The $10 In My Pocket

I have $10 in my pocket. It might as well be $1,000,000. I have that much of a clue as to what to do with it. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money but it is heavy with meaning and generosity

I’ve had a rough, well, let’s say year and a few months. I’ve been quiet over here because I am more of an internal processor when life goes south and in many ways it has. But in many ways, it’s pretty great. I am on the verge of a new chapter and over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time practicing the disciplines of trust, silence, meditation and prayer.

This morning I had the privilege (and I actually mean that) to lead worship at a service that is held weekly at Justa Center in downtown Phoenix. Justa is a day center for homeless senior citizens that is a ministry of the United Methodist Church. There were only a handful of people there but God was there, and the room was full.

The last couple of weeks has been pretty hectic for me, including an out-of-state job interview, final projects for a class, leading music at City Square and starting a business. I’m not going to say I phoned in planning the service at Justa Center, but it didn’t get my full attention until the night before. I had been reading the lectionary passages but nothing really struck me. As I went through past messages, I pulled out some thoughts on hope from John 20, which seemed appropriate as Thursday was Ascension Day and this was the last Sunday of Easter.

In John 20, the disciples have locked themselves in a small room, but even though the doors were locked, Jesus showed up. We talked about the importance of being hopeful and not allowing our perspectives to get small and trust that Jesus will show up. After the service, they asked me to do another song, so I pulled something out of my back pocket and sang for them for a bit.

It was so lovely and there was such a great spirit in the room. My heart was full and I was so happy to have been there. Then Nola came back into the room and pressed an envelope in my hand. She said had been blessed by the service and wanted me to have the donation she had put in the offering plate. She was thankful to have good news about possible permanent housing and felt God told her to give something to me. It was $10. A five and five ones. From an older woman who is in recovery, living in a shelter, one rung above homeless. I froze, thanked her, and then went to find the coordinator.

“What do I do with this?” I asked him. “I can’t take money from a homeless woman.” He said that she had felt very strongly that God wanted her to give that to me and that I should take it in the spirit it was intended, from a pure, generous heart.

So I have this $10 in my pocket. It’s the heaviest paper money I’ve ever had in my possession. I cry every time I think about it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I am going to spend a lot of time praying and meditating over it. She is the woman who gave all she had. To a woman who has stuff and who just this week was expressing anxiety about being unemployed. I am humbled and thankful. Nola is not a lazy taker. She is a woman with a generous spirit despite her circumstances who wants to contribute and has a heart to worship God. I have been taught a great lesson and will use my $10 wisely.

 

Advertisements

The God Detour

This was the sermon I preached this morning at Foothills Christian Church. The Cycle of Works/Cycle of Grace is from the book Cycle of Grace by Trevor Hudson & Jerry Haas.

Amos 7:10-17

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
and you yourself will die in a pagan[c] country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”

 

Luke 10:25-37

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

The summer time is made for travel, especially for desert dwellers who need to get out of the heat. When I was a kid we didn’t travel a ton because my dad owned a business he needed to keep track of but we’d get away on short trips whenever we could. We had a motorhome, which was a BRILLIANT way to travel and in the summers we’d park it up at Munds Park and go up there every weekend. We took it to Colorado, California and Oklahoma to visit family. My dad likes driving and we road tripped everywhere.

In addition to our family road trips for vacation, we had major commutes on a daily basis. When I was in middle school and high school we lived in Litchfield Park, off Dysart Road and basically Bethany Home. Our house was at the end of civilization and then there was dirt. Now it’s completely populated, which means you all might now know how old I am. But back then, it was nothing. My brother and I attended private schools, so we had to schlepp from Litchfield in to school at 30th avenue and Bethany when I was in middle school and then when I went to high school, I moved to a school at 32nd Street & Shea. This was pre-interstate 10, pre-SR 51, almost all surface streets. Then about 3 months before I graduated we moved to 7th street & Greenway. Thanks a lot J

There are all kinds of travel. There’s the big trip kind of travel and there’s the everyday getting to work, school, wherever travel. Whether it’s an event or it’s a routine, God is still present in all of it and God calls us to be God’s ambassadors of neighborliness.

