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Focusing on People, not the Fuss

Luke 10:38-42

Martha means “master.”

Head of the household.

And like her name implies, Martha was in charge.

She made sure that everything was handled.

  • When her brother Lazarus died, she was the first one to run out to Jesus on the road and scold him for not getting there sooner.
  • She was also the first of the sisters to recognize Jesus as the messiah in the Gospel of John.
  • And so it makes sense that Martha, the one in charge, is also the one in the kitchen, making preparations and making sure everything is in order.

And yet Martha gets bad press in a lot of sermons about this text.

And so I want to be clear here that hard work and Martha’s work in particular is not something Jesus is condemning here.

We all need Marthas in our lives.

Those people who are behind the scenes, making sure every detail is attended to.

People like our Ministry Team Lead for Hospitality, Jill Crawey and her team, including folks like Carol St. John, people who have stepped up in such a big way this past month to offer hospitality at 4 memorial services as well as at today’s Thanks for Giving meal.

You’ll see some of the work they’ve put in today, but a lot of it is things that happen behind the scenes.

I also think about Roberta Glaser and the team she’s developing to help us manage memorial services even better.

This past month, she made sure flowers were arranged, families were cared for, and ushers were called and in place.

And we can’t leave out Meg and Dorenda and Linda and… me too, who juggled logistics to make sure every service was equally meaningful and well-put-together.

And it wasn’t just memorial services where our Martha sides showed up this month.

I think about Marge, for example. Wow!

  • In addition to running a beautiful Generosity Campaign, she worked with Sammy to organize the boxes for the East Mountain Food Pantry. She calculated exactly how many potatoes and yams each family got, did the shopping, and then put printed forms on every box, so that the volunteers like me who showed up knew exactly what to do.

And then there are all of you who weren’t necessarily “in charge,” but who put in countless hours. Shopping, setting up, carrying food, serving, driving leftovers to Casa Q, winterizing our garden, or setting up our Cornucopia, among other things.

And it’s not just here at church where our Martha sides show up.

There are many of us who are hosting a large number of guests, maybe not here at the church, but in our homes.

I know one person here today who’s welcoming over 20 guests, not just for Thanksgiving dinner, but for 8 meals. And she’s doing all the shopping!

Whether it’s our job or calling or a volunteer position, these tasks and events involve a LOT of work.

And a attention to detail.

And that was Martha. It was her gift. The hard work and the attention to detail.

She made sure that everything was in order for Jesus’ arrival.

And I want to be clear, Jesus, in this text is not condemning the Martha’s of the world. In fact, Jesus praises Martha over and over in the Bible, saying how much he loves her.

And…in that spirit of love, Jesus also encourages Martha, and he encourages the Marth in all of us to keep perspective when faced with enormous tasks such as these.

I believe that here, he’s encouraging Martha not to stop working, but rather to relax, to breath, and to keep things simple.

This year, at Church of the Good Shepherd, there are some places we’re doing better at this than others.

For example, our Council decided to cater our Thanks for Giving meal this year.

The Council used to not only donate the turkeys but also cook them.

Knowing how much our Council works (and if you don’t, I’ll tell you that at least two of them volunteered over 40 hours last week), can you imagine, during this busy season, giving them yet another task?

I’ll confess that in that past, when we had the Council cook the turkeys, there was also some variation in the quality of the cooking…

Everyone has their gifts. Not everyone’s gift is cooking.

So this year, the Council is keeping it simple.

They’re hosting a beautiful meal, but they’re not fussing, at least not as much, in the kitchen.

Jill Crawley is still there, and if there’s someone you’re looking to thank or shower with gifts this holiday season, she’s a great person to consider!

Because even keeping it simple, someone still has to be in charge. And that’s Jill. She’s our celebrated Martha today.

Thankfully…she also has a crew of volunteers that is helping her.

And…my hope is, that they’re not so busy and distracted with all of their serving responsibilities that they forget to enjoy and get to know one another.

The Amplified Bible translates today’s text to say that Martha was not only busy but DISTRACTED with all of her serving responsibilities.

In the Message translation, Jesus says to Martha, “You’re fussing over far too much.”

Jesus pleads with her, “Martha, Relax a little. Keep it simple. I don’t need a feast for a king. What’s important is not what we eat or how beautiful it is, but who we are with.”

Keep it simple. And focus on the people, not the fuss.

Whether we’re hosting a meal (or 8), sharing time with guests, or putting together a memorial service, it’s important to remember that simple can still be meaningful.

At this point in my career, I’ve done over 150 weddings and funerals. And at just as many pot lucks, if not more. And no one has once said “I wish the linen had been ironed better.”

No one has once said, “I wish the hour devours at the service had been made from scratch.”

No one has once said, “I wish the bride had worn a more expensive dress.”

You know what people remember?

The couple getting married. Or the stories about the person who’s passed from this life. Or the people they shared those moments with.

In our text today, Jesus tells Mary that what she’s getting sitting at Jesus’ feet is something that will never be taken away from her.

Those stories, those intimate conversations, those moments of laughter – those are what stay with us.

I don’t remember what I ate at Thanksgiving in 1985. But I do remember singing along while my great grandfather played the piano.

I don’t remember whether the pie was any good at the Christmas pot luck in 2008. But I do remember talking to the 85-year-old member of my congregation who’d just gotten her first tattoo and wanted everyone to see it.

At our memorial services this month, I heard over and over again that people just wished they’d spent a little bit more time getting to know the person they were celebrating.

We learned amazing things about people at those services – like how Carl rescued dying service members from the front lines in WWII, how Jim McElhaney wrote love-note comic strips and left them for his wife Penny when he went out of town, how Wayne traveled the world and loved to sing Amazing Grace at the top of his lungs while riding his horse. And how Orp, was a clown. Okay, lots of us guessed that one.

But those stories made me wonder, what depths of one another’s lives are we missing?

What insights does that person sitting next to us have to share that we haven’t heard yet?

And what do we have the opportunity to learn and appreciate while we’re still here together?

Now, I certainly don’t want people to stop cooking or volunteering, but I do hope that we work to keep things in perspective, and when we can, keep things simple, fuss a little less, so that even those of us working behind the scenes can take a moment to sit, listen, and enjoy one another.

This church is full of extraordinary people.

For example – did you know that Jenny Sanchez, in addition to leading our justice ministry and working in our garden, is also a phenomenal Latin dancer? Or that Michael Tucker, our Vice Moderator, is also a writer and videographer and one of the few Americans to try his hand at writing in the Japanese genre of interactive online visual novels.

How many of us know that Sky, our Ministry Team Lead for Administration, is also a 3rd-generation blacksmith who’s forges steel swords in his garage.

Or that Karen Bash, our former moderator, is running for elected office.

And Dorenda, our accomplished pianist, also has the cutest puppy you’ll ever meet.

Of course, listening and sharing is a two-way street. In order for us to get to know one another, we also have to be willing to fill the role of Jesus, sharing our own stories and letting people know a little bit more about who we are.

Trust me, people want to know!

So many of us think that our lives are uninteresting. Or we’ve been taught to be humble and keep our accomplishments to ourselves.

But I’ve also never done a memorial service for anyone of any age where people didn’t have something in their lives that people valued, that was cause for celebration.

When we share who we are and what we do and what we care about, it brings us closer to one another.

So my challenge to us today and in this seasons of generosity and is to give thanks for the Marthas in our lives, and to also

Keep it simple. Share with one another. And focus on the people, not the fuss.

Sermon – “Money Talks”

Matthew 6:19-21

Today is the kick-off to our Season of Generosity, and the Worship Team and Generosity Team have challenged me today to talk to you about the spiritual reasons for giving money to the church.

 

So spiritual reason #1 – I give to the church because the Bible tells me so.

 

For those of us who value the teachings of Jesus and who follow his example, we should know that Jesus talks about money more than he did about heaven and hell combined.

 

In fact, Jesus talks about MONEY more than he does about love.

 

The only thing he talks more about is the “kingdom of God,” this vision he has for a future in which poverty, war, and hatred are eliminated.

 

And that “kingdom” of which he speaks, where love reigns instead of greed and hatred – he’s pretty clear that in order to build that kingdom, we’re going to need some people to finance it.

 

Almost a THIRD of Jesus’ parables, are about finances.

 

And yet, talking about money in church is something we don’t do very often.

 

Money is an uncomfortable topic for many of us.

 

It feels like something that should be kept private.

 

But why IS that?

 

I think that for many of us, money is something that pushes buttons.

 

Some of us are carrying considerable debt. I certainly fall into that category. We’re still paying off my husband’s student loans, and we have a credit card we’re also paying off.

 

For others of us, it brings up embarrassment about how much we DO have and perhaps how much we’re NOT giving away.

 

Or perhaps we just don’t want to make other people feel bad about what THEY have compared to what WE have.

 

I want to be 100% clear from the beginning of this sermon – although Jesus talks about money more than anything else, there is no where in the Bible where Jesus says that being in debt makes you any worse of a person than anyone else.

 

Likewise, no where in the Bible does it say that money is evil.

 

It does say that the LOVE of money can lead to evil. But money itself is neutral.

 

In fact, in many cases, money is seen in a positive light in the Bible.

 

The Apostle Paul, for example, in the book of Romans, chapter 16, thanks a woman named Phoebe. He writes, “I commend our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church. Give her any help she may need, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

 

Jesus praises the generosity of wealthy men and women who have given to the poor.

 

I have no doubt that in the modern era, Jesus would praise people like Bill and Melinda Gates for their generosity. Yes, they are crazy wealthy, but they’ve also used that wealth to fight disease in the developing world, among other things.

 

Today’s text says not to store up treasures on earth.

 

But that doesn’t mean don’t save for retirement or don’t accumulate wealth.

 

It simply means, don’t hoard money. BE GENEROUS.

 

When it says store up treasure in heaven, it’s also not saying bank good deeds the way you bank cash and you’ll be more likely to get into heaven.

 

We don’t have enough time to undo all of the bad theology associated with this text over time, but trust me when I say that Jesus is not telling us here that you can buy your way into heaven.

 

Jesus is simply drawing a clear line between material possessions and intangible benefits, and reminding us to do some self-reflection on where our heart really is.

 

Budgets are value statements.

 

When we look at how we’ve spent our money over the past year, or when we look at our budgets for the upcoming year, we’re able to see clearly what matters to us.

 

And Jesus is challenging us to consider putting our money where our heart is.

 

So that’s reason #1 – because Jesus is clear about it, and I, for one, think he had this God and community thing pretty well dialed in. And so when Jesus spends nearly a third of his time talking about money and about giving generously, I take that seriously.

 

Reason #2 for giving to the church is simple – it’s that this church changes lives for the better.

 

It builds that kingdom of justice and peace, that world ruled by love instead of hatred and fear. It builds a more just world through community, one life at a time.

