11-12-17 Ready to Live

How do we live in hope in tenuous times? How do we prepare ourselves for God’s future when there seems to be so much evidence that things are getting worse rather than better? Maybe these are questions we all are trying to answer these days. This passage from Matthew brought the questions to the fore for me. We have been reading these difficult passages about weddings and end times for weeks now, passages that don’t seem totally compatible with what we usually think of as Jesus’ message. Yet, we listen, we are always listening for God’s message, God’s inspiration. So listen today for God’s word to you from Matthew 25, starting from the first verse.

 Matthew 25:1-13 Then again, the kingdom of heaven could be likened to ten attendants who took their lamps and went to meet the bridal party.  Five of them were wise; five were foolish.

When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take any oil with them, but the wise ones took enough oil to keep their lamps burning. The bridal party was delayed, so they all fell asleep. At midnight there was a cry: ‘Here comes, the bridal party!  Let’s go out to meet them!’

Then all the attendants rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there won’t be enough for us; run to the dealers and get some more for yourselves.’ While the foolish ones went to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived; and those who were ready went to the marriage feast with them, and the door was shut. When the foolish attendants returned, they pleaded to be let in. The doorkeeper replied, ‘The truth is, I don’t know you.’ So stay awake, for you don’t know the day or the hour.

November 12, 2017

Ready to Live 

A year or two after I graduated from college, I was invited to a wedding, the wedding of dear classmates from my school, the second wedding of that era. There would be many more. “Of course, I’ll be there,” I told them. “Wouldn’t miss it.” When the day arrived, I put on my best shirt, my festive purple shirt with the collar practically out to my shoulders. (It was the 70’s style, do you want to see it?)

I put on my white bell bottom pants, and probably sandals, and I headed out to the highway to hitchhike(!) down to DC. When I got to the highway, I looked at my watch and calculated the time. As I waited for a ride with my thumb out, it slowly dawned on me that hitchhiking was not the most reliable form of transportation, and that I would likely be late for the wedding.

As were the foolish bridesmaids in our reading from Matthew for this morning, I was not only late for the wedding. I missed it altogether because I foolishly did not plan ahead/ I remember that I finally got a ride into Wilmington and took a train from there, in time only for the party after the wedding. I had not remembered this foolishness for many years, and I’d rather not remember it, but sometimes reflection on a Bible passage leads to introspection and self-sacrificing connections. (and my advancing age is making me less protective of my pride.)

You see, the bridesmaids in this passage – it actually says ‘virgins’ in the Hebrew, but we choose to call them bridesmaids – they were waiting for the wedding procession. A wedding in Palestine in those times lasted for days. There was a big party and a procession. These 10 women, five foolish and five wise women, were waiting for the procession outside the house to light the way for the bridal party. The lamps were bowls of oil with a wick in the bowls.

Since the bridegroom was late, everybody fell asleep. When they awoke to sounds of the bridegroom on his way, the five foolish women, according to the tale, did not have any oil left in their bowls. They asked the five wise women to loan them some oil, but those five said they didn’t have enough, and told the foolish ones to go buy some more oil – in the middle of the night.

Now we might look at this passage and say, “I would have lent them some oil. It’s a shame that they will miss the party.” I imagine Jesus would have said the same thing. as we were studying the passage though, we thought of some present day analogies. We thought about the chargers for our phones. I know that I have told people in my family, “Get your own charger! That one is mine and I need it to charge my phone, now. I need it so I will have my phone charged for tomorrow. Ready for whatever happens.”

So I can’t say that I would have been quick to share my energy source with other people who foolishly didn’t plan ahead and bring their charger – or their oil with them, even if it meant they couldn’t get in to the party. And I can’t really complain that my foolish lack of preparation kept me out of the wedding.

The passage says with some finality, “The door was shut.” The five foolish maidens had missed their chance. Many of us can remember a time when we missed our chance, when a door closed, when we were trying to get somewhere or accomplish something and we didn’t make it. It can be a despairing kind of feeling.

 

This passage has an air of finality and warning about it. Matthew meant it as an allegory for the end times, for the return of Jesus. The Jesus Seminar thinks the parable was probably not told by Jesus but by the later community of Matthew which was waiting for Jesus return. It was a warning to people to be prepared and to be on guard for that day. It could be for us an early Advent story, since we so often skip to Christmas, and by all signs in our society, our time of waiting and anticipation has already begun.

