2017 New Year's Sermon...

Fun reading back through this again, almost a year after I preached it down in Roseburg! 

"One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’"  ~  Luke 8:22-25

I am so grateful for this chance to be with you this morning.  Thank you for your hospitality. 

I have visited Roseburg just a couple of times - once shortly after the awful violence at Umpqua Community College.  Another time for our farewell to District Superintendent Gwen Drake.

My family - we are really new to Oregon - we moved here about 18 months ago.  I remain on loan from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.  Serving in Eugene is my third appointment.  Serving churches in and around Washington, DC was a fascinating season, but we are absolutely loving Oregon.  

I mean really, who cares about rain?

But I was promised much less snow than we have been getting… 

My wife and I we have three kids - two boys - Cameron and Elijah - who are 7 and 5 years old; and Samantha, who was born this past August.  
So with the three kids, I can relate deeply to the Gospel story we heard this morning - disciples being tossed about in the waves…

There is so much you can do with this story.  It really takes Jesus’ miracles to another level.  

Most of Jesus’ miracles are deeply personal events - many of them involve physically or spiritually healing people.  

Is there anything more personal, than one person healing another?  

And that models the way Jesus can be personally powerful for so many of us.  

But this morning’s miracle takes it to a whole new level.  It reveals how God is doing something new in Jesus Christ - creation itself is responsive to Jesus - reveals that his ministry has implications not only for us but for all of creation.  

Lot’s of good Bible study to be done on this passage - just from the miracle angle.  

But this passage really spoke to me now as we begin a new year together.  

Every year has its ups and its downs, its goods and its bads.  but 2016 seemed to be a particularly wild ride.  

And I would say the forecast is calling for plenty of storms in 2017.  

Which is why I am so grateful for today’s gospel reading.  

The waves are crashing.  The boat is filling up with water.  

And Jesus but speaks a word - peace - and there is a calm.  

Peace, be still.

when storms rage in our lives, what would YOU give for calm, for peace.  

well, Jesus offers us a path - a way of being - that can create some space for calm, and peace.

I love that we worship a God for whom peace, and calm are values worth fighting for.  PEACE and CALM are values I can believe in!

In this new year, I’m going to be a bit more intentional about cultivating some peace, and calm in my world.  

being intentional about something - means I come up with a plan - I’m a Methodist after all.  we don’t do anything without a plan.

Henri Nouwen died a few years ago, but his three movements of the spiritual life are such a great way to be intentional about peace, and calm in our lives.  

His three movements are - 
the movement from loneliness, to solitude
the movement from hostility, to hospitality
and the movement from illusion, to prayer

More than enough material there for three sermons - so today you get the cliff notes…

Nouwen’s first movement is from loneliness, to solitude.  

Maybe you are familiar with loneliness, or maybe you reacted to that the way I reacted to it when the first time I heard it - LONELINESS?   I am constantly bombarded.  by this device.  by email, phone and social media.  

I’m occupied by the responsibilities of my family.  by the responsibilities of my job. good grief - LONELY???  Of all the challenges that vex me, LONELINESS is not one of them.  

And Nouwen would have us to understand, THAT is a problem.

Our experience of loneliness is rooted in the way each of us is created in God’s image - our own particularity - that there is never another you - you are you.  
For all we share with our neighbors, for all the ways we are more alike than we are different - you all have a you’ness - that is unlike anyone else’s you’ness.  

And in a fundamental way - that is where our ability to be lonely comes from.  There IS a part of us that is unlike any other - there is a part of us that no one - not our parents not our best friends, not our spouses or significant others will ever understand.  

the only one who understands it, is the one who created it.  And so it is that our sense of our own particularity - our loneliness - points the way to a deeper relationship with God.  

So I am not at all surprised that the culture around me, tells me to so fill my day, to be so consumed and to so consume - that I am not left with the space required to experience loneliness - let alone experience where loneliness leads.

And so we are called to practice solitude.  

I think there is ample scripture to commend this practice.  Whether it is in the Hebrew Scriptures sabbath commandments or Elijah on the mountaintop experiencing the presence of God in silence; or whether it is the stories of Jesus, trying to get away from the crowds for a minute.  

Solitude allows us to DISCONNECT, in order to CONNECT to God. 

I encourage you to find your way of practicing solitude.  

And I believe you will find that practice leads you into the next movement.  The next movement is the movement from hostility to hospitality. 

no question that as far as scripture is concerned, hospitality is pretty un-compromised value.  

One can argue that the sin of inhospitality is what condemns Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction.  In the holiness codes of Leviticus, we read:

“The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt…”.   

In the Gospels hospitality is often at the root of Jesus’ parables.  And in Hebrews we read “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

If scripture matters to us at all, then the RESPONSIBILITY, and OPPORTUNITY, of hospitality looms large.  

Hospitality requires an openness - it requires that we have space, create space in our lives for others.  

So to practice hospitality, that means that I need to a store of free space in my world, if I am going to encounter others and offer them hospitality.  

But the world around us does not reward free space.  

And the world does not think highly of strangers.  Strangeness and fear are close companions.  

So while solitude is a path to our selves, the practice of solitude also helps us create the space we need to be able to extend hospitality to others.

loneliness to solitude
hostility to hospitality

And I am not sure there is anything more important to Nouwen’s approach, than his third movement - 

from illusion, to prayer.

Nouwen is critical of what he calls “ornamental” prayer.  Prayer as something we do to prove we are spiritual/religious people.  

The New Testament has much to say on that subject.  Jesus instructs the disciples that whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

but what does Nouwen mean by the movement from “illusion” to prayer.

the illusion that Nouwen is most interested in dispelling: is the illusion that our lives belong to us.  For Nouwen, there is no more radical declaration that our lives are not our own - than prayer.  

Prayer is a way of searching beyond our selves.  

Prayer is the antidote to the illusion that our lives belong to us.  

as we ready ourselves - steady ourselves - for the storms we may face this year - we are in need of a movement that casts off the illusion that our lives or anyone else's life, is ours.  rather all lives are a gift - all lives are of sacred worth - and all can seek a deeper relationship with God through prayer.  

A deeper relationship that can be found in solitude - a solitude that creates space for hospitality.  

That is the kind of order for a life, that might lead us to some peace, and calm.  I believe it is the kind of order that Jesus modeled for us in his ministry.  and i believe it is the kind of order that stands a chance - stands a chance of equipping us for the trials that await.  Some peace and calm are worth fighting for, Amen?   Amen.  

in the spirit of this weekend - let’s join together in a prayer from Martin Luther King Jr… I only had to adapt it a little bit for us this morning.

Let us pray. 

O gracious God, out of whose mind this great cosmic universe has been created, toward whom the weary and perplexed of all generations turn for consolation and direction, we come before your presence this day thanking you for the many blessings of life. 

We come recognizing our dependence on you. We also come, O God, with an awareness. The fact that we have not always given our lives to that which is high and noble. 

In the midst of all of the high and noble aspects of justice, we followed injustice. We stand amid the forces of truth and yet we deliberately lie. We stand amid the compelling urgency of the Lord of Love, as exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ, and yet we live our lives so often in the dungeons of hate. 

For all of these sins, O God, forgive. And in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, give us penetrating vision, broad understanding, power of endurance and abiding faith, and save us from the paralysis of crippling fear. 

And God, we ask you to help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world and for a community that transcends race or color. We thank you for the marvelous things you are doing in this community, through THIS church.  We look to you, please grant that our hearts and spirit will be open to your divine presence. All of these things we ask, in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ.  


Adam Briddell