Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Third Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:1-9, "A gospel response to retrobution theology"

We are about three weeks removed from the spectacle that is the "SUPER BOWL!" This years
Super Bowl featured for the first time brothers facing off as apposing coaches. The media made
a big deal out of this and played it up to their advantage. Also it featured one of the "good guys" of football, Ray Lewis. Now some of you might not think he's such a good guy since about 10 year ago he literally pulled and O. J and got away with murder. But unlike O.J Lewis responded to that life crisis in a positive way and changed his life around. He became an out spoken Christian and a positive role model for young people and young NFL players. He encouraged them to "not surround themselves with people who did not share a positive vision for living." That's a nice take on it and his whole experience is a good example of how a life of repentance can seriously impact, not only an individuals life, but the life of others as well. One thing I remember form the Post-game show was an interview Lewis gave. In it the reporter asked, "how do you feel about winning the super bowl?" Lewis' response was, "I feel great! When God is for you, who can be against you?" Really? God was for the Ravens? God preferred one Harbaugh over another? Not even the Harbaugh parents were willing to go there, but God did? This may sound silly, but it goes to show how often we speak for God and assume things about God that are not true

You've heard it said that "kids say the darnedest things." We say this because some of the stuff that comes out of the mouths of our children is so miss informed and ridiculous and rightfully so, their kids!! But this saying is true for Christians, adult Christians that have been going to church for a life time!! Indiana Senate candidate Dick Murdock, a self professed Evangelical Christian, was quoted this past election season saying that, "even in terrible situations like rape, Gods will is done in creating a life." Really? Excuse me Mr. Murdock, have you been raped? Do you know the terror, fear and emptiness that rape victims feel? Either way how dare you claim that it was God's will? Christians say stupid things like this all the time. When someone dies we say, "God needed them more in heaven than we do here." I don't think so. This kind of statement devalues this life in favor for the next, when that's not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught us to pray thy kingdom come on earth like it is in heaven. That means heaven on earth and the kingdom of God right here, right now, not in some distant, far off, sweet by and by, but now! We say after terrible tragedies like Sandy Hook and Hurricane Katrina that it was God's will or even worse, God's judgment on our nation for allowing gays to breath or women to vote or some stupid belief like that! God doesn't punish us by causing tragedy in fact God doesn't dish out punishment at all, at least not in this age. Even insurance companies have listed on their claim forms, "Act of God." as if God caused a persons house to be destroyed by a storm or flood. Were do we get this stuff from?!!The bible clearly reveals to us that the only thing God gives to use is love, compassion and mercy. I believe this all comes from years of bad theology taught in well-meaning Sunday school class rooms and uneducated pulpits, and be assured, it's bad theology that does nothing to futher the cause of Christ.

How do I know this you might ask? After all you might be a graduate of one of those Sunday Schools of bad Theology, you migh have sat under years of an uneducated, uninformed, but well meaning pastor who gave you all the proof you needed to see where God judges the unrightous and where everything that happens is somhow related to God's grand play for humanity. To you I simply point to this weeks gospel passage. In this passage Jesus is confronted with two events that were tragic events of the time. One was the massacre of Galilean rebels in which after slaughtering the rebels Pilot mingled their blood with the sacrifices in his pagan temple. The second event was when the watch tower near the gate Siloam fell and killed several people who were on their way to worship at the Jewish temple. The question the crowd had for Jesus was, "did they deserve it?" Were these people who suffered tragic events somehow being punished for their evil ways? Jesus' response is and emphatic NO! Jesus said they were no worse sinners than any of them were and that everyone is a sinner and needs to repent or else suffer destruction, eternal destruction.

