Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books I Read in 2016

Here are the books I read in 2016. (This is more for my information than for others)

  1. 10 Things Your Minister Want to Tell You (But Can't Because He Needs His Job) by Oliver Thomas
  2. 11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge by Stanley Weintraub
  3. 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska's Frozen Wilderness by Brian Murphy
  4. A Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal by Asne Seierstad
  5. A Place Called Hope by Phillip Gulley
  6. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by John Wesley
  7. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  8. As Far as the Eye Could See: Accounts of Animals Along the Santa Fe Trail 1821-1880 by Phyllis S. Morgan
  9. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
  10. Beatitudes for Today by James C. Howell

Saturday, December 24, 2016

To A Maid Engaged To Joseph

Here is my sermon for Christmas Eve. The text was Luke 1:26-38:

If you’ve been alive long enough then you have regrets.  There are things you regret that you did and there are probably things you regret that you did not do. Robert Frost famously said “two roads diverged in the woods and I, I took the one less traveled and that has made all the difference.” Perhaps you regret not taking the less traveled path, or perhaps you didn’t even take either of those paths but instead turned around and went the other way. We regret the times we said yes instead of saying no, and we regret the times we said no when, in fact, we should have said yes, and perhaps we wonder what would have happened if we had made a different choice. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if people in scripture had done something different. What if Mary’s response to the angel about her bearing Jesus had been different? What if Mary had said no?

We really don’t know very much about Mary. Most of what people think they know about Mary are stories that develop much later in the history of the church. Luke, who we just heard from, mentions her the most.  She is named 12 times in Luke, but all of these are in his infancy narrative.  She appears in two other stories in Luke, but is not named in those.  In Matthew, she is named 5 times.  Four of those times are in his infancy narrative, and then she is talked about two other times, being named once, although it’s a reference to her, not something directly involving her.  In Mark, she is named only once, and like in Matthew it is simple a reference of a crowd saying that Mary is Jesus’ mother, and then there is one story in which she is not named.  In John she is not named at all, but there are two stories make reference to her.  And that is all that we have in the gospels.  Not really a lot to go on, but when we compare Mary against other characters in scripture, especially women, the fact that we know as much about her as we do, and that she is referenced in all four gospels, is quite extraordinary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Blue Christmas: Snow on Snow

Here is my sermon for our Blue Christmas Service. The text was Isaiah 9:1-6 and John 1:1-5, 10-14:

We, as a culture, have an obsession, or at least a seeming obsession, with having a white Christmas. The last report I saw said Albuquerque has a 4% chance of having a white Christmas, that is either having it snow, or having snow on the ground come Sunday.’ We have this obsession with a white Christmas even though it doesn’t match the reality for large parts of the world, including Bethlehem. Someone I went to seminary with was from the southern hemisphere and she said it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she understood why all the Christmas images had snow on them because of her Christmas took place in the middle of the summer, whereas we have Christmas in winter. But this idea of a white Christmas came around long before Bing Crosby’s immortal White Christmas was recorded. In fact, according to Ian Bradley, an expert on Victorian hymnody, he has said that In the Bleak Midwinter, which was written in 1872, “has probably done as much as anything to give generations of children the impression that the birth of Jesus took place in the snow.”  Although not as popular today, this hymn used to be one the Christmas standards, and to give some indication of that, the house where Gustav Holst, best known for writing the Planets, wrote the tune is known as Midwinter Cottage in honor of this connection.

For the season of Advent, we have been looking at the hymns of Advent and Christmas to see what they teach us about our faith and the meaning, and need for Christmas, and I thought that In the Bleak Midwinter was the appropriate song for this evening’s service.  There is something beautiful and magic about snow and the environment it creates. The author John Milton said of snow and Christmas, snow was nature covering herself with a veil to hide any ugliness from the Christ child. Snow covers everything and gives the world that soft edge while simultaneously absorbing noise to add the serenity and peacefulness that we associate with the Christmas season, or at least that we say we want in the Christmas season. But that beautiful image of snow is not what Christina Rosetti is talking about in this hymn. Instead she is talking about the ugliness and coldness of winter, the deadness, of frozen ground, and whipping winds and snow piling up snow on snow. This is not the winter wonderland that we like to sing of at this time of year. This is the bleak mid-winter, the end of February when winter has lost all its appeal, the snow is no longer beautiful, but a burden, when you are stuck up inside and you can’t wait for spring to arrive.  It feels like Bill Murray’s weather prediction from Groundhog Day about winter: “It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you the rest of your life.” This is not “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” this bleak midwinter is the dark night of the soul.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Silent Night, Holy Night

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 1:18-25:

At the last church I served, our piano player fell and broke her hip on Christmas Eve. That is not, obviously, the ideal time to lose your main musician, and on top of that it also meant that I had to make a hospital visit that afternoon and the hospital was more than a half mile away. Now we did have an organist, but she was 92, and not as good as she once was. But one of the advantages of it happening Christmas Eve was the fact that most people know most of the songs that we will sing because they are ones we have been singing them seemingly for hundreds of years, so having someone play along is not as crucial. In fact, I would guess we could probably sing most of those songs acapella easily. But, obviously, it’s still not ideal, and it made me think of how Silent Night, Holy Night, came to be created.

Joseph Mohr was a Roman Catholic priest serving a small town in Austria. As an illegitimate child, Mohr did not have an easy life growing up and even had to get special permission to join the priesthood because of his birth status. But in 1816 he composed a poem that we all know today, although he didn’t actually use it until 1818. According to legend, on Christmas Eve Mohr walked three kilometers through the snow, I think it was uphill both ways, to present his poem to Franz Gruber, a musician in the next town, and asked him to write music for guitar for his poem. Gruber composed the tune that has only changed slightly in the 200 years since he wrote it in just a couple of hours. But, the story says, and this may only be apocryphal, that Mohr asked Gruber to write the music for guitar because the organ at the church that he served was broken, and thus they needed music that could be played on a guitar for the service, which they did, with Silent Night being performed that evening for the first time. A less than ideal circumstance.

Silent Night has gone on to become one of, if not the, most famous Christmas hymns. During the famous Christmas Truce of 1914 when British, French and German soldiers, of their own accord, stopped fighting and exchanged gifts and greetings with each other across the front lines, the one song they could all sing together was Silent Night, and in some places, it was one of the sides beginning to sing this hymn that started the truce. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas Truce story is that it only took place in 1914, because after it happened military leaders on both sides issued strong messages against fraternization, which basically said, “how dare you shake the hand of the person we want you to kill.” Peace on earth and good will and all that stuff.

But as much as we love Silent Night, and I do have to mention that we broke the tradition of it not being sung until Christmas Eve this morning, does Silent Night actually match reality, of our lives? I think that’s an important question to ask because it’s human nature to compare ourselves and our lives against others, and against what we hold us as the ideal. And so we hear Silent Night, and we imagine it with all the lights out and the candles glowing and everything is peaceful and beautiful. It’s calm and bright, silent and holy. We have this image in our mind and when we compare it to our lives, with hectic schedules and running around, and perhaps all the noise, both literal and proverbial, that surrounds Christmas we wonder what we are doing wrong? How come our Christmas is not like that? Perhaps we even beg for a time when everything might be silent, even for just 5 minutes. Or perhaps we have the exact opposite, that the silence of not hearing the voices of loved ones we have lost is oppressive. We long for the silence to go away. We long for just a moment to hear the chaos and the tumult of a house filled with loved lost and of Christmas’ past, and we wonder how come our Christmas is not like that? Not ideal circumstances.

