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August 26, 2018, 12:00 AM

God is God and We are Not God

Grace and Peace to you from God our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer. May the words on my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God.

I want to start with something I would not commonly do and that is acknowledging the death of a politician. Yesterday we learned that Senator John McCain died. I wanted to acknowledge him because he was one of a few that represent a generation before the Baby Boomer, known by some as the silent generation. This was a generation on the whole that ran the institutions that their parents had built with small and incremental change. My experience of this generation is that they believe that by working together we are all better off. This led in my opinion to a great deal of respect in this case for John McCain but also for others even when there were fundamental disagreements about how something ought to run or be done, a lesson for us all in loving our neighbor even when we disagree with them. Interestingly this attitude of playing well together requires that you understand that you are not God and that fits in with our texts for the day.

Our first reading today comes from the second creation story, found in Genesis. This is the story where we see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There are a lot of details in this story that are interesting but I want to start with the question of why did people record the creation story, because that will help us to look and see the layers of meaning that are written into it.

Humanity wants to know where we came from. This is evidenced by the truth that every major culture I have ever heard about has a creation story. In this story we learn the origins of everything we know and that includes our self. Inside that story though we also learn about our purpose and how we are supposed to interact with the world around us and with our creator.

Consider the text we read this morning. We start with the proto-woman eating a piece of fruit that was forbidden and then Adam eating the fruit. They disobeyed God's command but with a little help on the logic from the snake, the tempter. The tempter is a figure that runs through out the old testament and is equated with what we would call El Diablo or The Devil.

So the story goes that God told Adam not to eat of this one tree in the Garden. Adam was allowed to eat of any other tree but should he eat of this tree he would surely die. He had apparently passed this knowledge on to proto-woman, which if we read carefully has not been given a name yet, which a post patriarchy perspective would suggest the lack of a name and then Adam giving her the name was done, even if not intentionally, because of the belief that women are not fully people. But I digress, the woman and the man are in the garden. The serpent we learn comes to the woman and presents her with a logic puzzle. Now she had presumably learned from the male of the species, not directly from God, that they were not to eat of this tree. The serpent plants a kernel of doubt, “Surely you shall not die.” And in one sense we find out that the serpent was right.

Now I am going to go for a little side trek here into the wilderness know as the devil. This is in my experience and reading the most common way that the devil, usually know as the tempter in the Old Testament, works. Reality is presented with a spin that is at least plausible and usually contains a kernel of truth but one that does not acknowledge the whole truth. This spin, if you will, on the truth thus seems credible and that gets us into trouble. Here the serpent says, “Surely, you shall not die.” So, this person eats of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and then having not died, as predicted by the serpent, gives it to the other human who presumably seeing that the first has not died, eats of the fruit, and then we learn what it meant to die from eating the fruit.

We read their eyes were open and they realized they were naked and became ashamed. p.s. How the devil operates is the first secondary story and the second of those secondary stories just happened and that is that we are to be ashamed by our own nakedness. But I digress again from the point of this sermon. So, these two humans ate of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, third secondary story is that this explains why we have a sense of morality and all other creature don't. But I digress again, In their being ashamed of their nakedness they hid from God. And so we have what some would call the original sin and the falling of humanity into a permanent state of sinning before God and needing redemption. God comes along and knows where they are but wants them to show themselves and so calls out for them. God then has them name their own sin. Being the Old Testament we then learn what the penalty for that sin was, but we did not read that part this morning, It talks about men shall toil hard all of their days as a penalty for disobeying and women shall have pain in child birth and serpents, or snakes to us, will suffer at the hand of humanity. This by the way explains the need for us to work, why women have pain in child birth and why we hate snakes. But back to the point for today.

We skipped forward to their being expelled from the Garden of Eden. We read, “22 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 for ever’— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

The man has become “like” one of us and if the man were also to live forever then the man “would be one of us.” and this is not acceptable we learn. In other words humanity is not to attempt to become God and thus we don't live in the garden of Eden. This was not a penalty for sin this was simply a lesson on our rightful place in the world. And we will read this same story throughout Genesis, we are important we are intelligent and we are not God. God is God and we are not and we are not to give into the temptation to replace God with our own selves.

