Sunday, March 26, 2006

Views of Jesus: Paul
Ephesians 2:1-10

Forgiveness in other world Religions:
“Take forgiveness. Two levels here. One level: forgiveness means you shouldn’t develop feelings of revenge. Because revenge harms the other person, therefore it is a form of violence. With violence, there is usually counterviolence. This generates even more violence—the problem never goes away. So that is one level. Another level: forgiveness means you should try not to develop feelings of anger toward your enemy. Anger doesn’t solve the problem. Anger only brings uncomfortable feelings to yourself. Anger destroys your own peace of mind. Your happy mood never comes, not while anger remains. I think that’s the main reason why we should forgive. With calm mind, more peaceful mind, more healthy body. An agitated mind spoils our health, very harmful for body. This is my feeling.”[1] (Quoting the Dalai Lama)
The concept of performing atonement from one's wrongdoing (Prayaschitta— Sanskrit: Penance), and asking for forgiveness is very much a part of the practice of Hinduism. Prayashitta is related to the law of Karma. Karma is a sum of all that an individual has done, is currently doing and will do. The effects of those deeds and these deeds actively create present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain in others.
Those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive. Qur'an (42:37) and that The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah. Qur'an (42:40).

Paul is like us, Forgiven
Is a Jew born with a father who is a Roman citizen. He describes himself as a member of the tribe of Benjamin and as a Pharisee. Our first encounter with Paul in Scripture is as he is described holding the coats of those who are stoning St. Stephen to death. Paul has a good deal of social standing, in his younger life he is proud of that status and is zealous for his faith (Judaism).
Paul was not a Disciple. His only encounter with Jesus is a post resurrection encounter. Paul is struck blind on the road to Damascus and in his physical blindness he encounters the risen Christ. From Christ he receives forgiveness for his persecution of the followers of Jesus. Paul’s acceptance of God’s grace transforms the history of the world.
Paul’s life has been transformed by grace and he spends the rest of his life seeing that others have the same opportunity that he has had, to know the life changing effects of God’s grace. He is lead not to Jerusalem but to Ephesus, Corinth, Athens and Rome. He is determined that the transformational love of Jesus Christ not be reserved for Jewish people, but that all people have the opportunity to receive the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are forgiven People
This text in Ephesians is the core text for Methodist and Christian people throughout the world. This text was foundational for Wesley’s theology of grace. When he went to the poor, the young and the outcast he talked to them about the love God has for all people. He accepted those who had felt excluded by the church. That act of acceptance changes lives. When we talk about Christ, when we talk about our faith we need to talk about acceptance of God’s grace.

Forgiveness is good for us
Tension over time may cause our blood vessels to constrict or become narrow. Narrow blood vessels decrease the flow of blood to adequately supply oxygen and other nutrients to our body's cells. Furthermore, when we hold a lot of muscle tension, we breathe more shallow - robbing our body of much needed oxygen. Our digestive system may be thrown off-balance. Our immune system may suffer. Our body's response to these negative thoughts is very much like our body's response to stress. And the truth is, these thoughts are stressful. When we hold onto the hurt of a wrongdoing, we are really continuing to hurt ourselves - emotionally and physically.

Forgive others as God has forgiven us
Paul saw Jesus through the lens of forgiveness. Who knows the guilt that Paul carried with him when he was an active participant in the murder of others because they claimed that Jesus was the Messiah? Who knows the bitterness he might have felt for those who put him in Jail because he was a follower of Jesus Christ? If he had wallowed in guilt we would not know about Jesus today. If he had allowed bitterness to become hatred we would not know about grace today. Forgiveness is vital for healthy life and faith.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Waiting for a Call

Each Spring United Methodist Clergy across the country begin to wonder, “Am I going to get a call from the cabinet this year?” The Cabinet is the group that makes appointments for United Methodist Clergy to local churches, it consist of a Bishop and her or his District Superintendents.

When I was a student at WSU, a friend of mine who is a pastor called me asking if I knew about any clergy who were moving this year. I didn’t have a clue. Apparently he was charting all the moves that he had heard about. I don’t know if he was thinking of moving that year or if he just made a chart each year.

Now with the internet we get updates as decisions’ are made about appointments. They will read something like: "Bishop Simpson has announced her/his intention (Bishops can always change their minds) to appoint Sally Smith to Gravelrock UMC effective July 1st." So now we can all chart the moves. Sally was at Riverbed UMC so now that is open . . . sometimes it’s a fun game to play, a bit like chess or a jigsaw puzzle.

