Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Three Re's; Renew, Refuel, Reconnect. Our Week at Clergy Family Camp.

This past week my family and I spent time at the Lake Louise Christian Community Clergy Family Camp. It was a much needed time of Renewal, Refueling and Reconnecting. As pastors we often over extend ourselves and we are often isolated from real meaningful relationships in or appointments (other than our families). Often even worse off are our families, who have so many expectations placed on them that they did not ask for nor did they agree to, but have them thrust upon them by default because they are preachers wives and pastors kids. It was wonderful being with other families who understand the dilemma and the dynamics of being a clergy family. This week was so essential to the health and well being of my family and to the families we engaged with during our time there.

We were renewed through the various worship services and the times of small group discussion. We were refueled by having moments of just simply doing nothing, watching our children play and be care free and seeing our spouses with other spouses who know exactly what it's like. We reconnected by being with our co-laborers in Christ who understand the unique demands of professional ministry. All- in-all in was a great week and will stay in or hearts until we meet again.

Below are some pics from our week together.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Gnosticism is alive and well! Hating humanity since 100AD

Where is Gnosticism in the 21st century? Where it's been for the past 1900 years, in the hearts and minds of radical fundamentalist who hate humanity. Fundies, like Gnostics, hate the "flesh". They believe the flesh of humanity to be the enemy of God and to be everything wrong humanity. Just as the Gnostics of old imparted "secret knowledge" to those willing to listen, knowledge that taught them how to escape the material world and be freedom from the flesh, fundamentalist do the same today. They teach doctrines the denies the humanity of Christ and speaks of Jesus as if he's some Spirit trapped in a dirt bag. I admit there is much talk in the letters of St. Paul admonishing us to refuse the flesh and calling us "clay jars", but St. Paul is expounding on the mortal nature of our existence. St. Paul is also the one who whole heartedly believes in the bodily resurrection of the dead and without a body there can be no resurrection.

The Jewish tradition that Jesus and then St. Paul came from values humanity and saw humanity as an extension of who God is. They valued the body and saw salvation as holistic, not just spiritual. God is redeeming our bodies for eternity, not just our spirits. The truth is, if what we believe and profess about Jesus is true, than God is human, or at lest humans are like God. God has a human body, human emotions and so on. Or perhaps what Jesus did for us was to point out that God can dwell in us all and with God his reign of justice and peace. Either way, our bodies are not bad, our humanity is not bad, our nature is corrupted and Christ came to show us that it can all work together for the glory of God. Jesus said he was the way the truth and the light, and he alone is the way to God, or at lest his way of living is.

Jesus demonstrated that humans can be perfect, that we can exercise what John Wesley referred to as, "Christian perfection". In order to obtain this status of perfection one must first be a Christian, profess faith in the way of Jesus, and second love others and themselves. Fundamentalist don't love others and I'm not sure that they even love themsleves. All their self loathing and self hatred, all their denial of the flesh, instructing youth and especially young girls, that their bodies are somehow evil, that the natural feelings and experiences they are having are evil and that the only thing good is reading the bible and praying...this is so anti-Christ. Jesus taught us away to live that embodies everything godly about ourselves (about our original state), and he showed us that not just our spirits, but our bodies will be redeemed through the resurrection. It's regeneration, the new creation all possible through faith in the way of Jesus. Our bodies are not bad, our flesh does not need to be destroyed and salvation is not release from our bodies, but instead wholeness with it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Series, "Critical Questions All American Christians Should be Asking.", Sermon, "Can the Rich be Saved?", Mark 10:17-27

A few years ago day time network TV was changed forever. We saw the cancelation of the soap opera, at lest all but one, and that one is slated to conclude next summer. One of TV's most enduring programing, one that comes and goes and seems to have a place in every generation is the Game Show. Game shows have been around almost as long as TV. They use to be found airing during prime time, but that distinction has gone to sitcoms, drama's and reality TV. Probably the last great game show to be aired successfully during prime time TV was, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" We still have cultural references to this show. There's a whole generation of people who know exactly what, "Can a phone a friend?" means and what  a "life line." is. Most game shows revolve around the opportunity to become and instant prize winner. Who want's to be a millionaire was so great because you didn't just win a few thousand dollars or a trip to the Grand Cayman's, but you instantly became rich, you became a millionaire in seconds!

