Sunday, July 09, 2017

Using the Enneagram: Looking For A Hero

Titus 3:3-5            
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 16:24-28           
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


Over twenty years ago a friend shared with me a series of books that has stuck with me over the years.  The books were "The Hero Within" and "Awakening the Heroes Within" by Carol Pearson.  They struck me because I am one who believes that the Christian life is one of a journey --- a journey to draw closer to God (as found in Jesus) and a journey for us to draw closer to each other.  Pearson invited her readers to join her on a journey of self-awareness and understanding believing that understanding what makes us tick will help us as we relate to God and others.

In "Awakening The Heroes" Pearson wrote:
“Each journey is unique, and each seeker charts a new path. But it is infinitely easier to do so having at least some knowledge about the experiences of those who have gone before. When we learn about the many different heroic paths available to us, we understand that there is room for all of us to be heroic in our own unique ways.”

The paths that she helped us to understand were what she called archetypal personalities.  And she defined six primary archetypes and six additional ones.  I found her analysis enlightening.

Maybe it was the revival of the Marvel Super-Hero franchise --- or maybe it was because Matt is such a big Richard Rohr fan, and my hunch it was a combination of the two of them.  But earlier this year, Matt suggested we do a series based on a couple of books that he had found, one by his beloved Rohr.

For the last few years there has been a real revival not in what Pearson defined as archetypes --- but in another ancient personality typing system known as the Enneagram --- which Rohr writes about.

In Greek Ennea means nine and gram means point.
The word refers to a circle inscribed by nine points which is used as a symbol to arrange and depict nine personality styles.
In its current formulations, the Enneagram brings together insights of perennial wisdom and findings of modern psychology.

To avoid a long story --- let me just say that the roots of the Enneagram are disputed. 

According to the Enneagram Institute:
The Enneagram of Personality Types is a modern synthesis of a number of ancient wisdom traditions, but the person who originally put the system together was Oscar Ichazo. Ichazo was born in Bolivia and raised there and in Peru, but as a young man, moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn from a school of inner work he had encountered. Thereafter, he journeyed in Asia gathering other knowledge before returning to South America to begin putting together a systematic approach to all he had learned.

But the truth is: where this concept came from isn't that important.

What is important is what the Enneagram has to offer you and me.

In the introduction to the "The Road Back To You", Ian Cron (an Episcopal priest) shares a story of his encounter with Brother Dave, a seventy year old Benedictine monk and Spiritual director (again --- now you understand why Matt was so interested in this book).

Brother Dave explained the Enneagram by saying:
"It is full of wisdom for people who want to get out of their own way and become who they were created to be.
It has to do with self-knowledge.  Most folks assume they understand who they are when they don't
They don't question the lens through which they see the world --- where it came from, how it's shaped their lives, or even if the vision of reality it gives them is distorted or true.  Even more troubling, most people aren't aware of how things that helped them survive as kids are now holding them back as adults.  They're asleep.
What we don't know about ourselves can and will hurt us, not to mention others,
As long as we stay in the dark about how we see the world and the wounds and beliefs that have shaped who we are, we're prisoners of our history.  We'll continue going through life on autopilot doing things that hurt and confuse ourselves and everyone around us.  Eventually we become so accustomed to making the same mistakes over and over in our lives that they lull us to sleep.  We need to wake up."

It was John Calvin who said: "without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God."

So for the next few weeks Matt and I are going to look at this typology known as the Enneagram and the lives of people who exemplified those typologies; so that it might help us achieve our full potential.
         
This morning, I want to spend some time on heroes --- because the people we will point out are often seen as heroes.

What makes someone a hero?

We love our heroes.
We love to have somebody that we can look up to, somebody who can guide us, somebody who can blaze a trail through the jungle that we call life.

I want to take you back about 40 years ago --- during an earlier crisis in the Mideast.

There was, at that time, a madman by the name of Ayatollah Khomeini --- do you remember him?