In our scriptures today we see that both Amos and the Samaritan were on journeys. Amos was specifically told to leave home and go somewhere for a specific period of time with a specific message. The Samaritan was going about his normal routine. Both types of journeys are just as God-directed as the other. We have all been given specific missions and we’ve all experienced God’s calling as an interruption to our normal routine.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer was also on a journey. He was very concerned about his journey continuing into the afterlife and he looked to Jesus to give him a checklist of what he needed to do.

In his book Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner talks about the lawyer’s definition of “neighbor” this way:

“When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.”

Instead Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyers response is left unrecorded.When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. He presumably wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.

Instead Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyers response is left unrecorded.”

The lawyer was caught up in the cycle of works. He started by believing that he needed the works to give him significance. Once he achieved some level of success he would receive recognition that gave him a sense of significance. That success would give him a spiritual high that would hopefully lead to acceptance.

Jesus journey was modeled for us in the circle of grace – knowing he had come from God and was going back to God (John 13). His calling to go about his every day and be interrupted can be illustrated in the cycle of grace. Jesus began his journey with God telling him that he was beloved and in Jesus, God was pleased. We then see how Jesus maintained his relationship with God by often going off by himself to pray. Jesus moves toward his ultimate purpose on earth with an affirmation of this call in John 13:3. We have confirmation of the completion of Jesus’ calling in John 17:4 when he says, I have completed the work you called me to do.cycle of grace

Theologian Miroslav Volf said, “Justification by grace takes the price tags off human beings so as to give them their proper dignity: they are loved unconditionally by God.” We all are already accepted. Already loved unconditionally. We only have to allow ourselves to be sustained by our connection to God and let God lead us to our calling.

The Samaritan in this story stopped and helped someone that was not someone he would’ve helped. Who is the most villainous character you can think of? If you want to shout it out, that’s ok. When Jesus is telling this story, the people listening would’ve gasped because normally storytellers would’ve cast the Samaritan as the villain, the most despicable character. I like to think of Darth Vader. This guy, the “villain” of the story was on his way to Jerusalem. I don’t know what he was doing going there. It’s not like he would have a lot of friends there. On business, maybe? Maybe he was going to the temple to make a sacrifice. Samaritans had their own houses of worship, but maybe he wanted to make a sacrifice in Jerusalem, just to hedge his bets. Either way, he was interrupted by the sight of someone who needed his help and he was willing to let his trip to Jerusalem be interrupted to help. He was called to help this man.

What about the Priest & Levite? When we read this story we tend to think of them as the villains and the Samaritan as the good guy. Just for today I’d like us to think of them differently. Because of their status in the religious orders, the priest and levite would’ve been prohibited from service if they came in contact with anything dead or almost dead. They had a calling and a journey of their own to follow. Maybe they aren’t villains. Maybe they were people who were responsive to a different call. It’s not up to us to decide how other people should live out the call of God in their lives.

A week or two ago, a team of us were putting together a report for the Hope Partnership project. We had to figure out the amount of hours we spend doing missional outreach as a congregation. To be honest, it’s not that many. But you know what? We have a lot of people in this community who volunteer with all kinds of organizations every week and we’re so proud that you are all doing that great work and living out your calling that way.

Today in your bulletin you each should have received a heart and a hand. Don’t mock my cutting abilities. I was up pretty late working on those. We’re going to write on those, so if you have pens or pencils, get those out and get ready to write. First, I’d like you to take the heart and write on there a cause or social justice issue about which you are passionate. It could be domestic violence, food insecurity, or human trafficking. Then, if you are involved in an organization for one of those causes, write down a little bit of what you do on that hand.

We’re going to take these hearts and hands and attach them to this board at the end of the service to give us a visual reminder of the passions and efforts of our community.

No one needs to feel left out here. If you have a passion but haven’t yet connected it with an organization, I’d like you take that heart where you wrote your passion and put it in the offering box in the back. I’m going to collect those and see if we can get you connected somewhere either in our community or in another organization where you can pursue that call.

