New Direction

November 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most life-giving decisions I’ve made have been on the spur of the moment. When I started baking bread for sale while I was in Seminary, it took me all of an afternoon to make the decision, create some brochures, and start taking orders. It turned out well, and it was something I looked forward to every week.

The same thinking applies to ‘blogging’. Patnaff has been an eclectic assortment of thoughts, poetry, prose, and the occasional sermon. I’ve really had fun interacting with you all through this medium, and more recently I’ve been wanting to do something more focused on “the blogosphere”.

So, I’ll probably continue posting the occasional rumination or random thing here at patnaff; but I’m also beginning a new venture called “The Mennonite Muse”. I invite you to check it out and let me know what you think. I’m hoping for it to be a space for preachers and seekers (because I believe the best preachers are seekers themselves) to encounter something fresh in the biblical text. I also seek feedback for the thoughts, poetry, and assorted other ‘musings’ I end up posting there.

Again, thanks for your support and friendship, and I look forward to interacting more at http://www.mennonitemuse.wordpress.com. See you there!

Patrick

Well Wishers and the Race of Life

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m going to be running 13.1 miles on Saturday, November 24.

That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, yet it’s true.

I’ve spent since August preparing my body to run what’s known as a half-marathon; the first ever in my neck of the woods. I’ve probably never been more ‘fit’ or ‘athletic’ than I am right now (and those of you who know me know that’s not saying much).

This will be the longest run I have ever completed, and I have to say, I’m pretty excited to run it. Training for the past number of weeks has been a kind of sacred ritual for me; spending Saturday mornings with a few other guys on a ‘long run’ has been a welcome respite from the work week…even though here lately it’s hard to sacrifice the time it takes to cover 10, 11, and 12 mile runs on a precious day off.

You can imagine, going out for a long run like that, gives you plenty of time to think.

Actually, it gives you an agonizingly long time to think (especially when your running partners are sick or injured so there’s no chance at conversation or joke-making).

The nuggets I’ve found most interesting lately, as my training runs have grown into double digits in terms of miles, have to do with things like how running, and training for a race relates to our faith in ways you just don’t understand until you’ve run 9 consecutive miles.

For me, that’s when my body starts to deteriorate to the point of needing water to replenish the fluid lost through sweat.

Starting at about 9 miles, I’d get home after my long run and I’d be completely destroyed for the rest of the day.
I’d sit at the table and I would barely be able to hold a utensil to eat some food. I’d be quivery, weak, and I’d drink water until I was sick. Then I’d lay around a good bit of the rest of the day, recovering my strength. I figured it was just my body “getting in shape”.

But this week (mile 12)…I discovered the enormous benefit of hydrating as you go. I took a water bottle with me for the first time ever. I’d stop for a few seconds every 20 or 30 minutes, and I’d schlepp a gulp or two.

I couldn’t believe the difference it made.

I got home and I was still tired from the effort of running 12 miles…but I felt good tired (not destroyed like I was in previous weeks). I recovered faster and I felt better throughout the run. Also, my hands didn’t swell up like volleyballs like they had in previous weeks.

In short, it was so much more enjoyable that I’m wondering why it took me this long to think of it.

This all has me understanding Paul a little bit differently, when he talks about running in a way to get the prize, or finishing the race, or beating your body. It’s easy to be satisfied with an interpretation that just says Paul means run without being hindered…run as fast as you can…run with your eyes on the goal…and all that is somewhat true.

But when you run distance, your whole mindset changes. The race IS knowing my body. It’s being prepared to go the distance…taking your water with you, knowing when you need to stop and take a drink. Distance running isn’t about getting somewhere fast…it’s about getting there period. The most important part of running 13.1 miles for me isn’t how quickly I can do it…it’s knowing I can do it, and when the race is over, knowing I’ve done it. It takes hard work and determination to finish the race.

It takes learning some unpleasant lessons, just to get to the starting line with a body that’s healthy enough to compete.

See, each runner has their own race. Some mean to place in first, second, or third place. Others (like me) just want to not walk. Maybe still others just want to cross the finish line no matter what it takes.

