Monday, January 10, 2011

On the curb or in the parade?

Below is the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  I hope that in it you here God calling you to join in the mission of God that is already happening all around us.  

James 2:14-26 (The Message)
 14-17Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
 18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
   Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
 19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?
 21-24Wasn't our ancestor Abraham "made right with God by works" when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn't it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are "works of faith"? The full meaning of "believe" in the Scripture sentence, "Abraham believed God and was set right with God," includes his action. It's that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named "God's friend." Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
 25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn't her action in hiding God's spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up with a corpse. Separate faith and works and you get the same thing: a corpse.

As you may have already figured out from the title of today’s message – if you were reading ahead, we are going to spend a little time this morning thinking and talking about parades.  For some people parades, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or the Rose Parade on New Year’s day are established and important traditions. 
For others their primary connection to parades is through an experience in a marching band, having walked in seemingly countless ones in all sorts of weather.  And for still others, the best part or the most memorable aspect of a parade is that at some point at least, someone is going to be throwing candy.
For me my connection – and my appreciation for – parades stems from two moments from my childhood that I still remember fondly. 
The town I grew up in always had a parade Halloween night, in which any costumed person could march.  There were prizes for various catagories and age groups and every child that made it to the end got a goody bag filled with candy from some of the local businesses.
When I was 5 years old  I won the prize for funniest costume – its amazing what a little makeup, old clothes and a pillow stuffed in a shirt can do.  And as the winner, I got my picture in the paper and a small prize.  It was awesome.
My other ‘parade memory’ was walking (with my ‘boom box’) along with several of my friends as part of the ‘float’ for 1160 radio as a 6th grader.  This was for a memorial day parade and we were all wearing jean shorts, neon green shirts (with the sleeves rolled up), hats on backward and carrying our boom boxes on our shoulders.  Again – awesome.
Maybe because of these two experiences I am always pretty gung ho about parades and I always push us to make a concerted effort to get the family to every parade possible.  But if I am being honest, I realized recently that I really don’t like parades that much.  Or at the very least I have found that most parades leave me at least a little disappointed. 
I was reminded of these experiences this week as I heard about and watched a video about Bob Goff and one of his family traditions.  Bob Goff is a prominent lawyer in California and Washington state, a law professor at Pepperdine, dedicated Christian and the founder of Restore International which works through governments and the law to rescues children from slavery in India and many other places around the world. 
Bob lives in San Diego, and when his three children were young they were sitting around on New Years Day, bored. And Bob thought it was a crime anybody should be bored on New Years Day. (Let’s face it, unless you are a football fan, there’s not a whole lot to do.)
Bob asked the kids what they could do to honor the fact God gave them a day. And eventually Bob and his wife Maria, and their children, came up with the idea of a parade. So they set out to have a parade on their street. They went house to house telling their neighbors they were going to have a parade. And the neighbors must have indulged the children by saying they would watch.
But the Goff’s had a better idea than just a parade people would watch. They decided nobody could watch the parade. They could only be in the parade.  And so a few neighbors joined in. The small parade marched from the end of the street to the Goff house, where they had a small cookout, if I remember correctly.
Now, more than ten years later, the New Years Day Parade is a tradition. Hundreds of people join in (nobody watches, everybody marches) and the day has not been boring since. Not only has it not been boring for the Goff family, it hasn’t been boring for hundreds of neighbors as well.
Each year the parade selects a Grand Marshal. One year, the Grand Marshal was the mailman, who marched in front of the crowd throwing letters into the air.  And each year a New-Years Day Queen is selected, sometimes from the local retirement center. And the Queen gives a speech, and there is an annual Queen’s brunch and everything.
In the Goff Family parade nobody is allowed to watch. Nobody can sit on the curb. Everybody marches.  It’s a wonderful, true story about how much better life is when we participate.  If you’ve not made a resolution yet in 2011, make this one with me: I will not watch 2011, I will participate.
I found this story on Christian writer Donald Miller’s blog and it also had a video of the parade, most of the people not doing anything special or different just walking along, being themselves, part of the parade.  It was a powerful reminder of how meaningful life can be when we get up off the curb and join in.
Of course this is exactly what James is calling us to do in our Scripture passage for this morning. 
Having faith but not doing anything with it is sort of like going to the parade and sitting on the curb. 
You are there – you have had the experience of the parade, but sitting and watching doesn’t even begin to compare to being in the parade.
God did not call us to sit and watch life and the world pass us by. 
God did not create us to be observers of our lives. 
God did not call us to be simply observers of the work and mission of God in the world
We were created to participate in the work and mission of God.  We are called to follow Jesus as he leads us through the parade of life  actively participating in the mission of God in this church and in the world.  Life lived with God is not a spectator sport, but rather an action or practice of getting in step with the leader of our parade and our lives. 
And as we think about ‘marching’ in the parade of life, it does of course matter what direction you are marching in.  Who is leading your parade – because who you are following – can make all the difference in the world. 
Part of our call is to live lives that invite others to walk – or march – along side of us.  In fact it is the essence and at the heart of the call God places on the heart of every Christian.   The tragic events that took place yesterday in Arizona only serve to remind us that if we aren’t showing up and sharing with the world – at the very least all of those around us - what it looks like to walk into the light of God and sharing the love, peace and joy that can be found in following behind Jesus then other things and other voices will call people toward different, darker paths. 
But God is gracious and even when we or those around us fall into step behind darker voices, sit down and watch the parade go by or even start following another ‘grand marshal’ that is leading in the wrong direction. 
We hear of that Good News in James as well: Rahab – a prostitute is lifted up as a witness to the work of God and of faithfulness to God’s call for us to be working for God.  It is never too late.  Rahab heard God call: follow me, and she turned joined the ranks of those marching in the parade behind Jesus Christ and began living the life she was designed for.  As long as you have a step left to take God extends his invitation to join in the parade that is the work and mission of the church
As I am no longer a child eager for attention and not shy about seeking it out, one question remains for me in this metaphor: who am I to be marching in any parade – God’s or otherwise – isn’t that for the special or the important people? 
I found the answer to that lingering question in this quote from Marieanne Williamson:
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
We are invited, called and qualified to march in the parade of life behind Jesus simply because Jesus asks us to.  But more than that, when we get up off the curb and begin to march in step with Jesus and life a life of faith married with service and action God uses us to invite others to get up and walk along side us.
Each of us has been uniquely gifted and as such we all look at least a little different and add something our own and special to this parade of Life.  But make no mistake our gifts – all of our gifts were made for marching, for participating in the parade of life as we follow along behind Jesus. 
We were not built to be spectators.   
That is Good News.

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