Great Escapes

Have you seen the Ten Commandments movie from 1956? That’s the one where Charlton Heston plays Moses. The film contains the epic scene of the Red Sea crossing where Heston has his arms outstretched, staff in one hand, in the middle of the sea as God parts the waters.

The Israelites, escaping the Egyptian army, walk through the sea, safely to the other side. The Egyptians then pursue with their horses and chariots and drivers, as God put the waters back, surrounding Israel’s captors. This left God’s people safe and now free from the slavery that had shackled them.

Exodus 14 is an Old Testament reminder that God is for God’s people, desiring to free us from that which holds us down.

The story is so well known I hesitate to retell it, as you might just nod off.

Instead I’d like to tell you a more recent, perhaps a similar story about the country of Haiti.

Haiti
Haiti is a common destination for all sorts of non-profit and faith-based efforts, while living in South Florida I went there four times on various mission trips. A direct flight from Miami to Port au Prince Haiti is only about two hours. That’s less time than it takes to fly direct from Des Moines to Las Vegas. Yet in those two hours it feels like you’re stepping out of one world into another.

To understand how our countries came to be so different requires a bit of history. Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. That island was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

At the time there were an estimated 300,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola, known as the Taino. But by 1555, sixty-three years later, the entire population had been wiped out due to war and disease brought by settlers from Spain. It’s an early, and sad story of how European colonies impacted native peoples.

And that’s probably an understatement.

With this loss of life there was a need for cheap labor to develop the land. To meet this demand Europeans from Spain and later France brought slaves captured in Africa to farm the land. Slavery was so prevalent that by the end of the 18th century over 90% of the population of Haiti traced their roots to Africa. This led to an uprising against France in 1791 that culminated in a successful slave revolt in 1804. That isn’t too much after the US signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Since then the histories of these two countries have diverged a good bit as you might imagine. The US rose to become the wealthiest country in the world. Haiti instead is the poorest in the western hemisphere; 59% live on less than $2 a day. The reasons for this are complex, stories for another time.

Signs
These days almost 90% of Haitians identify as Christians – that’s more than the US at 74% – physical signs of Christianity in Haiti can be found all over the place. Scripture verses are often painted in big, bright letters and numbers in all sorts of spots. They show up on local taxicabs, and on street signs, they’re often part of store logos. Book, chapter and verse scripture reference sightings are so common there that on one trip I found myself counting them as we drove down the street. I noted a slew of passages from Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs, the gospels made a lot of appearances, Romans did too.

But it was part of our reading tonite, Exodus 14:14 that showed up more than any other. In that one weeklong trip I spotted the verse on six different taxis, three commercial vehicles, two restaurants and two grocery stores. The reference to Exodus 14:14 was seemingly everywhere.

“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Haiti remains the only country to be founded by a successful slave revolt in the modern world. In this way it is unique.

Life in Haiti, a country with picturesque mountain landscapes is far from perfect. Centuries of interventions from foreign governments have drained financial and physical resources from the land, leaving a people deeply in need of basics many of us take for granted. Necessities like education, housing, and an economy that can support its people.

While the details of the Red Sea crossing and Haiti’s path to freedom from slavery are different – it took an armed revolt for Haiti – both look to God for their salvation from oppression.

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So let us celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel in ancient times. God always stands firmly on the side of the oppressed.

Let us also realize it took a lot longer than this one moment for God’s people to reach the promised land.

And let us celebrate God’s deliverance of Haitians from the captors that enslaved them not too long ago.

Then let us realize that God’s work, among a people shackled with poverty, hunger and unsafe living conditions remains incomplete.

The LORD *will* fight for you, and you have only to keep still.

If those signs, with this scripture passage in Haiti are any indication, many still believe that.

Good.

In those times when the oppressed keep still, look to the heavens, and pray, in those times let it be us that fight on their behalf.

Let it be us that fight the humanitarian crises that pop up across the globe.
Let it be us that fight to ensure God’s children never go hungry.
Let it be us that fight until clean drinking water is available for all.

And let it be us that fight, freeing each of God’s children from oppression, in its varied forms, just as our divine Father did in the Red Sea.  And just as our Creator intends. Amen.

