Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiritual Boldness - Mark 10:35-45

Commerce Presbyterian Church, Commerce, GA
October 25, 2015

This morning’s sermon: Spiritual Boldness.

Jesus’ path during his life on earth required boldness..but different from the boldness we might identify today which is often enshrouded in domination of one person or group over another….
or simply is an exercise of displaying or boosting up the ego --- the boldness Jesus displayed was a spiritual boldness, meaning it wasn’t about him, it was about the God he served, and the people he served. He boldly stood up against injustices, looked out for the most vulnerable.
He did not back down from those in powerful positions whose policies and methods of enforcement perpetuated the systems which lead to this marginalization.

But it wasn’t in order to shame those in power or who were enforcing this system, but it was so that they might recognize their own misguided steps which were leading toward any divisions, in order that they might be reconciled to those who were being oppressed, in order that there might be togetherness oneness

The message of the gospel --the good news--is not a complicated one.  

It is where salvation is achieved not by separation, but by coming together, reconciliation with God, and reconciliation with one another.

But sometimes bringing people together is controversial…
sometimes it requires significant sacrifice, suffering..

And this is why it is about spiritual boldness…
you go about this mission of bringing folks together, tearing down dividing walls, righting wrongs,
it might get you in trouble.

It certainly did Jesus.

Three times in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, what I am doing some people aren’t going to like-

“the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
Three times he tells them this.
Their responses I find quite curious
After the first
You must not do this, we won’t allow for it! Says Simon Peter.

After his second prediction
Disciples argue about who will be the greatest!

after his third prediction
two disciples make a special request..

pulling Jesus aside so the others don’t hear them…
Hey Jesus…
sorry to hear you’re going to go through that, sounds rough.
But you said you’re going to be raised from the dead..and be in glory right.

We’ve been good to you right?

“Will you do for us whatever we ask of you?”

What do you think about us...sitting at your right hand and your left hand--you know the good seats--VIP--in your glory?

If I was Jesus, I would have been pretty agitated…
have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?  you knuckle heads.  

Can you drink the cup I am to drink?
Can you be baptized the way I will be baptized?
Will you take the path I am to take?

The path I will take requires courage...and boldness, says Jesus.
It’s not puffing ourselves up, but humbling ourselves before God and serving serving serving..
this is spiritual boldness.

As people on the way of Jesus, our mission and purpose is really no different from his.
We are to be about reconciliation…
tearing down dividing walls, and bringing people together.

The situations we face may be different in our day from the ones Jesus faced, but there is certainly a lot of hate, division and oppression---
wherever we turn there is work to be done.

As we have done the past few weeks we are looking at figures in our society who making significant marks.

This Sunday we look at someone from a little closer to home, who has worked to overcome divisions and oppression that is part of our not too distant Past.

A congressman, John Lewis, who represents the 5th district of our state--which is the area near the state capitol building--a majority african american district where he has served since 1987.
Other resolutions: 159 × 240Lewis receives honorary degree

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Commerce Presbyterian Church
October 18, 2015
NOTE 1: Students from UGA Presbyterian Student Center helped to lead worship.  Also, four skits demonstrating Jesus’ and our own creativity were featured as part of this sermon.
Note 2: References to Rex Jung are from his interview with Krista Tippet on the program, OnBeing.
Note 3: Accompanying Slides for the worship service and sermon.

Mark select examples of Jesus’ creativity

Today we are talking about creativity.

Create -
Creation -
Creative -
Creativity -

A few questions;

What does it mean to create?
What does it mean to be creative?

Think about those Picassos you drew as a kid.
What thing have you made...what problem have you solved your most proud of?
Maybe it was just winning a hand of bridge recently, and that’s okay

Was God creative?
I find Psalm 104 particularly adept at capturing the creativity of God the Creator!
springs, valleys, mountains, the sea, birds and fish!  Creation is marvelous

The bible would suggest that human beings were commissioned to be co-creators with God!
Participating in this glorious work.

This suggests something about or capacity to be creative as human beings?

Sometimes I don’t feel very creative myself...not like so many others…
my wife who can come up with all kinds of crazy Halloween costumes, like the year she dressed me up as a used Q-tip!  

Or like my neighbor friend who grew up on a farm and is so handy and capable about doing any house project--and he says growing up on a farm there are always problems to solve and you have to work with what you have to fix them.  Kind of emasculating really...

How creative are we?  

