Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mark 12:38-44

Mark 12: 38-44
“Beware of Dog” is not an uncommon sign to see in any neighborhood. It’s there to let you know that you should be careful when you are in a dog’s presence, even a dog you may know well. I’ve seen other signs that say “Beware of Attack Cat!” in people’s homes or “Beware, two year-old at play.” All of these signs caution us about what we are about to encounter, but I have never seen a sign based on Jesus’ teachings for this morning. “Beware of the scribes.”
It seems like an odd thing to say doesn’t it? “Beware of the religious leaders.” We typically have thought of religious leaders as someone worth trusting. In Jesus’ time the scribes were teachers of the law. Their opinions mattered on just about everything in your spiritual and physical life. The priests trusted them so they should have been trusted and respected by the common folk. Even in our society, where clergy have been tarnished by scandals recently, there is still a level of trust with a religious leader that you might not give your everyday stranger. So why is it that Jesus says to beware of the scribes?
It is important to point out that Jesus did not make a blanket statement to beware of all the scribes. After all just verses ago Jesus tells one scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God. Jesus points to specific actions of those to beware of. He says, “beware of those who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplace, and to have the best seats in the synagogue and places of honor at banquets.”
I must be honest with you and say that there isn’t much on this list that couldn’t describe most preachers I know, even myself. I love to wear my long robe, I appreciate being treated with respect in public, I sit up front, the best seat in the house at church, and you all have done a fine job of letting Steve, the kids and I go first at every potluck we’ve had at Christ Church! These things are usually associated with being a clergy person.
These would have been normal benefits for any scribe or high priest. These actions themselves are not the problems, rather the motivations behind them.
The scribes cautioned against wore their clothing so that people would notice them. They sought out people’s attention in public for personal gain. They sat in the best seats so that everyone would see them and comment on their piety, and they coveted the best seats at a banquet so that others would know their high place in society. While they do these things, Jesus gives us an insight into their hearts.
“They devour widows houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Many scholars tell us that the scribes might have been put in charge of widows trusts if she had no male relatives to care for her after the death of her husband. The law commanded that the synagogue care for widows and orphans. Yet here Jesus accuses the scribes of taking everything away from widows. Perhaps that is how some gained their fortunes, by skimming off of the top of the widows’ retirement assets.  Jesus also accuses them of praying for the sake of appearances. They seem to be saying “Look at me, I can pray and talk to God for long periods of time because of my goodness and closeness to God!” They prayed out loud and in public so as to be noticed.
I believe that Jesus teaches to beware of the scribes as a way of telling his disciples what not to do. He knows that the disciples will be the leaders of the faith and he does not want them to fall into the same patterns of behaviors as these particular scribes. Jesus emphasized service over self and that message is one we still need to hear today. We, as Jesus’ disciples in the world today need to be outwardly focused. We need to be serving others rather than our own egos. As if this were not plain enough teaching, Jesus continues by moving over across from the treasury tables in the temple and giving the disciples an object lesson.
They crowd was passing through the temple and stopping at the treasury to pay their temple tithes or taxes. The coins of the day had ceaser’s picture on them so they had to be exchanged for “temple coins” in order to be paid to the temple. So there would have been several places that moneychangers sat at tables exchanging roman coins for temple coins. Anyone giving to the temple would have visited a moneychanger first. The treasury might have been a place people gathered waiting to exchange their money, to give their money, or perhaps to see how much your neighbor was putting into the pot. So while everyone is watching the rich people pouring their money into the treasury here comes a widow who drops in two little coins.
I am sure that had this been an ordinary day, the widow’s act would never have been noticed. In fact I think that most of the time this widow was all but invisible. I wonder what she was thinking when she gave everything she had to the temple. I was taught in Sunday school that she was generous and gave “cheerfully.” But that’s not found anywhere in the text. In fact, given the fact that Jesus has just told us that scribes “devoured widows houses” and scribes were a part of the oppressive temple system, I doubt that her giving was cheerful. I tend to see her as angry. Maybe even shaking her fist at the leaders thinking, “You’ve taken everything I have but these two coins. What can I buy with less than a penny? You might as well take it all!” She gives all that she has, what little bit it is, and goes on her way, relying on God to care for her, because she knows she cannot rely on humankind.

 She reminds me a little of the widow in 1 Kings 17 who meets Elijah. Elijah asks her for water and a piece of bread. There has been no rain in the land and the woman has very little to live on. She tells Elijah that she only has enough flour and oil to make a small meal for herself and her son to eat and then they will die.  Elijah promises her that if she feeds him first then God will not let her run out of food until it rains again. She had nothing left to loose, she and her son where going to starve, but she gives up everything and in the end does experience a miracle from the Lord. The widow in Mark does not have a prophet standing in front of her promising good things for her gift. She just gives it. There is no promise for food and oil tomorrow, there is only today.
Jesus calls the disciples together and praises this woman. She has given everything she had to live on to the very system that devours widows’ houses. She has given more than anyone else.
So what can we learn from this widow? There are so many things. There is the point to be made about sacrificial giving. She gave everything and in a few short days after this teaching Jesus would give all he had to give on a Roman Cross overlooking this very temple. There is the point to be made about trust. Even though she did not have anything else she still gave trusting that God would provide. Bu the lesson that strikes me the most is the lesson of faith. She gave to the very organization that should have been giving to her. She did not excuse herself from giving because she had been hurt. She did not choose to send her money elsewhere because she didn’t like the leadership. She did not punish God for the acts of created beings.

