Sunday, November 30, 2014

Looking for Peace

Psalm 80:1-7   (NRSV)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Thanksgiving at the Conger household was very different this year.

To the best of my recollection, this was the first time that all of the girls have not been home --- and the first time in a long time, that we did not gather together with my parents, brother and his children.

My parents are wintering in Arizona, and Lindsey (our middle daughter) who lives in Los Angeles drove and spent a few days with them for thanksgiving.

Since my parents were gone, we were invited to Jessica's apt in Chicago and had a wonderful dinner put on by her and Sam.

It was a great day!
          Wonderful (but too much) food
          Great hosts
          Little traffic!

I imagine that many of you took the opportunity Friday to get up bright and early and to head out and fight the crowds for all the black Friday sales.

I stayed home so that the dog would not be lonely and read a wonderful novel.

Nancy and Haley seemed to survive the shopping ordeal, and then later that afternoon we went back downtown to the Lyric Opera to see Porgy and Bess.
          I am not sure I am cut out for operas but the singing was fantastic!

One of the things that struck me, as we were waiting in the lobby to get into the opera was how few people were actually talking (with each other)

But virtually everyone was busy communicating with somebody --- but just not in person.

Studies suggest that as a people we are communicating with one another more frequently than any other time in human history.

Just not the ways that we used to before . . .

DO any of you actually remember talking on a telephone?
          I am not talking about a cell phone
          Or even the cordless phones we have today
          How about one of those old rotary phones we rented from Bell Telephone

And when was the last time you actually hand wrote a letter?

One of my favorite memories as a kid was sitting down as a family with a tape recorder and recording a Christmas message to my grandmother and grandfather in Tennessee --- because it was too expensive to call

While we could still do any of those things --- most of us choose not too

Instead we either talk on our cell phone --- or more than likely we text
          Or use whatsapp
          Or snapchat

I didn't even know what those were until fairly recently

If you go to the mall this week you will find that most people (especially those under 30) have a phone in their hands --- texting, sharing photos, reading emails or listening to music

It is amazing to me how adept our young people are at carrying on multiple conversations at once.

When I was growing up, Face Time was talking to somebody in person --- but on Thanksgiving Day --- Lindsey and Alex joined us in Jessica's living room as we Skyped with them.

When I was on my sabbatical --- almost 10 years ago now --- Nancy and I "talked" twice every day via messenger because it was free and easy. 
We hadn't figured out how to Skype yet.

But every week now, Nancy Skype's with her 88 year old mom in North Carolina. 
It is amazing!!

But what has gotten lost is the sit down and actually talk with one another conversations.

When we do actually sit down and talk it usually is about solving a problem or some other logistical issue --- but we rarely sit down and have those "heart-to-heart" conversations anymore.

And think about the new texting lingo that has developed.

One of the things that has always amazed me are people who can understand what certain texts really mean. 
Because our vocal expressions can reflect our emotions in a way that a Smartphone never can.

The inflection that is used in the words can be powerful.

Let me demonstrate
          U R here

What does that mean?

It could be the factual statement: YOU ARE HERE -- such as: in a certain place

But say it out loud
          You're here

Or      You're Here!!! (excitement)

or       You're here? (amazement)

or       you are here (disgust)

Which is it? 
That is the problem and challenge with modern communication.

Knowing what is meant is not always easy.

Advent is all about our relationship with God and each other.

In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the advent season we are overwhelmed with the parties, the meals, the shopping

It isn't Santa who needs a list --- it is us to keep our schedules straight with all that is going on.

I am not trying to suggest that we shouldn't attend the parties or dinners, or events that are meaningful to us.

Nor am I bashing Santa or the whole idea of gift-giving.

What I am trying to remind you is what we tend to leave off our Advent/Christmas list: 
Baby Jesus

Advent is the celebration of the incarnation --- the God in the flesh event of Jesus

Advent is God's announcement that God does not want a distant --- text only --- relationship with us.

Advent is about God's willingness to be vulnerable, reachable and attainable.

Advent is about God's desire to sit down with us and have a face-to-face ---- heart-to-heart conversation.

Psalm 80 is all about God's desire to have that kind of relationship and our need for it!

Over and over again, the writer of the Psalm wrote:
"Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved"

The Psalmist isn't asking God for a text message response.

The community who sang this Psalm was a community without hope.

They feel like there is nothing they can do to prevent or stop the injustices that are going on around them.

