Monday, December 24, 2012

Luke 1:46-55 Mary's Song, cont."Santa's Christmas Lullaby Life" Christmas Eve, Advent 2012

On Sunday we heard about Mary's song and considered it a lullaby to her baby, tonight we continue with this song and imagine her singing sweetly, softly to her baby Jesus. Maybe as he lay in the manger Mary again sang a sweet melody over her Baby, a melody like so many mother before her sang and so many after sang. She sang to calm her child, and keeping with tradition, to ward off the evil Lilith, a mythical demon who devours children in Hebrew folk lore. The words of this lullaby she remembers so well. Words that Jesus himself would preach in his first public sermon at Synagogue in Nazareth, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour." Tonight we hear these worlds parallel to each other, from the mouth of Mary, the new Mother and in the background voice of Jesus, who's life fulfills them. 

Tonight the wait is over. The baby Jesus, whom we've been waiting for over these long, busy and even tragic weeks of Advent has arrived. For our children the wait hasn't been so much for the the symbolic arrival of a baby, but the very practical arrival of a rather large, jolly, white bearded man in a red suite....thats right...ole St. Nick! Now St. Nick, or St. Nicolas of Myra, was a real person who did a lot of the same things we credit his folk personality for. He was a rich man who inherited a large sum of money after his parents death. He was also a devote Christian who rose up through the ranks of the church to become Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was even present as one of the churches "chief theologians" summoned by Emperor Constantine  at the council of Nicaea to lay the foundations for Orthodox Christianity, but none of this went to St. Nicolas' head. Instead he gave all his wealth away, not all at once, but little by little, to deserving needy people and families. He is said to have purchased young girls freedom from the sex slave trade, purchased pardons for those sentenced to die, who's chief crime was being desperate. He bought grain, paid leases and provided clothing for the most vulnerable of societies population. He was also know to purchase grave sites and tombs for the poor's dead, because if a poor person died and was unable to purchase a grave or tomb, their remains were either thrown out of the city for wild animals or burned up at the city dump. How sad would it be if we could not visit the grave of our loved ones and remember them? St. Nicolas embodied the lullaby of Christmas in his life and he challenges us to do the same in our life.

There's a story about an old organist who was asked to play at one last wedding. He was very hard of hearing, but could still play well enough to preform despite this. As the bride was getting closer to the sanctuary door the wedding planner tried vigorously to get the old organists attention, but to no avail. Finally the wedding planner yelled out his name, "Neil!!, Neil!!! Neillll!!!! And so everyone in the church got on their knees and knelt down. This evening I invite you, the Christmas Child invites you to kneel before the manger and sing....and live Mary's sweet Lullaby of Heaven.

Merry Christmas,
The Reverend Josheua E. Blanchard and Family

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Luke 1:46-66 "Mary's Sweet, Heavenly Lullaby" From the series "The waiting season" Advent 4

All of us parents remember how little sleep we got during the first few months, some of you the first few years, when our kids were babies. Babies cry at night and they wake us up and instinctively we respond to  our babies cries. It's even more instinctive in women and it doesn't necessarily have to be our baby, it could be any baby or child that seems distressed or hurt or troubled and we respond in an attempt to help that child. This is why news of last weeks shooting at an elementary school, in class rooms full of 6 and 7 year olds...really babies, was so troubling to so many of use. I'm still terribly effected by the events and so are many of you. It's the idea that there are children in harms way, it could be our children or someone else children and you and I would risk life and limb to save them....It's a God given instinct.

There are several ways that parents help sooth crying babies today. There are teddy bears that mimic womb nosies. The are battery powered mobiles that sing and flash lights and images on the ceiling for baby to listen to and stare at until she falls asleep. Some of the more tried and true methods include driving around the neighbor in the middle of the night, rocking baby to sleep in the rocking chair and of course the first thing any of us do is change and feed and most the time that does it, but if it does not we are left to the process of idea's mentioned above.

One of the oldest and still most used ways of calming a child is the lullaby. The lullaby has been around for ever, long before womb sound making bears and car rides at 2am was the lullaby. People from all across the world and at all different times in history used the lullaby to help sooth baby and put him back to sleep, so mommy can go back to sleep :). Despite the mellow tunes and calming melodies of the lullaby, sometime the lyrics can be a bit concerning, "rock a bye baby in the tree tops, when the bow breaks the cradle will drop, and down will come baby cradle and all." A baby falling out of a tree down to the ground is a bit disturbing...right? But for the most part the songs are soft and gentle and soothing.

In our passage this week we find whats called the "Magnificant" that is Mary's song of praise upon hearing the good news. I like to think of it as a lullaby, the baby Jesus's first lullaby. Science has proven the amazing effects that reading, singing and playing music can have on babies in-utero.  And like many other lullabies this song has some unpleasant lyrics, at least for the trouble makers of the world.

Many historians agree that the etymology of the lullaby is found in the Hebrew tradition of Lilith. Lilith is said to be Adams first wife and because of her desire to be equal to her husband was exiled from the garden and then God created for Adam another wife Eve. That wife didn't turn out so well for Adam either, so God assumed that it was Adams fault and left it at that. Since Lilith was disgraced she made a pact with Satan and became a demon who would get even with mankind by stealing or devouring mankind's children. So it became a tradition that whenever a baby could not be consoled by food or changing or the touch of it's mother it was Lilith disturbing the baby and so the mothers would sing over their babies the Lilit-abde or the "Lilith begone" prayer. It was part comforting and part warning, it was said to calm the child, but also to plant in the heart of the child a warning that evil is real and that it is often just one word or action away.

Mary's lullaby to the baby Jesus served as both too. She sang prayers of praise and encouragement, but also warnings of what will come with the growth of her child. She sang that oppression would stop, that the powers of this world would be challenged and that the wealthy of this world would have their riches taken from them. All these things are very frightening for the those named as well as for the one who will accomplish them. The powerful don't like being told no, the rich don't like being told they have to share and the oppressors of the world don't like having to treat others as their equal, but this is the melody of Mary's lullaby.

This last Sunday of advent gives way to the birth of our savior, but remarkably enough only 4months from now we will be morning his death, but celebrating his resurrection. I pray that Mary's song will serve as a warning in our lives that the more like Christ we live, the more powerful and important people we are bound to upset. Also I pray that it will serve as a source of comfort to all that there will be justice and that we will be saved from oppression, fear and death. I invite you to join us Christmas eve to hear the rest of the story and to sing with us sweet lullabies of hope.

Merry Christmas,
Pastor Josh

Friday, December 14, 2012

"And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." A gospel response to a horrid moment.

What is a "gospel" response to the tragedy  that tore through the small community of Newtown, CT today? Gospel, meaning Good News, what "Good News" could their possibly be? All I hear, all you hear is bad news, horror, evil, pain, suffering and tragedy...not good news. But this evening, as I sit in my home office, heart hurting for the parents who lost children the same age as Amanda and I's baby Rowan, I have to believe there is gospel. Many people this evening especially the families of the murdered children are asking why, why God, why innocent children, why does this always happen to the innocent? This is a fair and just question and God is not afraid of the "Why?" Why didn't God stop him, why does God allow all this to happen, why do evil people prosper? This is a question the Psalmist asked 1000's of years ago and a question that has been asked for as long as there has been time.

First of all I'd like to say that God is not responsible, that this is not God's will, this is not God's judgement on our nation. If you hear a minister say this or imply this, call bull shit, because that is precisely what it is. We make our own choices, we are all given free will and chose whether or not to be bearers of heaven or hell everyday. This all goes back to the lesson the bible teaches us through the story of Adam and Eve. God gives us boundaries and then gives us the freedom to live with in those boundaries or cross them. Each choice, whether to live with in them, or to violate them comes with consequences and the consequences are heaven or hell. Please don't mistake what I am saying as some religious cleche about choosing to spend eternity in heaven or in hell, because thats not what this is about. This is about real life choices that we all make everyday either bring us and those around us hell or bring them heaven or in Jesus words. "the kingdom of God."

