Month: October 2019

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.

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Cape Town, South Africa