When it gets right down to it, that is who we give to. Not humanity, not buildings or organizations or programs, but to God. To our creator. And when God has given so much, who are we to hold anything back?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints Day Rough Draft

Here is a very rough draft for tomorrow morning. I obliviously need to add All Saints references but due to the craziness of Halloween being a Saturday and have three littles; tonight is not the night. I'll try to fix it in the morning!
John 11: 1-45
Those of you who participated in our Women of the Bible study in the fall have heard me say this before, “I LOVE this story! It is my favorite!” Of course you also heard me say that about many other of the passages we studied together. But there is something so very special about this particular text. It’s not just the obvious parallel between Lazarus’ death and resurrection and Jesus’ death and resurrection, although that’s important. It’s not just the relationship Jesus has with Martha, Mary, and their brother, although it is touching. The special-ness of this story is so much more than all of that. There is something about this story that reaches into the very deepest parts of me and awakens my soul to the goodness and mercy of God! It’s transformational. It calls us to new life. But there I go, getting excited and getting ahead of the story!
I am struck by Martha in this passage. In Luke’s account of these two sisters’ we are shown a woman dedicated to service to the point of overlooking the importance of time spent with Jesus. The only words we hear from her are those of complaint. And we are told that Mary, the one who sits as a disciple has chosen the better part. We are often left with a feeling that Mary’s faith was stronger than Martha’s. But here it is Martha who runs to meet Jesus outside of the city. It is Martha who first states “If you had been here Lord my brother would not have died.” Too often we are tempted to cut her off right there, as a questioning or even accusing grieving woman, but we must hear what else she has to say. “If you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now,” she continues, “Even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Martha stands there with tears in her eyes and grief in her heart daring to hope, to trust, to ask. Faith seems to pour out of her. Jesus’ reply is simple “Your brother will rise again.” And yet, despite her hopeful tone, her grief keeps her from hearing their truth. “Yes Lord, I know that he will rise again in the last days.” Martha gives the safe Sunday school answer one that may not really comfort, but sounds right in the moment.
But Jesus will not allow her to stay in the safe thoughts of the sweet by and by. Jesus will not let us stay in our safety zones. He challenges her “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Do you believe this? Jesus looks into her eyes and asks her to really believe, really trust these words that sound too good to be true. Do you believe? “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”
Martha gives a complete confession of faith. She says that she believes God will listen to Jesus, that she believes he is the resurrection and the life, that she believes he is nothing less than the messiah. In fact Martha’s confession is not too different then the ones we use in worship to state together what we believe. The apostle’s creed, the Nicene Creed, even the one we used today “We are not alone” all have elements taken from Martha’s confession. We too say we believe that God listens; we too say we believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; we too say that he is indeed the Messiah. And we too have moments like Martha has in verse 39.
Martha, who has just given a complete confession of faith balks when Jesus says “Roll away the stone.” She replies “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." She has just confessed Jesus to be the Christ and here she takes a step back. How often are we like Martha? We confess our belief, we even take steps to make changes in our lives, but when it gets to the hard stuff we regress. We go back to our unbelief because it is less challenging. We go back to what we know because we are comfortable. We go back because there is less resistance. We go back because we are scared of what real transformation holds.
Here stands Martha filled with the fears of the dead body, the fears of the stench, the fears of her old life. And Jesus tells her “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” The same has been said to us. “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”
We, like Martha need this reminder. The reminder that God is God; That Jesus is indeed who he claimed to be; that the Holy Spirit is with us even now. We join in worship to be reminded. WE say confessions of faith to be reminded. We pray for and with one another to be reminded. We read the scriptures to be reminded. We rehearse these facts so that one day we will not need reminding, we will know. So that one day we won’t need transformation, we will be transformed. So that one day we won’t question Christ’s power but will, like Martha be a witness to it!
After he had said this, Jesus prayed. Then he cried out “Lazarus, Come out.” And the dead man walked out of the tomb still in his grave clothes. Lazarus had been raised, he had been resurrected, he had been transformed. “”Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus commanded. For once you have experienced the transforming love and power of Christ you must allow yourself to be unbound. Lazarus was no longer bound to the grave, new life had been given. We are no longer bound to the slavery of sin; we are no longer bound to the grave. Yet we sit in our grave clothes afraid to be unbound, afraid to embrace God’s transforming power. We balk at new life. Yet Jesus commands “Unbind them, and let them go.” Embrace the resurrection and the life.
So you may find yourself asking “What does it look like Pastor? What does it look like to be unbound?” If you are unbound you will commit yourself to doing God’s will. It must be strategic. You do not choose a path for convenience. It is not about you. The determining factor is not “will it be convenient and safe?” The real determining factor is “is this what God is calling me to do for the kingdom of Christ? Does God want us to go there?”
God’s vision must be bigger than just growing our churches, building our buildings, paving our parking lots, meeting our budget, or implementing the latest programs. God’s vision always extends to all the peoples of the earth. This vision by its very nature calls us into relationship with those different from us, culturally, economically, religiously, socially, and politically. His ultimate purpose and vision is reflected in Rev 7:9 “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and people and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.” We must be willing to let God take us into new and unfamiliar territory if we are to embrace his vision.

