Relating With Christ

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes back to his hometown after he has established himself as a prophet, teacher, and healer in other areas of Galilee. Of course everyone remembered him as a young boy or a young man, so when he goes into the synagogue and starts to teach, the elders who taught him didn’t want to hear what he had to say.   Why should the pupil surpass the teachers?

Then Jesus gives his famous line: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.

            I’ve actually use that line a number of times to explain why the Methodist Church will not assign me to my home church in Croton. I get it. The people in Croton are all lovely; I love my hometown; but I would constantly be up against: I remember when you sang in the high school chorus. I remember when you were in third grade and in Girl Scouts. I remember when your parents first moved to town, you were about six, right? That doesn’t give you very much room to be a prophet.

You see that’s one of the job descriptions of a minister. Yes, we need to be continual scholars and teachers so that we can help you weigh through this book, which can be pretty dense and confusing at times. We need to be loving, and sometimes tough-loving, counselors so that when people come to us and need someone to talk to, we can just listen or help them untangle things in their lives that are not going well for them. We need to be historians with a continual curiosity, and a perspective of change, so that we understand the background of the people we deal with. We need to be mystics who are continually willing to develop our own spiritual lives. Because if I’m not working on developing my spiritual life, why the heck should you work on developing yours?

But the stickiest job that a minister takes on is to be a prophet. Now think for a minute about the prophets in the Bible. Prophets were not priests. Prophets stood outside of the establishment and preached the radical change that was needed in the present to avoid calamity and get to a better connection with God in the future. Sometimes the message of change was political, sometimes it was spiritual, but mostly the message was unwelcome, because the prophet would always say: You guys have to change.

Jesus of course was a prophet. But we make a very clear distinction that Jesus is preaching the Good News not the bad news, and is preaching good change, not bad change.   Unfortunately change is change, and is often something that a lot of people don’t like to deal with. We like to keep things the same because then, for the most part, we know what to do and that makes us feel like we’re in control.

How many of you have had to change the operating system on your computer?   I hate changing the operating system on my computer because I don’t feel like I’m in control for a couple of weeks until I figure it out. And I have been known to be very grumpy during that time, which is really stupid of me if you think about it, because I know I am going to eventually learn the operating system, and everything will be fine. I will regain control. But I don’t like those few days of not being in control. I resist changing the operating system even when I need to because I will not be in control.

Jesus walked in and asked the people of his hometown to change.   Jesus said: Just because you’re following all these rituals and laws, doesn’t mean you are right with God. God doesn’t want you to stab your neighbor in the back, then go to the temple, make the atoning sacrifice, and think that that’s all you have to do, and then turn around and do the same thing the next week. God wants you to change your heart by getting to know and love your neighbors as you would love yourself, so you don’t have to make that atoning sacrifice to begin with. And by the way, you should love yourself, because God loves you.

But if you think about it, changing yourself into God’s Love is a really scary thing to do. Where are the rules I’m supposed to follow? What are the rituals that I am supposed to engage in? Where is the checklist so that I know I’m doing it right? I have nothing against boundaries; boundaries are good and they keep us from hurting each other. I have nothing against goals; goals are something that’ll allow us to chart a path forward and get walking on the path. But too often we substitute the rules, the rituals, the checklists, the boundaries, and the goals for actual one-on-one relating to God, to ourselves, and to each other.

That’s what Jesus was trying to cut through. Get back into relationships and love people.   Love God, love yourself, love your neighbor. That comes first. The rules, the rituals, the checklists, the boundaries, the goals, are there to serve the relationships of love – not the other way around.

It is interesting that right after Jesus is rejected in his hometown he sends his disciples out on the road. I think he needed them to see that it was okay to be rejected, even by the people that you love before he let them go out on their own. That kind of un-success is not going to destroy you; and you can keep going when it happens.

Now are there a few interesting things about his sending out of the disciples. First of all he tells them to take the bare minimum of what they need. Many people when challenged to evangelize – and I don’t mean standing on the street corners and yelling at people that we don’t know – I mean simply talking about what God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit mean to us. Anyway, many people believe that you need some sort of special degree or training to evangelized properly. But Jesus didn’t say that his disciples needed fancy equipment. All the disciples took was a walking staff, a good pair of sandals, and a willingness to talk to people, learn about what they needed, where they were hurting, and heal their hurts with God’s message of love.

The second thing was that he sent them out in pairs. That’s interesting when you think about it. How many of us would like to get involved with a mission, or maybe go talk to someone, but we don’t feel brave enough to do it alone? But you don’t have to do it alone. Jesus sent people out as a team because he knew that his disciples would need support. Doing their mission work with each other would keep them from getting discouraged when things didn’t work out well, and would give them someone to celebrate their victories with when things worked out right. If you think about it, that’s really why a church, as a body of fellowship, gets created: because it’s an effective way to support each other in our learning about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and to support each other in our efforts to do God’s work in the world.

After all, Jesus didn’t divide the disciples into pairs, send them to towns, and tell them to put up the building, set up an altar, and throw down a bunch of rituals that everybody would follow. That developed later as a way to express the fellowship and love in Christ.

Jesus told them simply to go out there, establish relationships with people, find out the hurting places in their lives, and heal them with the love of God. And to take care of, and love your fellow Christians while you’re doing it.

