Sermon: Risk and Restoration

A Sermon Based on Mark 12:38-44

 

This morning we come face to face and have to deal with, two very different stories presented to us from the Gospel of Mark. On the one hand, we have the self-righteous, those who walk around thinking they are better than the rest. On the other hand, we have the widow, giving the last of what she has.

The Scribes were the educated class in society, they were the ones that everyone wanted to be like, and they knew it, so they walked around town like they were better than everyone else. They wore long robes, they demanded the best seats in the church, and when they prayed in public, they prayed long prayers, not to bring glory to God, but to bring glory to themselves.

However, they also neglected the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, and all the rest. It was not their job to care for them and they up with excuses like, they are lazy, they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they are just looking for a handout, they will just buy drugs or alcohol with the money I give them.

Jesus says, “they will receive great condemnation.”

In contrast to the Scribes, we have the widow who comes forward and places two coins in the collection plate. In today’s money this would be about 1/32nd of a penny, and it was all she had, not all she could afford, not all she could afford after her bills were paid, not all she could afford after getting her nails done and he hair taken care of, not all she had after she got her large mocha cream with a double shot of espresso and a squirt of some other nasty thing, at the local drive through. No, those two coins represented all that she had, and she gave it as a testament to her faith.

Jesus was pointing out to his disciples the behavior of those leaders of the church that were requiring more of their followers then they were willing to do themselves. They were standing and preaching, but they were not listening to their own words and following what was to be done. I am sorry to say we continue to have this problem today.

All through history, religious leaders have used Scripture, or their version of Scripture, to justify their behavior and even to justify the conduct of their respective governments. Almost immediately after Christianity became legal by governmental decree, the church started to persecute those that did not believe the way they did.  This once persecuted church now became the persecutor.

Holy War, or crusades, were justified based on Scripture because the people the Holy War was against were non-believers. Slavery was justified, at all levels, because Scripture said so and because those enslaved were not humans to start. You see when we demonize and remove the humanity of the individual or group we believe we are free to treat them however we want. If we think they are a threat to our way of life, well we can kill them if we wish to because the rules do not apply.

Jesus says, “they will receive great condemnation.”

I have said this to you before, Jesus was the hardest on the religious leaders of his day because they should know better.  Jesus was always on their backs, “brood of vipers,” “hypocrites,” and all of the other choice words Jesus had for them and this is another example of that condemnation. I often wonder what Jesus would think about the religious leaders we have today who makes statements like; “Hurricanes are God’s wrath sent to remove sinners from the face of the earth.” “God will send his judgment upon you if you do not vote for a certain candidate.” These are just a few examples of how today’s religious leaders are willing to justify just about anything as long as their version of Scripture is followed. Jesus caused a revolution not because he directly challenged the political establishment, Jesus started a coup because he questioned the religious establishment and they killed him for it.

Jesus came to spark a spiritual revolution and to show us a new way to live our lives. No longer were we slaves to the law but he gave us a new law, “love God, Love neighbor.” It really is that simple to follow. If we truly love God with our whole mind, our whole heart, and our whole body, then we have no other choice but to love our neighbor and to care for them. However, our neighbor is not just the person that lives next door to us, and our neighbor is not only the person who looks like us, but our neighbor is also all of humanity because each person has been given that divine spark at their creation. Each of us has been created in the image and likeness of a God who loves us the way we are, unconditionally.

The problem Jesus had with the Scribes was not their position, and their place was an important one in society, the problem Jesus had with the Scribes is that they were hypocrites and he called them out on it every chance he had. The Scribes had failed in their task to lead the people to spiritual renewal and instead made it about themselves and about what they wanted. Rather than doing the hard work of loving everyone the set up false interpretation of rules to exclude certain people and created a system that no one could live up to, to gain the kingdom God.  Jesus came along and flipped that all over. Jesus took away and replaced it with “Love God. Love Neighbor.”

So where does that leave us?

We have to ask ourselves the question, are we the Scribe or are we the widow? Are we going to exclude based on a version of scripture that fits our narrative or are we going to include based on the call of Jesus to love God and love neighbor. It really is that simple. Ask yourself the question, does my belief about an issue express my love of God and my love of neighbor or is it something different?  God loves me and accepts me without condition, am I doing the same in return to God and to others? Are we, as a church community, witnessing to that unconditional love of God and love of neighbor in our practices and policies? Are we like the Scribes, do we expect better things just because we are Christians? Do we wish to force others to believe and act the same way we do or do we accept them for who they are, beloved children of God?

