Friday, September 18, 2020

What Really Matters

 

Philippians 1:3-11   Common English Bible

I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now. I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus. I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel. God is my witness that I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

 

Over the next seven weeks we will be overwhelmed in the worst of our country.

For the last half decade or so, elections haven't been about what unites us as a nation, but have rather sought to instill fear and loathing into the electorate.

This is not a critique of the Democratic party or the Republican party --- it is a critic of what has become of our democracy.

As a result of what Bob Greising referred to yesterday as the "silly season" I want us to spend time with Paul and his relationship with the people of Philippi.

This is a beautiful letter

          People that Paul seems to have a close and personal relationship with

                   Gordon Fee in his commentary on the letter calls it a "letter of friendship"

I know I said this in my article on Thursday --- but I want to emphasis it again

          I encourage you to read this little letter each week

Even better if you can take the time to read it in a different translation

          You can find different versions at Biblegateway.com

          It is a short letter --- only 4 chapters long

Just briefly, let me share a little history of the Church at Philippi and this letter

If you remember from the book of Acts chapter 16 (16:6- 12 The Message)

They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas. 

That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.

Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.

This was the farthest west that Paul had ventured to this point in his ministry.

Philippi was a small city in the first century C.E. --- most suggest a population of around 10,000 inhabitants.

But it was an important city

  • Philippi was located at the far eastern end of a large fertile plain in central Macedonia
  • It was situated on the Via Egnatia --- the main east west road between Byzantium (Constantinople) and the major sea port of Adriatic sea --- thus access to Rome

By the time of Paul, Philippi was a Roman City and the urban political center of the eastern end of the plain.

There is strong consensus that this letter was actually written by Paul, quite possibly from Rome somewhere around 60-62 CE.

There is some scholarly debate that this is actually a number of letters that over time were edited together.

          For our purposes, I don't see much importance to that sidenote 

It is fun reading, studying and meditating on this Letter of Paul's to the Philippians while also engaging in a study of The Book of Joy --- because in many ways this is a letter of joy!

One of the reasons Paul writes this letter is to say thanks for a gift that has been sent to him while he is imprisoned in Rome.

(Philippians 4:10-20 selected  The Message)

I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. . . . I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.

You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. . . . 

The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end.

Paul is grateful and filled with joy --- and he wants us to be as well.

Oftentimes when I begin working on a sermon, especially if I am going to preach through a book of the bible like I am with Philippians --- I read the text and see what jumps out at me.

As I read Philippians --- I felt the spirit pushing and pulling me in a number of ways.

But in this first half of the first chapter of Philippians --- one phrase just leapt out at me: "This is my prayer . . .that you will be able to decide what really matters"

What is it that really matters?

          Is it the same thing today as it was when Paul wrote this letter?

Let's look more closely at this section of Paul's letter.  I want to focus in on verses 9-11

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God.

Paul seems to be suggesting that there are three particular things that he is praying for the people of Philippi

First: “that your love might become more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight.”

There are some who believe that this refers to the love which the Philippians were to have for each other.

Paul is praying that the followers of Jesus in Philippi would get along better with each other 

There is no question that Jesus calls us to love one another, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Paul suggests the same thing when he writes in his letter to the Thessalonians said: (1 Thessalonians 3:12  CEB)

May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you.

And if you have read the whole letter you know that Paul addresses some of the bickering that was going on amongst the followers of Jesus.

But I don't that that is what Paul is trying to get across when he prays that our: "love might become more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight."

I believe that what Paul really wants is for us to grow in love more deeply with God.

And a love that is not simply an emotional attachment, but also one in the head.

          Paul wants our heads and our hearts aligned with God.

Today, I think we are better at filling our heads with knowledge and struggle with filling our hearts.

          But we need both!

Paul knows that they already love God --- he is not questioning that --- what Paul desires is for them --- and us --- to let our love grow deeper and wider.

Deeper so that we can see the things that God sees

Wider so that we can embrace the kindom that God desires.

The second prayer of Paul's is that we "will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ."

This, for me, is the crux of the passage.

Paul is praying that the Philippians --- and you and I --- will be able to discern what is most important.

The Phillips translation puts it like this: “I want you to be able always to recognize the highest and the best.”

As we move into this "silly season" is there anything more important?

Every day life is filled with difficult decisions.

Every day we face a myriad of choices

not just between good and bad,

but between sort of good and not much better,

between not great and not any better.

If life's choices were between good and bad or better and best it would be easy.

