Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wait...the ? is coming Advent 2 (b) 08

wait…the Lord is coming
prepare…the Lord is coming
take comfort…the Lord is coming

This morning we are going to travel back in time and look at three ancient texts and seek to discover meaning from them for our own lives during this time of Advent.
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. 
Advent means coming. 
The time when we anticipate the coming of the Christ child, born in a manger in Bethlehem those many years ago…
we anticipate the second coming.
The return of Christ in which the world as we presently know it will pass away, and a new heaven and new earth take its place.

Now, it’s pretty easy to think about the birth of the Christ child.  Pretty hard to avoid thinking about it..
although don’t you think our perspective of it has been skewed a bit? 
Instead of thinking about that baby boy born in a manger, among animals and strangers in Bethelhem, and celebrating his birth, instead, this time of year a round jolly bearded man in red dominates the scene. 

And the second coming…
How often do we think about the second coming? This was a huge deal for the early church.
Have we lost this concept? 
Sounds too much like science fiction and is hard to rationalize in our modern minds. 
Or fanaticism with  raptures, threat and violence.
It seems disruptive…and for many of us, we may prefer our daily lives rather than anything unforeseen.
Things are okay….At least they had been okay until the economy started to nose dive.  But at least gas prices have gone down. yesterday I paid 1.489. Who can beat that?
This coming of Christ..
It just doesn’t seem like something we would hope for.

It can be hard to anticipate the coming of our Lord,
So we are gifted this morning with insight from three different communities that have different approaches to this Advent.   There is one that is encouraged to wait…for the lord is coming. The other is to prepare the way…for the Lord is coming. 
And the third is to take comfort…the Lord is coming.

The letter of 2 Peter is written for a community of followers of the way who lived some three or four generations after the resurrection of Christ. 
Many within this early community, some of the most faithful and humble leaders, have died.  And where was Christ?
Wasn’t he supposed to have already come back? 
I mean, really. 
They had heard from their ancestors Jesus’ claim before the assension….”I’ll be back.” 
When?  \   When are you coming back? 

This pastoral letter tries to put at ease a crowd that is becoming restless, anxious, maybe desperate. 
The time of God is not like the way we understand time.  
One day is like a thousand years; a thousand years, like one day.
The day is coming, but you’re going to have to just wait longer.
But what do we do in the mean time?  We don’t like waiting.

In this information age, where whatever we want is virtually a click away…Waiting stinks…no one wants to wait around. 
It should have already happened last week. 

What are some of the things your waiting for?
What would draw your mind and attention away from where you are in this present moment to itself?  
How do you handle it?  shifting around in your seat..
looking at your watch.
What’s coming in your future?
I met with a woman yesterday who is in the county jail…and you better believe she is counting down the minutes until she appears before the judge and is praying she gets out.

What are you waiting for? And what do you do while you wait?
Maybe many of us are waiting for…Stewardship Sunday!
The time when we can turn in our pledge cards so that the life and ministry of God in this place may continue. 
Next Sunday will be a very important day in the life of the congregation.
So while you wait for this, pray about what kind of commitment you will make. 

What else?  A BCS champion?  How bout a playoff.
A turn around in the economy?  If only. An end to the war? Wouldn’t that be great!  The inauguration of our next president?  Just around the corner…
How do you handle all of this waiting?
Gather as much information as you can; Scouring the internet and newspapers and media outlets. 
Think about it randomly, constantly?
Count down the days…only 20 days left until I ride the train. Only 9 more months and I can retire.  17 more days and you know who is coming to town.
While they wait, wish lists are being filled out by children and children at heart.  Tonio Garcia’s mom, Valerie, told me that his list consisted of a several toys, but interspersed in that list was a note with concern for the poor, “could they get gifts too?”  And there was a request concerning his relationship with his older sister.  as the younger brother of two older sisters, I’m pretty sure I have a good idea what that one was about. 

2 Peter tells the community while you wait…repent.
In the mean time…strive for holiness and godliness;
strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish. 

Could you imagine a child coming home from school living these words out in her life:  So, daughter, what did you accomplish today: well, I really was trying to be more godly…so I helped my friend with her homework, and sat with the new kid in school.

Perhaps, like a list of Santa, we could make a wish list for how we might live a more godly and holy life. 

By doing so, we may even begin to live in such a way that we can witness this world transforming before our very eyes.
A good way to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Let’s turn our attention now to Mark’s community. 
I’ve mentioned before one of my friends bumper sticker: Jesus is coming, look busy. 
Mark says, Jesus is coming:  Prepare.
The story of Jesus had been told for decades after Jesus had lived, died and was raised from the dead.
Most scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was in it’s final written around 70 AD. 
During this time a war going on. 
Some Jews had revolted against Rome; they were tired of the occupation.  The Romans had laid siege to Jerusalem,
and destroyed their most precious and sacred possession: 
The Temple. 
There is chaos, unrest and anxiety. 
The price of oil is skyrocketing—olive oil—
and certainly we know how that affects the entire economy.[1] 

What words would you speak in such a situation?  Good news? The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,
the Son of God.  The messenger is coming…prepare the way. 
A prophet appears in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance.  John is out there and he’s drawing a crowd. Sometimes I’m a little envious of the freedom of John B.
Wild hair, camel’s hair and a leather belt…
a simple diet of honey covered bugs. 

“I have baptized you with water, but one coming after me will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” The crowd responds…they go down to the river to pray; they confess their sins, and repent.  This is preparation. 
While we wait we may prepare our hearts for this one who is to come.
I was a boy scout…our motto was: Be Prepared.  A perpetual state of preparedness…I don’t know how well I live up to that. 
But, fortunately I have a great wife whose nesting instincts are kicking in since she is only 2 months away from delivery. 
And boy, am I learning what it means to prepare for someone that is coming. 
What was once an office in our house—is being transformed into…you guessed it. 
Want to come over and paint or something? 
And last week we went to not one but two birthing classes.  LeMans videos and breathing…
Have any of you heard Bill Cosby’s take on these classes [breathing impersonation]. “You did this to me!” 
We’ve got one on “breast feeding” coming up in a few weeks.
I wonder if Joseph went to that class? 

But preparing the baby room may be a good metaphor for preparing for Christ,
both the Christ child and the Christ who is to come. 
John’s message to repent, confess our sins, tells us to get all that stuff out of our hearts and minds that won’t do for this coming one.
Begin to clear out space, so that grace may fill that room.
Joy may abound in our hearts and in our lives. 
We make room in this community as we repent of our sins so the gift of the Holy Spirit may be present.

Wait…the Lord is coming says 2 Peter.
Prepare…the Lord is coming; says Makr
And finally, take comfort..the Lord is coming. says the Prophet Isaiah.
Our third community is the one addressed in Isaiah chapter 40.
The people of Israel, who claim YHWH as their god, have been in captivity, oppression, and away from their homeland for many many years now. 
Imagine that. If we were taken from our homeland…or our homeland was taken from us, and violently occupied by another people.

What does a prophet say to a people who have been living in captivity?
They are not at home;
and they are not fully present where they live.
They are in between.
For a grieving people who can see no future, were these words of great surprise: Comfort, O comfort, my people. 
Those of you familiar with Handel’s Messiah can start humming to yourself now. 
Take comfort for the Lord is coming! 

Mountains made low, valleys made high, The glory of the Lord shall be revealed! 
Go up onto the hightest hill: and shout the good news! 

God comes in might…this is not the strength of a bloody avenger, a violent brute or a demanding judge. 
No, this is God’s strength: It appears in the barely thinkable power of gentleness, in tender and caring presence, in intimacy such as a shepherd expresses when gathering the wounded, scattered flock.[2] 

In the midst of this cry: we are reminded of our place…
the people are grass.
On Wednesday at our noon Bible Study, we talked about the rare celestial trifecta of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon.
Did any of you see it?  Barbara said that the next time it will happen, Claudia and I will be the only ones who might still be alive to see it.  2052.  Sitting around that table were Sherl, Marylin, Georgia, Erik. 

