Monday, December 28, 2015

Temple Tossed

Here is the sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 2:41-52:

Today, and for the next few weeks we are going to find ourselves in a sort of time-warp.  We celebrated Jesus’ birth just two days ago, and yet we find him today at the age of twelve, then next week we jump back to when he was somewhere around the age of two, and then the week after that we jump ahead to the time when he is about 30 years old.  I don’t know if the group who puts together the lectionary readings really thought about the reality of today’s passage in regards to the holidays, but it’s totally appropriate because it starts with Jesus’ family going to Jerusalem for Passover, one of the high holies, when Jerusalem and the Temple would be packed with people and everything would be a little crazy, and then everyone went home and just three days later everything is calm and quiet again.  There is plenty of space for Jesus to be in the Temple wiling away the days.  The same is true for the church, on this Sunday which is traditionally one of the lowest attended worship services for the year, all the guests we had for Christmas Eve have gone home, or are close to going home, everything has turned back to normal, there’s plenty of seating available and it’s a little quiet again.

This is a passage that is very unusual for the gospels, especially for Luke’s gospel.  First because this story makes no sense in relation to Luke’s birth narrative which precedes it.  After all, it is in Luke’s narrative that Mary is visited by an angel and told that the child she will carry is special, and Mary responds by giving us the magnificat, her beautiful poetic response.  It is in Luke’s gospel that John the Baptist, who has his own miraculous conception story, is a cousin of Jesus who leaps in his mother’s womb when his mother Elizabeth and Mary meet.  It is in Luke’s narrative that the shepherds are sent to Bethlehem by an angel and come to pay homage to the child in a manger, and we are told “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.”  And it is in Luke’s narrative that when Joseph and Mary present Jesus at the Temple shortly after his birth and make an offering for their first born son that Anna and Simeon both make claims about who Jesus is and what he means to Israel.  And yet if we just read today’s passage none of this seems to have taken place, or if they did then Mary and Joseph have totally forgotten about them after only twelve years, which seems very unlikely.  Mary even refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father.   This story just simply doesn’t match up with what has come before it.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Gabriel's Message

Here is my Christmas Eve sermon.  The text was Luke 2:1-20:

I had a really hard time coming up with what I was going to say for this message.  Normally I have something roughly planned out for Christmas Eve by the time we hit Halloween, but this year nothing was coming to me and as we got closer and closer I finally did the smart thing and asked my wife what she thought I should preach on.  She asked what I had covered the past two years, see she’s not paying attention either, and I said two years ago I had talked about Joseph and the importance that people play in each other’s lives, and last year I had talked about the shepherds and the fact that they didn’t come up with excuses about why they couldn’t go see the baby, but instead followed God’s commands.  She said that it seemed like I had a little theme going, even if I hadn’t planned it, of covering the characters in the Christmas story and so she thought I should preach on Mary.  So following her advice, I decided to preach on the angels.  I don’t think I’m going to get a very good present this year.
Angels are a familiar part of the Christmas story.  There is the archangel Gabriel who makes first makes the announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth about the coming birth of John the Baptist, and then makes the announcement to Mary that she will bear a child.  There are the angels who make the announcement to the shepherds in the fields, and we cannot forget angel second class, Clarence Odbody, in Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life.  I think my favorite portrayal of an angel is not in a Christmas story, but instead was done by John Travolta who portrayed that archangel Michael, in the movie of the same name.  A smoking, hard drinking, hard living, slob, with a rather colorful vocabulary.  Someone no one would ever believe was an angel if it weren’t for the two wings growing out of his back.  And you know that John Travolta is a really good actor when he, a scientologist, can play the leading messenger for God.

We actually don’t know very much about angels from the Bible.  Most of what people think about them, or think they know about them, comes from extra-biblical sources, some of them quite modern, and we could talk about them but then we’d have to end up talking about how many angels can dance on the head of a pine.  But that is not to say that angels aren’t found in scripture because they are.  The first time we hear of an angel is after Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, the entrance is guarded by cherubim who has a flaming sword, think of it as the world’s first light saber.  The cherubim are winged creatures who act sort of as guardians, and if you remember Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark correctly, they are the images formed onto the top of the ark of the covenant.  Later we will also hear about seraphim, who are winged creatures said to be found guarding God’s seat inside the Temple in the Holy of Holies.  If I remember correctly, it’s the cherubim that hang from the ceiling and the seraphim that come up from the floor, or maybe it’s reversed, I often get it wrong.  But while they are angelic like creatures, outside of the wings, these are not really angels as we typically understand them or think of them, or as they are found in the rest of scripture.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Blue Christmas: Love Never Ends

This is the sermon I preached for our Blue Christmas Service.  The scripture readings were Isaiah 9:2-7 and 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8, 13:

Mourning at Christmas is difficult.  18 years ago I attended the funeral for my uncle on Christmas Eve.  Mourning at Christmas is different than mourning at other times of the year, whether it’s mourning the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, the loss of a job, whatever it might be, it’s hard because we are told that’s it the most wonderful time of the year.  We’re supposed to be holy and jolly and merry, and many of us aren’t. Then people wonder where our Christmas spirit is, wonder why we can’t just get past it, and wonder why we can’t just try to be happy at least for this season.  They ask those questions because unless you’ve been there, unless you’ve been mourning at Christmas, it’s hard to understand.  But it’s also because they don’t understand Christmas that they ask these things of us, because they think that Christmas is supposed to be about the bright and happy things, rather than about the dark and mournful things.  But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of Christmas.  If we want to truly seek to keep Christ in Christmas, if Jesus is the reason for the season, then we need to understand that God did not send Jesus because everything was great.  If everything was great we wouldn’t need Christ.  The themes of Advent, which is the season leading up to Christmas, are peace, hope, joy and love.  Again things you don’t need when things are great, but things we need when things are looking dark and bleak.
The first passage we heard from tonight was from the prophet Isaiah, who makes his prophetic statement that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.”  Isaiah says this because he is prophesying at a time of deep turmoil and conflict for Israel, which leads, eventually, to the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrian Empire.  And so Isaiah tells the people, tells us that a light will come which will shatter the darkness, a child will be born from the line of David who will bring endless peace, not because there is peace, but because we need peace, and we need hope, and we need joy, and we need love, and we need light in our darkness.

We don’t actually know when Jesus was born, and there are lots of reasons why December 25, was chosen, but one of them was because under the Julian calendar, it was the winter solstice, which meant that every night from the celebration of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, would start getting shorter, and every day there would be a little more light, another indication that the darkness could not overcome the light.  That is why we hold this service today, on the longest night of the year, because from here until the middle of June the light will get more and more.  We might go to sleep tonight covered in darkness, maybe even in the dark night of the soul, but the light cannot overcome the darkness, for those who have walked in the darkness have seen a great light.  And here is what those of us who have been in the darkness know, which is something all of us, and that is that light is most necessary in the darkness, and that it only takes a little bit of light to overcome the darkness.  Later when we sing silent night, and light our candles, our light will overcome the darkness that surrounds us.  It might not feel like the darkness will ever dissipate, or that anything can overcome it, but the promise given to us is that we are never alone, that God is always with us, that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, whatever that shadow may represent, that the light of Christ shines for us and God is with us because God loves us.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jesus' Wish List

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Hebrews 10:5-10:

Several years ago, Jimmy Kimmel asked the viewers of his late night show to prank their children and to tell them they could open one present they had gotten for Christmas a few weeks early, but rather than giving them something they wanted, to instead give them something they wouldn’t want.  People did and posted it on YouTube with the message “hey Jimmy Kimmel, I gave my kids a terrible present.”  Take a look at some of these gifts…   I can’t decide whether Jimmy Kimmel is a genius in exposing some of our thoughts about Christmas or if instead he is going straight to hell.  I think the kids subjected to this, especially the little boy who thinks it’s the worst Christmas ever, definitely are going with the second of the options.  We find it funny not only because of the reactions from the kids, but the sort of uncomfortableness we feel that this is what Christmas is, and what it seems to be about, getting presents.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Advent, concludes our sermon series which has actually been entitled Christmas is Not Your Birthday.  We act like it’s our birthday, and I’m not obviously talking about if December 25th is your actual birthday.  Be we think it’s about giving gifts and getting gifts, especially for kids, and especially for stores.  When people talk about rethinking Christmas and perhaps shopping less, one of the things that comes up is that we are told that stores are dependent upon Christmas sales for their very existence.  That’s one of the reasons black Friday is named what it is, because it’s the first time that many of them have gone into the black.  But is that really our duty and obligation as Christians, to make sure that we shop enough, go into debt enough, as they say to buy presents we don’t need with money we don’t have, in order to keep the economy going?

