Monday, November 08, 2010

All the Saints

Luke 6:20-31 NRSV
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets. 27 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

OK, Can we just read that bit again –
“Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also
From anyone who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your shirt
If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”

Really? I mean, yes, I know this is what we are supposed to do as Christians, but honestly – Really?

I think maybe it’s just a little harder to hear this following the truly poisonous election season we just survived. Not that we should ever think of people of different political parties or religious views as “the enemy” . . . it’s not like we were engaged in an actual war, exactly, although some of the rhetoric made it sound that way. It was just an election. And both parties were equally evil in the way they campaigned. I was sorely tempted not to vote for any of them - that’d show them, right? But then I remembered that it wouldn’t be the politicians who would suffer if I didn’t vote. It would be the environment and teachers and students and folks without jobs and folks without health insurance . . . So I voted.

The enemy that Jesus was talking about was Rome – a real enemy who had taken over the land, collected extortionate taxes, abused and oppressed the people. The soldiers had no problem hitting someone randomly, because they were in the way or because it was Tuesday. They would often grab a passer by and force him to carry heavy burdens, the way they forced Simon to carry Jesus’ cross. They would take someone’s coat, not because they needed it, but just to deprive the owner of it. They were the ultimate bully. And Jesus was telling these folks, his countrymen and the people of Judah who were being oppressed to put up with it because ultimately the Romans weren’t the ones in charge of the world. God is. And God has a special love for the poor.

The biggest problem with this passage is that it is this where Pie in the Sky theology comes from. Preachers told slaves, “yours will be the kingdom of heaven.” Even after the slaves were free they were told they same thing. This is what the oppressor in Christian countries always says to the oppressed. Put up with all kinds of indignities now and you will be rewarded after you die. But those preachers must only have preached from Matthew’s version of these words because they never seemed to get around to reading the next bits of Luke to the slave holders. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 25 "Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” Because if the slave holders did hear those lines and they really were Christians, then surely they would have done some cringing and squirming in the pews.

Picture it – the preacher speaking those blessing lines to the blacks up in the balcony and then turning to the whites in the front rows to read the woes. I figure if any preacher did do that, chances are good that he wouldn’t still have been preaching there the next week.

Pie in the Sky preaching still goes on today. It’s hard to avoid that trap, really, with this passage. Because when I read these words I don’t think of myself as one of the rich, even though I know I’m not one of the poor. I don’t think of you as the rich, even though I know none of you are really poor. Ophelia is poor. She lives on what she gets from SSI and from recycling cans and bottles she finds on the streets and in trash cans. She rents rooms in strangers’ homes and is often victimized by the home owners or other renters. All she wants a place where she could sleep and keep what little stuff she has in safety.

I started watching home design shows on HGTV to avoid political ads and became fascinated by the house hunter programs. I watch as folks buy huge vacation homes in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. I watch as newlywed young couples who “need” at least 3 bedrooms, 2 full baths, a finished basement and a big yard look for a house. I especially enjoyed watching one episode about a family who moved because Dad was called to be the minister of music at some big church. They found a lovely home with a bedroom for each of their four children, a master suite, an office, formal living and dining rooms, a family room, an eat in kitchen, and a finished basement where the dad could practice his music. And as I watch these programs I think about Ophelia and all the other families who show up here for food and a little counseling and wonder “What on earth do they need all that for?” and “How much are they paying that music minister anyway?”

I read an article in the NY Times titled “Our Banana Republic” by Nicholas D. Kristof. In it he pointed out that in countries like Nicaragua, Guyana and Venezuela the richest 1% of the people take home 20% of the national income. The very rich are so much richer than the rest of the people that it boggles the mind. Then he said that in the US the richest 1% of the people take home 24% of the national income each year. The CEOs of America’s largest corporations earn 531 times what the average worker in those corporations earns. In our recent elections we kept seeing ads about CEOs who laid off thousands of workers and outsourced jobs while taking home millions of dollars. This disturbs me. I knew there was a gap but I didn’t know it was that extreme. I like to think about those folks, that top 1%, as “the rich” and me as “the poor.”

But I know I’m one of the rich. I may not have much but I have way more than Ophelia. I don’t worry about where my next meal is coming from or whether my purse is safe while I’m taking a shower. I have a car and money for gas, she has a folding shopping cart and money for a bus pass. I’m not facing a cold winter without shelter like the folks in Pakistan or South Chicago. I can’t do much to make their lives better except work toward the kingdom, toward a world where mercy and compassion outweigh greed and hatred.

That’s what the saints who came before us did. People like Deitrich Bonhoeffer who was executed for working against the oppression of the Nazi Party. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated while working for equal rights. Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated while fighting against the government of El Salvador on behalf of the poor. All of these worked in opposition to Christians who held power over powerless and marginalized people. All stood up against Christians who used the Bible to justify what they were doing, even in some cases this particular passage.

We don’t have to die like they did. We don’t have to give away 95% of our annual income, like Dennis Bakke and Bill Gates do. We do have to work toward the kingdom. And not the pie in the sky, we’ll be fine when we die by and by kind of kingdom. We are supposed to work toward the kingdom of God in the here and now. God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are supposed to help the helpless, give hope to the hopeless, feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the prisoner. Last week we talked about the ministries that all of us here pursue in our lives – ministries in which we serve God’s creation, and do those very things we are called by God to do.

Today we lift up the saints of our congregation, both the living and the dead – the men and women who integrated this church long before it was the popular thing to do, who brought in new music and new understandings of doing God’s work in the world. Men and women who served in the NAACP to gain civil rights for all persons, marched with Cesar Chavez, voted to make this congregation Open and Affirming and to affirm the right of all Christians to worship God together, here in this place. We remember those folks whose dream founded Delhaven Community Center and those who believed it would be good for our community to open Delhaven preschool. We remember those saints. We speak our gratitude for the work they have done and the example they have set for us. And we look to the future, knowing that we cannot rest on Delhaven’s reputation as a social justice church.

So what does the future hold for us? How do we live up to the rich history of Delhaven and her saints? What do we do about the homeless sleeping in our bushes? The hungry we have to turn away when we run out of food? The man who came into my office on Wednesday needing get medical care without money or insurance or a welfare card? What shall we do to gain the blessings promised to the poor and avoid the woes of the rich?

Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” May we look to the saints who came before us for inspiration and example, for ways to do to our neighbors as we would have others do to us in that situation, that we may be a community blest by their faith in Christ. (Hymn For all the Saints)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the Edges

Luke 17:11-19 (New Revised Standard Version)
11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, "Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well."

Since today’s Gospel story is about lepers and a Samaritan I decided to look up synonyms of those words. I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that the meanings of these words have changed a bit over the centuries since these stories were written down. According to Roget’s Thesaurus online lepers are considered to be pariah, untouchable, outcast, undesirable, persona non gratis, anathema . . in fact, just about every conceivable word for an undesirable person was listed, including bum and hobo.

The definition of leprosy is a quite bit different today than it was in Jesus’ day. What we call leprosy today is Hansen’s disease, a serious bacterial disease that causes permanent damage to skin, nerves, limbs, and eyes. Contrary to popular belief, leprosy does not cause limbs to fall off but limbs can become numb and/or diseased as a result of this chronic condition. In biblical times, however, leprosy was a general term for a number of skin diseases and conditions. Generally speaking leprosy would be any condition that would change the color of skin due to disease or infection like acne or psoriasis. These conditions aren’t necessarily contagious or permanent, but do serve to set the sufferer apart. According to Leviticus, “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled: and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean’ he shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46) They weren’t particularly hated or feared. They were merely unclean, just as a woman who had just given birth was unclean until she presented herself at the temple with a sacrificial dove for ritual cleansing.

But it doesn’t take much to draw the attention of bullies. It just takes a small difference to find yourself singled out. I drew their attention when the school year began in 6th grade. I was the new kid and I had a broken arm. Luckily, my suffering at their hands was brief. It only lasted as long as I wore a cast and sling, just as a leper’s would end when – if - their skin cleared up.

It would, however, be a very bad thing if a leper tried to live within the camp, keeping his condition a secret. THAT could bring on some fairly extreme anger – that would be blatant disobedience of the law. It might even endanger his neighbors. Who knew whether he would try to give it to someone else? . . .