The thought of striking it rich intrigues and motivates us all. Thats why we play the lottery and that why we loved, "Who wants to be a millionaire?" Because it fulfills are dream of rags to riches over night. I mean who hasn't had the day dream at work of what you'd say to your boss if you one the lottery? In a 2012 Times article this instant wealth having was referred to as "Affluenza". I know it sounds like a virus or disease, but that is exactly what they intended it to sound like. People who instantly become wealthy, who win some game show prize or some jackpot somewhere or amazingly enough win the lottery, lose all their prize money in an average of 10 years, no matter how much they win. They spend money on all kinds of things and people, blowing through cash like it's a pile of leaves on an autumn afternoon. 

Truth is we are a greedy bunch of people. Given the chance most of us will take all we can, spend all we can and waste all we can (John Wesley encourage Methodist to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can). You say, "I'm not greedy!", but yes you are. How many of you have nicer things than your neighbor? How many of you worked hard and saved for those things? And there is nothing wrong with that, but how many of you have ever given that much money, the value of that nice thing, ie. car, boat, house, cabin on the lake, etc, to a charity, to a food bank, to a church, to a homeless shelter? You haven't. Why? Because you are greedy and you want what you have worked for and earned yourself. How many of you complain about welfare, the affordable care act, food stamps and public housing. You say things like, "I'm tired of working so other people can get a free ride!" Or "If they can't work they can't eat, I'm tired of helping those lazy people!" Eric Fromm says that "Greed is a bottomless pit that exhausts us in an endless effort to satisfy or desires." How many of you are actually happy with what you have and would be willing to help other people have the same thing? I'm not saying I'm any better. I try to be generous and give as much as I can, but I still try to get what I want. I don't live a lavish life, but I more than I need.

Money is to the majority of the world an end, while people become the means to that end. Look at all the people in the 3rd world who work for meager wages in deplorable conditions. Some of them are as young as 5 years old, working 12-15 hour days for less than 1.25 a week. Americans would never stand for that, right? Though we buy those products left and right and our government makes policies to stimulate economic growth for the rich by giving tax breaks to companies that outsource jobs to other countries were they can pay a 5 year old 10 cents a day to make an iPhone. The rich get richer and all at the expense of the poor. 

In 2008 the worst global financial collapse the world has even seen happened because of greed. Rich people playing with the life savings of hard working families lost the bet and they didn't suffer, they got bailed out to the tune of 75billion dollars by our government while hard working men and women lost everything from life savings, to homes and even jobs. Given all the sins and evil perpetuated by the rich and that has only been the last decade or so, it's fair to ask, "Can the Rich be saved?" Sometimes I wonder and when I wonder I thank God I'm not rich.

Lets put this all into perspective. Imagine the world being shrunk down to a village of 100 people. 57 would be from Asia, 21 from Latin America, 14 from the West, i.e U.S, European nations and Canada and 8 would be from Africa. 51% would be female and 49% would be male. 70% would be non white while only 30% would be white. About 51% would be Christian and 47% would be Muslim and the rest would be all the other various world religions represented in our global village. Only 6 would be citizens of the U.S. 99% of the worlds wealth would be in the hands of those 6 people! 80 people would live in substandard housing, 70 would be unable to read or write, 75 would be malnourished and only 4 would have a college education. So 6 out of those 100 would control over half the wealth in our village and would be un willing to help the other 80% who are uneducated, malnourished and living in squalor, oh yeah and about 50% of the total population would be children under the age of 12. So yeah, the question, "can the rich be saved?" is an important one and at first glance I'd say no!

