Monday, February 8, 2016

This is about them sermon 1/31/2016

“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

“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 for a little while.  There have been stories.  Yea 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 eh 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.  You know 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 the United Church of Christ and we challenge ourselves to be a loving and open community but we still have a long way to go.
 I wonder how many of our 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 yet did you know that we have 14 UCC related seminaries and yet only 8 are ONA. Of our 5000 churches only 26% roughly 1300 (as of November) are ONA.  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.
 I wonder how many of our 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 our own 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 right here in the Los Angeles area.

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
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,
[2] Craig Condon, Luke 4:21-30 Rubbing People the Wrong Way, June 23, 2012, accessed January 18, 2016,
[3] Thomas, Home Town Hero.
[4] United Church of Christ, Just Peace, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016,
[5] UCC Disabilities Ministries, About, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016,
[6] Simone Poortman, Them vs Us, Medium, accessed January 18, 2016,

Psalm 23 by Bobby McFerrin and In a Moment of Green Meadows - 1/10/2016

A Taize Sunday reflection

Today we are in a moment of green meadows, a moment of still waters.   This taize style of worship is created to draw us all together as one community.  It is designed to accommodate one no matter their needs or their walk in life. It has an intentional design of communal solitude.  I know that is an oxymoron but its true. We come together as a community to quiet our spirits and seek our solitary connection to the spirit to the other.   We are trying to reconnect to the outer or the inner depending how each one experiences the spirit.
There is no wrong way here.  This is a time to trust your heart and let your mind rest, rest and trust in the movement of the music, the stillness of the silence and let it lead you where you may go. The Lord is my shepherd and I have all I need. At this time here and now there is or there should be no other concerns.  Whatever needs to get done can wait till until it is time to leave.
This is a time and a moment of restoration.  She restores my soul and rights my wrongs; she leads me in a path of good things.  This is a time of good things; a time of meditative music, of peaceful quiet, of soft candle light.  Here, in this time, whatever wrong, whatever incomplete we may have, can be let go.
She leads me in a path and fills my heart with song.  The simple repetitive songs of taize are intent on allowing us to let go.  These songs are simple so we do not need to concentrate on them but can allow our spirits to move.  Brother Roger, the founder of the taize community, was very popular. Part of his appeal may have been his dislike of formal preaching, while encouraging a spiritual quest as a common endeavor. During a TaizĂ© gathering in Paris in 1995, he spoke to more than 100,000 young people who were sitting or lying on the floor of an exhibition hall, amid backpacks and a sea of candles. "We have come here to search," he said, "or to go on searching through silence and prayer, to get in touch with our inner life. Christ always said, Do not worry, give yourself."
So as we give ourselves in prayer and song here today we may find ourselves challenged by the silence.  We may be challenged by the repetitive song.  We may be challenged by the fact we have never had a service like this before. But all of this challenge is the point.  Let go of what challenges you, what frustrates you, what is making you crazy and give in, let go and let it be.
Take the time to allow this connection with Christ, with the spirit, with the other to grow.  Allow this to be a time of re-connection or even better a time of merging the spiritual and the physical into one.

Fr. Richard Rohr reminds us in one of his reflections this week that; “We have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual. This dualism is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as a lie. The principle of incarnation proclaims that matter and spirit have never been separate. Jesus came to tell us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn't see it until God put them together in his one body (see Ephesians 2:11-20). "In [Christ Jesus] you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians2:22). [1]”
Brother Roger understood this and his concept of taize was to bring the two together.  To create a space where one could break away from the daily and allow oneself to become whole again. As the Psalm said she won’t forsake me but alas we often forget and now is a time to recall and remember we are in her hand.  She sets a table before us, she anoints our heads with oil and our cups overflow.
We are all so blessed some in our abundance and some in our lack of abundance and others in our just rightness.  Because the blessings the psalmist is referring to has nothing to do with the physical.  If we just reconnect our spiritual and integrate it into our daily our lives, our eyes would be full of wonder at the abundance of God’s blessings that surround us each and every day.
Now I am no better than anyone here there are times,  lord many times, I myself forget and get caught up ion the material, in the physical in the day to day struggle.  I have to force myself to stop and pay attention to the blessings that surround me.  I look forward to times like this when, this is all I have to do, stop, breathe and pay attention to her spirit all around me.  I am reminded that surely goodness and kindness do follow me all the days of my life, and I will abide in her house forever and ever amen!