Sunday, July 30, 2006

July 30 Sermon, The Loaves and Fishes in our Midst

Sermon texts:
Ephesians 3: 14-21
John 6: 1-21
What picnics stick out in your mind? I remember one picnic in particular, on my honeymoon. Lara and I were on the second day of our honeymoon, and the little inn we stayed at (the Sooke Harbor House) on Vancouver Island BC. This little inn had a premier chef that cooked with the flowers (edible flowers) from the garden, and also prepared us a sack lunch to take with us on our exploration of the island. I remember eating the sack lunch and drinking the bottle of apple cider on a rock overlooking a beautiful little stream. I remember the fullness of the moment, the excitement of venturing into a life with this woman I was picnicking with.
I believe “packed moments” like that contain miracles that are perhaps more subtle but just as powerful as what we might expect when we hear the word “miracle” and think of events that defy the laws of nature.
I want you to know about one way that I view my calling as a minister. What I have to tell you may help you understand why I preach the way I do, why I minister to you the way that I do. Unlike many pastors that I have conversations with, my objective as a pastor is not to “ save your soul so that you can go to heaven after you die.”
I don’t think that the afterlife is where God intends us to place such a heavy emphasis. Besides that, I don’t believe that I can save your soul to begin with, and I bristle at preachers who use that kind of language. Your soul is God’s breath—it is between you and God. Now I am interested in you “saving your soul,” but I am more interested in you saving it for the present moment. By opening our eyes to what life—this life—contains, we might just become more involved and interested in what is going on now rather than what will happen. What is going on now can sometimes be perceived in all its glory when these “packed moments” come along-- These picnic moments.
Your soul is in enough danger as it is in this life to worry about what will happen to it in the next life. Our souls are in danger because they are bored. We fill our life with such soul-less entertainment that church and the worship of God is comparatively boring. Our souls are in danger because the food of our soul, which is hope, is in short supply these days. World events, even just little every day things like the heat sap us of our hope. Our souls are hungry, and the present moment holds the Gospel Feast, but we are too bored to eat.
Can you imagine the picnic on the grass that is described in this scripture reading? Can you imagine listening all day to this new, charismatic prophet, and then at the end of the day realizing you were hungry on a physical level, and then through the miracle performed with the aid of a little boy, you were fed full? Can you imagine?
The story we heard in the Gospel this morning was perhaps one of the best known stories about Jesus in early Christianity. The earliest Christian art decorating tombs in the catacombs were pictures of five loaves and two fishes. This story is the only miracle story to make it in all four of the gospels. Mark and Matthew even tell it twice.
Several features of the story are common to all the Gospels—Jesus multiplies five loaves and two fish into a meal that feeds a multitude. The disciples are worried about the crowd. And there are leftovers enough to fill baskets.
Some aspects of John’s telling of the story are particular to John. John is the only Gospel writer to include a young boy giving the gift of five barley loaves and two fish. John is the only gospel writer to mention the boy and the only writer to mention that the boy brought “barley” loaves. This is somewhat important because barley is the kind of wheat used by the poor folks. The boy who gave all he had was a poor boy. If we’re willing to give what we have, God will make it tremendous. It’s not the size of the gift, it’s the size of the heart it takes to give it.
One idea about how this miracle may have actually transpired in an “explainable” way is really quite beautiful. The “rational” explanation goes something like this: Jesus and his disciples are busy healing and preaching, it gets late, people are hungry, and the disciples wonder what to do. It didn’t speak too highly of a savior to send his listeners away hungry, now did it? In walks a young boy whose faith makes the miracle really happen. He is willing to share what he has so that all may be fed. He’s kind of like Jesus in this way.
His gift inspires others in the huge gathering to share the meal they brought for their family with those immediately around them. And through the miracle of generosity, all are fed. But it took the boy’s gift to make it happen. When the crowd saw the young boy give his own family’s lunch to Jesus with the faith that he could do something with it, the power and presence of Jesus really came alive for the crowd. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was not just something people said or thought about, it was what they did. Just as it is today, it took a massive “eye-opening” to the divine potential in the power of community for that crowd to see the answer was right in front of them.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t believe in miracles, because I do—but what we need to understand is that sometimes miracles happen in very ordinary ways. Sometimes miracles are accomplished through things we normally don’t even notice. I don’t know how this miracle happened because the text doesn’t tell me and I wasn’t there—but I know that more then 5000 people were fed, and I know even the “rational” explanation sounds miraculous to me.
This miracle story also made me think of a version of heaven and hell that I’ve heard about before.
Have you ever heard of the Polynesian vision of the afterlife?
Both heaven and hell are identical in this vision, we all sit at banquet table loaded with all the delightful food of our lives and the eating utensils are very long forks. You may have seen these forks in people’s homes. In hell, the people are sitting around the table festering with rage and hunger. You see, the forks are too long an unwieldy to use to put food into your mouth. You certainly don’t just throw down the forks and use your hands, because this just isn’t done in the afterlife. No, the people in this hell waste away, staring at each other across the banquet table from one another, wishing they could do something for themselves.
In heaven, the table and food and forks are the same, but here the people are full of joy and contentment and delight as they taste the richest and most vibrant tastes you could possibly imagine. Here they are well fed because they sit across from one another, and the forks are just long enough to reach across the table to the person sitting there. Everyone picks up a fork and feeds those around them, and they are fed by their neighbors.
Sometimes visions of the afterlife are a good lesson about how we should live in the present moment.
We must feed one another the miracles and the hope contained in the present moment. There are loaves and fishes in our midst, and we don’t see them because we are looking at a big fork and thinking, “how am I gonna stick that in my mouth?” The hope, the miracles in our presence are seen when we turn our eyes toward others and sincerely wish to commune with them. They were seen by that little boy in the wilderness, who took what little he had and offered them to the disciples to give to Jesus.
That little boy saw the big fork and thought about those across the table. He didn’t see as the world trains us to see. He didn’t see five loaves and two fish, and add up to seven. He knew that two more things factored into the equation, and these two things could multiply his gift exponentially. He saw two hands—he saw the hands of the Christ, who was healing and preaching and opening eyes. He saw the only two things that mattered in this occasion!
We’re not seeing with the eyes of faith when we look at what we have and we see what we cannot do. The eyes of faith perceive only the possibilities, and sometimes the possibilities may astound us. The eyes of faith see what little we have plus the hands of Christ. The power of Christ, states Ephesians, is “at work within us and is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can think or imagine.”
The hands of Christ aren’t bound by what we can understand with our knowledge. But the Ephesians author prays that we are able to “comprehend.” You see, comprehend and understand are two different ideas. A famous theologian said, we cannot understand the cross, we can only stand under the cross. Comprehending is the way the little boy looked at the fish and loaves and “comprehended” possibilities. He didn’t understand how it could possibly happen, but he comprehended that those loaves and fishes were enough.
The author of Ephesians prays that we have this little boy’s faith. The author prays, “that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
So I invite you today to take this bread as your last meal today, To imagine yourself eating it with the crowd of people listening to Jesus. I invite you to feel the hunger pangs throughout this day, and to use those times to focus on the Love of God which ultimately fills us. Jesus thought of nightfall as the beginning of a new day (Middle Eastern cultures regard the evening as the beginning of a new day), so if you choose to break the fast after the sun goes down tonight—do so in the company of a family meal—a feast together.
My hope for you is that fasting on a day when we’ve read and celebrated “feasting” may encourage you to perceive the spiritual feast which is in the present moment. My hope is that this ancient discipline that Jesus practice helps you attune your minds and hearts to the fullness of God which passes all understanding. Amen!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Muskogee District Superintendent to visit Morris on Wednesday, July 26