This is a challenging passage for us and is perfectly placed during Lent. Lent, after all, is a time of self reflection and introspect, it's a time to recognize our mortality and with that mortality the truth that we are all sinners and we all need to repent. Yes, every last one of us needs to repent! No matter how rich you are, no matter who you are related to, no matter how often you go to church, you need to repent. This doctrine, so to speak, was one that got our founder, John Wesley, in hot water with the ruling class of his day. He actually purposed that whether you were a peasant or a noble, you were a sinner! The prevailing belief of his day was that Nobles were somehow more like God than peasants because, after all, they were blessed by God with wealth and prestige and the poor peasant...they were cursed with poverty, illness and hunger...they must have done something wrong! This is similar to the mind set of the people in our passage this morning. Though this is not how our society thinks so much anymore, there is still this prevailing belief amongst evangelicals that if bad stuff happens to good people and especially bad people...its from God and they deserve it! This week we hear clearly Jesus say...."THIS IS WRONG!"

I think one thing that contributes to this bad theology is the belief that repentance is a one time thing that happens with a bunch of boohoo's, tears and drama. This might be the case at first, or maybe even every so often, but it's more about a life style. We need to be repentant people, who regular recognize the mercy of God in our lives and each others lives. Then and only then will we be able to live as regenerated people. The rest of this passage points out to us that repentance is not beyond any person. Jesus continues with a parable about a land owner, a gardener and a miss behaved fig tree. The owner sees a fig tree that has failed to bare fruit after 3 years and is fed up. He tells the gardner to cut it down, but the gardener  is reluctant and asks the owner for more time to care for the tree and nurture it until it bares fruit and if after that it fails to do so then he will cut it down. So often we think of societies worst people, i.e the guy that killed all those people in that theater in Colorado, the young man who shot and killed those 22 6 and 7 year olds at Sandy Hook, the Islamic Extremist who flew those plans into the twin towers and killed over 3,000 people... that those people are beyond redemption. I whole heartedly believe in hell and believe there are real people who really go there, I also believe that hell is an existence too, one that we can create for ourselves and one people can create for us, but I also believe there is no one so evil, so damaged that the love, compassion and mercy of God cannot reach them. Thats what Jesus is saying here, sometimes all it take for people to turn around, that is repent, is time and love. Sometimes they don't respond and the fig tree gets cut down, but I have a feeling that more often than not they respond and become barer's of fruit, spiritual fruit that blesses God and others. Do you need to repent this day? Do you need to welcome Jesus into your heart, the gardener into your orchard so that he can bring you back to life? Do you need to return to living a life of repentance so that you can lead others into repentance and bare fruit for the kingdom? Or maybe you are like the crowd and need a change of heart repentance that causes you to see that you're not perfect just like the world around you? Whoever you are, where ever you are at. God is calling you to repent and be saved!

Lenten Blessing,
Pastor Josh

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent, Philippians 3:17-41, "Give up, or Take up? The Lenten question about the cross.

Does a fast food nation like ours get the fast food church it deserves? Does it get a church with a simple doctrine, a church with a uniformed experience and theology, a church filled with cheap, bargain basement deal kinda grace that makes us spiritually unhealthy, lethargic and obese? Or are we striving for something more as a church, more than what our fast food nation expects from it's fast food chains? Speaking of fast food has anyone noticed all the new fish items being peddled at all the major fast food chains? MacDonald's and their "fish bites", Wendy's and their Alaskan Pollack sandwich, or Arby's and their fresh caught Atlantic Cod sandwich, filleted on spot when it's most fresh...or at least mostly fresh. ;) Why all the fish, why now? February is usually a very tough time economically for retailers and resturants. There are no major holidays and normally most of the country is locked up in the freeze of winter...so there's not much "going out" either....so why not try something different? Also it's Lent and some of you are old enough and can remember when your Catholic friends gave up all kinds of goodies for Lent especially red meat. The alternative for red meat on Fridays was fish. So essentially  all these fast food chains are trying to capitalize on all those good and observant Catholics who still only eat fish on Fridays during Lent.

