Seeing Jesus

As we continue to walk through Lent 2012 in Crafton Heights, we are looking at what it means to follow Jesus.  On March 25, we considered the the story of the Greeks who wanted to see Jesus (John 12) as well as excerpts from the First Letter of John which talk about how we are to love one another.

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). The Gentiles Ask to See Jesus (Les gentils demandent à voir Jésus), 1886-1894.

That Jesus – he was a great guy, wasn’t he?  I know, we talk about him quite a bit here, but you just can’t help but admire him for the way that he did so many things in such a powerful way.

The only thing is, well, Jesus didn’t seem to know much about church growth.  Take today’s reading from John’s Gospel, for example.

Jesus and his friends are in town for the Passover Festival.  The city is abuzz with all sorts of excitement – everybody who is anybody from all over the world has arrived for a religious pilgrimage and holiday.  Of course these people want to visit all the familiar destinations, but they have some time, and they want to make sure that they get the full “Jerusalem” experience.  So some of these folks – we’re not sure who, exactly, but at least a handful decide that while they’re here they’d like to meet Jesus.

On the surface, it could be a win-win proposition.  “The Greeks” is an untapped demographic for Jesus and his movement.  With a little face time and positive spin, Jesus could find that his stock would really rise among these folks.  And the Greeks themselves could not have been more accommodating.  They make a polite request through the official channels – they find one of the twelve, Philip, and he passes it by Andrew and then they take it to Jesus.

Let me ask you this: do you ever get frustrated in prayer?  You know, you go to Jesus with a situation – a question, or you’re looking for help or guidance or answers, and you get no apparent answer? You pray, and you ask, and you wait – but nothing?  And then you think, “You know, if only I could talk with him face to face!  That would be so much easier.  Then I’d get a straight answer.”

Yeah, well, don’t get your hopes up.  I mean, Philip and Andrew went to him with a pretty specific request, and there is not even any mention of it in the ensuing conversation.  Jesus doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of these Greeks, let alone agree to meet them.  Instead, he launches into this little sermon about his own death, which is kind of disturbing and then goes on to remind Philip and Andrew of the first call that they ever got from him, which was “Follow me”.  And then he goes back to talking about death, which, combined with the “Follow Me” reminder, might have been very disturbing to Philip and Andrew.

While they are still chewing on this, there’s another voice from heaven, an occurrence that I suspect as many times as it’s happened (and according to the Gospels, it had happened a couple of times already), it’s probably still pretty disconcerting.  The voice reaffirms that Jesus is chosen for God’s glory.  Then Jesus goes back to speaking about his death, and indicates that in that death, “all men” will be drawn to him.

So, just to be straight, we began with a couple of well-meaning tourists who wanted to meet Jesus for a few moments, maybe take a couple of photos and talk religion…and we end up with Jesus ignoring these people and instead predicting his own death and how it is that that death will bring all people to him.  You see?  Don’t be surprised when your prayers seem to lead you somewhere else…

So one of the questions I have for you this morning is this: was Jesus right? I mean, we know what happened.  He was “lifted up” on the cross and he died.  Is he drawing all people to himself?

At first glance, I have to say it doesn’t look so good, at least from our vantage point.  When I came to Crafton Heights as Pastor in 1993, I was invited to join a group of other churches in the South West part of our city.  At that time, there were at least eleven churches in that group who had full-time pastors.  Today, including us, there are two or three of those congregations who have full time pastors. Several of those congregations no longer exist.

When I came to Pittsburgh Presbytery, there were more than 55,000 Presbyterians in Allegheny County.  Today, there are fewer than 35,000.  There were 165 congregations in Pittsburgh Presbytery.  Today there are more like 145.

I know, that’s just the Presbyterians.  But you know the truth…the Methodists and the Catholics and the Lutherans are discovering the same thing.  Maybe people don’t want Jesus after all.

That’s not true.