Sometimes on our journey, we are the one who is asked to go to a new place to complete a specific task. Sometimes we are going about our normal travel and we encounter someone who needs our kindness. Sometimes we are traveling and we are the victim of horrible circumstances and have to rely on one who might have at one time been considered an enemy to us.

 

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Today I spent the majority of my time prepping for Sunday. I’m preaching for the first time at my church which I’m excited about, but also feel a little bit of pressure to do well. I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to my friend Mona about her company and the ministry of one of her friends and I’ve started to get some clear direction to some of my own next steps in life and career, which is exciting. I spent a little time today looking into some graduate programs and I’ve been getting a little excited about what’s ahead.

Then the George Zimmerman verdict is read. Not guilty. The African-American community is again told that their lives have less value. When the same law used to acquit George Zimmerman is used as a weapon against an abuse victim, we have some serious problems. Later in the evening, a news report comes that a young, talented actor died today of an apparent drug overdose. The sadness is not that a celebrity is dead but in a reminder of the vicious grip that addiction has on so many.

These plus the situations in Darfur, Egypt, Syria, Quebec and many other places around the world can bring me back down and make me feel almost guilty for being excited about my own future. I realize that’s irrational and I should celebrate life’s ups but it’s hard when friends are in the midst of really difficult circumstances and you want to share your joy but feel it’s inappropriate in light of their current circumstances.

This week our Jewish brothers & sisters will be observing Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in their calendar. This day (Monday into Tuesday) marks the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and the accompanying loss of life. Rabbi Michael Bernstein wrote a piece over at the Huffington Post on the relationship between anger and sadness. While both come from similar root words, Bernstein writes, “it is anger that often is emphasized as the emotion most likely to drive us away from our better purposes and occlude our experience of G*d’s goodness. Anger can make us think of ourselves more than we think about others.”

I think in American Christianity we don’t make room for sorrow enough. We give people a couple of weeks to be sad after the death of a loved one, but otherwise, we think we should be happy all the time. There is an appropriate time for sorrow, like today when we are faced with how far we have yet to go when it comes to racial equality. When policies are made that take food from the mouths of children. When guns are valued more highly than the lives of kids.

There is a place for sorrow in the holy. Bernstein goes on to say, “I think that the question that confronts us in this place and at this season may be how to find the sacred even in sorrow. How to find a place for sadness as well as the wholeness of a broken heart.

May we open our hearts to the full range of what makes us human and dedicate even our brokenness to the work of repairing the world.”

Amen.

Take Nothing on Your Journey

Mark 6:6-13

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.  Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

This summer our church is in a sermon series about traveling. I’m not totally sure if it has a title, but today’s sermon was called Traveling Light and the passage from Mark 6 was one of the scriptures. (Just checked the website – It’s called “On the Road Again.”) It’s certainly an appropriate series during the summer as most people in their right minds get out of Phoenix for as many times and as long as they can.

As I was reading through this passage the phrase “take nothing on your journey” jumped out at me. I love to travel and when I do I’m an over-packer. I need options. I bring things I think I need, know I need, and might possibly need. There are also some things I’m willing to do without. But none of those things are food, bags or money. The argument could be made that Jesus was sending out the disciples on a short-term assignment and they didn’t live like this all the time. Yeah, that’s true. They had stuff most of the time, but Jesus spoke a lot about simplifying things so while this exercise was challenging, it may not have been a shock.

I’m on a journey of my own at the moment (this is my blog so I’m going to make it a little about me), and it’s one of learning to be in a place where God is working but I don’t know how or in what direction. I realize that basically all of life is like that, but sometimes we’re more aware of it than others and this is one of those times. Often in these times, I try to force some sort of outcome just so I know what’s going on and can feel some semblance of control. I’m adorable. However, this time, I’m making a conscious decision to live in this uncertainty, but joyfully, not grudgingly. I’m finding myself actually almost thankful for it. I guess the reason this resonates with me is that I am embarking on a journey and I am taking nothing. So far, I’m finding it more freeing than scary.

