Sunday, May 26, 2013

What Fills You With Awe?, by Rev Steven R Mitchell for Mountain View United, Aurora, CO

What Fills You With Awe?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 5-26-2013

Based on Psalm 8


        This morning’s text speaks about God with great Praise and wonderment as do many of the Psalms.  Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  It speaks about how humanity, from infants to senior citizens praise God.  This Psalm amplifies this praise as being caught up in the moon, and the stars.  Poets and song writers have drawn from all of nature, generation through generation contemplating almost any theme you can image. 

        A man by the name of Carl Boberg was returning home one afternoon, after participated in an afternoon service in a neighboring town. Nature was bursting with all its beauty that afternoon.  Suddenly the tranquility was broken with a violent thunderstorm. Then as suddenly as it had started the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.

When Boberg arrived home, he opened the window and saw the bay of Mönsterås like a mirror before him… From the woods on the other side of the bay, he heard the song of a
thrush…the church bells were tolling in the quiet evening. It was this series of sights, sounds, and experiences that inspired the writing of this now famous song:    




“O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder

Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.

I see the stars; I hear the rolling thunder,


Thy power throughout the universe displayed.



Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!


Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Resource by Wikipedia



        For me, this morning’s Psalm speaks about “perspectives”.  It speaks to how we see ourselves in relationship to not just our surroundings, but in relationship to the universe, even to our relationship with the Creator God. 

Story:  When I was around 4 years of age, as my mother would hang the laundry out on the clothes line to dry, I would sit in my swing, looking up at the blue sky and watch huge fluffy marshmallow things move quietly over our house.  They were amazing things, because they were constantly changing their shapes.  One single marshmallow could look like a battleship sailing the ocean of sky, then in just a blink of the eye change into a face.  Sometimes these shapes and figures were warm and welcoming and at other times they could become scary and I would become frightened because they might just come down to my swing and snatch me up.  At times I would yell over to mom to look at a particular figure, but when she looked, she didn’t see anything but a cloud.

        Another time was fifteen years ago, while on an extended vacation visiting my first newborn grandchild, whose parents were living in Dallas, Texas at the time, I decided to stop at the Grand Canyon.  I Knew I would be impressed with its beauty because of all the pictures and T.V. shows I had seen over my lifetime, yet it hadn’t emotionally prepared me for what I was about to see.  In those first few minutes, standing at the edge of this great canyon, I was totally “Awe” struck.  My emotions were so touched that I had tears running down my cheeks, my throat was swelling shut to where I could hardly swallow, and my mind was totally “Praising God” for the honor to see such beauty. 

        After about five minutes of bathing in this “Aweness” my solitude was broken with the sounds of cameras clicking and the continuous chatter of a Japanese tour group.  I was amazed that they didn’t seem to hold the same “Aweness” that I was experiencing.  Differences in perceptions!

        In our daily lives, we encounter many events.  Sometimes we stop briefly and reflect on those events, but mostly we don’t.  When we find that we have had a miracle happen to us, those are the times that we have stopped to reflect at that particular event. 


My question to you this morning is, “What fills you with awe?”   When you first wake up in the morning, “what fills you with awe?”  Is it in the sound of the morning dove cooing?  As you progress through your day, “what fills you with awe?”  Is it in the snow capped mountains just to the west, or the shape of a particular tree that is in your line of vision?  When you are at the grocery store, “what fills you with awe?”  Is it the ice cream in the freezer section on a hot day, or maybe the smile on another shoppers face?  You see, it is the “Awe” that helps connects us emotionally not to just one another, but to life!

This Psalm speaks to each of us in a way that for some of us is rather frightening.  In our daily lives, we generally become so wrapped up with the mundaneness of existing, that we think that everything in life revolves around us, that we are the center of the universe.  Yet when we stop and start to ponder about the vastness of the stars, we begin to realize that we are truly very insignificant.  Who are we” among everyone who lives on this planet.  What do I have to contribute that is so important to the well being of life?  And why would you God even care about little old’ me?  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  These are the questions that Psalm 8 is allowing us to answer.  These are the eternal questions that have plagued humanity from the beginning of consciousness.

