Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Honey From The Rocks

Psalm 81:1, 10-16    (NRSV)
Sing aloud to God our strength;
    shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
    Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
“But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me,
    that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
    and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
    and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
    and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”


Have you ever had an “aaahhh” moment?

I want to be honest with you, I sometimes struggle with “religion”
          I love Jesus but religious folks can sometimes drive me crazy

The actions yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia by people (many of whom) say that they love Jesus but act with hatred toward others can sometimes put a wall between me and Jesus. 
          I unfortunately --- sometimes let them do that too me

Because of that, I unfortunately have become a little jaded toward “religious folks” --- please see the quotation marks when I say “religious folks” --- I know that I am stereotyping --- I own that

When somebody says something like “Jesus loves you” --- my eyes can begin to roll

But something happened --- Matt’s sermon last week made me really reflect on looking in the mirror

          And because of that ---
I decided I wasn’t going to let the "religious" folks do that too me anymore.

          But the initial ahha moment happened a few years ago
                   I am slow to learn and need reminders like Matt gave us

Nancy and I were running a half marathon with the catchy name:
          WINE 13.1, in southwest Michigan
As I was running along --- at about mile 8 --- which was the hilliest section of the course,  I had just completed a second steep and long hill and there it was ---- an innocuous sign in somebody’s yard. 
          There had been numerous signs along the way
                   Run Forest Run
                   Worst Parade ever
                   Remember, you paid for this
                   There is Wine at the end of the race
          But this one said quite simply:
                   Jesus Loves You

My “normal” reaction would have been to roll my eyes and kinda say to myself “ya right” or “whatever”

But this time was different

This time I said to myself --- THANK YOU --- I KNOW YOU LOVE ME!

For me it was a profound moment --- because I clearly heard God speak to me through that little sign


Ever had honey from a rock?
          I imagine that it is kind of like getting blood from a turnip

Yet our scripture this morning says that it is something that can REALLY happen!
          “with honey from the rock” God says “I would satisfy you.”

To find honey --- one of the best things that experts say to do is to listen for the buzz of the honey bee and let them lead you to the hive
          But that is not the kind of honey that this Psalm is talking about

The phrase --- HONEY FROM THE ROCK sounds ridiculous ----
But according to orkin.com bees do indeed make hives in rock crevices along with hollow trees and under the eaves of your roof

In John Gill’s Exposition of the Old and New Testament he points out that:
"The land of Canaan abounded with hills and rocks in which bees had their hives, and from whence honey dropped to lower places; hence the land is said to flow with milk and honey ...."

But the phrase, as it is used here in verse 16, does not refer to actual honey from a bee, but rather to God’s deliverance from times of trouble.

In verse 11, God says,
"But my people did not listen to my voice ...,"
and in verse 13, God laments,
"O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!"

In verse 16, God tells how listening would benefit them:
"... with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."

The question that this verse begs of us is:
DO WE ACTUALLY LISTEN FOR OR TO GOD?

Before we rush off and answer that question we need to make sure we understand a couple of things about what this verse is saying.

First, the Hebrew word rendered here as "listen" — shama — means "to hear intelligently”, but there is an interesting nuance to this “intelligent listening” --- for the word often implies not just attention but also obedience.

The King James Version of the Bible often translated shama as "hearken," which seems to tie together both the hearing-God meaning and the obeying-God meaning rather nicely.

Yet, while hearing and obeying are connected, they are also very different things.

Any of you who have ever had teenagers know that.
Our teenagers often hear us --- but they are not always obedient to what they are hearing.

So the real question for us is not do we listen for God but rather: do we hearken to God?

I want to take a moment this morning and have us look at the two different ways that we can LISTEN to God.

Most of us want to hear from God . . . I want to hear from God.
          The problem is ---- it seems sometimes that God is difficult to be heard

There is a term that was coined by the mystic poet known as Saint John of the Cross in the 16th century.  He wrote a poem in which he described  a time in which he did not sense God’s presence --- a time in which God seemed distant or far away ---- He called it THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
We actively --- even intently listen for God --- yet we hear NOTHING

The interesting thing about this Psalm is that it speaks as if God’s messages are readily available --- if we would only truly listen.

