“Not Giving Away My Shot!”

Last week, as I was in Taos for my pastor’s retreat, I was exposed to something new and powerful. Matthew Miller, the pastor at First Presbyterian ABQ, insisted that we listen to the soundtrack from Hamilton from beginning to end. I was not disappointed. What inspiring and powerful music! Then last Friday, PBS aired it’s documentary on the play and on the person Alexander Hamilton, and needless to say, I have been quite caught up in it ever since. The story is remarkable. The lyrics are mind-blowing. The talent of the performers is off the charts. Of course, it will be 10 years down the road when it finally shows up at Pope Joy, but you can bet that I will be first in line for tickets when that day comes.


I mention all of this thinking about our scripture this week, Hebrews 11-12—the great cloud of witnesses. This is a scripture that reminds us of the great faith and heroics of the saints that have come before us and paved the way for our faith today. Do note, however, that most of those lifted up as heroes of the faith were also people who were quite broken as well! In a very real way, the founding fathers and mothers of this country, like Hamilton, have marked similarities to the heroes of our faith. Perhaps the reason that Hamilton has been such a smash hit this year is that it was released amidst the context of our current political climate. And while many of us are concerned that this is the nastiest political climate in history, I don’t foresee either of our current presidential candidates shooting someone in a duel if they lose—just sayin’.


I suppose this is all to say, that what truly separates the saints and heroes of the past from the sinners of the present is only death. As Oscar Wilde put it, “The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future.” Even our great heroes, both of the faith and of politics/history, were just as broken as we are. I love how this passage from Hebrews acknowledges this, “39 All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.” In other words, they may have done well, and may be remembered favorably, but they were human. It is dependent upon us to take the next steps in God’s plan, knowing full well that we can’t perfect it either—that is up to the pioneer of faith, Jesus.


I see this as a call to grace. All of us fall short, but all of us must keep running the race that is laid before us so that we too, might be a part of the great cloud of witnesses. It also reminds us of the grace that we should be extending to our political opponents as well, lest the fate of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton befall us as well. Part of respecting and celebrating the saints and heroes that came before is not repeating their mistakes, and stepping up to play our own part going forward. Whoever is elected this year is flawed—no doubt about it. Which is even more reason that we are needed to step up and do our part in bringing peace and cooperation within our country. As Soren Kierkegaard put it, “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.” I believe this is the case, as those we remember as heroes and saints, weren’t always so. This time we live in now, may very well be remembered in the same light so many years from now, when we are yet again locked in bitter feud. Stop and take a look at the bigger picture, and take a deep breath. The saints who came before have been through worse than we are seeing right now, and indeed, they were worse than we are right now. So let us all rise up and follow in faith, that the generations years from now might look upon us in favor as those who did our part as a portion of the great cloud of witnesses as well—even though we can see that the sinner title probably fits us all better in the present.


Growing in Gratitude

What is it that you are grateful for? What causes you to give thanks? Those are some big important questions that we will be dealing with for about the next 6 weeks. We have come upon Stewardship season in the church, and this year our theme is “Growing in Gratitude.”


You may have noticed that the front entrance display has been repurposed as a gratitude center, and many of you may have even offered up things you are grateful for on the board. Let me first say a thank you to Carol Pierce for her work that made that possible! As we step into stewardship season, you can expect that every Sunday we will have a special prompt in the sermon for you to stop and give thanks, and then add your thanks to the Gratitude wall. Can you imagine the kind of message that sends to new people coming into the church? The first thing you see is what we are grateful for!


I also want to point out that this season of stewardship where we are focusing on gratitude will be built around Colossians 3:12-17. “Be thankful people. The word of Christ must live in your richly…Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” It is a powerful piece of scripture that reminds us of the center of our faith—thanks and praise to God.


Gratitude is a powerful force. When we live with thankfulness in our hearts, it changes us. The world is a much better place when we are taking the time to take stock of what we have to be grateful for. If you remember last week’s sermon illustration by A.J. Jacobs, he talked about the way that living with gratitude changed him from being an agnostic to being a reverent agnostic! He spoke of the way being grateful for so many little things—I didn’t fall down the stairs, I didn’t get in a car accident on the way here—made him realize just how miraculous life really is. I think we all tend to lose sight of this.


What’s more, I think gratitude changes our relationship with each other, the world, and with God. When I am at my most grateful, I am more willing to care for others, to give to others, to serve others, and in so doing, serve God. With this kind of attitude, the world is a malleable place that is ready to be shaped into the Kingdom of God. God is never closer to us than when we live as grateful people who are ready to go out into the world in service to God.


So you have been forewarned—we will be spending a lot of time thinking about what we are thankful for! Perhaps this is a good time to start taking stock, so that you are prepared for the season of Thanksgiving to come!