Once Lazarus was unbound, many believed. And Martha believed, the gospel writer could have added, for she had seen the glory of God. So to can many more believe if we will accept the transformation, rise up from our self imposed graves and be unbound. We have been set free! Believe and see the glory of God!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Whoever welcomes

A sermon on Mark 9:30-37

I was in Lubbock for a wedding in May and stayed at Ma’maw Nita’s house. Growing up one of my favorite things to do was to go visit my Ma’maw Nita. Ma’maw Nita is not my grandmother, she is a woman in the Lubbock, TX CP Church who took in my parents when they were struggling college kids and welcomed them as her own struggling college kids. The result is that I had three grandmothers as a child, and Ma’maw Nita is one of my favorite people in the world!
We would run into her house, not time for greetings or rituals of welcome. We made ourselves at home, grabbing snacks from the kitchen, playing games in the dining room, running up and down and all around her home like wild animals. It was AMAZING!
While I’ve always felt welcomed in her home, this time was different. This time I was an honored guest. A big deal was made over my presence there. I got my favorite foods and even slept in the bed with Ma’maw Nita instead of on the fold out sofa.
I know Ma’maw Nita has always loved and valued me, but this visit felt special, because she really acknowledged her pleasure of having me there. I was her honored guest.
In our scripture for today Jesus and his disciples are doing some traveling of their own, from Caesarea Philippi through Galilee to Capernaum. The trip takes them through various areas and they get some special time with Jesus without the crowds present. So Jesus takes this opportunity to share more in depth teaching with them. Specifically teaching about his suffering, death and resurrection.
This is not the first time Jesus has said these words, just a chapter back he spoke them to Peter who rebuked him for them. Why is this teaching so hard to hear? It might have something to do with what the disciples thought the Messiah SHOULD do. Jesus is the Messiah and the disciples have been raised to see the Messiah as a liberator, along the lines of Moses. A leader that will cry out in a loud voice “Let my people go!” Instead Jesus says again that he must suffer and die and to be honest I’m not sure the being raised part really even entered their minds until AFTER the resurrection occurred.
The disciples have inherited a certain view of what the Messiah would and should do and suffering and death are no part of it. Sometimes we can be blinded by our expectations. We think things should work one way and when they don’t we are confused and angered.
It’s like watching someone try to enter a door. They pull and pull and pull. They may curse and stomp and give up. But if they had only pushed it would have opened easily.
Jesus surprises the disciples with these words and they are so overwhelmed they don’t even ask why or how this could happen. They are stunned to silence.
Perhaps in an effort to overcome the awkwardness of the situation they begin to banter about with each other asking who is the greatest. I’m sure it started out simply enough. Perhaps with Peter claiming he had to be best because after all Jesus gave him a new name! Then John blurts out “I’m the disciple Jesus loves!” Maybe James piped up “I’m his brother! I must be the favorite.” Eventually this leads to an actual disagreement.
In the back of their minds there is still a picture of Jesus sitting on an earthly throne triumphant and they want to know who will be the right hand man. They let the politics of power get in the way of seeing true relationship with Christ.
This argument does not go unnoticed by Jesus. None of our pettiness goes unnoticed by Jesus. When they have arrived at a place of rest Jesus asks “What got you guys so riled up back there?” And again his words are met by silence.
It’s like when you were small and your Mom wanted to know what you were fighting about. You all know she knows, but no one wants to fess up.
Jesus tells them “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus knew what was in their hearts, and he wanted to make it very clear to them that the kingdom of God looks nothing like an earthly kingdom! Jesus the Messiah surprises them in the savior his is. Jesus surprises us in the type of savior he is.
Jesus declares that they must be servants of all, which is a bit scary, but doable. Until Jesus qualifies who all really means.
Jesus gathers them around and picks up a child. Most of the disciples have probably not even noticed the child’s presence before this minute. Children were not favored as they are today. There was no children’s time during synagogue. Children were really not even to be seen at all. They were not seen as something to hold up, to faun over, to value. You didn’t become important to the society until you were a man or a woman, old enough to be educated and married.
Children didn’t hold the special stature they do in our country. So when Jesus picked up this kids I’m sure the disciples raised their eye brows. I’m guessing his words led them to drop their jaws as well.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who has sent me.”