Saints

This past year has been tough, in one particular way, for our congregation. In the past year we have buried twenty-eight members and friends connected to Bethesda. That’s a higher number of deaths than we’ve had here in a while. We will recognize those twenty-eight, by name, and bell, and candle, later in the service.

With each name, and bell, and candle comes a certain sadness. These 28 will never be with us, physically, here on earth, again. There will be no more new memories made. If this life were all there was then there’s a finality to death.

And that would be it.

Fortunately, we Christians, we believers, we disciples of Christ don’t see death as the end.

And thank God for that.

Today’s text, from Ephesians 1, speaks to our hope in rhe resurrection. The author wrote Ephesians from prison, a place where, for many, hope goes to die. But not for them.

In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, the passage begins. As we set our hope on Christ we are promised an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.

So what does this inheritance we’re promised look like?

To help answer this question I’d like to tell a few stories, *your* stories, stories from a few of us that have left this plane of existence in the last year. While I’d love to tell all 28 of those stories, for time’s sake we’ll focus on three of our saints. And yes, just three; apologies, otherwise this service would go considerably longer 😊

Helen
Helen Ingvoldstad passed away February 24 at Northcrest. She was 95. Helen is described by church members as a woman who dove into life, was an active volunteer, donated to causes she cared about. And she was part of a monthly mother-daughter lunch group that lasted for decades. You likely know some of the daughters in this group; Mary Nelson, Kathy Slocum, Vickie Sivesind and Willa Holger are four of them.

Helen was a matchmaker too, just ask Bethesda members Jeff and Keri Carstens. Helen, Jeff and Keri all lived in the same neighborhood, and Helen thought the two of them should meet. You might like her, she suggested. You might like him, she hinted. Helen was matchmaking, well into her 80s, and apparently is pretty good at it. The couple married earlier this decade and now have three children.

I visited Helen a day before she died to share communion. Helen was sleepy, but intent on telling me this story:

“When I was younger I had a church mentor, and told him I was struggling with who Jesus was. He suggested I read the bible, from cover to cover, to find the answer. So I did. And then I went back to this mentor and told him, feeling kind of cocky, that I’d figured it out! ‘Jesus is wisdom’ I replied. And he came from heaven to teach us this wisdom.” The mentor smiled, and replied, “that’s a great place to start.”

Helen’s hope was to connect women across the generations.

Her hope was to help pair two people in holy matrimony.

Her hope was to learn the wisdom of Christ her whole life long.

And her inheritance is the fulfillment of all that, and the chance to learn the wisdom of Christ, in person, and to do so for eternity.

Bob
Bob Hein, loved by so many, passed away June 2nd at Green Hills. He was 78. I’d learned to appreciate Bob in the short time I’ve served this congregation, egad he was a conversationalist. Though it was something wife Anne mentioned two weeks ago that really got my attention. After giving a sermon about wrestling with God, Anne reminded me that Bob was a high school wrestling coach for several decades. “Bob would have loved that message,” Ann said, about as nice a compliment as any preacher could get.

But these kind words hold more than a compliment for one; they point to the legacy Bob left for many. The high school Bob coached at in Illinois had some rough students, and many of them wrestled. A lot of those wrestlers would later tell Bob that if it weren’t for him they likely would have dropped out of school. And in the final year of Bob’s life an awful lot of wrestlers he coached came to Ames to visit, to catch up. They came to share where their lives, with his help, had led.

Bob coached hundreds of high schoolers in his career, not just in wrestling, but as a teacher of health, physical education and as a guidance counselor. The sense of work ethic, purpose and wisdom he imparted on so many would be difficult to overestimate.
Bob’s hope was to coach up the next generation of young men.

His hope was to guide young men and women, as teacher and counselor, into adulthood.
And his inheritance is the chance to wrestle with God, whenever he’d like, one-on-one, for eternity.

Marvin
Marvin Anderson passed away earlier this Fall, on October 9th, at Northridge Village. He was 79. I didn’t get to know Marvin as well as I would have liked, but boy did he lead a fascinating life. Marvin was a scientist here at Ames Laboratory. Before that Marvin was enlisted in the Air Force, and there during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oh the stories he could tell.