But is Mohr’s famous song even a reality for that first Christmas? Was everything calm? Was everything silent? I highly doubt it. First let’s start with the reality of birth. Ladies, for those of you who gave birth naturally, and even for those who used and epidural, or had a C-section, was your birth quiet? Was it calm? Uh, no. It was anything but that. Now we also have to add onto that, that according to Luke, but not Matthew, that Mary had just walked 90 miles to Bethlehem, which can’t have added to her happiness, and the Bible says nothing about her riding a donkey, and since they were poor, the greater likelihood is that they didn’t have a donkey. But once in Bethlehem they would have been surrounded by barn yard animals and all the noises, and smells, they make.

Now maybe after the baby is born, and laying gently on your chest, or in the bassinet, there was some calm, and that glow that surrounds the entire moment of birth, was there. And perhaps that is what Mohr is talking about when he says “Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.” Or something that occurred to me this week, as I was thinking about when my girls were infants, was that perhaps the last line was Mary’s prayer that every parent has made with an infant at some point of saying/praying, “Oh for God’s sake would you please go to sleep, please because I’m too exhausted to keep going, please sleep like an angel so I can go to sleep.” Now since he was a Catholic priest, Mohr never had any children of his own, so maybe I’m just reading that into the lyrics, but that’s what we get to do.

But it actually turns out that Mohr’s lyrics are not so silent themselves, because in the second verse we are told that the angels are quaking at the sight as the heavenly host, surrounded by beams of light are singing “alleluia.” I do not think they were doing this quietly, as if you are saying “God be praised” it’s something that we do loudly, we do it joyfully, we do it exuberantly, well maybe not all of us, but that’s how we should be doing it. There’s an exclamation point after it, for heaven’s sake, so it has to be done enthusiastically, and certainly not silently. And then in the fourth verse we are asked to join in with the angels in their singing, join in singing Alleluia! To our King. Again, this is not something we should be doing quietly, or melodically, or reverently, this is something we should be shouting from the rooftops. Praise be to God! Come here the good news! Christ is born! For us has been born in the city of David, a savior. The sky opened up, rays of light burst from the heavens, and the angels sang the song we are called to join, Alleluia! Christ the savior is born! Christ the savior is born!

We might say it’s a holy night, but we cannot, or should not say that it’s a silent night, because in this moment the world has been changed, the world has been turned upside down. This is not the time to be calm, this is the time to be filled with excitement. Now I’m not trying to ruin this hymn, and I don’t know what Mohr’s original thinking was, but I do want us to pay attention to the imagery that Mohr uses to understand his message and the message of Christmas, and that is the imagery of light. The shepherds are quaking, not just because of the singing of the angels, but more importantly because the darkness has been shattered by the sight of the glories streaming from heaven afar. This glorious light shining down on them as the angels appear. And in the fourth verse it’s the wondrous star that shines on us as we sing along with the angels.  But it’s the third verse that holds the theological punch. Mohr says “Son of God, love’s pure light, radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”  The incarnation is God being made flesh and coming to earth, not as some triumphant king riding a mighty steed, but as a baby, being born in manager, to poor parents, in less than ideal circumstances, and yet in that moment the world is changed because the light has come into the darkness.

In Isaiah, which we will hear several times in the next week, Isaiah tells us that “for those who have walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9) As I said on the first Sunday of Advent, we don’t have Christmas because everything is calm and sunny and bright, if the world was like that we wouldn’t need Christmas. We have Christmas because our circumstances are often far from ideal. Our lives are noisy and chaotic and messy, or perhaps it’s too quiet. Life doesn’t go as planned, and we walk in that darkness and need the light to overcome the darkness, that light we find in Christ, and because of that we come not to be silent, but to shout alleluia!

In a poem entitled, Not a Silent Night, Debbie Wallis, says

It was not a silent night. Men were questioning what this strange starlight meant.
Others, roused in the midst of their watch, no longer questioned.
For their night was split with the shock of a choir of angels
Shouting “Glory to God, the Christ child comes!”

It was not a silent night. It was a noisy, confusing night. The city was congested,
Tempers were short, the inns crowded – all of them!
And Mary and Joseph – what did their hearts cry when the saw the lowly birth bed?

It was not a silent night. His coming tore a woman’s body. Hid coming was hard –
dreadfully hard for everyone involved.
His coming was not a mythical anesthetized 20th century dream.
It was hard and cold. It was heavy

But it was not silent. He forever split our darkness with the proclamation of angels
That the Light of the world was shining.
That for all ages to come we could know that heaven is not silent.
For God has spoken. He has come.

That first Christmas was many things, but silent was not one them, because the angels were singing, and the cattle were lowing, and the heavens rejoiced that Christ was born, for you and for me. So, as we think about that night let us remember not the silence, but of the light, the light come into the world, the light that came to overcome the darkness, the dawn that breaks the night, and let us not remain silent ourselves but instead join with the heavenly hosts in singing “Alleluia! Glory in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and goodwill to all.” May it be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 3:1-12:

I don’t like to wait. I’ve been known to leave stores when I see that the lines are too long. I don’t like the waiting and I don’t like the frustration that comes with waiting and I especially don’t like it when it seems like all the other lines are going faster than the line I have chosen. And waiting can be even harder when there is some urgency or expectation to the waiting. Do you remember when you were a kid at Christmas? That time between the beginning of December and Christmas Day seemed to take forever. It proved the point that time is not a constant. Now that time goes quicker, because all time goes quicker, and yet there can also be times in which it goes excruciatingly slow, like while waiting in lines. Because there is good waiting, and there is bad waiting. We have been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade several times. Where we have watched the parade, it arrives around 10 am, but to be able to get a seat up front so you can see everything, you have to arrive around 6 am. That’s four hours of sitting in the cold on a sidewalk in New York City. That can be hard time or easy time. The first year we were there, the police officer who was there I guess to protect us from ourselves, led us all in singing and chanting back and forth to the other side of the street, and it was a lot of fun. It was easy time. The next time, the officer was just there leaving us to our own devices. I spent the time going through French flash cards so I could pass the French reading exam that Harvard required for graduation. That was some hard time. But both times, the wait was the longest just at the time in which you could hear the parade, but could not see it. It was right there and yet it was so far away. It was there and yet the expectation and excitement of it coming, because it’s not there, were heightened and the wait was hard. That’s advent. A time of knowing that Christ’s coming is here and also knowing it’s not here, and so our series on the songs of the season continues by looking at Charles Wesley’s classic hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

Last week we found ourselves in exile crying out for God to send deliverance and remembering the promises that God has given to the people, given to us, especially the promises that we find in the prophet Isaiah, but not knowing when it would all come about. This week, not much has changed, except that we are now in the wilderness and we have John the Baptist making a proclamation of repentance as the one who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. That means the time has come, but it’s not quite here. It’s the time in which you can hear the bands in the parade but you can’t see them yet. You know they are there but the closer it gets, the farther away it seems and the harder the waiting becomes. We know that Christmas is right around the corner, we know that Jesus’ coming is right there, the one who is more powerful is coming but when? When will it be? How much longer will we have to wait? When will the promises be fulfilled?

Monday, November 28, 2016

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 24:36-44:

Every year around this time we hear from a certain segment of the news media about a war on Christmas, and how come stores won’t say Merry Christmas. That entire argument misses the point entirely because there is not a war on Christmas. There is a war on Advent, the time of preparation. Christmas does not begin until December 25 and then runs for 12 days, so just when we should begin to say Merry Christmas is the very time in which Christmas is taken down and put away in a box until next year.  If we want to talk about a war on Christmas let’s get serious and talk about returning to the 12 days of Christmas that start on Christmas day, not the 30 or so days before Christmas even arrives. And the last piece is that this year Christmas falls on a Sunday, and we will be holding a worship service, and here is my rule, if you are not in worship on Christmas Day, either here or some other church where you are, then you never get to say “Let’s keep Christ in Christmas” ever again. There is not a war on Christmas there is a war on Advent the time of preparation to get ready for the coming of Christmas. To get ready for welcoming the Christ child into our lives once again. A time to get ready to welcome Jesus into the world, and to recognize, as we have talked about for the past few weeks, that Christ is here and yet Christ is not yet here as well. He has come and he has yet to come.