My despairing hitchhiking heart goes out to those 5 bridesmaids who did not bring enough oil to get into the party – and to all of us who have faced closed doors in our lives, dead ends where we thought there was no way forward. I know that I learned my lesson in my youth and found better ways to get to important events, and planned ahead better. I imagine people hearing this story and deciding they would live their lives within the growing community of the Way, the Way of the Living God.

In spite of the feeling of finality in the story, though, I find myself needing to hear a bigger word of hope from this passage – knowing that God makes a way out of no way, that God is making a way around the shut doors of our world. God has made a way for the women who have been abused and misused, and are just beginning to find the strength and the encouragement to tell their stories. The door that was shut is opening to a new healing.

This morning, I found myself asking God – what happened to those 5 foolish women after they got locked out of the party, and God showed me some pictures of one of them climbing through a window out back, one of them dressed up as a man to get through the door, and three of them pinky swore to each other that they would never get married. Two of them stayed together the rest of their lives and one of them was by herself. Some people called her foolish to the end of her days, but she was actually quite content in relating to the world on her own terms.

God is opening the door to people who have been shut out of the world or shut out of the church, whether through abuse or neglect or because of their sexual orientation or gender expression, or because of names they were called or mistaken things they were taught. Even if some of the doors of our churches close for good, I am quite confident in the presence of the Living God in our communities, reopening ways, reopening paths for our children and for our friends and neighbors to find redemptive love, healing, and renewal.

Responsive hymn      2220 We Are God’s People

Crossing Over 11-5-17 All Saints Day

Joshua 3:7-17 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’ Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord— the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

All Saints’ Day is a wonderful holy day, a beautiful celebration of life and death. Christians know that death is not failure. Death is not a bad thing. Death is not even the end. It is an end, but not the end, and today we celebrate God’s love that is stronger even than death. I studied the Joshua reading for today. It does not refer to death, actually, but the image of Crossing Over, crossing over the river Jordan, crossing over from life to death, has symbolic significance for talking about the end of life’s journey. Let’s talk about it some more after we hear Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount bless all of our loved ones in the passage known as the Beatitudes. Listen for the Word of God for you this day.

Matthew 5: 1-12 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for   theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

November 5, 2017

Crossing Over

[Each person receives a small stone at the door to the sanctuary.]

Did you all get a stone? Please hold the stone in your hand for a bit during the sermon, remembering any loved ones you want to remember today. My stone today of course is for my mother. Would like to tell somebody whom you’re holding a stone for real quick? Turn to a neighbor and tell them whom you are remembering. I ask you to hold a stone today thinking about the tribes led by Joshua crossing over the Jordan River on dry ground, as we remember those who crossed over from life to death.

I also ask you to hold a stone in honor of the Jewish tradition of laying a small stone on a grave when they visit a loved or respected one who has died. Do you know why they do that? Nobody is totally sure, but some possibilities are that when the tradition started, the gravestones were actually made out of a pile of stones. Visitors added stones to the mound to show we are never finished building the monument to the deceased loved one.

Another reason people leave a stone is tell other visitors that we were there. It suggests the continuing presence of love and memory as strong and ensuring as a rock. The rock is a reminder of God’s presence too, the Rock of Israel, whose love is stronger than death. Some people also leave a note in crevices in a headstone, and the stone may have been a way to hold down a note when there was no crevice. When the note blew away, only the stone was left.  I visited a graveyard this summer in Massachusetts where they had graves on a hill call “Author’s Ridge.” Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau were buried there, and people left stones at their graves, but many people also left pens or pencils as a tribute.

One other possible meaning of the stones that I will mention is an ancient tradition. Shepherds needed a system to keep track of their flocks. Some days they would go out pasture with a flock of thirty, on other days with a flock of ten. The shepherd would carry a sling over the shoulder and in it keep the number of pebbles that corresponded to the number in the the flock, as a reminder of an accurate count. When we place stones on the grave, we are asking God to keep the departed’s soul in God’s sling. So today as we hold these stones, we are adding the name of our loved one, the pebble of the soul of our departed to God’s sling.

 

God is often associated with the land for the Hebrew people and in the Bible. Our passage for today from Joshua may sound a little familiar because it is so resonant of the story of the Hebrew people crossing the Red Sea on dry land following Moses. Though that story appears earlier in the Bible and is more prominent in our memory, some commentators say this passage from Joshua might actually have been written earlier and been the model for the Moses story.

