Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blog Notice: Vacation

I am on Vacation. See you in August.

Benediction at MCC

May God who lights up the stars
amaze you with the beauty of life

May God who warms you in the hearth
encircle you with belonging

May God who stills you with a single candle flame
meet you on your wildest night

May the dazzling brightness of God
radiate always in your countenance
shine in your body
illuminate your mind
burn in your spirit
as you journey through the changing lights of life.

(by Lotte Webb (England) from Lifting Women's Voices)

July 18 (Proper 11) Sermon at MCC

O Loving God, whose son Jesus enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
It is great to be with you this morning as our two churches share worship. It’s a hot morning and you can feel the Spirit (or is it the humidity) alive in this place. Rest and Refreshment (R & R) is something we all need. Summer is always a great opportunity for us to take some R&R for ourselves and our families. To enjoy our lives. It is also a great opportunity for our two communities to join together. Even Jesus took R&R. He went up the mountain alone to pray and be rejuvenated and then returned to his ministry. He entered into people’s homes and enjoyed their hospitality.

Today we hear about Martha & Mary welcoming Jesus into their home. So often when we hear this passage we think it’s a battle between sisters… Martha vs. Mary And because we are Americans, we want to know who wins, and the winner is… “Mary.” As Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” So we all should be like Mary. Thank you for coming out this morning…

But, wait. Is that all that we hear in this passage from Luke? Jesus and his disciples, the 12 or maybe the 70 (from earlier in the 10th chapter), either way, a lot of people just came to Martha & Mary’s home and they are welcomed. Now such hospitality in those days included a meal, water for light bathing (feet), conversation, even lodging. That’s a lot of people!

It is no wonder Martha is frantically running around and distracted by those important tasks. Because we know such hospitality was important in those days of Jesus. The problem isn’t the tasks per se. They needed to be done, but Martha was distracted. Mary heard Jesus talking and part of the role of host is to be part of the conversation. So she sat down along with the other disciples to take in the Word. Martha did not see what Mary was doing as helpful or right, women did not sit at the feet and listen like the other disciples. She missed what Mary was doing. Not loafing but listening, taking in the words of Jesus.

Jesus does not say that what Martha was doing was wrong, so in fact, it’s not Martha vs. Mary at all but simply a story of Martha & Mary. Martha’s duty of hospitality was not misplaced, only that she was “worried and distracted by many things.” Martha who was doing right by her acts of hospitality but so was Mary in sitting down and listening to Jesus. The problem is the worries and distractions that can overwhelm us as they did Martha. Mary saw through it all, to see the important thing, Jesus. Martha missed the importance of the guest in the busyness of it all. She got overwhelmed, she could not see the most important person right in front of her, Jesus.
Pastor Eloy Cruz of Cuba said he tries to live by a simple rule: "You only have to have two loves in your life: for God, and for the person in front of you at any particular time." (Jimmy Carter – Living Faith)
Its hard to be distracted and worried when we focus on the person right there before us. Tom Friedman, a columnist for the NY Times, wrote an article called the Taxi driver in which he talks about how in a one hour cab ride, he and the cab driver had done 6 things:
“the driver drove, talked on his cell phone, watched a video, where as Tom had ridden in the cab, worked on his laptop and listened to his ipod. The one thing we never did: talk to each other.”
We live in an age where we can be so distracted, so over scheduled and over programmed, with all of our gizmos and gadgets, that our inattention to each other makes us miss the importance of relationship, of our common humanity.

We all are just like Martha. As one pastor has seen it in his community,
“Indeed, we are so distracted that …worship becomes a "scheduling problem," one that interferes with "the one day when we can sleep in and spend time with family." But while the rest and recreation we seek are utterly in keeping with a scriptural understanding of Sabbath, those of us who miss worship lose the opportunity to rest in God’s word, to recline at the Lord’s feasting table for the sake of spiritual refreshment.”
Our host is Jesus. Who in the midst of our busy lives asks us to sit down and hear his word. To put aside all that distracts & worries us and listen to the Word and take in that good part that will not be taken away. This morning, let’s take a moment to sit and listen, to silence ourselves and let the host of our worship, speak to each of us, the Martha’s and the Mary’s among us and let go of all the worries and distractions so we can truly engage and get that needed R & R for our souls and our lives. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

3 Short Prayers for Today

Since today is a new day I will begin again With Jesus Christ, my Lord. (Bob Knight)

O Lord, let us not live to be useless; for Christ's sake. (John Wesley)

The things, good Lord, that we pray for, Give us grace to work for. (Sir Thomas Moore)

A Love Supreme: The Liner Notes

Dear Listener:

All Praise Be To God To Whom All Praise Is Due.

Let us pursue Him in the righteous path. Yes it is true; “seek and ye shall find.” Only through Him can we know the most wondrous bequeathal.

During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.