Ayatollah Khomeini, at that time was leading a revolution in Iran that led to the overthrow of the US puppet government lead by the "Shah of Iran".  He also seemed to be threatening to take over the entire Mideast region.

Worse still, he seemed to relish in rubbing our noses in the dirt, especially when his followers had taken the American Embassy hostage.

Ayatollah Khomeini had single handedly put the whole world on edge as he seemed to be trying to export his brand of Muslim Fundamental Revolution.

          NO ONE was strong enough to resist him.
          Nobody seemed to be able to stand up to him.

But then suddenly one man appeared.
A man who claimed to be deeply religious and claimed that God had given him the mission of overthrowing the Ayatollah.

Everyone heralded him as a hero
          his people
          the rest of the Mideast region
          even the United States government

He said that if his country would just follow him -- they could be saved!

Do you remember this hero of ours?
          His name was Saddam Hussein.

By 1991 we branded this HERO the devil --- and we all know the sad tale of American lives and innocent civilian lives lost in trying to remove him from power.

We need to be careful of the heroes we choose.


There is a wonderful old Bonnie Tyler song called "I Need A Hero" that seems to hit the nail on the head.
The words go:
Everyone's looking for a hero
Everyone's waiting for the big boys
Everyone's watching for a hot shot
Everyone's waiting for a big noise
I need a hero
I need a hero in the morning light
And he's got to be fast, and he's got to be cool,
and he's got to be larger than life.

What strikes me is that most of us really do feel like we need a hero right now.

We want Wolverine (or John Wayne --- depending on your age) to swagger into Indianapolis and stop the crime and violence

We want a Ronald Reagan or John F Kennedy to make us believe in our country again.

We need a hero --- to come in and tell us what to do, or better yet, to just get the dirty work done for us --- because isn't that what a hero is supposed to do?

I grew up believing in heroes.
The heroes of my childhood were
          James Bond
          Clint Eastwood
          The Lone Ranger
          Zorro
We all have had heroes --- whether it was Superman, Rambo, or Luke Skywalker
          We all want a hero

The Jewish people were also looking for a hero.
For them the hero had to fit a certain expectation --- and they called that expected hero the Messiah.

Over the centuries, as the Jewish people were repeatedly beaten up by every two bit country that had any military power their expectations for a hero grew.
The prophets of the Hebrew Bible are filled with stories of the longing of the people for this hero to come and save them.

But the Jewish people --- like us --- did not get what they bargained for. 
Instead of a mythical Messiah --- they got a Christ who came and spoke of peace and love and the empowerment of each person.

He taught that the power of God does not work from the outside --- but rather God works inside each of us.
          "Greater things than I have done (Jesus said) you will do." (John 14:12)

I chose these two passages of scripture because of what they teach us

The passage from Titus (a book most of us never read or even knew was there). 
The author of Titus reminds us that the heroes that God chooses are not supermen or women. 
The heroes are you and me.

We may be foolish, disobedient, and subject to all kinds of sin --- but when the spirit fills us --- God will use us to be heroes in this world.

And of course the Matthew passage is where Jesus calls us to be disciples and reminds us that being a disciple is not a waltz through a rose garden but giving up our selves for God.

If we want to follow Jesus --- then we must become a hero for Jesus

Yet we have to be careful --- our love of heroes is very fickle.
We may love them today --- but tomorrow --- tomorrow we may want to see them crucified because they do not do what we want them to do.

We can pretend all we want --- but the Christian church is in deep trouble today.
We are losing our effectiveness to reach the people of this day and age.

Some will argue that it is a problem of leadership
          Bishops
          District Superintendents
          and even our Pastors

And that very well may be true

But the answer isn't found in this pulpit.
          The answer is found where YOU are sitting

It is easy to sit back and wait for a hero

It is easy to be told what to do, or better yet, to watch somebody do it for you

But in the end --- it all boils down to you and me ---
what will the power of God be like in our lives?

