Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Present

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 4:14-21:

Okay, we’re going to start with a trivia question.  We’re talking about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, so does anyone know the Christmas carol that is sung in the story? It’s God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.  But we have begun using Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas as a lens through which to view our journey through Advent to Christmas.  Last week we looked at the Ghost of Christmas Past who takes Scrooge, appropriately enough, into the past to see a different vision of Christmas, a time in which he enjoyed the season and all that it brought, and we saw that the past does not determine the future, that the present and the future can also be changed, if we are willing to change.    Much of what we know as the “traditions” of Christmas were invented fairly recently, and that includes the laments about what Christmas has become and the cry to try and practice Christmas differently.
The next ghost that Scrooge encounters is that of Christmas present.  If you’ve ever read A Christmas Carol or seen a movie version, you may remember that the ghost of Christmas present is a large jovial fellow who is surrounded by piles of food and signs of abundance.  Even the ghost’s lamp is in the shape of a horn of plenty or a cornucopia.  If Dickens were to write the story today, this ghost may stay the same because he can be the symbol of the over-consumption which is so prevalent in Christmas present, but there is also a warning in this ghost’s visage.  Because even though he is jolly and laughing and surrounded by abundance, we are told that around his waist “is an antique scabbard, but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.”  Reminiscent of Jesus’ injunction not to put up our treasure where moth and rust will consume and where thieves can break in and steal, but instead to put our treasure in heaven.  And then Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  And I think it’s critical to note that Jesus does not say where our heart is that’s where our treasure is, but instead that what we treasure is where our heart will follow, that our treasure doesn’t follow our heart, but instead that our heart follows our treasure.  Definitely something to keep in mind this Christmas season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Past

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Mark 1:1-8:

I want you to think of one of your favorite Christmas memories?  I’m willing to bet that most of them do not involve a gift you received or even a gift you gave?  This is going to be true even if you are thinking of childhood memories.  Sure there may have been a bike, or some other special gift that really stood out, but most of our favorite memories of Christmas are about experiences we had, of time spent with family and friends, maybe it’s decorating the tree, or eating the meal, or a special visit to Santa, we might remember opening presents when we were a children, but not actually remember most of the presents themselves, even for the most recent Christmas.  Could you name 5-10 presents you received last year?  I’ve had awhile to think about it, and I couldn’t do it, and I can only remember what the girls got because I looked at the pictures.    And yet, even though we can’t remember the gifts we receive, even though most of our best Christmas memories have nothing to do with gifts given or received, we are constantly told that Christmas is all about gift giving, that it’s about going to the mall, and buying as many things as we can because if we don’t then our loved ones won’t be happy this Christmas, will think that we don’t really love them, and our children will grow up and turn into old scrooges, they’ll end up in counseling blaming us for their problems because we didn’t get them whatever the hottest gift is this year. Yet, even though we know these things aren’t true, year after year we keep doing the same thing.

In Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol, which greatly impacted the creation of our modern understanding of Christmas and its attendant celebrations, the main character Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts.  The first is his former business partner Jacob Marley, who, covered in chains, comes to warn Scrooge first of the dangers if he continues to live his life as he has, and second to tell him of three more ghosts who will come to visit him during the night.  The first ghost is, appropriately enough, the ghost of Christmas past, who comes to help Scrooge to remember and to learn from the past, so that he can move into the future.  Because it turns out that Scrooge wasn’t born a scrooge, well actually he was since that is his family name, but that he was not always the person we associate with being a scrooge.  Following the ghost’s and Isaiah’s lead, we are going to prepare the way and make our paths straight to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, to try and free ourselves of some of the chains that fetter us so that we can come to see Christmas in a new way.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gettin' Some Cold Cuts

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 1:3-9:

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and thought long and hard about what we are thankful for this year, but while hopefully this year’s celebration was wonderful, I’m sure that all of us have some story about Thanksgiving not going quite right.  But whatever stories we might have, I think that Mary Clingman can beat us.  For you see, Mary has been a receiving calls on the Butterball Turkey hotline for more than 30 years.  She recounts the time that a woman called and asked what she needed to do differently to cook the turkey at high altitudes, when asked how high she was, the caller said, the 32nd floor.  Or there was the woman who called to say that her kitchen was on fire and wanted to know what to do, she was told to hang up and dial 911.  Then there was the person who called and asked if the yellow netting and wrapping should be removed before cooking.  The answer is yes.  But I have to say my favorite was the man who called to ask if their frozen turkey was still good.  When asked how long they had had it, he said it was at least five years, but they couldn’t really remember.  Had it always been kept frozen, she asked, no, he said, they had moved once and then there was the time that the freezer stopped working, so it had probably at least partially defrosted a couple of times, after being told him that the turkey probably was not good and should be discarded.  The man said that’s what he had figured, so he was glad he had given it to a charity.  Or maybe Thanksgiving is more like a post from Ann, who lives in Miami, Ohio; she said “Thanksgiving horror stories?  I have none.  I find the key to family holiday success is buying as much wine as you think you need, and then doubling it.”