What all of these statistics are saying is that people don’t seem to be lining up to get to church.  In fact, they are leaving the church like nobody’s business.

Rachel Evans is a blogger and author who recently listed Fifteen Reasons  why she left the church.  Among them were the following:

I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers…but they only wanted me to plan baby showers. 

I left the church because when we talked about sin, we mostly talked about sex. 

I left the church because my questions were seen as liabilities. 

I left the church because sometimes I doubt, and church can be the worst place to doubt. 

I left the church because I didn’t want to be anyone’s “project.” 

I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for [the same political party]. 

I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school. 

She lists more, of course…but do any of these criticisms ring true in your experience, or in that of your friends and neighbors?

Did you notice something about that list?  Each of those reasons for leaving had something to do with the church…but nothing to do with Jesus.  Let me say it again.  People are leaving the church.  But people are hungry for Jesus.

Do you think that the community in Sanford, FL would like to know the peace, the passion, the justice, the hope, the reconciliation of Jesus now?  Do you think that Travon Martin’s family – and maybe George Zimmerman’s too, for all I know – is eager to know something of the Prince of Peace and the Wonderful Counselor?

What about everyone involved in the incident two weeks ago where a US Soldier shot and killed more than a dozen women and children in an Afghan village?  Do you think that that situation, and those families, and the US military people involved in it now would like to know that hatred and violence are not the last word?  Can you believe that everyone involved in that situation – even those who are passionate about their Muslim faith – would not welcome the presence of a God who promises justice and peace?

Look around this room, or down the street, and look at the faces of your neighbors who are concerned about what is going on in the Public Schools.  Parents who are afraid of what changes might mean for their children.  Teachers who are frustrated by a system that seems perpetually broken.  Taxpayers who are angry about increases.  And kids who are caught in the middle and apparently slipping…don’t your friends and neighbors want to know that their children, and their jobs, and their homes – that they matter?  That there is some way in which the author of the universe is concerned with their own situations?

I’m ninety-nine and 44/100ths percent certain that nobody is going to call me and say, “Reverend Carver, what is the church’s plan as to how to fix these situations?”  But I am one hundred percent convinced that each of these situations and a thousand more are inviting people to call out for the gifts that God promises in Jesus Christ: meaning, hope, peace, reconciliation…and a future.

We have had a lot of conversation in recent weeks about church membership.  Some of that conversation has been driven by some recent changes in the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) dealing with definitions of membership.

But most of that conversation has come about because the leadership of this congregation wants us to be better at doing what Jesus asked us to do: follow him.

When Jesus looked at Philip and Andrew and the rest of the twelve and said, “Follow me”, it was pretty evident that meant that they were supposed to stop what they were doing and literally go where he was.  They came to Jesus and said, “Wow, Lord, there are some people who want to see you.”  And Jesus, realizing that he was one person and that this flow of people who would be longing to see him would only increase, said, “If they want to see me, you’re going to have to show them me.  They want to see me?  You follow me, and they will see you, and in seeing you, they will see me.”

Since we weren’t there then, we have to consider what that means now…we’re not going to walk from Galilee to Jerusalem; we’re not going to leave our nets.  How are we going to follow?

Here’s something that is not helpful: now, when you hear someone say “follow me”, they are most likely referring to Twitter.  For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, Twitter is a social networking program that allows anyone, like, say, ME, to send out periodic messages about anything I’d like.  I can alert the world as to the progress of my haircut, or my dog’s illness, or my thoughts about the 2012 NHL playoffs.  If you think I have something to say, then you sign up to “follow” me on Twitter, which means that every now and then you’ll get 140 character updates delivered to your computer or phone.  So “Follow me” is an invitation to allow me to send you short messages that you may or may not read, and which you may or may not find useful.