          But it is not always an easy task to decide which choice we should make.

Danish theologian/philosopher Soren Kierkegaard told a modern day parable about thieves who broke into a jewelry store at night.

Instead of stealing anything, they merely switched the price tags, putting high-value tickets on costume jewelry and bargain tags on premium gems.

Sometimes that is what it feels like in our world today

          the value of things are all mixed up       

                   things that are valuable --- aren’t given much importance

                   And things that are not as significant are highly valued

But Paul is harkening back to Jesus in calling us to kindom values and not our own.

Jesus looked at the world's values and declared them to be upside down.

All of the price tags were wrong.

How did Jesus define greatness?

          The biggest house?

          The heftiest bank account?

          How many titles we have?

NO

Jesus said that greatness is found in service.

          Self sacrifice is how one saves one’s life.

          The first will be last the last will be first.

Do I need to go on?  Jesus certainly did.

Jesus turns our values upside down and Paul's' prayer is that we can see what really matters!

Paul prays that we will know what really matters so that we "will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ."

Paul believed that Jesus was coming back soon --- today even.

How would our choices change if we really believed that Jesus might return NOW and hold us accountable?

Do we even think that way when we buy things made from sweatshops or when we don't think twice about the damage we are causing to the earth?

Paul wants us to care

          To care about what we value

                   are they even the right things?

Paul wants us to care

          About how we do business

          About how we spend our money

          About how we vote

Because he believes that we will be held accountable for what we do --- and what we don't.

And then he concludes this section with one more prayer for us: "that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God."

You see for Paul ---

when we take seriously what really matters ---

when that becomes the focus of our lives ---

we are filled with the fruits of the spirits.

In his letter to the Galatians (5:22-23 CEB), Paul tells us about the fruits of the spirit.

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

That is Paul's prayer for the people of Philippi and it is his prayer for us today

Are we willing to focus in on what really matters to God --- or what matters to us?

You are probably familiar with the short poem from Benjamin Franklin found in the 1758 version of Poor Richard's Almanac under the title “A little neglect may breed mischief”

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.

For want of a horse, the rider was lost.

For want of a rider, the battle was lost

For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,

All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

While it is popularly attributed to Franklin, the proverb is actually far older

          variations of it can be found dating back to the 14th century.

The story has survived so long, and been shared so widely, because it illustrates a universally recognized truth: everything is connected to everything else.

Little dysfunctions, if ignored, compound to larger ones.

          The untended stray thread will eventually lead to an unraveling of the whole.

          Water drops, given time, can wear away holes in solid rock.

And little unaddressed imbalances in our society can steadily erode our unity, and eventually lead to a host of much more serious problems.

This is the truth that Paul proclaims in this prayer.

And for Paul --- the starting point is pretty simple,

You have to start with a love for God.

If there is no love, there will be no sense of what is vital.

          If there is no sense of what is vital, there will be no pure and blameless life.

          If there is no pure and blameless life, there will be no glorifying God.

It all begins with our love for God.

Remember what happened one someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was? 

His answer tells us what really matters.   (Matthew 22:36-39 NRSV)

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

I pray that you will be able to decide what really matters and will be found blameless on the day that Jesus returns.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Where Are The Disciples

Matthew 16:21-28 (CEB)

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and legal experts, and that he had to be killed and raised on the third day. Then Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him: “God forbid, Lord! This won’t happen to you.” But he turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are a stone that could make me stumble, for you are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”

 

Over the past two months, Mary and I have sought to highlight some of the challenges or you might even say crisis that is happening in Christianity right now.

As I have been pondering and praying over the sermon this morning I was trying to figure out how to articulate --- in a way that doesn't push your off button --- the challenges that we face today as followers of Jesus.

Because, Christianity is under siege --- but not in the ways that we often think.

It is not under siege by shop owners and workers who will say Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas in the next few months.

It is under siege because we have neglected our responsibility

          We have disconnected our private life from our religious life

          Our work life from our religious life

          And the one that will set some of you off

                   Our political life from our religious life       

We have compartmentalized our Christianity to an hour or two a week

          We have also made it about a personal relationship with Jesus

                   As if we can be in relationship with Jesus in isolation

I came across an interesting illustration of this.

Are any of you familiar with Paxos or Paxi Greece

          It is a tiny Island with a population of about 2500 people

          Yet it boasts some 64 churches

                   That is one church for every 40 people

It is not that the people of Paxos are particularly pious

Instead, there is a tradition there for every island family to build their own little church.

