Monday, July 25, 2016

Friends at Midnight

Luke 11:1-13 

On his final trip to Jerusalem,
Jesus is teaching his disciples about ministry.
And disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray
Just like John the Baptist taught his disciples how to pray.
I wonder what John the Baptist’s prayer was like.
My guess is that it was very different from Jesus prayer.

The prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples,
is just about the same one that we pray every week.
It’s almost hard to think anything objective
about this prayer because it’s so familiar to us,
It’s almost a part of us.

Prayer, Graham Dean
But really, Jesus prayer is more of
an outline than an full-blown prayer.
It sets out the things that we should be praying for:
-That God's name would be holy,
-That God’s kingdom would come to us.
-That God would give us what we need to live every day
-That we be forgiven.
- And that our time on earth is would not be too hard.
That’s pretty much it.
No specifics, no unique requests.
It’s kind of a prayer for all time and all people.

But maybe more important than
what Jesus taught the disciples to pray
is how Jesus told them to pray: Persistently.
Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t take a break.
Keep doing it.

“Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.
Everyone who asks receives.”

Now, I know there isn’t a person here
who hasn’t had a prayer go unanswered.
All of us at times have wondered what God was doing in this world.
All of us have sometimes felt like we’ve asked for an egg,
and God gave us a scorpion.

Even Jesus, in this very Gospel, fervently prayed that God would
take away the pain and death that he knew was coming to him in his
crucifixion, and God did not, but still Jesus tells us to pray.
As I said last week, it’s important to
remember the question that was asked,
and this question was “how do we pray”
The answer is  “all the time.”
Even if you don’t get what you want,
there is purpose and power in your prayer.

There was a man shipwrecked on a deserted island.
He was there for a long time.
One day, after losing all hope, he decided to pray:
“God, I’ve never prayed before, and I’ve not been a very
good person, I’ve lied and cheated, I drink, and swear and gamble.
But if you get me off this island, I promise, I’ll change my –
Woah. Hold on, there’s a boat coming my way—
Forget about that last promise, God, I’ve got this covered.”

Now that’s silly, but there’s some truth in it.
We often think of prayer as a last resort.
We push ourselves to pray only in an emergency.
Only when we’re desperate and have no other hope left.
Sometimes we bargain with God like God is some
kind of loan shark that we owe money to.
But Jesus tells his disciples, that is not the way to pray.

Jesus tells them,
“Suppose one of you has a friend and you go to him at midnight
and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread”
So do you often knock on people’s doors at midnight?
Would you do it to ask for some bead to entertain guests?
I know times have changed, but even back in Jesus time,
I think that knocks at midnight were reserved for emergencies.
Three loaves of bread to entertain some people is not an emergency.
I would be uncomfortable and very apprehensive to do that.
That is unless they were a very, very good friend.

Then I would know that I could knock on their door at midnight
and have a silly request and they wouldn’t call the police
on me, or gossip about me the next day with the neighbors,
or think any less of me in the morning.

That would actually have to be a best friend, a family member 
a parent. One who would see my problems as their problems.
So the best gift of Jesus story would not be actually
getting the bread for entertaining guests.
The best gift would be knowing you had a friend
who’s door you could knock on at midnight.  
And that is the best gift of prayer.

Prayer is the conversation between us and God
and conversation is vital to any good relationship.
It’s not just coming to God with emergency needs
(have you ever had a friend like that?!)
Prayer is us telling God our thoughts and hopes,
our worries and concerns, our joys and delights.
Prayer is sharing our secrets with our friend.
And it’s also God sharing God’s dreams and hopes,
God’s reassurances and forgiveness with us.
It is how God reaches us and teaches us loves us.

And prayer is something that we share with each other too.
No matter what denomination, or even religion,
no matter what our political ideas or opinions,
prayer is something we share with every person of faith
and some people without faith too.

Every time we start our food pantry, we gather together to pray,
we asked this week and the Muslim women prayed with us too.
Now, I’m sure many of the people haven’t been to church in years.
I’m sure that some of the people there
have not thought about God in years.
I’m sure some are confirmed atheists or agnostics.
Even when we don’t know why or to who we’re praying,
prayer just seems right.

I’m guessing the biggest difference between John the Baptist’s prayer
and Jesus prayer would be the first line of Jesus prayer:
“Our Father.”
The disciples knew that Jesus had a special relationship with God,
But in this prayer, Jesus is telling them and us that we do too.
God is the special friend at midnight, that one we can trust.
God is our parent. Our Father.
And we are brothers and sisters.

