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November 10, 2019

November 10, 2019

That’s Not How This Works
Luke 20:27-38

 When I was young, and I would complain to my mom about someone making fun of me she’d remind me of the saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I never bought into that saying because, well, when people said mean things to me, it hurt.  But I would bravely recite that saying to the children taunting me, as I tried to fight back my tears. 

We know that words do hurt.  With the advent of social media, insults are hurled in great quantities and with greater frequency than ever before.  Words have power, and they can be spoken in love or not.  Remember the last time someone said something kind to you.  Just remembering that is a pleasant experience.  Remember the last time someone said something cruel to you.  It may still sting.  Kids are the best for keeping me humble.  On Halloween, Pastor Mary and I were at the church handing out candy.  A trick-or-treater ran over to me, she seemed happy to see me.  But as she got closer her face changed.  She said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were so old.”  I had to laugh, but it still stung just a little.  
 
 Jesus’ enemies knew the power of words. They didn’t want to help Jesus. They wanted to embarrass Him. They wanted to humiliate Him publicly. They wanted to destroy Him. In fact, they were plotting to kill Him.   But they didn’t want to create a martyr. Before they killed Jesus, they needed first to discredit Him. If they could discredit Jesus, then people wouldn’t remember Him fondly. They wouldn’t write books about Jesus and erect shrines to His memory. Jesus’ enemies wanted to be sure that, when they killed Him, He was dead – dead and gone!      

So they attacked Jesus with words. We have one of those attacks in our Gospel lesson today.  Let me give a little background for today’s scripture. Jesus was in Jerusalem. This was His final visit to Jerusalem. He had only days to live. He had just finished turning over the tables of the money changers at the Temple. Jesus had offended most of the powerful men earlier, but spilling money all over the temple floor was the final straw.            

Jesus’ enemies felt that they MUST do something. They MUST stop Jesus. They MUST discredit Him in a public forum. Then, they could kill Him, and he would be gone for good.  So the priests, scribes, and elders came at Jesus with a question. They asked, “Tell us, by what authority do you do these things?” Long story short, they wouldn’t answer his question, so he didn’t answer there’s.

Then they asked, “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” (20:22). That question looked like a surefire winner. If Jesus said, “Yes, it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” He would offend lots of people who hated paying taxes – especially to Caesar. But if Jesus said, “No, it’s not lawful, the Romans would execute Him for treason.  But Jesus responded, ”Why do you test me? Show me a denarius” – the Roman coin they were required to use to pay their taxes. So one of them pulled a denarius coin from his pocket and handed it to Jesus. Jesus asked, “Whose image and inscription are on it?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said, ”Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (20:25). Luke tells us that His enemies marveled at His answer, and were silent (20:26).  But they weren’t through with Jesus.

The Sadducees had been sitting on the sidelines watching Jesus get the best of the priests. They decided to try to discredit Jesus.  They had the perfect question. The Sadducees asked Jesus a question about the resurrection. Many Jews believed in the resurrection, but the Sadducees did not. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as authoritative, and those books don’t mention the resurrection – so the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection. 
         
They hoped to trap Jesus with a tricky scenario. As background, you need to understand that, if a Jewish man died without children, Jewish law required the dead man’s brother to marry the dead man’s wife so he could give her a child to honor his dead brother’s memory.          So the Sadducees spun their web. They told of a man who died without children. The man’s brother married his dead brother’s wife, but still, she had no children. Then her second husband died, so another brother married her. Again she had no children. There were seven brothers in all, and all seven married her in turn and died, leaving her, in the end, with no children.     
         
Then the Sadducees popped their question: ”In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (20:33).  This is where I picture Jesus rolling his eyes.  The Sadducees have completely missed the point of resurrection, and they don’t even know it.  I imagine him saying, “That’s not how it works, that’s not how any of this works.”  Marriage doesn’t even exist in the resurrection.  People become like angels and are children of God. 
         
