Friday, August 17, 2018

Why Trump's N-Word Tape Doesn't Matter

There is lots being made, again, about the possibility of a tape existing with Trump saying the N-word repeatedly. But, I believe the existence or non-existence of this tape doesn't actually matter, and here is why:

First, such language will not prove that Trump is a racist. If we don't already believe that from the numerous other things that he has said about minority groups, then what is finally going to prove the point? The use of the N-word is not the end all and be all of racist statements. It's truly attrocious, but so is everything else derogatory he has said.

Second, pay attention to his actions. He called for the death penatly, and took out an ad for such, against the Central Park Five, the attack on a white women, supposedly by five black teens. He still believes they are guilt, even though they have now been fully exonerated. (For a great accounting of this read The Central Park Five by Sarah Burns) Additionally, we was charged twice with housing discrimination by our government, and regardless of what he says, he did not win those cases. He simply paid the fines without having to admit guilt.

Finally, and most importantly, he is unlikely to lose any more support from his "base." First because those were borderline have already left. I do not believe this is going to be the straw that breaks the camels back. Secondly, it's because many of them already use this word. I have family members who are Trump supporters and they use the N-word: repeatedly and out-loud (and yes, they are racists). Hearing him say it will only reinforce for them that he is their man, and someone just like them. That is, rather than hurting him with his core supporters, which is the only group he truly cares about, it will only help him.

We have been talking about having a heart of peace in worship, and Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth is what defiles us because it reveals who we truly are. Hearing Trump on tape saying something that he shouldn't be saying, things that we don't want to hear the president saying, won't make him worse, because he has already revealed who he is by everything else he has said.

Monday, August 6, 2018

State of the Church

Here is my message from Sunday. The texts were Numbers 13:1-2, 17-21a, 25-28, 30-33 and Matthew 14:22-34:

I want to start with a story this morning. At our prayer breakfast in May, rather than sitting in a room talking and praying, we came out onto the property and prayed, with some of us walking circles around the property and praying, although only a few of us got all seven laps done, and the laps did get smaller and smaller as we progressed. But we were praying for big things, including the elimination of our mortgage debt. That was a Saturday. On Tuesday afternoon I received a call from Rev. Randall Partin, who is the provost for the conference, which is a fancy way of saying he is the bishop’s assistant and runs the conference office and staff. Now Randall had been in conversation with us about some of the things we have explored for doing with the eastside of the property, and he wanted to know if we were interested in having a conversation with a Methodist organization who was looking for some property. That led me into a conversation with Saranam, which runs a two-year residential program for homeless families. They were begun when Central UMC received a several million-dollar gift in someone’s will, which serves as a reminder that you too can make gifts to Mesa View in your estate planning, and one of the things we are beginning the work on is an endowment committee and policies and procedures for the reception and use of endowed gifts. So, I met with Saranam for an initial conversation, which then led to a meeting with some of their board members and some representatives from Mesa View, and this week the Trustees voted to approve conversations about the potential sale or lease of the back piece of the property to move forward. But, before I say any more, I’d want to show a shortened video about Saranam…

Now a few points. The first that is that Saranam is a Sanskrit word that means refuge. There’s actually a song in the hymnal entitled Saranam, Saranam. The second is that at this point we are only in conversation. We have not made any agreements, we have signed any documents, we haven’t even agreed on any terms. We are now waiting for their board to meet and approve moving forward in conversation with us on the possibilities. I believe we are still a few months away from that conversation, and even farther from a deal. If we do move forward, we will have presentations on who they are and as well as what it might mean to be working together, as well as listening sessions to get feedback. Right now, this is just so you are aware, and hopefully some, or most, or all, of you are as excited about this possibility as I am. Not only will this help us in our mission of serving our community and making good use of our property, but it will also greatly help us financially.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Richest Man In Town

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 10:35-45 and based on the movie It's a Wonderful Life:

Today we conclude our Christmas in July worship series by looking at what many people consider to be the best Christmas move of all time It’s a Wonderful Life.  But, if you may have noticed in all the films we covered up to this point, and this is true about most Christmas stories, none of them are actually about faith or religion or God. But, It’s a Wonderful Life is different, because it does actually involve all of these things as being a part of the story, and it’s also the darkest of all the movies we have seen.

