Tuesday, December 22, 2009
How Many times?
How many times have you heard
You MUST be happy
You Must celebrate
You must buy gifts
You must be grateful?
How many times have you heard
About Santa Claus
Listened to Bing Crosby or Clay Aiken or the Chipmunks Christmas albums?
And how many things do you have on your list to get done this time of the year?
Presents to buy
Events to attend
Travel plans to arrange
Gifts to ship
Cards to write
Cookies to bake
Pictures to take?
Whew! So much to get done
So much to prepare
So much on our minds
To show how we care!
In this moment quiet
We do not have to rush
To buy it!
For in this silence
We can accept one gift true
Which makes our hearts glow
Even when we are blue
We can allow a bit of room in our soul
Our hearts can fill up like a bowl
With the glory, beauty and Peace
Given to us by God
Without hesitation in Grace
The Gift of a Lord
Who in one accord
Brings us all together
Right now, as we gather.
Hallelujah is the all the response
For us to experience
A renewal of faith fires
What a great gift
We have been given
Straight from God’s heart
Right from the residents of heaven
So no matter how many times we strike out on gifts,
Or when our family gatherings almost comes to fists
No matter how much we fail
In the holiday sales,
God loves us still,
Our minds, our hearts, our souls
Will find their fill
As we celebrate with one another
Singing songs of jubilation
Praying with one voice together
All of this helps us to prepare
To serve the needs of people everywhere
To bring the good news in our every action
Jesus’ gift brings true satisfaction
How many times can we care for a stranger?
To help a friend stay out of danger?
How many times can we pray for good health?
Share a bit of our wealth?
How many times can we take time to worship
To break bread, drink from a cup of joy with a sip?
How many times can we mend broken hearts
To restore fractured souls with caring arts?
How can we make a difference in the world so chaotic
To bring peace with justice even to the addict?
With the gift of Jesus, all this is mission possible
Because God’s love is unstoppable!
Halleluiah and Amen!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Luke 3: 15-18
The World Needs Joy
After a long life of unselfish service, Father John O'Malley died and went to heaven. St. Peter met him at the gate and said: "John, you did such a wonderful job for us on earth, we'd like to do something special for you. You name it; it's yours."
John thought for a moment and said: "I'd like a private audience with the Holy Mother." St. Peter told him it would be arranged. On the appointed day, St. Peter escorted John to the Holy Mother's sanctuary. John went before Her, knelt, and said: "Holy Mother, I've always looked to you for guidance, and you have granted me peace and serenity through some difficult times. But I have one question that has nagged me during my whole time on earth. In all the paintings that were done of you, and in all the sculptures that were carved of you, you always looked so sad. Why is that?"
Mary thought for a moment, pursing her lips. She said: "I always wanted a girl."
Isn’t it funny that so often what we want, we have already, but we miss it because we focus on what we do not have?
Sometimes what we want is hidden from the clutter in our lives. Christmas time is certainly a prime example of how we often feel overwhelmed, we sense that this is supposed to be an important moment in our life, but often the responsibilities can hide the joy we are supposed to experience.
For many the sense of sorrow and feeling alone is at its height at this time of the year, because they are reminded of what they do not have, family, friends, who understand and love them.
For others, the financial issues and struggles have hit hard, it was reported that the number of homeless seeking cold winter shelter numbered 325 on the first night of the program for the East San Gabriel Valley, in comparison the number on the first night last year was around 100 and grew to 165 by the close of the program this past Feb.
In addition, I heard the report of the East Valley Clinic that serves those who have no health insurance, and they are seeing more and more families who have had very abundant lives but due to layoffs, are for the first time without health insurance or a job.
These realities cloud the joy of Christmas for so many.
What are we to do to rediscover joy in this time of preparation?
Paul points to the practice of rejoicing: 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Notice that Paul says rejoice in the Lord, rejoice in God. He writes from a jail cell, and yet he still finds a way to rejoice. He rejoices in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the prince of peace, the savior of the world. I confess I am sometimes so overwhelmed with the details of life, I forget to praise the creator of life.
Phillip Newell who wrote this book of Celtic prayers wrote this prayer:
Early in the morning, I seek your presence, O God
Not because you are ever, absent from me
But because often I am absent from you
At the heart of each moment
Where you forever dwell.
In the rising of the sun
In the unfolding color and shape of the morning
Open my eyes to the mystery of this moment
That in every moment of the day
I may know your life giving presence
Open my eyes to this moment
That in every moment
I may know you as the One who is always now.
When Paul talks about rejoicing in the Lord always, and in all ways he is talking about taking a moment to be still, to feel, to see the presence of God.
For many the business of life, the hurried, got to get it done right nowness, can push the joy right out of life.
Repent, John the Baptist says: let go of all that which clutters up your soul, release all the doubts, all the concerns, all the anxieties and fears. Let go and Let God move in to those places which so desperately need joy.
Once we rejoice in the presence of God in us, in the world Paul tells us how to respond: Let your gentleness be known to everyone. You may recall that two weeks ago, I ended my sermon with a challenge, to bring peace into the world in our daily living. When we are at the grocery store, to practice peace by helping someone who is trying to find an item, not getting mad when someone cuts us off on the road, being patient in line when the clerk is trying to go as fast as he/she can. As I have been trying to follow my own challenge, I have noticed it is not as easy as it sounds. Nevertheless, because I have been intentional to bring peace into this hurried season, I have been able to change my reactions to those who are in such a hurry. Instead of cursing, I strive to pray for those who cut me off, because the way they are driving they certainly need to be prayed for! In a world that is often so harsh, we do well to practice gentleness.
Next, “The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
This week has been finals week for both my daughters. Usually it is a high stress time of year for us all. I noticed however, it is not the usual sort of chaos that I am usually glad to get away from. Rather, they both have been calmer than usual. The secret according to Amber was getting some of her work done before finals hit.
I was looking at facebook and noticed that the School of Theology at Claremont was taking suggestions about how to manage finals. They were awarding a free lunch to those who came up with the best suggestions. I put my two cents worth in, study with friends! It works to help you test out what you know with peers before you have to write it down. It works to help you realize what you missed, and you help one another figure out what is essential to know. The other key for my daughter was that the teachers gave them a study outline for the test. With all the material they had to read, it was good to know what topics were going to be the focus of the test.
These simple lessons can help us in life, so we can have more joy, to loosen the bonds of worry, so we can be free to rejoice.
We too can have times of stress, and it is the work we have done to repent of those things that are unimportant in order to have room for what is important that will help us through. The gift we give to ourselves is to take the time to build a healthy strong relationship to God, because in the tough times it is good to know we can rely on God to bring us joy even when all seems lost
Friends are important because they help us gain perspective and help us see how we may have lost sight of what is really important.
In the first part of the chapter Paul says: therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved
This image of calling his brother and sisters as “my joy and crown” reminds me of a story I read about a pastor who told this story:
“I complimented a woman in Rustin, Louisiana, on her jewelry. She smiled and said, "Thank you. I collect gems." I agreed and said, "It shows."
"No," she insisted. "I don't collect those gems. I collect real 'gems'--I have a gem of a husband, a gem of a daughter, a gem of a friend, a gem of a pastor. Those are the real 'gems' I invest in."
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Tired, sore muscles
But peaceful conversations
About terribly important subjects
Intertwined with soft warm breezes
And Bright Sun!
This camp is unique, never again
Will our lives be together,
At this precise time
At this precise place
This sacred place
With these holy people
Who will live in the empty spaces
Of our hearts forever!
Tired sore muscles
Campers still relaxing
Not quite ready to allow
Their beauty to
Touch all our Souls.
I read this at the talent show and was asked about the line: "Not quite ready". I was trying to convey the sense that there was some reluctance by some to let go of all their defenses and allow the unconditional love and support into their hearts. By the end of the week, many had, mine had.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Joel 2: 21-27 In the face of loss the prophet calls his people to give praise to God
Matthew 6: 25-33 Wealth belongs in a relationship of trusting God, who provides for creation.
Joe Walker (former Conference staff person) tells about Jonesy, "one of those people" who exemplify in their lives the freedom that comes from grace.
