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.

An Ode To Derek Jeter

Tonight Derek Jeter will play his last game at Yankee Stadium, or at least he will if it doesn't get rained out.  If we still lived on the East coast we would probably have tried to be there, or at least would have gone during this homestand.  I'm not really a fan of the "farewell" tour with every team giving him presents and things, and really hope this doesn't become a regular thing.  If it does, my question is who qualifies for it?  What if one team gives a player a gift but another team doesn't?  How would that work?  But that's off topic.

There has been a lot of conversation in the past week from two different camps.  The first are those who are praising Jeter and making him out to be the greatest Yankee ever.  He is not.  If we have a Mount Rushmore of Yankees (which would be 4 people), he's not on it.  He is easily in the top ten, but he is not number one.  This is not a knock on Jeter, because on many teams he would be the greatest, but when you have to compete against Ruth and Gehrig and DiMaggio just to start, it's tough to get to the top.  So let's lay off that side for a while.

The other side is trying to denigrate him all together, and say that he's not that great at all, and I'm looking at you Keith Olbermann.  There are also some saying that without "the tour" that the Yankees would have made the playoffs.  That by continuing to play Jeter every day at shortstop at age 40 and also continue to bat him second that he cost them some runs, and thus some games.  And then they claim that he should have either removed himself from the line-up or asked to bat lower "for the good of the team."

There are many problems with that argument.  The first is who Jeter is.  He is a competitor, and he has said and continues to say that he thinks he is the best person to be out there, that he brings more to the game than whoever would replace him.  So knowing that, we know he's not going to do that. Second, the manager gets paid lots of money to make these decisions, so it should be up to Girardi to do what needs to be done "for the good of the team" not the player.  And for those who bring up Gehrig removing himself, remember that he could not physically continue to play, and if I remember correctly never played again once he did take himself out.  And speaking of Gehrig, what happened when Wally Pipp took himself out of one game?

And please don't bring up WAR to me, which is wins over replacement.  What this seeks to measure is how many wins a play generates over the average player if he were replaced.  But here is my problem, these numbers never pass the sniff test.  One year, according to WAR, Jeter was the second worst player in the league and the worst player was Manny Ramirez.  Not when he was with the Dodgers, but during his hugely productive years with the Sawx.  Jeter and Ramirez the two worst players in the league?  The stat may say it, but I know that every GM in the league would have taken them if they could have them.

But here is the main problem.  Here are three batting lines from the Yankees this year:
BA        OBP       SLG       OPS
.253     .301      .309      .611
.176     .217      .213      .430
.155     .224      .279      .503

Now in hearing people talk about how much Jeter is hurting the Yankees, you might think that one of the bottom two lines would be Jeter.  But they are not.  Jeter's is the first line, and the other two belong to Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan, the two people who would probably play shortstop if Jeter wasn't there.  Now these are not normal Jeter numbers, but they are a lot more impressive then his replacements.  Drew and Ryan would have been better with the glove, but the runs they saved on defense more than would have been given up by the runs they would not generate on offense.

Should Jeter have been moved out of the number two spot?  Yes, he probably should have been batting 7th or so.  But who would have batted in his place?  The problem is we had 6-7 guys in the line-up who should have been batting at the bottom on the line-up.  The entire line-up did not produce this year.  There are only two regular starters on the entire team who batted over .280 for the season. Two!  And those are Ichiro, who batted .284, and Cervelli, who is our back-up catcher, who hit .285.

When Jeter went 0-28 and everyone was bashing him, no one else on the team was hitting either. Gardner also went 0-28 from the lead-off spot right around the same time, and no one was yelling about him hurting the team, and that he should be benched or put lower in the batting order.  Instead it was Jeter's fault.

Should Jeter have retired last year?  Probably, but he didn't want to end his career on an injury, just like Marianno didn't, and so he played.  And I for one am glad he did because my daughters are old enough to realize what this means and will curl up on the couch with me tonight as we see the greatest Yankee of my generation, no offense to Mo, hang them up.

Is he the greatest Yankee of all time?  No.  But when his name is included on the lists of those who are, that is more than enough for any player.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiving Yourself

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 15:11-32:

Some of you have already heard this story before, but when I was growing up there was a kid who attended my elementary school whose name was Paul, although we called him Pauline, and we hounded him unmercilessly.  I don’t know why I did it, maybe because everyone else was, or maybe because, and this will come as a surprise because of my incredible athletic build, but maybe I did it so that I could eliminate some of the teasing I received.  But whatever the reason I teased him, or to be honest, bullied him right along with everyone else for being different, for not being a real boy.  Now I don’t know whether Paul was gay or not, although I strongly suspect that he was, and knowing the elevated rate at which gay and lesbian teenagers commit suicide, I wonder if it made it.  But today as we talk about forgiving ourselves, this is one of the things that I carry around with me that I can’t let go of even nearly 30 years later

