Sunday, August 30, 2009

Get your hands dirty

August 30, 2009, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 – Get your hands dirty. Westminster Santa Fe
Wash your hands before dinner! That’s all the Pharisees are saying right? They are just being like any good mother toward her child. Wash up. Do the dishes. Em, Em, Em (shaking head in disapproval) Look at those disciples of Jesus! They don’t even wash their hands before they eat dinner. Ehh. Gross
Now were the Pharisee’s simply about germ patrol? Would they have carried hand sanitizer with them everywhere if they lived today! (pull out some hand sanitizer and pass it around)
The Pharisees saw the eating practices of Jesus and his disciples and said, They’re defiled!
But, really they didn’t know that much about germs back then. Defile, not so much dirty, rather, not being holy and pure before God. Ritually, unclean because one had be exposed to food that had been used for idol worship. Or one had interaction with people who worshipped gods other than YhWh the God of Israel, so they were unclean. Contagious, their impurity can spread just like a virus. (which is why I didn’t come to church last week, I had a virus! But, I’m clean now…I hope)
This concern about being pure before God at all times isn’t all that bad. Shouldn’t we all strive to be pure before God. “Be holy as I am holy” says God. And these washing laws—washing hands, and pots and pans—are biblical. Derived from Leviticus, and then elaborated upon in the midrash, which are teachings and interpretations of the law as time and circumstances changed. Kind of like us interpreting the bible today.
Any mother should approve of the Pharisees. Wash your hands!
But Jesus says to them, oh Pharisees Pharisees Pharisees. Don’t you get it? There is nothing, nothing, outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come.
It seems straight forward enough. Pharisees say wash your hands! Jesus says, no. Basically, these laws for which the Pharisees were the ENFORCERS, meant separation of people from one another. Those who were ritually unclean were excluded, not welcomed into the places of worship. But, as straightforward as Jesus teaching seems, I think we still make better Pharisees than we do followers of Jesus. We get what Jesus is talking about, but still say,
“Wash your hands!”
“Wash up, put on your Sunday best before you come to church.”
Come with a big smile and when someone asks you “how it’s going,” say, “Good and you?” “Everything is just fine!”
We’re good at washing our hands. What was it one of Billy Chrystal’s characters on Saturday night live always said: “It’s better to look good than to feel good.“
Today, it’s all about appearances? But what’s in our heart?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A unique communion practice

"Of course, this is Santa Fe." That phrase, or some variation of it, is used frequently to describe some of the quirky things one may encounter here that may not be found in other places.

My neighbor and friend is a lawyer representing the religious group Unaio do Vegetal (UdV) here in Santa Fe. There may be a property dispute between that religious organization and Santa Fe County. He came by a few weeks ago to open my eyes to yet another manifestation of the unusual nature of humans and religion. "This group, Uniao do Vegetal, uses some kind of tea for communion. Their a Christian group, but are facing resistence to building a church building from the people in that neighborhood who are concerned that they are a cult."

I'm on the board of the Interfaith Leadership Alliance here in town. We are mainly a bunch of Christian church leaders, with a few Jews and one Muslim leader who are members. We have agreed to sit around the table with one another without thinking that "others" are going to hell, at least that's how the Rabbi describes it. We would certainly not want to see religious discrimination in our town, and would consider leadership from various faiths to join our group so long as they share similar values to do justice and are not "self-ordained" people.

UdV has sought to meet with representatives from the ILA in order to begin dialogue and muster potential support in the community were their case to go public and they need some kind of backing for credibility. Currently under federal law, recognized legal religious institutions can buy property and set up shop pretty much wherever they please, so long as they don't violate any building codes, etc (I think that's right). Religious freedom is a great value in this country. UdV is a legal religion, as they won their case before the Supreme Court and are allowed to import and use the tea:

So we set up a meeting with UdV to learn more about them, and see how we might be of assistance. We came out of the meeting agreeing that they should be able to build their building. But, as we learned more about their religion, we were kind of scratching our heads. How is this a Christian religion? They have some unusual practices.
Here are a few of the highlights:
- The main controversy of their practice is that they use a tea for communion. This isn't Earl Grey. It is made with two types of leaves (or a stem and a leaf of two different plants) which are found in the jungles of the Amazon forest. These two plants together produce a chemical that causes hallucinations, and therefore is a contraband substance.
- The religion is currently in it's third manifestation in history, this time out of Brazil; The first was in the early 3rd or 4th century in Europe, and the second was in the 12th century in Peru.
- They believe in reincarnation.
- They don't use the Bible
-They teach doctrine as handed down from the leader of the third manifestation, and reading and discussion takes place on this doctrine during the "sessions", or services of worship
- They call themselves Christian because they believe that they encounter Christ, and salvation offered in Christ, when they drink the tea.
- "Sessions" are on Saturday evenings beginning at eight. They drink the tea early on and then have fellowship with each other, including a meal, until midnight. Then they go home. The effects of the tea have worn off by this time.
-The services are at 8 on Saturday as prescripted by the leader of the third manifestation as an alternative to those who would go out on Saturday night and engage in immoral behavior.
- Children are allowed to drink the tea in small doses. But not until one is 18 can they fully partake.
- Visitors are examined thoroughly as to their intentions for being at the "session". And it is not until certain degrees of approbation is one allowed to participate in the tea drinking ritual. This is to ensure that their intentions are genuine.

We had a very interesting discussion, to say the least. I was very thankful for the other representatives of the ILA for their openness and critique of what was taking place. Maggie Monroe was particularly astute in her interaction, as she works with Habitat for Humanity and knows a lot about property issues and working with the county, and she has a genuine curiosity about religious liberties and practices.

Alas, only in santa fe might I have these kind of encounters. Who knows, I may end up serving a hot bowl of soup to a homeless person next to someone from UdV this winter. But, most likely it won't be on a Saturday night. Something else hot will be served, perhaps in a religious building?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Best Pinch Hitter

I had to make a baseball reference since I'm nonsensically optimistic that the Braves may make a wild card spot in the playoffs this year.
I was not optimistic this morning. Yesterday, after working much of the morning/ afternoon, and then evening on both the sermon and an elder retreat that was going to take place after the worship service, I went to bed feeling a little puny with some virus that had been lingering since Thursday evening. This morning, I woke up with a fever of over 100 and achy. I called my doctor who is also an elder in the church, teammate on a Co-ed soccer team, is married to our pediatrician who is a deacon in the church, and is cousins with the doc who delivered our baby. Gerzain told me to take it easy, go to ER to get a flu swab, and to not put myself in exposure to others. Thinking of Helen Medina, Margaret Sandoval, and Marilyn Penner among others whose immune systems ain't what they used to be, I complied, and didn't go to church and canceled the session meeting.
Miraculously, when I called all the elders they were all okay with getting together the following Saturday afternoon (still need to hear from one).

And so then I made the call for my pinch hitter.
I have several pinch hitters, most of whom are notified well in advance that they will be preaching and helping lead the service of worship. A great joy of living in Santa Fe is there are several retired Presbyterian Ministers, many of whom still got that fire in 'em--that call doesn't go away with age. Also, there are some non-retired presbyterian clergy who are regular participants at WPC and reliable pinch hitters. Not to mention that, by grace, there are a few elders who are willing to preach. One elder, Rose Cavalcante, preached two weeks ago, and when I called her this morning to share the news she said, "Do you need me to preach this morning?" How awesome is that, she has a sermon in her back pocket like every good preacher should (I don't know if I do). I once asked another elder, Gaspar Naranjo, who is preaching two weeks from today, how far in advance I needed to notify him that I needed him to preach. He said, "About five minutes." He's got that back pocket sermon ready; and it helps that he does a sermon every week for 810 am Que Suave. But, no, I didn't go to any of these reliable people.

When I was installed in Feb 2007 as pastor of WPCsf, after an equally hectic Saturday of preparations for Sunday, I ended up loosing my voice. It was croaking on Sat evening, and croaked on Sunday morning. The service was prepared, the sermon ready to be delivered, just needed someone to preach it who could share from my life experience, speak as if this person knew me well. It was then that I identified my best pinch hitter: my wife, Trasie.

