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Friday, February 28, 2014

Sermon-- Taking Off our Masks and Finding our True Beauty

This is the sermon I will be giving on Sunday.

Men-- this sermon is going to sound a lot like it's geared toward the women at first but bear with me because it's a message that you need to hear maybe as much as they do.

OK girls, ladies, women---

I don't know about you, but I feel naked without makeup on! I feel exposed if someone sees me without it. I know this is true for a number of us.

How did we learn this?

We learned it from our moms, aunts, grandmothers, big sisters, cousins, teachers, mentors, neighbors, role models, who learned it from their moms, aunts, grandmothers,neighbors, mentors....need I go on?

Remember when we reached each age we'd get to do something new? When we were 10 we could get our ears pierced, when we were 11 we could shave our legs and wear lipstick, at 13 we could wear eye liner and mascara and get our nails done. (Everyone had different rules for different ages of course, but it was about the same because if our friends were doing it, we BEGGED our parents to let us do it too!)

It went from something fun to experiment with-- trying purple eyeshadow, red lipstick and glitter nail polish-- to a chore we couldn't live without.




Here are some things I've heard or experienced:

I would love to have dinner with you, but that's the night I get my nails done. I really want to see you, but my nails are a mess!” When did how our nails look become more important than relationships?

Oh no, I woke up late--- I have 15 minutes to get ready!! Brush hair, brush teeth, put on deodorant, makeup and clothes, skip breakfast. When did makeup become more important than sustenance?

I remember early on in my relationship with my husband, he stopped by unannounced and I was still in my pajamas—my hair was frizzy and I had no makeup on. I nearly died of embarrassment! He claims to like me better without makeup...I still can't figure out if he really means it...I mean, really, have you SEEN me without makeup???

Being without makeup is something many women can't even fathom!

Let's think about the story of Adam and Eve. After Eve eats the fruit, the story goes like this:

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”






Eve was not born knowing she was naked, she learned she was naked and was ashamed. Just like Eve, we girls are not born knowing our faces are naked, we learn that they are by looking up to the women in our lives. The women that hide themselves behind their masks of products.

While writing this sermon I came across a video of four women who were asked to be a part of a Photoshop experiment. Four women modeled in a professional photo shoot and then were photo shopped, as if the pictures were going into a magazine. After seeing the pictures they were shocked at how the photos didn't look like them. This is the insight they gained from the experience:

“You look at these ads in magazines and you see these women that look absolutely flawless, and you think, “I wish I could look like that, but who really looks like this?”

We live in an interesting time where we feel like we have to make people look like the standard that's not attainable for anybody.”

I think something that everyone should keep in mind is it's natural to be critical of yourself, it's natural to be uncomfortable or awkward. But you have to know that the ideal just doesn't exist.”

Instead of looking at other things, and trying to aspire to be something else
We should just be comfortable in who we are and just try to be our best selves.”

(here's the video)

http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewgauthier/watch-four-women-react-to-being-photoshopped-into-cover-mode




The “models” that girls and women look up to are not real. We are killing ourselves trying to achieve an unattainable goal.

Please do not think I am saying wearing makeup is all bad; but hiding behind it is. If we are not able to leave the house without it, perhaps we need to take a look at what we value.

Do we value outer beauty or inner?

Do we spend more time working on our outer beauty or our inner?

Do we claim to not have time in the day to read the Bible, do devotionals, pray, volunteer or call a sick friend and then spend an hour or more on getting ready –doing our hair, makeup, nails, and choosing what to wear? Some men are just as bad in this department!


Lent is a time to go inward... to look inside ourselves, to work on our inner beauty and our relationship with God. Lent is a time of cleansing and renewal for our mind, body and soul.


Since we've already been talking about our physicality, let's continue with the body-- It's so important to care for our bodies, so that they can be the optimal vessels to carry out God's will. How many times has a person health, weight, or being out of shape stopped them from doing more with their life? Stopped them from going on mission trips, volunteering in certain capacities, help around the church, playing with the kids in their life, etc?




It's important for us to keep up with exercise and to eat right. Some denominations go vegan during Lent as a way to cleanse their bodies and purify themselves. In traditions where people “give something up” for lent, I've mostly heard of people giving up food. Chocolate, soda, pizza, meat on Fridays...and so on. This idea of cleansing the body is deep in our Christian roots. Our minds, bodies and souls are all connected. When we begin to cleanse one, others will follow and be affected as well.

