Archive for October 2017

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

In the past week we have witnessed the fall of filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, the humiliation of actor Kevin Spacey, and the arrests of men who may have conspired for treasonous ends. I am not going to speculate if these treasons were against our government or the Ukrainian people, if Spacey’s confession was honest or self-serving, or if Weinstein’s victims deserve a pound of his ample flesh. What I think needs to be said is what Jesus said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

Note Jesus’ use of the word “all.” Some pride, is not forgiven. Some misuse of power, is not justified. Some abuse of one’s authority to satisfy one’s own needs, will not long go unnoticed. Why? Because the ends never justify the means. Every great man who gets caught with their pants down reasoned themselves into their compromised lifestyle by thinking that the great project they are undertaking (be it a creative thing like a film, a political thing like a tea party, or simply the accumulation of ungodly riches), justifies them becoming a bad person. The people in the news this week are bad people. Let us be honest.

For the Christian, the means is always love. The end is that our lives be worthy of God's grace. Paul says, “As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (I Thessalonians 2:11-12). My parents always encouraged me to be a good person. It is job one. You may strive for great things in this world, but job one is being good.

Pentecost 26
All Saints Day
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Powerful people often use religion to justify their misbehavior
Psalm 90:1-17

I have always appreciated Psalm 90, even when I was young and thought the three score and ten endpoint for a standard life to be incredibly far away (Psalm 90:10 KJV). This is one of the few passages of the Bible that justifies keeping a King James Version on your computer. Read aloud, it is sonorous, and justifiably long because of its depth. It doesn’t deserve to be abbreviated by the lectionary or Powerpoint bound preachers, for it speaks to the big question; the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

How can my life have meaning? (and the related question, How can I stop sweating the small stuff?) By viewing it in the context of the eternal. In weekly worship our thoughts are made to return to the one who was before the mountains were born. We wrap our souls in His eternity. (insert blank powerpoint slide here and pause for thirty seconds).

The payoff for taking this psalm slow is found in the last verse, where we forsake lesser translations and find beauty and a firm foundation:
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. (90:17)

What we really want and find for the our joy of life, is having what we do matter. I don’t want fame or royalties from my writing, so much as, the sense that I have spoken the truth. That for those who read me, what I have written matters. In every occupation, and even in retirement, there is a quest for meaning.

Pentecost 25
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Mountains often call us to contemplate the eternal
Matthew 22:15-22

Which is harder? Giving to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, or giving to God the things that belong to God? Until recently, I thought it easy to list the things that belong to Caesar, or in my case, the United States. They are things like paying taxes and… Wait a minute. We now have a president who has taken pride in the fact that he has avoided paying taxes. In Jesus’ day, the tax structure was even more whimsical and unfair than our current one. Rich people paid bribes to avoid higher taxes. This was considered smart, but Jesus was blunt. Simply give to the government your taxes. Being fixated on lowering your tax rate or what deductions you can claim should never distract you from your real debt, which is to God.

Jesus was asked about taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) while he was teaching in the temple during his last week on earth. He knew that his time was short and that his real listeners wanted spiritual truth. We are told that when the Pharisees came to ask Jesus about taxes, he saw through them. He knew that they intended to trap him. For the Pharisees, money was an important thing. Giving it away to Rome, offended them. Not because Rome had stolen their nation’s freedom, but because they wanted to keep the money for themselves. They looked at their tax form and saw themselves as losers. They didn’t see the roads, civic buildings, and financial gains that Roman rule had brought to what was just a hundred years before this, a very backwoods part of the world. When we give our coin to Caesar today, we rarely see social good. A larger portion of our taxes go to that today, than what they did in Jesus’ day.

I’m sure that Jesus saw the Pharisees question a distraction. We continue to do everything we can to avoid hearing what Jesus came to say. We want to focus on the coins we owe to Caesar. Speak of distractions, do football players owe the government or the NFL league a minute of standing at attention before the game? We get focused on what everybody owes their government and miss the fact that the whole Sunday football thing is a distraction from worship. We constantly use sports metaphors to express the Gospel, never pausing to think that rooting for our modern day gladiators to bang their heads together and get brain trauma, may be the opposite of what Jesus was advocating. Jesus advocated justice, compassion, and financial simplicity. If having someone take a knee reminds us that there is still a battle for social justice and racial equality that needs to be fought, then excuse me for distracting you from the game.