We can sit back and wait --- as we watch the world pass by.

Or we can take the power of the presence of Jesus and bring light into this world.

It was Florence Nightingale who once said:
“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.”

There is only one hero we really need --- and that is the hero that is in each of us.
The hero, transformed by the power and love of Jesus.

For Jesus is the only hero that isn't fickle and never lets us down.

One final comment:  The stories that you all have shared with me of your heroes have been amazing.  It has been a joy to read them.

I wish that I had the time to share each and every one.

Yes, they are stories of some of the great heroes of our day:
          Dr. Martin Luther King
          Mahatmas Gandhi
          John Glenn
          Stay at home moms

But they were also filled with stories of:
          Your children and grand-children

And what would strike some of you the most --- is that some of the heroes who were shared are sitting right here in this church this morning.

There are people in this church who already see the hero in you.

I do want to share one statement that one of you shared with me:
I have always believed in "The Power of One."  This is the power we all have.  You don't have to be rich.  You don't have to be of any race or religion.  You don't have to be a mover or a shaker.  You simply have to have the courage and love in your heart to make a difference in someone's life. 

Over the next few weeks --- as we go on this journey of self-discovery. 
As we look at and try to understand what makes us tick --- may at the same time, we look in the mirror and see the hero within.

May God give us the wisdom, not to wait to be given the answers to the problems of the world, but to find them written on our hearts in God's indelible handwriting.



Let me close with Brother Dave's prayer:
May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here, that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful and eternal happening.

May you learn to see your self with the same delight, pride, and expectation with which God see you in every moment.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Finding A Storm Home

Mark 4:35-41   (MSG)
Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.” They took him in the boat as he was. Other boats came along. A huge storm came up. Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it. And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping! They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”
Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath; the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”
They were in absolute awe, staggered. “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”



A young man committed suicide and as his family tried to understand WHY, they found a rather strange note nailed to a tree outside his house:
This tree is the only thing in my life that has roots.

Where do you find roots --- what provides stability in your life?

In our story this morning, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus.

One of the rather interesting phenomena about the Sea of Galilee is that storms can blow up suddenly and intently.

As the Disciples are in the boat with Jesus --- heading to the "other side", the Gentile side --- the non-Jewish side of the lake --- a massive storm blows up.

Jesus is sound asleep

But the disciples are panicking
The boat is being swamped by the waves and they are fearful for their lives

They wake Jesus up ---- not really sure what they were expecting him to do
BUT --- he tells the waves to BE STILL
          and they listen!

The wind died down
          The waves ceased

And the Disciples had no idea what had just taken place

Life is full of storms

Some of the storms of life it appears that we might have some control over them

Others seem totally outside of our hands.

Think of some of those storms

·         Divorce
·         loss of a job or job change
·         illness
·         addiction
·         death of a loved one
·         children growing up and leaving the nest
·         Floods
·         Car Accidents
·         Tornados & Wind Storms
·         I am sure you can add others to this list

Where do you find shelter in the storms of life?

Who is able to calm those storms?
          Who says: "Peace, Be Still" in your life?

If we don't have somebodies --- it often feels like we are going to go under

I hope you are familiar with Garrison Keilor and his tales from Lake Wobegon

Keillor is the creator and former host of A Prairie Home Companion, a weekly radio show on NPR. 

One of the show's best-known features was Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon", a weekly storytelling monologue, claiming to be a report from Keillor's fictitious hometown of Lake Wobegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

The opening words of the monologue usually do not change: "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."

Garrison Keillor tells a great story:

In Lake Wobegon every child was assigned a storm home --- a home that you could go to if the weather got bad during the school day and you could not get home safely.  That is a big deal in Minnesota

The home that he was assigned to was the Krueger's --- they were an older couple who lived in a cute little green cottage by the lake.