Linda Harker, our new DS, is beginning her ministry at that position by visiting every church in the district for a "shepherd's visit." Anyone who would like to attend should come at 5pm, but the church administrative council is especially encouraged to attend. Hope to see you there!

July 23 Sermon--"Hello Walls"

Sermon Texts
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Mark 6: 30-34, 53-36

I remember hearing with dismay about the dividing wall that was built between Israel and the West bank perhaps 4 or 5 years ago. After a decade of intefadah, or sustained violence, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Israelis decided to build a wall to separate Israel from the West Bank. The project caused much controversy, namely because the wall destroyed Palestinian property, divided people from their farms, and was not built on the international boundary. Israelis were desperate to find a way to put an end to suicide bombings, so they built a wall—keeping everyone out. The author of Ephesians was also familiar with dividing walls between Israel and the Gentiles. The custom of circumcision was one of those wedge issues in the early church that had everyone in their different camps. Paul and his supporters insisted that men didn’t have to become circumcised when they became Christians. Other Christians, namely James the brother of Jesus, in Jerusalem insisted that if a convert was going to have faith IN Jesus, he needed to have the faith OF Jesus, which included certain customs. It may be easy for us to point our twenty twenty lenses back into history and say, “well, that wasn’t so important.” Some of us probably were not even aware that such a controversy threatened to end the unity of our faith tradition before it even began. We’ve grown away from those customs having any meaning for our life. But Ephesians speaks just as strongly to us today. Though circumcision is not a dividing issue anymore, we are familiar with the walls of division. What are the barriers you might hold in your life? What things can you just not get beyond when considering another person? Perhaps the dividing walls are within your own heart. You might find something about yourself unacceptable, unlovable. The author of Ephesians speaks about the destruction of the barrier as peace. Verse 14 states, “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” There are two prepositions associated with the word, peace. Within and between. Peace is an attitude of our hearts within. Peace begins within our hearts, with God breaking down the dividing walls of hostility and anger within our hearts. Then peace is between; it is peace between us and God, nature and other people. There is a four-fold harmony, like harmonies in a choir. The first harmony is within, is inside of me/you, when God lives within us. This is an inner harmony. Then there is peace between me and God, nature and others. This is an outer harmony towards others. What is necessary for that inner harmony?

*The following paragraph is an adapted excerpt from the lectionary study found at the Process and Faith website. * In today’s gospel reading, the disciples have just concluded a successful journey of healing and teaching. They return elated, but Jesus notices fatigue beneath their excitement and joy. “For they were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” Perhaps he knows that deep commitment can only be sustained by a rhythm of rest and action. And so he invites them to a “deserted place.”As you look at your life, where is your “deserted place?” Where – physically, emotionally, or spirituality – do you have place of peace and rest? Your quiet place can be a favorite chair for prayer, meditation, and study; a meditation room in your home; the church’s sanctuary; a wooded park; the lake. Your quiet place can also be a rejuvenating activity – gardening, walking, stargazing, journaling, meditating, praying, writing poetry, or driving in your car by yourself. Health of body, mind, spirit, and relationships requires stillness as well as action, space as well as intimacy. Even the most intimate friends and couples require time alone. As Kahlil Gibran noted in the Prophet, “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” The pillars of love must be appropriately distant from each other in order to support a healthy and embracing relationship that reaches out to others. Yes, there is an art and a discipline to finding a deserted place for prayer and re-creation. Sometimes the whole world conspires against the rest and silence necessary for spiritual growth and personal and relational well-being. In today’s gospel reading, when Jesus and his followers seek a quiet place and in the midst of their silence, “many saw them and recognized them” and sought them out.“And Jesus had compassion for them, because they like sheep without a shepherd.” Compassion is the gift of connectedness not only with the experiences of others, their joy and pain, but also with God and our own deeper selves. Rest and recreation are necessary for true compassion. Fatigue leads to objectification of others as simply “projects to be completed” or “cases to be solved” or “victories to be won.” Even when we are in the midst of challenging situations, we need to breathe deeply and step back in order to see the other in her or his wholeness.The gospel reading challenges us to prayerful boundary-setting. Jesus took time apart with his followers. His “no” to work, even the good work of healing and teaching, said “yes” to spiritual growth and self-care. His “yes” to compassion was grounded in interconnectedness with God and his followers.Boundary-setting is a challenge to pastors and laypersons alike. We want to help people, but find ourselves with too many demands. “Burnout” is a concern even for the faithful followers of Jesus. We need to love ourselves in the midst of loving others. In so doing, we experience the “peace” of Christ that breaks down the dividing wall of “us” and “them” and “self” and “other.”What boundary-setting practices can enhance our health and deepen our relatedness to God? What practices can bring greater health to our congregation? While each person’s spiritual boundaries differ, based on energy and personality type, let me suggest a few possibilities: Sabbath time, a few hours a week, a day a month, and few days each year for retreat and prayer.  Breathing your prayers – filling your day with intentional breathing within and between tasks as means of remembering God’s presence and centering in God’s companionship  Keeping meals sacred – take advantage of gifts of technology such as answering machines and “caller ID”  Cultivate intimate relationships – relationships take time and require leisure  Learn to distinguish the important from the trivial – many people go from crisis to crisis, assuming that they must respond immediately to the least important thing; cultivate a sense of what is truly important and must be done now, and what can be done in good time  Learn to say “no” – many of us say “yes” when we mean “no” and, thus, dissipate our energy and focus; when we are tempted to say “yes” to something we really don’t want to do, remind yourself that you may also be saying “no” to something more important – your prayer life, family, deep relationships, healthy rest

