Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Always be ready: pass the mic around for people to say what gives them joy. One sentence. After a few, what gives hope.
Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. ~Dale Carnegie
If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream. ~King
Today’s letter from Peter focuses our two related ideas, non-violence and hope. And so, it is fitting we hear from the implementer of both of those ideals in our culture.
Among Christians who are or have been the victims of abuse and oppression, the call to non-retaliation has of late had a bad reputation. Cannot this represent the means by which oppressors play on the piety of the oppressed simply to prolong evildoing? As usual it is easy for those of us who are relatively powerful in our society to urge non-retaliation on those who are relatively powerless. Nonetheless the larger context nuances the claim that Christians are to suffer for doing right rather than to return evil for evil. Within the context of 1 Peter, Christians are to suffer if need be, but not to suffer silently. They join the struggle against oppression by speaking honestly and powerfully of what they hold dear, making their defense unapologetically. Christ himself becomes an example of this activity, of course, and when we read the Gospel accounts of his passion we note that he was by no means altogether passive. His silence and his speeches manifest power in weakness, and that power is as clear as the weakness. Thus for Christians the unwillingness to abuse and to slander does not mean the willingness to take abuse and slander without speaking the word that might convict or even convince those who do the abusing and slandering.
In twentieth-century America, the great example of non-retaliation is Martin Luther King, Jr. But his nonviolence was not non-resistance. On the contrary, the courage he and his followers showed was the courage of active, and risky, faith.
Hope has two daughters: anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and the courage to change them. ~Augustine
So to bring us back to the subject of hope, I’d share the story of 7 year old Katherine Commale of “Hopewell” UMC in Downingtown, PA. Raised $10,000 for mosquito nets to send to Africa helped push our denomination to partner with NBA and Sports Illustrated to found the Nothing but Nets Campaign, which to date has raised more than 2 million and has received a $3 mil challenge grant from Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
You see, hope isn’t just pie in the sky idealism. Hope is what prompted Paul to appeal to the Athenians with the good news of a loving and hopeful Creator “in whom we live and move and have our being.” Hope prompted Katherine, at age 5, to rally her friends and family to the cause of alleiviating malaria.
Talk about “bearing witness to the hope that is within you.” How we should be prepared to do this, how we should have something ready to say to others if they ask us about our faith so that we don’t stumble in sharing the good news. It shouldn’t be a long, drawn out exausting narrative. To be more effective at sharing the gospel, we should remember that we live in a sound bite culture. We should be able to sum it up in under a minute, even if it isn’t a full picture of our hope. It should be tantalizing, leaving the hearer ready to hear more. It should engage the culture of the hearer, like Paul does in his speech to the Athenians.
Difference between religion and faith
R. Garland recently has demonstrated that three claims were necessary to establish a new religion in Athens: (1) the sponsor must claim to represent a deity; (2) he must provide evidence that this deity is eager to reside in Athens; and (3) the deity’s residence in Athens must benefit Athenians as a mark of its goodwill.580 In this light, Paul’s Areopagus speech may be read as an apologia (however subversive!) in response to these three criteria.581 Accordingly, Paul introduces himself as an authorized herald (22-23) of a living deity whose transcendent residence above the earth requires no Athenian residence, priesthood or religious practices (24-29). Paul’s deity does not therefore seek formal induction into the Athenian Pantheon–of this the Areogapus need not worry; rather, his God seeks to judge and save all repentant Athenians as disclosed in the Lord’s resurrection–and of this they need worry (30-31)!
At our worst, we Christians have isolated and insulated ourselves from our culture's mainstreams. We can be inward-looking, self-absorbed, self-important, and cloistered, instead of engaging people at our modern day Mars Hills
Second, as Paul preached to the Athenians, he believed that God "made the world and everything in it," and that every single person was "God's off-spring," so in his mind there was no person or sphere of influence outside of His care and concern. All of so-called "secular" life, and not just "sacred" realms, were spheres of God's loving presence, or at least potentially so — law, literature, medicine, education, the arts, business, government, science, quite literally anything and everything. So, in his own Christian way, Paul viewed the venerable Areopagus as just another place where the Lord of all creation had gone before him and was already present; indeed, said Paul to the Athenians, "He is not far from each one of us."
Changing allegiance from many gods to God. Athenians had a god for everything. They believed their lives were a web of allegiances to the different gods that made important decisions about their lives.
