has to be taken to get the results that we are looking for.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with the “committee on ministry”, for the purpose of having my standing in the UCC approved and at the same time have my standing transferred from the Pacific Northwest to the Rocky Mountain Conference. When this happens it will be the end of a twelve year journey. The vote on this will not take place until next month.
This is just one of many obstructions that I have had along the path of becoming a fully accepted minister within the UCC. There was even a point back in 2002, when I had halted the process because of an unethical individual who held a lot of power in the Pacific Northwest Conference. I had the belief that God had lead me to the door of the UCC as the entry way back into the active role of a parish minister, but my trust in the process was wearing very thin. Yet through this long journey I have learned that “trust” is something that cannot be developed through short cuts.
Six weeks ago, we started taking our first steps in “our” journey together. As a group, we are eager to see where God will be leading us, but before we take out on our journey, we need to take the time to listen to what God would like us to move toward. We will need to enter into intentional discussions with one another and explore the questions of, “What type of ministry does God want us to enter into? Who and how are we going to serve in Aurora? What is God calling us to become?”
These are huge questions that need to be answered. Then after we gain a handle, a vision of what we believe God wishes for us, and of what the destination will be, we will then begin the journey, the real journey, our journey in “trust”. Moses, never asked the Israelites to move toward “belief” in God, for they already had that. What Moses asked of the Israelites was to continue toward the journey of “trusting” that God would keep the commitment that God made to them, of leading them to the ‘promised land.’
This is our task: to continue on that journey of learning “trust”, trust in God’s leading. This cannot be done through short cuts, but has to be done within it’s own time, however long that takes. The rub generally comes when God’s timing takes longer than what we are willing to give, and our unwillingness to grow with the obstacles that present themselves as part of the process.
In this season of Lent, let us become bold enough to examine our “trust” issues we have with God and allow the Spirit to help us deepen our relationship with the one whose wisdom far exceeds that of our own. Amen

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Living in the Promise, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/11/2012 by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Living in the Promise
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/11/2012
Based on Exodus 20:1-17 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
This past Wednesday, the Rocky Mountain United Church of Christ conference, lost one of their brightest Theological minds in the death of The Reverend Dr. Curtis Tutterrow. Most of you probably have not ever heard of Dr. Tutterrow, but he was a dear friend and colleague of mine for the twenty-nine months that I was serving First Congregational UCC in Rock Springs, WY. Curtis would meet with a group of us ministers to discuss the lectionary readings for that particular week. Upon Curtis’ return from leading a tour in the Holy Lands last June, he discovered he was stage 4 in the development of cancer. Curtis was sixty-two.
In discussing with Curtis what his options might be, it became very apparent of how much a realist Curtis truly was. He understood that by entering into treatment, he was only buying time. The real question he had was what would the quality of his life be during these treatments? He was resigned to the knowledge that he might very well not be alive for the Holidays, whether he entered into treatment or not. Weighing his options, Curtis entered treatment and left open the option of discontinuing them should the cure be worse than the illness.
With in a couple of months, Curtis had responded well enough to go back to work fulltime. Again, there was a discussion as to taking retirement early to enjoy what might be one to two more years of life or stay working. His Doctor shared that in many cases, those who stayed working, seemed to respond more positively to treatment verses those how did not work. Curtis decided that he wanted to work as long as possible, if only to keep his mind occupied with life beyond his own. The last time that I spoke with Curtis was in mid-January. Curtis had just gone through having a new cancer on his liver micro waved as it wasn’t responding to the chemo therapy. Although Curtis was always very open to discussing his health, more importantly he continued to want to focus on life outside of his world, such as “how was I feeling about my upcoming transition to Mountain View”.
Richard Niebuhr, a twentieth-century theologian once stated, “The cross does not deny the reality of death. It reinforces it. It denies its finality.” Curtis, very much understood this, which I believe is what gave him the strength to face the fact that time was nearing its end for him. The older I grow, the more I think I am beginning to understand how Jesus was able to continue to do His work of challenging the systems of oppression and social injustices of his time, particularly as they had developed within the Hebrew religious structure, knowing full well that he, like every prophet before him would end up dying for speaking the truth. Jesus understood that death is not finality.