Don’t take:

Bread  – The most basic of food staples, every culture in the world has a “bread” equivalent. Even when the Israelites were fleeing slavery in Egypt they were allowed to bring unleavened bread. This is going a step further, saying don’t even take that. To me this is saying throw out even the most basic of provisions. This assignment is a test of the hospitality of the towns where you’re going. Will they have compassion and feed someone who has nothing? Will they take care of those who have less? That’s going to tell you who they are. Being willing to travel without that will tell you who you are.

Bag – not only is the bag where you might put stuff you take along, it’s also a place where you might put stuff you pick up along the way. Don’t take anything along, but don’t pick up anything either. You have nowhere to put it. Don’t acquire anything that you have to carry, that might weigh you down – stuff, issues, anger, unhealthy relationships, anything that can take focus from your mission.

Money – Even if you don’t take anything else, if you have money you can buy what you need, or think you need. Being asked to not bring money renders you completely powerless. You have no bargaining or purchasing power. You are entirely at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. As mentioned this is a test of your host community’s hospitality but also a test of who you are.

When you bring your own stuff into a new context it can prevent you from fully experiencing the new community and culture. Taking nothing on your journey frees you to fully experience a different way of life.

I have told this story before, but bear with me. When I was transitioning out of seminary I was in a place where I needed to figure out what was next and a lot of things were up in the air. I was praying one morning and asking God for some answers and God told me not to pack a lunch that day. Really. For real. It was odd. I was all, fine, whatever, no lunch. I went to work at my job at the seminary library and was doing my library thing. Lunchtime approached and I was getting hungry and began to second guess that direction. Really? For real? That’s dumb. I was just making that up. I was about to call the whole thing off and go get something and a student approached my desk and said, “I’ve got some fruit & yogurt that I’m not going to eat. Would you like it?” Really. For real. Ok, so God meant that and God’s got lunch covered.

I’ve always focused on what Jesus told them not to take on this trip, because it seems so counter-intuitive, but there are some things he told them they were supposed to take.

Do Take:

A Staff – Unfortunately, this wasn’t like Moses where they could do some cool magic snake tricks with their staffs to impress the locals and prove their credentials. When I read this I immediately thought of Psalm 23: 4 “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” This the spot where the Psalm moves from an I-God conversation to an I-You conversation, which indicates a confidence in God’s presence in time of danger. The staff is something that has a symbol of pastoral comfort and presence, so Jesus is telling those who are going that they are to be pastoral comfort to the communities they are visiting. They aren’t just wandering into towns and begging food. They have a job. The staff can also be used to support them over treacherous trails. Don’t embark on a ministry call (short or long term) without something to support you when things are rough. You need to have support in order to give support.

A companion – Jesus sent the disciples out in groups of two, not alone. This was practical, as lone travelers were particularly susceptible to attacks on the road. The pastor who preached on Sunday spoke about the origin of the word “companion” and that it means “someone with whom you break bread.” Ironic, since they couldn’t bring any of that. But I’m sure they would have done if they had some. Don’t do any kind of ministry alone. Have some bread-breaking people with you. Even if you don’t have any bread.

Sermon for May 20, 2012 – Defying Gravity

John 15: 5-10
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

John 17: 13-19
Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

This past Thursday, the Church around the world observed Ascension Day, commemorating Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Jesus spent his life defying all convention, including religious institutions, political institutions, social norms, death, and finally, gravity.

The premise of the book (and musical) WIcked is that Elphaba, known as the Wicked Witch of the West, has been maligned in history by her detractors because she was actually a political activist fighting for the rights of animals to speak and have full citizenship in Oz. She was born with mysterious green skin and had an aversion to water. She was different, but she fought for something she believed in, going against conventional wisdom and being killed in the process.

In the musical, at the end of Act 1, she comes to a critical decision on whether or not to join the Wizard and try to work from within the system or go underground and fight. She chooses to go underground and performs the powerful song, “Defying Gravity.”