Now I do have to confess my own hypocrisy here and that is that I start listening to Christmas music before Halloween even arrives, and as soon as Linda will allow me to put up Christmas decorations they are going up, so I have my own personal war with advent. But that has never stopped me from simultaneously emphasizing the importance of Advent, as a time of preparation, a time of slowing down and appreciating and also a time of expectancy and of desire. And so, we are going to spend the next few weeks trying to do that, and approaching this season, both of Advent and Christmas, by looking at some of the most famous songs of the season, what they mean and why they matter for our faith, and we start with the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Christ the King

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text is John 18:33-37:

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day that we celebrate and proclaim Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. It also represents the end of the Christian year, so happy New Year, as next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and we begin to prepare the way, again, for the coming of the Christ child. Today sort of encapsulates one of the things that at the heart of our faith, and that is the dichotomy of things that we have to hold in tension, such as loving God with our head and with our heart, which can be opposite of each other. But the other and more important one is holding the tension between this Sunday and next Sunday, that is that Christ has already come, that Christ is already here, and that Christ has yet to come. Or as we say in the communion liturgy, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We pledge our allegiance to God who is with us, and cry out Maranatha, which means “Come, Lord Jesus.” But today, we celebrate Christ with us as our King, which concludes the series we have been doing on who Jesus is by looking at the three offices that he is said to hold, which are prophet, priest and King.

All three of these offices are historic positions found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and all of them had huge expectations for someone in each of these positions who would come to introduce, or bring about, the completion of creation, the fulfilment of the law, and the reign, or kingdom of God. When we talked about Jesus as prophet, we talked about the expectation that there would be a great prophet to rise up like Moses or Elijah, but this person would not be just any prophet, or just a prophet, but instead would be the prophet, the one who would fulfill prophecy and be the last prophet. It is clear that those who knew Jesus viewed him as a prophet, but in light of the resurrection it is this role as the prophet that the disciples and the early church claimed for Jesus.  And so in light of that, we should see everything that Jesus says and also what Jesus does as a prophetic witness, as the words of God come to us and to be treated with the seriousness that entails. Seeing Jesus as prophet, or even thinking of Jesus as the prophet is probably the least known and talked about aspects of Jesus’ three roles.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Jesus as Priest

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Hebrews 7:11-28:

Historically, there have been three offices, or roles, that have been given to Jesus, and they are prophet, priest and king. There are three ways in which to understand Jesus, his ministry and his relation with us as disciples. They are also historic roles that act as a continuation of God’s work as found in the Hebrew scripture, but also reestablished and given new meaning because of Christ. Last week we looked at Jesus as a prophet, and if you missed that message I would encourage you to go and watch it. Today we look at the second office and that is Jesus as priest, but not just any priest, but as the High Priest. The role of priest is also one of the historic roles that was found in ancient Israel. In the stories of the patriarchs, the priestly roles were undertaken by the male head of the family, whether Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. They acted as intermediaries between God and their families, which is the historic role of priest: an intermediary an intercessor.

As the society got larger and more complex, the need for this mediator to be moved outside of the family to a centralized leader to provide greater continuity became more important. We can begin to see this in Moses himself as the people tell him, in one of my favorite passages, “We don’t like it when God talks directly to us, so tell God to stop doing that, and instead you talk to God and then tell us what God says.” This could be what we see as the beginning of prophecy in scripture, one person speaking for God, but it is also the beginning of someone acting as a clear mediator between God and the people, although it will be through Moses brother Aaron, who is the first priest of the Israelites, and then through the tribe of Levi, who become the priestly class, that the priesthood truly comes into its own as a separate occupation. But, it should be noted that these are still people who are called into their role by God, like the story we hear in 1 Samuel of Samuel himself being called by God to become a priest, even though he had already been given over by his parents to Eli to serve as a priest.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jesus the Prophet

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 4:14-24:

Today we begin a new sermon series that will take us through the next three weeks seeking to answer the question who is Jesus? We are doing this because I received several questions about Jesus when I asked for recommendations for sermon topics, but my caveat is that I am not going to be able to entirely encapsulate who Jesus is in only three weeks. In fact, it might be said that every single worship service we are seeking to understand a different element of Jesus and who he is for us, what he means for us, and how we are to live differently because of that. But I decided to try and tackle answering the question of who is Jesus by looking at the three different offices, or roles, that Jesus is said to hold, and those are prophet, priest and king. These are historic roles that have been assigned to Christ going all the way back to the earliest days of the church as they sought to understand Jesus and to give some context to his ministry and message. This is not about Jesus’ nature, but about his functions, and these are not hard and fast offices as there is overlap between the three, but we are going to take each office in kind and today we are going to look at Jesus as prophet.

Now of the three offices, prophet is probably the one that is least covered and perhaps even the least understood. Rev. Richard Rohr, is a Franciscan priest who although known around the world lives here in Albuquerque, says that he has seen lots of statues and stained glass to Christ the King and even Christ the Priest, as well as accompanying celebrations, and we will celebrate Christ the King Sunday, which is the last Sunday of the Christian year before Advent begins, in three weeks. But, he said, he has never seen a celebration or a statue or a stained-glass window to Christ the Prophet, and that, he says, means something’s out of balance. This was even true of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism who, although he said that his preachers should preach Jesus in all his offices, prophet, priest and King, but actually said very little about Jesus as a Prophet. But when we don’t see Jesus as a prophet, it means not only are we not hearing Jesus’ words, or understanding his message with the weight of prophecy, but it also means that we are missing an extremely crucial piece of information about how the early church understood Jesus and his ministry, which was as that of a prophet, but not just any prophet, but of the prophet, and I’ll explain what that means in just a moment.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Envy Versus Persecuted

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 10:16-31:

Magic trick… When I saw that trick done by an actual magician at the state fair, I immediately thought of this message and the idea of envy, because, honestly, I envied the fact that he could do the trick, and thought how cool would it be to be able to do that in front of you all and have you envy me, except that I can’t actually do the trick because I don’t know how to make the actual coke disappear. And so all I could do was to be envious. Envy can be useful, in that it can lead us to be better, then is my envy of the magician could lead me to actually go out and learn how to do those tricks to, and it’s been said that there is no ambition without a little bit of envy attached, but it can also be destructive. Destructive to ourselves and also destructive to others. And all of us have this sin of envy within us. All of us have been envious of someone else at least once in our lives, and this is a universal trait as I read this week that every known language in the world has a word approximating what we understand as envy.  Envy lies at the root, or at the very least is a part, of many of the other deadly sins that we have spent the last six weeks looking at, and envy is unusual in several ways.

The first is that envy is always directed at someone else, which is not true of the others, because even lust can be directed at an inanimate object, rather than at a real person. The other thing about envy, according to Joseph Epstein, is that “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” Now one of the things that I’ve been surprised about in my reading for this series is that although the Seven Deadly Sins came out of the Christian monastic community, and were finalized and promulgated by Pope Gregory the Great, there are a lot of Jewish writers writing on the seven deadly sins.  Epstein is also the one who coined the term virtucrat which he defines as "any man or woman who is certain that his or her political views are not merely correct but deeply, morally righteous in the bargain.” I think that fits well into the idea of how people often think about suffering, as well as envy, because I think the best definition for envy, and the reason I matched it up with Jesus statement that blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, is that envy is sadness at another person’s good fortune. While suffering leads us to ask the question “why me?” Envy leads us to ask “why not me?”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lust Versus Pure In Heart

Here is my sermon from yesterday. The text was Matthew 5:27-30:

When Moses came down off the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he said to the Israelites, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I talked God down from 30 rules to only ten, and the people got really excited about that. But the bad news is, Moses said, that adultery is still one of them.