Oh, and the last thing he told them was: If you run into a situation, like I did in my hometown, and no one seems to want to hear what you’re talking about, or care about what you’re doing, don’t worry about it. Just shake the dust from your feet and move on. Jesus knew that his message wouldn’t be welcomed by everyone. Some people would be scared of it, some people wouldn’t believe it, and some people just wouldn’t to be ready to hear it. It’s not our job to reach everyone. It is our job to be there for those who are ready to be reached; for those who are looking for help and are willing to accept it. You don’t have to worry about saving the world; Christ all ready did that, and God ultimately has matters within his control, all you have to do is to do your bit and trust that He is going to complete the rest.

Remember that Paul said he was content with his weakness because he knew that with Christ, he was always strong. So get out there and start relating with Christ and his love, and you might find that the whole world is your hometown.

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From Fear to Belief

July 1, 2018   6th Sunday in Pentecost     July 4th Sunday

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27    2 Corinthians 8:7-15   Mark 5:21-43

Jesus has a conflict with his disciples in the Gospel stories.   He is constantly telling his disciples individually or as a group to not be afraid.  And a lot of times he contrasts on fear with faith.

Last week the disciples got into a boat with Jesus, a storm came up, and the disciples became very afraid.   Jesus woke up, calmed the storm, and said them: Why were you afraid? Where is your faith? In today’s set of stories, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, comes to Jesus and asked him to heal his daughter.   But as they’re going to the house Jairus’ servants come and tell him that his daughter has died. Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” And then he proceeds to the house and heals the little girl.

These are only two of the stories that have to do with faith versus fear.   It is a theme that reoccurs time and time again in the Gospels.   So today I would like to examine these two polar opposites and see what we can make of them.

Now I know that I’ve preached to you before that we have two kinds of fears.   The first fear is what I call Tiger Fear. Tigers are scary animals, which will happily eat you if they catch you. This is the legitimate fear that we have of something that is going to hurt us so we have to be very careful around it or because of it. The next type of fear is not so legitimate and is a result of the gift of a thinking mind. This is what I call Psyche-Out Fear or F-E-A-R: False Expectations that Appear Real. This is the type of fear that kicks in when you are presented with something that might happen in the future.   Let’s say you go to work one day and you notice that there seems to be a new supervisor in your department. You don’t know this person and immediately your mind goes to all of those things that might happen because you have an unknown factor before you. What if this new boss doesn’t like me? What if he doesn’t understand my way of working?   What’s going to happen to my productivity?   Is that going to affect a raise in the future? Wow, if all that happens I’m going to have to find a new job.   Maybe I’m not to be able to find a job around here. Oh, no!   Am I going to have to sell my house and move?   What is my family going to say?

I am being a little ridiculous with this point, but don’t any of you tell me that you haven’t run around that hamster wheel before. We are capable of working ourselves into such a state of what might happen, that we can convince ourselves that it’s going to happen, even when it won’t. There you are huffing and puffing mentally about this new supervisor, getting yourself more worked up and more tense, and then your boss says, “Hey, I want to meet Harry from our office in Minnesota. He’s here for a week to observe how we manage X, Y, and Z.”   And that big, fat, red balloon that has been blowing up in your brain goes PSSSSSSSSSSS! And you realize: You just wasted a perfectly good mental rant on nothing.

Now that’s a funny example of psyche-out fear. But unfortunately this kind of fear is often based on the belief system that we are not good enough for something. All of our insecurities are based on the fear that we can never measure up to what needs to be done, to the expectations of other people, the expectations that are out there in the world, and even what we believe God’s expectations are for us.

Psyche-out Fear says you aren’t a good person and there is no chance of you being a good person. That is the most debilitating fear that there is. Psyche-Out Fear is not the message of God; Psyche-Out fear is the whispers of the devil. That is why Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan,” when Peter says, “Lord this will never happen to you,” after Jesus tells him about the crucifixion that is coming.   Jesus wasn’t talking to Peter; Jesus was talking to Satan who was speaking Psyche-out Fear in Peter’s heart.

What was Jesus is message; the good news that was delivered to us that we should be out there delivering to everyone else?   God loves you. God loves you because you are His beloved creation. God loves you even when you mess up.   God understands why you mess up. You mess up because you are not God and cannot know everything. And because we somehow could not grasp this fact, after a millennia of a relationship with God, God decided that he was going to send Jesus as a witness to our mess-ups. And while Jesus was here witnessing our mess-ups Jesus preached: God loves you because you are His beloved creation and loves you even when you mess-up.   And Jesus proved this to us by living with us, and loving us, and healing us, and dying to show us that God loves us.

And after all that we still put ourselves on the hamster wheel, that Satan wants us to run

around on, saying to ourselves: I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not good enough.

Instead we should be listening to Paul who said in our reading today: it is appropriate for you . . . not only to do something but even to desire to do something — now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have. In other words: God loves you and accepts the efforts that you make, with what you have.

So when you find yourself on that hamster wheel going: I’m not good enough, get down off the wheel, take a breath and change that mantra to: God loves me, I’m good enough; God loves me, I’m good enough; God loves me, I’m good enough.

Okay, but here is the hard part. (Cause you and I know that Satan isn’t going to let you go that easily.) I told someone once to change the I’m not good enough to I’m good enough. I told her to say outloud: I’m good enough three times in a row. Then I asked her: How do you feel? You know what she told me? She said: I just feel like I’m lying when I say that. I feel like it’s not true. But that right there reflects a key component of Faith and Belief. Faith and belief is TRUE because that’s how we view them on the inside! Now follow me on this: Faith and belief might not always be right, but for the person on the inside they are TRUE.

For instance in the middle ages the belief that people carried on the inside was that the earth was at the physical center of the universe. That was not RIGHT but for those people that belief was true and that was how they operated. But that is the struggle of our faith and belief in every age, and in our own lives: To align the truth of our faith with what our experience and the world shows us to be right. Scientifically the earth at the center is not a right statement, but many would not accept the sun at the center as a RIGHT statement because it challenged the TRUE that they carried within them.