Prayer is the closeness of God and God’s people.
To God and to one another.
It’s the knock at God’s door.
Keep doing it, even when it feels futile,
Even when we don’t get what we ask for,
Keep knocking, keep praying
because the greatest gift is knowing that

God will always be on the other side of the door.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Martha & Mary

Luke 10: 38-42    
July 17, 2016

Are any of you here do-ers?
Do you relate to Martha?
Do you like to get things done and be productive?
Do you like to keep yourself busy doing things?
Do you like to get ahead of things?
Do you like to make and complete a to do list?
Do you like to be responsible and accomplished?
Do you like serving others? Making a difference?
Turning your faith into action in solid and real ways?

Your service is valued, and necessary.
I’m not here to tell you to stop doing that.
And not just because I’m a pastor
and churches depend on people doing things.
God needs our work and tasks.
I’m not going to scold anyone for being like that.
I don’t think Jesus was at Martha’s house to do that either.

And why would we want to do that?
We serve a God and a Messiah who was incarnational.
Who’s love wasn’t just an airy fairy kind of statement of love.
It was real, it was solid and practical.
The Word became flesh and lived among us
and our words are expected to become flesh too.

Mary Sitting at Jesus Feet Scott Freeman
Love is shown in actions, day in, day out actions.
Wiping snotty noses, giving hugs, taking out the garbage.
We just got finished with Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan.
Being a neighbor is stopping to help, tending wounds,
and lifting someone out of the dirt.
It’s not just saying “God loves you” and passing by.

So Martha putting together an olive and cheese platter
and sweeping the floor for her guest was not just idle busy work,
it was her way of showing her love and respect for a special guest.
It was also very much her job and duty,and not really a choice she made.
In Martha’s time,
women were not expected to just sit and talk to guests.
They were expected to be up and doing stuff,
making the meal, getting what guests needed, cleaning up

Martha is doing exactly what is expected of her.
She is filling the role that women had filled forever.
Maintaining the home, making the food, and raising the children.

And frankly, we’re not too far away from that mindset.
I’ve heard that one of the major objections about opening
our own Play and Learn Child Care Center in 1980 was that
in doing so, Gethsemane was encouraging
women to work outside the home.

In Martha’s time, women did all the home
stuff so that men could work and earn the money
and also so they could be the spiritual guides for the family.

The man was to attend and participate
in the prayer services he was to go and spend
the afternoon at the synagogue and listen to the teachers,
and contemplate God’s will for everyone
and then come home and teach his family.
The men were supposed to sit at Jesus feet.
The men were disciples, the women were supposed to
serve so that the men could do that.

So then we come to Martha’s home.
And it’s referred to as Martha’s home which is very interesting.
and she’s doing exactly what is expected of her.
She’s doing the “right thing”.
She’s filling her duties, she’s earning her keep
She’s doing what is necessary to keep the system running.

It’s Mary who’s not acting appropriately.
She’s not doing, she’s just sitting and listening.
She probably looks lazy and presumptuous by a lot of
people’s standards those days.
Certainly, she’s not doing what is right and presentable for a woman to do.

So Martha wants help, but she also wants
her sister to come back and be normal again.
She wants her to fill her expected role.
And she wants Jesus to back her up on this.
“Jesus, are you just going to let her do this?
Tell her to get back to what she should be doing.”
And the first hearers of this story
would probably have been with Martha.
Mary is acting weird. Jesus, tell her to stop it.

But Jesus won’t. Jesus actually says that
Mary has made a good choice.
This is exactly what Mary should be doing.
This is exactly what women should be doing.
And maybe Martha could do that sometimes too.
To come and sit at Jesus feet and hear words of
love and forgiveness and not worry about the world,
Not worry about the world’s expectations,
about the role that she’s supposed to fill.

So I don’t think this story from Luke’s gospel
is a statement from Jesus about how the church
should be weighted towards worship and learning
instead of hospitality and service to the outside world.
Although some preachers have tried to do that.

And I don’t’ think that Jesus is scolding the doers of the world,
the social workers, the service project people,
the habitat for humanity, or food pantry people,
the Sunday school teacher,
or anyone who is moved to do the work that needs to be done
this is not Jesus telling everyone to just sit down
and pray and read the bible.

And I don’t think the world is divided into Marthas and Marys
We’re not divided in to busy workers and contemplative thinkers
and this is not Jesus saying “yay” for the Marys of the world
and “nay” to the Martha’s.
I think the truth is that we’re all Marthas and Marys.