Imagine what it might have been like for a 15 year old boy who’s trying to keep his difference a secret. Maybe his skin discoloration is someplace easily hidden, on his lower back perhaps, or under his loincloth. Imagine his terror of being discovered, of being cast out from his family, his friends, his community of faith for who knows how long. He’d have had no one to turn to, no one to assure him that God loved him no matter what, no one to console him or turn away his fear. Now imagine what he might have to endure if others discovered his sin – not just his disease but also the fact that he tried to keep it secret.

Think about this boy, this terrified leper, and give him a name. Give him the name of one of those six young men who killed themselves in September. Give him the name of one of those young men who couldn’t live with the bullying, who couldn’t face any more of the rejection by their neighbors and their church. Give him the name of

Billy Lucas, 15, who hung himself on September 9
Cody Barker, 17, who killed himself on September 15.
Seth Walsh, 13, who hung himself on September 19
Tyler Clementi, 18, who jumped off the GW bridge on September 22.
Asher Brown, 13, who shot himself in the head on September 23.
Raymond Chase, 19, who hung himself September 29

Or give him the name of one of the thousands of bullied gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender children who haven’t yet been driven to such desperation. . .

This story of the ten lepers is also about a Samaritan. In Roget’s thesaurus online the only definition was for “Good Samaritan” and the synonyms were Johnny-on-the-spot, boy scout, do-gooder, good neighbor, helping hand, humanitarian, none of which are the way 1st century Judeans would have described Samaritans. They would have used the words we use for leper and added words like enemy, heretic, unbeliever and been seriously hateful about the whole thing.

You see, Samaritans were enemies of the very worst kind . . . family members and co-believers who had been through a split in the family that also split the church. If anything they were considered worse than Gentiles because during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam they had left the rest of the family, divided the land, raised up their own kings and built their own temple. Samaritans in Judah – well, they might have been chased by children with stones or had some one set a dog on them. They could be refused service at a market or inn and most people wouldn’t even pay attention.

So here we have ten lepers, nine Jews and one Samaritan traveling together, not fully accepted by each other but brought together because of a common problem. We know what that’s like. We’ve been through that a couple of times in the last several years. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. The Gulf Oil spill. They’re traveling along the edges, living on the edges of society and the geographic edge of their two countries.

And that’s where they meet Jesus. On the edge. It seems like that’s where he always was. Debating theology with respected scholars of the church and sharing a meal with the homeless on the street. Spending time with the respected and with the cast out. And not as one who just came by to visit, but as one who belongs. . . in both places. . . . on the edges.

And so he healed the lepers and sent them on their way. Nine headed straight to the Temple and the priests so they could be blessed and return to their regular lives. One came back to thank him – the Samaritan. The outcast. The foreigner.

Now, we know that the Samaritan couldn’t have gone to the Temple in Jerusalem, nor would he want to. But he could have gone home, been seen by his own priests and then rejoined his family amid much rejoicing. But instead he chose to come back, to fall at Jesus’ feet praising God and giving thanks. He came back to show his gratitude to the one who’d had mercy on him, the one who had given him back his life.

Imagine that 15 year old boy again, and how his life might be if he lived in a community where he was shown mercy. A community that rejected not him, but those who mistreated him. A community that refused to look away when it heard reports of bullying but rather treated bullying like the crime it is. A community that refused to be quiet when religious and political leaders castigated and reviled him just because he was different. Imagine what it might be like if he lived in a community that gave him his life back. Imagine what it might be like to be that community.

Bullying is everywhere. Geeks and smart kids and dumb kids and the fashionably challenged and Moslem kids and kids who look like they might be Moslem are bullied and Jewish kids and Christian kids. All these children and more are bullied and live in terror of the next school day. Kids lose their lunch money, watch their homework get trashed, and find themselves victims of beatings and the most horrific “practical jokes” every day. They feel like they have no where to turn. The schools don’t pay attention, their parents are often powerless, or worse, tell them to “man up”. And so some of them lose their lives. They commit suicide rather than continue to face the daily torment. If it’s that terrible for straight kids, imagine what it must be like for kids who are discovering themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, who live in a country where hate crimes against homosexuals and transgendered persons are on the rise and whose perpetrators seem to be egged on by some religious and political leaders. Imagine being 13 or 15 or 17 or 19 and believing that it probably won’t ever get any better. . . .

We must not be silent. We must not allow our children to be murdered by hatred. Do not doubt that is what has happened in the cases of these six gay boys in September and in the case of every child who commits suicide because of bullying. These children have been murdered as surely as if the bullies had personally pushed them off the bridge or used the rope, the gun, or the pills on them. These children have been murdered by the hatred of the bullies, and they have been murdered by our silence. Whenever, where ever we have heard of bullying and not spoken out, we have become part of the problem.

As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we must be like him. We must reach out with mercy to those who live on the margins, on the edges of society. We must speak out against bullying and oppression of every kind and we must stand against those who preach hate. When Jesus said “Love your neighbor” he wasn’t talking about having a nice, warm passive feeling about them. He was talking about actively reaching out, loving, feeding, healing, saving our neighbor, our children, our enemy. The leper and the Samaritan. The bullied and the bully.

Jesus came as savior of the world. He came to save the world and all the people in it from sin, from hatred, from oppression, from the pain we inflict upon one another. He came armed and armored with Love, the most powerful weapon of all. Let us go from this place using that mighty weapon. And they will know we are Christian by our love.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Love WHO?

Matthew 5:43-48
43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 49 Verse 11 & 13
11. O YOU who have attained faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better that themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets; evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!
13. O mankind! We created You from a single (pair) Of a male and a female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that You may know each other (Not that you may despise Each other.) Verily, The most honoured of you In the sight of Allah Is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge And is well-acquainted (with all things).

At the grocery market the other day I heard one employee say to another, “I’ll NEVER go to New Jersey. Those people are all crazy!” The other was defending the people of New Jersey because she has relatives there who aren’t crazy. Turns out the one had watched Jersey Shore and thought the folks on that “reality” show are typical. NOT!

But that’s how we look at all kinds of groups, right? We are quick to assume that the most visible and audible are typical of the whole group. All Muslims are terrorists. All Christians are against equal rites. We know this isn’t true. This weekend in particular we will focus on the words of the song the choir just sang,
In peace may all earth’s people draw together, and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, o God of all the nations. Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

It has been an emotional week. On the early show Wednesday morning anchorman Harry Smith interviewed Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to Pastor Jones speaking about Islam as the enemy who must be kept from succeeding at world domination he asked whether the plan to burn 100 Korans on 9/11 was in keeping with Jesus’ instructions to love your enemies. He had to ask twice, even naming the two gospels the commandment is found in, before Pastor Jones would admit that, no, this is not a loving action and it did not obey Jesus’ direction.

Just the threat of burning Korans led to international furor. There were anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran – pretty much all countries with significant Islamic populations. The State Department issued travel warnings. Everyone from the Pope to the President, the leaders of the National Evangelical Association and the National Council of Churches, even General Petraeus begged him to cancel the event. He said he would only change his mind if he got a sign from God. And apparently he did. There’s a bit of a mystery around what really changed his mind, whether it was the conversation with the State Department or with a local Imam. The important thing is that he did change his mind and no books were burned in Gainesville.

Over and over again the Gospel words that were quoted to him in an effort to change his mind were these words from Matthew. Even though it is not true that all of Islam is the enemy, that is what this pastor and so many other people believe, so these were the words chosen by Christians and Muslims alike that seemed most likely to change his mind.

Whether they did or not and despite the fact that he didn’t burn any books, a lot of good actually came out of his threat. All over the country interfaith groups made plans to come together to pray for peace and read from the Qur’an and the Bible. Many Christian preachers, like me, chose a verse or two from the Qur’an to share with our congregations, words that sound a lot like the words we are accustomed to hearing. Most of us, again like me, had to turn to a Muslim friend for help in finding appropriate verses because we simply aren’t familiar enough with their Holy Book to choose well. I turned to Sherrel Johnson, who works for the Center for American Islamic Relations in Los Angeles and serves with me on Chapman University’s Interfaith Center Advisory Council. She responded to my request with a lovely long letter that tells Christians things she wished we knew about Islam. For those who are interested, that letter is on the Awareness Table and will be one of the things we look at in our 2nd Tuesday supper discussion this week.

