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 imaging....it'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 for...it 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 decimated....at 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 jokes...you 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 murder...one 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 this....you 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 wrong...it'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 full...so 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!