WHAT IS THE BLAMELESS WAY?

February 20, 2017

Feb 19, 2017
Union Avenue

Well, is there anyone present who has NOT committed at least one of these horrific acts?
probably not murder
but anger?
insulting someone?
looking at a woman with lust?
divorce?
swearing?

How in the world are we to understand this passage? Was Jesus truly being serious?

He did indicate that if we were able to follow everything he has said, we would be WAY ABOVE any scribe or Pharisee. But I have no clue how any of us could claim we have done none of these big and small acts of injustice. So there must be a way to dig a bit deeper and understand what Jesus is teaching us. So let’s try!

I do think that when he adds the ’tearing out our eyes and cutting off our hand’ we can understand that he is using hyperbole and we need to relax, sit back and try to unfold what is honestly within his words.

From what we know Jesus was a good and faithful Jewish man. He knew there were certain rules of the faith and he abided by them. However, Jesus knew ever so much more about life than merely keeping rules.

One of the major emphases of Jesus in his teaching about God is how God knows every one of us – inside and out. We honestly cannot hide from God. We cannot pretend to be stellar and act appropriately and keep an outrageous and angry self inside.

The other major teaching of Jesus about God is that because God knows and created us all as imperfect beings, all God wants from us is to admit when we make mistakes. And we will be forgiven. That HUGE admission is basic to our Christian faith.

Thus, even though Jesus most often kept the rules and laws of his faith, he knew that we all break those at times and this will NOT put us at risk with God. What puts us at risk is when we are unwilling to admit our foibles.

Another part of this passage is that even when we keep every piece of the law, we often – in our hearts – do not want to do so. And that is just as improper as if we were breaking the law outright. And, unfortunately God knows … both our actions and our hearts!

Anger is one of the major issues that Jesus raises. He knows we all get angry at times. We have evidence that Jesus got angry on occasion. But what do we do about anger? Jesus asks that we go and try to get reconciled with the people with whom we are angry or who are angry with us … and THEN we can come to the table of God to say prayers and receive the blessings we know are available to us.

Reconciling with people is HUGE. It is not as easy as just talking, saying something nice, hugging or smiling. It is both external AND internal. Getting rid of the angst that others have provided us takes time and effort. It is NOT immediate. But it can be done! Within the passage, I do believe there is an association with murder and anger. And again, I do not believe we have murderers within this congregation … but we all have anger and we all have had people very angry with us. Releasing this not only takes time … but it takes effort. It takes us understanding that others are as complex as we are. And we might not understand or even know why they are mad at us. And on the other side, we might not even understand why we get so mad at others. Much of this is clearly because we want everyone to think like we do … to act like we do … to believe like we do … and to respond as joyously or outrageously as we do. And when that does not happen, of course, we do not understand … and the response is to be angry.

So, realizing that we are all oh so, so different … with differing pasts … differing responsibilities … differing upbringings … differing values … differing perspectives … differing faith understandings … differing relationships (bad and good) … of course we are extremely different. Acceptance of this AND understanding that God made us different and life has treated us differently can help us accept that we may live our lives ever so bizarre in relationship to how others live – and they think the same of us. Accepting this reality will help us accept those differences and NOT try to change everyone into us … and will reduce the anger points we all have.

Anger destroys relationships akin to murder. And this is what Jesus was alluding. And he also has indicated that it does not matter who started the anger piece. When any of us understands anger building within us, we need to move to the reconciliation. This is what God has asked of us.

Even though there are certainly other issues in this passage: lusting, divorce and swearing … many of which we are all perpetrators, I do believe the anger issue is the ultimate for today … in our society … in our families … in the life we need to adjust to honestly hear what Jesus is teaching us about God.

God forgives … all of the time. However, we need to do our part in the admitting to our faults and work on the reconciling efforts.

LOOKING AHEAD WITH JESUS

January 29, 2017

29 Jan 2017
Union Ave
We are now in ‘ordinary time’. The weeks between Epiphany and Lent …and then ALL the weeks after Easter until Advent are referred to as ‘ordinary time’. They take up most of the year and are the opportunities for us to understand and try to deepen our experiences of Jesus’ teachings.

Peter, Andrew, James and John are being called by Jesus in this passage
not because of an amazing star in the sky
not because of any promise of great trips to Jerusalem
not because of super gifts that would be given them
…but simply because Jesus met them and said ‘follow me’.

Most of us have not seen miraculous stars that would lead us to Jesus … and most of us have not been promised spectacular trips or wondrous gifts … but do you think we would respond as these four men did when Jesus – who was honestly a stranger to them – came up and merely said ‘follow me’?

Peter, Andrew, James and John seemed to be so, so ready ..almost like they had been preparing beforehand for such a request. Could that have happened? Could God have planted some message in their hearts before? Probably not.

We have so many voices claiming to be God now – claiming to be able to save us – claiming to be able to lead us into the right pathways … how in the world do we respond to the right ones?

And would any of us respond so fully as these gentlemen did?

