Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Adults behaving Badly

Things change, Churches grow, communities shift as people come and grow. Now and then something dies. We don’t like it. We appropriately mourn and we move on. So why should it be a surprise when a little church choir that has slowly been diminishing is discontinued.

The church has to grow and adapt this includes music. We have decided to allow the choir concept to rest awhile as the membership along with the standards have lessened over the past few years. We have initiated a praise band that everyone seems to enjoy.

Yet be deleting an outdated “Music department” Suddenly people are in an uproar. Well 3 to 6 people at the most. Yet these people they have the right to pull other people outside and discuss and push their point of view. They feel they should disrupt service in order to discuss what they don’t like.
What they don’t like. . .

Change and growth, Beware in some small communities these can be fighting words. People are threatened by change. I actually heard a congregant say out loud I do not want this church to grow I like it just the way it is.

Imagine if Jesus felt that way. Imagine if the spirit felt that way. Our hearts would not be open to welcoming new and loving people into our midst. There would only be one church and only twelve members. The music would still be Hebrew chants.
Okay yes we can grieve and mourn the loss of a beloved choir. We can even be saddened that we no longer have a paying position for the person who directed the choir. But to choose to disrupt service and then when asked to be quiet because someone was praying telling that person to “Shut up!” Where is the Christianity in that?

The rumor mills and the gossip will persist. The concept that one person knows better than another of what is good for our church will persist. Heck even believing that I should be removed will persist. However, disrespecting others during Sunday service or behaving as gossipy back biting mean people in front of visitors that will not be allowed to persist.

There are ways and appropriate means to address what is disliked or perceived to be unfair. Office doors are open every day. People are willing to discuss and even just listen to each other’s sadness and pain. Then it is time to work together in order to make the changes that are happening come together smoothly. We need to open our hearts to the joy and the love that is the Christ with in each of us so that we can grow stronger as a community of faith.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dangerous Dreamers