In this week’s Epistle reading, Paul talks about the foolishness of those who do not know the wisdom that comes through God’s guidance. We are living in an age where there seems to be a “willful pride” when declaring a disbelieve in God, or in faith it’s self, while those who profess a belief in God, shriek away from publicly declaring their truth! Paul says in verse 22, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…”
Paul is in the city of Corinth, a cross-roads for world commerce. There is a great many parallels between Corinth and the United States. We live in a country of excessive wealth, we have a large portion of our society educated, and we live in a secular culture. We are an Imperial power, imposing our interests at the cost of others. As much as I disapprove of a great deal of what the Apostle Paul has to say, there is much that we can also learn from his writings.
Adam Eckhart, Associate pastor of First United Church of Christ, Milford, Connecticut, writes: The old hypothesis is the world’s false wisdom that death is the end of the story. When we mourn the death of a loved one, realize first hand that our life is fleeting, or witness tragedies like September 11th or natural disasters, worldly experience pushes innocence aside, and this worldly wisdom can take deep root in our souls. It foretells the day when we shall be no more and sets in motion a series of defense mechanisms – walls of avoidance, humor to distract us from our fears, and vigilance to oppose death’s power.
The false wisdom of perishing cleverly disguises itself in human hearts. We often start with the saying that self-preservation is the first law of life. Self-preservation manifests itself in competitive childhood sports and academics, in climbing the corporate ladder. It can appear in facelifts and efforts to prolong life beyond its natural quality, or in preemptive strikes, homeland security, and attempts to eradicate evil before it eradicates us.
This false wisdom seeks to protect us from the inevitability of death, and in the meantime, from the threat of outsiders and even our apparent friends. The world’s suspicion of all people and motives therefore constantly undermines reconciliation and community. The church has not been immune to the world’s wisdom and its perishing thoughts. When Paul left Corinth, his message of salvation seemed to have left with him. The church began dividing… They became obsessed with their own preservation and cared less about church unity or faith in their Savior, Jesus Christ. Rev Adam Eckhart, Feasting on the Word, Yr B, Vol 2, pg 90.
Yet God gave us the assurance of a constant love and a way of living life that would not bring suspicion or division but rather a path that would lead to reconciliation and to community. We have grown to call this declaration by God, the Ten Commandments. The word commandment is an abrasive word to modern society, and I wonder if we would not do better by looking at these words from God as “guides to living in the promise”.
We need to understand that when Moses came off the mountain of Sinai with these two tablets, or if you are a Mel Brooks fan, you know from the movie, “History of the World: Part One”, that when Moses came off the mountain with three tablets, five commandments on each tablet, accidently dropping one of the tablets, thus giving the Hebrew people and the world only ten commandments. What we need to realize is that these guidelines to living, came to a people who had just escaped from a life of slavery, and were developing their own society.
The whole concept of slavery means, “You have no life, you are dead to yourself, your life is that of your masters desire.” Now they found themselves as free people, meaning they came out of death and into life. The message of the exodus is the same message to the Hebrew people as the cross, the crucifixion is to Christianity. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;” “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The first was spoken by God, the second was spoken by Jesus, and both speak about the truth of life!
God uses the paradox to present truth. God used a people who were in slavery to begin the work of reconciliation! God, chose Moses born a slave, raised in the house of Pharaoh, became a fugitive for murder, to become the spokes person of God’s redemptive message. God chose a single woman, to present the continued message of redemption through her son; we call Jesus of Nazareth, and using a most hideous form of death, the cross, the symbol of ultimate shame and cruelty to present the message of resurrection of life.