Then Jesus gave an example from Jewish history to prove that there is a resurrection. Jesus reminded them that, at the burning bush, God told Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). Note God did not say, “I was the God of Abraham.” God did not say, “I used to be the God of Abraham.” God said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” God told Moses to tell that to the Israelites.           Then Jesus concluded, ”Now (God) is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him” (20:38). In other words, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all died – but God declared that he IS STILL their God. Therefore, they must be alive. If they are alive, they must have been resurrected from the dead. Therefore, there must be a resurrection.
         
Some of the scribes said, “Teacher, you speak well” (20:39) – and no one dared to ask Jesus another question (20:40).  The Sadducees had studied those scriptures thoroughly their whole lives.  Why hadn’t they noticed that reference before?  I imagine it was because they had no reason to notice it.  They were powerful, successful, rich and comfortable.  This earthly world worked for them.  Why should they look for evidence of another?  It wasn’t in their frame of reference.   

Years ago, Karl and I were playing a game with some other couples.  It was called Guestures, a charade kind of game.  Karl and I had to act out some words.  One of them was “Bundt”.  All I could think of was a Bundt cake.  I couldn’t imagine how we could act that out?  Karl, however, was confident and he insisted on taking that word.  I thought he was crazy.  He just smiled.  I worried.  Our turn came.  He walks up to the front and quickly squared into the bunting position from baseball.  The audience immediately shouted “Bunt!”.  It was at that moment I realized how closed-minded I had been.  Baseball wasn’t in my frame of reference.     As we live our lives, let us be mindful of our frame of reference.  Our God is not limited to this earthly reality.  God loves us too much to lose us in death.  Paul says it best in Romans 8:38-39  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen        

November 3, 2019

November 3, 2019

Great Cloud of Witnesses
Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Today we remember the exceptional leaders of our faith as well as individuals in our lives who have shown us the love of Christ. None of us grew up in a vacuum. We are part of a larger cloud of witnesses that came before. Just as we inherited traits from our biological relatives, we come to our faith through our experiences of our faithful friends and relatives and through our learning about those saints that came before.
Our history is important. In my first year of seminary, I took a class called Interreligious leadership and dialogue. We learned about Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, from leaders of each faith tradition. I remember the rabbi explaining that when we are negotiating for peace, history is always on the table. I remember wondering why people just can’t get over it and move on. I didn’t understand that people can’t just get over things. One of those reasons is that according to science, pain, and suffering can be inherited. When one generation is traumatized, their offspring will carry the physical burden of that trauma for generations.

Science is discovering how experiences, particularly traumatic experiences, are passed down in our DNA. Scientists have long understood that parents pass genetic traits down to their children, but Dr. Rachel Yehuda’s research suggests that life experience can also produce chemical effects in DNA. Her study examined the DNA of Holocaust survivors and their children and found that similar variations from the norm occurred in both generations for the gene associated with depression and anxiety disorders. The findings imply that children of those who experience profound stress in life may be more likely to develop stress or anxiety disorders themselves.
I remember having a friend whose parents survived the German concentration camps. She suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Thirty years ago, scientists believed that the parenting styles of those who had suffered traumatic experiences produced the stress and anxiety in their children. Now we are beginning to understand that the very physical substance of our offspring can be affected by our life experience. Suffering can be inherited. When people are traumatized their offspring may suffer the chemical effects of that trauma for generations.

We are connected through our history. I pray that if trauma can be inherited, positive experiences like love, joy, hope, peace and especially grace can leave their marks on our children as well. Jesus is seeking each one of us, no matter our genetic makeup, no matter the suffering of our ancestors. Jesus even seeks those who cause pain and suffering. In our scripture today, Jesus was seeking Zacchaeus.
Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, about to enter Jericho. Jesus was nearing the end of his earthly ministry. He knew what was coming, but his disciples did not. Even when Jesus explained it to them, they could not hear it, they could not comprehend it. They could not see the reality of what was to come.