One of the problems is that we want a personal message from God --- and sometimes we get that. 

Sometimes God does speak directly to us
I can think of a couple of times in my life where I very clearly heard God call to me

But more often than not, God speaks to us what I would call: generally or corporately.

Think about what can happen when you read a passage of Scripture or hear a sermon.

We can just let those words roll over us without trying to glean anything from them ---- or we can put some energy into trying to find ourselves in them.

If I am preaching on the Parables, for example -----
You might ask yourself which character in the story you most identify with.

If the parable is the Good Samaritan, who do you connect with most?
the victim,
the people who passed by the victim without helping,
the Samaritan who did help him
or even the innkeeper where the Samaritan took the victim?

By the way ---- There's also a donkey in that story, although that might be too much of a stretch.

Or if the Scripture is from an expository passage, such as an excerpt from Philippians,
Can you put yourself in the audience to whom it was addressed, ---- but in a modern context.
While I may not be a convert from a pagan religion to Christianity, struggling to learn what it is all about, as were some in the Philippian church --- The truth is --- I sometimes live as though the Christian faith I grew up with was some unknown thing and act as though I were a pagan.

So how does Paul's admonition to let my mind dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable and worthy of praise — and then to do those things (Philippians 4:4-8) — apply to me?

One of my goals every time I get up here to preach to you is to get you to ask yourself a simple question ----- WHAT IS THE SERMON ASKING ME TO DO?
Before I finish writing a sermon, I ask myself --- SO WHAT, so what if I preach this . . .

If you can answer the ---- What is this sermon asking me to do question --- then I would suggest that you have heard something from God.

Shama means in part, "to hear intelligently."

Putting ourselves into a parable or Bible story or engaging in some post-sermon: What is this sermon asking me to do? --- is, in fact, I believe, a way of hearing intelligently

I don’t know --- maybe we conclude we haven't heard from God because we think it can't be that easy, and that it can't really be from God unless we've also felt something.

But I am convinced that God speaks to us through many different avenues.
That sign on the race course (And Matt’s call to look in the mirror)  --- I believe --- was God speaking to me

Unfortunately, there is also that second part of "hearken," the obeying part.

Most of us would prefer to just skip over this part.

Now I have no idea how hard the ancient Israelites worked at hearing God ---- what I do know is that the Hebrew Bible is filled with stories about their ongoing failure to obey God.

And that’s not that hard to understand --- is it?

Many of us today have an instinctive resistance to obedience.
We are "self-made" people who value our free will.

But the reality is that we have true freedom only insofar as we act within the confines of our highest values.

The place most of us first learned about obedience was at home as children, where we initially were given no choice but to do the will of our parents.

Gradually, as we matured, we were granted more freedom, but our parents hoped that they had succeeded in implanting some of their values in us that would serve as both guides for and moderators on our freedom.

Once we became adults, we had to decide which values we would carry over from our parents and which would be supplanted by other values.

But whatever we ended up with, we essentially took the role once filled by our parents, and, in that sense, we relate to our values as something to obey, ---though we probably don’t use that terminology.

While we are called to be obedient, our free will still remains in force, we choose to whom we will be voluntarily obedient to --- God or some other ideology (or maybe even just ourselves)

Being a part of the family of God implies:
That I recognize God as my parent, and, as his adult son or daughter, I choose to draw my values from God and allow those values to guide me.

In other words --- We CHOOSE if we will be obedient to God or not

Choosing to be son or daughter to no one, however, explains the Israelites' problem.

As the author of Psalm 81, speaking for God, put it,
"But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me."
And thus the Lord said,
"So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels"

In other words, "Okay, do it your way. Be your own authority."
But the implication is that the result will be far from satisfying.

God, of course, invites us to join God’s family, and live like the children of God — grown children, mind you, because this is not a call to childishness.

It is a call to reflect the values of the family and of our creator parent.

Call it shama? — or call it listening to God — or call it obedience — or call it hearkening ... whatever word works best for you.

But the result is having access to and being satisfied by the sweet honey that comes from the rock that is the Lord.