In the passages today, Jesus speaks of the importance of being connected to God and lets his followers know that when we pursue that connection, we will be hated by the world.

Who is the world?
I think in the context of these passages, the “world” is any person, group or institution that values themselves and their interests above themselves and God’s interests.

Why was Jesus hated?
Jesus was hated because he pointed out the thinly veiled motives of the religious people & institutions to put themselves in place of power and control rather than allowing God to be incontrol. Jesus was certainly hated by those people. They killed him. We’re probably not going to be hated to that degree today in the US.

In our context, “hate” looks like oppression, slander in person and on the internets, being told that what we are called to do is impossible, foolish, not worth it. It can also include people we love and respect actively working against us fulfilling our calling.

Right now there’s a prevailing thought in conservative Christian circles that Christians are being persecuted in the US. I disagree with this statement, especially given the fact that actual persecutions of Christians around the world is at an all-time high.

In my opinion, these folks are upset because they are being forced to allow other voices to be at the table. They are no longer the sole voice of religious perspective, so they’re crying “persecution.” I don’t believe this is what Jesus was talking about when he said we’d be hated. Being forced to be respectful of other people’s views doesn’t equal hatred.

I think, if anything, those are the people we should seek to be hated by – it would be a compliment. Sometimes, I even think we should seek to be hated by our own denomination, as long as what we’re doing is in line with what God is calling us to do.

What do we do that causes people to notice us?
The Food Pantry is an amazing ministry. What more can we do? It’s not ok for some folks to be involved and others, who have passions and gifts, to say, “Well, we have a food pantry. We’re doing our part.” The people who started & work with that ministry are awesome and powerful and gifted and an example to the rest of us of what we can do. It doesn’t have to be as large as that. I think Dene did a great job of coming up with the parents’ night out and executing that. Jeanette is passionate about our childcare is working on putting a safety plan in place. Pete has done a film night. Katie & Tammie have rocked pastoral care. We’ve done a lot both internally and externally. What else can we do?

How do we make the kind of difference that upsets norms?

What are some things that prevent us from doing what God calls us to do?

If money were no object, what kinds of things would you do in the community?

Do we think God has the power to call us and then provide for us?

I’d like us to do a meditation exercise on the John 15 passage. I’m going to read the passage several times with an extended period of silence in between. After each reading, I’m going to ask you to respond or discuss in groups your thoughts and impressions of the passage.

1. Use this reading to settle in, quiet your mind and tune in to the passage
2. Listen for and then share words or phrases that jumped out at you
3. Put yourself in the passage, see with whom or what you identify. Share that in the group around you
4. Listen for what God is saying to you and our community through the passage

During our meditation time, you will have the opportunity to add to the vine drawings at the front and back of the room. Watch each branch grow under your pen. Note that no branch is more important than another. Each branch is dependent on the main stem. Let your vine do what vines are supposed to do, and draw some fruit growing from the branch. Remember, the purpose of the fruit is to make the nutrients from the vine available to anyone who wants to partake of it. As a community moving forward into our next phase with a new pastor, keep in mind the kind of fruit you want to provide to the Excelsior and to San Francisco, and remember – we are not bound by convention, denomination or even gravity.

What We Will Be – Sermon for 4/22/12

1 John 3:1-7

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

We are in the season of Easter, the time in the gospels when Jesus appeared post-resurrection many times to his disciples and others who followed him. Most of the time they were afraid, but each time Jesus showed them how what was happening was what they had predicted. Even though they had heard about it, though, their brains couldn’t comprehend. Most of the time, when someone goes around telling people they will die and rise again, we hospitalize them. These folks were witness to this amazing event and were given the great privilege of telling others about what had happened. Jesus had turned everything upside down. But as people, we are generally uncomfortable with upside down. We like things right side up. Some of us more than others. Many of us have clear views of how things should be, how they work best, how they should be done.