Did you ever hear the phrase, “Change your mind and your life will follow?” It's because the mind is a powerful thing. Learning is a wonderful thing. We should all strive to learn something new everyday. Education opens doors we didn't even know existed. Learning new things opens the world to us and allows us to discover more about God and each other.

We are all creatures of habit. Much of the way we live is out of habit. So if we want to lead better lives, we have to change our habits. We can adopt habits that are more in tune with God. To change our habits we must cleanse our minds. Meditation can help with this. There goes that word again! Some people love it, some people hate it. If you don't think you have time for it, you do.

Set an alarm for three times a day. Sit in silence for 1-5 minutes to begin with. Are you like me and can absolutely not clear your mind? Here's some tips I've pick up along the way--- focus on a word, like, “peace” “harmony” “love” “light” “mercy” “compassion,” and repeat that word.

Focus on your breath, just breathe in and breathe out normally, and simply notice it. It's a reminder to slow down and remember the most simple things of life and be grateful for them. Another kind of meditation is guided meditation-- these are wonderful if you can find the right ones. They help you to go deeper into yourself and tap into your innate wisdom.





Which brings us to soul. It's time to connect with God. Lent is a reminder to tune out the world and tune in with God. Talk with God. Say thank you, say sorry, say what am I supposed to do now? Ask God how to deal with the difficulties of life. Ask God to break you of your bad habits. Ask God to show you how to incorporate better habits into your life. Ask God how to stop doing those things that hurt you and others. Ask God what you can do to better love yourself and others. Ask God what it is you should be learning next. Go deep inside this Lent. Learn more about yourself and about God. Don't be afraid to think outside the box.

Close your eyes--- picture in your mind-- what is God calling you to do this Lent? What does God want you to cleanse? How are you supposed to find renewal?

At the end of Lent, my hope is that this whole congregation turns into more beautiful people. People who value inner beauty more than outer beauty, people who work on what they look like and feel like on the inside.

That inner beauty will radiate to the outside and shine more brightly than any makeup we can put on.

Let's show girls and other women that you don't need makeup to be beautiful. That inner beauty is more important and valuable than outer beauty. When we plaster over ourselves, we're hiding our true selves and our true beauty.

So next week on the first Sunday of Lent, I hope you'll consider coming bare-faced to church—no makeup-- focusing on inner beauty and showing the next generation of women that they don't have to live behind a mask.

Thanks be to God. Amen.




Sermon--Idols

This is a sermon I gave last Sunday about the "idols" we've been making in America--celebrities, technology... Perhaps it's time to rethink our dependence on these things and go inward, looking for God in those quiet places.



Today's reading is the 10 commandments, but I wanted to focus on one specifically, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Another time idols are mentioned is Leviticus 19: “Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves.”

Out of curiosity, I googled “idol” and the first result was the TV show, American Idol. Other sites it offered me had to do with celebrities as well. I found that pretty interesting. In America we turn celebrities into idols and the purpose of the show, American Idol, is to create a new idol every year. We may not have paid much attention to the name before, but it takes on a new meaning when you think of it in the biblical term.

So many of us idolize celebrities—whether they are actors, singers, athletes... We follow their lives, we watch all their games, movies, shows, we have all their music...we want to dress like them, we want to meet them, we buy the products they endorse. Has anyone ever met a celebrity? It's true, you get star struck... but aren't they just a person like you or I?

Why do we make idols out of them? What is it about them that attracts us to them? What is it about them that we want to be more like? Is it something godly? Or is it something superficial?


The next result google had for me was the dictionary, and the definition of “idol” according to dictionary.com is:

An image used as an object of worship.
A false god.
One that is adored, often blindly or excessively.
Something visible but without substance.



After I read this list, it sounded like celebrities but it also sounds like a number of other things in our lives.

I thought of this commandment when I came to the realization that I idolize my cell phone. I heard in a sermon, “God is closer to you than your Droid or iphone.” That stuck with me. At first I thought it was humorous, but then I couldn’t quite get it out of my head.

Soon after I heard that sermon, I got a nail in my tire
so I had to go to PepBoys to get it fixed.


On the way there, I realized I forgot my cell phone, but I figured this would be a quick fix...I could go a half hour without my phone. When I got there the service guy told me it would be a two hour wait. Immediately I thought, do I really want to wait around for two hours without my phone? So I said to the guy, “I left my cell phone at home, I’m going to go get it and then I’ll come back.”


Now two hours really isn’t that bad of a wait, especially when the pepboys is in a shopping center. But I hate being without my phone that much that I drove back home—with a nail in my tire--- to go get my phone.