Our God is a God of the Sabbath. In the beginning, God created the masterpiece of Creation. We always tend to think of ourselves as the apex, the masterpiece of Creation, but we are not, we are the caretakers of creation. Genesis tells us at that God created the Sabbath at the end, a day of rest. This is the masterpiece of Creation—the opportunity to rest and devote ourselves to the contemplation of what it means to be created by God. In Exodus 31, God creates a covenant for humans to keep the Sabbath. Though it is part of the covenant of the ten commandments, God also creates a distinct covenant solely for the Sabbath. It seems that the Sabbath is something very important to God—perhaps it is because Sabbath time is when we purposefully ignore the day to day work and chores and instead concentrate on the gifts of our Creator. We must be at peace with ourselves to be in harmony with others, and this harmony with others is what facilitates the tearing down of the walls between us. We must recognize our oneness in the body of Christ if we are to enjoy spiritual communion with God. Time apart, time spent in reflection and solitude facilitates that one-ness, isn’t that odd? If we attempt to tear down the walls by ourselves, we will die of exhaustion. But if we recognize our Spiritual unity within Christ, the walls between us will fall. There are places along the West Bank and Israel where the walls have fallen—not physically, but imaginatively. A British artist named “Banksy” has made several murals on the wall that symbolically defeat the purpose of the wall, or at least challenge its existence. A favorite mural of mine depicts a shadow of a little girl floating up while holding onto a bundle of balloons. She floats up to soar over the wall.
Though we may have real walls between us, they are conquered by children with the willingness to “hang on” to their hopes and dreams for the future. It is when these walls fall that we see the wide-open expansiveness of the “household of God” that is mentioned there at the end of the Ephesians text. We are members of this household, which is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. IF Willie Nelson had been living in the household of God, he would not have been able to write the song that is the title of this sermon—“Hello Walls……” No, he couldn’t have written it because he would not have seen any walls in the household of God—there are none! There are no walls between the races, there are no divisions between the classes. There are no culture wars or nationalities. And this is not some far off dream of the future, this is what a life in Christ brings to us now—in this world. With Jesus, we live free of these walls of division, we pay no attention to such trifles, we have no prejudice toward others because of externalities. NO, the household of God is more like my elementary school in Fayetteville, Happy Hollow elementary. It was a happy hollow and the school was indeed hollow—there weren’t any walls in it. (Do you teachers remember that educational experiment? I’m a product of it! So is Lara!) It is by healthy “boundary-setting” that we give ourselves space and time to refresh our spirits. However, the boundaries aren’t barriers. Within the renewal that “boundary setting” and Sabbath taking affords comes the understanding that the “barriers” between “us and them” are brought down. Once the walls have been leveled, we see that we are dwelling in the household of God, with Jesus as the cornerstone. And by the mystery of this miracle, “21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”We not only live in the household of God, where we are all one in Christ Jesus, but through this oneness, we become a dwelling place for God. God lives in us! We are the house of God! Through the One who Created us, the One who redeemed us, and the One who transforms us! Alleluia, Amen

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sermon July 16, "I Exam"