They not only immediately followed with no questions asked (or so the story is told) … but they left their professions without any security promised to them … and they likely left their families as well. All of this is a bit outrageous and it is doubtful that folks would respond today like this.
And yet, if we were to honestly meet Jesus – face to face … would we be able to take this leap? Jesus has just said that the kingdom of heaven has come and he is the one to be celebrating and telling this great story. Again, would we believe it?

Would we not have to check our calendars … look into our bank accounts to make sure we had enough cash to see us through the adventure … and certainly consult our families?

Dear friends, Jesus is still making this call … today … right now.

He is asking us to follow. He is giving us possibilities that do not require that we give up everything. He is not even asking us to leave our families or forsake our jobs. But he is asking us, pleading with us, inspiring us to follow him.

And what would that look like?
It would mean that we would give up spiteful acts that we undoubtedly perform.
It would mean that we would always look for ways to share our love and compassion.
It would mean that we would not horde our money but be very open to sharing it with those in need.
It would mean that we would be seeking ways to help those less fortunate.
It would mean that we would get weary because of the care we give others.
It would mean that we would be listening for God to speak to us every moment of every day.
It would mean that we would respond to the challenges God places in front of us when we listen.
It would mean that we understand the giftedness each of us has and find ways to expand that giftedness to serve the world.
It would mean that we honestly give our lives away rather than trying to protect them from others.

Jesus is still very much alive and well in our world today. And he is asking every one of us to follow him. Because we all have been made differently and with many varying gifts, his call to each of us is different … and yet it is the same. The call is to give our lives for the peace and love that God wants in this world.

May we hear the call Jesus has for us.

May we respond with the fullness of our heart.

May we turn our lives so that we can all honestly be called the children of God.

Union Ave

I cannot play the organ. Nor do I have ANY clue how to lead or inspire a choir. I also cannot create an awesome newsletter – with artwork included, nor do I understand the technology of all the ins/outs of today. Another major issue I have is not even knowing how to turn on the boiler of this building (even though Ron has TRIED to teach me!).
Fortunately, we have two incredible professional staff gentleman who know how to do all of this and much, much more! If my job as a minister included playing the organ, leading the choir, developing the newsletters, the bulletins and running this huge building … well, I cannot even imagine.

This letter of Paul’s to the church in Corinth was his attempt to help the Corinthians understand how they needed to work together … and not believe that they (individually) knew how to do everything on their own.
The church in Corinth was in disarray (and actually there were two church houses in that city, but Paul was determined that they see themselves as one body). There were incredible divisions. Things like:
which leaders were the people to follow and could leaders make hard decisions
what kind of worship was the RIGHT way
do all the people need to have the same moral codes
do we all believe exactly the same thing
Interestingly, times have not changed much from then until now.

Paul’s great gift, however, needs to be repeated over and over and over … so that we might hear and receive his words of wisdom. The wholeness of which we are a part is a gift … from God. We do NOT create it … but we DO need to celebrate it and act it out! God’s call to us as a new people in Jesus the Christ begs us to find new ways of living and being together. Desmond Tutu had a wonderful saying and that is that ‘to BE is not I but we’. In the midst of our wondrous differences and conflicts, God calls us to be a people united.

Paul, first of all, expresses that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus. This is not a bragging – but a fact. But then he immediately tells the Corinthians that they have all been called to be saints. The very important distinction is that he is NOT saying each individual is a saint….but that we are all saints together. This is definitely not a singular claim….but a common vocation that we must share and acknowledge with each other. In order to do this, we HAVE to see, accept and understand each other’s gifts.

God makes us holy. This has nothing to do with how we act … what we do … it is the way we were created. BUT we were created as a whole people – together! Holiness has nothing to do with our righteous behavior … our individual acts … or our self-inflated goodness. It has to do with how God made us … and how God wants us to act together as the holy saints of this world. The other very important reality of Paul’s teaching is that when we realize the individual gifts we have been given, we must also realize we do not posses those … we are not to cling to those … we are not to tout how good those gifts are and how important they make us. We are to accept them as gifts and then give them away … use them for the people of this hurting world.

We have all received very, very important gifts. We most often act according to how we perceive ourselves. If we believe we are competent we will likely show that. If we believe we are inadequate we will undoubtedly show that. If we show that we respect others, those others will be able to discern that. And if we show disdain for others, those people will also be able to see that. What we honestly need is to understand that we are ALL gifted …we have all RECEIVED whatever gifts we have from God. We may believe we have worked or studied or fought for these virtues … but very, very honestly they are still gifts we have received. Our job – hopefully when we finally realize that our gifts have been bestowed upon us … is to give those gifts away … to use them for the benefit of others … and then to celebrate that our gifts are oh so different than someone else’s … and that the world rotates and thrives best when we understand how all the gifts might work together.

