Monday, August 3, 2020

The Handmaid's Tale

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Genesis 16:1-16  and Genesis 21:8-21:

Last week after we looked at the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, several people said to me that they had never heard a sermon on that passage. I’m willing to bet that is even more true in hearing about the story of Hagar. But, we ignore these stories, and Hagar in particular, at our own loss, because, to name just a few things, Hagar is the first woman that God talks to, she is the first woman that God makes a proclamation to about a pregnancy, she is the only person, not just the only woman, but the only person who names God, who gives a name to God, in the Bible, and she is the only woman to arrange a marriage for her son in scripture, and those are certainly not insignificant events.

We don’t really know all that much about Hagar, except that she is a slave, she is Egyptian and she is owned by Sarah. And just an editorial note, although in chapter 16 they are still named Abram and Sarai, for simplicity sake, and to make it easier on me, I am going to refer to them as Abraham and Sarah regardless of which chapter I am referring. While there are some translations that try and soften the reality of Hagar by calling her a maiden, or a handmaid, like my title today, the Hebrew words used to describe her all mean slave. We know that there are many slaves in the family, and presumably most of them are owned by Abraham, but Hagar belongs to Sarah. It’s possible that they received Hagar as a gift from the Pharaoh, but that’s just a guess.

Monday, July 27, 2020

It's Not About What You Think It's About

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Genesis 19:1-26. Trigger warning for victims of sexual assault and/or sexual abuse.

Last week I said that the early stories in Genesis were etiological stories, that is stories that explain why things are the way they are, but then we transition to the stories of Abraham which begin the story of the people called the Israelites, which are very different. Well, that’s not really a hard and fast rule, because today’s passage is also an origin story. As we heard in the introduction, we are told that the land occupied by Lot had been extremely fertile, it actually says it was like Egypt, but now it’s a waste land, with high temperatures, where little grows, where there are tar pits, it smells like Sulphur and then there are pillars of salt, so what made it that way. Well the story from chapter 19 would seem to answer that question. It’s uninhabitable, it sounds almost as bad as Phoenix, because God destroyed the area raining it with fire and Sulphur, and of course Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into salt, and so this story explains all of that and so we can move on and be done right? I wish it were that easy, but what I can say is that this story is not about homosexuality, which is the most common interpretation, at least for the last 1000 years, but before we get into that, we do have to take a step back.

Lot and Abraham originally travel together to the Promised Land, but as they accumulate possessions, they eventually go their separate ways because their underlings are fighting. As we heard, Lot goes to the cities of the plain, which were Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zoboiim and Bela, sometimes called Baor, and they had been vassals to King Chedorlaomer but then they rebel for some reason. So, King Chedorlaomer gathers some other kings together and they attack and defeat the five cities, taking all their possessions. And while some people fled, we are told that Lot was taken into captivity. When Abraham finds out about this, he goes off and defeats the other kings and returns Lot and his possessions, and the possession of everyone else as well.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Covenant

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Genesis 17:1-22. I missed several weeks due to illness and then vacation, so we skipped over several Genesis stories.

The book of Genesis can be broken into two different types of stories. First, and the way it begins, are with etiological stories, or stories of origin. These are stories that seek to explain why things are the way there are, and these have sometimes been called the primeval stories, or also the myth stories. But, myth here not understood the way we understand the word myth, meaning false and therefore not true. But that’s a modern understanding. Instead, we should see myths as stories that are fundamentally true, even if they aren’t factually true, and thus you can have multiple creation stories that tell different stories and yet contain fundamental truths about God and about the world and about us. And then we move into what are sometimes called the saga stories, or better the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, beginning with the father and mother of the faith, who begin their journey known as Abram and Sarai. And they also serve as the transition, as we are told that Abram is a descendent of Shem, who was one of the sons of Noah. And so we transition from universal stories, to particular story about the the beginning of the people who will become known as the Israelites although we are not quite there yet.

And so we are introduced to this man as being a descendent of Noah, through his son Shem, although he is many generations later, but God speaks to Abram and tells him to leave his family and his homeland and go to a land that God will show to him, and God will make his name famous and bless him, and through him the world itself will be blessed. And the surprising thing is, Abram leaves. That was just not something that was really done. There is safety and protection in familial ties, and in the land you know and inhabit, and protection in the local gods that you worship, that don’t travel, but live where the people live. And so although we aren’t told anything about Abram before this, including whether he knows anything about this God who talks to him, Abram packs up all his possessions, including, we are told, the people he owns, that is slaves, along with his nephew Lot, and they leave and go to the land which, as we are told, was occupied by the Canaanites.

