Losing My Religion

losing my religion

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.  Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

My hope for today is that these words are meaningful to you, that I say what I want to say, and that I do not preach for 30 minutes.  The last one might take a minor miracle.  I am a believer of miracles.  I also love magic.  I love to have my beliefs challenged and truth suspended as my mind struggles to make sense of the world around me.  I do not however like clowns all that much.  I like the idea of circus but do not really like going to the circus.  I love modern interpretations of circus.  I am a lover of fairs.  Above all I am a sucker for pageantry and miracles.

Miracles are why I have sought the community of Christ for as long as I have.  Miracles have wet the appetite of my faith as I have traveled lush gardens, cloud-nestled mountaintops, and barren, dry valleys.  I have witnessed miracles that have healed individuals and have restored communities.

Is this not what miracles are for?  Restoration of community and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God?

Miracles and magic are not all that different.  It is all a matter of perspective.

I had an aunt that once talked with an angel.  She owned a beauty saloon in Southern California during the height of the 80’s AIDS epidemic.  Many of her stylists were gay and deeply impacted by this horrible disease.  She was a “good Christian woman” that loved her employees, friends and colleagues in spite of what the church told her at the time.

She worked tirelessly to help her employees as she could.  One day after an employee had succumbed to the horrible disease she took a walk.  She walked past a man on a bus bench.  He was disheveled and looked down on his luck.  She stopped and sat with him and inquired to how he was doing.

He never glanced up at her but shared his story.  Her heavy heart was moved.  She was overcome with joy and invited this man to lunch.  He accepted.  As she stood to depart to lunch she turned to share her joy with the man and he was gone.  She was convinced that this was one of God’s angels sent to her to help her grieving heart.  Kindness was her balm.  Joy was her delight.

I must have heard her tell this story hundreds of times.  Each time the details changed.  The story expanded or contracted.  The moral arch seemed to fit the audience it was shared in.

It is a matter of perspective.

In today’s text we receive a litany of ways in which we are to express faith.  Besides being hospitable to strangers we are called to remember those in prison, regardless if the prison is brick and mortar or flesh and blood.  We are called to bear the torture of their crimes ourselves.  We are bound in the proclamation that if one of us sins, then we all are guilty of that sin.

We are called to honor marriage and liberate our lives from the love of money.  In this we are called to contentment in the provision of God and called to bear justice upon those that seek to unbind the obligation of just provision for all of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creatures.  We are called to remember our leaders, praise God, and never to neglect to do good.

It is a matter of perspective.

If we knew the mundane intricacies of what goes in to a miracle would the gratitude of the answered prayer dim?  Growing up I wanted to be many things, a mathematician, a science teacher, a pastor, a lawyer, an artist, a parent, a partner, and loved.  The path I am on is full of answered and unanswered prayers, all of them miracles in their own way.

I used to be angry at God all the time.  God didn’t protect my heart from love.  God blesses others with what I want.  I would stew in my own hate, pity, and woe unable to see the goodness God kept trying to give me.  God and I have a stormy & rocky love affair.

I spent the better part of ten months working with a therapist to process my experience of God.  I was not your standard variety of angry.  I loathed God.  I loathed God’s people.  I felt abandoned.  I felt alone.  I was bitter.  I was poison to those I loved.  I was broken.  The spirit of depression covered me.  I donned the cloak of Job and cursed God for fashioning me in my mother’s womb.  I barley recognized love.  There was no place lower in this world than my heart.

It is a matter of perspective.

My therapist asked me in one session, “Is there anyway that you can still speak to God?”

I replied, “I cannot talk to God.  It hurts to even try.”

She persisted, “What can you do to express this hurt and anger?”

“I can draw.”

So, I drew.  When prayer could not be uttered nor grace be engaged, I drew.  And in drawing my pain, hurt, and anger God and I renewed a conversation.  There were tears and angry vitriol filled words.  I cussed God up one side of the mountain and back down the other, deep in to the valley of sheol.  My fear of disappointing God departed.  I discovered the goodness of God’s mercy.  I embraced the Spirit of reconciliation and set out towards the long road of recovery.

This is when I meet you.  I was asked to fill the pulpit, just once.  With encouragement from my wife I accepted.  I preached a sermon on Mark 1:4-45 called, “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.”

I offered you these words,

“How often have we cried out those words to God, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” If you choose, you can heal me. If you choose, you can…[fill in the blank.]  Begging the Lord late in to the night, Let this pass from me. Take this pain away. Stop this hurt. Your soul aches. Your heart can’t take anymore. Your spirit is weak and you have nothing left to give. You cry out to God for relief. You don’t really care if it is death or healing, something has got to give.

If you have know this kind of pain, this frustration, and this level of anguish then you have walked in the shoes of the leper. Outside of the city gates the leper sat begging for food. The leper begged for their humanity. They were ostracized, rejected, marginalized, and a shame to all that encountered them.

For the leper even talking to Jesus was an act of defiance. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, a holy man. The leper has heard about this man, Jesus. Jesus has left Capernaum, about 20 miles away, having healed a lot of people and teaching in the local synagogues. The leper sitting at the cities outer gates would have heard about all of these things that Jesus did.

The leper was the first person not possessed by a demon to reach out to Jesus directly. All of the other people healed by Jesus were brought to him. This leper came to Jesus and begged him for healing saying, “”If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Little did you know that I was preaching to myself and have continued to preach to myself, week after week preaching to myself, hoping and praying to God that in doing so that you are being fed.

It is a matter of perspective.

You are the answer to my prayers.  You are that miracle I have been waiting for.  Here in this place the Good News lives.  Here in this place the imitation of the faith of Jesus the Christ is abundant.  Here in this place hospitality is delivered to all.  There is no stranger here.  You have entertained angels and devils with the same compassion and love.  You embrace the sentence of the prisoner and celebrate the divine exoneration that adjudicates us all in to the Kingdom of God.  The love of money is safely behind your love of God.  Your contentment is not misguided rage but a passion that demands justice and dignity for all of God’s creation.  It has always been with you.

Here we are today, the end of this beautiful chapter and the beginning of another.  We are not the same as we were when we met.  Our passion and prayers forever linked.  Our perspectives have changed.  God will not forsake us or leave us.  The seeds we have sown will blossom and bloom.  Their fragrance will fill the air.  The world will breath it in and wonder aloud, “what a sweet scent from where does it arrive?”  And we shall proclaim, “It is the fruit of the lips that confess God’s name and offers itself as a sacrifice of praise to Jesus the Christ.”

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