Today we commemorate the end of World War 1, a war that started, as most wars do because one group felt they were better than another group. They believed that their way of life was better than their neighbor’s way of life and resorted to violence to make others live and act the way they do. We have to be ever vigilant to ensure that we do not do the same thing and it all begins with our vision of the other person and whether we live by the command of Jesus to love God and love neighbor.

Election Day Prayer

 

Election Day Prayer

Almighty God, you are the source of wisdom and justice. Guide those who at this time are called to choose representative to serve the people of the United States at all levels of government, that they cast their vote with a true sense of their responsibility. Give those who are elected the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, that they may provide conditions for a good and honest life for all the people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Adapted from the Book of Common Order, Church of Scotland

Sermon: Take Heart

This was not the sermon I intended to preach yesterday but, due to the events of the past week, I rewrote my sermon. This is just the text, and I added some words on the fly. At times my emotion got the better of me, but, at times like these, sometimes emotion is all we have.
Blessings,
Rev. Peter
Yesterday, like so many around our country, I was going about my day. I was folding my just washed laundry and watching Mountain Men on the History Channel. It was raining so I could not work outside, I could not cut my grass that so desperately needed cutting. I was also preparing for a wedding that I was going to officiate yesterday afternoon, and there were some last minute details to take care of for that, so my day was rather full. Then my phone chirped that there was a breaking news story.

At first, I did not pick it up, it was on the other side of the room, and I only had a few more things to fold and then that task would be complete. I finished up, took my now empty coffee cup to the kitchen, and returned to the living room and picked up my phone. I pressed the small button that activates the screen and there it was, another mass shooting in America. Details were still unclear but, at the time of the alert message, at least five people were confirmed dead in a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. My heart sank, and I began to pray. Dear Lord, not again.

I resisted the urge to turn on the news, and I decided that I would just wait for more messages to come through on my phone while I continued the wedding preparations, and, there was more laundry to fold. Messages started to come in fast and furious and the number of the dead and injured, including the police officers that responded, began to rise. I kept praying…..

This has been a bad week here in America. An unstable man, filled with rage and hate towards those he disagrees with, mailed at least six bombs to high profile people. One report stated that so unstable were those bombs that authorities were surprised that had not gone off. Imagine, a postal worker, just doing their job, killed because someone decided that the only way to deal with those deemed enemies, was to kill them.  An innocent struck down because of someone’s warped sense of political ideology.

This past Wednesday, while the rest of the world was going about their business, a man walked into a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky and shot two people. The victims were black and the gunman, who just minutes earlier had tried to force his way in a predominately black church, was white. Reports are that the 51-year-old had a long list of racist remarks online and in other forums.

I drove to the wedding thinking about what I was going to say this morning. My mind was racing while I was trying to concentrate on the road and the wedding, and what I would say to all of you this morning. As the spiritual leader of the community, it is my job to stand here and try to make sense of all of this. It is my job to help you understand what motivates people to kill others, well I know what motivates them, hate, but I stand here this morning failing at my job because I just cannot make sense of any of it. I just cannot wrap my mind around how we got here or how we are going to get out of it.

In the Gospel this morning we heard the story of Bartimaeus, the blind man, who wanted to meet Jesus so he could be healed. He shouted from the side of the road, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Scripture goes on to say that “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus wanted to see again but those around him, who had their sight, told him to shut up. Bartimaeus wanted light and understanding, and those around him, walking in darkness, told him to shut up.

There are voices in our world right now telling us to shut up. There are voices, on both sides, that do not want to hear the message we have the message of Jesus Christ that commands us not to hate those we disagree with, not to make fun of them and call them names, not to send them bombs and shoot them down, but to love them and pray for them.

Hours before the gunman walked into that synagogue in Pittsburg he has written in several online forums that he blamed Jews for funding the caravan of people seeking a new life in a better place. You can agree or disagree with their motivation but killing people at worship is not that way to solve problems. Jesus, son of Dave, have mercy on me!

Yesterday morning, people just like us were gathered in prayer in their house of worship. The congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue were going about their day, when a man walked in and shouted, “all Jews must die” and began to shoot. I understand that a baby dedication was taking place at the time.