Likewise, we place our allegiances in many different directions. We may not appeal to gods of those different areas of influence in our lives, but we give them our time and mental energy and concern and worry. Though there may not be a carved statue that we believe embodies those different areas of our lives, we sacrifice to them nonetheless.
Paul and through him God are appealing to us to instead focus our energies in devotion to him. Focus our attention on serving God by spilling over with the love and grace we sense coming from him. Spill over this love and grace into our relationships, and God will take care of the web of allegiances and attention. Give our sole attention to God, and God will meet our needs.
Paul appealed to the idea of a creator God, and this is a sign of hope. By harkening back to our creation, we say something of hope about our future. The Gospels show that God isn’t interested in merely creating and then watching how things play out. God is interested in creating new possibilities, God is interested in turning us into reflections of him. This is our hope, that God created and then redeemed humanity. Though throughout history the world has failed to live up to what we were created to be, God has not abandoned us. God reshapes us and continues pouring love into us. Our hope is that we can be changed.
"Be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you." That hope for us is rooted in the same hope and trust that Jesus had: the strong belief that God is faithful. God will always be God for us. Dr. Scott Hahn in his book, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, tells how on December 7, 1998, in Northwest Armenia, 25,000 people died in an earthquake. A distressed father ran frantically through the streets to the school where his son was. He kept remembering that he had said: "No matter what, Armand, I'll always be there." His heart sank when he saw the school in rubble. He darted toward the east corner where he knew his son's classroom had been and started digging with his bare hands. One of the bystanders said, "Forget it, mister, they're all dead." He looked up and replied, "You can criticize me or you can help lift these bricks." A few pitched in for a time, but the man kept digging: 12 hours, 18 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours—and finally he heard a muffled groan. He pulled the board back and cried, "Armand!" From the darkness came a slight, shaking voice, "Papa?" They found 14 of the 33 students still alive. When Armand emerged he turned to his friends and said, "See, I told you my father wouldn't forget us." Dr. Scott Hahn who told the story said: "That's the kind of faith [and hope] we need, because that's the kind of Father we have."
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Carson walks to sanctuary from back. Notices the overhead lights are off as he walks down the aisle
gets to the front, turns around
CARSON: LET THERE BE LIGHT! Gestures up in dramatic fashion.
(Lights come on, (turned on by Byjou in the prayer room))
CARSON: HEY! THAT’S PRETTY GOOD!
Carson points at the ground:
Carson: Let there be a million dollars!
(Nothing happens. Byjou laughs from the prayer room. )
Byjou: You didn’t know I was in here, did you?
Byjou: Hey, you know where light really comes from?
Carson: The light bulb? (Sarcastically)
Byjou: No, like where the electricity comes from—you know, like we were talking about in youth last week—where our tapwater comes from, where our toilet water goes. Where the cheese on our pizza came from….
Carson: Oh yeah—well, I’d say it probably comes from a power plant somewhere.
Byjou: Yeah, I was noticing that power plant outside Muskogee on the way to Camp Egan the other day. It was a really clear blue day except for the brown haze that was coming out of the plant.
Tori and Kassy enter with a Bible
Tori: Hey guys, get a load of this!
Offstage voice (Kendall) speaks into cordless mike from prayer room when Tori opens the Bible.
Kendall: I love you guys!
Byjou and Carson: Whoaaaaah! What was that?
Kassy: I think its God.
Kendall: That’s right! (Pleading) I’ve been telling ya’ll!
Carson: Hold on, God’s talking to us?
Kendall: Well, you’ve got the Bible open, don’t you. What did you expect would happen?
Byjou: Words! But—words on a page. This is weird.
Tori: God told me to come over here because ya’ll were discussing something important.
Carson: I was just kidding about that million dollars thing, God. Um, sorry!
Kendall: But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
Kendall: That’s 1 Timothy 6:9. That’s kinda how this “Me talking to you” thing works—you’ve got the Bible open, so the things you find in it you apply to your own life, and that’s one way I can speak to you. I really know you were kidding about the million dollars thing, I’m just pulling your leg, man!
Byjou: “puling your leg, Man??” (a little surprised that God is speaking to them so informally, like teenagers speak to each other)
Kendall: Well, almost man, I guess. But it’s really just a colloquialism. (ko-lo-kwee-al-ism) Like, “what’s up?”