Thanksgiving is the time in which we gather together to be reminded of the things we are truly thankful for and appreciative of, which certainly includes our families and friends, we eat too much watch a little football and simply try and just enjoy the day.  It’s really one of the truly few days in our culture in which there is not a push to be out working more or working harder; we are actually encouraged to take some time off to enjoy the important things in life.

Of course one of the great ironies of Thanksgiving Day, although I also think it’s also quite appropriate for our culture, is that on the very day in which we pause in order to give thanks for the things we have in our lives, on the day in which we say that we are happy and content, or at the very least on the day in which we are supposed to say that we appreciate the things that really matter, which is not our stuff, is the very day in which we now go out to buy all the things we just said we were happy without.

It is estimated that approximately 140 million Americans will go shopping this weekend, that’s a little less than half the population, and the American Retail Federation estimates that we will spend 617 billion dollars in November and December this year, up about 4% from last year.  The CEO of Macy’s said that while their marketing studies show that people say they don’t want stores to be open on Thanksgiving Day, that our actions don’t match that, and sure enough there were an estimated 15,000 people waiting to get into the Macy’s in New York City when they opened, Walmart reports 22 million shoppers on Thursday, and Target said they were selling 1800 televisions a minute on Thanksgiving.  And then of course there are the fights and other events that take place during the Black Friday rush.  One of my favorite lines from Black Friday was following a shooting in California several years ago in which one parent wouldn’t let go of the Tickle-Me-Elmo doll, of whatever was the hot seller that year, in which the newscasters said after reporting it, and I could not make this up, “but don’t worry, shopping was not interrupted.”

Now some of you may be thinking or wondering why it is that I am talking about Thanksgiving when we are now two days past it and quickly making our way towards Christmas, and the reason is because what we do on Thanksgiving and its aftermath says a lot for us about Christmas and what we truly consider important, and it was really summed up by an article that appeared in the London Telegraph which began “If you thought Hallowe’en, Father’s Day and Starbucks were terrible American commercial confections, invading our high streets and calendars, then prepare yourself for another US takeover: Black Friday.”  Apparently although Black Friday has been taking place in America since before world war II, it’s a very new phenomenon in England, having been first introduced by a store owned by Walmart last year, but taking off this year, with many of the same thoughts and regrets that we have, and coming to this conclusion: “The arrival of Black Friday from the US… confirms how Christmas, once a Christian festival – and largely a German one at that – has taken on an irretrievably Stateside materialistic sheen.” (Harry Wallop)  And just to show you were it’s going, Visa estimates that they will be doing sales of £360,000 per minute, although I have no idea how much that actually is, a 22% increase from last year.  So we’re even corrupting the uptight British, and apparently they aren’t happy about it, although some are thrilled with all the deals they are getting.

Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians, as he does most of his letters, with a salutation that includes a thanksgiving.  But notice something very important about what Paul says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.”  That is he is thanking them for their faithfulness in some ways, but who Paul is actually thanking is God.  He is giving thanks to God for them, and thanking God for what God has given to them, including God’s grace, but also for the spiritual gifts that they have received.  And Paul does not say if you have every spiritual gift, and a flat screen TV, or that $99 Xbox, then you will be truly happy and truly blessed.  Instead Paul says that they have already received everything they need, they have already been enriched in God and that God will strengthen them to the end, a phrase that should sound sort of familiar after what we have been talking about for the past few weeks.  But notice also that what they receive, what we receive, is a gift.  Can we earn a gift?  No, it’s given freely, and thus when we hear in advertising that we will get a free gift, that’s a redundancy, because if you have to pay for it, it’s not a gift.  But a gift is freely given without cost, and it is what we receive from God, and we know that why?  Because God is faithful.

So we are called not merely to give thanks, to pause and appreciate what is going on, but we are called, following Paul’s example, of giving thanks to God where everything begins and ends, because God is the alpha and the omega.  The problem is that most of us are not really good at giving thanks.  That is that we might say things we are thankful for, but they’re sort of superficial, or the things that we know we’re supposed to be thankful for, and we don’t really pay attention to the other things that happen to us or are around us every single day, that we overlook or totally take for granted.  Our preschool program had posted the things that the kids in the classes were thankful for.  And what I always like about listening to kids is that there is the total unexpectedness of being appreciative for the things we never even think of.  So one child said they were thankful for Spiderman.  A fine answer.  Another said that they were thankful for cows.  Not one I would think of, but a good answer.  But the one I loved the best was the child who said they were thankful for balloons.  How wonderful is that?  And balloons are really wonderful things, but how many of us would really every think to give thanks for balloons?  Those are the things we overlook.  What if we didn’t approach life that way?  What if we really appreciated the small things in life?  What if we approached every single day as a miracle and noticed and celebrated all the things that happened?  What if we were in fact more like Ickey Woods?
video
How different would our lives be if we got excited and celebrated silly, simple things in our life, even things as simple as getting’ cold cuts?