This year Kendra is up for a new appointment. The church she has served these past three years is making some staffing changes for their budget. As a clergy couple we pose some extra challenges to the cabinet. We need appointments within a reasonable commuting distance. Yet, we are really not very different from most other clergy who have working spouses and need to be within a commuting distance for their jobs.

So this year we are prayerfully waiting for that phone call where a cabinet member will ask Kendra to consider an appointment. Hopefully it will be within a commutable distance of Longview. However, there is a chance that we will both have to move. If that happens I will trust in the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit to provide the right clergy person for Longview UMC.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Views of Jesus: "The Jews"

Sunday March 19, 2006
John 2:13-22

Often modern Christians forget that Jesus was not a Christian, he was a Jew. As we have seen from some of our earlier views of Jesus, he was influenced by his place and time. We don’t know a great deal about Jesus’ political leanings. Perhaps he was influenced through John the Baptist by the Essenes. Perhaps he was influenced by his friends such as Peter living in rural poverty in the shadow of the wealth of the Roman Empire.

Judaism of the first century was under the control of the temple authorities. These authorities were divided into different political parties, the two leading parties are names we know well from the Gospels: Pharisees and Sadducees. At the time of Jesus’ life the primary political role for these groups was to maintain order. While they might disagree about theological issues such as resurrection of the dead or the application of Jewish law, their primary concern was to maintain the order of the Temple.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of Judaism. A pilgrimage to the Temple was for many a once a lifetime event. The Temple authorities were given some cultural control and a certain amount of autonomy within the Roman Empire as long as tribute was paid. Now the Temple authorities must have been in a bit of a bind. They need to raise funds not only for themselves but also to pay taxes to Rome.

When Kendra and I were touring around England we would often go to visit one of the grand Cathedrals from the Middle Ages. These are remarkable works of architecture and to stand in one is to understand the people’s reverence for God and desire to build a place that helps you to feel small in the presence of God. While we were in England it seemed to become more and more common for the Cathedrals to begin charging a fee for tourist to visit these churches. For a few Pounds you could stand in a sanctuary that was five, six sometimes eight hundred years old. I understood the financial need yet it also seemed sad to me that the church was reduced to needing to charge tourist to visit these holy places.

From a Christian point of view we understand Jesus’ actions at the Temple. Jesus is signaling that he is going to overturn the status quo. He is right to be angry about the abuses of the system. He is right to be angry at money changers who are making a profit off of the working poor who wish to buy an animal for sacrifice. From a Christian point of view this makes perfect sense, but to “The Jews”, this only means trouble.

For insiders of the institution they must be asking “Who does this guy think he is anyway?” Especially as John has placed the text at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he doesn’t even have a following yet. He’s just some guy from Galilee with a few friends. Who does he think he is?

For the Jewish leaders Jesus outrage is cause for serious concern. Their authority is given by Rome explicitly with the understanding that they can control the people. They cannot abide any loss of control. This is a serious act of trouble, who does this guy think he is?

I believe when we consider “The Jews” in the Bible we best not hear the story as if we are better than the authorities of that time. Sometimes I am a Pharisee, concerning myself with the rules of the church. Sometimes I am a Sadducee wanting to correct what I think is the poor theology of others. Sometimes I am a Zealot who wants to overthrow the current authorities and to take control of the situation right now.

Often Christians today resemble “The Jews” of John’s Gospel. We are concerned with the maintenance of our institution. We worry about money, numbers of people and living in the midst of an empire. What would Jesus want to drive out of our churches today? Whose tables would he want to overturn?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Youth Prayer

This past Sunday the LUMC Youth Group studied prayer. We studied the Lord's Prayer and then I asked the youth to write their own version. Here is one I wanted to share with you.

Jesus's Old Man
You are my cool homedog.
You are my sanctuary.
Can I have a quarter pounder with cheese?
Please forgive me
If you can forgive me, I can forgive others.
Lead us to good things, not bad things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The trouble with pronouns

We are trying out a new study series at LUMC called, "God is closer than you think" by John Ortberg. I am really excited about the possibilities of this study. So many folks in the mainline churches, especially "liberal" ones, have forgotten how to talk about their faith and how to recognize the movement of God in our daily lives. I am hopeful that this series will help us to talk about our faith with others. Ortberg is a good speaker and while he hasn't yet used the term "prevenient grace", there are signs of good Weslyan theology in the study.