As a distraction from the rather serious nature of his work Marvin enjoyed painting as a hobby. When son Derek showed promise as an artist Marvin encouraged him. Derek ended up becoming an author and illustrator of children’s books that have sold millions worldwide; there’s a good chance you’ve read one of them to your child or grandchild. But even if you haven’t I bet you’ve seen his work: Derek drew the artwork that lines the Ames Public Library bookmobile that travels all over town, you really can’t miss it.

Two days before Marvin died I was asked to come by and provide communion to Marvin and a few family members. To my surprise, and delight, when I arrived a dozen family members were in the small room, surrounding Marvin, who was alert, and laying quietly in bed. Carole Anderson was there, along with Marvin’s brothers, children, grandchildren, and extended family. People came from across the country to be with him in his final days.

As we gathered Marvin’s brother read Psalm 23, communion was given and received, and we closed our time together in prayer. To be honest the emotion I sensed most in the room wasn’t sadness, it was peace. His family tells me that last communion was the event that allowed Marvin to start letting go. There is a certain beauty in that. To believe that, through Christ, that death isn’t the end, but instead a beginning, is a powerful, powerful notion. And to arrive at that requires a hope, of what is to come, in our resurrection to the hereafter.

Marvin’s hope was to keep the world safe in a time of crisis.

His hope was to leave a legacy, through family, that would impact millions.

His hope was there in the room that day, surrounded by family, and at peace, as he received the bread, and drank from the cup, joining in holy communion one last time.

And his inheritance is the fulfillment of all of the above, and the journey to meet his creator in person.

Star Wars
Finally, for something a bit lighter, let’s move from real people to Hollywood. Consider a fictional character from the very first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, the famed Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Obi-Wan begins the 1977 film in human form, helping Luke and Leia through countless escapes. But it is after his death, at the hands of Darth Vader, where this character really shines. In spirit form it is Obi-Wan who speaks to Luke, helping him destroy the imperial station. As a spirit he advises Yoda to continue to train Luke in the ways of the Jedi. As a spirit it is Obi-Wan who reveals that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father, something Luke must grapple with.

It could be argued that Obi-Wan plays a larger role in the Star Wars franchise, in spirit form, than when he was alive. Perhaps the same could be said for us, and the legacy of what we leave behind. The spirits of Helen, Bob and Marvin, indeed all those we’ve lost live on in the influence they continue to have, in very big ways, on all they have touched here on earth.

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As we commemorate those who are no longer with us this All Saints Day let us mourn.

We miss the dearly departed.

Our lives will not be the same without them.

But let us also hold fast to the words of Ephesians. Let us place our hope in Christ, and promise of an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.

And then let us also celebrate.

Let us celebrate, that the saints of old, for all ages are still with us here, in spirit, and can be seen in, and through each one of us. Let us celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit, always nudging, always encouraging, always leading us, until that day, when we too, are reunited with the saints of all time, in our eternal heavenly home. Amen.

Wrestling

Wrestling.

You’ve seen it, likely you’ve done it in one form or another. Sometimes it’s playful, sometimes it’s serious. Wrestling makes you sweat, occasionally bleed, and sometimes, in the heat of a match, you just might get hurt.

Wrestling is old, first appearing in the ancient Olympic Games way back in 708 BC.

Wrestling is American, or at least we’re pretty good at it. No other country has more wrestling medals in the modern Olympic games; we’ve got 132.

Wrestling is local. The first NCAA college Wrestling Championship was held in 1912, right here in Ames Iowa.

Wrestling is next door. Or at least it is for me. My next-door neighbor is Bobby Douglas. Bobby wrestled in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics, later served as an Olympic coach, and was the Iowa State wrestling coach from 1992-2006. Highly successful, and in multiple wrestling halls of fame, as neighbors we often talk about how to keep our grass green. And he’s really good at that too.

Wrestling is family. Again, at least it is for me. My younger brother Clayton wrestled from grade school through college; I grew up near the sport. He, too, was good, going undefeated his senior year of high school and winning the Maryland state wrestling championship for his weight class.

While I’ve been blessed with the height in our family – I’m six inches taller – Clayton has always been the better athlete. Our family debates who is better looking, tho these days I’m fairly sure he’s winning that one as well 😊

And wrestling is, of course, scripture. The scene from Genesis 32 prominently features a matchup between Jacob and an unnamed man. That scene is nothing less than gripping.