I think perhaps my favorite of those verses she suggested I might use is this one, knowing that throughout the Qur’an Jews and Christians are called the People of the Book. It seems to describe the differences in the way we follow our respective religious traditions perfectly.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, Verse 48 “We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some (who) follow a middle course and some, by God’s leave, (who) excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”

The danger, of course, in choosing a verse or two to share from the Qur’an is exactly the same as the danger of doing the same thing with the Bible. We all know that the Bible has been used over and over to justify the worst kind of behavior by people who consider themselves to be good Christians. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, the denial of equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. The Qur’an has been used in just the same way. Likewise, the enemies of Islam are quick to choose the most inflammatory passages and say “This is what Islam is all about,” just as the enemies of Christianity use selected verses from the Bible.

It has been a war of words this week, a war in which both sides were using the Bible to make their points. In response to being told to love his enemy Pastor Jones likened his actions to Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard – righteous anger against evil. The problem with that comparison is that Jesus’ anger was directed at those who were messing with HIS faith, with the right worship of God and leading followers away from the path of love and forgiveness – NOT against the followers of another religion altogether. In fact, those who are standing against Pastor Jones could much more easily see themselves following the tradition of Jesus in the Temple courtyard.

These words from Matthew are so much more pointed than the commandment to love the neighbor. It’s easy to pick and choose who are neighbors are, after all., no matter how many times the example of the Good Samaritan is quoted. But here Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you only greet your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” Harsh words! We pointed them at Pastor Jones like a gun. And I stood there with them, saying “Yeah, Pastor Jones. Read this!”

Then I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard. “When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, ''It is talking to me, and about me.''


It’s easy for me to stand here and say that in my opinion Pastor Jones is as much a terrorist as Timothy McVeigh or Osama Bin Laden. What’s hard for me to do is love him. And yet that’s exactly what I am called to do. Love him as I love myself. Recognize that his sins are forgivable, just as mine and yours are. Recognize that he is a beloved child of God and whether or not I believe him to be misguided, I am required to give him the same respect that I wish to be given.

I have spent the better part of the week angry that a person who called himself Christian would behave in such a hateful manner. This isn’t new, of course. I get angry every time I see Christians using Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, to justify being hateful. There are times when I think of these as the enemy and feel justified in my anger, just as Jesus was justified in the Temple courtyard. I have to tell you, it stung when Pastor Jones used that same passage to justify his actions. Because I realized that in my enmity for those who use my religion to oppress I was doing exactly the same thing he was. And of course that made me even more angry. But now I was angry less at him than at myself, because now I had to look at my behavior and my lack of love.

We allow our fear of things that are different to keep us from getting to know the stranger. We use skin color, nationality, religious differences and language barriers to keep us apart. We allow our fear of things that are different to fuel our hatred of the other. But Jesus calls us to come together, regardless of our differences. Jesus calls on us to love not just the neighbor, but also the enemy, the stranger. Jesus calls on us to sit as he did and eat with the persons we previously considered to be beneath us. To forgive all others, as God forgives us, because God forgives us. The true enemy is not the other, but that sinfulness dwelling within us causing us to fear and hate that which is different.

Let us Pray, using Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

When we go from this place today let us go remembering that all of us are God’s children. Let us go out remembering that we are all loved by our Creator, who calls upon us to love each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, culture, nation, or race.

hymn Diverse in Culture Nation Race 485

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Christians should know about Islam

Below is a letter from a Moslem friend who works with the Center for American Islamic Relations in response to my request for suggested readings from the Qur'an. May it be helpful to any who read it. Maria

Dear Maria:

Thank you so much for your warm Ramadan greetings and for your very kind words of support. It deeply touches my soul to know of your trust and respect – I guess I would call that true friendship : - ) We have been blessed with much support from people of many different beliefs – including even atheists! Freedom of worship is what our nation was founded upon, and many are realizing that to tread on one faith’s beliefs is trampling America’s, 1st Amendment rights. We are so very grateful for people like you who are willing to stand for justice for ALL, not just some.

What I would really like our Christian sisters and brothers to know is that:

Islam is not a new religion, but the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy, and forgiveness, and the majority have nothing to do with the extremely grave events which have come to be associated with their faith.

I would also want them to know that in order ones self “Muslim” (one who submits to God and the root word for peace), they must believe in the following: Muslims believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God; in the Angels created by Him; in the prophets through whom His revelations were brought to mankind; in the Day of Judgment and individual accountability for actions; in God's complete authority over human destiny and in life after death. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Elias, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Jesus, peace be upon them all. And that God's final message to mankind, a reconfirmation of the eternal message and a summing-up of all that has gone before was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Gabriel.

I would also want them to know that our roots, together with Judaism and Christianity, go back to the prophet and patriarch Abraham, and their three prophets are directly descended from his sons, with Muhammad coming from the elder son Ishmael, and Moses and Jesus from the younger son Isaac. Abraham established the settlement which today is the city of Makkah, and built the Ka’bah toward which all Muslims turn when they pray. Additionally, Many Christians are surprised to know that Muslims love and revere Jesus as one of the major Prophets, and believe that he will return as a sign of the “Day of Judgment”. Muslims also believe in his birth from the Virgin Mary – who has a whole chapter dedicated to her, as well as the Prophet Joseph and others. (Of course Muslims do not believe in the divinity of Jesus – which is our major difference).

For further information about Islam, a very reliable source (which Muslim and those of other faiths use as well) is As you may guess there is a lot of “junk” out there about Islam – so it is good to be sure you refer to reliable sources. One of the most frequent ways that Islamophobes vilify the Qur’an is to take the verses out of context.

Some points of information are: Below are some “meanings of the Holy Qur’an. We only call it the Holy Qur’an when it is written or recited in the original Arabic, as we believe it was reveal by God to the Prophet Muhammad, through the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an has been explained in almost every language and by many different “translators” of the Arabic meaning. The one who translates from the original Arabic is only as good as his understanding of Arabic, the language to which he is translating and the understanding of the context and religion altogether. Not a simple or easy task. So . . . in order to always be sure that the Qur’an is never altered or change it is only considered such in its original revealed language, Arabic. There are several acknowledged and generally accepted translators of the Qur’an – and none of them is perfect – only the original is considered perfect is it is from God. Of course, non-Arabic speakers rely upon the accepted scholars for study – however, we do learn our formal daily five prayers in Arabic to keep them pure from alteration or corruption. Supplication to God is accepted of course any time and in any language as it is a very personal relationship.

When the Qur’an talks about believers, it is referring to those who believe in the One, Almighty Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. Allah is the Arabic word for God. Arabic speaking Christians and Jews use the word Allah. What I like about this word “Allah” is that it has no gender, nothing can be greater than, or comparable to it, nor higher than it. In the Qur’an, Christians and Jews are referred to as “the people of the Book”, referring to the original revealed scriptures (Torah, Gospel etc.)

OK – so following are some verses from the Qur’an that we used last year in our CAIR program booklet to help those of other faiths know something about what the Qur’an says.

The Holy Qur’an
Chapter 49, Verses 10-13
“10. All believers are but brethren. Hence, [whenever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.

11. O YOU who have attained faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better that themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets; evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!

12. O Believers! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: and spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? No, you would hate it. But fear Allah. Allah is Most Forgiving and Most Merciful.

13. O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may recognize each other (and not despise each other). Verily, the most honored among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 5, Verse 48
“We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some (who) follow a middle course and some, by God’s leave, (who) excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”

The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 59, Verses 18-19
“God will never change the condition of a people until they change that which is within themselves.”

The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 14, Verses 24-25
"Do you not observe how Allah strikes a similitude between a good word and a good tree, whose roots are firmly grounded and whose branches reach skywards. It provides its benefit throughout all the periods Allah assigned for it. Allah provides such parables so that perchance you may reflect."

# # #
I know that is probably way more that what you wanted, however, I think you can understand that it is difficult to share ones belief in one or two lines. I sincerely hope that I have been helpful to you. Since I am not a scholar, I pray that if I have made any mistakes in conveying this information, that first Allah and then you will forgive me.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or if there is any other way I may be of service.

May God’s peace and blessings be upon you and your family.
With respect and in friendship,


Monday, September 06, 2010

Back from Sabbatical

I have been on Sabbath Leave all summer following the instructions I received from my congregation to engage in rest, restoration and re-energizing. As I keep telling people, I spent most of June sleeping, July dealing with and recovering from a relatively minor surgery, and August preparing for Re-Entry. By the time I returned on September 1st I was SO ready to get back that I showed up in my office at 7 am! Not surprisingly, everything went just fine while I was gone. Three members had shared my workload; one preaching, one doing pastoral care and one taking care of whatever administrative duties the church secretary couldn't handle herself. I did learn that some things simply hadn't happened and now we get to decide whether those things are really necessary.

