Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Forgiveness: Steps of Forgiveness

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 5:21-24:

Due to overcrowding in the prisons in New Mexico in the 1970s, the department of corrections took some of the adults and put them at the New Mexico School of Boys in Springer, to act as mentors to the youth who were there.  One of those inmates was John Burton, and in 1976 he escaped from the school and stole a car in an attempt to get away.  He was pulled over quickly by a state trooper for speeding, although the trooper did not yet know he was an escaped convict.  A struggle ensued and Burton was able to take away the officer’s gun, and take him prison, escaping to a local ranch to the west of town, where he held that family hostage as well.  A standoff ensued, but Burton was able to escape on foot and made his way to another farm, where he hid out in the barn.  When the owner of the ranch went out into the barn in the morning, he encountered Burton hold the officer’s .357 and together they walked into the house, where a young girl was sitting.  That young girl was Beth Rose.  Burton told her and her father that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them rather than being caught and go back to prison.

Burton had them get into their truck, with Beth’s father driving, Beth in the middle and Burton sitting in the passenger seat with the gun pointed at them.  Burton kept changing his mind about where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do with them.  Beth says her father kept cool the entire time, trying to reason with Burton and giving him suggestions of where Burton could leave them so he could get away.  He also tried to give Beth little glances and assurances that everything was going to be okay.  They drove all over that day, until ending up in Albuquerque that evening, where Burton, for some reason, abruptly let them go, and ended up kidnapping a cab driver.  Several days later Burton shot himself during a showdown with police near Melrose, New Mexico, but Burton survived and was taken into custody and then sentenced to time in a federal prison in Arizona. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Forgiveness: Carrying Stones

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 6:27-42:

On Monday, October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts entered into a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania carrying several weapons and 600 rounds of ammunition, and most of you know the rest of the story.  It was the third school shooting that took place that week, and the sense of shock that struck us all in that moment was not just of the five little girls who lost their lives and the 5 others who were wounded, but the shock was also about how the Amish community and the parents of the victims responded to this senseless act of violence.  The idea of forgiveness in the immediate aftermath came to be one of, if not the, dominating storyline of this tragedy.  Because on the same day of the shooting, members of the community, including relatives of the victims went to see Roberts widow and his children to tell them that they forgave him and them for what had happened.  They attended R oberts funeral and burial at Georgetown United Methodist Church, and when a fund was established to help support the girls and their families, a similar fund was also set up for Roberts family and the members of the trust who oversaw the disbursement of the funds, most of whom were Amish, made sure that Roberts family was also taken care of.  This was not what people expected, because this was not what people normally saw nor what they thought they would do in the wake of such a tragedy.

Now here is some good news.  Our desire to seek revenge, to be filled with anger and hatred, to want to get even with someone who wrongs us, has been programmed into us by evolution; it is part of who we are.  But here is the other good news.  Forgiveness is also part of our evolutionary programming, the desire to forgive, to heal, to reconcile and to move past tragedy are just as much a part of who we are as our desire for revenge is.  In fact, in every animal that has been studied except for one, they have demonstrated acts of forgiveness, conciliation and reconciliation.  The one animal that doesn’t do this is the house cat, and for those who own cats, and those who dislike cats, this should not come as a surprise.  The reason why it is found in other animals, including humans, is because we live in community, and to stay in community which is necessary if we are to survive we have to have the ability to forgive wrongs.  The simple fact is, we forgive every single day, even if we don’t know that we are doing it, because if we clung to every hurt that is given to us, we wouldn’t be able to go on.  But on the flip side of that we also hang on to a lot of those hurts for many reasons, and I’ll be honest and say that I am really good at holding grudges and not letting go of things, and I’m willing to bet, if we bet but we are Methodists are opposed to gambling, but if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to be that that is true for you as well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Standing Up and Speaking Out

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 37:1-28:

In the high school I attended, athletics reigned supreme.  To give you a small sample, our football and basketball teams played for the state championship in two of my four years, our soccer and golf teams won the state championship, and our softball team won several, and the level of play was high.  One of the members of our basketball and track team could dunk the basketball after beginning his jump at the top of the key, and he went on to the University of Arizona. The quarterback who graduated the year before I did, went on to become the starting quarterback for Ohio State, and the quarterback who graduated the same year I did went to play for Utah.  Our kicker was all-American, and two people from my graduating class of 336 played in the NFL.  And, as you might guess, when athletics rule supreme, the players who play them also rule supreme.  Jocks were the BMOC’s, the big men on campus, looked up to by many, supported, lauded and favored by much of the administration and some of the teachers.  Allowed to do things and get away with things that other students couldn’t and administrators often turned a blind eye to how some of them treated other students, causing them to be loathed or even hated for the special treatment they received.  I was thinking of that this week as I pondered the beginning of another school year, and as we continually hear stories about bullying and other inappropriate behaviors that take place at school, and as I thought about this story of Joseph that we just heard.

In Numbers we read that the sins of the father will be passed onto the third and fourth generations.  And while we could argue about that, or perhaps argue about what that really means, we do see those sins continuing through the Abrahamic line, into this the third generation from Abraham.  There is a DNA in their behaviors that continues to repeat itself, and so they keep making the same mistakes, although it also allows them to keep doing some things well.  The same thing happens in our families and in other organizations as well.  Churches and other social organizations, like schools, will develop a certain DNA, and if you track through the history of a church you will see the same things happening over and over again.  And those things will continue happening until someone steps up and stops it.  Until someone says enough is enough and begins to move things in a different direction, or at the very least says this is wrong, the same things will repeat themselves over and over again.  And that certainly is happening with Jacob’s family.