So my friend, because she carried this erroneous TRUTH that she was not good enough, could not accept the right statement that she was good enough. What she needed to do was to accept the possibility that she was good enough, and then go out into the world with action, that she performed with God’s love, and collect enough evidence to show herself that the good-enough-statement was right.

This is faith in action: Challenging our fears by accepting that God loves us. God doesn’t want us to be perfect, he loves us even though we are not perfect. And then we need to go out into the world and acting as loving people who are loved by God, while we look for the evidence that transforms us so that our belief will be TRUE and RIGHT. When your belief and evidence are the same, in God’s love, you have a powerful healing faith within you. But you’ve got to challenge the Psyche-out Fears that Satan is throwing at you. And remember: No one is too young or too old to be healed. The woman in this story spent 12 years with her condition, and was dirt poor, and Jesus healed her. Jairus’ daughter was only twelve years old, the daughter of the most prominent man in town, when she died, and Jesus healed her. God doesn’t have limits on His possibilities, we’re the ones who walk around with limits, not God.

What are your Psyche-out Fears? When do you listen to Satan and jump on that hamster wheel that gets you no-where? Change your mantra. God loves you, Jesus loves you, and the Holy Spirit loves you, and you are good enough. If you get off that hamster wheel, and you start walking down the road saying that, and you put that belief into actions of love, you will be walking in the path of righteousness where evidence and belief combine into a true faith that cannot be broken.

You will no longer be living in fear, you will be living in faith. And you will know truly that God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.

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Getting Through the Storm

June 24, 2018           5th Sunday of Pentecost

1 Samuel 17:32-49      
2 Corinthians 6:1-13              Mark 4:35-41

When do we find ourselves in the middle of a storm?

If you watch the Weather Channel the most obvious image is a fire, a flood, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, or any natural disaster that destroys your home, upends your life, causes you to flee your home, and results in relocation or rebuilding.

The second situation that I can think of is when you’re in the middle of an armed conflict or revolution. There is no stability, no certainty, and no safety on a day-to-day basis. Many have to flee, relocate, and after a war they have to face the rebuilding of their lives from the rubble of nothing.

But storms can happen in our everyday life. We can find ourselves in the middle of the storm when a relationship takes a bad turn.   A husband and wife stop communicating effectively, and start to fight all the time. And then one day one of them realizes they don’t want to go home because there’s no calm or safety. You’re going to walk in the door and it’s going to be conflict.

Or maybe it’s when things start going crazy at work. Your job is going along fine; sales quotas are being met; everybody is making a good salary; and then suddenly a new technology comes along and your company becomes more and more irrelevant. Salaries are cut back; a few people lose their jobs; nay-sayers get louder; and managers don’t know what to do. Then one day you don’t want to go to work. Because you know that there is no calm and productivity at work. It’s only a lot of blame and futile action.

A lot of young adults find themselves in a stormy part of life when they graduate from University. They start to look for jobs, and they find or feel that they don’t have the right skill sets, or maybe the job market is saturated. And all those ideas about the life that they were going to have when they left school seem impossible for them to achieve. They start to question their abilities. I have four years of education, I got mostly A’s! Why can’t I figure out the outside world and make it work for me?

Or maybe you find yourself in the storm when someone, who you love and depend on, dies, and all of a sudden you don’t know how to handle all those things that they did, like the insurance or the investments. It’s bad enough that you’re in the middle of grief, but the bank is asking you for information that you don’t have, and you have no idea how you’re going to do your taxes this year.

The storms of life are many. And they are going to come for you and you’re going to find yourself in them whether or not you move or stay put.

I have been reading this story about Jesus in the boat since I’ve been a kid in Sunday school and this is the first time I noticed something. Jesus has been preaching on the shores of the sea and then he turns to his disciples and says let’s go over to the other side. Now getting into a boat makes sense if it’s a nice day, but you don’t go sailing if it’s a stormy day, so they weren’t expecting to encounter a storm. And you know, the Sea of Galilee is not that big, so it doesn’t matter if they get in the boat or camp out on the shore, they are still going to be in the middle of a storm and get wet.

The storm in other words was a surprise. None of us plan for disasters – admittedly some of us can see or have an idea that something is not right on the horizon, but none of us plan for volcanic eruptions, revolution, breakups, loss of loved ones, work or life changes. And it doesn’t matter where we are – eventually the storms of life will happen.

The other thing I noticed about this story is that a decision was made to go from one side of the sea to the other side. A goal was set and movement was taken.

Lately I’ve been working with a book about overcoming negative attitudes, and the author made an interesting observation. After a few years of counseling she noticed that when people overcame their negative attitudes and started to set positive goals that would move their lives to a better place, that suddenly a trauma or storm would happen that would make the new goal difficult. It was almost as if there was some malevolent force that didn’t want her patients to succeed.

At first she thought: No, I’m making too much of this. This is life. People just encounter obstacles at different times, and we have to deal with these things. But then she started to talk with other therapists and she found out that they were having similar experiences. And then she started to keep track of her own patients and she found out that the storms cropped up more often than not. And of course this would discourage her patients who would then doubt, because of the storms, that they were on the right path.

So what she added to her counseling was an acknowledgement that this phenomenon of blocking storms existed. Knowing that the storms were going to come, and preparing her patients for them by working out strategies to cope, totally changed the outcome that she and her patients were experiencing. The idea of being in a storm was seen as an event that was temporary to be ridden out.