Walking into the Sanctuary on Sunday morning felt like coming home. Standing in the narthex and looking toward the Table I couldn't help but sigh one of those great big "ahhhhhh good" sighs. Standing in the pulpit to share the prayer concerns and celebrations of my flock, singing the response to the Scripture reading, wandering up the center aisle during the message - it all just felt so right. (My sermon felt a bit disjointed but I really expected that. I knew there was way more I wanted to say than there would be time for.) Standing at the Table, sharing the Feast of Love, holding hands with everyone in the closing circle . . . it all felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. And as if all that wasn't enough, after worship I was showered with hugs and kisses and presented with a huge chocolate cake.

Any doubts I may have had about where I belong or what I should be doing in that burned out daze before my Sabbath Leave began were gone. This feels too right not to be what God called me to do with my life.

Still, some things can be expected to change now that I've had some time to prayerfully consider what brought me to such an exhausted state. I will take two days off each week instead of one. Part of what made me crazy before sabbatical was that except for Sundays I have felt much more like an administrator than a pastor. Once I walked into the office that was it - I was stuck there all day no matter what I had hoped to do with my time. So nowyes""> I will dedicate one day every week to visitation and one to studying/writing. That means only two days a week will be spent in the office. Of course, it is a given that "man proposes, God disposes." My plans will run into obstacles; meetings and conferences will happen on visitation days and days off, and so on. But still, now that I know just how important these things are and will continue to be, it will be a priority to make sure they happen, so that I may better serve God.

It is such a blessing to be back!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Lydia, a Mother of the Church

Acts 16:9-15

9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.

Paul is very possibly the most controversial character in the New Testament. We know of some of modern controversies over him – Paul’s words about slavery, the place of women, the household codes and homosexuality have been used to oppress members of minority groups for centuries. Works by Feminists, African Americans, Gay/Lesbian, and other theologians look closely at Paul, rejecting a great deal of what he says on such topics as being totally conditioned by the cultural constraints of the time and by his own education in Jewish law. Historians and theologians alike look at the body of letters attributed to Paul and see significant differences in both writing style and message, which indicates that Paul didn’t write everything with his name on it. The modern controversy over Paul’s writings and their position of importance in the church are not likely to end any time soon.

We may not be as familiar with how controversial he was during his lifetime
He was first a persecutor of followers of Jesus then a convert
No one wanted to trust him.
Ananais didn’t want to go to help him even after the Lord spoke to him personally and told him to go!
Saul/Paul spent time with the disciples in Damascus preaching and his conversion upset some of the Jews so much there was even a plot to kill him, but he escaped.
He went to Jerusalem, and none of the disciples wanted anything to do with him.
Except Barnabas.

The apostles and elders weren’t sure what to do with him.
He was certainly passionate, his conversion was unquestionably real.
But he was so controversial. . .
They decided to send him out of Jerusalem.
They sent him to Tarsus, his home town, where there was a sizable Jewish community.
He could preach the Good News there.
We know he was to become the apostle to the Gentiles.
But at first the idea of converting the Gentiles was problematic.

You’ll remember, I hope, the controversy over Peter baptizing Cornelius and his family without first circumcising the males.
Peter had to return to Jerusalem and convince the other apostles and leaders of the church, describing the vision God had sent, before they would accept that Gentiles could have the baptism of repentance without first becoming Jews.
But he did, and that cleared the way for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles.

Barnabas had gone to Antioch where a great many Gentiles had heard the good news and turned to the Lord. Desiring some help in that work he went to Tarsus for Paul and brought him back to Antioch.

There was still controversy over whether circumcision and obedience to the Law was required. Barnabas and Paul had to return to Jerusalem and defend their work, getting a ruling in writing from the church leaders on what would be required of Gentile converts. He and Barnabas set out again but argue and go their separate ways, Barnabas with John Mark and Paul with Silas, each carrying copies of the ruling they had received from the apostles and elders had reached in Jerusalem.

According to the story it was God’s will that Paul go into Europe carrying the Good News to the Gentiles. Setting out on the journey Paul tries twice to head into Asia, but the author of Acts tells us that both time he is forbidden to go there by the Holy Spirit. Instead he has a vision of a man in Macedonia (northern Greece) begging him to come there. And so the stage is set for Paul’s trip to Philippi, his meeting with Lydia and his first conversion in Europe.

In Philippi there is, apparently, no synagogue. Jews gather outside the gates for Sabbath worship. Paul goes out to the place where he imagines there be a place where Jews gather to pray and sits down to speak with the women who are gathered there. Immediately we notice something odd. Men and women worship separately as a matter of course yet Paul sits down, in the position of a teacher, with the women. The women. Not what you’d expect of an evangelist coming into town. Nevertheless, that’s what he did, and while sitting and teaching the women of Philippi his words touch the heart of a woman called Lydia.

The few lines about Lydia tell us so much about her. Her name and place of birth tell us she is Greek. She is a dealer in purple cloth, a merchant who deals in a particular luxury item and therefore she is well off financially, a person of status in the community. Because she is identified in this way it is also clear that she is the head of her household, financially independent. Indeed, we will learn that her household, family members and servants, are with her at the riverside. She is a follower of God, not a Jew but a seeker. A woman whose heart is already open to the possibilities of what God can accomplish. This is the woman sitting there, receptive, when Paul begins to teach. His words reach into her heart, she is converted and baptized, along with her household.

All these things are good, but it is what happens next that makes Lydia a mother of the Church. She says “If you have found me to be faithful in the Lord, come and stay at my home.” She opens her home to Paul and Silas. It is where they will stay throughout their visit. It will be the first of the many house churches to be founded by Paul. It will be the place where the church in Philippi is based and she will be one of its leaders.

Lydia, seeing that Paul and Silas were strangers in the city, immediately offered hospitality. She saw something that needed to be done and did it. She saw an opportunity to serve God’s people and immediately took that opportunity. She didn’t spend time wondering if it was the right thing to do, or waiting to see if someone else would step forward first to give Paul and Silas a place to stay. Her heart was open to possibilities. She experienced a resurrection of the spirit – from seeker to leader of the church in a very short time.

The great thing about the early church is that there wasn’t anyone around to say “Well, when they’ve been part of the congregation a little longer we’ll let them have some little responsibility.” In so many congregations today the long time members have a hard time letting the newer folks actually do anything. I am grateful that my experience in the church was more like Lydia’s. When I first started attending Treasure Coast Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1993 I hadn’t been to church in about 25 years. The pastor made opportunities available to me. She asked me to give the children’s sermon and teach Vacation Bible School. She didn’t let me sit in the pew just listening but quickly included me in the work of the church. And she wasn’t the only one to make me feel that I was part of the congregation. Someone sitting in front of me one of the first Sundays I attended suggested I might join the choir. Which is so much better than if they had suggested I sing more quietly. ☺ And of course you all know the rest of the story. Because my heart was open to the words and actions of the faithful at Treasure Coast Christian Church I experienced resurrection of the spirit. Because of their loving care I became able to hear God’s call to the ministry. It was just 10 short years after joining that congregation that I came here as your pastor.

Paul carried the Good News of Jesus Christ equally to men and women, Gentile and Jew. In his letters he identifies more women leaders by name. Lydia is just the first. Rhoda, Tabitha, Eunice, Syntyche, Priscilla, Pheobe . . . these women will be leaders of the congregations in their cities. These women, faithful and worthy, will open their hearts and their homes to the Gospel message and to the followers of Jesus Christ. These women, these mothers of the church would be preachers and teachers, evangelists, strong workers in the mission field, gaining converts to the faith through their faithfulness in word and deed.

Paul carried the Good News to everyone without prejudice. He frequently had to defend his actions to others who thought he should have stricter requirements about who he let in and who he let lead, but the fact of the matter is, he carried the Good News to anyone and everyone with ears to hear. And so many, Gentiles and Jews, slaves and free, men and women, gay and straight, of all races and cultures and languages, experienced a resurrection of the Spirit like Lydia did, like I did when I finally heard Christ’s message of God’s love for all people. The congregations established in Paul’s time were the perfect example of what church could and should be today - open to all who want to experience God’s love and carry that love outside into the world we live in, diverse in Culture, Nation and Race. Let us be that church.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Comment Moderation Enabled

I know. I hate leaving comments on blogs just to told that it wouldn't show up until someone has decided whether or not my comment is appropriate. I was sure I would never subject my readers to such a thing.