These family churches are used for family occasions --- births, baptisms, weddings and funerals --- and for very little else.

          It creates a very personal or almost private religion.

                    A religion divorced from society.

And in my mind, we have done the same thing.

          Religion and Christianity has become increasing private

Certainly, we want there to be a church with clergy, organ and choir (that has been part of the challenge during the pandemic)

          and we want it there for those special occasions

                   baptism

                   weddings

                   funerals

And there are also those who on the face of it are more committed to their Christian walk.

But they do not want to be bothered with actually engaging with the community at large --- They will support financially helping people, but are not really interested in the soup kitchen or volunteering at the community center 

We desire the church to make us feel good in our relationship with God and to be there when we have a need like a

          baptism

          wedding

          funeral

This is nothing new

83 years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the still classic exposition on what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus. 

In The Cost of Discipleship or as it is also known simply as Discipleship, Bonhoeffer looked out at his beloved Germany and saw a nation, not that unlike our own.

Bonhoeffer saw a nation filled with decent, hardworking, responsible citizens.

But what bothered him was he also saw how powerless the people had become to resist the evil attraction of Hitler and his ghastly fascist creed.

What shocked him the most was how Christianity had offered very little opposition and often seemed to justify Hitler's actions.

Nearly everyone had fallen under the spell of Hitler, who promised to restore Germany and the German people to their rightful place.

Bonhoeffer concluded that the reason why the people did not resist Hitler is because they had bought into the notion of what he called CHEAP GRACE

          they no longer saw that caring for the least and lost was important

          Instead their own personal relationship with God was what mattered

Cheap grace for Bonhoeffer means:

the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Bonhoeffer calls us to let go of this cheap grace and instead to embrace the costly grace that Jesus offers.

And he wants to remind us that we do not set the terms of the relationship with Jesus --- God does.

          That is why it is costly.

He writes:

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

For Bonhoeffer, the answer to what is required of us to be a disciple of Jesus is found in the beatitudes.  There he saw it all laid out.

          Care for the hungry

          Care for those who are oppressed

          Care for those who are disenfranchised

          Be filled with mercy towards others

          Have a pure heart

          Be a peacemaker

          Persist

And Jesus constantly reminds us that we must:

"take up {our} cross, and follow {him}. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives?"

It is easy to follow the path of "cheap grace" to either:

          Define religion on our own terms

                   to make it meet our needs and whims

                             or

to retreat from a costly witness and discipleship in the world and into a private religion

Jesus wants to impact every moment of our lives --- not just part of it.

Being a disciple is a full time relationship --- one cannot be a disciple for just part of the day --- one chooses to either follow or not.

And while I see the Beatitudes defining how a disciple is to live and relate to the world; for me it is at the end of Matthew's gospel where Jesus makes it plain what life with Christ is to be like.

This is Jesus last message before he enters Jerusalem --- where he will be arrested, tried and killed by the state

The people hearing this story all think of themselves as followers of Jesus --- as disciples.

And he seems rather judgmental to those followers.

Jim Wallis writes:

This is the final test. This was Jesus’ last teaching before he went into Jerusalem to be crucified and raised from the dead. This is how we measure our lives as disciples. And while Jesus was not very judgmental as a whole during his ministry, he was in this text. The sheep go to eternal reward, and the goats, who didn’t treat the vulnerable the way they would treat Jesus, literally go to eternal damnation.

Listen to Jesus' words.

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jim Wallis continues:

An important thing to remember about this story is that all the people who are being judged think they are Jesus' followers. They all thought they belonged to him and they say, "when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger in prison? We didn't know it was you!”

And I often like to add that if this story happened in the present day, they’d add, “Had we known it was you, we would have at least formed a social action committee."

The way Jesus responds to them couldn’t be clearer. He tells them, "How you treat those who are the least of these,” meaning the marginal, the put aside, the shutout, the ignored, the neglected — "that's how you treat me. So I'll know how much you love me by how you treat them.”

Over the past two months, we have looked at the crisis of Christianity in North America today.

          Who is our neighbor?

          Do we see the Christ in everyone?

          What is truth?

          What is required of power?

          God does not want us to be paralyzed by fear

          Who is our Caesar?

          Becoming a peacemaker and not a peacekeeper

And finally --- are we willing to be a disciple

          Will we care for the least, the lost and the last in our society?

I want to close with this prayer from Christine Jarrett

We name you gracious Master and our God,

Great Redeemer and King.