"Jonesy" was a little lady in his small student pastorate in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Church had only two rooms, one to worship in, and one to eat in. Jonesy was one of those extremely faithful members, there whenever anything was going on. She came from a rugged background in the Arkansas Mountains, and she lived in a little ramshackle house a couple of blocks from the church. Her greatest disappointment, expressed every time the church had a potluck, was that all the water had to be heated on the stove, since the church did not have a hot water heater. She couldn't stand the fact that her church could not afford a hot water heater.
One morning the young pastor Joe Walker came to his church, patting the bricks of the little building to be sure all was in the right place, when suddenly he noticed in the corner of the kitchen a hot water heater. It was not a new hot water heater, but it was new to the church, with evidence around it that it had been freshly installed. Joe immediately walked the two blocks to Jonesy's little house. She was waiting for him on the porch. She tried to keep him on the porch, but he went right on in the house. She tried to keep him in the living room by offering him some cookies, but he headed on into the kitchen. He looked in the corner and, just as he knew he would find, there was an empty space where there used to be a hot water heater. "Jonesy!" he said, "You didn't have to do that!"
"If I had had to do it," she replied, "I wouldn't have!"
She then took her young pastor back into the living room to tell him a story. "Back in Arkansas," she explained, "people pass on truth to each other by telling stories that aren't true. This is one story my mother told me. When I was just old enough to understand she took me on her lap and told me, 'the night you were born I looked out that window up into the sky and saw a star, a brand new star that had never been there before. And then I heard all the angels in the heavens come together to sing a song that had never been heard before.'" Then Jonesy looked at her young student pastor and said, "Joe, I have my own star and my own angel's song, what do I need a hot water heater for?!" (From Rev. Rich Bolin’s sermon on Wesleyan Economics: Give All You Can, Culver City UMC).
What a wonderful attitude, completely in line with our three week emphasis on stewardship. We each have our own star, our own angel’s song. We have been given so much by God our Creator, sustainer. As we give thanks today for the blessings of our life, we trust these in the blessings, from a God who never gives up on us, who never withholds what we need to live full lives, full of joy, full of hope, full of peace, full of love. The prophet Joel announced , “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” so do not fear, be glad and rejoice! (Slide)
“Before his Ascension, Jesus said that he would be present and send the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). That promise was fulfilled when the Spirit descended as wind and fire at Pentecost. The Spirit’s fulfillment continues in the Spirit’s ongoing activity among people of faith. John Wesley, in keeping with church tradition, recognized the Spirit’s work, especially surrounding the sacrament of baptism. Just as the spirit alighted on Jesus at his baptism, so too God gives us the Spirit to us at our baptisms”. (Wesley Study Bible)
The Spirit has been poured into every pore, every part of our being, abundantly , overflowing like a heart bursting with love, like a sold out crowd during the world series, like a thanksgiving feast, like a Disneyland light and fireworks show, like the stars in the sky, the drops in the ocean, the leaves on the all the trees, like the voices of all worlds choirs, like chocolate in Hershey town, like all the diamonds in Africa, like all the coal in Appalachia, like all the snow in Antarctica, like all the animals in all the earth, all the power of a hurricane, or volcano or earthquake, all the ships in the ocean, all the planes in the air, all the varieties of flowers, all the foods people eat all across the world, all the smells, all the sounds, all the sights, all that touches us, God is more than all of this.
Fear on the other hand causes us to be afraid, afraid there is not enough time: “2012 is the last day of the Mayan Calendar, and we need to worry”, there is not enough money, we do not have enough to solve issues like homelessness, HIV/AIDS, starvation, environmental health, not enough resources, our oil will run out, our water will run out, not enough defenses, send more troops, more police, more boarder patrol, more drug enforcement, not enough jobs.
Fear is the opposite of faith, and silly Jesus who proclaims in the midst of all the fears of our life” Therefore do not worry about your life!” Jesus don’t you know about all our worry’s and concerns, don’t you get it? Don’t you see what we face here in the real world? In fact Jesus does see, God does see, the Holy Spirit does see.
Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own”. Thanks , something else to worry about.
No, Jesus does not teach us to fear, but to trust, trust in the face of the fears that surface in our lives, fear of cancer, fear of lack of money, fear of a lack of a job, fear of death, fear of going hungry, of loss, of grief, of powerlessness, of being hurt, of being taken for granted, of being forgotten, of not having enough, trust Jesus says, trust the prophet Joel says cast all your hopes and dreams on God! And you will have nothing to fear.
Once we have been freed from our fear, we will be free to give all we have to .
Jesus said that God was like Jonesy. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” John 3:16
The essence of God’s nature is to give. This begins to reveal to us the richness that is to be found in the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinity tells us that God is not to be understood in static terms, but rather, that God’s very being is already in relationship. Justo Gonzales has said that rather than trying to understand the Trinity, we should be imitating the Trinity. God gave his only son. God’s Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God. God touches our lives with cleansing fire to set us free for service. God is like Jonesy, not taking in and holding on, but flowing out and letting go.
John Wesley was like Jonesy, though he did not speak so poetically.
“First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then "do good to them that are of the household of faith." If there be an overplus still, "as you have opportunity, do good unto all." In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God. You "render unto God the things that are God's," not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.” (from John Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money”)
Friends, we are living abundant lives. Our cup overflows. It is not a matter of the cup being half-full or half-empty. Our cup is overflowing. The exact point at which the cup overflows is determined both by how much is flowing into our cup and by how big our cup is.
"This is Wesleyan economics: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Gain all you can through honest industry and disciplined living. That is, gain all you can without doing damage to your own health, doing violence to your spirit, or harming your neighbor. Gain all you can without manufacturing products that are harmful or taking part in cutthroat competition. Gain all you can, not by promoting corporate greed, but by promoting corporate responsibility and working for the common good.
Save all you can by reducing your consumption. Don’t purchase what you don’t need. Saving all you can is not about putting money in the bank. Rather it is not spending money on anything beyond our basic needs. As we examined this second principle of Wesley’s last week, we noted that rather than being an old fashioned party pooper who doesn’t want us to enjoy life, Wesley is in fact a time-honored sage whose advice is prime for the 21st century. For what the world needs now is an ecological economics that sustains the planet by consuming less.
And then Wesley tells us to give all we can. Wesley is not talking about tithing. He is talking about “Jonesying.” Rather than saying that we should calculate a percentage of our income to give, he says we should determine what we actually need, and then give the rest. Wesley practiced what he preached. Bishop Kenneth Carder reports that as a student, Wesley lived on twenty-eight pounds. “He earned thirty pounds, so he gave away two pounds. As his earnings increased, he continued to live on the same twenty-eight pounds. When he earned 120 pounds, he gave away ninety-two pounds. Wesley wrote to his sister, 'Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.' He told the people that if at his death he had more than ten pounds in his possession, they could call him a robber." Bishop Carder made that observation several years ago in a sermon titled, “On Being Two-Thirds Wesleyan,” in which he suggested that Methodists were doing better at the gaining and the saving parts than the giving one. Actually, I think we are finding all three to be a challenge these days.
Nevertheless, friends, let us embrace the fullness of Wesley’s economics, for the sake of our world, for the sake of our souls, in response to the grace we have received, as persons each with our own star and our own angels’ song, let us gain all we can, save all we can, and give all we can". (Bolin) Amen.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Save all you can
Save energy, Save money, save time, save coupons, save yourself, being saved, save today, save for retirement, save food, save the women and children first, save at, Students against violence everywhere, save the day, save a game, Eric Gagne, Dodger save leader, Troy Percival: Angels Saves leader, Dog risks life to save a friend, Jesus Christ Saves, research saves lives, save natural resources, clean hands saves lives, Eco font saves ink, discount shopping by mommy saves, print coupons and save. Save the trees, robot zombie cat saves Halloween, disco tune saves man’s life, find the best travel deals and save, these are just a few of the
43, 300,000 ways to use the word save.
Today we are concerned about how John Wesley the founder of Methodism used the term in his sermon on the use of money. Last week we heard about how we are to gain all we can, without harming our neighbor, our own health. Wesley said, “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Rather, says Wesley, money “is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked…. It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent.”
So today we exam what Wesley meant about the second principle, Save all you can. He has quite the list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to saving all we can.