After all, the people who read this blog are probably alot like me, and why wouldn't everyone approve of my comments? I spend time over them, worrying that each word is properly placed, that it says what I want it to say. There is always a chance that I will be misunderstood, but I make every effort to be polite and tactful, especially if I disagree with what is being said either in the blog itself or in one of the comments.

And yet - I have enabled Comment Moderation. Not because I found comments that I didn't agree with. Rather, because I found comments that were pornographic in nature. I know my dearly loved regular readers would never do such a thing, but I'd rather you weren't exposed to them either.

And so, when you leave a comment from now on I will get an email asking me to approve it. :-(
Sorry, my friends.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Called to Resurrection

Acts 9:36-42 (New Revised Standard)
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up." Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Resurrection! It is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. We are still so excited over the resurrection! And we remain excited over the smaller miracles God provides every day. At this time of year they are still new, still fresh in our minds. The 23rd Psalm, the best known and best loved of all the psalms tells us of God’s constant presence and comfort no matter what is going on in our lives. The Acts of the Apostles tells us a new story of resurrection – Dorcas is brought back to life by Peter. Dorcas was a good woman, a woman of means, a woman who was able and willing to give of her bounty for the benefit of others who had less in the way of material blessings. A woman who dedicated her wealth and time to caring for those who had no one else to care for them. A woman who served God and believed in Jesus as the Messiah.

Resurrection! Just three weeks ago we celebrated the resurrection of Christ. The sanctuary was filled with flowers and our voices were raised in triumphant song. Our prayers, everything we did on Easter was a celebration Jesus was definitely dead. He died a horrible death on the cross. He was laid in the tomb and then . . . . he was raised by the power of God. Now we are given the story of Tabitha. She is definitely dead, laid out in her house. And she is raised from death, brought back to life by the power of God with Peter as God’s instrument.

You need to know that I was all set to preach on Earth Stewardship as I always do on this Sunday. I had my Celtic tree of life all ready to hang as I always do. I had a focus for the sermon.

And then I read the lectionary passages on an Earth Stewardship Sunday sermon starter site. (Say that 3 times fast!) And even though they had really good ideas for sermons, I read the passage on Dorcas, and I considered some conversations I’ve had and some articles I’ve read while on vacation and I got angry. And I need to share that anger with you. Because there are some people who think Delhaven is dead, or at the very least dying – beyond hope.

Delhaven – dead? Not yet, not quite. I know – I see y’all looking around here on a Sunday morning. Wondering where everyone is. Wondering just how long we can keep going. I see you looking for a glimmer of hope. That’s why we get so happy when we hear babies crying and children fussing in the pews. Children mean new life. Children mean a future. I need to tell you something true. I need you to believe me when I tell you this. We are not dead. We are still here. We are strong and willing to do whatever it takes to bring new life back into our pews. I’ve heard you say that – and I believe it.

In the annual report for our Yearbook I am asked for a lot of numbers. I’m asked for the number of official members – people who have deliberately joined the congregation, coming up front here at the invitation and accepting the right hand of Christian Fellowship, getting their name in the big black book in the church office. If your name is in the book and you have neither died nor informed us officially that you have joined another congregation, you’re a member no matter how long it is since we last saw or heard from you. If your name isn’t in the book – well, as far as the Yearbook is concerned, you don’t count. Even if you have been showing up every week for decades – if you never came forward to officially join the church you don’t count. First I write down what that number was last year, then what it is this year.

Then I’m asked to list the number of new members and whether they came by transfer of membership, affirmation or baptism.

I’m asked for the number of those members who actually participate in the life of the congregation by attendance or donation. And this is defined as anyone whose name is in the book and who has shown up or given money at least ONCE during the calendar year. Even if they live in another state and attend another church regularly.
This is NOT my definition of participating!

Finally, I’m asked for the average Sunday worship attendance. This is the only number for which I am allowed to count un-baptized children and one time visitors and folks who show up every week but have never officially joined the congregation. This is also the only number I really care about.

I am never asked for how many left the church and why. So there is no explanation offered if our numbers show we had 4 new people join but we have 6 less total members than last year. The denomination doesn’t seem to care if people moved out of state or died or went to another congregation or why. Only in how many new people have become official members of the congregation and how. Only if our membership numbers are growing and by how much.

I want you to know that I reject this method of determining membership in this community. I believe that if you are showing up, doing something to support the work of the church and carrying the Good News of God’s love when you go out of here, then you are part of this community.

The denomination seems to carry that same lack of caring into our 2020 Vision. Our goal, set in the year 2000, is to be able to report 1000 new Disciples congregations by the year 2020. And we are well more than halfway to that goal is half the time allotted. This is wonderful!

But we don’t seem to be able to get an answer to the question, “But how many have closed?” How do we reconcile total congregations today against total congregations in 2000? How many closed their doors and how many left over a controversial General Assembly? And even, how many of those new churches are flourishing after 5 or 10 years? We keep hearing about the new congregations that have grown into the thousands but little if anything about small but mighty congregations. It’s almost as if New and Mega are the only model anyone is interested in.

Our denomination seems to believe that small congregations living in large church buildings really need to close their doors and let their building go to a new church start. I have been told that we will not receive help from denomination or region to start a 2nd worship service or 2nd congregation here unless we make it a completely separate church, with it’s own budget and bylaws. They won’t help with training us, they won’t help in any way. We are on our own in this matter. And they believe we are doomed unless we follow their direction.


We Disciples are a resurrection church.
We focus on the Risen Christ.
We believe that in Christ death is defeated.
We believe that as long as there is life there is hope.
We believe that through the power of God Jesus was raised from the dead,
and Lazarus and Dorcas

So why do we believe that a congregation that isn’t even dead yet can’t rise again?
Do we deny our theology when it comes up against a real world “business model?”
Do we believe the Spirit is impotent?

Because all those churches started in Israel and Greece and all over the Middle East and even into Rome itself weren’t started because people had a plan for how to start new churches. They started because people were on fire for Christ. Because people had a passion for serving God and they could not HELP but share it with others. Because people went out into their neighborhoods helping even strangers, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, healing the sick, and the neighbors responded with curiosity. “Who ARE these people?” they asked. “Let’s go see what they are all about.” THAT’s how the word of God was spread in the 1st and 2nd centuries. There was no plan, no 2020 vision, no anyone deciding which congregational model was “right” or which little box any particular congregation fitted into on some graph.

God raised Dorcas from death. Peter prayed and God’s Spirit entered back into her. She opened her eyes, he told her to get up, he gave her his hand. And the news spread around the neighborhood, Dorcas was dead and she was brought back to life by the power of God. And many people believed in the Lord.

I believe that we are being called to enter into a time of prayer. Last year in our retreat we designated a year of prayer, but we had no focus for that prayer. I believe it is time to focus that prayer and I would ask that each of you pray for discernment asking “where do we go from here?”. We have been doing this a little. We did it in our Lenten Suppers. We will continue in our 2nd Tuesdays beginning in May. And I believe we are been moving toward a new light and life as a body.

But now I call upon this congregation to make the summer of 2010 a time of intentional prayer for Delhaven with our focus being Resurrection.
I call upon each of you to spend the summer pondering and praying on what the Resurrection means. Personally. In your own life. And in the life of the congregation.

I call upon each of you to pray for the Spirit of God to enter into the body.

I call upon each of you to focus upon one thing and one thing only every day

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Last Word

At lunch a few weeks ago one of my friends was texting with her daughter. Every so often she would make an exasperated noise, text furiously and then put her phone down. After doing this several times she exclaimed, "She ALWAYS has to get the last word! No matter what I say to end the conversation she has to make some response."

I chose not to point out the fact that she was busy doing the same thing. Every time her daughter tried to end the conversation she typed a response. I made this decision because I am frequently guilty of the same thing and I really hate having to point out my character defects to myself. I'm not sure, but I think maybe a lot of people are guilty of this. And most of us won't think of it as a problem until someone else points it out. We are simply being polite, we think, or perhaps we simply don't want the conversation to end.