As Jesus enters the city of Jericho there are crowds lined up to see him. There is a man named Zacchaeus, a tax collector. In that time, if you were a Jew living in Roman territory, the only way to amass wealth was to work for Rome, taxing the Jewish people. Because of his occupation, he was considered a sinner, a traitor, by the Jewish leaders of the day. Zacchaeus was a climber. He was not satisfied with the life of poverty suffered by his Jewish brothers and sisters. He traded his heritage as a son of Abraham to make money. Zacchaeus collaborated with the oppressors of his people for wealth.
Zacchaeus happens to be short. Just like being tall comes with its own set of challenges, although I have no idea what those might be, so does being short. Crowds are frightening. It’s hard to maintain perspective when one’s vision is limited to belt buckles and armpits. Zacchaeus would usually not brave the crowds, but that day was different. What exactly did Zacchaeus expect to see? What had he heard? What was stirring in his heart that compelled him to brave the crowd? Had Zacchaeus discovered that money could not fill the hole in his soul? I wonder.

Zacchaeus wanted to be a part of what was going on that day. He wanted to see who this Jesus was. Zacchaeus needed to see who Jesus was. Being a climber by nature, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree. Sycamore trees have low branches and are good for climbing. There he is precariously perched in the sycamore tree. Jesus comes into view. Wait, is Jesus looking at him? Zacchaeus wonders – is it my imagination or is Jesus looking at me? He looks behind him, no he’s the only one in the tree. What a moment, he’s coming closer, yes, Jesus is looking at me. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down’ for I must stay at your house today.” Wow, not only does Jesus see Zacchaeus, he knows his name! Jesus upends social etiquette and invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Jesus wasn’t just telling Zacchaeus to come down from the tree, Jesus was telling him to come down from the false status he earned himself. Jesus was telling him to stop profiting from the suffering of others, stop climbing on the backs of his brothers and sisters to achieve wealth. Jesus is telling him to stop participating in this cruel and corrupt system.
“So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.”

Zacchaeus’ heart was changed and he knew what to do. He promised to give half of his possessions to the poor and for those he cheated he promised to pay back four times as much. By stepping down from the Sycamore tree and the ladder of success, Zacchaeus was choosing to follow Jesus. Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham.” Which means he is no longer an outsider. He is worthy. He has been made whole.

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
In other words, there is plenty of hope for all of us. No person is beyond the reach of the love of Jesus. Sometimes, like Zacchaeus, we have to make an effort. We have to change our perspective. We must take a chance and go out on a limb so that we can see Jesus. Something or someone inspired Zacchaeus to seek Jesus out. He rose above the chaos to get a clear view of the Savior.

On this, All Saints Sunday, let us remember and honor those who have gone before us, our great cloud of witnesses. We honor those in our families who suffered trauma and yet survived, allowing us to be born. We honor those who taught us about the grace of God, those who inspired us to seek Jesus, those who inspired us to follow Jesus. Through the love of God, we are all connected, we are all family. Through Jesus, we can be made whole, no matter our sins, our history of trauma, or our suffering. Nothing is impossible with God and God’s amazing grace. Thanks be to God. Amen.

October 27, 2019

October 27, 2019

Luke 18:9-14
Saved by Grace
Pastor Kimberly

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

When I think of reformation Sunday, I cannot help but think about our current circumstances in the United Methodist Church.  I’m sure the story we know about reformation is not the whole story.  It isn’t just about Martin Luther nailing a list of complaints to a door.  Yet it is the beginning of our Protestant faith.  The most important part of our faith is that we are saved by grace alone.  There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  Our salvation is an unmerited gift from God.

Now our United Methodist Church is in a season of conflict over the issue of human sexuality.  But I contend the conflict is larger than this single issue.  In my spring semester this year, I took a United Methodist Polity class.  As part of that class, I had to watch the whole 2019 special called general conference.  It was hard to watch.  I experienced two groups of people speaking past one another.  The folks for the one church plan seemed to believe that with a day of song and prayer the Holy Spirit would change hearts, the one church plan would prevail, and we could all go home happy with our church intact.  That didn’t happen.  Then there were the speeches.  Each side was equally pleased with the quality of their own speeches.  But the speeches did not appear to change any hearts or minds. Each side grew more and more entrenched in their beliefs.