Jacob was the favored son of his mother Rebekah, while his father Isaac, favored his older brother Esau.  Plotting together with his mother, Jacob is able to steal both Esau’s birthright and also the blessing due to him as the first born son, causing Esau to hate Jacob and to plot to kill him.  Sounding familiar?  Isaac too was the favored son, at the very least by his mother, who plots to have the older son Ishmael expelled from the household so that only Isaac will inherit from his father, even though he is the second born son.  And while we don’t know anything about what Ishmael things about all of this, we might surmise that he has some hate in him for his brother, and his people the Ishmaelites become contenders with the Israelites and also play a part at the end of this story.

Death by Suicide

Yesterday we learned of the loss of Robin Williams, who apparently took his own life after battling severe depression.  It's somewhat of a cliche, but also one that is often true, that those who laugh the most on the outside, or cause others to laugh, are hiding and covering for deeper pains, and that appears to be true for Williams as well.  For me his most memorable performances are not the ones he is perhaps best known for, but instead those like The World According to Garp or One Hour Photo, which showed that deeper, darker, vulnerable side.  As comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted yesterday, "We lose at least one great comic to suicide or ODs every year. Our jobs are to communicate, but we seem to not know how to ask for help."

There is enormous stigma that comes with suicide.  Stigma laid on the victim and on the families who are left behind.  There are also enormous questions that follow in the wake, and many things with which to deal.  I can still remember my pastoral care professor in seminary talking about having to deal with the giant "FU" that suicide victims often send out to the world.

And yet we must also recognize that most, if not all, victims of suicide are also dealing with and struggling with mental illness in many different forms.  And so while as we would not castigate someone who died from cancer, we should also not castigate someone who dies from suicide.  It is a tremendous loss and so we should take the time to talk about mental illness, to pull it from behind the curtain of shame and put it into the light so that we can actually deal with and work to get people the help they need.

Here is the official statement from the United Methodist Church on suicide:

We believe that suicide is not the way a human life should end. Often suicide is the result of untreated depression, or untreated pain and suffering. The church has an obligation to see that all persons have access to needed pastoral and medical care and therapy in those circumstances that lead to loss of self-worth, suicidal despair, and/or the desire to seek physician-assisted suicide. We encourage the church to provide education to address the biblical, theological, social, and ethical issues related to death and dying, including suicide. United Methodist theological seminary courses should also focus on issues of death and dying, including suicide.

A Christian perspective on suicide begins with an affirmation of faith that nothing, including suicide, separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Therefore, we deplore the condemnation of people who complete suicide, and we consider unjust the stigma that so often falls on surviving family and friends.

We encourage pastors and faith communities to address this issue through preaching and teaching. We urge pastors and faith communities to provide pastoral care to those at risk, survivors, and their families, and to those families who have lost loved ones to suicide, seeking always to remove the oppressive stigma around suicide. The Church opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wrestling with God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Genesis 32:22-31:

There something important and powerful about a name.  Names have meanings and we associate certain things with a name, including such things as ethnicity or nationality, or age, as name popularity comes and goes, and sometimes just intangible things.  When I hear the name Jenny or Steve, I just imagine a certain type of person in my head.  Have you ever met someone and when you found out there name, you thought either a, that it sounds perfect for them, or b, that the name didn’t seem to match them at all?  Parents know that there is a certain amount of pressure that comes with picking out the right name for a baby, as you don’t want to give your child the wrong name.  When Linda was pregnant with Samantha, we didn’t know if she was going to be a boy or a girl, and while we had a girls name picked out, we didn’t have a boys name set, and so I proposed that we consider naming them after the first Yankee that we saw hit a homerun at the first Yankee game we attended after we found out Linda was pregnant, which just happened to be against the Chicago Cubs.
© Scott Stantis 

In the first inning, Gary Sheffield hit what Gary and  nearly everyone in the stadium thought was a homerun, and we thought well Gary’s not bad.  But as I said nearly everyone thought it was a homerun, but the one person who counts, which is the umpire, didn’t and so Gary was out.  In the fourth inning,, Derek Jeter came up with the basis loaded, and we thought how great would this be.  Derek had never hit a career grandslam, and as a Yankee fan this was our opportunity to name our potential son after the greatest Yankee of my generation, and one of the greatest of all time, and plus we could use either Derek or Jeter as a name, but he simply flew out.  Then in the seventh inning, Hideki Matsui, our hard hitting Japanese right fielder came up, and sure enough he hit one out, and as soon as it was clear it was going to be a homerun, Linda turned to me and said “we are not naming our son Hideki,” and so my dreams of a Yankee name were out.  There is something powerful about a name.  They often give meaning and importance, especially in the Bible.

When we looked at the story of Hagar, I remarked that neither Abraham nor Sarah ever used Hagar’s name because to do so would give her position and place, and that Hagar is the only person in the Bible to name God.  And of course they also represent people whose names are changed with changing circumstances.  Abraham starts out as Abram, which means exalted father, and then is changed to Abraham, which means father of many, or father of nations.  His wife sarai’s name is often said to be princess, although there is also a meaning of controlling or contentious, which certainly matches her personality better, but then it is changed to Sarah, which means, mother of nations, but the name change does not always necessarily indicate a change in personality or character as Sarah demonstrates and the same could be said of today’s passage.