In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl, a survivor of the holocaust, wrote about one afternoon when the men had all walked back to their barracks after their day’s labor.  They were lying in their beds, exhausted and sick after having spent the day in a cold rain.  Suddenly, he says, one of the men ran into the barracks and shouted for the others to come outside.  Reluctant to leave their beds, but hearing the urgency in the man’s voice, they staggered outside.  They found that the rain had stopped, and although dark heavy clouds still hung in the sky, the sun had broken through and was reflecting on the puddles of water on the floor of the courtyard.  “We stood there,” Frankl said, “marveling at the goodness of the creation.  We were tired and cold and sick, we were starving to death, we had lost our loved ones and never expected to see them again, yet there we stood, feeling a sense of reverence as old and formidable as the world itself.”  There were obviously lots of things that Frankl and his other prisoners could be worried about and focused on, and they were, until someone brought them out of it and they stood in awe at the beauty of creation.

In an experiment at the University of Michigan, researchers found that students who kept a “gratitude journal,” a weekly record of things they feel grateful for, achieved better physical health, were more optimistic, exercised more regularly and described themselves as happier than a control group of students who kept no journals but had the same overall measures of health, optimism, and exercise when the experiment began.  In another study researchers found that people who describe themselves as feeling grateful to others, and either to God or to creation in general, tended to have higher vitality and more optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole.  This result held even when researchers factored out such things as age, health, and income – equalizing for the fact that the young, the well-to-do, or the hale and hearty may have more to be grateful for.  In other words, expressing gratitude can not only make you happier but can make you healthier, and the reverse is also true, that worrying can literally make you sick.  No wonder Jesus tells us not to worry and to be like the birds and lilies of the field.

Some of you may have heard about the appreciation challenge, in which you list the things you are thankful for for a certain number of days.  Well I am going to challenge us to do that for the next 25 days, to list out the things we thankful for so we can realize that Christmas is not our birthday, that it’s not about the presents we will receive or even that we may give, but instead about what we have already been given and to give thanks to God.  And so in your bulletin you will find a sheet to help you do that, and I invite you to share it on our Facebook page or on Twitter, or in other places.  I’m also going to warn you that the first few days will probably be easy, and we’ll list the things we know we’re supposed to be thankful for, but then it will get harder because we have to concentrate on appreciate other things like our ability to get cold cuts or for balloons.  And let us always remember that we are not giving thanks for things, because that places the emphasis on the object, whatever it is, but instead we are giving thanks to God who provides for us, so that when we come to Christmas we can truly once again appreciate the greatest gift that the world has ever received, because God so loved the world that he gave us his only son that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.  I pray it will be so my brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Revelation: A Proclamation of Hope

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 21:1-7, 22:1-5:

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now… For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom. 8:18, 22, 24-25)  We need hope not in the best moment of our lives, not in the brightness of day, not in the celebrations of life, not in the mountain top experiences, we need hope in the darkness, in the worst moments, in the pain and suffering in the valley of the shadow of death, that is not only where we need the hope but consistently in scripture that is when hope is not only offered but where hope is given.  In our Disciple 1 Bible Study, we are currently working through the prophets and their visions of destruction and suffering, and yet even in the midst of all of that God offers a word of consolation through the prophets that the people are not alone, that they are not abandoned, that God is present for them in the midst of all of it, and that God will redeem the situation and will redeem them, so don’t give up, keep going with patient endurance, remain true to the faith

Of course that is also the same phrase we have heard John offering in Revelation, that if the 7 churches that he is writing to are not already suffering because of their faith in Jesus and their refusal to worship the emperor or the state, that they soon will be, but they need to endure to the end, because in the end God will win, and then we get his vision found in chapters 21 and 22 which tells of the coming of a new heaven and the new earth.  And John hears a voice who tells him, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4)  Although there have been hints of this message throughout Revelation, the closing chapters are John’s message of hope and consolation, not just for those who are suffering or may be suffering persecution because of their faith, but for all of us, because let’s face it, life is not always a bowl of cherries or a rose garden.  There are difficulties and pain and suffering that we all undergo just by being alive, and so John is telling us to persevere because we know how it ends and it’s pretty glorious.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Revelation: Interpretive Lenses