I prefer the term "reign of God." A life or away of living that demonstrates and incarnates the will of a loving and benevolent God. This evening we ask, "where is this benevolent God?", we'll get to that in a bit, but first we need to understand how people can be so evil and why innocence suffer. Again, it goes back to Adam and Eve and a choice...heaven or hell. Adam and Eve were given heaven and they shared that heaven together. They worked together and lived for God and for each other. They were given the limitation of only being forbidden from one fruit and they both knew the limitation and perhaps lived with the limitation for years, decades, centuries maybe. How? They bore the burden of that limitation together. One day they chose to no longer live for God and each other, they chose to to live for themselves and to ignore the needs of each other. Yes the snake temped them, maybe this was the first time, maybe it was the 1millionth time, but this time they took the bate and while Adam looked on Eve crossed the boundary, and right afterward Adam crossed it willingly himself. Adam knew what Eve was doing would hurt her, he know it would have dire consequences, yet he stood their and let her destroy herself and as if that was not enough Eve knowing what she had done was evil, invited Adam to join her and he did so with out reservation!!! They stopped living for God and most significantly, they stopped living for each other. They became drunk with self desire and hubris and they not only ruined there individual lives, but each others lives and every life around them. They effectively turned the heaven around them into a living hell.

We do this everyday. Everyday we chose, not just for ourselves, but for everyone around us, heaven or hell. Why does evil happen, why do the innocent suffer, because of this truth. People, not God, not Satan, people chose to live out heaven or hell and an unfortunate consequence of those choices is that the other people around us are often effected by either our heaven or our hell. We can blame society, we can call for stronger gun laws, which I am in favor of, we can do all these things, but until we realize just how connected we are, and just how much our choices effect each other, this will never change. So what's the good news I promised earlier? It's this. Jesus said to Peter, who upon a profession of faith, a profession that stated that Jesus was the answer, or better...the way, that it was upon this "way"that God would build God's kingdom and, are you ready for this, for this is the good news, the gates of hell will not prevail!! There you have it. The good news is that no matter how evil, no matter how tragic, no matter how much hell an individual or group perpetrates or perpetuates, it can never over come love. When evil strikes, when the unthinkable like 20, 4 and 5 year olds, are gunned down in cold blood, God is there and heaven is one word, action or event away.

This weekend and in the weeks to follow we will discuss, argue and morn over this event, but I hope more than anything we can learn from it. Learn that our actions, that our choices have consequence, not just for us, but for other as well. The "way" that Jesus speaks of, is a life lived loving God and most importantly and most prevalent, loving each other. If we loved as Jesus taught us, if we bore each others burdens and carried each others limitation, we would never taste hell. Let us push back the gates of hell with love, charity, kindness and grace and trust that no matter how the evil may prosper, it will never prevail against love.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Philippians 4:4-7 "Wait A Minute!!" From the series: "The waiting season" Advent 3, 2012

One of my favorite pet peeves of our modern world  is the depersonalization of society. Banks, stores, customer service centers, even the services providers such as cable, satellite and cell phones all have instituted cost saving measures that limit the amount of people they need to handle customers service issues. When you call, instead of a person, you get an automated system and a menu of choices that never seem to really "hit the nail on the head" when it comes to the reason you called. After amount 10 minutes of cycling through the menu you finally get the privilege of waiting for a "customer service representative" who is often not the most happy and pleasant person you've spoken to all day. This is all a sign of the relational break down of our society. And it's not like we really mind, we enjoy the cheeper rates that automated systems provide, we also enjoy the convinces of other impersonal services we use everyday.

We with draw money from an ATM, instead of going into the bank, we order food on-line, instead of calling in our order, or better yet eating in the store. I can't count how many of my friends and Amanda's friends who have met their spouses through on-line dating sites, instead of the old fashion way, at work, church, social clubs or even the bar. On-line dating services are a perfect examples of this. On-line dating services like and do all the heavy lifting for you. They weed out the people who are not like you and present only the people with like personalities and values. There's nothing wrong with that, but people use to have to do that themselves and actually interact with people that might end up not liking. eHarmony prides it's self in being a place where busy people can go and meet Mr. or Ms. Right. Another example is Facebook and twitter. Crazy things get posted on Facebook. Things people would never say to or about each other in person, but cyberspace is so impersonal it's easy. And the same thing can be said for e-mails and txts. We just shoot them off half cocked, from the hip and don't even take the time to wait and see how we feel about the situation 20minutes later!

One of the most personal and relational times we have each year is Christmas. Christmas is, in my opinion, the last relational bulwark in our society, but even thats under threat. Internet shopping, cyber gift giving and places like the iStore and other content universes (google, amazon, etc.) make it easy to purchase and give a gift without ever even talking to the merchant and even worse, the recipient of the gift. But for now on-line shopping and other impersonal things like that still pale in comparison to traditional forms of shopping. During the Christmas season we are out and about! In the malls, downtown, and at department stores. We wish passer bye a "merry Christmas and a happy new year." We smile at the cashier and tell her stores about our children, siblings, spouse or parents and why we are buying this item for them. It truly is a time for rejoicing and a time for relationships!!

In our passage this week St. Paul admonishes the church in Philippi to rejoice!!! It is such a good suggestion that he says it twice, "rejoice, again I say rejoice." What did the angles say when they appeared to the shepherds? Rejoice!!! It's the same idea. Paul's reasoning for encouraging the Philippians and us to rejoice is the same reason the Angles said rejoice, because Christ is with us!! Another reason Paul was rejoicing was because of the relationships he enjoyed, even the relationship he had with the Philippians. Even while in prison Paul maintained meaningful relationships and what was at the heart of these relationships? Christ.

You know there are three types of relationships we work on; inward, outward and upward. During Advent and Christmas the upward and inward are easiest, but the outward suffers. Really during anytime of the year the outward can suffer, but when we are busiest we are most hurried and according to preacher, author and pastor Charles Stanley "hurried is the number one enemy of relationships." We get so hurried during the Christmas season our outward relationships, the ones that matter the most during this season, suffer the most. And it's ironic too. Advent is a season of waiting, a moment of eager yet paientent longing and we call it the "busiest time of the year."

Let me ask you, do you know the color of your doctors eyes? How about the name of the girl who checks you out at Toms, or the Shell station? Do you know the name of the baby that your waitress delivered? If not, maybe you need to slow down. Former Speaker of the house Sam Rayburn said "the tree most important words in the english language are not I love you, but wait a minute." This Advent season, don't be in such a hurry, take time and wait a minute to minister to others and to hear from God.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Luke 3:1-20, "Provenance of Faith." From the series, "The Waiting Season." Advent 2, 2012, year C

Theres a town on I-90 that cuts through the heart of the Dakota's. It's name is Wall, SD and it is home to the almost famous Wall Drug Store. Wall drug was a store that was begun in the 1930's by the Huestead family, who moved to Wall, SD because they wanted both a small town to live and raise their family in and a small town with a Catholic Church in which they could grow in and express their faith. When they first opened the store it struggled, but then when Mt Rushmore opened, Ted Huestead, that is the family patriarch, had an idea that would draw weary tourist to their small town. You see Wall, SD is "on the way" to Mt Rushmore and it can get pretty hot in the summer months in the Dakota's, so Ted purposed to offer free Ice Water and bathrooms to all who came through Wall on their way to the new National Monument. People came for the Ice water and toilets, but ended up buying ice cream, doughnuts, coffee and post cards as well. Ted, or Mr. Heaustead, realized that they might be in the middle of nowhere, but they were also on the way to somewhere and because of this his family, life and business thrived and still thrive to this day. This is where we find ourselves this second week of Advent. We are kind of in the middle of nowhere, having just begun our Advent journey, but most importantly we are still on our journey to somewhere very special...Bethlehem and the birth of a savior.

In this weeks passage Luke gives us a sort of "who's who" in Roman and Judean political and religious life. He mentions Emperor Tiberius, Governor Pontus Pilot, Herod The Tetrarch and the Chief High Priest Annas, who's son-in-Law Caiaphas would be the one to condemn Jesus of Nazareth in his last days. There's several reasons for this "rundown". One reason is to give an account of those who, in all their political power and authority, stood to disrupt God's plan of salvation for the world and to point out that what God has decided to do, no man can stop. The other reason is our focus for this week. Why does Luke name all these historical figures, why does it matter, really, who ruled where and when? It's called provenance and it's a form of authentication. You see all the rulers, the soldiers, even the account of John the Baptists prove that the story of Jesus' life really happened.

Currently there are over 19 reality shows on TV that have to do with pickers, pawn shop owners and storage locker auctions. Why? Because behind all the junk, theres a story. Each piece of junk or collection of stuff has with it a story of who it belonged to, how it got there and what it's for and we love stories! The most popular of theses shows is PBS's Antique Road Show. Each episode viewers tune in and see how a $50 dollar chair, or doll, or set of spoons turn out to be worth $50,000!!! How does this happen? Provenance, the process in which the assessor authenticates the item as being unique turning a garage sale item into a museum piece!