Moses, you will remember, led the Hebrew people across the Red Sea into the wilderness, but after wandering 40 years in that wilderness, he died before the people went into the promised land. That job was left to Joshua, who led the people across the Jordan, again with God’s help. God stops the Jordan from flowing when the people step into it with the Ark of the Covenant. Later, after our passage, God instructs the 12 tribes of Israel to take big rocks from the riverbed and stand in front of the Ark of the Covenant protecting it from the waters. They take these 12 large rocks onto dry land as a monument and memorial to actions in helping the people of Israel in their journey to the promised land.

 

We all have our ways of remembering, our ways of memorializing and honoring our loved ones. I think of my mother every Saturday morning when I used to call her on the phone on my morning walk. I sometimes call my brother or just hold her in my prayer during that time. Peter was telling me a few weeks ago about how he honors his father as he takes his sons fishing up in the Poconos in the place where his dad took him. I know Nancy honors her father on Sundays out in our memorial garden.

So we may use our stones today in a memorial ritual. As we bring them to the communion rail today, we may place them there as a monument to God’s grace, God’s love which we know is more powerful than death. As our loved ones have crossed over into the mystery on the other side of the river, we continue to celebrate their lives in and among us, and with God as part of the great cloud of witnesses. We break bread even today for them. We may leave the stones as a way of asking God to number them in God’s sling, or we may take the stones with us as a part of our personal memorial to place on a grave, or to hold in our sling.

Dedication of Memorial Gifts

Responsive hymn 3108 I’m Tradin’ My Sorrows

All Your Heart 10-29-17

I want to be Martin Luther for Halloween – I just have to find one of those funny little hats, and then I can reform the faith. You know that Oct. 31, 1517, 500 years ago this week is when Martin Luther posted his 95 these on the door of the church in Wittenberg. There’s a part of me that wishes I could do that. And there’s part of me ready to just teach & preach the very basics of Christianity, Jesus 101. I so often find ways to complicate the message. Today’s passage is very basic as Jesus answers the question, which commandment is greatest. Let’s see if it’s simple or complicated.

Matthew 22; 34-46 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they gathered together, and one of them, an expert on the Law, attempted to trick Jesus with this question: “Teacher , which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” Jesus answered:  ‘you must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,.’ That is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law is based—and the prophets as well. While the Pharisees were gathered around him, Jesus asked them this question. ‘What do you think about the Messiah?  Whose descendant is the Messiah?” They said, “David’s. Then Jesus asked, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls the Messiah “Sovereign’?  For he says” ‘The Most High said to my Sovereign, “Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your foot.” If David calls the Messiah ‘Sovereign,’ how can the Messiah be a descendant of David?” No one could reply, and from that day on no one dared ask him any more questions.

October 29, 2017

All Your Heart

It’s not that complicated, right? Just love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s very basic, not hard to remember. Everything extends from these two basic commandments, love God and love your neighbor. Jesus’ teachings can just about be summed up in those two short sentences. i guess it’s always a little harder than just saying it.

In this sermon, I want to focus on the first part – loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, because we tend to equate these two commands and feel as though loving our neighbor is how we love God. In these polarized times, some congregations are focused more on loving God and some are focused on loving neighbor – but Christians are called to devotion and to social justice, to simple piety and good ethics.

 

Let me say that some churches are more focused on devotion and piety. We may have something to learn from churches where people are really excited about their relationship with God, where people raise their arms during the praise and worship, or say ‘amen’ or ‘hallelujah’ with enthusiasm. I know that if they don’t have some kind of balance, some kind of combining of piety and action it would fall flat for most of us. Still let’s think about what loving God means for us as a church.

So let’s talk about Martin Luther and his work to reform the church toward loving God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.  Heather Hahn from the United Methodist News Service, lists 6 major ways Luther’s reforms have lasted and served the church. She notes that “Luther was not the first person to call for reform in the Catholic Church. But you might say he was the first to go viral. The printing press, the internet of his day, spread his ideas far beyond the university town of Wittenberg.” His posting on Wittenberg’s Castle Church door in 1517 might be the most eventful trick-or-treat in history.

