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Job – Going deeper into listening

1/14/17

Scripture: Job 6

Job is a folktale – an old folktale – older than nation of Israel.

Folktale is as follows…. <told from memory, but here are some highlights:>

God wants to know more about human beings.

“The Satan” (part of God’s Council) offers to investigate.

God agrees. Gives him the perfect test subject.

“The Satan” encourages God to test Job. Job passes.

God restores everything to Job.

Generations after it was written, the Israelites added 40 chapters of poetry into the middle of the folktale, part of which is today’s text, in which the author envisions Job’s experience of this ordeal.

The emotional and poetic words we get from Job today come in response to a friend, who tells Job that obviously, there must  be a raitonal explanation for Job’s suffering.

And the rational explanation is that Job has somehow offended God and God is correcting Job. And Job should be thanksful, because this is an opportunity for learning!

We may roll our eyes at this, and yet how many of us, in modern times, have heard this type of response when facing hardship?

How many of us, when victimized, have been blamed for our own suffering?

And the ugliest part – the victim-blaming is disguised as “help.”

At a previous job, I remember going to my supervisor to report harassment by a church member.

And the response was – I’ve never experienced that kind of behavior from him. Are you sure you weren’t just having a bad day? Or that he wasn’t just having a bad day? I mean, I’ve just never known him to be like that. He’s a friendly person. You must be mistaken.

I don’t tell you this story to create pity for me – that situation was ultimately resolved, in large part due to the humility and openness of that individual, who, when I confronted him privately, took my words seriously, and took it as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. The story had a happy ending.

But many stories of injustice do not.

Many people end up feeling isolate, alone, and even blamed for their own suffering.

And we’re not just the victims in this scenario. It’s not just other people who struggle to take OUR pain seriously.

We are just as guilty as Job’s friends when it comes to our need to seek a rational explanation for suffering and injustice.

For example, when a child comes to us and tells us that a teacher is treating him differently than the other students, don’t some of us begin by asking questions like, are you sure? Are you paying attention in class and turning your assignments in on time? Is something getting in the way of your judgement? Some prejudice against the teacher’s gender or race or politics maybe? What’s your part in this?

What about when someone comes to us and tells us that someone they love has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Don’t’ some of us ask, “Is your friend a smoker?”

Because there must be a REASON for their illness, right?

What about when a friend who has darker skin than we do tells us stories about being followed in a department store or stopped more often in the airport or at those checkpoints between El Paso and Albuquerque along I-25. Don’t we doubt, sometimes, perhaps just in our own heads, whether they might be exaggerating a bit? Or assigning undue meaning to coincidences?

What about when someone is homeless despite all of the services and opportunities available to them in Albuquerque. As embarrassing as it might feel to admit this, haven’t we thought, at some point, “Well, I’ve had tough times, and I pulled myself up by MY botstaps. Something must be deficient them them that they cannot.”

We do this, because for many of us, our experiences of teachers and police and the employment market and even the human body, in the case of health issues, that they they operate fairly and rationally. Smoking leads to cancer. Inappropriate behavior leads to problems in the classroom, and when it comes to the police, well, MY experience is that they are fair and just. And when I’VE faced the possibility of homelessness, I dug in and I survived.

So something MUST be wrong with them. With those other people With Job.

In Job’s case, it’s not health or teachers or police that are on trial, though – it’s God. And God, his friends argue, is rational and just. So something MUST be wrong with Job.

But it’s not. Just as nothing may be wrong or deficient with the other people I mentioned.

Life is not rational nor just. And perhaps God doesn’t operate that way either.

And certainly in this world that includes so much injustice, having friends that blame us for our struggles is no help at all.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, Job,” they say.

And Job cries out, “But I don’t even have any boots!”

“I not only did nothing wrong, but I don’t have the rources I need to survived this.”

“God has given me more than I can bear.”

People love to say God will never give you more than you can bear.

Have you heard that?

God will never give you more than you can bear.

It’s simply not the case. There are plenty of times when life is more than we can bear by ourselves.

And that phrase itself is a gross mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. The phrase is actually, “There will never be a test in your life that someone else has not also faced at some point in history.”

In other words, you will never be ALONE in your suffering.

And yet sometimes, as Job so clearly points out, it feels like we are.

And that solitude, that hopelessness of isolation is one of the reasons why it is IMPERATIVE that as Christians, and as friends, and as a community, that we LISTEN and take one another seriously.

We MUST give people who are speaking their truth the benefit of the doubt.

Our experience in the world may point to them being 100% wrong, but our responsibility as care-givers is to listen WITHOUT judgment as if they are 100% right.

That man who harassed me at my former job? No one else experienced him as anything but appropriate.

And yet he WASN’T.

Thank God HE was able to hear that from me.

Others don’t have such success.

How many people in our lives are suffering and feel like they are alone, because no one will take them seriously?

I’m not suggesting we abandon critical thought. And of course, there will be people who will exaggerate their pain.

But in my experience, people are much more likely to UNDERSTATE injustice.

And when they come to us saying –

My teacher told a joke that felt kind of homophobic to me.