Did you know at the dedication or "concentration" of every Roman Catholic church there is the reliquary present? A reliquary is a box or case of some sort filled with the bones, clothing, or something closely associated with the canonized saint that the church is being named for. Since the authenticity of many relics over the years have been disputed, the church now requires provenance for the relics. A hand written note or some other form of documentation that comes from Rome that authenticates the item or items as "true and faithful relics". It's not good enough now to simply say the item is sacred or even believe it to be sacred, it must be proven to be sacred.

This is again, Luke's purpose. To offer provenance for the life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ, to authenticate his existence and therefore prove God's plan for humanity. The authority, the geographic location and even the witness of John the Baptist, all authenticate the work of Christ in this world. So question? Where and what is your faith provenance? What authenticates faith in your life? Is it seen in how you work, what you say, how you give, and in the way you treat others? Or does your faith lack provenance? Everyone who calls themselves a Christian must be able to authenticate their faith, must have what we Methodist call "assurance", knowing, that you know, that you know that God has forgiven you and all that takes is repentence. This advent season seek God while he may be found and find ways to authenticate your faith.

Blessed Advent 2,
Pastor Josh

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jeremiah 3:14-16 "Shoots of Tomorrow" From the Series, "The Waiting Season", Advent 1, 2012

 This week marks the first week of Advent. Advent is by far my favorite major church season. There is so much happiness, so much food, friends and family, it's hard not to be excited about Advent. But the three F's of Methodism (food, friends and family) are not my sole reason for enjoying this season so much. The reason I love Advent is because of the hope it provides, it's because of the anticipation of the coming of Christ, the one who saves, the one who redeems, the one who restores and most of all the one who forgives. Every Advent season I preach an Advent series, sometimes it's based on the lectionary, sometimes it's not. This years is and it is entitled "The Waiting Season: Arrival Stories from the Gospel of Luke." This first Advent sermon is not part of that series, but will serve as an introduction to the idea that God is active while we are waiting. For what? For Jesus to come, not symbolically in a little manger scene like he does every year at this time, but for a second time, ushering in a righteous, just reign of peace and charity. I hope you are blessed this Advent season and I hope that these notes on the sermons I preach will help you grow closer to God.

Ever heard of the "Parable of the giving tree"? It's an old proverb about a young man who finds an apple tree not far from his home. In his childhood he plays on the tree, talks to the tree and enjoys the shade that the tree provides during hot summer days. This was the case for years, but as the years went by he only returned once to carve his initials and that of a young girl together, wrapped in a heart shape on it's mighty trunk. As he gets older, into his youth, he decides to pick the apples from the apple tree and sell them at market in town for money. As he get even older, like young adulthood, he uses the branches to make furniture and provide firewood for his young family. After his children grow up, when he's middle aged, he has extra time on his hands and so he cuts the tree down leaving only it's stump and uses it's might trunk to fashion himself a sail boat. Finally at his old age, when close to death, he returns to the tree and sit's besides it's stump and reminisces all that the tree had given him and all for nothing he closed his eyes and died. Kind of a neat story, eh? It has a very good meaning to. The tree gave all while the man took all and gave nothing in return. The beauty of Advent is surrounded in this idea that God has given us a gift, despite our inability to ever give back.

Along with this idea of gift giving from God, I'd like you all to consider the stump, yes the nothingness of what remained after the boy was finished with the tree. You see part of the advent promise is this idea that out of nothing, out of a useless, seemingly lifeless, tree stump will come life. A shoot for tomarrow. I'm sure many of you have seen a fellen tree with nothing but it's stump in tack and remarkably out of that stump grows a tiny little shoot, a life out of it's death. This is happening right now in my own front yard. An old Maple tree, my favorite tree by the way, I love it's strong, might branches and it's seemingly indestructible trunk. I love the bright red color of it's leaves as they seem to burn in the fall, it nothing short of beauty. Well this old Maple in my front yard had to be cut down, I'm sure it was close to 200 years old when it was cut. For the first year while I was living in our home I noticed nothing about the stump which was once that might Maple, then about 6months ago a small little shoot, a Maple sapling begin to grow out of that stump!

The Prophet Jeremiah in our passage this week speaks on behalf of God, thats what prophets do. There's been some confusion about prophesy and prophets within American Christianity. Prophets don't tell the future, they tell the truth according to God. In this case Jeremiah speaks the truth about the fallen tree of Jesse and the promise that out of that stump will come a mighty tree who's branches cover all of humanity!

This being the first Sunday of Advent is a very special day. It kicks of a time of great waiting and anticipation. Children understand this experience best. Advent for children is essentially 4 weeks of waiting for gifts! All the anxiety, all the curiosity, all the dreaming and visioning and's exactly what we all should be doing while we wait for Christ!!! To help with these feelings we have invented the children's advent calander. It's a little calendar made of wood, paper or metal that counts downs the days until Xmas and in each slot representing a day there is a little tasty treat awaiting those eager hands. That's really the environment we are hoping to create in churches during the advent season, each sunday a little more of the gift of Xmas revealed. Another way we celebrate Advent, but not as popular of a way is with the Jesse Tree. It's a small tree fashioned from wood or paper and each week another branch is added, Isaac, Jacob, then Moses, Joshua, then we add Samuel and King David and finally the culmination of the tree of Jesse, Jesus Bar David, the Messiah!

This is our story, the Jesse Tree, it is our linage and the linage of all humanity as we await the return of Jesus. I think this gets lost in Advent and Xmas, I think we all wait eagerly for Xmas, but through commercialism and seculaialism. We wait for Jesus to come symbolically in a manger scene and then when it's over all we have left is Xmas memories of open gifts, obnoxious relatives and great big credit card bills! Advent a Xmas are suppose to remind us that Jesus is coming, not symbolically, but for real! We are asked to remind our hearts every year that Jesus came once and the world groaned and bemoaned it's waiting...the same still presents it's self today. We still wait for Jesus!!!

This past Friday I reluctantly and inadvertently participated in Black Friday, Americans biggest slap in the face of God. My mother in law had to be be at Detroit Metro Airport to fly home to Oklahoma after the Thanksgiving holiday. I got down there early, not real early but around 5, so I decided to go to Toys R Us and check out the "sales". As I walked through the store I saw Muslims, Hindu's, Jews and Sheiks all shopping for Xmas gifts, to celebrate the birth of Savior they do not believe in. The beauty of Jesse Tree is that it's leaves, it's fruit, it's branches and even it's body (Trunk) is meant to provide safety, shelter and sustenance for all even of them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

John 18:33-37, "Who's On First: The Tale of Two Jesus's"

One of comedy's most well known and well liked sketches is Abbott and Costello's Vaudeville act, "Who's On First." The big joke was that the ball players’ last names were “Who” (first base), “What” (second base), “I Don’t Know” (third base), “Why” (left field), “Tomorrow” (pitcher) “Today” (catcher), etc. Any conversation about “Who was on first?” was a question that involved both identity and physical position. But for the person “in the know,” those who knew “Who” was the name of the first baseman, it was simply the affirmation of a fact. “Who” WAS, in fact, on first base. Sounds a bit confusing and annoying, but that was what was so funny about it. In our passage this week, this last week before advent, Jesus purposes a sort of, "Who's on first" question for his temporary captor, Pontus Pilot.

The issue at hand was simply was Jesus a king? And if he was a king, where was his kingdom? Pilot did not care for ideology, other than Roman, neither did he concern himself with the semantics of Jewish religious language and lore. What Pilot wanted to know and what he wanted to make sure of was that Jesus was not planning some sort of political uprising or violent revolt and so he asked Jesus pointedly, "Are you a king?" Of course Pilot meant are you a political subversive? Here is where Jesus asks a sort of pious question that is similar to the question asked of Adam and Eve in the garden by the serpent, "Is that really what you think?", "Do you really believe I am a king, or did some else tell you that?" Jesus goes on to confirm that yes he is indeed a king, but that there is no worry on Pilots part because it's not a kingdom of this world. Unimpressed with Jesus and rightfully concerned with the Jewish mob forming at his front door, he offers the crowd a sort of peace offering. You see 1st century Jews were to Romans what 21st century Muslims are to Americans. They were perceived as a terrorist threat, an unruly and waring people who where always trying to bring the world around them into submission to the ways of YHWH. They attacked Roman consolents, Roman outposts and Roman Civil Buildings. They where fearless, often subjecting themselves to suicidal missions all for the glory of YHWH, all for the Kingdom of God! Now, it's true, some were this way, but like Muslims of today, not all of them were violent, in fact only small sect of them embraced this kind of faith interpretation, but irregardless Pilot offered them Jesus Bar David or Jesus Bar Abba in an attempt to "settle them down."