Not 50 years after the resurrection, an institution began to crop up around the teachings of Jesus. Soon, there were factions who said people had to become Jews before they could be Christians. No, others said, there is special knowledge that comes from God and only WE have it, not you. There was Paul v. Peter in the ministry wars. Paul v. Barnabas in the compassion wars. Paul v. a lot of people because he was a tough guy to get along with. But things became very controlled and contained as time passed and people began to control the message of the gospel

Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest in Pasadena, quoted Verna Dozier from her book “The Dream of God”:

“The people of the resurrection made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure. [Rejecting] the frighteningly free gift of God to go be a new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody – this gift was harnessed by an institution that established a hierarchy of those who “know” above the great mass of those who must be told.” [pg. 4]

Susan went on to say:
“And so — for generations – those of us who “must be told”
were told all kinds of things about what Jesus’ life and death and resurrection meant.

And a great many of them bore little or no resemblance to the actual life and witness of the one the church claims to follow –of the Jesus …
· who put table fellowship at the center of his life,
· who ate with outcasts,
· who welcomed sinners,
· who proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor,
· who was so centered in God’s abundant love that he was willing to speak truth to power from that first sermon that almost got him thrown off the cliff by his irate Nazarene homies to his last cross-examination by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.

Instead we were given
Doctrines we were supposed to digest and not delve into,
Creeds we were supposed to recite and not question,
Scriptures we were supposed to memorize and not contextualize.
It’s no wonder that the church is considered irrelevant.”

Last night I was caught up in a Wikipedia wormhole and I discovered an article on a list of the world’s largest shopping malls. Naturally, I was intrigued. At the top of the list was the New South China Mall in the south eastern part of China. The mall is about 7.1 million square feet. That is ridiculous. It has space for more than 2,300 stores, and has seven zones modeled on different international cities and locations – Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean and California. We made the list! It has an 82 foot replica of the Arc de Triomphe, a replica of St. Mark’s Bell Tower in Venice, a 1.3 mile canal with gondolas, and an indoor roller coaster. Take a guess at what percent of the mall is occupied. WIth all that going on, it’s got to be a pretty hoppin’ place, no?

No. The mall has 47 stores. 47. Why? There are many flaws to the mall’s location. The mall is located in the suburbs of Dongguan, where it is practically accessible only by car or bus, rendering it unreachable to a large percentage of the public. Dongguan does not have an airport, nor are there highways adjacent to the mall’s location. It was conceived and designed by someone who was so excited about the possibility of an enticing and imposing structure that he didn’t take into account the community it was supposed to service. What’s more, the building of this monstrosity took away the livelihoods of many of the local people because it was built on what used to be farm land.

I feel like this is what happened with the church. Not long after the joy of Easter and the empowerment of Pentecost that the ways of the world started to leak back into the infant church. It wasn’t very long before others stepped in where Pilate and the chief priests had left off and began to “spin the story” to preserve the power of a developing institutional church rather than to empower the propagation of incarnational love.

Jesus’ ministry had everything to do with wholeness, with restoring creation to the fullness of the peace and justice; the truth and love that God intended –with challenging those who followed him to the high calling of loving their neighbors as themselves.

The challenge to follow Jesus is a challenge that required turning virtually everything the world says about life and death –about power and control – upside down. And it’s an even bigger challenge to stay “upside down” when the world around you is pointing in the opposite direction.

I bring all of this up to remind us that when we invite people into our community, we’re inviting them into something that’s inherently broken. We didn’t break it, necessarily, but it was somewhat doomed from the start. But God uses us and our broken institutions anyway. God says in Isaiah 43:

16 This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

In order for us to live into the reality of Easter, this upside-down reality where death is defeated by life and love, we must be able to recognize when God wants to do a new thing and be willing to throw out the old things that make us feel comfortable and in control. We have to listen to the wiser voices when they tell us there’s no way that people will be able to get to that mall. We have to follow the example of the One who lived out God’s perfect love when he spent time with the people who matter most to God.