How is God using Mountain View? We are a small band of faith-filled people. The Spirit of God is upon us, calling us to new ministries for the larger community. During this season of Lent, I invite you to continue to pray for the wisdom of God. I believe that we are standing at cross-roads that if we are open to the leading of God, God will provide for us experiences that will far exceed our own dreams of life! For God so loved the world, that God shares his love continually with all of us, in many differing ways, our job if you will, is to just “Live in the Promise.” Amen

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Possibilities through Impossibility, Mountain View United, Aurora, CO, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

Possibilities through Impossibility
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 3/4/2012
Based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-15; Mark 8:31-38

“1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 6”I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you, to be your God and the God of your descendants… As for Sarai your wife, her name will become Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her.” “17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:1-17 (portions of)
When God appears to you, you can be pretty assured that it’s not going to be your “usual Thursday”, but something above and beyond the ordinary is about to happen! It is a time where “Possibilities through Impossibility” occurs. Over the years I have grown to not only appreciate the stories of the early patriarchs of our faith, but have truly grown to love Abraham in particular. Abraham was a true pioneer. Several decades before this story, Abraham heard God’s calling to leave his family and community and travel to a new land that will be “home” for him, a location that was not immediately revealed to him. But in faith, he and his wife packed up their possession, said, “Good-bye” to family and friends and started out on a journey that still moves forward today!
I say that it still moves forward today, because it is in this particular segment of scripture that we learn about the commitment that God has made to “us” with the start of Abram and Sarai! God tells Abram that He is establishing His everlasting covenant with Abram and Sarai and all of their off-spring. Mark Husbands, associate Professor of Reformed Theology at Hope College, Holland, Michigan explains, “‘Covenant’ as promise, blessing, commandment, and freedom given to Israel by YHWH. YHWH binds himself to the history and well-being of Abraham and through this particular relation begins the restoration of humanity.” Feasting on the Word, Yr B Vol. 2, pg 51-52
Husbands offers a little clearer explanation about the significant of this “oneness of God” as seen against the back drop of the ancient Near East, in which deities were often tied to land, family, and inheritance. Having left his own country and kin, in faith, Abram sets aside the security of natural ties of kinship and the protection of national, territorial, and familial gods. Enclosed within God’s declaration to Abram, “I am God almighty,” is the requirement to turn away from all other gods.” Feasting on the Word, Yr B Bol. 2, pg 52
When I read the story that tells about Abram as he starts on this journey with God, I am reminded about my patriarch John Conrad Nossaman, who left the fellowship and support of his family in Germany in 1767, to come to the promise of a new life in the colonies which eventually became these United States. John Nossaman sold himself into indentured slavery in order to gain passage to the then new world. By the year 2000 AD, the count of direct descendants of this one man was 1,746 people. If I go back just four generations, the patriarch that I am most directly descended from accounts for 1,100 of this 1,746. I do not know what the figures are of the family a decade later, but I can attest that personally I have helped add through my three children, eighteen more to the clan.
If Professor Husbands is correct in this assessment of what this covenant means for the restoration of all humanity, this simple story about Abrams encounter with God is monumental, setting the scene for Jesus to continue in this story of restoration and of inclusion and reconciliation.
Does this restoration and forward movement come easily? Not by any stretch of the imagination. As we read in Mark this morning, even Jesus has a hard time in helping his most trusted disciples to understand what God is doing in history, as Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for saying that, “He must be killed by the religious leaders in order to continue God’s work of restoration with humanity.” In response we read, “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
How easily Jesus’ rebuke of Peter could be directed toward me this past week or so, as I have been consumed with building my “new nest” so to speak, as I worked toward securing Paul’s and my new home, and of the physical move itself. In many respects, I think this week’s lectionary readings have been pre-ordained to speak about some of what I would be facing as I settle in as your new pastor.
I can directly relate to Abram and Peter. With my original call into ministry, I knew that I would have to leave the security of family and friends, as well as the familiarity of my childhood surroundings, not knowing where exactly God would have me serve. Has the journey been smooth? Not in the least, just as Abram and Sarai, had many trials and obstacles during their life, so have I. The most trying has been the move to Aurora!
What started out to be a very smooth process with my call to Mountain View United, the actual purchase of our home has been less than a smooth one, at times, even upsetting and most perplexing. At the onset of my call to Mountain View, Paul and I were able to find a house with little effort and secure an agreement to purchase. Working with the sellers was a joy and everything seemed to be moving smoothly. Smoothly that is until a certain appraiser came up with a value far less than what had been agreed on. With every trick in the book that could legally be done, we could not save this transaction.