For Jesus to hold up a child as an example of living in God’s kingdom, God’s household was shocking. To say that such a child was a stand-in for Jesus the Messiah himself was mind blowing!
Children were no higher than servants, maybe even less valued because they didn’t add to the productivity or wealth of a household. This is not some super sweet sugary moment of Jesus cuddling a baby. This is Jesus turning social norms on their head. This is Jesus taking those that were essentially invisible to society and giving them prominence and preference.
What does that look like in our world today? Who is it that is largely invisible in our culture, in our world?
The truth is, there are far too many who fit this category today. The elderly, in a society that worships youth they are often seen as of little value as their working years have ended. The homeless, who it is now illegal to help in some areas of our country. The immigrant family trying so hard to eek by while terrified that someone might trick them or fool them because they don’t know their way around this culture. The mentally ill who are so feared that people don’t see any way to help them other than incarceration or institutionalized.
I’m going to say something very unpopular right now, so brace yourselves. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were effective. They did what they set out to do.
We now live in fear. Fear of our neighbor. Fear of strangers. Fear of those who are honestly in need. Fear of ourselves. And this fear keeps people invisible or even worse, visible for the wrong reasons.
 We are so scared that we can’t hold real compassion for refugees because we think they must all be terrorists trying to infiltrate the West. We are so scared that we can’t celebrate a 14 year old boy making a clock on his own because his name is not John Smith. We are so scared that we keep ourselves locked up in our own homes seeking self-preservation over reaching out to those in need.
I’m guilty of it as well. Just Thursday morning I went out to my garage to get in my car and I saw a man, an African-American man, walking down my cul-de-sac in a baggy shirt and shorts. He didn’t walk quickly, he didn’t seem to be too concerned about what was going on. He was just walking. I tensed up and sat there with my phone in my hand wondering if I should go inside. The man looked up, smiled at me and waved and kept walking. He had ear buds in his ears and I realized then that he was just one of the men in the neighborhood taking his morning stroll.
So how do we follow the teachings of this messiah, this table turning, upside down Jesus?
I read a story this week about Ferenc Gyurcsany and his wife Klara. (Read article here)
Ferenc served as prime minister of Hungary from 2004 to 2009. Today, he leads the opposition in Parliament. He says that his house, in a leafy, upscale neighborhood of Budapest, is big enough to share. And for the past few weeks, he and his wife, Klara Dobrev, have been doing just that — welcoming migrants into their home to spend what he calls "one normal night."
While the Hungarian government has been hostile toward the thousands of migrants trying to cross the country, citizens like Gyurcsany have come forth to help them.
"It grabs a couple of hours from our life, but what's that compared to the fate of these people?" says Gyurcsany. "It's nothing."
He says helping in this way has given him an incomparable emotional lift — more than anything he's done in several years.
Gyurcsany and Dobrev, who have five children, moved their 6-month-old baby into their own bedroom to offer more space for migrant families. They're working with a charity group that helps identify particularly exhausted migrants to host.
Dobrev believes the most important thing she and her husband do is simply to treat people like human beings.
"Sometimes I have the feeling that it's not only the food or the possibility to use the bathroom or wash their hair," says Dobrev. "But it's the gesture itself, because these people have received so few human gestures in the past few months."
Hungary is cracking down on migrants and those who assist them, by making entering the country illegally a criminal offense. Gyurcsany says his own family held a meeting to discuss whether they would continue bringing migrants into their home in the worsening climate.
Their decision was unanimous.
"There is a rule of life, and there is a rule of the government of Hungary. And if these two rules are conflicting," he says, "we have to choose the rule of life."
Choosing the rule of life sounds a lot like choosing the way of Christ. Welcoming, even those with the least ability to offer anything in return, is truly loving your neighbor as yourself. Treating other’s as an honored guest is a way of honoring Christ’s presence in our lives.
Each of us has had a point in our lives where we felt less then. Where we were the outsider. We’ve had moments of being invisible. But someone showed us some small kindness. Someone treated us like honored guests. Someone opened their hands and hearts and possibly even home to us.
It’s not an easy message to hear. It’s not an easy message to follow. But if we do choose to follow this radical Messiah, our lives will be radically blessed. If we follow this Jesus the world will be blessed by even more Ma’maw Nita’s. Amen and amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Heartbreak Mark 8