Byjou: You!? (Kendall and Byjou laugh heartily)
Kendall: Oh, Byjou: You slay me! You’re not of Roman descent are you? (Laughs again with Byjou. Rest of teens are simply perplexed)
Tori: Well, what was it that you thought was so important, God?
Kendall: It was what Byjou was talking about the power plant. Kassy, why don’t you read Psalm 24: 1
Kassy: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the earth, and all that dwell therein.”
Kendall: ITS MINE, ITS ALL MINE! Mmmuuuuhahahahahah. Just kiddin! It’s actually kind of yours too. You hold it in trust for me. I needed some janitors for Creation, and you all seemed pretty handy. Check out Genesis 2: 7 and 15
Tori: “Then the Lord formed Adam out of the dust of the ground…The Lord took Adam and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
Kendall: Exactly. You kind of missed a few things from the original Hebrew. I like to play with words from time to time, but you sometimes don’t catch the brilliant little double entendres. (on-tawn-dras) The Hebrew word “Adam” simply means “human.” And “adamah” means “dust.” “Adam” comes from “Adamah.” Like it?
Kendall: It is cool Carson! It is cool! But what do you expect, right? Anyway. What I was trying to get across by pairing those words together is that you humans are part of the earth. You are pretty deeply connected. That’s something you tend to forget, especially these days. Kassy, read Isaiah 24: 4-5
Kassy: 4The earth turns gaunt and gray,
the world silent and sad,
sky and land lifeless, colorless.
5-13Earth is polluted by its very own people,
who have broken its laws,
Disrupted its order,
violated the sacred and eternal covenant.
Byjou: So, you’re saying you care about that coal plant in Muskogee because we’re connected with the earth and we’re not really paying attention to how we’re polluting it?
Kendall: It’s not just one power plant I’m concerned about. It’s the whole system. It’s hard for you to see the big picture sometimes, but from my vantage point, well, like I said to Job one time, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
Tori: That’s Job 38, isn’t it?
Kendall: Well done, my little padawan.
Kendall: Woah—not a Star Wars fan? Well now you know I am! A padawan is a young Jedi…oh nevermind.
Byjou: So, basically, you’d like to see us put less pollution in the atmosphere?
Kendall: Yes indeed. Read Ezekiel 34: 15-19
Kassy: And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I'll go after the lost, I'll collect the strays, I'll doctor the injured, I'll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they're not exploited.
17-19 "'And as for you, my dear flock, I'm stepping in and judging between one sheep and another, between rams and goats. Aren't you satisfied to feed in good pasture without taking over the whole place? Can't you be satisfied to drink from the clear stream without muddying the water with your feet? Why do the rest of my sheep have to make do with grass that's trampled down and water that's been muddied?
Kendall: See, there I’m making a little metaphor. You all are like the sheep. When you foul up your environment, you affect others. And in this day and age, the ones who are hurt the worst by pollution and the climate change that results from it are the poorest people in the world already. And you know what? Matthew 25:40!
Tori: “Whatever you have done unto the least of my bretheren, you have done unto me.”
Carson: What can we do? We don’t own the power plant. We’re just “almost men” and “almost women!” Should I command all these lights to turn back off?
Byjou: Well, we’re using these lights while we worship, but we can at least turn off the lights when we leave a room. Then we’ll be using less electricity. And if we use less energy and convinced others to as well, then the power plant wouldn’t have to burn so much coal to produce electricity.
Kassy: Or I’ve seen those windmills west of Oklahoma City and they produce energy too! We could write our legislators and tell them we’d like to see more of those collecting energy without polluting the air rather than building more coal or gas plants. We’ve got plenty of wind, after all!
Tori: Or we could turn up our thermostat one degree, turn down the fridge one setting, or switch to those swirly new light bulbs. All those things aren’t that big of changes that add up to save energy.
Carson: Or right here in church we could start using glasses instead of Styrofoam when we get drinks at youth. That’ll take less energy, and we won’t be throwing away those cups that don’t decompose.
Kendall: Right on, guys! “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Peace out!
|Big Fun Thing|
The Big Fun Thing, directed by Campus ministries, welcomes junior high and high school students for fun, worship, and an introduction to college-level ministries.
WATCH for more details soon on the Spring 2008 event!
Red Hawks Tailgate
Monday, April 14, 2008
John 10: 1-10
Here are my notes to this week's sermon. Feel free to comment.