Us Protestants, well our Lenten experience is a little different. The observation of Lent and all it's givings ups and fasting is relatively new to us Methodist at least. It wasn't observed until the early 80's in most UM congregations and there are still some, especially in the south, who do not observe Lent. So you have excuse us when we forget to eat our giant jelly doughnuts the Tuesday before and when we forget to eat only fish on Fridays and when we slip a pancake or piece of pie into our diets here an there...on a day other than Sunday (the Lenten fast is broken on Sundays, thats why there are 46 days in our 40 day fast) during Lent. The problem with Lent for us protestants and really for a lot of catholics is that fasting doesn't have the meaning it use to. Giving up food doesn't make us sacrificial people when most of us are 22lbs or more over weight, it makes us people who are making a choice to live longer by not eating so much or so poorly. So does this mean that we shouldn't observe Lent or that we shouldn't fast during Lent? By no means is that what I am saying, that is between you and God what your Lenten discipline is, if you even observe one. What I am saying is that perhaps we should make Lent more about what we can pick up, instead of what we can give up.

In our passage this week Paul's writes to the Philippians in regards to his pursuit of perfection. He encourages the Philippians to join him and do the same, pursue perfection, the prize, the goal the end result of our struggle. Crazy enough to Paul the prize is the cross. We are in a sense on a figurative journey to the Cross during Lent which really ends at an empty tomb (but hush, we aren't suppose to know this...or at least we need to pretend to not know it...it will ruin the Lenten ambiance). In life we really are on a journey to the cross, every day we journey their as individuals, as a church, pursuing the cross of Christ. A recent study showed that people are happiest when they are in the pursuit of a goal versus when they actually obtain the goal. We are most satisfied when we have something that we are working towards, a goal, a reason for getting up in the morning and working through the day. It seems that when we actually get there, theres a bit of a let down, but we are gun ho when it comes to the process of the journey. This is the reason why Paul admits, "I'm not there...but I'm on my way and I want you to journey there with me." He strongly admonishes the Philippians to come with him to the cross.

The cross is often seen like Lent to us. A place of sacrifice, hardship, and suffering, yet Paul says we ought to celebrate the cross. How can we celebrate a thing like the cross? How can we celebrate a time like Lent...no pancakes, pies, steaks or ice cream? Paul considers the cross or the life of the cross a blessing. He says that the cross is what makes us friends of God, those who live according to the way of the cross are God's friends, while those who don't he calls enemies of God. Their destination, there journey ends with destruction, while those who journey towards the cross, they, we are citizens of Heaven. Our destination is eternal life. This is all very remarkable, given the natural aversion people of that day would have had towards the cross. The cross was an instrument of torture, humiliation and death. It was reserved for those who were enemies of the state, enemies of the established rule of things, yet Paul's says the cross is reserved for the friends of God and that established rule is reserved for God's enemies.

The cross is something for us to pursue. It's a way of life that is devoted to God and others. It's not a simple life, it's not an easy life, just like Lent is not an easy time for us. It's never easy to give up stuff, especially when you live in a self-indulgent world like ours. Look, Jesus bore the cross for you, so that you could bear it with him and have everlasting life. All he asks you to give up is way of life that leads to destruction. This Lent instead of looking for things to give up and then struggling with it when you mess up and eat hamburger or drink a Coke, try picking something up. Something that will enhance your life journey to the cross. And if you have never made Jesus your Lord and savior and if you are living as an enemy of God, this Lent...today even, pick up the cross and follow him.

Lenten Blessing,
Pastor Josh

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ash Wednesday, 2013, 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10, "Ashes to ashes we all fall down."

Growing up I had no idea what Ash Wednesday was. It wasn't a day we observed in the tradition I grew up in, in fact it wasn't really observed in the tradition (United Methodism) I am now part of until the late 60's an even later in some area's. It's often seen as a Catholic thing and rightfully so, the Catholic church has been observing Ash Wednesday since about 960. Prior to that there is no record of ashes used in a liturgy for Lent or anytime for that matter. It was however used in what was called the "Order of Penitence." Penitence were those who had committed grave sins against the church and who were no longer admitted into full communion with the church. They were treated like "catechumens", or people who had not yet been baptized. The penitent received ashes on his head and was asked to complete a certain religious devotion for a definitive amount of time. At the end of that period he was prayed for by the bishop, after confessing his sins, received absolution, washed the ashes from his head and was reconciled to the community of faith. The reason for all this? It was thought that if an already baptized Christian committed a serious sin than they were not truly converted and therefore needed to endure a sort of second catechism and 2nd baptism, i.e the period of preparation and washing.