Yes, we are a frail and fragile people.  We need to be comforted, by the one who gives comfort.

At the doctor’s office there are many magazines on parenting.  Most seem geared toward women,
the adds and the pink colors kind of give it away.
But, there are some really helpful articles in there.
One I was reading about the development of a child and it gave some cautions about what not to do with kids around one year.

One father wrote:
I thought it would be neat to see how my boy would react if I put the basketball under my shirt.  But, for some reason, when he saw me, he started crying and was upset…and now he’s afraid of the basketball.

Another story:
We bought our child Ermo, a talking doll.  But when we started the doll talking our 13 month old was crying and scared.  And now he doesn’t play with any talking dolls.

Our 12 month old accidentally pushed a button on the remote control to the television and changed the channel to on that was static and noise.  She began to cry and now doesn’t want to go near the TV.
When I read that one I told trasie we should do that to our kid so that he/she won’t want to watch tv. 

“Some things may seem harmeless to us older people and really frighten and worry infants,” the magazine said.  “Parents, be ready to comfort your infant and be gentle with her.”  

We grow older, and are not freighted by the same things, but certainly we are still easily frightened:  Markets crashing. Threats of war.  Environmental catastrophe.  Crime and gangs in our neighborhoods.  Disease and the threat of death and separation from loved ones.  

Comfort, O comfort my people.  This is advent.  He will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. 

This is something to hope for. 

In Sunday School last week, someone noted that the word for wait in Spanish is Esperar.  And the word for hope is Esperanza. 

Espera Wait and hope…can we stand it…the Lord is coming.   IN the mean time strive for holiness, godliness, peace and without spot or blemish. 

Prepare your hearts, …The Lord is coming, make him room…a room full of grace

Take comfort, dear ones.. Take comfort.
 This world may seem all messed up. Our lives may fade, but the word of the Lord endures forever. The Word made flesh is coming to bring comfort. 

“Hear what the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people; to his faithful; to those who turn to him in their hearts.”  Psalm 85:8.  

We turn to you now, Oh Lord…grant us peace.  Amen.

[1] Christopher Hudson, Theological Perspective on Mark 1:1-8, in Feasting on the Word, Ed. Bartlett, Brown Taylor, p. 44
[2] Kathleen O’Connor, Exegetical Perspective on Isaiah 40, in Feasting on the Word, ed. Bartlett and Brown Taylor.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What'chew Talkin' 'bout Jesus?

What'chew Talkin' 'bout Jesus? Matthew 18:21-35 Sept 14, 2008
During a church service, the Minister asked, "How many of you have forgiven your enemies?" 80% held up their hands. So, the Minister then repeated his question. All responded this time, except one small elderly Lady. "Mrs. Martinez? Are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"
"I don't have any," she replied, smiling sweetly.
"Mrs. Martinez, that is very unusual. How old are you?"
"Ninety-eight," she replied.
"Oh Mrs. Martinez, would you please come down in front & tell us all how a person can live ninety-eight years & not have an enemy in the world?"
The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said: "I outlived the witches."

Jesus tells his disciples to forgive, but forgiveness isn’t easy.

Here’s my confession. Years ago, I spent a weekend visiting my old college roommate. He shared a room with three other guys who were away that evening, and I spent the night in one of the empty beds. The next morning the owner of the empty bed shows up and rips the pillow I’m sleeping on out from under my head while I’m sleeping: “Who said you could sleep in my bed?”
an argument ensued…; I’m still carrying that one around with me. Who does that?

It’s hard to forgive, but the idea of it is so very appealing….something just seems so right, so true about it. A child who was abused who grows up and forgives his abuser. A spouse who was cheated on who is able to forgive both his spouse and the other party involved. Leaders like Nelson Mandela, who radically forgave perpetrators of racial violence and discrimination. A holocaust survivor who forgives the Nazis.

Sure it’s awesome when we hear of others who are able to forgive. But this story that Jesus tells is about our own ability to forgive. After hearing this story read, Georgia Ortiz, said bluntly and with conviction: “This passage is awfully intrusive into my life.” Each of us has wounds. Each of us has been hurt; some of the things people have done to us are kind of small things, where we just end up telling ourselves, “you know, just get over it.” But then for a lot of us, we have big, deep and serious wounds, and the worst hurts come from those who are close to us.

In this chapter of Matthew, Jesus is really hitting home on what it means for the Christian community to be a reconciling community. A community that never gives up on one another, but endures with patience and love even in the most difficult relationships. And the huge part, the hardest part, is that when we’re the ones who have been hurt, it’s pretty much up to us to make things right again; that the broken relationship gets mended. It’s kind of like a double whammy.
If someone hurts us, maybe they’ll come and ask for forgiveness, “I’m so sorry.” But until we’re ready to forgive, the relationship can’t be repaired; not completely. And when we can’t forgive, it’s like we’re being tormented.
You caught that part in this passage where the king sends the unforgiving servant to the tormentor. That’s what happens when we hold it in…It’s like swallowing poison hoping that it will kill the one who did us wrong. We may even seek revenge…but we know it really doesn’t make us feel any better.

Jesus keeps feeding this message of forgiveness to his followers: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." "Love your enemies." "Pray even for those who persecute you." "Turn the other cheek." “How many times do we have to forgive,” Peter asks, seems a little dubious… he’s got that one person in mind…
and you know who I’m talking about; that person who just knows how to get to you, get under your skin, rub you the wrong way, no it’s more than that…that person you can’t trust because they have wronged you so many times, if you had a nickel for every time they’d sinned against you…What about that person?…
how many times do we forgive that brother or sister? “Seven times! Or “Seven Times? I’d have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face. What do you think his expression was? Rolling his eyes, “no, no, no, come on peter: “Not seven times but seventy seven times.” Actually, the greek could be translated 77 times or 70 x 7, which equals 490 times…as if it really matters. The point is that we take on the mind of Christ: forgiving, full of grace, always. Skeptical that Peter or the rest of them really understood how serious this lesson about forgiveness was, Jesus tells a story to bring the point home; and boy does he ever: I’ve already mentioned the part about the tormentor at the end.

So this guy comes before the king and owes him 10,000 talents...that’s only the equivalent of a billion dollars. But he begs forgiveness and the debt is forgiven.
He goes out, and grabs and starts choking another guy that owes him money. Owed him 100 denari… a denari was a typical days wages. So a hundred days worth of labor, a good bit, but nothing compared to what the other guy owed the king. So he’s on top of this guy choking him, Give me my money! Kind of like Dan Akroid and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places: “It was the Dukes! It was the Dukes!”

“Paciencia, have patience, I will pay you.” The exact same words the choker had said to the king, but he’s not even fazed. Throws the guy in jail until he could pay.

So my question when I was meditating on this passage: What happened from the time when the guy was forgiven his huge debt to the time he ran into the first guy who owed him money? What happened in that gap? Did he leave so happy that his debt had been forgiven that he was like, Alright, I’m debt free! Now I’m going to get money from everyone who owes me so I can be rich…choking. Or maybe he felt so guilty about what had happened, that he just couldn’t accept that kind of forgiveness. Instead of feeling free, he felt more uptight and worried about life and his future. So, he beats up this guy out of his own guilt. Or maybe he felt humiliated, his pride couldn’t handle that kind of gift from the king. So to make himself a bigger man he had to pick on the first person he could.

What happens to us in that gap?

We confess our sins weekly at church, maybe even daily we ask, praying down on our knees: “Forgive me, Please, Ten piedad!” Do we believe that God forgives us?
Can we trust it: "As far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our transgressions from us." What happens after we’ve offered that prayer? Does it register…I forgive you…Maybe later that morning someone we hardly know says some off-handed comment, it may get under our skin but then we think, “Whatever.”