Can we understand Paul a little more broadly? Can we see that running in such a way as to get the prize looks different from one individual to the next?

We all might be running the same course…but there are as many races as there are people running.

And our job is to run our race. What’s yours?

Jagged Little Something

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Life is like a rainbow.

Or is it more like the thundercloud?
Dark and ominous
and Threatening
to my soul

We’re birthed in pain
And in Pain we must return
the jagged little pieces
to their Master.

For we are more than the sum of our parts.
Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

And I believe it.
At least that’s what I say.

Life is like a rainbow
or is it more like
shrapnel in this war
we fight
not knowing what against?

Absorption.
Conscription.
Confusion.
Deception.
Even in this election-time.

But then One
Like a Son of God
-or was it Son of Man?-
Soldiered on, but differently.

His life, like shrapnel,
tearing through the Human Heart.

Altering forever
this beast and burden of selfish regret.

After all, they say,
Love conquers all.

But do they know what they’re saying?

Love conquers all.
But it has to start
somewhere.

Can it be
within me?

As For You

November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sermon thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:14-17

We’re two days away from a presidential election that many people are saying is the single most pivotal event in American history…possibly even in global history.

We’ve been told, time and time again, that our very way of life hangs in the balance as this particular election draws near.

The rhetoric doesn’t just suggest that this race is bigger than politics.
It screams that you and I are on the hook.
That we are responsible for the health and well-being of our nation.
And it goes on to scream
-even more loudly-
that choosing sides is the only option we have to control the outcome.
One Guy is Good
And the other is Bad.
Not just Bad…
But rather, Evil.

And so, the campaigns scream and yell and holler and thump their chests.
They tend not to tell us how good their guy is.
They rather tend to tell us how evil the other guy is.
And we might almost start to believe them.

We might almost start to believe
that we’re on the hook for the health and the well-being of this nation.
We might start to believe
that the measure of a church is how willing the leadership is to choose a side.

We might want to be told which choice is good, and Christian, and Proper.
And which choice is bad, or evil, or Pagan.

And if you’ve been coming here on Sundays,
and if you’ve been looking for those kinds of statements from this church,
then hopefully you’ve noticed that we haven’t endorsed anyone.
We haven’t passed out voting guides.
We haven’t talked about “Taking Back America”.
We haven’t posted anybody’s political agenda on the bulletin boards.

Indeed, the most we’ve done is plan a communion service.
Along with close to 800 other churches
in all 50 States
representing more than 25 denominations.

Not because we’re interested in baptizing the political process
or the outcome of this election.

But rather, because we in the church are more than a vote.

We are the body of Christ.

And this election is literally making the body turn against itself.
It’s literally making us sick.

Do you want to hear from the pulpit, which side is Pagan, and which side is Christian?
I’ll tell you.

The State is Pagan.

The church is Christian.

The only Christian nation in the world…is the church.
It’s been like that since the time of Jesus.

And if you want to know what the Christian response should be to the Pagan government
-even when the Pagan government wants your vote-
Then you should look to the cross.

Or you could look to the Roman Jail
Where Paul was writing this letter,
Saying “All Scripture points back to Christ.”
Proclaim the message
Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable
Convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

The Christian way is the way of suffering for your enemies,
and loving them even as they drive the nails through your hands.
Even as they imprison you.

I’m not saying don’t vote.

I’m saying don’t –ever- call it “the” Christian vote.

Rome will always be Rome. Don’t expect otherwise.
But as for you…
Continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you have learned it.

Are You the Pastor?

November 3, 2012 § 4 Comments

In my last post, I talked about a man who walked into the church office with a packet of agenda tucked under his arm.

It’s not a common occurrence, but it does happen often enough that I’ve come to expect these visits, especially when there’s an election underfoot.

I talked about how he came in the office, looked me in the eye and said “Are you the Pastor?”.

I talked about how I’ve come to hate that question, but I didn’t really say why.

I’ve seen other blogs that do an occasional ‘top ten’ list or something similar. So here’s my own “Top Five Reasons I’ve Come To Hate The Question” (or at least how I’d like to answer it).

