Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Canonized Contradictions


I may have mentioned this before, but have you ever noticed in Proverbs the following two verses?

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  She quotes Timothy Beal as saying, "The Bible canonizes contradiction."  

We want answers.  We think we would like God to say, "Do this, not this.  Be this, not this. Here I am, and here are all the answers." God doesn't work that way, and the Bible certainly doesn't work that way.

She goes on to say:

"When God gave us the Bible, God did not give us an internally consistent book of answers.  God gave us an inspired library of diverse writings, rooted in a variety of contexts, that have stood the test of time, precisely because, together, they avoid simplistic solutions to complex problems."

I think we can rest assured that if we think the answer is clear cut or simple, we are wrong.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

A Place at the Table


The choir sang an anthem on World Communion Sunday called For Everyone Born (text by Shirley Erena Murray, music by Brian Mann, arranged by Tom Trenney - link here): 
For everyone born
A place at the table
For everyone born
Clean water and bread
A shelter, a space
a safe place for growing

It reminded me of a passage from a letter written by Paul to the Church at Corinth where he admonishes them about their practice of Communion.  From 1 Corinthians 11:20-21:  "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk."

This anthem linked for me the idea (which I should have known) that God prefers a communion that includes everyone - and if some of us are hungry and if some of us are cold and frightened, and have no place to live, then not all of us have a place at the table.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 4


The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Jesus also says in Mark 9, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.”  A Servant-of-all is the servant with the lowest rank of all the servants – the one who would be allowed to eat only when everyone else has eaten.  The child and the servant-of-all have much in common.

We are not only called to welcome the oppressed and lost as if they were Christ, but we are also called to become like them – a servant-of- all – as Christ is.

Imagine a banquet where all of the honored guests are the people we have talked about today.  Imagine the preparers of the food and those who serve are the Disciples of Christ, picking up a towel and metaphorically washing feet.

My church has a dinner each Thursday for the homeless and marginally homeless in our downtown neighborhood.  The diners are individuals and families who are living at the Mission down the street or even on the street itself.  Some of them are ill or hurting.  I’m sure you’ve heard about the opioid epidemic in our town – some of those who attend are addicted to drugs or have family members who are.  This free meal is prepared and served by members of our church or sometimes other nearby churches, or by the United Methodist students from Marshall or by the members of the nearby Islamic Center.

This is an image that is the opposite of arguing about who is the greatest.  This is the radical discipleship of Christ, where the leader is the servant and the guest of honor is the least among us – according to how society would define him.  This is the kingdom of God that Christ calls us to build.  This is the radical nature of the upside-down life of carrying a cross.

This is the good news.

This is what we may not want to hear, but what will bring us life – real and joyful life.
This week, how will you act upon these words of Christ – who will you greet who everyone else would ignore? Who will you serve? How will you act as Christ this week to those who need to see him? How will you be a disciple this week?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 3


The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Harry Adams, a professor from Yale Divinity school, was the author of a commentary I read as I prepared for today.  He told a story of an event he was planning.  Harry was responsible for deciding where people would sit.  There was a newcomer to the group, so Harry placed an experienced person next to the new person as an act of hospitality.  When the experienced person saw where he was to sit, he moved his place card to the center of the table, next to the person who would be presiding.  I think we might say that it’s natural to want to be perceived of as important.  The one with power and authority.

But Jesus turns that upside down.  Do we want to hear that?

Children have no power at all.  They have no authority. Knowing a child won’t advance your career or bring you any prestige.  Those listening to Jesus would have seen a child as almost less than a person.  A child has no honor, no ranking or influence.  And yet Jesus equates welcoming a child to welcoming the Messiah – to welcoming God.  We don’t always hear that as radical, but it is.  It is completely upside down from what they expected – from what we expect.

But we can expand this – Jesus words for us aren’t just about children.  Who among is the least? The person with no authority or prestige? Who are we called to welcome in the name of Christ? Not only that, but to welcome as if they are Christ?
Is it the person who is homeless? Who is addicted? Who is poor? Is it the person who is oppressed? Is it the person who has been in prison? Is it the person who is sick or alone or elderly or afraid? Who are we to welcome as if that person is Christ himself?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 2



The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 In the biblical passage known as the Walk to Emmaus, two follows of Christ are walking down a road after the crucifixion. They don’t realize that their companion is Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the World.  In our passage today from Mark, the disciples are walking down a road with Jesus, and one could argue that they also don’t fully realize who their teacher really is – and it’s not because Jesus hasn’t told them.  They haven’t yet understood the nature of the Messiah they follow and what discipleship means.

