Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sowing the seeds of Love, Luke 6:27-38

There was a famous preacher named Fred Craddock.  He was famous for his stories he definitely was famous for his preaching as a matter of fact he wrote the book on it.  It is called preaching and it is a must read. for any person in seminary.
Of preaching Fred says “There is a big difference between reading speaking and reading writing. The sermon ‘is an event in the world of sound,’ he says, a ‘self-consuming artifact’ that lives for the ear, not the page.”[1]

The ear not the page …it is true, for though I have things written here scrolling before my eyes as I speak, I often go off page or off script.  For example, the other week the video didn’t record properly, and I had mentioned something about sign language…unfortunately it wasn’t in what I had written so that part was only for the ears and eyes present here today.

Any way the reason I mention Fred today is I will often use his stories.  His stories come from his life but are often relevant to the Gospel or sometimes just a funny antidote.  

Fred was the founding pastor of cherry log Christian church In Georgia

“60 people met in the Bear Lake pavilion at Cherry Log Mountain to hold a worship service in the tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Fred Craddock preached at that service, and the group continued to meet, monthly at first, then weekly, eventually forming Cherry Log Christian Church. The congregation opened its charter on Easter Sunday, March 30, 1997. The charter remained open for one year with people signing as charter, or founding, members. The congregation closed its charter on Easter, April 12, 1998, with 80 founding members.”[2]

Fred recalls; “the gestation period for cherry Log Christian Church was seven months, during which we had seventeen worship services between September and Easter. Easter 1997, about 10 minutes before 12:00p.m., the church was born. I think fourteen or fifteen names on the charter. Everybody seemed to have a goodtime except one man who waited with me with heavy brow and deeper voice. He continued to come regularly but he had an objection about the day. I asked him what it was, and he said, ‘The scripture you read.’”

The scripture that Fred read that day was the same scripture as today, so Fred asks
“’What was wrong with it?’ He said, ‘Bad choice.’
“well those are the words of Jesus”
“Well there are a lot of words in the Bible that are out of keeping with the spirit of our time. It’s just out of touch. What people expect of the church now-a-days is not a lot of talk about cross-bearing and loving enemies, they want to come to church to feel better, be a part of a group that will help them be successful. In a case or two maybe some therapy but otherwise, we get together to mutually enjoy each other, so knock of the ‘ought’ and ‘must’ and ‘should.’ I said, ‘Why?’
And he said, ‘It sets the bar too high. If you keep doing it, you’ll never have a church.’ Aw, there’ll always be these little cinderblock churches where people meet once a week to make each other miserable and if you’re not careful, you’ll be one of those. Don’t be out of touch with the spirit of the time.’”[3]

Wow Don’t set the bar too high…that gentle man never did add his name to the register of that church and yet, according to Fred he kept coming.  

I am not sure what setting the bar too high would mean.  We proclaim we are all followers of Christ. Yet, for most Christians Jesus did set the bar too high…actually the Romans set the bar high and hung Christ from it.

Today’s Gospel isn’t as high as all that.  Yet it is does give us a challenge.  I mean Jesus says to love those who love you well that isn’t no big deal. I mean Jesus says that’s easy, but to love those who hate us, hurt us, despise us…that’s a whole other thing and that is what we are called to do.

Who knows what the old testament reading for this day is? It is Genesis 45; 3-11 and 15
That doesn’t mean a lot to you, but it is part of one of my favorite Old testament heroes.

“Joseph Spoke to his brothers they came closer I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt but don’t feel badly…” Who remembers the story of Joseph his brothers had plotted to kill him because his father Jacob aka Israel had favored him?  He is sold into slavery instead some would say that was worse than killing him. Yet when Joseph is reunited with his brothers, he has some fun with them and frames a brother just to see if they have changed and finally weeping embraces his brothers and forgives them each and every one and sends for his father.

That’s pretty darn bold I mean after all they tried fratricide.

You see today’s call in the Gospel is “to love and do good and to lend to people who will have absolutely no thanks to give to you, no gift in return, no kindness to you.”[4]

Wait I am not going to get a gift card or even a card?  I am not going to win a humanitarian of the year because I helped my brother or sister on this planet …then what’s the point?

OHHH wait that is the point, isn’t it?

You see to be a follower of Jesus is to be the follower of an all loving God.  An all loving God means an all loving Heaven and if we are working to build the kindom of heaven on earth…well we have a lot of work to do.

I actually was confronted by this principle just yesterday.  There is an interfaith council that meets in Keene.  Now I have been part of interfaith councils before and ecumenical councils as well. For those who do not know the difference, an Interfaith council is all religions, ecumenical is only the Christians getting together.

Now my experience in the past has been interfaith councils are much kinder than Ecumenical, but both can make my heart pause.  Actually, when I joined the ecumenical council of southern California there were certain denominations that would not join because I was, well, gay.