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 7:9-17:

This past week I was in Houston attending a conference on financial stewardship, and as I was preparing to come back to Albuquerque from my conference on Thursday, we had several hours to kill before our flight, so we stopped at a mall just so that we could spend some time walking around after having been sitting in a room for 10 hours a day for two days, but in the mall, there was a gallery for Thomas Kinkade.  Now I know that some of you probably like Kinkade, maybe even like him a lot, and the reason I often hear is the opposite of that they know exactly what the painting is about.  There are no secrets, nothing strange, noting to try and interpret.  It’s just easy and straightforward.  Now I’m a fan of modern art, which is certainly not appreciated by everyone, and often for the reasons why Kincaid is liked, that it’s hard to understand, people don’t know what to make of it, or I also sometimes hear them say that “my child could do that.”  There are times in which we need or want things to be straightforward and easy,  and we often certainly want to make Revelation like that, because it’s so different, so foreign, so unknown.  But I believe that we have to take revelation as for what it shows us, which is more like modern art then it is like Thomas Kinkade.

This is a picture that t is leaning against the wall, and it’s called Picassoesque.  It’s done by a very talented young artist in Santa Fe, based on a work by Picasso.  Anyone want to make a guess what this is about?  It’s really unknown, and Picasso is a great artist to try and help us to understand Revelation.  Apocalyptic literature tended to be written during times of great social turmoil.  The book of Daniel was written during a Greek occupation of Israel under the leadership of Antiochus Epiphanies, who outlaws Jewish practices, desecrates the Temple, including placing a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies, and forcing Jews to worship Zeus upon pain of death, and so in the midst of this Daniel is written to tell everyone to remain faithful to let them know that God will overcome the kingdoms of the world.  Now if you’ve been here the past few weeks, you know should remember that that sounds very familiar to what had taken place at the time that Revelation is written with the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, and the worship of the emperor being so prominent, it makes sense, but the imagery is still confusing.

But to understand Picasso you also have to understand that he also painted in a time of crisis, with the Spanish civil war and the rise of Franco.  He said that in his paintings he was expressing what he was feeling and thinking about when he saw the pain that was tearing Spain apart.  He even has one series of works known as the dreams and lies of Franco, and when he was asked what some of the paintings meant, Picasso said, “I don’t know.  It’s what I was feeling.”  So if you look at a Picasso painting and wonder what it’s all about, because you can’t figure it out, that’s okay because sometimes it’s just imagery to disturb, not to mean anything, and yet other times it does mean something.  It’s figuring out the interpretive lens and how to look at these works that makes a difference, and so today we’re going to look at the 4 different lenses through which Revelation has traditionally been read.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Problem With Basketball

Tonight college basketball kicks off it's season, and I, for one, will not be watching.  I do watch March Madness, in particular the beginning, because I love seeing the little guys knock off the big guys.  But other than that I don't really watch basketball because to me basketball is boring, and, here is where I get controversial, an inferior sport.

I say that because the first parts of the game simply don't matter.  If you miss the first pitch of a baseball game, you could miss the batter hitting a homerun which could be the only scoring in the entire game.  The same is also true of football and soccer, and perhaps, although I have no idea, even in cricket.  Every moment of every game is important because you don't know what's going to happen, when the scoring will begin or end.  That is not true in basketball.

Really the only part of the game of basketball that really matters is the last 5 minutes, because if you turn the game on with 5 minutes to go either the game is a blowout, and it doesn't matter and you can turn it back off without wasting any time watching it.  Or, it will be a close game and therefore you haven't missed anything because you're going to see the most important part.

In addition, the last 5 minutes could still take an hour to play, so the game could still be long.  If you don't believe me, here is something from a story by Phil Mushnik that proves my point: "Last Friday, we noted the final 42 seconds of the Knicks-Pistons game ran an insufferable 20 minutes, 12 seconds. The last 1:41 of Monday’s Hawks-Knicks game ran 20:17. On Wednesday, the last 18.7 seconds of the Magic-Knicks game went 8:06 — and included two commercial breaks."

42 seconds took 20 minutes to play?!  Here is my solution to make basketball interesting.  Make it last only 5 minutes. It would take just as long and would be just as interesting.  Now I know that is never going to happen, but here is an idea that should happen.  In the last two minutes of the game (or even the last 5 minutes if you would like), when there is a foul committed, the other team should not only get two shots, regardless of the number of fouls, they should also get possession of the ball. That would not only solve the problem of the last 42 seconds taking 20 minutes, but it would also solve the problem of teams fouling in order to try and win, which I can't also stand.