So who are the rich? Are we rich? (middle class, white Americans?) Yes, by comparison we are richer than 2/3 of the world. But we are not rich by comparison to let say...the various CEO's and company owners that seem to operate with impunity. But actually us middle class folks are well taken care of, yet money and greed still has a profound hold on us all. We go into debt to buy homes we don't need, boats we don't need, car's, clothing, vacation homes and even food we don't need. But are we the rich? No, not really. Despite the fact that we have more than 2/3 of the world we are not the rich. Most of us give when we can, we help people who are in need and we try to spend and save wisely. And though debt makes us slaves to the lender, it's a necessary evil for most of us (not to many middle class folks can write a check for 100,000+ for a house or 10,000+ for a reliable car.). Methodist Holiness leader Phoebe Palmer said "the rich are a gift from God.", but she meant only when the rich use the resource that God has given them to bless others, else wise they are a scourge on the earth.

Fortunately for us the bible is not silent on the issue of wealth. There are over 635 verses in the bible that deal directly with economic justice. Jesus was also outspoken about wealth and economic justice. One of my favorite passages from Mark has to do with economic justice in a global economy. The woman that Jesus calls a dog, but still goes ahead and heals her daughter, she was part of a wealthy gentile community form Tyre. This community was just on the other side of the sea of Galilee. While the jews in Galilee starved the gentiles in Tyre ate well, even though 80% of the food they ate came from Galilee. Jesus was angered that the food that was grown by and meant for the people and children of Galilee was sold to and consumed by the people of Tyre because the growers could make more many selling it to Tyre. This is what is meant by, "The children's bread being feed to the dogs" (dog being a common slur for gentiles in Jesus day). Jesus saw this gentile women from Tyre as part of the cycle of injustice and was unwilling to help her until she admitted who she was and that she was responsible for this injustice. Our main passage this week deals with a rich young man who did everything he was suppose to do, He read his bible, obeyed the 10 commandments, tithed to the church and went to church every week, yet still none of that was enough. Jesus told him he was still laking in something.  When the rich man asked him what, he got an answer he wished he'd never gotten. Jesus told him that in order to be saved he had to give all his wealth away to help the poor and needy. The rich man, like most rich men, was not willing to part with his hard earned money, especially giving it to people who did not deserve it and so he left disappointed, but not disappointed enough to change.

This lesson confused the disciples because in Jesus day, kind of like in our day, they believed the rich to be blessed and favored by God. So if this person who is favored by God can't get to heaven who can? Jesus told them that it's hard to be rich and get into heaven, that it's easier to thread a camel through a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus went on to say that the only way a rich person can be saved is to become poor. Does that mean literally poor? Or does it mean being a person who realizes they have nothing, that everything they have belongs to God and that they are merely stewards of God's stuff? So can the rich be saved? Yes, but only of they allow God to change their selfish heart. This means that they are simply saved the same way you and I are, by grace through faith, but it's a whole lot harder for someone rich and powerful, who as it all to realize they have nothing.

Theres a story about a man who died and went to heaven. At the gates of heaven he met St.Peter. St. Peter told him that he needed 100 points to get in. So the man said well I went to church every sunday. St. Peter said I'll give you 2 points for that. The man then said I helped some old ladies cross the street. St. Peter said I'll give you another 1 point for that. Then the man said well I use to help at this soup kitchen and one year I even helped on Thanksgiving day. St. Peter said alright I'll give you 2 points for that. By then the man was so discouraged he shouted out, "Lord Help ME!! I'll never get in this way!" St. Peter then said to him, "thats worth 95 points, welcome to heaven!!!" Truth is none of us can earn, buy, spend, even give our way to salvation. It only comes as a pure act of God's grace.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Series, "Questions All American Christians should be Asking.", Sermon, "What is the Future of Marriage in America?", Mark 12:18-27

I'm not a political person, I mean I enjoy listening to the pundits and reporters and so on, but I have no desire to actually be in politics. I'm not even a good church politician and I hate church politics, it seems to always get in the way of what maters like the mission of the gospel. The truth is politics is often and unavoidable topic and it's often and unavoidable topic in our churches. Sometimes we just have to deal with the politics even when we don't want to. Politics is one of those things that drives a wedge between friends, family and the people of God. For whatever reason so many of us are more passionate about or political opinions than we are the gospel. Whatever your politics are, I love you despite them and I respect them, I may not agree with them and you  may not agree with mine, but I hope you love me despite them and that you'll love me when I'm done with this sermon ;)

Our nation has become a politically polarized nation. We define ourselves by what political party we belong to and in turn we judge others based on their political allegiance. There are people from both sides of the isle who claim that you can't be a Christian if you're part of that other party. I find this rediculus. I don't think Jesus cares to much about our political membership, though I do believe Jesus' message had a political side to it, after all "Jesus is Lord" is one of the most politically subversive statements of all time, but he did once say, "give to Cesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God's". One of the most politically charged issue in our nation today is the issue of marriage and marriage equality, in fact it's not just an American thing. Parliaments a Congress's from all over the world are dealing with this issue. What it comes down to is definition. What is the definition of marriage? And who can be married? How we answer this question will determine what the future of marriage in America looks like.

