Monday, November 6, 2017

The Kindness Challenge: Breaking Bread

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 22:14-23:

A little more than two week’s ago, former presidents Bush and Obama made speeches about the current political atmosphere in the country. Obama said “Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are!” while Bush the younger said “We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty…. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.” Now, this decline in civility has been building up for a long time, and is clearly found in more than just politics. Just turn on the television and we see people screaming at each other on cooking shows. I’ve spent some time in kitchens, and every kitchen I’ve been in that type of behavior would not be tolerated, but it makes for good television. There is a reason why we don’t have a show called the sweetest housewives of Beverly Hills, because that’s not exciting, and people don’t want to watch two political commentators agree with each other. Instead we’d rather watch people be oppositional, except we’ve moved passed just disagreeing to being disagreeable. And as much as we say that we don’t like it and we want it to be better, the truth is our behavior says exactly the opposite because people are watching these shows.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Reformation and Re-Formation

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 22:34-40:

When European Christians began building their great cathedrals, and then began to paint the ceilings, they encountered a unique problem, that is it’s hard to project true geometry onto vaults and domes. Because the space starts large at the beginning, but then pulls into a point at the top, the sense of perspective gets totally off. If you were, for example, to be painting the image of a saint in the dome, the saint’s feet would be really large, but then the body would have to get consistently narrower until they ended up with a really small head. So, artists had to create a new way of showing perspective, but even then, sometimes it would be a little off depending on where you stood, that is in some churches there is an ideal viewing location. When he was painting a soaring trompe l’oeil dome, that is a fake dome, on the ceiling of the church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Rome, the artist Andrea Pozzo had an even more unique problem. Because not only did the perspective need to be done correctly, but because the entire thing was fake, and there was no true vanishing point in the center, he inserted a marble disk in the pavement of the church to indicate where people should stand to be able to witness his masterpiece. There is only one place to stand to have proper perspective on the painting, and the farther you get from that, then it stops being effective.

When I read of that a few months ago in a book on the trial of Galileo by the Inquisition, I thought it was the perfect metaphor for what’s going on in the world today. That for a long time, most people were standing on the marble disk and so the world looked okay, it looked like they expected it to look, and certainly how they wanted it to look, and how others said it was supposed to look. But now, we have moved off of the marble disk and everything seems weird, the image to some people is now distorted and they are searching desperately for the marble disk, so they can go back and stand on it and the world will make sense again. Except that we can’t go back to the marble disk for the very reason that the disk isn’t even there anymore and the image itself is changing anyways, so even if we could find the spot where it used to be the image still wouldn’t be the same. As much as this strikes anxiety and outright fear into some people, and celebration into others, this I not all that unusual in the history of humanity and its true in the church as much as it is in politics.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Give All You Can

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 21:15-22 and Mark 12:41-44:

Last week after worship someone came up to me, and they will remain nameless, and asked if I was now done preaching on money. I told them that we had one more week left, and they were grateful that that was it, although they would have been just as happy if we were done last week, and perhaps that’s you as well. If it is, know that you just have to make it through today, and then we will make our way onto other things. But those things might not necessarily be more important things, because money is a spiritual issue. We don’t normally think of it that way, but the Protestant reformer Martin Luther said that there were three steps to conversion. First was the conversion of the heart, second was the conversion of the mind and finally was the conversion of the wallet. But, he said, they didn’t always happen at the same time, and he argued that the wallet was the last to come around. Now, as James Harnish says, “salvation is about a lot more than money, but it is never about anything less than money, particularly in a culture that is compulsively driven by the power of money.” That is, ideas of salvation end up being partly about money because money plays such an important role in our culture and in our lives.

This is nothing new, Jesus was dealing with the same issue which is why he talks about money and possessions so much, and he tells us directly that we cannot have two masters, that we cannot serve both God and money, or God and possessions. That we have to choose our allegiance. Now he doesn’t say that money in and of itself is bad, but what we decide to do with it, how we are going to treat it and relate to it that makes all the difference. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism emphasized exactly the same things when he talked about money, and in establishing what have become Wesley’s rules on money which are to first make as much as we can, with some very clear stipulations about what that means, the second was to save all that we can, and the third, and I know this is the message you have all been waiting for, and you’re sitting on the edges of you seats now in anticipation, give all you can.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Save All You Can

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 12:13-21:

