July 15, 2018: Midwifing God's New Thing

Rev. Jerry Keeney

Acts 1:6-8 New Testament for Everyone (NTE)
So when the apostles came together, they put this question to Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said, ‘is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

‘It’s not your business to know about times and dates,’ he replied. ‘The father has placed all that under his own direct authority.

What will happen, though, is that you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the very ends of the earth.’


Audio only.

July 8, 2018: When the End Isn't

Pastor Steve Mechem

Lamentations 3:31-33 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
For the Lord will not
reject forever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.


Audio only.

July 1, 2018: Whirlwind Speeches

Pastor Steve Mechem

Job 38: 1-5 New Revised Standard Version
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?

Job 42: 1-3 New Revised Standard Version
Then Job answered the LORD:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.


Warning: There is a possibility that at the end of this sermon, you might think that almost the entire sermon is simply a long passage of scripture. You would be right, it is a beautiful piece of writing.

Job loses his family, his home, his health, his business.

Job loses his status as a blessed friend of God.

Job's wife tells him to curse God and die.
Job's friends tell him he’s at fault.

And Job waits, in grief, in anger, in frustration for God to speak and make it right. And God does not respond, yet.

Job shaves his head, sits in the ashes, complains to God about God.

Job cries out to God, yells at God, questions God, defends himself to God, accuses God, shakes his fist at God, blames God, and waits for God.

And 38 chapters into the book of Job, God answers!

Job 38 - 42 … Quoting swaths of text from the Message Bible

“And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a whirlwind.

God said:

“Why do you confuse the issue?
Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?

Pull yourself together,
Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall!

I have some questions for you,
and I want some straight answers.

Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much!

Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?

How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb? That was me!

I wrapped it in soft clouds, and tucked it in safely at night. Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose, And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’

“And have you ever ordered the Morning, told the Dawn, ‘Get to work!’

“Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death? Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries? And do you have any idea how large this earth is?

Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives. So you can take them by the hand and lead them home when they get lost?

Have you ever traveled to where snow is made, seen the vault where hail is stockpiled, The arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness for times of trouble and battle and war?

Can you find your way to where lightning is launched, or to the place from which the wind blows? Who do you suppose carves canyons for the downpours of rain, and charts the route of thunderstorms that bring water to unvisited fields, drenching the useless wastelands so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass?

Look upwards. Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky’s constellations and how they affect things on Earth?

Can you get the attention of the clouds, and commission a shower of rain?

Can you take charge of the lightning bolts and have them report to you for orders?

Can you teach the lioness to stalk her prey and satisfy the appetite of her cubs as they wait hungrily in their den?

Do you know the month when mountain goats give birth? Have you ever watched a doe bear her fawn? Do you know how many months she is pregnant? Do you know the season of her delivery, when she crouches down and drops her offspring? Her young ones flourish and are soon on their own; they leave and don’t come back.

The ostrich flaps her wings futilely— all those beautiful feathers, but useless! She lays her eggs on the hard ground, leaves them there in the dirt, exposed to the weather, not caring that they might get stepped on and cracked or trampled by some wild animal. She’s negligent with her young, as if they weren’t even hers. She cares nothing about anything. She wasn’t created very smart, that’s for sure, wasn’t given her share of good sense. But when she runs, oh, how she runs, laughing, leaving horse and rider in the dust.

Are you the one who gave the horse his prowess and adorned him with a shimmering mane? Did you create him to prance proudly and strike terror with his royal snorts? He paws the ground fiercely, eager and spirited, then charges into the fray. He laughs at danger, fearless. At the trumpet blast races off at a gallop. At the sound of the trumpet he neighs mightily, smelling the excitement of battle from a long way off, catching the rolling thunder of the war cries.

Was it through your know-how that the hawk learned to fly, soaring effortlessly on thermal updrafts?

Did you command the eagle’s flight, and teach her to build her nest in the heights, Perfectly at home on the high cliff face, invulnerable on pinnacle and crag? From her perch she searches for prey, spies it at a great distance. Her young gorge themselves on carrion; wherever there’s a roadkill, you’ll see her circling.”

Now what do you have to say for yourself?

Are you going to judge me, the Mighty One?

I have some more questions for you, and I want straight answers.

Do you presume to tell me what I’m doing wrong? Are you calling me a sinner so you can be a saint?

