Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Sermon on the plain. A plain ole sermon? Luke 6:17-26




“And he came down with them and stood on a level place…” Today’s reading is known as the sermon on the plain it is a bit different than the sermon on the mount…it feels edgier much more direct and of course it’s on a plain not on a mount.

This is the first thing that catches my ear is that Jesus comes down and is on the same level as all those around him…God emptied the Godself into the child and became man…Do you hear the similarity?  

Luke seems to be emphasizing Jesus’ humanity here he is on the same level as all of us and now he has some healings to offer, he was calming those who had troubled spirits, and everyone was trying to touch him…if they could just touch him, they would experience something, for when they did touch him, power went from him to whomever touched him

Kind of sounds like a crowd just trying to get a piece of a celebrity …ok to give you an idea of how my mind works as I was typing this, I wondered … what if we had a lock of Jesus’ hair…

“Item: Tresses from Elvis Presley
Winning Bid: $115,000
Sold: 2002
Apart from his soulful voice and swinging hips, Elvis Presley was known for his hair. So, it's perhaps no surprise that a strand from the King of Rock 'n' Roll's pompadour — surreptitiously hoarded by his personal barber — would bring in more dough than hair from John Lennon ($48,000), John F. Kennedy ($3,000) and Beethoven ($7,300) combined. MastroNet Inc, the Oak Brook, Ill., company behind the Internet auction of such macabre memorabilia, has made a small fortune selling the tresses of celebrities, dead (Mickey Mantle, $6,900) or alive (Neil Armstrong, $3,000). Even former government officials are cashing in. In 2007, an ex-CIA employee sold a tuft of Che Guevara's hair, along with fingerprints and death photographs, for $119,500.”[1]

If you think that is silly remember you can still find a piece of the true cross on eBay for 1500 dollars.  

So, Jesus’ celebrity lives on…so can you imagine in this time of Jesus celebrity where there were crowds pushing against him, trying to touch him, hear him, just see him, and there he stands among them as an equal and gives us two sermons.

Unlike Mathews beatitudes these are rather direct and specific, Nicolas king says …

“Again, the reader must decide whether Luke is speaking to an audience that is largely affluent. Certainly, he does not, as Mathew does, speak of the ‘poor in spirit’; and although he has fewer ‘Congratulations’ than Mathew in the sermon on the mount, he sharpens the effect by throwing in four ‘woes’ to match the ‘congratulations. These two sections the woes and the congratulations, are nicely balanced; some scholars see here the original beatitudes.”[2]

Nicely balanced indeed but are they nice? And to whom are these addressed.  Well in likes gospel Jesus is addressing his disciples his followers directly and down through the ages Jesus’ voice comes to us.

Unlike Mathews Blessed are those… this seems to be more direct.

Reverend Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at the Divinity School, Duke University reminds us that;


“In comparing these two versions of the sermon, we note that Luke’s rendition is briefer, edgier, with a sharp contrasting of the “you” who are blessed and “you” who are cursed. In Luke, Jesus addresses his followers. In Matthew, Jesus appears to address the “multitudes,” and his disciples listen in on his words to the crowd. Matthew’s sermon is noted for its abstract, bordering on sublime language: “Blessed are poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3 NRSV); by contrast, Luke’s version of the sermon is a straightforward announcement of the nature of Jesus’s reign: “Blessed are you who are poor. . .. Woe to you who are rich.” The Sermon on the Plain is a forceful prophetic statement.”[3]

So, there are really two sermons here or two parts to this sermon and remember Jesus is addressing his disciples here

Jesus raised his eyes to his disciples and said:
Congratulations to the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Bless you, all you poor. When everything in this This world seems to function for the rich, helping the rich get richer and forcing the poor into even greater poverty. Good news! In heaven, those whom the world—through its taxes, its legal structures, its systems of punishment, its racism, prejudices, and put-downs—makes poor, you who are poor will be made rich.

Congratulations to those who are hungry now, for you will be sated.

Oh, how lucky are those of you who are hungry. I know there is not much greater sadness than hunger, but in God’s heaven that’s coming, there will be more than enough for you. There will be more than enough food, more than enough opportunity, a wonder filled future rather than this broken tomorrow that the world offers you. Nobody will be forced to go to bed hungry. You are about to be filled. Because God has a special place in heaven for those of you who the world sends away empty.

Congratulations to those who weep now, because you will laugh.

Oh, you lucky ones who are now weeping. Your tears will turn to laughter. Those of you who have received so much bad news will be the recipients of good news. Heaven is coming, and once it arrives, those who mourn because of the losses they have suffered in this world will receive a new world in which laughter will be the order of the day.

Congratulations when people hate you, and when they ostracize you and heap insults on you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the son of Man. Rejoice in that day, and leap about. For look your reward is great in Heaven; for in just the same way their ancestors used to treat the prophets.