Perhaps, appropriately enough, today we continue in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes looking at the deadly sin of lust against Jesus’ statement that blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.  When Donna, who is our office administrator, sawthis week’s topic she said to me, so after everything that happened last week, you’re going to be talking about lust? Who says that God doesn’t have a sense of humor? Maybe God does, or perhaps no matter when we were talking about this issue there would have been something taking place in the news that would point out not only the dangers of lust, but also the hypocrisy that we have when it comes down to the issues that surround lust.  Because while we as Americans have tremendous hang-ups on the issues of sex and sexuality, we also simultaneously are surrounded by it.  Not because it’s being pushed down our throats by uncaring advertisers and pop culture makers, but because they are doing that because it works and will either get them more sales or at least more eyeballs, and thus more money. Lust is a major part of our culture, because lust is about a lot more than just sex because we can lust for lots of different things.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Greed Versus Mercy

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 16:19-31:

“Ladies and gentleman, greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.” Most of you probably recognize that speech by Michael Douglas from the 1987 movie Wall Street. What might be less known is that the speech was not really the creation of the screen writer of the film, but instead came from the person on whom Douglas’ character was based, Ivan Boesky. Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the business school at the University of California at Berkley, Boesky said, “Greed is alright, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” That was just a few months before he would be arrested by the SEC for insider trading to which he would plead guilty to one charge and pay a then record individual fine of $100 million. But before all that happened, he turned against his former compatriots and while collecting information against them for the SEC was allowed to continue doing insider trading making millions in profits until the SEC had enough information to also indict Michael Milken who was then forced to pay what is still the record individual penalty of $600 million. In response to the actions of wall street in the 80’s, congress passed a law that called for life in prison for certain financial crimes, and if you are wondering how many bankers or wall street execs have been subject to that penalty, the answer is less than one. Who says that crime doesn’t pay, and that greed is not good?

Or at least that’s what we’re told, and at the very least shown. Make as much money as you can, buy as much stuff as you can, exercise or gain as much power as you can. If you are rich, you are good. If you are poor, you are bad. And of course we all know that if we make lots of money and drive the right car and live in the right house and even drink the right beer then we’ll all be happy and will attract the most beautiful member of the opposite sex right? And if you can’t actually afford to live that lifestyle, it’s still all attainable, just buy it all on credit, because no one really knows how much money you’re worth and so if you can show how successful you are through how much stuff you have, how much gold you own, then surely you have to be successful because we do indeed judge people not on who they are, but how much they make and what they own, and unfortunately we judge ourselves the same way. We think our salaries, or lack thereof, are a reflection of who we are and what we are, and there is the crux of the problem of greed, the deadly sin we are looking at today in comparison to Jesus injunction that the merciful are blessed and that they will receive mercy.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Gluttony Versus Hungering and Thirsting For Righteousness

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Matthew 6:25-34:

At the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew, we are introduced to John the Baptist and are told that he wore a camel hair coat, which was not very comfortable, to say the least, and that his meals consisted of “locusts and wild honey.” I’m hoping that the honey makes the locusts a little more palatable, but I don’t really want to try it to find out. What these statements about John tell us is that he was living the lifestyle of an ascetic, or someone who denies themselves of any worldly pleasures in order to try and contain and control, or tame, the body.  Around the third century, some Christians started moving out into the Egyptian desert to live solitary, ascetic lives, to replicate what John the Baptist had been doing, in the hope of dedicating their full lives to God, and to do that to cut everything out of their lives they thought was unnecessary, or distracting to them. And so like John the Baptist, they limited not only what they ate, but the amount they ate as well. Known as the desert fathers and mothers, they began what we now know as monastic communities.  They were also the ones to talk about the sins that would become the seven deadly sins, which includes the sin of gluttony. It is also then little wonder that it is Pope Gregory the Great who does the final compilation of this list of sins and begins promoting them since he is the first pope to come out of the monastic community and thus had been steeped in their ideas, so that even while he was combining and eliminating different sins that he would leave in the sin of gluttony, the one sin that truly deals with ascetic lifestyles, or the lack thereof.

Now gluttony is probably the hardest of the sins that we will deal with, at least for me. In our new Wednesday’s with Wesley group this week we were talking about Wesley’s advice for Methodists, as well as his general rules, and we were talking about that there are some rules that it’s really easy to say we will follow, but they are the ones that we don’t have any problem with to start. But the rules that actually apply to the things we really do, or want to do, those are the ones we dismiss or say they don’t really apply anymore or we make excuses about why they don’t apply to us, or why we aren’t really violating them. I want to do that with gluttony, as I’m guessing most of you do as well, because whether we want to admit it we are all gluttons at one point or another, although we are much more likely to point out this sin for others.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sloth Versus Mourning

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 11:17-27, 32-44:

Pulitzer Prize winning play write Wendy Wasserstein wrote a tongue-in-cheek account of a self-help book that could sweep the nation entitled Sloth: And How to Get It. It promoted sloth as being achievable in just five easy steps, and even used sloth as an acronym. The S is for sit instead of stand, L is for let yourself go, O is for open your mouth and let anything you like enter, T is for toil no more, and H is happiness is within me, I don’t have to work at it. Now the problem with a self-help book promoting sloth is multifold. The first is that anyone who wants to promote such an idea is probably too lazy to actually write it, and the second is that those who want to become more slothful are too lazy to go get the book and those who would actually leave their couches to purchase it are too self-actualized to ever truly become slothful, and thus a book on how to become a sloth is probably destined never to be written. And perhaps that’s all for the best since sloth is one of the deadly sins, which is why we are looking at it today in comparison to what we find in the beatitudes and that is Jesus’ statement that those who mourn are blessed.

From the earliest times that the seven deadly sins were being compiled and pronounced, they have been compared against the virtues that the church thought we should be pursuing, but the list of comparative virtues has changed around depending upon who was doing the expounding. And so as I was trying to put together my list of comparing and contrasting the beatitudes and these sins, which I was not the first to do, I had to figure which was going to go with which, and the hardest one was for those who mourn. I decided to put sloth together with mourning because in some sense they can be very similar, or at least the behaviors can be similar. That is people who are mourning are often depressed and don’t want to do anything, which can be seen as sloth, and yet it’s not, besides for the fact that Jesus tells us that those who mourn are actually blessed. Do you feel blessed when you mourn?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pride Versus The Meek

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Matthew 5:1-12 and 7:12-23:

“I am an invisible man….” Thus begins Ralph Ellison’s classic Invisible Man.  “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquid, -- and I might even be said to possess a mind,” Ellison says, but, he continues, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” I am invisible because people refuse to see me. I thought that was an appropriate way, or the appropriate sentiment, to begin today’s sermon as we continue in our series on the seven deadly sins and the beatitudes and tackle the deadly sin of pride, the way of the world, against the way of the Kingdom of God, as contained in the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount with those who are poor in spirit and those who are meek, the people we might never see, or refuse to see, and certainly the people society says we shouldn’t pay any attention to not only because they are not worth or time, but even more because they are simply unworthy. They are losers.  Our society values the rich, the educated, the famous, those who are athletically gifted, the powerful, those whose who are physically beautiful. The meek, the poor, they deserve whatever they get, and should be happy to receive anything at all, even our disdain. They should be grateful we don’t truly act as if they are invisible.  If they don’t have enough pride to assert themselves, then there is nothing we should do for them. Losers.