Ephesians: 1: 3-14
Mark 8: 22-26

As you have probably noticed, I wear glasses. I have worn glasses since I was in the third grade. I had a stigmatism, and after consistently coming home from school with headaches, my parents took me to the optometrist in Fayetteville. My vision has never been terrible, but glasses do help!
I believe in a God that has a vision, or a dream of the future. This vision, or dream, is what we refer to as the “Kingdom of God.” God enlists our help in making this dream come to reality—and Jesus helps us know what we can do to contribute to the building of that kingdom. Jesus tells us we can love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus tells us we can love our enemies, and repay violence with kindness. Jesus tells us we can repent and forgive one another. The kingdom of God is not built with bricks, it is built with ideas—and these are some of the foundation ideas. Another foundational idea is about our identity—…………
One problem with our lives is that we are near-sighted. We are spiritually near-sighted. Our eyes fail to see the vision of God—we’re too distracted to listen to the dream of God. Too often we think the problem is that our desires are just too strong. The church seems to take on this dreadful task of stamping out desire. But as C. S. Lewis pointed out on the radio back in 1948, the problem isn't that our desires are too strong, rather, our desires are too weak. We are far too easily pleased. We settle for mere trifles like money, sex, glory, when God wants to give us true wealth, genuine intimacy.
The author of Ephesians refers to God’s gift of grace as a lavish inheritance. Something we didn’t earn, but which is gifted to us. How often we settle for less when God is dying to give us grace! How often we settle for the tired old habits of religion—legalism and dogmatism, instead of waiting in expectation for the lavish gift of forgiveness, the mystery of adoption by God! How do we correct our vision?
((((HOLD UP EYE CHART)))))) I imagaine a lot of you have been to an eye doctor before, and you’ve probably seen one of these. You probably know that when you look at one of these in an optometrist’s office, you look through this big contraption on an arm, you set your chin on a little chin rest, and then the optometrist starts fiddling with all sorts of lenses. He switches them in and out, and says, which is better, A, or B. Then he’ll line up a couple more and say, which is clearer, A, or B. Some lenses he flips, some he replaces, and at the end of the session, you have a clear view of the chart. You can see it more clearly than you had ever before!
When Jesus takes the blind man and spits in his eyes, the man rubs them and is healed….well, sort of…he is partially healed. He can see things, but not quite clearly. He says he sees people walking around like trees. What an odd statement! Some Christians read this and are uncomfortable because the passage seems to imply that Jesus was unsuccessful on his first attempt. I love this passage though. It makes a left turn where we expect a right turn. It gives us a human savior and healer where we expect to see a superman.
Jesus puts his spit in the man’s eyes, and that sort of does the trick, but Jesus has to try again. How beautiful! Jesus doesn’t just give up on us when his healing power doesn’t immediately soak right in! Jesus keeps at us, trying again and again and again to heal us. Sometimes we have moments of clarity, and sometimes things are a bit hazy.
Yes, Jesus’ healing touch sometimes takes continued effort. We may walk away from a religious experience and think that we’ve got everything figured out, and then we begin to understand that we don’t see things so clearly after all. We are still confused, perhaps we are mistaken. IF we expect Jesus to be able to zap us and free us from our afflictions, then we might be thinking of the wrong savior.
I don’t deny that Jesus heals in this manner, but I would certainly not expect an alcoholic to feel this kind of experience. I wouldn’t expect someone coping with the loss of a loved one to simply be freed of their heartache and depression at the snap of a finger. NO—sometimes Jesus heals us in a process, as is shown in our scripture passage.
Sometimes God brings us to an understanding of our adoption in a progression of grace. God’s love for us might unfold over the course of a marriage, or over the course of a recovery, or over the course of an illness. The revelation of our place in the Kingdom of God usually unfolds little by little, experience by experience. And the good news is that it keeps unfolding before us, leading us onward toward a fuller grace. This is why I get bristles under my skin when I hear the question “When were you saved?”
The person asking that question wants me to tell them about one point and time in history—but the answer is that “I am being saved—it’s an on-going project!” It is not that I haven’t had an experience that has confirmed my life in Christ, but to limit grace to one moment of our lives—the moment of justification—is to miss out on a whole lot of salvation!
((((Back to the eye chart))))) Much like that optometrist helping us correct our vision with that big contraption—Christ has different prescriptions for each of our eyes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a good left eye and a bad right eye. They are two different prescriptions. To further complicate things—each of us is different. If you were to put my glasses on, things might look all wrong to you. If I wore Donna’s glasses for a whole day, I might end up feeling nauseated!
For me, the prescription may be prayer and taking quiet walks in the mountains. For Scott they may be working with his hands and providing an enjoyable atmosphere for the youth. For others of us it may be tithing and leading Sunday school discussions. The point is that rarely does one thing give us clear vision, and usually we all have different prescriptions to be able to see the Kingdom of God in our midst.
What is it that Christ wishes us to see, what does his eye chart say? (((((Hold up home-made eye-chart that has wax paper over the letters, to simulate “blurred vision” ))))))) Well, let’s try and find out. I mentioned a myriad of different lenses that may fine tune our vision to THE Vision, to the Dream of God, but there are two base lenses that each of us need to wear to understand something fundamental. They are general—the first is the first words of Jesus’ ministry—repentance. Repentance means turning around, it means having the courage and the heart to admit our Sin! In the past, the experience of admitting my guilt has been a freeing experience.
Admitting means “letting in.” When we admit our sin. When we “let it in” and accept that it is our condition, we also admit God’s grace that had equalized this sin. This is not about living a life of perpetual guiltiness, it is about letting go of guilt. Admitting sin means admitting grace.
One way that we can collectively admit our sin is by praying a prayer of confession here in worship. Sometimes I may pray this prayer for all of us, and sometimes I may ask all of us to say the prayer together. Whatever the occasion, I believe it is important for us to recognize that we miss the mark because it gives us a humble heart.
A humble heart is one that recognizes that it has a hole in it. For us to see that hole, we need to admit that we sin. You can’t just take forgiveness without admitting that you need it! That’s trying to put forgiveness into a full heart—a heart that is full of itself. A humble heart, a contrite heart, recognizes that this hole has a certain shape to it—and that shape is the shape of God. So let’s collectively admit our sin. Some of the things that are written are things that will resonate with you. Some things you may find yourself thinking—“that’s not me?!” But as a collect, as a community, we recognize that we miss the mark together…………890
The second “general lens that we all need” is the sister of this first confession. If we make a humble confession of our sin and ask for forgiveness, we must also forgive those who have wronged us. This is why Jesus teaches us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” This is required for forgiveness. The custom that usually follows our prayer of confession is the “passing of the peace.” It is a holy time of fellowship. We pass the peace of Christ by saying to one another “the Peace of Christ,” we might shake hands or give a hug. (((((Cut if needed)))))) In the early church, the peace of Christ was communicated in the “kiss of peace.” It was not mamsy-pamsy kiss on each other’s cheek—you know that Mediteranians do that to one another when they are simply walking down the street. No—the kiss of peace was given full on the lips.
Over time, the church fathers had to figure out a way to reign in this custom because people were really taking advantage of the situation to start making out in church! (I’m serious!) So, the women were only asked to kiss the women, and the men were asked to kiss the men. Now, hundreds of years later, as the concept of “personal space” has grown a wider circle around us, shaking hands is probably the most “protestant” way to communicate this ancient practice.
But the symbolism is the same. We confess to God, and then we express our forgiveness and reconciliation among one another in the community. Usually, I might say something like “as forgiven and reconciled people, let us share with one another the peace we find in Christ.”
After we confess our sins, accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, after these two lenses are in place, we have a lot clearer vision of God’s message for us. (((((Take off last sheet of wax paper---Message spelled out like an eye chart is I AM A CHILD OF GOD))))) It is much like the blind man seeing the light for the first time. What does that message say for us today?
When I finally got those glasses in the third grade, I remember looking around at everything, thinking “Am I supposed to be able to see that?!?!” It was an excitement, the world was new and it held so much more detail than I had ever known. I could see actual leaves high in the tree, not just a green blur. I could see road-signs far down the road.
The lavishness of grace is sometimes hard to believe or comprehend. The author of Ephesians is certainly impressed with their new found security as a child of God. We are adopted by God into the family of forgiveness. This message isn’t just letters spelled out on an eye chart, it is a new way of life! It is like that clean, sparking look of the earth after the rain has fallen! It is like a breath of fresh air.
It is lavish, it’s like sinking your teeth into a ripe strawberry or having a cold glass of water after mowing the lawn. We live with this freshness in our hearts. We must continue to forgive and be forgiven, so that our eyes remain clear on this message, and so this message is communicated through our lives to others! Amen

Monday, July 10, 2006

Morris News Article--(In case it doesn't make it to publication)

Pastor’s Perspective

Rev. Nathan Mattox, Morris First United Methodist Church

This past Sunday, I sat in an adult Sunday school class at the church here in Morris. We were discussing a chapter of 1 Corinthians that dealt with a controversy in the church at Corinth over eating meat that had been sacrificed to the patron gods of the area. There were some in the community who insisted that Christians must refrain from this meat, while others in the same community insisted that the freedom found in Christ compelled them to disregard the taboo against eating such meat. (1 Corinthians 8) Though we may no longer be troubled by the concerns over dietary purity in our day and age, it was certainly a “hot-button” issue in the early church. Paul’s advice, though about a particular circumstance in a particular community, transcends time and place to speak to us even today.