We all have that Martha side of us.
We are driven by our need to fill our role
We live under the pressure of what the world
wants and needs us to do,
at home, at work, at church, in our communities.
We stress about our to-do list and get frustrated and distracted.
We set out to accomplish what the world expects us to accomplish,
and when it doesn’t happen we get filled with anxiety,
and self-doubt and we wonder whether
we’re worthy of Jesus company.

But also have that Mary inside us.
That part needs to be coaxed out.
To be reassured to be told that
just sitting and being is good enough.

Sometimes when we’re running distracted,
Jesus reminds us “Martha, Martha.
You’re trying to do too much.
I don’t need you to do everything.
Your presence with me is enough.”

It is enough to just sit at Jesus feet,
and hear the word of God --
the word that says that we are loved
not for what we do,
but just because we are God’s–
It is enough just to sit and be loved.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Over the Line

Luke 10:25-37  
July 10, 2016

Good Samaritan
Dinah Roe Kendall
This parable has been called 
the Good Samaritan
The term “Good Samaritan” 
is a part of our lexicon,
it means a person who helps a stranger.
And the natural lesson 
we often get from this parable
is that we should be like the Samaritan, 
the only one
who didn’t worry about his own schedule or safety
and took his time to help someone he didn’t even know.
And that is a great lesson to learn any day.

But, of course, since this is  a parable of Jesus
the lesson isn’t so straight forward as that.

A lot of times it’s important in Jesus parables to
take a look at the question that is being asked.
And the question that’s being asked in this one
”What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
The question was asked by a lawyer.

Now the lawyer wouldn’t have been a lawyer
of secular law, he would have been an expert in Jewish religious law.
So the lawyer asked Jesus a question 
he already knew the answer to. 

It says he asked it in order to test Jesus.

So Jesus knows it, so he says,
“You know what the law says:
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

So the man asks a follow-up question –
He asks “Who is my neighbor?”
If I’m supposed to love my neighbor, then who is my neighbor?

 And Luke says here that the lawyer asked
this question in order to justify himself.
We know from looking at Galatians that to “Justify yourself”
means to put ourselves in the right.
To work up that ladder by our own works.
To impress our friends and to impress God.

So this expert in Jewish law wanted to make himself look good.
He expects Jesus to say that your neighbor is the one that
lives in your neighborhood, or the people in your region,
or at the very least, other Jews.
He wants to say, “I already love my neighbor”
I give the guy who lives next to me some bread when he needs it.
I share my old clothes with the ladies auxiliary.
I forgive the guy down the street the debt he owes me.
I love my neighbor, right?

Of course, Instead of any easy answer, Jesus tells a story.
The story is about a traveler is on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
This was a notoriously dangerous road.
It was like Jesus mentioning the name of the bad part of town.
Someone was bound to get robbed and beaten up in this story.
And this guy does. He’s left on the side of the road half dead.

Then Jesus says that a Levite and a Priest go by.
This is not just anybody, these are trusted people,
people everyone would have looked up to.
These would have been the expected “neighbors”
to the lawyer who asked the question.
But we’re told that they both cross to the other side.
As many people do.
Now everyone knows, since the beginning of time,
that all stories happen in threes. So there would be one more.
The people listening and this lawyer who is trying to trick Jesus
would be waiting for this next character to arrive.
They would be the hero of the story.
But that third man was a Samaritan.

Jesus was Jewish, all of the people listening were Jewish,
The lawyer was Jewish and
Jewish people and Samaritans had a long history of
racial and religious hostility toward one another.

And yet in Jesus story, it’s the Samaritan who is moved with pity.
The Samaritan helps the man, takes care of him and saves his life.

And, guessing or knowing the lawyer’s dislike of Samaritans,
Jesus asks him an uncomfortable question:
“So was a neighbor here?”
And the lawyer couldn’t even bear to say the word “Samaritan.”
He says, “The one who showed mercy”

Now this story is clever if you know the truth about the
relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.
It was clever of Jesus to make the lawyer see that
even enemies can be neighbors.

But Jesus goes the extra mile and makes
the hated one the hero of the story.
The one who is to be admired, emulated, imitated, learned from.
Jesus tells the lawyer, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and be like him.
Find your life in that whole arrangement.

Remember, the original question to Jesus was
“what must I do to gain eternal life?”
And this complicated story is the answer.

In other words, in order to gain your life,
don’t look to the priest and the Levite.
The priest and the Levite represent institutionalized religion, the law,
they were the usual brokers of eternal life, and God.
But they let the man in the road down.

Subtly, Jesus is saying that if this man wants to find his salvation,
he shouldn’t be looking to the regular systems of religion.