You offer us the kingdom, Lord Jesus;

a realm where the hungry are fed,

the thirsty are given something to drink;

and the homeless are housed.

 

You offer us a realm where

those who are shivering are clothed,

the sick are visited,

those in prison hear good news.

 

We wonder how we are to receive such a gift:

Will you require of us more than what we are already doing?

Will you judge us for what we have done

and what we have left undone?

Will you leave us out of your community of salvation?

 

In your great love and mercy,

move us beyond fear;

move us beyond guilt;

move us beyond our anxious worry.

Move us deeper into your surprising grace;

Heal the blindness that does not see you

when you come to us in distressing disguise.


Set us free from serving lesser gods.

 

Most of all, form in us the mind of Christ,

so that we see the world through your eyes,

so that our hearts are broken by the things

that break your heart, and

so that we delight in the things that delight you,

and you create in us courage enough not to duck.

 

We ask in your life-giving name.

Seeking Peace

 

Romans 12:9-21 (CEB)

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.

If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good.

 

Greetings from Sun City Arizona, where it is HOT --- even at 7 am it is almost 90 degrees

I am out on the back porch of my parents’ home ---

I arrived Thursday morning so that I could accompany them to some doctor appointments and to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary which was Friday 

While I was driving my parents to an appointment, we drove past a church that had an electronic sign with a simple message: Pray for Peace

          Pray for peace

Peace?

One word and yet so many different images flood one’s mind.

For some peace brings pictures of calm and serenity.

As the old Eagle’s song says: “I’ve got a peaceful and easy feeling” 

For others peace requires the hard work of justice.

Paul tells us: “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

          And to that I want to say to Paul --- COME ON, you have got to be kidding me.

Do you expect me to live at peace with the officer who murdered George Floyd?

                   Or the rioter who destroyed property?

“If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

What then is peace?

and maybe most pressing question is --- what is the peace that Jesus speaks of --- and Paul desires us to live by?

Last February, when Mary and I preached on the Beatitudes --- Jesus central tenets as found in Matthew, I spoke about “The Way of Peace”

The basic premise of my sermon was that we are to seek peace ---

reconciliation rather than retribution ---

I suggest that is the message of Jesus and the bible.

I believe that is true --- but the challenge is HOW

          How do we live a Christ filled life of peace?

To begin, we need to go back to what Jesus actually said about peace --- and not what we think Jesus said.

          Do you recall what Jesus said?

“Blessed are the peace lovers for they shall be called righteous” is often what we want to think Jesus said --- because who doesn’t love peace?

          I especially love it when I can define what kind of peace I am talking about.

                   Much like the Roman’s did with the Pax Romana (the peace of Rome)

                             Peace for the Romans but not peace for anyone else

In Matthew’s Gospel what Jesus is recorded as saying is --- not blessed are the peace lovers or even the peacekeepers --- but rather:

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Jesus is calling for us to be ACTIVE peacemakers --- not simply lovers of peace.

And when we pursue peacemaking --- when we live as peacemakers --- Jesus says that we are children of God

But the problem is --- most of us prefer being a peacekeeper to a peacemaker

So let me try and give you a few distinguishing marks between being a peacekeeper and a peacemaker.

And I will be honest --- my natural inclination is toward peacekeeping, as I am willing to guess are many of you

A few characteristics of a peacekeeper

  • Peacekeepers do not want to be the cause of discomfort.  They tend to view any pain that they initiate as harmful so they will often limit their response to injustice because of this desire not to cause discomfort.
  • Peacekeepers tend to be rather passive in their approach to conflict.  They often keep their issues to themselves in hopes that it will just go away.  They tend to let things build up rather than to deal with every little thing that bothers them or offends them.
  • Peacekeepers often avoid dealing with people who are different from themselves to limit potential conflict.
  • Peacekeepers often express their attitude in very subtle ways, yet it can have major impact in how they deal with the world around them

Peacemakers also tend to exhibit some characteristics

  • Peacemakers understand that “peace” must sometimes be disrupted in order to allow for just peace to be created.
  • Peacemakers seek non-violent ways to demonstrate against the injustices that they perceive exist

Martin Luther King certainly exemplifies this method in our modern history

So too did Colin Kaepernick when he took a knee

(Often we are uncomfortable with peacemakers attempts to demonstrate against injustices

  • Peacemakers seem to understand that situations often have to become more challenging before they can get better --- and they are willing to persist.
  • Peacemakers take the initiative to create spaces for brave conversations.

They understand that real engagement is nothing short of messy.