This dove tails nicely with our Gospel text in which we see the positive example of how to deal with the tempter. This same spirit or figure of the tempter comes to Jesus at a point when he is hungry and suggest things that are true. Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so let the divinity serve the humanity by turning rocks into bread and filling the belly. And then, surely someone so special as you will be lifted up on the wings of angels and not allowed to die when jumping off a pinnacle. Finally, the devil says to him, this all belongs to me, so worship me and I will give you dominion over it. Jesus is not taken in by any of these things, which are one reading of the scriptures and truths but one that does not present the whole of the truth. Jesus as expected passes the test and then gets all of those things the devil promised and simply for believing in God. And that is the counter to the Genesis story.

So, the main point behind these two texts together is that God is God and you are not and the ultimate wrong you can commit is trying to become God, trying to replace God with your own will and ability, displacing God from your world. In our day and time where we read all about how you are capable of anything  you put your mind to doing. In our day and time where we read about why we don't need God. In our day and time we need to remember God created all of this and continue to follow God, so that it might go well with us. Sin is that which separates us from God and the ultimate sin therefore is turning yourself into God, that my friends is why we don't reside in the garden of Eden, which is the indirect result of having disobeyed God. So, one more time, God is God, I am not God and you are not God, nor are we to attempt to become God, that is the ultimate sin.

July 8, 2018, 6:54 AM

Actions of the Light

Good Morning, Grace and Peace to you from the Creator, Christ and Spirit. May the words from my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

I have a question. Have you ever suffered that friend who just insisted that you must do something and either you knew you couldn't, shouldn't or at least the time for it was not now? I hope you have not been that friend but instead the one who listened and heard what the other was saying. Either way, we speak of Jesus understanding us, because he suffered the same as we did, and in our Gospel today we have a bit of a unique suffered as we might have. Today in the Gospel lesson we see the disciples trying to convince Jesus of what he needs to do.

Now lets put this in context. It says in the lesson that it was about time for the festival of booths, also know as Sukkot. This is a Jewish festival that continues to be held and which is commanded in the bible for Jews. It is a harvest festival and it is a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt which is thus is about the dependence on God. In the time of the temple, which is the time Jesus was living in, it was a time for pilgrimage, if at all possible to Jerusalem and the Temple, and so what his disciples are suggesting is that Jesus take the traditional pilgrimage and in the process others will get to see the truth about him and come to believe.

Jesus being the fully self differentiated and fully realized person, tells the disciples that it is not his time to go up to Jerusalem. Obviously, to us who have the benefit of hindsight, this makes sense since his next trip to Jerusalem is to be arrested, tried and hung on the cross. While none of these events were avoidable, the timing was important and this was not the time.

Now in defense of the disciple, he had come to know and believe the truth of salvation through Jesus and what the text tells us is that he wanted his brother to witness the same things, so that his brother might also come to believe. The cause is noble but the timing is wrong and the disciple did not know that.

So, I think we can both take heart and strength from this passage. We can take heart when we do that which is not the way of the world because it is the way of God and we can gain strength knowing that Jesus faced the same challenges and had the strength to go through it. If Jesus had the strength to go through it and we know the guarantee is that Jesus is with us, then we too have the strength to go through the challenge and hold our ground on doing what is right.

It is wonderful to talk about having the strength to do what is right because we are accompanied in all we do by God but what is right. The question of judging our actions is important and while specific rules are nice as we learned earlier this summer, in our study of the ten commandment, most rules are better thought of as the minimum bar than thinking of them as the outside edge of our conduct. In other words, rules are better when you never even come close to violating them.