I believe we are at a watershed moment in our lives as Christians.
Charlottesville has changed everything
And if it hasn’t --- maybe you need to ask yourself: WHY NOT?

Jesus calls us to be a people that Love God and Love Others ---
and only when we learn to do that ---
only when we are obedient to God’s call and character in our lives and in our daily actions ---
can we experience that sweet honey that flows from the Rock of Jesus.


So tell me ---- What’s this sermon asking you to do?

Monday, August 07, 2017

Is Your Head Getting In The Way?

1 Corinthians 13     NRSV
          If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
          Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
          Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.



Wow, it has been a wild and crazy couple of weeks.  And of course it was all capped off with our daughter Jessica marrying Sam Fain two weeks ago.

The wedding was wonderful -- but not without a few hiccups (that may become subjects of sermons in the future) ---
In case you are curious:
·         The night before the rehearsal --- the creek that runs through our yard became a mighty overflowing river (something our neighbor of 35 years says never has happened before).  Of course what made this a big deal is the rehearsal dinner was to be held in that very yard the next evening
·         That next night, as we were driving home from the rehearsal, we found out that the caterer had not shown up yet.  As you can imagine, if you have 40 people coming to your house for dinner, you need to have food.  Somehow, we managed to get food from another vendor and only a half hour late.  There is a footnote to this story --- the caterer showed up (two hours later than we expected) --- We had plenty of food!

The wedding itself was beautiful
·         I cried at all the right times --- and managed to hold it together when I was supposed to

Following the wedding, we vacationed for a week in South-west Michigan and got to enjoy our other girls.

A week ago yesterday, Haley, our youngest flew back to Chile (South America)

Friday, Lindsey our middle daughter boarded a flight and has returned to Spain

Our house seems awfully quiet! 
And a little sad :(

Tomorrow, I am sharing in Richard Jackson's funeral.  Craig (his son) and I were talking earlier in the week, and somehow we began talking about Dick Lancaster's sermons.
Craig mentioned how heady they were. 
And having read a number of them, I have to agree.

Meridian Street is not a church that struggles with the head triad of the enneagram.

If I had to pick an Enneagram typology for Meridian Street my guess is #5. 
          The Wise Person

But I will talk about our three types in a moment.

First let me digress and share a story from this week.

Tuesday toward the end of our staff meeting we got into a lively and passionate discussion about the worship service times
--- since the summer is coming to an end ---
What is the plan following Labor Day??

The discussion was very lively and got rather loud --- I like to believe that it was a Spirit filled discussion.
          I don't think Raina was so sure about that --- I think we terrified her

But it was a very serious and spirited discussion
·         Should we continue with the two service schedule?
·         And while we are convinced we should continue with two services --- are they at the best times and are they the styles they should be?

The reason we went to two services was for a number of reasons --- but I would argue that there were primarily three
·         The numbers did not justify three services
If you excluded the choir the 9 pm service often only had about 35 people at it
·         The times were extremely difficult
          I really don't think this needs much justification
                   three services that overlap --- doesn't make a lot of sense
·         There was no time for fellowship
I have been here a year already and there are some of you I really have never met
Matt may not admit the same --- but I know it is true for him as well

We had a phenomenal discussion --- and reached no resolution
·         We talked about tweaking the service times
·         We talked about the style of worship the 9:30 am service should be
We walked about the reality that some people have left and others will leave if their worship service is messed with

I will be completely honest with you:
          My HEAD knows EXACTLY what we need to do
          It is my heart that is wrestling with me over it

If you have thoughts about how we can best achieve the goal of creating more fellowship time and yet maintain the integrity of our worship --- please let me know!

That is the classic challenge of the HEAD triad

This triad is made up of the number 5, 6 and 7 typologies

Let me give you real quick synopsis of the three typologies

Fives might be called THE WISE PERSON

Fives are attracted to and value wisdom, knowledge, and learning.  They want to understand the world and make it a more reasonable place to live in.  For Fives, life is about having insights, learning about the nature of things, and seeing how everything fits together.

Sounds like Meridian Street to me!

Some famous Fives would not be a surprise --- Einstein, Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Steven Hawkins, and Bill Gates

If there is one verse that typifies Fives it is the Shema:
"Here O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone."