But, Jesus says, while that might be the way the world would like to operate, it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, it’s not the way of God, it’s not the way of the Kingdom of God. God calls for something different, and God rewards something different. So Jesus says, as we heard last week, blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called what? Children of God, and if you missed last week’s message I would encourage you to watch it online.  And blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth. That again turns the world on its head, for how it’s not just that the meek and the poor in spirit are blessed, and we’ll come back next week to what it means to be blessed, but theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It’s theirs now in the present tense. Don’t confuse Matthew’s usage of the term heaven here with the afterlife. That is not what Matthew is referring to, and so if you need to hear something different to get away from the afterlife connotation, you can place in the term Kingdom of God here, which is the term that both Mark and Luke use consistently. That’s what the poor in spirit get, and what do they meek get, they shall inherit the earth. The whole earth, not some small part of it, not the part they have marked out hiding behind some pole because they are meek, but the whole earth, as an inheritance. Why do you inherit something? Because you are related, which means that God is claiming the meek as God’s own, as children, as heirs to inherit what God has to give. The meek. As they say in Monty Python's Life of Brian, "That's nice, I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a [heck] of a time."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Wrath Versus Peacemakers

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Matthew 5:1-12 and 5:38-48:

Most of us probably remember where we were and what we were doing 15 years ago today. We remember the moment when we first heard about a plane, or planes hitting the world trade center, we remember seeing people fleeing from the buildings, and seeing the fire department running towards the buildings. We remember the buildings collapsing and our tears and our sorrow and our questions and maybe our fears. Some watched from a distance not knowing anyone involved, and others had their lives ripped apart that day.  When we lived in Boston, Linda and I were friends with a woman who had a plane ticket for one of those flights, but her meeting in LA got cancelled, and so she never got on board, and in both churches we served there, literally right around the corner from both of them was a memorial to the people in those towns who had lost their lives on that day. and yet in the devastation of that moment we experienced something special, something unique. We witnessed bravery and heroism most of us had only heard about. We witnessed sacrifice and selflessness. We witnessed a nation, and to a large degree a world, coming together, not based on national or tribal affinities, but based on a shared and common humanity.

Jesus said that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And so, someone said that in witnessing the firefighters and the police officers running into a burning building while everyone else was running out, laying down their lives for their friends in the greatest sense of that word, we glimpsed the kingdom of God. Of course that glimpse did not last long, and we soon turned away from the things that brought us together, and instead started building up barriers and walls, shouting tribal chants and seeking revenge and war. A war that continues to this day, so that this year’s entering college freshmen can never remember a time in which we as a nation were not at war. But for a moment, in the midst of the chaos and violence and tragedy, we witnessed the kingdom of God.

One of the responses I received about what people would like me to preach on was to talk about the election and how we as Christians should be thinking about and responding to what is happening. With disgust might be one response, but probably not the appropriate one. I do think it’s appropriate that we talk about the election, but how I was going to do that was the issue. I do know that there are some people who get upset and think that politics should never be talked about it in church, but that’s actually an impossibility. Because to proclaim Jesus as Lord and King, is to make a political statement; it’s to claim where our allegiance belongs, to God, and also where it doesn’t belong, to the things of the world. In addition, Jesus had a lot to say about things that are impacted by what we would call the political realm. So if we are to proclaim ourselves as Christians, as followers of Christ, that is political.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How To Listen To A Sermon

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

In 1940, the philosopher and educator Mortimer J. Adler published a book entitled How to Read a Book. Now we might think reading a book is sort of self-explanatory, after all if we needed to know how to read it wouldn’t we have been taught. And yet, if you have read Adler’s book you come to realize we come to realize that we actually didn’t know how to read a book. So today we are going to try and tackle something more important to us, and that is how to listen to a sermon. Perhaps this too should be self-explanatory, after all we have been doing it for a long time, but I’m guessing that we were never taught how to listen to a sermon, or what we might do to get the most out of a sermon. I was certainly never taught that, nor have I ever taught it. I was taught how to preach, or at least the basics of doing it, but never how to receive the words of scripture. This was not always the case. It used to be that people would be taught how to listen to sermons, but according to Christopher Ash, who published a pamphlet on this very issue in 2009, he could not find any writings on this subject over the past 200 years. But, I think knowing how to be active listeners is even more important since TV has turned us into passive recipients of information.  But the truth is this emphasis on how to hear God’s word goes all the way back to Jesus, as we heard in the passage from Matthew.

Jesus tells us that a sower goes out to sow seeds, and some seeds fell on the path, and some seeds fell on rocky ground, and some seed fell among the thorns; all of those seeds did not take root because the soil was not ready or able to receive them.  But, some seed fell on good soil and they produced a plentiful harvest. And then Jesus says, “let anyone with ears listen.” While this is called the Parable of the Sower, it might just as well be called the parable of the soil, because is there anything wrong with the sower? No, the sower is doing his work just fine and scattering the seeds everywhere. Is there anything wrong with the seeds? No. The seed is absolutely fine, and the same seed is scattered everywhere. The sower is not using different seeds for different soil, it’s the same seed. Now Jesus will go on to explain that the sower is God (or Jesus himself) and the seed is the word of God, the message of the kingdom, so if the sower is fine and the seed is fine, what is the different reactions to the seeds? It’s in the soil, it’s in the people who hear the word, some people Jesus says, are hearing but not listening. The sower can be the best sower ever, and the seed can be the best seed every, but if the soil is not ready, if we are hearing but not listening, then nothing will take root. Let anyone with ears listen.

That means that what I am up here doing nearly every week is not entirely up to me; you play a crucial role in this process as well.  The effectiveness of preaching is not simply up to the preacher. It takes all of us to be involved. So, here is how I believe we prepare the soil of our lives in order to be able to hear and listen to a sermon.

Monday, August 29, 2016

State of the Church

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and Luke 14:1, 7-14:

Normally in June I preach a state of the church address to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year, talk about where we still have room to grow and to set out a vision for where we are going in the coming years. I was set to do that message in June, but I instead preached about the shooting in Orlando, and so today I am going to deliver that message, even as we mourn another senseless killing except this time it is in our backyard.  But, I am now into my fourth year serving here at Mesa View, and we have seen some large highs and some large lows, and I am hearing two different themes about my tenure here recently. The first is that since the last two pastors to serve here were only here for four years, people think that I too will be moving very soon. It’s always a possibility, but I don’t think a very strong one, at least not at this moment, and the other thing to remember is that the two pastors before them were both here for ten years each.

The other thing I am hearing a lot of recently is that people want me to stay another 20 years, which is often followed by “so that way you can do my funeral.” I appreciate the vote of confidence, I think, but two problems with this. The first is that it sort of says, “stay here until I’m gone, and make sure to turn off the lights when you leave.” But the bigger problem is that 20 years would only get me to age 63, and I don’t really want to have to move to a new church to get me to retirement, so at least say you want me to be here for 22 more years.  But here is the real truth. If you want me to stay, we have to do a lot of work to make that a reality, and the biggest ones are to be financially stable and viable as well as to be growing spiritually, missionally and numerically. The Bishop is not inclined to move clergy from churches that are doing well. So keep that in mind for today’s message as well as for the coming years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Run The Race Before Us

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The texts were Hebrews 12:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Tonight many of the athletes will gather once again will gather for the closing ceremonies of the Olympic games, not including those who fled the country with the police on their heels.  At tonight’s ceremony, the head of the International Olympic Committee will declare that the Rio games are officially closed, and then the flag of Japan will be hoisted up in the stadium, as they will be the host nation of the next Olympic games, and the race to the next Olympics will be begun with stories of cost overruns, of the inability of the city to host the Olympics, of the worries of terrorism, and as we get closer the reality that many of the facilities are not yet completed, just like we hear every single time the Olympics come around.  We move from what has just happened, and we move forward to the next games. In some sense this is just one big relay race, one nation passing the baton on to the next, and on to the next, with everyone hoping the baton doesn’t get dropped, or perhaps with a little glee at the spectacle hoping the baton does get dropped.  But regardless, the athletes and Tokyo are now all working hard to prepare to be ready come back in four years to do it all over again, to run the race that is before them.  And so today we conclude this series looking at what we can learn from the games about our faith in how we run the race that is before us.