The first major reform that Luther’s reformation made happen, was what he called “the priesthood of all believers.” He insisted that the church priests were not the only ones who had access to God. Everyone could love God and listen to God, and connect with God. All people, as we say in our bulletin, are ministers, priests, pastors, servants.

The second effect of Luther’s reforms was to give all people access to the Bible. Again the Gutenberg press helped make this reform possible – but the Protestant leaders carried forward the implications of reading the word of God personally and again having that direct and personal relationship with the Living God – listening to God through scripture and through prayer. Luther was the first to look to the original Hebrew and Greek in his work (rather than Jerome’s Latin Vulgate) and translate the Bible into vernacular German, so that people could understand it and relate to it. Like the “message” of their day.

3. Luther did not stop with Scripture. He also translated the Latin Mass into everyday language. That in turn influenced the creation of England’s Book of Common Prayer, which John Wesley would later adapt for his Methodist movement. United Methodists also can thank Luther for making congregational singing a regular part of worship, Our devotion to God is expressed in our singing and in our worship, our celebration of the love of the Living God. We at St. Luke involve everybody in worship. That would never have happened with out Luther.

4. Luther encouraged people to pray together every day, to know that their prayers could go directly to God. They didn’t have to go through the priest, or even through a saint or through Mary. Our LIFE group leaders will tell you that I encourage them almost every meeting to pray with you in your LIFE groups. The LIFE acronym stands for Living in Faith Everyday, so we are following in Luther and Wesley’s footsteps when we invite each other to pray with each other regularly. I know this is still not totally comfortable for all of us. Sometimes the best prayers for loving God with our whole heart are quiet prayers, listening prayers, rather than public, out loud prayers, but I still encourage all of you priests to try praying out loud with people, to get used to a public, whole-hearted relationship with God.

5. the Protestant reformation encouraged a movement for mass education that might have happened anyway because of the printing press. Having access to the Bible in your own language wouldn’t do any good unless you knew how to read it. So Protestant reformers encouraged people to learn to read. These days we assume everybody will learn to read. Think how important that ability is in relation to your own understanding of the divine – not just because you can read the Bible, but because you read novels, and poetry, articles and calls to worship.

6. Look, not everything Luther did led to great things, and healthy love of God. The break from the Catholic started division after division. Luther fought with other reformers and they fought with each other, and even today, we’re facing a serious chance that the United Methodist Church will split again. I’ve been really upset about that this week, and I’ll be glad to talk with you about it, but it would make the sermon too long today to go into it. The other problem with Luther was that he was so angry at the Catholic church and that vitriolic anger was even worse toward the Jews. His anti-Semitism fertilized the anti-semitism that festered and exploded later in Germany.

We can take this problem of Luther’s as an opportunity to acknowledge another important aspect of loving God with all our hearts, mind and soul. We can never out love God. God’s forgiveness is available to all people, including Luther. As I always remind you, a sermon is finally not about what we need to do, but about what God is doing. God’s love and grace are what make possible our love for our neighbors, our love for God, our love for ourselves

God’s pure love for all of God’s creation has opened doors for purer and more direct forms of human love for God and neighbor. Luther argued strongly that our work, anything we do, does not make God love us anymore. We call his understanding justification by faith, and all the Protestant reformers including John Wesley embraced this understanding. It is not our love for our neighbor, our ministry, our mission, our work that saves us. We come to our saving relationship with God solely through faith, solely through our relationship with God, not through any accomplishment of our own. Wesley experienced that saving relationship through his heart being strangely warmed at Aldersgate. And all the whole Protestant movement has been about helping people to experience that kind of relationship with God.

Our work in the world, our love of neighbor and our love for God are both inspired by God’s grace and God’s love. In our worship and in our devotional life we aim to experience that love of God. In our church life, we live out that love through our worship and our work in the world, and we thank God for it all.

Responsive hymn   2168 Love the Lord Your God

What Belongs to God? 10/22/17

Matthew 22:15-22  Then the Pharisees went off and began to plot how they might trap Jesus by his speech. They sent their disciples to Jesus, accompanied by sympathizers of Herod, who said, “Teacher, we know you’re honest and teach God’s way sincerely. You court no one’s favor and don’t act  out of respect for important people. Give us your opinion, then, in this case, Is it lawful to pay tax to the Roman emperor, or not?” Jesus recognized their bad faith and said to them, “Why are you trying to trick me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin which is used to pay the tax. When they handed Jesus a small Roman coin. Jesus asked them, “Whose head is this, and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. At that, Jesus said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were astonished and went away.