Which bring me to another point. When the disciples woke Jesus what did say? “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus wasn’t talking about the fact that he could calm the storm, he was commenting on the fact that the disciples were letting their fear overwhelm and rule them while they were in the storm.

Buddhist commentaries often equate life to the sea. Sometimes the sea is calm, sometimes the sea is choppy, sometimes the sea is stormy.   But under all the wind and waves on the surface, the sea is smooth. In many ways that is what faith is supposed to do for us. The surface of our lives, when we encounter winds and weather, is sometimes calm, or maybe choppy or stormy.  But the interior of our hearts, souls, and minds can be calm during those storms with our faith.

Think of the disciples in the boat. The storm comes up and they think they can ride it out. Some of them are fisherman after all. But then the storm gets worse and worse until the water is swamping the boat. It’s only then that they turn to Jesus and wake him up, and he tells the wind and the waves to calm down.

But you know we don’t have to wait for our lives to come to the point where our boat seems to be about to be swamped before we call on Jesus and ask for help. Our faith at that point is at a point of desperation.

I’m not saying that Jesus won’t come and help us when we get to our points of desperation, I’m just saying that if we had Jesus in our lives every day then we might manage the stormy seas when they start to look bad, rather when they are bad, a little better.

Take relationships. It is a pretty proven fact that people who spend time in prayer and meditation, who daily seek to understand their connection to God in the spirit of love and kindness, tend to have more reasonable and more loving relationship with the people around them. They also tend to be more even keel about work situations, life-changing events, and even the death of loved ones.   That doesn’t mean they don’t grieve, have doubts, get frustrated or even angry with other people, it just means that they try harder to bring balance into their lives by seeing and understanding the complexity of what is happening around them.

When we are in trouble and we call on Christ we are calling on a higher power to help us. But why should we wait for an emergency situation in order to do that? If we spend a little time each day in relationship with Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit, we are then going to be a little less lost in our normal lives, and a lot less lost when things start going crazy around us.

So I challenge you in this summer season to give yourself a little time each day with God. It doesn’t have to be much: Most studies have found that 10 minutes spent each day connecting with God will begin to unlock your spirit and decrease your stress. It doesn’t matter how you use those 10 minutes. One technique is to sit quietly and simply say the Lord’s prayer over and over. Another thing to do is to spend 10 minutes a day journaling to God. Another way is to spend 10 minutes praying to God for clarity in certain situations. Some people like to spend time with the Upper Room. If you have any questions or want any techniques you can just come and ask me, and I’ll help you work out the best system for you.

However it works for you to deepen your faith, do not be afraid to do it. Jesus is in the boat with you anyway, fair weather or foul, you might as well be talking to him. Build that relationship, really get to know one another, because when the wind starts raging, you can call on him to help you out, and he’ll jump right in, and get you through the storm.

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Bushes into Trees

June 17, 2018                        4th Sunday of Pentecost

Ezekiel 17:22-24         2 Corinthians 5:6-10        Mark 4:26-34

My brother lives in a Colorado town called Crested Butte. Now in the last quarter of the 20th century this town wanted to avoid becoming an overly done ski resort community. You see after 1975, people started to realize that Colorado had great skiing, so they started to go to these little towns way up in the mountains that had great snow, wonderful ski runs, and the locals started to cater to the new crowd of people who had money. Bigger hotels were made, ski runs were expanded, bigger ski lodges were built, and these little towns, which had survived with just locals living in them, suddenly were being bought up and taken over by people with a lot of money. I fondly remember Aspen when it was a place of bakeries and wonderful stores that catered to both the locals and those who visited. It is with sadness that I drive through now and realize that in order to get your oil changed you have to go 30 minutes down the valley highway to find a functioning garage and mechanic. Locals, who can no longer afford to live there, since all the small miners cabins and houses have been bought and converted to mega-mansions, now refer to Aspen as Disneyland.

Crested Butte wanted to avoid that, so they applied for protected historical status.   And it’s great that they did, because the town is one of the few architecturally intact mining towns that is still lived in and functioning as a town. For a while this helped the town to thrive. But in their zeal to protect themselves they went the other way. It became almost impossible with all of the rules and regulations that were meant to protect the town, to grow or improve an existing business, or create a new business. So the town did a turn around and began to die. They did save themselves when a compromise was created of a new residential zone and a new business zone, with architectural boundaries so that new building match the old.   Does it work? Not completely, but it allows things to move forward and develop, and keeps the town from getting stuck in an amber embedded past. The town learned, before it was too late, that growth and change is a part of our life, and the absence of growth is stagnation and death.

Today we read two passages in the Bible about growth and change. Ezekiel talks about God taking a sprig from the Cedar tree, planting it in a new place and how that little sprig over time is going to become the greatest tree in the world. This tree will be so big that every kind of bird will come and live in it. And Jesus talks about the planting and growing of seeds and wheat, and of course the scrawny little mustard seed that will grow into a great bush – that again all the birds will come and live in.

The problem is: we all love to grow, but we don’t like to change. But the rule is: if you’re going to grow, you’re going to change.

Jesus preached, and preached, and preached change. He preached how we have to change our hearts to be more loving.   He preached how we have to change and get rid of our prejudices.   And he lived without prejudices: He said about the Centurion: I have never met anyone in Israel who has such faith. He preached about how we have to change and get out of our comfort zone and heal people, not just the people who are the socially-acceptable-deserving, but the ones on the margin. He touched and healed lepers and unclean women.   He preached to his disciples that they had to change their limited perspective on life: They had to realize that their souls were infinite, and continued beyond this life into a glorious one that was closer to God. Therefore: Do not be afraid of this life, or death, or the next life.