 

I give, my FAMILY gives, because we believe that this community is changing lives for the better.

 

I give, because this place gives me hope for the future of humanity.

 

And that is not an overstatement on my part.

 

I mean that with my whole heart.

 

This place, for me, is the beginning of the building of the reign of God on earth, and that to me is invaluable and worth investing in.

 

I give, because my dollars pay to feed people who are hungry.

 

I give, because this place provides meaningful worship and opportunities for spiritual growth.

 

I give, because of the lives I’ve seen changed.

 

I give, because of Zack, for example, a young man who grew up in our church—a young man who experienced a Christian community that embraced his mom and her wife and celebrated their marriage. A community that welcomed him and treated him with respect and valued his spiritual journey. A community that invited him into leadership and asked to hear his voice and his perspectives. And now, as a young adult, as he faces the loss of his grandfather, Zack knows where to go to grieve. He’s found a UCC church near his college campus, and now a new community is caring for him.

 

I give, because of my son, who’s now in college, and taking a world religions class. He’s a pretty quiet student, but this week, after he got a question wrong on a test, he took the professor aside to challenge her. The question was whether baptism is a right of passage or a ritual. And he said, in many churches, baptism may be a right of passage, but in my church, baptism is a choice. And you don’t have to be baptized to be a part of the community. It’s not something that’s just a given.

 

And regardless about how we feel about the semantics of right of passage vs. ritual, my son was able to articulate what he believes.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because a child in our congregation knows that she can dance as an expression of worship, and because the other day, she wrote a joy that she’s a part of a community that’s open and loving.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

One of the greatest assets we can give our children is a church home. It’s proven over and over again that children that get involved in church are less likely to end up in jail or abuse substances. In addition, children who attend THIS church, leave here and enter the world as witnesses to God’s love, and then they share that with others. Zack Kinsman and Eli and Maggie, our dancing child, are going to make a difference for the NEXT generation, because they’ve experienced our love and our openness and our care for them. They share our values. And they’re going to share those values with the world.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because there are people like the woman in Bible study who was on a fixed income and didn’t have a lot of cash to spare, but when I told the Bible study class to pray for a family that was struggling to put food on the table, she wrote me a check for $5 on the spot to help pay for their groceries.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because this is a place that challenges ME, that pushes ME to grow theologically, spiritually, and emotionally.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because this place models, for me, what healthy community looks like.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because my poor jaded husband who used to work as a pastor and was chewed up and spit out and even abused by church after church… even though he has little faith in the institution of the church in general, he believes in THIS place, and when I talked to him about increasing our pledge this year, there was no hesitation.

 

He said, “Absolutely. Church of the Good Shepherd is a beacon on the hill. It gives me hope for what community CAN be.”

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because I’m inspired by worship. By our liturgy and our music. because I’m recharged here and am able to go make a difference in other areas of my life, because I’ve experienced spiritual renewal in this place.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because members of this church do things like take food to youth at Casa Q, a place that houses LGBT teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes on account of who they are.

 

Those are kids who now know that someone cares about them.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because we choose to pay an educated, trained, professional pastor to do things like grief counseling, to perform memorial services, to preach and help us understand the Bible, and to hold us accountable to our mission.

 

And yes, I realize that’s me.

 

And yet, I appreciate that this church values the work of its professional staff.

 

I give, because there are people in our chairs this morning who were told they were not welcome in Christian community. There are others of us who were abused or otherwise hurt by the church. And and yet here, they are safe, and they are embraced with open arms.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because every dollar I give to this place is multiplied.

 

That’s not true in the rest of my life.

 

When I go through the drive-through at McDonalds and get a burrito and small coke, it costs me $2.47. I know that number, because I go on a pretty regular basis. I love burritos.

 

And, if I get a burrito and a small coke every day this year, that’ll cost me $901.55.

 

That’s $900 that goes straight to my gut.

 

That money doesn’t multiply. It ends with me.

 

But what would happen if I gave that same $900 to Church of the Good Shepherd?

 

With $900, I could fund more than 1/2 of our Sunday school supplies and curriculum. How many lives could I change, and how many lives might our children change if I chose to spend that money here in stead.

 

With $900, I could pay our water bill for 9 months. That’s 9 months of pot lucks and hospitality hours where people are experiencing God’s love. And then going out, refreshed and whole to make an impact for the rest of the week. That’s 9 months of baptisms, of opportunities to welcome people into this community. That seems a lot more valuable to ME.

 

With just $3/day, I could keep the heat on in this place, so that groups like the Bible study and the bell choir can experience God and explore their connection to God and community.

 

That gift multiplies.

 

This church is an investment that pays much bigger dividends, certainly than burritos, but also bigger dividends even than any mutual fund or stock market purchase.

 

Because when we invest in THIS place, God and this community multiply our gifts and make an impact on the world that’s much bigger than anything we could do alone.

 

We already have a massive impact on our community both here and outside these walls.

 

And – I want to make it bigger.

 

I want to reach more children.

I want to comfort and welcome more people who are hurting.

I want to go deeper in worship and in our spiritual practice together.

I want to feed MORE people and let MORE people know that they are loved no matter what.

 

Part of the way we will that is by committing our time. And we’ll do that next week.

 

And… another way we will do that is by pledging our dollars.

 

And when we pledge our money, in addition to funding the ministries of this church, we’re also pledging to God and this community, saying that this place, this is where my heart is.

 

I’m not saying this will be easy. Some of us are struggling financially or struggling to get our finances in order.

 

And I want to tell you today that if you’re in that boat, I’m here with you, and I’m willing to work with you to sort that out. To get things situated and organized so that God and community have a place in your budget.

 

I don’t have all the answers, and I have a lot of learning still left to do, but I’m committed to this process, so don’t hesitate to talk to me about it. Because together, we can make things work.

 

As I said earlier – this place gives me hope for the future of humanity.

 

So let’s give generously and create a just world through community one life… and one dollar at a time.

 

 

Sermon 10-22-17 – The “E word”

Scripture: Acts 1:8, Romans 10:14-15

“The E word”

Throw out some words that you associate with evangelism…

Now think for just a few seconds about someone who showed you or told you about the love of God….

aWhat are some of the words that come to mind when you think about THAT person?

There’s a big gap there.

And yet the biblical example of “evangelism” connects not with the ugliness and the forceful, judgmental soap box nonsense we associate with evangelism.

Evangelism in the bible is all about bringing GOOD NEWS.

About bringing PEACE.

In the text from Romans, the Apostle Paul, who we’re pretty sure wrote this one, quotes the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Isaiah, when he says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

That’s an odd saying, isn’t it?

How beautiful are the FEET of those who bring good news?

Remember, we’re talking about a desert culture where people wore sandals a lot of the time.

No one had pretty feet.

So what in the world is Paul talking about?

Well, the text, which comes from Isaiah 52, describes the glorious day when the people who have been sent to exile are told they can return home.

See, in 597 BCE, after several revolts and political maneuvers, Jerusalem was finally destroyed by the Babylonians.

And by destroyed, I mean left in complete ruin.

Thousands of people were sent into exile, and the temple in Jerusalem was knocked to the ground.

And those were who were NOT asked to leave, those people who were NOT associated with the government or who were not educated, they too faced extraordinary suffering, because there were fires throughtout the city, and thousands of people lost their lives when Babylon invaded.

And then for almost 60 years, for about 3 generations, the people of Judah, the educated people, anyway, the rulers and the merchants and the people who had had some kind of privilege in Jerusalem – all of them were kicked out of the city and forced to live in Babylon or in other places.

They became homeless overnight.

As a result, they faced extraordinary physical hardships.

Hunger. Poverty. A lack of safety. No shelter.

People had to leave their businesses if they had them. They had to leave their homes. In many cases, their homes were burnt to the ground when Jerusalem was destroyed.

Babylon was like a hurricane or a forest fire.

People lost everything.

And in addition to losing physical property, they lost people they loved.

People who were caught up in the fighting. Innocent people. Children. Grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Brothers and sisters.

And to add insult to injury, they also lost their place of worship.

And at the time, there was a belief that God literally lived in the temple in Jerusalem.

God was attached to the land and to the place, to Jerusalem.

So when the Babylonians destroyed the temple, God’s house, God too became homeless.

And there was doubt about whether God could still even EXIST outside of Jerusalem.

God, the God of Israel, was conquered.

So in addition to physical and emotional hardship, there was spiritual hardship.

So when the Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and permitted the exiled Judeans to return to Judah, to return to Jerusalem, and begin reconstructing their temple, it was a GLORIOUS day.

And that time, that proclamation that the Jewish people could return to Jerusalem is what what Isaiah 52 is all about. And it’s what Paul is quoting in Romans 10.

Isaiah 52 reads:

How beautiful on the mountains

Are the feet of him who brings good news

Who announces PEACE

Who brings good news of good things,

Who announces salvation.

Who says to Jerusalem, “God reigns.”

Paul is quoting a text about returning HOME.

About returning HOME from EXILE.

THAT’s what Paul says evangelism looks like.

Evangelism, which comes from the Greek word, euangelizo. evan-geh-LEE-so

How beautiful are the feet of those who PROCLAIM, who EVANGELIZE peace. of those who EVANGELIZE good news.

And EVANGELIZE, in this context, is directly tied to the proclamation that the people of Israel can return home.

It’s not about telling people they’re going to hell if they don’t convert. It’s not about saving souls for Jesus.

Its’ about telling people they can return home.

That they can worship where they want to worship.

That they HAVE a home.

It may not be a physical shelter. A house they own.

But it’s a place where they belong.

How many of us, at one point in our lives, were told we were not welcome?

In a group?

At work?

In a neighborhood?

In a family maybe?

Maybe in the church?

And how many of us, even though we were TOLD we were welcome in a group or a family or a church maybe, even though we were TOLD we were welcome, we didn’t actually feel welcome there?

—-

I remember when i was as teenager, I was a bit of an ugly duckling.

And on my first youth trip, even though we talked all about Jesus’ love all the time, I felt like an outcast.

The kids in my youth group made fun of me. And when they weren’t making fun of me, they were ignoring me.

And it hurt.

And then at this big gathering of youth, where we were all going to work repairing houses, some kids from another youth group invited me to their Bible study.

Okay, to be fair, I was 14 at the time, and it wasn’t just any kids, it was two really cute boys.

So of course, I went.

And I had had a particularly rough day with my own youth group, and I was on the verge of tears when I went, and this youth group, this other group, embraced me like I was one their own.

Including the cute boys.

And I asked them, “Why are you being so nice to me?”

And one of them simply said, “Why wouldn’t we be? God loves you. And we love you too. You’re welcome here with us any time.”

That moment was a breakthrough for me.

Because I had felt so small, so low, and in the midst of my 14-year-old sadness about how unloved I was, someone told me, “you’re welcome here.”