My niece and nephew, as well as my sister-in-law, are Jewish, and that could have been them. Each week when they attend services they have to walk through armed security just to enter their worship space, I’m sorry, but this is not the America I want to live in. By the way, my sister-in-law’s mother and her family fled France in the 1940’s when another crazy man yelled: “all Jews must die!”

Scripture tells us that Bartimaeus wanted to see again, in other words, he had not been born blind but became blind sometime during his life. He remembered the sights, the colors of the rainbow, the faces of his loved ones, and he wanted to see them again. Bartimaeus is a symbol of all of us, like him we were not born blind, but we have become blind, blind to what is happening all around us. Some of us a blind because we just do not know what to do. Some of us are blind because we are afraid of the crowd telling us to shut up. Some of us are blind because of hatred towards those who are different then we are.  Some of us are blind because we agree with what is going on. Some of us are blind because we choose to be blind because being blind is much easier than doing something.

Jesus heard the cried of Bartimaeus and asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responded, “My teacher, let me see again.” The time has come for us to open our eyes wide and take it all in. We just cannot let hatred win, we just cannot stand by and watch as the extremists cause terror for people worshiping, or shopping, or going to the movies, or going to school. We cannot allow these extremists to continue their trail of hate just because they disagree.

Last night, in the middle of the wedding ceremony, as I often do, I asked the couple to look at their hands. I told them that these are the hands of your best friend. The hands that will work alongside yours as you build the future. Hands that will cherish you through the years. Hands that will hold you when you fear or when you grieve. Hands that will wipe away tears of joy and of sorrow. And these are the hands that, even when aged, will still reach out to you with that same touch that comforts you this day.

In the middle of all of that my voice cracked and I had to pause for a moment. As I was standing there in a moment of absolute pure love, and stilling thinking about my words this morning, I realized that all hope is not gone because no matter what anyone does, love still exists in the world, and it is love that will win because it always does.

Beloved, let us resolve to open our eyes to one another to honestly see them as beloved children of God and love them no matter what. Love them no matter who they voted for. Love them no matter what color their skin is. Love them no matter their life choices. But love them unconditionally, because that is the way that God loves each of us, unconditionally.

I usually end these sermons with a prayer so today I would like us to finish with the Jewish Mourners Prayer known as Kaddish, a prayer that praises God and a prayer for peace. Please stand with me and let us pray:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

Sermon: Great Service

A Sermon Based on Mark 10:35-45

Donald Meichenbaum, one of American Psychologist’s ten most influential psychotherapists, tells a story of the time his car was struck by lightning while he was driving home from work one afternoon. When he returned home, safe and sound, he began to tell his teenage son about what had happened; he was expecting a small degree of sympathy for what had happened to him. Instead of sympathy, his son interrupted his story, “Dad, let’s go buy a lottery ticket. They say the chances of being hit by lightning are like the chances of winning the lottery.”

It would seem that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, missed the point as much as Meichenbaum’s sons did when they come forward to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus politely asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” They respond, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

To get the full picture of the story we need to back up a little and read verses 33-34. Jesus and his disciples are heading up to Jerusalem. Jesus has been teaching them about how things are different with his teachings. He has given them a new definition of marriage and divorce. They witnessed his telling the Rich Young Man to sell all he has and give it to the poor and then come and follow him. The disciples were trying to figure it all out along the road and discussing things among themselves as they walked. They Jesus says to them, in verse 33:

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Now, we do not know how much time has passed since Jesus said these words and the Sons of Zebedee come up and ask this question but, this was the third time that Jesus has talked with them about his death. He has been somewhat truthful about what is going to happen when they reach Jerusalem; the end of the three-year journey is coming to a close. Jesus has just told them that he is going to be put to death and a rather disgusting way and these two want the best seats in the house. It’s as if they have not been listening at all.

Every time I read this particular passage, and I am struck by the sheer arrogance of these two, coming forward as they do, and asking for Jesus to promote them to the best seats. I can only imagine what the others must have been thinking, “look at these two sucking up to Jesus again.” I also feel a little embarrassed for them but at the same time feel a little kinship with them for I too, at one time or another, have been a son of Zebedee.

We have all been there. We all, at one time or another, jockey for position. We try to get our work noticed by the boss so we might land that promotion. We might know someone who works for this or that sports team or at the theater, and we ask about tickets to a game. There is nothing wrong with putting ourselves out there and trying to get noticed, but we have to consider what our motives are when we do it.