He says that he used to walk past the storm home and he could just tell that it was a good home

He knew that he was a lucky child

This storm home became very big in his imagination.

Many times he thought of stopping and introducing himself
"I am the kid, that if there is a blizzard I will come and stay with you."
He says that he felt that they had a relationship in the world --- even thought they had never met

He wanted to believe that he hadn't just been randomly assigned to the Krueger's --- but that they had come down to the school and had picked him out.

He said:
"I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard --- Blizzards aren't the only storms, you know, and not the worst things that can happen to a child."

"I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door and she would open it and say:
"Ahh, it's you
I knew you would come someday
Won't you come in and get out of those wet clothes
Come on in the kitchen, sit down and I will make you some Hot Chocolate --- Would you like an oatmeal cookie

It's terrible outside"
"And I would say 'Yes'"
"It's gonna get worst they say"
"Yes, it probably is"
"Carl, come down here and see what's in the kitchen"
Carl would say: "Is it our storm child?"
"Yes, he is sitting here
in the flesh
big as life"

"I never did go --- there were no blizzards that came during the day --- Only convenient blizzards --- blizzards that came on evenings or weekends"

"I didn't because all my troubles were bearable troubles.

But I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krueger's were there --- my storm home.

When things got bad --- I always thought --- there is always the Krueger's"

Let me ask you: where is your storm home?

Too often we make the mistake in thinking that a person is our storm home
That person can certainly be an important part of that home --- but I think we make a mistake when we put our eggs in one basket

When somebody looks to me --- and not the church as their Storm Home --- they are often disappointed

          Because I often disappoint people

It just is not possible for me to be a storm home to 1000 people, any more than it is possible for you to be

Storm homes usually are a group of people

When I was growing up --- my storm home was my UMYF --- my youth group.

We were a group of 30 or so
We came from 4 different high schools --- so there were some challenges to make us a group

But we were always there for each other

After I graduated from High School every New Years Eve one of us would hold a party and we would all come together. 
          Bringing whomever we were dating at the time
Sharing what was going on in our lives

We all knew we were there for each other

We were there with each other through good times and bad times.

·         Through marriages
·         And babies
·         Through divorces
·         Lost jobs
·         death of parents
·         death of one of the group

We were always there for each other

A little over a week ago --- I sat in my back yard with some friends: Mark, Ken, Jim, and Tim --- and as we sat talking around a fire I realized that this was my storm home.

I have been friends with most of these guys for close to 35 years.
          And we have always been there for each other.

Who can you turn to in times of need?

          What are your roots?

          Who can help calm your storms?

A couple years ago I attended the Lake County Urban League's Diversity and Inclusion Awards Lunch.

It was a rather unexciting affair
          The food was so - so
          They gave out a number of awards
But other than the name of the award, and the name of the organization who won it I could not tell you
          What the award was for
          What they did to win it
          What they did as an organization (unless the name gave me a hint)

BUT ---- there was a group of High School students from Merrillville high school that stole the show

They were a part of STAND --- I had never heard of STAND before
·         Socially
·         Together
·         and
·         Naturally
·         Diverse

If you look them up on the Merrillville High School web page you will find this statement
(Stand is a) student-led club that promotes an appreciation for diversity through community service. The club provides its members with the opportunity to earn community service hours through mentoring opportunities, participating in student exchanges with other schools, creating programs that address discrimination and other injustices, and educating and celebrating the rich cultural diversity that exists in our community.

As they shared their values --- and their dream for every person to find their value and worth --- I realized that what they have built is so much more than an extracurricular activity
          Even one that promotes such a good cause

They have built a storm home --- you could see it in how they interacted with each other.

They were there for each other

And they will be there for each other long after they graduate from High School

Where is your storm home?

I have done a lot of funerals for people who have no church --- they have no storm home to help them through the loss

I often wonder how they are going to manage --- how they will survive the storm

When the storms are blowing
          when the boat seems to be filling with water
                   We all need a storm home!