Now this year I haven’t really talked about practicing Christmas differently as I have in years past, and perhaps that is the reason that this year no one has accused me of not liking Christmas, of wanting to suck all the fun out of Christmas as people have done in year’s past.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  I love Christmas, and I believe we can love Christmas, and everything that goes along with it, including giving and getting gifts, and still think that perhaps we are missing something, that maybe there could be something which could connect us to the season just a little bit more.  Or, as the Grinch comes to realize, “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas, perhaps, means just a little bit more.” And so today we conclude our Advent sermon series by looking at Jesus’ wish list.  Which might be part of what we can get out of Jimmy Kimmel torturing young children for our amusement, is that we ask children and each other what they want for Christmas.  But even when we claim that we want to keep Christ in Christmas and that Jesus is the reason for the season, and that rhymes so it has to be true, have we ever actually asked the question “What does Jesus want for his birthday?”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 Doublespeak

One of the things we love to do is to make up words and phrases that cover up harsh realities.  So, for example, people don't die, they pass away, no one is laid off or fired, they are downsized, phased out or we "eliminate redundancies in the human services area."

This week Ted Cruz was talking about the need for the military, and what would happen if he were commander in chief, to carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion. The first part of the problem is the fact that the military doesn't carpet bomb. It is not US policy, nor is it needed with "strategic" and "smart" bombs.

But it is what Ted Cruz said about the results of carpet bombing that make it worse, and that is, in his words, that there is "inadvertent collateral casualties."  What he means by that is that when we indiscriminately bomb people, and even when it is targeted, that we kill innocent bystanders, not just those we seek to kill.  But that is not what he said, because he doesn't want people to hear that he is calling for widespread death and destruction of non-combatants (and yes I know these could be doublespeak too).

Ted Cruz calls himself a Christian and is also "pro-life" and so maybe that's why he can't just come out and talk about the fact that bombs kill people, but talking about "inadvertent collateral casualties" doesn't make it better. It just makes him dishonest.

And as we move closer to Christmas and the birth of Christ, whom we proclaim as the prince of peace, do we think that Christ's answer would be carpet bombing as long as we try and limit "inadvertent collateral casualties"?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pete Rose, Gambling and MLB Hypocrisy

Yesterday Pete Rose’s bid for reinstatement to Major League Baseball was denied by new commissioner Rob Manfred.  For those unfamiliar with the issue, Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader, was banned in 1989 for gambling on baseball, which is said to be the cardinal sin of baseball.  The first problem with this is that Rose was totally worked over by then commission Bart Giamatti.  According to Rose, and some investigative reporters, Rose agreed to sign a statement accepting a one-year ban from baseball, with no finding of fault, and then he would be reinstated at the end of the year.

But, during his press conference, Giamatti said Rose gambled on baseball and there was no agreement in place to limit the length of the suspension.  Giamatti then died 8 days later, and so Rose has been in perpetual limbo since then. As the ban went on Rose continued to deny that he had gambled on baseball, even though it’s pretty clear that he did, but he finally admitted it because he was told by numerous sources that if he did admit it, all would be forgiven and he would be allowed back into the game that he loved.  So he did, and the immediate response was “see we told you so, that’s why he can’t be allowed back in.”  MLB has given special permission for Rose to appear at official MLB activities, but only when it was useful to them (ie makes them money).

I honestly have no problem with Rose being banned, although I think it’s hugely hypocritical, which I’ll get to in a minute, my problem is that he is not allowed into the Hall of Fame.  The Hall has a rule which says that no one on the “permanently ineligible list” can be voted into the Hall.  That rule is not established by MLB but by the Hall itself.

What they need to decide is if they are going to be a shrine or a museum.  If they are going to be a shrine, and keep out all the “undesirables” then there are lots of current members that need to go. That includes Adrian “Cap” Anson who is largely responsible for creating the “gentleman’s agreement” which kept African-American players out of the game, or Ty Cobb, who was a rabid racist.  Those are just two of many that don’t belong in a “shrine.”

But if it’s a museum then they belong and Pete Rose also belongs, and how can you have one of the greatest players ever to play the game not included with the list of the greats.  Everyone knows how great he was and so it lowers everyone else included not having him there.  I think the easy solution is to leave him banned from MLB but have the Hall change their rules and put him in (getting the committee to actual vote for him is a whole other topic).

Now back to the hypocrisy.  The reason why gambling is the cardinal sin is because of the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which 8 players were accused of throwing the World Series, thus impacting the “integrity of the game.”  We’ll ignore the fact that no African-American players were allowed to play in the game at the time, and so how much integrity could they really have?  But, MLB also quickly overlooks the case of collusion in which the owners and managers of the league made an agreement not to sign free agents in order to keep salaries down.  The courts found that this took place from 1985-1987, although some speculate it was longer than that.

But what this meant is that teams did not go out and get players that could make their teams better, get players that might be able to get them into the playoffs and perhaps even to the World Series.  Which means, in fact, that the owners of the teams worked to fix the World Series for at least 3 years.  They didn’t throw it the way the White Sox allegedly did, but it worked out to the same because some teams were clearly kept from becoming better and thus becoming contenders (including my Yankees).  Many of those who were responsible for this will end up in the Hall.  Why are they not being permanently banned in order to protect the “integrity of the game”?

And finally, MLB is in deep in the online daily fantasy games, including being a part owner of DraftKings.  But at the same time they have forbidden any MLB players from participating in DraftKings, you know, “for the integrity of the game.”  So it’s okay for the owners and league to make money from gambling but not the players, and there is no integrity issues for the league on this because “it’s good for the game and drives up interest.”  Of course what they also say is that it’s not truly gambling, even though many states have now forbidden it because they consider it gambling, and they have forbidden the players to do because it’s gambling.

And to me fantasy gambling is an even greater threat to the game, because it’s not about who wins or loses, but about how players did.  So far there has been no proof that Rose ever bet against his team, but there is evidence he bet for his team.  The problem with the White Sox is that they bet against themselves.  But when everything comes down to the individual, it’s much easier to get one player to do something that can affect stats, to bet against themselves.  It might or might not hurt their team, depending on what it is they are doing, but could make gamblers lots and lots of money.

But don’t worry because MLB says this is okay, and they are making money off it, and we just have to overlook the hypocrisy of it all and take our animosity out on the person who truly deserves it, Pete Rose.

(And just to mix a little religion into the matter, thinking that Manfred would overturn it was like believing that Pope Clement VII was going to overturn the ruling of Pope Julius II that had allowed Henry VIII to marry Catherine of Aragon in the first place by giving him an annulment.  Popes don't like to overrule other popes because it makes them look like they were wrong, and so Manfred was not going to essentially overrule the decisions of three other commissioners.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Scandalous Love

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Zephaniah 3:14-20:

Scandalous is defined as causing scandal or shocking.  Most of us could probably tell a story of a scandalous love, of a love that wasn’t supposed to be, or wasn’t allowed to be.  We might start with the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet, perhaps of King Edward the VIII who abdicated the English throne to marry the American Wallis Simpson, or perhaps its Richard Loving, a white man, who married Mildred Jeter, a black woman, whose arrest for getting married made it to the Supreme Court which struck down anti-miscegenation laws.  Or maybe Elizabeth Taylor and all of her husbands.  Or maybe it’s Tinni, a domesticated dog, and Sniffer, wild fox, who are the best of friends.  It’s Disney’s Fox and the Hound being played out in real life.  Even with centuries of breeding working against them, Tinni and sniffer are now inseparable when they are in the woods together.  A truly scandalous love.
Of course scripture too is full of scandalous loves.  There is David and Bathsheba, an affair which gets Bathsheba’s husband killed.  There is Ruth and Boaz, a marriage between an Israelite and Canaanite, something that just isn’t supposed to happen.  Then there is the story, probably not as well-known of Hosea and Gomer.  Hosea is one of the twelve Minor Prophets, minor in this case having nothing to do with importance but instead about the length of the collections of their prophecies.  Hosea is seeking to be faithful to God, and God tells him to go and marry Gomer, who is a prostitute.  In fact, God says to Hosea “Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress.”  There is something more than just scandalous about the relationship of Hosea and Gomer, because Gomer is the excluded one, the one people like down upon, the one no one wants to know, and certainly not the person people talk about in polite company, definitely not in church.