I seemingly can’t get away from wrestling, it’s all around. And, for better, worse, or otherwise, neither can you.

I’d like to suggest that the text of Jacob’s overnight sporting adventures features a couple of really, really good wrestlers. And having two really good wrestlers makes for some great sparring. To help me grapple with this text – grapple, that’s another wrestling word – I asked my state-champion brother Clayton to chime in about what makes for a good wrestler. He also shared how he sees this wrestling text which made for a really fun conversation.

So what makes for a good wrestler? Many things. Here are the top seven.

#1 Sometimes good wrestlers have family tragedy in their past. That was certainly the case for American wrestler Dan Gable. Born in Waterloo Iowa, at age 16 his older sister was raped and murdered in the family’s living room, a horrible tragedy. In an interview with the History Channel Dan says he didn’t devote himself fully to wrestling until after that, because he wanted to give his parents something positive.

The backstory for Jacob is filled with sadness too, tho in Jacob’s case he was often the one causing it. He was born a twin, the second of two, and does all sorts of dastardly deeds to his family to steal their inheritance and blessing. This ends up causing a rift between his parents. The conflict gets so bad he runs off, escaping so his brother doesn’t kill him. Then he ends up working for an uncle, Laban, and the two of them squabble constantly over money, and property, for years. All this conflict culminated in a moment where uncle Laban wanted to kill him too.

Was this family dysfunctional? Oh yeah. Trickery, lies, deceit, theft, and some near misses with attempted murder. This is what Jacob grew up with.

#2 To be a good wrestler you must train for the match. In modern wrestling you train for years to get good, often practicing hours a day with a combination of strength training, running, stretching, and practicing techniques. While scripture doesn’t mention anything like that, Jacob had been busy, preparing for this unexpected day, in some ways, for over 20 years. He trained as a shepherd, responsible for flocks of thousands of animals. It was tough work, dirty work, and the hours were long. It gave Jacob plenty of time to physically prepare.

#3 Good wrestlers excel when they get their head in the game. Clayton tells me that, as a younger wrestler his thoughts could be summed up in four letters: FEAR. Fear of losing, fear of doing something wrong, fear of letting his team or family down. He used to feel sick to his stomach before matches, like he was going to throw up. Fear will do that do you.

But as he learned the sport these feelings of fear subsided. Fear was still there, yes, but balanced with a certain calmness. At the height of his career, right before a match, Clayton tells me he would literally think about nothing, emptying his mind of all distractions.

Jacob too, had some things on his mind before the match.

After being estranged from his brother for twenty years – remember all those lies, deceit and theft Jacob was guilty of – he decided it was time to make it right with brother Esau. To fix the rift Jacob tried to offer gifts, but received back some unexpected news. Big brother was coming to meet him, in person, and was bringing 400 men. Scripture says this caused Jacob great fear and distress. I bet – it’s easy enough to imagine this brother was coming to kill him.

But Jacob didn’t just fear for his own life, he worried his entire family could be harmed. To protect them he sent the family away, with all his earthly possessions, leaving Jacob entirely alone.

It was in this moment Jacob found himself face to face with an unnamed man, wrestling until daybreak. Tho Jacob couldn’t have been in the best place mentally he found a way; given the choice of fight or flight he chose the former and engaged with this unknown combatant.

#4 Good wrestlers set goals. To be good at wrestling, as is in life, you must set goals. Getting to the right weight, the ideal percent body fat, practicing moves to perfection, whatever it takes to pile up those wins, this is how good wrestlers approach their craft.

Yet the match in scripture isn’t a normal one. Jacob appears to be winning the match, the unnamed man realizes he isn’t prevailing. But instead of going for a pin, and the win, the two just keep wrestling. At one point the unnamed man asks Jacob to let him go. Jacob refuses. Instead Jacob holds on tight, never letting go, until the man agrees to bless him. Jacob’s goal in this match wasn’t to win. Instead Jacob had his eyes set on a much greater prize.

#5 Often good wrestlers, out of necessity, have to play through the pain. This isn’t ideal, tho sometimes in a match you can get hurt. When the unnamed man realized Jacob had the advantage he struck him on the hip, pulling it out of joint, ouch!