When we push ourselves forward are we doing it at another’s expense? Are we stepping on a co-worker to get ahead? I do not think this is what James and John were doing and I also think they only heard the good parts of the Kingdom of God Jesus was describing, and they glossed over, in their minds, the bad parts, but, Jesus is about to remind them.

Verse 38 and following:

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Jesus is speaking about his death, and he was right to tell them that they would also die. James is considered the first Christian martyr, and his death is recorded in the Acts of Apostles. King Herod has James Martyred by the sword around the year 44 so a little over ten years after Jesus’ death.

So the question remains, are we any better than the Sons of Zebedee?  Sure, we might not make outlandish requests as they did but, we want what we want. We may not be as upfront about our self-centered yearnings, but many spend their lives scheming for these kinds of privileged positions, and some believe that as Christians, we deserve them.

Years ago, I would go to a little restaurant not far from where I was living. I would go most days for lunch or maybe some quick take out in the evening. As you would imagine, they go to know me after a while, and they found out I was clergy. One day when I went for lunch, they told me it was no charge since I was a minister they were not going to charge me. Believe it or not, I did not like this, and I told them that if they were not going to charge me I was going to go somewhere else, my position did not grant me a special privilege. I appreciated their gesture, but I wanted them to charge me. So they did double. Only kidding. However, the point is I did not want something that I did not earn, some of my clergy colleagues feel they deserve things like this, I am not one of those. However, a veterans discount is a different story.

Some would argue that our desire for these things comes as a result of the human condition. Some would pass it off in psychological terms as part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Erikson’s stages of development or Freud’s id impulses. However we chose to describe it, or justify it, we all have, as Jana Childers has said, we have Zebedee DNA in our Genes.

Just like the Rich Yong man from last week’s story, we have to face up to the Sons or daughters of Zebedee inside all of us. We have to come face to face with our tendencies and to come to terms with our humanity and live this new life of discipleship that Jesus is calling us to live. This new life is a life of putting others before ourselves. Caring for others before we care for ourselves. Thinking of others before we think of ourselves, why, because this is the example that Jesus left for us.

The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote, “Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.” When we are honest with ourselves about our condition, we can then begin the journey towards wholeness and the new life that Jesus is calling us too.

Jesus is our example of wholeness because he told us that he had come to “serve and not to be served.” When we have come to grips with our reality and begin to overcome our insecurities that drive us to greed and coveting, then we will be in a better position to serve, some of the time, rather than being served all of the time.

Transformation happens when we become servants. Last week, the Rich Yong Man asked Jesus about eternal life, and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Following Jesus in a life of servanthood transforms us unto eternal life. Servanthood is a means of grace, and it needs to become a lifestyle if we are to truly follow as Jesus invites us to.

I typically close with a prayer and today I have chosen the words from St. Francis so let us pray:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Elizabeth Warren and the DNA Test

 

The results of my DNA testing. Ancestry.com on the left and My Heritage on the right.

In my life, I have seen politicians do some pretty stupid things but Elizabeth Warren releasing her DNA test has to make my top 10 list of all-time most ridiculous things. I am not sure who advised her to do it but whomever he/she is they should be fired. She walked right into a trap and now, if she plans to run for president in 2020, this will follower her around.

Some 30 odd years ago my brothers and I set off on a quest to research my father’s side of the family. This was back before DNA testing and before Ancestry and all of the other sites, so one had to write letters and visit town clerks offices. We discovered that the first to bear the name Preble in the new world was Abraham Preble who came to the town of Scituate Massachusetts in the 1630’s.

The population of the area was of a size that people intermarried and, if our family has been here that long, it means you are related to a whole bunch of people. For example, John Adams is my 6th cousin 10x’s removed, and Abraham Lincoln is my 6th cousin 5x’s removed. Suffice it to say because my family has been here for over 350 years I am “related” to just about everyone who claims to be here that long.

I am, what Boston Globe Columnist Jeff Jacoby calls a “typical white person.” My family origin is mostly European with some Scandinavian thrown in on my father’s mother’s side. So I am pretty white when it comes to my ethnic background.