But why does God tell Hosea to marry that woman?  Because Gomer, Hosea’s unfaithful wife, represents the Israelites who are unfaithful to the things they are called to do, and yet in spite of all of that God loves them and wants to be in relationship with them.  Hosea is God in the relationship, faithful and true, and Gomer represents the Israelites, always being unfaithful and straying from the relationship.  Hosea says “the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”  I don’t really understand that last part, but I think it’s about liking fruit cake.  God is faithful, but the people stray.  A scandalous love.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Tire Deflationgate - Go Tell Roger Goodell

Several weeks ago when I got into my car in the morning, I received a warning on the dashboard that one of my tires was below pressure.  Now it just so happened that I had looked at the air pressure the day before and so I know that my tire had been at 30 psi.  But the next morning it was at 27 psi.

The reason I had checked it the day before is that I know that when it gets cold that air contracts, and thus I think I am disqualified from being an NFL executive, and so I wanted to make sure my tires were still at the right pressure.  That night just happened to be the first really cold night in Albuquerque, and during the course of it I lost 3 psi.  I did not rush right out and fill the tire up because I also knew that as the day warmed up, and as the tires warmed, that the air would expand and I would then be back at pressure.

Now I say that because "deflategate" is still taking place with the NFL going for an appeal sometime in later winter or early spring.  It is very clear from their initial report that they had no idea that air contracts in cold weather and expands in warm weather and so if you take temperatures inside and then outside you will get different readings.  They didn't know that even though they all live on the East coast where the temperature extremes are even greater then they are here in New Mexico, and thus they should all know.  Or perhaps their cars are always kept only in covered, and perhaps heated, garages and so they never have to deal with needing to put air in their tires.

All that is to continue to point out the stupidity of their punishment, let alone freaking about it in the first place, and if we want to talk about protecting the "integrity of the game" it seems we should be focusing much more on the officials then deflation of game balls.  Or we should have Goodell start conducting a $5 million investigation into every time we have to put air into our tires in the fall and winter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Muslims and Religious Freedom

For years we have been hearing all about how Christianity and Christians are under attack.  It might be true in some places, but it’s not true in the US.  The biggest problem is not understanding the distinct difference between being preferenced, which is what was taking place for years for Christians, and being persecuted.  But we have all heard about the cry for and need of religious liberty.  But, now the really truth about what they really wanted is coming out.

As most everyone is probably aware, Donald Trump has called for banning all Muslims from entering into the US, including those who are citizens.  This has followed on months of similar rhetoric, although not quite so extreme, not just from Trump but from the other Republican candidates as well about observing and being vigilant with Muslims, up to and including registering them and putting informers in the Mosques.

When these ideas were being promoted there was little if any objections from the right, the very same people who would flip if someone proposed anything even close to the same thing for Christians.  Which means they are not really concerned with religious liberty or freedom for all, but simply religious liberty for themselves, or people like them.

It’s like those who are using Hanukah as a celebration for religious freedom, when, as a story in the Washington Post pointed out, it should better be understood as freedom to force other people to worship the same way that you do.  That, of course, is not religious freedom, but religious tyranny and that is what those who regularly talk about religious “freedom” truly want is to be allowed to force everyone else to believe the same things they do.  It’s as we saw in Animal Farm, “everyone animal is equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Although the response has not been overwhelmingly opposed to Trump’s statement, when Cheney comes out and says you are wrong we at least know there is a line that can be crossed that will bring some rebuke.  Now the question is will the rebukes increase and will this by the straw that finally breaks the back of Trumps racist rhetoric.

* I originally put in the wrong Orwell title, and from the comment changed from 1984 to Animal Farm.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Giving Up on Perfect

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The scripture reading was Philippians 1:3-11:

Freedom from Want
by Norman Rockwell
This is one of Norman Rockwell’s most famous paintings, and it has been seen to sort of represent the perfect holiday gathering. Grandma and grandpa serving the turkey with the entire family gathered around the table.  It, along with much else that Rockwell had to paint, has become a symbol of a sort of lost time in America, except for the fact that these times never really existed.  This image is a fantasy. It’s not even an event that ever took place.  The woman serving the turkey is Rockwell’s cook and housecleaner, and Rockwell took a picture of her with the family turkey.  While her husband is in the picture, it is not the man next to her playing the role of the grandfather, he is the older man at the front left of the painting.  And none of them were ever sitting at one table at the same time.  He posed them by themselves in his studio and then took pictures to later use to compose the image he wanted.  Rockwell himself said that he didn’t paint what was, but instead what he hoped to be.

We have sanitized, idealized and idolized this image, just as we have done with Rockwell’s other paintings, that this is what things are supposed to look like.  This is what we are to strive for.  And if we don’t make it look like this then we are missing something, because surely others are having these types of holidays aren’t they?  And so we strive to have that perfect Christmas, and we strive and we strive and we strive, and yet we never quite get there, it’s always that allusive thing that’s just beyond our grasp, and so we simply say, “well next year, this is what we will do differently in order to make it perfect.”  We try and live into this perfect picture, this perfect world, this perfect ideal, but not only can it never be, it never was either.  And we’ve done the same thing with our story of the nativity as well, in order to sentimentalize it, we have removed it from reality.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Expect A Miracle

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Jeremiah 33:14-16:

Behold I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people.  A 32inch television for $75, an Xbox system for $299, ipad minis for only $199, Bose headphones for $75, kitchen appliances for just $9.99.  Does it get any better or more exciting than that?  And isn’t that what Christmas is all about, getting more good stuff and at such a great deal?  There is certainly an aspect of receiving at Christmas; after all it is the time we remember and celebrate the greatest gift the world has ever received.  But when did Christmas become like our birthday instead of Jesus’ birthday? The best sermon I ever heard was by the Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes, who was and is very influential in my ministry, and that day he was talking about the statement that it’s better to give then to receive.  But the series he was doing was about things we say, but don’t actually believe.  The same might be said about miracles.  We might say we believe in miracles, but we don’t act like we do.  We might pray for rain, but how many of us then start carrying around umbrellas?  We pray for miracles, but do we believe that a miracle will actually happen?
In the movie Grand Canyon, Mary McDonnell’s character finds a baby which has been abandoned under a bush, in talking with her husband, played by Kevin Kline, she tells him that her finding the baby was a miracle, which he discounts.  But she responds that maybe miracles are so rare that we don’t notice them when they occur.  While I love that movie, that line has always struck me as being wrong.  If something is really rare, those are the things we tend to notice? Why was it so exciting for the Cubs to make the playoffs, or for the Royals to win the World Series? Because it doesn’t happen all that often and so we pay attention.  So instead of miracles being rare things, maybe miracles are in fact so common that we no longer notice them, they are in fact so common they we no longer call them miracles, they are in fact so common that they pass us by every single day, maybe even the ones being done by us, but we never even notice they are there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

With Great Expectation

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Revelation 1:4-8:

When I was growing up, every Thanksgiving my brother and I would wake up and then go curl up with our parents in their bed and watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television.  Santa making his triumphant entry at the end was always the best part because that meant we could “officially” start listening to Christmas music, and so we would all climb out of bed and my mom would get out the Christmas records, and it’s nice with this group because we all know what a record is, and then we would begin getting ready for the trek to my grandmother’s house for dinner, although since it was Phoenix, it was not over the river or through the woods  Being curled up in my parents’ bed watching the parade is one of my fondest childhood memories.  In working to create our own family traditions, by tapping into the traditions that Linda and I had as children, we too watch the parade each year, and when we lived in Boston we twice went down to New York to see the parade in person.