Or I’m kind of uncomfortable with this person’s treatment of me.

Or I don’t think college is for me…

Or I’m kind of struggling to make ends meet…but I’ll be okay…

 

When people come to us with these types of statements, one of the best things we can do is to go deeper, not into judgement or prosecutorial mode, but deeper into listening.

Because I can guarantee that behind those statements is a story that needs to be held in love.

So my challenge to us this week is to go deeper into our listening. To reach out, reach in, recognize Job in others, recognize Christ in others, and let people know that they are not alone.

Baptism of Jesus – “You are My Beloved”

Luke 4 – Jesus is Baptized, Prays, and then enters Into the Wilderness…

 

Sermon

Jesus grew up hearing stories of the Messiah, the one promised to come save Israel and rescue them, the way Moses and Joshua did in days of old.

 

And he also probably grew up hearing stories from his mother and father who told him about their dreams and about how one day, he would be that messiah, the one to free the people of Israel and bring God’s reign on earth.

 

No pressure!

 

Well, I imagine that at some point, Jesus realized that if he WAS going to be the messiah, he was going to be a very different kind of savior than the ones he grew up hearing about in the scriptures.

 

Because HE was not a military leader like Joshua.

 

He didn’t hear God in a burning bush like Moses.

 

And he was far from perfect.

 

 

He undoubtedly learned that pretty early on.

 

 

And I imagine that if he ever DID get the feeling he was perfect… if he ever got a little too big for his britches,

too convinced that he was there to save the world as a mighty conqueror and as God on earth,

 

I’m sure that his parents and friends were quick to correct him.

 

Can’t you just hear the guys on the construction site with Joseph and Jesus, ribbing Jesus when he dropped a hammer off the roof?

 

“Good reflexes, Messiah.”

 

“Are you going to fly that thing back up here with the power of the wind?”

 

“No?”

 

“Okay. Well, you better climb down and get it like the rest of us do.”

 

And can’t you imagine Mary, his mother, telling teenage Jesus,

 

“You may think you have a handle on all of the scriptures, but can you also get a handle on the mess you left in the living room?”

 

Jesus knew from an early age that being the Messiah did NOT mean doing everything “right.”

 

Because what does it mean to do everything “right” anyway?

I recently did a sewing project in collaboration with a friend, and let me tell you, any time you collaborate, you learn very quickly that “right” is relative.

 

I thought I was doing everything “right,” and that my sewing was close to “perfect,” but I would show her my work and she would hand me the seam ripper and say – it’s going to look all wrong if you do it that way. Rip the seam and do it differently.

 

And she’d show me, and I’d do exactly what she said, or what I THOUGHT she’s said, and then I’d show her my work, and she’d look at me and hand me the seam ripper again and laugh and say, “How on earth did you think I meant for you to do THAT?”

 

If 2 people who have the same picture of what something’s supposed to look like can’t even agree on what “perfect” is, how on earth was Jesus supposed to live up to all of Israel’s expectations for what “perfect” looked like?

 

Jesus knew that he was never going to be “just right” for everyone. That he was never going to be “perfect.”

 

He was fully human.

 

And had a human amount of energy and mental capacity and human strength.

 

He undoubtedly did things many times in his life that others saw as “wrong.”

 

He also undoubtedly took actions that offended someone or hurt someone.

 

And I can guarantee that he wasn’t able to help or care for people as well as he wanted to.

 

He wasn’t perfect.

So why is it that we, who feel called to follow the example of Jesus, feel like it’s OUR job to be perfect?

 

Jesus knew better early on.

 

That letting go of perfection meant creating room for God.

 

And yet so many of us obsess over getting things just right.

 

And when we don’t, we feel this weight of others’ disappointment.

 

God’s disappointment, even. And our own disappointment in ourselves.

 

And we feel ashamed.

 

And so we have a tendency to hide these vices and imperfections, any temptations or mistakes or failings of character.

But why? We have this example in Luke 4 of a different way of being, and yet we miss it somehow.

 

We have this example of Jesus, the imperfect young man we call Messiah, who goes to John the Baptist seeking repentance and forgiveness.

 

Jesus goes to be baptized – to turn his live around and start anew.

 

Even if we want to claim that Jesus was, by our own definition, somehow perfect, he certainly undoubtedly felt inadequate.

 

He was never able to heal as many people as he wanted to. There were people he had to turn away, because he simply didn’t have the energy to work another hour of the day.

 

He knew that he couldn’t do everything for everyone and that sometimes, he made mistakes.

 

He KNEW that he wasn’t capable of saving everyone and ending all suffering.

 

And so when he goes to be baptized, he demonstrates that publicly, before a crowd of people – he proclaims to them through this action of baptism that he wants to change his life.

 

At the time John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing people in the desert, baptism was about repentance –

 

It was all about confessing faults and then giving those to God and being reborn into a new life.

 

Not a perfect sinless life, just a new era of life with new possibilities.

 

So Jesus goes, like many other people, and proclaims, I have let people down, I have made mistakes, and I want a fresh start.

 

And after doing this, he prays.