Last week when we looked at wrestling, I said that it was believed to be one of the oldest sports in the world and one that is found in every culture.  But, since walking is an Olympic sport we would have to go with walking as being the oldest sport, something we have been doing for some 4 million years, but running probably comes in as the second oldest sport in which we undertake. Although my guess is that the earliest races were not about being the fastest person, but instead only about not being the slowest person, because when you’re being chased by a wild animal intent on killing you, you don’t have to be the fastest one, you merely have to outrun the slowest person in order to survive.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wrestling With God

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

We are now one week down in the Olympics, with one week to go. Some of the things that were expected to happen, happened, and some things not expected to happen, also happened, just like life, and so we continue looking at what the Olympics can teach us about our faith, and today we look at one of the oldest of the sports, wrestling.  Wrestling was one of the original sports found in the ancient Olympic Games, as well as those of the Isthmian Games, which took place in Corinth. But, of course, the sport is even older than that.  It’s said that wrestling has been found among every culture in the world, and thus may be one of the original sports in which humanity participated. Since somehow walking is also an Olympic sport I’m going to have to say that it’s probably the oldest.  There is a Sumerian wall carving from around 3000 BC which depicts a wrestling match, along with what appears to be a referee overseeing it.  In a carving from the tomb of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ptahhotep, around 2300 BCE, it shows six different wrestling holds, five of which we still use.

Wrestling also has had spiritual ramifications as well. According to Shinto legend, the ownership of the Islands of Japan was established when the thunder god Take-mikazuchi defeated his rival in a wrestling match, and in Greek myth, Zeus and his fellow Olympian gods wrestled the older Titan deities for ownership of the universe, ending with Zeus defeating his own father Kronos.  So perhaps it should not be surprising that we also have the story from Genesis we heard this morning of Jacob wrestling with a mysterious stranger, whom we come to see as God. But perhaps, because of its prevalence and apparent importance in the ancient world, we should be surprised that wrestling is not found more often as a theme, or an event within scripture, but what is even more striking that of the places in which wrestling does occur, all of them, except one, which is a passage in Colossians about Epaphras wrestling in his prayers on behalf of the Colossians, all of the other references are found in the story of Jacob.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Opening Ceremony: Celebration

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Philippians 4:4-9:

For the next two weeks, a large majority of the world is going to have their eyes turned towards Rio and the Olympic games taking place there.  This is the first time the Olympics have been held in south America, which is like America, but south, and also the first time the summer games have been held in the winter. And so I thought it might be a good time for us to turn our eyes to the idea of sport, and Olympic sport in particular, of what it can teach us about our faith, or how we might apply what we see in the games to our faith.  Now this idea is not really as far off as it might seem, because, in fact, there are several different illusions to sport to be found in scripture. Jacob wrestles with God, something we will grapple with next week. Moses served in the courts of the Pharaoh, so there is tennis, and of course baseball, the greatest sport, is mentioned twice when we are told that God did things in the big inning.  But on a more serious note, we do see this specifically in the writings of Paul.  While we are much more familiar with the ancient Olympic games, which also took place every four years, they were not the only games taking place in the ancient world.  There were also the Isthmian games which were held the year before and the year after the Olympic games. The Isthmian games were named after their location, which was on the isthmus of Corinth, a city in which Paul spent plenty of time.  And so when we hear him say to the Corinthians, run the race before you, that is not just some generic statement, he is making a reference to an activity with which they would have been very familiar.  So as Paul used the games for his illustrations of living a Christian life, so we too are going to use the games for the same purpose, and we’re going to begin with where the Olympics begin and that is with the opening ceremonies.

Now I am aware that there were actually some games that started even before the opening ceremonies started on Friday night, but that is really seen as the kick-off, the beginning of the Olympics. It draws the largest number of people both in terms of participants who will be there, but also in drawing the highest television ratings of any of the events that will take place at the Olympics. Consider that for a moment. The biggest event, the biggest celebration, the thing everyone wants to attend and to watch is not the celebration at the end, but instead a celebration at the beginning. A celebration to begin things. That’s sort of the opposite of how we normally do things. We normally have a party at the end of events as a celebration that it’s all over and to celebrate what was accomplished. I was trying to come up with some other things that we celebrate before they actually begin. I think the first would be Christmas, which we celebrate on the 25th of December and then act as if Christmas is over, when really it’s only just begun as it runs for another 11 days. But I think that’s more out of ignorance than an intentionality of celebrating at the start. There are New Year’s Eve celebrations, but those really end with the stroke of midnight, so we’re celebrating the start of something, but also, and maybe to a larger degree it’s the saying good-bye, and perhaps good-riddance, to the prior year.  We celebrate ground breaking for new buildings, but those usually still pale in comparison to dedication celebrations.  There are baby showers, celebrations before the baby comes, but I think that’s because new parents need the items to be ready, and also we know they will be too exhausted to do anything after the baby comes. There are bachelor and bachelorette parties, but that’s more to mourn the loss of singleness to a degree, then to actually celebrate the wedding. Perhaps the wedding itself is one area where we truly celebrate an event when it begins, to kick off the marriage rather than celebrating some other time.  But again, that is by far the exception to the rule. Is there some other event I’m missing where the celebration at the beginning is bigger than the celebration at the end, or at least the same?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Okay, Group Hug! You Too Anger.

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

We continue in our series on the gospel in Pixar looking at the movie Inside Out.  Another film where the lead character is female, and really four of the main characters are all female.  The main lead is Riley, an 11-year-old girl who has recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco where her father has gotten a new job. But while it’s about Riley, it’s also about a lot more than Riley because what we actually see going on for most of the movie is what’s going on in Riley’s head, and how her emotions function together and operate her life, and the lives of others around her as well.  Although we have many different emotions, for simplicity sake, the Pixar team narrowed it down to five. There is joy, who is designed to look like a star, sadness, who is designed to look like a teardrop, disgust, who looks like broccoli, and fear, who is tall and thin, supposed to be like a nerve, and my personal favorite, anger… These emotions live and work in the central complex, headquarters, pun intended I am sure, and control what is going on in everyone’s lives. Rather than trying to explain this to you, take a look at how this works….

As it turns out, Riley is miserable with the move, the moving truck hasn’t arrived with their stuff, and her dad’s job is not going well, but to make matters worse is what happens to joy and sadness.  As Riley has an experience, the memory comes into her mind as a round ball, and it is color coded according to what emotion is associated with it, red for anger, yellow for joy, blue for sadness, etc.  These balls then get moved into long-term storage at night where she can recall them and the emotions associated with them. But, it turns out, the emotions associated with them can also be changed, and so when sadness touches one of these memories, it changes from what it was to a memory of sadness. This of course makes joy very upset, and she seeks to try and control sadness, at one point drawing a circle for sadness to stand in so that she can’t touch anything or bring any more sadness to Riley, which is what Joy doesn’t want to happen.  In trying to keep sadness in her place, or where joy wants her to be, both joy and sadness get sucked into the brain where all the other memories are stored, leaving only anger, disgust and fear in control, which sends Riley’s life into turmoil leading to anger making the brilliant suggestion that Riley’s life was happy and great in Minnesota and so she decides, or they decide, that Riley should run away, while joy and sadness are desperately trying to get back to headquarters.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Speed. I Am Speed.