But watching the parade live is very different than watching in on television.  When you are there in person, there is a lot of waiting.  First there is the fact that in order to get a good spot to watch you have to show up by at least 6:30 am in order stake out your location.  The parade itself doesn’t start until 9, and then doesn’t get to where we are sitting until 9:30.  That means we have at least three hours of sitting or standing on the streets of New York waiting for the parade to arrive.

Our first year the crowd was singing songs, and led by the police officer “guarding” the route, he had each side of the street chanting back and forth to each other.  It was a lot of fun.  Our second time there, the crowd was more subdued and there was no police officer to keep up under control, so we were left to our own devices to occupy our time.  But, of course, the longest period of time seems to be once you can see the beginning of the parade, you know its right there but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.  The anticipation and the excitement build and you know the end is in sight and yet it’s not there just yet, there is still a delay of time, and it is in times like this that we realize we have to hurry up and wait.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who are We Together?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a:

For the past two weeks we have been seeking to answer three simple questions posed by Bishop Reuben Job in his book by the same name.  Those questions are, who is God, who am I, and who are we together?  Of course those are anything but simple questions and a very brief recap, we started with what I thought was the hardest, and really is the building point, who is God.  What I said was that God is love, an idea of God found throughout scripture and everything else that we might think about God can build from that point.  Because God is love, that also means that God wants to be in relationship with the creation and most importantly, at least for us, God also wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us because we are all children of God, which led us into our second question, Who am I, and that is that we are children of God and we are made in the image of God.
We hear in Paul’s writings that when we clothe ourselves in Christ, that all of the distinctions that we like to think are important, or that society says are important, are blown away because of the freedom we achieve in Christ.  For Paul, and for us, this is best represented in the act of baptism, an outward symbol of our adoption by Christ, to recognize that we are sons and daughters of God.  When Martin Luther was feeling unsure about himself, when people were attacking him, or he had doubts, he said that he would stop and tell himself “remember you are baptized.”  When he did that he said he was reassured that he was a beloved child of God.  I suggested that we should do the same in our own lives, that our mantra should be, quoting from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, where God says to us “I have called you by name, and you are mine.”  But when we recognize and remember that we are children of God, we must also recognize and remember that everyone else is a child of God as well.

Bishop Job says “When we claim our full inheritance as children of God, then we are able to see clearly and to know in the depth of our being that when we look at another human being, we are looking at a sister or brother who is God’s beloved child, just as we are…. Our identity is not something we create but something that is given by the God who made us, leads us, sustains us, and loves us.  We can, however, give up our own identity and inheritance.  When we forget who we are and begin to see others as anything less than beloved children of God, we are giving up our identity and our inheritance as children of God.”  Because when we do that then we stop following Jesus’ example and injunction to love others as God has loved us.  And that too is part of baptism, because we don’t become Christians through baptism and then seek out a church to join. Instead, when we are baptized we become part of a community.  Baptism is an initiation not just into the faith, but also into the community, into the body of Christ.  To recognize that we are children of God and baptized members in the faith is to begin to answer the question who are we together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who am I?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Galatians 3:23-29:

Last week we began a new series looking at Bishop Reuben Job’s book Three Simple Questions, but as it turns out those questions are really anything but simple.  The questions are, who is God, who am I and finally who are we together.  Last week we tackled the first one, which is, at least in my mind, the hardest question which is who is God?  We looked at several different aspects of God, and twenty minutes greatly condensed we stated that understanding who God is is to know that God is always beyond our ability to completely understand, as well as to communicate that nature of God, and yet we can also say that God is love.  But what we also discussed is the fact that since God is love that God wants to be in relationship with the creation, and most importantly to be in relationship with each and every one of us.  For God so loved the world, John says, and God loves us and we should understand ourselves as sons and daughters of God, which is how we answer today’s question.  Who am I?  Who are you?  We are the sons and daughters of God, we are brothers and sisters in the faith, and since we’ve answered that so easily and so well, let’s all go home, right?  Well, it’s not quite that easy.  So we start back at the beginning again where we were last week.
In Genesis chapter 1, we are read “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Notice that in this version that man and woman are created at the same time, and this will be important when we come back to the passage from Galatians, and after God creates mankind God blessed them.  The word for God in Hebrew is אֱלֹהִ֤ים. The last letter of the word as we read it, which is actually the first letter of the word since Hebrew is read from right to left rather than from left to right, is that sort of n looking character, which is known as aleph.  It has no sound, so it’s not actually pronounced, but as the first letter of the alphabet holds a position of preeminence, and so perhaps says something to us about the mysteriousness and unutterability of God.  There is a wonderful Midrash which asks why the aleph is not the first letter of the Torah, that is the first letter of the Bible.  The story says that all of the letters came to God to say why they should be the first letter to be used, all except the aleph.  When God asked aleph why it didn’t give an argument in its favor, it said since it was silent it had nothing to say.  But to honor the letter’s humility, God honored it with being the first letter of the alphabet and to also take God’s name.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Three Simple Questions: Who is God?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Acts 17:22-31:

Several years ago when I was appointed here, we did a sermon series based on a book by Bishop Reuben Job entitled Three Simple Rules.  Bishop Job didn’t create those three rules, instead they came to us from John Wesley, the found of Methodism, and they were his general rules, the things we were supposed to do if we were to call ourselves Methodists, and those three things were to first do no harm, second to do good and third was to stay in love with God.  Several years after Bishop Job wrote that book, he wrote another book entitled Three Simple Questions.  These questions go to the heart of our faith even more than Wesley’s rules did, and those three simple questions are: Who is God?; Who am I?; and Who are We Together?  Now those three questions might be a lot of things, but I don’t think they are very simple, and yet we have to answer them in order not only to proclaim a faith, to have a set of beliefs, but also, more importantly, to live our faith because how we answer those questions should impact our actions, although sometimes there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we actually live our lives out and the God that we worship in our lives.
Everyone has to answer who is God.  Even atheists and agnostics have to answer this question, and every one of us has a god, whether it’s the God, or a different smaller god, money, fame, fortune, power, education. But there is something that holds our allegiance, something or someone we serve to give our lives meaning and purpose, something gives us the rules, guidelines, whatever you might call them, about how we are to live our lives.  So what can we say about God?  First is that God is obviously a baseball fan because it’s the one sport that’s mentioned the most times in scripture, the other is tennis.  And second, and most importantly, we can say that God is a Yankee fan simply because the Yankees are twenty-seven time world series champions.  That’s more than the next three best teams combined.

I know they haven’t won in a while, but that’s because God has to give other fans a chance as well, right?  But isn’t that what we hear all the time, that someone is winning, especially in sports, because God is favoring them, and so athletes point to God, or where they imagine God is, when they score, or do something great.  So that must be who God is and how God works right?  And anything that contradicts that must be wrong right?  When Arian Foster of the Houston Texans says that he doesn’t believe that then it must mean that he’s an atheist right?  But perhaps the players who say things actually believe in a different idea of God, but don’t live that reality.  Who we imagine God to be is incredibly important to who and what we are.  So who is God?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sowing and Reaping

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Corinthians 9:6-15:

The last church we served in Massachusett several acre plots interspersed with still operating farms.  For my fellow sports fans, it was were Babe Ruth lived when he was with the Red Sox, and it is also where Shaquille O’Neill lived when he played for the Celtics.  But ever since Martha Stewart began touting the idea of owning your own chickens, lots of former city dwellers have tried to take on the role of gentlemen, or gentlewomen, chicken farmers.
One of those former Bostonians decided he needed to own some chickens for his property and so went to see one of the local farmers.  The farmer told the man he should start small with only a few chickens, but the man was insistent that he needed 100 chicks.  Knowing the mistakes that would be made but wanting to be neighborly in order to avoid future arguments, the farmer said, “You know, chicken farming isn’t easy, but to help you get started, I’ll give you 100 chicks."

