"You Must Judge" April 22, 2018
John 10: 11-18
Acts 4: 5-12
How amazing! Day after day for the last many months the horizons have been gray, the winds bitter, our moods depressed, self-consumed, petty, dark and vindictive. But yesterday and today the skies have been crystal clear, the sun shining brilliant, and we have been lighter, happier, more hopeful as the flowers yearn to bloom!
Following last week’s Memorial, several have complimented what a wonderful tribute to a great man of the community and leader of this Church. Honestly, I as Pastor, all I had to do was smile, say “Jack Howard” and get out of the way. Everyone had their own story / memory. He never met a woman he did not Kiss. We each can recall his laughter. For decades, as far back as 50 years ago, Jack was Superintendent of the Sunday School, Chair of Personnel, Pastor Nominating Committees, John Dau Foundation. However, I decided that Honoring this Good Shepherd, it was not appropriate at the Memorial to leave in people’s minds one of my favorite memories, from a Picnic at the Lake 20 years ago, where Jack at 73 came wearing his characteristic Red Suspenders, holding up a red Speedo!
There are images and phrases, which hook us. That a Preacher only need say “Good Shepherd” and although the closest we have come to a Shepherd is a Christmas Pageant, we each know this reference.
However, for the Gospel, there are here details of contrast, that Jesus described “The Good Shepherd” at the time of the annual Dedication of the Temple. This was when everyone had to sacrifice a Ram, a Goat or a Lamb, for the Priests and the Temple, consecrated for us to be able to atone for our sins; AND Jesus the Lamb of God, our High Priest, described his being our Good Shepherd.
However, these details, and the 23rd Psalm, and the Lord’s Prayer, answer Worry. Not long ago, the National Institutes of Health conducted a longitudinal study, that The #1 Health Concern in America is Anxiety. We worry ourselves to death.
This week, I got into my Mini Cooper to drive into the City Hospitals, when I saw something I had not noticed previously. Etched into the Mirrors were the words “Objects may be closer than they appear.” As I went to change lanes, I saw a Truck bearing down and I slowed to let him pass, worrying this may be closer than it appears. We live in such reactionary times. Death may be closer than it appears. Retirement may be closer. Creditors may be closer. Our psyche seems to have a WORRY Machine inside, going faster and faster and faster.
"What We Possess", April 15, 2018
Luke 24: 36-49
Acts 3: 1-14
Like the ancient Roman world of the 1st Century, we live a disposable society, where we throw people away, where we stop believing in our leaders, stop trusting friends and neighbors, where we give up on what seems too hard. But try to imagine, how it would feel, if after being wounded by life, after years of rejection, after a lifetime of pity and guilt from others and yourself, if Peter and John looked you EYE to EYE and declared absolute belief in You and in the power of Jesus to make a difference.
There used to be an Ice-Breaker, for people to get to know one another by taking something out of your pocket, your wallet or purse, today we would have to include your Smartphone, something innocuous you possess with you all the time, which introduces and represents who you are. For many it was a photo of your child or grandchild, a Wedding band, a College Ring, Fraternity pin, a Cross. But this week’s readings from the Bible challenge us to claim and to affirm, that what we each possess, and take for granted that we have, is the name of Jesus.
Something awesome and amazing took place 5 years ago. The most revolutionary act of The Church in 500 years, which received virtually no attention. As the final act of Pope Benedict XVI (the most conservative and scholarly of recent popes), prior to his announcement of his retirement, was that he declared the Lutheran Reformation resolved. That Martin Luther was Right in interpreting Paul, a person is not saved by their Works, but by their faith in Jesus Christ.
"Fragments and Whole" April 8, 2018
John 20: 19-31
The farce of this morning’s Call to Worship about “Teaching Sentence Fragments” is that every sentence is a fragment; yet, together those fragments paint a picture where we clearly identify ourselves in that classroom. We hear the music, we see the light, we know by name and can feel the other students in our midst, all the while knowing the assignment they are to do, and wrestling along with the teacher the mood of teaching. Taken together fragments can represent a whole, but fragments out of context may not portray the full story. When we hear the words Cancer, Divorce, Arrested, Killing, does FEAR take over us, or do we listen for the full story?
This morning, after so many years together, I want to ask you about Starting points, our Assumptions. Are: Grace and Generosity and Compassion, only “Churchywords”, or the foundations of how we live and treat one another? Do we view one another as competitors in our way, or do we see one another as the presence of God in our midst? When you receive an email, do you expect frustration? When the phone rings do you answer as if a robo-call taped telemarketer, or surprise from family member? Do we approach life as experiences of the whole of life’s journey holding to what we believe, or as a series of crises?
"Forgiveness of April Fools" Easter 2018
Acts 10: 34-43
The Calendar played a wonderful trick on us this year, not only that Ash Wednesday came on Valentines, but that Easter comes on April Fools! Yet, instead of a celebration of love and sacrifice, the 14th of February became the day of the Parkland High School killings. Would that every day beginning from this 1st of April on, could be a living out of the Resurrection and forgiveness!
April Fools is a marvelous description for Easter morning. The Disciples, Followers and Crowds, Everyone had placed their hopes and dreams on Jesus. Oppressed by the Empire, everywhere they looked there was corruption and abuse of power in Government and Religion. Jesus had described an ESCHATALOGICAL HOPE, that this Empire would end and a new time would dawn.