Can you shout in thunder the way I can? Go ahead, show your stuff. Let’s see what you’re made of, what you can do.

Unleash your outrage. Target the arrogant and bring them to their knees. Stop the wicked in their tracks—make mincemeat of them! I’ll gladly step aside and hand things over to you— you can surely save yourself with no help from me!

Look at the land beast, Behemoth. I created him as well as you. Just look at the strength of his back, the powerful muscles of his belly. His tail sways like a cedar in the wind; his huge legs are like beech trees. Most magnificent of all my creatures, but I still lead him around like a lamb!
He takes afternoon naps under shade trees, cools himself in the reedy swamps,

But you’d never want him for a pet— you’d never be able to housebreak him!”

“Or can you pull in the sea beast, Leviathan, with a fly rod and stuff him in a basket?

Can you lasso him with a rope, or snag him with an anchor? Will he beg you over and over for mercy, or flatter you with flowery speech?

Will you play with him as if he were a pet goldfish? Will you make him the mascot of the neighborhood children?

If you so much as lay a hand on him, you won’t live to tell the story. What hope would you have with such a creature? Why, one look at him would do you in! If you can’t hold your own against his glowering visage, how, then, do you expect to stand up to me?” Unquote.

In other words, God is saying, “you ain’t God! You really don’t know jack.”

And Job listens, and responds, “I get it. You are God and I am me. You are above me and beyond me. I can never fully get you. And in your bigness, you still care for me. Even as I don’t understand the particulars, I will hear your voice and embrace your love. And that is enough.”

Amen.

June 24, 2018: Wings

Pastor Steve Mechem

Isaiah 40:26-31 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
mighty in power,
not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.


So, a couple of weeks ago at our monthly Second Saturday Youth Gathering, Monica was leading us in an icebreaker centered around superheroes. One of the questions she asked us to respond to was “what superpower would you like to have.” If you could have one superhero superpower, what would it be?

I’m kind of curious- “what superpower would you like to have?”

Well, members of our youth group gave some deep, thought out answers that were amazing. I was so impressed by their introspection and articulation. Of course, I was not so adroit- I just blurted out the first thing that came into my head. I said I would like to be able to fly.

Wouldn’t that be cool? To fly! I am not talking about jet back flying, I am talking about looking up in the sky, thinking “fly,” and taking flight.

Now I have to be honest and say that I probably would not use my superhero ability to save the world or perform magnificent feats of heroism. I am afraid I would use my superpower of flying to primarily make my life a bit more convenient.

Think about it.

In the morning, as I head out the door, rather than looking up the hill toward the bus stop to which I must walk, or getting in the car and driving through the Hanley Road morning traffic, I just look up in the air and fly.

I imagine that I would soar up 50 or 60 feet into the air, above the trees, and glide to the church. I don’t have to fly fast, I don’t have to break speed records, I just fly above the traffic taking in the sights. As I get to the church, I come in for a soft landing. I walk through the office door, I sit down at my desk and I begin to work. Ahh, the ability to fly. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

So that’s my superpower- flight!
You know- the idea of flight or wings in flight is used symbolically in writing and oratory for exceeding, for doing well, for living fully, for living boldly, being above the fray.

There is an old saying, “You can’t soar like an eagle and live like a chicken.”

Soaring is about taking flight, being bold, embracing life.

In the Bible, the image of flight or soaring comes along with the idea that God is blessing you, God is leading you, God is with you. Scripturally, taking flight is what happens as you come to the other side of struggle. After the “dark night of our soul” comes the morning sun with its invitation to take flight.

And we come to this beautiful passage in the book of Isaiah.

“Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

The prophet declares that all of us will stumble and fall, even the strongest among us will find ourselves weakened, even the best will fail. It is a part of the human condition. But for those who are willing to wait upon the Lord, the prophet intones, they will discover renewed strength and will indeed, soar like eagles.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about waiting, the hard virtue of waiting, the struggle of waiting, and the sense of release and freedom when it’s past.

This morning I want to affirm for you that
1) waiting really stinks.
2) there are things that we learn in the process of waiting
and 3) there are things we can do while we wait.

While we wait we learn to trust, Interestingly, a couple translations render the phrase, “those who trust in the Lord, rather than “those who wait for the Lord.”