A clergy friend of mine told me about a member of his church who was very wealthy, or at least everyone thought he was very wealthy. That was the rumor, although no one was really sure if it was true, and there was much speculation as to his true worth. Well, one day he died, and as the ladies of the church were gathering to prepare a reception at his funeral, one of them said, sort of casually, “I wonder how much he left behind.” There was sort of an awkward pause, and then one of the other women responded, “all of it. He left all of it behind.” Although you don’t see it much anymore, there was a time, and many of you remember it, when you were prone to see the bumper sticker that said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” What they won was never really clear, and I think part of the reason you don’t see that anymore is because people came to realize that you didn’t really win anything, because, in fact, you did leave it all behind. That you can’t take it with you, and so while it might help here in this life, and we might argue about the true merits of that, it doesn’t matter in the next life. And so perhaps the other bumper sticker that says, “we are spending our children’s inheritance” might be a better way to think about it, and yet we are also called to be good stewards of the resources with which we have been entrusted, and what we hear in Proverbs is that the good leave an inheritance for their children’s children. But simultaneously, Jesus tells us not to save earthly treasurers were moth and rust can eat them, and don’t worry about tomorrow, so which are we to do?

With those questions in mind, we continue in our series on the money rules of John Wesley, which are to earn all you can, which we covered last week, to give all you can, which we will cover next week, and today we discuss his rule to save all you can. As I’ve been saying for the past few weeks, when the Methodist movement began, John Wesley laid down some rules, three of them, that people had to agree to abide by if they were going to become a Methodist. They were to first do no harm, second was to do good and the third was to attend upon all the ordinances of God, which Bishop Job changed to stay in love with God. Among the things that it meant to do no harm, which was not just to others, but also to yourself, was not to buy spiritous liquors, love that phrasing, or to drink them, which sort of closes the loophole of someone else buying it for you. Not buying things on interest, that is not buying anything you can’t afford to pay cash for, and not wearing gold or expensive clothing. What Wesley, and those in the church found, was that when people started doing these things, especially not wasting money on alcohol, which is still an enormous amount of money, that people then had more disposable income which could then be used for other things, like education, which then allowed people to get better jobs, which paid better, and thus more income, and so that was the reason why Wesley then established his rules

Monday, October 9, 2017

Earn All You Can

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 25:14-30:

Last week Samantha asked me if I would rather have too much or too little? Would you rather have too much or too little? I had to think about it for a moment, and then I said too much, and there are some things we would rather have too much of it, but then it occurred to me that I wouldn’t really like to have too much pain, or sorrow, or illness. On the flip side, we might like to have less of those things, or something else, but we wouldn’t want to have less happiness or joy or laughter. I think sometimes we think the same thing about money. We want to have more money rather than less, right, but at the same time we also know that have too much can bring problems, and there is also a sort of guilt that comes with having too much money, although perhaps we all think we’d like to be a little more guilty than we are. But, it’s that idea that leads us into today’s message continuing in our series looking at Wesley’s rules on Money. As I said last week, as people began to follow some of the expectations that Wesley had set down on how to live your life if you were going to be part of the Methodist movement, people found themselves doing better economically, which we’ll hear about more next week, and so Wesley felt he needed to respond to new economic issues and he laid down three rules, the first was to gain all you can, or as James Harnish said, to earn all you can, the second was to save all you can, and the third rule was to give all you can.

Now today we start with the first rule, and for most people it is the rule that is most surprising and that is being told to make as much money as you can. That’s shocking because of some of the comments that Jesus makes that would seem to contradict such an instruction, like that it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is rich to get into the kingdom of God. That would seem to say that being rich is a problem, and Wesley would actually agree with that, but it’s dependent upon why we are seeking money and more importantly what are we doing with that money. Wesley says that “the right use of money” is “an excellent branch of Christian wisdom… inculcated by our Lord on all his followers.” And then says of Christians, who don’t normally talk about such things, that they “generally do not consider… the use of this excellent talent. Neither do they understand how to employ it to the greatest advantage; the introduction of which into the world is one admirable instance of the wise and gracious providence of God.”

Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 Reading Challenge

This list was a "challenge" that was going around Facebook at the beginning of the year, so thought I would add it to my list as I am selecting books to read this year. I will update the list with what book qualifies as we go through the year.

