October 16, 2016
Perhaps we can all remember when we were young and asked our parents for something spectacular … maybe a brand new bicycle … or a horse … or a set of drums … or a baby sister or brother … or a swimming pool in our back yard.
And how disappointed we were when they did not jump to our demands and we knew they did not love us – or they would have given us exactly what we had asked!
Unfortunately we do the same with God … not just as children, but as adults – even faith-filled adults. We ask, beg, demand … and when we do not receive what we thought we deserved, we shy away from God … believe that God does not love us, does not care for us, and certainly will not ever be trusted again as one to whom we can turn.
Our Gospel story this morning is a ‘comedy’ by Jesus. There are not too many times that we see him teaching us in such a way.
We have a desperate woman who begs and begs and begs for some justice. And we have a very swarmy judge who finally gives her what she wants merely to get rid of her bugging him constantly.
Is this prayer? Is this the way God responds to us? Is this a story we need to perpetuate in order to get what we want in life? Absolutely not!
Prayer is not about asking and receiving. Prayer is about getting into the heart of God – understanding that fullness of spirit that identifies God … and then having that spirit fill us.
Tying ourselves to God … so that absolute inclusion is the identity between each of us and God is the meaning and quality of prayer. Understanding that God is always filling us, leading us, challenging us is the basis of a prayer life.
Several years ago we started hearing about something called the ‘Prosperity Gospel’. This is based on the thought that IF we have faith in God, we will be rewarded with wonderful lives, great wealth, and everything spectacular happening to and for us. This would mean that we would always get great jobs; we would be able to buy the biggest and best houses; we would receive pay raises quite regularly; we would be able to drive the very best cars; our favorite sports teams would always win …all of these things would happen IF we are faithful … IF we are always in touch with God … IF we pray daily and probably tithe to the church.
The Prosperity Gospel is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus experienced one of the most gruesome deaths anyone ever could. Jesus – before he died – also had a moment of thinking that he had been forgotten by God. And yet, Jesus also knew that he was linked with God … that his heart and soul were tightly bound to that of God’s very being … that this inclusion of Jesus and God were very, very real.
This inclusion does not mean rewards for us being faithful … for us being wonderful servants … for us giving our love and money away to those others who need it. Inclusion means we are never, ever alone.
Life offers so many, many ups and downs:
joys of new life,
injustice and wonderful displays of remarkable justice
a beautiful earth
hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes that ruin lives
peace-filled relationships and war-filled terrors
This is LIFE! God does not create the havoc … nor does God create the wondrous moments. God created this world with all of its possibilities.
And our greatest gift is to know that we can be filled with the presence of God …we may experience the inclusion of God within our hearts and souls … so that we will be accompanied through the many ups and downs and in-betweens that life will always present to us. God’s strength, resiliance and fortitude within us will allow us to live as wondrously as possible. It will never assure us that we will have wealthy, long and productive lives. It will, however, assure us that we will have lives filled with the presence of knowing that we are loved, nurtured and accompanied.
As we come to the culmination of our weekly remembrances of the children in our community and within our world … and celebrate Children’s Sabbath, may we remember that our greatest hopes need to be shared and given to our children. We have been called to serve this world so that those who come after us – our children – will have wondrous possibilities and fulfilling lives. Even when our children ask for specific gifts, we can teach them of the greater gifts of life that will sustain them and provide them with opportunities and hope for new and beautiful days ahead. May we teach them about the inclusion of their hearts within the heart of God …their lives and the life of God!
May we continue to seek the presence of God always. May we not beg for specific things but know assuredly that the tightening of our inclusion with God will bring the immense satisfaction and good life we all need.
October 9, 2016
I deserve to be healthy!
I deserve to be safe!
I deserve to have enough money, clothes, housing, a car, books, and a good job!
I deserve to be in a healthy relationship with someone I love!
Unfortunately, all of this is wrong. We honestly do NOT deserve anything! All that we have been given in life is a gift. All that we earn comes from hard work. All of the good relationships we might enjoy come as a result of our love and care.
Understanding the mission of Jesus begins with the understanding of Jesus as a wondrous gift-giving man who exemplified God.
Time and time again Jesus’ touching and healing and gift giving to people brought outrage from others who KNEW that the recipients did NOT deserve kindness, love, or healing. Because Jesus often spoke to and gave to the most disenfranchised – the sick, the poor, the outcasts – he had a reputation for not doing things in good order.
But that was exactly what Jesus was about. He did not live by the rules of what one was supposed to deserve. Jesus saw need and responded …period!
Our Biblical story today offers an interesting twist to Jesus’ ever-giving love and healing. It can, however, be misinterpreted. Is gratitude an essential – and a guarantee for continued blessing? NO!
However, the realization of all that we receive in life does bring an outpouring of thanksgiving from us … when we accept and understand that all of what we receive is gift and NOT at all what we deserve.