  • Peacemakers are active about building an environment for peace to be possible. No task, no conversation, and no person is too small in the mind of a peacemaker.  They speak up for themselves and allow safe space for others to join the conversation and to share their story.
  • They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but are willing to create space for the answers to be found

The problem with being a peacemaker is that it is hard work --- and there is often a price to be paid.

          Think again of Martin Luther King or Colin Kaepernick

Making peace is not the same as avoiding conflicts.

Making peace requires moving into conflicts,

trying to resolve them,

to uncover their causes,

to restore relationships,

to heal the wounds,

to seek a just peace. 

Peacemaking is quite simply conflict resolution.

Peacemaking is not conflict avoidance ---

conflict among humans seems inevitable

Are we willing to try to resolve those conflicts when they inevitably happen?

Do we run to our side and throw rocks or even insults at each other?

          Or do we seek to find resolution and deal with the hard questions.

Jim Wallis writes:

We all love peace, and when there’s a lack of peace we tend to blame other people rather than ourselves. Peacekeeping, on the other hand, sounds good. But keeping the peace under an oppressive status quo and accepting things as they are isn’t truly peace. What Jesus is calling us to is an active process of solving conflicts without violence and thereby making peace.

Peacemakers strive to create peace and attempt to reconcile things and people that are at odds with one another and to help overcome injustices.

Peacekeepers, on the other hand, strive to keep peace at all costs.

Proverbs 10:10 (NLT), says:

“People who wink at wrong cause trouble, but a bold reproof promotes peace.”

Peacekeepers, by failing to acknowledging injustices or wrongdoings in an effort to maintain peace, are actually causing greater harm.

Pick any contentious issue in the history of our county --- Civil Rights, Slavery, Women and the right to vote and you can see how peacekeepers and peacemakers approached the problem differently 

I don’t want to stir up trouble so I will pick the safer one --- Woman’s Suffrage --- which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment just last week.

Peacekeepers tried to keep women from voting because they did not want to stir the pot.  They encouraged women to stay home and stay quiet and to trust the men to take care of things.

But women like Susan B Anthony, and Dorothy Day marched, protested and were jailed as they tried to eliminate the injustice of woman being denied the right to vote.

Peacemaking is never simply a political issue --- it is always a moral and ethical issue.

I have offered these tools before --- but I think they are required for peacemaking and are worth being reminded of

LISTEN

Listen to the hurts around you.

Seek to understand why people are acting out

Be proactive in recognizing injustice

LEARN

Create a space within your circle and at Meridian Street for others to share what they really feel without fear of backlash. It’s a messy process but ultimately, it allows for real engagement and purpose to happen.

Seek to understand the WHY

Engage people with who are different in race, age, religion, sexual orientation, etc.

We often avoid people who are different from us in order to keep peace that might be disrupted if we engage others who may view the world differently. Whether it is race relations in America or speaking with your Muslim or LGBTQI neighbor, it is important to make peace with each other, not holding onto a false sense of peace that might actually be disguised prejudice, narrow-mindedness, fear or bigotry.

ACT

Find ways that you can participate in making change

And find the perseverance to not give up

Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church in New York City for many years told a story that we need to hear:


On the slope of Long’s Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of a gigantic tree. Naturalists tell us that it stood for some 400 years. It was a seedling when Columbus landed at San Salvador, and half-grown when the pilgrims settled at Plymouth.

During the course of its long life, it was struck by lightning fourteen times and the innumerable avalanches and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end, however, an army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant which age had not withered, nor lightning blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush them between his forefinger and his thumb.

To be a peacemaker we must find the small destructive things that are destroying our society

It takes hard work to stand up against the small things that seem to be destroying us.

And it takes even harder work to look at ourselves and see where we are ignoring the injustices that do not damage our own lives but are slowly eating away at our brothers and sisters.

Christianity is in crisis --- because we have not done the hard work of peacemaking.

It is time we stop just praying for peace

And instead --- start to doing the hard and important work of making God’s peace


Loving God, help us to realize that true peacemaking can only become a reality in our world today if it is first a matter in our hearts.

We ask for the gifts of civility and charity so that we can treat others with respect and love. 

We ask for the gifts of faith and hope to strengthen our spirits by placing our trust in You rather than ourselves. 

We ask for the gifts of courage and compassion that will move us into action to help those in need in the United States as well as throughout the world. 

We ask for the gifts of humility and kindness so that we may put the needs and interests of others ahead of our own.