Friends, my heart is broken this week. As we have had the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks juxtaposed with the Syrian refugee crisis. My mind has been unable to focus, my heart has cried out time and again to God. And honestly, I’m not finished listening to God’s answer.
I’ve sought out words to bring to you today, words to bring to myself, but could find nothing inside of my own head or heart to share. What I did find however comes from the head and heart of another minister, Rev. Dr. David Lose. These words brought me a bit of comfort and hope and I’d like to share them with you this morning.

Rev. Dr. David Lose Sermon on Mark 8

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Everyone is equal in God's eyes

Sermon on James 2:1-17

James 2:1-17
I have a friend who moved up north a few years ago. I’ll call her Tina. Tina is far away from her family and friends and has struggled to find a way to get to know other people. Specifically people she might like to date.
Tina’s a good southern girl who’s always dreamed of the husband, kids, and whole thing, although in her vision he might be a stay at home dad. In her 30’s Tina is struggling to meet people who have similar plans and thoughts about the future that she is actually finds interesting enough for a second date.
Tina turned to the world of online dating at the advice of a friend, or family member and began a series of less than stellar dates. Each man quickly showed at least one or two if not 20 undesirable traits and were dismissed from the list of possible suitors. Fed up with the whole thing, but too practical to waste the money she’d spent, she sent out her information to a group of guys that she thought where “out of her league.” She called them “pretty boys” who would never look twice at her profile.
Tina had judged herself, and the males in this group too harshly. Less than a week later one of these “too good for her guys” had contacted her. They went out on a couple of dates and are really enjoying one another’s company.
Sometimes when we judge others instantly we miss out on great opportunities. Some times when we judge ourselves too quickly we keep opportunities at bay.
Our scripture lesson this morning talks about a group of Christians in worship. This may seem an odd thing to compare to online dating, but bear with me here.
The writer of James has taught about pure religion; that is a religion that cares for widows and orphans. The point of this is a religion that cares for those who are less fortunate. Jesus himself said that we must become servants to the least of these. What the writer saw happening in this particular congregation was behavior of blatant favoritism.
When a new person entered the assembly, or church, they were sized up immediately. Are they wealthy? Could they be upstanding citizens? Will they improve our standing in society or our bottom line?
With these questions in their hearts the people would offer seats of privilege to those who seemed well off. However, if someone came in who looked poor, someone who looked somehow less than the reception they received was completely different.
These individuals were seated wherever they could be closely watched. It is almost as if they see this poor person as nothing more than a transient who might dare to hit up church members for money after service concludes.
These two receptions show that this congregation has its heart in the wrong place. Because everybody is equal in God’s eyes!
Favoritism is something that the scriptures are against from the get go. Throughout the good word we are told to care for widows and orphans, for the alien, the strangers in our midst. Jesus time and again preached and showed love to and for the poor.
And yet. And yet the followers of Christ have far too often ignored or worse, denigrated the poor, as if being poor was the worst sin one could commit.
There has long been a sense of disrespect for the poor, which is odd considering the elevated status Jesus often gave the poor. God who gives to all, and gives generously, raises the lowly. God promises the poor the very kingdom of God if they are rich in faith and love.
Often our faith is played out in acts of mercy for the poor, which is wonderful, but at times it is easier to do so for the distant poor and not those who we might actually have to smell or touch.
While at one point in the history of the church the poorest of the poor, beggars were seen as reflections of Christ, that changed during the middle Ages. As more and more people found themselves in desperate straits the church began seeking to teach skills and trades to lead to self-reliance. Those that did not, or could not learn new skills and continued to beg were seen as to lazy or unworthy to receive charity. The distinction between the poor and the working poor was drawn clearly in the church. The working poor were worthy of help, but others were just too lazy to pull themselves up by their boot straps.
The writer of James calls the church to a higher standard. James reminds the people, and us that Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To find worth in the fellow creations of God. To once again see God’s image in even the poorest of faces. Everyone is equal in God’s eyes.
When we show partiality we show that in our hearts, gold weights more than faith or love. Favoritism based on wealth or status does not show God’s love. In fact the polar opposite of favoritism is mercy.
There was a church in downtown small town USA. It was the big Steeple church in town, where everyone wore suits and ties, where the ladies still wore hats Easter morning. Services were beginning and the elders had started to shut the doors. A young man slipped in. His smell hit the sanctuary before he did. He hadn’t bathed in a while and his reeked of cigarettes and body odor. His hair was long and unkempt. He had holes in his shoes and dirt on his face. As he walked up the center isle of the church people began getting nervous. They spread out so that pews that would have sat 2 or three more suddenly looked too full. They did not make eye contact but you could hear a slight buzzing as he passed each row.
Finally he reached the front and sat down on the floor in front of the front pew. The minister was taken aback and had no idea what to do. The service was at a standstill.
In the fourth row, Gospel side, an elderly man stood up, grabbed his cane and began making his way to the front. You could feel the tension release. This man was an elder of the church. He had been there forever. He was third generation Cumberland Presbyterian. He would know how to handle this vagabond.
The pastor nodded his head in approval and waved to the organist to signal that she could begin playing the opening hymn. When the old man reached the front of the room he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. He leaned forward, and lowered himself onto the ground next to the young man. They sat together the rest of the service, praying together, singing together, and joining in communion with one another. They sat there as children of God, as equals in God’s eyes. And in their actions the gospel was preached and received.
As the writer of James points out, faith without works is dead. What good is it to see someone in need and say go on your way, be blessed without offering some help? Or as Jesus put it in Mark 8:36 “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Everyone is equal in the eyes of God. The poor, the rich, the elevated, the downtrodden. All are equal, all are loved. And as children of God, heirs to the kingdom, members of the body of Christ we are called to view people with the eyes of Christ our Lord.
When we exhibit favoritism, when we leave out words of justice and hope for the poor, we are leaving out huge parts of the word of God. Did you know that in the first three Gospels, Matt Mark and Luke, there are one out of 10 verses that deal with the poor, in Luke its closer to one in seven. If we were to remove those words from the scriptures we would indeed have a “wholly” Bible, one missing the psalms, prophets, and many of those precious words in red.
How can we live lovingly and justly? By reaching out. By offering love and support. We do this in numerous ways here at Christ Church. In fact I want to share one with you right now. For the past month we have been collecting underwear and other hygiene items for downtown rescue mission. This has not been a huge sacrifice for most of us. A few dollars here and there. But this week those items were delivered and this is the thank you note we received.
“Thank You so much for gracious donation. God’s timing is always impeccable.
We had just put the undergarments on our need list when you came thru the door with the Blessing. Thank you so much for being sensitive to the drawing of the Spirit and being His hands and feet.
May God Bless you as much as you have been a blessing to us!!
Thru Him,
A simple thing like new underwear can and will make a difference for someone in need. Generosity is giving and sharing what you have with others. When we are generous with fellow human begins we are sharing love with those created in God’s image. We honor God with this love and generosity.
Jesus said to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must learn to value the Jesus in us and the Jesus in others. We cannot sell ourselves short, but at the same time must not put others in their place.
Today we celebrate Holy Communion, one of the sacraments of our church, and perhaps the most leveling of all of the things we do.
Each of us is invited to the table, no matter our net worth, no matter our cleanliness, no matter our condition. We are all invited to come, share, taste and see that the Lord is good. One bread, one body. Because everyone is equal in God’s eyes.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Five: Go to the head of the class

Today's Friday five is from Deb

It’s Back-to-School time! Are you that A+ Student for life” or the King/Queen of Detention? RevGals want to know! We are all still learning (or re-learning) some kind of lessons!
Tell us about your learning edges in:
1. Reading: what’s in your “to-be-read” stack? Fiction? Church leadership? Commentaries?
I am currently reading the following:
Searching for Sunday by Racheal Held Evans
A faith of our own by Jonathen Merritt
For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Out of the deep I cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Like a Fox by Rev. Judy Mitchell Rich

2. Writing: are you blogging? Journaling? Developing a new book proposal? Or just crafting sermons? Any excerpt you’d care to share? (We won’t grade your penmanship!)
I just finished a series of lessons for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany for my Denomination (Cumberland Presbyterian) 
I'm ALWAYS writing sermons, but I'm feeling a pull to write a book. Not sure how to go about it with a full time church, husband, and three littles aged 10,7,&4.