While I am excited for this study, I am also challanged by Ortberg's utter lack of concern for inclusive language. He continually refers to God as "He" or "Father." Story after story was about fathers when one could have easily used a story about mothers to make the same point. I sat uncomfortably as we watched the video for the first session remembering the people in the room who have shared with me that they didn't have a lovin father, but an abusive one. It was so disapointing to realize that the pronoun "he" could hinder what otherwise was a good message.

I don't understand the determination of some people to use the masculine pronoun when talking about God. Is it a conservative's way of sticking it to the liberals? Is it that some people believe that God is actually a man? I understand the occasional slip into a pronoun. It does get cumbersome to avoid pronouns and keep repeating "God." But to make no effort whatsoever for inclusive language. I find that troubling.

On one of my first seminary papers I created a written pronoun s/he. It doesn't quite work. Certainly one doesn't want to call God "it." What are we to do?

I sat with a good deal of sadness on Sunday when the 5 girls at our youth group meeting each expressed that they thought of God as a male. When I suggessted that God didn't have a gender some were flabergasted. Then they pointed out that every Sunday I say "Our Father . . ." Ugh. I am part of the problem.

I understand that sometimes refereing to God as Father has helped some people to heal their negative experiences with an Earthly father who has hurt them. I thank God for that. But we need balance. For every story about a loving father, I would like to hear a story about a loving mother. And yes perhaps for every "Our Father . . ." the preacher will have to say "Our Mother. . ."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Views of Jesus: Peter

Sunday March 12
Mark 8: 31-38

I’ve read the "Lord of the Rings" at least 3 times. I love the story. One of the primary themes in the story is the friendship between Sam and Frodo. Frodo is burdened with a terrible task and it is Sam who will follow him through all sorts of dangers and trials, simply because Frodo needs him. It is a beutiful story of friendship. Sam is there to assist Frodo his burden, for a time Sam even carries the burden for Frodo. They go on a journey together not knowing what the end will be. They simply go together.

Jesus had a best friend and his name was Peter. Peter was a fisherman from Capernaum a small village on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed for a time in Peter’s house. Peter became one of the first disciples and his relationship with Jesus is highlighted in all the gospels. When the disciples spot Jesus walking on water, it’s Peter who jumps out of the boat to greet him. When Jesus is arrested it’s Peter who grabs a sword, and its Peter who stays as close as he can to the trial. Jesus gives that name “Cephus” to him as a pun, Peter is the Rock on which the church will be built.

Peter is close enough to Jesus that he is able to take him aside and question him. The Gospel of Mark has told us this story so quickly. First Peter makes the bold declaration, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus begins teaching what that means and Peter doesn’t like what he is hearing. Messiah’s aren’t supposed to talk about their death; they are supposed to talk about the unification of Israel!

Peter can’t see where Jesus is going, perhaps he thinks Jesus has gone off the rails a bit and needs to get back on task. Whatever Peter’s rebuke is, we know Jesus’ response, “Get behind me Satan.” Whoa, just 4 verses after Peter seems to have gotten the perfect answer now Jesus is calling him Satan!

Jesus is telling his friend, sternly, you don’t understand yet, so follow me don’t try to lead. You know it’s kind of hard to follow from the front. I have a lot of sympathy for Peter. There are times in my spiritual journey where I want to direct things. I like to be in control.

I am not in control. I can not yet see what God can see. There are times when I get angry; I want to rebuke Jesus when things aren’t going the way I want them to go.

One time Kendra and I had to attend a meeting and we were coming from two different cities. We met for lunch and then drove to the meeting. I was supposed to follow her since she was more familiar with the area. Of course while we were on the freeway I ended up passing her as she drives slower than I do. I passed our turn, Kendra didn’t and arrived at the meeting on time. When I finally showed up to the meeting another pastor there quipped, “its kinda hard to follow from the front!”

Life is not a Paul Harvey story, we don’t know the rest, we know the past and the present, and unfortunately the past often misinforms our present. Peter’s past was that suffering and death was the end, he could not see, as Jesus did, that the suffering and death were merely the beginning.

Peter couldn’t understand where Jesus was going, it is incomprehensible. Really it wouldn’t make any sense to someone who doesn’t know the rest of the story. As a friend all he knows is that he must follow. Jesus will need his support. Jesus is relying on him.

So how is your friendship with Jesus today? What is Jesus trying to tell you that might be hard to hear? What do you need to share with Jesus?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Grace and Stuff

Grace and Stuff is my first effort to create a blog. Grace, because I believe that we are all "saved by grace through faith." Stuff, because this blog will talk about issues of faith and other stuff in my life. So here we go with Grace and Stuff into the 21st Century!