Let me suggest that following Jesus is a whole lot more involved than that.  “Follow me” is a way of saying that we will engage all of life on his terms.  It’s all fleshed out for us there in I John 4.  We, who bear the name of Jesus, are called to reveal the presence of Christ in the ways that we treat each other. That’s it.  We are known as followers of his when we love each other.

We’re not his followers because we all vote the same way.  We don’t all like the same music, and we have very different ideas on how to fix the economy, or exercise foreign policy, or raise children, or use money.

Fortunately for us, our unity does not depend on any of those things.  We are united as we promise to treat each other the way that God, in Christ, has treated us.  And if we are able to follow Jesus in love, we will be useful to Jesus.  We will, in fact, lift up his name and his presence so that those who are hungry for the gifts that he brings will see him and know him.

Ultimately, the question of membership in this congregation, and in any that is worthy of the name “Christian”, ought to boil down to this: will we follow?  Remember what he said, essentially: “You follow me, and they will see you, and in seeing you, the world will see me.”  Can we love each other, and the people around us, because God in Jesus has loved us?

If, somehow, by the grace of God, we can do that…then maybe the church can grow after all.  Not because it’s a collection of right ideas or nice people, but because it is His body, being raised up in the world.  May God bless us as we seek to follow in faithfulness.  Amen.

Created and Called…For What?

This Lent the saints at the Crafton Heights Church are thinking about church membership.  What does it mean for us to follow Jesus? And what does it mean for us to do it together?  And why are we together, anyway?  The message on March 18 2012 explores some of these questions, using  Ephesians 2:1-10 and, surprisingly, Hosea 1:1-10 and 2:23 as our jumping-off places.

Comedian Stephen Wright once said, "Sure, it's a small world. But I wouldn't want to paint it."

How did we get here?  How often do you allow yourself to think about that question?  What do you think about the universe?  Is it a result of a special creation, like it’s one of God’s arts & crafts projects?  Or did all of this happen through evolution?  Can you imagine how big, how vast, how deep, how high, how varied the universe is?  I can’t.

One school of thought that has had some publicity in recent years is called “Intelligent Design”, which is “the proposition that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”[1]

How did we get here?  That’s a huge question, and it involves not only faith and reason, but biology and chemistry and physics and all sorts of other disciplines…it’s a question on which great minds have gone round and round.  To be honest, we’re not really going to consider the question of the origin of the universe today.

No, I have a more limited, specific understanding of the question I’d like to put forward this morning: How did we get here?  Specifically, how is it that you and I wound up in worship at the corner of Stratmore and Clairhaven Streets at 11 in the morning today?  And that leads to a slightly broader, and yet related, question: what is the church?

Speaking of painting, if you haven't seen the new paint job at CHUP, you've been away too long...

Is the church a collection of people who just decided to show up? A cluster of volunteers who don’t have anything better to do, and our lives just sort of evolved to the point where we don’t really worry about anything other than showing up here with our energy, our time, and our money?  Or is the church here as the result of some sort of “Intelligent Design”?  To make it personal, are you here because it’s your own idea?  Or are you responding to a call?

John Calvin and Karl Barth, who wrote more about the church than any of us will ever read, were convinced that the church is not a group of individuals who discovered that we share some common values.  No, they taught that the church was la compagnie des fideles: “the company of the faithful”, a military image that insists that the church comes together on the basis of having received orders, rather than by free agreement.[2]

To be honest, that sounds a little un-American.  We are the masters of our own destiny; we choose our fate; we are rugged individualists. Where did those knuckleheads get the idea that the church is called into being, anyway?

From the Bible.

The Apostle Paul lays out the truth in Ephesians, saying plainly that every single one of us has screwed up.  He doesn’t mince words – he says that we are all “dead” and “children of wrath.”  He describes the truth that we are all bent towards sin.  It’s not in our nature, he says, to do the right thing, or to choose wisely; we are more likely to be selfish, arrogant, proud, or insecure.  That’s who we are.