But let me tell you a secret
          Just coming to church isn't enough

You have to create a place for yourself
          Missions
          Ministry team
          Choir
          Usher
          Book group
          Bible study or Sunday school

It is in the small group that we build our strong shelter for the storms of life


Plant your roots --- so that WHEN the storms of life blow --- you have a safe harbor

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Is There Enough?

Matthew 14:13-21
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.


It was 1989, I was 29 years old, married for a couple of years with a new born daughter.  On Thursday March 16th the phone rang in the parsonage in Plymouth Indiana.  The call was from Wilber Yates, District Superintendent of the Warsaw District inviting Nancy and I to pack our belongings and move in 90 days to Warsaw to plant a new church.  I would be lying to you if I said that it wasn’t one of the most terrifying phone calls I have ever received.

A few weeks later I was on my way to meet with my Steering Committee for the first time, a group of local lay members of other United Methodist Churches who were to give me guidance and support.

Keep in mind, I had never met this group and they had not met me.  I saw two people sitting in some chairs in the lobby of the hotel where we were to meet and as I got closer I overheard one of them saying to the other: “Why in the world are we starting another church here in Warsaw, aren’t there enough churches here already?”

What a nice way to be introduced to some members of my team.

But that question has stuck with me through the years.  Especially what the question was really asking.  Not just in regard to church planting, but also as it relates to life in general.
Is there really enough . . .


In 1881, the Rev. C.C. McCabe was on a train headed toward the Pacific Northwest, he was on his way to plan, fundraise, and eventually plant Methodist Churches throughout Oregon, Idaho and Washington states

In the newspaper that morning was a copy of a speech delivered by Robert G. Ingersoll, the famous agnostic philosopher, to the Freethinkers Association of America convention that was being held in Chicago.

In his speech Ingersoll declared: “the churches are dying out all over the earth; they are struck with death.”

At the next train stop, Rev. McCabe sent a telegram to Ingersoll who was still in Chicago at the Freethinkers convention.

He wrote:
Dear Robert,
All hail the power of Jesus name --- we are building one Methodist Church for every day in the year, and propose to make it two a day.
                   C.C. McCabe

Word of the telegram leaked and someone wrote a folk hymn that became popular among the preaching missions and camp meetings.
The infidels, a motley band
In counsel met, and said:
“The churches are dying across the land,
And soon they’ll all be dead.”
When suddenly, a message came
And caught them with dismay:
“All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day!”

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day


In our Gospel lesson this morning, the disciples come up to Jesus ---
who has been busy all day preaching and teaching and healing
          and say:

“Hey Jesus, we’ve got a problem here ----
It is starting to get dark and this crowd of over 5,000 people (not counting women and children) have yet to eat ---- and there is not a McDonald’s in sight --- face it --- we are in the middle of nowhere.
Why don’t you do all of us a favor and sent them all home!”

Jesus reply was quite simple: “You give them something to eat.”

But the disciples went on:

Jesus, you aren’t listening --- you know we only have $1.75 in the treasury, and even if we had the money --- there is nothing out here to buy. 
Face it, all we have is these five loaves of bread and two fish, and that’s hardly enough even for us!

“Bring them here” --- was Jesus reply

The disciples looked and only saw a coming disaster --- a hungry mob and no way of feeding them.

Jesus on the other hand saw not a disaster, but instead saw possibility.

Jesus saw the chance for a miracle --- an opportunity to trust in God

Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of the famous book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, has said:
God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.


There is a marvelous little movie about an eccentric old woman titled: “Ruth Stout’s Garden”.  I wish I had a copy of it and could show it to you.

In the movie Ruth tells about herself and her unique gardening techniques
She has this garden, and she would till the soil and weed it, and carefully place each of her vegetables in neat rows with a stick identifying what it was that was growing there.
          One day – Ruth decided that this method was a waste of time
So instead she just cast the seeds and lets nature take over
          They grow anyway she would say

People used to love and watch her garden --- she said it was so strange that people would just stop and stare --- maybe it was because she liked to garden in the nude . . .