Slide 2: Rex Jung
As we have been doing for the past few Sundays, our accompanying teacher this morning is Dr. Rex Jung of the university of New Mexico. He studies this amazing most complex organ we have in our bodies...the brain.

Slide Brain
And he says, yes, all of our brains are wired to be creative…

Ready for some brain terms.
He talks about the prefrontal cortex--where we do our thinking, our cognitive abilities...
We are exposed to and even crave so much information, which is why talk radio and 24 news and information at the click of a button has been so pervasive.  

But the thing about creativity, says Dr. Jung
is that we have a tremendous capacity for it…
we just have to allow time and space for our brains to move to creative processing

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Refugee Sunday Awareness

This resource from Church World Services served as a guide for our service of worship, and the sermon below was an adaptation of some of the speaking points from the resource.

We had about 25 guests, most from the Karen community of Comer, GA--a people with no land; as well as Burundi and Congolese--they shares songs, stories, scripture, and prayers.  It was really beautiful. Many thanks to Blake Ortman of Jubilee Partners for helping to coordinate the visit, and to the session of CPC and Natalie Pinson and Donna Greene for organizing the lunch. 

At the lunch the church was encouraged to consider helping refugees in three ways:
1. teaching English;
2. teaching Citizen classes;
3. Sponsoring a family, such as the Burundi/Congolese family who visited and played music during worship.

These things were proposed by Blake to see what "God might lay on our hearts..."

A good part of Jesus ministry centers around the shores of the Galilee. Referred to as the ‘Sea of Galilee,’ this body of water is actually a relatively small freshwater lake, about 8 miles wide. Although small, In Jesus’ time this body of water created a large boundary. The lake separated the western Jewish side and the eastern Gentile side of Galilee.
The Gentile world represented an ‘other’ for the Jews. And the Jews represented an other to the Gentiles.
Human history is one of nations, ethnic groups, and peoples establishing borders as a means of containment, management, and self- preservation. This can be a beautiful thing as different customs and practices emerge in the form of rituals, dances, music, foods, and social customs. Just think about some of our customs, traditions, music, and foods in the south.
Sometimes within these borders there is a spirit of openness and receptivity to the outsider/ the other/ the foreigner. Hospitality.  Sometimes within these borders there is a fear and a suspicion and an apathy toward the outsider/the other/ the foreigner.  
What has been your experience of interactions with people who cross borders?

When I was a child, it was not unusual for my family to host an exchange student in our home.
We hosted a Chinese student named Monica who lived with us for 2 years.
When I was 11, we hosted a Cambodian refugee a few years older than I, named Dina, off and on for 4 years.And there were others, Rotary students from all over, who stayed for weekends and holidays. These were formative experiences for me; my identity was being shaped through interaction with these people from foreign lands.  
-         ---
What has been your experience crossing borders?  
When have you left your home for what was for you distant lands?
I have left my home several times in my life….
I left to go to college,
I left to travel outside of the country
I left for jobs in South Carolina and Arkansas, as well as in Mexico, Chile, New Mexico.
Each time I left my home it was by choice, it was because I had opportunity or was seeking adventure;
Each time I left I was well supported,  
and for the most part had a sense of where I was going and who would receive me when I arrived there.   
In our global reality, roughly 230 million people have left their country of origin; and live elsewhere. Among these are an estimated 60 million who are refugees. Different from my experience leaving home, these refugees leave not by choice or because they have an opportunity awaiting them; they leave because they felt forced to do so for any number of reasons.  They had very little choice—it was life or death. Are they well supported, as I was?
Do they know where they will end up and have people to receive them when they arrive, as I did? Well that depends greatly on our response.

As Jesus and his disciples set sail to cross over the Sea of Galilee a huge windstorm arises. Jesus' disciples are terrified at this life threatening storm. Shockingly, Mark tells us that Jesus is asleep. How could Jesus – the incarnation of Godself - be so calm and passive? Surely this moment cries out for immediate intervention. The disciples shout to him: “do you not care that we are perishing?
People are perishing all around us; An estimate of 220,000 lost lives in the war in Syria.
Violence and conflicts continue in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, in West and Central Africa,
Hundreds perish every year on the journey north from Central America; migrants drown in boats fleeing from Indonesia, or off the coast of Thailand and in the Bay of Bengal; migrants die crossing the Sahara Desert into North Africa; Many who flee often disappear without a trace.
There are certainly times when we wonder if God is awake. Does Jesus care people are perishing?