If you’ve ever been put down, insulted, left out, shamed, felt marginalized or disrespected because of Jesus, rejoice! If you have been punished because of your faith in Jesus, you are about to receive your reward. This is the way the world has always treated people who tell the truth, serve the truth, and try to be obedient and faithful to the teachings of God and Jesus. God loves you! God loves you as much as God loves all of the great but persecuted prophets of old.[4]

So, this is the end of the first part of today’s sermon…Was Jesus speaking to you?  Did you hear some of your life captured there?  Does this bring you hope? Are you feeling pretty good right now?  As a disciple of Christ this is truly Good news … But wait there is more
There is a part two. Jesus voice now changes from one of compassion to one that is kind of accusatory.  Ok not kind of it truly is accusatory, judgmental even harsh.  So, Is Jesus addressing you?


But woe to you who are rich, for you have your comfort in full.

Bad news for those of you who have lots of stuff. Yikes we Americans are known for accumulating stuff. Jesus says Your day is coming. You have had the best that you could afford. You take great joy in your possessions, feeling that they secure you and your family from misfortune. You see your stuff as earned for your hard work and prudence. You have already received all that you wanted. And now that’s over.

Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry.

“Those of you who have fat pension plans, big houses, three-car garages, big cars, and plenty of opportunities, now is your time to have less. You are about to feel, for the first time in your life, emptiness, knowing hunger, and a sense of the void inside of you. Sorry.”[5]

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.

Sorry for you who are happy, who feel good about how your life is going. Unfortunately for you, it’s your turn to mourn and weep. You who have experienced the world as a joyful and pleasant place will now get to see the other side of the story.

Woe to you whenever all people speak well of you, for in just the same way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets

Bad times ahead for those of you who everyone is your friend. Unfortunately, if you have received praise and adulation in this world, you are going to get to experience how the other half lives.[6]

So, this is the end of the second part or the second sermon. Which one of these was Jesus preaching to you? Did any of this second way make you feel a bit uncomfortable?

“Of course, we would all prefer to receive blessing rather than condemnation. But this sermon, much like its counterpart in Matthew, the more familiar Sermon on the Mount, is not so much blessing and condemning as it is painting a picture of the shape of God’s coming reign. You remember how Jesus began his first sermon in Nazareth? He said that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to preach good news to the poor, good news that God is coming. This Sermon on the Plain announces the news that God’s promises are being fulfilled, that God is coming into the world. The one who preaches, Jesus, is the one who not only announces but also embodies that new world order: God’s kindom.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer here most every Sunday. In that prayer, we always say, “thy kingdom come, thy will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain—or maybe more accurately, his two Sermons on the Plain—make me wonder if we really mean what we pray. Do we really want God’s kingdom to come, God’s will to be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven?”[7]

The more I think about this sermon on the plain it definitely is not plain.  It is extraordinary in a way that is exciting. Why because I know that technically I am in both categories of the woes and the congratulations depending where and when I am in my life.

The congratulations are there to comfort me in my sorrow, in my hunger, in my broken spirit.  The Woes are there to remind me to be cautious and aware of my abundance.  Those are times I should count my blessings and see where I might share and or do more with the abundance I receive.

One commentator says; “An initial reading of the Lukan beatitudes might prompt us to accuse Luke of “pie in the sky by and by” attitude; that is, he encourages people to endure their present suffering by holding out hope for rewards sometime in the indefinite future.  When we take into account both the time elements (“now” verses the future) and the issue of divine verses human assessment, however something more complex emerges from this passage. A crude paraphrase might be, “Things are not always what they seem.” Those who seem to be prospering may not be, not in God’s sight. Those who seem to be suffering may be blessed, at least in God’s sight. Paul puts it somewhat differently in 1 Cor. !:25 “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”[8]

All I n all what I hear in this message is a warning to us disciples to just check our attitude and check our judgements we know not what others are going through…This also says to me that perhaps we need to look deeper than at the surface of this world.

In spiritual care we learn never ask someone how they are doing? Why? (anyone) because the answer is fine and you.  But if you ask so how is your day going? Or anything special happen today? You are going to get a deeper more honest answer, and, in that answer, we may learn how we can better serve.

If someone comes to the church and sis seeking food and we say here is a bag here is the food that is one thing.  But if we ask so how are things at home? How has this week been for you> we may learn there are other needs going on?

This is just one example. What I am saying here just as the sermon on the plain is anything but a plain ole sermon there are many ways, we can see to be in deeper relationship with one another and the world around us.  Do we want to be a plain ole church or anything but plain? Something to think about




[1]http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1917097_1917096_1917086,00.html
[2]King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.

[3]https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/9477/pulpit-resource-february-17-2019
[4]Ditto
[5]Ditto
[6]Ditto
[7]Ditto
[8]Cousar, Charles B. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Cast your nets deeper

Today’s scripture is sometimes titled as the “Calling of Simon”.  Do you hear a call in here?  Is there a moment when Jesus says “come follow me? It is also said that there is a miracle in here what is the miracle? How does this miracle work or what does it do?