        Western civilization has moved more and more into the mindset of facts and empirical evidence.  We need to find the answers to our problems.  We need to know how the earth was formed, we need to know how the universe operates, we need to know why 7 children had to die because of a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

Quoting Rev James McTyre, Pastor of Lake Hills Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee:  Our lives are driven by the quest to find solutions.  There are always answers we have not considered and questions we have forgotten to ask.  The life build around answers is a life propelled by anxiety.  Ether we live in disappointment when yesterday’s answers are rendered obsolete, or we live on guard, protecting today’s answers from tomorrow’s destruction.  The psalmist calls us to live not by anxiety but by wonder.”  Pg 36, Feasting on the Word, yr C, Vol. 3 

        What if we were to replace the need for answers with the ability and appreciation of living with questions as the driving force in our life?  When I think about Mountain View, I think we are busy wanting “answers” and not allowing ourselves to live with the questions.  I see us struggling with “how do we fix this or maintain that, instead of living in “Awe” with what come before us.  It is about perceptions. 

We have been approached twice in the past 12 months, once by a congregation asking us if we would consider becoming partners with them in ministry, “Well what do you mean?  How would that look?  We need solid examples before we can really wrap our heads around this request.”

  The other was from a congregation asking to purchase our building.  In the discussions that pursued, I saw the “how will this work” type of thinking.  I observed these two requests being processed as challenges at best, and at a deeper level as threats to our way of life.  For me, I see these requests as God speaking to us about moving forward; I see these as opportunities, of living in Awe, of recognizing that God is interested in what we can become.  A case in perceptions!  I’m not saying that either of these two examples would be right for us, but what I am saying is, I believe God is speaking to us and we are not able to even entertain this thought because we are not yet able to “think outside of the box”.  What if wonder became more important than solutions?  What if instead of being satisfied with the way things are now, we let go and allow ourselves to be filled with awe?

In a video that I watched this week of a story of 16 year old Zack Sabiech who discovered he had only six months to live because of a terminal cancer, his mother said of her family:  Living with cancer stops the denial and opens the world to live in!”  We live in denial of life, but once we learn that life is limited, then we seem to actually recognize the “aweness” of life and start to truly live life the way God intends for us to live.  Life is a lot like looking at those changing shapes in the clouds.  It’s all about perception.  Again I ask you this morning, “What fills you with awe?”    Amen

Sunday, May 12, 2013

You Are the Living Water, for Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 5-12-2013 based on Rev 22

You Are the Living Water

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, CO 5/12/2013

Based on Acts 16:16-34 and Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21


        Water, what an amazing thing it is.  We drink it, bath in it, swim and recreate with it, we need it to grow our plants.  It comes in so many differing forms: it flows as rivers and streams, we pump it from the ground, it collects as ponds, lakes, seas and oceans, and we see it as white caps on mountains tops, and as glaciers at either of the earth’s poles.  It comes to us in the forms of rain, snow, sleet, or hail, all of which we experienced with the storms this past week.  It is a basic part of our need in order to exist.  Water is also permanent.  Whatever amount of water was present at earth’s began still exists today, and will continue to exist in the same quantity as long as we maintain our atmosphere, which is held in by the thin layer of ozone.

        Water is so necessary for the existence of life that scripture is filled with metaphors of water as the key to life, beginning with Genesis where the earth was watered by the dew and springs to the closing chapter of the book of Revelations saying:  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  Jesus often compared the gift of life with that of drinking water, with the last example being found in this morning’s scripture text where Jesus was speaking to the author of Revelations saying, “Let everyone who is thirsty come.  Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.

        This summer Paul and I are starting to shape our back yard into the sanctuary that every back yard should provide.  At present the back yard at our house is an open canvass, ready for, no begging for an artist to apply their gifts of order, texture, and color.  I have suggested to Paul that he needs to spend more time at Home Depot in order to increase the possibility of bumping into the guy on T.V. who does extreme makeovers of deserving yards – and if there is ever a yard that is deserving and in need of a makeover, it is at our house. 