If rules are best thought of as the minimum bar that would indicate that there is a higher standard that can be applied when considering our actions. For this I turn to our text from 1John. I turn here because if we know the nature and character of God then we can look to live in the actions that are consistent with the nature and character of God. What does the text say, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” 1Jo 1:5

Now we need to find a way to make this nature and character also a way to judge our actions. The good news is that this is relatively easy. If God is light, then those actions that are consistent with the nature and character of God, are those things which can be in the presence of light. Consider, the thief does not want their actions brought into the light, they need them to remain in the dark or there will be consequences they do not want to face. On the other hand, the person who helps their neighbor to rebuild their lawn mower, may not want out of modesty to let everyone know what they did, but in truth if people came to know about it there is no shame.

Looking at the text again I am reminded that when we walk in the light or when our actions a those which can survive the scrutiny of others and show themselves to be positive, then we can walk with others. Walking with others we have fellowship as the text reminds us. If our actions need to remain concealed, then it is much harder to form friendships. If our actions are better left in the dark, then the shame may keep us from being with others, so that they do not learn what we did. If we helped our neighbor to have a better relationship with their family then it is easy to be in fellowship with their family. If we are committing adultery with our neighbor then likely we do not want to spend time with the rest of their family, lest we make a slip and the whole world will know and we would suffer shame and embarrassment.

So, the question of will it thrive in the light is, I think, a good measure for whether an action is in keeping with the nature and character of God. Consider, helping with painting, mowing, hanging a picture, offering a meal, offering a ride, being gentle and patient with the confused and befuddled, planting a tree, and taking a walk, are all things that we need not worry if others know we did them. These are things that will survive the scrutiny of being brought into the light.

Likewise things that we want to keep in the dark are generally sinful and damaging to fellowship. Consider, I took fruit from the neighbors tree without asking and/or knowing that they have asked others not to, road rage, voyeurism, taking more than your fair share, assuming you are entitled to luxuries in life, graffitti, not having patience with the elderly and generally anything that preferences my benefit while creating a disadvantage for the other, are all things that I would rather no one every know I am doing.

So, bring it to light or keep it in the dark is a good standard. Being willing to do the the right thing, even when others are encouraging you to do something else is important and we have help from God. But there is this not so small detail that I may get the equation wrong or I may act on impulse and suddenly finding myself not wanting my actions brought to light, what then, am I doomed to live outside the fellowship of believers and outside the presence of God. No, is the simple answer. That is a benefit that those of us who follow Jesus the Christ have. Jesus Christ in suffering and dying on the cross became the advocate for us, the force which brings us back into fellowship with the light by ensuring those things are forgiven and forgotten.

Thus this morning we have learned that Jesus helps us have the strength to do what we know is right and to remain on the right path, even when others are encouraging otherwise. We have this wonderful standard of light to judge which actions are in keeping with the nature and character of God. And we have forgiveness and reconciliation with God when we get it wrong, which no doubt we will from time to time. Thus I send you forth from this time together to live in the light


March 4, 2018, 12:00 AM

Love Yourself

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our salvation. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

What are you afraid of people finding out? What are you afraid will change? These are the questions that popped into my mind as I read this morning's text.

Let us start with the second question. What are you afraid will change? When you look around, there is so very much happening for most of us. When you look around, you will no doubt see that some things are changing. When you look around, what are those things that you, knowing we are in a time of constant change, worry or fret will change? I know for some people I have met along the way they are afraid of the culture around us changing. I know for some people I have met along the way they are afraid that their favorite food will no longer be available. I know that for some I have met they are good with all those changes so long as their church, the anchor that holds them, does not change.

As I look at the questions of change I am reminded of how many people have bemoaned what has already changed. Some look at our culture and think of a day when in their memory there were fewer problems. Some look at our culture and remember a day when in their memory everyone had a good job. Some look at our culture and remember a day when everyone they knew thought about things in the same way. Some look at our culture and remember the good old days. The problem is that the good old days were not good for all. We tend to gloss over the detail of the number of black people who were disenfranchised. We tend to gloss over the detail that there were great pockets of poverty even in the midst of widespread sharing of wealth. And yet for so very many it was a good time and thus it seems that all was ok then and all is going poorly now we want to know what is different.