Good luck to the teams this year, although I won't be watching.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Revelation: The Unveiling

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 1:1-20:

In the lead-up to the election this week, one news stations reported on, in their words “a hellish post-apocalyptic world in which all you saw were political ads.”  That would definitely be hellish, although if you were here last week, then you know that that is an incorrect usage of the term apocalyptic.  It is certainly eschatological, but it is not apocalyptic.  So here is that quiz that I said last week was going to come.  What does apocalyptic mean? (revealing, unveiling) What does eschatology or eschatology mean? (end of time) And what is the parousia? (second coming)  Apocalyptic literature can deal with the end of times, but it need not do so, as it is simply a revealing to “explain, earthly realities through visions of heavenly truths.”  There are really two different types of apocalyptic literature, one gives visions of heaven and hell, and the second talks about the end of times, about eschatological events, and for Christian apocalyptic literature, since there were also Jewish forms of the genre, it was about the parousia, the second coming of Christ.

We have several different examples of apocalyptic literature in scripture, but the only full-blown apocalypse, and that is the technical term, is the book of Revelation, which we are going to spend the next three weeks looking at.  But Revelation is more than just an apocalypse, it also take a form of another genre with which we are more familiar in scripture and is important to understanding it, and which we saw in the passage we just heard.  Verse 4 begins, “John, to the seven churches that are in Asia.  Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come…”  Does that sound familiar to anyone else from other books of the Bible?  It’s a letter, and we need to keep that in mind because first of all it does not say, John, to the churches in America in the 21st century.

Now if someone asks me for some advice, or I decide to then write them a letter about it, there is some context behind what is going on.  If that letter were then to be passed onto someone else, the advice I gave to the first person might be good advice for them or it might not depending upon what their context was.  That means that we first have to understand their context in order to try and see how we can apply that information to our own time and circumstances.  That is how we should approach the other letters we have in scripture, known as the epistles, which means, strikingly enough, letters, and it’s how we also need to approach Revelation is to realize that it is not just an apocalypse but also a letter, and it’s directed to 7 specific churches that John says are in Asia, but this is not Asia that we understand it today, but they are part of modern day Turkey.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Little Apocalypse

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was selections from Mark 13:

We in America seemed to be obsessed with the end of times.  Dr. David Morrison, who is the person who answers questions that are emailed to NASA, says that he spends at least an hour a day answering questions about the end of the world.  In just the past decade there was the whole Mayan Calendar thing, and Harold Camping’s two different predictions, and then Hal Lindsey and Pat Robertson both said the end was coming in 2007, or maybe it was 1988, or 1985 or 1982 or 1980, which were also predictions made by them, and this week in my mail I found this flyer talking about prophecy and the end of time.   This is a strongly an American phenomenon, although we also export our ideas very well through movies and television shows.   And then there is our literature  about the end of times, like The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, and of course there is the Left Behind series, and the fact that Nicholas Cage is now staring in them may be the most obvious sign that the end is upon us.

Today we begin a new series looking at apocalyptic literature, and in some ways this is a return to our series on questions that people had asked me about, because I was asked in that to talk about this, in particular the book of Revelation, and so for the next few weeks we will be looking at these passages and how we might interpret them.  Now what we normally here is that there is only one way to view these works, but I can tell you that that is not the case and I am going to be giving a different way to view these texts, a sort of minority report as it were.  For some of you this might be refreshing and for others it might challenge what you have heard or been taught, and we’ll talk more specifically about that starting next week.  But here are the two things I ask.  The first is that you don’t come up to me after worship with your Bible in hand to try and refute me point by point, and the second is to listen with open minds to try and hear a different way of approaching these texts, and if in the end you don’t agree with me, that’s okay.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Five Practices: Extravagant Generosity

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Corinthians 9:1-15:

In preparation for this week, I actually ended up writing 3 different messages.  The first is lasts 5 minutes and it costs $5000.  The second lasts 25 minutes and it costs $2500, and the third costs $1000 and it lasts an hour.  Now we’re going to take up a collection and see which one I deliver.

Today we conclude our series on the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We have looked at passionate worship, radical hospitality, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and today we conclude with extravagant generosity.  For the past three weeks we have also been answering a series of question about the church.  The first week, the question was what we loved about our church, and one of my favorite answers was from someone who said they loved my sermons, except when I talked about money.

That means today is going to be a day that they aren’t going to enjoy, but I know they aren’t the only ones because lots of people don’t like it when I, or any minister, begins talking about money, first because they want to hold onto their wallets a little tighter, and second because they don’t want to be made to feel guilty or uncomfortable about their finances.  But the simple fact is I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t talk about money, because Jesus talks more about money, and things that come out of it like greed and envy and covetousness, than he talks about just about anything else.  And here is also the simple truth, we don’t have to give.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Realities of College Freshmen

Every year, Beloit College publishes a list of what incoming freshmen have always known, or not known, and each year I feel older. Prior year lists can be found here. I know I am way behind, but here is this year's list.