“Are you the Pastor?”

5. “Nope, our congregation just takes turns sitting here in the church office because it’s so relaxing.”

4. “Did the sign on the door give it away?”

3. “Yes I am, but so is she (point to Christine, who also pastors with me).

2. “Why’s it matter?”

1. “I have a feeling if you would have seen Christine first, your question would have been “Is the Pastor in?”…am I right?”

I know they’re snarky come-backs, and I know people don’t mean anything by asking the question.

But there is something I genuinely don’t like about being ‘set apart’ in the way many people want to set me apart as a pastor.

Usually, when someone asks that question, it’s attached to a whole way of ‘being Christian’ that doesn’t fit me, or Christine, or (thankfully sometimes, not so thankfully other times) our Church.

From telemarketers to emails we receive, to the people who come with agenda tucked under their arm…”Are you the Pastor” is a way of making sure they’ve got the right power broker.

Because there’s a way of doing church where the Pastor is like the CEO…where what the Pastor says, goes. Period.

And there’s all kinds of history wrapped up in that way of doing church. There’s all kinds of history connected to race, gender, economic status, and even marriage related to this title of “Pastor” in many Christian circles.

I will try to respect that, but I’ll try just as hard to respectfully disagree with much of it.

Because I don’t fit there.

That’s why I am where I am.

That’s why WE are where WE are…a husband and a wife who share this calling and this job, who are pretty sure neither one of us would want to do it without the other.

That’s why I hate the question…because I know there are assumptions behind it that make it hard to answer Truthfully.
I know that had you seen my wife, the other pastor who works here, those assumptions would work against her, against both of us.

Yes…I am A pastor here.

Now, Which one of us would you like to talk to about your agenda?

I Sent Him Packing

November 1, 2012 § 10 Comments

I don’t like who this election is pushing me to become.
I don’t like the phone calls I’ve been getting.  
I don’t like the mailings I’ve received.
I don’t like the unrequested DVDs I’ve received in the mail.
I don’t like the voter guides “they” wanted me to pass out in my congregation.
I don’t like the fear mongering or the name-calling.

But most of all,
What I like even less than all of that, 
is who it’s making me become.  

What I mean is, earlier today I sent a guy packing from our church office.

We have a door chime that lets us know when someone walks in the front door.  I heard his footsteps in the hall outside, and as I turned to see who it might be, my heart sunk and my stomach rose at the same time.  

Not that I knew him.  But sometimes you just know, intuitively, exactly what to expect.  

He walked in, asking if I was the pastor (a question I’ve come to hate for reasons I’ll leave for a different post).  He carried himself differently than the people who ask for help.  He was dressed professionally, it was the end of the workday, and his question to me combined to tell the story I didn’t want to be true.  

See, in churches, we don’t get too many salespeople.  Neither do we get Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormon missionaries.  

We tend to get Christians with agenda to push.  

I glanced down at the packet of material he had with him…and something inside of me finally snapped.  

I’m just so tired of being told how to steer this flock.  

I’m tired of being thought of as an extension of one party, just because of my position as pastor.  

I’m tired of feeling used.

I’m tired of the hype.

I’m tired of the coercion.  

I’m tired of the same old conversation that pretends like the current election is the most pivotal moment in global history since…since…the last one, I guess.

I’m tired of the demonizing and the billions spent on self-promotion while so many go without so much in our world.  

So I snapped.

And to clarify, me snapping…is like most people speaking their mind.

I gave him the chance to tell me who he was and who he was with, and then I basically sent him packing.  

He asked me if I had received the voter guides his organization had sent to us.

I told him yes, we had.

And then I went on to tell him that we recycled them, that we weren’t passing any political literature out in church, and that we’re not taking a partisan side in the current election cycle.  

He handed me his packet and then he left.  

I don’t think he even said goodbye.  

And now I’m all worked up.  

I’m sure I spoke nicely.  I’m sure I wasn’t as rude as I remember myself being.  

But still, that’s not me.  

There’s no reason I shouldn’t have invited him to have a cup of coffee with me.  After all, that’s one reason we have a pot ‘on’ most of the time.  “Tell me what this is all about,” I should have said over a steaming mug while I put him at ease in our church library.  