There’s a phrase in the passage from 1 John 3 that just stopped me when I was reading and I have hung on to it: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” What we will be has not yet been revealed. Think about that phrase for a moment and tell me what it feels to you to know that what you and I and our community will be has not yet been revealed. I am from the desert of Arizona and one of the things I miss about living there is how big the sky is. If you’ve ever been to Southern Arizona, New Mexico or west Texas, you’ve seen that huge sky where there’s nothing blocking your view and you feel like you could see forever. That’s what I think of when I hear the phrase “what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

While we don’t yet know what we will be, the life of Christ shows us what we can be, up to and including the miracle of resurrection. Let’s become those people. Let’s not blindly accept structure, doctrine and pattern. Let’s not be lulled into a place where we feel we have all the answers. Let’s be people of the upside down reality of the love of God that brings healing, justice and compassion to the world.

Staycation

Psalm 62:1-7
1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
3 How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.[b]
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

James 3:1-12
1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Those who are never at fault in what they say are perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by human beings, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Sermon from 3/25 – Much of these thoughts are from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline

The idea of a “staycation” has become a part of our culture. The economic downturn made extensive travel less realistic but didn’t remove people’s need to take time away to refresh and rejuvenate. So, we adapted and created the “staycation”. There is something natural in us that craves rest. When we push ourselves to constantly go, go, go, we usually crash or end up making some unfortunate decisions that hurt us and our loved ones. What we need is balance our activities with some time to connect with God, our source of energy and fulfillment.

Tell me your first reaction when you think of the idea of “solitude”. Some of you will have a negative reaction when I say, take some time in solitude because many of us fear being alone and put a lot of energy into making sure there is something going on around us at all times. But being lonely and being surrounded by noise aren’t the only options. There is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is inner emptiness and solitude is inner fulfillment.

In his book, Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster describes solitude this way: “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times. Crowds, or the lack of them, have little to do with this inward attentiveness. It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude. But if we possess inward solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.”

How many of you have taken or are familiar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator? What is your type? The first letter of the four-letter type name is either I or E and that stands for Introvert or Extrovert. In this context, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not you are shy or outgoing, but rather, it’s about how you recharge your emotional batteries. l am a total off-the-charts introvert. I need lots of Tiffy Time. In addition to that, I have a job that requires me to be on and energetic and interact with lots of people all day. At the end of the day I am completely out of words. Most days after work, I go to the gym and/or veg in front of the Netflix. It’s time alone that helps me get ready for the next day, but it isn’t necessarily solitude. It’s a complete disengagement whereas true solitude involves engagement with the holy.

When we are engaged in a practice of true solitude we are able to be in community more fully. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without soitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

In a conversation about solitude, we have to address the topic of silence. True silence is not just the absence of speaking but in its fullest sense it involves active listening. Merely being quiet without listening to God is not silence. Control, not the lack of noise, is the key to real silence. In the passage we read in James, he went so far to say that the person who knows exactly when to speak is perfect. I’m sure there is not a single person here who hasn’t gotten in trouble with their mouth at one time or another. I have this problem. It’s tempting for us to think that we can “fix” this issue by making some extreme commitment, like “I’m going to be silent for a week!” Living in a place of silence and solitude is more about being in a spirit of listening for the right things to say. Thomas ‘ Kempis wrote that it is easier to be silent than to speak with moderation. If we are silent when we should speak we are not living in the practice of silence. If we speak when we should be silent, we again miss the mark.

James analogies of the rudder and the bridle suggest that the tongue guides as well as controls. If we tell a lie, we are led to telling more lies to cover up the first lie. Soon we are forced to behave in a certain way in order to give credence to the lie. The tongue is our most powerful tool of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. One of the great benefits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten each other outs. More than anything else, silence can bring us to believe that God can care for us.

Jesus took many mini-breaks during his time. He often went away to recharge and reconnect to God. John 15 tells the story of that connection when Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and the branches. For branches naturally grow out of vines, are nourished by them and don’t work to establish an identity apart from them. In fact, apart from the vine, a branch can do nothing.

For those of us who need alone time, spend some time this week finding ways to make your alone time a time of listening to what God has to say to you. For those who are more energized by community, see what you can learn by listening, rather than talking. Build that internal sanctuary that can lead you to a place of constant solitude.