The man was thrilled. Two weeks later the farmer dropped by to see how things were going, and the man said, "Not too well. All 100 chicks died." The farmer said, "Oh, I can’t believe that. I’ve never had any trouble with my chickens. I’ll give you 100 more." Another two weeks went by and the farmer stopped by again. The man said, "You’re not going to believe this, but the second 100 chickens died too." Astounded, the farmer asked, "What went wrong?"

The new farmer said, "Well, I’m not sure whether I’m planting them too deep or too close together."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Laborers in the Field

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 10:1-9:

I have two friends who once ran a 57,000 acre ranch in southern Colorado.  Every year they allowed a company to come in and cut the alfalfa in some of their fields, and in return the company baled hay for their horses.  One of the times I was up visiting, one of the fields had recently been cut and the bales were all still sitting out in the field, when a storm moved in. So we stopped what we were doing, hopped in a truck and rushed out to the field and started bucking the hay.  Bucking hay is the act of stacking it in a truck or barn.  During a normal day it would have only been Lesli and her partner Anna there to get the bales in, but not only was I visiting, but Anna’s mother was there as well, and so there were two extra sets of hands to help get the hay out of the field.  I don’t know how many bales there actually where, but with one person driving and three of us throwing the bales into the truck, and two loads worth, with me spread eagle on top of the load to keep them from falling off on the way to the barn, we were able to get them all back to the barn before the heavy rain started.  And not only did we get the bales out of the fields, but we also got to tangle with a badger who happened to be hiding between two of the bales.  It was the only time I’ve met a badger, and I hope it is my last time, because badgers really are as mean and nasty as everyone says.
Now could Lesli and Anna have gotten the bales in by themselves?  Yes, eventually, but it would have taken them awhile, and they never would have been able to get them out of the field before it started pouring.  So having two extra people certainly helped them out immensely.  Not long ago it would have been inconceivable for two people to even consider bringing in a harvest of hay, or really most any type of harvest, by themselves.  Before Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper, and I use the term invent very loosely here, and then later marketed the first mechanical bailer, everything had to be done by hand, and therefore had to be done with a large group.  After all the hay was cut, it would be raked into hedgerows and then people using pitchforks would throw the hay up into a wagon, where another person, also with a pitchfork would position the hay in the wagon.  Harvest was the time in which the community would come together and help each other out, not just because it was the neighborly thing to do, but because they had to.  Everyone understood that you couldn’t do these things by yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Manure Happens

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 13:6-9:

There was a little boy, and all he wanted in the world was to have a horse.  Every day he would ask his parents if he could get a horse and every day his parents told him no. When he would ask why, he was told that horses took a lot of work and he was just not old enough to handle the responsibility.  But he kept asking every single day.  Finally his father got tired of it and decided he could end it if he could show his son just how much work a horse required, and so while the boy was at school, he had a large pile of horse manure dropped off in the back yard.  When the boy came home from school, as he approached the house, he smelled the distinct odor, and began to whoop and holler and ran through the house into the backyard.  When he saw what awaited him, he started screaming and shaking with joy, and then ran into the garage and came running back with a shovel.  While still singing and dancing and whooping and hollering, he started shoveling the manure.  Finally, his father came out and said, “What are you doing? Why are you so happy to be shoveling all this manure?  Don’t you realize how much work it’s going to take to get this all cleaned up?”  and the boy said “yes, but with all this manure there’s gotta be a horse in here somewhere.”
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at lessons we can learn from life on the farm that can teach us about how to grow in our faith.  The first week we talked about being stuck in the mud, and the fact that when you get stuck, that our natural inclination is to step harder on the gas, and spin our wheels, which of course just gets us deeper and deeper into the much.  Instead, to get out of the mud of our lives, we first need to accept that we are stuck in the mud, accept that reality, surrender and begin following following Christ.  Then we looked at how if we are neglectful of our spiritual lives, that we can allow weeds to grow up that will choke out our faith.  There are lots of things we can do to keep the weeds from growing, but we talked about some recommended by John Wesley the founder of Methodism, which included daily scripture reading and prayer.  Last week we were going to hear about the need for community in building up our faith, but since I didn’t get to deliver that message, we’ll come back to that next week.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Realities of College Freshmen

Every year Beloit College publishes their mindset list of what the typical freshmen entering college has always known, or never known, and each year I feel a little bit older.

Here is this year's list:

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:
1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.”
3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.
6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
9. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.
10. Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Go Read a Banned Book

Just found out that this past week was Banned Book Week (it ends today).  As you can see from the lists of books I have read this year on the right side of the blog, I love to read.

Looking for a book that might challenge you, and that have certainly challenged others? Here are the most commonly challenged/banned books from the years 2000-2009 from the American Library Association.  (Books in bold are ones I have read)

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Friday, October 2, 2015

4th Downs, Pitching and the Blame Game

Gregg Easterbrook, who used to write for ESPN until their purge of people critical of the NFL, now writes about football for the New York Times.  One of his constant complaints is about coaches punting on 4th down, especially when it's 4th and short, and definitely when they are on the opposition's side of the field.  It is Easterbrook's contention, and he has the stats to back it up, that possession of the ball is a much more significant to winning the game then is trying to win "field position."  In addition, he says that by going for it, by being more aggressive, that coaches signal to their players that they want to win and trust and believe in the players to get the job done.

But, he argues, if coaches go for it and the attempt fails, the coaches are much more likely to be questioned and take the blame.  Whereas, since punting on 4th down is conventional wisdom, if they punt and the defense can't stop the other team, then it's the players fault.  It's a type of blame shifting that is bought into by the media, and because of them, by the fans as well.

Which leads me to pitching, and in particular the pitching of the New York Yankees.  There is a much lamented refrain in the media this year that the Yankees' bullpen is tired because their starting pitching is not giving them enough length, and so the bullpen pitchers are having to throw too many pitches.  This places all the blame on the pitchers, even ultimately on the bullpen pitchers because "they have to make their pitches" and if they don't it's certainly not the manager's fault.

The problem with this analysis is that it totally dismisses the manager's role in leaving pitchers in or taking them out.  Girardi seems to have the belief that if a pitcher even comes close to throwing 100 pitches that he has to be pulled out of the game.  There are lots of times when he has yanked a starting pitcher who is cruising for seemingly no other reason other than he is approaching 100 pitches.  Then when the bullpen blows the game, it's not Girardi's fault, it's the bullpen because they are tired from having starting pitching not going deep into games.

Similarly, a bullpen pitcher will be doing great when they are yanked and someone else brought in because "conventional wisdom" is to make the move.  I have never figured out why starting pitchers can face both lefties and righties, but bullpen pitchers can only seem to be able to pitch to one of the other.  Unless, of course, they have a specific role such as "set-up man" or "closer" and then can see both batters, but can never be used in any situation other than what their role is.  You absolutely cannot bring in the closer, you're 9th inning guy, in the 8th to face the heart of the order of the other team, because that's not their "role."

That of course is also blame shifting.  It's not the manager's fault if the pitcher messes up, that's all on the pitcher, even if they never should have been there in the first place.  It also signals to his pitchers whether he believes in them or not, and you cannot learn how to pitch out of a jam unless your manager allows you to try it.

The one exception to this rule this year is Matt Williams, the soon to be ex-manager of the Washington Nationals, who is blamed for not bringing in pitchers out of their designated roles.  But Williams is definitely the exception to the rule in this case, otherwise the mantra in sports, and the actions of managers and coaches, is to make the decisions so that the blame goes to the players rather than to the person making the decision, because they did what "everyone else does."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Introverts in the Church

I was at a conference last week, and the presenter who was not only clearly extroverted, but said that he was extroverted, said that every clergy person needed to spend a minimum of 10 hours a week out in the community meeting new people.  This was about more than just not being locked in your office, this was about going out and meeting new people, and getting their names and addresses for follow-up.

As part of this injunction he said that it didn't matter if you were extroverted, introverted, shy, outgoing, whatever it might be, pastors had to do this.  My thought, as in introvert, is how easy it is for him, as an extrovert, to say that.  Now I don't disagree with his premise.  As an introvert it's way to easy, and too much of a default, to keep to myself.  But, to totally disregard who I am (who God made me to be) was a little over the top.