Then maybe…just maybe…we could have had a conversation about politics, faith, and the intersection of the two.  

Just maybe both of us could have had our minds opened to ways of thinking we hadn’t considered before.

But instead I sent him packing.  

Instead of both our minds being opened and a conversation beginning…I’m pretty sure both of us are more entrenched in our ways of thinking now than we were before we met.

I saw him through my office window on his way out.  

He wasn’t smiling.  

See, entrenchment is pretty much the only thing elections are good for.  That’s exactly why we all get so much negative crap from so many sources.  

Because if and when a campaign can strike a chord within you…when they can push your buttons enough that you eventually snap…that’s exactly when you’ve played right into their hands.

Just like I did.  

Because when you get to a certain point, you begin to react instead of respond.  

And reactions are what get people elected.  

Can you imagine how the election cycle would look differently if thoughtful, measured, and careful response was a prerequisite for voting?  

Can you imagine how differently campaigning would be done if the candidates appealed to reason rather than reaction?  

Let me put it another way.

After this interaction, I heard somebody come inside the church again.  All kinds of people come and go from our building all week long.  It’s seldom a reason for fear.  

But after my interaction with this guy, the thought crossed my mind “uh-oh…what if he came back with a gun, or a bat, or just wanted to teach me a lesson?”  
(thankfully it was just the chair of our church council)…but such are the times we live in.  

Invoking that kind of fear is what elections are good for.  They turn members of the same Body against each other.  

They focus on reaction, not response.  

So as we inch closer to November 6…may we all remember that our identity, our hope, and our salvation are found only in Jesus, whose response to the political chest-thumping of his own day can be found in the cross he bore…for me, for you, for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and even their outspoken supporters and opponents.  

God save us.  Every one.

 

Ode to Sandy

October 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

I remember when
broken hearts were enough
to carry us through
these super-storms
life throws our way

back when it was enough
to simply weep
with God

Who in the beginning
wept.

His broken heart
enough
to carry us
and Him
through these storms

still walkin’
through churning nights
and sleepless days

But there’s more to it now
right?

Broken hearts
are no longer
adequate.

So we bind up
too soon
the hearts that break
and in so doing
bind the hands
that feed us
in the name of our religion

And God wept
and weeps
with us
not against.

On Facebook

October 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

(I recently came across this post I wrote a couple of years ago.  I’ve been thinking about similar themes again lately, so it seemed fitting to re-post it!  Enjoy or skip…it’s your call!)
 
I put the question to my own personal ‘Facebook Nation’ some days ago as to whether or not I should “ditch” my facebook account.  I gave no reasons as to why I was considering such an action.  I simply posed the question and said I was open to hearing reasons ‘for’ and ‘against’ for a specified amount of time.
 
Since I gave no reason, I was fairly surprised that many of my “friends” (at least many of those who responded to my initial post) jumped to the conclusion that I was spending too much time on facebook, and therefore needed to re-prioritize my life.  I suppose it was assumed that I was somehow wasting countless hours poring over every minute detail of my news feed.
 
The other assumption people quickly made (an assumption I won’t address here) was that I must be somehow dissatisfied with my facebook experience.  Otherwise why would I consider leaving?
 
Both assumptions bear further inspection, but not in this post.  (OK…one quick thought about satisfaction–I fear it illustrates how we’ve devolved from a society that questions participation just for the sake of participation into a society where participation is not only accepted, but actually expected for no other reason that ‘everybody’s doing it’!  Maybe that’s fodder for another post).
The truth of the matter is, my momentary stint of facebook rebellion has less to do with time or satisfaction than it has to do with…(drumroll please)…(wait for it…wait for it…) meaning.
 
We often talk about searching for meaning, or finding meaning.
 
I’m beginning to realize, though, that honestly my search for meaning died a tragic death on a busy street in Peru about 13 years ago.  I was rushing to catch a bus and almost tripped over the most destitute homeless woman I had ever seen.  The street was crowded and I didn’t even see her until I almost tripped over her.
 