But what happens if it’s someone really close to you…someone you really loved or still love, who runs off and leaves you. Or a respected co-worker, who talks disrespectful to you in front of everyone. A relative who abused you; or a friend who turned on you, and now just ignores you. What happens if it’s someone at church, who betrays you. We may try not to think about it. But it just keeps coming back. Maybe everything is okay and then you see someone or something and it just triggers the memory. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it all day and then when you put our head down on the pillow, it comes, and it replays in your mind over and over and over in your head, and you can’t go to sleep.
Or maybe you eventually fall asleep but then you wake up thinking about it. You can’t go back to sleep and the day has started off terribly. You’re not free.
Your still carrying it around, and it’s almost a part of you. You’re being subjected to torture.

If society tells us anything…we’re supposed to seek revenge when someone does us harm. This past week was the anniversary of the destruction of our most powerful symbols of global commerce. After the fall of the Twin Towers we had the sympathy, the concern, the support of the entire world. Instead of reaching out to Muslim countries with understanding and charity, we now bear the consequences of retaliation:

And for the 3000 dead in the fall of the twin towers at the hands of 19 religious fanatics, we now have nearly 3000 US soldiers killed in military action, more than 26,000 wounded and more than 10,000 permanently disabled. We have thousands of widows and orphans, a constitution at risk, a president and a Congress that voted to allow torture, and national infrastructure in jeopardy because we’ve incurred tremendous debt to support the war. And how many tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis are dead?

And Jesus keeps saying over and over: forgive, Forgive, forgive…how many times? Always. And this is coming from the guy who on the cross said, “Father forgive them.” From the guy who was left out to dry by his disciples…Peter denied even knowing him; and what was one of the first things Jesus did after he was raised from the dead? He went to peter and had communion with him. I forgive you…

We are forgiven sinners…can we forgive others who sin against us? Can we free ourselves from the weight of that pain and bitterness we’re carrying? Could it ever become just instinctive, like a knee jerk reaction? Someone does us harm…and we forgive.

In 2006, in Lancaster County, PN, a milk truck driver, a husband and a father of 3 children, named Charles Roberts entered West Nickel Mines Amish School, a simple one-room, stucco building that sat along a country road in the farm fields, with a shotgun, a handgun, a rifle, 600 rounds of ammunition, two cans of gun powder, a stun gun, two knives, chains, wires and plastic flex ties, and nails and lumber for barricading doors and windows. Without going into devastating details of the account, the police couldn’t stop him before he had killed five girls and critically wounded five others, and then taken his own life.

The response of this community, mostly Amish people, was amazing. On the day of the killings, the families of the victims sent words of comfort to Robert’s wife and asked that she not consider leaving her home in that area. A resident said a few days later: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”

A neighbor, went to see Roberts’ father and “stood there for an hour, he held him in his arms, and he said, “We will forgive you.” Many Amish attended the funeral of Roberts, and Robert’s wife was invited to attend the funerals of the victims.

What is it about this “ability to forgive: that many found so moving? “It’s not a denial of evil, individual responsibility, or justice. Instead according to Amish belief, justice is God’s alone, not ours to question or force.”

In the gap between God’s forgiveness and this horrible act, it seems the people of Lancaster County didn’t even consider the possibilities of potential responses.
There was only one: forgive. “to make a conscious choice to be unbound by evil.”

A grandfather of two of the little girls who were killed was asked: “Is there anger towards the gunman’s family?”
NO, said the grandfather.
“Have you forgiven?”
“In my heart, yes.”
“How is that possible? “Through God’s help.”

Through God’s help.
We may not be able to stop the terrible things that happen to us,
but I believe Jesus teaches that through forgiveness we can imaginatively live in an alternative reality to a world that would tell us to just hold it in and swallow that bitter pill or to seek after the one who owes us and choke ’em. I forgive you.

I don’t know what experiences you’ve had. Maybe your at a point in which you simply cannot forgive, I’ve been there. All I could do was acknowledge my need to forgive and pray to God that the time would come when I could forgive. And finally it did come… months later, I was walking along, and suddenly, I had forgiven. This huge weight was lifted…it was almost as if the Holy spirit came into my being and took that terrible weight I had been carrying around and flew off with it. I wept, I shouted for joy. It was a miracle. I had been healed.

Maybe this morning, while we have the healing service, you have something you just can’t let go of. Someone has done you wrong…and it is eating you up. Please take the time to pray for this during this time. Come forward and have your brothers and sisters pray with you.

My prayer for all of us is when we find ourselves in that gap between receiving and accepting God’s love and mercy, and coming across someone who has done us harm, may God grant to each of us the grace to allow at least the seed of forgiveness to take root in our hearts. May God’s love, healing, and reconciling allow us to be the forgiving community that Jesus calls us to be. Amen.

1. http://ellesemporium.yuku.com/topic/2063/t/Forgive-Your-Enemies.html
2. Rob Bell, “Nooma 007 Luggage”
3. Psalm
4. Rob Bell, Nooma 007 Luggage.
5. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
6. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
7. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.
8. Joanna Adams, Sermon on Matthew 18:21-35: podcast on Day 1.
9. Julia Spicher Kasdorf, “To Pasture,” Cross Currents, Fall 2007.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Confrontation for Reconciliation

Confrontation for Reconcilation! Matthew 18: 15-20 Sept. 7, 2008
Initiatal trouble with the passage:
SIN – whatever became of sin…we don’t like to talk about sin.
confrontation—and I’m not one for confrontation
conflict and disagreement, church discipline, potential excommunication…not very nice topics.
Remember the scarlet letter? Haven’t we moved passed this stuff?
Plus, there’s confusion of binding and loosing. Not to mention the overused and often misunderstood scripture: if two agree to anything two are gathered in my name; where two or three are gathered in my name. I tempted to find greener pastures in scripture.

Unless I wanted to take the opportunity to preach my first hellfire and brimstone sermon: See that folks start shaping up!!

Actually, as happens so often, you get into it scripture and you find I find that there is a living and relevant word! This passage is about forgiveness and restoration; reconciliation and right relationships! That’s something worth talking about.

A look at the passage in depth. This seems to be a practice used in the Matthew’s community in dealing with broken relationships.
A three step process:
1. if you’re the one whose been sinned against, you go talk to the one who has done the sinning;
2. if they don’t listen, grab a few who will serve as witnesses to what is happening;
3. and if that doesn’t work bring the one before the whole church, before he or she gets the boot.

The passages that follow are intriguing passages because they are so frequently sighted, but out of context. When I first came to this church, it was not uncommon at 10 til 11, for Libby, Margaret, Helen and I to be the only ones in the sanctuary! And every time, Libby said….Where 2 or 3 are gathered. I don’t want to dwell on them too long, just briefly. These passages about binding and loosing and two or three gathered in Jesus’ name have been used in so many different ways throughout the centuries, we don’t know exactly what their original meaning was for the early community, above all else they seem to provide a theological foundation for community decision making: God stands behind the community, and Jesus abides within the community gathered in his name. This is why in the Presbyterian system that we do things in community… Committee meetings!

Going back to the step by step process: how many churches—Christian communities—do you know that practice this kind of reconciliation? Are these passages relevant in our day and age? Where does technology fit into the reconcilation process? Can you email your grievance to the person who has sinned against you instead of to confronting them face to face. Alone.
My tendency when someone does something that hurts me is:
1. to either yell at them and get them back (this usually occurs on the soccer field), and this resolves nothing except make makes me look dumb
2. hold it in and just let it fester inside me and then prentend like nothing happened,
and this allows the relationship to deteriorate, where it can even be hard to be in the same room with the person, so you just avoid her.
3. or tell someone else what happened…...
and let the rumors begin..

But go, alone, face to face, point out what has happened. That would take courage and a lot of grace. But if the two parties are in Christian community with one another, and understand this to be the common practice and the basis of everything is to not get someone back or punish someone, or to humiliate them, but love.
And seek right relationship.

Matthew’s community is the one that knows: When you are offering your gift at the alter, if you rmember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (5:23-24)
IF your brother or sister sins against you… Yes, that’s right this isn’t an enemy, but a brother or sister.