Students heading into their first year of college this year were generally born in 1996. Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan, and Tiny Tim.  On Parents’ Weekend, they may want to watch out in case Madonna shows up to see daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon or Sylvester Stallone comes to see daughter Sophia.

For students entering college this fall in the Class of 2018...

1. During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.
2. Since they binge-watch their favorite TV shows, they might like to binge-watch the video portions of their courses too.
3. Meds have always been an option.
4. When they see wire-rimmed glasses, they think Harry Potter, not John Lennon.
5. “Press pound” on the phone is now translated as “hit hashtag.”
6. Celebrity “selfies” are far cooler than autographs.
7. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has always been the only news program that really “gets it right.”
8. Hard liquor has always been advertised on television.
9. Ralph Nader has always been running for President of the U.S.
10. They never sat glued to Saturday morning cartoon shows but have been hooked on FOX’s Sunday night “Animation Domination.”
11. The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
12. In their lifetime, a dozen different actors have portrayed Nelson Mandela on the big and small screen.
13. Women have always attended the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel.
14. FOX News and MSNBC have always been duking it out for the hearts and minds of American viewers.
15. Pepsi has always refreshed travelers in outer space.
16. Hong Kong has always been part of China.
17. Courts have always been overturning bans on same-sex marriages.
18. Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.
19. Bosnia and Herzegovina have always been one nation.
20. Citizens have always had a constitutional right to a “dignified and humane death.”
21. Nicotine has always been recognized as an addictive drug requiring FDA oversight.
22. Students have always been able to dance at Baylor.
23. Hello Dolly...cloning has always been a fact, not science fiction.
24. Women have always been dribbling, and occasionally dunking, in the WNBA.
25. Ads for prescription drugs, noting their disturbing side effects, have always flooded the airwaves.
26. Hell has always been associated less with torment and more with nothingness.
27. Whether to embrace fat or spurn it has been a front page debate all their lives.
28. Parents have always been able to rely on a ratings system to judge violence on TV.
29. They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz.
30. There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
31. The Unabomber has always been behind bars.
32. Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
33. There has always been a national database of sex offenders.
34. Chicago, a musical about a celebrity getting away with murder, has always been popular on Broadway.
35. Yet another blessing of digital technology: They have never had to hide their dirty magazines under the bed.
36. U.S. major league baseball teams have always played in Mexico.
37. Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
38. Attending schools outside their neighborhoods, they gather with friends on Skype, not in their local park.
39. While the number of Americans living with HIV has always been going up, American deaths from AIDS have always been going down.
40. They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.
41. The PGA has always offered golfers with disabilities a ride—reluctantly.
42. “African-American Vernacular English” has always been recognized as a distinct language in Oakland.
43. Two-term presidents are routine, but none of them ever won in a landslide.
44. The family has always been able to buy insurance at local banks.
45. One route to pregnancy has always been through frozen eggs.
46. They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.
47. Everybody has always Loved Raymond.
48. “Salon” has always been an online magazine.
49. The rate of diagnosed diabetes has always been shooting up during their lifetime.
50. Affirmative Action has always been outlawed in California.
51. Boeing has never had any American competition for commercial aircraft.
52. U.S. soldiers have always been vaccinated against anthrax.
53. “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.
54. Their collection of U.S. quarters has always celebrated the individual states.
55. Since Toys R Us created a toy registry for kids, visits to Santa are just a formality.
Copyright© 2014 Beloit College

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Five Practices: Risk-Taking Mission and Service

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 16:21-28:

Today we continue looking at the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We have already looked at passionate worship, radical hospitality, and intentional faith development, and today we move on to risk-taking mission and service.  What are some of the ways we practice mission and service?  In the passage we just heard from Matthew, Jesus says that if we want to become followers, that it’s not based on what we say, it’s based on what we do.  “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  How often?  Trick question, in Matthew it doesn’t say, in Luke we are told that we must do it daily, and I think that’s correct.  This is not something we do once in a while, but instead that we do it continually, and what Bishop Schnase says is that when we do it we need to be a risk-taker.

What does risk taking mean?  It means going beyond ourselves, beyond our comfort level, going beyond the bounds of safety, not necessarily things that actually are physical risks, but safety in the sense of playing it safe.  In some ways this is at the heart of being a Christian, not only because we are told to pick up our cross and follow, but also because it’s inherent to faith.  Has anyone ever said that you need to take a leap of safety?  But you have heard someone say to take a leap of faith.  That is to take some risk in what you are doing, and that is especially true when we are talking about mission and service, because what we would like to do is sit back, to do the things that feel comfortable, to do the things that are safe, to do the things that pose no risk to us, again not necessarily to our actual physical safety, but pose no risk to us in being changed in any way, of being transformed by the experience, of doing things that transform others, let alone our community and the world.