Whose voice is most familiar to you? I enjoy hearing my son’s voice most of all, I think. It has become very familiar to me, and can rouse me out of a deep sleep even when thunder and a wife cannot.
That voice in your head. Probably most familiar. What you hear of your own voice. (Always sounds different when you hear yourself on tape, doesn’t it?)
Do you know the voice that Jesus is speaking about in this passage? Perhaps the voice of Jesus has a rich melodious tone for you. Perhaps it sounds like your father’s voice, or your friend’s. maybe it sounds like your own voice. However it sounds to you, we can know it by what it calls us towards.
23 is almost exclusively associated with a particular contemporary setting: the funeral service. To be sure, it is appropriate that Psalm 23 be read and heard in the midst of death and dying. It may be more important, however, that this psalm be read and heard as a psalm about living, for it puts daily activities, such as eating, drinking, and seeking security, in a radically God-centered perspective that challenges our usual way of thinking. Furthermore, it calls us not simply to claim individual assurance but also to take our place with others in the household of God.
Psalm 23 says, “he sets a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” We can be sure that the voice that nudges us toward reconciliation is that voice of the shepherd.
Misinterpretation of this scripture: That he propped up and showed off in presence of his enemies.
I don’t mind calling the Lord my Shepherd, but I’ve never been too flattered by being called one of his sheep. I had hoped to be the eagle of the Lord, or maybe the cunning tiger. Sheep aren’t particularly smart. They scare easily, and have a knack for getting lost. Most of us don’t look lost. We haven’t fallen through society’s cracks into homelessness and poverty. But David would say, "Oh no. It is you who have lost your way in a relationship that’s offered more hurt than love, in a job that leaves you depleted and spent, or in the guilt of not being good enough, pretty enough or smart enough for someone whose judgment cuts deep."
We’re the only species who runs faster when we are lost.
Goodness and Mercy shall follow me….we shall follow goodness and mercy
Most translations suggest that God’s goodness and hesed will “follow” the psalmist, but the Hebrew verb (#dr rAdap) has the more active sense of “pursue.” God is in active pursuit of the psalmist! This affirmation is particularly noteworthy in view of “the presence of my enemies.” Ordinarily in the psalms, it is precisely the enemies who “pursue” the psalmist (see 7:5; 71:11; 109:16). Here the enemies are present but
have been rendered harmless, while God is in active pursuit.
In effect, to make Psalm 23 our words is to affirm that we do not need to worry about our lives (or our deaths). God will provide, and God’s provision is grounded in the reality of God’s reign. The proper response to the simple good news of Psalm 23 and Jesus Christ is to trust God. But this is precisely the rub. In a secular society, we are encouraged to trust first ourselves and to work first to secure our own lives and futures. Psalm 23 thus challenges us to affirm with the psalmist: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” To say that means to live humbly and gratefully as a child of God.
The third stanza of Isaac Watts’s beautiful metrical version of Psalm 23 expresses eloquently the simple trust that Psalm 23 communicates and commends to us:
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Your House be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.125
Not only does Watts’s paraphrase capture the childlike trust articulated by Psalm 23, recalling Jesus’ words about entering the reign of God “like a little child” (Mark 10:15 NIV), but also it calls to our attention the communal dimension of Psalm 23.
To be a child at home means inevitably to be part of a family, to share community around a table (see v. 5). Thus we are led to reflect on what it means to be a part of God’s household (see v. 6). The implications are profound and radical: We are not our own! We belong to God and to one another! Aubrey R. Johnson’s rendering of Psalm 23:6:
Yea, I shall be pursued in unfailing kindness every day of my life,
finding a home in the Household of Yahweh for many a long year.
The voice of the shepherd calls us toward reconciliation and refreshment He’s calling us toward a deep trust in the provision of God and an experience of abundance in simplicity. He’s calling us home
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Front door in Los Angeles. May surprise you to learn that I often left our home for groceries or other errands with the door unlocked. Lara coming home to a locked house, our neighbor sending his son through the shower window to unlock the house for us. Sometimes locked doors are just as good at keeping us out as they are keeping others out. We have to remember the key.
I think of that door when I’m listening to people describe how they cope with their fears. They are keeping their hearts behind a door with lots of locks because something out there makes them afraid. If someone tries to get in before they’re invited, especially if that heart has been hurt before, they will hear the "click" of the lock.