          We ask for the gifts of patience and perseverance to endure the long struggle for justice.

          We ask for all of this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, August 14, 2020

What Are You Afraid Of?

 Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

What is it about FEAR and the American psyche?

Franklin Roosevelt in his first inauguration said words we all are familiar with:

          “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

We often seem to speak of fear as if it were an enemy to be vanquished rather than a normal and perfectly natural emotion.

It is almost as if we believe that fear is a sign of weakness.

          We certainly do not want to be afraid

          and we do not want to look afraid

But fear is normal.

I grew up being taught that fear creates in us a fight or flight response.

·                 Fear keeps us from burning ourselves on a hot stove

·                 or from getting run over when we try to cross a street

Fear is a biological process

          It is hard wired into us

          We were born with it 

          I could even say --- God created us that way.

When our senses perceive a threat, our brain triggers a cascade of approximately 1,500 biochemical responses that include diverting blood and oxygen away from nonessential (at that moment) organs and toward our brain, heart, liver and muscles to help us resist or escape the threat;

dilating our pupils to help us see it more clearly;

decreasing our sense of pain;

and even producing more blood-clotting platelets to help us deal more effectively with any injuries.

In other words, the fear that sets our bodies response into motion to make us stronger, faster, more alert and more focused.

          Our ancestors would not have survived without it.

                    This kind of fear is a gift from God.

Today, this fight or flight response is less likely to be triggered by wild animals and more likely to be triggered by interpersonal, financial and other stressors

including stress about a virus that continues to claim lives around us.

But fear can also be used as a tool against us.

          Fear can be used to make us afraid of things that really don't warrant our fear.

When I think back on my life, one moment of fear jumps ahead of all others.

          September 11, 2001

If you are old enough --- you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news of the planes being flow into the World Trade Center towers

But what I also remember is being afraid.

          My girls were all in school

          Nancy was also at school --- and I was afraid for them

                   And all I remember was talk about a plane coming toward Chicago

          There was not fight or flight --- I found myself paralyzed for a time

And then we turned our fear into hatred of people of Middle Eastern descent

·             A local grocery store (that my girls often rode their bikes to alone) --- was vandalized because their owners were Muslim, just a couple blocks from my house

·             Muslim families woke up to horrible things spray painted on their property in my neighborhood

It was a terrible time --- where fear was used to make us see others as OTHER

We were AFRAID!

If I was to ask you: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

          How would you answer me?

That is a tough question, and my hunch is our answers have changed over these last few months ---

we have experienced a whole new level of fear as a result of COVID-19,

the protests following George Floyd's killing

and the storms that have ravished parts of the East Coast.

The challenge for us, as we talk about fear is asking ourselves a question.

When is fear necessary and even useful,

          and when is it harmful and destructive?

Fear is a common topic in our biblical story.

The story of Jesus opens with the angels telling us not to be afraid.

          Mary

          Joseph

          Elizabeth

          even the shepherds

Over 300 times the bible reminds us not to fear or be afraid.

Or maybe more appropriately the bible tells us again and again how not to dwell in fear.

I love the story of Jesus walking on the water that is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John --- I think it has some good advice for us in how we deal with fear.

Jesus sends the disciples ahead and goes off to pray by himself --- which is something he would often do 

The disciples were heading across the lake of Galilee and hadn't gotten very far because a storm had come up --- all night long they battled this storm.

Early the next morning --- Matthew tells us --- they see someone walking toward them on the water --- and they all assume it is some type of demon or ghost --- and the story tells us that they were all afraid.

Do you remember what Jesus said to them?

          “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

It's me --- you don't need to be afraid.

That is the promise of the Gospel in a nutshell

We started this morning with one of my favorite Psalms --- the 23rd Psalm

          "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 

          I will fear no evil:"

Why not --- "for thou art with me;"

How many times have I shared those words? . . .

It's not that we should not be afraid --- fear is necessary

But we should not let that fear control us or paralyze us

In 2nd Timothy 1:7 it is written (NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Too often FEAR is used to make us hate

          To turn against the “other”

But we are called to be filled with a spirit of power and of love --- and maybe the most important part of that advice is "a sound mind."

We need to ask ourselves:

Is this something really to be fearful of,

or is my mind creating a bigger and maybe false fear?

Please don't get me wrong --- fear is a natural part of life.

What my concern is --- is our response to fear

When we live in what Paul called "a spirit of fear" --- that way of life is not healthy and can lead us to dehumanize others if we allow that fear control us.