They feel alienated and alone

They feel lost and consumed!

They are crying out to God --- seeking a word of hope and assurance.
Seeking that peace that passes all understanding, that only comes from Jesus.

Without hope and peace we are not delivered, but we also are not saved --- we are doomed to utter despair.

This Psalm is a cry for a personal relationship with God

The prayer of the psalmist echoes the hopeful yearning of God's people today.

"Let your face shine that we may be saved," is the call of people who are surrounded by technology but are still lonely for meaningful communication.

It's the cry of people who may receive hundreds of texts every day but who still feel unheard.

It is the yearning of the human heart which does not want simply to be told of love but needs to be transformed by love and hope for nothing less.

"Let your face shine" pleads the psalmist.

Isn't that our prayer today?

On the streets of Ferguson, Cleveland, Chicago and Munster --- aren't we seeking to see God's face shine?

Despite the tragedies of our time
          Despite Ferguson
          Despite Cleveland
          Despite the ongoing violence in Chicago and so many other places
          Despite the injustice in our own back yard
God seeks to restore us with God's grace

The darkness cannot overcome the light and love of God

God's face continues to shine and is reflected in God's mercy and forgiveness.

Like the Psalmist, we look at the world around us and wonder ---
Can there ever be justice?
Will the races ever treat each other as brothers and sisters?
Will the violence ever stop?
Will the distrust simply because somebody is different ever end?

The answer is found in Psalm 80 and in Advent and the answer is: YES

God says:
·         Yes, I will give ear to your cry.
·         Yes, I will come and save you.
·         Yes, I will restore our relationship fractured by your faithlessness and sin.
·         Yes, I will save you from neighbors who wish to destroy you.
·         Yes, my hand will be upon you.
·         Yes, you will know the strength of the living God.

The promise of Advent is that God's strength will meet us in the midst of our weakness.

There is no place too dismal,
no sin too egregious,
no transgression too dire
to separate us from the love of God who comes to us in Jesus.

God is begging us not to settle for less than the peace that comes through Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

Don't let advent simply be about the shopping and the parties and the gifts.

Advent is really about Ferguson.
          Into that darkness
          Into that deep despair
          Into that sense of hopelessness
          and lack of peace
Our God who comes offers to us a better way.

"Come to save us!" we cry out to God.
          And God does.
Defenseless as a baby, God reflects love and invites compassion.

And that is a message of hope and peace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Thanksgiving Letter to Ridge Church

Last week I spent an hour at Eads Elementary School as a community reader.  Each month, people from the community come into Eads and read a book to a class (or 2) and talk about a topic that the book was related to.  This month, the theme was gratitude, and I read a cute story about a family that everything goes wrong for their Thanksgiving Dinner --- yet in the end, they realize that Thanksgiving isn't about the food.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I want to take a moment and say THANKS.  Thanks to my family, without you my life would not have the meaning it does!  Thanks to the staff of Ridge Church --- Holly, Dave, Kathy, Sheri, Phil, Allan, Peggy, Linda, Diana and Susan --- each of you have an amazing heart and you share that love with the community in wonderful ways.  Thanks to all of you who call Ridge Church home, without you we cannot reach out and share the love and way of Jesus.  That is why we exist!

As you gather around your thanksgiving table, I pray that you will take time and see all the blessings that you have and that you will remember those who are not as fortunate as you.

I hope that you will also say a prayer for our country.  I don’t know what happened that fateful August night in Ferguson MO.  What I do know is that an unarmed black teenage is dead, the officer who fired the weapon that killed him will not be subject to a trial in which the facts of the incident can be publicly known and scrutinized.  In a country that is becoming more and more polarized over income and race, last night’s decision, I am afraid will only increase the distrust that is felt.

I am not black, and have only once been subject to discrimination based on my racial make-up (I was thought to be Palestinian in Jerusalem); I cannot imagine what it is like to grow up black in America today.  There has to be fear, and last night only added to it.  Whether we want to believe it or not, racial discrimination still is alive in the USA.  We don’t like to hear that, but I hear the jokes, the stereotyping all the time.  We as followers of Jesus must take the lead and say NO MORE!  It is time that we pray and seek a better world for all of God’s children.

I, will be praying for forgiveness.  I know I have not done enough in my own life to stem the tide of hatred in this land.


Pastor Steve

Monday, November 24, 2014

I was made for this . . .