The reverse would be for me to say to extroverts: You need to be spending at least 10 hours a week by yourself, with no outside interaction, in prayer, scripture study or reading.  For most extroverts that would be an excruciating idea, one which would probably leave them physically and spiritually exhausted.  They would have to get out in order to try and recharge their batteries, if they could even survive doing that week in and week out.

There has been plenty written about introverts lately, and strangely much of it written by extroverts, so I'm not going to delve into that now.  I also know that I am an introvert, as many clergy are, who inhabits what is typically seen as an extroverted role.  But, I bring gifts and graces because of that make-up that extroverts don't bring, just as they also bring gifts and graces that I don't bring.  But to totally dismiss me and say I have to be like you, to do something that's easy for you, just seemed a little extreme.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Direct TV and the NFL's View of Manhood

If you are watching TV, by now you have probably seen one of Direct TV's ads for their NFL package staring Randy Moss, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck.  (If you haven't you can view them all on youtube).  They build off of their popular Rob Lowe "Don't be like this me" ads of those who have Direct TV and those who don't. Except these are about people who have the NFL Sunday ticket and those who don't.

My biggest problem with these ads is the view of manhood or masculinity that they are portraying. The opposite Randy Moss is short, the opposite Peyton Manning has a high voice, the opposite Tony Romo does art and cooks and the opposite Andrew Luck has cats.  So in other words if you don't fit the narrow, confining idea of who and what a man is in our culture than you aren't a real man, and real men, of course, watch the NFL.

As someone who is 2" shorter than the average height for white males in America, has a voice higher than I would like and owns two cats, I guess I simply don't qualify to get the NFL package.  Although the truth is it's because of the ridiculous amount of money they charge.  I get 162 games of the Yankees, and every other MLB team, for less than 1/2 the cost of the NFL package which only has 16 games.

It seems sort of surprising in the year 2015 that we would still get this idea of manhood portrayed, and yet at the same time it's not.  But you would think that with all the problems the NFL has had over the past year, as well as their marketing drive to try and get more women to watch, that they would be trying to tone down this idea of ultra-masculinity, rather than pumping it up.  But instead the opposite is being done here.

It's time for other companies, perhaps Dish Network or one of the cable companies, to come out with "Don't be like this Direct TV" and give us some positive role models of men who don't fit the "normal, acceptable" role of masculinity.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Down on the Farm: Is This a Weed?

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:24-30:

Before being appointed here to Mesa View, we served two rural congregations outside of Clovis.  We worshiped in House, New Mexico at 9 am, and then I quickly got into my car for a 30 minutes to drive to the larger of the two churches in Melrose, and that’s 30 minutes going much faster than the speed limit posted on the county roads because there was nothing in between except farms and ranches.  One day as I was driving out to House, I saw a man who was just standing out in one of the fields.  I thought it was a little unusual, and on the way back to Melrose he was still standing there.  Again I thought that was a little strange, but what do I know about farming?  Perhaps there was a perfectly reasonable excuse for what he was doing.  But the next week he was out there again, just standing there, and so now my curiosity got the better of me and I had to stop, and so I got out of the car and yelled over to him and he smiled and waved, and I said, “I just have to know what you’re doing?”  And he said “I’m trying to win the Nobel Prize” and I said, “The Nobel prize,” and he said, “Yeah, it’s pretty prestigious, and I heard that if you win one they give you more than a million dollars.”  I said that was true but didn’t really understand how he was going to win the Nobel prize, and he said, “we’ll what they say is that to win the Nobel prize, you have to be outstanding in your field, and since I’m the only one standing in my field, I think I’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Last week we began a new sermon series in which we are looking at what we can learn about growing our faith based on lessons from the farm, and idea I stole from Rev. Adam Hamilton, and today we continue with another agricultural parable from Jesus.  There are only two times we have Jesus talking about weeds.  The first is in today’s passage, commonly called the parable of the wheat and the tares, and the second is in the passage we heard last week in the parable of the sower.  In that passage, Jesus says that a sower went out to sow seeds and some fell on hard ground, and the birds ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, but the soil wasn’t deep enough for the roots to take hold, and so when the son came up the plants withered and died, other seeds were planted among the thorns, or weeds, but the weeds grew up along with the other plants and choked them out, and finally some of the seeds fell on the good soil and those seeds grew into a bountiful harvest.  Now the analogy that Jesus is making in that parable is that the soil is supposed to be our hearts, and the seed is the word of God.  And we should ask ourselves how prepared we are to receive God’s word, to have it take root in our lives.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Down on the Farm: Stuck in the Mud

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 13:1-9:

Once upon I time I worked for a non-profit group that built low income housing using environmentally sustainable building materials.  As one of our projects, we built a demonstration house out of straw bales on the Navajo reservation for an 86 year-old woman.  In order to help prepare for that, I borrowed my dad’s truck and picked up a 15 foot trailer in Gallup, along with a full load of straw bales and headed out to the building site.  I pulled the truck up to where we thought would be the easiest place to unload the bales and once I stopped, the truck and trailer promptly sank into the sand.  After we got the bales unloaded we then tried to get the truck out, and try as we might it didn’t want to go.  The tires just spun and we got more stuck. Eventually two other trucks with four-wheel-drive were able to pull me out.   I’m sure it’s an experience that many of you have had, whether it’s sand, or snow, or mud, where no matter what you do you can’t get out and you spin and spin your wheels and wait for something or someone else to help.  Being stuck in the mud could be a metaphor for the human condition.

Today we begin a new sermon series looking at how we grow our faith, based on lessons that we can learn from life on the farm, an idea I stole from Rev. Adam Hamilton, and today we begin by looking at soil and mud.  I know that some of you grew up on farms, but I did not.  Although the house I grew up in was surrounded by agriculture, there was a cotton field a half block from the house, and orange groves less than a mile away, our agriculture was limited to a small garden in the side yard, and all that I can really remember about that, besides having to pull weeds, is the big green caterpillars that loved to attack the tomato plants, and the only thing I grow now is hair, and I obviously can’t even do a very good job at that anymore.  So I’ve spent a lot of time recently trolling the extension programs of different universities around the country trying to learn a thing or two about farming, and may have learned just enough to make me dangerous.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Who Are We Going To Blame?

This past weekend I was at a retreat, and during some free time there was horseback riding offered, which my family and I decided to do.  As we headed out, there was a wrangler at the head of the line, and then there was one person between her and me in the third spot.  As we were riding, the person in front of me was very concerned with her horse getting too close the wrangler's horse and kept pulling back on her reigns rather unnecessarily.  Rather than letting her horse do what he wanted to do as a trained trail horse, she wanted to keep a tight reign on him.

As we kept going and started climbing up a hill, the wrangler's horse either got spooked, or just acted up, and turned and jumped.  This caused the person in front of me, who was already too tight, to start pulling back on her horse to try and get away, but then rather than stopping, she kept pulling back on the reigns, and pulling back, and pulling back.

If you are familiar with horses, you know that pulling back forces them to go backward, and so the more she pulled, the more the horse went backward and the faster he started going.  Even though the other wrangler who was riding next to us was yelling at her to stop and let go of the reigns, she didn't stop.  This then caused the horse to get into a position he couldn't sustain and to fall over backwards, which then threw her out of the saddle, and fortunately to be able to get out of the way as the horse then rolled over the same way she had fallen.  She was a little dirty and sore, but escaped what could have been a series accident.

As this was happening, I quickly pulled back and to the right on my horse to get him out of the way, but then let up and he settled down and we stopped and stood where we were.  This is not to praise the way I handled it, because if I had been where she was perhaps things would have gone differently, and I would have reacted differently.  It's always really easy to say "If I would have been there, I would have done X" because you don't know.  I did trust my horse to do what it needed to do once we were clear of the immediate danger.

But, it's what happened afterwards that is the point of this story, because rather than taking any blame on herself for pulling back on the reigns forcing the horse into the situation she got into, instead she blamed the horse.  It was the horse that acted up, it was the horse that bolted, and she said she's had horses act up before but she doesn't put up with it (she told a story of a horse biting her to which she slapped it on the head and it never did it again).