Fear can lead us into saying and acting in ways that can be very destructive

And that happens --- I believe --- because we forget about God --- we develop what has been called a "spiritual amnesia" --- we forget who God is and God's promise to always be with us.

We act as if we are the only ones who can solve the problem --- so instead of turning toward God --- we turn toward ourselves

          Only WE can fix it --- we start to believe

And the power of love that God speaks of get lost.

Jim Wallis puts it this way:

It is how we respond to fear that brings faith,  life, common sense, and hope instead of dysfunction, despair, destruction, and even death.  Faith is finally believing in love instead of fear, and believing that fear can be overcome by love --- especially by the perfect love that Jesus teaches us.

The objective is not to be fearless.

The objective is not to let fear consume or control us.

          When fear is in control it pushes us away from God.

Wallis argues that fear can actually be a friend --- a reminder --- when it causes us to lean into God

          I love that phrase --- lean into God

So what is it that you are afraid of?

In this day and age, I think we all wrestle with many different fears

And we are invited to ask:

          Is this fear necessary and maybe even useful?

                   Or is this fear harmful and destructive?

Is this fear drawing me closer to God?

          Or is this fear causing me to turn my back on God and God's kindom?

Remember what is written in 2nd Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

When I become afraid --- my mind always goes back to what God told Joshua (1:9)

"Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Will The Truth Set You Free?


John 18:33-38a (CEB)
Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”

Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”

“So you are a king?” Pilate said.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.


Almost 10 years ago, State Farm had a very memorable commercial.

What made it so memorable was how silly it was
          But I don't think we would find it as funny today

It opened with a man typing into his phone and a friend comes up and asks what he is doing.  He shares that he is reporting an accident in the State Farm app.
His friend says: State Farm doesn't have an app that can do that.
He replies: Where did you hear that?
The Internet.
And you believed it?
Yeah. They can't put anything on the Internet that isn't true.
Where did you hear that?
The Internet.

The sad part is --- for many people it seems that they believe more of what they read on the internet than what is reported in the reputable news.

In our culture today --- Truth is under attack

But that is nothing new.
          Truth has often been under attack

Truth is a major topic in the Gospel according to John.

John's Gospel begins by informing us: (John 1:14 CEB)
The Word became flesh
    and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
    glory like that of a father’s only son,
        full of grace and truth.

Jesus is --- TRUTH

And Jesus wants to makes a clear link between truth and freedom: (John 8:32 NRSV)
          "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Jesus is clearly making an assumption here --- that there IS something called TRUTH

And not only is there truth --- but we are given choices to make about it, and it is in those choices that determine if we are really free or not.

The question is --- is the converse of what Jesus said also true?
          In my life, I have found it to be true --- and it is a continual battle that I wage

Jesus seems to suggest that without the truth
          We can easily be held captive to assertions and claims that are false, even lies
--- and when that happens, we can become enslaved to false ideologies and narratives

The truth will set us free --- but lies can and will enslave us.

Maybe more than any previous time in our lives --- knowing the truth is more important than ever

In our text this morning, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus the words that many of us have asked, “What is truth?”

Pilate asks this just before he washes his hands of any responsibility for what he is about to do in authorizing the execution of Jesus.

Was Pilate asking a rhetorical question, I don't know.

Or was Pilate suggesting that there is no such thing as objective truth?
          Again, I don't know.

What I do know is that we need to ask this question --- What is truth --- earnestly and literally.

I am convinced that there is something called the truth.

It is the biblical message when Jesus tells us in John's Gospel (John 14:15-17 CEB)
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.

The choices we make about truth will determine whether we are truly free.

So, how do we answer Pilate’s question today?

In a conversation with Jim Wallis, William Matthews said:
“… it feels like our culture has a hard time discerning truth ... we are so in tuned to salacious rumor as truth that when truth actually shows up, we’re lost and we demonize it and we [say], ‘How dare you tell us that!’”

Why is it that we value sensationalism over facts?

But again, let me be clear --- this isn't a new problem

In the Second Epistle to Timothy, it is written: (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NRSV)
“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

When I read that I ask myself ---
          When did this get written?
                   in 2020 or around the year 100?

It feels so modern, as it captures one of our biggest challenges.
          Many of us gravitate toward media that will echo what we want to hear
                    That will affirm our biases and agendas
                             that will ease our itching ears

If you take some time and read through the texts in John's Gospel that focus on truth one thing becomes apparent.