John 18:33-37    (NRSV)
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

In a USA today article from 2005, a panel of sports experts put together a list of the 10 most difficult things to do in sports.

I don't think it was a very scientific list --- but one that a group of wannabe athletes made based on what they know --- or at least on what they thought they knew.

10.   Downhill skiing
The downhill is an 80-mph exercise in balance and control. With little protection, ski racers hurl themselves down an icy mountain course, alternately digging in their edges to carve the fastest line through turns and putting their skis flat on the snow to gain speed in the straightaways. They fight gravitational and centrifugal forces at every stage in the race.
9.    Saving a penalty kick in soccer
On the soccer field, the goalkeeper's job is to protect a goal that is 24 feet wide and eight feet high — 192 square feet waiting to swallow a ball about 9 inches in diameter. During a penalty kick, the goalie has 0.25 seconds to move and block a ball traveling at more than 60 mph.
8.    Competing in the Tour De France
The Tour de France covers more than 2,500 miles in three weeks and requires a variety of cycling skills that must be performed at levels far beyond those of recreational riders. On flat stretches of the course, tour riders must maintain speeds more than 30 mph for hours on stretch. During mountain climbs, cyclists must be able to ride up mountain roads with grades as steep as 15%.
7.    Running a Marathon
Running a 26.2-mile race is physically demanding and requires a runner to be disciplined, well-trained and able to withstand pain. Runners, including elite marathoners, often suffer from nagging injuries in the lower back, knees, shins, ankles, Achilles' tendons and feet. However, most runners will say the reward of finishing a marathon justifies the pain.
6.    Landing A Quad jump in Ice Skating
Executing a quad toe loop requires a skater to balance height and rotation while skating on a metal blade a quarter of an inch wide. During a successful quad jump, a skater will reach heights of 18 inches above the ice and experience 300 pounds of centrifugal force, all while spinning four times in just over .5 seconds.
5.    Returning A Serve in Tennis
Traveling at over 130 mph, a tennis serve by today's top tennis players is traveling at 185 feet per second. At that speed, a player trying to return the serve has a half second to react and return the serve.
4.    Hitting A Tee Shot Long and Straight
Driving a golf ball far and long seems to be an easy thing, until you try it; even professionals have trouble with it.
3.    Pole Vaulting
Vaulting is a matter of redirecting the kinetic energy of the runner's approach speed upward, aided by a long fiberglass pole. To do it, athletes need speed for the sprint, strength for lift-off and flexibility to bend the body over the bar.
2.    Race Car Driving
Skilled drivers encounter a host of problems, but rounding the corners of the track is equivalent to having three 300-pound linemen pushing you for three of the four hours it takes to drive a race.
1.    Hitting a Baseball
Considering that a major-league pitch can reaches speeds more than 95 mph, hitters have only 0.4 seconds to find the ball, decide where the ball is going and swing the bat.

What do you think?  
What would you change to the list?

I was surprised that golf was considered the 4th most difficult.

While that list is kind of fun --- at the end of the day -- it really isn't all that important.

But what if you were to make a list of the 10 most difficult things to do in life --- what would you put down?

If you were to search on the internet --- you would come up with all kinds of lists that all seemed based on where somebody was in life at that particular moment.

But if we were to try and create just a list, what would you include?

Here is my list --- but i want to admit I used other people's lists for ideas.

10.     Quitting an addiction ---- drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography
9.       Being a servant --- truly doing humanitarian deeds for no reward
8.       Be-loving God in the midst of the challenges of life (keeping faith)
7.       Forgiveness (accepting and giving)
6.       Regaining trust that had been lost
5.       Loving those you don't like
4.       Raising children
3.       Removing life support from a loved one
2.       Burying a child

The life list is a tough list, but those last two — having to make decisions about life or death or losing a child or really any love one — are really difficult!

If you have ever been in the position where you had to decide to allow someone to go into hospice care, or to remove life support --- even when your head knows what the right thing to do is--- it is a terrible choice.

Top world athletes, even on their hardest days, never make that kind of choice.

Those kinds of decisions are not what we expect life to be about!

Does anybody remember Tom Laughlin?

He was famous in the 70's as the writer, actor and director of the Billy Jack movies.

Later in life he began working with cancer patients, lecturing and treating the psychology of cancer.

Steven Pressfield, in his classic work: The War of Art quotes Tom Laughlin.