Today I was looking at a book that a parishioner let me borrow, Morris Historical Highlights: Early 1900’s to 1991. I have been struck by the sense of community that this town has—and evidently, that sense of community has a long history. It was fascinating to see the first school bus in Morris, a long coach pulled by a horse in the early 1900’s, and the dapper gentleman who drove the “bus” in a bowler hat. There were also photos of a bustling Main Street. Community is something that is very important and valuable. Now, most of us simply take off to Okmulgee’s Super Center for all our needs—what used to be the norm for our community is no longer. Where do we find community in a modern world?

This pastor and the Apostle Paul hope that you find a sense of community in your church. If you don’t belong to a church, you should visit one and see if you feel welcomed by that community. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians was to not let squabbles over “hot-button” issues divide the community. He said that a humble heart is worth more to God than a mind that knows what is right and wrong about everything. Paul knew that it is the little things that cut away at the fabric of a community.

At the Sunday School class I attended, the issue of prayer in school came up as an example of a “hot-button issue.” As the conversation unfolded, it was apparent that there were different ideas and opinions on the matter. Though several folks were passionate about their side of the issue, the conversation remained respectful. It is important to remember that there are central ideas in faith that tend to be ignored when we drum up controversy over wedge issues. Jesus himself was asked the most important thing about faith—he said “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 36-39) In his farewell address in the Gospel of John, he said “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) Oh, how often and how callously we sweep aside the important things so that we can feel the addictive thrill of righteous indignation motivated by issues we think are so important.

I know many people my age (I’m in my late 20’s) who are turned off from having a faith life because they see Christians as being hot-headed know it alls about everything. They see Christians at each other’s throats about divisive issues. They see hypocrisy, they see hatred, they see rage, and these things overshadow the faint-hearted “second-thought” of loving each other. After Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another” in John, he said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul knew it was enough to focus on the essentials of faith. He asked the Corinthians to consider each other’s stumbling blocks and to not provoke each other. He asked those who ate meat to refrain from eating meat in front of those who didn’t as a way to strengthen the faith of the whole community. He asked for the community to have some give and take on such a hot button issue. Imagine if we were to give up the insistence that we are absolutely right about an issue and recognize the complexity of it. Prayer in school, freedom of expression, sexuality, abortion, immigration, etc. etc.—imagine if we gave up arguing about all of these things because for some they are a stumbling block to faith. What would we have left to focus on? Perhaps we’d get back to basics and get back on the path of the most important commandment. Imagine that!

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Sermon, July 9, "In the Name of God"

