Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Bible and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5:

When I asked what people wanted me to talk about after Easter, I received several questions about the Bible, and so that is what we are going to be looking at today.  If you were coming for an uplifting sermon, you’ll have to come back next week, because today is more about me teaching then about explicating scripture.  I cannot cover everything today nor am I even going to try.  I’ve often thought about trying to create a sermon series to talk about the Bible itself, but in my initial thoughts I haven’t figured out yet how to do that, but perhaps some time in the future, especially if there is a clamoring for it, although after today you might also hope I never come back to this information.

All of us have assumptions that we make about the Bible, some of them correct but unfortunately many of them incorrect.  Many want to treat the Bible as if it’s a simple book to read, when in fact it’s not.  There are some extremely difficult passages that we encounter, and we even read in 2 Peter, talking about Paul’s letters, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand,” and these difficulties were leading some people astray.  (2 Pet 3:16)  And while the Bible might be the bestselling book of all time, it is one of the least read books as well.  As someone recently posted on Facebook, we treat the Bible like we do software licenses, we don’t read it, we simply scroll to the bottom and click “I agree.”  If we are serious about the Bible, then we actually need to take it seriously, which means we need to pick it up and read it.  We also need to be very aware of what we bring to scripture when we read it, that influence what we find.  In the passage we just heard from 2 Timothy, we are told that all scripture is inspired by God, an idea that we will have to come back to, but what scripture is he referring to?  It’s only the Hebrew scriptures, because the New Testament doesn’t exist yet, but I’m sure most of us don’t think of that when we read or hear that passage.

Friday, May 23, 2014

High Cost of Conservation

Albuquerque, where I live, is currently in the middle of a major drought, as is most of the Southwest, and everyone has been called on to try and conserve as much water as possible.  Apparently consumers took this seriously, and water usage dropped 9% last year.  As a result, the water authority ended up with a deficit because people didn't use enough water to cover the budget they had passed.  And so the water authority just authorized a rate increase of 5% in order to cover the budget deficit.  This follows a 5% rate increase from last year as well

People are using less water, which is a good thing, and now are going to be charged more for the lower amount of water they are using.  What is the message we are actually conveying about the need and the benefits of conserving?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sheep and Goats

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 25:31-46:

As Protestants we believe that we are saved by faith alone.  That is that there is nothing we can do to merit God’s grace, that it is given to us unconditionally and without price.  God’s grace is freely poured out for us.  As United Methodists we also believe that we can either choose to accept or to reject this grace, and all that goes with it, but it is still God’s grace that saves us.  But then we have this passage which on its face may be seen as saying something else entirely.  While I don’t know why someone asked me to preach on this particular passage, I suspect that it might be because of the message the story seems to imply that by doing good works we can earn bonus points, as it were, that will reap us eternal rewards.  This is known as works righteousness, that we are made righteous through what we do, and this struggle between works and grace has been a major sticking point between Protestants and Roman Catholics since the time of the Protestant Reformation.

There are five sections of dialogue in Matthew which are interspersed between narrative sections, so that it goes narrative, discourse, narrative, discourse, narrative, etc.  The last discourse discusses judgment and right living.  It begins with a diatribe of woes against the Pharisees and scribes, in which we are told that we should basically do as they say not as they do.  This series of woes sort of bookends the discourses, because the first discourse is the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the blessings, but we end with these woes.  Then the last thing that Jesus teaches the disciples, and thus us, in the Gospel of Matthew is the passage we just heard, as immediately after this Jesus and the disciples begin their last journey to Jerusalem.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”  The sheep will be put at his right hand and the goats on his left, and the sheep will be welcomed into the kingdom and the goats will be scattered into the eternal flames.  Surprisingly, especially considering how much the idea is emphasized by some within the church, this is the only detailed description we find in the New Testament of what might be called the final judgment.  Notice that Jesus does not say “did you believe the right things, did you decry the right sins, did you dislike the right people, did you support the correct doctrines and dogma, did you attend the right church, and did you not cross your fingers when saying the Nicene or Apostles creed?”  Good then come into the kingdom.  Instead he says “when I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink; when I was a stranger you welcomed me; when I was naked you gave me clothing; when I was sick you took care of me; and when I was in prison you visited me,” and then concludes by saying that whatever you did for one of the least so you did, or did not do, to me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Death, Life and Motherhood

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Ruth 1:1-17:

The first attempts to create a day for mothers was begun by Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  It wasn’t a day to honor mothers the way we do today, but instead in the wake of the civil war, in which so many mothers had lost their children, it was a day for mothers to come together to call for peace and disarmament.  The first Mother’s Day as we know it was celebrated at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, the precursor to the United Methodist Church, in 1908.  Anna Jarvis wanted to create a day to honor her mother, who worked promoting female education, and through her to honor all mothers.  At the 1912 general Conference, which is the administrative body of the Methodist church, they called for Mother’s Day to be celebrated at all Methodist churches, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national celebration as a day to recognize all the women who had lost sons in war, which we should note is the same year world war 1 began.  Unfortunately for Jarvis, by the 1920’s she believed that the holiday had become so commercialized that she began to regret having created the holiday. 
I think that Mother’s Day is one of the hardest sermons to deliver every year.  While Mother’s Day tends to be a high attendace day as people come out to celebrate their mothers, I also know that there are people who consciously avoid church on Mother’s Day, or at least dread coming, because they don’t want to have to deal with the pain that mother’s day brings.  There are those women who wanted to have children but were unable to; there are women who chose not to have children, and who feel judged for that decision, especially in the church; there are who have lost children; there are those who have lost their mothers; and there are those who mothers were unwilling or unable to be a mother to be their children and somehow I have to bring those altogether and or at least recognize those realities, to mourn and to celebrate, to recognize pain and to honor, and I think to proclaim a message of hope, love and appreciation, and I think that Naomi and Ruth do all those things.