And the point that Laughlin makes is that:
The moment a person learns that they have a terminal cancer a profound shift takes place in their psyche.  At one stroke he becomes aware of what really matters

A simple tragic diagnosis is sometimes what it takes to help us understand what is of ultimate importance.
·         it's usually not another meeting
·         or a bigger car
·         or larger house
·         it's not even a bigger paycheck

Those things that were an irritation only days before the diagnosis are no longer important

What matters most in our lives is . . . RELATIONSHIPS

Go back and look at my suggest list of the 10 hardest things to do
---- everyone of them is about relationships

Laughlin went on and posed an interesting question:
Is it possible that cancer is the result of our failure to live our lives the way that they were intended to be lived?

Could cancer be the result of our un-lived lives extracting their vengeance upon us?

You have to wonder . . .
Laughlin even suggested, that when people with cancer began to live their lives fully --- that sometimes the cancer would go into remission

Laughlin suggests that --- but I can find no scientific evidence for his claims

But there may be some truth to it

What I do know is that for most of us --- the most difficult thing in the world is to live the life that God intended for us.

1.    Live the life God intended for us

It is easier to fill it with other things
          Worldly pursuits
                   Chasing the Almighty dollar

It is easier to fill it with other things --- than to risk it all for what our insides (our spirit) keep telling us to be.

At the end of the day ---- what holds us back more than anything else is FEAR

And as crazy as this sounds; what I think we are most fearful of is becoming what we are truly supposed to be.

This morning, we celebrate the baptism of Caleb Jon Caddick

Today we place a marker on the road of his life

What will become of Caleb's life?
          Do any of us know?

God has blessed Caleb with a calling
Our job, and his --- is to help him figure out what that is --- and then to help him not to be afraid to pursue it.

Our scripture this morning is that key moment, when Jesus claims his calling.
          Jesus says that he is to be king of our lives
                   Lord of our lives

Was Jesus afraid to pursue that calling?
          I don't know
But Jesus announces this calling in the face of the reality that by doing so will cost him his life

What is it that God is wanting you to pursue?

What have you been afraid of becoming?

One of Bob Goff's favorite phrases is one that has become very important to me:

          God sees who we are becoming, not who we were!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

According to Luke: What Are You Investing In?

According to Luke: What Are You Investing In?

Luke 19:11-27  (NRSV)
As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So he said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Do business with these until I come back.’ But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to rule over us.’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities.’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders, ‘Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’”

We made it!
12 months ago --- on December 1st we began our journey through Luke's Gospel.

We started with the birth stories
Then we jumped ahead to Jerusalem during Lent and Easter

And for the last few months we went back and have been traveling with Jesus as he headed toward Jerusalem and his confrontation with the authorities

This is the last story in Luke's Gospel before Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem

And, I believe, he placed it here for a very important reason

As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem --- Luke is asking us
          Which king are you going to follow?
                   The king of our parable --- or Jesus?

This parable sounds familiar because there is the related parable of the talents that is found in Mathew 25 (the parable of the talents)

But this parable is very different

Matthew's parable is all about Stewardship
Which, of course, is very important
·         especially this time of year when we are in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign
·         we are doing our stewardship campaign differently this year
o   You can turn in your faith promise card anytime before December
o   do it with a physical card or online
·         Every Sunday is an opportunity for us to be good stewards

This parable is really about a contrast between the Kingdom of God and a political kingdom

Do you remember how our story last week ended?
Jesus went to the home of the tax collector Zacchaeus and while there, Jesus declared to Zacchaeus that "today, salvation has come"

In our parable today, Jesus seems to want to make sure that we understand, that --- while the kingdom of God is near --- just because Jesus is getting ready to enter Jerusalem doesn't mean that it is coming immediately

Our parable starts with a noble man traveling to a distant land . . .

William Barclay writes that everyone, in 1st century Judea would know that this was referring to Herod Archelaus.

Archelaus --- when his father Herod the Great died --- was forced to go to Rome to ask Caesar Augustus to grant him his inheritance and the title of king of Judea
Augustus ultimately grants him the right to rule Judea but not the title king

We know from the parable of the prodigal son --- that when Luke tells us that somebody goes off to a "distant land" that nothing good can come of it

Allan Culpepper in his commentary on Luke writes:
This parable cannot have the same meaning as the Matthean parable of the talents.  It features not a lesson on responsibility and stewardship but a portrait of greed and vengeance.  The king is acquisitive.  He seeks a royal title and expects others to multiply his property five and tenfold. 