Sixes are what we might call: THE LOYAL PERSON

Sixes endeavor to be faithful, conscientious, responsible persons, keeping their word and honoring their commitments.  They want to make the world a safer and more reliable place in which to live.  Sixes crave safety and stability.

Some famous Sixes are George Bush, Richard Nixon, and David Letterman

If there is one verse that typifies Sixes it is 1 Peter 5:6-7
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."

Sevens might be called: THE JOYFUL PERSON

Sevens are attracted to and value joy, variety, and excitement.  They want to be happy persons, seeking to make the world a more delightful place to live in.  Sevens want to experience all the possibilities life has to offer.  Having fun and being positive are what life is all about.

We all know some of these people --- they are the ones at a party that bring it to life.  They like to take risks --- they are thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies.

Some famous Sevens are: Franklin Roosevelt, George W Bush, Winston Churchill, Solomon in the Bible, and I would add my daughter Lindsey --- (She is the one who convinced me to jump off a cliff and out of an airplane with her).

I am not a Seven!

Their bible verse would be John 15:11
"I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

So why have we spent the last few weeks looking at these 9 "types"?

Because, like any tool, they can help us understand ourselves better, so that we can better related to each other and work together as a body.

The three triads tend to approach God, spirituality, and even prayer in very different ways.

By gaining some better understanding of what makes you tick; will ultimately help you understand your relationship to God and maybe more importantly what you look for from God.

I think there has been some outstanding work done drawing the links between the Enneagram and our spiritual lives.

Cron's book: The Road Back to You, as challenging it can be to get through, provides an excellent introduction to the Enneagram.

But if you really want to go into how these typologies affect our understanding of God, I would recommend the even more challenging book by Richard Rohr called: The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.

I know for me, I have had my eyes opened in some new ways as I have worked through this material that I think we make me a better person, and hopefully a better pastor.

I think the perfect example was the staff's wrestling with the worship times.

There is no perfect solution --- the history of the middle service proves that.

But instead of insisting on our own solution --- what if we were to lay out our concerns and pre-conceived notions and try to line them up with the bigger picture (what we are trying to accomplish.)

Because regardless of what our typology is --- most of us believe we have the solution.
We all wear glasses that define our personal view of the world, those glasses make it hard for us to see other's potential solutions and pre-conceived ideas.

I chose some rather interesting pieces of scripture today.

The one at the top of your bulletin I think fits this Head triad.
"Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.”
~ Proverbs 18:15 (The Message)

That is the gist of the HEAD triad

But did what about what Nancy/Katie read to you?

I think this is the challenge of the Head triad --- to temper our intellect with our heart.

Richard Rohr in his daily devotional shared a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 which he says came from Brother Joseph Schmidt.

I invite you to listen to these words, and see if you can't find yourself in them.

As Richard Rohr says: "Only when we face and embrace our false self with humility can we begin moving toward freedom and wholeness, toward being Love."

If I live my life to perfection, doing what is right and good on behalf of others, but act with compulsion and without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I take care of the needs of everybody in the world, especially the poor, because of my own need to help, but am without love even for myself, then I am nothing at all.

If I am efficient and successful in all that I do for the sake of justice, but act out of drivenness and without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am cultured and refined, and in touch with the pain of existence, but am absent from the pain of persons in the present moment who need my empathy; and if I act without love and compassion, then I am nothing at all.

If I have the gifts of wisdom, insight, and understanding, but am not engaged with those around me in the present moment and am without a spirit of compassion and love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am faithful, loyal, and obedient, and never deviate from the law, but am judgmental and blaming, and am without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I live in a pain-free world of dreams and plans, enjoying optimism and pleasurable options, but am not addressing present problems and am avoiding people in actual distress and am without love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am strong and powerful, but lose my best self in a spirit of resentment, retaliation, and vindictiveness, and know nothing of the vulnerability of love, then I am nothing at all.

If I am settled and accommodating, holding onto a sense of distance and calm, but am not journeying inward to know and appreciate my weaknesses and gifts, and am neglecting my own legitimate calling to love myself, then I am nothing at all.

Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.
—1 Corinthians 13:4-8