Mark 9 is at a crossroad in the adult life of Jesus, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Jesus has been teaching and healing, traveling. In the previous few chapters, they had been in a northern region, in towns like Caesarea Philippi and Bethsaida.  In our scripture today, they walk to Capernaum, which is farther south, and closer to Jerusalem.  They are geographically and spiritually moving toward Jerusalem – and therefore moving closer the Jesus’ death.  Jesus knows there is not much time left to him to teach these men, and that in order for the gospel to move forward after his death, he has to make sure that these men “get it.”  And what they have to understand is completely radical – it is the opposite of what they know.

They are traveling through Galilee, and Jesus is once again teaching his disciples, and he says to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

None of them wanted to hear that, even though he had told them before.

His teaching was greeted with silence.  What did argue about instead? Who is the greatest among them.  When they get to a house in Capernaum, he asks them what they had been talking about.  Again, silence – maybe this time motivated by embarrassment.  He responds by bringing a child into their midst and saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

Quite a contrast.  Imagine Jesus glaring at them all, frustrated, saying, in effect, “None of you is the greatest!  This child, this person who has no standing, no power, no authority is the greatest – and not only that, when you welcome this child, you welcome me.  And God.
None of them wanted to hear that – in fact, they had been ignoring that radical idea all along.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

The Words We Do Not Want to Hear, Part 1

The following is part of the sermon I delivered at Buffalo United Methodist Church

The Walk to Emmaus is a leadership development program that begins with a three-day retreat experience. For me, that three-day retreat was in the fall of 2006.  After that, I continued to participate in the community – helping with other walks, and eventually becoming part of the leadership team.   During one of the meetings of that team, we spent a lot of time talking about mattresses.  The walks our community sponsors are held in a United Methodist Church, and because the three-day walks involve three nights at the Church, the community owns mattresses. They are stored in the church’s attic, and when a walk is about to happen, we have a mattress party, pull the mattresses out of the attic, and prepare the sleeping rooms for the walk.

We were spending a lot of time during this one particular meeting talking about mattresses because another un-related ministry had asked our community if they could borrow our mattresses for one of their events.  I can’t tell you how long we debated this question.  I can’t tell you because I’ve blocked it out.  It seemed to go on forever.  Until one of the pastors who was providing spiritual direction for the community said, “Jesus would want you to let them use the mattresses.”
Well, if you want to bring Jesus into the discussion.
It was an uncomfortable truth that we didn’t want to hear. We hadn’t even considered the radical question of being a faithful disciples to Christ in our discussion.  Maybe we were enjoying the power of owning the mattresses too much.  Maybe we were too lazy to think about pulling all of those mattresses out of the attic in service to someone else.  Maybe we just didn’t get it at all.



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Thursday, November 08, 2018

Perspectives: Fear



I've posted this because it was taken from a point of fear.  The platform we are standing on is normally the place where you leave the lift at Snowshoe after skiing down the mountain.  It is an abolutely beautiful place, but I could go close to the edge to see it because I was afraid.  Of falling off - which I wouldn't have. The fear is irrational.

What irrational fears do you face? What do they prevent you from doing?  What can you do about them?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2018

God as a mother?


In worship a few weeks ago, we sang the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (UMH 139).  Verses 1, 3, and 5 were written by Joachim Neander in 1680.  Verse 2 was written by S. Paul Schilling in 1986, and verse 4 was written by Rupert E. Davies in 1983.  I didn't know that until this moment, and I find that very interesting.  

The fourth verse of the song includes the phrase, "Then to thy need God as a mother doth speed, spreading the wings of grace o'er thee."  

Never mind that two modern authors used words like doth and thee to fit there words into the ancient sounds of verses 1, 3 and 5.  Davies verse, which is quoted above, has an outlook that I have always considered appropriate but modern.  "God as a mother," are not words without controversy.

As I was singing the song, though, I thought that those words might not be so modern after all.  Why do we have preconceptions of what is maternal and what is paternal?  Other than the biological, why do we only consider women to be nurturing?  My husband definitely nurtures out sons.  When we cast our stereotypes on God, doesn't that box God in?  

I completely agree that God nurtures, and that God covers us with wings of grace, but why would we only think  of those as feminine traits?