The truth is Ash Wednesday really isn't that meaningful, or at least it's meaningful in a different way now. To us ash Wednesday signifies the start of the Lenten fast, which not many of use really participate in that diligently. Fasting is an important Christian discipline, but doesn't hold the weight it once did, in fact it holds more. Meaning that most Americans, including myself are 22lbs over weight. Missing a few meals or eating less isn't sacrifice, it's making a choice to live longer for most of us. And as Protestants we don't have Penitence as a Sacrament or absolution or confession booths. Yes it's good to confess your sins to one another and yes it's good to hear that "you're forgiven", but it's not about confessing to a priest or receiving absolution from a bishop or doing extra good so your extra bad sin can be forgiven. It's about faith and mortality

Mortality is really what we are facing and dealing with during Lent as well as how our faith reconciles us to that mortality in a hope filled way. In our Passage St. Paul gives the Corinthians a litany of very bad things that has happened to him and his Apostolic colleagues. Inflictions, calamities, beating, imprisonments, riots, sleeplessness and hunger are all ways that they have suffered. After listing all these terrible things that you and I most likely have not endured, at least not all of them at once, he gives away as to how they were able to endure. He says that it was "by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;" All these things are gifts of Faith. Paul goes on to make clear that for as many things that where against them there was more things for them. These where all conditions of mortality. They are ways that we see that we are not invincible, that we struggle and suffer. Maybe you have been in prison, maybe you have been hungry, maybe you survived daily beatings from your husband, mother of father and through it all you realized just how vulnerable you are and just how fragile life is. The good news is; life is hard, God is good, he knows your suffering and in response to all your suffering is faith, faith that God is for you. This Ash Wednesday I want you to consider this; we cover ourselves in ash not to repent, not to morn, not to be-forgiven or to prepare ourselves for some culturally meaningless fast, but to acknowledge or common struggle and to admit to our mortality. 

Theres an ancient story about a mystical bird called the Phoenix. It is a bird that lives and then dies, but it does not remain dead. Out of the death comes life. The Phoenix is consumed by flames upon it's death, but out of the ashes comes a new Phoenix. The Phoenix was adopted as one of the symbols of early Christianity because out of the ashes of mortality and death comes the new eternal life in christ. This Lent I invite you to take ashes, not in some old empty ritual, but in a new way acknowledging that from our mortality comes immortality in christ.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Transfiguration Sunday, "Jesus and Facebook", 2 Corinthians 3:13-4:2

In 2010 "Social Network" was released and was one of the hottest movies out. It chronicles, then college aged, now billionaire Mark Zuckerburg and the establishment of his now global Facebook empire. It's a "rags to riches" kind of store, though he was never the "rages" kinda kid he still wasn't a "rich" kid either. Zuckerburg begin "Facebook" as away for college kids on the campus of Harvard to communicate and network with each other via the internet. It was originally called "facemash" but fortunately it was changed. Facebook became publicly traded in 2012 and opened with an IPO of 9.4billion dollars!!! Facebook now has over 7 billion users world wide, thats about 1/7 of the worlds total world population! Truth is we are fascinated with the human face. We obsess over ears, eyes, cheeks, noses and chins. (especially when we see more than one chin on our own face). Scientist estimate that there are nearly 5000 distinguishably different facial expressions that humans can make. The ones we see most often from our children or rolled eyes, disbelief and when they are feeling particularly brave...tongue out :). Most of the silly faces we learn are from our parents while we're still little babies as they cu and ka us in our crib or bassinet. With all that being said it's no wonder we can't resist a thing called "Facebook"