And where should he be looking?
To the outsider, the one who is despised, outcast, pushed aside.
And he should not just to look and to help
and have pity on and change him.
But to admire him emulate, to learn from, partner with.
Look for God working through the other.
That’s the new system God has ordained for us.
We find God by looking outside the people we know
and feel the most comfortable with.

There is a saying, it seems to come from no one in particular:
Whenever we draw a line to keep people out,
Jesus is on the other side of that line.

So who is on the other side of our line?
Today the world is surely divided.
Polarized is the word that’s used most often.
But today, the lines aren’t as simple as they used to be.
We don’t all share the same “Samaritan” as a group.

Now the Samaritan could be our own brother or sister
who belong to a different denomination than us,
our own neighbor with the wrong political sign in their yard.

So who is on the other side of your line?
With the violence that happened this week,
the devil wants to further the insult to this
country by deepening the divide that caused
the violence in the first place.
Who have you drawn a line in the sand to separate from
who you perceive the “good guys to be”?

Is it the Black Lives Matters protestors?
Is it the police?
Is it the people who won’t see that our justice system is broken?
Or is it people we dismiss as “thugs”?
Where have you drawn your line?
Wherever we draw that line,
Jesus is on the other side.

God can work through anywhere, in anyone.
God’s help comes in unexpected places.
Mercy does not just have one address.

With all the bad news this week,
it’s good to hear a little good news, 
maybe you heard this one.
Inmates break out to help a guard.
In Texas this week, 
not too far from Dallas actually,
Some inmates were in a holding cell,
they were waiting to be transported somewhere.
And the officer that was guarding them fell over in his chair and had an apparent heart attack.
When they saw this, the prisoners broke out of the holding cell,
and remember, the officer had a gun and handcuffs on him.
And they started to make a racket and yell and slam on the doors
all in order for the other guards to come upstairs
and help the other guard out. And he did survive.
The prisoners were very aware that they could have misinterpreted
what was going on and could have shot them.
But they put their own safety second to help this man out.
Good Samaritans. People to admire, emulate, learn from.

God’s mercy and presence and help, can come from anywhere.

Our salvation as a country and as a people
will not be found only on our side of the line
that we’ve drawn for ourselves.
It will be found in the other.
It won’t be found in just being nice and helping out occasionally.
It will be found in our understanding,
our repentance, and our forgiveness.

No matter how dismal it looks right now.
No matter how beaten up we feel,
God will not leave us by the side of the road.
God has more wonderful stories of surprise planned for us.
God has more neighbors for us to meet

and more mercy in this world to show us. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free - Galatians 6

Galatians 6

For freedom Christ has set us free.
When you think about freedom, what do you think of?
Here’s what stock photos thinks of freedom.
Do you all know what stock photos are?
They are generic 
professional photos advertisers
and marketing people use in their work.
If you google in one word and click “images”
you’ll get a mess of stock photos 
that fit your particular word.
Sometimes this can give you 
a little window into
Something to do with holding your arms up in the air alone.
what the national image of a particular word.

When I click in freedom, 
I get a lot of pictures like this:
A lot of pictures like this.
In the gospel according to stock photos,
Freedom is apparently about putting your arms up like this.
It’s also about being alone and loving it.
Not worrying about another person or thing.
Free from chains, responsibility, free from other people all together.

Mind you, 
I have no problem with being alone.
Doing things alone, being alone. 
I like being alone. I relish it.
Alone is a great thing, it’s part of a healthy life.
But when we hear that Christ has made us free,
we shouldn’t confuse Christ’s freedom
with the rugged individualistic freedom.
Like Paul told us last week,
we are freed in our relationship with God
in order to serve  one another.
Something to do with holding your hands up in the air alone.

Coincidentally, or not coincidentally,
If you do the same thing with 
the stock photos
and look up WORSHIP,  
this is what you’ll find:

Now, I don’t think it’s a coincidence,
because I think this is what American individualism
has done to worship too.
This is what the law does to the gospel.
My status before God becomes the sum of
MY faith, MY love, MY dedication to Jesus.
MY ability to put God first in MY life..

But the gospel of Jesus is not about ME, it’s about us.

Just a little review, the law was given to us,
and it was good, it gave us guidance,
a way to live together in harmony.

As Paul said in Chapter 3, the law was just a disciplinarian
a guardian, a baby sitter:
                        24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came,
There was nothing wrong with the law per say.

But human sinfulness being what it is,
we took the law, we take the laws and instead of just it for
keeping us safe and living life together harmoniously,
we made our whole relationship with God
based on whether we followed the law or not.
This led to competition, condemnation, judgment and division.
Our relationship with God became a
competition that none of us could ever live up to.