Think back to those phone conversations with a romantic interest, maybe in junior high or high school. Did you or did you not engage in the time honored battle over who was going to hang up first? "You hang up first." "No, you hang up first."

Those of us of a certain age were no doubt taught that it was horribly rude not to reply if someone wrote us a letter so it has become ingrained in us to respond to any correspondence. (Letter: Correspondence similar to an email except that it is handwritten on actual paper and delivered to your home by the postal service.)

Email may have been the beginning of widespread complaints about someone needing to have the last word in correspondence. I must say that I get very frustrated when I email someone about some important event or necessary task and they don't respond. No response means I don't know whether they even received the email so I don't know whether they are up to date on whatever we are doing or not. Because this frustrates me I try to make sure I don't frustrate others by lack of response, and that could be interpreted as me needing to have the last word. I don't think so, but someone else might.

Texting, however, has created new issues. Not everyone has unlimited texting on their calling plan. Therefore, conversing with someone who always wants to have the last word can be not just annoying but expensive. (I have to remember that so I am not guilty of the electronic equivalent of "no, you hang up first" with my friends whose texting plan may not be as generous as mine.)

Blogging brings its own difficulties. Do I respond to every comment on my blogs or not? Do I assume that whatever someone is saying that seems to disagree with my opinion is in fact an argumentative statement or is it simply them taking the opportunity to air their own views. That's what the blogosphere is for, right? So I don't always have to respond, right? Mind you, this isn't usually a problem as I don't get many comments on my blogs. Of course, if people don't respond then I don't know if anyone is even reading what I've written. (Yes, you may read that last line in a whiney tone of voice.)

And let's not even talk about the conversations that result from some Facebook status updates. :D

Luckily, I am neither Dear Abby nor Miss Manners. I don't get to make the decision about what constitutes a proper conversational ending and response as opposed to trying to get the last word in other peoples' conversations. I just get to try to make the appropriate decision in my own interactions with people.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wednesday of Holy Week Mark 14:1-11

1 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

We have been spending Sundays in Lent following the Gospel of Mark through Holy Week, using a book titled The Last Week by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan as our guide along the journey. This week we are looking at the events of Wednesday.

The chief priests were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. They knew they couldn’t do it during the Passover festival or the people would riot, because Jesus was extremely popular. Everywhere he went the crowds gathered – when he entered the city crowds laid palms at his feet. When he turned over the moneychangers tables in the temple on Monday the crowd was there to admire him. Tuesdays crowd was very pleased by his confounding of the priests and Pharisees and scribes and Sadducees, they were spellbound by his teachings. So they couldn’t take the chance of arresting him while the crowds were present or they might riot, and if they rioted the Romans would retaliate, people would be injured and killed, the Temple leadership could lose their positions or even their lives. I know we have learned to think of the crowds of Jews as being opposed to Jesus when Pilate is asking what to do with him, but right here, in this passage, it is clear that the crowds were with Jesus and against the Temple leadership. And the Temple leaders give up. Unless they can find some way to arrest and try Jesus in secret, they can’t move against him.

Meanwhile, Jesus is frustrated with his disciples. Throughout his gospel Mark keeps telling us about ways the disciples are just not getting it at all. Jesus has now prophesied his own death three times, first in Chapter 8, then in Chapter 9 and finally in Chapter 10. In each case he refers to himself as the Son of Man, speaks of his betrayal and death and of his resurrection three days after he is killed. But the disciples don’t understand what he means. Even after three prophesies he catches them arguing over who will be closest to him when he comes to power. I can just imagine Jesus shaking his head over his disciples’ lack of understanding.

As they sit at the table a woman comes in and anoints him with very rare and expensive ointment, pouring it out onto his head. We don’t know who she is. She isn’t named or described in any way. And it is really important that we not confuse her with the Mary of John’s gospel or the sinful woman of Luke’s gospel. It’s important that we see her just as Mark portrays her here – an unnamed woman who is part of the company who follow Jesus. Jesus lifts her up and claims she will be remembered and celebrated where ever believers gather together.

And why is this? Because she, not the disciples, is the first believer. She is the first one to realize what his prophecies mean and so she pours out upon his head this costly ointment – preparing his body for the grave. For Mark, she is the first Christian. Even before Easter, before Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after his resurrection, this woman believed.

Not only was she the first who believed, the first of his many followers on the way who really got what he was trying to tell them. She was also the first to model the kind of leadership he was trying to teach them. She led the others in belief and also in service. We’re going to come back to the woman in a minute.

Judas went to the priests. Mark doesn’t tell us why Judas decides to betray Jesus. Historians have lots of theories and other gospels talk about Judas’ motive. But Mark doesn’t. Mark is sort of a “just the facts” gospel. It was both the first gospel written and the shortest. The stories are fairly brief and unembellished. What we know from Mark is simply that Judas, one of the Twelve, decided to betray Jesus. He went to the Temple leadership and offered to find a way for them to arrest Jesus without the crowds knowing about it, and they offered to pay him. They were, of course, delighted to have an insider willing to betray his rabbi. Judas’ action will fulfill the prophecy of betrayal and arrest.

I wouldn’t have noticed this contrast between Judas and the woman without Borg and Crossan pointing it out. I mean, I’ve always loved this woman’s story, but I’ve always focused on how it foreshadowed the crucifixion, or how we are to understand that statement “the poor will always be with you.” It never occurred to me to look at this woman alongside of Judas, one of the Twelve. But that’s what Mark intended for us to do – to look at the woman in the context of discipleship and belief and leadership. She understands what Jesus is teaching better than any of the Twelve, who still don’t understand Jesus’ prophecies or the idea that leaders must first be servants. She does. She is the perfect disciple in contrast with Judas who is the worst possible disciple.

This unnamed woman, this perfect disciple, models for us what it means to be a leader. Her faith led her to follow Jesus’ teachings far better than those of Jesus’ followers whose names we do know. At Delhaven we understand that one of the many ways we can follow Jesus is to serve the poor, to feed the hungry, to make education available for those who have little or nothing to spend on education. A number of us will be walking in the Church World Service CROP walk later today and the money we raise will help care for the poor and dispossessed around the world. Serving others is how we serve God. It is how we show our love for our brothers and sisters as we have been commanded to do.

And how special is it that this passage be the one we read on Girl Scout Sunday? We all know that Girl Scouting teaches girls to lead through service. One way that we experience their leadership is in their dedication to keeping Delhaven’s food pantry supplied so that we may serve our neighbors. Girl Scouts earn badges and other awards for so many different forms of service and caring for others that listing them all would take way too long. Former Girl Scouts lead their grateful nation in every conceivable occupation; soldiers and astronauts and teachers and religious leaders, even our Secretary of State was a Girl Scout.

Today we have celebrated five young women whose faith has led them to serve others. Each one has spend the better part of the last year working toward the religious award she received today, an award designed by her own faith tradition to help her grow in her faith through serving. (The girls will each say something about their religious award project and how it serves the community.)

Like the woman who anointed Jesus, each one of these young women knows that it is through serving others that we best serve God and our community. Each one knows that the very best leaders are those who are dedicated first to serving, like Jesus.

When we go from this place today, let us keep this unnamed woman in our hearts. Let us seek to be like her, the perfect disciple, faithful and willing to serve without waiting to be asked.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Tuesday of Holy Week II Mark 12:28-13:37

All day long on this very busy Tuesday Jesus is engaged in confrontation. The priests, Pharisees, and scribes and even the Sadducees have been bombarding Jesus with theological questions in both hypothetical situations and very real, politically charged situations. All day long Jesus has been confounding them, telling parables that point out their failings and cleverly evading their attempts to discredit him. And somewhere in the middle of the day a scribe, an educated man employed by the priests or Pharisees, asks a question and agrees with Jesus’ answer. There is no confrontation, no test, no effort to make Jesus look bad or to incriminate himself. This is the only such situation all day.

Even though I know the story, just as you all know this story, this really is something I hadn’t noticed until Borg and Crossan pointed it out. Probably because I usually look at manageable pieces of the Gospel – a chapter or a short passage selected by the lectionary committee for preachers. I usually don’t look at the entire day the way Borg and Crossan do in their book The Last Week. But when we do look at the entire day we see something way bigger and much more radical than the juxtaposition of two passages into the commandments that Christians quote in every possible situation; Deuteronomy 6:5-6 “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength: and Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And look – the scribe not only agrees with Jesus but adds another statement that sounds like what we’ve heard from prophets like Micah. He says “You are right teacher . . this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” This educated man who served the Temple stood in front of the Temple and said love of God and neighbor is more important than the Temple and what happens inside it.