It wasn’t anything big.

it didn’t take a lot of effort.

And yet, I think that youth group probably changed my understanding of the church forever.

In today’s text, when Paul encourages the Roman Christians to “evangelize,” what he’s encouraging them to do is to tell people they are welcome. That they’re free to come home. That they HAVE a home in community. And not just tell them actually, to SHOW them, through our actions, that they are welcome.

He’s not telling them to preach hellfire and damnation.

He’s not even telling them to speak explicitly about Jesus, although certainly, Jesus was someone who exemplified what Paul is talking about.

Jesus told people who others considered outcasts that they were honored and welcome and loved in God’s beloved community.

The good news Paul is telling the Roman church is that no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, we are welcome here.

Now, for some of us, this message won’t land as hard as it will for others.

For many of us, those of us with privilege in particular, welcome is something experience most of the places we go.

For many of us, we don’t have to worry about store clerks following us around and treating us with suspicion on account of the color of our skin.

As a clergy person, I know I have unique privilege – I’m able to enter hospital rooms, for example, and even the ICU, when others aren’t.

As a white woman, I’m also not seen as a threat. When I’m walking my dog at night, people don’t cross the street afraid I might attack them.

As a US citizen, I have the privilege to vote for elected representatives. I also have the freedom to worship openly as a Christian.

I’m also married to a man, so I don’t have to worry regularly about whether or not my marriage will be honored by state agencies or whether businesses or religious groups will recognize my relationship as valid.

For those of us with privilege, and we all have privilege in one place or another in our lives, for those of us with privilege, it is PARTICULARLY important that we take Paul’s message to heart.

It’s PARTICULARLY important that WE evangelize.

That WE express God’s radical message that exiles are welcome home. That outsiders have a home in community.

I know evangelism is a loaded word. And… what if we reclaimed it?

Today, I say let’s do it. I, Pastor Sarah, progressive Christian minister, am imploring you, members and friends of Church of the Good Shepherd, Christians and otherwise, to EVANGELIZE.

To stand on the mountaintop and proclaim that all are welcome.

That ALL people belong.

And let’s not just proclaim with words, but with our actions as well.

In our families or workplaces where there’s that one difficult person who doesn’t quite belong or fit in or get along with others – evangelism is about welcoming that person into relationship.

In our nation, where there are people who are displaced and homeless due to natural disasters or other circustances – evangelism is about both sheltering people AND working to for solutions like more affordable housing and healthcare so that people ARE able to return home.

In our church, where there are people who are hurting due to grief or illness or spiritual alienation, evangelism is about holding them in prayer, offering hugs and meals and a listening ear, and staying the course with people who are in different places on their journey.

The vision of Church of the Good Shepherd, the place we want to go, the vision we yearn for is to be an inclusive community that shares divine love as a path to justice and peace in the world.

The vision of Church of the Good Shepherd, the place we want to go, the vision we yearn for is to be an inclusive community that shares divine love as a path to justice and peace in the world.

Sounds a little like evangelism to me.

I know the word evangelism is loaded, and it’s full of baggage that we can’t unload in a day.

And…let’s not toss out the heart of what it means.

Which is to proclaim PEACE and proclaim HOPE to people who have been living in exile of one kind or another, to proclaim the JOY of new life to people who have been living with physical, emotional, and spiritual hardship.

My challenge to us this week is to seek out someone, just one person, and evangelize. In this way. To evangelize to one person by taking an action or saying something that lets them know they are loved and they are welcome in our lives. It might be as simple as offering a hug. Or going to the UCC disaster relief website and donating money to help people displaced by natural disasters. Or it might mean reaching out to someone who’s experiencing grief or alienation and letting them know that we love them. Or it may be something as grand as reaching out to someone who we haven’t found the courage to forgive yet and finding that courage from the Holy Spirit to say, “We forgive you.”

May we all find the power and courage to evangelize this week. And may we all experience God’s welcome as we offer welcome to those who need it most.

Psalm 139: “Awesome Bodies”

There’s a sign in Meg’s office that says “Come in, we’re awesome.”

 

Did you know it’s biblical?

 

In our scripture today, the Psalmist writes that God knit us in our mother’s wombs.

 

That we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

 

The Hebrew can also be translated awesomely and wonderfully made.

 

We ARE awesome. Worthy of awe.

 

And not just our intellect or our minds or our souls. Our BODIES are awesome.

 

So you can go home today and tell your friends that your pastor said your body is awesome.

 

Because our bodies ARE awesome.

 

Our bodies are created by God, blessed by God, empowered by God to do God’s work.

 

And so today, we’re going to talk about our connection with those awesome bodies.

 

Now if you immediately had the thought, well, my body’s not THAT awesome.

 

Or if you immediately crossed your arms or put up your defenses because you don’t want to talk about the body at all, know that you’re not alone.

 

The body, though celebrated in Psalm 139, is not a comfortable topic for most of us.

 

I grew up, like a lot of us, in a body-obsessed culture. A hyper-sexualized culture. And yet, I was simultaneously told in church and in my family that my body was something to hide and something to be ashamed of.

 

The church taught that my spirit was of God, but my body was of the world, the world being the place where all sin resides.

 

My spirit was holy, but my body was the source of temptation and sin.

 

Whether you grew up in the church or not, I suspect all of us have heard this nonsense tossed our way at some point.

 

This idea the body is like a wild animal that left up to its own devices would do nothing but sin. And that it’s only with our mind and willpower and spirit that we’re able to control and overcome these evil part of ourselves.

 

This is nonsense.

 

Seriously.

 

It’s just straight-up wrong.

 

But its’ something people have been teaching for at least 6000 years.

 

And it’s not just Christians. Philosophers like Plato deserve some of the blame.

 

Plato talked about the body and soul as separate entitities.

 

Then the Apostle Paul, who wrote a significant piece of the New Testament, picked up on that and made it worse by saying things like “But you, [Christian brothers and sisters], are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit! Since the Spirit of God dwells in you! Anyone who does not have the SPIRIT of Christ does not belong to Christ.”

 

In other words – you’re either in the FLESH or in the SPIRIT. The Spirit is holy, and the flesh is evil.

 

The theologian Augustine of Hippo made it even worse. He promoted this body/spirit dualism and said things like, “With my mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

Then Thomas Aquinas who argued similarly…

And on and on and on.

Western theology over and over again priviledged the spiritual over the physical, understanding the physical as the site for sin, while the spiritual was the place where we could connect with God.

 

 

There’s a lot of work to undo.

 

And modern scholars and philosophers and theologians, and feminist and non-heterosexual theologians in particular are slowly coming around to the idea that the body and soul are not actually separate entities. And that the body is, as Psalm 139 reminds us, beautiful, good, valuable, awesome.

 

And the soul and body are NOT separate. They’re integrated.

 

They’re one substance.

 

For those of us that are science geeks, think about matter and energy. They’re the same thing.

 

e = mc2

 

The body and soul are made up of the same substance. They are one and the same.

 

In the Gospel of John, it doesn’t say the Word, aka Jesus, became flesh and then God then gave Jesus a soul.

 

It simply says God became flesh. God became physical body. Not body and soul separate. 100% body. 100% Spirit. All one in the same.

 

Weird we’re so scared of bodies when the incarnation is at the heart of our faith!

John M. Bechtold, a scholar and pastor wrote, “In both the history of Western philosophy and of Christian theology, the body is often neglected, overlooked, or outright condemned. This is particularly odd for Christian theology given that its distinction and uniqueness stems from the doctrine of the incarnation.”

The idea that God became EMBODIED.

 

So today, I want to give us an opportunity to think about what it means to connect with God through our bodies.

 

When we live our lives and take actions. When we move our bodies and use our bodies to do work, we are doing work with awesome divine substance.

 

God knit us together in God’s image. We are made of God-stuff.

 

It’s not just intellect or this transcendent intangible spirit that are capable of transforming the world in God’s image.

 

No. It is also our physical bodies. our flesh. that is fully holy. fully divine.

 

We connect with God when our bodies go out into the world to serve others.

Project Share.

Or when we listen to someone or give them a hug.

Or smile at one another.

 

Another way we connect with God through our bodies is in worship.

 

When we come forward for communion.

 

When we stand to sing.

 

We put water on the heads of children who are dedicated in baptism and some of us even physically go under water and come back out in baptism.

 

We smile and hug or shake hands with one another.

 

We eat together.

 

All of these rituals are ways we connect with God and with one another.

 

One of the most powerful ways we connect with God is through prayer.

 

And our bodies are involved in that.

 

And the way we’re taught to pray has a history and it has an effect on the way we view and interact with God.

 

One of the oldest ways of praying is to lift up our hands, palms up.

This is called the Orans stance, and it’s been used for generations, including by members of Jewish and Pagan communities long before Christians adopted it, and it’s the traditional posture for prayers in eastern churches and Jewish synagogues.

It’s also biblical – on the day of his transfiguration, in the Gospel of John, Chapter 17, Jesus looks to heaven as he prays.

In the book of 1 Timothy, the author says, “I want people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer…”

 

And yet in the West, somewhere along the line, we decided, well, someone decided that connecting with God with hands out-stretched was not the “right way” to do it.

We were taught instead to bow our heads, kneel, or prostrate ourselves before God.

One of the most common postures we take is looking down with our hands clasped in front of us.

<summarize in worship using gestures>

“This is the traditional posture of a shackled prisoner of war who is brought before the conquering king. The hands are clasped at the waist as if they were shackled in chains.”

“The eyes are averted—in ancient times, looking directly at one’s captor was insolent and a good way to get killed on the spot. This posture is for submissive petitions or for intercessory or penitential prayer, as we see in Luke 18:10-13.

(Ken Collins – http://www.kencollins.com/worship/pray-20.htm)

 

Is that the kind of relationship with God that we want to communicate with our bodies?

 

Another common one is kneeling with our eyes closed, hands folded.

 

(again – Ken Collins’ explanation – summarized in worship) “This is the traditional posture for requesting favors from a king, and so it became the traditional posture for prayers of repentance or supplication. The Council of Nicaea in AD 325 forbade kneeling on Sundays, because penitential prayer is not appropriate during a celebration of the Resurrection. In western Christianity, kneeling came to mean simple humility and submission, and so kneeling became the normal posture for most prayers in the west.”

It’s the type of prayer Jesus offers in Luke 22 when he’s begging God to spare him from the crucifixion and all the trials ahead. He kneels down and prays, “God, if you are willing, take this cup from me. An angel came down and strengthened him, and being in anguish, Jesus prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

It’s the stance of a beggar.

 

 

—-

So let’s consider for a minute, instead of a captor greeting a king, what would it look like for us to pray to God the way we might talk to a beloved friend? Would we use our hands to talk the way some of us do when we get excited? I’m going to invite you to try this on for a minute with me. So try this, if you’re comfortable.