First: “Having gained all you can, by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is," Save all you can." Do not throw the precious talent into the sea”
Wesley believed each of us as having a potential gift to offer to the world. We may accumulate money, or train to be skilled in one area, or focus our talents in ways that will not be a waste. As he states:
“Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh; in procuring the pleasures of sense of whatever kind; particularly, in enlarging the pleasure of tasting….Despise delicacy and variety, and be content with what plain nature requires. In other words he would not be a “ foodie, or a fan of the Food channel, he was practical in his instructions, that we not ought to spend time wasting our energy on things that only satisfy the body, without regard to how that energy could be used to help others.
Wesley goes on “Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments... "Follow thou me." Are you willing? Then you are able so to do” Accessorizing would be lost on Wesley, Mr. T would have to trade in a few of his gold chains in order to follow Wesley’s teachings. In fact, we might adopt the practice of the Pilgrims who stuck to simple styles, practical, and even left their items in a will to relatives. A passenger named Brewster left in his will, "one blew clothe suit, green drawers, a vilolete clothe coat, black silk stockings, skyblew garters, red grograin suit, red waistcoat, tawny colored suit with silver buttons." Yes we can wear color, contrary to the legend of the pilgrims they wore colors and a variety of outfits, but all were modest and practical, not overly showy.
Four: Lay out nothing to gratify the pride of life, to gain the admiration or praise of men. ..be content with the honour that cometh from God. Spending money or time or energy in order to be admired by others was a waste according to Wesley, you should only be concerned with honoring God in all that you do.
Five: Teach your children the value of money from an early age.
In conclusion, Wesley asks: “Brethren, can we be either wise or faithful stewards unless we thus manage our Lord's goods? “ We are given so much, and we are asked to use what we have been given to bring justice to the world. The prophet Amos reminds us that there are guidelines to how we are to use our skills and gifts , to use them for good and not evil, so that you might live. Further we are to love good and hate evil, establish justice… Wesley calls us not to waste our gifts, talents or money on things that do not bring good, do not bring justice to the world. We will explore more about what it means to give next week as we conclude our series, for now it is good to remind us to save our best for God’s work.
Wesley’s sermon on the use of money uses the Luke passage as the scriptural context of his thinking.
“A certain rich man had a steward” - .
Jesus starts with a story that seems fairly ordinary: There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought that this man was squandering his property. It is not hard for his listeners or us to imagine an employee being dishonest. Schemes of Bernie Madoff, welfare fraud, embezzlement are all familiar scandals to us. So what does the manager do? He figures out that he can perhaps fix the problem by saving all the debtors a bit on their bills by giving them a steep discount, take 10, 20 % off if you pay now.
Ok so far, now Jesus is about to lower the boom, let’s see how the Rich Man punishes his dishonest manager.
However, Jesus tells a different ending to the one we might otherwise expect. Instead of condemning the manager, he commends the manager for his shrewdness. Instead of calling him out, he is praised. One commentator said it this way: While the steward's motives may have been only to make the debtors more congenial towards him, the master benefits equally from this new-found spirit of good will. The debtors no longer owe an unfairly tallied debt to the master; no longer do they see the steward as an out-of-control agent for the master. Thus, the master is once again respected and honored for re-establishing a right relationship between himself and his community.
The point of the parable in Wesley’s view, is all about relationship, and how we use what we have been given. Consider the Rich man, who like God gives the manager much to manage, abundance in fact. But instead of using that abundance well, the manager squanders what has been given to him in trust, sort of like when we squander what God has given us. Yet even then all is not lost, we can find a way to make it right again. The manager finds a way of reducing the debt of those who owe the already rich man in a way that restores their faith in him to be fair and principled. The manager rights the wrong. He saves his master from embarrassment, he saves those who have debt by reducing their loans, and he saves himself from being fired.
We are called not to waste what we have been given, and we have been given so much, we have such power to transform the world, if we follow God’s way.
C.S. Lewis said it this way:” Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased!"
-C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
(New York: Macmillan, 1949), 2.
In his programs on teaching people to be fearless thinkers, Michael Price talks about the power of our minds. He states that we have such powerful minds, and yet that power is so often untapped. For example, he talks about those who become hypnotized. He talks about how when people are in a trance, they can be pursued with suggestions to the mind, that cause people to act or do things they would not have done. The power of suggestion even extends to physical, if someone is in a deep trance and it is suggested they just burned their skin, a red spot will appear.
So much of our fear is perception of what we think might happen, and so to be fearless is to look at a different way of perceiving, of retraining our brain to look at our lives differently.
The bottom line is that we underuse our abilities, and this is means we save too much back from the world. We become reluctant, afraid, anxious about sharing too much with the world, and so we hold back. Wesley did want his congregations to save all they can, not to waste energy on unimportant things, but this did not mean we are to habitually hold back. We are called to love the Lord with all our hearts and minds and strength, which means we are called to love the world in this same way.
I mentioned the pilgrims a bit ago, and I have always admired their courage to see religious freedom in a place the world had barely heard of. Of the original group
Half of their 102 members perished: "of the 17 male heads of families, ten died during the first infection"; of the 17 wives, only three were left after three months.
Their dedication to practice their faith free from the restrictions that they believed were contrary to God’s will. They did not want to waste time, they wanted to establish a place where not only themselves but generations that would follow would have a place to worship God, and not be persecuted in doing so.
We are called to save all we can, not to waste all that has been given to us. “Waste not want not,” using our resources carefully, prayerfully to transform our lives, to transform the world with God’s help. Amen
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Mark 12: 41-44
>"Wesleyan Economics 1: Gain All You Can" (first of three sermons)
My colleague Rev. Rich Bolin of the Culver City United Methodist Church told me the story of about he started to think about Wesleyan Economics. Last Spring the Culver City United Methodist Women hosted their annual Flower Festival with the very appropriate and timely theme of caring for our planet. Each of the tables was decorated with a Green theme, such as water conservation or the diversity of grains that sustain life on this earth. Rich says: “I was a little surprised when Darlene (one of the women) asked to borrow a volume of John Wesley’s sermons as an aid in decorating her table. She was looking for John Wesley’s sermon on “The Use of Money.” Now I suppose that could be considered a “Green” theme, but I didn’t think that was quite the angle that the planners had in mind. Then Darlene explained to me that Wesley’s instructions to the people called Methodists regarding the use of money could be applied to our stewardship of all creation. In brief, Wesley urged Methodists to “gain all you can,” “save all you can,” and “give all you can.” Darlene piqued my interest, so I went back and read Wesley’s sermon myself. Sure enough, what I found there is wisdom for the ages. Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics, which is kingdom of God economics, which happens to be what our lives and our planet need to survive and to thrive.”
After I heard this story, my interest was piqued as well, and so I read the sermon and then discovered the same thing Rich did: Wesleyan economics is wisdom for our age. I then presented the idea to the Finance committee, they became interested and so today is the first of three sermons on Wesleyan economics as we think about stewardship. The key is to realize that God calls us to be good stewards, of our green/money, our time and our use of our talents and gifts.
Consider the way Jesus contrasts the two attitudes of those who are giving at the Temple in Jerusalem.First, Jesus teaches about the scribes: for the sake of appearance, of, considered by Jesus to be self-serving and call attention to themselves. They were dishonest, and “Devour widow’s houses”. That is they gain their wealth by unjust means. Jesus then compares this with the widow, one who puts two small coins into the treasury. She is giving all she has, all she has to live on. Jesus compares her attitude with the rich give out of abundance, but she gives out of poverty. Jesus then teaches that this poor widow, has “put more than all those who are contributing to the treasury”. Why? Because Jesus sees what is in her heart and soul, she is giving out of devotion, out of a desire to contribute all that she has. God knows the difference between those who give out of selfish desires or out of an attitude to serve God.Mother Teresa said it this way: “If you give what you do not need, it is not giving”. Jesus teaches that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, with all our strength, and how we live our daily living, how we use our time and energy, gifts and graces, as well as our green resources has everything to do with being a faithful disciple, to transforming the world. Wesley certainly believed that how we use our money is connected to faith.
Wesley’s instructions are easy to summarize: “Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
Of course, Wesley says to “give all you can.” What preacher wouldn’t? But “Gain all you can”? Is this an appropriate Christian maxim? Bill told me last week of the story of a preacher who announced from the pulpit, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to retire the mortgage on the church.”