Culpepper goes on to suggest that we have a hard time understanding this parable because of the social codes invoked by this parable. 

We function with an economics of unlimited goods --- we believe that anyone can rise up starting from nothing and become fabulously wealthy.
If we are just cleaver enough
Ambitious enough
Lucky enough

But in first century Palestine --- nothing could be farther from reality

It was an economy of limited goods.

There was only so much wealth and property to go around

So if one person acquired more --- somebody had to lose it.

The king in our story is greedy --- seeking power --- and taking whatever property he could.

The Palestinian peasant who would have heard this story would have identified with the fear that the third servant in the story possessed --- and with the bystanders protest of this redistribution of wealth.

But this king believed that the rich should get richer and the poor poorer.

If Zacchaeus, as the chief tax collector, was despised and hated --- think how much more this greedy and vicious king would have been hated

Luke seems to place this story right before the entry into Jerusalem so that we (and the hearer in the 1st century) could clearly understand the distinction between the kingship of Jesus and that of the common or typical king of the day.

The kings of the day Lord over their subjects
They were corrupt, greedy and violent

Jesus seeks justice for his followers
His kingdom is diametrically opposed to that of the kingdom in this parable

This parable invites us to reflect on what it means to call Jesus king and Lord.

God's kingdom isn't going to appear immediately --- even though it is breaking in with the advent of Jesus.

This parable calls for us to have faithful allegiance to a king whose kingdom is in conflict with the world who seek profit at expense of the poor.

The protest by the bystanders in verse 25 is a call for justice --- and an invitation to us to join them in that quest for justice.

When we --- who have access to medical care protest against the expense of providing it for those that don't --- Jesus is calling out to us and challenging us

What should we say when regressive taxes are proposed that protect the assets of the wealthy at the expense of the poor?

Luke ends Jesus journey to Jerusalem right here

The rest of the story is of Jesus entrance into Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, crucifixion --- and of course --- his victory through the resurrection.

As we end our journey --- we need to decide where we stand.
          Will we be hailing Jesus as king?
          Shouting for his crucifixion?

It all depends on what kind of king you want?

On my Facebook page this past week, someone posted about their daughter not being welcome at a church --- not here.

I think one of the reasons that the church is dying is we have turned Jesus into the king in this parable.

As I explained why I felt like the church was dying --- another friend replied with this:
I'll offer a different reason -- the rise of big government. Hundreds of years of history have now taught us that the bigger government gets in people's lives, the more secular society gets and the less people think they need religion and God. Europe was the cradle of Christianity, and now church attendance is at dismal lows in countries where government is now here to take care of everybody's needs. After all, why tithe 10% of your income to a church when 10% of your income is already taken from you in taxes for social programs? In the most extreme cases of big goverrnment -- socialism and communism -- religion is all but expunged from culture. This is why I scratch my head at religious leaders in this country who keep preaching for more and more social programs and government sponsored income redistribution. Liberalism at its very core is about replacing faith in God (and faith in family and community) with faith in government

There may be a kernel of truth to what he writes --- but if we think that the government was not intrusive in Jesus day they we don't understand history.

Jesus wasn't calling for government to solve society's problems. 
But he also wasn't telling the rulers that they could ignore the problems either.

He is calling for us all --- those who rule and those who don't to seek a better, more just world

It is up to us --- you and I to choose
          Which kind of king will you follow?

The Prince of peace that Isaiah speaks of

The Prince of Machiavelli?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Luke 19:1-10  (NRSV)
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.”

We all know the story of Zacchaeus --- most of us learned it as children.

Do you remember?

Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see;
And as the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
(and he said)
Zacchaeus you come down
For I’m going to your house today.
For I’m going to your house today.

According to the story ----
          why does Zacchaeus climb the sycamore tree?

He climbs so that he can bet a better view of Jesus because he wants to see him

·         He is intrigued by Jesus
·         He wants to meet Jesus.

He is the hero of our story
          Doing whatever he can see who this Jesus is

He doesn't seem to really know who Jesus is --- he just wants to check him out

But what if we were to hear the story in a different way?

What if, instead of Zacchaeus being the hero of the story ---
          What if Zacchaeus was the villain?

Listen to this version of Zacchaeus according to the RSV (Revised Steve Version)

Jesus came to Jericho and was walking through on his way to Jerusalem

There was a man who lived there --- his name was Zacchaeus and he was filthy rich because he was the chief tax collector.