Our donations to the food pantry are fantastic, and I would never want to do away with them.  I like seeing the food piling up at the front of the sanctuary each week because it’s important to what we do and who we are, but it’s not risk-taking.  It’s important, but it’s really safe, other than perhaps missing a really good sale, what risks do we take?  We never interact with those who we are helping, and one of the major problems is in doing this we can begin to think that we are being generous in giving, and those who are receiving are only receiving.  It sets up hierarchical relationships.  Even in our mobile food pantry, there is still a difference that is kept between those who are serving, and this is not unique to us.  Rev. Joe Daniels said about many programs being run by churches, “The problem is that if we ask the people engaged in these serving ministries the names of those they are serving, where they live, what’s going on in their lives, why they are hungry, and what is the deeper need in order for them to reach God’s dream for their lives and their community — the answer for most is “I don’t know.” We are often doing ministry for people, but not with people. Many of us are doing “caring” ministry, but are we engaged in “transformational” ministry?”  Are we seeking to be in mission and service to someone, or are we seeking to be in mission and service with someone?  Although certainly not the only thing, that is one of the differences between whether mission and service is risk-taking or not.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Five Practices: Intentional Faith Development

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 2:37-47:

Baseball Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver was known for many things besides for leading the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title.  His temper tantrums were legendary.  He owned the major league record for being thrown out of the most number of games for many years, including being thrown out during the exchange of the line-ups before the game twice.  He was also known for his unique philosophy of winning baseball games, in which he said the key was “pitching, defense and three run homers.”  But none of that really has to do anything with today’s message except as a set-up to this.  One of his players once said, “Don’t you want to walk with the Lord?” to which Weaver was said to have responded, “I want to walk with the bases loaded.”

I thought that quote was appropriate for today, not only because we are now in the midst of the baseball playoffs, but also because today we look at the third part of our series on the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase.  We started by looking at passionate worship, which is to give all that we have and all that we are to God in worship, to literally bow down and pledge our allegiance to God through our lives.  Last week we looked at radical hospitality which is about opening ourselves up to welcoming others way beyond the ordinary, and this also begins with opening ourselves up to receiving God’s radical hospitality which is offered to us and is best represented by the table fellowship we share when we participate in communion.  And today we move onto intentional faith development.  Now it could be argued that passionate worship and radical hospitality are issues of the heart, because as we commented on, you can do worship and hospitality and go through the motions, but never live into the adjectives that we have accompanying them.  But when we give of ourselves in these things and become radical or passionate, it comes from the heart, from the emotion, from the feelings we bring to these issues, not really from the mind.  Surely there is something of the mind involved, but that’s not really what we think of when we talk about these subjects.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Five Practices: Radical Hospitality

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 21:33-46:

I’m sure most of us have stories we could tell of when we have gone someplace and we have been greeted and treated well and when we haven’t been.  Our family went to a restaurant recently and we were seated right away, but then sat there waiting for our server to come by.  Lots of people passed by the table, including one of the managers, but no one stopped.  Finally just as we were contemplating getting up and leaving, the manager stopped to ask if we had been helped yet.  It turned out that although we were seated, the hostess did not assign us to a server.  But, as if that was not enough, we kept trying to order things off that they were apparently out of, even though they were still listed on the chalkboard.  They were clearly not ready to welcome us, nor definitely seek to have us return as customers.  There was no sense of hospitality, which is what the entire restaurant and hotel industry is called, the hospitality industry, and without hospitality these places are not likely to survive for very long.

Today we look at step two in the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase, and I think appropriately enough for the Sunday in which we receive communion, we are talking about hospitality.  What is hospitality?  (friendly reception of guests or strangers, the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.)  But hospitality is not just what we do, it also is about an attitude we have, that is to say that we can do all the right things, but if we don’t seem happy about it, or are just going through the motions, then we are not truly being hospitable.  That’s why Bishop Schnase says it is the adjective that makes all the difference, because we are called not only the practice hospitality, but we are called to practice radical hospitality.  So what does it mean to be radical? (Going above and beyond, beyond expectations, on the edges)  The word comes from a word meaning root, which is why we often use the term to refer to something which is  affects the fundamental  nature of things, saying something like “it made a radical difference.”  Radical represents something that is part of who we are, or something which fundamentally changes us and makes us different.  And so radical hospitality is something that can be in us already, or it can be something which we acquire through practice or by intentionality.  But what we see in scripture, and what we have to understand about hospitality is that for us to practice radical hospitality, we first have to understand God’s radical hospitality and second we have to accept that radical hospitality into our lives so that we can then practice it in the world.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Five Practices: Passionate Worship

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

Most of us are aware of the importance of words, and how one word can make a huge difference in our perspective or in the story we tell.  When I was growing up my brother loved madlibs, in which you add random words to a story to create something funny.  Many of you are probably familiar with the idea, but we are going to do one here today, and to warn you this is going to be a much more interactive sermon than normal, and interactive, so you are all aware, means that you are active in it along with me.