What we have here is the tale of two Kingdoms, the tale of two leaders, the tale of two Jesus' ; Jesus Bar Abba, and Jesus Bar David. Bar Abba represents the very thing Pilot feared most, a political leader, filled with religious zeal and piety, one willing to die to see Roman over thrown. Bar Abba was a terrorist, a murder, and a warrior. He wanted to establish a Kingdom of God that had physical borders, that had a political and economic capital as well as a politico-religous center (Jerusalem). Bar Abba was the one the Jews chose to be their king and it was his idea of a political kingdom that they embraced. Jesus Bar David represents a world where the poor are blessed, where the meek rulers, where the mournful are comforted and where the hungry are full. Jesus Bar David's kingdom was not of this world. Not because it was just for some latter time to come, but because the people of this world; like the Romans, like the followers of Jesus Bar Abba, could not understand it. It was a Kingdom that Jesus died for, but never shed any blood was truly not of this world and only his disciples, only his followers did and can understand what that means.

Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation have just published a book called Transformational Discipleship (2012). They point out how Judas should have been the poster boy for discipleship. Interestingly enough Judas would have sided with Jesus Bar Abba. Judas was called to discipleship from the Zealot movement, which was the Al-Quida of his day and would have himself advocated for the violent overthrowing of Rome and the establishment of the "Worldly kingdom of God". He was waiting for Jesus Bar David to finally see it his way, when we turned him over to Caiaphas. Either way he was a good disciple, he heard every sermon, he counted every coin, he watched every hearing. Yet at the Last Supper, the other disciples, when challenged with Jesus’ warning “One of you will betray me” replied, “Not I, Lord.” But Judas said something different. Have you ever noticed the difference before. I had missed it before this book. The other disciples objected with the words “Not I, Lord (MarYah)” but Judas, only Judas, pushed back with these words: “Not I, Teacher (Rabboni).” There is a world of difference between “Not I, Lord” and “Not I, Teacher.” For Eleven of the Twelve, Jesus had become King. For one, Judas, he had never made that heart transplant from teacher to King. For so many of us we live our lives with Jesus the teacher, only sort of allowing his words to lead our path. What we must do is chose Jesus as King, as LORD and follow him whole heartedly. What Jesus will you follow?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mark 13:1-8, "The Temple of Doomed"

Ever lost a wallet or a purse? It's a terrible feeling, and it's not so much the loss of credit cards (cancel 'em) nor is it the lost cash (who carries it anymore?) as it is the loss of the tokens we carrie in our portable personal space we call a wallet or a purse. Pictures of our children, quotes, bible verses and statements that reminds us who we are, that motivates us to become more than we are, ticket stubs that reminds us of that "great night" we spent with the person we love most. It's those things that get to us, not the money, not the personal ID, and certainly not the wallet itself (ladies you might be attached to the purse and really be sad to lose it though.) Ever had your home broken into? That's even worse and again, it's not the stolen 61'HD LCD TV that bothers us as much as it is the stolen peace of mind. We all have things and places that remind us of home, that we care with us that makes us feel comforted and that we identify with and if they were gone it would feel like we've lost everything.

In our passage this morning Jesus pronounces the loss of the temple and not just it's loss, but it's total and utter violent destruction!! To 1st century Jews the temple was like a religious "living room" or "faith home" and without it the Jews would be utterly confused, lost and least they felt so. Jesus' proclamation of the destruction of the temple was like someone from the 21st century standing before the World Trade Center, which had become somewhat of a temple to the god's of the market, and saying "all this will be brought down to it's very base and none of it will be left standing."....but only worse.

The temple was the sacred heart of the Jewish life and faith. It was the only temple, the only place were one could truly experience God. It's stones, walls, courts and furniture where themselves sacred. The Temple guided the way of life, it was at the center of the cycle of feasts, fasts and sacrifices, to pronounce it's destruction meant to pronounce the end of a way of life, away of life that had been in existence since 516 B.C!!! The thing is, Jesus understood that if the temple continued to stand the people would never realize who and where God was.

One of my favorite movie serious as a child was the "Indiana Jones" series. Harrison Ford plays the charming, intelligent and adventurous College Professor/archeologist/adventure seeker Dr. Henry Walter Jones a.k.a Indian Jones. He is cool and good with the ladies and always gets out of the tightest fits. One Indian Jones movie I remember vivedly from my childhood was the "Temple of Doom". It was scary to a 6 year especially that scene where the Temple Priest is ripping the heart out of a child!!! (GRAPHIC I KNOW!!!) That was a Temple of Doom for sure!! The existence of the temple in Jerusalem meant certain doom for most of humanity and unless it become a doomed temple things would remain this way.

Gentiles and women and Jewish men with genetic defects could not enter the temple, make sacrifice or participate in any of the other rites and rituals that were deemed essential for pleasing God. What Jesus did was point to himself as the new temple, as the new place to meet God and by doing so he also pointed to the rest of humanity as the new temples of God. God in Jesus, God is in those who are made new in Jesus, therefore God is everywhere we go! This also means that we have a responsibility as believers to represent God and to show people the way of and to God. If you notice Jesus never sends anyone to the temple for healing, restoration of forgiveness. He always goes to them or he always sends his disciples out to them. Why? Because the healing, regeneration and forgiveness the world needs is found in the body of Christ, the church, you and me and it is with that fact that the 1st century church found it's identity. It is this identity I'd like to share with you this week, the new teachings and rituals of the new temple, the Body of Christ.

The 1st century church taught it's new message in four components, the Kerygma, the Didache, the Koinia and the Diakonia. The Kerygma was the proclamation of the story of Jesus as it was passed down from the apostles. This is a change from from the old way in that the story of Jesus was proclaimed for all to hear. The Didache is the teachings of the church. The doctrines, beliefs and theology that are embodied in the church. The next is the Koinia. This is the ministry of the fellowship of the church, our life together and the love we have for each other. And finally the Diakonia. This is the service of the church, both service to humanity and service to God. The point of all this is, is that it's not about rituals, and rites and it is about a life being lived for God and for others. Our identity is about God and others

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Mark 12:35-44, The lost, last 5 commandments of Moses: Thou Shalt Not PILE!

Anyone ever seen Mel Brooks' "History of the World? Its funny, in an inappropriate kinda way, the same kind of way that farting is funny, or belching, or poop know...that kind of funny. I'm not one to watch Monty Python, or any of those other British humor movies (I think British humor sucks!), but I did enjoy the fun that was made out of human history in this movie. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the beginning of a set called "Old Testament". This scene opens with Moses, a very Jewish, New Yorker sounding Moses, he's even heard muttering in Yiddish! Ok, here's the scene, Moses is on Mount Sinai asking what God wants done, God replies, "Moses give the people my commands." Moses says, "OK LORD." God says, "Did you hear me?" Moses says. "Oie Vay, a deaf man could hear you." God says. "WHAT!?" Moses says, "Nothing Lord, just clearing my throat." Moses then proceeds up the Mountain further, the screen blacks out and Moses is seen coming down the the same side of the mountain carrying three stone tables of five commandments each for a total of 15 commandments. Ok, this is where the humor gets good. Moses steps up and says to the people, "Listen, the LORD God Jehovah has given you theses fiftee.... (drops a tablet)...ten commandments." Ha ha ha ha...right? I though it was funny :) 

You and I know there are not 15 commandments, there is no missing tablet and Moses did not drop one tablet giving us only ten commandments, but it's still funny. So what if there was 5 commandments missing? What if it really did happen that way? What do you suppose those missing 5 commandment might be? Perhaps they would have prohibited gay marriage, maybe they would have told us point blank that life begins at conception and abortion is can only speculate so your guess is as good as mine. I have this idea that perhaps these missing commandments might have to do with piles. I know, it sounds silly, what prohibition could God have against piles. We love piles, piles of snow, piles of leaves, dog piles....piles of CASH!!! There are some piles we don't appreciate as much, piles of poop, piles of trash, and piles of bills, but for the most part we are a piling people. With this in mind it makes sense that God's missing commandments to humanity might have to do with piles. Really the piling phenomena in American culture is a symptom of a deeper, more heart felt illness....GREED. To much is  never enough. All one has to do is turn on the tube to see that americans have a piling issue, with such programs as "Hoarders" and "Storage Wars" we can see just how much we love to pile.