This of course glosses over those people who are sitting thinking how much better things are for them today than they were 40 years ago. Maybe 40 years ago they lived in a family that had newly immigrated to this country and spoke no English and therefore had limited economic opportunity. Maybe 40 years ago they lived in a family with limited education and therefore had limited economic opportunity. Maybe 40 years ago they were still living in the old homeland, under a brutal dictator or maybe just in a place with an economy that had tanked.

Thus we see those who are better off today that are embracing many of the changes the we have seen. We are also seeing those, which in my analysis, like the temple leaders who arrested Jesus, fear the changes in the culture. In my experience those who are fearing the change of culture fear one of two things. First there is the fear of the unknown, those changes which make things less comprehensible and since familiarity breeds comfort, our fear is actually our discomfort with the unknown. Second there is the fear of loss, this is the fear most often of losing economic power, which is rooted in your privileged position in society. This second is the one I suspect most driving the temple authorities to arrest and try and thus silence Jesus.

There is a second kind of fear and that is the one we see today in Peter, the fear that something about us will be revealed to the world around us. Often we fear the revealing of some inner detail of our lives for the very same reasons that we fear changes externally. We fear that what might be revealed would lead to losses economically or socially. So, what is it that you hold deep in your in most core and pray that no one every figures out. What is the secret that you are planning never to reveal and thus you will take it to your grave. What is the inner truth that you fear if people knew it it would destroy the wealth and privilege that you enjoy. That my friends is what we see in Peter today with his denial of Jesus three times.

This fear of being revealed has been most clear to me in those I have known who are Gay, those who are Transgender and then there are the alcoholics, the drug addicts, those who embezzle, those who cheat on their spouse and those who may love their family but not their spouse. All of these people and many others have something to loose if the reality they are hiding were to come to light. The interesting thing is that much like Peter, people around us know the truth even as we are denying it. Much like Peter, there are friends who are be hurt by our denial.

And thus we have the paradox because if Peter had not denied his relationship with Jesus, what would have happened to Peter. Look at our text and you see the woman asking if Peter knew Jesus because he looks an awful lot like someone who was hanging out with Jesus. What is Peter's fear, that for the truth to come to light he will be persecuted with Jesus or …. What is that nebulous change that Peter fears, which he does not actually know. What is the niggle in the back of Peter's head that causes him to deny Jesus three times. What is the unknown change that would occur if Peter did not deny Jesus to those who thought they had seen him in the garden.

The temple authorities never get to see the answer that Peter comes to know. You see if all we had was the first part of Jesus' trial and the denial of Peter there might not be much room for hope but that is not the only text we read today. Our first reading today focuses on that moment, later, after Jesus has been resurrected, when he is with Peter and three times Jesus asks Peter do you love me. This time having watched Jesus die on the cross, having watched Jesus be buried in the tomb and having witnessed Jesus be resurrected from the dead Peter has a little more faith and a lot more courage. And yet is that not the way for us as well, if we have seen the right events occur we will have far more faith and courage that it will all work out in the end. And yet we also know the text from the bible that says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Often we have good reason to fear. People who live in privileged positions have watched those who have lost their status and/or their money and the lives they live do not appear to have the luxuries that have come to find as normal even needed. People who are Gay or Transgender have watched as that one little part of them, when revealed about others has led not only to financial ruin but also being ostracized by the community or worse when they are actually physically beaten up or raped for that reality. People who are alcoholics or drug addicts have watched as those who have revealed their reality are required to clean up their act, which seems like an impossibility, but must happen if they are to have to opportunity to preserve some part of their economic or social position. People who are in loveless marriages or who have had an affair, rightly fear the loss of their family situation and yet may well be slowly tearing that family situation apart for not sharing what is their reality or on their heart. And yet there is an answer and we know that answer and that answer is to return to a relationship with our God. The answer lies in the three times Jesus asks Peter do you love me, The answer lies in turning it over to the very same one who created us.