1. A book you read in school
     1984 by George Orwell
2. A book from your childhood
     The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis
3. A book published over 100 years ago.
     Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic
4. A book published this year
     Irresistable: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
5. A non-fiction book.
     Lost at Sea: An American Tragedy by Patrick Dillon
6. A book written by a male author.
     The World America Made by Robert Kagan
7. A book written by a female author.
     A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
8. A book by someone who isn't a writer.
      This is a hard one because if they wrote it aren't they a writer? But going with Raising the Floor by Andy Stern and Lee Kravitz (Lee Kravitz is a named ghost writer, or assistant writer)
9. A book that became a film.
     The Hunger Games series
10. A book published in the 20th century.
     Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
11. A book set in your hometown/region.
      Christmas Every Day by Lisa Tawn Bergren set in Taos, which is the region, but the main character is also an alum of St. John's College in Santa Fe, as am I, and will be joining the faculty there by the end of the story.
12. A book with someone's name in the title
      The Second Death of George Mallory by Reinhold Messner
13. A book with a number in the title.
      23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joong Chang
14. A book with a character with your first name.
     John Birch: A Life by Terry Lautz
15. A book someone else recommended to you.
      The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones
16. A book with over 500 pages.
     One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
17. A book you can finish in a day.
     How English Became English: A Short History of a Global Language by Simon Horobin
18. A previously banned book.
     Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
19. A book with a one-word title.
     Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
20. A book translated from another language.
     Utopia for Realists by Rutger Bregman, translated by Elizabeth Manton
21. A book that will improve a specific area of your life.
     The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship by Shaunti Feldhahn
22. A memoir or journal.
     Three Weeks with My Brother: A Memoir by Nicholas Sparks
23. A book written by someone younger than you.
      Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
24. A book set somewhere you will be visiting this year.
     Engineered for Murder by Aileen Schumacher (takes place in Las Cruces, NM)
25. An award-winning book.
     In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (National     
     Book Award Winner)
26. A self-published book.
     All that Glitters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Monday, October 2, 2017

Know The Cost

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 14:25, 27-33:

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at John Wesley’s rules about money.  Wesley, who is the co-founder of the Methodist movement, put down some strong rules and expectations for those who chose to join the movement, including about simple economics, which we will hear more about over the course of the next four weeks. As people then began to live out those rules, they began to advance in economic possibilities and opportunities, moving out of the lower economic classes, and then Wesley faced an unexpected situation with members wanting to buy nice clothing and bigger houses and, heaven forbid, they even wanted to finance fancier churches. And so, Wesley responded in several ways, but one of them was in writing a sermon entitled “On the Use of Money”, of which we will also cover more, but in that sermon Wesley expounded on three rules when it comes to money which was first to gain all you can, which James Harnish, who wrote a book on this, changed to earn all you can, second was to save all you can, and then finally was to give all you can.

Now I know some of you are saying, O pastor John is talking about money, it must be stewardship time again, and the good news is that it is. But, this sermon series is not about how much you should give, as important as that is, but instead this is about your personal finances and making them better, or at least helping you understand them better, especially from a biblical perspective. Because the truth is, I could tell you that you need to be giving ten percent, or even 50 percent of your money, to the church and other causes, but if you don’t have even 1 percent to give because of other issues in your home economics, then it doesn’t matter what I say to you about what you should give because you can’t do it. But, if I can teach you some new skills, or maybe some new ways to think about our resources and how best to be a good steward of those resources then we enter a space where I can actually give you guidance about giving and how to invest your money for God’s Kingdom.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Proverbs: A Woman Of Valor

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The passage was Proverbs 31:10-31:

Today we conclude our series on the book of Proverbs by looking at what has become known as the Proverbs 31 woman. When I began planning this series, I knew I was going to address this passage even though I didn’t know what else I was going to talk about. But, I wanted to address this, because it has become one of the most used, and in my opinion, most abused scriptural passages, at least for a portion of the church. In her wonderful book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans says “In the [Fundamentalist] Christian subculture, there are three people a girl’s got to know about before she [hits puberty]: 1) Jesus. 2) Ronald Reagan, and 3) the Proverbs 31 woman… Wander into any Christian women’s conference and you will hear her name… [and] Visit a Christian bookstore, and you will find entire women’s sections devoted to books that extol her… [visit any] Christian College” and you will find guys wanting to date her and girls trying to be her.