But God, says Paul, made us alive in Jesus Christ.  God showed us, in Jesus Christ, a way of living – a glimpse of God’s own self that was better.  In Jesus, we have been offered life.  Paul concludes his thoughts by saying that we – the church – are God’s workmanship.  We are designed.  We are here for a purpose.

We need to hear that loud and clear this morning: the fundamental truth of Scripture is that the church belongs to God; it is created by God and shaped by God in order that through the church, God may accomplish some specific purposes.

So that’s a partial answer to the question, “Why are we here?”  We believe that we are called together by God in order to do God’s work.

Um, OK.  Here we are, God.  Now what?  What is the work we are created to do?

A part of it is revealed in the Old Testament book of Hosea.  I have to tell you, every week when I am preparing for worship, I look for some coloring pages to share with the children so that they might have some images that help them to process the things that we talk about.  Let’s just say that there aren’t a lot of great coloring pages for Hosea chapter 1.

Hosea lived in the nation of Israel in the eighth century before Christ.  At that time, the king of Israel, and then the priests, led the people away from worshiping God into worshiping idols such as Baal.  The king, and then the priests, and then the people, rejected the covenant of God and therefore rejected God himself.  The people of God were really heading into a tailspin in all sorts of ways, and God, in very graphic fashion, calls Hosea to teach a lesson.  Listen for the word of God in Hosea 1:1-3:

The word of the LORD that came to Hose’a the son of Bee’ri, in the days of Uzzi’ah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezeki’ah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jerobo’am the son of Jo’ash, king of Israel.   When the LORD first spoke through Hose’a, the LORD said to Hose’a, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD.”  So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Dibla’im, and she conceived and bore him a son.

This holy man – a prophet called by God and wearing God’s name – is ordered to wed a prostitute in order that people might see that God’s holiness is violated when those to whom he promises himself go worshiping other gods.  It is, as I have said, a sort of drastic object lesson for the people to see.

The passage continues, as the prophet and the prostitute have a child:

And the LORD said to him, “Call his name Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel.  And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

God instructs Hosea to name the first child of this union “Jezreel”.  That might not mean much to us, but imagine meeting a little Jewish boy today whose name is “Auschwitz”, or a Japanese son named “Hiroshima”.  It was in the valley of Jezreel that the mutinous Jehu assassinated the kings of Israel and Judah; there had been mass murders in Jezreel; Queen Jezebel met a gruesome death there.  For Hosea’s neighbors, this boy’s name, Jezreel, was forever linked with death and destruction.

But believe it or not, his wasn’t the worst name in the family.  Listen:

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, “Call her name Not pitied (or Lo-Ruhammah), for I will no more have pity on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.  But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will deliver them by the LORD their God; I will not deliver them by bow, nor by sword, nor by war, nor by horses, nor by horsemen.”

When she had weaned Not pitied, she conceived and bore a son.  And the LORD said, “Call his name Not my people (or Lo-Ammi), for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Hosea and Gomer, by Cody F. Miller (http://www.codyfmiller.com). Used by permission of the artist.

Are you getting this?  These babies are born and named as God’s way of telling his people, “Look, because Israel has turned its back on me, I am going to allow Israel to experience the consequences of those choices.  I will not rescue these people from the fruits of their own behaviors.  Each name reveals worse news: Jezreel predicts a future when Israel would have no king; Lo-Ruhammah announces a future without God’s compassion, and Lo-Ammi points to a future without God.[3]  God wants to be clear that the people see and understand what rejecting his covenant will mean.

But then, abruptly, there is a promise that comes from God – a promise that looks back to the covenant that God made with Abram and looks ahead to another time:

Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Sons of the living God.” (1:10)

And I will have pity on Lo-Ruhammah (Not pitied), and I will say to Lo-Ammi (Not my people), `You are my people’; and he shall say `Thou art my God.'” (2:23)

Even in his anger towards those who have rejected him time and time again, God speaks of his intention to love the ones who have been called unlovable and to claim those who have been told that they are orphaned.