Of course, there are different perspectives. Maybe the person that hurt the other didn’t think they had done anything wrong. Or maybe it wasn’t a big deal.
Or maybe the accuser is just being a little sensitive. There’s always potential for disagreement or misunderstanding…does the one offended go off and tell everyone how bad a person so and so is for doing such a thing? I tried to talk to him.. No, again this isn’t to defame, but to regain; this is hot pursuit of reconciliation. The person goes and gets others, of sound judgment hopefully to witness to the situation, hear both sides of the story, mediate, so as to achieve common ground.

4. .IF this doesn’t work.
A larger group is called upon to hear out the situation. The church. The community of believers. This seems the most intimidating and scary of scenarios.. (we now call ____ before the congregation..all rise. I’ve seen those court shows..why anyone would go on them is beyond me.) We are so quick to judge and seek punishment. But as I thought about it I remembered: Matthew’s community was one of reconciled sinners who are not seeking to punish, but to love. To have the situation come before the congregation isn’t to shame the person who has sinned against another, but maybe it is so that everyone can be aware of the situation, and hear it first hand, instead of second, third or fourth hand, and know what is going on. Maybe the community reminds everyone involved that there are more people who love and care for them, and it helps them to see beyond just themselves and their situation. The community takes broken relationships seriously, and seeks to restore them.

5. Finally, if the person is still unwilling to seek right relationship with the one he has hurt, treat him as a gentile or tax collector. I think too often people have a tendency to judge and want to punish…that’s why this passage has be used as grounds for excommunication over the course of history…but, maybe things were different back then in Matthew’s community.

It doesn’t say, kick them out or punish the offender. It says, treat him like a Gentile-someone who is outside the community; and a tax collector, someone who is unclean. Jesus hung out with gentiles, and Jesus ate with tax collectors. Is he suggesting that the person who sinned be outcast, or is he suggesting pursue that person like a lost sheep? Like someone who is outside the community, but has potential to be part of the community. It is like starting over with the relationship. The idea is to let the situation go, and begin again. Forgiveness 70 times 7.

IT wasn’t long after Trasie and I were dating that I would occasionally slip up and take our relationship for granted. Not treat her the way that I should, especially not the way that I did when we first met, and I was trying to really impress her: tell her how wonderful she was, pamper her, bring her flowers and always on my best behavior. She’s smart, and after a few of these instances when I didn’t treat her with the kindness and gentleness that I once had, maybe even when I hurt her feelings; she observed how friendly I was when I was meeting someone for the first time. And so she used this against me and when I was acting inappropriately she would say, hi, I’m Trasie, what’s your name? As if we were meeting for the first time…reminding me that I did have a gentler side.

Treat the one as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Here are our challenges: One I think this passage challenges us as a community to be better about reconciling our selves to one another, about forgiving one another and seeking right relationships.

And two, this challenges us to be in more intimate and trusting relationships with one another:
The point is, that the relationship with a brother or a sister is something more important than any issue or any mishap or misunderstanding or sin.
It’s certainly more important than arguing who is right and who is wrong.
It is about people being in loving relationship with one another. Just a God reconciled the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the son, so we are to be reconciled to one another. Especially to our Christian brothers and sisters, especially those brothers and sisters who sit in the pews right around us. What are some of the wounds you carry that were inflicted by others in this community? Maybe some are minor and are already healing, but are they completely healed? Maybe some are so deep that you can’t even bring it up…not now, not yet. But, I have confidence that in Christ Jesus there is no wound or hurt that is too deep for wholeness and healing and right relationship to take place. Maybe you can take the time to write down a hurt that you have, inflicted by someone in this community. Think about it…take it home and pray about it.

Can you confront that person?
And if you are confronted, (God forbid) would you have the humility and courage to recognized that you could have done something that offended someone that is very dear to you? It’s about being able to genuinely pass the peace and mean it. It’s about being able to laugh with someone freely, not holding a grudge inside.
It’s about swallowing our pride and loving in humility.

We know the lonely and dreadful road of hurt and broken relationships, the long and arduous road to reconciliation, but when reconciliation happens..what a gift.
And if we can practice reconciled relationships with brothers and sisters in the faith, here in this place, can we model this in other relationships in our lives?
In our schools: At work, In our families, with friends and neighbors.
Always the goal is to be united, not divided with others.

We experience this gift of reconciliation every time we come to this table. We come as forgiven sinners, whose lives are full of brokenness, and we come to be made whole. We are united as we share in a common bread and a common cup.
We are united as we recognized that none of us is perfect or better than anyone else, while at th same time recognizing the one who calls us his beloved.
And we are made whole again. What a gift! Thanks be to god that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

1. Harrington, Matthew.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not a good sales technique

Not a good sales technique. Mt 16:21-28 Aug. 31, 2008

The stranger walked up to our house with a medium sized bag strapped around his shoulder, sweat dripping from his brow, and a spring in his step. I stepped outside to greet him before he could reach the door and was met by an enthusiastic handshake, and for the next 15 minutes I was introduced to Advantage cleaner. Non toxic (which he demonstrated by ingesting some of the product) and can be used on windows, tires, floors, clothes to remove stains (except for silk), shoes, ceilings…this stuff was good… In the course of our conversation, I complemented Jason on his selling ability as I suggested that it was hard work, he said yes, it’s hard work but (with a wink), “if the greatest salesman in the world couldn’t convince everybody, what should I expect?”
Ah ha, not only a seller of cleaning products, but an evangelist. Way to go! What a salesman, Jason was; I was convinced.

But this morning’s passage was on my mind as we were having this conversation so I challenged Jason’s suggestion that Jesus was the greatest salesman in the world. Here’s Jesus sales pitch: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. If you want to save your life you will lose it. Lose your life for my sake and you will find it.

The sales pitch is self-denial; the product offered is the cross. Just how appealing is this? Jason wanted to go back to selling his cleaning product. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Are you kidding me? In our world of me first, and we’re number one, how does one deny self. It’s all about me and what I want. Right?! In a world about rewarding oneself because I deserve it, There is no room for a big ugly cross that would suggest sacrifice and even death.

My tendencies to are to look out for number one, and fear death. Back me up here Sander but, aren’t these natural tendencies anyway? We do what’s best for ourselves, and attempt to preserve our own lives at all costs by nature; right?
Self denial and acceptance of the cross. Some sales pitch.

Peter wasn’t so convinced either. All of us who try to be Christ’s disciples should be very thankful for Peter, cause he kind of shows us what not to do on so many occasions. Just before this scene we’re talking about this morning, was the scene Gabriel and Dulce preached on last week. Jesus and the gang are on the road, traveling, and I imagine they camped a fair amount. I kind of picture them this evening around the campfire just after dinner, as light fades and darkness sets in. “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is? Jesus asks, and disciples response, John the Baptist, maybe Elijah, others Jeremiah, or some kind prophet. Okay, that’s fine. You disciples have been with me for some time now, you’ve seen me do some pretty far out stuff: Walk on water, feed thousands of people, cure sick, preach some awesome sermons; you’re still hanging around.
Who do you say that I am?
No one says anything, the fire pops a few times, finally Peter stands up, looks around at the others and then looks at Jesus and says, “I believe you’re the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
Jesus then proceeds to bestow upon Peter a blessing; keys to the kingdom of heaven, and upon the Rock, my church will be built. Looks like Peter has hit a home run. The disciples are pumped that finally they know they are hanging out with the Messiah, the one who would bring about real change to Washington, I mean Jerusalem. Jesus would overturn the powers that be by leading a revolution—and their will be reform and the people will be able to live better and free from foreign occupation. Yes, we’re with you Jesus. Let’s go take care of business! But something changes, the mood of cheering and shouting is dampened when they see that Jesus isn’t smiling or laughing. He’s just staring at the fire; a distant look on his face. The disciples gather themselves and sit back down, it’s quiet except for the crickets and the fire.
Yes, Jesus tells them, “I will go to Jerusalem.”
But there I will be met by the powers, there I will suffer, There I will be killed, and then be raised from the dead. What kind of movement is this? What is Jesus talking about going to the capitol city to meet suffering and death?
That’d be like Obama or McCain saying they need to be elected so that they could then be killed by those that would be threatened by the type of change they are proposing. Were that the case, we really would need to pay attention to the running mate.