After the next group to ride came back, everyone else wanted to know who rode that horse and if they had any problems.  Of course they didn't because what happened was first of all a fluke, and secondly it was never the horse's fault.  The horse did what the rider was telling him to do, and never should have been blamed in the first place.  But isn't that our nature?

Rather than taking responsibility, we look for who else might be responsible, who else can we blame. And I am just as guilty of this as anyone else.  After my first year in my current church, I said that I could no longer lay responsibility for things at the feet of the former pastor because now it was getting to be all my responsibility. There are still lots of things I want to blame others for, but the truth is I am just as culpable now.

But even worse, the blame game not only shifts responsibility, it also shifts, or stops, the ability to try and do something different or to learn from our mistakes.  Until we learn to admit our mistakes, and not blame others, then we can never learn from what we did wrong, and use that to make us better at whatever it is that we want to do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

NCAA Math and Language

This weekend the NCAA football season kicked off.  It featured Saturday Night Football, except it was played on Monday.  And that game featured Ohio State from the Big 10, except there are actually 12 teams in the conference, and the Big 12 conference has only 10 teams.

With logic like this, is it any wonder that the "student-athlete" idea is totally out of wack?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Shhh... It's a Secret

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Mark 7:24-37:

The Spork is a model of American ingenuity, or perhaps we should say of American cheapness.  Patented in 1970 by the Van Brode Milling Company of Clinton, Massachusetts, it also one of the most worthless of tools.  The version of the spork with which most of us are so familiar is the one we get at fast food restaurants, where the plastic tongues snap off if you ever actually had to try and use it as a fork, for which it was designed, and yet it’s worthless as a spoon as well, because the liquid wants to exit through the slits that represent the sporks tines.  While it’s been said that you cannot be “kind of” or “sort of” pregnant, that you are either pregnant or not, the spork truly represents the kind of or sort of aspects of our life, neither quite one nor the other, neither quite spoon nor fork.  In their ode to the spork at (and yes there is such a site, although it says it hasn’t been updated since 1996) the writers claim “the spork is a perfect metaphor for human existence.  It tries to function as both a spoon and a fork, and because of this dual nature, it fails miserably at both.  You cannot have soup with a spork; it is far too shallow.  You cannot eat meat with a fork; the prongs are too small.”  I don’t know what really got me thinking about the spork, but it occurred to me on Friday morning as I was thinking about how I was going to start today’s message, that perhaps the spork also represents how some of us try and live out our Christian life, especially when it comes to the dreaded “e” word, evangelism.

In today’s passage, Jesus is out wandering around in gentile, that is non-Jewish areas.  It’s not exactly clear where Jesus actually is because we are told that he was coming from the region of Tyre, which is north of the Sea of Galilee on the coast in modern day Lebanon.  That much is clear and in the beginning of the passage that was assigned for today, which you will find in your scripture insert, but which we didn’t read, Jesus encounters a woman who is described as being syrophonecian, which makes total sense because Tyre was part of the area known as Phoenicia, but was part of the roman province of Syria.  So we know where he was when he started, but then we are told that he makes his way back to the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon, which is twelve miles to the north of the city of Tyre, sort of like saying we went from Albuquerque to Las Cruces by way of Bernalillo, and then to confuse even more, it says in the region of the Decapolis, which was a region made up of ten cities on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, sort of across from the area known as Galilee.  But somewhere in there, a group of people bring to Jesus a man who is deaf and has an impediment in his speech and they beg Jesus to lay hands on the man and heal him.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to Egypt

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The scripture was Exodus 17:1-7:

For the past few weeks, I, like probably many of you, have been receiving notifications on my computer that Microsoft would like me to upgrade to windows 10.  I was not one of the 10 million people who upgraded on the first day.  And to be honest, the real reason I have been putting it off, is not because I am opposed to technology, because I’m fine with the way things are now and I don’t want to have to learn a new system, because let’s admit it, change is hard.  I remember the transition when Microsoft came out with office 2007 and the substantial changes to the tool bar that came with it, and I couldn’t stand it.  But now that I’ve been using it for so long I realize on the backside how much better the changes actually were.  I didn’t like it when I was going through it, but now you couldn’t get me to go back.  Now there are times in which I want the newest updates because the current product is inferior, but those are fewer and farther between.  But that means there are some changes we like and there are things we are opposed to.  And this is true for all of us.  Even people who seem to love change and are always waiting for new things to be coming out, there are changes that they would be opposed to, and on the flip some people who seem to resist everything will suddenly be behind some other change because it’s something that they want to see happen.

With the completion of our Healthy Church Initiative consultation weekend last week, we stand on the precipice of change.  And I use the word precipice here deliberately, because the prescriptions that have been given to us by the HCI team can cause us to go one of two ways.  The first is to take a step away from the cliff.  That’s the safe and the easy way to go.  That’s the way that says, I don’t want to change, I don’t want to do anything different, I don’t want to take a risk, I don’t want to go anywhere new, and while I can be convinced to stay right here, my preference would be to take a few steps backwards right at the moment to make sure we are safe.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with that position.  We have an innate desire to protect ourselves, not to take unnecessary risks, and this goes all the way back to our caveman days when going outside the cave could get you eaten by a tiger, and so our self-preservation tendencies kick in and we want to do the safe thing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

James: Faith and Works

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was James 1:22-27 and 2:14-26:

Today we conclude our series on the book of James, and I hope that you have enjoyed, or at least appreciated, hearing from James.  But even if you haven’t, I have enjoyed exploring James, and sometimes that’s the benefit of being the person who controls what gets preached.  I’ve always liked James, but had never done anything on the letter, and the more I have read and studied James over the past few months, the more I have come to enjoy James and to also realize that even in our 7 weeks on this letter, that we have really only begun to touch the surface of what James actually has to say to us.  But today we close with what has become one of James’ most famous passages, and the one that nearly got him banned from the Bible, and has gotten him banned from many Protestant pulpits and that is his claim that faith without works is dead.
This got James banned largely because of the influence of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant reformation, whose distinctive moto about salvation was sola fides, by faith alone.  That is that it is faith that saves us not anything else.  Now the background of this is rooted in Roman Catholic theology and the idea of works righteousness, which says that doing good works in the world, will sort of earn us bonus points towards our salvation, sort of like doing extra credit work at school.  You might have a B+ on your regular assignments, but doing that one extra credit piece maybe will shift you up to an A-, and then your parents and God are happy and no one gets into trouble.  At the time of Luther, however, it was more than just about good works, because doing pilgrimages could count for this, as could the buying of penance, that is paying the church to have them issue you forgiveness for your sins, or for others sins, to buy years off of your time in purgatory.  And that doesn’t really even begin to delve into the depths of the what and the why.  But Luther said all of that was worthless, or saying that it had gotten way out of control is probably a better summation, and he said that it is not what we do that earns us salvation, it is God and faith alone that saves us.  So from that we have sort of come up with a battle of works versus faith.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

James: Tongues of Fire

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was James 1:19-27, 3:1-12, and 4:11-12:

Perhaps appropriately enough since today is the last Sunday before school begins, but last week Gerry Lightwine who was our guest preacher gave you all a homework assignment and that was to go and read the Letter of James all the way through?  Did everyone do that?  Well did you at least read chapter 7 because that’s probably the most important?  That was a trick question because there are only 5 chapters in James.  It’s one of the shortest letters we have, but still very important with what it means to be a Christian and more importantly how it is that we are to live a Christian life.  James is concerned about not what we confess but about what we do, and that is very evident in today’s passages in which we hear about taming and controlling the tongue.  Because he says that the same tongue that we use to confess God, to bless God, is the same tongue that we then use to curse others who are made in the image of God, indicating that our confession of God or of Jesus doesn’t really mean much because we are double-tongued and live out something else other than that blessing.
There are several reasons why I chose these passages for today, in our penultimate series on James.  We hear a lot about bullying in school these days and so I thought it would be a good time to remind ourselves about the dangers that our words can pose to others.  In addition, James has something to say for us as adults as well, because he tells us that not everyone should become a teacher.  I remember at another church when this reading came up in the lectionary, the person reading that Sunday was a teacher and she said she wishes she had read this before she decided to become a teacher.  She also thought other teachers should be reminded of this passage every year so they remembered the incredibly important position they hold in taking on their students each year.  So teachers remember that you have a precious place in your student’s lives and what you do does matter.