 I remember one woman sharing that we were disagreeing about was not whether to love people, but how we love people.  One group believes that the best way to love people is to embrace them for who they are.  To recognize their full humanity in the world, in relationships, and in the church.  The other group believes that the people who practice homosexuality are sinning.  To condone their behavior by allowing them leadership positions in the church, or to be married in the church would be harming them.  It would be as though we are encouraging the sin.  That would not be loving. 

Now is the time for all of us to stop trying to be right.  Because it isn’t a matter of who is right, it isn’t a matter of the inerrancy of scripture.  But if you need to talk about this further, if you want your voice heard, I encourage you to come to the listening post this Saturday, November 2nd, here with Rev. Brian Kent. 

Right now I want to talk about having compassion for each other.  That means we recognize that we are all created in the image of God and that God loves us completely.  Then we learn to love ourselves because we accept the image of God flickers within us.  Next, we can learn to love our neighbor, because the image of God dwells within them too.

There are issues on which we will never agree.  In Manny’s sermon last week, he talked about how we need to be careful about how we speak to people.  He explained that not everyone receives and processes information in the same way because of their different cultures, life experiences, and frame of mind.   We may never be able to come to the same conclusion because we have a different understanding of how the world works.  Each of us in this room has had a lifetime of learning and experiences that have shaped who we are.  We may never agree on how to interpret scripture.  We may never agree on the best way to use the church building, the best way to spend the church’s money, or what music is appropriate for worship.  We may never agree on what are the best refreshments to serve after church.  That is the reality and that is okay. 

 We don’t have to agree with each other to love each other.  I believe that we are all created in the image of God and I will do my best to recognize that within each of you.  I pray you will do the same for one another.  My prayer is that we care enough about each other to be curious.  I want to get to know each of you.  I want to learn not only what you believe, but how and why you came to believe it.                       

There is a group of people that Jesus encounters in our scripture today, who were mostly avoided by civilized society.  They were the tax collectors, persons responsible for collecting taxes on behalf of the Roman government. Tax collectors were responsible for paying to the government the revenue they had promised, but they were generally free to collect extra taxes from the people to make a profit. Opportunities for theft, fraud, and corruption abounded, and tax collectors are portrayed negatively in almost all Greco-Roman literature. Thus in the New Testament, “tax collectors and sinners” are cited together as examples of undesirable types.

The Pharisees were a group of observant and influential Jews, mainly in Judea.  The meaning of the name itself is obscure. It may mean “separate ones” in Hebrew, referring to their observance of ritual purity laws in ways that separated them from others, or it could mean “interpreters,” referring to their penchant for studying and teaching biblical law. In many Gospel stories, the Pharisees function as the opponents of Jesus in Galilee. The apostle Paul, however, was raised a Pharisee and continued to regard himself as a Pharisee even after he became a missionary for Christ.  The Pharisees in Luke’s story are stereotypically persons who justify themselves in the sight of others and who consider themselves righteous while regarding others with contempt. They proclaim their righteousness, exalting themselves at the expense of others. They are quick to denounce others as sinners and to exclude such individuals.

In the parable today Jesus compares the prayer of a Pharisee with that of a tax collector.  True to form, the Pharisee’s prayer is self-centered and self-righteous.   ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’  In other words, thank you, God, that I am superior to so many, especially this pathetic tax collector.

I have to stop here — the Pharisees’ prayer borders on ridiculous.  But when I dismiss the pharisee as ridiculous, I’m behaving the same way the pharisee did.  It’s almost as if I am saying, geez God, thanks for not making me a self-righteous looser like the pharisee.  When I am busy noticing the sins of those around me, I am oblivious to my own sin.  For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  The prayer said by the undesirable tax collector is acceptable to God.  The tax collector knows he requires mercy.   ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 

Most often I find myself in the shoes of the Pharisee.  I wonder what is wrong with people that they don’t see my way is the best way.  But it comes down to this, it is not my job to judge people or their sins.  It is my job to love them and to show them God’s love, to help them see the image of God within themselves. The moment I put myself above another human, I am asking to be humbled.  In the eyes of God, we are all his beloved children, created in his image.  And, by our very nature, we are all sinners.  Praise the Lord, there is enough grace for all.