A dislocated hip is incredibly painful. Often patients can’t move the leg, and, if there is nerve damage, they may lose feeling in their foot and ankle. Yet Jacob wrestled on, refusing to let go.

#6 On occasion good wrestlers have special wrestling names. Cheesy pop wrestling leagues like the WWF and WWE do this really really well. A new name allows the person to become more than what they are, gives them a new identify, and suggests the person just might have special powers. Often we can remember the wrestler names better than the person’s actual name.  How many of these you can ID?

Dwayne Johnson goes by the wrestling handle………………….. The Rock

André René Roussimoff, one of my favorite wrestlers, is better known as………………….Andres the Giant.

Terry Gene Bollea, a big name in wrestling, is…………………………..…Hulk Hogan

Jacob and the unnamed man begin the match with seemingly generic titles, nothing flashy. But by daybreak there’s a name change for Jacob, and a big reveal for this unnamed guy.

After all that wrestling from these two, as tiring as it must have been to grapple overnight, and as pained as Jacob must have been from a dislocated hip, the unnamed man gives Jacob a new name. Jacob’s new wrestling name is Israel. This arguably regular guy with a history of theft and greed in his past, had, after this wrestling match, been changed. He was now, quite literally, known as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The unnamed man was about to get a new wrestling handle too, courtesy of an epiphany from Jacob. Upon hearing his own new name, Israel, which means may God prevail, Jacob realized who he had been grappling with. Jacob was suddenly so sure of his combatant’s identity he named the place Peniel, which means face of God. While theologians and renaissance painters don’t all agree – some say the wrestler was God, others an angel – most all conclude Jacob was wrestling with the divine. And Jacob didn’t realize that until daybreak.

#7 Finally, good wrestlers lead a life transformed. Think back to that American wrestler I mentioned earlier, Dan Gable, who endured an awful family tragedy as a teen. After fully committing himself to wrestling he excelled at Waterloo High and was a student athlete right here at Iowa State.

While at Iowa State he won 117 matches in a row, along with two NCAA championships and three All-America titles. He then went on to win the 1972 Olympic gold for his weight class before heading to the University of Iowa in 1976. It was there his team won 15 national titles in 21 seasons. Incredibly the Hawkeyes were the Big 10 champs in each of those 21 seasons. And to think, all of that sprung out of a family tragedy in Dan’s youth almost too horrible to name.

Jacob, now known as Israel, also went on to lead a life transformed. Right after this wrestling match with God his older brother arrived with those 400 men. But Jacob’s divine wrestling match had changed him, forever. In that match he was freed of guilt, shame, and fear. He knew God was with him. Jacob then asked for, and received, forgiveness from his brother for all the ways he had wronged Esau. The two grown men then embraced. The two grown men then wept. The two grown men had put their differences aside and reunited as family.

It was as it should be.

It was as God intended.

And it took an all-night grapple, with God, for Jacob to receive the blessing of a family reunited.

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Wrestling. It’s all around us, one-on-one matches available in any shape and size you like. While you may not find yourself physically wrestling any time soon, we find ourselves wrestling, with so many things, all the time.

We spar with friends, and foes, and family, over just about anything.
We wrestle with our past, who we’ve hurt, who has hurt us.
We grapple with our demons, our addictions, our own failings.

Next time you find yourself desiring some sparring, with whoever or whatever it is that you face, let me point you to a new wrestling partner.

Wrestle, instead, with God. Our creator is tough enough to handle whatever you’ve got.

And then let me point to you a great example of how to do it: model Jacob.

Get yourself trained up. Do it through the reading of scripture, prayer, fasting, and living into our world in God-honoring ways.

Take all your fears, your shame, your baggage, bring them with you. And then lay it all down, at the foot of the cross, before the match begins.

Clear your head, set some goals, and then grab hold of your Creator. Hold on tight, never letting go. Keep wrestling, grappling with God to resolve whatever it is you face.

And remember, that you too have been given a new wrestling name. In the waters of your baptism you have been claimed as a beloved Child of God. You are one of God’s own. Carry that title with you where-ever you go. Never forget that.