In the movie Ruth tells about a time when she was a little girl.
She said that she was sitting in front of a window looking out and watching her brothers bury her beloved dog.
While she is looking out the window, with tears streaming down her face, her grandfather comes over to her and says:
Ruth, do you remember that rosebush that you planted last year?, come and look a the beautiful rosebud that is blooming on it.

Why Grandpa? Ruth asks

Because Ruth, you are looking out the wrong window.


God is like a mirror.  The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it seems something different.


In 1941, Rev Herman Thomas, was pastor of the Methodist Church in Algoma, Wisconsin.  One evening Rev Thomas was walking through his neighborhood when he decided to stop at the home of Robert G. Ingersoll III, a brilliant engineer and grandson of the famous agnostic philosopher.

The Ingersoll’s had moved to Algoma a year earlier.
Mrs. Ingersoll was a strong believer and had joined the Methodist Church and sang in their choir --- Robert visited occasionally.

Outside the Ingersoll house, Rev Thomas prayed: Asking God for strength before he knocked on the door.

Ingersoll answered the door saying: “Pastor Thomas, I am glad you dropped by, I’ve been saving some questions for you.”

He asked his questions and seemed to appreciate the understanding and clarity of Rev. Thomas’ replies.

Ingersoll asked: “Pastor Thomas, how can I become a follower of the way?  Will you help me?”

Herman Thomas explained that the Spirit knocks at the door in one’s heart --- and that the person who opens the door will experience the grace of Christ, and know that they belong to him.”

Before he left, Rev. Thomas led a prayer with the family.

The next Sunday, Ingersoll came to church and during the singing of the closing hymn he walked forward and asked to be baptized.

The following year, in 1942, the Algoma Methodist Church had another memorable service.

During the service Pastor Thomas baptized two infant boys into the Christian family.
          One was his own first born son
          The other was a baby boy named Robert G Ingersoll, IV

Had the church been silent for just a moment I am willing to bet they would have heard some singing in the distance:

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day


It is easy for us to look at the negative side of everything.
It is easy for us to sit in front of the window of sorry --- rather than the window of joy.

It is easy for us to be like the disciples and say: "Lord, there is not enough!"

The hard part is for us to recognize and accept what Jesus told us:
Matthew 9:37-38 (NRSV)
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

People tell me all the time that we do not need to reach out into the neighborhood, that the people who live close to the church are already involved in a church.

According to the Pew Research Center
·         71% of American's claim Christianity as their religion
·         6% are other non-Christian faiths (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc)
·         23% are what we call "the nones" today

And when you read that data --- it indeed sounds like most people are involved in their faith journeys.

However, the group that we call Christians --- 71% of the population can be broken down into three categories
·         Cultural Christians ---- They call themselves Christians because of heritage or culture.
·         Congregational Christians --- They have some connection to a local church but do not attend regularly (We have a little over 1,000 members here at Meridian Street)
·         Active Christians

Only about 25% of those who call themselves Christians practice their faith in an active way.

The greatest mission field in the world is in our neighborhoods.

Most of our friends, many who call themselves Christian --- do not attend any church.

The question of abundance is two-fold.
·         Yes --- we know that there is plenty of opportunity for us to reach out and share our faith --- most of our neighbors and friends are not active in their spiritual journey.
·         But the second question is really the more important one --- do we believe that there is ENOUGH that if we invite others we will still have a place here, for us, at Meridian Street.

And the answer to that is, of course, YES.

Like the people in Matthew's story --- we have been called to share what we have so that all can come to know the love and grace of Jesus.

There is a commercial that is very old that has always stuck with me.

The commercial was about a man named Bill Demby. 
Bill is your pretty typical person: a father, a patriot, courageous.