He had come to check out who this Jesus was, but as he drew closer to the parade route, the crowds saw him and grew angry. 
He had cheated them, stolen their money and was in cahoots with the Romans.

The crowd began chasing Zacchaeus and as he was running away he saw a sycamore tree and he climbed up it to get away from the angry crowd.

Just then Jesus walked by.

Jesus stopped at the tree, turned to Zacchaeus and said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your home.”

Zacchaeus scrambled out of the tree, hardly believing his good luck, delighted to take Jesus home with him.

All the people who had chased Zacchaeus, became angry and indignant.  And they said among themselves:
          “What business does Jesus have getting cozy with this crook?”

What if we heard the story told that way?
Very different isn’t it!

Why do I think that way of telling the story is possible?

For a number of reasons.

Think about who Zacchaeus was?

Luke tells us that he was Chief Tax collector and that he was Rich

A "chief tax collector" was an entrepreneur who was under contract with Rome to collect taxes, tolls, tariffs, and custom fees in a designated area.

The way it worked --- this "chief tax collector" would pay Rome a contracted amount in advance, and then collect whatever taxes they wished from the people and whatever was above what he gave to Rome, was his to keep.

It was a very profitable profession --- as our story tells us.

But as you can image --- a tax collector was not one who would be loved, or even respected by the people.

The assumption was that they were dishonest and they were hated by other Jews because they were seen to be collaborators with the Romans who were busy oppressing the Jewish people.

So instead of being the hero of the story --- Zacchaeus becomes the villain.
          And that changes everything

Zacchaeus, when we read the story this way is an outsider --- outcast and not welcome in the Jewish understanding of the kingdom

And think about what Jesus does.

Instead of Zacchaeus inviting Jesus into his home ---- Jesus invites himself.

We have all been there haven't we?

We are planning a nice family dinner, and as you are busy in the kitchen getting everything ready, your child comes in and says: "Hey mom, Zach scan stay for dinner, can't he? Pleaseeeee!"

And at that moment --- what choice do we really have?
          Throw poor Zach out on the street?

Zacchaeus, for whatever reason --- either to escape the mob, or to get a better view of Jesus --- is approached by Jesus who calls out to him and simply invites himself over for dinner.

Jesus chose him --- Jesus chose Zacchaeus!

Let's go back for a second.
          Who is Zacchaeus?


Yet it is to Zacchaeus' house that Jesus invites himself


Jesus models something that you and I seem too often forget
That if we want to make a difference in somebody's life we have to get to know them and listen to their story.

And that is exactly what Jesus does.

Jesus goes to Zacchaeus home so that he can get to know him

Jesus sees Zacchaeus not as a sinner --- but as a "child of Abraham" (which really means a child of God)

What Jesus models for us is the United Methodist model of

But boy that is tough

More often than not, we say that our doors are open --- but not open with open hearts and minds.

People are welcome as long as they are like us

The problem is --- we are in a time of cultural change and we are not comfortable with some of those changes.

I am not comfortable with many of these changes.

And so when that happens, many of us begin talking around the issues, rather than talking with each other.

Let me try to illustrate.

Over the last few weeks, The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission met as did Leadership Networks' The Nines (Culture Crash: When Church and Culture Collide) and a group of Bishops from the United Methodist Church.

All of these forums were wrestling over the issue of human sexuality.

Not much has come out of any of these forums except maybe one thing. 
At all three --- the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender) people were talked about --- but they were not a part of the conversation.

They all forgot the lesson that Jesus teaches us this morning.
Jesus wants us to sit down with those that we disagree with (or don’t understand) and get to know them

But, you understand, as long as we don't get to know each other --- it is easy to objectify them and not see them as children of God.

And I don't care what the issue is
·         sexuality
·         divorce
·         race
·         financial inequities
·         different faith groups

As long as we keep them at arm's length we never have to deal with the realities of who they are and what their struggles are.
          We can stereotype and make grand pronouncements

But Jesus this morning tells us to reach out and get to know each other.

It is easy to claim to love people we don't know
It is easy to mentally wrestle with the issues

The hard part is the open door --- to love, grow and interact

We are a people who claim that we have         

It is time we start living it

Friday, November 07, 2014


Luke 18:18-30  (NRSV)
A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

OK are you ready for this --- this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible

This is one of those passages that tell us exactly what we are supposed to be doing.
I don't what to hear it
YOU don't want to hear it
But Jesus is pretty clear!