The answer to the problem lies in the answer to Jesus' question which is being asked of all of us everyday and that is, “Do you love me?” At some level this question is also, “Are you willing to entrust the whole of your life and your reality to me?” And then there is the challenge of answering yes. By saying, “Yes, Jesus I love you and I entrust my life to your way of being.” by saying this we are also accepting that the answer to our conundrum, that the salvation that awaits us, that the freedom of not hiding our reality also may involve accepting our losses and we as humans are terribly loss averse. In each of the situations I quoted above the path to freedom, the path to healing and the path to following God may also be a path that takes you places that are not labeled with “You are here.” And yet as those who have been enslaved to such realities and have come through to the other side and entrusted their lives to the very same entity that created them, the one who promises salvation and promises that if we trust it will all work out in the end, those people have found freedom just as I believe that Peter found freedom and strength by finally openly accepting what it means to follow Jesus.

And so the invitation lies before each of us today, to let go of, to put together a plan to, to figure out how to live in the light, the light that peers into the darkest corners of our soul, not to condemn us but to figure out how to heal us, to figure out how to offer us salvation, and to figure out how to help us live our truth freely. And so I am going to pause for just a moment before I finish for you to ponder the question, “What reality is Jesus calling me to start to bring to the light so that my soul might be healed?”


And so let us close in prayer. God, creator of the universe, you make us as we are, help us to understand but even more so to embrace the persons you have created each of us to be. Help us as well to embrace others, accept others as they are and to ease their journey when they are working to embrace their own reality. Finally, take our fear from us, show us how the fear of losing what we have keeps us from what we might be, even when what we might be is greater than what we have. God, what we are saying is help us to be ourselves, embrace ourselves, and tell Jesus that we love his way and will follow his lead so that we might learn to love all others from the love we have for ourselves and the love we have first known when it was shown to us in Jesus. Amen.

November 12, 2017, 12:00 AM

10, 10, 80 Whole Life Stewardship

Tis the season to talk about stewardship. And before you say why from the pulpit I submit to you that 16 of the 38 biblical parables taught by Jesus were about how to run our finances. Why money in the church well it is also true that 1 out of every 10 verse in the gospels has something to do with money. So, apparently how we deal with money is important but there is far more to stewardship than just money.

There are many stewardship topics we could talk about. We could talk about how the church is one of the only institutions left that operates solely on your donation. We could talk about how you see fifty people in worship and that ignores the fifty that worship in chapel on Wednesday from the nursery school. We could talk about how the school, the quilts, the harvest program, thanksgiving baskets, Christmas baskets and the “men's” breakfast help us to reach out to the community with the love of Christ and from that ask how are you reaching out and/or participating in the outreach of the church. And all of these would be worthy of the time.

Instead this morning I want to spend some time on two very concrete thoughts. First, I want to speak to you about 10, 10, 80 as a way to live and why it works. Second, I want to talk to you about $1 per day.

Starting with 10, 10, 80. This is a way to deal with both tithing and long term financial success. Actually, it is a rule that is based in caring for the church and making sure you can retire.

Let us look at the retirement side of the equation first. If you save 10% of your income and manage a 7% average return on investment (which you might do in the stock market) and then after thirty years were to turn around and start living off the money, your interest income would be 80% of your pre-retirement income. The interesting thing is that if you have spent the last thirty years living on 80% of your income then you effectively have no drop in income when you shift to retirement.

Now I will admit that this is somewhat overly simplistic in that it assumes steady income and I hope and pray that you are getting raises every year so maybe you have to run the equation a little longer than thirty years. This also assumes a 7% return on your investments, which at the time the equation was created was probably a standard for bonds and bank CD's. However, this also does not account for Social Security retirement income or that fact that more and more I see people taking part time work well into their “retirement” and thus our incomes are supplemented in a way that the differential should more than take care of itself. So, I posit to you that saving 10% of your income for thirty years and living on 80% you could retire in about 30 years. For those of you sitting here and planning to start full time work at 25 that means early retirement at 55 if you want it.