Jacoby wrote a column today chiding Elizabeth Warren for making a big deal out of her “1.5 percent and 0.09 percent” Native American DNA; I am not going to use the word heritage because I believe that word to mean much more than what we have coursing through our veins. In a statement released on October 15, 2018, Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin, Jr. had this to say about DNA testing and Native American heritage:

“Sovereign tribal nations set their legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.”

The problem with all of this is Senator Warren has been claiming minority status as a Native American since 1987 when she was a law school professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. U Penn and Harvard Law, where she went on the faculty on 1995, have been using her “status” to show diversity amongst the faculty. Did she personally gain from any of this, I am not sure, but politically I believe this has hurt her.

However, there is a much larger problem according to the Jacoby’s Globe column:

“Having a dab of American Indian ancestry doesn’t make Warren an American Indian, any more than having a Viking or Charlemagne in her family tree — you probably do, too — makes her a seafaring Norse warrior or a royal highness. Warren’s meticulously choreographed DNA rollout doesn’t prove that she is a proud Cherokee-American, as Cherokee activists and tribal authorities have adamantly pointed out. Genetics determine only biology — not social identity or culture or tradition.

The racist trope that a man was black if he had “one drop” of African blood was a pillar of segregation in post-Reconstruction America. US Census enumerators used to subdivide Americans into pseudo-scientific racial classifications — “white,” “Negro,” “mulatto,” “quadroon,” “octoroon.” Those labels rightly make us cringe today.”

Jacoby Continues,

“The Warren DNA hype is just one more manifestation of the whole rotten business of judging or valuing people on the basis of race. Whether you love Warren or loathe her should depend on her ideas and ideals, her deeds and words — not on her genetic ancestry. Professors and senators, like plumbers and stockbrokers, should be selected or rejected because of their abilities and the quality of their work. The color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, and ethnicity of their ancestors shouldn’t even enter into the equation.”

I am of the opinion, and I am no big fan of Senator Warren, that she has done more harm to her case and the case of others and their DNA. With all that said, I think it is beneath the dignity of the office of the President of the United States to call someone, in a derogatory way, Pocahontas and for anyone to be making fun of anyone for his or her genetic makeup. However, this President continues to use this “term” at rallies and other such events in an attempt to whip up his base similar to the “lock her up” chants during and after the campaign about his opponent Secretary Hilary Clinton.

By the way, I had my DNA tested several years ago (as you can see from the graphic above) and it confirmed what we thought, I am a white guy from Europe.  However, according to My Heritage DNA, one of the leading DNA research site, I am also 1.1% Nigerian.  So using the Warren yardstick of genetic measurement, I should be able to check the box that says I am African American.  Maybe I should, but I don’t think I will.

Sermon: What Must I Do?

A Sermon Based on Mark 10:17-31

I have mentioned to you before that I use the Revised Common Lectionary when I am preparing sermons. The lectionary is a collection of biblical passages, Old, New, and Psalms for each Sunday of the church year. The lectionary runs in a three-year cycle starting the first Sunday of Advent when the new church year begins. I tell you all of this, so you know that I did not choose this gospel passage about selling all you have and giving to the poor of this the Sunday we begin our Stewardship campaign, it was God ordained that I preach from this passage today!

With that said, however, I will tell you that this passage is not about rich people who have to sell everything they own in order to follow God. It’s not about poor people who will be the beneficiaries of the largess from the aforementioned rich people. No, it’s not even about trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle, I have eight years of higher education, and I have no idea what that means…. Nope, this Gospel is not about any of that today’s gospel, simply put, is about you, and me, it’s about all of us, and it is about taking the first step, and it’s about having compassion.

Let’s back up for a minute.  So a young man, a rich young man, runs up to Jesus and kneels before him.  With bowed head, he asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus, being Jesus, does not answer the question straight away he reforms the question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” However, then he moves on. “You know the commandments…” Jesus then lists a few, possibly as a reminder, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, defrauding, honor your father and mother….

The man looks at Jesus and says, “Teacher,” notice he no longer calls him the good teacher, “I have kept all of these since my youth.” Jesus looked at him, I bet he looked him right in the eye, but with compassion, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; the come, follow me.”

The man stood, pondering what he had just heard and scripture tells us what happened next, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” And just like that, we never hear about him again.