“The miracles of Jesus provide human beings with some benefit.  They meet human need, whether for healing or for deliverance from the fearful powers of the sea. Despite the way it has troubled some interpreters, even the miracle at Cana provides the need of wine for those who celebrate a wedding.”[1]

There seems to be some important things happening in this story. As it often happens, there is a crowd pressing against Jesus and so to better be heard he gets in a boat and asks the owner to push out a few feet. He is not too far out but far enough to deliver a message without fear of being pushed into the lake by the crowd. Then he sat down and delivered his message.  

Remember last week I mentioned that it was tradition for a Rabbi/teacher to sit and give the lesson. Here it may just be practical …have you ever tried to stand in a boat. It can be a little precarious.

It is interesting, well at least to me, we know nothing of what Jesus’ message was that day.  There is no hint as to what he had to say. What we do know is that as soon as he was finished, he turned to Simon and said; “Put out into the deep and let down your nets to catch something.” Of course, Simon lets his brain engage before his heart and states “Master the whole night we have been laboring and caught nothing…” Then his heart engages, and he says, “but at your word I will let down my nets.”

I cannot imagine what Jesus taught that day, but he had Simon as a captive audience.  Simon alone was in that boat with him and Simon saw all and heard all.  You have to see this in your mind’s eye…Jesus asks Simon to row out a little way and sits down to teach.

This means either Jesus is seated next to Simon or in front of him.  Simon can hear all Jesus is saying and sees the crowd and their reactions as well.

We then get a glimpse of stubborn Simon and even though he is being kind of practical even in that moment he knows enough to call Jesus Master, then as he goes out and he catches a bunch of fish so much, so it is about to sink his boat and that of the others who were there as well.

Arland J Hultgren Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN points out  that


“Clearly the main figure on the scene, apart from Jesus himself, is Simon Peter. It is his boat that Jesus uses. It is he to whom Jesus speaks first, asking him to go into the deep water. Conversely, Simon Peter is the only person who speaks to Jesus. He addresses him as "master" (Greek: epistat ─ôs, a term used for tutors and teachers) at 5:5. But after the miraculous catch, he addresses him as "Lord" (kyrios) at 5:8. Likewise, Simon Peter is the only one whom Jesus addresses directly, both when he tells him to go into the deep water (5:4). And, interestingly, even at the end of the story when he says, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people" (5:10), for in Greek the verbs are second person singular.”[2]


Luke does something interesting here After the fish are caught and the boats are full Simon Peter falls to his knees.  Simon Peter? Throughout the text he had been called Simon but now in his awe he is Referred to as Simon Peter indicating a spiritual shift in this man once called Simon.

There is such a shift in him that he says; “Go away from for I am a sinful man Lord.” I believe it is safe to say that this is not something that is on Simon Peters heart all along. It is through his experience of Jesus, of Jesus preaching and teaching and even catching fish, it is through Simons Peter’s experience that this shift and act of contrition occurs.

We do not know what Jesus said to the People, Jesus has said nothing to Simon Peter except move out to deeper water.  Let’s get out of this shallow place and go deeper. There is so much Metaphor possible there though I am not sure it was the authors intent. But I like it for it is when we go deeper that more is revealed to us.

It is when we develop sacred practices and a deep spiritual relationship with God and Christ that we can grow into who we are called to be as disciples of Christ. It is through study of scripture…Listening to Jesus words and watching what Jesus does and how he acts and even how people react and learn and are changed in his presence it is through that that we go deeper.

It is through our observation of seeking God in the world today.  If we are looking for the face of Christ, we will find it in our brothers and sisters all around us.

If we take time to be still and listen, we will hear the words of Jesus on our heart and will feel the invitation to go to deeper water still.

There is something about starting a spiritual practice that makes us want to go further.  There is something about a deep intentional relationship with the beloved that makes our spirit hungry for more.

Jesus never really calls Simon nor the others in this story, at least not in the way it is expressed in other Gospels. Jesus has much been more like a river to the stone.  He is alongside Simon Peter and John and James. He has taught on the lake.  They have heard him. And then he says let’s go fish.
They have been fishing all night and nothing….

Have you ever lost something or misplaced it looked everywhere for it and then someone says have you looked right here?  The answer is hundreds of times, and I am frustrated and why are you asking me to look here again oh here it is!!

That’s today miracle Jesus asks them to look one more time…This isn’t about the fish…This isn’t about the Fish…It’s about the miracle of seeing different…the miracle is their hearts shifted…The miracle is they went deeper and saw Jesus…Not just another teacher …not just another preacher…They saw Jesus

Now they do not understand what they have seen, they do not understand what they have experienced, yet the lives they once had, are gone now.

Jesus says do not be afraid…You see when the Gospel states that astonishment had seized them it is not the good kind.  It is the kind of surprise that comes with fear even terror perhaps.  So, Jesus states do not be afraid…

This do not be afraid is a shift in the way one behaves in front of the holy and the sacred.  It is a gentle reminder that comes to us throughout the sacred texts.  It is often the greeting of an angel or a messenger fromm God. 