For it is in the struggle, with God, where we finally let go of all else holding us back. It is in the struggle, with God, where we finally receive the forgiveness, and the peace we so often lack. And it is in the struggle, with God, and with God’s word, or simply shouting to the heavens in times of need, it is there where we find release from what binds us, what keeps us down. And it is in that moment, while holding onto God with everything we have, even if it hurts sometimes, it is there, where we finally receive the blessing we’ve been seeking all the while. Amen.

Faith of Our Mothers

This time of year I usually find myself getting a bit sentimental about all the major holidays that mark our calendars from October through the end of the year.

With Halloween fast approaching Trunk or Treat is heading our way. That’s a delightful event, here at Bethesda it’s coming up October 24 – there’s your soft plug to check it out. People decorate the trunks of their cars and trucks, kids and adults get all costumed up, and kids go from trunk to trunk for their evening sugar fix. Kathi and I have been part of these in Florida and now Iowa for the last decade, they’re fun.

Not too far after is Thanksgiving, time spent appreciating all we are blessed with. In our family Kathi is the master cook – I’m the prep chef. We deep fry our bird, I do that, it comes out so moist, so tasty. Kathi takes it from there, preparing the fixins: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberries, stuffing, green bean casserole and crescent rolls.

Last year Hannah offered to pitch in and got the crescent rolls into just the right shape. My guess is she’ll help even more this year, maybe Graham will jump in too.

And then, of course it’s off to Christmas Eve, and Christmas day, and all the trappings those two days contain. Silent Nights sung, gifts given, scripture read, meals shared, time together. This is the stuff of life.

To help tie all those holidays together our family turns to a classic cartoon character, Charlie Brown. On the eve of each of these holidays, our family fires up a famed made-for-tv-movie, snuggling on the couch all the while.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
A Charlie Brown Christmas

We even upgraded from DVD to the Blu-Ray version a few years back, just to get a bit more clarity of image and sound. This for cartoons released over five decades ago. We value the tradition that much.

What Disciples Do
Today we continue our Fall sermon series titled What Believers Do. Each week Pastor Bryan and I unpack a different aspect of Christian discipleship specifically geared toward the doing part of our faith.

Up today: Disciples take their faith home.

To get a better sense of what it is to bring faith home with you we’ll dive into the beginning of 2 Timothy.

Scriptural Traditions
The opening of this letter finds Paul doing what arguably Paul does best: encouraging. His encouragement here hits a little closer to home than normal, 2 Timothy features more personal relationships than any other letter in the New Testament. It’s a letter from a close friend, describing the importance of family.

But Paul is more than a close friend to Timothy, he’s also a mentor. In verse 6 of today’s text Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle the gift of God in him received through the laying on of Paul’s hands. Many biblical scholars conclude this moment is part of an early ordination ritual – how cool is that – we continue to model this ritual today. Paul ordained Timothy into the ministry, and through the laying on of hands gave him the authority to preach the gospel.

Yet this faith of Timothy’s didn’t come out of thin air, it didn’t magically get imparted through Paul’s fingertips. Timothy’s faith had been passed on from previous generations. It’s a faith that first lived in grandma Lois, and mother Eunice.

I love that Paul credits these important female family members, Lois and Eunice, recording them in the letter by name. In this he celebrates the passing of faith from one generation to the next.

Now we don’t know exactly how grandma Lois and mom Eunice passed their faith traditions down to Timothy, we just know that they did. In a family transitioning from Judaism to the birth of the Christian church it likely included many things.

– The reading of the Torah
– The saying of prayers
– The sharing of one another’s burdens
– The stories of Jesus, still mostly given and received by spoken word

Historically, in both Jewish and Christian traditions, often women take the lead in passing faith traditions to subsequent generations. That default, generally speaking, continues to this day. And that’s wonderful. Women, you play a crucial role in installing faith-based beliefs and values into all those who follow.

Thank you for that.

What a blessing.

That also, though, is a not-to-subtle reminder that we men don’t always play as large a role, in raising up the next generation of faithful Christians, as we should. To which I say this: man up guys, this stuff matters. Take a look at our country and world, and the leadership of it. Christian values, ethics and morality are in decline. We’re not loving our neighbors as ourselves as well as we used to. We still don’t value the voices of women nearly as much as we should.