What does all this mean, exactly? That is, what does that mean when we look at it in relation to the confrontations and teachings of the entire day?

For one thing it means that not all the Jewish scholars and leaders agreed theologically or politically. I know, we tend to believe that all the priests and Pharisees and scribes and nobles were opposed to Jesus. That would be because not much attention is given to folks who agreed with Jesus, only to those who disagreed. Just as in John’s Gospel, where he often speaks against “the Jews” but is actually only referring to those who opposed and persecuted the Christ followers some 60 years later when that Gospel was being written. This probably shouldn’t surprise us, really. How many times have we heard people say all Christians believe this or act that way or whatever and we get frustrated because we don’t believe that or act like that or whatever. Just as not all Christians have agreed from the beginning of the movement, so too not all Jews agreed in Jesus’ time – or now or any other time for that matter. This passage serves to remind us to avoid stereotyping folks, for here is one example of a member of the ruling elite who agrees with Jesus’ teachings.

But Jesus’ long day doesn’t stop there. Even though no one dares question him any further, he goes on to attack some of the most dearly held traditions of the time. He wants to know why the scribes teach that the Messiah is the son of David when David spoke of the Messiah as Lord? You usually don’t call your son Lord, he said, but David calls the Messiah in the psalms. Jesus rejects the tradition that the Messiah would be a military and political leader like David. He goes on to attack the practice of some scribes of foreclosing on loans made to widows, leaving them homeless and destitute with no one to stand up for them or care for them, even though treatment of the widow is the primary test of whether or not justice is being practiced in the land. He follows this with the story of the widow putting everything she has into the temple treasury, encouraged by the religious leaders to give her all to the service God while those who have much more just give a small portion of their wealth.

And when his disciples admire the great stone buildings of the temple, he predicts their destruction. It is a fact that the destruction of the Temple would have been pretty easy for almost anyone living at the time to predict. Rebellion was in the air in Judah. Bands of rebels and bandits lived in the hills waiting for the right time to strike against Rome. Fear of a large rebellion that would trigger Roman retaliation was one of the primary reasons the leadership in Jerusalem were so afraid of Jesus’ popularity. And we must keep in mind that this gospel was written after the great rebellion of 66 ce took place, after the Roman retaliation and conquest of Judah, after the Roman troops had offered a sacrifice to Caesar in the Temple in just the same way that Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes had some two centuries earlier and then, torn the Temple down. After, in fact, most of the things predicted here took place. Jesus tells his followers that when these things happen they must not let themselves be drawn into the war, not even in defense of home or family. They must not be part of the violence, for to do so would make them part of the problem instead of part of the kingdom. And after all those things, then would come the end of days with the arrival of the Son of Man.

Mark, Matthew, Paul and other early Christian leaders believed that Jesus would return soon – next month, a year from now, in their lifetimes for sure. It didn’t happen, at least it didn’t happen in the way they way expected. But it is certain that Jesus came into the world, his message scattered to the four corners of the earth even as the Jews themselves were scattered after the Roman conquest of their land. It is certain that what was begun in Jesus will triumph, that one day God’s justice, compassion and mercy will rule the world in the place of the greed and power hungry machinations of the powers and principalities. It is what all Christians are called to teach and to do – to love each other as we love ourselves. We are the ones left in charge while our Lord is on a journey – we are the ones who are supposed to spread the Word and the love throughout the world.

Jesus said to the scribe, “you are not far from the kingdom of God.” He was close because he believed what he was saying, that love of God and neighbor was more important than Temple practice. But he wasn’t quite there because he wasn’t living what he believed.

What does it mean to live what we believe? What does it mean to love God? It means always putting God first. Giving God what belongs to God, ourselves. We belong to God and not to Caesar. This is really radical, because if God is Lord then the other lords - the Caesars and Emperors and Presidents and Queens and Kings - are not. They may have power over our bodies. They may have power over our money, or over where we can live or work. But we don’t belong to those powers. We belong to God. We answer to God first.

And what does it mean to love the neighbor? To love one’s neighbor as we love ourselves means that all the differences society would place between us really don’t exist – there is no Greek or Jew, no male or female, no slave or free, no rich or poor, no straight or gay, no righteous or sinner, no friend or enemy. There are just people, all our neighbors, all beloved children of God, equally valued in the eyes of God. Let us go and love one another. Let everyone know we are Christian by our love.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How do I Love Thee?

Matthew 22:34-40 (New Revised Standard Version)
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

It’s St. Valentine’s Day. Television and radio and the internet are all encouraging us to spend lots of money on gifts that prove our love. Have you seen the drugstore commercial that shows two men charging around the store trying to out-buy each other? On the other hand children’s programming yesterday morning focused on teaching that it’s the thought that counts when giving a gift, not how much you spent.

Meanwhile, I’ve been bombarded from all directions with suggestions on what to preach today. California Faith for Equality wants me to preach on Marriage Equality. Faithful Reform in Health Care suggests I use my sermon to promote a universal heath care program. Sojourners magazine has a list of possibilities for me to consider including immigration reform and economic injustice, as does the Courage Campaign, a California Movement for Progressive Reform. Interfaith Power and Light has called for a Preach In on Global Warming. As you know I chose to participate in the Global Warming Preach In. Gwen has sign up sheets so you can get more information about Global Warming and there are inserts in the bulletins, as well as postcards to mail to our Senators asking them to love the earth by supporting certain legislation. And surely, the very beginnings of our history with God make it clear that caring for creation is a necessary and important part of our relationship with God. But there a came in sermon preparation that I realized preaching any one of these causes would not be sufficient if I were to focus on Love today. Perhaps that moment came when I read these words in the first chapter of Genesis.

Genesis 1:27-31 (The Message)
27 God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. He created them male and female. 28 God blessed them: "Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth." 29 Then God said, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth And every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. 30 To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food." And there it was. 31 God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good! It was evening, it was morning - Day Six.

God saw that it was all good - every thing that God created was so very good. And we are to love them all because God does, and because God told the first people to take care of the earth. We are to love and care for them all in response to God’s love for us, in response to the incredible bounty that is showered upon us daily. All those valentines and boxes of chocolate and roses and diamond necklaces that prove our love to our earthly lovers – all of those cards our children give to their classmates, even the ones they don’t like – they are as nothing compared to the gifts we receive from our God. And in response to all of this, we love God. Jesus tells us that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'

Wait. What’s wrong with this picture? I mean, people love where ever they love. It isn’t something we can control or do on command. We don’t love someone just because they give us presents, nor do we always love the ones that we “should” love – the ones that make sense for us to love. If we did there would no great tragic tales of star crossed lovers or even romantic comedies involving the wrong people being in love.

Ah – I know. What’s wrong is our idea of what love is. We get confused between Being In Love and Loving someone. We know when we are in love – our heart races when we think of the other, we can’t stop talking about them, we count the minutes until we can be together again. And then, a few years later when we’re just comfortable with each other maybe we think we aren’t in love any more. We are less likely to overlook those little faults that didn’t seem important in the first flush of romance. Some of us may not understand that it takes hard work to remain in a loving relationship with another person. That we have to continue giving and receiving, and accepting the other for who they are. That confusion between love and in love too often leads couples to believe the relationship is over, that love is gone when it’s just the initial being in love part that may have faded a bit. And some of us realize that, while being In Love is both wonderful and terrible, the deeper love that grows with years of being together is even better. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the world’s most famous love poems to her husband about ten years into their relationship.

How Do I Love Thee? Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

This is how we love with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. To me this poem sounds like a restatement of that commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'

When you love someone you do everything you can to please them and to bring them joy. You strive to make their life pleasant to the best of your ability. You give them whatever you believe will be pleasing to them. Instead of the chocolate and roses and diamonds and stuffed animals and cards we give our earthly lovers, we give God our lives, our actions, our choices in matters of love and justice. We will not all make the same choices. And that’s a good thing, because there are more than enough causes out there to become passionate about and no one of us can possibly even be aware of all of them.