This summer we are in phase 1 water rationing, so rain fall is going to be more important this summer than normal.  In fact as we move into the future with climate change, we are being told by scientists that we can expect less rain fall in our area.  A report was issued not long ago, saying that the Colorado River in less than twenty-five years will not be able to supply the current 40 million people who rely on its flow of water. 

One of the problems that as a gardener Paul and I face is choosing plants that will correspond with the amount of water available.  Paul is more easily adaptable to this process as he has spent a number of years reading up on drought tolerant gardens, where I am less able to adapt; having spent twenty-five years in the Pacific Northwest, I have become accustom to not only abundant rain fall but to a variety of plant life that just doesn’t grow in our region.

So if the earth still has the same amount of water today as it had as the earth was formed, how can we be in a phase one water rationing?  The fact is, the climate is changing and with that change the weather patterns that we have been accustom to also is changing.  The same amount of water is still falling, only in differing locations.  

The church in the United States has also been operating at a phase one shortage mentality since the 1970’s.  With fewer and fewer people attending worship the American church has been operating from an attitude of scarcity.  Over the history of Mountain View, we have seen a slow decline in our own membership and attendance in worship over the past couple of decades.  How are we viewing our congregational life?  Is it through the lens of scarcity, of a phase one rationing because we believe that we are not receiving the life giving waters that God promises for us?

Yesterday, about twelve folks attended a workshop titled “Walking toward Tomorrow”.  We started off the workshop with a video that spoke about possibilities which can only be seen once we believe that there are possibilities.  Once we believe, then we can start to see the abundance that is within our midst.  The question is, is the church in decline because it isn’t being sufficiently watered or is it because the church has lost its belief in possibilities?

 The relationship between me and my garden is very much a living metaphor to the churches relationship and its environment.  The church has become accustom to particular habits, activities, and ways of looking at itself and the world around it.  We think that the world around us should bend to the way we experience God, instead of the reality that we need to be pliable enough to adjust to the changing world around us.  It is similar to those Aurora home owners who plant bluegrass in their yards which naturally grow in areas abundant in water, instead of planting grasses that are accustom to growing in arid climates.  We pump water into Aurora from far off reservoirs forgetting that Aurora is actually built in a desert climate.

In Revelations Jesus says, “See, I am coming soon;” When Jesus gets here, what will he find?  Will he find that his message of abundance has been scorched by the heat of the sun and lack of life giving water?  I wonder if the church over time has miss understood what Jesus meant about his returning?  What if Jesus has already returned?  What if Jesus wasn’t speaking about his personal physical return after his crucifixion, but rather was speaking about his return coming through the church?  How would that possibility change how we view ourselves?  As followers of Jesus’ message, would not we be that life giving water to a parched world?

In the story of the Garden of Eden, we learn of two trees that are at the heart of the garden, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life.  Adam and Eve were given permission to eat anything in the garden except from the tree of knowledge.  Once they did, they were expelled from the garden before they were able to eat from the tree of life.  Living in the Garden of Eden is the example of abundance and living life outside of the garden speaks to life as scarcity.  As we read in the last chapter of the last book of the bible, we read, “blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.  Once again we see the roll of water as providing a new possibility with the washing of the robes and now those who have washed their robes will have the right to the tree of life and are able to enter through the front door into the city, that place where God lives or I would compare it to the understanding of the Garden of Eden that place of abundance      `.  I think this is how Jesus’ relationship was with God, he was able to see the possibilities that come through God because Jesus drank the water God provides.

We at Mountain View have the opportunity to “Believe” that God has given us the living waters, which allows us to see the possibilities that are in our midst, that tree of life, so that we grow into the river that provides the living water to all who are wanting to drink from it.  As we walk toward tomorrow, I challenge you to think of yourselves as being the living Jesus that so many are waiting for and to be the living water that brings the abundance in life into fruition.  Amen