And doing that, guys, begins in the home.

Faith Traditions
So what does it mean for disciples to take their faith home, regardless of gender? What sort of doing is involved?

To get at this I asked people via Facebook to share various faith traditions that are important in their family. Here’s just a few examples from personal friends. Perhaps there’s something in here you’d like to try.

Many of the traditions people shared with me involve prayer.

Veronica Smith holds hands with her husband and two-year old son at every meal. She and her husband began that tradition when they first started dating. Son Harry now requires it before anyone can eat. That’s a two-year old, making sure his family holds hands, prays, and gives thanks to God before every meal.

Brook Seaford, his wife, and their six children go around the table and have each member of the family review their day, in mind, and body and spirit. Knowing this family, and the life and death circumstances they’ve had to navigate recently there is much for them to celebrate, much for them to share.

Pam McHugh, who I worked for at Nielsen in the early aughts, shared how evening prayers around the dinner table work at their home. Before the final amen each member in her family of four takes turns praying for those in need, or for friends and family experiencing hard times.

And when they pray for someone often they take it a step further, inviting that person or family over for dinner. Since the kids would often pray for friends from school sometimes mom and dad found themselves inviting kids over they didn’t even know.

Pam tells me they’d also take this prayer approach to large family gatherings, even with family that wasn’t particularly religious. In this way Pam and husband Vince took their faith home, instilled it in their children, and then invited friends, and extended family over to participate in this faith of theirs too.

Praying over meals is but one way we can take our faith home with us. Many parents read Bible stories to their children (our kids love that). For Lent and Advent you can use special devotions, many families do that together. Friend Kelly Anderson remembers her parents encouraged the singing of Christian songs while driving in the car, instilling faith as they traveled from one place to the next.

Still other families take faith home with them by volunteering together, working side-by-side at the food pantry, or clothing closet just like we have here. Parents and grandparents, modeling for children and grandchildren exactly what Christians do to help those in need.

Bring it Home
Traditions matter. Whether it’s the celebration of Fall holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, or the traditions of our faith passed on from one generation to the next, there is much joy to be had in them.

Celebrating alongside both Charlie Brown and Christ is all good. There’s an awful lot of scripture embedded right there in that Charlie Brown Christmas special, and I love that.

But like the candy our kids schlep back from their various Halloween shakedowns, our faith works best when we bring it home and share it with others.

It’s great that we honor apostle Paul for ordaining and encouraging Timothy to go out and preach the word. But let’s not forget about Timothy’s family, and the faith of grandma Lois and mother Eunice. If it weren’t for mom and grandma it’s hard to know if Timothy would have followed God’s call on his life.

History is replete with the sharing of our faith from one generation to the next. Without this sharing of faith and Christian values, our call to change the world around us in God-honoring, neighbor-loving ways, would be no more.

This past week has been tough for millions of women, and tough for those who care about them. Frankly I struggle with how best to respond.

So let me encourage you, as Paul does for Timothy. When times seem dark –

Rekindle the gift of God that is within you

Stir up the grace and faith and love you have received.
Stir them up by putting them into practice.

Teach your children they are a beloved child of God.

But also teach them to care for each other – all others – as God so deeply cares for us.

Make sure your children, and your children’s children know, that while our culture often minimizes the abuse of women, in so many forms, our faith does not. Ask your children which matters more, the values of their culture, or the values of their faith. Make sure they can answer that correctly.

Close
Traditions matter. Faith traditions can be deeply beautiful, deeply meaningful. But don’t forget the Christian values of faith, hope and love, honor and respect. Don’t forget to take these values home with you. Teach them. Model them. Encourage them. And then launch those values back into the world. For when you do things will change, for the better, for all of us.  Just as our Creator intends. Amen.

Chaotic Beauty

The tower of Babel narrative from Genesis 11 is one of those stories kids often hear first in Sunday school.  And like many of those children’s bible passages often we learn it a certain way, come to our own conclusions, and then put that story back on the shelf.

So let’s take this story from the shelf, dust it off, and perhaps consider a different angle.

First, a premise.  In this story, at a surface level, God creates chaos out of order.

God creates chaos out of order.