So here is the story. I reached out to a local minister who organizes the interfaith group and she invited me to coffee on Monday.  Then she also invited another minister who is also new to the area. The church the other minister is from is an evangelical church.  As a matter of fact, as I looked her up and the university where she was trained the university just recently suspended to ministers’ credentials because they performed a same sex marriage.

I bet you can see where I am going with this. Do I want to work beside a person whose tradition is so very different from my own?  Do I want to possibly expose myself to the language and behavior I have fought against most all my life? Do I want to love someone who may not love me back…?

Yes, there it is.  I am called to love the evangelical.  I am not called to allow hate speech and or bad theology to control any situation, but I am called to love.  So, I will join the interfaith council and for some it will be just as hard for them to love me as it will be for me to love them. But through living and loving we can be, as I have said before, that river against the stone.

I mean if Joseph can love his brothers who tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery…WE can work besides other people who may believe I am an abomination.

When I was in seminary the fight for marriage equality had revved up. I was in class with gentleman who was in the navy and was studying to be the first Muslim chaplain.  He asked me what marriage equality would mean to him as a chaplain and a Muslim.  I told him that it is not part of your faith you have no obligation to perform any marriage. His response was well if it doesn’t affect me and my practice then why should I care?

How I wish other people understood this. The world would be a much better place.  If you do not like gay marriage do not marry someone who is gay!

Unfortunately loving someone inspite of their beliefs and still standing up for the marginalized in many ways and on many days have placed people directly in harm’s way. The temperament of the America today makes me sad and my heart breaks over and over again as I hear stories of hatred and discrimination.  My heart almost stops every time I hear of talk about a wall and immigration bans. I cry when I see videos of people calling police because someone is of color and that is the only reason people are calling 911.

I know this sounds political but when you put it in the context of loving those who will not thank you, will not reward you, my heart moves to the children seeking asylum.

Children who with their parents are looking for safe place. Children who want to live their lives without the threat of being kidnapped or killed. 

Now if you do not know by now, I am unashamedly UCC and perhaps that is because I am a convert. But in many ways this church is more UCC than most as we have Methodist and UU in our midst as part of the united Body of Christ

The General minister and president of the UCC recently sent a letter out and I wanted to share that here;

“Dear Partners in Christ:

The vision of a body united –in purpose, in mission, in vision – is one that inspired the birth of our denomination. All of our spiritual impulses reverberate in an effort to call us into a more perfect union. Throughout our shared history as a people of faith and as a part of the Body of Christ, we have challenged ourselves to widen the circle of inclusion. Widening the circle has always come with growth pains as we shed old skins and welcome those whom we had previously thought unwelcome. And, with each new articulation of a more fully expressed Body of Christ we have realized new joy. Through it all we remain focused on the call to be one and committed to meeting the challenges inherent in that call.

We are now living in and through a season when the threats to unity are legion. Talk of walls that mark refugees as threats, labels like ‘terrorist’ that attach too easily to Muslims, overt racial bias that normalizes fear and hatred, a pandemic of abuse to women with the trigger reflex to forgive the men who author that abuse have turned America into a land many of us no longer recognize and that too many of us are finding harder and harder to reconcile with our faith.

Now more than ever, the Holy Spirit of the Living God and the Risen Christ is seeking to partner with anyone committed to unifying the human community. The gospel mandate to love our neighbor as we love ourselves resonates deep within us. It calls for the better angels among and within us to always resist impulses to hate, to condemn, to vilify, or to castigate. In such a time as this, the United Church of Christ’s call to fulfill the prayer of Jesus, that they may all be one, stands as an urgent mandate to disciples who envision a just world for all. 

United with you in God’s service,
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer “

Maybe I have rambled a bit too much today. John’s loving letter sums up neatly what I have been trying to say.  We need to learn to love especially in what seems a season of hate.

Part of that will be us, this congregation not avoiding hard subjects and topics.  Part of that will be us as a congregation trying not to accuse or judge but stand beside those who will stand beside us and where we disagree, perhaps through our presence and love we can help people see a different way, a better way.

As I finish this, I am reading a book called; preaching resistance, Voices of Hope, Justice, & solidarity by Phil Snider.  I will be joining a national discussion on this book next week. I hope we can be a a voice of hope, justice and solidarity and through our voices perhaps we can begin to sow a few seeds of Love where they are needed. Perhaps we can all do a bit better at loving unconditionally those who do not nor ever will love us.

I pray Gods peace and love to you today.  I hope my reflections have touched and maybe even challenged a few today. I know in my own reflection I have challenged myself!

[1]Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. pg. vii

[3]Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 156

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

[2]King, Nicholas. The Bible: A Study Bible. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew, 2013.

[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.


“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


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
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,