Monday, June 15, 2020

In the Beginning... Again

Here is my sermon from yesterday. The text was Genesis 2:4b-25:

When we were last together, we heard the first creation story, starting with the familiar line “In the beginning,” and then continuing with God speaking things into existence. It is the story of creation in six days, and then God resting on the seventh. It has the form with which most of us are familiar, and yet in its telling, we were missing many of the pieces which we also expect to find in the creation story, like God forming adam out of the ground, and then forming Eve using a rib from Adam, and the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And those are missing from that first creation story, because they are obviously not a part of it, because they are a part of the second creation story. Many people are surprised to discover not just that we have two creation stories, but they are so different from each other. But, what they show us was also very common in the ancient near-east. Egypt, for example, had several different creation stories, as did the Babylonians. They had different stories, because they had different purposes and reasons for telling the story, and each of them contains a fundamental truth that might not be about how creation was made, but the why and the who of creation. But before we dig into that, let’s clear up one piece of information.

If you notice, and hopefully you did, or you heard me point it out in the worship video we send out on Friday’s. Today’s passage does not begin at the beginning of chapter two, as we might expect it to, but instead it begins at verse four, and then not even at the start, but what is called verse 4b, because it’s the second line of the verse. In the original manuscripts of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, there are no chapter and verse markings. Occasionally there would be a larger space of white in the text marking a transition, but that was the only breaks in the text. You could not cite chapter and verse, you would just read or say the passage out loud so that people would not what you were talking about. Chapters were not added until the 13th century when Robert Langston, who was the arch bishop of Canterbury, added them to the text. We have no idea why he made the decisions he did, and you will sometimes see, as we do here, that there were some very strange decisions made, and, quite frankly, he made some mistakes. But, Langston did not do verses, that didn’t come until the mid-16th century, when Robert Estienne, sometimes also called Robert Stephens, added verses, which also occasionally have some strange placement. There have been attempts to correct some of these problems, but they have failed.

Monday, June 8, 2020

In the Beginning

Here is my sermon for June 7. The text was Genesis 1:1-2:4a:

Last week I said that Peter’s line that the disciples aren’t drunk because it was only 9 am was one of my favorite, but the opening line from today’s Genesis passage is one of the most important in scripture, because it proves that baseball is the greatest sport there is, because God starts the creation in the big inning. Perhaps it’s also a sign that maybe the season will start soon. But the opening line here is probably one of the most famous in scripture, although what we have in Christianity, is more than likely a mistranslation. The Jewish Publication Societies translation, as other Jewish translations say, “when God began to create heaven and earth,” which might be more accurate, but it ruins my baseball joke, and so we’ll pretend as if it’s not there. This is the first of two creation stories in the Bible, and they are very different stories, as we will see, and contain different reasons for being and different understandings of God, and we’ll explore some of them over the next two weeks. But the simple fact that there are two different creation stories, telling of creation in different ways, should eliminate most of the arguments that we have about the Bible verses evolution.

But, unfortunately it doesn’t, and I can’t say why, but for simplicity sake, and I know this won’t be a problem for most watching today, you can indeed both be a Christian and believe in evolution. They are not incompatible ideas, and we’ll touch only briefly on this, but the earliest church’s opposition to evolution came not because of contradiction with scripture but because of the idea of social Darwinism, or survival of the fittest in humanity, which still exists today, which argued that he poor, handicapped, criminals, and others deemed unworthy, or unimportant by society should be weeded out, allowed to die, or purposely killed in order to protect humanity as a species. In arguments saying that we should just let senior citizens die so that we can get the economy going again is a social Darwinist argument, and something, I hope, that we find morally repugnant. But, that’s a different message for a different day.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Heart of Power

This was my message for Pentecost Sunday. The text was Acts 2:1-21:

I have to say that I think Peter’s response in the Pentecost story that the disciples are not drunk as some suppose, because it’s only 9 am is one of my favorite lines of scripture. The way he says it, means we could possibly see him saying, “now if it was three or four, maybe” and thank goodness no one had yet come up with the phrase “it’s five o’clock somewhere.” And the reason why people believe they might be drunk is that many pagan groups, especially mystery cults, used alcohol or other drugs in order to bring about ecstatic or altered states, and so the disciples could certainly be mistaken for that. But what I want to focus on today, at least to start, is the line that begins today’s passage: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” It’s not quite clear if this is just the disciples, including Matthias who was just added to the 12, along with some of the women with them, or the 120 who were followers at the time, although since they are in a house together, it’s probably the smaller number. But there they are all together, and of course this year at Pentecost we are not altogether. We’re not seeing people in wearing red, or singing together the songs of the Spirit. But, like the disciples we sit and wait.

