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.