“God, you will not believe the day I’ve had.”

<slap hand on knee>

 

What would it look like and feel like in our bodies to pray to God and experience God holding us close the way a nurturing parent holds a child?

Try this one on. “God, hold me close to you.”

<arms crossed across chest, holding self>

 

What about those of us in crisis, who just want to hold our head in our hands? That seems authentic to me.

“God I am broken. Let me experience your healing and wholeness.”

<bent down and holding head>

Or what about hands up to receive God’s mercy and grace?

“Thank you God.”

<Orans posture>

 

Instead of praying to God as subjects asking something of our king, what would it look like to pray to God as partners in God’s creation?

 

Would that look like a hand-shake? I’m not sure. Let’s try that one.

“God, will you be my partner in my next project.”

 

<hands holding other arm’s forearm>

What about praying to God as a confident person, unashamed of our awesome bodies, hearts forward and open to God’s message.

“God, I’m here and I’m ready for duty.”

<hands on hips, head up>

 

Could we dance while we pray? Or walk a labyrinth or just sit with the sunrise? Absolutely.

 

There is no where in the Bible where it says there is ONE way to pray.

 

As we lift our silent prayers to God, if you want to try on one of these postures, know that this is a safe place to do so.

<invitation to pray – invitation to stand or spread out if space is needed

<prayer>

Note: One of the most powerful things about this sermon was the talk-back from the congregation mid-sermon. I’m sorry I can’t communicate that better in this post, but if you’re reading this online, please do try these postures – they feel very different!

Blessings and Curses of Creation

Genesis 1:24-2

Today, we blessed our animals. But what does it really mean to bless something?

We said words of thanksgiving and words of hope.

Blessings, in the Bible are often like this.

They’re wishes.

They’re prayers to God that God fulfill what we hope for others.

But did you know that the word blessing in Hebrew is the same word for curse?

That’s right.

The same word, barak, means BOTH blessing and curse.

The only way you can know which one it is… is by context.

Susan MacKenzie commented to me that it depends on the tone of voice…
Think about “good for you…” Said one way or another.

But in the Bible, we don’t get the benefit of hearing the tone of voice.

It’s not clear.

We do, however, have examples of “blessings” that are both blessing-like as well as more curselike.

For example, when Jacob “blesses” his sons in Genesis 49, he blesses some of them with hope and wishes for great fortune.

To his son Judah, for example, he says
“Judah,You are the one whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you”

He says to his son Asher – “May your food supply be rich and bountiful.”

On the other hand, his “blessing” of Reuben, his oldest son, feels more like a curse.

He says, “Reuben, you are my firstborn…And all of my strength and dignity SHOULD have been your birthright. But you are unstable and reckless. YOU will not succeed.”

Those are tough words coming from a parent.

And to me, they certainly sound more like a curse than a blessing.

So then looking at today’s text, what does our scripture mean when it says God BLESSED us, and gave us dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth?

Is it really a blessing? Or is it more of a curse? Or maybe both?

When it comes to caring for the creatures of the earth, it’s not entirely clear.

It certainly feels like God has blessed us with the creatures of the earth when a happy dog greets us at the door.

But perhaps it feels more like a curse when that same happy dog greets us with one of our shoes in its mouth.

It probably feels like a blessing for many of us when our cat snuggles up with us on the couch.

But perhaps it feels more like a curse when that same cat burrows into the couch.

It feels like a blessing when we hear the sweet music of songbirds.

And yet more like a curse when said songbirds take up residence in the tree above our parked car.

So what is God doing here?

What is God’s purpose and what was the author of Genesis’ purpose in saying that in the beginning, when human beings were created, God BLESSED us with the responsibility of caring for creation.

The Rabbi Yoel H. Kahn, the rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, California, has some insight here. He argues that determining whether something is a blessing or a curse has little to do with the outcome and more to do with the intention of the one blessing us.

In other words, if God intended to bless us with animals, even if they eat our shoes, what matters is the initial words and intention God had when God said to us, “Take care of the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

Rabbi Khan writes,“The act of blessing is not dependent on the fulfillment of its words….Rather, the act of blessing is realized in the moment itself. The blessing is the act of giving, the connection that is created, and the faith and caring that are expressed in the words and gestures.

The experience of receiving a blessing–the experience of hearing and seeing the focused, spiritual attention….can be [in itself] a source of sustenance, faith, and meaning.

In blessing, we concretize both what we yearn for…and we affirm our deepest links and connections, between one another and with the Source of All.”

I love what the rabbi says, because for me, at the heart of this blessing that God offers us at the dawn of time, is a moment of connection.

God is offering us, offering humanity, the opportunity to be a part of God’s creative process.

And perhaps, as the rabbi said, the RESULTS of our blessing creation, while important, are not nearly as important as our intentions and our orientation–either toward God and connection and love or toward hatred and revenge.

Whether this responsibility of caring for creation is a blessing or a curese is ultimately up to US.

WE, as people created in God’s divine image, and as partners in God’s creation, we have the opportunity to in turn bless or curse those in our lives, the people as well as the animals.

God has given us free will and responsibility. God has given us authority even, to use our words and deeds to impact others.

And we have a choice.

We can use our words and actions to cures others.

We all know that words ARE capable of inflicting pain. They’re also capable of bringing joy and laughter and healing and transformation.

So my challenge to us this week is to be mindful. Be mindful of whether are actions are intended to bless or curse others.

May we take our responsibility seriously as co-creators with God!

Amen.

Sermon 9-17-17 – Towers, God and Change

The Tower of Babel was written over 2700 years ago, probably around 600 BC.

It’s a story about people who come together, around a common purpose, which is building city and a tower that will reach so high that they’ll be able to see God.

They also want to be together. To unite under a common purpose.

They want to make a name for themselves and not be scattered.

But then, the story goes, God feels threatened by this new initiative.

God worries about what they might be able to accomplish next.

So God goes down, confuses their language, and scatters them to the corners of the earth.

This is not just a biblical story, but a story that appears around the globe.

In Cholula Mexico, there is an ancient story about the first people who wandered the land in search of the sun. They built a tower to reach the sky, but the God of the heavens was threatened and angered by their arrogance, and destroyed the tower and scattered their people.

The Toltecs have a story in which people are building a great tower when the gods confound their language and they can’t understand each other, and they’re all scatted to different parts of the earth.

There’s story about Montezuma and HIS attempt to unite his people and build a great tower to protect them from the next flood. But then the Great Spirit destroys the tower with lightning.

In Zambia, ancient sources tell of a story about people who tried to build a tower to the gods, but then the gods, threatened by the people’s creation, knocked them off the scaffolding and killed their builders.

There are legends like this from the Ashanti people, from the Kongo, from Tanzania, from Myanmar, and from Papua New Guinea, among others.

And what they all have in common is
1) a group of people who unite around a common goal, usually involving the pursuit of knowledge or the pursuit of connection with each other and with God. And then
2) A God or gods who are either jealous or threatened by this initative and use their power to confuse the people or destroy their work.

So what is it about this story that it’s so compelling and so ingrained in our human DNA that it appears in cultures around the world?

What it is about human nature that compels us to tell this PARTICULAR story?

The story of human creation and divine destruction?

3. Many scholars believe this is a simple origin story about why we all speak different languages.

And that’s possible.

But here’s the thing. You could tell THAT story any number of ways.

You could say that an earthquake happened and people were divided by big rifts in the ground.

You could say that an evil ruler came along and divided people unfairly and banished them to different places.

You could say that people ate some kind of poisonous mushroom that numbed their mouth so they talked like this and could no longer understand each other.

Why tell the story that GOD was threatened by human unity and chose to scatter them and shatter their plans?

It certainly is a way to explain our diversity. And it points to God’s power, which is something that a lot of ancient stories do.

And… I think there’s something much more subtle going on here that can point us to why this is a part not only of the bible, but of our human narrative.

For the most part, we human beings have a hard time understanding what God wants of us.

We have a hard time hearing the voice of God separate from our own voice.

There’s a great story about a group of wise people who visit a magical well where it’s said that if you speak your desires into it, you’ll hear back the voice of God.

So each one, one after another, goes to the well and speaks to God.

And each one comes back and tells the others what God told them.

And the old Christian woman of the group says – God is a wise old woman. And she is Christian.

And the young buddhist monk says, no – he is young and male and buddhist.

And on and on.

Because when they speak to God, the voice they hear back is themselves.

So what if, the role of God in this story is NOT actually played by God throughout history, but it’s played by another saboteur.

What if the actions of God in the story are actually OUR actions.

When people come together and unite for a common purpose be it building a city or a tower or forming a support group or fighting hunger in the city… whatever it is.

What typically sabotages that effort?

Is it God?

Sometimes it’s circumstances. Sometimes it’s other people. And often times, it’s US.

If we read the Chrsitian scriptures and listen to the teachings of Jesus, God empowers us to connect and work together across our differences.

God sends the holy spirit on the day of Pentecost so that we might understand each other better.

Perhaps this story is not about God at all, but about our own choices to push back against change.

And our own choices to divide into groups of people that are just like us and our choices not to understand those who are different from us.

And our choices to play small so that we stay safe.

We’ve all experienced the challenge of change, whether it’s working as as group or individually.

How many of you have tried to stop smoking?

How many of you have tried to lose 5 pounds?

How many of you have tried to turn down chocolate cake?

We know these decisions are healthy for us, and yet we resist.

Organizations do the same thing.

How many of you have tried to pass new bylaws in an organization and met resistance.

Even in the this church, which, as churches go, has a phenomenal openness to change – how many of you in leadership have felt some resistance to changing a policy or a way of doing things here?

Resistance happens without fail.

The way one of my mentors explained to me was like a train system. We get a group together. We tell them – we’re getting on a train and going to Chicago.

Is everyone on board with going to Chicago.

Everyone’s on board.

Until about an hour into the trip, when someone says, “Hey – but can we go to Los Angeles instead?”

“No! We’re going to Chicago.”

“But can we go to Los Angeles? Because we really like Los Angeles. We’ve been there before. We’re familiar with it. It’s comfortable for us. I really think we should go to Los Angeles.”

And someone else will say, “Well, Chicago sounded nice, but I really want to just go back to Albuquerque.”

“No! WE’re going to Chicago. WE all agreed. We’re going to Chicago.”

“Well, I think Albuquerque is the place to go.”

Suddenly, the group is not speaking the same language. And they’re scattered.

But Is that God? Or is it something else?

I want to put it out there to you today that the sabotaging force is NOT God.

And the people building the city or the tower are NOT evil. What’s wrong with making a name for ourselves if we’re making a name for ourselves by being the most generous congregation in the city?

What’s wrong with building a community and putting up a tower that says God is still speaking and making a name for ourselves as a community that welcomes everyone.