A sigh of relief went through the congregation.
The preacher continued, “The bad news is the money is still in your pockets.”
Wesley immediately points out that though the scripture says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” it is not money itself that is the problem. “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Rather, says Wesley, money “is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked…. It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent.”
This past weekend I attended the fall meeting of the Board of Congregational Development, a time when we consider the funding proposals for new and revitalizing churches in the Southern California and Hawaii area. The basic concept is this: when there is a need for a new ministry, a plan is developed, refined reviewed by various committees and then makes it way to the Board. Only the most viable, sustainable projects are forwarded for our work, plans that do not include certain information, fail to provide a step by step plan, developed with a expert, or does not seem wise right now, does not have the right leadership, are all returned to the group who submitted the plan. Even then, the proposals far outnumber the amount the Board has to grant. This means, when we finish our work, we both celebrate for the projects that are able to use talents and gifts, money to make new disciples for Jesus Christ, and we mourn the projects that we were not able to fund, due to a lack of funds, or proposals that do not seem quite ready. A portion of your offering is forwarded to the Board every year, so we can start new ministries in places like, Fontana, a new development in San Diego County, Guam, Fullerton, La Puente. What you do with your money influences what we can do to grow new congregations, new disciples for Jesus Christ.
So Wesley encourages us to “Gain all you can, but …” Ah, now Mr. Wesley starts meddling. He has the audacity to suggest that the means by which we make money matters. He goes so far as to say that some professions are not appropriate for Christian people. “Gain all you can, But … we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor at the expense of our health…. We are to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor.”
John Wesley follows his instruction to gain all you can with a long list of don’ts. Do not work at a job that is destructive to your health, mental or physical. Do not put yourself in an environment where the air you breathe is unhealthy, or where proper time is not allowed to eat and to rest. Do not work at a job that expects you to cheat or lie. “If we are already engaged in such an employ, we should exchange it as soon as possible for some which, if it lessen our gain, will, however not lessen our health” or risk the loss of our souls.
Is it any wonder that Methodists have historically been at the forefront of advocating for worker’s rights? The first official Methodist Social Creed in 1908 called for an end to child labor, a 40-hour workweek, a living wage and the rights of workers to organize.This monument in Moscow city depicts the children (standing in the middle) surrounded by filthy grown ups - each grown up has its own flaw or sin, one of the most common sins of the modern society, together they like stand around the innocent children that have nowhere to go - going to either side would lead to some kind of attachment.
“Gain all you can,” says Wesley, without hurting your neighbor. Here Wesley, goes into such detail and calls into question common business practices. Do not devour your neighbors’ lands and houses by saddling them with debt and charging excessive interest. Do not sell your goods below the market rate in order to ruin your neighbor’s trade. Do not entice away your competitor’s employees.
In addition, do not make stuff that is bad for people! Wesley put it a little more properly: “Neither may we gain by hurting our neighbor in his body. Therefore we may not sell anything which tends to impair health.” Gain all you can, Wesley urges us, but if you are maximizing your profits by selling tobacco to anybody and alcohol to alcoholics, and if you are Las Vegas, enticing people to check their ethical behavior at the boarder, then stop it and find another way to make a living!
Gain all you can, says Wesley. So how are we supposed to gain all we can? Through honest effort and disciplined living: “These cautions and restrictions being observed, it is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, ‘Gain all you can.’ Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. … Never leave anything until tomorrow, which you can do today. Moreover, do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it: Put your whole strength to the work. Spare no pains. Let nothing be done by halves, or in a slight and careless manner. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labour or patience.”
“Gain all you can, by common sense, by using in your business all the understanding which God has given you. … You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience, reading, and reflection, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn, that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.”
Then, “Having gained all you can, by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is, ‘Save all you can.’
“But let not anyone imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by ‘gaining and saving all he can,’ if he were to stop here. All this is nothing. … Having, First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then ‘give all you can.’”
However, I am getting ahead of myself. We will consider “save all you can” and “give all you can” over the next two weeks.
Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics is kingdom of God economics, which, I dare say, is not Wall Street economics. According to Sondra Wheeler, a Wesleyan scholar and professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., “… to take Wesley’s sermon ‘The Use of Money’ seriously would require a whole new way of thinking about how we earn and use money in a world in which others are in want.”
We all have some thinking to do … and not just about our individual choices or how much to put in the offering. We also have some thinking to do about how we order this local and global economy, so that we all might have healthy, life-affirming choices available to us to make a living, providing for our families, and ourselves and sharing generously where there is need.
One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. “Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street. “What do you see?” asked the rabbi.
“I see men, women and children,” answered the rich man.
Again, the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now what do you see?”
“Now I see myself,” the rich man replied.
Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver. No sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others but see only yourself.”
O Lord, help us to give selflessly, with gratitude for the God who has given us everything. Amen.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
To me, life is God’s gift to you. The way you live your life is your gift to God. Make it a fantastic one”-Leo Buscaglia
There is no doubt we face many challenges in life. There are days when we wonder if we can make it, days we want to just quit our jobs, turn over our children to the local orphanage and scream. There is news that falls on our souls with a thud, and we feel burdened, wondering how we can take the next step in our lives. The above quote has been on my desk for the last couple of weeks and I have taken comfort from this insight. God gives us life, our lives are a gift to God. The intersection of the cross is a helpful reminder to me of the heart of life, that moment when the pain of this life is met with the love of God. It is a reminder for me to dwell in the heart of God, to find that place where the problems and pains of my life are met with the abundant love of God.
I was listening to a program about how in the time of disasters, people come together to support one another. Neighbors, sometimes who have never spoken, will help one another through the crisis, putting their lives on the line in some cases for perfect strangers. I think of the firefighters who have been fighting these wildfires in the mountains above my home, and I am amazed at the commitment they have to protect houses, lives of those who people they may never meet.
It is hard to sustain that sort of neighborliness after the tragedy is over, yet this is exactly what I think we need to do when Jesus calls us to love our neighbors. We need to reminders of the love of God which sustains us in our every day disasters, challenges that cause us to give up hope.
I believe the key is allowing ourselves to be open to how God calls us to live in the midst of the reality of life, it is not up to us to fix life, only to live with love, to give to one another the love from our hearts. Today is the perfect opportunity to start loving God, and one another so the world will be a more fantastic place for everyone.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Again, I am not even aware of these crews are getting fed, and the effort of so many to provide shelter for evacuates, evacuate animals of all kinds, wow, it boggles the mind!
I wonder how different the world would be if we could learn to corporate with one another to fight oppression, homelessness,and establish wellness and peace on earth.
"..you may be filled with the blessing of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in very good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God" (Col.1:9-10)
We all bear fruit, we all have gifts and skills to offer to the Lord to make peace a reality, not all of us can be pilots some need to be ground crew, others to be on the front lines, those who need to be strategic and plan. It will take the full effort of everyone to make sure the hard issues of life are addressed and the challenges met.
What do you think? Steve
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The Mask of Male Depression
For a long time, Chuck P. didn’t know what was wrong with him. A former customer service representative at Wal-Mart in Bowling Green, Kentucky, he sometimes lashed out at coworkers and shoppers. Eventually, he attended anger management classes only to learn that his problem wasn’t anger at all. His therapist helped him identify that he was depressed—and that his irritability was a product of a biochemically-based brain disorder.
“It took me awhile to accept that I was depressed,” says Chuck, 49. “Being a guy, people think that you need to man up and not talk about it. They accuse you of whining about the little things. They don’t understand that depression for guys is difficult because we have all these expectations thrust upon us.”
More than 14 million American adults suffered a major depressive episode in the past year; more than 35 million have had one at some point in their lives. Nearly two-thirds of both those groups are women. However, a chorus of mental health professionals believes that men may suffer from depression at a much higher rate than is documented because they don’t recognize their symptoms or aren’t willing to get help. Even so, more than 6 million men are known to have depression each year in the United States alone, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
In Canada, about 8 percent of adults will experience an episode of major depression and anxiety at some point in their lives and about 5 percent in a given year, reports Health Canada and Statistics Canada. Again, women account for more of those cases, but many mental health leaders say that male depression is underreported.
Part of the reason for this is that men who are depressed often fail to recognize their condition, chalking it up to apathy, low self-esteem, and anger. And as such, experts say, they experience depression differently than women, often masking the disorder by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. In both countries, men are four times as likely to die by suicide.