It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by the marvelous Frank Capra, was released in December of 1946, to only tepid reviews and performance. Although it was nominated for five academy awards, it lost money, and the only award it won was a technical one for the creation of a new way to produce snow on a movie set, which was also done during shooting in what was then one of the warmest summers in California history. The release of the movie was pushed up so that it would qualify for the 46 awards cycle, but it was widely trounced by The Best Years of Our Lives, which went on to win nine academy awards. And since everyone if gung-ho to remake films these days rather than coming up with original ideas, The Best Years of Our Lives is probably a film that deserves to be remade in a modern telling about soldiers returning home from war who have a hard time readjusting to society, especially those who were injured physically and mentally. So, if any of you know some big Hollywood producers, you should mention that to them.

Monday, July 23, 2018

I Believe... I Believe... It's Silly But I Believe

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Mark 9:14-24 and based on Miracle on 34th Street:

While the movies we have looked at so far in our Christmas in July series are on their way to becoming beloved Christmas classics, today’s film, Miracle on 34th Street, has long been there, and is probably only surpassed by just one other film, It’s a Wonderful Life, which we will cover next week. It’s also one of the oldest films we will cover, having come out in 1947, and again is only surpassed by It’s a Wonderful Life, which came out in 1946. Surprisingly, Miracle on 34th Street did not come out at Christmas, but instead was released in June of that year, and went on to receive five academy award nominations, including best picture, and winning three awards for writing and for best supporting actor for Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle and had been a principal actor for the playwright George Bernard Shaw. As most of you are probably aware, the movie takes place in New York City, and begins at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and seeing that in person should be added to your bucket list of things to do, as it’s a lot of fun, and New York at Christmas time is a magic place to be. But, anyways, the main character, Doris Walker, played by Maureen O’Hara, oversees the parade, when it is brought to her attention that the man playing Santa Claus is drunk, but fortunately for her, the man who tells her is Kris Kringle, believes himself to be the real Santa. After quickly firing the drunk Santa, she hires Kris not only to be Santa in the parade, but also in the store, another thing that you should add to your bucket list because you haven’t seen Santa until you’ve seen Santa at the original Macy’s in Herald Square.

Meanwhile, Doris Walker’s daughter, Suzie, played by a young Natalie Wood, is watching the parade in the apartment of their neighbor, Fred Gailey, who is an attorney, which becomes important as the movie progresses. And as they are watching the parade, Fred, and we the audience, begin to learn something important both about Suzie and her …  As we hear in that, Doris’ husband left her after Suzy was born, leaving her embittered and closed off to the world, wanting to be a realist because as she says about Suzy she wants a prince charming to come to her, but when he does, she’ll find out that’s not who he really is, which is, of course, not about Suzy at all, but about Doris. And so, both Fred, in trying to woo Doris, and Kris set out to try and change their outlooks on the world, to help them to again, or for the first time, to experience magic, and majesty and awe, let alone trust and love and kindness. Doris’ wants to keep everything to be about rationality and common sense, and yet, as she finds out, that’s not the way the world works. It also turns out that it’s not the way that Kris Kringle works either. He has told Doris that he is taking her and Suzie on as a test case, because if he can’t convince them that he is real, then he’s lost, he’s through. But it’s not just them that he must win over, to move away from just thinking about rationality, or themselves, it’s also changing the culture of Macy’s, as when Kris starts he’s given a list of toys that the store has overstocked, and so he’s supposed to push to kids who don’t know what they want. But, instead of doing that, he does something radically different…

Monday, July 16, 2018

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:19-21 and based on the movie A Christmas Story:

Today we continue looking at what some of the great films of Christmas can teach us about our faith tackling the ideas that come to us from one of my favorite Christmas moves, A Christmas Story. Now, last week I said that this was one of my favorite movies, and after worship my daughter Abigail said, “how can this be one of your favorite movies if you never watch it.” To which I had to replay, “well it’s one of my favorites, but mommy doesn’t like it at all, and so I don’t get to watch it.” And that’s true even though every year TBS shows this film for twenty-four hours straight, which I don’t think can be said for any other Christmas movie. Now, one thing in Linda’s defense, and that is that she does allow me to watch Hallmark Christmas movies, even way outside of the Christmas season, and for that I am grateful.