October 20, 2019

October 20, 2019

God Inspired Faith
Manuel Delossantos
Timothy 3:14-4:5

How many of you have your cell phones with you? No, I will not ask you to turn it off or put it on vibrate because I know you already did. I just want to point out that most of your cell phones are made by Apple and you may also have an Apple computer at home, you could be wearing an Apple watch and if you have retirement investments, I am certain you have Apple stocks in your portfolio. Apple is a very successful company and Steve Jobs is its founder, a very famous, successful and very rich man. He passed away in 2011 but his last words which were written in a short essay did not circulate until Nov 2015 and I just want to share with you some of his parting words. “Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth”. “Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me”. “The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. What I can bring is only the memories precipitated by love”. “That’s the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on”. Many of us will probably want to leave our last words to our family, friends, and people we know.

Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy is just that letter, his last words to Timothy whom he loved like his own son. 2 Timothy is a short epistle with 4 chapters which I recommend for all of you to read if you haven’t yet because it is Paul’s letter not only to Timothy but to all of us. I thought it is very fitting for today’s celebration of Laity Sunday. Paul started by reminding Timothy of the foundation of Christian service and encouraged him to remain faithful even in the midst of suffering. He followed by reminding Timothy that he is God’s workman that is approved by God and does not need to be ashamed of doing God’s work. And then he warned Timothy of the difficulties that he will encounter for his Christian service, exactly what many of us have already experienced and yet to see. In our reading this morning, Paul told Timothy to continue what he had already learned from many faithful servants, and I am assuming to include his mother Eunice and grandmother Louis who brought him up in their Christian faith.

Paul’s last words to Timothy and to us talk about how are we to be faithful to God in our everyday lives. What is our calling? What is our ministry, whether it is being clergy or Laity? In 2019, the United Methodist Church theme in terms of our Purpose: Growing in faith through participation in the means of grace. The letter to Timothy continues this theme, Paul argues that all scriptures are inspired by God for the teaching of the faith. It is training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Paul continues to give Timothy a solemn charge which is probably the centerpiece of the entire letter, to preach the Good News in Jesus Christ with the emphasis on persistence because the time is coming when people will no longer put up with sound doctrine. This is the part of the letter that I invite us to focus on. There are 2 points that I believe we should understand.

Before I get to my points, I would like to put them on perspective in my hope that I am not misunderstood. The Stylistics is one of my favorite singing groups during my time and one of their songs that I like is “Stop, Look, Listen” because it warns us to be careful with what we say and do. Stop, look, listen to your heart, hear what it’s saying. Love, love, love. For those of you who know me pretty well will agree that I could be very impulsive with what I say and do and of course, it always gets me in trouble because what I’ve done and said are no longer rooted in love, no longer inspired by God.

My first point is going back to Paul’s letter charging Timothy and us to be persistent in sharing the Gospel. Paul also said to do it with “Utmost Patience”. You see, persistent doesn’t mean to be criticizing, scolding, reprimanding or a license to berate. We need to have discretion as part of our evangelistic effort no matter what kind of evangelism we have in mind. Whether by words, by prayers, or by deeds. We need to pay attention to and have a deep respect for our audiences. Not everyone receives and process the same message because of different cultures, experience, and frame of mind. Some may have difficulties in paying attention and understanding what we say and could find our words frightening, judgmental and even offending and very unloving which is contrary to how we should present ourselves.