Now, most commentators on this passage believe the man went away sad because he had a lot of stuff and he did not want to sell it all. I mean, after all, he worked hard and earned his stuff. He liked his stuff, and he liked to show off his stuff. However, I, like a small minority of commentators and scholars, I always seem to fall into the “small minority of commentators group” suggest another possibility. What if the man did not go away “grieving” because he had a lot of stuff that he did not want to sell, what if he went away grieving over the all that stuff because he just did as Jesus said? What if he sold everything and was mourning that loss?

Let that sink in for a moment.

Here’s another point. When the man asks Jesus what he must do Jesus lists off the commandments that he must follow, in other words, Jesus quotes the law to him. The man replies that he has followed the law since his youth.  However, Jesus tells him he lacks something….  So apparently following the letter of the law is not enough you can follow the law to the “t” but if you’re a jerk, for example, you’re out.  You see for Jesus it is no longer about strict adherence to the law for Jesus tells us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

I have mentioned to you before that I officiate at many weddings and the most common wedding reading comes from 1 Corinthians 13. This is the love chapter that Paul has written, and it is a beautiful summation of what love is but listen to the words at the start of the chapter:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

If we do not have love, we are nothing, and we have nothing.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy. Being a follower of Jesus Christ means we have to love everyone no matter what.  We have to love everyone without qualification because that is the way God loves us, without qualification. How much does od love us? God loves us too much that, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Whoever, not whoever and….. Just whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is not easy; we have to give up our stuff. We have to give up our prejudice towards others. We have to give up our hatred towards others, yes, including our enemies. We have to give up our ideas that we, even as Christians, are better than others. We have to give up our ideas that because we are white, or American, or male that we have some sort of supremacy over others who are not those things. We have to give up our hatred of people who believe differently than we do about religion, sexual orientation, politics and all of the other things we use to divide each other and keep us separated from each other. Why do we have to give all of that up?  Because every one of those things I just mentioned, and more, stand in direct opposition to the command of Jesus to love.

I mentioned earlier that maybe the young man did just as Jesus suggested and he did go and sell everything and that his turning if grief was not because he would not have eternal life but because he had sold everything. In selling everything he owned, he took the first step towards the kingdom of God.  He found the strength within himself, or maybe he found it with the help and support of others we do not know, but he found the strength and did as Jesus asked, he gave up the thing that was keeping him back.

The rich young man had many possessions, and that is what kept him gaining eternal life.  What is it that Jesus is asking you to give up? Sure, there will be grieving and sadness when we give whatever it is up, but the grief and sorrow will eventually turn to joy, joy in the Lord.

Submit to One Another: How Rev. Mark Harris Got it all Wrong

Recently, on the Facebook page of Now This News, there was a feature video of a sermon preached by the Rev. Mark Harris, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In this sermon Rev. Harris, who is a candidate for Congress in the North Carolina 9th District, quoted from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter five and verse 22:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.

Rev. Harris goes on to posit that the husband is the head of the wife, which Paul does say in verse 23 and also calls into question women having careers outside of the home. The problem with all of this is that Rev. Harris forgets the verse that comes just before the one he has cherry-picked to make his point.

“… submitting to one another in fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)

It is not surprising to me that Rev. Harris, who opposes Roe v. Wade, Marriage Equality, and Transgender Rights would also stress that the women should sit in the corner and keep their mouths shut. This is the problem with a strict reading of Scripture and a lack of biblical hermeneutics on a passage of Scripture. Paul is often looked upon as a misogynist by some, but a deeper understanding of his theology reveals much more.

The problem is, the emphasis on this passage is entirely misplaced if the focus is only on the subordination of the wife to the husband. Verse 23, “the husband is the head of the wife” is often quoted out of context and context in this instance, as it is with all biblical understanding, in extremely important. If we study the entire passage we see that the basis of this passage is not control, as Rev. Harris seems to be insinuating, but love.

For Paul, the love a husband must have for his wife should be sacrificial. The husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for the church (v 25). This love must not be selfish love for Christ did not love the church so that the church could do things for him, but quite the opposite.  Christ loved the church so that he could do things for her. This love must never exercise tyranny over the wife by the husband but should be a love that is ready to make any sacrifice for her good.

The type of love Paul is suggesting must be a purifying love. Paul is thinking of the waters of baptism for by the waters of baptism and the confession of faith; the church has been purified from all soil and spot. Any love that would drag a person down is a false love. Any love which does not refine the character of the object of that love and requires deceit and weakens the moral character is not love. Real love is the great purifier of life (v 26).