And there are a number of passages found in John's gospel: John 1:14. John 1:17, John 8:3, John 8:44-47, John 14:5-7, John 14:15-17, John 17:17-19, John 18:37-38

What becomes apparent in reading all these verses is that the meaning of truth is linked with our relationship with God.

For Jesus --- truth is relational more than it is factual or propositional.

And the challenge for us to grapple with is --- what does that mean?

If the truth, as manifested in Jesus life, is more about faithfulness, obedience and loyalty with God --- How does that affect how we live?

I have come to understand that TRUTH is about the choices that we make which determine our spiritual lives.

Let me try to bring some clarity to what I am trying to say.

Dr. Andreas Kostenberger, an evangelical scholar, Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, writes:
In John, truth is first and foremost a theological, and perhaps even more accurately, a Christological concept. . . . truth, for John, while also being propositional, it is at the heart a personal, relational concept that has its roots and origins in none other than God himself. . . the only way for us to know the truth is to know God through Jesus Christ.

It suggests that our deepest concerns as followers of Jesus, is not simply the accuracy of the news, or whether the facts being told are actually true. 

Our obedience to the truth is bound up in our spiritual identity and personal relationship to God as known in Jesus Christ.

What Kostenberger is arguing is that there is NO knowledge of the truth, unless that truth changes your life.

As Christians, as followers of Jesus, it is more than just getting our facts straight
          Truth must change us
                   Truth must transform us
                             Truth must enlighten how we live, move, and have our being

Wallis writes:
we must bear witness to the truth of love over hate, to service and sacrifice over domination, to what is the "common good," best for all, and not just the few in power, for our neighbor (as defined by Jesus as the one different from us. . .) over just our tribe, and to nonviolence over violence for what is truly redemptive.

But I will be honest with you my friends --- pitting the power of Jesus' truth against the keepers of, so called, worldly truth is risky business

Wallis continues:
Truth is dismissed or denied by power, and the power of truth is then crucified by the powers that be --- with Jesus and Pilate being the ultimate example.

I hope that I have answered the question that Pilate begs us to answer.
          WHAT IS TRUTH?
                   For the answer is fairly simple
          WHAT IS TRUTH?
                   Jesus and his transformative love

But maybe the even more important question for today seems to be:
          How do we speak truth to power?

That question is all the more difficult when we ARE the power.

I don't presume to have all the answers, but let me share what I am learning.

To speak truth we must be transformed by it --- first and foremost

But we also must be humble and NEVER think we have it all figured out.

And I will leave you with the three words that have been speaking to me
          Listen
                   Look
                             Learn

I want to close with these words from Jim Wallis:

White Christians who seek to live out their belief that all people bear the image of God must make an active effort to hear the truths that people of color are speaking in this time of crisis. We must listen widely, listen deeply, and listen to those who are the most different from us in what we already think.

Most of all, at this crucial moment in American history, followers of Jesus need to take Jesus seriously. . . . it is also time to go deeper, to go back to Jesus, and understand how important to everything the truth really is — from democracy itself to our history, to our church and even family life. Truth-telling is central to this moment. Let’s turn back to Jesus.

Listen
          Look
                   Learn


Prayer —Jeannie Ewing, Catholic spirituality author

Lord, help me to seek truth today—
To find it in places and people I wouldn’t otherwise notice.
Teach me that in truth there is wisdom and understanding.
May seeking truth help me overcome my fears and frustrations.

Lord, help me to strive for truth in all that I do today—
That my thoughts, words, and actions may reflect Your goodness.
Show me that only in truth will I be free—
To live honestly and courageously,
To love wholeheartedly and unconditionally.

Lord, help me to cherish truth—
Knowing that You are the author of all that is beautiful, good, and true.
May truth reign in my heart, no matter what I encounter today—
Lies, mockery, confusion, or betrayal.
Your truth gives me clarity and peace.

Lord, You created truth.
You are Truth.
Help me to know truth when I see it;
Learn truth when I am taught it;
Love truth,
Live truth.

Help me to share truth with others today—
Those who are lost and lonely,
The brokenhearted and weary,
Anyone who is suffering from visible or invisible pain.
When I am a son or daughter of truth, I am free to be
Fully alive
Fully myself
And an honest reflection of You.

Truth leads to greater knowledge
Compassion
Understanding
Respect
Charity
And excellence in all virtues.

Truth strengthens me
Guides me
Leads me
Protects me
Keeps me.
I am constant when I dwell in Your truth.
I am unafraid of what I may face.
I am vigilant and poised for speaking
The witness of who You are in truth.
Amen.