The other point I would like to share is about sound doctrine. What is sound doctrine? The author of 2 Timothy offered the answer that “All scripture is God-inspired” which should equip us for good works and therefore all scripture is divinely inspired. There are a lot of discussions and disagreements amongst scholars on this statement. Now, this is where some of you may disagree with me because I follow the way of thinking that the question is not whether or which scripture is divinely inspired. All scripture, when used to teach and call us to serve in love, is divinely inspired. Divine inspirations depend upon divine interpretation and application otherwise it is false doctrine and offensive. Ask our mothers, wives, sisters how useful they think 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Women should be silent in churches for they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate. 1 Timothy 2: 11-12, Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man, she is to keep silent. How could God order the murder of women and children in 1 Samuel 15:3?

Many religious leaders interpreted and used the scriptures in their favor. We all know what happened to the Branch Davidians who were led by David Koresh who told them to build an Army of God so they stockpiled weapons. We know about the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones, and their 1978 mass suicide at Jonestown. Warren Jeffs, the leader of the fundamentalist Mormon church who was excommunicated by the church for polygamy. We should not get stuck with doctrines that do not make sense. Scripture is divinely inspired not because of what it says or who wrote it, or when it was written or under what circumstances. Properly interpreted scripture prepares us for good works and not justify our hatred on others who sits on the other side of the pews because they disagree with us.

Whether we serve as clergy or laity in our ministry, as we take on our charge to share the good news, we will be facing challenges, injustices, and prejudices. There will always be a fear of divisions due to our different views and preferences. All I can say is that sometimes we need to stop, look, listen to our hearts and see if our words and actions are rooted in love, justice, and salvation because these are the fruits of sound doctrine. We need to remain in persistent prayers like the widow in our parable today because God and his love are greater than any theological views and doctrines. I believe that His answers to our prayers will always be what’s best for us even if they are not what we expect. On the last verse in our parable today, Jesus is asking when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? Paul’s letter and Jesus’ questions are both addressed to us. I hope that we can answer with a God-inspired faith that reveals how we are – in living out our everyday faith – are embodying the light of God. Amen

October 13, 2019

October 13, 2019

Grateful
Luke 17:11-19

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Bishop’s Convocation in Indian Wells.  It was a wonderful enriching time apart.  The guest speaker was Diana Butler Bass.  I was so excited to attend.  She I one of my favorite Christian personalities.  I have followed her on twitter for years and have always appreciated her take on Christianity and current events.  I have been a fan for years, but I have never actually read one of her books, most because I’ve been in seminary and have had a ton of books to read.    Her book “Grateful” came out last year and that is what she spoke on during the retreat.  She calls “Grateful” the subversive power of giving thanks.

 I’m a big believer in the power of gratitude.  Every morning I spend time writing and I either start or finish with the list of things I am grateful for.  Living in an attitude of gratitude has changed the quality of my life.  In recovery programs, one of the first things recommended is to make a daily gratitude list, even if all you can be grateful for is your toothbrush.  There is always something to be grateful for. When we experience gratitude, it changes the chemistry in your brain. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers on the subject of gratitude, summarizes this research from studies on heart patients, “Gratitude drives out toxic emotions of resentment, anger, and envy, and may be associated with better long-term emotional and physical health in transplant recipients.”  Being grateful is good for your heart, emotionally and physically.

 In our scripture today ten people were cleansed of leprosy, which is a terrible disease that rendered one unclean. People with leprosy had to leave their friends and family and go live alone, or with people with the same disease.  They lost their health and their community.  These men saw Jesus from afar. Knowing that Jesus shouldn’t come near them they shouted. Jesus have mercy on us. Jesus shouts back to them to go show themselves to the priest. They will be healed. Can you imagine how exciting that must have been. As they are making their way to the priest their wounds are healing. Their skin is clearing. I’m sure they were in a big hurry to see the priest and be able to return to their loved ones. Not only were they no longer sick they were no longer alone.

 But one man stops, he sees that he is healed and so he turns around praising God with a loud voice and he lies face down at the feet of Jesus and thanks him.  Jesus asks about the other nine.  Didn’t he heal 10?  It sounds as if he is disparaging the nine for not returning, but I wonder if what Jesus emphasizing how remarkable it was that this one person returned.  He was pointing out that something was different about this person.   This Samaritan, this foreigner. And then he sees it.  This one has been made whole.  This one has been saved by his faith.