 

And the holy spirit descends on him in bodily form like a dove and hears a voice that says

 

“You are my child. My beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

 

The voice doesn’t say – You are the messiah.

 

It doesn’t say you must be a perfect example for all humanity from now on.

 

It says I KNOW you. You are mine. You are from me, my child. And I love you.

 

I love you.

 

This is the starting place of Jesus ministry.

That moment when he hears God claim him and tell him he’s loved.

 

Immediately following this profound moment of clarity, Jesus feels called into the wilderness for 40 days.

 

No doubt to contemplate what this means.

 

He was professing to the world that he was in need of forgiveness. In need of healing.

 

And what he heard was not disappointment or condemnation.

God didn’t lecture him about how he needed to get his act together and be a better messiah.

At this moment of public confession, what Jesus hears is I love you.

 

What do you do with that?

Jesus grew up hearing the stories of a God who destroyed entire cities, entire peoples on account of their mistakes.

 

Were those stories untrue?

 

Did the people who wrote them misunderstand God?

 

It’s a lot to think about.

 

That God loves us. Without condition. Knowing ALL of who we are. All of the ugly sides. All of the beautiful sides. And everything in between.

Knowing we are flawed. Knowing we have a messy room and that we drop hammers. God loves us.

 

Knowing that we have betrayed friends. That we have hurt people we love. That we have acted selfishly or rudely. Knowing that we often try to fill those holes in our hearts with money and food and unhealthy relationships.

 

God loves us.

 

This is such a puzzling and troubling and life-altering message that Jesus feels drawn into the wilderness to contemplate what it means.

 

I’m honestly not sure what it means for us. For OUR ministry.

 

But my invitation to us this week is to contemplate that statement.

 

You are my beloved.

 

Not because we look the most put together.

Not because we ARE the most put together.

Not because we did more good deeds than anyone else or got more A’s on our report card.

Not because anything.

There’s no because.

 

God just loves us.

 

It’s a lot to think about.

 

May we enter the wilderness together, letting go of perfection, and making room for God.

 

 

Christmas Eve Sermon, 11AM

Luke 1:46-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is God’s name.
 God’s mercy is for those who fear God
from generation to generation.
 God has shown strength with God’s arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 God has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy,
 according to the promise God made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Something miraculous happened that first Christmas.

 

We’re not the sure HOW it happened.

 

But we do know that it changed the world forever.

 

Between 70-100 years after Mary sang her beautiful song that we heard in our scripture today, 4 people, who call themselves Matthew, Mark, Luke and John set about writing down the story of Jesus from their perspective.

 

None of them was there as an eye-witness to the angels or Mary’s song or Jesus’ birth, but they all undoubtedly grew up hearing stories of that first Christmas.

 

It’s not so hard to imagine.

 

Many of us grew up hearing stories of our parents or grandparents.

 

Or the story of our church, Church of the Good Shepherd.

 

And everyone tells those stories slightly differently.

 

When it comes to the story of this church, for example, Shirlee and Floyd Coppage may tell me about the important role of our young families and how faith in God and in our mission kept people steadfast, even in the toughest times.

 

Art Stuart, who started coming a bit later but who was here when we moved into this building, hasn’t talked to me as much about the young families, but he has talked to me about the hard work of the adults in the church and how no matter what needed to be done, we figure out a way to do it ourselves.

 

Orp Christopher never talked to me about painting or electrical wiring the way Art hard, but she certainly told me plenty of stories. In addition to telling the story about how she kicked the California Conference representative out of her house, Orp loved to tell me stories about the raucous church choir rehearsals at her house, and how vital the choir was from the very beginning, and how the choir was a key factor in the growth of the early church.

 

But talk Paul Mohr, our founding pastor, and he’ll tell you a slightly different take on the choir. According to him, the choir was having a little TOO much fun at Orp’s house, and he had to insist that they move their practices to the church, because people who weren’t in the choir feared that the choir was doing more partying than rehearsing.

 

So what REALLY happened in our history?

 

Well, all of it.

 

And…when we tell stories about influential moments in our history, we have to choose what details we want to emphasize.

 

In the Bible, we have 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and we have 3 different versions of Jesus’ birth.

 

We only have 3, because Mark begins with Jesus’ ministry and leaves out his birth all together.

 

John doesn’t tell many details either. Just that Jesus was there from the beginning and that God became human.

 

Matthew is fairly scant on details – there are no shepherds, no inn. And there’s no angel that appears to Mary. The author of Matthew talks about the angel that appears to Joseph to reassure him. Matthew also talks about the wise men, who the rest leave out.

 

And then we have Luke, the author of today’s text, who centers the narrative around the experience of Mary.

 

Just as the choir is important in Orp’s story and faith in Shirlee and Floyd’s and hard work in Art’s, for the author of Luke, Mary is the one who brings the story all together.

 

She is the one who the angel tells first about the coming birth of Jesus.

 

She is also the one who God chooses to inhabit. Before Jesus is born, Jesus spends his first 9 months with Mary. They share the same food, the same body, the same life force.

 

She feels his heartbeat in harmony with hers before anyone hears his first cry.