Jesus preached change and that we should not be afraid of change because He is with us always, God is with us always, and the Holy Spirit is with us always in the motion of change. The Christian church is built on the idea that everyone is changing for the better in Christ; that we are moving or changing, into perfection, and that we are building or changing our world to bring about the coming of God’s Kingdom.

So it is the most amazing irony that, as dedicated Christians, we get to a point of comfort in our own lives, our communities get to a point of comfort, and our institutions get to a point of comfort, and then we don’t want to change. Of course the institutional church, being a Christian institution never resists change. (You can all laugh at that.)

Now there is nothing wrong with comfort zones. Places of safety and comfort are good places to work from, but they are not good places to stay at for very long. The place of change, allowing change, and trying to change, are scary when you’re in a place of comfort because maybe the new place that you are led to won’t be as comfortable as the place you are in right now. It is the fear of what we don’t know, and being hurt, that keeps us from change, and keeps us trying to stay comfortable, since we don’t know what we are going into.

But that’s because we forget that we are at all times changing with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We forget about our baptism – the fact that our souls and beings are open to receive the power and the guidance of the Trinity.

The other thing that we forget is that the process of change takes time. Think of all the symbols that got used in the parables today. A giant cedar tree grew from a tiny cedar sprig. Cedar trees take time to grow, in fact the Cedars of Lebanon are the oldest living trees in the world. They can live up to 1,500 years old. A lot can happen during that time of growth and development, and yet God promises that no matter what the weather, storms, earthquakes, and floods are, the Cedar tree is going to become the greatest tree in the world and a shelter for all the birds of the world.

The fields of grain are planted from tiny seeds, and yet during the time of one six-month to a year season a lot can happen. Any farmer or gardener will tell you that year-to-year the garden is going to be different. One year it will be tomatoes that are prominent, the next year it will be peppers. One year the impatience are good, the next year it’s the petunias.   But you never know until you put the stuff in the ground and let the spirit of God’s creation work its magic.

And what about the mustard seed?   That little bitty seed that grows into a giant bush. I’ve mentioned before that the mustard seed is the weed of the Middle East. They grow everywhere, they get into everything, and it doesn’t take that long for them to germinate. Within a week they’re going to be sprouting, within six weeks there going to be flowering, and within two months you can harvest them for consumption.

So you see we have three different timelines. Two months with the Mustard seed, six to twelve months with wheat, and finally several hundred to a thousand years with Cedar. Change sometimes happens quickly but sometimes it also happens very slowly.

I also think that all of us fear change because we know we can’t control it. But if we understand that as change is happening we are participating in the process, then the change is going to be a part of us as much as we are a part of it. Changeable influences us, but our reactions also influence how things change.

So what change, right now, are you afraid of? Take a step back and think. Is it a mustard seed change: Very fast? Is it a wheat change: Going at medium speed? Or is it cedar change: Very slow and steady? Or is it that you’re afraid that the change is going to be something you can’t handle. Maybe you want a mustard bush but the cedar tree would be too much. Or you want the cedar tree but are afraid it will only amount to mustard or wheat. Or maybe you just can’t imagine what the change would be and you definitely don’t want a rhododendron, so you don’t do anything and stay in that comfort zone.

Stop trying to out-think the change. Stop trying to make bushes into trees, and trees into bushes. Instead live with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit inside the change of whatever effort or goal in life you might be going for; and live inside the change of whatever is coming to you. Trust that your life is open to the Spirit’s influence and support. Believe that God has a plan for you, and that the change you experience is part of it, and lean on Jesus when it gets a little tough and stressed out. That’s what he’s here for.

God is in the change, and with our changing and growing, with God in our work, the Kingdom is going to be accomplished.

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Finding Our Sabbath

June 3, 2018              2nd Sunday of Pentecost

1 Samuel 3:1-20          
2 Corinthians 4:5-12        Mark 2:23-3:6

Pharisees were sticklers for the rules. But you know, this was a group of people created to make sure that Jewish laws and customs didn’t get drowned in a sea of Greek and Roman occupation. Like many people their intentions were good, but their humanitarian practices left a lot to be desired.

As Jesus and his disciples were traveling they went through or by a big field of grain. Being hungry, they plucked off some grain-heads and ate them as they were walking. This was not illegal. They were practicing something called gleaning. By Jewish Law it was permitted for people who were poor or who were travelers. Farmers allowed this because they considered it to be an act of charity and a blessing on those less fortunate then they were.   Of course it was expected that the people doing the gleaning would not harvest — they would simply take a little something to eat as they were walking through.

Apparently some Pharisees saw this and confronted Jesus. The issue was not taking the grain; the issue was that they took the grain on the Sabbath, which meant that they engaged in an act of working. You are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath. No farming, no cooking, no cleaning – this prohibition even extends to tying and untying knots – all that is supposed to be done the day before. The Sabbath is supposed to be devoted to worship and only worship.

Jesus’ answer was very clever because he doesn’t try to directly defend his disciples. Instead he points back to a historic event of the great king David. The story is that David, before he was king, was on the run from Saul, who wanted to kill him. David and his soldiers were hungry when they came across the house of God.

Now you need to remember that this was before the First Temple was built. The house of God in this case was a big tent that traveled from town to town in the territory of the newly found country of Israel. There were two interiors to the tent.   The interior when you walked in had a table on which bread and wine were placed, and there was another tent inside the larger tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. David gleaned the bread and the wine and shared it with his companions before moving on.