After the Samaritan saw that he was healed, the rest of his response is characterized by four verbs: turn back, praise, prostrate (literally fall on his face), and thank. Jesus highlights the first two verbs by repetition: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Return and praise play significant roles in Luke. At Jesus’ birth the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen … ” (Luke 2:20). After witnessing Jesus’ ascension, in the last two verses of this Gospel, the disciples “worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the Temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52). Return and praise frame this Gospel, suggesting a road map for our response to God’s activity in our world.

The passage ends with a command to the Samaritan: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” When it appears in Luke-Acts the phrase “get up and go,” suggests that a significant, even wondrous. change is about to occur. After the annunciation, for example, Mary “gets up and goes” to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). The prodigal son decides to “get up and go” back to his father (Luke 15:18), and God tells Paul to “get up and go” to Damascus (Acts 22:10; cf. Acts 9:11; 10:20).

The command to get up and go comes with a promise to the Samaritan: “your faith has made you well (literally saved you).” The good news of this encounter carries with it the promise that through Jesus, God empowers people to step across boundaries, share mercy with outsiders, pay attention to things worthy of praise and move forward into God’s future with assurance that there is more to God’s story than meets the eye. For that, may we always give thanks.

As we prepare for our Charge Conference on November 17th, the Bishop has asked us to craft a vision statement for our church.  Pastor Mary and I decided that it would be appropriate to have two statements, one from each ministry.  I have an idea about the direction our church can take, but I need more information.  I need to know more about you and your relationship with this church.  I need to know what you are grateful to this church community for.  Today we will all play the role of the Samaritan.  This is our opportunity to turn back, praise God, fall on our face before the lord and give thanks.  I think we can leave out the fall on our face part unless you feel so led.  There are blank slips of paper included in your bulletin.  I’d like you to take a few moments and jot down some things you are grateful to this church for.  It is okay if the things you are most grateful for happened in the past.  It would be helpful if you could include something you grateful for recently as well.        

We all want this church to get up and go, to be a part of this community, and be faithful to God’s purpose. Before we can do that, we need to turn back and give praise.  I’d like you to turn in your gratitude list with your offering.  You don’t need to put your name on it, unless you want to.  Let’s us take a few moments to be in an attitude of gratitude and write down what comes to mind.

pause

In her book The Color Purple, Alice Walker wrote a dialogue between two women about God, who is sometimes referred to as “it”:

One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happens, you can’t miss it. . . . Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God loves admiration.

      You say God vain?

Naw. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it ticks God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

      What it do when it ticked off?

Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back. . . . It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.

      You mean it want to be loved just like the Bible say?

Yes, Celie. Everything want to be loved.

 God wants to be loved. God wants our attention, our praise, our thanks. God doesn’t want to be taken for granted any more than we do. God wants a strong connection with us. God wants us to enjoy life, to be amazed and enthusiastic, grateful and adoring. God wants to share our joy with us and for us to share our joy with God, because God knows we are only truly whole when we experience and express our gratitude.

October 6, 2019

October 6, 2019

Have Faith
Luke 17:5-10 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a[a] mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

The beginning of this text seems to come out of nowhere.  Why are the disciples asking for their faith to be increased?  They are asking for more faith to be able to do what Jesus has just stated.  Let’s read the verses right before this.

Jesus[a] said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  By little ones, Jesus could be referring to children, but he also could be referring to those new to the faith.  Be on your guard! If another disciple[b] sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.  This is a tall order.  It is no wonder the disciples were alarmed.  Not only must we rebuke or call out those who are on the wrong path.  When they repent, we must forgive again, and again, and again.

