Scripture Journey for Lent

The Season of Lent can and should be a time of deepening your spiritual practice. Part of that practice should include daily reading from Scripture. As I did during the Advent Season, I am starting a Scripture Journey for Lent.

Starting on Ash Wednesday and for the days following, I will send a daily email that includes prayer as well as a passage of Scripture to assist you along the path of Lent. I hope that these days of Lent will help you increase your spiritual practice and deepen your love of Scripture.

If you wish to participate, send me an email, and I will add you to the list and look for the first email on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020

This daily email will make the process of the journey that much easier to participate in since it will be there in your mailbox each morning. I promise I won’t spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Please join me on this Scripture Journey for Lent and let us reclaim Lent as a time of Spiritual Preparation.

Sermon: Forgiveness from the Heart

Giving a helping hand.

Matthew 5:21-37

A lot is going on this Gospel passage that we heard from Matthew this morning. This passage comes at the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount and is often overlooked.  Jesus speaks about confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but he also speaks of adultery, divorce, and swearing oaths. These are all challenging passages in our 21st-century lives under the best of circumstances, let alone the worst. We can overlook so much as long as we can get what we want. Justification is not a spiritual virtue.

But this morning, I want us to consider this idea of confession, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

One of the greatest joys of my pastoral ministry has been helping people reconcile with others. Bringing people together who, for whatever reason, have been estranged some of them for years. It takes a certain amount of boldness on the part of both people to be reconciled to one another, and there needs to be a certain amount of forgiveness on both sides.

Just as I believe that love is at the center of our spiritual lives as Christians, this idea of forgiveness needs to be right there alongside love.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

“If you are offering your gift at the altar.” You have heard me mention before about the Jewish law concerning forgiveness and reconciliation. People were required to bring an offering for sacrifice; the size depended on the size of the sin. The more sins, the more offerings one had to bring. Jesus ended all of that by offering himself as a sacrifice, in a spiritual sense for all that we have or will do. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, the lamb that was slain for us, but that does not mean it ends there.

The gift we have, the gift we bring is our lives. Each time we come here to the Temple, if you will, we offer ourselves as a gift to God. “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” We come here, with others, to give of ourselves; time, talent, and treasure for the work of the Kingdom of God. But before we can do that, we need to be reconciled with others, not just the ones nearby.

“If you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” First, go and be reconciled.

Last week, I spoke about the need to love our enemies for perfect love demands that we love all. Several of you came to me after and talked about how difficult it is to love certain people, and I am right there with you. I will remind you that Jesus commanded we have to love them; he said nothing about liking them, and there is a difference. We are commanded to love everyone because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and we have that Divine Spark in each of us. We love them because, the wretches that we are, God loves us.

One of my favorite social justice warriors is Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy believed is radical forgiveness and reconciliation, and she used to tell those working with her, “If each of us could just remember that we are all created in the image of God, then we would naturally want to love more.”

But what about forgiveness?  Forgiving someone has nothing to do with the other person. Forgiveness is all about you. When someone has harmed you in some way until you forgive them, that person holds a piece of you captive; they control a part of your life. We cannot move on from a situation or begin to heal until we have forgiven. And the key thing to remember is it does not matter if the person asks for forgiveness or even acknowledges that they were wrong. The other person may not even know you were harmed; it does not matter. Forgiveness is for you. Forgives us as we forgive others.

But just like love does not equal like, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean we do not want to see justice served; forgiveness releases the hold the other person or the situation has on you so you can begin to heal. What the other person does with it is up to them, not to you.

Several years ago, out of the blue, I received a letter from someone I went to middle and high school with. We were in the same class, but we were not friends by any definition. This kid was kind of a jerk and bully. Well, it seems he had an addiction problem and was working through the steps of recovery. As you know, one of the steps is making amends for everyone he had harmed in the past. His letter to me, asking forgiveness, was part of that step.

The funny thing is, I had forgotten all about what a jerk and bully this kid was until he sent me the letter but, I had no choice but to accept his forgiveness. I wrote him back and thanked him and told him I forgave him. I still think he is a jerk, by the way, but I have forgiven him. My only hope is that my forgiveness paved the way for him to forgive himself; most people who are bullies are bullies because they do not like themselves and that he found some comfort from my words.

There are some people that we may never be able to forgive, and that is fine, none of us are perfect. But the most significant person we need to forgive is ourselves. We are our own harshest critic, and we need to fall in love with ourselves again. Forgive us as we forgive others.

I just want to say a few words about anger. From time to time, people mention to me how angry a particular political figure makes them. I truly understand the sentiment, but my response to them, and to myself is, no one makes you mad you let yourself get angry. Anger, my friends, is a sin.