My search for meaning did trip over that woman.  It broke its neck and died.
 
I mourned the loss of my search for awhile–but then I started to learn that sometimes meaning can be found–but more often meaning is built, or created from whatever resources we have available.
 
So began my quest–my quest to create meaning.
 
I never would have named it like that–not until just writing those words just now–but I think that’s right.
 
So I went to camp for a summer.  Then I went to college.  Then I worked for awhile and married someone.  And all along the way, in each new chapter I was blessed with friends, family, strangers and work.  Each helped me create meaning from whatever building blocks we had.
 
Life is much more real this way.  It’s much more satisfying to see meaning take shape both because of and in spite of my best efforts, rather than simply ‘seeking’ or ‘finding’ this elusive beast.
 
So I’m in this season of life, where my eyes have been opened to the acres of meaning hiding behind every set of eyes, in every voice, on every hill.
 
Now and then that meaning trickles through the internet, but far too seldom can I really find it on facebook.
 
So that’s in a nutshell my reasoning for raising the question.
 
See, it’s like we’re in this world together, weaving a tapestry of meaning with our lives.  Our actions, our words, our thoughts…our pain, our joy, our celebrations and our mourning–all of it weaves together into this fabric of meaning.
 
But facebook is kind of like a cat.  It sees this grand tapestry, it even participates in the weaving to an extent.  But rather than letting it be, it plays with the fringes.  Anything on this fabric that moves is fair game.  It bats at meaning with its too-eager paws and picks at the loose threads until they come unraveled from the fabric around them.
 
Left to itself, this cat will shred the artwork until there’s nothing left but a pile of rags.
 
And I find myself, instead of weaving or building or otherwise creating–I find myself watching this stupid cat that for some reason I’m fond of–often cursing it for doing what it was intended to do.
 
So from time to time I think it’s good to question, to re-examine my participation in this thing called ‘facebook’.
 
Time is not the issue.
 
Satisfaction is not the issue.
 
Meaning and the fragmentation of the whole–that’s the issue and that’s what’s at stake.

On Boredom

September 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

A local branch of our area’s mega-church has moved into town. They’ve been here for a year or two already, but they’ve just recently completed construction on their new facility.

Anyways, they’ve erected a billboard proclaiming “God isn’t boring, church shouldn’t be either”.

While I can appreciate the sentiment behind the proclamation, I can’t drive past the billboard without wanting to cringe.

Don’t hear me wrong.  I don’t want people to be bored in church.  But neither do I want people being formed to think in terms that make their boredom (or lack thereof) a significant issue.

My grandma used to say that if you’re bored, it’s your fault.  You can always find plenty of ways to occupy yourself…there is no shortage of work to be done, or prayers to be said…so stop expecting to be entertained every minute of your life.

I can’t count the number of times I would sit in church as a child, counting words, then letters, in our church bulletin.  Sometimes I would lay down in our pew and count the tiles in the ceiling.  I also tried to find images in a water-stain on that same ceiling.  If I was too fidgety or disruptive, my parents would put me in my place.  So I learned how to occupy myself in non-disruptive ways, how to count down the minutes until Sunday School.

In other words, I remember Sundays when I was bored out of my mind.

It’s only in looking back that I can see where boredom taught me how to sit still, how to be quiet, how to wait.  Boredom taught me that there was something mysterious going on in church that was bigger than me, and that I needed to respect that mystery.

If not for myself, then for the other people in the room.

Fast forward twenty years, and this billboard, in my mind, symbolizes everything that’s wrong with contemporary expressions of faith.  “Mainstream” churches, and far too many individual Christians are buying in (or is it selling out) to the cultural notion that with enough technology, enough money, enough ways to fill our time…we never have to be bored.

And we can even call our tech-infused, Sunday morning playtime “Mission”.

We’ve successfully moved our individual and subjective experience to the center of Christian faith.  Where once mature Christians emphasized the importance of solitude, silence, and simplicity, we have instead embraced crowded space, ambient noise, and the technology to keep us connected to our artificial, superficial, and less-than-real communities of ‘friends’, all the time.