Fear and astonishment are a common reaction in front of the sacred.  Most often because it is so beyond our comprehension and understanding and yet God, the angels, God messengers often open with do not be afraid. Why should we be afraid this is an all loving God coming to teach us how to live and love as part of a greater spiritual community.

So,

“The story of the call of Jesus' first disciples is fitting for the Epiphany Season, a time in which the church celebrates the gift of Jesus Christ as a "manifestation" (epiphania) of God, and gives thoughtful consideration to his mission to the world.
Jesus has come into the world to reveal God and to redeem the cosmos. But he is known to us only through the witness of his apostles. The call of the first disciples marks the beginning of a movement that culminates in the founding of the church. The church did not come into existence through a group of persons who wanted to start a good, even benevolent, organization. From the gospels, we learn that it had its beginning with Jesus, who called certain persons to follow him. He created a community of disciples who heard him preach and teach, heal, and finally suffer, die, and rise from death on the first Easter.”[3]
The story of the Church can be reflected in this unique calling.  We are called to Catch people…
“To be sure the image of “catching people” is troubling today because of its violence and its one way of mode of relationship. Nevertheless, its function is …to encourage the church to drop its nets in deeper water.  Deeper water or the ocean often represents chaos for the sea is unpredictable. So, let us drop our nets into deeper water the chaos of life today, and witness to the Kindom of God and to invite people into the movement towards on earth as it is in Heaven.

We can see the threat of chaos every day in national politics, relationships among races and ethnic communities, international relationships, and many other places. According to Luke, the church continues the apostolic tradition when it offers individuals, households, and communities the values and practices of the Kindom of God as an alternative way of life.

We do this by gently being who we are right next to our neighbor and our community.  We do not evangelize with words, or tracts, or billboards.  We catch people with love, compassion and action.  It is through our presence here in the community hall, in the food bank and at marches and rallies. We catch people by being there in their hour of need and more importantly after the hour of need has passed.

We catch people by offering a place of refuge here in sanctuary or out in our community garden.

Perhaps we can be the river against the stone in other ways as well?? Open studio for crafts people? Bible study? Book Group?  Movie group? Supper club? Community of practice? Centering prayer? Labyrinth walks? Walking meditation? 

These are some of the many ways in which we can be a sacred safe place for church folk and non-church folk alike.

You see the call is not from now on oyu will catch people the call is cast your nets into deeper water!


So, “The story of the church is reflected to some degree in this story itself. When Jesus calls, Peter is hesitant and thinks that what Jesus asks of him is both unnecessary and too demanding. Nevertheless, Peter responds, and he discovers that life has a surprise in store for him. By doing what Jesus asks him to do, he experiences an epiphany of God.
God often becomes manifest in the ordinary, even seemingly unnecessary events of a person's life -- events which nevertheless are in accord with some purpose that is or is not known. Throughout history the church has continued to exist and carry on its ministry in spite of the tenuous responses of its members. The ancient image of the church as a fisherman's boat tossed about on the sea, but sustained by the presence of the living Lord, is appropriate in every age.
The commissioning of Peter is of particular importance. He became a leader among the Twelve during the earthly ministry of Jesus (as at Luke 9:20, 33; 12:41; 18:28) and also as a powerful preacher and leader in the early church. Although he alone is addressed in this particular story, both he and the other disciples are commissioned by the risen Lord to carry on the mission of Jesus (see Luke 24:48-49; Acts 1:6-11). Finally, the witness of the disciples to Jesus, his words, and his deeds is to extend "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), and that commission is being realized in the present”[4]through each and every one of us today.




[1]Cousar, Charles B. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary, Based on the NRSV. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Pg. 139

[2]http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=506
[3]http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=506
[4]https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=506

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Them VS Us





“I assure you no prophet is welcome in his home town!”  A drop the mike moment.  He could have easily walked away.

A.J. Thomas a Methodist preacher relays this story of going home titled; “A Hometown Preacher,

A few months after I finished seminary and entered full-time pastoral ministry, I was invited to preach at my home church - St. James United Methodist Church in Niagara Falls, NY.  The day arrived, and the crowds came.  I looked around and took it all in.  There was my 1st-grade teacher, a pillar member of the congregation, in her usual place on the left side, sitting on the center aisle, four rows from the front.  There were my neighbors, classmates, people whose grass I had cut, whose newspapers I had faithfully delivered.  My hometown had come out to greet one of their own.

At the risk of sounding boastful, I gave a good sermon, too.  If not a home run, at least a solid double or triple.  I remember that feeling of a job well-done as I gave the benediction, and joined the recessional down the main aisle to greet folks at the door as they departed, just waiting for the accolades to roll in.