This started a chain of events which has lead to my previewing over seventy-five houses and six more offers. The home that we actually just closed on this past Friday was purchased without Paul’s prior viewing, which showed tremendous faith, on his part, in my judgment. Without going into the entire saga, I was very much like Abram and chuckling to myself about the wisdom of God, bringing me here to Aurora! Like Peter, I was chastising Paul’s belief that we would be closing on time and have our furniture delivered directly to our new home.
Do we not all find ourselves at one time or another like Abram and Sarai or Peter, thinking on the level of the human level, even when we are face to face with God as God shares “the plan” with us? Basically telling God that the “Possibilities through Impossibility” are not possible? Not possible for us maybe, but very possible for God.
I have just started reading Diana Butler Bass’s new book, “Christianity After Religion”, and am finding affirmation in my observations and sense of change that I have been feeling since making my commitment to follow God. We are in the beginnings of a new great revival as humanity move away from what has been acceptable understanding of God’s relationship to us.
In her prolog she speaks about the 1970’s Jesus movement and how it seemed to become stalled and of the current effort by part of the “traditional” church, to return America to old-time religion and God’s righteous path. Their understanding of converting the heathen masses and restore biblical inerrancy, family values, social order, clerical authority, theological orthodoxy, sexual purity, free-market capitalism and Protestant piety.
Mss Bass has this to say: “But there is another way of looking at things. What if the 1970’s were not simply an evangelical revival like those of old, but the first stirrings of a new spiritual awakening, a vast interreligious movement toward individual, social, and cultural transformation? What if the awakening is not exclusively a Christian affair, but rather that a certain form of Christianity is playing a significant role in forming the contours of a new kind of faith beyond conventional religious boundaries? Is America living in the wake of a revival gone awry or a spiritual awakening that is finally taking concrete – albeit unexpected –shape?” Abram and Sarai were the start of the revival that took place through Jesus.
When God appears, we can pretty much bet that things will not go on as usual. As we enter into this season of Lent, of expectancy and of examination, let us reflect upon Abram and Sarai’s encounter with God. Reflect upon their lessons and see where God is speaking to us and help us to move into understanding the “Possible through Impossibilities!” Amen

Thursday, March 1, 2012

If Only God Really Knew..., Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 2-26-2012, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

If Only God Really Knew…
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 2/26/2012
Based on Psalm 25:1-10
This past Wednesday evening a group of us kicked off the season of Lent by observing Ash Wednesday. For those who are not clear as to “why” we call it “Ash Wednesday”, “Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent's way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.”
As a group, a part of our observance was to time to reflect through meditation and expression through art, what we would like to leave behind us during this season of Lent. As a way of honoring our reflections and expressions, we then brought them up to the “alter” and gave them symbolically to God, then we received the imposition of ashes which again symbolically expressed our sorrow and recognition that we sin before God and others. We are going to leave these expressions of what we wish to leave behind during this season, throughout the six weeks of Lent as a reminder to help us focus on the work of deepening our relationship with God.
It is not often that we use a Psalm as the focus for reflection during any given worship throughout the year, but what better way to start this season of reflection than to start with the topic of our Prayer life. Church historian and author, Dianna Butler Bass, was engaged by the Lilly Foundation to study liberal Mainline Denominations that were growing, to see if there are any commonalities. Over a ten year period, Mss Bass study fifty churches that represented the Presbyterian, United Methodist, American Baptist, ULCA Lutheran, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopalian denominations, finding that there were around thirteen primary commonalities that could be found in a growing and vital liberal church, although no one church exhibited all of these traits. Yet one trait that seems to be in most of these fifty churches was the seriousness of prayer life within the congregation.
Taking the Bible seriously is another common trait of a vital and growing liberal congregation. When we think of all the sections of the Bible, the Psalms seem to hold a warm spot within most Christian’s hearts. I think the reason for this comes because the Psalmist tends to show all aspects of our feelings, holding very little back. Although many of the Psalms were sung in the Hebrew culture, they are often expressions of prayer.