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 10:38-42:

Today we continue in our series in the gospel in Pixar looking at the movie Cars. Cars tells the story of Lightning McQueen, whom we just say, a racecar who is trying to become the first rookie racer to ever win the Piston Cup (He did what in his cup?) In the last race of the season, McQueen has a huge lead on the last lap when his tires blow allowing the two main competitors Strip Weather, also known as The King, who is in his last season, and Chick Hicks, the racer who is in perpetual second place, to catch up and there is a three way tie to end the race. McQueen’s tires blow because he has fired three crew chiefs and refuses to listen to the rest of his team, because, as he says, he is a one-man show, which then causes the rest of the team to quit. It is decided that to resolve the tie that there will be a three car race in California the next week, but on the way to California, Lightning accidentally comes out of the truck he is riding in, and in his confusion, ends up in a small town by the name of Radiator Springs, the cutest little town in Carburetor County, along Route 66, and while being chased by the police for speeding ends up tearing up the main street, where he is then arrested and sentenced to pave the street before he will be allowed to leave. While in the town he encounters a strange collection of characters that includes another former piston cup racer who has become the town doctor, but who has hidden his true identity from everyone else.

Up to this point, McQueen has seen racing and life as a zero sum game, as he has just said, there is one winner and 42 losers. One person is at the top, and everyone else is a loser in both senses of that words, of not winning the race and also not winning at life. Lightning has confused the idea with winning with being a winner, the same mistake that Chick Hicks will make at the end of the film, and we often do the same thing. There are some things in life that really are races, but not many, or certainly not as many as we would like to make them, especially when we turn life into a race and want to declare winners and losers. Seth Godin has said, in a competition in which the point is to win, you’re not supposed to enjoy the ride, learn anything, make your community better, slow down for anything, you’re supposed to win. It also justifies the use of any means in order to reach that end, winning. And when we treat life as a race, with winners and losers, then we end of cheating, literally and figuratively, everyone, most especially ourselves.  And so what Lightning has to do is to come to the realization that that is what he is doing with his own life.  He has equated “I won the race” with “I am a winner,” and he realizes how he has treated everyone else in his life, that he doesn’t have any real friends, that everything and everyone is a means to an end, just as others, like his agent Harrv, only see him as a means to an end.  As a result he is rushing through life, and life is rushing by him, and he’s never getting the time or taking the time to stop and learn how to smell the roses, as it were.  This becomes clear to him when he has an afternoon off from paving the road, and Sally, the owner of the local motel, the Cozy Cone, takes him for a drive…

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mend The Bond Torn By Pride

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Ephesians 4:25-5:2:

We continue today in our series on the gospel in Pixar looking at the movie Brave. This is the first Pixar film to star a female lead, a redheaded female at that, and it is also the first in which the entire story real centers on and focuses around two female characters, Merida and her mother Eleanor.  It is also the darkest of Pixar’s films, in that it resembles some of the fairy tales we all know, although Merida doesn’t need any gammy boy to come to her rescue, she can do things quite fine all by herself thank you very much.  Eleanor is trying to raise up Merida to be a proper princess who will be able to lead the kingdom along with her husband in strength, just as she has done. Merida, however, doesn’t want to be the person her mother wants her to be, this is another example of the sense of identity that runs throughout Pixar films. Eleanor invites the other clans and their first born sons to come and compete to claim Merida as a bride, but Merida has other plans, and first subverts the contest that is to decide who she will marry. Then she gets a witch to cast a spell to change her mother, which Merida hopes will convince her mother to change her mind on forcing Merida to get married, but instead gets her mother changed into a bear. Merida is then told that if her mother isn’t changed back to a human by sunrise of the second day that she will remain as a bear for the rest of her life. As it turns out this is not the first time this curse has been laid on the kingdom, and to overcome it, to change her fate, the witch tells Merida that she must “look inside, mend the bond torn by pride.”

I already told this story a few weeks ago, but at annual conference this year, Bishop Cynthia Feirro Harvey told a story about her husband. She kept telling him things, but he said he didn’t hear them, or was acting as if he didn’t hear them, and so, getting a little older decided to get his hearing checked out. At the end of the appointment the doctor asked him why he had come in and so he told her, and the doctor said, well you’re hearing is just fine so perhaps it’s not your hearing but your listening that’s not working. We hear but we don’t listen. Merida and her mother are encountering exactly the same problem in that instead of talking to each other, they are talking at, or around each other, or not even to each other…..  Does that seem like a familiar story? Each of them have something to say, each of them have reasons for doing what they are doing, but neither can express that to the other, perhaps because even if they do they think they won’t actually be listened to.  And there is that moment, when literally and metaphorically Merida feels like she is being stuffed into something that is too tight, that constrains her too much, that is not who she is, and for a brief moment both of them appear to let down their guards, and are going to be honest and open, but then Eleanor can’t do it, and Merida can’t do it, and they go right back to their own positions.

Monday, July 4, 2016

He's Loyal To The End

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was John 15:9-17:

Today we continue in our series on the gospel in Pixar, and a reminder it’s not the gospel of or according to Pixar, by looking at Toy Story 3. It’s very rare to have the third film in a series be as good as the original, especially if there was no plans to make a third film when the series began, but Toy Story 3 is one of those films.  This film also holds a special place not only because it was the first film we took our daughters to see in the theater, but also because it totally ruined me and fills me with guilt anytime we get rid of a toy, especially a broken toy that ends up in the trash.  But, Toy Story 3 tells the continuing story of Woody, a cowboy doll, and Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger action figure, and the toys they live with, although now diminished in numbers as Andy, their owner has grown up, and no longer plays with them. Andy is leaving for college, and in cleaning up his room, in a mistake by Andy’s mom, the toys, except Woody, end up out on the street as trash. Woody, who had been put into the box to go to college with Andy, knows the truth and risks himself to go out to save them, but they don’t believe what Woody has to say, and are happy to instead jump into a box of other toys to be delivered to Sunnyside Daycare.

When they arrive everything seems great, but they don’t know that the facility is actually run by a dictatorial toy, by the name of Lotso Hugging Bear, who smells like strawberries, but who controls things for his own interests and protection. Woody, still trying to get the other toys to understand that it’s a mistake that they belong to Andy, can’t convince them to go with him, so Woody leaves the daycare and ends up at the home of Bonnie, a little girl who loves to play with her toys, while the other toys remain and are ravaged by the toddlers who don’t know how to place with them nicely. As Woody is preparing to leave Bonnie’s house to go back home, he is told that Sunnyside is a place “ruin and despair,” and so Andy goes back to rescue his friends and bust them out in order to get them back to Andy’s house before Andy leaves for college, and in doing so Woody risks his own freedom, and perhaps his life in defense of his friends.

Monday, June 27, 2016

You Are A Toy

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Galatians 3:25-4:7:

Today we begin on a journey that will take us through the next six weeks looking at the gospel messages we can find in the movies of Pixar.  Now notice that I am not saying that we are looking at the gospel of Pixar, or the gospel according to Pixar, but instead the gospel in Pixar. I think that distinction is important because we have four gospels already, and last I checked Pixar was not one of them. But we can find important themes and messages in these movies that resonate with us and our understanding of the Christian life, they have things they can teach us. Indeed, one of the things that makes Pixar films so special is not just their attention to detail and storytelling, but that there are so many things going on in them that are so true to life, even if they are normally told through non-humans. And so my disclaimer here is that I have no intention of looking at everything that might be seen or discussed in each movie, but will only be focusing on specific ideas.  We start, perhaps appropriately enough with the first feature length Pixar film, Toy Story. Not only was this their first film it was also the first feature length film created entirely with computer animation, also known as CGI, and it forever changed animated films, and it also has lots of Star Wars references in it.