But, I don’t think that James is just thinking here of school teachers, especially since that wasn’t part of his reality, but instead about others who take positions of authority within the community, who are communicating the faith and who are seen as the face of the religion.  This is something that weighs heavily on me as a preacher.  Long before I had ever read James, I believed that preachers would be held to a high standard by God when we came to meet God face to face, as there are other passages that indicate this as well.  So, as I have said before, I think carefully about what it is that I say knowing that what I say influences people and that I will be held accountable for both the bad and the good.  But I think James’ injunction for teachers is really much, much broader, because in reality aren’t all of us teachers in one way or another.  We are teachers in the roles where we are directly teaching, but we are also teachers as parents, as grandparents, as aunts and uncles, as friends, as acquaintances as total strangers, because everything we do sends a message to someone else about who we are and how we behave.  Have you ever seen someone with a Jesus fish on their car doing something rudely, and perhaps doing something that is less than Christian in appearance?  What impact did that have on you, and what impact does it have on others, especially those who are not part of the faith?  And what does that actually say about their faith?  James says that a spring cannot pour forth both fresh and brackish water, and by reference then if you see brackishness coming out what type of spring is actually there?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ESPN Knows Which Side Its Bread Is Buttered On

Simon Cameron once said that "an honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought." I think by that standard we can say that the executives at ESPN are a group of honest politicians. Obviously the NFL is one of their largest and most important partners, and they are doing very well, at the moment, to protect that investment and partnership.

In recent months, ESPN has been doing some pruning of their talent pool.  There are lots of reasons given why people's contracts have not been renewed, and perhaps we should just accept the stories at face value.  Except for the fact that of those lost, the majority, and certainly the biggest names, have been those who have been extremely critical of the NFL and of Roger Goodell in particular.

First there was Bill Simmons who routinely called out Goodell, and then there was Keith Olberman who routinely said that Goodell should either resign or be fired.  There was even Gregg Easterbrook, who had one of the most highly read columns in, who wrote a book, expanding many of the issues in his column, calling out the NFL in particular, and Goodell by inference, for its cover-up on concussions, their tax-exempt status, and their pilfering of public money to build stadiums, among many other issues.

Is this merely a coincidence?  Possibly.  But I'm guessing it's not.  Because besides for removing those most vocal against Goodell, in the revamp of their website, they also removed most, if not all, of the commentary that used to be found.

I liked ESPN much better when they actually provided some independent content and were actually open to questioning groups, even the NFL.  But I guess when you are bought, you need to stay bought.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Cash and Panhandlers

As a general rule, I don't carry cash.  If I ever have cash it's because someone has paid me for something in cash, and it will soon be deposited, or because I have gotten cash from the bank for a specific reason and it will soon be leaving my wallet.  I am not unique in this attribute, as large numbers of people don't carry cash and it is increasing.  According to, 9% of Americana don't carry any cash, and 50%, if they have cash, carry less than $20.

Of course as a minister I  have people coming into my office seeking cash to help with something. It's very rare that we ever give any cash to people at the church, instead giving food or writing a check for rent or utilities. And if I am approached personally, my response is always, and quite honestly, I don't have any cash.  They might think I'm lying just to get rid of them, but for me its the truth.

That got me thinking the other day that as fewer and fewer people carry cash, and instead use debit/credit cards, is there a time in the near future in which either panhandling radically transforms to something else, or people stop giving cash and instead buy them water or a meal, etc? Of course this will also put a crunch in other areas, such as garage sales and other "off the book" transactions, and I wonder how they will be transacted?

I suspect that carrying cash is largely a generational issue, that is those younger don't carry cash, and so maybe it won't happen really soon, but it will be sooner rather than later.  The government will also play a role in what the future holds as they seek to make sure they get their portion, and so this will not just be decided by the marketplace.  I don't know what the answer is, but I am kind of curious how it will work itself out.

Monday, July 27, 2015

James: The War Within

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was James 4:1-12:

One of the things that I find remarkable about the stories of the faith that we find in scripture is that they don’t whitewash the stories, or try and hide the skeletons in the closet.  They are right out there for all to see.  And this isn’t just for minor characters, or those who just appear so that bad things can happen so we can learn a lesson, like Ananias and Saphira who are struck dead when they lie about their money to the apostles, you can find the story in chapter 5 of Acts. It’s like when an African-American character suddenly shows up in a horror movie, you know they are about to die.  Those are the ones you sort of expect to find.  It’s easy to say bad things about people no one cares about, but that’s not what happens in scripture.  It’s the biggies that get exposed.  The disciples, and Peter in particular, are constantly being shown that they don’t get it, and they are not alone.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, the biggies, they all have stories told about them in which they do questionable things, and then of course there is David.

That story we heard today of he and Bathsheba is something you might not expect to have recorded and passed on, or if it was perhaps it would be just a sort of an aside that maybe got lost over time and so perhaps there would be some comment about Bathsheba or Uriah, of which we would have no idea what it would mean.  There are certainly some examples of that in the Bible, and the farther we get away the easier it is for it to drift from memory.  To mention a somewhat similar situation, if we were to talk about Monica Lewinski, for an entire generation that would mean nothing.  Of course they could google it and get more than they ever wanted to know.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Atticus Finch: Racism and Justice

Since Go Set a Watchman (whose title comes from Isaiah) was released there has been a lot of talk, and perhaps consternation, that it sets up Atticus Finch as a racist.  This shatters the sacredly held vision that people had of Atticus from To Kill a Mockingbird leaving many people upset about what happened to the hero they believed Atticus to be.

Let me start by giving some caveats.  The first is that I love To Kill a Mockingbird.  The first gift that I ever gave to my wife when we started dating was a copy of that book because it came up on our first date that she had never read it.  I had a cat named Atticus and we now have a cat named Scout, so I have some background and love of the story.  Second is that I have yet to read Go Set a Watchman so can't speak from firsthand knowledge of the story. I am on vacation next week and that is one of the books I will read and maybe can provide some more perspective.

But all that being said, I don't understand what all the ruckus is about, except that some of it is because of what people brought to the story not what the story actually presented.  First is that the case of Jim Robinson was assigned to Atticus, he didn't take it on, and he actually has little to do with the black community throughout the story, thus we aren't really shown any convincing evidence that Atticus does not have negative feelings towards African Americans.  He also does nothing to challenge any of the perceptions that the community has about Tom as a black man, especially to the jury.

Second, I see no connection between someone being a potential racist as well as someone who wants to see justice carried out.  Let us not forget that John Adams successfully defended the British soldiers who were involved in the Boston massacre.  That did not mean that Adams was for the British position, or against the patriot position, far from it.  But he did want to see justice carried out fairly.  That seemed to be Atticus' goal.  We could then argue whether there could actually be "justice" for a black man accused of attacking a white woman, but that is another much larger topic, and something Atticus does nothing to address.

So to me to hear that Atticus turns out to have the same prejudices of the society in which he was raised is not shocking, it's really what's to be expected.  Now it is shocking to Scout, or Jean Louise as she now going by her given name, but isn't that often the case?  Aren't we often shocked to hear what our parents or grandparents believed that seems so alien to us?  And isn't the fact that Atticus was able to raise Scout, and presumably Jem, although we don't know, without passing on the same prejudices a credit to Atticus?  This represents the generational shift we see on so many things, and the already there and not quite there that is so prevalent in society.

While both books portray very real aspects of the society and culture in which they were written, and still resonate today, let's not forget that these are fictional characters and we often bring more to them they are actually presented.  Since the books were not written to be of one piece it's also hard to necessaarily see them as a collective whole.  Perhaps Harper Lee was upset with her first version of Atticus and wanted him to be better, and so portrayed him so in Mockingbird.

Or perhaps, Atticus is simply a complex character, just as we all are, and as such seems to hold conflicting or contradictory thoughts together at the same time, and is not as good as his best actions and not as bad as his worst either.