Our passage this week deals with the piles that the pharisees like to heap upon the people...and according to Jesus they were piles of...well, you get the idea. The Pharisees pile laws upon laws on the people, they piled burdens in the form false religious piety upon the people, all while they acquired piles of wealth, piles of prestige, piles of favors, and piles fancy clothes and goods. Jesus said that they "devoured the houses of widow's". They did this by requiring them to pay for scarifies and by not allowing them to be seen outside their homes without a male family member. All this heaps piles of burden on them so greatly that they eventually lost everything, even their homes. They robbed from the poor all so that they could have beautifully adorned prayer shawls, which Jesus calls robes, made of the best linen and with the longest tassels. Their piling was a burden to an all ready over burdened people, but their additudes were not much different than the attitudes of todays power brokers.

Any of this sound familiar? The guys at the top, the wall-street bankers, CEO's, international investors, and capital venturist all make it rich, all receive bailouts and gold parachutes while the average guy, or even worse, the poor suffer. This is a pile of BS according to Jesus and this piling needs to stop. So, here they are, the "thou shalt not's" of piling, my opinion as to what those lost 5 commandments MIGHT have been.

I. Thou Shalt Not Pile Up
It is not, nor has it ever been the will of God for some to get rich, while others suffer in poverty. God calls us to share all that we have as if it's not ours, but God's. This is a viture of Methodism that has been "miss placed" over the years. John Wesley advocated for the redistribution of wealth, not in some "communist" or "socialist" way, but in an Acts 2 kind of way, "The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved."...That kind of way.

II. Thou Shalt Not Pile On
It's not ok to judge and condemn others, especially when they are down. We live in a society that just can't wait to see a celebrity, a politician, an athlete and especially a religious leader fall from grace and when they fall we pile it on insult after insult. We dig for more mistakes and more life errors until we have piled so much crap on top of them they can't dig out and are lost forever and branded a liar, a drug addict, a wife beater, a sexual deviant. Truth is God changes lives and if we would give people time to learn from their mistakes and perhaps help them find God, they might come out of their "fall from grace" a better person. You Christian folks of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist persuasion are the worst at know who you are.

III.Thou Shalt Not Pile In
Just because someone else is doing it, doesn't mean it's ok. Ever heard grandma or mom say those words? Well it's true. We have a tendency to be mob thinkers. We do whats cool, whats trending on yahoo, twitter or what the most recent post on Facebook is. Companies relay on this behavior, politicians relay on this behavior and Satan relies on this behavior. We are called to be holy, this means set apart, we are the church, ecc-lasia, called-out, but how can we be called out or separate when we do everything everyone else does. I'm guilty of this. I want to be a trendy, cool and relevant young pastor, with hopes that I might reach my generation or be promoted to the top church. I want to write books, tweet cool tweets, blog a popular and well read blog. I want my iPhone 5, iPad mini and MacBook Pro all so I can have the same stuff the cool trendy pastors have and post on the go and use Four Square to tell everyone how much fun I had eating at Taco Bell, but it's not ok. It cost money, takes time and even aids to the disconnect of my generation. Time to stop going with the "in" crowd and stick with Jesus.

IV. Thou Shalt Not Pile Higher or Deeper
Just because an idea, or a thought is popular does not make it good. We are often guilty of piling higher and deeper the crap that makes church stupid and irrelevant and which also makes our world unjust. We ought not be afraid to stand up and put an end to the crap. When something is not working, or some idea is not fair or it happens to be the idea of the majority and you know it's's ok to call Bull shit on that (thought it would be ok to say "Bull Shit" this week since we are talking about piles). Take a stand for righteousness, Jesus says you'll be blessed.

V. Thou Shalt Not Pile Under
We are all to busy, to committed, life is to noisy, to cluttered, to we just miss out on life. We pile ourselves under so much stuff that the weight of all those commitments, all those sports teams practices, all those committee meetings, all those TV shows we have to DVR and make sure we watch gets in the way of living the way Jesus has called us to live. Depression an anxiety are up amongst adults and teens because we are so busy we don't have time to unwind. Don't get piled under by all life's stuff and have your life end up like an episode of "Hoarders"

With all that, isn't it great to know that Jesus says, "The whole of the law is summed up in two commands; love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself." I bet that no matter how many stone tablets Moses might have dropped, Jesus' message of love God and others would still be enough to insure that we stop with the piling and start with the serving. 

Have a great week and remember to go vote!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Luke 6:20-49: All Saints, Bloodline; Life Blood, the Heart and heart beat of the Faith

This sunday is the observation of All Saints Day. All Saints is a relatively new holiday or feast day for United Methodist to observe as well as other American Protestant traditions. It has long been a tradition of the Apostolic churches, i.e Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, but for most main line protestants in America who hail from the WWII generation as well as the Boomers, its a new practice, along with Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Midnight Mass (Christmas Eve Communion). It's an important and valuable practice that helps to instruct Christians of all ages in the truth that, like Rome, the church was not built in a day, but was built by the generations of Witnesses that gave, worked and even died for the faith. All Saints is our opportunity to remember them and it is also our chance to remember each other.

Hebrews doesn't simply remind us of the hero's thats come before, but also the hero's to our left and to our right. Together these are the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and that encourage and support us as we struggle to be Christ-bearers to a new generation.So with that, one must ask what is at the heart of this faith that makes it so worth giving for.

Everything, mechanical, technological, organic and biological has a center or core... heart if you will. The church is a body and like any body there must be a heart and a blood stream, a way to transport oxygenated blood from the heart to the extremities. Without this pumping system the body dies. So what then is at the heart of our faith and what, or better yet, who is it's life blood?

The sermon on the plain, notice I said plain and not mount. Why? Because in Luke's account the sermon was preached on a plain, a grassy meadow in stead of a mount or hill. What else is significant about this account of Jesus' most popular sermon is the audience. In Luke's account Jesus is speaking directly to the 12 and any other listeners are simply coincidental. In this passage Jesus is teaching the 12 what is at the heart of this new faith. At the heart is a love, a compassion and an acceptance of those whom society has deemed unworthy, inadmissible, unclean and unaccepted. At the heart of this teaching is a way of life that passively resist the evil around it. At the heart of this new way is a life that embraces everyone, even ones enemies and one that does not judge and a life that is built upon an eternal foundation of hope. This is the heart of Christianity and the bloodline, the life blood of this new faith that pumps from the heart is the disciples, both the 12 and every disciple that has come after them.

So many have come before us, pumping and working and striving to continue to keep that heart beating and All Saints day is a specific day to remember them. We also need to remember that we, the saints alive, are a vital part of the blood system and that it is our job now to continue feeding that heart and drawing life from that heart to dying church. We often ask ourselves at Charge Conferences, Annual conference and General Conference, why are we dying? The answer...the body simply it's getting enough blood from the heart. We have forgotten whats at the heart, we have forsaken the sacrifice and commitment of those who came before us.Will you continue to be part the bloodline, will you up hold the heritage, will you further the cause?

A prayer for All Saints

We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you

Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Holy hands
Used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.
Safiyah Fosua

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hebrews 7:23-35, Self-help vs. God-trust: Why the bible is not a self-help manual

The most well stocked and stacked section at your local Barns and Nobles or any book store for that matter would be the self-help section. We are obsessed with self-help and self reliance, its a carry over from one generation to another of the "pull yourself up by your own boot traps" american way. Just look at the self help section and you'll find books on do it yourself tax code, web design, computer programing, veterinarian science and of course finding true love. We pride ourselves as a nation of "do it yourselfers" and "self made men...and women" its not the most biblical way to live, but it's an accepted way.

What's most interesting about self help is the way we go about seeking it out. Really the idea of self help is a bit of an oxymoron, I mean the idea of self help, meaning helping yourself without any outside influence is a bit ludicrous especially when we are actually seeking expert advice via reading or video and the most ludicrous idea is the idea of the self help group!!! (nuf said). When we do seek out self help we pick and chose which part of ourselves we are going to prim and prune instead of holistically seeking to be better. Some people treat the bible like a self-help book, a list of does and don't for quality and successful living, which it's not. If you truly live the life prescribed in the scripture there are plenty of hardships awaiting you.