Today we celebrate ALL SAINT'S DAY
Sheri and I read through a list of all kinds of people who have died in the past year

Some of them you know

Others are just names to you

I average about 25 funerals a year that I preside over
          I attend a number of others

What is it --- at a funeral --- that makes a person stand out?
          How much money they had?
                   How much stuff they had accumulated?

Or is it
          How much they loved?
                   How many people were changed because they knew them?

When I die ---- when you die --- WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?

That is the question that Jesus is really asking each of us this morning.

We have been sold a bill of goods and are convinced that possessions bring us happiness --- but they really don't

So let me share with you SEVEN lies that most of us have come to believe, that rob us from living to our full potential.

Now you may not have fallen into the trap of all seven
          But I am going to be honest with you
                   All seven of these have some level of reality in my life

and to be honest with you . . .
I am pretty convinced that my health issues this year (my vertigo and back issues) are a warning

God (and Nancy) are, not so subtly telling me, if you don't rearrange your life, you are going to get that funeral a lot sooner than you bargained for

Are you ready?  SEVEN LIES THAT ROB US


          Books --- make me look intelligent

          Cars --- Make me look successful
                       Honda fit vs. Hyundai Sonata
·         The United States now has 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space. (the self storage association notes that, with more than seven square feet for every man, woman and child, it’s now “physically possible that every American could stand — all at the same time — under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”)
·         Fifty percent of [self-storage] renters are now simply storing what won’t fit in their homes — even though the size of the average American house had almost doubled in the previous 50 years, to 2,300 square feet.


Always want more and think that will make us happy

Bigger raise --- means I am better person

1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:9 The Message
But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.

The thinking goes like this: The busier we are, the more we can accomplish and the more respect we can earn.

And the more respect and accolades we receive, the more we can surely prove our worth and value to others.

Unfortunately, if you are trying to find fulfillment in someone else’s opinion of you, you will never find it. You will always be left searching (and working) for more.


Our world has a tendency to make everything appear urgent, important, and beneficial to our lives.

But not everything is.

Those small things add up and rob us of our happiness because we are too busy chasing . . . EVERYTHING

Warren Buffett ---
"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say NO to almost everything.

4.       I AM NEEDED

Pride is defined as holding an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance. And it leads to overwhelmed schedules because of the foolish thinking that follows it: “Nobody else can do what I do.”

          We almost always have a choice

We choose the debt we have
the house we live in,
the car we drive,
the stuff we by on credit.

Sure there are seasons when we have no choice --- illness is a good example, but they are the exception and not the rule.


You know the saying --- if you want to get something done, find somebody who is busy.

But is that the goal?

Aren't we searching for opportunities to make a lasting impact --- not just chasing.

And we can't do it all --- I CAN'T DO IT ALL!

Myth of multi-tasking
          Seminar on how to multi-task better
                   Their answer DON’T multi-task

We need to say no to some things, so we can say YES to the right things


Have you ever just tried to be quiet?

Turn off the phone, the music, the computer and TV and just be quiet and spend time with God.

It is hard as heck to do --- because we have convinced ourselves that doing that is WASTING TIME --- but there may be no better use of your time then just a quiet conversation with God.

Seven lies that rob us of our happiness

4.       I AM NEEDED

How many have you bought into?

So, what am I going to do?

I am going to work with the SPRC and the staff of Ridge Church to look at my schedule and determine

What are the things I need to do

What are the things the staff needs to do

What are the things YOU need to do

I have to discover when to say YES
          But even more importantly --- HOW TO SAY NO

When we ask Jesus what we must do to inherit eternal life (life in Jesus) the answer is remarkably simple --- love people more and stuff less

And when I die --- and my name is read at Ridge Church on All Saints day, I want you to stop and remember --- not how busy I was --- but how much I loved!

And I want the same for you!

Can we pray about this?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

According To Luke: The Ice Bucket Challenge Disconnec

Luke 16:19-31 New   (NRSV)
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

I am willing to bet that all of you are familiar with what was known as the Ice Bucket Challenge this past summer.

Starting sometime in late June or early July --- people all over the world began to pour ice water over their heads.

The rules of this challenge were not set in stone --- but in general it went something like this.