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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

God Leaves Paradise


In Sunday school a few weeks ago, we were discussing Genesis 3.  Look as these verses (21-23):
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.
A few interesting items that draw my attention this morning:
  • God clothed Adam and Eve.  What does that say to you about his care of his creation, the man and the woman?
  • God sent them out of Paradise because they had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - they now knew sin.  Would he allow them to live forever in this state of sin? No.  He sends them out of Paradise, perhaps not to prevent them from achieving eternal life, but to prevent them from living in sin forever.  What does that say about God?
  • He sends them forth, away from Paradise. Is that the end of the story? Are they outside of God's presence forever? If you read "the rest of the story," you'll see that God doesn't send them out of Paradise alone.  God goes with them.  God is present in all the pages of the Bible, with his creation.  In other words, God left Paradise with them.
I was thinking of that grace this morning.  God didn't banish them to be alone; God went with them, leaving the garden.  What does that echo (or pre-echo) to you? Can you relate that to Jesus leaving the presence of God to come to earth as a human?  Grace.

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Monday, November 05, 2018

Changing the Story


I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  The chapter I am currently reading struggles with the violence and warfare of the Bible - and the portion I read this morning speaks about the responses of women in the Bible to violence.

Think of the friends of the daughter of Jephthah who instituted a four day annual remembrance ritual after her death.  "They refused to let the nation forget what it had done in God's name."  Or, says Evans, think of the response of a mother to the sacrifice of her two sons as depicted in 2 Samuel 21.  She goes on to write, "The point is, if you pay attention to the women, a more complex history of Israel's conquests emerges."  

How can we use this revelation to understand our current culture of violence against and objectification of women? I see people responding as if sexual assault doesn't matter or isn't believable.  How can we, as women, respond in a way that protests this conclusion? How can we, as women, stand for those among us (not only women) who have been hurt by those with power? Hurt by those more physically powerful or powerful in other ways? What can we do as women to change our history?

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Two week hiatus

Hi, all,

I will be on the road for parts of the next two weeks - I'll be back to the blog once I return.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Perspectives: Giant Eraser

Grace

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Offering Grace


I'm in the concluding chapter of The Return of the Prodigal Son (Henri Nouwen), so these thoughts are generated by that reading.

There is a technique for exploring Bible passages that involves placing yourself in each character of the story.  For the characters in Jesus' parable of the two sons, we can explore how we are like the younger son, who runs away and looses everything, only to return.  We can explore how we are like the older son, who resents the joy with which the father accepts the return of the younger son.  And there is the father.  Are we like one of the sons? Or are we like the father?\

Nouwen writes:  Do I want to be like the father? Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?

We talk so much about being like the sons when the real question is: Are you interested in being like that father?  It feels somehow good to be able to say: "These sons are like me." It gives a sense of being understood.  But how does it feel to say: "The father is like me"?

Do we only want to be the recipient of grace? Are we willing to be the one who offers it?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Two Hands

We've talked about this image before.  Take a look again.

In the book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen encourages us to look at the father's hands in the image.  One of them - the father's left hand - for Nouwen, looks fatherly - masculine. Embracing, strong.  The father's right hand looks motherly - feminine.  In fact, scholars had compared the father's right hand to the right hand of the woman in the Rembrandt's painting, The Jewish Bride.  

At the WV Annual Conference last year, we considered a potential amendment to the United Methodist Constitution designed to make a statement about the worthiness of girls and women - designed to protect them from abuse.  I talked about my disappointment in the discussion about it here.

The amendment that was brought before the Annual Conference for approval in 2017 read:
Amendment 1: As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.
See the underlined sentence?  That sentence was what caused such a heated discussion in our Annual Conference. It actually had been dropped by the General Conference but included in the version that went out for approval by mistake.  The version without that sentence was resent to Annual Conferences for a vote this year, in 2018.

But take a look at that sentence in the light of the Rembrant painting - in the light of scripture.  Don't we see what we might consider both maleness and femaleness in God's actions in the Bible? Don't we see God acting as a mother and acting as a father? Why are some people so threatened by the idea that God is bigger than our ability to describe him? (Or her?).  Our words, as you can see, don't work. 

I think of God as male, because I always have, but I know my thoughts about God are limited. My image of God is created by me and is not God. I love the idea that Rembrant, in 1669, understood that.  Why can't we?

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