3. ‘Rithmetic: Family budget? Church budget? National debt? What are you discovering about yourself and your church/family when it comes to handling money?
I stink at managing money! I am overly generous and have often had to struggle to meet obligations.
4. Music: favorite new hymn or worship band?
No new favs in these categories. Not a big fan of worship bands and not really in a call where anything younger than fifty years is ever played or sung.
5. Detention: uh huh… If you were supposed to report for detention today, what would be the note on the slip?
Eating WAY off plan while the hubs is out of town caring for his very sick Dad. He is usually our cook and keeps us on track, but the four of us are not starving without him. We may be lacking in some of the food groups, but most defiantly not starving.
BONUS: Recess!
RevGals just want to have fun! What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I love to knit or crochet to unwind. However with the littles I wind up settling for reading.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Clean Hands or Clean Hearts

Sermon Based on Mark 7:1-23

How many times have you asked your children or grandchildren if they washed their hands before they sit down to eat? It seems to be a daily conversation in my house, and my kids get more and more exasperated the more that we mention hand washing. They know hygiene is important. They understand this whole germ-a-phobic thing, but they don’t really care, because they are too hungry!!
Our Scripture today starts out with a similar argument, at least on the surface. The Pharisees are yelling at Jesus because his disciples are eating with dirty hands.
Now, I’m not a fan of dirty hands myself, so this makes perfect sense to me. I’d probably have fussed too if James and Peter had propped their elbows up on my table without scrubbing first.
But this is not an argument about getting rid of germs. This is not a discussion about being dirty. This goes so much deeper than those things. This is an accusation of unworthiness, unholiness, unrighteousness.
Throughout the history of the Chosen people there have been laws about clean and unclean. There are clean and unclean foods. There are clean and unclean people. There are times when uncleanliness is for a day and times when it lasts for months or years. In fact much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are spent explaining these holiness codes.
The people of God were called to be holy as God is holy. But what is Holy? Holy to us means set aside, other, and usually its used to describe ones personality, feelings, thoughts. But in these days holiness was an external thing. Something you had to prove, show outwardly on a daily basis.
The Pharisees believed that all Jewish people should abide by all of the Holiness codes. While these codes do not say that everyone is to wash before eating, they do specify that priests are to wash before eating meat, so that they may be pure. The Pharisees had taken this to the extreme claiming that everyone should be ritually clean before they eat.
Jesus seems to take a different view of this whole purity thing. As he does of so many things really. What matters more, clean hands? Or clean hearts?
Now chances are if you ask your mom this question before dinner she will send you quickly to the sink to wash up, at least this mom would. But we must remember that this cleanliness is not about germs or germ transmission.
To be “clean” meant that you were ready to worship God. You had set yourself aside. You were ready to be in God’s presence. If they had performed a ritual washing then they were no longer ordinary or eating with ordinary hands.
Or at least that’s what the ritual started out to mean. As most religious rituals the meaning had slipped away over time. It was no longer what the washing symbolized that was important, but the washing itself.
Think of the rituals we do in our worship services. And before you say “we don’t have any rituals, Pastor” think really hard.
The candle lighting (Carrying the light of Christ into our midst and following the light of Christ into the world)
Carrying in the cross (being led by the cross of Jesus to God and to the world)
Reading all 4 scripture lessons (God’s word is revealed in the New and Old Testaments)
Communion (In remembrance of Jesus)
Baptism (Being claimed as God’s Children)
Passing of the Peace. (Being a part of the body of Christ and acknowledging other parts of the body)
Each of these things has a specific meaning. We don’t just do them because we’ve always done them, because if we did than those things become idols rather than aids in worship.
Jesus points out that those who have become so focused on ritual have let their hearts become unclean, or distant from God. They have left the intent of the word and instead follow human tradition.
Ouch! Does that hurt anyone else here? It’s like the story of the pot roast. One day a young girl watches her mom make the Sunday diner pot roast and she asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” Her mom says “Because Grandma always did.” So the girl asks her grandma “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” and her grandma responds “Because my mom always did.” So the girl goes over to the great grandma sitting in a chair in the living room. She crawls into her lap and asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” Her great grandma smiled and said “Well honey, because I never has a pan big enough to cook it all.”
What had been a necessity became an unnecessary and wasteful ritual. Without knowing the reasons they were repeating irrational actions.
What Jesus’ accuses these leaders of doing is much worse however. In this passage Jesus says that they follow rules and rituals not because their hearts are close to God, but for personal gain. Jesus says that they have been known to claim that all they have is a gift to God, an offering so therefore they cannot help out their mothers and fathers. They cannot follow a commandment  “To honor and obey their parents” because in their own greed they have declared whatever they have extra should go to God.
On the outside it looks okay, but Jesus says the inside is where sinfulness hides. Would you rather have clean hands or clean hearts? He asks.
Jesus tells them that what goes into the body does not make it clean or unclean, or worthy or unworthy to come into God’s presence. After all, as crass as it sounds, what we eat doesn’t stay inside forever. Now, this is not a Biblical excuse to eat all kinds of Junk and abuse your body. All Jesus is saying here is that sin, the actions and thoughts that separate us from God come from within, not from outside of ourselves.
Since the heart is the center of one’s decision making process to turn your heart away from God or to have it filled with evil intentions is a grievous sin.
If your heart is full of these things, if you cannot show compassion, love, forgiveness, hope then it is in very poor spiritual condition. Each of the attitudes Jesus names in this passage “adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly; reflect a heart that has turned away from God. This sin will affect our relationship with others so it has personal and social consequences.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and us that we should stop worrying about our neighbor’s dirty hands and start looking at our own filthy hearts.
Instead of participating in the list of unholy behavior, perhaps we should focus on things that will help us continue to clean and renew our hearts.
Things like prayer, confession, reconciliation, Sabbath Keeping, Tithe and offering giving, public worship, service work, hospitality and forgiveness.  These things will help us to see God in our midst, to recognize God’s presence in the world.
By focusing on these things we can begin again to show the world God’s loving plans for humanity.
Rituals for rituals sake are meaningless at best, and intentionally harmful at worse. May we worry less about traditions and more about sharing God with those in need. May we worry less about clean hands and focus on having clean hearts.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