“Men tend to feel that they need to rely only on themselves and that it is somehow weak to have to depend on someone else, even for a short time,” says Frederick E. Rabinowitz, PhD, coauthor of Men and Depression: Clinical and Empirical Perspectives (Academic Press, 2000), written to help therapists work with men experiencing depression.
The way that men think about themselves can impede how they are identified and treated for depression, experts say. Compared with women, men tend to be far more concerned with being competitive, powerful, and successful. They often don’t like to admit that they feel fragile or vulnerable, so they’re less likely to talk about their feelings with their friends, loved ones, or even their doctors.
For Chuck, like many men, coming to terms with depression carries deep social and psychological challenges.
“With me, the more I talk about it the more I feel weird,” he says. “If you’re really a man, you’re not supposed to feel this way.” In our society, he adds, “it’s still a problem for most guys to get up the nerve to seek the help or assistance they need to work through this stuff without feeling like it’s going to come back at them in some sort of way. I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
Jim Blaha, 71, has lived with depression for the past 50 years. At 22, he had a breakdown that landed him in a psychiatric hospital for six weeks. Then, doctors called it “acute depression.” Since that time, he has had a major episode every eight to 10 years.
“When I was first diagnosed—and still today—depression in men simply wasn’t talked about,” says the former accountant and Westinghouse executive, who splits his time between Illinois and Florida. “It was something almost like what the gay community went through: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Even though Blaha’s employer knew about his hospitalizations, “Most people didn’t know what happened to me, so it was never talked about much,” he says. “I kept it under the blanket.”
That’s starting to change. Education on the topic has made Blaha feel more comfortable sharing his story publicly. “Now, I take every opportunity to talk about this. That’s how you start to feel better—talking about it.”
He’s not alone. Scientists and public health officials in North America are now shifting their attention to bringing male depression into the spotlight. Several years ago the NIMH launched a nationwide television, print, and Internet campaign called “Real Men. Real Depression,” designed to counteract the notion that mood disorders are a sign of psychological or moral weakness.
In Canada, the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health has focused on helping employers recognize the signs of depression in men, both to encourage them to get treatment and improve productivity. And researchers at the NIMH and elsewhere are studying the hormonal and genetic roots of depression as doctors get better at letting their male patients know that there are treatments—both psychological and pharmacological—that work.
Bill Wilkerson helped found the Canadian roundtable. Now in its 10th year, it was inspired by the findings of the Harvard School of Public Health’s 1996 landmark study “Global Burden of Disease,” which found that psychiatric illness, primarily depression, was the leading source of disability.
“You could look at whatever category of occupation—whether it’s judges, lawyers, physicians, plant workers, or office executives—and you can see the tendency to withdraw,” says Wilkerson. “This will reach a point where they hit a wall or the wall hits them.”
Wilkerson says this is why it’s imperative that employers take an active role in helping men who appear to be suffering from depression and anxiety.
“Men, unlike women, are less likely to reach out and be receptive to the suggestion that they may need some kind of support. Culturally, men are in a position where they have lived a life where any kind of suggestion of ill health is an assault to their own self-image. I think men are still coming out from behind those longstanding barriers to recognizing their vulnerability to these issues.”
Dave Schultz, 53, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, believes his depression started when he was a teenager. But the for-mer architectural draftsman said his own negative self-talk prevented him seeking help until 2000.
“I was very critical of myself,” says Schultz, adding that he started medication and talk therapy only after he began to fear he might end his own life.
“I’d just blame it on my character. I thought I was lazy, not worthwhile, not fun to be around, and that it was all my fault. Men, in general, are very reluctant to cry and express deeper feelings. I was no different.
“Simply put, I viewed it as a weakness, not an illness. And for years, I had no idea what was wrong with me.”
An established body of evidence from neuroscience, genetics, and clinical trials shows that depressive illnesses are brain disorders. But just what causes them is still being studied.
Modern brain imaging technologies show that in depression, neural circuits responsible for the regulation of moods, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior fail to function properly and critical neurotransmitters—chemicals that brain cells use to communicate—are out of balance.
In some families, depressive disorders seem to occur generation after generation. But they can also occur in people with no family history. Research shows that risk for depression results from the influence of multiple genes acting together with environmental or other non-genetic factors.
Therapists have identified social factors as the leading reason why men have long been left in the dark when it comes to being identified and treated for depression.
Rabinowitz, a professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California, says men often experience depression differently from women.
“Culturally, women have more words to describe their inner emotional world and men have fewer words to describe it,” says Rabinowitz, who leads depression support groups for men. “So, for guys there’s more of a tendency to try to distract themselves from the nagging from that emotional world.”
They may be grumpy or irritable, or lose their sense of humor. They might drink too much or abuse drugs. They might work all the time or compulsively seek thrills in high-risk behavior. Or, they may become isolated and no longer interested in the people or things they used to enjoy.
Take Schultz, for example. “It was hard for me to derive any sort of joy from any activities in my life,” he says. “I was withdrawn and always took a pessimistic view. I could never feel there was meaning or purpose in life.”
Chuck says his depression has kept him from using his bachelor’s degree, so he works minimum-wage jobs instead. “I don’t want to answer the phone. I don’t want to watch TV. I wake up sometimes and just say, ‘ugh.’ I just stay asleep and try to avoid the whole day.”
Very often, a combination of genetic, cognitive, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of a depressive disorder. Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, a financial problem, or any stressful change in life patterns—whether the change is unwelcome or desired—can trigger a depressive episode in some individuals.
Men are particularly vulnerable when the economy is bad, experts say. Recent studies have shown that up to one in seven men who become unemployed will develop a depressive illness within the following six months. In fact, after relationship difficulties, unemployment is the most likely thing to push a man into a deeper depression. This isn’t surprising, experts say, as work is often the main source of a man’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Whatever the cause of a man’s pain, if he fails to get to the heart of it, he often turns that discomfort outward in the form of aggression, or simply masks it with drugs and alcohol. “Men tend to have a higher substance abuse rate, and the data shows they’re twice as likely to be alcoholics,” Rabinowitz says. “I believe that is a reflection of depression forced outward.”
If a man thinks he may be depressed, the most important thing to do is seek treatment, Rabinowitz adds.
“Men are as successful at doing therapy as women when it’s done with empathy and understanding for the male experience.”
Even when men realize they’redepressed, they often encounter barriers to treating the problem. Talk therapy geared specifically to men is rare and groups like those run by Rabinowitz can be hard to find. While medication can be an effective treatment, it often produces side effects such as weight gain and sexual problems.
Raymond W. Lam, MD, professor and head of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry, says that about 30 percent of men taking SSRIs (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors) will experience sexual side effects, including erectile dysfunction and the inability to achieve an orgasm. He points out, however, that there are non-SSRI antidepressants that do not have sexual side effects.
While at least some of the side effects associated with the SSRIs can be treated with other medications, “it can definitely be a tradeoff,” says Lam, also the medical director of the Mood Disorders Centre of Excellence at UBC Hospital in Vancouver.
Notes William Ashdown, vice president of the Mood Disorders Society of Canada: “Many men feel that a diagnosis of depression is an accusation that they’re impotent. And that feeling over the years has been enhanced by medications that have exactly that effect.”
Steve Poteete-Marshall, 50, a pastor at Walnut United Methodist Church in Walnut, California, has lived with depression and anxiety since he was in his 20s. He says he put off medication treatment because he was fearful of the sexual side effects and “afraid it would ruin my sex life with my wife,” also a church pastor, particularly when they were newlyweds.
Poteete-Marshall dealt with his depression through talk therapy for many years. He finally decided to take antidepressants when, during a stressful church assignment, he began having suicidal thoughts.
“I did get those (sexual) side effects,” Poteete-Marshall says. “And I still have them. But now I try to think of my sexuality as a whole, not just the physical side of it. My wife and I are at a different stage in our relationship, and I can be intimate without it all being just about sex.”
Schultz, who is single, avoided taking medications for the first full year after his initial diagnosis. Ultimately, he discovered that the benefits of feeling better outweighed the side effects.