Hosea, by Cody F. Miller (http://www.codyfmiller.com). Used by permission of the artist. Note Miller's depiction of the children as being of different races: a demonstration of the brokenness that characterized their parent's relationship.

Stay with me here…God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute as a way of announcing to the people the fact that he has noticed their refusal to live in covenant relationship with him.  God then tells Hosea to name his children in ways that will suggest to the people the results of a future without God’s presence in their lives.  And finally, God tells the prophet that he will love and claim the people he has created in spite of the fact that they are bent toward death and denial.

God has set himself a task.  Loving the unlovely.  Including the lonely and the bereft.  How will God do that?

I have a suggestion: God will accomplish that task through us.

We are not here in order to enjoy the wonderful people that sit next to us (although I hope that we do that).

The church does not exist to share baked potatoes or attend weekly pot-lucks (but aren’t you glad we do those things?).

Our presence is not simply so that we will be able to run some Sunday School programs, play dodgeball, collect a few offerings, send people to Texas or Malawi, plan funerals, or conduct baptisms.  We do those things, all right, but they are not the reason for our existence.

We do all those things, and the hundred or so other activities with which we fill our calendars, as a means to accomplish the work that we’ve been given.

In Hosea, we learn that God intends to love the loveless, and to have pity and compassion on the broken, and to remind the people that God’s call is for them.

In Ephesians, we learn that the church is God’s creation, designed in order to accomplish God’s purposes.

Beloved, you know the truth: each of you knows someone who wears the name of Jezreel.  Our world is full of people who have experienced violence and devastation as a way of life.

You all know Lo-Ruhammah and Lo-Ammi, too.  Every day, people who are taught that their identity is that of being unlovable; they do not belong; they are not included; they do not matter.  You know those people!  Some of the people in the room have been those people!

And somehow, in his great mercy, God has called us together.  And he has taken from us the names of Jezreel, Lo-Ruhammah, and Lo-Ammi, and he has given us the name of his Son: we are called “Christians.”  Yes! We are “Little Christs”.  And he has given us each other.  And he calls us to be agents of the promise.

I’m pretty sure that’s why we’re here.  And that’s why we are here.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.


[2] Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline (Harperbooks 1959 Paperback), p. 142.

[3] James Limberg, Interpretation Commentary on Hosea-Micah (John Knox Press, 1988) p.9.

Cleaning House

The people at Crafton Heights are spending some time this Lent thinking about what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.  This week, our scripture came from John 2:13-22 and Psalm 51:6-12.

"The Merchants Chased From the Temple", James Tissot, between 1886-1894.

Do you remember the day that the new teacher came into Jerusalem?  Everyone was so excited when they heard that Jesus was going to preach in the Temple. He had come from nowhere – a little town up north, I think it was – and he didn’t have connections with any of the well-known rabbis.  The word on the street was that this Jesus taught with authority – he laid down the truth like nobody’s business.  But even more spectacular than his teachings were the miracles.

Everyone was so excited that day.  Some people got up early and went into the inner courtyard so as to guarantee themselves a spot when he started teaching.  They didn’t want to miss a thing!  How ironic, then, that those were the people who missed all of the excitement that day!  He never made it to the inner court!

As he entered the gates and through the court of the Gentiles, he passed by the stalls for all of the vendors.  These were the people who had been approved by the official religious leaders to make sure that the animals and other items offered for sacrifice were of the highest possible quality.  They charged a bit of a premium price, but theirs were the only goods that were certified for sacrifice.  If you wanted to worship, you had to buy from them.

I want to tell you that he turned the Temple on its ear that day!  He was out of control – yelling, throwing things, he even made a whip and shoved people out of the Temple itself.  To say that Jesus was unhappy with the status quo would be a severe understatement!  He was so angry – he kept saying that religion is not an enterprise to be managed, and that we ought to be more concerned with inward integrity than with external forms.