“And if your right-hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

If you find yourself getting angry, walk away, change the channel, sing a rousing verse of Kumbyya, take a walk, do something to calm yourself because acting out of anger is never good. It’s okay to be upset about situations and desire change, and most change comes from a place of being upset about situations. Still, we cannot let that turn to anger because anger, just like withholding forgiveness, is destructive to the soul. You are the only one who can control how you let yourself react in situations, and it is no one’s fault but yours.

In the end, we have Jesus as an example. Hanging on the cross, we looked down and saw the Roman soldiers casting lots for his garments. Just a few moments before that, these same men nailed him to that cross and raised him up. Jesus looked upon them, his executioners, and asked his Father to forgive them. I am almost certain none of them heard his voice or even cared what he was saying, but Jesus offered forgiveness before he offered himself as a gift. Think about that, Jesus forgave the very people that had just killed him…. That is the example he wants us to follow.

Amen.

Some Things I Have Been Reading This Week

Here are a few of the things I have been reading this past week

What to Do When You’re Stressed, Distressed, or Overwhelmed

In An Age of Political Contempt: Dare We Love Our Enemy?

Mormon Votes Are Valued. Too Often Mormon Convictions Are Not.

The Problem With the “Reluctant” Trump Voter: A Response to Andrew Walker’s *National Review* Essay

Connecting to the Sacred in the Chaos of Everyday Life

Joanne Freeman: “Naming the alleged whistle-blower is much worse than tearing up a speech”

A Member of the 8th Missouri Infantry Reflects on Why He Enlisted

Why I Was a People-Pleaser and How I Stopped

To Know God

Top Posts of the Last Week

Here are 10 most viewed post from the blog this past week

Sermon: The City on a Hill

Sermon: The Words of my Mouth

Sermon: Do Not Weep

Elizabeth Warren and the DNA Test

Is it a Sin to Break the Fast?

Sermon: Take up Your Cross

The Real Saint Valentine

Sermon: Get out of the Boat

The Decline in Religion, Blah, Blah, Blah

Why I Identify as a Progressive Christian

Where has civility gone?

On February 6, 2020, politicians and religious leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for the National Prayer breakfast. The breakfast is a time for leaders of religion and government to come together, break bread, and pray for one another. Although it was held unofficially since the 1930s, in 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended as has every President since.

This year the breakfast came after the President’s acquittal in his impeachment trial and two days after the State of the Union Address to Congress. As one can imagine, it was a little tense to say the least.

The main speaker for the event was Harvard University, Professor Arthur Brooks.  Brooks gave a talk titled “America’s Crisis of Contempt,” in which he spoke of the contempt that the various sides have for one another. “I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart.”

Brooks spoke of the need for a new way of thinking and reminded those listening of the words of Jesus, and words you all will be familiar with, from Matthew’s Gospel, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45).

At the end of the speech, Brooks gave his audience some homework;

1. Pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to help to provide us with strength

2. Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt

3. Go out looking for contempt so you can answer it with love.

In his remarks following the talk, President Trump said he was not sure he could agree with Brooks, and for that comment, the President took a lot of heat. I think the President was misunderstood. I believe the President was trying to say that loving your enemies is hard work, it is much easier to have contempt for them or to hate them, but loving them is what we are called to do. I am a realist and know that it will always be difficult to love those who oppose us or disagree with us, but if we are going to be the light that shines in the darkness, then we need to try and commit each day to genuinely loving everyone.

Why I Identify as a Progressive Christian

If you have followed these pages for any length of time you might have noticed that my social and theological thoughts have evolved over a period of time. I have made some shifts in my way of thinking about issues and I believe that comes from life experience.

I was recently called a “liberal” to which I responded by saying “thank you.” Yes it was partly sarcastic but it was also partly true. I am liberal, and I am conservative, but I am mostly progressive. I was once called a “secular humanist” as well.  I had to look that one up.

So why do I identify as a Progressive Christian? Here are 8 reasons.

1. I believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and unity of all life.

2. I affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey.

3. I seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
                Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics.
                Believers and agnostics
                Women and men
                Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities
                Those of all classes and abilities

4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe.

5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes.

6. Strive for peace and justice among all people.

7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth; and

8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

These 8 reasons come from Progressive Christianity

Mitt Romney’s “Oath before God”

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 5: In this screengrab taken from a Senate Television webcast, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) talks about how his faith guided his deliberations on the articles of impeachment during impeachment proceedings against U.S. President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Senators will cast their final vote to convict or acquit later today. (Photo by Senate Television via Getty Images)

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Mitt Romney (R UT) rose from his desk in the Senate chamber and approached the microphone to speak about his vote in the Impeachment of President Donald Trump. Romney had announced he was going to vote to convict the President on Article 1 of the impeachment so that would come as no surprise to anyone. What came as a surprise, at least to me, was that he spoke openly about his faith.