“The first antidepressant I took caused sexual dysfunction,” he says. “But I was so happy that I was pre-pared to ignore that because I was just so thrilled to get relief from the depression.”
The most important thing to remember, says men who’ve lived with depression, is that it’s possible to manage the disorder with treatment and attention.
“My advice to other men who have depression is to try to be honest—to know the self,” says Blaha. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m feeling not-so-good right now.’ There’s nothing wrong with having this even if you’re hospitalized with depression. It’s a reality. It’s not a negative. It’s not any different from a broken leg, cancer, or kidney disease. There’s recovery available for it, and there is less and less stigma associated with it.”
Blaha, who has had five hospitalizations for depression during his lifetime, says that getting help has saved his life more than once.
For his part, Schultz left his career as an architectural draftsman in 2006 to help other people who suffer from depression. Today, as a staff member at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, he devotes his career to the cause of helping men get treatment.
“My life has changed dramatically since I got help,” he says. “I still have short periods when I can be overwhelmed by circumstances, but generally I have an optimistic view and have really found that my work helping others has helped me.”
Poteete-Marshall says the key for him was finding the right medication balance despite the side effects.
“You don’t want to be overmedicated so you’re dull and don’t experience the highs of life. It’s taken me several years to get to the place where the side effects are manageable. Now, I can still feel highs and lows, but it’s not the deep highs and lows.”
He also finds healing in raising awareness about the illness.
“I don’t always talk about my depression with my congregation, but I do allow them to know what’s going on. The big thing is, don’t stop exploring it. I talk about how life is a journey all the way. Just because you reach a certain point doesn’t mean you’ll stop learning about yourself or your depression. It will keep challenging you, but see it as that: a challenge, not a deficit.” e
Michelle Roberts is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. A recipient of a 2004-05 Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, she specializes in mental health and family issues.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I have been reading and reflecting on the topic of trust. Do I trust God or do I withhold my faith in God? I have the tendency to withdraw my trust when under stress, or when I feel threatened by the turmoil of life's demands. I do the opposite of what the author of this psalm affirms, to allow God to guide me. Perhaps it is in letting go and of emptying myself of the need to be in control I allow God to fill me with wisdom and I do not want.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I don't know if it is because I grew up loving the outdoors that I love the Psalm, or if it was the message that comforted me,maybe it was both. And it is a Psalm I never get tired of hearing, the words work into my soul in new ways each time I turn to these words. And even those who do not attend church now, are familar with the assurances present in these few short sentences. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I am still living into the promises found in Psalm 23.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Wow, can I really be in joy of seeing Jesus yet still disbelieve? Can I pray and offer all my burdens yet hold on to them? Can I worship with thanksgiving, yet still hold on to the pains I have suffered? The disciples had seen the hands and feet of their resurrected Lord and Master yet they still wondered, is this really Jesus? I admit I too often can miss the presence of Jesus in my life, if I am too self centered, too self absorbed and too full of hurt. Letting go and Letting God is a pilgrimage I take every day, discovering anew the presence of Jesus in life and how to witness to this.
Friday, April 3, 2009
"With deepening of focus, keen preparation, attention to the path below our feet, and respect for the destination at hand, it is possible to transform even the most ordinary trip into a sacred journey, a pilgrimage". (page xxiii)
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
What was a witness to me was how much diversity there is in the team, some are California Natives, some come from different parts of the world. Some spoke English as their first language, others Spanish, or Mandarin. And the families who came to depend on their care are also are very diverse, each with their own family system, cultural heritage and beliefs about death. The witness was how in the midst of the diversity the Hospice team worked to provide such wonderful care that honored each family's wishes.
The key was the commitment to providing end of life care in a compassionate and healing way.
We in the church can learn from those who work in hospice, we can learn how to work together for the healing of the world. We can learn to honor one another and offer the best we can to those who seek God, and avoid getting caught up in fighting about who is right, and how the church can fulfill our wishes. To often we get caught up in the politics of the church and fail to learn how to work as a team to care for a hurting world.
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
It is that time again, the time of the year when those in the United Methodist Church decide if they will be retiring, which sparks decisions by our Bishop and the District Superintendents as to who will be appointed. And it is that time of year when all of us United Methodist pastors might receive a phone call asking us to consider moving to another church. Moreover, this happens all across our denomination from California to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from Alaska to Guam.
We serve always at the Bishops discretion, for the first time in 12 years; my wife will be awaiting the phone call, because she will be moving as of July 1rst. I am reminded of the story of graduating seminarian student from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who had just received his appointment from the bishop. He was complaining and grumbling because the appointment did not fit what he felt he deserved. Another Student, in a loving but unsympathetic way patted him on the back and said, “You know the world is a better place because Michelangelo didn't say,
'I don't do ceilings.'"
Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but at first Michelangelo refused, he was a sculptor. He referred to himself as such, and vastly preferred working with marble to almost anything else that life offered. Before the ceiling frescoes, the only painting he had done was during his brief stint as a student.
Julius, however, was adamant that Michelangelo - and no other - should paint the chapel ceiling. What Julius wanted, he usually got. It took him a bit over four years, from July of 1508 to October of 1512, and now it is a treasure, many people on pilgrimage to Rome will visit.
Often we are called to service, to walk with Jesus along an unknown path, one that takes us down the road to places we feel unprepared, or even overly prepared for. However, being a faithful follower of the Prince of Peace, we commit ourselves to do what ever it takes, no sacrifice is too big or too small, no amount of work for the kingdom is too small or too big, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit resonates with the law that is written on our hearts so we will have the strength to serve wherever the road will take us.
We might want to object, just as we might when it comes to housework,
I do not do windows! I never knew the truth of that statement until I as an adult and responsible for cleaning windows how difficult it is to get all the dirt off, especially when you have to climb up on a roof to get the outside! And especially cause just as soon as you get them clean, they get dirty quick and all your hard work goes up in dust!
But cleaning windows also helps me remember how I need to clean away those things in my life that keep from seeing the law God has written on my heart. Create in me a clean heart the Psalmist writes as a prayer to God, to clean away the resistance to answering God’s call to be a faithful disciple.
This is the message the student was trying to share with his friend, when he lifts up the Michelangelo image of how to serve means to follow where ever the Spirit is working in you, even if it comes way of stubborn pope who wouldn’t say no! The world is a better place because of his art. Just as the world is a better place because
Moses didn't say, "I don't do rivers."
Noah didn't say, "I don't do arks."
Jeremiah didn't say, "I don't do weeping."
Ruth didn't say, "I don't do mothers-in-law."
David didn't say, "I don't do giants."
Mary didn't say, "I don't do virgin births."
Mary Magdalene didn't say, "I don't do feet."
John the Baptist didn't say, "I don't do deserts."
Paul didn't say, "I don't do letters."
Jesus didn't say, "I don't do crosses."
Now the interesting thing about all these folks, is that they were not the valedictorians of their class, they were not mayor of their cities, they were not known for their brilliance and oratory skills. In every case their lives were transformed when they listened to the Holy Spirit, and then followed God’s commandment to love one another with all your heart and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Moses had a lisp, but he delivered the 10 commandments, Noah was not a builder but he hosted all of creation on an ark, Jeremiah was not considered the greatest prophet, yet God’s words he preached came true. And Jesus, well Jesus was born in a stable and crucified next to the garbage dump on the most anti-climatic way, on a cross, like a common criminal.
For him to lose his life meant trusting God all the way through the difficulties, all the resistance, and all the hatred. Not exactly a glamorous job. However, as Leonard Sweet states: “If you want to be first, you have to be willing to be last. Do you want to be strong? You have to be willing to be weak. Do you want to win? You have to be willing to lose.
He goes on to say: “What is most weak, most despised, and most contemptible in your life and mine can become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what is most beautiful and most radiant, and what can produce the most blessing.” (The Gospel According to Starbucks, WaterBrook Press, 2007, p.26)>
The weak are made strong, the afraid are given courage, the angry transformed into passionate peacemakers, and the unfaithful are given trust. God clears away all the dirt and sin away from our hearts so we are reborn into a life of service.
In the next few Sundays, Palm Sunday and Easter, we will have wonderful reminders of God’s ability to transform death to life. We celebrate these two Sundays with great joy because we are a resurrection people, and we believe God, we trust God with our lives.