So, naturally, Peter who has just been blessed, boldly stands up again..and this time he pulls Jesus aside, away from the light and the rest of the disciples and says, now wait a minute. You just said we were going to begin this revolution, right?
You admitted that you were the Messiah…What kind of savior suffers and dies?
“God forbid it; I’ll never let that happen!” Get behind me, Satan! You’re mind is set on human things, not the things of God. Looks like things have kind of changed between Jesus and Peter. Relationships can be difficult. Peter went from being blessed to now being Satan; or adversary if we want to soften it.
Peter the rock has now become a stumbling block. It was divine revelation that gave peter the right answer about Jesus identity…now he has his mind set on human things.

It seems like Peter had the right answer, but gets things a little confused in practice. We can’t really blame fault him; I think a lot of times we can have the right answers. Know what to say about Jesus, give a good Sunday school answer:
Who was Jesus? Jesus is the savior. But does that make any difference in our life? I found it quite interesting that Jesus is speaking to disciples, and he says to them, if any of you want to become my followers. Like being a disciple may be some kind of middle road. Like going to class and appreciating the lessons of a teacher, but when it comes to putting those lessons into practice,
you can take it or leave it. Maybe many of us would claim to be Jesus’ disciples.
We read the bible, learn God’s teachings. We come to church and worship in community. We may have good Sunday school answers; but how willing are we to follow Jesus? I can claim to be a disciple of Jesus all day long, but do I really live it out? Is my mind on the human things or divine things?

Deny self is a transformation of the will. My will and desires become God’s will and desires for my life. What does success really look like? Making money and accumulation things? Power, prestige, concern for what others think about me?
Hanging out with only the people who think like me. Judging instead of forgiving? Fearing others who are different?

And what about the cross? Jesus’ way was the way of the cross; and this is the part that Peter did not want to hear because it means death. Peter has his followers in every generation, religious people who give the right answers (and genuinely so) but who find a crucified Christ offensive. “What is true for the Messiah, is also true for the Messiah’s followers. Jesus’ suffers on a cross out of love for the world. And we are invited to join him in this way; his way of the cross. Fear no longer what motivates our decisions; Where we are not so concerned about what happens to us, as we are about what happens to the least of these. Christians are people who are “crucified with Christ.” Christ died so that we might live. Now we are to die so that Christ might live in us.

Jesus extends an invitation to his disciples, those who are still kind of hangin on the fence, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” There it is. It’s like the warning before going on one of those rides at an amusement park: You imagine all the potential hazards and then the last words: “Enter at your own Risk”. You know that it’s going to be a wild ride, but there are some major risks, but what a thrilling ride it might be. Taking that step, and saying yes, I’ll follow.
Jesus calls all of us to be risk takers. Not, necessarily, like crazy David Ytuarte who a few weeks back did some tandem sky diving. But, at the same time, to have the mentality that is fearless. When we encounter a stranger, our first reaction is to open up and welcome her. When we run into someone who doesn’t speak the same language as us, to be receptive to communicating in a new way. When we see someone going through a hard time, instead of suggesting that they brought it upon themselves, we offer a helping hand.

While working in Mexico in ministry with college students, many in our group attended a bible study led by a wonderfully dynamic, and passionate priest, Padre César. He had a lovely description of this particular passage. He called it, el episodio visagra del evangelio. It is on this lesson that every thing else in the gospels hinges. This is the hinge upon which all of Christianity discipleship hangs.

Even though these are challenging ideas, deny self, take up your cross and follow. I think that deep down they make sense. Deny self is like surrendering my own will to seek that of God. Taking up the cross means that we join Jesus on the way of the cross. We confront our own fear of death, and trust that the one who is leading us knows what he is doing, promises of resurrection. We have heard stories of Saints, like mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr, and we know that there is something true about their sacrificial love. We know people in our own lives who show us that this can be done. Last weekend Mark Adams who follows Christ at the border towns of Agua Prieta Mexico and Douglas, Arizona told a story of First Presbyterian Douglas. The membership was getting older,
the neighborhood was changing as older families moved out and newer families moved in. The church didn’t want to change. It wanted to try and preserve itself. The church feared death. But it really was dying, and those few who were left came to grips with the reality that their church was going to die.

So they invited an immigrant group of Christians to use the church. And gradually, the congregations began to participate with one another on a regular basis, and eventually, the congregations met and worshipped at the same time.
The self that was denied did die, and then resurrection: First Presbyterian Douglas became a new creation.

We take baby steps I think on this way. Learn to seek reconciliation rather than revenge. Love instead of ill will. patience and not pushiness.

At our session retreat last weekend, we covenanted to begin to take on various spiritual disciplines as we seek to lead the congregation according to God’s will revealed to us. Some committed to more time reading Scripture,
others to prayer and meditation. Several committed to praying on a regular basis for the people of this congregation. This may sound kind of like a no brainer, but at the same time, session member’s lives are as busy as everyone else’s and it can be easier to just go about our daily routines thinking about ourselves and our own problems instead of those of others. But by committing to praying for the people of this congregation, this is saying,
“as a follower of Christ and a leader in this church, I’m going to take some time out of my ever day routine, away from the things I have to do and the things I want to do, and give it to this community in prayer.” This may seem small, but I think that often time the ways of the kingdom of God begin small, like a mustard seed, only to slowly become transformational.

Honestly, I don’t think that Jesus was a very effective salesman. He told people to give up their lives, their comfort, their way of life, in order to have life. He told people to follow him to Calvary. To confront the powers and the status quo.
Peter still didn’t’ get it. He went to Jerusalem with Jesus, but instead of denying himself and taking up his cross, he denied Jesus. But the invitation still Stands:
Here is the offer, anyone who wants to become my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.

Oh and don’t forget to read the warning label in fine print.

Actually, I think Paul gives a pretty reasonable and tangible way for us to apply the way of the leader in our lives. Let us stand and affirm our faith using this passage adapted from Romans 12.
1. Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President, pp. 277-79
2. Thanks Craig Hanna for this image.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

She changed my life

Mt 15: 21-28 Aug. 17, 2008

think of an encounter with someone who may change your lives. Think of a time when you met someone, and from that relationship formed or that encounter, from that experience, your life was changed forever (in a good way or a bad way?)

This morning’s passage from Matthew tells of an encounter Jesus and his disciples have with a Canaanite woman: Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

And they lived happily ever after. Is that what really happened? Is that the story we know? Well, that is certainly what we would expect from Jesus according to our understanding of him. WE certainly don’t expect what happens in between this woman’s plea and Jesus finally granting her her wish to have her daughter healed.

Let’s listen to the entire story as told by matthew: Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ (silence) 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.

What is going on here? Did Jesus just ignore and exclude this woman? Maybe it’s okay for us if the disciples are guilty of a little discrimination, but not Jesus. And on top of that did Jesus call her, and her people dogs?

Paul: What happened to: In Christ there is not east or west, no slave or free, no jew or gentile, male or female? Can we still sing one of our favorite songs in light of this passage: Jesus loves the little children…all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight Jesus loves the little children of the world, except for the Canaanite woman.

This really has puzzled me. Let’s try to figure out what was going on; pull out your pencils and notebooks for a brief history lesson of the ancient middle eastern world.

Canaanites claim to be descendents of Noah’s grandson Canaan. Canaan’s father Ham had seen Noah’s nakedness, which was a disgrace. So Canaan, and the Canaanites carry this legacy according to the Israelites. The Canaanites inhabited their country Canaan, which is present day Lebenon. They were indigenous to the land, when the Isralites having fled Eygpt, were eventually led by the commander Joshua, and invaded and conquered the land flowing with milk and honey. So now, they not only have the disgrace of being descendants of Ham and Canaan, but also they are a conquered people.