Jesus wakes up and calms the storm immediately. His voice and command reflect his authority over the wind and the water: "Peace! Be still!" Reminiscent of God’s spirit hovering over the chaotic waters of creation; Moses parting of the Red Sea; And when there comes peace it is an epiphany of God’s power and presence.
And what about the disciples? The fear of the disciples has overpowered their faith. They lose faith that God could be present even during the threat of an overwhelming storm. The plight of the refugee seems overwhelming doesn’t it. And there are many reasons we could potentially allow fear to paralyze us to inaction in the face of desperate need.
But faith...Faith allows us to see God at work.
Faith allows us to see the gift that comes when countries and cities within the international community respond to the cries of displaced people by offering immediate assistance, and long term durable solutions.
We see the hand of God at work when people of faith rise up together.
Faith overpowers fear when we respond to the needs of displaced people.
And this has been the work of Jubilee partners since the early 80s, in Comer, GA, and it is amazing to see God’s hand at work…how peace and stillness has come to overwhelming situations.  

This church’s elders recall a grace filled time when this congregation hosted a refugee family or two from Vietnam in the early 80s. After worship today, the session is hosting our new friends and neighbors from Comer who have come from various parts of the world to share a meal together. What might God be calling this congregation and each of us within the congregation to be doing in these days? How might we be part of calming the storm?

Do we contact the mayor or state representatives?
Do we consider opening our homes and church doors?
What joy it is that we can worship together with brothers and sisters who sought refuge in our area!
Let’s consider how we might join our voices with the voices of millions who cry, “peace, be still”!



Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Wisdom of Tenderness

Quotes are from Krista Tippets 2007 interview with Jean Vanier from OnBeing episode aired May 28, 2015, unless otherwise stated.

Of the many images of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States two in particular stood out to me:
  1. when the 5 year old daughter of undocumented immigrants, Sophia Cruz,  managed to get past the barricades and run to him. The guards at first fended her off. “The Pope does not have time for each and every child to run to him for a blessing. However, Pope Francis saw the courage of the girl, and beckoned her to come to him, and she was lifted up and he gave her a hug.

There is a wisdom in tenderness.

The second was when he met 10 Year old Michael Keating who has cerebral palsy..among the masses he bends over to give this boy a kiss.

There is a wisdom in tenderness.  

Jesus welcomes children with a spirit of tenderness.
He lifts them in his arms and blesses them.
the kingdom of God belongs to them.
Because children know what it is to be human.
Little children don’t judge, little children aren’t motivated by competition or outdoing. Little children were the lowly of Jesus' society...
OF such as these belong the kingdom of heaven....

The incredible thing about children is they're unified in their body—
whereas we, we as adults can be very disunified.
We can say one thing and feel another.
Can a child do that?
Children remind us what it is to be human.
If I’ve had a busy day or have a lot on my mind, but I come home and Zia and Ruby are there and they catch me sitting on the couch, closer to their level, they may jump on me and drag me to the ground, and we begin to play;
they are teaching me something about tenderness, about love about presence;
I see their faces, their hands, I hear their laughs, and I am reminded about what it means to be human.
to be human--in many ways this is why Jesus came to earth as a human, to teach us how to be human.  
You would think we would know,
But, in a world obsessed with mastery and control in which there is so much competition, uncaring, and destruction.
it seems we must Jesus points to children

And so as a child can teach us about unity and about fidelity and about love,
kingdom of God stuff, so it is with people with disabilities.
So says, today’s companion teacher, Jean Vanier, who founded the L’arche movement,
"intentional communities which center around people with mental disabilities."
the mission of L’Arche Communities is quite wonderful:
"- to make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities;
- to foster the development of communities that respond to members' changing needs, and
- to engage with local cultures while working toward a more human society."
After living with people with mental disabilities for 60 years, Vanier believes people with intellectual disabilities can restore balance to our world.

“Just as with children it's the same sort of beauty and purity in people with disabilities — it is extraordinary — as they remind us, 'Our world is not just a world of competition, the weakest and the strongest. Instead, Everybody has their place.'"

THrough living in community with people with mental disabilities,
“Vanier has learned the practical application of Christianity’s most paradoxical teachings; that there’s power in humility, strength in weakness,
and light in the darkness of human existence.”