At Easter I talked about living in a liminal time or a liminal space, the in between between what was and what has not yet been. That’s where the disciples found themselves after the crucifixion, in the in-between, and even after they had encountered the risen Christ they were still really in that liminal space because they didn’t know what was going to happen, where the movement was going, what they were going to become. Instead they were still receiving instructions from Jesus and he tells them to stay in Jerusalem, and tells them that soon they will receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which originally had been promised by John the Baptist, at that when the Spirit came upon them they would receive power, and it’s a lot more fun to do that when you can shout power back at me, and they would take that baptism of the Spirit and the power they had received, they would be Jesus’ “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And so they remain in Jerusalem and are there for the festival of weeks, which was a spring harvest festival that took place 50 days after Passover, and thus was also called Pentecost, pente being 50. But here’s where things changed for them, and ended their in-between time.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Heart of Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Ephesians 1:15-23 and Luke 24:44-53:

There is a church in Albuquerque, and on their marque it says “church like it used to be,” and I have a guess what that mean by that, but I’m not quite positive that I understand what that means. Several years ago, I took a month off in order to study worship, and in that time I went to 12 different churches in the Albuquerque area. One of the 12 was the Greek Orthodox Church. As I was listening to the divine liturgy, which, except for being primarily in English now, has been the basically the same for the last 1500 years or so. Is that what they mean by church like it used to be? Probably not. But I do think much, or even all, that church like it used to be has to do with worship. Indeed, when someone says they are going to church, what they nearly always mean is “I am going to worship”, the immediate circumstances being an exception. I heard last week that 90% of churches have gone to some type of alternative worship, with the vast majority being online. I don’t know about the other 10%, perhaps some of them never stopped worshipping in person, or more likely they stopped worshipping at all. Can you be church and not have worship? I think the two are inherently linked together, and worship is at the heart of the matter for who we are as a people.

What we hear in the passage from Luke for today is that after the disciples watch Jesus ascend, which Luke doesn’t really describe, that they then worship him. This has been a common theme of the post resurrection Christ, and then they return to Jerusalem with great joy and end up in the temple blessing, or worshipping God. Luke’s gospel both begins and ends in the Temple, but there is a distinct difference between the beginning and the ending, of course because of Jesus. In the first temple, or under the old covenant, sacrifice is made at the temple with animals, but under the new covenant, under the covenant of Christ, in which we are called to make sacrifices of praise of adoration to God in acknowledgment for what God has done for us. Joy in celebration of love and forgiveness. Jesus has already given a preview of this change when he encounters a Samaritan woman in the gospel of John, also sometimes called the story of the woman at the well. She says to Jesus that her people have worshipped God on their mountain, but that he says that people should worship on the mountain in Jerusalem, meaning the Temple. But Jesus says, the time is coming when people will no longer worship on either mountain, but they will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, and that’s where we are, no longer in the temple, but worshipping in spirit in truth, making worship the heart of the matter. But what does that look like?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Heart of Righteousness

Here is my message from Sunday. The text was John 14:15-21  and 1 Peter 3:13-22:

In our series looking at the heart of the matter, so far we have looked at having a heart of peace, based on Jesus’ post resurrection greeting of Peace be with you, and the heart of love, with the example of the travelers on the road to Emmaus offering hospitality to the stranger, who turns out to be the risen Christ. And we looked at a heart of generosity, with the early church sharing things in common so that those who were in need would be provided for, and the heart of comfort, where God comforts us like a mother comforts her child, and we are to do the same, and today we turn to a heart of righteousness. 