The love that Paul is referring too must be a caring love.  A man must love his wife as he loves his own body (v 28). Real love does not look for its physical comfort but cherishes the one that it loves. There is something wrong when a man regards his wife as the one who cooks his food and washes his clothes and cleans his house. The love Paul is speaking of does not care about its physical comfort but is directed toward the other.

This love is unbreakable. The husband is united with his wife as the members of the body are joined with one another. One cannot think of separating their arm or their leg from their body for it would tear their own body apart. This love must endure and be an unbreakable bond between the two (v 30-31).

So, Rev. Harris, you are mistaken. We are to be subject to one another as Christ was subject to the Church.  We are to love each other, as equal partners in the relationship, and we must be willing to sacrifice everything for that love, even our ideas of who gets to be in charge.

Democrats Should not be Afraid of Religion

Faith-based groups from both sides of the political spectrum are working to inspire voters for the midterms. A man listens as Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown speaks at a church as part of The South Rising Tour, aimed at getting more voters to the polls.
John Bazemore/AP

National Public Radio has produced a story regarding faith groups and their efforts to get out the vote for the coming mid-term elections.

It has been widely reported that 80% of white evangelicals helped elect President Donald Trump. Evangelical leaders mobilized their congregations and got people registered and to the polls on election day. As the country prepares for the Mid-Term elections in less than a month, religious leaders on the left are mobilizing their congregations to register and, hopefully, will get them to the polls in November.

For better or worse, the Republican party has always courted the religious vote and it seems that they are now in full control of agenda. Evangelical leaders left it all on the field and organized like I have never seen them organize before to get Donald Trump elected and all of their work has paid off.  Since his election, President Trump has changed the make up of the United States Supreme Court for what could be a generation putting the religious left on a collision course with those on the right.

Megan Black, a national organizer for the progressive group Faith in Action, says avoiding politics is a luxury they can no longer afford.

“I think that the desire to remove oneself from the political arena especially today, when there is so much at stake for so many people, is a privilege that is exercised inappropriately,” she said.

Black’s group is seeking to reach one million people in person, especially in areas where turnout is traditionally low, and persuade them to vote. For Faith in Action, the main moral issues are voter suppression, immigration crackdowns and police shootings.

Back at the seminary, Dillon Green, a first year student from Alabama, believes in mixing his religion with his politics.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m passionate about voting,” he said. “I want … to say, you know, I believe in Jesus Christ AND I believe in liberal progressive values.”

Green hopes the religious left’s renewed political zeal will yield fruit. But he also recognizes that conservative evangelical efforts to turn out the vote have been more productive in the past.

For both groups, the moral character of the country now hangs in the balance.

The Democratic Party should not fear religious people and they should embrace us.  We are, after all, working for the same outcome.

Read the rest here

“Mormon” has become a four-letter word

At the recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it was announced that the name used for the church “Mormon” is now out and the full name of the church should be used in it’s place. Apparently is was the “Lord’s will” that they stop using the name Mormon. I did not know the Lord was interested in such things.

It was also announced that church services would be shortened from three hours to two hours starting in 2019.

In the Sunday morning session, President Russell M. Nelson hammered hard on the name of the Church, urging members to stop using the nickname “Mormon.”

Instead, they should use the full name of the Church.

It’s not a rebranding effort, Nelson emphasized. Nor is it a trivial matter.

Nelson said it’s the Lord’s will that the entire name be used, since it places focus on Jesus Christ.

Read the Rest here

 

Sermon: Enfolding Love

A Sermon Based on Mark 10:2-16


Mark 10:2-16

A Newly ordained minister had just finished preaching her first sermon in her very first church when a woman approached her at the welcome reception being held in the fellowship hall.  The woman, dressed in a flowered-print dress had a stride of purpose as she came across the hall as soon as the minister appeared in the doorway, this is never a good sign by the way. The newly ordained minister extended her hand, and she approached, and started to open her mouth to say something like “good morning,” when the woman blurted out, “Pastor, do divorced people go to hell?”

The brand new minister thought, “I just passed my ordination exam. What is this? Another test of some sort?” She raced through her mind’s date bank for something that she might have learned in pastoral care, or New Testament courses that she might be able to offer this woman, and also get her off the hook. She finally spoke, “Better people than me get divorced.” The woman smiled and walked away.