However, I soon realized that no one had paid any attention to the content of the sermon itself.  They were more complementary about how I looked in my robe and how proud they were just to see one of their own up there, rather than any expressed sense of God having spoken through me to them.” [1]

 “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

In today’s Gospel we have Jesus, the illegitimate son of a carpenter, who has been gone from his hometown for a little while.  There have been stories.  Yea some really good stories.  After he was baptized and gone on a retreat in the desert, he has been teaching in the synagogues and he was praised by everyone (Luke 4.14-15).  So, you can imagine the excitement.

Jesus is coming home.  Jesus is going to teach in our synagogue.  Imagine the headlines, “Home town boy makes good come see the man in action!”  People were geared up for something special.  You know sometimes anticipation of the event is the greatest part of it.

“There was once an evangelist named Billy Sunday. He was the Billy Graham of his generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city, and in one sermon he said something critical of labor conditions for workers in that city. After the service, several businessmen sent him a message which read as follows: “Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You’re rubbing the fur the wrong way”. Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: “If I’m rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around” [2]

Basically, Jesus was about to stroke the fur the wrong way.  Now don’t get me wrong at first all was Good.  He stood up and read from the scroll as he was supposed to.  He read from Isaiah just as it was written... “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)

He hands the scroll back to its care taker and sits down.  Now to you and I this may sound a bit arrogant however this is actually the norm.  A teacher would sit to teach.  Remember the story of Jesus in the temple…” They found Jesus seated among the teachers” (Luke: 2:46) you see it was the norm for a teacher to sit and for the students to be at his feet as others gathered round to listen.

So, Jesus took a seat nothing new there and everyone is paying real close attention.  They have all heard the stories already circulating about his skills as a teacher.  He says; “this scripture has now been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4.21) 

Now let me stop right there.

There is something about the word of the prophet being fulfilled but not because it is written.  It is only fulfilled in its hearing. There is something physical and contextual about the word when it is read out loud. Would this service be the same if we said here is today’s text and read it to yourselves?  I will give you 5 minutes.  Good now let me preach/teach/ convey to you how the spirit is moving me in the word. 

There is a physical need for the scriptures to be heard and read.  I may read it one way another person another but in the hearing of it we contextualize it.  Someone may be moved extremely by the way one has read the text another not so much but….But each of us start to hear the text as it is meant for each one of us to hear it which opens souls to the movement of God in our lives as I or whoever is up here tries to do their best to give that spirit more momentum so to speak.

So, the crowd was already geared up and then Jesus reads the scripture and announces it is fulfilled through the peoples hearing of the word and what happens.  The crowd is happy. They like what they are hearing   the bible says they were amazed. Anyone here amazed yet??  I am afraid I do not have the power to amaze anyone.  Of course, they were all the more amazed because isn’t this Joseph’s boy?  Wasn’t he supposed to be a carpenter?  Wow!  I can see them all nodding in agreement and murmuring how amazing this guy is just like everyone said.

A.J Thomas, the Methodist minister who no one paid attention to what he said in his hometown says this would be a good time to quit!



“Quit While You’re Ahead! There’s a saying that ‘You should always leave them wanting more.’ If Jesus wanted to quit while he was ahead, now is a great time for the benediction, at least if he’s trying to win friends and influence people.  Yet, Jesus’ sermon isn’t finished just yet.” [3]
Noooo, as one may say, He couldn’t just stop there and leave well enough alone, but he had to keep going.  

Jesus basically says you are not going to like what I have to say. You are going to ask me to do tricks and miracles for you, but I am not going to do that here.  Instead let me remind you of two other scripture readings.  He then goes on to speak of the time of Elijah when there was a great famine and the people of Israel were hurting.  God did not send the prophet to Israel but to a widow in Sidon.  A gentile to care for the prophet.  Then he recounts the story of Naaman a commander of Syria’s army and believed to be an enemy and yet Elisha cured him of his leprosy as opposed to curing one of many people of Israel suffering from the same.

So why did Jesus’ reminder to the people of this story upset them so much?  Jesus wasn’t relaying a new story.  Jesus wasn’t saying anything more than just relating their own story back to them.  But something in hearing these stories come from Jesus, something shifted.  Yes, they knew the stories!  Yes, this is our own history.  But God is blessing and fraternizing with Gentiles in these stories.  You are supposed to be one of us.  You came here for us!  How dare you?
You see what is getting to the people here is Jesus is saying my ministry is not just for you.  God has been here for you and always will be but now is the time of the outsider.  Now is the time of the other, the exiled, and the despised.  From the Gospels this means now is the time of the tax collector, the Samaritan, and the woman at the well.  This is the time of the leper, the blind and the deaf.

The people of Israel have had Gods Prophets, teachers and words for all these years.  They tell stories of the great miracles and redemption of their people.  God gave them the law, the land and salvation.  Now it is time to go further.  This is what made them angry.  This is what made Jesus’ own home town run him to the edge of a hill ready to throw him off.  But instead of arguing and confronting them he just walked away.  Leaving them to replay this event and his message again and again over in their minds.  And well You can bet they did.

You ever get so mad about something you heard you just have to talk to somebody about it? I am not naming names but there isn’t a day goes by today that I do not hear from someone something that some politician said that they didn’t like.  I confess I have engaged in the very same reactions. As a person of a liberal bent I am usually disparaging someone who has the other point of view.