Oct 22, 2017

What Belongs to God?

Part 1: DT  I was showing the world how to live when I was in my 20’s. I thought I knew better than just about anybody how to live and what to do. I wasn’t making enough to have to pay taxes, so I thought nobody should pay taxes. I was vegetarian so I thought nobody should eat meat. I was working to change the world and I could hardly understand why everybody wasn’t doing the same thing as I was doing.

As I started to peek out of my self-righteous work, I kept running into United Methodist pastors who seemed to be doing good things in the world. I had grown up United Methodist, so I noticed them in particular, even though I had left the church several years earlier while I was in college. One of the Methodist pastors I met was the chaplain at Drexel University, Rev. Dean Snyder. I thought he might be able to help me get a job, so I went to him for advice.

I talked to him on his porch in West Philly, just a block from where I live now. He seemed a little amused at my youth and self-righteousness. He said, “I predict that within 5 years, you will be using a credit card and wearing a 3 piece suit!”

I was appalled and said there was no way. I was quite sure I would never use a credit card and a suit just seemed absurd. But he was right. Within 5 years I used a credit card quite regularly. It might have taken a little longer before I stooped to buying a suit to get married in, but I still have that suit and I still wear it from time to time.

I came to realize that I wasn’t going to get away with not paying taxes – even if some of the money went to wars I disagreed with or causes I disagreed with. So I live a compromised life. If Jesus asked me for a coin, I could show it to him.

 

Part 2: Joanne. Our passage this week is Matthew’s account of the first of three debates between Jesus and the Pharisees and the Sadducees in their plot to trap him!

The question they pose is beyond clever, asking Jesus whether it was lawful to pay the poll or imperial tax that funded Roman occupation.  If Jesus answers yes, the adoration of the crowds would likely not simply evaporate, but rather be turned into opposition.  If he answers negatively, however, then he will have positioned himself over and against the Romans, never a wise thing to do.  So they’ve got him trapped…. Right?? …… Of course not, Jesus the consummate debater flips the script and transfigures the challenge to a theological question and uses it to instead disclose something about them and us!   Don’t you hate when that happens??   I’m sure they did!

As clever as their question is, Jesus’ response is ingenious leading to an exchange that is as revealing as it is brief. After asking if any of his questioners has a coin of the Empire – the only coin that could be used to pay the tax in question – they quickly reach in their pocket and pull one out. The coin is damning in itself because of what it says.

Jesus asks whose image is on it, and they answer “The Emperor’s.” But there’s more ….along with the image is an inscription Tiberius Caesar, august and divine son of August, high priest: a confession of Caesar’s divinity.  These words also spoke of oppression and blasphemy.  Jesus’s adversaries shaped their question as a political quandary and anticipated a political response.

But clever Jesus, skillfully and quickly widens the question so that it has little to do with politics and even less threat of arrest.  He crafts his response around a question that he never actually asks: What is it that bears God’s image?  “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24) …. Basically none of us are exempt from the discernment of choosing what belongs to whom.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” With this one sentence, Jesus does not just evade their trap or confound their plans, but issues a challenge to his hearers that reverberates through the ages.   His answer is ambiguous – wouldn’t you agree??  What we want to hear in this answer is him describing two separate but parallel duties ….an answer to both our civic and faith based obligations in two nice, neat tidy categories.  BUT – it isn’t – what Jesus usually sets out to do is provoke thought …. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but Jesus clearly means to make us think about what really belongs to God is – which is — EVERYTHING!

 

DT Part 3: Everything belongs to God. We all belong to God – so how do we render to God what is God’s, when we all are carrying the coin of the realm, owing so much of ourselves to Caesar? We all are compromised in more ways than we want to admit, All of us fall short even of our already compromised ideals.

As I thought about compromised situations I sometimes find myself in these days, I thought about a POWER march that I walked in this past summer. A thousand some people – were marching down Broad St. protesting the rise of blatant white supremacy in Charlottesville. People were angry about a woman being killed by an unrepentant man ramming into a group of protestors.

As we marched down the street, I was next to a flatbed truck that had a loudspeaker with people leading various chants. Most of the chants and slogans had me chanting as enthusiastically as the rest of the crowd, but one chant made me feel a little compromised myself. Someone started chanting “No good cops in a racist system. No good cops in a racist system.”