 

Mary, this ordinary young woman, not a queen, not someone famous, just an ordinary woman, someone like any of us.

THAT is who God chooses first.

 

For Luke, God choosing Mary is important.

 

And for Luke, Mary is not only the one who bears Jesus, but the one who in her womb, in her very being, ties together the entire history of the Jewish people and the promise of new life and hope in the messiah.

 

Mary is the keystone, that piece in the arch that holds together the arc of the past and the arc of the future together.

 

She is the one who, when Elizabeth calls her blessed, sings a song that takes directly from the song of Hannah. Hannah, a mother who wrote her own poetic song over 600 years before Mary, when Hannah herself was promised a miraculous pregnancy.

 

Listen to this except form Hannah’s song. It’s nearly identical to Mary’s.

““My soul magnifies the Lord;, Hannah sings.     my strength is exalted in my God my salvation. The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble are given new strength.
Those who were full are begging for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with excess.

 

It’s almost identical.

 

When Luke tells Mary’s story in this way, he reminds us of all of the women before her, all of the ordinary women, all of the women who were set up against great odds, and yet found strength in God and in one another.

By connecting her to Hannah, the author of Luke connects her to all of us, and to all of our histories, and to all of the women and men who came before us and had faith, even in the most difficult times.

 

Of course, Mary’s song doesn’t just quote the Old Testament, it also quotes Jesus, and his sermon on the mount.

 

Jesus, in his ministry, will proclaim,

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 

Mary’s song is not just an echo of the past, it is foreshadowing Jesus’ life and ministry as well as the work of the church.

 

Remember that Mary’s song is not just a light-hearted pop number. It is a prophetic message about a God who throughout history has fought for the “have-nots”. Listen again. Mary says,

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Mary’s words will become Jesus’ words. And our words.

 

Our mission at Church of the Good Shepherd is to create a just world through community, one life at a time.

We are a part of that broader story that Mary holds together.

 

The story of God’s justice and peace.

 

Christmas day, for Luke is not the end all be all.

 

It’s one day, one moment in history that goes back thousands of years and continues thousands of years beyond anything the author could have imagined.

 

Christmas is the beginning of a new chapter, certainly. Nothing will be the same once Jesus is in the world.

 

But it’s not the final chapter.

 

God is still speaking.

 

Through the words of Mary, and through us.

 

So my challenge to us this Christmas is to ask ourselves – what is our place in this story?

 

In God’s arch of history, where do we come in?

 

How is God still speaking through us?

 

Amen.

 

Advent Candle Lighting

 

Sarah: Mary was full of life and promise. We remember her today as we also celebrate the child in her womb, Jesus the Christ.

 

Tammy: At the beginning of the service, we relit the candles of hope, peace, and love, remembering the light of Christ, which shines in and through us.

 

Sarah: Today, we light the 4th candle. And it’s pink! But why is it pink?

 

Well, in the earliest years of the church, the only recognized season was Lent, the 7-week period leading up to Easter. It was a season of fasting and prayer, and during that season, the church used to light 7 blue candles—blue signifying repentance.

 

Tammy: However solemn the season, Lent also had a bit of hope and joy, because people knew that the death of Christ led to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. In ancient times, the story goes, church leaders would honor a citizen with a pink rose to acknowledge the joy and hope they brought to the people. In time, that pink rose became a pink candle, which was lit on one Sunday each Lent to remind us of the joy of the resurrection to come. <Tammy light stick from one of the candles on the altar and get ready to light the pink candle>

 

Sarah: When the church started celebrating the season of Advent, it was seen as a parallel season to Lent—a time for reflection and preparation. At the same time, Advent is also a time to prepare for the coming joy of the birth of Christ. So one Sunday each Advent, we light a pink candle as we celebrate joy.

 

May we remember all of the labor of our staff and volunteers, celebrate the life-giving work of this community, and light this candle in anticipation of the great joy of Jesus’ birth.

 

<Tammy  lights pink candle here>

 

Let us pray… <Sarah says a prayer here>

 

<silent prayer> <prayer of Jesus>

Christmas Traditions – A Sermon on Isaiah 58 – Advent 3

Mini-sermon on Isaiah 58

12/17/17

There was a Christmas Cantata at the 11AM service, but this mini-sermon was preached at 9AM.

 

Sermon:

There are hundreds of Christmas traditions around the world.

Some revolve around food (congregation members shared some of their own traditions).

 

In Japan, people eat Kentucky fried chicken. (look it up – it’s true!).

 

Other traditions revolve around gift-giving.

From the web: “Christmas in Iceland involves a visit from the Yuletide Lads over 13 days between Christmas and Epiphany. Over the 13 nights, children place a shoe in their bedroom window. Each night a different Yuletide lad (fairy-like creature) visits, leaving sweets or gifts.
“In Italy, Christmas comes around again in January when La Befana (a nice old lady who looks like a bit of a witch) goes around and gives presents and treats to the kids. Just as with Santa, kids will leave a snack out for La Befana who is usually depicted as dirty and covered in soot since she enters through the chimney.”