A Christmas Story for those poor unfortunate souls who have never seen the film, tells the story of Ralphie who is obsessed with wanting to receive a bb gun for Christmas, but not just any bb gun, but the holy grail of Christmas gifts, a Red Rider Carbine Action 200 shot Range Model with compass in the stock and a thing that tells time. The film takes place in 1940 in Indiana, and is narrated by Ralphie’s much older self, looking back on the events of this particular Christmas. It’s based upon a novel by Jean Sheppard, who actually is the narrator of the film, and Ralphie is played by Peter Billingsley who many of you also know as Messy Marvin from the old Hershey Syrup commercials, which really begins to date us. As an aside, Billingsley is an alum of Phoenix College, as am I, so we have something in common, and he also escaped the curse of childhood actors and is now an Emmy nominated producer and director, including producing the Iron Man films which were directed by Jon Favreau, who directed the movie Elf, which we talked about last week, and so there’s another connection too.

But Ralphie goes to extraordinary lengths to try and convince others to try and get him his red rider gun, but before we delve into that, there is one other key place to start with A Christmas Story. We all like to think that we know a lot, and that can often get us into some tough spots, and so one of the rules of faith and life, is to know when to back down when you in fact don’t know what you’re talking about, take a look… Now that really doesn’t have anything to do with my message for today, but the triple dog dare ya scene is so famous, and so funny, that I just had to include it. So, learn your lesson that before you go spouting off about something for which you don’t know anything about, remember it can get you into a situation you would rather not be in, like with your tongue stuck to a pole.

Monday, July 9, 2018

I Love You. I Love You! I LOVE YOU!

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 15:1-10 and based on the movie Elf:

Today we begin a new worship series entitled Christmas in July, looking at some of the great Christmas films and what they can teach us about faith, and we begin today with the movie Elf. This is the newest film we will see, coming out in 2003, and it has already become a Christmas classic for many people, largely because of the goofy portrayal of buddy the elf, played by Will Ferrell. Now if you haven’t seen the film before, I do want to warn you that it does have some sophomoric humor in it, and just as an aside, why do we call it sophomoric humor? Why not freshman humor or senior humor? And if it’s sophomoric because it’s juvenile, that perhaps kindergartenmoric would be better. But I digress.

Although Buddy is raised as an elf, at the north pole, he actually isn’t an elf. When Santa, played by Ed Asner, comes to the orphanage where he goes after his mother dies, Buddy climbs into Santa’s bag and is taken to the north pole, but they aren’t sure what to do with him, and so papa elf, played by Bob Newhart, adopts him as his own and raises him up to be an elf. Except, Buddy doesn’t belong. Not only does he not fit in because of his size, but more importantly he’s just not good at doing any of the things that elves do, like make toys. Buddy tries he best and he puts his heart into it, but he just can’t seem to find his place amongst the other eleves. And so, Papa Elf decides to tell Buddy the truth that he is not really an elf, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to him, and yet in his naiveté, which is one of his redeeming characteristics, it does. Buddy is then told that his real father lives in “the magical land called New York City,” and that his father never even knew he was born. But even worse is that his father is on the naughty list, and so Buddy sets out and travels through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, then through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel and he enters New York, the city so nice they named it twice. But if he thought he didn’t belong at the north pole, it’s even worse in New York where his kindness and generosity and joy contrast with the gritty reality of the adults around him, especially his father. But he loves his father, and he wants to redeem him and be in relationship with him, but his father keeps rejecting him, until he is called on to save Buddy and to save Christmas after Santa’ sleigh crashes because of a lack of Christmas spirit. But for our purposes today, I want to explore the three rules of Christmas that the elves have and what they teach us about how to live as disciples of Christ.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Here I Am To Worship