I understood what they meant. I understood that they were trying to get people to question how security systems in our society are constantly bent toward protecting white people at the expense of people of color. You may agree with that or not, but I did not feel like it was a wise or helpful slogan, especially when we had police marching right alongside us helping to protect the march and our right of free speech.

I started walking with one of the officers who was walking with us and I kind of apologized for the chant that I felt was insulting him. He looked at me and said, “Oh, I hear worse than that every day!” He wasn’t taking it personally. He was doing his job.

He may or may not recognize how he was personally compromised at times, how he sometimes has to defend things that he does not agree with. He had a job to do and I admired his ability to do it even when he sometimes did not receive respect or recognition that he is a human being too.

God claims us all – no matter how we are broken or compromised – and we all are broken and compromised.

 

Part 4: Joanne – Compromise – Merriam Webster define compromise as: a) settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concession b) a concession to something derogatory or prejudicial, a compromise of principles.

 

We all have fine lines to walk in negotiating the commerce that fills our daily life,

 

Notice that despite the fact that Jesus’ opponents carry a coin with a graven image and confession of Caesar’s divinity, Jesus accuses them of neither blasphemy nor disloyalty. Instead, he calls them hypocrites, those who have quite literally taken to wearing another, and false, likeness. So perhaps the real charge against those trying to trap or discount Jesus in that conversation or even now is best understood as amnesia, a lapse of memory, forgetfulness of who they are, in whose likeness they were made.

 

Caesar will produce many coins with his image and will get many coins and be flattered.   What he collects or doesn’t a reflection of his power.  But what is rendered to God is whatever bears God’s divine image.  Every one of our lives, including Caesar, the Pharisees, the Herodian’s and the Roman’s is marked with God’s divine inscription and the image of God.  We bear God’s image, just as the palm of God’s hand bears ours.   It is true that sometimes that image can be difficult to recognize.  When we look in a mirror, when we look at each other, we have the tendency to see the inscription that our business in the world has left on us.  You are what you look like…. you are what you wear…. you are what you do….the company you keep.  The chanters along the march …. Tagging the image of racist based on the uniform worn by the officer and the work that he does to make a living.   But underneath these images and inscriptions, is the image God sees, the watery mark etched on us at our baptism.  We bear God’s likeness and are therefore made to be more than we sometimes realize.

 

Jesus love us all, all God’s children are of sacred value, the broken and cracked, the compromised, the Pharisees holding that coin, pastors, cops, gamblers, church folks, Jesus kept company with, ate meals with prostitutes, tax collectors, addicts, pornographers, movie moguls. What Jesus gives us in the simple through provoking response is a reminder of our primary identity, helping us to see who we are and whose we are.   A prompt to reorient ourselves again and again to God’s way.

Responsive hymn                        2172 We Are Called

God’s Upward Call 10-8-17

We were hoping to be outside today. If the weather forecasters are wrong, I’m grateful. If they are right, I’m grateful, because we need the rain! Either way, today we celebrate the fall harvest. Part of the idea of being outside was connected with the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth, which is happening right now. We are invited to several local synagogues, particularly Beth Am in Gladwyne this evening, to be outside in their synagogue’s sukkah for a gathering of unity and peace. If anyone wants to represent St. Luke there, let me know and I will get you directions. I know most people are preparing for Grace Cafe and can’t go.

Our reading this morning from Philippians, the way I read it focuses on privilege and humility. Listen for the word of God for you today.

Philippians 3: 4b-14 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on God’s call at this time in our lives, straining forward, never looking back.

October 8, 2017

God’s Upward Call

It’s always fun being with my pastor buddy Jim McIntire. Sadly he is no longer pastor of Hope UMC, so we won’t see him at charge conference this Saturday. It’s fun to be with Jim because he has a great sense of humor and you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth to keep everybody laughing. One the constant jokes that happens a lot when the two of us hang out together – going to court or a demonstration or leading a worship service – is about our relative height. It’s fairly inevitable that someone will make a “Mutt and Jeff” comment of some kind, since Pastor Jim is fairly short and I am fairly tall.

Jim gets ribbed constantly for being short. He partly brings it on himself, mentioning it before someone else does. It’s an easy joke, and folks latch onto it. I never get teased for being tall. People don’t say, “Whoa, you’re a giraffe next to him!” They comment on his height, not mine. Being tall is often an advantage for me, and I like being tall. Do you think God loves me more for being tall? Of course not! God’s upward call has nothing to do with height, even if I am closer to heaven than most other mere earthlings.