 

“A late 19th Century American tradition, it all revolves a Christmas Tree decoration the shape of a pickle. For Christmas morning, a pickle shaped ornament is hidden on a branch and then the children try to find it. The finder receives an extra present from Santa or good luck for the next year.

The tradition has ties to marketing in the 1890s when glass Christmas decorations were imported from Germany. Woolworths brought in the decorations that featured glass blown vegetables. The Christmas Pickle idea was concocted to sell the product.”

(for more interesting traditions, visit: http://mentalfloss.com/article/20333/8-truly-strange-christmas-customs or google “Christmas traditions around the world).

Many of these traditions have SOME connection to the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, but many of them have also emerged from unique cultural situations or from a blend of biblical stories and modern twists that often have more to do with economics than anything else.

It’s also traditional for Chrsitians to talk about the “real meaning of Christmas.”

So what IS the real meaning of Christmas?

I’m guessing there are a lot of different answers to that question, but if we consider who Jesus was, celebrating his birth is not just about presents or even just about good will and cheery feelings.

Jesus was a prophet–someone who spoke out and challenged us to change our lives.

In many way he echoed the words of the prophet Isaiah in our text today.

Our text today was written after the Jewish people had been returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile.

When the exile happened, around 589BCE, the upper classes – the educated folks, the folks with power, folks with privilege were exiled to Babylon.

Several generations later, when Persian conquered Babylon, the Jewish people were allowed to return.

Most of them probably didn’t.

Jerusalem was in ruins, while Babylon had a thriving economy.

The generations that had grown up in Babylon had assimilated into Babylonian life in a lot of ways—as is true in many refugee communities, the younger generations didn’t have the same connection with the motherland that the older ones did.

But some folks DID return.

People who had maintained their Jewish traditions and remained true to their faith.

Educated people who had been studying Judaism from afar for years, carefully and faithfully following the law, even in exile, people who were just waiting for that glorious day when they could return and rebuild the temple.

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, while the upper classes were off in Babylon, the working poor and those with less education and privilege had been allowed to stay behind.

They’d been practicing Judaism themselves – not by reading books, but by living their faith.

When the exiles returned, many of them with some wealth and resources, they basically said to the people, okay – your chief priests and teachers and leaders are back, listen up. We’ve been practicing our faith and studying it for generations in exile and we’re here to bring it back.

And the people back home who’d been in Jerusalem the whole time were like, “Judaism never left.” YOU left. But our faith didn’t. Just because we can’t read or write or buy nice clothes or hold high positions in the church doesn’t mean that we can’t be faithful to God.

It’s into this mix that the poet and prophet Isaiah arrives.

The religious leaders are talking about how pious they are, fasting and keeping the REAL traditions of Judaism.

And God responds through the words of the prophet. “You’re missing the whole point,” Isaiah says.  “You’ve had your nose in books for years, yes, but knowing the words and living the words are two very different things.”

“You’re fasting and professing to be holy, while at the same time, oppressing the people who work for you.”

“You’re missing the point. Listen.

“This is the fast that I choose for you:

to loose the bonds of injustice,     to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,     and to break every yoke. To share your bread with the hungry,     and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,     and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

It’s a tricky message to get our heads around.

The religious practice of fasting is supposed to be about denying our interests.

And yet, as Patricia Willey writes, “To fast while continuing to serve one’s own interest, no matter how attractive the interest, is not to fast at all. To fast and to maintain control is not to empty onself before almighty God, but simply to go on a little religious diet.

But what if on your fast day, you also fasted from pursuing your interest?,” she writes. “What if you took a sabbath from power, because others are continually starved for lack of it? What if you fasted by attending to the needs of others, even at the risk of your firm hold on your social standing, even at the risk of your own visions? Now THAT would be an act of faith even more radical than the pursuit of the exited poet’s promises, because it would be faith not in an imaginable goal, but in God alone.

Nobody can practice faith like that—nobody would WANT to practice faith like that—without believing both that there are interests more crucial than the best they can imagine and that those interests are also God’s.” (Patricia Willey’s piece, “Repairing the Breach: A Meditation on Isaiah 58” appeared in Church and Society in the Nov/Dec 1992 edition).

As we approach Christmas, we practice our faith in many different ways.

My challenge to us is to not let our traditions, religious or otherwise, be the end of the story.

To consider also what the birth of Jesus means for our lives in a larger sense.

What it means for love to come into the world.

Amen.

 

 

Advent Candle Lighting

<WORSHIP LEADER LIGHTS 2 BLUE CANDLES HERE>

Sarah: Last week, we lit the candles of hope and peace, and we relight them today, remembering God’s promises and finding hope in our faith and in our community.

Today, we will also light the candle of love.

The Bible tells us that love is patient. Love is kind and envies no one.

Worship leader: Love is never boastful or rude or selfish.

Love is not quick to take offense.

Love keeps no record of wrongs and does not gloat over other people’s troubles, but rejoices in truth.

Love conquers all.

Sarah: At Christmas, we celebrate God’s love that comes to us in the form of Jesus, a baby who will grow up to embody what love means.

Worship leader: He will teach us to love our neighbor as ourselves and show us that love takes courage and perseverance.