A family member or friend would challenge three friends (over the next 24 hours) to either dump a bucket of cold ice water over their heads or donate $100 to the ALS Association --- or do both.

Many of you are probably familiar with ALS. 

The disease was first identified in 1869 --- but it wasn't until Lou Gehrig announced that he had the disease that it really garnered any attention. 
Most people know the disease by his name: Lou Gehrig's disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body.

The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death.

When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost.

With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

Many of us experienced ALS on a more personal level and we watched the gallant battle that Eileen Hasse fought with the disease. 
After a six year battle she passed away this past March.

I am not certain how accurate this numbers are, but the ALS Association reports that the Ice Bucket Challenge resulted in about 3 million donors raising well over $115 million.

I have to admit, I was shocked at how well this campaign did.  3 Million donors!

But not only all the money donated --- we also got to see friends get soaked, hear them squeal and watch them shutter! 
          It was fun.

What is amazing to me is just how successful this campaign was. 

It demonstrated the power of social media to rally people around the cause.

For those of us who heard about the Arab Summer in 2011 and all the talk of how it was driven by social media, got to see it first hand with the Ice Bucket Challenge.

I think it was successful because it was so simple --- it was easy to participate and easy to share.

This weekend we celebrate REFORMATION SUNDAY --- remembering when Martin Luther accidentally kicked off the Reformation --- in a great part helped by the new fangled technology of his day --- the printing press.

Not surprisingly the response to the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE has been mixed.

Of course there are those people who want to push the concept farther
·         better video
·         more creative
·         more donations

Then there those who donate but keep it to themselves --- never creating a video or even sharing the challenge

But there have been all kinds of people who have responded in the negative.
·         don't want to donate
·         offended to be challenged (either to do the ice bucket or open their wallet)
·         People who have said WHY --- Why ALS, why not something else

And that may be the most intriguing of the critiques
          Why single out ALS

I think I find that most interesting because it raisings some interesting questions . . .
Why single out any causes that are bigger than ourselves?
That critique really challenges us to look at why we reach out and help others at all.

What I loved about the challenge was it helped many of us do SOMETHING
Before donating --- or even dumping water on our heads we had to decide!  Decide if we would . . .

Should I donate?

Or should I just spread the word and make a video

Or should I do both?

Just think about it ---- 3 million people thought about whether they should donate to ALS and decided YES

But there was a side benefit from the ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

All those who chose not to participate --- because of all the social pressure were forced to answer (sometimes just to themselves) NO, I don’t want to participate because . . .

That means they thought deeply about how, when and why they contribute to causes beyond their budget.

And when they told their friends, "I decline because," those friends received an invitation, explicit or implied, to think through what their own because looks like.

In our story this morning we are reminded of the opportunities to make a difference NOW.

Archbishop Richard Trench, in his Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, almost 100 years ago wrote:

The sin of {the rich man} in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes.  The seat of the disease is within

Remember how our passage ended last week?
          You cannot serve God and wealth.

The rich man becomes the poster child for Luke

As we get to the end of Luke's Gospel we will encounter two men whose hearts "were strangely warmed" as the scriptures were shared with them.

A stranger --- whom we understand to be Jesus --- joins them and explains the law and the prophets to them. 

They share a meal together and they too see that it is Jesus.

You have to wonder what would have happened if the rich man had shared a meal with Lazarus --- would he have then seen his need and cared for him --- because he was the embodiment of Jesus.

George Buttrick, in The Parables of Jesus reminds us that however important that it is that we share food --- this parable is really about an even deeper and more pervasive attitude of neighborliness towards others.
The story offers no support to the glib assumption that [the rich man} would have fulfilled all duty had he dressed Lazarus' sores and fed his hunger.  True charity is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not spasmodic or superficial.  Ameliorations such as food and medicine are necessary, but there is a more fundamental neighborliness.

While the ICE BUCKET Challenge isn't going to end ALS --- and it probably hasn't created a whole new group of people toward charitable giving.

What it has done is opened up many people to the conversation of helping others.

We sometimes forget that everything we do has an impact on the kingdom.

Whether it is splashing a bucket of water over our heads
          writing a check
          seeing the person who is hungry as our neighbor
          how we vote in the coming weeks

Who knows what will come of all those conversations that people had as they decided to participate (or not) in the Ice Bucket challenge.

My prayer is that we have dumped a bucket of cold water over the head of all of us --- waking us up so that we can see the Lazarus' that are all around.