Paul was sharing with the Corinthians that he honestly believed – even in the midst of their squabbles – that they would find ways to come together.
The church then and now is ever so rich wth the gifts of God … even in spite of our frailties. We have been given
gifts of understanding and trust
gifts of caring’
gifts of words that help and heal
gifts of faithfulness
gifts of shared community
None of these are our accomplishments but are given to us by the grace of God. When we accept and know this, we will be able to extend, give and live out these awesome gifts to the rest of the world.

Months ago, our Board Chair – Matthew Mahaffey – decided he needed to step down. He loves this church ever so much, but was honestly taking way too much criticism. He did NOT want to leave Union Avenue and thought it best if he stepped away from leadership. I offered to the executive team at that time to also step down. They told me that I had to stay to help get us back to an even keel. We are, hopefully, in a much different place than we were then.

Thus, today, I am sharing with the congregation that I will be retiring in September. The board members all know this and next week they will be meeting to vote on some next steps.

What happened to us months ago – in my estimation – was that we were not able to understand the diversity of gifts about which Paul is teaching. Hopefully, we are in a much more unified understanding of how diverse we are … how certain leaders need to make hard decisions … how all of our gifts are given to us by God … and how important it is to work together in the unity to which God calls us.

Advent III
Union Avenue

Not many of us have ever been farmers. Thus, we hardly understand the lack of control we have over the weather – the rain, the sun, the cold, the snow, the heat. We certainly get irritated when it rains and we have planned a picnic … or when it snows and we wanted to drive without issue. But farmers are constantly dealing with the wonderment of whether there will be enough rain … or too much heat … or early snow … or devastating winds. They HAVE to have patience and not get out-of-whack when the weather provides them issues.

The difference between this morning’s two scriptures is pretty amazing. Isaiah paints the picture of the earth blossoming … the world absolutely rejoicing. James (on the other hand) encourages folks to stand firm, not judge each other, but bear with others. Isaiah is all about exuberance. James is all about patient endurance. Which is the message for the day and for this season? And can it be both?!

Yes, we are being asked to believe in both realities … to live in joy and deal with sorrow … to expect a grace-filled vocation and a daily grind of duty … abundance and eeking out a living. We ALL live in this paradox.

Ignatius of Loyola taught and urged the paradox ‘pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended upon us!’
So, what do patience, suffering and farming have to do with this season of Advent?

Advent was created so that we could learn about and practice patience. Unfortunately, our consumer entities have tried to annihilate this concept. Interestingly, some stores vowed this year NOT to put out Christmas decorations and gifts until after Thanksgiving. That is a huge step … and we will merely have to wait to see if this can be long-lasting.

But taking time in Advent to reflect upon the great gift of Jesus helps us to anticipate the other amazing gifts of God. When we jump to the celebration – and we obviously know that Jesus has already been born, lived and died – without doing some of our sitting/reflecting/waiting … we lose the gift of anticipating much of what we do not know about Jesus and God. We lose the opportunity to do serious consideration and back-and-forth conversation with God about what this great gift of Jesus can and should honestly mean in our lives. Taking the weeks to sit back and consider is a very helpful way for us to practice patience.

There are honestly two kinds of patience. In our everyday lives, the first kind is waiting as in a traffic jam … or in a store with a slow checker … or in airport security lines. The patience required in these instances is based on the reality that we WILL make it through the issues and we need to calm our hearts so that we don’t go crazy in that anticipation. This is patience with strength. The other patience is when we dismiss justice in a situation and know that we will win when and if we step over, hurt, or annihilate others. This is patience with oppression and is certainly not what James was writing.

James was writing about patience with strength ….NOT patience with oppression.

So let’s keep going with the patience with strength. This kind of strength is NOT unlike cardio-vascular strength. In order to keep our hearts strong, we need to exercize. In order to keep our patience strong, we also need to practice, practice and practice. The way that James has sighted is to QUIT grumbling against each other. We will wear ourselves out and down when we continue to have negative thoughts (and actions) against others. None of us is absolutely pure and stellar. We all make mistakes. Focusing on the mistakes of others is often a way to not look at our own. But ultimately what this does is to cause us impatience … create reactionary practices within our personal world … and disallow any kind of strength that we need to be building within ourselves and for this precious world. So for now, patience with strength will help us build the world that Jesus – whom we call the Christ – asked us to be involved with and to help build.

And so on this third Sunday of Advent, may we take to heart our scriptures this morning. As Isaiah has proclaimed the world is absolutely amazing. It is so rich with wonder and joy. God created something stellar and we need to revel and appreciate all of it. And we also know that our lives and the lives of all others are not perfect. As James has indicated we do not live in perfection. We often have to wait and wait and wait for the good. And yet, when we understand this – and know that God gives us the strength and patience to wait … we will be able to do so. That relationship with God, however, is the essential piece.

This season is THE TIME for us to do precisely that. It is NOT the time for us to jump to the celebrations, but rather this season should provide us the days and nights to be listening, sharing, reflecting, thinking, reading and trying to understand how to deepen our faith … and how to be ready for the newness of life to come to us.

This IS the season of waiting and reflecting. This IS the season of patience and strength. This IS the season of Advent.