As time and events moved on, a period of irresolution did prevail. I entered into a phase which was contradictory to the pledge and away from the esteemed path; but thankfully, now and again through the unerring and merciful hand of God, I do perceive and have been duly re-informed of His OMNIPOTENCE, and of our need for, and dependence on Him. At this time I would like to tell you that NO MATTER WHAT…IT IS WITH GOD. HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL. HIS WAY IS IN LOVE, THROUGH WHICH WE ALL ARE . IT IS TRULY—A LOVE SUPREME--.

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor…

May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain—it is all with God—in all ways forever.


With love to all, I thank you,
John Coltrane

July 11 (Proper 10) A Love Supreme Sermon

'My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being ... When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups ... I want to speak to their souls. "— John Coltrane
Coltrane’s desire to speak to our souls through his music, is the same for God, who constantly is speaking to us and our souls. Down deep inside of ourselves, on the best of days, we can hear God speaking to our souls. Maybe we hear it in music, maybe jazz or a classical piece, or maybe an old treasured hymn that always brings a tear to our eyes. Music always has a profound effect on us and often we hear more than just the music.
"This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say "THANK YOU GOD" through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues." - John Coltrane
These words from John Coltrane written in the liner notes for his album make clear that he saw his Love Supreme album as an offering to God, a work of thanksgiving for God in his life.
"I would like to tell you that no matter what... it is with God. He is gracious and merciful. His way is in love, through which we all are. It is truly— a love supreme."
Coltrane understood God as that love supreme that guided his life and no matter how he failed or how things went, that God's mercy and love would be with him always. His words are for us to hear today!

That love supreme he talks about, is what we see throughout the Bible from God’s actions in the Old Testament through the life & ministry of Jesus in the New Testament. In our opening reading, Amos, a dresser of Sycamore trees, a most unlikely prophet, but the one called by God to bring God’s word to those who crush the poor and ignore those in need.

But unlike Nineveh who heard from the prophet Jonah about their demise, and changed their ways. King Jeroboam and others in power refused to change, and sought to get rid of the prophet, to send him away.

God’s message through a plumb line, setting the people a part from such corrupt leadership, was not well received but again God’s compassion is tested by an unfaithful King and a people who have failed to live up to their covenants. It is a tough love message and compassion for the forgotten in need.

Jesus similarly challenges his listeners with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A parable of mercy, of love, and a challenge to the existing way things are seen in society.

When asked by a lawyer, someone grounded in the Holy Scriptures, what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus asks them to answer it – Love God & love your neighbor as yourself, they answer. - “Do this and you will live,” says Jesus. But who is my neighbor?

The one who fell among thieves needs help, the priest and Levite look upon this man and walk away, he is dead or soon will be, they will not be defiled by the dead man but the Samaritan, the least likely, the least favored, the one who does not worship right, is the one who has compassion.
It was and is a radical statement by Jesus. The one least likely, the one who did not worship God as they should, is the one who embodied the compassion of God, who had mercy on the victim.

Maybe today, the parable would speak of Christians who walked by the victim, they had better things to do, they were so busy, but an illegal immigrant or an atheist stopped and had compassion on the victim.

The test isn’t on Jesus, its on us. Will we be like the Love Supreme, giving love and compassion to all whom we encounter, even if its not convenient? Because sometimes, we can learn from one we see as the enemy, the one who does not follow God as we think they should but the one who in fact has done more than us, like the good Samaritan.

It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss story, "Horton Hears a Who!"
Horton the elephant was splashing around in a jungle pool when he heard a small voice crying for help. He looked all around, but all he saw was a tiny speck of dust floating through the air. Horton realized that there was someone on that speck of dust who was calling for help. In fact, there was a whole town of people on that little speck of dust.

They were calling out for help because they were afraid that the speck of dust would fall into the pool of water and they would drown. Even though they were so small that he couldn't even see them, Horton made up his mind that he was going to help them. "After all," he said, "A person's a person, no matter how small."

All of the other animals in the jungle thought Horton was crazy, all made fun of Horton for wanting to help the people on the speck of dust. They even tried to put Horton in a cage.

Even though none of the other animals would help him, Horton refused to give up. He remained faithful to the task of saving the tiny people who needed his help. Because of his faithfulness, the tiny people were saved and finally, the other animals realized that just as Horton had said, "A person's a person, no matter how small."
Horton’s compassion is like God’s who calls us to faithfulness in Amos, not to forget the poor and needy and is like the Good Samaritan who despite all the odds, helps the one in need.
“May we never forget,” Coltrane reminds us, “that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after then rain – it is all with God.”
May we hear that in our souls today.

Now I invite you to discuss at your tables, the words of John Coltrane, the prophet Amos (a graphic novel), or the parable of the Good Samaritan –

What is God saying to your soul this morning?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hubris = LeBron James = The Decision

So much hype. So much talk. He could have made that donation to the Boys & Girls Club quietly.

No. It was all about the decision. So everyone could see him and know he was still the same.