On this point I am going to get on my soap box for a minute to remind myself, we have to pray for those who we disagree with. For some people the world is changing so fast around them they are clinging onto the very last bit of a world that they use to know that will not exist in ten to twenty years. America is changing in how we look at the other and who we believe should be treated with human kindness and love as opposed to having lines drawn and being declared unworthy.
This is what Jesus was doing here: The lines that Israel had drawn around their religious beliefs and laws and restrictions, who they decided was in and out and how they practiced those beliefs, Jesus was saying it’s done.  We will have no more of this…Now is a time of a loving and welcoming and accepting God and that will be Jesus’ challenge to the established Hierarchy and the norms of the time.

And Guess what that is still the challenge today!  Jesus challenges our Churches and we challenge ourselves to be a loving and open community, but we still have a long way to go.

 I wonder how many congregations have engaged in the Just peace movement. The Just Peace movement “focuses attention on alleviating systemic injustice of all types using non-violence and calls us to offer the message, grounded in the hope of reconciliation in Jesus, that “Peace is possible.” [4]

I know this community is open and affirming/reconciling yet did you know that there are 14 UCC related seminaries and yet only 8 are ONA. Of the 5000 churches only 1500 (as of January 1st) are ONA.  In the Methodist church they proclaim 961 reconciling communities out of some 32000 churches. We still have a long way to go.

Even those that proclaim they are ONA often do not want to discuss further what that may mean or what they may be called to do.

Now I confess my point of reference is mostly UCC, so sometimes I may speak only of the UCC as that is what I know.  But I will do my best to continue to grow and become knowledgeable with all our affilitations.

I wonder how many churches are accessible to all or even know about United Church of Christ disabilities Ministries? People believe being accessible means putting in a ramp or two, but we are called to go much further than that.  We are called by Christ to go further than that.
The United Church of Christ Disabilities ministries asks our churches to;

To be a Church where everyone is welcome.

To encourage local churches to be open, inclusive, affirming and accessible in all aspects of their lives, including buildings, worship, education, fellowship and service, and thereby enabled to proclaim God’s word with and to all persons, including people with disabilities.

To advocate with and for persons with disabilities, especially people who have been marginalized and alienated.

To advocate for and collaborate with care giving ministries with and for
Persons with disabilities.

To develop and support the leadership of laity and clergy with disabilities at all levels within the entire United Church of Christ.

To encourage all settings of the United Church of Christ to consciously use language inclusive of and sensitive to accessibility and disabilities issues.

To offer a forum of communication and networking. [5]

We have local projects, food pantries, hospitals, habitat for humanity that call our attention every day.  We have the homeless on the streets and the mentally ill who are not receiving services because they do not have permanent addresses.  We still have workplace inequality, wage theft and forms of enslavement happening in communities all across this nation..

Now what happens in your heads and hearts when you hear such a litany of so many things?  What happens when you here all about them and this isn’t about us?  Do you hear what I just said?  This is all about them…. Jesus said this is all about them. That’s what upset the people of Nazareth they thought that Gods saving grace was going to be all about them.

Here is a little secret…Sunday is all about us.  Yep today here and now is all about us.  It about us resting in God’s spirit.  It is about us being grateful for all of God’s gifts.  It is about us getting energized, inspired and refueled…but for what? 

Refueled with God’s loving spirit so we can go out and serve them!  So, we can become the kindom of God here on earth and welcome all into our midst with love and compassion and understanding.

In conclusion here is a poem by Simone Poortman
Them and Us
Them---------------------------------------------------------------Us
Where do I fit in?
If I am one of “them”, they are “us”
If I am one of “us”, who are “they?”
Being one of “us” is only half.
I miss “them.”
Only when I am one of “them,”
Can I be part of the complete “us.”
I know both “them” and “us.”
How do I dare to become one of “them”?
In order to become of “us?’
By Simone Poortman
Delegate from the Netherlands and part of EDAN[6]

Let us pray;

Loving God in our brokenness, in our search to find wholeness for ourselves let us also seek to find wholeness for our community and the world.  Help us to see you in the other and welcome them with love, compassion and understanding that only through your grace we may provide.  Help us and bless us as we strive to bring your kindom here and now. Amen!





[1] A.J. Thomas, Home Town Hero, July 22, 2012, accessed January 18, 2016, http://theproclaimedword.blogspot.com/2012/07/hometown-hero-luke-421-30.html.
[2] Craig Condon, Luke 4:21-30 Rubbing People the Wrong Way, June 23, 2012, accessed January 18, 2016, http://sermonsfrommyheart.blogspot.com/2012/06/luke-421-30-rubbing-people-wrong-way.html.
[3] Thomas, Home Town Hero.
[4] United Church of Christ, Just Peace, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016, http://www.ucc.org/justice_just-peace.
[5] UCC Disabilities Ministries, About, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016, http://uccdm.org/about/.
[6] Simone Poortman, Them vs Us, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016, http://www.dsfnetwork.org/assets/Uploads/2007-04-22-Brazil-Report-April-07.pdf.