Most of us have something like that we carry around, that not only might we need to receive forgiveness from someone else, but that we also need to forgive ourselves.  Comedian Bill Crystal recounts that the last words he ever said to his father to shut-up, and his father’s last words to him were “don’t you ever say that to me again.”  Little did either of them know that Crystal’s father would have a heart attack and die that night.  How do you let go of that?  Or perhaps it’s guilt for what we did or didn’t do.  Joe lost his 6 year-old son in a household accident which he was unable to prevent, even though he was there, and he is wracked with guilt and grief especially remembering his son crying out his last word of “Daddy!”  and he is obsessed with the what ifs. How do we forgive ourselves for the guilt that we carry around?  Or really more to the point, how do we claim the forgiveness that God has offered to us?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cokesbury Just Doesn't Get It

Cokesbury, who is the publishing house and the bookstore for the United Methodist Church, continues to loose market share and to struggle financially.  Several years ago they closed all their stores in order to remain viable.  They then hired sales reps to cover the territories, although there is no one to cover New Mexico, because I guess we just don't matter.  But that is really a secondary issue.

The bigger issue is that the don't seem to understand the reality of most churches.  We are working on our stewardship campaign and purchased a program from Cokesbury.  As part of this program, they want everyone in the church to use a daily devotional during the four weeks of the campaign.  That is great, and my congregation would probably be open to it because I talk with them constantly about doing daily Bible readings and provide them the resources to do so.

But, the devotional they want us to use cost nearly $7 a piece, which is going to run me close to $600 to get one out to our active families.  We could subscribe to an email of the same material, but that is $4 per email address, not a dramatic savings.  I know sometimes you have to spend money in order to get money, but I honestly cannot justify that expense.  And here is the kicker for me.

I get catalogs from lots of different vendors besides for Cokesbury, and I know that I can buy other devotionals for less than a $1 a piece.  Are they as "nice" as the ones Cokesbury sells?  In quality of printing, paper, etc., no. But in terms of theology and message they are just as good, and for something that will only be used once for a month, they don't have to withstand the test of time.

I like Cokesbury.  I want to shop at Cokesbury and I do when I can.  But they don't seem to understand the reality of the small to medium sized church and the budgetary constraints we face.  I can afford something in the $100 range and slightly above, and would purchase it if available to help my congregation, and I do purchase them from other vendors, but I cannot afford and will not buy a similar item when it's going to cost me 4 to 5 times the same amount.

Until Cokesbury wakes up they are going to continue to lose my business to other vendors.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Forgiveness: Forgiveness in families

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 18:21-35:

Rev. Adam Hamilton says that there are six simple words that keep relationships together, and so we’re going to practice them here.  The first three are “I forgive you.”  Can we say that together?  Sometimes easier said than done, but here are harder words.   “Please forgive me.”  Let’s try that together.  And here is where I disagree with Hamilton; I think there are at least 9 words necessary, or maybe even twelve.  So let’s try this.  “I was wrong;”  “I am sorry,”  “please forgive me.”  Now let’s say it all together.  I wanted to practice here because it’s easier to practice it when there’s nothing on the line then saying it without practice when it really matters.  And as also keeps coming up, it’s easier to forgive someone else, especially those who are close to us, when we remember that we have also been offenders, that we need to seek forgiveness as much as we need to forgive, and when we remember that we approach forgiveness and those who have hurt us with humility, rather than with superiority like the unforgiving servant does towards the person who owes a debt to them.

Peter comes to Jesus and asks how often he must forgive someone in the church who sins against him. Peter then provides a possible answer, one that goes beyond the normal, and says “is seven times enough?”  But Jesus says, not just seven times, but 77 times, or, some manuscript texts say, 70 x 7 times, which is to say forgive approaching an infinite amount of times, and then Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant, in which a man is forgiven by his king a debt of 10,000 talents, but is unwilling to forgive the debt owed to him of 100 denarii.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American makes about $179 dollars a day, which would be the modern equivalent of a denarii.  That means that a debt of 100 denarii is equal to a debt of $17,900.  That is what the servant is unwilling to forgive.   A talent is equal to 6,000 denarii, or 16 ½ years labor, if you were working every day.  Thus one denarii is equal to 1 million, 74 thousand dollars and 10,000 talents, the debt that is forgiven, is equal to 10 billion 740 million.  Now I don’t know about all of you, but it would take me a long time to pay off a debt of nearly 11 billion dollars, and you are going to have to give me a massive raise.

Protecting the Shield: NFL FAIL

As by now most people who even just follow the news, even if they know nothing about football, are aware that TMZ released a video yesterday showing Ray Rice punching his then fiancee twice in the face, then unceremoniously dumping her outside the elevator, where he also kicks her.  In response to this, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.  I know I am just one more commentator jumping on the bandwagon on commenting, but commenting I am.

My first question is did this surprise anyone?  I know the violence was shocking, but we had already seen video from outside the elevator which is what started this whole thing, so we already knew something violent had happened.  This did potentially contradict maybe what Rice had told the NFL and the Ravens, but maybe not depending on who is saying what, which is where the biggest problem lies for both of those entities.  Now people are asking the eternal question, "what did they know and when did they know it."