From what I can tell, none of the people that he drove out that day were disobeying the laws of Moses.  In fact, as I’ve said, they were there at the pleasure of the religious teachers.  They were not necessarily preventing people from attending the Temple, or praying, or being devout and faithful.

But in Jesus’ eyes, they got in the way of true worship.  Somehow, these people – or, more accurately, the stuff that they were selling, or even the way that they were selling it – somehow this whole process of commodifying the Holy stood between the people and an honest, open relationship with God.  Nobody, including Jesus, was saying that these people were bad people.  What seemed to get him angry was the fact that they were concentrating on the wrong things, and that meant that they missed the best thing.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with people who talked about how important it is to “invite Jesus into your heart”.  The most important decision a person can ever make, it is said, is to ask Jesus to come into your life.

That has always sounded so great to me.  The people who first introduced me to this kind of language about the Lord always made it seem so amazingly wonderful.  They talked about times of confusion and turmoil and pain, and how when they asked Jesus in that he brought calm, and peace, and assurance.  They made it sound so, so good.

And I know that is true.  Jesus heals the broken.  He brings hope to the hopeless.  I have experienced the inner presence of Christ as a gift in times of grief.  I have been healed of depression.  I have been held up in times of loneliness and anxiety.  I have known amazing grace by the power of Jesus.  I have asked Jesus into my heart, and I know what he has done.  And we, as a congregation, talk a lot about inviting Jesus into your hearts.  We hope that our folks are telling the kids at Cross Trainers and the folks we meet in many of our programs the importance of asking Jesus to come into their hearts.

But, beloved, trust me – that is not the whole story.  Jesus is not simply some sort of Divine Mr. Rogers who puts on a sweater and sneakers and holds your hand while telling you that everything is going to be all right.  If today’s Gospel reading tells us anything, it’s that Jesus of Nazareth can be intrusive and barge right into your heart like he owns the place.

"Cleansing the Temple" by Jeffrey Weston. Used by permission of the artist (http://jeffreywestonart.com/)

For that reason, whenever someone – including me – talks to you about opening up your heart to Jesus, you need to be very, very careful.  I mean, you might think that you’re going to have a respected teacher or a local celebrity in for a little polite conversation about some interesting topics only to discover that he’s wanting to ask you how you spend your money, or what you think about Muslims, or how you treat your family.  Ask Jesus into your heart and you will discover quickly that your assumptions are challenged and your prejudices are exposed.  Before too long, he starts to insist that you look at other people and see them the way he sees them.

In fact, it’s not too long before Jesus starts acting like a rude houseguest who wants to know how much you paid for that new television set or where you keep the really good food.  Jesus, once you let him in, will keep peeling back the layers of your self until you are standing there naked before him.  He does this, I suspect, because he is not particularly interested in only making you feel a little bit better about whatever mess you happen to be in right now… I know this because I have experienced this relentless Jesus – the many who has continued to hound me about the choices I’ve made in my life, about the places I go, about the decisions I make.  Jesus can be very, very intrusive.

Interestingly, I cannot find a single place in the Bible where Jesus tells us to invite him into our hearts.  If the Gospels tell us anything, it’s that he wants us to follow him.  To live life on his terms and to be an instrument of his kingdom in this world.  Nearly two dozen times in scripture, Jesus turns around and looks at people like you and me and says, “Follow me…”

Remember: there is great healing and great hope – but that healing and hope are not extended so that I can simply go back to where I was.  Jesus doesn’t really seem to care if I feel better about my current life.  But he seems deeply concerned as to whether I am ready to use my life in his service.

Sometimes I stand up in front of the congregation and I ask a question from the pulpit, and I hope that you will answer it out loud.  Maybe I want to test your knowledge; maybe I want to make sure you’re awake or tracking with me on the message; maybe I just want to be funny.  I’m going to ask a question now, and I want to warn you that this is not one of those times when I’m hoping to hear an answer out loud.