Sunday, November 18, 2018





Anyone here ever read the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy series…Let me just say this after this Gospel…
Don’t panic…

“In the series, Don't Panic is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The novel explains that this was partly because the device "looked insanely complicated" to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travelers from panicking. "It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the cover."
Arthur C. Clarke said Douglas Adams' use of "don't panic" was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.
On February 6, 2018 SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, carrying Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster which had "DON'T PANIC!" written on the screen on the dashboard.”[1] 

Now that’s reassuring
It is also recommended that as one travels through life to always know where one’s towel is…
“Somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is. The logic behind this statement is presented in chapter 3 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy thus:
... a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”[2]
Okay I have my towel…none of us are panicking. Yet ok then
Well here we are in a time of transition.  The more things stay the same the more they change. As we last saw our savior, he was making a comment about the scribes and how they devour widows.  We listen to how Jesus observed the rich casually give out of their abundance and the poorest of poor give out of her need.  Give out of her faith in God, and perhaps, her faith in the community of God as opposed to the leaders and the practices of the hierarchy of the temple.
In fact, her giving and Jesus teachings stand in sharp contrast to the temple and its practices.
So, after all these wonderful lessons to ponder, as they are just casually walking out of the temple one of his disciples turns and says to Jesus; “Teacher look what stones, and what buildings!”  Now we have the final moment when Jesus does the head to palm thing.
Was no one listening? Fine let me spell it out for you…This building, this place that you have put so much faith in… “there will not be left here a stone upon a stone that will not be destroyed!”  Come on guys its about the people not the building.
A Bit later Jesus is sitting on the mount of olives, about a 30-minute walk from the temple mount, this is the view as it looks today 

 and a few of his disciples ask him to go into detail about the end times.  Exactly when will this happen? 
Jesus began, “Watch out for doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, ‘I am the one.’ They will deceive a lot of people.  When you hear of wars and rumored wars, keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history, and no sign of the end. Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines, but these things are nothing compared to what’s coming.”[3] – The message
Chapter 13 is full of apocalyptic language. It is similar in ways to many other Jewish writings using similar images and language. “yet it is helpful to read the passage not so much as a predictive message about the future, but as a word addressing the issues pressing the Markan community at the time of writing. The events depicted in the chapter do not come out of a crystal ball of a divine soothsayer, but are the stuff of the community’s everyday life. The violence of war, the impending ( if not already completed) destruction of the temple, the perilous existence of the church under persecution, the enticing voices of false prophets and false messiahs were urgent concerns for the Christians community, and Mark 13 speaks directly to them”[4]
Mark here is incorporating actual events and telling his followers Don’t panic. “The warnings about false Christs are thought by some scholars to be warnings against others claiming to be the messiah or Christian teachers who claimed to actually be the reincarnation of Jesus. Acts of the Apostles 5:36-37 contains a description given by Gamaliel about Theudas and Judas the Galilean, both also mentioned by Josephus, who also claimed to be leaders of new movements.”[5]
These things were happening then and are happening now.  I mean we can all think of the great doomsday men standing on the street corner holding a sign the end is near…Jesus is coming…look busy!


Yes, we can find humor in it but imagine believing the messiah was coming at any moment.  That Jesus could appear in a minute and anticipating that… then how do you know which one is true when 5 or six show up? It must have been confusing and hard for the early believers. The romans were desecrating the temple before it was destroyed and they community had witnessed all of that.
So, Jesus is saying Don’t panic all these things will be…what will be will be...be present to the here and now. Be present to each other and stay spiritually focused.
Well isn’t that our Challenge today? How do we stay spiritually focused in the face of disaster?  How do we pause and put this all in God’s hands?
Our very nature as humans is, we want to be in control.  For example, we like to design our environments to suit us. At any given time on TV we can find a home make over show. We always are looking towards the next cooler gadget that will make our life easier.  Ok Google turn down the lights.
How many here thought the lights might actually dim?
There is nothing wrong with making our lives better, our homes more comfortable, our environment, well, ours! But then something happens.  Suddenly we do not have control and our response becomes panic, confusion, dismay, anger, pain, fear, isolation.
Now I am not talking about loosing a key or even having a cold.  How do we respond in the face of trauma?  Friends and families are being affected by fires allover our state. One friend of mine who was evacuated in Ventura county commentated “come one California either you are shooting at us or burning us out?” he could hear the gunfire at the borderline from his yard.
People in Santa Rosa hearts started racing as soon as they smelled the smoke. Anytime I smell smoke I ask is that a fire or a fireplace? I catch myself stopping.
Trauma is a hard thing and it stays with us. It will lie buried deep inside our selves till something like the smell of smoke triggers it.  Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11.  The shock was something awful.
“The immediate psychological effects were not limited to Ground Zero, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Penn. Elevated emotions reverberated throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. Many of us experienced what could be called sub-threshold symptoms—not enough distress to diagnose clinical disorder but sufficient to temporarily interfere with functioning. We felt angry, jittery, afraid and sad. We had difficulties concentrating and sleeping.”[6]
This is the immediate response of many people in the area to the fires.  This is the immediate response some have to a shooting no matter where it is.  This is the response some have when we here rhetoric of hate and condemnation.
Don’t panic, or more appropriately, try not to.
Breathe into your inner sacred space.  Find refuge with a friend, a loved one a confidant you can talk to.  Seek out counselors, or support groups. If you are in the midst of anything that is causing you to experience some level of trauma pray.
There is refuge in the stillness of Gods loving spirit.  There is comfort to be found in God’s loving community. I had a discussion recently on what to do when someone says I do not want your thoughts and prayers.  In the midst of tragedy and trauma a woman who lost her son was crying out.
Sandy Orfanos son had survived the shooting in Las Vegas only to die at the shooting at the borderline bar.
 “‘I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts. I want gun control,’ Susan Orfanos said on local TV.