An Unforgettable Church Service

We arrived at the Church of the Holy _________ (noun). We were dressed in our __________ (day of week) best. Today was special because it was ___________ (holiday) and the kids looked forward to receiving _________ (noun) as part of the celebration.

Pastor John welcomed us and the service started with invigorating ___________ (action verb). It was so __________ (emotion), people were ___________ (verb ending in ing).

The sermon was based on _________ (Book of the Bible). The pastor talked about  ____________________ (biblical character)’s injunction to love God with all of our  ______________________ (body part) _________________ (body part) and   ________________ (human characteristic).   When he finished, I couldn’t believe he had only talked for _________________ (amount of time).  Then we sang a ___________________ (musical style) version of Amazing Grace. 

We wrote a check for $_________ (amount of money) and put it into the __________ (noun). This made us so ________ (emotion) we couldn't contain ourselves.

The _________ (kind of team) team played another song and we filed out to the ___________ (name of a room) to have _____________ (beverage). We stood there waiting to ________ (verb) to someone.

All in all it was a(n) ________ (adjective)  worship service.   _________ (exclamation) God!

Words matter, and descriptive words sometimes make all the difference.

Today we begin a new sermon series based on The Five Practices of Fruitful Living by Bishop Robert Schnase.  It’s been said that once someone becomes bishop that they believe that everything they think has to be written down and published, and Bishop Schnase certainly lives into that belief, but he also has something to say to us.  He says that the five habits are radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service and extravagant generosity.  But, while the activites in and of themselves are important, Schnase says it is the adjectives that really make all the difference, and you can move them around, you could have extravagant hospitality and passionate mission and service and risk-taking worship.  The adjectives make a difference because they are describing what it is that we are really doing.  There is a difference between worship and passionate worship.  The adjective matters.  Most of us have probably participated in boring worship or even mediocre worship, maybe even here.  Those are the times in which we don’t feel like we worshipped at all.  And then there are the times in which we have been truly moved, in which we knew that God was present for us in that moment, in which we may have been fundamentally changed.  That is what passionate worship feels like, and yet it is about so much more than that as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiving God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Psalm 91:

What I am about to say will be shocking to some of you, and may even upset you a little but bear with me.  The Bible sometimes lies.  I don’t mean that there are mistakes or contradictions, because there are those as well, but I mean the Bible outright lies, and we just heard it in the Psalm.  In fact, as we were preparing for this week, Donna, who is our office administrator, read that psalm and said, “Are you going to talk about how that doesn’t match reality?”  And I said that was exactly what I was going to talk about.  In that Psalm we are told that those “who live in the shelter of the Most high,” will be delivered from “the snare of the fowler and the deadly pestilence….” that a thousand may fall at our side and ten thousand at our right hand, but we will remain untouched.  That God will command the angels regarding us to guard us in all our ways, that they will bear us up so we will not dash our foot against the stone, that we will trample the lion and adder under foot and they will not harm us.  Those who love God will be protected and rescued from trouble.  And yet, that doesn’t ring true, because the reality is that we do dash our foot against the rock, the lions and the adders sometimes strike us, we do fear the terror of the night, and, in fact, we are not always rescued from trouble.  And since that is true there are only really two conclusions I think we can reach.  The first is that none of us truly love God, that we don’t know God’s name and therefore we deserve what we get.  Or the second is that this psalm is simply not true, and I’m going with the second.

Today we conclude our series on forgiveness, by looking at an idea with which many of us struggle, and that is forgiving God.  And not only do some of us struggle with the idea of forgiving God, but many others don’t even think it’s a consideration.  I did a lot reading on forgiveness in preparation to talk about it, and of the probably 15-20 books I read, only one of them discussed the idea of forgiving God at all, and that book was sort of a new-age perspective on life.  Only 1 book talked about forgiving God.  But for me that too does not match reality.  I have known many people, and I’m sure you have as well, who have been mad at God for something that has happened to them, and most of them have left the church, have lost their faith, because they didn’t know what to do with that anger, or were told that it was inappropriate to have it, but they had it none the less.  We began this series talking about the shooting at the Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  One of the reasons the perpetrator of that shooting gave was because he could not forgive God.  He was mad at God because he and his wife had lost their infant daughter.  He was mad at God and he couldn’t strike back at God, so he struck out at his neighbors.