The commercial went something like this:
When Bill Demby was in Viet Nam he dreamed of coming home and playing a little basketball, a dream that all but died when he lost both legs to a Vietcong rocket.  Then researchers discovered a DuPont plastic that could make truly lifelike limbs.  Now Bill is back, and some say he hasn't lost a step.

Bill was interviewed and said that he really didn't like the recognition that the commercial gave him.  But, he said ---
there was a time when a man came up to me.  He explained his troubles and told me that he had given up on everything.  But he said seeing me in that commercial had turned him around.  He thanked me for changing his life.  ME?!
Bill said that he had to walk away so that the man wouldn't see him crying.


What kind of witness are you to those that you meet or even to those who know you?


Do any of you remember Squeaky Fromme, she was a member of Charles Manson’s “family” but never charged in the Tate/La Bianca murders.

In 1975, Squeaky Fromme attempted to assassinate President Ford, she waved a gun at the President, but did not shoot.

Years later she was interviewed by a leading psychiatrist who concluded rather interestingly that if instead of meeting Charles Manson, if Squeaky Fromme had met some Christians who had invited her to get involved in their church that she probably would have.  Her life would have been totally different.  She was just looking for a place to belong.

Each of us are called to do our part --- to see the possibilities --- rather than the dead ends.  To see God's multiplication in action

We’re building two a day, dear Bob,
We’re building two a day
All hail the power of Jesus’ name,
We’re building two a day


Let us do our part, as we go out into the neighborhood, knowing that the harvest is rich, and that there is more than enough!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Ministry of Jesus

Matthew 6:9-15
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    Your kingdom come.
    Your will be done,
        on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread.
    And forgive us our debts,
        as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    And do not bring us to the time of trial,
        but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.


Is there anybody here this morning who doesn't know this prayer from memory?

It is the greatest prayer in Christianity --- but it is also the strangest.

  • It is prayed by all Christians --- yet it never mentions Jesus
  • It is prayed in all churches ---- yet it never mentions the Church
  • It is prayed every Sunday --- but it does not mention the "Lord's Day"
  • We call it the "Lord's Prayer" but it never mentions the "Lord

Strange isn't it?

  • It never mentions --- the inspired inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, miracles, Jesus atoning death or even his bodily resurrection --- yet this prayer is central to fundamentalists
  • It never mentions that we should evangelize --- or even the gospel --- yet it is central to evangelical Christians.
  • It never mentions charisma --- or the Holy Spirit --- yet all Pentecostal Christians embrace this prayer

This is indeed the strangest prayer

No doctrine is mentioned

Sacrificial atonement for sin is not mentioned

It never mentions heaven, hell or the next life

This is a prayer that is prayed by people who emphasize what this prayer does not

But it is also prayed by people who ignore what it says.

But what if this prayer is really none of those things that we have often thought it was?

What if this prayer is really a prayer (as John Dominic Crossan calls it) --- a prayer from the heart of Judaism on the lips of Christianity for the conscience of the world?

What if this prayer is a radical manifesto and a hymn of hope for all humanity in language addressed to all the earth?

Why would I say that?
Why would I call this a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope --- and what does that mean for you and me today?

I call this prayer revolutionary because it proclaims God's radical vision of justice

It is a hymn of hope because it follows the tradition of biblical poetry in offering hope for a better world.

Justice is one of the most important concepts in the Bible ---- but What is justice?

For most of us --- when we hear the word JUSTICE it means retributive justice
          Somebody has to PAY for what happened

If you are to look up the word in a dictionary you would find a definition like this:
the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals

But when you look at the Biblical concept of Justice the meaning is a bit different

In the Biblical context --- justice does not mean retribution --- it means distributive justice

To be just means to deliver everything fairly

It is equitable distribution of whatever you have in mind
          Even if that is retribution or punishment

The Bible constantly talks of God as a God of "justice and righteousness"

Psalm 99:4
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Isaiah 33:5
The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;

Jeremiah 9:24
but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.