The NFL is saying that they never saw the video, that the state police wouldn't turn it over.  Problem is the state police say that is not true because they didn't have the video, it was with the local police. The NFL has said they had all the information the prosecutor had, which presumably would also include the video.  Now if the prosecutor didn't have the video, then we might have criminal action against them, or someone else if they were pressured not to pursue anything against Rice by powers of interest.

The bigger problem with the NFL's story, first is that they have really good investigators and lots of money.  Do we honestly believe that TMZ has more power and pull to get this video then the NFL does?  Hardly.  So then either they saw the video, and did nothing, or they didn't pursue it at all because they wanted to remain willfully ignorant, which for me is just as bad.  But, Chris Mortensen of ESPN is saying that he talked with sources inside the league office when this first happened who told him what was on the video and what they told him matched what we saw yesterday.  Sports Illustrated is also standing by an earlier story that they the league office had seen the video.  That means that someone in the office had to have seen it, and then it doesn't matter if Goodell saw it or not.

Goodell also sent a crony out to defend his original two game suspension of Rice to Mike and Mike on ESPN.  During that interview, Adolpho Burch was given two different opportunities to say that they never saw any other video, and he refused to do so, and danced around not being able to talk about what evidence they did or did not have.  And the NFL and the Ravens both refused to send anyone to talk with ESPN yesterday or today.  They are too busy trying to figure out what to say, but as former PR person, I can say they better come and say something very soon, because at the moment their silence is deafening.

It is very clear that the NFL did not know what to do with this situation.  Just as a starter they interviewed Janay Rice about the incident with Ray Rice sitting next to her.  What did they expect her to say?  This followed the Ravens also running both of them out for a press conference so that both of them could express their remorse, and the Ravens even tweeted out Janay's remorse for her "role" in the situation and it remained on their twitter page until yesterday.  Her response is not unusual for a battered woman, if for no other reason then she is trying to protect his income stream, and it's also possible that she was threatened with worse if she didn't.   The NFL should have stopped this, should have done something different, and they didn't, and allowing Rice's fiancee to say basically I'm sorry my face got in front of his fist, only exacerbates everything.

As for the Ravens, their treatment of Rice and defense of him should not be surprising.  After all this is the team that just unveiled a statue of Ray Lewis, who was accused of murdering of two men following a fight.  Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice in the case in return for his testimony against the two other defendants.  They were later acquitted, but some of that is undoubtedly because some evidence was destroyed and they initially lied to the police (which is what Lewis plead guilty to).  And yet in the midst of this, the Ravens defended and protected Lewis.  (As an aside, last night Lewis was interviewed and he said you can't compare his story with that of Rice, to which I said, "absolutely, in your case two people ended up dead.")  Lewis has long maintained his innocence and said he would like those guilty to be caught, which may be true, but if he hadn't lied to start maybe the police would have been able to solve the case.

I really hope that this might be a watershed for domestic abuse.  That the league might begin to take this seriously, as they now have a video to go with the idea, and video matters.  There is a reason why we still travel by boat, but we don't by blimp, and that is because we have video of the Hindenburg burning up, even though few people comparatively were killed, but we don't have a video of the Titanic or Lusitania sinking.  Does this put a face to domestic violence?  I hope so, and yet also have great concerns for the victim in this incidence.

Janay has put out a statement in opposition to the release of the video, which is understandable because it victimizes her again, because now we all can see what happened.  She also defends her husband once again, which is also understandable because they have now lost their source of income, and it really makes me worry for her safety.  Is Rice going to blame her for all this and attack again? Quite possibly.

Here is the long and short of it.  Roger Goodell has to go.  The owners have to remove him, because I don't think this is going to go away, first of all.  Second, he has lost his moral authority, because either he saw the video and did nothing, or he chose not to go out and see the video so that he could do nothing.  Either way he has to go, as does the GM of the Ravens, at the very least.  The fact that ESPN ran Keith Olbermann's commentary saying the same thing twice in the space of 30 minutes on Sportscenter last night (and perhaps more, I turned it off) says that this is going to be a rising clamor, and the NFL better pay attention this time, because the bottom line really is at stake.

Many of the commentators on ESPN talked about being fathers and what would they do if this was their daughter.  We talked with our daughters again last night to never stay with anyone who hits them, regardless of what they say, that they are to leave, and we have told them all this before, and will continue to tell them as they get older and approaching dating.  But it's not just about the girls and women, it's also about the boys and the men.  This should not rest entirely on our women to stop. So dads, tell your sons that it is not okay to hit women (nor is it okay to hit men either), tell them what will happen if they do, and set the example to them by not hitting any women as well.

Finally, we have been talking about forgiveness the past few weeks in worship.  But let me reiterate again, forgiveness does not meaning condoning actions or enabling actions and it does not mean reconciliation.  No one has the right to hurt you or abuse you.  If you are being abused, you need to get out.  You can forgive later, but for now protect yourself.

If you need, please call the national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Here is the United Methodist statement on Family Violence and Abuse:

"We recognize that family violence and abuse in all its forms -- verbal, psychological, physical, sexual -- is detrimental to the covenant of the human community.  We encourage the church to provide a safe environment, counsel, and support to the victim.  While we deplore the actions of the abuser, we affirm that person to be in need of God's redeeming love."