She has had experience with public speaking before, and has even preached a few sermons. With grace she delivered the sermon I wrote back in 07, and people came away saying, "Chester you can go back to Georgia, just leave us Trasie" (I think that is a nice comment here in NM?). She was able to deliver it as if it were my voice, but at the same time subtly insert her own theological, psychological, and biblical perspective into the sermon.

And this morning she had a repeat performance from what I heard today (at least she got the same, "we're going to fire Chester and keep you," comments...still trying to figure out what that means). And not only did she have to deliver the sermon, but she was already to coordinate the kids for their parts in the service as it was youth Sunday. And, she had to cover for a lot of things that I had left undone that I was planning to do on Sunday morning. I am so thankful to God for her in my life, and proud at the way she is able to respond to people's needs (in particular mine). Thank you my love.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's 5 am...what would you do?

Bam Bam Bam Bam! The knock at the door is persistent and getting louder.

"What time is it?" I ask.

"It's five," she says. I put a pillow over my head to try and muffle out the noise.

Bam bam bam bam....

"Who would be knocking on our door at 5 in the morning? Maybe they will just go away."

Bam bam bam bam....

I get up.
"Be careful, dear; don't unlock the latch."

I stumble outside our bedroom door to see police lights flashing outside the house.

Bam Bam Bam Bam....


Half asleep, I approach the door, "Is it the cops?" I ask, kind of flippently.

"Santa Fe Police Department"

I undo the latch and open the door, barefoot, in shorts, no shirt.

"Sir, sorry to disturb you at this hour."

I nod, rubbing my eyes to try and get them to open.

"The trunk of your car was open. Would you please inspect your trunk to see if anything has been taken from it."

"Dang. Did I leave the trunk open last night? Did someone break in my car?" I think to myself.
I gingerly walk along the path trying to avoid stepping on small pebbles.

I inspect the trunk....looks like I left it open last night, "Nothing's missing, officer."

"If you find anything unusual let the police department know. Have a good night."

"Thank you."

I walk back to the house and climb in bed.

If a police officer approached your house at 5 am, pounding on the door, what might you suspect? I thought about immigrants, and homeless people who sleep in parks. Maybe someone who is hiding from the law. Who might have been reluctant to open that door, and why?

Before opening that door, I had no idea why a police officer would have stopped by my house to pound on the door at 5 am.

Thankfully, everything was okay. And to the officer's credit, he was very polite, respectful, and I appreciate knowing that someone is keeping an eye out at that hour of the morning. Thanks, officer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ruby Gene's amazing

Yes, she has discovered a new and amazing ability. Oh, there is a new one every day.
The sky is the limit for this kid!

Tribute to Eliud Ortega...

And Jim Muirhead, and Fundraising in a church.

Jim told me this story about his first time visiting Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Toward the end of the service, Eliud Ortega, longtime minister of the church, said (according to Jim): "Okay, the roof has been repaired and we need to pay the bill. I'm going to pass this hat around and hope there is enough money to pay." So the hat went around. When it came back, Rev. Ortega counted the money, and it came up short, so he made another plea, "Please, we need to pay this bill right away, so please dig deep." He passed the hat again, and it came back, he counted the money, and it still came up short.

He looked desperately at the congregation and said, "well, we're still short. I don't know what we are going to do."

After the service ended, Jim went up to Rev. Ortega to introduce himself. He (having not put any money in the hat) said, excuse me, just out of curiosity, how short are you? Ortega said to him: $37.50. Jim pulled out his wallet and made a contribution, the first of many he would make to the church. Choir director, session member, chair of a nomination committee, hymnals, paved parking lot, the list goes on. Thanks for the memories Jim.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a: Totally busted

Westminster Presbyterian Church
August 2, 2009
How cool is it when people get caught.  Put the candid cameras up….Or the cameras at the traffic lights (those aren’t so cool). Hidden videos.Mystery novels and television programs that focus on someone doing something WRONG, and then trying to figure out how to catch them prove who done it. 

This was the case with David. He was so totally busted. In one of the greatest stories told of all time: David and Bathsheba.

The model king who can do no wrong. He has defeated Goliath and the Philistines. He has conquered the Ammorites and united the Kingdom of Israel,
he has restored the Ark of the Covenant containing the sacred Ten Commandments to the hands of their rightful owners.  And now he sits upon the throne and what other good can he do?