Justice and Righteousness really express the same concept

A God of Justice and Righteousness is a God who does what is just by doing what is right and does what is right by doing what is just.

God's world must be distributed fairly and equitably among all God's people.

It derives from the experience of a well run home, household or family farm.

If you were to walk into this home or farm how would you judge the householder?

You would probably look around and ask yourself questions like:
  • Are the fields well tended?
  • Are the animals properly provisioned?
  • Are the buildings adequately maintained?
  • Are the children and dependents well fed, clothed, and sheltered?
  • Are the sick being tended too?
  • Are responsibilities and returns apportioned fairly?

That is how God visions the kingdom.

God is the householder and wants everybody to experience justice and righteousness.
          Everybody to have a chance and opportunity.

And God asks us those questions on a global scale.

That's what the Lord's Prayer is really all about.

But it is also a hymn of hope.

Especially for those on the outside --- the Lord's Prayer --- this greatest prayer is one of hope for a better --- more just world.

Let's take a look at it
          Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.

The first thing we should note is how personal this prayer is.

In the Greek it is not a stuffy word like father that is used --- but what the word really suggests is Daddy.

Jesus is telling us that we are in a relationship with a very personal God

Luke's version has no mention of heaven, but Matthew's does but it is a vision of God's Kingdom:

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The heart of Jesus message is the coming of God's kingdom

A kingdom that Jesus life and ministry illustrate time and time again --- a kingdom of justice

Micah 6:8    (NRSV)
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Isaiah 2:4    (NRSV)
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.

Throughout the scriptures this message of Justice is always there.

God is a God of Justice and the kingdom is one of justice.  Not just for us --- but for all

          Give us this day our daily bread.
   
The people Jesus ministered with were the common peasants of 1st Century Palestine.

Every day was a struggle

There was no guarantee of food on the table

Bread was the staple of life

But is this request for daily sustenance?
or for the bread at the messianic banquet?

Regardless, it is a petition to God asking God to distribute to all of God's children the bread that they all need.

The next petition in Luke is different than that in Matthew.  In Matthew we hear that common phrase that we pray each week:
          Forgive us our trespasses (or debts)

Luke changes it to:
And forgive us our sins,
        for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

Again, regardless of sins or debts or trespasses the message here seems pretty simple.

A recognition that in order to truly experience forgiveness, we need to be offering it.

The kingdom will be a place where love reigns and not retaliation or retribution.

Finally Luke ends with:
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

Again in Matthew it is different for Matthew says
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one

In some ways those are two very different requests.

Matthew is reminding us that we have a God whom we can call on for strength when we find ourselves in those moral quandaries.

So what do we do with this radical prayer?

KEEP PRAYING IT.

But let me offer some tips on how to do that.

  1. Think of it as a "choke" to get a cold engine started.
Pray the Lord's Prayer to "warm your spirit" so that you can more easily enter into other praying and meditation.

  1. Pray it, thinking about the meaning of each petition.
Ask yourself questions such as,
"With this line, what am I asking God to do?"
"What am I (or should I be) offering of myself in making this petition?"
"Which petitions are the hardest for me to really mean when I pray them -- and why?"
"What do I need to rethink, redo or repent of in light of what I am requesting?"
"What else should I pray for as a result?"

  1. Use its lines as the topics of a prayer journal.
Keep notes under each petition about how you have responded to, changed, gained new understanding or still need to learn about the subjects of that petition.

  1. Use it as model for your own prayers.

  1. Pray it when your mind rebels against praying your own prayers.
Praying something is better than praying nothing.

  1. Pray it when your heart is aching so bad that you can't form your own petitions. It may become a channel through which God's Spirit can flow to you.

  1. Let it be a shorthand way to teach your kids about talking to God.

Most importantly --- let the words of this prayer fill your hearts and minds with the radical – unconditional love of God ----- and let that be a sign of hope in your life!