Monday, June 23, 2014

According to Luke: How To Live

Luke 6:37-42   (NRSV)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

This week saw two very controversial issues be adopted by Annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) the largest Presbyterian denomination in North America.

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly is the largest annual gathering of the denomination. Church leaders from across the country gather to discuss matters important to the life of the church, make decisions that affect the whole denomination and the progress of the gospel.

We in the United Methodist Church do a very similar thing, but on a global scale every four years.  2016, will mark the General Conference of the United Methodist Church which will be held in Portland Oregon.

In the United Methodist Church, the General Conference is the top policy-making body. The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs. 

The General Conference is an international body of close to 1,000 delegates.

The delegates are elected by annual conferences (we will elect our delegates at next may/June annual conference session).
          They represent all annual conferences around the world.
          Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy.

There is no doubt in my mind but that both of these issues will be topics of discussion at our General Conference in two years.

Does anybody know what the Presbyterians did?

First, They voted to divest from three companies that they argued do business with the Israeli Defense Force --- the Israeli military.

From the New York Times:
After passionate debate over how best to help break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Friday at its general convention to divest from three companies that it says supply Israel with equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory.

The vote, by a count of 310 to 303, was watched closely in Washington and Jerusalem and by Palestinians as a sign of momentum for a movement to pressure Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to end the occupation, with a campaign known as B.D.S., for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

The measure that was passed not only called for divestment but also reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, endorsed a two-state solution, encouraged interfaith dialogue and travel to the Holy Land, and instructed the church to undertake “positive investment” in endeavors that advance peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

The companies the church has targeted for divestment are Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The church has about $21 million invested in them, a spokeswoman said. The church says it has tried for many years to convey its concerns that the companies are profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories by selling it bulldozers, surveillance technology and other equipment.

As you can image --- there has been much reaction to this news.

The American Jewish Committee said that the vote was "driven by hatred of Israel."

And I am sure that much more rhetoric will follow in the coming weeks.

And while that issue is seen as very controversial, the second, for some, will be seen as even more controversial.

Again from the New York Times:
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its General Assembly on Thursday to change its constitution’s definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal.

Both measures, passed by large majorities

The Presbyterians follow other religious groups that have taken similar steps, including the United Church of Christ, which affirmed “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” in 2005; Quakers; the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; and the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism.

The vote giving discretion to ministers to marry gay couples takes effect on Sunday, at the close of the General Assembly.

That means, as of today, in 19 states and the District of Columbia --- Presbyterian Pastors can officiate at same sex weddings.  Indiana is not one of those states, but Illinois is.

Now I just want to stop for a minute and let you ponder how you react to either one of those issues.

Does it make you angry?
Are you screaming on the inside
·         it is about time?
·         how dare they?
·         ???

I have to admit, I am conflicted about both issues. 

And I could discuss either issue for hours.
          I think I could lay out both sides pretty well.

I have seen firsthand the failure of the peace process in Israel.
·         I have seen the devastation done by a suicide bomber
·         And I have seen the ghetto's that have been created to keep the Palestinian people in check.

Neither side is innocent --- and there are no easy solutions.

But what about the more pressing issue in our social context.

I think that there is only one other issue that is even close to being as divisive today in our society as human sexuality --- and that has to do with gun restrictions --- but that is for another day . . .

If I am honest, for as long as I can remember, I have done my best to sit on the fence on both the issue of Israel/Palestine and Human sexuality.

I hate to say this: The Israelite --- Palestinian issue would probably not be much more than a blip on my radar screen if I hadn't been to Israel and Palestine so many times. 

Even then, I was shielded from seeing the real issues for the most part.

But visiting Yad Vashem, (the Holocaust Museum) and walking out of an exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto and seeing the (then) newly constructed security wall, was a life altering moment.
          A light bulb really lite in my head.

The issue surrounding sexuality is totally different to me --- but at the same time, I have done my best to sit on the fence.

What first brought the issue to my conscience was at Christmas time of my freshman year of college. 

The girl who I dated off and on in high school shared with me that she was gay.
I was caught totally off guard.
We were not an "item" but we were pretty close friends and I wasn't sure initially how to react.

I was forced to begin to examine the whole issue of human sexuality

Later that year, I met a professor at Northern Illinois who probably never knew what an influence he was on me.  He became a mentor and a friend as I began wrestling with my call to ministry.
          But there was NO DOUBT, but that he was gay.

          And, it never bothered me or made me question his value or advice. 

And I am standing before you today because of his encouragement

Three years ago today, my mother's brother died. 
          Roger never married

And, to be honest, I always suspected --- but we never talked about it, it was just "one of those things"

One day I decided to look up what Jesus had to say about homosexuality.

Does anybody remember what he said?


Jesus says nothing.

Two weeks ago I preached about Kingdom Values.

Jesus, according to Luke offers three values of God's kingdom.

1.    Justice
Jesus tells us clearly an attitude that was found in the Hebrew Scriptures --- and attitude that God is prejudicially cares for the poor

Blessed are you who are poor
Blessed are you who are hungry now
Blessed are you who weep now

Jesus tells us this, but his actions also demonstrate it
We find Jesus constantly associating with the outcasts of his day and chastising those who were not peasants

2.    Love your enemies
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

What does that mean?
How are we to feel toward          Vladimir Putin and Russia?
                                                The Taliban?
                                                Al Qaeda?

3.    Love everybody

We are to love, not only those who are like us and who like us --- but all of God's children.

Jesus continues this theme this morning us by showing us even more clearly how we are to live in community with one another.

He tells us to quit judging each other.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; . . . for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

I don't know about you, but it is much easier for me to judge other people's behavior than it is my own.

Sometimes when I read the bible I really get the sense that it was written for a people who saw and understood the world very differently than you and I do.

They believed that weather, and disease were caused by God
          I don't think many of you believe that

But Jesus seems to understand and remind us of timeless principles

One of the reasons that the church has lost relevance in our culture is we have forgotten what Jesus said;
Do not judge, and you will not be judged;
Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

We (the church) have judged people and told them they are not welcome if:
·         they don't dress properly
·         they don't come from the "correct" social class
·         if they are not of our own race
·         if their sexuality is different than ours

We are reaping exactly what Jesus told us:
for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

And then Jesus decides he needs to move beyond just telling us about judging and illustrate it for us with a visual story.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

I love how Peterson has translated this passage into modern English:
“It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

I don't have easy or trite answers to the difficult issues of peace in Israel/Palestine or human sexuality.

But as I have gotten older, I have TRIED (sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully) to quit judging others.

This spring I was given a book that has had a huge impact on me.  I assigned it to the staff to read and study and will probably use it this fall in a study group.

It is a short book of stories, written by Bob Goff, a Washington DC lawyer.  The book is simply titled LOVE DOES.

The premise of the book is quite simple --- as Christians, we need to be a people who are recognized because we love.

And I think my favorite phrase from the book and one that I am TRYING to live by is love goes first

If we want to claim the title follower of Jesus we need to quit judging and simply LOVE FIRST

Whatever the hot topic button in your life --- how would you approach it if you took that attitude and loved first?

Jesus shows us what the kingdom is like and how we are to live.

To put it quiet simply ---- It is a kingdom in which everyone tries to out-love each other!

May that kingdom reign in our hearts and lives!

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