However, in between those two high holy days, it is good for us to remember that Jesus suffered, Jesus bled, and Jesus was crucified.
We might be tempted to ignore this part of his life, to gloss over the pain he suffered. We want our lives to be free from suffering, we want to receive the good stuff of life and be able to live comfortably. But this is not the way Jesus preaches, this is not the life Jeremiah preaches.
We will suffer if we choose to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. We will be in pain if we open our hearts to the suffering of the world around us.
We do not have to go looking for it; the world just is full of it already. Moreover, it is all around.
People have asked me why we spend so much time on prayer concerns and celebrations, so even reflect that they do not know the person we are asked to pray for. Nevertheless, I say, this is one of the most important ways that we open our hearts to hear God speaking to us. If you don’t think you can change the world it is okay, cause God has that covered, all we have to do is open our hearts, lose our lives for Jesus sake and we will be given the way to making the world a better place.
We never know what we might called to do, how our lives might be changed as we worship, but unless we give Jesus our lives each time we worship, we might live our whole lives without answering God’s call.
Last week, Jim M. and I were looking over the wedding brochure we give to couples contemplating using our facilities for their wedding. When I went to the Bridal Faire up at Cal-Poly Pomona in Feb., several couples asked if I only performed weddings at the church. I said, “No, I would go just about anywhere!” Therefore, I asked Jim if we could include language in the brochure that would reflect my willingness to go just about anywhere. Then I paused as I thought about the pastor who performed a wedding skydiving, or the one who performed the ceremony while the couple ran the Boston Marathon, or the couple who thought a bungee jump wedding could work, and I realized that I might not be as willing to go anywhere as I thought!
Yet, Jesus does call me to lose my life, to give over direction, to trust and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me, wherever that might be on my pilgrimage. Do I trust God that much? Do I believe God that much?
No but I am willing to try, to dedicate, to be open to new possibilities, and to allow god to use me where ever that might be. This is the kind of fellowship we are all invited into, to be a pilgrim people, to keep following Jesus no matter where the path might lead, no matter how much suffering we might feel, no matter how difficult the journey will be. When we let go and let God, then God can create a masterpiece with our lives and we can leave this world knowing we served faithfully and the world is a better place because of our service. Amen
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This passage has been my sentence prayer for about 10 years now, and each time I find something new for my spiritual journey. This time I am struck by how there is both a cleaning and creating a new spirit. This rythm of the spiritual life is to wipe away all that keeps me from seeing God, and allowing God to give me new glasses to see in a whole new way. This emptying and filling creative act of God keeps my soul energized and alive.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The story is told of a young man who entered a very strict monastic order. It was so strict that members were permitted to speak only two words per year to the abbot. At the end of year one the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke his two words, "bad food." At the end of the second year, the young man appeared before the abbot and spoke two more words, "hard bed". At the end of year three he came to the abbot and spoke his last two words, "I quit." The abbot responded, "Well it is about time. Complain, complain, and complain - that’s all you’ve done since you came here."
We all know those who complain, and especially if you play golf, you will hear all kinds of complaints, the wind blew my golf ball off course, the mud made me miss the shot, etc.
We can find plenty to complain about in our lives (What complaints have you heard lately?) Maybe there is also truth to the abbot’s observation of the young man, perhaps it was more than the two words the man spoke, perhaps like most complainers, the young man also exhibited complaining in his silent state by being late to prayer, not participating fully in the life of the monks daily rituals.
Most complainers do not articulate their complaining by speech; rather their actions speak louder than words.
As we turn to the scripture from Exodus, we find people complaining and becoming impatient with Moses and God. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water!” It was hard to please what have you done for me lately people. It was not that long ago, they were in slavery; it was not long ago God had provided the miracles to allow their exodus from Egypt. Now, when things were getting tough, their trust in God was evaporating in the desert heat.
Now I find myself wondering how they could of forgotten so soon, how could they forget the wonderful works of the Lord, and how Moses had stood up to Pharaoh for their sakes.
Then God does something quite unexpected, God sends venomous snakes among them. They bit the people and many Israelites died. Moreover, you know this worked to wake up the people to their sinning, against God and Moses, and they repent and ask Moses to intervene on their behalf. Which he does. They have learned that their complaining does have consequences, that their lack of trust in God brings punishment, in their eyes they see the snakes as God’s way of punishing them for their sinfulness.
Lastly, we learn God directs Moses to make a snake and put it on a pole, so anyone who is bitten can look upon it and be healed.
The Mishnah, a written form of Jewish Oral traditions rejects any magical interpretations of the story, the point of the story is that as the bitten people raised their heads and looked upward, they would submit their hearts to their Father in Heaven, and this would bring about their cure.
In other words, the people reestablished trust in God. The Bronze serpent was a reminder to seek God when they were in pain, when their lives were threatened, instead of complaining about it.
In the season of Lent is a time to examine our own lives and see where we have strayed away from God. It is a time to ask ourselves important questions like. “Do we trust God? With all our hearts, with all our strength? On the other hand, do we find ourselves complaining about what we do not have, or how hard the journey is, do we find ourselves wanting to quit and go another way?
As we turn to the gospel lesson, we are introduced to the bridge between the old covenant and the new covenant established by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord.
Instead of a bronze snake on a pole, we have something else to look up to for our healing, to keep us on the right path. We have the cross, an empty cross that testifies to the power of God’s love. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.
Love is what the world needs to cure what ails us, a powerful love that has raised Jesus off the cross, has conquered death, will reverse the poisons that we encounter each and every day, greed, envy, oppression, and so on.
We're told that when early printers, using handset type, received an order to print a collection of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems, they immediately ordered hundreds of extra letters L and V for their presses. They knew Tennyson. He used the word `love' so often in his poetry that the average set of type could not possibly supply all the necessary letters.
It is with that same kind of extravagant love that God loves us. God so loved the world.
(King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
God so loved the world so we are healed from all that sickens us.
God so loved the world so we find strength in times of weakness
Life in the face of death,
Hope in the face of helplessness
Joy in the face of terror
We might not be typesetters, but perhaps we can wear out the letters L.O.V. E on our computer keyboards, phone keypads, as we express God’s love to a hurting and wounded world. On our journeys with Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we can bring peace to the world by loving one another so profoundly so passionately, we experience healing and bring healing.
We are all on a spiritual journey as we follow the Prince of Peace.
The secret to fulfillment in this journey is to look up and away from ourselves and to the promises of God. When we look to the goodness and graciousness of God, we walk more closely with Christ and are less vulnerable to getting lost in the hurry and hassle of our living.
The cross is a reminder to us all to live in the heart of God. In the intersection of the cross is the place where we dwell completely trusting God, and allow for the Holy Spirit to guide us.
The joy of this season is the realization that our journey has a certain destination. In the time of Moses, the destination was a physical Promised Land. For you and me, the destination is rooted in the words of Jesus:
"...whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
In John's gospel, the manner in which the Son of man was lifted up is superseded by the function for which he was crucified. As Moses elevated the bronze serpent for the people to see, believe, and live, so the Son of man on the cross of Golgotha is raised for us to see, believe and live.
(T. HOOGSTEEN First Christian Reformed Church Brantford, Ontario, Canada)
In our pilgrimage with the Prince of Peace, we will encounter poisons that can kill our spiritual, physical, and emotional selves. In those times we need to lift our heads and look at the cross which reminds us of the healing power of Jesus’ love for whatever ails us. Amen
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Expecting wonderous miracles in each
Encounter we have with complete strangers
Who dwell within our friends?
What if we savor the time we have instead
Of dreading the minutes
That drag or fly by
So we taste the goodness
Of God's creation as if
We had never this moment before?
What if we embraced each task that sits
On our to do list
So long undone as
God embraces us so
We will blossum into sun-
Flowers standing bright and beautiful
What if we rested with pillow angels
Who wisper their calming song into
Our hearts as we reherse the
Day in our minds, So we
Can drift into peaceful sleeping?
What if we worried less and
Opened ourplay to include the world
Into the game of life?
