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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Proverbs: Work and Reward

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Proverbs 6:6-11; 14:23; 21:5, 25; 24:30-34; 26:13-14:

In 1904, Max Weber, a German economist and philosopher, began work on what became his seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It is considered one of the founding works in the creation of the field of economic sociology as well as within sociology itself. Weber argued that it was the Protestant reformation which created the spirit of capitalism and drove the northern European countries to economic prominence because Protestantism imbued the idea that everyone was a minister, that everyone was called by God to be productive in life, that all had a calling, and that the ideal was no longer to be secluded in the religious life, which eschewed things like making money, and instead the ideal became working hard for the community and for yourself, with all the benefits that came from that. Weber argued that in particular this was driven by the Calvinist belief in predestination, and since you didn’t know if you were truly saved or not, the only evidence might be seen in what happened in your life, and hard work and frugality were seen as signs of election, plus if you were gaining wealth it must mean that God was blessing you, and therefore another indication that you were saved. Now it could be argued whether Weber is correct or not in his analysis, but this idea of hard work has been tied to our understanding of work, wealth and worthiness in America. And yet, some it goes back much further than Weber. It goes back to scripture, and in particular, to the views, or at least some of the views, in the book of Proverbs, and so appropriately enough for this Labor Day weekend, we are going to be looking at some of the proverbs about work and laziness.

Now, as we heard from the few passages from this morning, Proverbs wants to make a direct correlation between work and prosperity, laziness and poverty, remembering that in Proverbs it wants to present that there are two paths we can choose, the path of wisdom or the path of folly, and thus you can guess which path it is that those who are wise follow. This is also a critical piece in Proverbs of warning about consequences. That if you do x, y will happen, and thus the results of the bad things that occur are not because of outside forces, it’s not because God is punishing you for something, but because of what you have chosen, or not chosen, to do. So, for example, it could say, if you choose to step off a tall building, you will fall to your death. If you smoke for 50 years, you’re going to get cancer. While much of wisdom literature is concerned with the question of why, and in particular of asking God that question, why did this happen? Why is there suffering or evil in the world? Proverbs, for the most part isn’t concerned with that question because it knows what the answer is: Because we choose not to follow the right path.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Proverbs: Words Like A Sword

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Proverbs 12:13, 18; 13:3;14:17, 29;15:1, 28; 18:6, 21; 19:19; 21:23; 29:22:

I can be an angry driver. Not like cutting people off and then slamming my brakes angry, but calling people not nice names, or responding to things they do. So, for example, the other day a woman decided to make a turn in front of me, when I clearly had the right of way, and so I hit my brakes and honked at her. She in turn hit her horn, as if I was the problem, and flipped me off, and so I returned then gesture and then quickly thought “I hope that’s not a member of the church.” Now the positive side of this is that the girls are learning the rules of driving, because when I say something like “what are you doing idiot?” they will ask me what the other person did, and then I explain how what they did was wrong. Or at least the positive parts is the story I tell myself. Of course, the things I yell at the tv, especially when the Yankees are playing can be even worse. But, the problem is that by saying the things I do, and reacting the way I do, I am also teaching them many negative things as well, and some of the things that we are told not to do in scripture, and in particular in the book of Proverbs, and so we continue in our series on Proverbs looking at anger and the power of the words we use.

Now we may say that sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us, and even though that rhymes and therefore has the ring of truth to it, we know that it’s not true. That, in fact, words not only can hurt, but they do hurt, and can do considerable damage to us and to others. Words are powerful things, and we should understand this as Christians because we know that words matter, that they can make a difference, that they can change the entire world because we proclaim that Jesus was the word made flesh. The Word made flesh, and so words matter, but how much attention do we really pay to the words we use, the words we say, how we say them, or even the thought process that goes behind them, even if we don’t say them. Do we understand the power they can hold over us and over others?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Proverbs: Wisdom

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Proverbs 1:1-9:

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at the book of Proverbs, which is part of the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures, and I’ll explain exactly what that means in a moment. We are undertaking this series for several reasons. The first is that I track what scripture readings I preach on, and there were some glaring holes in areas of scripture that we had not covered in my four years here. We obviously do fine on the gospels, and other areas of the New Testament, although I’ve been a little light on what are known as the general epistles, or the letters not written by Paul, which we’ll cover at some point, but there were clearly large gaps in the Hebrew scriptures. One of those was in the prophets, which we made some dents in by looking at the 12 minor prophets in the spring, but then there is a lack in the histories, cover books like Kings, Chronicles and Samuel, and then the wisdom literature.

Wisdom literature as we find it in the Bible, is “an umbrella term that encompasses humanity’s quest to understand and organize reality, to find answers to basic existential questions, and to pass that information along from one generation to another.” It seeks to provide both instruction for how we are to live our lives, but also exploration or explanation about the way the world works, especially around the problem of suffering. The books of the wisdom literature include the book of Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, which is also sometimes known as Quoheleth, as the name Ecclesiastes comes from the Latin name of the book, whereas in Hebrew it’s called Quoheleth, and then Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, a series of love poems that the rabbis said no one should be allowed to read until they were adults, with the age of 35 sometimes thrown around. Sometimes the Psalms are included with the wisdom literature as well, but while there are some Psalms that have the marks of wisdom literature, scholars are not in agreement on which those are, but do say they are not the majority of Psalms, and so are more often not listed as wisdom literature. There are some other books in the apocrypha which are also counted as wisdom literature, but since they are not part of the Protestant cannon of scripture, that is the accepted books, we’re not going to address them now.