‘And I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers,’ she said, vigorously shaking her head. She emphasized each word, demanding: ‘No more guns.’”[7] I can’t blame her for her anger. Yet I was asked what do oyu do in response to her statement. I pray. I do not have to tell her I am praying.  I do not have to send a message of thought and prayers. But I pray.  I believe in lifting prayers and it helps me not feel so helpless but then…
I have said this before in the face of trauma beyond our comprehension go with that first Christian response lift prayers but then… as things shift back to daily life seek out action.  What can we do? It is hard it seems meaningless or insignificant, but anything can help.  Donate blood, donate food, see if you can volunteer at a local shelter. I recently read comment on the Good Samaritan it is actually a quote from Margaret Thatcher; “no one would remember the Good Samaritan if he only had Good intentions” now she goes on to say he had money as well, but we all have currency. It does not need to be cash.
First, we pray and then we are called to act upon our intentions.
John Dorhauer wrote two years ago;
“At the end of a full year of open dialogue that engaged covenant partners across the full life of the denomination, the United Church of Christ Board affirmed a Purpose, Vision, and Mission statement for the denomination.
If you haven’t seen them yet, here they are:
Purpose:
To love our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and our neighbor as ourselves.
Vision:
United in Christ’s love, a just world for all.
Mission:
United in Spirit, inspired by God’s grace we welcome all, love all, and seek justice for all.
How beautiful is this? Love and justice are clearly seen by us as our missional imperatives. These commitments of offering a redeeming, transformative love to all, and in that love working to establish a just peace for all: this fully expresses why it is we were called into being…
The United Church of Christ Board would like to invite every setting of the denomination to begin prayerfully discerning this: in your setting for ministry, how do you and your worship family live out their call to build a just world for all?
I have the privilege of witnessing week in and week out how our local churches fulfill this mission. Even before we had the language that captured our mission impulse, we were bearing witness to the power of love to change the world.

In recent weeks, I have seen this love in action…
·         In a communion service held at the wall separating the US from Mexico where over 85 UCC members gathered from all across the country;
·         On the Dakota lands where tribal leaders and pastors led young activists to the front lines at the Standing Rock reservation on horseback and gave them a sense of pride, purpose, and identity;
·         In a 400 year old church in Barnstable MA where the worship space also serves as the town hall gathering place and a long time relationship with a sister church in Sri Lanka calls them to service a half a globe away;
·         At Holy Covenant UCC in Charlotte NC where I met one of the couples that successfully challenged the state’s laws criminalizing clergy for performing same gender weddings;
·         At the Samoan Church of Hawaii on the west shore of Oahu where every Sunday the faithful gather to sing their praises to the Creator;
·         With a group of clergy in Vermont who spent three days in the early fall processing the manifestation and impact of white privilege and making deeper commitments to becoming allies for racial equity.
What an honor to serve in this way and to bear witness to our ongoing commitment to build a just world for all. We are truly united in spirit and inspired by grace, and therefore welcome all, love all and seek justice for all.
We are the United Church of Christ.”[8]
I have seen this Church step up with food, with baskets for the fire victims, with a drive for habitat, with scarves and hats for the homeless.
There will be famine and war and rumor of war…don’t panic. There will be traumatic events…Don’t panic!
There will be people in shock and terror or suffering from trauma and it may be you.
Pause, Pray and then act…act to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world and work to see the vision fulfilled of a Just World for all.




[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Don't_Panic
[2] Ditto
[3] Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003. Mark 13:5-8
[4] Brueggemann, Walter, and Charles B. Cousar. Texts for Preaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993. Pg. 593
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_13
[6] http://time.com/4474573/911-september-11-trauma/
[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/11/09/thousand-oaks-parents-i-dont-want-prayers-i-dont-want-thoughts-i-want-gun-control/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1d03732d7957
[8] http://www.ucc.org/congregations_weekly_a_just_world_for_all