Sermon Texts:
Psalm 48
Mark 6: 1-13
“IN the name of God”
Growing up, I was always transfixed by the idea of using the Lord’s name in vain. I thought it simply meant cussing. And as a preacher’s son, I suppose I took breaking this commandment on as a sort of pastime that perhaps gave me some identity outside the closely defined parameters of what a minister’s son “should be.” I not so fondly remember my designated desk in the principal’s office at Happy Hollow Elementary school in Fayetteville and how in the 5th grade I landed there for a whole afternoon for getting into a “cussing contest” with a boy named Teddy.
The objective of the game was to come up with new and inventive ways to cuss each other out. Each of us took a turn each round, and then the two of us and whoever was listening in in the cafeteria line would vote on who’s curse was best. Yes, if the commandment to “not take the Lord’s name in vain” is a prohibition against cussing, then perhaps a lifetime of ordained ministry in the name of God will be enough retribution for 4th and 5th grade at Happy Hollow Elementary, but perhaps not!
I do believe that what we say can bring a smile or a frown to the face of God, and Jesus himself said that it “is what comes out of our mouth, not what goes into to it, that defiles us,” but when it comes to this command of “not taking the Lord’s name in vain,” we can be sure that a little more is implied than having soap-free breath.
This commandment arises from the ancient notion that a name holds power—and whoever utters that name is the possessor of that power, as it says on the back of your bulletin today. Though it sounds strange to us today, appearing “in the name of” someone else gave that person the authority and power wielded by that name. This is why Moses wants to know God’s name before he goes to visit the Pharoah,
I mentioned last week that the name of this God that we worship was traditionally unspoken in Judaism. Through the years, even the scriptures substituted “Adonai” or “Lord” for the sacred “Tetragrammaton” YHWH. YHWH was a mysterious name—The scribes of the Bible would often write in the vowel sounds of the word Adonai, a marker that the one speaking should substitute “Adonai”—meaning Lord, instead of saying the word. This led to the mistaken “Jehovah” during the Middle ages, when Europeans who didn’t understand the marker simply filled in the vowel sounds to the YHWH. Jews would often times refer to God simply as “Ha Shem,” or “The Name,” and by the time the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, YHWH was absent from the text, being replaced by “Kyrie” or “Lord.”
Linguistically, the name is unpronounced and in a sense unpronounceable. Tradition regards the name as coming from three different verb forms sharing the same root YWH, the words HYH haya היה: "He was"; HWH howê הוה: "He is"; and YHYH yihiyê יהיה: "He will be". This is supposed to show that God is timeless, as some have translated the name as "The Eternal One". Other interpretations include the name as meaning "I am the One Who Is." This can be seen in the traditional Jewish account of the "burning bush" commanding Moses to tell the sons of Israel that "I AM אהיה has sent you." (Exodus 3:13-14) Some suggest: "I AM the One I AM" אהיה אשר אהיה, or "I AM whatever I need to become". This may also fit the interpretation as "He Causes to Become." Many scholars believe that the most proper meaning may be "He Brings Into Existence Whatever Exists" or "He who causes to exist".
Perhaps our inability to know even God’s name should tell us something about the arrogance of thinking we can speak for God, especially in the form of judgement. Withholding judgment is a commandment by Christ. This is a responsibility that thank God we’re not burdened with. Not judging doesn’t only mean biting our tongue when our brains or hearts tell us to reject someone, it means to purify our hearts to the extent that we don’t feel judgement. It means living a “wide open hearted” lifestyle.
One man who did live this “wide open hearted” lifestyle was Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, in Nazareth, he wasn’t even accepted. I have just been speaking about how the name of God is so holy, so powerful, that it cannot even be uttered. Yet, in this Gospel story the one who we believe is the incarnation of that same unfathomable, ultimately powerful God is not even believed by those who have spent the most time with him. They thought they knew this man quite well—Isn’t this Jesus, the son of the carpenter and Mary? Aren’t his brothers and sisters here?
The Psalmist declares the Name and Praise of God to the ends of the Earth, yet the Christ himself is not even praised in his hometown, not even among his own family. Paul’s letter to the Philipians declares, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess,” but this same Jesus is run out on a rail from Nazareth, by those he grew up with.
I think that “ownership” and “expectation” have a lot in common. In the same way that we may fall into the mistake of thinking we “own” God by neglecting the holiness and sanctity of “the Name,” we also have a lot in common with the citizens of Nazareth in thinking we know exactly who Christ is. “What a friend we have in Jesus” is true, but if our relationship with Jesus is as much a one way street as this beloved hymn would lead us toward—in other words, if this hymn, with it’s emphasis on “all our sins and grief to bear,” is all we know Jesus as—a “sin pack-mule” then we might be missing out on a whole lot of Jesus! It really makes my skin crawl to hear people say with utmost reverence that Jesus was “born to die,” It is a one dimensional view of Jesus! Jesus came to Earth to do a lot more than die—and thank God for that!
One of my favorite Icons of the Orthodox church shows Jesus with two very distinct eyes—one is soft and accepting, the other is laser like and judging. Jesus didn’t just live for us—he asked us to live for him! Jesus isn’t just a pillow—he’s a pebble in our shoe! He holds us and he annoys us. He comforts the afflicted and he afflicts the comfortable.
Mark tells the story about Jesus not being recognized in his own hometown, and this is an embarrassing story! In fact, to some Biblical scholars who discount portions of the New Testament, this particular story is one that all agree is a true occurrence. It is ruled in by what is called the “embarrassment factor.” If a particular story might cause the hearer or reader to have doubt that Jesus is the Son of God, then the scholars reason that it probably wouldn’t be included in the Gospel narrative if it weren’t an actual tradition or account that was a real occurrence.
The Psalmist says that God’s name alone, God’s praise by the whole of creation, stretches to the ends of the Earth. Psalmist saw something happening in the world that we don’t immediately see in the world. The Psalmist saw the city of Jerusalem as indestructible, yet we know that Jerusalem was and is very destructable. It has a long history of being destroyed and conquered. Is the Psalmist simply overcome by nationalistic zeal? No—the Psalmist is looking with the eye of faith. To the eye of faith, Jerusalem is not merely a city, it is a symbol. The holocaust survivor, novelist, and poet Elie Wiesel sums it up well in this statement about Jerusalem.
“JERUSALEM: the face visible yet hidden, the sap and blood of all that makes us live or renounce life. The spark flashing in the darkness, the murmur rustling through shouts of happiness and joy. A name, a secret. For the exiled, a prayer. For all others, a promise. Jerusalem: seventeen times destroyed yet never erased. The symbol of survival. Jerusalem: the city which miraculously transforms man into pilgrim; no one can enter it and go away unchanged.”
Perhaps this eye is what the neighbors and family of Jesus lacked in the encounter recorded in the Gospel passage. The Greatness of the savior is hidden away, not bursting out of its shell until the resurrection day. He is Zion in the clothes of a dusty, war beaten city like Jerusalem.
Christ opens the doors to the Kingdom in our midst and exposes the glory in our midst—but that Kingdom doesn’t always overwhelm, it emerges slowly and sometimes unexpectedly. In Nazareth, Jesus couldn’t or simply didn’t work any miracles because of the lack of belief. He walked around Nazareth like a magnet only met by the same pole. People turned away, they scoffed, the rationalized.
And so we should see through the eyes of faith. Through the eyes of faith, Jerusalem is not simply a war torn, parched, dangerous city on a hilltop. It is Zion! It is a heavenly city! It is God’s capitol! Through the eyes of faith, God’s name is not only a meaningless jumble of unpronounceable consonants that conveys no more sound than an inward and outward breath: it is crashing thunder, it is a baby’s laughter, it is a jubilant Alleluia chorus—it is all of creation singing in that chorus—and that is just the first syllable of this glorious, mysterious name of God!
To the eyes of faith, we see that God’s name is not only praised in our corner of the world. It is not only praised by those who think, who believe, who worship, and who pray just like I do: It is praised to the ends of the Earth! It is praised in every language! It is praised in every meaningful and reverent act! Paul noticed this when he debated the other apostles over what was necessary for the salvation of the Gentiles. Some thought that the Gentiles had to adopt the law and customs of Judaism. Paul declared that the Gentiles had the law “written on their hearts.”
And lastly, through the eyes of faith, Jesus is not only the young carpenter who was rejected in his hometown, who was nailed to the cross: he is the author of our Salvation, he is the King of the Universe, he is the One true Word through whom every created thing was created, he is the Resurrected Promise of the new Covenant, he is the bridge between God and Creation.
To be sure, neither the theology of Psalm 48 nor the Christian proclamation of Jesus is naïve utopianism. The psalmists knew, the apostles knew, and we still know that we live in time and space as part of a world that is fragile and troubled, terrified and terrifying. Yet, in the midst of it all, we join the psalmist in proclaiming a new reality: God rules the world! What’s more, we claim to live by that reality above all others.
This is why it is vanity to take the Lord’s name and use it to further our own agenda, to use it to judge others. It is using it in vain because the only person in the whole universe with the power of eternal judgement is named Jesus. The only person who can truly name God is himself God. Taking the Lord’s name to judge others is indeed vain, because it is useless. When we project our weakness and our hatred and our ignorance onto God, we only condemn ourselves. “Judge not, lest YE BE JUDGED.” God help us if we ever have the vanity to say “God hates _____________” fill in the blank.
When we do so, we fail to see with the eyes of faith because we are stuck in the same old realities of trouble and turmoil. We blaspheme God because we assume our own authority over other members of creation because we name them something else. We name them “other” when they are really part of us. We name them “evil” when they are really loved by God.
Believing in God and in Loving Christ means that we abandon the “old way” of wanting to have power over, and we instead become interested in having power through. Living in the world “In the name of God” is not about getting power, it is about freeing the powerless. It is not about judging, it is about forgiving. Moses doesn’t ask for the name of God so that he can go and defeat the Egyptians, he asks for the name of God so that he can go and free the enslaved! The Messiah didn’t bring the wrath of judgement to the world, he brought the promise of forgiveness.
Living for Christ means that we carry on this legacy, we don’t take the name of God in vain, we give ourselves to the name of God. We give ourselves to the power of forgiveness, and allow this forgiveness to come through our lives into the world.