Here goes: If Jesus were to show up today – in your life, not in this building – what would he need to clear away?  What is distracting you from your ability to engage fully in the kind of life to which he is calling you?  What is getting between you and the kind of worship and integrity to which he calls each and every one of us?

Or, to phrase those questions in another way, If you were going to take the next step in your discipleship, what would need to change?

The season of Lent is a time for reflection and confession.  For centuries, churches have taught us to “give something up for Lent” as a way of identifying with Jesus’ call to follow him.  And often, we deny ourselves some pleasure or convenience for six weeks or so in the hopes that we will become better Christians as a result of that.

Listen: if Jesus were to show up in my living room today, I do not for one second think that he would say, “Look, Dave, you’ve got some issues.  In my opinion, you are eating entirely too much candy.  Why don’t you give up those jelly beans so you can follow me.”  I wish that’s what he’d say.  Because as much as I like my Jelly Belly, I don’t think that’s what’s holding me back as a follower of Christ.

I'm pretty sure this isn't my biggest problem...

No.  I’m afraid he might want to talk with me about my pride.  Or my arrogance.  Or my selfishness.  I’m afraid that Jesus and I have known each other long enough that he’s not going to be impressed by my song and dance.  I am afraid that he wants to talk with me about the ways that I want to hide from him.  I am afraid that he wants me to give up my view of my future and trust him with my future instead.

Lent is a great time to pray Psalm 51.  I mean, I don’t know if there’s ever a bad time for this kind of confession and repentance, but this year I am struck with the last phrase that Jon read for you this morning in verse twelve: “uphold me with a willing spirit.”  Listen to the ways that other translators have rendered that verse:

“Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (NIV)
“Give me a spirit that obeys you. That will keep me going.” (NIRV)

Do you hear that? The Psalmist is not asking God for anything less than a heart that is in this walk of discipleship for the long haul.

Jesus, will you clear away the distractions and the stuff and the amusements and the sin and the pride and the clutter so that I can follow you?

Yes, Jesus, come into my heart…but give me the strength to let you stay there long enough to re-arrange that heart according to your purposes.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Wondering What Will Develop…

Well, the last sheet of drywall has been hung, there’s no more mud to be slopped, and the insulation is all unrolled.  I guess that means that the Adult Mission trip to Texas is finished, huh?

Here are a few photos that might back that up – some before and after shots of the homes in which we were privileged to work this week.

On day one, looking from the bathroom through the bedroom into the laundry room at Gustavo & Julia's home

The new bathroom at Gustavo's home

When we were leaving, Julia said to her daughter Gloria, "Now you will have your own bedroom!"

The laundry room

When we arrived at our second work site, only one room was partially drywalled

The walls inside our second site are taking shape

When we left the second work site, three bedrooms & closets were totally hung with drywall, as was the hall and part of the living room.

But these images only tell a fraction of what has happened in the past week.  For the most important part, we’re going to have to wait and see what will develop.

If you are older than, say, thirty-five, you will remember that when people had cameras, we used film.  We’d go to the store and buy a roll and put it in the camera and then we’d take that camera with us on the fishing trip or to the wedding or when we stopped by Niagara Falls.  We’d point and click, and then hope.  We’d finish the whole roll, and then remove it from the camera and take it in to the photo labs for processing.  For a week or so, our film – the images of our precious memories – would be in someone else’s hands.  That technician would apply chemicals to the film and produce prints that would allow us to tell the story of the monster catfish, the beautiful bride, or the amazing waterfall…if we actually GOT the shot that we were hoping for.

Most of the opportunity to actually create images – the memories, the decisions, the hopes, the fears, the friendships, the spiritual growth that make up a mission trip – are in the past tense now.  We’re going to do a little sightseeing (did someone say “Bird Sanctuary”? Can you remember the Alamo?), eat a little more good food, and probably share a few more laughs.  But the work is done.  What remains to be seen is what will develop as we process these experiences in our “real lives” in the days to come.