Jesus heard these stories growing up…right? And Jesus knows, just as the Canaanite woman did, that he is from the house of Israel: a proud son of David. Jesus heads north from Galilee toward two coastal cities—Tyre and Sidon—on his mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven.
He’s entered borderlands…he’s crossed from the familiar to the less familiar. From the place where social structures and appropriate behaviors are very well defined, to a place where the lines are blurred…the black and white become a little grey. Conquered before a conquerer. She is shouting, begging, pleading for Jesus to do Something, Señor, ten piedad.
Jesus doesn’t say a word.
She kneels before Jesus and begs him, LORD, Help me; Ayudame por favor! Boy is she persistent. She demands a place at the table. And Jesus responds that the food intended for children’—in all fairness—shouldn’t be thrown to dogs. What?

I think we balk at this reaction of Jesus because deep down, deep down, we know that we have this tendency. Easier to be around certain “kinds” of people: Weird hair cuts. Wear their clothes funny. Poor and Rich. Skin color, sexual orientation, marital status.
Annoying. All the categories people fall into in our own minds.

We know quite well this tendency to discriminate and exclude. But Jesus? Jesus isn’t allowed to be this way. (pause)

Do you ever wonder why certain stories are included in the bible and why others aren’t?
Why this passage…? of all the stories that could have been told or not told about Jesus why did matthew include this passage for his early community, and for us today?

Jesus was and is an example for the church. It’s clear that he felt he had a specific call. A clear mission, focused on the people of Israel. MT 10 – Do not go among Gentiles
it’s important for those in Matthew’s community, mostly Jewish, to hear that God has not given up on them. That God still has a purpose for them. To be a blessing to all the nations. Somehow From mt 10 to Mt 28. And I think about our own lives.
At work, at home, in the schools. in the neighborhood. Our specific callings. Our mission and purpose: To be a light, a witness to God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ wherever you are.

caught up in what it is that we think we’re supposed to do, that maybe we are blind to a world of possibility around us. fall into routines and patterns, We don’t have time for distractions. But what happens when a Canaanite woman shows up? Demanding your attention, when she’s really not part of your usual routine? She’s not part of your calling….It’s easy to know who she is…she’s that person we might have a tendency to overlook; who needs help on a project. She’s that child who demands attention, but we haven’t really made time for her or him.

Ken called this morning; but I didn’t make time for him.

Maybe Jesus was right. Not to call Canaanites dogs, but to focus. If you try to please everybody you don’t please anybody right?

And what about the mission of the church? On Monday of this week, Trasie and I had 9 people from the congregation at our house to discuss the mission of the church. Many talked about the past: Spanish Presbyterian Church. So much has changed since the congregation came to 841 W. Manhattan. Libby Naranjo married Gaspar and was the only Anglo in the congregation for many years. Slowly, more anglos became part of the fellowship (libby opened the floodgates). Ms. Johnson was the first African American woman to join the church, back in the late 70s.

But now things aren’t so clear….What is our church identity? To whom are we called?
Who are our lost sheep of Israel? Residents of Rancho Viejo or Tierra Contenta?
We need a new roof, maybe we can witness up in Las Campanas? Is this a place for homeless, for immigrants, for anglos, for hispanos?

It could be a good thing for us to focus! But just be ready…before we get too caught up, to focused on a specific mission…that Canaanite woman might show up and demand a place at the table. Calling us out for our exclusion. I think this story about Jesus is preparing our hearts for just such an encounter..!

We may balk when we think that Jesus might have possibly treated someone this way.
Do we balk when we do the same?

When we exclude, condemn, and maybe are just mean; Because someone has distracted us or thrown us out of our routine or focus. Because someone is a woman, or someone is gay or lesbian? Because of skin color? Political ideology? Class?

Crazy thing, some of these people, these Canaanite women out there, keep showing up, shouting, demanding to talk to Jesus. Demanding that the church be the church.
That you and me live up to our really calling in the world. To be a light of hope where there is so much darkness. To be love and peacemakers where there is so much hatred and violence. TO help out those who are in need, especially those who have no voice. Persistent folks. do we dismiss them. Or do we see that maybe, just maybe the Spirit of God is reminding us that we are to be light and love for the world…for any Canaanite woman who demands to see Jesus.

Prove it that you’re the savior! Heal my daughter! Proclaim release of the captives, and be good news to the poor.

How might encounters with the Korean church or the Mexican Church, Iglesia Betesda, change our perspective about mission. Cruz…kept coming by the church…hermano!

Live up to the slogan Communications Care has give to us:
Little church with a big heart.

1How good, oh how very good and pleasant it is when kindred,
the whole human family, live together in unity!
2It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down upon the beard running down over the collar.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life for evermore.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mt 13:1-9, 18-23

Get your overalls on. July 13, 2008

Imagine the scene…picturesque lake shore, clear skies, slight breeze, gentle waves. Jesus goes out for a stroll, a nice day for a walk along the beach, but why walk, why not just sit in the beauty of the surroundings.. gulls in the air calling, crabs scampering along the beach…. But it’s hard these days for Jesus to get any quite time by himself. Almost as soon as he goes out to sit on the beach crowds gather around him…such great crowds that he is compelled to address the crowd; but it’s too crowded so he has to get up on in the boat….

So he gets up on the boat, looks out and sees the ocean..and looks back and seas the ocean of people…waiting for something; hoping for something. So Jesus looks and sees a group of common folks. A group of farmers maybe. These are theologians..these are overly educated folks. These are people who live on earth and who live life day in and day out living off the land and fishing the sea. Farmers understand stories about sowing and reaping, the biggest concern is the weather…will it rain today or not. Will my crops come up.

How your crops doing this year.. Well, you know how it is...not much rain until a few weeks ago. These farmers don’t talk much…you’ve got to really get into their heads if you want to know what’s going on. It’s been tough…my kids are having a rough time in school, my wife isn’t doing well after the last kid was born. My animals have been acting up and it’s hard to find tm it’s been A sower…act this out

Who can remember what these images represent? What is happening here? We know that this means something….that Jesus interprets this some how…but how. What do these seeds represent? What does the path represent? What about the birds? Weren’t the birds what we were supposed to look at and relax, and now their snatching up seeds and I’m not sure it’s something we can not worry about. What does the rocky soil represent? What about the thorns that grow up with these fledgling plants that are just trying to catch some rays? And then there’s the good soil? The Good soil?

The good soil…that soil that is rich, and black, and full of potential for any seed that falls on it. Tell us about the good soil because we’re loosing our shirts. Tell us about this good soil, because we want to do well; we’re tired of our seed not performing like it should. If our seed doesn’t do well , we’re going to loose our farm, we’re going to loose everything. The good soil yielded 30 time, 60 times, 100 fold. 100 fold means that the cycle of poverty is broken. The real world transformed by a bumper crop. Do we remember what this story is about? Does it matter? Jesus begins the story by saying listen! He ends it by saying let the one who has ears. Listen (secret to aunt sally game).

It’s hard to remember. these stories. What’s the point of studying these stories. Listen Jesus says. I’m telling you a story and it’s going to be different from the ones you’re used to hearing. It’s different from the ones you see on TV that talks about your image and all of the things that you must buy if you want to really be someone. Listen, I’m telling a story, and it’s different from the ones you see in the news; fanatical stories told by frantic bobbing heads that bread fear and suspicion and “news” that sells, not news that is novel.
It’s a story about how to be human. It’s about following the story that Jesus tells, To turn around…to acknowledge that there is a different way to live life from the way the powers and all of the corruptive influences all around us that talk about wealth and greed and power and lust.

Listen. There are seed that are scattered everywhere….who can remember what happens next.
It was early April when I began to work the soil in my yard again. I wanted it to be ready from some seeds and seedlings that we would plant just after the last frost (may!). I would take a pick and dig down as deep as I could. I’d add some compose that I had been making since the previous year out of food scraps. I’d buy some of those colorful bags from the nursery that never really seem to be clear about what they are or what they do cotton spurs, cow patties…but they’ve got great names like Black Gold, and Ultimate food. I’d work that soil. I wanted it to be just right. I wanted it to be good.