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Revelation 7:9-17 and John 4:19-26:

There is a Baptist church on Louisiana, and their sign says, “Church like it used to be,” and I’ve always wondered by what they really mean by that.One of the 12 different churches that I attended over the past month was the Greek Orthodox Church here in Albuquerque. As we were listening to what is known as the Divine Liturgy, which, other than now being sung in English, although there was also some Greek, that liturgy has been used nearly every week for the past 1500 years or so. But, I don’t really think that is what that Baptist church is referring to when they talk about the way church the way it used to But, even within the Orthodox church, let alone the western tradition, one of the constants about worship is change. The chair arrangement this morning is one of the oldest ways we know that people gathered for worship. Pews as we think of them didn’t arrive in churches until the 14th and 15th centuries. But seeing people across from you is very different, and creates a different worship experience, then everyone facing forward.

In the 12 churches I saw, there were a large range of worship styles and patterns, although some of them were remarkably similar, I think there must be some magazine that gets published that says what to do, especially when it comes to the sound of the band. I don’t know what I was expecting or maybe even hoping to find in other churches, besides just seeing what others were doing. The only thing I was disappointed about was that I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a walk-up song for when I come up to do the sermon, like baseball players do, and if another church was doing it then I could start it here. But, you can all be relieved that no one was doing that, and so I’ll continue to live without walk-up music. The better news is that in seeing what other people are doing, I came away with an even better feeling about the worship services we do every week, especially when compared against the churches immediately around us. But, I also came away with some ways that I think we can make worship better and connect it better to who we are and what we do, and much of that has to do with the very nature of worship itself.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Resurrection: Death and Grief

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 11:17-35:

So, let my start by saying that today’s message is going to be a hard one, or at least one that we all cry about, because as we conclude our sermon series on resurrection stories we deal with the issue for which we most want resurrection, loss. After all, the reason for the season in which we started this series, Easter, was because of the death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. As an Easter people, our faith is grounded in the reality of resurrection. We believe that hope is possible even in the worst of circumstances, in the darkest moments of our lives, that even in the valley of the shadow of death, that God is with us and that God is there not only to comfort us but to even bring about miracles.

Mary and Martha, who are sisters, send word to tell Jesus that their brother Lazarus is ill. We are also told that Jesus loves Lazarus, but Jesus does not immediately leave but instead stayed on the other side of the Jordan, where John had been baptizing people. Then Jesus tells the disciples they are going to head back to Judea, and he says that he is going to wake up Lazarus, which confuses the disciples as they think he is merely asleep, and so Jesus has to be more direct and tells them that Lazarus has died, and then Thomas makes a usual statement and says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” It’s not clear whom Thomas is speaking of, Lazarus or Jesus, but presumably he is saying that they know Jesus life is at risk, and so their lives are also at risk, and he is making a pledge that they will die with Christ. Which of course they don’t, but they go with Jesus and when they arrive they find that Lazarus has already been dead for four days. Now this little bit of information is significant because it was believed that the spirit, the soul, or someone who had died would stay around the body for three days, for the hope that they were only slightly dead, but by the fourth day the body has already begun to decay and to stink, and so the soul then goes away, and so what we are being told here is that everyone has given up, that there is no hope for a miracle, which is where today’s passage begins.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Resurrection of the Church

Here is my sermon for Pentecost Sunday. The text was Acts 2:1-21:

I want to start this morning telling you the story of a church that I know of, that some of you have probably heard about as well. It was founded by a fairly charismatic minister, who was known to preach good sermons. They didn’t have a permanent home where they met, but instead met where they could, and while they would get higher than normal attendance on the big holidays, sometimes more than a hundred, their normal attendance was in the twenties, although there were only around a dozen who could be counted on to be there all the time. Just as soon as it seemed like they were moving in the right direction, that they were about to see some huge growth, people would decide that this wasn’t the right church for them because it challenged what they had been taught as children, or it just wasn’t big enough, or stable enough, or it was too challenging, or they couldn’t be anonymous, or too much was required, or whatever the reason was, they just decided it wasn’t for them. But they did all the right things, although some of them were a little unusual, but it just didn’t seem like they were ever going to be bigger than they were. And then their pastor suddenly died, and no one knew what was going to happen, because one of the things that happens when charismatic leaders die is that their movements tend to quickly dissipate, unless another leader steps into the void, and it wasn’t clear that any of the members of this church had the skills or graces or ability to fill that hole. And so the members of the church gathered together, and they worshipped and prayed, but they didn’t know what their future held, and they were a little scared and a little nervous and a little anxious and timid, they hoped something might happen with their little church, they loved it after all, and while the people weren’t perfect, and there was some conflict, over all it was a good place to be, and they didn’t want to find another place to go, and so they gathered together into a room to discuss what they should do, to hold the dreaded all church meeting, and then something miraculous happened.

Does anyone want to take a guess as to what church this was, or where this took place? It was the original church with Jesus as its head, although traditionally we would say that there was not, in fact, a church yet, because today, Pentecost, is seen as the birth of the church. But we forget what the group of was like just 51 days before when they had no idea what was going to happen, and then they encounter the risen Christ, but that still didn’t mean that anything was going to become of this group, and so as we have been talking about resurrection stories, I think it’s important to recognize the resurrection story of the disciples to become the church. According to the author of Luke, who also writes Acts, and we should see them as a complete whole, Jesus has spent the time after the resurrection, until his ascension into heaven, which we recognized on Thursday. I know all of you had ascension parties, right? He has spent that time instructing the disciples, and one of the things he has said to them was that they would receive the Holy Spirit, and when they received the Holy Spirit they would receive what? Power.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Resurrection: Adoption

Here is my sermon from Mother's Day. The texts were Galatians 3:25-4:7 and Exodus 1:22-2:10. If you would like to see the testimonies given, please view the video on our Youtube page.

This past week I was at a conference center located right on the shore of Lake Tahoe. The lake, which is beautiful, played a significant role in human populations from the time of native Americans coming to the area on to the present, which is not really surprising, because water is obviously important to us as humans for survival. So perhaps it’s not surprising that according to the national institute of health, that 50% of the population on the earth live within 3 kilometers of freshwater, and only 10% of the worlds population lives more than 10 kilometers away. That’s true even with the increasing urbanization of the population, because the majority of large cities are also close to water. That was just as true in Egypt, and the Nile River played a crucial role in the life and activities of the people. While water can bring destruction and death, as see in storms and flooding, water is seen as a giver and protector of life, and so the Pharaoh’s instruction at the beginning of the book of Exodus to have male Hebrew children thrown into the Nile to drown stands in strong contrast to how the Nile was seen. Rather than being a source of life, he wants to make it, to turn it into, a source of death, but his actions are thwarted by four women.

Now perhaps that is not surprising that it is women who choose to protect life, and to even keep the water as a symbol and source of life. Even more striking, or important, is that other than the instruction from the Pharaoh handed down that all Hebrew male children are to be killed, there are no adult males in this story of Moses, and the fact that women play such a prominent role is not because this is a birth story. In fact, the story of Moses’ birth is just half a verse, half a sentence. It’s the role the women play in saving a life, in direct contradiction to the edict laid down the by the pharaoh himself. They are counteracting the rule which would distort the purpose of the Nile, the meaning of the Nile, to bring about death, rather than life. And so, Moses’ mother, who is not named, although Moses is not actually named yet either, makes a basket that is covered in bitumen and pitch, so that it will be waterproof. The Hebrew word translated here as basket, is the same word used to refer to Noah’s ark, and so we are called to see that this is a new form of salvation taking place here. Then the mother takes the basket, the ark, and places it amongst the reeds in the Nile. Now later when Moses will lead the Egyptians out of slavery, contrary to popular opinion, and some translations, he leads them not across the Red Sea, but across the Reed Sea. Again, we are called to see the story of the Israelites, of salvation, of freedom, of life, being played out here in this initial story of Moses.