During a more extended conversation in the woman’s home, she told the minister about her son who had recently divorced. Behind her question at the reception was a deep concern for her son, who had chosen to end a troubled marriage and was about to remarry. As a serious student of the Bible, she knew the word of Jesus to the Pharisees (who put him to the “test” with the question about divorce) and his words to the disciples (“whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.”) Although her faith would mature later, at that time the woman was in distress and she held to a rigid belief about sin and punishment. She believed that her son was endangering his soul.

This is not an uncommon situation that ministers face and one that is enhanced by a strict and rigid interpretation of scripture.

But first, never ambush the minister at fellowship with profound theological questions.

These are always difficult conversations to have, and I have had my share of them over the years of ministry, and there is one thing I have learned, there is no simple answer.

We like to have things in nice tidy little piles especially where religion is concerned. We want to have a list of rules to follow so we know how to act, even though we ignore the most basic of the rules that Jesus left us. However, the problem with rules is there are always exceptions to these rules.

You see there is no “one size fits all” solution to problems that we might face. Situations are always multifaceted and require a tremendous amount of pastoral sensitivity. Not knowing the situation with the woman’s son during the first conversation it is difficult to come up with a response other than, “well, let’s talk about it.” However, the more significant problem was, the woman had a strict understanding of the Bible, and as we discussed last week, that can lead to a lot of problems.

Stepping back to the books of the Old Testament, we find many books, Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus, to name a few, that are filled with laws and the penalties for breaking those laws. Here are only a few of the more than 100:

Failing to include salt in your offering to God.
Failing to testify against any wrongdoing you’ve witnessed.
Failing to testify against any wrongdoing you’ve been told about.
Bringing unauthorized fire before God.
Letting your hair become unkempt.
Tearing your clothes.
Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales.
Going to church within 33 days after giving birth to a boy.
Going to church within 66 days after giving birth to a girl.
Reaping to the very edges of a field.
Picking up grapes that have fallen in your vineyard.
Swearing falsely on God’s name.
Perverting justice, showing partiality to either the poor or the rich.
Spreading slander.
Seeking revenge or bearing a grudge.
Mixing fabrics in clothing.
Planting different seeds in the same field.
Trimming your beard.
Cutting your hair at the sides.
Getting tattoos.
Not standing in the presence of the elderly.
Mistreating foreigners.
Working on the Sabbath.

So, how many of us here today, based on these rules, will not be thrown into the fires of Gahanna?

The point to all of this is while we focus on the silly little things we miss the big ones, like love God, and love your neighbor. What Jesus is saying is that we have to show compassion and although there are rules to follow, we must be sensitive to others and what they might be going through. The other point is that although you might have a personal ethic and believe strongly that this or that is wrong, does not mean that everyone thinks that way nor should he or she. It also says that we cannot force our beliefs on others.

So back to the question about divorce and how I might advise the woman. First thing I would say is that no, her son has not endangered his soul and no he is not going to hell because he divorced, and I don’t think Jesus was saying that either. As the minister learned, the marriage was troubled. There is no indication that couple attempted to seek counseling, which is something I would advise, the couple and, we are not sure of the reason for the trouble, was it infidelity, abuse, or some other problem that led to the dissolution of the marriage? None of these questions I would ask of the mother but I would of the couple if they came to me.

As everyone here who is married knows, marriages take work, and they have their ups and downs, there good days and there bad. I believe that far too often we throw in the towel on marriage because we do not wish to do the work necessary to make it work, and, it is my experience that the number one thing that breaks down marriage is lack of communication.

However, the bottom line is, the woman’s son is not going to hell for getting a divorce. You are not going to hell if you plant different seeds in the same garden nor are you going to hell if you get a tattoo. The good news is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came and replaced all of that with a simple summation of the law, love God and love neighbor and yes it is that simple.

The good news is an angry, vengeful God does not punish us. God does not send weather events to wipe out cities and towns. God does not send earthquakes to kill off bad people. God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ who became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might know the love that God has for each and every one of us, just as we are the whole divorced, seed planting tattooed bunch of us!

The one lesson that Jesus teaches time and time again is compassion and mercy, and that is what we are to have in every situation. We have no other choice than to look at another human being as a child of God who is loved and cared for by that same loving God that loves and cares for us. It is up to us to show that compassion in every situation we encounter.

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.