On the night of the first Easter, the disciples were huddled together behind a locked door. What were they afraid of? I don’t think they were just worried that those who killed Jesus would kill them as well. The fear went deeper. Maybe they didn’t want to deal with the scorn of those who knew they had failed. They had even failed at protecting Jesus. In spite of all their earlier bravado, they were afraid of the cross. And ashamed.
Like the disciples, we try to hide when we’re ashamed. We keep our hearts locked up tightly because we know the truth about ourselves, and the truth is that we are not what we want to be, or even what we pretend to be.
Garrison Keillor said, "We always have a backstage view of ourselves." We let the audience see only the neatly arranged stage. But behind the curtain all kinds of things are lying around: old failures, hurts, guilt and shame, We hear that we are living in a shameless society, and that people are no longer bothered by shame. I don’t believe it. Shame plagues our souls. Psychologists tell us that shame sweeps over us when we overstep our abilities, or when our fantasy about who we would like to be encounters the backstage reality of who we really are.
Nothing is more crippling to our souls than working at hiding shame. We lock up more and more doors, sealing off more and more rooms of the heart to prevent our true selves from being discovered. We think we are keeping the world out, but in fact we are keeping ourselves locked in.
William Sloane Coffin, a great prophet of the United Church of Christ who died several years ago, fittingly, during Holy Week, once said: "As I see it, the primary religious task these days is to try to think straight...You can't think straight with a heart full of fear, for fear seeks safety, not truth. If your heart's a stone, you can't have decent thoughts – either about personal relations or about international ones. A heart full of love, on the other hand, has a limbering effect on the mind."
Those disciples cowered in fear behind locked doors when good news was waiting for them outside. Good news came to them anyway, even in their fear, and made their minds "limber." They were seeking safety, and the truth came instead. Is it fear that makes us hide from the suffering of the world? Perhaps that's a mystery of the heart, so easily turned to stone, so easily turned away from the pain of others. Coffin once warned that we run the risk of washing our hands, like Pilate, because power is hard-hearted. And yet, he said, we belong to one another, according to the vision of the religious community, the saving vision, the ancient prophetic vision of human unity, all of God's children on this earth. As Allen said, we can't keep the gift to ourselves: the Spirit was given to us because we are connected to, and responsible for, one another.
At the center of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus Christ has come looking for us. According to John’s text, he walks right through the locked door to find us. He shows us his wounds from the cross, which are the marks of our forgiveness. Then he says, "Peace be with you." You are forgiven, peace is restored to your troubled soul, and you are free.
The word for forgiveness in Greek can even be translated "to free," or "to let go." Thus, the gospel story is always a freedom story. To those whose sin was obvious, and who had been cast out of community because of their shame, Jesus kept saying things like, "Your sins are forgiven. Be restored." But to the Pharisees, who were able to keep a good show going in front of the curtain, Jesus said, "You must repent." It was as if to say, "Stop covering up the shame." So to all of us Jesus says, "Just stop hiding."
After finding the disciples, forgiving them and restoring peace to their souls, Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit and the ministry of grace. He said, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Here, Jesus is entrusting us with his own ministry of forgiveness.
There are so many things we can do for ourselves in the spiritual life. We can read the Bible, pray and even worship on our own. But when it comes to hearing that we are forgiven, we need a priest. That’s the priest’s calling -- to declare the absolution of sins.
If we do not forgive those who hurt us, the only alternative is to retain the sins. To retain means to hold, and to hold onto hurt is to lock ourselves into the identity of victim. In the words of Lewis Smedes, "When you forgive you set a prisoner free. And then you discover that the prisoner was you."
So you can be either a priest or a victim. Those are your only options. What you cannot do is just forget about the hurt, or deny it or store it up to use later. To be a priest is to free others of shame and yourself of hurt. To be a victim is to hold onto hurt, which is like holding onto a disease. It will eat up your soul. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you try -- you are never going to have a better past.
When the hurts are great, it is hard to be the priest. We wonder, "How can I ever get to the place of giving up such overwhelming hurt?" But we are not on our own for this. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit before he called us to forgive. The work of the Spirit is to bind us into the work of Jesus Christ.
What this means is that we disciples are not called to produce forgiveness. We’re called to be the priest pronouncing that which has been produced on the cross. We’re called to open the locks and throw open the door, and walk back into the world as a priest who is unafraid. The only alternative is to live in shrinking prisons of hurt.
The key is, we’re forgiven.