Sermon Notes (Not included in the sermon--I had to cut quite a bit--but if you are interested in the texts, this gives a bit more info, especially about the Psalm)

Yes—too often our modern notion of Christianity, with it’s emphasis on individualism, lulls us into believing that we come here to worship to have our needs met! And if we don’t like the way a certain thing is done, we may complain or spread dissent. I have heard it said before that some don’t go to church because they just don’t feel like they “need organized religion.” Perhaps we should give Christ some time to rule our lives instead of just comforting it! Perhaps we should realize that the primary reason we are here in worship is to worship God—For God’s sake, not our own!
In the book of 4th Ezra, which is a scripture to come out of Judaism that is not included in our “Old Testament,” Ezra comes across a woman weeping for her fallen son. Ezra reproves her for weeping for her son when the city of God—the people of Israel, have lost so much as a collective whole. He suggests to her that she should instead weep for that. Then, before his eyes, the woman grows and transforms herself into the great city of Zion.
To contemporary readers, the claims made about Jerusalem are likely to seem highly exaggerated or perhaps even dangerously wrong. To assert that Jerusalem is the indisputable and indestructible capital of the world was probably as inflammatory in ancient times as it would be today. Besides, we know that Jerusalem was not indestructible; hostile kings and their forces were not put to flight by the very sight of Jerusalem. Indeed, the city was destroyed in 587 BCE by the Babylonians and again in 70 CE by the Romans. Was the psalmist simply mistaken? Was his or her perception blurred by an overly zealous nationalism? Was the psalmist a political propagandist? So one might cynically conclude.
But before dismissing the psalmist as a naive optimist or a misguided patriot or a clever politician, we must remember that the details of Psalm 48 are as much metaphorical as geopolitical. What Psalm 48 embodies is “poetic form used to reshape the world in the light of belief.” In this case, Jerusalem, a seemingly ordinary place, has become to the eye of faith “the city of the great King” (v. 2), a powerful symbol of God’s reign in all places (vv. 2, 10) and in all times (vv. 8, 14). In effect, the psalmist has created in poetic form an alternative worldview, a new reality that for the faithful becomes the deepest and most profound reality of all: God rules the world, now and forever! Psalm 48 articulates the faith that no power on earth or the passing of any amount of time can ultimately thwart the just and righteous purposes of a steadfastly loving God (see vv. 9-11).
The spirit of Psalm 48 is captured eloquently in a novel by Elie Wiesel:
The psalmist knew precisely this about Jerusalem: “no one can enter it and go away unchanged”—not because Jerusalem is indestructible or universally acclaimed. Rather, for believers, Jerusalem becomes a spatial, temporal symbol for the reality of God’s rule in all times and in places. Thus the footsteps of pilgrims approaching this particular place at any particular moment “reverberate to infinity.
For the psalmist, the vision of Jerusalem, the city of God, reshaped time and space. For Christians, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth have reshaped the world, reshaped our time and space into a new reality. Thus, amid the same old realities of trouble and turmoil, we are changed and are able to discern by the eye of faith the dimensions of a new creation.
If this sounds strange to Christian readers of Psalms, they need only consider how the same paradox, the same scandal of particularity, lies at the heart of Christianity. For Christians, a particular event in time (the crucifixion of Jesus) at a particular place (Golgotha) becomes the central event of history. What appeared to be an ordinary execution of a common criminal is for Christians the focal point of all space and time. In a way just as particularist and strange and scandalous as the Zion theology of Psalm 48, Christians profess the incarnation of God in Jesus, a first-century Jew from an out-of-the-way place called Nazareth. Essentially, what Christians proclaim is “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24 NRSV). What Psalm 48 and Elie Wiesel say about Jerusalem is what Christians profess about Jesus: No one can see him and go away unchanged. Indeed, the early followers of Jesus were known as ones “who have been turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 NRSV; see also Mark 13:1-2; 14:58; 15:29, where the Gospel writer suggests that Jesus has replaced the Temple, that Jesus is the new locus of God’s revelation in space and time).

Why would Mark include such an embarrassment in his story of this man who he is claiming to be the son of God?

On importance of “naming”
this is why after God gives Adam the charge of “dominion” over the Earth, God also hands to Adam the task of naming the animals. This is why Jacob’s name is changed by God to Israel after he wrestles with the angel by the river.
This is why I ask at a Baptism, “what is the name given this child?” and then I ritually name that person, I give them a “Christian name” through the ritual of Baptism. IN some denominations, newly baptized Christians take on the name of a saint or someone they want to memorialize or honor with their own life. Though we may not think about it, a name means a lot!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Flood bucket drive

Flood Bucket Drive 2006
When the call went out to help hurricane survivors in 2005, United Methodists in Oklahoma responded with trucks filled to the brim with blessings for people in crisis. Flood buckets, containing clean-up supplies, were among the generous gifts from churches to help people begin to rebuild homes and lives.
The call again goes out today, as we move into the early weeks of the 2006 hurricane season. Currently, the UMCOR Sager Brown depot supply of flood buckets is low. The Katrina and Rita disaster areas continue to receive flood buckets, and forecaster's predict the 2006 hurricane season will be another rough one. Your local church is asked to help restock the flood bucket supply, to help us meet future emergencies.
A drive to collect more flood buckets will take place statewide, August 2-October 3, coordinated by Oklahoma Volunteers In Mission (VIM). Eight sites are designated to drop off the supplies. They will be delivered to Baldwin, Louisiana, to the Sager Brown depot, a distribution center for UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).
(Visit the VIM Disaster Response web site for complete information on how to build flood buckets and for drop off locations: Also, monetary contributions will be appreciated. Checks should be made out to Oklahoma Conference Volunteers In Mission and mailed to 1501 N.W. 24th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73106. Please specify flood buckets in the memo.
If you have any questions, please call Mary Beth Foye at the VIM office: (405)530-2070 or (800)231-4166.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