Regardless of time and era, there's always been self-help. In ancient Rome there was self help. In fact there was a lot of similarities between us and the Romans. They like to sit around on Sunday afternoons and watch brutish men beat up on each other for sport while enjoying their favorite snacks. The difference is their brutish men (gladiators) fought to the the death, while ours only fight until the end of the fourth and sometimes in OT and their favorite snack was Dormice, which was little field mice, dehired, dried, cook, rolled in sesame seeds and dipped in honey. Ours...well, isn't quite that .... exotic? It's usually pizza or potato chips, maybe cheet'os and beer....never mice, but you get the idea. For self help they inquired from the dice oracle, which would predict the future path of their children, of which 1 of 3 were predicted to die in some tragic way or another. They sought out the advice of diviners, future tellers, kinda like us calling psychic hotline. They also would seek the direction of a prophet or philosopher (two very different people by the way). Either way humanity has always tried ourselves. How has that worked for us?

Our passage this week addresses this self-help phenomenon, by making it clear that we cannot help ourselves when it comes to the most basic and drastic problem we all face...the sin problem. The author of Hebrews (not sure who he...or she is) uses an old image to help explain an new message. The image of the priest ministering before the Lord day and night on behalf of the people. Daily sacrifices, festivals and atonement rituals all were a regular part of the priests work and the author of Hebrews knows this as does the audience. The author speaks of a new priesthood, actually an old one that is being renewed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the order of the Priesthood of Melchizedek. Mel, as I'll call him so that I don't have to keep typing out MELCHIZEDEK, was both a priest and a king. He was the king of Salem and the Priest of the LORD most high. He is mentioned in one other place, in Genesis where Abraham offers a sacrifice to the LORD through the Priest Mel. In the Mosaic law it was forbidden for a man to hold both the office of priest and king, the two where seperated. The Levites, the sons of Aaron were priest while the Sons of Judah and Benjamin were Kings. Whats so cool about this passage is with the advent of a new Priesthood comes also the advent of a new law. The law of Moses has been fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Therefore you and I are no longer under the law of Moses, a law that was proven to be no good in dealing with the sin problem, but we are now bound only to the law of God, love each other. In these two commands are the whole law summed up.

One other thing this passage does is prove to us theres no such thing as self-help when it come so sin. Only Jesus can stand blameless before God and it is through faith in Jesus that we are forgiven. There is no amount of work, good deeds, means of grace (communion, bible study, prayer, fasting) that we can do that will fix our sin problem. Only faith, only trust in God will solve the sin problem. So how about it, no more more pulling on boot traps, only trust in God. Author John Kavanaough writes about a visit he had to the outreach of Mother Teresa in India. When he met the saintly old women she asked him what she could do for him, he said "pray for me." She said "for what shall I pray?" He responded by asking for her to pray for claity. Mother Teresa refused to pray for clarity for John, she said, "clarity is the last thing you are holding on to." John objected and said, "but you seem to have so much clarity." Mother Teresa responded with a laugh and said, "I've never had clarity, only trust. For you I will pray for trust, that you will learn to trust God." Will you trust God today?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mark 10:35-45, "Welcome to Last United Methodist Church, we're glad you came to worship with us this morning." :Our commitment to Jesus' Omega Project

Drive through any town USA, big or small and you are bound to see a First United Methodist Church, or a First Presbyterian Church or First Baptist and so on. What you will rarely see is a Second UMC or Third Presbyterian or certainly never a Twelfth Luthern Church. Why? Because who wants to be 2nd, 3rd, and who in the world wants to be twelfth? We have a natural human desire to be first and that human nature often bleeds into our church life too. After 1st Church is established churches tend to give up on the number system, though I have seen some 2nd Baptist, especially in Black communities, who when there is a desire to establish preeminence, tend to use terms like greater and more greater Church.  In one community I lived in the two baptist churches couldn't decided who was really first so one was 1st Baptist and the other was 1st Baptist South (gotta love them Baptist!)

As unusual as it is to see 2nd, 3rd, and 4th church, it is even weirder to see Last Church. No one wants to be last at anything! Last means that your not simply just out of the race, it means the people in front don't even realize you're still running! This is hard for us American folks to accept. We are born into a competition to be greater that the last generation and we are weened on the milk of "pick yourself up by your own boot straps" society. It's hard to be last, it's embarrassing to be last,  and come in last often enough, you'll simply give up and not even try. So why in our passage this week does Jesus instruct the Disciples to embrace an identity of lastness?

This week John and James, the Sons of Zebedee, essentially shake Jesus down. They say "Hey, do what we say!" "We want to be first, let us be first!" James and John believed that it was only fitting for them to be first, after all they are loyal followers of the Messiah and ought to get to sit next to the Messiah at the Messianic Homecoming Banquet, but Jesus has something else for them, something I'm sure they did not expect. Jesus told them that they ought to desire to be last, thus turning the natural and accepted world order upside down on it's head (as Jesus often did!). Jesus told John and James as well as the other 10 who where there that they ought to embrace servanthood...CRAZY!

When I was a kid, we traveled a lot. I was fortunate to have traveled to 12 different countries as a young person, both with family and with the church as a missionary. My father traveled a lot as well, far more than I of course, but his travel was normally for work. He as been to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, China, Germany, and England to name a few. Wether he was traveling alone or we were traveling as a family one of the "cool" thing to do was to get the Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt from where ever it was we went. I have Hard Rock Cafe t-shrits from, Ciro, Moscow, London, Paris, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and so on. The Hard Rock Cafe was once a cultural icon, it was a trendy little place with good food, nice staff and loads of Rock memorabilia. The Hard Rock Cafe has been struggling over the past decade or so. What was once a "neat" little memory on any trip now has become a franchise with one thing in mind, the bottom line. The new owners of the Hard Rock Cafe, the Cherokee Nation, has mounted a bit of a come back. Not only are they working on the restaurant chain, but they are also building hotels in many cities around the world, none more famous than their Vegas site. What's changed? Well, their motto, their out look, their perspective. They have adopted a motto that embodies their priorities, "Love all, Serve All." And with this new motto they are once again excelling as a "must eat" destination.

Now there's another restaurant in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It's a small "ma and pa" kinda place. I had a friend who was driving from B.C (British Columbia)  to L.A and was in search of a caffeine fix and stopped at the Cannon Beach Cafe. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and has he approached the cafe door he saw a note that said, "Out to Lunch, will return later." Not believing his own eyes we walked around the property and sure enough, no one was there. He says about a year later he drove through that community again and saw that the cafe was closed and had a for sale sign in the window.

It's no surprise that the little community cafe was closed right? After all what kind of business practice is that? To close when you are most likely to get the majority of your customers is silly at best! The difference between the Hard Rock Cafe and the little community cafe, other than budget :), was priorities. The owners of the Hard Rock Cafe are committed to service to others, while the little cafe was committed to service to self. Did you that 75% of all main-line denomination churches are "going out of business"? They are closing their doors because no one comes to church. Why? Priorities. The church has forgotten to put people first.

This issue of being last is a real important thing to Jesus. I can think of several passages in scripture beside this on where Jesus tells his disciples and others that it's good to be last, but why? It's because it goes against every ounce of what our nature has become as a result of the fall. It's just so contradictory to the world we live in and it was particularly controdictory to the world Jesus lived in; a world of defined roles and hierarchies.

So Whats the scriptures saying to us today? More of the same. A call to be last. To be the last one to leave the bed of a sick person, to be the last one to ignore the homeless, to be the last one to give up on a troubled young person, to be last to give up hope. In being last we are demonstrating our willingness to be servants. This my friends it what I call the Omega Project. It's a project, or better yet a way of living that Jesus started that calls believers to be last and in being last, in being servants, in being the lowest guest on the list, we are accepting our place as the first to be regenerated an reborn in the likeness of God.

Please join me and committee to Jesus' Omega project

Monday, October 8, 2012

"EAT ME."- Jesus: Partaking in the life everlasting.

Last Sunday I was "out of pocket", on retreat with some friends of mine in the great state of Indiana. Unfortunately that Sunday was also World Communion Sunday. I did find a church to worship at, the Congress Street United Methodist Church of Lafayette, IN...which they are doing some very "groovy" things in order to reach their community with the Good News. Since I missed WCS last week with my own charge, we will be celebrating this week.