Now righteousness is almost exclusively a church word. Besides for Crush in the movie Finding Nemo and 80’s surfer dudes who wanted you to know about righteous waves, it’s not really a word that gets used in normal conversation. We do talk about people being self-righteous, which is thinking themselves morally superior over others, but that doesn’t really match what righteousness is about. And it turns out that we don’t really even talk all that much about righteousness in church, even though it’s an incredibly important theme in scripture, both in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament. The word righteous, or righteousness, appears in the Bible 630 times, and to give you a comparison, love appears 872 times, so it’s there a lot. And those are the times in which the Greek and Hebrew words are translated as righteous, rather than something else. So, at the cross, after Jesus dies, the Roman Centurion, played by John Wayne in the Greatest Story Ever Told, says “surely this man was innocent.” The Greek word translated as innocent, could also be translated, and perhaps might be better translated, as righteous. That is someone who followed the law, or did the right thing, someone who lived a righteous life.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Heart of Comfort

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10 and John 14:1-14.

Mother’s Day is always a difficult service to plan and prepare for, because there are so many pieces that have to be remembered and taken into account. Of course we celebrate our mothers, but there are those whose mothers are gone, and they mourn, and there are those who never had a mother, or lost their mother early, or those whose mothers were unable to be a mother or to love as we expect mothers to. And then there are those who desperately wanted to be mothers, but who were unable to, and others who feel judged and thought of as less than a woman because they didn’t have children, and there are the mothers who have known the pain of a child dying, or that have lost a child in other ways. Although worship attendance tends to be higher on Mother’s Day, because mom’s say “I want you to come to church with me today”, and the family does, I also know many women who choose not to come to church because it’s just easier not to try and be in church an deal with some or all of the emotions and feelings that come with just some of the situations I just named. And so wherever you are today, as we’ve been saying, whether you are experiencing joy and celebration on this day, or sadness and pain, or something in between, it’s okay, and it fits into our next issue of getting to the heart of the matter, and that is the heart of comfort.

Each Sunday, we’ve begun by holding our worry stones, or perhaps our pocket crosses, and rubbing them as a reminder of the steadfastness of God, and that God is with us always. We hear that is the Psalm that was read, in the Psalmist’s plea for deliverance from whatever it is that they are facing, that they are seeking refuge in God. Twice the Psalmist talks about God being their rock and fortress, first in asking for God to be that, and then in recognizing that God is their rock and their fortress. That God’s faithful and steadfast love will redeem them and protect them. In that imagery, in that call, and in that assurance and knowledge of God’s steadfast love, the Psalmist finds comfort. That God is rocksolid in God’s promises and in not going anywhere, and all the other things that the idea of God as rock means for us. And yet when we say that God is our rock, or even God is our fortress, we of course don’t literally mean that God is a rock. We understand that this is a metaphor that’s being used to give some attributed about what God is like. It’s to say that God is like this, but also to know that God is not like this. And there is certainly some comfort in understanding God to be our rock, solid, true, holding us and protecting us. But as we think of God’s comfort there are other metaphors that also need to come into play, especially as we celebrate our mothers and other significant women in our lives.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Heart of Generosity

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Acts 2:42-47 and John 10:1-10

Normally when people hear this passage from Acts, or some later ones dealing with the same thing of the disciples and new converts sharing everything in common, they are sort of shocked. Some question whether that really happened, and if it did how it really worked. Some wonder why they stopped and why the church doesn’t call for the same thing today. And on the opposite of that, some wonder why they were promoting communism when clearly we need to value and support private property. And perhaps all of those questions are the right and the wrong questions to be asking. The fact is that we don’t know for sure that the early church practiced this in the form that Luke reports, or if he was embellishing a little. But, we do know that there were communities that lived communally. All indications are that the Qumran community, from which we get the Dead Sea scrolls, live communally.

So it’s still there, and yet this practice does not seem to have lasted for very long in the church, and maybe not outside of Jerusalem, as there is no indication in Paul’s letters of converts being called to this behavior. In fact, he chastises the Corinthian community for not sharing their food and drink when they gather together, which may have led to communion becoming separate from a communal meal. But, the fact that Luke, who is the writer of Acts, tells us several times that they were doing this, indicates that it was a fairly important practice, because in chapter 5 we are told the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who sell some property they own, but lie about how much they sell it for, keeping some of the money for themselves. And when they both lie about it, they both drop dead, pretty harsh penalty, but Peter says that in doing what they have done, they did not lie to them, but they lied to God. And so there you go.<