Listen, Jesus said, The seed is “the word of the kingdom.” Ah yes, the word of the kingdom. This is the only time that we find this phrase in all of the bible. What does that mean? The word of the kingdom? Is it Jesus: in the beginning was the word and the world was with god and the word was god? Is it the message of the Torah (singing): Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Is it what Jesus came to do: bring about, preach about, shout about the kingdom of God: it is not like this kingdom, this world that we experience, but it is about justice, it is about economic systems which don’t function to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is about places where war is no more, the lamb lie down with the wolf. The kingdom of God, love, peace, justice, compassion, truth, joy, beauty, grace, The word of the kingdom… This seed was scattered everywhere by this sower, who seemed to not be so concerned about where the seed would fall, the seed would do what it would do.

As he pulled it out of his pockets, some would fall along the path. This word of the kingdom fell on hard hearts; the word is heard, but not understood, the seed didn’t have a chance. the bird came. The evil one and snatched it away (what happened after the seed was digested?). Is this hearer us?

Then there is the seed that falls on rocky soil with no root. It springs up, but withers… the one who hears but when trouble or persecution comes my way…forget it, I’m not into that word of the kingdom stuff anymore.

Is this hearer us? With joy we receive the good news! and grow in our faith…but how deep are our roots really. The other night I was playing in my soccer game and this guy kicked me, trying to keep me from scoring. The ref didn’t see too well, so he didn’t call that or anything really. So after this guy kicked me, I ran after him, Why did you do that man? Gerzain was there and really worried. about what could have happened. What was I thinking? Was I really going to get that upset in a soccer game that has such little meaning and is meant to be just for fun. Yeah the guy kicked me…but is this really that big a deal? Where were my roots? Was I going to react in violence that easily?

What about when people do us wrong? When we feel like somoen is trying to take advantage of us, or is treating us in a way that we don’t think we should be treated?
How do we react? Do we hate that person? Do we despise them and wish them ill?
Withering and fading away.

What about the seed that grows into a plant but around a bunch of thorns and weeds? The plant is trying to grow but is being pulled on and overshadowed by strong weeds that are all around.

These weeds and thorns: The cares of the world, the lure of wealth. The cares of the world: like what? The lure of wealth…Matthew 6: No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. This is so easy to Who do we live our lives for? Day in and day out who do we serve? What are the cares of this world: insurance, security? American Idol? I don’t now…what do you think? fame, success? popularity?

And finally we get to the good soil…this is what we’ve been waiting to hear about right? Imagine those farmers…the good soil, this ought to be my ticket out of my terrible predicament…the good soil, where my seed will produce so much!

What does the good soil look like? Where do we find this good soil? The good soil that has manure, organic waste, worms, Black Gold. It’s there…it’s ready for that seed. and that seed is sure gonna grow.

Dry farming in California…the grape plants don’t get watered, but for the rain that comes down out of the sky. Instead the roots grow…they grow deep. How deep? 30 feet sometimes, down deep to be near the water table, and this kind of plant yields the best crops. The roots can grow that far down cause it’s good soil.

So I look at this parable…and I think about that good soil. The soil where the word of the kingdom the light unto my path is received and can grow and you can find roots 30 feet deep in this soil. Is it here in my heart? Is it here in this congregation?

I was thinking about the importance of personal disciplines…spiritual practices in which we might work that soil that we have inside of us. Amend it…make it rich: Things like “Practicing gratitude: counting my blessings. If I'm starting to feel down about something I'll either write or speak out loud to a friend, or pray out loud... "I am so blessed, I am so grateful for trees, I am so grateful for colors, I am so grateful for good jokes, I am so grateful for my health, I am so blessed with community.... I've done this with friends where we go back and forth, I'm grateful for this, I'm grateful for that.

What about singing: Singing every day, especially in thanksgiving, I’m thankful for most everything…I’m thankful for most every moment. I’m so thankful for you. Lift your voice and maybe you’ll lift your spirits.

How about Daily Prayer: Thank you God, so much for bringing me into existence, I am so happy to be alive. Support me in my work, may I do a good job, my I serve others, May I support my family. May you help those in need, and help me to help others too. Thank you for all your gifts..." And there is study & meditation: Regular study of scriptures, which may come alone or in small groups. Maybe even at a church Sunday school: Learning for the Journey.

There is contemplation of God. Meditation: sitting quietly, calming the mind and intentionally opening the heart to Spirit who works and prays in us. The passage from Paul while confusing for me at least, makes clear that life in the Spirit, a spiritual life, means that the Spirit of God dwells within. Christ is in us, the spirit gives us life.

The word of the kingdom…the word the living word, dwelling within us… we create that space, that good soil for this word to grow roots deep within.

But this is not just about the individual experience. Jesus was looking out from that boat and saw a large crowd gathered and listening. These people knew one another, probably saw one another most every week. Galilee was not a big town. What kind of community was he envisioning? One in which there are snatching birds, scorching suns and rocky rocks. Are there thorns and weeds all around. He saw that…but he also envisioned a community that could be fertile ground…a place where children could grow and be cared for and nurtured, where there was peace and love that ruled every gathering. Where there was laughter and play.
The good soil…where human thriving didn’t consist in competition and outdoing, but in companionship and together doing.

We all know the importance of environment. Think about the environments where you spend most of your time: home, the office, or your place of work. Your social networks, your hang out places, your church. Where is that good soil?
I was with someone this week concerned about a loved one because he didn’t work in an environment that would encourage “kingdom” values…and she saw how it effected him.
I hear stories about guys who get out of prison and when they return to their environment where they had gotten into trouble, they ended up getting into trouble again more often than not. But if they could find a different place, a more positive environment…then they had a better chance of not going back to prison. We all know our environment plays a huge part into who we are and if we remember nothing else about this parable, can we remember this…we can have good soil here in this place, with the gift of the Holy Spirit. WE can be a place of love and joy and care and freedom, where people can come, where seeds can be planted and sown, where our children can grow in their faith…we can be this good soil. But we have to tend to the soil. We have to amend it and work it, and keep the weeds out.

And in this good soil those seeds that are doing so good may find some real support and a place to grow roots. Waldo and Sue in the hospital, knowing that they have the prayers and support of so many. Suzanne who is dealing with depression and pain, who had people praying with her on Thursday. We can be that good soil here (heart) and here.

And may those seeds that scatter everywhere in the wind, find a place where their roots can grow deep, here and in many places throughout our world. Context of the message: Jewish Christians wondering why other Jews didn’t get it Calvin looking around and wondering why some in the church got it and others were clueless.

What are some of the things we stand for that we would like for others to get. What about our faith? What if we share our faith and someone just doesn’t get it. Is this just about converting people? or is this about something else? What is the word of the kingdom?
What does that look like.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mt11 16-19,25-30

Externals or Internals; Matt 11:16-19, 25-30 July 6, 2008

By about 11 a.m. Friday, pancake batter pourer Deborah Carr and flapjack flipper Andrew Binkley had pretty much mastered their appointed tasks at the Fourth of July Pancakes on the Plaza festival. "Pour from a high angle and let it drip" was the technique Carr had developed for maximum speed and neatness. "And you have to be kind to your flipper and your grill."

Binkley, who works at Trader Joe's, said the secret to proficient flipping was a clean grill and a certain twirl in the wrist. "It's all in the wrist," he said.1
Friday was my first 4th experience in the plaza; The long lines, the many people, the shops, cars, sights and sounds. I got to see: Renee and Rosalie, along with Miquela who danced so well. And unlike in this passage the children danced and the people responded appropriately.