Before we even attempt to answer this seemingly loaded question, we must better understand the nature of marriage. Marriage is a two part issue. Marriage is both spiritual and civil. Marriage encompasses the spiritual and mystical union between a man and a women. Two persons, two lives, to sets of goals...two hearts, all becoming one through the sacramental act of marriage. Marriage is also a legally binding contract, authorized and enforced by both the state and the federal government. Two separate legal entities agree in principal and in part to join together all of their assests. For this reason divorce is a legal preceding and can become very, very nasty and be very difficult for all who are involved.

Lets first look at the spiritual and religious part of the marriage covenant. Though not officially sanctioned by the UMC as such, marriage is sacramental. It's another one of those things, like baptism, that God does in us to make us more like him. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a reflection of the love that Jesus has for the church. Husbands are to love their wives like Jesus loves the church, and wives are to submit to the leadership of their husbands like the church submits to Christ's leadership. Now before you hubby's get to excited and big headed over being the leader and having your "women" submit to you, just take a moment to reflect on all the suffering that Jesus endured on behalf of the church. Just think about how much he loved and loves the church, so much that he gave of himself so fully that it cost him his life. And wives don't think that this gets you off the hook either. Submission isn't some passive/aggressive way of getting what you want or just doing what you are told. It's a partnership. It's important that you help guide the heart of your husband and help him find God's heart for the both of you and your children. It's so beautiful and so sacred because it's the one earthly thing we have that really exemplifies the kind of perfect mutual love and submission that exists between Christ and his bride. It is truly a mystical union.

Hebrews 13 says marriage should be honored by all, but how have we as a nation honored marriage? In 2012 7.2 million Americans were "co-habitating". That's 11 times more than in the 70's. 70% of that increase came during the decade of the 90's. 4 out 10 first marriages end in divorce. America has the highest rate of divorce in the Western World. The good news is that rate has declined 1% since the year 2000. Also good news, 3/4 of men divorced from their 1st wives remarry and 2/3  of all women divorced from their first husbands remarry. Plus the rate of divorce drops significantly for 2nd marriages to about 2 out of every 10 divorcing. Due to the increase of life expectancy more marriages last 50+ years than ever before. I remarked to a couple at one of my churches in OK, who were celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary, that 75 years was a long time. The husband in turn remarked, "it would have been even longer with out her."

If we want marriage to survive in America we need strong biblical marriages, honored by both partners and blessed by God. Strong marriages make strong families and strong families instill good morals in the children they raise. The foundation of any healthy society is a strong emphasis on families. whatever those famiies may look like or be made of it needs to be strong and it starts with honoring the marriage covenant.

Part two of marriage is the legal and contractual part. Prior to 1563 at the Council of Trent, which by the way was also the church council that gave us "canonized scripture", marriage was purely a legal and contractual thing. At the council of Trent the Catholic Church decided that marriage was a spiritual act as well as a legal act, but until then It was a financial transaction. One equal man was exchanging goods with another equal man. You see men's wealth and status was determined by land, livestock and children, especially male children. The more of each that you had, the better off you were, but in order to have children you needed a women to bare those children. Girls were commodities that were traded for other commodities. A young man might trade a portion of his father inheritance for a girl so that he would have sons to pass all his things down to. Marriage to our ancestors had more to do with property and progeny than love and spirit. In 1753 the English Parliament made part of English common law marriage as an issue of the state. Marriage was no longer a transaction between two men or two families, but because of the property being exchanged in marriage it became monitored by the state. In 1948 the US Congress enacted a law that  allowed married people to file their taxes jointly. This was done to encourage marriage by giving married couples a tax break. This act of congress is what lead to the baby boom following WWII. In 1996 a Republican Congress voted and was signed into law by a Democratic President the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This act made only heterosexual marriages legal and binding at the federal level. This past June The Supreme Court Of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that the defense of marriage act that prohibited same-sex marriages sanctioned by the states from being recognized federally was unconstitutional. There you have it, a brief history of marriage in the West!