The allegations made in the articles of impeachment are very serious. As a Senator-juror, I swore an oath, before God, to exercise “impartial justice.” I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the President, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.

Romney, who is a Bishop in the Mormon Church never, really speaks about his faith. As Governor of Massachusetts and as a Presidential candidate, he never invoked his faith in the way he did on Wednesday. I am not if it is because for Romney, like most Americans, faith is a private or was it the more significant issue of the Mormon faith not being understood. Either way, it was refreshing to hear a non-evangelical invoke his faith on a political matter.

In the video of the speech on the Senate floor, Romney shows emotion when he speaks of his faith. This was not an easy decision for the Utah Senator and one that, admittedly, will bring some backlash from the party faithful and others. Romney voted his conscious at a time when that does not seem the fashionable thing to do.

The decision to convict or not convict the President of the United was, in my opinion anyway, a foregone conclusion.  Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, had announced that he was going to vote to acquit the President before the Articles of Impeachment had even reached the desk of the Clerk of the Senate. At least Romney took his oath, “before God” to be an impartial juror serious!

Senator Romney appealed to a higher purpose his faith and his God. He has shown that faith needs to influence our decision and that sometimes we need to stand up when everyone else is sitting down. The Senator admitted that “my verdict will not remove the President from office.” But he held true to his oath and did what he felt was right.

My vote will likely be in the minority in the Senate. But irrespective of these things, with my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me.

“Well done good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:23

Read the full text of Senator Romney’s floor speech here

Rudeness, a National Disgrace

By way of full disclosure, I did not watch the State of Union Address that night; I have not watched for years. I believe the Speech has become a political infomercial for the party of the President that twists facts and numbers to make things look better than they genuinely are. We need to return to the days before Woodrow Wilson when the President sent a written report to Congress. However that is not the point of this essay.

Over the last few decades, I have witnessed the destruction of what I would consider decency and honor. Yes, I have participated in this, we all have or would not be here right now, but the time has come for it to stop. In the last few days, I have been the witness to an unbelievable level of hatred and from people that should know better.

It was announced that Radio Talk Show host Rush Limbaugh is battling lung cancer. Not be able to breathe is a horrible thing. I watched my father die from lung-related issues, and it is a horrendous way to die, and I would not wish that on my worst enemy. I will pray for Mr. Limbaugh even though I disagree with him and place much of the blame for the divisions at his feet. But those who listen and brought him to the top of the ratings have a part to play in that as well. But I will pray for him because he is a human being that is suffering. I understand that he caused many, many people to suffer but that does not mean, as a Christian who preaches love everyone, that I can turn my back on him. Hatred is destructive to everyone.

Last night the President of the United States, also someone I disagree with and believe is the cause of the continued divisions in this country, came to Congress and gave the annual State of the Union Speech. He stood in the very same chamber where only a few weeks before Articles of Impeachment were passed and sent to the Senate. As is custom, the President presents a copy of his speech to the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House then shakes their hands. The President did not shake the Speaker’s hand. Some have claimed he did not see it, and maybe that is the case, but it is the custom to shake, and he should have known it was coming — no need for that.

In the end, as all were rising, the Speaker tore up the Speech that was presented to her. Some have called this a bold and brave move; I call it rude, disrespectful, and childish.  Disagree with the President, call him a criminal and pass articles of impeachment, work to defeat him at the ballot box, and all the rest, but one does not defeat their enemy by being rude. Sure, some will say he started it, well, that argument did not work on the playground and it certainly will no work in Congress!

It was once said, and I cannot remember who said it, “when they go low, we go high” there was only low on display last night, and that is sad. We, the United States of America, have become the laughing stock of the world, and that was only furthered last night. I expect more of my President, and I expect more of the leader of Congress, who represents me.

But I will take it a bit further. This morning as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a post from a gentleman that I have an enormous amount of respect for, although we usually come down on different sides of political issues. In his post, he called the Speaker of the House, a “classless bitch.” I wonder how he would feel if someone used that language about his wife or daughter? Regardless of how you think about someone using that language is just uncalled for. I commented about how disappointed I was in his use of language and urged him to remove the post. As of this writing, it is still there.

Friends, we did not get here because one side or the other acted one way or another, we got here because we allowed ourselves to get here. Rush Limbaugh did not rise in the ratings by himself, Donald Trump did not get elected President by himself, the level of hatred in this country did not get here because of one side or the other, we got here because “We the People” allowed it and “We the People” need to stop it!