Today’s reading from Genesis is of Joseph and his dreams. It is hard for me to actually state it that way for one of my favorite cantatas slash musicals is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor dream coat”. Even before that cantata was written this was still my absolute favorite biblical story growing up.
I remember as a child going to the doctor’s office. It didn’t matter if it was the podiatrist, the family doctor or the dentist they all had Childrens books of Bible stories. I would eagerly page through the stories till I arrived at the story of Jacob and His sons. I mean for one it is a story about a dreamer. As a kid I was a big time dreamer. I could day dream into new worlds imagine myself off on distant shores of strange and foreign lands and I was always the hero.
My family actually could not pick on me for being a dreamer because I was armed with the bible story, the story of Joseph and Jacob and Levi and Naphtali and Benjamin. Joseph was a dreamer and his dreams . . . well they got him places. Not always great places but they got him places. I had Biblical Justification to be a dreamer.
The story of Jacob’s family would make a wonderful television miniseries. As we read the tale of the twelve sons of Jacob, we can see so many elements of the story that ring true to not only ancient times but our modern times as well. At the beginning of today’s text, we see clear signs of sibling rivalry and family dysfunction. We are told outright that Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob “loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves” (Genesis 37:3). Jacob demonstrates his favoritism, and it causes resentment among the brothers. Then, to make matters worse, Joseph is a tattletale. We are told that he was a helper to his brothers in their work and that he “brought a bad report of them to their father” (v. 2). All of these factors create animosity between the brothers, and “they hated [Joseph], and could not speak peaceably to him” (v. 4).
Yet I think the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused true division among the brothers was not simply the favoritism or the tattling, but Joseph’s dreams. Today’s text does not include verses 5-11, but these verses are crucial to understanding the rest of the story of Jacob’s children. Joseph dreams of sheaves bowing down to his sheaf, and the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. It is in the sharing of these dreams that “they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words” (37:8). Joseph’s dreams place him in a position of honor and authority, and neither his brothers nor his father respond well to this vision of the future. Yet, we know that these dreams are from God, and speak to the future of not only Joseph but also his family for generations to come.
When I think on this story I often wonder about the hatred that Joseph’s brothers felt for him. Things come to a head rather quickly in the story after Joseph goes to find his brothers as they shepherd the flocks. “They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him’ ” (37:18-20). The dreams that Joseph articulates most threaten the brothers. When they hear Joseph share the vision of the future that God has given to him, they respond in violence and hatred. History proves that it is sometimes the dreamers in our world that we find most threatening.
I think about Martin Luther King, Jr., articulating a dream of unity. We remember his sermon on the Washington Mall, where he spoke of a day when people would be judged by their character and not the color of their skin. This was a dream from God about a future of hope and inclusiveness.
The dreamer was a threat to the status quo, and, ultimately, those who resisted his words and his dream silenced him.
I think of Archbishop Oscar Romero, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in San Salvador. Archbishop Romero was a pioneer in liberation theology, and he worked with the poor and oppressed. He spoke with a strong, clear voice about the need for basic human rights to be observed. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture. As a result, Romero began to be noticed internationally. He lived his life among those who had the least in terms of material possessions. Romero was a dreamer, and he was assassinated as he presided over worship.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who, studied under Reinhold Niebuhr and met Frank Fisher, a black fellow seminarian who introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where Bonhoeffer taught Sunday school and formed a life-long love for African-American spirituals — a collection of which he took back to Germany. He heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. preach the Gospel of Social Justice and became sensitive not only to social injustices experienced by minorities but also the ineptitude of the church to bring about integration. Bonhoeffer began to see things "from below" — from the perspective of those who suffer oppression. He observed, "Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God...the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer fought against Nazism in World War II. He was a leader in the Confessing Church and became involved in the anti-Hitler resistance movement. He was arrested, charged, and found guilty of sedition in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was hanged for his resistance to Nazism, but he continues to speak to us through his writings, as he encourages the church to live out its prophetic calling within community. Bonhoeffer was a dreamer who bravely lived out what his conscience dictated, even when it meant going against the powerful structure of Nazism and public sentiment.
I think of Dorothy Day who established the Catholic Worker movement, a nonviolent, pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. She was also considered to be an anarchist, and did not hesitate to use the term.
The Catholic Worker attitude toward those who were welcomed wasn't always appreciated. These weren't the "deserving poor," it was sometimes objected, but drunkards and good-for-nothings. A visiting social worker asked Day how long the "clients" were permitted to stay. "We let them stay forever," Day answered with a fierce look in her eye. "They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ."
Some justified their objections with biblical quotations. Didn't Jesus say that the poor would be with us always? "Yes," Day once replied, "but we are not content that there should be so many of them.”
Another Catholic Worker stress was the civil rights movement. As usual Day wanted to visit people who were setting an example and therefore went to Koinonia, a Christian agricultural community in rural Georgia where blacks and whites lived peacefully together. The community was under attack when Day visited in 1957. One of the community houses had been hit by machine-gun fire and Ku Klux Klan members had burned crosses on community land. Day insisted on taking a turn at the sentry post. Noticing an approaching car had reduced its speed, she ducked just as a bullet struck the steering column in front of her face. This wouldn’t be the last bullet she dodged. Dorothy day was a dreamer and the Catholic worker movement continues to this day.
I think of Harvey Milk who, to quote time magazine, There was a time when it was impossible for people--straight or gay--even to imagine a Harvey Milk. The funny thing about Milk is that he didn't seem to care that he lived in such a time. After he defied the governing class of San Francisco in 1977 to become a member of its board of supervisors, many people--straight and gay--had to adjust to a new reality he embodied: that a gay person could live an honest life and succeed.”
The magazine goes on to say that “The few gays who had scratched their way into the city's establishment blanched when Milk announced his first run for supervisor in 1973, but Milk had a powerful idea: he would reach downward, not upward, for support. He convinced the growing gay masses of "Sodom by the Sea" that they could have a role in city leadership, and they turned out to form "human billboards" for him along major thoroughfares. In doing so, they outed themselves in a way once unthinkable. It was invigorating.” Harvey Milk was a dreamer, he dreamed of giving the gay community hope and living openly and honestly, for these beliefs he was assassinated.
These five individuals are just a few examples of those who have had dreams placed upon their hearts, and who showed great courage in living out their convictions. They had a dream of what a just world would look like, and they spoke the truth of God to all who would listen. Yes I include Harvey in that for anyone who speaks of freedom, Justice and equality for all is speaking Gods truth. Though these people spoke the truth, they were not always embraced and some paid the price with their lives. Dreamers like Joseph sometimes end up in the bottom of a dark, deep pit.
The interesting things about dreamers and their dreams, these stories seem to say to be a dreamer is dangerous, you can be beaten, left to die, shot at, assassinated and yet, and yet the dream manages to live. A dream that is good and true is like a spark in dry timber it ignites and grows till the light can be seen and carried by many.
Today I have here on the altar a Paperweight. I love paperweights and Glass. It is amazing what happens to individual grains of sand when they are heated up inspired by the fire they come together to make glass. Then the master glass blower shapes it and coxes the glass into a shape that takes on meaning and beauty.
I was actually at the factory when this was created. I was shown around and introduced to many of the master crafts people. This husband and wife team was working on their newest project and they just opened the doors to their cooling kiln. You have to let the heated glass cool slowly otherwise it may crack or break. They pulled out their newest creation and its name was “Joseph and the dream coat!” I tell you I was thrilled and amazed I wanted to get one there and then. Unfortunately the company keeps number one. I had to go home and wait to order mine and have it shipped. This is it number 60 out of 76. Sometimes it takes a while to see a dream come to fruition. Sometimes it is not even in one’s lifetime.
In Andrew Lloyd Webbers retelling of Joseph we see Joseph in his darkest hour, in his prison cell when all dreams should be shattered and yet he still keeps his dreams alive. “Close every door to me,
Keep those I love from me Children of Israel Are never alone For we know we shall find Our own peace of mind For we have been promised A land of our own” Even in despair the dreamer knows the dream is bigger than just one dreamer.
The church today continues to need those who are open to the movement of God in their lives, and who will dream divine dreams of what the world might become through the power and grace of God, and we must acknowledge, that to be a dreamer, is dangerous. Those around us are not always willing to hear words of challenge or confrontation. The community of faith is sometimes resistant to the very changes that are most needed. The world will not understand the way of Jesus Christ. Those around us may not embrace the ways of God.
Dreamers sound naive at best and crazy at worst. Dreamers proclaim that the meek are blessed. Dreamers proclaim that there should be equality among the races, the sexes and the genders. Dreamers demand that the outcasts be welcomed. Dreamers beat plowshares into pruning hooks. Dreamers believe all humanity should live as one and care for this earth. The world is in need of dreamers. Are we willing to risk our lives in proclaiming the truth? Are we willing to risk our lives to embrace the dreams of God? Are we willing to allow a dream of heaven on earth become a reality and allow the kindom of God to manifest here and now? Well we can dream can’t we! Amen!