The Book of Ruth is one of only two books in our Bible named after a woman, does anyone remember the second?  (Esther)  The book begins with a key indicator of what the story is going to be about, but it is very subtle and so to catch it you would have to be very aware of Biblical storytelling, and that is that we are told that the family are Ephrathites.  It is said that Bethlehem, was founded by the descendants of Ephrath, who was the wife of Caleb, and so the family is identified not by a male clan name but by a female name indicating that this is a story about women and the descendants of those women.  There is also a sort of ironic meaning to this usage as well, as the word Ephrath comes from a root word which means fertile or productive, and at the moment neither the land nor the sons are matching that description, and so they have to leave Bethlehem, which means house of bread, although eventually there is not only fertility in the land but also fertility in the family as well as Ruth will give birth to a son.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

In The Breaking Of The Bread

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 24:13-35:

In our Easter celebration I said that to really understand the Easter moment is to not really think about what happened in its details, but instead to simply experience that proclamation of hope, that momentous moment when everything was changed, to let it flow over us like water.  This morning’s passage is a continuation of that Easter message.  Even though we are now two weeks past Easter, we must remember that we are still in what is known as Eastertide because Easter is actually celebrated for 50 days, but today’s passage takes place on Easter morning, as these two men are leaving Jerusalem in order to go to Emmaus.  But let me back up for just a moment to remind us all of Luke’s version of the Easter story.  On Easter morning, Mary, and several other women, went to the tomb with spices they had prepared for the body, but when they get there the body is not there, and then two men appear to them, and while they are not called angels that is what we might call them, and then tell them that Jesus is not there, that he has been raised from the dead, and so the women all run off to tell the disciples, and, in Luke’s words, “all the rest,”  what they had seen.  Not believing the women, Peter ran to the tomb and he too saw that it was empty.

In the ancient world there were several groups of people who were not allowed to testify in court because it was said that their testimony was not believable, that is they were liars by nature.  One of those groups was shepherds, and this Luke having shepherds making a proclamation about the birth of Jesus is unique, and anyone want to make a guess about another group of people who were not allowed to testify?  That’s right, women, and so the women also making the first proclamation that Jesus is risen is also a very unique characteristic of the Christian story, and probably one of the reasons why Peter doesn’t believe what they have to say and so he needs proof for himself, much like Thomas did in the passage we heard last week.  After all this has happened, then we are told at the beginning of today’s passage that “two of them,” presumably two who are included in that portion of all the rest who were told about the resurrection, are going to a village called Emmaus.

The story of the walk to Emmaus is the longest and most fully developed of all the Easter accounts we find in the gospels, and yet we really don’t know anything about these men. We are told that one of them is named Cleopas, but the other man remains unnamed, and this is the only story we have from them.  While it appears that they had something to do with the followers of Jesus, we have not heard about Cleopas before and he never appears again.  These are just two ordinary men traveling to some ordinary town, and we really don’t even know much about it.  Emmaus is not a town we know of as existing in Palestine during this time, except from this story.  We don’t know where it was and we don’t even know how far away from Jerusalem it was.  While the passage we heard today says 7 miles, there are discrepancies in the Greek manuscripts we have giving different distances, including some that say it was 19 miles away.  Our best manuscripts say 7, and the fact that they travel there and back all in one day has led scholars to use the 7 mile distance in their translations.  But again that is to get bogged down in the details rather than in what the story is actually trying to convey to us today.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Bank of Evil, Formerly Bank of America

It was just about a year ago that we made an offer on the house that we now live in.  I had been appointed to serve a church in Albuquerque, and for the first time in our time serving churches we would not be living in a parsonage.  We ended up making the offer on this house because an offer we made on another house wasn't working.

That house, which was fantastic, was a short sale being held by Bank of America.  We made an offer on it with what we thought was plenty of time to get everything completed so that we could close when we needed to be in Albuquerque to begin at the new church.  Bank of America told us what the price was that we needed to offer in order to get everything approved.  And then we sat and we waited. And we waited. And we waited some more.

And then they came back and said we needed to increase our price a little, and then a little more, and then a little more, really nickle and dimeing us to death, but they also could not tell us when the paper work would finally be approved.  And so we waited and started to sweat about not getting into the house on time, and then went out looking at other homes and found this one, made an offer, which was accepted in a day, and then cancelled the offer we had made on the other house and purchased this one.

I recently went by that other house and it's still for sale.  Bank of America had an offer in hand, had buyers who were willing to make the deal happen at the price the bank wanted, and yet they couldn't get the paperwork completed, because they really didn't care.  What difference did this little house make in the total operations of their bank?  None.  Nor did the concerns we expressed about getting the deal done in time.  I feel sorry for the people who owned the house, who have probably now entered into foreclosure, but I don't feel sorry for the agent, who was just as as unhelpful as the bank, or for Bank of America.

We would have bought that house, wanted to buy that house, but Bank of America ultimately didn't really care enough about selling it to actually do anything.

UPDATE: My real estate agent just looked up this house and he said that it is showing a sale pending, and the price is $30,000 less than what we had offered.