Hatred is destructive and only leads to more hatred. Hate is a lethal force that only harms the one doing the hating, you. There are ways to disagree without lowering ourselves into the gutter and start slinging mud when we do that all we accomplish is we get dirty. I do not like Donald Trump; I think that point is clear. I do not like his tactics, I’m not too fond of his policies, and I do not like the people he has surrounded himself. I believe he plays to our base emotions and divides rather than unites. I will oppose him with every fiber of my being, but I do not hate him. I cannot let myself hate him because that will destroy me.

Battles are not won by employing the same tactics that our enemy uses; battles are won by taking and holding the high ground.

Sermon: The Vision Beautiful

Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 5:1-12

There is no more excellent summation of the law of God after that of “love God and love neighbor” then the passage from Micah:

“He 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.” Micah 6:8

As lovely as this passage sounds, it is a hazardous passage if we separate it from its context. In our world where the average attention span is a few moments, it is nice that we can summarize the law and prophets. However, there is a real danger in voicing “justice, kindness, and obedience” too far separated from the socio-economic realities that give this passage meaning. Micah himself warns of this danger and the judgment that follows the community that becomes killed at “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.”

It seems that is the 8th century before Christ, people were doing the same things they are doing today, they like to call themselves Christians, and they want to be seen in the church and praying in public. They like to scream that they are being oppressed because of their faith when others hold them accountable for their lack of faith.

What Micah is doing here is critiquing the exclusive attention paid to the cultic practices of religious faith, without the ethical obedience that faith in God requires. He asks in verse 6, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” He then offers a list of potential offerings; burnt offerings, calves a year old, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil, my firstborn. His answer is simply that none of these offerings are pleasing to God when they are stripped from the context that gives them meaning.

God desires more than empty words. God wants justice that is measured by how well the most vulnerable fare in the community. A loyal love that is equal with the kind of love that God has shown towards Israel. And walking, not just walking but walking in an ethical life.

Examples of this are all around us. There will be all sorts of pronouncements from pulpits all around the country about how wonderful people are and that if they follow the rules, God will reward them. All the while, right outside the doors of many of those same churches, people are starving, they lack affordable housing, clean water, access to health care, safe schools, and the myriad of other issues facing the average person today. Inside the people of God are talking the talk but they are ignoring the walk that must be done outside the church!

It might be helpful to remember that this passage emerges from God’s deep disappointment in the people, who have failed to bring about the kind of just community envisioned by the God that liberates people from political and economic bondage. God’s people have been put on trial in this passage, and earlier in prophecy, God has outlined the specifics of the charges;

The Powerful covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away (2:2)

They tear the skin off my people (3:2)

They send violence on the poor (3:5)

The political leaders take bribes, and the religious leaders sell out for money (3:11)

This text is a challenge to do justice as part of our worship experience and to do justice as part of the liturgy. We also heard the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew. These are a beautiful reminder that the last shall be first and who God considers blessed; the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart. And we also hear about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, and the peacemakers who shall be called the children of God. We understand that those who will be persecuted for righteousness sake will inherit heaven. And we are told to rejoice and be glad for those who are reviled and persecuted will have a great reward in heaven.

But the key to all of this is to look past our interest and to look out for others. Nowhere in the Gospel does it proclaim that we are to care for the least of these only after we have taken care of ourselves.

It is time for us as individuals, and it is time for us as a Church to start walking the walk. I know it is scary because we might be called out, but we truly have no other choice. If we sit here and pray to God, sing songs, raise our voice and hands in praise, then we have to be willing to do the same outside of the building, and only then will we truly do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Amen.

The Power of Perseverance

Before taking first vows as a Benedictine monk, I was required to attend a five-day retreat at another monastery. During the retreat, along with the silence and prayer, I attended classes taught by a seasoned Monk by the name of Finbar. The wisdom oozed from Finbar and his experience of monastic life over many, many decades. As the week was coming to a close, I remember asking Finbar what the secret of success was for the monastic life. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Patience, patience, patience.” Never were more real words spoken.

Patience was necessary for my life in the monastery as well as life outside of those walls. But patience alone will not help us achieve our goals, perseverance, along with patience, is what is necessary. Most success is due more to persevering than luck, skills, or ability.  Here are five questions to ask yourself to become super-determined, preserver, and boldly succeed in life.

1. When have I persevered and succeeded?

2. When have I given up and regretted it?

3. What stops me from persevering? Where do I get in my way?

4. What do I believe about my ability to achieve my goals and dreams? How does this affect me?

5. What would it feel like to roll up my sleeves and do what’s necessary – no matter what?

If we can figure out what we have done in the past that brought us success, and we can determine how to get out of our way, we will be set on the path to success.

If you need help in realizing your dreams, setting goals, and persevering, get in contact, and we can begin a conversation.