Toy Story, in case you are not familiar, tells the story of a collection of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, and when humans are not around, the toys come to life and interact with each other. The head of the toys, and Andy’s favorite, is a cowboy doll named Woody, and his world is turned upside down when Andy receives an action figure by the name of Buzz Lightyear. Woody becomes jealous of Buzz, and in trying get Buzz stuck behind a desk so that Andy will play with him instead, Woods accidently knocks Buzz out a window and Woody and Andy get stuck in the home of the next door neighbor inhabited by Sid, a terrible kid who destroys toys for fun, and Woody and Buzz begin an adventure to try and get back to Andy before he and his family move away. Now one of the biggest problems for Woody is that Buzz believes himself not to be q toy, but instead to be the actual Buzz Lightyear. Check out this scene set after Woody has knocked Buzz out the window, and they find themselves lost in a gas station….

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Sins of Omission

Here is my sermon from Sunday:

One of the advantages of going down to Sacramento Methodist Assembly is that because it’s in the mountains there is only very limited cell phone coverage, and their Wi-Fi access is not very good, so even if you want to be distracted by the world, it’s very difficult. And so last weekend we were cut off from the world. My phone will occasionally get a good enough signal that I would get an update on the final score of the Yankees game, they won once and lost twice, which about sums up their season, but that was about the extent of our knowledge of the outside world.  So it wasn’t until we stopped for lunch coming home that we were able to do anything online, and Linda went onto Facebook, and saw a bunch of posts asking for prayers for Orlando, and so I looked up on my phone to see there had been a shooting that had killed 50 people.

I’ve said before that one of the things with which I struggle as a preacher is when to change my message versus when to lift something up in prayers, but still say what I was going to say. Unfortunately, there is not any hard and fast rule that can be applied to this situation, and the truth is I could talk every Sunday about some tragedy or even triumph that had occurred in the last week.  Just two weeks ago when reporting on Annual Conference we brought a request from the mayor of Roswell that we pray for his city and the violence they are experiencing, and so it wasn’t just the shooting in Orlando, there was also the shooting in Roswell in which a man shot and killed his wife and four daughters, ages 14, 11, 7 and 3. Every day in the United States an average of 39 people will be killed by guns and another 76 will be injured. Every day.

But simply dealing with guns won’t do anything unless we also try and deal with our obsession with violence in this country, we might also call it hyper masculinity. The need to strike back if we feel victimized, or strike out against someone has attacked us, or even to just call us a bad word.  And unless that begins to change, and we actually hear what Jesus says to us about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, and I do think he was serious about that, then we aren’t going to change anything. But even more importantly than our obsessions with violence, we also need to move past this obsession we have with making people the “other”, someone different, someone not like us, someone to be looked down upon, or deemed or to be less than human, or perhaps even not human at all, because when we do that then it becomes really easy to strike out and attack and kill.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

As Long As Those At The Top Don't Get In Trouble...

Earlier this week I wrote about what has been happening at Baylor University and their cover-up of sexual and domestic abuse claims against athletes at the university (including retaliating against at least one victim), and I wondered why Ken Starr wasn't showing the same moral outrage on this as he did against then President Clinton.

The results of the report submitted to the Baylor board of regents came out today, and while there were firings the people at the top were largely not included.

This included Ken Starr who, while he is being removed as president, will now become chancelor of the university on terms "still being discussed." I'm guessing that means he will be getting a raise?  He will also still be a professor of constitutional law at the law school, because nothing says you can teach constitutional law like overseeing people covering up law breaking.

This includes the athletic director Ian McCaw who has been "sanctioned" and put on "probation" but will still be retaining his job, because why would you remove someone who oversaw programs that lacked institutional control?

Art Briles, the head football coach, is being suspended with the intention of seeking his dismissal "according to contractual procedures." Does that mean he might still be retained? Or is it another way of saying he will be dismissed but with a nice compensation package on the way out? Since they are a private institution they are under no obligation to report any compensation package unless they want to, which they are clearly not going to want to do.

Now there were some firings that did take place from the administration and the athletic department, but they say "Neither these individuals nor the disciplinary actions will be identified publicly." That's even though they did just say what the disciplinary action was, they were fired, we just don't know who they are. Which means these are people way down the totem pole, people that were clearly expendable, people not covered by million dollar salaries and contracts, so people that are easy to scapegoat and push out into the wilderness.

So, once again, we all learn the lesson that if you are at the top and things go badly, rarely is the buck going to stop with you.  Instead it lands on those way down at the bottom. What does this teach anyone, and what does this say about our understanding of leadership? Or, I might ask again: Where, Mr. Starr, is the moral outrage?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On Transgendered Bathrooms

Here is a powerful witness about the debates currently taking place around bathrooms from Rev. Emily Heath. Rather than posting her thoughts here, you can see her thoughts on her blog.

Here is a more conservative take, although I was pleasantly surprised by it's position,

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Trinity

Here is my sermon from Trinity Sunday. The text was John 16:12-15:

Jesus said to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And his disciples answered,
"Some say John the Baptist; some Elijah; others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” And Jesus answered and said, “But who do you say that I am?

Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."

And Jesus looked at Peter and said, "What?"

A little Trinitarian humor for today when we look at the idea of the trinity, and we do so for several different reasons. The first is that today is Trinity Sunday, and so it seems appropriate for that reason alone.  The second is that I have had some people ask me to explain the trinity, and so rather than explaining it to a few, I can explain it to all of you at the same time, and I won’t tell you who asked for their protection, and the third is that as our faith development team has been working they have been talking about how a knowledge of Christianity and it’s beliefs, or knowledge about Methodism, is no longer a given and so what do people who are new to the faith or to Methodism need to know. So I thought that we should put together on our website a series of sort of doctrinal sermons, things that we believe either as Christians or as Methodists, that tell people about who we are and what we believe.  And if we are to do that, the Trinity has to be a key part of that because the trinity is at the heart of Christianity. It is not something we can believe in or not depending on our opinion; it is the orthodox position of the church. It is the basis upon how we decide if people are Christian or not, is their belief in the trinity. Indeed the entire reason why the eastern side of the church is called the Orthodox Church, whether they are Greek, Russian, Arminian, or whatever, is because they separated from the western church as it reinterpreted the structure of the trinity.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sure He's A Jerk, But He's A Genius, So It's Okay

I just finished Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drive's Apple's Success by Ken Segall who was in advertising for Apple and came up with the idea of "i" for their products.  It was a good book, although for a book on simplicity, it could have been a lot simpler, without the same stories being told over and over again. Rather ironic.

The one thing that I found most interesting was his description of Steve Jobs. Much has been made of Job's tendency to "unload" on people, and Segall certainly recounts several of those stories. What he called it was Job's turning his "turret" on you, just like a tank, and letting everything he had shoot out at the unfortunate victim. It was a clearly unpleasant thing to watch, and even worse to experience.

But he is then quick to point it that it wasn't "personal", that everything would be just fine the next day and Jobs would be buddy-buddy again, and it was just Jobs being "brutally honest." When did honesty become "brutal"? And when did someone being a jerk become okay as long as they didn't hold a grudge against you? What about the person who was "brutally" attacked? Don't they have some say in it? And not once does he ever say that Jobs ever apologized for his behavior.

I suspect, and Segall certainly says it, that everyone tolerated this behavior, and even made excuses for it, as Segall also does, because Jobs was a genius at what he did (or at least portions of it). But I don't think that being a genius, or even being really good at your job, absolves you if you are a jerk. If you are a jerk and treat other people badly, then you are simply a jerk, and should be dealt with accordingly.

The sooner we learn to call bad behavior for what it is, and address it as such, especially in the church, the sooner it will end and go away. We create the culture in which we live and we receive the treatment we allow as a result.