That’s when I realized that I was a bit too attached to my metal idol.


God is always with us, God is closer to us than our cell phones, so shouldn’t we be intentional about being as close to God as we are to our cell phones, or whatever it is you may idolize? Now I try to be intentional about spending time with God through prayer, or noticing the presence of God, but it’s not quite the same. I can go two hours without thinking about God and not notice, but I can’t go two hours without my cell phone without noticing.

It's easy to get sucked into the American way of life of always being busy, always checking e-mail, facebook, always being available to people and not being able to sit in silence, and sit with God. How hard is it for many of us to sit without any distractions?

We've gotten so wrapped up in this way of life that we've lost sight of what's important. We've forgotten as a society how important it is to take a Sabbath, to spend time with God, to sit in silence with our own thoughts, to have a meal with family without a cell phone or ipad distracting us, to simply spend time with real people in real time.

This way of life that we've gotten caught up in is not as trustworthy, beneficial or reliable as God's way of life.
Technology is not reliable. God is much more reliable. Remember all the Y2K madness? Everyone was freaking out over what was going to happen if the computers crashed. We’ve built our lives around computers so much so that we depend on them and don’t know what to do without them.

Their absence causes us anxiety. But do we feel the same about God? Does the absence of prayer cause us anxiety? Think of what the world would be like if everyone instead built their lives around loving one another and depending on God.



God’s love for us doesn’t break. We can't drop God's mercy in the toilet. God's grace can’t get a virus and crash and God surely does not run out of batteries at the end of the day. God always takes our calls, God sent us the greatest text message there is: The Bible, and Google may not have all the answers, but God does.


So I thought: Why do I idolize my cell phone? Why do I need it all the time? Are the things I'm reading or playing on there worth my precious time? Our time is a precious gift from God. It is nice to relax and watch a funny video or play a game here and there, but when it's consuming our lives, we are not being good stewards of our time.

I know I keep talking about cell phones, but you can apply this to whatever may be consuming your time. Watching TV is another way Americans spend a lot of their time.

Lent is approaching and people are often looking for ways to “give something up.” I've never liked giving something up for no reason. I like to improve my spiritual practices and if I'm giving something up in the process, so be it. A technology fast would be something beneficial to give up in Lent if we replace the time we spent on technology by spending it praying, reading the Bible, volunteering, talking or visiting with people, going for walks and enjoying the beauty that God created. We don't have to give up technology completely, but we could take one hour of our day when we would have been on the computer or watching TV and used it for improving our relationship with God.




It is easy to get consumed in the American lifestyle of making idols of things and people. But Jesus came to show us a different way to live. To take us out of the culture of the land and show us God's way. In this upcoming season of Lent, let's unplug. Let's go inward. Let's spend time in the quiet, listening for the whispers of God. Looking for the beauty in the small wonders all around us, meditating and discerning where God wants us to go and wants us to do. But most importantly, just simply enjoying being in God's presence without any distractions.  

Five Minute Friday--Choose

Five Minute Friday-- This is a Lisa-Jo Baker Five Minute Friday Post.  It's simple: she provides a word and people all over the world write non-stop for five minutes about it.

http://lisajobaker.com/

This week's word is CHOOSE

Go.

Life is made up of a series of choices.  One choice leads to another which leads to another and each one brings us to the very point where we are in our lives.  These choices do not just affect us, but they affect others as well.  People we know and even people we do not.  Something as simple as buying a product affects a number people we may never meet in our lives.  So the question is-- what kind of choices are we making?  Good ones?  Ethical ones?  Informed ones?  We can choose to be informed or to stay ignorant.  We can choose to consciously do good or do harm.  We can choose to act ethically or unethically.  So the choice is yours.  What do you choose?

End.

Check out this article to get informed about one corporation that is acting unethically and how you can help:

http://mfsaweb.org/?p=7789

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sermon-- Salt & Light

Sermon for Gospel Lesson:  Matthew 5:13-20

"Salt & Light" 

You ARE the salt of the earth, you ARE the light of the world. Jesus isn't saying, “you can become the salt and light” he is saying, “you ARE the salt and light.”

Studies have been done on children and self-esteem that show for every negative comment a child hears, they need to hear 10 good ones to combat it. So if a child is called “bad” long enough, they will start living into that. 

If this science holds true, let us tell people what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5: You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. How empowering for a person, especially a child to hear-- you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Perhaps if we hear it enough, we will live into it. What a wonderful place this would be if only we told people from an early age that they are salt and light.