We learn to trust that God is with us through the wait. And we learn to rely on the hope that when the wait is over, a new day begins!

As we wait and trust, we pray. I’m not talking about that idea of prayer that involves patterns and rote-ness and formulas. I understand prayer to be communion with God. So as we wait, we learn to connect and commune with the Other.

The story of Job, who is highlighted in the Beatitude window that I look at from my chair each week, is a story of long, hard, waiting. And in the waiting, Job learns to commune with God, and God speaks clearly in whirlwind of Job’s waiting.

As we wait, we are not motionless. We continue to move. We continue to strive. We continue to work. Waiting isn’t a seditary activity.

Have you ever played tennis? The very first thing you learn- excuse me, the first thing you learn is to swing your racket with a level motion- but one of the first things you learn is that you should always keep moving. As you wait for your opponent to serve, you don’t stand flat-footed with your racket hanging limp. You are up on the balls of your feet moving up and down, swaying to and fro. Your racket is held nimbly in your hands, so that as the served ball crosses the net, you are ready to pounce and return the serve.

Waiting works like that. You have to keep moving, ready to receive whatever it is that is coming your way.

I used to get mad at myself because I would pray about something, and “leave it in God’s hands” only to immediately begin to think about ways I could fix the problem that I just left with God. I would be so frustrated that I didn’t trust God enough to let go of the issue or situation. But I think I have learned that our thought followed by actions are, quite often, the way God works in our prayers. I get the phrase, “Let go and let God.” But when God sends a row boat, you best be moving to get in that thing.

It is important to understand that when one is waiting, one is moving. But we shouldn’t think that by moving we will automatically be soaring. The movement is necessary but it’s not the end result. Movement is preparation, for when the waiting is over.

As Dr. King used to say,
“Soar, but if you can’t soar, run.
And if you can’t run, walk.
And if you can’t walk, crawl.
But No matter what it takes, keep moving.”

Now waiting and trusting and hoping and moving are the processes we undergo as we wait. And as we wait, we change.

I have been thinking a lot about the beatitudes lately, and I am beginning to understand, I think, that the beatitudes don’t just describe attitudes, rather, they describe the type of people we are called to be as followers of Jesus. And I am beginning to believe that becoming those types of people happens in the process of waiting.

In waiting, we learn our utter need for God.

In waiting, we learn to experience that which breaks the heart of God.

In waiting, we learn humility and control.

In waiting, we learn to actively seek the will and way of God,

In waiting, we learn mercy.

In waiting, we discover purity of heart.

In waiting, we learn to yearn for peace and wholeness.

In waiting, we learn the patience that is needed to face the harshest struggles of life.

Beatitudinal people are people who have learned to wait.

We wait, believing and trusting and moving and hoping that on the other side there is a new day where God is fully present and where we are privileged to become who we are meant for be- refreshed, renewed, and soaring on eagles’ wings.

Amen.

June 17, 2018: Planting

Pastor Steve Mechem

Psalm 1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.


The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


Unfortunately, technical difficulties precluded the recording of the first half of the sermon.


Judi and I lived in Rapid City, South Dakota. It is a truly amazing place - Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the Black Hills and Bear Butte. Within short drives are hot springs, Deadwood, Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park where the Buffalo, and antelopes, and Mountain Goats roam.

From our home, on the north side of the city, 4445 Dolphin Lane (Seriously, Dolphin Lane in South Dakota- Our Subdivision’s roads all had NFL team names), everything to the West and South were mountains, covered with Ponderosa Pine and Spruce and Aspen and Birch. Gorgeous!

But to the North and East it is High Plains desert- rolling landscapes where you can see forever, the occasional butte bursting up from the flat ground, a big, big sky. In the high plains desert, there is little vegetation and almost no trees. In fact, as you travel interstate 90 through Western South Dakota, or take the numerous gravel and dirt roads which criss cross the terrain, you cannot help but be surprised by the lack of trees.

The only place you see trees growing, apart from in towns, is in the lower spaces, close to rivers and creeks and streams.

The trees grow close to the water. Since the desert has so little rainfall during the year, the only place where trees can sustain life is near places where the water generally keeps flowing.

Trees need water to survive. Simple fact.

As I would drive across the terrain of Western South Dakota, which I did quite often, I was continually fascinated at the landscape- it is other worldly.
I would imagine how these scrub trees got their start. In my reckoning, I imagined any number of birds flying overhead, dropping random seeds along the way.