When I consider all the passages that could possibly be used for WCS, such as the Syrophenican women, the feeding of the 5,000, the account of the Last Supper and Paul's instruction to the Church in Corinth, one specifically comes to mind. That would be the famous words of Jesus in the book of John, "EAT ME". Ok, perhaps it sounds a bit crude and might be a rude and nasty american colloquialism, but it's true, Jesus really did say, "EAT ME." Jesus also was not being suggestive or trying his hand at a Comedy Central special, Jesus really meant, "eat me." What Jesus was saying was to "partake of me."

The crowd that gathered to hear Jesus speak that day had just experienced a food miracle. In John there is no "Last Supper" moment, what there is, is a truly eucharistic moment. In John the feeding of the 5,000 takes the place of the last supper followed by this discourse in which Jesus says "eat me." John is a much younger gospel than the other three and has a much more developed Christology than the others. The  issue isn't who Jesus is, or what Jesus did and the issue isn't what is the last supper, but rather how do we understand it as followers of the way of Jesus. Jesus's dialogue with the crowd followed the the greatest food miracle ever, where everyone who was hungry got their fill. This crowd was back for more and what Jesus had to give to them was not bread and fish this time, but rather himself. "EAT me." Jesus beckons, "I am the bread of heaven. Your ancestors ate mana, but died. If you EAT ME, you will never go hungry, you will live forever." Jesus knew the history, the background of a people who experienced the miracle of food out of nothing (mana) Jesus even repeated the miracle for them, and yet they were not satisfied.

What will it take for the world to be satisfied? What will it take for bellies to be full...not just sometimes,  but all the time? The answer is Jesus. The great thing about how Jesus left everything is this, he left us his spirit, which in turn makes us his body. When we gather as the church on Sunday morning, there is the gathered body of the risen Christ, the same Christ who admonishes us to feed the hungry. In John, the Eucharist is about social justice, feeding the hungry, not once, but always. What makes that meal of bread and wine so special is what God does in it and in us. It's a sacrament, a work of God, sanctifying his people. Jesus is making himself present, as he did at so many meals, transforming us and sending us out as his resurrected body to feed the hungry, with with spiritual food and real food. He is reminding us that we are broken, we are community, we are healed, we are forgiven.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Waxing Philosophical with Loki: Why freedom is a lie.

Why freedom makes us slaves

I recently re-watched the new Avengers movie with my sons. This is the fall blockbuster from last year that pulled together into one movie Marvels Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America movies, which have been released over the past 5 or 6 years. It was funny, action packed and pretty clean, which I would expect being a "kids" movie and all. Despite the action and adventure genre it was part of it had some rather deep philosophical and religious themes. Perhaps my seminary training, which taught me to reflect religiously on even the most simple things, is getting the best of me, but in my opinion there was one really deep idea that we can glean from this movie. 

It came from none other than Loki, the main antagonist in the plot. He was the ultimate bad guy and embodied everything we find evil in our world. What's interesting is that with our Judeo-Christian worldview we view Loki as a satanic figure, even when we consider the Norris god tradition of which Loki and Thor come from. We view Loki as the bad god, or as the Satan figure, the embodiment of evil, the opposite of god, the enemy of god, but within the world view of those who believed in Loki, he was not evil, only chaotic and mischievous...things that were necessary for there to be balance in the world. We do the same thing with the Satan figure in the OT. Within Ancient Near-Eastern (ANE) culture the Satan figure or figures were not evil or enemies of the ruling deity, they were important parts of the royal court of the divine rulers or "gods". In ANE culture Satan was a prosecutor, the enemy of man, not an absolute evil that was in competition with God for the souls of humanity. This idea of the Devil vs. God came to us as a mid-evil Christian doctrine; a way to scare the people into submission and it has stuck. So as a result of this western idea, Loki has become the "Devil" in Norris religious lore.

Ok, now time to get to the point. There's a moment in the movie where Loki is in Germany and is holding a large crowd captive and he insist that they bow before him and that this posture is their natural posture and that freedom is a lie and is the great instigator of war and hate in our world. What Loki says isn't to far off from the truth. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a mid 20th century German Theologian, who was martyred by the Nazi's during WWII argued the same idea, but from a theological perspective.  Bonheoffer believed that the illusion of freedom, the lie of a life free from boundaries was the great lie of the serpent in the garden Eden, and I tend to agree. 

We believe that we are free and that freedom is what we all want and need, but in reality the only freedom God gave us was a freedom for each other and a freedom to serve God. When we long to be free, when we push against the boundaries which God has established we are enslaved by sin, yet we call that freedom in our fallen state. True freedom is living within the boundaries of God, true freedom is actually servant hood and true freedom is not living for yourself, but living for each other. The sooner we learn this the sooner we will truly be free. So in a sense Loki was right, subjection is our natural state, or at least our original state. We were created to be subject to God and to each other in service and love and when we try to break free from that subjection, we find ourselves enslaved to hate, greed, selfishness and even violence. So let freedom reign, but in service of God, in a life lived for each other, bound by love and hope.

Monday, September 24, 2012

All Means all, the saviors response to an exclusive discipleship. Mark 9:38-41

Life is so full of change it's almost sickening. It seems as soon as we get use to one thing, to one policy, to one leader or one way of doing things, it changes on us! For example, it seems to me that as soon I get use to my banks policy on deposits or overdrafts, they change it. Or like with the pizza guy down the street from my house. When I first got here a year ago, when you ordered a pizza sub, you could have unlimited toppings, then he changed it to 4 toppings and now when you call to order, you don't even get to choose toppings!! The sub comes only with ham, cheese, pizza sauce and pepperoni's!

Ok, now those are silly and meaningless changes that don't really effect much in my life our in the lives of others, unless they are really serious pizza sub lovers. :) But there are changes that happen in our lives that are very serious and that really make a big difference, in fact such a big difference that when they happen nothing is ever the same again! Such changes are the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent or a sibling. Perhaps its the loss of a job, which in tun causes the loss of a home and which leads to an inevitable move either to a different community or state. The experience of war is one of those life changers, it's sort of a loss of innocence. Then there are those good changes that drastically change everything. Such as marriage, or the birth of a child, one might add graduation to that list as well. Truth is there are many "game changers" as Senator John McCain might put it, in our lives that when all is said and done, nothing ever seems the same again.

I think one of the most profound changes in a persons life that ought to change everything, but often only changes their use of language, is a conversion moment. That moment when a person choses to live for a greater purpose other than themselves. In the Christian church, we call that purpose CHRIST. I think to live for CHRIST is the most life altering change a person can experience, especially if they are living for Christ in a missional and prophetic way. A way that sees the needs of humanity and seeks to fill them, away that looks at the corruption and power brokers of this world and confronts them both with the truth of an almighty God who knows sorrow, knows poverty, knows death and has conquered them all. That ought to be the most profound change in a persons life!!! But is it?

In this passage John begins a conversation with Jesus about people that he sees are impostors. People who are not in league with the 12, but who are still claiming the power and authority to release the captives in the name of Jesus. You see John had believed that his "game changer" moment had come when he was called, when the Rabbi called him and the other 12. The very fact that the Rabbi sought disciples, instead of a following is contradictory to the 1st century rabbinical trditdion. It was "kosher" if I may, to have people apply to follow you when you were a Rabbi, not for you to go and call people. John believed that this very act was so significant that he and the other 12 where in and no one else really could be.

When I was young (er) I was a Pentecostal. I grew up in the Assemblies of God, a fundamentalist, conservative and evangelically minded denomination. One of the hallmarks of pentecostalism, perhaps the sole hallmark, is tongue speech. Thats the act of speaking in unknown tongues (speech) and it is believed by the adherents of Pentecostalism that this ability comes from the Holy Spirit of God. I don't mean to argue the validity of this doctrine, but I do mean to state that when I was part of that "expression of faith" I often felt and was encouraged to feel superior to other Christians. It was like, "we got the Holy Spirit and you guys don't!" After a few years of ministry as an adult with the A/G I moved on. I joined a progressive, one might call it liberal, denomination known as the Episcopal church. As a member of that church I often felt excluded by evangelicals and conservatives because we didn't read the bible with the same slant, neither did we worship with the same music (no rock band), and because of that, the same exclusion that I had been perpetuating on other evangelicals when I was a Pentecostal was being perpetuated on me.