There is this concern in this passage about salt losing its taste and lights being hidden.

When I sing “This little light of mine” to A, he yells enthusiastically “NO!” when I say, “Hide it under a bushel.” My hope and prayer is that he will resist the temptation to hide his light with as much enthusiasm as he gives to singing the NO in the song!


My hope and prayer is that you do too. So often it's easier to hide our light rather than let it shine for the world to see. So often it's easier to remain silent than to speak up for what is right. So often we let things slide as a “joke” or don't find it worth our breath to speak up against someone who we think will never change.  But that is precisely when we hide our light and begin to lose our saltiness.

We are taught to be racist and sexist. I know, these are words people hate to hear, but the reality is, like it or not, the world is plagued by them, so as the salt of the earth and light of the world, we do need to talk about it.

In seminary those of us who were white were asked, “how did you learn you were white?” This question opened a whole can of worms because for many it's not easy to pinpoint the exact moment we found out we were white. We don't like to think that racism and prejudices were learned, because we like to believe we come from a good and loving family. And many of us do come from good and loving families. But racism IS learned.

Racism is learned in that side comment that your aunt made, in the “joke” that your grandpa told, it's learned by not being allowed to go to “that part of the neighborhood”... and they all seem harmless or not significant enough when they happen, but when all the little things build over time, they become a much bigger picture and they result in one group feeling superior or inferior to another.

I can't pinpoint the moment I found out I was white or female, but in all the little comments I heard over the years from people inside and outside my family, I gathered a picture in my mind that I was superior as a white person and inferior as a girl.



From a young age we are told who we can and cannot be. Things are slowly changing, but we're not quite there yet. Last Sunday was the Superbowl and we can see examples there. One of the most controversial commercials from the Superbowl was the Coca Cola ad where people were singing “America the Beautiful” in many different languages. People were really outraged over this one.

There was also a Cheerios commercial, this is the second of two with Gracie and her parents. The first was a huge controversy—why? Because Gracie's mom is white and her dad is black. Many people applaud Cheerios for breaking down the color barrier and showing a bi-racial family, and many people were offended to see this. But why? What are we teaching our children by thinking Gracie's family is something to be offended by? What are we teaching our children when singing “America the Beautiful” in many tongues is something to be offended by? We are teaching them racism.

Sexism runs much more rampantly in the Superbowl. There are two obvious points--- 1) women can't play professional football 2) women are often seen as sexual objects. Not only as the underpaid cheerleaders on the sidelines, but also in the commercials. This year wasn't as bad as other years, but it's still there. Think of GoDaddy commercials of years past, think of the soda stream commercial where Scarlet Johansson wants to get the message out about the product so she strips down to a tight dress, flips her hair and bites on the straw.  There were others but I don't have to explain each one.




The car commercials didn't have women drivers, and the car commercial that showed German engineers getting their wings---did you notice none of them were women? In this commercial a dad is driving with his daughter.  When the car reaches 100,000 miles and he says to her, “Every time a Volkswagen reaches 100,000 miles a German engineer gets HIS wings.” That comment may seem small and insignificant, but it's one piece in a larger puzzle of showing girls what they can and cannot be. The commercial then cuts to a Volkswagen factory where a number of male engineers sprout wings.


This may sound silly and far-fetched but I assure you, it's not. Most of us were not sat down as a child and told, “this is how to be racist, this is how to be sexist.” It is something we pick up bit by bit throughout our lives.

So as the salt of the earth and light of the world it is our job to combat these racist and sexist notions at every turn.

You are salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. I am not telling you how to be, I am telling you, you are. And I know many people might be thinking, “yeah, sure, that's nice” or “wow, the pastor obviously doesn't know me well!” But I bet you are better than you give yourself credit for. In fact I challenge you to keep a Salt and Light record.

It doesn't have to be anything long.   At the end of each day, write down or just think to yourself.... what did I do today to be worthy of the title: salt of the earth, light of the world? How did God help me to help others today?



I keep a blessings log on and off in which I write, “Today I have been blessed...” and then finish the sentence. That reminds me to look for where God has worked in my life...Now I will have to add this part.... “Today I have been salt and light by...” So I can record where God has worked in my life and how God has worked through me in others lives. It's hard for a lot of us to think in this way because we are taught to be humble and not to boast. But this log isn't about boasting, it's about empowering ourselves to be better servants of God.


For we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. As God's will, let it be so.