July 2 Sermon: Declaration of Dependence

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9
1 Corinthians 12: 12-26

I remember an article I read in my ethics class in seminary. It told of the male and female responses to the word “dependence.” It turned out that most males had negative connotations of the word, and most females had positive connotations. Males typically associated the word with being “dependent upon someone or something,” and females typically associated the word with being able to depend upon someone.
This week we celebrate “Independence Day.” Our shared history of a great nation born amidst the struggle for independence from an Empire is certainly inspiring and worth celebrating, but today I’d like us to consider the other side of the coin. Our culture is one of radical independence. We breathe it, we advertise it worldwide, We become involved in military action to foster it. Independence is unquestionably a “good word,” male or female.
Today I would like to declare our “dependence.” Not our independence, but our “dependence.” A good way to declare our dependence is to read the Shema—the most spoken prayer in our “mother faith,” Judaism. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is ONE.” This prayer doesn’t celebrate independence, it celebrates DEPENDENCE. With regards to God, independence is simply darkness—dependence is light. It is a reversal of what we’ll shoot off
fireworks for, what we’ll cook out hamburgers and hot-dogs for. With our relationship with God, we are blessed to be dependent. We are in a covenant. Our dependence is matched by God’s faithfulness.
Another word for dependence is the name of a religion in Arabic, Islam—it means “submission.” From a very early age, we’re taught that “submission” is wrong. That we are never to submit to anyone. That we are never to stoop to submission. Submission means vulnerability. I would like to interrupt myself to affirm the idea that certain kinds of submission are wrong, are unhealthy and life-threatening, just as certain forms of “dependence” are sapping, destructive. Submission based on gender roles defined by millennia of patriarchy is certainly unhealthy and life threatening. Dependence, in the form of addiction, is life-sapping and destructive.
But I’d like us to think about these words in another light. We need not think in black and white, especially when we consider the awesomeness and complexity of God. What does it mean to submit to God? What is another name for God? One could say “Love.” 1 John 4:8 says that “Whosoever does not love does not know God, for God is Love.” Submitting to love means opening our heart and letting someone in. It means becoming vulnerable. God became vulnerable for our sake, so we must become vulnerable for God’s sake.
The Shema, the reading from Deuteronomy that Pete read so beautifully this morning, does not say—“Hear O Israel, your God is whomever you choose, your God is any number of things.” It says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is your God, your God is ONE!” It does not celebrate INdependenc, it celebrates Dependence—Our dependence upon God! It calls us to submit to an idea that may be beyond our understanding. It calls us to sacrifice our own ideas and join the worship of the One, true, Living God. It addresses a whole nation—a whole people, Israel, and invites this people into a deeper relationship with God through the prayer of dependence. I belong to Yahweh—this God is One God—not whatever I wish God to be.
How do we know such a God? Paul writes beautifully to the Corinthians that we know this God through the earthly person of Jesus Christ. The earthly person of Jesus the Christ is also a spiritual person that is formed by the connection of you and me and everyone else that Paul refers to as the Body of Christ. Just as our earthly bodies have different parts with different functions, the Spiritual Person of Jesus Christ is alive in different ways in you and me and everyone else. In the Body of Christ, the “Declaration of Dependence” known to the people of God in the Shema—in the law and the prophets and the history of God’s people—this dependence upon God can also be known as “interdependence.” Do you know that word? It means that this Body of Christ being real in the world depends on the shared responsibilities of you and me and everyone else who makes up the “Body of Christ.”
This past week, we lost a member of the Body of Christ who was very important to me. He and I were connecting ligaments. We were joined in a way that brought me a great sense of purpose and direction. Paul Bowles was the pastor at Bartlesville FUMC during my two years of youth ministry on his staff. He was a friend, a mentor, and a colleague in ministry. I can preach today about “interdependence” because it is a fact that my ministry is dependent upon his ministry. He showed me the way into the ordained service of God. He, along with my father, guided me to the path of ordained ministry. IN short, if it were not for this man who passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 62, I would not be standing in this pulpit today. Our dependence upon God is felt in our connection with others in the Body of Christ. One way that I know my dependence upon God is through my interdependence with people like Paul. And the fact that he is no longer living does not break the connection with him. He is alive in the Body of Christ, and his life and influence still informs mine and my ministry.
Just as Paul says, “Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many.” We don’t all exist to do the same things—Christ is present in the collective of all of us, doing what we do best for the glory of Christ. Some of us may come to the pastor’s house and paint their hearts out, some of us may keep a record of attendance and membership so that we can look after those parts of the Body who are missing, some of us may drive to Cookson Hills and deliver things that this Body has together collected for other members of the Body who aren’t as fortunate as we are, some of us may ask our neighbors and friends to church, some of us may sing in the choir, some of us may serve as the liturgist.
There are many parts of the body, and if someone says, “because I’m not doing that particular thing, I’m not part of the body,” they are missing the point. Now, if they are the spiritual equivalent of an appendix or wisdom teeth—if they don’t have any function to the overall health of the body, then perhaps they should question their role, but who am I or anyone else to say what is the equivalence of spiritual uselessness? God uses all of us, regardless of whether we are ready, regardless of whether we value our placement in the body of Christ.
Our dependence upon God is manifested in our interdependence as the Body of Christ. We recognize our dependence upon God when we recognize our interdependence with one another. Notice that our Independence does not really factor into either of these relationships. If we want to think of a way that spiritual Independence can and should be celebrated, it is best dictated by Paul in the letter to the Galatians. He wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
You see, independence in a spiritual sense does not mean we are set apart. It means that we are free to serve one another. We are free to be yoked and bound together.
Through this dependence upon God—through this interdependence within the Body of Christ, we are freed from our slavery to Sin and Death. The Empire of Sin and Death no longer has any hold on our life. We don’t have to pay taxes to that institution, we don’t have to salute that flag. The ways of this world are trampled by the beautiful feet of the one who brings good news. We aren’t defined by our economic status, by our race, by our age, by our gender, by our nationality, by anything! We may have sung “America the Beautiful” this morning—and this country is indeed something to celebrate—but ultimately we are as American as we are Earthling. If we fall into the trap of over-identifying with our national heritage, we are falling victim to short-sightedness. We are Christian. We are defined by our relationship to God through Christ. We are defined by our relationship with one another as the Body of that Christ.
This table that we gather around is a symbol of that relatedness—it is a symbol of our identity in Christ. In the thanksgiving of the Table, I say the words, “may we be the body of Christ for the world, redeemed by his blood.” I hold up the loaf of bread, and if I say anything, I say, “Though we are many, we share in one loaf!”
These words are symbols of our relatedness. They are symbols of our interdependence within the Body of Christ. They are symbols of our independence and freedom from the yoke of slavery through Christ. They are symbols of our dependence upon God. Through this meal that we share together, we are brothers and sisters in faith. Through this meal, we submit to God’s power in our lives and lift up our prayer for God to “Have thine own way, though art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” Amen

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Parsonage Work

Pictured above is a small bit of the work that was done at the parsonage this week. Churchmembers chipped in to help paint the hallway and all the doors a beautiful coat of "ginger" that is more complimentary of the teal with which we had earlier painted the den. Thanks to everyone who could help!

Also, in the photos, you can see that the UMW project to renovate and improve the parsonage bathroom is now complete! A special thanks to Pete and Shirley Miller, Scott Marshall, and Tim Stewart, who put a lot of effort into the project. Also, a big thanks to the UMW, who raised the money. As you can see, there is a new "pergo" floor, a new vanity and light fixture, new trim, new toilet paper holder, and even a new seat for the commode! What great stewardship of the parsonage.