Jesus' response to John is not a "hi 5" nor is it an affirmation of his exclusive attitude towards others trying to minister in Christ name. Instead it was a rebuke, a reminder that any and all who do work in Christ name is called of Christ...just like they were. I think one of the major issues that faces the church today is this "us" vs. "them" mentality. Conservative evangelicals, fundamentalist, and pentecostals believe that the progressives have no claim on Christ, nor does Christ have any claim on them and in the same way progressives often believe that conservative evangelical folks are missing the whole point and are miss representing Jesus, when in all truthfulness, if we take what the master says here to St. John, "even if you give a thirsty person a cup of water in my name, you are called by me."Truthfully it does not matter so much about your "orthodoxy", that is, what you believe or profess, as long as it is Christ, what matters is what you do in Christ name. Liberals and conservatives alike are all seeking to change the world and to change it in the Name of Jesus. If it's a soul winning tent crusade or a soup kitchen, clothing drive, food pantry outreach, it does not matter... as long as it is done in Jesus name it is good. Real change happens when we realize, we're all the same, those of us in Christ. Whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between, if it's done in Jesus name, it's done FOR Jesus. Now that is some profound change!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Get rich or die try'n! James 3:13-4:3 Embracing the wisdom of Heaven.

The end of September is upon us, this means...well...changing leaves, cooler temps, new and returning TV series, but most of all it means we are waste deep football season!!! We are all given over to the rituals that make football, football in our society. Tailgating food feasts, face and chest painting master pieces, and vain pumping war cries...all rituals of an American football experience. A ritual American football fans and American Christians have in common is the "Hail Mary"! The last second attempt to save the day and just like in football, it rarely works in prayer. When we find out that grandma just had a stroke we got Jesus on speed dial. When we have an important test and we just can't afford to fail again, we dial God 911. When there's no money left in the bank account and it's only the 15th, we send out an emergency txt message to the father. When the biopsy comes back with bad news we get Jesus on the mainline!!! Truth is life is full of that kind of stuff, unexpected and often tragic things happen and when it does, for better or for worse we pray to God. Unfortunately that kind of prayer life is not good for us to have.

The Holy Spirit is our connection to the heavenly wisdom of God and if our connection is in constant disconnect are we ever truly operating under the wisdom of heaven, or is our wisdom more like that of the worlds? In our passage James begins with sort of a rhetorical question, "who is wise amongst you?" Knowing that there are none at all James proceeds to explain what real wisdom is all about. James refers to this wisdom as heavenly wisdom, opposed to the earthly wisdom of this world. What is different about the two wisdoms? Well earthly wisdom is a wisdom that says strength, power, prestige and violence are the answer. Wisdom that tells us to ascend the later of wealth and power as much as possible and if you hurt, wound or maim people along thats ok, they should stay on the porch if they can't run with the big dogs! It's a, in the words of 50cent, a "get rich or die try'n" wisdom.

In place of this wisdom James recommends a heavenly wisdom. A wisdom that simply does not share the perspective of this world. A wisdom that does not embrace the worlds struggle for supremacy. It is a wisdom that calls for peacemaking, meekness and humility. All of which were not virtues in the Greco-Roman world this letter was written to. A commitment to the transforming power of prayer and a value system that seemed backwards was confusing to the average 1st century person as it is to the average 21st century person, but it is a heavenly way of living, it is a heavenly wisdom.

When one makes Jesus , a peasant carpenter from Galilee, who was executed as a political criminal, their LORD it confounds the wisdom of this world. And when one makes a commitment to do the things that this crucified LORD commands, it gets even crazier. Love your enemy, feed your enemy, give drink to your enemy, pray for those who hate you. Sound crazy enough? To a person made slave to a temporal and corporeal wisdom, it's more than crazy, it's blasphemous! But to a person who's wisdom is rooted in the heavenlies and that is not of this world, it makes perfect sense.

My favorit verse from this passage is verse 18, "Peacemakers who sow in peace, reap a harvest of righteousness." None of this is easy and Jesus told us it would be hard, but it's the price we pay to serve a risen savior. Go and sow seeds of peace and in you world you will reap the righteousness of God. Embrace a wisdom not of this world and you will find peace to sow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Good News Gossip: James 3:1-13

The fall brings about so many changes and new things in our lives. School, jobs, new towns all are new things that happen in our lives often in the fall. The lest of these things is most likely our favorite, and that is  the new television season! Our favorite shows return with new episodes complete with new plots, new twist and in some cases resolution to some amazing clif hanging season finally! One of the shows we can count on returning in the fall every year, perhaps to our dismay, is American Idol, but lets face it, it's not the same with out Simon, Paula and Randy, all whom have left the show.

Though gone from the ranks of American Idol, Simon and Paula have created their own pop icon search show called the X-factor. It's kind of like American Idol, but the judges have more control over who advances through the show. As cool as X-Factor "might" be, the Pop icon search show that is most popular now is, "The Voice". It's a fun and entraining show that boast some very well know "judges". R& B star C-Low Green, Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine, Country Star Blake Shelton and Pop goddess Christina Aguilera. Together their job is to simply listen to the "voice" of each contestant and decide simply based on the voice weather or not that person gets to move on. It's a different approach from X-Factor and AI (American Idol). Both of those shows take into account the look and the showmanship of the performer as well as their voice. Perhaps we should listen to voices more often than we do. Perhaps we should pay attention to the wieght of our own voice more often.

The tongue is the most powerful muscle in the body (the heart is a muscle as well, but is classified as an organ). The tongue can lift up to 80 times it's weight. Without our tongue we would not be able to speak. The only muscle, potentially stronger than the tongue is the masseter muscle, but its not technically a muscle either because it has cartilage and bone within it's structure. It's the muscle that holds our jaw in place and it allows us to open and close our mouths...perhaps more importantly close them.

The passage from James this week speaks of the damage one voice can do to a community of faith. It explicitly focuses on the damage the voice of just one bad teacher could do in a faith community. This is why the author states that not all should presume to be teachers. James goes on the state that teachers must be those willing to bridle themselves and be willing to place themselves and their voices under the authority of another, a captain perhaps, and not be a ship lost at sea, but one sailed with a specific purpose in mind.  Lets face it, teachers are the voices that speak loudest, they are the influential ones, the ones who's opinions and beliefs resonate in our minds and our hearts. Gang leaders voices give instruction on violence and turf wars. Hitler's voice influenced a generation of disfranchised and economically strapped Germans. Bin Laden's voice provided purpose, organization and direction to a group of religious zealots who's sole agenda was to propagate their world view even at the cost of innocent lives. Harris and Kiebold, the masterminds of the Columbine shooting gave direction to every other school massacre since then. These are all examples of bad, unqualified teachers with lose tongues who's words caused great evil and distress in our world.

Now it wouldn't be fair to give light to bad teachers without mentioning all the great teachers who have come into our world and who have made it a better world, but those men and women were willing to be submissive to an authority greater than themselves and for every Hitler, Bin Laden and Gang leader there's a Gary Kelly, a Chuck Abshagan, a Linda Pitts,  John Osborn, Dr. Martin and Dr. Magruder, all men and women who have influenced me as teachers in a very positive way. Good or bad, teachers are not the main focus in this passage, the power and persuasiveness that our tongues can wield is.

One of the hallmarks of our society is freedom of speech, but this freedom, like many other things can be abused and misused, especially when we use it to hurt, smear, spear and skewer others. Speech is not free when we use it like that, in fact it's very costly. It cost the feeling, the self-esteem and in some drastic cases, the lives of other human beings. It can cause fear and hatred and be very divisive  There's no better time for use to witness this on a grand scale than during an election year, and even better a presidential election year. The political mudslinging is intended to harm, it's intended to dehumanize and in some cases it's intended to insight fear into the hearts and minds of the listeners.

This type of political rhetoric was used towards President Obama during the first half of his first term. All one needed to do was to show up at a Tea Party rally and you would find signs depicting him as a Nazi, a demon, and even as a monkey. During the healthcare debate opponents of the bill released statements about death squads for our seniors and disabled and inadequate and unavailable care for our families and children. If those things weren't ment to insight hate and fear than I don't know what is, because thats exactly what it did. James refers to this kind of speech as "poison"and that's precisely what it is.

This week James challenges us to think about the toll our words have on those around us. Do our words set fire to a world already ablaze with fear, hate and POSION? Are our tongues set on fire buy the flames of hell, or are they ablaze by the Holy Spirit. Often when we think of lies and slanderous words we call that gossip, but gossip can be a good thing. Just think about how quickly gossip gets around, especially in a small town, especially in a small church. Instead of spreading hateful lies and divisive stories, spread life giving truths, share up lifting and encouraging stories. Trust me, you and others will feel better about.