This is a really interesting parable of Jesus. It is short; but it’s tricky to figure out. “To what shall I compare this generation?” Jesus asks. This Generation: “Talkin bout my generation.” When Jesus mentions “this generation” in Matthew—watch out--he’s usually pretty upset about something2; like in 17:17: ‘You faithless and perverse generation; how much longer must I put up with you? 1

And here he says, this generation is like Children! Like children sitting in the market-place: The Market-place: which in Jesus day was like the plaza plus; the plaza plus la rotunda, plus the courthouse: the centre of public life; This generation is like Children sitting in the market-place playing games with each other:The wedding game: We piped and you didn’t dance; The funeral game: we mourned and you didn’t wail. Now it’s hard at this point not to get lost. I’m already a little lost. It seems that this was an old game. In which the children reenact two very important days in life; the wedding day with piping, and the funeral day with mourning. (exciting game) But, it’s hard to figure out who’s who at this point. Who’s playing the games? Are Jesus (wedding) and John (funeral) the children piping and mourning? Or is this generation playing the game hoping Jesus and John will play along and they don’t play? Are you confused yet? (the bible can be confusing)

If I understand what Jesus is trying to say, that both he and John were ready to play. They wanted everyone to join in this game they were playing…John played one way living an ascetic life; in the desert, eating locusts, wearing camel’s hair, shouting, Repent! And the children sat, they didn’t play, they sat in judgment and said that John had a demon.

Then Jesus came along with his game: ready for the big party, turning water into wine, hanging out at the big fiestas; preaching the wonders of the kingdom of God: But the children just sat there, they refused to play. Said he was a lush and hung out with the wrong crowd. The children sat and didn’t play the game of John and Jesus because they wanted to play their own game. If I understand “this generation” It was those focused on externals. Those in positions of power and influence who want to play their own games by their own rules.

And who is playing the game correctly? Wisdom. The wise and the intelligent, they really don’t know what’s going on, Jesus says. Wisdom is hidden from them. They look for answers in the wrong places.

They doesn’t know what is important in life. They make the rules but are playing the wrong game…Because God has revealed these things to infants.

Jaleesa is present almost every Thursday noon for bible study in the office. She really helps us to keep things in perspective. There we sit, trying our best to understand what Scripture means, what life is about, what Jesus would have us do. And there she is wiggling around, playing with toys, my keys, opening and closing books. She was sitting on Darleenes lap with a blue pen that had a top. And she pulled the top off the pen. If you could have seen the look on her face. She was amazed. WOOOAH what just happened.

This is a confusing passage; have you heard many sermons on it? But this is how, I think Jesus keeps disciples on our toes. He changes the rules of the game everyone else is playing. How did society play the game in his day?

I think that Jesus was critical of those who focused on the externals: on people conforming to a particular way of life. There was the life of the religious leaders and the difficult rules they enforced; sacrifices, cleanliness; do this don’t do that.

It was difficult for so many to keep it all straight. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the laws, but to complete them: and he said that the greatest laws were to love God with everything, and to love neighbor as one’s self.

The wise and intelligent don’t really know God, because they rely on themselves, but look at infants, they know the game; Jaleesa is completely dependant on her parents.

It’s true that generally we don’t have as many religious laws that we’re always trying to fulfill. There were over 600 laws people were trying to keep straight. No we don’t have quite as many to worry about. But I think that this generations game that everyone is supposed to play is called: Keeping up with the Jones’ Maybe here in New Mexico it’s called keeping up with the

Garcias. We see the rules of this game on TV through the glamour of stars, the prestige of fame, the commercials that tell us how deficient we are because we don’t have certain products.

My friend was in town last week and we were reminiscing on our childhood. At some point we began talking about video games: we both grew up when Nintendos, were the popular gaming systems; they were tons better than ataris. Neither one of us had Nintendos; but Ryan did; and I would always invite myself over to his house after school to play!
Please. His mom had great snacks too. I’d play for hours …it didn’t even matter about Ryan, I had to play video games. Oh, how I wanted one of those game systems for myself. And I remember my bike as a kid. This freaky cheap old blue bike, that had a blue fake plastic sticky banana seat, and these long curvy handle bars. This was not a cool bike, and I was so embarrassed to ride it. Cliff, my friend cliff, he had an awesome BMX bike, that was so
slick, and could go tons faster than mine. And he had a go-cart, that was way out of my league. And those friends that had the cool shoes and cloths, the nice back pack…etc etc.

TO what shall I compare This generation?

We play childish games; we have to get the lastest and the greatest new product; we have to be skinny and good looking; we have to rise to the top and try to make ourselves important; we perpetuate the rules to this game we play as a society; and so often driving us crazy, because this game is hard.

It’s a stressful game to keep up with the Garcias.

IT wasn’t Jesus and John who were acting inappropriately in the game, it was the game itself that was being played. Infants know the real game…Jaleesa doesn’t worry about what she wears or what the greatest new toy is. (not yet at least). And now we get to the good part…we’re close to the end, and we hear the invitation, come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy

burden and learn from me for I am meek and humble in heart. Come to me if your tired of playing these games of this generation.

If your worn out by all the demanding pressures this consumerist power and prestige seeking game that we play, come to me, And I will give you rest.

Where do we find true meaning? Where do we find true fulfillment? That is just what Jesus wants us to see, what Jesus hopes to reveal to us.

And so he says, put my yoke upon you. I love this image of yoke.

Take my yoke upon you: The image is that of an animal harnessed to do work. The yoke provides discipline and direction. It clashes with everything our culture would tell us, be free, do what you like. Instead we’re burdened by other things instead of Jesus yoke. The great thing about this yoke of Jesus is that: If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we’re tired of

playing the same old game, but we’re ready for new life, a new way, and yoked with Jesus means he’s right there along side us, showing us a new way.

  1. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that like paul, we do things all the time that we really don’t want to do, and the things we want to do we don’t do. This yoke Jesus talks
    about helps us to do the things Jesus would have us do.

  2. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that so often we try to make ourselves better than others…anyone and everyone…and Jesus says take my yoke upon you and learn from
    me a meek and humble person. We don’t have to be better than anyone and we can find rest in that.

MLK said: Peace is not merely a goal we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal. This can be said of rest, of humility, of meekness, of discipleship. Give me rest for my soul! Give me rest for my soul.

But how? How do we arrive at the goal? We have to learn from Jesus.

Meek and humble at heart. Full of compassion and love. So often I hear stories about people going to a poor country, like Guatemala or Mexico or some country in Africa; and learn there what meekness and humility means, what dependence on God means; and the joy that is


Meek and humble in heart describe Joe from the Altanta Enterprise center where I worked 2 years ago. Joe wasn’t tall. Joe didn’t have a booming voice. Joe was not the boss and he didn’t seek power or prestige. He came to work day after day to work with homeless people, drug addicts, ex-offenders, and anyone in between who was looking for a job and helped to train them to get a job. He taught a class, he worked one on one, he was a guide and a mentor for

so many. Joe wanted to help someone better their life. And he did it in humility and meekness. He had this quiet smile, and shy chuckle. He knew his stuff. He was the first person I turned to when I had an issue with how to deal with a client. He didn’t seem to worry much, he certainly wasn’t looking to impress others, he just came and did his job, ate a sandwich at his desk every day. And continues to help out others who are weary.

What’s the game others are trying to get you to play? What game are you trying to play? To you hear the piping? Do you hear the wailing?

Learning from Jesus takes time..at least that’s how it’s been for me. Bearing this yoke. This thing around my neck. keeping me in check, but experiencing freedom at the same time. Maybe it’s like the pancake batter pourer and the flapjack flipper, who had pretty much mastered their tasks hours into the event. "Pour from a high angle and let it drip" Be kind to your flipper and your grill."the secret to proficient flipping was a clean grill and a certain twirl in the wrist. "It's

all in the wrist," he said.3

The secret to knowing these things of God are in the yoke, it’s all
in the yoke and who we’re yoked with. That will
put us on the right path where we may find rest and live life to it’s

1 As Reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, July 4, 2008.
(Matt 12.39-42; 16:4; 17:17; 23:36; 24:36
3 As Reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican, July 4, 2008.