The force of sabotage is NOT God.

It’s us. And it is part of our human nature.

It is expected.

And it’s a simple side effect of the way that our brains are wired.

And, it’s not impossible to overcome if we work together and focus and persist, even when other people or circumstances or our own fears get in the way.

This text, at its core, is not about a jealous God. It’s a projection of the authors’ own fears of change.

These stories, worldwide, reflect what is so basic to humanity – a desire to maintain the status quo.

We’ve just projected our very HUMAN fear of change onto God.

Remember that our brains are wired for SURVIVAL.

We may want to thrive and make the world a better place, but our brains, our hardwiring is most interested in just keeping us alive.

And thank God.

God created us in this way. Or evolution did. Or both.

We were created in such a way that the vast majority of our mental processes are unconscious.

When I walk across the stage, I don’t think consciously about putting each foot in front of the other or moving my joints or managing the distance or the level changes, if any.

My brain does that automatically.

I don’t have to think about it.

This is one of the reasons why racism is so hard to combat. Because our brain makes snap judgments based on past experiences and cultural norms that we’ve incorporated throughout our lives.

We don’t think consciously, there is a white man or there is an African-American man and he is safe or he is not safe. We just judge. And it takes a lot of conscious mental effort to overcome our ingrained biases.

Research shows that about 95% of all of our brain activity is beyond conscious awareness.

And thank goodness. Because we don’t have the time or the energy to think through every single movement or judgment. If we did, we would be totally paralyzed. WE couldn’t accomplish anything.

The unfortunate part is that THAT part of our brain, the unconscious part of our brains is wired for survival.

It’s wired to keep us alive.

And as long as we’re breathing and not starving to death, its’ content to keep everything the same.

My brain’s not going to start changing my depth perception tomorrow as long as I’m surviving.

Likewise, it’s not going to change my habit of choosing cake over vegetables as long as I’m surviving.

Our unconscious brains lives by the motto – “If it a’int broke – don’t fix it.”

Human organizations reflect the same pattern.

It’s REALLY hard to affect change in organizations, in communities, and in cultures in general because organizations are made up of people whose brains are screaming at them, “Keep everything the same. Things are working just fine.”

Even IF some of our habits are unhealthy. Even IF some of our habits include activities that hurt other people.

Survival brain doesn’t care.

The survival brain says, don’t push things out of balance.

Don’t rock the boat.

If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

Don’t play too big or take too many risks.

Because hey – we’re breathing and fed and have access to water already. There’s no need to push our luck.

But that’s not the voice of God.

That’s our projection ONTO the voice of God. Because like the people at the well, we tend to think God sounds just like us.

But God isn’t about separating us. Or knocking down our creations.

God isn’t about destroying projects where people are trying to unite around a common goal.
And we know this, because when Jesus came along 600 years after this story was written, he did everything in his power to fight back against our unconscious bias against change.

He fought to make it 100% clear that God is not a God that calls us to play small.

That God is NOT a God who when we’re uniting around a common cause smites us down.

Jesus pushed us to remember that as loud as the voices are in our heads that tell us to be cautious, to hold back and keep things the way they are, that the movement of the Spirit nudges us in a different direction.

And if we listen, we can change lives for the better.

Jesus challenged the status quo at every turn.

He told people to give up their wealth.

He told people to go against their culture and eat with people who were outcast.

He pushed the boundaries of cultural norms, having people from different ethnicities and genders spending time together in the same place, which was totally taboo at the time.

He told the Disciples to give up their livlihoods – to drop their nets and follow him.

He told PETER to come to him and walk on water – to take a step out of the boat and put his food on the ocean in the middle of a storm.

These are not rationally sound decisions. They don’t match with what we know keeps us safe.

They are not decisions that the survival brain will support.

And yet Jesus calls us to make them anyway.

Jesus told us that the world as it is is NOT okay. He believed in us. God believes in us.

And God believes that we can do better.

God also calls us to unite in community, because change is nearly impossible alone.

So my challenge to us this week is to listen a little bit less to the voices that wrote the Tower of Babel story. To the voices in our own heads that tell us, keep things just the way they are.

And to listen a little bit more to the Holy Spirit and to the teachings of Jesus who called us to radical action on behalf of those most in need.
May we rock the boat of apathy, build cities and towers for justice, and push one another to embrace the radical message of Jesus that calls us to move in a new direction.

Amen.

“A Crumby Faith” -Sermon July 30

Matthew 15:21-28           “A Crumby Faith”            July 30 Sermon by Rev. Allan Bash

 

I get the title for this sermon, “A Crumby Faith,” because of this woman’s response to Jesus that, “even the children get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  Actually the woman’s faith was great and Jesus even acknowledges that.

But before we get to that part of the story, we have some questions (which is always a healthy way to approach scripture).

  1. what was Jesus doing in this gentile area of Tyre and Sidon?
  2. where was this woman’s husband?
  3. why did Jesus seem to ignore this woman’s cry for help?
  4. how much courage and hope does it take for a person to move beyond prejudice?

This woman was not Jewish.  She probably did not attend synagogue.  Her knowledge of Jesus was only hearsay, rumor, second hand information.  Jews had learned a long time ago to “stay with their own kind.”  That was the problem with the Jews in Samaria.  They had intermarried with the Assyrians and that was a no-no.

But at the chance of not being rejected by this Jewish healer, this woman ventures out to save her child.  What would we risk if we had nothing to lose?  Of course that’s the problem.  We have a lot to lose, so we risk very little.  But suppose things were different.  What would we risk for the sake of our children?  We live in a bombed out city with little food or water and someone offers us a boat ride across the sea to a land of promise.  How much courage, what kind of desperate hope for our child would it take for us to climb into that overcrowded boat?  Or in the midst of poverty and drug wars someone offers us to ride in an 18 wheeler to some promised land.  How much courage, what kind of desperate hope for our child would it take for us to climb into that overcrowded truck.

Of course this woman didn’t have to get into a boat or a truck, she just had to leave her home, her neighbors, the secure walls of her city, and venture out to meet someone who had

different politics,

different religion,

different race,

different ideas about life.

It takes courage and desperate hope to do what this woman did. But that’s not us.  Which is why some of my friends have called Jesus a male chauvinist pig in this passage.  Others have criticized the woman for not having the courage to tell this Jewish man how women should be treated and that Jesus was getting it all wrong.

 

Then she sees them, a small group of Jewish men moving down this dusty gentile road, and she follows.

Soon she calls out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.  My daughter is ill.

 

(The story does not say that Jesus did not “hear” her.  It says Jesus did not “answer” her.)

We’ve been there.  Busy with something, we hear our name called and we don’t answer – we wait.

I’m right in the middle of a chapter

I’m busy on the computer

This is the best part of the movie

 

Maybe it wasn’t that important and I can finish what I’m doing.

Maybe if I ignore the call the problem will take care of itself.

 

We don’t know what was going on.  The disciples could have said, “give her what she wants and send her away for she is bothering us.”  What the disciples eventually say is, “send her away.  She keeps yelling, ‘have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.  My daughter is ill.’”

 

There are times when we hold out to hear that one voice.

 

I have done lots of Christmas Eve services and most of the compliments were nice.  But one time my parents came to visit at Christmas time and after the service I heard my father say to my mother, “Now that was a really good Christmas Eve service.”  From then on that was what my Christmas Eve services were like.  That was the voice I was waiting to hear.

 

And she heard the voice she wanted to hear.  Jesus stopped and speaking partly to the disciples and partly to the woman, he says, “I have only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  It is not right to take food from the children and give it to the dogs.”  Now before we go further, it is important to understand Jesus stories, parables, and sayings as part of the wisdom of the middle east.  The way of the sufi is one way to see this.

 

A sufi master was asked, “If I repent will God forgive me?”  The sufi replied, “No.  But if God forgives you, you will repent.”

 

Another saying I like is:  “The people of this world do not look at themselves, therefore they blame others.”

 

Jesus is not putting this woman off.  He is waiting for her comeback.  Now what will she say?

 

“Yes, Lord.  You are right!  But even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

 

Wow!  Jesus is so impressed with her faith that he sends her home to a healthy child.

 

I hope we will pay attention to the crumbs that fall our way.  I hope also that we will become the crumbs for another person’s faith journey.

“The Power of Encouragement” – Sermon August 20

“The Power of Encouragement”      August 20 Sermon Script     by Rev. Karen Bash

 

Karen 

How much of a difference can one person make in the church. Let me tell you  the story of one man who made all the difference in the world. His given name  was Joseph and he was born and raised in Cyprus. He was a Hellenistic Jew  rather than a Hebrew – a Jew living in Judea or Galilee. He had come to Jerusalem, maybe for the celebration of Passover. He must have heard about  Jesus and listened to him teach and preach in the Temple. He became a believer.Some of the Apostles soon gave him a nickname — Bar Nabas or Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement.” The whole group of those who believed met together and  shared everything that they had.

 

Barnabas    

I sold part of my fields back in Cyprus and I am bringing the proceeds from the sale here to the church. If we all encourage one another, work together and are  generous with one another we will have this church up and running in no time at all!

 

Karen 

And the first church was up and running. The apostles did many wonders in Jerusalem, like healing the sick and bedeviled and preaching to the people about  Jesus. Many men and women came to believe in Jesus.  It wasn’t long before the  authorities took notice of this growing group. Some of the apostles were  arrested by the Chief Priest and thrown in jail. When they got out they were  warned not to keep preaching in the name of Jesus, but when they got out they went right back to it. The church was growing so fast that the apostles couldn’t take care of all the widows and orphans. A young man named Stephen proposed that they appoint deacons to take care of those people who needed help. The congregation thought this was a good idea and they started calling themselves  “the care team.”  But that name didn’t catch on for another 2000 years.  Stephen  went on to preach and his sermon angered a crowd so much that they stoned him to death.

A man named Saul was right there. He wanted to do whatever it took to stamp  out this church business. He got papers from the Chief Priest which would allow  him to go to Damascus to arrest or kill believers in that city. But on the way he saw a blinding light and heard the voice of Jesus talking to him. He couldn’t see after that, but three days later a man named Ananias laid hands on him and  cured his blindness. He stayed in Damascus for a while and began preaching himself. There was a plot to kill him, but he escaped from the city by being  lowered in a basket over the city wall. After that he went back to Jerusalem and  tried to see the disciples, but the chances of that happening were slimmer than a               snowball’s chance in a very warm place.  Not one of the believers would have  anything to do with him.

 

God   

Barnabas, this man, Saul, who used to persecute believers is now my chosen instrument to bring people to Christ, especially Gentile people. I want you to get  him and bring him to the church and vouch for him.

 

Karen             

So Barnabas took him under his wing.

 

Barnabas    

Come on, Saul, Let me introduce you to the apostles, I’ll stand up for you and I will tell  them all about how you were blinded on the Damascus Road and how you have been preaching without fear ever since.