Sarah: Today, we light the candle of love to remind us that Christ will be a light for love in our world and also to remind us that as the living Body of Christ, our light shines God’s love for all the world.

<WORSHIP LEADER LIGHTS 3RD BLUE CANDLE HERE>

Let us pray…

<prayer>

 

 

Speaking Up and Shedding Light – Adevent 2 – Peace

12/10/17

Scripture: Matthew 18: 15-22

Advent 2 – Peace

“Speaking Up and Shedding Light”

 

The other day, I got out of a meeting, and my phone popped up a message with a map. “20 minutes to get to church of the Good Shepherd.”

 

How does it know that I’m planning to go to Church of the Good Shepherd?

 

Well, it turns out, it has paid attention to my habits and knows about what time I come into work.

 

And so I got curious – how much do my electronics actually know about me?

 

I recently did a search, “What does Google know about me.”

 

And it probably won’t surprise you that Google knows an awful lot.

 

It knows that I like to search for hymns on YouTube.

 

 

For those of you who haven’t turned off location services, if you have a smart phone, it probably also knows all of the places you’ve been recently.

 

It may even pop up a message from time to time telling you how to get there.

 

You can turn all of this off, of course. All you have to do is Google “What does Google know about me,” and you can find videos and articles about how to restore your privacy.

 

(Of course, Google will know that you googled “What does Google know about me.”)

 

All of this is not to make us paranoid about Big Brother, but to remind us, that there are a lot of companies who know more about us than we think.

 

And it’s frankly none of their business.

 

But they’ve MADE it their business in order to make money.

 

Our business is a bit different. Our mission statement is to “Create a just world through community one life at a time.”

 

Our business is creating a just world.

 

So why, if that’s our mission, are we so afraid to step in when people are doing things that interfere with our mission?

 

Maybe it’s because we want to protect each other’s privacy.

 

We see someone acting out, and we think, well, that’s none of my business.

 

Or, he’s not hurting me, or she’s only hurting herself with that behavior, or it’s not my place to interfere.

 

Well, today’s text, which was written specificially for the church, says that actually, it IS our business.

 

When it comes to this community, it is our RESPONSIBILITY to pay attention and also to speak out when we see people behaving in ways that go counter to our mission.

 

It’s our RESPONSIBILITY to act on what we know and speak up in love when we notice that something’s wrong.

 

We talked about the spinach in the teeth example.

 

We’ve all had that scenario when we have a piece of spinach or something in our teeth? Or when we’ve said or done something that accidentally stepped on people’s toes.

 

Don’t you hate it when you get home and realize that spinach was there the whole time and no one told you about it?

 

Or when you find our months or even years later that someone was hurt by something you said and never told you about it?

 

If we see someone with something in their teeth or someone doing something that hurts us or our community, of course, we could just say it’s none of our business.

 

But the loving thing to do is to tell them.

 

And the Gospel message takes it even a step further.

 

The text uses the word “sin,” which at its core is about broken relationship. Broken relationship with God, with other people, or with ourselves.

 

And the translation we have says “If someone sins against you, take them aside privately and talk to them,” but the oldest and most reliable manuscripts we have of this passage do not contain the words “against you.”

 

So they don’t’ say “If someone sins against you,” they just say, “If someone sins,” speak with them privately about it.

 

And so the Gospel of Matthew is suggesting that it’s not just when someone hurts us personally that we step forward and say – hey, that wasn’t okay.

 

No, it’s saying when we see ANY sin in our community, anything that’s keeping someone from God or from community from personal wholeness, that it is our RESPONSIBILITY, it is the LOVING thing to do, to take them aside privately, and talk to them about it.

 

This doesn’t mean being nosy. This doesn’t mean talking about people behind their backs or gossiping about the things they’re doing that irritate us. It means taking the offending person aside privately, and in love, telling them your observations.

 

And that requires a measure of trust and relationship.

 

Someone the other day just randomly came up to me at the supermarket and handed me a lint roller and said, here – you could use one of these.

 

I thought that person was a total jerk.

 

But if someone I love and am close with came to me with a lint roller and said – you mention all the time how much your dog sheds. I thought I’d get you one of these, because I know you probably need one with such a big fuzzy dog!

 

I’d probably respond very differently, right?

 

The key is relationship.

 

When we confront people about “sin,” or if that word’s too loaded, when we confront people about behavior that we believe is breaking relationship, it’s important that we don’t shame them or point out who wrong they are.

 

It’s important instead that we go with an intention of compassion, telling them, in love, that we care about them and that we’re concerned about them.

 

The Gospel of Matthew reframes confrontation as an opportunity to invite members of our community, people that we love, into dialog about something that brings us concern.

 

And this could not be any more salient than now.

 

There’s been a lot in the news lately about harassment.

 

And I know a lot of people are just now coming forward and talking about what happened to them as victims of this behavior.

 

The church is certainly not immune from that.

 

As a clergywoman, I’ve both experienced and witnessed inappropriate behavior in churches before.