Historically this was not seen as sacrilege. Yes the bread and wine were dedicated offerings, but in this case the taking of them was seen as a necessity to keeping David and his men alive. They were very hungry and they needed something to eat and this was all that was available to them at the time. And it wasn’t a feast it was simply a small amount shared between people to keep them going.

Then Jesus says: The Sabbath was made for humankind; not humankind for the Sabbath. I am sure the Pharisees were a little tweeked by this. To them humans were created solely for the purpose of worshiping God, and to follow God’s Laws, therefore it would follow that we were created for the Sabbath. But Jesus understood that God is God. God is all powerful, God is almighty, God doesn’t need to be worshiped by us in order to exist. We are the ones who need worship in our lives in order to maintain our connection to God. That is the purpose of the Sabbath.

However I do sympathize with one little point with the Pharisees. It is too easy for us to neglect that time that we set aside to connect to God. From the moment we wake up there are so many things pulling us in so many different directions that very often we don’t give ourselves five minutes to just say a little prayer in the morning. How many of us start our morning by saying: God, I am open to what you give me today. I ask you to help me out during the difficult parts, and I’m going to try to serve you as best I can. I am open to whatever sign you want to give me to day that will lead me forward to do your work in the world. As a minister I try to do that but sometimes in the morning I start to look at my e-mail, I watch the news for a bit. And the next thing you know I’m doing this, that, and the other thing, and I get to the end of the day and realize that I’ve forgotten to give myself a little time to be with God.

So I get the idea of vigilance, and respect, and necessity of the Sabbath that the Pharisees were trying to instill.

I am conscious of the deficiency in my prayer life and after talking with a friend of mine, who is also a minister, I decided to try to figure out how to give myself a daily reminder to connected to God more. I came up with the idea of using the reminder app on my phone. I have set an alarm for 7:15 a.m. and at this time my phone goes DING and a message pops up on my screen. It says: What is God calling you to do today? It’s a reminder to stop and say: God, I am open to what you give me today. I ask you to help me out during the difficult parts, and I’m going to try to serve you as best I can. I am open to whatever sign you want to give me to day that will lead me forward to do your work in the world. It gives me a moment to think, not just about my to do list, but about how to make maybe some of my actions more in connection with God.

After Jesus talks to the Pharisees he walked into the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. He challenges them by asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Now this is a sticky theological point, because if there is an emergency you can rescue someone on the Sabbath, because of course life is sacred, and by rescuing someone you are serving God. A lot of people would probably say that healing this man’s hand is a life saving moment.

And what could be a greater act of serving God then healing someone? Although I think that every day would be a good day to heal someone, what better offering could you give to God then the healing of someone, on the Sabbath, in His name? I’m sure people in that synagogue, like we do in our congregation, prayed for their friends and neighbors to be healed of their illnesses or infirmities.

Sadly the Pharisees have hard hearts. Jesus goes ahead and does God’s healing work but they decide that he’s causing too much of commotion and challenging the laws that that they consider to be sacred, and they decide to speak to Herod about him.

Rules can be helpful. Rules give us boundaries so that we don’t hurt people. But rules aren’t God. Rules are how we try to act with dignity and respect as God would want us to do. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the rule and making sure that we follow them that we can end up hurting people by them, instead of healing people with them.

So there are two parts of the story. The first is to be aware of creating a time for yourself to connect with God. Worshiping God in church is a time apart that we all need. But we need to also look for time that we can worship God with service in God’s name. That is also a form of worship. The time apart, even if it’s only a few minutes today, gets our mind ready to recognize the moments when we can be healers for God. If you don’t want to use the reminder app on your phone try a post-it note somewhere in your house. It doesn’t matter what you use, just as long as you give yourself a reminder to connect with God.

The second is to not let ourselves get so caught up in the rules that we miss the moment when we can be healers for God. If you are having trouble trying to figure out if this is a time that you should step out of a rule or stay inside a rule just ask yourself this: Is what you are going to do an action of grace? Is it going to be a generous renewing action? Is there compassion involved in it? And does it help you and the other person to get closer to the eternal God? If on the other hand staying inside the rule promotes a systemic inflection of negativity then you have to think of how to step outside of the rule with Grace.

Sometimes our decisions are difficult to make, but that’s okay. Some actions take time to figure out the best way to do them. God doesn’t expect you to not think about what the right path is. He gave us our intelligence for a reason and we should constantly be trying to hone it and use it to the best of our abilities.

The Sabbath, our time to connect with God, happens in both our stillness of prayer, and in our movement of being out in the world and loving our neighbors. Each of us needs to find both of those times so that we can reach the full potential of our connection with God. Let’s see if we can find the Sabbath every day by cultivating the holy habits of His love in our lives, so that we can move farther down the Methodist road to perfection, which we walk in Jesus’s name. Amen

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Working with Threes

May 27, 2018       Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8     
 Romans 8:12-17       John 3:1-17

I sometimes go online to the Methodist website to see the commentaries that they have on the Scriptures for the week.   It was very interesting to read one commentary on this particular Sunday from a pastor who confessed that when there were more associate pastors at churches it was tradition for the regular pastor to take this week off and leave the associate to preach. Apparently this was done because Trinity Sunday is not an easy thing to preach on.

You see there’s really no one scripture in the Bible that points to the doctrine of the Trinity. We have very definite scripture that point to God as father & mother, or as John Wesley put it, the Divine Parent. We have lots of scriptures about Jesus as the incarnated son. We have lots of scriptures both in the Old Testament and New Testament referring to the Holy Spirit. But there isn’t one single scripture that says that God is a triune God. We sing and pray about three-in-one and one-in-three. But the concept of the Trinity didn’t get solidified until 400 years after the death of Christ.