So, Jesus – in his very usual way – responded to the lepers who knew he was a man of God. They asked him to have mercy upon them. He merely said – go and show yourselves to the priests….and they realized they had been healed of their leprosy.
Nine of them merely went on their way…but one of them…who, by the way, was a Samaritan …and these people were despised, considered culturally inferior, theologically and liturgically heretics…but he was the ONE who came back to Jesus, fell down, praised God and thanked Jesus. He was THE picture of gratitude.
Jesus was doing what he does. He was doing what God does. Giving us life, surrounding us with love, allowing us to know the beauty of life, filling us with understanding of the world and allowing a caring presence when things are in total disarray …these are the gifts from God. To know that we are never alone – even when facing desperation. To believe that we have a presence to call on to help us walk through life. To understand that all that we have been given – even though we think we earn our money, and our degrees, and our relationships….when we are honest, we know that all of life is gift.
Thus, gratitude should be the most natural expression of our lives in response to the mission of God, especially as taught to us by Jesus, whom we call the Christ.
The other piece of Jesus’ ministry is that he never asked this Samaritan man if he understood or had the correct faith concepts. He did not question him or test him about what he believed. He merely indicated that his faith had healed him.
What if Jesus was walking around the world today and healed members of ISIS? What if he was able to take away the hatred that we believe is in their hearts? What if Jesus was able to reduce the hatred of many people in our country who continue to be segregationists or despisers of all people of color … or of all police … or of all politicians …. Would that healing bring gratitude from these people?
If we – as followers of Jesus and people of God – are to be as caring and loving and healing as we have been taught … then we are the ONES who must be out in the world not holding grudges against the people of hate … not bearing animosity for people who are different … not dismissing those who are very peculiar … not even being indifferent to all the diversity within the world. We (as people/servants of God) are to be the ones who share healing … who extend the love of God … who do not expect gratitude for what we do but continue to give and give and give. This is the mission and ministry of God that Jesus taught us. And when and if we claim to be the people of God, this has to become the way of life for us.
Gratitude for all that we have been given is a natural response. Jesus and/or God does NOT demand this. It is not in the rule book. However, when we understand the true mission of God as shown through Jesus … when we realize all that we have been given …and all that surrounds us and fills us … gratitude is the absolute most natural expression of life that should fill us every minute of every day of our lives.
May we live with this grace as we respond to the mission of Jesus.
October 2, 2016
World Communion – Union Avenue
World Communion Sunday is one of the most important days for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Our mission statement:
As Disciples of Christ, we are a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) began in the United States over 215 years ago because of the many fractures in the Christian faith. The increasing number of denominations made NO SENSE to our founders. The rules and regulations that every denomination wanted to tout as important were also not understood or accepted by our founders.
Practicing the unity of God’s love to all people is the basis of the church. And yet, through the ages more and more rules and stipulations about how and why we had to do everything became such a burden.
Our founders claimed that ALL people would be welcomed at the table of Jesus Christ for communion with him and God. Everyone was encouraged to read scriptures and thoughtfully understand what the words meant. There is no test of faith or creedal statements to which we must adhere.
And at the true base of who Disciples are, we partner with all faith communities to work for the wholeness that we believe God wants in this world. Yes, we disagree and yet we honor those disagreements and know that this does not ever mean we have to split apart from each other.
Unfortunately, we have experienced two splits within our heritage. Both of the faith groups with whom we split are more attuned to rules and conservative aspects of faith.
We are not – nor have ever been a large denomination. In fact, we did not want to BE a denomination, but the government required it. And yet, we have been respected by many and as I have shared with you before, we were the first denomination that Pope John 23rd invited into a one-on-one dialogue…and this was precisely because of our ecumenical thrust and his desire for that as well.
So, today, as most Christian denominations celebrate World Communion Day, I firmly believe that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) can find great joy and hope that our leadership could continue to inspire what we share as the central portion of our service every Sunday … that Jesus’ words about the love of God extending to everyone in this world might someday be accepted by all!
In our scripture this morning – a letter from Paul to his younger colleague, Timothy – Paul starts with a claim that he is an apostle by the will of God, for the sake and promise of life that is in Jesus Christ. This claim is NOT merely a claim of Paul! Every one of us can and should make that claim. The joy of what Jesus brought to us is that every human was created by God’s will … every human is equal in the sight of God … every human lives in the promise of life. And we are ALL embedded in God’s will. This is merely one of the reasons Disciples do not have a Pope …nor honestly do our Regional Ministers have authority over us …and hopefully you know that even though your minister sits with the board she has no vote. All of this is to make sure that ‘authority’ within the Disciples is shared by all of us.
Then Paul writes to Timothy about rekindling the great gift of God…that of love. Paul was imprisoned at the time and he knew that Timothy was being shamed by some of his colleagues. We are not quite sure what the shaming is about. But as people who count the benefit of a church community when so many, many others do not – we can understand this. Perhaps others do not shame us about being a part of a community of faith, but many undoubtedly think it is a waste of time, bizarre or even ridiculous. So, this might be considered shaming. How do we deal with this?