We recognize each other best by our faces. This is why it's so striking to us when a friend we have not seen in years losses 50, 80, or 100lbs, because it drastically changes the way their faces look! We recognize friends, enemies...frenamies mostly, really, all by face. This is way prior to the advent of DNA evidence it was so important to have an eye witness to a crime, someone who could say, "I saw that man rob the bank." or "I saw that woman fire the gun."This is way bank robbers, train robber and murders wore masks, to make it nearly impossible for them to be identify be on "reasonable doubt." Another example of the significance of faces is the intensity of which babies study faces. Babies study the faces of people who hold them, tickle them, make silly faces at them, all so that they are able to distinguish between "safe" faces and "unknown faces." Our language even gives testimony to the importance of the face. We have sayings like, "face value", and "face the music", as well as "face off" and when we are disgraced, "lose face". Even face cards in card games have more value than non-face cards. You see, we love, value and protect faces more than anything else in our species.

In our gospel passage this week Jesus' face is TRANSFIGURED, which simply means that it was changed...a lot! The glory of God the father shown in the face of Jesus the man...the face, the focal point of humanity! In the epistle reading St.Paul speaks of the moment when Moses' face shown so brightly because of his encounter with God on Mount Sinai. The radiance of God's glory was so "off putting" to the the Israelites that they begged Moses to veil himself from their sight. They were so concerned with laws and regulations, what they "HAD" to do to please God that they missed God's glory shining right before them. How often does that happen to us? When we get so concerned with what is required from God that we miss the blessing God is trying to give us? This same thing happened to Peter. He was so fascinated with the event, that he missed the blessing...almost:). Paul revels to the Corinthians that the two events, Mount Sinai and Moses and Mount Tabour and Jesus, are connected. Moses' transfigured face represents the veiled glory of God as seen in the law, while Jesus' transfigured face represents the reveling of the glory of God through his life and ministry, i.e "this is my  Son, listen to him!" It's interesting to mention that while Moses was on Mount Sinai waiting to hear from God in Exodus 33:20, God tells him to to not look upon his face, for no one can see God's face and live. It makes you wonder than why does God repeatedly admonish us to seek his face? Does God have a death wish for us all? It's a call. A call to continuously seeking those transfiguring moments in our faith journeys and though while we still inhabit these mortal bodies we won't actually see God's face, we need to constantly be seeking it, because it's through seeking the face of God that we are going on to perfection and to the moment when we will be regenerated and entirely sanctified and stand in the presents of almighty God.

The last total solar eclipse viewable in the continental USA happened when I was 10 years old, in August of 1991. The next viewable total eclipse in the USA will happen August 21, 2017. I'm sure the phrase "solar eclipse" needs no real explanation, but just in case, it's when the sun is mostly blocked by the moon as they pass each other in orbit. When this happens, the earth darkens and it almost seems like it's night out in the middle of the day!! When viewing a total solar eclipse experts recommend that we not look directly at the eclipse so that we don't damage our fragile eyes. Instead we are told to view the reflection of the eclipse through a mirror. IT's not quit as spectacular or bright, but it gives you a really good idea of what the real thing looks like. St. Paul tells the 2 Corinthians that they are like that reflection of the solar eclipse when it comes to the glory of God. He can see it in them, they can see it in each other, and the world ought to be able to see it, but it's not quite as bright as the real thing, when the full glory of God, like that which shown in the face of Jesus that day on Mount Tabour, is revealed to all of creation.

The good news is this: Some day God's full glory will be revealed to us all and it will be seen in all who call upon the name of Jesus to be saved, but until then you and I are to shine as brightly as possible and reveal as much as possible the goodness and the glory of God. It might be off putting like when Moses came down from Sinai, it might be frightening or confusing like what Peter, James and John witnessed on Mt. Tabour, but it's our responsibility to always bring glory to God