One aspect of what it means to be human is through touch.
Jesus takes the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them.
Jean Vanier, who grow up in a military family and was military himself until his late 20s,
had to relearn in his L’arche communities the power of touch.   
Touch is complicated in our society where things are readily sexualized,
where physical abuse is so prevalent.  
But, when one visits the L’arche communities it is impossible not to be hugged or touched in a gentle and loving way;  a ‘joyfully physical” encounter is how it is described.  
Within the l’arche communities touch seems uncomplicated and so appropriate.  
Vanier describes this touch as, “safe touch.
That's to say a touch which gives security and reveals.
The way one can put one's arm around the shoulder of someone. It's not to possess them.
It's not to hold on to them.  It's to reveal.”

Vanier has gone through various stages of care for people in the community; like helping to change clothes and to bathe, or having to restrain when tempers get out of hand.  But, as he is “getting older and weaker,” he is experiencing touch from people in the community in a new way...
Like, Janine, who was once violent and acted out because of her condition, now likes to sit peacefully beside him and put her hand on his head and say, "Poor old man."
The culture created in this community with disabilities is one which not driven by a culture of competition, but instead a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important, and it's neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. This is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It's something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together. "
 But we have to be open to relating in order to celebrating life with them, in order to see.  Vanier tells the story of a time he was visited by a man who he describes as bit glum. He is sitting in his office talking to this glum man, when “there was a knock on the door. And before [Vanier] could say "Come in," Jean Claude walked in and Jean Claude technically would be Down syndrome. And, he says, “Jean Claude shook my hand and laughed, and shook the hand of the other fellow and laughed, and went out laughing.” And the man that had been in the office looked at Vanier and said, 'Isn't it sad, children like that?'  Vanier reflected, “what was sad was that he was totally blind.
He didn't see that Jean Claude was happy.”

Vanier finds people are often hesitant to interact and engage the mentally disabled of his communities.  because, he observes: We are a frightened people.

The big question is, why are we so frightened of people with disabilities?
When asked what he does by a woman, Vanier said,
“I [have] the privilege of living with people with disabilities.”

And she said, "Oh, but I could never work with [those] people."
He asked, "Why not?"
And she said, "Well, I am frightened of them."
Vanier says, When we stand before people who are deeply disfigured in their face, or in their body,
we're in front of a mystery of the human reality.
It's the fault of nobody.
It's a reality that is there.
The history of humanity is a history of people being born extremely fragile because sickness and death are part of our reality.

Vanier says to overcome his own fears one of his main goals in life has been to simply become a friend of Jesus and nothing else.
By being a friend of Jesus he finds he is able to accompany Jesus to the difficult places and difficult relationships, and to see Jesus in those places and people.  
“If I change, and I seek to be more open to people and less frightened of relationship, if I begin to see what is beautiful within them, if I recognize also that there's brokenness because I'm also broken, and that's OK, then there's something that begins to happen.”
There is a story of St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in the Middle Ages in Europe where there were thousands of lepers. Assisi couldn’t stand lepers.
Of course Jesus ministered to lepers, but Francis couldn’t stand them, the smell, the disfigured bodies.
But one day, Francis says, “The Lord brought me to visit with them.
And when I left, there was a new gentleness in my body and in my spirit.  
From there, I really left to serve the Lord.”

It was a conversion; a change in attitude.  
From fear and despisal of what appeared most disfigured, to discovery of the presence of God.
Slide: Vanier Quote
Vanier has learned in order to fully love, we have to accept what might be judged as useless or despicable or painful or broken in ourselves.
And then we can stand in relationship with one another, without judgment or fear, but because we love. We discover the deep joy of human relationship.
“That we love people not because they’re beautiful or clever, because they’re a person.”

What a privilege for this church to be recipients and hosts of the wonderful people who are part of Jackson Creative,
The annual Christmas party this past year here was great .  

And each week folks from the Jackson Creative community come to this church; whenever I go out to greet them, they shake my hands, they smile, they all have University of Georgia gear on.  
They always show me love and affection.  
They help me to learn and relearn what Jesus came to teach us,
what it means to be human…
...humans who are invited carry ourselves with the wisdom of tenderness.
Let us Pray,
Gracious God, I thank you for the community of Jackson Creative.  I ask that you bless all caregivers and all of those with mental disabilities who are part of our community.
I ask that we may grow and learn from relationship with each other as we all seek to be children ...
Children who get what it means to be of your kingdom.