Heaven forbid the first disciples were ever bored.

After all, what might that say about the view of God their rabbi taught?

I take issue with the phrase “God isn’t boring, church shouldn’t be, either”.  Not because I think God or church should be boring…but rather because it’s akin to saying “Dads aren’t boring, families shouldn’t be, either”… or “Women aren’t boring, marriage shouldn’t be, either”.

It just doesn’t make any sense.  Yet I have a suspicion this message appeals most to the very people who need it the least.

Most of us could stand to slow down.  We could stand to unplug, get away from the screen, go for a walk, get some exercise, or just sit for a time with nothing going on.

It would do us some good to remember the Christ who confronted his demons alone, in the wilderness, the Christ who withdrew to solitary places, the Christ who walked and the disciples who followed, step after weary step, mile after dusty mile.

It would do us some good to remember the Christian way that has existed (indeed, even thrived) for thousands of years without all of the distractions that defend us against boredom, against our very selves.

I guess I think it’s OK for church to be boring…much in the same way it’s OK for church to be exciting, because boredom is a state of mind we bring to the task at hand.

In other words, if you’re bored, look further inward.  Why are you not standing in awe of the Almighty God?

Why are you not humbled before the throne, giving your worship in spite of whatever is happening “up front”?

Why are you not, instead of critiquing the ‘performance’, spending your mental energy examining the dark recesses of your own spirit?

If you’re pinning your experience of church on the worship leader, or the band, or the preacher and how well they perform, you’re heart is in the wrong place.

It’s not about boredom or excitement.

It’s about God.

Enduring Change

August 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have you ever wondered why there aren’t more Vegetarians?

There’s plenty of science that’s proven that we’re healthiest when we’re active, and when we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, right?

Ever since I can remember, teachers have been telling me that I should eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and get plenty of exercise if I want to be healthy.

We’ve even just heard a good, biblical basis for eating only vegetables and water.

So why aren’t there more Vegetarians?

It’s better for you, you’ll lose weight, and according to Daniel, you’ll be healthier, better looking, and more fit!  Who wouldn’t want these benefits?

Me, apparently!

When I go to the doctor, one of the things he usually says is that I should probably lose some weight.

It’s not that we don’t know what we need to know about things like diet and exercise to be healthier people.

It’s that change is hard.

We like meat, and most of us are comfortable eating the kind of food we’ve always eaten.

Most of us won’t change something as basic as ‘how we eat’ until we’re forced to.

So there are two types of change I’d like to talk about this morning, and both are summed up in my sermon title “Enduring Change”.

…(I love words that end in “ing”, because for the most part, they can be used as either verbs or adjectives.  And this time I meant both when I chose my sermon title.)

The first kind of change I wanted to talk about is the kind of change you endure.

It’s the kind of change you ‘grin and bear’…you’d rather not go through with something, but it’s really not up to you, so you endure it.  And often it will lead to the second kind, which is “enduring change” as in the kind of change that lasts…that endures.

And Daniel is a really good place to start with this, because it’s a book about exile.

And if anything symbolizes change that is both endured and enduring…it’s exile.

…The first two verses of this chapter set the scene…only they don’t give a whole lot of detail.

Basically, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon beseiged Jerusalem.
This was back in the day when cities had walls around them for protection.

Jerusalem had this wall that went around the city, and there would have been gates here and there so people could come and go during peaceful times, and they could be closed during an attack to protect the inhabitants.

So what happened during a seige, was that an army like Babylon could come against a city, and they would attack the city, and then they would just camp out all around the city, and wait.
There was more to it than that…obviously…but when a city was under seige, you were a lot better off being outside the wall than inside.

You were a lot better off laying seige…rather than being seiged.
Because while you were inside the city walls, food would eventually start to run out, disease might start to spread, and there was literally nowhere to run.

The wall that had been meant to protect you, it could be used against you just as easily.

Meanwhile, the army that was beseiging your city; they were healthy and strong.  They could hunt for food, they could train, and they could rest.

They could build seigeworks…there are stories about these earthen ramps being built outside a city…instead of breaking down a wall, they would just mound dirt up to the top of the wall until they could walk right over it.  A seige could last for months or even years.