 

And as a victim, especially a victim in a situation in which I had little power, it was difficult, if not impossible to confront the person behaving in a hurtful way.

 

One of our responsibilities in a community such as ours IS to care for victims.

 

And a big part of caring for the victims may be not having the expectation that the victim be the one to confront the person behaving badly.

 

When there is a power imbalance or a major conflict, it’s really courageous for the person who is a victim to go forward and tell the bully, “Hey, what you did hurt me.”

 

It’s really courageous for the victim to say something, even if the perpetrator was clearly not aware that they were behaving badly. Maybe they said something innocently or did something that was truly offensive, but they had no idea.

 

It is courage and loving, just as it is to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth, to tell that person, “Hey, I don’t know if you know this, but what you said or did was really hurtful to me. It was really offensive. And because I love you, I want you to know that.”

 

But I also want to be clear, that a lot of times, it’s just not fair to ask the victim to have the sole responsibility to correct the behavior.

 

Honestly. It’s great when victims can.

 

But this passage today reminds us that it is ALL of our responsibilities ALL of our roles to step in when we see sinful behavior in our community, behavior that breaks relationship.

 

This is OUR business. Stepping up in order to build a just world through community one life at a time.

Because I wonder, in the cases coming to light today, how many people observed the behavior in question, friends of the bullies or harassers, How many friends or colleagues, and saw that they were acting in ways that were hurtful or inappropriate, and yet didn’t say anything because it was “none of their business.”

 

Or because they simply wanted to avoid confrontation?

 

Some of the men are coming forward and saying they had no idea that the language they were using or the things they were saying were hurtful.

 

Some of them are full of it. A lot of this stuff is common sense.

 

But I really believe that some of them had no idea the degree of damage they were doing. Or even that they WERE doing damage.

 

 

 

In Christian community, in an intentional community like ours that seeks to build a just world, one life at a time, it is ALL of our responsibilities to take people aside and talk to them when we notice behavior that might break relationships or hurt people.

 

And let me be clear – because Matthew is clear – in this community, if we see harassment or bullying happening, the Christian response is not to publicly shame them, or punish them, or scold them in the media or kick them out of the community.

 

It’s to take them aside personally, speak with them privately, in a loving manner, and create a dialog about how their actions break the bonds of community.

 

And if they don’t listen, we can take someone else with us to talk with them.

 

And if they STILL don’t listen, we can take the issue to a a larger group.

 

And if they STILL don’t listen or change their behavior, they will be to us like a Gentile or a tax collector.

 

Which in the life and example of Jesus, does not mean cutting them off.

 

It means that the bully is someone that we must go out of our way to care for, to love, and to welcome into community and offer healing to, because their unwillingness to change their bad behavior means that there is a deep deep wound somewhere that needs to be tended.

 

Now, if we’re the victim of their abuse, cutting them off may be what we have to do to keep ourselves safe.

 

But for those of us who are allies, both of the victim and the perpetrator, there’s no way we’ll be able to help heal their wounds and restore wholeness to the community if we cut them off.

When there is brokenness in relationship, any relationship, there cannot be a just world, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.

 

When there is brokenness in a church member’s relationship with another church member, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.

 

When there is brokenness in our relationships with people who disagree with our politics, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.

 

When there is brokenness in a church members’ relationship with their own body, there cannot be wholeness in the Body of Christ.

 

This is our business – loving one another and creating a just world, one life at a time.

 

That’s our business.

 

So may we take the time to build relationship and build the courage to speak up in love, that we all might be part of building God’s reign of peace on earth.

 

If the supermarket cares enough to know what kind of food we buy, and smartphones and computers know where we go and what we like to search for, if all of these companies make it their business to know and care about what we’re up to so that they can sell us more stuff,

 

I have faith that we, as a Christian community, with all of our strength that comes from God and one another, can forego our fear about violating people’s privacy in order to love people and bring more wholeness to the Body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

Advent Candle lighting

 

Worship Leader: In Advent, we light candles to remind us of God’s light in the darkness. Today, we light the candles of HOPE and PEACE

 

Sarah: In the season Advent, we prepare for the birth of Christ in the world. And yet we also know, from our place in history, that Jesus’ life was limited.

 

Worship Leader: This baby, this child that will be born, will bring us hope, and he will also preach peace. But ultimately, it’s up to us to follow through. To do the hard work of MAKING peace on earth.

 

< Worship leader lights 2 BLUE candles now>

 

Sarah: Today, we light the candles of hope and peace, knowing that the hard work is not just up to the baby coming, but up to us, the Living Body of Christ. As we light these candles, we offer a prayer that God’s light of hope will shine a path for us, and that God’s light of peace will illuminate the places in our lives where darkness dwells.

May God hold us in the light, and may we also shed God’s light on the lives of others. With love and compassion and understanding, may we bring wholeness to the Body of Christ and support one another on our journeys to peace.

 

 

 

Embracing the Darkness while Waiting for the Light – Advent 1

Scripture: Psalm 27

Sermon: Embracing the Darkness while Waiting for the Light

When I was in college, I participated in a spiritual practice one Lent that included fasting.

We fasted for 3 days

3 days!