And it can still be hard and confusing to explain, even if you’ve been to seminary and have taken a number of theological classes, which all try to tackle it from various approaches. And still, all those ordained ministers, who had years of preaching experience, would happily hand their Trinity sermon time to their associates because they just didn’t want to deal with it!

But I think, the key to this idea of God as a trinity is that it is first and foremost a relationship. We don’t need to worry about how God relates to himself, but God is so big that we need to figure out how to grasp his relationship with us and the Trinity allows us to break God down, in our mind, into manageable pieces.

I think if you’re going to be a faithful Christian you have to work through your faith yourself. You can’t just parrot what you’ve been taught in Sunday school, what your parents taught you, and what your minister preaches every week. Although all those things will hopefully point you in the right direction, you need to work through who God is for you and how you’re going to work with him: who Christ is for you and how you’re going to work with him: and how you encounter the Holy Spirit in your life and how you’re going to work with her.

Opps! I used the female pronoun for the Holy Spirit! Actually the Greek pronoun that was used in the early Greek texts is a neutral pronoun that can be either male or female depending on the context that you read it. If you’re comfortable using the male pronoun for the Holy Spirit go ahead and do it.

I prefer to use the female pronoun, because as I was wrestling with my relationships with God Jesus and the Holy Spirit, I came to see God as my Divine Parent and creator, Jesus as my older brother – the person I can take all of my troubles to, has a lot of experience, and I can tell him everything and he’ll help me out without judging me – and I see the Holy Spirit as my wise older sister who is keeping a lookout for me and is guiding me to where I need to go.

For me Trinity is a family relationship.   I have a very understanding parent and two older siblings who are willing to help me get through life and realize my spiritual potential.

This is not how everybody sees God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in their lives. And that’s okay because your relationship to God is built on your experiences. It’s built on your successes and your failures: it’s built on your sorrow and your joy; it’s built on the mystical experiences that you might have had in life, whether they be big or small. Your relationship with God is intensely personal; as it should be!

This is another reason why I think ministers avoid preaching on the Holy Trinity because they know that the different relationships with God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit, are going to number the amount of people sitting in the pews on any given Sunday.

We get a clue as to what this relationship should be from the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus. Jesus says that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless they have been born from above. Nicodemus is confused by this. He acknowledges that we are all born into flesh but how can we be reborn into a new being? It helps to understand Nicodemus’ confusion if you recognize that a lot of Jewish people in the first century did not believe in a continuation of life into an afterlife.

Jesus is trying to explain that while we have a relationship with our body and this physical world, we also have a relationship with our souls and the world of God’s Kingdom.   Now these are two Trinitarian relationships right here. My conscious-self relates to my body, which relates to the outside material world. But I have another Trinitarian relationship: My conscious-self relates to my soul, which relates to God’s Kingdom.

Trinitarian relationships are built into the very fabric of our existence. The child relates to two parents. I relate to my coworkers, and the work in my job.   Any relationship that you call up in your life is going to have a relationship of three.   Even when I meet one-on-one with someone it’s a Trinitarian relationship because God is present in that relationship.

The problem is that often in our daily life we can forget that God is there. When the parent relates to the child, God is present. When I relate to my coworkers, God is present. When I relate to the work I have, God can still be present.

The challenge of Trinity Sunday is not to understand the heavy theological concepts of the God that is three-and-one and one-in-three, the challenge is to ask ourselves: When are we finally going to start acknowledging that God is present in our lives on a regular daily basis, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second?

That might seem to be a little exhausting. I love my parents, but I know that if my parents watched me every single minute of every single day I would get paranoid, tired, and really stressed out. Thinking that God is watching you or is with you all the time can seem like a stressful thing. We want to be good people and we don’t want to disappoint God, but we fall down. But you know what? That’s okay, because that was purpose of God incarnated in Christ. So when you fall down pick yourselves up and ask His forgiveness, hook in the Holy Spirit to guide you, so you won’t do it again, and get back out there! You’ve all been baptized – the door is open for you to do that. And if any of you haven’t been baptized come see me later on and we will straighten that one out.

But actually it’s very interesting that those people who make a conscious choice to invite God into their lives as much as they can, do not end up stressed out, mostly they end up being very happy.

I would like to read to you a message from Brother Lawrence, a monk of the 17th century: The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I achieve as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.

And now I would like to recommend to you a book called The Book of Joy. This book is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, and essentially they talk about how to let God into your life so that you can be more joyful. In the book Desmond Tutu states: I’ve sometimes joked and said that God doesn’t know very much math, because when you give to others it should be that you are subtracting it from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way – you give and it then seems like in fact you’re making space for more to be given to you.

This is what Jesus is trying to convey to Nicodemus: When we give our attention to God we invite God into our lives. The more we invite God into our lives, the more we will be connected with God and his Kingdom. And we will be reborn daily into the love of God through our connection with God.

So my challenge to you this summer, because technically this is where our summer programming starts is on Trinity Sunday, is to figure out a way to daily bring God into your life.   Not just in your prayer time, or a moment when you get up or fall asleep, but in a moment of talking with a friend, in a moment of doing your work.   Just ask yourself the question: How can I invite God into this space?

Maybe you won’t get an answer right away but God is listening, Jesus is listening, and the Holy Spirit is listening. They will answer because they want to be a part of your life and for you to be part of theirs. And when they answer and you respond you will begin to be born in the Spirit and start to enter the Kingdom of God.