Pentecost 24
Sunday, October 22, 2017
If you think taking a knew is distracting, Jesus took a whip
Philippians 4:1-9
I like to be the critic. People from time to time will give a list. They will say, “here are the three things you need to know before you set up a blog,” or, “here are ten things I hate about the Patriots.” Paul gives us that kind of list in Philippians 4:8. Being the critic, I ask, is he choosing the right things when he says, “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Here is the top 8 things you should think about: 1) truth 2) honor 3) justice 4) purity 5) being pleasing to God 6) earning the respect of others (commendable) 7) exampling excellence 8) being worshipful (my translation) Why eight, not seven or ten? 2), 6), and 8), are a bit too similar. What about simplicity or charity? That Blogger Paul, he’s a real amateur. But here I miss the point. Paul is saying that Christian character matters. We develop character by focusing on the right things. By setting our minds on always being truthful, just, and excellent in our dealings with others. At the end of the day we evaluate ourselves by how well our behavior has matched the character we hope to develop in ourselves. Today it has become common to make Christianity all about the doctrine. The great theologian Paul, says that character is what really matters. What do you think? More importantly, how do you act?
Pentecost 19
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Pandita Ramabai - a christian/hindu change agent with character
Exodus 20:1-17
Whenever I think about the ten commandments, I always picture Moses with two stone tablets in his hands. Traditionally, commandments are shown with numbers one through four on the first tablet, six through ten fit on page two. Newspaper people speak of putting some articles above the fold, and others below it. The above fold commandments deal with how Jewish, Christian, and Moslem people show respect to the God of Moses. The people whose faith harkens back to Mount Sinai (Moslem, Christian, or Jew), honor our God by: 1) Having only one God (Exodus 20:3 - Monotheism) 2) Not worshiping idols (Exodus 20:4) 3) Not using the name of God as a magic spell, or as a way of claiming that we are telling the truth (Exodus 20:7 swearing in God’s Name) 4) Taking a day each week for rest, recreation, and worship (Exodus 20:8 Sabbath) These four commands are important to those of us who are anywhere in the broad traditions of Christianity (whether orthodox, Catholic, Quaker, Mormon, etc.), or Judaism (orthodox, reformed, Hasidic, etc.), or Islamic (Shite, Sunni, Sufi, etc). This is well over half of the people who practice religion on this planet. But, and this is a big BUT, these four commandments do not apply to anyone outside of the above traditions. Sorry. It only would confuse a Hindu for them to try to keep commandment number one. A secular, but patriotic, person who worships the American flag will find it difficult to have no idols. Those who religiously follow their horoscopes will wonder why we have a command dealing with magic. Unfortunately, most Christians entirely ignore commandment number four, dealing with not working on the Sabbath. Before we go hanging these ten commandments in our courthouses, we best understand them. God did not tell Moses to go back to Egypt and make the worshipers of Osiris and Nut to obey these new rules. It would be like asking the average American to learn the rules of cricket. If someone is of another religious tradition, we shouldn’t go shoving the first stone tablet down their throats. God always takes us where we are, and then teaches us what we need to know next. Those of us who think of ourselves as Christians need to know our ten commandments better. Before we go forcing them on anyone else, we first need to look at how we keep the Sabbath holy. Do we idolize things or people that we shouldn’t? Do we have another god in our lives, whether it be alcohol, pornography, or political polarity? The other six commandments belong to the world. It is hard to imagine a civil society without rules against murder, stealing, and lying. The last commandment, the one about coveting, is radically un-American. I think this is Jesus’ favorite commandment. Grasping the danger of consumerism can transform your life. What would happen if we each tried to live without coveting? Who would buy all the cars and lottery tickets? Madison Avenue would go bust. So go below the fold, or on to page two, when you talk about the ten commandments with your unchurched friends. Hang 6 through 10 on the courthouse wall. But take 1 through 4 personally.
Pentecost 22
Sunday, October 8, 2017
The goal is to practice all 10 ourselves, and share #6 through #10