Strangely, but maybe not so strange, of all the things that Jesus and the gospels are silent on, marriage is not one of them. Jesus says in Matthew 6 that God hates divorce and that the only reason we ought to divorce is for marital unfaithfulness. He also says in that same passage that divorce is a result of humankind's hard and selfish hearts. Jesus points to the spiritual nature of marriage when he quotes from Genesis saying that for this reason a man shall leave his fathers house and join himself with another and the two shall become one flesh. Again, theres that mystical union. In our passage this week Jesus is again approached by another sect of Jewish leaders, this time it's the Saducees. The Saducees were the ruling class of Jew's. From this sect came the High Priest who was elected from three different families every year. They did not believe in demons, angels, divine healing, heaven, hell or the resurrection of the dead. Basically they were Episcopalians ;) J/K. For real though, they did not believe in anything spiritual or supernatural. There was only now. You live and you die...that was it. Jesus on the other hand was a very spiritual person. He was more or less a part of the school of pharisees. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, demons, divine healing, miracles, heaven and hell (most people were going to hell) and the supernatural. Basically they were Pentecostals ;) j/K...again. One of the ways these Saducees tried to discredit Jesus was asking him some outlandish question with and even more ridiculous scenario. Torah law required a brother to marry his own brothers widowed wife if they did not have children (a law to protect family property, including women). The saducees proposed that there was a women who out lived 7 brothers and had no sons with any of them! And then they asked, "whose wife will she be at the resurrection." Jesus said, "You have no idea what you are talking about! The relationships in heaven are beyond your earthly understanding."

Jesus, as usual has a great point. We think we know what marriage is about and how God wants relationship to be handled, but then we say and do things that only reveal that we have no idea what we are talking about.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline says in paragraph 161c that, "Marriage is a mutual covenant that is expressed in love,  mutual support and personal commitment and is between one man and one women." Despite church doctrine and teaching 50% of married men are having affairs, while 30% of married women are having affairs. It seems like to me we have lost the true meaning of marriage in America. We in America are at a cross roads for marriage. What will the future hold for marriage in America? Will marriage sink into irrelevance as so many institution have, or will it emerge as a vital part of the moral fabric of our nation?

For marriage to rise from a failed institution we need to recognize it's two parts. We need to see that it's not just spiritual and we need to see that it's far more than contractual. Most of all we need to realize it's about far more than sex. Sex is only one aspect of a marriage and as a couple grows together it becomes less and less a priority. Our nations obsession with who's having sex with who is ruining marriage in our country. Marriage is about love and commitment and paitence. That's the truth we have lost as a nation and thats the truth we are ignoring as a church. The UMC continues to up hold it's traditional and biblical position on marriage, a position I support as a soon to be Ordained Provisional Elder, but or nation is not the church. Our nation is founded on mutual civil rights and on the premiss that the state will not enact laws that favors religion over liberty. It is unjust and a violation of the constitution to enact laws that discriminate or favor any one group over another and laws that ban homosexuals from engaging in a legally binding contract are such. My religious views are mine, and yours are yours, and never should we force others to agree with them.

So what does this mean? Is there a future for marriage in America? Yes, but only if we began to honor marriage and honor other peoples rights, then an only then will marriage have the same life giving value it once did in our society.

I'll finish with this... A few years ago Kim Kardashian married a little known basketball player name Chris Humphries. Their marriage lasted 7 days. At the end of the first week Kardashian filled for divorce. 7days...something that is a sacrament, a deeply rooted value in our country, so we say, was worth 7days. I have a gay friend in Indiana. He's a man my fathers age. I went to seminary with him at United. He and his life partner, who are not allowed to "marry" just celebrated 40 years together.

Which love sounds more like God's love?