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Speaking in Tongues

May 20, 2018             Pentecost

Acts 2:1-21     Romans 8:22-27         John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

When I was teaching essay writing I used a book called Sin Boldly.   It was written by a professor who wrote it in desperation because his students couldn’t use proper grammar, and because he couldn’t find a good book on how to apply grammar to essay writing. I loved this book because not only did it explain how to use grammar effectively, but it had a lot of great antidotal stories about his time in the classroom and his philosophy of teaching.

In one chapter he explained why he felt writing well was important. You see a lot of kids that he taught were from lower-class families, on scholarships, and he found that their preparation in high school was not that great. They had never been taught how to write well. And, especially in the early 80s, he also had to contend with a remnant 1960s attitude that education was how people in power brainwashed and kept people down. But he contended that language, and speaking and writing well in particular, were the basic tools of all revolution and change.   If you could learn how to express your outrage well, and you could get other people to agree with it; the fact that something needed to be done, and how it could be done; then you could accomplish great change in the world. The only way to do this is through language. You can try to start a revolution, but if you don’t have the thoughts and feelings of people behind you, you’re simply going to be a voice howling in the wilderness.

Many people think that this Pentecost story about people speaking in tongues is about people speaking in gibberish. We can see very clearly from the scriptures that the event on Pentecost of speaking in tongues was not speaking in gibberish. The crowd was amazed that these Galileans, who probably only spoke a distinctive dialect of Aramaic, were fluently speaking languages from all the known world. If the disciples had only been speaking in gibberish the movement that Jesus had started would have simply remained a small, but weird, community of an interesting Jewish sect. But the Holy Spirit sent a wind to clear the disciples mind and then poured into them the knowledge of languages.

Now I have a confession to make about me and foreign languages.  Foreign languages are not one of my gifts and graces. I barely got by with a passing grade in Spanish, which is the closest language to English on the planet, and then I struggled mightily for 16 years with Japanese, which is the farthest language to English on the planet. But in my studies of those two languages, especially Japanese, I did learn that language is a psychological map of a culture. How a culture uses words, the images it associates with words, and the importance that it attaches to words, gets you deeper into the culture then if you’re just experiencing it like a tourist.

For instance, in Korea to call a man a pig, in a certain context, is actually a compliment.   Why? If we call a person a pig that means they’re greedy, self-centered, and uncaring – this comes from the fact that we think pigs are unclean animals. But to the Koreans a pig was an expensive animal that you only had if you were wealthy and prosperous. And pigs are considered to be very lucky and content animals. If you’re born in the year of the pig, that’s an indication that you will be a good businessman, hence the pig as a complementary animal.

Pentecost is about the moment the church was born. It is about what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be.  It is about the Holy Spirit bringing people together as one in spite of their differences: different cultures, different languages, different traditions, different beliefs, different interpretations, different theologies. Pentecost is about proclaiming salvation for all people, like Peter did in his speech when he was explaining to the surrounding crowd that: No this group isn’t drunk, they are filled with the Holy Spirit. And they can be filled with the Holy Spirit because their beings and lives have been open to the Grace of God by the knowledge and experience of the love of Jesus Christ.

Right then and there God gave the disciples the valuable tool of language that they needed to bridge differences and to start the revolution by proclaiming the good news: The good news that God loves everyone. God loves each and everyone of you even though you’re not perfect. God gets that you are not perfect because Christ lived with us and experienced that imperfection. So God understands and forgives our imperfections. And, if we are willing to dedicate our life to connecting with him, by loving our neighbors and treating them with the dignity and respect that a sacred soul should be treated with, then God’s love will be revealed to us; our purpose in this life that is connected to his kingdom will be revealed to us; and we are assured of eternal life with him starting right now.

However, as much as I would like it to happen, I don’t think that the Holy Spirit is going to descend on me and give me the gift of a foreign language. On the other hand that’s probably not the gift that I need, or maybe that any of us need, right here and now, for our church in this time and place.

You see back then the disciples needed to go out into the world. Jesus had told them to go out and make disciples of all nations, so it would follow that the big gift the needed was the gift of language. Evangelism begins with us making personal relationships with people, and sharing with them our story of how Christ influences us and makes us better people. But evangelism goes farther when you show people that understand and care about their lives.

Evangelism is healthcare kits. Evangelism is reading stories to children. Evangelism is helping veterans to heal with a horse care ministry. Evangelism is helping people out in nursing homes. Evangelism is sorting through stuff that is going to be use for Habitat for Humanity.

Evangelism is meeting people where they are. I think that’s another reason why the Holy Spirit gave people this gift of foreign languages. They weren’t supposed to stay in Israel – they were supposed to go to those countries, learn about their cultures, understand them and show those cultures how the love of God through Jesus Christ could strengthen and improve those cultures. We need to remember that at first Christianity wasn’t so much a take over of a culture as it was an assimilation. It was only later, during the Crusades and the colonization of the world by the Europeans, that Christianity became the religion of conquerors rather than the religion of simple people who were trying to bring love and peace.

These days I think we need a little more of that assimilation of the Spirit rather then the spirit of conquering in our evangelism fields.   It has been proven that the most effective form of evangelism is when people get onto the ground, live within a culture, and do good that is needed inside that culture in the name of Christ. You can do evangelism within your own community or you can walk into the foreign culture of a homeless shelter and do your work there. Remember: any place that is not your comfort zone is a foreign land.

What gift has God given you and where is Christ calling you to go? For the disciples it was easy. The people who learned Greek went to Greece. Supposedly the disciple Thomas learned an Indian dialect and went to India. Most of us won’t go that far. But we can all open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, notice the tools that we have been given, go into unknown territory, and use our tools to teach others about Christ in the world. And when we do, everyday will be Pentecost for us.

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