And this doesn’t just go for Jewish law,
this goes for all laws in religion and life
which we believe determine how we rate in God’s eyes.
Richard Rohr Calls it the “Performance Principle”
or our own “private salvation plan”
and that’s exactly what it is. Private.

By nature, having a relationship with God based on the law is law is isolating.
When we are busy climbing up those ladders
our focus is how we’re doing on it.
God is full of grace only when we do right or we repent.
And we use solitary words in our description
I believe. I’m saved.
Jesus Christ is MY PERSONAL Lord and Savior.
Our focus is ourselves,
how are we doing up that ladder?
Where are we, how have we improved.

And other people become barometers for comparison.
How are they doing with that ladder climbing?
Are they better than me? Should I idolize them?
Are they worse than me? Should I condemn them?

And much of Christian religion has gone on this road
and still goes on this road.
Even those that claim to believe in God’s grace.
There is still often an element of judgment,
and a worship of success. It’s human nature.
It does it in these overt ways, and in more subtle ways.

One way that I see Christian Churches go in this direction
is the 7 ways sermons.

These were some I found from various preachers:
7 Ways to Love your Mother, 5 Ways To De-stress, 7 ways to please God.
And a lot of this information is sound advice.
But it’s not about the quality of the advice given.
This is self-help Christianity.
You can do this. You can do seven steps. You can do it!
It’s not about God it’s about us.
And the insinuation is that our relationship
with God is based on our ability to do them.
It becomes another ladder to climb up.
But what if I miss a step. What if I can’t do those steps?
What if someone else I know doesn’t follow those ways?

And In chapter 3, Paul says that Christ crucifixion took that away.
Jesus failed the 7 ways of religion,
the 5 steps to be a better Messiah

The holy one became cursed and condemned,
so that the cursed and condemned could become holy.

And the people that have heard this gospel and received
believe in this wonderful gift now have the opportunity
to live a different way:
We live for each other,
we come to the bottom of that ladder and care for the unloved.

As Paul writes in this last part of the letter we read.
This is from the Message by Eugene Peterson:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin,
forgivingly restore them, saving your critical comments for yourself.
You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.
Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed.
Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.
If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
The Message

or as we hear it in the NRSV

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Share other’s worries, bear one another’s burdens.
This is the mark of the community of Christ.
It’s not an individual thing.
Salvation is not a solitary thing,
It’s not just for one person to reach the top of the ladder.

Salvation is not a personal thing, it’s a group thing.
Since no one is going up that ladder any more,
all we have left to do is care for everyone stuck at the bottom.
Bear one another’s burdens. Lift each other.
And share the freedom that we have found in Christ.
When we do just that, we have fulfilled
all that the law was supposed to do in the first place.

This is the gospel’s picture of freedom. This is worship.
This is how the law of Christ is fulfilled.

Now, you think this kind of thing would be easy,
not controversial, everyone would love it.
Helping other people, standing with each other and the oppressed.
But it’s not. The grip of the law is strong on us.
We relish in our own egos our own accomplishments.

Treating everyone as an equal throws off our equilibrium.
And some people fight hard against that.

And bearing one another’s burdens means
standing with the cursed and the oppressed.
The immigrant and refugee, the despised and the condemned
even standing with our enemies at times.
And then we’re accused of coddling, encouraging bad behavior.

When the gospel is preached
and the way of Jesus is followed,
it necessarily creates tension with the world.
it challenges the powers of this world,
it disrupts the status quo. It becomes political.

People are offended and opposed.
Because that ladder has created so many systems
and now God is saying that they are irrelevant.
Freedom can be disorienting.
Freedom can feel like a punishment.
The world doesn’t necessarily want this kind of freedom.
So the world resists it.

Just like those Foolish Galatians.
They were freed by the gospel
from their oppressed position in the Roman Empire,
and slavery to Roman law.
And then they traded in that freedom they got from the gospel
for slavery to another kind of law
and started to demand that, in order to be a Christian,
all the men had to be circumcised.
They went back to their comfort zone.
The hierarchy of inside and outside.
Which is what angered Paul and drove him to write this letter.

And, I wish I could say that the Galatians listened to Paul’s letter.
But the chances are they didn’t.
Or they probably went like the rest of the church,
and they took away the requirement of circumcision
and built another ladder with of all sorts of other requirements
in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness.

But we thank God that Paul wrote this letter for us,
and for every generation. So we can keep understanding
what the gospel of Jesus has done for us.
And we can know what true freedom is:
the freedom that we get through the love of God and Jesus.