You know all of those causes that asked me to preach about them today, the ones I’ve mentioned here and all of those others that show up in my Facebook page or my email or in mail and phone calls at the church office and at home? I know you hear from them too. And you know that all of them want us be aware of the importance of their cause, and tell others, and oh yes, send money. All of them need money so they can continue their work. They need money to buy supplies or support programs or change legislation to make the lives of the poor and oppressed better. And we will select the ones dearest to our hearts to receive our money and our effort. We choose the gifts that we will give to God and present them the best way we can.

As a congregation we are dedicated to feeding our neighbors and educating their children and providing a place where they can improve their lives in a variety of ways. As a congregation we make information on several social justice issues available to everyone who uses our buildings. As individuals we are passionate about so many different things, way more than we could possibly put on our awareness table, and we each devote time and energy to those passions. We do these things not because God loves us and we’re trying to deserve that love, but because we. love. God. Not the way we love a benefactor or a mentor or even a parent, but passionately, with the whole of our being, as Elizabeth Barrett loved Robert Browning, in the same way that Jesus reminds us we are to love our God.

God doesn’t want diamonds and roses and stuffed animals and chocolate. God doesn’t want burnt offerings or incense. God wants our hearts. God wants our love, which we can demonstrate in part through our treatment of the neighbor, for the second commandment is like the first, that you love the neighbor as you love yourself. God wants our lives, dedicated to caring for the world and all the creatures in it, animal, vegetable and mineral. Let us turn to the prayer called “Caring for the Earth” and pray together.

Caring for the Earth CH 694

we have faith
in One God, one Source of all life
One Ground of the whole earth, with all its creatures.

And thus we believe
in the goodness of earth’s life
in the innate worth of all its dependents
in human partnership in the life of nature

And thus we believe
that in Christ we have been shown
the special role of the human race
to bear God’s likeness
in working and caring for the earth,
in seeking to understand its mysteries and powers,
in gently working with those powers
for the wellbeing of all children of the earth

And thus we believe
that God’s Spirit will lead us
to sensitive closeness with earth’s life,
to that meek, unselfish, compassionate life-style
by which the earth is inherited in peace,
by which its life is transformed
for all creatures to share justly in its bounty
So be it. Amen.

And let us sing of the Beauty of the Earth.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Come with me

Luke 5:1-11 New Revised Standard Version
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

SKIT (slightly revised from a book of skits titled “Jesus and Peter”)
Jesus Peter . . .
Peter yes Jesus?
Jesus come with me
Peter where are you going?
Jesus I’m not telling you
Peter Do you not know?
Jesus Oh yes. I have a fair idea
Peter Then . . why won’t you tell me?
Jesus You might not like it
Peter Well, thanks for your consideration Jesus
a pause
Jesus Peter . . .
Peter Yes, Jesus?
Jesus Come with me
Peter Can I bring somebody else?
Jesus Just bring yourself
Peter Will there be only the two of us?
Jesus Oh no. There’ll be plenty of others
Peter Will I know some of them?
what about my cousin? Will he be there?
Is there any chance of my sister coming if she’s still crushing on you?
And what about my grandmother?
Oh Jesus, I’d love to bring my grandmother.
Can I?
Jesus Peter . . . just bring yourself.
Peter But . . .but . . you said there would be others.
Jesus That’s right.
Peter Who are they?
Jesus I’m not telling you
Peter Why not?
Jesus You might not like them.
Peter Aw, thanks a bunch Jesus.
a pause
Jesus Peter . . .
Peter yes, Jesus???
Jesus Come with me.
Peter Jesus, I’ve got better things to do than to go on a mystery tour.
But I’ll think about it.
Just tell me what I’ll need
Jesus What do you mean?
Peter Well, if I’m going somewhere I don’t know
with people you refuse to tell me about,
there are some things that might come in handy.
Jesus Like what?
Peter Like something I can read in case I get bored . . .
Like something to sing in case I get sad . . .
Like a new pair of jeans in case there’s a party
Jesus Peter, you’ll not need anything.
Just bring yourself.
That’s enough to contend with.
Peter Jesus . . . do you want me to end up like you?
Jesus Peter . . .
I’m going. . .
Are you coming with me?

I had a couple of pretty heavy conversations about Christianity this week. One was with a fairly new acquaintance who doesn’t like Christians much because he believes everything the media says about what Christians believe and stand for and didn’t even know there was such a thing as Progressive Christianity. The other was with a Christian friend who is pretty much my polar opposite politically and theologically and wanted to know what Progressive Christianity thought about the Gay Agenda. Meanwhile I’ve been reading articles in journals and magazines about what it means to be Progressive and committed to ecumenism and interfaith cooperation. I’ve read every point of view from “all paths to God are equally true” to “you can only get to the Father through the Son and everyone else is going to hell.” And I read this skit several times.

I wish I could just say to all of them “Jesus said come with me. Don’t bring anything. Not a book, not new jeans, not your cousin, not any preconceived notions about where we’re going or what we might be doing. Just bring yourself.”

Do you have any idea how hard it is to just bring yourself? Can any of us really do that? Many of you know that I left the church I was raised in when I was 18 and old enough to leave home. For the next 25 years I tried lots of alternative paths to God. I tried New Age spirituality, which for me was pretty much following whatever practices looked cool to me at the time. You know, listening to sitar music while burning incense and doing yoga and meditating on crystals. But it was pretty self focused. There was no direction no instruction to care for others, although there was an adaptation of the Wiccan command to “do as you will as long as you harm no one. For me, it got kind of boring pretty quickly. It felt like a way just to feel good about myself and the world and at one with the universe. And that’s nice, but something was missing. It was solitary, there was no worshipping community. There was no one to address my prayers, my joys, my sorrows to. They just sort of went up . . .

I tried Buddhism for a while. I really liked the Eight Fold Path, the directions on how to live in such a way that you enhance the world around you while doing no harm to anyone. I liked the emphasis on peace and allowing others to make their own mistakes. I really liked reincarnation, getting to do life over and over until you get it right. But I had a hard time with the basic tenet that life is suffering because of our attachment to things – including food, family, the idea of an eternal soul, even life itself. God looked at the world and all the creatures and said “It is good.” How can the life God created be suffering? Jesus said, love one another. How can you do that and be detached at the same time? As you can see, I kept bringing my preconceived notions of what religion should be with me.

For a number of years I was Spiritual but not Religious. I was happy to talk about my Higher Power or the God of my understanding and I would cheerfully do that for hours. But I really didn’t want to hear about any particular religious beliefs. During those Spiritual but not Religious years I learned that God loves all of us and forgives any who come asking forgiveness. I learned how to pray and listen for God’s direction and how to work at changing myself to become a person whose life would be more pleasing to God – things I hadn’t learned in my church or in those other places I had looked.

As you know, eventually I realized that I was going to have to find a church to become part of. It seems that a long time ago, when I wasn’t even really paying attention, Jesus said “Maria will you come with me?” While I was trying all of those other paths to God, Jesus was always right there waiting for me to make up my mind. All those years I was away from church I kept reading the Bible, the Old Testament for entertainment and the Gospels for advice on how to live. I kept reading Jesus’ words to love everyone. I kept reading about how he protected the weak, healed the sick, loved the unlovable. I kept reading that he didn’t come for the righteous, but for those who needed him. And I realized I needed him. I needed him so that I could see the face of God. So that I could stop seeing the punishing, angry, judgmental God I was raised with and see God as God truly is through the words and actions of his Son.

This passage may underline more than any other Jesus’ mission to come for those who need him. He didn’t go to the temple looking for disciples among the wise and well educated. He didn’t seek out the most faithful and respectable of the Jewish people to proclaim the Good News to them. He went to the lakeshore. He sought out tired, hardworking people at the end of their work day. He asked them to follow without any clue where they would go, what they would find there, what might lie ahead. And they did, without question or pause – at least, Luke says “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.”

Jesus is still coming to tired, hardworking people at the end of their work day and asking them to follow, with no clue what lies ahead. With no goal or plan or map. We’re in that position right now as a congregation. In fact, our whole denomination is in that position right now. In an interview in DisciplesWorld magazine, General Minister and President Sharon Watkins says that we Disciples are “on a journey without a map”. Scary, but no more so than what those fishermen faced.

Jesus has come again to the lakeshore. He has come to us, to tired, hardworking people who have already put in a life time of work and wonder what there is to show for it. He knows we are not wealthy or powerful in the way the world recognizes wealth or power. But we are rich in faith. Let us also be rich in willingness to follow when Jesus says “Come with me.”