A sermon on Time, time , time

This Sunday's sermon is one that my husband wrote and as I had a crazy week with the wedding of all weddings, I am using with a little editing of course!
Ephesians 5:15-20
Have you ever talked with someone who has had a near death experience?  Nearly everyone who has lived when they should have died will say that through their experience they have learned to put into perspective what really matters in life.  This unexpected brush with death has helped them understand that those little things in life that are such a big deal aren’t really that important.
What is really important is a question that we all wrestle with? There are those little situations that come up all of the time, like those little messes that someone else makes and we have to clean up.   Is that little mess as important as a lifelong friendship?  Or what about that messy bed that our kids can’t seem to make up, is that messy bed as important as showing your children the depth of your love for them?  Then there is my favorite that nearly every one of us has had an issue with, is the toilet paper not coming off the roll properly as important as proper communication with our spouse?  In each of these situations what is really important?
But these are not the only situations that we have to put into perspective. Is that lazy coworker really as lazy as we think or are they just not doing what we think they should do?  Is the new dress code really as important as having a job that provides for our needs?  Are those few extra hours at the office as important as quality time with our family?
Work and home aren’t the only places that get out of focus.  What about our spiritual lives?  Is that must have as important as returning to God what is God’s through our tithe?  Is that TV show we have to watch as important as our quiet time with God every day?  Is the building we worship in really as important as the ministry contained within its walls?  Is the method of worship really as important as the act of worship?
At times our lives can get out of perspective and we have to pause, reflect and refocus.  With all of this in mind let us then consider our text for today.  In our text this morning Paul advises us to "make the most of the time".  Paul was convinced that the Lord would return during his lifetime, so he worked tirelessly to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. He understood that time is a gift, that our lives are like a canvas on which God can paint beautiful pictures. So he urges us to make the most out of the chances that we get to do something right in this life. 
The Greek word used here for time is the word kairos.  The word kairos is a word that is used in ancient Greek when referring to a significant moment, or an unexpected opportunity or a critical turning point in one’s life.  There’s a different word in Greek chronos that’s normally used when clock or calendar time is intended.  Chronos time is something we use to mark time passing, kairos on the other hand is heart time; the time when the ticking of the clock doesn’t matter; it is quality time.
These two words are important to remember when trying to put those little things in life in perspective.  Paul was speaking to Christians who lived in Ephesus, in the midst of a pagan culture in a time where he believed that Christ was coming back soon. Because of this Paul was urging his listeners to keep things in perspective and make the most of their opportunities to tell others about the power of Jesus. The neighbors of the Christians in Ephesus weren’t very open to hearing the gospel. So Paul advised the Ephesian Christians to make good use of what few opportunities they have to share Christ.
We are called to do the same.  While our culture may be different from that of the Ephesians there is no shortage of opportunities to tell others about the gospel.  But there is a problem; we are not doing a good job of taking advantage of those moments when they arise. We can get so caught up in the chronos of our day that we don’t take advantage of our kairos.  Likewise we don’t do a good job of managing our kairos so that we can take advantage of our chronos.
If Paul were writing today, he might have rethought the matter of kairos and told us instead to use our chronos wisely.  In these few brief verses this morning he is teaching us how to put things in perspective, and make better use of our time so that we may be able to live life full and abundantly and in our text this morning Paul gives us the blueprint for accomplishing this.  
First Paul warns us against being foolish. "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish. To be “foolish” in the Jewish tradition means throwing away the chance for salvation.  When we let those little things get out of focus we are throwing away our chance for salvation.
Jesus had something to say about those who were wise and those who were foolish. ASny one remember the story in Matthew 7:24-27about the wise man and the foolish man who built houses? (A house built on the sand will fall when the storms of life approach)  This can happen to us if we are foolish, this is why Paul warns us against being foolish. 
Paul continues in Verse 17 when he says, "So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." The opposite of being foolish is understanding the will of God. If Christians are to be different from the rest of the world, we have to know "what the will of the lord is." We have to know what is pleasing to God. The "will of the Lord" is the standard for all Christian behavior. Since we have so little time, let's live every day oriented toward the will of God.
Next Paul says that Christians are not to live like pagans who get drunk to induce a religious experience; rather they are to enjoy the ecstasy provided by the Spirit of God. The Christian, then in a sense, is to be “drunk,” not with wine but “with the Spirit,” as the believer is to “be filled with the Spirit.”
We are to do these things because every day is a gift from God.  When we view every day as a gift, we have a new appreciation for living "in the Spirit." This should result in singing, making melody and giving thanks. These activities are not isolated, personal experiences, but community events. Living in the Spirit will help us put into perspective those little things.  Living in the spirit will result in a life filled with worshipping God daily.
It is no accident that Paul emphasizes the importance of thanksgiving in worship. The natural outpouring of the Spirit-filled Christian is "giving thanks to God the Father." The Christian lives in a constant state of thanksgiving, giving praise to God for what God has done.
We have so few opportunities to create something beautiful. Every moment counts.    We need to watch out, take advantage, stop doing that which can distract us, and make the most of all of our chronos and kairos time.  We need to make sure we don’t squander our time with the seductive evils of the world that destroy both body and soul. Instead,  we are to seize the moment, redeem the time of our living, and center our time in worship singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves, giving thanks and praise to God at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
The Christian faith is a way more than it is a law. It is a lens giving vision, rather than a fortress providing security. It is a mantle of identity, rather than a manual of operations. This Christian faith is rooted in a relationship and not a rule. In addressing the fast paced, multicultural materialistic world of first-century Ephesus, Paul makes it clear that Christian living must be distinctively in the world but not of the world.
This relationship with a living God must be given a time and a place of its own so that the weeds and tangles of secular living don’t strangle and destroy the Spirit. And what is the most distinctive behavior in this lifestyle?
It is worship. It is taking the time and finding the place to acknowledge that which is ultimately worthy. It is taking the time and finding the place to offer praise and thanksgivings, to experience wonder and awe, to sink into the rich soil of God’s grace, to allow the water and warmth of the Spirit to nurture us and grow us in God’s image. When we worship we change, we learn to look at the world from God’s wide perspective, rather than from the narrowness of our own. 
Paul’s point this morning as he summarizes the Christian life is this. Christian faith is distinctive at times separate from the world, so that it can then be used to infiltrate the world with Holy Spirit. The distinctive Christian language is the language of praise and thanksgiving. The distinctive Christian ethic is the ethic of holiness. And distinctive Christian time is time full of God and not full of self. 
I close this morning asking you to imagine with me that there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do?
Draw out every cent, of course!!
Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the "tomorrow." You must live in the present on today's deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.
To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a medal in the Olympics.
Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time. And remember that time waits for no one. You’ve heard the saying:
Yesterday is history ...
Tomorrow is mystery ...
Today is a gift ...
That's why it's called the present!!
Paul says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  Let us as we end our service this morning and pay closer attention to our chronos and kairos, let us seek to reconcile with those whom we have hurt here in the church, let us be careful, let us make the most of our time, let us not be foolish, let us seek the lord in prayer seeking God’s will not ours, let us not get distracted, let us be filled with the spirit, let us sing songs, and let us give thanks.  Amen