 

Karen     

After that he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no                                        questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name. But then he ran   afoul of a group called Hellenists who plotted his murder. When his friends learned of  the plot, they got him out of town, took him to Caesarea Marittima, and then shipped  him off to Tarsus. They promised that they would come to get him again when things    quieted down. But no one came to get him for a long time.

Meanwhile, the Jews in Antioch started hearing about Jesus. Then preachers came from Cyprus and Cyrene and they began preaching to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

 

God     

This is a good thing they are doing in Antioch. It makes me very happy.

 

Karen

When the church in Jerusalem heard what was happening in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check things out.  As soon as Barnabas arrived, he saw that God was behind it all.

 

God   

Barnabas, you Son of Encouragement, you are a good man and I like what’s happening here. I want you to go to Tarsus and get Saul.   Bring him back to Antioch.  We can’t let someone like that go to waste.

 

Barnabas

You are right, Lord. You know, I’ve been thinking about Saul too. I’m on my way.

 

Karen   

Barnabas did bring Saul back to Antioch and they preached and made many disciples   there.  Here in Antioch people started calling the followers of Jesus, “Christians.”  About  this same time some prophets came to Antioch from Jerusalem.  They told the people in Antioch that there would be a famine in Judea.

 

Barnabas   

Brothers and sisters, if there’s going to be a famine many people will go hungry and might even starve to death. I don’t think we can let that happen. Let’s take up a collection and encourage the church in Jerusalem.  Saul and I can deliver the collection personally.

 

Karen  

They did just that.  James said “thank you” and Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch. That’s when someone in Antioch got the bright idea of telling others about the love of  God and all the things that Jesus did.  They looked around the congregation and decided that Barnabas and Saul would be perfect for the job.  They were good friends.  They had traveled.  They were trusted by the congregation in Antioch.

 

Barnabas 

So we waved good-bye to our friends in Antioch and the three of us sailed for Cyprus. Oh didn’t I tell you.  I talked Saul into taking my young cousin, John Mark, with us.  I told   him, he would be no trouble.  And besides, traveling is a good education for young  people.

 

Karen  

Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark went throughout the entire island doing signs and wonders, and telling people about Jesus.  While on Cyprus, Saul decided to change his name to Paul.  As Barnabas and Paul sailed for what is now southern Turkey, John Mark was not with them.  Maybe he had seen enough of the world.  Maybe he didn’t like the discomforts of travel.  Maybe he missed someone special in Jerusalem.  Whatever the reason, John Mark decided not to go on but to turn back and head for Jerusalem.

 

Barnabas    

So Paul and I went to Perga in Pamphylia and on to Antioch in Pisidia.  We preached a little and then got run out of town.  Then we went to Iconium.  Preached a little, got stoned (the other kind), and had to leave.  At Lystra, preached a little, got stoned again, (the other kind), and had to leave.  That’s when Paul and I decided to retrace out steps.  After all, Paul was still recovering from getting stoned (the other kind).

 

Karen  

What Barnabas and Paul discovered on their return trip was that the congregations they had started in Perga, Antioch, Lystra, and Derbe were not only still there, but were growing.  The churches were growing in all directions:  Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, and now Asia Minor.

God  

I like it when people learn about me.  My chosen people have indeed become a light to the Gentiles.

 

Karen

Of course as the old saying goes:  “There is nothing like success to stir up controversy.”  That’s exactly what Barnabas and Paul encountered when they got back to Antioch in Syria.  The church in Jerusalem wanted to see them ASAP.  You see there were some in the Jerusalem church that had real problems with all these Gentiles coming into the church.  Were they being circumcised?  Did they follow the Jewish laws?  Could they even recite the 10 Commandments?  Did they know about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? This was serious stuff and they wanted an explanation and they wanted it now.

So Barnabas and Paul went to Jerusalem.  It was an interesting mix of people.  On the far right representing the most conservative views were James and others called “Judaizers.”  More to the center were Peter, Barnabas, and some of the deacons like  Philip.  Representing the far left thinking of the church were Paul and Apollos.  At issue was the question:  Does one have to be Jewish to become Christian?   Does one have to  be eligible to enter the Temple before entering the church?

Thanks to Barnabas and others at the center, a compromise was agreed upon and sent  with Barnabas, Paul, Judas, and Silas to the churches around Antioch.  The agreement was as follows:

  1. Abstain from food that has been sacrificed to idols.
  2.   Abstain from blood.
  3. Abstain from what is strangled.
  4. Abstain from fornication.

“If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.”  It sounded nice, but the Judaizers continued to push the Christians to be circumcised.  And Paul kept pushing for fewer and fewer restrictions.  It was this first church council (as later historians would call it)  that brought out the differences between Barnabas and Paul.  As they were planning their next mission trip, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark again.  Paul would have none of it.  The two parted company and never saw each other again.

 

God    

“Surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

 

Karen  

Paul of course went on to establish many congregations across the Roman Empire.  Some still in existence today.  Barnabas, the son of encouragement, went back to Cyprus with John Mark.  It was from Cyprus that Mark wrote his Gospel

Who has encouraged you along life’s way? How have you encouraged other people?  How can you encourage the church today to do its mission? Each of us can be sons and daughters of encouragement, changing the  world, just like Barnabas.

“Finding Salvation” August 13 Sermon

“Finding Salvation”      Sermon August 13      Rev. Allan Bash

 

Search Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John and this is the one and only time that Jesus ever says, “Salvation has come to this house.”  It was a phrase that Jesus used in this story about money.

(You are welcome to put a mental book mark there about the relationship between salvation and money and think about that issue later.)

No doubt others thought salvation had already come to their house:  like Cesar Augustus

Or King Herod

Or the chief priest, Caiaphas

Or any other person who had wealth

(Like the joke about the protestant and catholic arguing about “When life begins.”)

Of course Jesus did not speak these words to Zacchaeus because he had accumulated wealth.

He spoke these words as Zacchaeus began to share his wealth.

So how does a person get to hear those words spoken?

How does a person go from being a keeper to a sharer?  From a taker to a giver?

It’s not hard.

The first thing you do is climb a tree.

I say it’s not hard, but how many people in Washington D.C. would do that?  How many people with a lot of money would do such a thing?  How many people in a $500 three piece suit would even entertain such a thought?

But Zacchaeus did!  He had money and really nice clothes – expensive clothes – and he shinnied up this tree so he could see.  And he was in a dress!  We call it a robe, but if it’s open at the bottom, it’s a dress.

Zacchaeus was making a fool of himself like the banker in “Mary Poppins” flying a kite with his children.

Children fly kites – not grownups.  Children climb trees – not grownups.  There’s a pattern here.  We begin to hear the words of Jesus, “unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom.”

Ride a Merry Go Round.  Roll down a hill.  Go swimming with your clothes on (or off).

The second thing is talk with Jesus.  A lot of people call it prayer.  Whatever works.

Talk with your spouse, a friend, a child.  Go into the bathroom and put Jesus on the commode and you sit on the edge of the tub.  Have a porcelain to porcelain talk about money.

We don’t know what was said between Jesus and Zacchaeus.  Probably just as well.  Like we all tell each other, “Money is a personal matter.”

The third thing about this story is the absolute joy that Zacchaeus seems to experience in spending and giving away money.  Let me offer two examples from our own lives:

After I decided to go back into ministry.  I took a small congregation north of Beaumont, TX in deep east Texas.  Karen and I joined an Amnesty International group in Beaumont, mostly college students, and began writing letters.  That’s basically what AI does is write letters.  We were assigned a Presbyterian Seminary student in South Korea, Lee Chon Sop, who had been arrested for passing out pro-democracy leaflets.  The government at the time was a military dictatorship.

(Story of calling the Minister of Justice twice on our home phone.)   Lee was released several weeks later.

Adopting Kerrie was another matter.  No one in the family thought it was a good idea except Keenan, Karen, and Allan.  “Save your money for retirement,” was the consensus.

(Story of my father’s death and what a comfort this little girl was to my mother.)

When Karen and I decide to spend money or make a donation, we pretty much use a line from “Hello, Dolly” as a guide:

“As my late husband, Ephraim, used to say,                                                                                                    ‘Money is like manure.  I like to spread it around and watch green things grow.’”

“Telling Your Story” – Sermon August 06

“Telling Your Story” – by Rev. Karen Bash 

Scripture: John 4: 3 – 30, 39 – 42 (The Message)

Who first told you about Jesus? Was it you mother, holding you on her lap? Maybe it was at your father’s knee. It could have been a grandparent or a friend or a Sunday School teacher or a minister.  Someone, somewhere told you their story, and along the way, their story became your own story. Think back to how it all began for you, think about the times that impressed you the most, to that moment where you could say “I’m no longer taking this on your say-so. I’ve heard it for myself and know it for sure. He’s the savior of the world!”

My own faith story began with my parents. I was in church the week after I was born and rarely missed a Sunday. When I was 7 years old I stood before the congregation at Central Christian Church in Denver and said, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and I take him as my personal Lord and Savior.” I was very young and very sure. But it’s a funny thing about faith journeys. Once you’ve been on that path for a while, surety can give way to questions and questions can give way to doubt. By the time I got to college, I was no longer so sure. Well, I was sure of one thing —- I didn’t want to go to church any more, now that I slipped out of sight of my parents! But I never totally lost my faith in Jesus.

There would be times as an adult when I could say once more that I was sure and times when I wondered. My understanding grew and changed. I had questions to which I had no answers and I accepted that it was alright. I was and continue to be mystified about Jesus and his place in my personal theology, but I have committed myself to following him, questions and all. In COGS, I have found a spiritual home where we are comfortable with doubt and comfortable with each other. All this is part of my own story. I’ve given you the Reader’s Digest Version Some stories like mine are long, others, not so much so.

John introduces us to the “woman at the well”. We don’t know her name, and we don’t know her age, but she was not young. This was a woman who had some history behind her — she’d been around the block more than once or twice. She was much married — nearly as much as Elizabeth Taylor. Maybe she had had it with saying “I do” because she was with a man to whom she was not legally wed. She was probably the talk of the town before she ever met Jesus. It was noon when she went to the well. Women in the Middle East go to the well before breakfast when the air is still cool and before they have to start their chores of preparing meals, washing dishes and mopping floors. This woman came in the heat of the day, avoiding the chatter and gossip of her neighbors.

She had a history, but her real story began the day she met Jesus at the well. She was a Samaritan and as John so helpfully tells us, Samaritans and Jews did not talk to each other. Neither was it common for a man to engage an unknown woman in conversation. But Jesus engaged her in conversation and she was astute enough to ask him questions and even debate theology. The remarkable thing about this woman was that she ran to town, forgetting her water jar and told her story publically — not her whole history which was probably well known by her neighbors, but the important part — “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” Her story was short, to the point and effective. Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness.