The disciples felt like they needed extra power.  They wanted to take Jesus to the bargaining table.  Look Jesus, if you are going to require so much of us, you are going to have to provide us with the power to do it.  They asked Jesus to increase their faith.  His answer was not exactly what they were hoping for. Jesus explains that even having a tiny amount of faith one would be able to do amazing things.  The example he gives is purposefully outlandish. He says with just a tiny amount of faith we could tell the mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea.  Jesus is telling them they don’t need more faith. Any amount of faith is sufficient.  Our abilities are not determined by the size of our faith, rather they are determined by the love of our God.

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, those we least expect to have faith are often held up as examples of that faith. When the sinful woman pours ointment and kisses Jesus’ feet — to the dismay of all those in attendance, disciples and Pharisees alike, — Jesus not only forgives her sins but also says “your faith has saved you.” (7:50) Jesus says the same thing when he heals a blind beggar (18:42); again, with the Samaritan leper who comes back to thank him after he has been healed (17:19); still again to the woman who touches his cloak in order to be healed of hemorrhages (3:48). Throughout the Gospel of Luke, the disciples themselves often appear to lack faith. When they are in a boat with Jesus and a storm happens, they get so anxious that Jesus has to ask, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). Aware that Peter will betray him, Jesus prays that his faith will not fail him (22:32). We often distinguish between the faith that “moves mountains” or “mulberry trees” from our basic trust in God.  Rather than two different kinds of faith, it is our trust in God that enables God to move the mountains.  To have faith means having our whole way of perceiving and responding to life transformed by the abundance of God’s creative justice and power. What seems “impossible” for us is “possible” for God.

My first experience with such faith came from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you prefer, “a design for living” that really works.”

Just in case we start feeling a little full of ourselves, Jesus goes on to talk about a Master and a slave.  I have to remind myself to read this in the context in which it was written.  In those days, having a slave was normal.  That is how people worked off their debts.  Jesus says if we were masters, we would treat a slave like a slave.  We would not thank them for doing what is expected of them.  We would not treat them with special regard.  But as the lesson progresses, our point of view changes from that of the master to that of the slave.  And as slaves we recognize our own lack of status and the fact that we are simply doing the work we are supposed to do.  Jesus is explaining that just as there is no limit to what we are able to do through our faith in God, neither is there a limit to what we will be expected to do.  As long as we have breath, we will be doing God’s work.  We know from experience that doing the work of God is its own reward.  But in this life, there will be no recognition.  No brownie points, no gold stars, no slave of the month.  We cannot level up. Jesus is telling us that this path of discipleship that we are on will not be easy.  We will never feel like we’ve arrived, like we are finished.  We will not feel accomplished.  As soon as one task is complete, there will be another.  There is no bargaining with God.  There is no quid pro quo.  But sometimes I live as if there were and I don’t even realize it.

Once I went on a trip to the Colorado River with my daughter, Kayleen, and the youth at my church.  My pastor had property on the river and every year she took the youth group out.  They had a boat and the kids learned to water ski, they slept under the starts, they all helped to prepare and clean up from meals.  It sounded amazing.  I was excited to be a driver and a chaperone.  I drove a bunch of teens to the property and my husband, Karl was to meet me there with Kelly and our son Kyle.  Kelly had a Taekwondo test she needed to take, and Kyle had a football game. I was so worried about them arriving safely I couldn’t sleep.  Neither of us had ever been to this place before and it was late at night.  I prayed for God to please help them travel safely.  And then I thought that I am not proud of.  I thought God, after all my family has done for you, you had better make sure they get here in one piece.  As soon as that thought came into my head, I knew that was wrong.  God doesn’t work that way.  Rather than dwell on what my family had done for God, I began to recognize how much God had done for me and my family.  That I even have a family is a gift from God.  As often as we might try, God will not sit down at the bargaining table with us, and that is a very good thing.

There is only one kind of table God will meet us at.  It is the table of Grace.  The table we gather at today, where everyone is welcomed, and everyone is fed with the abundance of God’s love as shown to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Today we come to the table with Christians all over the world.  It is an act of solidarity; it is an act of resistance to the bargaining ways of the world.  Amen

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Cape Town, South Africa