When he wasn't.

He sold his soul "to win now."

He made an empty gesture in charity to the kids.

As we are reminded in Proverbs (16: 18-19):

Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Prayer for the 4th of July

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

July 4 (Proper 9) Sermon Notes

July 4 Sermon Notes

Vacation – What do you pack?
· Lightly – bare essentials?
· Over pack – to be prepared?
· Nothing at all? Relying on others?

When Jesus sends out 70 – they take nothing
· They will rely on others hospitality
· They will proclaim: kingdom of god has come near
· Condemn none; proclaim to all
· Important: not the effect but our names written in heaven

What is Jesus doing?
· Radical vulnerability
· Dependence on God & others
· Not interested in statistics
· Making his ministry our own

We take up our empty suitcases from here and proclaim the Kingdom of God has come near!

On this Independence Day – I reflect on the work of our founding fathers & mothers – as they worked to prepare us for Nationhood, I think of two of them, who wanted our suitcases to be nearly empty too. Thomas Jefferson & James Madison both hailed from VA – they both knew how religion was too often connected to the state and became oppressive to others – how those religious minorities were not obtaining any "life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness."

They came up with the idea that the church should not be supported by the state, be it Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Baptists, RCs, - all should be allowed to practice their religion without judgment from the state and without state sanctioned support. It began in VA and then spread throughout the young nation.

Their position in many ways, is Jesus position, to take nothing with us, and through our relationships proclaim the kingdom of God. Madison believed and was right – that religion would flourish in our country if it were not bogged down with ties to any state or federal government.

On this Independence Day – let us remember Jesus who calls each of us to go forth – not worrying about our stuff – leaving it all behind – to proclaim through our lives the kingdom of God. And for our founding fathers & mothers who gave us a gift – a gift that separates our church from the state – and frees us to proclaim without worry that glorious Kingdom that we all will inherit. Amen.

June 27 (Proper 8) Sermon

Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Jesus has some pretty clear ideas about discipleship. It is we who struggle with our lives and how we want to live them in the light of his Gospel. We see similar struggles with the disciples as they follow Jesus, we see it in Paul’s letters as he tries to help those new communities understand the faith be it in Galatia or elsewhere. Today, we endeavor to follow Jesus in a culture that fights against such discipleship.

I recently read about a meeting a pastor had in his office with a young man feeling conflicted about the decisions confronting him:
"He felt pretty clear about the sort of material success he was after, but uncertain about everything else. So I asked him what he thought he was committed to. What path did he think he was on? Could he describe it? He warned me that he wasn't going after some sappy religious angle. Sappy or not, I countered that everyone has a religion. Everyone functions from a grand operating principle whether or not they admit it. Mostly that principle can be inferred by the wake they leave behind as they pass through their lives. The tangible content of our commitments tells the tale for all of us, notwithstanding what we say. I suggested he check out the wake he was currently leaving behind, or if he was brave, ask a couple of others what they saw there. Did he want to hear the evidence of what his wake revealed?" (Simple Truths: Our Values, Civility, and Our Common Good by the Rev. Stephen Bauman )
What is our wake? Is it the values of our culture: wealth, power, prestige. Or is it the values that Jesus challenges us to have when we follow him. For as one author put it:
“Jesus' Gospel is not a collection of pious words we commit to memory; it is a spirit-centered attitude and perspective to which we commit our lives. We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God's presence; authentic discipleship calls us to become involved in the hard work of making the reign of God a reality.” (Jay Cormier)
To follow Jesus is not a series of thou shall not do this or that, but it is walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Consider today’s readings, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem, along the way they stop at a Samaritan village but were not received because Jesus was heading to Jerusalem. James & John ask if they should call down fire upon their village, but Jesus rebukes them. That is not how they should be as a disciples, calling down the fire of God.

When Jesus encounters others along the road who want to become his followers, he challenges each of them: To the first, it is reminder that Jesus has no place to lay his head, It is as if Jesus is saying that there is no place that Jesus does not dwell. Jesus does not rest in any one place. To another, he challenges them to let others lay the dead to rest, to instead go and proclaim the kingdom of God. To the final one, Jesus tells them they can’t look back, settle their affairs and then follow him, no, discipleship means you follow him, right now in the midst of our chaotic lives. No time to get things in order. It is to see a need, hear a call and to go and do.

I remember a story of a few years ago, about a Fulbright scholar who went to South Africa during apartheid, she went there to help. One day, she was murdered by those she was trying to help. Instead of seeking retribution or revenge, her parents sought to forgive the murderers and to bring life out of her tragic death by continuing her work there. "There is hardly a family in the township that has not been touched by violence."

That is love and that is the type of discipleship Jesus is talking about. Discipleship is not about what we do on the easy days, it’s about following Jesus even on the hardest days. Then we will see what our wake is really made of…

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
“Here, Lord, is my life. I place it on the altar today. Use it as You will.”
from Albert Schweitzer –