Jesus had healed the Blind, given voice and hearing to the Deaf and those unable to Speak, he had healed Lepers, he overturned the Tables of the Moneychangers, and Taught with Authority. He preached and told stories of a new world order, no longer based on power, but forgiveness! But the Empire could not tolerate that, they Arrested him, Scourged, Whipped and Beat him, Tried him as a Criminal and Executed him with the Death Penalty. A Death of intentional Suffering, Degradation, Shame. When he had breathed his last, they took his lifeless body down, placed it in a stone tomb in the earth, and sealed him DEAD. But the great joke was yet to come: on April Fools Day, when at Sunrise, the 3rd Day, Death had not been THE END for God.
What could it mean in our world, if our greatest fears, our greatest intimidations, the acts of Terrorists, Scarcity, the revealing of all our secrets, the end of everything we know and imagine, were undercut by a new reality, making the past as nonsense?
I mentioned a few weeks ago, we are heavily influenced by the experience of the Enlightenment. We believe in the power of knowledge, the power of thought, as Rene Descartes described, “I have being, I exist, I can know that I AM because I think, I think, therefore I AM”. The Biblical world was not like that. 1500 years before the Enlightenment, Plato’s Philosophy Aristotelian Reasoning were brand new, and the people based their Truth on their Senses, what they could feel and prove in their own experience. So, go back to begin with the Crucifixion, in the heat of the day, the smell of sweat, the sounds of suffering. Then death. Some imagine Death as Bright Light, some as Darkness. What does death sound like? Is death deafeningly loud, or silent? Pain and Suffering end. Is death absence? Can we hear people outside our bodies?
John 13: 1-17, 31-35
So much of Religion seems to be about ritual and tradition. Our every worship service begins with a Call, a Confession of sin, Assurance of Pardon, before hearing the Bible. But, all of this is counter-cultural! The world says “I am okay, you’re okay”, and everything is measured by our wants and values and price, but faith requires that we confess we are not okay, we are broken and wounded, needing healing.
We have to maintain the context of each part of Today in relationship to the whole. Holy Week must begin with the Crowds crying “Hosanna, Have Mercy” 4 days ago, overcast tomorrow by the Shadow of the Cross with the same people “Crucify Him”; and if there is a shadow, we know there will be a rising of The Son. But, this is only ritual of bread and cup, without betrayal, abandonment, isolation, death for others.
When Jesus names an11th Commandment this adds to/compliments Moses’ Commandments, but also undercuts and provides a new foundation for the 10.
This is the reason we gather this night, “Maundy” comes from the Latin word MANDATUM meaning A NEW COMMAND. Our purpose tonight is not to celebrate Communion, not to prepare for Easter, but to receive and think through Jesus’ COMMAND to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS JESUS LOVED. When Jesus instructs that we love one another, this is not a Hallmark-type of love, but sitting across the Table with those whom you have devoted your life to serve, those whom you trust, those you love, all the while knowing one will hand you over and everyone else at the table will abandon you, as cut-off, to die, in shame, alone.
This is preparation of Passover, where we remember Moses who gave us the 10 Commandments, leading the people to freedom and new relationship with God. But was Moses: Our Savior, Prophet, Law Giver, High Priest, or was he A Servant of God? The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper can only be fully appreciated as a paradox. “A Paradox” is what the translators of the Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible described here as “GLORIFIED”. How different the verse feels… “Now is the Son of Man a Paradox, and in Him God is a Paradox; and if God is a Paradox, God will also resolve the Paradox in God’s self, for you, at once.”
"You Lack One Thing" March 25, 2018
Mark 10: 17-27
Mark 10: 46 – 11: 11
There are few more archaic stories of pomp and circumstance than this morning! What does Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, as children waved Palm branches and shouted “Hosanna” have to do with any of us? In Central There are no palm trees here! Children leading a march chanting sounds a lot like yesterday’s Marches. “Hosanna” is a lovely word sung on Palm Sunday, but has there ever been another time anyone said this word? We know Alleluia is the sound of Angels rejoicing at the resurrection, but what does “Hosanna” even mean? Yet, personally, I think this is one of the most important passage for our time!
Something occurred to me recently, that I had never heard or thought of before. The whole of the Bible, we could summarize as God’s Forgiveness of Humanity. But listening to others describe wounds from long ago, they described having confessed to God, to spouse and children others they hurt; however the forgiveness they found the most difficult, was forgiveness of self. While all of Faith, regardless of Religion is about the Forgiveness of God; our most difficult forgiveness is our own egocentric psychological guilt, forgiving /loving / having compassion for Self. Different from all the generations of humanity before us, from Adam to the present, we imagine it to be more difficult for us to forgive ourselves, than for God to forgive!
According to Mark, “a person”, representing any of us, came up to Jesus asking for the secret to life. What do I need to make me happy; how can I have it all; who/what should I be; “What must I do to inherit eternal life”? According to Matthew and Luke, he was Rich and Young, with great possessions, which probably also fits any of us, but Mark just says “A Man”. Mark does include several nuances the others do not.