It almost sounds kind of backwards.

Chaos of course is nothing new. It’s in our world now, despite our best efforts, and it has been from the very beginning.

The Beginning
Biblical scholars link chaos to the term abyss in Genesis 1:2; it refers to a state of non-being. Then the Spirit of God moved over the waters, separating light from the darkness, heavens from the earth, water from the land.

Creating order, and perfection, out of chaos.
Culminating in the Garden of Eden.

But that first couple couldn’t resist the chance to be more like God. They broke the one rule this garden contained. They then suddenly found themselves banished from it.

The Flood
From there bad went to worse, and the very human ills of jealousy, greed, theft, deceit and murder quickly appeared.

God regretted making humans, was heartbroken by their actions, and found just one righteous in all the land, Noah. Things were so bad God decided to do a hard reset on most all of creation, saving just Noah, and his family, and those animals that marched into the ark two by two.

The hard reset of the flood had wiped the slate clean.
Creating order, and perfection, out of chaos, once again.
Arguably the flood was creation 2.0.

The Tower
After the flood, humans once again started to multiply, started to get organized. The people of Babel seem at first to be engaged in innocent, even good endeavors. They settled in one place, made bricks and mortar, and decided to build a city.

Cool, we do that stuff all the time.

It sounds almost like a town hall meeting.
Gathering together, making a plan.
Then executing on that plan.

But their plan had another piece that was perhaps a little less innocent. They decided to build a tower to the heavens. And they wanted to make a name for themselves.

Making a name for themselves. With just one city, one tower and one language their goal was threefold:

– To perpetuate a single culture.
– To isolate from the rest of the world.
– To reach for the heavens. And to do it on their terms.

The motives for these tower builders were even more flawed. They did all of this, scripture says, lest they be scattered across the whole earth. Their motives, for all this building, all this isolation, all this advancement of one single culture has its roots in one thing: fear.

And they knew better.

Heading back to the creation story – God made us, and blessed us. And gave us some fairly clear directions.

Be fruitful, multiply.
Fill the earth.
Manage the creation I’ve made.

Be part of it.
Help care for it.
For it, all of it, God says, is good.

But the people of Babel? They wanted nothing to do with God’s plan.

They were too busy building the original skyscraper.
Too busy constructing that first stairway to heaven.
Too busy separating themselves from the rest of the world.

Seeing this, God chose to act.

Invoking, in this moment, another round of creation, creation 3.0.

He made one language into many.
He scattered people from one spot to across the world.
As a result the people ceased to build that city, that stairway, that tower.

God chose, this time, to create chaos out of order.

Cultural Chaos
Many a preacher and theologian conclude that Babel is a punishment for bad behavior. Aka once again God’s people couldn’t get it right.

But I find myself looking at this story a little differently.

It is here, at the tower of Babel, where God creates not culture, but cultures.
It is here, where God expands one language to the now over 6,500 spoken today.
It is here God scattered us, across this world, as originally planned.

God created this complexity, this seeming chaos. And God blessed it.

So often we look at our world and think simplicity is the ideal.

If only they spoke like us,
If only they acted like us,
If only they followed our ways,

So much would be better.

Perhaps simplicity of this sort is a little over-rated in God’s eyes.

Chaos Theory
While binge watching The West Wing last week – that’s the tv show, not the current inhabitants of – my wife and I by chance stumbled upon a mathematical term in an episode: chaos theory.

Chaos theory – broadly speaking, and I’m no expert mathematician – has to do with there being order, and even great beauty, in what looks like total chaos.  And if we look closely enough, at the randomness around us, patterns start to emerge.

Those patterns, as chaotic as they may initially seem, with all that scattering of location and language at Babel, lead us somewhere.

They lead us to conclude that cultural diversity is the consequence of God’s design for the world. Not the result of God’s punishment of it.

Those patterns help us to see that God relishes a world full of faithful people, of different colors, sizes, shapes, ideas and languages.

And these patterns help us reframe our own simplistic perceptions of culture into a faith-lens infinitely more complex, infinitely more divine.

Noticing those patterns, and then celebrating them, cause us to see the inherent beauty of all this complexity as something to embrace, something splendid to behold, and to honor, by design. Just as God intends.  Amen.