We cannot tell others that IF we go to church, we will not suffer! We cannot tell people that IF we go to church, we will not experience hardships! We cannot tell people that IF we go to church, we will be perfect and never do inappropriate things or speak nasty words to others! We do NOT come to church because we are good, live without error, or have everything in the world we want.
We gather as people of faith to hear the word that God will always love us. We (Disciples) gather every Sunday so that we might hear the words of Jesus at the communion table when he asks us to be his body within this world – to serve, to love, to encourage, to care for everyone. We gather as people of faith with each other because we know we are all different, have differing views, and differing attitudes, goals and desires … but we want to learn and be challenged by those differences – not spurned by them and certainly not to try to convince others of their errors.
We gather as people of faith every Sunday morning to hear again and again that we have been created out of the love of God…. and we need to hear the rekindling of that gift because it is so easy to forget it with all that happens in our lives – the hardships, the devastations, the dreams that have not been fulfilled.
The challenge of God’s love allows us to know there is a future we can claim. There is a hope we can look for. There is a life that is worth living.
And every Sunday we get to celebrate that when we gather … and especially when we gather at the table of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who taught us so much about the love of God.
September 18, 2016
This scripture passage shows us a VERY different side of Jesus than we usually see. We believe that Jesus was ever so kind, giving, loving, and tender-hearted. He was an excellent teacher. He saw the needs of almost everyone he met. He was always trying to help the people around him understand how they could be nurtured, encouraged, challenged and certainly always loved by God.
There is another tale in our Gospels about Jesus getting so outraged that he turned over the money changers tables in the Temple. But we do not often see or hear about him being mad like that.
By and large, we think of Jesus as being mild mannered, easy going, incredibly tender and absolutely full of mercy.
This story today, however, shows us that Jesus can be VERY sarcastic, extremely teasing and/or celebrating a tongue-in-cheek moment! But that just may be the only way to get through to some folks.
Probably the most important and revealing sentences of this passage are:
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
Money is NOT long lasting. We know that for sure – we cannot take it with us! Jesus came to teach us about the everlasting covenant of God that will always sustain us and that we WILL take with us! The love that God fills and surrounds us with is eternal. It will not provide us with expertise for every little detail … it will not give us major opportunities to get power and prestige … it will not bring us a steady income and huge financial resources … but the covenant of God which is everlasting will keep us focused on the truth … will help us understand and care for the pain of our friends, families and neighbors … will sustain us when we have to face the incredible hardships that living in this world pose.
What Jesus is most concerned about is: how a little bit of dishonesty can grow and grow and grow… and take over our lives. We all know we are not perfect … and unfortunately God has made us that way. But God also forgives us over and over WHEN we admit to our stupid failings. Thus, this passage is not about that.
It is about how a little bit of dishonesty can easily grow to take us over. When we begin to taste what money can provide – comfort, power, prestige – it can very easily consume our whole life. Not only can it destroy our relationships of love with others, but it can become a painful tumor within us that continues to be fed until it consumes us.
This parable of Jesus is not just about money … but more importantly about power. He was speaking about leaders – undoubtedly religious leaders – who were very consumed with their desire to be incredibly important and maintain power over others.
And this is what Jesus was railing against when he so desired his followers to understand the OTHER covenant …the everlasting covenant … the covenant that would never come and go … the covenant that would not feed our power and prestige … but the covenant that would ALWAYS give us the strength and love and understanding to lead our lives well. This is the Covenant that God has made with us.
A covenant is an agreement made between two parties. Often times this is between two ‘equal’ parties or partners. The everlasting covenant we have with God is definitely NOT between two ‘equal’ parties. What God has promised us is definitely not what we are able to promise God.
God gives us sustenance, companionship, love, continual forgiveness, challenge, inspiration to serve, incentive to grow. Our portion of the covenant is very, very different. It is merely to listen, to ask for help and guidance, to seek assurance, to beg forgiveness continually.
So, no we are NOT equal partners in this covenant.
However, those in this scripture today who believe they can be ‘in charge’ of others and thus increase their power and prestige have absolutely no need of God. They believe they are their own gods … and with their increasing dishonesty can become ever so much more powerful in every way possible.
That desire for power and prestige – whether it be through money or
mere overbearing of opinions – is definitely like cancer. Unfortunately, it grows in ways that often cannot be controlled. And there is no covenant related to people who have this need and desire. They only have themselves … they only want to build their own power. They have absolutely no need of others.
The covenant of God makes us realize we are human and always in need of the love that will forgive us, sustain us, challenge us, grow us, and cause us to find more and more ways to be in the community of humanity in this world.
May we continue to seek and live within this everlasting covenant that God provides for all of us.