I’m not one of those people who just “forgets to eat.” I love food.

But for 3 days, I fasted, and I prayed, and I experienced hunger and longing.

And I will tell you that the first meal I had, which was a simple salad with almonds and strawberries. I don’t think I will EVER forget that meal.

The strawberries were the sweetest strawberries I’d ever had. I’m not one who usually jumps for joy about spinach, but I remember closing my eyes and savoring every bite.

It was overwhelmingly good. Overwhelmingly rich and satisfying. All of my senses came to life in my experience of that simple salad.

How many of us woke up this morning and cried with joy that we could walk?

I can guarantee you that there ARE people who have suffered life-changing injuries and struggled for months, maybe years to learn to walk again, and I’m sure that now, they wake up, perhaps in tears of thanksgiving, saying “Thanks be to God that I can take a step today.”

Longing for something, experiencing the absence of something, whether that be food or comfort or security or companionship—when we DO experience those things again, they are that much more powerful and meaningful and full as a result of their absence in our lives.

Longing is a valuable part of our human experience as well as our spiritual experience.

And today’s Psalm talks a lot about longing. Longing for the light. Longing for God’s action and protection. Longing for God’s presence.

The Psalmist says that the ONE thing he longs for more than anything is to live in the house of God forever.

The Psalmist wants that sustenance, that sweet taste of security and safety and belonging.

And yet, without his moments of separation and pain and loss and darkness, it’s quite possible the Psalmist would never appreciate the light and connection he seeks.

Our God is not just a god of the light, but a God of the darkness as well.

In OUR mythology, our God, is first, a God of darkness.

In the beginning, God separated the light from the darkness and called them good.

And if you read the text carefully, the first day of creation begins with darkness.

The Jewish day begins at sundown.

God doesn’t just shine in the light of day. God begins the day after the sun has gone down.

And the darkness is good.

God called the DARKNESS GOOD.

Not just the creativity and quiet and spiritual moments that come with the night.

Those moments under the stars or around a campfire or around a table with friends.

God calls all darkness good.

And not just the darkness of night where we find creativity or spend time with friends around the campfire…

The darkness that William Hull described as that inward confusion when ignorance frustrates our ability to find the way ahead and we cry, “I’m in the dark!” It also describes that sinister environment in which foes lurk to do us hard under the cover of night. Ultimately, it comes to denote that doubt and despair we call ‘the dark night of the soul’ separating us from God.”

God calls THAT darkness good.

And that’s difficult for me to wrap my head and heart and faith around.

As upbeat and energetic as I seem most of the time, I HAVE experienced real darkness in my life.

And to think that those times were “good,” is something that’s difficult for me to accept.

Certainly, it’s not good in the sense of being pleasurable. Or good in the sense that it’s comfortable.

But as I struggled with this text, I came to the conclusion that darkness and longing and separation from God ARE good, in the sense that they are part of the cycle of life that connects us to ALL of who God is.

And the darkness and longing are good, because they lead us to appreciate the light.

Some religions ignore the darkness all together.

Some Christian churches do too.

<a note here from Barbara Brown Taylor about “solar” vs “lunar religion”>

It’s all happiness and upbeat and God is good and God offers blessings.

Christianity doesn’t just show up in the happy times.

Sometimes, the most glorious miracles happen when we’re at our lowest points.

And those dark times bring us deeper into appreciation and thanksgiving when the light returns.

And the light WILL return.

That’s difficult to believe sometimes when we’re in the midst of darkness, especially a long period of darkness.

<example of Saint Theresa of Avila, who experienced God as a burst of light, but then for 18 years, she didn’t feel connected to God at all. She was in the dark. She did pray. She offered spiritual direction. She ran a convent. But it wasn’t until 18 years later that she felt the presence of God return to her.>

The Bible is clear, the darkness will NOT last forever.

Where there is separation, there WILL be reconciliation.

Where there is pain, there will be relief.

Where there is uncertainty, there will be resolution.

God begins our days with darkness, but continues with the light.

And BECAUSE of the darkness, because of those times of separation and hardship and loss and betrayal, when we DO experience the sunrise, the joy will be overwhelming.

Our God is a god of the darkness first.

May we find God in the longing, in the waiting, and in the promise of light to come.

Advent Candle Lighting

(immediately after the sermon)

One: In these long nights of winter, we might find ourselves embracing the mysteries of God in the darkness: relishing the stillness of the night and the glimmer of stars, breathing into the spirit of creativity and emotion that thrives in the predawn hours of the morning, and enjoying all of the ways God’s creation comes alive in the moonlight.

Two: This Advent season, we may also experience darkness of a different kind – the emptiness of grief, the pain of separation, the fear of uncertainty, or the depths of despair.

One: Throughout this season of Advent, we light candles to remind us that whether the darkness we face is painful or whether it is life-giving–however we experience the darkness—God is there with us.

Two: Today, we light the first candle, the candle of hope: Hope for justice; Hope for healing; Hope for new life.

<lights candle now>

One: May we find comfort and assurance in the light of God’s hope.

Let us pray….

<Pastoral Prayer>

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.’”