Friday night Allan I heard a short, to the point and effective story. Richard Engel’s program “On Assignment” featured a 27 year veteran of the Foreign Service. David Rank was the top career diplomat in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, China. June 6th he resigned his post after the United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. He said, “As a patriot, a parent and a Christian I cannot in good conscience help implement this policy in even a small way. We are called to be stewards of the earth.” Starting in January, 2018, I will be the President of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, so David Rank’s story is of particular interest to me. It is encouraging to know that there is someone else who shares my concern for the earth and who has the strength and integrity to give up an important career in witness to his beliefs.

Yesterday, the Church Council met in retreat to chart a course for their work as the council and to guide the congregation. The council affirmed the mission statement of the larger United Church of Christ which is to “practice love of children, love of neighbor and love of creation”. One definition of the congregation which came out of yesterday’s work is that we are a group of people with similar values who practice these three great loves. You will no doubt be hearing more about how we can live out this mission in coming days.

John Dorhauer, our General Minister and President of the UCC Says, “This is not simply a call to action. It is an invitation to share the stories of the impact your love creates. I travel the world and the country witnessing your good works and hearing the testimonies of those whose lives are changed by your love. This initiative is an opportunity not just to practice love, but to create new ways of hearing across the life of the denomination the powerful stories of impact told by those whose lives and worlds are changed because of what you do.

It is important to tell our stories of faith and action. We do that, not in an effort to outdo one another, but to encourage and support one another. It is important to tell our stories so that younger generations may come to know about the love of God and the love of the church.

What is your faith story? Where did you first hear about Jesus? Who told you of their own experiences with prayer and devotion? If you have never thought of yourself as having a story to tell, I encourage you to think about it and write it down. This is not for publication, it is for personal clarification. You have a story to tell that will strengthen the church and influence others. The woman at the well lives on in the memory of the church because she was brave enough to go to her neighbors and say “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out.”

“Giving Back” – Sermon July 23

“Giving Back” by Karen Bash

Scripture: Luke 8:1-3 New Revised Standard Version

Occasionally we meet someone who changes the direction of our lives. When the women mentioned in our story met Jesus their lives were changed forever. We don’t know the names of all the women — Luke says there were many of them. Three special women are named here.

First and foremost, is Mary Magdalene. Jesus healed her of seven demons. Over the centuries, male theologians vilified her by assuming she was a prostitute demons and woman have to equal sex) or the same as the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet at the Pharisee’s house. (Sin and woman have to equal sex) She was, instead, a leader of the disciples, both male and female. She organized the women who followed Jesus to the cross and beyond.

Next is Joanna, wife of Chuza. We don’t know how she was healed. Perhaps it was blindness which afflicted her. It is still rampant in the Middle East. Perhaps she had been crippled in some way. One remarkable thing about Joanna was that her husband was a high official in the court of Herod — perhaps manage of his household or comptroller of the treasury. She could have had an easy life at home, bet here she was, travelling with Jesus and the 12.

Then there is Susanna of whom we know nothing, but her name is preserved here as one of the women who provided for Jesus and the twelve out of her own resources. They apparently travelled with him, bought groceries, and probably kept the 12 organized and on their toes.  Now that reminds me of an old joke…

What would have happened if it had been the Three Wise Women instead of the Three Wise Men?

  • They would have asked directions …
  • arrived on time …
  • helped deliver the baby …
  • cleaned the stable …
  • brought practical gifts …
  • and made a casserole

Mary, Joanna and Susanna didn’t appear at the manger, but these are the same women who appeared at the cross when Jesus was dying and who went to the tomb to properly prepare his body for burial. They gave back to Jesus for a long time.

Some encounters are especially important in our lives. When I was in my third year of college, my roommate asked me to do a favor for her. She had agreed to babysit for one of the professors, but then had been asked out on a date. I took the baby-sitting job for Don Heath and his wife. He picked me up to drive me to their home and on the way asked about me. I learned that he taught in the religion department. Delightful as ever, I said “well, I took Old Testament and now sometimes I suppose I will have to take New Testament.” He replied that I should take the class he taught — “Our Christian Heritage”, a church history class that was known to be hard even for religion majors. I aced the class and Don became one of my favorite teachers. I took every class he offered and even signed up for an independent study. As I graduated I found that I had a strong minor in Religion. I thought “maybe I ought to go to seminary.” An odd idea because at that point in my life I didn’t even attend church. That baby sitting job changed my life,

I was never able to give back to Don in exchange for what he gave to me. But years after I graduated from Phillips University, I did go to seminary and I began a ministry in which I hope I helped others.

Sometimes when people change our lives for the better, we get to give back directly as the women in Luke did, but other times as in my case, our giving back takes the form of paying it forward.

Paying it forward is a concept that involves doing something good for someone in response to a good deed done on your behalf or a gift you received. When you pay it forward, however, you don’t repay the person who did something nice for you. Instead, you do something nice for someone else. For example, if someone changes your tire while you are stranded on the highway, you might shovel your elderly neighbor’s walkway after a snow has fallen.

The concept was popularized in modern times by a 2000 movie Pay It Forward, starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. In this movie, a young boy, played by Haley Joel Osment, is given a school assignment that requires him to find some way to change the world. He develops the pay it forward concept, setting forth a chain reaction of good deeds.

One of the most important things that people should remember about this concept is that it should be done with a selfless spirit. This means that one person helps another without hoping for repayment or good deeds in return. Paying it forward doesn’t have to mean giving a large some of money or expending a lot of effort. It could be as simple as holding the door for someone laden with bags or giving up a place in line to someone who appears in a rush. It could even mean spending a little cash on coffee for the person behind you in line at a coffee house. For those who have money they can afford to give, there are always people in need, but even the smallest, free gestures can make a difference.

In the Bible study group this last Tuesday, the “giving back –pay it forward” concept veered off course a bit. We ended up talking about winning the lottery. What would we do if we suddenly came into a large sum of money? Daydreaming about such a possibility is probably a common form of entertainment.

My fantasies go something along this line: 10% to the church, 30% to the government, money to pay off our son’s student loans, an adequate, but not lavish stream of income for ourselves and then enjoy giving it away — the library foundation, the Philharmonic, New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, maybe adopt a 6th grade class in the South Valley and enrich their lives now and send them to college later.

Probably the windfall will never come, but planning for it can give us a good idea of what’s important to us in our lives right now.  We might not be able to do everything on our “give it away list” but we can do something. Making a pledge and tithing to the church, check. Paying taxes, got to. Paying off student loans, slowly. New Mexico Power and Light, check.

Mary Magdalene, Joanna, wife of Chuza, Susanna, and the many other women Luke referred to are shining examples of gratitude lived out by giving back to the one who healed them.  How are we going to give back – or pay forward for all the good things that we have in our lives?

“Under the Broom Tree” – Sermon July 16

“Under the Broom Tree” – by Rev. Allan Bash

Scripture: I Kings 19:1-5, 8-9, 15-16

 

Elijah was the greatest prophet of Israel.

In the Gospel stories of the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Elijah standing with Moses and Jesus.  Moses represented the Law, but Elijah represented the  prophets.

At the sedar our Jewish brothers and sisters always set an extra place at the table hoping for Elijah’s return.  Elijah was the forerunner to the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah never died.  But at the end of his life was carried away in a chariot of fire.

Quite a contrast to the Elijah in our scripture reading where we find him under a broom tree in a blue funk.  He had just destroyed the prophets of Baal.  He had put an end to idolatry in Israel.  The sacrifice on his altar alone had been acceptable to God.  Now he sits under a broom tree in a blue funk saying,   “Take my life.  I am no better than my ancestors.”

We know nothing about Elijah’s ancestors.

Elijah’s problem was that he couldn’t count.

Sometimes we can’t count either – or we count the wrong things.

It is estimated that 85% of people in the United States are depressed at one time or another.

For a variety of reasons.  Most common are the negative things we tell ourselves.

(story of woman at the Mental Health Clinic who heard voices.)

Ah, if it was only so easy.

So we take our list of all our screw-ups and end up sitting with Elijah under a broom tree

But Elijah’s not alone.  Angels come and fix him food.

Don’t just think of white winged messengers.  Think friends, family, strangers.

People who show up at your door with food, as if to say “you have a right to be here.”

That’s why our communion table is open:  we are not the guardians of the food, we are the angles saying:  “You are children of God.  Come and eat.”or the angels who fix our food for hospitality after worship.

 

At some point Elijah probably said, “Why am I still alive?”  I heard it a lot in nursing homes.

God told Elijah what was still needed:

“Anoint Jehu king of Israel.  Anoint Hazel king of Syria.  Anoint Elisha to take your place.”

I never had a good answer for people who asked me, “Why am I still alive?”

I just pretty much tried to be an angel.

“Here, have a bit to eat for the journey ahead.”

“We the Privileged” – Sermon July 09

 

  July 09- “We the Privileged”  by Rev. Karen Bash

Why Epiphany in July? Why this story of the Magi? – I like it and I won’t be preaching next January!

We have two examples of privileged people — and these examples may have much to teach us today

What do I mean by privilege?  a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people: Socio-economic status, education, ethnicity, place of birth, health, sexual orientation,   gender, gender identity —- power — the ability to influence events around you

 

There is Herod, the Great, king of Judea — a very bad example of privilege

Son of Idumean king – people lived south of Jerusalem — Herod’s father was by descent an  Edomite whose ancestors had converted to Judaism. Herod was raised as a Jew. He is known for  his colossal building projects throughout Judea, including his expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod’s     Temple), the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the fortress at Masada and Herodium – people paid heavy taxes for these projects and to support his lavish lifestyle. Herod introduced foreign forms of entertainment, and erected a golden eagle   at the entrance of the Temple, which suggested a greater interest in the welfare of Rome than of Jews.

Unfortunately, there was a dark and cruel streak in Herod’s character that showed itself      increasingly as he grew older. His mental instability, moreover, was fed by the intrigue and        deception that went on within his own family. Despite his affection for Mariamne, he was prone             to violent attacks of jealousy; his sister Salome (not to be confused with her great-niece,   Herodias’s daughter Salome) made good use of his natural suspicions and poisoned his mind against his wife in order to wreck the union. In the end Herod murdered Mariamne, her two  sons, her brother, her grandfather, and her mother, Besides Doris and Mariamne, Herod had  eight other wives and had children by six of them. He had 14 children.

In his last years Herod suffered from arteriosclerosis. He was in great pain and in mental and  physical disorder. He altered his will three times and finally disinherited and killed his firstborn, Antipater. Augustus quipped that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his son. The slaying, shortly before his death, of the infants of Bethlehem was wholly consistent with the disarray into which he had fallen.