Really, it just seems absurd to talk about, doesn’t it? But there are unconscious ways in which people think better of someone who is taller, or is able-bodied, or male, or white, or heterosexual, or married, or a parent, or more educated, or a citizen of the United States.

How many of those privileged categories do you fall into? Do you think God loves you more for being a man or being heterosexual or being a US citizen? Or course not! That is not what God’s upward call is about.

It took me a long time to realize how privileged I am. It took me a longer time to realize that the blessings I enjoy don’t mean that I’m better than other people, I’m still working on that part really. God does not love me better because I’m a citizen of the US or because I’m a pastor and or because I try to do good things in the world.

Paul is saying something similar in his letter to the people of Philippi. He says, I have every reason to think God is giving me special assistance because I was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Some of these characteristics, Paul did not have to work for. He was born in Israel into the tribe of Benjamin. Other characteristics, such as his persecution of the early church, are aspects of Paul’s life that he had to work for. He felt proud of his work for the Jewish community that was his birthright. Remember that Paul was Jewish. He was proud of his Jewish roots and his status in the community. He was not trying to start a new religion, only to convince people that Jesus had a new and important truth to teach all of them.

This new and important upward calling was not that God loved one group more than another, not that God is going to love men more than women or free people more than slaves, or Jews more than Gentiles, but that God loved every part of God’s creation – that God in Christ calls all people to know they are loved and honored and expected to live a good life. Christ frees all of us to know we are loved for who we are, not for how society judges us, honors us, critiques us or respects us.

 

It is not easy for us who are on many of the more privileged side of the spectrum to hear Jesus’ message through Paul clearly. It’s not easy for me sometimes to realize that my advantages are not a blessing from God that indicates I am better than somebody else. Those advantages are often a blessing, but sometimes they blind me to the situation and need of the person next to me, and the calling I have to be part of the solution.

We can laugh about it in relation to me and Jim, Mutt and Jeff. Some situations are much more serious. Somebody pointed out how we even have trouble understanding the situation of the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week. The media expresses horror over the killings, but they call the shooter a “lone wolf,” isolated and a one time aberration. If the shooter was Muslim or an immigrant, he would have been called a terrorist. And that’s what this action was, an act of terrorism, committed because an unstable person can buy an insane number of lethal weapons in a short amount of time.

Jesus calls us to love and protect all of God’s creation. That is so hard for us to do when we can’t acknowledge our own privilege, the ways in which we have more than our share and receive those gifts without thinking or reflection. Paul says, all his privilege and special status he considers rubbish; it’s garbage because of his new relationship with the Living God in Christ. Because of that relationship he knows that he is not better than the next person of a different gender, cultural background or social status than himself. It doesn’t matter any more. Because of Christ’a love in his life, he says, he feels and upward calling, a calling to a resurrection life, a life made new in a world full of God’s love.

 

Dorothy Hull came back to church last Sunday. It was so great to see her out because of Lisa and Rick making sure she had a way to church. Dorothy started coming here when her husband got sick and she couldn’t make it all the way into town to go to her beloved Tindley Temple UMC. In that church the sermon always ends with an altar call, so Dorothy is always perplexed when I don’t call people to Christian discipleship at the end of a sermon.

It’s an old tradition which many evangelical churches maintain and main line white churches sometimes find a little embarrassing. I haven’t figured out how to do an altar call in our church. I do it every now and keep trying to give folks a way to take a step, a step forward to dedicate your life to the Living God who is calling you to new possibilities and a recognition of your oneness with all of God’s creation.

Today, in honor of Dorothy and in respect to Paul’s message inviting us to a higher calling, I invite you before & during our responsive hymn to take your own personal symbolic next step. You might want to turn to a person next to you and talk to them about each other’s intentions. You might want to pray at the altar & talk to God. You might want to go to the back of the church or outside in the rain for a moment! Consider how God is calling you to a deeper connection this fall – a deeper understanding of your value to God just for who you are, not for what you’ve been given or what you are trying to become. Pray with me for our broken world, and for our own need to open our hearts. Whatever helps you most to take in God’s love and call.

 

Responsive hymn 398 Jesus Calls Us (vss. 1-4)