Now if you take 10% and add it to 80% you will note that this only adds up to 90% thus leaving 10% behind. That 10% is then designated for the church and the work of the church and that is known as a tithe.

The term tithe as the 10% offering goes all the way back to Abraham and the old testament. At that time Abraham gave one tenth of all that he had to Melchizedek the great high priest. We know as well that offerings were commanded of the Jews and that those became the means for caring for the Levite tribe who were the tribe of the priests. We know as well that this continued into Jesus day because he rebukes the scribes and pharisees for tithing “mint and dill and cumin” but they had “neglected weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” In other words these folk were worried about making sure that they did not short change God one cumin seed even as they neglected the nature, character and intent of the law. We have no direct command from Jesus but infer from his not telling them the principle behind tithe was wrong and the long history of tithing among God's people that this continues to be the best option for us today.

The interesting thing about this is that if the average income per person was $35,000 per year and we averaged 50 people in worship on Sunday it would give us a income in the plate of $175,000 leaving us to fix the roof, pay me, pay the utilities and (wait for it........) and.......... fund ministry. Even at $25,000 per person per year we would have $125,000 per year in offerings. Do this and retain the large annual gift we currently receive and the possibilities are nearly endless.

In fairness, I must also say thank you to those here who do contribute generously. I also understand that each of us has a different ability to give and that life circumstances get in the way of lots of good plans but often a goal and a concrete goal is helpful in working toward our future. I will also note that I have never heard of anyone who tithed and most do it for spiritual reason, but I have never met a person who was sorry that they intentionally tithed their income. And thus I bring you 10-10-80 as one way to live well.

The second thing I want to bring to you is One Dollar a Day. It is very easy to look at something like 10% when we are currently at 2% and look at the differential and determine there is no way I could give that much. It is very possible that the shift in your budget would be too much but what if I were to suggest that you give one dollar per day more in the next year than you did in the year before. That might seem like a more manageable number. Combine that with always upping your tithe when you get a raise by an amount that is 10% of your raise and I think you will find that you are tithing sooner than you might imagine.

You may be sitting here and thinking what difference does $1 per day per person really make to the congregation. Other than I have never seen the treasurer snivel at one penny, I will submit to you that we usually have about 50 people in worship on a Sunday morning. If this is true and since $1 per day is $365 per year simple math tells me that it would add $18,250 per year to the income of the congregation. Now if we take and consider that there are probably another at least 15 people for whom they are not present either because they are on vacation or because regular attendance means once or twice each month and the number becomes $23,725.

If you are sitting in the pew thinking that does not sound like a lot of money and how can that small sum solve our problems I will suggest to you that if we did this for four to five years running we would have $100,000 in growth in our income, which would nearly double the portion of our income not given as a major annual gift.

So, I propose to you that if you are sitting this week considering your pledge form and how much you might increase the pledge, $1 per day is not a bad option. Now I understand that different people have different abilities to give and so for some of you this may be an unreasonable stretch and maybe you need to do it over two years but I also know that some of you are very capable of giving $2 or $3 per day more than you are currently. Mostly though this is a concrete way to think through the question of how much to increase your giving.

Whatever your pledge, Thank You. You are helping us to bring the Gospel to a world much in need whether it is through the Love of God we show in a quilt or the Love of God we share in our weekly chapel service or the Love of God shown to a hungry person in our community and maybe who is not even aware of the work that went into getting them fed and for those moments when I am available to someone during the week who has just had a bad time and needs a person to pray with them. Your donations support the work of this congregation and help to ensure the hand of God and the Love of God are present in the world.

So, whether you are considering the grand arc of life and how you might run your finances or you are considering how to increase your pledge to the church you have two concrete ways to work on the equation. First, consider splitting your income into 10% for savings, 10% as a tithe to the church and living on 80% of your income. Second, if you don't know how to get the the 10% tithe or simply are trying to figure out how much you might increase your pledge for next year, I suggest $1 per day. And in this way, together, we can continue to serve God and serve a world much in need by bringing them the love of God. 

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