When the Bible talks about being surrounded by your enemies…it was a very literal thing; a very scary thing.

And what Nebuchadnezzar did after the seige, was carry off the population.

Not all of them, but definitely the best and the brightest, he carried off to Babylon in a couple of waves.

Daniel was among these captive people who had witnessed their wall being used against them.

He was forced to accept this change of events, and he was carried off to Babylon.

Jerusalem; the city that defined these people…was laid waste.
The religion that sustained them; that had given them hope to lean on throughout so much of their history…it had vanished when it seemed they needed it most.

Nebuchadnezzar defiled not only their land; but also their religion.

He took the temple vessels…the instruments that guided their very worship…and put them in his palace, in the treasury devoted to his gods.

Other gods.

More powerful gods.

Surely if there was a God to be mocked, it was the God of Israel…the God of Daniel.

For he couldn’t turn away the seige.

He did not provide for his people.

He did not protect them.

Babylon was stronger than this cult and its God.

Can you start to see what an unwelcome change this marked in the life of Israel?

Land and Religion…in most of the world today, just like in ancient times, those two things are all that really matter in life.
The land sustains the body.  The religion sustains the rest.
Land and Religion are the two most important things any community could ever possess.

Identity, livelihood, protection, motivation…culture, art, you name it.

Chances are, land and religion have influenced it.

And in one fell swoop, the people…Israel…had lost it all.

They were no longer in the promised land.  They no longer had a temple.

All they had was their memories and their songs.

So it comes as no surprise to hear the Psalmist say “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

So…that covers the first two verses!

But I haven’t gotten to the good stuff yet!  

See, we’ve all got these walls that we build.  We can call them ‘boundaries’ if that makes it feel better.

We’ve all got clearly defined edges…who’s in and who’s out.  How we know friend and foe.

We have walls as individuals and we have them as a community of faith, too.

And these walls, or boundaries…they’re not bad!

If there’s one thing they teach you when you study social work like I did…it’s that you need clear boundaries when you’re working with people.  It’s a lesson that’s been helpful for pastoring, too.

Being clear about who gets into your life and who doesn’t is a good thing.  Being clear about our boundaries as a church; what’s acceptable behavior, what’s expected from people, and all that kind of stuff…these are boundaries that we set.

Some of them are formal, some aren’t…but every group of people has boundaries, and every individual has boundaries as well.

They’re like lines that define who you are, and who you are not.
But as good and useful as walls are…they can also trap us, both as individuals and as a community.

See, when we care more about maintaining our walls than we do about the God who led us out of captivity in the first place…when we care more about a last name than a first name when we greet someone new…when our sense of comfort and convenience and security outweigh our sense of God’s will in a given situation…these are signs that maintaining our wall has become too important.

When that happens, it has to come down.

And often, the only way a wall like that comes down is when it’s attacked.

You or I…we’re never going to dismantle the walls we’ve spent our whole lives building and maintaining.

We have too much invested.

So…if they need to come down, they need to be attacked.

Daniel was one of many who were carried off to Babylon in one of the darkest moments in Israel’s history.  They lost everything that was important to them.

But the amazing thing is, that God was in Babylon.  He is not tied to the land like we are.

I think that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians, saying “From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  For God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us!

For wherever we are; we are ambassadors of Christ!  God is making his appeal through us…even in Babylon…even to us THROUGH Babylon!

Sometimes it takes the stranger, the alien…the enemy…in order for us to encounter our own monstrosity.  We wish exile upon no-one…but at the same time, we know we are in it.

For this is not our home.

Seek the peace of this city…this world…for we are citizens of the New Jerusalem; the Heavenly city of God, we are ambassadors for change in this foreign land, and we have the message of the Love of God, expressed through Christ, and these fragile jars of clay in which to carry it.

May you receive this benediction as I close;

May your walls come down…as peaceably as possible.

May the Loving, Merciful, and Compassionate God emerge victorious as He lays seige to the defenses you have erected.

And may you surrender to the enduring change that comes
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Amen.  

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