Now, I do have to admit that I did change Rachel Held Evans quote a little because she didn’t originally use the term fundamentalist, but instead talked about the evangelical church, but I reject the cooption of that term. In the past few decades Fundamentalist Christians rejected the term fundamentalist because of the negative connotations that began to accumulate with that term, and instead started calling themselves evangelical, but we in the middle or progressive side of the church need to fight against the claiming of that word, because we too can and are evangelical, without being fundamentalists, but that’s just me on a personal tangent.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Proverbs: Righteousness

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The scripture was Proverbs 11:2, 4, 21; 12:10; 15:3, 25; 16:31; 17:15; 19:17; 21:13; 24:17-18; 31:8-9:

Righteousness is one of those words we only seem to use at church. I mean there was the 80s surfer dude, like Sean Penn’s performance as Jeff Spicoli, saying “the waves were totally righteous,” and we talk about someone being self-righteous, that is believing themselves to be morally superior to others, but about the only time we talk about or hear about righteousness otherwise is in church. I’m not sure why that is, but today we’re going to be talking about righteousness, and in particular about what it means to be righteous according to the book of Proverbs in our penultimate message in this series, but first I’d like to do a little, of what is the word I’m looking for, oh, pandering by starting with one of the passages we heard from this morning which says that “gray hair is the crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” And so, everyone who is trying to hide your grey hair, in doing so you are hiding your righteousness, or as Linda likes to say her wisdom highlights. Now, just because you have grey hair does not actually mean that you are either wise or righteous, because Proverbs also wants to say, as the immortal Buck Owens encapsulated in a song, there is no fool like and old fool.

Now righteousness means different things in different places in scripture. In the Hebrew scriptures, righteousness is something you earn by your behavior. But it is more than just virtue, or virtuous behavior. Instead it is tied directly to covenantal relationships. So, you can be righteous in your relationship with another human with whom you have entered into a covenant, which means honoring and preserving that covenant, but, in particular, righteousness refers to our covenantal relationship with God. One of the reasons God is referred to as righteous is because God is always faithful to the covenants that have been made with humanity. So, actions on our part that also maintain and honor God’s covenant are deemed righteous, and those that “corrupt and violate” the covenant are considered unrighteous. While obeying the law is considered the standard for righteousness, as we will see, it goes much farther than that, including injunctions made by the prophets as well as further instruction from God. So, righteousness on our part is a reminder that we are in a covenantal relationship with God, and that there is active engagement by both parties in that relationship, and it’s about our obligation to remain faithful and observant to that relationship. That’s why this about more than just ethics, but about the entirety of the relationship and how what we do preserves or breaks that covenant.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Proverbs: Money

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Proverbs 10:22; 11:24, 28; 13:7, 11, 22a; 19:4; 22:2, 7, 26-27; 23:4; 27:23-24; 30:8b-9:

Huey Lewis and the News once recorded a song that opens by saying “If money is the root of all evil, I’d like to be a bad, bad man.” The title of that song is Time Aint Money, because, as Huey sings, if time were money, ah-ha, “I’d already be rich.” Of course, that opening line is a misquote 1 Timothy, which actually says that it is the love of money, which is the root of all kinds of evil. In its entirety, scripture has a conflicted message about money. In some places wealth is seen as being a blessing from God, and indeed as we heard in last week’s message from proverbs, being rich is seen as being a direct result of both hard work and God’s bounty. But, scripture also sometimes implies exactly the opposite of that. Jesus’ view on money is that while it’s not necessarily a sin, it is potentially a significant problem. And, contrary to what is often said, Jesus actually does say give all your money away, although it is not a universal rule, because there is context to the situation in which he says that. The book of Provers tends to have a fairly positive view of money and of wealth, as long as that wealth was not gained in illicit ways, such as lying, cheating, stealing or unjustly, to name just a few. and, just as Jesus has a lot to say about money, and we ignore that

Now a few weeks ago, Wanda Wanczyk, won $758 million in the Powerball, which was the largest jackpot ever won by just one ticket. I heard from lots of people who said they had bought a ticket and, I’ll be honest I bought one too, and while there is something to be said about dreaming about what we’d do with that, but winning it is actually something entirely different. And winning is not all it’s cracked up to be, as columnist Gregg Easterbrook said, $1 million will change your life, $100 million will ruin it. And I know most of us have probably said something to God like, “The money won’t change me, just let me win and I’ll prove it,” but it will change us, and not for the better, and it’s not a gift from God. Proverbs says, “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it….” Did you know that 70% of those who win large jackpots declare bankruptcy within 5 years? Just five years. That doesn’t sound like a blessing, that sounds like sorrow. Now this proverb doesn’t mean that if you are blessed that bad things won’t happen to you, although there are some proverbs that do want to say that, but we know that’s not true. But, the difference is in whether the sorrow comes as a direct result.