What if we trusted God
So completely we could release
The tension in our soul
And be moved by the Spirit
To be present, to be the presenter of Spirit
To a hurting world?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
When I was a child growing up in Massachusetts, I was very curious about what I would see as we traveled along. When my family would visit family back in Orange we took the Daniel Shays Highway, named after one of the revolutionary war heroes. On one trip, I became curious about all the road signs we passed. I was too young to think about driving yet, so in previous trips I had not really paid attention to how we got there, just knew we would get there, no matter what route we took, Dad knew the way. However, as I said on this particular trip I took an interest in the road signs and for the first time saw that they would predict what we were about to do, a curve or an intersection, how many miles to left in our journey.
Many of the signs had arrows on them, and we started a game of deciding which tribes of Indians were leaving these arrows behind. My imagination dreamed up interesting stories, how the curved arrows were designed to go around trees. We would pretend there were tribal members still in the woods, waiting to hit us with their arrows if we believed the sign, Rest Stop, cause we knew it was just a trap to get us to stop and pillage through our picnic basket, and take us captive.
Of course, as I grew up, I began to use signs for more important things, to get around. I soon found out that even though I had traveled the road many times, I needed them to direct me to where I wanted to go.
As the people of God traveled from Egypt through the desert, there were no such signs for them as they tried to understand where they were going. In fact, they wandered around for quite a while before they ever got close to the Promised Land. However, during their spiritual pilgrimage in the desert they were given a different set of directions, the 10 commandments, the law of God, Torah! This law was to give the people of God directions for being the people of God, of how to live now that they had gained their freedom from the Egyptian Pharaoh’s rule. As one commentator points out:
We usually define torah as the Law, but the Hebrew can also be translated to say “the finger pointing the way” – a means to direct people in their covenant relationship with God.
A finger pointed their way on their journey through the desert. A finger pointing to the way of faith, of giving them directions as they practiced their worship and their living.
The commentator continues:
The Ten Commandments are a gift to those who have been set free, showing them how they can keep their freedom. They are not an assault course, a barrier to overcome in order to gain freedom. Freedom is a gift from God, not something that can be earned by years of striving. The commandments are not a prison in which God places people, a straitjacket to prevent them from getting above them. God has done what Israel could not do for itself – has given it freedom in the crossing of the Red Sea. God now gives the people a second gift – the means of keeping that freedom. In the process, God shows them who God is and what freedom is.
As we consider our lives, it is good to remember that the law of God is designed so that we too can keep our freedom, to keep us from going down the wrong roads, which lead only to danger and dead ends. If we keep the law, the torah we do not earn our God’s love and freedom these have already been given to us as a gift. This gift is ours to accept or deny ours to follow or try to go it on our own.
The key to following all the laws is to worship the one true God and keep from giving into the temptations. The other is our prayer, live so that peace may prevail. Now it is tempting to go into each individual commandment, but today lets explore how the Ten Commandments tell us are the keys to worship and living. Perhaps we can learn by exploring what some of the alternatives to worshiping God. One preacher, David Wells suggests in a book called Torah from Dixie, suggests four alternatives to the commandments.
First is to worship a different God. If God did bring them out of Egypt as the believed, if it was the same God who backed up the pleas of Moses to the Pharaoh to let his people go, with the plagues, if it was the same God who parted the red sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army, then why should they worship any of the Egyptian gods? God has brought Israel out of slavery. What use would Israel have for any other god? And how about us, if we believe in the God the creator of heaven and earth, the God who keeps the promise made again and again to be our God, the God Jesus taught, why would we worship any other God?
A second is to make an idol. This is to worship something smaller than God does, something God has made. God made the sun, the moon, all of creation. To worship something God has made is to confuse the creation with the creator, to serve that, which cannot liberate – in other words, to return to slavery. If we make money our idol, or our jobs, or even our country we put God in second place. In the gospel
A third is to trivialize God by forgetting that the Lord’s name is holy, by using God’s name to advance our own purposes. Unfortunately there are too many who go about the work of the church as a money making operation. We all know of those high profile pastors who carve out a fortune for themselves, misuse the power they have to satisfy their own selfish desires only to be found guilty and their empire collapse. For us to, we need to be careful to make time to dwell with God, to bask in the holiness of God so that we might live holy lives, so we too will not forget the Lord.
The fourth is to make gods of us. This is the underlying warning of the commandments concerning the Sabbath and parents. We are not gods, we are not to be worshiped we need to remember the only one worthy of worship.
Now with this basic understanding and review of the 10 commandments, perhaps we can read the actions of Jesus in the temple with more understanding. Jesus too is on a pilgrimage, one that takes him from the manger to the cross then as a risen Messiah. He knows the history of the temple and why it was built. This was the place where so many searching for truth and purpose in their lives came to reconnect to God. This was where God was encountered, and many from the countryside would make their way after leaving everything they had worked for in their life.
Jesus found something else going on here. He found corruption, and violations of God’s commandments in the very place built of encountering God. The moneychangers had found a way to take advantage of the desire of travelers to honor God by charging high prices for the objects of sacrifice. This was in direct violation of the 10 commandments. These unethical merchants were trivializing God, using the practice of offering sacrifice as a money making endeavor for their own gain. They believed that a profit was more important than worship; they had made money their god.
Jesus saw all this, and had a choice of how to remedy the situation. He could act boldly, radically, or he could try some other less upsetting method. Jesus chose the radical movement and drove the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip. Now it is interesting to note that nowhere does it say Jesus whipped anyone. In fact, I could see in my minds' eye, using all the authority of God to proclaim the message, using the whip as a threat of harm without actually using it. This is a side of Jesus we rarely see in the gospels, but it witnesses to the fact that sometimes-passionate responses are needed to free us from those who practice evil in the world. Sometimes it is important to clearly state what is wrong and take action to make things right. Sometimes it is good to get mad at the injustice of the world, and upset the current denial that anything is wrong.
`Conflict can be destructive or constructive, depending in large part on our attitude, which governs our response. Conflict is natural and necessary. It can be a catalyst for growth, learning and positive change. Our response to conflict is a matter of faith. With a constructive and faithful attitude, we can transform conflict in a positive way. (ENGAGE CONFLICT WELL: THE SPIRITAND ART OF CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION Thomas W. Porter, Jr)
We need to sometimes be radical in our approach to break the shackles of oppression and violence. Sometimes we need to confront what is wrong with society with determined and radical action.
Now what can we learn for our spiritual pilgrimage as we prepare for our week?
First, we need to rededicate ourselves to worshipping the one true God. Worship with all our hearts our minds, our strength with all our love. Each time we gather we bring all our sorrows, all our joys to the Lord. We receive God’s love in abundance, we receive the forgiveness we ache for, and we receive guidance for daily living.
Second, we commit to putting God first in our lives, and worship only God. This is not easy in a world that calls us to worship money, power, and status first. We need to put our trust in the one we worship, trust God first, others will let us down, others will testify against us, others will cause us to suffer, others will break promises, but not our God, God love us, and promises us with an everlasting promise to be our God, to give us all we need.
Third, we need to remember not to trivialize our faith. We need to remember that what we do has implications, a ripple effect to the whole world. As United Methodists when we give to the worldwide funds of the United Methodist Church, we give to provide care for those who would not otherwise have that care.
This week our conference sent another rebuilding team to Mississippi area to help rebuild homes destroyed by the hurricanes. When is the last time you heard a news report about this trip? The world in general has moved on to other news, but our brothers and sisters have not forgotten those who live have been changed when they lost everything.
Lastly, we need to remember that as a church we are called to reach those in our communities who are hungry for a new way of living, whose souls are aching to find a higher purpose, to be connected to a higher power. They may have very successful lives in other ways, but are missing the keystone to the foundation of their lives. There are those too who have lost everything in today’s current financial crisis, those who have been swindled out of their money by promises that have dissolved. We have a part to play in the rebuilding of our communities by offering ourselves in service to those who are hurting, searching and afraid.
This church exists for God, not for us, and so we need to continue to follow God’s directions to serve a hurting world. There are social clubs who can be a place where people can hang out together, there are sports where people can play together, there are city, county, state and national political groups where people can argue politics together, there are places of learning where people can learn new skills and prepare for their careers, but in the church, we are hear to serve God, to trust God, to worship God, and to study the life of Jesus and how to live as Christians, to follow the prince the peace.
Today you will receive the stamp of a temple. This symbol is a reminder to all of us to make our church first a place of worship, a place to connect to the Lord of the Universe. All we do here should honor God.