Our team, with Gustavo and his family. Note the spiffy Presbyterian Disaster Assistance t-shirts that were given to us.

So you’ll see some more photos in the days to come, but here’s what you can do to help further the fruitfulness of the 2012 Adult Mission Trip: you can help the members of this team process what’s happened.  Buy one of these folks a cup of coffee, or go for a walk, and ask what’s been going on.  Ask about Julia or Roland or Don and the stories we’ve seen them live this week.  Take a look at the worship bulletin from First Presbyterian Church of Mission, and ask about the ways that this congregation was so generous with their time, affection, and baked goods.  Ask what keeps some of us coming back from year to year.  Help us to develop the material that we’ve ingested this week in the hopes that it will make a difference in our lives in the days to come.  Thanks for your prayers!

Multiplying Ministry…

I began the reports back from Texas this week with an exploration of how a short-term mission trip is like a laboratory experiment: we are invited to  try new practices and explore new concepts for a time and see whether or not they might bear fruit in our lives.  Yesterday, I mentioned a different kind of new practice: for the first time in the 3 year history of the CHUP adult mission trip, we split the group into two sites.

The experiment was successful in a number of ways.  First, the three men who stayed at our original site (Steve, Gabe, and Jeff, who for reasons unknown to me began calling themselves “Team Menudo” – you can ask them about it yourselves….) had a lot more room to work since we were not tripping over each other.  Picture the fact that there’s a family of three adults and two children living in a very small, one story home who then find that seven other people are coming in to put up new walls in at least half of the living space, and you can well imagine that we were bumping into each other quite a bit.  With the four of us (Bob, Stacey, Lindsay & I succumbed to the peer pressure of developing a name and decided that we might be “Little Orphan Annie” because one of the 4,381 stray dogs at our new site was a dead ringer for the dog Sandy in the movie of the same name) at a different locale, these guys could move more freely through the house. In addition, our absence made more room for Gustavo, the home owner, to jump in and work.  It was apparent that he took great satisfaction in working on his own home, and he and our guys really clicked well.  Many good things happened at that home as a result of the experiment.

On the other site, we found that we had plenty of room as well.  The four of us spent all day insulating and hanging drywall.  The one downside for this team was that we were pretty isolated.  The family who will be moving into the home does not speak English, and there was no opportunity for interaction with anyone but ourselves.  Add to that the fact that the heat was a record high for the day, and that the only insulation in the home was that which we were putting in…let’s just say that we all lost quite a bit of fluid during the day.  But we drywalled two rooms and insulated four.

One other way in which we saw the mission being multiplied on Wednesday was the experience we had when greeted by the choir of First Pres, Mission last night.  Once a month they have a little celebration to say “Happy Birthday” to their members and eat some sweets.  Last night, they asked us to join  them, and then they asked to see some of the photos that we’ve taken during the week.  It was a real joy to converse with them about the things that we were doing; to hear of some of their experiences; to affirm that their ministry of hospitality was making our ministry of construction possible; and, of course, it was no small joy to celebrate with brownies, cookies, buttermilk pie, grapefruit pie (I’m not making that up), nachos, chips, and more.  Every day we are coming into the church and finding little gifts left for us.  Yesterday, one of the men here gave us all John Deere work caps (pink for the ladies!), which was a thoughtful gesture.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be here, and delighted that we are learning more about how and why this mission might affect us and the world around us.  Thank you for your prayers as you read these stories and see these photos.

Steve applies joint compound to Gustavo's home.

The outside of our secondary work site

The inside of our second work site - all framed in by a previous group.

The trailer that's been home to our "second family" for far too long

Moving supplies into the second work site

It's not all work and no play. While we were lost en route to our new work site, I came across this little guy - either a ladder-backed or golden fronted woodpecker