 

Then there are the Magi — good example of privilege, perhaps very different from you and me, but                perhaps a good example for us to follow –

Casper                  60           Babylonia

Melchior              40           Persia

Balthazar             20           Yemen or Ethiopia

What we can deduce is that they were well educated —- priests of Zoroastrianism — studied astronomy —

They were curious and risk takers — traveling a great distance

They were well to do — probably traveled with a caravan that included soldiers — penetrated the boundaries of the Roman Empire — gifts to baby Jesus were extravagant — gold,   frankincense and myrrh

Politically astute (wise men) visit to Herod and inquiry    “Where is the one who has been born  king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” I always             assumed it was a naïve question, but one scholar believes that they were deliberately            goading Herod.  It worked — Herod was disturbed. They did return by a different way, avoiding him.

We, too are privileged

Most of us were born in North America — we haven’t been persecuted for our faith or our political views

Some of us emigrated from other countries, but we are here — a privilege denied to many                       who would like to come to the United States

Most of us are white

Most of us are well educated

Most of us have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat.

Many of us enjoy good health

A majority of us are cis-gender —our gender self-identification matches our physiology                              at birth

A majority of us are heterosexual and we didn’t have to fight for our rights to work or                                   marry the person we love

 

How will we use our privilege? Will we cling to our wealth and possessions selfishly or will we share with those less fortunate? Will we take our health for granted or will we use our energy to help those who don’t enjoy the privilege of good health? Will we simply admire the diplomas on our wall or will we use our education and our brains to come up with innovative ideas to solve some of societies’ problems? Will we think only of ourselves and our family or will we worship the child who became our savior?

Next Christmas when we unpack the crèche, let’s not only admire the three foreign characters at the manger, let’s be like them in our own lives.

 

“Great Expectations” – Sermon July 2

 

“Great Expectations” 

Rev. Allan Bash

II Kings 5: 1-14

Here it is, the 4th of July weekend and our scripture is about another military officer, not unlike the one we talked about on Memorial Day weekend when Karen and I started as your sabbatical interim pastors.

We are talking about Naaman this morning.  He was a great general not only because scripture says so, but also because he is one of a select few military people named in scripture.

William James in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, says that all religions have two things in common:  first that all religions describe the human condition; second that all religions describe the solution for that condition.  And this is where we meet Naaman today.  He was a great general.  He was well thought of by others.  He was in high favor with his king.  BUT, HE HAD LEPROSY.

Most of us, if we are honest, have our exceptions.  I enjoy singing in the choir.  BUT LINDA WISHES I’D LEARN TO COUNT.

On one of his raids into Israel, Naaman captured some people and brought them back to Syria (where have we heard that name before!)  One of the captives was a young girl Naaman gave to his wife as a servant.  There is no mention in the Bible about the anxiety and trauma that the girl’s parents experienced.  Then one day the little girl mentions to her mistress:  “If only your husband knew of the prophet in Samaria, he could be healed of his leprosy.”

Could this foreign captive be trusted?  Was the little girl lying?  Was this a trap?  Was this an ambush?

Finally the wife said to Naaman, thus and so said the little girl from Israel.  This was not an easy decision to make.  It would mean that there was a God in Israel more powerful that all the gods and goddesses in Assyria.  It is not easy to give up old gods.

But Naaman decides to tell his King, who encourages him to make the journey, gives him gold and silver, gives him fancy robes, and even writes a letter of introduction to the king of Israel.  But when the king of Israel reads the letter, he is convinced that Naaman is picking a fight, as the king cannot cure leprosy.  It is an honest mistake.  Even the Magi looking for the newborn king, went not to Bethlehem, but to Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.  Looking to the powers that be, we often look to city hall, Santa Fe, or Washington D.C.

So the king is very upset, tears his clothes, only to have the prophet Elisha’s servant come and straighten every things out and redirect Naaman to the prophet.   Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, but Elisha stays inside.  He sends his servant out with the message to was in the Jordan River.

Now Naaman has brought all this gold and silver to impress this God that might heal him.  And in return, he expected something impressive from the God or at least from God’s prophet.  We sometimes get caught in this magical thinking.  If our worship is filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance, then God will be impressed.  If we dress well, if we give a lot of money, if we say the right words at communion, if…, if….

Naaman was angry that Elisha didn’t come out himself.  He was even more angry at the idea that he should wash in a dirty river like the Jordan.  He was headed back to Syria when his servant stopped him and convinced him to try what the prophet had said.  So Naaman dipped himself in the Jordan River seven times and on the last time, he came out clean.

This story teaches us several times.  First, it is important to give up old gods.  It’s not easy.  We lose old friends and have to make new ones.  Second, it is important to give up our pre-conceived ideas of how God operates and what to expect.  Third, and probably most important, pay attention to those small voices in our lives: a spouse, a child, a stranger, even the gentle silence of our own minds.

“The Power of Kindness” – Sermon June 25

“The Power of Kindness”       

By Rev. Karen Bash

Ruth 2: 1 – 13

The Book of Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Bible and Boaz is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. He was said to be a man of “standing” in the community of Bethlehem. The same word is used of David’s “mighty men” the group of warriors who were loyal, valiant and brave. In addition to those admirable qualities, Boaz was kind. Notice the way he greets his workers, “God be with you!” and their response “God bless you!” Boaz’s kindness extended to shirttail relatives who he did not even know, a relative like Ruth the woman from Moab. Moabites were not generally favored by the people of Bethlehem as they were enemies who fought many battles with Israel. They were Canaanites who worshiped gods foreign and abhorrent to Israel. Yet here was Boaz offering Ruth the right to work in his fields, food, drink, and protection from harassment by the men working alongside her.

Kindness has the power to build families, the power to build congregations, and the power to build community. In chapters 3 and 4 of the book of Ruth, we learn how Boaz eventually married Ruth and had a child whose name was Obed who became the father of Jesse who was the father of King David, who was the ancestor of Jesus.

I have personally been the recipient of many kindnesses — the sort of kindness that builds families. In 1973 I moved from my home town of Denver, Colorado to Houston, Texas. I worked at the Methodist Hospital of the Texas medical Center as secretary in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. I had been in Houston for 6 or 7 months when I realized something was missing from my life. I knew my co-workers and neighbors all of whom were very nice people but I didn’t know anyone who was living for something beyond themselves and their immediate circumstances. I was interested in social justice and helping others.

Because I had been raised in the church, I knew where to find those kind of people. I started attending Bellaire Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) where I met the pastor of the church, Roemer Hudler and his wife Mary and their three daughters. The Hudler family took me in and treated me like one of their own. Along the way I heard stories about a man who had been Roemer’s associate pastor in Greenville, Texas. Mary even suggested that if I ever had the chance, I should “grab him.” This man had been recruited to teach a class in “Transactional Analysis” at the church and I signed up for the class. The first evening that the class met I walked into the church, saw Allan Bash and immediately knew that this was the man I was going to marry! It took me a little while longer to get him to realize that he was going to marry me! Because of the kindness of the Hudler’s and the activities of the congregation, I found a husband.

Allan and I got married and moved along with our life together. We decided that we would like to have a child. We tried on our own, we tried with the help of physicians, but we were unable to conceive. In the meantime, I ended up going to seminary. After graduation we were called to the Altoona, Iowa Christian Church as co-pastors. It was there that I was diagnosed with an early stage cancer which necessitated a hysterectomy. It was the end of our hopes for a child. As preparation for my surgery we sat down and made a list of at least 50 reasons it was fine not have children.

After my surgery I was at home recuperating when the phone rang. It was a friend from Cedar Rapids who told us of an unmarried couple who were having a baby and they wanted to find an adoptive family for this unborn child. Would we be interested? We talked about it ourselves and with our lawyer and decided to go for it. All the paper work was done, but our lawyer advised us not to take the child home immediately. The baby boy was born the week of Thanksgiving and my best friend from seminary took him home for the few days it would take to finish the legalities. The weekend after Thanksgiving the parents changed their minds. We were devastated. As you probably know, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is often the first Sunday of Advent — a time in the church where often is heard the words, “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” I was an emotional mess, but we were also the unknowing recipients of another kindness. One of our colleagues knew of our situation. He was the pastor of a church in a neighboring small town. That Sunday he told his congregation about us and asked for prayers on our behalf.

Sitting in church that day was a woman whose 32 year old daughter, the single mom of a two year old child was terminally ill with breast cancer. Her daughter, Judy, died in February. Months later, knowing she was incapable of raising her grandson, she asked her minister about “that couple he had mentioned back in December”. She wanted to meet us.  We met Helen and her grandson, and that is how we came to adopt our son, Keenan. It was the church and the kindness of that pastor and Keenan’s grandmother that gave us our first child.

Years passed and the three of us moved to Rock Port, Missouri in the far northwest corner of that state. I became the pastor of the Shenandoah, Iowa Christian Church, 30 miles north of Rock Port. One day, Lois, a saint of that congregation came into the church office to show me information about her niece and husband who had just returned from China where they adopted a five year old girl. There was a picture of a beautiful little girl whom they had named Karen. That got my attention, as did the letter they wrote about their trip to China and the orphanage Karen had lived in. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I made copies of everything Lois had shown me and took them home with me that evening.

I explained to Allan and Keenan that I had an interesting day at work and explained to them about this little girl who had been adopted from China. Keenan wanted to know why there were kids in orphanages. I tried to explain China’s “one child policy” but he wasn’t interested in the details. He said “Let’s just send for one!” (Allan rolled his eyes.) a couple of weeks later I burst into the kitchen where Allan was working on the computer and I said, “This is so stupid — we can’t stop thinking about little girls in China and we are too old and too poor to do anything about it.” Allan responded,, “Well, we won’t know if we don’t try.”

I immediately called the adoption agency and asked if they had a policy about parent’s ages. “How old are you Mrs. Bash?” I explained that I was 48 and Allan was 51. “Oh, no problem she said.” I wondered if I should tell her that we didn’t have any money, either! She sent us the paperwork and we were off on a process that took two years. Along the way we prayed, “If this is really your plan for us God, make it happen.” We eventually found a credit union that loaned us the money we needed and we got matched with baby who became our daughter, Kerrie. Before we went to China to get her, Allan’s church held a Vacation Bible School who helped raise money for our trip. My congregation gave us a baby shower complete with a money tree. It was the kindness of Lois and the kindness of our congregations that made our adoption possible.

Kindness builds families, but it also build congregations. There is a couple who are now an active and vital part of our ministry in this church. They first found COGS on line and then visited one Sunday morning. After the service that day they were invited to lunch by two of member couples. Because of the kindness of these 4 people, we are now a stronger congregation.

People talk about “random acts of kindness” but while random is fine, kindness should be a Christian lifestyle. In our scripture story we learn of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi and Boaz’s kindness to Ruth. There is a blueprint of how we should live our lives in faith!