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Five: blessed rest

Today's Friday Five is by 3dogmom

April 13, 2010
St. Mary’s Center, Sewanee, TN (photo by Anne Fraley)
I know that a number of our sisters in RevGal land are in need of rest, and would greatly benefit from some time away on retreat, or simply to escape the demands of the usual landscape. For today’s FF, let’s spend a little time considering the subject. Imagine getting away…………
  1. Tell us about a place (retreat center or other getaway spot) that offers especially good hospitality. What makes it so for you? My favorite places for hospitality have been cruises! I love getting on a ship and sailing away knowing that everything will be taken care of and I don't even have to make my own bed.
  2. Is there a ritual of renewal that you seek, or that you find especially helpful, while on retreat? (naps, reading, knitting, staring out toward a different landscape…) I love to knit or crochet and always bring a project along, but don't always actually work on said project! I love to read and the opportunity rarely presents itself in big enough time chucks in my real life, so I am slightly hermit like when I can get away. 
  3. Retreats/getaways often have a way of washing over us with its own gifts, no matter what we may seek from it. Tell us about a time that such a gift made a lasting impression. I recently helped lead a women's retreat for my denomination in Bowling Green, KY. We led the women through many prayer and mission stations throughout the two day experience. But for me the best moment came at the closing worship service. We were offering a renewal of baptism at the end of service. While this was going on a woman came and tapped me on the shoulder and told me that a young girl (10) who had been with us at the retreat wanted to be baptized and wanted me to do the baptism. I have known this girl for years, she is a friend of the family. She does not regularly attend a church and has tenuous connections at best to Christian community. I agreed to do so. I asked her the questions of baptism and then turned to the women present. These women were from all over the USA and I told them that they were her community. Her spiritual raising was in their hands. They covenanted to pray for her, to reach out to her, to check in on her. They promised to be her community even though many miles separate them from her. Hearing those pledges did my heart good!
  4. Imagine that a gift bag was waiting for you on your bed when you checked in for your time of sabbath. What would you like to find in it? An eye mask to make everything dark for rest. A new book full of laughter and tears. A pair of fuzzy socks. An assortment of tea bags.
  5. Besides a dessert buffet featuring chocolate, what is something you would love to see a retreat/getaway offer that is typically not part of such an experience? Daily massages and easy companionship
Bonus: You’ve been granted a weekend off, and the means of getting away is provided. Where would you like to go? To my parents home, because Adulting is hard!