So as I was studying this particular prayer that we know as Psalm 25, looking for some theological themes, I started thinking about what does our personal prayer life look like? I don’t know about you, but I was taught as a child, that when talking to God, I wasn’t supposed to talk about certain subjects, or say anything that might offend God. In other words, I wasn’t supposed to share my true feelings with God. Does this resonate with any of you this morning? Somehow, as a Christian, I wasn’t supposed to be angry with God about any of my situations in life, I wasn’t supposed to question the wisdom of Gods plans, I was however in some instances allowed to ask God to get even with someone who was wronging me.
I am not sure why I was taught this; that there were things that I could and couldn’t say to God. It seems that there was supposed to be a “politeness” when talking to God, that didn’t necessarily hold true in a typical relationship; a sort of proper, prayer life that is supposed to be polite to the point of being dry, sterile, and possibly even stand-offish. The interesting thing about this teaching is that it coincided with the way I was supposed to interact with my parents and other adults who held authority over my life. With all of these things that I wasn’t supposed to discuss with God, I started thinking about what is a healthy interaction with God supposed to look like? What type of relationship am I suppose to have with God? If there are proper and improper topics to pray about, does this not put God as someone who is at a distance, not a part of the family, maybe like distant relative who is so prim and proper that any true expression of thoughts or feelings would cause them a heart attack?
Prayer is the life line to our relationship to God! What would happen in our relationship with God, if God really knew what we were thinking? We mentally know that if God is all knowing, that God then already knows what thoughts are going through our brains and even through our hearts, but there is a disconnect many times with what we know and what we feel. The reality is we often don’t want to acknowledge to God our feelings. Why? We already know God knows them, so then why would we not want to lift them up to God? Is it out of embarrassment that we try to hold them hidden somewhere deep inside of ourselves?
I was raised in a family that never hesitates to tell you what they think. If it hurts your feelings, so be it, but you knew exactly where that person stands on any particular topic, as well as how they feel about it. Yet again, I was taught not to have that same honesty with God, because God is God and who am I to tell God just what I am feeling?
And yet, I believe this is exactly what God desires of us. The reason being, when we are being fully honest with God about how we are experiencing some event in our lives, we are really opening up our hearts for relationship building. Just like in a family, if we never express our thoughts and our feelings, generally a deepening in relationship with those members of our family is retarded in its development.
My younger sister and brother and I, tell each other exactly what is on our minds about any given situation that is occurring in each other’s lives as well as what is going on in our own personal experiences. Do feelings get stepped on, of course they do, there are times when our feelings are hurt so badly that we will not talk to one another for a time, but we eventually get over feeling “picked on” and pick up where we left off. We pick up where we left off with one difference; we have become a little closer to each other. Why? Because through our sharing with one another even when it hurts, we know that we are loved by each other and we have allowed them access to our lives, so we have someone else walking with us.
In Psalm 25, the author does sort of the same thing. He is unloading before God his fears, the troubles that he is facing; he talks to God about dealing with his enemies, and even about guilt that he has carried around since childhood. “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.” Next the author is asking God to deal with his tormentors. A normal human response would be to ask God to destroy his enemies, much like the outcry to the terrorist actions that killed so many people with the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Yet he doesn’t do that, this psalmist rather only asks that his enemies become embarrassed through their behavior of him, a kind of “egg on the face” sort of embarrassment.
What is amazing in this Psalm to me is the asking of God for teaching and guidance so the psalmist will avoid losing sight of his humanity and of hope during times of trial and persecution. The Psalmist is asking for internal strength, for integrity, because he trusts in the steadfastness that comes through love, mercy and goodness that God shows toward us.
This period of preparation for Holy Week and Easter is a time to seek to learn God’s ways and God’s paths. To build deeper our relationship with God, by being more honest with our prayers, of letting God really know what our life is like. Some of us have no problem in expressing our deepest feelings to God. Others of us may still struggle to expose our true selves to God in prayer, not wanting to let God really know what we are thinking or feeling. Let this season of Lent be one where we can deepen our prayer life, our relationship with God. Amen