Away from the creek, the ground is too dry, the air is too arid for the seeds to settle in and take root. The seeds will decay without the opportunity for trees to grow in their stead.

By the creek side, however, where the soil is softer, more welcoming, the seed sinks into the dirt, the seed opens, root systems begin to develop as the baby tree seeks out necessary moisture.

There, in that place, surrounded by high plains desert, the roots find a home and a tree begins to grow. At maturity, the tree will grow to be 15 or 20 feet, its branches gnarly and twisted, its leaves an olive color.
If you could see beneath the surface of the soil, you would see roots, long and thin, pushing out through the soil always bending toward the creek bed.

Just as they say water finds the easiest way to move in nature, so roots find the easiest and least encumbered way to water.

And for that tree in that setting, water is the most important thing. The tree will get plenty of sun, and it will be surrounded by soil, but water, with the nutrients that flow in it, is a precious commodity. Water is the deal breaker for that scrub tree.

In the very first Psalm, the psalmist paints a picture of those in tune with God as being like a tree, transplanted to the creek side, so that it grows and prospers.

Hear:

“Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.

They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.”

We are like trees, planted. If we are to survive, to thrive, to prosper, we must be planted near water, rooted in soil massaged by waters flow, surrounded by life giving moisture.

And to make it all a bit complicated, there are water types and some water types are preferable, more helpful than others.

Have you noticed in the grocery store all the selections of flavored water you can buy. I am not a big fan. My flavored water of choice is Mountain Dew!

Anyway, imagine that the water that nourishes our spirits comes in a variety of flavors. And the type of water we pursue influences our growth as spiritual beings, as human beings.

Some water is bad for the tree.
salt water,
contaminated water,
poisoned water.

And some of the water which we pursue to help us grow is not good for us,
narcissm
pettiness,
greed
hate.

Unlike the water that a tree’s roots tap, we have freedom to explore the waters and we can choose that which will be positive instruments for our growth.

The waters of Love.
Unconditional, radical, real.
Love that is not a commodity to be earned, but a gift that is given.

The waters of Community.
We truly are in this together. The great lesson of the early church was that faith is lived in community and not in isolation.

I was with a friend exploring Spearfish Canyon which is populated with Aspen Trees and Birch Trees, both of which have white bark. I asked him how I could tell which is Aspen and which is Birch. He told me, and I don’t know if its true, Birch trees grow in Bunches, Aspens grow alone.

Generally speaking, spiritually healthy people grow in bunches, in community.

The water of Truth.
God is truth. Now that statement is not to be confused with what we declare to be God’s truth.
God is truth. Your understanding of God may not be truth.

And I believe, that Truth, wherever it is found, is beautiful and to be treasured. I lived a good portion of my life ignoring truth because it wasn’t labeled Christian. Oh the freedom I have discovered by believing that God speak in various and sundry ways.

The water of Peace.
The world in which we find ourselves is chaotic, loud and contentious, which seems to be the way many people want it.

The Prince of Peace brings wholeness, completeness.

The Prince of Peace urges us to cooperate and live in harmony.

The Prince of Peace urges us to chill out, and experience life. “My peace I give you,” he says.

The water of Kindness
Kindness shows up in our words and in our actions.

The water of Respect. Treat, Respect other people the way you want to be treated, respected. I am so confused that in our culture, choosing to show respect, and deference, and kindness is judged to be political correctness run amuck. I don’t get it.

If respecting people, and being kind is political correct, than label me as politically correct.

All these types of water are waters we pursue. Not all of us have grown up in families where roots were set in healthy, life affirming water.

But, we can still pursue it.
In our relationships,
In our mentors.
One of the things I cherish about Second Baptist Church is that we provide good, refreshing, healthy spiritual water.

And this is important. Not only are we nourished by the waters, we become nourishment to others, as we practice love,
and community,
and truth,
and peace,
and kindness,
and respect.

Be planted. Be a planter.

Amen.

June 10, 2018: Adventures in Waiting

Pastor Steve Mechem

Psalm 130 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.


Audio only.

June 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for June is now available here.

May 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for May is now available here.

April 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for April is now available here.

March 2018 New Outlook Newsletter

The Outlook for January is now available here.